Skip to main content

International Development

Volume 649: debated on Wednesday 21 November 2018

The Secretary of State was asked—

Rohingya

We have provided £129 million towards alleviating the crisis in Bangladesh since August last year and helped to reach nearly 1 million people with life-saving support. We will continue to be a leader in the international response, supporting the Government of Bangladesh to meet the ongoing needs of the Rohingya refugees and host communities.

The first official day of repatriating thousands of Rohingya refugees to Myanmar ended in failure last week, after no one agreed to voluntarily return. In that context, is the Department constructing its aid programme to reflect the fact that the vast majority of Rohingya refugees will be in Bangladesh for the foreseeable future?

I am pleased to say that the Government of Bangladesh have respected the principle of voluntary return and have stated, quite rightly, that they will continue to do so. Our planning approach remains that refugees and host communities will require support in Bangladesh for some time, even when credible voluntary returns processes begin.

The plight of the Rohingya people is the worst regional crisis since the Bangladesh famine of 1974, which led to 1.5 million deaths. The UK’s response has been outstanding. Can the Secretary of State say something about the pressure we are putting on other countries to meet their commitments? What is her view of the supine conduct of Aung San Suu Kyi?

My hon. Friend is quite right to point out that in addition to our own funding, we continue to ask other international partners to lean in. Generous international support has ensured that the current international appeal, which continues to the end of this year, is now funded to 72%. However, this is likely to be a protracted crisis, and sustained funding will be needed. What every refugee wants is to return home, and clearly the Burmese Government have a key role in providing assurances to people who want to go back home.

Many of the babies conceived last summer as a result of rape have now been born, and conditions in the camps are still abysmal. What post-natal support is being given for the babies and mothers who have been left with nothing?

This is one of the things that the UK in particular has been able to do. We have provided the lion’s share of the pre-birth maternity services, which ranges from the midwives who were there providing support and caring for those infants, to healthcare, vaccinations and ensuring that they are prioritised and in better facilities. Most of those births were during peak cyclone season.

The chair of the UN fact-finding mission in Myanmar has told the Security Council that the situation today is “an ongoing genocide”. Meanwhile, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees says that the conditions in the country are

“not yet conducive for returns”.

Non-governmental organisations on the ground echo these grave concerns about the pending repatriations of refugees back to Myanmar. Will the Secretary of State tell us what the Government are doing to ensure that no refugee is forcibly returned to Myanmar?

On the point that the hon. Lady makes about accountability and justice, it is right that we must look at all options, including the International Criminal Court. Obviously, it is vital that we work with the Bangladeshi Government to ensure that more appropriate facilities are put in place for people and that the main camp is broken down. A huge amount of work has gone into ensuring that the refugees there know what their rights are, and although earlier it was described as a “failure”, actually the success of that failed repatriation was that nobody got on that bus, or felt obliged to or was coerced into getting on that bus.

We understand that the Government are concerned and we all share the concern deeply, so does the Secretary of State agree that the UNHCR is the best-placed agency to co-ordinate support to refugees on the ground? If so, is the Secretary of State concerned that the agency has reportedly not been consulted or informed about the decision to start repatriations, and what is the Department doing to address this?

This is incredibly important. We have long made the case—not just in Bangladesh, but in Burma—for the UN agencies to be given access and, obviously, the information that they need to co-ordinate things properly. We will continue to make the case for that. We all need to work together to make sure that these refugees are taken care of, and that eventually they will be able to go back home.

Rohingya Women and Girls

2. What steps the Government are taking to tackle gender-based violence against Rohingya women and girls. (907726)

The United Kingdom has prioritised protecting and safeguarding women and girls in the speed and scale of our response to the Rohingya crisis. Our latest funding to the crisis will reach over 250,000 people affected by sexual and gender-based violence with targeted training, psychosocial support, and sexual and reproductive health treatment.

Hundreds of incidents of gender-based violence are being reported each week in Rohingya refugee camps. In line with the recommendations in the 2015 global report on Security Council resolution 1325, will the Minister guarantee that all future funding for the Rohingya response allocates at least 15% to gender in the emergency programming?

We have given ring-fenced funding to protect women and girls—indeed, over and above the recommendation that the hon. Gentleman has raised—which forms part of our latest £70 million of support. We have provided 30 children-friendly spaces, 19 women’s centres and case management for over 2,000 survivors of sexual and gender-based violence. The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to raise this. We share his concern, and we are—practically—doing something about it.

What practical action is being taken to ensure that the infrastructure at Cox’s Bazar improves the safety of Rohingya women and girls?

