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House of Commons

Wednesday 20 January 2010

The House met at half-past Eleven o'clock


[Mr. Speaker in the Chair]

business before questions

London Local Authorities Bill [ Lords] (By Order)

Motion made, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

Hon. Members: Object.

Bill to be read a Second time on Wednesday 27 January .

Oral Answers to Questions

International Development

The Secretary of State was asked-

Multilateral Aid Agencies

1. Stephen Hammond (Wimbledon) (Con): What recent steps he has taken to link his Department's allocation of funding to multilateral aid agencies to evidence of their effectiveness in reducing poverty. [311675]

The Secretary of State for International Development (Mr. Douglas Alexander): With your permission, Mr. Speaker, I want to preface my answer by extending-on behalf of the whole House, I am sure-our sympathy to the victims of the Haitian earthquake and our great collective pride in the actions of British search and rescue professionals who are still on the ground working in Port-au-Prince. Even since I arrived at the House this morning, there has been a significant aftershock, registering 6.1 on the Richter scale. The word that I have received is that our search and rescue team is safe and is continuing its work.

Multilateral organisations are vital to the task of global poverty reduction and humanitarian responses of the kind that we have witnessed in recent days in Haiti. My Department allocates its multilateral budget to maximise poverty reduction. At the last spending review, we increased funding to agencies working effectively in the poorest countries. As our White Paper set out last July, we are considering evidence of effectiveness and focus on the millennium development goals in making further allocations.

Mr. Hammond: I am sure that the whole House will join the Secretary of State in what he says about the plight of the victims of the Haitian earthquake. Will he
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give the House some more details on the flash appeal for funding from the United Nations? How much will it be and when does he expect the money to be delivered? Exactly how does he expect the money to be used and how does his Department intend to evaluate the funds raised?

Mr. Alexander: My recollection is that towards the end of last week-last Friday, I believe-the Secretary-General mentioned the figure of $550 million. We have already responded in the sense that for some time we have argued for use of the Central Emergency Response Fund, so that funds are available to the UN to disburse immediately rather than having to rely on money coming in through a flash appeal. The Secretary-General also indicated that $10 million would be spent directly from the CERF, which was, as I have said, originally a British idea. Secondly, we have made it clear that our funding envelope has been extended to $30 million-approximately £20 million. Within that allocation, we expect funding to go to the UN. We are already committing support to the logistics work of the Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs, as well as supporting the work of the International Red Cross and a range of other British agencies.

Hugh Bayley (City of York) (Lab): It is at times like this that we see the importance of our working together with other countries through multilateral agencies. Can the Secretary of State tell us how quickly the millions of pounds raised by the Disasters Emergency Committee will get into the country to help the victims of the Haiti earthquake?

Mr. Alexander: First, let me express the sentiment of the whole House, I am sure, in commending and feeling immense pride in the generosity of the British people in responding so overwhelmingly and so compassionately to the terrible scenes that we have seen on our television screens. We held our first meeting with non-governmental organisations last week and my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for International Development has since had a second meeting with those NGOs, some of which have partners on the ground and some of which have long track records of working in Haiti. There will be a challenge in getting aid supplies into the country, which is why I am pleased to inform the House this morning that my right hon. Friend the Defence Secretary has kindly agreed to send to Haiti the Royal Fleet Auxiliary supply ship, Largs Bay, which will carry urgent relief supplies from UK NGOs and UN agencies. Following a direct request from the UN, it may stay on to assist in distributing supplies around Haiti.

Malcolm Bruce (Gordon) (LD): Save the Children reports today that questions regarding who is in charge of Haiti are causing tension. Does the Secretary of State agree that Haiti urgently needs a single Government entity, comprising the Government of Haiti, the United Nations and perhaps lead donors such as the United States, France and Canada? How will he use his good offices to bring that about as early as possible?

Mr. Alexander: I assure the right hon. Gentleman that we have been working on these issues with our international partners for some time. Soon after the earthquake, I received a call from Dr. Rajiv Shah, the new head of the United States Agency for International Development, whose opening question to me was, "How
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can we help you help?" That is a fair indication of the true spirit of working together that characterises the international response. While, of course, the Haitian Government are central, it is fair to recognise both the depleted capacity of that Government before the earthquake and the very severe damage done to them as a result of it. Similarly, the UN, of course, leads the international co-operation, but its own compound in Port-au-Prince was devastated. The UN continues to co-ordinate the international relief effort, but I am glad to say that it is able to rely heavily on the generous and immediate response offered by the United States, which has more logistical capability and a greater ability to respond immediately than any other partner that the UN could look to. It is in that spirit of co-operation that I hope matters will be taken forward.

Mr. Tom Clarke (Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill) (Lab): I welcome what my right hon. Friend had to say, particularly about the British Navy. Is he in a position to tell us about the reaction of-and whether he has been involved in discussions with-the European Union?

