Previous Section Index Home Page

5 July 2006 : Column 302WH—continued

In the time left, I shall deal specifically with food in schools. The debate was called to draw attention to the importance of school food in tackling childhood obesity. It is vital that children get the right messages
5 July 2006 : Column 303WH
about food and its importance to their health. Of course, for most children, most of their eating is done with their families, and I have outlined what we are doing to encourage healthy eating and healthy lifestyles in families. However, children’s experience of food at school is important in helping them to develop a healthy diet and a healthy attitude to food that I would want them to maintain into their adult lives.

In partnership with schools, local authorities and parents, we are engaged in an ambitious three-year programme to effect nothing less than a transformation of school food. We are under no illusions about the scale of the task—we are trying to undo decades of neglect—but we are showing a level of commitment that has not been seen before. The announcement of new nutritional standards for school food is a major step in that programme. Those new minimum standards will be the bedrock of the drive towards better food in schools.

We are keen to make real changes quickly, which is why the regulations governing food-based standards for school lunches will be introduced from September 2006. That answers the question asked by the hon. Member for Leeds, North-West (Greg Mulholland). It means that, from September, new food-based standards will ban economy burgers from the school lunch table; deep-fried products such as chips will be limited to twice a week; and chocolate, crisps and sweetened fizzy drinks will no longer be available as part of school lunches, including from vending machines, which the hon. Gentleman mentioned.

Even more stringent nutrition-based standards, stipulating the nutrients required for school lunches, will be in place for primary schools by no later than 2008 and for secondary schools by no later than 2009. To answer the question from my hon. Friend the Member for North Swindon (Mr. Wills), I point out that tied into the funding for 2008 will be additional funding for those that ensure that those nutritional meals are hot rather than cold meals. All that will tie in with the healthy schools programme, which requires schools to adopt a whole school food policy that has been developed through wide consultation, and implemented, monitored and evaluated for impact.

How will we implement the change programme? A lot has been said about finance and how we intend to finance that. Some £15 million is available until March 2008 for the School Food Trust to give independent support and advice to local authorities, schools and parents to improve the standard of school food. The trust will work with schools that want to provide healthier food in vending machines and tuck shops, and will work with industry players to identify effective ways of making changes to school food provision and educating pupils about making healthier choices. New qualifications and training are being developed for school caterers to help school cooks to understand what makes a healthier meal, and, importantly, how to market them to encourage young people to eat them.

School food is now being considered as part of the regular Ofsted inspection process, with inspectors
5 July 2006 : Column 304WH
considering schools’ overall approaches to healthy eating. The Government have not subsidised the cost of school meals in England since 1967, when financial responsibility for the provision of school meals passed to local authorities. The cost of school meals is met through a combination of local authorities, parents, carers and, sometimes, schools. It is up to local authorities and schools to make decisions about how that money should be spent and the right balance of expenditure between the authority, schools and parents. However, my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, North makes a strong case about what has happened in Hull and the local benefits of that.

Healthier, better quality food may mean increased costs, but many local authorities and schools are investing more money in school food provision. In Sunderland, for example, there has been an increased spend per pupil in primary and secondary schools of 10p and healthier menus have been created. Greenwich has just announced an increase in resources of over £600,000 in 2006-07 for school meals, and in Devon, there has been a £2.1 million cash boost to provide healthier and improved school meals. The issue may not always be about spending more; it may be about spending the money better. Perhaps efficiency savings could be made through better procurement arrangements and the more effective use of existing resources.

Research shows that children spend over £549 million a year—on average, £1.75 per pupil per day—on junk food on the way to and from school. If children could be persuaded to eat more healthily, there could also be a saving to the parent's purse. There is a clear need for such a transformation to be driven at a local level, taking into account the wide range of circumstances in different parts of the country. That is why we are providing £220 million of additional money to help authorities and schools to improve their food.

