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Topical Questions

Volume 592: debated on Wednesday 4 February 2015

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.