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Sub-Saharan Africa

4. Mrs. Linda Riordan (Halifax) (Lab/Co-op): What progress has been made towards millennium development goals in sub-Saharan Africa. [110692]

The Secretary of State for International Development (Hilary Benn): The latest United Nations assessment, published in June 2006, shows that progress towards each of the millennium development goals in sub-Saharan Africa as a whole is either slightly or seriously off track. However, many countries in the region will achieve some of the goals by 2015, or make substantial progress towards them.

Mrs. Riordan: I thank the Secretary of State for his reply, but I am particularly keen to learn what progress has been made in the supply of clean water to the many people in sub-Saharan Africa who lack safe drinking water.

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Hilary Benn: The short answer is “not enough”. That is one of the reasons why the Government are committed to doubling, and then doubling again, our investment in clean water and sanitation by 2010-11, but we need three things to happen in the world. First, we need more investment in clean water and sanitation. Secondly, we need to ensure that the money invested is used effectively to ensure supplies for the people who need them. Thirdly, we need the right structures in the world to help to make that happen. Currently we do not have the right structures, and I should like to see some changes.

Mr. Jeremy Hunt (South-West Surrey) (Con): I know that the Secretary of State is aware of the close connection between the millennium development goals and progress in the battle against HIV/AIDS. He will also be aware of the recent growth in the XDR strain of tuberculosis in South Africa. Is his Department making every effort to ensure that we are as successful in supporting the distribution of drugs to tackle TB as we are in supporting the distribution of antiretroviral drugs to tackle HIV/AIDS?

Hilary Benn: The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to draw attention to the close relationship between AIDS and TB and to the fact that people with AIDS are more susceptible to TB. One of the most practical things that we are doing to support the point that he has made is to contribute to the global fund which was set up to fight those three great diseases: AIDS, TB and malaria. As he will be aware, we are a very significant contributor. We have pledged to put £359 million into the global fund between when it started and 2008.

Ms Sally Keeble (Northampton, North) (Lab): I welcome the work of my right hon. Friend and his Department on improving the MDGs on infant and maternal mortality, which are most off-track in sub-Saharan Africa. Does he agree with the World Health Organisation, which is organising a conference here in March, that much greater political commitment is needed from the African Governments in sub-Saharan Africa if we are to stop the needless deaths of 600,000 women a year in child birth?

Hilary Benn: I agree with my hon. Friend, who I know takes a close interest in those matters. The fundamental problem is a lack of capacity and, in particular, not enough doctors, nurses, clinics and hospitals. We have therefore increased the aid programme to Africa, and put our efforts into debt cancellation. As she will be aware, the debt deal done at Gleneagles has enabled Zambia to introduce free health care in rural areas for the first time. That should enable more people, including pregnant mothers, to get access to the health support that they need.

Mr. Andrew Mitchell (Sutton Coldfield) (Con): The Secretary of State is clearly right to be concerned that, while we will probably meet the millennium development goals in Asia, we are way off course in Africa. Does he accept that we need to focus more on outputs and outcomes? Will he look seriously at the proposal that we have made for the establishment of an independent aid watchdog in Britain, like the ones established by the World Bank, the International
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Monetary Fund and in Denmark, to monitor the quality and effectiveness of aid to ensure continued public and taxpayer confidence in the British aid programme?

Hilary Benn: I am currently considering proposals that would address that very issue, which we have been concerned about for some time. It is true to say that, as the aid budget rises, the public will increasingly want to be assured that every penny that we are putting into that budget is spent effectively. In every waking moment of this job, I am concerned above all about the difference that our effort makes. It is not about inputs so much; it is about the difference that we make to people’s lives.

Mr. Speaker: I call Bob Blizzard.

Mr. Bob Blizzard (Waveney) (Lab) rose—[Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker: Order. Allow the hon. Gentleman to address the House.

Mr. Blizzard: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. One of the millennium development goals is access to clean drinking water. Will my right hon. Friend join me in congratulating my constituent, Mr. Brian Kite, on his Chembe water project, which has brought clean drinking water to more than 2,000 people in that village in Malawi? We know that 1 billion people do not have that access. That project provided it for just £2.50 per head. As it costs so little, could we do more and encourage other countries to do more to pursue that millennium development goal?

Hilary Benn: I am happy to congratulate my hon. Friend's constituent on the practical contribution that he is making to one of the most fundamental tasks that we have, which is to ensure that people have enough clean water to drink. It shows that everyone can make a contribution. The Government are playing their part with the increased investment to which I referred earlier.

