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International Development

Volume 497: debated on Wednesday 21 October 2009

The Secretary of State was asked—

Sri Lanka

1. What his most recent assessment is of the humanitarian situation of refugees in Sri Lanka; and if he will make a statement. (294269)

Two weeks ago, I visited Sri Lanka to see for myself the situation of the 250,000 internally displaced people detained in camps. Conditions have improved there compared with my previous visit in April, with basic needs such as food and shelter being met. However, health care and humanitarian access remain inadequate and we are concerned about military oversight of the camps and family separations. We also believe that conditions will deteriorate during the monsoon season, which is about to start. While I was in Sri Lanka, I repeated the United Kingdom’s call for freedom of movement for all the IDPs so that they can go back to host families, relatives or their places of origin.

May I ask my hon. Friend whether he has been able to get a time scale for the Tamils to go back to their homes in Sri Lanka? Also, how has the aid been distributed?

The Government of Sri Lanka were committed to having 80 per cent. of those detained in camps going back to their places of origin by the end of the year. To facilitate that process, I am pleased to announce today an allocation of £500,000 to the HALO Trust for mine surveillance and de-mining in the Mullaitivu area. That work has started and will make the area safe for homes and for land use for the people who were put in the camps.

Will the Minister look into whether further pressure can be put on Sri Lanka by the Commonwealth? If Sri Lanka continues not to let people return or go home from the camps, perhaps it should be suspended from the Commonwealth.

It is important that the international community makes clear its position with regard to the number of people still in the camps and the importance of freedom of movement. We believe that that is happening, but, as far as the Commonwealth’s position is concerned, I know that the Government of Sri Lanka are keen to host the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in a couple of years’ time. That might have some bearing on their response to the developments for people who are in the camps.

May I thank the Minister for his statements and for his visit to Sri Lanka on behalf of my Tamil constituents? May I also ask his Department to support the EU Trade Commissioner’s GSP—or generalised system of preferences—plus report, which was issued on Monday, to ensure that preferred status will be withdrawn from Sri Lanka should things continue as they are?

My hon. Friend has long been an advocate for her Tamil constituents and I applaud her for her commitment. As regards the GSP plus and the announcement made this week by the European Commission, there is a process that should be followed to maintain the integrity of the GSP plus system. We believe that in the meantime the Government of Sri Lanka should look at the findings and act on them swiftly.

As someone who visited the camps earlier this year, along with you, Mr. Speaker, I welcome the Minister’s report on the basic conditions in the camps. Does he agree with me, however, that the Sri Lankan Government would better serve their interests if they gave full unrestricted access to the camp to the media and all the agencies and fulfilled their promise to allow people to return home before Christmas? What are the chances of that happening?

The right hon. Gentleman knows the situation well from his own experience and from his experience as Chairman of the Select Committee. I agree entirely with his assessment that it is in the Government of Sri Lanka’s interest to allow open access to the media. During the visit that I undertook two weeks ago, I had people from the BBC with me. It had full access to camps and individuals within those camps to do whatever reporting it felt necessary. Let me give the right hon. Gentleman an indication of the scale of the transfer that is needed. We have had a request from the International Organisation for Migration for transport assistance to help 41,000 people from the camps go back to Mannar, Mullaitivu and Kilinochchi, in addition to the 32,000 who we know left the camps in September.

I had the very distressing experience with the all-party group of visiting the camps at Menik farms zones 2 and 3 at Vavuniya. In spite of that distressing aspect, there was an uplifting side to the visit because of the attitude of the people and their hope for the future. Will the Minister ensure that any aid that is forthcoming from the Government is directed primarily at the welfare of the people in the camps and their displacement back to their own homes, which have been out of reach, to be joined with their families? Secondly—

Order. I do not wish to be discourteous to the hon. Gentleman, but I think that one question will do.

