Skip to main content

Topical Questions

Volume 571: debated on Wednesday 4 December 2013

Since the last oral question session in October, I have visited the Philippines, where I witnessed at first hand the impact of Typhoon Haiyan, and to Afghanistan, where I met President Karzai. Earlier this month, I took an 18-company delegation to Tanzania to showcase the opportunities for development-focused investment. On 13 November, I chaired the call to action on protecting women and girls in emergencies. Today, I have issued a written ministerial statement that announces tough new controls on the Department’s programme management. Finally, I returned from Washington this morning, where I saw the successful replenishment of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria.

I thank the Secretary of State for that.

In the light of the Secretary of State’s decision today to shut the TradeMark Southern Africa programme due to very poor performance, what action is she taking to ensure that all programmes either deliver or, if they do not, are swiftly remedied or closed?

I have set out today in my written ministerial statement ways in which we have significantly strengthened DFID’s programme and financial management procedures. I am taking further significant steps to strengthen our approach to value for money, including on procurement and ministerial oversight of new business cases. As I inform the House in my statement, weak governance in TMSA resulted in payments amounting to £80,000 via ring-fenced accounts held by the Ministry of Agriculture in Zimbabwe from 2011. That money was used appropriately, but the payments were in contravention of Government policy, so my statement today sets out that I am expanding our internal audit capability and ensuring that when programmes fail to deliver we can spot them, take decisions on them and, if they fail to get better, stop them. [Interruption.]

Order. These are extremely serious matters affecting some of the most vulnerable people on the face of the planet. May I appeal to Members on both sides of the House to attend to the exchanges?

Last week, the Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations described the suffering of the Central African Republic’s population as “beyond imagination”. He said that the use of child soldiers and sexual violence was growing, and that the danger of a full-scale catastrophe was real. Has the Secretary of State met Ministers from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Ministry of Defence to plan conflict prevention, and will she look to use resources from the conflict pool’s early action facility to help head off a horrific civil war and the inevitable threat to human life?

We share the hon. Lady’s concern about what is happening in the Central African Republic. We have worked with the Foreign Office to examine what further steps we can take, and, as I said earlier, we have increased by £10 million the level of humanitarian assistance that we can immediately provide to that region. We will continue to consider what more we can do over the coming weeks. I also discussed the matter in Washington yesterday with the United States Agency for International Development.

T2. What more can Britain do to improve research into and diagnosis of autism spectrum conditions in developing countries? (901434)

DFID is committed to investing in education in developing countries to support all children’s learning. As our programmes on inclusive education mature, we are looking for new partners to work with us to develop innovative and effective strategies for supporting children with learning disabilities in mainstream education environments.

T4. Nearly 3 million civilians are cut off completely from aid in Syria. What is the Secretary of State doing to help those starving and desperate people? (901436)

First, the right hon. Lady will be aware that shortly after the UN General Assembly, there was finally a presidential statement on humanitarian access in Syria. It is incredibly important that we now see those commitments fulfilled. My discussions with Valerie Amos, who heads up the humanitarian arm of the UN, show that we are making progress, but the right hon. Lady is right to point out that it is a continuing challenge. If we cannot reach people in Syria, that is a breach of international humanitarian law.

T3. Many of my constituents are concerned that we still have an aid policy judged by how much we spend rather than by what the money actually delivers. Although I welcome the Secretary of State’s decision finally to end aid to India, a country that has more billionaires than Britain, will she now go further and abandon the arbitrary 0.7% of GDP target, which is equivalent to an increase of £100 a year for every family in Cannock Chase? (901435)

I think the Government have been right to honour their promise on providing 0.7% of gross national income. The challenge that we have is to ensure that it represents 100% of our national interest. That is precisely what I am doing, working with the Home Office and the MOD on stability in countries and with the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills and the Foreign Office on economic development. That makes sense to me.

T6. In Sierra Leone, good administrative arrangements are in place to combat corruption. What can the Secretary of State do to assist with political momentum to improve governance and root out corruption among politicians there? (901438)

The hon. Gentleman is right to highlight corruption as it is something for which the Department for International Development has zero tolerance. When I was at the World Bank in October I had the chance to meet briefly the Finance Minister of Sierra Leone. We are planning to work together, not least on the corruption agenda, and more broadly to ensure that we increase oversight of public finance management.

T5. The Government have a commitment to stabilising “fragile and conflict-affected states.” What is the Department doing to support the people of Kashmir in one of the most difficult and long-standing conflicts anywhere in the world? (901437)

The tri-departmental conflict pool funds joint programmes in Pakistan and India-controlled Kashmir that support human rights, conflict prevention and peace building. That is administered by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, and the UK also provides aid to Kashmir through national programmes operating in Pakistan and India.