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Oral Answers to Questions

Volume 506: debated on Wednesday 3 March 2010

International Development

The Secretary of State was asked—

Malaria

1. When he last met representatives of relevant non-governmental organisations to discuss the control of malaria in developing countries; and if he will make a statement. (319864)

My hon. Friends the Minister of State and the Under-Secretary have both recently met Malaria No More to discuss the control of malaria in developing countries, and I regularly meet members of the Bond NGO network, which includes health and malaria-focused NGOs.

The whole House will want to celebrate the truly remarkable work of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which will undoubtedly save millions of lives in the coming years. What steps are the Government taking to work closely with Mr. Gates and his foundation to maximise the effectiveness of its vital fight against malaria?

I entirely concur with the sentiments expressed in the hon. Gentleman’s question. I had the opportunity to meet Bill Gates just two or three weeks ago at Davos, when I congratulated him on the extraordinary work that the foundation is undertaking, which I thanked him for on behalf of the people of the United Kingdom. We are working very closely with the foundation, and we welcome the fact that its new office for Europe has been opened here in London. That is a reflection of the strong and strengthening work we are undertaking not only on malaria, but on a number of other diseases as well.

Given both that the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria is facing a shortfall and that there will be an international conference on replenishment next October, will my right hon. Friend encourage the entire international community to make the highest possible contribution in order to save even more lives?

I pay due respect to the expertise that my right hon. Friend brings to this issue. For many years he has been a tireless advocate for the cause of tackling these preventable diseases. The global fund is undertaking important work, but it faces an international shortfall. In response to the last replenishment round, we were able to make an unprecedented commitment of £1 billion over seven years, reflecting the fact that we need to build up the sustainability of the treatments for these diseases across the developing world. I hope that in the coming replenishment round other countries will feel able to match the long-term commitments that we made in the last one.

For a number of other diseases and health issues, the Department for International Development has produced a strategic plan with detailed input from experts and civil society. Does the Secretary of State not think that we should do the same for malaria, and will he now bring the same level of attention and rigour as the Gates foundation to tackling this entirely preventable and treatable disease?

I assure the hon. Gentleman that we are working in close partnership with a wide range of organisations, including multilateral bodies such as the World Health Organisation, the Roll Back Malaria coalition, UNITAID and the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, which we have just discussed. I assure the hon. Gentleman that that partnership approach informs our work.

Given that the WHO estimates that almost half the world’s population is at risk from malaria, and following the Secretary of State’s earlier comments, will he inform the House what steps his Department is taking on the development and roll-out of a vaccine against malaria?

I can give the assurance the hon. Gentleman is seeking. We are funding research, and we are also looking at the affordability of treatments, which is key. There is certainly common ground between us in recognising the scale of the challenge we are facing. It is estimated that almost 250 million people around the world fall severely ill with malaria each year. Almost 1 million die, mostly children, and one in five child deaths in sub-Saharan Africa is still from malaria, despite the fact that in many cases treatments are available, such as malarial-treated bed nets.

Will my right hon. Friend be partnering some of the drug companies, which hold an important key in respect of speedily rolling out anti-malarial vaccines to the population? This is not rocket science. There are some cheap vaccines out there, and the drug companies ought to be playing a fuller role than they are at present.

We are working with drug companies, first, on the affordability of medicines and, secondly, on research into vaccines. In both areas, it is vital that the private sector plays its role in making sure that we provide affordable, effective treatments for this terrible disease.

Of course the international community has to work to achieve the eradication of this disease for which many cures are available—such as something as simple as ensuring that a family sleeps under a malarial-treated bed net. That is why the White Paper my Department published last July supports the delivery of 10 million more bed nets each year from 2010 to 2013. We estimate that this alone will help to prevent 165,000 child deaths from malaria.

China

Including humanitarian aid allocated in response to the earthquake in Sichuan—which registered 8 on the Richter scale, killed 70,000 people, and left 300,000 people injured and millions homeless—DFID has spent, on average, £34.5 million a year over the past five years in China.

We want the very poorest people in China to escape poverty, but given that China’s gross domestic product per head is $5,300, that China has growth of 8 per cent. and that it is a world superpower, would it not be a more effective use of British aid to target it on the very poorest people in the weakest economies?

The football analogy would be that on a per capita basis China is languishing somewhere near the bottom of the Football League, whereas on a global level it is indeed at the top of the premier league. It is important to recognise that 200 million people in China still live on less than $1.25 a day and that 450 million people live on less than $2 a day. That is why it is important to have a sustainable partnership and a dialogue with the Chinese authorities and to work alongside them in tackling the type of poverty that the hon. Gentleman has just described.

