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International Development

Volume 596: debated on Wednesday 3 June 2015

The Secretary of State was asked—

Occupied Palestinian Territories

1. What recent assessment she has made of the humanitarian situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. (900060)

2. What recent assessment she has made of the humanitarian situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. (900061)

I would like to start by paying tribute to Charles Kennedy, who died a few days ago. Like many Members of this House, I not only found him to be a kind and generous man but had a huge amount of respect for him politically, and I and many others will mourn his passing.

The United Nations assesses that the situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territories is a protracted crisis with humanitarian consequences. Even before the latest conflict in Gaza, 57% of the population were food-insecure and 43% were unemployed.

First, may I endorse everything the Secretary of State has said regarding Charles Kennedy? He was a gifted politician and a genuinely friendly and funny man, and we will miss him.

Some 46 Palestinian Bedouin communities face displacement from their homes in the west bank to make way for illegal Israeli settlements. The Deputy Foreign Minister of Israel says it has the right to build anywhere in the west bank it chooses. My question to the Secretary of State is not whether she opposes that but whether she agrees that European companies have no business trading with illegal settlements east of the green line.

The hon. Gentleman is right that we oppose that illegal building of settlements, and he is shining a light on some of the decisions that companies themselves have to make about whether they will be part of that activity. It is up to them to speak for themselves, but the Government’s position in relation to those settlements is very clear.

May I welcome the right hon. Lady back to her post, which she fulfilled with great distinction in the previous Parliament?

We are all aware of the terrible situation in Gaza, where more than 100,000 people have had their homes destroyed and not one of them has been rebuilt. Will she use her office to persuade the Israelis that, from the point of view of humanitarian need and future peace, provisions should be brought in to rebuild the houses?

The hon. Gentleman rightly highlights some of the challenges in getting construction materials into the Occupied Palestinian Territories, particularly Gaza, to rebuild homes that have been destroyed. The Gaza reconstruction mechanism gives us a way to do that, and he will be pleased to hear that just under 90,000 people have now been able to get the equipment they need to rebuild their homes.

As my right hon. Friend knows, there is an urgent need for reconstruction in Gaza, but how can she ensure that materials such as concrete and scaffolding are not used to construct weapons that can be used against the state of Israel and its citizens?

We have been particularly concerned to play our role in managing that issue. DFID is helping to support the materials monitoring unit. That means we can check materials as they enter Gaza and check where they are stored, how they are used and how they are reused. So there absolutely are good controls in place to ensure the materials are used for rebuilding people’s homes and helping them rebuild their lives.

Does the Secretary of State welcome Israeli President Rivlin’s call for an urgent international effort to rebuild Gaza, but on the understanding that the hostilities perpetrated by Hamas against Israel must cease? Does she also agree that the continued incitement to violence by Palestinians against Israel must end?

Clearly, the only way people in Gaza, particularly children growing up there, are going to have a better future is if we have a two-state solution. That requires Israel, and the Occupied Palestinian Territories and its transitional Government, to be prepared to do what it takes to get a long-term settlement. That also means not doing things that get in the way of peace talks getting going again.

Illegal Migration

According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, more than 80,000 migrants have arrived in Europe by sea already this year. Some are fleeing conflict, such as that in Syria, or persecution elsewhere; others are economic migrants searching for a better life. Addressing the root causes, not just the symptoms, involves bringing peace and stability, good governance, development and jobs to their countries of origin.

My right hon. Friend will have seen the terrible suffering in the Mediterranean as people are being trafficked from Libya to Lampedusa. What concrete steps is her Department taking to help the Libyan coastguard to police its ports better?

My hon. Friend will know that this is an international problem that requires an international co-ordinated solution, not least from the EU, and the UK is part of that. Getting a stable Government in Libya is a crucial part of how we can start to clamp down on the traffickers who trade in human misery, and I assure him that both DFID and the Foreign Office are a part of that work.

Thank you, Mr Speaker. [Hon. Members: “Wrong choice!”] You made the right choice.

The hon. Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham (Daniel Kawczynski) is right, in that 92% of the 170,000 who have travelled from north Africa to Italy came through Libya. The Khartoum process is clearly not working, and the humanitarian crisis starts in north Africa, goes to Italy and will end in Calais. What further steps can we take to help the people of north Africa?

