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Topical Questions

Volume 589: debated on Wednesday 17 December 2014

This morning I returned from Sierra Leone, where I saw the latest British treatment centre to open, in Port Loko. As I have said, I announced new protection and support for children affected by the Ebola crisis, working with UNICEF. We are now providing 882 Ebola treatment and safe isolation beds across Sierra Leone, and I am incredibly proud of the work that our health workers, troops, soldiers and humanitarian staff are doing and will continue to do through the Christmas period. Alongside that, on 4 December the UK and Afghanistan co-hosted the London conference on Afghanistan.

The Secretary of State will be aware that the refugee crisis in Syria, involving 10 million refugees, is probably the worst in our lifetime, yet this Government’s programme has taken in only 90 refugees in the past year. Will the Secretary of State look again at engaging with the United Nations programme and getting more of those people out?

I have spoken directly with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees lead, Antonio Guterres, about this. We also have discussions with our Home Office colleagues on the progress of that scheme. Our aim has been to help people to do what they want to do, which is to get support where they are, outside Syria, but also to have the prospect of returning home, which is what the overwhelming majority want to do.

T2. Will the Secretary of State tell us what her Department has done to address the serious and well-documented allegations of bribery and violence committed by SOCO International in the Virunga national park in the Democratic Republic of the Congo? (906699)

We are aware of those serious allegations. I expect SOCO, as a British-listed company, to adhere to the highest standards. In June this year, SOCO and the WWF announced that it would complete the existing programme of work at Virunga and then not undertake or commission exploratory or other drilling within the national park unless UNESCO and the Government of the DRC agreed to it. [Interruption.]

Order. There is far too much noise in the Chamber. It is quite difficult to hear the Secretary of State’s replies. We want to hear them and the questions.

The Prime Minister co-chaired the United Nations High Level Panel on sustainable development goals, yet last month Tory MEPs joined forces with UKIP to vote against the sustainable development goals to tackle climate change, tax avoidance and inequality. Will the Secretary of State join me in condemning them for doing that?

The hon. Lady is right to point out that our country and our Prime Minister have played a leading role in helping to shape the debate and to create a successful post-2015 framework that will include a sustainability theme as well as tackling the things that undermine development, such as problems with the rule of law and corruption.

I notice that the Secretary of State failed to condemn her Tory colleagues in the European Parliament for that vote. The typhoon that hit the Philippines nine days ago reminds us of the threat that climate change poses to the world’s poorest people. She is spending £2.4 billion of British taxpayers’ money on helping vulnerable people to adapt to climate change, yet neither she nor any Minister from her Department attended the Lima climate change conference last weekend. Why on earth not?

The hon. Lady will be aware that the Government were represented by the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change. I should also like to update the House. Since Typhoon Haiyan hit the Philippines last year, we have done a huge amount of work with the Government there, and that is one of the reasons that they were better prepared to cope with the storm that came in recently. I am proud of the work that our DFID staff have done. [Interruption.]

T3. Following the appalling atrocity in Peshawar yesterday, will my right hon. Friend pledge that any aid that we give to Pakistan will be directed towards improving governance, ending corruption and fighting the root causes of radicalisation in madrassahs and elsewhere? (906700)

I can tell my right hon. Friend that our programme is very much focused on enhancing the stability of Pakistan, and that one of our largest efforts relates to education, which in the long term provides one the best assurances of stability. He will be aware that we work directly with the Pakistan tax revenue authority to ensure that tax that is due can be collected. That is a key way in which we can tackle corruption.

T6. Yesterday’s shocking events in Pakistan illustrate that children are not safe from violence even when they are in school. UNICEF UK has highlighted the fact that a child dies from violence somewhere in the world every five minutes. Will the Secretary of State seek to secure a global target to end violence against children in the new set of sustainable development goals, so that children around the world will no longer fear horrendous acts of violence such as the one we saw yesterday? (906704)

I should also say that I send my deepest sympathies to the victims and their families who have been affected by this terrible tragedy in Pakistan. It is unthinkable that so many children could have been caught up, deliberately, in a terrorist act of this nature. I assure the hon. Gentleman that the work the Government are doing is very much aimed at enhancing the protection of children. Only yesterday, I announced support for orphans and children affected by the Ebola crisis, but it is part of a much bigger policy agenda and investment that we undertake to make sure we support children.

T4. What steps is the Department taking to reduce the number of refugees attempting to flee their home countries? (906701)

We rightly use development assistance to build up the institutions and the conditions that minimise the types of conflict, instability and state failure that lead people to becoming refugees and internally displaced in the first place.