Although I accept that targeting the poorest in the world and working with countries such as China is a difficult balance to strike, what assessment does the Minister make of the human rights record of such countries in ensuring that the moneys given get to the very poorest in places such as China, India and other parts of Asia?

We regularly discuss with the Chinese authorities their obligations to meet international laws on human rights and freedom of speech. In order to deal with the very poorest people living in China, it is important that we have a dialogue with the Chinese authorities and that, through the work that was recognised by the International Development Committee, we engage in pilot studies. If the progress is seen to be effective, the schemes can then be rolled out on a massive scale in countries as big as China.

As a member of the Committee at the time of some of those pilots, especially the child-centred education projects and other such schemes, may I ask what constant monitoring the Department is undertaking to ensure that the lessons learned really are being rolled out? There were some very good schemes on the ground, but is the Department assessing their impact, beyond the money that it is spending, in leveraging in more work by the Chinese?

It is very much in our interest and that of China that the lessons learned from engagement with such development projects are rolled out, and the evidence on the ground suggests that that is happening. Indeed, in one of the meetings that I had during my visit to China last year, one of my colleagues from the World Bank remarked that they immediately recognised a school that the Department had been working with just by the layout of the classrooms—they could tell immediately that DFID’s engagement and positive role had had a part to play.

China has just spent £20 billion hosting the Olympics and has foreign exchange reserves of more than $2 trillion, yet DFID aid to China has increased in each of the years since 2005. The figure that the Minister failed to give us is that £188 million of taxpayers’ money has been spent on aid to China since 2004-05. Does he not understand that giving aid to China, and indeed to Russia, is in danger of bringing into disrepute this vital budget, which we are all pledged to protect?

Interestingly, in 1997 the overseas development spend in China was four times higher than it is now. I also point out to the hon. Gentleman that we announced in May 2006 that we are ending the China programme in 2011. Using language that may well play to a gallery at a party conference may win him some applause—and it may protect his position in the shadow Cabinet—but it certainly does not show leadership on development issues.

Violence Against Women (Developing Countries)

We are supporting and funding a series of initiatives internationally, through our country programmes and non-governmental organisations, to prevent violence against women, and to protect and help victims of such violence in, for example, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Nepal, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Uganda.

May I ask my hon. Friend what support his Department has given to civil society organisations, including women’s organisations, to help tackle the terrible crime of violence against women?

My hon. Friend is right to make the point that civil society has a critical role to play, both in helping to provide support to the victims of such violence and in advocating new laws and better support by Governments in developing countries. One particular example of the work that we fund through civil society groups is that of the International Rescue Committee in Sierra Leone. Its work has helped to support the development of new legislation and a range of new services to provide new support for women and child victims of a range of sexual offences.

Will the Minister acknowledge that eastern Congo probably witnesses the most savage and brutal attacks and rapes on women anywhere on the planet? As the United Kingdom is a major donor in the DRC, what does he think we can do to lead action to give the women of DRC the right to life and the right to equality in life that they are denied at present?

The right hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to highlight the eastern DRC as a particularly appalling example of the scale of violence against women. We can provide direct support, as we are, to help women to come forward to report examples of rape and other sexual crimes. We can also provide support to train the police to deal with such violence, which we are doing. In the end, there has to be the political will in the DRC for the issue to be tackled, which is why my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and others have raised it at the highest level with President Kabila and his Ministers.

Will my hon. Friend tell me what discussions he has had with the Nigerian Government about not only violence against women in northern Nigeria in particular, but the trafficking of women through northern Nigeria?

My hon. Friend will know, as he has a long-standing interest in Nigeria, that we work in a series of northern states in particular, where we are to trying to encourage more girls into school. We are obviously working with the authorities at a federal and state level in Nigeria. In that way, we are trying to help to improve the situation of girls and women more generally in Nigeria.

Is not the most effective way of tackling violence against women, strangely enough, to ensure that more girls get into education? Can we not make better progress over the next few years towards millennium development goal 3? Does the Minister share my disappointment that, despite many resources being poured in, we are still lagging some way behind our targets for that goal?

Of course we want to see much more progress in the prevention of violence against women and to see more girls getting into school. We have made significant progress in increasing the number of girls in school. One reason why we are pledged to increase our spending on international development is to fund more education programmes and to get more girls into school.

If we are to tackle violence against women and many of the other issues wrapped up in the achievement of the millennium development goal, the international community will have substantially to raise its game. In that context, the UN women’s agency is very important. Having supported the creation of the agency, which we welcome, the Government are now, it is reported, seeking to limit its operational capacity to something of a co-ordinating role. Will he reassure us that that is not the case and that we will see that agency given the resources and tools to do the job?

