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Orphans (Malawi)

4. Mr. David S. Borrow (South Ribble) (Lab): What steps his Department is taking to support orphans in Malawi. [193265]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for International Development (Mr. Shahid Malik): There are 1.5 million orphans and vulnerable children in Malawi, 550,000 because of HIV and AIDS. DFID gives £2 million a year to the National AIDS Commission, which, among things, provides education and care to orphans and vulnerable children through community-based organisations. In 2006-07, just under 1 million orphans and vulnerable children received support. The commission is also supporting a pilot cash transfer, which has helped 35,000 people in four districts, including 17,000 orphans and vulnerable children.

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Mr. Borrow: Will my hon. Friend join me in paying tribute to a small charity based in South Ribble, the Friends of Mulanje Orphans—FOMO—which supports 4,000 orphans in Malawi? Will he also ensure that his Department gives as much support as possible to the excellent work that organisations such as FOMO undertake?

Mr. Malik: I am more than happy to recognise the excellent work carried out by organisations such as FOMO, which, as my hon. Friend says, helps 4,000 orphans with school fees, meals and health care through a network of 10 centres covering 70 villages. That is exactly the sort of vital community-based work that Malawi’s National AIDS Commission funds. It supports some 1,800 organisations, providing care for orphans and vulnerable children across Malawi.

Mr. Gary Streeter (South-West Devon) (Con): As the Minister said, many of these children are orphaned as a result of HIV/AIDS. Is he therefore confident that enough of the Department’s investment in Malawi and elsewhere in sub-Saharan Africa is spent on preventive measures through education, rather than just on treatment? Is it not the case that we will never get to grips with HIV/AIDS unless we can empower people to make informed lifestyle choices to deal with that dreadful disease?

Mr. Malik: The hon. Gentleman is correct. Education is vital in the fight against AIDS, but so, too, is health care. It deals with the symptoms; he is talking about the cause. I am pleased to let him know that we are investing £100 million in Malawi over six years to deal with many of these issues and that antiretroviral treatments are now available to 130,000 people compared with a figure of just 3,000 in 2003.

Ann McKechin (Glasgow, North) (Lab): As my hon. Friend will be aware, the Scottish Executive have been running a programme in Malawi for some years. Given the Paris declaration on harmonisation and alignment, does he agree that it is important that the programme should work in tandem with DFID to ensure the best and most effective aid programme for Malawi?

Mr. Malik: My hon. Friend is right. Part of the Paris declaration and its principles is that there should be alignment between different funding targeted at various areas—that would apply in Malawi too.

Mr. Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley) (Con): Malawi is one of the poorest countries in the world—it is certainly one of the poorest countries in Africa. Does the Minister agree that the best help we can give its orphans is to reduce the number of children being orphaned in the first place? Ensuring access to antiretroviral drugs is vital; they must be properly delivered. What can he do to ensure that the numbers of doctors and nurses fleeing Malawi to come to countries such as the United Kingdom and the United States of America are greatly reduced?

Mr. Malik: The hon. Gentleman is, of course, right. A serious challenge for the developing world, and for Malawi in particular, is the fact that health workers leave those areas. I am pleased to say that between 2003 and 2007 their migration decreased by 71 per cent. The investment of £100 million to which I referred in part deals with some of those challenges. The situation has been helped by the code of conduct that this country has put together on employing overseas health workers.
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As a result of that £100 million investment, salaries have increased by 52 per cent. and a series of development incentives is in place for workers in Malawi. We are supporting the doubling of the number of nurses and the trebling of the number of doctors, and I am sure that he will very much welcome that.


5. Mr. Graham Allen (Nottingham, North) (Lab): What progress is being made in halting and reversing the spread of HIV and AIDS globally by 2015 in accordance with millennium development target 7. [193266]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for International Development (Gillian Merron): Last year, the number of people living with HIV and AIDS levelled off for the first time. The number receiving antiretroviral treatment rose from 400,000 in 2003 to more than 2 million in 2006.

Mr. Allen: Although we all want to help people who have HIV and AIDS, does the Minister accept that we also need to ensure that proper programmes are in place to prevent the further spread of AIDS? Will she tell us what the Department is doing to help to spread the promotion of those educational programmes, in particular the further use of condoms in these areas, so that HIV/AIDS is stopped before it can begin?

Gillian Merron: My hon. Friend makes an important point, given that nearly 7,000 people are newly infected with HIV every day. Indeed, prevention is crucial to stopping and reversing the spread of HIV/AIDS. We need to improve people’s knowledge, change attitudes, give women more control over their own lives, promote the availability and use of condoms and boost education. On all those matters, DFID is working directly with countries and co-ordinating with other donors.

Hywel Williams (Caernarfon) (PC): What steps are the Government taking to promote peer education on HIV and AIDS in developing countries by non-governmental organisations such as Christian Aid? Will she commend the work done by the pioneering group of young people from Wales that recently visited Sierra Leone?

