Previous Section Index Home Page

11 Dec 2006 : Column 745W—continued

Cluster Munitions

John Bercow: To ask the Secretary of State for International Development what assessment he has made of the impact of the use of cluster munitions on developing countries once direct conflict has ceased. [105336]

Hilary Benn: Once direct conflict has ended, cluster munitions, if they have been used in large numbers, are likely to affect humanitarian relief and reconstruction efforts. Certain types of cluster munitions have unacceptably high failure rates, which vary in relation to the prevailing conditions in which they are used. If they are used in large numbers, unexploded bomblets can be left scattered densely and indiscriminately over a wide area. When these are set off, the explosion can kill anyone within 50m. They represent a threat to aid workers, peace-keepers, medical services, internally displaced persons and anyone else entering an area immediately after the cessation of hostilities. The design of cluster munitions means that often children
11 Dec 2006 : Column 746W
are attracted to them. The threat to returning civilians is exacerbated when cluster munitions are used over soft terrain such as recently ploughed farmland. Unexploded bomblets can lie buried just beneath the surface making it dangerous for farmers to cultivate their land.

Casualty figures are hard to verify but reports indicate that unexploded cluster munitions killed thousands of civilians in Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam. The UN reports around 1 million unexploded cluster bomblets in Southern Lebanon. So far,23 civilian deaths and 145 injuries have resulted from unexploded ordnance, mainly cluster munitions. It will take an estimated 12-15 months to clear this area of unexploded ordnance.

Under the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW) unexploded cluster munitions are classified as Explosive Remnants of War (ERW). The UK played an active role in the adoption of CCW Protocol V on ERW, which will provide increased protection for civilians from the post-conflict effects of ERW, including cluster munitions. We are taking steps to ratify Protocol V as soon as possible. UK military doctrine, operations and our use of cluster munitions are already in accordance with Protocol V.

Conflict Prevention

John Bercow: To ask the Secretary of State for International Development what assessment he has made of the need for a stronger institutional framework at the UN to ensure that early warnings of conflict are followed by effective conflict prevention measures. [105318]

Mr. Thomas: The 2004 “UN High-level Panel Report on Threats, Challenges and Change” and the 2005 “World Summit Outcome Document” clearly highlighted the need for more systematic UN early action in response to UN early warning systems. DFID’s recent White Paper “Making Governance Work for the Poor” sets out the UK’s commitment to improving the UN’s effectiveness in acting on early warnings and tackling the underlying causes of conflict.

Through the Global Conflict Prevention Pool, we are supporting a number of UN initiatives in this area. We provide funding to the UN Interdepartmental Framework for Co-ordination on Early Warning and Preventive Action, which draws together 23 UN bodies to jointly analyse threats to peace and adjust UN programmes to tackle them. We are also planning to support the special adviser to the Secretary-General on the Prevention of Genocide, who is mandated to draw to the attention of the Secretary-General and the Security Council potential conflict situations that present a risk to international peace and security.

DFID is also working with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to ensure that the new UN Peacebuilding Commission and the UN Peacebuilding Fund—to which we have committed £30 million over three years—help prevent countries falling back into conflict by addressing the underlying causes of conflict.

11 Dec 2006 : Column 747W

Debt Cancellation

John Bercow: To ask the Secretary of State for International Development what assessment he has made of the impact of conditionality upon the effectiveness of debt cancellation. [105321]

Hilary Benn: The very high levels of debt owed by some of the poorest countries has raised widespread concern. It has prevented countries from investing in basic services and building the infrastructure neededto reach the millennium development goals. It has constrained economic growth, and undermines the compact between a government and its people, with large shares of the government's resources being needed to service its debt. Tackling this problem has been a top priority for the Government.

The right conditionality is essential to ensure thatwe can have confidence that debt relief will benefit poor people. In my view, the approach taken underthe Heavily Indebted Poor Countries Initiative is appropriate. It specifies that there should be a track record on macroeconomic management and an established commitment to reduce poverty. Macroeconomic management is important for ensuring that government resources are used effectively, and provides the basis for sustainable economic growth.

The commitment to poverty reduction has been specified in terms of a government developing and implementing a national poverty reduction strategy, and through the implementation of a number of agreed actions. These actions include measures to improve public financial management, and they may include actions on education, health, or economic growth. In my view, the choice of conditions has not always been wholly appropriate. In some cases, the number of conditions has been too high, making it hard for countries to complete the process. In others, there were conditions for which there was too little government ownership and commitment. The UK has argued for the World Bank and the IMF to take a flexible approach in assessing whether countries should qualify for the irrevocable debt relief that is granted at the end of the process, and several countries have already benefited from this.

Given the demands of the HIPC Initiative, the Government took the view that no additional conditionally should be attached to the Multilateral Debt Relief Initiative. We were successful in achieving this.

Both the HIPC Initiative and MDRI provide irrevocable debt cancellation. This is important to ensure that debt burden is removed and so that governments have a predictable stream of resources that they can invest. Of course, there are no guarantees that countries will remain committed to reducing poverty, but a balance needs to be struck between having confidence that debt cancellation will benefit the poor and not setting the standards unreasonably high. Debt relief remains a small proportion of overall aid provided by donors, and donors can change the form of other aid if there are setbacks, for example withdrawing budget support and providing other assistance.

11 Dec 2006 : Column 748W

At HIPC Decision Point, countries receive flow relief on their debt payments. This can be removed where there is evidence that a country is not committed to poverty reduction. A track record is therefore built up before qualifying for irrevocable debt relief at Completion Point.

