HL Deb 27 May 2004 vol 661 cc1436-8

11.23 a.m.

Baroness Northover asked Her Majesty's Government:

What aid the Department for International Development plans to give to the Palestinian people in the next year.

The Lord President of the Council (Baroness Amos)

My Lords, planned development expenditure for Palestinians this financial year is £26.5 million. The purpose of our assistance is to work with partners to help end conflict and create a viable Palestinian state that will reduce poverty. DfID's strategy for the next two years has just been published in its Country Assistance Plan for Palestinians. Copies have been placed in the Libraries of both Houses.

Baroness Northover

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for that reply but express concern. I was going to ask her to confirm that DfID did not plan to decrease its aid to the Palestinians from last year's figure of £40 million to £26 million. However, that may have been confirmed by what the noble Baroness said. Is the noble Baroness confident that aid will be most effectively delivered—and it is badly needed—if there is a redirection away from Palestinian civil society organisations, as appears to be the case? Surely, given the situation in the region, this is not the time for any reduction in the effectiveness of aid.

Baroness Amos

My Lords, I note the noble Baroness's concern. I shall explain the position. Our original planning allocations have not been cut but during the past few years we were able to provide additional in-year funding to the Palestinians, which took our aid programme to about £40 million in 2003–04. In 2002–03, our original aid framework was some £25 million, and in 2003–04, we had an original aid framework of £24.5 million. So the £40 million figure was a result of additional money which we spent in year.

With respect to the effectiveness of the money, the noble Baroness will know that the World Bank has recently set up the Public Financial Management Reform Trust Fund to support the Palestinian Authority. To enable it to do that, the World Bank carried out an assessment of the effectiveness of aid and came to the strong conclusion that the best and most effective way of giving aid to the Palestinian Authority was through direct budget support.

Lord Wright of Richmond

My Lords, can the noble Baroness the Leader of the House say how much of our aid, or European Union aid, is going towards restoring homes, buildings, institutions and orchards that have been destroyed in so-called Israeli "security operations"?

Baroness Amos

My Lords, I do not have that figure available. The noble Lord will know that we have consistently expressed concern to the Government of Israel about the destruction of areas which have been funded by the European Union. I shall have to see what information is available on the detail of that. I shall happily write to the noble Lord and place a copy of the letter in the Library.

Baroness Rawlings

My Lords, money is always welcome. Is DfID funding for the Palestinian Authority dependent on the Palestinian leadership combating terror?

Baroness Amos

My Lords, the funding is dependent on a range of criteria. I shall happily write to the noble Baroness setting out the detail of the criteria.

Lord Janner of Braunstone

My Lords, can my noble friend confirm that while, as I have myself seen in the Palestinian territories recently, this aid is badly needed, and it is right that it should be given, she is satisfied that all possible steps are being taken to ensure that the aid reaches the people for whom it is intended?

Baroness Amos

My Lords, I am confident about that. We acknowledge that there is a degree of fiduciary risk in putting our aid through direct budget support. We undertook an appraisal of our contribution to the World Bank reform trust fund in line with our published policy on the provision of direct budget support. We look at the following criteria when we make decisions on budget support. We do a thorough evaluation of public financial management and accountability systems and associated risks. The recipient government need to have a credible programme to improve the standards of those systems. The potential development benefits have to justify the risk and the assessments are explicitly recorded as part of the decision-making process to provide assistance. In the case of the Palestinian Authority, we share the World Bank's assessment that there is some risk but that the level of risk is not unusual in countries where we provide budget support.

Lord Steel of Aikwood

My Lords, is the Minister aware that in my capacity as president of the charity, Medical Aid for Palestinians, I receive monthly reports from our people on the ground whom I last visited in the autumn? The report for April tells me that during the month of April 59 Palestinians were killed and 345 injured by the occupying forces, and that house demolitions, land levelling and confiscation continued to take place, notably in the areas for expansion of settlements and for constructing the wall. Leaving aside the need for a more rigorous political policy, as called for regularly in this House, including in yesterday's debate, is there not the maximum need for humanitarian aid in these desperate circumstances for the Palestinian people?

Baroness Amos

My Lords, I totally agree that there is need for humanitarian aid and that is precisely why the World Bank was asked to set up the trust fund, which is in addition to the money already going to the Palestinian Authority from a range of sources. The noble Lord will know that we are of the strong view that recent Israeli actions in Gaza have been disproportionate to the security threat. We have made that view well known. Home demolitions have been carried out as a form of collective punishment and therefore are in contravention of international law. My right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary has made that absolutely clear and we were very pleased to support the recent UN Security Council resolution which also condemned that action.

Lord Judd

My Lords, does the Minister agree that if a dependency syndrome is not to develop, the economic activity of the Palestinian people is tremendously important? Will she assure the House that everything possible is being done bilaterally and through the European Union to enhance the trading opportunities for the Palestinian people?

Baroness Amos

My Lords, I totally agree with my noble friend that economic activity is important. We have seen a situation in the Palestinian Authority where 21 per cent of the population lived in poverty in 2000 to a situation now where some 60 per cent of the population are living in poverty. So, of course we need to increase economic activity but we also need to deal with the humanitarian crisis and to ensure that a political solution is found as soon as possible.

Lord Skelmersdale

My Lords—

Lord Davies of Oldham

My Lords, we have a few minutes for the last question.

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