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International Development

Volume 579: debated on Wednesday 9 April 2014

The Secretary of State was asked—

Afghanistan Election (Women)

1. What assessment she has made of the level of women’s participation in the upcoming Afghanistan presidential election. (903613)

Provisional estimates show that approximately 7 million people voted in Afghanistan’s presidential and provincial council election last Saturday. About a third of women voted—a tremendous achievement. That is evidence that support for democratic institutions and women’s participation is making a real difference on the ground.

Early indications show that the role of women in Afghanistan’s elections has taken great steps in the right direction, but what plans are in place to ensure that those hard-won battles for the rights of women are not lost as a result of the international security assistance force draw-down at the end of this year?

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to raise that point. The Department for International Development committed £20 million of funding to help the UN work to support the elections, including nearly £5 million for a programme to support women’s participation. As we go forward, we must ensure that the constitution that is already in place to support women’s rights is enforced, that we are working at grassroots level and putting more money into community programmes and that across government, for example in the police, women get the chance to play their full role. As far as I and the Government are concerned, we are determined to ensure that those hard-won additional rights for women are not just maintained but built on further.

May I thank the Secretary of State for that reply? I hope that now that the International Development (Gender Equality) Act 2014 has received Royal Assent, she will be able to give the maximum opportunities to protect women and make certain that they are fully empowered.

My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and this gives me a chance to pay tribute to the tireless efforts he made to push through his private Member’s Bill. It has not just set out how important equality is to our Parliament, but has been picked up across the world as an example of the UK’s taking a stand on gender equality.

As we pay tribute to others, it is right for the House again to reflect at the time of these elections on the enormous contribution our armed forces have made and continue to make. It is heartening that in the elections the three front-runners were supportive of the extension of women’s rights in government, but progress has been fragile. It is unacceptable that only 1% of those who serve in the Afghan police force are women. I know that the Secretary of State will share that concern, so what more can be done to ensure that the legal, judicial and policing systems properly reflect a better balance of gender in Afghanistan?

That is the very point that I raised with the Minister of the Interior when I was last in Afghanistan. We are providing technical assistance to enable work on this issue across the board, but one thing that is being considered is bringing in women at more senior levels in the Afghan police to get role models, so that incoming female recruits can aspire and look up to them.

Given that the engagement in democracy is so strong, with the draw-down of ISAF it will be crucial that donor communities continue to provide aid to what is one of the poorest countries in the world, in order to maintain stability. What discussions has the Secretary of State had with US authorities about recognising the importance of that continued aid commitment?

I routinely discuss the work of the donor community with our US colleagues and there will be an important meeting, which the UK will be co-chairing, at the end of this year and perhaps running into early next year that will assess progress against the Tokyo mutual accountability framework. At that point we should have a new Afghan President and Government in place, so that will be a good time to take stock of progress and of the challenges that remain.

Development Framework (Health)

The UK has played a central role in developing successor development goals to the millennium development goals, including through my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister’s co-chairmanship of the UN high-level panel. We want to see progress across the board on health, particularly on maternal and child health. We want a dedicated health goal, and articulated and measured health outcomes targets.

Despite ongoing global commitments, 40 million women gave birth without the assistance of a midwife last year, and families living in the poorest parts of the world are twice as likely to lose their babies as those in the richest nations. Will the Secretary of State use her influence to ensure that there are targets for ending preventable child, maternal and newborn deaths in the post-2015 framework, and to call for universal health coverage and universal access to midwifery?

We are supportive of universal health coverage, which is one of the key means that can improve health outcomes. The hon. Gentleman is quite right to raise the issue of maternal health. We look across the board at how we can do that, including in relation to family planning and what we are doing this summer to combat child and early marriage, which is one reason why maternal health is poor. We will continue to work really hard on that whole agenda.

Great gains have been made under the millennium development goals in the areas of malaria, neglected tropical diseases, HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis. Can my right hon. Friend reassure me that the goals that we will push for post-2015 will ensure that those gains will be maintained and, indeed, enhanced?

Yes, I can. In fact, we want HIV, TB and malaria to be incorporated under a health goal. My hon. Friend will be aware that the UK was one of the leading donors at the global fund replenishment at the end of last year, and will continue to support that important work.

Further to that answer, will the Secretary of State confirm that the Government will commit to the opportunity identified by the “Malaria No More” campaign to halve malaria deaths again—they have already been halved since 2000—by 2020, and back the proposals to accelerate the reduction in the death rate to zero beyond 2020?

We do want malaria to be eradicated. It is one of the key issues African leaders raise in relation not just to its impact on individuals and families, but its economic impact. The recent Bali World Trade Organisation deal was worth about $10 billion a year to the African economy—that is also the cost of malaria every year regionally.

