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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for International Development (Mr. Michael Foster): Climate change poses a serious and long-term threat to development in poor countries. To tackle this, the Department is pushing for an ambitious new global agreement to combat climate change. Our core business of lifting people out of poverty is still the most effective way of reducing the impact of climate change on the worlds poorest people. We are supporting countries to integrate climate change adaptation into their development plans, and doing the same for our bilateral aid programmes.
In recent years, the intensity and frequency of flooding in Bangladesh seems to have increased substantially. What are the Government doing to help that nation, which is one of the poorest, to tackle climate change?
Mr. Foster: I thank my hon. Friend for his comments. Bangladeshs geography and poverty combine to make it especially vulnerable to climate change. DFID has helped to raise the floors of some 32,000 homes in Bangladeshthe equivalent of a small city in our countryabove the one-in-100-year flood level. In addition, we have announced a £75 million programme to help the country to adapt further to rising sea levels, waterlogged land and increased saline intrusion.
Malcolm Bruce (Gordon) (LD): The Minister will be awareand it is worth reminding the Housethat the Select Committee on International Development is about to embark on an inquiry into sustainable development in a changing climate. Does he agree that it is important for those of us in the west tackling climate change to understand that developing countries that have developed niche markets, selling, for instance, flowers and vegetables to the United Kingdom, can do so sustainably? Does he agree that we should continue to support those countries, rather than stop buying such goods, as some people have called for, which sustain thousands of jobs in Africa?
May I begin by congratulating the right hon. Gentleman on his work on the International Development Committee? I look forward to appearing before his Committee in that inquiry. He is absolutely
right about enabling developing countries to grow in a sustainable fashion. I think that he and I would both agree that climate-smart development is the way for the future.
Ms Sally Keeble (Northampton, North) (Lab): Does my hon. Friend agree that one immediate and visible sign of climate change is food shortages in developing countries? What is his Department doing to improve peoples nutritional status and stop the hunger, especially among children, in sub-Saharan Africa?
Mr. Foster: In addition to the humanitarian aid that we obviously give in such circumstances, we are embarking on a major piece of research, with some £400 million being invested over the next five years, so that in the long term we can help to cultivate drought-resistant maize and saline-resistant rice for waterlogged countries.
Mr. William Cash (Stone) (Con): The Minister may be aware that drought and water problems are extremely difficult to overcome for parts of Africa and other parts of the world. As chairman of the all-party group on water and sanitation in the third world, which enjoys the support of 250 Members of Parliament, may I ask him to say what steps are being taken to satisfy organisations such as WaterAid and Tearfund, which recently made representations to the Department because of the shortfall in the amount of money being made available for sanitation and water?
Mr. Foster: The hon. Gentleman makes an important point. Just last week my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State launched DFIDs new water and sanitation strategy. Part of that strategy accepts the fact that there are 1 billion people living in developing countries who still have no access to toilets and 900 million people who have no access to clean water. Through that strategy and the good work of organisations such as WaterAid, we intend to build toilets for more than 50 million people and provide clean water for an additional 25 million people in the developing world.
Hugh Bayley (City of York) (Lab): Now that Britain is the biggest contributor to the World Banks International Development Associationor IDAwindow, which funds grant aid to the least developed countries, we are in a particularly strong position to influence bank policy. What contribution do the Government want the World Bank to make to adaptation to climate change in the poorest countries of the world?
Mr. Foster: At the 2005 summit in Gleneagles, the UK championed the clean energy investment framework, which commits the World Bank and other multilateral development banks to increase their investment in renewable sources of energy.
Mr. Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (Cotswold) (Con): May I, too, welcome the Minister to his new post? Does he agree that consensus on a post-Kyoto agreement at Potsdam next month is essential to protect some of the poorest people on the planet? In that connection, what strategy have he and his colleagues in other Departments adopted to deal with the new President-elect Obama, who has already stated that he wishes to re-engage in the UN process and, in particular, to introduce a new and effective carbon cap-and-trade system?
