DFID’s steps to reduce its aid commitment

May 7, 2014

I am glad to hear that the Department for Foreign and International Development is still making sure that taxpayers’ money is being used as effectively as possible. Furthermore, the Department is making efforts to steadily reduce its aid commitment to those countries which it assists currently.

As part of its work to assist such countries, the Department is paying for HMRC officials to advise foreign governments on the ways to collect tax more successively. Obviously, increased revenue for these foreign countries will allow for the development of local infrastructure, which over time, will gradually improve the lives of those living there. Likewise, DFID is also providing business and legislative support to these countries. This should provide for the creation of an effective framework under which each country’s government will be able to operate more efficiently.

Interestingly, less than 2% of DFID’s total budget is now set aside for general budget support to foreign governments. If DFID’s work to assist with each country’s infrastructure development is successful, this figure will be further reduced. Significantly, where DFID has to award contracts, more than 90% of these contracts by value, are being awarded to UK companies.

It is good news that DFID is taking decisive steps to reduce its aid commitment.

Constituent concerns about the humanitarian situation in Syria:

January 31, 2014

I know many of my constituents are concerned about the humanitarian situation for those in Syria and for those Syrian refugees who have fled to nearby countries. On Wednesday the Home Secretary Theresa May made a statement to the House about the UK efforts which have been made to help these people. She referred to the need for a peaceful political solution to the ongoing civil war and talks are ongoing in Geneva in order to try and achieve this. In the meantime the UK is the second biggest bilateral donor (after the United States) to the Syrian relief effort and has already provided £600 million of which £500 million has already been allocated to refugees and those internally displaced.

For some time people have been looking to the UK to provide greater sanctuary for Syrian refugees and Theresa May also announced plans to run a “vulnerable person relocation scheme” which will assist with the relocation of those individuals where evacuation from the region is the only option and they have been nominated by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNCHR). This programme is intended to help survivors of sexual violence and torture.

The UK is making a valiant effort to the help those in Syria. It is especially important that we help those who have suffered as a result of torture and sexual violence. We must hope that a political solution can be found to the civil war and fast, but in the meantime as a country constituents can rest assured that we are certainly providing tremendous assistance to those that need it most.

Malaria No More

January 17, 2014

I was interested to read in a bulletin update from “Malaria No More” that malaria deaths have fallen by 45% since 2000. This is excellent news given that in 2012 malaria was responsible for causing an estimated 627,000 deaths (according to the World Health Organisation). I dread to think how many deaths malaria caused in 2000 but a reduction by 45% since then is an amazing achievement.

Back in 2011 I asked the then Secretary of State for International Development whether he and his Department would take a particular interest and show particular determination in tackling childhood mortality, particularly in developing countries (of which malaria is a major contributor) to which the Secretary of State replied that he would.

Of course tackling childhood mortality and combating HIV/aids, malaria and other diseases are two of the Millennium Development Goals. DFID also published in 2011 its Malaria Framework for Results Strategy which outlined DFID’s plans to deal with malaria up until 2015. It highlighted the government’s commitment to halve the number of malaria deaths in at least 10 high burden countries by ensuring they have the right mix of good quality prevention, diagnosis and treatment. This pledge by DFID is a significant undertaking and will do much to combat one of the biggest killers in developing countries. I am glad that the UK is taking a strong lead in addressing this important issue.

Events abroad:

March 18, 2011

David Cameron has secured the necessary UN approval for a “No Fly Zone” and action against inhumane attacks on Libyan citizens by President Gadaffi. We must hope that the World has not left it too late to act and that the Libyans can be saved from vicious attacks and retaliation for standing up to their unpopular government. David is speaking in the Chamber today.

Meanwhile the agonies of Japan continue. I know that many people in North East Herts will feel great sympathy for those affected by the Earthquake and Tsunami and I am writing to the Ambassador passing on our best wishes at this time. I have also been in touch with Minister Jeremy Browne MP, who has told me about the huge Consular effort in Tokyo to ensure the safety of British people there.

A low carbon China beckons?

November 18, 2010

This week, I met the Shell UK expert helping China with low carbon solutions to its infrastructure challenges and I was also particularly cheered to hear of the news that at the GLOBE forum chaired by Lord Deben held in Tianjin last week, China announced plans to introduce comprehensive climate change legislation.

In a time in which climate change is an increasingly pressing issue and seldom out of the news it is extremely encouraging and a major step forward that such a country like China is willing to address this concerning matter and commit to positive measures to deal with it.

The Globe Forum is doing invaluable work and I commend them thoroughly on their valiant efforts in enlisting the support of such countries across the world to tackle this important area.

Return to the Falkland Islands

February 25, 2010

Ms Fernández de Kirchner, the President of Argentina, has claimed that the British rig which has begun drilling for oil off the coast of the Falklands Islands violates its sovereignty.

It is widely thought that this is a diversionary tactic to take the Argentinean public’s mind off its Government’s economic failures.

The Falkland Islands are 300 miles from the Argentine coast, giving the oil rig a wide berth of at least 100 miles before it enters Argentine waters. The people of the Falkland Islands have repeatedly expressed their desire to remain a British Overseas Territory and the last time Argentina violated the Falkland Islander’s right to self determination we had to send a Task Force to recover the Islands.

Britain’s sovereignty over these islands is, and shall remain indisputable.

The Road to War in Iraq and Winning the Peace

June 25, 2009

Yesterday the Opposition day debate on Iraq was held in the Chamber of the House of Commons. William Hague called for the Government’s planned Inquiry into the war in Iraq to be held in an open and public manner and for this to happen as soon as possible with the Panel to include a senior military member and someone with knowledge of Government. I think it would be useful to have a good cross-examining barrister too! This desire for openness was echoed in all parts of the House of Commons with Labour, SDLP,Welsh Nat and others – except the Labour Front Bench. Indeed at one point there was no Minister on the Front Bench to listen to the debate at all. This was sad as the debate was of high quality with many strong speeches.

