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Overseas Projects (Joint Strategic Priorities)

3. Mark Pritchard (The Wrekin) (Con): If he will hold discussions with the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs to agree joint strategic priorities for his Department’s overseas projects. [244087]

The Secretary of State for International Development (Mr. Douglas Alexander): Whether in relation to international poverty reduction, conflict or climate change, the Department for International Development works closely with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and other Departments. We also co-operate closely in implementing our strategies and delivering our programmes, particularly in fragile states and insecure environments.

Mark Pritchard: At a time when the Foreign Secretary is talking about peace and reconciliation in the middle east, why is the Department for International Development still funding some teachers in the Palestinian territories who do nothing more than teach discord, rather than harmony?

Mr. Alexander: In the past week, we have welcomed Prime Minister Olmert and Prime Minister Fayyad of the Palestinian Authority to the United Kingdom. Our continued support for the Palestinian Authority reflects the fact that in our dialogue with the Israelis and others there is a clear recognition that if the Annapolis process is to be taken forward, there needs to be a credible negotiating partner with whom the Israeli Government can negotiate. At the same time, we are keen to see basic services provided to what is often an impoverished population within the Palestinian Authority areas.


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John Battle (Leeds, West) (Lab): In his discussions with other Departments, will the Secretary of State ensure that in the strategic priorities, the devaluing of sterling is taken into account, because it is in danger of undermining what has been an enhanced and immensely successful international programme? It is estimated that the value could be reduced by 25 per cent., and it is obviously crucial that the poorest in the world do not pay the highest price for the current economic crisis.

Mr. Alexander: Changes in levels of different currencies are only one of the aspects of the global financial crisis that are affecting developing countries. Those countries have also been vulnerable to changes in oil prices, in the availability of credit and in basic food supply. That is why we are working so hard to ensure that we reflect the contemporary vulnerabilities of developing countries and why we are committed to meeting the pledges that we have made in relation to international development spending.

Dr. Andrew Murrison (Westbury) (Con): To what extent does the Minister believe that the International Development Act 2002 has led to a misalignment of our overseas development effort with our overarching foreign policy goals? For example, he may be aware that the FCO dispenses aid to tackle the radicalisation of young men in Pakistan and Afghanistan, but that DFID refuses to get involved on the grounds that that does not constitute development.

Mr. Alexander: I believe that the 2002 Act enshrined in law changes that have been vital to the establishment of global leadership by this Government in the field of international development. I can assure the hon. Gentleman that we are working closely with our colleagues in the Foreign Office and in Afghanistan and other areas of the world, but if he is proposing that his party will tie the aid that was untied by this Government, break our commitments or change DFID from being a separate Cabinet-level Department, he might wish to discuss that with his Front-Bench colleagues.

John McFall (West Dunbartonshire) (Lab/Co-op): At a recent Downing street reception, the Prime Minister mentioned that in these difficult economic times we have to consider the people in the developing world. Will the Secretary of State reaffirm our commitment to the UN aid target of 0.7 per cent. of GDP and its maintenance through these difficult times?

Mr. Alexander: As recently as September, the Prime Minister reaffirmed his commitment to the goals that we have set in relation to international development. The World Bank has estimated that in the course of the last year 100 million more people have been pushed into poverty by the global economic crisis. That is why it is important not only for the British Government but for other international partners to meet their aid commitments. Given the slashing of public expenditure that the Opposition now anticipate, I hope that they will at least join us in making this commitment.

Mr. Mark Lancaster (North-East Milton Keynes) (Con): The stabilisation aid fund was set up to help to deliver strategic projects in Iraq and Afghanistan. Despite the Secretary of State’s commitment to transparency,
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his Department appears either unwilling or unable to give details of projects completed to date. Can he reassure the House and set out the principles under which funds are allocated to projects from the SAF?

Mr. Alexander: The stabilisation aid fund is obviously reflective of its joint ownership by DFID, the FCO and the Ministry of Defence. It reports directly to the National Security Committee, chaired by the Prime Minister. In assessing applications to the fund, we work in close harmony with other Departments, and it is on that basis that allocations have been made. [ Interruption. ]

Mr. Speaker: Order. Could the House come to order? We are still on International Development questions.

South Africa (HIV/AIDS)

4. Mr. David Burrowes (Enfield, Southgate) (Con): What assessment he has made of the effect of recent political developments in South Africa on policy to tackle HIV/AIDS in southern Africa. [244088]

The Minister of State, Department for International Development (Mr. Gareth Thomas): There has been a marked change in language on policy to tackle HIV/AIDS in South Africa since the appointment of Barbara Hogan as the new Health Minister. We welcome in particular the launch of a major public awareness campaign on 1 December and the announcement of plans to scale up prevention of mother-to-child transmission services.

