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International Development

Volume 569: debated on Wednesday 23 October 2013

The Secretary of State was asked—

Democratic Republic of Congo

May I take this opportunity to welcome the right hon. Member for East Renfrewshire (Mr Murphy) and his colleagues to their Front-Bench roles in International Development? I also offer the apologies of my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, who is unable to be here today. She is visiting Uganda to see what more DFID can do to improve the lives of the millions of people living with disabilities in the developing world.

I am deeply concerned by the ongoing conflict in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo. For that reason, last week DFID agreed an additional £5 million of UK funding. That funding will provide life-saving interventions to more than 130,000 people and support protection for girls, women and children affected by the conflict.

I thank the Secretary of State for her answer. The UK is the second largest bilateral donor to the DRC. Does she agree that the UK should therefore seek to play a leading role in the humanitarian effort, including the opening of a DFID office in the east of the country?

The hon. Gentleman may be aware that we are the single largest contributor to the common humanitarian fund, which does precisely what I think he wants us to do—provide the humanitarian support needed by so many people affected by the conflict. Alongside that work, we have an additional fund for emergency response; that focuses particularly on providing for people’s health and sanitation needs. As I have explained, I have extended that by a further six months. I assure the hon. Gentleman that we are absolutely playing a leading role in that regard.

A large amount of money is involved and a significant amount is, rightly, being spent on the crisis. Does the Secretary of State agree that it is essential that her Department gets the full support and co-operation of the DRC Government? Does she also agree that it is equally essential to have the total engagement and commitment of the President of the DRC? In the past, that has not been fully forthcoming.

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Ultimately, we need a political solution to the conflict, and that has to be led by President Kabila. The solution also has to be regional if it is to be sustainable. Furthermore, Mary Robinson, the special envoy appointed by the United Nations Secretary-General, can have a key role in bringing together the various countries that must be brought together if we are finally to achieve long lasting and long overdue peace.

Has the Secretary of State had any discussions with the mobile phone companies that source some of their rare minerals in Democratic Republic of Congo, thereby financing the warring parties? If she has not, may I suggest that she does?

I very much take the hon. Lady’s point on board. A lot of DFID’s work is in addressing corruption, and that includes illicit flows of money. As part of the G8 this year, for example, we led the way on challenging the leading economies of the world to up their game on tax, trade and transparency. Illicit flows of money were a core part of that. I assure the hon. Lady that I take her point on board and will follow it up.

Is it not the case that diarrhoea caused through poor sanitation is one of the leading causes of infant mortality in the developing world, and that in the Congo it results in the second highest rate of infant mortality in Africa? How many people will benefit from Britain’s investment in the water and sanitation system in that benighted country?

We have delivered life-saving support to 2.1 million people in DRC. My hon. Friend is absolutely right. If we look at the millennium development goal on child mortality, we see that one of the reasons it has not had more success is the continued fatal effect of diarrhoea. He is right to highlight that. It is one of the things we particularly work on in DRC, and it is why sanitation is so key.

The Secretary of State will know that 46% of people in DRC are under the age of 14, and reports say that youth unemployment is nearly 90%. Will she say a little more about the long-term plans for DRC? What conversations has she had with colleagues in the international community about getting those children to school and giving those young people a future?

I very much welcome that question. The hon. Lady is absolutely right to say that one of the key challenges in DRC is to blend together what we are doing from a humanitarian perspective with the country’s longer-term development needs. That is why we are keen to see a long-lasting peace settlement there. I can assure her that alongside the work on the humanitarian effort we are looking at what we can do with partners on the development effort, including in education.

Syria

The humanitarian crisis in Syria has reached catastrophic proportions. Since the start of the conflict, over 100,000 people have been killed, 2.1 million have become refugees, and nearly 7 million people within Syria are in need of urgent humanitarian assistance.

Let me declare an interest as a member of the International Rescue Committee’s policy and advocacy committee. Given that 60% of Syrian refugees are living outside refugee camps, what steps are the Department taking to ensure that there is adequate support for urban refugees and the communities that are supporting them?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I think that for some countries the total is possibly in excess of 70%. In Jordan, for every refugee who is in the Zaatari camp, there are four outside it. We are therefore working very closely with Governments such as Jordan’s through the World Bank trust fund that we helped to set up—we launched it when I was at the World Bank just a couple of weekends ago—to make sure that we have the investment in infrastructure and public services that the host communities need to be able to support not only their own day-to-day lives but those of the many people who have arrived in their midst.