There are several steps, one being immediately to make sure that the Khartoum process does deliver. It is crucial because it brings together destination countries, transit countries and countries of origin to work more collaboratively. The other key thing is to work upstream, as the situation shows that we cannot simply assume that countries that are not developing and do not have prospects for their young people will deal with the problem. People see the better lives being led in countries such as ours and want to have the same thing for themselves. In the long term, the only real solution is development.

Is not part of the problem that a lot of people are moving up from central Africa? Does the Secretary of State have any plans to apply more of her overseas aid budget to helping people stay in their own countries?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and over the past couple of years DFID has dramatically increased the amount of our work that is going on, including on economic development and creating jobs and livelihoods. A World Bank report in 2013 estimated that 600 million jobs will be required over the next 15 years for young people entering the labour market, many of whom are in Africa. It makes sense, and it is crucial, that we provide opportunity for them to fulfil their potential there.

What implications are there for the UK as a result of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations conference on 29 May in Bangkok?

The hon. Lady rightly points out that while we in Europe grapple with the challenges we face on migration, comparable challenges are being faced by other countries. It is absolutely right that Indonesia, Thailand and Malaysia are now working far more carefully together, and the UK will be playing its role to support them in doing that.

Can we see illegal migrants to Europe first and foremost as human beings and give them all the dignity, care and respect we can, especially by ensuring the availability of rescue facilities as they cross the Mediterranean?

The hon. Gentleman is right to say that we need to see the people behind many of the statistics that we read in the paper. That is one reason why we sent HMS Bulwark and Merlin helicopters—so that this country can play our role in providing search and rescue services to help those people. They are literally putting their lives on the line to get a better life, and we should never forget the stories of the people behind those terrible numbers.

May I begin by welcoming the Secretary of State back to her post and welcoming the right hon. Member for Welwyn Hatfield (Grant Shapps) to his new post? We look forward to working constructively with the Secretary of State in this very important year for development.

We welcome the reintroduction of search and rescue in the Mediterranean—it was a shameful decision to withdraw it, and the Prime Minister was right to make a U-turn—but we know that the most vulnerable Syrian migrants will not make it to a boat, or get here on a plane; they will die in a camp. Given that the whole world community has come together to relocate those most vulnerable people through the UN, why does the Secretary of State insist on running her own scheme?

We are working collaboratively with the UNHCR. In fact, we have helped just under 200 people through that scheme. The hon. Gentleman should be aware that, through the asylum system, we have received 4,000 asylum applications from Syrians. Critically, what this all shows is that we need to support people where they are. Some 99% of the refugees from the Syrian crisis are still in the countries that border Syria, and the UK has put £800 million into helping them build their lives there and educating their children.

Palestinian Authority (UK Aid)

Our support has enabled the Palestinian Authority to carry out state-building reforms in public financial administration and security. The international community has recognised that the PA is now ready for statehood.

I refer the House to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests.

Is the Minister aware of reports that the Palestinian Authority continues to pay convicted terrorists, and will he investigate whether UK payments are being used for that purpose?

I assure my hon. Friend that no UK payments are made for that purpose. Our support to the Palestinian Authority is paid through a World Bank-controlled trust fund to named civil servants and then independently audited.

More Palestinian civilians were killed last year than in any year since 1967, and the crisis gets worse and worse in the occupied territories, especially in Gaza. I see today that the Foreign Office has called for the Rafah crossing into Egypt to be opened, but what are Ministers doing to ensure that the goods and passenger crossings into Israel are opened? What pressure is DFID putting on the Israeli Government to do that?

We make representations at every level all the time to enable goods and services to be exported into and out of Gaza. There can be no future for Gaza until there is a complete transformation in that process, and for that to proceed, a peace process is required.

Sustainable Development Goals

Since January, UN member states have discussed all aspects of the post-2015 outcome document for September: the political declaration, goals and targets, means of implementation, and monitoring and review. As the hon. Lady may be aware, we have literally just seen the first zero draft of that document. We are looking through it to assess what the UK’s negotiating stance will be.

Last year, I visited Rwanda with Voluntary Service Overseas—I draw Members’ attention to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests—and I saw for myself the enduring impact that the collapse of its healthcare system 20 years ago has continued to have on levels of disability and poor mental health. Will the Secretary of State tell us what the Government have done to ensure that universal health coverage remains an underpinning principle of the sustainable development goals and the aid agenda?

