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21 Oct 2009 : Column 899

Mr. Alexander: Yes, I can give my hon. Friend the undertaking that she seeks. We have been tireless in our efforts to ensure that the voices of sub-Saharan African countries and other developing countries are heard at the negotiations. We welcome the engagement of Prime Minister Meles of Ethiopia, speaking up for and representing the interests of the African Union, but only last month I travelled to Bangladesh with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change to ensure that he was fully apprised of the clear linkage between the need to tackle dangerous climate change and the need to tackle global poverty.

Mr. Gary Streeter (South-West Devon) (Con): Did the Secretary of State notice that the Government of the Maldives recently held a Cabinet meeting under water to highlight the risk to that country of climate change? Given that the Maldives is an Islamic, fully fledged democracy with strong links to this country, what steps are we taking to help them in their battle against climate change?

Mr. Alexander: The surest way to help the people of the Maldives and, indeed, all the developing world is to ensure that we get a global deal on carbon in Copenhagen. However, I hope that in the weeks between now and the summit we will see throughout the House a genuine consensus emerge on the key issue of development and climate finance, because although the Government have pledged that we recognise the need for genuinely additional resources to deal with the challenge of adaptation, sadly, that commitment has not yet been forthcoming from the Opposition. [ Interruption. ]

Mr. Speaker: Order. There are too many private conversations going on. Mr. Burt, a man of your legendary courtesy knows better.

John Robertson (Glasgow, North-West) (Lab): What discussions has my right hon. Friend had with Nigeria about gas flaring; and can he do something about it? The people in that area are suffering from the pollution that it causes.

Mr. Alexander: My hon. Friend, who has a great deal of knowledge of the subject, leading, as I understand he does, the all-party group on Nigeria, is right to recognise the issue of gas flaring. There have been considerable challenges in the delta, and I understand that there are continuing discussions on the issue, but I shall write to him.

Mr. Andrew Mitchell (Sutton Coldfield) (Con): As I saw at the Poznan climate summit last year, representatives of developing countries are at a disadvantage, because they cannot afford to employ the hordes of lawyers and negotiators that developed countries hire. In the spirit of the right hon. Gentleman's call for a unified response throughout the House, will he look again at Conservative proposals for an advocacy fund to help poor countries to make their voices heard as effectively as possible throughout these vital forthcoming negotiations?

Mr. Alexander: I have heard the voices of developing countries, and they have said clearly and unequivocally that they do not want development funds rebadged in toto as climate finance funds. That is why we as a
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Government have made a commitment that only up to 10 per cent. of our official development assistance will be used as part of the public contribution to what we hope will be a global deal in Copenhagen. Sadly, that commitment has not been forthcoming from the Opposition, but if the hon. Gentleman is concerned about the need to listen to the voices of the poor, perhaps he will give that commitment now.

HIV Vaccine (Funding)

5. Dr. Evan Harris (Oxford, West and Abingdon) (LD): What funding his Department is providing for research into an HIV vaccine for use in developing countries. [294273]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for International Development (Mr. Michael Foster): The Department has committed a total of £78 million for the international AIDS vaccine initiative. That comprises £38 million from 1998 to 2007 and a further £40 million from 2008 to 2013. The United Kingdom's Government were the first to fund the IAVI, in 1998, and we have remained a major bilateral supporter, providing the long-term and predictable support that we believe is essential for vaccine development.

Dr. Harris: I am grateful to the Minister for that answer, and I recognise the funding that has already gone in. Does he accept that the recent media coverage of the potential, yet-to-be-proven vaccine breakthrough in this area points up even more the huge need for funding to build capacity in vaccine research, as well as the huge rewards that would flow from success in this area?

Mr. Foster: We gave a cautious welcome to the findings that have recently come from research in Thailand, for example. We believe that prevention must be at the heart of our approach to dealing with HIV/AIDS, and that the search for a viable, effective and accessible vaccine must be the backbone of our approach to prevention.

Mr. Tom Clarke (Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill) (Lab): Will my hon. Friend and his ministerial colleagues use their influence to ensure that people, particularly in east Africa, including Uganda, are not encouraged to pull out of the necessary treatment because of the terrible picture in terms of the food shortage?

Mr. Foster: My right hon. Friend has had a long-term interest in international development, and I pay tribute to that. I entirely agree with his sentiment that it is important that people who have embarked on treatment continue with it if we are to deal with the scourge of HIV/AIDS.