GAVI Alliance

3. What recent steps she has taken to ensure the future funding and effectiveness of the GAVI Alliance. [R] (903615)

The UK is the largest donor to GAVI. Our support will help fully immunise nearly 80 million children and save around 1.3 million lives during 2011-15. We are working closely with GAVI and partners to ensure that their 2016-20 strategy, currently being developed, provides a sound and cost-effective basis for delivering their mission and saving children’s lives.

May I draw attention to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests? To reach every child with immunisation requires not only vaccines but staff. Do the Government support the GAVI 15% to 25% spending target on health strengthening in the international community?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for that, because strengthening health systems and the capacity of health workers is a key answer in addressing the immunisation deficit.

I proudly congratulate the Government on spending 0.7% of national income on eradicating poverty worldwide, much of it on polio eradication. The last three countries with endemic polio all have significant Islamic populations. Is the Department committed to working with religious and Islamic leaders to try to build community support for polio eradication and to protect health workers in those countries?

My hon. Friend raises the issue of the frustrating endgame on polio. GAVI will play a major role in delivering that endgame, but we are working with everyone to try to ensure that vaccinations are seen as good and not some kind of problem.

I declare an arrangement, as I went to Cambodia with Results UK to see the GAVI-funded programme there. I am told that the Government put in £860 million, which raises questions about the future. Will the Government make a commitment to maintaining that level of funding in future for GAVI, which runs a wonderful project?

Right now, GAVI has not stated what its actual target is. We are the largest donor at 33%, and we will continue to support it. We will make a decision in the next few months.

Does the Minister agree that vaccination assistance and the partnership with the Gates Foundation is not only the right thing to do but one of the best ways to help developing economies? It is also something we should sell and explain to the general public.

My hon. Friend is entirely right. The economic benefits are huge, and vaccination is considered a development “best buy”. The Gates Foundation is at the forefront of that, and we work very closely indeed with it.

Palestinian Authority

4. What assessment she has made of the effectiveness of her Department’s support for the Palestinian Authority. (903616)

The UK is providing effective support for the Palestinian Authority in very challenging circumstances. The Palestinian Authority has developed institutions to the point where the international community has recognised it as technically ready for statehood, and it has made impressive progress in delivering improved outcomes in health and education.

Having just returned from a Select Committee visit to the Palestinian occupied territories and seen the excellent work being done there by the Department, may I ask whether the Minister agrees that its work to support the private sector would be much more effective if Israel lifted many of its restrictions, which can have nothing to do with its essential security, on the freedom of Palestinian business people to develop their economy in areas such as the banking sector, water supply, and even 3G telephone networks?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his appreciation of DFID’s work in the occupied Palestinian territories and glad that he and the Committee had such a useful visit. Israeli restrictions do tremendous damage to the economy and to the living standards of ordinary Palestinians. The simple truth is that they are not allowed to develop their banking or information and communications technology sectors, or to build even their basic infrastructure. Were these restrictions to be lifted, not only would DFID’s work to support the private sector be much more effective, but within a relatively short space of time the Palestinians would probably not need our aid at all.

Is the Minister aware that the World Bank has said that area C of the west bank, particularly the Jordan valley, is vital to the future economic viability of a Palestinian state? Presumably that is why the Department is looking to fund infrastructure projects there. What is his view of the fact that illegal Israeli planning restrictions are stopping those infrastructure projects being built, and for how long will the Government allow Israel to have a veto over economic development in the west bank?

I fully understand what the hon. Gentleman says. I think the Select Committee saw a direct example of the destruction of olive groves when it was there. It is essential that area C is able, through planning arrangements, to develop its economy; otherwise there can be no sensible or useful economic future in the Palestinian territories.

May I confirm what the Minister says—that without access to area C there is no future for a two-state solution or for an economically viable Palestine? The Palestinian Authority pleaded with us to put all possible pressure on Israel to allow access. We met someone from a company who is saying that the cost of land in areas A and B is prohibitive and that without access to area C he cannot develop his business.

I fully concur with my right hon. Friend. I hope that a full understanding of this can be included in the peace talks that we hope are continuing towards a productive and useful conclusion.

What recent representations have the Government made to the Israeli authorities about the continued forcible removal of populations, and property demolition, in the occupied territories? Yesterday the Foreign Secretary met the Israeli Minister for International Relations: was this issue raised with him?

I was also at that meeting, and I can assure the hon. Gentleman that we raise such matters regularly. It is essential that some kind of normal activity can be permitted in the occupied Palestinian territories; otherwise, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Gordon (Sir Malcolm Bruce) said, there will not be a two-state solution and there is a danger of permanent conflict and tension.

