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House of Commons Hansard
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International Development
13 February 2019
Volume 654

The Secretary of State was asked—

Jordan: London Initiative 2019

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1. What her priorities are for the London initiative 2019 on opportunities for growth and development in Jordan. [R] [909191]

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Mr Speaker, I hope you will allow me to pay a brief tribute to the Department for International Development staff and partners who were caught up in the terrorist attack in Nairobi last month. Some of them, including a British national, lost their lives that day. Despite the trauma of that event, our staff immediately joined the crisis response team, and I want to thank them, as I am sure the whole House wishes to do, for all that they did.

The Prime Minister will lead the London initiative on 28 February to unlock growth, jobs and investment in Jordan. The UK is convening an international coalition of businesses and political leaders to support Jordan’s stability and self-reliance, generating jobs for all, but, in particular, for young people, women and refugees.

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May I associate myself with the comments that the Secretary of State made about DFID staff caught up in the attack in Nairobi?

I was pleased to hear that the Prime Minister will be leading the UK-Jordan initiative at the end of this month. The Secretary of State mentions the importance of the inclusion of refugees and Jordanian women in the labour market. Will the Government be taking steps to draw to the attention of the Jordanians the barriers women face, including those relating to transport, access to childcare and a sense of physical safety?

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First, I thank the hon. Lady for her interest in this tremendously important conference, which is a real turning point for Jordan. We are absolutely looking to secure investment in that country to enable the public funds to build that infrastructure to support everyone getting to work. Unless women and refugees are included, we will fail in that task.

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May I declare an interest, having recently joined the hon. Member for Stretford and Urmston (Kate Green) on a visit with Oxfam in Jordan? I very much welcome the London initiative. Will urgent steps be taken to take account of the fact that youth unemployment in the country is now some 38%? Not only is there a high level of female unemployment, but the participation rate of women in the workforce in Jordan is even lower than that in Saudi Arabia. Will those urgent objectives be at the heart of what the Secretary of State is trying to achieve?

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I can reassure my hon. Friend that that will absolutely be the case. This issue has been a focus for me personally on my visits to Jordan, and I will be focusing on it at the London conference.

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Does the Secretary of State realise that one thing holding back development in Jordan is the number of children and young people killed on the roads there? I spoke at a conference in Jordan recently, where we looked at this area. Jordan is one of the better countries in the middle east and north Africa on this, but we need some action to be taken to stop children and young people being killed in Jordan in this way.

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I pay tribute to the work the hon. Gentleman has done on this issue. We often think about disease and other such killers of children, but road traffic accidents take an enormous number of lives—I believe that they are the biggest killer of individuals in developing countries. He will know that we have a new programme looking at this, and we will continue to lean in on the issue.

Female Genital Mutilation

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2. What steps she is taking to help eradicate female genital mutilation in developing countries. [909192]

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The UK leads the world in our support to the Africa-led movement to end FGM. In 2018, we announced the biggest single investment worldwide to date by any international donor: a UK aid package of a further £50 million to tackle this issue across the most affected countries in Africa.

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I am sure that I speak for all Members in expressing disappointment that the FGM Bill did not receive its Second Reading in the House last week. I am pleased to see that the Government have committed to bring the Bill back in Government time. Will my hon. Friend confirm that her door always remains open for any Member of this House who wishes to discuss what the Government are doing to stop this appalling crime?

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I am pleased to be able to confirm that, and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, wearing her gender equalities hat, has reached out to my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Sir Christopher Chope). She hopes to sit down with him and other colleagues should they wish to discuss this important issue.

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Since I got my Female Genital Mutilation Bill through Parliament in 2003, we have had only one successful prosecution. That is a disgrace and I feel embarrassed talking about the eradication of FGM in other countries, but I wish to ask about what is being done in Kurdistan. My past experience leads me to believe there is a problem with FGM there, so are we tackling it?

