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International Development

Volume 523: debated on Wednesday 16 February 2011

The Secretary of State was asked—


Although the number of people in camps in Haiti has fallen by half to 800,000 since last July, Haiti continues to face serious humanitarian challenges.

The President of Haiti famously said that it would take a thousand trucks a thousand days to clear the devastation, but the people do not have a thousand days, because they are suffering disease and crime, and they do not have a thousand trucks. What more can the international community do to tackle the problem?

My hon. Friend is right to identify the scale of the damage and of what is required to put it right. We are working directly on tackling the threat of cholera, and working through the UN and the World Bank on some of the more serious aspects of what needs to happen to bring the relief that is required .

I advise you, Mr Speaker, and the House, that my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Camberwell and Peckham (Ms Harman), the shadow Secretary of State, cannot be here today because she is on jury service.

As well as direct assistance to Haiti, which we support, Britain has contributed more than $100 million through multilateral organisations such as the World Bank and the European Union, as the Secretary of State said. Does he agree that it is important for the UK to continue to make substantial contributions to such organisations if the world community is to provide the scale of long-term support for reconstruction that Haiti requires?

The hon. Gentleman is right to put it that way. Britain was a key part of the immediate, emergency relief in the aftermath of those dreadful events in Haiti. There was generous support from across Britain through the Disasters Emergency Committee appeal, and we made a number of specific surgical interventions towards the end of last year, including the one to which I referred. Britain is not in the lead on Haiti—this is very much an American, French and Canadian lead—but we are, as he explained, giving strong support through international and multilateral agencies, including the UN and the World Bank.

We certainly welcome the fact that British aid is helping the poor and most vulnerable in Haiti. We support that, but unfortunately, it is a different story just 100 miles north of Haiti in the Turks and Caicos Islands, to which the Department for International Development has just agreed to write an unprecedented loan of £160 million, which is much greater than any previous support for a British overseas territory. Surely the priority for DFID in the Caribbean should be meeting the needs of the poorest and most vulnerable in places such as Haiti, so may I ask the Secretary of State—

The hon. Gentleman refers to problems some miles away from Haiti. However, if I may say so, he has a bit of a brass neck. We inherited a terrible mess in the area not far from Haiti to which he refers, and it is thanks to the brilliant work conducted by the Minister of State that the British taxpayer has now given a guarantee, which hopefully will allow the place not far from Haiti to sort out its problems without further cost to the British taxpayer.


2. What his Department’s policy is on providing aid to India; and if he will make a statement. (40972)

From now on in India, we will focus our support on three of the poorest states. Our programme will change to reflect the importance of the role of the private sector and private enterprise.

India spends $36 billion a year on defence and $750 million on a space programme. It has one of the fastest-growing economies in the world and is developing its own overseas aid programme. Given that we must cut public expenditure in this country, will the Secretary of State accept that many of my constituents will think that such aid to India is now unjustifiable?

That is why our programme in India is in transition, why we will focus on three of the poorest states in the country and why, over the next four years, up to half the programme will transition into pro-poor private sector investment. That is the right way for us to position our development work in the partnership with India, which is of course much wider than development, and which the Prime Minister very significantly re-energised in his major visit last year.

I congratulate the Secretary of State on continuing with the £280 million each year to India. That is vital given that India has a quarter of the world’s poorest people living within its borders. How does he intend to focus the aid in those three states, particularly with regard to the health of young women?

The hon. Gentleman is right that there are more poor people in India than in the whole of sub-Saharan Africa. He is right, too, that we should focus on the poorest areas, and particularly on the role of girls and women. Over future years, we expect to be able to assist in ensuring that up to 4 million women have access to income through micro-finance and through focusing particularly on livelihoods. We will also support, of course, the strong programme on education in India. About 60 million children have been got into school over the last four or five years, which is a tremendous tribute to the work of the Indian Government, but it would not have been possible without the intervention of aid and support from Britain and elsewhere.

Does the Secretary of State agree that it is worth recording that to lift the poorest people in India out of poverty by $1 a day would cost $166 billion a year, so it is appropriate to continue our transitional arrangements with India? The International Development Committee will visit India next month and we will want to see how DFID’s relationship with the country, albeit with a relatively small amount in comparison with the challenge of the problem, can deliver an accelerated reduction of poverty there.

I am grateful to the Chairman of the Select Committee for that comment and also to the Select Committee itself for going to look with care at development in India and the operation of our programme there. He accurately identifies the scale of need. It is worth noting that the number of the Indian population living on less than 80p a day is 7.5 times the total population of Britain. That puts in context the basic nature of this need and shows why Britain’s partnership is so important.

