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International Development

Volume 636: debated on Wednesday 28 February 2018

The Secretary of State was asked—

LGBT People

The UK Government directly challenge other Governments who criminalise homosexuality. We support LGBT people through tackling exclusion and violence against them and through increasing their access to services. LGBT inclusion is one of the eight priority areas in DFID’s new UK Aid Connect programme.

I am grateful to the Secretary of State for that answer. Does she agree, given that the Government have led on LGBT rights in the UK, that our international aid programme now has a significant part to play in taking leadership on this issue on the international stage?

I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend. People having the freedom to be who they are and to reach their full potential is vital if nations are to reach their full potential.

Thirty-six of the 53 Commonwealth countries continue to criminalise homosexuality. What conversations has the Secretary of State had with her Cabinet colleagues about using the UK’s role as host of the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting to champion LGBT rights?

We will take that opportunity, and others, to raise all those issues in the sessions with civil society and in the bilateral conversations that will take place throughout that week and in the run-up to it. We have set a standard, and we can encourage people to follow. Through DFID’s work, and through the incentives that we can provide, we can also provide other reasons for countries to do the right thing.

My right hon. Friend is right to identify those countries that criminalise people who are gay, but what about those countries that tolerate prejudice against gay people? What can we do in those cases?

There are several things that we can do to address those issues, one of which is to strengthen the voice of those organisations that highlight abuse and discrimination. The UK Aid Connect programme will do that. It will provide funding to civil society groups to help us to understand what is happening in particular locations and what is needed to address the issues.

During the February recess, I spent some time in Uganda, which has an appalling record on the treatment of LGBT people. What is the Secretary of State’s Department doing to address that issue in Uganda?

The Minister for Africa, my hon. Friend the Member for West Worcestershire (Harriett Baldwin) is looking at these issues. We have particular requirements in funding agreements when working in particular locations, and where we see abuses taking place, we will not hesitate to raise them with the Government in question.

Today is the final day of UK LGBT history month. One of our nation’s lasting legacies has been the exporting of anti-gay laws around the world, and 36 of the 53 Commonwealth countries still criminalise homosexuality. The upcoming Commonwealth summit in April, hosted by the UK, is a golden opportunity for us to champion LGBT rights. However, reports in the Canadian press last week suggest that the Heads of Government communiqué is unlikely to mention LGBT rights. Will the Secretary of State consider what extra development assistance and funding she can now provide to LGBT activists and civil society across the Commonwealth, to ensure that we do not give up on change in the Commonwealth?

The hon. Gentleman should not be disheartened: we will still raise the issue. It is a strand of work that is going on. In addition to the UK Aid Connect programme that I have just outlined, I relaunched the DFID LGBT network at the start of the history week. Strengthening the support that our staff have to raise these issues—including staff who are LGBT themselves and who are required to work in-country—is vital to furthering this agenda.

I should advise the House that parliamentarians from, if memory serves, at least 28 Commonwealth countries are present in Westminster today, and possibly tomorrow, for a conference. That would be a heaven-sent opportunity for Members to seek to lobby those colleagues.

Internally Displaced People

The UK is committed to meeting the needs of displaced populations, including internally displaced people. We are providing multi-year funding to support IDPs and the communities that host them through both humanitarian and longer term development programmes.

I thank the Secretary of State for her answer. The number of IDPs has risen by 10 million over the past four years to 40 million worldwide. What representations has the Secretary of State made to ensure that the UN negotiations on the global compacts for migration and for refugees do not sideline the needs of IDPs?

I thank the hon. Lady for raising this matter. IDPs due to conflict and violence outnumber refugees by two to one, but they have not received the focus or been given the profile that they need. In addition to the compacts that the hon. Lady mentioned, there are moves to set up a new panel looking at the particular and unique needs of IDPs, and the Department for International Development will support that.

Internally displaced people are some of the most vulnerable people in the world, and we have heard a lot recently about charities that are abusing those people. Has my right hon. Friend seen The Daily Telegraph today? It talks about the BBC World Service’s charitable arm, where sexual harassment and inappropriate behaviour, which is totally wrong in this field, has happened under the watch of the director of news.

My hon. Friend is right to point out that one reason why we must be good on safeguarding and not dismiss such issues is to protect those individuals. The BBC did not report those incidents to us at the time, but my letter of two weeks ago prompted it to come forward with that information. That is a good thing, and we need to grip the problem and deliver for vulnerable people around the world.

Many thousands of people have been displaced from their homes in Syria. What is the Secretary of State doing to demonstrate to those people, and to every other civilian in Syria, that the British Government have not given up on them?

