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Global Poverty Debate

Andrew Mitchell outlines the Government's commitment to the worlds poorest people but also emphasises that having a protected budget at a time of major cuts imposed a "double duty to eliminate waste and unnecessary expense".

The Secretary of State for International Development (Mr Andrew Mitchell): I beg to move,

That this House has considered the matter of global poverty.

This is the first opportunity since the general election that the House has had to debate international development and my first chance, as Secretary of State, to set out for the House how the coalition will address this vital agenda. My purpose today is twofold. First, I want to set out for the House the changes that we are making in my Department. Secondly, in the context of last week's Budget, in which the Chancellor set out the scale of the fiscal crisis bequeathed us by the previous Government-a crisis that means that of every £4 of public expenditure, £1 is borrowed-I want to make it clear why our coalition Government stand four-square behind our commitment to the world's poorest people, and why we will increase our expenditure on international development to 0.7% of our gross national income from 2013, define that expenditure under the OECD/Development Assistance Committee rules and enshrine that commitment in law.

In his Budget, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor reaffirmed that development spending will increase. As the Prime Minister has consistently made clear, the coalition Government will not seek to balance the books on the backs of the poorest in the world. It is clearly helpful that that strong commitment transcends party politics, both in the House and in the country. It is a strength of international development that it is seen not as the preserve or the passion of any one political party, but as a British commitment in which Members in all parts of the House strongly believe.

In that context I would like to say how pleased I was to see that the right hon. Member for Gordon (Malcolm Bruce) has been elected-unopposed-to resume his chairmanship of the Select Committee on International Development. I am also pleased that many hon. Members, including my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Tony Baldry), who have a long record of particular involvement and commitment in this area are in their places.

I should also like to express my admiration and respect for the extraordinary collection of skills and expertise in the Department for International Development, which I now have the privilege to lead. As the Prime Minister said on his visit to the Department last week, we should be very proud of the leading role DFID is taking in the fight against international poverty. The fact that in this time of great economic difficulty DFID has a ring-fenced, protected budget is not because we believe that money alone is the key to international development.

Malcolm Bruce (Gordon) (LD): I welcome the right hon. Gentleman to his position as Secretary of State. He said that he hoped to enshrine in law the commitment that all parties in the House share. Can he give any more information on how and when that might happen?

Mr Mitchell: I thank my right hon. Friend for his comment. I am not able today to give final details, but negotiations continue in the usual manner. I shall make sure that the House is informed as soon as final decisions on that point have been made.

We understand that one of the main causes of sustained poverty is conflict-that it is conflict that so often condemns women and children to grievous suffering. If someone is living in one of those dreadful camps, which hon. Members may have visited, around the world-the Prime Minister and I visited some in Darfur-it does not matter how much access to money, aid, trade or different articles of development they may have, because for as long as the conflict continues, they will remain poor, frightened, dispossessed and angry. Just as conflict condemns people to remain in poverty, so it is wealth creation-jobs, enterprise, trade and engagement with the private sector-that enables people to lift themselves out of poverty. All that underlines, again and again, as the Prime Minister did at the G20 last weekend, the importance of not giving up on the Doha round and, notwithstanding how difficult it is, remaining absolutely committed to it.

Making progress in the fight against international poverty and achieving the goals set down by the whole international community and enshrined in the eight millennium development goals cannot be done without meeting the financial commitments set out so clearly at Gleneagles in 2005-commitments that were underlined and strongly endorsed by the Prime Minister in Canada at the weekend. Although the British Government focused particularly at the G8 summit on MDG 5 on maternal mortality, the most off-track of all the MDGs, we are also leading the argument for real progress to be made on all the goals.

When the UN summit meets in September in New York, there will be just five years left for those goals to be achieved. We want to see measurable outcomes and a clear agenda for action agreed for the whole international community to ensure that the goals are now reached. In essence, we are trying to ensure that good, basic health care, education, clean water and sanitation reach the people at the end of the track, who today in all too many places in the world have none of those things.

Well spent aid has achieved miracles around the world. That is not of course to argue that aid is not sometimes stolen, embezzled or badly used. We will confront all three of those things head-on, but thanks to aid we have eradicated smallpox; we have reduced polio from 350,000 cases a year in 1998 to under 2,000 today, while the number of people on life-saving treatments for AIDS has increased from 400,000 in 2003 to 4 million in 2008. In Afghanistan, there are today 2 million girls in school thanks to the international aid effort.

