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International Development

Volume 670: debated on Wednesday 29 January 2020

The Secretary of State was asked—

Plastic Use

It is a delight to see the Conservative Benches so well attended for International Development Question Time.

My Department is providing expertise to help developing countries to reduce plastic usage and funding innovative pilot projects in, for example, Uganda and Ghana to improve recycling rates and waste collection.

Given that 2020 is set to become the first year in which the pieces of plastic in our seas outnumber fish, will the Secretary of State update the House on the Government’s plans for the UK to play its part in tackling that shocking statistic by means of, for instance, their new Blue Planet fund?

Let me first welcome my hon. Friend back to the House: we are all delighted that he is back with us. As he knows, the Government have committed £500 million to the Blue Planet Fund to help developing countries to manage the marine environment. The fund, which is in the process of being designed, will run for five years from April next year, and will focus on four priority areas in marine management: fisheries, pollution—including plastic pollution—climate change and marine protected areas.

I welcome my right hon. Friend’s commitment to tackling plastic use. In my constituency, Workington, people care about the future of our seas and oceans. Young students at Ashfield Infant and Nursery School, Holme St Cuthbert School and St Michael’s Nursery and Infant School have written a book about Driggsby, the young fin whale who sadly died on a Cumbrian beach, a victim of plastic poisoning. What is the Department doing to rid the world’s oceans of plastic waste?

About 70% of the litter in the ocean is plastic, and I therefore commend the work of my hon. Friend and his young constituents in highlighting the clear and present danger of plastic pollution to life in our oceans. The Government recognise the need for action through our joint leadership, with Vanuatu, of the Commonwealth Clean Ocean Alliance, and we are supporting technical assistance for countries that are committed to taking practical steps to tackle marine pollution.

In the poorest countries, 93% of waste is burnt or discarded on roads or open land or in waterways. Will the Secretary of State expand on his answer to the first question, and tell us what he is doing to develop a system of improved waste collection while also encouraging recycling in many of those countries?

The hon. Gentleman has raised an important point. Let me give him a couple of examples. In Uganda and Ghana, my Department is providing support for pilot projects. We are working with businesses to improve waste management and increase recycling. In Uganda, for example, we are working with the Kampala plastics recycling partnership.

The Dutch non-governmental organisation The Ocean Cleanup has discovered that most plastics in the seas come from abandoned fishing gear and nets. Does the Secretary of State agree that assisting fishermen in developing countries is one way to eliminate that waste?

The hon. Gentleman is right. I have talked about the Commonwealth Clean Ocean Alliance, but he will also know that at the 2019 United Nations General Assembly the Prime Minister announced the global ocean alliance of countries which aims to protect at least 30% of the global ocean within marine protected areas by 2030.


2. What steps his Department is taking to protect (a) forestry and (b) biodiversity in developing countries. (900463)

4. What steps his Department is taking to protect (a) forestry and (b) biodiversity in developing countries. (900466)

5. What steps his Department is taking to protect (a) forestry and (b) biodiversity in developing countries. (900467)

8. What steps his Department is taking to protect (a) forestry and (b) biodiversity in developing countries. (900470)

DFID is at the forefront of global efforts to tackle illegal logging, promote sustainable trade in timber, and eliminate deforestation from supply chains. Those programmes, and other assistance from the UK, are helping to preserve the world’s most valuable habitats and address biodiversity loss.

It was great to see many families —particularly children—from Addingham, in my constituency, plant more than 600 trees last weekend, thus setting an example to us all. How do the Government plan to inspire the next generation of leaders, such as the children from my constituency, to ensure that we can continue to use our influence on the global platform to help reduce carbon emissions, improve biodiversity, and plant more trees?

I join my hon. Friend in paying tribute to his constituents from Addingham, and pay tribute to him for representing them in the House so well. The Government will ensure that young people have a strong voice at COP26 in November, so that their views on the climate and nature are heard on the global stage. DFID is committed to involving young people in our work, promoting active and engaged citizenship through our policy and programmes.

The people in North West Norfolk supported our manifesto commitments to tackle climate change and help countries receiving development aid to become more self-sufficient. What steps is my hon. Friend taking to ensure that the aid budget, through CDC, is invested in forestry projects in Africa and elsewhere, both to protect the environment and to help reduce poverty?

I am delighted to tell my hon. Friend that the Secretary of State and I visited CDC on Monday. CDC has a number of investments in sustainable forestry across Africa and is actively exploring opportunities to do more. For example, it is supporting Miro Forestry, a sustainable timber business operating in Sierra Leone and Ghana. CDC’s investment is helping Miro to support the natural environment by replanting severely degraded land, thereby protecting the indigenous forest. To date, the investment has supported the planting of roughly 5.4 million trees.

