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International Development

Volume 587: debated on Wednesday 5 November 2014

The Secretary of State was asked—

Humanitarian Needs (Gaza)

1. What plans she has to work with her international counterparts to address humanitarian needs in Gaza. (905888)

May I start by paying tribute to my right hon. Friend the Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Lynne Featherstone), who now moves over to the Home Office but did some fantastic work alongside me on the women and girls agenda, and also wish the right hon. Member for East Renfrewshire (Mr Murphy) good luck in his mission impossible as he seeks to take over Labour in Scotland?

The UK will continue to work closely with international partners to address humanitarian needs in Gaza. We have already provided over £17 million in humanitarian assistance and recently committed a further £20 million at the international donor conference in Cairo to assist those affected, including hundreds of thousands left homeless as winter approaches.

There are 1.8 million people in Gaza and it is physically smaller than the Isle of Wight. Does the Secretary of State accept that 485,000 people in Gaza need emergency food assistance and 273,000 people need school buildings for shelter and, most important of all, around 1 million people are desperate for work? What is the right hon. Lady doing about that?

My hon. Friend raises some very good points. Gaza is one of the most densely populated parts of the world. As he says, we are, of course, providing shelter and basic services to many people, but we also increasingly work on private sector support, supporting livelihoods, and the key to that in the long term is a political settlement that means the economy in Gaza can thrive normally.

Will the right hon. Lady condemn in the strongest terms the recent total closure of the Gaza border by Israel, in utter violation of the ceasefire, making it very difficult—even more difficult—for the aid she provides and the other aid for reconstruction after the terrible destruction imposed by the Israelis? This cannot go on.

We are extremely concerned about the continued restrictions, which have a tremendous effect on the Gazan economy. Of course we understand the security concerns of Israel, but ultimately we need leadership from both parties to move forward to some political settlement. We will never get to provide the long-term support to people unless we can get in and out of Gaza easily and, as the right hon. Gentleman knows, that has been a very great problem for us.

10. Will the Secretary of State join me in thanking my constituents from Lockwood, Crosland Moor and Thornton Lodge for their fundraising efforts to help address the humanitarian crisis in Gaza, and will she confirm what steps the UK is taking to aid reconstruction in Gaza following the Cairo conference? (905897)

I pay warm tribute to my hon. Friend’s constituents. They are among the millions of groups and communities around our country that do fantastic work supporting people in very difficult parts of our world. We are playing our role. Part of our announcement at the international donor conference was to make sure we can help fund some of the reconstruction that is now required in Gaza.

While I agree with the Secretary of State that a political settlement is vital, does she agree with me that there is still no excuse for Israeli forces firing on fishermen when all they are doing is trying to fish, or firing on farmers when all they are trying to do is farm their land, and what can she do to ensure that the Israeli forces stop doing this?

We are always concerned about these sorts of incidents of violence. In the end, people will have to get back around the negotiating table, and we will have to have talks that go further than the ceasefire that is currently in place. They need to get back under way in Egypt, and ultimately people need to agree that the current status quo is simply untenable, and communities on both sides need to work towards having a better future for their children than they are currently experiencing.

The Secretary of State is absolutely right that we need a political settlement, but is she concerned that, of all the money that is being given, some will be siphoned away for Hamas to build new tunnels—terror tunnels—back into Israel? What is the Secretary of State doing to ensure that British taxpayers’ money does not contribute to that?

I can categorically assure my hon. Friend that no aid money goes to Hamas. We have safeguards in place to ensure compliance with both UK and EU legislation on terror funding.

15. Given this House’s historic vote to recognise Palestine, the decision of the Swedish Government and similar debates in the French and Irish Parliaments, what work is the Secretary of State doing with Palestinian civil society and structures to prepare the state for wider recognition? (905902)

We do broad capacity-building with the Palestinian Authority. As the hon. Lady points out, there is a political element to the way forward that is the base for seeing any real progress in the long term. First, though, our focus has been on providing humanitarian support to people affected by the recent crisis, and then more broadly starting to be part of the reconstruction efforts so that we can get people back into their homes and, critically, get children back into their schools.


2. What progress her Department has made on its work with the Ministry of Defence to tackle the Ebola crisis in west Africa. (905889)

3. Whether pledges made by the international community at the “Defeating Ebola” conference in London on 2 October 2014 are being fulfilled. (905890)

The UK is leading the international response to the Ebola crisis in Sierra Leone, committing £230 million so far. We are providing 700 beds, including at the Kerry Town treatment facility that opened today, ensuring safe burials are taking place, providing more community care and helping to train health care workers. The “Defeating Ebola” conference we held in London last month generated more than £100 million of support to the overall response.