We have not given up on them, and we are working with the Governments of Jordan and Lebanon to provide people with support over both the short term and the long term. DFID recently moved its priorities towards longer term support for such individuals, and we remain the third largest donor to support them.

In Burma, hundreds of thousands of Rohingya have been internally displaced and some have fled across the border. What dialogue is my right hon. Friend having with the Burmese Government about the constant persecution of the Rohingya within Burma and the fact that they are being driven out by genocide?

With your indulgence, Mr Speaker, I want to share my concern that the International Development Committee has not been given access to Burma, which is disgraceful. However, I can assure my hon. Friend that I have regular discussions with all parts of Government in Bangladesh and Burma about support for these individuals. It is vital that we get the Bangladesh Government to consider the medium term and breaking down the camp at Cox’s Bazar, and we are looking at our programme in both countries to ensure that displaced people are our priority.

On behalf of Parliament, I concur with the Secretary of State. The situation is absolutely disgraceful, and this matter will be raised by the hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Stephen Twigg) later on in our proceedings.

The UN estimates that 6.1 million Syrians are internally displaced. With fresh fighting in eastern Ghouta despite the ceasefire, that number will continue to rise. What is the Department doing specifically to support displaced Syrian families in that particular region? Their needs and challenges are increasing with every passing day.

We have a huge number of programmes that are supporting those people in particular—not just the short-term needs of shelter, food and so forth, but education, jobs and livelihoods. Those individuals have some unique needs that have not been addressed to date with as much focus by the international community, and the setting up of a panel to consider those needs and what more we can do to help in similar situations will be a big step forward.

UN Relief and Works Agency: US Funding

3. What representations she has made to the US Administration on their withholding funding from the United Nations Relief and Works Agency. (904080)

We are concerned about the impact on UNRWA’s activities whenever unexpected reductions or delays in predicted donor disbursements occur, and I raised that with a senior US official last week. Our officials are collaborating with the US and other donors to maintain UNRWA’s vital services across the region.

The Minister will be aware that half a million Palestinian children attend schools funded by the UN Relief and Works Agency—schools that should really be funded by Israel as the occupying force. Has that been explained to the US Administration, as well as the impact of the loss of $65 million of funding? Is it not time that Palestine was independent and controlled the resources?

It has been clearly explained to US officials what the impact of the funding decision may be, particularly in Jordan, Lebanon and other places where Palestinian refugees are supported. We have provided £50 million to UNRWA in this financial year, which assists in the provision of education and other needs, and we will continue to provide funding.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that while the agreement between the Palestinian Authority and Hamas about resuming electricity supplies to the people of Gaza is to be welcomed, the key to resolving the infighting and improving the lives of all Gazans is the disarmament of Hamas and the renunciation of terror and violence?

Yes. One cannot take the situation in Gaza away from the administration of Hamas and their failure to resolve issues in relation to Israel and to meet the Quartet principles. The people of Gaza have suffered from a number of different things and we continue to believe that only an overall settlement will assist their needs. We will continue to work for that.

In 2016, the International Development Committee saw the brilliant work of UNRWA on education in Jordan. Will the Government work with other countries to make up the funding shortfall as a result of this outrageous cut by the Trump Administration?

We are working very keenly with other donors to get them to step up. I saw Commissioner-General Krähenbühl just last week in the UK and again at a recent conference. We know how much good work UNRWA does in the area. The education project the hon. Gentleman mentioned is particularly valuable. Other donors need to step up as well, and we will continue to be generous in our support for the needs of UNRWA.

I thank my right hon. Friend for his answers. What representations has he made to UNRWA to make sure that it conforms to what the US Government wish to see, so that the funding can be restored?

I have spoken with US officials recently and other officials in relation to this matter. It is important that UNRWA’s work continues. It needs to be done and it does deliver good quality services. We will continue to provide as much as we can to meet those needs.

Palestinian Authority

4. What steps she is taking to ensure that aid to the Palestinian Authority is not used to fund radicalisation. (904081)

United Kingdom aid to the Palestinian Authority goes only to the salaries of vetted health and education workers in the west bank. Our memorandum of understanding with the PA includes a commitment to tackling incitement. I recently urged Palestinian Ministers to remain focused on that. President Abbas recently reconfirmed his commitment to peace and rejecting violence.

I welcome the Minister’s reassurance and the Government’s commitment to peaceful co-existence projects that bring Israelis and Palestinians together. However, last year the Palestinian Authority reportedly paid more than £250 million in monthly salaries to terrorists in Israeli prisons, which is worth 7% of their budget and an astonishing 50% of their foreign aid receipts. Those salaries directly reward terrorism. Does the Minister agree that those payments are abhorrent and must cease?

