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International Development

Volume 537: debated on Wednesday 7 December 2011

The Secretary of State was asked—

St Helena

A contract has now been signed for the design, construction and operation of the new airport in St Helena. We expect it to open towards the end of 2015, in time for the 200th anniversary of Napoleon’s exile to the island.

I thank my right hon. Friend for that excellent news. I also thank my hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes North (Mark Lancaster), whose visit to the island helped to pave the way. Does the Secretary of State agree that the islanders will rejoice at this decision by the coalition Government, which contrasts with the failure of the last Labour Government who, at the last moment, cancelled the contract?

My hon. Friend is right to say that this is the right decision. It underlines our commitment to the overseas territories—they are British. He is also right to tease the Opposition about the fact that they dilly-dallied over this decision for nearly 13 years.

I welcome the decision to go ahead with the airport, which I argued for long and hard, as the Secretary of State is aware. What does the decision to go ahead with the airport, which will ensure that the people of St Helena can stand on their own two feet, mean for the ship and for the continuing contact that is needed with the island? Will that be able to continue until 2015 and will extra repairs be needed?

I acknowledge that the hon. Lady played a strenuous and forceful part in the decision today. She argued strongly for the airport when she was in government. The ship will be able to continue until the airport is largely able to take over its necessary role. She is right to underline the importance of this decision in getting the island off aid and off the British taxpayers’ books, and looking after itself.


The Department for International Development’s bilateral programme in Moldova came to a planned end in March 2011. Moldova has made progress in reducing poverty since it gained independence in 1991. It benefits from significant support from the international community. DFID continues to monitor development progress in Moldova through UK representation on the European neighbourhood programme management committee.

On a visit to Moldova a while ago, we had the opportunity to go to Transnistria and to see the courage of the women working with non-governmental organisations to combat the scourge of people trafficking, which has implications for us and for the whole of Europe. What can the Minister tell us about the approach of the British Government, and will he do more to help those non-governmental organisations?

I pay tribute to the right hon. Gentleman’s continued interest and support through the all-party parliamentary group for Moldova. Although there are now formal talks to seek to resolve the protracted Transnistrian conflict, he is right to draw the House’s attention to the continuing concern about trafficked women. He will know that across Government there is a series of initiatives focusing not only on identifying and supporting such women, but on stopping the sources of those who peddle this heinous practice.

Will the Minister commend the work of the Westminster Foundation for Democracy in Moldova, both on a party-to-party basis and in parliamentary strengthening, particularly in the run-up to the presidential election on 16 December? Is not good governance the fastest way to tackle poverty?

My hon. Friend is right to demonstrate, through the work of the Westminster Foundation for Democracy in Moldova, how important good governance is in alleviating poverty and in creating the conditions that all countries need to have the greatest possible opportunity for wealth creation and security. Of course, we all look forward to the Moldovan Parliament being able to elect a President soon, which will allow the Parliament to focus on the reform agenda that is necessary to bring Moldova closer to the EU. I am happy to pay tribute to the work of the WFD.

Global Health Fund

3. What recent assessment he has made of the work of the global fund on HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria in developing countries. (85119)

The multilateral aid review assessed the global fund as providing very good value for money, but also concluded that it could do more to maximise its potential and impact in developing countries. We are working closely with it to ensure that that happens.

In view of the current concern about the global fund, will the Secretary of State clarify the UK’s current and future financial commitment to the organisation?

We have made it clear that we are willing, subject to the improvements that we have set out, to spend up to £1 billion by 2015. We are currently spending about £128 million a year on achieving very specific results under the global fund, and I am considering whether additional funding would be warranted. I shall make that decision on the basis of value for money for the British taxpayer.

Many of the 2,000 a day who die of malaria are children. Will the Secretary of State and his Department take a particular interest and show particular determination in tackling childhood mortality, particularly in developing countries? Will he extend that to rotavirus and the other conditions that kill so many children?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. It is a scandal that 25,000 children will die today, needlessly, of diseases that we have the power to prevent. Tackling child mortality is absolutely at the heart of the policies being pursued by the Government.

My answer is yes. We will be working in the most difficult countries. The aim of the review currently being undertaken under the chairmanship of an excellent British official, Simon Bland of the global fund, is to ensure that over the next four years we save 10 million lives and prevent something like 180 million new AIDS, malaria and TB infections.

Given that more than two thirds of TB and malaria programmes and more than half of all antiretroviral drugs are delivered through the global fund, what does the Secretary of State say about the crisis in the talks on that programme and its cancellation until 2014? What interim measures can be put in place?