I am aware that my right hon. Friend recently visited Sierra Leone. Can she update the House on any specific projects she witnessed there that would reassure me and my constituents that we are doing all we can to fight this?

I can. We can be very proud of the role the UK is playing: both the public’s response to the recent Disasters Emergency Committee appeal, which shows the British people’s generosity, and the work the Ministry of Defence is doing. I had the chance to see the Kerry Town facility as it was nearing completion a couple of weeks ago. It is opening today to treat patients and will save lives and stop the spread of the infection.

The Secretary of State will know that the international community has a very proud record of making pledges when international crises happen, but a very poor record of delivering on the pledges. Given that every day delayed means more lives lost to the Ebola crisis, what pressure is she applying to the international community and all agencies to ensure that they deliver on their promises?

The hon. Gentleman is right to raise these issues. The UN General Assembly and World Bank meetings were good opportunities for me to raise them, as was the recent EU Council, at which the Prime Minister successfully pushed to get more than £1 billion of support. We are now seeing many of the pledges made at the London conference come through. The most recent example is that the Norwegians will now be providing health care workers to help us operate some of those core facilities.

The Secretary of State and many Members of this House will be familiar with the heartbreaking and moving diary of a young doctor from Huddersfield working in Sierra Leone. I hope she agrees that we owe Africa. Whatever we are doing, we are not doing enough: can we do more?

As I said, I think we should be proud of the work we are doing, and we are doing a huge amount. Alongside the beds we are providing, we are helping to make sure that burials can take place safely, we are scaling up the training of health care workers—800 a week are being trained by the MOD—and we are rolling out more community care. As the hon. Gentleman says, this care is often being delivered by volunteers from Sierra Leone, who are involved in safe burials, and from our own country, and we should thank them for their generosity of spirit.

Will the Secretary of State join me in thanking those dedicated workers from Sierra Leone, the UK and across the world who are risking their lives to tackle this? Will she also ensure that the UK Government’s cross-departmental working delivers a long-term legacy to Sierra Leone of a strong health service capable of preventing any such disaster from happening again?

I am pleased that my right hon. Friend has given me the chance to give a very personal thank you to my staff, who have really played a role in leading our efforts on the ground in Africa, pulling together the MOD, Public Health England, and NHS workers—who have done an amazing job—alongside our Foreign Office staff. We have nearly doubled our DFID team in Sierra Leone. Many of them are people who thought they would be doing something entirely different, but are now working round the clock to tackle Ebola. We should be proud of what we are doing. My right hon. Friend is of course right that we should also look to ensure that we can strengthen health care systems in countries such as Sierra Leone, so they are better placed in future to combat these challenges on their own.

We support the actions of this Government on Ebola, but the sluggishness of the international response raises alarming questions about the functioning of the World Health Organisation. There were warnings in April that the epidemic was unprecedented and in June that it was out of control but, amid reports of political leveraging and deliberate delay, the WHO waited until August to declare Ebola an international public health emergency. Will the Secretary of State tell me what exactly her Department has done to enact reform of the WHO since she came to office?

The hon. Gentleman will be aware that one of the principal measures that we introduced was the multilateral aid review, which looks systematically across multilateral bodies to understand whether they give the taxpayer good value for money. We will continue to do that. As he says, a key element of the Ebola crisis has been the lack of a co-ordinated response at the beginning, and we need to learn from that.

It was the fundamental lack of basic health coverage in pockets of west Africa that allowed this outbreak to go unchecked for so long. That was one element in the so-called perfect storm of Ebola. At present, the next worldwide deal on development calls merely for healthy lives and well-being, so will the Secretary of State now go further in strengthening the language of the stand-alone goal on health? Will she match the Labour party’s commitment to universal, guaranteed health care for all?

This Government have finally honoured the UK’s commitment to spending 0.7% of our gross national income on aid, and we have significantly increased our spend in relation to providing critical health care. I can assure the hon. Gentleman that we are also playing a leading role in ensuring that the post-2015 development framework does indeed get great health outcomes for people in developing countries.

Disabled People: Aid Programmes

4. What steps her Department is taking to ensure that people with disabilities benefit from UK aid programmes. (905891)

First, may I say that my right hon. Friend the Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Lynne Featherstone) was a champion for this brief and for disabled people in the most vulnerable countries in the world? We are publishing a framework on 3 December, because we are determined that disabled people will benefit from UK aid.

I am delighted to hear that we are going to publish the disability framework on 3 December. How will it ensure that disabled people—particularly those with learning and intellectual disabilities —are systematically and consistently included in UK aid programmes?