Last September, local authorities each received a share of a £30 million targeted school meals grant. They will receive a further share of £50 million in 2006-07 and another £50 million the next year. Consequent spending arrangements will be determined after the comprehensive review, so I cannot give an answer on that now. Schools are also getting other funds. In October 2005, schools received a share of £30 million to fund local improvements such as increased training and working hours for school cooks. A further £30 million will be shared out to schools in 2006-07 and another £30 million in 2007-08. I hope that that demonstrates that the Government are serious about putting extra money in.

We have had an interesting debate on a vital subject. The World Health Organisation has called obesity a global epidemic and, in 2002, the chief medical officer called obesity a health time bomb. The Government are committed to defusing that obesity time bomb. We are under no illusion. That will be difficult, but I assure hon. Members on both sides of the House that we are determined to do that by providing the resources to do it and by working with local authorities to provide the best possible offer for local school children.

5 July 2006 : Column 305WH

Nigeria (Aid)

4.15 pm

John Robertson (Glasgow, North-West) (Lab): It is a pleasure not only to have you in the Chair, Mr. Marshall, but to have a fellow Glaswegian in the Chair.

I am delighted to have the opportunity to speak about Nigeria and, more specifically, about aid. Nigeria deserves greater attention from the international community, especially the UK, and is of critical importance to the stability of west Africa and the African continent as a whole. It is the world’s eighth largest exporter of oil, and the UK is Nigeria’s biggest investor. After South Africa, Nigeria is the UK’s second largest market in sub-Saharan Africa, with exports to it valued at more than £775 million in 2004.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Development was right when he said that

I am the chairman of the relatively new all-party group on Nigeria, which is dedicated to improving understanding of Nigeria in the UK, and of the UK in Nigeria, and to assisting in any way that it can with enabling human development and improving human security in Nigeria. The group has met many people to talk about issues related to Nigeria, including business people, representatives of non-governmental organisations and the Independent National Electoral Commission of Nigeria. Each of those parties wishes to work with Nigeria and see sustainable development there, but they all know that the country faces a great many challenges—both real and reputational.

In terms of Government revenues, Nigeria is one of Africa’s richest nations, but it is one of its poorest in terms of the number of people whose basic needs are not met. Around 75 million people there live in absolute poverty, and one in five children dies before the age of five. According to UNICEF, 60 per cent. of the population do not have access to clean water, and the United Nations Development Programme reports that approximately 90 per cent. live on less than $2 a day.

I, and many of my colleagues, have been to Nigeria and witnessed the destitution. It was a shock that a nation with such apparent wealth and such potential could be in such a situation. Despite those disturbing statistics, Nigeria receives considerably less aid than other sub-Saharan African countries.

Jim Sheridan (Paisley and Renfrewshire, North) (Lab): My hon. Friend talks about the recent visit that a number of us made to the southern point of Nigeria, the Niger delta, where we saw at first hand the poverty. We also saw at first hand the corruption, although elements in the Government are trying to clear it up. The most profound statement that I have heard on this issue—I do not know whether my hon. Friend agrees—was to do with the Make Poverty History campaign, when people said that if we make corruption history, it will be far easier to make poverty history.

5 July 2006 : Column 306WH

John Robertson: My hon. Friend makes a good point, to which I shall refer later in my speech, although I shall not use his excellent words.

While Nigeria receives less aid—about $2 per capita per year—the good news is that it seems as though its needs are being recognised. Aid has increased from £35 million in 2003-04 to £70 million in 2005-06. I welcome the increase in aid, which recognises the importance of Nigeria and the G8 promises. I welcome the engagement of the Department for International Development in Nigeria, and I am very pleased that it has opened an office in Kano, a hitherto sadly neglected region in the north of Nigeria, which I hope to visit later this year.

My purpose in speaking here today is to ask my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State about the steps that are being taken to ensure that development projects in Nigeria are sustainable and will be maintained. What is DFID doing about corruption? How does it hope to prevent its projects from becoming part of a system of entrenched corruption? I hope to learn from him how the Department will maintain pressure for the improvement of human rights issues while pursuing its development agenda.

