UK Aid (North Africa)

– in Westminster Hall at 2:30 pm on 3rd June 2009.

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Photo of Daniel Kawczynski Daniel Kawczynski Conservative, Shrewsbury and Atcham 2:30 pm, 3rd June 2009

Thank you, Mr. Bayley, for calling me to speak in this important and topical debate. At Prime Minister's questions this afternoon, the Prime Minister gave his condolences to the family of Mr. Dyer, who was killed in Mali. Mr. Dyer, a British citizen, had been taken hostage on the Mali-Niger border and, regrettably, was killed by al-Qaeda operatives. The Prime Minister said to the House—I think that I am quoting him verbatim—"We will be giving every possible assistance to the President of Mali in trying to fight al-Qaeda and to help that country." I find that rather ironic. It shows just how good the Prime Minister is at spin because the reality is the Government have completely slashed our aid to north Africa. The House of Commons Library figures show that last year no money was spent on helping north African countries. Therefore, although the Prime Minister stood up and told the nation that he would do everything possible to help those countries, the reality—as always with this Government—is that there is no substance behind what he said.

I want to take the opportunity to challenge the thinking of the Department for International Development. In the past, challenging DFID was almost taboo. One was perceived as some sort of nutter, fanatic or extremist if one dared to challenge the great DFID and how it went about things. However, under difficult economic circumstances, the tide of public opinion is changing. People such as me, who have critical things to say about DFID, are a little more empowered and confident about challenging the Department and how it spends taxpayers' money.

DFID spends 90 per cent. of its resources in the poorest countries in the world. Some might say that that is very logical. Of course, we should be helping the poorest countries in the world, and not giving money to the very wealthy ones—I will come in a moment to some of the wealthy countries that get our aid. However, it means that middle-income countries receive only 10 per cent. of the budget. As Malcolm Bruce, the Chairman of the Select Committee on International Development, has said, one in three of the world's population who survive on less than $1 a day live in middle-income countries. Yet those countries receive only 10 per cent. of our aid. I should like the Minister and my hon. Friend Mr. Lancaster to address that issue. In the run-up to the next election, my hon. Friend and others in the Conservative party will talk about how to address that anomaly.

As I said, north Africa received nothing last year, according to the House of Commons Library. None the less, those countries are our neighbours and are of great strategic importance to the United Kingdom. When I was in business, before entering Parliament, I visited north African countries many times. They are extremely friendly towards the United Kingdom, very positive and they want to engage with us, but they are grappling with huge issues. Illegal immigrants from all parts of Africa use them as a conduit for trying to gain entry to Europe. They are also being used as a conduit for drugs as they are smuggled from Latin America, via Guinea-Bissau, through them and into Europe. They are also grappling with the terrible problem of terrorism and al-Qaeda. Mr. Dyer, our citizen, died as a result of that activity. I am very sad for his family.

As we speak, President Obama is en route to Egypt. He will make a major speech in Cairo tomorrow on the importance of the Arab world, and on the importance that he attaches to American relations with Egypt and the Arab League. Interestingly, whereas we give Egypt nothing, America gives it $1.5 billion a year. That is how seriously the Americans take Egypt. They understand the strategic importance of the country and of dealing with many of the issues that I have raised. That is why Americans give Egypt so much assistance.

As you know, Mr. Bayley, we are overstretched. As a country, we are borrowing billions of pounds, yet we can afford to give aid to China—more than £50 million—and we give more than £800 million to India. I do not see how we can justify expenditure in such other parts of the world. China, for example, is a very wealthy country: it has spent more than £20 billion on hosting the Olympic games, it has one of the largest armies in the world and a space programme. Yet we cannot give any money to north African countries, which are of strategic importance to the United Kingdom and are grappling with such serious issues.

I call on the Minister to assure me that aid to China will be stopped. The International Development Committee, of which I am a member, has endorsed the Government's strategy of giving money to China. I fundamentally disagree with that, and I believe that the aid that we give to India should be reviewed as well. Interestingly, I appeared in an article in The Telegraphnot our Daily Telegraph I hasten to add, but the one in India. I made the front page when I called for aid to India to be cut. The Telegraph said what a fantastic MP I was. It said that I was the only one who was treating it seriously and with maturity. It said that I realised that it could look after itself without any assistance from the United Kingdom. I should love the Minister to look at a copy of the Indian newspaper because the journalists really supported my stance that India can go it alone and does not need financial assistance from Britain.

Photo of Malcolm Bruce Malcolm Bruce Chair, International Development Committee

The hon. Gentleman's point is very important and should be fully explored. He is talking about a strategy that we should have towards middle-income countries, but which does not exist. He is quite right in exposing some of the inconsistencies in who we do and do not support, and he makes his case very well. Nevertheless, does he not accept that the success of targeting our resources predominantly on poverty reduction in the poorest countries has lifted DFID into the world rankings as one of the most effective aid agencies delivering poverty reduction? That does not undermine his argument, but it is important that he acknowledges that achievement.

Photo of Daniel Kawczynski Daniel Kawczynski Conservative, Shrewsbury and Atcham

I agree. There is a lot that DFID does very well indeed, and it has very good branding around the world. I do not doubt the passion and sincerity of the people in DFID in the UK and around the world. When we visited Tanzania and Kenya we saw the passion for ourselves and just how committed those people are in assisting the world's poorest. But as an Opposition MP it is not my job to smooth their feathers. My job is to scrutinise and assess some of the areas for development.

Photo of Jeremy Corbyn Jeremy Corbyn Labour, Islington North

The hon. Gentleman makes a fair point about poverty in middle-income countries, but surely he recognises that in absolute numbers, the poverty levels in India outstrip those in almost any other country in the world. While there is an issue about misuse of aid and inappropriate aid, there is surely an overwhelming case for the provision of aid to the very poorest in India to help development. The numbers are phenomenal compared with those in any other part of the world.

Photo of Daniel Kawczynski Daniel Kawczynski Conservative, Shrewsbury and Atcham

My answer is that we give India more than £840 million a year. The sheer scale of that worries me. I will come to some of the serious problems that north African countries have, but if we slice too much of the cake off for India, there will be nothing left for north Africa. The King of Lesotho spent more money on his 36th birthday celebrations than the entire UK aid budget for his country three years ago. I have made that point repeatedly in the House. Frankly, I am appalled that when my constituents are facing difficulties with hospital services and suchlike, there are stories in the press that the King of Lesotho can spend on lavish celebrations for his 36th birthday more than we give to his country every year in aid.

What really upset me when the Committee visited Kenya, which receives £50 million a year, and Tanzania, which receives more than £150 million a year—I hope that you will accept the relevance of this, Mr. Bayley, and I will talk very soon about north Africa—is that there was no British branding. I have said that to the right hon. Member for Gordon.

When we finally get aid to north Africa, whether under this Labour Government or the next Conservative Government—I am saying this with equal force to my hon. Friend the Member for North-East Milton Keynes—it must have some form of British branding. There are no British flags or symbols—there is nothing—associated with the aid. It is so bad that the people in the village of North Horr in northern Kenya to whom I spoke thought that the aid was from France, because a group of French youngsters called Solidarité, to whom DFID had outsourced the work, were implementing it.

