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International Development

Volume 659: debated on Wednesday 1 May 2019

The Secretary of State was asked—


With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to pay a brief tribute to Dr Richard Valery Mouzoko Kiboung, who was working for the World Health Organisation to fight Ebola in the Democratic Republic of the Congo when he was killed in an attack on 19 April. Richard was working in the frontline of the response to save lives, and I am sure that the whole House will want to send our condolences to his family, friends and colleagues at this difficult time and to reiterate that health workers are not a target.

The UK’s humanitarian assistance is underpinned by strict principles of neutrality and impartiality, and it is targeted to meet the needs of those affected by the crisis.

I associate myself with my right hon. Friend’s remarks in supporting all those who are fighting the battle against Ebola in Africa.

After last night’s disturbing scenes on the streets of Caracas, what does my right hon. Friend say to those who retreat to their ideological comfort zone, blaming US imperialism rather than calling out the socialist Venezuelan regime for the humanitarian disaster that it has inflicted on its own people?

I wholeheartedly agree with my right hon. Friend. Let me be clear that this is a man-made crisis, caused by years of reckless mismanagement by the regime. Yesterday evening, while my right hon. Friend and others in this House were watching those terrible scenes of armoured military vehicles slamming into civilian protestors, I understand that the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Dan Carden) was defending Maduro and his regime.

Is it not now clear that there needs to be maximum solidarity internationally—from European Union countries, the United States and Latin American countries—with Juan Guaidó and the people of Venezuela, as the final days of the Maduro regime approach?

I absolutely agree with the hon. Gentleman, who has been consistent in his condemnation of the regime. We are working through the Lima group; it is absolutely right that we should give support to the region as well as Venezuela in particular. I call on all Members to support and call for swift presidential elections so that we can let the country move on.

The emergency £6.5 million UK emergency aid package to Venezuela was announced in February. Will the Secretary of State outline the priorities for that, especially given reports that up to 80% of Venezuelan households are without a reliable food source and the World Health Organisation’s suggestion that there has been a stark increase in maternal and infant mortality, and in malaria, tuberculosis and many other infectious diseases?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. We are prioritising healthcare and nutrition needs. We will keep monitoring the situation, as those needs will change over time. This is an emergency, and people are in life-threatening situations.

Development Co-operation: EU

2. What progress the Government have made in determining the future relationship of the UK and the EU on development co-operation. (910641)

The political declaration recognises our shared commitment to tackling global challenges and achieving the sustainable development goals. We have proposed a future development partnership that allows the UK and the EU to work together to maximise development impact, where it makes sense for us to do so.

I thank the Secretary of State for her response. Bearing in mind that our leaving the European Union could result in fundamental changes to development, is she aware of the concerns of organisations such as Bond, which say that they are not involved enough in what the future arrangements might look like? What more could the Government do to ensure that such organisations are indeed involved?

The EU’s development programmes will be the poorer for not being shaped by the UK and not making use of British and UK non-governmental organisations. I have provided a guarantee to all British suppliers, whether in the private or charitable sectors, so that they can continue humanitarian work on EU programming that has already been put in. I encourage the Commission to lift its eyes and enable us to co-operate on development. That is what we want to do; it is the block to that.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that, when we leave the EU, it will be easier for us to strike trade deals with developing nations around the world—creating jobs for those nations, thus enabling their economies to grow, as well as ours?

I do agree. We should remember that we must ensure that we deliver on the referendum result. It is not just going to offer new opportunities for us and our trading relationships; it could also be a catalyst for changing the way the world trades and helping developing nations trade themselves out of poverty.

The UK has long played a leadership role within the European Union in shaping its development and humanitarian response. Can the Secretary of State reassure the House that even outside the European Union we will maintain close co-operation, so that the world’s poorest do not suffer as a result of Brexit?

I can give the hon. Gentleman those assurances. We want to continue to co-operate with our European partners. We would like to have a sensible development partnership with the EU going forward. Currently, the EU is not as keen on that as us and other nations outside the EU. I hope its programming in the future will be open.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that across the world the UK is seen as a development superpower? Does she agree that our leaving the EU will have no effect on that?

