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Topical Questions

Volume 603: debated on Wednesday 16 December 2015

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.