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The right hon. Lady is absolutely right to highlight the fact that FGM happens in many countries in the world. The DFID funding that I mentioned and the work that we have been doing has been focused specifically on 17 African countries. In that regard, I am pleased that 8,000 communities, representing more than 24 million people, have pledged to give up the practice.

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Will the Minister tell us why the Government have not introduced legislation—they control the House and could get it through—rather than leave it to the vagaries of a private Member’s Bill? If they are interested in it, they should do something about it.

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My hon. Friend would lead me down paths that are best left to the Government Whips and the Ministry of Justice, but the UK does of course believe that we can work with some of the citizen-led movements in Africa to change perceptions around FGM.

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The Minister alluded to the Africa-led initiative, which has been positive, but will she not undertake to be much more emphatic in trying to co-ordinate an Africa-wide initiative to eliminate this vile practice?

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The hon. Gentleman is right to highlight the fact that this is a worldwide effort. We focus our efforts in countries where the practice is most widespread and where there is the greatest opportunity to work with the African-led movements to really effect change on the ground.

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We have just had the first prosecution for FGM in this country; what more can this country do to prevent families from taking their girls abroad to have FGM done to them?

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My hon. Friend is absolutely right that we have done a lot in this country to change domestic legislation—for example, to put reporting requirements on parts of the NHS. One must pay tribute to the tireless campaigning by courageous activists, both here and overseas, in respect of changing the practice and changing communities on the ground.

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Everyone would agree that we need to tackle female genital mutilation. The Minister will be aware that the private Member’s Bill on the issue was scuppered. In the light of that, does she understand that confidence in the Government’s willingness to deal with the issue has been shaken? It is important that they now move quickly to restore that confidence.

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I encourage the hon. Lady to continue with that confidence. We can point to a strong track record of working on this issue, not only in the UK but with some of the African-led initiatives in African countries. She will have heard it announced during the urgent question on Monday that the Chief Whip has committed to taking forward the UK legislation as quickly as possible.

Yemen

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3. What recent assessment she has made of the level of humanitarian assistance required in Yemen. [909193]

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8. What recent assessment she has made of the humanitarian situation in Yemen. [909198]

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Yemen remains the world’s largest humanitarian crisis, with nearly 80% of the population requiring humanitarian assistance. The UN is set to launch a new $4 billion appeal for 2019 later this month, at a pledging conference at which I hope to represent the UK. The UK is providing £170 million this financial year, including enough food for the equivalent of 4 million Yemenis for a month.

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More than 3 million people have been internally displaced and thousands killed in Yemen, mainly as a result of the Saudi coalition bombing campaign. Last year, the cholera outbreak affected 200,000 people. More than 22 million people are reliant on humanitarian aid and millions of children are unable to go to school. When will the Government stop selling arms to Saudi Arabia and work towards an end to the conflict?

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The situation in relation to the conflict has moved on a degree with the fragile peace agreed in the Stockholm agreement. That fragile ceasefire and redeployment of forces continues, as a result of which the humanitarian situation is improving. The latest figures I have show that in January commercial and humanitarian imports via sea, over land and via container met 94% of monthly food requirements and 83% of monthly fuel requirements. The situation in Yemen was caused not by the Saudi coalition but by a Houthi-led insurgency.

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Before Christmas, there was much discussion about the ceasefire around the port of Hodeidah and the prospects that it would bring for improving the humanitarian situation in Yemen. What further progress does the Minister expect to be made in helping those who have suffered for so long in Yemen?

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The ports of Hodeidah and Salif are open and they are taking in more ships. My hon. Friend is absolutely right that the test of whether the political agreement in Stockholm is having an impact will be measured by success on the humanitarian front. We will continue to do all we can to support the UN efforts to find peace in Yemen.

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The Stockholm agreement is indeed very welcome, but the Minister is right that it is also fragile. One of the features is the World Food Programme supplies, to which it is hard to get access. Will he update the House on the prospects of getting that access because the head of the Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs has said that there is a risk that the food will simply rot and therefore not be available for consumption?

