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24 Jun 2009 : Column 783

Mr. Alexander: As befits the Chair of the International Development Committee, the right hon. Gentleman asked three questions rather than one. On trade, I assure him that we are continuing to work with our colleagues in the European Union in endeavouring to reach the conclusion to the Doha development round that eluded us last year. As we look ahead to the G8 meeting in L’Aquila and other international gatherings, we will continue to press the countries that made agreements at Gleneagles to meet the commitments that were made back in 2005.

In relation to climate change, I assure the House that we recognise the importance of Europe’s assuming a leadership role, as it did at the time of the Kyoto agreement. We also recognise, in the context of common but differentiated responsibilities, that many of the countries that have been worst affected by climate change bear the least responsibility for generating the emissions that have caused it.

Education (Pakistan)

5. Mr. Gordon Prentice (Pendle) (Lab): What recent steps his Department has taken to support projects to increase literacy amongst girls in Pakistan. [281796]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for International Development (Mr. Michael Foster): My Department has set aside a total of £250 million over five years to improve education in Pakistan. We are designing programmes in North West Frontier province, Punjab and Balochistan that will increase girls’ access to school and improve both their literacy and their numeracy. We are already financing stipends so that 300,000 girls in North West Frontier province can attend school, and the same programme is providing text books for 4.3 million girls and boys.

Mr. Prentice: That is marvellous, and we applaud the Government for their action, but does it not make you weep, Mr. Speaker, that Pakistan spends 60 per cent. of its budget on defence and 11 per cent. on education, and that 42 per cent. of women and girls are illiterate? What can we do to persuade Pakistan to change its warped sense of priorities whereby more money is spent on guns than on education?

Mr. Foster: My hon. Friend is right to point out that Pakistan’s education spending of just 2.4 per cent. of GDP is among the lowest in the world. He is also right to point out that if we are serious about tackling poverty and social exclusion and dealing with the grievances that lead to insecurity, education must play a central role. [ Interruption. ]

Mr. Speaker: Order. Far too many private conversations are taking place. Members asking questions should be heard, and so should Ministers answering them.

Tony Baldry (Banbury) (Con): After the earthquake in Kashmir, we raised enough money in Banbury to build a whole new girls’ school in the Pakistan-occupied part of Kashmir. However, like the hon. Member for Pendle (Mr. Prentice), I weep, because, notwithstanding assurances from the Ministry, the problems caused by the machinery of government in Islamabad with the adoption of the school were very depressing. Whatever
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development aid we give Pakistan, we must make it clear to its Government that unless they sort out some fundamental machinery of government issues and make basic joined-up government work, none of that aid will be of any real long-term benefit.

Mr. Foster: I do not disagree with the hon. Gentleman about the importance of governance, or about the role of Government in helping donors such as the United Kingdom to get their support on to the ground to meet the needs of the people whom both he and I want to help.

Middle East

6. Mr. Alistair Carmichael (Orkney and Shetland) (LD): What recent assessment he has made of the humanitarian situation in Gaza; and if he will make a statement. [281797]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for International Development (Mr. Michael Foster): The conflict earlier this year intensified an already difficult humanitarian situation in Gaza. The pace of deterioration has slowed since the ceasefire in January, but the humanitarian situation remains extremely serious. Around 90 per cent. of Gazans still partly depend on food aid.

Success of the response effort continues to depend on opening the crossings from Israel to allow movement of materials and personnel into Gaza. The UK presses the Israeli Government regularly on this issue.

Mr. Carmichael: To say that the situation is serious is masterful understatement; it verges on the desperate. There can, however, be no improvement until the borders are opened. What are the Government doing to impress on the Israeli Government the need to let the basic foodstuffs and essentials of everyday life through the border crossing points and into Gaza?

Mr. Foster: The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right: access through the border crossings from Israel into Gaza is essential to deal with development aid and to help complement the long-term peaceful political solution that is needed in that part of the world.

Dr. Phyllis Starkey (Milton Keynes, South-West) (Lab): A number of British charities are active in Gaza, one of which is Interpal. Its ability to deliver development aid is being seriously constrained by its inability to access international clearing banking facilities. Will the Minister meet the charity to see—

Mr. Speaker: Order. I apologise for interrupting the hon. Lady, but I am not sure whether she can be heard, and there are still far too many private conversations taking place.

Dr. Starkey: Will the Minister meet representatives of Interpal to discuss the difficulties it is having, and to see what help the British Government can offer?

Mr. Foster: I understand that Interpal has had difficulties in accessing finance, and I am perfectly happy to meet my hon. Friend and the organisation to see what can be done to resolve them.