Chris Kelly (Dudley South) (Con): In a recent article in a major newspaper the Secretary of State was singled out for particular praise by Bill Gates. Can my right hon. Friend inform the House how he plans to work closely with Mr Gates's foundation in the coming years?

Mr Mitchell: I am very grateful to my hon. Friend for that intervention. The Gates Foundation has had a profound effect on the way we see and act in international development. Our contacts with the foundation, already significant, are certainly set to intensify.

Mr David Lammy (Tottenham) (Lab): I welcome the right hon. Gentleman to his post. He has said a lot about aid, and clearly the role of his Department is hugely important in these matters. Does he accept, however, that in relation to developing countries, what goes on across Whitehall is hugely important? I hope he will also talk about his relationships with the Ministry of Defence, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and those Departments responsible for matters that have an impact on poor people.

Mr Mitchell: The right hon. Gentleman makes an extremely good point, and I hope to come to all those matters during my remarks.

Mr Oliver Heald (North East Hertfordshire) (Con): May I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend in his role and ask him a question about civil justice? In many areas the problem of policing and ensuring that people can obtain justice is one of the most difficult and intractable. Is he bearing that in mind in his duties, particularly in the context of Afghanistan?

Mr Mitchell: I thank my hon. Friend for that comment. Yes, the issue of grievance procedures-how one resolves grievances-is of particular concern in Afghanistan, and we are looking precisely at that in conjunction with other important matters in the run-up to the Kabul conference.

Our determination and commitment to tackling these problems ever more effectively is both a moral matter and one that is very much in our national self-interest. I believe that in a hundred years' time generations that follow will look back on us in very much the same way that today we look back on the slave trade. They will marvel that our generations acquiesced in a world where each and every day almost 25,000 children under five die needlessly from diseases and conditions that we absolutely have the power to prevent. For the first time, not least through the benefits of globalisation, our generations have the power and ability to make huge progress in tackling these colossal discrepancies in opportunity and wealth around the world.

Many Members will have their own direct experience of what I am describing. In my case, I think of a visit to a remote corner of Uganda with the Medical Missionaries of Mary, who work with families of AIDS orphans. I remind the House that there are more AIDS orphans in sub-Saharan Africa than there are children in the whole of the United Kingdom. I think of the family of six orphaned children I met, of whom the eldest, at 14-the same age as my own daughter at the time-battled each and every day to get her siblings dressed and to school. I remind the House that today Britain is educating 4.8 million primary schoolchildren in Britain, while at the same time in the poor world we are educating 5 million children at a fraction of the cost; in fact, 2.5% of the UK cost.

It is those harsh realities of life in large parts of the world-grinding poverty, hopelessness and destitution-that have galvanised the commitment and passion of so many in our country today to ensure that, in our time, through our generations, we will make a difference. It is true that charity begins at home, but it does not end there.

Jim Fitzpatrick (Poplar and Limehouse) (Lab): I welcome the right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues to their places and wish them well during their tenure. In respect of personal experience, my wife and I were able to benefit from a VSO placement in Bangladesh. The VSO placement scheme for parliamentary colleagues has been running for a couple of years, but will his Department continue to support it? It offers parliamentary colleagues an opportunity for short placements of two to four weeks during the summer recess in order to visit some of the countries that DFID supports, and to learn much more about its work.

Mr Mitchell: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. I cannot give him that guarantee today, but I am familiar with the scheme he describes. It is an excellent scheme, and we have no plans to alter it at this time, but I shall write to him, giving him specific details, when we have made a decision.

What is less easily articulated is that tackling poverty throughout the world is also very much in our national interest. Whether the issue is drug-resistant diseases, economic stability, conflict and insecurity, climate change or migration, it is far more effective to tackle the root cause now than to treat the symptoms later. The weight of migration to Europe from Africa is often caused by conflict, poverty, disease and dysfunctional government. We see people putting themselves into the hands of the modern equivalent of the slave trader and crossing hundreds of miles of ocean in leaky boats in the hope of tipping up on a wealthy European shore. Often, they are not people seeking a free ride, but the brightest and the best from conflict countries, seeking a better life for themselves and their families. It is much better to help them to tackle the causes of their leaving the country that they have come from. Our prosperity depends on development and growth in Africa and Asia.

