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International Development

Volume 400: debated on Wednesday 26 February 2003

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The Secretary of State was asked—

Health Services (Afghanistan)

1.

What recent discussions she has had with non-governmental organisations about rebuilding health services in Afghanistan. [98726]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for International Development
(Ms Sally Keeble)

My officials are in regular contact with NGOs in both Kabul and the UK. NGOs continue to have an important role to play in service delivery, especially as Government capacity is still weak. They have helped to immunise children against polio and measles, and have saved an estimated 30,000 lives. The Department for International Development has financed a number of these health activities.

I thank my hon. Friend for that reply. Does she accept that the continuing insecurity, especially outside of Kabul, hampers reconstruction and aid work? In its discussions with NGOs and aid agencies, has her Department explored their concerns about the capacity of joint reaction teams to bring that much-needed security?

I begin by paying tribute to the work that my hon. Friend has done with the Save the Children Fund to raise money for a clinic in Afghanistan. I certainly agree that improving security is one of the key challenges. The aim of the teams to which she refers—they have since been renamed provincial reconstruction teams—is to extend the authority of the Afghan Government, and to help to secure the development of a stable environment in the regions. We have been talking to the NGOs about this matter, and I believe that we are due to have further consultations this week.

Does my hon. Friend agree with the Minister for Women's Affairs in Afghanistan that jobs for women are now absolutely critical, especially given that so many widows are supporting children? Will my hon. Friend undertake to ask her officials to speak to the Minister in Kabul about the possibility of providing funds for some of the many projects that she has identified?

I agree about the importance of tackling gender equality issues and job opportunities for women. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has met the Minister for Women's Affairs, and we will certainly take forward discussions in the way that my hon. Friend suggests. Perhaps we can correspond about that issue.

Iraq

2.

What aid is planned for Iraq following the resolution of the current political situation. [98727]

The people of Iraq are already suffering a humanitarian catastrophe. Some 60 per cent. of the people in this naturally wealthy and highly educated country are dependent on handouts from the oil for food programme. One third of children in Baghdad-controlled Iraq are chronically malnourished. If the UN authorises military action to force Saddam Hussein to comply with his disarmament obligations, it is essential that great care be taken to minimise any harm to the people of Iraq, who are already very vulnerable. This means very careful targeting of military action, and ensuring that order is maintained, that food distribution is quickly resumed, and that the health, water and sanitation infrastructure is rehabilitated as soon as possible. Planning is in hand for all of this. My greatest worry is that there is not yet agreement that the UN should have the lead role in a post-conflict Iraq. Without that, there would be significant legal and other difficulties for the working of the international humanitarian system.

I am grateful to the right hon. Lady for that very comprehensive reply. Last week, the hon. Member for Falkirk, East (Mr. Connarty) and I travelled to northern Iraq, and we visited the Parliament, refugees and hospitals. The Iraqi Kurds, who asked us to speak for them, support the Prime Minister's moral policy, but they do need protection and aid. Is the Secretary of State aware that only one third of the oil for food programme is getting through to Kurdistan, and what can be done about that? Will she ensure that during and after any conflict, food and medical aid will continue to get through to Kurdistan, and does she agree that Turkish troops must be kept out of Kurdistan, unless the Kurdish leaders specifically invite them in, for humanitarian reasons?

I agree that, if there is to be military action, it is essential that the authority of the UN be upheld. If such action is to be authorised by the UN, making sure that the people are protected, and that feeding continues, will be crucial. The people are in very bad shape, and 60 per cent. of them are dependent on oil for food, which would be likely to break down. It is a very large-scale operation, and it would be essential to act quickly to keep food moving in Kurdistan and in the rest of the country, and to get the medical infrastructure working. In fact, the people of Kurdistan, which has the same UN sanctions and oil for food as the rest of the country, are in much better shape. That shows the way in which Saddam Hussein has manipulated the UN regime against the interests of his people. I note what the hon. Gentleman says about Turkish troops, and I shall make sure that that is conveyed to the appropriate authorities.

My right hon. Friend will know that I paid a separate visit to northern Iraq, where the main concern is that Saddam Hussein may again use chemical weapons against the Kurds. People especially want to know what protection we can give them against those possible chemical attacks. Chamchamal is the mountain top on the road down from Kurdistan to Kirkuk. From there, one can see Iraqi troops on the hills, and they have rockets. The fears of the Kurds are very strong indeed. Will my right hon. Friend say what practical protection we are offering the Kurds?