We have long advocated a powerful new women’s agency that brings the parts of the UN system that already work on this issue together under strong new leadership with better resourcing. The agency can play an important role and bring together more players in the UN system to do more work on tackling violence against women, in particular, and on a series of issues on gender equality.

Fairtrade Fortnight

The Minister of State, officials from my Department and I are all taking part in a number of events and awareness-raising efforts through Fairtrade fortnight. Our participation is testament to the value that we place on Fairtrade’s contribution to development and to reducing poverty. That is, of course, underpinned by our White Paper commitment of £12 million to expand Fairtrade globally, so that we can double the number of producers who benefit directly.

On this side of the House, we are enthusiastic about the achievements and potential of the Fairtrade movement, which allows British consumers to send a voluntary signal through the market about the conditions in which they want their goods to be produced. Will the Secretary of State join me in congratulating British brands that have moved towards Fairtrade in recent years?

I am happy to do so. One reason for the almost explosive growth in Fairtrade in recent years is that major retailers—started, I am proud to say by the co-operative movement, and including brands such as Morrisons, Sainsbury’s and Marks and Spencer—have made Fairtrade products available in many large stores and supermarkets. Of course, I pay tribute to organisations such as Traidcraft that have flown the flag for Fairtrade for many years, but if we want the growth of Fairtrade products to continue, it is vital that those major brands continue to support them.

Existing trade rules often prevent producers in the developing world from lifting themselves out of poverty. Does the Minister agree that now, more than ever, is the time to champion a free, open and fair trading system, and will he do all he can to end the deadlock in the Doha round of trade talks?

I hope that I can give the hon. Gentleman the assurance that he seeks. Only tomorrow, I will be meeting Pascal Lamy, the director general of the World Trade Organisation, to discuss how we can continue to make progress towards achieving the fairer trade rules that were promised by the global community, and anticipated back in 2001, but that, alas, have not yet reached a conclusion.

For years, Cath Greenlees of Longton in my constituency has organised Fairtrade stalls at community events across South Ribble. Indeed, she met my right hon. Friend when he visited my constituency recently. Will he join me in paying tribute to the hundreds and thousands of Fairtrade activists who do so much work to promote that cause?

I am unyielding in my admiration of the work that I saw for myself in South Ribble and of my hon. Friend, who has been a tireless campaigner for Fairtrade for many years in the House. His comments reflect a sentiment that is shared on both sides of the House—that we should applaud and pay due respect to those people who have advocated Fairtrade for many years and who are now directly benefiting many millions of producers across the developing world.

May I agree with my right hon. Friend that it is a tribute to the people of these islands that such a high volume of Fairtrade products are now going through our major retailers, including the supermarkets? Will he take this opportunity to pay tribute to the pioneers, who are still needed in the independent third-sector outlets, who keep the flame burning and who keep pushing forward the case for Fairtrade in this country?

Of course, I am happy to do so. I am something of a long marcher when it comes to Fairtrade produce—I remember when Campaign Coffee tasted nothing like coffee. In that sense, the success of the pioneers is now being seen in major multiples across the country. Were it not for the powerful voice of campaigners, advocates and consumers, we would not have seen the shift in recent years by the major supermarkets, so I am happy to pay tribute to those people.

I am sure that the whole House will acknowledge the success of Fairtrade fortnight. The Secretary of State has highlighted the fact that his Department will spend £12 million on Fairtrade and helping farmers to work their way out of poverty, but how will that money be spent and how will he evaluate its impact and effectiveness?

For all our expenditure, we consider both impact and effectiveness. The principal challenge that we have directed that money towards is both international and domestic. Domestically, we want to increase the range of products available that have the Fairtrade mark and the range of retailers that stock Fairtrade products. At the same time, we want to sustain the kind of growth that we have seen even in the teeth of recession—there has been a 12 per cent. rise in Fairtrade sales in the past year. We also want to replicate internationally the success that we have enjoyed in the UK. If we were to achieve nothing more than the replication of that success, it would transform the lives of farmers and communities across the developing world.

Women's Education (Sub-Saharan Africa)

7. What steps the Government are taking to increase the number of girls in sub-Saharan Africa attending school; and if he will make a statement. (319870)

The UK is committed to increasing aid for education in sub-Saharan Africa to help to ensure that all girls, as well as boys, benefit from good quality basic education. The numbers of girls enrolling in schools in sub-Saharan Africa increased by some £21 million between 1999 and 2007. That was in no small part due to the support provided by the UK.

I welcome my hon. Friend’s reply. Does he agree that the best way of lifting people out of poverty is through the education of the country? I welcome that, but what more can we and other nations do to help?