Barry Gardiner (Brent North) (Lab): I welcome the Secretary of State to his new position, and I know that he understands the close relationship between development and the environment. Will he add to the list of the issues that he has just mentioned the importance of ensuring that environmental issues are taken into account as part of the development process? Will he also commit to ensuring that, on the climate change promise that the previous Government made, there will be no more than a 10% overlap between environmental projects to combat climate change and development aid-that his Government, too, are willing to continue with that commitment?

Mr Mitchell: I thank the hon. Gentleman for his remarks. On his general point, he is absolutely right about the importance of including in all our aid and development activity a climate-smart approach-one that, as he says, reflects the importance of the environment. In opposition I had an opportunity to see the direct correlation between those issues in many different parts of the world, and, although I shall not speak extensively today about climate change, I very much hope that there will be another opportunity to do so, and I take his point on board.

In respect of the figure of 10%, the hon. Gentleman will have to wait for the result of the spending review, but as he will know, the "fast start" money, which the previous Government announced and we support, will all come out of that 10% and out of the official development assistance budget. We have confirmed that that will happen under our Government, too.

I deal now with the changes that we are making in my Department, and the plans that we set out in the coalition agreement. A protected budget, at a time when expenditure elsewhere is being reduced, imposes a double duty to eliminate waste and unnecessary expenditure and to demonstrate at every turn that we are achieving value for money.

Mr Tobias Ellwood (Bournemouth East) (Con): I welcome my right hon. Friend to his position; I am very pleased to see him and his team in place. One dilemma under the previous Government was that, although money was poured into various countries, whether it should have gone there was questionable. India, for example, has a space programme, and China hosted one of the most elaborate and expensive Olympic games ever. In South Africa, I recently visited the Khayelitsha townships, which were horrifying to see, but at the same time there are rich parts of that country. One must ask whether we might put more pressure on those countries to help themselves, rather than just passing on money-I hear, in China-to the tune of £30 million. Has the Secretary of State had an opportunity to consider those issues?

Mr Mitchell: I thank my hon. Friend for his detailed intervention. If he will allow me to come to the point directly, I shall then answer his specific point about China.

I was making the point that a ring-fenced budget imposes a double duty on my Department to eliminate waste and unnecessary expenditure, and to ensure that we achieve value for money. Within a few days of taking office, I cancelled funding for five awareness-raising projects, including a Brazilian-style dance group specialising in percussion in Hackney, securing savings in excess of £500,000. In addition, I am cancelling the global development engagement fund, which would have funded further awareness-raising activity in the UK, and creating savings of £6.5 million. I shall make further announcements on prudent and sensible savings over the coming weeks.

I expect shortly to be able to announce that more than £100 million will be saved from projects that are a low priority or not performing. That money will be reallocated to programmes that are more effective in helping the world's poorest people. Last but by no means least, I am letting out another floor of my Department. That better use of space in DFID will earn revenue of almost £1 million a year, once let.

Mark Lazarowicz (Edinburgh North and Leith) (Lab/Co-op): DFID has cancelled grant support for a project run by Scotdec, the Scottish development education centre, which has offices in my constituency. It was given no reason for the withdrawal, other than the new policy that the Government announced, and it was just about to submit the one-year evaluation of its project. Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that that is not the way to act if he is to encourage projects to respond to Government concerns? Surely Scotdec should have been given an opportunity to respond to any Government concerns about its project, and should not the Government reconsider the funding withdrawal that he announced a few weeks ago?

Mr Mitchell: I have had a letter from the hon. Gentleman on that point, and I wrote to him late last night. I apologise for the fact that he did not receive it in time for this debate. I should make it clear to him that several projects to which I put a stop will now proceed, and officials are in touch with those responsible for them, making clear our value-for-money requirements. However, I have cancelled five, including the one to which he refers, after looking very carefully at them and following advice from officials.

Let me list those five projects. I hope that the House will consider whether they should be funded from Britain's development project. First, there was £146,000 for a Brazilian-style dance troupe with percussion expertise in Hackney. Secondly, there was £55,000 to run stalls at summer music festivals. Thirdly, there was £120,000 to train nursery school teachers in global issues. Fourthly, there was £130,000 for a global gardens schools' network. And finally, there was £140,000 to train outdoor education tutors in Britain in development.