When I was in Sri Lanka, I made it clear to the Government that from the end of this year, when the monsoon season was brought to a conclusion, we would no longer be funding aid for closed camps and that our aid would be directed towards facilitating movement from the camps. That includes the de-mining to which I have referred and means that I can announce £250,000 for predictable, safe and dignified transport for people from the camps back to host communities, as well as a further £220,000 to the Food and Agriculture Organisation to provide bushels of rice seeds to enable people to have a decent livelihood when they get back to their homes.

The Minister has confirmed this morning that a package of rehabilitation measures is being put in place by the Department. That is welcome, but he has also confirmed that emergency aid will be redirected away from the camps. The Government also voted against the $2.5 billion International Monetary Fund package in July and are now considering ending the EU’s special trade privileges that the hon. Member for Mitcham and Morden (Siobhain McDonagh) mentioned. Is that really the most constructive way to persuade the Sri Lankan Government to promote a long-term reconciliation process, and to meet their stated pledge that 80 per cent. of displaced people should be returned by Christmas? That is what members of the Sri Lankan diaspora, and all Sri Lankan people in the UK, desperately want.

We were speaking up for all the people I saw in the camps two weeks ago. It was clear that they wanted to be returned to their homes as quickly as possible, but the nature of the closed camps, with their restrictions and military oversight, is wholly wrong. That is why our assistance will be geared to the de-mining, transport and livelihood programmes, as they will enable people to move safely and securely from the camps back to their homes, where they will be able to get on with their lives. I think that that is what the diaspora community here in the UK wants to hear.

East Africa

7. What recent assessment he has made of levels of availability of food in east Africa; and if he will make a statement. (294275)

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State recently announced an extra £39 million of additional humanitarian assistance to the region, bringing our total contribution this year to some £83 million. That will help to supply food aid, emergency nutrition, water and sanitation, and will be delivered by the World Food Programme and UNICEF, and agencies such as Oxfam and Médecins sans Frontières.

I thank my hon. Friend for that reply, and for the additional moneys that he has announced. However, he will know that it is 25 years since the first Band Aid concert brought the Ethiopian food crisis to our attention. Local Tearfund visitors say that even the weeds are not growing in some areas. This is a long-term problem, not just a short-term one. Will the Minister describe the specific steps that he is taking to address the long-term climate change issues affecting the region, and Ethiopia in particular, as well as the immediate food programmes that are so desperately needed?

My hon. Friend makes an important point and I congratulate him on his work with Tearfund and other similar aid agencies in his constituency. He will recognise that we are in a very different place now from where we were some 25 years ago. There has been a substantial increase in the numbers of people getting help. The proportion of people in Ethiopia in need of emergency assistance is lower than 25 years ago, not least because of some of the support that we have provided through in-country productive safety net programmes and humanitarian assistance. We continue to work with African leaders to make sure that their voices are also heard in the climate change negotiations that are under way at the moment, and which we desperately hope will lead to a new global deal to replace Kyoto.

Ethiopia is one of the worst affected areas. The Government have provided welcome emergency relief, but the hon. Member for Loughborough (Mr. Reed) made a good point when he spoke about the long-term problems. I spoke to the ambassador just a few minutes ago, and he stressed the importance of providing development aid. I understand that Ethiopia receives a smaller proportion of such aid than a number of other countries in the region. Will the Minister look at what can be done to provide the financial and technical assistance to Ethiopia so that these terrible famines do not keep happening?

We continue to provide a substantial assistance programme to Ethiopia. I hope to visit the country shortly to see for myself the challenges the hon. Gentleman describes. When we published the White Paper in July we set out our determination to do all we can to help developing countries such as Ethiopia increase agricultural production. We are therefore increasing our research budget for the types of crops that can survive climate change and so prevent people from needing emergency support. We also want to put further investment into the type of social protection schemes that are already making a difference and preventing people from needing emergency assistance. We are determined to provide more humanitarian assistance, and will keep up the pressure on other international donors to do more to help countries like Ethiopia, and other countries in the region as well.