It is shameful that the Amazon rainforest is being destroyed to provide pasture for cattle grazing. This is devastating for that important global natural resource, and it is also undercutting British beef production. Does the Minister agree that efforts to prevent deforestation are essential for global biodiversity as well as for supporting British beef farmers such as those in my constituency?

The Department for International Development is supporting programmes on reforestation and promoting sustainable beef production. The UK’s Partnerships for Forests programme works in South America to support sustainable businesses that grow crops and rear cattle without causing deforestation. This includes support for a responsible beef partnership, which works to eliminate purchases of beef from producers engaged in illegal deforestation.

As a dual national, I accept that Australia is not a developing country, but the ongoing bush fires have seen forestry and bushland destroyed to the tune of almost 25 million acres, an area almost five times the size of Wales. We have also seen the destruction of more than 1 billion animals. What support has been offered to Australia to help to rebuild not only the bushland and forests but the biodiversity that has been destroyed?

Our hearts go out to everyone in Australia who has been affected by these devastating fires. The fires are a tragedy that remind us all of the catastrophe that climate change is inflicting on forests and biodiversity. The UK stands ready to provide our Australian friends with the support they need, including our full range of humanitarian capabilities if required.

Just over a week ago, the Prime Minister made a showpiece promise to end all UK aid spending on coal. That is all well and good, but there has not been any such spending since 2012. This is more evidence that the Government are more interested in talking big on climate change globally than in taking action. It is time for the Government to get serious. Will the Minister commit today to stopping spending taxpayers’ money on gas, oil and fracking, which are helping to destroy our planet and biodiversity, and instead commit to using aid to tackle the vast amounts of poverty and inequality across the globe?

I would encourage the hon. Gentleman to read the announcement in the Prime Minister’s speech more carefully. The announcement includes not only our bilateral aid assistance but investment, export credit and trade promotion support. The Government have shown significant leadership in tackling climate change, not least through our announcement to double our international climate finance commitment to developing countries, and we will host COP26 later this year.

Is the Minister aware that an all-party group has invited leaders of the indigenous communities of the Amazon to visit the House of Commons on 5 February? I invite all Members to meet those people and listen to their concerns about the deforestation of the Amazon.

The hon. Gentleman is right to suggest that we need to work with indigenous communities around the world. Many people in the developing world owe their livelihoods and incomes to local forests, and we therefore need to work with the communities in everything we do.

Developing countries around the world are facing a loss of trees and animals at a catastrophic rate as the climate emergency worsens. When will the Secretary of State follow the bold leadership of the Scottish Government and the recommendations of the International Development Committee and explicitly adopt the concept of climate justice, in order to help climate spending and ensure that the most vulnerable receive the help that they need to protect their biodiversity?

The UK is a global leader. Not only are we the fastest remover of our own carbon emissions in the G7; we are also making ground-breaking commitments such as the Prime Minister’s commitment at the UN General Assembly to double our international climate finance spending. I think that we have a proud record to tell, but we are going to work even harder to ensure that COP26 in Glasgow in November is a huge success.

International agribusiness in Colombia regularly steals land from campesino and indigenous peoples to cut down trees and plant acre after acre of palm oil crops, which is unsustainable for the future and bad for the environment. What are the Government saying to the Colombian Government to bring the peace process back on track so that indigenous people can have their land back?

DFID supports the Tropical Forest Alliance 2020, a public-private initiative with 90 member organisations that is focused on realising private sector commitments to eliminate deforestation in the supply chains for palm oil, beef, soya and paper. This is one of our many initiatives to address the consequences of palm oil production.

Bilateral Trade: Developing Countries

6. What recent discussions he has had with the Secretary of State for International Trade on increasing bilateral trade with developing countries. (900468)

Our Departments work together to ensure that development is at the heart of UK trade policy. This includes delivering the successful UK-Africa investment summit, where we announced the trade connect service. The service will help developing countries to make the most of preferential access to UK markets and support UK firms to strengthen their supply chains in developing countries.

I thank the Secretary of State for that answer. Increasing the number of women in the workforce is key to economic growth. What support is DFID giving to women entrepreneurs?

I commend my hon. Friend’s support for entrepreneurship in his constituency and more widely. The UK is absolutely committed to increasing women’s role in trade, recognising the importance of trade as a lever for equality. That is why we recently announced an extension to the Commonwealth SheTrades programme, which provides training and mentoring to female entrepreneurs and connects them to international markets and investment opportunities.

