Thursday 23 March 2017
[Graham Stringer in the Chair]
Syrian Refugee Crisis
I beg to move,
That this House has considered the First Report of the International Development Committee of Session 2015-16, Syrian refugee crisis, HC 463, and the Government response, HC 902.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Stringer. In January last year, the International Development Committee released our first report of this Parliament, which focused on the refugee crisis that has arisen from the conflict in Syria. On 15 March, the Syrian conflict marked its sixth anniversary. The scale of the conflict has been well documented: it is enormous, in terms of both the humanitarian challenge and the number of lives lost. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights estimates that since the start of the conflict, 450,000 people have lost their lives. Last year, the United Nations identified 13.5 million Syrians requiring humanitarian assistance, almost half of whom—6 million —are internally displaced in Syria. In January 2017, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees estimated that there are 4.8 million registered refugees.
I refer to my relevant entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests: in 2015, I visited Jordan with Oxfam. A third of Jordan’s population are refugees. When I visited the Zaatari refugee camp alongside my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn), we heard the same message repeatedly from the refugees: all they want is the opportunity to return home to a peaceful Syria.
We have seen six years of repeated atrocities. Let me highlight two examples. Last September, the Syrian Government bombed a UN aid convoy, killing 14 aid workers. The convoy had been organised by the United Nations and the Syrian Arab Red Crescent, and was carrying food, medicine and other humanitarian supplies destined for families in areas of the country controlled by the opposition. A UN report released earlier this month said that the attack was deliberate, meticulously planned and ruthlessly carried out. Then, of course, there was the long siege of Aleppo, which the same United Nations report called a war crime. It was reported that the Syrian Government and their allies were carrying out attacks on areas packed with civilians while the city faced chronic shortages of food, medicine and fuel. We have seen all those events unfold in real time on our television screens. We saw the shocking image of Omran Daqneesh, the five-year-old Syrian boy sitting in the back of an ambulance. We need to work together to bring an end to this conflict as soon as possible.
As with all conflicts, there are many parties acting for good in both Syria and the surrounding region. I want to draw particular attention to and praise the work of the White Helmets—the 3,000 members of the Syria Civil Defence—who work tirelessly to protect civilians caught up in the conflict and are often the first on the scene after bombings. We should also praise the work of the various non-governmental organisations and United Nations missions that deliver aid on the ground in some of the most challenging conditions ever seen.
Our Committee’s report made a number of recommendations to the Government, and principally to the Department for International Development, including on increasing the opportunities for cash-based assistance to the region, identifying and developing opportunities for investment and job creation in Jordan, ensuring that vulnerable refugees outside camps receive appropriate levels of support, and pressing the Lebanese Government to resume the registration process for new refugees. We urged the Government to come to a quick decision on Save the Children’s proposal that 3,000 unaccompanied children from Europe be resettled in this country.
DFID has led the way with its efforts to alleviate the suffering and the ongoing humanitarian crisis that still grips Syria and the surrounding region. The UK plays an active role in encouraging other countries to pledge money and resources to the region. A year ago, in February 2016, the Government hosted the “Supporting Syria and the Region” conference, in which nearly $6 billion was pledged to help the UN co-ordinated appeals. An additional $5.4 billion was pledged up until 2020, bringing the total to more than $11 billion. That was followed up with an event this January, co-hosted by Finland and the United Nations, which launched a further appeal for $8 billion to relieve the humanitarian crisis. I would be grateful if the Minister could tell us what progress was being made towards achieving that, and what the United Kingdom’s contribution is.
In our report, we made it clear that we welcome DFID’s cash-based assistance efforts in the region and want them developed further. Many refugees exhaust their savings just to get out of the country, and many are heavily in debt. That is exacerbated by the fact that they are often not allowed to work in the country in which they have refuge. Cash-based assistance has proven to be a value-for-money approach to humanitarian assistance. I welcome the fact that DFID has already distributed nearly 1 million vouchers in the region.
Job creation, investment and economic growth are vital factors in ensuring that refugees in the countries around Syria are able to regain a sense of normality when the conflict eventually ends. During the Syria conference in London last year, Jordan, Turkey and Lebanon—the main recipient countries of refugees—promised to open up their economies to help generate job growth, for both refugees and, very importantly, their host communities. I want to put on the record that the Jordanian Government and people have responded particularly positively to that. Syrian refugees are now able to apply for work permits in Jordan in sectors of the economy in which Jordanian participation is low— for example, construction, agriculture and other service industries. Those changes have allowed roughly 37,000 Syrian refugees to gain employment in Jordan—up from 4,000 at the time of the London conference. Jordan has also gained preferential access to European Union markets, which will give designated development zones the potential to provide more than 100,000 jobs to both Jordanians and Syrians in the future.
The United Kingdom is the second largest bilateral donor to Syria and the surrounding countries. As a result of the funding that humanitarian organisations have received, we are able to keep refugees close to home, so that when the conflict comes to an end they can return to Syria. Providing basic humanitarian assistance is vital, but it is not enough. There needs to be a sense of hope for a better future.
The UK Government, and DFID in particular, have taken some very positive steps to ensure that the humanitarian situation in Syria and the surrounding countries is well managed and well funded, but there are some areas where our Committee feels DFID could and should do more. In our report, we recommended that the Department make use of the Commonwealth Development Corporation’s expertise in that regard. We believe that the Government already have a good story to tell on job creation and investment, particularly in Jordan, but more could be done to provide sustainable job opportunities for both refugees and host communities if CDC’s expertise were engaged. Legislation has now gone through Parliament to increase significantly the amount of capital available to CDC. I urge the Government to look again at the question of whether CDC can invest in at least some economies in that region, particularly in the run-up to the forthcoming publication of the corporation’s five-year strategy.
Other outstanding issues were addressed in our report. The Syrian conflict has disproportionately affected certain minority groups, especially ethnic and religious minorities and disabled people. The best solution for them is often resettlement in other parts of the world, but for reasons of stigma or fear of persecution, many do not register, so they fall through the net. Only 23% of Syrian refugees live in formal camps, and there are no such camps for them in Lebanon or Egypt. There is the tragic situation in the berm, the area between Jordan and Syria, where a large number of refugees live, in often very desperate circumstances, in a state of limbo, unable to get out.
As the conflict has worn on, more people have sought out support from the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. I am keen to hear from the Minister what the Government are doing with UNHCR and civil society to ensure that support reaches everyone who needs it, whether they are registered or not. Registration is an important step, but more needs to be done to ensure that all those eligible for resettlement, either here in the UK or elsewhere, are granted it.
On 9 February, The Independent reported that the Home Office wanted a “temporary limit” on requests from people with mobility problems and learning disabilities because of a lack of “suitable reception capacity” for them in the UK. Will the Minister include in his response the Government’s position on the temporary limit, and will he say whether they are planning to lift it? I simply make the point that the most vulnerable are those who need our support the most.
There is also long-standing concern about a policy in Lebanon that has inhibited UNHCR’s ability to register new refugees in that country. DFID has allocated £46 million to UNHCR’s efforts in Lebanon, but I am concerned that the policy may prevent people from accessing basic services. The Lebanese Government say that there are more than 500,000 unregistered Syrian refugees in Lebanon, and that more than two thirds of the Syrian children born in Lebanon have not even had their births registered. Will the Minister update us on that Lebanese policy? Is it still in place, and if so, what is the United Kingdom doing to work with the Lebanese Government to make progress, so that, ideally, all refugees in Lebanon are registered?
Last December, the UK Government co-sponsored a UN General Assembly motion that sought to establish an independent mechanism to assist in bringing to justice those responsible for the most serious crimes in Syria. The UK has also worked closely with the French and American Governments on a motion to hold Daesh and the Assad regime to account for their use of chemical weapons. Unfortunately, the motion was vetoed by Russia and China. Will the Minister update the House on that, and in particular on the potential for an independent UN mechanism that would enable us to make progress in bringing to justice all those who have used illegal weapons in Syria?
The UK clearly has an important role to play in diplomatic efforts to bring an end to the Syrian conflict. It is promising to see that the UN-mediated political talks between the Syrian parties resumed in Geneva last month, and the next round is due to take place later this month. There have been calls for the 30 December ceasefire to be strengthened, so will the Minister tell us what role the UK will play in ensuring that the ceasefire holds and that we can make progress through diplomatic means?
The final issue from the report has probably attracted the most attention and public debate, and that is the Save the Children recommendation on 3,000 unaccompanied children. Last year, before the Government had an opportunity to respond to our report, Lord Dubs put forward an amendment to the Immigration Bill that would have legally bound us to resettle 3,000 unaccompanied children from Europe. Ahead of the vote, the Government announced that they would resettle 3,000 vulnerable people from the middle east and north Africa over the course of the Parliament. Those people would not solely be unaccompanied children, but that was nevertheless very welcome.
When the Bill became an Act, it stated that the number of children to be resettled
“shall be determined by the Government”.
By September last year, no child had been brought to the UK as a result of the provision, which is still known as the Dubs amendment. By November, according to what the Home Office’s Minister for Immigration told the International Development Committee, about 140 children had been resettled, including 80 from France. We welcomed the progress. Last month, however, the Government announced that a total of 350 children would be resettled over the course of the Parliament, with 200 already in the UK. The Immigration Minister told the House in a written statement that the 350 number met
“the intention and spirit behind the provision”.
That figure is of course a fraction of the 3,000 proposed by Save the Children, a figure that was based on an estimate of the UK’s fair share of the 30,000 unaccompanied children who had made their way to Europe by 2015—and estimates suggest that the figure has since trebled. The Government can do more to ensure that children who have made the journey to Europe alone are protected. In 2014, an estimated 13,000 unaccompanied children arrived just in Italy, about 4,000 of whom have gone missing. There is real concern that some of those children might have become the victims of people traffickers and been forced into prostitution, child labour or the drugs trade. We cannot stand by while that happens on our doorstep.
Meanwhile, in the past two months, President Trump has signed two executive orders that prevent Syrian refugees from claiming refuge in the United States. The US has a positive and progressive track record of resettling refugees from many conflicts around the world; President Trump has broken with that. He said that European countries had made “a tremendous mistake” by admitting millions of refugees from Syria and other middle eastern “trouble spots”. How can giving people refuge from conflicts that are destroying their country be described by the President of the United States as a mistake? President Trump’s executive order does nothing but further complicate the humanitarian situation in the region. It is vital that the United Kingdom does not follow the Trump Administration’s lead.
Would the hon. Gentleman, like me, welcome clarification of whether the Dubs amendment scheme is in fact closed? There seems to be uncertainty about that. Will the Government welcome any additional contributions offered by local authorities that feel that they may have more capacity in future?
The hon. Gentleman is a relatively new member of the International Development Committee but already an active and committed one. I thank him for his work on it. I absolutely agree with him. If the Minister could respond to that point, I would be delighted. I agree that it is not entirely clear whether the scheme has been completely closed. I hope that it has not, and that there will be further opportunities for unaccompanied children to be resettled, beyond the 350 to which the Government have already committed.
I am grateful to the Liaison Committee for the opportunity to debate our report and the Government response. I thank fellow members of the International Development Committee for their work—a number of members from all parties are present for the debate—and I put on record my appreciation of the fantastic team of staff who support the work of the Committee. I look forward to listening to all contributions to the debate, which—this is my final point—we are holding in the context of great public and media concern about, and scrutiny of, international aid and development. I and other members of the Committee from different parties have argued consistently that those of us who believe in UK aid, and who defend the 0.7% target and DFID as a stand-alone Department, have a particular responsibility to demonstrate that that aid is being delivered and makes a real difference to the most vulnerable—that we truly have value for money.
