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Topical Questions

Volume 627: debated on Wednesday 12 July 2017

Yesterday I hosted a fantastic family planning conference here in London, dealing with the population challenges of regions such as Africa, demonstrating UK leadership and UK aid in action, and helping those who do not have a voice on that essential issue.

Will the Secretary of State commit to not changing the UK definition of international aid without consultation with and the approval of this House—yes or no?

I have already said that I am engaging all parties, meaning not just political parties but stakeholders and international colleagues. We have very clear guidelines on OECD development assistance committee rules. We will work with all partners to make the necessary changes.

T2. If someone’s tools or land are stolen and there is no redress through the justice system, or if someone is fearful to walk to school because they have been raped and no action has been taken, development is restricted and poverty continues. What action is the Department for International Development taking to make sure that justice systems function properly in the developing world? (900379)

My hon. Friend is right to raise that important issue. Strengthening justice systems around the world, particularly in developing and poor countries, is an essential part not only of our fight to combat global poverty, but of building safer communities and countries. That is the focus of DFID and UK aid.

What are the Secretary of State and her ministerial colleagues doing about the plight of the hundreds of thousands of Syrians who cannot access any UK aid because they are still under siege from the al-Assad Government?

The hon. Gentleman mentions the very serious situation in Syria and the besieged areas, where we and all other agencies are collectively struggling to get support and aid to people who desperately need it. We are working with many aid agencies on the ground and with the United Nations in particular, which is leading the way. The situation in Syria is devastating and we are working with everyone possible and all parties to see what we can do to get supplies in as and when windows of opportunity appear.

T3. Free trade is essential if poorer countries are to escape poverty. Will my right hon. Friend update the House on the steps she is taking to address that issue? (900380)

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The UK is committed to ensuring that developing countries can reduce and combat poverty by focusing on free trade and open markets. We are at the forefront of an economic development strategy and are encouraging trade preferences with poor countries to help to trade their way out of poverty. DFID is absolutely focused on that area.

Order. So that the whole House can benefit from the mellifluous tones of the right hon. Lady, perhaps she would be good enough to face the House in answering, and then we can always have a richly satisfying experience.

School students from Wrexham and Leribe in Lesotho in southern Africa have had a tremendous relationship over 10 years as a result of personal contact between students in Europe and Africa. How are we going to enable that to continue?

The hon. Gentleman is right to raise those amazing partnerships between schools in Africa and the United Kingdom. DFID is leading the way with many programmes, including the connecting classrooms programme in schools in the constituencies of many right hon. and hon. Members. We are absolutely encouraging more of that dialogue.

T4. Trade, not aid is the route out of poverty for developing countries. Does the Secretary of State agree that leaving the EU will allow this country to lower its tariffs, and developing countries to trade with us? (900381)

My hon. Friend makes a very important and relevant point. As someone who also campaigned to leave the European Union, I think he is absolutely right. Our trade preferences, which will be introduced by future legislation as we leave the EU, will enable many poor countries to leave poverty behind and get on the path to prosperity through open markets and free trade.

With 95% of its drinking water now unsafe to drink, Gaza is fast approaching the point of becoming uninhabitable, as predicted by the United Nations. What are the Government doing to ensure that we do not reach that point and to push the EU plans to fund a desalination plant there?

According to the UN Office for the Co-Ordination of Humanitarian Affairs, most homes in Gaza are getting water for only a few hours every three to five days. The availability of safe drinking water has become worse. The UK is urging all parties to find a sustainable solution to the current situation, and in the longer term continues to urge the Israeli authorities to ensure fair distribution of water across the Occupied Palestinian Territories.

T5. Will the Secretary of State assure me that her Department will work closely with disability-focused organisations so that the UK’s efforts to improve access to education for disabled children in developing countries are successful? (900382)

I welcome my hon. Friend to the House and thank him for his question. We are committed to using UK aid to focus on disability in poor countries and, importantly, to enable disadvantaged people in some of the poorest parts of the world to access some of the innovation and great ways of working we have in the United Kingdom.

The right hon. Member for Broxtowe (Anna Soubry) and I recently went to Jordan, where we met people on the ground who are really worried about the potential instability resulting from Jordan’s acceptance of so many Syrian refugees. Do the Government agree that ensuring stability in the host countries that are opening their doors is an absolute priority?

The hon. Lady is absolutely right. Like me, she will have seen at first hand the impact of Syrian conflict on Jordan and the region. As a host country, Jordan is being heavily supported by UK aid—the British taxpayer—to provide all the essentials.

T6. Will the Secretary of State ensure that her Department works with Population Matters to make sure that more women in the developing world have access to advice and support for contraception and family planning? (900383)

My right hon. Friend is absolutely right to raise that. Yesterday, we hosted a summit on that very issue. We will continue to lead the way and to be at the forefront of standing up for women’s rights in developing countries, as well as pioneering more work on and support for family planning and contraceptives.

Does the Minister agree that recent proposals in Israel on the construction of a Gaza sea port, such as those advanced by the Israeli Labor Knesset Member Omer Barlev and discussed last month by the Israeli Cabinet, would offer a much-needed route to easing the situation in Gaza? Will he support that initiative?

Yes, a new sea port at Gaza could open up all sorts of things in Gaza and change the situation for the people there quite materially. It is an interesting proposal and I am of course interested to see how far it is taken.

T7. Thank you, Mr Speaker. British-funded refugee camps throughout Turkey have been saving lives and preventing illegal migration into Europe. Is it now time to operate a similar scheme in north Africa? (900384)

We are of course providing a great deal of support and humanitarian aid to migrants and refugees in north Africa. We are working across the Government on how to deal with migration routes: we are looking at the flows of people so that, when we need to, we can send them back to their home country.

T8. The British Government are leading the response to the famine in east Africa. Will the Minister update the House on the Department’s work in this area? (900385)

My hon. Friend is absolutely right to speak about east Africa, where there is one of the four famines that the world faces this year. In east Africa specifically, we have led the way in humanitarian and emergency food assistance and helped more than 2.4 million people.