The Secretary of State was asked—
UK development assistance has helped to reduce poverty and promote stability in Tajikistan since 2002. Between 2011 and 2016, DFID’s work has improved rural lives, promoted women’s economic empowerment, and delivered an important investment climate and managed public financial reforms.
I am grateful for that information. During a recent visit to Tajikistan, I saw the good work that DFID had been doing, but many people have expressed concern about the fact that certain projects have been quite slow to be approved. Will my right hon. Friend update the House on the Department’s commitment to Tajikistan and on when those projects might be signed off?
I thank my hon. Friend, both for his question and for going to see DFID’s work in-country. The Minister of State, my hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border (Rory Stewart), is overseeing new international development programmes, details of which will be published in due course.
Central Asia, including Tajikistan, represents an important strategic imperative in terms of our wider development objectives. We are, of course, committed to ensuring that commitments are implemented and that we start to deliver on those programmes later in the year.
As the hon. Lady will know, a variety of challenges exist in this part of central Asia. Dealing with climate change is one, but others are economic security, financial management and performance issues. DFID’s combined approach will help to deliver greater economic security in the long run.
Occupied Palestinian Territories
The Department’s assessment, in line with long-standing British Government policy, is that demolitions are illegal under international humanitarian law, and that they undermine the credibility and viability of a two-state solution.
The Bedouin village of Umm-al-Hiran remains under threat from a demolition that would cast out 800 villagers, and the number of demolitions in the occupied territories in the first two weeks of January is almost four times greater than the number at this point last year. What support is being given to the people who are being driven out of their homes, and what message is being sent to the Israeli Government that such demolitions are completely unjustifiable?
The hon. Lady raises two important issues, the first of which is long standing. Along with our international partners, we continue to lobby the Israeli Government, who are undertaking the demolitions, to stop doing so, both because they are illegal and because they undermine the two-state solution.
The Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth East (Mr Ellwood), had a meeting with the Israeli Defence Minister, Mr Lieberman, just before Christmas and raised the issue of demolitions with him directly.
We are absolutely focused on supporting NGOs, but above all we are focused on investment in health and education. It is getting the natural capital right, and providing opportunities and hope for the Palestinians, that will lead to security and stability for both sides in the conflict.
As I have said, DFID is focusing on health and education, but the Foreign Office has legal support programmes. This issue goes to the heart of the Israeli planning system and involves controversies with the Israeli Attorney General. As my hon. Friend says, it is very difficult to obtain planning permission, which is one of the reasons why settlements are built and demolitions then take place.
The British taxpayer has not funded any structures that have been demolished by the Israeli Government. The European Union has funded structures that have been demolished by the Israeli Government, but so far it has not decided to seek compensation.
Will the Minister confirm that DFID, notwithstanding the efforts of a senior Israeli diplomat to “take down” a Minister, will continue to fight against collective punishment, demolitions in the OPTs and the expansion of the illegal settlements?
We are conflating two different issues here. As the Foreign Secretary said yesterday, the Israeli ambassador has already apologised for that incident, and the diplomat concerned has been removed from his post and sent home. I think I have dealt with the overall questions of settlements and demolitions in my answers to the other questions.
The central story is that DFID is doing three types of things for Palestinian people. First, we are supporting Palestinian state structures, in particular health and education—doctors, teachers and nurses. Secondly, we are working on making sure that we can create a viable economy and employment, particularly through support to small businesses. Thirdly, we invest in human capital; in other words, we invest in making sure that the Palestinian people are educated, healthy and have opportunities for security and stability in the region in the short term. But in the long term there cannot be a two-state solution unless we address the needs of the Palestinian people.
What has happened in Aleppo is a tragedy and underlines the regime’s callous tactics of siege, starvation and indiscriminate bombardment. Through the UK’s humanitarian leadership and diplomatic efforts, we are doing all we can do to support the protection of civilians and, importantly, ensure that they receive the aid they so desperately need.
I thank my hon. Friend for his question on this important issue, which gives me the chance to restate to the House the British Government’s commitment to, and long-standing support for, Syria. We have surpassed that pledge of £510 million made at the Syria conference last year. It is fair to say not only that the UK can be proud of its support, but that we have ensured that there is the right support in terms of humanitarian supplies and the focus for the region, while at the same time using our international convening power to work with others globally to ensure that we do everything we possibly can to support Syria and the region.
At the world humanitarian summit in Istanbul last year, the United Kingdom committed to the centrality of protection as a fundamental principle. How has that guided DFID’s approach to the situation in Aleppo, and what lessons will we learn from the tragedy of Aleppo for future civilian protection?
The hon. Gentleman makes an important point in relation to the conference last year and how the humanitarian community can come together and not just learn lessons, but understand ways of working in times of severe crisis and of conflict. There are a number of lessons we can learn, including on agencies working together, the pooling of resources, and making sure that Governments across the world are working together strategically in terms of both resource allocation and, importantly, our convening power—the leverage we all have collectively in the international space to challenge Governments where they are inflicting harm and causing grief and devastation, and to make sure that we stand shoulder to shoulder and are united in how we tackle the challenge.
