14 Jun 2006 : Column 751

House of Commons

Wednesday 14 June 2006

The House met at half-past Eleven o’clock


[Mr. Speaker in the Chair]

Oral Answers to Questions

International Development

The Secretary of State was asked—


1. Mark Pritchard (The Wrekin) (Con): How much aid the UK has allocated to Russia in 2006-07. [77019]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for International Development (Mr. Gareth Thomas): In the current financial year we have allocated £5 million to bilateral programmes in Russia. Other United Kingdom funds, available through the global conflict prevention pool and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office global opportunities fund, amount to some £3 million.

Mark Pritchard: I thank the Minister for that reply, but is it right that British taxpayers’ money is given to Russia when last year its defence budget rose by more than 28 per cent? Would it not be better to put that money into areas of real conflict and suffering such as Darfur and the Democratic Republic of Congo?

Mr. Thomas: The hon. Gentleman is right to point to the progress that Russia has made. He will remember that as recently as 1999, when Russia was going through a period of financial crisis, substantial numbers—almost 40 per cent. of the population—were living in real poverty. Since that time, the number living in poverty has declined by almost half. The hon. Gentleman’s point about the need to divert resources to the very poorest countries is well made, and that is one of the reasons why we have taken a decision to close our programme next year. We will remain engaged in a small way in Russia, because there continue to be particular development challenges, not least the issues of HIV/AIDS, but we are increasingly directing more of our resources to the very poorest countries.

Ms Sally Keeble (Northampton, North) (Lab): As my hon. Friend knows, Russia has the G8 presidency. I wonder what discussions he has had with Russia about taking forward the commitment, in particular of the United Kingdom, to development in Africa.

14 Jun 2006 : Column 752

Mr. Thomas: We have had a series of discussions with the Russian authorities in the run-up to the St. Petersburg summit. My hon. Friend may know that the Russian authorities have prioritised the issues of energy security, education and infectious diseases for discussion at that summit, and we have been working to ensure that there is a development perspective to all those discussions. There will be a report at the summit on progress since Gleneagles. I understand that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister is expecting to lead a discussion on progress in Africa since then. My hon. Friend may also be interested to know that we have already begun discussions with German colleagues in advance of their presidency next year.

Mark Simmonds (Boston and Skegness) (Con): Russia, alongside other eastern European countries such as Ukraine, has significant and escalating HIV and TB epidemics and the fastest growing coterminous infection rate in the world. The G8 summit in St. Petersburg must address infectious diseases, especially the challenging multi-drug-resistant TB. Considering DFID’s strategy towards middle income countries and the Duma’s decision to restrict the operations of foreign non-governmental organisations, how does DFID intend to halt and reverse the incidence of infectious diseases? Will the Minister confirm that he will be working towards a specific commitment at the G8 to endorse and fund the global plan?

Mr. Thomas: The hon. Gentleman is right to highlight both the rising prevalence of HIV/AIDS in Russia and more generally in central and eastern Europe. The adult prevalence rate is more than 1 per cent. in Russia. Although the epidemic is currently concentrated among high-risk groups, particularly injecting drug users, there are worrying signs that it is spreading into the more general population. We have over the past two years been closely collaborating with UNAIDS. We have a programme of £1 million over this two-year period. We have in recent years seen rising spend and rising recognition, including in speeches by President Putin, by the Russian authorities on this issue.

On the wider point about Gleneagles and specific commitments on HIV/AIDS and TB, we have indicated our support for the global plan. We want it discussed and backed at St. Petersburg and we want the summit also to move on the HIV/AIDS agenda.


2. Mr. Andrew Mackay (Bracknell) (Con): If he will make a statement on the humanitarian situation in Darfur. [77020]

5. Andrew Rosindell (Romford) (Con): What his most recent assessment is of the humanitarian situation in Darfur. [77023]

The Secretary of State for International Development (Hilary Benn): I remain gravely concerned about Darfur and in particular about continued insecurity that threatens the massive humanitarian effort that is needed. The Darfur peace agreement should provide
14 Jun 2006 : Column 753
the basis for a long-term solution to the crisis, and there appears to have been a reduction in the number of clashes between the Government of Sudan and the rebels since it was signed. However, attacks by the Arab militias continue and their disarmament, as required by the DPA, is a matter of urgency. We continue to press the Government to live up to their commitments.

