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House of Commons Hansard
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International Development
07 July 2010
Volume 513

The Secretary of State was asked—

Pakistan

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1. What aid his Department has provided for economic development and good governance in Pakistan in the last 12 months; and if he will make a statement. [6261]

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In the last 12 months, my Department has provided aid to Pakistan to help to put more children into school, improve macro-economic stability and support the efficient and effective delivery of basic services.

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I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer. Oxfam has said that 1 million Pakistanis fleeing from fighting remain in overcrowded camps and depend on emergency relief to survive. What is being done to help internally displaced persons and refugees in Pakistan?

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My hon. Friend is right to identify that particular problem in Pakistan, and it was one of the problems I specifically looked at when I was in Pakistan some three weeks ago. My hon. Friend will know from his own very close relationship with members of the Pakistani diaspora in Britain that, as the Oxfam report makes clear, extensive work is being done in all the affected regions of Pakistan, but we are looking at our whole programme to see whether there is anything more we can do.

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Does the Secretary of State agree that, although the aid for Pakistan is welcome, the Pakistani authorities must realise that the appalling murder, persecution and torture of the Ahmadiyya Muslims in Lahore, with the complicity of the authorities, must cease?

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The hon. Gentleman is a Birmingham Member of Parliament, as am I, and, like me, he will have received representations from the diaspora in Birmingham on that specific point. I had the chance to visit Lahore in January, and I will carefully consider what he has said and see whether additional action is required.

Aid Expenditure (Transparency)

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2. What steps he is taking to ensure transparency of his Department’s expenditure on aid. [6262]

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I launched the aid transparency guarantee on 3 June, which will ensure that UK and developing country citizens have full information about British aid.

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I am sure my right hon. Friend is aware of recent surveys showing that, in these difficult times, public support for international aid is waning. Does he agree that if we are to win the argument for his Department’s budget in the court of public opinion, we have to ensure that the transparency agenda is linked to achieving the goals of the Ministry of Defence and the Foreign Office?

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My hon. Friend makes a good point, and it is always important to underline that there is strong cross-party commitment to this important budget partly for moral reasons, but also because it is very much in our national self-interest. My hon. Friend will have heard the words of the Foreign Secretary and myself about the importance of wiring more closely together defence, diplomacy and development, and he has my assurance that we will continue to do that with great care.

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In last Thursday’s debate, the Secretary of State was transparent enough to admit that he did not yet know how the extra £200 million for Afghanistan announced by the Prime Minister will be spent. Given the question asked by the hon. Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Nadhim Zahawi) and the increasing speculation that DFID money in Afghanistan will be spent on things over which the Secretary of State’s Department has no control, can he tell the House whether the Foreign Secretary—or, indeed, the Defence Secretary—has made any suggestions to him as to how that £200 million should be spent?

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The hon. Gentleman will understand that a Government who are properly co-ordinated and working together will discuss all these matters to make sure that, as I have said, we wire together in the best possible interests defence, diplomacy and development. However, as the hon. Gentleman is well aware, as he has been a junior DFID Minister, the OECD Development Assistance Committee rules are what pertain in the spending of money on development, and the coalition Government have confirmed what his Government said: those rules will persist.

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I welcome my right hon. Friend’s initiative in setting up a more effective watchdog for transparency and accountability and to publish what DFID funds in more detail from January. That will provide a welcome reinforcement of the value of our aid. May I also say that the Select Committees are very anxious to start their work and anything he can do to ensure that they are constituted will help to enable the International Development Committee to take evidence from him next Thursday so we can expand on these issues?

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I am grateful to the Chair of the International Development Committee for his comments. He knows a great deal about these matters. The transparency guarantee is enormously important, first in reassuring British taxpayers by enabling them to see where the money is being spent and that it is being well spent; and secondly, in assisting in the building of civic society to ensure that people in the countries we are trying to help can hold their own political leaders to account. I look forward to discussing next week with his Committee these and other matters, especially independent evaluation.

