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International Development

Volume 603: debated on Wednesday 16 December 2015

The Secretary of State was asked—

Palestinian Territories

I would first like to thank my right hon. Friend the Member for Welwyn Hatfield (Grant Shapps) for all the work he did during his time in the Department, and to welcome the new Under-Secretary of State for International Development, my hon. Friend the Member for Ruislip, Northwood and Pinner (Mr Hurd) who I know will continue in the footsteps of my right hon. Friend the Member for Welwyn Hatfield.

The Department for International Development provides assistance and support to poor and vulnerable Palestinians, as well as supporting state building and economic development. Our operational plan for the Occupied Palestinian Territories contains a results framework that is monitored quarterly.

I draw the House’s attention to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests.

The Prime Minister has been clear that Palestinian incitement will not be tolerated. As many as 25 Palestinian Authority schools are named after Palestinian terrorists, including Dalal Mughrabi, who killed 37 Israeli citizens. Will the Secretary of State assure me that no British aid goes towards such schools or to support the glorification of terrorism?

The Prime Minister and I have been very clear that the UK deplores incitement on both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. We monitor any allegations of incitement closely and raise instances with both the Palestinian and the Israeli authorities. The UK’s direct financial assistance to the Palestinian Authority, which provides civil service salaries, goes only to approved individuals through a World Bank trust fund that has an independent audit.

Palestinian refugees from Syria are suffering enormously—both those within Syria and those who have fled the country. What more can we do and what more can DFID do to ensure that the vital work of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency has secure funding for the long term?

I had the chance to meet the head of UNRWA only last week with the Minister of State, Department for International Development, my right hon. Friend the Member for New Forest West (Mr Swayne), and we discussed the need to ensure that its funding is sustained. UNRWA does critical work, and in the context of the need to improve the international response to more protracted crises, we can learn a great deal from its work with Palestinian refugees.

15 . Does the Secretary of State agree that it would be better if money was put into direct projects rather than through third-party organisations when we cannot really be sure of the outcome? (902762)

I hope I can reassure my hon. Friend that the agencies and organisations with which we work are ones in respect of which we know we can achieve value for money and results on the ground. He knows that I am passionate about being an aid disciplinarian and making sure that we get value for money. Critically, though, we have to work with the organisations that are there. We have a multilateral aid review under way to make sure that improvements in value for money continue progressively over time.

Surely the Secretary of State will be aware of the guidance on the Foreign Office website, which warns UK companies thinking of investing in the Occupied Palestinian Territories of the “legal and economic risks” if they engage in

“financial transactions, investments, purchases, procurements and other economic activities in Israeli settlements or benefitting Israeli settlements”

because of the illegal nature of those settlements and their being an obstacle to peace. Does the right hon. Lady therefore agree that it is perfectly reasonable for both public and private institutions to pay due regard to that advice when they make their own investment and procurement decisions?

They should do that; that is good Foreign Office advice. We have been very clear that we deplore illegal settlements, because they take us further away from a two-state solution and peace in that part of the world, when we need to be taking what could be final steps and final chances to reach a two-state solution.

We welcome the hon. Member for Ruislip, Northwood and Pinner (Mr Hurd) to his new Front-Bench position, and on this side we will claim the right hon. Member for Welwyn Hatfield (Grant Shapps) as our first scalp.

Given the worsening situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, how does the Secretary of State justify the decreasing funding to organisations such as UNRWA?

I do not recognise that statement. The United Kingdom has played a leading role in making sure that we get support to vulnerable Palestinians, not only in Gaza but on the west bank. For example, the Materials Monitoring Unit has helped to support the Gaza reconstruction mechanism. I am sure that the hon. Lady is aware of all that, and it would be helpful to have her support for it.

Gaza: Youth Unemployment

2. What information her Department holds on the level of youth unemployment in Gaza; and if she will make a statement. (902749)

Gaza has the highest unemployment in the world. The World Bank estimates that youth unemployment had reached 60% by the end of 2014. Extensive restrictions inhibit employment. The UK continues to promote economic development and private sector-led growth.

Gaza still faces restrictions on access to 35% of its agricultural land and 85% of its fishable waters, and Gazans are rarely allowed to travel outside their territory. Until such restrictions are removed, DFID will continue to work with one hand tied behind its back. Does the Minister not agree that the real problem is the blockade of Gaza?

As I said, the restrictions inhibit employment, but we will not give up. We have a programme for economic development, and it is making progress—slow and frustrating progress, but progress none the less.

May I make it absolutely clear that supporting the Palestinian people has nothing whatever to do with anti-Semitism? I wanted to clarify that at the outset.