Mr. Burrowes: No doubt responsibility for the 10 wasted years of HIV denial, and its effect on some 1.5 million orphans, lies squarely on the shoulders of the South African Government, but what is the Minister’s judgment on the Department’s influence, given its significant presence in South Africa during those years and given that in other so-called middle income countries such as Brazil, Botswana and India the Foreign Office has taken the lead in the light of their epidemic HIV incidence? Are the prospects of influence better or worse?

Mr. Thomas: I agree with the hon. Gentleman to the extent that Barbara Hogan represents a breath of fresh air in South Africa. We are seeing an end to the culture of denial about HIV and AIDS in South Africa that is extremely welcome. We have sought to get behind the public awareness campaign that Barbara Hogan has launched, and the scaling up of mother-to-child transmission prevention services, by committing some £15 million in a new programme announced by the Under-Secretary of State for International Development, my hon. Friend the Member for Bury, South (Mr. Lewis), in a recent visit to South Africa.

Greg Mulholland (Leeds, North-West) (LD): Thirty-three million people in the world have HIV, yet only one in three has access to the medicines they need to keep them alive. The Minister knows well that one of the biggest problems is the cost of medicines. What progress has he made regarding discussions on the concept of the patent pool, whereby pharmaceutical companies would create generic copies and be paid a fair royalty so that people could access the medicines that they desperately need?


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Mr. Thomas: The hon. Gentleman may know that under the TRIPS—trade-related aspects of intellectual property rights—agreement of 2003 there are arrangements for developing countries to access generic copies of drugs. We have sought to encourage that process. We need to see better access not only to first-line anti-retroviral drugs but to second-line and third-line anti-retroviral drugs to deal with the more complex strains that occur when people are developing a resistance to the drugs. We will continue to work with pharmaceutical companies and a range of other players to achieve that end.

Prime Minister

The Prime Minister was asked—

Engagements

Q1. [244069] Mr. Brian H. Donohoe (Central Ayrshire) (Lab): If he will list his official engagements for Wednesday 17 December.

The Leader of the House of Commons (Ms Harriet Harman): I have been asked to reply. As the House will be aware, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister is in Iraq today. He will make a statement to this House on his return.

I am sure that the whole House will wish to join me in sending our profound condolences to the family and friends of Lieutenant Aaron Lewis, of 29 Commando Regiment Royal Artillery, who was killed in Afghanistan on Monday. To those who never shy away from danger and who never shirk from their duty, to the families who will be apart from our troops this Christmas and to those who have died in the service of their country, we owe an enormous debt of gratitude.

Mr. Donohoe: I thank my right hon. and learned Friend, and may I associate myself with those condolences?

At a time when the price of a barrel of oil has sunk like a stone, why are the energy companies charging the price that that they are for fuel? Surely it is time for more to be done by the Government and those associated with us to bring down the price. Will my right hon. and learned Friend assure me that she can make it possible for me to go back to my constituency and give the assurance that the Government are doing all they can to bring about lower energy prices?

Ms Harman: I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend. The energy companies must pass on the price cuts to consumers, both businesses and families. They must also treat all consumers fairly. If they do not, it will not just be Ofgem and the Competition Commission that they will have to worry about—we will change the law to force them to do it.

Mr. William Hague (Richmond, Yorks) (Con): I join the Leader of the House in paying tribute to Lieutenant Aaron Lewis, who was killed in Afghanistan on Monday. As she said, our thoughts are with his family at this desperately sad time.

We look forward to the Prime Minister’s statement tomorrow about the withdrawal of British troops from Iraq, although we were surprised that since that news relating to national security was leaked by the Government
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last week no one has been arrested. Across the House, we salute the work of the British forces in Iraq. They will have been there for more than six years, which is a deployment longer than the entire second world war. As we welcome the end of that deployment, is it not now finally time for the Government to establish what the whole nation expects to see—a full-scale independent inquiry into the origins and conduct of the war?

Ms Harman: I agree with the right hon. Gentleman’s supportive words for the work of our troops in Iraq. We have had a number of inquiries into Iraq and the Prime Minister has said that there will be no further inquiries until our troops are all returning home. The Prime Minister will make a further statement to the House tomorrow.

Mr. Hague: Well, the troops are now going to be returning home and it is time for the announcement to be made. The Government have delayed for years the establishment of an inquiry. The learning of lessons that may be relevant to Afghanistan and elsewhere can no longer be delayed.

New figures this morning show a further rise in unemployment of 137,000. It is now at its highest level for 10 years and is obviously set to rise further. We have been pointing out that the big problem is that even viable businesses cannot get the loans that they need. Last week, we asked the Government to look again at the bank rescue package. The Chancellor announced on Monday one of the measures that we have been calling for. Will the Government now accept the urgent need to get money into the hands of the businesses of this country?

