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House of Commons Hansard
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International Development
23 May 2018
Volume 641

The Secretary of State was asked—

Co-operatives

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1. What steps her Department is taking to increase its support for the development of co-operatives throughout the world. [905504]

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The Department for International Development has supported co-operatives across many sectors and is increasing support to small-scale farmers to help them to commercialise. For example, the ÉLAN programme is working with women’s co-ops in the Democratic Republic of the Congo to increase quality, improve marketing and establish systems for full traceability of product.

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The co-operative model of ownership has distinct advantages for sustainable international development. Regrettably, in 2011 the Government cut the £5 million fund for co-operative development. Will the Secretary of State commit to investigating the desirability of reinstating that fund, and match the ambition of Opposition Members by ensuring that the Department is looking properly at alternative models of ownership?

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I agree with the hon. Gentleman that co-operatives can be a hugely powerful and empowering model for delivering economic development. I do not think we should have just a small £5 million fund. We should be levering all the investment we have from DFID into those organisations. Through a new initiative, “GREAT for Partnership”, we hope to build connections with organisations that can do just that.

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The Secretary of State mentioned in passing the role of women in developing countries, particularly in the agricultural context. Does she agree that microfinance is an incredibly important way of developing women in such areas? What more will the Department do to enhance, prolong and enlarge the use of microfinance in agriculture in developing countries?

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DFID has a proud tradition as a leader in initiatives that empower women, including economically. Microfinance is critical to that. In most countries where we have a presence, we are running such a programme specifically for women.

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ActionAid has calculated that women in developing countries could be almost £7 trillion better off if their pay and access to paid work were equal to that of men. Will the Secretary of State make a commitment that, when establishing such agreements around the world, the UK will demonstrate its commitment to women’s rights and gender equality by ensuring that new co-operatives go further than they have before in protecting and upholding women’s rights?

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I will commit to do just that. We have a big opportunity with the forthcoming G7 Development Ministers’ meeting next week in Canada. Canada has done a huge amount on this agenda, and the issues of which the hon. Gentleman speaks will feature heavily in our discussions.

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Does the Secretary of State agree that women’s co-operatives have an important role to play in tackling poverty? I encourage her Department to do much more in this area.

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I congratulate my hon. Friend on his election to the Select Committee and wish him well in that role. He is absolutely right that unless we enable women to reach their full potential, nations never will.

Safeguarding

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2. What steps she is taking to improve safeguarding in the international development sector. [905505]

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We have introduced new safeguarding standards for all DFID programmes. I have requested and received assurances from our partners on their safeguarding policies and procedures. Internationally, we are leading the charge to raise standards.

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I thank the Secretary of State for that answer. Will she update the House on her Department’s plans for the international safeguarding conference that is being held later this year?

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The conference will be held on 18 October in London and will involve survivors of abuse, aid beneficiaries, multilateral organisations and others. Much work is being done globally to develop vetting procedures and new human resources practices and to harmonise standards and policies across the board. At the conference, we will secure sector-wide action to prevent and respond to sexual exploitation.

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I welcome the Secretary of State’s international leadership on this issue. What conversations has she had with United Nations institutions, where there are serious concerns about potential sexual exploitation both by peacekeepers and by civilian staff?

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The hon. Gentleman will know that we have had extensive discussions with all UN agencies and partners, as well as core UN bodies. They are making progress. The safeguarding conference will be fundamental in consolidating that progress, but we are also talking with our counterparts in the Ministry of Defence to look at what we can do to help to build capacity in peacekeeping troops before they deploy.

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The International Development Committee is looking at this very issue. How can my right hon. Friend be absolutely certain that charities are telling her the truth about what has happened within their organisations, and does she believe that an international register of people working in those bodies would be a good idea?

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Absolutely. As well as the assurances we have sought and our oversight of projects and programmes we are contributing to on the ground, there will be other tell-tale signs. For example, if organisations are not reporting incidents or allegations, that is a red light to me that there is something wrong within those organisations. We are still monitoring this situation. We are leading an international donor group that is looking at setting up the precise procedures to which my hon. Friend refers.

