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Volume 565: debated on Thursday 4 July 2013

[Relevant documents: Tenth Report of the International Development Committee, Session 2012-13, HC 725, and the Government response, Session 2012-13, HC 325.]

I think it is fair to say that the International Development Committee was a little bit more controversial in some of our comments and recommendations on Pakistan than we were on post-2015 development goals. The Committee wants to make it clear that we have absolutely no hesitation in asserting the fact that the relationship between Britain and Pakistan is fundamental and indissoluble. It is absolutely essential to both countries as a force of history and a current reality. We have more than 1 million people of Pakistani origin living in the United Kingdom, and we have a shared interest in ensuring that Pakistan is a successful country that manages to overcome the challenges that it faces. Secondly, we want to make it clear that, more than anything else, we believe that the United Kingdom should stand with the poorest people of Pakistan and that our objective is to engage in helping them to achieve a better quality of life. That might mean that we will be a candid friend of Pakistan rather than a sycophantic one.

The population of Pakistan is projected to rise from 180 million to 205 million by 2020, and the simple challenge that the country faces is that population growth is faster than economic growth. One does not have to be a top mathematician to calculate that as the population rises, unless something fundamental changes, the numbers of people in poverty will increase. That is one of the more depressing analyses for our development and aid programme across our bilateral partners.

In that context, the Government have a perfectly understandable ambition to raise the aid programme—the bilateral funding to Pakistan—from £267 million to £446 million by the end of this Parliament. We completely understand that, but we have some grave reservations about doing it if nothing changes, and that was an essential aspect of our report.

Obviously, we looked at the areas in which the Department for International Development was engaged, which were predominantly health, education and governance. In all cases, they were the right areas on which to be focused. Will the Minister update us on some of the specific points regarding those areas about which we raised concerns?

There is a big programme of commitment to improve maternal help, which we support, and it is absolutely essential that that is delivered. Two health support mechanisms are in place. One, the lady health workers, is longer established, while the other, to which DFID has given substantial support, is community midwives. A practical thing we discovered was that where those mechanisms should be complementary and working together, they were operating dysfunctionally as two separate institutions. One reason for that was how people were paid. As we understand it, lady health workers get a flat salary to provide help on maternal health, child health and general health issues, which is what our own community nurses do. Community midwives, on the other hand, are specifically there to support women through childbirth. They are paid a much smaller flat rate plus so much per delivery, so that has created two classes of health workers in the same area.

We actually saw a particularly good example of co-operation between a lady health worker and a community midwife, but that had more to do with the fact that they were sisters-in-law than that the system itself was working fundamentally as we would like. I do not know whether the Minister can give us any information about whether that situation has been addressed and improved. I want to make it clear that they are both good basic concepts, but how they were functioning was not serving the interests of the people as well as might have been the case.

Obviously, the biggest part of the Government’s programme is support for education, especially, but not exclusively, in Punjab. It is worth reporting that when we were meeting the then Prime Minister, he spontaneously raised the issue of Malala, who was sadly shot and is now living in this country, before any member of the Committee raised it with him. That incident was an indication to us, and a wake-up call among people in Pakistan, that there really had to be clarity about the right of girls to have an education and the Government’s full-square backing for that principle. None the less, it was satisfying to hear that statement from the Prime Minister, but it does not remove the fact that the challenges are very real. As we know, Malala’s colleague who was shot at the same time has now come to the UK because she says that her ability to pursue her education in Pakistan has been totally compromised.

The scheme in Punjab that we looked at, which has been developed by Michael Barber, is doing extremely good work and is working closely with the Chief Minister, Shahbaz Sharif, the brother of the new Prime Minister. The good news is that he is staying in post, because there was some concern that if he moved, that might compromise the relationship. Good relationships that deliver good results are clearly totally satisfactory. The problem is that if the relationship breaks down, there is not the infrastructure to fall back on, so one hopes that that good relationship will continue.

A number of things have been said to us about that programme suggesting some aspects are good, but some questionable. The fundamental objective is to ensure that teachers are appointed on merit, that they turn up and teach, and that their pupils also have an attendance record. Michael Barber has acknowledged that that is the sum total of what has been achieved at this stage, which means that the quality of the education still has a way to go. At one particular school we visited, we were shown a demonstration lesson. When we sat down at the back of the class and flicked through the exercise book, we found that the pages before and after that particular lesson were blank. The lesson had been a show piece; the fundamentals were not there. Clearly, that is a real concern.

Indeed, we have had a follow-up visit from one of our witnesses, Dr Matthew Nelson of the school of oriental and African studies, and he raised further points of concern. He does not deny that appointing teachers on merit is the right objective or that the Chief Minister and his officials entirely buy into it, but he says that there is plenty of evidence that merit is available to be bought, and is being bought on a large scale. He says that it is a good idea to appoint people on merit rather than because they have a political connection, and that is absolutely right. The point he makes, however, is that exam marks, which are the test of merit, are subject to endemic corruption; effectively, people can buy exam results and present themselves as having merit when they have absolutely no capacity to be a competent teacher. I will not read them out, but Dr Nelson gives examples of how the process works.