I ask my hon. Friend to show some patience until 3 December. What I can tell him is that we have consulted widely and undertaken to quadruple the number of staff working on this. We have also appointed a senior management champion. With respect to mental health and disability, we are funding a major study in Asia and Africa to see what works in poorly resourced countries.

Will the Minister assure the House that the Department for International Development will continue to focus on supporting excellent advocacy groups such as the one I met in Angola, where people are suffering from the effects of land mines? That is a very useful thing to do.

I hope that I will be able to give the right hon. Gentleman that assurance. Perhaps he would like to meet me to discuss the work of that non-governmental organisation.

Our troops have been withdrawn from Afghanistan, but there remains a legacy of unexploded ordnance and many disabled Afghans. Will the Minister tell the House what DFID will be doing to help those who suffer disability as a result of the armaments left by several conflicts in that poor country?

We will continue to work with the Halo Trust to dispose of that ordnance. Equally, we have an ongoing commitment to Afghanistan and to providing aid to deal with the problems that my right hon. Friend has mentioned.

I welcome the Minister’s commitment to improving the lives of people with disabilities in developing countries. To that end, will he support the proposal for a stand-alone goal on inequality in the post-2015 framework?

We have so far succeeded in ensuring that that goal will be included on the post-2015 agenda—I think it is remiss that it does not already exist as part of the development goals—and we are determined to keep it there as the discussions proceed.

Sustainable Development

5. What recent discussions she has had with her international counterparts on including climate justice in future sustainable development goals. (905892)

I regularly discuss the sustainable development goals with my international counterparts, most recently doing so with the Secretary-General of the United Nations, Ban Ki-moon, at the UN General Assembly. Of course, ensuring that environmental sustainability and climate change are integrated into the sustainable development goals is a key priority for the UK Government.

I thank the Secretary of State for that response. Does it mean she supports the inclusion of climate change or a climate-related sustainable development goal as a stand-alone goal, or is this just something that she sees factored into other elements that will be in the goals?

We think that making sure we have targets on areas such as climate change is vital. We also recognise that millennium development goal 7, on sustainable development, was ineffective, because people did not focus on it and it needed to be better mainstreamed into the rest of the framework. It is important that we focus on ensuring that sustainability is mainstreamed right the way through the post-2015 framework.

Climate change disproportionately affects the poorest people in the world, so will the Secretary of State act on the calls of supporters of Christian Aid, including those from St Andrew’s church in Chippenham who met me recently, to do what she can to help make sure that next year’s Paris climate talks deliver an agreement that will tackle this threat and look after the very people her Department seeks to help?

My hon. Friend is right to say that next year’s meeting in Paris is crucial to finally getting the international deal we need to tackle climate change. He will also be aware of a lot of the work my Department does on helping people cope with and adapt to the problems of climate change. The poor are always hit hardest and hit first by climate change, and they have the least wherewithal then to get their lives back on track.


I thank the Minister for that answer. As I am sure he will recognise, last week’s welcome election result showed that Tunisia, where the Arab spring started, is a beacon of hope in the region. Will his Department prioritise support for Tunisia, to help it to make further progress and provide a working example of how real change can take place in that region?

I entirely endorse the right hon. Gentleman’s description of the progress Tunisia has made, and it is important that we keep that progress going. We have spent some £10 million in Tunisia since 2011, the European Union has a budget of €169 million this year, and there is money from the International Monetary Fund and other sources. We will continue to watch this brief.

Some excellent work has been done to support politics in Tunisia, particularly by an organisation called Forward Thinking. I hope that that would come within the remit of the Department’s funding scheme.

There are particular issues affecting the people of Tunisia that do not affect other north African countries. Does the Minister agree that we should build on bilateral relationships between Tunisia and the UK, and strengthen those links between the two nations?

I agree with the hon. Gentleman, and we are straining to do that. Principally, Tunisia is very close to Libya, and that presents a significant difficulty.

Topical Questions

A fortnight ago, I visited Sierra Leone to see how Britain is helping that country battle Ebola and the part we are playing. Today, the first of six new UK Ebola treatment facilities opens to patients in Kerry Town. Last month, I attended the World Bank annual meetings in Washington, where the UK hosted several successful economic development events. I met UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and World Bank president Jim Yong Kim to discuss the post-2015 development goals and the global response to the Ebola crisis. On Monday, I made a speech to the Family Planning 2020 event, where I set out how commitments we made at the London summit on family planning two years ago are delivering real progress.

Recent rains and a huge effort have temporarily assisted millions of people threatened by famine in South Sudan. Will my right hon. Friend update the House as to how she sees the situation now and whether she thinks food stocks in South Sudan are going to last beyond December or January?