Mr. Foster: May I say how much we welcome the pledges made during the election campaign by President-elect Obama? We are pushing for a post-2012 agreement on climate change and as part of that campaign we believe that it is important to engage with our European allies and European partners. If I could just tease the hon. Gentleman, I would say that isolation in the European Union is not good for the developing world or for climate change.
By 2013, the UK Government will reach our target of spending 0.7 per cent. of national income on aid. We have clearly laid out our plans to the reach this goal and we are encouraging our partners to do likewise.
David Taylor: Actis Capital, the opaque private equity company created in 2004 to invest the then Commonwealth Development Corporations funds, made $50 million profit in 2007 from sources such as a financial services company in South Africa and a hotel chain in China. How satisfied is my right hon. Friend with Actiss use of public money at a time when aid budgets are under such pressure? Could it not be put to far better use in agriculture, health, education and infrastructure projects in the developing world?
Mr. Alexander: CDC, which has worked with Actis in recent years, has accumulated capital while investing significant sums of money in the developing world. The need for continued flows of capital to the developing world has only increased in recent months and that is why it is important that, for example, the World Bank increases counter-cyclical lending. That is why we want to see other institutions, including CDC, continue to put capital into the developing world. Aid alone will never be sufficient to meet the challenge of poverty.
The Prime Minister (Mr. Gordon Brown): I am sure that the whole House will wish to join me in sending our profound condolences to the family and friends of the soldier from 2nd Battalion the Royal Gurkha Rifles who was killed in Afghanistan yesterday. In the week leading to Remembrance Sunday, we should remember the debt of gratitude that we owe to all those who have laid down their lives in service of our country.
Before I list my engagements, I am sure that the whole House will wish to join me in sending our sincere congratulations to Senator Barack Obama on winning the presidency of the United States and writing a new chapter in history in doing so. The bonds that unite the United States and the UK are vital to our prosperity and security and I know from talking to Senator Obama that he will be a true friend of Britain. The Government look forward to working with the new Administration as we both help people fairly through the downturn. I also want to pay tribute to Senator McCain, who has shown the characteristic dignity that has marked a lifetime of service to his country.
Over the next few weeks, the residents of Greater Manchester will have the opportunity to vote in the referendum on introducing congestion charging in return for £1.5 billion of Government investment in public transport. Many people support road pricing but do not support the scheme. Will the Prime Minister [ Interruption. ]
Mr. Leech: Will the Prime Minister ensure that in the event of a No vote the people of Greater Manchester will have the opportunity to come back with an improved scheme without the concern that the Government might take the money away?
The Prime Minister: I know that the voting paper has options for a Yes vote and a No vote, but I am afraid that there is no option for a Dont know vote. In the event of a No vote, it would be up to Greater Manchester authorities to decide whether they wanted to do further work on the proposals. The Government are in principle prepared to contribute, as the hon. Gentleman has said, up to £1.5 billion towards the Greater Manchester package, but that is dependent on the broad scope and nature of the package remaining the same. If Greater Manchester came back with a revised proposition, we would need to assess it on its merits.
Kate Hoey (Vauxhall) (Lab): The Prime Minister will be aware that this weekend South Africa will host the Southern African Development Community conference to discuss Zimbabwe and the atrocities in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Will he continue to do all he can to ensure that the African leaders and the rest of the world realise that Zimbabwe, under the leadership of Morgan Tsvangirai, has resisted violence and stuck to peaceful and democratic means, and to ensure that that country is not sidelined because of what is happening in the DRC?
The Prime Minister:
I welcome my hon. Friends long-term interest in Zimbabwe issues. I gather that the Speaker of the Zimbabwe Parliament is with us in this building today. I am determined that the international
community act in a strong, united and decisive way on this issue. We have offered humanitarian aidfood aid going into Zimbabwebut we regret that, despite all the discussions led by former President Mbeki, no agreement has yet been reached on the future of Zimbabwe and the personnel in the Government.
