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International Development

Volume 605: debated on Wednesday 3 February 2016

The Secretary of State was asked—

UN World Humanitarian Summit

Our country has bold ambitions for the world humanitarian summit, which comes at a critical time given that there are currently more displaced people globally than at any time since the second world war. We are working with a range of partners, including UN agencies, Governments, non-governmental organisations and the private sector, to ensure that the summit delivers transformative change to crisis response.

Child protection has been desperately underfunded in global humanitarian efforts. One in 10 children now lives in conflict-affected areas, and UNICEF warns that at least 3 million children are caught up in emergencies and need psychosocial help. Will the Prime Minister be part of the UK delegation, and will he commit to making child protection one of the UK’s key priorities at the summit?

We have not finalised the UK delegation yet, but I can assure the hon. Gentleman that the issue of child protection has been very much at the core of all our humanitarian responses, not least, most recently, in Syria. The UK worked with UNICEF to put in place so-called safe zones in many of the refugee camps to enable children to be reunited with their families if they had got lost.

What discussions does the Secretary of State expect to take place at the summit on support for those fleeing violence and persecution? Will she support efforts at the summit to ensure that lower and middle-income countries hosting refugees and displaced people have long-term, predictable financing, and that refugees themselves have the right to work and contribute to the society and economy to which they move?

The hon. Gentleman asks a very pertinent question. The Syria conference in London tomorrow will look at this very issue of respecting the fact that refugees are, on average, a refugee for 17 years. We need to go beyond providing traditional lifesaving support to meet such broader needs—not just jobs, as he says, but getting children into schools. The Syria conference tomorrow is a key moment not just to respond to that crisis, but, more broadly, to show a new model of responding to protracted humanitarian crises around the world. I hope we can then take that forward at the world humanitarian summit.

Given that many humanitarian crises are caused by conflict, will my right hon. Friend make sure that the UK delegation presses the United Nations at the humanitarian summit to be more effective in conflict resolution and prevention, thus solving a lot of the problems that many women and children in our world are facing?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. In fact, when I had the privilege of chairing the UN Security Council last October, the issue we talked about was the need for the international community and the Security Council itself to look at fragile countries before conflict hits and perhaps to have better early warning systems, whether on human rights or any other area, to highlight where we need to do work in advance to keep peace and stability, rather than having the costly after-effects of responding to war.

What work is my right hon. Friend doing to ensure that humanitarian aid is joined up with longer-term development aid?

The world humanitarian summit is a key opportunity for us to knit these agendas together clearly. At the moment, I would describe the humanitarian system as a hospital that only has an accident and emergency department. From the start of such crises, we need not only to think ahead about how we can deal with the day-to-day challenges that refugees and people affected face, but to begin to build in long-term solutions so that they can get their lives back on track. That is why the issues of jobs in particular, getting children into schools and helping host communities—the communities that host the refugees—to cope are so important.

Where is Mr Hendry? The fella has just asked a question and has beetled out of the Chamber. We are still having exchanges on that question. I know the hon. Gentleman is a new Member, but he must learn that a Member must not ask a question and then leave. There are continuing exchanges on the matter, and I am sure the hon. Gentleman is at least as interested in the opinions of others as he is in his own. It is quite extraordinary behaviour.

May I press the Secretary of State to advocate a presumption of denial of arms exports to countries of concern as a UK innovation that could help to save lives around the world?

As the right hon. Gentleman knows, we have one of the strictest arms control regimes in the world. We should make sure that those processes are working effectively. My Department provides leadership in ensuring that when crises hit, the UK plays a leading role in making sure that the affected people have the adequate, long-term support they need. That is important because, as the humanitarian high-level panel said, 125 million people in the world now live through humanitarian support. That is the equivalent of a country, but they do not have a Head of State at the UN speaking up for them. That is why the rest of us need to work as hard as we can to make sure not only that they are listened to but that their needs are met.

The Secretary of State will be aware that the biggest humanitarian crisis we face is the refugee crisis. The House respects the work that the Government have done on the Syria conference and investing in the camps, but what about the refugees, particularly child refugees, who are not in the camps? We heard this week that for the first time since the crisis began women and children make up the majority of the refugees who are travelling to Greece. How many child refugees who are not in the camps do the Government propose to take?

