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Topical Questions

Volume 539: debated on Wednesday 1 February 2012

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.