That is quite right; it will have no effect on our ability to be able to do things and to work with partners. I hope that the European Commission, and in particular its legal department, will see sense and recognise that 20% of the non-governmental organisations it currently uses are British because we are world-class. Its programming will be poorer if it does not continue to use world-class organisations.

With time running out, the Government need to arrange a large volume of trade deals in a short period of time—deals they said would be easy but are not. There is a concern that to do so they may promise aid spending as an inducement to a favourable trade deal. Will the Secretary of State today commit to aid spending continuing to be untied and always being based on need alone, rather than for our own commercial and trade ends?

Climate Change

Tackling climate change is a priority for the Government. We have committed £5.8 billion to help developing countries to reduce emissions and to manage the impacts of climate change. To date, our support has helped 47 million people cope with the effects of climate change and supported 17 million people to gain access to clean energy.

The latest round of funding for the Darwin Initiative has committed £10 million of funding for 52 international projects. Can the Minister confirm that those projects will support and enhance biodiversity and the natural environment right across the globe?

I welcome the way in which the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has allocated that money. Of course, it is overseas development assistance money that helps to support and enhance biodiversity in countries that are eligible for overseas development assistance.

It is very welcome that the Government are doing more to help developing countries with climate change, but the reality, as I have seen for myself, is that the Chinese are leaving a very large carbon footprint in African countries. What more can the Government do to persuade the Chinese to do better in Africa?

I know that my hon. Friend is an aide to the Chancellor and I know that the Chancellor was in China this week emphasising in his remarks the importance of taking into account the sustainable development goals in development projects. I am very pleased to see that 78 countries, including China, have issued green bonds here in the City of London, with eight different currencies raising $24.5 billion towards sustainable development. The UK has really shown leadership on this initiative.

Further to that question by the hon. Member for Bexhill and Battle (Huw Merriman), does the Minister concede that we must all do what we can to reduce the impact of climate change, but that very significant pressure must be applied to those at the very top in that regard, such as China and some African countries?

It is really important that we all recognise that the world has signed up to sustainable development goals. Part of that sustainability means that any new investments should avoid fossil fuels as much as possible. We have shown leadership on that recently. For example, the recent round of bids from the Green Climate Fund, which we helped to fund, has led to a lot of renewable energy projects in Africa and elsewhere.

Given the growing climate crisis, should it not be the Department’s top priority to ensure sustainable development, diversification, the end of deforestation, public transport, clean energy and everything else?

Of course that is a very important priority. Humanitarian assistance continues to be what we spend most on, but the emphasis of that can also be sustainability. We do a great deal to ensure that. The £5.8 billion that we have so far contributed to international climate finance gives an idea of the level of our commitment to this issue around the world.

I have seen for myself how Tearfund’s programme of providing solar technology in countries such as Bangladesh has transformed the lives of young people, so I am pleased to hear that DFID will extend those efforts into Africa. Does the Minister agree that young people having the chance to study under light at night will help to improve their life chances significantly?

It is so important that we recognise access to electricity and that we encourage it to be through renewable sources, including off-grid. We recently held a big event here in London for African Energy Ministers, to show them their options on things such as sustainable and clean mini-grids. The UK can do a huge amount in offering both technical and financial expertise.

We all heard amid last week’s climate change protest that low to middle-income countries will be hardest hit. The UK Government continue to tell us that they are world-leading in helping those countries to tackle climate change. However, in 2017-18, fossil fuels made up not 60%, 70% or even 80% but a shocking 99.4% of UK Export Finance’s energy support to those countries, locking them into dependency on high-carbon energy. Does the Minister agree that all this talk of commitment to cutting greenhouse gases is nothing more than simply hot air?

I am sure the hon. Gentleman will want to raise questions about UK Export Finance when he has the chance to question our colleagues from the Department for International Trade. DFID’s focus is very much on encouraging access to electricity from renewable sources. So far some 17 million people around the world have gained access to clean energy thanks to our investment.