I have been told that when Clare Short became Secretary of State she insisted, following scandals such as the Pergau dam incident, that there should be no linkage between DFID spending and British branding, so that we could not be perceived as trying to influence foreign Governments. The pendulum has, however, swung too far the other way when we send aid to countries and there is no link in the minds of the people who benefit from it that it has come from British taxpayers, that Britain feels strongly about supporting them or that Britain will continue to play such a vital role. Why should we hide our passion about helping others? Why should we not be proud, and state what we as a country are doing, rather than trying to keep it under wraps?

Photo of Malcolm Bruce Malcolm Bruce Chair, International Development Committee

I hope that the hon. Gentleman acknowledges for the record that the Committee has just published our report "Aid Under Pressure", in which we specifically ask the Government to revisit the issue of British identity in the name of the Department. Of course, the Minister or the Department will have time to reply over the next two months, but it is important to say that the Committee has specifically asked the Government to address the issue.

Photo of Daniel Kawczynski Daniel Kawczynski Conservative, Shrewsbury and Atcham

I am extremely grateful that our Committee has done that formally, and I look forward to the Minister's reply. Some members of the Committee may not agree, but I think that some of the things that we saw in Kenya could quite easily have been done with microfinance. I hope that those projects will not receive so much money in future and that we can spend more of the money on helping north Africa. Interestingly, we met the Minister of Finance and Economic Affairs in Tanzania, which receives £150 million a year, and I had serious concerns—again, other hon. Members may disagree—about his lack of a coherent strategy for improving his country's situation.

You will be pleased, Mr. Bayley, that I shall now talk specifically about north Africa, and first about the country for which I have a great deal of passion: Libya. I am chairman of the all-party group on Libya and I am desperately passionate about improving relations and trade with the country. I have frequent meetings with Mr. Jelban, the Libyan chargé d'affaires, who will soon become the ambassador and who does an excellent job promoting his country in the United Kingdom.

I led a delegation to Tripoli in September 2007 for the 38th anniversary celebrations of Colonel Gaddafi coming to power and will lead another delegation to the city on 1 September this year with Lord Steel of Aikwood—one of my favourite Lib Dems—and others when we celebrate the 40th anniversary. We will all remember the scenes from watching the BBC of the former Prime Minister, Mr. Blair, meeting Gaddafi in the tent. I wish I could have been a fly on the wall at those discussions.

Photo of Daniel Kawczynski Daniel Kawczynski Conservative, Shrewsbury and Atcham

I am sorry; I wish I could have been a fly on the canvas.

Mr. Blair and Colonel Gaddafi talked about weapons of mass destruction, and various promises were made to get Libya to move away from its isolationist policies. What promises were made to Libya? When I led the delegation to Tripoli two years ago, officials at the Ministry of Health and Environment and the Minister himself stated that various categorical assurances were given by Mr. Blair that there would be specific, concrete assistance for Libya's health service. They were told that the NHS would directly engage with the Libyan health service, and that there would be help, particularly for the hospital in Benghazi. We all know of the case of the children who tragically contracted HIV. Subsequently, the Bulgarian nurses were held under the ludicrous proposition that they had deliberately infected the children, which was totally wrong. Those children contracted HIV, regrettably, because of the poor sanitation and management of the hospitals in Benghazi. Mr. Blair made a specific pledge that help with management would be given.

Most importantly, the Libyan officials said that they want to learn from our experiences of running the NHS. They want our know-how. They said that we have one of the best health services in the world and that they want to learn about it from us. What has happened? What is DFID doing to fulfil Mr. Blair's promise to Libya that assistance would be granted to the Libyan health services? They desperately need that help.

The Libyans dispose of their hospital waste, some of which is highly toxic, in the desert. They were promised assistance for an incinerator or other modern facility to dispose of that waste but none has been forthcoming. I worry that Mr. Blair has gone in there, all guns blazing, promising everything, and then nothing has happened. He got them to give up their weapons of mass destruction, but all the titbits he promised in exchange have not been delivered. What sort of a message does that send?

Libyan officials say to me, "We are rather miffed that all these promises were made and that none of them has been fulfilled." What does that say to other countries that we hope to entice away from weapons of mass destruction and isolationist policies? What if the Libyans go to Arab League meetings and say, "Don't listen to the British. They'll promise you the world and then not fulfil it"? That is of great concern.

Also, Libya is chair of the African Union this year and is doing important work in the role. There will be a major conference in Sirte from 1 to 3 July. Will the Minister confirm that someone from DFID will be sent to act as an observer?

Italy, interestingly, recently signed a contract with Libya to provide it with $250 million a year for 20 years to assist with infrastructure projects, such as construction of motorways and a railway from Tripoli to Benghazi, and all sorts of vital, pivotal projects to do with hospitals and education. I do not agree with Mr. Berlusconi on many things, but I applaud that stance and his commitment to assistance for Libya.

Illegal immigration is a huge issue for Libyans to deal with. People from the whole of west Africa trying to secure illegal passage to Europe use Tripoli as a transit point. As a result, crime has gone up on the streets of Tripoli and there is huge pressure on resources. The Libyans are not responsible for that. It is a side effect of so many people trying to get into Europe illegally. They go from Tripoli to the Italian island of Lampedusa, and to Malta.

The Minister will know of the human suffering that such people go through. He will have seen the scenes of chaos on the BBC, with people drowning in the boats. He will have seen the state in which they reach Europe, how dehydrated they are and how they have been abused by human traffickers along the way. It is human tragedy of the most profound magnitude. What is the Department doing to assist countries such as Libya in preventing this human misery from happening?

Yesterday afternoon, I spoke to our ambassador in Tripoli, Sir Vincent Fean, who does an excellent job. He spoke of the detention camps in Tripoli that people are sent back to when they are caught on the high seas. The conditions are extremely poor and there is bad sanitation. I hope that the Minister will approach the Libyans and tell them that we will do all we can to help them with management and sanitation in the centres, so that the people who regrettably find themselves in them do not suffer as much.

Photo of Jeremy Corbyn Jeremy Corbyn Labour, Islington North

The hon. Gentleman is making an important point about the tragedy, misery and horror of the lives of the many people who try to cross the Mediterranean. Hundreds die in the process. It is a testament to our times that so many people die in that horror. In addition to helping Libya with this matter, does he agree that it is more important to do something about the poverty in the central African countries that the people come from? A combination of aspects such as environmental change and economic policies has led to this dreadful human tide of misery and poverty, with so many dying in the process of trying to find somewhere to live.

Photo of Daniel Kawczynski Daniel Kawczynski Conservative, Shrewsbury and Atcham

Absolutely. I concur with that. This debate is about north Africa primarily, but countries in that region are affected by their southern neighbours. I will refer to questions that the hon. Gentleman has asked about Western Sahara, among other things. I applaud his work on raising those issues with the Government.

The issue of illegal immigration will be magnified tremendously over the next 10 years unless something is done. My understanding is—unless the Minister can contradict this—that we give Libya zero financial assistance in this matter.

The answers I have received to parliamentary questions on this issue have always taken a Sir Humphrey Appleby-type approach. They say things like, "The EU is sorting it all out", or "We're sending some money to the EU for part of another little EU budget". That is simply not good enough. Frankly, I do not want to know what the EU is doing. I want to know what the British Government are doing. I do not want the British Government to shirk their responsibilities by saying, "We are giving a certain amount of money to the EU, which is doing X, Y and Z". That may be fine for the Minister's meetings with his counterparts in Brussels, but this is the British Parliament. We want to hear what the British Government are doing directly, rather than listening to what the EU is doing. If I wanted to know what the EU was doing, I would take the Eurostar to Brussels and ask it directly.

