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House of Commons

Wednesday 17 October 2007

The House met at half-past Eleven o’clock


[Mr. Speaker in the Chair]

private business

Transport for London Bill [lords]


Oral Answers to Questions



1. Chris Bryant (Rhondda) (Lab): What assessment his Department has made of the effects of migration on international development projects in Africa. [158517]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for International Development (Mr. Shahid Malik): As chance would have it, I have with me an excellent DFID publication, which I can commend to my hon. Friend. It is called, “Moving out of Poverty: Making Migration Work Better for Poor People”, and it is the first policy paper of its kind to be produced by the Department for International Development. The report highlights both the positive and negative links between migration and poverty reduction and it encourages developing countries to consider its impact in their national planning. To provide just one example, it examines the positive contribution of migrants through remittances and support for development projects, while also examining the negative impact—the loss of skilled people and the damaging effect it can have on capacity building efforts in sectors such as health and education.

Chris Bryant: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that fascinating answer— [Interruption.]—and I mean that most sincerely. However, the massive levels of migration in sub-Saharan Africa are among the biggest causes of poverty. In 2005, there were 15 million people in sub-Saharan Africa living away from their normal place of residence—in other words, 15 million displaced people, which is more than the combined populations of Berlin, Paris, Madrid and Rome. Surely we need to do far more to make it possible for people to stay where they were born and brought up so that we do not have a constant cycle of poverty and oppression.

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Mr. Malik: My hon. Friend says that he is being sincere—and for the record, I have always known him to be so. [Interruption.] I will continue. As to the 15 million displaced people in sub-Saharan Africa, there are many causes: economic migration, bad governance, conflict, climate change, natural disasters, all of which cause people to believe that they have no option other than to leave and search for a better life elsewhere. Everything that DFID does in sub-Saharan Africa is aimed at addressing the root causes of displacement through poverty reduction, humanitarian relief, reconstruction work, efforts to promote participation and good governance and protection of human rights.

Let me provide a few examples. In 2006-07 alone, we provided some £220 million in humanitarian assistance to sub-Saharan Africa and we have allocated £64.5 million this year to the Africa conflict prevention pool. We are the largest donor to the UN’s central emergency response fund, contributing £42.2 million this year. We have also provided— [Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker: Order. I say gently to the Minister that he can send the list to the hon. Member by letter.

Richard Ottaway (Croydon, South) (Con): May I draw the Minister’s attention to another excellent publication, produced by the all-party group on population, development and reproductive health? It found that there was a correlation between migration and civil conflict and population growth. Will the Minister add that to his list of causes and, in providing aid to the sub-Saharan region, will he take into account programmes to address the issue of population growth?

Mr. Malik: To confirm, we certainly look at reproductive health in our programmes and we will continue to do so.

Chris McCafferty (Calder Valley) (Lab): Given the centrality of sexual and reproductive health to country-wide health plans, will my hon. Friend tell us how he is encouraging African Governments to prioritise that issue?

Mr. Malik: We have regular dialogues with African Governments on these issues and all our African programmes focus on them. That will certainly continue to be the case. My hon. Friend is quite right to raise the issue; we can never do enough in respect of it.

Mr. Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (Cotswold) (Con): It is estimated that 250,000 people have left Zimbabwe for South Africa and 200,000 Darfur for Chad. As the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) says, unofficial figures put the estimate many times higher. This is a human tragedy on a grand scale: it is a human tragedy for the people involved; it is a human tragedy for the countries that have seen those people leave; and it is a human tragedy for the countries to which they are going. What more can the Government do to provide humanitarian assistance not only for the refugees but for the recipient countries, so that those refugees will face a little easier life when they arrive?

Mr. Malik: My hon. Friend— [Laughter. ] I mean the hon. Gentleman, although I am sure that we are friendly. I can tell the hon. Gentleman that we recently
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gave £8 million to the World Food Programme. I outlined some of the measures that we are taking to deal with the issue in my earlier answer, but it is not possible for one country alone to deal with it. The international community must act together to produce the impact that is so desperately needed—the impact that both the hon. Gentleman and we would like to see.

Budget Support

2. Tony Baldry (Banbury) (Con): Which countries are receiving budget support from the UK; and if he will make a statement. [158518]

The Secretary of State for International Development (Mr. Douglas Alexander): The Department delivers poverty-reduction budget support to Ethiopia, Ghana, Malawi, Mozambique, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia, India, Nepal, Pakistan, Vietnam and Nicaragua. Poverty-reduction budget support is aid given to a partner Government to support poverty-reduction programmes, and is spent with the use of the Government’s financial management procurement and accountability systems.