Mr. Alexander: I can give my right hon. Friend the assurance that he seeks. I have been in regular touch with Cathy Ashton, the new High Representative, and the Under-Secretary of State for International Development, my hon. Friend the Member for Worcester, attended a meeting of European Development Ministers in Brussels on Monday. I participated in a conference call on Sunday afternoon with Bernard Kouchner, the French Foreign Minister, and Miguel Moratinos, the Spanish Foreign Minister-the Spanish hold the presidency of the European Union at the moment. Since then, my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary has been engaged in the discussions as well. All that is in addition to the operational work being undertaken with ECHO, the institution that is co-ordinating the humanitarian response of the European Union.

Mr. Michael Moore (Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk) (LD): As the horrors in Haiti continue to unfold before our eyes, the term "aid effectiveness" seems a rather emotionless concept. May I join the Secretary of State in his tribute to the British contribution, be that the one being made on the ground or people's generosity in giving donations? I recognise the utter devastation challenging the co-ordination of what goes on in Haiti and the policy responses, but will he assure us that what appeared to be conflicting priorities on what to do first in Haiti have been resolved?

Mr. Alexander: In incredibly challenging circumstances, the international community is working against an established pattern of priorities. First, in the rescue phase, 24 international search and rescue teams have been deployed in Haiti, and I am proud to say that that includes 64 British firefighters. Beyond the rescue phase comes the recovery phase, when we must look to the United Nations to provide the well-established cluster system, whereby individual organisations are tasked to take responsibility for basic human needs, be that food, water, shelter or medicines. Some of the criticism relates to the use of the airport. Approximately three flights a day came into Port-au-Prince before the earthquake and comfortably in excess of 100 flights a day now land there. However, it is important that we continue to work together to improve the situation on the ground.

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Mark Lazarowicz (Edinburgh, North and Leith) (Lab/Co-op): My right hon. Friend's White Paper talks about increasing funding for multilateral agencies. Will he tell us how he intends to ensure that such funding would result in improved effectiveness in the delivery of the work of agencies on the ground?

Mr. Alexander: As I sought to reflect in my initial answer, we are examining specific criteria, be that in relation to the work that can be done on the millennium development goals, the capability of these multilateral organisations to work in fragile and conflict-affected states and, of course, the record of effectiveness of those particular agencies. That is the basis on which allocation decisions will be made, as a result of the White Paper that my hon. Friend has mentioned.

Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire) (Con): I thank the Secretary of State for what he has said. Does he accept that when Haiti has disappeared from the headlines, there will still be a country in total wreckage and a society that has been destroyed? Will he assure the House that we will do all we can to help in the rebuilding of this terribly devastated country?

Mr. Alexander: The hon. Gentleman's question reminded me of a comment made yesterday by Paul Collier, the distinguished development economist. When he was asked how the Government of Haiti could get back on their feet, he said that they were not on their feet before this crisis. We need to recognise that that country has a traumatic history. The principal funders of development support to Haiti have been the United States, France and Canada. We expect them to continue to take a leading role in the rebuilding phase, but a conference has been organised for Monday by Stephen Harper, the Canadian Prime Minister, which I believe will focus on the challenge of how we take the relief effort forward into the recovery phase.

Mr. Andrew Mitchell (Sutton Coldfield) (Con): I join the Secretary of State in his opening remarks. I am sure that the whole House will be united today in sorrow for the people of Haiti in this time of crisis and in solidarity with the small Haitian community in the UK, some of whom I spent time with in Southwark on Saturday night. The House will also wish to pay tribute to the energy and determination of the aid workers and NGOs, who are working tirelessly to help these people, and to the incredible generosity of British people, who have given so much to the Disasters Emergency Committee appeal.

It is clear that the multilateral aid agencies will, in the coming months, have a crucial role to play in addressing the plight of the 3 million people who are now-

Mr. Speaker: Order. May I gently say to the hon. Gentleman that I am exercising some latitude on this matter because of its importance and topicality, but he must now come to a question?

Mr. Mitchell: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. In the light of the 3 million people who are destitute and the 2 million people who, we are told, will depend entirely on external support for the basics of life, what steps is the Secretary of State taking to support the UN's efforts on response and recovery and to ensure that activities are effective, results-focused and properly evaluated?

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Mr. Alexander: I have, of course, already been in touch with John Holmes, the head of the United Nations Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs and the Prime Minister has spoken to the UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon. I anticipate meeting Josette Sheeran, the head of the World Food Programme, next week. She will have a key role in both logistics and providing food to those people who have suffered so terribly in recent weeks. That is just a measure of the continuing efforts that the British Government are making to bring our full influence to bear on the response that is required.

