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International Development

Volume 607: debated on Wednesday 16 March 2016

The Secretary of State was asked—

Malawi: Development Support

1. What development support her Department plans to provide to Malawi over the current spending review period. (904125)

The UK continues to provide essential support to Malawi in areas including health, education and economic development as well as life-saving humanitarian assistance for food-insecure households. We support increasing access to justice for women and vulnerable groups, increasing accountability and governance reforms.

Does the Secretary of State agree that domestic resource mobilisation is one of the best ways to ensure that poorer countries can fix their own problems? What conversations has she had with the Chancellor of the Exchequer to ensure that the new tax treaty between Malawi and the UK helps the people of Malawi in that respect?

The hon. Gentleman raises an important point, and the UK helped to establish the Addis tax initiative, which will see our country and many others, including in Africa, stepping up their support to develop tax systems. We do that in conjunction with Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs. One of the first things I did in this role was establish a joint working group between the Department for International Development and HMRC to send HMRC officials out to countries such as Malawi to help with their tax systems. I can assure the hon. Gentleman that we work very closely with the Treasury.

On the tax treaty, may I ask the Secretary of State more broadly what role DFID will play as the tax treaty with Malawi is being renegotiated, particularly as regards supporting Malawi in its efforts to reduce poverty and develop more generally?

As the hon. Gentleman will be aware, HMRC leads on these negotiations, but they are progressing well and the House may be interested to know that the Government of Malawi issued a press statement on how they feel the negotiation is going. They talked about

“fruitful discussions to review and modernize the existing agreement”

and said that in their view:

“These discussions are progressing very well”.

I can assure the hon. Gentleman that we will continue to work alongside the Treasury to ensure that tax systems in the countries in which DFID works are developed so that in time they can self-fund their own development, releasing the UK from doing that.

But the UK’s current tax treaty with Malawi severely restricts the ability of the Government of Malawi to tax British firms operating there. Is this not a case of DFID giving with one hand while UK tax policies take away with the other?

I do not agree at all and, perhaps most importantly, neither do the Government of Malawi, who said:

“Whilst the current agreement is admittedly aged, there is no evidence that the agreement has motivated some British investors to deprive the Malawi Government of its revenues. On the contrary, both the Malawi Government and the British Government, as well as the nationals of the two countries, have evidently acted in good faith to ensure that neither party is exploited on the basis of the current agreement.”

But does the Secretary of State agree that the era of outdated and unscrutinised tax treaties that create opportunities for multinational tax avoidance must come to an end?

It is time that the international tax system worked more effectively so that countries such as Malawi can mobilise their own domestic resources, including tax. The hon. Lady will know that this particular treaty was last updated in 1978. The Government have taken the initiative to work with the Malawi Government to update this relatively old treaty and, as I have set out, those negotiations are going well. Of course, it sits alongside the rest of the work the Government have done on beneficial ownership and improving transparency in tax so that developing countries can get their fair share.

West Bank: Humanitarian Situation

2. What recent representations she has made to the Israeli government on the effect of home demolitions in the west bank on the humanitarian situation in that region. (904126)

Their increase adds to the sum of human misery, undermines any prospect of a peace process and is contrary to international law. I have left the Israeli Government in no doubt about the strength of our disapproval; our embassy continues to do so.

I thank the Minister for his response. The latest figures from the UN, from early this month, show that there have been 400 demolitions since the start of the year, more than four times the rate of demolitions last year. The wave of demolitions is depriving Palestinians of their homes and their livelihoods and preventing European taxpayer-funded organisations from providing essential humanitarian support. As the British Government made representations when demolitions trebled, what more effective action or sanction will the Minister impose now that demolitions have quadrupled?

The hon. Lady is right that the rate of increase is now faster than at any time since calculations began to be made, and it is essential that the occupied territories, and in particular Area C, are governed in accordance with the fourth Geneva protocol. We will continue to make these representations to the Government. I know the hon. Lady wants to push me further, and I entirely understand the strength of her frustration and anger, but jaw jaw is better than war war.

Absolutely. We are wholly opposed to incitement, and when instances of incitement are brought to my attention, I go straight to the telephone to raise the matter with the chief executives of those organisations and make absolutely clear our fundamental disapproval, and our requirement that things are put right.

