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International Development

Volume 545: debated on Wednesday 23 May 2012

The Secretary of State was asked—

Occupied Palestinian Territories

1. What assessment he has made of the effectiveness of aid provided to the Occupied Palestinian Territories. (108772)

Both the Minister of State, who is today attending the Friends of Yemen meeting in Riyadh, and I keep a close eye on the effectiveness of our programme in the Occupied Palestinian Territories.

I thank the Minister for his response. On a trip to Israel and the west bank earlier this year, I saw education materials that incited violence and the use of Palestinian Authority broadcast media to glorify conflict, not least relating to a group of children singing about the aim to saturate their land with blood. Will the Secretary of State provide assurances that our aid donations do not contribute towards such incitement? Will he highlight what steps the Government are taking to deter the Palestinian Authority from supporting such publications and broadcasts?

I can give my hon. Friend that assurance. I would be very interested to see the material he describes. I can tell him that numerous credible studies show no evidence of incitement or anti-Semitism in Palestinian Authority textbooks, so if he ensures that we get a copy of what he has seen, we will take the appropriate action.

Has the International Development Secretary joined the Foreign Secretary and, curiously, the Education Secretary in meeting Israeli Foreign Minister Lieberman during his visit to the UK? Irrespective of whether he meets him, will the right hon. Gentleman transmit to the Israeli Foreign Minister the concerns of the United Nations Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Deputy Emergency Relief Co-ordinator, who visited the west bank last week and said:

“I am extremely concerned about the humanitarian impact of demolitions and displacement on Palestinian families. Such actions cause great human suffering, run counter to international law and must be brought to a halt”?

I do not have any current plans to meet the Foreign Minister from Israel, although I met a series of Israeli Foreign Ministers when I was there just before Christmas. I will ensure that the hon. Gentleman’s comments are passed on to the Foreign Secretary.

I also visited the west bank and East Jerusalem last year and I saw the consequences of ethnic cleansing and apartheid. Will the Secretary of State assure us that Church groups will be urged to get the Government of Israel to follow the parable of the Good Samaritan?

I raised the issue of religious tolerance when I visited the west bank and Israel at the end of last year. The hon. Gentleman’s comments will have been heard by the Foreign Office, which I have no doubt will pursue them.

We need to focus on the real issue of aid, not on red herrings about its misuse by the Palestinians. The fact is that Israel has blockaded Gaza and the checkpoints in the west bank are stifling any attempt by the British Government to bring aid to the Palestinians. What is the Secretary of State doing to make the Israelis co-operate in respect of the aid that Britain and the EU gives to the Palestinians?

Britain has an extremely well-targeted aid and development programme in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. It focuses on building the capacity of the Palestinian Authority to provide good government and support for the two-state solution. It focuses, too, on wealth creation and economic growth, which are important. The third strand principally supports the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, and ensures that we fulfil our humanitarian responsibilities. The programme is very well placed, and we make certain that it achieves all three of those things effectively.

The next generation of Palestinian peacemakers and state builders are too frequently exposed to messages of hate and violence rather than of peaceful co-existence. What measures are in place to ensure that aid is used to teach mutual understanding and reconciliation?

My hon. Friend makes an important point. A recent study was set up by the Americans to look at the content of textbooks and teaching both in Israel and in the west bank for precisely the reason that he sets out. We take this issue very seriously. I will ensure that my hon. Friend receives a copy of that report when it is published.

Control of international arms transfers is essential to the effectiveness of aid-related conflict resolution measures in the occupied territories and other places. The UK has a key role to play at the UN arms trade treaty negotiations next month. Will the Secretary of State—

Order. I am trying to be generous, but I think allowing latitude would be excessive in this case. I am afraid that the hon. Lady’s comments do not relate sufficiently closely to the question on the Order Paper.

Clean Water and Sanitation

The British Government consider that access to clean water, sanitation and hygiene is among the most basic of human needs. At the recent summit in Washington, I announced this Government’s intention to double the commitment on water and sanitation that we made last year.

I welcome the Department’s commitment to doubling the provision of water and sanitation so that it reaches 60 million people, but will my right hon. Friend assure me that sufficient priority is now being given to sanitation? Too often in the past, priority has been given solely to the provision of clean water.

My hon. Friend is entirely right to draw attention to the importance of sanitation. That is why the International Development Committee called its report on these matters “Sanitation and Clean Water” rather than referring to WASH—water, sanitation and hygiene. As he says, for every UK citizen we will provide clean water or sanitation for someone in the poor world who does not have it today. That is an important priority for Members on both sides of the House, and Britain is honouring it.

The Secretary of State will be aware of the tremendous work done by charities such as Excellent Development which supply clean water to many regions in Kenya and Uganda at a fraction of the normal cost. Will he ensure that the Government do what they can to assist such tremendous and cost-effective work?