Gillian Merron: I do indeed endorse peer education programmes, which are very much part of the work that we do, and I commend the young people to whom the hon. Gentleman refers. I have recently met groups of young people who are extremely committed to peer education. People listen to those with whom they identify.

Prime Minister

The Prime Minister was asked—


Q1. [193247] Michael Jabez Foster (Hastings and Rye) (Lab): If he will list his official engagements for Wednesday 12 March.

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The Prime Minister (Mr. Gordon Brown): This morning I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. In addition to my duties in the House, I shall have further such meetings later today.

Michael Jabez Foster: The strength of the economy, with the minimum wage and tax credits for children, coupled with my right hon. Friend’s commitment to reducing child poverty, means that in my constituency and elsewhere, thousands of young people are now free from that scourge. Given the ambitious target of my right hon. Friend and the Labour Government to eradicate child poverty by 2020, what further measures—[ Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker: Order.

The Prime Minister: As a result of the work of the Chancellor and the Government, there are 3 million more people in work, and half a million children have been taken out of poverty. There are 2 million people benefiting from the minimum wage and 12 million children benefiting from child benefit and child tax credits, taking more people out of poverty. As a result, the number of people in absolute poverty has halved and 600,000 children are now out of poverty. We will do more in the next few years, but this would not be possible if, based on figures that do not add up, we cut £10 billion from public expenditure to pay for tax cuts. We will pursue a path of stability and tackling child poverty.

Mr. David Cameron (Witney) (Con): I am not sure that the planted questions get any better.

I would like to ask the Prime Minister about something that he rightly gave a very high priority: the humanitarian crisis in Darfur. Since the start of this year, another 80,000 people have been driven from their homes, aid workers have been killed, and access to humanitarian relief has dramatically reduced across Darfur. Even areas such as el-Fasher, which I visited 16 months ago, are sometimes inaccessible because of the Janjaweed militia. Seven months ago, the Prime Minister promised quick and decisive action, but will he confirm that on any objective measure, the situation on the ground has actually got worse?

The Prime Minister: There are 4 million people in famine or dependent on food aid. There are 2 million people who have been displaced, and 400,000 people have died. This is a humanitarian tragedy of colossal proportions, and the world must act. I believe that we must strengthen our sanctions against the Sudanese Government. We should have military sanctions for the whole of Sudan.

I believe also that the United Nations force—I have talked to the Secretary-General—must be in place as quickly as possible, that there should be no further delays and that the African Union must make its contribution. But I believe most of all that we must get people to the peace table. That is why it is important not only that the Government of Sudan come to the peace talks, but that the rebel groups join the peace talks, which they have not done before. We will continue to step up our efforts. The Foreign Office Minister, Lord Malloch-Brown, has been there recently. We have asked the Chinese to intervene in the situation, and of course I would like the Secretary-General of the United Nations to visit the region very soon.

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Mr. Cameron: The Prime Minister quite rightly mentions the joint African Union-UN force that everyone signed up to. Can he confirm that although seven months ago—last July—we were told that 20,000 peacekeepers and nearly 4,000 police would be deployed, today there are only 10,000 of them there, even on the most optimistic estimates? Recent reports say that they have no military helicopters whatsoever. Does he agree with me that this is completely unsatisfactory? The Prime Minister himself said that he would consider visiting Darfur. What steps is he now proposing to make sure that the international community rises to this important challenge?

The Prime Minister: The President of France, Mr. Sarkozy, and I have discussed the provision of helicopters and what more we can do. It is not only Sudan that is involved, but Chad as well. We have also discussed the creation of a no-fly zone, but the area in question is the size of France, which makes it very difficult to police. I believe that the way forward is to move to peace talks as quickly as possible, and I hope that right hon. and hon. Members in all parts of the House will join me in pressing the rebel groups, as well as the Government of Sudan, to join those talks.

Mr. Cameron: Let me pick up on one point the Prime Minister just made, about a no-fly zone. That is important. Last year, Tony Blair said clearly that

is vital, and I agree with him. Anyone who has been to Darfur and talked to people in the refugee camps will have heard them say, “It wasn’t just the Janjaweed militia; it was the Sudanese army that drove me out of my village—they were coming out of Sudanese aircraft.” The no-fly zone is vital, but a month ago, the Prime Minister said in a written answer that there had not been an assessment of the logistical challenges of implementing a no-fly zone. Will he confirm today that he remains in favour of a no-fly zone and will press for it very hard?

The Prime Minister: I simply emphasise that the most important thing is to get people to peace talks. That is the only way to bring the situation to a conclusion. As for a no-fly zone, I have considered it and I would like to move ahead, if it were at all possible; however, we have to accept that the area to be policed is the geographical size of France and large numbers of aeroplanes would be needed. More important at the moment is to get a ceasefire and, as a result, stop the aerial bombing of civilians. I believe that we can make progress in that respect and then get people to the peace talks. That is how to solve the problem.

Mr. Eddie McGrady (South Down) (SDLP): The Prime Minister will be aware that the First Minister of Northern Ireland and the Democratic Unionist party have vetoed the devolution of justice and policing to Northern Ireland. When the Prime Minister comes to Northern Ireland in May for the US investment conference, will he give a clear, positive message that completing devolution and maximising investment are the twin pillars of progress and stability in Northern Ireland?