In 2013, Australia merged its aid and trade departments, resulting in worse-performing aid programmes and a mass exodus of development experts and even leading to DFID downgrading the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade to third-tier status for staff exchanges. Is that the future that the Secretary of State wants for his own Department, or does he agree that a standalone Department remains the best way for the UK to deliver world-leading international development projects?

Machinery of government changes are a matter for the Prime Minister, but the UK is and will continue to be a superpower when it comes to international development. He will have seen in our manifesto the commitment to spend 0.7% of GNI.

I congratulate my right hon. Friend on the success of the UK-Africa investment Summit. What further steps are the Government taking to support British businesses, such as JCB in my constituency, to export more and generate local jobs?

My hon. Friend did an enormous amount in her previous career to ensure more bilateral trade and investment. The summit was indeed a success, building partnerships with Governments and companies for the future, and that will lead to more trade and jobs in both regions.

Female Genital Mutilation

The hon. Lady is right to raise this matter. I am pleased to say that the UK leads the world in our support to the Africa-led movement to end FGM. In 2018, we announced a further £50 million in UK aid to tackle FGM over the next five years, including £15 million for our programme in Sudan, which is now in its second phase.

I am grateful to the Minister for that answer. He will of course be aware that the International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation is next week. In that context, and given some of the discussions around the potential reorganisation of DFID, he will understand why some in the sector are worried about whether funding will be retained up to 2025. The relationships underpinning those programmes take time to embed, so will he please give us that guarantee?

Notwithstanding what may happen with the machinery of government, as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State just said, I remind the hon. Lady that we are committed—indeed, we are legally obliged—to spend 0.7% of GNI. That is a firm commitment, and she should be in no doubt about it.

We, like her, look forward to the International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation on 6 February. We wish it well and entirely agree with its theme of “unleashing youth power”. Following DFID’s success in helping to achieve legal change in partner countries, we look forward to making another further important announcement about how we will work with international partners to strengthen laws, policies and systems to respond to FGM.

Palestine: UK Aid

9. What steps he is taking to ensure that UK aid to the Palestinians facilitates peace-building with Israel. (900471)

As my right hon. Friend knows, the UK is committed to making progress towards a negotiated two-state solution. Meanwhile, UK aid to Palestinians helps to meet immediate needs, deliver key services and promote economic development. It supports stability in the development of a capable and accountable Palestinian Authority who can act as an effective partner for peace with Israel.

UK taxpayers’ aid pays the salaries of teachers in Palestinian Authority schools, yet at least 31 official PA schools are named after terrorists who killed innocent citizens. Does the Secretary of State share my concern that the children studying in those schools are being taught that it is honourable to commit violent acts against Israelis? Does he agree that, instead of prolonging the conflict by supporting such rhetoric, we must do more to press the Palestinians to stop glorifying terrorists and to use our aid as it is meant to be used?

My right hon. Friend is right to raise this matter. We are clear with the Palestinian Authority on how we expect UK aid to be spent. Last week, I had a further meeting with the Palestinian Authority Education Minister, Professor Awartani, following our meeting in Ramallah last year. He expressed his commitment to the EU’s review of teaching materials, as well as to the PA’s own review, which will be available before the start of the academic year.

Education means hope, and we need to be careful about removing hope from the OPTs, because hope is what is preventing people from falling into the arms of those with mischievous intent for the future of that part of the world.

Preventable Child Deaths

10. What steps his Department is taking to implement the findings of the UNICEF UK report on ending preventable child deaths. (900472)

I welcome the report and its recognition that my Department is a force for good that saves children’s lives and makes a real difference. The report is in line with the Government’s ambition to end preventable maternal, new-born and child deaths by 2030.

Without global leadership, we will not meet sustainable development target 3.2 and end preventable child deaths by 2030. Does the Secretary of State agree that we should place child health on a level footing with the Government’s commitment to girls’ education?

The hon. Lady cares deeply about this issue, which I completely understand. We made a manifesto commitment to tackle preventable deaths by 2030. I hope in the coming weeks to set out a detailed strategy on how we will do that.

The UK Government have an outstanding record on contributing to the 50% fall in the number of children in developing countries who die before their fifth birthday but, even with that progress, UNICEF calculates that 52 million children will still die before the age of five by 2030. What more can we do to provide additional leadership to make sure we get rid of diseases like pneumonia, as well as the lack of access to basic vaccines, which will help to end this blight?

We support organisations such as the Global Fund and, as my hon. Friend knows, the UK will host the replenishment of GAVI later this year. He is right to highlight this important issue.


