[Mr Clive Betts in the Chair]
I beg to move,
That this House has considered the UK’s contribution to international disaster relief.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Betts. It is quite timely to be debating this issue today on the back of data released last week by the OECD showing that the UK was one of only six countries to meet its commitment to spending 0.7% of its gross national income on international aid. Of the 29 members of the OECD’s Development Assistance Committee, only Norway, Sweden, Denmark and Luxembourg regularly spend more than 0.7% of their national income on foreign aid. Although that is a rather depressing statistic in and of itself—given the ambition for developed countries to spend that amount was adopted by the UN General Assembly as far back as 1970 and was re-committed to at the 2005 G8 summit at Gleneagles and that, also in 2005, the 15 European Union members all agreed to reach the target by 2015—it is a figure that we as a nation should be incredibly proud of. We were the first of the G7 countries to meet the commitment.
However, in an era when tough decisions on spending have to be made in order to repair the economic damage done by the last Labour Government, and in the wake of the global financial crisis, I completely understand those who question why we continue to spend £12.1 billion on aid and development overseas and why we are not putting some of that money into, for example, schools, hospitals, roads or the Ministry of Defence.
Does my hon. Friend agree that, in terms of making the political argument for spending money on aid, it would perhaps be easier if we had a system in legislation whereby 0.7% was spent only when our economy was in surplus?
I am receptive to that argument, but I do politely disagree with my hon. Friend. I will speak about that in more detail later.
I believe that we in this country have a duty to help struggling economies to build new partnerships, support fledgling democracies and help to put an end to disease, hunger and extreme poverty. I am convinced that our development budget is a crucial part of securing the United Kingdom’s place in the world, helping to build a truly global Britain at this time.
It was Tony Blair, not somebody oft quoted in this place these days—although maybe more on our side than on the other side—who said, way back in 1999, that in today’s interdependent world, our actions should be
“guided by a...subtle blend of mutual self-interest and moral purpose in defending the values that we cherish. In the end values and interests merge.”
I could not agree more. Our international aid budget is right not only on a humanitarian level, but in terms of our national interest. They are intertwined.
It is hard to believe that it was only five years ago, in 2013, that the World Health Organisation declared the Ebola epidemic in West Africa a public health emergency of international concern. That that status was lifted as quickly as March 2016 is due in no small part to the contribution of UK disaster relief and the actions of British, Irish and Canadian troops on the ground, as part of Operation Gritrock. In November 2013, just 13 months after the start of the operation, Sierra Leone was declared Ebola-free. Our military, especially our Navy—I would say that—deserve special mention when we talk about our contribution to disaster relief across the world.
In this place, we often speak of the bravery of our armed forces personnel in the face of adversity, but the sheer scale of the work that they do in our name, delivering disaster relief across the world, is truly astounding. During one of the worst stages of the European migrant crisis, for example, during April and July 2015, HMS Bulwark and 814 Naval Air Squadron rescued more than 2,900 migrants from drowning in the Mediterranean, as part of Operation Weald. Those 2,900 migrants faced certain death without our intervention. Looking to the future, HMS Queen Elizabeth and HMS Prince of Wales will transform the UK’s maritime capability, including in terms of providing humanitarian aid and disaster relief.
I am grateful for my hon. Friend’s generosity in giving way again. He mentions the importance of national interest in the way that we dispose of our aid. Does he agree that it is important that the expenditure of aid money comes under clear political leadership from the Foreign Office? I look forward to such a reassurance from the Minister. I would be interested to hear from the Minister whether there is any concern about the decoupling of directives about national interest and the expenditure of money through the Department for International Development, and if they are permitted to make political decisions in DFID when moneys are spent or allocated.
I would suggest that that is a question for the Minister rather than me.
But does my hon. Friend agree?
It is clear to me that without a strong Navy we could not have delivered the £92 million of aid that the UK contributed to the response following Hurricanes Irma and Maria, nor could we have deployed the 2,000 UK servicemen and women who spearheaded our aid relief. Without a strong Air Force, the RAF would not have been able to deliver aid to mountainous Nepal following the 2015 earthquakes there, when the Department for International Development provided shelter support for more than 214,000 people, as well as clean drinking water, sanitation and hygiene support for more than 56,000 people.
Although I do not support the approach that some of our European allies have taken in counting money spent for international aid purposes as defence spending, thereby making their declarations to NATO on defence spending questionable—to say the least—the huge role played by our armed forces in delivering our international humanitarian aid and disaster relief should make the Ministry of Defence DFID’s best friend and strongest ally. At the end of the day, we would all do well to remember that in chaos fear reigns and extremism and terrorism flourishes. Our aid budget and our contribution to disaster relief is, I believe, central to our safety and security and that of our allies overseas.
In his drive to increase US spending on combating AIDS in Africa, President George W. Bush—another one not often quoted in this place—said:
“When you have an entire generation of people being wiped out and the free world turns its back, it provides a convenient opportunity for people to spread extremism.”
I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this debate, and it is always a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Betts. My hon. Friend mentioned George W. Bush. It is interesting to note that, on account of the focused effort that George W. Bush and his Administration put into relief in Africa, his reputation in Africa is second to none.
I could not add anything more. My hon. Friend is absolutely right; George W. Bush’s reputation there is almost in adverse relation to his reputation in this part of the world.
Concerns have been raised in this House and elsewhere about how our aid budget is focused on responding to disaster, rather than prioritising disaster preparedness so that countries are better equipped to help themselves. On that note, I return to the topic of Sierra Leone and the great work done there by DFID, in partnership with the armed forces.
One of the greatest achievements of the Royal Army Medical Corps 22 Field Hospital, who were deployed in Operation Gritrock, was to establish an Ebola training academy, which has trained more than 4,000 Sierra Leonean healthcare workers—a huge feat in a country with poor access to education and specialist training. Crucially, 22 Field Hospital implemented a “train the trainer” programme, ensuring local sustainability of the training in case of a fresh outbreak of the virus. The effect of that academy for the people of Sierra Leone cannot be overstated, not just on a practical level, but on a psychological one. It is a fantastic signal of this Government’s direction of travel on aid spending.
We all know that, due to their nature and usual geographical location, when natural disasters strike it can take some time for even the best prepared aid effort to get itself under way, losing precious hours. Her Majesty’s Government were criticised last September for what was perceived to be a slow response to Hurricane Irma, which caused terrible devastation to Anguilla, the British Virgin Islands and the Turks and Caicos Islands, which are all, of course, British overseas territories. It is therefore right that UK aid organisations and DFID are working hard to shift the focus on disaster relief and aid from responding to pre-empting and building resilience in our programme countries, to help them to withstand the worst of natural disasters, including through the disasters and emergencies preparedness programme.
There is a certain disparity in what my hon. Friend is saying in trying to contrast aid with disaster aid. Once the disaster aid is spent, a lot of our aid is spent on education, and that is one of the most useful things it can be spent on. Without that, we do not get the quality people in the country. Does my hon. Friend agree?
This is becoming a running theme—I could not agree more strongly.
It is sheer common sense that providing funding to countries at an elevated risk of natural disaster will reduce the need for British aid in the future and slow the pace at which it needs to be delivered to be effective. The people of the UK are rightly proud of this country’s tradition of responding to disasters across the globe, and of the contribution that our armed forces make to those responses. I am immensely proud, as everyone here should be, that Britain is one of only six countries to contribute 0.7% of its gross national income to overseas aid and development. It gives me an immense feeling of pride to see the Union flag-branded aid parcels and to know that this country at least is doing what it can to ease the blights of poverty, poor education and low economic growth, and to create secure countries and develop partnerships that make us all more secure. It is a sign of who we are as a nation—outward-looking, positive and committed to meeting our responsibilities across the globe—that we deliver humanitarian aid and disaster relief across the globe when and where it is needed. We are working hard to pre-empt such disasters and make our response even more effective in the future. Those are the actions and the signs of a modern, compassionate and forward-thinking Government for a modern, compassionate and forward-thinking country.