That is obviously a concern, but we recognise that the approach taken by Michael Barber and the commitment of the Chief Minister are real and are having results, although the two of them are probably facing more challenges than they would like. If the Minister can address those challenges now, that would be good; if not, perhaps he can write to us saying what proposals are being taken forward. We should certainly not abandon the programme, but we must make sure that it works effectively and delivers the right results.

The Committee’s concern was not so much that DFID was not tackling the right issues or not approaching things in the right way—I have indicated some of the challenges that need to be overcome—but that an awful lot of development assistance has not achieved substantial results. One slightly disturbing thing we were told was that the education programme being pursued by DFID was quite similar to one pursued by the United States Agency for International Development some years ago. When that programme finished, the benefits fell away completely, and we obviously hope that DFID will find a way of ensuring that that does not happen again.

In our report, the Committee says:

“In the past, donor money has not been spent effectively in Pakistan for a variety of reasons. Corruption is rife in a social order based on patronage and kinship networks. Pakistan’s rich do not pay taxes and exhibit little interest in improving conditions and opportunities for Pakistan’s poor.”

That was the most striking and controversial element of our report, but I certainly stand by it, as I think all members of the Committee do. However, we compiled and published our report during the election in Pakistan—the previous Government had demitted office, and a caretaker Government were in place—and a new Government have now come into office. We therefore hope that they will take these issues as both a challenge and an opportunity to show they mean to take action.

Taxes are not just a matter of morality and justice—I will come back to that—but essential to Pakistan’s survival. If Pakistan cannot raise its tax base from below 10%, it will not be able to support its people by providing the basic services they not only have the right to expect, but absolutely need. No aid programme from outside can make up that shortfall; if Pakistan does not find the resources from within its own, admittedly weak, economy, it will not be able to sustain services—certainly not with the population growth it faces.

The British Government, aid partners and the IMF must look Pakistan’s rulers in the eye and ask them bluntly and frankly why they do not pay taxes in their own country and when they will start doing so. It is completely intolerable that British taxpayers should be funding health and education in Pakistan when the richest people there contribute absolutely nothing towards those services and do not use them, because they buy private education and private health. That is not only a moral issue, but a fundamental issue of financial survival for Pakistan.

This is the first time in the country’s history that a Government have completed their term and a new democratic Government have been elected to step up and accept their responsibilities. Therefore, unless there is clear evidence of a commitment on the part of Pakistan’s leadership to contribute to their own development agenda, the British Government should not nearly double our aid—there is no suggestion that we should cut it—and make Pakistan the biggest single recipient.

I have seen a series of e-mails. In the past few weeks, the IMF has been engaged in Pakistan. The country is looking for further funding, despite the fact that there is a substantial amount—$10 billion or $12 billion—of surplus deposits in Pakistani banks, which is about equivalent to the loan Pakistan is looking for from the IMF. In other words, there is some sovereign resource available in Pakistan. Again, we are not suggesting that the IMF should not engage, but it should make it absolutely clear that increasing the tax contribution is part and parcel of the package of agreements. I understand that IMF officials have maintained a fairly resolute stance, but I am slightly concerned to hear that the Pakistani Government’s response has been to journey to Saudi Arabia to see whether they can get funding from that source so that they do not have to meet the IMF’s conditions.

That is a sensitive issue, but it must be confronted. It is made somewhat more difficult by what was, on the face of it, not a bad change in the Pakistani Government’s approach to government. The 18th amendment to the constitution devolved the delivery of services to the four provincial governments. I am a believer in devolution, and it is probably better to have local government delivering more services, because it is accountable to the distinctive provinces of Pakistan. However, if the money is not raised at either level, devolution is an abdication of responsibility; it is basically giving the provinces responsibility without the means to deliver services. If a formula is not developed to ensure that the money flows, one can imagine what the consequences are likely to be.

There is a significant number of members of the Pakistani diaspora in the UK, so we thought it was important to engage with them. I completely recognise that their perspective of the country they or their parents came from tends to be slightly different from that of the people who live there. However, they also have a clear interest, and many make regular visits and have many connections and family ties. The people we met were outspoken in saying that they could play a much more useful role in ensuring that aid and development spending reached the people it was meant to. Most of them will work with only a limited number of partners they feel they can trust. If anything, members of the diaspora are more outspoken critics of Pakistan than donors or others because, as they say, they see what is happening.

The essence of all this is that Pakistan’s stability is crucial to Pakistan, to the region and to Britain’s substantial interests there. At a time when we are gradually disengaging from Afghanistan militarily, although not in terms of development assistance, we do not need Pakistan to become a bigger problem than Afghanistan. We need to hold on to our shared interest.