Ms Harman: I want to reinforce to the right hon. Gentleman that there is no delay in an inquiry. We have made it clear that, while our troops are still in Iraq, which they are, and doing their duty, we will not have a full inquiry into how they went in; we will not have that until after they return. We have to respect the fact that our fighting forces are still in Iraq. There is no delay.

As far as unemployment is concerned, it is always a terrible blow for a person to lose their job. That is why we are stepping up Government action with a £1.3 billion package to protect people who become unemployed. The package will help them to obtain the skills to get new jobs and it will also make sure that they do not lose their homes.

The right hon. Gentleman is right that small businesses are the lifeblood of enterprise and employment in this country. That is why we recapitalised the banks to stabilise the banking system, and that is why in January we will set up a new small business loan guarantee scheme. Although the figures are starting to show increasing lending to small businesses, some businesses are still having problems. That is why the national lending panel has been established.

Mr. Hague: But things are getting harder for households and businesses that want to borrow, not easier. This country has now been in recession for six months, and a leading Minister said this week that we are

Is it not clear that the Government’s policies have failed so far? People are losing their jobs by the hour, and the small business guarantee scheme to which the right
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hon. and learned Lady referred covers only one fifth of 1 per cent. of business loans. Do we not now need a national loan guarantee scheme of the kind that we have advocated, before more businesses go to the wall and many more tens of thousands of people are made unemployed?

Ms Harman: We are taking action to protect people who become unemployed. Do the Opposition back the £1.3 billion extra that we are putting into jobcentres? No. They have said that they will cut public spending, and they opposed our action to recapitalise the banks.

As far as unemployment is concerned, we agree that losing one’s job is a terrible blow for every individual. That is why we are taking the action necessary—although unemployment is still about 600,000 lower than it was when we first came into office.

The Opposition’s so-called national loan guarantee scheme is not a guarantee of anything to anybody. If it is not backed up by public money, it is not worth the paper that it has been press-released on.

Mr. Hague: This side of the House did not oppose the recapitalisation of the banks, so let us put that straight.

Will the right hon. and learned Lady confirm that, of the £158 million announced today to help unemployed people, £58 million has been taken from another programme that is already supposed to help train people? The other £100 million is exactly what she announced two months ago, the last time that she and I did Prime Minister’s questions. That money has been announced before, which means that this is a reannouncement of a reannouncement—at Christmas time we are not meant to get only repeats, but that is all that we are getting from the Government today.

The Governor of the Bank of England himself said on Monday that there has been a

This House will not sit for nearly a month. How many more people will lose their jobs while the Government dither about introducing the scheme? Why does the right hon. and learned Lady not tell the Chancellor to pull his finger out and introduce it?

Ms Harman: But the Conservatives would not back the £1.3 billion extra that we are putting into jobcentres to help people with retraining and job advice or, crucially, the money that we are putting in to back people up if they become unemployed so that they do not fear that they could lose their home. Not only are the Conservatives failing to back the action that we are taking to support people who become unemployed, but last week they announced a policy that would make matters worse. They said that at this crucial time they would cut public spending. If they cut vital public investment it will be devastating for the construction industry, jobs and the infrastructure of our country. First they said, “No action” and now they are suggesting action that would make matters even worse.

Mr. Hague: We are calling on the Government to take action; this is a say anything, spin anything, achieve nothing Government and we are calling on them to take action. The director general of the CBI said:


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The CBI survey of distributive trades, released in the last hour, which is the key indicator of activity in the retail sector, and includes the 10 days after the VAT cut, shows the worst downturn in retail activity since records began—a massive thumbs down from the consumer. Is it not time for the Government to concede that the temporary reduction in VAT, universally derided at home and abroad, has not been the answer, and that getting credit moving to businesses would be part of the answer to this recession?

Ms Harman: I think that there are two responses that we should have to the very difficult economic circumstances. The first is not to talk down confidence and not to talk down the economy. The second is to ensure that as well as interest rate cuts we have a fiscal boost to the economy. Since we are talking about retail, that is why we are taking forward a cut in VAT and we urge the right hon. Gentleman to vote for it. That is why we are bringing forward extra cash help for pensioners from the beginning of next year. That is why we are bringing forward extra child benefit, to put more money in people’s pockets, and why we will have a tax rebate to help 22 million people. We take action while all the Conservatives do is carp and criticise. For the right hon. Gentleman to face these big economic circumstances and say, “It is only down to interest rate cuts and we would put no extra money in the economy” would make a difficult circumstance a disaster.

Mr. Hague: What we are calling on the Government to do is to get the money to the businesses of the country. We cannot have lectures about talking down confidence from the Cabinet, one of whose members said this week that we are


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