The Prime Minister: The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. The devolution of justice and policing will complete the implementation of the St. Andrews agreement. However,
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a great deal of progress has been made in Northern Ireland, and I pay tribute to the First Minister. It is great news that the Queen is able to visit Northern Ireland in the next few days; and the conference on investment in Northern Ireland will be held in the next few weeks, with, I hope, substantial American participation. I also hope that all parties will follow the report produced for the Northern Ireland Assembly on the issues that are yet to be resolved in justice and policing, and move forward to reach agreement on those matters quickly.

Mr. Nick Clegg (Sheffield, Hallam) (LD): Does the Prime Minister agree with me that unless we get big money out of British politics, there is a real risk that our political system will end up like America’s, where influence and power are controlled by cash? Does he not understand the British people’s disgust as they see the two larger parties refusing to deliver real reform?

The Prime Minister: I agree that there should be a limit on election expenditure; it should be properly enforced and it should be lower than the previous limits. There should also be a limit on donations. I agree with the right hon. Gentleman on that, although I see that he has changed his policy: once, he said it should be £10,000, but I gather from his speech at the weekend that he now thinks it should be £25,000. As for the other aspects of the matter, I believe that there should be transparency in politics and that all the information should be published.

Mr. Clegg: We have heard all this before. The Prime Minister is doing nothing. Why is he using the Tory attachment to big money from Belize as an excuse to sit on his hands? Is not the truth that both he and the Conservatives are so busy protecting their own vested interests that they will not do what is right for Britain?

The Prime Minister: I do not think that the right hon. Gentleman followed me. I answered his question and said what we should do. There should be limits on national election expenditure and on individual donations, and there should be greater transparency. I hope that we can agree on this, and that all parties will do so.

Mr. Stephen Hepburn (Jarrow) (Lab): The Prime Minister will be aware of the disgraceful plight of pleural plaque sufferers in this country, who are being denied their rightful claim to compensation by the courts. Does he agree that it does not matter how the issue is dressed up: pleural plaques are a working-class industrial injury caused by negligent exposure to asbestos? Will he meet the group of MPs who have been campaigning on the issue, so that we can bring an end to this dreadful, Victorian scandal?

The Prime Minister: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising the House of Lords judgment, which now has to be answered. Asbestosis and mesothelioma are terrible diseases, and all of us who have seen the effects that they cause know that we have to do more to help the victims of those diseases. On pleural plaques, we are looking at the matter at this very moment. We will publish a consultation document soon. We are determined to take some action, and I am very happy to meet his delegation.

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Q2. [193249] Mr. Andrew Mackay (Bracknell) (Con): When the Prime Minister was Chancellor of the Exchequer, it was widely spun that he gave Tony Blair only two days’ notice of his Budget proposals. Can we assume that the current Chancellor has been more co-operative?

The Prime Minister: The information that the right hon. Gentleman has is completely wrong, and it is because of co-operation in government that we are the Government who have created more stability than any Government in the history of this country.

Dr. Howard Stoate (Dartford) (Lab): As my right hon. Friend will know, this is prostate cancer awareness week, and 10,000 men die of prostate cancer every year, making it the commonest cause of cancer deaths in men. However, there are significant inequalities across the country in cancer death rates for prostate disease. Will my right hon. Friend commit to reducing health inequalities and improving research, treatment and awareness of that terrible condition, so that we can bring the death toll down?

The Prime Minister: I agree entirely with what my hon. Friend says. More has to be done. There has been a 16 per cent. fall in cancer deaths, and there is more availability of help, check-ups and screening. At the same time, people who are suspected of having the disease are treated far more quickly than ever before, but we have to do more about the issue. It is only possible to do more if we continue to spend and invest in our national health service.

Mr. David Cameron (Witney) (Con): I believe that there is a strong case for more free votes in Parliament, and there is an unanswerable case for free votes on matters of conscience. One such example is the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill. Can the Prime Minister explain why votes on matters-of-conscience issues were whipped in the House of Lords, and can he tell us why his official spokesman has said that the Bill will not be subject to a free vote in the House of Commons?

The Prime Minister: On the issues that arise in the Bill, one is a potential amendment on abortion, and that will be subject to a free vote in the House, as is absolutely normal. On the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill, the right hon. Gentleman must know that it initially came before a Joint Committee of both Houses. Recommendations were made, and they were then part of the Bill. The Bill was then put through the House of Lords. It will come to the House of Commons, and we will make a decision about the way in which votes on it will take place in due course.

Mr. Cameron: Let me tell the Prime Minister what was whipped in the House of Lords: votes on the production of hybrid human-animal embryos, the requirement for IVF clinics to have regard to a child’s need for a father, and the circumstances under which saviour siblings can be created. Those were all whipped votes, and they should not have been. He says that he will make a decision. Why not break the habit of the lifetime, make the decision now and tell us what it is?

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