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Before agreeing with Oxfam and Save the Children that they would withdraw from Government funding, did the Department carry out an assessment on the impact that that would have? Will the Secretary of State tell the House exactly how many jobs will be affected and how many vulnerable people will lose access to life-saving aid?

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My sole concern in making these decisions is the impact on the beneficiaries. Unlike other nations, I will not take decisions that impact negatively on beneficiaries. We are very conscious that both the organisations to which the hon. Lady refers may have difficulty in maintaining employment contracts—I suspect most of those people will transfer to other organisations—but how they maintain their staffing budgets is not the basis on which I am going to take decisions.

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I thank the Secretary of State for her answer, but we still do not know what assessments were carried out and whether they will be made public. What steps is she taking to guarantee that the agencies and contractors now bidding for Government funding will have safeguarding protections against sexual exploitation that are robustly stronger, not weaker, than those of Oxfam and Save the Children?

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I would be happy to share with the hon. Lady any information about any of the projects. For example, I looked at everywhere we are working with Oxfam, not just directly but with other partners who work with Oxfam. I will not allow any beneficiary to suffer and that will be key in my decision making. We have to strengthen the system across the board. We are leading the charge and other donors are following our lead. I hope that by the end of the year we will have vetting procedures, benchmarking and the harmonisation of policies to deter predatory individuals from the aid sector.

Rohingya Refugees

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3. What steps her Department is taking to support vulnerable children in Rohingya refugee camps during the monsoon season. [905506]

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9. What steps her Department is taking to protect Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh from the effects of the monsoon season. [905512]

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13. What steps her Department is taking to protect Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh from the effects of the monsoon season. [905516]

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Up to 200,000 Rohingya are living in areas at risk of flooding and collapse during the rainy season. We are working with the Bangladesh Government and humanitarian partners on preparedness, including improved shelters, water and sanitation, vaccination campaigns and pre-positioning of emergency supplies.

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Last August, Myanmar soldiers systematically brutalised and raped young Rohingya women. Nine months on, and in the middle of the monsoon season, many of those young girls are now giving birth to babies conceived as a result of rape. As these girls are often shunned by their communities, what support is the UK Government providing to these vulnerable girls and their babies?

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The hon. Lady is right to raise this issue. Some 16,000 women may be caught up in this. We have deployed a specialist maternity worker to be there. In addition, we are working with our partners to support Rohingya women who were raped and are pregnant. The deployment includes training of medical specialists, psycho-social support, clinical management of rape and emergency obstetric care. This is all being provided despite the difficulty of the monsoons and other circumstances.

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Given the greatly increased risk of waterborne diseases facing the Rohingya during the monsoon season, what steps is the Department taking to make sure that as many people as possible are vaccinated?

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There are two issues here: first, work needs to continue to ensure that latrines and waters are as safe as possible, and secondly, an extensive vaccination campaign is already being undertaken. The United Kingdom is a major contributor to the vaccination programme.

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When the International Development Committee visited the refugee camps, we were told that non-governmental organisations had identified land that could be made available to them for the safety of the Rohingya refugees. What representations have the Government made to the Government of Bangladesh to ensure that that land is released and that refugees are not put on an unsuitable island?

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Regular representations are made about this. The hon. Gentleman is right: a certain amount can be done at Cox’s Bazar to strengthen fortifications in relation to the forthcoming cyclones, but the land itself is difficult. Some have already been moved out, but we do make representations as well about the unsuitable nature of the island that is sometimes proposed.

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Now that the UK is providing 10.5% of the total budget set out in the humanitarian joint response plan, will my right hon. Friend advise and update the House on what he is doing to get other countries to step up to do their bit?

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First, may I congratulate my old friend on his recent award, which will please all of us, for his long service and devotion to this House and its duties? We are very proud of our record in relation to being a major donor. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State announced a further £70 million on 7 May to help with the current crisis, but my right hon. Friend the Member for Bexleyheath and Crayford (Sir David Evennett) is right: we need to make sure that we continue to ask other donors to step up, and it is a regular part of our briefings and contact with other donor nations.