Copenhagen Summit

6. Mr. Charles Kennedy (Ross, Skye and Lochaber) (LD): What recent discussions he has had with his EU counterparts on the international development aspects of the forthcoming Copenhagen climate change summit; and if he will make a statement. [294274]

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The Secretary of State for International Development (Mr. Douglas Alexander): The General Affairs and External Relations Council has two sessions each year on development issues. Climate change was a focus of the May meeting, and we will again be looking at climate change in the November meeting, as well as ensuring that we are represented at these meetings. I take numerous opportunities to discuss the road to Copenhagen with my EU counterparts.

Mr. Kennedy: I thank the Secretary of State for that reply. Does he agree, however, that it is important that developed countries, including our European counterparts, show sensitivity to the developing world as regards climate change implications from the vantage point of the developed world? Will he therefore stress to them his personal support-and, I hope, that of the Government more widely-for the 10:10 campaign, which will feature in my colleagues' Liberal Democrat-led debate later today?

Mr. Alexander: The right hon. Gentleman is entirely right in recognising that there needs to be a genuine engagement with the developing countries. That was one of the reasons I recently travelled to India to engage with dialogue there on the issue of climate change. In relation to the 10:10 campaign, I can confirm that my Department has signed up to that campaign; that is a powerful signal of the continuing commitment of several of us to tackle this issue. [ Interruption. ]

Mr. Speaker: Order. I recognise that Members on both sides of the House are excited about the approach of Prime Minister's questions, but it is very discourteous for Members to witter away when a question is being asked or an answer is being given. The public do not like it-and, as I have said, neither, frankly, do I.

Mark Durkan (Foyle) (SDLP): I welcome the determination expressed by the Secretary of State, but what confidence can he give us that the rights and needs of vulnerable developing countries will be better protected in negotiations on climate change at Copenhagen than they were at the world trade negotiations?

Mr. Alexander: My hon. Friend is right to recognise that there are intertwined challenges of dealing with dangerous climate change and with global poverty. Unless we are successful in Copenhagen in securing a global deal, then dangerous climate change threatens the attempt to make poverty history for millions of our fellow citizens around the world. That is why we have worked so hard to ensure that the voices of the poorest countries, as well as the richest, are heard in Copenhagen this December.


8. Ann Winterton (Congleton) (Con): What priorities he has set for his Department's work in Afghanistan. [294277]

The Secretary of State for International Development (Mr. Douglas Alexander): The Department for International Development is supporting the work of the Afghanistan national development strategy to establish a more effective state; to encourage economic growth, providing alternatives
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to poppy growing; and to promote stability and development in Helmand province. We work with the wider UK Government strategy for the region to strengthen state institutions, counter the threat of violent extremism, and produce sustainable economic growth.

Ann Winterton: Are not storage and distribution systems, and a marketing strategy including minimum guaranteed prices, essential to support wheat production in Afghanistan, because otherwise we run the risk of over-production there, collapsing the price and therefore destroying the credibility of international aid?

Mr. Alexander: These are exactly the issues that we are discussing at the moment with both the Government of Afghanistan and Governor Mangal in Helmand province. We welcome the fact that we have moved to a position in which more than half the provinces in Afghanistan are poppy-free. Amidst all the complexity, there is a basic equation: where we can deliver security, we are more likely to reduce the level of opium production. That is why we welcome not just the number of poppy-free provinces but the fact that Governor Mangal is leading the initiative on wheat seed production.


9. Alun Michael (Cardiff, South and Penarth) (Lab/Co-op): What steps he is taking to assist economic, cultural and democratic development in the Republic of Moldova following the recent elections in that country. [294278]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for International Development (Mr. Michael Foster): The Department for International Development is holding discussions with the new Government of Moldova about our assistance programme. Indications are that the new Government wish to see ongoing support for their national development strategy, economic development in rural areas, conflict resolution and reform of the social assistance system.

Alun Michael: Moldova is the poorest country in Europe, very small and weighed down by the conflict in Transnistria, and it depends greatly on citizens working abroad, particularly in Europe. Will my hon. Friend ensure that now the election crisis has been resolved, we focus on enabling Moldova to prepare itself to join the European Union?

Mr. Foster: The UK will of course support the new Government of Moldova, because it is not in our interest to have an unstable, impoverished and divided Moldova on the border of the EU.

Prime Minister

The Prime Minister was asked-


Q1. [294236] Mr. Crispin Blunt (Reigate) (Con): If he will list his official engagements for Wednesday 21 October.

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The Prime Minister (Mr. Gordon Brown): Last night and this morning, I have been meeting the Northern Ireland First Minister and Deputy First Minister on the devolution of policing and justice to Northern Ireland. I have been in touch with all party leaders in Northern Ireland, and I am now sending to all of them and placing in the House of Commons Library my proposals for a financial settlement that is designed to make possible the completion of the final stage of devolution in Northern Ireland. We will of course keep the House fully updated. Our aim is a peaceful, more secure and more prosperous Northern Ireland.