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Mr. Ian Taylor (Esher and Walton) (Con): Part of the problem in Gaza is the rivalry between Fatah and Hezbollah. Does the Minister have any engagement in the discussions to try to keep the peace, and has Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu given any assurances in respect of Gaza in his comments about a two-state solution?

Mr. Foster: I have had no direct discussions with those two parties representing the Palestinian people, but I can tell the hon. Gentleman that we welcome Prime Minister Netanyahu’s recently announced support for a two-state solution, which we think will deal with this situation once and for all.


8. Alison Seabeck (Plymouth, Devonport) (Lab): What funding his Department has provided to Fairtrade initiatives in the latest period for which figures are available. [281799]

The Minister of State, Department for International Development (Mr. Gareth Thomas): Between 1999 and 2009, the Department for International Development committed just over £3 million-worth of support to Fairtrade, of which £2.6 million has so far been released. The majority of current funding is through the global Fairtrade Labelling Organisations International. We also continue to work in developing countries and internationally to improve countries’ and producers’ access to markets and capacity to trade.

Alison Seabeck: I thank my hon. Friend for that answer. He will know that Plymouth has been at the forefront of promoting Fairtrade, and I am sure we will want to sell the new cosmetic line. However, there are still concerns, including those raised with me by the ladies of the Inner Wheel in Roborough. Can my hon. Friend assure me that, in the current global downturn, his Department will continue to scrutinise the way in which payments are made and ensure that wages are not being cut as markets and trade fall?

Mr. Thomas: I know from a previous visit I made to Plymouth of the importance that Fairtrade is given in the town, including in my hon. Friend’s constituency. I am delighted that she continues to be lobbied by supporters of Fairtrade in Plymouth for further DFID work on this issue. I can assure her that we will continue to fund Fairtrade and to work with the Fairtrade Foundation and with a series of similar initiatives to promote the cause of poor producers getting access to our markets.

Mr. Oliver Heald (North-East Hertfordshire) (Con): Does the Minister agree that we should congratulate Letchworth garden city, the world’s first garden city, on obtaining Fairtrade status two weeks ago, and that this is a fine initiative that helps to market products and assists some of the most vulnerable people in the world?

Mr. Thomas: I am delighted to agree with the hon. Gentleman, and I am also delighted that his constituents—and, no doubt, others nearby—have worked so hard to ensure that Letchworth garden city is now a Fairtrade garden city. I look forward to his continuing to raise these issues at DFID questions.

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Middle East

9. Jim Sheridan (Paisley and Renfrewshire, North) (Lab): What his latest assessment is of the humanitarian situation in Gaza; and if he will make a statement. [281800]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for International Development (Mr. Michael Foster): I refer my hon. Friend to my previous answer.

Jim Sheridan: My hon. Friend will be aware that the Israeli blockade is causing extreme problems for people in Gaza. Cement supplies have been held up in the blockade, but how can people reconstruct and build their houses if they cannot get those materials?

Mr. Foster: My hon. Friend makes a valid point. The United Nations believes that only 25 types of relief out of the some 4,000 that are needed in Gaza are actually getting through the crossings, and construction materials are essential if we are to rebuild Gaza city.

Prime Minister

The Prime Minister was asked—


Q1. [281805] Patrick Hall (Bedford) (Lab): If he will list his official engagements for Wednesday 24 June. May I also welcome you, Mr. Speaker, to your first Prime Minister’s questions as Speaker of this House?

The Prime Minister (Mr. Gordon Brown): Before I list my engagements, I am sure that the whole House will wish to join me in sending our sincere condolences to the family and friends of Major Sean Birchall, 1st Battalion Welsh Guards, who was killed in Afghanistan last week. He died serving our country and the people of Afghanistan. His death reminds us how difficult it is for men serving in Afghanistan at the moment. He, and others who have lost their lives, will never be forgotten.

I am sure that the House will wish to send our sincerest condolences also to the families and friends of Jason Swindlehurst and Jason Creswell following the tragic news of their death in captivity in Iraq. The taking of hostages is a cruel and barbaric act and can never be justified. I can assure the House that the Government are doing all that we can, and our thoughts and those of everyone in this House will be with the families and friends who wait for news.

This morning, I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. In addition to my duties in the House, I shall have further such meetings later today.

Patrick Hall: I wish to associate myself with the sentiments expressed by my right hon. Friend regarding our troops, the hostages and their families.

One of the key issues raised with me by my constituents is that of housing, and specifically access to affordable housing and the need for mortgage finance. My constituents are aware that despite the urgent need for more house building, Conservatives generally campaign against it, as well as oppose the measures needed to fix the financial system— [ Interruption. ]

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Mr. Speaker: I think that the Prime Minister has got the gist.