Is the Secretary of State aware of the claims made by the Jubilee Debt Campaign and Jubilee Scotland that the work of the UK’s Export Credits Guarantee Department has been funding work in India that is undermining development and human rights? I declare an interest in that I was until recently a board member of Jubilee Scotland. I ask the Secretary of State to investigate and report back to the House on that matter.

The hon. Lady will have heard what has been said about the Export Credits Guarantee Department—that it is at the moment being looked at carefully to ensure that it supports our development aims. She might also like to look at the trade White Paper published last week, which specifically addresses the role of the ECGD in development and in supporting British exports overseas.

Friends of Yemen

3. On what date he expects the next Friends of Yemen meeting to take place; and if he will make a statement. (40973)

5. On what date he expects the next Friends of Yemen meeting to take place; and if he will make a statement. (40975)

We expect the next Friends of Yemen meeting to take place in Riyadh at the end of March. I visited Saudi Arabia last weekend and was afterwards with the Foreign Secretary in Yemen. We are continuing to work with both countries to agree a firm date for the next meeting.

Given the turmoil in the region, what is the Minister’s assessment of the situation in Yemen and of the Friends of Yemen process? How will it stop the state failing and assist in an orderly succession and economic progress following the commitment by the President not to stand at the next election?

Recent events demonstrate more than ever the importance of the Friends of Yemen process to prevent state failure in that country. I welcome President Saleh’s speech on 2 February, committing to follow the constitution of Yemen and not to seek re-election after 2013. Through the Friends of Yemen process, we will work to support political reform and the right of all Yemenis to participate legitimately and democratically in their political future.

Is it not the case that a secure and prosperous Yemen is very much in the UK national security interest? Will my right hon. Friend inform the House what new measures have been put in place to ensure that those objectives are delivered?

We have seen substantial progress on many fronts since the New York Friends of Yemen meeting, and I particularly highlight the Yemeni Government’s adherence to an International Monetary Fund financial reform programme and progress made towards completing their five-year development plan for poverty reduction. We are close to establishing a multi-donor trust fund for Yemen. The Riyadh Friends of Yemen meeting will continue the support of Yemen’s friends for political and economic reform in the pursuit of democracy, stability and prosperity.

I warmly welcome the Minister’s visit to Yemen last week. I ask him to put one item on the agenda of the Friends of Yemen meeting—namely, the redevelopment and refurbishment of the Aden hospital, which has been ongoing for a number of years. Good health facilities would be of huge benefit to local people in what is one of the poorest countries on earth.

We do not tend to get involved in large infrastructure projects, but health in Yemen is at the top of our agenda. I well appreciate the right hon. Gentleman’s close personal association with Aden, and I undertake to give the matter a special personal look.

Although I acknowledge the link between poverty and security, not least in Yemen, may I invite the Minister of State to confirm that DFID sees addressing poverty among the poorest people in the poorest countries as its supreme challenge and as being at its heart?

Yes, poverty reduction is at the core of everything that the Department does, but I urge the right hon. Gentleman to appreciate that no fragile country has ever achieved a single millennium development goal. Preventing state failure is much less costly than dealing with a failed state afterwards.


4. What development support his Department provides to the Palestinian Authority and to Israeli non-governmental organisations working in the west bank. (40974)

We provide financial and technical assistance to the Palestinian Authority. In this financial year, our support will total £31.1 million. DFID also co-funds the UK conflict pool, which supports five Israeli human rights NGOs operating in the west bank.

I recently took part in a delegation to Jerusalem and the occupied Palestinian territories of the west bank, and I refer the House to my related entry in the register. During the visit, we met many Israeli human rights organisations and NGOs involved in the peace process, some of which receive financial support from the UK Government. All of them were concerned at moves by elements of the nationalist right to crack down on and embarrass organisations in receipt of overseas funding, no matter how legitimate—

My hon. Friend refers to a proposed panel of inquiry on the Israeli side, to look into the funding of its NGOs. Our ambassador to Tel Aviv discussed the issue with the Israeli ambassador to the UK, Ron Prosor, shortly after the Knesset vote on the issue. Officials raised the matter with one of the two members of the Knesset who had pressed for such funding investigation. We do not want such investigations to impede the legitimate work of NGOs in the west bank and elsewhere in the Palestinian territories.

In light of the Minister’s reply, does he share the concern expressed by Norwegian Foreign Minister Støre about the Israeli Foreign Minister’s comments, which appear to delegitimise the work of brave NGOs such as B’Tselem and Physicians for Human Rights? It is important that the voices of those organisations, which are Israeli Jewish but express a different view from the Israeli Government, should continue to be heard.

