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Volume 627: debated on Wednesday 12 July 2017

The Secretary of State was asked—

Aid Programmes: Africa

UK aid plays a vital role in helping the world’s poorest and tackling global challenges such as disease migration and terrorism. In Africa, since 2015, we have provided humanitarian assistance to 13.7 million people.

I congratulate the Secretary of State on her announcement this week on population. Given what Mrs Gates said about the impact on migration, will the Secretary of State consider how the core funding for organisations such as the International Planned Parenthood Federation and Marie Stopes International can be reinstated to allow those organisations to deliver what they have been doing effectively for some years?

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right; these are important organisations. Of course, the United Kingdom has led the way on the whole issue of family planning, as we showed yesterday through the summit we held. We are constantly looking at how we can work with important partners on that critical issue and, in particular, on family planning and modern methods of contraception. We will of course review these programmes, too, as all programmes are always under review.

In welcoming the fab decision by the Prime Minister to appoint a joint Minister from the Department for International Development and the Foreign Office to sub-Saharan Africa, will the Secretary of State confirm what her priorities are for driving forward Her Majesty’s Government’s priorities in Africa, rather than just DFID and FCO priorities?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right to commend the fact that the two Departments are working together on Africa. There is a very good reason for that. We are, of course, one HMG—one Government—and our priorities are the same priorities when it comes to Africa: tackling the big issues of disease, migration and economic development, which is critical, and growing regions such as Africa so that they can become our trading partners.

What is the Secretary of State’s assessment of the current humanitarian and political situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo? In particular, what are the Government doing to assist in tackling the humanitarian crisis there, and also to ensure that Congo can move to democratic elections as soon as possible?

I thank the hon. Gentleman, the Chair of the Select Committee, and congratulate him on his reappointment to that role. He is right to stress the significance of what is going on in the DRC. The situation is very worrying; there are many humanitarian pressures that we know of in-country, and the current electoral and democratic situation is not sustainable. We are of course working on the ground and with our partners to ensure that we continue to provide the support that is necessary to get the country back on track.

14. In recent years, UK aid has played a key role in helping Ethiopia to become more resilient to crises by ensuring that people have a safety net so that they do not starve when a crisis hits. Does the Secretary of State agree that the British public can be immensely proud of all the work this Government have done? (900376)

My hon. Friend is right. I visited Ethiopia again recently—just a month ago—and saw UK aid in action. There is no doubt about the fact that UK aid is keeping people alive in the humanitarian situation, with the drought taking place there. However, at the same time, we are supporting the industrialisation of Ethiopia, with trade opportunities and British firms now creating jobs in the country.

The Independent Commission for Aid Impact has reported that UK development assistance to Africa was down by a massive £20 million in 2016 and warned that Africa is losing out on aid spending as the Government divert money to countries in Europe and Asia. Considering that Africa has the highest proportion of population living in extreme poverty, will the Secretary of State update the House on what she intends to do to reverse the cuts and to ensure Africa does not lose out on funding from DFID?

I welcome the hon. Lady to her new role and congratulate her on joining the Opposition Front-Bench team in that role.

We have the 0.7% commitment, of course, which we are proud of, and 74% of that is spent on DFID programming. The majority of that money goes to Africa programmes, but it is important to recognise a couple of points. There is an enormous humanitarian crisis in Africa right now, and we have throughout the year scaled up, and led the way in calling on other donors to put more money into Africa famine relief. We are also working across all Government Departments to ensure that Africa is a development priority.

Humanitarian Crisis: Syria

2. What discussions she has had with the Secretary of State for Defence on ensuring that the Government’s operations in Syria help to alleviate the humanitarian crisis in that country. (900364)

I have regular discussions with the Secretary of State for Defence and other ministerial colleagues in response to the conflict in Syria, and of course we are doing more on the humanitarian side as well.

Will the Secretary of State tell us what measures her Department is taking to ensure that civilians are able to leave Raqqa safely, and what information it is giving them on escape routes?

The hon. Lady highlights the terrible situation of the mass conflict involved in the recapturing of Raqqa. The regional support that we are providing includes medical supplies, food and shelter—all the basics that people in the region need. She asks specifically about information. We are working with our partners on the ground, who are working in very challenging situations, to give them information and guidance as to where the safe places are for them to go.

Order. We might not reach the question tabled by the hon. Member for Banbury (Victoria Prentis), so if she wants to come in now, she can, although it is not obligatory.

