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International Development

Volume 571: debated on Wednesday 4 December 2013

The Secretary of State was asked—


3. What recent progress has been made on the relief operation in the Philippines. 5. What recent steps the UK has taken to send aid to the Philippines. (901420)

The UK has committed more than £50 million in support to victims of Typhoon Haiyan, helping to get shelter, clean water and emergency supplies to up to 800,000 people. The UK is also expanding the international effort through the deployment of HMS Illustrious, carrying aid and medical assistance to remote communities.

I am sure that Members across the House can be proud of the UK’s contribution to the relief effort in the Philippines. Alongside the UK Government, UK charities are also playing an enormously important role. Would my right hon. Friend commend the efforts of small local UK charities such as New Hope in my constituency, which has donated all the proceeds of its Christmas party to the typhoon appeal?

I certainly would. The generosity of the UK public has been astounding. I am particularly touched by small local charities such as New Hope in Worcester that have shown their support to those affected by the devastating typhoon.

More than £13 million has been donated by the British public, who have once more demonstrated that we are a small nation with a very big heart. Will my right hon. Friend join me in recognising the extraordinary compassion of this country?

I certainly will. I think that to date the Philippines public appeal has raised well over £65 million, which shows that the British public are incredibly generous in reaching out to people who have been affected by disaster. That generosity is appreciated by people in the Philippines, and when I visited the Philippines its Foreign Minister underlined his heartfelt support to the British people.

Like Worcester’s New Hope, mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Worcester (Mr Walker), the Filipino Association in Hampshire is also making this year’s festive party a fundraiser to send money back home. What is the Department doing to help developing countries build resilience to natural disasters?

We had already commenced work with the Government of the Philippines, in particular, on disaster resilience. For some time now, the country has done work in preparing itself to cope with these natural disasters, because it is in a part of the world that is particularly prone to them. The size of the typhoon would clearly pose challenges for any country, however prepared it was. There are still lessons to be learned about better preparation, not only at national level but at local level too.

The transition from temporary shelter to permanent, well-built, robust homes can take time and cause hardship, so what is the Secretary of State doing to make sure that the process is completed as quickly and as efficiently as possible?

The hon. Gentleman is right to raise that point. It may be some time before homes that are able to withstand such natural disasters are built. In the meantime, the United Nations, working alongside the Government of the Philippines, is co-ordinating an effort to make sure that we can provide shelter for people who need it. I should also say to him, as I have been clear with the House, that this is a real challenge because many of those people live in incredibly remote communities.

May I begin, Mr Speaker, by conveying the apologies of the shadow Secretary of State, my right hon. Friend the Member for East Renfrewshire (Mr Murphy), who, as he has already informed you, is in the Philippines today? The Government have rightly activated the rapid response facility to commit funding to organisations working to help the population of the Philippines. It is now the 26th day since the typhoon hit, so what proportion of this funding has already been paid out?

As the hon. Gentleman will be aware, we allocated £8 million to a variety of UK non-governmental organisations who, as part of the facility, quickly responded with what they felt was needed. We have allocated all the money that they have requested so far. Clearly, they will then go through the process of making sure that the supplies that the money purchases get out to people on the ground. At this point, I would expect and anticipate that those supplies are largely there. In fact, as he will also be aware, we have since sent many other cargo flights of supplies which have superseded them.

Turning to another issue related to the Philippines, alarmingly the United Nations has predicted a spike in the trafficking of women and girls for sex in the areas heaviest hit, fuelled by the inevitable collapse of civic society and the widespread displacement of people following a disaster of this magnitude. What is the Secretary of State doing to protect the 65,000 women at risk of sexual abuse?

First, we are highlighting the risks to women and girls in emergencies, which is why I held an international call to action summit the very week, as it turned out, that Typhoon Haiyan hit. In respect of the particular crisis mentioned, we have sent two of our specialist humanitarian experts who are particularly specialist in this area to work with the UN and the clusters that are providing support on the ground, to ensure that not only direct, but indirect support is provided across all the work that happens.

Given the call on British development funds from the Philippines and the Central African Republic, and following the outfall from the conflict in Syria, how will the Department budget for what are, by definition, unpredictable disasters, given that it has now reached its budget ceiling?

The right hon. Gentleman is right to reflect on the number of different parts of the world facing crises of one form or another that the Department for International Development is trying to play a role in assisting. As he will know, that is just part of the uncertainties we have to deal with as a Department. We have a budget set aside for humanitarian response, and ultimately it is a flexible budget. As the right hon. Gentleman will have seen over recent days, we announced additional support for the Central African Republic, because we felt it was appropriate.

