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International Development

Volume 506: debated on Wednesday 3 March 2010

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.”