We make it an absolute priority to ensure that British taxpayers’ money goes as far as it possibly can, and that we secure 100p of delivery on the ground for every pound that we spend. We continue to ensure that we deliver clean water and sanitation at the lowest possible price.

The Sahel

The situation is extremely grave. Eighteen million people across the Sahel are at risk of food shortages, and 8 million of them are now in need of immediate assistance. The British people, through the UK Government, have responded swiftly to the crisis, providing aid for over 400,000 people who have been caught up in this disaster.

The United Kingdom has been admirable in its support for the region, but with 18 million people vulnerable to the impact of the crisis, which is due to peak in about six weeks’ time, and with further delays to the donor conference, what can the UK Government do now to invest in the region and help those people?

My hon. Friend is entirely right. Like her, I fear that the worst is yet to come. The hunger season in July and August is imminent. The United Nations, with which we are working extremely closely and consistently, is revising its appeals from about £452 million to about £1 billion as a matter of urgency in response to the growing need in the Sahel, and the final appeal for Mali is due to be released at the end of this month. The Department has a special team in place, and we are monitoring the situation closely. That includes assessing the appeals. My ministerial colleagues and I are keeping an extremely close eye on the position.

14. Given recent reports that the African Union has delayed the pledging conference to deal with the crisis until June, what assurances can the Minister give that the UK Government are doing all that they can to establish a date, and who will represent the UK at the conference? (108786)

I can give the hon. Gentleman an absolute assurance that we are sparing no effort whatever in seeking to persuade all the various parties and stakeholders who can provide assistance to meet the emerging humanitarian crisis. The amount that the UK people have already provided through our humanitarian support has staved off some of the worst, but the trouble is that the crisis continues to escalate.

The question of attendance at the various meetings is being decided, but I can tell the hon. Gentleman that we will ensure that we are well represented.

The deteriorating security situation in northern Mali around Timbuktu has caused the European Union to reduce severely the amount of aid that it feels able to give. Given that the UK donates a great deal of its aid through the European Union, will the Minister say what continuing aid we will be able to provide for the people of Mali?

My hon. Friend is entirely right. Because of the conflict, the situation in northern Mali is extremely grave, especially around Timbuktu. That is in addition to intense pressures in areas across the Sahel such as Niger and northern Nigeria. However, I can assure my hon. Friend that work is being done both through our bilateral humanitarian system and, in particular, through European support which has already contributed some £106 million to help with the Sahel crisis. We will continue to work very closely with those involved, not least because of the attribution of the contribution that we make.

In view of the widespread recognition that there is an urgent food and security crisis in the Sahel, will the Minister tell me what criteria were used to determine that UK aid to the region should be halved between 2010 and 2012?

As I hope the hon. Gentleman is aware, there is a difference between the humanitarian response and programme issues. I think that he was referring to Niger, where we supported a programme led by the French which served the purpose for which it was intended. As for the humanitarian process, we continue to work with a range of international partners in trying to ensure that the donor burden is spread fairly and equitably, while also ensuring that we in the UK step up to our responsibilities.

Official Development Assistance

The Minister’s answer is welcome, but given the Government’s failure, in what is a rather thin legislative programme, to embed that 0.7% investment in law, can he give a guarantee that there will be the same level of investment in those less fortunate than ourselves in 2014 and 2015?

The Government have been very clear, as have all Members of the House, about our commitment to the poorest in the world and not to balance the books on the backs of the least fortunate. We are the first Government ever to set out clearly how we will meet our 0.7% commitment. On the hon. Gentleman’s specific point about the law, the Bill in question has been drafted, the Prime Minister and I have said that it will proceed, and it rests with the business managers to decide the date for that.

Does the Secretary of State agree that in response to those who, rather facilely, argue that charity should begin at home and that we should not be spending this money, it should be pointed out that not only do we have a moral obligation to people around the world who are less fortunate than ourselves, but we are spending the money firmly in Britain’s best strategic interests?

My hon. Friend makes an excellent point. For a spend of less than 1% of gross national income, we are investing in our future prosperity and our security, as well as doing the right thing by the least fortunate in the world.

Women’s Health (Egypt)

I am mindful of the fact that the first round of presidential elections in Egypt is taking place as we speak. My Department is focused on economic and political transition in Egypt through the Arab Partnership. We do not have a health programme there, but the Department is committed to improving women’s health across the world, with particular focus on the poorest countries and the most vulnerable women. Over the next five years, our support will help to save the lives of at least 50,000 women in pregnancy and childbirth.

