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5. John Robertson (Glasgow, North-West) (Lab): What arrangements are in place to ensure that aid provided by his Department for Afghanistan is utilised in support of the priorities of the Afghanistan national development strategy. 
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for International Development (Mr. Michael Foster): The four-year DFID Afghanistan country plan that we announced in April this year was subject to full consultation with the Government of Afghanistan. DFID is committed to spending at least 50 per cent. of its funds through Afghan Government systems. That ensures that our money is spent in a way that is in line with the priorities set out in the Afghan national development strategy.
Mr. Foster: Corruption is indeed a serious problem, but money from my Department is channelled through the Afghan Government and is protected against misuse. Most of the resources that we give the Government are provided on a reimbursement basis, which means that funds are transferred to them only when it has been demonstrated that actual expenditure has taken place-that teachers' salaries have been paid, for instance-that the expenditure conforms to strict eligibility criteria, and that all the transactions are subject to full international audit.
Malcolm Bruce (Gordon) (LD): Can the Minister explain how the new United Kingdom aid logo will be deployed in Afghanistan, not least to ensure that the people of Afghanistan understand the development commitment of the British Government and the British taxpayer to the whole country, not just the areas in which we are engaging in military operations?
Mr. Foster: We are currently looking into how the UK aid logo will be distributed in countries across the world. However, there is real interest in using the logo in Afghanistan to demonstrate our commitment to and support for the people of the country, so that they see us as allies and not as conquerors.
The Minister of State, Department for International Development (Mr. Gareth Thomas): The United Kingdom, together with Sweden and Switzerland, is funding independent electoral experts to enable them to support the Somaliland national electoral commission. We will continue to urge the authorities in Somaliland to hold elections as soon as possible, once arrangements for them can be completed.
Alun Michael: I am sure my hon. Friend shares my satisfaction that progress is now being made towards holding effective presidential elections. Does he agree that whoever wins, it will be important to work further in developing parliamentary and democratic institutions in Somaliland, and will he and his Department help that progress following the presidential elections?
Mr. Thomas: I agree that whoever wins will need to continue to work with the international community and the people of Somaliland to improve governance there. We will certainly play our part if successful elections take place. We could provide further support to help to develop the economy of Somaliland, to improve access to basic services, and to address the root causes of the instability of which my right hon. Friend will be only too aware. [Interruption.]
Mr. Speaker: Order. There are still far too many private conversations taking place on both sides of the Chamber. It is very unfair to the hon. Member who is asking a question, and to the Minister who is answering it. The House needs to come to order.
Mr. Gary Streeter (South-West Devon) (Con): Is not one of the greatest investments that this country can make in many developing countries, including Somaliland, the establishment of good governance and stable democracy? Will the Minister ensure that the Westminster Foundation for Democracy is funded adequately, given that it does precisely that?
Mr. Thomas: I agree that one way in which the international community can help to encourage development in developing countries is by promoting good governance. That is one reason why the Department's third White Paper focused on this issue, and why the most recent White Paper continued to highlight our work on good governance. I have had a series of discussions about the Westminster Foundation for Democracy, as have other Ministers. If the hon. Gentleman has particular concerns about how it is being financed, I will be very happy to meet him to discuss them.
The Minister of State, Department for International Development (Mr. Gareth Thomas): We provide assistance through our country programmes, as well as through multilateral partners, to help African countries deal with the increased threats from water shortages, natural disasters, reduced agricultural production and changing patterns of disease.
Bob Spink: Africa did not cause the climate change problem and is not exacerbating it now, but it will suffer more than most continents from its consequences. Will the Minister have discussions with his colleagues to ensure that Africa's problems, and its need to mitigate and adapt, are taken fully into account at Copenhagen, and that Africa is given the help it needs and deserves?
Mr. Thomas: I find myself in the unusual position of agreeing with the hon. Gentleman. Africa certainly was not responsible for causing climate change. He is absolutely right to highlight the importance of the Copenhagen talks and the need for the international community to provide additional finance to the end that he mentions. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will be attending the talks to help highlight, with other development Ministers, the need for the international community to do exactly what the hon. Gentleman has suggested: to provide more support to countries across the world who are in need of such additional finance.