Mr. Mackay: The Secretary of State is right to be deeply concerned about the situation in Darfur, particularly as it appears to be spreading into Chad. How does his work fit comfortably with the previous Foreign Secretary’s comment that we have a responsibility to protect people from both massacres and human rights abuses, because that clearly is not happening at the moment in those two tragic countries?

Hilary Benn: I accept the right hon. Gentleman’s point entirely. The first thing that we are doing is providing humanitarian assistance, because that is a practical way in which we can help people to stay alive. Britain and the international community have played an honourable part in that respect, but as he will know, the only solution is a political solution that brings an end to the fighting. That is why the priorities now are, first, to enable the people of Darfur to understand what is in the Darfur peace agreement—the African Union is taking the lead on that, with some support from us—and, secondly, to encourage Minni Minnawi, who leads the one movement that has signed the agreement, to implement that commitment and fulfil the responsibilities that he has taken on. Thirdly, we shall continue to put pressure on the Government of Sudan to prepare their plan for the disarmament of the Janjaweed. Finally, and in my view most important of all, we shall support the United Nations and the African Union, which are at one in wanting the UN mission to take over from AMIS—the African Union mission in Sudan—as quickly as possible. That is why the arrival last week of the joint AU/UN planning mission was so significant. However, we shall still have some work to do to persuade the Government of Sudan to accept that mission, which I believe is desperately needed.

Andrew Rosindell: Will the Secretary of State clarify whether the Government believe that the role of the UN mission in Darfur would be to monitor peace, or to enforce peace?

Hilary Benn: The hon. Gentleman’s question goes to the heart of the discussions with the Government of Sudan, because they are expressing considerable concern about the prospect of that mission having a chapter 7 mandate. Part of the purpose of the planning mission is to provide an answer to that question, so that the Security Council can take a decision. Based on my experience and the visits that I have paid to Darfur on a number of occasions, I think that the UN mission will have to help both to oversee the ceasefire and to ensure that civilians are protected if people do not honour the obligations that they have entered into. Ultimately, the aim must be to protect people from continuing to be attacked.

There is a responsibility both on the Government of Sudan to disarm the militia and on the movements to
14 Jun 2006 : Column 754
stop fighting, and I regret very much that two of the movements—the faction led by Abdul Wahid and the Justice and Equality Movement—have not yet signed the agreement. I can see no possible justification for having failed to sign the agreement because, in truth, it gives the movements everything that they were looking for.

Mrs. Betty Williams (Conwy) (Lab): What more does my right hon. Friend think can be done by the UN, and what progress can be made in taking the matter to the International Criminal Court?

Hilary Benn: As my hon. Friend knows, last year the UN Security Council agreed to refer the terrible crimes that have been committed in Darfur to the ICC. I pay tribute to the former Foreign Secretary, my right hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw), for the role that he played with others in persuading the Security Council to do that, because it sends a strong message from the international community. That links to the question asked by the right hon. Member for Bracknell (Mr. Mackay), because it shows that we are serious about calling to account the people who have committed those crimes. At the same time, we continue to support the UN in preparing for the mission so that people can be protected and the agreement enforced, because that is the only way in which people will be able to go home.

Mr. John McFall (West Dunbartonshire) (Lab/Co-op): The Secretary of State will be aware of the good work that the Scottish Catholic International Aid Fund is doing in Darfur. Today, we are privileged to have the chairman of SCIAF, His Eminence Cardinal Keith O’Brien, with us in Westminster. Is it not appropriate to recognise in the forthcoming White Paper the role of faith groups, not only in delivering aid but in raising awareness in schools and communities throughout our country?

