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International Development

Volume 539: debated on Wednesday 1 February 2012

The Secretary of State was asked—


The bilateral aid review identified as the main needs of Bangladesh: expanding access to health, education and safe water for the poorest; protecting against risks related to climate change; and supporting private sector development to help the poor lift themselves out of poverty. The UK’s development programme directly targets those needs and will lift 5 million people out of poverty by 2015.

How far does the Minister think that the wider work of his Department is helping to meet the desperate need for increased political stability in Bangladesh?

All three Department for International Development Ministers have visited Bangladesh in the past few months, and we are encouraging all political parties to work towards free, fair and credible elections to be held by early 2014. That requires the politics of vision, not the politics of venom, and the UK stands ready to continue our work with the Bangladesh Election Commission to make the elections a success and to help the democratic process.

Some 5.7 million people in Bangladesh suffer from diabetes. If this trend continues, 10% of the population will have diabetes by 2025. Which DFID programmes specifically assist the Bangladeshi Government in preventing diabetes?

Many of the multilateral programmes focus more than our poverty programmes do on this challenge, but the right hon. Gentleman does the issue a great favour by highlighting the significance of diabetes. I can assure him that we will give it the attention it deserves in all the work that we do in the country.

UN Relief and Works Agency

2. What assessment he has made of the (a) financial situation and (b) capacity to fund existing programmes of the UN Relief and Works Agency in 2011-12. (92778)

5. What estimate he has made of the financial situation of the UN Relief and Works Agency in the occupied Palestinian territories in 2011-12. (92781)

In 2011 DFID gave just over £30 million to UNRWA, and we are in the process of setting our budgets for the next few years. We will work with all donors and host Governments to help UNRWA’s long-term financial position so that it can continue to deliver its programmes to meet the needs of Palestinians and Palestinian refugees.

The Minister will be aware that about 75% of Palestinians in Gaza depend on food aid from UNRWA, and with the massively increased number of demolitions of homes in Jerusalem and the west bank by Israeli forces, UNRWA’s work is vital to Palestinians. The Government have a good record on funding. Will he give a commitment that that will continue, and will he work to ensure that the international community recognises UNRWA’s importance?

Yes, we have repeatedly made clear to the Israelis our serious concern at last year’s 40% increase, as recorded by the UN, in the number of demolitions of Palestinian properties in the west bank and East Jerusalem. We view such demolitions and evictions as causing unnecessary suffering to ordinary Palestinians and as harmful to the peace process. In all but the most limited circumstances, they are contrary to international humanitarian law, and we condemn them.

Given that UNRWA is responsible for the refugee camps outside the occupied territories, will the Minister please update the House on what his Department is doing to support these camps?

My hon. Friend is right to point out that UNRWA’s remit extends beyond the Palestinian territories themselves. Conditions in refugee camps in Lebanon, Syria and Jordan remain fragile, and DFID funds UNRWA to provide essential services to all these refugees across the region. In 2011 our support helped to provide maternal health care to 263,000 women, education for 45,000 children, and food and income support for 29,000 refugees. We are in close contact with UNRWA as it strives to maintain services in Syria.

Most of the support to refugees is given through UNRWA, but we are giving our full support to the Palestinian Authority, it being the effective government of the west bank, and through it we hope to ensure that all those affected are properly supported by access to the full legal rights necessary to pursue any claims that they might have.

May I particularly welcome the extra funding recently announced for the 400,000-plus refugees in Lebanon to help fund health care and education for thousands of children? Does my right hon. Friend agree that although this assistance is welcome in the short term, it is no substitute for the long-term peace settlement necessary to enable these 5 million refugees to go home and get on with their lives?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right and I am sure that the vast majority of Members in this House agree with him. The permanent plight of someone who is an everlasting refugee is not something that any of us would relish, and it is the peace process that we hope can eventually give a permanent settlement and solution for those who are so affected.


I returned yesterday morning from a visit to Somalia. Thanks to British aid and support, the lives of millions of Somalis have been saved. We have reduced the number of people in danger of imminent death by two thirds, but 250,000 people—many of them children—remain in danger of starving to death.

On his visit to Somalia, the Secretary of State will have been in a good position to make an assessment of the current state of the famine there. We know that the United Kingdom has made a significant effort in leading the relief work. Is he satisfied that the international community is making the same effort to help the beleaguered people of Somalia?