Libya still faces the huge issue of refugees from Darfur. Mr. Drew has asked many questions on Sudan and Darfur. People are so desperate to escape the torture, brutality, rape and killings in Darfur that they cross the arid, barren and deserted Libyan-Sudanese border in their hundreds and thousands. They make their way to Tripoli seeking sanctuary.

I visited Darfur with my favourite Lib Dem, Lord Steel, and the former leader of the Conservative party, my right hon. and learned Friend Mr. Howard. It was the most tragic and heartbreaking experience I have ever been through. I never experienced anything like it as a businessman before I entered this place. It shook me to my bones to meet the people in Darfur and to see what had happened to them and the conditions they live in. The only help I saw in refugee camps in Darfur was from international non-governmental organisations. I could see nothing directly from DFID. The Minister may contradict that and I hope that he can.

Photo of David Drew David Drew Labour, Stroud

The hon. Gentleman is being a bit unfair. A massive amount of resources go into Darfur from DFID. They cannot go in directly for many reasons—not least because our NGOs have been expelled from Darfur. That is a ringing indictment of the Government in Khartoum. He is being unfair because we have invested heavily. The problem is that peace is as far away as it ever was.

Photo of Daniel Kawczynski Daniel Kawczynski Conservative, Shrewsbury and Atcham

If that is the case, as a parliamentarian I look forward to hearing directly from the Minister what the Government are doing specifically and directly to help the people of Darfur.

I had the opportunity to meet President Omar al-Bashir in his gilded palace in Khartoum and to tackle him on the suffering of his people. It was one of the most unpleasant meetings I have experienced. He said that there were no problems and tried to fob us off. Being surrounded by 50 bodyguards holding pistols was not conducive to tackling him. He has been indicted for war crimes and, as the hon. Member for Stroud said, he has thrown out the aid agencies. What will DFID do to put pressure on the Sudanese Government to ensure that the agencies that fulfil this vital job are allowed back in?

I am conscious of the time, Mr Bayley, and will finish as soon as I can.

I turn now to Egypt. As I said, the United States gives $1.5 billion dollars a year to Egypt, but 40 per cent. of Egyptians live in poverty according to United Nations figures. Yet we give nothing to Egypt. That takes us back to the point that the right hon. Member for Gordon made about the strategy of helping middle-income countries.

Together with Dr. Wafik Moustafa, I chair the Conservative Arab Network. It has looked at statistics relating to Gaza in preparation for this debate, and today I received the following information. The funding pledged to Gaza, per capita, for March alone is almost equal to the entire annual GDP per capita of Egypt. The number of doctors and dentists per capita in Gaza and the west bank is approximately four times higher than in Egypt. The infant mortality rate is approximately 20 per cent. higher in Egypt than in Palestinian areas. Those are all United Nations statistics. The Conservative Arab Network stated:

"Yet the funding will support a terrorist regime with obscene human rights abuses (Hamas) whereas Egypt is actively working to stop and limit" these extremists, but gets little funding.

Again, I disagree with things said in my Select Committee's report about the Gaza strip. Why is there such a difference in funding? I do not object to British taxpayers' money being spent to help the people of Gaza, particularly after the recent suffering and bombardments. However, why is there such a huge difference between the funding for Gaza on one side of the border, and Egypt on the other, when Egypt needs to play such a major part in the solutions to the problems?

Yesterday, I spoke to the shadow Foreign Minister, my hon. Friend Mr. Lidington, about Morocco in preparation for this debate. He met the Moroccan ambassador yesterday, and said that he was extremely positive and wanted to interact more and have greater contact with DFID, to challenge the French dominance in that part of the world. The Minister will know that Ceuta and Melilla are two Spanish enclaves in Morocco. I visited Ceuta, which is a fortress, when I was in business, and it is totally surrounded by barbed wire and surveillance equipment to prevent people from sneaking into that European enclave. Morocco faces huge issues with immigration and drugs as a result of people being smuggled from west Africa, through Morocco, to the Canary Islands and Spain. What help will we give to Morocco to stop that?

Aid should be about helping people, but it should also be of strategic importance to the UK. I keep going back to this because I feel so passionately about it. Yes, we should help the poorest people in the world, but we should start to think about what strategic value there can be for the UK and how we can kill two birds with one stone. How can we help the poor people but also tackle illegal immigration and the suffering of people being smuggled to Europe illegally? The Democratic Republic of the Congo has an identical GDP per capita to Morocco, but it is ranked 10th highest for bilateral aid, whereas Morocco gets nothing.

Jeremy Corbyn has asked relevant questions about what assistance the Department is providing for refugees from Western Sahara in refugee camps in Algeria. This issue is of great importance. He will know that, in 1990, the United Nations wanted to ensure that the Polisario in Western Sahara had the right to self-determination, but unfortunately, Morocco still occupies the country and there is a lot of suffering in the refugee camps in Algeria. I would like the Minister to tell us what is happening there and how he is working with the Foreign Office to help the Polisario refugees in those camps. How is he trying to resolve that long-standing sore and mediate in a situation that has been going on for decades, resulting in tremendous suffering for those people of Western Sahara?

On Mauritania, migration from the port of Nouadhibou to the Canary Islands is a huge issue, and we have seen reports in the national press about the suffering of those people. Tourists from my constituency and others go to the Canary Islands on their annual holidays, and when they are lying on the beach they suddenly see people who are totally dehydrated and near death being deposited. Many of the boats sink, and those people drown. I am not prepared to allow that travesty to continue, and I am shocked and baffled as to the lack of discussion about this human tragedy. People in all parties must be concerned about what is happening to those people and the suffering they are going through. This is not a political issue, so we must put party politics aside and focus on how to help Mauritania and other countries to prevent this human suffering.

The countries of north Africa are extremely friendly nations. My experience of them in business has been that they are extremely pro-British. They are trying to fight fundamentalism and terrorism, and they are of huge strategic importance to us. We have heard from President Sarkozy and others in the European Union how they hope to bring them into the EU fold with greater trading agreements and assistance, but I want to know what we in the UK are doing directly to help them with aid for refugees who are suffering in relation to migration issues.

I am chairman, as I said, of the Conservative Arab Network, and we are having our inaugural event at the House of Commons on 30 June. There are 500,000 British Arabs in the United Kingdom, but not a single one in either Chamber in our Parliament—an anomaly that I hope will be rectified. We need to engage with the British Arab community, who are prevalent in London and throughout the UK. One way of engaging with them is by showing them the interest that we have in north Africa and the Arab world, as well as how we are helping people who might even be their relatives, in certain cases, and how we are trying to tackle some of the appalling problems that they have.

I have asked quite a few written parliamentary questions on this issue in the past few years, which I am looking through now. John Battle, who sits on our Select Committee, has also asked some very pertinent questions. He asked what contribution the Department has made to increasing food aid to Egypt since March 2006, and whether the Secretary of State would make a statement on that, but DFID's response to that question was so Humphrey Applebyesque that it was meaningless. I find that so frustrating. The reply stated:

"The Department for International Development (DFID) does not have a bilateral programme in Egypt. DFID, however, continues to support poverty reduction efforts in Egypt through contributions to international institutions such as the European Commission (EC). The UK is contributing about €95 million towards the EC's €558 million 2007 to 2010 programme of assistance to Egypt. DFID has also been in regular contact with the World Food Programme (WFP) and has responded to their recent global appeal for countries most at risk from rising food prices with a £30 million contribution. There was no specific appeal for Egypt, where the WFP operates capacity building programmes and school feeding programmes but has no emergency operations."—[Hansard, 12 June 2008; Vol. 477, c. 441W.]