I wonder whether the Minister will today commit to auditing and publishing UK aid spending on fossil fuels through the CDC, the prosperity fund and multilateral organisations?

I am pretty sure that a lot of that information is already in the public domain. I can confirm to the hon. Gentleman my understanding that the CDC has made no new investments in fossil fuels since 2012.[Official Report, 8 May 2019, Vol. 659, c. 8MC.]

The Labour party has committed to divesting DFID of all fossil fuel projects, which directly undermine the global goals on climate and sustainable energy.

“It’s time we admitted that there’s more to life than money, and it’s time we focused not just on GDP but on…general wellbeing.”

Those are not my words but David Cameron’s. GDP is a crude indicator that tells us nothing of people’s wellbeing, inequality levels or the health of our planet. However, this Secretary of State seems concerned only with increased competition and mobilising private finance to deliver the global goals. Is it not time that the Government woke up to the need for new policies and measures that focus on people and planet?

In that case, I am sure the hon. Gentleman welcomes the fact that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is the human capital champion at the World Bank. He will be aware of the extensive impact that our spending has on both health and education around the world. We are taking part in the voluntary national review of the sustainable development goals. I am sure he will welcome that, according to a recent UN study, the UK has actually become a happier country and has increased its happiness in the world.

Tibetan Refugees

5. What support her Department provides to Tibetan cultural programmes for Tibetan refugees living outside China. (910645)

DFID provides funding to the UN Refugee Agency, to prioritise the greatest humanitarian and protection needs of refugees globally. This includes Tibetan refugees in need of urgent life-saving assistance.

I hope to attend the seventh world parliamentary convention on Tibet together with the hon. Member for Dundee West (Chris Law), which will mark 60 years of the invasion and oppression of the Tibetan people, the 1 million lives lost and the oppression of the culture, language and human rights of those people. Many are refugees in Dharamsala and in desperate need of our help to keep the spirit of Tibet alive. Can we do more to help those refugees through the culture and education programmes that they value so much?

My hon. Friend raises an important point. Clearly, DFID’s funding is very much focused on education; but it is also focused on humanitarian assistance and support for refugees. I undertake to talk to my colleagues in both the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport and the Foreign Office to see what more we can do to support culture and heritage for the Tibetan people.

I am very glad that the Secretary of State is taking an interest in Tibet, but can I urge her, reflecting on an earlier question, to look at the impact of climate change on what is often dubbed the third pole—on the melting of the Himalayan glaciers? It is having a huge impact on the Tibetan area but is overlooked when we talk about climate change.

It is absolutely right that the hon. Lady should raise that point. Of the areas where Britain can contribute most to the 17 global goals, I personally think that some really stand out: the key three being healthcare, climate change and partnerships. The hon. Lady knows that the Prime Minister, who is the UN Secretary-General’s climate resilience champion, will be doing much more on this in the coming months.

Plastic Pollution

6. What steps her Department is taking to tackle plastic pollution throughout the developing world. (910646)

DFID is committed to helping developing countries tackle the problem of plastic pollution. We are spending up to £39 million to help poorer countries find practical ways to improve waste management and identify ways in which manufacturing processes can reduce plastic pollution.

Does the Minister agree that we should increasingly put sustainability at the core of all our funding, particularly around plastics? For example, Tearfund is running projects that enable people to earn a living while cleaning up the planet. This is the direction we should be going in.

Of course, all our work is designed to achieve the sustainable development goals, so sustainability is crucial. Tearfund has done some amazing projects, and I am delighted today that we are announcing that we will match fund a WasteAid project in Cameroon that will help with exactly what my hon. Friend refers to—people earning a living from cleaning up plastic and stopping it going into our oceans.

