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House of Commons Hansard
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International Development
14 September 2016
Volume 614

The Secretary of State was asked—

Violence against Women and Girls

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1. What steps she is taking to support grassroots women’s rights organisations which are working to tackle violence against women and girls in developing countries. [906314]

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It is an honour to stand here today as the International Development Secretary. I believe passionately in my Department’s mission to end extreme poverty. Violence against women and girls is a global scandal that the Department for International Development is working to end. We invest in hundreds of organisations to improve the lives of millions of women and girls globally. I pay tribute to the leadership of my predecessor, my right hon. Friend the Member for Putney (Justine Greening) on the issue. I am determined to continue our work on this agenda.

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Only 1% of gender-specific funds are spent on women’s rights organisations. Does the Secretary of State not think she could do more, and will she align with ActionAid, whose campaign “Fearless” has really taken off?

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I pay tribute to those involved in championing that campaign. There are more than 40 existing mechanisms through which funding is channelled to women’s rights organisations. I believe—rightly so—that we channel our funding in the right way to support the right objectives and outcomes for women and girls around the world.

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I warmly welcome my right hon. Friend to her place. Women refugees often suffer violence on their journeys to safety, and the practice of registering only the head of the family in asylum processes often leaves their needs neglected. Will the Secretary of State reassure the House that at the UN summit on refugees next week the voice of women refugees will get a proper hearing?

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I thank my right hon. Friend for her very important and significant question. She is right to point out that there is a conference at the UN General Assembly next week specifically on refugees, on which our Prime Minister and President Obama will be leading. Those are the very issues and challenges that will be reflected in the summit, and Britain will lead the way in standing up for the rights of women refugees and doing the responsible thing for them.

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During the summer holidays many girls are taken from the UK to developing countries, where they are subjected to the brutality of female genital mutilation. What is the Secretary of State doing to prevent those girls from being taken out of the country in that way?

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The hon. Lady rightly highlights the abhorrent practice of FGM and that vulnerable girls are abused in that way. I am working with colleagues across Government on a strategy to ensure not just that we do more but that we end that practice and, importantly, bring the perpetrators of that abhorrent crime to justice.

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12. An Independent Commission for Aid Impact report says that support for women’s rights organisations remains “a…neglected area in DfID’s programming”and recommends strengthening grassroots women’s rights organisations as a route to scaling up prevention of violence. Given the Government’s commitment under sustainable development goal 5 on women’s rights and girls’ empowerment, what steps will the Secretary of State take in her new role on the ICAI’s advice? [906325]

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As I said in my opening remarks, I pay tribute to the work of my predecessor, who has led the way on women’s rights and rights for girls. The hon. Lady is right to point to the SDGs. DFID is doing a great deal. We recognise the critical role of women’s rights and the organisations that we partner and work with. We will continue to do exactly that.

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I welcome the Secretary of State to her place. What programmes does her Department provide to counter the use of rape and sexual violence as a weapon of war and subjugation?

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The hon. Lady raises the abuse and the abhorrent crimes that take place against women and girls in conflict and conflict zones. We work with a whole range of organisations, and civil society also plays a part in achieving the right outcomes. We work with Governments around the world and through our multilateral relationships through the United Nations not only to work with countries and organisations to try to stop that practice but to deal with the perpetrators of those appalling crimes.

Syria: Aid

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2. What aid her Department is providing to civilians in (a) Aleppo and (b) other besieged areas in Syria. [906315]

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My Department has funded the United Nations and non-governmental organisations to provide food, water, healthcare and nutritional supplies to Aleppo. We have allocated £561 million to support vulnerable people inside Syria, including in Aleppo and other besieged areas, where access is possible.

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I thank the Secretary of State for that response but, despite the ceasefire this week, we are hearing from the UN special envoys that the Syrian regime is continuing to restrict aid to eastern Aleppo. We have also heard reports that two barrels of chlorine gas were dropped by helicopter on civilian neighbourhoods, injuring many people including children. What will the Secretary of State do to facilitate access for humanitarian aid?

