Skip to main content

Topical Questions

Volume 661: debated on Thursday 6 June 2019

There is one big issue at the centre of everything that we do in development, which is climate and the environment. This is a global problem—it is not just a domestic problem—and it needs a global response, which is why the Department for International Development is central to that response. That is why I would like to double the amount that this Department spends on climate and the environment, and why I would make sure that every policy in our Department is properly assessed for its impact on climate and the environment, and it is on that that we will be judged over the next generation as a Department and as a nation.

I welcome the Secretary of State to his role and wholeheartedly agree with what he just said on climate change. Indeed, climate change has affected Somaliland. As he will know, I am secretary to the all-party Parliamentary group on Somaliland and we recently welcomed the Finance Minister. Can he say what steps his Department is taking to support the upcoming parliamentary elections in Somaliland and also the talks between Somaliland and Somalia? Will he meet the all-party parliamentary group to discuss what we can do to support that fantastic country?

First, I pay huge tribute to the work of the APPG on Somaliland. As all Members of the House will know, Somaliland is a remarkable success story. Somalia itself has been through a very difficult situation, and Somaliland is a small miracle in a sea of difficulty. We worked very closely with Somaliland on the last presidential elections and we will be supporting the new parliamentary elections. On my last visit to Somaliland, I was lucky enough to meet the gentleman who is now President. There is much more we can do and I would be delighted to sit down with the hon. Gentleman to discuss all those issues.

T5. Helping Uganda Schools—known as HUGS—is a small international development charity based in my constituency. Would the Minister meet me and representatives of this wonderful educational and health charity to discuss how DFID can improve access to funding programmes for small charities? (911183)

It sounds like a wonderful opportunity to meet representatives of HUGS in my hon. Friend’s constituency. As the Secretary of State said, we do have a small charities challenge fund, and we need to make it easier for small charities such as HUGS to be able to access some of that funding. I would be more than happy to meet my hon. Friend’s constituents.

May I start by saying how much I am enjoying following the Secretary of State’s novel approach to his party’s leadership contest? He certainly stands out in a field of populists, potty mouths and parliamentary proroguers. I also know that if I do not get satisfactory answers today, I can find him on the high street, at a botanical garden or at #rorywalks. Some of his fellow leadership contenders have called for his Department to be scrapped and the aid budget to be slashed, and his predecessor said that spending 0.7% of national income was unsustainable. Will he take this opportunity to defend an independent DFID and 0.7%, and perhaps call on his fellow contenders to make their positions clear?

I thank the shadow Secretary of State for his remarks; his endorsement is probably the nail in the coffin of my campaign. I know that I am meant to be campaigning on being the person who can convince people who do not normally vote Conservative to vote Conservative, but this may be going a little far. The commitment to 0.7% is a Conservative commitment that we put into statute, and we are deeply proud of it. At a time when we are facing a climate emergency, to spend not 7% or 1%, but 0.7% of our GNI, makes entire sense. We are facing an emergency to the climate and to people that could cost trillions of pounds if we get it wrong so this spending is exactly the right thing to do, and I am delighted that both sides of the House are following the Conservative lead on the commitment to 0.7%.

I am grateful for that answer. The growing debt crisis in developing countries, with debt repayment increasing by 85% between 2010 and 2018, is of growing concern, and it is a crisis that diverts money from vital public services. Yesterday Labour announced plans for an overseas loans transparency Act. Will the Secretary of State join us and call on the Chancellor to commit to full transparency on loans to foreign Governments?

Having gone party political, I will now say that I am very happy to reach out and talk about this matter. Clearly, finance is key for development and the City of London is one of the major players. If we can get the right kind of capital into Africa, for example—where there is a huge amount of labour, with 18 million people a year coming into the labour force—and get that capital connected, we can transform those economies, but we can do so only if these are good loans. The problem at the moment is that too much money has gone in that has not been invested in infrastructure or productivity, but has instead found its way into some rather dubious bank accounts. It is in the interests of Britain, the City, the Government and the whole nation to ensure that the financing we put into development really drives development. I would be delighted to sit down and discuss this with the hon. Gentleman.

Since the Secretary of State’s statement on Ebola just before the recess, has there been any positive progress in tackling this terrible outbreak?

