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1 July 2010 : Column 1026

Mr Mitchell: I think that the right hon. Gentleman can do a lot better than that. He will have to wait until we issue our proposals ahead of the Kabul conference, and then he will be able to judge them on their merit.

In addition, our aid budget should be spent where it is needed and where it can be best used. We have therefore started a review of all our bilateral aid programmes so that we can be clear that money is being properly targeted and worthwhile results obtained. We have already announced that we will end aid to China and Russia as soon as it is practical to do so. We want to work with them as partners, not as donors and recipients. We cannot justify giving taxpayers' hard-earned money to a country that has just spent billions hosting the Olympics or is a member of the G8. In that context, my hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth East (Mr Ellwood) raised India. We will be looking very carefully at the Indian budget, and we will issue any new proposals as part of our bilateral review.

Hugh Bayley (York Central) (Lab): When the International Development Committee wrote its most recent report about aid to India, which is currently our biggest bilateral aid receiving partner, we did not call for an immediate end to the aid programme in India but proposed that between now and 2015-the millennium development goals date-the aid programme should be changed so that there was no longer a cash transfer after that date. The Secretary of State's remarks suggest that he has not decided to go along with the Committee's recommendation. What are his plans, and why has he taken that decision?

Mr Mitchell: I understand the hon. Gentleman's interest in India; he was a distinguished member of the International Development Committee. I have seen that report, which makes a very valuable contribution and will be considered as part of the bilateral review of our India programme.

We are conducting a similar review of our multilateral aid budget. There are good reasons for working through international bodies, but I want to be certain that all our funding is being used to support programmes that align with our priorities, and that operational efficiency is as strong as it should be. In New York on Monday, in meetings with the heads of the United Nations Development Programme, UNICEF and the United Nations Population Fund, I had the opportunity to set out the reasons for this review. I have also spoken to the heads of other multilateral agencies, including the World Food Programme. At the Foreign Affairs Council in Luxembourg, I took the opportunity to discuss our plans with Commissioner Piebalgs of the European Union. Multilateral organisations that are performing well for the world's poorest people stand to gain from this review, but if such agencies are not performing we will scale down funding, or even stop it altogether. Our duty to the world's poorest people, as well as to the British taxpayer, demands nothing less.

Ann McKechin (Glasgow North) (Lab): I welcome the Secretary of State and his team to their posts. I notice that one issue of which he has made no mention so far is gender. Can he confirm that gender equality and the role of women and children will receive equal, if not greater, priority under his guidance in the Department?

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Given that the Secretary of State has a particular interest in Afghanistan, may I bring to his attention this week's excellent BBC television report by Lyse Doucet about the status of women in prisons in Afghanistan, the vast majority of whom are in prison for no crime whatsoever, in breach of the international conventions that Afghanistan has signed up to? Can he give an assurance to the House that he will call on the Afghan Government to comply with their international requirements and to ensure that the position of women in Afghanistan receives the proper status that it deserves?

Mr Mitchell: I thank the hon. Lady for her comments. I will have a look at that report. On her first point about the role of women, I am coming to that directly in my remarks.

Doing the right thing with British aid is not just about saving money: it is about being honest and open about where our funding is going. Knowledge gives people the power to hold others-be they individuals, organisations or Governments-to account. That is why I have launched a new UK aid transparency guarantee that will help to make aid transparent not only to people in the UK but to those in recipient countries.

Mary Macleod (Brentford and Isleworth) (Con): Will my right hon. Friend give way?

Mr Mitchell: I am going to make a bit of progress, and then I will of course give way.

Building up civil society in the developing world is crucial to enabling citizens to hold their own political leaders to account. The transparency guarantee will help to create millions of independent aid watchdogs-people around the world who can see where aid is supposed to be going and shout if it does not get there. From January, we will publish full details of DFID projects and programmes on our website so that everyone can have access to information about where our funding is going and what it is intended to achieve. The simple act of publishing information can reduce the amount of corruption and waste, improve the quality of public services and increase public sector accountability.

I wish to make two further points about Britain's bilateral aid programme. First, where it is relevant, in every country where DFID is active we will pay particular attention to the fight against malaria. It will be the responsibility of my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for International Development, whose involvement, expertise and knowledge in the matter is well known to the House. It is simply unconscionable that in this day and age, thousands of children and adults die every day from that completely preventable disease. If there were an outbreak of malaria in Europe it would immediately be stopped in its tracks. Reducing the burden of malaria in the developing world and focusing on the areas of highest infection will be an essential part of our programmes.

Secondly, we must extend far further choice for women over whether and when they have children. It is outrageous that today in sub-Saharan Africa, only 15% of women have access to modern methods of contraception. I simply lay this fact before the House: every year, 20 million women have unsafe abortions, and 70,000 of
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them, many still girls, die as a result. Some 215 million women around the world who want to use modern contraception do not have access to it. No statistic could more eloquently underline the importance of allowing women to choose whether to have children, and we will pursue that argument vigorously and single-mindedly.