We have advocated very strongly for universal health coverage that truly makes a difference to people and puts them in a position to be able to play a role in helping to develop their country. I assure the hon. Lady that the UK is a strong advocate of that. She is quite right to point out the dramatic progress that has been made in Rwanda. What it shows is that when we make the investment, development happens.

Given the important role the Prime Minister played on the high-level panel on sustainability, will the Secretary of State tell the House what progress has been made in getting a concrete goal on the food, water and energy nexus?

My right hon. Friend is right to point out the Prime Minister’s pivotal role as a co-chair of the UN Secretary-General’s high-level panel. It very much shaped the debate that then happened, which has got us to where we are today. Clearly, the interlocking issues of food security, nutrition and sustainability need to be addressed as part of the new sustainable development goals. One of the main changes that we want to see is sustainability, and the early indications are that we will have a good outcome.

What role does the Secretary of State see for the Scottish Government in the ongoing SDG negotiations? Will she commit to ensuring that her counterpart, the Cabinet Secretary for Culture, Europe and External Affairs or the Minister for Europe and Internal Development, will be part of the UK delegation to the UN SDG summit in September?

Of course, the hon. Gentleman will know that international development remains a reserved matter, but I am proud of the fact that our joint headquarters is up in East Kilbride. I very much welcome him and his expertise to the House. I have no doubt that Scotland has a key role to play in helping to shape the outcomes, and I look forward to discussing them with him.

11. In 2011, British climate scientists said that the famine in Somalia was caused in part by low rainfall, to which climate change contributed. Does the Secretary of State agree that tackling climate change as a single, stand-alone target should be included in the SDGs, or will the Government continue to treat it as an afterthought? (900070)

I do not think that the hon. Lady is right to characterise our approach that way. For many years, the UK has been a leader in the debate and the challenge of tackling climate change, which is included in the SDG negotiation that is under way. We have argued for tough targets, and of course we will be arguing for them in the Paris summit that is coming up later this year, so I can reassure her that we are playing a leading role in making sure that the next set of development goals are sustainable and that they include tackling climate change.

Burma

The Department for International Development is one of the biggest international donors in Rakhine state. We have just increased our support by a further £6.2 million, bringing our support since 2012 to £18 million.

Does the Minister agree that the time is long overdue for Burma to address the persecution and poverty that force the Rohingya to flee? Does he think that the time is now right for the UN Secretary-General to lead the negotiations, so that humanitarian non-governmental organisations can gain access to Rakhine state?

Yes, and a director general of DFID is in Rakhine state as we speak, and we take every opportunity to push forward these matters.

Surely, the plight of thousands of Rohingya people adrift in the bay of Bengal must call for greater leadership from not only the United Nations but the United Kingdom. Should we ensure not only that we make representations in meetings with ambassadors but that our taxpayers’ aid and access to our diplomatic doors are made contingent on ensuring proper recognition of the Rohingya and full respect of human rights?

Absolutely. I have taken every opportunity to raise this matter with Burmese Ministers. My caution with respect to my hon. Friend’s suggested course of action is that I am not prepared to withdraw British aid from poor people simply because of the regime under which they suffer.

15. What is the UK doing to encourage a co-ordinated response to the south-east Asian boat migrant situation? (900074)

Our ambassador attended the recent conference with Malaysia and Bangladesh. We participated with a démarche of Burmese Ministers, along with the United States and the French, and we are doing everything that we can precisely to make this a regional response.

Topical Questions

Following the devastating earthquake in April, I visited Nepal last month to see for myself the work that the UK is doing and announced £10 million in funding for a new health programme, so that children can continue to be immunised, women can continue to deliver babies safely and we can start rebuilding damaged health facilities. We are now providing more than £33 million to that response, making us the largest donor to the relief operation.

In addition, I can today confirm that the Department for International Development has approved more than £9 million to support Burundian refugees in Tanzania, and those funds will help to provide essential shelter, water and sanitation infrastructure, healthcare and food rations. [Interruption.]

Order. I understand the sense of anticipation but we must be able to hear the Secretary of State’s replies and I want to hear what might be the first topical question from Christina Rees.

From Doha to Rana Plaza, workers all over the world risk exploitation, abuse and violence, but the Secretary of State’s Government cut support for the International Labour Organisation. Will she admit that her Government got it wrong and reverse the decision now?