In order to try to reduce the terrible humanitarian crisis not just in Syria but throughout the region, with the prospect of conflict in Lebanon, does the right hon. Lady agree that the non-governmental organisations are right to seek to work with local organisations, and will she encourage them in that objective?

We are encouraging NGOs to work with grass-roots organisations, and they, too, understand that they need to do that. This is vital if we are to maintain the support of the host communities, who have been incredibly generous in accepting refugees. I should also point out to the right hon. Gentleman that one of the challenges is making sure that we can work with NGOs, which have the breadth and capacity to be able to work across the piece and across communities but are absolutely working on the ground with existing civil society organisations.

May I thank the Secretary of State for the comprehensive evidence session that she gave to the International Development Committee yesterday? I welcome the leadership role that the UK has played in committing these funds, but will she urge other countries such as those in Europe and the middle east also to step up to the plate and ensure that the UN appeal is fully funded and Britain is not left in front without followers?

I could not agree more with the right hon. Gentleman. Britain has done exactly the right thing in playing a leading role in the humanitarian response. It is absolutely right for the Syrian refugees, but right for us too, to try to do what we can to keep stability in the region. However, we cannot do that on our own, and it is now time, in the run-up to the next donor conference in January, for other countries in the international community to ask themselves what more they can do alongside the UK in making sure that the next UN donor appeal, unlike the last one, is fully funded.

Some 58,000 Syrians have sought refuge in Jordan since the onset of the civil war. Organisations such as the International Committee of the Red Cross are aiding those displaced individuals with the basics to live. What more can Governments do to help charities such as the Red Cross?

We need to do a number of things. First, we need to make sure that the financing and resources are in place so that not just the life-saving work, but the broader work on educating the 1 million children who are now refugees can take place. As I have said, we also need to work with host Governments—such as the Jordanian Government, who have been incredibly generous—to make sure that they are well placed to be able to cope with this huge, unprecedented number of refugees.

9. Mindful of the impact on Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey, and mindful of the fact that this is an international humanitarian crisis, what international co-operation are we receiving with regard to the refugees in those countries? (900651)

As I have said, it is deeply concerning that the United Nations donor appeal is only half funded. Having said that, as a result of the Prime Minister’s leadership, since the G20 we have managed to get an additional $1 billion of funding. The key test for us all will be whether the donor conference in January can be successful so that we can meet the needs of the UN agencies that are working so hard.

This refugee crisis is the greatest since that in Rwanda and the Secretary of State has our support in trying to get aid to those civilians, including 1 million refugee children. If the violence continues at its current ferocity, what is her Department’s assessment of the likely refugee numbers by the end of this year and of the capabilities of neighbouring nations to absorb them without destabilising their politics and economies?

Some non-governmental organisations would assess that the number of refugees could reach the 3 million mark by next spring. That is deeply concerning and it is one of the reasons why, alongside all the humanitarian work we have done on the ground, the UK has brought together top donors and UN agencies to make sure that they can work together effectively as a single team on a single strategy for not just supporting refugees outside Syria, but, critically, reaching those in need in Syria.

We look forward to the Department’s assessment of possible refugee numbers by the end of the year. Refugees are not just scampering across borders; they are also clambering on to small boats in order to seek safety by travelling across the Mediterranean. The tiny dot of an island, Lampedusa, has become a checkpoint for people seeking refuge from north Africa and Syria. Sadly, 300 people have drowned on that journey. Does the Secretary of State accept that the international community has to do more to prevent those desperate people from dying in such dreadful circumstances as they flee civil war only to drown in the Mediterranean?

What we have seen is shocking and it is one of the reasons why international development is so important. We need to make sure that we can work with developing countries so that they can provide people with opportunities, prosperity and a future so that they can pursue their lives with their families where they grow up. Surely that has to be the best thing and surely it is sensible to help Governments tackle instability and conflict on their own territory, rather than allow it to spread to ours.

Nepal (Elections)

Our budget of £14 million for Nepal’s elections will cover items such as £5 million to the United Nations Development Programme for the electoral roll, £8 million to the Election Commission of Nepal for the administrative costs of the election itself, and a further £1 million to cover independent observers.