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We witnessed the precarious conditions in which many of the refugees are living in Cox’s Bazar; it was quite appalling. If the monsoon is devastating for the region, will my right hon. Friend redouble his efforts to ensure that land is made available, as well as emergency housing? Pushing them on to an island is totally unacceptable.

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To answer my hon. Friend, our sense is that as far as possible, preparations are being made both by the Bangladesh Government and the international community to meet the anticipated and expected conditions. Bangladesh has an excellent record on dealing with emergency crises caused by weather. No one can say, if something exceptional happens, what the response will be, but all preparations have been made. However, he is right: the nature of the land is extremely difficult and we must continue to try to urge that as many people as possible are moved to the safest possible areas.

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The hon. Member for Glasgow North West (Carol Monaghan) was right to raise the issues of pregnant women, new mothers and small babies, who are particularly vulnerable to issues of hygiene and sanitation, so will the Minister assure me that those will be key priorities for aid spending in this area?

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I can reassure my hon. Friend that as much as possible is being done in relation to this. UK-supported cholera, measles and diphtheria vaccination campaigns will help to provide protection against some of the most common diseases in the camps, and this is very much on people’s minds at such a vulnerable time.

UK Small Charities: Funding

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4. What steps she is taking to help small UK charities access funding from her Department. [905507]

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DFID’s small charities challenge fund was launched last summer to support small UK-based charities working in international development. The first round of grants will be announced shortly and the second review of applications is under way. We are also looking to improve the scheme.

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Crawley-based Vision Aid Overseas does really effective work in Africa, helping to provide sight health to some of the world’s poorest. Will the Secretary of State endorse such work and congratulate those local UK-based charities, which can make a real difference?

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I thank my hon. Friend for the opportunity to praise the work of Vision Aid Overseas. It is absolutely right that we want to connect more of these small, fantastic UK charities with the developing world. The “GREAT for Partnership” initiative will help us to do that.

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What steps is the Secretary of State taking to ensure that small charities can avail themselves of the fund with a minimum of bureaucracy to maximise the benefit to the countries they operate in?

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I absolutely agree with the issues the hon. Gentleman raises. We are learning from the first wave of applications to the small charities fund. I would like to make it less bureaucratic, more nimble and open to even smaller organisations.

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Far be it from me to intrude, but I thought that the hon. Member for Bexhill and Battle (Huw Merriman) had an interest in a charity appertaining to soccer. As we might not reach his question, he could take the opportunity to intervene with a flying tackle now.

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11. It is funny you should say that, Mr Speaker, because next month a group of largely unfit, slightly overweight wannabe celebrity footballers will be playing in the cause of Soccer Aid. I refer of course to the parliamentary football team. You would be most welcome, Mr Speaker, to don your Arsenal kit and join us, and show us how it’s done. On a serious note, I have seen the great work this money does in Djibouti in Africa. It changes people’s lives, including those of very young people. Will the Secretary of State join me in supporting everyone who gets involved with and donates to Soccer Aid for UNICEF? [905514]

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I thank both you, Mr Speaker, and my hon. Friend for plugging Soccer Aid. Every pound raised by the British public will be matched by UK aid. You and he might also like to know that today Arsenal announced a three-year partnership with Rwanda.

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Absolutely splendid! I am most grateful to the Secretary of State for announcing that, as I am sure will be both Rwanda and Arsenal.

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Will the Secretary of State join me in paying tribute to the Burnley-based charity Furniture for Education Worldwide, which will next week send its 100th container of furniture and equipment to aid developing schools overseas?

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I thank the hon. Lady for raising that. I will indeed endorse that fantastic organisation. It is a testament to the fact that we have small companies and charities in our constituencies that can make a big difference to many people across the world.

Global Disability Summit

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5. What steps her Department plans to take at the forthcoming global disability summit to promote disability inclusion in international development. [905508]

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The UK’s global disability summit in July will increase action and investment, share best practice and deliver lasting change. It will tackle the stigma faced by people with disabilities and provide educational, learning and economic opportunities and the means to access them through more available assistive devices.

