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4. Vernon Coaker (Gedling): What assessment she has made of the humanitarian situation in Angola, with particular reference to children. [14149]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for International Development (Hilary Benn): Children and other vulnerable people are bearing the brunt of the continuing conflict in Angola. Some 42 per cent. of Angolan children are underweight for their age, fewer than half of them go to school and under-five infant mortality there is the second highest in the world. The UK has contributed £56 million in development and humanitarian aid since 1993 and we continue to work through UN agencies, NGOs and our contribution to EC assistance. The urgent need, however, is to bring the war to an end.

Vernon Coaker: I thank my hon. Friend for that reply. The statistics that he gave show how awful the situation is for children in Angola. Unfortunately, there are no television cameras to record the misery that can be seen there. Having recently visited Angola on a trip with UNICEF, I ask my hon. Friend to consider what we can do to support projects in the southern half of the country, where there is less conflict and they can have the maximum effect. We can then show the children and people of Angola what can be done with good governance.

Hilary Benn: I say to my hon. Friend and to my hon. Friend the Member for Lancaster and Wyre (Mr. Dawson), who was also a part of that UNICEF- supported visit to Angola, that I very much agree with his point about the need to demonstrate in that country the benefits of peace and stability. We are this year

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contributing almost £3 million in humanitarian aid through a range of NGOs, which will, in particular, benefit refugee children and their families. As my hon. Friend will be aware, in Luanda, we have the urban poverty programme, which is helping with water supply, micro-finance and child care. However, the fact remains that peace is the necessary precondition for progress in this relatively wealthy country, which has oil. If the Government could direct those resources more towards poverty reduction, the country would have a better prospect for the future.

Tony Baldry (Banbury): Does the Minister agree that we now need an international coalition against poverty, whether it is Angola or Afghanistan? We would have far greater clout in such a coalition if we could reach the 0.7 per cent. target. It is in all our interests to engage with colleagues in Congress in the United States to ensure that it is outward looking and that it seeks to improve on the rather poor 0.1 per cent. of gross national income that it devotes to development aid. If there is to be a coalition against poverty, it must engage all the richest nations in the world.

Hilary Benn: I endorse all the points made by the hon. Gentleman. Indeed, it seems that a coalition on precisely those points is developing between him as Chairman of Select Committee on International Development and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. The events of the past two months have given all of us—particularly America—pause for thought on the importance of international development in the new world order. There is now a better opportunity in that country to advance the arguments made by the hon. Gentleman than there has been for many years.

Mr. Hilton Dawson (Lancaster and Wyre): My hon. Friend is aware of the shocking conditions in 13 transit camps in Angola; even by the appallingly low standards of that country, conditions are particularly bad for thousands of people and their children. The Angolan Government have promised to close the camps by the end of the year and move those people to better conditions. The ambassador in Luanda is trying hard to pursue the matter with the Government. Will my hon. Friend bring every pressure that he can muster to bear on the Angolan Government on that vital issue?

Hilary Benn: We certainly shall. As my hon. Friend is aware, a team from the Department for International Development was recently in Angola as part of a review mission. On that occasion, it pressed the precise point made by my hon. Friend—the need to ensure that the Government of Angola honour their commitment to close the camps, which are clearly in an appalling condition.

Ministerial Meeting

5. Mr. Stephen O'Brien (Eddisbury): If she will make a statement on her recent meeting with the Presidents of Uganda and Rwanda. [14150]

The Secretary of State for International Development (Clare Short): My recent meeting with the Presidents of Rwanda and Uganda was fruitful in reducing tension between the two countries. The two Presidents talked

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through the causes of the rising tension, then signed an understanding committing them to discourage dissidents from organising in each other's country and to undertake not to interfere in each other's internal affairs. They agreed to set up mechanisms to monitor the implementation of the agreement, with the UK acting as a third party. The Prime Minister joined the talks for a time. The agreement has begun to be implemented and tensions are already reducing.

Mr. O'Brien: As the Secretary of State will be aware, peace in the Congo is vital to the stability of Rwanda and Uganda; indeed, the refugee crisis in north-western Tanzania would be exacerbated if the conflict took root. Can she assure the House that she is looking carefully at discussions on aid to Rwanda and Uganda to help encourage their Presidents not to allow their tensions over the Congo to get out of hand?

Clare Short: I share the hon. Gentleman's concerns. If we are to get better development in Africa, we need to resolve a lot of conflicts. The conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo, a country as big as western Europe, is sucking in six neighbouring countries. A mineral-rich country, if properly governed, could be an engine of growth and development in Africa; it is essential to implement the Lusaka peace accords.

Rwanda is currently in the DRC because people responsible for the Rwandan genocide are still trying to get back to Rwanda and complete it. It is essential that we encourage the Kabila Government to pursue disarmament of those negative forces so that we get peace and development for the whole region. However, I agree that we must prevent tension between Uganda and Rwanda from rising, as that could drive the whole process backwards.