I agree that the risk, in both Kurdistan and Baghdad, that chemical and biological weapons will be used by Saddam Hussein in a way that inflicts harm on Iraqi people is one of the most serious that we face. I assure my hon. Friend that those risks and dangers are being carefully thought through and that we are trying to minimise them, but I am afraid that no one can give an absolute guarantee that they can be prevented. However, every effort will be made to bring help to any people who might be affected.

On 12 February, the Secretary of State told the International Development Committee that the military had not taken into account all the humanitarian risks that might result from military action. What did she mean when she said that she had struggled to be listened to by the military? Has communication improved?

I take the old-fashioned view that it is right to tell the House of Commons the truth, and not to pretend that all is well. If there have been delays in the military giving consideration to humanitarian risks—and there have—I have to tell the House of Commons that that is the case. There has been improvement, but getting agreement on a UN lead is absolutely key, and that is not in place. More work needs to be done to face up to all the eventualities.

Briefings given to hon. Members for today's debate by non-governmental organisations working in and around Iraq express concern that the Secretary of State has not been working closely with them in preparation for the humanitarian consequences of a war in the area. I recognise the sensitivities of military planning, but will the right hon. Lady explain why there has been so little consultation or sharing of information with NGOs, many of which have years of experience of working in Iraq and extensive experience of humanitarian relief and rehabilitation?

One of the least attractive aspects of some NGO behaviour is the attempt to grandstand and appear in the media when there is a crisis. We have had close relationships over a long period of time with some NGOs working in northern Iraq and with an even smaller number in Baghdad-controlled Iraq. My officials have met representatives of NGOs to talk about the present situation. As I made clear to the Select Committee, NGOs would not be operational in the early stages, as they are not the first call to get things right, but we are in contact with them. I really do not think that anyone should grandstand on these issues.

The whole House is aware of, and sympathetic to, the doubts and concerns that the Secretary of State has publicly admitted about the prospect of war in Iraq. However, does she accept that the effect of those doubts has been to prevent her from engaging properly in all attempts to discuss what humanitarian plans would be in place to mitigate the consequences of war? Does she also accept that, ironically, that could have grave consequences for the people of Iraq?

No. I think that the hon. Lady is engaging in cheap and inaccurate point scoring—another example of grandstanding about this crisis. She put this proposition in a debate some time ago, and I answered her fully. Her simplistic view that we should get on with the war, after which my Department and a few people can clean up, is ill informed. I and my Department have been fully engaged in trying to get the world to face the humanitarian risks and make preparations. I have explained that to the hon. Lady before, but she goes on with her cheap point scoring.

In her discussions with those planning the military contingencies, has the Secretary of State discussed the imperative of ensuring that Basra is occupied at an early stage, is maintained as a safe haven—

Order. There is so much noise in the House that it is unfair to those who are listening to the question.

Has the imperative that Basra should be maintained as a safe haven and a port of supply been considered? Is there an arrangement that might ensure that that is secured, thus avoiding displaced people finding their way into states that are incapable of supporting them?

I can assure the hon. Gentleman that there is detailed thinking about Basra, and I do not think that I can say any more than that.

3.

What contingency plans she has in place for aid to Iraqi displaced persons following possible conflict with Iraq; and if she will make a statement. [98728]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for International Development
(Ms Sally Keeble)

My Department is holding regular discussions with international organisations about contingency planning for a range of eventualities in Iraq. In the event of substantial population movements, we would expect the International Committee of the Red Cross to be the lead international agency in helping internally displaced people and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees to take the lead in providing assistance to refugees. In addition to our regular contributions we are giving an extra £3.5 million to support UN contingency planning for humanitarian relief in Iraq.

I thank the Minister very much for that helpful answer, but she will be aware that the UNHCR is predicting that possibly 3 million people will be displaced following a regime change. I fully understand that neither the United Kingdom nor the United States can act alone, but what steps is her Department taking to encourage the UN and other powers to ensure that those people can be cared for after a regime change, which, I believe, is now inevitable?

I remind the hon. Gentleman that, in addition to any scenario that has been predicted, there are a substantial number of internally displaced persons—between 1 million and 2 million—now in Iraq as a result of the appalling regime there. I do not want to speculate on the outcome of any action, but our Department, as my right hon. Friend has said, is putting every possible effort into strengthening the UN role and response to deal with any humanitarian crisis afterwards.