I agree with my hon. Friend that education is one very powerful route to helping developing countries and their citizens lift themselves out of poverty. We have made a series of commitments in terms of the financial resources that we will commit for education, particularly in Africa, to which we expect to adhere. We are also looking at what else we can do to work with developing country Governments to improve the quality of education, to increase the number of teachers and to improve the learning experience for the students in the schools.

Does the Minister accept that too many children all over Africa are still left out of school? That happens not because too little funding goes into general education, but because they cannot afford the school uniforms and the basic pens and pencils that are a prerequisite for being included in a school.

I accept that a huge challenge still faces a series of countries and their citizens when it comes to getting children into school. In Zimbabwe, for example, children still have to pay user fees to go to school, even though our assistance is providing support. That is one reason why we are determined to protect the international development budget, going forward. It is a pity that 96 per cent. of Tory candidates do not share our commitment to that aim. [Interruption.]

Order. There are far too many private conversations taking place in the Chamber. I am sure that the House wishes to hear Michael Connarty.

Overseas Aid

8. What recent assessment he has made of progress towards the Government’s target of spending 0.7 per cent. of gross national income on overseas aid. (319871)

The Government are on track to spend 0.7 per cent. of gross national income on official development assistance by 2013. The official estimate of the final 2009 ODA:GNI ratio will be released as a UK national statistic on 1 April. We have recently announced plans to enshrine this commitment in legislation to keep our promises to the world’s poorest people and deliver on our Gleneagles commitment, going forward.

I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer, and commend the Government on their continued commitment to the target of devoting 0.7 of GNI to international development. Is my hon. Friend as impressed as me by the communities in my constituency of Linlithgow and East Falkirk? Despite being in a recession, people there are saying to me again and again that we must stand by our commitment to that target and also try and export it to other countries. While we are suffering, others in the world are suffering much more.

I am happy to congratulate the communities of Linlithgow and East Falkirk today on their enduring commitment to the task of tackling global poverty. The recession has impacted on livelihoods in both west central and east central Scotland, and across the UK, but it is affecting the lives of many millions of citizens across the developing world.

Is money for developing countries to deal with climate change mitigation and adaptation going to come out of the DFID budget?

We have made it clear that new and additional financing will be available from 2013, the period when we were anticipating a conclusion to the Copenhagen negotiations. Indeed, we will limit the contribution of overseas development assistance from 2013 to up to 10 per cent. of the UK’s ODA budget. Alas, that commitment has not been matched by the Opposition. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will now campaign for such a commitment to be made.

Zimbabwe

This year, around 2 million people will receive food aid, compared with more than 7 million last year. While the situation has therefore improved, a poor harvest could substantially increase the numbers of people in need.

Is the Minister convinced that the global political agreement in Zimbabwe is working? Gertrude Hambira, the leader of the General Agricultural and Plantation Workers Union of Zimbabwe, has had to flee to South Africa in fear of her life, because the police have raided her office three times in seven days. Is that a sign that the humanitarian situation in that country is improving?

The hon. Gentleman cuts right to the heart of the challenges in respect of the global political agreement and the workings of the inclusive Government. He is right to highlight the fact that the inclusive Government have yet to achieve a series of political milestones, but we must recognise that Zimbabwe’s economic situation has certainly stabilised and improved, which has undoubtedly contributed to the improving humanitarian situation there. As I have said, we continue to watch the country very carefully, as a considerable number of people still require food aid and a poor harvest has the potential to exacerbate the problems that still exist.

The International Development Committee recently managed to visit Zimbabwe, where it met some women who had reclaimed land that had been destroyed. Those women are growing things on that land again, under a new system of collective agriculture. Can DFID’s pioneering work in introducing new methods of agriculture at a local level be used elsewhere in Africa to demonstrate again that the Department is a top practitioner in tackling poverty?

I thank my right hon. Friend for his comments about our work on agriculture in Zimbabwe. There is a still a considerable amount that we need to ensure happens in Zimbabwe, but we certainly hope that the lessons that have contributed to the successes that he, like other members of the Select Committee, saw at first hand will be replicated in other country programmes with which we are obviously working.

Malaria

The United Kingdom remains strongly committed to tackling malaria. That was why the Prime Minister committed in 2008 to providing more than 20 million bed nets by the end of 2010 and to helping to prevent 110,00 child deaths. Our 2009 White Paper committed to providing an additional 10 million bed nets each year to 2013.

Will the Minister take the opportunity to study the report—endorsed by Margaret Chan, the head of the WHO—by the all-party group on malaria and neglected tropical diseases that was given to his office last week? It includes recommendations that would cut short the process of getting to the strategic plan on malaria which my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr. Mitchell) urged the Department to adopt and which I would support.

