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Topical Questions

Volume 664: debated on Wednesday 2 October 2019

Governments around the world collectively spend around $140 billion every year on aid. However, the United Nations estimates that an additional $2.5 trillion is required annually in developing countries to meet the sustainable development goals. That investment gap needs to be met largely by the private sector. That is why I have established an international development infrastructure commission to advise the UK Government on how we can mobilise additional private sector funds, alongside public money, to deliver on the sustainable development goals.

I welcome the Secretary of State and the new Ministers to their posts. Representing a coastal constituency, I am only too well aware of the impact of pollution and plastic waste on marine life and our beaches. It was great to join many of my constituents at the recent great British beach clean. Given that much of the plastic problem affects developing countries—especially island nations—how are the Government using the aid budget to help to clear up our oceans?

My hon. Friend raises an incredibly vital point. He may be aware that the Prime Minister announced at the United Nations General Assembly last month that we are encouraging countries to join the UK-led global ocean alliance of countries in support of protecting at least 30% of the global oceans within marine protected areas by 2030.

The Secretary of State has announced a new commission of business and finance leaders to mobilise private finance to invest in some of the world’s poorest countries. What action is he taking to guarantee that all aid-backed private investments uphold labour rights and living wages for workers in the global south?

I think that is a sort of welcome for the infrastructure commission we have set up. The hon. Gentleman is right to say that labour rights are vital. When I was Minister for Employment, I worked with the International Labour Organisation on these issues, and if he has particular suggestions to make, I would be happy to discuss those with him.

The Secretary of State is failing to take labour rights seriously. He is a career investment banker by trade, and he has—[Interruption.] I think it is relevant that he has gone from corporate wealth management to managing the UK’s aid budget. Feronia, a Canadian palm oil company based in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, has received tens of millions of pounds of UK aid via the CDC Group; it has been plagued by scandal for years; and, in July, Joël Imbangola Lunea, a community activist involved in a land dispute with Feronia, was allegedly murdered by a security guard employed by the company. Joël was father to eight children—

Order. May I just appeal to the hon. Gentleman to get to his question mark, because a lot of colleagues want to contribute and they must do so?

Will the Department now launch its own investigation into this case and the litany of failures surrounding Feronia?

The hon. Gentleman is very welcome to write to me about the case. He wrote an article a few days back describing me as

“exploring ways to profit from human misery”.

May I just point out to him, with respect, that he could perhaps take some lessons from the Chairman of the Select Committee, who knows a lot more about development than he does?

T5. Many of my constituents are concerned about plastic pollution, and I recently attended the launch of plastic-free Congleton. What are the UK Government doing to reduce, and indeed stop, plastic pollution in developing countries? (912516)

My hon. Friend is a true champion on humanitarian and environmental matters. I made reference in a previous answer to what we are doing about plastics, but I can also inform her that the UK Government have pledged £70 million to directly tackle this issue in developing countries, through the provision of technical assistance and testing practical approaches to increase plastic recycling rates.

T2. This month, we are celebrating 25 years of Fairtrade in the UK. At his first appearance at the Dispatch Box, will the Secretary of State reaffirm this Government’s commitment to Fairtrade? Will he join me in celebrating, with the Fairtrade Foundation, such a milestone achievement? (912513)

The hon. Lady will know that we run a range of projects designed to ensure that we have fair trade, and of course I commend the work that goes on in this area.

Globally, vaccines save 2.5 million lives every year. What discussions were had at the recent UN summit about the UK’s role in the global vaccination programme?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising that issue. She will know that the UK is the No. 1 contributor to vaccines worldwide in the development space. She will also know that the UK will be hosting the Gavi replenishment next year and that for every pound spent on vaccines £21 is recouped; this remains one of our best buys in terms of international development, and we made that clear at the UN General Assembly last week.

T3. The Minister is aware of the devastating 2005 earthquake in Azad Kashmir, with massive loss of life and damage to housing and infrastructure—and of the gratifying international response, with assistance. Although the recent earthquakes were not on the same scale, they are causing major hardship; so what assistance is the Department providing to the authorities there, both for emergency relief and for long-term reconstruction, to help the long-suffering people of Azad Kashmir? (912514)

As the right hon. Gentleman knows, we are a major aid donor to Pakistan overall. We are in discussions with the National Disaster Management Authority in Pakistan, and we stand ready to respond and provide funding if it is indeed requested.

The economy in Zimbabwe is expected to contract by 5.2% this year and millions are at risk of hunger, with warnings that the country is facing its worst ever famine. What are we doing to help?

Humanitarian needs are rising in Zimbabwe, due to a combination of poor and erratic rains and the deteriorating economic situation. DFID has committed £49 million to a new Zimbabwe humanitarian resilience programme, but our ongoing re-engagement depends on fundamental political and economic reform in Zimbabwe.

T6. Further to the question by my right hon. Friend the Member for Warley (John Spellar), will the Government press for the United Nations group on India and Pakistan to make a fact-finding visit to Kashmir to assess the humanitarian and human rights situation there? (912518)

We have a long-standing position on Kashmir, which has been reiterated and followed by successive Governments, but where there are matters related to humanitarian issues we of course always look at those.

The hon. Member for Slough (Mr Dhesi) had a question on the Order Paper but it was not reached, so I will call him, on the strict understanding that he will be exemplary in his brevity.

Currently, approximately 97% of the UK’s export financial support for energy in developing countries goes to fossil fuels and only 1% to renewable energy. That is a ridiculous and untenable position, given the Government’s avowed aims. What steps is the Secretary of State taking to ensure that his work in supporting developing countries to tackle climate change is not undermined by his colleagues in the Department for International Trade?

I am pleased that the CDC has made no new investments at all in coal-fired power stations since 2012, and that increasingly UK ODA supports renewable energy. I am assured that as a result of its adoption of the recommendations of the taskforce on climate-related financial disclosures, UK Export Finance is looking very carefully at the risks, which the hon. Gentleman has just highlighted, of its support for oil and gas.