Does my hon. Friend agree that children who are hungry in east Africa face particular problems? Will he therefore commend the work of the Schools for Africa School Meal Deal, and the School Food Trust’s Really Good School Dinner campaign? They provide practical support for children in school and community-based feeding schemes and also persuade children here about the importance of providing long-term support for children in developing countries.

I certainly will praise the work of the organisation that my hon. Friend describes and has worked with. I know that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, who attended the launch of the programme that my hon. Friend describes, was also impressed by its work. My hon. Friend will be pleased to know that we continue to work closely with organisations such as UNICEF which provide support to help to make sure that children are not forgotten in the delivery of emergency assistance, and that we help to tackle the levels of malnutrition that still exist among children in the region.

The situation in east Africa, particularly in Ethiopia, is dire. We welcome the additional support that the Government have offered to the Governments there but, as the hon. Member for Loughborough (Mr. Reed) highlighted, it is 25 years since the famine that killed a million people. Is it not a scandal that the World Food Programme has barely half the funding that it needs to feed the 100 million people it estimates are starving, and is it not time to stop relying on emergency appeals and get proper funding in place for that programme?

As I said in my answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Loughborough (Mr. Reed) and other Members, we accept that a series of steps need to be taken. We have to continue to provide emergency assistance to organisations such as the World Food Programme, and indeed we continue to campaign internationally for more humanitarian assistance to be provided. At the same time, we need to put in place a series of further long-term steps to help to increase agricultural production in countries in east Africa and elsewhere so that they can better tackle their own needs, thereby preventing the need for emergency assistance. We have said that we will increase our agricultural research budget, but we also continue to put pressure on other donors, some in Europe and some outside Europe, to do more to increase humanitarian assistance and to put in place long-term development programmes to help countries away from the type of problems that we are discussing.

Ethical Investments

CDC capital is invested in accordance with CDC’s updated investment code. It aims to ensure that CDC applies appropriately strong environmental, social and governance standards to its investment decisions. Specifically, it prohibits CDC investment in businesses involving hazardous products, endangered and protected wildlife, the production and trade of arms, gambling, pornography and tobacco products.

The United Nations, Hillary Clinton, NGOs and others have called for urgent investment in food production to relieve poverty in the developing world, yet CDC executives enjoy a bonus culture that would be the envy of Fred Goodwin. Will the Minister apply ethical tests to the CDC decisions that have led to just 5 per cent. of the development money received from the UK taxpayer going into agricultural projects, yet much more into financial services, shopping malls—

Order. May I say to the Back Bencher of the Year that he is deservedly Back Bencher of the Year, but that was a “War and Peace” question, and I do not want “War and Peace” questions.

My hon. Friend is right to highlight the need for more investment in agriculture, as other hon. Members have done in previous questions. We are working closely with the Americans. In particular, the G8 and others have committed more than $20 billion over the next three years for food security and agricultural development. We are committing some £1 billion over the next three years. With reference to CDC, it has invested in 33 agri-businesses, as well as a series of other businesses in Africa and other developing countries. We need it to continue to invest in those businesses to help to generate more jobs so that developing countries can plot their own path out of dependence on aid.

But the damning National Audit Office report last year found that Ministers failed to demand real evidence of the impact of CDC, and that this multi-billion business was overseen by the equivalent of just one and a half full-time members of staff from the Department. What is the Minister doing to get his act together and ensure that CDC delivers on the key development objectives that we expect?

Unusually for the hon. Gentleman, he somewhat exaggerates the findings of the NAO report. Since its publication, we have put in place a further series of steps to respond to the NAO’s concerns—in terms not only of monitoring pay, but of ensuring that there is independent verification of CDC’s investment code. We have further asked CDC to shift more of its total investment into low-income countries and, particularly, into sub-Saharan Africa.

Copenhagen Summit

4. What steps the Government are taking to ensure equitable treatment of developing countries in negotiations which are taking place before the Copenhagen climate change summit. (294272)

Climate change today poses the greatest risk to the poorest countries. To achieve a fair and equitable outcome at Copenhagen, it is therefore essential that the most vulnerable countries have a voice in the decisions that are taken. The UK has provided considerable financial and technical support to developing country negotiators and civil society, helping them to prepare for and engage in high-level meetings in the run-up to Copenhagen.

