Skip to main content

Topical Questions

Volume 548: debated on Wednesday 11 July 2012

At the weekend, I represented the Government at the Afghanistan summit in Tokyo, at which Britain made long-term pledges to support the development of Afghanistan and called on the rest of the international community to do the same. Today, the British Government and the Gates Foundation are co-hosting a global summit that aims to cut by half the number of women in developing countries who want access to contraception but cannot get it. [Interruption.]

Order. I understand hon. Members’ excited anticipation of Prime Minister’s questions, but we are discussing extremely serious matters and it would be a courtesy to those people affected and to hon. Members if there were a reasonable level of decorum.

Thank you, Mr Speaker. What opportunities exist for pushing for financial transparency worldwide, including budgetary transparency and transparency in natural resource management? Will my right hon. Friend’s Department seek to promote financial transparency initiatives such as GIFT—the Global Initiative for Fiscal Transparency?

My hon. Friend identifies transparency as a most important aspect of development, and it is why Britain was a key leader at the launch and implementation of the international aid transparency initiative, and we continue to work hard with partners all around the world to ensure that the emphasis on transparency and good spending that was championed at the Busan conference in November continues.

Today the Government are hosting an important summit on family planning, which we welcome. However, the brutal murder last weekend by the Taliban of an Afghan woman for adultery shows that women’s rights and freedoms remain elusive goals. Does the Secretary of State agree that the credibility of the summit will depend on women’s human rights being at the heart of the actions that follow it?

I thank the hon. Lady for her question. The summit is about ensuring that women have the ability to choose whether and when they have children, and the spacing in between their children. We need to keep the focus of the summit on that issue. She will have heard the Government’s strong condemnation of the Taliban’s execution in Afghanistan. We set up the Tawanmandi fund last year specifically to empower women in the areas that the hon. Lady describes, and its work is ongoing. Three quarters of the grants from the fund have gone to organisations involved in protecting women.

T2. Conditions in Afghanistan after the external forces leave are becoming a matter of increasing importance to us. Will my right hon. Friend update the House on the outcomes of the Tokyo summit on Afghanistan that he attended at the weekend? (116168)

The Tokyo summit was essentially a grand bargain between members of the international community to ensure that funding and support will continue through 2015 to 2017, and indeed throughout the decade of transformation to 2025. In return for that, the Government of Afghanistan need to continue to place a strong emphasis on governance reforms and economic reforms.

T3. We have just marked the first anniversary of the creation of South Sudan, but 1 million people there require food aid, and along the border the situation is even worse, with between 15% and 22% of under-fives suffering from malnutrition. Will the Secretary of State ensure that the United Kingdom’s response targets the needs of those children, who are the future of that struggling country? (116169)

The hon. Lady rightly identifies the plight of the many people caught up in that conflict. A girl born today in South Sudan is more likely to die while having a baby than to complete her primary school education. However, the position on the border, particularly in Abyei, is now easing, and there are some signs of optimism in the direct negotiations that are taking place between South Sudan and Khartoum.

Will the Secretary of State join me in applauding the strong lead being given by the UK in the arms treaty negotiations in New York and, in particular, our support for provisions that will allow legitimate arms sales but discourage wholly disproportionate spending on arms that is detrimental to sustainable development?

Yes. My hon. Friend identifies an important point. There is strong support on both sides of this House for the arms trade treaty. The Minister of State, my right hon. Friend the Member for Rutland and Melton (Mr Duncan) will be going to New York to take part in those negotiations, and it is interesting to note that, even in the defence industry in Britain, there is strong support for a level playing field and for transparency in the sale of weapons.

T6. I have another question about South Sudan. Thousands of children there are dying of diarrhoea. What are the Government doing to help with this urgent need, and will other countries be urged to help as well? (116172)

The hon. Gentleman accurately identifies the position of children in South Sudan, which I set out in answer to his hon. Friend the Member for Warrington North (Helen Jones). It is true that diarrhoea needlessly kills thousands upon thousands of children every day. That is one of the reasons why last year Britain led the replenishment for GAVI—the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation—so that Britain will be vaccinating a child in the poor world every two seconds and saving the life of a child every two minutes, precisely from these sorts of ills.

T4. Further to my visit to Helmand with the International Development Committee, I would like to pay tribute to the hard work and dedication of our forces and DFID staff operating in extremely difficult circumstances. The Secretary of State is aware of the shocking execution in Afghanistan a week ago of a 22-year-old woman accused of adultery. What are the Government doing to mitigate the risk of a return to Taliban-style treatment of women in Afghanistan, post our withdrawal in 2014? (116170)

The Government vigorously condemned the execution to which my hon. Friend referred. One of the key ways of transforming Afghan society to prevent the return of the Taliban’s evil practices is, of course, to get girls into school. When they are a critical mass, that will have a big effect on Afghan society. Nine years ago, there were no girls in school in Afghanistan; today, there are nearly 2.5 million.