Again, the Government are saying, "We are giving a little bit of money to this and a little bit of money to that." I very much hope that we stop giving a little bit of money to this and that, and start interacting and engaging directly with these countries and try to help them directly.

Finally, let me point out that DFID's bilateral aid expenditure to north Africa fell from just £3.5 million in 2003-04—I do not know how to describe that figure without being rude: £3.5 million for the whole of north Africa!—to about £500,000 in 2005-06, and then to zero in 2007-08. When spending by other Departments is included, aid to north Africa was £38.1 million in 2003-04, falling to £2.8 million in 2007-08, so the entire contribution of not only DFID but all Departments was a squalid £2.8 million in 2007-08. Those figures are from the Library. That contribution represented 0.2 per cent. of total aid from the UK to Africa as a whole, but there are hundreds of millions of people in that region. That goes back to an earlier point. The Department also estimated the UK share of multilateral expenditure in northern Africa to be around £50 million in 2006-07, and there are no data for 2007-08.

I am delighted to have had this opportunity to get a lot of things off my chest. From what I have seen, the Minister does a very good job, and I very much hope that he will explain to me what his Department is doing on some of the matters I have raised. I hope that he will leave the debate having seen the passion that I have for north Africa, because I passionately feel that helping it will ultimately help our own country. No matter how difficult the economic situation becomes, I hope that the Minister and his Conservative and Liberal Democrat shadows will not forget north Africa or that we must help countries such as Egypt and Libya to deal with some of the terrible human suffering that they face.

Photo of Hugh Bayley Hugh Bayley NATO Parliamentary Assembly UK Delegation

I would like us to commence the winding-up speeches at 3.30 pm. I am happy to call Jeremy Corbyn.

Photo of Jeremy Corbyn Jeremy Corbyn Labour, Islington North 3:10 pm, 3rd June 2009

I am pleased that we are having this debate and I congratulate Daniel Kawczynski on securing it. North Africa is not a part of the world that is often discussed in an holistic way, and it is good that we can do that today.

As with all such debates, the problem is whether the reply should come from DFID or the Foreign Office. The Minister, who is from DFID, will clearly have difficulty responding on foreign policy issues, and I suspect that we will get letters from the relevant Departments after the debate. Inevitably, the issues that we are raising will cut across the work of both Departments.

The hon. Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham made some extremely important points about migrant peoples travelling through north Africa. It is unbelievable that most British newspapers and broadcast media seldom report the daily toll of misery and suffering that is the lot of so many people from sub-Saharan Africa. These people do their best to travel through the Sahara or the countries on each of the coasts to reach north Africa, before trying to get across the Mediterranean to Greece, Italy, Malta, Cyprus, Spain or the Canary Islands. Indeed, there is more publicity when tourists are inconvenienced because poor, benighted people from sinking vessels have been washed up on the beaches of the Canary Islands. Such things are at the sharp end of the gap between the richest and the poorest on our planet, and they are an indictment of us all.

Children in our schools are rightly taught about the heroism of people in the 19th and 20th centuries who managed to travel to different parts of the world to succeed, survive or gain political asylum. I suspect that our grandchildren and their children will read about the heroism of those who managed to escape desperate poverty in central Africa to get to Europe or north America to survive. There is a daily story there, but it is simply not being reported.

I recognise what the hon. Gentleman said about the camps in Libya, Morocco and the fortresses of Ceuta and Melilla—the Spanish enclaves that are designed to keep migrants out. However, the issue goes much deeper. The economic policies that are adopted by, or forced on, very poor countries in central Africa lead to rural depopulation, urban poverty and the loss of public services and education. As a result, the only route out of poverty for many people is to escape somewhere else. Those who do end up working illegally in Europe so that they can send small sums back home, some of which are stolen by moneylenders on the way. These are extremely serious issues, and it would be helpful if the debate highlighted them.

Photo of David Drew David Drew Labour, Stroud

I agree entirely with what my hon. Friend says. The situation is made that much worse by conflict, which often originates with the desire to drive out an ethnic group that may not fit into a region's or country's wider make-up. That is exactly what we had in Darfur.

Photo of Jeremy Corbyn Jeremy Corbyn Labour, Islington North

My hon. Friend is absolutely right that there is an enormous ethnic dimension to many of these conflicts. People are driven out of a region because they have a different ethnicity from the majority. Equally, people can be victims of environmental disaster. The galloping expansion of the Sahara desert in all directions means that cropping and herding are simply unsustainable as forms of agriculture, so people have to go somewhere else. When they do, they are not welcome because there is already pressure there on the remaining resources and bits of land, which leads to conflict. There is not one simple explanation behind such events, but a series of complexities. For the good of all of us, we should concentrate far more on such issues and on the needs of those involved, and I am pleased that we are at least having a debate about them today.

As the hon. Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham said, I am quite involved in the issue of Western Sahara. Indeed, I am the chair of the all-party group on Western Sahara, and my hon. Friend Mr. Drew is our secretary—I have just promoted him. The group exists to highlight a fundamental injustice, which reflects not only on our foreign policy, but quite strongly on European policy and trade arrangements. The hon. Gentleman was right that British aid to north Africa is extremely limited. Such aid as is provided is disbursed through the European Union, the UN and non-governmental organisations, with a small amount being disbursed directly.

The issue of Western Sahara and its refugees is the result of politics and political conflict, but the European Union manages quite deftly to operate in two entirely separate and different zones when it comes to Western Sahara and Morocco. There is an EU trading arrangement with Morocco, which includes a human rights clause. A large number of European companies are doing extremely well out of trade with Morocco, and I have no problem with trade with the country—I have no quarrel with Morocco in any way. However, I do have a problem when companies benefit from the resources of Western Sahara or the fish off its coast—that is a different issue altogether.

I do not want to go into the history of Western Sahara—that would take too long, and you have asked for Back-Bench speeches to stop by 3.30 pm, Mr. Bayley—but I do want to make a few brief points in parenthesis. In the 1950s, France ceased to be, in effect, a colonial power in Morocco. In the 1960s and early 1970s, Spain still occupied Western Sahara as a colony. Morocco supported the right of self-determination and, therefore, the option of independence for the Sahrawi people. Indeed, throughout the '60s and early '70s, Moroccan Ministers made plenty of speeches supporting the concept at African Union and other events.

The demise of the Franco regime and Spain's withdrawal from Western Sahara led not to what should have been an orderly process of decolonisation under the auspices of the UN, but to the occupation of Western Sahara by Morocco and Mauritania and to a war. Morocco, which was well equipped with weapons from America and other countries, drove the majority of the Sahrawi people out of Western Sahara and into Algeria.

The camps were established in the 1970s—40 years ago—and people then had to survive in them. Mauritania withdrew from its portion of Western Sahara, which became, in effect, the liberated zone. Ever since, about 150,000 people have been living in refugee camps in Algeria. Algeria has supported them and given them space to survive.