Several hon. Members rose—
Order. Five hon. Members have indicated they want to speak before the Front Benchers. We have got about 45 minutes before the Front Benchers, which is a reasonable amount of time. I do not want to set a time limit. That is just an indication of how long we have.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Betts. I congratulate the hon. Member for West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine (Andrew Bowie) on securing this debate and on his excellent speech. I concur with what he said about the 0.7% commitment and about there being no conflict between our moral purpose and our national interest. All I would say is that it is vital that our work on international development is at all times guided by the centrality of reducing poverty and, in particular, adopting the sustainable development goals.
In 2016, the UK spent £1.2 billion on disaster relief. At roughly 15% of all overseas development assistance, that is the biggest single sector for UK aid. It was used to respond to natural disasters, disease—the hon. Gentleman gave the example of Ebola—terrorism, war and other conflicts, and mass atrocities. Our ability to react quickly to developing crises allows us to tackle serious issues before they develop. I want to draw attention to the emergency health unit, which is funded by DFID and run by Save the Children. In 2015, when there was an outbreak of measles in South Sudan, the emergency health unit was deployed quickly and provided life-saving vaccinations and medical assistance to the local population. In just three weeks, the UK’s and Save the Children’s direct action protected about 45,000 children from deadly disease.
As the hon. Gentleman said, the Ebola crisis was a textbook example of effective UK action. Tragically, Ebola killed more than 11,000 people, yet that figure would have been a great deal higher but for the actions of the UK and others. The year before last, in the previous Parliament, the Select Committee on International Development concluded that DFID should be commended for the way it responded. In particular, we applauded all the staff who worked in Sierra Leone and the region to bring the epidemic under control. As the hon. Gentleman rightly said, the Ebola crisis is an excellent example of how DFID can work with other Departments, including the Ministry of Defence and the Department of Health, and of how, by doing so, we can help those living in the affected communities and deliver value for money for the British taxpayer.
The International Development Committee has just begun an inquiry into the administration and definition of overseas development assistance. An increasing proportion of the UK’s ODA is being spent by other Departments, and we want to look at that issue to ensure that the money is going towards the primary goal of poverty reduction. We also want to look at the definition of ODA. In the Conservative manifesto last year, there was a commitment to work with the OECD to change the definition of what constitutes ODA. It is sensible for the rules that govern ODA to be reviewed. The former Secretary of State called for more of the money that is spent on, for example, UN peacekeeping missions to count as overseas development assistance. As a result, the OECD doubled the proportion that can count from 7% to 15%, and I think that change made sense.
As it stands, the British overseas territories—the hon. Member for West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine referred to Hurricane Irma—are not able to receive funds that count towards the 0.7% target, for the simple reason that their gross national income per head is far too high to qualify for aid spending.
The hon. Gentleman may not be aware of this, but during a recent Council of Europe session I had words with the secretary-general of the OECD about redefining that definition so that it did not mean that, after the disasters that struck the Caribbean, we could not give money to those areas. Does he agree that we should still push for that?
The International Development Committee is considering that matter, and we are still taking evidence on it. We have to tread with care, but there is a case to be made that, in some of the examples we have seen, such as in the Caribbean last year, there is a case for greater flexibility in the rules. In the evidence we have received for our inquiry, we have heard that the OECD has begun the process of examining a short-term financing mechanism, which could be made available to countries that have previously been on the recipient list for ODA but no longer are, by virtue of their current income. That would be allowed only in exceptional circumstances, but the Hurricane Irma situation could be such an exceptional circumstance.
The Development Assistance Committee at the OECD has also agreed to create a new mechanism to allow countries to go back more quickly on the list of ODA-eligible countries if their income per capita has fallen enough as a direct consequence of a natural disaster. That reform to the rules, which is quite narrowly defined, might well meet the sorts of circumstances that the hon. Gentleman describes.
My note of caution is this: it is vital that our overseas development assistance goes to those who need it most—to the poorest parts of the world. In the overseas territories, one extreme—the Cayman Islands—has a gross national income per head 86 times larger than that of Ethiopia, and even the poorest of the Caribbean overseas territories, Anguilla, has a per-capita income 20 times higher than that of Ethiopia. In the light of that, I urge the Minister to take great care as the Government proceed with the discussions with the OECD DAC. I would not rule out some of the changes I have referred to, which I know the Government are discussing with the OECD.
When a crisis strikes, it is important that basic services such as health and education continue as normally as possible. I absolutely agree with the hon. Gentleman’s point about education. Education Cannot Wait, which was set up with DFID’s help, is an incredibly important programme to support children living in emergency situations. It currently works with more than 3 million in 13 countries, many of whom are refugees or internally displaced people as a direct consequence of natural disasters, war or other atrocities.
Immediate and life-saving assistance is vital when crises occur, but it is important to lay the groundwork for a sustainable future as quickly as possible. The evidence that our Committee has taken over a number of years shows that the Department’s use of cash transfers can be a useful, productive and efficient way of giving support to people in some of the most vulnerable situations. Cash transfers typically have a much lower administrative cost, and give beneficiaries much more control over their own need. What scope do the Minister and the Department see for a wider use of cash transfers when disasters hit?
The central issue is climate change, which is an increasingly significant cause of humanitarian crises. In the past two decades alone, more than 1 million people have died as a consequence of weather extremes and their associated disasters. The Government’s report on building resilience and adaptation to climate change estimates that by 2030 there could be more than 300 million people trapped in poverty because of climate change. Surely it is vital that preventive measures are funded and pursued. As climate change continues to be an enormous challenge, countries will have to learn to adapt to changing conditions to prevent disasters. DFID already spends nearly £150 million a year on prevention programmes, including in South Sudan, Afghanistan and Burma, which help to build resilience to the changing environment and ensure that, when disaster strikes, locals have access to timely, appropriate and cost-effective humanitarian aid.
In conclusion, the UK has long played a positive role in disaster relief. Our Committee’s inquiry is examining in detail the Government’s case for changing the ODA rules, and we will report on that later this year. Clearly, climate change, natural disasters, conflict and mass atrocities mean that an increasing number of people are displaced as refugees or internally. Effective relief is vital, but ultimately we need to do more to address the causes of displacement so that, where possible, we prevent such disasters from happening in the first place.
It is a great pleasure and privilege to follow the hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Stephen Twigg), who gave a first-class speech, and my hon. Friend the Member for West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine (Andrew Bowie), whom I congratulate on securing the debate. It is always timely to debate this subject. As we came through the doors into Westminster Hall, someone mentioned it was good to come to discuss good things, and this is a good subject to talk about, not because we are doing everything that can possibly be done, but because it is an opportunity for us to assess what is being done and what more can be done.
I think it is fair to say that, thanks to this country and the generosity of its people, many people around the world are helped when they suffer from natural and man-made disasters. At a time of so many needs, some of which we have heard discussed in great detail and with expert commentary, more people than ever before are on the move across the world. In many ways, the world is in commotion, and I think we are at the height of mass movement of people since the end of the second world war, and at a time of increasing population as well.