The Secretary of State told the House on 30 January that, if there is a war in Iraq, and without good organisation, there would be a humanitarian nightmare if large-scale ethnic fighting broke out in Iraq. What action is the Department taking to ensure such organisation in the event of the nightmare of an attack on Iraq?

Quite a number of scenarios are being considered, and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has done a great deal of work to try to make sure that those eventualities do not occur and that we prevent the nightmare that my hon. Friend mentions. We are currently working very closely with the UN to consider what those scenarios might be and to ensure that we have a properly supported UN system in place to take the lead.

It is the Government's position that resolution 1441 already provides the authority to use force against Iraq. If that force is used in those circumstances and UN authority and agreement has not been reached for the post-conflict administration of Iraq, it will be absolutely essential that the Department for International Development is fully involved in assisting with the civil administration of Iraq to ensure that the American military are in that position for the minimum amount of time. Will the Minister assure the House that her Department is making every effort to ensure not only UN agreement, if possible, but the full deployment of all the Department?s resources to make sure that post-conflict Iraq is administered in a way that will ensure a peaceful settlement there?

As usual, the hon. Gentleman has hit on one of the key problems that we face: the legal position of the humanitarian assistance that is provided after any conflict that might take place. We are working very hard to resolve those issues and to strengthen the position and role of the UN. We are also obviously taking careful cognisance of the humanitarian problems that could unfold. I can assure the hon. Gentleman that no Department is more focused on that than the Department for International Development and no person in the Government is doing more on that than my right hon. Friend.

Afghanistan

4.

What progress her Department is making towards rebuilding Afghanistan. [98729]

Rebuilding Afghanistan will require strong Afghan leadership, large amounts of aid and policy support for the long term. Much has been achieved: the election of the Transitional Administration; the establishment of revenue and budget systems; the introduction of a new currency; 2 million refugees have returned; 3 million children are now in school, a third of whom are girls; and millions of children have been vaccinated against polio and measles.

There is much more to be done, however, and achieving security outside Kabul is key to speeding up progress.

I thank the Secretary of State for that encouraging answer and the description of all the work currently being done. Does she agree that education must be at the heart of that work? Opportunities for education—especially tertiary education through the universities—are the greatest encouragement that we can give to young people in Afghanistan to remain to help rebuild that country. Will she do all that she can to encourage European and British universities to link with those in Afghanistan, and particularly those in Kabul, to bring those opportunities to thousands of young people in Afghanistan and help them to rebuild?

I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend. Expansion of rights to education is a human right, but getting girls to school is also profoundly developmental for any country. Girls who have been to school change their country as they grow up. Our focus is therefore on securing universal primary education, and on ensuring that girls are included. A tradition exists of high-quality higher education in Afghanistan, which is being redeveloped. I take my hon. Friend?s point, however, and I will look into the question of links with our universities, which I have not yet examined.

Despite what the Secretary of State says, she must know that only half the money decided necessary by the World Bank has been pledged to Afghanistan so far. Despite the Prime Minister's promises not to abandon the people of that country, that is precisely what is happening. The USA and her Government have moved on and plan even worse destruction for Iraq. Because she knows that that is true, will she seriously consider joining many of her colleagues and the Liberal Democrats in the Lobby tonight to avert a new disaster?

Order. The Secretary of State will not reply to that. It was out of order.

I very much appreciate the work of my right hon. Friend and her Department, but how much collaborative and cooperative working is being undertaken by her Department with any US Government Departments?

In general, in international development, as in many other things, the US tends to take quite a unilateralist approach. It has a big commitment in Afghanistan and elsewhere, but it tends to operate on its own. The UK leads increasingly on rebuilding the institutions of the country, and on building its management of the economy and its capacity to provide services to its people. We collaborate, but we operate in different ways generally across the world, and we try to make sure that that is complementary.

Millennium Development Goals

5.

If she will make a statement on progress towards the millennium development goals. [98730]

The world is on track to meet the overarching millennium development goal of halving the proportion of people in poverty by 2015. That will mean 1 billion people having lifted themselves out of extreme poverty between 1990 and 2015. However, progress is not even across the world. Large parts of Africa are not on target, and better progress is possible on many of the goals. In short, the world is making progress, but with a greater effort we could do much better.

I am very grateful to my right hon. Friend for that reply, but she will know better than anyone that achieving those goals will require a substantial increase in resources. What are the Government doing to make progress towards a target of spending 0.7 per cent. of GDP on development assistance? What is being done to encourage our European partners to do the same, bearing in mind that they agreed to that back in 2001?