With any prospect of a two-state solution fast disappearing, it is of course right that we recognise Israel’s right to self-defence, but is it not also time that we recognised Palestine as a sovereign state?

We can only recognise Palestine once. It is essential, therefore, that we do so at a moment where we will have maximum impact on any peace process. That is a fine judgment.

What recent checks have the Government made in relation to support offered in the west bank to moneys that end up in the coffers of terrorist-supporting groups on the west bank?

Absolutely none of UK British aid, multilateral or bilateral, ends up in the hands of terrorists.

Overseas Development Assistance: Definition

3. What assessment she has made of the potential effect on the disbursement of UK aid of changes to the definition of overseas development assistance made by the OECD. (904127)

The recent Development Assistance Committee high-level meeting on ODA modernisation was able to agree the first changes in the ODA definition in 40 years and reflect the changing nature of aid delivery. We do not expect a significant shift in the disbursement of UK aid because these changes align well with the UK’s focus on conflict, fragility and economic development.

Given the changes in definition and the increasing proportion of UK aid spent by Departments other than DFID, how will the Secretary of State ensure that UK aid continues to help the poorest in the world?

The hon. Gentleman will be reassured to know that the modernisation of the ODA definition had to be under consensus by a number of countries involved. In addition, the primary purpose that underpins aid—economic development and improving the welfare of the recipient country—remains in place. This was really about modernising the definition to reflect how aid is delivered today.

Given that so much poverty and misery is caused by conflict, is it not about time that the OECD definition of ODA included peacekeeping and anti-terrorist activity at the very least, as that bears down directly on poverty?

I agree with my hon. Friend. In fact, goal 16 of the sustainable development goals agreed in the UN in September 2015 was all about the need to improve not only peace but security. It is nonsensical for us to work so hard on tackling sexual violence in conflict and not be able to use our aid programmes to help work with the military to prevent that.

Given the changes to the definition of overseas development assistance, and given that there are still some 37 million people living worldwide with HIV and AIDS, as well as 2 million new infections each year, can the Secretary of State tell the House whether her Department’s spending on HIV and AIDS will be rising or falling over the comprehensive spending review period?

The hon. Gentleman will be aware that we plan to set out the results of our bilateral aid review over the coming weeks, but I can assure him that our support for multilateral mechanisms, such as the Global Fund, that do so much great work on tackling aid, will continue, and he will obviously be aware that HIV and AIDS particularly affect adolescent girls in a growing proportion, so it is important that we stay the course on this.

It is great to see the Benches so packed for DFID questions. The more money the UK spends on ODA through other Departments, the more pressure there will be on DFID to deliver on its existing commitments. What impact will the changing use of ODA have on staffing numbers and capacity at Abercrombie House in East Kilbride?

As I said to the hon. Member for Harrow West (Mr Thomas), we will set out the results of our bilateral aid review shortly. The point of the new aid strategy is to achieve a cross-Government approach to drive development in the countries that we work with. I did not think it was right that DFID was carrying out all that work on its own. It is important to get other Departments to work alongside us to tackle extreme poverty.

Global Fund to Fight Aids, Tuberculosis and Malaria

4. What assessment her Department has made of the effect of cost savings in the Global Fund to Fight Aids, Tuberculosis and Malaria on the work of that fund. (904128)

The Global Fund is a fantastic success story. Every pound it saves on costs is a pound that can be put to better use saving lives. For example, a negotiated 38% reduction in the price of insecticide-treated bed nets since 2013 is projected to save $93 million over two years, equivalent to 40 million additional nets.

Will the Minister join me in congratulating a school in my constituency, Ysgol Esgob Morgan, on becoming the first in Wales to be awarded the Welsh primary geography quality mark gold, thanks in part to the DFID-funded global learning programme? Does he agree that every child growing up in the UK should have the chance to learn about the world around them, the facts of poverty and underdevelopment, and the potential to build a freer and more prosperous world?

I strongly agree with my hon. Friend. Through him, I congratulate the school in his constituency and the 4,500 schools across the country that participate in the global learning programme, which we are proud to support with funding of £21 million, because we believe strongly in the importance of development education to support school improvement.

