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International Development

Volume 624: debated on Wednesday 29 March 2017

The Secretary of State was asked—

Developing Countries (Extreme Poverty)

1. What steps her Department is taking to use research, innovation and technology to tackle extreme poverty in developing countries. (909541)

The UK’s investment in cutting-edge research on new technology to tackle extreme poverty is more important than ever before. DFID spends 3% of its budget on supporting research and development, and we are demonstrating leadership on this issue.

I have just been advised of an important matter: I wish to offer a happy birthday to the Secretary of State.

Evenproducts is a small and innovative company based in my constituency that makes water tanks and sanitation equipment used throughout the developing world. It is also part of DFID’s rapid response group. What is the Department doing to encourage even more small businesses and charities to engage with this work?

Thank you for your very kind birthday wishes, Mr Speaker.

My hon. Friend is absolutely right about small businesses in his constituency and, indeed, in all our constituencies. I congratulate the company he mentioned on the outstanding work that it does in development. I am leading a review of our suppliers in DFID right now. We are changing the way in which we procure. We will ensure that more UK firms, in particular, have the opportunity to support UK aid around the world and deliver on our development objectives.

I pay tribute to the work that the Secretary of State is doing in this area. Does she agree that in much of sub-Saharan Africa, in particular, many charities are doing a lot of work on clean water to try to tackle drought, as well as work on economic development? We can do much more to support these much-needed charities in those countries.

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. The challenge that we have across sub-Saharan Africa is drought and the provision of water, and all the essentials that many of us take for granted. He is right that small charities play a crucial role in delivering that. That was why last week I announced the new small charities challenge fund, which will give small charities across the United Kingdom more of an opportunity to access DFID funds and support to go out there and deliver life-saving aid around the world.

As we leave the European Union, does my right hon. Friend agree that we have a unique opportunity to help to eradicate extreme poverty through free trade opportunities?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Today being a very significant day, he is right to raise this issue. We know through all our work that to move countries from aid dependency we have to give them economic empowerment and prosperity. Free trade is one aspect of that, along with the other work that we do on bringing commerce and new trading opportunities, but education as well, to countries around the world.

What role will the Ross Fund, co-managed by DFID and the Department of Health, play in the priorities around new investment and co-ordination of projects across Government?

The hon. Lady is right to raise the £357 million that is associated with the Ross Fund, and I thank her for doing so. We spend that on top of the 3% commitment of DFID’s money and budget that we already give through the research review that I launched last year. This speaks to our leadership in the world in tackling health epidemics through the work that we led on Ebola and on Zika, and also on TB. Last Friday was World TB Day. Our investment in universities across the United Kingdom in terms of scientific research and development has shown UK leadership in how we can tackle some of these awful diseases and epidemics and get better prevention of them.

Somalia (Food Security)

The UK is at the forefront of international efforts to avert a famine in Somalia. Our additional £110 million of aid will provide food, water and emergency services for more than 1 million people. I think all Members of this House will recognise that we are witnessing Somalia experience an absolutely devastating famine right now, but UK aid is making an enormous difference.

I thank the Secretary of State very much for her comments. Up to 3 million people are at risk of starvation in Somalia. It is important not only to get the food in, but to make sure it goes to the people who really need it. I would just like to press her a little bit more on how we can physically get the food to those who most need it.

My hon. Friend is absolutely right to raise this issue. First and foremost, I would like to commend all the partners and agencies working in Somalia in quite terrible, difficult and harrowing conditions. We work with a range of trusted and experienced partners in a country that is very difficult; there is no doubt about that. I have met many of them, as have my DFID teams and officials in country. Our priority, as I have said, is to get emergency food and water to the people who need it, and we are working with a range of agencies to do exactly that.

The scale of the humanitarian crisis in Somalia, the rest of east Africa and Yemen is truly appalling. I welcome what the Secretary of State has said about the UK donation, but what are we doing to ensure that other wealthy countries rise to the challenge as well?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for making that remark. He will know that thanks to the generosity of UK taxpayers, the east Africa Disasters Emergency Committee appeal has reached £40 million. UK aid has contributed to that, and rightly so, through our match funding. Others need to do more; I have been unequivocal about the fact that I think that other countries need to pull their finger out. We have led the way in terms of lobbying and making calls. All Ministers across DFID and across Government, including Foreign and Commonwealth Office Ministers, have been doing exactly that—pressing the wealthier countries to contribute more to tackling these famines and to step up their own responses.

