Skip to main content

International Development

Volume 656: debated on Wednesday 20 March 2019

The Secretary of State was asked—


1. What discussions she had with her counterpart in Bangladesh on her recent visit to that country. (909914)

During my time in Bangladesh, I met Ministers to discuss the impact of UK aid across the country and reinforced the UK’s commitment to assisting Bangladesh’s efforts to support both the Rohingya and host communities in Cox’s Bazar.

I have visited Bangladesh and saw not only Rohingya refugee camps, but wider UK aid projects. Does the Secretary of State agree that we have a huge role to play, that this is a good use of UK taxpayers’ money and that we should continue to support people in Bangladesh?

I thank my hon. Friend for visiting Bangladesh. It is incredibly helpful for us to get as many reports as possible about the difference that UK aid is making and about the situation on the ground. He is right that we should be proud of helping 1.6 million children to gain a decent education and providing nearly 900,000 people with sustainable access to clean water and sanitation and 3.7 million children, women and adolescent girls with nutritional interventions.

It is clear that the conditions are not in place for the safe voluntary return of Rohingya refugees to Burma. Did the Secretary of State have an opportunity to discuss with the Bangladeshis the possibility of something akin to the Jordan jobs compact that could benefit not only the Rohingya refugees in Cox’s Bazar but, importantly, the local Bangladeshi community?

Although all the people understandably want to return home, it is important to recognise that they can do so only when the conditions are met, which means that we are in a protracted situation. We have to start thinking about better shelter, jobs and livelihoods for both the Rohingya and the host communities.

Did my right hon. Friend discuss with the Bangladeshi Government what was going to happen to the Rohingya refugees who are being moved from their existing camps to some potentially unsafe places in Bangladesh?

I did discuss those things, as my hon. Friend would expect, and we are sceptical about some of the Bangladeshi Government’s ideas. We watched presentations about the island and the investment made there, but that will only take 100,000 people, and there are many more at Cox’s Bazar. We therefore need to consider other options for how to support Bangladesh in managing the protracted crisis.

The United Nations convention on the rights of the child states that every child has the right to an education, but that is simply not the case for many thousands of Rohingya children in camps in Bangladesh. What conversations has the Secretary of State had with her counterparts to ensure that adequate educational facilities and opportunities are available to Rohingya children?

I did raise the specifics. Both Bangladesh and the UK are doing a tremendous amount, but we need other donors to lean in and support such initiatives. However, we are pleased that UK aid is making a profound difference, particularly for children with disabilities.

Global Fund

2. What (a) preparations she has made for and (b) plans she has to attend the Global Fund’s sixth replenishment conference in October 2019. (909915)

The Global Fund plays a critical role in the fight against AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria, having helped to save 27 million lives to date. The UK is considering the Global Fund’s investment case ahead of determining our contribution to a successful sixth replenishment, and senior UK attendance will be determined in due course.

I saw the devastating impact that HIV/AIDS, TB and malaria can have on communities during the four years that I led health services on the Uganda-Democratic Republic of the Congo border. Although the UK’s contribution has saved 2.3 million lives, progress is stalling, and the Global Fund is asking countries to increase their contributions by 15%. Will the Minister meet the all-party parliamentary groups on HIV and AIDS, on malaria and neglected tropical diseases and on global tuberculosis to discuss the UK’s response?

First, the House should pay tribute to the hon. Gentleman, who is one of a number of Members who have a background in that sort of work. We are in the hon. Gentleman’s debt for the experience that he has brought to the House’s discussions on the work that needs to be done. We recognise the need to keep the fund at a reasonable level, but we want to do even more, and I will of course meet him and other colleagues to discuss the matter.

If the Minister does go to the replenishment conference in France, will he share with other donors the excellent new UK initiative of an unlimited small charities challenge fund, which is a very real way to tackle some of these preventable and challenging diseases?

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has done invaluable work in boosting the small charities fund. It will indeed be more accessible for charities around the country that are doing great work in these fields, and we see it as a valuable addition to the work of DFID and the UK’s international contribution.

11. The UK’s efforts to tackle HIV/AIDS are to be welcomed, yet progress remains slow in turning the tide of infections and deaths from AIDS-related illnesses. What further action will the Government be taking to strengthen public healthcare in developing countries, to improve prevention and access to treatment? (909924)

The hon. Lady is absolutely right. It is very important that HIV/AIDS is not seen as an issue of yesterday. I was present at the Amsterdam conference last year to make the case that there are still target groups that need more support. Sustaining and ensuring that countries’ local health systems have sustainable methods of dealing with this is a fundamental of DFID’s global health work, and it is essential that this work continues.