Linked to that, will the Secretary of State say how DFID is preparing for Nigeria’s 2007 elections? Does it know how it will react should the election period be marred by corruption and the threat or use of violence? I very much hope that it will not be. I look forward to hearing his answers on those issues and his ideas on how aid management in Nigeria can be improved to help meet the systemic challenges that face all those working in its development. If we on the all-party group on Nigeria can assist in any way, we would be more than happy to do so.

Nigeria’s economy is dominated by oil. Income from the oil industry accounts for more than three quarters of the Nigerian Government’s revenues. Well over 90 per cent. of its export earnings comes from oil. The neglect of other sectors of the economy that that has caused has led to the extreme impoverishment of so many, and to the political tensions and communal conflict that arise when the wealth of one geographically specific resource is controlled by and concentrated among a few.

I understand that DFID has a joint-country partnership strategy with the World Bank through which it supports the Nigerian Government’s national economy empowerment and development strategy—NEEDS—focusing specifically on promoting non-oil, improving transparency and accountability, and creating conditions to enable human development. I welcome the support of the Nigeria Government’s NEEDS programme. Economic diversification is the key to Nigerian sustainable development.

Will the Secretary of State elaborate on the specific projects that DFID is running in Nigeria to promote non-oil growth? Our main concern is that such projects be sustainable and that sooner rather than later local project workers will be able to take over the management of the projects and will be fully able to rely on domestic resources and expertise. Related to that, will he discuss the extent to which DFID develops projects in consultation with local groups and those at
5 July 2006 : Column 307WH
whom projects are targeted? Are the projects formulated mostly in consultation with the Nigerian Government?

I ask for that detail about DFID’s projects because I have seen myself how an apparently well planned and well implemented project can simply go to waste once support stops. On my previous visit to Nigeria, I saw a project run by a local non-governmental organisation. It was a chicken farm, which was very well organised and seemingly thriving. However, when I asked the villagers what they would do and how they would sustain the farm once the money ran out, they had no answers. That was because they had no business plan.

Another example of unsustainable intervention by an NGO is of a project to boost the income of rural communities engaged in harvesting Allanblackia plants, the oil of which can be used as a substitute for palm oil. The market value for the plant is low, as it grows wild. The NGO involved is injecting cash to increase the market price, but that is clearly unsustainable. How does DFID ensure that its own projects are sustainable?

There is certainly vast potential in Nigeria for non-oil growth. Its agricultural sector needs attention; it needs redevelopment. Nigeria was once a major importer of cocoa, groundnuts, rubber and palm oil. Once the biggest poultry producer in Africa, its corporate poultry output has been slashed from 40 million birds annually to about 18 million annually. The Nigerian Government are putting resources into encouraging the local manufacture of finished and semi-finished goods. How is DFID directly supporting the agricultural and manufacturing sectors in Nigeria?

I recently had an instructive meeting with a representative from the Unilever corporation. It is engaged in what it calls a “localisation” programme. It seeks to encourage agricultural development that will additionally provide raw materials that may be used in local manufacturing of Unilever products. It was pointed out to me at the meeting that challenges faced by local manufacturers include the high cost of production and distribution; customs administration and port-related issues; the security of life and property; and the weak legal framework.

That brings me to the next issue on which I seek answers. For me, it is the core issue that prevents Nigeria from becoming the economic power that it deserves to be and one that keeps millions of people trapped in a cycle of poverty, and that will, if not effectively dealt with, render any and all aid to Nigeria unsustainable. The issue is, of course, corruption. The late Professor Peter Bauer described foreign aid as the process by which the

Looking at Nigeria’s history and how the gap between the wealthy and the impoverished has evolved, that could almost be said to be true.

