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International Development

Volume 557: debated on Wednesday 30 January 2013

The Secretary of State was asked—

Nigeria (Education)

As discussed with you, Mr Speaker, and as Labour Front Benchers have been advised, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is in Kuwait for an international conference on the humanitarian crisis in Syria. I hope that the House will accept her apologies for not being here to answer questions today.

Our education programmes in Nigeria have already reached 1.25 million children by improving the quality of education in 3,700 schools, and 6,800 more schools will be reached by 2014. We are supporting school-based management committees to make schools and teachers more accountable to parents, and we are providing training to more than 60,000 teachers.

I thank my hon. Friend for that answer and for the reaffirmation of the Government’s commitment to Nigeria, where there are 10.5 million out-of-school children. Inevitably, we focus on the number of children at school, but given the pressures on teacher training, the infrastructure of schools, and the number of children in classes, can we also focus on the quality of the education that those children are receiving?

I thank my hon. Friend for his question and for his work on the all-party group on global education for all. He goes to the heart of the matter, which is not just the number of children coming into school but the quality of the teaching. The statistics show that in Kwara, for example, only 75 of 19,000 teachers passed a test for nine-year-olds—that gives some idea of the scale of the challenge that we are facing. My hon. Friend will therefore be pleased to know that we have a new teacher development programme supporting over 60,000 teachers.

In addition to the excellent work that DFID does in education in Nigeria, what more can the Minister do to suggest to the large number of British companies in Nigeria that they should also be getting involved in taking on responsibility in this respect?

My hon. Friend raises an important point. All UK companies have the opportunity to get involved and engaged. If he knows the names of the companies concerned, I would be only too happy to contact them myself.

Aid Target

The Government are committed to spending 0.7% of gross national income on development aid from 2013 and thereafter. The Department’s budget after the 2012 autumn statement adjustment, along with planned overseas development spending from other Government Departments, is set to meet this commitment.

I thank the Minister for his answer. The Enough Food For Everyone If campaign has highlighted the value of investing in smallholder farmers: the men, or more often women, who already feed a third of humanity but are vastly under-resourced. Will the Minister confirm that as his Department’s budget increases he will increase funding for smallholder agriculture and support countries’ agriculture investment plans?

We give our full support to the recently launched If campaign; my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State went to the launch herself. I do agree with the hon. Lady that this should be a focus of our activity, as 90% of food comes from smallholders in their own countries. Supporting them and the markets in which they work is a crucial part of the activity we wish to undertake over the next few years.

The Minister may be aware that the International Development Committee is publishing its report on the Department’s annual report tomorrow. Is he prepared to consider different ways of ridding the world of absolute poverty, such as setting up a development bank or offering loans so that we can reach more people, particularly poor people in middle-income countries where we do not currently have programmes?

I congratulate my right hon. Friend on that ingenious plug for his report and on the idea of a development bank. We remain open-minded and non- dogmatic about what we should do with our budget. What matters is what works. As always, we will study his report in detail and reply formally to any ideas in it.

The Minister has indicated that we will meet the 0.7% commitment. Will he also assure us that when that money is deployed, we will ensure value for money and, most vitally, that corruption is addressed, particularly in parts of Africa?

I agree with the hon. Gentleman on all counts. Value for money and its proper evaluation are the principles by which we work every day. We focus a great deal on corruption, by which we mean the risk of fraud in the use of our funds and endemic corruption in the countries in which we work. To that end, we are publishing anti-corruption strategies for each of our bilateral countries, as recommended by the Independent Commission for Aid Impact.

Now that we have reached the target of 0.7% of GDP, should non-governmental organisations and others not be focusing part of their attention on encouraging other G8 countries to meet that target? There is no point in our doing it if other G8 countries are not pulling their weight.

My hon. Friend may well have pre-empted a question that is further down the Order Paper. In principle, the answer is yes. Where we lead, we want others to follow. If we are prepared to spend 0.7%, so should other economically wealthy countries.

I visited the west bank and Israel with colleagues last December, where I saw evidence of the daily indignity and injustice that Palestinians face. A number of EU and UK-funded schools in the west bank are under the threat of demolition orders. What are the Government doing to ensure that our investment is not wasted?

I think that we need to relate the matter to the question of 0.7%, which the Minister will be dextrous at doing.