We have made constant representations to Palestinian authorities about the impact of any incitement to terror and payments to terror. The Palestinian authorities are well aware of our views and opinions on this matter. That is why no UK aid money goes to support terrorism or the families.

Is the Minister aware of the 2014 initiative in which a tripartite committee was recommended, involving the Palestinians and the Israelis and chaired by the United States, to identify incitement from whichever quarter it comes and to tackle it? That was accepted by the Palestinians and the United States, but rejected by the Government of Israel. Does the Minister agree that that rejection was not in the interests of peace?

I am aware of the proposal and the possible initiative. In the region there is much need to do whatever is possible to bring people together to examine these areas. States have their own reasons why they may or may not agree to do so, but making sure there is more work on co-existence will help on this. We will therefore continue our work to make sure all parties know how important it is to resolve their issues, so that many of the things that have occupied this House over a lengthy period can be brought to a conclusion, in the interests of peace and justice.

Aid Spending

It is vital that aid spending delivers rigorous value for money and is well spent. Indeed, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has said that we must ensure it “cannot be better spent”. All projects are measured against a robust monitoring framework to ensure they remain cost-effective.

I thank the Minister for that answer. I am sure she will agree that she constantly has to justify to the electorate the amount of money that is spent overseas. With that in mind, what steps are being taken to ensure that more of the equipment utilised is British, that more of the non-governmental organisations employed to carry out the work are British and that the armed forces, where appropriate, are also involved in helping these projects?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right to highlight the important role that our armed forces have played, not only in tackling Ebola in Sierra Leone, but in tackling the hurricane in the Caribbean last year. As he will know, the Secretary of State and I are both former Ministers in the Ministry of Defence and we are keen to ensure we work closely with our colleagues there.

I was concerned to read that £160,000 of the £5.8 million of UK aid spent with Venezuela was being used for training its repressive security services. I understand this was under review last summer, so will the Minister update us with the latest on that?

My understanding is that the small amount of spending that happens in Venezuela is to support human rights organisations and the British Council’s work on education. I shall certainly take back the hon. Lady’s representations to ensure that what she says is not the case.

I thank the Minister for her answer. How can we win back public support for what aid does if she believes that the best way of spending aid money is through the armed forces, and with more on outsourcing to the private sector and less on actual poverty reduction? Does she not see that that approach will only add a misperception to the growing doubt on who is best placed to deliver aid?

I am sorry that the hon. Lady did not welcome the amazing work we are doing through the delivery of international aid, through so many different organisations, be it in partnership, such as she seems to resent, with our colleagues in the conflict, stability and security fund or by working with colleagues in the health service on their amazing response to the outbreak of disease in camps in the Rohingya crisis.

Refugee Families

6. What recent discussions she has had with the Home Secretary on enabling refugee families to reunify in the UK. (904083)

14. What recent discussions she has had with the Home Secretary on enabling refugee families to reunify in the UK. (904091)

I regularly discuss refugee issues with Cabinet colleagues, including the Home Secretary, and with Home Office officials. We have committed to resettling 20,000 refugees fleeing the Syria conflict, and 3,000 vulnerable children and their families by 2020 from the middle east and north Africa, and we provide lifesaving aid, education and jobs to millions of refugees globally.

Will the Secretary of State urge the Government to back next month’s private Member’s Bill and put the humanity of migrants and the importance of family life at the heart of the Government’s immigration policy?

Obviously, the mandate resettlement scheme allows for that to happen, and there is no quota or cap on that. If we can improve things, I am always open to that on any issue, but I hope we can manage to do these things without primary legislation.

I suspect that most people would agree with the Home Affairs Committee when it said that it is

“perverse that children who have been granted refugee status…are not then allowed to bring their close family to join them”.

Does the Secretary of State agree?

It is loud in the Chamber, but I think the hon. Gentleman asked why children are not allowed to be joined by their parents. There are some solid technical reasons why we think that would be a bad idea, but I am looking into ways for us to get good things to happen. For example, the current Rohingya crisis has some barriers to good things happening in terms of identifying people and so forth, and we are working with the Home Office to address those issues. If the hon. Gentleman has suggestions, I would be happy to hear them.

Will my right hon. Friend join me in welcoming Refugee Action’s new Stand Up For Asylum campaign, which is launched today? It reminds us of the importance of providing a safe haven for those in genuine need.

