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Topical Questions

Volume 641: debated on Wednesday 23 May 2018

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.

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?

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.

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.

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)

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.

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)

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.

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)

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.

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)

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.

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)

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.

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?

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)

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.

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?

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.

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)

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.