Will the Secretary of State continue to encourage DFID to work with organisations at a national level so that they can benefit from local knowledge and expertise, both in this period of reconstruction and—I am sad to say—in the event of a reoccurrence?

That is a very important point. To return to the earlier question about protecting women and girls in emergencies, working with local, community-based organisations can be the most effective way of reaching into communities and getting support to them quickly. The right hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to raise that issue, and that is one of the things we look to do.

Development Programmes

2. What steps she is taking to ensure that the interests of girls and women are central to the UK’s development programmes. (901419)

I have made girls and women a key priority for the Department. Investing in girls and women, giving them a voice, choice and control, has a transformative impact on poverty reduction and is critical to freer and fairer societies and economies. I also pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Mr Cash), who is currently taking through the House his private Member’s Bill on gender equality in international development.

The Secretary of State has touched on this point already, particularly in her response to the shadow Minister, the hon. Member for Luton South (Gavin Shuker), but will she elaborate further on humanitarian cases and how women and girls in particular can be protected in future?

That was the subject of the “keep her safe” call to action event that I hosted just a few weeks ago. Pledges of more than £40 million were made to that event. The focus is on going beyond the obvious things we can do to create safe spaces for girls and women, such as making sure that when we deliver food aid we do not increase risk to women. Simple things include lockable toilets so that women are able to go out safely, lit areas and solar panels that also act as mobile phone chargers so that girls can stay in touch with their families. It is a very practical agenda, but unfortunately it is not sufficiently delivered when we respond to crises, and that is why I am highlighting it.

The Secretary of State will be aware that the International Development Committee recently visited Burma. I was very concerned about the lack of involvement of women in the peace process there. What is the Secretary of State doing to ensure that women are part of making and keeping the peace in Burma?

I discussed that subject with Aung San Suu Kyi when she visited the UK a few weeks ago. Clearly, she is an incredibly important woman who can be involved in that peace process. Beyond that, much of the work the Department has done has been to reduce some of the ethnic tensions in various parts of Burma. The role that women play in that is obviously critical.

May I congratulate my right hon. Friend and the Under-Secretary of State for International Development, the hon. Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Lynne Featherstone) on all the work they have done in this area? May I also pay tribute to Opposition Members of all parties who have given such enormous support to my private Member’s Bill, which will be debated in Committee on 11 December?

I am very happy to take that praise. It is an important Bill. It reflects the fact that no country can develop effectively when half of its population is excluded from that development. It is a matter not just of basic rights, but of ensuring that our Department and country have sustainable development approaches.

We have many cultural differences with some of the nations that are recipients of assistance. What pressure is the Secretary of State applying to them to ensure that females are not systematically disadvantaged, despite getting aid from this nation?

We can do a variety of things. First, we can pursue grass-roots programmes, as we do in many countries, that are aimed at improving women’s chance to get a job, to be educated through the girls education challenge, and to be able to have control over their sexual and reproductive health. We need to complement that with advocacy at domestic and national Government level, but also at international level, and that is one of the things on which I have worked alongside the Foreign Secretary in raising the issue of women’s rights.

In times of disaster, women and girls are particularly vulnerable to exploitation. According to the non-governmental organisation World Vision, in Bangladesh, for example, 62% of marriages of under-18 girls between 2007 and 2011 took place in the 12 months after the disaster there. What is the Secretary of State doing to build that sort of protection into our UK development programmes and disaster planning?

That is an excellent question, and it is why we have decided to raise this issue more internationally. We need to start from the right basis to respond to crises more effectively. Protecting women and girls should not be an afterthought when a crisis hits, such as Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines; it absolutely should be one of the core priorities considered from day one. If we can do that, I believe we dramatically improve the chances of making sure that we protect girls and women over the course of a crisis as it evolves.

Aid Dependency

The best way to end aid dependency is through creating jobs, raising incomes and generating tax receipts. Since coming into the Department, I have ramped up our focus in this area and encouraged UK businesses to join the development push. Earlier this month, I took 18 companies to Tanzania to showcase development-focused opportunities for investment, and a number of significant partnerships emerged as a result.

A key sign of economic development is when a country can afford a mission to Mars. Will the Secretary of State confirm that the important projects that UK aid has funded in India will come to a natural end in 2015?

