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2. Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow): If she will make a statement on actions taken to unblock the Danube since 1 December. [100349]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for International Development (Mr. George Foulkes): We remain prepared to provide assistance through the European Commission to unblock the Danube, provided that agreement can be reached among the member states of the Danube Commission to allow the work to start.

Mr. Dalyell: Is my hon. Friend aware that, when my hon. Friend the Member for Halifax (Mrs. Mahon) and I were visiting the technical officials of the Ministry of Reconstruction in Belgrade in September, they made it clear that we would be whistling in the wind to think that there would be any co-operation until such time as the dollars and deutschmarks are on the table not only for pulling out the debris but for the reconstruction of the bridges themselves? In those circumstances, given the dire situation for Bulgaria, Romania and other countries caused by the severing of one of Europe's main arteries, cannot some agreement be reached that does not rely on saying that Mr. Milosevic is a dreadful man?

Mr. Foulkes: My hon. Friend must accept that the real problem rests with Milosevic. His Government have consistently refused to allow the river to be cleared unless we agree to rebuild the bridges, and he knows that that is unacceptable. Let me tell my hon. Friend also that the blockage can be bypassed by using a section of the Belgrade canal system--but Milosevic will charge the countries that my hon. Friend has just mentioned exorbitant prices for the privilege of using that section. My hon. Friend must at last realise that the villain of the piece is Mr. Milosevic.

Mr. Crispin Blunt (Reigate): Will the Minister accept that the blockage of the Danube means that Romania and Bulgaria have paid a heavy economic price for their support of NATO in the action over Kosovo? What impact does he believe the blockage has had on those countries' economies, and how much development assistance and aid are Britain and the international community giving them to make up for the price that they have paid?

Mr. Foulkes: Of course those countries are suffering, and I said in my reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) that there is a way round that problem. The key lies with Mr. Milosevic. In the meantime, we are providing substantial aid. Over £90 million has been provided by the British Government alone for reconstruction and help in Kosovo and the region. We continue to discuss with the other countries ways in which we can help them in the future. The

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Stability Pact is an important area of co-operation. Of course we want to do everything that we can to help those countries to prosper.

Mrs. Alice Mahon (Halifax): I have recently had meetings with the Bulgarian ambassador, the Ukrainian ambassador and Romanian MPs, one of whom represents a Danubian port and whose constituents have lost 2,500 jobs because the Danube is blocked. Does my hon. Friend accept that the country that is least hurt by that problem is Serbia? Will the Government stop taking this rather petulant line and look after the emerging democracies, which after all supported the Minister's point of view?

Mr. Foulkes: I, too, have spoken to the Ukrainian ambassador and to Ukrainian and Bulgarian Ministers. They recognise where the problem lies. It is a pity that there are not good Back-Bench Members of Parliament like my hon. Friend raising this question with Mr. Milosevic, but of course it is a different story there: we have a vibrant democracy--that is the difference.

St. Helena

3. Mr. Bob Russell (Colchester): What plans she has to visit the island of St. Helena. [100350]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for International Development (Mr. George Foulkes): My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has no plans to visit St. Helena. However, officials from our Department will be visiting the island in January 2000 to discuss with the St. Helena Government the country policy plan for the next three years.

Mr. Russell: It is just as well that the Secretary of State has no plans to visit that remote island because it has no airstrip, and the only ship, which is the only way to reach the outside world, is currently off the high seas undergoing repairs. I sincerely hope that it will be repaired in time for the January visit.

Does the Minister agree that there is considerable anger and dismay among the people of St. Helena about their treatment by this Government and the previous Government, which contrasts with the treatment received by the people of the Falkland Islands?

Mr. Foulkes: The Government recognise the problems of access to St. Helena. I am pleased to tell the House that this week we have agreed to a comparative study that will investigate the relative costs of air and sea access. It will identity the most effective, least costly permanent solution to the island's international passenger and cargo transportation needs. I am sure that it will be widely welcomed.

Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham): Given its importance to the increased self-sufficiency of the economy and to its sustainable prosperity, will the Minister tell the House what steps the Government envisage taking to assist in the diversification of the island's economy?

