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House of Commons Hansard
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International Development
04 July 2018
Volume 644

The Secretary of State was asked—

East Africa: Trading Opportunities

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1. What steps her Department is taking to promote trading opportunities to encourage development in east Africa. [906239]

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The UK supports regional trade and development by improving infrastructure and cutting red tape through our flagship programme TradeMark East Africa, which has helped to reduce import times at the Mombasa port by 50%. We will also support the region by ensuring that there is continuity in market access arrangements post-EU exit.

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In the past decade more than 1 billion people have been lifted out of poverty, largely thanks to free trade. Owing to my commercial experience, I have seen for myself the quality of the produce from the agricultural sector in east Africa, and I am not surprised that it has found a strong export market. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the best and most sustainable way out of poverty is through trade?

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I agree wholeheartedly. The greatest progress that has been made towards the first global goal has resulted from the liberalisation of world trade. We want to move more nations from aid to trade, because that is where their future lies.

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The Secretary of State may know that the countries of east Africa are some of the worst performers in terms of road deaths and serious road accidents. Could part of the trading relationship involve trade in both services and technology to help to bring down those dreadful casualty figures?

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Absolutely. I congratulate the hon. Gentleman and thank him for the work he does on a critical issue that results in an enormous number of deaths every year. I think there will be a greater onus on us to provide technical support for developing countries, and cutting the number of road deaths is clearly an area in which that technical support will be needed.

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Key to boosting east African trade is continuing to break down non-tariff barriers between East African countries, reduce transportation costs and reduce import-export clearance times. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the TradeMark East Africa programme has an important continuing role in helping to boost trade even further?

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I absolutely agree with my right hon. Friend. Frictionless trade is a good thing, and the corridor that TradeMark East Africa has provided has cut border times dramatically, as well as cutting corruption. We are funding the second leg of that trade corridor, and it has done amazing work for the region’s prosperity.

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If we are to promote trade, we need to be able to promote travel. However, the Scotland Malawi Partnership and others have received a litany of complaints from people who want to come to the United Kingdom and sell their goods from east Africa, but have been denied visas by the Home Office. Will the Secretary of State meet representatives of the Home Office as a matter of urgency to ensure that they sort out the mess of the east African visa system?

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I have frequent dialogues with colleagues throughout the Government. As the hon. Gentleman will know, 70 of my staff are embedded in the Department for International Trade to deal with these issues, particularly in respect of developing nations, but if he knows of any specific cases and will pass them on to me, I shall be happy to look at them.

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In Lisbon 11 years ago, the historic joint Africa-EU strategy was launched. That strategy, which was based on the principles of ownership, partnership and solidarity, has already had to withstand the economic impact of the global financial crisis and the eurozone crisis. What assessment has the Secretary of State made of the social and economic impact that Brexit will have on it?

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The fact that we will be able to make our own trade arrangements with developing countries will be of massive advantage to those countries, and the nations with which we work are incredibly excited about the possibilities that will result from our leaving the EU. I think that we should be optimistic about Africa’s future, and its leaders are optimistic, but as well as promoting trade we must help them to combat illicit money flows. If we add up everything that goes into those nations, we see that it is tiny by comparison with what leaves them as a result of corruption and illicit flows. We will deal with both.

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I am grateful for the Secretary of State’s answer, but I have to say that I do not share her optimism. Along with many others, I believe that the joint Africa-EU strategy marked a new phase in Africa-EU relations, opening a gateway to future trade deals based on benefits for African communities, not just European corporations. How will the Secretary of State ensure that any future deals negotiated by her Government benefit rather than damage the livelihoods of the world’s poorest people?

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Because at the heart of our trade strategy as we leave the EU are developing nations—we want to give them preferential treatment and support them in their ambitions. I would point to the evidence that since we announced that we are leaving the EU, we have made huge progress on initiatives like the Sahel alliance and a greater focus with bilateral partners including France on our work together in Africa. I urge the hon. Lady to be optimistic about the future.