Pakistan must face the reality that unless something changes, India’s GDP per capita is likely to move way ahead its own, and even Afghanistan might move into a better position. We must therefore maintain our engagement—that is not negotiable. The Committee approves fundamentally of the priorities that the British Government have set, but Ministers must try harder to ensure that they get the outcomes they want on health and education. They should be robust in ensuring that our further commitment and increased engagement is matched by an increase in the tax base.

In a sense, we are giving the elite of Pakistan a moral eyeballing and telling them to demonstrate their willingness to participate in the process. The outgoing Parliament voted by an overwhelming majority that it did not believe its Members should pay taxes. I wonder what the British public would think if we passed such a motion here. It is done with a completely innocent face, but the people in question are much richer than any of us—or certainly than most of us—and they stand as political leaders, seeking to lead their country presumably to a better place. I cannot think of any politicians who stand in democratic elections and do not offer at least a vision and prospects. However, for that to happen, they must play their part and be partners with the people—particularly the poor people—of Pakistan.

I want to make one qualification to what I have said, which I think that the Minister will understand. The small number of people in Pakistan who do pay their taxes should not be screwed with an increase so that the people at the other end of the scale need not pay. Nothing should be done, either, to increase the burden on the poorest of the poor. The target is clearly the wealthy elite, who have a contribution to make and must make it.

I do not apologise for dwelling on those issues, because they represent a watershed in our relationship with Pakistan. I want the country to succeed and its people to have the prospects that they want for themselves. I am happy to have met many Pakistanis here and in Pakistan who share that vision, but also share the frustration that for decades they have been stuck in a situation in which their world does not improve, and in which, because of corruption and a lack of commitment and financial base, they do not get the growth, poverty reduction and development that they need and deserve. I am thrilled that the British Government understand the commitment, but I hope that they will agree with the Committee that to get results we need a robust relationship.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Gray, and to follow my right hon. Friend the Member for Gordon (Sir Malcolm Bruce), who as usual has given the speech that we would all want to give, but cannot. I have found the past three years as a member of the Committee, under his chairmanship, to be a delight. I had not been to Pakistan before our visit, and my right hon. Friend led the group expertly; such things are particularly important when one is going to a country such as Pakistan for the first time. We all got back in one piece and in reasonable good humour, which I gather may not always have happened on such visits in the past.

The visit, as well as being my first, was an eye-opener to the tremendous country that Pakistan is. It is the sixth most populous country in the world, with a population of 180 million—it could go well over 200 million by 2020—nearly 40% of whom are aged 10 to 29. Of course, Pakistan has huge challenges, which it is trying to meet, and we must review its condition in the light of them. One is terrorism. Tens of thousands of ordinary Pakistanis have died in terrorist attacks in the past 10 or 15 years. Members of the International Development Committee must always remember when we visit such countries—I am sure that this applies to the Minister too—that although we may be working with the country’s Government or its members of Parliament, we are working for the people who, day in, day out, suffer terrible problems such as terrorism and the challenges of low income. I remind the House that as many as one in three Pakistanis live on 30p a day, or less; one in 11 children in Pakistan die before their fifth birthday; and half of all the country’s adults—two thirds of its women—are illiterate, with 12 million children out of school. Those are the people for whom the UK’s international development programme is designed. It is true that members of Parliament in Pakistan do not pay their taxes, but ultimately our role under the International Development Act 2002 is to tackle poverty through international development. I am glad to say that that is fundamentally what DFID does through its programmes in Pakistan. We saw some excellent work.

I want first to dwell on positive areas of international development work in Pakistan. Most of that, of course, is carried out by Pakistani citizens; we just support them in that work. It is often forgotten what huge humanitarian challenges Pakistan has faced in the past decade. In 2005 the Kashmir earthquake affected approximately 3.5 million people. In 2008-09, internal displacement affected approximately 3 million people, and the 2010 floods affected 20 million—a third of the population of Britain. Imagine if even that proportion—say, a tenth—of our population, which would be 6 million people, were affected by floods. How would we cope? We find it a struggle to cope with snow on the railway tracks. They had to cope with 20 million people affected by floods. In 2011, as an afterthought, 9 million were also affected by floods, and in 2012, the year when we visited, monsoon floods meant that 3 million people needed external support. Often people grow almost weary of hearing such figures, yet the Pakistan Government at national and regional level must deal with such challenges year in, year out. Ultimately it is the Pakistani people who must deal with them, and I am in awe of how they do so.

Secondly, I want to give what I might call a little vignette—although it would not be a vignette to the people who suffered from the problem in question. The Chief Minister of Punjab, Shahbaz Sharif, who has been re-elected, impressed us with his grasp of matters. We heard that he had personally undertaken 17 Ministries himself, perhaps showing a lack of confidence in his colleagues. He clearly has tremendous energy and abilities. In 2011, the year before we were in Pakistan, there was an outbreak of dengue fever, which killed 300 people in Lahore alone. He was determined that that should not happen again, and initiated a substantial public health programme, getting rid of standing water to remove the breeding grounds of the flies that carry dengue fever. As a result, in 2012, when there was an outbreak, no one died, as far as we know—if they did, the number was very small. A challenge was met and tackled.