In her statement to the House last week on the counter-Daesh strategy, the Secretary of State for International Development said that our work in Syria and the region
“shows Britain at its best and exactly why we have UK aid. It shows not only how the British Government lead across the world, but how we influence security and stabilisation”—[Official Report, 15 March 2017; Vol. 623, c. 448.]
in many of these areas. I echo her remarks; she is absolutely right. The investment that this country has made in aid to Syria and its neighbouring countries in recent years is one of the finest examples of how humanitarian aid can make a real difference in a crisis. Our aid is crucial, but it is equally important that we redouble our efforts to find a diplomatic solution, so that the people of Syria can at last have the peace and justice that they deserve.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Stringer, and a pleasure, as always, to follow the hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Stephen Twigg), who chairs our International Development Committee and gave an excellent and thorough speech. I thank Syria Relief, Islamic Relief and Save the Children, which gave evidence to the Committee and provided vital information about the impact of our aid to ensure that we were up to speed with what was happening on the ground.
I will not reiterate all the issues that the Chair of the Committee so eloquently raised, but I shall highlight several issues that came to the fore of my mind during our visit to Lebanon and Jordan. What are the Government doing about child labour in Lebanon? That issue was raised with us. I understand that the registration process means that families cannot gain employment, so children as young as six are sent out to work for as long as 12 hours for only a few dollars a day. That is basically child labour, abuse and exploitation. What is happening there? What are we doing to address that very concerning issue? Those children are traumatised and are being exploited. We should take that situation seriously and highlight it to the Government to ensure that they are aware of it and that measures are taken to try to ensure that children are not exploited in that manner.
The hon. Gentleman raised the issue of the berm. What is happening there? When the Committee visited Jordan and Lebanon, we were not able to visit the berm, due to security issues. However, we heard about the absolutely desperate situations of people trapped there. They are trapped alongside extremists and encouraged to join extremist groups. They have little opportunity to do anything else with their lives and are absolutely desperate for money, so they are forced into situations in which they are exploited.
What is happening with the berm? When I raised the issue with Ministers we spoke to there, they downplayed and minimised it, which ran counter to the information that aid agencies on the ground gave us. We need to highlight and to press the issue in our liaison with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and to do all we can to ensure that people in the berm have not only aid but the opportunity to leave that area and access refugee camps, where they and their children will be secure and their children can receive education, which we help to provide.
Will the Minister also comment on mental health support for children? When the Committee visited the region, we saw children who had been traumatised by their journeys, the atrocities they had witnessed and having lost family members. I am sure that some of them could not even speak. Fortunately, they had some mental health support. How do we contribute to mental health support to ensure that those children recover as much as possible, start to lead their childhoods again and are enabled, so far as possible, to go on and achieve their full potential?
I was also troubled by the lack of electricity at the al-Azraq camp, which we visited. I was told when I raised the issue, “Well, that’s just about to happen,” but when I spoke to aid agencies, they said, “Yes, but for months lots of visitors have come and that’s what everyone has been told.” What is happening in that regard? Is any electricity available in that camp? How are we supporting the basic needs of refugees?
I am also concerned about the plight of Christians in the area. We heard evidence that Christians were frightened to go to camps where they would be in the minority, so they tended to live outside camps, in quite desperate situations with little access to aid. What is the Government’s strategy or policy? What do they hope to do to secure aid and protection for minority groups such as the Christians we heard about?
When we were in Lebanon, we heard about Palestinian camps. We must remember that these communities have hosted refugees for years, and we should commend the work that they have done. However, some quite distressing issues were raised about the services in the Palestinian camps. I know that we provide support in that regard. One crucial issue—I was tremendously upset when I heard about this—is that Palestinian people are electrocuted almost every other week because there is no appropriate electricity system. When it rains, people are electrocuted by live wires. We have been putting money into those camps for many years, so why are such basic things not in place? Surely, in this day and age, that should not be happening.
On the issue of vulnerable children and the Dubs scheme, will the UK consider taking more children than the 350 they announced? The hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby stated that some councils have come forward to say that there may be additional capacity. Surely, if that is the case, we can work with councils to do all we can to ensure that as many children as possible are safe in the UK. The Independent reported that the Government have stopped taking disabled children through the MENA vulnerable children resettlement scheme. What is happening? How many disabled children have been relocated to the United Kingdom? I asked the Home Secretary that question on the Floor of the House more than a month ago and was told that, as chair of the all-party parliamentary group on disability, I would receive a written response, but I still have not received any response and I remain very concerned. Disabled children are some of the most vulnerable children in this situation, and we should do all we can to identify their whereabouts and ensure that, wherever possible, we offer them refuge.
What liaison is taking place among United Kingdom Government Departments about Syria’s disappeared? Evidence of human rights abuses continues to mount against the regime of President Assad. What do we know about the underground network of detention centres where reportedly men, women and children have remained missing over a number of years, with families hearing little or no news as to what has become of them? In terms of diplomatic efforts, what are we doing to ensure that, where human rights abuses are taking place, we are directly addressing those with the appropriate authorities and Ministers?
Our aid has had a tremendous impact on the people it reaches; I have seen that first hand. It is true that our compassion sets us apart in terms of our leadership in this field, but much more can be done, particularly for vulnerable children: those who may be on their own in Europe without parents, who have suffered trauma and long journeys, who are going missing and who are being exploited and abused. I would like the Government to try to address those issues compassionately and show the leadership those people very much deserve.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Stringer. I congratulate the hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Stephen Twigg) and the International Development Committee on securing time from the Liaison Committee for this debate and the one that is about to follow. The Scottish National party has issues about the estimates procedure, but while it exists in its current format I hope he will be able to persuade the Liaison Committee to find some time for debates on his Committee’s reports on the Floor of the House. DFID might be one of the most scrutinised Departments in terms of the Independent Commission for Aid Impact and the excellent work of his Committee, but a lot of scrutiny in debate by other Members of Parliament goes on here in Westminster Hall, so DFID Ministers do not get their fair share of time at the Dispatch Box. Whenever they do, Members across the House show willingness to participate in such debates. I hope that we have more of them.
It is telling that the report is more than a year old, as is the Government’s response to it. That is the length of time we have had to wait for this opportunity, despite the fact that business in the main Chamber keeps collapsing. Without getting bogged down in procedural matters, I wanted to put that on the record.
Both of the reports are highly relevant, and sadly there has been little improvement in many of the areas covered in them. I offer my backing to the Committee’s findings and recommendations. It is worth reflecting on media reports suggesting that, just yesterday, while this place was under attack, 33 people were reported dead after an airstrike on a school acting as a shelter for internally displaced people in northern Syria. Yesterday, we had a terrible and tragic taste of a reality that people in Syria and elsewhere in the world—not least Nigeria, as we will hear later—live with on a daily basis.
I echo the general points made about the importance of the Government’s commitment to the 0.7% aid target. The global leadership that demonstrates is particularly important in the context of Brexit. It is important that we all defend and make the case for the continuation of that commitment.
I will look at two key areas of the report: support provided in Syria and the surrounding region, and the impact of the refugee crisis on the UK and western Europe in particular. We all recognise, as the Chair of the Committee did in his opening speech, the significant logistical challenges of delivering humanitarian aid on the ground, especially when land access is difficult. The tragic case mentioned of the aid convoy is a real example of that. That is why the SNP has repeatedly asked about the possibility of aid drops to areas under siege. If manned missions are not possible or risk airborne conflict, what serious consideration is being given to the use of drone technology? In the main Chamber, various Members have raised the US joint precision airdrop system, and we know that DFID—admittedly on a smaller scale—was trialling drone delivery of medicine and aid in Nepal and Tanzania, so what discussions is the Minister having with the Ministry of Defence, the FCO and international partners on that? If we can drop bombs, surely we can find a way to drop aid.
I will also ask the Minister about support for NGOs on the ground and faith-based organisations in particular, who are often best placed to deliver aid. If it is difficult for the multilateral agencies to get through, what support can we provide for organisations on the ground? A big element of the counter-Daesh activity is cutting off finance and supply and using disruptive technological interventions. Can the reverse be true: is there a way of making finance and resources available under the radar? It would be interesting to hear about that.
In the wider region, NGOs, civil society organisations and faith-based organisations in particular have a role in the border countries, where much of the immediate displacement has occurred. Again, it would be useful to hear about support. My hon. Friend the Member for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow (Dr Cameron) made important points about Christian and more general religious persecution in the area.
The Government are rightly a significant contributor to support in the formal refugee camps, but support outwith those camps, particularly in Lebanon, is also important. The report touches on the concept of cash transfers, which are a very—and increasingly—important method across development interventions. That shows respect for the individual’s dignity and empowers people in an often otherwise oppressed situation. The Government should be commended for trying to press ahead with that. It would be interesting to hear any reflections the Minister can provide on that. Provision of education is also crucial in these scenarios. Otherwise, there is a risk of future generations being radicalised or simply missing their life chances and opportunities. As the crisis becomes increasingly protracted, there is the risk of not just one but more than one generation growing up like that.
I draw the Minister’s and the House’s attention to my early-day motion 1054 on the work of a former constituent of mine and his organisation Journeys of Hope, or Mishwar Amal, which supports refugees in Lebanon. It provides diverse opportunities, including travel, expeditions and entertainment for young people in particular in the camps who have been displaced from Syria and indeed Palestine. That is also indicative of the incredible response and generosity of people in the UK to the crisis. He was a constituent of mine, as I said, but he uprooted and has now made a home there, running that fantastic initiative.
There is also a role for the CDC, as the report says and as the Chair mentioned in his speech. The opportunity is there for the Government to live up to the potential they spoke of the CDC having when increased funding was asked for during the passage of the Commonwealth Development Corporation Act 2017.
On the impact of the refugee crisis here, Scotland and my city of Glasgow have been proud to welcome refugees from Syria and indeed around the world. However, I echo the comments of the earlier speakers: 20,000 over five years from the camps is not a fair share, and 350 under Dubs is certainly not. The issue of unaccompanied children in particular is of huge concern to the general public, to constituents of mine and I suspect to all of us. There have been clear indications from local authorities that they are willing to take more children. The time is still there to put that right, do the right thing, reopen the scheme and ensure that more children can be safely relocated. I was interested to hear—I had not heard—that the number of unaccompanied children has potentially trebled since 2015. That is incredibly worrying, and that calls on us to do more.
Questions are raised by the Department, the Committee and me about the spend of official development assistance by Departments other than the Department for International Development. The resettlement of refugees is a legitimate way to use ODA, and I think none of us would disapprove if some of the money was going to that and that allowed the Home Office to increase the number of people it was willing to take.
There must be support for those refugees when they come here. I notice that the report speaks about English for speakers of other languages, which is important. I have encountered difficulties on that issue in my constituency. The voluntary organisations that provide that service are under pressure because there is so much demand, and that has an impact on the ability of refugees to access services. That is something that some of us encounter when we are trying to deal with refugees in our constituency surgeries.
My hon. Friend the Member for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow spoke about the need for mental healthcare particularly in the refugee camps, but it is also true for people arriving here. I have met severely traumatised refugees who have come here to make their home but who still live with the scars of the dreadful things that they have witnessed. We have to ensure that support is there, both for them and the people who can provide the right kind of support.
The situation is a tragedy and is increasingly protracted and long term; as the Committee Chair said, we are past the sixth anniversary. My hon. Friend the Member for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow gave the example of electricity in the camps. There are lessons to be learned even from the initial response to the crisis and from how we continue to respond. There should be no excuse for not learning the kind of lessons outlined in the report and modifying and adapting our responses as appropriate. I welcome the Committee’s work on this and hope it will continue to monitor and scrutinise the situation. I look forward to the Minister’s response.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Stringer. May I say—this is the first time I have had the opportunity to do so in an official capacity—that I am sure all hon. Members will join me in offering our sincere condolences to the family and friends of victims of the attack yesterday afternoon? We offer our greatest thanks to PC Keith Palmer, who fell in the line of duty yesterday, and to the emergency services both in London and across the UK, who go to work every day to keep all of us safe. They are people we must remember in our thoughts and prayers. The business of the House continues as normal today. We are sitting and debating the issues that matter to us and to our constituents, which shows that we will not be beaten.
I applaud the Chair of the International Development Committee, my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Stephen Twigg), who has brought this important debate before us. He made some important and pertinent points in what I thought was a very passionate speech. In particular, he referred to the six years of atrocities in the region, the long siege of Aleppo, the attacking of civilians and the real shortage of food, medicine and immediate emergency medical supplies. I align myself with his praise for all the NGOs, voluntary organisations and many others that do fantastic work on the ground in some of the most difficult conditions. He also rightly made the point about the Commonwealth Development Corporation, which has received increased money to spend. The region is clearly in need of investment, and my hon. Friend is right that we should do more to support the economies there.
