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In any event, I assure the House that when I visited the very small office of the organisation based in my constituency, there were no samba bands practising in
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the room and no indication of anything to which anyone would have any objection if they studied its work. Scotdec-the Scottish Development Education Centre-is based in my constituency but does work in many parts of Scotland. It is a respected educational organisation that works with local authorities, the Scottish Government and development organisations and has been supported by DFID for work with teachers over many years. I can only assume that the work was recognised by the further grants that were given to it for the current project, which has now had its funding withdrawn just one year into a three-year project.

Scotdec tells me that it works with almost half the schools in south-east Scotland. That is a lot of work for just three staff, not only answering inquiries but going into 228 schools. I have had letters from staff at Jewel and Esk college in Edinburgh and other organisations with which Scotdec has worked, saying that it performs valuable work that fits into wider educational programmes and teacher training programmes in south-east Scotland. Mention was made of the fact that the project works with nursery teachers, as if that was sufficient to say that it must in some way be a bit dotty. Let me assure the Secretary of State that, according to my information, the project works not only with the occasional nursery teacher but with further education colleges and their educators as part of programmes that have been validated and recognised for their value since the project started just over a year ago.

Mr Andrew Mitchell: The hon. Gentleman is making a strong case for his constituents and the organisation that is based in his constituency. We are endeavouring to get him a copy of the letter that should have reached him this morning; I hope that it will arrive during the debate.

The issue is not really whether the expenditure that he has identified is of good quality; it is whether it should come from the budget that I mentioned earlier. The hon. Gentleman may wish to consider whether it is an appropriate way to deploy international development expenditure or whether there are alternative forms of support that his constituents might be able to attract.

Mark Lazarowicz: I know that the Secretary of State's office has been trying to get a letter to me this morning and this afternoon. Unfortunately, despite contact with both my office here and my constituency office, it appears still to be lost somewhere in cyberspace. The right hon. Gentleman will appreciate that I have to proceed on the basis of the information that I have.

I shall address the Secretary of State's comment about whether this project is the type of work that should be funded by DFID, but I want first to say something about the project itself. The Secretary of State has almost given support to my argument because he does not appear to suggest that there is anything untoward about the project. I understand that he had no criticism of the work that the project has undertaken. Indeed, I am informed by Scotdec that it was about to submit its first-year report to DFID, but had not actually gone into the Department, so presumably the decision to withdraw the funding could not have been based on any knowledge or understanding of the project. The Secretary of State's comments seem to suggest that that is the case: the decision was based on a general principle rather than any criticism of the project's work.

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The project organiser was very unhappy-I can see why-about the fact that the first information the organisation had that the project was going to lose its funding was a phone call and e-mail received late on a Friday afternoon, followed by a press notice on the Monday. Apart from being extremely discourteous, that was hardly a fair way to allow a small organisation to respond to a withdrawal of funding which has severely impacted on its ability to carry out its work.

I shall look at the letter that the Secretary of State is seeking to send me. It may well arrive by more conventional means during the afternoon.

Behind the Secretary of State's decision there is, as he has indicated, a clear political choice to stop funding for projects of this nature. Is there now a general policy of not funding projects promoting development awareness and education in the UK? If so, that takes matters further than the Department's press statement on 17 May, in which the Secretary of State said:

No evidence has been given that these sorts of projects do not give value for money. The project in my constituency has been cut just over a year into what was to be a three-year project. A lot of preparatory work has been carried out for the next year, which suggests that it would not be good value for money to cut it at this stage.

In any event, the press notice from the Secretary of State seemed to suggest that there might be some circumstances in which development education was to be funded in the UK by DFID, but if the policy is now that no development education will be funded in the UK, that is extremely regrettable.

The Secretary of State and the Prime Minister face criticism from some of the more right-wing elements on their Back Benches and in the media for agreeing, with all the qualifications that we have heard in this debate, to maintain spending on international development. It seems that a few projects are being thrown to the wolves-a bit of red meat for the right wing-in order to distract their attention from the rest of the Department's work, and if that is the case it is extremely regrettable. If the Secretary of State is, indeed, withdrawing support for development education in the UK, I ask him to reconsider that decision in respect of the project in my constituency and more generally, because it would be a retrograde step and a reversal of what Governments of all parties have recognised as a minor, but important part of the activity that DFID funds here in the UK.

I shall briefly make the case for Government support of development education in the UK. Everyone in the debate so far has recognised that an essential component of international development is justice-trade justice and debt justice. That requires action not only by Governments and international organisations, but by civil society, including citizens, business organisations, trade unions and many more besides. Such action is more likely to be achieved, and Governments are more likely to move towards greater trade justice and debt justice, if as many people in this country as possible are able to engage with and understand the issues-yes, through awareness-raising work among the general public.

If the Government are withdrawing funding from such programmes, I find that extremely regrettable. In terms of the project in my constituency, where better to
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start on awareness-raising work than with our youngest citizens-to-be? I urge the Secretary of State to reconsider his decision on that project and, if it reflects a wider policy, the wider policy as well.

