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World Poverty

5. Mr. Neil Turner (Wigan): What action she is taking to ensure that programmes to tackle world poverty continue after 2015. [84690]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for International Development (Ms Sally Keeble): Some 900 million people are still likely to be living in extreme poverty in 2015, even if the millennium development goals are achieved, so our commitment to work against poverty must continue. The 2015 targets have been extremely effective in focusing our development work, and we will need new targets after that date.

Mr. Turner : I thank my hon. Friend for that reply and for recognising the importance of the need to fight poverty in the future. Does she agree that poverty and the hopelessness that comes from it provide ready recruits to those sectarian and fanatical organisations that seek to divide the nations of the world rather than to bring people together?

Ms Keeble: There is a very clear link between conflict and poverty, and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has addressed some of those issues in her goals. We are currently undertaking research to find out what will be the needs of the 900 million people who will still be in

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poverty after 2015. All our efforts and those of the multilateral organisations—including the European Union, for example—must focus on combating poverty.

Mr. Stephen O'Brien (Eddisbury): What progress are the Minister and her right hon. Friend the Secretary of State making to deal with the collapse in commodity prices, which is having such a significant effect on the progress towards tackling poverty in the developing countries under the programmes of the various international bodies?

Ms Keeble: The hon. Gentleman is right to identify the trade and aid issue. We are obviously working very closely to look at the impact of commodity prices, and we also hope to diversify agriculture in some of the countries that are dependent on a single commodity. Although we are making progress in dealing with the trade-related issues, it is also extremely important that we now increase the amount of aid going to developing countries to combat poverty.

Hugh Bayley (City of York): Does my hon. Friend agree that the key to meeting the millennium development goals in the poorest countries in Africa is the initiative under the New Partnership for Africa's Development, and that if we in the rich world are to deliver our part of NEPAD, we must take action to reduce food subsidies and to open up our markets to African products, particularly agricultural produce?

Ms Keeble: My hon. Friend is absolutely right to link the work that is being done in Europe in relation to the common agricultural policy with the work on the Doha agenda in opening up trade to deal with some of the deep-seated problems. He is also right to identify the importance of NEPAD as an African solution to African problems and to focus on some of the Government issues. Meanwhile, of course, the task of dealing with the worst poverty will be affected in particular by increasing the amount of aid. The Department for International Development is working very closely to increase the amount of aid to combat poverty in the poorest countries of the world.

Afghanistan (Poppy Cultivation)

6. Sue Doughty (Guildford): What progress has been made in the elimination of poppy cultivation in Afghanistan. [84691]

The Secretary of State for International Development (Clare Short): During the 20 years of civil war and the period of Taliban rule, poppy cultivation became the mainstay of the Afghan economy. The drug economy will not be eliminated without extending security, justice and development across the country outside Kabul. Plans have now been agreed for the formation of an Afghan national army, and we need to develop plans on the demobilisation of militias and on extending security outside Kabul. We have already agreed interdiction programmes against production and trafficking.

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President Karzai is strongly committed to the elimination of the drug economy from Afghanistan, but that will take sustained effort.

Sue Doughty : I thank the Secretary of State for her response. As law enforcement is vital for the reduction of poppy cultivation, has she given any consideration to the establishment of a national police force in Afghanistan, and has her Department given any direct assistance to the Afghan Government for that purpose?

Clare Short: The international community has a clear aim—all of Afghanistan's institutions are smashed and need rebuilding, including its police force. The Germans are leading on the rebuilding and retraining of the police force, and we are doing work on customs. Collectively, we are providing economic help for the Afghan Government and their budget—strengthening their Ministry of Finance, central bank and so on. That work is going on, and the tasks are being shared out among members of the international community—every single institution in the country needs rebuilding.


The Prime Minister was asked—


Q1. [84666] Mr. David Kidney (Stafford): If he will list his official engagements for 11 December.

The Prime Minister (Mr. Tony Blair): This morning I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others, in addition to my duties in the House. I will have further such meetings later today.

Mr. Kidney : Great amounts of money are going into the national health service for the likes of workers' pay and primary care trusts, such as the one based in Stafford, but will the Prime Minister confirm that the Government's evident good intention to support the health service will not be undermined by their plans for foundation hospitals?

The Prime Minister: Yes, I can confirm that. Foundation hospitals will be NHS hospitals and will service NHS patients. They will have greater freedom in the local community—they will be owned by the local community—to develop the services that NHS patients want. My hon. Friend is right; there is record investment in the national service, which is opposed by the Opposition, but it must be matched by reform—giving, on the basis on earned autonomy, the freedom to the front line to innovate and create in the way that the health service needs.

Mr. Iain Duncan Smith (Chingford and Woodford Green): Is the Prime Minister concerned about the loss of integrity surrounding the No. 10 press office and information provided by the Government, and how does he intend to restore it?

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The Prime Minister: No, I believe that all questions have been properly answered.

Mr. Duncan Smith: That is the most extraordinarily complacent answer. After 10 days of half-truths and evasions, the Prime Minister knows that questions remain about the changing of deportation dates after officials admitted contact with ministerial staff, the breaching of the ministerial code and the conduct of the civil service. Surely, the Prime Minister should ask for an independent inquiry to clear up this matter.