Media High Council (Rwanda)

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3. What funding his Department plans to allocate to the media high council in Rwanda in 2011-12. [6263]

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The UN-led programme of support to six oversight institutions in Rwanda, including the media high council, comes to an end in this financial year. There are no plans for further DFID support.

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I thank the Minister for that reply, and I am relieved to hear that we will not be funding the media high council given that it has recently suspended Rwanda’s two leading independent newspapers, Umuseso and Umuvugizi, and given that a leading Rwandan journalist, Jean-Léonard Rugambage, was murdered in Rwanda in June. Will the Minister make urgent representations, through his Department, to the Rwandan authorities and make sure that we fund things that promote freedom of speech, particularly in the run-up to the elections?

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I am grateful to the hon. Lady for highlighting these issues. I assure her that when I visited Rwanda between 15 and 17 June I raised these very matters at all levels, including the very highest levels, in the various meetings I had. It is important that as part of the general support that DFID gives to help the Rwandan people, we press for the opening up of political space and that we make sure that pertains up to the election. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will take the opportunity, later this week in a meeting with the Rwandan high commissioner, to press the issues that the hon. Lady has rightly identified.

1GOAL Summit

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4.. What support his Department has provided to the 1GOAL Education for All summit on 7 July 2010 in South Africa. [6264]

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DFID has given the 1GOAL campaign £804,800 so far and will give a further £195,200 this financial year. In addition, DFID offered support to the Government of South Africa for a summit during this World cup, and we have received an invitation to that summit this very morning. It will take place this Sunday and we are considering who should attend.

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I am grateful to the Minister for his reply. There have been a great many goals in this World cup, but signing up to a road map to deliver education to 72 million children around the world by the next World cup could be the greatest goal. How will he ensure that the momentum of today’s education campaign summit is not lost between now and Brazil 2014?

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I am grateful to the hon. Lady for her excellent question. She, like all hon. Members across the House and particularly Her Majesty’s Government through DFID, is passionate about the need to boost education, particularly for the millions who have yet to receive the benefit of a primary education. There are few bigger prizes to grasp, and she is right to say that we need to maintain the momentum of the 1GOAL campaign, which we have been very pleased to support. The summit that is about to take place should help to boost that momentum and we shall do all we can to help to maintain it.

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Will the Minister join me in congratulating the pupils and staff of Eaton Mill primary school in my constituency, who, like those in many schools up and down the country, have made an enormous effort to raise awareness of the 1GOAL project and the aims of improving education throughout Africa?

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I am delighted to join my hon. Friend in congratulating the school in his constituency that has so eagerly taken part in this campaign. About 8,000 schools in the United Kingdom have asked for supporter packs from the 1GOAL campaign, so it has had a real impact. There have also been lesson plans and other activities for schoolchildren and I dare say that many Members across the House have had similar experiences to my hon. Friend. That is a measure of the impact and success of the campaign to date.

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I welcome the Minister’s support for the 1GOAL summit, and I hope that he or one of his ministerial colleagues will accept the invitation that has been extended to the ministerial team. The Secretary of State has repeatedly told the House in recent weeks that he is focused on outcomes, so will the Minister tell me what steps, if any, he will take in the coming weeks and months to help to finance the removal of school fees, for how many children and in which countries?

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As part of the broad attempt to ensure that the millennium development goals are met, we are keen to do everything we can to boost access to education. What matters is what works, and we need to push very hard in a number of countries through programmes to ensure, if we can, that user fees are removed. In some areas vouchers could be used, but the main thing is to focus on what works, and we are certainly focused on that.

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I note the lack of detail in the Minister’s response, and that he mentions vouchers. Does he still intend to implement his plans for voucher schemes, which were described by the director of UNESCO’s global monitoring report on education as

“using vulnerable people to advance an ideologically loaded, market-based vision for education, which would exclude millions of kids from school”?

