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Clare Short: The hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends have made so much noise during the debate that they have not heard the answer to that question. I have been telling the House what we have done, and I have outlined it in a memorandum to the Select Committee. UK performance and speed of response are honoured and respected across the world. It seems that the only people who do not respect it are the Opposition in the House of Commons, and that is very sad.

Mr. St. Aubyn: Will the right hon. Lady give way?

Mr. Fabricant rose--

Clare Short: No, I will not.

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As soon as possible, we must get back to development. Large numbers of lives are lost week in and week out in Mozambique as a result of the terrible poverty of that country. Life expectancy in Mozambique is 47 years. Between 30 and 40 per cent. of children are chronically malnourished.

We have already allocated £70 million to our development programme for the next two 2 years. The hon. Member for South-West Devon read out an article from The Observer. I know nothing of the supposed quotes in it. On Saturday, I authorised a statement to the Press Association, which simply described all that we had done and said--I amended it to say this, so there is no doubt about it--that we had already committed about £70 million for development efforts over the next two years. That remains the case.

Under pressure from the Select Committee, I am publishing our plans ahead of time in a way no previous Government have done. That does not mean that precisely that sum will be spent; obviously, funds are moved depending on effectiveness. The £70 million commitment, which I had already made public, as no previous Government ever would have done, remains, but funding can be increased if Mozambique can spend more over the next two years. As it is a very poor country with weak capacity, Mozambique has considerable reserves from debt relief that it has been unable to spend. We are committed to at least £70 million, but it will be more if the country needs more help.

Mr. Andrew Robathan (Blaby): Will the right hon. Lady give way?

Mr. Fabricant rose--

Clare Short: No.--[Interruption.] Hurricane Mitch has been referred to. The current fashion seems to be that when people are under the mud in Central America, we are asked for debt relief. That will not save lives. Debt relief is, however, important for reconstruction; that was the reference to central America.

On debt forgiveness, because Mozambique has been a star reformer, it received debt relief of £1.7 billion under the heavily indebted poor countries scheme--HIPC1. Under HIPC2, it will receive a further £250 million. The UK has made it clear that we will have a moratorium on payments in the meantime--just as we did in central America--before Mozambique qualifies for HIPC2; we shall then move to 100 per cent. debt relief. Under a UK initiative in the Paris Club yesterday, all countries have agreed to a moratorium on debt relief. Mozambique will not be required to pay debt relief anywhere in the world until it qualifies for enhanced HIPC. At that time, we hope that most countries will join us in moving to 100 per cent. debt relief.

Many people believe that the recent spate of disasters is the result of environmental degradation. The advice that I have received is that so far there is no evidence for that, but that, because larger numbers of people are living on more marginal lands or in inappropriate places, the human suffering resulting from natural disasters is growing exponentially. However, there is no doubt that global warming is taking place; it is predicted that that will cause more turbulence, so we can expect an increasing number of such disasters in the years to come.

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We must, therefore, get the world's systems better prepared. For example, Bangladesh recently suffered its worst floods in 50 years, but there was little loss of life, because that country is now so well organised in coping with such disasters. However, floods in central America led to much greater loss of life because local organisations were not in place.

We have been working to improve the capacity of poor, disaster-prone countries to prepare and respond to disasters. For example, through a three-year programme with the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, help is being given to national Red Cross and Red Crescent societies throughout the world to prepare countries to respond quickly to rapid-onset disasters. I have a copy of the document produced by the international federation if hon. Members are interested in the matter.

We are also working to strengthen international systems. Until about three years ago, the world's response to disasters was ad hoc. The unfortunate country suffering from a flood or an earthquake took its chances on whether its pleas for help were heard. It was pot luck whether countries received relief that suited their needs.

Lessons have been learned. Through my Department's partnership programme with UN agencies, such as the UN Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs--I have a publication on the work of that organisation--the World Food Programme, UNICEF and especially the Red Cross, we have helped to set up much more systematic arrangements whereby information from a disaster is quickly assessed to produce a clear list of priorities to which donors can contribute. Contingency stocks of relief supplies and a worldwide network of experts can be made available at an e-mail's notice.

The UK is a major contributor to the UN disaster assessment and co-ordination system.

Mr. St. Aubyn: Will the right hon. Lady give way?

Clare Short: No, I shall not.

That work needs to be strengthened and taken forward more rapidly. However, the House should know that the UK has been a leading country in work over the past three years--hon. Members should note the time scale--to strengthen disaster preparedness throughout the world.

In conclusion, the UK response to the floods in Mozambique was one of the speediest and most generous in the world. There was--

Mr. St. Aubyn: Will the right hon. Lady give way?

Clare Short: No, I shall not, as I have made clear.

I repeat that there was no delay whatever in sending help to Mozambique because of our decision not to commission MOD helicopters. They came in expensively; they were far away; and we had cheaper and closer alternatives. There was no delay whatever. The thesis put by the hon. Member for South-West Devon is false.

Of course, much remains to be done to help Mozambique to recover from the disaster and to support the country's development. We have a large and growing programme in Mozambique and we shall be there for the

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long term. We need to redouble our efforts and those of the whole international system to improve disaster preparedness throughout the world--especially in countries subject to rapid-onset natural disasters.

I conclude by thanking the staff of my Department in London and in Maputo for their magnificent and continuing effort. I also thank--I hope on behalf of all of us--all the UK volunteers: the firefighters, the lifeboat experts, logisticians and members of our armed forces, who are working to help cope with the emergency.

Last but not least, I thank the British public for their generosity in responding to the appeal for Mozambique. We are entitled to feel proud of the spirit of generosity and concern that exists throughout our country. I am sure that the whole House will want to express its thanks to all who have worked so hard on our behalf to provide so much help to people in such desperate need in Mozambique.

Mr. Stephen Day (Cheadle): On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I have listened to all the Secretary of State's speech because I thought that she might correct what was perhaps an inadvertent inaccuracy. In her brief history lesson on Mozambique, she told the House that it was the only non-British former colony to join the Commonwealth. In fact, on the same day that Mozambique joined the Commonwealth, the former French colony of Cameroon also joined. I would like the right hon. Lady to have the opportunity to correct--

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. That is not a point of order for the Chair.

2.10 pm

Dr. Jenny Tonge (Richmond Park): The Liberal Democrats will not support the official Opposition's motion. In fact, in the course of the debate, my regard for the Conservatives has sunk to a new low.

Mozambique is one of the poorest countries in the world, but it has done well over recent years. It has been hit by a catastrophe in which 250,000 people have lost their homes, an unknown number are dead and children have been orphaned and in which malaria, diarrhoea and cholera are rampant. All that Her Majesty's official Opposition can do is seek to score cheap political points with this motion.

Mrs. Eleanor Laing (Epping Forest) rose--

Dr. Julian Lewis rose--

Dr. Tonge: I will not give way yet. Conservative Members have clearly missed the point. [Interruption.] If they stay in the Chamber, I shall explain why. When I was younger, I had methods for dealing with temper tantrums.

The official Opposition's approach has been destructive--business as usual, in other words.

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