Technology

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2. What steps she is taking to promote the development of technology in developing countries. [906240]

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6. What steps she is taking to promote the development of technology in developing countries. [906244]

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Investments from our aid budget in technologies are saving and changing lives all over the world. Half our research budget this year is for new technologies in developing countries in health, agriculture, climate, clean energy, water and education and for humanitarian response in emergencies.

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The Phoenix rotary club in Chelmsford supports the One Last Push campaign to eradicate polio, and new technology means that polio workers on the ground can target efforts where they are most needed. Will my hon. Friend confirm that this Government will continue to support the One Last Push campaign and end polio for good?

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This question gives me an opportunity to pay tribute not only to the rotary club my hon. Friend mentions but to Rotarians across the world who have been working hard on this push to eradicate polio. UK Aid has been at their side throughout this journey; we have eradicated something like 99% of the world’s polio cases, but we must continue to push for that final 1%.

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In April, Commonwealth Heads of Government committed to achieving quality eye care for all. Will my hon. Friend meet me and other vision campaigners to ensure that vision is taken seriously at this month’s global disability summit?

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I thank my hon. Friend for highlighting such an important issue. As someone who is extremely myopic, I benefit from glasses. This is an incredibly important aspect of what we can do, and at this month’s disability summit the world will be coming together to pledge what more it can do to help with people’s inclusion around the world, and certainly vision will play a key role.

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Last week, I met some of CAFOD’s Pacific climate warriors who campaign for environmental justice so that they can protect their homes so that we can all work together to protect our common home. What are the British Government doing to promote the development of technology in places that suffer the most catastrophic effects of climate change that ultimately affect the UK, too?

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The hon. Lady is right to highlight this issue. She will be aware of the announcements we made alongside so many of the small island states at the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in April to help them with technology to adapt to the changing climate, and also the additional £61 million announced by the Prime Minister to tackle the scourge of plastics in our oceans.

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Some small charities are working exceptionally hard in sub-Saharan Africa, particularly using technology to deliver much needed clean drinking water to those areas. What help can the Government offer to those charities to deliver for those people in that exceptionally dry part of the continent of Africa?

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The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to draw attention to the challenges posed by climate change, particularly to the countries nearest the Sahara. UK Aid is working very closely with them, and investments in technology are helping to address that and provide drinking water for many hundreds of thousands of people in sub-Saharan Africa.

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The development of the M-Pesa payment system in Kenya with the help of DFID has absolutely transformed the economy, particularly for small traders. What other steps and similar developments can my hon. Friend outline that would improve the Kenyan economy?

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This is another great example of how UK Aid can work to unlock a payment system that in many ways leapfrogs what we have here in the UK: people can pay from their mobile phone for a range of technologies and goods. Recently we had a solar fridge in DFID, and M-KOPA Solar is helping poor people in Kenya and other countries to pay for those fridges by using that technology.

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After continued pressure from these Scottish National party Benches, it was reassuring to hear after meeting the World Bank last week that it has made a firm commitment to no longer finance upstream oil and gas after 2019. However, the UK Government are still spending millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money funding fossil fuel projects in countries that are already bearing the worst brunt of climate change. Will the Minister of State today match the World Bank commitment to stop funding polluting fuels by 2019?

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Along with colleagues in the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, we are doing a lot to encourage many of these countries not only to power past coal and fossil fuels but to invest considerable amounts in renewable energy. I share the hon. Gentleman’s aspiration to work with developing countries to power past fossil fuels.

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Ah! I thought the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Dan Carden) wanted to come in on this question, but he has perambulated to Question 5. Well, so be it. That is not a scandal.

Venezuela: Vulnerable People

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3. What assistance her Department is providing to vulnerable people in Venezuela. [906241]

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We are deeply concerned by the worsening crisis in Venezuela. Too many Venezuelans are suffering the consequences of the Maduro Government’s mismanagement. While we are urging the Venezuelan Government to accept humanitarian aid, we are deploying two humanitarian advisers to the region in support of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s efforts to push the Government of Venezuela to meet the needs of their population.