Of course, some of the 0.7% of GNI, which we spend so well, goes to the Palestinian Authority, whose finances are in some peril. We wish to support them and we urge other countries to do so. A two-state solution, which we all want to see, is not served by a weak and fractured Palestinian Authority.

The If campaign emphases that if other countries followed our example on the 0.7% target, enormous investment in small-scale agriculture and child and maternal nutrition could be delivered. Will the Government use this year’s hunger summit to state not only that other countries should meet the 0.7% target, but that they should spend the money on those priorities to address hunger and poverty?

There are many claims on the development budget, but as my hon. Friend says, such matters are a good and sensible call on it. They would be best served by other countries meeting the same sort of percentage commitment as us. The demand for assistance is almost insatiable, but so much good could be done if other comparatively wealthy countries followed our lead.

West Africa (Food Security)

The UK is improving food security in west Africa through investment in agricultural research, innovative agribusiness, improving access to markets and supporting national food security plans. We work through country programmes in Ghana, Nigeria, Sierra Leone and Liberia, and international organisations such as the World Bank.

The Minister will be aware that the impact of climate change in that region has led to a dramatic fall in crop yields. What efforts is her Department making to secure global agreement on finding new sources of finance, so that countries in the region can plan properly for their future food supplies?

The hon. Lady points to the fragility of this area and its food security. Crises arise from chronic vulnerabilities that need long-term solutions. We are supporting multilateral efforts to promote resilience in the Sahel to ensure that its communities can deal with the shocks and do not face dire consequences in future. We are currently preparing a Sahel resilience strategy.

Food security in west Africa is indeed threatened by climate change. Does the Minister also agree that the Prime Minister’s insistence on addressing the property rights of the world’s poorest farmers tackles one of the underlying causes of food insecurity?

The Prime Minister is quite right. The work that we are doing to give land title to smallholders means that they have security and can work their land without it being taken from them.

I join Members from all sides of the House in expressing my support for the If campaign, which seeks to end food insecurity and global hunger. One of the main causes of food insecurity is the illegal acquisition of large areas of land by investors. What steps has the Department taken to support good land governance in west Africa?

As I said just now, some of our programmes involve land titles for smallholders, and the UK welcomes the successful negotiation of voluntary guidelines on the responsible government of land tenure, fisheries and forests that was concluded at the Committee on World Food Security last year. The UK is working to promote transparency of land administration and security of tenure in a number of countries. For example, in Mozambique we are helping local communities to register their land, and we want to continue that progress.

International Aid Targets

4. What assessment she has made of the proportion of GDP spent on overseas aid by the UK compared to equivalent spending by France and Germany. (140135)

In 2011, the UK spent 0.56% of GNI on official development assistance, or ODA. France spent 0.46% and Germany 0.39%. As I said a moment ago, we will reach our 0.7% ODA target this year. At the June 2012 European Council, France and Germany recommitted to spend 0.7% of their GNI on ODA by 2015.

I thank the Minister for that answer. As we have heard, we are on a trajectory to meet the 0.7% commitment, but that determination is not shown by all our EU partners. Can the Government do more to encourage them to meet previously made commitments?

The priorities we set are shared by EU countries, and some states—Sweden and Denmark, for example—have reached 0.7%. Germany’s aid increased by 2.6% in 2011, and it has publicly committed to reach 0.7% after 2015. The Government strongly urge other EU countries to follow our lead, and commit to and reach 0.7%.

I welcome the Minister’s commitment to pressure other European countries to meet their targets and reach 0.7%. When the UK meets that target, how much will be made up of non-departmental spend?

The amount of ODA in Government spending is accounted for with 90% from the Department for International Development and about 10% from other Departments.

As my right hon. Friend knows, I am a huge fan of his, but I wonder whether he agrees that there is something arbitrary about 0.7%. The United Kingdom has taken a lead in the world and shown the way, and we can also add in what our armed forces have contributed. Given the desperate and catastrophic state of the public finances that we inherited from the previous Government, surely the time has come to freeze overseas aid spending and devote some of that money to our hard-pressed armed forces.

The 0.7% target is a long-standing campaign, and my hon. Friend is right to say that to some extent it is arbitrary. Even if countries reach that target, it could be argued that it would still not suffice for the needs of the world. As a doughty defender of the armed forces, I assure my hon. Friend that we are committed to spending 30% of our budget on countries that are fragile or at risk of conflict, which often means working with his friends in the armed forces. Even though 0.7% may be arbitrary, the results we get for the money we spend are not, and they are evaluated rigorously.