As chair of the all-party parliamentary group on malaria and neglected tropical diseases, I have seen the excellent work that the Global Fund has supported over the years, but local contributions from endemic countries are incredibly important. Will the Minister enlighten on whether those contributions have increased over recent years so that they can be put alongside the contributions through the Global Fund?

My hon. Friend is correct that national Governments have a significant responsibility regarding their contributions. Those contributions are increasing, but the question of mainstreaming that support so that it comes into their sustainable health systems naturally has to be considered. We will be working with other donors to boost the fund, and national Governments will have an increasing responsibility as time goes on, but they will not be left to deal with this situation alone.

There is some concern that the figure set out in the investment case by the Global Fund may not represent what is actually needed to get the world back on track, to meet sustainable development goal 3 and to end the epidemics of AIDS, TB and malaria. What avenues are the UK Government exploring ahead of the next replenishment conference to ensure that the global response meets what is actually needed?

We are the second largest donor to the current replenishment, and this is having a significant impact. We are conscious of the need to review the investment case carefully, and we are working with other donors to ensure that it does meet the challenges. Given that a number of different replenishments are going on at the same time, we are bringing our thinking together this year to ensure that United Kingdom support is well spent and covers the replenishments appropriately.

We can all agree on continued UK support for tackling the world’s deadliest diseases, but with so much Brexit uncertainty, the sector is rightly concerned about the future of UK aid and our role as a world leader in global health. I am sure that those in the sector have taken some reassurance from the Secretary of State’s comments on Monday that they should

“calm down and chill out”.

With almost weekly attacks on the Secretary of State’s Department from her own colleagues, and the Department losing 170 staff due to Brexit chaos, it is difficult to know what would be a bigger danger to UK aid—a no-deal Brexit or a Tory leadership challenge. Perhaps the Minister can dissociate himself, once and for all, from attempts to water down the 0.7% of UK aid from public funds.

Good try, Dan. It was the Conservative party that brought forward the 0.7% commitment, and it is a Conservative Government who have worked it through. I entirely understand the hon. Gentleman’s point; it was a good try. The Government are enormously committed to the delivery of aid, to ensuring that aid is constantly reviewed and does the job, to the 0.7% and to the independence of the Department for International Development, so that it remains a self-standing part of the Government. The hon. Gentleman need have no fears. If we wants to avoid the worries of Brexit, perhaps he might vote for the deal.

10. Does my right hon. Friend agree that we are in a position to make ambitious pledges both to the Global Fund and to Gavi, precisely because we kept our promise on the global stage to meet and increase our aid spending, and will he assure the House that the Government have absolutely no intention to water down, dilute or walk away from our promises? (909923)

My right hon. Friend is absolutely correct—no, there is not. He speaks of the Gavi replenishment, which is again important this year. That refers to global vaccination, which we will of course maintain our support for and position on. I hope that the whole House unites in combating the anti-vaccination campaigns that are taking place in too many parts of the world. As someone who had the benefit of my father’s own polio vaccinations to me as a child, vaccination is very personal to me. We all need to keep it up—and thanks, Dad.

Global Warming

Climate change is a major threat to achieving the sustainable development goals, and tackling it is a strategic priority for the Government and for my Department. The Government are delivering £5.8 billion in international climate finance to help developing countries to reduce emissions and to manage the impact of climate change.

Last Friday, thousands of children took to the streets, including in my own constituency, because they know that we have only 12 years left to make a difference on climate change. So why is the Department still spending money through its prosperity fund on expanding the oil and gas sectors in several countries where that fund is active?

I welcome the opportunity that the interest young people are showing in climate change gives us to highlight the important work that we are doing. I can assure the hon. Gentleman that we do not provide any bilateral assistance for coal-fired power generation, and that CDC, our private sector investment arm, has made no new net investments in coal-fired power since 2012.

Will the Minister update the House on what DFID is doing to follow through on the agreement made at the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in 2018 to support urgent action to address climate change and to increase resilience to prevent 100 million more people from being pushed into poverty by 2030?

The hon. Lady is absolutely right to highlight the importance of commitments that were made last year at the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting. There is an extensive programme of work to follow through on those commitments, not least the £5.8 billion of international climate finance that we have announced so far, which has already helped 47 million people to increase their resilience to climate change. We will be leading that strand at the United Nations summit in September.

The Minister said that there is no net investment from DFID and the CDC. I would be interested to know what she means by that, because we surely need a greater priority on disinvestment in oil and gas extraction. Is she not worried, as I am, about the possibility of stranded assets as a result of investments we have made in the global south?

We have an important role to play in working with our international bilateral partners to encourage the use of clean growth and clean energy. For example, the week before last, we held an event here in support of sustainable development goal 7 to which we invited African Energy Ministers from developing countries to meet some of the people we have in the UK with expertise on renewable energy.