Mr. Andy Reed (Loughborough) (Lab/Co-op): My hon. Friend is right to highlight the need for international co-operation, particularly in respect of mitigation funds. As he knows, east Africa and other places are already suffering from the lack of rains for the past three or four years. What steps can he and his colleagues in the Government take to ensure that our international partners fund to the right level the commitments they have already made? I ask that because we know that in previous deals the money has not been on the table despite the promises. Can the Minister assure us that that funding will now be in place, and that it will be ensured that countries are tied in to giving the money that they have already promised?
Mr. Thomas: As my hon. Friend is aware, that is an essential part of the deal that we want to achieve at Copenhagen and beyond. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has pressed the international community to agree a package of support to 2020, rising to $100 billion of both private and public finance to help developing countries adapt to, and mitigate, the impacts of climate change. The Prime Minister and the Secretary of State, who is now going to the climate change talks, will continue to press our position on this issue.
The Secretary of State for International Development (Mr. Douglas Alexander): We are providing £3 million over three years to the facility for new market development, which helps Palestinian businesses develop new products and compete in new markets. To date, the facility has supported more than 180 businesses. We are also working closely with the Palestinian Investment Promotion Agency and UK Trade & Investment to promote investment in the occupied Palestinian territories.
Rosie Cooper: In light of the welcome decision to open the Jalama crossing to vehicles, what steps is Israel taking to reduce restrictions and encourage economic growth in the west bank? I would be grateful if the Secretary of State could also say what measures are being taken to support the delivery of basic public services to the people.
Mr. Alexander: We welcome the recent moves by the Israeli Government to reduce movement and access restrictions across the west bank. We believe these steps are essential if there is to be the economic progress that is required to address the 34 per cent. fall in per capita GDP over the last nine years. We are also continuing to support the Palestinian Authority, both in their provision of basic services and as a credible negotiating partner to the state of Israel.
Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire) (Con): Bearing in mind both this and the earlier exchanges, will the Secretary of State take an early opportunity to inform the Israeli ambassador that nothing could better enhance the reputation of his country than Israel beginning to behave as a good neighbour?
Mr. Alexander: I assure the hon. Gentleman that we have regular contact with not only the Israeli ambassador, but all levels of the Israeli Government. As recently as yesterday, I took the opportunity to discuss not only the situation in Gaza, but, more generally, the situation in the middle east with Ehud Barak, the Israeli Defence Minister. That reflects the continuing dialogue that takes place on these important issues.
The Minister of State, Department for International Development (Mr. Gareth Thomas): The UK works closely with the Government of Bangladesh on climate change issues. We are, for example, playing a role in advising and assisting the Bangladesh delegation in its preparations for the Copenhagen meeting next month.
Julie Morgan: I thank the Minister for that reply. Earlier in the year, I visited Bangladesh with the Nationwide Association for Integrated Development-NAID-which is a small charity working between Wales and Bangladesh. I saw at first hand the effects of the flooding, the droughts and the cyclones; the poorest people in the country were being affected. What more can he do to help the people of Bangladesh, especially given that one fifth of the country could disappear if the sea level rises by 1 metre?
Mr. Thomas: My hon. Friend is right to highlight the particular challenges relating to climate change in Bangladesh; more than 30 million people in that country could be affected by rises in sea level. That is one reason why my right hon. Friends the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for International Development are continuing to press for further climate finance to be made available to help developing countries such as Bangladesh.
The Prime Minister (Mr. Gordon Brown): I am sure that the whole House will wish to join me in paying tribute to Acting Sergeant John Amer, from 1st Battalion Coldstream Guards. We owe him a huge debt of gratitude, and our thoughts are with his family and friends. As we plan a way forward in Afghanistan, this loss in Afghanistan reminds us of the risks and dangers our forces have to endure in Afghanistan, today and every day, and of the importance of securing peace and stability. After talks with President Obama, I can also report that the London conference on Afghanistan will make decisions on civil co-ordination in Afghanistan, and will hear commitments by coalition partners on extra troops and from President Karzai on Afghan reform.
Following recent events in the Colchester and Basildon hospital trusts, does my right hon. Friend agree with me, with the Secretary of State for Health and with a recent report of the Select Committee on Health that the major priority of the national health service must be patient safety?
