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International Development

Volume 592: debated on Wednesday 4 February 2015

The Secretary of State was asked—

Gaza

1. What assessment she has made of the effectiveness of the tripartite mechanism for the reconstruction of Gaza. (907427)

We are supporting the temporary Gaza reconstruction mechanism to facilitate the import of construction materials into Gaza. Almost 40,000 people have now been able to buy materials to repair their homes. There is still a lot more to do, but the mechanism is a step in the right direction.

Does the Secretary of State agree that the UN needs to take action to ensure that all the building materials going into Gaza are used to alleviate the dire conditions of the Gazan people, rather than diverted by Hamas for military purposes?

The right hon. Lady is quite right to raise that as an issue to be considered. There is no evidence at the moment to suggest that what she is worried about is happening. In addition, part of our support for the reconstruction mechanism has been to fund a monitoring process so that the right checks can be made to avoid such things happening.

I listened carefully to what the Secretary of State has said. How on earth does she know that Hamas is not using such material to build tunnels for terrorist purposes? How do we know?

There is a mechanism to check and control the materials as they come into Gaza. My hon. Friend is quite right to raise the very difficult issues involved in reconstruction. Even with the mechanism in place, we expect reconstruction to take two to three years. Ultimately, the alternative to not using this sensible mechanism is for Gazans who have been forced out of their homes and have lost their homes simply to have nowhere to live. That situation is clearly not sustainable—it would certainly not be good for the many children who live in Gaza—and we are therefore right to be taking action to address it.

Has the right hon. Lady seen early-day motion 746, standing in my name and those of other right hon. and hon. Members from both sides of the House? It salutes the Big Ride from Edinburgh to London by 1,000 cyclists, which will take place later this year to provide funds for the Middle East Children’s Alliance, a non-profit organisation dedicated to helping deprived children who are war victims in Gaza. The right hon. Lady has an admirable record on this issue. Is she willing to give her support to the Big Ride?

I was not aware of the early-day motion that the right hon. Gentleman mentions. I will certainly take a look at it. It sounds as if it is a very valuable fundraising effort. As I have set out, we are absolutely determined to play our part in supporting the Palestinian Authority to enable it steadily to rebuild after the conflict in Gaza.

Many of my constituents, including a group called Knighton Action for Peace and Justice, have grave concerns about the humanitarian situation in Gaza. How are the Government using their influence to encourage Israel and Palestine to reach a more satisfactory agreement about water resources in the occupied territories?

A significant amount of infrastructure was damaged during the crisis over the summer. Part of the £20 million we committed at the reconstruction conference attended by my right hon. Friend the Minister of State is to help to replace the infrastructure that has been lost. All the discussion and debate we can have today is simply palliative while a long-term political settlement is being reached, which is the only thing that can in the end improve the long-term prospects of people living in that part of the world.

Some 100,000 homes were destroyed or damaged in the most recent crisis in Gaza, and flooding, heavy snow and plummeting temperatures have now intensified the terrible conditions faced by Palestinian men, women and children. While I was in the Occupied Palestinian Territories last month people were literally freezing to death because they struggled to get hold of the materials they need to rebuild. Will the Secretary of State explain why her Government pledged £20 million to help such efforts, but have so far disbursed only a quarter of that figure?

It is important that the hon. Gentleman reflects on the broader assistance that we provide. As he will be aware, over the summer we provided £17 million of emergency assistance. I have talked about the £20 million that we have pledged to the Gaza reconstruction mechanism, which we are in the process of delivering. He will be aware that from 2011 to 2014, we pledged significant resources of about £350 million. We are one of the leading supporters of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, which provides key day-to-day services. He is right to draw attention to the conditions in which people are living. That is why we provide so much support, of which I am sure he is supportive.

Commonwealth Multilateral Agencies

2. What support her Department has provided to Commonwealth multilateral agencies since May 2010; and whether she plans to change the funding her Department provides to those organisations. (907428)

Since 2009, DFID has provided £180 million to six Commonwealth organisations. The budget is some £50 million this year and it will remain so in the next financial year.

The diversity of the Commonwealth of nations is part of its strength. Programmes such as the Commonwealth scholarships and the Local Government Forum build on that by supporting education and the exchange of best practice among Commonwealth citizens and Governments. Does the Minister agree that at a time of rising extremism, both political and religious, in a number of Commonwealth countries, the contribution of those programmes should be celebrated and extended to build shared values and understanding?