I thank the Minister for his answer. Given that so many years have passed since an election last took place in Nepal, is he confident that the assistance he is providing will contribute to a successful outcome?

I know that my hon. Friend has in his constituency a Nepali community to which he pays a great deal of attention. Nepal has faced a bit of a logjam for a number of years, in that it has needed elections to approve a constitution and a constitution to approve elections. We hope that the November elections will take place with full participation and no violence.

What work is the Department doing to stop any violence between competing parties in the November elections?

The UK is at the forefront of engaging with politicians of all parties in Nepal. My right hon. Friends in the Foreign Office and we in the Department for International Development visit them regularly and have urged all of them to participate. When I visited in April, I was very robust in urging some of the smaller Maoist parties to participate when at the time they were minded not to do so.

Preventing Sexual Violence Initiative

4. What contribution her Department is making to the implementation of the Government’s preventing sexual violence initiative. (900646)

The UK will co-host a call-to-action event in November with Sweden, which will focus on protecting women and girls from all forms of violence in emergencies. That work builds directly on the G8 Foreign Ministers’ declaration on preventing sexual violence in conflict, which was led so ably by the Foreign Secretary.

I am grateful for that response. In Burma, reports of rape and sexual violence against women by the army have increased. Given the level of aid that we send to Burma, will the Secretary of State encourage the Burmese Government to sign our declaration and ask her colleagues to raise the matter in Europe and at the United Nations?

The hon. Lady makes a powerful point about what is happening in Burma. Aung San Suu Kyi is in the country and I will be meeting her today. I will be sure to raise those issues with her. I am sure that she takes them as seriously as this House.

As a means to encouraging the wider implementation of the convention on the protection of children against sexual exploitation and sexual abuse, the Council of Europe launched a campaign in February to encourage its member states to have their municipal and regional authorities sign a pact to stop sexual violence against children. Will the Secretary of State say whether she is aware of that campaign and what contribution her Department can make?

I am not aware of that campaign. The Department sets a lot of store by the work that it does to protect children, whether in Syria or Democratic Republic of the Congo. Only today, I announced £2 million to take care of the Syrian children who are turning up in Iraq unaccompanied. I will write to my right hon. Friend to respond more fully on the campaign that she mentioned.

Gaza

5. What assessment she has made of the adequacy of the levels of food, fuel and medical supplies entering Gaza each day. (900647)

Although the supply of food in Gaza is adequate, prices are rising fast. The level of fuel and medical supplies has dropped, exacerbating an already precarious humanitarian situation and threatening the basic needs of ordinary people in Gaza.

The Minister has recognised in his reply that the humanitarian situation in Gaza is increasingly fragile. The impoverished Palestinian population is reliant on the tunnels for affordable goods. The tightening of restrictions by the Egyptian and Israeli authorities is resulting in shockingly high prices for fuel and basic commodities. With access to, and the affordability of, food becoming a huge problem, will the Government acknowledge that the blockade of Gaza is a violation of international humanitarian and human rights law and constitutes collective punishment?

There are extremely serious matters of life and death in Gaza. Let us hear the questions and the Minister’s answers.

I recognise exactly what the hon. Gentleman says. We would far rather see free movement and access for trade and economic activity in Gaza than an economy that is channelled through tunnels in a way that benefits Hamas. Israel’s plan to expand the capacity of the Allenby crossing between the west bank and Jordan is a welcome example of the sort of steps that can be taken to improve trade.

The truth is that the international community and the United Nations Relief and Works Agency will have to continue supporting thousands of people in Gaza and the west bank until a two-state solution is found or until Gaza and the west bank are incorporated into de jure Israel. Permanent occupation is a perpetual hell for thousands of people. When will the international community find a long-term solution for Gaza and the west bank?

I hope that the efforts that are under way will lead to exactly the kind of agreement that my hon. Friend is seeking. The efforts of my right hon. Friends the Foreign Secretary and the Prime Minister, in particular in working with the US Administration, will hopefully lead to a two-state solution and a long-lasting agreement that lead to peace and security between the two countries.

The Minister will be aware that the price of fuel in Gaza has almost doubled in recent weeks. What steps is his Department taking to assist small businesses in Gaza, particularly fishermen, who have been hit hard by that increase?

