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Topical Questions

Volume 552: debated on Wednesday 31 October 2012

It has been a busy first few weeks in the Department. I have attended the United Nations General Assembly, where I was able to discuss the humanitarian situation in Syria. I have travelled to a World Bank meeting in Tokyo, where I met the Indian Finance Minister, as I have just said. I have taken the opportunity to meet my counterparts at the European Council of Ministers in Luxembourg. [Interruption.] I have introduced new financial controls and instigated a review of consultancy in the Department. I have also managed to visit country programmes in Kenya and Somalia. [Interruption.]

Order. The Secretary of State should also manage to be heard, and she would be helped in that if we could have a bit of order for Mark Pawsey.

In the crisis that is developing in the eastern Congo, there is evidence that women and children are being affected most. What steps is the Department taking to ensure that support gets to those most in need?

We are the third largest humanitarian donor to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and we focus on working with organisations that specialise in meeting the needs of women and children, such as UNICEF, and with organisations that have a specific mandate to protect the most vulnerable, such as the International Committee of the Red Cross.

I welcome the Secretary of State and the Under-Secretary to their new posts.

The Secretary of State has said empowering women and girls is a central departmental goal, but as a recent International Development Committee report highlights, the Government’s actions have not lived up to their rhetoric on ensuring that women’s empowerment and rights are central to development. Given the specific support that is needed, how will the Secretary of State rectify that?

I take issue with the hon. Lady’s assertion that we have not focused on women and children. Doing so is absolutely crucial, and it has been at the heart of everything we have done, not least through the Prime Minister’s family planning summit, which he held with my predecessor earlier this year. As the hon. Lady will be aware, the millennium development goals focus on areas such as education, women and children, and we are determined to see that continue in the post-2015 goals.

T2. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary on being appointed not only to her new post, but as international champion against violence against women. Will she demand more action from Governments in areas where there is a high prevalence of female genital mutilation, and give support to the brave local campaigners doing amazing work on the ground to combat such human rights abuse? (125617)

I thank my hon. Friend, and pay tribute to her for taking such a passionate interest in this issue. Tackling female genital cutting is a priority for me, and there is now a rising desire in Africa to tackle it. Senegal, Burkina Faso, Uganda and the African Union have all indicated that they want to take this forward. We are currently designing an ambitious programme to help end FGC, and supporting civil society organisations working on the ground is likely to be a key component of our work.

This week in London the Prime Minister will co-chair the first meeting of the UN high-level panel on post-2015 development goals. In this important week, does the Secretary of State accept that we will end the grotesque inequality that continues to scar our planet only through new, responsible capitalism—where ethics and profit are no longer competing options, Governments are active in support of sustainable growth, there is zero tolerance of tax-dodging and corruption, and unfair trade barriers are removed? Does the Secretary of State accept that this radical aid-plus agenda, combining responsible capitalism with social justice, will require a major shift in her Government’s approach to international development?

In talking about the golden thread, our Prime Minister has been very clear about the importance of the key building blocks for all states and societies, such as access to legal rights and respect for human rights. I think having an inclusive society is another important building block, which is why female rights are equally important. We should also listen to the people who are playing a leading role in transforming their countries, such as President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia. I draw the hon. Gentleman’s attention to an article she has written in The Times today entitled “Aid is not an alternative to self-sufficiency”. She starts off by quoting Margaret Thatcher, and the article gets better from then on.

T3. India has twice the number of billionaires as our country, yet is home to more than a third of those globally who subsist on less than 80p a day. Will my right hon. Friend set out for the House the steps the Government are taking to make sure that our aid goes to the most needy in India, and is not spent on projects that could and should be supported by the Indian Government? (125618)

I can give my hon. Friend that assurance. My predecessor had already overhauled our development programme in India so that it was more targeted on not only the poorest states, but the poorest communities in those states. However, as India continues to develop, it is right that we continue to examine that programme, which is what I am doing right now.

T4. Following the success in meeting millennium development goal 4 on clean drinking water, the then Secretary of State committed to doubling the number of people with access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation, but we have yet to see any new plans. Will the Secretary of State update the House on what progress has been made on that objective? (125619)

We have focused a lot of our development aid on making sure that there is access to clean water and sanitation, as some of the starkest statistics are in that area. Just one in 20 people in Afghanistan has access to a pit latrine, which tells us the scale of the problem we are seeking to address. The hon. Lady is absolutely right about this, and I assure her that my Department carefully focuses on clean water provision. I will write to her with more details.