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Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North) (Lab): The hon. Gentleman makes a fair point about poverty in middle-income countries, but surely he recognises that in absolute numbers, the poverty levels in India outstrip those in almost any other country in the world. While there is an issue about misuse of aid and inappropriate aid, there is surely an overwhelming case for the provision of aid to the very poorest in India to help development. The numbers are phenomenal compared with those in any other part of the world.
Daniel Kawczynski: My answer is that we give India more than £840 million a year. The sheer scale of that worries me. I will come to some of the serious problems that north African countries have, but if we slice too much of the cake off for India, there will be nothing left for north Africa. The King of Lesotho spent more money on his 36th birthday celebrations than the entire UK aid budget for his country three years ago. I have made that point repeatedly in the House. Frankly, I am appalled that when my constituents are facing difficulties with hospital services and suchlike, there are stories in the press that the King of Lesotho can spend on lavish celebrations for his 36th birthday more than we give to his country every year in aid.
What really upset me when the Committee visited Kenya, which receives £50 million a year, and Tanzania, which receives more than £150 million a yearI hope that you will accept the relevance of this, Mr. Bayley, and I will talk very soon about north Africais that there was no British branding. I have said that to the right hon. Member for Gordon.
When we finally get aid to north Africa, whether under this Labour Government or the next Conservative GovernmentI am saying this with equal force to my hon. Friend the Member for North-East Milton Keynesit must have some form of British branding. There are no British flags or symbolsthere is nothingassociated with the aid. It is so bad that the people in the village of North Horr in northern Kenya to whom I spoke thought that the aid was from France, because a group of French youngsters called Solidarité, to whom DFID had outsourced the work, were implementing it.
I have been told that when the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Clare Short) became Secretary of State she insisted, following scandals such as the Pergau dam incident, that there should be no linkage between DFID spending and British branding, so that we could not be perceived as trying to influence foreign Governments. The pendulum has, however, swung too far the other way when we send aid to countries and there is no link in the minds of the people who benefit from it that it has come from British taxpayers, that Britain feels strongly about supporting them or that Britain will continue to play such a vital role. Why should we hide our passion about helping others? Why should we not be proud, and state what we as a country are doing, rather than trying to keep it under wraps?
I hope that the hon. Gentleman acknowledges for the record that the Committee has just published our report Aid Under Pressure, in which we specifically ask the Government to revisit the issue of British identity in the name of the Department. Of course, the Minister or the Department will have
time to reply over the next two months, but it is important to say that the Committee has specifically asked the Government to address the issue.
Daniel Kawczynski: I am extremely grateful that our Committee has done that formally, and I look forward to the Ministers reply. Some members of the Committee may not agree, but I think that some of the things that we saw in Kenya could quite easily have been done with microfinance. I hope that those projects will not receive so much money in future and that we can spend more of the money on helping north Africa. Interestingly, we met the Minister of Finance and Economic Affairs in Tanzania, which receives £150 million a year, and I had serious concernsagain, other hon. Members may disagreeabout his lack of a coherent strategy for improving his countrys situation.
You will be pleased, Mr. Bayley, that I shall now talk specifically about north Africa, and first about the country for which I have a great deal of passion: Libya. I am chairman of the all-party group on Libya and I am desperately passionate about improving relations and trade with the country. I have frequent meetings with Mr. Jelban, the Libyan chargé daffaires, who will soon become the ambassador and who does an excellent job promoting his country in the United Kingdom.
I led a delegation to Tripoli in September 2007 for the 38th anniversary celebrations of Colonel Gaddafi coming to power and will lead another delegation to the city on 1 September this year with Lord Steel of Aikwoodone of my favourite Lib Demsand others when we celebrate the 40th anniversary. We will all remember the scenes from watching the BBC of the former Prime Minister, Mr. Blair, meeting Gaddafi in the tent. I wish I could have been a fly on the wall at those discussions.