I absolutely agree with the hon. Lady. Looking at the budget, the scholarship fund currently runs at £23.6 million and next year it will be £23.6 million. There is no cut whatsoever—rejoice!

Developing World (Humanitarian Assistance)

3. What steps she is taking to target humanitarian assistance at the poorest children in the developing world. (907429)

We work with agencies such as UNICEF and Save the Children to meet the immediate needs of children, but our key agenda is to link humanitarian assistance with long-term development.

Getting food and shelter to children is essential, but will the Minister consider the global investment that is necessary in the social and emotional rehabilitation of children? That will make them less traumatised by their experience; enable them to raise good families of their own and to rebuild their cultures; and, perhaps above all, make them more resistant to political and religious fundamentalism.

Yes; absolutely. I pay tribute to the hon. Gentleman’s work in driving forward that agenda. He is right that people will not achieve their potential while they are traumatised and do not have education and proper support. One third of refugee children are without primary education and some three quarters are without secondary education. It is for that reason that we have more than doubled our budget for education in conflict-affected and fragile states. We are determined to drive forward that agenda internationally.

An outstandingly good charity in my constituency, Alive & Well, ships essential equipment such as water purification equipment to some of the poorest children in the world, particularly in Sierra Leone. The next shipment was due to go on 24 February, but the charity has discovered that the import duties that are being applied by the Government of Sierra Leone, which are up to 100% of the value of the goods, will make it impossible. Will the Minister take up the matter with his opposite number in the Sierra Leonean authorities to reduce the unfair import duties?

Almost 5 million children die every year across the globe, principally because of malnutrition. What targets are being set internationally to ensure that that figure reduces year on year?

We have a project to reduce stunting. We spend a great deal of our budget on humanitarian relief that is targeted at children. It is a problem to which we are alive and on which we are leading.

Syria

The UK has pledged £700 million so far in response to the Syria crisis, providing food, medical care and relief items to some of those most in need, including children. That includes the £50 million that I announced at the UN General Assembly for the No Lost Generation initiative, which will provide education, psycho-social support and protection for Syrian children who are affected by the crisis in Syria and the region.

Children who are displaced by the Syrian crisis not only lose their homes, but are at risk of having their life chances permanently and irreparably damaged. What is my right hon. Friend’s Department doing to help ensure that Syrian refugee children can not only expect adequate primary and secondary education, but have some hope of higher education?

I could not agree more with my right hon. Friend about the need to address the lack of education for children affected by this crisis, and the package that I mentioned announcing at the UN covers three new programmes specifically for education for Syrian refugees and host communities in Jordan and Lebanon. Those programmes will be about improving the quality of education, particularly for early-grade primary school children in Jordan, and integrating Syrian refugee children into the system. My right hon. Friend is right to say that more needs to be done, and we launched the international No Lost Generation initiative precisely to get more and broader support for the issue.

14. Does the Secretary of State agree that it is simply not possible for some of those children to receive the support and treatment they need in countries such as Lebanon and Jordan, and that her Government should be doing more to resettle Syrian children and their families in this country? (907440)

I agree it is important that we play our role in the refugee crisis and provide refuge to people affected by it, which is precisely what we are doing. On helping children where they are—the overwhelming majority of children affected are still in the region—we are working hand in hand with the Lebanese Government to ensure that there is the capacity for children to get education. There is more to be done, but we can be proud of the leading role played by the UK.

On the visit to Jordan and Lebanon by the International Development Committee last year we saw the huge amount of work that those countries are doing to support children affected by the conflicts. What is the Department doing to ensure that the children of Jordan and Lebanon do not suffer because of the huge burdens placed on their public school systems?

We are working directly with both those Governments to ensure that our programmes help not only Syrian refugee children but, particularly in Lebanon, a host of children who were in school but perhaps did not get the textbooks they needed. We have provided a much broader package, and it is important that host communities are helped to cope with the strains that the refugees are putting on them.

Over a year ago, the Government committed to allowing a small number of refugees from Syria into the UK, including children with specific medical needs. Will the Secretary of State tell the House how many children from Syria with specific needs have been allowed to come to the UK?

I do not have that precise information but I am happy to write to the hon. Gentleman. As I said in response to an earlier question, that programme is in place to help Syrian refugees who particularly need to take advantage of it. The most important thing is to get broad international support to help the 3.8 million refugees who are now in the region and need assistance.