While we are determined to avoid a catastrophe in the Democratic Republic of the Congoand we will take action as the Foreign Secretary saidby giving humanitarian aid and protecting civilians, and while Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon will visit the DRC in the next few days, a regional summit will be held to look further into this matter and a UN envoy will, I believe, be appointed very soon, I can assure my hon. Friend that we will not take our eyes off the humanitarian aid that we need to give to Zimbabwe and that we will not stop applying pressure for a political settlement that recognises the democratic will of the Zimbabwean people.
I join the Prime Minister in congratulating Barack Obama on his stunning victory in the American elections, and I also pay tribute to John McCain, not least for the gracious way in which he conceded. This really is an important momentto have gone from the horror of segregation to the election of a black President in just four decades is an incredible transformation. It shows that the United States really is a beacon of hope, opportunity and change. I read this morning that the Prime Minister has sent a message to the President-elect; presumably it was not, This is no time for a novice.
Mr. Cameron: The Labour party [Interruption.] You have made your strategic choice: it is called more of the same and it is sitting in front of you. You killed change when you bottled that election, and you buried change when you appointed Peter Mandelson.
Mr. Cameron: Back to the business in hand. This week, the European Commission said that Britain faces a deeper recession next year than the United States, Japan or any major EU economy. The Prime Minister kept telling us that Britain was better prepared to face the recession. In fact, we are the worst prepared. Why was he wrong?
The Prime Minister:
That was the only time I have ever heard the right hon. Gentleman quoting the European Commission. I have to tell him that the reason we are better prepared than other countries is that we have had low interest rates for years; we are now getting inflation down and it will come down further next year; we have
high levels of employmenthigher than in almost every other major industrial country; and we can come through this. At the same time, corporate balance sheets are strong outside the financial sector, and they are not in the position that they were in when the right hon. Gentleman was the adviser to the Chancellor in 1992. I also have to tell him that we are taking the long-term decisions for this countryon nuclear power, energy, infrastructure and planningbut we are not supported by the Conservative party.
Mr. Cameron: The Prime Minister cannot hide from this: if we are better prepared, why is our recession forecast to be deeper? For years, he stood there reading out lists of countries that he told us we were beating. Yet according to the Commission, our recession next year will be worse than in Germany, France, Italy, Sweden, Spain, Greece or the United States. In fact, there are just two countries that we will do better thanEstonia and Latvia. They escaped the grip of Stalin; we are still in it. Just this weekend, the Prime Minister told people once again that Britain was better prepared. Why did he get it wrong?
The Prime Minister: I said that Britain is better prepared because of the reasons I have just given the right hon. Gentleman. He does not understand that since we rejected his policies and made the Bank of England independent and took the right course, we have had 10 years of economic growth, 10 years of stability, and 10 years in which 3 million jobs have been created. The right hon. Gentleman wants to compare the recent figures for European Union member states: Germany was in negative growth in the second quarter, France was in negative growth in the second quarter, Italy was in negative growth in the second quarter, and Ireland is in negative growth. We were not in negative growth in the second quarter.
Mr. Cameron: The Prime Minister talks about his great decisions on the Bank of England; the terrible decision was to take it out of regulating the level of debt in the economy. Is not one of the reasons why our recession is predicted to be deeper that we have such high levels of personal debt? Will he confirm that we in fact have the highest level of household debt of any major economy? Does he not understand that we cannot build new Jerusalem on a mountain of debt?
The Prime Minister: If I can take debt overall in our economy [Interruption.] The right hon. Gentleman usually likes to quote the International Monetary Fund, rather than the European Union. Let us look at debt levels in 2008: 37.6 per cent. public debt in the UK, compared with 55.5 per cent. in France, 56.1 per cent. in Germany, 101.3 per cent. in Italy and 94.3 per cent. in Japan. We have to look at personal and public debt together, and that is what we will do.
Mr. Cameron: The IMF repeatedly warned this Government about the high levels of both personal and Government debt. I do not know why the Prime Minister did not just agree with my question, because this is what he said to the Labour conference in 1995. [Interruption.] It is another quote, and perhaps Labour Members would like to listen to it. These were the great words of the leader. [Interruption.] Why do Labour Members not listen for a change? [Interruption.]
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