My hon. Friend is right to say that countries that are transitioning: development is taking place and, as it does, we too need to develop our approach on how we work with countries such as India. That is why I announced last year that we will move to a new type of development relationship with India, running down financial grants that are under way so that they finish by 2015 and, following on from that, having a relationship based on trade and technical assistance.

What steps is the Secretary of State taking following the Science and Technology Committee’s report on sustainable scientific aid? In particular, what is she doing to support great institutions, such as the Liverpool school of tropical medicine and the London school of hygiene and tropical medicine, that are helping with the aid programme, and to follow up our recommendations?

We have put substantial investment into research, which is sensible for understanding what works and making sure that the UK can really be at the forefront of understanding how to use technology to drive development. The hon. Gentleman will remember that the G8 particularly focused on nutrition. Many of our best institutions were involved in that event precisely because of the science and technology expertise that they offer.

The Secretary of State has done a very good job in putting sustainable development at the heart of her approach to economic development. What steps is the Department taking to promote clean energy in developing countries?

We work hand in hand with the Department of Energy and Climate Change, and the international climate fund gives us a resource base with which to help countries develop the sustainable energy system and approach they will need in the years to come. We have a real chance to make sure that we start them off on a firm footing, and that is precisely what we intend to do.

Does the Secretary of State agree that it is very difficult to have economic development if it is not possible to import and to export? In Gaza, that has left more than 1 million people on food aid, while fuel shortages mean that 3,000 people are affected by raw sewage running into the streets. What is Britain going to do in practice to end the blockade of Gaza?

We are deeply concerned about the constraints that have been placed on the Gazan economy that prevent it from creating the wealth and prosperity that would put it in a position to support public services without foreign assistance. The hon. Gentleman will be aware that there will be a Westminster Hall debate on this matter tomorrow evening. I am sure that he will want to debate it more fully with the Minister of State.

Developing Countries: Tax Collection

Tax collection is an essential element of any poor country’s development. Last month, DFID announced £6 million of funding for international projects to help poor countries with revenue collection and to combat tax evasion and avoidance.

It might surprise the House that the British overseas territories and Crown dependencies receive more foreign direct investment than Brazil, Russia, India and China combined. What more can we do to ensure that the former jurisdictions are not helping international companies to avoid paying tax to less developed nations?

At the Lough Erne summit, the Isle of Man, Guernsey and Jersey agreed automatically to exchange tax information on the basis of the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act. All the overseas territories have said that they will conclude similar agreements with the UK. A pilot in the EU is developing the practice further. If accounts are more open and less hidden, poor countries will be in a much better position to raise their own taxes.

Large multinational companies are avoiding paying tax in developing countries. Having tax transparency here can help to increase the tax receipts in those countries. When will the Government come forward with firm proposals to introduce country-by-country reporting right here in the UK?

The UK is leading by example. We are taking action to put our own house in order on this issue. We have announced that the UK will introduce new rules that require companies to obtain and hold information on their beneficial ownership. That information will be held in a central, publicly accessible registry maintained by Companies House.

Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria

7. What progress has been made on the most recent replenishment round for the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. (901424)

I am pleased to say donors have pledged $12 billion, which is an impressive 30% increase on the amount that was pledged at the 2010 replenishment conference, demonstrating global confidence in the fund. The global fund provides excellent value for money and delivers life-saving results on a global scale.

Will the Government commit to funding TB REACH at a level that allows it to continue to resource the new interventions and projects that are desperately needed to fight TB and HIV effectively?

The significant increase in DFID’s contribution to the global fund to £1 billion will contribute to the scaling up of proven TB REACH programmes that are included in the national strategic planning process. We have reviewed the mid-term evaluation of TB REACH, which shows that it is effective and that it reaches very important populations. However, given that there are so many small projects, there are concerns about sustainability and about the ability to scale up. We will obviously keep that in mind.

If left untreated, tuberculosis kills 50% of those with an active infection. Will the Minister ensure that as much funding as possible goes to the African and Asian countries where up to 80% of the population carry the latent tuberculin bacteria?

Yes, we are very keen to help the countries that have such a high burden. We are encouraging the global fund to change its remit to give more than 10% of the support to Nigeria. Interestingly, Nigeria pledged $1 billion to the global fund yesterday at the pledging conference. That is a tremendous move forward for that country.