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I welcome that answer. I recently met Sightsavers, a fantastic charity doing great work tackling sight loss and the stigma faced by disabled people around the world, particularly in the developing world. Can my right hon. Friend reassure me that at this important summit she will join with it in pressing for concrete goals for Governments to tackle the stigma faced by disabled people around the world?

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That is absolutely the aim of the summit. It has already galvanised people into action, including multilateral organisations around the world, which will be embedding disability in their programming.

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Given the new statistics showing that the number of disabled people able to access legal aid here in the UK has fallen by 99% since 2011, what steps will the Secretary of State take with Cabinet colleagues to get the UK’s own house in order before we host a global summit?

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When I speak to my opposite numbers in other nations, they tell me that one barrier to their making further progress is that they are starting from a low base. It is important that the summit is not just about the UK showcasing what it does; we can learn from other organisations, which is why we are co-hosting it with Kenya. My new role as Minister for Women and Equalities affords me the chance to make a difference in both the UK and the developing world.

Democratic Republic of the Congo: Humanitarian Assistance

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6. What funding her Department has allocated to humanitarian assistance programmes in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. [905509]

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The UK is one of the leading humanitarian donors in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. We have acted quickly to support the country and the World Health Organisation in tackling the Ebola outbreak; the Secretary of State today announced an extra £5 million to support the WHO response plan.

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What are the Government doing to prevent the outbreak from spreading to places such as Kinshasa?

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The plan announced by the World Health Organisation involves making sure that we use a new, experimental vaccine that the UK has helped to develop. It is being applied to anyone who has come into contact with Ebola. Yesterday, vaccinations began to be offered to health workers and to anyone who has had contact with a contact.

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I commend the Department’s response to the outbreak, but what assurance can the Minister give that the capacity and leadership at the WHO are stronger than they were in 2014, when it made so many mistakes in responding to an earlier outbreak?

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I pay tribute to Jane Ellison, who is now very much involved in that. As my right hon. Friend will know, there has been an extensive programme of work to learn lessons from the outbreak in Sierra Leone, and, indeed, this is the ninth outbreak in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. On every occasion lessons are learnt, and we are helping the WHO and the Government to deliver on them.

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In the light of the DRC Government’s decision to boycott the April humanitarian pledging conference in Geneva and to deny the scale of the displacement crisis in the country, what representations has the Secretary of State made, now that Ebola poses a very real additional threat, to ensure that the same does not happen again and that the DRC Government accept urgent assistance to prevent an international health emergency?

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The hon. Lady is right to highlight the wider humanitarian crisis in the DRC. I was there myself last month to see the fantastic work that UK aid workers are doing on the ground and the extensive way in which we are helping. We are proud to have announced £100 million of support for this year, and we are the second largest donor.

Topical Questions

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T1. If she will make a statement on her departmental responsibilities. [905519]

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UK aid is currently dealing with 10 large-scale humanitarian emergencies and giving humanitarian assistance to 30 countries around the world. It is, for instance, protecting the Rohingya at Cox’s Bazar during the monsoon and cyclone season, providing food and healthcare for those affected by the conflict in Yemen, providing medical training and aid for families in Syria, and tackling Ebola in the DRC, for which I have announced £5 million of UK aid spending. We are also making preparations to provide support, if needed, for the Caribbean during the hurricane season. I am sure that the whole House will join me in commending the work of British scientists, British aid workers and our armed forces, and UK aid, in saving lives.

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My right hon. Friend will be aware of yesterday’s Westminster Hall debate about the persecution of Christians. Will she update the House on the Government’s efforts to promote freedom of religion and belief worldwide?

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The most stable societies are those that uphold the right to freedom of religion or belief. Through UK Aid Connect, DFID will fund a consortium of organisations to address the key challenges in building freedom of religion and belief. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office is also very focused on that agenda.

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Order. I understand the sense of anticipation of the session that is to follow, but may I gently remind the House that we are discussing the plight—[Interruption.] Order. I remind the House that we are discussing the plight of some of the most destitute people on the face of the planet. I think that a respectful atmosphere would be appreciated.