First, I commend my hon. Friend on her work on, and leadership in, Singing for Syrians; it is an incredible organisation and has been very successful in raising important funds. On making sure that the money is not wasted and goes directly into the region and in-country, we not only support, fund and collaborate with trusted partners, but, importantly, measure the outcomes that we are delivering in these essential humanitarian policies.
The Secretary of State is already talking about Aleppo in the past tense, but the besiegement is still happening right now, and the British Government must do more. What representations has she made to the Foreign Secretary about putting in place more and harder sanctions on Russia?
The hon. Lady is absolutely right. The situation not only in Aleppo but in Syria full stop is beyond comprehension. She asks about representations. The Foreign Secretary and I work hand in hand on international issues, and the Government are calling for greater collaboration on access to humanitarian routes into besieged areas. This is not a case of one Department versus another; it is the voice of the British Government working together to make public representations and representations behind the scenes.
Before the war, Aleppo had Syria’s largest population of Christians. Now it is estimated that 90% of them have fled. In Parliament today, Open Doors will launch its World Watch List, which shows that religious persecution is one of the key drivers of migration. What can my right hon. Friend’s Department do to help the poor, persecuted Christians of Aleppo?
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right to highlight the plight of persecuted Christians, especially in the context of Aleppo and Syria. She asks what we can do. This is not just a matter for DFID; the whole Government must speak out on the issue and constantly make it clear that the persecution of minorities and religious groups is totally unacceptable. That is the right thing to do. We also need to make that case within the international community and work collaboratively with donor countries and other countries across the world.
Following the announcement during the Christmas recess that DFID would be piloting the use of drones to deliver medical supplies in Tanzania and to map weather damage in Nepal, what discussions has the Secretary of State had with Ministers in the Ministry of Defence about how drone technology could be used to deliver aid or assess humanitarian need in Aleppo and other parts of Syria?
The hon. Gentleman is right to highlight the fact that we have been innovating and looking at new technology in relation to aid provision via drones. A lot of work is taking place in that space, and we have had a number of debates in the House about other ways of delivering humanitarian assistance, particularly in besieged areas. In the specific context of besieged areas in Syria, work is taking place and there have been discussions. I can assure the House that we are actively pursuing this issue, not just in DFID but across the Government.
The Secretary of State’s heart is very much in the right place, as we all know, but the fact is that the greatest humanitarian catastrophe of modern times is taking place in Aleppo, Raqqa and Mosul today. In contrast to the warm words that we have heard in the exchanges of the past few minutes, should we not now admit that there is precious little that we in the liberal west can do to alleviate the appalling circumstances in Aleppo unless we have the support of the United Nations and Russia?
My hon. Friend makes an important point. In terms of the work that the Government are doing, we must never lose sight of the fact that we are leading in humanitarian assistance and support. People are in desperate need, and we have the right focus on giving them all the necessary support. The other point is diplomacy. It is the job of the Government to carry on putting on the pressure, and we must use all the avenues of international diplomacy to put that pressure on, where it is needed.
I should like to focus on Idlib in north-western Syria, where civilians who have fled Aleppo are the main target of Government strikes. Will the Secretary of State tell the House how DFID is supporting those wounded and displaced civilians?
I thank the hon. Lady for her focus on the humanitarian issue in Syria, which is of course associated with Idlib as well. She asks about the work that is taking place. There are extensive humanitarian efforts in terms of relief, food and shelter in what is a desperate situation. As she and the whole House will know, I have spent a great deal of time working with all the agencies that we are directly supporting and funding to ensure that supplies are getting through, and they are. I would add the caveat that this is taking place in a challenging environment and climate. We are getting supplies through, but it is increasingly difficult to do so.
Energy Access: Africa
Access to energy is a prerequisite driver of economic growth and development. Over 620 million people in sub-Saharan Africa have no access to energy. When able to secure it, the world’s poorest people can pay up to 80 times what we pay. That is why the UK and this Department are playing a key role in providing both on and off-grid energy access, such as through the Energy Africa campaign, which will help to secure energy supplies for over 4.5 million of the world’s poorest people.
I know from my visits to east Africa that providing access to reliable, sustainable, clean energy is crucial for economic growth and prosperity in Africa. Does the Minister agree that the CDC and its investment in Africa present one of the best opportunities to provide that?
I absolutely agree that the CDC can play a key role. I am pleased that the House showed support for its work only yesterday in a debate led by the Minister of State, my hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border (Rory Stewart), with support from the Secretary of State. A good example is Globeleq, in which the CDC has a majority stake, which will drive forward energy provision of 5,000 MW in Africa—1,000 MW can support 800,000 jobs. That is the scale of the difference we can make when and where we get this right, and that is why we are doing it.
