The Secretary of State was asked—
The hon. Lady will be aware that a judicial review into UK arms exports to Saudi Arabia is currently under way, and that we cannot comment on ongoing legal matters. The role of the Department for International Development in the export licence process is to provide advice on criterion 8 of the Consolidated EU and National Arms Export Licensing Criteria, which assesses whether a country can afford the export.
Following the recommendation made by the International Development Committee and the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee in November, what progress has been made in formally including DFID in cases in which the proposed arms transfer might ultimately be used, as is the case with Yemen and equipment supplied to Saudi Arabia?
I thank the hon. Lady for her question. Specifically on DFID’s involvement, we engage across government on some of the really significant issues that are associated with Yemen, particularly on the humanitarian aspect. As I mentioned in my opening answer, there is a case under way right now, so I cannot comment on those ongoing legal matters.
The right hon. Lady may be aware that the UK has not just funded the Yemen appeal, but led the way in the UN with our support. We are the fourth largest bilateral donor. DFID and the British Government have been very clear and direct on the matter of working on the ground and of making the case to the Saudi Arabian authorities that they must not impede humanitarian aid and support. We have been working with many of our international partners to monitor the access routes to ensure that supplies can get into Yemen, which, as she knows, is vital at this difficult time.
I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that we do more than make representations, and we do so not just through Government, but directly. I have dealt directly with the authorities in Saudi Arabia and with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia relief fund, and made some very specific requests with regard not just to the situation on the ground and the conflict, but, as I have already said to the right hon. Lady, to getting support to the people who need help in this crisis.
The situation in Syria is devastating and appalling. The UN estimates that 13.5 million Syrians are in need of humanitarian assistance, and 1.5 million are living in siege-like conditions. There are 4.9 million refugees in the region. The UK, as my hon. Friend will know, has been at the forefront of the international effort in providing support to the region and to Syria directly.
I commend that leading effort. Can the Secretary of State assure me that our aid is reaching Christian refugees who face jeopardy because, sometimes, they avoid the official camps for fear of persecution? Those who end up in those camps face further persecution because of their faith.
My hon. Friend is right to raise that matter. It is a really important issue given the movement of migrants and refugees. Ensuring the safety of refugees and protecting them from persecution is absolutely at the heart of the UK’s involvement, especially with regard to the aid and support that we provide in Syria and the wider region. I can assure him that all the agencies and partners with which we work pay particular attention to monitoring the welfare and safety of minorities, including those of Christians.
I recently had a very helpful meeting with one of the DFID Ministers about the situation in the berm—an area of no man’s land between Jordan and Syria. I am aware of how much the Government are doing with aid, but will the Secretary of State please update us on the humanitarian situation in the berm and what else is being done and could be done to help those refugees?
I thank the hon. Lady for raising the appalling situation in the berm; it is a devastating situation. She asked about what we are doing. Obviously, work has taken place through our agencies and partners, and more directly with the Jordanian Government. We are working with them in a very difficult, hostile terrain and territory in order to ensure that people and children are being protected and that they are getting access to food and water, which, frankly, is a major priority in the berm.
Last week, I met a number of Syrian refugees along with the hon. Member for Tooting (Dr Allin-Khan); we were guests of Oxfam in Jordan. The Secretary of State was also in Jordan not that long ago. Will she tell us what plans she and the Government have to continue to support Jordan in its magnificent efforts—a country of 9 million people that has taken in and housed 1.5 million Syrian refugees? What more can we do to help Jordan?
I thank my right hon. Friend for her question. She has seen at first hand the incredible and remarkable work in Jordan—a host country and a host community. It is under great strain and pressure, particularly economically, but also in providing the vital support that is needed. What more are we going to do? Post the London conference is the Brussels conference. I have been clear—this is exactly why I was in Jordan—about the additional support that we will give to Jordan, not just as the UK but through the international community, with the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, and through many of the reforms taking place in Jordan itself.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question. In besieged areas inside Syria, there are enormous problems of access to humanitarian aid and things of that nature. On drones, we are examining all options for getting aid into besieged areas in Syria. That includes the possibility of using drones to deliver aid directly.
The Government should be congratulated on being the second biggest donor in the area—second only to the United States. We can look after more people closer to home than we can in this country. What is the Secretary of State doing to encourage other European countries to match our level of support for the region?
My hon. Friend raises a really important point. We are constantly calling on other donor countries to step up and effectively pull their fingers out by putting more money into the international system. The Government are leading reform of the international system: we are challenging donor countries to be much more efficient and effective in how we distribute aid and get resources directly to people in the country and in the region.
Like the Secretary of State, I met thousands of children in the camps of Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey who had fled Syria; I saw etched on their faces the fear they had experienced while in Syria. As others have done, I welcome the work in those host countries, but is the Secretary of State not embarrassed that the Government have turned their back on our obligation to take 3,000 unaccompanied children who have fled Syria and are in Europe?