Solar energy is a relatively clean way to generate electricity. What steps are we taking in Africa to help not only people who are off-grid but those who are on-grid?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right that solar energy, particularly in sunny places, is a very good idea. Indeed, there is some very windy coastline where offshore wind energy would also be very helpful. In addition to the event that we held for African Energy Ministers the week before last, we have come up with some remarkable inventions using some of our overseas development assistance—for example, a solar-powered fridge.

Will the Minister outline the steps the Department is taking to improve biodiversity and habitat enhancement, particularly through the recent investment in the Darwin initiative?

My hon. Friend will be glad to know that I work closely with my counterparts at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy to join up the work we are doing to tackle biodiversity, specifically the contribution we have made to the global environment fund.

Mangrove forests are one of the most effective habitats at storing carbon dioxide that might otherwise be released. What are the Government doing to help reduce mangrove forest loss?

We have rebranded them blue forests. We think they are incredibly important, and not only as a way to store carbon; recently it was proven that they also improve resilience to cyclones. They are an important part of the work and have been championed vigorously by the Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk Coastal (Dr Coffey).

Last Friday, on the same day that 1.4 million children went on climate strike across the world, more than 1,000 people were killed in Mozambique and Zimbabwe during Cyclone Idai. Does the Minister agree that young people and those living in the developing world are the least responsible yet will bear the brunt of the climate crisis? If so, does she agree that the UK Government must make climate justice a key part of their climate change strategy?

That is exactly why the UK is proud to be stepping up our work on international climate finance. We have committed £5.8 billion to work with some of the poorer countries in the world, including those affected by this cyclone in Mozambique. There will be an urgent question later, when I will be able to elaborate on the work that the UK has done to help with the situation there.

Our thoughts are with all those affected by the devastation of Cyclone Idai across Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Malawi, and I would like to share with the House the thoughts of—[Interruption.]

Order. There are a lot of noisy private conversations taking place. It is rather discourteous to the hon. Lady, who is highlighting very grave matters.

Our thoughts are with all those affected by the devastation of Cyclone Idai across Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Malawi, and I would like to share with the House the thoughts of Anabela Lemos, a woman at the forefront of the climate justice movement in Mozambique. She says:

“The people of Mozambique need emergency response and support right now to survive this crisis. But this is also a harsh reminder that the climate crisis is upon us and developed countries need to urgently reduce their emissions and stop funding fossil fuels.”

I welcome the relief package for the region issued by DFID, but it is a tragic irony of climate change that those least responsible are the ones who pay the highest price. A key component of the—

Order. This simply is not on. I do not wish to be unkind to the hon. Lady, but I need one sentence with a question mark at the end of it. My apologies for interrupting, but this is far too long.

Will the Minister confirm whether the Government have plans to offer any additional climate finance to support vulnerable communities and countries to cope with the consequences of climate change?

I can confirm that we are already committed to spending £5.8 billion over this spending period, which will involve us being able to increase our finance over the next spending review period. There will be an urgent question later, when we can talk about the specific situation in Mozambique. The report from the Independent Commission for Aid Impact recently said that UK international climate finance is showing a very convincing approach, with some good emerging results in terms of influencing others. We aim to continue with that work.

Topical Questions

I am sure the whole House will wish to join me in expressing our concern at the loss and devastation following the deadly cyclone in southern Africa. In Mozambique, Malawi and Zimbabwe, hundreds of people have lost their lives and many more their homes. We pre-deployed aid, and the first UK relief flight arrived in Mozambique yesterday, delivering family tents and shelter kits for those forced to flee their homes. In Malawi, we are working with the World Food Programme to enable 140,000 people to access food, and in Zimbabwe, we are working with our partners to provide hygiene kits and essential medicines.

I congratulate my right hon. Friend on the aid that is being sent to Venezuela, whose people are facing horrendous shortages of food, electricity and medical supplies. Does she agree that, as well as sending aid, we need to send a message from both sides of this House that the failed hard-left socialist policies being pursued by that Government will always lead to economic ruin, wherever they are applied?

This is a tragic situation. It is a man-made crisis, and we are doing everything we can to support the response through the Lima Group. My hon. Friend is right. This is why it is important to remember that keeping economies strong is absolutely vital for human capital and the basics in life, and we must never ever let systems that do not support that take hold—

T3. On her recent visit to Bangladesh, did the Secretary of State discuss concerns about relocating refugees to Bhasan Char with the authorities? (909931)

Yes, I did. We looked at what the authorities were doing with the island and we expressed concerns about that and about the fact that many more people—the island will take only 100,000—need to be taken care of in this protracted crisis.