7. How kind! May I use this opportunity to thank you, Mr Speaker, for your support for Singing for Syrians? I also thank the Department for International Development for its support. As a result of all the support we have received from across the House, Singing for Syrians is now able to support not only medical aid in Syria but a school for disabled children. Does my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State agree that aid is always worth more when it is spent in the region, and that what the people caught up in this terrible conflict really want is to be able to stay as close to home as possible? (900369)

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I congratulate her and everyone else who has been involved in Singing for Syrians. It is an incredible charity, and I commend her for her work. She is right to highlight the fact that providing support in region is what makes a difference in terms of changing and saving lives. We have led the way in this. The United Kingdom has spent more than £2.46 billion in Syria and the region, providing hope and opportunity to those who have been displaced through conflict.

It is quite obvious that senior Ministers in the Government wish to expand this conflict to target actors other than Daesh in Syria. Has the Secretary of State made an assessment of what that would mean for her Department on the ground, and is she being the voice of reason in cautioning against expanding the conflict?

It is wrong to suggest that we are expanding any conflict at all. The focus of this Government, particularly from the humanitarian perspective, is to ensure that UK aid goes to the people who are suffering as a result of the bleak situation on the ground right now. Of course we are working across Government and with our partners in the region and our international partners to bring hope where there is despair and, importantly, to end the conflict.

13. Before the conflict, about 11% of the Syrian population were Christians. The Government rightly have a programme to admit refugees from the camps on humanitarian grounds, but in the early stages of the programme, many Christians would not go to the camps because of intimidation. Can my right hon. Friend assure me that, when the Government admit refugees for very good reasons, a fair proportion of them will be Christians? (900375)

My hon. Friend makes an important point. We are prioritising reaching the most vulnerable people across Syria, including Christians, and UK funding is distributed on the basis of ensuring that civilians are not discriminated against on the basis of race, religion or ethnicity.

UN Target: Aid

3. Whether the Government plan to continue to meet the UN target of spending 0.7% of GDP on aid to developing countries for the duration of this Parliament. (900365)

Meeting the 0.7% of GNI target for overseas aid is a manifesto commitment. It is enshrined in law, and the Government have been unequivocal that we will continue to honour that pledge.

As well as committing to the United Nations target of spending 0.7% of GDP on aid to developing countries, does the Secretary of State agree that poverty reduction must be at the heart of UK aid spending?

I welcome the hon. Gentleman to the House. He is absolutely right, and that is exactly what our aid spending does. Importantly, poverty reduction is at the heart of the definition in terms of official development assistance spending, and that is something that the Government are absolutely focused on.

The 0.7% is extremely valuable in alleviating poverty. Will the Secretary of State update the House on the important summit on family planning that she attended yesterday and tell us what it achieved?

Family planning is an enormous issue for development and poverty alleviation. Yesterday, we convened a summit with our co-hosts, including the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and many representatives from around the world made big pledges and commitments to tackle family planning. The United Kingdom has led the way on the issue, but we are also working with the private sector to put more money into this area and to develop new commodities.

What percentage of the budget will be spent on helping developing countries to tackle climate change? Will the Secretary of State follow Scotland’s example and establish a climate justice fund, or will the Government tie themselves to Donald Trump’s attitude to climate change, which Professor Stephen Hawking recently described as pushing

“the Earth over the brink, to become like Venus, with a temperature of 250 degrees, and raining sulphuric acid”?

Let me be clear about this Government’s commitment to climate change reduction. We are a signatory to the Paris agreement, which we are committed to delivering. As for the spending percentage, it is important to stress that we have a range of spending across Departments. The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, which leads on climate control and climate change, is working with DFID, because climate change issues such as drought and famine have a massive impact and cause a great deal of harm in various parts of the world.

Constituents from Chipping Barnet are coming to Parliament today to set out their concerns about Christians in Syria facing oppression and persecution. Will the Secretary of State use the aid budget to alleviate the suffering of Christian communities during their times of trouble?

I thank my right hon. Friend for her question and commend her and her constituents for the work that they are doing. UK aid and funding are distributed to those in need, including persecuted Christians around the world. Importantly, we are standing up for them and giving them a voice in parts of the world where conflict is happening.

As well as recommitting to the UN target of spending 0.7% of gross national income on aid to developing countries, will the Secretary of State consult civil society before proposing any further changes to or relaxation of the rules on what ODA can be spent on?

This is an important area and I have committed to working with all partners, particularly civil society. In fact, a range of NGOs and stakeholders spent some time with me two weeks ago, and we had a constructive discussion on that very issue. The dialogue is ongoing, and I would welcome the views of many other partners.

With the Government’s new-found desire to reach out to other parties for new ideas, precisely which of the 13 policy ideas in Labour’s 2017 manifesto does the Secretary of State now intend to implement?

