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Topical Questions

Volume 654: debated on Wednesday 13 February 2019

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.]

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.

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?

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

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.

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)

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.

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

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.

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?

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.

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

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.

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)

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.

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?

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.