There should have been a UN-sponsored referendum to allow people to return to Western Sahara. There were years and years of argument about how to draw up an electoral roll. Morocco insisted that the people it had moved into Western Sahara as Moroccan settlers could vote in the referendum, which would clearly have negated the votes of the Sahrawi people living in the refugee camps. No referendum has been held.

The nearest that the situation ever came to some kind of development was the Baker plan. The former US Secretary of State James Baker convened a series of meetings and conferences at which he drew up a plan that was effectively a form of limited autonomy for Western Sahara, which would have involved its people going back and, at an indeterminate date—I think 10 years on—a referendum. The Polisario, the political leadership of Western Sahara, reluctantly accepted the plan—I was at the congress, in a big tent in the desert, when they did it—only to have it effectively vetoed by Morocco. We are back to square one and people living in refugee camps.

The UN organisation MINURSO has just had its mandate renewed by Security Council resolution 1871, of 30 April. Also, Christopher Ross, a former US diplomat, is undertaking a new round of negotiations. I hope that the British Government will do all that they can to support and facilitate those negotiations, but above all to recognise that it is not right that, 30 years on, the third generation of those who were driven into the camps are still living there. Imagine what it is like for a young person growing up in a refugee camp in Algeria, knowing that all they can dream about is the possibility of going to Western Sahara at some indeterminate point in the future. I pay tribute to the Polisario leadership for managing to hold the camps together and ensuring that sufficient aid gets through from the UN and other sources at least to feed people and provide medical care. The camps are extremely well run and are good communities, but they are still refugee camps, and are wrong and unnecessary.

I hope that the Minister will at least be able to give me some assurances: first, that our aid to MINURSO and to the camps will continue until it is no longer necessary, because people have a right to return; and that we will re-examine the EU relationship with Morocco. There is a human rights clause in the trade agreements, as there is in all EU trade agreements. Morocco, by its illegal occupation of Western Sahara, is in breach of that clause. It is simple: why are we not doing anything about it? Why, instead, are we offering enhanced associate status to Morocco, instead of telling it, "You must come to an accommodation with your neighbours and stop the illegal occupation"?

It gets worse, however. Western Sahara has phosphate resources and 3.5 million tonnes are turned out a year. Who buys it? Who benefits from it—which companies? Sure as heck, none of that wealth or money is going to the refugees who were driven out of Western Sahara all those years ago. Last year, the EU, to its discredit, concluded a fish agreement with Morocco, by which the abundant fish stocks in Western Sahara's Atlantic waters are now being harvested by Spanish and French companies, for the main part. They are making a great deal of money out of it. It is stolen property, as far as I am concerned, and I hope that something can be done about it, and that the Minister can give us good news about that.

At the UN in April, when the issue came up for debate, the southern African countries, and South Africa in particular, sent a very strong memorandum to the Security Council:

"It is of concern to us that for over three decades, the situation in Western Sahara remains unresolved. We would like to reiterate that for us, the Member States of SADC"— the Southern African Development Community

"the struggle for the people of Western Sahara is a struggle for self-determination and indeed is based on the principles of decolonisation, promotion of human rights, international legality and the stability and security of the African continent. It is a struggle that people of our sub-region fully associate themselves with."

It is significant that the only self-determination issue in the whole of Africa that is recognised by the African Union is that of Western Sahara. It is recognised as Africa's last colony. It is up to us to stop recognising de facto Moroccan occupation of Western Sahara and to start putting political and economic pressure on Morocco to withdraw.

Photo of David Drew David Drew Labour, Stroud

The Polisario is clear—it has been announced today—about the fact that it partly blames Morocco for the very sad events concerning Mr. Dyer, because, of course, there is tacit support for the Salafist terrorist group, and it does not take a genius to work it out that one of the sub-Saharan countries is helping it. Polisario's allegation is that it is Morocco.

Photo of Jeremy Corbyn Jeremy Corbyn Labour, Islington North

That is indeed an important and serious allegation. We must be clearer in our relationship with Morocco and stronger in our diplomatic efforts to persuade it that if it wants to be accepted as a normal trading partner, with normal membership, the illegal occupation cannot be allowed to continue. The people of Western Sahara deserve better than that.

Last week I was at a conference in Madrid, organised by the Autonomous university of Madrid, attended by eminent lawyers and professors. We went through the legality of the situation, but also the simple human aspects, such as the march by women of Western Sahara alongside the sand wall, a heavily-mined "defence" facility constructed by Morocco. What is that about, apart from being a terrible waste of resources and an indictment of what illegal occupation and militarism bring us to? Let the people of Western Sahara go back and look after their own land, and live off the abundant resources that lie under it, and the fish in the sea beyond it. Otherwise, it will become the powder keg for yet another war, more killing and more misery.

Photo of John Barrett John Barrett Shadow Work and Pensions Minister 3:26 pm, 3rd June 2009

I want to begin by expressing my condolences to Edwin Dyer's family, following the announcement during Prime Minister's Question Time that the Prime Minister had strong reason to believe that he had been murdered. Having read what has been put on the website of those responsible, I am left in no doubt that that, sadly, is the case. The case of Mr. Dyer—his being kidnapped and held in Mali and Niger, and his being sold on by local tribesmen to Algerian members of al-Qaeda—shows that several countries and terrorist groups in north Africa are at the heart of the problems of the region.

I thank Daniel Kawczynski for obtaining the debate, because I served on the Select Committee on International Development, and I cannot remember there being a debate on aid to north Africa during those five or six years—or in my eight years in Parliament. In addition to the value of the hon. Gentleman's speech and that of Jeremy Corbyn, and the interventions, the debate itself was a good idea. I question some of the issues that the hon. Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham raised, but the very fact that that he raised them is good.

There are issues about giving overseas aid to middle-income countries, and there are other problems in considering the question of the poorest people in the world. The poorest people live in Africa, but the majority of poor people live not there, but in other countries, some of which are middle-income countries. There are 150 million people in Uttar Pradesh—one state of India—and 50 million of those live below the poverty line. African countries have much smaller populations, and individual states in India have 10 times their population. Uttar Pradesh has 10 times the population of Mali. There is a problem when DFID must decide where to tackle the requirements of those most in need; some of those who are most in need receive nothing. I think that is part of the point of the debate.

I am aware from previous visits that I have made that branding is an important issue. I was with the Chairman and other members of the Select Committee following the earthquake in Pakistan. New housing had been put up, funded by UK taxpayers but erected by Norwegians, and local people thought it was Norwegian housing. However, I understand that there are risks in attaching the UK flag to projects in some developing countries, because they can become targets for hostile groups. Often, as Mr. Drew mentioned, there are problems with host countries—not least Sudan—and the sending of direct UK aid; the aid must go through agencies. There is a problem in dealing with countries such as Sudan whose Governments are, as the hon. Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham said, part of the problem, not the solution.

Photo of Daniel Kawczynski Daniel Kawczynski Conservative, Shrewsbury and Atcham

I agree that there are certain cases in which it would be controversial or difficult to shout from the rooftops that aid is from Britain. However, there are countries, such as Kenya, which I visited with the Select Committee, where it would be totally appropriate. The villagers we spoke to in the most northern village in Kenya that we visited said they were rather disappointed that they had not known that that was British aid. They feel a great empathy with Britain and were rather startled by how quiet we were about explaining what we were doing.