Trades Union Congress (Funding)

2. Mr. Andrew Robathan (Blaby) (Con): How much funding his Department has provided to the Trades Union Congress for international development purposes since 2003; and if he will make a statement. [311676]

The Minister of State, Department for International Development (Mr. Gareth Thomas): The Department for International Development has provided £2.58 million to the Trades Union Congress in the period from 2002-03 to date in support of its work on international development. The TUC's work in spreading awareness of HIV/AIDS in Ugandan workplaces, for example, has helped to save countless lives.

Mr. Robathan: The International Policy Network recently published a report that suggests that the trade unions, which provide the majority of Labour party funding, receive several million pounds from the TUC for international development. Most of that money is spent in the United Kingdom and is not accounted for in any way. Will the Minister pledge to have a short, inexpensive and quite normal audit of that money, so that we can discover what has been spent on international development and what has not?

Mr. Thomas: Like every other NGO to which we give funding, the TUC has to spend the money in accordance with the requirements of the International Development Act 2002, which, as I recall, had the support of all parties. I gently encourage the hon. Gentleman to look at the work of the TUC in supporting local trade unions in Iraq and Zimbabwe, for example. Although I recognise that he relishes the role of an unreconstructed member of the Conservative party, he might want to be careful about associating himself with a position that is more extreme than any taken by the last three Conservative Foreign Secretaries. Indeed, the last Conservative Government, from 1989 to 1997, paid the TUC to do work on international development.

John Battle (Leeds, West) (Lab): I welcome the Government's recognition that trade unions are part of civil society and active partners in development both here in Britain and internationally. May I urge my hon. Friend to get DFID to work more closely with trade unions, particularly in southern African countries and countries in Asia, where we are working to ensure that their voice is included in that development work?

Mr. Thomas: My right hon. Friend makes an extremely important point about the excellent contribution that trade unions can make. I gave the example from sub-
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Saharan Africa of the very important work that is taking place in Uganda. Trade unions also played a pivotal role in the liberation struggle in South Africa, and they are playing a particularly important role at the moment in Zimbabwe.


3. Alan Duncan (Rutland and Melton) (Con): What his most recent assessment is of the humanitarian situation in Pakistan; and if he will make a statement. [311677]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for International Development (Mr. Michael Foster): Of the 2.7 million people displaced in Pakistan in 2009, the UN estimates that as of 10 January 1.6 million people have returned to their places of origin and 1.1 million internally displaced people are still receiving humanitarian assistance, including 293,000 people from South Waziristan and 370,000 people from Malakand Division.

Alan Duncan: Speaking as someone who has taken a consistent interest in Pakistan for 30 years, I think that its interests are best served at all levels by free trade and democracy. To that end, what discussions have the Minister or his colleagues had at an EU level about extending the generalised system of preferences plus-GSP plus-trading system to Pakistan?

Mr. Foster: We are and will be continuing our discussions with the EU on the GSP plus system, which I know was also a feature of discussions with the hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr. Mitchell) when he visited Pakistan earlier this month.

Ms Dari Taylor (Stockton, South) (Lab): My hon. Friend will know that the people living in the North West Frontier region of Pakistan in Balochistan and Waziristan are tyrannised by the Taliban. They are controlled and threatened, and they feel powerless. What is the Department doing to ensure that these people are liberated?

Mr. Foster: One of the best ways to deal with extremism in the region is to ensure that we have sound development work on the ground, that there is good education for the people of Pakistan and, indeed, that we support the democratically elected Government of Pakistan in their aims.

Mr. Andrew Mitchell (Sutton Coldfield) (Con): As the Minister will be aware, the UN's humanitarian response plan for Pakistan sets out the need for more than $500 million in assistance to those internally displaced in 2010. However, when I visited Pakistan two weeks ago, I was told by the United Nations Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs that it had been unable to launch this vital appeal. What discussions has the Minister had with the Pakistani Government to ensure that the UN can start raising funds for 2010 to ensure that help can reach the hundreds of thousands of people who need it?

Mr. Foster: The hon. Gentleman is right to point out the importance of the Pakistan humanitarian response plan. The 2009 appeal was 71 per cent. funded, making
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it the fourth best funded plan in that year. The United Kingdom is the second largest bilateral donor to Pakistan, and we are working with the Government of Pakistan to make sure that they launch their 2010 appeal for $537 million.

Mr. Don Touhig (Islwyn) (Lab/Co-op): Since the Pakistani army commenced its operations against the Taliban, tens of thousands of people have fled the conflict zone, but many are now returning. What is being done to ensure that the aid we are giving to these people does not fall into the hands of the Taliban?

Mr. Foster: We work through the United Nations-supported humanitarian response plan and reputable non-governmental organisations, as well as local groups to which we can commit funds knowing that they will get through to the right people on the ground. All that funding is independently audited on a quarterly basis, and the information is made public.

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