Mr. Blair and Colonel Gaddafi talked about weapons of mass destruction, and various promises were made to get Libya to move away from its isolationist policies. What promises were made to Libya? When I led the delegation to Tripoli two years ago, officials at the Ministry of Health and Environment and the Minister himself stated that various categorical assurances were given by Mr. Blair that there would be specific, concrete assistance for Libyas health service. They were told that the NHS would directly engage with the Libyan health service, and that there would be help, particularly for the hospital in Benghazi. We all know of the case of the children who tragically contracted HIV. Subsequently, the Bulgarian nurses were held under the ludicrous proposition that they had deliberately infected the children, which was totally wrong. Those children contracted HIV, regrettably, because of the poor sanitation and management of the hospitals in Benghazi. Mr. Blair made a specific pledge that help with management would be given.
Most importantly, the Libyan officials said that they want to learn from our experiences of running the NHS. They want our know-how. They said that we have one of the best health services in the world and that they want to learn about it from us. What has happened?
What is DFID doing to fulfil Mr. Blairs promise to Libya that assistance would be granted to the Libyan health services? They desperately need that help.
The Libyans dispose of their hospital waste, some of which is highly toxic, in the desert. They were promised assistance for an incinerator or other modern facility to dispose of that waste but none has been forthcoming. I worry that Mr. Blair has gone in there, all guns blazing, promising everything, and then nothing has happened. He got them to give up their weapons of mass destruction, but all the titbits he promised in exchange have not been delivered. What sort of a message does that send?
Libyan officials say to me, We are rather miffed that all these promises were made and that none of them has been fulfilled. What does that say to other countries that we hope to entice away from weapons of mass destruction and isolationist policies? What if the Libyans go to Arab League meetings and say, Dont listen to the British. Theyll promise you the world and then not fulfil it? That is of great concern.
Also, Libya is chair of the African Union this year and is doing important work in the role. There will be a major conference in Sirte from 1 to 3 July. Will the Minister confirm that someone from DFID will be sent to act as an observer?
Italy, interestingly, recently signed a contract with Libya to provide it with $250 million a year for 20 years to assist with infrastructure projects, such as construction of motorways and a railway from Tripoli to Benghazi, and all sorts of vital, pivotal projects to do with hospitals and education. I do not agree with Mr. Berlusconi on many things, but I applaud that stance and his commitment to assistance for Libya.
Illegal immigration is a huge issue for Libyans to deal with. People from the whole of west Africa trying to secure illegal passage to Europe use Tripoli as a transit point. As a result, crime has gone up on the streets of Tripoli and there is huge pressure on resources. The Libyans are not responsible for that. It is a side effect of so many people trying to get into Europe illegally. They go from Tripoli to the Italian island of Lampedusa, and to Malta.
The Minister will know of the human suffering that such people go through. He will have seen the scenes of chaos on the BBC, with people drowning in the boats. He will have seen the state in which they reach Europe, how dehydrated they are and how they have been abused by human traffickers along the way. It is human tragedy of the most profound magnitude. What is the Department doing to assist countries such as Libya in preventing this human misery from happening?
Yesterday afternoon, I spoke to our ambassador in Tripoli, Sir Vincent Fean, who does an excellent job. He spoke of the detention camps in Tripoli that people are sent back to when they are caught on the high seas. The conditions are extremely poor and there is bad sanitation. I hope that the Minister will approach the Libyans and tell them that we will do all we can to help them with management and sanitation in the centres, so that the people who regrettably find themselves in them do not suffer as much.
Jeremy Corbyn: The hon. Gentleman is making an important point about the tragedy, misery and horror of the lives of the many people who try to cross the Mediterranean. Hundreds die in the process. It is a testament to our times that so many people die in that horror. In addition to helping Libya with this matter, does he agree that it is more important to do something about the poverty in the central African countries that the people come from? A combination of aspects such as environmental change and economic policies has led to this dreadful human tide of misery and poverty, with so many dying in the process of trying to find somewhere to live.
