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Topical Questions

Volume 596: debated on Wednesday 3 June 2015

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.