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International Development

Volume 582: debated on Wednesday 18 June 2014

The Secretary of State was asked—

Syria

May I start by offering the apologies of my right hon. Friend the Minister of State, who is unable to attend questions today as he is overseas on departmental business?

The UK’s total funding for Syria and the region is now £600 million. To date, the Department for International Development has allocated just under £250 million to partners working in Syria, which has helped hundreds of thousands in dire need of assistance. A significant element of UK aid inside Syria is now being delivered by non-governmental organisations directly from neighbouring countries across Syria’s borders.

The Minister will recognise that the UK is making a significant contribution to the Syrian crisis, yet UN and other agencies estimate that there is still a shortfall of around $5 billion in required investment. What steps can she take to encourage partner agencies and other countries to step up to the plate and contribute as well?

The right hon. Gentleman is right. We can be proud of the Government’s role; we are the second largest country donor providing assistance. He is right that we need to see more countries in the region and internationally stepping up to the plate and putting their hands in their pockets to help to provide assistance to those in the region who are in such dire need.

What support is being given to British nationals, as well as their families, who have been injured in Syria in support of relief action?

There is always consular assistance for those who have been injured overseas. I am not aware of any British nationals being injured, but my hon. Friend is right to point out that a number of humanitarian workers have been injured and—I think I am right in saying—more than 40 killed while delivering aid to people inside Syria.

I am grateful for the letter that the Secretary of State sent to me on the subject of Syria. She referred to the demands of the Security Council to grant rapid, safe and unhindered access to those in need inside Syria and to the continued use of siege and starvation tactics as a weapon of war. What exactly are we doing at the Security Council to try to resolve this impasse? I know her Department is doing various other things, but we really ought to be pushing the Security Council hard.

The right hon. Lady is right. I discussed this matter with Baroness Amos, who heads up the UN agency tackling humanitarian assistance. It has now presented its third report to the UN Security Council, outlining grave concerns about the Syrian regime’s defiance, in many respects, of the resolution on allowing humanitarian access. Our role is to continue to push and to look at ways we can remove some of the barriers that the regime is putting in place as excuses to stop aid getting through.

As the conflict in Syria spills over into Iraq, the Red Crescent estimates that up to 500,000 additional people may have been displaced from their homes. What are the Government doing to anticipate and resource the emerging humanitarian needs in the region?

The hon. Lady is quite right, and nearly 250,000 Syrian refugees have crossed the border into Iraq, to which we were already providing some support. She may be aware that I have announced an initial £3 million of humanitarian support. In addition, I am proud that a DFID team was one of the first on the ground, having been sent out last Thursday to assess need and work directly with UN agencies setting up the camps that are now required.

The Syrian conflict is in its fourth year, and we have seen the re-emergence of polio, the use of chemical weapons and the slaughter of innocents, with entire cities under siege. With the world’s focus rightly on neighbouring Iraq, this is a conflict that still demands our attention. What assessment has the Secretary of State made of proposals from the normally recalcitrant Russians to open four border crossings to help the vast numbers of people in need of humanitarian aid?

We have to ensure that the Syrian crisis does not become a forgotten crisis and that the refugees and those affected in Syria are not forgotten in the midst of the crisis now emerging in Iraq. In response to the right hon. Member for Cynon Valley (Ann Clwyd), I alluded to independent monitors checking aid in cross-border areas, which is one of the issues on which we are looking to work with the Russians. One of the issues raised by the Syrian Government is that they do not always believe that cross-border aid is inappropriate—in fact, they do not agree with it. We have to push for cross-border aid, because there is no other way of getting to the people in need inside Syria.

Some people who fled the Syrian conflict into Iraq are, heartbreakingly, now fleeing the Iraq crisis back into Syria. Some 200,000 Syrians have fled into Kurdish Iraq and now 300,000 internally displaced persons have fled the ISIS advance into Iraqi Kurdistan, so what assessment has the Secretary of State and her Department made of the additional humanitarian support now required by the Kurdish authorities to deal with this double crisis that they now face?

Around 95% of the Syrian refugees who had fled into Iraq are themselves Kurdish in origin. In total over recent weeks, around 1 million people have been displaced within Iraq itself. As I set out earlier, a three-person team went out last Thursday: two of them are working directly with the Government of Kurdistan to discover what we can do to help that regional Government to respond; the other is working with the UN to help set up the camps. As with the refugees from the crisis in Syria, most displaced people are staying in host communities rather than in camps, which are very limited in the facilities they can provide.