Daniel Kawczynski: Absolutely. I concur with that. This debate is about north Africa primarily, but countries in that region are affected by their southern neighbours. I will refer to questions that the hon. Gentleman has asked about Western Sahara, among other things. I applaud his work on raising those issues with the Government.
The issue of illegal immigration will be magnified tremendously over the next 10 years unless something is done. My understanding isunless the Minister can contradict thisthat we give Libya zero financial assistance in this matter.
The answers I have received to parliamentary questions on this issue have always taken a Sir Humphrey Appleby-type approach. They say things like, The EU is sorting it all out, or Were sending some money to the EU for part of another little EU budget. That is simply not good enough. Frankly, I do not want to know what the EU is doing. I want to know what the British Government are doing. I do not want the British Government to shirk their responsibilities by saying, We are giving a certain amount of money to the EU, which is doing X, Y and Z. That may be fine for the Ministers meetings with his counterparts in Brussels, but this is the British Parliament. We want to hear what the British Government are doing directly, rather than listening to what the EU is doing. If I wanted to know what the EU was doing, I would take the Eurostar to Brussels and ask it directly.
Libya still faces the huge issue of refugees from Darfur. The hon. Member for Stroud (Mr. Drew) has asked many questions on Sudan and Darfur. People are so desperate to escape the torture, brutality, rape and killings in Darfur that they cross the arid, barren and deserted Libyan-Sudanese border in their hundreds and thousands. They make their way to Tripoli seeking sanctuary.
I visited Darfur with my favourite Lib Dem, Lord Steel, and the former leader of the Conservative party, my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard). It was the most tragic and heartbreaking experience I have ever been through. I never experienced anything like it as a businessman before I entered this place. It shook me to my bones to meet the people in Darfur and to see what had happened to them and the conditions they live in. The only help I saw in refugee camps in Darfur was from international non-governmental organisations. I could see nothing directly from DFID. The Minister may contradict that and I hope that he can.
Mr. David Drew (Stroud) (Lab/Co-op):
The hon. Gentleman is being a bit unfair. A massive amount of resources go into Darfur from DFID. They cannot go
in directly for many reasonsnot least because our NGOs have been expelled from Darfur. That is a ringing indictment of the Government in Khartoum. He is being unfair because we have invested heavily. The problem is that peace is as far away as it ever was.
I had the opportunity to meet President Omar al-Bashir in his gilded palace in Khartoum and to tackle him on the suffering of his people. It was one of the most unpleasant meetings I have experienced. He said that there were no problems and tried to fob us off. Being surrounded by 50 bodyguards holding pistols was not conducive to tackling him. He has been indicted for war crimes and, as the hon. Member for Stroud said, he has thrown out the aid agencies. What will DFID do to put pressure on the Sudanese Government to ensure that the agencies that fulfil this vital job are allowed back in?
I turn now to Egypt. As I said, the United States gives $1.5 billion dollars a year to Egypt, but 40 per cent. of Egyptians live in poverty according to United Nations figures. Yet we give nothing to Egypt. That takes us back to the point that the right hon. Member for Gordon made about the strategy of helping middle-income countries.
Together with Dr. Wafik Moustafa, I chair the Conservative Arab Network. It has looked at statistics relating to Gaza in preparation for this debate, and today I received the following information. The funding pledged to Gaza, per capita, for March alone is almost equal to the entire annual GDP per capita of Egypt. The number of doctors and dentists per capita in Gaza and the west bank is approximately four times higher than in Egypt. The infant mortality rate is approximately 20 per cent. higher in Egypt than in Palestinian areas. Those are all United Nations statistics. The Conservative Arab Network stated:
Yet the funding will support a terrorist regime with obscene human rights abuses (Hamas) whereas Egypt is actively working to stop and limit
Again, I disagree with things said in my Select Committees report about the Gaza strip. Why is there such a difference in funding? I do not object to British taxpayers money being spent to help the people of Gaza, particularly after the recent suffering and bombardments. However, why is there such a huge difference between the funding for Gaza on one side of the border, and Egypt on the other, when Egypt needs to play such a major part in the solutions to the problems?