I thank my right hon. Friend for drawing attention to that campaign, which I welcome and look forward to reading about. We should be proud of the asylum system that we have, which protects individuals from around the world.

The UK simply cannot speak with any authority on tackling the global refugee crisis until we get our own house in order. Time and again, the Government’s international development policy is held back by what other Departments are doing, including arms sales in Yemen, tax and trade deals that hurt developing countries, and a foreign policy that has forgotten human rights. Will the Secretary of State urge her Government to get behind the private Member’s Bill that is due to be debated in March and at least help to put an end to that particular contradiction and get refugee children reunited with their families?

In addition to the answer I gave to the hon. Member for Battersea (Marsha De Cordova) a moment ago, the speech I gave at the Bond conference on Monday highlighted that we cannot do international development well unless we also do it in accordance with British values. I think we have a good track record as a nation and as a Government. I am always keen to see how we can make improvements, but I hope we can make them without primary legislation.

Topical Questions

On 20 February, I informed the House that I had asked all UK charities that receive UK aid to give me assurances on the safeguarding and reporting of historical cases by Monday last. I have received 161 responses, which my officials are now analysing, with independent oversight, and we have shared returns with the Charity Commission.

Unbelievably, a number of organisations have not replied. We are following up, but without compelling justification they will have lost our confidence and we will consider whether it is right to continue their funding. I will share my key findings, trends and themes in response to the safeguarding summit that will be held with the Charity Commission on 5 March, and I will keep the House informed.

Is the Secretary of State confident that Britain will remain a world leader in humanitarian aid following our departure from the European Union?

Yes, I am. Although we will undoubtedly still work with European partners and ECHO, when we have further control over the money that we are spending, that will be a very good thing indeed.

T2. It is Rare Disease Day and we have been singing outside Westminster tube station to raise awareness. What is the Department doing to make sure that those who suffer rare diseases in developing countries are not left behind? (904094)

We spend around £1 billion through our own health service and Public Health England, and into the Fleming fund and other research funds. Not only is the pioneering research that UK aid is funding saving lives overseas and developing ways to combat rare diseases, but the results are helping British citizens, too.

T8. Some 90% of the plastic that enters our oceans is carried by just 10 rivers in Africa and Asia. What are the Government doing to help some of the poorest countries in the world to tackle this global problem? (904100)

My Department is assisting developing countries to improve waste management, which helps to avoid plastic ending up in the ocean, through multilateral funds such as the Global Environment Facility. We are also working closely with the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs on some new projects to identify what more we can do in line with the 25-year environment plan.

T3. I do not usually get that reception. The South Sudanese Government are preventing effective non-governmental organisations such as Christian Aid from providing aid to those who desperately need it in South Sudan. What more can be done to put pressure on that Government to allow such charities the access that they need? (904095)

The hon. Lady is absolutely right: it is a scandal that the South Sudanese Government are charging non-governmental organisations to deliver aid. The aid is getting through, and we should pay tribute to the people who are delivering it, but we are putting pressure on the Government to allow easier access for humanitarian aid.

Following on from my recent question to the Prime Minister on the Open Doors World Watch List, will the Minister considering earmarking a fixed minimum percentage of international aid to tackle religious persecution?

My hon. Friend deserves tribute for the way in which she raises this issue. In the 70th year since the United Nations’ universal declaration of human rights, it is a scandal that almost three quarters of the world’s population live in countries that restrict religious freedom. We do a lot in this area. Although we do not fix the percentage, it is important to respond to that need.

T4. Many of the Rohingya refugees are unaccompanied children at constant threat from traffickers. Can the Minister update the House on the support that the UK is providing to these vulnerable children? (904096)

We are doing many things to provide support to those children, not just in the immediate aftermath of the situation they are facing, but in protecting them and ensuring that they do not fall victim to organised crime later on down the line. We are doing many things under the compact, and also in the new panel to which I have already alluded today.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that providing jobs and livelihoods for internally displaced people wherever they may be is equally as important as providing relief aid?

I do agree with my hon. Friend, which is why the Department has shifted its funding focus to those issues that are needed over the longer term, as well as to those in the immediate aftermath of a crisis.

T5. Stability is clearly key to delivering aid in Yemen. The Southern Transitional Council appears to be providing some stability. What discussions is the Secretary of State having with it to secure the delivery of aid to both North and South Yemen? (904097)

We have no direct contact with the Southern Transitional Council. We do work through coalition partners who are closely involved with the south of Yemen. Importantly, we hope that the appointment of the new UN special envoy, Martin Griffiths, with his contacts right through Yemen, will help the peace process, which is necessary to end the conflict in Yemen for both north and south.