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12.16 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for International Development (Mr. George Foulkes): I am deeply indebted to my hon. Friend the Member for Clydebank and Milngavie (Mr. Worthington) for initiating this debate, which the Government welcome. In the time that the House has generously provided for me, I will try to provide answers to all the questions. If I am unable to do so, I undertake that either I or one of my colleagues from another Department will write to the hon. Members concerned. That will include the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) in relation to nuclear power plants. I should have liked to answer that question but, in the time available, I was unable to do so. I can assure my hon. Friend that someone will write to him.

As the hon. Member for South-West Devon (Mr. Streeter) rightly said, we are facing the most acute crisis in Europe since 1945. More than 1 million people have been evicted from their homes. Thousands have been killed, and hundreds of women raped. I am surprised that anyone has questioned those figures, and I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Gloucester (Ms Kingham) and to the hon. Member for Richmond Park (Dr. Tonge) for confirming them. Thousands of people have been separated from their families.

I say to my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow that, for more than a year, we tried to find a diplomatic solution. We called on Milosevic to stop attacking and persecuting his own people. He refused. At the end of the day, we had a duty to act to help those people who were being persecuted, killed and maimed. We have acted on

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that duty, and none of us in the Government apologises for that. The scale of the resulting crisis is clear, but let there be no doubt in the House; Milosevic is responsible for the crisis and the suffering.

I can tell my hon. Friend the Member for Clydebank and Milngavie that this is a timely debate. As he and others have said, a donors' conference is taking place today in Paris, considering specifically the needs of Macedonia. I expect that there will be a similar conference on Albania soon.

The UK has an important role in the conference, as well as in the medium and long-term support for the region. However, that is along with other donors. We must not forget that, as well as the bilateral donors, the EU and the international financial institutions have a responsibility. The UK should not take it all upon ourselves in dealing with the problem. At the donors' conference, we will pledge a further £5 million from the know-how fund to improve the administration within Macedonia and to make the country more able to cope with the problems to which the hon. Member for South-West Devon referred.

Mr. Gerrard: We all appreciate that aid is needed and, after the conference, we may have a clearer idea of the scale of the money to be given. However, I am concerned about the comparison of what is being given with the costs. The Home Office has said that this country will spend more than £600 million this year on support for asylum seekers; and that is supporting maybe 50,000 people. When we compare that figure with the problems in Macedonia and Albania, it suggests the scale of aid that might be needed.

Mr. Foulkes: I will deal with that point, but it is important to deal first with the issue raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Cynon Valley (Ann Clwyd) and others about our position on taking in refugees. There has been some misunderstanding of the Government's position. There has been no policy change. Not having a quota does not mean an unwillingness to take refugees; indeed, quotas can easily be used as an upper limit.

We have said all along that the vast majority of refugees should remain in the region, as is their own wish--they said that to members of the Select Committee and to the Prime Minister--ready to return when the NATO campaign has succeeded. We in Britain have given more help on the ground than most other countries. We recognise that some refugees need to be airlifted out: especially the vulnerable, those with particular medical conditions and those with family connections in the United Kingdom. Above all, only those who want to come here must be brought; it must be voluntary. We were concerned that some people were being shipped out against their will. That certainly must not happen.

That humanitarian response has always been our intention. Two planes came in last week, to Leeds- Bradford airport and to East Midlands airport. I want to thank all those involved in receiving the refugees, including the Refugee Council, local authorities and local Members of Parliament. We are now able to increase the pace of our humanitarian response because the UNHCR and the International Organisation for Migration have been able to process more requests.

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Departments, local authorities and voluntary organisations are now ready to receive more people, so we can go up from two planes a week to four a week, and ultimately one a day over the next few weeks.

Mr. Alan Clark: If, as is proper, the Minister is consulting local authorities and others and getting their consent, will he not also feel obliged, for reasons of both practicality and honour, to assure those authorities that a proper screening process will be set in train, to prevent infiltration by criminal elements and by those who, as I have warned the House, will be intimidating refugees, and whom their own people will obviously be reluctant to reveal?