The hon. Lady makes a very fair point. The amount of fuel that enters Gaza via the tunnels has halved from about 1 million litres a day in June to about 500,000 litres this month. The Gaza power plant is operating at half its capacity, triggering electricity blackouts of up to 12 hours a day, exacerbating the already difficult economic and humanitarian situation in Gaza.

Topical Questions

During the past month I have attended the UN General Assembly, meetings at the World Bank and I have put in place a new £30 million “Lost Generation” initiative to provide protection, counselling and basic educational supplies to children affected by the Syrian crisis. I have announced a £1 billion commitment to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, and the Department is committed to transparency, results and value for money. I am proud that in procurement in DFID, despite competition from the public and private sectors, my departmental procurement team recently won the annual award for best international procurement from the Chartered Institute for Procurement and Supply.

The Batwa, who were evicted from the forests to allow tourists to trek gorillas, are the most socially excluded group in east Africa. Will the Secretary of State look at her programmes to ensure that they too do not exclude the Batwa?

I assure the hon. Gentleman that I will look into the specific point he raises. Human rights run through all DFID programmes, and when dealing with Governments we have partnership principles that also include human rights.

T3. What is my right hon. Friend’s Department doing to promote the business skills of developing countries so that they can promote their own economies? (900635)

I know that my hon. Friend was involved in excellent work on business mentoring in Burundi over the summer, and last week I met the Institute of Chartered Accountants—of which I am a fellow—to discuss accounting and auditing standards in the developing world. I hope the UK’s excellent professional services will play a role in driving standards and skills in the developing world over the coming months and years.

T2. What progress has been made since the G8 in curbing illicit financial flows from developing countries by revealing more information about the beneficial ownership of companies? (900634)

I am pleased the hon. Lady raises that issue. This country played a leading role in using the G8 to raise the issue of illicit flows, and ensure transparency alongside our efforts on tax and trade. The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills is now consulting on beneficial ownership, which the hon. Lady referred to, and that is a key route through which we can help developing countries ensure they get the tax takes they are due.

T5. When I visited India two weeks ago with my local gurdwara from Hounslow, I had a useful discussion in the Punjab with ActionAid and other organisations about female feticide, which I am sure my right hon. Friend agrees is a disgrace to humanity. What can she do through her Department to improve the way that women are valued, so that they are protected worldwide? (900637)

My hon. Friend raises an important issue. Female feticide is shocking, and I pay tribute to organisations such as ActionAid, and others that work and campaign on that issue. In too many parts of the world, women are treated as chattels or assets and are bought and sold, often through early forced marriage or trafficking. The lack of basic human rights for women underpins much of what my Department works on.

T4. Many billions of pounds of taxpayers money have rightly been spent investing in schools and community centres in Afghanistan. What proportion does the right hon. Lady believe will remain open after the departure of our troops next year? (900636)

The hon. Gentleman is right to point out that a huge amount of work through the Afghanistan Reconstruction Trust Fund has gone into education and building schools, including in Helmand. Given the work that is taking place in the run-up to the troop draw-down and beyond, I hope not only that those schools will continue, but that more schools will join them and extend education to more Afghan children.

T6. Will the Secretary of State tell the House what progress has been made since the G8 on cutting illicit financial flows from developing countries, and on setting up a public register of the beneficial ownership of those companies? (900638)

I reiterate that a consultation on beneficial ownership is under way. Since taking up this role I have increased the amount of funding that my Department gives to the Met police to track down and prosecute those involved in illicit illegal flows, and they are doing an excellent job.

T8. Will the Secretary of State say what discussions she has had with the Israeli Government about the price of petrol for the Palestinians? (900640)

The Department is in regular discussions with the Israeli Government, and as mentioned earlier, we are particularly concerned about the limitation that exists on fuel in Gaza. We fully understand that those pressures exist, and we make representations whenever we can.

T7. What steps is the Department taking to ensure that ethnic conflict in Burma is brought to an end? Otherwise, it threatens both the stability and the development prospects of that country. (900639)

The Department is working hand in hand with the Foreign Office to play its role in improving governance and accountability, not only at regional and governmental level, but at community level, where, clearly, so many of the root causes of that situation lie.