Thirdly, I was encouraged—with the caveats that my right hon. Friend the Member for Gordon mentioned—about education. Sir Michael Barber, as I believe the Prime Minister mentioned in the House of Commons on Tuesday following his visit to Pakistan, has done excellent work in the Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa education programmes. We visited a new school, a little like one of our new free schools, which was set up on the voucher system supported by DFID, I am glad to say. The children who attended that school were almost exclusively the children of workers at a nearby brick factory. Indeed, some of them had worked at the brick factory before coming to the school. An enterprising, wonderful Pakistani woman set up the school using the voucher system and was enabling a couple of hundred children to be educated, albeit at a basic level, at low cost in the community, instead of having to provide labour—often, I am afraid, indentured labour—at the local brick factory. That was possibly the most encouraging thing I saw on our visit to Pakistan, and the work of DFID enabled it to happen.

There was therefore a lot to be encouraged about, and to give confidence in the future. However, my right hon. Friend the Member for Gordon has also mentioned the things that give us cause for concern. The first is the very low level of tax revenue, at less than 10% of GDP, and the failure of the wealthiest to pay their share—or, even, anything—towards public services. As my right hon. Friend said, they do not use those services, but that is not an excuse. There is also financial mismanagement. We heard about the amount of money that the Pakistan Government have in various funds and bank accounts. Apparently they have not yet adopted the policy of consolidating funds in a few accounts or one account, as is normal in public financial management. As a result, there was not as much grip on the public finances as there might have been. Can the Minister say whether that issue, and indeed the issue of tax revenues, has been raised with the Pakistani Government?

Then, of course, there is the issue of corruption, which comes up time and again. It is something that is very difficult to deal with and to speak of. I hope that the newly elected Government of Pakistan will tackle corruption, because corruption is anathema to development. If a country has a corrupt Government, it will not develop. It might get some form of development, but that development will be wasted, it will be inefficient and the country will not get the kind of development that it needs to bring all its people out of poverty.

In conclusion, our report on Pakistan was an opportunity—certainly for me—to see for the first time a country that faces huge challenges but that also has huge opportunities, and one in which Britain has a vital interest. That interest is not just a strategic one, but much, much more than that. It is a human interest, not only because of the Pakistani diaspora who make such a wonderful contribution to our country—there are well over a million of them in the UK—but because of the 180 million Pakistanis, and rising, who are looking to their Government and to those other Governments, such as the UK’s, who support their Government, to give them the chance to fulfil their talent and to seize the opportunities that a country such as Pakistan must rightfully seize.

While the hon. Member for York Central (Hugh Bayley) collects his thoughts, I will point out that he has given his apologies in advance to me, having been stuck in the main Chamber proposing his own debate. We have plenty of time, so, rather unusually and despite the fact that he was not here in Westminster Hall for the early part of the debate, I call him to speak.

I am most grateful to you, Mr Gray, for calling me to speak.

I will not trouble the Members here in Westminster Hall with a long peroration about the wise and thoughtful main recommendations made in the report, which I know the Chairman of the Select Committee, the right hon. Member for Gordon (Sir Malcolm Bruce), and other members of the Committee will have spoken about. However, there are two particular issues that, as a member of the Committee who participated in the visit to Pakistan—I have moved on from a debate in the main Chamber about another part of the world—I feel very strongly about and that I am glad to have the opportunity to raise.

It is quite clear to me why the UK has such an important development partnership with Pakistan; it is because of our history and because of the need for us to work with the Government of Pakistan to resolve security problems that threaten both Pakistan and neighbouring countries. Integral to that development process is empowering women to get an education, play a full role in society and have their human rights defended.

Shortly before we went to Pakistan, we heard about the dreadful shooting in that country of Malala, a schoolgirl who was shot simply because she had the effrontery to wish to have an education. That event stunned people around the world and, interestingly, changed attitudes in Pakistan considerably. I went with some other members of the Committee—a sub-group—on a field visit to Haripur in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, where we went to a school. It was a Government girls’ secondary school, where the girls re-enacted a piece of drama, asserting, as a consequence of Malala’s shooting, the right of girls, like boys, to have an education, enter the labour force and have professional standing. It was extremely moving. When I talked to parents and teachers after the performance—there is a parent-teacher association at the school—they were very clear about the fact that the shooting of Malala had to change the nature of politics and society in Pakistan.

Following that visit, it struck me that, although the UK is a major aid donor, we do not always listen enough to the voices of women in the countries where we are working. It also struck me that, at the very least in respect of Pakistan, we ought to establish an advisory panel of women to work with our Department for International Development office to ensure that all our programmes address the women’s dimension of the issues that they aim to address, whether it be education or health care.

