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International Development

Volume 672: debated on Wednesday 4 March 2020

The Secretary of State was asked—

Developing World: Business Enabling

1. What steps her Department is taking to help increase the ease of doing business throughout the developing world. (901091)

6. What steps her Department is taking to help increase the ease of doing business throughout the developing world. (901096)

12. What steps is her Department taking to promote the ease of doing business throughout the developing world. (901102)

The UK Government work in 35 low and middle-income countries to implement legal, regulatory and policy reforms to make it easy for business, including from the UK, to operate. Business-enabling environment reform was also discussed at the UK-Africa investment summit, which secured commercial deals between UK companies and African partners worth more than £6.5 billion.

Does the Minister agree that now we have formally left the European Union we have an exciting opportunity to build on our historic ties with the Commonwealth and use close business links to help developing countries create wealth?

I could not agree more with my hon. Friend. He makes a good point. The Government are committed to working with our Commonwealth partners to support and deepen intra-Commonwealth trade, to improve the business environments in Commonwealth countries to enable them to be more globally competitive, and to facilitate the economic empowerment of women and young people by providing more business and educational opportunities. He will have an opportunity on Monday to take part in the Commonwealth debate.

Now that we have left the EU, the UK can deepen and expand its trade with countries and businesses across Africa. Can my hon. Friend update the House on progress made to develop that potential to the benefit of constituencies across Wales?

Indeed. This is a great opportunity for constituencies across all the nations of the UK. Leaving the EU provides an opportunity to explore the best ways to develop our trade and investment relationships across Africa. [Interruption.] Does the hon. Member for Brighton, Kemptown (Lloyd Russell-Moyle) want to intervene? The trade connect programme, announced at the Africa investment summit, will support African businesses to increase their presence in international markets while supporting UK firms to source products. This will benefit UK customers with more choice and quality and lower prices.

I welcome my hon. Friend’s comments on the success of the Africa investment summit. Can he update the House on how we can further strengthen our economic partnerships with African nations?

I certainly can. My hon. Friend raises an important point. We are working with African countries to promote mutual prosperity. This incorporates a range of initiatives to increase trade and investment, including a new growth gateway, which will enable businesses to access the UK Government’s trade, investment and finance offer for Africa all in one place.

All of us should be truly proud of our contributions to international development, yet the opening questions demonstrate the dangerous direction in which many in the Tory party are looking to take aid spending. The Department for International Development does not exist to increase the size of our business abroad, and nor is it part of the Department for International Trade. Indeed, the public good will and trust in the Department has been because every penny spent has been on helping the world’s poorest and most vulnerable people. As the Government undertake their integrated review, will the Secretary of State reaffirm the Government’s commitment to a fully independent Department, with Cabinet-level representation, and does she agree that this should not be compromised for quid pro quo deals made to facilitate aid for trade?

I can assure the hon. Gentleman that the Department has Cabinet representation. I just make the point that trade can be and is a key driver for economic growth. It triggers positive changes in a country’s economy, which helps raise incomes in the poorest countries, creates job, lifts people out of poverty and helps countries to move beyond trade dependency.

I welcome the Secretary of State to her place. I will take an answer from the Minister, but I warmly welcome her to her new position in the Cabinet.

On the Department’s role around investment in developing countries, the International Labour Organisation sets global standards for employment rights. As DFID invests in African nations, will the Minister ensure that those Governments meet international labour standards, if not even higher standards?

I can assure the hon. Gentleman that where we have these interests in developing countries we take those rights incredibly seriously. Our network fully engages with them, and this fantastic array of Ministers, who will shortly do some travelling, will ensure that that is the case.

Sustainable Development Goals: Climate Action

Climate action is a priority for the UK Government and the Department for International Development. We have recently doubled our commitment to international climate finance and will spend £11.6 billion over the next five-year period on helping poorer countries tackle climate change. Since 2011, ICF has helped 57 million people cope with the effects of climate change and provided 26 million with improved access to clean energy.

Drawing climate finance solely from the 0.7% will not be sustainable as climate change takes its toll, and drawing from the aid budget will mean cuts for health, education and life-saving measures, so what plans does the Minister have to establish new and additional sources of climate finance?

I absolutely disagree with the hon. Gentleman. Finance is critical, but this is about more than just finance. The UK will be hosting COP26 this year in partnership with Italy and, as I am sure he is aware, this will be happening in Glasgow. Tackling climate change is about so much more than just finance; it cuts right across the work that we do in the Department for International Development.