I think that I can give the hon. Gentleman the assurance that he seeks. We are watching closely the treatment of the five NGOs concerned and we will do our utmost to ensure that they remain free to do their good work, even though some of their conclusions might disagree with the those of the Israeli Government.

Is the Minister aware that an increasing amount of aid to the Palestinian territories ends up in the hands of extremists and is used for extremist purposes? Will he take steps to stop that and ensure that aid gets to the Palestinians who need it most?

I do not share my hon. Friend’s conclusion. We are very careful how we spend our money in the occupied Palestinian territories and have done our utmost to support the legitimate government of Salam Fayyad with, I think, great success. We would abhor any money falling into the hands of extremists, and we do everything possible to ensure that such an accusation can never be verified or proved valid.

The Minister will know that many in the House and beyond continue to be deeply concerned about the desperate situation in Gaza. What efforts are the Government making to ensure that Israel lifts the blockade of Gaza, which leaves many dependent on UN aid? Given the situation in Egypt, will the Minister update us on the position at the Rafah crossing, and on what action will be taken to ensure that humanitarian aid can be delivered to those who need it most?

My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary and all Ministers make our views clear on this matter. Prime Minister Netanyahu and Tony Blair announced a package covering the west bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem on 4 February. Gaza measures included new reconstruction project approvals and a timetable for exports. We have welcomed that, but implementation in practice will be the key.

The Department’s work on conflict prevention and resolution is much appreciated. Can the Minister assure the House that this work in the middle east—Palestine, Israel and elsewhere—will be continued in the forthcoming years, and that the budget for it will be protected, and perhaps grown, even given the wider budget obligations?

I absolutely share the views of my right hon. Friend. This is a crucial part of DFID’s agenda, and essential to all the work we are doing in such a sensitive part of the world, so the answer is an unequivocal yes.

UN Women Agency

9. What plans he has to provide support for the new UN Women agency; and if he will make a statement. (40979)

The coalition Government strongly support the new UN Women agency, which has the chance to make a hugely positive impact on the lives of millions of girls and women in the developing world. I look forward to receiving its strategic results plan, which will allow us to decide on funding by the British taxpayer for future years.

I thank the Secretary of State for that encouraging response, and for the part he and his colleagues have played in the establishment of UN Women so far. When does he anticipate he will come to a decision on funding for UN Women?

We expect to see a strategic plan from UN Women probably in June this year, and as soon as we see it, we will be able to make decisions about British support for the agency. I am sure the hon. Lady and other Members will understand that I want to see the plan first, before committing hard-earned British taxpayers’ money to it.

From the experience of the many visits my right hon. Friend has made across the world, does he agree that very often it is women who are the agents for change in development? Just as UNICEF has helped to support the focus on children, so it is to be hoped that UN Women can help support women as agents for change and development.

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. We cannot even begin to address development without realising the centrality of girls and women in every aspect of what we do, and we share his aspirations for the role of UN Women within the international structures.

Sri Lanka

7. What recent assessment he has made of the humanitarian situation in Sri Lanka; and if he will make a statement. (40977)

The number of internally displaced people in camps in Sri Lanka has declined from 300,000 in 2009 to 18,000 today. DFID has provided £13.5 million in humanitarian assistance since 2008, but our bilateral aid to Sri Lanka will cease in March, except for a new demining programme valued at £3 million.

Among those affected by the floods are many people who were earlier displaced by the conflict and who had recently returned to their homes only to be displaced again. Even before the floods, these people had been struggling to access much-needed protection and assistance because of Government restrictions on humanitarian organisations’ access to the return areas. What pressure is the Minister putting on the Government to allow humanitarian organisations to have access to the former conflict areas, so that the suffering people there can be given the full help they desperately need?

We will continue to press the Sri Lankan Government to grant access to such areas for humanitarian purposes. More than 1 million people have been affected by the flooding. We looked very closely into the sort of support we should give, but the most immediate needs are covered by Sri Lankan authorities and other donors, so we are working principally through multilateral organisations to give the help that is needed.

The United Nations estimates that some 90% of Sri Lanka’s rice crop will be destroyed by the recent flooding. That makes the Government’s decision to stop all aid with effect from March quite worrying, because on top of all the troubles in that unfortunate country there is a very real risk of food security problems or starvation in the years to come. What is the Department prepared to do about that?