The rate of female genital mutilation in Egypt is now 70%. Some in the country’s political parties want to change the constitution to end all legal restrictions on the practice. I am sure that if the proposal was to chop off part of men’s genitalia, the Minister would put this issue at the top of his agenda. Will he prioritise ending this barbaric human rights abuse?

I absolutely agree that it is a wholly unacceptable and barbaric practice. It is a custom that has survived for millennia, and I assure the hon. Lady that I have taken up this issue on many occasions, and that I seek to ensure it is highlighted. It is genuinely one of the issues that we have put at the top of our agenda, and I discuss it whenever I get the chance to do so in the many countries of Africa where it is prevalent. I assure her that we are committed to this very important project.

The best guarantee of making women’s health a priority, and ending the barbaric practices to which the hon. Member for Bishop Auckland (Helen Goodman) alludes, is making sure women are actively involved, and listened to, in the political process. In what ways is the Department working with women’s organisations and democracy-building organisations to support Egyptian women in making sure their voices are heard?

The hon. Lady makes a very important point. I hope she recognises that the Department has put girls and women front and centre of everything we do. We want to ensure that girl’s and women’s voices are heard, particularly as we develop our various future programmes, not least post-2015.

Occupied Palestinian Territories

6. What support the Arab Partnership Participation Fund has provided to projects on political reform and free and fair elections in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. (108777)

The Arab Partnership Participation Fund has supported political participation in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. It has funded a variety of civil society projects.

Democracy is something that we in this country take for granted. Will the Minister assure me that, as part of our future campaign, we will promote democracy and the rule of law in the occupied territories?

My hon. Friend puts her finger on a key ingredient of development. Promoting democracy and the rule of law in the Occupied Palestinian Territories is central to our engagement in the region, as I described in answer to an earlier question.

Does the Secretary of State’s hope for free and fair elections to the Palestinian Authority extend to Palestinians in East Jerusalem?

The British Government’s position is clear and unequivocal on this, as the Foreign Secretary has assured the House on many occasions. Our commitment to promoting the two-state solution and to promoting democracy in this troubled area is absolute.

Copenhagen Consensus Recommendations

7. What assessment he has made of the recommendations by the Copenhagen Consensus 2012 expert panel on setting priorities for development aid. (108778)

The Copenhagen Consensus 2012 is a valuable contribution to the development debate, particularly given its focus on getting the best value for money and greatest impact from aid. This is of course also a major priority for the coalition Government, and DFID’s programme priorities are closely aligned with the recommendations from the Copenhagen Consensus. I find the analysis compelling, and I have been working with the Consensus since 2004.

The economists and Nobel laureates of the Copenhagen Consensus have found that spending on tackling malnutrition provides the most value for money in terms of economic development. How much of the Department’s budget is spent on bundled micronutrient interventions?

My hon. Friend makes an extremely important point, and she is right to say that the Copenhagen Consensus puts bundled micronutrient interventions to fight hunger and improve education at the very top of its list of the most desirable activities to achieve maximum impact. Right across our programmes, we have been increasing the delivery of nutrient supplements and fighting hunger. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State announced in Washington last week that we will be supporting the new alliance for food security and nutrition in order to improve food supply and farming across Africa and help to pull 50 million people out of chronic poverty over the next 10 years.

How will these excellent priorities help the people of Yemen, almost half of whom are starving?[Official Report, 12 June 2012, Vol. 546, c. 1-2MC.]

In Yemen, many of the current challenges are humanitarian. Today, we have announced £26 million of humanitarian support and aid to ensure that some of the needs of the population—nearly half of whom, as the right hon. Gentleman rightly observes, are starving—are met. While we are in the humanitarian phase, that is patently the most important response, but we also need to look at the future of governance and resilience in order to improve the lot of the population.

Post-MDG Framework (Women and Girls)

8. What steps he has taken to ensure that women and girls are central to any consultation on a post-millennium development goals framework. (108779)

We are very pleased that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has been asked by the United Nations Secretary-General to co-chair the high-level panel on a framework to replace the millennium development goals. That process will of course need to be open and consultative, and I am confident that the voice of girls and women, who are often among the world’s poorest people, will be heard. [Interruption.]

There are a lot of noisy private conversations taking place. Let us have a bit of order for Mrs Sharon Hodgson.

Thank you very much, Mr Speaker.

I thank the Minister for his response and welcome the UK’s customary leadership on this issue. He mentioned the voice of the poorest, among whom the hardest to hear are often women and girls. I am sure he agrees that their voice is the most important one that needs to be heard in order to develop the framework following the millennium development goals. What plans has he in place to ensure that their voice is heard, and what is his timeline for such a framework?

The hon. Lady will be aware that this is work in progress and that a series of meetings and consultations is being initiated. I can give her an absolute assurance that we are building on the success of the current MDG framework, but we also need to learn from its gaps and weaknesses. Part of doing so is making sure that, in addition to providing simple and clear aims, we consult widely and ensure that we reflect the fact that the world has changed, rather than the past. That includes the importance of the views of girls and women in the future.

