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International Development

Volume 560: debated on Wednesday 13 March 2013

The Secretary of State was asked—

Mali

More than 430,000 people have been displaced by the conflict in Mali. Access is improving to conflict-affected areas, but the humanitarian response remains challenged by insecurity and sporadic violence. UK humanitarian aid is supporting more than 400,000 Malians with food, medicine and support to refugees in neighbouring countries.

I thank the Secretary of State for her response. More than 250,000 people have been displaced inside Mali and 170,000 Malians have fled to neighbouring countries. What additional assistance will her Department be providing to internally displaced people and refugees?

To date, we have provided about £13 million of overall assistance and we will work with agencies such as the UN, the Red Cross and the World Food Programme to ensure that we have a balanced approach to dealing not just with people in Mali who need our support but, as the hon. Gentleman points out, with the refugees who have fled to neighbouring countries.

Given that the humanitarian situation is likely to get worse until there is a framework of peace, does the Secretary of State support steps towards a UN peacekeeping mission? If so, what does she make of its mandate and the proposed time scale?

My hon. Friend is right that discussions are under way on whether a UN peacekeeping mission can be put in place. Ultimately, if it can sit alongside a political process of reconciliation, that might be one way of starting to create the space not only to get security back into Mali but to provide the conditions for the country to develop in the longer term.

The Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs estimates that 4.3 million people in Mali are in need of humanitarian assistance. Will the Secretary of State update the House on what her Department is doing to ensure access for humanitarian agencies in Mali and in neighbouring countries?

The best thing we can do is work through independent, impartial humanitarian organisations and, through the UN, continue our lobbying work to ensure we have access. Access is a real challenge in places such as Mali and is also, of course, a particular challenge in places such as Syria. Without access, we cannot get humanitarian support to people, and that is why we focus on it.

WaterAid

The total funding provided by the Department for International Development to WaterAid for the financial year 2011-2012 was £5.8 million. The figure for the funding allocated to WaterAid in 2012-13 will be available at the end of this financial year.

I thank my hon. Friend for that answer. Will she join me in preparing for world water day on 22 March? Will she also recognise the massive contributions from individuals and others, including water companies, who contribute to WaterAid, and from projects such as EcoLink, applied by Nestlé in South Africa, as that all benefits developing countries?

I thank my hon. Friend. I know of her interest in water as chair of the all-party parliamentary water group and I congratulate all those who make a contribution on the key issue of water in developing countries. My hon. Friend mentioned world water day. The Department for International Development will host events on that day, particularly on how water impacts on girls and women.

It is good that there has been progress on access to safe water and sanitation, but there has been much less progress in much of Africa, in both urban and rural areas. What are the Government doing to address that inequality?

The Government are taking a great many measures on water, sanitation and hygiene—WASH. We have so far enabled 1.9 million to gain access to clean drinking water and 2 million to gain access to improved sanitation, and 6.6 million have been reached through DFID support for hygiene promotion. We know more has to be done, particularly in urban areas as those areas increase.

I welcome the Minister’s positive comments on WaterAid and her commitments in respect of world water day, but does she recognise that, currently, UN statistics on the millennium development goals measure only who has improved water, not how many people actually have safe and sufficient water? Will she ensure that a more robust standard is used and is at the centre of DFID’s work?

I will certainly take up the hon. Gentleman’s point on how we measure such things, but the Government have doubled their commitment to reaching 60 million people with WASH funding. We are looking to scale up WASH, because we simply are not reaching enough people at the moment and the millennium goal is off track.

Palestinian Authority

We estimate that the Palestinian Authority’s funding gap in 2013 is likely to be at least $500 million, which will continue to make it hard for it to pay salaries and deliver essential public services. The PA must of course show financial discipline itself, but for it to become stable it is essential that international donors support it in a consistent manner, and that Israel eases its restrictions and meets its legal obligations to transfer tax revenues.

I thank the Minister for that answer, but is he aware that British aid donations to the Palestinian Authority general budget are being used to pay salaries of up to £2,000 a month to convicted Palestinian terrorists, many of whom have been properly convicted? What assurances can the Government provide that no further UK aid donations will be spent in that way?

I can assure my hon. Friend that we have a system in place under which DFID’s support to the Palestinian Authority is used specifically to pay for the salaries of civil servants. The list of approved recipients is subject both to vetting processes and to independent audit.