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The hon. Gentleman is right. I spoke to the World Food Programme director, David Beasley, last week. The situation is that it has been difficult to get to the Red sea mills because of mining. There is a concern that some food not only has rotted, but has been stolen by illicit elements, so we have to find out what is there. The continuing progress in relation to peace will make access to those mills more likely, and we will continue to press for that.

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I welcome what my right hon. Friend and his Department are doing in this tragic situation. What more can the UK do to make sure that children in particular who are suffering so much are helped more?

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I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for his words. The best thing that we can do is, first, support the negotiations to ensure that the conflict comes to an end—that is the best thing. Secondly, we should keep up our support for humanitarian aid and assistance, which has been significant. In relation to the children, we should back things such as a nationwide measles and rubella vaccination campaign, which is under way and which will target 13.3 million children in Yemen between 9 and 14 February. That demonstrates how much we owe to the aid workers who are involved there and also the contribution that the UK is making.

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There is no doubt that the Minister has done a huge amount of work on this issue, but the key is the resumption of the peace talks. The parties last met on 18 December. When will they meet again? That will unlock the corridor and unlock the humanitarian needs.

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The right hon. Gentleman of course knows as much about Yemen as anyone in the House. The peace talks are built on confidence, and the next round will take place when UN envoy Martin Griffiths believes that there is sufficient confidence for those talks to proceed. At present, the ceasefire, although fragile, has held. Confidence is building up between the parties, and when the time is right, we will be able to move forward to the next stage.

Infectious Disease Surveillance

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4. What steps her Department is taking to support global surveillance systems for infectious diseases. [909194]

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Infectious disease surveillance is vital to global health security. The UK supports global, regional and national efforts to strengthen surveillance, including through the World Health Organisation, the global fund and the global polio eradication initiative. The Department for International Development’s tackling deadly diseases in Africa programme and Public Health England are helping to strengthen regional and national surveillance capacity.

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The eradication of polio in the next few years represents an incredible achievement of both vaccination and international co-operation, but the infrastructure and staffing of the global polio initiative has provided a lot of the surveillance that helped to detect epidemics such as Ebola. How does the Minister plan to replace the polio resources and ensure that both vaccination and surveillance continues?

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The hon. Lady, who understands this issue very well, is right to point to the importance of the global polio eradication initiative, which has been the bedrock for disease eradication efforts. Innovative approaches have helped to provide timely and high-quality surveillance. What we need to do is ensure, through both in-country programmes and the work being done through WHO, that surveillance on polio does not slacken off because of potential eradication, and we will continue to do that.

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What potential is there for the work that the Department did last year with the Met Office, NASA and other US scientists on cholera in Yemen to be scaled up and used in other crisis situations to prevent the spread of disease?

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My right hon. Friend points to a remarkable innovation that, recognising the importance of wet and damp weather for the spread of cholera, used the resources of the Met Office to ensure that accurate support was provided in areas of risk. It is a very good use of modern technology, which we intend to see replicated elsewhere.

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The Minister will be aware of some of the excellent work done by researchers in universities across the UK, including the University of St Andrews and the University of Dundee, in tackling illnesses such as AIDS, TB and malaria. Given the drop in aid to health spending recently, will he commit to ensuring a fully funded global fund?

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We have been one of the leading donors to the global fund, and there is no suggestion that that should end. My father was a graduate of St Andrews and was also at Dundee, and we will be making sure that good research facilities remain key to the United Kingdom’s support efforts.

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I associate the Labour party with the Secretary of State’s comments in respect of DFID staff in Nairobi.

We in the United Kingdom are rightly proud of our publicly run national health service, and it is thanks to our incredible NHS staff that we are able to effectively tackle the causes and symptoms of infectious diseases here. Does the Minister agree that this experience should underpin the Department’s work on health and that our overseas development work should therefore focus explicitly on supporting Governments and citizens to invest in their own universal healthcare systems?

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Absolutely. Much of our work in global health is designed to support particular projects to eradicate individual diseases, but it is also crucial that we support and sustain health systems where they are. These health systems will do an incredibly valuable job in looking for the sort of illnesses and infectious diseases, such as antimicrobial resistance, that could spread around the world.

