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International Development

Volume 518: debated on Wednesday 17 November 2010

The Secretary of State was asked—


1. What recent assessment he has made of the developmental situation in Yemen; and if he will make a statement. (24336)

2. What recent assessment he has made of the developmental situation in Yemen; and if he will make a statement. (24337)

6. What recent assessment he has made of the developmental situation in Yemen; and if he will make a statement. (24341)

Yemen is of the highest priority to the coalition Government. Subject to the Department for International Development’s bilateral aid review and the security situation in Yemen, DFID is inclined to increase its commitment to that country. We believe strongly in the power of development to give solid foundations to a country that faces threats to its stability and economy.

The UK is playing a leading role in the Friends of Yemen process, in which our partnership with Gulf states is an essential element. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State recently visited Saudi Arabia and Kuwait to exchange views on Yemen and to build our common approach. That will help to ensure that the commitments made in New York in September are delivered in time for the next Friends of Yemen meeting in Riyadh in February.

Given the difficult security situation in Yemen, will the Minister outline UK priorities in that country?

DFID’s programme is part of the UK strategy to address instability and conflict in Yemen and to develop the economy. We engage with the Government and other donors to create the political will needed for action on reforms. Our work helps to make people’s lives better by delivering basic services such as health, education and justice to the poorest communities, and to provide jobs and short-term employment through cash-for-work schemes. We also provide life-saving humanitarian support for the 300,000 displaced people in Yemen.

At the last International Development questions, I raised the importance of Yemen in the war on terror, which the subsequent ink cartridge plot underlined. The Gulf states are obviously key to addressing Yemen’s challenges. What are the Government doing to engage with those states?

The security situation is obviously of the utmost importance. The most important Gulf partner is the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, which co-chairs the Friends of Yemen process, but more than $3 billion-worth of pledged financial support has remained unused since 2006. We are therefore pressing for better donor co-ordination, in which the Gulf states are obviously crucial partners.

I welcomed the Minister’s speech at Chatham House—he set out the challenges facing Yemen and spoke of putting development and diplomacy at the heart of our response. Will he inform the House what progress has been made to implement reform through the Friends of Yemen process?

In my speech at Chatham House, I outlined the importance of development in Yemen. The Government want to underpin that country now rather than have to step in later should things get worse. Through the Friends of Yemen process, we are helping the Government of Yemen with the implementation of an International Monetary Fund financial reform programme. I stress very strongly that we are not telling Yemen what to do; we are working as a partner to support it in facing its challenges.

Mr Speaker, you very recently met the Speaker of the Yemeni Parliament, and President Obama and the Prime Minister spoke about Yemen last week at the G20. Processes are very welcome, as is Britain’s leadership role in this whole endeavour, but we need positive action. Will the Minister ask the Foreign Secretary to issue an invitation to the Yemeni Foreign Minister and other Yemeni Ministers, so that they can come to London as a matter of urgency—before Christmas—and we can implement the very good words that the Minister has just spoken?

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his suggestion—he has a strong interest in, and knowledge of, Yemen. His suggestion is constructive. There will be a further Friends of Yemen meeting in Riyadh. If we are to get anything out of that meeting, we have got to get cracking now, which means that constant purposeful engagement with our Yemeni counterparts is essential. I will certainly ask the Foreign Secretary to take up his suggestion.

It is obviously important for us to do all we can to help to tackle poverty and instability in Yemen, but where there is instability, it is even more difficult to get aid to people who need it. The expertise of DFID officials in that regard is widely respected around the world. Will the Minister assure us that as the work of his Department is reviewed, nothing is done to undermine its ability to play its part in ensuring that aid in conflict zones really gets to those who need it?

May I say what a pleasure it is to be up against the right hon. and learned Lady once again, after a little gap? What she says is absolutely right. We are, as I said, inclined to increase our support for, and spend in, Yemen, but obviously the security situation will determine whether we can put enough boots on the ground to deliver the aid and assistance that we wish to deliver. Crucially, however, we are looking on our work there as a pioneering exercise in trying to address the challenges of a fragile state before its condition gets worse.

British Charities (Funding)

3. What funding his Department provides to British charities with international developmental goals operating overseas. (24338)

In 2009-10, the Department for International Development provided £362 million to UK charities and civil society organisations to assist in poverty reduction overseas. The global poverty action fund, which will increasingly shape partnership with charities and non-governmental organisations, was launched on 27 October.

I am sure that the Secretary of State would agree that we need to get funding to the right place. On improving women’s health overseas, does he agree that the focus should be on making interventions in the right place, which is during delivery and childbirth, which account for over 50% of deaths among women? That is where we should be focusing our resources when we fund overseas aid.