The Nigerian Government deserve praise for their efforts in tackling corruption, which I know that the Secretary of State recognises. The economic management team, until recently headed by the former Minister of Finance and the Economy, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, supported President Obasanjo in pushing through difficult reforms and was instrumental in getting Nigeria signed on to the extractive industries transparency initiative.
5 July 2006 : Column 308WH
Nuhu Ribadu, chair of Nigeria’s Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, faces an uphill struggle in trying to clamp down on corruption at the highest levels. His job is one of trying to challenge what is a fact of life in Nigeria. Tough as the challenge is, work is being done in Nigeria to try to curtail corruption, but like so many things, corruption knows no borders.

Anne Moffat (East Lothian) (Lab): I thank my hon. Friend for giving way and for securing this debate. I am sure he agrees that the visit that we made to Nigeria was so very distressing, because some of the things that go on in that country beggar belief. The corruption is so palpable. Is it not the case that children cannot drink clean water and yet a governor can commission his own private jet to go to and from meetings or wherever he so desires? The problem is that the people do not understand that the Government are to blame; the people blame Shell and some of the other oil companies for all that is happening. We need to educate the people about who they should level the blame at for corruption. This is about bringing democracy to the land, as well as stability.

John Robertson: I thank my hon. Friend. She was moved on a number of occasions when we were in Nigeria, particularly when we were dealing with young children and their plight. I am not sure how to put this, but she has great faith that our Government can do something to help.

I believe that the UK has a part in corruption and the struggle against it. Clearly, effective aid delivery and development are of the utmost importance in a country in which unemployment and endemic corruption make it seem as though nothing else is happening. Poverty is the No. 1 blight on Nigerian society, along with corruption. It takes little imagination to believe that capitalist enterprise means big hustle, where gains are ill-gotten, and where the little guy gets ahead only by imitating the big guys. That seems to be the rule that governs what happens in Nigeria.

That aid is sustainable is all the more important. If projects cannot continue without ongoing external assistance, they are vulnerable to continuation through corruption. So I ask the Secretary of State, how is DFID supporting the struggle against corruption both within Nigeria and for Nigeria from within the UK? The fact that there is capital flight from Nigeria to the UK aids people who bring money into the country in suitcases. Such people are basically stealing money from the mouths of the poor. The few who are guilty of obtaining massive wealth through corruption can come to the United Kingdom to spend that money. I therefore urge that more action is taken against corruption in the UK with tighter legislation and a greater willingness to prosecute.

The issue is as much DFID’s concern as any other Department’s. Money that remains in Nigeria can be invested and used for development. Does DFID maintain contact with those agencies that deal with financial crime? How does it intend to ensure that its projects do not fall into the trap of corruption when it is no longer managing them directly? Does it have a monitoring mechanism to check on the progress of projects when it stops playing a central role? What practical steps will be taken by the anti-corruption commission to address the problem in Nigeria?

5 July 2006 : Column 309WH

My final question relates to Nigeria’s coming elections and human rights. The commitments made last year by the G8 to provide increased assistance to Africa were based on a pledge from Africa’s leaders of good governance and transparency, and the Nigerian Government have taken action to justify the support that they are receiving. The period leading up to and following elections is turbulent for any country, and while I hope for peaceful and successful elections in Nigeria I am worried about the potential for irregular elections. Given the level of tension, the proliferation of small arms in the country is a major concern. Will my right hon. Friend explain how DFID Nigeria is preparing for the 2007 elections and how it intends to react should they be irregular or should there be a deterioration in the security situation?

On a related matter, I am concerned about reports from Nigerians on human rights abuse. Thousands have died in communal conflict and law enforcement agencies are known to be involved in abuse. I do not believe that my right hon. Friend is afraid to take an assertive approach to human rights issues and democratisation. I understand that DFID’s objective is poverty alleviation, but that cannot be sustained without human rights. How does DFID maintain pressure for improving the human rights record in Nigeria and what action can DFID Nigeria take on human rights?

I look forward to my right hon. Friend’s response and hope that by working together with not just the all-party group on Nigeria but the rest of Parliament, this country can do something to help Nigeria.

Next Section Index Home Page