The hon. Lady will be reassured to hear that we are still working with the ILO. In fact, in Bangladesh, we have a very effective programme that is helping to improve workplace security and health and safety. That was introduced in response to the Rana Plaza tragedy. Therefore, I can reassure her that we take those matters seriously and we are actively working with the ILO.

T6. What assistance does her Department give to Indian ocean islands such as the Maldives and Seychelles in tackling climate change issues? (900055)

The UK provides support through a number of multilateral organisations, including Climate Investment Funds and the Global Environment Facility, as well as through contributing to EU programmes that support affected countries.

May I begin by paying tribute to Charles Kennedy and by sharing the sadness of Members on both sides of the House about his untimely death? He was a brilliant man, a great orator and wit and his death is a huge loss to his party and to his country. Our thoughts are with his family at this time.

The whole House will welcome Sepp Blatter’s resignation as FIFA president and the Swiss authorities’ investigation into the awarding of the 2022 World cup to Qatar. There have been horrific human rights abuses of the migrant workers who are working on the infrastructure there. An estimated 1,200 have died. What steps will the Secretary of State take to support those migrant workers and prevent their brutal exploitation?

The most important thing we can do is to help those people’s countries develop successfully so there are opportunities where these young people are growing up. It is aspiration that is driving them to try to make a better life for themselves and to find work in other countries. The best thing we can do is to get behind the economic development work that DFID is ramping up to ensure that there are jobs in the countries where those young people are growing up.

The Secretary of State talks about aspiration, but those workers’ aspirations have led them to a life of bonded labour and modern slavery. That is what is happening. Workers’ rights are human rights. The whole House will welcome the news that the owner of the Rana Plaza complex, along with 42 others, is going to be prosecuted for the deaths of the 1,100 workers who died when that building collapsed, yet two years after that tragedy the victims compensation fund is still $8 million short of its target. Fourteen fashion brands, including Lee Cooper, Carrefour and JC Penney, which sourced garments from that complex, have not yet paid into the victims fund. What action will the Secretary of State take to ensure that they do?

The hon. Lady will be aware that after the Rana Plaza tragedy we got many of the UK companies that are working in Bangladesh into DFID to talk to them about these very issues. I think we should be proud of the role that our companies are playing in improving working conditions in Bangladesh. She is right to highlight other companies that are not playing the role they should in solving these issues.

T10. We made a manifesto commitment to lead on the humanitarian response to emergencies, as we have demonstrated to the people of Nepal. Has the Secretary of State had the opportunity to visit Nepal to see the devastation and the response of the UK? (900059)

Yes, I have. I was able to go there a couple of weeks ago. Unique to the UK’s response is that it leverages the whole of our Government to help people in a country such as Nepal. Not only is that led by DFID, but there has been fantastic work by the Foreign Office in providing consular assistance and by our amazing Gurkhas and armed forces in helping us to get supplies to some of the remotest areas. We should be proud of the work we are doing as a country and realise that we are valued across the world for the role we play in helping people in their hour of need.

Order. I fear that the microphones are not working as well as they should today, so Members probably need to speak up a bit.

T2. Up to 18,000 civilians are cut off in Yarmouk camp on the outskirts of Damascus. This week, the UN co-ordinator described the situation as absolutely critical. What are the Government doing either to get assistance into Yarmouk, or to get more civilians out of Yarmouk? (900051)

There are two pieces to this. We must make sure that the Security Council resolution on humanitarian access remains in place so that we have the right structures to be able to get aid across the border. But it is absolutely key that the UK should continue to play our role in enabling UN organisations and NGOs, which do incredibly dangerous work to try to reach these people, to get the food, medical supplies and shelter that are so desperately needed. The only thing that will truly alleviate the situation is a political settlement, but we all recognise that that is some way off.

It is fair to say that my right hon. Friend’s Department led the world in putting together an earthquake preparedness plan for Nepal. She will be looking at what worked and what did not when the inevitable happened. Will she conduct a full review of what did and did not work, so that we can be ready for the inevitable repeat of this tragedy?

We always look at the lessons that can be learned from our response to all tragedies. My right hon. Friend should be very proud of the role that he personally played in putting the programme in place. It meant that tarpaulins, food and medical supplies were already pre-positioned for when the earthquake hit and that we enabled hospitals to get back up and running quickly. Critically, it also meant that there was a humanitarian staging area close to the airport that prevented the airport from getting even more clogged up than it already was. As the World Food Programme said, all that brought forward the relief effort by three weeks, which undoubtedly saved lives.