It is true that the 11th round has been converted into a new funding approach, but we will sign grants between now and 2013 of something like $10 billion, so long as we can ensure that our priorities of securing lower prices and good value for money, focusing on the poorest and most vulnerable and considering the longer-term sustainability of programmes, are met.

Given that the global fund contributes half of spending on HIV/AIDS, 80% of spending on malaria and 75% of spending on TB, what steps has the Secretary of State taken to ensure that all international donors play their part? Does he see any possibility that the global fund will start distributing resources before 2014?

The hon. Gentleman is exactly right to focus on the importance of getting others to meet the commitments that Britain is meeting. I can tell him that I spend a lot of my time ensuring that that happens. We will disburse something like $10 billion before 2014 and, as I have said, we are looking to secure funding after that date so that these programmes continue and are sustainable.

Tax Evasion

The Department for International Development and Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs support developing country tax authorities in a range of reform and capacity-building projects to help them to collect the tax that they are owed. We particularly wish to promote developing countries’ participation in international exchange of tax information, which is a powerful weapon against tax evasion.

Developing countries lose more money through tax dodgers than they receive in aid. Will the Minister explain exactly what was said at the G20 summit to get the issue moved up the agenda?

The hon. Lady is absolutely right to say it is vital that we address uncollected tax, particularly in certain countries that have been identified. We are encouraging international partners to join in that, and our own Treasury has been very much in the lead. The G20 has agreed to the multilateral convention on mutual assistance in tax matters, and that is what it is now focusing on in trying to get an exchange of tax information, which will help us to support countries in collecting the tax that they are owed.


British development in Bangladesh promotes resilience to national disasters, gets girls into school, tackles maternal mortality and helps the Government to raise their own revenue through support for fair and transparent taxation. I plan to visit Bangladesh shortly to ensure that British taxpayers’ money is well spent.

Having seen some of that work that the Secretary of State’s Department is doing in Bangladesh, may I first congratulate him on it? More specifically, what help does he think his Department could provide, perhaps alongside other Departments, to ease the political logjam that seems to bedevil Bangladeshi society from top to bottom?

My hon. Friend has seen for himself why the issue he raises is so important. A key part of our work is helping ordinary people to hold their political leaders to account, which we do through strengthening accountability and the Government’s ability to raise taxes, and through strengthening local media. I have recently given a significant accountability grant to the BBC World Service Trust to do just that.

Climate change is having a serious impact on food security and production in Bangladesh—the production of rice and wheat is forecast to fall by around a third by 2050. What additional resources or funding will be made available to help some of the poorest in the world, given the effect of climate change on their food production?

The hon. Gentleman is entirely accurate about the effects of climate change on very vulnerable people in Bangladesh, where only a fairly small rise in the water level could wipe out hundreds of thousands of homes. We are directly involved in protecting 15 million vulnerable people from those effects of climate change, and we will continue—through, for example, the development of scuba rice, which grows in very difficult circumstances—to target malnutrition.

Climate Change Projects

6. What steps he plans to take to assess the value for money of aid expenditure on climate change projects. (85122)

Value for money is a process, not a one-off event. The value for money of climate change projects is assessed during design and appraisal, during implementation and, for a sample of completed projects, through evaluation.

It is vital at this time that we get absolute value for every penny we spend, but the Minister will be aware that 70% of CO2 emissions come from developed countries, whereas the World Bank estimates that 80% of the damage will be suffered by the developing world. After the Durban climate change conference, what steps will be taken to ensure that new and additional clauses are not dropped from climate change financing?

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to imply that the effects of climate change have a continually damaging effect on the poorest people of the world. Therefore, we hope that the discussions that have taken place in Durban will produce the success and the architecture that are required. However, there have been some announcements, particularly as part of Fast Start, to help people from developing countries around the world to adapt to the effects of climate change. That will be through the UN adaptation fund or the least-developed countries fund, and will be particularly for climate resilience programmes in both Ethiopia and Kenya. There is therefore a significant focus on the poorest.

With the Durban climate change conference coming to a close this week, will the Minister tell the House what impact he and his Department have had on shaping Britain’s negotiating position, and whether the Government will live up to the commitment to help to fund the additional $100 billion needed for climate finance for developing countries?

I thank the hon. Lady for drawing attention to that key aspect, but in focusing totally on results and achieving the genuinely transformational climate change effects that we want, this Government have absolutely stood by our promise to meet the requirements to fulfil the international climate fund— the responsibility is split between the Department for International Development, the Department of Energy and Climate Change, and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. There has been a series of announcements. We are now two thirds of the way through the Fast Start commitment, so the answer is yes, our commitments are in place.