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The Minister will be aware of the United Nations human rights report that details the complete erosion of the rule of law and human rights in Venezuela. Will he explain to the House what the UK is doing to support economic reform and stability in the region, to ensure that the money is spent in the right place while the Venezuelan Government still refuse to acknowledge that there is a humanitarian crisis?

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We are providing support in the crisis and to the region through the funding of key UN and humanitarian agencies, but, as my hon. Friend says, this is limited because of the Venezuelan Government’s refusal to admit the seriousness and reality of the situation. We are urging them to address the most urgent needs of their own population.

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Very large numbers of people are fleeing the situation in Venezuela, particularly into neighbouring Colombia. Will the Minister tell us what the Government are doing to address that situation, and what opportunity the Government see for the proposed UN global compact for refugees to address crises such as this one?

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The hon. Gentleman is right to highlight the regional crisis and the growing global problem of refugees in relation to the length of time they stay in host states and their prospects of returning. Venezuela is not the only affected area. We continue to support UN agencies in relation to this, and we are playing a leading part in creating the new compact for refugees.

Orphanages

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4. What steps her Department is taking to support children in orphanages in developing countries. [906242]

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DFID’s primary focus is to tackle the underlying drivers of institutionalisation. We address these through poverty reduction programmes and through our strong focus on education, nutrition, health, economic development and social protection. Through UK Aid Match, we are funding charities such as Hope and Homes for Children, which supports children into family-based and community-based care.

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We all recall the harrowing reports of disabled children being tied to rough bed frames or left on sodden mattresses on the floor and abandoned in orphanages around the developing world. Given that the ability to thrive entails the right to grow up in a family, what priority is the Department giving to finding foster families for disabled children in orphanages?

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The hon. Lady touches on a subject close to my heart. When I was an aid worker in the former eastern bloc, I worked in the hospitals and orphanages there. Many of the children were not orphans as we would understand the term; they had families. We believe that the best way to care for and develop children, whatever their circumstances and whether they have a disability or not, is in a family or community setting. The disability summit that is coming up will afford us the opportunity to focus on the needs of the specific group that the hon. Lady refers to.

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I am sure the Secretary of State shares my horror at recent reports about the sex trafficking and exploitation of children in unmonitored orphanages. Is this not something that the international community should look to stamp out, and will she do her utmost to move it up the global political agenda for action?

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We will certainly do that. DFID does not, as a policy, fund these types of institutions. We have traction with other donors around the world, and we will certainly try to move them on to share our policy.

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It is estimated that more than 50,000 children have been orphaned in Yemen since 2015, but the orphanages are struggling with a chronic lack of funds and are in constant danger of being closed. What discussions is the Minister having with her Saudi counterparts and others to ensure that the orphanages are getting the support they need?

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This is a complex area, and I thank the hon. Lady for raising it. In addition to the efforts we are making with the Saudis and the Emiratis to try to get supplies into Yemen, we are also aware of in-country issues with moving supplies around, including basic vaccines and so forth. My right hon. Friend the Minister for the Middle East is in frequent contact with all parties, as am I.

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The Indian diaspora in this country is incredibly generous in donating money to fund orphanages and schools for disabled children in India. What assistance can the Department give to match fund that generosity?

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Our aid programmes in India are limited to investments on which we make a return and to technical support. We do not do traditional aid programmes in India, and we certainly do not fund the types of institutions to which my hon. Friend refers. If he thinks we should be doing something that we are not, he can write to me and I will take a look at it, but that is our policy.

Access to Education

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5. What steps she is taking to expand access to education in developing countries. [906243]

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We supported 7.1 million children between 2015 and 2017 through bilateral and multilateral education programmes. UK leadership has secured ambitious commitments to ensure that children have access to 12 years of quality education.