Mr. Win Griffiths (Bridgend): In considering the great problems in Rwanda, will my right hon. Friend explain what other help is being given to east African countries like Tanzania, which has a huge refugee problem arising from the disturbances in Rwanda and, of course, in Burundi?

Clare Short: As my hon. Friend said, Tanzania has many refugees—300,000, I think, or something similar. A desperately poor country is playing host to lots of refugees because of the conflict in Burundi in particular and instability in the great lakes region in general. Tanzania has recently being doing well on reform; its completion date for debt relief is due to go to the boards of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank today and is likely to be approved. Despite its refugees burden, Tanzania, I am glad to say, is moving forward; the United Kingdom is supporting it in its big reform efforts.

Mr. Nick Hawkins (Surrey Heath): Does the Secretary of State not share our concern about the recent United Nations report which said that the increase by the Government in aid to countries like Rwanda and Uganda was being used to ensure that those countries did not spend money on the services that the Government should properly be funding, and asked whether those savings were being mis-spent on funding warlike approaches?

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Is there not a genuine concern that UK taxpayers' money is being misused for war? What is the Secretary of State going to do about that?

Clare Short: I am glad to inform the House that there is no such concern. The House should be proud that after—[Interruption.] It is difficult to hear what is being said in the Chamber. After the terrible genocide in Rwanda, during which nearly 1 million people were killed in the course of a few months by machete, under orders, and the UN was withdrawn rather than acting to protect the country, there was a massive refugee exodus and the country was left with nothing.

The UK has been engaged in helping Rwanda to rebuild its national institutions and to drive forward reconciliation. Rwanda needs an end to the war in the Congo. It therefore needs the disarmament and demobilisation of the forces of the genocide, which are trying to get back into Rwanda to complete the genocide. We all need to put pressure on all the parties to implement the Lusaka peace accords—including the Kabila Government in Kinshasa, who are arming and supporting the forces that are invading Rwanda and Burundi and holding back the peace process.


6. Paul Farrelly (Newcastle-under-Lyme): What plans are being considered to rebuild the infrastructure of Afghanistan following the present conflict. [14151]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for International Development (Hilary Benn): We are closely involved in planning for the future of Afghanistan. As well as supporting Ambassador Brahimi's efforts to establish a broadly based transitional government, we are working with the international community on reconstruction. Repair of the country's infrastructure will be an important part of this process. A document setting out the UK's contribution to an emergency recovery plan for the first 100 days has been placed in the Library.

Paul Farrelly: I thank my hon. Friend for his reply. I am sure that my right hon. and hon. Friends on the Government Front Bench were as shocked as the rest of the House to learn that, in the conflict, Afghanistan did not have one functioning hospital. Does my hon. Friend agree that the international community should now commit itself early on, through the UN, to specific projects, including hospitals, to help rebuild Afghanistan, retain hearts and minds and shame all the warlords who reduced their own country to rubble?

Hilary Benn: I agree with my hon. Friend entirely. The re-establishment of a health system within Afghanistan, where life expectancy is 44 years, is an urgent priority, as is the re-establishment of a system of education so that at least half the next generation can have the opportunity to

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receive the education that they deserve. In the long term, that will make the greatest contribution to the re-building of the country. [Interruption.]

Several hon. Members rose

Mr. Speaker: Order. The House is far too noisy and it must come to order.

Rev. Martin Smyth (Belfast, South): About 50 per cent. of the people of Afghanistan are under 18, and about 60 per cent. of that age group die from preventable diseases. What steps are being taken, if there is a new infrastructure—this follows on from the question of the hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Paul Farrelly)—to get to Afghanistan the medicines, supplies and vaccines that the population requires and which we take for granted?

Hilary Benn: A great deal of effort is already under way to ensure that essential medical supplies get into the country. As we heard in answer to an earlier question, the polio vaccination programme—overseen by UNICEF—has continued during the current difficulties. I agree with the hon. Gentleman that continued effort must be made to ensure that we meet the health needs of the Afghanistan population, which has suffered enormously.

Mike Gapes (Ilford, South): My hon. Friend will be aware that many educated and skilled Afghan people have fled from the conflict over the past 20 years. They are living throughout the world, and many are in the UK. What steps is my hon. Friend's Department taking to assist the return of these people to help in the rebuilding of their country's infrastructure?

Hilary Benn: The most important contribution that we can make to addressing my hon. Friend's question is to work to bring peace and stability to Afghanistan. The sooner the reconstruction process can begin, and the sooner people who have fled the country—many of whom are educated, as my hon. Friend mentioned—see that there is a future and a prospect for their country, the greater will be the chance that they will commit themselves to returning to the country of their birth so that they can take part in helping to rebuild it.

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