When we were in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, we also met representatives of a number of Pakistani non-governmental organisations, including a quite inspirational woman, Maryam Bibi, who leads a women’s self-help organisation called Khwendo Kor. I have known Maryam Bibi for a number of years. She did a postgraduate degree at York university and then returned to the tribal areas of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, where women’s rights are often threatened. She has done some remarkable things, such as establishing schools for girls and then standing up to men who threatened to kill her for doing so. She has a very persuasive manner. When we met her on this visit, she told us that she had been running a campaign to try to persuade Pakistani society in these conservative tribal areas to recognise that women should have rights of inheritance. She did that not by demanding those rights as a woman, but by seeking to find male community leaders who would make the argument. She had been talking for many weeks with a mullah, who appeared intellectually persuaded that women should have a right to inherit, but was unwilling to make a statement to that effect in Friday prayers, which was what she was urging him to do. That went on for many weeks and then, eventually, he made the statement. Maryam Bibi asked him what had finally changed his attitude, and he said, “Well, you persuaded me early on, but it took a long time for me to get my will changed, so that my wife could inherit.” He did not want to call on others to do something that he had not done himself.

Maryam is an extraordinary woman. I hope that she is the sort of person that DFID would consider using as an adviser. It is not for me to determine whom DFID selects, but it would be a mistake to think that we can get to the heart of the problems that Pakistani women face without Pakistani women advising us—not only on what the problems are, but on how to tackle them. I hope very much that the Government will consider that.

The second issue in Pakistan that I want to discuss, which struck me like a bolt out of the blue, was the gross—indeed, grotesque—violation of human rights that comes from debt bondage. One of our field trips, involving the whole Committee on this occasion, was to a low-cost private school. Doubtless, there will have been discussion earlier in the debate about the role that those institutions play.

After meeting the head teacher and some of the other teachers as we visited the classrooms, we had the opportunity to meet some parents. Those parents were brick kiln workers. They were very, very low paid and looked down upon by various members of society, and were living on the margins of a city in an area where the state had not deigned to provide a school, which was why a small private initiative had been set up to provide an education of sorts for their children. A state school would not have done any good anyway, because the children also had to work in the brick kiln. Consequently, the private school was arranged so that the children could come rather earlier in the morning than they would to a state school and so they could leave after lunch to do their share of labour in the brick kiln.

Those women told me that every one of them—every one of those parents—was indebted to the brick kiln owner and that debts ranged from 100,000 rupees to 300,000 rupees. Sometimes, they had taken out loans for things such as weddings, but more often because of injury and because they needed medical treatment. The typical earnings for people working in the brick kiln were 350 rupees per week per family—for husband, wife and two children. Those people owed perhaps up to two years’ wages. Such a debt for people on such a low, subsistence income is one they will never repay. Indeed, one woman told me that she had inherited her debt from her husband when he died.

Once someone gets into that kind of debt, there is no escape. Those people are illiterate, so even if they wanted to challenge the brick kiln owner over their debt, they would not have the skills to do so. One huge value of providing education for their children is perhaps that, in the next generation, it will be less possible for usurious moneylenders to pull the wool over those people’s eyes.

We raised that problem with the Chief Minister of Punjab. He told us that the law prevents debt bondage. His adviser, Zakia Shahnawaz, said that the intention was to introduce a Bill to establish a minimum wage of 600 rupees and to reinforce the law that ended bonded labour. I hope that that happens; it is desperately needed. If each wife and husband each earned 600 rupees a week, the children would perhaps not need to work in the brick kilns as well and could go to school in the normal way like other children. The debts of those people should be written off. Such debts should not exist in any civilised society anywhere in the world, but for that to happen we need not just UN resolutions and outrage expressed in this Palace of Westminster, but practical action to work with such people—the poorest of the poor and the lowest of the low—to give them the ability to go to court to challenge what is being done to them, crushing them and their children.

Although the issue exists not only in Pakistan, I would like a start to be made there with our Government putting together a programme of work to provide a citizens advice service to enable people such as those I have talked about to gain their freedom, which is their birthright, but which they are denied.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Gray. Once again, I congratulate the right hon. Member for Gordon (Sir Malcolm Bruce), the Chair of the International Development Committee, and his team. May I say how moving I found the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for York Central (Hugh Bayley)? Such speeches and the work of the Committee say it all about why we need to continue to speak up for the most vulnerable people in the world and those who are powerless to act. It is a credit to hon. Members on both sides of the House who are passionate advocates of the development, aid and support that go to people in countries such as Pakistan that we continue our resolute support for those nations.

As we all know, and the Select Committee report highlights this, Pakistan is making progress, especially on the political side. It has successfully transitioned from one democratically elected Government to another. Of course there are challenges, but that is still to be welcomed. Now is a unique opportunity to see continued progress and to work with Pakistan to ensure that economic and social development, and the need for stability, are at the forefront of all our minds and interests.