International Corruption

5. Martin Horwood (Cheltenham) (LD): If he will make a statement on his role as ministerial champion for addressing international corruption. [110693]

7. Mr. Alistair Carmichael (Orkney and Shetland) (LD): If he will make a statement on his role as ministerial champion for addressing international corruption. [110695]

The Secretary of State for International Development (Hilary Benn): Ministers approved the UK anti-corruption action plan in July 2006. The plan aims to improve the UK's capacity to investigate foreign bribery, stop money laundering and recover stolen assets, promote responsible business conduct in developing countries, and support international efforts to fight corruption. I shall report on progress to the Prime Minister in February.

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Martin Horwood: The anti-corruption action plan that the Secretary of State has just referred to included a promise to investigate and to prosecute bribery cases. Was he consulted on the decision to drop the Serious Fraud Office investigation into BAE’s arms deal with Saudi Arabia? If so, did he advise fellow Ministers that that decision would probably put us in breach of article 5 of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development convention on bribery?

Hilary Benn: I was not consulted, and I would not expect to be consulted, because that decision was properly taken by the director of the Serious Fraud Office after discussions with the Attorney-General. The hon. Gentleman should not read into that decision—which was taken for reasons that have been clearly set out—that the Government are not determined to fight international corruption. The steps that we have taken—in particular to increase the capacity of the Metropolitan police and the City of London police to investigate foreign bribery and money laundering, the implementation of the third money laundering directive, and the success that we have had in returning money that was stolen from Nigeria—demonstrate how determined we are to make a difference.

Mr. Carmichael: If the Secretary of State is not consulted on such an issue, what on earth is the point in having a ministerial champion to address international corruption?

Hilary Benn: It would be improper for me to be consulted because that is an operational decision, and, quite properly, that responsibility rests with the director of the SFO and the Attorney-General. Indeed, if I had been consulted on an operational decision, the hon. Gentleman might have been the first person to complain about it. My responsibility, which I take seriously, is to make sure that, together with colleagues in the Cabinet, we put the right legislation in place and, above all, that we do practical things, including increasing the capacity of the police to investigate. I am sure that it will not be long before we see the benefits of that.

Prime Minister

The Prime Minister was asked—


Q1. [110674] John Robertson (Glasgow, North-West) (Lab): If he will list his official engagements for Wednesday 24 January.

The Prime Minister (Mr. Tony Blair): Before listing my engagements, I am sure that the whole House will wish to join me in sending our condolences to the family and friends of Private Michael Tench of A Company, 2nd Battalion the Light Infantry, who was killed in Iraq at the weekend. He was only a very young man, but his country should be very proud of him and of the work that he and his colleagues have been doing in Iraq in the service of our country.

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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.

John Robertson: May I associate myself with the Prime Minister’s comments and send my own condolences to the family and friends of the soldier mentioned?

Will the Prime Minister join me in congratulating O2 on the work that it is doing in the United Kingdom by bringing a state of the art call centre to Glasgow, creating more than 1,500 jobs in that city? Does he also agree that it is important that companies such as O2—not only British companies, but foreign companies—invest in this country to ensure that growth in the economy continues, and that separation would stop that happening?

The Prime Minister: I congratulate O2 on the investment that it is making in Scotland; I welcome that investment very much. That should be set against the background of some 200,000 extra jobs in the Scottish economy, the unemployment claimant count the lowest for 30 years and a very strong Scottish economy. Separation would, of course, put all that at risk by undermining the stability of the economy. I believe that the Union is good for Scotland, but also that it is good for England; it is good for the whole of the United Kingdom. We have such a strong economy because the UK works well together.

Mr. David Cameron (Witney) (Con): I join the Prime Minister in paying tribute to Private Michael Tench, aged only 18, who was killed in southern Iraq on Sunday. He died serving his country, and we should be proud of him.

The latest crisis in the Home Office is that the Home Secretary is writing to courts up and down the country pleading with them not to send convicted criminals to prison. Will the Prime Minister give a guarantee that he will not deal with this failure in prison planning by introducing yet another scheme to release criminals early?

The Prime Minister: First of all, I must correct the right hon. Gentleman on what the Home Secretary said; he is simply reminding the courts of existing sentencing policy as set out in legislation. Let me tell him one other thing: not only will there be 2,000 extra prison places in this country by the end of this year, but as a result of the investment in prison places there will be a further 8,000 on top of that. Might I also remind Members that every penny piece of that investment in prisons is investment that the right hon. Gentleman voted against?