11. What progress his Department has made on achieving sustainable development goal 2 on tackling hunger. (900474)

The UK is at the forefront of the fight against hunger, giving £461 million to humanitarian food assistance in 2018 through the World Food Programme. We will take a leadership position as a global influencer and convener, alongside Germany, at the SDG2 summit in Berlin in June and at other events leading up to the New York food systems summit and Japan’s nutrition for growth summit.

Malnutrition is the No. 1 risk factor for TB, the world’s deadliest infectious disease. A quarter of the 10 million new cases last year were caused by undernutrition, and treatment is less effective for those who are unable to access a good diet. What steps are the Government taking to ensure that fewer people fall ill with TB and to improve access to nutritional support for those who do fall ill?

The hon. Gentleman is right to link TB and malnutrition, and I hope he approves of the UK’s contribution to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria last year. That was a huge effort on behalf of this country. I think he will also approve of the GAVI replenishment, which this country will be hosting in London in June.

Topical Questions

In August, I announced an International Development Infrastructure Commission to advise me on mobilising additional private sector funds alongside public money to deliver on the sustainable development goals. The United Nations estimates that an additional $2.5 trillion is required annually to meet those goals, and the commission has now made recommendations on how to turbocharge infrastructure investment in developing countries. At the recent UK-Africa investment summit, I announced that the UK will work together with the Governments of Uganda, Egypt, Kenya, Ethiopia and Ghana— initially—to do just that.

I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer. I was pleased to see that COP26 will be held in Glasgow. Will he update the House on preparations for that conference?

A successful delivery of COP26 in November is a key priority for the Government, and cross-departmental work is being co-ordinated through the Cabinet Office. It is vital for current and future generations that all of us around the world step up to the challenge.

Will the Secretary of State clarify what his Department’s policy is on spending UK aid money on expanding fossil fuels overseas?

I think the answer was given earlier by the Minister of State, Department for International Development, my hon. Friend the Member for Pendle (Andrew Stephenson), in respect of the statement the Prime Minister made at the Africa investment summit.

I am afraid that that is just not good enough. Last week’s UK-Africa investment summit cost the Department more than £15 million of aid money, on a one-day event. I wonder whether the Secretary of State can say now whether any of that money was spent on business-class flights or five-star hotels, because the Department will not disclose the figures until autumn 2021. At the summit, almost £2 billion-worth of new energy deals were struck for fossil fuels. How on earth can he justify using taxpayers’ funds to help fossil fuel companies when we are in the midst of a climate catastrophe?

If the hon. Gentleman had read the communiqué that came out of the summit, he would have seen not only the billions of pounds of investment, but the UK support going to developing countries. He always castigates private investment, but perhaps he ought to read what the UN Secretary-General wrote in November in the Financial Times, where he pointed out that the private sector is vital to advance development goals. Sometimes the hon. Gentleman needs to read and listen to the experts, rather than to people on his own Benches.

T2. . Will my right hon. Friend reassure companies in my constituency that specialise in renewables, such as Kensa Heat Pumps, how the African summit held last week will boost African countries’ efforts to adopt cleaner forms of fuel? (900479)

My hon. Friend raises a good question. The summit highlighted the UK’s distinct offer to support clean growth, and our expertise in low-carbon sectors and green finance. For example, along with the President of Kenya, I attended the London stock exchange for the launch of the first green Simba bond, which the UK Government helped to develop.

Will the Minister confirm that educating and employing women and girls will remain a key strategy for his Department?

T3. Will the Secretary of State update the House on what measures he is taking to empower the women’s economy in many developing countries? (900480)

Women and girls are very much at the heart of our approach to economic development, and I am sure that all colleagues would agree that no society can truly flourish if half the population is held back. At the UK-Africa investment summit, I announced further support for our work and opportunities for women programme, which will help at least 100,000 additional women to achieve better paid and more secure work.

The UK has a major responsibility for the plastic pollution we see, particularly in developing countries, so what work are the UK Government doing to stop the trade in and export of plastic pollution from the UK?

I set out earlier what we are doing in this particular area. There is a legitimate export market for plastic waste and secondary raw material, but we take firm action against those engaged in the illegal export of contaminated, low-quality and unrecyclable plastic waste.

T4. I understand that, given the recent significant influx of Syrian refugees into the Kurdistan region of Iraq, there are issues with the allocation of British funding to the Kurdistan region. So will my right hon. Friend join me in paying tribute to the region, which has accommodated more than 1 million refugees and displaced people since 2014, and will he sort out the funding? (900481)

I most certainly do join my hon. Friend in paying tribute to the Kurdistan Regional Government and other Governments in the area, including those of Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey, who are helping. I am not aware of any delays to the allocation to which my hon. Friend refers, but I am happy to look into the matter.