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T2. There are few more desperate places in the world today than Yemen. As the Secretary of State will know, all the signs are that the Saudi-led coalition is gearing up for an attack on the port of Hodeidah. Will she explain to her colleagues in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office just how serious that would be for the humanitarian situation in Yemen, so that they may in turn explain to Saudi Arabia that if the attack happens, it will mean the end of UK arms sales to the Saudis? [905520]

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Both the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and DFID are acutely aware of the degree of concern about the situation in Yemen, and we are in regular contact with all parties there. The only answer is for the work of the United Nations envoy, Martin Griffiths, to be successful through negotiations, but we have already made clear that we do not see a military solution to the conflict.

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T4. What is my right hon. Friend doing to bring about greater transparency in the international aid system to ensure that there is probity and that other countries pay their fair share to international development? [905522]

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DFID scores very highly on the international aid transparency initiative, and we are working with other nations and multilaterals to help them to reach the same standards. We are also leading the charge on combating illicit money flows and capital flight, which is necessary if we are to help developing nations.

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T3. [R] Does the Minister agree that the tragic events of last week necessitate urgent action to tackle the plight of the Palestinian people, including the disarmament of Hamas, the return of Gaza to the Palestinian Authority, international donors meeting their reconstruction pledges fully, and Israel assisting in Gaza’s economic revitalisation? [905521]

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One of the main areas of focus at last week’s United Nations Security Council meeting was to accept special envoy Nikolay Mladenov’s persuasion that Gaza does indeed need more direct assistance and support to ease the circumstances there. Israel will be involved, as will other international donors, working in a very complex situation. The relief of humanitarian issues in Gaza is essential.

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T6. Will the Minister update the House on the food security situation in east Africa and let us know what help the Government are able to provide? [905524]

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I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for his work as chair of the all-party group on Ethiopia and Djibouti and I assure him that the UK has provided assistance to more than 13.6 million people in east Africa and allocated £279 million in humanitarian aid to those countries this year.

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T5. Not backing the vote for investigation into the Gaza killings is another example of the UK Government not standing up to Israel. Will the Minister’s Department show some backbone and demand compensation for aid-funded structures that have been demolished? [905523]

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The UK is well aware of the circumstances surrounding the issues in Gaza and calls for a transparent and independent inquiry, but we are providing humanitarian aid through UNRWA to the Palestinian people and looking at further possibilities of providing direct aid to the medical situation in Gaza.

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The horn of Africa has been hit by a devastating tropical cyclone and Somaliland has been particularly hard-hit, with devastation to lives and livelihoods. Somaliland is already a progressive democratic country in an otherwise very troubled part of the world and, as a former British protectorate, it has strong ties to the UK, but because we do not formally recognise Somaliland, any aid we provide must pass through Somalia, which is much less stable. Will my hon. Friend reconsider that policy and consider working directly through Somaliland?

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I invite my hon. Friend to the meeting of the all-party group on Somaliland later today.

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T7. Recent local elections in Tunisia showed an encouraging increase in the involvement of young people in the democratic process. What further assistance can the Government give to good governance there? [905525]

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The excellent work of the Westminster Foundation for Democracy and those who have taken part through the British Council in encouraging the development of democracy are playing an important part in Tunisia, but the hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to draw attention to a good move forward for Tunisia, which we hope foreshadows other things to come in the region.

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My right hon. Friend may be aware of the Dalitso project in my constituency. It involves more than 500 volunteers in Scotland and Malawi, and they have collectively generated funding for over 300 orphans in Malawi and employ 30 people. What is the Department doing to support such small charities that contribute so much to our overseas aid?

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I was recently in Scotland to dish out some UK Aid cheques to many of the wonderful organisations that have raised money and are doing fantastic work to benefit people around the world.

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T8. What assessment has the Secretary of State made of the effect of Oxfam and Save the Children withdrawing from her Department’s funding rounds on the beneficiaries of those charities? [905526]

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That is the only criterion that I look at when making those decisions: no beneficiaries will be harmed in any way as a result of the decisions we take about withdrawing funding or preventing people from bidding for funding.