In addition to my duties in the House, I shall have further meetings today.

Mr. Blunt: Reigate is proud to be home to 579 bomb disposal squadron of the Territorial Army. Last Wednesday, when the Prime Minister was making his statement on Afghanistan, it was being told that it could not train until 1 April next year, and its TA centre is under threat of closure. What effect does he think those measures will have on the recruitment and retention of those vital volunteer specialists?

The Prime Minister: I made it clear last Wednesday when I made my statement that we would ensure that our resources were devoted to the campaign in Afghanistan, and any member of the Territorial Army who is going to Afghanistan in the next few months will secure the training that is necessary. As the Chief of the General Staff has made clear, the reason why the changes have been necessary is that the Army has recruited more regular soldiers in the past year-9,000 extra compared with 7,000 in previous years. That is why, with those resources being devoted to Afghanistan, we have to focus on those people who are going to go to Afghanistan. They will not only have the pre-deployment training-I have answered the Leader of the Opposition on that-but everybody who is going to Afghanistan will be individually assessed to make sure that they have all the training that is necessary.

Lindsay Roy (Glenrothes) (Lab): Will the Prime Minister join me in congratulating the NHS in Fife on its preparations for swine flu vaccinations, and can he update the House on progress on such vaccinations across the UK? [Interruption.]

The Prime Minister: It is right that the House learns the progress that is being made on vaccinating those people who might be at risk of swine flu, and it is right that I tell people that for both those who are at risk and health service workers we are starting the process of vaccination immediately. It is also right to say that we have been ahead of the world in purchasing the vaccines that are necessary and in making sure that those people who need treatment with antivirals have it available at the earliest opportunity. I hope that there is all-party support for making available those vaccinations to people who need them.

Mr. David Cameron (Witney) (Con): The planned strikes at the Royal Mail will be bad for the economy and business, bad for customers and, above all, bad for all those who work for the Royal Mail and care about its future. Will the Prime Minister condemn these strikes and join me in sending a direct message to the trade union to call this strike off?

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The Prime Minister: I said exactly that last week-that it was counter-productive for there to be a strike-but I think it is right for us in this House to urge negotiation and mediation. Our role must be to encourage the negotiations that are taking place, to urge people to go to ACAS when that becomes the right thing to do and to make sure that we do everything in our power to get a negotiated settlement to something that arises from the 2007 modernisation plan. It is in nobody's interest that this strike goes ahead.

Mr. Cameron: Peter Mandelson said that abandoning part-privatisation of the Royal Mail would be

of an important "commitment", and that it

Yet five months after the Postal Services Bill left the House of Lords it still has not come to the House of Commons. Can the Prime Minister tell us why he has allowed this appalling display of weakness?

The Prime Minister: There is no commercial buyer for the Royal Mail-the right hon. Gentleman must understand that. This is nothing to do with the dispute which, as I am trying to explain to him, is about the 2007 modernisation plan. In most areas of the country, the 2007 modernisation plan has been implemented. In some areas, it still has to be implemented. We must encourage all those in the postal services to go ahead and implement it. We are the Government who made possible £1.2 billion in loans for that to happen. Let us-on both sides of the House-urge the negotiation and mediation that is necessary to avoid an unproductive strike.

Mr. Cameron: What the Prime Minister has just said is complete nonsense. He did not stop the Bill because he could not sell the Royal Mail; he stopped it because he could not sell it to his own Back Benchers. Only last week he was telling us what a wonderful time it is to sell the Tote, the Dartford crossing, the channel tunnel rail link and the student loan book. Everybody knows that the reason why he dropped the Bill is that his Back Benchers will not support it. Just for once, why does he not admit that?

The Prime Minister: We have-rightly so, and it should be acknowledged-announced a disposals programme for all the assets that I mentioned last week, and we will go ahead with that. However, I have to say to the right hon. Gentleman that this is nothing to do with the dispute at the moment. The dispute is about the 2007 modernisation plan. He had a shadow Minister yesterday saying that he did not know whether, if a Conservative Government came into power, they would be able to sell the Post Office either.

Mr. Cameron: The Prime Minister gesticulates, but our view is very clear: bring forward the Bill and we will support it. Why has he not got the guts to do that? The fact is that this Prime Minister is incapable of giving a straight answer to a straight question. By the way, he says there is no connection between the strikes that we see and the weakness he showed in withdrawing that Bill. Does he agree that since the Government abandoned part-privatisation of the Royal Mail, union militancy has actually got worse?

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