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Topical Questions

Volume 542: debated on Wednesday 14 March 2012

My Department is heavily engaged in achieving the development results set out to Parliament a year ago in the bilateral and multilateral aid reviews. Those include securing education for at least 11 million children, saving the lives of 50,000 women in childbirth, and getting clean water and sanitation to more people than live in the whole of the United Kingdom. Britain is also heavily engaged in difficult humanitarian situations around the world, including in Syria.

On 24 February, Israeli authorities approved 500 new homes in the west bank settlement of Shiloh and retroactively legalised more than 200 built-without-permits, some in the settler outpost of Shvut Rachel. What does the Minister say to his colleagues in Israel to try to stop these illegal developments?

As the hon. Gentleman makes clear, these settlements are illegal and the Foreign Secretary has made that absolutely clear to his opposite numbers, as did I when I visited Israel, the west bank and Gaza just before Christmas. [Interruption.]

Order. May we have some order in the Chamber? There are far too many noisy private conversations when we are discussing the plight of the poorest people on the face of the planet.

T2. What is my right hon. Friend doing to ensure that British funds provided to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency are not abused in a way that undermines the middle east peace process? (99644)

I can tell my hon. Friend that I have looked in detail at that, not least because of the point that my hon. Friend the Member for Harlow (Robert Halfon) made earlier, and not least because during the latter part of last year I spent time with UNRWA in Gaza. We are very clear that the funds that we are allocating to UNWRA are buying the results that we have agreed they should buy.

Last week the target was met on access to safe water, yet diarrhoea continues to be the biggest killer of children in Africa and the second biggest killer in south Asia. What priority is the Department giving to sanitation?

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to flag up the importance of clean water and sanitation. That is why in the bilateral and multilateral reviews last year we set out clearly that this Government would seek to ensure over the next four years that we get clean water and sanitation to more people than live in the whole of the United Kingdom.

T3. The people of Somaliland have deep wells of friendship towards this country and they have made a success of their country, unlike Somalia as a whole. Is it not about time that we recognised their independence? (99645)

The Foreign Secretary has set out clearly the need to resolve some disputes which affect the land space of Puntland and Somaliland, but that the issue of the future of Somaliland is a matter for Somaliland, Somalia and the surrounding countries. [Interruption.]

T5. Will the Secretary of State commit not only to work on further food and shelter developments for the people who need them throughout the globe, but to look at the social and emotional development of the children and families of those suffering areas, and to learn from some of the early intervention techniques being pioneered in this country? (99648)

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving me notice of this question. I have considered it in some detail. I agree with him about the importance of early intervention. Much of the Department’s work in relation to the early years is to try to make sure that contraception is available to women so that they can space their children and decide whether or not they want children; to focus particularly on nutrition, the lack of which causes stunting; and to get children, particularly girls, into school. I believe that those three things at least contribute to the agenda that the hon. Gentleman so wisely champions.

T4. As many residents of Pendle have friends or family in Kashmir, will my right hon. Friend update the House on the progress of reconstruction work and aid following the 2005 earthquake? (99647)

My hon. Friend is right to point to the important work that is going on in Kashmir, not least following the earthquake. I can tell him that work has recently been completed. We have refurbished some 37 schools, affecting 10,000 children, and we have also managed to rebuild 35 bridges and secure about 66,000 latrines.

T8. Next Thursday is world water day, when we recognise that 743 million people worldwide do not have access to safe water, and more than 2.6 billion live without proper sanitation. Although I welcome the announcement last week that we have met one of the access to water millennium development goals targets, can the Secretary of State tell the House what ministerial representation the Government will have at the high-level meeting of Sanitation and Water for All on 20 April? (99651)

The hon. Gentleman is entirely right to emphasise the importance of this. I referred earlier to the Government’s commitment on water and sanitation, and it is because of the importance of the agenda he has identified that I will be attending the conference myself.

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that the whole of the DFID budget is effectively allocated and that, if non-governmental organisations or others exhort him to spend more money on one aspect of international development, however worthwhile, it behoves them to explain where in the departmental budget other savings need to be made?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The whole of the international development budget now focuses on outputs and outcomes, buying results, with the added extra that we now have an independent watchdog that can assure taxpayers that the money is really well spent.

In thanking the right hon. Gentleman for the way he dedicates himself to alleviating the suffering of the Palestinian people and congratulating him on the trouble he takes to go there and see for himself, may I ask him, with regard to textbooks for Palestinian children and children in Gaza, whether it would be valuable if there were schools in which they could study, in view of the large number of schools destroyed by the Israelis and their refusal to allow building materials in to rebuild them?

The right hon. Gentleman, who has long and distinguished experience in championing this area, is entirely right. We will be meeting UNRWA on Monday, but I have seen for myself the effective way it is working to alleviate suffering and promote education in Gaza and elsewhere.