Previous Section Index Home Page

1 May 2008 : Column 152WH—continued

It is no good our pouring out statistics or running campaigns if nothing reaches the people on the ground. That will not happen unless we generate an interest among those who make the equipment, and unless the price is affordable. I do not mean that it should be affordable by individuals, who will not, I think, be able to afford to buy it. The Chairman of the Committee graphically described the priority that people expressed: they said that the first thing they wanted was a toilet—but
1 May 2008 : Column 153WH
they will not get a toilet unless it is the right price. That means that a toilet must be provided, although it may not be bought by the people concerned; it may be installed in the village or shanty district by the Government, but the Government will not be able to afford to do that unless the price and design are right. I want to highlight that practical side of the problem.

I am sure that it is not unknown to those who are present for the debate that more than 40 per cent. of the world’s population have no access even to a simple latrine. As I said, 1.8 million children die of diarrhoea every year; by contrast, and as a reference point, that is five times as many as die from AIDS. That is something to bear in mind. A baby born in sub-Saharan Africa, which I mentioned is not going to get the relevant facilities until 2076, is 55 times more likely to die from diarrhoeal disease than one born in the developed world. Children in households with no toilet are twice as likely to get diarrhoea as those with a toilet, and children who get intestinal worms are much more likely to have asthma and stunted growth, and to underperform in every field. As to women, they are forced, as we all know from what has been said by the right hon. Gentleman and others, to wait until dark to go out and do what is necessary, because they feel it would bring shame on their family. That induces serious problems with regard to their intestinal behaviour. Of course, it is women who must look after sick children, and if they have a disease it will be passed on to the children.

On the subject of education, the World Health Organisation estimates that 443 million school days are lost annually, worldwide, because of diarrhoeal disease. As the hon. Member for Glasgow, North (Ann McKechin) said, hygiene education and the promotion of hand washing have been shown to reduce cases of diarrhoea by 45 per cent., which is pretty impressive. However, as she pointed out, if people cannot afford soap, they cannot do that, and education is needed to make sure that hand washing happens. Diseases such as cholera killed tens of thousands of British people in the 19th century, as I said, and now that AIDS and sexual health are finally high on the global agenda, sanitation can be regarded in many respects as the last taboo. We have an obligation to resolve the questions.

I want to make a few comments on the Government’s response to the report. Not being a member of the Committee, I am not as well versed in the report as the Chairman and the hon. Lady, but I understand from the exchanges that have taken place that a policy paper on water has been produced. I am not quite sure why we have not seen it—I have not, at least. Maybe it has been buried in the Vote Office.

Mr. Thomas: An update to our previous water policy has been published and I shall ensure that the hon. Gentleman is sent a copy. A further updated water policy strategy paper is due to be published shortly. I shall make sure that hon. Members who have attended the debate receive a copy of it in due course. The debate and, indeed, the Select Committee’s report are helping to influence what we say in the strategy paper.

Mr. Cash: I am very glad to hear that. I did not hear the word “sanitation”, though. May we have a paper on sanitation as well? It is, as we have all said in the debate, as important as, if not more important than, water.

1 May 2008 : Column 154WH

Mr. Thomas: I should have made myself clearer. What we are doing on sanitation will also be included in the water policy paper.

Mr. Cash: Excellent. We are now making good progress.

The millennium development goals target on sanitation is the most off-track of all the MDGs, and it is vital that sanitation is mainstreamed into DFID’s health and education interventions. In its response to the report, DFID said that it would establish a multidisciplinary sanitation working group in DFID to

and take forward the International Development Committee’s recommendations on sanitation. Am I right in thinking that that group has now been established? How often has it met, and what are its main activities and achievements?

The Select Committee recommended that the water, sanitation, energy and transport team in DFID’s policy and research division should be expanded to include a health and social development advisory capacity. Has that happened, or are there plans for it? The Select Committee also recognised the need for high-level global political commitment to the issues of water and sanitation, if faster progress is to be made. The Department has called for one high-level annual meeting on those issues at global level, and one annual monitoring report to review progress, and has said that the Secretary of State and DFID officials would work with UN-Water to ensure that that happens. When will this year’s high-level meeting take place, and at what level will the UK Government be represented? Also, what is the latest information on the production of this year’s monitoring report?