4.21 pm

Nicola Blackwood (Oxford West and Abingdon) (Con): It is a real privilege to have the opportunity to speak in today's debate, and I congratulate all the new Members who have made their maiden speeches today. They put mine to shame. This is only the second time that I have spoken in the Chamber, and I was very excited at the prospect. However, I was a little disappointed to hear the tone that the shadow Secretary of State chose to take and, especially, the fact that he cast doubt on our Secretary of State's attitude to development, because we only have to look at his leadership of Project Umubano, in which he has taken hundreds of Conservative activists and Members to Rwanda and Sierra Leone, to see exactly what commitment he has. It is a practical commitment and an effective commitment, and the shadow Secretary of State might like to take some advice on how to behave in opposition.

In Oxford we have a proud tradition of playing our part in international aid. After all, Oxfam takes its name from the city, and in the midst of this discussion about the value that the public place on aid we should give our electors more credit for their compassion and personal commitment to the issue, not to mention their understanding of the basic fact that global poverty promotes global instability. I have seen the evidence of that compassion and understanding in my constituents again and again, and it is in exactly no one's interests to let the poorest countries get poorer.

Just last week, I was so proud to attend the sixth anniversary of Helping Hands, a local charity that works to improve child health in Uganda. The celebration was at Cumnor primary school, which has long been linked with a school in Uganda. The children whom I met were so excited to tell me about how they fundraised to buy equipment, wrote letters to their friends in Uganda and, if they are able to raise the money, will visit that school in October. Not one person there-child, teacher or governor-expressed doubt about the value of that investment.

However, speaking to those girls and boys, whose enthusiasm and resourcefulness would be a lesson to all Members, I was struck by the fact that, were I speaking to a similar class in parts of Afghanistan or sub-Saharan Africa, I might well find similar levels of ingenuity, but I would not find similar numbers of female pupils or staff. As the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Dr Whiteford) said, the statistics on gender inequalities are still shocking. Women and girls are affected disproportionately by poverty, and they are more likely to become victims of the main causes of poverty. That means that women still make up a staggering 70% of those living in extreme poverty. They perform 66% of the world's work and produce 50% of the food, but earn only 10% of the income and own only 1% of the property. Of an estimated 93 million children who are out of school, the majority are girls, meaning that women make up two thirds of the world's 1 billion people who can neither read nor write. An estimated half a million women die every year as a result of pregnancy complications in childbirth, with 99% of those deaths occurring in developing countries.

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These statistics, shocking as they are, do not convey the humiliation and suffering that they are intended to represent, and they do not show the ripple effect that poverty, lack of education and poor access to health care have on entire communities. Fatima's story does, though. It clearly shows the dire consequences that a mother's death can have for her entire family and community. Fatima and her husband Ahmed already had nine children and were barely surviving on his salary as a security guard when she became pregnant again. He nearly lost his job taking care of the family during her difficult pregnancy. Then Fatima died giving birth to twin boys in a Kabul hospital. Because of Afghanistan's shattered health care system, one in every six Afghan women will die from complications of pregnancy and childbirth.

Fatima's hospital expenses put Ahmed into even deeper debt, so he took their 13-year-old son out of school to work. The twins had to be fed on expensive formula, and they were often ill with diarrhoea or acute respiratory infections, the most common killers of infants worldwide. The family's 11-year-old daughter was then taken out of school to care for them. At seven months, the smaller twin died. Ahmed remarried, increasing his debt and poverty, so he married off his oldest daughter when she turned 13. She became pregnant at 15, before her body was ready, and suffered an agonising obstructed labour. Her baby was born brain-damaged and she was left with an obstetric fistula that made her incontinent. As a result, her husband abandoned her, and she had to return to her family to live in increasing poverty.

Stories like that are all too common, and they are the reason millennium development goal 5 calls for massive reductions in maternal mortality. International failure to stay on track with this MDG undermines progress in achieving all the other MDGs on education, gender equality, child health, and poverty-for everyone, not just for the women who die unnecessarily. I am pleased that the Secretary of State has recognised that improving performance on MDG 5 needs to be a DFID priority, and I am sure that the UK's representations at the September summit will include strenuous calls for other countries which are not living up to their international commitments to do the same. I hope, too, that those discussions will include in-depth considerations of the impressive impact that abolishing user fees for maternal health has had in Sierra Leone-despite the fact that I do not want to agree with the shadow Secretary of State. Finding a workable way to deliver this policy alone may go a significant way towards meeting MDG 5 by 2015.

This is not exactly breaking news: it has long been recognised that women face greater obstacles to escaping poverty than men, and there have been many campaigns to try to improve the situation; the MDGs are evidence enough of that. However, while this campaigning has been superbly effective in catalysing Governments and multilaterals into developing strategies to address these obstacles, there has been an unintentional and unfortunate side effect. All too often, women are seen as helpless victims-the passive recipients of aid programmes that can never quite manage to stem the tide of violence and disease that preys on them. This is complete nonsense, and it is dangerous nonsense, because by consigning
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half the population to victim status, we dismiss 50% of a developing country's human resources-a 50% who are already active and engaged.