Does the Minister not agree that the appalling situation in Gaza—and he has given us the figures—shows the need for the developed democracies to do far more? What hope can there be for the Palestinian people when they are faced with so little hope of obtaining jobs and having a decent life? Should we not be far more concerned with the Palestinian tragedy than we are?

I agree with the hon. Gentleman. We do everything that we can diplomatically to raise the sights of the world community, and we will continue to do so.

Does my hon. Friend not agree that the ill-considered, short-sighted campaign for boycotts and disinvestment is actually leading to more unemployment among the Palestinian people?

The problem faced by Gaza is restrictions, and the extension of restriction by any means is a block to peace.

Start-up Businesses

3. What steps she is taking to encourage the availability of low-cost credit for start-up businesses in developing countries. (902750)

May I place on record my personal respect for the work done by my predecessor and friend the right hon. Member for Welwyn Hatfield (Grant Shapps), not least his kick-starting of the Energy Africa campaign?

As the hon. Gentleman knows, small and medium-sized enterprises will play a critical role in creating and sustaining much-needed jobs in poor countries. We have a range of programmes that focus on providing support and finance for microbusinesses, SMEs and, I am delighted to say, social enterprises.

I know the Minister to be an innovator —he has that reputation—but will he consider carefully one way in which the United Kingdom can help? The UK is now the leading financial technology and crowdfunding centre of the world, and crowdfunding can deliver real opportunities to, in particular, women in the developing world to control their lives, finance start-ups, and do well in life. Will the Minister talk to other people, including the Chancellor of the Exchequer, with the aim of getting some real movement behind this?

I completely agree with the hon. Gentleman, who is a long-term, passionate supporter of the power of the crowd. If we get the regulation and the technology right, the arrangements will be very sustainable. The hon. Gentleman may not know this, but we have a manifesto commitment to develop crowdfunding, and that is exactly what we are doing. We are backing the Global Village Energy Partnership, which will support 10 to 15 crowdfunding platforms in the energy sector in sub-Saharan Africa, and that is just the start.

Does the Minister agree that businesses that support the conservation of endangered species should be promoted, and will he meet the all-party parliamentary group on endangered species to discuss that?

My party also welcomes the new Minister to his post. He has said that he will ensure that small local enterprises can flourish in developing countries, but what reassurances can he give us that funds intended for those purposes do not make their way into the hands of larger conglomerates or multinational companies when it comes to, for example, the building of schools or the provision of education?

What is important to us is the creation of jobs. Those jobs will be created by a range of companies, and we will work with them to create a better economic environment in the countries in which we work. However, we know that 90% of the jobs will come from the private sector, and we know that most of the sustainable jobs will come from small and medium-sized organisations. We therefore give those organisations priority in respect of a number of the programmes that we are developing.

As my hon. Friend will know, that issue is enormously important to the Department and the Secretary of State. Inclusive growth and support for women and girls as part of economic development is a central pillar of our strategic framework for the future. We expect our support over the next seven years to help to mobilise finance for more than 200,000 SMEs, at least a quarter of which will be headed by women.

Small businesses in Rwanda and Burundi face credit costs of up to 20%. I know that DFID’s TradeMark East Africa project is trying to deal with that, but small businesses in Burundi now face an upsurge in ethnic violence, with foreign fighters coming in from Rwanda. May I urge the Minister, as he undertakes the bilateral aid review, to look again at our decision to leave Burundi in 2011 and to look carefully at the potential need to go back in there and have a presence on the ground?

I share the hon. Lady’s concern about the situation. We do not have a bilateral programme there, but we do a lot in terms of humanitarian support. I take on board fully her remark about the costs of capital to small organisations. I refer to my earlier answer: technology can help us to reduce such costs.

Burma

4. What plans she has to provide support for economic development in Burma in response to the recent election result in that country. (902751)

I congratulate the people of Burma on their historic elections, which were supported by British-funded trained observers. The elections are an important step towards greater democracy. The UK will support inclusive growth in Burma. We will support improvements to the business climate, including the financial sector. We will help to increase agricultural productivity, diversify livelihoods and encourage more private sector investment in infrastructure.

In the wake of Aung San Suu Kyi’s amazing victory, will my right hon. Friend expand on what her Department is doing to increase the participation of women in Burma’s economy, which has been dominated for far too long by men and the military?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Women face specific barriers to participation in Burma’s predominantly rural economy, and in access to finance, land skills and credit, so we are targeting those issues through programmes that have helped, for example, to provide affordable credit for over 140,000 women. We are also looking at how we can help women to move into other sectors, such as garments manufacture, where often conditions and pay are better.