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I am only interested in what works, and of course the precise detail will come out of the bilateral aid review that we are undertaking, of which the right hon. Gentleman is aware. Of course we will be happy to try to ensure that we learn the lessons of the experience for which he was responsible as regards the use of vouchers, particularly in relation to maternal health in south-east Asia.

Caribbean Countries

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5. If he will conduct a review of the effectiveness of his Department’s programmes in Caribbean countries. [6265]

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Yes, we will. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has commissioned a review of DFID’s bilateral aid programme to ensure we target UK aid where it is needed most and where it will make the most impact. The Caribbean programme will be included in that review.

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Much of the Caribbean is very poor, and it is currently being carved up by countries such as Taiwan, China and Venezuela. May I urge my right hon. Friend to recall the historical Commonwealth links and huge good will towards Britain in that region as he develops his policy in this area?

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We do indeed have strong historical links with the Caribbean. This Government, rather unlike our predecessors, very much value our links with the Commonwealth and fully recognise our responsibilities to the overseas territories, including those in the Caribbean. We give support especially to combat crime and insecurity as well as the effects of climate change, and we stand ready to help in the event of any natural disaster.

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In relation to international development and the money that goes to the Caribbean countries, illegal trade in children from Haiti to the Dominican Republic has taken place and has been very apparent in the news in the last while. Can we use our influence to ensure that the money available through international development goes to stop that trade?

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That is exactly part of our reforms. We take these issues extremely seriously and they will be a very important part of the priorities we allocate when we spend our aid in such countries.

Colombia

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6. What aid his Department is planning to provide to Colombia in 2010-11; and if he will make a statement. [6266]

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DFID does not provide direct financial assistance to the Government of Columbia. We provide aid primarily through multilateral organisations, including the European Commission and the World Bank. In addition, DFID supports a number of projects through non-governmental organisations to support human rights and poverty reduction. We are, of course, reviewing our programme and Colombia will be part of that.

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I thank the Minister for that response. Will he assure the House that any direct or indirect aid is channelled through humanitarian groups such as the International Red Cross? He is aware that Columbia is an extremely dangerous place to be for those who oppose the regime and, just recently, President-elect Santos ordered his troops to dress up in International Red Cross uniforms to carry out illegal activities. I am sure that the International Red Cross would welcome the opportunity to meet the Minister to talk through this issue.

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I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising this point because it is extremely important. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will meet the head of the International Red Cross next week and this will be a significant matter on the agenda for that meeting.

Aid Expenditure (Legislation)

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7. Whether he plans to bring forward legislative proposals in this Session of Parliament to ensure that 0.7% of gross national income is spent on aid. [6267]

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The Government are fully committed to our pledge to spend 0.7% of national income on aid from 2013, as defined by the rules of the OECD Development Assistance Committee, and to enshrine that commitment in law. We are looking into the best way to proceed and will inform the House when a decision has been taken.

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I am grateful to the Secretary of State and I share his view that our aid commitment is both a moral imperative and in the UK national interest. Will he be more specific, however? The legislation that he is talking about will not cost the Chancellor a lot of money, so it will be easy to bring forward very quickly. Is he not a little worried that his Back Benchers might not be with him 100%, as many of them are uncomfortable ring-fencing his Department’s money?

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I do not know of any Back Bencher who is not a strong supporter of this law. I share with the hon. Gentleman a frustration about the length of time it is taking to bring forward the legislation, but he will have seen the wise words of the Select Committee Chair in the debate last week when he made it clear that it would be sensible to look carefully at the precise terms of the law. There is some gentle disagreement among members of the development community and it is obviously right for us to consider all these matters before proceeding.

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The Secretary of State will recognise the concern about recent newspaper reports of the amount of his Department’s budget that was spent on trade unions in this country and other politically correct causes. Given also the money that goes to China and India, and other money wasted by the EU, does he not accept that all that taken together undermines the case for the 0.7% requirement, particularly in this age of austerity?