The Prime Minister: First, the Home Office and the Lord Chancellor's Department have answered all the questions put to them, and have done so conclusively. Secondly, on the ministerial code, the right hon. Gentleman will know that the Cabinet Secretary has replied to him, and I have put the terms of that response in the Library of the House. Thirdly, I do not believe that anything remotely warrants the inquiry that he seeks.

Mr. Duncan Smith: The Prime Minister refers to the Cabinet Secretary's letter. In that letter he states:

So there is no information in the public domain that will settle the issue. I remind the Prime Minister that he said a few years ago:

and that his Government would be

After what has happened, people simply do not believe what he says. Does he not understand that the only way to restore integrity to his Government and to No. 10 is to hold an independent inquiry? Why does he not do so?

The Prime Minister: First, the letter does deal with the issue of the ministerial code, and it deals with it in detail. Secondly, as I just said, the Home Office and the Lord Chancellor's Department have responded to all the allegations that have been made, all of which, I may say, have turned out to be false. Thirdly, it is typical of the right hon. Gentleman that he dives into the swimming pool just as the water is running out.

Q2. [84667] Mr. Graham Stringer (Manchester, Blackley): Is my right hon. Friend as concerned as I am that Mr. Cook, charged with the 2001 census, cannot count, and that he massively underestimated the population of cities such as Manchester with its large ethnic minority and student populations? Will my right hon. Friend use his good offices to ensure that those figures are not used in the planning of vital public services?

The Prime Minister: The Office for National Statistics, as my hon. Friend knows, conducts an examination of the census, and it is confident that the 2001 census provides the most accurate estimate of the population, both nationally and locally. I know that that is a matter of great controversy in Manchester, and that the national statistician has met the chief executive of Manchester city council on two occasions to discuss the estimates. I understand that the dialogue is ongoing,

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but my hon. Friend will understand that we must base our deliberations on the figures of the census, unless we believe them to be wrong. As the figures are checked by the ONS, we must take its advice.

Mr. Charles Kennedy (Ross, Skye and Inverness, West): On Iraq, given that the Secretary-General of the United Nations has criticised the style and approach of the American Administration in its handling of the Iraqi dossier, does the Prime Minister share the Secretary-General's criticism?

The Prime Minister: I am not aware of the circumstances to which the right hon. Gentleman refers, but I can tell him that the United States and the Secretary-General are agreed on the key issue: that there is a United Nations resolution, that it must be obeyed, and that if there is a breach, action must follow.

Mr. Kennedy: Will the Prime Minister take this opportunity to reaffirm that the perception should be that the United Nations is the sovereign authority in all this business, and that that underpins the international coalition of interest against weapons of mass destruction and terrorism in general? If that perception becomes misguided or misinformed internationally, it is the worse for all of us.

The Prime Minister: It is, of course, important that in all circumstances the integrity of the UN is upheld. I believe that it is being upheld. The resolution was passed unanimously by the Security Council. All those who backed the resolution are sovereign nations. I believe that it is right that we study the dossier provided by Iraq and see what is contained in it. The basic point remains that that declaration has to be honest and transparent, and if it is discovered not to be honest—in other words, if there is a breach of the duty to co-operate—action must follow.

Liz Blackman (Erewash): My right hon. Friend will be aware that 2002 is autism awareness year, and Members from across the House, the National Autistic Society and others have played their part in raising the profile of the disability. One positive thing that has come forward is that it is to be used as an exemplar in the children's national service framework. To date, no information has been given about the resources to be put behind that initiative. Will he press for those resources to be announced so that we can all get an insight into the kind of support that children with autism will have both now and in the future?

The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend has campaigned on this issue long and hard and she will know that earlier this year just over #2.5 million of additional money was allocated for research into autism. Autism affects many children in Britain and it is important that we study both its effects and its causes. I can assure my hon. Friend that we remain committed to doing that and to ensuring that the policies for research and for the health service generally take account of a condition that I know causes great difficulty for parents and carers who look after the autistic.

Q3. [84668] Mr. Michael Jack (Fylde): The Chancellor says that he believes in a fair tax system, so does the

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Prime Minister think it fair that council tax payers in Lancashire should next year have to pay a 13 per cent. increase in council tax, almost six times the rate of inflation, when council tax in the county has gone up by some 47 per cent. since 1997?

The Prime Minister: I simply point out that the Government have put substantial additional sums of money into the local authority settlement. I think that I am right in saying that somewhere in the region of 25 per cent. additional money has gone into local authorities during the past few years. That compares with a cut in funding in the few years before we came to office. Therefore, particularly after my right hon. Friend's announcement earlier this week, we have been very generous to local authorities, and it is obviously important that they use the money properly.

Denzil Davies (Llanelli): When my right hon. Friend attends the European summit at the end of this week, will he gently suggest to the German Chancellor that, in the interests of the European economy, perhaps Germany should consider withdrawing temporarily from the European monetary union, so that it can recover control over its interest rates, exchange rates and public expenditure, and therefore take the necessary measures to try to arrest its serious decline into deflation and economic depression?

The Prime Minister: It has to be said that, from time to time, my diplomatic triumphs at certain European summits are not always exactly as I would wish with one or two other leaders in recent memory, but I do not think that it would be wise or diplomatic for me to suggest to Chancellor Schröder how to run the German economy. I am simply delighted that the British economy is in such good shape.

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