Departmental Funding

My apologies: I am short on voice today, about which many in the House will no doubt be very relieved. The Government’s 2019 spending review allocated sufficient funding to ensure that the UK can deliver on our commitment to spend 0.7% of gross national income on official development assistance in 2020-21. Thanks to this Government’s focus on a strong economy, we can deliver on this commitment, improving the lives of millions in developing countries—for example, by giving more than 14 million children access to a decent education, immunising 56 million children and supporting 52 million to access clean water and better sanitation in the past two years alone.[Official Report, 4 March 2020, Vol. 673, c. 8MC.]

I asked that question because in 2013 the Secretary of State tweeted an article that questioned the 0.7% of GDP target and, more recently, she circulated an article by the former Development Secretary saying that the waste of cash on

“vanity projects in far-flung lands”

had kept her awake at night. Can the Secretary of State confirm today that she has changed her mind on this matter and is now committed to the 0.7% target?

I am absolutely committed to 0.7% and I am committed to spending it in value-for-money terms for the British taxpayers who are funding it and, most importantly, to ensuring that we help those countries that are most fragile and most in need of aid and then development, so that they can become strong independent countries themselves. Getting to that point involves doing lots of things, and not necessarily in the way we have done them before. We need to ensure that we have a long-term investment perspective to help those countries to become self-sufficient. I do not want countries always to be dependent on UK and international aid; I want them to be self-sufficient, proud countries that can stand on their own two feet.

Given the likely effect of covid-19 on populations that DFID works with, what plans exist to establish contingency funding to deal with mitigation for those populations and to shift funding to the development of a vaccine, which is a global equity?

I thank my right hon. Friend for his question, and for the enormous amount of work that he has done in previous iterations of his posts in this Department and others. He is absolutely right; the challenge of finding a vaccine for covid-19 is something that we are actively involved in, and we have already supported £5 million to the World Health Organisation. I was speaking to Dr Tedros yesterday to find out what other support we could bring, not only in cash terms but in expertise such as the skills of epidemiologists and logisticians, which could help the WHO to drive forwards in the weakest health systems across the world to ensure that they have the support they need.

Is the Secretary of State confident that her Department has sufficient resources to deal with the consequences of the ongoing conflict in Syria, especially given the recent call from the UN high commissioner for refugees for the international support for refugees trapped in Idlib to be sustained and stepped up?

I think we are all continually horrified by the increasing abandonment of any kind of respect for humanitarian law that we are seeing in Syria from the regime, supported by the Russians. I signed off an £89 million package last week to provide more immediate help in that area. The challenge is to get it in, and to ensure that those who are able to deliver that humanitarian relief are able to get in and out safely. The Foreign Secretary was in Turkey yesterday continuing to try to find ways to ensure that those communities are at least able to keep warm and fed while we find ways to really sort out this impossible humanitarian challenge.

Female Education

11. What steps her Department is taking to help ensure that girls throughout the world receive 12 years of quality education. (901101)

Excuse me, Mr Speaker. My cold is a demonstration, if I may say so, of joint working with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, as it is the Foreign Secretary’s cold, which he has shared, most unreasonably. [Interruption.] We have sent him abroad.

Promoting 12 years of quality education for all girls by 2030 is a personal priority of the Prime Minister’s and of mine. Girls in fragile states are central to this. When girls are educated, societies are healthier, wealthier and more sustainable. The UK is the leading donor to the global fund for education in emergencies, which supported over 1 million children to attend school in 2018.

There is a fantastic charity in Newbury, Afghan Connection, which has built or renovated over 100 schools in Takhar province, where most adult women are illiterate, yet their daughters go to school because the charity has offered separate school buildings and female-only teaching staff. What steps can my right hon. Friend take to support schooling that reflects social and religious sensitivities like this?

I thank my hon. Friend for raising the excellent work done by her local charity, Afghan Connection, and I look forward to hearing more about the work it is doing. Perhaps we can join that up.

DFID supports marginalised girls’ access and stay-in-school through strategies such as gender-sensitive infrastructure and pedagogy. DFID supports two girls’ education challenge projects in Afghanistan specifically. The UK is the largest donor to the Global Partnership for Education and to Education Cannot Wait, which supports girls’ education across fragile states.

I thank my right hon. Friend for her previous answers. As a former secondary school teacher, I know first hand the role that education has in unleashing potential, so will she update the House on what steps her Department is taking to support women and girls in fragile and conflict-affected states to ensure that where somebody is born has no bearing on their future potential?

I thank my hon. Friend for his service to education before coming on to the green Benches, and I know that he will support our commitment to educating girls. Girls in emergencies and crises are more than twice as likely to be out of school, so the UK prioritises quality education in conflicts and crises. We are the largest donor to Education Cannot Wait, the global fund for education in emergencies, and bilaterally, we are supporting education for over 600,000 girls in Syria and surrounding countries.