I, too, have met and spoken to hundreds of such children and seen and heard from them directly the trauma that they have experienced in travelling from Syria into the neighbouring countries. The hon. Gentleman cannot justify saying that we are not helping those children: we take the welfare of unaccompanied asylum-seeking children more than seriously. We have made very clear commitments to those children and that is what we are doing. We have committed to resettling 20,000 Syrian nationals through the Syrian vulnerable persons resettlement scheme and 3,000 of the most vulnerable children. That is on top of being the second largest bilateral donor to Syria and inside the region.
I thank the Secretary of State for all the work she is doing in Syria, but I draw her attention to the humanitarian crisis in the Lake Chad region, where around 450,000 children are at risk of severe acute malnutrition. Can she assure me that the Government’s response to this crisis is purely humanitarian, and does she think the UK is acting in good time?
I thank the hon. Lady for speaking about the humanitarian crises in Syria and in the Lake Chad region; she is right to mention the awful situation there. UK aid is clearly directed and focused on providing food, water and shelter to give protection to the most vulnerable people who need that life-saving support at this very difficult time.
UN Gender Equality Initiative
UN Women is an important organisation and partner in the global fight to deliver gender equality, women’s rights and women’s empowerment. The UK Government provide £12 million a year in core annual funding support for that organisation.
Budget day on 8 March is also International Women’s Day. Given that 93 countries have already made firm commitments to the UN’s Step It Up initiative, will the Minister now set that date as a deadline for the UK to make its formal commitment and show that it is fully engaged in international action to combat gender inequality?
The UK is a world leader in combating gender inequality. Since 2011, more than 5 million girls have been through education thanks to the work of the UK. We have seen 10 million women get access to modern family planning, and have saved more than 100,000 lives in childbirth. We have seen 36 million women given better access to financial services. Women’s empowerment and gender equality are key parts of what we do and of what this Government do, and we intend to continue to deliver on that.
The hon. Lady, of course, expresses her concern for some of the most vulnerable children, including girls, in the world who have suffered such terrible persecution and problems in the countries from which they have fled. The UK is the second largest donor in the region, and we can assist many more by helping where the need is most immediate. We must always be careful to ensure that steps taken by the UK Government do not inadvertently facilitate further trafficking and difficult journeys. We must channel money to where it can have the most impact and help the most people.
The UK is a global leader in the area of family planning. The Secretary of State is bringing together a significant family planning conference, which the UK will host in the coming months. We need to ensure that where we are able to help people to lead better lives, to deliver economic growth, and to empower women and deliver on gender equality, we continue to be a global leader in that space. That is what we will continue to do. Of course, we always have to adapt to decisions made by our international partners.
Despite the leading role that the former Prime Minister played in shaping the sustainable development goals globally, there has been slow progress domestically. Will the Secretary of State update the House on the progress of implementing the goals across Government Departments?
The global goals are absolutely embedded not just in what the Department for International Development does, but across Government. As I may have mentioned in response to other questions, we are in the process of revising every single departmental plan across Government, and the global goals will be fully recognised in that process.
The humanitarian situation in South Sudan is deeply concerning, with 4.9 million people who do not have enough to eat. Famine has been declared in the Unity State. We are monitoring the situation and working to get direct aid into South Sudan at what is, quite frankly, a devastating time for that country.
My hon. Friend makes an important point. Our priority, of course, is emergency aid—food assistance and water. We are also asking others to step up, particularly donors. We are calling on all sides that are involved in the conflict to end the fighting, because we need long-term political solutions if we going to end the current crisis.
The famine declared in South Sudan is the first anywhere in the world for six years. Last night the all-party Sudan and South Sudan group launched its report on the need for peace in the wider region. How is the Secretary of State’s Department responding specifically to these crises? Will she confirm that she will defend the aid budget so that it focuses on those in desperate need and is not subject to smash-and-grab raids by the Foreign Secretary to support diplomatic empowerment funds?
It is important that we recognise the state of the world right now. We are seeing four crises—four famines—around the world. We are in an unprecedented time. This is the first time we have seen this situation since the last certified famine in 2000. I do not see it as an issue about how we spend money across Government Departments; it is about how the UK shows global leadership when it comes to times of humanitarian crisis in the world. The British Government are leading the world right now, calling on others to step up, but also saving lives and changing lives at this critical time.
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right: the Church community—the Anglican communion—are present there. We are working with all partners because of the nature of the challenging situation on the ground. Let us be very frank: there is no easy solution in terms of aid access and getting support to people, so we are working with all partners. It is important to recognise that all partners and humanitarian workers are doing very difficult work in very challenging situations. This House should praise them all for what they are doing at this difficult time.
We have been offering assistance for some considerable time in the general area, but given the problems that have been generated in South Sudan in the past six months, can the Secretary of State outline what specific steps have been taken to get assistance to the people there in recent months?
I absolutely can. We have been very specific, not only in terms of UK support through the partner network that I have referred to but through DFID and the UK presence on the ground, in getting direct assistance to people. The situation is challenging. People are being persecuted and violence is driving them out of their homes. People are now in camps. We are working to protect civilians and ensure that within those camps they are protected and safeguarded as well as in receipt of food, shelter and water.
Scottish Government: Meetings
Prompted by the question, I spoke to Alasdair Allan yesterday and we have a date firmly in the diary for a future meeting.
