HL Deb 21 July 2004 vol 664 cc213-6

2.48 p.m.

Baroness Whitaker asked Her Majesty's Government:

What is their strategy to combat HIV/AIDS in developing countries.

The Lord President of the Council (Baroness Amos)

My Lords, my right honourable friends the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for International Development yesterday launched Taking Action: The UK's strategy for tackling HIV and AIDS in the developing world. The strategy signals major new investment in AIDS—over £1.5 billion over the next three years. It also gives a special focus to tackling the impact of HIV/AIDS on women and young people, including orphans and children made vulnerable by AIDS.

Baroness Whitaker

My Lords, I thank my noble friend and congratulate her on the Government's response so far to this overwhelming and exceptional crisis. Does she agree with the All-Party Group on Africa's recommendations in its recent report on AIDS that DfID should marshal the capacity of all other government departments to assist—for instance, the Department of Trade and Industry in stimulating UK companies which work in Africa to develop proper AIDS programmes for employees and migrant labour; and the Department for Education and Skills to train replacement capacity in the public services?

Baroness Amos

My Lords, first, this is indeed an integrated strategy. My noble friend may be aware that the Department for International Development, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the British Council launched a joint HIV/AIDS employment policy early in 2002 for all employees and their long-term partners in developing countries. We encourage responsible businesses to have in place a similarly effective workplace policy.

My noble friend is quite right about the human resource capacity crisis in Africa, which is now impacting significantly on the region's governments' ability to deliver vital public services. We will of course encourage other departments working in the area to work with those governments to ensure that the skills gap, which now stands at 1 million qualified professionals, is narrowed.

Lord Fowler

My Lords, the extra resources are welcome indeed, although I hope that the Leader of the House recognises that much more needs to be done, not just by this country but by the West generally, to reduce the appalling toll of death from AIDS, especially in African and other developing countries. She will have read yesterday's Daily Telegraph, which reported that several thousand trained nurses, desperately needed in many African countries, are being recruited to work here in Britain. How does she believe that that helps the fight against AIDS in Africa? How can that policy be defended?

Baroness Amos

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Fowler, is quite right: more needs to be done. He is also right to say that we need to create the conditions in developing countries that mean that their skilled professionals stay in those countries. One of the most appalling facts is that investment in developing countries by their own citizens, which is encouraged by foreign direct investment, does not stay—there is capital flight. So a big part of our strategy is to create the right conditions in-country.

On the specific point about nurses, the noble Lord will know that we have a code of practice for the health service, which is working quite well. What is not working as effectively is the voluntary code that applies to the private health sector, which does go in to countries to poach professionals. That remains a cause of concern.

Lord Watson of Invergowrie

My Lords, is it not horrific to contemplate the catastrophic effects of HIV/AIDS across Africa? In Botswana, where life expectancy was 60 10 years ago, it is now 40 and predicted to fall to 27 by 2010. That is why I particularly welcomed the announcement by the International Development Secretary last week, following the spending review, that he would be trebling the UK's contribution to the UN AIDS programme. Does my noble friend therefore share my concern at the comments made by the shadow Chancellor to the effect that, in the unlikely event of a future Tory government, £800 million would be cut from the DOD budget, which would seriously weaken this country's ability to contribute to the worldwide campaign against HIV/AIDS?

Baroness Amos

My Lords, my noble friend is quite right: the figures for life expectancy in developing countries where there is a serious HIV/AIDS pandemic are falling. My noble friend is also right to say that there is likely to be a cut in the DfID budget if the Opposition's spending plans go through. However, I must say that the noble Baroness, Lady Rawlings, who speaks on these subjects in this House, constantly commends the department's work. I hope that she would fight hard with her colleagues to ensure that that did not happen.

Baroness Northover

My Lords, that statement is welcome, especially in its renewed focus on children, which was missing from previous statements on AIDS. However, is the noble Baroness aware—I am sure she is—that the current estimate is that by 2010 there will be 25 million AIDS orphans? What action are the Government taking to assist those children and, in particular, to assist their carers, who may within families be looking after 18, 20 or 25 children? The pressing issue may be simply how to feed them.

Baroness Amos

My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Northover, is quite right: the number is set to increase substantially, although the figure that I have is 20 million, rather than 25 million, by 2010. That is still a significant rise. On the work that we are doing with carers, I must say that a number of the carers are children themselves. That is why a key part of the strategy is to work with developing countries to ensure that they prioritise their work on HIV/AIDS on work with orphans and vulnerable children. Not only feeding but educating those children is a key part of the strategy.

Baroness Greengross

My Lords, does the Minister agree that although many of the carers of the millions of orphans are young, many of the others are grandparents who are trying to bring up children with none of the help, support or resources that we take for granted in the industrialised world? A whole generation of those children's families has been decimated by that terrible scourge. I declare an interest as a board member of HelpAid International.

Baroness Amos

My Lords, the noble Baroness is quite right: we must consider not only children in those caring roles but grandparents.

Lord Astor of Hever

My Lords, I also speak on international development for my party in this House.

No final decision has been taken by my party on international development spending. In the light of the launch of Taking Action, are Her Majesty's Government confident that the UN target for reducing the number of young people infected by HIV/AIDS by 25 per cent by 2005 is achievable?

Baroness Amos

My Lords, as the noble Lord knows, we are concerned that a number of the targets will not be met. That is why we have launched our action plan; that is why we have made it absolutely clear what role we will play. Part of that is to give political leadership, which is why that will be a key plank of our G8 and EU presidencies next year. I recognise that the noble Lord, Lord Astor of Hever, also speaks on international development. Of course he does, and I hope that his views and those of the noble Baroness, Lady Rawlings, prevail.