May I ask the Secretary of State what work her Department is doing with the international community to help to ensure that it is better able to provide a more urgent early response to food crises, to avoid mass loss of life?

The hon. Lady is absolutely right to raise that point. What we are seeing is totally unprecedented. To witness the prospect of four famines in 2017 is simply horrific for all of us. There is more that can be done, and the UK is working with others to try to build greater capacity and resilience in those countries so that we do not reach crisis points, as we have done this year, where international appeals have to come together and plead with people to give money. The long-term strategy has to be to build greater resilience. That has worked in countries such as Ethiopia and Kenya in the past.

On 21 March, the United Nations agricultural agency further scaled up its activities in drought-ridden regions in Somalia. I thank the agency for the $22 million that was loaned, but I have had concerned constituents asking who will be paying back that loan. Will it be the United Nations or will it be the Somalians?

The hon. Lady raises an important point about funding and resourcing for such crisis appeals. As I have said, the UK has stepped up and led the way. On my visit to Somalia six weeks ago, we managed to convene more funds—yes, from the UK, but we are getting others to do likewise. We cannot continue to put the debt burden on countries that are struggling, or on a Government who are so new that we have to continue to support them. Of course, we have the Somalia conference coming up very soon.

East Africa (Food Security)

The humanitarian crises facing the world in 2017 are unprecedented. The UK is leading the response and stepping up life-saving support across east Africa.

On a recent visit to Kenya and Uganda with the Select Committee on International Development, I met children who had walked up to 10 km just to get to school and 10 km to get back, many of whom were lucky if they had one meal a day. While we were at the school, we discussed associated educational and developmental issues. What consideration has my right hon. Friend given to supporting food programmes aimed at school-age children?

My hon. Friend is right to highlight that, and I am glad that the Select Committee saw the strong work DFID is doing, in partnership, on education in both Kenya and Uganda. We of course provide a range of support, and in our education support and our programme work we look at all aspects of water, food and provision of healthcare, and at how we can support vulnerable households.

I pay tribute to the many people across Cardiff, including local football teams, who have been raising funds for drought-affected areas, in Somaliland in particular. I have heard worrying concerns from the Government of Somaliland and others that some of the aid pledged to the region is not getting through. Will the Secretary of State investigate this and do what she can to provide support?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for raising that point. We must always challenge the system, but also challenge Governments and authorities. As he will know, there are issues in Somaliland specifically, because it is very challenging and difficult terrain. I will always press, be vocal about and call out those who are preventing aid access, so I will absolutely look into the point he has made.

Yesterday, I met the Ethiopian ambassador, who made the point that money is needed desperately, but at the same time let us not stereotype east Africa. It is a place of prosperity, where Louis Vuitton handbags and some of the finest gloves are made, as well as a place that requires help in the north.

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I saw that for myself when I went to Ethiopia; I went to one of the industrial parks. I think—this comes back to the point about economic development—that Ethiopia is now a great success story in moving from famine and poverty to prosperity and the development agenda. In effect, we want to see more of that.

10. Is the Secretary of State aware of reports that the South Sudanese Government are planning to raise the cost of work permits for foreign nationals from $100 to $10,000? What steps can the Department take to ensure access for aid workers, and what success is it having in achieving that? (909550)

The hon. Gentleman is right to raise this issue. He will not be surprised to hear me say that we have been calling the South Sudanese Government out on that. Their behaviour and conduct in putting up their fees and blocking aid access have been absolutely appalling. We will continue to apply all pressure we can to make sure we tackle these issues directly.

I am sure the Secretary of State will commend Comic Relief for raising £73 million this year, but is she as concerned as I am that it showed a baby dying at 8.30 pm, before the watershed, and another baby dying at 9.10 pm, meaning that the overall portrayal of Africa is very narrow? It needs to review the formula, because this is affecting primary school children’s understanding of a very complicated continent with 52 countries.