In my short contribution I will not try to match the wonderful speeches given earlier, but I will reflect on the generosity of the British people themselves and on how they respond to the disasters that we all too frequently witness. We all know the Government figures—some have been quoted—the legislative requirement to spend on humanitarian relief and the effect of military deployments in disaster zones. We should all be proud of the men and women who wear the uniform of our armed forces, in particular in the context of administering humanitarian relief. We are also all aware of what UK aid is achieving, providing food, shelter and medicine whenever and wherever a disaster presents itself.
The truly impressive thing, however, is that when asked the British people themselves are also keen to put their hand in their collective pocket. A cursory adding up of figures on the Disasters Emergency Committee website shows that it raised some £97 million in the past year for ongoing DEC appeals. The contribution of this country goes beyond finance, to people, who selflessly go or are deployed to the parts of the world where their services are most needed. That includes medical people, construction people, rescue teams from the emergency services, who are volunteers, and missionaries, volunteers and aid workers from a raft of different organisations, all putting themselves in harm’s way to care for people affected by disasters.
This debate is about the UK contribution to disaster relief, but Government action, although welcome, is not the only thing that the UK does, so we should be proud of—actually, we should be humble about—our history of philanthropy, humanitarianism and action in such areas. In my constituency, we have a citizenship award named after William “Citizen” Jaffray, who understood that more than most. He personified the values of philanthropy—I must make a note not to use that word too often, because it is one I always struggle with. In the early part of the 19th century he paid for smallpox inoculation of the population throughout Stirlingshire, saving thousands of lives. That is one example of private charity, and he put his money into it as millions of people in the UK do today—but he invested in preparing people to stop an epidemic before it happened. That is my theme in the remaining part of my speech.
I am sure Members are aware of the work of the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation in this field. FAO work is focused clearly on governance, information systems, spreading good practice and capacity development—that is the disaster early intervention agenda. By improving our information systems and our understanding of how and when disasters will happen, we can stop them happening in the first place—we hope. Data and information are key: for example, understanding of a river network will allow environmental interventions that can reduce the likelihood of flooding. By having detailed mapping information on settlements, we can understand where and when there are likely to be disease outbreaks. Work such as that undertaken by the Food and Agriculture Organisation to map the rivers of south-east Asia, or that of Missing Maps around the world to ensure that the humanitarian open street map is fit for the next disaster, is vital to all of that.
I understand that not all disasters can be predicted or mitigated, but many can be. It is worthwhile noting that around the world, according to the UN, 62p in every £100 spent on disaster aid was spent on preparedness; but we in the UK lag behind, investing only 42p in every £100. Yet an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. The disaster early intervention agenda is about good governance, the rule of law, mapping, understanding of the natural environment, and community resilience. Those are actually strengths of the United Kingdom, so we can and must do better in that field, harnessing our great national talents and resources to make a difference around the world. If we do so, we will save people before they need to be saved.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Betts. These days, it is something of a rare pleasure for me to take part in a Westminster Hall debate, but I received special dispensation from the Scottish National party Whips Office to do so today. I congratulate the hon. Member for West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine (Andrew Bowie) on securing this debate. I was our party’s international development spokesperson in the previous Parliament, and I am pleased to have the opportunity to contribute. Earlier this morning, by happy coincidence, I was meeting representatives of Scotland’s International Development Alliance. All in, it has been a bit of a time warp.
The debate is timely, as other Members have said, including the hon. Member for Stirling (Stephen Kerr). The need for disaster response has, sadly, never been greater. In particular, in recent years the displacement of people by hunger, conflict and climate change has put the whole international development and disaster relief system to the test.
Aid can of course be shorthand for many different things, in particular in the context of disaster relief—relief, rebuilding, resilience, root causes and our responsibilities. Relief in the immediate aftermath, again as others have said, is vital, especially in the face of a natural disaster or something unseen such as the tsunamis of recent years and, to a lesser extent, the Ebola outbreak. Like other Members, I pay tribute to the work of the DEC and the recently established DEC in Scotland. They bring together the best of the agencies and the best of the skills and experience to avoid duplication and to ensure maximisation of the funds donated by the public. The UK Government can do the same thing through the UN agencies.
The Chair of the International Development Committee, the hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Stephen Twigg), made a point about cash transfers, which are important in all such situations but particularly in immediate disaster relief. He outlined the reasons for cash transfers, which include the ability of affected individuals to spend the money to meet their own needs, and the impact that that then has in revitalising the local economy and in terms of the very basic human dignity in doing that. Rather than us as paternalistic donors deciding what is good for people, we give them the power, recognising that, even in the midst of calamity, they have the option to decide and choose for themselves.
Moving on to the rebuilding phase, that is a particular challenge. I only vaguely remember the statistic, but at one time someone might be a refugee or displaced person for three or four years; now, for a displaced person on the Syrian border, for example, or someone displaced by famine in one of the central African countries, it can be for up to 18 years—an entire generation. Therefore, rebuilding, reconstruction and investment, in particular in education—again as we have heard—are vital.
On the reaction to Hurricane Irma—the effect on UK overseas territories and their GDP, and rebuilding—it is not that we should not give them money. They are dependencies of the United Kingdom, and we would give money if—God forbid—something happened here in the United Kingdom. We have responded to tragedies that have happened on our own doorstep, but we do not try to count that as official development assistance or aid, because that is part of our global network and definition. As the Chair of the International Development Committee, the hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby and other speakers said, if there are to be changes to those definitions, they have to be agreed through a multilateral process. There has to be consensus among the donor countries and the change has to be driven by overriding humanitarian principles, in particular the sustainable development goals. I might come back to say something about that in a bit more detail if time allows.
One of the challenges is getting the resilience in the first place: making sure that communities that are at risk from conflict, famine or climate change have a degree of resilience so that these issues can be nipped in the bud. DFID has the challenge of delivering the remainder of the aid budget and trying to keep it as significant as it can be in supporting local grassroots communities—for example, sustainable agricultural developments, so that farmers are not suddenly hit by a lack of artificial fertilisers but are in a position where they can grow sustainable crops even in the midst of climate change, drought or floods.
The root causes have to be tackled. Why are people caught up in disasters? Usually it is because there is a root cause somewhere. It has been said that climate change is the biggest challenge—it threatens to roll back progress that had been made toward the millennium development goals, and potentially towards the sustainable development goals. Conflict situations are a challenge, too. Although it may not be directly applicable to this debate, research by the Scottish National party has shown that 13 times as much was spent on bombing Libya than was spent on the rebuilding effort. Sadly, those statistics can be found elsewhere, too.
We have to take a little responsibility for why some of the very often preventable disaster situations arise. It is important that the spending is there to meet needs when they arise, but it should not have to be at the expense of investment in root causes and the resilience stage of the aid process. That is why I welcome the cross-party consensus on the 0.7% target, but there are questions to be asked about exactly how that figure is defined and spent.
One of my repeated concerns, which touches on the point about UN peacekeeping, is about the way that the Government continue to double-count money that is spent towards both the 0.7% target and the 2% NATO target. To some extent, that may be permitted under some readings of OECD rules, but there is a danger of conflation of the two, and that both arms of expenditure will lose out. I have my own views on military expenditure, starting with Trident, but no matter what one’s views on those things are, as far as possible, efforts should be made to keep those budgets separate, or at least properly and transparently accounted for, so that, whether in Committee, Westminster Hall or elsewhere, we can scrutinise them.
That speaks a little more widely to the mission creep of other Departments and the claims that they are starting to put on the 0.7% budget. It should not be a cover because the Foreign and Commonwealth Office struggles to meet some of its other requirements for aspects of diplomatic missions. The FCO should be resourced; the Department for International Development should be resourced; the Ministry of Defence should be resourced. It is perfectly possible to find ways of doing that if we look at some of the big, unnecessary capital expenditure, not least Trident—the Tories can tick off their bingo box. If the other Departments are to spend a greater share of the 0.7%, they have to be held to the same standards of transparency and the same levels of scrutiny as DFID has been over the years.