I welcome the Secretary of State to her place. International Women’s Day is a focal point of the year to celebrate the movement for women’s rights and gender equality, and we welcome her Department’s focus on girls’ education, but does she agree that girls’ education is a basic and universal human right, not something that should be used simply as a means to achieve other ends? Will she commit to implementing a gender-transformative approach across DFID’s work to help dismantle the structural causes of gender inequality?

I agree absolutely that education is a right for all, but especially for girls. We all know that if a girl is educated, that community gains so much more than just that education. That is something that at DFID and across this Government we are absolutely committed to. We are working in a number of areas on gender equality and reductions in violence against girls, and part of the focus that I am going to give to DFID around girls’ education for 12 years is the Prime Minister’s absolute commitment. We will be drawing together all those constituent parts.

I welcome the new Secretary of State and also the fact that this morning marks the inauguration of the Speaker’s chaplain. It is lovely to see her in the Chamber and leading our prayers.

Does the Secretary of State agree that we need much more energy from legislators worldwide? If we are going to tackle girls’ education worldwide, as well as my own World Health Organisation work on reducing road accidents worldwide, can we not get the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association, the Inter-Parliamentary Union and legislators around the world helping Ministers to do the job properly?

It sounds to me like the hon. Gentleman has just given himself a job to help me to draw up the plan that we want to bring together, which is exactly as he mentioned. If the focus is on ensuring that every girl across the globe has 12 years of education, we need to include all those things that make it possible, such as getting to school safely and appropriate sanitation in those schools so that girls can keep attending. I look forward to him coming to help us—

Order. We are going to have to speed up, seriously. You are very good, but you’re too detailed.

The Secretary of State will be aware of the preventing sexual violence in conflict initiative that was set up in 2012. Does she agree that the initiative needs to be relaunched and shown new leadership in a forthcoming conference later this year?

Climate Change: Water Projects

5. What recent assessment her Department has made of the effect of water projects in tackling climate change. (901095)

More than 700 million people do not have enough water every day, and climate change will make it worse unless more action is taken. DFID is supporting poorer countries to understand how climate change will affect water availability and to manage their water resources sustainably. DFID spends about £300 million a year on water, which since 2015 has given over 51 million people across 30 countries clean water or a decent toilet.

Some 800 million people across the world still do not have access to clean water, and clean water is the first line of defence in coping with climate change. We are currently seeing a need for handwashing, for which people need clean water, but the most climate-vulnerable countries across the world have some of the lowest levels of clean water. Only 5% of global climate finance is spent on helping countries adapt to climate change. Will the Minister increase funding for water, sanitation and hygiene projects to tackle the impact of climate change and adapt—

By 2030, 40% of the world’s population will be facing water scarcity unless action is taken, and we in DFID take that very seriously. This year is critical for galvanising global ambition on climate change, which is why COP26 is so important. DFID programmes cover many crucial aspects of water security, but there is much more to do to avert the global water crisis.

Infrastructure in Developing Countries

DFID has over 150 infra- structure programmes, including providing water, roads, electricity, schools and hospitals. This Government established the International Development Infrastructure Commission to accelerate our work in this area.

Infrastructure is critical for economic growth, creating jobs and boosting businesses, but we must also be mindful of the natural environment. What steps are the Government taking to ensure that new infrastructure development in developing countries is sustainable?

DFID is directly investing in infrastructure programmes that will enhance climate resilience in developing countries. Our work is focused on creating the right enabling conditions to direct private finance into low-carbon infrastructure, expanding Africa’s financial markets and unlocking investment through innovative instruments such as green investment bonds.

I welcome my hon. Friend’s work in this important area. As we look to the UN climate summit in Glasgow later this year, can he update the House on the work with countries across Africa to help them develop their clean energy potential?

I thank my right hon. Friend for his passion for Africa. We are committed to working with African countries to boost renewable energy potential and cleaner energy alternatives. For example, the Africa clean energy programme is working in over 15 countries to increase the deployment of off-grid renewable energy.

The Department invested nearly £300 million of taxpayers’ money in the airport on St Helena. Will the Minister update us on whether aircraft can now land and take off from that expensive airport?

I am familiar with the situation, as the hon. Lady knows, and I am more than happy to update her in writing.

Access to clean water is an essential prerequisite to development in sub-Saharan Africa. What steps are being taken to support small charities that excel in that much-needed activity in that land?

The provision of water is essential, and the Department is particularly keen to enable small charities, particularly small British charities, in this sector. If the hon. Gentleman has any particular ideas, my colleagues and I are more than happy to receive them.