There is a serious humanitarian situation in Mali, with over 360,000 displaced people since March 2012. We do not give bilateral development aid directly to the Government of Mali, but we provide significant assistance to the region through the World Bank, EU and other multilaterals.

I thank the Minister for that response. My constituents usually recognise the great contribution that our aid budget and programme makes, but they also have concerns about the effectiveness of that spending. Will the Minister confirm that in crisis situations, such as that in Mali, money is being spent effectively and will deliver massively good outcomes that I can be proud of?

My hon. Friend raises an important point. British people who support our aid and development programme need to know that money is being spent effectively and I can give him the assurance he seeks. Even in the crisis situation in Mali, agencies in receipt of our humanitarian support are tried and trusted, neutral and impartial humanitarian organisations with a history of effective operations in the most challenging of environments.

Is not Mali a tragic of example of instability and conflict rushing in where democracy breaks down, as so often happens? In this case, that has threatened Mali’s security. Does the situation not further underpin the importance of focused and intelligent aid to support democracy in the developing world?

My hon. Friend is entirely right. Where instability and conflict reign, into such ungoverned space come threats, not only to those in Mali but to the wider world, including the UK. That is why the territorial integrity of Mali must be protected, democratic government restored, terrorism dealt with, and the humanitarian situation addressed. My hon. Friend seeks assurance. We are providing considerable aid support through the UN, the EU and other agencies to promote increased economic resilience across the Sahel, including Mali.

Is the Minister satisfied with the distribution of aid in northern Mali, and particularly in those parts that have been retaken? Have the Government had any discussions with their French counterparts? [Interruption.]

Order. Far too many noisy conversations are taking place on the Opposition Benches. We are discussing extremely serious matters of life and death.

Thank you, Mr Speaker. If I heard correctly, the right hon. Gentleman’s question was about whether we can access those areas. Health non-governmental organisations are still operating in some hospitals and health centres in northern Mali, although NGOs and aid agencies have in some cases been forced to suspend their outreach work temporarily for security reasons. They want to carry out an assessment in the inaccessible areas. Humanitarian agencies are waiting to return to conduct those assessments so that we can respond to those needs. At the moment, they are pretty much confined to the accessible areas.

Although every country has its particular circumstances, everyone knows that the underlying problems that have led to the situation in Mali could exist in many other countries in west Africa. Will the Government agree to make an international effort on a long-term basis to provide support and development for countries in west Africa a major focus of their G8 presidency, and particularly of the summit in Northern Ireland later this year?

I appreciate that desire, but it is not possible to do everything at the G8 that everyone would wish us to do. However, the hon. Gentleman is right. The only solution in the end is a long-term, measured and intelligent political solution.


6. What estimate she has made of the number of (a) internally displaced people in Syria and (b) Syrians displaced to Turkey and other countries; and if she will make a statement. (140137)

The UN estimates the number of people displaced inside Syria to be about 2 million. There are an additional 700,000 Syrian refugees in need of assistance in neighbouring countries, including 163,000 in Turkey, 228,000 in Lebanon, 222,000 in Jordan, 79,000 in Iraq and more than 14,000 in Egypt.

The tragedy in Syria continues. Last night, we heard on the news of 50 young men found in a river near Aleppo, each with a bullet through his head. The UN says that 60,000 people have died so far in the civil war in Syria. What further steps, if any, can we take to resolve this terrible situation?

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is currently at the UN high-level pledging conference for Syria in Kuwait where, I can tell the House, she has just announced a further £50 million for the UN Syria appeals. Together with the £21 million she announced during her visit to Jordan at the weekend, it means that the UK has doubled its funding for this crisis. We are now providing nearly £140 million to deliver emergency assistance to hundreds of thousands of people in Syria and the region.

More than 650,000 people have fled Syria and 60,000 have been killed since the conflict began. Serious food and medicine shortages, and freezing weather conditions, are making access to basic services increasingly difficult. The Opposition welcome today’s announcement to increase humanitarian assistance to Syria, but what steps are the Government taking to assist UN agencies and NGOs to provide access to Syria?

As the House appreciates, because of the security situation inside Syria the humanitarian effort is primarily UN-led and it is working through respectable non-governmental organisations. If we were there ourselves it could put that effort at risk, so this requires careful diplomatic consideration. We have to ensure that the flow of aid, and the protection of those who deliver it, is paramount and retained.