Mr. Foulkes: That is what my officials will be discussing with the councillors of St. Helena when they visit in January next year. That is part of the country's

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policy plan. We are keen to see diversification. We are keen also to see private investment and enterprise. At present, the Government are subsidising St. Helena more than any other area, island or country other than Montserrat, by about £2,000 per person. We want to see economic development so that that subsidy does not have to continue at that level.

Tropical Diseases

4. Mr. Nigel Beard (Bexleyheath and Crayford): What steps are being taken to help developing countries combat malaria and other endemic tropical diseases. [100351]

The Secretary of State for International Development (Clare Short): Malaria is one of the world's biggest killers. One million people die as a result of it each year--90 per cent. in Africa and many of them children. The World Health Organisation is leading a roll back malaria campaign more systematically to apply the best treatment and prevention methods. We have committed £60 million to this programme. We are working with others on polio. I made an announcement of our final tranche of commitment today: polio will be eradicated from the world within five years. That is about to be achieved, and it will be a wonderful achievement. We are also working to improve TB treatment and AIDS prevention and supporting the elimination of river blindness in Africa and elephantiasis worldwide.

Mr. Beard: I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer. As the overwhelming emphasis of interest of pharmaceutical companies lies in diseases of the developing world, and given that expertise in developing medically useful drugs lies almost exclusively with those companies, will my right hon. Friend consider meeting them to discuss how the development of relevant drugs for tropical diseases might be given greater emphasis in future?

Clare Short: Yes, indeed; my hon. Friend is absolutely right. All the science, skills and research lie with the big pharmaceutical companies. The poverty of the countries that need new drugs means that the market will not bring those drugs to the people. I have already met Glaxo and SmithKline Beecham. We talked with the World Bank about the way in which we can get the public and private sectors working together both to engage in research and to bring products to the market. I am pleased to say that there is some co-operation. That is part of the WHO's roll back malaria campaign. We need new drugs because an immunity is developing to the existing drugs.

Mr. Michael Fabricant (Lichfield): Is the right hon. Lady aware that, because of global warming, there are projections that the malaria area will spread northwards and southwards? Given that, what assessment has she made of the economic impact of the United Nations, decision that DDT might be banned in future, will have on developing nations?

Clare Short: The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. Malaria is spreading, including dangerous forms of it that go straight to the brain and can kill quickly. In the

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interests of people in the developing world and of ourselves, we need to roll back malaria. The systematic application of what we know--such as bed nets for children with the appropriate chemicals on them--can massively reduce the incidence. I have not examined the DDT question specifically. We are putting a great deal of effort into the roll back malaria campaign. I am optimistic that we can reduce the incidence of malaria, thus preventing the spread and saving many lives in the developing world.


5. Mr. Nigel Griffiths (Edinburgh, South): If she will make a statement on progress made on the repair of damaged houses and provision of alternative warm accommodation for refugees returning to Kosovo and on the support given by her Department. [100352]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for International Development (Mr. George Foulkes): The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees is co-ordinating efforts to provide warm winter shelter for the 700,000 people in need.

UNHCR, the European Community Humanitarian Office--ECHO--and the United States Agency for International Development--USAID--are distributing emergency repair kits and roofing repair kits in order to create dry shelter in repairable houses, on the basis of one room per family. Further places are being prepared in collective centres and host families.

Our Department aims to complement these shelter initiatives by helping to keep essential power and water supplies going during the winter.

Mr. Griffiths: While it is welcome news that a contribution is being made to ensure that people do not starve or freeze to death, is my hon. Friend aware of the pressures on the non-ethnic-Albanian communities, and will he ensure that every possible support is given to those communities, as well as to the ethnic Albanian communities?

Mr. Foulkes: Yes, I can give my hon. Friend that assurance. We are concerned about violence against Serbs. We have made known our concern, which I know is shared not just by my hon. Friend but by the whole House.

Mr. Robert Key (Salisbury): Have the Government managed to persuade all those involved to clear the backlog of trucks that are waiting at the Macedonian border? Has the essential equipment that has been held up for so long got through to all corners of Kosovo?

Mr. Foulkes: The hon. Gentleman has identified one of the problems. The road at Blace is a minor road, but it now serves as a major international communications route. That is causing problems. We have done everything possible, along with the international agencies involved, to try to get it cleared, and we shall continue to do so.

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