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3 Jun 2008 : Column 231WH—continued

12.46 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for International Development (Gillian Merron): I congratulate the hon. Member for The Wrekin (Mark Pritchard) on securing this timely debate. Perhaps I may immediately reassure him about UK Government action with respect to all the concerns that he has set out, by saying that our job is to support the poor people of Mozambique. I am sure that he will join me in that view. I have just returned from Mozambique where I attended the annual meetings of the African Development Bank, visited communities where UK assistance is making a difference and met the DFID team to discuss future strategy and the focus of the UK’s aid programme.

Mozambique, as we have heard, is a country that has made great strides, but it still faces multiple challenges. Since peace in 1992 the country and its people, with our assistance and the assistance of others, have been meeting those challenges. The country is often rightly described as something of a development success story of post-conflict reconciliation and reconstruction. There has been real progress, to which the UK aid programme has contributed. Before I address the important issues raised by the Amnesty International report and the particular concerns about corruption I want to say a few words about where the UK Government, through DFID, have already made a difference in Mozambique, and to give a sense of our future direction. I want to do that because those factors have a positive impact on the realisation of human rights, the tackling of corruption and the promotion of good governance.

Basic services are the focus of DFID’s work in Mozambique, because our job is to bring about real improvements in the lives of the poor and to be completely focused on that. As to education, our programme has contributed to getting an extra 270,000 children into primary school. UK development assistance on health has enabled the Mozambique Government to meet their 2007 target of an extra 35,000 women giving birth in a clinic, and ensured that more than six out of 10 children under the age of one were fully immunised against the five priority vaccine-preventable diseases: diphtheria, polio, tetanus, whooping cough and measles.

On HIV and AIDS, in a country where the infection rate is estimated to have reached about 16 per cent. of the adult population, DFID has worked with the Government and other donors to reach the Government’s target of about 79,000 adults receiving antiretroviral treatment and more than 6,000 children receiving paediatric treatment. I am glad that yesterday, at the launch of the UK Government’s updated strategy on achieving universal access, the representative of the Government of Mozambique welcomed that, and saw the real difference that UK plans and action will make to the people of Mozambique.

To me, the changes are about improving vulnerable and excluded people’s chances to claim their rights, but it is true that those changes alone are not enough to encourage a robust and accountable Government. To address that, we are actively supporting civil society, with a focus on people’s rights, and have funded an
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anti-corruption watchdog, the Centre for Public Integrity. Through that support, we are generating a demand among the people of Mozambique for greater Government accountability and effectiveness.

Of course, there is so much more to do. Mozambique ranks only 172nd out of 177 on the human development index, which measures well-being based on economic, social and health issues. The Government predict that by 2010, 2 million people in Mozambique will be living with HIV and 300,000 children will still not be in school. Those challenges and others are the reason that our aid programme will rise from £60 million in 2007 to £70 million in 2010-11, and that our core approach is based on improving service delivery.

Mark Pritchard: Will that rather large increase be a cheque given to the Mozambique Government without strings attached, or will it be conditional on certain reforms to address some of the issues that I have touched on?

Gillian Merron: As I continue, I shall assure the hon. Gentleman of the stringent measures in place. I hope that he will take comfort from that.

The Mozambique Government have correctly ambitious plans in respect of health, education, HIV and social protection. We need to support the Government in delivering them, but with a much stronger emphasis on accountability. Of course, as Mozambique is a country vulnerable to natural disasters such as floods, droughts and cyclones, which damage property and livelihoods and increase disease, we will increase our work on tackling climate change.

Our focus is on achieving results for the people of Mozambique, whether that involves access to clean water and decent health care or the opportunity to go to school, be safe and access decent work. DFID Mozambique has clear measures of success, using the targets for 2009 taken from the Mozambique Government’s own poverty reduction strategy.

It is appropriate at this point to refer to the points raised by the hon. Gentleman about corruption. Indicators of corruption are included in the performance framework for budget support, and constant dialogue about them takes place in which all 19 budget support donors engage. We have a particular approach in Mozambique, which I am happy to outline and hope will be of interest to the hon. Gentleman.

DFID’s national corruption strategy has four aspects. The first is supporting the Government of Mozambique in their reform programmes, which aim to narrow the opportunities for corruption. For example, we are supporting the introduction of a new electronic public expenditure management system, which will reduce opportunities for embezzlement and theft. Secondly, as I have mentioned, we are supporting the demand side of good governance and anti-corruption efforts by supporting the people of Mozambique in claiming their rights and having a voice. Thirdly, anti-corruption plans are being introduced at the sector level as a key strand of our programme. Our focus is on health, where there is evidence of the highest level of political commitment. Finally, we are supporting initiatives called mega-project deals to improve transparency in relation to minerals and revenue flows. In 2007, we worked on new mining
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and petroleum fiscal laws, and we are now considering how to improve transparency on new investments in the energy sector.