As the report highlights, and as the right hon. Member for Gordon and other hon. Members have said, according to the World Bank, Pakistan saw a decline in poverty levels between 2008 and 2010 from just under 35% to 17.2%, which is obviously welcome. That represents progress, but there are still major concerns. The testimony of my hon. Friend the Member for York Central about the effects on the very poor, particularly women, sums it up. Some 12 million children are still out of school, which is the second highest population in the world. Pakistan also has one of the lowest levels of female participation in the labour market. Some 12,000 women die during pregnancy or childbirth each year, which is completely scandalous in a country that could be doing more.

The right hon. Member for Gordon talked out the failure of the wealthiest in Pakistan to make a contribution through taxation to build their own nation, and that issue needs to be raised constantly. Addressing it should, rightly, be a challenge to those people as we challenge ourselves to continue to support countries such as Pakistan. There is mutual responsibility.

As hon. Members are well aware, Pakistan also faces environmental challenges. Humanitarian disasters in 2005, in Kashmir, and in 2010 have cost billions, displaced some 20 million people and undermined economic growth. We need to build resilience through our efforts to ensure that there is proper adaptation and preparation so that any such future disasters will not cause as much chaos and disruption.

The report makes a good point about the demographic challenge. There are threats from security challenges arising from counter-terrorism and the long conflict in neighbouring Afghanistan. There are major questions about what will happen following withdrawal from Afghanistan, and about its relationship with Pakistan.

I welcome the points in the report about the role of the British Pakistani community. As we all know, the community has more than 1 million people who can channel significant influence and resources to their country of origin through trade and investment, and who have insights and knowledge that could be shared by our Government to play a more constructive and positive role than they have been allowed to do. Similar practices could happen with other communities in the UK.

As I said in the previous debate, such communities make a massive contribution through remittances. In the case of Pakistan, £627 million was sent in 2010 alone. That significant amount of assistance goes directly to families to supplement the very small amount of money that they have, even with international aid efforts. We must ensure that any change to what banks do does not undermine that effort, because that would force millions of people in countries such as Pakistan into poverty.

The challenges for Pakistan on corruption and tax collection have been well described. The Opposition feel strongly that we must look into building strong mechanisms through budget support. Support for tax authorities will be critical. I hope that the Minister will respond to some of the points made about specific measures to build a sustainable process for taxation and revenue, and to prevent avoidance and evasion. Our efforts must be conditional on effective governance, as that is what our taxpayers expect from us.

We talked a lot in the previous debate about the need to improve health and education, and Pakistan is a case in point. As hon. Members including my hon. Friend the Member for York Central mentioned, the major challenge for a country such as Pakistan is protecting the needs of women and minorities. Pakistan’s human rights challenge is massive. The treatment of particular groups, notably women, and incidents such as the high-profile case of Malala Yousafzai, who sought her basic right to an education, are unacceptable. They also do not speak for Pakistan’s proud history as a nation. Women played a formative role in the anti-colonial movements of 1947 and subsequently, and Pakistan has human rights lawyers—strong feminists and powerful women—who are working hard to ensure that their country is not hijacked by a small minority of extremists. We must shore up those women and the male human rights activists who are speaking up for all the population of their country, including minorities such as Christians and Hindus.

The British Pakistani community has a critical role to play in supporting Pakistan and working with our Government to ensure that Pakistan can be a beacon of economic and social development, and that it can stand up for human rights, democracy and the things that people fought for when seeking independence from colonial rule. People in Pakistan, like those in the rest of south Asia, have a proud history that needs to be tapped into. I believe that Britain, with its unique yet often troubling historical role, has a part to play by being a critical friend and supporter of Pakistan as it progresses towards further development.

I am most grateful and I shall be brief. The hon. Lady makes an extremely powerful point about the importance of protecting minorities. I come from Huguenot stock, and at one point the Huguenots were minorities in this country. She will know about the huge contribution that minorities make to a country’s economic development, and that a country that does not cherish its minorities is shooting itself in the foot.

I could not agree more. The hon. Gentleman will be aware that my constituency is the home of the Huguenot population that came to Britain, which has a proud history. Perhaps he will go to the Huguenot festival—or perhaps he has. I am pleased to have discovered that connection.

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right about the role of minorities. The British Pakistani community and minorities make a vital contribution to this country. We have our own challenges, as we saw with the backlash following the terrible murder of Drummer Lee Rigby.

We must constantly work to protect minorities in this country, Pakistan and other parts of the world, and that is why we must ensure that in the post-millennium development goals discussions on the high-level panel, we all place human rights, and the rights of women and minorities, at the heart of debates about the future of development. If we do not, all our efforts and attempts to invest will be undermined.

I hope that the Government take this issue seriously. I worry that they do not always feel at ease with the language of empowerment and rights. I hope that when the testimonies are heard and explored, and considered alongside the risks to development when there is not a proper rights and empowerment agenda—a genuine one, as opposed to rhetoric—people will make a stronger case for putting human rights at the heart of the development agenda, rather than treating it as an add-on. I have faith that the Minister will push his Prime Minister to do so in his role in the high-level panel. The hon. Member for Stafford (Jeremy Lefroy) made the case clearly that the issue of minority rights affects all societies, especially societies coping with massive development, economic and security challenges.