I agree with the right hon. Gentleman about the great work of Comic Relief and how it raises so much money for all the domestic and international causes. I did not see the footage to which he refers, but as we have touched on already in these exchanges, Africa has a bright future—there is no doubt about that—in terms of its population, economic development and prosperity, and we must focus on those things.

We join in passing on birthday wishes to the Secretary of State. Will she explain how DFID is helping local partners to deliver humanitarian aid in response to the east African crisis, and how is that helping the Department to make progress towards the target, agreed at last year’s world humanitarian summit, that 25% of humanitarian aid should be delivered through local partners by 2020?

The hon. Gentleman asks a very important question. Following the world humanitarian summit, we have been leading the charge—working with others in the system, including the head of the Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs, Stephen O’Brien—on how to get better efficiencies and improve ways of working, which are crucial. The east African crisis has shown how we can deliver aid more effectively through our partnership working, but also how we can reform our ways of working, which we need to improve continually.


Britain has a proven track record of supporting Afghanistan and a long-term commitment to the country’s future. As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said on Monday, we will continue to support Afghanistan’s security and development because that is in Afghanistan’s interests, but also in our national interest.

Although huge progress has been made in Afghanistan on the education of women and girls, does the Secretary of State agree that long-term stability and prosperity in Afghanistan depend on women and girls being able to make a full contribution to business, political and civic life?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I saw that myself when I visited Afghanistan recently. Women and girls are key to delivering real and long-lasting peace and stability in Afghanistan. Its Government are fully committed to that and we will continue to work with and support them to achieve it.

Given the reported fall of Helmand province to the Taliban, what discussions has the Department had with other Departments on trying to eradicate the poppy crop in Afghanistan?

The hon. Gentleman raises a really important point, particularly in light of the many sacrifices that were made in Helmand province. We work across Government on the issue, including with the Foreign Office and the Ministry of Defence. We are working at every level to strengthen capacity and resilience in the country.

DFID funding has enabled significant progress in maternal healthcare, as well as in educating girls, in the federally administered tribal areas between Afghanistan and Pakistan. Would the Secretary of State be willing to meet representatives of the local charity, the Community Motivation and Development Organisation, which is a recipient, on their next visit to London?

My right hon. Friend is absolutely right about the vital and significant work that is being done. I would be delighted to meet those people when they visit London soon.

United Nations (Aid Programmes)

Discussions with the United Nations are central to the Department’s work. The Secretary of State speaks regularly to the Secretary-General, and I am lucky enough to be able to speak regularly to the heads of UN agencies such as UNICEF and the World Food Programme, and the International Committee of the Red Cross. Our focus is not just on funding, but on reform, in particular making sure that we have better co-ordination in humanitarian crises.

UN aid programmes are an investment on behalf of all citizens, so, given their importance, I was surprised to read some of the sweeping statements in the multilateral review. Does the Secretary of State accept that if institutions are to be reformed, perhaps that should be done with the co-operation of all member states, not at the unilateral discretion of her Department?

We believe very strongly that reform should be done with other member states and as part of a coalition. As the hon. Gentleman has pointed out, the multilateral development review has pointed to issues where we think further reform is needed, but the United Nations is central to Britain’s response around the world. In fact, we are contributing £1.6 billion this year in our work with the United Nations, addressing some of the most vulnerable people on the planet.

What success has been had in recruiting Gulf states to work through the UN system and in encouraging them to support our UN reform agenda?

Clearly, Gulf states, which are increasingly large parts of the economy of the world, are central to humanitarian response. There have been significant contributions from the Gulf—from Saudi, UAE and Qatar—and the Secretary of State continues to encourage those contributions, particularly those that address the famines in the horn of Africa.

As President Trump slashes aid spending, it is more important than ever that global, outward-looking nations live up to their responsibilities, not shirk them, to fill the aid funding gaps. Will the Minister commit to working with our partners on increasing their aid spending, to show that despite Brexit the UK can still be a global leader embracing its global responsibilities?

We agree absolutely with that. It is central that other countries meet their targets. We are very proud to be able to stand tall in the world, particularly at a time when children are starving to death. That is why the Secretary of State is leading international coalitions to increase the international commitment to these desperate issues.

Topical Questions

Britain’s small charities do amazing and often highly innovative work in some of the poorest places in the world. Small charities are being given a boost by the financial fund that I have mentioned. I urge all colleagues on both sides of the House to encourage small charities in their constituencies to come forward when the funds are opened this summer.