I conclude with a thought on the idea of aid money serving the national interest. In my previous guise I used to repeatedly ask Ministers for a definition of the national interest, because I do not see how it can be anything other than the meeting and delivery of the sustainable development goals. How is the United Kingdom’s national interest not served by building a more peaceful and sustainable world, where people are less susceptible to shocks of conflict, climate change and famine, where girls are educated, people have access to safe running water and the environment is protected? That is the national interest. If there is some other national interest that has been hinted at when Members says, “This is what aid should be,” I would be interested to know what that is. That would be useful to hear.
It is encouraging that there is usually a cross-party consensus on this kind of issue; we have managed to hear praise for both Tony Blair and George W. Bush in the debate so far. At the very least, that is an indication of our intention to come together to act not just in our enlightened self-interest, but in the best interest of people who very often find themselves in situations that are no fault of their own in developing parts of the world.
I congratulate the hon. Member for West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine (Andrew Bowie) on setting the scene so well, as he always does in debates in Westminster Hall. Debates here often are used to raise issues that are important to us, which is what the hon. Gentleman has done. Other hon. Members and I are here because we share his interest and concerns.
I have been outspoken on the obligation of those who have much to those who have little. We have a duty to help and to show compassion for those in need. However, having been brought up as an Ulster Scot with some Brethren ties, let me assure hon. Members that we are called to be good stewards of our money. We need to ensure that what we send gets to where it should get to and that it helps those who we want to help. There has to be some monitoring and regulation to make sure that it happens. For that reason, although I support overseas aid, I am concerned about how it is used. It is easy to dismiss the many newspaper and media reports, but they raise some concerns about where the moneys are spent.
I am always pleased to see the Minister in his place, because we all know him to have compassion and a real deep interest in his subject matter. There will be no-one in the House or outside it, I suspect, who would do anything other than support him in his work. I asked the former Secretary of State for International Development what recent estimate had made of the proportion of the Palestinian Authority’s foreign aid receipts spent on payments to convicted terrorists in Israeli prisons in the last 12 months. The response I received was excellent, and I thank the Minister for it. It stated:
“In August 2017, the International Monetary Fund estimated that external financial support to the Palestinian Authority (PA) in 2017 will total $666 million USD (approx. £500 million GBP). Many donors, including the UK and European Union, restrict their support to the PA for specific purposes and projects, and ensure that none of their aid is used for payments to convicted terrorists in Israeli prisons. No estimates have been made of the proportion of the PA’s external financial support which was spent on payments to convicted terrorists in Israeli prisons in the last 12 months.”
“No UK aid is used for payments to Palestinian prisoners or their families. UK financial assistance to the PA is only used to help to pay the salaries of health and education public servants in the West Bank. Only named public servants from a pre-approved EU list are eligible and a robust verification system validates that funds are used for the intended purposes. The UK government strongly condemns all forms of violence including incitement to violence.”
That reply was exactly what I wanted. It sets the scene and puts to rest some of my concerns, and outlines where we are. I welcome that good, comprehensive response.
It is essential that we know where the relief is going, who has their hands on it and who the beneficiaries of the relief are. I always give examples from Northern Ireland and my own constituency because I want everybody inside and outside this House to know about Strangford. I recently hosted a fund-raising dinner for my branch of the Democratic Unionist party. We have dinner every year and have done so for the past five years. The dinner has a dual purpose. The event is in a local church that provides a fantastic four-course meal for those who purchase tickets. It is in a lovely area and the proceeds raised from the price of a meal go to a charity in Swaziland, the Eden Mission. It does great work: it digs wells and provides schooling and health services. The hon. Member for Stirling (Stephen Kerr) is nodding his head. Like me, he understands that we have a close connection with what is happening.
I have hosted the dinner for the past five years and will continue to do so. I trust what the mission does and it promises to make a difference in Swaziland. I have seen the children’s choir that the mission brought to Northern Ireland. They have sung in my office and in the halls of Stormont, where the Northern Ireland Assembly functioned until a short time ago. We hope it will function again, but we must wait and see. I know that the choice I made to host my dinner in a church hall as opposed to a local restaurant that would charge roughly the same was a good decision to make. Just over £1,000 was raised for the charity. The church did the catering and we had some auctions.
My desire is to make sure that we make good decisions about how our aid is spent and who the real beneficiaries are. The project that I support sends containers out every year to Africa. The project workers tell me stories about what happens. They pack the container to within an inch of its life. Every conceivable portion of space is used. Sweets and clothes are packed into every crevice of the container. They also tell me that they have learnt the lesson of packing because they found that when they packed expensive items, such as wheelchairs and schooling aids, to the front, those would go missing during customs searches. That is a fact. It happened. It is unfortunate it happened, but it did. They have learnt to pack the expensive items in the middle of the container to make it harder to take them.
When I was told that story I wondered how much of our aid—I pose this as a question—has been siphoned off and whether we are doing all we can to protect our aid and to pack it in the middle, as it were, as my church, an Eden Church, has done in the past. This is why I asked the Secretary of State for International Development what monitoring the Department undertakes to ensure that aid granted to specific areas is used for the purposes for which it was intended; and whether it will liaise with religious missionaries in the destination country to ensure that UK aid is effectively distributed. The reply was excellent.
I do not question that the effective use of the UK aid budget is central to the Department for International Development’s work. I understand that all funding is subject to rigorous due diligence checks and that we have strict auditing and monitoring controls in place to ensure that all funding is used as it should be, and that every project is subject to an annual performance review and a project completion review to ensure that the objectives have been achieved and aid has been delivered to the intended beneficiaries. I am pleased that the Department uses multiple sources of information, including its partnerships with civil society, to be confident that UK aid reaches those intended. However, I would push for greater interaction with those on the ground who are able to distribute the aid.
I again ask the Minister whether he will outline what work is done with NGOs to see that aid reaches the mouths of the babies with bellies swollen from malnutrition, and not the custom official with a swollen belly from too much food. It may be a little harsh to say that, but it is a fact. I have seen photographs—we have all seen them—of bellies swollen because of malnutrition and a big guy across the way whose idea of a balanced meal is probably two hamburgers in each hand. He seems to indulge in food when others are starving. I feel genuinely aggrieved by that. When we see the starving children, any person with any compassion whatever would be well aware of that. Having heard at first hand the struggles that children in Africa and other areas go through to survive, and understanding that there is a limited amount that this country can afford to give, every penny must be made to count. That is why I urge the Government again to ensure that it counts on the ground and not simply on a checklist on a desk.
Should we give aid internationally, despite the pressure we face at home? Yes, we should, and I fully endorse the Minister’s and the Government’s stand. Indeed, they have cross-party support. Should we account for every penny, every blanket, every grain of rice? We must, because it is our job to be good stewards. Should we make use of on-the-ground agencies and bodies? That is wisdom and good stewardship. I thank DFID and the Minister for the leadership and stewardship that he gives to the Department. That is why we have trust in him and support him. 1 want to make sure we are doing all that is possible to get it right.
Several hon. Members rose—
I want to start the wind-ups at 27 minutes past 3.
As ever, it is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Betts. I congratulate the hon. Member for West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine (Andrew Bowie) on securing this excellent debate. We have a great deal of consensus in this debating Chamber, and it is important for the Minister to know that, although we can always argue about the refinement of processes, there is nevertheless an overwhelming view that the commitment to 0.7% of GDP as a national objective is one that is shared. In any case, the overriding national consensus supports what all Governments have done in this area.