Hilary Benn: I echo everything that my right hon. Friend has said. I had the opportunity to meet Cardinal O’Brien yesterday to discuss his impressions of his recent visit to Darfur. In the not-too-distant future, DFID will publish a policy statement on working with faith communities. When people in poor countries are asked which institutions they respect, rely on and have greatest confidence in, they say faith organisations—their churches and the institutions of their religions—which are often present in the most difficult circumstances when the instruments of government either do not exist or have fallen apart because of conflict.

Mr. Gregory Campbell (East Londonderry) (DUP): What plans do the Government have to ensure greater international co-operation in efforts to ensure that those who are guilty of the serious criminal activities in Darfur are brought to justice, which will help to achieve greater stability in the province and the surrounding region?

Hilary Benn: First, we support the referring of events in Darfur to the International Criminal Court, and its
14 Jun 2006 : Column 755
investigations continue. Secondly, we strongly supported the establishment of the sanctions committee which, however, did not receive the wholehearted support of every member of the Security Council so, regrettably, it took some time. Sanctions have been imposed on four individuals who were named and investigated. We continue to press for action—I know that the African Union will do the same—if individuals obstruct the implementation of the peace agreement. It is one thing to say that one is not prepared to sign, but it is another to obstruct the implementation of an agreement that others are prepared to sign. We should therefore not be reluctant to take strong action against individuals who impede the only hope that the people of Darfur have of a better life.

Mr. Andrew Mitchell (Sutton Coldfield) (Con): We acknowledge the Secretary of State’s personal commitment to the issue, but does he accept that the Sudanese Government, who sponsored mass murder in Darfur, are now engaged in ethnic cleansing in neighbouring Chad? Given Britain’s pivotal position in the United Nations, what steps or new energy will he use to ensure that a UN force with a clear, unambiguous mandate is deployed without further delay?

Hilary Benn: I accept the fact that the conflict over the border with Chad makes an already difficult and complex conflict even more challenging. The rebel movement in Chad is trying to depose President Déby who, in turn, has accused the Sudanese Government of supporting those efforts. In fairness to the British Government, the UK was one of the first countries to recognise that a UN force was needed, not least because the African Union mission which did a sterling job in difficult circumstances, as the hon. Gentleman knows because he has had a chance to see for himself, simply does not have the number of troops, the capacity or the funding that it needs. That is why we strongly advocated the deployment of a UN force, and why we pressed hard for a planning mission in Khartoum. We are resolute in pressing the Sudanese Government to allow that force to come in, because in my view and, I am sure, in the hon. Gentleman’s, it is desperately needed.

Mr. Mitchell: The Secretary of State rightly praised the African Union, and he knows that its chairman wrote to the Secretary-General of NATO, pleading for specific assistance. What steps has Britain urged its NATO allies to take to meet the African Union request for help with, for example, airlifts, training and logistical support, ahead of the long-awaited UN deployment?

Hilary Benn: NATO, in fact, has met the AU, and it made several offers of assistance, including the co-ordination of airlifts, which has been agreed; staff capacity-building, which has been agreed; support for the joint forward mission headquarters, including a joint operations centre, which is new assistance; and the provision of troop pre-deployment certification training—that, too, is new assistance. The AU asked NATO to support it in a “lessons learned” exercise,
14 Jun 2006 : Column 756
because as well as trying to get it right now, it wants to build capacity to mount such missions in future. I therefore hope that I have reassured the hon. Gentleman that NATO is on the case, as the AU has accepted its offer of assistance.

Susan Kramer (Richmond Park) (LD): The Secretary of State will be aware that only a few weeks ago the UN said that it had to halve food rations to people who depended on food aid in Darfur. Can he give us an assessment of the situation to show that the food aid funding crisis has been turned around? Given the potential for similar conflicts to develop in Chad and eastern Sudan, what measures has the Department for International Development taken to make sure that food and humanitarian aid flow much faster in any similar crisis?