Many Members pointed out that few expected the issue of an Inquiry to be being debated six years after the conclusion of the war. It should have happened years ago. We Conservatives are concerned to find out if elected representatives and the public of the UK were misled. We want to have a full examination of the road to War, what happened in the War (including equipment supplies) and into the planning and execution of the Peace; and for the Inquiry to hold individuals to account where right to do so. We also think it should be a proper open evidence Inquiry with witnesses expected to give evidence as in a Law Court. Every major speech called for the House of Commons to be allowed to vote on the Inquiry Terms of Reference when decided. It shouldn’t just be a Number 10 Downing Street decision.

British forces have performed fantastically well and sacrificed much in Iraq and we must learn lessons for the future. That is why the Inquiry Panel should have a General or other senior military figure and someone to understand Whitehall procedures.

One aspect I have raised regularly in the House and again yesterday is how any armed campaign should also be focused on turning “military victories into hearts and minds victories”. Tobias Ellwood made this point very well. We must learn from the mistakes in Iraq about how to secure the peace after the war. We didn’t provide support for rebuilding local infrastructure, schools, hospitals and the legal system speedily and effectively enough. In the debate I pointed out that it is vital to put in place a proper civil justice system quickly, so that we do not face again the Afghan situation where the Taliban were left to resolve disputes. Our whole approach must be revised to allow our forces to deliver immediate civil improvements in risky post-conflict situations and allow our development teams to do the more long-range work. Let’s hope we have a good Inquiry and it makes recommendations on this issue.

North Korea’s bomb

June 3, 2009

When the North Koreans tested their bomb, South Korea put its army on alert. However it would appear that their nuclear threat is not aimed at South Korea, but rather is to put pressure on a “hostile America”: which is a shame because President Obama’s foreign policy has so far been one of conciliation and an offer of friendship to countries which his predecessor had alienated.

Because the Korean Peninsular is so close to China and Russia the western world has been slow to act. I hope that a coalition will be able exert pressure upon North Korea and encourage them to be reasonable. But now our diplomatic overtures do appear too little, too late.

50th anniversary of the Chinese invasion of Tibet

March 13, 2009

This week was the 50th anniversary of the Chinese invasion of Tibet and on Tuesday there was a mass lobby of Parliament by the Free Tibet Group.

I met constituents who are staunch supporters of the Tibetans. They were very concerned about the fate of the people of Tibet and mentioned Human Rights’ abuses during the run up to and since the Olympics. We had a long talk about Tibet, and I was able to say that in the past I had heard the Dalai Lama speak and been introduced to him. I heard him speak at Cambridge University many years ago, when I was a student. He was calm, logical and very impressive. He recognised the power of China. Even after all these years, he is not calling for independence for Tibet, but for more autonomy within China, so that Tibetans can enjoy their culture and religion. David Cameron has recently met the Dalai Lama and my colleague David Lidington, Shadow Minister, has recently made representations to the Chinese at a high level.

Last year at the General Assembly of the Inter Parliamentary Union, the British delegation held a bilateral with China and I was able to raise my own concerns about Human Rights and Governance in Tibet. Sad to say, the Chinese just did not seem to get it. They were banging on about feudal religious practices with no understanding of the importance of a regional culture and religion. Happily, there are now talks between China and the Dalai Lama’s representatives and we will have to see if they do any good. It seems odd that a State which was able to provide a separate regional autonomy for Hong Kong is so blinkered about Tibet. Of course, Tibet has important natural resources they want, but it is hard to see why that means the Tibetans can’t fully enjoy their culture and traditions.

Campaigners want a thorough and independent inquiry into the reported excessive use of force, including against peaceful demonstrators in Tibet in Spring 2008 and Britain to establish a Tibet Desk at the British Embassy in Beijing, China.They also want us to appoint a UK Special Representative for Tibet. I have written to David Miliband, Foreign Secretary about these issues, asking his response. Given the realities of power, I believe the only way to resolve this is through dialogue between the Chinese authorities and the representatives of the Dalai Lama. In that light I welcome the new round of talks.

Our policy towards China and Tibet should be hard-headed and practical, and we must deal with the situation as it is and not as we wish it was. But to anyone who has read “Seven Years in Tibet”, “Land of a Thousand Buddhas” and other books about Tibet, visited and admired the peaceful Tibetan way of life or met Tibetan monks as my constituents had, the continuing failure of the Chinese authorities to be reasonable is a source of regret and must hold back that great country’s progress in opening to the World.

The fires in Australia and hospital appointments

February 11, 2009

I was talking to constituents from Letchworth today who told me how sad they felt to see on TV the devastation caused by the terrible fires that have affected the State of Victoria in Australia, and to hear of the fatalities and destruction. I am sure that we all hope that family and friends there have been able to avoid the loss and damage and that the thoughts of Hertfordians are with Victorians.

I thought that Kevin Rudd, the Prime Minister, spoke powerfully in condemning the fireraisers, who have caused so much misery. I have written to a friend of mine in the Victoria State Parliament Andrew McIntosh giving him my best wishes at this difficult time.

I have also been asked to look into the way “Choose and Book” for hospitals works, if you use the telephone. Apparently, no written confirmation is sent. One constituent feels that this is unhelpful for those who do not use the internet and that it is no wonder that appointments are not always kept. I think she has a point and will be asking the local NHS Chief Nick Carver what can be done about this.

It has also been pointed out to me again how difficult it is to negotiate the stairs at Letchworth Railway Station. I am pleased that our campaign has finally succeeded and that the work to put in new lifts will be done soon.