My hon. Friend is right to underline the importance of the whole international community being engaged in tackling the famine. The situation is that some two thirds of those who were in imminent danger of starving to death are no longer in that position, and Britain has been involved in quite literally saving something like half a million lives in the last year. Huge lobbying is still required. Britain has made it clear that we will produce assistance over the next year, specifically to tackle acute malnourishment, providing seeds, fertiliser and clean water, but the whole international community must take up this task.

The hon. Gentleman’s question has been grouped with question 3. His moment is now; his opportunity is here.

I want to ask about the situation in Somaliland and the aid that has been channelled to that part of the country. What proportion of our aid is going to consolidate the excellent progress that has been made in civil society in Somaliland?

My hon. Friend has used his opportunity well, Mr Speaker. Some 60% of Britain’s development support for Somalia goes into Somaliland, but as the Foreign Secretary has made clear recently, it is extremely important that Somaliland and Puntland settle the dispute on their border as speedily as possible. When disputes are settled in Somalia, we will be able to address the underlying causes of poverty and not have to cope with the symptoms of it.

The consequences of the bad harvest last year and the famine are, of course, enormously aggravated by the lack of security in Somalia and the control that al-Shabaab has in many parts of the country. What are the Government doing, on their own account and through the European Union, to strengthen AMISOM—the African Union Mission in Somalia—and improve security in Somalia?

It is absolutely essential that AMISOM is strengthened and given the capacity to operate more effectively, but the answer to the hon. Gentleman’s question is that the Prime Minister has convened a conference on Somalia in London on 23 February. The processes that come out of that will not be led by the international community or Britain; they need to be owned by the Somalis, led by the Somalis and the countries of the region, and strongly supported by the international community.

May I ask the Secretary of State for his response to the criticism in the Oxfam and Save the Children report “A Dangerous Delay”, which is partly based on Somalia? Does he think that there are lessons to be learned, given that an imminent threat of famine is now looming in the Sahel?

Oxfam and the other agencies did a service in pointing out—as they did in their report, if not in their press release—that Britain had shown the way and led the world in tackling the famine in the horn of Africa. However, the report is right in identifying the importance of long-term action to support resilience. As for the Sahel, Britain is not going to lead there, but we have announced a significant amount of support, specifically: therapeutic feeding for 68,000 children; support with food and water for 50,000 people; and support in terms of seeds and vaccinations for cattle for 30,000.

I congratulate the Secretary of State on his visit to Somalia and on Britain’s proactive response to the crisis there. However, may I ask whether he will be joining Turkey, which has said that it will be approaching some of the wealthiest Muslim countries to see if they can make a more substantial contribution to preventing starvation in Somalia?

My hon. Friend identifies a most important aspect of the conference on Somalia that is to take place in London, which will be to ensure that all the different nations that are engaged in Somalia work together. It will also be important to ensure better co-ordination of humanitarian relief with the established, richer donors and the donors in the Gulf.

In recent years, there have been problems off the Somali coast for travellers, although progress has been made in recent months on that issue. Will the Secretary of State assure the House that liaison will continue internationally to ensure that people can travel across that part of Africa in safety?

One of the problems is that of piracy. In Puntland, I was able to see the importance of tackling piracy by arresting pirates and putting them through the judicial system, as well as the other measures that, given some stability, the international community would be able to use to tackle the problem directly. We hope that this subject will also be addressed at the London conference.

South Sudan

The situation in South Sudan remains somewhat bleak, in the absence of agreement on the outstanding issues between the two Sudans. Humanitarian needs in South Sudan remain pressing, due to continuing inter-communal violence in Jonglei and elsewhere, and to the influx of refugees and returnees from Sudan. The United Kingdom continues to play a lead role in supporting an effective and co-ordinated humanitarian response. I will be giving oral evidence on South Sudan to the International Development Committee later today.

Would the Minister care to give us his assessment of the dangers being faced by displaced persons and refugees in South Sudan?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his question; his knowledge of that part of the world is indeed deep, not least because of the tremendous contribution that his wife made to supporting the people of South Sudan some years ago. More than 85,000 refugees have arrived in South Sudan, fleeing the conflict over the border. There are 25,000 in Unity, and 61,000 in Maban. In Warrup county, the humanitarian community is supporting 110,000 people who have been displaced from Abyei since 2011. In addition, 360,000 have already been assisted in coming down from Sudan, with a potential 700,000 still to come. This is placing enormous strain on the emergency and humanitarian response, but the UK is playing a lead role and, in December, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State announced a two-year package of support for the humanitarian funds. [Interruption.]