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Reproductive, maternal and newborn health care is the subject of a business plan discussion that is under way. With his expertise, I very much hope that he will contribute to our thinking on that. The plan will be published in January. As he said, we need to focus on the continuum of care, up to birth and beyond. We are quite clear about the importance of the issue, but he will know that placing women’s choice over whether and when they have children is at the heart of all the overseas programmes that we run.

Let me declare an interest in that I recently went to Bangladesh as a guest of Oxfam. I am sure that I join the whole House in paying tribute to the excellent work of British development non-governmental organisations around the world. In Bangladesh, I saw Oxfam’s work in raising awareness of the impact of climate change on some of the world’s poorest. Although the Government’s commitment to continue the work on development and climate change is welcome, the commitment of the international community still falls short. Ahead of Cancun, what steps will the Government take to push for a greater commitment on climate finance from other countries?

I thank the hon. Lady for what she said about the quality of the programme and those who staff it in Bangladesh. I am glad that she was able to visit our programme last week. She has seen a country where climate change affects the everyday lives of millions of people, and she is quite right to underline the Government’s commitment to ensuring new and additional mechanisms for raising international finance to tackle climate change. I will be making a speech on the subject tomorrow, and the Government will be pressing hard in the run-up to Cancun and beyond to see that we make significant progress in this area.

British development NGOs are world class and do a fantastic job, but has my right hon. Friend noticed that they all have their own advocacy departments and produce their own glossy publications? Would it not be better if they co-ordinated themselves slightly more, so as to cut out unnecessary duplication and competition?

My hon. Friend raises an important point. He will have noticed that the global poverty action fund that we launched is principally a matched fund, in order to enable the taxpayer to piggyback on the brilliant development outcomes that many of our NGOs produce. That is the right principle, whereby taxpayer support can focus on results, outputs and outcomes, and not on inputs.

HIV (Maternal Transmission)

4. What steps he is taking to eliminate mother-to-child transmission of HIV in developing countries by 2015. (24339)

11. What steps his Department is taking to support the UNAIDS goal to eliminate mother-to-child transmission of HIV by 2015. (24346)

The Government are committed to a comprehensive approach to eliminating paediatric AIDS by focusing on where we have a comparative advantage—that is, on primary prevention of HIV among women of child-bearing age and on prevention of unintended pregnancies among women living with HIV through our investments in family planning.

Does the Minister agree that it is important that children who have already contracted HIV should be able to access medicines to stay alive? If so, will he join me in calling on pharmaceutical companies to make their patents available to the patent pool, so that there can be affordable HIV drugs for children?

I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman’s question. The Government definitely support the UNITAID patent pool, which is, as he knows, a mechanism to facilitate the development of new, particularly fixed-dose combination drugs, partly to ward off the danger of monotherapies. That can be a key means of addressing the treatment challenge. We welcome UNITAID’s decision to create a separate foundation to manage the pool’s activities, and we recognise that that is an important step. We now need the milestones to be put in place as rapidly as possible, so that we can convert it to a working programme going forward.

We believe that about 1.4 million pregnant women globally are infected with HIV, and about 1,000 babies are infected every day. We also believe that worldwide funding for HIV treatment is on the decline. Will the Government commit to making a strong contribution to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, and also to prioritising not just keeping those pregnant women alive, but taking steps to prevent those babies from being infected?

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for her question. I know from the number of her questions that I have answered that she takes a keen interest in these issues. The UK has been a good supporter of the global fund to date, and its replenishment is subject to current negotiations and the multilateral aid review.

On the hon. Lady’s particular concern, the reproductive, maternal and newborn health business plan is the coalition Government’s key mechanism to prioritise the health of women and babies. It will support service delivery across the continuum of care needed to improve the health of women and girls, and will scale up the prevention of mother-to-child transmission—PMTCT—of HIV. That will address the underlying causes of the AIDS epidemic, gender inequality, gender-based violence and poverty. We will certainly—

Order. I am grateful, but the Minister must cut it short. Work needs to be done on these things. The answers are often far too long.

As the Minister said, the current Government strongly support, as did the previous Government, the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. What is the Minister’s assessment of the success of the country co-ordinating mechanisms, and particularly the efforts to ensure that co-infection of HIV and TB is well managed on a country basis?

The hon. Gentleman makes an informed point. One way of ensuring that the global fund, which scores well on its effectiveness, gets even better is to ensure that when there are conflicts in the country co-ordinating mechanisms, they are addressed. The co-infection of HIV and TB is an increasingly well understood area of research and practice, and that understanding is shaping the programmes through the multilateral aid review, and will therefore inform those programmes going forward.

Will my hon. Friend tell the House what his Department is doing to support the Glion call to action, whereby consensus has been reached on the importance of family planning in preventing the spread of HIV, particularly maternal transmission from mother to child?