It is important to put on record that there have been some positive steps recently. That is the evidence that the hon. Gentleman asked for. For example, a new computerised expenditure management system has been introduced, as well as a new public procurement law and a census of public-sector workers, all of which will help ensure that Government money is used effectively. It is the poor people in Mozambique who cannot wait for progress. Therefore, we will continue to support them through the aid programme while using every appropriate safeguard, as I have already described.

The hon. Gentleman rightly and understandably expressed his concern about human rights. The UK Government share the concerns outlined in the Amnesty International report about the lack of police accountability. It is unacceptable for the police to commit human rights violations. When they take place, it is also unacceptable for them not to be investigated and for the perpetrators not to be brought to justice. Following the report that was recently issued, officials from DFID and the high commission in Mozambique, who work very closely together, met with Amnesty International to discuss their findings. We will continue to work with Amnesty.

We and our EU partners are having a robust dialogue with the Mozambique Government about progress on human rights. We will demand to see the recommendations of the Amnesty International report put into action. Our UK high commissioner, Andrew Soper, has requested a meeting with the Minister of the Interior to discuss the report. The matter will also be raised at the forthcoming meeting between EU ambassadors and the Foreign Minister.

Despite reports that the human rights situation in Mozambique is worsening, there have been positive developments and it is important to put them on record. For example, the number of prisoners being held without trial has been falling consistently. The 2005 family law made important strides towards equality for women, especially in the ownership of domestic assets. We were also glad to see the introduction of a Bill against human trafficking, which was recently passed in the Parliament of Mozambique after a concerted campaign by international and local non-governmental organisations,
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and supported by donors. Such a move is evidence that, by working with others, it is possible to shift Government approaches to the critical aspects of human rights. Within the dialogue and the performance-monitoring machinery of budget support, the human rights focus is very much on access to justice, including access to legal aid and faster processing of court cases.

Improvements were seen in 2007 with a 24 per cent. increase in the productivity of the courts.

Mark Pritchard: Will the Minister put on record whether she thinks that the principle of compensation and reparations for the victims of police officers and for the families of those people who have been murdered should be enshrined in law and should be something that the President himself is involved in to ensure that the families do not continue to suffer through the loss of income from those whom they have lost?

Gillian Merron: I have already set out very clearly what is and what is not acceptable. I want to focus on getting the Government of Mozambique to take on the recommendations of the Amnesty International report. Aside from that report, however, we are pressing for progress in a number of areas in the near future. Reform of the penal code, which dates from the 18th century, is crucial and needs to be harmonised with new laws and international conventions, which have been ratified by Mozambique’s Parliament.

There needs to be greater protection for women and children under the law—including the introduction of a new law on domestic violence—and the promotion of their rights, as well as the establishment of a human rights commission. The Mozambique Government and Parliament have already started to discuss those issues and we look forward to progress soon. We will continue to assist them.

The UK remains committed to this agenda and will focus on four priority areas: child rights, in particular child trafficking; political freedom; police accountability; and improving human rights awareness in the management of prisons. We recognise that even stronger mechanisms of accountability are important to maintain a commitment to reduce corruption, provide responsive public services and ultimately reduce poverty and bring fairness in a country that is on track to meet the majority of the millennium development goals. With the continued support of the UK aid programme, we will work to make that achievement possible.

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Food Security

12.59 pm

Mr. David Drew (Stroud) (Lab/Co-op): I am delighted to introduce the debate at this time. I wish that my thinking about the issue at the same time as the Food and Agriculture Organisation meeting takes place in Rome were more than a coincidence, but these things sometimes conspire for all the best purposes. At least the presence of Mugabe has given the meeting some added piquancy, although I would like to have thought that the presence of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Development and another friend, the Chairman of the Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the right hon. Member for Fylde (Mr. Jack), would have been enough to generate some interest in it.

Food and food politics are highly contentious issues at the moment. We all know that recent price increases have raised the issue to a new height of awareness, and I wish mainly to talk about the UK scene, although I shall finish by saying a few things about the international scene. I am well aware of what the Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for Chatham and Aylesford (Jonathan Shaw), speaks on, and I wish to keep the debate mainly in the domestic context.

It is quite difficult to define food policy, let alone food policy security, but I am clear that we have a problem in this country and in the western world, and I want to highlight some things that we ought to take account of. As always with these debates, I can raise the issues, but I hope that the Minister will respond with some answers about the Government’s thinking.

There is obviously a question from the outset, because it is difficult to identify which Department and which Minister will take responsibility for the issue. My hon. Friend is in the Chamber to answer today, and in the true sense of joined-up government, I hope that he will talk to other Ministers about it, because the Food Standards Agency reports to the Department of Health, the Cabinet Office is spending a great deal of time on the issue of food co-ordination, and other Departments—such as the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform and the Department for Children, Schools and Families—are involved with the issues about what we feed our children in schools. A panoply of Ministries take partial responsibility for the matter.