When it comes to development, it is fair to say that we agree on the national and global commitment to the 0.7% target, hence why we are having such a constructive exchange right now. In reference to the hon. Lady’s previous question, we should be working collectively and with our international partners on ODA reform.

Famine and Food Shortages: Africa

4. What steps her Department is taking to support people affected by (a) famine in South Sudan and (b) food shortages in Somalia and Burundi. (900366)

This year, we are providing a package of £276 million of humanitarian support to those countries, supplying food, shelter and water to those in desperate need.

What is the Department doing to encourage the Ugandan Government to engage fully in diplomatic efforts to bring the warring parties in South Sudan around the negotiating table?

The hon. Gentleman is right to raise that issue. The conflict in South Sudan is abhorrent, and I saw that first hand on my visit earlier this year. I have been pressing the Ugandan Government and other neighbours in the region. They need to step up and call out the appalling behaviour that we have been seeing in South Sudan with President Salva Kiir. The United Kingdom is doing everything it possibly can to ensure that that message is being heard.

I congratulate the Secretary of State and DFID on co-ordinating the aid effort in South Sudan with other countries. Does she agree that that is yet another example of where British taxpayers’ money is being wisely spent on keeping alive men, women and children who happen to share the same planet as us?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. South Sudan is a man-made crisis that has killed thousands and forced almost 4 million people to flee their homes. UK aid is not only saving lives but making an enormous difference in a country dominated by war and conflict.

Small Charities Funding

5. What steps she is taking to enable small charities in the UK to access funding allocated by her Department. (900367)

Last week, DFID launched the small charities challenge fund, which is specifically for small UK-registered charities with an annual income of less than £250,000.

I am particularly proud of the work that many of my constituents in Cheadle undertake for small charities, which are vital to our aid programme, as highlighted by this funding. Does my right hon. Friend agree that, by providing these funds to our local small charities, we can improve the connection between our civil society and the important work of helping countries overseas?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. There is no doubt that small charities are a crucial part of the UK’s development offer internationally. There are many extraordinary grassroots charities, and I urge all colleagues on both sides of the House to encourage their small charities to apply for this fund. There is a great opportunity to build links, both nationally and internationally, on these important issues.

Will the Secretary of State give priority in allocating funds to areas of the world such as Yemen? There is a humanitarian catastrophe in Yemen, where 300,000 people are facing a cholera epidemic.

The right hon. Gentleman is absolutely right, and I commend him for again raising the issue of Yemen, where the conflict is having a devastating impact and, of course, there is a cholera crisis. The Government are spending hundreds of millions on providing necessary life-saving support to the people who are engulfed by that awful conflict.

12. What assess- ment has my right hon. Friend made of the remarkable voluntary charitable contribution made alongside the Government’s work to relieve the crisis in Syria? How does the Department help to facilitate that work? (900374)

My hon. Friend is right to raise that point. UK aid is playing a significant part supporting Syria and the region—we are one of the largest donors—and many small charities are also involved. My hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Victoria Prentis) has spoken about how UK charities are playing their part. The small charities challenge fund will help to facilitate more UK small charities to do more on international crisis and conflict.

Agenda 2030

6. What discussions she has had with Cabinet colleagues on the implementation of the Government’s report, “Agenda 2030: Delivering the Global Goals”, published in March 2017. (900368)

As the hon. Lady knows, the UK was at the forefront of drafting those goals and is leading a great deal of the implementation. We published our report on 28 March. DFID leads on international implementation, and the Cabinet Office is ensuring that the single departmental plans drive it through domestically.

The Minister will know of my interest in food waste, which is addressed by sustainable development goal 12.3. Does he agree that it is not enough just to have a DFID-led approach? We will not be able to help farmers in developing countries unless we also tackle the relationship with supermarkets in this country.

The hon. Lady has been a leader in this House on addressing food waste, which fundamentally needs to be driven by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and its Secretary of State, monitored by the Cabinet Office through the single departmental plan. DFID’s role is then to ensure that, internationally, we are consistent by showing exactly the kind of leadership on food waste that the hon. Lady has provided.

I know that the commitment to implementing the sustainable development goals comes right from the top of Government. By when did my hon. Friend ask the Office for National Statistics to report on the UK’s progress?

The Office for National Statistics is compiling a report for the UN, and we will be submitting ourselves to a voluntary assessment of the UK’s performance on the sustainable development goals at home and abroad.

15. Does not President Trump’s declaration on the Paris agreement blow a hole in the UK’s objectives on the climate change agreement as part of the millennium development goals? (900377)

The UK’s obligation under the sustainable development goals is to remain committed to our own performance. We are sticking with the Paris agreement, and we will demonstrate at home and abroad that we really care about clean, renewable energy and the future of this planet.

Topical Questions

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.