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My hon. Friend makes an important point about value for money and the effectiveness of British aid. That is why we have set up our bilateral review of every place where Britain is spending this important budget, so that we can be sure, as I said earlier, that for every £1 of hard-pressed taxpayers’ money, we are really getting 100p of value. He specifically mentions China. He will know that, on the day that the Government took office, we announced that we would stop all aid to China. The bilateral review is of course looking at India.

On trade unions, I would make two points. First, trade unions spend overseas money well on building the capacity of societies to hold their leaders and politicians to account. What is wrong, in my view, is funding development awareness. Sadly, the former Secretary of State felt it was right to spend hundreds of thousands of pounds of British aid and development money on supporting Brazilian dance groups—

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Order. We are grateful to the Secretary of State, but we do not need any more; the answer is simply too long.

Millennium Development Goals Summit

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8. What objectives he has set for the forthcoming UN millennium development goals summit in New York. [6268]

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The Government aim to reach international agreement on an action agenda to achieve the MDGs by 2015. That will require developed and developing countries to make results-based policy and financial commitments, including on the most off-track MDGs, such as those on maternal and child health.

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We know that the Prime Minister will be unable to attend the UN MDG summit in New York because of his impending paternity leave. I congratulate him on taking advantage of that family-friendly policy, championed by trade unions and many Opposition Members. Now that the Deputy Prime Minister will take over those duties in New York, how many times has the Secretary of State personally discussed the objectives for the forthcoming summit in New York with him?

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I have discussed the matter frequently with the Deputy Prime Minister. Indeed, shortly after this Question Time, I will hold a meeting with him specifically on that. The country is fortunate that the Deputy Prime Minister, with his deep knowledge of these matters, will go the MDG summit.

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I know that my right hon. Friend is aware of the recent UN report on the lack of progress on some MDGs that cites unmet commitments, inadequate resources and a lack of focus and accountability. As he is so interested in this subject, what further lead can he give at the New York summit later this year so that we make better progress?

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I had the opportunity to speak at the UN last week, specifically on the importance of injecting real vigour and energy into trying to ensure that we have a proper road map for progress in the last five years of the MDGs. [Interruption.] They have produced a real opportunity to reduce poverty and hunger around the world, and I am certain that the extensive work that will be done in the run-up to September will be effective in achieving that. [Interruption.]

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Order. Far too many private conversations are taking place in the Chamber. It is very discourteous both to the Member asking the question and to the Minister, however strong a voice he or she may have, answering the question. We need a bit of order.

Tackling Climate Change

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9. Whether his Department plans to provide funding for tackling climate change other than by means of official development assistance from 2013. [6269]

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Decisions on UK international climate change finance will be determined through the comprehensive spending review.

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I find that answer somewhat difficult at the moment. Clearly, we need to know what will happen in terms of any such division: will there be separate funding for climate change, or will all the money come from the international aid budget?

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The hon. Lady will know that the fast start funding for climate change, which will come from the development budget—something that was confirmed by the previous Government when they were in office—takes up to 2012, but I hope she will understand that long-term decisions on climate change funding will need to come from the comprehensive spending review, and that work is happening at the moment.

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What account will the Minister take of the increasingly emerging conflict of interest and information on climate change as he develops the development goals?

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I am not sure that I recognise the hon. Gentleman’s point about disagreements on the basic science. I think there is agreement on the basic science, and an authoritative Dutch report published this morning underlines that very point. I would be happy to engage with the hon. Gentleman on what those doubts are, perhaps by letter.

Funding Decisions

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10. What mechanism is used by his Department to decide what funding to provide to projects. [6270]

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All project proposals are developed within agreed strategies, discussed with relevant partners, and subject to careful appraisal. We are reviewing all major spending areas to ensure that they represent value for money.

