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Supermarket Produce

4. Dr. John Pugh (Southport) (LD): What discussions he has had with major supermarket chains on the promotion of produce from developing countries. [53961]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for International Development (Mr. Gareth Thomas): My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has had several discussions with Asda, whose headquarters are in his constituency. Next month, he will be meeting with Tesco and Marks and Spencer, as well as Asda and other important supermarket supply chain participants, to
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discuss the opportunities that their procurement practices provide, potentially, for small farmers in developing countries. [Interruption.]

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. Before I call the hon. Gentleman to ask his supplementary question, may I appeal to the House to keep things quieter? I need to hear the questioner, as does the Minister, and we need to hear the answer.

Dr. Pugh: Does the Minister acknowledge that corporate responsibility from the major retailers over their supply chain and marketing can deliver enormous benefits, just as corporate irresponsibility can do the opposite? Does he acknowledge that there is more that retailers and the Government can do?

Mr. Thomas: I accept entirely the hon. Gentleman's point. Together with the International Institute for Environment and Development and the Natural Resources Institute, and as a result of recommendations made by the Commission for Africa, we have launched this initiative to look with the major supermarkets at what more we can do collectively to open up opportunities for small-scale farmers in developing countries to source goods into the UK market.

Helen Jones (Warrington, North) (Lab): Does my hon. Friend agree that, when we are encouraging supermarkets to promote more produce from the developing world, that has to be fairly traded produce? There is also a lot of work that needs to be done with consumers to encourage them to buy such produce and to help them to understand why we need to pay a fair price for those goods.

Mr. Thomas: My hon. Friend is absolutely right to make that point, particularly as Fairtrade fortnight is almost on us. I am sure that Members will have the opportunity up and down the country to contribute to consumer awareness. I pay special tribute to the Co-op Group, one of the leading UK supermarkets, which has led the way in the number of fair trade lines that it has offered. Other supermarkets are following in its wake and seeking to promote more fair trade lines. I welcome that, but, as my hon. Friend said, much more needs to be done.

Robert Key (Salisbury) (Con): While the Minister seeks to develop local markets in niche products, will he be careful that we do not encourage air miles and food miles, which can be hugely destructive of the global economy, and that we do not pursue a laudable aim with the wrong method?

Mr. Thomas: The hon. Gentleman is right to add that cautionary note, which is why we work closely with other Departments that focus on such issues. We can do much more to encourage access to UK markets for small farmers' goods. That is why we are working closely with supermarkets and the Fairtrade Foundation, have pledged additional resources to them and are working with the Ethical Trading Initiative.
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Palestinian Authority

5. Mr. Andrew Dismore (Hendon) (Lab): What plans he has to review UK aid to the Palestinian Authority in the light of the outcome of their elections; and if he will make a statement. [53962]

The Secretary of State for International Development (Hilary Benn): The international community is united in its support for the Quartet statement of 30 January. Hamas needs to give up violence, recognise Israel and sign up to previous obligations on the peace process. Aid to the Palestinian territories will be reviewed against those principles. While the current caretaker Government are in place, the international community is examining closely what steps could help to stabilise their financial situation, as recommended by the Quartet. On Monday, the UK made £5 million available to the World Bank to transfer to Abu Mazen's interim Government. [Interruption.]

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. May I once again appeal for extraneous conversations to cease? International Development questions are as important as any other proceedings of the House today.

Mr. Dismore: Will my right hon. Friend make it an unambiguous precondition of continued UK aid to the Palestinian Authority that the Hamas Administration should recognise Israel, renounce violence and the Hamas-organised terror attacks that have killed 400 people and injured more than 2,400 others, and that Hamas disarms and accepts the terms of international agreements? Will he give the House an assurance that no EU or UK funding will be used to support in any way Hamas's extremist ideology and propaganda?

Hilary Benn: I can certainly give that assurance—no UK aid money will be used to support Hamas or the propaganda to which my hon. Friend refers. The international community is saying clearly that Hamas needs to take the steps set out in the Quartet statement. At the same time, everybody recognises that it is in nobody's interest that services to Palestinians—particularly poor Palestinians, who have suffered so much—should be removed because of the election process. The international community is currently grappling with that.


6. Sir Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield) (Con): If he will make a statement on the humanitarian situation in Zimbabwe. [53963]

The Secretary of State for International Development (Hilary Benn): Zimbabwe is a country in crisis. More than one fifth of all adults are HIV-positive, 3,000 people die of AIDS every week and 1.3 million children have been orphaned. Three million to 5 million Zimbabweans face food shortages in the "hungry" months leading up to the harvest. To make matters worse, in 2005, the Zimbabwean Government destroyed the homes and livelihoods of an estimated 700,000 people in "Operation Clean-Up". DFID will spend £38 million in 2005–06 to tackle shortage of food, help to deal with HIV/AIDS and provide support for orphans and vulnerable children.
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Sir Nicholas Winterton: I am grateful to the Secretary of State for that full and factual answer. Does he go along with the United Nations, which believes that Zimbabwe is in meltdown? Not only are 700,000 people now dispossessed, but unemployment is at 80 per cent., and 70 per cent. of the population exist on one meal or less a day. What can this Government do to bring about change? How effective is the African peer review mechanism in getting Robert Mugabe to improve his human rights?

Hilary Benn: I share the hon. Gentleman's assessment of the current crisis in Zimbabwe. It has the fastest-collapsing economy in the world and is a testament to monumentally bad governance. We have discussed that at some length at Question Time today.

We have had the European Union sanctions, and the United Kingdom is very clear in its assessment of the position and the pressure that we exert. It would be helpful if others in the international community, including those in the rest of Africa, were equally straight and honest about the cause of the problems in Zimbabwe. That would bring closer the day when the change that is needed will happen, so that the Zimbabwean people's nightmare can come to an end.


7. Mrs. Joan Humble (Blackpool, North and Fleetwood) (Lab): What assessment he has made of the effect of the Palestinian elections on international aid flows to Palestine. [53964]

The Secretary of State for International Development (Hilary Benn): I refer my hon. Friend to the answer I gave my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon (Mr. Dismore) a moment ago.

Mrs. Humble: Further to my right hon. Friend's reply to my hon. Friend, may I ask whether, if he does not receive assurances from Hamas about its involvement in terrorism, he will consider providing that essential aid for the poor people of Palestine through non-governmental organisations that will then be properly monitored?

Hilary Benn: That is one of the things that the international community will need to consider. Ultimately, it is a question of striking the balance between being absolutely clear about the principles that the Quartet has set out and which we expect Hamas to accept, and ensuring that poor Palestinians do not suffer even more. However, it will not be possible to say precisely what the alternative ways of giving support might be until it is clear what a Hamas-led Government will decide to do.

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