This trend is particularly noticeable in the area of food production, security and climate change. Despite traditional stereotypes, women are engaged in agricultural production in increasingly large numbers. Data offered by the UN hunger taskforce suggests that of the 4 billion poor and hungry, 50%-2 billion-are smallholder farmers, and the majority of those are women. The Food and Agriculture Organisation further suggests that women account for 70 to 80% of household food production in sub-Saharan Africa, 65% in Asia, and 45% in Latin America and the Caribbean. That so-called feminisation of agriculture means that women are becoming increasingly important to agricultural production systems. The reasons for the trend are wide-ranging but include rural-to-urban migration of men, war and its demographic impacts and mortality linked to HIV/AIDS. In many instances, it actually means that the role of men in agricultural production is becoming less significant than that of women.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly in the context of food security, the production of crops and produce is frequently divided along gender lines. Men are often involved in non-food produce such as tobacco or higher-value food crops for export. Women, on the other hand, are much more likely to be involved in the production of staple food crops for sale in the local market or for household subsistence. In that respect, they are the ones who ensure that the food security needs of families and communities are met.

Climate change is only increasing the challenges that they face. Where it has acute effects on land productivity, women run a higher risk than men of losing their means of livelihood. There is already evidence of that in areas with prolonged drought or heavy flooding, where men have left the rural areas in search of employment leaving women and children on farmland with dwindling resources.

Because women continue to be regarded as home producers or farming assistants and not as economic agents in their own right, they continue to be left out of policy support for mitigating and adapting to climate change. Climate risk insurance, for instance, is unlikely to reach women farmers if farming policy continues to ignore small-scale food growers. In fact, women in forestry, fishing and agriculture receive just 7% of total aid, and in Africa women receive just 10% of the credit for small-scale farmers. When women do obtain credit, the average value is 42% of what is granted to male farmers, and they often require a much higher percentage of collateral. That is clearly unsustainable. As the realities of climate change and food insecurity are beginning to bite-I am thinking particularly of the Sahel food crisis-it is becoming increasingly clear that one hope of effectively increasing the resilience of communities at risk is to engage, resource and train women who are already doing more than their fair share to clothe and feed some of the poorest communities in the poorest countries.

I hope that I have gone some way to showing what effective agents for development women in agriculture already are. As developing effective strategies to tackle food insecurity and climate change becomes ever more urgent, I hope that investing in women in agriculture
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will be seriously considered as a cost-effective and sustainable way of creating more sustainable communities in the areas in question.

4.32 pm

Katy Clark (North Ayrshire and Arran) (Lab): May I take this opportunity to welcome you to your post, Mr Deputy Speaker? This is the first opportunity that I have had to speak in a debate with you in the Chair.

I also welcome the Government Front Benchers, and I welcome much of what the Secretary of State said in his opening contribution. The political commitment to ring-fence the international development budget is extremely significant, particularly given the huge cuts that are being announced in other departmental budgets. My hon. Friends are right to say that there will be political pressure from some quarters to reconsider that over the coming period, and I am sure that many Members in all parts of the House will speak up on the matter and provide support to ensure that the level of funding provided to the Department is maintained.

The previous Labour Government had an excellent track record on international development. They trebled the amount spent on aid during the period from 1997, and, on top of that, a huge amount of work was done to ensure that the types of project that the British Government funded were as effective as possible. It is important that we say that again and again, and that the coalition Government build upon it.

As we have heard, huge numbers of people on the planet struggle in abject poverty, and I would like to focus particularly on the impact on those people of the global economic crisis that we have gone through and are still going through. The situation is getting worse rather than better. My hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow North (Ann McKechin) has already mentioned the estimate by the World Bank that by the end of this year 64 million more people will be in poverty than at the start of the year. It also says that 53 million more people were trapped in poverty during 2009 as a direct result of the global economic crisis. The World Bank says that that will have a long-term effect, with estimates suggesting that by 2020 poverty rates will be higher, even if everything goes well from now on, than they would have been if the global economic crisis had not taken place.

The concern is that the cuts announced in this country and in other European countries may have an impact on growth, and the developing countries will feel the effect if people in this country do not buy their products and provide a market for their goods. It is therefore vital that we maintain the levels of aid that we provide. We should also do everything that we can-at the international events in which the Government are involved-to ensure not just that Britain moves towards the 0.7% target, but that as many countries as possible make similar progress, because this will be a very difficult time for developing countries as their exports decline, prices fall and pay rates are lowered.

Developing countries are also dealing with a food crisis. In 2008, because of international events, the prices of the foodstuffs bought by people in many developing countries soared. According to the most recent millennium development goals reports, food prices remain high, and that will have a significant impact on malnutrition rates in many countries.

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