Aid Dependency and Job Creation

5. What steps her Department is taking to reduce levels of aid dependency through the creation of jobs. (903617)

My Department is working hard to grow jobs and end aid dependency. Over the next two years we will more than double to £1.8 billion the amount that DFID invests in job creation and economic development.

Will the Secretary of State set out her objectives for next week’s meeting of the Global Partnership for Effective Development Co-operation and say what her Department’s work with the private sector will achieve?

The meeting in Mexico is incredibly important. It will help us to take the next steps to shape responsible business practices that can, in turn, support sustainable and inclusive economic growth in countries that so badly need it.

Job creation is of course a very worthwhile task, particularly in the emerging economies. Does the Secretary of State agree that secure, dependable jobs that help the indigenous peoples of those nations are what is required to assist those nations?

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. One of the most important aspects is to help shape the economic growth that takes place so that, through work, it lifts the largest number of people possible out of poverty. That is precisely the agenda the Department is pursuing.

In every economy across the globe, small businesses are the most secure way to create jobs. What is my right hon. Friend’s Department doing to enhance the provision of finance to small businesses in developing countries?

We are working with a fund for small and medium-sized enterprises that can do precisely that. We have also, with the London stock exchange, focused on the issue of capital markets improving finance more broadly in developing countries—particularly, most recently, in Tanzania.

The garment industry in Bangladesh and elsewhere provides hundreds of thousands of jobs to people trying to work their way out of poverty, but it has too often involved unsafe conditions and poverty pay, and no one in Britain wants to buy clothes made in such conditions. Ahead of the first anniversary of the Rana Plaza disaster, does the Secretary of State now agree that her Government’s decision to withdraw funding from the International Labour Organisation, which protects vulnerable workers, was a short-sighted mistake?

I hope I can reassure the hon. Lady that we are working with the ILO in Bangladesh, and as she knows we have also sent over experts to help with building practices and construction. As the hon. Lady points out, it is nearly a year since the tragic collapse of the Rana Plaza building, and we have worked very hard since then with the Bangladesh Government and industry to make sure that we learn from that terrible disaster.

Although I welcome enormously what the Secretary of State is doing, is not one of the problems in creating jobs in developing countries the fact that major trading blocs such as the European Union are stopping market access to them?

Protectionism, including by the EU, ultimately does not help anyone. [Interruption.] That is one of the reasons why getting a deal in Bali was so important. I had the chance to make that point personally to the director general of the WTO yesterday. [Interruption.]

Order. There are a lot of noisy private conversations taking place, notably at this stage on the Opposition Benches, but I want to hear both the questions and the right hon. Lady’s answers, so let us have a seemly atmosphere in deference to Mr Paul Burstow.

Tackling Dementia

6. What steps her Department is taking to support developing countries in tackling the effects of dementia. (903618)

The UK Government support the improvement of dementia care through increased provision of basic health services for the poor. In 2012-13, the UK provided about £1 billion in bilateral health aid to support work to strengthen health systems and health services for the poor.

I thank the Minister for that answer and for the actions the Government are already taking. Given that six out of 10 people living with dementia worldwide live not in developed but in developing countries, that the vast majority of them do not have a diagnosis, and that we know from research by Alzheimer’s Disease International that the burden of dementia is shifting to developing countries, will the Government take further steps to build on the success of the dementia summit held last year to lever action in those developing countries?

I thank my right hon. Friend and pay tribute to him for the work he has done; indeed, I have met with him to discuss this very issue. Of course, dementia is a growing issue in the developing world. Regarding the Prime Minister’s summit, we have contributed to the Department of Health, which is the lead Department on the issue, and we are dealing full out with communicable diseases. We also, as my right hon. Friend knows, have a campaign on mental health issues.

Development Aid

7. How much international development aid the UK gave in total to Jamaica, Pakistan, Nigeria, Somalia, India and Bangladesh combined in the last year for which figures are available. (903620)

In 2012 the UK Government gave a combined total of £973 million in bilateral official development assistance to Jamaica, Pakistan, Nigeria, Somalia, India and Bangladesh.

Between them, those six countries account for 2,900 foreign national offenders in Britain’s prisons, which is more than a quarter of the foreign national offender total, at an annual cost of some £100 million. Will the Department agree to use some of the £900 million spent annually on those countries on insisting on compulsory prisoner transfer agreements as a condition of that aid, and on building prisons in those countries so that they can take their people back?

There is no straightforward correlation between the practicality of building a prison abroad and the number of UK-based prisoners from that country. We do not make our aid conditional on securing a prisoner transfer agreement with each such country. To do so would seriously undermine our poverty and stability programmes, and in any case they are deeply political and very complicated to negotiate. However, more than 19,000 foreign national offenders have been returned since 2010.