Order. I understand the sense of anticipation at this time on a Wednesday, but I remind the House that we are considering extremely serious matters affecting the people of South Sudan.

The United Nations mission in South Sudan has been widely criticised for having a poor mandate and for having its resources in the wrong place. What is the Minister’s view on that?

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has just returned from the African Union summit that was held in Addis Ababa last weekend, and he is fully seized of that issue. He had direct discussions on this matter with the chairman of the commission, with President Mbeki and with Prime Minister Meles. People are focused on the question of an appropriate mandate, but the current position is that it is better to deploy into the right places the troops who have been mandated, rather than distract ourselves with a review of the mandate itself.

The Select Committee is looking forward to having an extended exchange with the Secretary of State on South Sudan this afternoon. In the light of the disruption of oil supplies, and the fact that the South Sudan Government are 98% dependent on oil revenues, will the Minister tell us what steps our Government and the international community are taking to resolve the dispute and to support the South Sudan Government in regard to that financial constraint?

Extensive meetings took place in Addis Ababa over the weekend, in which my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State was involved at the highest level. The straight fact is that, while the oil dispute is outstanding, progress is going to be impeded. We call on all parties to acknowledge that it is in their mutual interest to pull back from the brink and reach an agreement, with the north getting the ships to sail and the south to release oil from the wells again.

Employment (Developing Countries)

Economic growth is the primary driver of job creation, and it is a top priority among the United Kingdom’s new development policies on economic development, wealth creation and job creation. The Department is implementing programmes that will strengthen the private sector, encourage investment, improve finance for businesses and enhance the education and skills of the work force in developing countries.

At the last G20 meeting, world leaders committed to establishing a taskforce to look at employment in developed countries. With unemployment rates in developing countries above 60%, will the UK Government urge the G20 taskforce to look not only at developed countries but at developing countries as well?

The hon. Lady is absolutely right that we need to look at both developing and developed countries. As discussed throughout what has been a disappointing out-turn from the Doha round, it is important to understand what is coming through in terms of jobs, job creation and investment flows in the emerging countries as well. She is right: this has to be on the agenda for developing countries as much as for developed ones.

Is my hon. Friend satisfied that the new flexibility given to the Commonwealth Development Corporation will enable it to increase employment in developing countries?

The CDC has undergone fundamental reform over the last 18 months and is now ready not only to identify those things in which it can uniquely and competitively invest—patient capital, as it is best known—but to focus on what will end up being job-full rather than job-less growth in a way that will benefit the economies of developing countries.

Does the Minister still think that companies like Sun Biofuels, which has made more than 1,000 people redundant in Tanzania and treated local people appallingly, are a shining example for countries around the world of how to produce green energy that is good both for the environment and for the economy, despite concerns about the impact of biofuels on food security, water access, land grabs and doubts about whether they even contribute to environmental gains?

The hon. Lady raises an issue about whether combining business risk and new green sources of energy is inevitably risky, with failures likely along that track. I understand her concerns, but she should not overlook the enormous progress made in developing economic growth and business potential in these countries, along with the drive towards green energy production and the need to ensure that these countries have an opportunity to leapfrog many of the technologies we have in the western world.


The coalition Government have doubled British aid to Burma. If progress on political reform continues, we will be able to do much more.

Does my right hon. Friend consider that there is sufficient substance to the reforms in Burma? Is he confident that money provided by DFID for humanitarian relief is getting to the areas where it is needed, such as the Chin state?

My hon. Friend poses the key question of whether these reforms are real. The fact that the regime in Burma has now released nearly all its political prisoners—particularly Min Ko Naing whom many Members campaigned to see released—is an enormously encouraging sign. The real test will come with the 48 by-elections due to take place before April. We will see how those elections are conducted and whether they are free and fair. If they are, that will be the most eloquent possible answer to my hon. Friend’s question.

Topical Questions

My Department is preparing energetically for the Prime Minister’s conference on Somalia in London on 23 February. We are working hard to deliver the results we set out to the House in the key reviews conducted last year, and we are procuring humanitarian support for many of the most wretched people in the world.

Stepping Stones Nigeria is the charity based in Lancaster involved in educational development in the Niger delta. Would my right hon. Friend be good enough to facilitate a meeting between his officials and the charity to see how far that work can be expanded?

The charity is doing excellent work, and we will be pleased to ensure that it can meet officials perhaps to find out how it can access the Government’s new global poverty action fund, which specifically seeks to help non-governmental organisations and charities that are doing brilliant work in difficult parts of the world.