Tony Baldry: It is good news that the Department is being given more money, but it is important to ensure that that money is spent in the best possible way. Is the Secretary of State aware of the World Bank’s assertion that the outcomes of some 90 per cent. of budget support are never audited, which means that we do not know the extent of its effectiveness? Is it not time for an independent and impartial body to monitor and assess the outcomes, as has been suggested by my hon. Friends on the Opposition Front Bench?

Mr. Alexander: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, who brings real expertise to this issue, not least because of his service on the International Development Committee.

The Independent Advisory Committee on Development Impact is due to hold its first meeting in just over six weeks’ time, and I believe that that will give the hon. Gentleman some confidence that we take the issue seriously. It is also important to recognise the steps that we are taking on budget support in particular. The Department always conducts a fiduciary risk assessment before entering into budget support, we monitor performance regularly, additional assurance is provided by the internal audit department, and we undertake annual reporting which provides oversight through its corporate reporting and auditing mechanisms.

Mr. Eddie McGrady (South Down) (SDLP): What funding, if any—direct or indirect, through international monetary funds—is given to the Sudanese Government? If there is such funding, direct or indirect, would my right hon. Friend consider withholding it until such time as the Sudanese Government act in accord with international law, in the context of civil conflict and more importantly and urgently in the context of attempts to bring a cessation to the abomination of human rights abuse in that country?

Mr. Alexander: I find myself in sympathy with my hon. Friend, both because of the longer-term challenge of making progress with the comprehensive peace
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agreement in relation to the north-south conflict in Sudan and because of the pressing challenge of the humanitarian crisis in the Darfur region. We do give considerable humanitarian assistance to the people of Sudan. I recently visited the al-Salam camp in el-Fasher in northern Darfur and saw, for example, the hugely important work undertaken by Oxfam, a British charity, in providing water and sanitation in the camps.

As well as the humanitarian work that we are doing, there is an important diplomatic dialogue with the Government of Sudan, so that—along with signatories and non-signatories to the Darfur peace agreement—they are clear about their responsibilities. Those responsibilities include an immediate ceasefire, a cessation of aerial bombing and the facilitation of talks between all parties in important talks at the end of this month.

Malcolm Bruce (Gordon) (LD): Will the Secretary of State acknowledge that budget support is an extremely important instrument for building the capacity of recipient countries, provided that strict criteria apply? Is he satisfied with recent developments in Uganda and Ethiopia which led to a cut in budget support, and does he feel that their Governments’ attitude to the opposition justifies the reinstatement at this stage?

Mr. Alexander: I defer to the right hon. Gentleman’s expertise, given his examination of the issues in the Select Committee, but the fact that in certain circumstances—for example, the political crisis in Ethiopia—we are prepared to withhold elements of budget support testifies to the fact that we monitor extremely carefully the circumstances in which it is appropriate for funds to flow directly through Government systems.

That being said, I find myself in full agreement with the right hon. Gentleman’s observation about budget support. It is certainly pioneering. At times it involves risks which must be judged very carefully, but it can clearly develop a sustainable means by which countries can help themselves to emerge from poverty rather than finding themselves dealing with innumerable international donors with whom, in many cases, their Governments lack the capacity to engage effectively.

Mr. Tom Clarke (Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill) (Lab): In circumstances where general budget support has been cut, as in Ethiopia, will my right hon. Friend consider very carefully other means of delivering assistance, so that we can help the poorest people in the poorest countries?

Mr. Alexander: I can give my right hon. Friend exactly the assurance that he seeks. Budget support for Ethiopia was withheld in response to the political crisis in 2005, but we do not want the poor to suffer in Ethiopia as a consequence of the actions of Government. That is why, through the protection of basic services programme, we have continued to support development efforts in Ethiopia. In the last year alone, 1.2 million more children attended primary school. Over 70 per cent. of Ethiopia’s children are now in school, and all households in malaria areas will have insecticide-treated bed nets by the end of this year. Those are just two examples of our continuing commitment to the people of Ethiopia.

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Health Services

3. Mrs. Madeleine Moon (Bridgend) (Lab): What steps his Department is taking to improve health services in Africa. [158519]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for International Development (Mr. Shahid Malik): The UK is improving health in Africa through multilateral aid, including the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, and through bilateral programmes. Fifteen per cent. of DFID’s aid goes to health, totalling some £800 million this year, which will rise as the DFID programme expands towards our target spending of 0.7 per cent. of gross national income by 2013. Last month, the UK launched an international health partnership to improve the effectiveness of international funding for health. Five of the IHP’s first-wave countries are in Africa. They are Ethiopia, Zambia, Mozambique, Kenya and Burundi.

Mrs. Moon: I thank my hon. Friend for that response. I am aware that in Mozambique, for example, those who suffer from HIV/AIDS sometimes face the problem that, even if they have access to antiretroviral drugs, supplies run out and the treatment cannot be sustained. Equally, some people are faced with a stark choice of either paying for their drugs or buying food. What can DFID do to ensure that those who access treatment are sustained on it?