Last week I had the pleasure of meeting Student Stop AIDS activists, who raised with me the crucial issue of access to medicines, in which the Global Fund plays a key role. Will the Minister set out the priorities for the World Health Assembly that is coming up shortly and the work that his Department will be doing to take forward that crucial issue?

The hon. Gentleman is right to point to the enormous success of the Global Fund in making it easier to access medicines. It is important to note that since 2002 the Global Fund has helped reduce deaths from the big three diseases by 40%—a staggering achievement—but there are still too many people dying unnecessarily from those awful diseases, which is why we look forward to a successful replenishment of that very important fund.

The all-party group on malaria, which I chair, is extremely concerned about resistance to anti-malarial drugs in south-east Asia. The Global Fund is doing a great deal of work on that. Can the Minister update the House on the progress of that work?

I congratulate my hon. Friend on his persistent and tireless work in this area. I was with the senior team at the Global Fund the other day in Geneva to discuss it. I have no doubt about its commitment in the face of that challenge. I hope my hon. Friend takes some pride in the fact that the British Government continue to lead in this area, with the recent refresh of the commitment to spend £500 million a year in the battle against malaria in all its forms.

TB is the world’s leading infectious killer. The Global Fund provides more than three quarters of international finance to fight that epidemic. As we approach World TB Day on 24 March, will the Minister call on all Governments around the world to come together to ensure that the Global Fund’s replenishment target of $13 billion is met as a minimum?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for throwing a spotlight on a huge killer, on which we are not making enough progress. We are proud that the UK is the third-largest donor to the fund that provides, as he said, 70% of the funding around the world to combat that disease. It is critical, therefore, that the replenishment of that fund is a success and that other countries step up to the mark so that we can bear down on that unacceptable death rate.

Yazidi Communities (Iraq, Turkey and Syria)

Our response to the Syria crisis is a commitment of more than £2.3 billion, with an additional £79.5 million to Iraq. All our aid is distributed according to need, irrespective of creed or ethnicity.

Daesh is systematically targeting Yazidi children, forcing little girls into sexual slavery and conscripting young boys as child soldiers, yet there are reports from Turkey that support is not reaching some of the Yazidi refugee camps near the Syrian border. What steps is the Department taking to help ensure that children rescued from Daesh receive the support they need and that support reaches survivors in those camps?

The first thing is that we have gone to war with Daesh, and that is a very significant contributor. Equally, we are supporting the UNHCR and a number of organisations that are principally funded through the Iraqi national action plan and the Iraq pooled fund, to which we are the largest contributor.

Some of us met a delegation of Yazidis yesterday who explained the plight of almost 2,000 women still held captive. Would the Minister be willing to meet that delegation to hear at first hand of the difficulty they have in reaching help?

I have met a number of Yazidi delegations and, indeed, a number of representatives of other religions. I would be delighted to meet my right hon. Friend and her delegation.

I do not think we have actually had an answer from the Minister. Reports of thousands of Yazidi women being captured by Daesh and sold as slaves, many suffering serious sexual abuse, are harrowing. What measures are the UK Government taking to address that slave trade?

We are fighting Daesh. We are providing large sums of money to organisations that are delivering aid directly to Yazidi women and to children. I know it is frustrating—terrible things happen—but the hon. Lady cannot always blame Ministers.

What medical and psychological services are the Government able to provide to the women referred to in the previous question, who have been held as sex slaves?

We have sent a number of experts to the region specifically to deal with violence against women. The pooled fund, to which we are the largest contributor, provides maternal and child healthcare services, protection for women and girls, and livelihoods for female heads of households. The Iraqi national action plan delivers similar services, and we are dealing specifically with the needs of women in Dohuk, Kirkuk and the northern areas through the human rights and democracy fund.

I believe that the decision as to what constitutes genocide is properly a judicial one. The International Criminal Court correspondent, Fatou Bensouda, has decided that, as Daesh is not a state party, this does not yet constitute genocide.

Topical Questions

This morning I arrived back from heading the UK delegation at the United Nations for the Commission on the Status of Women. I also took part as a member in the first meeting of the Secretary-General’s high-level panel on women’s economic empowerment. Women’s economic empowerment is the best poverty-tackling and global economy-boosting strategy out there.