My hon. Friend makes the vital point that family planning is at the heart of ensuring that we prevent the transmission of these diseases. I assure him that we are putting women’s and children’s health at the core of our international development agenda, and will contribute to saving the lives of at least 50,000 women and 250,000 babies, and to providing 10 million more couples with access to family planning.

Access to Basic Sanitation

5. What steps his Department is taking to reduce the number of people in developing countries without access to basic sanitation. (24340)

Reducing the number of people in developing countries without access to basic sanitation is a key priority of the coalition Government. The review of our aid programme will determine how we scale up our efforts and results in this area.

I thank the Secretary of State for his reply. As Friday is world toilet day, what is his Department doing to raise the international agenda’s priority to improve sanitation, particularly as 1.5 million children under five die every year from poor water hygiene and sanitation, which is more than die from malaria, AIDS and measles combined?

My hon. Friend is right to raise this issue in those terms. Diarrhoea is the biggest killer of children in Africa. This is a core subject for the coalition Government, and we are looking at it in our bilateral aid review. Although I do not wish to pre-empt that review, I can tell the House that I am confident that we will be able to ensure that, over the next four years, tens of millions of people will be able to gain access to clean water and sanitation who are currently unable to do so.

I congratulate the Secretary of State on his remarks at the millennium development goals summit earlier this year, in which he emphasised the importance of sanitation, but will he explain to the House why, when the United Nations passed an historic resolution on 30 September affirming that access to water and sanitation were human rights and that Governments had a legal responsibility to deliver that access, the United Kingdom voted against it?

The hon. Gentleman needs to look carefully at the words that I used at the summit, about which he has just made his nice remarks. The fact is that 2.5 million deaths are caused by a lack of sanitation and 39% of people in our world do not have any access to a basic hygienic latrine. That is why we are focusing not on rhetoric but on results in trying to achieve specific outcomes in this very important area.

In the last Parliament, the Department for International Development acknowledged that it had refocused its priority on sanitation in the wake of the report by the International Development Committee. Given that, according to figures from the “Water, Sanitation and Health 2008” report, 79% of rural homes in India have no access to sanitation, what will the Secretary of State do within the programme for India to ensure that sanitation is a key priority?

The Chairman of the Select Committee is absolutely right to say that my predecessor admitted that the Government had taken their eye off the ball on this important matter. We are looking carefully at the Indian programme as part of the bilateral aid review and, as part of our examination of the programme, we will be looking specifically at our support for sanitation.

The sanitation situation in Haiti remains critical after the earthquake in January this year. Following that earthquake, many of our constituents sent donations to support relief efforts there, and they are now very concerned about the outbreak of cholera, which is having a devastating impact. Will the Secretary of State update the House on the delivery of aid in Haiti, and on how the help is getting through to those who need it most?

The hon. Gentleman raises an extremely important subject. Britain has helped to bring clean water—the specific point that he raised, I think—to 380,000 people in Haiti. I sent a senior humanitarian expert last week to look at the situation on the ground, and to help specifically with co-ordination there. We are working with other United Nations agencies to ensure that this is prioritised and we are of course considering the recent appeal that the UN put out in that respect.

Global Fund Projects

7. What recent assessment he has made of the outcomes of projects under the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. (24342)

The global fund is assessed annually against key performance indicators. The programmes of the global fund have saved 5.7 million lives since 2000. The review of all our multilateral spending, including on the global fund, is designed to ensure maximum impact and value for money.

Does the Minister recognise that other countries look to the United Kingdom for leadership on HIV strategy? If so, does he agree that a strong UK contribution to the global fund will encourage other countries that have not yet made their financial contributions to step up to the plate? [Interruption.]

Order. There are far too many private conversations taking place in the Chamber. That is very unfair to the hon. Gentleman and the Secretary of State and unimpressive to those following our proceedings. The Secretary of State is champing at the bit; let us hear him.

The hon. Gentleman is right to underline the importance and success of what the global fund has achieved. This includes circulating 2.8 million people with antiretrovirals, diagnosing and treating 7 million people with tuberculosis and distributing more than 122 million bed nets to help to prevent malaria. We have sent a clear signal to the global fund of strong support in this replenishment round. The precise level of that support will be dictated by the multilateral aid review.

Asbestos Products

8. What steps his Department is taking to ensure that funds allocated for development programmes by his Department are not used to purchase imported asbestos products. (24343)

Asbestos is banned in 52 countries, including in the EU and the UK. We are totally opposed to its use anywhere, and would deplore its supply to developing countries. We are not aware that DFID funds have been spent on asbestos products, and we would take urgent action, should we be so advised.