The Secretary of State has already acknowledged that last Friday was World TB Day. I hope that she is aware that there is an emerging threat of the disease becoming drug-resistant, so what steps are the Government taking to eradicate the TB epidemic and provide treatment for drug-resistant strains?

The hon. Gentleman raises a very important point. TB is a deadly disease that affects so much of the world. We are demonstrating great leadership in this country on how we can tackle and invest in addressing TB as well as antimicrobial resistance, which is a big agenda that the UK has led on. We are funding more work, not only through the Ross Fund, as I said earlier, but through our research reviews.

T3. My right hon. Friend will be aware of the stigma that exists for people with mental ill health and the poor provision of mental health care services in many low and middle-income countries. What steps is her Department taking to combat that problem? [Interruption.] (909535)

Order. We should be listening to the doctor. He had an important message, and I am not sure it was fully heard.

My hon. Friend is absolutely right to raise the important issue of mental health in relation to the global goals and the international disability framework. DFID works across the world, through agencies as well as in countries such as Ghana, to integrate our research to see how we can do more with their health systems to deliver the right kind of support.

T2. This year both the Secretary of State and the Foreign Secretary have visited Ethiopia, the second-largest recipient of UK bilateral aid. Meanwhile, British citizen Andy Tsege has been on death row for over 1,000 days following a show trial and illegal kidnap. What is the Secretary of State doing to return Mr Tsege to his family in London? (909534)

I am working with my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary on this issue. That is how we demonstrate joined-up government and leadership on difficult consular cases.

T8. What steps is my right hon. Friend’s Department taking to support women and girls, given the Trump Administration’s reintroduction of the Mexico City policy? (909540)

My hon. Friend has raised this issue with me previously. On support for family planning around the world in light of America’s policies, I am delighted to confirm that we are hosting a conference in July this year, working alongside Bill Gates, the private sector and others, to continue to demonstrate UK leadership on this issue while challenging others to step up.

T4. I recently met Youth Stop AIDS campaigners from my constituency who are optimistic about the Government’s international family planning summit in July, but they are concerned to ensure that HIV is an integral part of the conference. Will the Secretary of State assure me that an HIV organisation will be included in the civil society steering group that is being set up to advise on planning for the summit? (909536)

The hon. Gentleman raises a really important point about the summit, HIV/AIDS and representation from civil society. I can give him a complete assurance that we are not only engaging but working with civil society organisations. Their voices will be at the heart of our further policy work and development.

My constituents want value for money and transparency in the international aid system. What more can the Secretary of State do to ensure that that happens?

My hon. Friend is right to raise the important issue of delivering value for money in how we deliver UK aid. I can give him and the whole House a complete assurance that, through the reforms we are undertaking, every pound of UK aid—taxpayers’ money—will be spent on delivering for the world’s poorest.

T5. Even before the famine South Sudan had one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the world, but now the UN estimates that 33,000 pregnant women are on the brink of extreme hunger. Does the Secretary of State agree that there is a need for specific aid focused on maternal health, sanitary products and the education of girls and women? (909537)

The hon. Gentleman will know that the UK leads on maternal health support and advocacy for women and girls around the world, and that will continue. The areas he highlights are crucial to our leadership and to how UK aid is spent.

Some people have concerns about the idea of linking trade with aid, but does my right hon. Friend agree that the rule of law, which goes with trade, fosters the wider development of healthy legal practice?

As I said earlier, the UK leads on prosperity and economic development. My hon. Friend is right to highlight the fact that we do not tie in aid and trade, but there is a role for governance and building the prosperity agenda. That is effectively what we are doing through DFID’s economic development strategy.

There seems to be wide agreement across the House that foreign aid is a good thing and an investment, yet the public debate, driven by populism, is incredibly toxic. What are the Government doing to detoxify the public debate surrounding foreign aid?

At a time when there is great need in the world, we have seen enormous generosity from UK taxpayers for the Disasters Emergency Committee east Africa appeal. We have seen the country, as well as the international community, come together to give support and aid to the people who need it the most. We are proud of that, and we stand tall in the world when we stand up for our obligations to the poorest in the world. That is, in effect, what we are doing.