However, I want to strike a marginal, discordant note. I do not think we have to begin by talking about the national interest. There is a profoundly moral case around disaster relief. I have sat with refugees in Macedonia and Albania who were fleeing the conflict in Kosovo. In the Lebanon, I have seen people fleeing over the border from Syria. Most recently, in Bangladesh, we have seen refugees from Myanmar. I cannot look them in the eyes and believe that this issue is only about national interest, because it is not. The British people, generally speaking, are much bigger than that. It is important to make the moral case.
There is also a pragmatic case. At the time of the conflict in Kosovo, we saw refugees flooding into this country. I have constituents who came into this country as refugees from Kosovo—ditto Syria and so on. We know that whenever disaster arises around the world, it has repercussions. There is a profound case—hon. Members have mentioned this—for arguing that the real precursor to disaster relief is having long-term sustainability, to prevent disasters in the first place. That is not always possible. Some of the things that we anticipate are easy, but the unknown unknowns are problematic. Climate change is still producing unknown impacts, particularly in Africa. With the growing population and the capacity for climate change to disrupt whole communities, we might see disaster. That will almost certainly produce a tide of refugees who will look north to Europe for support and shelter.
Some hon. Members mentioned Ebola. We must be alive to the fact that there could be some as yet unknown pandemic that will hit this world of ours. It will be a global problem; it will not be about national interest. It will be about us working collectively together, as we did in the case of Ebola, but possibly on diseases as yet unknown that could have massively more dramatic consequences. And, of course, sadly, war on this planet is still something that we do not entirely control.
When a disaster takes place, the British are massively good-hearted. Some Members have already commented on that—the hon. Member for Stirling (Stephen Kerr) made that very point. We have a good-hearted nation. We see money going to charities, as well as action from our Government.
In the most recent case, of the Rohingya in Bangladesh, the British Government behaved admirably with respect to disaster relief. It was important, however, that that was co-ordinated by the Bangladeshi authorities, and particularly the Bangladeshi army, which was important in making sure that the camps were stable. There was of course also a plethora of agencies from all over the world. When I was in Bangladesh—I should point out my declaration in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests, having travelled there recently—I met people from the Canadian Red Cross and aid agencies from around the world. All that immediate action requires some degree of co-ordination.
Immediate disasters are not simple to deal with—they are massively complicated—but because such action has been needed on a number of occasions over the years, there are now structures that can quite quickly get operations moving. Sometimes the challenge is what happens post-disaster. I know from exchanges on the Floor of the House that the Minister has thought about what happens next for the Rohingya in Bangladesh. It is not so much a question of transferring people back; that is a considerable way off. It is more about the fact that up to 50,000 women will give birth in the coming months and there is still not a clean water supply or sanitation system to sustain a population that may be living on a small patch of land for a considerable time to come.
The problem, of course, is that the world begins to move on. We saw that, to an extent, at the global level. Britain was a major contributor to the global efforts to provide assistance to the Rohingya in Bangladesh, but those funds are still undersubscribed. This is not about us being morally superior, but it sometimes helps to say we have played a significant part.
We do need people to stay for the long term. If we do not stabilise them into the long term, populations on the scale of the Rohingya in Bangladesh can be a hotbed of disaster. That can mean disaster for the population itself—through criminality, child prostitution and all the evils that can take place in such a community—but there is also the capacity for radicalisation, as has happened in other parts of the world. We must deal with disasters in the long term, not just the first weeks and months.
Several hon. Members mentioned Syria. If it gets to a post-conflict situation, the reconstruction of what was once, if not a first-world country, then certainly not a disaster case, will take decades—perhaps two generations. I think it was the hon. Member for Glasgow North (Patrick Grady) who made the point about the relative amounts spent on conflict and on post-conflict stabilisation. That applies to Iraq, Afghanistan and many different parts of the world. Even our country has not put as much into the post-conflict situations as into the creation of the conflicts.
A number of Members pointed out the need to develop local partnerships. The capacity to work with local partner agencies is fundamental for both immediate disaster relief and the second phase. Often, large international agencies, however well intentioned they are, do not have the sophistication to get down to almost street level, which makes a material difference to people on the ground. There are problems with that approach, because as the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) said, we have a duty to steward the pound that we spend. That is right and proper, but it is also important that such stewardship does not mean we miss the trick of getting the resources where they can do people maximum good. That often means working with local partner agencies.
Disasters will occur again and again around the world. It is of course right and proper to reserve resources for disaster relief, including for stabilisation after the immediate disaster period. Nepal, for example, is still not back together after the disaster of some years ago. In the longer run, we should not pit disaster relief against investment in long-term infrastructure, because investment in education, agriculture or industry will make a material difference in stabilising the parts of the world in question. It will make them less prone to war and more resilient to climate change, and it will make them better partners, even if that is seen in terms of narrow national interest. In any case, to conclude as I began, there is a moral debate to be had in the end: we share this planet, and our fellow global citizens deserve something from us. We are good at this and should not be ashamed of what we do.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Betts. I thank the hon. Member for West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine (Andrew Bowie) for his excellent speech, and I thank hon. Members for all the others that have been made in the debate. There is clearly a lot of consensus about the significance of the UK’s contribution to international disaster relief.
This is an important and timely debate. The world is facing the largest humanitarian crisis since 1945, with 20 million people at risk of starvation as a result of drought and conflict in South Sudan, Somalia, Yemen and Nigeria alone, according to the UN. The UK public have been among the most generous responders to emergency appeals, and they largely support action by the UK Government to respond to such disasters. However, an improved response is and will be needed to cope better with current and future humanitarian crises.
I welcome UK bilateral spending on humanitarian aid, which has steadily increased over the past seven years, and the vast majority of which has been spent on emergency response. That can only be a good thing. However, research shows that investing in disaster risk reduction prior to disasters saves life and is far more cost-effective than funding the response after a disaster has happened. It is too simplistic to assume an overarching cost-benefit ratio, but a study by the World Bank estimates that every pound spent on preparedness saves in the region of £7 in repair and recovery costs. Despite that, as has been mentioned, just 0.4% of global aid is spent on preparing for disasters. The world humanitarian summit in 2016 agreed to increase humanitarian aid spending on disaster risk reduction from 0.4% to 5%. DFID signed up to that, and I ask the Minister to provide an update on what progress has been made towards that goal. I also urge the UK Government to continue to invest in the disasters and emergencies preparedness programme beyond this year, when it is scheduled to end.
It is important to note that 90% of recorded major disasters caused by natural hazards from 1995 to 2015 were linked to weather and climate change. Fragile states have been hit hardest, and have the fewest resources to cope with climate change impacts. Even the global strategic trends programme of the Ministry of Defence acknowledges that humanitarian assistance will increase by up to 1,600% in the next 20 years, and says that that is
“in large part due to the effects of climate change”.
The current draft of the sustainable development goals highlights the fact that to achieve goal No. 1, which is to
“End poverty in all its forms everywhere”,
society needs to
“build the resilience of the poor and those in vulnerable situations and reduce their exposure and vulnerability to climate related extreme events and other economic, social and environmental disasters”.
The Government should follow the world-leading work of the Scottish Government by setting up a climate justice fund to support vulnerable countries in mitigating and adapting to the changing circumstances caused by climate change events. It would make much more sense, rather than dipping into the aid budget after such events, to acknowledge the risks and take action to reduce them before disaster strikes. There is a critical opportunity to do that now, while the political will exists, and I ask the Minister to look at that as soon as he can.