My hon. Friend will know that if someone goes there and sees the nature of the camp, they will realise that over a period of time improvements have been made to ensure better safety. Practical issues such as lighting, making sure that people are safe at night, is an important part of that. However, there are always concerns that there is more to be done. We have directed our efforts not just to supporting infrastructure, but to practical work with clinics and safe spaces for women and girls. Above all, this is about making sure that people have somewhere to go if they fear there is any risk, but sadly, too many people in the camps report that, as time goes on, this will still be something they need help to counter.

Last month, I attended a fundraising event held by the North East Rohingya Solidarity Campaign, which raised over £7,000 to help establish a centre for women and girls to protect those refugees from trafficking, abuse and forced prostitution. Will the Minister outline what more the Government could do to support our local communities across the UK who are standing so much in solidarity with the people described as the “most persecuted on Earth”?

First, I thank the hon. Lady for her questions and comments, and I very much support what she has been doing in her local community. With our small charities fund, Aid Match, this all goes to work to support local communities who are doing what they are doing, and to support the charities that are engaged with the work, where the United Kingdom is also providing the funding. All these things make a contribution to safe spaces, and to giving those who are running the camp the support they need to counter what they fear will be continuing issues of domestic violence and attempted trafficking in the camps the longer they are there.

UK Aid

3. What steps her Department is taking to ensure that UK aid is allocated to where it is most needed. (907727)

7. What steps her Department is taking to ensure that UK aid is allocated to where it is most needed. (907731)

UK aid rightly makes a huge difference in crisis or disaster situations, but what steps are taken to ensure that it is deployed most effectively in those circumstances?

Of course, that is something we have to be constantly vigilant about in all our spending, but I draw my hon. Friend’s attention to the fact that we were successful in changing the OECD’s rules, so if a hurricane hits a relatively prosperous country and brings its income down, we can spend aid there as well.

Last week, Hamas terrorists in Gaza fired as many as 460 rockets towards Israeli civilian communities. Does the Minister share my concern that Hamas’s continued misuse of international aid worsens the suffering of the people of Gaza? How can she be sure that UK taxpayers’ money is reaching those who need it most?

Of course the UK Government strongly condemn Hamas’s rocket firing and are deeply concerned about the civilian casualties. My right hon. Friend is absolutely right that the UK has zero tolerance and needs to be constantly vigilant. We do not fund Hamas, of course, but we need to be extremely careful to ensure that UK aid reaches the intended beneficiaries.

11. Because of DFID’s priority to get money to where it is most needed, this country has committed vast resources to the conflict in Syria. In addition, the Home Office says that about 10,000 Syrians are now in Britain. Is DFID prepared to bring the voices of those 10,000 Syrians in Britain together and hear from them about what they think should now happen in Syria, which is their country after all? (907735)

I pay tribute to the hon. Lady’s consistent campaigning on the issue. She is right to draw attention to the important role that UK aid has played in the humanitarian response in Syria. I am sure that she and other hon. Members will continue to make sure that the voices of Syrian refugees in the region, and of those Syrians who have found a home here, will continue to be heard in this place.

A Save the Children report, published today, estimates that 85,000 children have died in Yemen in the last three years, which is equivalent to the entire population of under-fives in the City of Birmingham. Nobody doubts the Government’s commitment to give aid to Yemen, but the aid is not getting through. What can be done to make sure that the people of Yemen get that money?

I pay tribute to the right hon. Gentleman’s work on the issue. We have seen the important report today that drew that conclusion. He will be aware that my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary will make a statement on Yemen later today. The right hon. Gentleman can be assured that the UK Government are doing everything we can, not only to fund the humanitarian response, but to resolve the logistical challenges that face those who want to deliver humanitarian aid.

Yes; I reassure my right hon. Friend that children in conflict zones—there are so many of them—will continue to be a priority. I reassure hon. Members, who may have read reports that the figure was as low as 2.5%, that we do not recognise that figure. Our response to protecting children in conflict zones goes way beyond that and forms a core part of what we do.

Order. I gently point out to colleagues that we have very little time on an occasion such as this.

My hon. Friend the Member for Dundee West (Chris Law) is travelling with the International Development Committee. Will the Minister confirm the Government’s policy on the UK’s continued membership of UNESCO? Does she accept that the educational and cultural work of UNESCO, both here and around the world, is of immense value and is a perfectly legitimate use of her Department’s budget? How would withdrawal from UNESCO enhance the Government’s vision of a post-Brexit global Britain?