I have indeed read the report to which the hon. Gentleman refers, and I congratulate him on his work as chairman of the group. Let me tell the House what he wrote in his foreword to the document:

“The highlights of this report are easily summarised…We’re making progress in malaria control at a faster rate than ever before...We have good tools which can prevent and treat malaria…Political will is strong and funding is better than ever before.”

Prime Minister

The Prime Minister was asked—

Engagements

I have been asked to reply. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister is in attendance on Her Majesty the Queen welcoming President Zuma on his state visit to the United Kingdom.

I am sure that the House will wish to join me in paying tribute to the five British soldiers who have died in Afghanistan: Senior Aircraftman Luke Southgate from 2 Squadron, Royal Air Force Regiment; Rifleman Martin Kinggett from 4th Battalion The Rifles, attached to 3rd Battalion The Rifles; Sergeant Paul Fox from 28 Engineer Regiment, Royal Engineers, attached to the Brigade Reconnaissance Force; Rifleman Carlo Apolis from 4th Battalion The Rifles, attached to 3rd Battalion The Rifles; and the soldier from 3rd Battalion The Rifles who died yesterday. They demonstrated outstanding courage and skill, and they died serving their country, their comrades and the people of Afghanistan. Our thoughts are with their families and their loved ones; their sacrifice will not be forgotten.

I am sure that the whole House will also join me in sending our sincere condolences to the people of Chile following the terrible earthquake at the weekend.

The whole House will wish to join the right hon. and learned Lady in paying tribute to those brave men who have given their lives for our freedom, and of course in what she said about the people of Chile.

Will the right hon. and learned Lady please tell the House why manufacturing has declined faster under this Labour Government than under any other Administration ever?

Indeed, this is just typical of the Conservatives talking the country down. British manufacturing is strong and it has a great future, especially with advanced manufacturing and that supporting the digital and creative industries. The Conservatives constantly describe Britain as heading towards an age of austerity. We do not share that pessimism; we are optimistic for Britain’s future, including in manufacturing.

AstraZeneca in my constituency has decided to relocate its research and development facilities to Cheshire, which will cause 1,200 jobs to be lost to the local economy in 2011. Overall, pharmaceuticals are strong in the United Kingdom, and the Office for Life Sciences has ensured that many such jobs remain in the UK. However, that is no consolation to the 1,200 people who will have to relocate from my constituency, so will my right hon. and learned Friend assure me that the Government will give every assistance to the taskforce that we will set up this week to address the situation and ensure that there is economic and development help for the constituency of Loughborough and the people who will be affected?

I can give my hon. Friend that assurance. We do not believe in standing by, letting people fend for themselves, letting recession take it course, or that unemployment is a price worth paying. We have an active interventionist policy to support industry, including in the regions, which would suffer if the regional development agencies were abolished, as proposed by the Conservatives.

May I join the Leader of the House in sending our thoughts to the people of Chile, and in the sad tributes that we pay so often to the British servicemen killed in Afghanistan—in the past week, Senior Aircraftman Luke Southgate, Rifleman Martin Kinggett, Sergeant Paul Fox, Rifleman Carlo Apolis and the as yet unnamed soldier from 3rd Battalion The Rifles. Let us hope, as the right hon. and learned Lady says, that they are not forgotten and that their sacrifice is not in vain.

I begin by asking the Leader of the House about a matter directly relating to the armed forces, because now we know from the Chilcot inquiry that the Ministry of Defence felt, in the words of its permanent secretary, that it was running “a crisis budget” rather than being able to plan coherently. Is it not time to recognise that it was a mistake of the Prime Minister to insist on cutting the helicopter budget at a time when our country was in the middle of two wars, and with thousands of British troops deployed?

We have maintained a second to none commitment to our armed forces. It would be wrong for the shadow Foreign Secretary to imply that we in the Government are anything less than fully committed to our armed forces. When it comes to procurement of equipment and financial support for the forces, we will make sure that that commitment is honoured. I am sure that he will be pleased with the increase in helicopters that has recently been announced.

I am not saying that the Government are not committed, simply that they made an enormous mistake in 2004 that let our armed forces down. The former Defence Secretary, the right hon. Member for Ashfield (Mr. Hoon) said at the Chilcot inquiry that

“had that budget been spent in the way that we thought we should spend it, then those helicopters would probably be coming into service any time now”.

Is it not a lesson for everyone that such an error was made? Will the Prime Minister recognise that when he gives evidence to the Chilcot inquiry on Friday this week?

If the right hon. Gentleman wants to know what the Prime Minister is going to say to the Chilcot inquiry, he will have to wait until he says it. It is fatuous for the Foreign Secretary to ask me—[Interruption.] what the Prime Minister is going to answer in evidence to the Chilcot inquiry on Friday. To return to the insinuation that lies behind the right hon. Gentleman’s point, I want to assure the House and everybody in this country who so values the work of our troops that we stand four-square behind them.