I am also grateful for the contribution of the hon. Member for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow (Dr Cameron), who raised one or two very important points, particularly on the children’s mental health services that we provide. That is a massively important point that can be so easily overlooked in the totality of the situation. I am sure the Minister will inform us of how that particular issue is being looked at. The hon. Lady also made an important point about the protection of minority groups in the region, which is a worry. We have all seen reports showing that more needs to be done on that.
The Opposition broadly welcome DFID’s commitment to supporting refugees caught in the Syrian emergency. It is extremely commendable that it is taking more than its fair share of the responsibility for the situation, with significant levels of funding. After all, the UK has so far committed more than £2.3 billion to the emergency, the majority of which has gone to supporting countries in the region. I also express my support for the assistance that DFID is providing to in-region countries. As has been pointed out many times, it is far more economical to support refugees residing in the region, allowing us to spread more funding to those who desperately need it. That is not to say that more could not be done to refugees in Europe; I will come on to that shortly.
While we are broadly supportive of DFID’s work in the region to help Syrian refugees fleeing the brutal conflict, there are questions about that work that need answering. First, despite DFID’s exemplary funding, there is still a significant funding shortfall in the Syrian emergency, with just 3% of the needed funds raised as of February. About £4.5 billion is required for the UNHCR to properly meet its regional objectives and assist almost 5 million registered and the many unregistered refugees, so that low figure is particularly concerning. The Government must therefore redouble their commitment in negotiations, discussions and diplomacy to bring weight to bear on other nations to step up to the plate and fulfil their obligation to spend 0.7% of their GDP on development. That would ensure that the UNHCR and other emergency programmes in and around Syria are properly and adequately funded to do their job.
I also find interesting the way in which funding is distributed to refugees across the region. While not always popular, cash programming has proven to have considerable benefits for both refugees and their host countries, as has been stated. For every £1 given to refugees in Lebanon, for example, £2.13 is generated in the local economy, so there is a clear advantage in using cash programming as part of a wider development strategy while also aiding refugees. I will be grateful if the Minister can inform me whether it remains a measure used by his Department, and what the Department is doing to ensure that it is joined up with the broader development strategy in the region.
As I have said, helping refugees in the region is the most economical way of supporting them. It also creates the least upheaval for the refugees involved, because a common language is often spoken, many have either friends or family nearby and it is often in their best interests. However, as the conflict in Syria continues—it is now in its sixth year—there is a danger that countries in the region that are supporting refugees, such as Lebanon, Jordan and Egypt, will become saturated, threatening refugees’ wellbeing.
A lack of legal access to work often means that refugees are forced into informal sector jobs that do little to help them out of poverty, with low pay, insecure working arrangements and poor employment conditions. It is important to help to get them legal access to work, and to foster economic growth, which will provide jobs. That is particularly pressing as the conflict has no end in sight. We must ensure that refugees are suitably relocated for the medium to long term. I will therefore be grateful if the Minister updates us on DFID’s work on economic investment in Lebanon, Jordan and Egypt. As I stated earlier, I believe the CDC is an appropriate vehicle to provide economic investment in the region.
As all hon. Members who have spoken have stated, we must consider the situation of unaccompanied children, who have seen far too much of the world and its tragedies at far too young an age. The UK has a duty to accept our fair share of those vulnerable children. The Government originally committed to resettle 3,000 vulnerable children and family members from the region, which I believe was widely supported by all, by accepting the Dubs amendment. However, I share the deep concerns raised today about their recent backtrack on that commitment and the capping of the number to be resettled at 350. For the many reasons that have been stated, I believe that we must overturn that and accept vulnerable children who are fleeing conflict.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that while there is suffering elsewhere, the middle east is the true epicentre of suffering? Does he welcome, as I do, the effort of the British Government to take 3,000 unaccompanied children from the region—an effort that is not necessarily matched by our international counterparts?
Of course I welcome that, and it is a point well made. However, I hope the hon. Gentleman will agree that there are at least that many unaccompanied children in Europe who are at serious risk. Some have already been exploited and many are at serious risk of exploitation through criminally organised gangs. I believe we have an absolute duty to those children. To say we will accept a very small number is not the right way.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that it is important to address capacity? If people and children can be abused and exploited in a developed, peaceful country such as France, things could happen over here if we do not organise ourselves in the UK. We need to ensure they have the best care, and we can only do that by addressing capacity, which is what the Dubs amendment that was actually agreed and voted on in this House was there to do.
I absolutely agree that capacity is important. Whether or not we have the capacity is something we could talk about further. I certainly believe we have more capacity than the cap that has been put in place. The hon. Gentleman raised the point earlier that some local authorities are coming forward to say they believe they have more capacity, but he makes a generally valid point. My strong view is that if we do not reverse the cap and address this issue, history will not forgive us.
In conclusion, we broadly support the work that DFID is doing in Syria and the region to resettle and support refugees. The Government are providing a substantial level of funding and ensuring that refugees are properly supported as a result. However, they can put more pressure on our friends and allies to do more, and they need to ensure that countries such as Lebanon are not overwhelmed. We also need to meet our obligation to provide a safe refuge for vulnerable Syrian children fleeing conflict. I hope and am sure that the Minister will address all those points and elaborate further.
First, I join the shadow Minister, the hon. Member for Bradford East (Imran Hussain), in offering my condolences and those of all of us here today to those who have been so terribly affected by events yesterday, including Keith Palmer, who gave his life in protecting this place and the democracy that we are continuing the work of in this debate and in the House and across the estate and Government today.
It is a stark reminder of the challenges faced by many people across the world every day and of the stories we hear emanating particularly from the middle east and Syria—of the terrible events that so many people face as part of their ordinary lives and have done for many years now. We are looking at six years of the most terrible conflict, with tragic human consequences. It is welcome that when we debate these issues, the tone is—without exception—the one we have seen adopted by Members today. Despite what are so often our differences of party policy, ideology and outlook to the world, we unite in agreement that we want to see the UK play a lead role in addressing these issues. We share a common view that we want to see the most good done that can be done with the resources we allocate and the work we do.
To that end, we should recognise the significant role that the UK has played and is playing in addressing the humanitarian crisis in the middle east and the fallout from the conflict that sadly continues in Syria. More than £2.3 billion has been committed, and this year’s expenditure, which was agreed to be £510 million at the “Supporting Syria” conference, has now been exceeded to around £550 million. The UK, I am proud to say, is the second largest bilateral humanitarian donor after the United States.
We continue to work through international agencies to support some of the world’s most vulnerable and in-need people. I can reaffirm the Government’s commitment to that. On behalf of my Department and the Government, I recognise the level of interest taken by hon. Members, reflected in the breadth and depth of questions and understanding today, and thank members of the International Development Committee and its Chair, the hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Stephen Twigg), for their work in the report. I have some sympathy with the comment from the hon. Member for Glasgow North (Patrick Grady) that it would have been nice had the report been debated in a shorter order of time, but the fact that so many questions and issues have been raised today reflects the ongoing interest.
The Chair of the International Development Committee raised a broad range of issues, including the CDC and what its involvement might be. The next five-year strategy, as he said, will consider what role the CDC can play in Syria and regarding Syrian refugees in the region more broadly. There may well be opportunities there, and we are keen to ensure that where such possibilities exist, they are properly explored and considered. I do not want to go further than that or potentially tie the hands of an arm’s length organisation, but the point that he and other Members have made is a good and important one.
Questions were asked about Lebanon, a particularly small nation that has been heavily impacted by the conflict on its borders. In October 2014, the Government of Lebanon introduced tougher measures to reduce the flow of refugees, including the closure of borders to refugees, stopping registration by UNHCR and introducing a prohibitive and, to be quite frank, expensive process for acquiring residency permits. The UK Government, other UK agencies and international actors have been working with and making representations to Lebanon, and significant improvements have since been made. A statement of intent was signed in London at the “Supporting Syria” conference, and the Lebanese Government have removed the pledge not to work from residency permits and recently waived the residency permit fee for most Syrian refugees. That is a significant step forward. We continue to make appropriate representations and support where we can, but we should recognise where progress is being made.
The hon. Member for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow (Dr Cameron) asked about children in Lebanon and the most vulnerable groups affected by not only the more obvious health concerns but the mental impact, toil and toll that conflict can take. With the support of the Government of Lebanon and other international actors, but primarily through the UK’s support, I am pleased to say that we have been able to assist the Government of Lebanon in getting 203,000 Syrian children into its public school system, supporting the necessary infrastructure to go with that and the provision of the health services that are needed, and looking particularly at the humanitarian, educational and economic needs of women and girls.
We have worked with international agencies to design programmes targeting those groups specifically, because we recognise that it is sometimes the most vulnerable who find it most difficult to have their voices heard in such situations. It is the duty of the international community to recognise and reach out to all groups, not only those who shout the loudest or whose need is the most obvious, as important as those groups also are.
The Chair of the International Development Committee raised the issues of the ceasefire, illegal weapons and the diplomacy aspect of our involvement in the region. We continue to work with our partners, through international agencies and bilaterally, to keep pressure on where we can and to support initiatives where appropriate, to try to stabilise the continuing situation there as much as is possible in the circumstances. That is something we will continue and are, I am proud to say, a leading nation on.
The hon. Gentleman also asked specifically about the Helsinki appeal. It is, I understand, currently about 18% funded. He will be aware that the UK is co-hosting a conference in Brussels very soon, from 4 to 5 April. That will be an opportunity to take this and other issues further. We hope and expect to see further progress made, but we should recognise that, as dire as the need is, the international community has contributed a significant amount to address some of the needs in and around Syria, which is welcome.
There is more to do. We will continue to work with our partners to go further, and of course continual work is needed on the scrutiny of how money is spent and the effect it is having. However, we should recognise that so far the international community has done a good job of recognising the severity and importance of what is happening. We intend to continue to press that message home with our friends across the globe and meet our obligations in supporting those who most need it.
The hon. Member for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow brought up the berm—the border between Syria and Jordan—and the dire situation that affects so many people there. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister announced in December a further £10 million of funding, £6 million of which was specifically for the Syria-Jordan border. There are challenges in getting support to those who need it there, but we recognise them and are aware of the depth and breadth of the need. Again, we are working with international partners to see what more the UK may be able to do and what more is needed to address the terrible situation in which so many find themselves.
I welcome the reaffirmed commitment of the hon. Member for Glasgow North. He never misses an opportunity to impress on those who will listen, whoever they may be, the importance of our commitment to 0.7%. I was proud to support that legislation in the previous Parliament; it is one of the great achievements of global Britain. He is right to recognise that particularly post-Brexit, as we are given the opportunity to shape the UK’s place in the world going forward, the work that we do on international development is an important aspect of that, including our 0.7% commitment, which is world leading both in its scale and in our implementation of it. It is welcome that there is cross-party support for it, and I thank the hon. Gentleman for raising it, as he invariably remembers to do.
The hon. Gentleman asked about aid drops and the possibility of getting to harder-to-reach areas. We must of course be careful. We always review whatever possibilities there might be to get support to those who need it, and in the right way, but we must ensure at the same time that no harm is done. Many conflict-affected areas, by their very nature, have groups in them that we would not want to supply with aid and that might misuse what we supply were we not able properly to monitor it. We must retain public confidence in the money that we spend, the aid that we deploy and how it is used, and we must recognise that in conflict areas there is danger to operators who will try to deliver by conventional means and challenges with the deployment of drones for large-scale, heavy drops of the type that we might be discussing. We remain committed to reviewing innovative methods of delivering support and aid where appropriate, but the challenges at present make air drops to areas under siege difficult. I recognise that the hon. Gentleman has raised the issue before, including on the Floor of the House, I believe. I suspect that he will continue to pursue it, and, as always when he raises and pursues issues, the Department for International Development listens and ensures that we respond appropriately and ambitiously. We will continue to review all options, where they might arise, to do more good with the resource that we have.