I invite the House to consider the further point that in Niger, one of the poorest countries in the world, a population of 3 million in 1960 has grown to nearly 16 million today, and expert opinion judges that it will rise to nearly 60 million in the next 40 years. It is a country that suffers deeply from political, economic, climate and food insecurity. As I said last week in Washington, Britain will place women at the heart of our whole agenda for international development.

That subject is closely related to the Prime Minister's insistence at the G8 last weekend on combined action on maternal and child mortality. As he made clear in Muskoka, a woman's chances of dying in pregnancy and childbirth are one in 8,200 in the UK, whereas in Sierra Leone they are a stark one in eight. The resources agreed at the G8, including a significant contribution from the United Kingdom, should lead to an additional 1.3 million lives being saved.

Richard Ottaway (Croydon South) (Con): I welcome what my right hon. Friend has just said. It is not just helping women that is to be welcomed, because it is a simple fact that no country has got itself out of poverty without first stabilising its levels of population growth. Furthermore, we are very unlikely to achieve the millennium development goals without stabilising population development. I warmly welcome his points and I urge him to give even greater emphasis to a global family planning approach to aid.

Mr Mitchell: I thank my hon. Friend very much for those comments. As the House will know, he can probably lay claim to being the House's greatest expert on population issues.

Important though aid is, it is only part of the solution-a means to an end rather than an end in itself. The key to development is sustained economic growth. Over the years ahead we will help more countries put in place the building blocks of wealth creation-trade, a vibrant private sector, property rights and a low-carbon, climate-resilient economy. We are reorganising the structure of the Department to ensure a sharper focus on wealth creation and economic growth. I will give the House further details of that in due course. I am also considering carefully the contribution made through CDC and considering how to improve its capacity to take forward development objectives.

I turn to the support that we give to the brilliant non-governmental organisations, charities and civil society institutions whose work I have seen all around the world. It is often inspirational and a huge credit not just to their supporters but to Britain itself. They make an outstanding contribution to development work. As we said in opposition, we want to develop that work through our poverty impact fund. The principle of that fund will be both simple and clear: if an NGO is engaged in development work that takes forward the millennium development goals, we will be prepared to match-fund its budget if it, in turn, can increase its outputs and
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outcomes accordingly. That will, of course, be subject to our being satisfied of the probity of its funding and accounts. The fund will enable the taxpayer to piggyback on the expertise and development results of some of Britain's best charities and NGOs. Again, I will report to the House on progress in due course.

As I mentioned earlier, we will never forget that one of the biggest barriers to global prosperity is conflict. Helping affected states and their people on to the ladder of prosperity is the greatest challenge of our time, so we will make conflict prevention, resolution and reconstruction central to our approach to development. I have visited both Afghanistan and Pakistan within the first few weeks since being appointed and witnessed at first hand the real challenges that exist in those countries. Together with the Foreign Secretary and the Defence Secretary, I was able to spend time not only with the Government of Afghanistan but with the brave men and women of our armed forces, who are doing such important but difficult and dangerous work.

Barry Gardiner: I am most grateful to the Secretary of State for giving way; he has been very generous.

On conflict, will the Secretary of State have discussions with his colleagues in the Cabinet about the situation in Sri Lanka and consider seriously the aid needs of the Tamil community in the north of that country? As I am sure he well knows, the aftermath of last year's conflict has left a number of displaced and dispossessed people who are desperate to return to their homes and need all the assistance that countries such as ours can provide to ensure that they are not victimised further by the Sri Lankan Government.

Mr Mitchell: I hear what the hon. Gentleman says. The Government have considered these matters, and I will write to the hon. Gentleman to let him know what our current view is.

The reason for sending our armed forces to Afghanistan was one of national security, but if we are to make long-term gains that will provide stability when our armed forces eventually hand over to Afghan security forces, we will require a long period of development in concert with the international community, NGOs and other countries' aid programmes. Through the new National Security Council set up by the Prime Minister, we are joining together defence, diplomacy and development to support security and stability, to help build a more effective Afghan state and to deliver development to people on the ground. Ahead of the Kabul conference, we are working with the economic cluster of Ministers to provide more support, particularly for training, boosting Government capacity and improving the workings of the justice system and grievance proceedings, which were referred to earlier. I expect to have more to say about that ahead of the Kabul conference, which both the Foreign Secretary and I will attend.

Our country is rightly famous for the contribution that we make at times of emergency and disaster around the world. There remain real challenges, some of which were demonstrated in the aftermath of the appalling events in Haiti in January. We want to ensure that Britain's reaction is always the best it possibly can be, and for that reason we have made it clear that we will set up a review of how Britain provides emergency relief. That will involve all the organisations in Britain that
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make an important contribution to that work. We are currently in advanced negotiations on how the review will proceed and who will chair it, and again, I shall keep the House closely informed.