Equatorial Guinea

7. What estimate his Department has made of the number of people living in poverty in Equatorial Guinea. (85123)

Although Equatorial Guinea has one of the highest per capita incomes in Africa, nearly 70% of the population live in deep poverty. Most of that per capita income goes to the President and his family and cronies.

I declare an interest. My visit to Equatorial Guinea in the summer was paid for by the Equatorial Guinea Government.

The Secretary of State is quite right to say that one family control the wealth of Equatorial Guinea and are amassing an unimaginably vast fortune from drilling rights and oil revenue. Will he use his good offices to press upon the Obiang family the fact that the wealth of a nation belongs to its people, and that they should be using that money to alleviate poverty, particularly among children in Equatorial Guinea?

My hon. Friend makes a very good point. She has been there and so is in a good position to speak out about what she has seen. I should say to her that we do not have any bilateral links with Equatorial Guinea, but she is right: it is a disgrace that its high level of oil wealth is stolen for the corrupt and personal use of an unaccountable and self-serving elite.

The Secretary of State rightly draws attention to the risk of corruption in Equatorial Guinea. Is it not the kind of country that could benefit from the legislation that is currently being proposed at European level to make extractive companies publish what they pay in developing countries along the lines of the Dodd-Frank Act in the United States?

My hon. Friend makes a very good point, although he, like me, will be sceptical about our ability to persuade a country to do that. We have, however, raised the issue of Equatorial Guinea’s abusive human rights with the Human Rights Council in Geneva, in particular the lack of an independent judiciary, the use of torture and the death penalty and the constraints on the media.

Horn of Africa

8. What recent assessment he has made of the humanitarian situation in the horn of Africa; and if he will make a statement. (85124)

In spite of significant British-led support, the position in the horn of Africa remains extremely difficult. The coming of the rains has brought some improvement, not least because of British-funded vaccination programmes for more than 916,000 children. I am gravely concerned by recent reports that al-Shabab has ordered 16 humanitarian organisations to cease operations in Somalia.

I thank the Secretary of State for that response. Does he agree that quite often the conflict, particularly in countries such as Somalia, is the root of the problem, and what can he do to remedy that?

My hon. Friend rightly points to the fact that the Government are focusing on countries that are mired in fragility and conflict. It is one of the reasons why the Prime Minister has decided that Britain should host a conference on Somalia to try to ensure that we tackle the causes of state failure as well as the symptoms of it.

It is clear that there are a large number of difficulties, including the disposition of forces in Somalia, which hinders the distribution of aid. The biggest hindrance of all is the work of al-Shabab, which has kicked out 16 aid agencies. We are now very reliant on the International Committee of the Red Cross and two British non-governmental organisations, Save the Children and Oxfam, for getting relief through to an enormous number of very malnourished children who are in danger of dying as a result of this famine.

Sri Lanka

About 7,500 displaced people remain in camps in Sri Lanka, out of about 300,000 at the end of the conflict in 2009. British humanitarian aid for displaced people in Sri Lanka ended in March 2011, except for demining work which will continue until 2013.

I thank the Minister for his response. May I ask him to intervene on behalf of the refugees who are still left in the Menik Farm refugee camp to ensure that they are allowed to return to their homes rather than to a 600-acre plot of newly cleared jungle?

I greatly appreciate the importance of that issue. The work being done through the conflict prevention pool to help to bring peace in Sri Lanka includes assisting with police reforms and strengthening Sri Lanka’s diasporic communities—some of which are in my hon. Friend’s constituency—to drive economic development and reconciliation to help former combatants to integrate back into their communities, which are precisely the things that my right hon. Friend is looking for. We also supported the EU position over the removal of what is called the GSP-plus as a means to press the Sri Lankan Government to meet their human rights obligations.

Topical Questions

I attended last week’s high-level forum on aid effectiveness in Busan. The United Kingdom was instrumental in securing an international agreement that, for the first time, includes new providers of development co-operation such as China and Brazil. I have also recently visited Burma for talks with the Government and with Aung San Suu Kyi. It appears that the political tectonic plates in Burma are shifting.

The Secretary of State will I am sure be aware that 2013 is the bicentenary of the birth of David Livingstone, from Blantyre in my constituency. Will he undertake to work with the Scotland Office and other Departments of the UK Government to ensure that they contribute to the celebrations and commemoration of the work of David Livingstone in 2013?