The world’s poorest countries are already being hurt by the leading edge of climate change, and people are calling out for help. Will my right hon. Friend be absolutely resolute in making sure that their voice is heard at Copenhagen and we get urgent action on their behalf?

Yes, I can give my hon. Friend the undertaking that she seeks. We have been tireless in our efforts to ensure that the voices of sub-Saharan African countries and other developing countries are heard at the negotiations. We welcome the engagement of Prime Minister Meles of Ethiopia, speaking up for and representing the interests of the African Union, but only last month I travelled to Bangladesh with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change to ensure that he was fully apprised of the clear linkage between the need to tackle dangerous climate change and the need to tackle global poverty.

Did the Secretary of State notice that the Government of the Maldives recently held a Cabinet meeting under water to highlight the risk to that country of climate change? Given that the Maldives is an Islamic, fully fledged democracy with strong links to this country, what steps are we taking to help them in their battle against climate change?

The surest way to help the people of the Maldives and, indeed, all the developing world is to ensure that we get a global deal on carbon in Copenhagen. However, I hope that in the weeks between now and the summit we will see throughout the House a genuine consensus emerge on the key issue of development and climate finance, because although the Government have pledged that we recognise the need for genuinely additional resources to deal with the challenge of adaptation, sadly, that commitment has not yet been forthcoming from the Opposition. [Interruption.]

Order. There are too many private conversations going on. Mr. Burt, a man of your legendary courtesy knows better.

What discussions has my right hon. Friend had with Nigeria about gas flaring; and can he do something about it? The people in that area are suffering from the pollution that it causes.

My hon. Friend, who has a great deal of knowledge of the subject, leading, as I understand he does, the all-party group on Nigeria, is right to recognise the issue of gas flaring. There have been considerable challenges in the delta, and I understand that there are continuing discussions on the issue, but I shall write to him.

As I saw at the Poznan climate summit last year, representatives of developing countries are at a disadvantage, because they cannot afford to employ the hordes of lawyers and negotiators that developed countries hire. In the spirit of the right hon. Gentleman’s call for a unified response throughout the House, will he look again at Conservative proposals for an advocacy fund to help poor countries to make their voices heard as effectively as possible throughout these vital forthcoming negotiations?

I have heard the voices of developing countries, and they have said clearly and unequivocally that they do not want development funds rebadged in toto as climate finance funds. That is why we as a Government have made a commitment that only up to 10 per cent. of our official development assistance will be used as part of the public contribution to what we hope will be a global deal in Copenhagen. Sadly, that commitment has not been forthcoming from the Opposition, but if the hon. Gentleman is concerned about the need to listen to the voices of the poor, perhaps he will give that commitment now.

HIV Vaccine (Funding)

5. What funding his Department is providing for research into an HIV vaccine for use in developing countries. (294273)

The Department has committed a total of £78 million for the international AIDS vaccine initiative. That comprises £38 million from 1998 to 2007 and a further £40 million from 2008 to 2013. The United Kingdom’s Government were the first to fund the IAVI, in 1998, and we have remained a major bilateral supporter, providing the long-term and predictable support that we believe is essential for vaccine development.

I am grateful to the Minister for that answer, and I recognise the funding that has already gone in. Does he accept that the recent media coverage of the potential, yet-to-be-proven vaccine breakthrough in this area points up even more the huge need for funding to build capacity in vaccine research, as well as the huge rewards that would flow from success in this area?

We gave a cautious welcome to the findings that have recently come from research in Thailand, for example. We believe that prevention must be at the heart of our approach to dealing with HIV/AIDS, and that the search for a viable, effective and accessible vaccine must be the backbone of our approach to prevention.

Will my hon. Friend and his ministerial colleagues use their influence to ensure that people, particularly in east Africa, including Uganda, are not encouraged to pull out of the necessary treatment because of the terrible picture in terms of the food shortage?