Does the Secretary of State think that it was appropriate for him to say in Delhi last December that a strategic aim of the United Kingdom’s aid programme for India was “seeking to sell Typhoon”? With that one comment, he undermined the commitment of successive Governments not to tie aid to trade. Does he stand by his irresponsible comment?

The hon. Gentleman should not believe everything he reads in the press. Of course I never made any such comment. As he knows very well, British aid has been untied for many years, and it is a commitment of both parties that it should remain untied.

T3. Can my right hon. Friend confirm that the Government recognise the importance of tackling neglected tropical diseases, and can he tell us what discussions he has had about the matter with the Gates Foundation? (92794)

My hon. Friend is right to mention the work of the Government, together with the Carter Centre and the Gates Foundation, on the neglected tropical diseases that destroy the lives of millions of people in the world. I pay particular tribute to my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for International Development, who has driven the process for the British Government, to the great advantage of people who are caught by these terrible diseases.

T2. I welcomed the words that we heard from the Government earlier in condemnation of the displacement of Palestinians, but can the Secretary of State tell us specifically what assistance might be offered to the Bedouins who are currently being displaced from their traditional areas? (92793)

All these humanitarian issues are wrestled with by the international community. The hon. Lady heard about the very specific support that Britain is delivering through UNRWA. We will consider her question about the Bedouins in the terms that she has specified.

T4. It is about a year since the Government announced the formation of the Arab Partnership Fund to help countries that were involved in the Arab spring. Is the Secretary of State satisfied with its progress? (92795)

As my hon. Friend will know, the Arab Partnership Fund is financed partly through the Foreign Office and partly through my Department. We address many of the humanitarian issues, as well as issues involving the capacity-building and economic growth that are essential if progress is to be made, while the Foreign Office addresses many of the political issues. I am satisfied that the APF is delivering what we seek from it, but I accept that much more needs to be done in the future. [Interruption.]

Order. There are far too many noisy private conversations taking place in the Chamber. Let us have a bit of expectant silence for Mr Alun Michael.

T6. On 7 July 2010, the Prime Minister joined me

“in welcoming the peaceful and credible elections in Somaliland”—[Official Report, 7 July 2010; Vol. 513, c. 361],

and promised to increase engagement and aid as a consequence. Will the Secretary of State tell us what his current priorities are in relation to helping economic and social development in Somaliland? (92797)

We looked at the Somaliland programme following the intervention by the right hon. Gentleman and the Prime Minister, and I can tell the right hon. Gentleman that some 60% of British support for Somalia as a whole goes into Somaliland. During my visit to Hargeisa in Somaliland last year, I was able to observe the specific impact of that support both on economic development in Somaliland and on security. Britain is strongly engaged in supporting the training of the police and security forces.

T5. I am sure that all Members were appalled by the recent bombings in northern Nigeria, when so many people were killed and maimed. Given that 9 million people live in the city of Kano, all of whom are vulnerable to poverty and many of whom suffer abject poverty, will the Secretary of State confirm that he will take action, and continue to take action, to assist there? (92796)

There were British officials in Kano when the explosions took place. They have all been safely evacuated to Abuja, but my hon. Friend is right to make it clear that our programme of support for northern Nigeria, where there are many extremely poor people who are a magnet for the terrorist recruiter, must address all those issues, and Britain is working closely with the Government of Nigeria to do that.

T7. On a recent visit to the west bank, I was horrified to learn that schools are routinely targeted for demolition. Does the Secretary of State share my concern that that undermines humanitarian efforts in the west bank and East Jerusalem, and will he join me in condemning that appalling practice? (92798)

As the Minister of State eloquently set out in answer to an earlier question, and as I saw for myself on a visit to the west bank and Gaza immediately before Christmas, humanitarian aid is targeted directly at helping the victims of what the hon. Lady describes. Our commitment is to continue to ensure that Britain is engaged in the most effective possible resolution of those matters, both on the ground and in international forums.

APASENTH, a group with 20 years’ experience of working with adults with special educational needs in London, will shortly visit Bangladesh to see whether it can use its expertise to establish a centre there for people with autism. Will the Secretary of State agree to meet me and members of APASENTH after its visit to see how his Department can help that initiative?

I certainly undertake to ensure that a Minister meets my hon. Friend to discuss the matter. I suggest that he and the charity engage with the global poverty action fund—a new fund set up by the coalition Government to support non-governmental organisations with matching money. He may find that a rewarding vein to mine.