The hon. Gentleman asked about under-the-radar support for NGOs operating in areas where we might be able to provide support, but perhaps in a way that is less obvious to those who would want to frustrate it. It would be easy for me to say that, by the very nature of under-the-radar support, it would be inappropriate for me to talk about it in a forum such as this, but I also want to recognise that challenges come with it—challenges of accountability, deliverability and ensuring that the work we do does no harm. I do not want to pretend to have secret information up my sleeve that I am not sharing; rather, I ask hon. Members to recognise that, even if I were able to comment on such activities, this is not a forum in which I would be able to do so. However, the hon. Member for Glasgow North made an important point, and it is on the record.
The hon. Gentleman mentioned early-day motion 1054 and the work that his former constituent is engaged in with Journeys of Hope. I have never been a signer of early-day motions; I am a long-standing sceptic. However, I will undertake to review that early-day motion and its signatories following the debate. He has done the job of an ever diligent and good constituency MP in ensuring that his former constituent and his good work is raised and recognised and put on the record in the House, not just in the form of the early-day motion and the signatories to it, but in the Hansard report that will follow this debate. That ought to be recognised. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will continue to promote the good work of his former constituent through appropriate means.
The shadow Minister raised a range of issues, including cash programming and cash transfers, which can be controversial. They require careful thought and planning, but are appropriate in some circumstances. I have seen a number of cash transfer programmes in my time in the Department and have been impressed by what I have seen. They have, potentially, a role to play. I welcome the shadow Minister’s statement of support for what can be a controversial area of activity, as I do the agreement that the Chair of the Select Committee expressed from a sedentary position as he nodded and smiled and “Hear, hear”-ed. It is recognised that this is an area that we should not close the door to in ensuring that we deliver the maximum good and the maximum utility for the taxpayers’ money that we spend. We have not just a duty to British taxpayers to do that, but a duty to those who receive the support, because every pound through which we can drive more efficiency is an additional opportunity to help more, to do more and to do more good with the resource that we allocate.
There was a debate, which I hesitate to reopen, about the Dubs amendment, which has been quite widely discussed on the Floor of the House and debated at some length. I do not mean to reopen the debate in its entirety, but I will of course speak to some of the comments that hon. Members have made. First, we should recognise the significant work that the UK is doing regarding support to refugees, both in region and at home. Under a separate scheme, as I think my hon. Friend the Member for Cheltenham (Alex Chalk) said, 3,000 refugee children are being supported by the UK. UK local authorities were asked in a consultation what more they felt they could do, which is where the number of 350 has arisen. The hon. Member for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow asked, “What if we can find more?” Local authorities are of course free to offer more and talk about the resources that they have available, but there is also a need, which we should recognise, to ensure an equitable and appropriate distribution among host authorities throughout the UK. That factor may also be considered in how we approach the ultimate delivery of this policy.
We must recognise, as the shadow Minister said, that it can be more economical to support refugees in country. For the likely cost of supporting 3,000 unaccompanied children in the UK, the UK can provide support to 800,000 refugees in region. We have to be very careful with the money that is available to us, to ensure that it does the maximum good that it can. A local authority receiving an unaccompanied child refugee aged under 16 currently receives support of more than £41,000 a year. It is right that when we place people in communities in this country, we provide appropriate support, ensure that facilities are there and recognise that we have to do it carefully and sensibly to avoid the risk of exploitation. My hon. Friend the Member for Sutton and Cheam (Paul Scully) made that point very ably, and it was welcome that he did so.
We should also recognise that for every good action we take, there is the opportunity cost of another action that we could have used that resource for. That leads to difficult decisions and quite a challenging reading of morally difficult circumstances, but we should recognise that we need to deliver the maximum benefit that we can to those who most need it with the budget available to us—the very significant 0.7% commitment that we have made. We must constantly reinforce support for that in the broader community, with our constituents and the taxpayers who ultimately pay for it.
There was a range of other questions, which as always I will be happy to discuss with hon. Members. I am of course happy to ensure that if Members want to write specifically, with detailed follow-up from the debate, the Department will answer as fully as it can. I place on the record my thanks to all hon. Members who have attended the debate. I particularly thank the Select Committee for its continued work and diligence in this area and the shadow Minister for the collegiate and non-partisan way in which the shadow team approach this very important issue.
We should be proud of the UK’s contribution. We should be proud of what we do diplomatically, of what we do in terms of aid and of the guidance and leadership that we are sometimes able to provide to the international community in ensuring that we do aid and support in the right way and that it gets to the right people. That has cross-party support, and perhaps today, following the events of yesterday, it is even more poignant than normal.
I thank hon. Members for taking the time to come and contribute and ask questions. I thank all those who, in the field and at home, work so hard to deliver the interventions, policies and work that allow the money that we allocate to make the difference that it does. It is not the politicians sitting here—although importantly, they set the debate—who are on the frontline delivering the work; it is the many hard-working people in the Department for International Development, in the agencies with which we work and in the international agencies with which we partner. They do incredibly challenging jobs in an incredibly difficult environment, and I take this opportunity to thank them on behalf of the House and to pledge our support to assist them in whatever way we can to continue the important work that makes a difference to so many.
I echo the Minister’s thanks to everyone who has participated in the debate. Not least, I thank him for his response and, on the Committee’s behalf, I thank all those who have enabled us to undertake the inquiry by providing evidence. As a Committee, we are trying to follow up our reports. Although this report was published just over a year ago and was our first report of the Parliament, we are keen to ensure that we review our recommendations and progress on them. In the light of that, we followed up the report a few weeks ago with a further evidence session, which included our taking evidence from Lord Dubs.
I absolutely agree—I think this is the Committee’s view—that we can be immensely proud of the UK’s work in region, both with internally displaced persons in Syria and with refugees in the surrounding countries. My argument is not that we should not be proud of that, but that we could do more here. I was encouraged by the Minister’s response, which I take to mean that the door is still open on Dubs if certain conditions are met. That is the challenge for local authorities, civil society organisations and others, and I am sure they will rise to it.
Let me welcome three things that the Minister said. First, the update on Lebanon and the progress there was very welcome. Secondly, I was encouraged by his response on the CDC; our Committee will pursue that with the CDC and the Department. Thirdly, I absolutely echo what he and the shadow Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford East (Imran Hussain), said about the role that properly managed, carefully targeted cash transfer schemes can play in supporting some of the most vulnerable people. The evidence base is very powerful.
Thank you for chairing the debate this afternoon, Mr Stringer; it has been a good opportunity for us to update the House on an important issue. Let us hope that by the next time we meet to discuss it we will have seen real progress towards peace and reconstruction in Syria.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House has considered the First Report of the International Development Committee of Session 2015-16, Syrian refugee crisis, HC 463, and the Government response, HC 902.
DFID’s Programme in Nigeria
I beg to move,
That this House has considered the Second Report of the International Development Committee, DFID’s programme in Nigeria, HC 110, and the Government response, HC 735.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship in this important debate, Mr Stringer. Following yesterday’s tragic events, we have been urged to continue with business as usual in Parliament. Many of the things that we could debate feel rather trivial compared with the many injuries and deaths that happened yesterday, but this debate is far from trivial.
Despite being a lower-middle-income country, Nigeria plays host to 120 million people who live below or only just above the poverty line, as well as 10% of the world’s mothers who die in childbirth and 16% of the world’s out-of-school children. There is great inequality, with very few people benefiting from its economic success, which is—or was—largely based on oil wealth. The Department for International Development’s programme in Nigeria is its second largest bilateral programme in Africa, and its third largest in the world, with £303 million allocated for 2016-17.
The second report of the 2016-17 session by the Select Committee on International Development, on DFID’s programme in Nigeria, was published on 27 July 2016. It looked across DFID’s work in the country, making the following key conclusions and recommendations. The Committee commended DFID for its work on governance, which had had a direct impact
“in contributing to a credible, fair and peaceful presidential election in 2015.”
The Committee urged DFID to maintain its support for systems strengthening, institutional management and civic education. It also recommended that DFID should, as a priority, develop a deeper understanding of Nigeria’s political economy and strengthen its judiciary.
The Committee expressed concern that DFID’s power sector reform programme—the Nigeria Infrastructure Advisory Facility—was based on an insufficient research base and was
“hurting poor Nigerians in the short term, even if there is a net overall benefit to privatisation of the power sector in the long term.”
It therefore suggested that DFID encourage the Nigerian Government to take measures to mitigate the impacts.
The Committee recognised the key role of the private sector in successful economic development, but noted that there was not a coherent, joined-up strategy between various parts of the UK Government on achieving that. It recommended that as well as producing such a strategy, DFID should do further research on quality job creation in Nigeria.
The Committee was particularly concerned about Nigeria’s prospects for achieving sustainable development goal 4 on education, and called on DFID to do more to support Nigeria in mapping a route to achieving the goal, including emphasising the value of basic public services and spending on education. It expressed further concern about the affordability of private schooling, including that provided by Bridge International Academies, for the poorest families, and called on DFID to ensure that it aligns with the principle of “leaving no one behind”. We visited a school that had a morning and afternoon session; it had to do that, because so many children need an education and there are insufficient schools. The Committee also found that the UNICEF-managed girls education project was failing to perform, and asked that DFID lay out the steps being taken to improve its effectiveness.
The Committee commended DFID’s commitment to humanitarian support in north-east Nigeria, but noted that there is a funding gap. It recommended that DFID do all that it can to ensure that the 2016 UN appeal was fully funded, both through its own resources and its influence. It also commended DFID’s commitment to development in a fragile area, and recommended continuing support to address the drivers of conflict, and including community-based approaches in its peace-building work.
The Government responded to the Committee’s report in September 2016. They welcomed the constructive review, and stated that it agreed
“with the principles sitting behind all the recommendations provided by the committee, and in the majority of cases we fully agree with the practical next steps these imply.”
They made the following specific points. DFID agreed to continue its work on governance, and it has extended its “Deepening Democracy in Nigeria” programme until 2021
“to ensure full election cycle support.”
It noted that it is investing in research into the political economy of Nigeria and agreed to reach out to more UK-trained lawyers in order to strengthen the judiciary there.
On power sector reform, DFID agreed to do more to mitigate the short-term effects of its programme, and accepted that
“only a small proportion of consumers currently benefit.”
It agreed to
“encourage the Nigerian Government to increase the number of poor customers benefiting from the lifeline tariff”,
and to build more evidence on the poverty impacts of the work.
On economic development, DFID partially agreed with the Committee’s recommendation on a joined-up strategy from Her Majesty’s Government, claiming that the
“bilateral aid review…considered all elements of UK government efforts toward inclusive economic development in Nigeria.”
It stated that it had already taken steps
“to strengthen cross-departmental join-up”,
and agreed to
“ongoing operational research by programme teams during implementation”
on quality job creation.
On education, DFID stated that it is
“supporting the Federal Ministry of Education to develop the Government’s Ministerial Strategic Plan which sets out how it will move towards achieving SDG 4.”
It went on to restate its commitment to leaving no one behind, and said that its support for
“partners such as Bridge International Academies is intended to accompany DEEPEN’s sector wide work, with a focus on testing innovative school improvement models that will support stronger learning outcomes.”
It further noted that it has been
“working intensively with UNICEF to improve the effectiveness of GEP3”,
with an annual review due later in the year.
On humanitarian support and conflict, DFID only partially agreed to do all that it could to ensure that the UN appeal for Nigeria in 2016 was fully funded, but it agreed to continue support for addressing the drivers of conflict, and to scale up its community-based work. I have a series of questions for the Minister, which I will come to at the end of my speech. If he can answer them today, that is fine, but if not, perhaps he could write to the Committee to follow up.
Following the publication of our report, the Committee sought and obtained a Westminster Hall debate through the Backbench Business Committee on the Chibok schoolgirls in Nigeria. In that debate, which I do not believe this Minister attended, Committee members expressed their full support for the “Bring Back Our Girls” campaign, and spoke passionately about their experiences during the Committee’s visit, when we all met the campaigners outside our hotel. They had been there every single day since the Chibok girls were kidnapped, and they continue to be there. The Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth East (Mr Ellwood), who acted so heroically yesterday, responded to that debate on behalf of the Government. He laid out the support that the UK has provided, including specifically on the issue of the Chibok girls, such as support for hostage negotiation, military support, and support on governance issues more broadly, and he reiterated the Government’s support for defeating extremism in Nigeria and bringing back the Chibok girls.