UK Companies: Contracts

7. What proportion of contracts her Department has awarded to UK companies in each of the past five years. (910647)

One of the achievements this Conservative party can be most proud of is its aid budget and the fact last year Britain was the only member of the G7 to meet the UN target of spending 0.7% of GDP on foreign aid—an astonishing £13.9 billion. Of course, this attracts criticism in some quarters. Does the Minister agree that one way to negate some of the criticism of the perceived largesse of taxpayer money would be to encourage proactively more British companies to win some of those contracts, without of course contravening state aid rules?

My right hon. Friend is absolutely right to highlight this point. In fact, I think we are the only country in the world to have put that 0.7% figure into statute. He will see from the numbers that in open competition 80% of our contracts have been awarded to UK-registered firms, but of course we would like to see more and smaller companies, and our procurement team has been out on a range of regional tours across this land to encourage more people to bid for our contracts.

Occupied Palestinian Territories

8. What assessment her Department has made of the effect of restricted humanitarian space on the work of non-governmental organisations in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. (910648)

DFID recognises that restrictions on humanitarian space can impede the work of NGOs in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, particularly Gaza.

I think the Secretary of State will be aware that the Government of Israel are attempting to deport Omar Shakir, the country director of Human Rights Watch, for highlighting the impact on the welfare of Palestinians of doing business with illegal Israeli settlements. I welcome the fact that the UK is a party to a statement made to the UN Security Council on Monday asking Israel to allow Human Rights Watch and Mr Shakir to carry on their work unimpeded. Will she echo that call?

I am happy to echo it. The UK did sign and endorse that statement at the United Nations Security Council, and, as a friend of Israel, we continue to make it clear that a strong, vibrant civil society is in its own interest.

Hamas recently launched a crackdown on dissent against its regime in the Gaza strip. How can we ensure that the human rights of human rights defenders in Gaza are protected?

Both my Department and, in particular, the Foreign Office do a tremendous amount of work to support human rights defenders. At the recent Bonn conference, DFID published a paper on how we can support civil society and the governance that surrounds it.

Topical Questions

This is World Immunisation Week, and polio is on the brink of becoming the second human disease in history to be eradicated. The United Kingdom remains committed to that effort, helping countries such as Pakistan to reach every child with life-saving vaccinations. I am sure that the whole House will join me in expressing deep sadness at the recent attacks on polio workers in Pakistan, which resulted in the deaths of two police officers and one polio vaccinator. Those tragic deaths highlight the immense personal bravery displayed by the people who deliver immunisations, and their commitment to ensuring that every child can be protected.

Will my right hon. Friend join me in congratulating my constituent Unathi Ndlwana on setting up the Funda Trust to improve educational opportunities for young people in South Africa, in memory of the loss of her child? Following the excellent meeting with my hon. Friend the Minister for Africa, any help that the Department could give us would be excellent.

I am very happy to join my hon. Friend in commending the work of the trust. My hon. Friend the Minister for Africa has told me about that meeting, and the Department will be in touch shortly to talk to him and the trust about how we can support its ongoing work.

T2. There is real concern that not enough is being done to help the people of Mozambique, particularly now that Cyclone Kenneth has struck. What is the Minister doing to ensure that global communities step up their response to the first cyclone relief fund, and do all that they can to remedy this humanitarian disaster? (910656)

The hon. Lady is right to raise this issue, but I think we can be very proud of the work that the UK team in Mozambique is doing to deal not only with Cyclone Idai but, now, with Cyclone Kenneth. The team has been at the forefront in providing practical and financial assistance. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State held a meeting at the World Bank the week before last to look into attracting other donors to make longer-term reconstruction investments in Mozambique.

T3. It was World Malaria Day last week. Will my hon. Friend update the House on the UK’s contribution to the global fight against this preventable disease, which kills hundreds of thousands of children every year? (910658)

I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for his leadership in this area. He has personally visited victims of malaria, and I know that he champions the UK’s leadership role and the £500 million a year that we are spending on preventing this terrible disease, which leads to the death of a child every two minutes in our world.

