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Topical Questions

Volume 605: debated on Wednesday 3 February 2016

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.