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International Development Questions

Andrew Mitchell responds to MPs' questions on Sudan, Women's Education and the UN Development Assistance Target.


Stephen Mosley (City of Chester) (Con): What funding his Department plans to provide for aid to north and south Sudan in 2011-12. [32712]

Sajid Javid (Bromsgrove) (Con): What funding his Department plans to provide for aid to north and south Sudan in 2011-12. [32716]

The Secretary of State for International Development (Mr Andrew Mitchell): Our future support to Sudan will be determined by the bilateral aid review, which is on schedule to report by the end of February. Whatever the outcome of the referendum, there will continue to be significant humanitarian and development needs in both north and south Sudan.

Stephen Mosley: According to Transparency International's measures, Sudan rates as the 176th most corrupt nation in the world. What assistance will the Department be offering to help to establish the rule of law and build democratic structures in Sudan, whatever the results of the current referendum?

Mr Mitchell: My hon. Friend is right. Corruption has a devastating impact on the lives of poor people and, indeed, on the confidence of taxpayers in donor countries. It is for that reason that no British taxpayer funds go through the Government of Sudan, but I assure my hon. Friend that we will be working in both north and southern Sudan, whatever the result of the referendum, to increase access to justice and to ensure that in the north, for example, there is much greater transparency in the operation and accountability of local government, and in the south to seek to embed anti-corruption mechanisms from day one, were the referendum to decide that there should be a southern Sudan.

Sajid Javid: I welcome my right hon. Friend's efforts in Sudan. Although attention is rightly focused on the referendum in southern Sudan, the violence in the west means that the situation is still fragile, particularly in the region of Darfur. Can my right hon. Friend reassure the House that his Department is able to help both regions-the south and the west-simultaneously?

Mr Mitchell: Again, my hon. Friend is right. Although things are going extremely well so far with regard to the referendum, and people respect the agreements made under the comprehensive peace agreement, affairs in Darfur have deteriorated. Indeed, in the last week we have been told that 40,000 people were displaced as a result of fighting there. The British Government are absolutely committed to our humanitarian work in Darfur as well as in south Sudan, and through the common humanitarian programme we provide that support throughout the whole of Sudan.

Hugh Bayley (York Central) (Lab): Sudan has been beset by conflict for decades, and I pay tribute to the work of DFID officers in bringing about the peace accord. Can the Secretary of State spell out, whatever the outcome of the referendum, how joined up his policy will be with the policies of the Ministry of Defence and the Foreign Office, to make sure that violence does not erupt again in the south?

Mr Mitchell: The hon. Gentleman rightly points to the importance of the UK Government platform being seamless. That is why, when I was in Sudan in November, I opened a new British Government office in Juba. Last weekend, it was elevated to a consulate generalship and will provide state-of-the-art support for the work that the British Government are doing in southern Sudan.

Ms Margaret Ritchie (South Down) (SDLP): Can the Secretary of State update the House on the progress of any agreed settlement regarding the distribution of Sudanese oil reserves between north and south Sudan?

Mr Mitchell: This is one of the issues that former President Mbeki is particularly addressing in the discussions about Abyei. As the hon. Lady implies, the largest amounts of oil are in southern Sudan but the mechanisms for extracting it and getting it out are pipelines through northern Sudan. The negotiations are continuing and are likely to continue for some time yet.

Malcolm Bruce (Gordon) (LD): The Secretary of State will be aware that oil wealth has not always transformed countries in Africa, or indeed relieved the poverty of those in question. What steps will DFID take to ensure that southern Sudan will have the infrastructure and diversification support it needs so that it does not become another country suffering the Dutch disease because of oil?

Mr Mitchell: The Chairman of the Select Committee draws attention to the resource curse that has afflicted so many countries in that part of the world. The point he makes is being directly addressed. I discussed the matter with President Salva Kiir when I was in Sudan in November. Sudan is one of the most underdeveloped countries in the world, with illiteracy of more than 82% and only 24 km of tarmacked road in the entire country. There is a huge development issue to be addressed, but there is also the ability, through oil wealth, to make real progress over the last five years of the millennium development goals until 2015.

Ms Harriet Harman (Camberwell and Peckham) (Lab): Last year, almost half the people in southern Sudan needed help just to get enough to eat. Southern Sudan has enormous agricultural potential but, as the Secretary of State has just said, there are scarcely any roads or systems to support food production. We help with emergency food aid, quite rightly, but what more can DFID do to ensure that the people of southern Sudan can get off food aid and develop their own agriculture?

Mr Mitchell: The right hon. and learned Lady is right to suggest that 4.5 million people directly benefit from British food aid in southern Sudan, but that is not a long-term solution. As we have learned in eastern Africa, by contrast with western Africa, it is crucial to try to ensure that food is grown as closely as possible to the people it supplies and that local markets are stimulated close to where there is food and security. That will be one of the key objectives that we will pursue in conjunction with the authorities in southern Sudan.