That is the second time that the right hon. and learned Lady has called me the Foreign Secretary. She must think that we have had the election already. Turning to the UK economy and this week’s economic news, why does the Leader of the House think that UK Government bonds are priced by the market as almost twice as risky as the bonds of Pepsi or McDonald’s?

The right hon. Gentleman knows that the value of sterling [Hon. Members: “Bonds!”] depends on a range of issues. On his point in relation to his own position, there are two contingencies there. First, he is making the assumption that the Conservatives have won the election. They are arrogant. They have not. [Hon. Members: “You said it!”] Secondly—

Order. I apologise for interrupting. We must have some order. Constant barracking and yah-boo behaviour is a complete turn-off to the public. We do not want it. We do not need it.

Secondly, the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague) is making the assumption that he will remain in his position. I wonder about that, since the House puts the highest value on integrity—[Interruption.] Yes, it does, and the country—[Interruption.]

Order. This session will take place in an orderly fashion or it cannot credibly take place at all. I appeal to Members to calm down and to listen both to questions and to answers.

This is something that the whole House can agree on—that this House places the highest value on the question of integrity. This country has been misled, and the question is whether it was misled by the deputy chair of the Conservative party, or whether it was—[Interruption.]

First of all, I was not assuming the election result; she was assuming the election result, and the election of the Conservative party. Secondly, the question was not about sterling but about Government debt, to which I shall return in a moment. And thirdly, people in glasshouses should not start throwing stones, because the real party funding issue in this country is the power of the Unite union. It is bankrolling the Labour party, wrecking British Airways and its deputy general secretary, her husband, has just gone through an all-women shortlist to be selected to stand for Parliament. She may not want to recognise marriage in the tax system but she sure does in the political system.

So, let us return to the question, which is the fate of our entire national economy—merely that. As the Governor of the Bank of England says,

“the longer there is not a credible plan that sets out what actions will be taken”—

on the public finances, there is—“a risk.”

If the right hon. and learned Lady does not know about Government debt, why does she think that business investment showed its biggest annual fall last week since records began?

The question is not about one man in this House of Commons; the question is about one man in the House of Lords. When it comes to Government debt, the most important thing is that the economy should grow, that we take action to ensure that there is growth in the economy and that we have more jobs.

It is also important that we are careful about public spending, and of course tax has a part to play in reducing the deficit. People who have promised to pay their taxes, and given assurances, should pay their taxes, so what has happened to the tens of millions of pounds of taxes that the shadow Foreign Secretary promised would be paid by Lord Ashcroft? We want to know.

If she wants to discuss the House of Lords, I am sure that she will want to explain the position of Lord Paul, who was made a Privy Counsellor after he bought 6,000 copies of the Prime Minister’s book on courage. Never has so much been given for so few people to read so many words in vain. She might also want to explain why Labour took half a million pounds from a non-dom hedge fund manager called Mr. Bollinger. Champagne socialism is alive and well in the Labour party, obviously.

We had moved on from debt to business investment—she may not have noticed that—but, given that she raised the question of the pound, does she agree with the Prime Minister, who said some years ago that

“a weak currency arises from a weak economy which in turn is the result of a weak Government”?

So, what does this week’s plunging pound say about this weak Government?

As I said in answer to the right hon. Gentleman’s earlier point, many issues affect the value of sterling, and we are determined to strengthen the economy and pay down the deficit. The issue that he referred to is a question of the assurance that was given by Lord Ashcroft—[Interruption.]

Order. [Interruption.] Order. I do not require any help from Back-Bench Members. I would say to the Leader of the House that we must stick to matters of Government responsibility.

Order. This matter has been addressed, and I am sure that the Leader of the House will now do as I suggest.

This is an issue outside the House of Commons, and I want to deal with issues inside the House of Commons, because the shadow Foreign Secretary stands here without a shred of credibility.

I think we know what a desperate panic the Government are now in, and it will not save their marginal seats.

Is not the continued absence of—[Interruption.]

Order. I apologise for interrupting the right hon. Gentleman, but Government Back Benchers are now getting very, very over-excited—they must calm down.

They should enjoy themselves while they are still here, Mr. Speaker.

Is not the continued absence of confidence in the Government’s policies the biggest threat to recovery, as it means that interest rates and mortgage rates will be higher in future than they would otherwise have to be? Would not the real way to create the economic confidence that this country needs be for the Prime Minister, while he is at the palace today, to ask Her Majesty to dissolve this Parliament and call an election so that we can be rid of this disastrous Government once and for all?