Does the Minister agree that the best way to improve the financial stability of the Palestinian Authority would be to lift the blockade of Gaza and movement and access restrictions on the west bank? Does he also think that the EU should be trading with the Palestinians and not with the illegal Israeli settlements?

A 2011 International Monetary Fund report estimated that without movement and access restrictions the Palestinian economy would be 78% larger in terms of GDP a year, amounting to about $6.3 billion. That would remove its dependence on aid.

Is there not a more general question about international donor money being used to support Palestinian institutions that have taken violence against Israel? What steps are the Government taking to ensure that that money genuinely contributes to financial stability and is not used in a way that undermines the peace process?

We rigorously monitor any danger there might be that the Palestinian Authority in any way incites violence, but it is committed to doing exactly the opposite, and it is right that we support it, the potential Government of a Palestinian state. We wish to see further progress towards the peace process over the months ahead.

We all support the creation of a viable two-state solution in the middle east, but that will come about only if the Palestinians are able to run an effective country. What assessment have the Government made of the structures available in the Palestinian Authority to make that happen?

The structures are sorely stretched, which is why we continue to support the Palestinian Authority, and of course we also urge other donors, particularly the Arab states, to carry their fair share of commitment, because if the Palestinian Authority were to collapse there is a serious danger that all prospects of proper peace negotiations would collapse as well.

Mali

4. What discussions she has had with her counterparts in the UN on reinstating bilateral aid to Mali. (147430)

The UK Government do not have a bilateral aid programme in Mali, but we are the second-largest humanitarian donor, providing £13 million in 2013. We have had discussions with our EU and multilateral partners, including the UN, on the importance of co-ordinated resumption of aid.

Bilateral aid from the EU and the World Bank provides a key step in protecting people in Mali from drought and violence. What steps have the Government taken to ensure that that aid is reinstated as soon as possible?

The hon. Gentleman makes an important point. We are encouraging the resumption of aid by bilateral partners. In May, there will be a donor conference on Mali, which is an important step, not just as a pledging conference. There is a political crisis in Mali, and the solution is political, which is why we welcome the recent announcement by the Malian authorities to initiate a commission on dialogue and reconciliation.

I thank my hon. Friend for her encouraging answer, but may I ask her to go further and consider whether the UK Government could work with France and the EU to address the fragility across the region and deliver co-ordinated and sustained development assistance to the Sahel and the whole region?

I thank my right hon. Friend. This very issue was discussed at the recent Development Ministers meeting. Stability in the Sahel—the wider region—is of absolute importance. The UK has committed £78 million in humanitarian support to the Sahel through various United Nations agencies, and we continue to work right across the region to create stability and peace.

Syria

Last week saw the terrible landmark of 1 million Syrian refugees registered or awaiting registration in the region. A further 2 million people are displaced within Syria. Last week, I raised with the UN the issue of preventing violence against women and girls in this and indeed other humanitarian situations and ensuring that funding supports this.

I welcome the reply from the Secretary of State and the UK’s commitment, but World Vision tells me that counting those unregistered as well as registered there could be as many as 1 million refugees in Lebanon alone. Does she agree that if catastrophe is to be prevented for those people and their host countries we need to make sure that donor countries such as the Gulf states play their part and that assistance reaches unregistered as well as registered refugees?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. When I visited Jordan earlier this year, I saw for myself how many refugees were not in the camp. Indeed, the majority are in communities outside the camp, which is one reason why we have earmarked specific funding to support, both in Jordan and Lebanon, those refugees who are not in camps. Clearly, as the crisis continues, the pressures on neighbouring countries will grow. The Government are deeply concerned about that, which is why we have urged members of the international community to work together to take action.

Keeping in mind the fact that more than half the refugees in Syria are children, will the Secretary of State tell the House exactly what the Department is doing to support child health, protection and education in this humanitarian disaster?

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to raise that issue. About 75% of the refugees are women and children. As I said in my opening answer, we are formally pressing the UN to make sure that the most vulnerable refugees are taken into particular consideration in the construction of plans to support them. We have worked with UNICEF, for example, to provide not just medical assistance but care and counselling for many families, including children who have been through utterly traumatic events.

Will my right hon. Friend outline what steps we can take to protect refugees trying to get from Syria into Turkey? At present, they face fire from Syrian forces.

As my hon. Friend points out, the journeys that many people make en route to refugee camps are fatal in some cases or near fatal in others. It is extremely worrying that, for example, the Syrian Government continue to refuse humanitarian access from Turkey into Syria. We have to work through political and diplomatic routes, but I can assure him that the Government are playing a leading role in making sure that when refugees get out of that country we support them and that, through impartial, independent humanitarian organisations we are still getting support to people who remain in Syria too.

