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15 Nov 2007 : Column 925

A number of hon. Members, including the hon. Member for Rochford and Southend, East (James Duddridge), entirely fairly highlighted the need to step up work on developing the private sector. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and Baroness Vadera are exploring the scope for further work by the Department in that area. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will join me in welcoming the Prime Minister’s commitment to spend some £750 million on aid for trade, which I will air next week at the first ever global meeting on aid for trade, convened by the World Trade Organisation. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will see that as a particularly positive development.

My hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, Southall (Mr. Sharma) and the hon. Member for Banbury (Tony Baldry) mentioned the importance of India in achieving the millennium development goals. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for his long-standing interest in India and poverty there. He was right to draw attention to the fact that some 350 million poor people in India still live on less than $1 a day—more than the number of poor people who live in the whole of sub-Saharan Africa. I assure my hon. Friend that we will continue to work for a reduction in poverty in India.

My hon. Friend the Member for Falkirk (Mr. Joyce) highlighted the huge tensions in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo. We continue to press for a political solution rather than a military one, for reasons that the House will understand. He and my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, North highlighted the terrible suffering of women in the DRC. In the time available, I cannot do justice to the scale of their suffering or to the full range of our response, but let me highlight one small example of the way in which we are trying to help. Through our aid for reproductive health care, some 500,000 women in the DRC are benefiting from much better access to such health care. I hope that that gives the House some reassurance about our continuing focus on that matter.

My hon. Friend the Member for Northampton, North (Ms Keeble) praised the contribution of a series of NGOs that work to support orphans and vulnerable children. In turn, I praise her long-standing interest in that subject, her continuing questioning and her appetite to ensure that the Department makes more progress. Our commitment of 10 per cent. of our funding for aid spending on orphans and vulnerable children three years ago was designed to galvanise interest in the matter across the international donor spectrum and, crucially, in developing countries too. More donors have become interested and taken action, and more developing countries are prioritising and responding to the needs of orphans and vulnerable children. We will continue to keep the matter in view.

I turn now to the particular questions asked by the hon. Member for Cotswold (Mr. Clifton-Brown) that relate to my ministerial responsibilities. As he said, considerable attention is paid in civil society and in the African, Caribbean and Pacific countries to economic partnership agreements. Although his questions were entirely understandable, he was right, I am afraid, that they are a little premature in light of the General Affairs and External Relations Council that will take place next week, at which the Trade Commissioner will report back on progress. The hon. Gentleman will perhaps not be surprised to hear that there has been
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considerable progress in those negotiations—more than we have seen before—in the past three weeks. The process is fluid, and a series of further negotiating meetings have taken place this week.

A debate is due to take place in this House purely on the subject of economic partnership agreements, and it will enable us to delve into the detail of where progress has been made. Let me reassure the hon. Gentleman that we will continue to focus on the development dimension of economic partnership agreements. That is one reason why—from as far back as March 2005, when my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State was Trade Minister—we have championed the offer of 100 per cent. duty and quota-free access to the European Union for developing countries. We were delighted when, as a result of our pressure and the Trade Commissioner’s appetite for the idea, a 100 per cent. duty and quota-free access offer was proposed back in April, albeit with transitional periods for just two products. I will of course continue to keep the House updated.

Andrew Selous: I should be grateful if the Minister would refer to the subject of forced child labour. It may not be his specific responsibility, but perhaps he could give me some assurance that he will speak to his colleagues in other Departments if he thinks that they are more directly concerned with that matter.

Mr. Thomas: I was going to come to the hon. Gentleman’s point, but let me do so now. He referred to the excellent investigation by “Newsnight” journalists. He may have had the chance to see the whole piece, in which he will have seen me make a commitment to talk to EU colleagues. We will continue to do so, as I indicated on the programme. I should, however, add one thing. He is right to say that there is more that we can do here in the UK. We do not have to rely on the EU. We have asked a series of retailers to look at their supply chains in even more detail. It is one of the reasons why we want those firms that are not part of the ethical trading initiative to sign up. The experience in Uzbekistan should be a powerful demonstration of the need for all British retailers, and indeed European retailers, to look to their supply chains.

The hon. Member for Banbury has followed the Doha round of talks particularly closely, given his past role. Indeed, I know that all Members of the House are interested in it. We are at a critical moment. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State alluded to the work that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has been doing. Indeed, a series of Ministers across Government have been using meetings with interlocutors not only in the EU but in the US, India, Brazil and other developing countries, including crucially the least developed countries, which ultimately have most to gain from a successful conclusion to the Doha round.

The G4 will need to show more flexibility. We in the EU will need to show more flexibility. I believe that the Trade Commissioner is willing to do that. We will also need our allies in America to show more flexibility and we will need India and Brazil to show flexibility in the areas where they can do so. That will continue to be a priority for the House.

The hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield and the one bright spot of the speech of the hon. Member for Hornsey and Wood Green, as well as, indeed, the report of the International Development Committee, referred to the importance of climate change. It is certainly not a
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low priority for the Department for International Development. The last White Paper identified tackling climate change as one of the top priorities for the Department going forward, and that was reflected in March this year when the then Chancellor, now the Prime Minister, announced a joint DFID-DEFRA £800 million environmental transformation fund, which will provide aid for clean energy, avoided deforestation and adaptation.

We are taking forward the implementation of that fund through the World Bank, working with a range of other organisations. We are seeking to secure other donors to put similar sums into a World Bank trust fund to help us take forward work on adaptation in the way that I have described. Crucially, we are also working with colleagues across Government to ensure a globally just post-2012 agreement. We are building analysis on what a fair outcome would mean and what the contribution of developing countries should be. We are also steadily increasing our work on climate change in our focal countries. I give the House just one example. We have committed to spend some £50 million to help improve the livelihoods of 32,000 families in Bangladesh by raising their homes above the one-in-100-years flood level. We are also spending £5 million on improving climate change information in Africa.

I acknowledge the Select Committee’s point that there is much more that we need to do in this area. There has been a significant scaling up of staff in DFID working on it; there will be more to come. I was disappointed by the shadow Secretary of State’s rather low-key reaction to the appointment of the excellent David Peretz as chair of the new independent advisory committee on development impact. Once again, the shadow Secretary of State failed to acknowledge not only the talents of Mr. Peretz, but the plethora of other bodies that already monitor our spending directly or indirectly. There was no mention in the hon. Gentleman’s speech of the powerful role that the National Audit Office plays in monitoring our spending, or of the Public Accounts Committee.

Mr. Andrew Mitchell: Just to nail that point, the people whom the Secretary of State has managed to collect for the committee are of the highest possible calibre and I recognise the important contribution that they can make. However, the remit of the toothless watchdog that has come forth from the Department needs to be massively beefed up to make it effective, for the reasons that many hon. Members have set out. Will the Minister and his colleagues have another look to see how they can make the body more effective?

Mr. Thomas: The hon. Gentleman rightly identified the considerable talents of the people who have been approached to serve on the committee, but I say gently to him that he should give credit to them by recognising that they would not want to serve on such a committee if they did not think that they had a powerful role to play.

I have to say to the hon. Gentleman, again gently, that some may wonder whether he keeps raising questions about aid effectiveness in order to draw a veil over his party’s dismal record on the issue. The House has debated before the Pergau dam affair under the previous
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Government, which left a terrible legacy for this country’s reputation in developing countries. It was an entirely preventable fiasco, completely opposed by those in the development community and utterly illegal. The Pergau dam affair also exposed a broader record when the Opposition were in government of aid money being used for all sorts of purposes other than poverty reduction. Under the hon. Gentleman’s party, aid money was used to pay for helicopters, for example, to be sent to India—helicopters that it was never clear the Indians wanted. The hon. Gentleman has also still not acknowledged his party’s terrible failure in development funding, with steady cuts to the 0.5 per cent. of national income going to development in 1979, which was down to 0.26 per cent. by the time his party left office in 1997.

The hon. Gentleman perhaps began to lose his characteristic joie de vivre when my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State intervened on him to highlight his party’s lack of engagement in Europe. I say to the hon. Gentleman, again gently, that one cannot be both pro-trade and anti-Europe. He and his party cannot hope to have influence over any aspect of trade while they remain as virulently anti-European as they are.

The right hon. Member for Gordon (Malcolm Bruce) gave a much more considered commentary on the inputs-outputs debate. He acknowledged that the level of spending is important, but I of course accept that we should focus further on outputs. I accept that we can do more to demonstrate the effectiveness of our work, but I should like to draw his and the whole House’s attention to our work on education in India, for example, where more than 10 million children are now in primary school, in part as a result of our aid. In Malawi our aid has helped to reverse the haemorrhaging of nurses from the Malwian health service.

The right hon. Gentleman and others raised a series of other questions. Time does not allow me to answer all of them, so I end by answering his point about Pakistan. Of course I understand the concerns of the whole House about the situation in Pakistan and about our aid programme to that country. I welcome President Musharraf’s recent comments about the timing of elections. Of course there are concerns about how those elections will be conducted, and those concerns are being taken forward by my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary. We are giving urgent attention to how our aid programme should go forward.

I have tried to answer as many of the comments and interventions made by hon. Members in all parts of the House as I can. I welcome this opportunity to debate these issues again, and I hope that the whole House will welcome the comprehensive spending review outcome for the Department for International Development. I look forward to having the opportunity to debate these issues again shortly.

Question put and agreed to.




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Daedalus Airfield

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn. —[Mr. Watson.]

5.55 pm

Peter Viggers (Gosport) (Con): I know that my constituents share my appreciation of the fact that I have this opportunity to raise in the House the issue of the future of the Daedalus airfield in my constituency. Part of the airfield falls within the borough of Fareham, and I am delighted my hon. Friend the Member for Fareham (Mr. Hoban) is here this evening, as I know that he shares my interest in this matter.