Yesterday, I spoke to the shadow Foreign Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Lidington), about Morocco in preparation for this debate. He met the Moroccan ambassador yesterday, and said that he was extremely positive and wanted to interact more and have greater contact with DFID, to challenge the French dominance in that part of the world. The Minister will know that Ceuta and Melilla are two Spanish enclaves in Morocco. I visited Ceuta, which is a fortress, when I was in business, and it is totally surrounded by barbed
wire and surveillance equipment to prevent people from sneaking into that European enclave. Morocco faces huge issues with immigration and drugs as a result of people being smuggled from west Africa, through Morocco, to the Canary Islands and Spain. What help will we give to Morocco to stop that?
Aid should be about helping people, but it should also be of strategic importance to the UK. I keep going back to this because I feel so passionately about it. Yes, we should help the poorest people in the world, but we should start to think about what strategic value there can be for the UK and how we can kill two birds with one stone. How can we help the poor people but also tackle illegal immigration and the suffering of people being smuggled to Europe illegally? The Democratic Republic of the Congo has an identical GDP per capita to Morocco, but it is ranked 10th highest for bilateral aid, whereas Morocco gets nothing.
The hon. Member for Islington, North (Jeremy Corbyn) has asked relevant questions about what assistance the Department is providing for refugees from Western Sahara in refugee camps in Algeria. This issue is of great importance. He will know that, in 1990, the United Nations wanted to ensure that the Polisario in Western Sahara had the right to self-determination, but unfortunately, Morocco still occupies the country and there is a lot of suffering in the refugee camps in Algeria. I would like the Minister to tell us what is happening there and how he is working with the Foreign Office to help the Polisario refugees in those camps. How is he trying to resolve that long-standing sore and mediate in a situation that has been going on for decades, resulting in tremendous suffering for those people of Western Sahara?
On Mauritania, migration from the port of Nouadhibou to the Canary Islands is a huge issue, and we have seen reports in the national press about the suffering of those people. Tourists from my constituency and others go to the Canary Islands on their annual holidays, and when they are lying on the beach they suddenly see people who are totally dehydrated and near death being deposited. Many of the boats sink, and those people drown. I am not prepared to allow that travesty to continue, and I am shocked and baffled as to the lack of discussion about this human tragedy. People in all parties must be concerned about what is happening to those people and the suffering they are going through. This is not a political issue, so we must put party politics aside and focus on how to help Mauritania and other countries to prevent this human suffering.
The countries of north Africa are extremely friendly nations. My experience of them in business has been that they are extremely pro-British. They are trying to fight fundamentalism and terrorism, and they are of huge strategic importance to us. We have heard from President Sarkozy and others in the European Union how they hope to bring them into the EU fold with greater trading agreements and assistance, but I want to know what we in the UK are doing directly to help them with aid for refugees who are suffering in relation to migration issues.
I am chairman, as I said, of the Conservative Arab Network, and we are having our inaugural event at the House of Commons on 30 June. There are 500,000 British Arabs in the United Kingdom, but not a single one in either Chamber in our Parliamentan anomaly
that I hope will be rectified. We need to engage with the British Arab community, who are prevalent in London and throughout the UK. One way of engaging with them is by showing them the interest that we have in north Africa and the Arab world, as well as how we are helping people who might even be their relatives, in certain cases, and how we are trying to tackle some of the appalling problems that they have.
I have asked quite a few written parliamentary questions on this issue in the past few years, which I am looking through now. The right hon. Member for Leeds, West (John Battle), who sits on our Select Committee, has also asked some very pertinent questions. He asked what contribution the Department has made to increasing food aid to Egypt since March 2006, and whether the Secretary of State would make a statement on that, but DFIDs response to that question was so Humphrey Applebyesque that it was meaningless. I find that so frustrating. The reply stated:
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