Will the Secretary of State outline what aid has already been granted by her Government to help the refugee crisis in Syria? Is it her intention to increase that aid to alleviate this human tragedy?

We have so far earmarked £140 million of aid overall. That is split partly as support for refugees outside Syria but, as the hon. Gentleman points out, a substantial portion is aimed at supporting people within Syria. It provides support in the form not just of food and shelter but of medical assistance.

Peacekeeping and Defence Operations

6. What plans the Government have to increase the proportion of the aid budget that is spent on peacekeeping and defence operations; and if she will make a statement. (147432)

The Department for International Development and the Ministry of Defence are working together within existing international rules on official development assistance spending to consider how we can better use Government resources in dealing with the humanitarian and development aspects of conflict and instability around the world.

The National Audit Office and the Independent Commission for Aid Impact have both been critical of the effectiveness of the conflict pool. What steps is the Secretary of State taking to reform and strengthen these mechanisms in the cross-departmental work?

As the hon. Gentleman will be aware, the conflict pool is a relatively new mechanism to ensure that the Foreign Office, the Ministry of Defence and my own Department work more closely together in fragile and conflict-ridden situations where we know that partnering up can make a difference. We look with interest at the reports from ICAI and the National Audit Office, and we are looking in the next spending review to see how we can strengthen the process and the effectiveness of the way in which the conflict pool works.

Will the Secretary of State welcome the comments by the Prime Minister that ODA funding can, in some dangerous environments, be used by the military to provide overseas humanitarian aid and development assistance and begin the process of stabilisation?

My hon. Friend raises an important issue. The Prime Minister is right to say that we should be open to new ideas about how my Department and the MOD can work more closely together. As my hon. Friend will be aware, the existing ODA guidelines clearly set out what spend can be counted as ODA and what cannot be, but things such as peacekeeping fall within the ODA definition and we should look at how we can work more closely with the Ministry of Defence.

13. Will that policy not simply take us back to the trade for aid days of the 1990s, when predatory western Governments behaved like payday loan companies and developing countries spent more on servicing debt than on helping people? (147439)

I think the hon. Lady might have asked a supplementary question that related to a different question on the Order Paper, but we should be looking at trade as well as aid. That is the route to sustained poverty reduction.

Palestinian Authority

7. What processes are in place to ensure that non-governmental organisations in the Palestinian Authority that are funded by the UK, the EU and the UN do not promote incitement of hate. (147433)

We deplore incitement on either side of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, including any comments that could stir up hatred and prejudice. UK, EU and UN-funded NGOs in the Occupied Palestinian Territories are subject to rigorous due diligence assessments designed to ensure that funds are used only for legitimate development purposes.

I welcome the Minister’s answer, but in East Jerusalem last year a UN-funded Palestinian NGO performed a puppet show promoting non-smoking. This well-intentioned educational message was corrupted somewhat when the children were urged to replace cigarettes with machine guns. Will the Minister assure me that no British financial aid donations, direct or indirect, are being used to fund such propaganda?

I am aware of that puppet show, put on in a funded community centre, and I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising it. It was an utterly stupid and irresponsible way of corrupting an otherwise sensible no-smoking message. It was performed not by an NGO, but by a visiting organisation. No UK or UN funds had anything whatever to do with sanctioning this performance, and the community centre itself was angered by the content and made its own disapproval very clear.

I agree with the Minister that it is very important that we oppose all those who promote hate in the middle east. May I invite him to say that we must also stand with those human rights organisations in Israel and in Palestine that stand out against hate crimes such as the so-called price tag attacks?

It is essential that we make a stand against the incitement of hate from either side in any way. I share the hon. Gentleman’s commitment to doing so in his great understanding of this issue.

Topical Questions

Since the last oral questions, I have updated the House on the Syrian humanitarian conference in Kuwait and on the Department’s work to support girls and women. This week I made a speech to the London stock exchange and answered in the House on how my Department will up its game on driving economic development in new and emerging markets. I attended the informal meeting of Development Ministers in Dublin in February and the high-level panel meeting on the millennium development goals after 2015 in Monrovia at the end of January, and I look forward to attending the next high-level panel and global partnership steering committee meetings in Indonesia at the end of this month.

Will the Secretary of State make a statement on what her Department’s new relationship with India will be once all financial aid is withdrawn in 2015?