Topical Questions

In addition to her Syria meetings in Kuwait today, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will be attending the next meeting of the high-level panel in Liberia.

I thank the Minister for his answer. I had the privilege last night of attending a “Syria Speaks” event at the Southbank centre, where it was apparent how important the cosmopolitan secular nature of Syria is to the future stability of the country. What is the Minister doing not only to address the horrible humanitarian situation there, but to support the rich cultural heritage that is so important to its future?

My hon. Friend is right. Before the civil war erupted thanks to President Assad’s stewardship of his country, Syria was in many respects an example of religious harmony—I saw that for myself on a number of visits. It is a tragedy to see the country disintegrate, and there will need to be many diplomatic efforts to resolve the problems once the conflict has ceased.

I welcome the right hon. Gentleman to his role today as joint acting Secretary of State—he has waited far too long and he is clearly enjoying it. This week the Prime Minister is co-chairing a meeting of the UN high-level panel on the future of global development post-2015. Last week, the Select Committee on International Development said that the Prime Minister needs to be clear about what he means by the “golden thread” of development. Will the Minister explain what is meant by the golden thread and, specifically, does it recognise that tackling inequality and supporting sustainable growth should be at the heart of future development policy?

My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister is absolutely right in his definition. Development is far more than just about handing out money; it is about draining the swamp of grievance and ensuring that in any country there is the rule of law, such as the property rights we were discussing earlier. It is only if we look at the whole picture of a country that we can properly achieve the development we want. The Prime Minister will be arguing that at the high-level panel, which he is co-chairing with two others.

T2. My right hon. Friend will be aware of the huge difficulties in returning and reintegrating victims of human trafficking to their home countries. This is something with which his Department can assist, and I hope that he can tell the House that he is now looking to ensure adequate in-country funding for source country NGOs accordingly. (140148)

My hon. and learned Friend makes a good point, and that is why we are assessing the practicality of giving support to NGOs that work in countries where we have no other Department for International Development presence, even though they may be based elsewhere. Our main focus is on tackling the practice of trafficking in the workers’ countries of origin, and we are currently designing a cross-Asian anti-trafficking programme, the purpose of which will be to equip vulnerable people with knowledge of their rights and the means to enforce them.

T5. Yesterday’s failure to sign a Congo peace accord in Addis Ababa is very serious. [Interruption.] Will the Government carry out an immediate assessment of development projects in eastern Congo in view of the failure to resolve the situation on the ground? (140151)

I apologise; I did not hear much of the hon. Gentleman’s question, but I understand that he is referring to eastern Congo. We will, of course, do all we can, and, if I may, I will write to him in more detail.

Order. If Question Time is to be meaningful, questions and answers must be heard. We are discussing matters of momentous significance to the people concerned and it would show some respect if the House listened. Let us have a bit of order.

T3. What is DFID doing to encourage funding applications from the small organisations and charities we all have in our constituencies which support schools, hospitals and other aid projects in the developing world, and which often provide excellent value for money? (140149)

DFID established the global poverty action fund to support UK-based, not-for-profit organisations across the country to improve people’s lives in the world’s poorest countries. So far, 102 grants have been awarded, and these are helping more than 3 million poor people across 30 countries.

T7. Given the Government’s welcome support for the If campaign against hunger, is the Minister optimistic that the UK presidency of the G8 can tackle the corporate tax avoidance that deprives developing countries of so much badly needed revenue? (140153)

Tax is one of the main themes of the G8, and my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has made it absolutely clear, including in his speech at the Davos world economic forum last week, that it is one of his top priorities for our presidency.

T4. What is being done to ensure that the companies of the world smell the coffee, as the Prime Minister wants, when it comes to developing countries receiving their tax income? (140150)

It is the policy both of our presidency of the G8 and of DFID more generally in our work in poor countries to get far greater transparency from global corporations and to ensure that they pay their fair share of tax and that they do so to the most appropriate tax regimes in which they work.

T9. Given recent events, what additional help does the Minister propose to give to the people of Yemen? (140155)

The Friends of Yemen meeting is looming; we are supporting the social fund for development to meet urgent food and welfare needs; we are encouraging the Government of Yemen to set up an executive bureau for national dialogue; and we are ensuring that pledged funds can be properly disbursed so that they go to the projects that are so desperately needed.