I urge my hon. Friend to appreciate the distinction between a continuing bilateral programme and humanitarian aid, which can be given as needs must. We will continue to review the humanitarian needs of Sri Lanka and work through multilateral organisations as required.

Sub-Saharan Africa (Midwives)

8. What support his Department is providing for the training of midwives and maternal health specialists in sub-Saharan Africa. (40978)

With more than half of maternal deaths globally occurring in sub-Saharan Africa, DFID funds the training of midwives and other health care workers through various channels—[Interruption.]

Order. I apologise for having to interrupt the Minister. Far too many private conversations are taking place. It is the height of discourtesy for Members to witter away, including from the Government Back Benches, when the Minister is trying to be heard.

I am grateful, Mr Speaker.

DFID bilateral programmes directly support national health sector plans of partner countries and non-government organisation-implemented projects, and give support through multilateral organisations such as the World Bank and the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria.

I am sure the Minister is aware of data collected for the World Health Organisation that show disparity between the provision of maternal health services in more rural areas and in the slightly better-funded urban areas in many countries in Africa? Will he outline what the Department will do to help to address that problem?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for pointing out that important disparity. The UK Government recently announced the framework for results on reproductive, maternal and neonatal health, which directly seeks to address how that disparity can be narrowed. I have seen for myself in northern Nigeria how DFID supports midwifery services, with a scheme to train 200 midwives who are then posted to rural facilities, which is vital to ensure that the disparity is addressed.

I am proud to support Save the Children’s “No child born to die” campaign, which seeks to make more life-saving vaccines available to the world’s poorest and most vulnerable children. The Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation summit is to take place in the UK later this year, and Save the Children is lobbying for the Prime Minister to represent the UK at that summit. What steps will the Minister to take to make sure that the Government are represented at the highest level?

The hon. Gentleman is right; the Save the Children campaign is one that we follow closely. The GAVI conference will be hosted in London and we can confirm that it will have the full support of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, to show our commitment.

Official Development Assistance

10. When he expects to bring forward legislative proposals in respect of the 0.7 per cent. target for official development assistance. (40980)

The coalition Government have set out how we will meet our commitment to spend 0.7% of national income as aid from 2013, and will enshrine that commitment in law as soon as the parliamentary timetable allows.

Some may be reassured by the Secretary of State’s answer and some may even be convinced by it, but I can tell him about a group of people who are not: his own loyal staff at DFID in East Kilbride who in August 2010 were told that there would be no mass loss of jobs from the Department, but last Thursday were told that a third of their jobs would be cut. Is it not the case that when this Government meet commitments, the truth and their commitments are strangers?

The hon. Gentleman will be aware that all Departments across Whitehall are having to make economies because of the coalition Government’s dreadful economic inheritance from his party. DFID is not immune from the cuts and will see reductions of some 33% in its administrative spend. I had the opportunity of speaking to all the staff at Abercrombie house just a few days ago to make sure that that was understood.

I applaud the Government’s commitment to aid, but can the Secretary of State confirm that climate change adaptation funding, beyond the fast-start finance up to 2012, will be additional to the overseas development assistance pledge?

As part of the Government’s fulfilment of our historic pledge, we have set out specifically how climate change funding will rise as part of the overall budget.

Will the Secretary of State congratulate the Government of Kenya, the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation and all its funding partners, which include the United Kingdom, on the roll-out of their programme of pneumococcal vaccine on Monday? It will save thousands of children in Kenya and across Africa. We hope that it will be a rolling programme across the developing world.

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to underline the tremendous success of the vaccination programme. When we announce the results of the multilateral aid review, we shall show how Britain will give a real impetus to vaccination. As the Under-Secretary has just said, we shall host the GAVI conference in London in June and it will be opened by the Prime Minister.

Aid Transfers

11. What progress his Department is making on transferring aid from middle-income states to developing countries in greatest need. (40981)

We have a clear responsibility to ensure that we target our aid where it is most needed and where it will have the greatest impact. I will shortly announce to the House the outcome of our major root and branch review of bilateral aid, which looked in detail at each country.

Although I strongly support the Government’s decision to stop aid to China, can my right hon. Friend explain what impact that will have on his ability to engage with China on development issues?

My hon. Friend is right to say that the coalition made it clear on day one that we would end all aid to China and Russia, but we need to have a powerful and reinvigorated partnership with China on development issues, not only in the areas where we share deep concerns, such as on freeing up the trading system and on climate, but in working in third countries. For example, Britain is working with China now in the Democratic Republic of the Congo on a major infrastructure roads programme. We are doing that work together and it is extremely effective and successful.