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Topical Questions

Volume 560: debated on Wednesday 13 March 2013

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of State make a statement on what her Department’s new relationship with India will be once all financial aid is withdrawn in 2015?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