The real way to ensure that we keep the focus on the economy growing and more jobs coming into the economy is to continue to pursue the policies that have strengthened and supported it, and not to accept the advice and suggestions of the inexperienced shadow Chancellor—he was described as such by the shadow Business Secretary—because that would undermine the economy. As to the issue of credibility and who we should believe, we cannot have it that the vice-chairman of the Conservative party is right and the shadow Foreign Secretary is right. They cannot both be right—one of them should go.

Order. The House must calm down. A Back Bencher is on her feet. She has a right to ask her question and to be listened to with courtesy.

On Sunday, Bletchley Park in my constituency marked LGBT—lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender—history month by having a day of celebration of the life and work of Alan Turing. Will the Leader of the House congratulate the organisers at Bletchley Park on this event, which served as a reminder of the unacceptability of the sort of homophobic laws and prejudices that pushed Alan Turing to his suicide in the 1950s?

I congratulate Bletchley Park on commemorating Alan Turing. His work, and his commitment, is taken forward by us in government, because our Equality Bill, which passed through the House of Lords last night, will further strengthen and protect people against discrimination and homophobia.

May I add my condolences and those of my party concerning the five servicemen who bravely died on our behalf in Afghanistan; and our condolences, too, on the earthquake in Chile?

I extend a very warm welcome to President Zuma and suggest to the Minister that in her capacity as Government spokesperson on gender equality she might wish to enter into a debate with him on his strong advocacy of polygamy, and particularly the role that married tax allowances might play in promoting it.

Speaking of tax, I told the Minister several weeks ago that Lord Ashcroft was a non-dom, and it has been confirmed that he avoided approximately £100 million-worth of tax while serving in Parliament. Can the Minister explain why Lord Ashcroft is now claiming that the Government relieved him of the solemn and binding undertaking to remain as a permanent resident in the UK?

As to the hon. Gentleman’s point about the married man’s tax allowance, it is paradoxical that it would be available to a man on his third wife but not to the first two wives bringing up his children. That is one of the many reasons why we do not support the married man’s tax allowance.

The hon. Gentleman, as it turns out, was right that Lord Ashcroft, despite the assurances he gave, was a non-dom, and he was right that the country had been misled into believing that Lord Ashcroft was complying with his previous assurances. I agree with him that there are answers to be given on this, but they are not answers to be given by the Government. They are to be given by the—[Interruption.]

There are answers to be given by the Government. Will the right hon. and learned Lady release immediately all the documentation and records of conversations in the Cabinet Office that relate to this matter? More generally on the issue of non-domicile taxation, can she explain why the Government took on board a Conservative proposal for a poll tax on non-doms that bears harshly on low-income expatriates but is a pathetic flea bite for seriously rich fat cats such as Lord Ashcroft?

I believe that we should have full transparency on this issue, and I agree with the hon. Gentleman on that. The question of the release of any Government papers is a matter for the Cabinet Secretary, but as far as information about this is concerned, we perhaps do not just need to wait for any information that is released by the Cabinet Secretary. We can read Lord Ashcroft’s autobiography, aptly entitled “Dirty politics, Dirty times”, because in it he explains how he came to be in the House of Lords. He says, “I owe it all to William.”

Does my right hon. and learned Friend recollect that we had to fight the Falklands war because the then Conservative Government withdrew the patrols by HMS Endurance and offered to hand over sovereignty of the Falkland Islands to the fascist dictator Galtieri? Will she—[Interruption.] The Conservatives are laughing, but they were going to hand over the Falkland Islands. Will my right hon. and learned Friend reaffirm staunchly this Government’s loyalty to the loyalty of the people of the Falkland Islands and uphold their wishes and their rights?

I will give that assurance. There is no question about the sovereignty of the Falklands, there is no question about their right to self-determination and there is no question but that they will be fully defended.

Q2. Will the Leader of the House confirm that during the course of this Parliament, more than half the small businesses that have become insolvent have been driven into bankruptcy by Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs and other Government agencies? (319880)

In fact, 200,000 businesses have been able to stay in business because they have been able to postpone paying their taxes as a way of supporting them through the recession. HMRC has been able to conclude agreements with more than 200,000 businesses, including those in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency, and that is a programme to help business that his party opposed.

Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware of the serious concerns being expressed by individuals, groups and organisations, as well as the press and the media, about the inadequacy of the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991? I speak as a recent victim of an attack, and I share those views. Will she consider having serious discussions with her Cabinet colleagues about that Act, which I am told was hurriedly put together, in order to review it?

I express my great sympathy to my hon. Friend for the fact that she was a victim of such an attack by a dog. I assure her that discussions are under way among ministerial colleagues on this matter. We cannot have a situation where people are afraid to let their kids go to the park or to take their own pets out for a walk in the park, or where elderly people are afraid to be on their own because some people have dangerous dogs. If they will not control them, we have to look again at the law and make sure that they are controlled.