Prosperity Fund

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5. What steps her Department is taking to ensure that aid spent through the prosperity fund complies with her Department’s duty to reduce levels of poverty. [909195]

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The primary purpose of the prosperity fund is to reduce poverty through sustainable and inclusive economic growth in middle-income countries. Other Departments are responsible for ensuring that their overseas development programmes from this fund meet the requirements of the International Development Act 2002.

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Climate change will hit the world’s poorest people hardest, so why on earth is 29% of the energy component of the prosperity fund being spent on oil and gas extraction, including supporting fracking in China?

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I know that the hon. Gentleman shares my commitment to doing what we can to tackle the incredibly important issue of climate change. We should be wholeheartedly supporting opportunities that work as climate change initiatives to move power beyond coal.

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What a pleasure to call a west country knight, no less—Sir Gary Streeter.

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I strongly support DFID Ministers’ approach to the prosperity fund, which looks to promote economic reform in middle-income countries, where 70% of the world’s poorest people live. Are not trade and economic reform still the most effective ways to lift people out of poverty?

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My hon. Friend is absolutely correct that the way in which the world will end poverty is by having sustainable and inclusive economic growth. To achieve the sustainable development goals, we need to crowd in not just development finance, but $2.5 trillion annually for development.

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Alleviating poverty should be at the core of everything that DFID does. As such, I am sure that the Secretary of State will be just as deeply concerned as I was to see the former Foreign Secretary throw his weight behind a report published this week that calls on changing the Department’s purpose from poverty reduction to further

“the nation’s overall strategic goals”.

Will the Minister take this opportunity to confirm that the Department will not become a subsidiary of the Foreign Office and that the 0.7% of GNI will be firmly committed to poverty reduction?

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Yes, I can confirm that that is the Government’s policy.

Leaving the EU: Developing Countries

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6. What discussions she has had with the Secretary of State for International Trade on the effect on the economies of developing countries of the UK leaving the EU. [909196]

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Our Departments are working together to ensure that development stays at the heart of UK trade policy. For example, we are creating a trade preference scheme that will continue to provide the same level of market access to about 70 countries as is provided through the EU’s generalised scheme of preference.

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As we learned today that only six of the promised 40 trade deals will actually be in place by the end of March, it seems that the International Trade Secretary is in competition with the Transport Secretary for who can do the worst job. What assurance can this Secretary of State give to the House that we will see full impact assessments on the social, environmental and human rights impacts of any trade deals before they come into force?

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What the hon. Lady says is not the case. We are looking at the EPAs—economic partnership agreements—and other arrangements. The numbers she gave are not accurate. Our first priority is obviously trade continuity, and after that we will then be able to introduce the UK’s trade preference scheme, which will grant duty-free, quota-free access to 48 least-developed countries, and grant generous tariff reductions to about a further 25.

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Is it not an absolute disgrace that coffee producers in the developing world are, at the moment, not allowed to do the value-added bits of putting coffee into packaging, selling and marketing it, and all the rest of it? Under EU rules, that has to be done within the EU. Brexit will enable those countries now to do the value-added bits in their own countries, thereby being of huge benefit to developing countries.

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I could not agree more with my hon. Friend. We want people to be able to trade their way out of poverty, and it is high time that we walked the walk as well as talked the talk.

Topical Questions

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T1. If she will make a statement on her departmental responsibilities. [909206]

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I am sure that the whole House will be deeply concerned to see the distressing images of the suffering of the Venezuelan people, with the UN estimating that 4 million people are suffering from malnutrition. UK aid will deliver an additional £6.5 million aid package focused on dealing with the most severe health and nutrition difficulties. We have had staff deployed in the region last year and will keep our humanitarian efforts under review. I would call on all actors to ensure that we have unhindered humanitarian access. [Interruption.]

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I understand the predictable air of anticipation in the Chamber just before Prime Minister’s questions, but I would remind the House that we are discussing the plight of some of the most vulnerable people on the face of the planet. I think some respect is in order.