As the Minister knows, I have welcomed the Prime Minister’s appointment to co-chair the UN panel on the new millennium development goals framework. However, unlike his predecessors—Tony Blair and my right hon. Friend the Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath (Mr Brown)—this Prime Minister has shown no inclination at the G8, G20 or EU summits to champion the importance of development. Will the Minister explain the core values that will underpin the UK’s approach to a new global development framework, and can he bring himself to utter the words “social justice and human rights”?

In an area where normally there is a degree of consensus across the House, I am deeply disappointed that the hon. Gentleman should choose to suggest that there is any diminution in our effort. I would argue that the opposite is the case; at the first G8 meeting, there was a clear focus on development by the Prime Minister, and only last week we had the whole focus on food and nutrition. It does not serve the hon. Gentleman well to seek to make a political point out of something that simply has no legs.

Topical Questions

My Department is very focused on delivering the results of the family planning summit that will take place in London on 11 July, chaired by our Prime Minister and Melinda Gates. We have been very focused on the food agenda at the G8 Development Ministers meeting last week, and I will shortly be visiting Malawi.

Two weeks ago, I visited a charitably funded Bedouin school in the west bank that was threatened with demolition by the Israeli Government. This is not the way to make progress, so will the Secretary of State make urgent representations to the Israeli Government to prevent the demolition of places of learning?

The hon. Gentleman rightly says that almost all these demolitions are illegal, and that is a point that the Foreign Secretary has made regularly in his meetings with the Israeli Government.

T6. I congratulate my right hon. Friend on ensuring that the taxpayer benefits from the sale of our remaining stake in Actis. Is that not in sharp contrast with the shameful way in which the previous Government allowed Actis to be spun out of CDC in such a way that the British taxpayer did not receive a single penny? (108792)

I am afraid that my hon. Friend is entirely correct; the shameful way in which the previous Government sought to privatise Actis has meant that the taxpayer has received nothing at all from this management company. Thanks to the changes that the coalition Government have made, it is estimated that the taxpayer will receive between $100 million and $200 million.

The forthcoming Rio+20 conference is an important opportunity for this Government to show international leadership on climate change, green jobs and sustainable development. Will the Secretary of State tell the House how many meetings have taken place between his Department and other relevant Departments to ensure a joined-up British approach to the Rio conference? Will he write to me with more details?

I can tell the hon. Lady that meetings are taking place every week and every day, most recently yesterday. The delegation will be led by my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister, and I have discussed this with him within the past 24 hours.

T7. I warmly welcome the dramatic increase in aid to our Commonwealth partners, including the funding for the Queen Elizabeth Diamond Jubilee Trust. Will my right hon. Friend inform the House of the type of projects we are funding that are much-needed by our Commonwealth allies? (108793)

The whole House will be grateful to Sir John Major for chairing the Queen Elizabeth Diamond Jubilee Trust. The British Government have put in £50 million to the match fund for these projects. Under the previous Government, support for the Commonwealth declined from some 45% of our development budget to 35%, whereas under this Government, over five years, it will increase to 55%.

T2. The situation in Syria continues to take lives, as well as to produce instability in the region. Will the Secretary of State update the House on what action the British Government are taking to help with the humanitarian crisis in that country? (108788)

The hon. Gentleman will have heard what the Foreign Secretary has been doing at the United Nations. On humanitarian support, I can tell the hon. Gentleman that we are supporting the United Nations, its Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs and a number of international non-governmental organisations on dealing with the consequences both outside Syria—on the borders and in the surrounding countries—and internally, within that country.

T8. In the context of the NATO summit and the planned withdrawal from Afghanistan, what assessment has the Secretary of State made of the provision for women’s rights after our departure? (108794)

My hon. Friend is entirely right to focus on the role of women in Afghanistan. On my recent visit to Afghanistan, I launched a new civil society fund that will directly address her point. Additionally, the fact that the international community has helped to secure places for 6 million children in school in Afghanistan in recent years will have a transformational effect on the role of women in Afghanistan.

T3. South Sudan is slipping towards war. Recently leaked documents from the World Bank have highlighted the fact that the south could be completely bankrupt by July as a result of the oil dispute. With countries such as China moving to fill the democratic gap, there should be concern that good democratic governance could slip off the agenda in South Sudan. What is his Department doing to ensure that that does not happen? (108789)

Ministers in my Department have had robust meetings with the Government of South Sudan and that of Sudan. The message we give is that it is important that oil should be brought back into commission and exported from Sudan and it is very important that the African Union road map should be adhered to by both sides.