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Public Services: Developing Countries

Volume 663: debated on Wednesday 17 July 2019

The UK is committed to supporting countries to achieve the global goals, including through the development of strong public services. We are working with low-income countries to raise and manage public revenues and to invest in education and health systems to provide essential public services for all.

I am grateful for that answer. Building strong public services is crucial to achieving the UN’s sustainable development goals, but countries in the global south are losing out on billions of pounds of revenue each year due to tax avoidance—money that could be spent on building up those services, which are needed by their citizens. What practical steps is the Minister taking to ensure that countries in the global south are supported to ensure that multinational corporations and others who should be paying taxes actually do so?

I am very pleased to say that we have taken probably the most powerful practical step of all by setting up a specialist tax department—the hon. Gentleman rightly highlights the issue—within the Department for International Development. We are spending £47 million to help low-income countries increase their tax revenues, and every £1 we put in has raised revenues by £100.

Shockingly, 16 million girls aged 15 to 19 give birth each year in developing regions. Complications during pregnancy and childbirth are a leading cause of death in this age group globally. Therefore, what urgent steps is the Minister taking to ensure that developing countries have better reproductive healthcare services for girls and young women to improve their rights, chances and opportunities internationally?

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to raise this important issue, and we continue to work in countries where we can help with some of the sexual and reproductive health interventions he describes. In addition, he will be aware that the Girls’ Education Challenge is helping 1.5 million adolescent girls, who have often had children at a very young age, to stay in education and get the education that will help to improve their lifetime earnings.

Children’s health is also a key issue, and I thank the Department for International Development for its work to fight polio across the world. Will the Minister rise to the challenge set by members of the Chelmsford rotary club, and by rotary clubs across the UK, and confirm that this Government remain committed to ending polio forever?

I always welcome the opportunity to thank rotary clubs not only here in the UK but around the world for their fundraising. We are nearly there. We have nearly eradicated polio from this planet, and we should thank every Rotarian for their contribution.

Good public services need an effective civil service to supervise them. What discussions has the Minister had with the Cabinet Office and my noble Friend Lord Maude about the provision of an effective civil service in developing countries?

My hon. Friend will be aware that the UK has long-standing partnerships with a range of developing countries. Indeed, it forms part of our work when we award Chevening scholarships, for example, through the Foreign and Commonwealth Office; scholars have to commit to going back and helping to deliver services in their country.

The hon. Member for East Londonderry (Mr Campbell) is such a happy and uncomplaining fellow that the temptation to call him is irresistible.

Does the Minister accept that one of the best ways to support public services, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa, is to support the non-governmental organisations that provide clean drinking water in many of the townships across that part of Africa?

I am glad the hon. Gentleman got to ask his question because, of course, clean drinking water is crucial. We take it so much for granted, and I am pleased that, working with NGOs, DFID has supported over 51 million poor people in Africa and Asia to have access to drinking water supplies or toilets for the first time.

Public services in all countries benefit from the quality of governance and, above all, from democracy, which is why the Westminster Foundation for Democracy is keen for a democracy fund to be established. Following the very useful meeting with the Minister, does she agree it is important that it is taken forward in time for the autumn spending review?

I welcome my hon. Friend’s bid, and I can commit to him that these are exactly the sorts of issues that will be discussed in the future spending review.

Topical Questions

The central challenge in international development going forward will be the quality, expertise and number of our permanent staff on the ground. As international development becomes more complex, with conflict and climate, as we have to work more closely with other Departments and, above all, in a world in which developing countries are looking not for money, but for expertise, over the next 15 years we will have to increase the expertise, the quality and, above all, the number of civil servants, moving away from short-term consultants to having British experts on the ground.

I am sure the Secretary of State will be aware that Birmingham this week joined Cardiff, Sheffield and Tower Hamlets in calling for the recognition of Somaliland. Does he agree that diaspora communities here in the UK play a crucial role, not only in Somaliland, but in many other contexts, in providing not only direct assistance, but the type of trading, business and expert links that can help development in so many countries?