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The hon. Lady is absolutely right. The Syria crisis is appalling in every single aspect we see and experience. The point about aid is significant because we have had significant access problems. The ceasefire has just come into being and, obviously, we are working with the UN and our partners to look at getting much needed aid and supplies into the besieged areas, which have not seen aid for a considerable time. All colleagues in the House recognise this, but it is worth pointing out again that this is an appalling crisis and conflict. On the perpetrator—Assad—we are working on the wider conflict resolution, but our priority is to ensure that we can get humanitarian supplies in.

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11. Will the Secretary of State give the House an update on the progress that has been made on raising funds to support humanitarian aid in Syria since the London Syria conference earlier this year? [906324]

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The UK led the way with the Syria conference. We have pledged more than £2.3 billion in response to the humanitarian crisis in Syria and the region. We have the UN General Assembly next week, where we will again make the case for the donors to do more to raise more money, and for greater partnership working, to alleviate many of the hardships that we see in the crisis in Syria.

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All hon. Members hope that the ceasefire will mean safer passage for the convoys to reach the besieged cities. What discussions is the Secretary of State having with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and Ministry of Defence on potential airdrops, if deemed necessary, to ensure that support gets to those who need it so desperately?

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The hon. Lady recognises and reflects upon the severity of the situation. I am working with colleagues in both Departments she mentioned. Obviously, the ceasefire has only just come into being. We are looking at all avenues to get humanitarian and support in, and at how we can help the affected populations. Delivering aid by road by our trusted partners ensures that it gets to the most vulnerable. Airdrops come with a greater risk but, as I have said, with the ceasefire coming into fruition at the beginning of the week, we are looking at all avenues for aid delivery.

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10. What discussions is the Secretary of State having with our partners and allies on this matter, especially in connection with action to provide good support for children and families in Syria? [906323]

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My hon. Friend makes a very important point. I am speaking to all our partners—global donors, global partners and other Governments—importantly recognising that humanitarian aid is essential, as is protecting and safeguarding vulnerable people. That is part of our ongoing work with multilateral organisations, and an ongoing area of our work in the Government.

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I welcome the Secretary of State to her place. To be clear, about 300,000 people are believed to be in east Aleppo; civilians are trapped inside the city’s eastern neighbourhoods and are experiencing bombing; and children have been left crippled and dead. This is a humanitarian crisis and we need to work together to ensure there is help where help is needed. Many questions have been asked today. I thank the House, because we are standing together, but will the Secretary of State elaborate on what mechanisms are in place at this point in time and what mechanisms she will explore?

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I thank the hon. Lady for her welcome and look forward to working with her on many such global challenges and crises. She is right to highlight the extent of humanitarian suffering in Aleppo we are comprehending. I was in Brussels on Monday meeting my development counterparts, and I speak on a near-daily basis to my opposite numbers around the world. The focus for us is the humanitarian crisis, and on getting aid into the besieged areas, and to the people who desperately need aid but who have not been receiving it. I will continue the work we are undertaking and continue to update the House.

Nepal Earthquake: Aid

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3. What support her Department has provided to victims of the earthquake in Dolakha, Nepal of May 2015. [906316]

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On behalf of the Department, I express our great condolences on the impact of the earthquake. Some 700,000 people lost their homes and 9,000 people were killed. Specifically in relation to Dolakha, we have provided a great deal of support, including housing grants for 40,000 houses, and cooking equipment, blankets and tarpaulins for 7,000 people.

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I warmly welcome the Minister to his place. A Must for Dolakha is a charity based in Farnworth in my constituency. Mr Heslop, who represents the charity, visited the region recently and found that a number of people did not have any food or shelter. There was a feeling that aid had not reached a number of people in need. Will the Minister meet me and representatives of the charity to discuss how we can best help the people affected in those areas?

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I pay tribute to the hon. Lady and to her constituent for the work he does. We need to understand the scale of this catastrophe. DFID is spending £100 million this year. Even so, with 700,000 people having lost their homes, the situation is extremely challenging. The response in Dolakha is led by USAID and the World Bank. I am very happy to sit down with the hon. Lady and her constituent to discuss our forthcoming work on roads, police stations and health clinics in Dolakha itself.