I conclude with two additional points. Pakistan is the country with the fourth highest number of deaths of children under five. Additionally, in the UN’s report on the global gender gap, Pakistan ranks 133rd out of 135, so it is very much at the bottom, although there is no reason why it should be there. Pakistan has incredible people, and especially women, who could be in the driving seat to advance the cause against those issues that affect women so badly and hold its society back.

We support the report and tireless work of the members of the International Development Committee. Its timely report comes at an opportune moment, given the new Government in Pakistan. As aid budgets increase, we must ensure that our investment in Pakistan genuinely supports those in need, helps to build people’s resilience, protects them from exploitation and abuse, and creates hope and opportunity in a country that could be at the heart of economic and social development in Asia.

Given the huge markets and economic opportunities in China, India, Indonesia and across the region, and the economic growth to which we can only aspire, Pakistan has a unique opportunity to advance and to lift millions of people out of poverty, but that requires leadership, support from us and the international community, and a genuine focus on tackling corruption and the other issues raised in the report. It also involves ensuring that the public interest is put at the heart of Pakistan’s development, not the interest of an elite minority, some of whom do not even bother to pay their taxes.

DFID warmly welcomes the Committee’s report on Pakistan. It has made some helpful recommendations, and I am pleased to say that, as our reply makes clear, we agree with pretty much all of them.

As the Committee recognises, the need for our development support is clear. Pakistan is the sixth most populous country in the world, with an estimated population of 180 million, and it is growing fast. The population is likely to increase by half as much again by 2050. One in three Pakistanis live on 30p a day or less, and as the hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Bow (Rushanara Ali) has just made clear, one in 11 children die before their fifth birthday. Half of all adults and two thirds of women are illiterate, and 12 million children are out of school. Internal instability and sectarian violence have seen more than 30,000 Pakistani civilians killed since 2001, with many more left injured.

Those enormous challenges are not entirely insurmountable, and there is some reason to be optimistic for the future. Pakistan has just witnessed historic elections, which mark the first time a democratically elected civilian Government in Pakistan have served their full term and then handed over to another through credible elections. In the face of sustained extremist violence, the people sent a clear message that they expected change. They wanted improved security, better services, more jobs and better economic prospects. Both federal and provincial government have made ambitious commitments to deliver against those expectations.

The UK’s development programme is well placed to help. Since the Government made the decision to increase support to Pakistan in 2010, UK aid has helped 1.9 million children in school, provided cash transfers to more than 2.5 million people and provided life-saving support to millions of people during the devastating floods in 2010 and 2011. Ultimately, though, only the Government of Pakistan have the responsibility and wherewithal to solve Pakistan’s problems.

As the Committee set out, our development support must be dependent on policy reform that fosters increased economic and social development. That is why UK development programmes with the Government of Pakistan proceed only on the condition: that the Government of Pakistan provide the bulk of the funding and commit to increase their spending; that they deliver on agreed results and reforms; and that UK public money is protected from corruption. Those benchmarks are at the heart of all our joint programmes with both the federal and provincial government.

I think that approach is working. Through our education programme, we have helped the government of Punjab appoint 81,000 new teachers based on their ability to teach, not on their connections. Measures to increase both student and teacher attendance have led to 1 million more children and 35,000 more teachers attending school every day. We have helped the government of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province adopt new budgeting procedures, which have reduced the cost of building a classroom by more than 40%. I appreciate what the right hon. Member for Gordon (Sir Malcolm Bruce) says about merit, attendance and standards overall. If he would like more information on the detail of what we are doing, we would of course be very pleased to oblige.

At national level, we have helped to generate significant increases and improvements in the Government’s income support programme, which is a financial safety net for the poorest and most vulnerable. The new Government have announced a 25% increase in the programme’s budget, which is a commitment of almost £500 million in the coming year. The risk of corruption has also been reduced—thus trying to ensure that the programme reaches those who need it most. Over the coming months, we will hold formal talks with the new federal and provincial governments as soon as we can to agree joint priorities. Central to those discussions will be economic reform, particularly on tax.

The Committee urged us to do all we can to encourage an increase in tax revenue, which is exactly what we are doing. We agree that, without more revenue, the Pakistani Government cannot meet the needs of their growing population. We have had initial discussions with the new Government on tax issues at both ministerial and official level, and we are clear on what needs to happen. Pakistan has one of the lowest tax takes in the world, which has to change.

Early signs from the new Government are positive. In their recent budget, they committed to increase their tax-to-GDP ratio, which is currently less than 10%, to 15% by 2018, and they took some initial steps towards that. I assure hon. Members that our Prime Minister raised that matter forcefully during his visit to Pakistan last week. We are already providing advice on how they can deliver that commitment, and we will continue to push for early, bold action, starting from the top. The richest must pay their fair share. Our Prime Minister had positive conversations with Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on that issue during his visit, and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Development has also raised it in her early discussions.