Mr. Foulkes: A Home Office team will go to the region--this weekend, I expect--to help with the screening, working with the UNHCR and the International Organisation for Migration.

Those who come will get exceptional leave to stay and will be able to receive social security and to work. The next two plane loads will arrive at Prestwick airport on Sunday and will then go to Clydebank and to Glasgow.

Let me assure my hon. Friend the Member for Cynon Valley that the fact that Britain was not on the list at the beginning and had to be added in biro was an administrative oversight on the ground in Macedonia--I apportion no blame--which, I am glad to say, has now been rectified.

I was asked about the level of assistance that weare giving. The Prime Minister announced a further £20 million, which several hon. Members have welcomed today, bringing the total since the conflict started to£40 million. I assure my hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow (Mr. Gerrard) that we are willing to consider further requests for funds as the need arises.

I can confirm for the hon. Members for Richmond Park and for South-West Devon that the latest funds do not come out of my Department's budget. We are not taking away help that should rightly continue to go to those in poverty in sub-Saharan Africa and Asia. We try to ensure that the help that we give on the ground helps host families and the host countries as much as possible.

I join the hon. Member for South-West Devon in congratulating the British people on contributing£28 million through the Disasters Emergency Committee appeal. That, in a matter of days, is a phenomenal response, and shows their concern for the plight of refugees; indeed, they have contributed to other appeals, too. I know that many people want to give medicine or gifts, but money is what is needed. They would do better to sell what they might otherwise give and raise money so that what is needed can be procured locally, wherever possible.

We have an unparalleled record of providing help on the ground. We have flown 40 airlifts so far, providing tents, blankets, food, and medical and emergency supplies, with more on the way. I am proud to say, in this Red Cross week, that we have given £2.5 million to the Red Cross for relief and for family tracing, to get families back together. Scores of families have already been reunited, and more will be.

We are providing an airport logistics cell at Tirana, an aircraft handling package at Skopje, and a convoy of five trucks. We have helped to set up two camps in Macedonia

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and we are setting one up in Albania. We are establishing contingency stockpiles of food, tents and blankets. There are scores of Department for International Development staff on the ground.

We are providing funds to the World Food Programme, to UNICEF and to international voluntary organisations. We are helping with radio programmes to give information to the refugees and providing free radios. Hon. Members can be proud of what the Government are doing in this very difficult situation.

My hon. Friend the Member for Clydebank and Milngavie urged us to give additional help to the UNHCR. There have been some criticisms of the UNHCR, and Mrs. Ogata, its head, has accepted that it is not perfect, but we should recognise that we are dealing with an unprecedented exodus. I can confirm today that, following the Prime Minister's visit, substantial further funds will be made available for the UNHCR. He hopes to talk to Mrs. Ogata about that. We are keen to help the organisation to overcome any weaknesses that have been identified and to provide the psychosocial help to which my hon. Friend the Member for Gloucester referred.

I have been asked about European Union funds. Our officials are today working on a specific remit to unblock the 25 million euros for Macedonia. It is important to remove the blockage as quickly as possible. I am sure that the hon. Member for South-West Devon will be pleased that the Adam Smith Institute is providing the help to try to get the Macedonian Government's books in some kind of order.

We recognise that the conflict affects not only Macedonia and Albania but the other front-line states, as the hon. Member for South-West Devon said. We recognise the need for long-term assistance, and we have already started discussions on that. The countries concerned are European countries and need to be integrated into the wider European and global framework, with political and economic stability in the long term. Membership of European and international organisations is vital to that end.

In the longer term, it is important to have a stability pact in south-east Europe. Proposals for such a pact will be discussed at a meeting of senior officials in Bonn on 27 May.

No one, and least of all Milosevic, should be in any doubt that we will continue our campaign until the Serb troops are withdrawn, there is an international force in place and the Kosovars can return in safety to rebuild their shattered lives. Meanwhile, we will continue to play our full part in helping the refugees on the ground and in the United Kingdom. They want NATO to succeed, above all, as they want to return to their homes. We will continue until they can do so in safety.


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