Ebola

5. What the cost has been of the UK’s contribution to the response to the Ebola outbreak to date. (907431)

The UK has committed £325 million to tackling the Ebola crisis. The UK is leading the international response to the crisis in Sierra Leone by diagnosing and isolating Ebola cases more quickly, trebling the number of treatment beds, supporting burial teams, and assisting in the research for a vaccine.

Will my right hon. Friend reassure the House that at the recent London conference, Britain was able to persuade other Governments to contribute financially? Does she agree that we should be proud of the hugely positive contribution made by Great Britain through DFID’s budget—symbolised by Nurse Cafferkey and others with medical and other expertise—to resolving the Ebola outbreak?

Yes; the international effort has involved not only financial assistance from a host of countries, but assistance in kind from countries such as Australia which is helping to set up Ebola treatment centres. I pay tribute to the work done across the Government, not just in my Department. As my hon. Friend says, vital work has been done by Public Health England, NHS workers and our amazing Ministry of Defence and soldiers who have done an incredible job. Without their efforts none of this would have been possible, and thanks to them we are now turning the corner.

The right hon. Lady’s permanent secretary told the Public Accounts Committee that one of the key lessons of Ebola was the need for more research and development on vaccines. Between 2008 and 2013, Britain gave £40 million to support the work of the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative. I understand that IAVI’s research contributed to the science that led to the fast-track Ebola vaccines, yet she has slashed the UK’s support for IAVI from £40 million to just £5 million for 2013 to 2018. Does she regret that 86% cut?

No, I do not. The hon. Lady talks about the science, but we stopped funding the vaccine research because the basic science to support a vaccine was not in place. To have continued putting money into this research, when the early indications were that it was not going to deliver a vaccine, would not only have been a waste of money, but done a disservice to our investment into tackling AIDS. I should also point out that, in 2009-10, the Government invested £249 million in tackling HIV/AIDS, but in 2013-14 we increased that by 50% to £372 million.

I do not know whether the right hon. Lady heard me say that IAVI’s research contributed to some of the science that led to the Ebola vaccine. The point of research is that it builds knowledge.

The world must never again be left so exposed to Ebola. The good news that Ebola infections are falling in Liberia has meant that the trial of Brincidofovir as a drug therapy for Ebola was halted last Friday. Does the right hon. Lady agree that we need urgently to roll out the Ebola vaccine trials from Liberia to Sierra Leone and Guinea to discover which vaccine works?

I am not sure whether the hon. Lady is aware, but we have worked hand in hand with the Medical Research Council and GlaxoSmithKline to help those trials to come forward faster. In fact, the Minister for Government Policy and Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster , my right hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset (Oliver Letwin), has played a pivotal role internationally in ensuring that those trials could progress. It would be more constructive if she asked some relevant questions, rather than scoring pointless political points.

Sustainable Development Goals

8. What steps she is taking to ensure that the UK plays a leading role in preparations to set new UN development goals in September 2015. (907434)

The UK plays a leading role internationally at the EU and UN and bilaterally to push for an ambitious and implementable post-2015 framework. As the hon. Member for Feltham and Heston (Seema Malhotra) will know, the first session of intergovernmental negotiations on the SDGs has concluded, and the open working group proposal includes 17 goals and 169 targets. We support the breadth and balance of the proposal but will be arguing for a much more concise and workable agenda as negotiations progress.

Millennium development goal 3 was to promote gender equality and empower women. Will the Secretary of State be championing the inclusion in the new SDGs of texts on ending violence against women and girls and supporting sexual and reproductive health and rights, as well as statements in the declaration of the commission on the status of women?

Absolutely—yes. The Government play a leading role in raising the issue of violence against women and girls, and I pay tribute to the amazing work done by the then Foreign Secretary, my right hon. Friend the Member for Richmond (Yorks) (Mr Hague). I can assure her that we will continue to play that role.

The Secretary of State has already indicated the complexity of the goals under discussion. What steps are being taken to ensure effective integration of the different goals, particularly the proposed target on under-fives mortality and those on water, sanitation and hygiene, given that most diarrhoeal diseases result from a lack of investment in that sector?

I very much agree with the hon. Lady. The key to success in getting a sensible outcome for a new post-2015 framework is to ensure that it is not a shopping list, but that it actually works as an overall strategy to bring change on the ground and lift people out of poverty over the next 15 years.

Topical Questions

My Department continues to work closely and effectively with the Sierra Leonean Government to defeat Ebola, and our strategy is working—there are now signs that the infection rate is falling. We are far from complacent, however, because many cases remain, and we will see our mission through to the very end.