It will feature technical assistance to help the Indian Government get the most out of their own £50 billion investment in health and education. It will involve returnable capital projects, which will help to drive economic growth in India. I will also work across Government to ensure that our trade relationship develops.

T4. As the Secretary of State knows, I am hugely encouraged by the Government’s commitment to fighting female genital mutilation, a commitment that has been warmly welcomed by the Inter-African Committee and other grass-roots campaigners. I urge her to continue to be guided by their evidence on what works best in combating this deeply harmful practice. (147445)

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. It is critical that efforts to end FGM are evidence-based, which is why we are investing in research to build the evidence base on what is the most effective approach to ending FGM. FGM is unacceptable wherever it happens in the world, including the UK, and we should never turn a blind eye.

On Monday I asked the Secretary of State whether private companies receiving DFID support will have to demonstrate transparency on their tax arrangements and good practice with regard to employment practices, including pay, throughout their supply chain. She did not give me an answer. Will she now put that right?

The hon. Gentleman seems to have failed to listen to the speech I made and the answers I gave to his urgent question earlier this week. The bottom line is that we know that economic development is ultimately the way to end aid dependency. We want to see an end to aid dependency through jobs. He is writing off the contribution our companies are making, which I think is wrong. Ultimately, he sees only the risks of business, which of course we want to work to mitigate, but we also have to see the opportunities.

No answer, yet again. Turning to another private sector issue, the Secretary of State has refused to publish the findings of the report she commissioned into the use of private consultants. Can she explain why in October last year, three months after the £90 million Growth and Employment in States project in Nigeria was assessed as having produced virtually no results at all, Ministers authorised the payments of an additional £7 million for GEMS 3 to the consultant responsible? How many other consultants have received further funding despite extremely poor performance?

I will take no lectures from the hon. Gentleman on how we use consultants. He never signed off a single consultancy contract when he was a Minister in the Department. The reality is that I have brought forward clear expectations and guidelines on how we work with suppliers. Ultimately, I sign off on the contracts. I will take no lectures from someone who spent £7,000 in his constituency using consultants to help organise public meetings. [Interruption.]

Order. There are far too many very noisy private conversations. It is difficult to hear the questions, let alone the answers. Let us have a bit of order for Mr Dan Rogerson.

Order. I have asked Members to stop doing that. It is rude to the Member on his or her feet. It had stopped for several years. It had better stop in future.

I took it as personal support, Mr Speaker, and was very grateful for it.

Will the Department ensure that it considers the position of the Berber people in Mali and the surrounding countries, because those who feel that their culture and language are secure are far more likely to want to be part of a lasting peace and development for the region?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right to point out that reconciliation will ultimately come from all the parties around the table having a clear understanding of one another. Mali is an incredibly large country, which is one of the reasons we need to work hard on the process. Ultimately, we need to seek a political resolution; a military one is only a short-term option.

T2. What conversations has the Secretary of State had with her G8 counterparts to galvanise international support for action on tax avoidance in developing countries? (147443)

We have had many, many discussions. The hon. Lady will be delighted to hear, I hope, that tax avoidance and tax evasion will be one of the agenda items that this country will put on the table when we host the G8 this year as part of our presidency. My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer will lead on that effort.

T7. Representatives of the IF campaign whom I met at Lancaster university last week expressed their gratitude for this Government’s continued commitment towards a 0.7% spend, but they also wondered about our progress with the international voluntary guidelines on the good governance of land, fisheries and forestry. (147448)

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that question. The UK welcomes the successful global negotiation of the voluntary guidelines on land tenure and is now pushing for their national implementation, including through the G8, so that we can help share best practice and improve land governance.

T3. According to figures from Amnesty International a staggering 87% of women in Afghanistan will experience violence in their lives. What steps is the Secretary of State taking to prioritise and adequately focus efforts to combat violence against women and girls in Afghanistan? (147444)

The hon. Lady will know that this is an issue about which I am particularly concerned. It is vital that we do not lose the gains that have been made in women’s rights in Afghanistan as we see troop draw-down. That is one of the reasons why I have made the issue of women and girls and, in particular, violence a country-strategic priority for our work in Afghanistan.

T8. Will the Government put the use of food for fuel on the agenda of the G8 food summit this June? (147449)

A range of things will be discussed at the G8. I assure my hon. Friend that I have no doubt that our food and nutrition work, which we are carrying out alongside the G8 efforts, will be one of the topics for discussion.