Yesterday marked the fifth anniversary of the devastating Syria conflict. Since day one, the UK has been at the forefront of the response, and that has included hosting last month’s conference. [Interruption.]

Order. I understand the sense of anticipation, but I just gently remind the House that we are discussing policy affecting some of the most vulnerable people on the face of the planet, and I think we owe them some respect.

As the hon. Gentleman will be aware, the UK has been at the forefront of ensuring that there is humanitarian support in Sri Lanka, where necessary. He will also be aware of the role that the Prime Minister played in tackling the issues faced by Tamil communities in a part of the country where there had been long-standing conflict. Under the new Government, we hope to see Sri Lanka move forward to a more peaceful, democratic future.

T4. How much UK aid is currently given to Turkey, and are Ministers having any discussions to increase that figure? (904144)

Since February 2012, DFID has allocated £35 million in Turkey. The country hosts about 2 million Syrian refugees, and we are helping it to support them, and indeed other displaced people, with food, education, and skills training. Looking ahead, we shall also contribute our share of the €3 billion EU-Turkey refugee facility.

Efforts that will address education are welcomed by Labour Members. However, to make substantial progress on achieving a good standard of education for all children in developing countries, we must address the barrier of child labour. In June 2015, UNICEF found that 13% of children aged five to 14 in developing countries are involved in child labour. What progress, therefore, is DFID making to help developing countries tackle the use of child labour?

The hon. Gentleman is right to mention the barriers that keep children out of school. DFID is working on many of them, not least female genital mutilation and child marriage. Many of the children he talks about are girls who often do unpaid work at home and on family farms.

T5. Bangladesh is a significant recipient of UK aid, yet last week the Conservative Party Human Rights Commission heard grave concerns about the shrinking civil society space there. What can Ministers do to help address this? (904145)

I can assure my hon. Friend that DFID and Foreign Office officials, together with other donors, raise concerns about the space for civil society with Governments, including the Government of Bangladesh. This is an incredibly important area. Non-governmental organisations funded by UK aid are active in negotiating with Governments to protect the space for civil society to operate.

T2. Over 150 charities have raised concerns about the supposed anti-lobbying clause attached to new Government grants. Does the Minister not recognise that advocacy is an intrinsic duty of charities in raising issues associated with poverty and ill health across the world? (904142)

I do not think these changes prevent charities from doing that, and they are often advocating the very same things as the UK Government in my area of international development. In fact, only yesterday I was at an event at the UN with charities combating child marriage.

T7. Senior Palestinian officials have condemned peace-building initiatives between Israelis and Palestinians, with one condemning football matches between Israeli and Palestinian youths as “normalisation of the Zionist enemy”. What representations has my right hon. Friend made to the Palestinian Authority to condemn these moves, and what moves is she making to build peace between Israel and Palestine? (904147)

As my right hon. Friend the Minister set out earlier, we deplore incitement on both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. We monitor allegations of incitement very closely and raise instances with both leaderships.

T6. Has the Secretary of State given, or does she envisage giving, any aid to any country in the European Union? (904146)

The hon. Gentleman will be aware that we have played our role in supporting refugees who have fled the Syrian conflict and are now arriving in the European Union, and it is right that we do so. However, he is also perhaps right to say that we should also look to those countries to provide the support that they can, too.

T9. AIDS remains the No. 1 global killer of women of reproductive age. What more can DIFD Ministers do to ensure that tackling this remains a priority for this Government? (904149)

My hon. Friend is right. In fact, in 2013 statistics showed that an adolescent girl gets infected with HIV every two minutes. We very much put the empowerment of girls and women at the heart of our development agenda. We are the second largest funder of HIV prevention, care and treatment, and we have pledged up to £1 billion to the global fund.

T8. At the weekend, we saw pictures of a new-born Syrian baby being washed with just a bottle of water outside a crowded a tent in the Idomeni refugee camp in Greece, where more than 14,000 people are trapped as a result of the latest border closures. Will the Government work with other European states to ensure that there are safe and legal routes for refugees to claim asylum? (904148)

I assure the hon. Lady that, from an international development perspective, we are working to support people caught up in those situations, and we are, of course, playing our role in resettlement through our vulnerable persons relocation scheme.