Topical Questions

Since the last oral question session in October, I have visited the Philippines, where I witnessed at first hand the impact of Typhoon Haiyan, and to Afghanistan, where I met President Karzai. Earlier this month, I took an 18-company delegation to Tanzania to showcase the opportunities for development-focused investment. On 13 November, I chaired the call to action on protecting women and girls in emergencies. Today, I have issued a written ministerial statement that announces tough new controls on the Department’s programme management. Finally, I returned from Washington this morning, where I saw the successful replenishment of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria.

I thank the Secretary of State for that.

In the light of the Secretary of State’s decision today to shut the TradeMark Southern Africa programme due to very poor performance, what action is she taking to ensure that all programmes either deliver or, if they do not, are swiftly remedied or closed?

I have set out today in my written ministerial statement ways in which we have significantly strengthened DFID’s programme and financial management procedures. I am taking further significant steps to strengthen our approach to value for money, including on procurement and ministerial oversight of new business cases. As I inform the House in my statement, weak governance in TMSA resulted in payments amounting to £80,000 via ring-fenced accounts held by the Ministry of Agriculture in Zimbabwe from 2011. That money was used appropriately, but the payments were in contravention of Government policy, so my statement today sets out that I am expanding our internal audit capability and ensuring that when programmes fail to deliver we can spot them, take decisions on them and, if they fail to get better, stop them. [Interruption.]

Order. These are extremely serious matters affecting some of the most vulnerable people on the face of the planet. May I appeal to Members on both sides of the House to attend to the exchanges?

Last week, the Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations described the suffering of the Central African Republic’s population as “beyond imagination”. He said that the use of child soldiers and sexual violence was growing, and that the danger of a full-scale catastrophe was real. Has the Secretary of State met Ministers from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Ministry of Defence to plan conflict prevention, and will she look to use resources from the conflict pool’s early action facility to help head off a horrific civil war and the inevitable threat to human life?

We share the hon. Lady’s concern about what is happening in the Central African Republic. We have worked with the Foreign Office to examine what further steps we can take, and, as I said earlier, we have increased by £10 million the level of humanitarian assistance that we can immediately provide to that region. We will continue to consider what more we can do over the coming weeks. I also discussed the matter in Washington yesterday with the United States Agency for International Development.

T2. What more can Britain do to improve research into and diagnosis of autism spectrum conditions in developing countries? (901434)

DFID is committed to investing in education in developing countries to support all children’s learning. As our programmes on inclusive education mature, we are looking for new partners to work with us to develop innovative and effective strategies for supporting children with learning disabilities in mainstream education environments.

T4. Nearly 3 million civilians are cut off completely from aid in Syria. What is the Secretary of State doing to help those starving and desperate people? (901436)

First, the right hon. Lady will be aware that shortly after the UN General Assembly, there was finally a presidential statement on humanitarian access in Syria. It is incredibly important that we now see those commitments fulfilled. My discussions with Valerie Amos, who heads up the humanitarian arm of the UN, show that we are making progress, but the right hon. Lady is right to point out that it is a continuing challenge. If we cannot reach people in Syria, that is a breach of international humanitarian law.

T3. Many of my constituents are concerned that we still have an aid policy judged by how much we spend rather than by what the money actually delivers. Although I welcome the Secretary of State’s decision finally to end aid to India, a country that has more billionaires than Britain, will she now go further and abandon the arbitrary 0.7% of GDP target, which is equivalent to an increase of £100 a year for every family in Cannock Chase? (901435)

I think the Government have been right to honour their promise on providing 0.7% of gross national income. The challenge that we have is to ensure that it represents 100% of our national interest. That is precisely what I am doing, working with the Home Office and the MOD on stability in countries and with the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills and the Foreign Office on economic development. That makes sense to me.

T6. In Sierra Leone, good administrative arrangements are in place to combat corruption. What can the Secretary of State do to assist with political momentum to improve governance and root out corruption among politicians there? (901438)

The hon. Gentleman is right to highlight corruption as it is something for which the Department for International Development has zero tolerance. When I was at the World Bank in October I had the chance to meet briefly the Finance Minister of Sierra Leone. We are planning to work together, not least on the corruption agenda, and more broadly to ensure that we increase oversight of public finance management.

T5. The Government have a commitment to stabilising “fragile and conflict-affected states.” What is the Department doing to support the people of Kashmir in one of the most difficult and long-standing conflicts anywhere in the world? (901437)

The tri-departmental conflict pool funds joint programmes in Pakistan and India-controlled Kashmir that support human rights, conflict prevention and peace building. That is administered by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, and the UK also provides aid to Kashmir through national programmes operating in Pakistan and India.