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House of Commons

Wednesday 3 March 2010

The House met at half-past Eleven o'clock


[Mr. Speaker in the Chair]

Oral Answers to Questions

International Development

The Secretary of State was asked-


1. Peter Luff (Mid-Worcestershire) (Con): When he last met representatives of relevant non-governmental organisations to discuss the control of malaria in developing countries; and if he will make a statement. [319864]

2. Mr. Shailesh Vara (North-West Cambridgeshire) (Con): What steps his Department is taking to control malaria in developing countries. [319865]

The Secretary of State for International Development (Mr. Douglas Alexander): My hon. Friends the Minister of State and the Under-Secretary have both recently met Malaria No More to discuss the control of malaria in developing countries, and I regularly meet members of the Bond NGO network, which includes health and malaria-focused NGOs.

Peter Luff: The whole House will want to celebrate the truly remarkable work of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which will undoubtedly save millions of lives in the coming years. What steps are the Government taking to work closely with Mr. Gates and his foundation to maximise the effectiveness of its vital fight against malaria?

Mr. Alexander: I entirely concur with the sentiments expressed in the hon. Gentleman's question. I had the opportunity to meet Bill Gates just two or three weeks ago at Davos, when I congratulated him on the extraordinary work that the foundation is undertaking, which I thanked him for on behalf of the people of the United Kingdom. We are working very closely with the foundation, and we welcome the fact that its new office for Europe has been opened here in London. That is a reflection of the strong and strengthening work we are undertaking not only on malaria, but on a number of other diseases as well.

Mr. Tom Clarke (Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill) (Lab): Given both that the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria is facing a shortfall and that there will be an international conference on replenishment next October, will my right hon. Friend encourage the entire international community to make the highest possible contribution in order to save even more lives?

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Mr. Alexander: I pay due respect to the expertise that my right hon. Friend brings to this issue. For many years he has been a tireless advocate for the cause of tackling these preventable diseases. The global fund is undertaking important work, but it faces an international shortfall. In response to the last replenishment round, we were able to make an unprecedented commitment of £1 billion over seven years, reflecting the fact that we need to build up the sustainability of the treatments for these diseases across the developing world. I hope that in the coming replenishment round other countries will feel able to match the long-term commitments that we made in the last one.

Mr. Andrew Mitchell (Sutton Coldfield) (Con): For a number of other diseases and health issues, the Department for International Development has produced a strategic plan with detailed input from experts and civil society. Does the Secretary of State not think that we should do the same for malaria, and will he now bring the same level of attention and rigour as the Gates foundation to tackling this entirely preventable and treatable disease?

Mr. Alexander: I assure the hon. Gentleman that we are working in close partnership with a wide range of organisations, including multilateral bodies such as the World Health Organisation, the Roll Back Malaria coalition, UNITAID and the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, which we have just discussed. I assure the hon. Gentleman that that partnership approach informs our work.

Mr. Vara: Given that the WHO estimates that almost half the world's population is at risk from malaria, and following the Secretary of State's earlier comments, will he inform the House what steps his Department is taking on the development and roll-out of a vaccine against malaria?

Mr. Alexander: I can give the assurance the hon. Gentleman is seeking. We are funding research, and we are also looking at the affordability of treatments, which is key. There is certainly common ground between us in recognising the scale of the challenge we are facing. It is estimated that almost 250 million people around the world fall severely ill with malaria each year. Almost 1 million die, mostly children, and one in five child deaths in sub-Saharan Africa is still from malaria, despite the fact that in many cases treatments are available, such as malarial-treated bed nets.

Mr. Bill Olner (Nuneaton) (Lab): Will my right hon. Friend be partnering some of the drug companies, which hold an important key in respect of speedily rolling out anti-malarial vaccines to the population? This is not rocket science. There are some cheap vaccines out there, and the drug companies ought to be playing a fuller role than they are at present.

Mr. Alexander: We are working with drug companies, first, on the affordability of medicines and, secondly, on research into vaccines. In both areas, it is vital that the private sector plays its role in making sure that we provide affordable, effective treatments for this terrible disease.

David Simpson (Upper Bann) (DUP): Is the United Nations target of eradicating malaria by 2015 achievable?