The Prime Minister: We are investing billions of pounds more in new affordable housing. We are helping more households into home ownership through shared ownership. We have secured commitments from the major banks that they will invest a large amount of the £70 billion extra that they are investing over the course of the next year in housing. Of course, that would not be possible if we were to implement a programme of 10 per cent. cuts in our spending.

Mr. David Cameron (Witney) (Con): The Prime Minister had a bit more than the gist of the question: he had a prepared answer to it as well.

I join the Prime Minister in paying tribute to Major Sean Birchall from the 1st Battalion Welsh Guards, who was killed in Afghanistan, and I very much agree with the Prime Minister about expressing our heartfelt sympathy to the families of Jason Swindlehurst and Jason Creswell at their loss. The Prime Minister knows that he has our full support in all the efforts being made to free the remaining hostages in Iraq.

Last week, the Prime Minister told the House:

The Government’s own figures show that that is just not the case. Will he take this opportunity to correct what he told the House last week?

The Prime Minister: Well obviously yes, in the building of the Olympics capital investment will rise very substantially. I can tell the right hon. Gentleman that capital investment is rising from £29 billion to £37.7 billion, and then to £44 billion in 2009-10, and that is to help complete the building of the Olympics. Thereafter it will fall as a result of decisions that we have made, but the comparison is between £44 billion of investment now and—even in real terms—the figure for 1999-2002, when he was in charge of advising at the Treasury. We are investing £44 billion: he was investing only £16 billion.

Mr. Cameron: I am afraid that that is just not good enough. Last week the Prime Minister made a very clear statement to the House of Commons. He said:

Here are the figures: capital expenditure this year, 2009, is £44 billion; next year, 2010, it is £36 billion; in 2011 it is £29 billion; and in the year of the Olympics, 2012, it is £26 billion. That is a cut of almost half from £44 billion to £26 billion. Will the Prime Minister now apologise, correct his statement and admit that he is cutting capital expenditure?

The Prime Minister: I was just explaining how we had brought forward capital investment to last year and this year. The figure for capital investment in 2006-07 was £36 billion. That has risen to £38 billion in 2008-09 and to £44 billion in 2009-10. That is so that we can advance capital expenditure to deal with the downturn. The problem for the right hon. Gentleman is that he wants to cut capital investment now. He wants to cut it whereas we are increasing it. We are increasing it to complete the building of the Olympics and other projects, whereas
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his party would be cutting capital investment now. He has got to face up to the fact that he is going to spend less than us in every year.

Mr. Cameron: The Prime Minister has been caught absolutely red-handed. He made a statement to the House about capital expenditure growing every year and the fact is that it is being cut. If he believed in transparency, honesty and truth in public life, he would get up at that Dispatch Box and say, “I’m sorry, I got it wrong. I gave the wrong figures; here are the right ones.” Now do it.

The Prime Minister: I have explained to the House that money has been brought forward to 2008-09 and 2009-10. Instead of having expenditure of just £30 billion in 2008-09, it is £38 billion. Instead of expenditure of less in 2009-10, it will be £44 billion. We took the decision to advance public expenditure to deal with the recession. Let him come clean: he would cut public expenditure this year, next year and every year after. He is trying to evade his responsibility for wanting 10 per cent. cuts.

Mr. Cameron: In the answer before last, the Prime Minister talked about the year 2007-08. In the last answer, he talked about the year 2008-09. Those years have already happened. He said at the Dispatch Box last week that capital expenditure would grow between now and the Olympics. The figures are in the Red Book, on page 226. Capital expenditure will be £44 billion in 2009, falling to £36 billion, then to £29 billion and then, in the year of the Olympics, to £26 billion. There is no other way to cut it. There is nowhere else he can hide. He must stand up, explain that he got it wrong and say that what he told the House last week was wrong. Why not do it for once?

The Prime Minister: We brought forward spending to deal with the recession. I know that he is against our bringing forward the spending, but we brought forward current and capital spending to deal with the recession. Let me tell him that spending is £44 billion in the year 2009-10. That is the highest capital expenditure ever in our country. It compares with the recession years under the Tories, when capital spending was only £12 billion or £16 billion. We are taking the action to invest in our public services—they would cut our public services now. Why does he not admit that there would be 10 per cent. cuts in public services under the Conservatives?

Mr. Cameron: Let us first of all be clear about the Prime Minister’s claims about Conservative policy. Even his own colleagues do not believe him. This is the report that we had from last week’s Cabinet:


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