In October, 21 more Chibok schoolgirls were freed. We know that they are not the only people who have been kidnapped in Nigeria, but a lot of international attention has focused on them. The problem is that many of the girls, whether freed or not, have been raped, forced to marry, or forced to change their religion, and many of them now have children. Sadly, some of the girls who have been freed have been rejected by their own community. They were in a terrible situation, and thought that they would be welcomed back by their families, but that has not happened universally.
Since the publication of the Committee report, the humanitarian situation in Nigeria has worsened. Nigeria is one of a number of countries in Africa and the middle east suffering from a severe crisis of food insecurity. More than 5 million people in the country’s north-east are estimated to be food-insecure, including nearly 500,000 children suffering from severe acute malnutrition. Despite the Committee’s calls for DFID to ensure that the 2016 humanitarian appeal was fully funded, it reached only 52% funding. The 2017 appeal is for more than double the 2016 appeal, and is currently 5.2% funded, with a funding gap of around $1 billion. Some progress is being made, though, as the Nigerian Government continue to make gains against Boko Haram, allowing development actors better access to those in need.
DFID began a major programme of humanitarian support in Nigeria in late 2015. In July last year, DFID committed an additional £50 million to the response for the remainder of the year. DFID has identified that the major challenge to humanitarian support in Nigeria is the lack of donor experience in providing it in that country, leading to weak co-ordination and leadership and, at times, lacklustre delivery. DFID is looking to scale up the capacity of its humanitarian team in the country, especially for work on nutrition, which is incredibly important.
After the Committee’s recommendations and the programme redesign, DFID now assesses the Girls’ Education Project 3 to be making good progress. In its latest annual review, carried out around the time when the Committee’s report was published, DFID gave the programme an A rating, and noted both that it is now delivering results, including increased enrolment, and the introduction of an early-grade learning initiative and an education management information system. That is good news. Perhaps the Minister can give us an updated progress report.
Early this year, President Buhari disappeared from the Nigerian political scene. Rumours about his health spread through Nigeria before it was officially announced that he was in London for medical treatment. After two months in the UK, he returned to Nigeria earlier this month and resumed his official duties, but rumours continue due to the length of his absence, creating a feeling of instability in the country.
Since the new Government were established, there has been some progress on security and corruption, which are perhaps at the heart of Nigeria’s problems. Boko Haram has been pushed out of most of the territory that it controlled in north-east Nigeria since President Buhari, whom some see as being on the back foot, took office. In the last six months, Boko Haram has lost most, if not all, of the territory that it held in the Sambisa forest in Borno state, which had been an important rear base for it.
In May 2016, not long after former Prime Minister David Cameron described the country as “fantastically corrupt”, the British Government said that they would give Nigeria £40 million over the next four years to help the fight against Boko Haram, and that they planned to train almost 1,000 Nigerian military personnel for deployment in counter-insurgency operations, which is clearly welcome.
On anti-corruption, there has been a wave of arrests of those who held office under President Buhari’s predecessor, Goodluck Jonathan. The trial of former national security adviser Sambo Dasuki has begun; former Petroleum Minister Diezani Alison-Madueke has yet to stand trial; and several major investigations have been launched. However, critics claim that the Government’s copybook is blotted on security and anti-corruption, saying that some of the steps taken against corruption have been politically motivated, rather than taken without fear or favour. As is often the case in Nigeria, investigations are proceeding at a snail’s pace.
Meanwhile, the Nigerian security forces remain prone to committing human rights abuses, but continue to enjoy impunity. A more fundamental criticism is that Buhari has not yet got to grips with the interlocking root causes of violence: poverty, inequality, marginalisation and, not least, corruption, whether in the north or elsewhere. With the possible exception of in the oil-rich Niger delta, he appears uninterested in seeking negotiated settlements. The authorities have also been criticised for their performance in response to the humanitarian crisis in north-eastern Nigeria.
The biggest challenge to emerge during the second half of 2016, apart from Buhari’s possible ill health, were the cracks in the fractious coalition of interests that makes up the ruling party, the All Progressives Congress. The main divisions emerging, which have never been far from the surface, are between Buhari’s faction and those loyal to former Lagos State governor and APC kingmaker Bola Tinubu, who is reportedly in cahoots with former Vice-President Atiku Abubakar. According to Africa Confidential, that faction is actively contemplating setting up a separate party, coined “the mega party”. The party would bring together APCers disillusioned with Buhari and sections of the former ruling party, the People’s Democratic Party, which is also faction-ridden.
As a large producer and exporter of oil, Nigeria has taken a bad economic hit from the sharp fall in the price of oil in 2014. Government revenues have fallen, resulting in cuts to Government expenditure, while the value of total exports has fallen significantly, given that oil and gas make up around 90% of Nigeria’s exports. Nigeria has had huge problems with corruption in the oil industry, and its value has decreased so much that it continues to cause major poverty problems for the country.
The Government were also forced to abandon their currency peg, which fixed the naira to the dollar, despite having spent billions of dollars from their foreign exchange reserves to try to prop it up. The naira fell from about 197 to the dollar to 280 to the dollar in June 2016, and the official exchange rate is currently around 300 to the dollar. That is compounding the country’s problems. However, it appears that the currency was not allowed to float fully; Government intervention is still occurring. During 2016, there was a serious foreign exchange shortage and consumer price inflation rose rapidly, which had an impact on the poorest and on the people with the most severe problems.
These factors mean that full-year growth in 2016 is likely to have been negative for the first time since 1991. The International Monetary Fund estimates that GDP contracted by 1.5% in 2016, compared with growth of 2.7% in 2015. It does, however, forecast growth of 0.8% in 2017 and 2.3% in 2018. The outlook is supported by the oil price, which is higher than it was a year ago, in part because it has been boosted by a deal by OPEC members restricting oil supply.
Nevertheless, the longer-term challenges facing Nigeria’s economy remain. Corruption remains a huge problem, despite efforts by the Buhari Administration to clamp down on it, and broader conditions for conducting business remain poor. Poor-quality infrastructure, very low education levels, security worries and high poverty levels are additional barriers to faster long-term growth. One of my major concerns when we were in Nigeria was how the Government were going to tackle corruption. They came in with great ideas, wanting a clean sweep of the country, but they have delayed and delayed, and they are not delivering. They will have problems, because the people of Nigeria will not wait forever for things to change.
[Sir David Crausby in the Chair]
I have key questions that I hope the Minister will be able to answer—if not now, perhaps later. First, how has recent uncertainty surrounding President Buhari affected DFID’s work with the Nigerian Government and its work on governance in Nigeria? Secondly, what is DFID’s assessment of humanitarian need in north-eastern Nigeria? What support is it providing to deal with the humanitarian crisis and food shortage in that area? What are the UK Government doing with other donors to ensure that the 2017 humanitarian response plan is fully funded?
Thirdly, what is the UK Government’s assessment of the prospect of release of more of the Chibok schoolgirls? Does the Minister know how many have been released and how many are still being held? What continuing support are the UK Government providing to Nigeria to secure the release of more of them, and other schoolgirls who we know have been captured? Fourthly, on DFID’s power sector reform programme, how much progress has been made on extending the lifeline tariff and assessing the programme’s impact on poverty? Fifthly, how have the UK Government strengthened joined-up working on economic development in Nigeria? How is DFID working with the prosperity fund and the Department for International Trade on economic development in Nigeria?
Finally, what is DFID’s assessment of the likelihood of Nigeria achieving sustainable development goal 4 on education? That seems to me one of the key questions if, in the long term, the country is to lift itself out of poverty and its terrible situation. If Nigeria does not meet SDG 4 and provide a decent education for every single person in the country, it will never fully become a middle-income country or better.
I thank the Committee specialists who worked with us on the report, and those who went with us to Nigeria. It was an incredibly interesting visit to a country that I had never been to before. It held out so much hope, but I believe that its Government are failing. As I said earlier, the country will not forgive them if they do, because people there believed that their Government would transform the situation. All the money that we have put in should be helping them to get there. I believe that it is meant to do that, but I am not sure that the Nigerian Government are taking as much advantage of it as they could.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir David. I thank the hon. Member for Mid Derbyshire (Pauline Latham) and the rest of the Committee for their work. She gave an extremely extensive and thorough speech that covered the Committee’s findings on Nigeria. I do not intend to repeat what she said, but I will raise a number of issues that were apparent to me on the Committee’s visit.
As the hon. Lady said, although it is a lower-middle-income country, Nigeria plays host to 120 million people living below or only just above the poverty line, to 10% of the world’s mothers who die in childbirth and to 16% of the world’s out-of-school children. I have to say that what struck me when I arrived there was the inequality, which is absolutely stark: many people have great wealth, but the majority of the population have very little at all.
I ask the Minister what the long-term plan is for DFID’s work with Nigeria and its Government. Nigeria is a lower-middle-income country and it has a number of resources, although they have not provided the same economic benefit in recent years as they did before. Nevertheless, it seems to me that the issue is what systems can be put in place to address inequality and ensure that the economy’s benefits actually reach people who are vulnerable and in need of support. What will the Department do to ensure that such systems will be put in place? What work is taking place with the Government to try to address that? Without those systems, the problem will be self-perpetuating: we will continue to give vast amounts to Nigeria, a lower-middle-income country—I think it is DFID’s second largest bilateral programme in Africa and its third largest in the world—when what it really needs is assistance to self-sustain and make long-term progress in the right direction, so that some of that money can go to other countries that are not in the same financial position.
The other issue that stood out to me was corruption. It was even apparent at the airport: I tried to buy something at the duty-free and was told, “No, you can’t pay with a card—you will have to pay with cash.” Even in places where you would not expect it, there is money flowing through the systems, with very little accountability for how much of it there is and where it ends up, and I imagine that very little tax is being collected. One of the key issues that the Department should look at in Nigeria is electronic cash transfer programmes—we have recently seen some excellent work on those in Kenya—to ensure that the Nigerian Government have a record of where money is being transferred, in shops and throughout the economy, and are therefore much better able to collect taxes. That was not at all evident to me in Nigeria, not even at the airport, which I would have expected to have some system in place.
We were taken to see an anti-corruption tower—that is the only way I can describe it. It was a massive building that the Nigerians hoped we were going to help to fund. It was exorbitant in size. It was to house the anti-corruption teams of the Minister. I was not sure that, by funding a tower, the money was going to go in the right direction—towards anti-corruption policies. What is happening in terms of the work we are doing with the Government and the anti-corruption Minister who was in place at the time to take forward strategic anti-corruption policies? Again, I feel that the crux of the matter is about knowing where money is coming from and where it is going to, and making sure that it is electronically registered.
The Committee recognised the key role of the private sector in successful economic development, but noted that there was not a coherent joined-up strategy between various parts of the UK Government on achieving that. What progress has been made? The other issue of grave concern to me was the prospect of achieving sustainable development goal 4 on education. When I visited the school in Kano in northern Nigeria, there appeared to be great ambivalence about ministerial-led support for girls’ education. Education was taking place in the school, but I would say the quality was extremely poor. On what was being taught, I cannot say from my visit that I had much awareness of any learning other than the continual reciting of religious books. I am all for religious education and I believe parents should have a choice in that regard. However, if we are providing money for education programmes, we should address the quality of those and ensure progress is made. I understand that some progress has been made of late, but I would like that to be repeatedly reviewed because I did not end the education visits with a great sense that the money was being spent in a way that would make a great difference to the girls.
I also had a sense—an undercurrent—of women’s place in Nigeria. That was even apparent when we visited Ministries, where there were no women aside from our own delegation around the table. I asked why there were so few women parliamentarians and I was told they cannot afford to stand. That is a huge gender equality issue. If there are few women in political life in Nigeria, there will be few policies that create gender equality, so we should focus on that. On the idea that someone has to have a set amount of money to stand, obviously, we cannot enforce our absolute democratic principles on every other country, but if we are working with Governments to try to improve governance and democracy, these are conversations that must be had. Unless the system and its failings are addressed, I fear that little will change for girls in Nigeria, particularly in the north, and we will continually have to try to monitor strongly what is happening and doubts regarding the effectiveness of what we do there.
