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I recognise and commend the hon. Gentlemans long-standing interest in Zimbabwe and concern for the humanitarian crisis in that country. There is common accord between us in recognising the
scale of that crisis today. The economy has halved in size in less than 10 years. As he describes, 4 million peoplea third of the populationare now reliant on food aid. I part company with him, however, in that I recognise we are taking urgent action on the humanitarian issue: we committed £40 million this year to the humanitarian effort. Through the good offices of the President of South Africa and other African leaders, along with our work in the European Union, we are one of the leading countries in urging international action against the Zimbabwean regime.
Mr. Bill Olner (Nuneaton) (Lab): Will my right hon. Friend assure me that the aid being given is getting to the people who deserve and need it, and is not being diverted by Mugabe to feed his troops who keep the ordinary people down?
Mr. Alexander: Obviously I share my hon. Friends concerns, and that is why we ensure that aid is provided not to the Government of Zimbabwe but through humanitarian providers. As for the recent publicity on food aid, we have ensured that the problem does not apply to the processes put in place for the United Kingdom. [Interruption.]
Mr. Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (Cotswold) (Con): Although it is highly regrettable that President Mugabe has chosen to attend the EU-AU summit, when combined with toughened US sanctions will it not provide an opportunity for the world to focus on a country that has the lowest life expectancy on the planet, and far too high a level of Government torture? Is it not high time that the EU followed the United States example, in order to provide the best prospects of the international community acting in concert, with neighbouring states, to provide a long-term, lasting solution to alleviate some of the worst suffering in the world?
Mr. Alexander: I do not sense that there is disagreement across the House on that matter. Of course I welcome the recent steps taken by the American Administration. In many ways, Europe has led on this issue, but if further action can be taken at the European level, we should give urgent consideration to that task. I do not think, however, that this is the sole responsibility of either the European Union or the United States. That is why we have encouraged Ban Ki-moon, the UN Secretary-General, to look at the prospect of sending a UN special envoy to Zimbabwe; why we are keen for the Security Council to take a more active role in respect of the Zimbabwe situation; and why we continue to urge South Africa and its SADC partners to take a lead on this issue. Frankly, there are severe problems in Zimbabwe, as the hon. Gentleman rightly says, but there is a role for a whole range of multilateral bodies.
Mr. Lindsay Hoyle (Chorley) (Lab):
I am sure my right hon. Friend is well aware that women and children living on the streets of Zimbabwe are being abused and raped and that there is no help or support
going to people suffering from HIV. The time has come when only the Church is providing the last bastion of support for the Zimbabwean people, but the Church is now under threat from Mugabes thugs. What can we do to support the people there?
Mr. Alexander: My hon. Friend identifies one of the many challenges afflicting that troubled land at the moment. One in five Zimbabweans now has HIV, and AIDS is killing more than 2,500 people a week in that country. That is why part of the money we provide is being channelled towards HIV treatment; we are providing HIV assistance to 30,000 people this year. At the same time as we are dealing with the symptoms of the problem, we also need to support international efforts to deal with its cause, which is the chronic misrule of Zimbabwe by Robert Mugabe and his team.
The Secretary of State for International Development (Mr. Douglas Alexander): Decisions on the allocation of UK development assistance are made with the primary objective of poverty reduction. Possession of nuclear weapons does not preclude countries from this process. However, we will consider reducing or interrupting aid if a country is in significant violation of either human rights or other international obligations.
Mr. Heathcoat-Amory: Will the Secretary of State confirm that our bilateral aid programme includes aid to India, Pakistan, Russia and China, all of which are nuclear weapons states. Two of those countries have not signed the nuclear non-proliferation treaty, so will he in future make British aid conditional on all countries living up to their nuclear non-proliferation obligations?
Mr. Alexander: DFID actually closed its bilateral development assistance programme in Russia in March 2007 and our bilateral programme with China is due to end in 2011. It is the case that sustained high levels of poverty are still afflicting India, which is the subject of our largest bilateral programme. Our determining factor is, of course, the level of poverty and what work can be done to address the challenge of alleviating it. That is why I do not anticipate making the changes that the right hon. Gentleman suggests in respect of either Pakistan or India.
Mr. Tom Clarke (Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill) (Lab): Is the Secretary of State aware that when some of us visited India earlier this year, it was confirmed that 1,000 people a day die of tuberculosis? Some fine examples of DFIDs help turned out to be very impressive, so can my right hon. Friend think of any reason why those poor hapless people should be doubly penalised because of the policies of their Government?
As so often in such discussions of international development, I find myself in agreement with my right hon. Friend. Eighty per cent. of the
population of India today are living in conditions of poverty or of absolute poverty. That is why we are called on to act to show our support for the poverty reduction efforts of the Government of India. That is why we will continue to support the Indian people on their journey towards development, and why I would reject the apparent suggestion made by Conservative Members.
Mr. Gary Streeter (South-West Devon) (Con): But should not our aid policy, which is important in its own right, also be seen as a lever of our foreign diplomacy? When a Government take a course of action with which we strongly disagreewhether it be acquiring nuclear weapons or locking up innocent British citizensshould we not at the very least discuss with those countries the reduction of our aid budget so that the countrys Government will change course? Is that not one way of using our aid budget effectively?