The hon. Gentleman raises the important issue of development in Malawi, which is challenged by the failure of the Government there to recognise the importance of taking the necessary steps to support very vulnerable people. The Scottish Government are doing a good job of supporting what is happening in Malawi. We are now working in an environment where Britain no longer gives the Government there direct budget support, but ensures that our support gets through by other mechanisms.

T6. Given the Department’s focus on giving aid to countries that are considered fragile, will my right hon. Friend update the House on the current estimates for fraud and corruption losses this year, and confirm that resources are being reallocated to tackle those, so that aid gets to those most in need? (85137)

My hon. Friend makes the most important point: the Department for International Development has zero tolerance of corruption. The independent watchdog reported last week that although there was no evidence of corruption in this year’s programme, it was necessary to take new measures when we work in very difficult areas. I have instructed the civil service to implement all the independent watchdog’s recommendations, lock, stock and barrel. [Interruption.]

Order. The House really must come to order. The Secretary of State is having some difficulty being heard, and that should not be the case.

Last week the Chancellor announced that, partially as a result of the Government’s failed economic plan, DFID will have over £1 billion less to spend than previously planned. The Secretary of State has rightly focused on transparency and predictability of funding. In that spirit, will he make it clear which budgets that £1 billion will be taken from? In that context, will he reassure the House that he continues to enjoy the support of his party in pressing ahead with legislation to enshrine the 0.7% target in law?

Even for a Labour spokesman, the hon. Gentleman has a neck the length of a giraffe’s. Let me make it clear to him that the Chancellor of the Exchequer took action last week to ensure that we did not exceed the Government’s 0.7% promise. Personally, I am enormously proud to be a member of a Government who, in spite of the difficult economic circumstances that we face, have stuck by their commitments to the poorest of the world.

T7. My right hon. Friend will be aware of the excellent work done in Africa by Concern Universal, which is based in Hereford. Can he outline the measures taken to improve resilience against humanitarian disaster in Malawi? (85138)

My hon. Friend again identifies the difficulties of operating in Malawi when Britain has stopped giving direct budget support. However, we are finding other mechanisms, particularly to address food security issues, and in the last 10 days we have approved additional funding for fertiliser to ensure that the next harvest has the best possible chance of succeeding.

T2. Although the famine in the horn of Africa is obviously the top priority there, future drought management is equally important. Will the Secretary of State tell us what aid his Department is giving to address this issue? (85133)

The hon. Gentleman identifies the importance of having a wide set of measures to tackle famine and drought. We have given strong support to the Food and Agriculture Organisation to support livestock, and we are actively looking at ways to ensure that the crops do not fail next year. All the measures that we take are designed to boost resilience. It is an interesting fact that, as a result of the changes made in Ethiopia, the prevalence of malnutrition in that country has dropped by 50% in the last 10 years.

T9. In these times of austerity and hardship for so many of my constituents in Lincoln, how can my right hon. Friend justify his reported desire to legislate to force successive Governments to continue funding projects in 27 other countries, including India? (85140)

My hon. Friend will be aware that the coalition Government looked at our bilateral programmes and reduced by 16 the number of countries in which we have country-to-country programmes precisely to ensure that we champion value for money. For example, on the first day we stopped aid to China and Russia. His constituents can be reassured that we are focusing on results and ensuring that every pound of taxpayers’ hard-earned money delivers 100p of results on the ground.

T3. Following the postponement of the election results in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, does the Secretary of State feel that the UK and the international community could have done more to ensure better oversight of those elections, and does he support the call for election results to be published polling district by polling district? (85134)

We have had 89% of the votes counted. We are pressing the Electoral Commission to publish the results on a polling station by polling station basis so that any necessary appeals by those taking part can take place. Britain spent more than £30 million ensuring that registration and other things went ahead before the election. We must wait to see what the commission says about the credibility of these elections shortly. [Interruption.]

Order. Let us have a bit of order for the former Chairman of the International Development Select Committee, Mr Tony Baldry.

My right hon. Friend is the first UK Minister to have visited Burma for a very long time. Will he please take this opportunity to update the House on the outcome of that visit, particularly on his discussions with Aung San Suu Kyi?

It does appear that the political tectonic plates are moving in Burma. The Government of Burma have made it clear that they are committed to releasing the political prisoners—in particular, Min Ko Naing, one of the leaders of the students of 1988—and also committed to the 48 by-elections proceeding. Aung San Suu Kyi and her party have said that they will stand in those elections. We await credible elections with fair and open results.