My right hon. Friend is right to raise this issue. We have committed £42.5 million now to support refugees in the region; there are estimates that their number might rise to more than 700,000 by the end of the year, and 1.5 million are at risk of food insecurity. It is crucial that we make sure we have the humanitarian assistance in place to support these people.

The first problem with DFID’s inaction on corruption highlighted by last week’s report from the Independent Commission for Aid Impact is that the watchdog tells us that DFID’s objectives are

“not focused on the poor”.

The commission’s recommendations demand that DFID establish a new unit specifically to drive out this curse. Will the Secretary of State do so—yes or no?

DFID does a huge amount of work tackling corruption. The One campaign said:

“The UK has a strong reputation for getting its own house in order on anti-corruption”,

so we do not need to take lectures from the Labour party. I can assure the hon. Lady that our strategy is also about tackling corruption upstream. Work that we have done in Nigeria, for example, with anti-corruption agencies has helped recover £1.5 billion and supported more than 2,500 corruption cases being brought.

T5. Given the recent withdrawal of British troops from Afghanistan, can my right hon. Friend reflect on the key achievements of her Department in development in Afghanistan over the past decade? (905867)

We have provided health care access to millions of people, particularly women, who have never had it before. We have seen girls getting into school and having opportunities to pursue their lives in a way that they never had before. We have brought livelihood support to people, provided humanitarian support and worked to strengthen the Government in Afghanistan to enable them to deliver for their people in the long term. We should be hugely proud of the work that DFID has done, as well as being proud of the work that our brave servicemen and women have done.

T2. Millions of children face violence every day, with both boys and girls suffering from abuse and exploitation. UNICEF’s children in danger campaign makes a powerful case for this to be a priority, so will the Secretary of State agree to push for a target to end all forms of violence against children to be included in the global development goals currently being negotiated? (905864)

The hon. Lady makes a very good point. The UK is one of the leading donors to UNICEF; we recognise how important its work with children is. We are looking particularly at the vulnerability of children in Sierra Leone as many of them are orphaned as a result of the Ebola crisis.

T6. The Secretary of State will be as alarmed as I am that President Kirchner of Argentina is purchasing 24 new fighter bombers at a time that Argentina is going cap in hand to the World Bank, expecting UK taxpayer money to prop up its failing economy. Will Her Majesty’s Government veto any attempt by Argentina to obtain more funds from the World Bank and urge our European allies and the United States to follow us in that veto? (905868)

My hon. Friend will be pleased to know that I toughened up our policy in precisely that way several months ago. We do, therefore, take that stance and have been lobbying others. Unlike the Opposition, we do not want to see aid going to countries that do not need it or will misspend it. For example, under Labour Britain gave £83 million to China in 2007-08, the very year that China spent £20 billion hosting the Olympics.

T3. While £600 million of UK aid is being channelled through the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition—[Interruption.] What steps is the Secretary of State taking to ensure that the new alliance does not bully countries such as Ghana into passing legislation that is designed to restrict local farmers’ ability to save and exchange locally produced seed, making them dependent on a few big suppliers and decreasing biodiversity? (905865)

Order. It is quite difficult for people to hear the question. It is very important that the Secretary of State should hear it. These are extremely serious matters that we are discussing. Let us show some courtesy towards each other.

The hon. Lady is right that as part of the new alliance, it is vital that we see support for smallholder farmers alongside the broader work that is taking place to strengthen agriculture in many of those countries that she has spoken about. It is part of an economic strategy as well as a food security strategy and it is immensely important.

T7. Given the recent success of the Somali peace process, does my right hon. Friend agree that her aid programme for that country now needs to concentrate on building up the private sector and wealth creation? (905869)

My hon. Friend will be aware that one of the things that DFID is doing more than ever before is work on economic development. It is vital that we help people and countries end aid dependency through jobs.

T4. I am delighted that the Secretary of State has been to Sierra Leone, but does she realise that even though I have begged the Leader of the House, we still have not had a major debate on Ebola? We owe that to Africa. When are we going to move? When are we going to debate it in this House and when are we going to do more? (905866)

The hon. Gentleman will be delighted to hear that there is an Adjournment debate on Ebola tonight, and oral questions provide a great opportunity to discuss and debate the work we are doing.

China has been very willing to exploit commercial opportunities and raw materials in Africa, but it has committed fewer funds to fighting Ebola than the UK has, despite having a GDP that is four times larger. Will the Government encourage China to live up to its responsibilities in Africa as well as exploiting the opportunities?

It is important that countries such as China work alongside other members of the international community that are leading the fight, such as the UK, to ensure that we bear down on Ebola. We are working directly with the Chinese, but it is important that all countries step up and do more.