My hon. Friend is right. We have about $52 billion in the international development system. When one reflects on the fact that 1.2 billion people live in abject poverty, half of humanity lives in deep poverty and how much we spend on public services in our countries, one realises that that is a pathetic amount, although it is increasingly effectively deployed. For that reason, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor is working internationally to mobilise commitment to an international financing facility that would double the amount of aid available to $100 billion, which is increasingly getting support across the international system. That was the estimate made at the Monterrey conference of the amount needed to support countries to meet the millennium development goals, and we must all work to support the Chancellor in that effort.[Interruption.]

I greatly admire much of what the right hon. Lady is doing to reduce poverty in the world, which was the subject of the question that she has just answered. What more will she and the Government do to remove from office a man who is bringing an increasing percentage of his population into starvation and poverty? I refer to that tyrant, Robert Mugabe.

There is no doubt that the situation in Zimbabwe is serious and brutal. Seven million people need food aid. Projections suggest that the rest of the region will probably recover next year, but that things will get worse in Zimbabwe. There are only 11.2 million people in the country now and 9 million of them will need food aid next year.

As the hon. Gentleman will know, international law says that it is not legal for countries to seek to remove individual rulers. However, it is highly likely that the people of Zimbabwe will shortly bring down the leadership of Robert Mugabe. We will then all work to help the people to take their country forward again.

Among the millennium development goals is a significant reduction in HIV infection. Does my right hon. Friend agree that, if we are to achieve that reduction, it is important that the global fund for health is a success? Although it is welcome that the US has committed significant extra money over the next five years, there is a problem in the short term. This year, the fund does not have the money to deal properly with the commitments for round 3, which is due later this year. Will my right hon. Friend consider what can be done to ensure that the fund can go ahead with round 3 distributions this year?

I agree that the global fund for health is important, but I am afraid that it is not being as well led as it might be. Its role is to provide drugs and commodities for the treatment of tuberculosis, HIV and malaria, but health care systems must be in place to deliver them. A twin-track approach is therefore required. Unfortunately, the leadership of the fund has over-committed and is operating separately from health reform agendas. The US has just committed the money that it promised originally. However, I am holding back from any further commitments until there is a more clearly targeted effort to collaborate in the strengthening of health systems. Rather than simply giving more money, I am in dialogue with the fund about doing a better job.

I commend the Secretary of State for the excellent work of her Department. Does she agree that the best way to reach vital targets is to encourage each developing country to move towards its own benign governance, the rule of law and a market-based economy? Ultimately, nothing else is sustainable. Will she say a little more about the capacity building measures of her Department to try to bring about such end results?

I agree with the hon. Gentleman—to achieve a growing economy, effective modern governance is needed, as well as a respect for human rights and democracy; also needed are a treasury that works, procures properly and is not corrupt; a central bank that works; and a macro-economic framework that allows the local private sector and inward investment to work. That is why, in developing countries, we put such stress on the building of effective and modern state institutions with democratic accountability. Progress is being made in many countries but, as the hon. Gentleman knows, some are not on that path. We have to make greater efforts.

Education (Developing Countries)

6.

What steps she is taking to improve girls' access to education in developing countries. [98732]

Since 1990, the number of primary schoolchildren who are out of school has decreased from 130 million to 115 million, so progress has been made. However, the number of children who are out of school is still unacceptably high. Globally, girls still represent 56 per cent. of children currently out of school, and 66 per cent. in south and west Asia. We are working with a variety of partners to help to accelerate progress on girls' education. We plan to spend £1.3 billion on basic education over the next five years.

I thank my right hon. Friend for that encouraging response. She will be aware of the Global Campaign For Education, which is about to report on girls' education—its main campaign focus for 2003. Is she aware that the campaign will be holding a seminar in Portcullis House on 8 April, where my hon. Friend the Member for Bethnal Green and Bow (Ms King) will be on the panel? Will my right hon. Friend join me in encouraging the campaign and congratulating the people involved on their excellent work?

I am happy to congratulate anyone who is committed to driving forward the implementation of the millennium development goal to get all children in the world, including girls, into basic education. In the poorest countries, girls tend not to be in school. Getting girls to school and a generation of them through primary education brings the biggest development effect in any country. Girls who go to school as they grow up marry later, have fewer children who are more likely to survive, increase household income, get their own children into school and access health care. That is fundamental to progress in development in the poorest countries.