The Government care about general aviation, which is most simply defined as all aviation of a civil nature other than scheduled air flights. I know that they care about it, because Ministers have said so. The hon. Member for Lincoln (Gillian Merron), the predecessor of the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, the hon. Member for Poplar and Canning Town (Jim Fitzpatrick), who will respond to this debate, is on record as having said at a conference on general aviation in November 2006:

I hope that those sentiments will be continued. I see that the Minister is acquiescing.

There is no more important issue for general aviation than the establishment and retention of suitable airfields, and the Daedalus site in Lee-on-the-Solent is just that. It entered service with the Royal Naval Air Service in 1917 and continued as a naval air station until 1996. Some of my earliest memories are of visiting the Daedalus station and watching the Fireflies, the Sea Furies, the Wyverns and the Gannets. They formed the basis of my enthusiasm for flying, which I later followed as a pilot in the Royal Air Force.

The Daedalus site is an important part of the local community. In March 2006, the Maritime and Coastguard Agency and the South East England Development Agency acquired the site for about £20 million. The Maritime Coastguard Agency took runway 0523, a blister hangar and the control tower, and the SEEDA operation took the rest of the site. The Maritime and Coastguard Agency celebrated initially by spending between £500,000 and £1 million on building a rather unsightly new fence round its estate. I wonder whether the Minister can confirm the cost of that fence.

Now I want to move forward and to consider the future of the Daedalus site. I should like to put this in its context. On the Gosport peninsula, there are about 40,000 working people, but only 19,000 jobs. The result is a tidal flow of people out of the peninsula and back each day. The paramount need is therefore for jobs in and around the peninsula. There is strong support for the development of Daedalus as a business park with an aviation and maritime engineering theme. Indeed, the SEEDA consultation has revealed that some 57 per
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cent. of the local population consulted would like to see aviation activity continue on the site, and some 60 per cent. would like to see jobs being developed there. The concept of a business park—of which I have some previous experience as a Minister—would fit well with the retention of the Daedalus site and its use for aviation and marine engineering. I hope that it will be possible to continue the aviation link, and to provide a forward link to the business park that so many of us would like to see.

At the moment, the Daedalus site is being used by the police, whose Britten-Norman Defender fixed-wing, high-wing aircraft operate from runway 0323. The site is also being used by the air-sea rescue helicopter operated by Bristow on behalf of the coastguard. The Portsmouth Naval Gliding Club operates from Daedalus; many of my friends glide from Daedalus, as I do, and I am delighted that they have been able to make a longer-term lease arrangement to retain their interests there.

Finally, the site is used by general aviation and 30 aircraft operate from Daedalus—there were many more. I am putting forward the general aviation interest this evening.

It being Six o’clock, the motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.— [Mr. Watson.]

Peter Viggers: That intervention will no doubt confuse anyone who may be watching our debate.

The interests of general aviation are under threat because operators have been told that they must vacate the premises by Saturday 17 November, so I very much hope that even at this late stage the Minister can give us some hope for the future of general aviation at Daedalus.

I am delighted that my hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot (Mr. Howarth) has now joined us in the Chamber. He has taken a key interest in the issue and I am grateful to him for attending the debate.

SEEDA’s consultation led to the revelation that 63 per cent. of those consulted hoped that the site would be used to create job opportunities, 53 per cent. hoped that it would be linked to marine activity and 57 per cent. hoped that it would be involved with aviation, but only 7 per cent. felt that the site should be used for housing. When SEEDA decided on a study, it chose Erinaceous—a public listed company—to carry it out. I have four points about the study.

First, there are some doubts as to the credibility of Erinaceous; the company has breached its banking covenants, shares are down from 389p in January to about 20p and the founders have been put on gardening leave, so there are some problems. Secondly, the main people involved at Daedalus—the general aviation interest—found it difficult to obtain a copy of the Erinaceous report. It was produced in July 2007 but not made available to the general aviation interest until 18 October, the date on which operators were given a month to vacate the site.

Thirdly, paragraph 1.7 of the report states:

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between the company and users of the site, yet one of the authors of the report is manager of Shoreham airport, which is owned by Erinaceous and is a competitor airfield on the south coast. Finally, the report merely offers alternatives and does not come to a firm conclusion.

I am grateful to the individuals at SEEDA to whom I have spoken, including the chairman, for their support for general aviation at Daedalus, but ultimately it is not their judgment that applies. Others will decide about the future of general aviation, and although individuals at SEEDA are supportive they are not capable of overruling a decision.

I have spoken to the Maritime and Coastguard Agency, which is directly involved as owner of part of the site and through the operation from the site, on its behalf, of the coastguard helicopter. The agency is indirectly involved through the lease to the police force. As was made clear to me recently, the MCA is not involved in management; it has delegated that responsibility to the police.

Among the dramatis personae is the Lee Flying Association—the group representing the general aviation interest. The association is profoundly concerned; it offered to control movements and run the airfield on a voluntary basis but the offer was rejected. Others involved include the Hampshire Microlight Flying Club, from which I received a letter today, pointing out:

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