I am grateful to the Minister for his answer. Does he agree that Scottish international development organisations, while often smaller than their English counterparts, can offer as much or more in terms of value for money and impact, as well as continuing to contribute to the preservation of positive public opinion in relation to international development? What steps can he take to ensure that DFID-funded programmes are made more accessible to smaller funded international non-governmental organisations based in Scotland as well as their counterparts in NIDOS—the Network of International Development Organisations in Scotland?
There are two separate questions there. First, I pay tribute to Scottish charities, ranging from major charities such as the HALO Trust through to smaller charities working with the Scottish Government on the ground in Malawi. Secondly, our Department is very much committed to working with smaller NGOs and civil society organisations which often know more, can do more, and care more than bigger organisations.
The Department is continuing to provide significant support to Montserrat, including budgetary support and work that we are doing to help to develop the economy to make it sustainable into the future.
The Premier of Montserrat, Donaldson Romeo, recently told MPs and peers that he does not want his country to be the recipient of international aid for generations to come. Instead, he is looking for strategic capital investment to develop, for instance, the tourism industry. Will the Minister meet the all-party group on Montserrat to discuss some of his suggestions so that the country can once again become self-sustaining?
As always, DFID Ministers would be delighted to meet parliamentary colleagues. I am sure we would be happy to arrange an appropriate meeting, and I can assure the hon. Lady that we are looking to invest in long-term economic prospects in Montserrat, as elsewhere.
The United Nations assesses that more than 3 million people are currently victims of the ongoing violence in Ukraine. Our particular concern is about the 800,000 people living along the line of contact, suffering continual violence over the past three years.
Russian aggression in the east of Ukraine has resulted in the internal displacement of 1.6 million Ukrainians. Russian aggression is now heightening in the east of Ukraine. Apart from seeking a resumption of the ceasefire in the east of Ukraine, will the Government commit to providing additional support to the Ukrainian Government to deal with such numbers of internally displaced people?
The British Government currently provide support to Ukraine in two ways. First, we provide support directly to the Ukrainian Government and governance programmes. Secondly, through the International Committee of the Red Cross and People in Need, which is a Czech organisation, we provide humanitarian assistance. We must be clear that this conflict in Ukraine was caused and is sustained by Russian aggression.
This year the world faces numerous humanitarian crises, to which I have already referred. Parts of South Sudan are now in famine and there is a credible risk of famine in Yemen, north-east Nigeria and Somalia. That is why today I have announced new packages of support. The UK’s message to the world is clear: we need to act now to help innocent people who are starving to death.
Specifically, our focus right now is on emergency food and water. That is where the need is. We are talking about more than 1 million people in both countries who need urgent support. They are the focus of our attention right now. Obviously, working with our partners, we will make assessments to see what additional support we will need to continue to put in.
The Rohingya are among the most persecuted people in the world today. In recent weeks and months, they have faced new waves of violence perpetrated by the Burmese Government. How much of the £95 million budget for the Burma project will go towards much-needed assistance for the Rohingya, and what steps are the Government taking to ensure that that happens?
We absolutely agree that the situation for the Rohingya is deeply troubling. We are dealing with it in different ways. I raised it personally on my last visit to Burma with the Minister of Home Affairs and Aung San Suu Kyi. DFID staff are accessing the Rohingya areas and we continue to work with Kofi Annan and the UN system, but the hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to say that it is vital that we get humanitarian access and support to the Rohingya population.
The UK has much to celebrate when it comes to global leadership on gender equality. Of course, International Women’s Day will be another strong example of that. We not only continue to champion the rights of women and girls but, importantly, support them in their own economic development and empowerment prospects.
I did not fully hear the question, but I did hear the most important point, which was that of Africa and economic development. The British Government, through UK aid, are at the forefront of leading the way when it comes to prosperity and economic development. We will continue to do exactly more of that. [Interruption]
My hon. Friend is right to raise this important issue. Education is crucial in the camps but also in the region. In both Jordan and Lebanon we have helped to support more than 200,000 children to have access to education. The UK, once again, is leading the way to enable more and more children to go to school in the region.
This is an issue that the hon. Gentleman and I have discussed on a number of occasions. We remain absolutely clear, as the British Government, that it is necessary both to protect the security of the Government of Israel and to ensure that the legitimate rights of the Palestinian people are protected. We will continue to work carefully to monitor illegal demolitions.
The Independent Commission for Aid Impact is a unique body created to scrutinise DFID. What assurances can Ministers give that the forthcoming review of ICAI’s own performance will be conducted independently of the Department that it scrutinises?
I can assure my hon. Friend that the tailored review of ICAI will be carried out in accordance with the guidance that has been set very clearly for the reviews of non-departmental public bodies, including all the relevant and appropriate levels of independence.
The hon. Lady is absolutely right to raise the importance and significance of fair trade. This is at the heart of everything that we in DFID stand up for, in terms of principles and values. In our economic development work, that is exactly what we are championing throughout DFID.
My hon. Friend will have heard my earlier response about the persecution of minorities in conflict areas, particularly with regard to the middle east crisis. We are working with all our partners to ensure that the Yazidi people are receiving aid and protection through our partnership-working on the ground.