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Topical Questions

Volume 537: debated on Wednesday 7 December 2011

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.