I have set out some of the reasons why energy supply is so important in driving development. Of course, it is also important that that supply is sustainable and environmentally friendly. In all the projects that DFID pursues, we seek to ensure that that is the case, including in our discussions with the World Bank. Given our contributions and their impact, we recognise that it is particularly important that the World Bank appreciates and works towards that agenda.
Middle-income Countries: Aid Withdrawal
Programme sustainability is crucial, and all DFID programmes are designed with long-term sustainability and impact in mind. No decisions have been made to exit countries in the context of my hon. Friend’s question. When and where that happens, we want to ensure that a positive legacy is left and that the “leave no one behind” agenda is adhered to, so that some of the poorest and most vulnerable people in the world receive the protection and support that they ought to be able to expect.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Marginalised groups, particularly in countries that are not the poorest, are sometimes the most vulnerable. We rightly focus our efforts and attention on the world’s poorest countries with the largest number of people in greatest need of support, but other groups elsewhere also need support. We must always be aware of that and ensure that our programmes have a sustainable impact. I will be delighted to have further discussions with my hon. Friend about his idea.
The Department will always consider what we need to do to ensure sustainable and long-lasting transition, and programmes must be designed in that way. That is a common thread that runs through every programme that DFID supports and every decision that Ministers make. We will continue to work in this area and are happy to consider further proposals for what might improve the quality of the work that is done.
Whether by giving to Syrian refugees, providing access to food or clean water, or creating jobs across Africa, UK aid helps us to meet our obligations to the world’s poorest. Such investment is also firmly in Britain’s national interest because it tackles the root causes of global problems while focusing on delivering world-class programmes that deliver value for money for UK taxpayers.
The Secretary of State has previously said that she is looking at allocating DFID funding to peaceful co-existence projects, including Save a Child’s Heart, whose valuable work brings Palestinians and Israelis together. Can she update the House on that very worthy project?
I am pleased to confirm that we are indeed working on a range of co-existence programmes in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories to support tangible improvements, as my hon. Friend the Minister of State has said. The programme is now in its final design phase and will be launched at the beginning of the financial year. [Interruption.]
The protection of civilians in Aleppo must remain our absolute priority, but if we are to provide food, water, shelter and humanitarian relief to civilians who, for four years, have faced the horrors of an inhumane war, we need to ensure that the ceasefire, although currently holding, remains more than a brief pause. Can the Secretary of State therefore say what efforts the Government are making to ensure that conflict does not reignite in Aleppo? What contingency plan does DFID have in place to continue providing aid to civilians should the conflict reignite? We must not see humanity in meltdown again.
The hon. Gentleman is right that the UK will do everything it possibly can to support the current ceasefire and, importantly, to safeguard humanitarian support in the region, too. That is down to our diplomatic tools and diplomatic efforts, but, importantly, we are also making sure that all agencies work together to deliver the vital humanitarian support that is required.
Like all Conservatives, I, too, want to focus on making sure that every penny of taxpayers’ money goes to helping the world’s poorest, which is exactly the mission of our Department. At the same time, my hon. Friend will know that overseas development assistance saves lives and transforms lives. He specifically refers to money spent on consultants, which is something that my Department is currently reviewing. [Interruption.]
The hon. Gentleman makes a fundamental point. We have talked a great deal about demolitions and settlements, but the only long-term stability in that region requires protecting the security of Israel as an absolutely essential plank, along with guaranteeing an autonomous, independent Palestinian state.
My hon. Friend will know that our priority is, of course, economic development and making sure that, through our aid, we are delivering long-term sustainable economic development and prosperity in everything we do. He is also right to note that DFID is working across the Government as we leave the European Union to look at unilateral trade preferences and the work we can do to grow our trade footprint across the world.
We have been unequivocal in our commitment to 0.7% and, in addition, it is a manifesto commitment. Let me restate again, for the benefit of the House, that the focus of my Department is on poverty reduction and on ensuring that that money is spent to drive taxpayer value and deliver programmes for the poorest in the world.
I am here. Thank you very much, Mr Speaker. The Select Committee visited the Democratic Republic of the Congo last year and saw the amazing work done by the CDC, which is creating not only more energy for millions of people, but a lot of jobs. May we encourage the CDC to do even more schemes like that?
I thank my hon. Friend very much for paying tribute to the incredibly important role of the CDC. By bringing the rigour of the private sector with the genuine values of the public sector, we have demonstrated in the DRC the ability to provide hydro power that benefits thousands of people. I also wish to pay testament to the Chair of the International Development Committee for his tribute to that project in particular.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question. He will have heard in the previous responses our commitment to co-existence programmes and how they will not just drive the right values, but help to bring the two communities together in a very constructive way—this is in addition to our focus on targeted spending on public schemes such as health and education programmes within the region.