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Women's Education

Chi Onwurah (Newcastle upon Tyne Central) (Lab): What programmes funded by his Department support the education of women in developing countries. [32714]

The Secretary of State for International Development (Mr Andrew Mitchell): All my Department's education programmes will have a focus on girls and young women. We will concentrate on enabling girls to progress through to secondary school, where the largest benefits accrue.

Chi Onwurah: I am glad to hear that the Secretary of State is continuing Labour's excellent work in this area. Education is important for developing economies, as it is for our own, but can he confirm that he will not drop Labour's pledge to double support for global education?

Mr Mitchell: We will set out in due course precisely what the results of taxpayer spending will be in respect of education. I hope that we will carry the whole House in focusing directly on the results that we are achieving and spelling out the commitments that we are making not only to British taxpayers but to those we seek directly to help in poor countries.

Richard Harrington (Watford) (Con): Can the Secretary of State assure the House that aid money transferred via the European development fund for women's education or any other project will carry the same transparency and accountability as DFID-related projects?

Mr Mitchell: As my hon. Friend suggests, the EDF is one of the vehicles for achieving that. Along with other members of the European Union, we are leading a drive to increase transparency in the EDF-so far, that message is being reasonably well received. I must point out that although Britain contributes 17% of the EDF's funding, 40% of that funding is spent in Commonwealth countries.

Rushanara Ali (Bethnal Green and Bow) (Lab): Will the Secretary of State turn his attention to women in Haiti? One year on from the earthquake, people continue to suffer and an alarmingly high number of women and girls are subjected to rape and sexual violence every day: 250 women were raped in just 150 days after the earthquake. What is he doing to ensure that the British Government, the EU, the UN and the Haitian authorities are doing everything possible to bring an end to that appalling violence?

Mr Mitchell: The hon. Lady is right to target the current position in Haiti, including the great difficulties that the international community has experienced in making its aid effective and the failures of governance and justice that she graphically identified. Britain is not leading on Haiti-the lead is taken much more by the Americans, Canadians and, indeed, the French, but we were extremely supportive in the initial stages in the aftermath of the earthquake that struck Haiti a year ago, and we continue to help, not least in December, with specific interventions to stop the spread of cholera.

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Development Assistance Target

Paul Blomfield (Sheffield Central) (Lab): If he will bring forward legislative proposals to make binding the 0.7% target for official development assistance as a proportion of gross national income. [32717]

The Secretary of State for International Development (Mr Andrew Mitchell): The Government are fully committed to meeting the United Nations target of spending 0.7% of national income on aid from 2013, and will enshrine this commitment in law.

Paul Blomfield: I thank the Secretary of State for his reply, but may I ask him whether he intends to change the definition of what the UK reports as official development assistance, and specifically whether the Government intend to include expenditure on overseas students and refugees within that 0.7% target?

Mr Mitchell: The Government's position is absolutely clear. Aid is defined by the OECD development assistance committee, and those rules are very clear indeed and strictly laid down. The Government have made it clear, as previous Governments have done, that our aid spending will be defined in that way, and only in that way.

Mark Pritchard (The Wrekin) (Con): The Secretary of State will know that a significant part of the existing aid budget goes to the Government of Tanzania. Does he share my concern about the recent actions of that Government and of President Kikwete, who have arrested Opposition leaders who currently reside in prison? Will he call for their early release?

Mr Speaker: Order. It is not entirely clear what that has got to do with the UN 0.7% target for official development assistance, but if the Secretary of State can find a way briefly to demonstrate that, I shall be happy to listen.

Mr Mitchell: Well, my hon. Friend, who takes a close interest in these matters, is right to identify the element within the 0.7% that is spent by Britain in Tanzania. We are in close contact with the authorities about the recent events and are of course reinforcing the importance of the rule of law being followed.

Mr Gregory Campbell (East Londonderry) (DUP): In maintaining the target of 0.7%, will the Secretary of State ensure that the issue of corruption, which keeps coming to the fore in relation to overseas aid, will be at the forefront of his mind as we go forward?

Mr Mitchell: The hon. Gentleman is right to reinforce the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for City of Chester (Stephen Mosley) in the first question today, which was about the importance of bearing down on corruption. Corruption not only deprives poor people of the services to which they should be entitled, but undermines and saps the confidence in donor countries of taxpayers who see their money being wasted.

Mark Lazarowicz (Edinburgh North and Leith) (Lab/Co-op): Following the two-year freeze in the overseas aid percentage which was announced in the spending review, there will have to be a sharp increase in 2013 to reach the 0.7% target. Can the Secretary of State tell the House what percentage increase in the overseas aid budget in 2013 will be needed to fulfil that commitment?

Mr Mitchell: As the hon. Gentleman knows, next year we are spending 0.56% of gross national income on development. Over the four-year spending period the figures will be 0.56, 0.56, 0.7 and 0.7%. Many in the House would wish to advance further on this important cause, but the public finances are inevitably constrained by the appalling economic position that the coalition inherited.

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