In assisting the Burmese nation and the new regime with international development, will the Secretary of State ensure that that regime is aware of the ongoing persecution of minorities in Burma, which needs to be dealt with as the new nation state takes shape?

We will of course raise those issues. We know from so many other parts of the world that the Governments that are successful are the inclusive Governments with respect to minorities. One of the pieces of work that will be under way will be to double our support for a governance project that is taking place in the Burmese Parliament. That has seen our House of Commons Clerk go there in recent years. We will be doubling the number of Clerks there to help to ensure that the Burmese democracy can flourish, as ours has.

Gaza: Water and Sanitation

5. What assessment she has made of the quality and availability of water and sanitation facilities in Gaza. (902752)

It is completely inadequate. Demand exceeds supply by a factor of four, and 96% of the extracted water fails World Health Organisation safety standards.

It is a terrible situation. Twenty-six per cent. of all diseases in Gaza, ranging from respiratory and gastric to skin and eye diseases, are directly associated with the poor water supply. Clean water is limited to 70 litres per person a day and that figure will fall drastically over the coming years. According to the UN, the underground coastal aquifer will become unusable by 2016. What can be done about that, or is it just a case of lifting the Israeli blockade and getting on with life?

We are currently spending some €600,000 on a project to assist with desalination. Funds are available through our climate change fund for a long-term solution to this problem, but the level of investment and the marshalling of the factors of production will require a long-term peace process to be viable.

The hon. Member for Stockton North (Alex Cunningham) speaks about the blockade, but surely if they did not embrace Hamas and continually fire rockets into Israel, there would not need to be a blockade in the first place.

We work continually with both sides to ease the economic conditions and to bring about a settlement.

Yemen

This is one of the world’s worst human crises: 80% of Yemen’s 21 million people are in need of assistance. The UK is playing its part. We have committed £75 million and are the fourth largest donor.

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for that answer. Will he update the House on what role the UK Government are playing to help bring about a peaceful settlement of the conflict in Yemen?

Peace talks began today, and yesterday a ceasefire commenced. I would urge all parties to observe the ceasefire. Her Majesty’s ambassador and DFID are in the margins of the peace conference affording what assistance they can.

I welcome all the efforts that have been made by the Government, including the ceasefire, but the real problem is getting aid into Yemen. What can we do to raise the blockade?

We have invested £1.7 million in the UN vessel investigation mechanism. I hope that that will have a quantum effect on the number of vessels that are able to dock in the ports—60 last month, 55 the month before. It is getting better, but we are far, far short of what is necessary.

My right hon. Friend will no doubt be aware of the recent report by Save the Children that highlighted the devastating impact of the conflict on medical facilities in Yemen, with some 69 hospitals destroyed or damaged by the end of October. While one wishes the peace talks well, what can the Government do in the interim to ensure the combatants are dissuaded from targeting medical facilities?

My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. That report is being scrutinised and investigated. We call on all combatants to observe international law, and my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary made this point very forcefully on his recent visit.

Following that reply, does the Minister agree that there is an overwhelming case for the United Nations Human Rights Council, which in the last year has referenced international humanitarian law 17 times, to call for an investigation into breaches of international humanitarian law in Yemen?

The conflict in Yemen has seen 6,000 dead and 30,000 injured. The World Health Organisation says health services are on the brink of collapse. As it was world universal health coverage day yesterday, will the Minister today commit to help rebuild Yemen’s crippled system?

We have already committed £75 million to this, the worst crisis in the world, and I do give that commitment. We are already planning for the reconstruction of Yemen.

What discussions has the Minister had with the Foreign Office about concerning reports from Amnesty International and others that British-made weapons sold to Saudi Arabia are being used in the conflict, in breach of human rights laws?

The UK has the toughest standards for the export of weapons. The hon. Lady should be aware that the coalition is acting in support of the legitimate Government of Yemen after an illegal coup by an armed—[Interruption]—force.

For a moment I thought the right hon. Gentleman was going to be inaudible, which is pretty rare.

Topical Questions

Since the last session of DFID questions, the House will welcome the news that Sierra Leone’s Ebola outbreak is officially over, and my thanks go to all those across Government, our armed forces and British non-governmental organisations who helped save an estimated 56,000 lives.

In terms of my written ministerial statement in 2012, we are on track to end our traditional aid programme to India by the end of this year, shifting to a relationship based on technical assistance and investment, and last month I became the first Development Minister ever to chair a meeting of the United Nations Security Council in New York, discussing the crisis in Syria and the importance of development to delivering peace and security.

Britain has a lot to be proud of in its international development spending, but does the Minister agree that some brutal states continue to undermine the UK’s good efforts in the third world? With this in mind, does she agree that Qatar should be stripped of the World cup because the number of migrant, third world workers slaughtered there in the run-up to the World cup will be greater than the number of professional footballers playing there?