I thank the Minister for that response, but can he assure the House that UK assistance to improve health standards in developing countries is not compromised by asbestos mining in Quebec? He may be aware of the multimillion dollar guarantee for development in Quebec, which might mean millions of tonnes of asbestos being dumped on unsuspecting populations in the years to come, with more than 4,000 people killed a year.

I note that the hon. Gentleman has campaigned tirelessly on asbestos and pleural plaques, and I studied his debate on the subject in Westminster Hall last year. I understand that Canadian exportation of asbestos is a cause for concern, and I will pass the issue he raises to my colleagues in the Foreign Office and the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills. From my Department’s point of view, we will take all necessary steps to ensure that we do not use dangerous asbestos products anywhere in the world.

Global Plan to Stop TB

9. What assessment he has made of the likely effects on the incidence of tuberculosis in developing countries of the revised global plan to stop TB. (24344)

I know the hon. Gentleman takes a close interest in the terrible suffering caused by tuberculosis around the world. I am happy to confirm that the Government welcome the Stop TB Partnership’s revised global plan, which sets out a clear road map to achieve ambitious targets, including to halve TB deaths by 2015. This will require making progress on the underlying causes.

I thank the Minister for his response. As I am sure he knows, TB needlessly kills 1.7 million people a year, yet no new treatments or vaccines have been developed for 30 years. What are the Government doing to ensure that the UK plays its part in eradicating this disease by funding TB control measures and supporting the development of new drugs, diagnostics and vaccines?

The UK is committed to reducing unnecessary deaths and suffering from TB. My Department is currently reviewing its aid programme to determine how to achieve better value for money for the taxpayer and accelerate progress towards achieving all the millennium development goals. We will certainly review the forward approach to TB, including research, once we have the findings from the bilateral and multilateral aid reviews. As of 2009-10, we estimate that about £55 million was spent on direct programmes, and health system strengthening also needs to be taken into account.

Somalia is one of the countries with the highest incidence of TB. Will the Minister say how practical it is to reduce the incidence of TB across the world, particularly in countries where law and order has broken down?

The hon. Gentleman is quite right to identify the fact that TB ravages countries, not least in conflict states. As we design programmes that will have an effect in conflict states, it is vital that TB is right there among the very top of interventions. As we go through our bilateral aid review and focus on hard-to-reach people in conflict states such as Somalia, we must ensure that TB is one of the pre-eminent issues to be tackled. [Interruption.]

Order. There is far too much noise, which is indisciplined and discourteous. I, for one, want to hear Mr David Ruffley.

G20 Summit (Seoul)

G20 leaders endorsed the Seoul development consensus on shared growth and agreed to a multi-year plan to tackle the obstacles to growth in poor countries. As part of this plan, leaders also agreed to take measures to increase trade within Africa.

At the summit, the Government rightly stressed the need for a free trade area for Africa. At present, only 10% of trade in Africa is between African countries. Does the Secretary of State agree that knocking down the trade walls between African countries will deliver economic benefits far outstripping the amount of aid that developed countries can give?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right to make the point about the importance of having a pan-African free trade area—one of the four specific areas championed by the Prime Minister at the G20 summit in Seoul. Knocking down those trade walls, having one-stop border posts and promoting trade within Africa is the key area in helping people to lift themselves out of poverty throughout Africa.

What meetings did the Prime Minister have with other G8 leaders in Seoul to persuade them to reinstate the commitments to increase aid which they made at Gleneagles?

My right hon. Friend raised the matter not only in private but specifically at the table. He pointed out that it was hard to expect leaders in the developing world to stand by their commitments to their people if leaders in the G8 and others did not stand by the commitments that they had solemnly made at Gleneagles and beyond on the importance of increasing our support for the poorest in the world.

UN Relief and Works Agency

12. What recent assessment he has made of the value for money of his Department’s aid delivered through the UN Relief and Works Agency. (24347)

UNRWA is performing well against agreed performance indicators and delivering value for money with United Kingdom funding. For instance, it is delivering teaching to nearly half a million children, and social services to more than a quarter of a million. During my recent visit to the Palestinian territories, I announced an extra £8 million to reward UNRWA’s good performance and ease its budget shortfall.

During a recent visit to Gaza, it was obvious that UNRWA was struggling to obtain the construction materials that it needs to rebuild schools and find housing for refugees. Does the Minister agree that DFID would derive greater value for money if the partial blockade were completely lifted?

I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. I am glad that he was able to see the situation in Gaza for himself.

Although some progress has been made since Israel eased access restrictions, UNRWA is still unable to import the volume of reconstruction materials that it needs. Any restricted access enhances the tunnel economy and risks putting revenue straight into the hands of Hamas, which in itself is entirely counter-productive.