On the broader issue, the hon. Lady will know that the UK and UNICEF set up the “No Lost Generation” initiative, which has enabled half the children affected by the Syrian crisis to be in school. More broadly, on the relocation scheme we have put in place, this is the right way to help vulnerable refugees to relocate out of the region if they need to. We are working with UN agencies to identify the most vulnerable people and are talking to them about how that can be extended to unaccompanied children. The good news is that because of the hard work of agencies such as UNICEF, which are funded by the UK, the overwhelming number of children—more than 85%—who arrive in countries such as Jordan and Lebanon unaccompanied are reunited with their families.

Energy Access: Africa

Two-thirds of Africa does not have access to electricity. The Department for International Development wants to play a leading role in changing that, including through the Energy Africa campaign, which will accelerate the market for transformative household solar systems and so contribute to the global goal of universal access by 2030.

Will the Minister outline for the House what opportunity he sees for British entrepreneurs and companies to help the Department achieve its ambition of ending fuel poverty in Africa?

One of the things we are most excited about in the Energy Africa campaign is that some of the most effective leadership on the continent is coming from companies that are British, that were set up by British people or that are backed by British people, such as Azuri Technologies and M-KOPA. DFID’s commitment to ongoing research through the Mission Innovation initiative, which is worth about £100 million, will create opportunities for many British companies to be involved in that important research.

Will the Minister confirm whether discussions are taking place with African nation states to ensure that solar energy becomes a high priority in those states, so that we can assist them in providing the much-needed energy supplies to their residents?

I certainly can confirm that. I have had a number of bilateral meetings with African Ministers and have signed up seven countries to the Energy Africa campaign, which is all about accelerating their citizens’ access to household solar systems. In my experience—I have seen this in Ethiopia—such systems can transform the prospects of a family. It is a high priority for those countries and for us.

Will the Minister broaden his horizons? This country has so much expertise in our universities and our big energy and waste companies. There are also a lot of social enterprises that know about this stuff. Will he bring them together and give us the opportunity to help people in Africa to set up these things for themselves?

I am absolutely with the hon. Gentleman on this, as on so many things. There is a huge amount of expertise in this country that we can, should and want to connect to leaders in African countries. Those leaders know that making it easier for their citizens and businesses to access energy is fundamental to development. It is a top priority for us.

DFID’s inclusive growth diagnostic identifies energy access as a major blockage to inclusive growth, and the research by the Catholic Agency for Overseas Development on small businesses in developing countries identifies a lack of access to reliable electricity as one of the top 10 barriers to development. I welcome DFID’s support for household solar power, but how does it plan to expand that—for example, through clean cooking technology—and what steps is it taking to prioritise clean energy across the board in developing countries, rather than carbon-intensive and fossil fuel generation, to ensure that we do not undermine the climate change targets?

Yes, I mentioned the Energy Africa campaign, and that and the household solar system is just one piece of DFID’s offer to Africa, which totals more than £1.5 billion of investment. A contribution to the African renewable energy partnership of around 2GW will connect about 20 million people through that initiative alone. The DFID offer is broader than just the household solar system, and it encompasses a wide range of renewable technologies.

Yemen

Eighty per cent. of Yemen’s population are in need of humanitarian aid, and 7.6 million people face severe food shortages. Some 320,000 children under the age of five are severely malnourished, there are 2.5 million displaced people, and there were 8,000 civilian casualties last year. Yemen must be one of the least eligible places to be.

I thank the Minister for setting out the worrying situation in Yemen. There are other problem areas of the world, such as Syria, but Yemen is one of the world’s hidden problems. What can the Government do to enable NGOs to at least get food aid and clean water into Yemen to those who are so desperately in need?

We started by doubling our aid last year, and last week the Secretary of State announced that that aid would increase by a further £10 million to £85 million. In September, she led a side event at the UN General Assembly, at which she secured from other donors a further £85 million. We are working on the UN verification and inspection mechanism to ensure that more food and shipping get into Yemen.

That additional aid is welcome, but at the same time we are supplying arms to one side in the conflict. Is it time that this country supported an international, independent inquiry into concerns about the abuses of international humanitarian law, and in the meantime suspended all arms sales to Saudi Arabia?

We have supported the UN Human Rights Council resolution that requires the Government of Yemen to investigate those matters, with the support of the UN.

What undermines UK aid, and what makes that aid ever more necessary yet harder to deliver, is the violent and unlawful removal of the Government of Yemen. Only a peace process to restore that will end the suffering.