T4. Is the Secretary of State proud of the fact that the Home Office has denied a visa to the father of the chief executive of the Scottish Refugee Council, which means that he cannot travel from Afghanistan to see his son receive an honorary doctorate at the University of Glasgow? What message is sent to developing countries and developing democracies when the UK routinely denies visas to people who want to contribute to our society and tackle poverty around the world? (910659)

If the hon. Gentleman would like to give me the details of the case I should be happy to look into it—I think it is often possible to resolve such cases by talking to the relevant Minister.

T5. On a recent trip to Jordan, I was lucky enough to see a fantastic British-funded project at the UNESCO world heritage site of Jerash, where a stonemason from Barnsley was training Jordanians and Syrian refugees to restore ancient monuments. Does the Secretary of State agree that cultural aid, including continued support for UNSCO, is an important part of her Department’s budget? (910660)

I absolutely agree that supporting culture and heritage matters is incredibly important, not least because it helps generate and support a tourism economy and provides nations with further ways to alleviate poverty and grow their economies. The Department has a new initiative called Great Partnerships, which is pairing British expertise, as my hon. Friend outlined, with those who can benefit from that, and he has given a great example.

T6. With the continuing humanitarian crisis in Yemen, it is vital that the pledges of aid from Gulf countries and others that have been made are delivered. Will the Secretary of State do all she can to ensure that these notoriously bad payers actually cough up? (910661)

The hon. Lady is absolutely right, and I regularly have discussions with counterparts in those nations to encourage them to disburse funds, most recently with my Emirati opposite number; I had discussions with her about precisely that point this week.

A large number of Israeli and Palestinian non-governmental organisations pursue partisan and divisive agendas in the west bank, many of which exacerbate tensions for their own ends. Does my right hon. Friend agree that NGOs that advocate boycotts, divestment and sanctions against Israel, which the Government have taken firm action on, should be opposed?

We want to ensure that any partner we work with is exhibiting all behaviours needed to get good things to happen, so, absolutely, that is our policy and it is the policy of the organisations we work with.

T7. I am sure you are aware Mr Speaker, that the newly elected President of the Gambia is an avid Arsenal fan, but can the Secretary of State tell us what country-specific direct support she is giving to help the Gambia rebuild its economy and democracy? (910662)

Many Presidents across many African countries support a range of different teams, and this is a huge part of the work we do because it touches on so many young people as well. In the light of Soccer Aid last year, I pay tribute to the President of Gambia. Of course DFID has a range of programmes in Gambia, but through Soccer Aid we were able to raise lots of money from football fans, and I think everyone should welcome that.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is right to draw attention to the dangers of the anti-vaccination campaigns. In addition to thanking health workers across the world for their bravery in countering them, will she ensure the UK leads a vigorous response internationally to turn back a tide that is threatening not only those who would be vaccinated themselves but the communities around them, as we all depend on vaccination for our common safety?

I absolutely agree with my right hon. Friend and would like to take this opportunity to pay tribute to him for leading the humanitarian work in my Department and for his tenure as Minister for the Middle East. I recently commissioned new programming to look at how we can help communities have trust in immunisation programmes. We are so close to eradicating polio from the earth and it would be appalling if we pulled back and rolled back from that now.

The medieval guardianship system, whereby a woman is owned by her closest male relative, means women in Saudi Arabia cannot travel, play sports or do a whole range of things we take for granted without permission from their male “owners”. Given that women who seek any level of gender equality and human rights face unprecedented danger and abuse in Saudi Arabia, will the Secretary of State condemn Saudi Arabia for treating women as mere chattels?

It is absolutely right that we call out behaviour that does not support or empower women or enable them to make the choices they want to in their lives. I am proud of the work that not only my Department but other Departments have done on that, and we will continue it. I call on all nations to make sure that at every opportunity we ensure women’s rights are in summit communiqués and absolutely everything else, and are a core part of every activity we do.

Order. The students and staff of Fitzwaryn School in Wantage, which I had the pleasure of visiting recently, are attending Prime Minister’s questions today and I feel sure that Members across the House will want to welcome them. In particular, I extend a very warm welcome to Charlie Butler and his twin brother Tom, who celebrate their 13th birthday this Sunday.