Photo of John Barrett John Barrett Shadow Work and Pensions Minister

That reflects the view of the many people in Pakistan who asked why the British Government were not doing more, even though there is a huge Pakistani community in this country. DFID had in fact done much work, but that was not known on the ground.

I am glad that this debate is taking place. Sudan was mentioned earlier and I hope to mention it later because it is a key focus of the region's problems. As has been mentioned, there is a lack of food and medical supplies there and the camps are becoming permanent because of the problems. DFID has done a lot of work there and ought to have due credit for it, but there is always much more to be done. When arguing for more direct overseas development aid, wherever it goes, we must press for it to be spent effectively. When we hear stories of birthday celebrations that cost more than the aid to the region, we know that there is a real problem. I genuinely have no problem explaining to my constituents, even in the poorest parts of the constituency, why more money should be spent on increasing our aid expenditure, but they want to see it spent effectively.

Photo of Daniel Kawczynski Daniel Kawczynski Conservative, Shrewsbury and Atcham

On that point, when I visited Kenya recently with the International Development Committee I read all the national newspapers, and I found that the debate there during that time focused on what types of Russian helicopter and plane should be bought for the Ministers, at a cost of hundreds of millions of pounds. That was in the national papers every day. I was so disappointed that while we are giving them £50 million in aid, they are spending hundreds of millions on luxury helicopters for themselves.

Photo of John Barrett John Barrett Shadow Work and Pensions Minister

I must not be distracted because there are too many other issues I would like to squeeze in during the remaining time, but I will say that problems have arisen before in Kenya, as they have with the military hardware that India purchases and the air traffic control system in Tanzania.

I would like to focus on the fact, which was mentioned earlier, that UK bilateral aid expenditure to north Africa fell from £3.5 million in 2003-04 to £0.5 million in 2005-06 and then to zero in 2007-08. We cannot, however, ignore the amount of money that we, as major contributors to the European Union, spend that works its way to our near neighbours. That is an important reason why we must be aware of what is happening in countries that are effectively our near neighbours. Many people go from the UK to Morocco, Tunisia and Egypt on holiday, as it is a short flight away, but we also see on television that there are problems there with terrorism and migration, and they are right on our doorstep.

The challenges in north Africa are certainly different from those in sub-Saharan or west Africa, and while the need to reduce poverty in the whole region is perhaps not so pressing because it has oil wealth and other riches, there are nevertheless continuing economic and political problems in north Africa that ought to be of key concern to the UK. Mali, for example, is one of the world's poorest nations, so it is natural to ask why it receives no aid.

Perhaps the biggest challenge facing north Africa, from a security and development perspective, is the growing spectre of al-Qaeda in the region. Since the foundation of the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat and its official siding with al-Qaeda, the threat of fundamentalism in Algeria and across north Africa has grown. Members will recall that in 2008 militants from al-Qaeda abducted the UN special envoy, Robert Fowler, and his assistant, Louis Guay, near Algiers. Their release in April 2009 was welcomed across the world. Meanwhile, security forces in Morocco have clamped down on several militant cells, arresting, trying and jailing their leaders. Having blamed four incidents in 2007 on al-Qaeda and al-Qaeda-inspired groups, security forces are said to be on the lookout for militants who are believed to be crossing into Morocco from Algeria. There were also the Madrid train bombings in 2004, which killed almost 200 people, as it was accepted that they were the work of a Moroccan gang.

Now that a significant number of al-Qaeda fighters are leaving Iraq after the latest military offensive, north Africa appears to have attracted the largest number of returnees. According to reports confirmed by officials and analysts, there is a new arc of potential terror in the region, across Libya, Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco. For anyone who believes in the war on terror, the next bout could well be fought and based in north Africa, but I question the entire concept of a war on terror, which developed in the Blair/Bush era. We cannot frame our commitment to development and aid in the region without being aware of that growing threat.

Anyone who is in any doubt about the pressing need for our aid policies to react to those shifting realities need only look to Morocco, where Islamists cleverly exploit gaps in Government services to their own advantage. While preparing for armed action and terrorism, they have created a range of charities offering the services that the Government fail to provide, such as interest-free loans, medical care, scholarships, support for newlyweds and subsidised travel to Mecca. All are handled under the umbrella of the Justice and Benevolent Foundation, an old branch of the Muslim Brotherhood. If we cannot help those Governments to provide the essential goods and services their people demand, the ground will be fertile for potential extremists to fill the vacuum and reap political influence and legitimacy.

Conversely, by sharpening our aid-giving we can directly and drastically reduce the attractiveness of militant groups to local populations. While it is right that we base aid on humanitarian need, we must nevertheless accept that the danger of Governments collapsing in countries such as Mali, where there is a growing fear of al-Qaeda influence, would fatally undermine development goals across the entire region. Aid to north African nations must focus at least in part on securing strong and capable states that can provide for the people and thus reduce the attractiveness of al-Qaeda and fundamentalist doctrines. That regional approach to aid ought to be a key feature of our aid policy, that of the European Community and other multilateral programmes to which we are donors.

As Members have mentioned, there is a huge problem with refugees moving from western and sub-Saharan Africa to north Africa, and often then to Europe. Can the Minister confirm whether we have considered what further use we could make of the European neighbourhood policy? EU-north African relations are a good test of the ENP's capacity to improve the EU's relations with the region, and Morocco in particular, with which we have managed to construct a solid relationship, has been portrayed as a good partner with the EU. Does he believe that the ENP gives us the chance to develop those relationships with the entire region, and if so, what are we doing through the EU to lead action on that? I know that the European Mediterranean policy, a close cousin of the ENP, has faced criticism over its approach. I am sure that I am not alone in wanting to know what lessons can be learnt.

In addition to the problems with al-Qaeda, the whole of north Africa suffers from the problems of climate change, but unfortunately I do not have time to discuss those today. I will briefly raise the problem of arms exports from the UK. I believe that too many arms exports have reached north Africa and caused problems in the region. Time has beaten me, so I shall conclude there.

Photo of Mark Lancaster Mark Lancaster Shadow Minister (International Development) 3:39 pm, 3rd June 2009

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr. Bayley. I congratulate my hon. Friend Daniel Kawczynski on securing this timely and important debate. He spoke with great passion and knowledge and certainly gave me, and, I am sure, the Minister, enormous food for thought.

One of my hon. Friend's key points was to highlight the different approaches the Department for International Development takes to low-income and middle-income countries. Indeed, I saw that at first hand when I travelled to Guatemala last year. It is a bizarre country. The first thing one sees after leaving the airport is a Porsche garage, and within half an hour's distance from the city one is up in the hills with people living on less than $1 a day. As the Chairman of the International Development Committee, Malcolm Bruce, said, we should perhaps look again at how we treat middle-income countries.

My hon. Friend commented on the branding of UK aid. That may be attractive to some, but, on the basis of personal experience, having served as a development officer in Helmand in Afghanistan for a time, I would urge a degree of caution. The last thing we wanted to do there, as we were trying to build a sense of loyalty to a central Afghan Government, was to brand everything with a UK flag. That would have been counter-productive, but there is no one-size-fits-all approach. We must look at each case individually.

My hon. Friend also spoke briefly about Sudan. We have concerns about how DFID support is being delivered there, and we need to look at that again to ensure that it is done effectively.