If we are concerned about arms exports to Saudi Arabia, which fuel the conflict in Yemen, why are the Government not pressing ahead with setting up the cross-party quadripartite committee on arms exports, so that Parliament can control that better?

As the Prime Minister pointed out, we have the most stringent and robust arms export regulations in the world. We have supported the UN Human Rights Council resolution, and we are committed to the investigation of every abuse or abrogation of international law.

The Minister will be aware that Saferworld, Oxfam, UNICEF, and Save the Children take the position that DFID’s work in Yemen is being undermined by UK arms sales. How can the Minister continue to insist that a UK-replenished Saudi arsenal being dropped on Yemen is not an impediment to development?

As I said to my hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Mrs Grant), the undermining of our ability to deliver aid is a consequence of warfare. That warfare arises because of the violent removal of the lawful Government of Yemen, not because we have sold arms to the Saudis.

Female Economic Empowerment: Poorest Countries

No country can develop while half its population is locked out of that process, which is why I have placed improving the prospects for girls and women around the world at the heart of DFID’s work. I am honoured to have been appointed recently by the UN Secretary General to the new UN high-level panel on women’s economic empowerment, joining leaders of the World Bank, the IMF, the private sector and civil society to drive that agenda forward.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that there needs to be a particular focus in the poorest countries on rural development and agriculture? It is women who produce most of the food and who are responsible for its security. Does she agree that if we can improve the productivity of women and empower them, we can reduce poverty and see growth in the countries that need it?

My hon. and learned Friend is absolutely right. Agriculture is a key economic sector of most of those countries. A recent McKinsey report states that the achievement of gender parity at a regional level, so that each country matches the best progress of the best country in its region, would add 11% of global GDP by 2025—a huge economic lever for all of us to pull.

The Zika virus crossed the Pacific and went from French Polynesia to Brazil in May last year. Since then, 4,000 children have been born with microcephaly. What analysis has the Secretary of State made of the risks to the poorest women and girls in the world if the virus crosses the Atlantic from Brazil to sub-Saharan Africa? Will she promise to keep a very close eye on that and use all British scientific knowledge to ensure that it does not happen?

The hon. Lady is absolutely right. We had an urgent question earlier this week and the Under-Secretary of State for International Development, my hon. Friend the Member for Ruislip, Northwood and Pinner (Mr Hurd), set out the research that we are now kicking off. She will also be pleased to hear that Chris Whitty, the DFID chief scientist who led our work on Ebola and helped us to shape our response to it, is currently in Brazil talking to the authorities there to ensure we manage the various risks she sets out.

Will the Secretary of State commend the work of Tearfund in Bangladesh among women in rural areas, which helps them with business start-ups and works with the Bangladesh Government to provide mobile phone banking to cut out the middle man?

My right hon. Friend mentions a number of very innovative pieces of work. I commend Tearfund for its work. Healthy economies need everybody to be able to be a part of them. That is why women’s economic empowerment matters so much.

What efforts is the Secretary of State making to ensure that other donor countries, the EU, the UN and the World Bank integrate gender into their humanitarian efforts?

The fact that we now have global goal 5 on gender equality means that, for the very first time, this is formally on the world’s to-do list. The world humanitarian summit is a key moment where we can make sure the vulnerabilities of girls and women in particular are properly pulled into the humanitarian system in terms of a response on the ground. The hon. Gentleman will be aware that two years ago the UK held a conference on this very topic to drive that forward.

Yemen

6. What support her Department has given to organisations investigating alleged breaches of human rights and international law in Yemen. (903409)

DFID funds a number of organisations in Yemen to deliver aid, some of which have reported alleged breaches of human rights and international law.

The Government have so far approved £5,600 million of arms sales to Saudi Arabia, which several independent reports have connected to the bombing of civilian targets in Yemen. Given that figure and the independent reports, does the Minister believe that £75 million of aid delivered by the UK Government to Yemen represents a balanced approach to the conflict?

Actually, it is £85 million—£85 million of life-saving aid. Warfare makes it more difficult to deliver that aid and that warfare is a consequence of the violent removal of the lawful Government of Yemen—not anything the United Kingdom has done.