I am going to cheat and not come up with my own definition of food security, because it has been very well done in the recent Cabinet Office paper, to which I shall give some publicity, because it is very good at trying to settle the old differences and delineate how to take the new strategy forward. The Cabinet Office says:

It continues:

It then looks at the six key criteria by which food security should be measured. They are: availability, which is to do with production, supply and so on; access—to do with affordability and physical accessibility; affordability in its own right—to do with what households
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can and cannot afford; safety—to do with what we eat and feeling secure in the knowledge that what we eat will not poison us or do long-term damage to our bodies; resilience, as the food chain has to be capable of being protected and supported; and finally, confidence, as there must be public confidence in all those issues, so that people feel that they can purchase the food.

There is so much that I could say in the debate, but I shall keep to the main bones of my contention, whereby I hope that the Government are moving towards a proper food policy based on addressing the current problems of where we get our food from and how it can be supplied at a reasonable price. We all know that people are becoming increasingly aware of the issue globally, but we have seen rising food prices over the past few months in this country. Questions are being asked of the Prime Minister, the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs as to how we can perhaps forestall some of the increases or at least put them in the context of how we can make progress. The price rises vary enormously.

I will go on the record about this. I have said it before; it is not something that I mind being reported. I always saw the dangers of a cheap food policy. We became pretty complacent, believing that food prices would always stay low. We were not asking enough questions about where that food was coming from and we certainly never foresaw what might happen on the world stage. We did not foresee what could happen if we suddenly moved away from a cheap food policy and began to realise that that was not ordained from above; it was something that we had to make work and happen. Supply had to be put in place and we had to look at who was demanding it and why.

We have seen prices going up. Bread and cereals are up 8.5 per cent. and milk and cheese are up 15.7 per cent. Those are dramatic increases. I have never been one who takes a cheap food policy for granted, because it has been my belief that suppliers in this country have had something of a raw deal. I could argue as to why they have had a raw deal, but at least now some of those suppliers may begin to get appropriate rewards, which could change our food provision for the better. However, there are other aspects to the issue that are increasingly worrying.

We have seen self-sufficiency decline. It has not declined dramatically, but it has declined, and I think that we need to consider whether there should be a requirement for a minimum proportion of our food to be supplied from within this country, because of the dangers of relying on imports. Also, I feel strongly that this is not just about a national policy but about local food chains, which I very much support.

The other aspect is rising fuel prices. That issue takes two forms. People are paying more to move food around. I am referring to food miles—the Tim Lang phrase that is now in common parlance. More particularly, one of the reasons why food prices are rising is that we have chosen to turn land over to biofuel. I personally think that that is completely explicable and I strongly support it. I know that there is a debate on the issue later in the week—the Minister may respond to it, too—but I am worried by the exaggeration that takes place. Everyone said, “This is a jolly good thing because we are moving away from our dependency on petrol and diesel,” so we
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move to another product and then there is a huge row. People say, “This is terrible. We should stop it immediately. It is a completely inappropriate use of our land space.” I do not go along with that. I think that there is a role for biofuels. We need to find other ways in which we can move vehicles about but, again, anyone who thinks that that is the answer per se will be sadly disillusioned.

The other aspect of food coming from abroad that worries me, as the Minister will know because I have asked him about it and there have been various DEFRA investigations, is the threat of animal disease. I have felt for a long time that we underestimate that. We could be seen to be obsessed with terrorism. One aspect of that could always be the threat of animal disease being deliberately put into our food supply, but more particularly, we are talking about accidents of fate. This country has had foot and mouth and we are threatened currently by avian influenza and bluetongue. It costs huge amounts of money to deal with such matters. I am proud that the Department has strategies in place and we are working incredibly hard but, again, we ignore those threats at our peril. That issue must be part of how we deal with security and evolve a proper food policy.

One of the criteria must be food safety. Of course, that is linked to animal disease. It involves what we eat and who supplies it. However, there is a more general issue to do with safety. If we take the widest definition of that, we are talking not just about what is safe to eat, but how much people eat. The obesity debate—the obesity epidemic, some people would say—is part and parcel of the debate about where we supply, what we supply and how much we supply.

This issue is topical. The Chancellor wrote to Dr. Andrej Bajuk, the Minister of Finance in the Slovenian Government. He did that because Slovenia will shortly take on the EU presidency; indeed, it has already taken it on because it is 1 June—[Interruption.] It is finishing off its presidency—I thank the Minister for reminding me of that. I have not yet had the opportunity to visit Slovenia, so it is a bit distant to me. However, I congratulate the Chancellor on sending that letter, which at least raised the question of how the common agricultural policy relates to the issues before us.

As a dyed-in-the-wool sceptic, I feel strongly that we are, yet again, not asking the pertinent questions about the common agricultural policy. I know that these recent developments have upset the National Farmers Union because they look as though they will lead to more instability. We must, however, ask whether we have the appropriate policy in place at this time of rising fuel and food prices to provide most of Europe’s food, and I would say that we have not. The Chancellor is therefore to be congratulated on at least opening up a debate on the issue. We have, of course, chosen to subsidise food, and I have no problem with that, but I do have a problem with the way in which we subsidise it in the EU. We need to look carefully at whether there are better policies and mechanisms and at whether those that we do have are appropriate as we go forward in this century. At the very least, the jury is out on that.

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