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I thank the Minister for her response. DFID is working with the Pakistan Minorities Teachers Association to provide education to religious minorities in schools. Does the Minister agree that DFID should continue and expand its work with the PMTA to ensure that hate material is removed from textbooks and that it does not inadvertently fund discriminatory materials?

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The hon. Gentleman raises an important issue, and I can reassure him that DFID does not fund the production of any textbooks in Pakistan that contain any bias against religious minorities. I can also confirm that in terms of our support for education in Pakistan, we support independent evaluations—

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That is extremely helpful, but I am keen to get others in.

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Given that most jobs in developing countries will be in self-employment or small businesses, what input does DFID have into the curriculum in developing countries to ensure that the necessary skills are taught?

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The education strategy that we published earlier this year focuses on ensuring that people leave primary school with good literacy and maths skills and that we invest in high-quality teaching.

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Last month, I had the pleasure of visiting a Voluntary Service Overseas project in Malawi that focuses on the promotion of youth engagement in the country. My time was spent with young people from all over the country who were passionate, political and eager to have their voices heard. Will the Minister commit to meet me to discuss that project and how we can support youth voice structures in developing countries?

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I am delighted to hear about the hon. Lady’s wonderful trip to Malawi and look forward to meeting her to discuss it in more detail. I can confirm that we are doing extensive bilateral work in Malawi and that many young people from the UK go out with the VSO’s International Citizen Service.

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Some 11.5 million young people globally have signed a petition to the United Nations backing a $10 billion plan to create an international finance facility for education that would guarantee every child the right to an education by 2030. If we are to meet the sustainable development goal on education, former Prime Minister Gordon Brown says that we require an “extraordinary, indeed superhuman, effort.” Will the Government provide both financial guarantees to such a facility and that superhuman effort?

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I pay tribute to former Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s work on the girls’ education agenda around the world. We are considering the feasibility of that international financing facility for education, and we are going through the technical detail, but we are not yet in a position to support the proposal.

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Order. I will take Questions 7 and 9, but there will be no time for supplementaries.

Rohingya Refugees in Bangladesh

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7. What steps she is taking to support Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh. [906245]

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9. What steps her Department is taking to protect Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh in preparation for the monsoon season. [906248]

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The UK has helped to lead the international response to the crisis. We are working with the Government of Bangladesh and humanitarian partners to improve shelters, provide water and sanitation, vaccinate against deadly disease and pre-position emergency supplies.

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Save the Children reports that just over 70% of school-age Rohingya children in Bangladesh are currently out of school. Will the Department help to lead a significant scale-up of education programming in the refugee camps?

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Save the Children has warned that not only are powerful storms affecting the Rohingya refugee camps, but such storms are likely to become more frequent. What are the Government doing to ensure that global action is taken to address flooding issues? [Interruption.]

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I understand the sense of anticipation. I just remind the House that we are discussing the plight of Rohingya refugees, whom we owe some empathy and respect.

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My right hon. Friend the Minister for Asia and the Pacific was at Cox’s Bazar last weekend. He raised issues of global support with the UN Secretary-General, António Guterres, who was also there. We are working with global partners to do all we can to meet the needs of those in such difficult circumstances.

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The Red Cross has announced that conditions are not ready for Rohingya refugees to return to Myanmar. This will be a protracted crisis, with up to 200,000 Rohingya being affected by the monsoon season. This was not a surprise. Where was the Government’s disaster relief plan?

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The hon. Lady is right, and we are already working with other agencies on the fact that the refugees are likely to be there for much longer than people would originally have expected. It is still important that they are safe to return to Myanmar, but if that is not possible, we will indeed be working with others to make sure they are as safe as possible where they are.

Topical Questions

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T1. If she will make a statement on her departmental responsibilities. [906254]

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[In British Sign Language]: On 24 July, we will hold a global disability conference here in London, organised by the UK Government, by the Kenyan Government and by the International Disability Alliance. For too long, in the world’s poorest countries, disabled people have not been able to reach their full potential because of stigma or not enough practical support. I am proud to be focused on this area, which has been neglected for too long. The conference will support the global effort to advance disability inclusion for some countries’ most vulnerable people. [Applause.]