Q3. I am sorry, Mr. Speaker. [Hon. Members: “Wakey wakey!”] I must have dropped off listening to the right hon. and learned Lady. If she is having such difficulty with the concept of Government bonds, might she take advice from Mr. Michael Saunders, the chief UK economist of Citigroup, who said this week that unless we see a Conservative Government with a clear majority, the interest on Government debt will surely rise? (319881)

I thought the hon. Gentleman had dropped off a very long time ago. I will take advice from many quarters, but I will not take advice—and neither will this Government—from the inexperienced shadow Chancellor.

Today we will be discussing the Bribery Bill—[Interruption.] Will my right hon. and learned Friend tell me whether Lord Ashcroft’s donations will be covered by that Bill?

What did he say? [Interruption.] This is how you can tell it was not a planted question—[Interruption.] I am sorry, Mr. Speaker, could you ask my hon. Friend to repeat the question? I did not hear it—there is too much noise opposite.

Order. It does not make much sense for Members to shout at the tops of their voices and then complain when someone is not heard. I call Mr. Phil Wilson.

Later today, we will be debating the Bribery Bill. Can my right hon. and learned Friend tell me whether Ashcroft’s donations will be part of it?

Unfortunately, nothing in the Bill will be retrospective. However, assurances that were made to pay tens of millions of pounds in tax should be kept. The measures we have taken—they were passed in the House last night—are important, but that does not relieve Lord Ashcroft of his obligations to pay his taxes.

Q4. The Government often apologise for things in the past, such as the treatment of child migrants to Australia after the war. However regrettable such things are, the Government were not responsible for them. Why can they not apologise for things that they are responsible for, such as the state of the economy and the fact that they sold off our gold reserves for less than a quarter of what they would now be worth, which has so far cost the country $11 billion? Will the right hon. and learned Lady apologise for that? (319882)

We will take our responsibility seriously, and our responsibility is to see this country out of recession and into recovery. I think it is disappointing that the right hon. Gentleman should not accept and support the fact that it is right sometimes for Governments to apologise for what has been done in history that leaves people with a great sense of grievance. When an apology is given, it is the right thing to do, as it was in respect of child migrants and slavery.

Q5. Does my right hon. and learned Friend recall that on one of the several occasions when the last Conservative Chancellor, who is currently shadow Business Secretary—the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke)—announced that he was cutting the value of the married couple’s allowance, he described it as a bit of an anomaly. Indeed, one of his predecessors, Lord Lawson— (319883)

Order. I just say to the hon. Lady that she must relate her question to the policy of the Government.

My question is indeed about the policy of the Government. Does my right hon. and learned Friend recall that Lord Lawson described the allowance as something that should be allowed to wither on the vine, which it was? Does she therefore agree that there are better things to spend £600 million on than introducing a bit of an anomaly?

I can reassure my hon. Friend that we will continue to invest in Sure Start centres, we will continue the child tax credit and we will continue the child trust fund. I can also reassure her that we will not reintroduce a married man’s tax allowance that would give 13 times more to the richest people than it would to the poorest people. It would not encourage one single couple to get married or make them happy in their marriage. But it would send—and this is why it would be cruel—a clear message to children in families in which the parents are divorced. It would say to them that there was something wrong with their family, and therefore that there must be something wrong with them. That is another reason why we would never introduce it.

Q6. Five years ago a young person in my constituency was on the dole for an average of eight months before getting a job. That figure now stands at 18 months, the highest figure in the north-west. Is not that the reality of how this Government have failed young people? (319884)

The reality is that four times fewer people are unemployed in this recession than in the previous recession, because of the action that we have taken. I assure the hon. Gentleman that we will fight hard to support industry and jobs, especially jobs for young people. That is why we have introduced the future jobs fund, with a guarantee that after only six months every person under the age of 24 will be guaranteed work or training.

Can my right hon. and learned Friend tell the House whether the Government have received representations from the Electoral Commission about foreign money being used to buy British constituencies?

My hon. Friend raises an important issue. It is evident that the Tory party is for sale, but Britain is not.

Leominster town crier and fire fighter Dave Taylor has got cancer. His oncologist has prescribed him Avastin, which is not approved by the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence. What can she do to keep this man alive?

NICE is independent and acts on the best scientific and medical advice. I pay tribute to the progress that has been made in cutting the loss of life from cancer, and the work that is done by oncologists and the rest of the health service to lengthen people’s life expectancy and improve their care. That is one of the things that has benefited from the great increase in investment that we have made. I ask the hon. Gentleman to back our commitment to the guarantee that after someone visits a GP with a suspected cancer, they should see an oncologist within one week.