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Mr. Alexander: Of course the international community has to work to achieve the eradication of this disease for which many cures are available-such as something as simple as ensuring that a family sleeps under a malarial-treated bed net. That is why the White Paper my Department published last July supports the delivery of 10 million more bed nets each year from 2010 to 2013. We estimate that this alone will help to prevent 165,000 child deaths from malaria.


3. Andrew Selous (South-West Bedfordshire) (Con): How much his Department has spent on aid to China in the last five years. [319866]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for International Development (Mr. Michael Foster): Including humanitarian aid allocated in response to the earthquake in Sichuan-which registered 8 on the Richter scale, killed 70,000 people, and left 300,000 people injured and millions homeless-DFID has spent, on average, £34.5 million a year over the past five years in China.

Andrew Selous: We want the very poorest people in China to escape poverty, but given that China's gross domestic product per head is $5,300, that China has growth of 8 per cent. and that it is a world superpower, would it not be a more effective use of British aid to target it on the very poorest people in the weakest economies?

Mr. Foster: The football analogy would be that on a per capita basis China is languishing somewhere near the bottom of the Football League, whereas on a global level it is indeed at the top of the premier league. It is important to recognise that 200 million people in China still live on less than $1.25 a day and that 450 million people live on less than $2 a day. That is why it is important to have a sustainable partnership and a dialogue with the Chinese authorities and to work alongside them in tackling the type of poverty that the hon. Gentleman has just described.

Mr. Andy Reed (Loughborough) (Lab/Co-op): Although I accept that targeting the poorest in the world and working with countries such as China is a difficult balance to strike, what assessment does the Minister make of the human rights record of such countries in ensuring that the moneys given get to the very poorest in places such as China, India and other parts of Asia?

Mr. Foster: We regularly discuss with the Chinese authorities their obligations to meet international laws on human rights and freedom of speech. In order to deal with the very poorest people living in China, it is important that we have a dialogue with the Chinese authorities and that, through the work that was recognised by the International Development Committee, we engage in pilot studies. If the progress is seen to be effective, the schemes can then be rolled out on a massive scale in countries as big as China.

Sir Robert Smith (West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine) (LD): As a member of the Committee at the time of some of those pilots, especially the child-centred education projects and other such schemes, may I ask what constant
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monitoring the Department is undertaking to ensure that the lessons learned really are being rolled out? There were some very good schemes on the ground, but is the Department assessing their impact, beyond the money that it is spending, in leveraging in more work by the Chinese?

Mr. Foster: It is very much in our interest and that of China that the lessons learned from engagement with such development projects are rolled out, and the evidence on the ground suggests that that is happening. Indeed, in one of the meetings that I had during my visit to China last year, one of my colleagues from the World Bank remarked that they immediately recognised a school that the Department had been working with just by the layout of the classrooms-they could tell immediately that DFID's engagement and positive role had had a part to play.

Mr. Andrew Mitchell (Sutton Coldfield) (Con): China has just spent £20 billion hosting the Olympics and has foreign exchange reserves of more than $2 trillion, yet DFID aid to China has increased in each of the years since 2005. The figure that the Minister failed to give us is that £188 million of taxpayers' money has been spent on aid to China since 2004-05. Does he not understand that giving aid to China, and indeed to Russia, is in danger of bringing into disrepute this vital budget, which we are all pledged to protect?

Mr. Foster: Interestingly, in 1997 the overseas development spend in China was four times higher than it is now. I also point out to the hon. Gentleman that we announced in May 2006 that we are ending the China programme in 2011. Using language that may well play to a gallery at a party conference may win him some applause-and it may protect his position in the shadow Cabinet-but it certainly does not show leadership on development issues.

Violence Against Women (Developing Countries)

4. Jim Sheridan (Paisley and Renfrewshire, North) (Lab): What steps he plans to take to tackle violence against women in developing countries. [319867]

The Minister of State, Department for International Development (Mr. Gareth Thomas): We are supporting and funding a series of initiatives internationally, through our country programmes and non-governmental organisations, to prevent violence against women, and to protect and help victims of such violence in, for example, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Nepal, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Uganda.

Jim Sheridan: May I ask my hon. Friend what support his Department has given to civil society organisations, including women's organisations, to help tackle the terrible crime of violence against women?

Mr. Thomas: My hon. Friend is right to make the point that civil society has a critical role to play, both in helping to provide support to the victims of such violence and in advocating new laws and better support by Governments in developing countries. One particular example of the work that we fund through civil society groups is that of the International Rescue Committee in
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Sierra Leone. Its work has helped to support the development of new legislation and a range of new services to provide new support for women and child victims of a range of sexual offences.