To give an example from last year, Hurricane Irma was not adequately prepared for and there was a lack of forward thinking and a slow response from the UK Government, despite indications that the hurricane would wreak devastation. Every year hurricanes cause on average $835 million of damage in the Caribbean and almost $200 million of damage in the Pacific, so the UK Government should have seen it coming. The climate challenge must therefore be integrated into national development plans and strategies. Coping with climate variability and attempting to anticipate future climate changes are no longer an optional extra but should be a policy imperative for the Government.
As well as investing in disaster risk reduction to make aid more effective, it is important to channel more funds as directly as possible through local and national actors on the ground in the affected area—we have heard a bit about that this afternoon. Such organisations know their local communities well and can respond to humanitarian crises in a quick and effective manner.
At the world humanitarian summit 2016, the biggest donors, including DFID, came together to recognise and agree the Grand Bargain. That was a series of changes to the way that donors and aid organisations work, and it aimed to get means into the hands of those in most need. Last September the UK Government recommitted to the full implementation of the Grand Bargain, but the UK response to the Rohingya crisis shows that there is a long way to go to meet those objectives. There is a lack of transparency regarding how much funding local organisations receive from the UK, and mechanisms for empowering the Rohingya with access to decision-making and planning in the crisis remain limited, meaning that the response is less effective than it could be.
Only 0.2% of humanitarian funding is currently channelled to local and national actors—I think everybody in the room would say that that is woefully inadequate. NGOs support an increase to 25%, and the UK Government should also commit further funding to the Start Fund, which provides grants to small organisations in emergency situations.
Let us consider the changing focus of international aid. The UK is seen, without doubt, as a leader in shaping the global development agenda. Although aid effectiveness is difficult to measure, recent reports from the International Development Committee point out that foreign aid is—quite rightly—the most scrutinised part of UK Government spending. It is monitored by the Committee, the National Audit Office and the Independent Commission for Aid Impact, and it scores highly on the international aid transparency index. However, there has recently been an alarming shift in the strategic focus of the UK aid strategy, and growing importance is now attached to the promotion of the UK’s so-called national interest. A key mechanism for achieving that, as set out in the 2015 aid strategy, has been to direct the aid budget away from DFID to other Departments, such as the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Ministry of Defence.
Official figures show that, last year, roughly a quarter of the UK’s aid budget was spent by Government Ministries other than DFID—a rise of almost 50%. The direction of travel has raised serious concerns that that will reduce focus on global poverty alleviation, as well as concerns about the transparency and accountability of aid spending outside DFID. DFID has a commitment, enshrined in UK law, to reducing poverty, but it is not at all clear that other Departments have that same commitment. Will the Minister outline what steps DFID is taking to ensure that other Departments improve transparency and accountability in their ODA spending, and say how that will be measured? A recent report by the Institute for Fiscal Studies emphasised that position, and warned that the trend towards funnelling less aid money through DFID, combined with a growing emphasis on ensuring benefit to British firms, would have a negative impact on poverty reduction in developing countries.
After an OECD meeting in November, the Government reported that reforms to the ODA rules had been agreed. Those included doubling the percentage of contributions to UN peacekeeping missions that count as aid—such as the UK troops sent to South Sudan—from 7% to 15%. That followed agreements last year that made more security and counter-extremism spending eligible. It is our view that the foreign aid budget should never be used for defence, and this change appears to be a clear attempt to dilute the fight against poverty. We are extremely concerned about such developments driven by the UK Government.
The Secretary of State recently pledged in a Telegraph article to use Britain’s foreign aid as part of
“a bold new Brexit-ready proposition to boost trade and investment with developing countries”.
It is concerning to read that UK aid could be used to mitigate the negative impacts of Brexit, with the UK’s security and prosperity key factors in deciding how aid is spent. The reiteration that aid must be spent in the national interest was typically disappointing. I cannot emphasise enough that the delivery of aid must remain focused on ending extreme poverty and supporting a fairer, more sustainable future.
Sitting suspended for a Division in the House.
[Mr Philip Hollobone in the Chair]
The sitting is resumed, and I believe the SNP spokesman has three minutes to go.
Thank you, Mr Hollobone. I must say that it is also a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, since I see the Chair has changed in the past few minutes.
I was coming to my conclusion, but I will reiterate the point I was making about the notion of the national interest, which is that it does not mean very much. I have to reflect on what the hon. Member for Rochdale (Tony Lloyd) called the moral interest, because it is in all of our interests to serve the needs of the poorest and most vulnerable internationally.
I cannot emphasise enough that the delivery of aid must remain focused on ending extreme poverty and supporting a fairer, more sustainable future for all. Although that sounds obvious, it needs to be reiterated time and again. It is in all of our interests. It is a promise we made to the world’s poorest and most vulnerable, and that is what the UK taxpayer has the right to expect.
It is also critical to ensure that all our aid is high-impact, transparent and accountable and that it delivers real change for people living in poverty, no matter which Department it comes from. That is why I urge the Minister to commit to investing more funding to resilience and recovery for those living in the fragile nations most at risk of climate-related extreme events and economic and social disasters. Lastly, I urge him to channel more funding as directly as possible through local and national actors on the ground in the affected area, working with local communities and organisations.
Because of the votes, the timings of this debate have changed. The debate now finishes no later than 4.26 pm.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone.
This is my first effort responding as a member of Labour’s Front Bench, and I am delighted to do so. It is perhaps a slight shame that today, of all days, it has been an all-male debate, but I am sure that the Minister and I can both say that our Departments are finely led by female colleagues. It gives me great pleasure to follow in the footsteps of distinguished colleagues, and even more to have managed to be here on time, which hopefully forestalls any demands for me to follow in the footsteps of Lord Bates—although I am glad to say that he has not been asked to resign as Minister of State for being 60 seconds or so late to the Dispatch Box. I also pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for City of Durham (Dr Blackman-Woods), who served admirably in the shadow role in DFID.
I am rapidly learning that perspective is important in politics, as is the ability to recognise when Government Departments are doing a good job, even if their Ministers are sometimes late. I am pleased to commend DFID on the hugely important work it does—work that is recognised and appreciated by the United Nations, among others. I congratulate the hon. Member for West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine (Andrew Bowie) on securing this important debate, and pay tribute to all hon. Members who have taken part. There have been some fine contributions, not least on my own side, from the Chair of the Select Committee, my hon. Friend and neighbour the Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Stephen Twigg), and from my hon. Friend the Member for Rochdale (Tony Lloyd).
When it comes to international disaster relief, the UK continues to set an enviable example, although of course we could always do more. The Organisation for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs commends Britain on the commitments it made following the 2016 World Humanitarian Summit in Istanbul. In common with us, OCHA would like to know whether the UK Government will continue to report to the platform for action, commitments and transformation on how it is meeting those commitments.
The sheer scale of the global humanitarian crisis risks making us all feel like powerless bystanders. In recent weeks, upward of one quarter of a million people have fled their homes in north-west Syria, the largest single exodus in a savage civil war that has lasted seven years—taking place, by the way, at a time when we are being told that the Syrian civil war is coming nearer to its end. This year’s United Nations response plan for Yemen describes the war-torn country as
“the worst man-made humanitarian crisis”
in the world, with more than 22 million people—around three quarters of the total population—in need of help.
Since the escalation of violence in March 2015, when conflict broke out, Yemen, already the poorest country in the region, has been left on the verge of a humanitarian collapse. We know that in both Syria and Yemen, conflict has been intensely aggravated by the fact that those countries are being used as proxies by others to further other agendas. We know, too, that because of that the demands placed on those charged with delivering disaster relief have been unrelenting. It is important to name and praise all those who struggle daily with the tide of human misery caused by these wars with no end.