My right hon. Friend has had a long-term interest in international development, and I pay tribute to that. I entirely agree with his sentiment that it is important that people who have embarked on treatment continue with it if we are to deal with the scourge of HIV/AIDS.

Copenhagen Summit

6. What recent discussions he has had with his EU counterparts on the international development aspects of the forthcoming Copenhagen climate change summit; and if he will make a statement. (294274)

The General Affairs and External Relations Council has two sessions each year on development issues. Climate change was a focus of the May meeting, and we will again be looking at climate change in the November meeting, as well as ensuring that we are represented at these meetings. I take numerous opportunities to discuss the road to Copenhagen with my EU counterparts.

I thank the Secretary of State for that reply. Does he agree, however, that it is important that developed countries, including our European counterparts, show sensitivity to the developing world as regards climate change implications from the vantage point of the developed world? Will he therefore stress to them his personal support—and, I hope, that of the Government more widely—for the 10:10 campaign, which will feature in my colleagues’ Liberal Democrat-led debate later today?

The right hon. Gentleman is entirely right in recognising that there needs to be a genuine engagement with the developing countries. That was one of the reasons I recently travelled to India to engage with dialogue there on the issue of climate change. In relation to the 10:10 campaign, I can confirm that my Department has signed up to that campaign; that is a powerful signal of the continuing commitment of several of us to tackle this issue. [Interruption.]

Order. I recognise that Members on both sides of the House are excited about the approach of Prime Minister’s questions, but it is very discourteous for Members to witter away when a question is being asked or an answer is being given. The public do not like it—and, as I have said, neither, frankly, do I.

I welcome the determination expressed by the Secretary of State, but what confidence can he give us that the rights and needs of vulnerable developing countries will be better protected in negotiations on climate change at Copenhagen than they were at the world trade negotiations?

My hon. Friend is right to recognise that there are intertwined challenges of dealing with dangerous climate change and with global poverty. Unless we are successful in Copenhagen in securing a global deal, then dangerous climate change threatens the attempt to make poverty history for millions of our fellow citizens around the world. That is why we have worked so hard to ensure that the voices of the poorest countries, as well as the richest, are heard in Copenhagen this December.


The Department for International Development is supporting the work of the Afghanistan national development strategy to establish a more effective state; to encourage economic growth, providing alternatives to poppy growing; and to promote stability and development in Helmand province. We work with the wider UK Government strategy for the region to strengthen state institutions, counter the threat of violent extremism, and produce sustainable economic growth.

Are not storage and distribution systems, and a marketing strategy including minimum guaranteed prices, essential to support wheat production in Afghanistan, because otherwise we run the risk of over-production there, collapsing the price and therefore destroying the credibility of international aid?

These are exactly the issues that we are discussing at the moment with both the Government of Afghanistan and Governor Mangal in Helmand province. We welcome the fact that we have moved to a position in which more than half the provinces in Afghanistan are poppy-free. Amidst all the complexity, there is a basic equation: where we can deliver security, we are more likely to reduce the level of opium production. That is why we welcome not just the number of poppy-free provinces but the fact that Governor Mangal is leading the initiative on wheat seed production.


9. What steps he is taking to assist economic, cultural and democratic development in the Republic of Moldova following the recent elections in that country. (294278)

The Department for International Development is holding discussions with the new Government of Moldova about our assistance programme. Indications are that the new Government wish to see ongoing support for their national development strategy, economic development in rural areas, conflict resolution and reform of the social assistance system.

Moldova is the poorest country in Europe, very small and weighed down by the conflict in Transnistria, and it depends greatly on citizens working abroad, particularly in Europe. Will my hon. Friend ensure that now the election crisis has been resolved, we focus on enabling Moldova to prepare itself to join the European Union?

The UK will of course support the new Government of Moldova, because it is not in our interest to have an unstable, impoverished and divided Moldova on the border of the EU.