Malcolm Bruce (Gordon) (LD): Will the Minister acknowledge that eastern Congo probably witnesses the most savage and brutal attacks and rapes on women anywhere on the planet? As the United Kingdom is a major donor in the DRC, what does he think we can do to lead action to give the women of DRC the right to life and the right to equality in life that they are denied at present?

Mr. Thomas: The right hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to highlight the eastern DRC as a particularly appalling example of the scale of violence against women. We can provide direct support, as we are, to help women to come forward to report examples of rape and other sexual crimes. We can also provide support to train the police to deal with such violence, which we are doing. In the end, there has to be the political will in the DRC for the issue to be tackled, which is why my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and others have raised it at the highest level with President Kabila and his Ministers.

John Robertson (Glasgow, North-West) (Lab): Will my hon. Friend tell me what discussions he has had with the Nigerian Government about not only violence against women in northern Nigeria in particular, but the trafficking of women through northern Nigeria?

Mr. Thomas: My hon. Friend will know, as he has a long-standing interest in Nigeria, that we work in a series of northern states in particular, where we are to trying to encourage more girls into school. We are obviously working with the authorities at a federal and state level in Nigeria. In that way, we are trying to help to improve the situation of girls and women more generally in Nigeria.

Mr. Gary Streeter (South-West Devon) (Con): Is not the most effective way of tackling violence against women, strangely enough, to ensure that more girls get into education? Can we not make better progress over the next few years towards millennium development goal 3? Does the Minister share my disappointment that, despite many resources being poured in, we are still lagging some way behind our targets for that goal?

Mr. Thomas: Of course we want to see much more progress in the prevention of violence against women and to see more girls getting into school. We have made significant progress in increasing the number of girls in school. One reason why we are pledged to increase our spending on international development is to fund more education programmes and to get more girls into school.

Mr. Michael Moore (Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk) (LD): If we are to tackle violence against women and many of the other issues wrapped up in the achievement of the millennium development goal, the international community will have substantially to raise its game. In that context, the UN women's agency is very important. Having supported the creation of the agency, which we welcome, the Government are now, it is reported, seeking to limit its operational capacity to
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something of a co-ordinating role. Will he reassure us that that is not the case and that we will see that agency given the resources and tools to do the job?

Mr. Thomas: We have long advocated a powerful new women's agency that brings the parts of the UN system that already work on this issue together under strong new leadership with better resourcing. The agency can play an important role and bring together more players in the UN system to do more work on tackling violence against women, in particular, and on a series of issues on gender equality.

Fairtrade Fortnight

5. Andrew Rosindell (Romford)(Con): What contribution his Department has made to Fairtrade fortnight. [319868]

6. Mr. Humfrey Malins (Woking) (Con): What contribution his Department has made to Fairtrade fortnight. [319869]

The Secretary of State for International Development (Mr. Douglas Alexander): The Minister of State, officials from my Department and I are all taking part in a number of events and awareness-raising efforts through Fairtrade fortnight. Our participation is testament to the value that we place on Fairtrade's contribution to development and to reducing poverty. That is, of course, underpinned by our White Paper commitment of £12 million to expand Fairtrade globally, so that we can double the number of producers who benefit directly.

Andrew Rosindell: On this side of the House, we are enthusiastic about the achievements and potential of the Fairtrade movement, which allows British consumers to send a voluntary signal through the market about the conditions in which they want their goods to be produced. Will the Secretary of State join me in congratulating British brands that have moved towards Fairtrade in recent years?

Mr. Alexander: I am happy to do so. One reason for the almost explosive growth in Fairtrade in recent years is that major retailers-started, I am proud to say by the co-operative movement, and including brands such as Morrisons, Sainsbury's and Marks and Spencer-have made Fairtrade products available in many large stores and supermarkets. Of course, I pay tribute to organisations such as Traidcraft that have flown the flag for Fairtrade for many years, but if we want the growth of Fairtrade products to continue, it is vital that those major brands continue to support them.

Mr. Malins: Existing trade rules often prevent producers in the developing world from lifting themselves out of poverty. Does the Minister agree that now, more than ever, is the time to champion a free, open and fair trading system, and will he do all he can to end the deadlock in the Doha round of trade talks?

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