Aid Budget

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4. What steps her Department is taking to ensure that its funding goes to legitimate causes. [906317]

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DFID is engaged in tackling some of the great global challenges of our time. The Department has in place rigorous systems and processes to ensure that the money we spend gets to those for whom it is intended.

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Does the Minister agree that UK taxpayers need to be considered at every single step of the way when it comes to our aid spending?

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I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend. He is absolutely right. He may have seen the words of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State in the Daily Mail only today setting out her vision for the future direction of the Department’s spending. We need rigorous accountability. We need proper business cases. We need a clear sense of what we want to achieve. That is exactly what this ministerial team will bring and what this Government will deliver.

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9. The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria is on track to save 22 million lives by the end of 2016. Can the Secretary of State confirm whether the UK will pledge the £1.2 billion called for at the Replenishment conference? How will she ensure that Britain’s contribution will retain its value in light of the pound’s post-Brexit fall against the dollar? [906322]

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The UK has been a key contributor to the global health fund, which has made a real difference. I met only yesterday the chairs of the all-party groups on HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria to discuss the contribution the UK intends to make. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will be making an announcement in Montreal in the coming days to set out just what the UK will be doing.

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14. I welcome the Secretary of State’s refreshing approach. May I urge her and her ministerial colleagues to revise the criteria for bilateral aid, so that countries refusing point-blank to accept foreign national offenders deported from the UK do not receive millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money? [906327]

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As always, my hon. Friend has an eye for value for money in the interests of the British taxpayer. We are, of course, looking at what DFID does. DFID delivers a huge amount of difference: it changes lives and helps people across the globe. We want to ensure that every penny we spend is spent wisely. The comments he makes are very important, as part of that debate and discussion.

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There are grave concerns about the Palestinian Authority continuing to pay reward payments to convicted terrorists and the possible misappropriation of international aid from the UK to the Palestinian Authority. Will the Minister look carefully at that once again in the light of the grave concerns that are being expressed?

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It is vital that the money that UK taxpayers spend on aid is spent on the right things and the right priorities. Where concerns are raised, they will of course be looked into in detail. If there are issues found to be arising, they will be addressed and tackled. The UK also believes in its commitment to helping the poorest in the world. Every penny spent on the purposes for which it is intended is a penny well spent. Any penny that goes missing is a life that may go unsaved.

Aid Budget: Value for Money

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5. What steps her Department is taking to ensure value for money in its aid budget. [906318]

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My predecessors in Government have made huge progress in improving British aid by creating an independent aid watchdog, introducing much tougher value-for-money controls and making DFID’s spending even more transparent.

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Can my right hon. Friend reassure me that in seeking value for money she will also ensure that British companies and organisations are able to tender competitively for all DFID contracts at home and abroad, and are not in any way disadvantaged when bidding against overseas companies?

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My hon. Friend makes a very important point. He will know of, and be familiar with, the regulations on procurement, but I want to assure him and the House that British firms and British small and medium-sized enterprises win a significant proportion of our work. In the last financial year, 74% of our supplier spend was with UK firms.

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The Secretary of State has clearly been very busy briefing The Mail on Sunday, along with her anti-aid special adviser. She mentioned transparency, so can she explain why funding for South Sudan, an area of great interest not only to our security forces but to our development needs, is to receive a cut in its budget next year from her Department? Will she continue to fund crucial humanitarian causes such as that one?

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I hope, Mr Speaker, that the hon. Gentleman heard my words earlier about the tremendous work of our Department when it comes to humanitarian aid, support and saving lives. The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right: we will continue to champion those individuals whose lives need saving where support is required in many countries around the world. That includes a lot of the institutional reform and the support that we bring.

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I always hear the Secretary of State’s words. I have been hearing them for at least 20 years.

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I welcome my right hon. Friend to the Dispatch Box and assure her that I, too, enjoyed reading the Daily Mail this morning. As part of getting proper value, would it not make sense to reward those organisations that are working for peace within the middle east rather than to have money going to those who seek to encourage terrorism?

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My right hon. Friend raises important points. As I have said a number of times today, DFID is focused on value for money, but, as he has rightly pointed out, we will work with organisations in the right way to make sure that we are delivering the right outcomes that meet our Government priorities—both peace and stability, as well as humanitarian causes.