One thing that emotionally struck me was meeting the “Bring Back Our Girls” campaigners, who are out every day speaking about the importance of bringing back the girls safe and alive. I really want the UK Government to work with the Nigerian Government to ensure that we do as much as we can to support them in that regard. We know only too well that defeating extremism should be our priority. It tarnishes society and reduces the hopes of people around the world. We know that only too well today after the impact even in this House.
We must provide support to defeat extremism. At the time, I thought that the Nigerian Government were taking that extremely seriously. I understand that they have made good gains. The President has a military background and defeating extremism is one of the key objectives that he is committed to. We need to support that positive objective to ensure that people in the north, the children, women and families have opportunity and hope outwith being kept in conditions of extremism. We must always fight to try to help to bring back those girls. Where else in the world would hundreds of girls go missing for such a length of time with nothing happening? That is very stark. Some have been released. But they were not found. We need to ensure that we do all we can to bring those girls back safe and alive for their families. I am a mother of girls. I feel very strongly and passionately that we should assist the Government.
Food insecurity is a humanitarian issue now in Nigeria. We must do all that we can to help the vulnerable people there who are suffering from acute malnutrition. We know that the humanitarian appeal has reached only 52% of the funding requirement, so we need to look at that and decide whether there is more that the United Kingdom can do. Again, I come back to saying that there also has to be a long-term plan. Nigeria has grave inequality and pockets of extreme wealth. There has to be a Government plan for situations that arise over the long term. Perhaps the UK might assist Nigeria to put in place a plan to help its own population in future, but in the meantime we have to do everything that we possibly can.
I have concerns regarding the governance of the work that we do in Nigeria. I am hopeful that DFID will be extra scrupulous in looking at programmes, their quality and outcome. Fundamentally, in order to help support Nigeria, there needs to be radical change in the politics in Nigeria and the will to make changes to deal with corruption and inequality. I hope that, wherever possible, the Minister will help to push on those particular issues. Also, I hope he will update us today on what we can do to bring back the Chibok girls.
I apologise for not being here at the beginning, Sir David. I was participating in the debate in the main Chamber. I am glad to follow the hon. Member for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow (Dr Cameron). She has highlighted a lot of the very important issues. I would differ slightly with her on education, but I will come to that.
One thing that struck me more than anything in our visit to Nigeria, which was my first visit to that country, was when we were in Abuja and we visited a refugee camp where the refugees were cared for not by an outside agency or the United Nations, but by Nigerians themselves and by Christian organisations and mosques. The teachers gave up their time, often voluntarily, in a school that was almost in the open. I felt that Nigeria was a hugely self-reliant country, but, as the hon. Lady has said, perhaps the people are sometimes not supported sufficiently by their own Government. Nigerians are hugely entrepreneurial and dynamic people, but I believe they are sometimes a little held back. However, I felt that their caring for their own in the refugee camp in the middle of Abuja, where there were refugees from the north and particularly from Borno state, was a microcosm of what so many Nigerians do for each other across the country.
Education is clearly something for which the Chair of the Committee has a huge passion—as do we all—and he has made it a hallmark of its work. I welcome that. I agree that perhaps aspects of the schools that we visited in Kano surprised us, but other aspects encouraged me. For instance, in the Koranic schools we saw that, almost for the first time, many of the children were learning subjects to which they had not had access before. The curriculums that they were using—which have been largely supported through DFID—were encouraging; they were not, perhaps, the finished article, but they were probably a step forward from what there was before. Clearly, we want much more of an advance. We want girls’ education to be absolutely right; we want them to get the same education as boys. However, it was a step forward.
The other school had something like 13,000 children. It is one of the biggest primary schools in sub-Saharan Africa, if not the biggest, and, again, I felt that progress was being made. We visited a class with disabled children, where an effort was being made on their behalf. Clearly, in comparison with our education system or those of other middle-income countries—Nigeria is, of course, such a country—there are great shortfalls. Nevertheless, improvements are being made, particularly by one of the two education programmes that DFID is running in the north. Progress is being made, and much more could be done, but clearly that is fundamentally an issue for the Nigerian Government. In a country as large as Nigeria, DFID can only really supply technical advice and a little support here and there.
That brings me on to corruption, tax collection and so on. I share the views of the hon. Member for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow about the anti-corruption building. I was more interested in finding out about the anti-corruption work than I was in seeing a half-finished building in which that work might take place in future. There is little more to be said other than that I hope the building will be finished and that the work that is done in it will have a huge impact. I am not sure that the UK Government should finance the building. We should support the work that goes on there but not the infrastructure.
I was encouraged by the work on health that we heard about through some of our meetings in Abuja. I am the chair of the all-party group on malaria and neglected tropical diseases and I have a particular interest in the area, as does pretty much every Member attending the debate. We heard of the great progress that has been made in reducing the incidence of malaria across Nigeria, which, along with the Democratic Republic of the Congo, still has the largest burden of malaria in the world. We heard particularly of progress in the northern regions—the Sahel region of Nigeria, where there can be intermittent malaria, particularly in the rainy season.
We visited a midwife training school based at the hospital, and the pharmacy there. I was extremely impressed with the pharmacist, who was clearly dedicated to her work to prevent malaria. She contacted me and the all-party group after the visit and said, “I want to do something on World Malaria Day”—which was a month after our visit; “can you help us?” The all-party group agreed to send an amount of money—I think it was about $1,000; and with it the pharmacist co-ordinated a magnificent World Malaria Day event. She invited local people, local government leaders and health leaders, and also managed a mass distribution of bed nets. It was all done voluntarily and it showed the spirit of individual Nigerians—how they really want to work on behalf of their country and people. I very much hope that the same thing will happen again this year, and that our group will support it if it does. For $1,000 I think the impact was substantial, based on the report we received.
It is not only on malaria but on neglected tropical diseases that the work supported by DFID in the north has had a great impact. I believe that that programme is just coming to an end, and I urge DFID to look at supporting a continuation of the work. We know that, if work in areas such as neglected tropical diseases and, indeed, malaria is halted for a while, those diseases can come back. Clearly, we want the Nigerian Government to take up the work on NTDs. In the meantime I should like the Minister’s reassurance that DFID is considering supporting a continuation—perhaps in a different way—of the programme on NTDs in the north of Nigeria. I should declare an interest, in that I am a member of the board of the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine. I want to make that clear as I know that the school has great engagement in Nigeria and with DFID programmes, although I am not sure in what respects.
The economy in Nigeria has been far too dependent, clearly, on oil in the past decades, but a real effort is being made to expand and diversify it. That has been made necessary by the fall in the price of oil. The hon. Member for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow rightly mentioned the lack of women in senior positions, and particularly the lack of women Members of Parliament. However, the Finance Minister of Nigeria is a woman, whom we had the pleasure of meeting in Abuja, and who was committed to reform of the Nigerian economy. I should hope that she—and, indeed, her reform-minded, progressive colleagues—would get the fullest possible support from the British Government, whether through DFID or the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, in their efforts to ensure that the economy of Nigeria works for everyone.
I want to touch on the issue of food, food security and famine. We have heard from the Government and from colleagues across the House of the issues in Nigeria and east and central Africa. I welcome the generosity of the British public in supporting the Disasters Emergency Committee appeal for east and central Africa. Perhaps the Minister will outline for us the current situation in Nigeria, as it is a year since we were there. Nigeria has a proud reputation of wanting to help itself to deal with such issues, but I want to find out what the current food security situation is. Our efforts are concentrated on east and central Africa, but we would not want countries in the Sahel—not just Nigeria but Chad, Mali, Niger and others—to miss out on the efforts that are being made. Whether we like it or not, the UK is a leader in the area; particularly given concern about the potential withdrawal of United States funding it would be a problem if areas where the UK is not so prominent fell behind because they are not on our radar. I should appreciate an update from the Minister about that.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir David, and to follow my three colleagues from the International Development Committee, who have set out very fully some of the findings of our inquiry, and some continuing concerns. I shall speak briefly. I take this opportunity to apologise for the fact that I shall have to leave at about a quarter past 4, so I may miss the closing part of the debate.
I support the remarks of my friend the hon. Member for Stafford (Jeremy Lefroy) about the current food crisis in Africa and the Yemen. I would welcome a response to his points from the Minister, as well as an early opportunity for the matter to be considered in more detail in the House, whether by way of a statement or a tabled debate. There are massive challenges, and as the hon. Gentleman said, the public response to the DEC appeal has been extraordinary. The Government are already doing a lot of good work in the countries concerned, but it is vital that we should do all we can to relieve a massive humanitarian crisis.
I will briefly talk about two issues—governance and education. I do so really to reaffirm what others—in particular the hon. Member for Mid Derbyshire (Pauline Latham), who is an assiduous and hard-working member of the Committee—have said. She opened the debate by talking about the challenges regarding governance and made the important point that, partly because of the support of the UK, we saw in 2015 a credible, fair and peaceful presidential election in Nigeria, which resulted in the sitting President being defeated, standing down and handing over to a successor. That was a very significant development and was hugely welcome.
Alongside the many humanitarian and other development challenges that this debate has rightly emphasised, I urge the Minister and the Government not to lose focus on some of the governance issues and the importance of the UK—in the form of both DFID and the Foreign Office—continuing to engage on governance, both at the federal level in Nigeria and at state and local level. Part of that involves meeting the challenge that the hon. Member for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow (Dr Cameron) rightly reminded us of, which is about not only women’s representation in public life in Nigeria, including in politics, but frankly representation for anyone who is not wealthy, which is difficult because of some of the barriers she told us about.
The other issue I will speak about is education. Nigeria is an enormous country. I think the hon. Member for Mid Derbyshire said in her opening remarks that 16% of the world’s out-of-school children are in Nigeria—one in six of all the children in the entire world who are not in school are in that one country. So if that country makes the sort of progress on education that we would like it to make, it will be hugely important not only for Nigeria itself but globally.
When we were on our visit to Nigeria last year, some Members went to Kano; we heard some reflections on that trip from the hon. Members for Stafford and for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow. Some of us saw schools in Lagos and saw some of the challenges there. Again, we saw some of the difficult issues that exist, which the hon. Member for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow rightly highlighted, but also some more encouraging aspects. I remember that we went to a state school in Lagos. On the one hand, the sheer number of children in each class and how challenging that was for the teachers was very striking; on the other hand, children with disabilities and special educational needs were in the same class as the other children, and the teachers were able to deliver for them all.
Clearly, Nigeria faces a massive challenge if it is to achieve sustainable development goal 4; it will be very hard for the country to do so. At the moment, the Select Committee is conducting an inquiry into DFID’s work on education, and Nigeria is probably one of the most striking test cases given the level of resource, support and ambition that is required, both within Nigeria, as the hon. Member for Stafford rightly said, and in the international system, to ensure that goal can be reached. Let us hope that it can be.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir David, and I again congratulate the International Development Committee on securing time for this debate. I also congratulate the hon. Member for Mid Derbyshire (Pauline Latham) on her comprehensive introduction of it.
In the context of all the speeches we have heard, it is clear why this debate is particularly relevant at the moment, especially given the growing food crisis in north-east Nigeria, which is starting to reach critical—famine—conditions. I echo the calls for the opportunity to question the Government in more detail about their response to that on the Floor of the House, outwith the Department for International Development questions session that is coming up next week.
As we have heard from a number of Members, Nigeria captures many of the challenges of delivering aid and international development in the world today. It is classed as a lower-middle-income country and it is in a period of economic and developmental transition, and therefore there are significant inequalities across the country, as my hon. Friend the Member for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow (Dr Cameron) spoke about, including those caused by the famine situation and the terror attacks led by Boko Haram. Indeed, yesterday I saw reports of there being seven dead people and 18 injured people in refugee camps in the north-east of Nigeria, which again gives us cause to express our solidarity, following our own tragic experiences yesterday.