Topical Questions

We are proud to maintain our manifesto commitment to spend 0.7% of our income on international development, helping countries to become economically self-sufficient, free societies where liberal values can flourish. That is firmly in our own interests. The climate change challenges, alongside championing 12 years of girls’ education and tackling preventable diseases, will be our focus. These are global challenges, achievable thanks to DFID investment in world-leading British business, the talent of our innovators, and our world-class defence and diplomatic network. I am determined that the British public’s altruism will be reflected in the outcomes that we see from DFID funding.

The UK plays a leadership role in countries around the world, projecting our values and ensuring that free societies can flourish. Education is a key part of that, so, ahead of International Women’s Day, what steps is my right hon. Friend taking to ensure that every child gets 12 years of education?

Talent is spread around the world but, sadly, opportunity is not. Twelve years of quality education is a key priority, and I am proud that between 2015 and 2019 we supported 14.3 million girls to gain a decent education, across 70 of our most fragile countries. As another International Women’s Day is before us, we have the opportunity to refocus our energies on making sure that there is not a single girl who is not educated.[Official Report, 17 March 2020, Vol. 673, c. 8MC.]

I welcome the new Secretary of State to her post. She leads one of the most important Departments, which literally saves lives every day. More than 60 countries across the world have reported at least one case of coronavirus, but, as yet, we have not seen a widespread outbreak in sub-Saharan Africa. What immediate steps is she taking to ensure the preparedness of the world’s poorest nations in the event of such an outbreak?

The hon. Gentleman is right to say that the great challenge is to be able to provide support to those countries where their health systems are weakest, should they need that support. Alongside our colleagues at the Department of Health and Social Care, I am working closely with the World Health Organisation to make sure that we can support it with technical skills as well as funding. We have already given £5 million to its initial fund to make sure that it can be as prepared as possible and reach as quickly as possible those countries that will need this.

The situation in Idlib and across Syria has reached a horrifying new level: indiscriminate bombings are killing civilians and humanitarian workers; 1 million people have fled their homes; people are sleeping in freezing conditions; and children are dying. We welcome the Government’s increased humanitarian response, but what is the UK, as a member of the Security Council, doing? When will the Prime Minister play his part to lead diplomatic efforts to protect civilian lives in Syria?

The Foreign Secretary is in the region at the moment, continuing to work with regional leaders to try to find ways to move forward supporting the Turkish communities who are looking after so many displaced people. As I said, we continue to be horrified and appalled by the humanitarian legal breaches that are going on, and we continue to provide support. I signed off £89 million last week to make sure that we can provide support as best we can.

T4. British scientists led the world in vaccine development. What steps is DFID taking to support the next generation of inoculation and vaccine development? (901109)

The UK is hosting the global vaccine summit in June, supporting Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance to raise at least $7.4 billion towards vaccination for the world’s poorest children. Ahead of the summit, we are convening world-leading British academics, the private sector and civil society in Liverpool to highlight UK research in global health that helps to unlock barriers to ending preventable deaths.

T2. Has the Secretary of State read the UNICEF report on ending preventable child deaths? What specific actions and finance will DFID employ to meet the aim of ending preventable child deaths by 2030? (901107)

We welcome that report and its recognition of the work the UK is already doing. The report is in line with the Government’s ambition to end preventable maternal, newborn and child deaths by 2030. We will be publishing a paper shortly setting out how we will work with others to reach that goal.

The coronavirus, severe acute respiratory syndrome and similar illnesses are believed to have been started in unsanitary butcheries in eastern and south-east Asia. What role does, and can, the Department have in producing cleaner butcheries, so that we do not get this transfer from animal to human disease?

Research and development is incredibly important, which is why we have thus far committed more than £40 million. I take my hon. Friend’s question seriously. Through our networks, we can project and promote good practice, and I am sure that that is what we are doing.

T5. Peace in Colombia is currently very unstable and the peace process is fragile. We are giving money for security reform, but no money for policing and community development. This year alone, 52 trade unionists and community leaders have been assassinated. Will the Government put in money to support policing and investigations? (901110)

The Government are aware of the situation in Colombia and Venezuela. The UK is one of the largest donors to the humanitarian response in Venezuela and the top donor to the Central Emergency Response Fund and Education Cannot Wait. I will come back to the hon. Gentleman in respect of his specific point on policing.

This is not the normal situation, but it is very important that I welcome the Pakistani Governor of the Punjab, Mohammad Sarwar, who is a former colleague and Member of this House and is in the Gallery today. We welcome him. [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear.”]