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I, too, would like to welcome the Secretary of State and her Ministers to their places, but in doing I wish to remind her of her predecessor’s commitment to transparency and scrutiny of the development budget to ensure value for money. Why, then, with the replenishment of the global health fund, which should be one of the biggest multilateral commitments, just days away, have we not seen the publication of the multilateral and bilateral reviews?

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If I may repeat again, we are very focused, and my predecessors quite rightly worked hard and assiduously on value for money and greater transparency. I want to go even further by making the entire global aid system more transparent, more focused on results and more accountable to those we are trying to help. The hon. Gentleman rightly points to the global fund replenishment. A conference is taking place this weekend, and I will be making an announcement over the course of it. I shall also be making sure with that replenishment that we push the agenda of greater transparency and value for money.

Aid Budget: Government Departments

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6. What proportion of the 0.7% of GDP allocated to international aid is planned to be spent by other Government Departments in 2016-2017. [906319]

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We will honour our commitment to the 0.7%. Based on the spending review settlement of 2015, other Government Departments will spend 14% of UK official development assistance in this financial year, including 4% spent through cross-government departmental funds such as the Conflict Stability and Security Fund and the prosperity fund.

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Did the international aid transparency initiative not establish that the Ministry of Defence and the Foreign Office are “poor” and “very poor” at dispensing aid? Should not all of the 0.7% therefore be distributed through DFID?

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We have a cross-government strategy on how to spend ODA money on Government priorities. We want to address the challenges across the world—there are obviously many global threats—which is why the MOD and other Government Departments have oversight and spend in this area. I am leading, but I work with my colleagues across Government to ensure that the money is spent in the right way on those strategic priorities.

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I welcome the new Secretary of State and her Ministers to their new roles. As a member of the International Development Committee, I look forward to seeing them in that Committee. Can she reassure me that the non-DFID ODA will continue to see the same amount of scrutiny as the DFID ODA?

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I thank my hon. Friend. She is absolutely right. We have the watchdog, the Independent Commission for Aid Impact. As the lead Government Department, leading on overspend, we ensure that the money going across Government Departments through this cross-government strategy is spent on the right priorities. It will be spent in the right way.

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I welcome both the Government and the Opposition spokespersons to their posts. Will the Secretary of State confirm that, contrary to what the Defence Secretary told the “Today” programme, it does matter what budget conflict and security spending comes from? Will she guarantee that the Ministry of Defence will not raid the DFID budget, which should be spent on helping the poorest people around the world?

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As the world is changing, so must our approach to aid. That is why we have a cross-Government strategy to ensure that official development assistance meets Government priorities while also recognising and tackling the global challenges that we face. DFID will continue to be a leader when it comes to accountability and transparency, and that will, of course, apply to my colleagues throughout the Government as well.

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Order. These are extremely important matters affecting some of the most vulnerable people on the face of the planet. They really do deserve—[Interruption.] Order. They really do deserve a more attentive audience. It would show some respect to very vulnerable people if we listened to the questions and to Ministers’ answers.

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It was reported in The Guardian today that the Secretary of State has plans for a drastic overhaul in the direction of foreign aid, which will be based on “core Tory values”. Can she explain to us what the overhaul will look like, and how it will affect the most vulnerable?

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As I have already said today, my Department will be a champion of British taxpayers when it comes to the rightful spending of UK aid. My predecessors worked assiduously to ensure that aid was spent in the right way, and I will continue to build on that.

As for Conservative values, I am speaking very clearly about economic development, prosperity, jobs and empowerment in many of the poorest parts of the world. That is what my Department and I will focus on as we work on the transparency agenda, while also ensuring that those in the poorest countries can look to the future more positively and with more prosperity.

Topical Questions

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T1. If she will make a statement on her departmental responsibilities. [906329]

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Since my appointment I have visited India, where I called for the delivery of an ambitious UK-India partnership. I have also visited Lebanon and Jordan, where I saw at first hand how UK-funded programmes are delivering education and humanitarian support to the residents of the Zaatari refugee camp. I look forward to working with all our partners throughout the world where British leadership and experience are valued.