Spending money on international development in the UK rather than on poor people overseas seems highly questionable. We need to ensure that any expenditure has demonstrable outcomes in developing countries, and that is why I took the action that I did. However, I have written to the hon. Gentleman, and he will have a chance to see in some detail why we took those decisions.

Mr Lammy: Will the right hon. Gentleman comment on the Greenbelt festival, from which it was proposed that money be withdrawn? I make that point in the hope that he will appreciate that faith communities-particularly, the Christian community, as represented in that festival-have done a considerable amount over a considerable time to raise the prominence of development issues. We would not have had Jubilee 2000 and, then, Make Poverty History without that movement.

May I also say gently to the right hon. Gentleman that the projects that he outlined largely touch on young people-it is hugely important that they continue to lobby Governments to make more progress-and on ethnic minorities, in which regard we should recognise that when we talk about development, it includes those who have come to this country and look overseas to see what we are doing?

Mr Mitchell: The right hon. Gentleman makes an interesting and not unreasonable point. However, the balance of judgment that has to be made is whether this money should come out of the ring-fenced development budget. As I said, we intend, in very difficult economic circumstances, to seek to carry the country with us as regards the validity of this budget. I have explained in some detail why that is so important on moral grounds, as well as on national self-interest grounds. I feared that the budget was in danger of being discredited by some of the existing schemes that I have decided to stop, and that is why I made that decision.

Tony Baldry (Banbury) (Con): There is a simple test for all the Department's spending-does it fall within the definition of international development set by the OECD's Development Assistance Committee? Clearly, none of these schemes did. If we are going to have ring-fenced spending, we will need to ensure that it falls within the DAC definition.

Mr Mitchell: My hon. Friend makes a very important point about value for money.

I suggest to the House that we will not be able to maintain public support for Britain's vital development budget unless we can demonstrate to the public's satisfaction that this money is really well spent. The lights have been burning late in DFID as we embark on our ambitious programme of reform. In the seven weeks since the election, we have wasted no time in laying the foundations for a fundamentally new approach to development-an approach rooted in rigorous, independent evaluation, full transparency, value for money, and an unremitting focus on results. Our Government will place the same premium on the quality of aid that the previous Government placed on the quantity of aid. We will judge performance against outputs and outcomes rather than inputs.

Hard-pressed taxpayers need to know that the expenditure of their money is being scrutinised fully and is really delivering results. We are therefore working to develop an independent aid watchdog, as we consistently promised throughout the past four years, to evaluate the effectiveness of DFID's spending. We will also modify the way that aid programmes are designed so that gathering rigorous evidence of impact is built in from the day they start. This will allow us to take decisions about how we spend and allocate aid on the basis of solid evidence. I expect to report to the House shortly on both of those initiatives.

Mr Douglas Alexander (Paisley and Renfrewshire South) (Lab): I would be grateful if the Secretary of State could reconcile the statement that he has just made with the written answer that he extended to me when I questioned the £200 million-the largest single cash announcement he has made in the past few weeks-that is now going to Afghanistan. When I urged him to clarify what that £200 million of input would deliver in terms of output, he replied:

"We will make specific decisions on spending and focus areas in time for this event."-[ Official Report, 24 June 2010; Vol. 512, c. 349W.]

The event is the conference to be held in July in Afghanistan. Why was such an announcement made if the rigorous focus on outputs that he has upheld to the House as the new approach in the Department has been applied?

Mr Mitchell: The right hon. Gentleman makes a very interesting point. We are working on the effectiveness of measures that are already being taken in Afghanistan- [ Interruption. ] Well, if he will just bear with me, I will, in the spirit of his question, give him the answer to it. We are looking carefully at a series of inputs in relation to the effectiveness that they will achieve, and we hope to be able to announce some of the findings in the run-up to the Kabul conference. When the Prime Minister gave that figure, he was referring to the amount that we have managed to find for additional expenditure in Afghanistan as a result of closing down or changing other programmes. How that money will be spent will be accounted for by me to the House as soon as those decisions have been made.

Mr Alexander: I would hope that the right hon. Gentleman can do a little better than that. I hear that so far the only output from the £200 million that has been announced is a press release. Can he confirm what the £200 million is actually going to purchase?

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?

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. On the report, I will have a look at that. 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 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 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 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.

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