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In thanking the Secretary of State, and the gratitude of the House is obvious, let me just say by way of reply that that is—[in British Sign Language]—good news.

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As a boy, my ayah came from Somaliland, which was a British protectorate then. Will my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State explain what her Department is doing to help that great country, which has always been a friend of the UK?

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I thank my hon. Friend for that question. UK assistance to Somaliland includes support for critical economic infrastructure, humanitarian assistance, police and justice support, and engagement in counter-terrorism and security. We provided rapid response in the aftermath of the tropical storm, and we will also support Somaliland’s National Electoral Commission to plan and prepare to deliver elections next year.

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rose—

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Hear, hear.

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The hon. Lady will revel in her popularity.

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T2. Reuters has reported that fighting in Hodeidah has forced around 2,000 high school students to take a dangerous six-hour journey across mountains to sit their exams in Sana’a, but more than 2 million children are reported to be out of school in Yemen, and the conflict is having a profound effect on their education. What are the Government doing to end the conflict? [906255]

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We are giving every support to the work of the UN special envoy, Martin Griffiths, who, almost as we speak, is in Sana’a and talking to the coalition parties. Only through this UN negotiation might we get a resolution of the conflict.

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T3. I know through personal experience the good work DFID does with the Foreign Office in promoting trade with developing countries. Will the Secretary of State continue to work with the Foreign Office to make sure we offer better trade deals to developing countries, particularly those in Africa, than they currently have with the European Union? [906256]

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As I said, leaving the EU affords us the opportunity to develop our own trading deals with those nations. We work incredibly closely with the Foreign Office, including through our ministerial teams coming together once a week to discuss these matters.

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T4. The recent aid transparency index showed DFID a commendable third but the FCO a poor 40th in the global rankings of aid agencies. Can the Secretary of State explain the discrepancy between the two and ensure that all UK aid spend meets the same standards of quality, poverty reduction and transparency? [906257]

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As the hon. Gentleman knows, earlier this year I convened the first cross-ministerial official development assistance group. Every Department that spends ODA money, and the National Security Council, which looks after the cross-Government funds, meets at that group, through which we will provide training, support and the tools DFID uses to get other Departments to the standard we want them to reach.

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T5. Building on the Government’s efforts to tackle modern slavery in the UK, will the Secretary of State update the House on what steps she is taking to tackle modern slavery overseas? [906258]

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Tackling modern slavery is a priority for the Department. Last year, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State announced £40 million of new funding that aims to reach at least 500,000 people at risk of slavery. We will continue to work on this as a priority.

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T6. Ministers will be aware that as we speak the bulldozers are moving into the Palestinian settlement of Khan al-Ahmar. That will lead to the forced displacement of the residents there, in a clear breach of international law. Will the Minister assure me that we are on the ground now, gathering evidence of these breaches of law, so that those who are responsible will later be legally accountable? [906259]

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I will be answering an urgent question on this matter shortly. We have taken a great deal of interest over many years in the affairs of those Bedouins at Khan al-Ahmar. I visited them just a few weeks ago, and this remains a matter of great concern to the UK.

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T7. At the recent royal highland show, a number of excellent charities were exhibiting, including the Scottish-based landmine clearance charities the HALO Trust and World Vision. Will the Minister reassure the charities and me that this Government will continue to be committed to the 0.7% international aid budget and the support they give to these charities? [906260]

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Absolutely; that is our policy. I will be visiting the HALO Trust tomorrow. It does a tremendous amount of work de-mining in many parts of the world, and it is a very valued partner of ours.

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T8. Healthcare workers tending wounded in Gaza are coming under fire from the Israeli defence force. What discussions has the Secretary of State had with the Israeli Government about this unacceptable and barbaric practice? [906261]

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We have many discussions with the Government and state of Israel about the issues recently in Gaza. Although it is right for Israel to protect itself, aid workers and medical workers should never be a target for attack.