Hilary Benn: On the first point made by the hon. Lady, the World Programme had to halve rations in May because of the funding shortfall. Last week, I met Jim Morris, the head of the World Food Programme, who told me that from the beginning of June the ration has increased to 84 per cent., because additional food has arrived from the USA and because the Sudanese Government has been able to make a contribution. Unfortunately, the cut in the ration coincided with the agreement in Abuja, so some people may have drawn the wrong conclusions. Overall, the UN work plan in Sudan for 2006 is about 40 per cent. funded. The UK, as the hon. Lady will know, is one of the countries that will give slightly more this year, but that is not the case for all the other donors. But the hon. Lady will also be aware that some money has come to Darfur from the new humanitarian fund, which I very much welcome.

We continue to support all the agencies to the fullest extent possible to help them bring help to people where it is needed. As the security situation changes, the humanitarian organisations can access an area one day, but the next day it may be more difficult. That is why peace and disarmament are needed, to enable them to get help to everyone who requires it.


3. Norman Baker (Lewes) (LD): What progress he has made in improving conditions for the peoples of the Atlantic coast in Nicaragua. [77021]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for International Development (Mr. Gareth Thomas): We target approximately 15 per cent. of our £4 million funding to Nicaragua to the Atlantic coast. Through our support, municipal governments on the Atlantic coast are providing community services and improving local infrastructure. Our funding for HIV/AIDS has enabled the Ministry of Health in Nicaragua to provide services so far to 40 per cent. of the Atlantic coast. We are also working to improve local people’s livelihoods on the Atlantic coast.

Norman Baker: I acknowledge the good work that the Department is doing on the Atlantic coast. Does the Minister accept, however, that the Government in
14 Jun 2006 : Column 757
Managua pay little attention to the Atlantic coast, which is a forgotten coast as far as they are concerned? When I met peoples over there on the Atlantic coast, their view was that when the horse leaves Managua laden with aid, it dies halfway across the country. What steps can the Minister take to encourage the Managua Government to look after the Atlantic coast? Is not Bluefields, with a population of 60,000, a way to connect it with the rest of the country?

Mr. Thomas: The hon. Gentleman is right to highlight the disparity in progress on development on the Atlantic coast compared with the rest of the country. On average, gross domestic product per person on the Atlantic coast is less than half of GDP in the rest of Nicaragua. We have sought to use our funding to leverage more Government funding into the Atlantic coast, and similarly to put pressure on the World Bank and the Inter-American Development Bank to leverage more of their funding into the Atlantic coast. Given his interest in Nicaragua, the hon. Gentleman will be particularly pleased to know that for the first time the World Bank, in its next assistance programme for Nicaragua, will have a set of loans specifically for the Atlantic coast work.

David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire) (Lab/Co-op): Nicaragua is the second poorest country in Latin America and the disparities of income are the worst in that region. Can my hon. Friend say a little about DFID programmes to tackle the grinding poverty, especially in rural areas near the Atlantic coast? Are the governance, social and economic inclusion and public sector reform programmes advertised on the DFID website starting to bear fruit?

Mr. Thomas: Our spending is directed at building and maintaining access to roads, helping to improve rubbish collection, and helping to improve access to rural electricity, both on-grid solutions and investment in off-grid solutions such as solar and wind power. As I said in my previous answer, our funding is beginning to leverage more funding from Government and from the big multilateral donors such as the World Bank and the Inter-American Development Bank. Our funding is making a difference to HIV/AIDS on the Atlantic coast. However, it is equally clear that more needs to be done, both by the Nicaraguan Government and by the international community generally. We will stay alive to that.

Mr. Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con): Twenty years ago, I spent a year on a Church mission, working with the Carib people on the Atlantic coast of central America as a voluntary teacher. Do we have any aid programmes that channel aid through the valuable work that Church missions do in that part of the world?

Mr. Thomas: The hon. Gentleman is right to praise the valuable work that such missions and civil society more generally do in Nicaragua and across the developing world. We have extensive programmes of work with civil society groups, particularly in relation
14 Jun 2006 : Column 758
to HIV/AIDS. On the hon. Gentleman’s specific question about work with Church missions, I will look into that and write to him.

Next Section Index Home Page