May I invite the Minister to reiterate that point? The greatest breach of international law in Yemen has been the removal of a legitimate Government by force. Although it is very, very easy to focus only on the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and blame it, it is that initial use of force which has caused this problem and must be seen in the context of the solutions we now want to see around the negotiating table.

My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. I pay tribute to his work as the Prime Minister’s special representative, and to the enormous amount he has done to bring peace and prosperity to Yemen.

Topical Questions

Two weeks ago at the World Economic Forum, alongside the UN Secretary-General and the president of the World Bank, we launched the UN’s high-level panel on women’s economic empowerment. Last week, I joined my right hon. Friend the Chancellor and Bill Gates to set out our new commitments on malaria, which will save lives and build a safer, healthier world. Finally, tomorrow, the UK will co-host the Syria conference, bringing together world leaders to resource the life-saving humanitarian support, create jobs and provide an education for millions of people and children whose lives have been torn apart by this devastating civil war. All this—women’s economic empowerment, the steady eradication of malaria, supporting Syrian refugees to stay where they want to in their home region—is firmly in the UK’s national interest.

If the refugee crisis in Syria is not to become a permanent exodus, its people must be given hope of a better future. Can my right hon. Friend say what hope she is giving for greater job opportunities in the region?

We hope that we will be able to take a big step forward by announcing agreements with both Jordan and Lebanon that, in return for their taking political steps forward on enabling Syrian refugees to work legally, we will be able to mobilise international finance to create jobs in those countries—not just for Syrian refugees, but for host communities, too. That will be in everyone’s interest.

Malawi is the poorest country on the planet, yet our 1955 tax treaty between the UK and Malawi severely limits the country’s ability to raise taxes on UK companies based there. Will the Secretary of State commit to looking at this issue of the treaty and to making it fit for the 21st century?

This issue of domestic resource mobilisation and taxes is something that we have very much ramped up in DFID’s work over the last few years. I set up a joint unit with Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs that sees HMRC officials working with countries to help drive their tax revenues up. We will continue that support, particularly in Africa, over the coming months.

T6. DFID does a brilliant job in Pakistan on education and health. Will the Minister meet the excellent UK charity, the Noor Foundation, which helps 1,000 people in Pakistan every year with kidney dialysis? (903439)

We would be delighted to have this group coming to visit us at DFID. As my hon. Friend sets out, we have a big programme with Pakistan, which is steadily enabling that country to make sure that its people are educated and healthy—two of the strongest foundations for aid independence in the longer term.

T2. In response to an earlier question, the Secretary of State said that she is working to protect Syrian children in refugee camps in the region, yet she is aware of the Europol report that 10,000 children of Syrian extraction registered in Europe have disappeared and are at risk of sexual and other criminal exploitation. What is she doing to protect them? (903435)

The right hon. Lady will be pleased to hear that we work directly with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees on improving registration, so that we do not lose people, including children, who have arrived. Then, of course, we have done a huge amount of work with the Red Cross to make sure that people have access to some of the basics they need when they make it over to Europe. She can be proud of the work the UK is doing, but the bulk of it is, of course, in the region itself, which is overwhelmingly where people and refugees want to stay—close to home.

T8. Following the new Parliament in Myanmar, what plans do the UK Government have in place to help that country move forward and develop? (903441)

The elections are an important step towards greater democracy and provide a chance to support inclusive growth in Burma. We are supporting improvements in the business climate, including in the financial sector, and we are helping to increase agricultural productivity, to diversify livelihoods and encourage more private sector investment in infrastructure.

The hon. Gentleman raises an important point. Having a viable economy in Gaza is one of the best ways to enable people living there to face many of their challenges effectively. In the meantime, the UK provides key support to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency and more directly with the Palestinian Authority. It is critical for those blockades to be removed in the end, so that we can restore a normal situation that would enable the Gaza strip to get back on its feet.

T10. Does the Secretary of State agree that, as the civil war in Syria continues, we should not only be using our aid budget to support refugees, but should be urging countries in the region to issue work permits so that refugees can rebuild their lives there rather than making the perilous journey to Europe? (903443)

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. People deserve the dignity of work wherever they are, and that goes for refugees. I have met people who were in the middle of studying for economics degrees and then suddenly found themselves living in camps in Lebanon or Jordan. Those people want to support themselves. If we can take a big step forward tomorrow in enabling them to work legally, we shall not only be helping countries such as Jordan and Lebanon, but helping the refugees who are currently in those countries.