I will mention one unsung hero, who in so many ways personifies what is best about the often-maligned United Nations and its agencies. Over the past few years, it has been the voice of the UN humanitarian co-ordinator, Jamie McGoldrick, that has drawn the world’s attention most loudly and most often to Yemen’s plight. He felt that he had to, as journalists had been banned from the country. He has just stepped down, having overseen one of the most difficult and challenging aid operations in the world. When asked how it felt to deliver aid to an increasingly desperate population in Yemen, Jamie McGoldrick said that there is
“no point in getting angry, there’s no point in getting frustrated, the point is to get smart.”
It is high time that we in this place got smart. We owe it to people like Jamie McGoldrick and to the tens of thousands that he and his colleagues struggle to care for. Being smart means that we simply cannot tolerate a situation where the British Government sanction arms sales to Saudi Arabia, whose aerial bombardment of Yemen has caused so much death and destruction, while salving our collective conscience by asking people like Jamie McGoldrick to ensure that, if possible, traumatised women and children are pulled out of the rubble. The situation is simply not acceptable, nor is it sustainable.
In response to the points raised by the hon. Member for West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine, I will say that the UK Navy has played an important role in international disaster relief, for example in the Caribbean hurricanes and the UK’s response to the Ebola crisis in Sierra Leone. Our defence forces can and should contribute to humanitarian relief, but I want to exercise a note of caution. Whenever we spend our aid budget, it must be about getting the biggest bang for our buck for the world’s poorest. The priority must always be poverty reduction and humanitarian relief, in line with internationally agreed rules. Where the armed forces can offer real added value and where they are explicitly doing humanitarian work, then it is an option worth exploring further.
We also need to get smart by standing up to those we believe we have a special relationship with, especially when they slash funding to organisations such as the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, the main relief lifeline for hundreds of thousands of Palestinians. Their displacement from their homeland has continued, in some cases, for over half a century. If we are to use our influence to ensure that funding mechanisms are found for the longer term and for development financing for refugee countries, why are we leaving it to other countries to fill the funding gap left by the Trump Administration?
Returning to the World Humanitarian Summit of 2016, I would ask the Minister what progress his Department is making to ensure that at least 25% of humanitarian funding is delivered as directly as possible to local and national actors by 2020. I also ask whether the UK is increasing the proportion of aid spent on disaster risk reduction from 0.4% to 0.5% on the timelines laid out.
Today, the world is facing the largest humanitarian crisis since 1945, with 20 million people at risk of starvation as a result of drought and conflict in South Sudan, Somalia, Yemen and Nigeria alone. The scale of suffering is almost unimaginable and the task of reversing this tide of human misery so enormous that the temptation to simply slink away and pretend nothing is happening is too much. We can begin by at least recognising where we are getting it right and by turning our attention to what more we can do as one of the richest nations on earth.
We can also start by comprehending that a second world war that left millions dead and even more without shelter gave rise not only to the United Nations, but to a generation of people prepared to put their collective shoulder to the wheel to ensure that such conflict never happened again. With far fewer resources, and in a Europe and Asia whose cities had been flattened, that generation not only rebuilt, but strove for a better society—one without conflict. We still have much more to do to put an end to the conflict that is fuelling so much human misery today.
After that glittering debut, I will ask the Minister to conclude his remarks no later than 4.23 pm, to allow Mr Bowie three minutes to sum up at the end.
As always, it is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine (Andrew Bowie) for calling the debate, and all colleagues who have taken part.
To my knowledge, this is the first time I have faced an Opposition spokesman born not only after I first became a Member of Parliament but after I first joined the payroll as the Parliamentary Private Secretary to Ken Baker, which was a year before the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Dan Carden) was born. I will think of a suitable response in due course, but I put that on the record. It is a pleasure to welcome him to his place. I am sure he will give distinguished service on his party’s Front Bench for some time to come. We appreciate what he has to say and I am pleased he has such an obvious interest in this subject.
The UK has a leading reputation in humanitarian response, as colleagues have recognised, and the Prime Minister, the International Development Secretary and other senior Ministers attach great importance to that. The national interest is very wide and it encapsulates what the hon. Member for Rochdale (Tony Lloyd) and others spoke of. It is not narrow or narrowly focused and need not be considered that way. It encompasses the values behind international development, to which all parties in the House subscribe. It is important that, when we talk about it, we make clear to those who support development that it goes very wide. The projection of values is important for a state, a nation and a people, and that is what we do.
I will concentrate on the subjects raised by my hon. Friend the Member for West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine, rather than on the flexibility of ODA, which the hon. Members for Dundee West (Chris Law) and for Liverpool, West Derby (Stephen Twigg), who chairs the International Development Committee, spoke about. How we deal with that, and indeed how we look at what other Departments spend in relation to the delivery of ODA with a DFID interest, is an important separate debate that deserves at least an hour and a half of its own at some stage. I will be very happy if colleagues in all parts of the House put that forward for debate, so we can deal with it more fully. I will also deal with a number of issues that colleagues raised, not least resilience and preparedness, which a number of colleagues spoke about and which I will deal with in a bit more detail.
Since the Asian tsunami in 2004, DFID has mounted more than 30 humanitarian responses to both natural disasters and conflicts, including earthquakes in Nepal, Haiti, Pakistan and Indonesia, floods in India and the Balkans, hurricanes in Bangladesh, Burma, the Philippines and the Caribbean, conflicts in Yemen, South Sudan and Syria, and the Ebola outbreak in west Africa. DFID responds widely across an unstable world.
All colleagues mentioned the respect they have for those who go out and work for the United Kingdom abroad in those various areas. I echo that praise. It was very good that colleagues mentioned that. The hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton spoke of Jamie McGoldrick, who I spoke to just this week. He has done a remarkable job for OCHA, and I pay tribute to him and his colleagues who work in international organisations and are so important to us in finding out what is going on, and sometimes being in a position to say tougher things than nation states can say. I appreciate Jamie’s work very much. I know where he is heading to next and he will not have a quiet life there, either. We appreciate what he does.
As a number of colleagues have mentioned, the past decade has seen the number of people requiring humanitarian assistance soar. The UN appeal for 2018 stands at $22.5 billion—five times larger than the 2007 figure. That increase has been driven largely by two trends. First, the number of people affected by conflict, particularly within states, has increased, which has driven huge numbers of internally displaced people and refugees across Asia, Africa and the middle east. Secondly, crises are becoming increasingly protracted. In 1970, conflicts lasted an average of nine and a half years; today, that figure stands at 26 years. More than 80% of refugee crises now last for more than 10 years. That is putting huge strain on the system, let alone those who endure such misery.
National and local organisations are the first responders to disasters, but there will be occasions when those systems are overwhelmed by the circumstances facing them. That is why the Government are committed to maintaining the capability to provide bigger, better and faster responses to humanitarian emergencies: bigger because they are able to cope with more crises simultaneously, better by using a broader range of expertise, technologies and equipment to deliver bespoke responses to complex emergencies, and faster by quite simply reaching the people most in need as quickly as possible.
When needs are urgent, we adopt a “no regrets” policy to respond to disasters, meaning we take actions to kick-start a response before the full impact may be known, rapidly front-loading funding, relief supplies and expertise in order to save lives. We target our interventions to make sure they reach those who are most vulnerable: women and girls, children and those with disabilities. To do that, DFID maintains a number of response capabilities, which have time and again proven their worth in responding to major disasters.