Mr. Thomas: I shall not try to answer all the hon. Gentleman’s questions so far, although I shall come to the “five ones” in my concluding remarks. On his specific questions about staff in DFID and interdisciplinary working groups, I confirm that the sanitation and health working group, which has been mentioned, met only yesterday for a whole day of learning and sharing ideas and practice across the Department. Of course, at country level, staff who work in particular on water liaise with staff who work on health and education, with respect to the needs of the specific country. The greater degree of sharing and working together that the International Development Committee called for is happening.

Mr. Cash: Very good. I thank the Minister very much. That is further progress.

I mentioned the G8. I understand that, following what the former Prime Minister said on 25 June last year, the Japanese Government have said that they will put sanitation and water on the agenda this year. That is progress, too, but current signs suggest that a weak, rather fragile review of the 2003 Evian action plan is likely to be agreed to instead of what is needed—a strong commitment to a new and robust global action plan on sanitation and water, along the lines of what, in fairness, DFID has been calling for. Will the Minister be good enough to let us know what efforts the Government have been making to ensure that the G8 makes a stronger commitment to rapid and effective action on sanitation and water this year?

1 May 2008 : Column 155WH

Mr. Thomas: Such is the seriousness with which International Development Committee reports are taken that I went to Tokyo to take part in the G8 Development Ministers meeting. We discussed the need to revisit the Evian action plan and make further progress on water and sanitation, which the hon. Gentleman and the right hon. Member for Gordon (Malcolm Bruce) have referred to. The full G8 meeting has not yet taken place, so I cannot say at this stage what the outcome of the final document will be. However, we have made representations for stronger language and stronger commitments by the G8, to influence the discussions that will take place on 25 September when the Secretary-General of the UN hosts a big meeting to review progress on all the millennium development goals.

Mr. Cash: I have always had a lot of time for the Minister, and other hon. Members and I can tell that he is completely on top of the questions that are being put to him. It is extremely helpful to us to have immediate responses as we go along, because it shows that something is happening.

However, I have examined the Government’s response to the Select Committee report and have outlined the scale of the problem, which is one of the worst facing the world. That is not an exaggeration. Against that background, the Government saying that they are

may sound good, but it is peanuts in relation to the problem. I know that that sounds rather curmudgeonly, but I have the advantage of being a Back Bencher, and I am therefore not constrained in what I say about public expenditure. I am afraid that it just will not do. It will not solve the problem.

I am not saying that the burden should fall entirely on the UK. I see all the references in the Government’s response to the World Bank and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, or whatever it calls itself—such things always have good names. However, the question is what is being delivered and how much money is needed to meet the minimum requirements. We are either going to solve the problem or we are not, and just putting a few farthings in a bucket as we go past, which is basically what we are doing compared with what is required, is simply not good enough. Maybe I am asking for more than we are likely to get, but I do not think that the world is addressing the problem. I strongly urge the Minister to bear that in mind. He or the Secretary of State will be going to the G8, or maybe both of them.

Mr. Thomas indicated dissent.

Mr. Cash: The Minister does not think that he will be going, but I am sure that the Secretary of State will be going. If he does, I hope that he will go along and say that we are not prepared to put up with the fact that a child dies every 15 seconds, and that the G8 had better get its act together. If the money has to be provided for that, it is a matter of imperative requirement. It is not a matter of human rights. I hear people talking about that, but I am interested not in the theory of human rights but in the practicality of delivery for the rights of human beings. The death rates that I have described cry out for a proper response.

1 May 2008 : Column 156WH

I have mentioned AIDS, which has been discussed in relation to the stigma attached to it, but I am more concerned about proportionality. As I have said, so many more children die from failures of sanitation and water than from AIDS that the point is self-explanatory. I notice that the Select Committee stated:

I pay tribute to the Government’s response to that, because they did not say, “We disagree”. They stated:

Let us be up front about this: sanitation has to be put right at the top of the agenda—not necessarily at the expense of water, but the two things have to run together. In their response to the Committee’s concerns about the different skill sets required for the sanitation and water sectors, the Government stated:

It is not a risk; it is an absolute certainty.