Post-2015 Development Framework

The UK objective for post-2015 is to agree a simple, inspiring, measurable set of goals centred on eradicating extreme poverty that should finish the job that the millennium development goals started. The goal should be outcome focused, measuring reductions in preventable death and disease and giving women and girls sexual and reproductive health rights

Despite progress on reducing maternal mortality and promoting universal access to reproductive health, this remains the slowest of the millennium development goals. Will the Secretary of State explain why DFID supported fewer women to give birth with the support of nurse, midwife or doctor in 2012-13 than it did in 2011-12?

Overall, I think we can be proud of the fact that we are the first Government to live up to the commitment to spend 0.7% of our gross national income on international development, and that includes doing more work on health. We are, for example, increasing our spend on key health areas such as malaria, pledging up to £1 billion of support to the global health fund. I can assure the hon. Lady that tackling maternal mortality remains a core part of my Department’s work and that we are pressing for a comprehensive health goal and target as part of the post-2015 framework.

The Secretary of State will be aware that HIV/AIDS remains one of the world’s greatest public health challenges. While over 10 million people from low to middle-income countries are receiving antiretroviral treatment, about another 20 million are not. What is the right hon. Lady doing about this issue, and how will it be taken up in the millennium development goals process?

I can very clear that we want to see an HIV, TB and malaria goal as being part of the health goal; we want to see specific targets on tackling those diseases. The hon. Gentleman will be aware that the incidence of HIV has grown, largely because people are now able to survive it. We must work harder to ensure that we reduce incidence and do more on prevention.

How does the Secretary of State intend to achieve these health goals when a third of the health care delivery projects that started on her Government’s watch are falling short? Schemes in Montserrat, Uganda, Bangladesh, Mozambique, Pakistan, Zimbabwe, Sierra Leone and Somalia—schemes totalling nearly £0.5 billion—are failing. What does she intend to do to transform those projects and prove that universal coverage is not only desirable but achievable?

I am pleased that the hon. Gentleman is setting out just a small number of the many health programmes that the Department has under way. One of the key things I have done over the past year has been to strengthen our programme management and increase the focus on getting results for the Department. I can assure him that there is a heavy focus on achieving all the goals that we set ourselves. We set out the results very clearly when we came into government, because we felt that there was not a clear enough focus on impact under the last Government.

Economic Institutions

3. What work her Department is undertaking in support of governance, the rule of law and building stable economic institutions. (904295)

My Department supports governance and the rule of law by supporting democratic governance, tackling corruption, increasing tax revenues, improving security and justice for all and strengthening civil society. My Department helps to build stable economic institutions by reducing barriers to doing business and supporting property rights.

I thank my right hon. Friend for that reply. Will she say a little more about how she is working through the Commonwealth on sub-Saharan Africa and particularly Nigeria to promote those aims?

We are doing a significant amount of work in Commonwealth countries and indeed through the Commonwealth. In recent weeks, of course, we have seen some challenges to stability in northern Nigeria, and most of our work in the country is focused on the north. We are one of the few donors delivering education—in the long term, of course, one of the best ways of achieving stability.

Yemen is a fragile state that faces daily attacks from al-Qaeda on the south Arabian peninsula. What support is the Government providing to help it to build up its institutions?

As the right hon. Gentleman will know, we have provided various forms of support in recent years. Some of it has, of course, been humanitarian, but we are also providing political and technical advice. My right hon. Friend the Minister of State spends a great deal of time in Yemen and the surrounding region personally ensuring that our relationship is not only strong but productive. We hope that, with a new Government in place, Yemen can achieve the reforms that it needs to achieve to stabilise its economy, and, in doing so, can embark on a better development track for the future.

In unstable regions, much good work can be undone by conflict. South Sudan is a new nation. How are we ensuring that our development efforts there are built on firm foundations of good governance?

We have an incredibly difficult job to do in Sudan. Again, much of our work has been focused on humanitarian support. We have tried to strengthen institutions as well, but I think we all recognise that, given the political situation, we face a real challenge and a long-term job. Ultimately, political leadership will be needed in South Sudan itself.

DFID provides support and assistance on the ground in Colombia, where state forces continue to ride roughshod over human rights and extra-judicial killings of civil activists are taking place. Will the Secretary of State make representations to the Colombian Government about human rights abuses, and will she specifically raise our concerns about Martha Diaz and David Flórez?

I am sure that the Foreign Office will note what the hon. Gentleman has said, and will indeed make representations. As he knows, DFID itself does not have a country programme in Colombia, but I will pass on his comments to the Foreign Office.