Mr. Cameron: Let us be absolutely clear that the Prime Minister’s answer gives no guarantee, so another early release scheme might well be on its way, with dangerous criminals being released on to our streets. Will he at least guarantee that all options, including emergency prison accommodation, prison ships and Army camps, will be considered before any early release scheme?

The Prime Minister: All options, of course, are kept under consideration all the time, but let me point out to
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the right hon. Gentleman that the very reason why we have an issue to do with prison places at the moment is that there are 40 per cent. more dangerous, violent and persistent offenders in prison than in 1997, despite crime having fallen rather than risen. One additional reason is that we now have 2,000 prisoners in prison with indeterminate sentences, precisely because of the seriousness of the offence. That was introduced in the Criminal Justice Act 2003, which the right hon. Gentleman voted against.

Mr. Cameron: Violent crime has doubled, and we have been telling the Prime Minister to build prisons for the last 10 years. Now, is it the Government’s policy to split the Home Office into two entirely separate Departments?

The Prime Minister: The issue about the future structure in the Home Office arises, as the right hon. Gentleman knows, from the review announced by the Home Secretary last October, which has to do with terrorism and security, not prison places. Let me just remind him that since 1997, 20,000 extra prison places have been created, which has required an investment running into billions of pounds. It is in part as a result of tougher sentencing that there are more people in prison, and I repeat: every single measure of tougher sentencing and extra investment he has opposed.

Mr. Cameron: The Lord Chancellor said that splitting the Home Office in two was a “very, very serious proposal”, and indicated that he thought that it was time to do it. Can the Prime Minister tell us whether the Chancellor of the Exchequer agrees with splitting the Home Office in two?

The Prime Minister: I have already explained that as a result —[Interruption.] As a result of the review that was announced by the Home Secretary —[Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker: Order. Let the Prime Minister answer.

The Prime Minister: The review announced last October is about the structures of the Home Office to do with security and terrorism. There are proposals that the Home Secretary has made, and we will make an announcement on those in the next few weeks. However, whatever the different structures in the Home Office, there is only one way in which we shall be able to deal with the problems in our prisons—to build more prison places and make sure that we have violent, serious and persistent offenders behind bars. Let me repeat once again: all of that investment—all of it—has been opposed by the right hon. Gentleman. Incidentally, since we are talking about this Government’s record on crime, according to the British crime survey of all recorded crime, crime has fallen; it doubled under the Tories.

Mr. Cameron: I think that the Prime Minister will find that the Chancellor does not want to break up the Home Office—he just wants to break up the Home Secretary. There is no point even considering this proposal unless the Chancellor has agreed it. The Prime Minister is not going to be here for very long, so
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let me ask him again—he can ask the Chancellor now—does the Chancellor back splitting the Home Office, yes or no?

The Prime Minister: As I have just explained to the right hon. Gentleman, proposals were put forward by the Home Secretary. The Government will come to a view on those within the next few weeks, and we will make an announcement to the House in the normal way.

However, when the right hon. Gentleman is talking about the relationship between the Home Office, prisons and policing, let me make it clear that there is absolutely no way that we can deal with the current issues in respect of prison places unless we are going to build more. We are building 8,000 more prison places, but the investment necessary to do that is investment that he voted against, as he did the tougher sentences. So it is no use his coming to the Dispatch Box and saying, “Make sure that no serious or violent offenders are let out of prison.” They are in prison precisely because of this Government, and he opposed the measures.

Hon. Members: Answer the question!

Mr. Cameron: It is a pretty simple question: does the Chancellor want to break up the Home Office—yes or no? [Interruption.] We have got prisoners on the run, weak borders —[Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker: Order. Let the Leader of the Opposition speak.

Mr. Cameron: We have got overcrowded prisons, and all that the Government can do is float half-baked schemes for breaking up the Home Office that they cannot even agree about. Have not this Government now become like the ship stranded off the Devon coast? They are washed up and broken up, and they are just scrabbling over the wreckage.

The Prime Minister: I think that that probably sounded better in rehearsal than it did at the Dispatch Box. The truth of the matter is that we are building more prison places and people are staying in prison longer, and as a result of the legislation in 2003 we now have indeterminate sentences for violent and sexual offenders. The fact is that crime has actually fallen, not risen, and we have extra numbers of police and community support officers. All of that has taken legislation and investment, and the right hon. Gentleman has voted against both. So the one person who has no credibility on this issue is the person who has opposed the very proposals that are necessary to deal with it. The truth is that the Tory party, which used to be the party of law and order, now votes against the tough measures and the investment.

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