Topical Questions

On international women’s day, I announced that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister will host a summit in July to step up our global efforts to end both female genital mutilation and early and forced marriage for all girls within a generation. In March, I attended in New York the Commission on the Status of Women, which supported our call for a stand-alone goal on gender and integrating gender throughout the post-2015 development framework. Last week, the Office for National Statistics confirmed that the UK is the first G8 country to reach a figure of 0.7% of gross national income on international development, and I am proud that it is this Government who have achieved that promise.

Given the horrific events in Rwanda 20 years ago this week, will the Department redouble its efforts to support conflict prevention in countries such as Sudan, the Central African Republic and, indeed, Syria, so that their people can enjoy the peace and humanity that hitherto has escaped them?

We have had a chance this week to remember the terrible tragedy of the events that took place in Rwanda back in 1994. When we look at progress against the millennium development goals, we know that hardly any has been made in the sort of countries to which the right hon. Gentleman refers, because conflict holds back development. That is why we will continue to focus our efforts on those states to help their people.

T2. What progress is the Government’s International Citizens Service entrepreneur programme making in helping entrepreneurs and small businesses in developing economies? (903630)

At the end of March, I launched the International Citizens Service entrepreneur scheme. This builds on the successful ICS programme that this Government have introduced. It is about matching young people with businesses and entrepreneurs in developing countries, and it focuses on economic development. The programme has had a fantastic response, and the first volunteers will be on their placements this summer. [Interruption.]

DFID has a work in freedom programme, aimed at preventing the trafficking of women and girls from south Asia to countries popular with migrants. Last week, I was in Qatar to see the conditions endured by migrant male workers. As Qatar starts to build the World cup stadiums, the abuses I saw cannot continue. Does the Secretary of State agree that it is important to extend the work in freedom programme to these workers in Qatar, and that it is important that FIFA and Qatar act to ensure that the beautiful game is not built on the misery of migrant workers?

The right hon. Gentleman is right to raise these issues. We have certainly raised our concerns with the Qatari authorities, including at ministerial and ambassadorial level. Of course, the work in freedom programme, which we are bringing in—this new programme is about to start—is all about helping particularly girls and women who are being trafficked, and we hope to see that programme succeed over the coming years. [Interruption.]

What discussions has my right hon. Friend had with other UK Departments about how Her Majesty’s Government can bring an end to female genital mutilation and early and forced marriage worldwide?

I am delighted to say that the UK will host an international summit on these topics in the summer, hosted by the Prime Minister. We have been working hand in hand with my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, who has done some excellent work domestically on this agenda, too. [Interruption.]

Order. May I politely say to the House that although I understand the air of expectation, we have just had a question about female genital mutilation? We are discussing matters of intense importance in this country and to billions of people around the world. Simple courtesy would dictate that we do actually pay attention.

T3. Tragically, 3,000 children a day die from malaria worldwide. What contribution are the Government making to eliminate child deaths from this dreadful disease, particularly in the Central African Republic, where UN funding is grossly underfunded? (903631)

We have announced up to £1 billion over the next three years for the global fund, which is one of the key mechanisms by which malaria is tackled—it was malaria day yesterday—and, particularly in places such as the Central African Republic, we complement that with humanitarian support as well.

Will the Secretary of State update the House on DFID’s contribution to the commemoration of the 20th anniversary of the Rwandan genocide?

It is 20 years since the Rwandan genocide—my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary was in Rwanda over recent days to commemorate that terrible event—but since then, Rwanda has taken huge steps forward in development. It is one of the beacons showing how countries can develop rapidly when there are the resources and the political will. We will continue our work with Rwanda.

T4. I have just returned from a fact-finding mission to Qatar with the construction workers union, the Union of Construction, Allied Trades and Technicians, to look at the terrible plight of migrant workers in Qatar. I was reassured by some of the Secretary of State’s comments in reply to the question from my right hon. Friend the Member for East Renfrewshire (Mr Murphy). Will she, however, give the House an assurance that she will make representations to the Qatari authorities to end the kafala system, which is effectively bonded labour, and to stop the appalling circumstances of migrant workers living in abject squalor? Some 1,200 have been killed on construction sites already, and if some action is not taken, 4,000 will be dead before the World cup starts. (903632)

The hon. Gentleman is right to raise those issues, and I assure him that we are raising them with the Qatari authorities. I will also do that.

Will my right hon. Friend join me in congratulating Green Fuels Ltd on its successful entry into the Indonesian market, boosting British exports and reducing Indonesian carbon emissions through a strong partnership between DFID and UK Trade & Investment on the ground?

I congratulate the company in my hon. Friend’s constituency. He has been a tireless advocate for the role that such businesses, including this one, can play in combating climate change. It is fantastic to see that work get off the ground in Indonesia.