At the first International Development questions of this Parliament, I paid tribute to the work of the outgoing Prime Minister on international development. His passion and drive in this matter is shared in all corners of the House and throughout the new coalition Government. I know that it will be a priority for many in the House, and I am confident that we will make significant progress over the years to come.

1.18 pm

Mr Douglas Alexander (Paisley and Renfrewshire South) (Lab): I reiterate the personal congratulations that I extended to the Secretary of State and his right hon. and hon. Friends on the Treasury Bench on their ministerial appointments at this, our first debate of the new Parliament. I also welcome at this early opportunity those who will contribute today to their first debate on global poverty. Many Members in their places today, some of whom are new Members, have great expertise on the matter and a deep personal commitment to it, and I look forward to their contributions to our deliberations this afternoon.

It is now almost five years to the day since that remarkable Make Poverty History march took place in Edinburgh and the Live 8 concerts took place around the world. For those of us who were committed enough to march in Edinburgh that day, it was truly inspirational. The view of Edinburgh castle from Princes street, a view I had seen many times previously, was on that day transformed by the banner that spanned the length of the castle ramparts and declared our common mission to make poverty history. Around the world, thousands more gathered in fields and stadiums to join with millions wearing white bands to demand that the G8 leaders take action.

Five years on, we are sadly in less auspicious circumstances in the fight against global poverty. Nevertheless, it would be wrong to focus only on the negative or on the challenges confronting us today. For when promises are kept, they can make life-changing differences. Since that declaration of global solidarity in July 2005, it is fair to say that there has been significant progress, albeit not enough. I am especially proud that it was a Labour Government who led the way both on aid volumes and on aid effectiveness. Indeed, the most recent DATA report published by the ONE campaign ahead of the recent G8 meeting in Canada declared:

That judgment followed a previous report that stated that the UK was the "leader" in the G7 on aid effectiveness. What a contrast with the 18 years before 1997, which had seen our aid as a percentage of gross national income halve, the tying of aid to commercial interests and the shame of scandals such as the Pergau dam.

The last decade of delivery in the fight against global poverty has been regarded by some as a golden age, from the Jubilee 2000 campaign for debt relief through to Make Poverty History and Gleneagles. But we now face far more turbulent and testing times, and new challenges confront us. The world has been engulfed as never expected by the greatest financial and economic
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crisis for generations, thrusting millions of our fellow citizens back into poverty and creating pressure for donor Governments across Europe and the world to turn inwards and slash aid funding. At the same time, the urgency of tackling the climate crisis has become ever more evident, and yet the capacity of the international community to take the necessary action still remains elusive.

A world trade deal that could lift millions out of poverty has remained out of reach. State fragility and continuing conflict have continued to plague and stunt the progress of too many lives. The creaking international system, devised in a different time and for a different set of challenges, has itself been placed under ever greater strain. In this country, despite the words of the Secretary of State today, I still believe that there remain fundamental differences of approach to the challenge of development.

So let us start by recalling what truly progressive leadership can deliver. The agreements made at Gleneagles, made in part because of the great public expectation that was generated around the G8 and developing country Governments by the global anti-poverty movement, have contributed to real progress for many of the world's poorest people. The recent DATA report highlights the issue of malaria-about which we heard something in the last few minutes-where the world has exceeded the Gleneagles goal of delivering 100 million bed-nets, with 200 million more delivered between 2006 and 2009. On education, the report states that the savings from debt relief, development assistance and scaled-up prioritisation mean that 42 million more children have been enrolled in school.

However-despite these achievements-as Oxfam has pointed out, some 40% of the promised aid increases made at Gleneagles have not been delivered. That means that there is as much as a $20 billion hole in the promises the G8 made back in 2005-enough, as the House need not be reminded, to put every child in school or stop millions of children dying of malaria.

The 60% that we helped to deliver has made a huge difference, but the shortfall is continuing to cost lives today. That is why it was so urgent for G8 leaders to focus and take real and substantive action on maternal mortality and child health at their summit in Canada this past weekend. Every year, approximately 350,000 mothers die from complications during childbirth, and 8.8 million children die before their fifth birthday. The Secretary of State and the Prime Minister made a number of statements about their commitment to this agenda in the media and in speeches over recent days. We heard those again this afternoon, and I welcome the rhetorical commitment offered by the Secretary of State today. Speaking in Washington recently, he said:

Those are important and welcome words, although I have to say that they are not entirely original. Indeed, I recollect the particular official in DFID who encouraged me to use this very analogy when I too was preparing public remarks on maternal mortality. I only hope sincerely
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that the new Secretary of State proves as willing to accept the expert policy advice of those officials as he seems to be willing to accept their speechmaking suggestions.

The truth is that actions speak louder than words. So now the results of the summit are out, will the Minister when he winds up offer a clearer explanation to the House than we have so far heard as to why the G8 achieved so little in that crucial area?

Oxfam, which the Secretary of State praised a few minutes ago, described the initiative launched as

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