Jeremy Corbyn also made an interesting and informed speech. He cautioned against this debate crossing between the Foreign Office and DFID. For my own part, I intend to stick firmly with the DFID side of the debate, and I am sure that he will forgive me for that.

DFID's website clearly states that its core role is

"to make sure every pound of British aid works its hardest to help the world's poor."

It goes on to say that the Department's first target is to

"reach the millennium development goals...by 2015."

Conservative Members may have some concerns as to how effective the Department is in achieving those aims, but, none the less, they are aims that we support. For example, we agree that reaching the millennium development goals by 2015 should be a core priority for any British Government, which is why the Conservative party is committed to achieving the UN target of 0.7 per cent. of gross national income spent on aid by 2013. It is also by following the core aims that we can help to define the UK's approach to aid to north Africa.

From the latest figures that I have—they are slightly confusing—the UK allocated close to £2.8 million of bilateral aid to north Africa in 2007-08. That is a marked reduction from the £19.68 million in 2006-07 and considerably lower than the one-time high of £42.9 million in 2004-05. Indeed, the last time the Department itself gave bilateral aid was in 2006, when £519,000 was given. As my hon. Friend said, that has since reduced to zero. Does the Minister think that such levels of aid will continue?

To be reasonable, it would be superficially easy to criticise the considerable reduction in aid to north Africa, but the move is consistent with the stated aims of the Department: that UK aid should be spent where each pound will have the greatest impact on poverty, thus levering the greatest influence on helping to reach the millennium development goals. But what aid should we give to north Africa? It still faces its fair share of challenges in respect of democracy, as highlighted by the hon. Member for Islington, North, a lack of press freedom, especially in Libya, and poor maternal mortality, to name but a few.

However, it is important to note that none of the countries in the north African region—Algeria, Egypt, Libya, Morocco and Tunisia—are on the United Nations list of the least developed nations. The gross domestic product figures for Egypt and Algeria are $162 million and $159 million respectively—more than New Zealand—and GDP figures for Libya and Algeria are higher than those for Croatia or Luxembourg. Those facts are underlined by the UN MDG monitor, which is an initiative that tracks each country's progress towards the millennium development goals. It records good to mediocre progress in the region. Indeed, four countries have made particular progress in delivering the millennium development goals.

Algeria is on track to meet the goals, and is poised to achieve both social and economic progress. If we take employment rates, for example, we can see that unemployment in Algeria has dropped from 27 per cent. in 2001 to 12.7 per cent. in 2008, and maternal mortality has declined from 117 per 1,000 births in 1999 to 96 per 1,000 in 2005.

Egypt has partially tackled its hunger and under-nourishment problems. Only 5 per cent. of Egypt's children are now chronically underweight. That figure is still too high, but it is a vast improvement on a decade ago. More impressively, 95 to 97 per cent. of children of both sexes are enrolled in primary school education. Egypt is well on track to meet five of the eight millennium development goals.

The UN development programme's 2005 report declares that all Libya's millennium development goals are on target to be met within the appropriate time frame. Under-five mortality rates have dropped significantly from 160 per 1,000 in 1971 to 30 per 1,000 in 2001, and 90 per cent. of children of both sexes are enrolled in primary education.

Tunisia has made considerable progress in achieving the millennium development goals and is set to meet the majority of the targets by 2015. That impressive development has been spurred on by Tunisia having almost 100 per cent. of children of both sexes enrolled in primary education. Unfortunately, Morocco, while superficially booming from sun, sea and sand tourism, is struggling to keep pace with its north African neighbours. The MDG monitor suggests that a fully literate work force will not be achieved until 2040.

Further progress is required, but it is clear that north Africa as a region is making progress towards achieving the millennium development goals, especially when compared with other parts of the African continent. It is therefore our belief that the UK can spend its aid budget more effectively by focusing on the least developed countries which, on the African continent, would primarily be in sub-Saharan Africa rather than the middle-income countries in north Africa.

However, as with everything, there is a question of balance. It is not that we believe that north Africa should not receive any aid. UK bilateral aid has decreased significantly, but UK taxpayers' money continues to be spent via multilateral institutions such as the World Bank, the African Development Bank and the European Union. I would like to take a moment to look at some of the ways that that money is being spent.

There are several successful UN and World Bank projects in north Africa, which help to foster both social and economic development. For instance, the World Bank's poor peri-urban neighbourhood water provision scheme will have provided 11,300 homes in Morocco with basic water and sanitation by 2010.

Likewise, the African Development Bank is also working hard. It has its headquarters in the region, in Tunis. When I spent a week there last year on an internship with the ADB, I visited several projects in Tunisia indirectly funded by British taxpayers via that bank. Of particular interest was a development just outside the capital: a major road project on the coast, which is aimed at increasing tourism. It is an impressive project, but it speaks volumes that Tunisia is sufficiently advanced in its development programme that it can focus on tourism projects rather than the provision of basic amenities for its population.

There is a similar picture elsewhere in the region with ADB projects. Egypt has received support for power projects, and the principal work of the bank in Morocco is in strengthening the Government. Libya and Algeria have had no requirement to borrow from the bank at all.

Putting our contributions to multilateral institutions to one side, there are other ways that we can help north Africa to develop and not only meet, but surpass the millennium development goals and become a viable trading partner of the UK. Notwithstanding our concerns at the effectiveness of the delivery of aid via the EC—that is a debate in itself—we could, for example, look at helping the EC strengthen and build on its European neighbourhood partnership initiatives, which would help to boost economic growth in the region.

The ENP instrument was developed in 2004 to promote prosperity, stability and security in the EU's new neighbours after its enlargement. The ENP offers a privileged relationship to neighbours who share the EU's common values of democracy, human rights, the rule of law, good governance, market economy principles and sustainable development. The ENP rightly does not pre-empt the accession of countries and is not an alternative. It simply sets out to strengthen the economic and social interaction between the EU and its neighbours.

Currently, Algeria, Egypt, Morocco and Tunisia are members of the ENP, and Libya's future inclusion is under negotiation. The EU and each of the countries have drawn up an ENP action plan to be carried out between 2007 and 2010 or 2013, depending on the country. Perhaps it would be appropriate to spend a few moments looking at how the action plans will help north Africa to continue to develop and meet its millennium development goals—on the other hand, perhaps not, as we are running out of time.

The ENP supplies not only binding treaties that have development at their heart, but a means by which to monitor progress in meeting the targets. What is more, treaties have not been forced on nations but are drawn from the priorities of the host nations—in this case, north African states—and the EU to strengthen the interaction between neighbouring regions. That said, given our major contribution to the EC and the fact that it is the key player in the region, I would ask the Minister what steps his Department is taking to strengthen the delivery of aid via the EC.

Although it is a relative term, north Africa is better placed than other regions both in Africa and the rest of the world to meet the millennium development goals. UK bilateral aid to the region has declined, but the UK taxpayer continues to support the region through other multilateral institutions, in particular via the European Community. The Conservative party will continue to monitor the situation. However, I am very grateful to my hon. Friend for securing this very timely and important debate.

Photo of Michael Foster Michael Foster Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for International Development 3:50 pm, 3rd June 2009

It is always a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr. Bayley.