Cuba

DFID has no plans to establish a bilateral aid programme with Cuba. We provide assistance through our share of contributions to multilateral agencies, and the British embassy provides some funding to promote economic development.

Look, I understand why we do not wish to aid Cuba generally—it still has many political prisoners, for instance—but the Minister knows as well as I do that it has a good national health service for its citizens, which, because of a lack of foreign exchange, is unable to buy modern drugs. Surely we can target aid in that area without actually assisting the Cuban Government.

I am afraid that we cannot do as my hon. Friend wishes. We carried out bilateral and multilateral aid reviews to help us to determine where our aid was best focused, and the results did not include Cuba, so we have no plans to give it any bilateral aid.

Thailand

5. What programmes are sponsored by her Department in Thailand to reintroduce democracy and support the rule of law. (904297)

The United Kingdom has been encouraging commitment to democracy and rule of law in Thailand following the coup. The Government are liaising closely with EU partners and others on a united response. DFID does not have a programme in Thailand, because it is an upper middle-income country.

The Oxford development economist Paul Collier has charted the way in which aid can, in fact, increase the risk of a military coup. What action is DFID taking, bilaterally or through multilateral engagement with Thailand, to send the unequivocal message that democratic governance must be restored?

As I have said, DFID does not have a bilateral aid programme in Thailand, but the UK is working closely with EU and others in the international community, including our ambassador in Thailand, to secure commitment to the values of democracy and the rule of law in the interests of Thailand’s peace and stability.

As the Minister will know, much concern has been expressed about arbitrary detentions and restrictions on the media and the right to protest in Thailand. While I appreciate that DFID does not fund Thailand directly and has no aid programme in the country, the Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the right hon. Member for East Devon (Mr Swire), said on 25 May that owing to the current political situation there, the Government would have to review the scope of their co-operation with it. Was DFID involved in those discussions?

The hon. Member is absolutely right. We are particularly concerned by the restrictions on freedom of assembly, association and expression, and by the large number of arbitrary detentions. However, this is an FCO lead, so we do not make those particular representations.

The Minister has indicated that we do not have an aid programme with Thailand, but are the Government reviewing aid programmes in the general region, as they may be affected by the coup in Thailand and people moving from Thailand across the border?

We obviously keep a watching brief on the region, and in fact at the moment it is the other way round, because some funding from our Burmese programme is supporting the Burmese refugee camps in Thailand. At the moment, from what we can see the coup does not seem to be having any impact outside the country.

Female Genital Mutilation

Female genital mutilation is violence against women and girls. The UK has made the largest donor commitment ever to help end FGM, with a flagship programme of £35 million in at least 17 countries. The Prime Minister will host a summit in July that will step up global efforts to end both FGM and child, early and forced marriage within a generation.

I thank my hon. Friend for her comments and her efforts on this. Does she agree with many of the people who have given evidence to the Select Committee on Home Affairs saying that we should ensure all children in the UK are taught about FGM and the fact that it is not allowed, and that we should not allow parents to take their children out of such classes, because children whose parents would not want them to know are exactly the children we need to target?

I thank my hon. Friend. He raises a critical issue. When I went to Burkina Faso, one of the leading countries in Africa in tackling and reducing FGM, I visited a school to watch an FGM lesson. It is part of the curriculum there, and I do believe that this needs to be a required part of the curriculum here in high-prevalence areas. In a recent speech on development, the Deputy Prime Minister made a commitment both to this and to giving support to the front-line professionals, because we know from the helpline of the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children that professionals need support and training.

Does my hon. Friend agree that female genital mutilation is part of a much wider issue of cultures where gender equality is not recognised, and will she take every opportunity possible when contacting countries where this applies to further the cause of gender equality?

I thank my hon. Friend for that question and I can assure her that I do take every opportunity to raise the issue, because these social norms, which oppress and suppress women and have been going for 4,000 years, are really because of women’s low status in the world in terms of rights and of voice, choice and control over their own lives.

Nepal

7. What effect the formation of the new Government in Nepal will have on her Department’s programmes in that country. (904299)

My right hon. Friend the Minister of State for International Development visited Nepal in February, where he met with Mr Sushil Koirala, now the Nepalese Prime Minister, and assured him of the UK’s ongoing commitment to development. We will continue to support the new Government to improve the lives of the poorest people in Nepal.

It is clear that a new constitution is an essential step in ensuring political stability. The UK provided support to Nepal’s elections last year, and we stand ready to provide continued support to the constitution-drafting process. We are also encouraging the Nepalese Government and political parties to hold local elections, and that sits alongside the work we are doing on livelihoods and education and basic service provision.