Recent reports from the World Bank and IMFhave shown that countries that have qualified for debt relief have increased their spending on poverty from US$ 6 billion in 2000 to nearly US$ 15 billion in 2005. This is projected to increase further following the implementation of Multilateral Debt Relief Initiative in 2006, which is freeing up an additional US$ 38 billion. I have seen for myself the impact of some of this relief, such as schools in Ghana. Zambia is using savings (US$ 2.8 million) in 2006 to increase spending on agricultural projects on smallholder irrigation and livestock disease control, as well as eliminate user fees for healthcare in rural areas.

Analysis also shows that the performance of HIPCs has improved, as measured by the World Bank's Country Policy and Institutional Assessment. This looks at 16 different aspects of policy, within the categories of economic management, structural and social/poverty policies, and public sector management. And economic growth rates in sub-Saharan Africa are increasing. This cannot be attributed only to the HIPC process; however the top performers in 2005 amongst non-oil producing countries are HIPCs that have already benefited from debt relief.

Departmental Energy Policy

Mr. Jenkins: To ask the Secretary of State for International Development whether he plans to make his Department carbon neutral. [105752]

Hilary Benn: DFID is committed to the new sustainable operations targets as announced recently by DEFRA, which include a commitment to achieve a carbon neutral central Government office estate by 2012 and to reduce carbon emissions from offices by30 per cent. by 2020.

In the interim, we are investigating a number of means by which our carbon emissions might be reduced, such as by the installation of alternative energy sources including wind, solar, biomass and tri-generation systems. We are also looking at measures to improve our energy efficiency more generally.In addition, DFID will be contributing to the Government carbon offsetting fund, which will offset emissions from air travel.

Developing Countries: HIV Infection

John Barrett: To ask the Secretary of State for International Development what steps the Government is taking to meet the 2010 target of universal access to HIV prevention treatment and care for children; and how much the Government has provided for children affected by HIV and AIDS in developing countries in each of the last 10 years. [104618]

Mr. Thomas: In June the UN General Assembly extended the G8's commitment, agreeing the goalof universal access to comprehensive prevention
11 Dec 2006 : Column 749W
programmes, treatment, care and support by 2010. Countries pledged to set, in 2006, credible, costed national plans, including targets for 2008 and 2010.

These plans need to be reviewed so that the international community, with partner governments, can fund and implement effective national plans for universal access. These plans should integrate children affected by AIDS into specific AIDS services as well as broader health, education and social protection provision.

Over three years (from 2005-06 to 2007-08) the UK government will spend at least £150 million on programmes to meet the needs of orphans and other children, particularly those in Africa, made vulnerable by HIV and AIDS.

The tracking of expenditure on orphans and vulnerable children began in March 2005 therefore expenditure figures before this period are not available. DFID is currently reviewing the methodology used to calculate expenditure and figures will be announced in due course.

Displaced People: Vakarai

Mr. Clifton-Brown: To ask the Secretary of State for International Development what steps his Department is taking to ensure that food, fuel and medical supplies organised by the United Nations reaches displaced Sri Lankans in the Vakarai area. [104805]

Mr. Thomas: The UK is in regular contact with the Sri Lankan Government, the International Committee of the Red Cross and UN agencies about the humanitarian situation in Sri Lanka.

The UK Government have expressed serious concerns over the humanitarian situation in Vakarai and other conflict affected areas of the country and the need for all parties to the conflict to ensure regular and sustained access for humanitarian deliveries. We fully support the statement by the co-chairs of the peace process (EU, Japan, Norway, US) that there should be an immediate, permanent and unconditional opening of routes for humanitarian convoys of essential supplies.

We welcome the announcement that a convoy of food stuffs and other supplies had reached the Vakarai area on 29 November. However not all the vehicles in the original convoy were allowed to enter the area and this convoy was the first for several weeks. Much more needs to be done.

Equator Principles

Mark Simmonds: To ask the Secretary of State for International Development what assessment he has made of the effectiveness of the Equator Principles in the developing world; and if he will make a statement. [104962]

Mr. Thomas: DFID has not undertaken a specific assessment of the effectiveness of the Equator Principles in the developing world.

However, during 2004-05 the Department was actively engaged in influencing the formulation ofthe International Finance Corporation's (IFC) new sustainability policy, environmental and social
11 Dec 2006 : Column 750W
performance standards and guidance notes. These policies and standards serve as the key reference for the Equator Principles. DFID ensured that representatives of the Equator Banks (the banks who had signed up to the Equator Principles) were involved in the public consultations that DFID carried out during this process.

A set of revised Equator Principles were publishedin June 2006. These broaden the application of the Equator Principles and help to strengthen the environmental and social standards they require. The revised Principles include a new commitment to reporting, thus addressing—to a certain extent—an earlier criticism that it was difficult to evaluate their effectiveness.

EU Economic Partnership Agreements

Mr. Waterson: To ask the Secretary of State for International Development which developing countries are part of EU Economic Partnership Agreements of which the UK is a signatory. [105203]

Mr. Thomas: The Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs), are being negotiated between the EU and the African Caribbean and Pacific, (ACP) group of countries. There are 79 ACP countries. They have divided themselves into six regional groups in order to negotiate EPAs. These six groups are shown as follows. Two countries that are part of the ACP but are not negotiating an EPA are Somalia and Timor-Leste.

West Africa

Central Africa

East and South Africa ESA

11 Dec 2006 : Column 751W

Southern Africa


Next Section Index Home Page