First, the emergency medical teams, which the hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby and other colleagues mentioned in relation to what we saw over the Christmas and holiday period of the team that went to Cox’s Bazar to assist those caught up in the camps with the outbreak of diphtheria. Through a partnership with the NHS, the fire and rescue service and the charity UK-Med, DFID is able to deploy doctors and nurses anywhere in the world to respond to humanitarian emergencies. Their expertise includes specialist surgeons, trauma experts, general medical or, in the case of the deployment to Bangladesh, public health and epidemiology. Thanks in no small part to their work, the outbreak of deadly diphtheria among the Rohingya refugees has now been curbed. I take this opportunity to thank them personally for the fantastic work they have done. They are a credit to their profession and to all of us.
Secondly, there is cross-government work with the military. My hon. Friend the Member for West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine—indeed, my hon. and gallant Friend—rightly highlighted the crucial role of our armed forces in our disaster relief operations. We pay tribute to him and all his colleagues who serve in the forces. In September last year, a series of hurricanes hit the Caribbean; they were unprecedented. Although a certain amount can be predicted, which I will come to later, Hurricane Irma was the most powerful Atlantic hurricane ever recorded, causing devastation across the region, and hot on its heels were Hurricanes Jose and Maria, adding to the chaos and disruption.
The UK launched a massive response operation, with DFID, the Foreign Office and the military working hand in hand to deliver assistance, repair infrastructure and get the region back on its feet. Some of that assistance was already there: humanitarian advisers were in the region 24 hours before the hurricane struck; the Mounts Bay ship already had relief supplies loaded, and within 36 hours those supplies were going from the United Kingdom. Hundreds of tonnes of relief were delivered by civilian and military means, including via the Royal Navy’s flagship HMS Ocean. Nearly 2,000 military personnel were able to deliver aid, maintain security and provide reassurance to affected communities.
The military have played a major part in responding to some of the most severe disasters of recent times. The men and women of our armed services have helped to construct Ebola treatment centres in Sierra Leone, fly aid to Nepal, rescue thousands of migrants in the Mediterranean and reach the most remote islands of the Philippines on HMS Illustrious after Typhoon Haiyan. That is perhaps an example of spending more widely that has a common interest, rather than just through DFID itself. Again, that is something we might explore in a further debate, to reassure colleagues that this expenditure, even if it comes from different Departments, is absolutely focused on the needs that DFID takes to be the most important. That co-operation is the result of regular training and careful planning between DFID and the Ministry of Defence. The two Departments have a memorandum of understanding that provides a simple mechanism for military assets to be quickly incorporated into emergency relief efforts when disaster strikes.
The UK does not respond alone. We work with the UN, non-governmental organisations, the Red Cross and other Governments to co-ordinate and deliver responses. Without those partners we would not be able to reach those most affected. OCHA is the key player in co-ordinating the UN’s humanitarian agencies, managing activity in different response areas, such as health, shelter, water and sanitation. The hon. Member for Rochdale spoke of the problems with water in the camps in Bangladesh. I met officials this week to discuss our response to that and what more can be done in relation to the concerns about that and health. It is very much on the Department’s agenda.
In relation to the European Union, the UK works closely with the directorate-general for humanitarian aid and civil protection in the EU Commission on many areas of humanitarian aid. DFID maintains regular engagement with the Commission and member states through its participation in the EU working party on humanitarian aid and food aid. As can be imagined, I have no intention of letting that relationship be lost in the events following March 2019.
We know that humanitarian assistance should be the exception, not the norm. Investing in countries’ resilience and preparedness not only mitigates the impacts of disasters, but provides better value for money in the long term. DFID has been investing in countries’ resilience for a number of years, and it forms a core part of our humanitarian aid reform policy. I will say a little more on that, because a number of colleagues raised it, and it is important.
We believe that development and climate finance can support countries and communities to better identify risks, as well as to prepare for and recover from disasters. Also critical is building strong health, education and social protection systems in developing countries, so that they are able to cope with crises. I will mention one or two areas where we are already working to deal with that.
In 2015, the UK committed to increasing its international climate finance by 50% over the next five years to at least £5.8 billion. It helps poor countries to adapt to climate change and promote jobs and livelihoods to reduce poverty. It will help to build the resistance of people, businesses and economies to increases in weather-related disasters or changes in climate trends. That money has already helped more than 21 million people to cope with the increased risk of droughts and floods.
We are investing in risk management tools, such as the index for risk management, and in insurance mechanisms, such as African Risk Capacity. We are also investing in climate science and modelling that will help us better to understand and predict risk, including through the science for humanitarian emergencies and resilience—helpfully, SHEAR—programme, which aims to advance the monitoring, assessment and prediction of natural hazards and risks across sub-Saharan Africa and south Asia. The building resilience and adaptation to climate extremes and disasters—BRACED—programme aims to benefit 5 million vulnerable people, especially women and children, in 13 developing countries. The centre for global disaster protection will build the financial resilience of developing countries to natural disasters.
In all the ways that I have described, we are recognising the truth of what hon. Members have said in relation to preparedness and we are on the ball. I thank hon. Members who have spoken, and apologise for not being able to respond to them individually. I have outlined the world-class contribution to international disaster relief that the UK is able to make, and I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine for initiating this debate. Let me say two things in response. Although the debate has been on international disasters and in a way it is easy to convince the public that disaster relief is a good use of development aid, we have all recognised that development goes much further than just dealing with emergencies. We should be as proud of that as we are of dealing with the emergencies.
Yesterday, the Department said a sad farewell to Becky Dykes, with her memorial service. A DFID colleague, she lost her life in Beirut recently. Tributes were paid to her and her values and to the work in which she was engaged in Lebanon to improve the lives of those who, without her, would have had lives less well lived. Her life said so much about what all of us in this Chamber believe in, so we dedicate this debate to Becky and to all those like her, and we say thank you.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone. I associate myself very much with the words spoken by the Minister just now in paying tribute to all those people in DFID who give of their best in the work they do across the world.
I thank the Minister for his comprehensive comments and pay tribute to him and the Department for the work that they do across the world. I thank everyone who has contributed to this genuinely good-natured and consensual debate. I thank the hon. Members for Glasgow North (Patrick Grady), for Rochdale (Tony Lloyd), for Strangford (Jim Shannon) and for Liverpool, West Derby (Stephen Twigg), and the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Dan Carden), whom I welcome to the Front Bench and congratulate on his speech today. I also thank the hon. Member for Dundee West (Chris Law); I apologise for not mentioning him before.
I am coming to my hon. Friend.
I would like to concentrate on three points that were made. The first, which was made by quite a few hon. Members, including the hon. Member for Dundee West, was the huge humanitarian crisis that we face now. It is probably the biggest that we have faced since 1945 and responding to it presents challenges for every Government. The second point was made by my hon. Friend the Member for Strangford, who must have Aberdeenshire blood in him somewhere given how strongly he wants to account for every grain of rice that is being sent out by DFID.
I will end on the comments made by my hon. Friend the Member for Stirling (Stephen Kerr) regarding the incredible generosity of the British people. Every year, they take our collective breath away with the amount of money and time that they are willing to give in order to send money overseas whenever crises occur. My hon. Friend pointed out that, last year alone, £97 million was donated by the British people for crises overseas and charitable works. It is on that point that I end the debate. I thank everyone very much for contributing to what has been a genuinely very good-natured and consensual debate.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House has considered the UK contribution to international disaster relief.
Will those who inexplicably are not staying for the next debate, on train services between Telford and Birmingham, please leave quickly and quietly?