Topical Questions

I would like to take this opportunity to update the House on my Department’s response to the situation in Iraq. DFID rapidly deployed a team of humanitarian assessors to Erbil in Iraq last Thursday. On Saturday, I announced a £3 million package of UK relief comprising £2 million via the rapid response facility mechanism to help tens of thousands of Iraqi women, men and children get clean water, medicine and sanitation and £1 million to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees to provide mobile protection teams to support vulnerable women and girls.

My right hon. Friend will be aware of the very serious outbreak of Ebola hemorrhagic virus in west Africa. What steps is her Department taking to assist Governments in the region to deal with this very serious issue?

I can assure my hon. and learned Friend that the Department for International Development is closely monitoring the situation. He has raised this question with me in the past. We are finalising funding to the World Health Organisation to respond to the national Ebola emergency response proposal through training, the use of surveillance tools, the purchase of infection control equipment and the provision of global expertise. We are also working with non-governmental organisation partners to make sure that people are well aware of the outbreak that is taking place in the region. [Interruption.]

Order. There is quite a lot of noise. Let us have a bit of courteous attention to a Member of 27 years standing, Mr Paul Flynn.

T3. The Newport NATO summit is likely to be an event of great political significance. What work is the Secretary of State doing in her Department to ensure that the important issues of international development are prominent on the agenda? (904285)

The hon. Gentleman has raised a pertinent question. Over recent years, we have really understood just how stability in countries is critical for development to take place. If we look at the millennium development goals, we can see that none has been achieved by countries in conflict. It is why we increasingly work with not only the Foreign Office but the Ministry of Defence in helping to have programmes that can give us the best prospect of stability.

T2. Will my right hon. Friend give the House an update on DFID’s work in Nepal and on what the Government are doing to help with its infrastructure and to support its economic development? (904284)

The UK is building vital new roads and bridges and helping Nepal to bring in foreign investment, including on hydro power. In the past three years, UK aid has created 150,000 jobs and built or maintained more than 4,000 km of roads in Nepal.

T5. Is it still part of DFID’s strategy to try to reduce opium production in Helmand province, and if it is, can we have an update on the progress? (904287)

I share the hon. Gentleman’s passion for ensuring that our development work in Afghanistan is effective. He will be aware that we have done a significant amount of work in relation to livelihoods and economic development both in Kabul and, critically, out in Helmand. I am happy to write to him with further details on that.

T4. I warmly welcome the allocation of £3 million by the rapid response facility to help those who are fleeing persecution in Iraq. Will that money be used to help those who are not only fleeing within the country but crossing national frontiers? (904286)

The £3 million will predominantly be used to support Iraqi refugees who are now displaced by the fighting. I can assure my hon. Friend that we are also providing support to Syrian refugees who have crossed over into Iraq as well.

T6. Will my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State update us on the welcome announcement that the green investment bank will now work with the International Climate Fund to bring expertise to developing countries, which will be an important target for export markets for UK plc? (904288)

I hope that we can all agree that the green investment bank, which was established by this Government, has been an excellent way of not only tackling our own domestic issues around climate change but, increasingly, looking at how we can use that institution to further our development aims in that regard too.

T8. With an estimated 9 million people displaced from their homes in Syria, is it right that under the vulnerable persons relocation scheme just 24 Syrians have come to the UK in the past six months? (904290)

This is an important scheme that enables us not just to provide support to people in the region—the overwhelming majority of them are still there—but to be one of those countries that provides a haven for people who need to be removed from the region and supported here in the UK. I am proud that we have that programme in place. We expect several hundred to benefit from it, and I can assure the hon. Lady that it is up and running.

T10. Given that the unity Government of Palestine have unequivocally endorsed the Quartet principles, will the Secretary of State confirm that she will robustly continue DFID’s financial support to them, or even increase it? (904292)

We will continue to provide support to the Palestinian people. The UK has welcomed the formation of the new interim technocratic Government. We have also made it clear that our continued support for that new Government will rest on their commitment to the principles of non-violence and their acceptance of all previous agreements and obligations, including Israel’s legitimate right to exist.

T9. Because of the Government’s inconsistent policies, Britain’s relationships with Rwanda are fraying. What is being done to rebuild those relationships, particularly given the problems in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo? (904291)

I returned from Rwanda just over a week ago and I can assure the hon. Gentleman that relations are good. Rwanda is an exemplar in terms of development, but I had to raise the issue of political space and other human rights issues.