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Indeed, Mr Speaker, and there are few parts of the world that see more vulnerable people than Gaza. Medical Aid for Palestinians reports that since March last year at least 250 Palestinians have been killed as part of Israel’s use of force against the Great March of Return protests. Among them were three health workers, killed by Israeli forces while trying to reach, treat and evacuate wounded demonstrators. A further 600 health workers have been injured. What are our Government doing to ensure the safety of health workers in Gaza and to hold the Israeli Government to account for these actions?

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I look forward to reading the right hon. Gentleman’s treatise in the Official Report tomorrow.

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The right hon. Gentleman will know that my right hon. Friend the Minister for the Middle East does as he asks on a regular basis. With regard to the humanitarian work that we are doing, he will know that we have stepped up our offer—in particular, looking at providing additional medical support. We will continue to do that.

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T5. Will the Minister ensure that her Department’s education policy and financial decisions prioritise making sure that all children have an opportunity to learn, as recommended in the Send my Friend to School coalition’s new report? [909211]

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I know that my hon. Friend will want to tell the schoolchildren of Dudley, who are supporting this campaign, of the great work that is done through UK Aid, which has ensured that some 7 million children have had access to a decent education.

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Why does the Secretary of State believe that the UK’s commitment to spending 0.7% of national income on aid is unsustainable?

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I thank the hon. Gentleman for allowing me to remind the House that it was under a Conservative-led Government that the commitment to 0.7% was introduced, and it is a Conservative Government who have retained that commitment. What we want to do in future, though, is look at maintaining that with public funds but reducing the burden on the taxpayer.

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I ask that because the former Foreign Secretary has called for the Department to be closed, and the Secretary of State has said nothing. Her party colleagues have called for aid to be redefined away from poverty reduction, and she has said nothing. Is it not the sad truth that Conservative Members who are now circling the Prime Minister know that their leadership prospects are buoyed by appealing to the tiny number of Tory party members who hate aid as much as they want to bring back capital punishment? Why should anyone trust a Government who have pushed 14 million of their own citizens into poverty to stand up for the world’s poorest people?

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They should trust me as the Secretary of State and as someone who has been an aid worker. They should trust this Government because we introduced the policy and are retaining it. The hon. Gentleman mischaracterises the comments of certain colleagues. For example, the former Foreign Secretary has not said that he wishes to abandon the 0.7%. I encourage the hon. Gentleman to talk about the global goals at the Dispatch Box. We want to deliver them, and to do so, we need additional funding of $2.5 trillion going into developing countries. That is what this Government are focused on delivering.

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T7. What work is the Department doing to ensure that our independent trade policy will lead the way globally in alleviating poverty? [909213]

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Seventy of my staff are embedded in the Department for International Trade, forming a new post-Brexit trade offer, and a great deal of that effort is looking at what we can do to enable developing countries to trade their way out of poverty.

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T2. It has been reported that up to 300,000 Venezuelans could die if aid does not reach them shortly. Given that the Maduro regime will not allow aid from America, what can Britain do politically and practically to help Venezuelans on the ground? [909207]

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I thank the hon. Gentleman for raising that critical issue. The Foreign Office is doing a tremendous amount and is meeting its counterparts in not only the US and Canada but in the region to see what more we can do. We stand ready to do more, and what we do will be driven by what we find on the ground. He will understand that this is sensitive, because some of our partners with whom we work in the region are very vulnerable if we identify precisely who they are and what they are doing, but I assure him and the House that we will stand by the people of Venezuela.

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My right hon. Friend will know that the restrictive common agricultural policy has damaged agriculture in Africa. After Brexit, what can we do to stimulate trade, particularly with farmers in sub-Saharan Africa?

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I am pleased to reassure my hon. Friend that there is already a lot that we can do. There are many products, such as avocados and cashew nuts, that we simply cannot grow in the UK, and I know that UK consumers and African producers will benefit from growth in those areas in years to come.