The structure of the Select Committee’s report emphasises the holistic challenge that exists in Nigeria and the need for a holistic approach to development to get everything right in governance, economic development and the delivery of basic services, as well as in the areas of conflict and security.
Getting governance right is an often unseen and occasionally questioned part of the development equation, but it is hugely important. The debate that we have just had on the situation in Syria demonstrated the need for strong internal governance and strong civil society, because if people cannot demonstrate peacefully or seek democratic change peacefully, situations can rapidly spiral out of control and into violence.
I welcome the recommendations in the report, especially those on corruption, support for the regional governments across Nigeria and the opportunities for the sharing of best practice, drawing particularly on the strength of the Nigerian diaspora in this country and elsewhere.
Openness of government and transparency of information are both absolutely critical, so I also welcome the developments on IT and open-access budgeting that are covered in the report. We recently had a more general debate in Westminster Hall on west Africa, including Gambia, where there has been a peaceful transition of power. In large part, that was due to the role of new technology, including mobile communications. Perhaps there are some lessons to be learned there.
My hon. Friend the Member for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow also reflected powerfully on the corruption situation in Nigeria, and said that gender equality is a very important way in which that corruption can be overcome. Economic development and economic inequality are also major challenges in such transitioning economies. If the cycle cannot be broken, there is a risk that it will be a self-perpetuating cycle of poverty and growing inequality.
There are important recommendations in the report, including a focus on jobs. There is also a role for the Commonwealth Development Corporation, as we discussed in the previous debate. There is an opportunity for the Government to show how the CDC really can make a difference by delivering poverty reduction in places that are very hard to reach.
In the report, there is also an emphasis on the role of the diaspora, particularly in trade and the sharing of skills across borders. There is also emphasis on the issue of basic service provision. That is because despite the transitioning economy, despite the growth and despite the existence of pockets of wealth in Nigeria, there are places where such basic service delivery and service provision are needed.
Once again, there is a role for local NGOs, civil society organisations and faith-based organisations. The ability to gather data and monitor the impact of different measures has been highlighted, both in the report and by Members today. Two of the most basic aspects of service provision in education have already been widely covered in the debate, and there is also the issue of healthcare. I echo the points made by the hon. Member for Stafford (Jeremy Lefroy) about providing support to combat malaria and neglected and tropical diseases more widely.
Finally, we must consider conflict and security, and the dreadful impact of Boko Haram. We have heard very powerfully about the campaign to find the captured Chibok and other schoolgirls—the “Bring Back Our Girls” campaign. I pay tribute to all who are involved in that campaign. Access to education, especially for girls, is particularly important to help to protect and support future generations.
Unlike the Members who have already spoken, I have not yet had first-hand experience of visiting Nigeria. I hope to join the hon. Member for Edmonton (Kate Osamor), who leads for the Labour party on international development issues, on a visit with the all-party group on Nigeria at some point in the next few months. I think the timing of Abuja airport’s reopening will largely determine the timing of that visit, but I look forward to having the opportunity to visit Nigeria, having made many friends from the Nigerian diaspora over the years, not least in recent weeks the two new priests in the parish that serves my constituency office, Father Ambrose Ohene and Father Dominic Alih, whom we welcome to St Columba of Iona in Woodside.
I will also reflect briefly on the fact that tomorrow is Red Nose Day for the Comic Relief appeal. Over the years, many millions of pounds from Comic Relief have made a huge difference not only in Nigeria but around the world. The very first Red Nose Day was on 5 February 1988, which was my eighth birthday, so I have always had a fondness for that particular charity, and I wish everyone involved with it the very best.
As I think the Select Committee’s report has demonstrated, DFID has a complex and detailed programme in Nigeria, which is making a real difference, but there are always lessons to learn, and the report draws some of them out. I always think it is interesting when the Government partially agree with recommendations; that is a polite and political way to respond to aspects of a report. Hopefully, the case has been made for the Government to come even closer to agreement on some of the Committee’s recommendations, and I look forward to hearing what the Minister has to say.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir David. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Stephen Twigg) on securing another important debate. In particular, I congratulate the hon. Member for Mid Derbyshire (Pauline Latham) on making a very informative contribution. She expressed particular concerns about education and electricity. I share those concerns and will speak about them. I also thank the hon. Members for Glasgow North (Patrick Grady), for Stafford (Jeremy Lefroy), and for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow (Dr Cameron) for making very important contributions in their usual styles.
The International Development Committee’s report on DFID’s programme in Nigeria was stark. It offered a scrutinising insight into DFID’s work in what is one of the world’s fastest growing economies and one of its most deprived nations. The report highlighted several pieces of positive work that DFID is doing in Nigeria; the hon. Members for Stafford, and for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow, both mentioned that.
DFID is spending money effectively on fighting malaria in the country, and the positive lessons that health professionals have learned and applied from anti-malaria programmes has had a knock-on benefit for the health sector more widely. DFID used a range of expertise to help deliver the fairest elections in Nigeria’s history. That allowed President Buhari to stand strong on his mandate of delivering economic growth, reducing inequality and tackling corruption. DFID is rolling back the neglected tropical diseases that have taken hold in the country, enabling more children to go to school and more adults to go to work. We commend that work and believe that the Government should hold up those successes as examples of DFID’s money being put to use to benefit the people of not only Nigeria, but the UK.
Nevertheless, as has been said, the report and hon. Members have expressed concerns about areas that need improvement. First, there is the economy. I welcome the work done on that. It is absolutely clear that there has been economic growth, but has it been inclusive of the whole country? I do not believe it has. The disproportion between growth in the south and the north is massive. That needs addressing, and I look forward to the Minister’s comments on that. In the earlier debate, a point was made about the CDC; with its increase in funding, there is an opportunity to look seriously at investment in industry in the north of Nigeria.
The second issue that could do with improvement is healthcare. While DFID spends quite a large amount of the total funding that goes to Nigeria on healthcare, the report highlights a number of basic hygiene problems in hospitals, which is counterproductive to the efforts. I urge the Minister to liaise with the Nigerian Government on addressing those issues. On the face of it, they are not major, but they are important.
Quite a lot was said about corruption and governance by the hon. Members for Stafford, and for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow, and by the Chair of the International Development Committee, my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, West Derby. The first point they made was that we have seen disproportionate growth—Nigeria has in a very short time become one of the countries with the fastest growing number of millionaires—but, unfortunately, that wealth has not been spread across the breadth of the country, and that needs addressing. If strange-shaped buildings could resolve corruption issues, we would all be in a much better place, but tragically, it is not that simple. I align myself with the comments made earlier on that front.
On governance, we have to accept that DFID has done some magnificent work around the 2015 election—the freest and fairest election in Nigeria. Power changed hands with very little trouble, but we cannot be complacent, and that work must continue. I know that there is a plan to continue that work until 2019, and that is clearly important. To address the corruption and governance elements—I hope that the Minister will accept and agree with this point—we must further strengthen institutions across the board. We need to strengthen the judiciary and the rule of law to allow investors and Nigerians to have confidence in the system. We are on the road to that, and I have every confidence that DFID will follow that through to 2019, when the next election will take place.
The two problematic areas where we have concerns are education and electricity, which the hon. Member for Mid Derbyshire mentioned. Education is a universal right. We would all agree that everyone has the right to at least a good primary and secondary education. Unfortunately, that is not the case in Nigeria. The International Development Committee rightly pointed out that 25% of all those between 17 and 22 years old in the north of the country have fewer than two years of education. Just three out of five children will have completed grade 4. Those statistics have led to a dire literacy situation in the country; 85% of girls in the north-east cannot read, and 44% of those who have completed grade 6 are unable to read a complete sentence in English or their preferred language.
Bridge International Academies, which works with DFID, provided evidence to the Committee that stated that 90% of the communities in which it works are able to afford to send their children to school. That is good, but what happens to the other 10%? Do they send none of their children to school, or do they make a choice and send either their boys or girls to school? The stark reality is that when given that choice, the evidence shows that they are more likely to send boys to school. That further highlights the issue that Members raised about the lack of education offered to girls. Not only does that mean that DFID is supporting work that does not reach the poorest in Nigeria—the very people we should be reaching out to—but it raises further issues about the children who reside in the poorer states, which are often not reached by private education. One figure struck me: the Committee calculates that, on a conservative estimate, sending three children to school would cost $234 in annual fees, in a country where more than half the population lives on less than $2 a day. That is an easy calculation for everyone to make.
If DFID is to support an expansion of private sector education across Nigeria, what will happen to the children in poorer regions of the country, where less than 90% of people can afford schooling? We recognise that private schools are key providers of education in Nigeria, but we are steadfastly opposed to any DFID programme that sees an expansion of private, fee-paying schools in the country, particularly if it is done at the expense of public schools. There is a prevalence of private schools in Nigeria, but that does not mean that DFID has to accept that. I hope that the Minister will tell me what the Department is doing to promote an expansion of public education in Nigeria that can reach the whole population, not just the wealthiest.
Electricity production and distribution is of concern. Access to a stable, secure and reliable electricity network is of great importance, if not an absolute necessity, for promoting growth and freeing households from the burden of self-generation. Despite the immense importance of the electricity sector and Nigeria’s growth rate, the country has the highest number of Africans without access to electricity. DFID clearly recognises that that is a problem. If electricity is not supplied to millions of Nigerians, DFID will struggle to fulfil its aims and objectives in the country, so it put in place the Nigeria Infrastructure Advisory Facility.
On the face of it, allocating more than £100 million to help bring light into the homes of 96 million Nigerians seems a positive step, until we look at the details of what the money bought. It brought in Adam Smith International—an international organisation that ultimately advised the Nigerian Government to put Nigeria’s electricity production and distribution networks up for sale, with the goal of creating a commercially viable and privately owned power network. While the intentions may have been good, at best the programme proved to be ill designed; at worst, it focused not on the needs of Nigerian consumers, but on private interests. It is putting electricity even further out of reach of many Nigerians, and it is loading purchasers in the energy sector with huge amounts of debt, preventing them from making any meaningful investments in the network. Tariffs had to be raised, rather than lowered, and the situation was so bad that a prominent university, Ahmadu Bello, was forced to cut power for 12 hours a day. Privatisation of the energy sector has not helped poor Nigerians or businesses to get secure access to the electricity network. It is hard to describe the endeavour as anything other than a failure for the poorest in the country.
It has been a year since the report, so I hope that the Minister can shed some light on how the matters it raised have been addressed. DFID has made very strong progress in certain areas of Nigeria. There have been commendable efforts to tackle malaria and neglected tropical diseases, and to strengthen confidence in democratic institutions, but we must address the other issues on which further progress can be made. I look forward to the Minister’s response.
I thank hon. Members for their contributions and the very broad range of issues that they raised. In particular, I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Derbyshire (Pauline Latham), whose tour de force opening comments covered a broad range of subjects—I hope I have been able to note them down sufficiently to answer her questions. In line with her gentle suggestion, if I fail to address any of her questions, I would of course be delighted to enter into further correspondence or discussion with her, as indeed I always am.
I am going to do my very best to go through the broad range of issues that hon. Members have raised, but I am going to base my comments, in the first instance, on my hon. Friend’s excellent contribution. She asked some specific questions at the end, but also talked in informative and in-depth terms about the Committee’s report and the Government’s response. The hon. Member for Glasgow North (Patrick Grady) spoke in his typically witty and engaging way, and said, in a politically carefully worded phrase, that the Government were partially in agreement. I think that is probably fair. To be partially in agreement is often that for which we should strive in this place. Were he and I to find ourselves completely in agreement, I suspect that either I would be wrong or he would be right—I am not sure which it would be.
My hon. Friend the Member for Mid Derbyshire talked about power. I will start there, as the shadow Minister chose to end there. Power sector reform is crucial for Nigeria. I do not need to remind hon. Members that power supply can be a key perquisite for sustainable growth. I am sure they are aware that in early 2016 Nigeria’s power sector supplied an all-time record amount of power, but that since then disruption, and even terrorist activity in some cases, has impacted on its capacity. However, I am pleased to inform the House that supply levels are approaching those of early 2016.