I am sure that the people running FIFA will have heard the hon. Gentleman’s point very clearly. He will be aware that some of the work we do in DFID involves improving workers’ conditions, not least in places such as Bangladesh.

T2. Thank you, Mr Speaker. Given the vital importance of a rebuilding process for Syria after the conflict, what discussions is my right hon. Friend’s Department having with our international partners and what financial commitments have been made to develop a long-term plan for that process? (902739)

My hon. Friend will be aware that, as my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has signalled, the UK has pledged to commit at least £1 billion to Syria’s reconstruction. We are already updating our existing planning for reconstruction, working with donors, United Nations agencies and the World Bank. The expertise of the UN, international financial institutions and the private sector will be essential. [Interruption.]

Order. There is a lot of noise—probably animated discussions about Christmas shopping and the like—but we must hear the questions and the answers.

The Prime Minister will be giving an update on that shortly, but I think we can be proud of the role that the United Kingdom has played in leading the humanitarian response to the Syrian crisis, and of all the support we have provided, right from day one, to the refugees affected by the crisis.

T4. What steps can the Secretary of State take to assist Syrians displaced in neighbouring countries such as Jordan, especially over the coming winter months? (902742)

In this financial year, we have provided nearly £13 million to 11 partners who are helping to prepare for and respond to the onset of winter across Syria, Lebanon and Jordan. That is going to help to provide warm clothing, blankets, fuel and cash to vulnerable families.

T3. Two million Syrian children live in areas that are beyond the area of humanitarian assistance. In the light of the recent strikes, what action is the Secretary of State taking to try to reach those desperate children? (902741)

We are constantly working with United Nations agencies and non-governmental organisations to try to improve our access within Syria. We estimate that there are probably around 500,000 people, including children, that we cannot reach, but we will try our level best to ensure that we maintain our existing network and to reach into those areas as the fighting stops.

T8. Does the Secretary of State agree that her Department has a vital role to play in delivering on the UK Government’s commitments that were signed at the climate change conference in Paris last week? (902746)

Absolutely. In fact, DFID is scaling up our renewable energy work in Africa. We are expanding the provision of climate risk insurance in vulnerable countries, and we are also supporting increased investment in low-carbon technology and clean energy research.

T6. Given the increasing loss of life in Syria, Iraq and the Central African Republic and the escalating situation in Burundi, does the Secretary of State agree that the Government would benefit from applying a mass atrocity prevention lens in order better to focus their policy? (902744)

The hon. Lady might be aware that, in our recently published aid strategy, we committed to investing around 50% of our DFID investment in so-called fragile and conflict states, precisely because we need to recognise that this is not just a matter of dealing with conflict after it has happened, and that we need to work to prevent it and to deal with fragility prior to issues taking place and causing huge distress.

How much has my right hon. Friend’s Department spent in the past two years on humanitarian assistance in Syria and in the neighbouring countries that are receiving Syrian refugees?

Over the course of the entire conflict, we have provided around £1.1 billion. That is our biggest-ever response to a humanitarian crisis. About half of that has been provided inside Syria, and around half has been used to support people in the region. There are now 4.4 million refugees outside Syria. It is vital that this work should continue, and we will continue to lead it.

T7. Following the report produced by the University of Sussex for the Department, what does the Minister consider to be the main risks posed to most favoured nation low-income countries from the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership? (902745)

Not only is our aid policy helping to improve the prospects and the lives of millions of people in poverty around the world, but it is in our national interest. I have just talked about how what we are doing is important for UK security and international security, but it is also important in terms of prosperity. The international rules that the hon. Gentleman talks about can be a key way of enabling prosperity through allowing freer trade, which can help developing countries to trade their way out of aid dependence.

What is DFID doing to stop the problem with malaria in the north of Uganda, which I am going to visit over the new year? I know that DFID is working hard there, but will she tell the House specifically what it is doing?

We have a range of programmes, including in Uganda, that have helped with the cheap intervention of providing bed nets. We have seen over the past 15 years that the number of deaths from malaria has fallen by two thirds, which is important because some countries spend 40% of their health budget purely on responding to malaria.

T9. Is the Secretary of State aware of the recent arrest in Malawi of two men for having consensual sex? Will the Government make urgent representations to the Malawian Government, echoing the calls of the US ambassador, calling on them to live up to their international human rights obligations and ensure that these charges are dropped? (902747)

We will be making representations, and the hon. Lady is absolutely right to flag that up as a key area of human rights that needs to be addressed, wherever it takes place.