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In the case of countries in receipt of UK aid that also have considerable wealth and are pursuing an aggressive economic growth strategy, such as India, what mechanisms will also be in place to encourage and support them to ensure that they sort out their social problems in an equally aggressive manner?

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My hon. Friend makes an important point that is at the heart of the bilateral review of British aid spending, which we are conducting at the moment. She specifically mentions India, but India is different from China in that an Indian’s average income is only a third that of a Chinese. India has more poor people than the whole of sub-Saharan Africa, and, through the Commonwealth, we have deep links with India. We will consider all these matters in the context of that bilateral review. [Interruption.]

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Order. I appeal to the House to calm down. A number of Members, including very senior and distinguished Members, are conducting animated conversations from a sedentary position, but I want to hear Andrew Gwynne.

Debt Relief (Developing Countries) Act

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11. When he plans to assess the effectiveness of the operation of the Debt Relief (Developing Countries) Act 2010; and if he will make a statement. [6271]

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I acknowledge the success of the hon. Member in initiating this important Act, which is a key part of action against so-called vulture funds. It means that UK courts of law can no longer be used to pursue excessive claims against some of the poorest countries on their historic debts, ensuring that resources are available to tackle poverty. We will review the effectiveness of this new Act before the sunset clause expires next June.

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May I take this opportunity to place on record my thanks and appreciation to Sally Keeble, who successfully steered the Bill through while I was recovering from illness? Given the importance of this legislation to the 40 most indebted countries, will the Minister please ensure that it continues so that these important measures remain in place in the UK and that never again will a British court be used to take the third-world debts from these countries?

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I acknowledge the work of the hon. Gentleman and the former hon. Lady in putting the legislation on the statute book. It was there as a result of the wash-up in the last Parliament, and so enjoyed cross-party agreement. The Act has been in place for only a month, and we will examine its effectiveness in the hope that it can be shown to work and can be renewed in the future.

Poverty and Hunger Eradication

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12. What his most recent assessment is of the effectiveness of his Department's contribution to the achievement of the millennium development goal on the eradication of extreme poverty and hunger. [6272]

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While globally MDG 1 is the most on-track MDG, we recognise that in Africa and some parts of Asia it is still well off track. DFID is fully committed to meeting the target. For example, in Ethiopia we are helping 7.5 million people to access more and better-quality food, and in Bangladesh we are providing 1 million people with agricultural services, helping to increase incomes by 50%.

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Is not the most effective way of achieving those millennium development goals to stabilise world population growth? What focus is his Department giving to that programme?

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I congratulate my hon. Friend on his election as Chair of the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs, and I pay tribute to his expertise in the House on population, and, above all, to his recognition that, as part of all our reviews and DIFD programmes, we are embedding the choice for women to decide whether and when to have children, and to ensure that that helps to underpin not just MDG 1 but many of the other MDGs.

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As the millennium development goals have been developed, what financial and technical support will the Department give to the newly created UN Women’s Agency to make a genuine difference to women in poverty in the third world? It is well recognised that direct help for women is the best bet for both families and communities.

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We pressed for that to take place, and I am aware that the candidates who will be considered for the post are well forward in the process. We are encouraged that that is going to be taking place, and it has our full support.

Education

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13. What steps he is taking to seek to ensure that the millennium development goals relating to education are met. [6273]

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Achieving the millennium development goals, including those for education, is at the heart of the Government’s development policy. We are reviewing all our programmes to ensure we focus on those that deliver maximum value for money.

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I thank the Secretary of State for that response, but may I also commend to him the Global Campaign for Education’s work on this matter, in particular its request that the UK Government commit themselves to a 10-year sector plan for education? If there is one thing that education needs, particularly primary education, it is stability in those funding streams.

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The hon. Gentleman makes an important point about consistency and clarity of funding, and we will be looking at all these points in connection with the bilateral review of how we spend money in each of our target countries. As he knows, an important conference is taking place this weekend in South Africa, which I hope a Minister will be able to attend.