I feel a little bit cheeky standing up to answer this question because the Minister of State, Department for International Development, my hon. Friend the Member for West Worcestershire (Harriett Baldwin), made a trip to the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo last week to see the response on the ground. Essentially, there are three issues in relation to Ebola. The first is co-ordination issues for the World Health Organisation. The second is vaccination resources. The third is political issues between communities and the Government of the DRC. We have now put a considerable amount of resources in and we are getting the vaccines in on the ground. We have put more British staff on the ground to ensure that we can work with the UN, and in Kinshasa we are really focusing on ensuring that we can overcome the political problems that are driving communities away from the vaccination programme. It is a huge crisis, but Britain is stepping up and so, I am glad to say, is the United States.

T2. I am pleased to hear the Secretary of State’s global approach to climate change, but we know that vulnerable communities in the global south are hit hardest by extreme weather events caused by climate change. How will he use his global influence to work with other funding countries to make sure that vital financial support goes to those countries that have suffered such loss and damage? (911178)

First, we have to leverage our position. We are almost the major donor—proportionally, certainly—to the World Bank, and we need to leverage that kind of support. There is, though, a bigger point: it is not just about money. For example, British scientists are doing something really interesting at Kew Gardens looking at drought-resistant crops, particularly coffee and cocoa. In somewhere such as Ghana, climate change could wipe out a large sector of the economy. We need to get shade trees in. We need new crops and irrigation techniques. This is of course about resources, but it is also a great deal about using British and international research and development and science to solve these problems in, as the hon. Lady said, the global south.

Most victims of human trafficking come from developing countries. What is the Secretary of State’s Department doing to end the scourge of human trafficking?

First, I pay huge tribute to my hon. Friend for the passion and commitment that he and many others have put into this issue. We do work on this. We have been particularly focused on the Nepali-Indian border, across which there is terrible trafficking taking place. These are very difficult things to deal with. We are talking about global crime. It involves working with communities in Nepal to educate women and identify instances of trafficking and working with the police and customs and ultimately finding an approach that stops both the misery there and our role in the UK in propagating that misery. I really am delighted that he has taken such a lead on this.

T3. For the past 25 years, the UK has rightly been committed to ensuring that aid spending is untied from commercial interests. How does the Secretary of State explain the ONE Campaign’s research that found that almost £475 million of UK aid was still effectively tied? (911180)

We are very clear that we do not tie aid spending. There may be situations in which it is beneficial. For example, we have just put £70 million into British universities to find a universal cure for snake bites. That is a very good example of how we can solve a global public health problem through investment in British universities, but that is not tied aid; it is because British research and development, particularly the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine, is the leader in this area.[Official Report, 10 June 2019, Vol. 661, c. 4MC.] We can do this in many areas without feeling ashamed of ourselves, benefiting Britain and the world, and without tying our aid.

T4. Will the Secretary of State instruct DFID officials to carry out an audit through Members of Parliament to identify organisations in constituencies that are developing links with developing countries? (911182)

Yes. The absolutely greatest example of this is Scotland and Malawi. It has mapped thousands of amazing Scottish voluntary organisations working in Malawi and uncovered work that we had not begun to understand. It is a fantastic idea. I would love to see different regions of the UK taking the lead in partnerships with different countries and my Department understanding much better what British charities are doing. If we can get that right, we can get the enthusiasm and soul of the British people behind international development, which will ultimately be the best guarantee of the 0.7%.

T6. I thank the Secretary of State for that very encouraging answer. I hope he will join me in welcoming the peaceful conclusion of the elections in Malawi, particularly the increased number of women MPs, even if that was slightly counterbalanced by the loss of some very good incumbents, including a friend of mine, Jacqueline Kouwenhoven, who you may remember meeting some years ago, Mr Speaker. The turnover of incumbents seems to be an increasing issue in democracies across Africa. What is his Department doing through the Westminster Foundation and other such organisations to strengthen democratic institutions and empower women in democracies? (911184)

Yes. As my right hon. Friend said, the Scotland-Malawi partnership is a very strong one, as the hon. Gentleman has shown with his question. In the recent elections, the results of which we have welcomed, some two thirds of the parliamentary seats in Malawi changed hands. I am not sure if they learned that level of turnover from recent experience in Scotland not so long ago.