We are immensely fortunate in the UK with our diaspora communities because they provide both powerful advocacy, for example, with Somaliland on female genital mutilation, and expertise—linguistic, deep country expertise—to ensure that our programmes on the ground are of the requisite quality.

T2. Mindful of recent Ebola outbreaks, what lessons have been learnt to help countries become more resistant to Ebola, particularly in the health sector? (912002)

I am lucky enough to have just returned from the Congo, where I was looking at Ebola in Beni and Butembo. The situation of Ebola in the Congo is serious; we now have—[Interruption.]

Order. The Secretary of State is a cerebral and intellectual fellow, of prodigious brain power, and he deserves a more respectful audience than he is being accorded. Let us hear the words , digest them and learn from them.

What needs to be heard is not my cerebral power, but the issue of Ebola in the Congo. The House needs to be serious about that. There is an Ebola outbreak now in the Congo, which has already crossed the border into Uganda. On Sunday, we had an outbreak in Goma, a city of 2 million people. If we do not get this under control, this Ebola outbreak, which is already the second biggest in history, will cause devastating problems for the region. We must invest much more in the World Health Organisation, in developing the public health services in the neighbouring countries. Above all, we must step up to the challenge and be serious as a nation about this deadly disease.

T3. One in 10 of the world’s population still do not have access to clean, decent water supplies. I know the Government are trying hard to rectify that, but will the Secretary of State look at the article today by the chief executive of WaterAid calling for greater support in this area? (912003)

The provision of water and sanitation is central. It is vital for health. It is also vital in schools, for ensuring that girls remain in school, and it is vital for tackling any kind of water-borne disease. So good investment in water, which DFID prioritises, needs to be one of the three fundamental pillars of development, along with education and health.

T4.   What assistance is being provided to the Turks and Caicos Islands, which are seeking to cope with Haitian migrants making a hazardous sea crossing and settling in that British overseas territory? (912004)

My hon. Friend is right to highlight this, and I am pleased to say that the conflict, stability and security fund has been used to help the Turks and Caicos repair its radar, so that it is able to detect boats that may be carrying people trying to access the islands. He may be aware that early in 2018 the Royal Fleet Auxiliary vessel Mounts Bay was also deployed in order to provide a deterrent to those who wish to make that perilous crossing. We will consider other ways of using the CSSF in this region in the future.

T6. July is set to be the hottest month ever recorded on Earth. Areas such as the Lake Chad basin, where more than 4.5 million people are already displaced, are the most vulnerable to these temperatures. The Secretary of State’s ambition to double spending in the long term is admirable, but what more does he think could be done now to support those countries that are in the frontline of the climate emergency? (912006)

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right: the issue of climate is now driving conflict. In the Lake Chad basin there simply is not enough ground for people to feed their oxen or plant crops. We need to invest in climate-resilience projects, which means looking not only at the crops but at the reasons why there are now conflicts, from the Chad Basin and Nigeria right the way across east Africa, between people with oxen and people who are planting. In particular, Sahel is central to DFID’s new initiative. We are opening embassies in Mauritania, Niger and Chad, and much more of our investment is now going to go into the Sahel region.

T5.   The recommendations in the report by the Bishop of Truro that was launched this week—the Foreign Secretary requested the review of Foreign and Commonwealth Office support for persecuted Christians worldwide—will be implemented effectively only with cross-departmental engagement and support. Will DFID provide that support? (912005)

I am pleased to add my voice of welcome for the report commissioned by the Foreign Secretary. My hon. Friend is absolutely right to highlight some of the important points made in the report. She will be aware that, in addition to freedom of religion and belief, the UK is, as we heard from the Secretary of State, helping communities with their adaptation to some of the other drivers of conflict highlighted in the excellent report.