Since the last session of DFID questions, I have attended the Gavi replenishment conference in Berlin, at which Gavi surpassed its replenishment target of $7.5 billion from donors, which will help to immunise 300 million additional children and save more than 5 million lives. The Government have confirmed an additional commitment to Gavi of £1 billion in funding from 2016 to 2020.

I thank the Secretary of State for her answer. On Syria, along with many colleagues I visited the Nizip 2 camp on the Turkish border last year and met the 17,000 refugees based there, half of whom were children. What the children particularly need is books in Arabic, so they can learn and then become the doctors and engineers they want to be. What steps are the Secretary of State and her Department taking to ensure that these children get the Arabic books they need?

I too have had the chance to visit one of the refugee camps on the Syrian/Turkish border. The Turkish Government have put an immense amount of investment into supporting those people, and indeed providing some of the best quality refugee facilities that I have seen. My hon. Friend is quite right to say that textbooks are an important part of that. We have provided textbooks in Lebanon; I would be happy to look further at the point that he has raised.

T2. I will take my moment, Mr Speaker. Over 30 years ago, this country was very generous in response to the Ethiopian famine, but now, over the last three years, we have given £1 billion in aid—despite the fact that the security forces in Ethiopia are raping, torturing and killing. What discussions has the Secretary of State had with her counterpart in Ethiopia on these matters? (907403)

The right hon. Lady is right to raise her concerns about the behaviour of the police and security services. We raise our concerns, too. That should not overshadow the rest of the important work we are doing to help people in Ethiopia steadily to lift themselves out of poverty. If we consider development over the last 30 years, we can really see that Ethiopia has come on a tremendous way since it first appeared on our TV screens when it was facing the famine of 1984.

T3. Following on from the question about Gaza, may I ask what this Government are doing to assist the Palestinian Authority in their economic development of the west bank? (907404)

My hon. Friend is right to point out the importance of economic development. In respect of our bilateral programme, we work on three key areas, and one of those, of course, is indeed wealth creation. We are promoting private sector development that can contribute to state and peace building by increasing fiscal sustainability and reducing unemployment and poverty.

T4. In the light of the problems with the Private Infrastructure Development Group, does the Secretary of State believe we get good value for money from the £12 billion a year overseas aid budget? (907405)

Yes, I do. We have been more clear-cut about the outcomes we are trying to achieve. As for the facility the hon. Gentleman mentions, it has pulled in £6.8 billion-worth of investment in infrastructure in some of the poorest countries in the world, which will help them steadily to make their way out of poverty. Surely creating the markets of the future is one of the smartest things we can do if we want to stay prosperous ourselves.

T5. More cowardly and unforgiveable executions have again reminded us of the depths of ISIL’s depravity. As temperatures plummet in northern Iraq, will the Secretary of State update us on progress in providing humanitarian assistance to the 5.2 million Iraqis affected by this brutal conflict? (907406)

Yes, I will. It is worth saying that the reason we have women and girls at the heart of our international development agenda is that we know they have no rights whatever in so many parts of the world, so my hon. Friend is absolutely—[Interruption.]

Order. I apologise for interrupting the Secretary of State. These are extremely important matters, affecting very vulnerable people. The answers from the Secretary of State should be heard.

On Iraq in particular, we work extremely hard on the so-called winterisation approach, ensuring that tents are warm, that people have blankets and that appropriate shelter, food and sanitation are in place. That has been done, but the challenge in the region is now immense. The Syrian crisis alone has seen 3.8 million refugees.

T6. Many people who live and work in the United Kingdom, including people in my constituency, wish to send money back to their families in other parts of the world. Initiatives from companies such as Xendpay are starting to challenge some of the costs of money transfer. What is the Secretary of State doing to address the charging of exorbitant fees of up to 20% for money transfer services such as those provided by Western Union? (907407)

The hon. Lady is right to draw attention to the role played by remittances, which are a key part of the grand sweep of cash flow into developing countries. As she will know, we are working very hard in countries such as Somalia to ensure that families can continue to send money back to their relatives. I agree with her that one of the most important things we can do is introduce competition to the market, as well as helping to develop banking services so that people have more choice.

T8. What work is the Department doing to bring about behavioural change in areas that are affected by Ebola, and has it made an assessment of the impact of that on transmission rates? (907409)

So-called social mobilisation has been key to bearing down on transmission rates. We understand that they are now well under 1%, which is great news. If we are to combat local outbreaks, however, it is vital that people understand how to stay safe, and DFID has played a major role in bringing together a consortium of different organisations to help to ensure that that happens.