I begin by congratulating Daniel Kawczynski on securing this particular debate. He may not know it, but I shared an office for four years with his predecessor as the MP for Shrewsbury and Atcham, Paul Marsden, so I can say to him that the voters in his constituency certainly elect colourful and interesting characters to be their Member of Parliament.

I obviously want to discuss some of the comments that have been made about the Government's support for the north African region. First, however, I want to express the Government's sympathies to the family of Edwin Dyer, who was so barbarically murdered by terrorists in Mali. As has been said at Prime Minister's Question Time, our thoughts are with his family.

The debate began with the hon. Gentleman saying that he felt that someone had to be "some sort of nutter, fanatic or extremist" to question the work of the Department for International Development. I would never, ever refer to him in that way. Indeed, I welcome well-informed and evidence-based challenges to the work that DFID does, because I do not believe that we can stay the best development agency in the world by resting on our laurels. I welcome challenges and prompting along those lines.

I also want to point out what were perhaps contradictions in the hon. Gentleman's arguments about the assistance given to middle-income countries as compared with low-income countries. He said that a third of the poorest people in the world were living in middle-income countries and more should be done to help them. At the same time, he argued very strongly that UK aid to China should cease and he also argued that India should go it alone. I would hazard a guess that that third of the poorest people in the world are living in China and India. I urge caution about the nature of the argument that he makes, if he is so passionate about helping those people.

Our policy towards middle-income countries was raised by the International Development Committee, as Malcolm Bruce, who is the Chairman of that Committee, mentioned. I would just add that, with the White Paper that is being discussed, there is an opportunity for individual MPs, and even the Committee as a whole, to contribute towards developing that White Paper, including making a contribution on our policy on middle-income countries.

I also feel strongly about branding. There is a case to make for better branding of the things for which the United Kingdom taxpayers pay. Indeed, I sent the hon. Gentleman, along with all colleagues in the House, an e-mail that showcased our work on Gaza. In that e-mail, he will see a picture of four Toyota Land Cruisers being supplied by the UK with a DFID logo and a big Union Jack on the side, to show that the UK taxpayer was making a contribution and effort in Gaza. However, that is not something that can be applied in each and every circumstance where aid is given, as Mr. Lancaster suggested.

DFID tries to provide 90 per cent. of our funding to low-income countries, to enable us to hit the millennium development targets. That means that the bulk of our funding goes to Africa, Asia and parts of the middle east. The fact that the north African countries are typically middle-income countries means that they do not receive a large proportion of our bilateral aid.

However, as the hon. Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham said, a significant number of people in north Africa are living in poverty and facing major challenges, such as insecurity, conflict, breaches of their human rights, gender inequality, rapid population growth, unemployment and economic stagnation. Many Governments in the region are either reluctant or unable to take forward the economic, political, security and social reforms that are needed to tackle poverty and to pursue policies that promote peaceful regional co-operation. Therefore, DFID has adopted five strands in our particular approach to supporting north Africa, working in partnership with, or through, other organisations in the region.

First, DFID and the Foreign Office are helping to shape the EU's European neighbourhood policy and the allocation of its aid budget, the European neighbourhood and partnership instrument. The ENPI covers 16 countries, including those south of the EU, such as Algeria, Egypt, Libya, Morocco and Tunisia. The ENP aims to secure mutual prosperity and stability, along with deeper political and economic integration between the EU and its neighbours.

The hon. Gentleman suggested that he was not really interested in what the EU was doing; he described EU aid as being "little" pots of money. I just want to put on the record the fact that as part of the UK's overall contribution to the European Commission—a contribution of around 17 per cent. of the European Commission's budget—the UK's contribution to the ENPI is about £120 million a year, which is not a little or inconsiderable sum of money. Furthermore, in terms of the annual average allocation to countries in north Africa, Libya received €2 million, Algeria €55 million, Egypt €139.5 million, Morocco €163.5 million and Tunisia €75 million. Those figures are the annual average allocation to those countries for the period from 2007 to 2010.

We have worked in partnership with the Foreign Office to influence and implement the design of the programmes funded by the ENP, to ensure that the aid is delivered effectively and properly monitored. We also work to ensure that the programmes of the European Community, the EU member states generally and the European Investment Bank are joined-up and prioritise poverty reduction and economic development.

The second strand of our approach is delivered through DFID's middle east and north Africa regional programme, whereby we support the work to tackle key barriers to development by stimulating economic growth and improving security right across north Africa. Our main intervention for the promotion of growth in the region has been through support to the International Finance Corporation's private enterprise partnership for the middle east and north Africa, or PEP-MENA. That is a multi-donor trust fund that supports new investment and job creation and develops new income opportunities in Algeria, Egypt, Libya, Morocco and Tunisia among others.

The fund provides advice to companies and helps to improve their access to finance, making it easier for people to set up new businesses, especially small and medium-sized enterprises. It also helps Governments to develop public-private partnership projects and to introduce environmentally and socially sustainable business practices.

Photo of Jeremy Corbyn Jeremy Corbyn Labour, Islington North

What advice is given to private sector companies on trading with Morocco where the goods bought or traded with are produced in Western Sahara?

Photo of Michael Foster Michael Foster Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for International Development

I made a note about the EU's relationship with Morocco and the trade between the two when my hon. Friend spoke. He will be receiving a letter from me explaining exactly the details of our policy on that particular trading issue.

The third strand of our approach to north Africa relates to security. As well as working with other Departments—the Foreign Office and the Ministry of Defence—we have targeted funding at think tanks, such as the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace Middle East Centre, to produce evidence-based analysis on political and economic reform issues, which will encourage open and progressive debate. We also provide support to Transparency International to set up advocacy and legal advice centres in Egypt, Lebanon, Morocco and the occupied Palestinian territories. Those centres help to build up the capacity of civil society to engage citizens directly in the fight against corruption.

The fourth strand of our approach involves working with regional development partners who have significant influence on stability and economic development in the region. For example, I recently signed a partnership agreement with the Islamic Development Bank and we will be contributing to its statistical capacity-building initiative in the middle east and north Africa. That programme will improve the quality of statistics to increase accountability and give Governments the data that they need to help them to make better evidence-based policy.

Finally, the fifth strand of our approach is that we believe that securing good development outcomes in north Africa requires explicit engagement with the political process. Politics can make a difference between violence and the path to prosperity. It means giving the poor and marginalised a greater voice and greater opportunities in life. For example, time and again the evidence demonstrates that maternal health care is more likely to be improved where women themselves have a greater say in the policy formulation.

We will continue to work with the Foreign Office and through the EU and other partners to do more to support lasting political settlements, to build institutions to resolve conflict and to give a voice to the poor and the vulnerable. We will encourage states to provide basic security, justice and the rule of law, creating the stability that countries need to get on the path to economic growth.

The hon. Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham mentioned UK support to Sudan. I just want to put on the record the fact that the UK is the largest European bilateral humanitarian donor to Sudan. We gave more than £55 million in humanitarian assistance to it in 2008-09. Furthermore, the UK provides 50 per cent. of the common humanitarian fund for Sudan and we have just given £36 million for 2009. That makes up the UK's largest single humanitarian contribution in the world, and those figures would have been available on the DFID website.

The debate has raised some important issues, which I hope I have been able to address. The Government will continue to support north Africa as part of our wider approach to poverty reduction, working with our EU partners, multilateral organisations, non-governmental organisations and other Governments to make progress towards meeting the millennium development goals in all regions of the world.