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Topical Questions

Volume 639: debated on Wednesday 18 April 2018

We were all appalled by the horrific attack in Douma, Syria, on 7 April. All indications are that this was a chemical weapons attack. We have not had to rely on hearsay to conclude that: UK medical and scientific experts have analysed open-source reports, images and video footage and concluded that the victims were exposed to a toxic element. This is corroborated by first-hand accounts from aid workers.

May I take the opportunity to welcome the Secretary of State’s speech last week outlining her vision for the future of international development policy? Will she update the House on the practical steps she is taking to make that vision a reality?

We need to ensure that UK aid is working doubly hard—better delivering on the global goals but also working in the UK’s national interest—and is not just spent well, but could not be spent better. Part of that will be delivered through a new cross-Government ministerial ODA meeting to ensure greater coherence and better spend of UK aid.

T2. The Minister of State is one of 57 Members who over the years have visited the village of Khan al-Ahmar and its primary school, which was built with international assistance. Does he know that, one week today, that school could be destroyed as a result of a court hearing to make way for an illegal Israeli settlement expansion? Does he agree that the UK Government should make urgent representations to the Government of Israel that such action would contravene international law? (904717)

The hon. Gentleman is right—I have indeed visited the school and the village. The UK has made repeated representations on this particular possibility of demolition and I assure him that we will continue to do so as a matter of urgency.

I call Richard Graham. Where is the fella? He is not here, but he ought to be. What a shame.

T5. In the last few weeks, there has sadly been an increase in tension and violence on the Israel-Gaza border. Just last weekend, Israel destroyed a cross-border tunnel that Hamas had built to attack Israeli civilians. I happen to have seen that those tunnels involve a huge amount of construction materials, so what is the Minister doing to ensure that no UK aid is being diverted to fund those terrible tunnels? (904720)

We are well aware of this threat. We support the materials monitoring unit of the Gaza Reconstruction Mechanism, which oversees the approval, entry and use of materials for reconstruction. We regularly audit spending to ensure that there is no diversion in the manner that my hon. Friend raised.

T3. Will the Minister update the House on what progress has been made to rebuild homes, schools and hospitals in Rakhine state after the Burmese Government burned them to the ground? (904718)

Ensuring that we have good access is critical to whatever work we do in Rakhine and our prime concern is to stop any initial violence. Our main effort to help the Rohingya is ensuring that we are as prepared as we can be for the cyclone season that is about to hit Cox’s Bazar.

T6. I welcome the Prime Minister’s statement yesterday on malaria that we will remain committed to the fight, and the hosting of today’s summit. However, with the United Nations saying that progress on malaria is now at risk, what influence will the Secretary of State use on Commonwealth countries and others to ensure that the fight continues? (904721)

We are proud to be a global leader in tackling malaria and we have committed £500 million a year until 2021 to that fight. We will work with global partners to spend that effectively. We particularly appreciate the efforts of Bill Gates and the foundation, and we thank him for his kind words this morning about the British Government’s contribution to that.

T7. I draw the attention of the House to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. Last year, I visited Tanzania, where we heard of the desire to get young girls into education. One of the major barriers is period poverty. What are the Government doing to help to solve that issue? (904722)

The hon. Gentleman is right to highlight that important issue. I can assure him that there are some 5,000 schools where the Girls’ Education Challenge is supporting many, many girls in their menstrual protection.

T8. The Department for International Development is a founder member of the Robert Carr civil society Networks Fund. The Government have led the way in funding this work, supporting regional and global networks working with groups disproportionately affected by HIV. Currently, the RCNF can only afford to fund 50% of the quality proposals it sees. Will my right hon. Friend commit to continuing to fund the RCNF’s vital work? What efforts are the Department making to fund the battle against HIV? (904723)

We are very proud to be a founding supporter of the Robert Carr civil society Networks Fund. So far, the United Kingdom has committed £9 million to it. We will make our decision on future investments to the fund later this year and I hope to attend the international convention on HIV/AIDS prevention in Amsterdam later this year.

Given the Government’s wretched treatment of the Windrush generation and the loss and destruction of paperwork, will the Secretary of State talk to her colleagues about introducing an amnesty?

That gives me the opportunity to reiterate what I said earlier. The Home Office has now stepped up its efforts to ensure that people are reassured. It has given further reassurances on precisely the point the hon. Gentleman raises. We all have to ensure, as constituency MPs and as members of the Government, that everyone has the information and support they need at this moment.

DeafKidz International, which is based in my constituency, does great work to protect deaf children around the world. What is DFID doing to redress the imbalance of services available to deaf children?

I praise the work of DeafKidz International, which has also received UK aid funding. We are doing many things. Through the Girls’ Education Challenge, we supported 46,000 girls with disabilities, including deaf girls, to access education.

It has never been more important to make the positive case for overseas aid. However, delivery of the global learning programme in schools ends in July. May we have an assurance that it will be replaced in time for September?

We are doing a refresh of some of those programmes. Clearly, programmes such as Connecting Classrooms will carry on and we are doing a refresh of the International Citizenship Service. We think these are important ways in which we can deliver on the global goals and help young people in our country to learn more about the rest of the world.