The Prime Minister: Patient safety is and has to be our No. 1 priority, and there is no excuse for anything other than the best care and no tolerance for the failure of management. I am sorry when any patient receives less than the best care and help in the NHS. As a result of our studies of the NHS, we have introduced independent regulation, we have introduced transparency so that information flows to the patients and we have set up the Care Quality Commission, which from next year will register all hospitals and set clear safety standards that they will have to meet continuously. I can say today that our objective is that that process will start not from April, but from January, and that we will do everything in our power to have hospitals deal with hospital-acquired diseases and make sure that people have the best care at all times. There has been a 7 per cent. fall in mortality overall in our hospitals and a 50 per cent. fall in MRSA. We will continue to do everything in our power to make our hospitals clean, safe and secure for all patients.
Mr. David Cameron (Witney) (Con): May I join the Prime Minister and everyone in this House in paying tribute to Acting Sergeant John Amer, who died this week in Afghanistan? He gave his life to protect our country. We should honour his memory. We should care for his family.
Before I go on to other subjects, may I ask a couple of questions about Afghanistan? Following President Obama's very welcome speech last night, the British people will want to know what the US surge means for British forces. I think we all accept that one of the problems has been that British troops have been spread too thinly over too much ground. Will the US reinforcement mean that we will be able to have more of our forces concentrated in fewer places, so that they can protect the population more effectively and turn the tide against the Taliban?
The Prime Minister: First, I think that the whole House will welcome the announcement by President Obama both of the objectives of the mission in relation to the Taliban and to al-Qaeda, and of the numbers of troops, a substantial part of whom will go into Helmand province and will be of assistance in dealing with the Taliban insurgency there. I said on Monday that our troops would go in immediately so that they were more densely concentrated in the areas where there has been the greatest problem. I said that from January some of our troops would be involved in the vital task of partnering and mentoring the Afghan forces. I believe that at the moment there is something in the order of 200,000 Afghan, British, American and coalition troops in Afghanistan. By the end of next year and the beginning of 2011, the number will be in excess of 300,000. That will make it possible for us to transfer the control of some districts and provinces to Afghan security control starting in 2010.
"at least five Afghan provinces to lead Afghan control by the end of 2010",
Mr. Cameron: The Prime Minister shakes his head, but that is how it was reported on every single media outlet. This will be a good opportunity for the Prime Minister to clarify the issue. President Obama said that the process of transferring forces out of Afghanistan would not even begin until the middle of 2011. It is important that we do not give false expectations to British troops or mixed messages to anybody else. Will the Prime Minister clarify whether he would expect British troop numbers to start reducing in 2010 or 2011?
The Prime Minister:
I made it absolutely clear at the press conference-if the right hon. Gentleman had read the full transcript of it, he would know-that there was no question of our withdrawing our British troops until the point at which we were sure that the Afghans could take over security control themselves. Even if one or two parts of a district or province are transferred in 2010, we will continue to have our troops in Afghanistan
at that point. My point earlier was that by 2011 there will be more than 300,000 Afghan, American, British and coalition troops. That is the point at which the balance between Afghan forces and British, American and coalition troops will start to change. We should recognise that it is absolutely crucial for our Afghanisation strategy that the Afghans start to take control of security as soon as possible. It is also absolutely crucial that we are assured that the Afghan troops are properly trained and therefore partnered with British forces. That will happen during the course of 2010. I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that we will stay and do the job that is necessary. I believe that when people in Britain see the facts of the Taliban threat and the problems with al-Qaeda, they will support what we, the Government, have done with 43 coalition partners.
The Prime Minister: No, they do not confirm that. Spain is a member of the G20 now and it is in recession. Six European countries that are part of the European Union or part of the continent are in recession. I have to say to the right hon. Gentleman that the purpose of asking this question must be that he either has policy that he wishes to put forward so that we can do better, or he is simply talking down Britain.
Mr. Cameron: The fact is that it is the right hon. Gentleman's policies that have given us the longest and deepest recession in our history. Only this Prime Minister thinks that we should all be pathetically grateful for this long and deep recession, and that he has somehow led the world when he has left Britain behind. He is normally fond of reading out lists of countries. Australia, Canada, Turkey and Brazil all went into recession after Britain, but they came out before Britain. France and Germany went into recession at the same time as Britain, yet they came out before us. Will the Prime Minister answer this question? Given that all those countries are now in growth and that we are not in growth, can he tell us what on earth he meant when he said that we were
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