T2. Ellington Primary School is on a mission to make the world clear of minefields left behind after wars, and I have committed to helping it. I thank Ministers for the written answers they have given me so far. What are the Government doing to persuade the five countries in receipt of UK aid that are not yet signed up to the Ottawa convention to do so? (909930)

First, I congratulate Ellington Primary School on its work in joining the Department’s mission to help save the world from landmines, and in joining leading UK non-governmental organisations such as the Mines Advisory Group and the HALO Trust, which do fantastic work in this space. We constantly go to those who are not yet signed up to the Ottawa convention to ask them to do so. I hope my hon. Friend will take even further interest in this, and perhaps do some visiting, as I have done in the past.

T4. The Save the Children Fund has identified five things that this Government can do to help end the conflict in Yemen. Will the Government do them? (909932)

Last week, I held a telephone conference call with Lise Grande, the UN co-ordinator on Yemen, and a number of UN agencies. We are looking at everything we can do. This morning, I met humanitarian workers—women workers—from Yemen themselves. We will of course work even more closely with all our partners there and support UNICEF in all its work.

T8. What is the Department doing to support the people of Zimbabwe, Mozambique and Malawi after the recent cyclone? (909936)

My hon. Friend will be aware that yesterday we were able to announce a further £6 million of emergency funding, working with our partners, such as UNICEF, the World Food Programme and others on the ground, and we were also able to pre-position aid. I know that you, Mr Speaker, have kindly allowed an urgent question on this subject following Prime Minister’s questions.

T5. At the International Labour Organisation convention in June on ending violence and harassment in the world of work, will the Secretary of State commit, on behalf of the UK, to negotiating for protection for all workers, including those working in domestic and informal settings, and will she undertake to resist any attempts to water down or reduce the scope of the agreement? (909933)

In both the work we do through the ILO and some new work we are doing to support trade unions in developing countries, that absolutely needs to be at the heart of the agenda. Of course, the work that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has led internationally on modern slavery absolutely requires this issue to be at the heart of what we do.

The UK has been one of the biggest donors to the Education Cannot Wait fund since it was set up in 2016. What plans does the Minister have to replenish the ECW, and to maintain UK leadership for children in crises?

I thank my hon. Friend for his steadfast championing of this cause, to which we have been one of the leading contributors. I can announce today that we will be scaling up our support, but I cannot yet announce by exactly how much.

T6.   I support the idea of a UK hospital ship, but it must not be used as a raid on the aid budget. Will the Secretary of State reassure me that it will not be used as a raid, and that we will keep our 0.7% on aid, not military spending? (909934)

We cannot spend any of the 0.7% on military spending. That is the whole point of being in the DAC—Development Assistance Committee—club and committing to 0.7%. We are looking at Her Majesty’s Government maritime capability, which might help other Departments as well as us, but aid money will only be spent on aid.

The Dalitso project in my constituency has been collecting pads to make sanitary products for young women in Malawi. It has had a fantastic response from the community and is doing fantastic work. Will my right hon. Friend join me in celebrating that work to make environmentally friendly sanitary products for those who need them?

I congratulate my hon. Friend and that fantastic organisation on their work. In addition to congratulating them, both my Departments will provide support to make period poverty history in the UK and internationally.

T7. Given that the Commission on the Status of Women is taking place at the United Nations this week, what steps are the Government taking to explicitly recognise, promote and support the contribution of older women as part of their women’s economic environment agenda? (909935)

I thank the hon. Lady for that incredibly important question. We have a particular strategy in DFID that is looking at placing the empowerment, especially the economic empowerment, of women at its heart. I pay particular tribute to Lord Bates, who has been considering what more we can do for widows worldwide.

The UN Human Rights Council will vote this week on a one-sided motion that minimises Hamas’s role in the violent Gaza border protest last year. Will my right hon. Friend assure me that the UK will continue to oppose one-sided resolutions, particularly given the horrifying scenes this week in Gaza, with brutal beatings of journalists and academics by Hamas?

The UK made clear some time ago that we would oppose matters under item 7 of the Human Rights Council’s determination, and we expect to do that. On Gaza, the international commission was unable to investigate non-state actors, but there is no doubt that the situation was serious, as Israeli authorities have also determined. The UK will maintain its position in relation to that.

In the case of a no-deal Brexit, the Secretary of State has given some limited assurances to NGOs accessing funds from the EU’s humanitarian fund that the Government will underwrite them in future. Are they prepared to do the same for NGOs that access funds for broader humanitarian work?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for raising that important point. Yes, we are looking at widening that support. Our NGOs, whether they are humanitarian or work in other areas, are world class and we want them to continue to work in those settings, so we have issued those guarantees. However, I say to the hon. Gentleman that if he ever gets the opportunity, he knows what he can do to avoid a no-deal scenario.