May I reassure the hon. Gentleman—and perhaps encourage him not to believe everything he reads in the newspapers—that the UK continues to be a member of UNESCO? We continue to look to UNESCO to follow through on the reforms it promised to undertake. We continue to work with it on that.

In May, an International Development Committee report on official development assistance found that increasing amounts spent by other Departments had

“negligible targeting towards helping the poorest and most vulnerable.”

Just last week, the energy watchdog Platform reported UK aid being used to help oil, gas and fracking industries with their overseas market expansion. Does the Minister understand the growing concerns about the creeping, changing nature of the UK aid budget under this Government?

The hon. Gentleman is part of a Front-Bench team that does not seem to believe in the role of the private sector at all. The Government believe that to reach the sustainable development goals—some $2.5 trillion is needed to achieve them—we need to be able to crowd in investors into other sectors. I can reassure the hon. Gentleman that we continue to put significant funding—some £5.8 billion—towards ensuring that more people around the world have access to clean energy.

Palestine Refugees

4. What recent representations her Department has made to the (a) EU and (b) World Bank on funding for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine refugees in the near east. (907728)

The UK has made official-level representations to the EU and World Bank over the past three months on the position of UNRWA. We will continue to work with UNRWA and our international partners to help ensure essential services are maintained, despite the United States’ withdrawal of funding.

Given that President Trump can now in no way be considered an honest broker in this matter, is it not time that Britain stepped up to the plate and led? Will the Government consider hosting a donor conference to make up the shortfall in funding? Further, will they support my Palestinian statehood Bill, which I will be introducing to the House later today?

On the hon. Lady’s second point, she will be aware that the recognition of Palestine remains a matter for the United Kingdom’s judgment in the best interests of peace and the peace process, and we hold to that. On support for UNRWA, we continue to work with other donors and urge them to step in to assist in filling the gap in funding. We have done that with other states and we are doing that with the EU and the World Bank. We will continue to do so. We have increased our contribution this year to £57.5 million to help vulnerable Palestinians in relation to health and education. We will continue to support UNRWA.

In June last year, UNRWA discovered a major terrorist tunnel under two of its schools in Gaza. What support can the UK give to UNRWA to ensure that its neutrality is not violated and that its resources do not get misappropriated?

Bearing in mind UNRWA’s particular position, particularly in Gaza, we know—I have discussed this with senior directors at UNRWA—it is absolutely essential that it maintains the integrity of its operation. When others have abused that in trying to disguise schools as places where terrorist activity could be hidden, it is essential that it deals with that. We will continue to give it every support in finding that out.

Devolution

5. Whether the Government have plans to devolve functions of her Department to the devolved Administrations. (907729)

14. Whether the Government have plans to devolve functions of her Department to the devolved Administrations. (907739)

The Government have no plans to devolve functions of the Department for International Development to the devolved Administrations, but we are giving people in all parts of the UK more control over how aid money is spent.

Given the reported comments about the Secretary of State’s attitude to UNESCO, the UK Government’s confused position shows their real attitude to aid spending. Given that Scotland wants to remain part of UNESCO, should she not devolve aid spending to Scotland so that we can make our own decisions?

In line with the answer that the Minister of State, Department for International Development, my hon. Friend the Member for West Worcestershire (Harriett Baldwin), gave some moments ago, the Government’s position on UNESCO has not changed, nor has mine. We continue to monitor the quality of the multilaterals that we work with. I have funded new projects with UNESCO, looking particularly at data on education, and we will continue to do that.

Scotland has a long tradition of international solidarity, particularly in responding to crisis situations, such as the recent earthquake in Indonesia. Will the Secretary of State confirm that the UK Government support the current arrangement for devolved Administrations to run international aid development programmes and that her Department has no plans to curtail or undermine these?

I can confirm that, and indeed, we are developing small grant programmes and UK aid match to enable more community groups, as well as Administrations, to contribute to such humanitarian disasters.

I urge the Secretary of State to reject the representations from the party opposite, which will result in duplication, waste and less help to those who need it. Will she also take back control of our budget from the European Union?

This coming Monday will be the last development meeting of the EU that the UK will attend. It is my sincere wish that we will be able to continue working with our EU partners on humanitarian issues and others, but I have said that we will not do this for as long as the EU discriminates against British NGOs and suppliers.

Is it not the case that in developing countries, the brand “UK Aid” is well known and helps to promote soft power? Does my right hon. Friend agree that we should not do anything to mitigate that?