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Given that a 20% increase in funding for the global fund from Britain is perfectly affordable in the context of Britain’s rising aid budget, and given that such an increase would trigger further sizeable increases in contributions from the United States and from Gates, why can the Secretary of State not tell the House now whether she will meet that 20% request?

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I have already said that I will be doing that, along with my colleagues. I spoke to my Canadian counterpart yesterday about our replenishment of the global fund, and other support. The global fund does amazing work in meeting global objectives. I shall make an announcement about our replenishment this weekend, at the Replenishment conference.

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T2. The sustainable development goals that were agreed in 2015 are crucial to ending poverty, fighting inequality and injustice, and tackling climate change by 2030. What is the Secretary of State doing to implement those goals in the United Kingdom? [906330]

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I only just heard my hon. Friend’s question, but I picked up his reference to global goals, which represent a comprehensive plan when it comes to fighting poverty and meeting our strategic objectives. I assure him that my Department is focusing on delivering on those goals, and on meeting our manifesto pledges on aid.

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T3. The Secretary of State’s predecessor kindly agreed to meet the Scottish Minister for International Development and Europe, Alasdair Allan. Will the new Secretary of State commit herself to an early meeting with him, and to positive engagement with devolved Administrations ? [906331]

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Again, I only just heard the question, but I think it was based on the need for positive dialogue with colleagues in the Scottish National party. If it was, absolutely: that is exactly what I shall be doing.

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T4. What assessment has my right hon. Friend’s Department made of the humanitarian situation in Venezuela? [906332]

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Of course, international assessments of Venezuela note that it is suffering a deep economic crisis and not just with inflation, but also because there is a health emergency there—a shortage of medicines and a humanitarian crisis. Strangely enough, Venezuela’s economic and political policy models have of course been championed by the Labour party, and we can now see what those policies have led to, with the economic catastrophe in Venezuela.

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T5. The Secretary of State’s predecessor said to me that the outcome of the bilateral and multilateral aid review would be published in the early summer. It is lovely weather today, but hardly early summer; when will it be published? [906333]

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I look forward to publishing both of the reviews, and since they were draft reviews when I came into the Department, I am looking at them to make sure they meet not just the Government’s priorities, but also DFID’s new priorities. I look forward to publishing them later this year.

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T6. I recently visited Uganda and was proud to see British taxpayers’ money being used to vaccinate children against all sorts of diseases, but rubella is one area where we are failing to help. Please will my right hon. Friend look at ways in which we could use international development aid to vaccinate children against this hideous condition? [906334]

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My hon. Friend raises an important point. The UK is the largest donor to GAVI, the Vaccine Alliance, which protects children from rubella through measles and rubella vaccinations, and of course GAVI has been set up very much to do exactly what my hon. Friend says. We have the UK aid match scheme, and Sense International has received over £200,000 for this very purpose in Uganda and Kenya in particular. I look forward to hearing from my hon. Friend about his findings from his visit.

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Yesterday, the all-party group on Syria—[Interruption.]—met so that we could, with friends from Syria, remember our colleague Jo Cox—[Interruption.]

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Order. I really do think that this question in respect of the seriousness of the situation in Syria, and in deference to our late colleague Jo Cox, should be heard in silence.

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Yesterday, the all-party group on Syria met so that we could, with our friends from Syria, remember our colleague Jo Cox. May I ask the Secretary of State, further to answers she gave a moment ago with regard to besieged areas, what discussions she has had with colleagues in the region about making sure that sufficient resources are stockpiled in nearby areas so that as soon as that humanitarian window opens we can make sure those areas get the help they need?

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The hon. Lady is absolutely right once again to highlight the appalling crisis and the conflict we see in Syria right now. Further to the points I made earlier, with the new cessation of hostilities coming into force we are of course focused on all avenues of access to get humanitarian aid and support into many parts of Syria that have not seen aid or any humanitarian support for a considerable time. With regard to the discussions I have been having, I have been speaking to colleagues in the region and colleagues across government, and I have also been speaking to our international partners about how we can get that aid through to these critical locations.

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Thank you, colleagues.