As the Committee recommended, we are actively engaged with the IMF and other international finance institutions to ensure that any future IMF support is predicated on meaningful economic reforms, which, as my hon. Friend the Member for Stafford (Jeremy Lefroy) said, must include a firm grip on public finances. As negotiations with the IMF proceed, we are exploring how best the UK can provide assistance alongside other international partners. That includes considering the possibility of offering Pakistan expertise and advice from Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs, but we are clear that co-ordinated action through an IMF programme, rather than individual donors setting their own reform conditions, offers the best long-term prospect for securing reform.

It is absolutely essential that the new Government take steps to address corruption, because corruption limits economic growth and erodes confidence in the state. Our governance work already focuses on such corruption. In Punjab, for example, we are supporting the Government to curb low-level corruption by officials, and to improve service delivery as a result. Every day, 30,000 people are providing feedback on government services, via their mobile phones for instance, and action is being taken against those accused of corruption. We look forward to discussing what more we can do with the new Government as they develop their own priorities in that area.

Central to addressing corruption is effective governance that ensures the rule of law and empowers citizens—what our Prime Minister calls the “golden thread.” The Committee suggests that that is lacking in governance work, and I want to make it clear that it runs through our portfolio. Our new sub-national governance programmes will operate across two provinces and benefit more than 7.5 million people, thereby improving the ability of government to deliver key services, including security and justice. Now the new Government are in place, we will review our approach with them to identify opportunities where more can be done.

We are supporting civil society to ensure it is able to hold the Government to account and to demand change, most recently through our support for the elections, which helped to increase voter turnout significantly and to provide election monitoring. As the hon. Member for York Central (Hugh Bayley) mentioned, supporting women will also remain, and must remain, a fundamental element of our work. Pakistan is one of the most dangerous places in the world to be a woman. To improve our efforts, we will take up the Committee’s recommendation to establish a gender advisory group, and will look to include Pakistan in the wider girls and women advisory group being established by DFID.

The right hon. Member for Gordon mentioned the health sector. In recent years, service provision has changed significantly through the devolution of responsibilities from federal to provincial government, as both the Committee and the Independent Commission for Aid Impact have noted. In response to that change, we have significantly redesigned our support for health. Let me assure the House that the redesign has addressed the concerns expressed by ICAI and the Committee, and has taken on board the lessons from the previous federal approach. DFID’s new provincial health and nutrition programme supports local governments to manage both community midwives and lady health workers, so ensuring that their remits are complementary. Our funding will also only be provided when there is clear evidence that results are being achieved. In a period of substantial political change, we will continue to review and adapt our programmes, in the light of the new Government’s priorities and the reforms that they implement.

I have taken on board the impassioned plea made by the hon. Member for York Central for the need to address the scourge of debt bondage among Pakistan’s helpless and ultra-impoverished people. Similarly, I have taken on board the important comment made by the hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Bow about empowerment, especially of women and girls—something that is always incorporated from the start in our programmes, not only in Pakistan but elsewhere.

To summarise, at last count DFID and the Government agreed with 16 out of the 17 recommendations made by the Committee, and we only partially disagreed with the 17th. We also agree that UK development support must be predicated on the commitment of the Pakistani authorities to implement policy changes that will foster economic and social development. I am pleased to see that the new federal and provincial governments have already made positive commitments to deliver economic, tax and social sector reforms. They have a real opportunity to set Pakistan on a path towards stability and prosperity. We will continue to do all we can to ensure that they take decisions that will lead to a brighter future for their people.

I thank the Minister for a succinct and positive response to the debate, which shed a clear light on the Government’s determination to take the opportunity to turn things around. It is important that the new, democratically elected Government—the first to secure the transition—have the responsibility and an opportunity to make the changes. My only caution is that, while I welcome their commitment to increase the tax take to 15%, such commitments have been made in the past and not delivered. We clearly need positive measures for that to happen.

I completely agree with the Minister that the most effective way to achieve things is through donor co-ordination, because all the donors working together and singing from the same hymn sheet is more likely to get a co-ordinated response. I welcome what he said about bringing together lady health workers and community midwives, which seems to be something that could be done, so it is great to hear that it is being done. We can do it ourselves as well, but I hope that the Minister will convey to Sir Michael Barber that he is doing an excellent job of work, although there are some concerns about merit meaning what it says—perhaps something could be done about that.

Overall, we want to share with the people of Pakistan an absolutely joint commitment saying that they deserve a future that is a lot better than the recent past. We have to ensure that the aid community can find the partners—partners in Pakistan—to achieve that. As the Minister rightly says, without a functioning partner outside agencies ultimately cannot deliver. The reason why we put the caveat that we did in the report is that, willing as we may be to support the poor people of Pakistan, the effort will only work if their leaders want it to work and are prepared to work with us. I am, however, encouraged by what the Minister has had to say. I hope that the next few months in particular will see some positive progress in that direction.

Question put and agreed to.

Sitting adjourned.