My hon. Friend is right, and the Prime Minister described “UK Aid” as a “badge of hope”. We should be tremendously proud of all that the British public enable us to do.

How important is it that the Minister maintains diligence in ensuring that fraud and corruption are avoided in delivering our aid to those who need it most?

That is absolutely correct. It is not just fraud and corruption and making sure that our programmes are delivering for the people who need them; we also need to help developing nations to crack down on other fraud and corruption going on. There is no point in us putting aid money into or lending money to countries when more of that money is leaving those countries every year.

Topical Questions

Next year, the UK will present a voluntary national review to the United Nations, setting out our progress on meeting the sustainable development goals. The Government welcome this opportunity to present all that we are doing to deliver this ambitious agenda in the UK and around the world. It is a team effort and I am incredibly proud of how so many British businesses, civil society and other groups are helping to achieve those goals. I hope that all hon. Members will encourage their constituents to share their stories during the start of this review process by going to the gov.uk portal.

Last year, Members across the House welcomed DFID’s £3 million of funding aimed at bringing Israelis and Palestinians together. Will my right hon. Friend update the House on the allocation of the funding for those projects to help to bring these groups together?

This invaluable programme is now up and running. It is working in Israel and the Palestinian territories to bring together young leaders and connect them, to work together on reducing tensions on inter-religious sacred sites and to help to tackle a neglected tropical disease, leishmaniasis, by working co-operatively together.

T2. Climatic change is one of the biggest challenges facing humanity. What are the Government doing to protect the world’s poorest? Will they make it a top priority? (907741)

The hon. Gentleman will be pleased to hear that £5.8 billion from our aid budget is to be spent in this area over the years to come and that so far it has helped 47 million people adapt to climate change around the world.

T4. Earlier this month, I visited Kenya as part of the armed forces parliamentary scheme and heard from the defence support there about the work it is doing to tackle al-Shabaab. How is the Department working with the Ministry of Defence to promote peace and prosperity? (907743)

I am so pleased my hon. Friend had the chance to visit Kenya and see that remarkable work. We are working throughout east Africa to ensure a comprehensive approach to defence and security as well as to humanitarian issues across the region.

T3. In the light of yesterday’s horrifying revelations of children being beaten, tortured and starved in Libyan detention centres to which they have been returned after trying to cross the Mediterranean, will the Government increase the number of safe and legal routes to sanctuary using refugee resettlement? (907742)

The situation in Libya remains extremely difficult. These abuses that come to light remind us all that Libya cannot be forgotten and that the efforts to reduce conflict and create peace must continue, as happened in Palermo last week. We are spending £75 million on safer migration routes to help tackle some of these crises, and we continue to do all we can to get people out of the difficult areas, but it requires international co-operation.

T6. Can the Secretary of State update the House on the UK’s contribution to eliminating polio around the world, and will she join me in welcoming the efforts of Bramhall and Woodford Rotary through its Purple4Polio fundraising campaign? (907745)

We should praise the work of British Rotarians and Rotarians around the world for the progress they are making on eradicating this disease. When it is achieved—and it will be—it will be only the second time in humanitarian history that it has been done.

T5. The Secretary of State might be aware that the greatest killer of children and young people in our world is road accidents and the attendant serious injuries. Could we put more money into partnership working with the United Nations and the World Health Organisation to tackle this problem? (907744)

I thank the hon. Gentleman for the long-term campaign work he has done on this. He will know that we have just announced some new programming to mitigate the enormous number of road traffic accidents around the world. It is not just our money but our technical support that is allowing that to happen.

T8. Will the Secretary of State take note of World Vision’s campaign on behalf of children in conflict, “It Takes A World”? (907747)

I will certainly do that. I praise World Vision for the campaign and all the work it does. Children in conflict zones are a priority for my Department, and I would also like to put on the record our thanks to the Evening Standard for its War Child fundraising appeal.

T7. Over 160 British parliamentarians have called on the UK Government to refer the Burmese military to the International Criminal Court. Does the Secretary of State agree that unless we hold them to account for their genocidal intent, it will be impossible to return the Rohingya from Bangladesh to Burma without risking further atrocities? (907746)

The hon. Lady is absolutely right. As I said earlier, we continue to consider all means of holding people to account for these appalling atrocities. As well as other measures, including the recognition of citizens’ rights, justice is a major part of giving people the confidence to return.

Colleagues, Fazila Aswat, who was with our dear and departed colleague Jo Cox when she died, is in the Gallery today. Fazila, we welcome you. [Applause.]