Mr. Alexander: I am not inclined to take lectures from the Conservative party on using international aid money effectively, given the experience of the Pergau dam and the tied aid that was provided, and the year-on-year cuts delivered to international development under the Government who were in power until 1997. Since 1997, we have untied the aid that was tied under the Conservative party; we have increased the aid that was cut under the Conservative party; and we have legislated in this House for the International Development Act 2002. If the hon. Gentleman is now suggesting that the policy of international development should simply be an instrument of British foreign policy, perhaps that is a matter that he would like to discuss with those on his own Front Bench.
The Prime Minister (Mr. Gordon Brown): Before I list my engagements, let me say that I am sure the whole House will wish to join me in sending our profound condolences to the family and friends of the serviceman killed in Afghanistan yesterday. We owe him, and others who have lost their lives, a huge debt of gratitude.
The Prime Minister: The Conservatives should know about trouble: we had 18 years of it under them. As for remedies, the hon. Gentleman gives me the chance to make an offer to the Conservative party. We have made proposals to legislate on political funding, along the lines of the Hayden Phillips report. They include a national and local limit on spending both at and between elections, a cap on donations, and transparency. I hope that the Opposition will return to the talks on those matters.
Q2.  Sandra Osborne (Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock) (Lab): I add my condolences to those of the Prime Minister. People in my constituency whose lives have been touched by cancer are dismayed that the Scottish National party Administration look set to cancel a cancer centre at Ayr hospital. I welcome the announcement of a £500 million world-class medical research centre to work on cancer and fine-science projects with the Wellcome Trust and Cancer Research UK. Will the Prime Minister assure me that that will benefit every part of the United Kingdom?
The Prime Minister: There has been a 16 per cent. reduction in cancer as a result of the new investment since 1997. On Monday, the Secretary of State for Health was able to announce further investment in both prevention and cure for future years. Today I met representatives of the Medical Research Council, the Wellcome Trust, Cancer Research UK and University college London. We now agree that there will be perhaps a once-in-a-generation opportunity to create a leading medical research centre in London that will attract scientists from all over the world. Sir Paul Nurse, the Nobel prize winner, has agreed to lead this £500 million project, which holds the hope of curing some of the deadliest diseases of our time. I hope that there will be an all-party welcome for it.
build the trust of the British people in our democracy.
The Prime Minister: I should have thought that the right hon. Gentleman would be interested in the process as well as the personalities. I ask him again, as I asked the hon. Member for Northampton, South (Mr. Binley), whether he supports the changes that we are recommending in electoral law and political party funding, and whether he will support a national and local limit on expenditure.
Mr. Cameron: It has taken the Prime Minister seven months to make one of the most important appointments in politics. Sir Alistair Graham, the former chairman of the committee, said that the last fortnight had demonstrated a
monumental incompetence and ignorance of the law which beggars belief.
Last week the Prime Minister set great store by the investigation established under Lord Whitty, which he described as urgent. Will he confirm that, this week, the inquiry has had to be partially suspended?
The Prime Minister: No, the inquiry is not suspended. Lord Whitty continues to bring together and collate information, but the interviewing of people will be at the discretion of the police, as I said in my letter to the Metropolitan police. What the right hon. Gentleman has now got to answer is this: if he wants changes in the political system, will he support our proposals? On Monday, he said:
I dont believe a global spending limit
recommendations...we are happy to discuss spending caps on all year round non-election campaigning.[ Official Report, 15 March 2007; Vol. 458, c. 469.]
Mr. Cameron: If the Prime Minister wants a deal, he should include the unions, as we suggested two years ago. But he has just given the most extraordinary answer to the House, because I have a copy of the national executive committee minutes, which were written by Michael Cashmanthis Government have to have a former soap star to chronicle their woes. Those minutes make it absolutely clear that parts of that inquiry were put on hold. The Prime Minister was telling the public on Saturday that he had acted swiftly, but was agreeing with the NEC that parts of the inquiry would be put on hold. So much for openness.
Let us have a look at another promise the Prime Minister made. He said he would always do the right thing by the armed forces. So can he tell us why, with our troops fighting on two fronts, he still has a part-time Secretary of State for Defence?
The Prime Minister: First of all, on the issue of election funding and party finance, it is clear that the right hon. Gentleman does not want to enter the debate on the levels of [Interruption.]. We are happy to rejoin the discussions.
Secondly, on the Defence Secretary, let me just say that there have been many hard-working Defence Secretaries from both sides of the House in many years over the last decades. The Defence Secretary in post is a
hard-working, conscientious and dedicated servant of the people, and I defy the Opposition to suggest there is any occasion on which he has failed to do his duty by the armed forces of this country. The Defence Secretary continues to do all the work of the Defence Secretary, and let me just say this: the proposal that the job be shared with another member of the Cabinet, the Scottish Secretary of State, was a proposal made in the 2001 manifesto of the Conservative party.
I think that it is a disgraceful appointment...It is an insultnot merely to those who are serving in Her Majestys forces but also to their families?
The Prime Minister: The Defence Secretary is hard-working, conscientious and is doing his duty, and I asked the right hon. Gentleman to bring forward evidence of where he was not. Let us just look at the question of defence spending, which has been raised by the Opposition. We are spending £1 billion more on defence every year. We are now the second largest country in the world for defence spending, whereas we were fifth in 1997. Let the Opposition answer this question, because the shadow [Interruption.]
lots of Conservatives...come up to me and say weve really got to...pay our armed forces more, we need more soldiers...and so on.
those are all very good things but they do cost money and part of our discipline, part of the test of whether we are ready for government is whether we can resist those additional draws on public expenditure.
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