We are clear that reform is needed. It is clear that significant investment is needed in Nigeria’s power system. Over 60% of Nigerians do not have grid connection, which holds back economic growth. Intermittent supply presents real challenges for those who wish for certainty and investment. Reform was necessary. The shadow Minister alluded to the involvement of the occasionally controversial Adam Smith International, which has had its fair share of coverage. We are reviewing some of our relationships with it.
It is important to recognise that there are pluses and minuses to all change. Along with the price increases that have come from privatisation and the removal of some of the artificial subsidy within the power system, fixed charges for those who do not use power have been removed, and the lowest volume users have been protected through reforms that have taken place. Much more needs to be done for the power sector in Nigeria. We need to build on the reforms we have seen and continue to review and improve on changes that have been made. The interest that hon. Members take is welcome.
We have had a wide-ranging discussion about the importance of education. The Girls’ Education Project, which is in phase 3 in Nigeria, is one of the programmes that DFID in the UK supports. As my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Derbyshire recognised, it has seen reform and improvement and is now an A-graded programme, having had some issues in the past. We are helping more than 23,000 girls to stay in education through small cash transfers, which we discussed in the previous debate and which was raised in particular by the shadow Minister. There is no doubt that a significant amount needs to be done and that education is important in driving change and ensuring that a country such as Nigeria can develop its way out of some of the challenges it faces.
The sixth question asked by my hon. Friend was about sustainable development goal 4, which was also raised by the hon. Members for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow (Dr Cameron) and for Liverpool, West Derby (Stephen Twigg) and my hon. Friend the Member for Stafford (Jeremy Lefroy). There is no doubt that there has been insufficient progress to date in Nigeria on education. Access increased by only 4% between 2003 and 2013, and the poorest are even less likely to complete schooling. That is why education is a real focus for DFID in Nigeria and why we have the programmes we have. However, it would be unrealistic not to recognise the scale of the challenge and the fact that more needs to be done and constant scrutiny is required. I welcome the work of the International Development Committee in that space.
The Minister will know that African countries committed quite a long time ago—I think it was in the early 2000s—in the so-called Abuja declaration to spend 15% of their budgets on health. Indeed, some of them, including Rwanda, have reached that target or are not far short of it. That commitment was made in Nigeria. Does he agree that it would be very welcome if a similar commitment were made by sub-Saharan African countries and other developing countries around the world to spend a specific amount of their budgets on education, which we have seen far less commitment on than health?
My hon. Friend makes a relevant and important observation. The long-term sustainability of education in countries such as Nigeria must be founded on Government support and investment. We want to see and encourage more of that. We can offer direct support, as we do now, for those who need to benefit from it. We can offer technical assistance and support in training teachers and establishing curricula. However, for long-term sustainability, domestic Government support is required. My hon. Friend’s suggestion deserves a good airing and consideration, and I suspect we have not heard the last of it.
My hon. Friend the Member for Mid Derbyshire mentioned the Chibok girls. That issue caught the attention and imagination, in the most dire of circumstances, of much of the broader global community. It has drawn attention to the terrible conflict in north-east Nigeria and the effect of Boko Haram not only there but in neighbouring countries. I will go on to talk about some of the challenges with the humanitarian response that is required, but specific questions have been asked about the girls by hon. Members, including the hon. Member for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow. One hundred and ninety-five of them remain to be released, which is a significant number. There are significant challenges in addressing that. Much of north-east Nigeria remains a challenging area in which to operate. Boko Haram is not yet defeated, although there are some signs of progress. The UK provides significant support in that work, including a recent commitment of a further £5 million in funding. We offer and indeed give training to the Nigerian armed forces; more than 20,000 personnel of the armed forces have now received training supported by the UK Government. We must continue to fight radical terrorism in all its guises. Today of all days, I do not need to remind right hon. and hon. Members of that or of the scale of the threat faced by so many people throughout the world. The Chibok girls are a stark and poignant reminder of the scale of the challenge that many countries face.
Many others are of course affected by the conflict in the north-east, Boko Haram and the other challenges there, but I am pleased that we are playing the role we are playing, even though I am not pleased that it has not been possible to make more progress. However, we will continue to focus our efforts in that area and to provide appropriate support that can make a difference in the medium and longer terms.
The humanitarian crisis is a significant one. About 5.1 million people face a severely difficult environment; they face food insecurity. If we take no action, we estimate that somewhere in the region of 90,000 children could die. That is a stark and worrying figure, and one with which the world and the global community must engage. Indeed, I am pleased to recognise that the global community did engage at the recent conference in Oslo and has committed a significant contribution to the amount of funding that is needed: more than $400 million has been committed. More is needed, and we expect more to be committed in due course, but the $1 billion target has none the less not yet been reached.
The Government of Nigeria, however, have made their own commitment to spend $1 billion in the north-east. We recognise that that is a welcome announcement and that it gives the Government of Nigeria an opportunity to present themselves as a true world leader in this space, and Nigeria as a country that is serious about humanitarian issues and about tackling the problems it finds within its own borders. We must encourage them to do so, so their announcement is welcome. We look forward to working with them to ensure that the money materialises and is spent in the right way, so as to have the maximum beneficial impact that it can. I expect we will see further announcements on this over the weeks and months to come.
I thank those right hon. and hon. Members who have taken the time to meet me, whether one to one in recent weeks or at the drop-in session that I held with officials to brief interested Members of this House and the other place on the work of this Government, on the broader situation in north-east Nigeria and on the other famines throughout the globe, in particular in Africa, in what is set to be a very challenging year indeed.
The fifth question of my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Derbyshire was on strengthening joined-up working across UK Government Departments. In my eight or nine months at the Department for International Development, I have been pleasantly surprised by the extent to which that already takes place. I am keen to drive it further and I have regular discussions with my counterparts in the Department for International Trade and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, and have had meetings with Ministers and officials at the Ministry of Defence, to discuss a broad range of issues across the portfolio that I oversee. That has included discussions about the situation in Nigeria. We need to continue to drive cross-Government collaboration, to break down silos and to make a reality of one HMG.
The truth is that, when people look at UK Government engagement, they do not see the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the Department for International Development, the Ministry of Defence or whatever it might be; they see the UK Government, the role they play in the world and the contribution that they can make. Together we can make a greater contribution than in our individual departmental parts. I recognise that. It is a message that I reinforce continually to the teams for which I am responsible in DFID. It is an area in which we are making significant progress but, following this debate, I will take the opportunity to continue to push it, because it is one in which we can always do more. The more we can do, the greater the net achievement will be.
Many hon. Members have spoken about health and health systems. I particularly recognise the comments made by my hon. Friend the Member for Stafford on the importance of tackling malaria. I commend him for the work he does; he supports this area of debate and activity and the work of Government in this area in particular. He is aware of the Support to National Malaria Programme—SuNMaP—in which the UK Government are engaged in Nigeria. That £50 million contribution—the figures underline the importance of our work to tackle malaria on a global scale—aims to reduce the number of children who will die before their fifth birthday from 128 in every 1,000 to 80 in every 1,000 by 2022. Eighty is still far too high, but it underlines the significant threat that malaria in particular poses to so many of the world’s poorest children and to developing nations. It is a disease that we can beat and are committed to beating. I am pleased that this is an area in which, along with the UK’s part in the Global Fund, programmes such as SuNMaP are making such a significant contribution.
My hon. Friend also mentioned neglected tropical diseases—another very important point and one that is not lost on the Secretary of State, who is very keen to pursue further work in the area.
Our programme in Nigeria being our second largest bilateral programme in Africa, it is one in which I take a very keen interest as the responsible Minister. In recent weeks, I have had significant and in-depth discussions with our teams, including in Nigeria, going line by line and component by component through the programmes that DFID supports there and talking about our strategy for the future and where we need to go to have the maximum impact with the money that we spend.
The hon. Member for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow, in particular, talked about the need for a strategy—the need to see where we can make a long-term difference. I can assure her that that message is not lost on me as the responsible Minister or on our team in country, with whom I have been having those discussions. We expect to see changes as a result of those discussions, but it would perhaps be premature for me to pre-empt now what they might be. However, she is absolutely right to say that we need a ruthless focus on value for money, on where we can make a difference and on the impact that we can have. We need to ensure that we identify those programmes that are working and those that could work better, either change or close programmes and then reinvest to ensure that we get the maximum impact we can.
We need to recognise that there are big challenges in countries such as Nigeria. Corruption, which was mentioned by several hon. Members, is a key cause of poverty and a key factor that can hold back development. It is not like me to disagree with the former Prime Minister about much—actually, in effect, I do not disagree with him about this—but corruption cannot, in any context, be fantastic. To be fantastically corrupt is to be terribly so. That, of course, is what he really meant, and the attention that he drew to the issue was welcome. We have significant programmes, including Anti-corruption in Nigeria—ACORN—and PERL, the Partnership to Engage, Reform and Learn, both of which engage with government structures and civil society groups, through which we are working both to empower people to tackle corruption when they see it, and to ensure that institutions have the tools to address it.
Several references were made to particular individuals and individual cases. With hon. Members’ permission, I will not talk about those cases, because many are live, but they make clear the point that we need to pursue corruption wherever it might hide, from the lowest to the highest levels, without fear or favour. We must always be alert to the risk that anti-corruption work will be focused on the political enemies of the people who control the direction of that work, and we are. We should be proud of what we do in this area. The work that we do to tackle corruption is an absolutely necessary and vital prerequisite for securing the long-term sustainable growth that we all want to see delivered and we all recognise Nigeria has the potential to secure.
Nigeria is a relatively affluent country in its region. It is blessed—or perhaps cursed—with significant natural resources. It accounts for about a quarter of the population of sub-Saharan Africa. It presents one of the greatest opportunities for growth and one of the greatest dangers of instability on that continent. We are right to be engaged there, we are right to play a key role given our historical ties and the country’s importance for the future, but we are also right to scrutinise what we do and to hold to account those who are responsible for it.
I therefore welcome the Committee’s work and thank hon. Members for their contributions and questions. I hope that I have addressed most of the points that my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Derbyshire raised, but I know that she will take me up on any that I omitted to comment on. I look forward to continuing our work and the positive and constructive dialogue that we have had today as we all strive to improve life and realise the opportunities that exist for the people of Nigeria. Nigeria is a friendly and important nation that I hope we will continue to trade with, and I am confident that its economy will become further entwined with that of the UK as both nations develop and march forward into the world in a way that will deliver benefits for both our peoples.
I thank the members of the Committee who contributed to this important debate and in particular our Chairman, the hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Stephen Twigg), who secured both of this afternoon’s debates. He is always a good speaker who covers many salient points, and his contribution in both debates, but this one in particular was well made.
The hon. Member for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow (Dr Cameron) covered many personal parts of the visit we had to Nigeria, which was an important visit for the Committee. I and many people had not been there before, so it was certainly an eye-opener into a very large country with many, many associated problems. My hon. Friend the Member for Stafford (Jeremy Lefroy) is always comprehensive. As the Minister said, he covered all aspects of malaria and neglected tropical diseases. Coming from his position as chairman of the all-party parliamentary group on malaria and neglected tropical diseases, he ensures at every possible opportunity that no one forgets that those issues are incredibly important to the people of Africa.
I also thank the hon. Member for Glasgow North (Patrick Grady) for his contribution—he is unfailing in turning up to all of these debates—and the shadow Minister, the hon. Member for Bradford East (Imran Hussain), who showed through his contribution that he had done much research into what we have been talking about and knew many of the issues surrounding the people in Nigeria.
I particularly thank the Minister, who covered pretty much everything asked of him. I am sure he will forensically look with his officials for anything he might have missed. I do not think he did, but he may have missed little bits and, if he did, I am sure he will come back to us. I thank him for his openness in allowing us to talk to him about any issue at any time and for always finding time for those of us who wish to get up to speed with what is happening in the Department. It has been a worthwhile debate, and I commend it to the House.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House has considered the Second Report of the International Development Committee, DFID’s programme in Nigeria, HC 110, and the Government response, HC 735.