We must consider how DFID works. In its response, it states that it will

The Minister will not be surprised to hear me say that I believe strongly that multilateral operations are not as effective as many people crack them up to be, certainly in relation to the European Union. I do not want to go down that route, but it is inevitable that I make that point, as it is supported by the reports of the European Court of Auditors. When I make such points about Europe, it is not because I want to make them but because they are there to be made.

Given the expertise that we have in this country, our connections with the countries affected and our tradition of dealing with many of them for generations—many of them are Commonwealth countries—we should not disavow our past on the grounds that we somehow look patronising or colonial in our attitudes. That is a complete misconception. People in those countries would be delighted to know that we were prepared to take as much interest in them as individual nation states as we did before. We may examine our record in relation to many of the countries affected. The contrast between the sanitation and water problems in Zimbabwe now and the problems in 1980 to 1982 is enough to make one feel weak. Multilateral arrangements may be the fashion, but we need direct, hands-on connection between ourselves and other countries. Let us have a bit more confidence that we can help these people, because they need our help and we can deliver it.

Mr. Clifton-Brown: On the debate about unilateral and multilateral provision, does my hon. Friend agree that one reason why DFID has such a high worldwide reputation is that it not only gets value for money but follows up projects to ensure that they are maintained properly? Too often, a water or sanitation system is installed with great fanfare and expense, but five years later it is not working because it has not been maintained.

1 May 2008 : Column 157WH

Mr. Cash: I absolutely agree. Internal engagement once the delivery has been made, and the follow-up and maintenance required, are a measure of our being fully engaged in the process all the way down the line. My hon. Friend is absolutely right about that.

There are references in the report to leadership—being champions and that sort of that thing. It also says:

I would like to hear a bit more about how far that plan has gone.

On the human right to water, it was interesting that the Select Committee said:

that is, recognition of the need to provide people with water—

If we look back over our own history at the question of water supply and the related legislation, which extends from the early 18th century to the present day, the amount of water legislation that we have on the statute book has all been linked to that very question. The terrible experiences that people had in the mid-19th century made them realise that water supply was vital. It may no longer be at the top of everybody’s mind, because we now take it for granted. However, the one thing that can be said for sure with regard to other countries is that they cannot take anything for granted about water supply and legislation, because for the most part there is nothing there.

I agree with the Select Committee on that. It said that DFID’s policy should include

as well as of gaps in legislation and policies.

I am sure, Mr. Bayley, that you anticipated that I would raise the issue of corruption, and you have played a prominent role in highlighting it. I introduced a Bill on corruption, and the Select Committee is completely right when it says in paragraph 96 of its report:

That is hugely important.

I am glad to say that the Government response states:

of this process. It goes on to say, rightly:

I would also add, if I may say, that the process requires the ingredients of my Bill, which regrettably did not get incorporated in the Bill proposed by Mr. Tom Clarke, the right hon. Member whose constituency I forget.

Mr. Hugh Bayley (in the Chair): Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill.

Mr. Cash: The right hon. Member for Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill (Mr. Clarke), yes. We had a little bit of an altercation over that, although we of course remain good friends. However, I believe that dealing
1 May 2008 : Column 158WH
with corruption in this context is hugely important and setting up, as outlined in the Government response, a

is only a part of the solution to that problem.

I have made my point with respect to the necessity of involving the Bathroom Manufacturers Association and the World Plumbing Council. It is hugely important to get industry and trade associations involved, because of the importance of making delivery on the ground at the right price.

The overall impact of this report, which I believe should have been debated on the Floor of the House because of its importance, remains at the heart of our work in the developing world.

Finally, I would just like to pay tribute again to the Committee and also to DFID for the work that it is beginning to do on water and sanitation. However, I am quite certain that my own party will be taking every bit as much interest in this subject and I am very much looking forward to hearing the contributions from both the Minister and our shadow Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Cotswold (Mr. Clifton-Brown), for whom I have great regard.

Next Section Index Home Page