Mr. Malik: I thank my hon. Friend for that question. The UK is absolutely committed to the challenge of HIV/AIDS. That was one of the key elements of the agreement at Gleneagles. DFID has committed some £17 million in support to the Ministry of Health in Mozambique. That will help to improve, among other things, HIV/AIDS treatment, including the scaling up of access to antiretrovirals. Therefore, some progress is being made. In sub-Saharan Africa, the numbers on treatment rose tenfold from 2003 to 2006, from 100,000 to over 1.3 million. However, with only one in four in Africa able to access HIV/AIDS treatment, much more needs to be done.

James Duddridge (Rochford and Southend, East) (Con): Given that we are off track to meet the millennium development goal on maternal health—on the current trajectory, not only will we not meet it by 2015 but we will probably not do so in the next 100 years—what more can the Government do?

Mr. Malik: That challenge is recognised throughout Government. Recently our Prime Minister met the Norwegian Prime Minister to look at an initiative to deal with that problem. Africa is the continent with the highest maternal mortality rate—there are 830 deaths per 100,000 live births. All our programmes focus on those issues. I go back to the point that I made earlier: ultimately, the UK is one player. It is by different donor countries coming together that we will have the kind of impact that I know we would all like to see.

Chris Ruane (Vale of Clwyd) (Lab): When I visited Swaziland three years ago, we were told by the Health Minister there that Swaziland had the highest incidence of AIDS in the whole world at 43 per cent., yet thousands of doctors and nurses from Swaziland were leaving to
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practise abroad. What help and encouragement can the Department give to doctors and nurses from Africa who are working in the west to return to Africa to help in the fight against AIDS?

Mr. Malik: Brain drain is a high-profile concern for Africa, and a major migration and development concern for the African Union. We in this country have a code of practice under which we will not attempt to recruit health workers from countries whose Governments suggest that that might be detrimental. We are currently looking into this matter via the Global Health Workforce Alliance, which is chaired by Lord Nigel Crisp. The Secretary of State has already met him and discussions are taking place. This issue is of the utmost importance to the Government.

John Barrett (Edinburgh, West) (LD): According to Save the Children, the lives of 800 children a day could be saved if their parents did not have to pay for essential health care. Will the Department work with non-governmental organisations and civil society to ensure that the health partnership translates into real action on the ground?

Mr. Malik: We are absolutely in favour of sustainable partnerships of that kind, which is why the Prime Minister launched the international health partnership only in September. Its aim is to make improvements in the area that the hon. Gentleman raises, and to work on the concerns that he and others have articulated.

Natascha Engel (North-East Derbyshire) (Lab): All the evidence suggests that educating women in sexual health not only leads to later pregnancy but has a direct and positive impact on the economic performance of their country. What is the Department doing to promote sexual health awareness in Africa?

Mr. Malik: DFID is carrying out research into sex education. We are funding a community randomised control trial in Tanzania to inform us about the health impact of different adolescent sexual health interventions—we are investing £1.4 million in that. I recently visited Yemen where the population growth rate is such that it will double in 16 years; we are concentrating there on education for young girls, which will have an impact. Education, including sexual education, is vital in dealing with such matters.

Mr. Andrew Mitchell (Sutton Coldfield) (Con): Further to the question of the hon. Member for Vale of Clwyd (Chris Ruane), the Minister will know that many British health professionals want to make a personal contribution in poor countries but are too often discouraged from doing so because time spent abroad is not accredited and therefore adversely affects pension accrual, for example. Will the Minister look closely at the policy that my party has proposed to set up a health systems partnership fund? That would make a modest but useful contribution to helping in this area.

Mr. Malik: The hon. Gentleman may be aware that we were already looking at that issue prior to his party’s announcement. I am happy to inform him that Lord Nigel Crisp, chair of the Global Health Workforce Alliance, is looking into the issue, and that the Secretary of State has already met him.

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Mr. Mitchell: The Minister will know that our proposals would enable British health professionals to spend time in developing countries helping to build sustainable health systems. The proposals have been supported by VSO and many other NGOs, including the Tropical Health and Education Trust. As the Minister’s party is clearly in the mood for nicking Conservative policies, will he make it a priority to implement as soon as possible our health systems partnership fund?

Mr. Malik: I think that I have already alluded to the fact that, regardless of whether they are ours or are borrowed from elsewhere, we will pass forward all good ideas to Lord Nigel Crisp, who will be looking into these matters. On nicking ideas, the hon. Gentleman will next be telling us that the target of 0.7 per cent. of GNI by 2013 was his party’s idea.

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