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International Development

Volume 677: debated on Wednesday 10 June 2020

The Secretary of State was asked—

Covid-19 Vaccine: Developing Countries

What steps her Department is taking to ensure that developing countries will have access to a vaccine for covid-19. (903051)

I start by wishing you, Mr Speaker, a very happy birthday.

The UK is leading global efforts to ensure that equitable access to covid-19 vaccines is possible. We worked night and day to make the global vaccine summit last week a success. Not only did we significantly beat our fundraising target to buy vaccines for the world’s poorest people, but we pledged £1.65 billion of UK aid to be the world’s largest donor to Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance. We have also pledged £250 million to vaccine research through the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations and are a key part of the brand new scheme to ensure global vaccine production. But it is not just about money; the summit showed what true collaboration can do. The UK will leave no stone unturned to make everyone safe.

Businesses in M-SParc, a scientific park in my constituency, are developing innovation to fight the coronavirus pandemic, while at the further education college, Coleg Menai, and across the bridge at Bangor University, everyone is working hard in the fight against coronavirus by developing innovative technologies. For example, the science park businesses are developing proteins for vaccines and have made more than 8,000 visors. Can the Secretary of State tell me how we are supporting innovative British businesses to play a role in fighting coronavirus and developing a vaccine for the rest of the world?

It is lovely to welcome a scientist to our Green Benches. As my hon. Friend suggests, organisations right across the UK are playing a vital role in innovating to develop a coronavirus vaccine. It is a great pleasure to thank all the communities across the island of Ynys Môn helping to fight coronavirus with their technological solutions. My officials are also working closely with the Action for Global Health network to draw on the expertise of a range of UK charities and organisations as part of our approach to shaping global vaccine efforts. If UK-backed candidates for vaccines are successful, the Department for International Development funding for international efforts will help to ensure that those are scaled up and support equitable access for all who need them globally.

Happy birthday, Mr Speaker.

I start by welcoming the Secretary of State’s apology concerning the sharing of an unacceptable, offensive and xenophobic image, but it was extremely disappointing that it took so long to apologise.

The Secretary of State has said she wants to ensure equitable access for many new vaccines once developed. AstraZeneca has guaranteed the US and the UK the first 400 million of any new vaccine in September, while those in the world’s poorest countries will not begin to get any until the end of the year, at the very earliest. Does she think this is equitable access?

The vaccine challenge, and the race for scientists to crack that code and for industry to come in behind them to support, to produce and to deliver, is critical. AstraZeneca is leading the way with us and has now signed a licence for 300 million doses, should the Oxford vaccine be successful, which it has committed will go to low and middle-income countries, which is fantastic news. This is a huge piece of work, which is led by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and which DFID is involved in, to draw together that scientific effort. The key point about any vaccine that is found—obviously we hope one will be found—is delivery, which is why Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance is so critical, because it can reach out. It has effective networks for delivering vaccines in those poorest countries, where we want to make sure that everyone who needs it gets that vaccine.

The “Oxford Dictionary” defines “equitable” as “fair or just”; what the Secretary of State has just outlined is neither. She rightly praises Gavi and the number of people it has vaccinated, but as she knows the alliance would not be needed if access to vaccines was actually equitable. There is a disconnect between the Government’s rhetoric on this issue and their actions. Rather than outsourcing responsibility, will she step up and commit to attaching clear, transparent conditions on British taxpayers’ money to accelerate development and guarantee truly equitable access to vaccines based on need, not how deep your pockets are?

The UK taxpayer, through UK aid, has made a huge commitment. We gave £250 million to CEPI very early on in the crisis. Those who use that CEPI money as part of their vaccine development work have that commitment. That is fantastic. Gavi is a fundamental part of ensuring the whole world works together to make vaccines available. By being the organisation that vaccinates nearly 50% of the world’s children, it brings down prices. It can bring huge negotiating benefits so the value is spread across the world.

The Department’s work in funding the development of a vaccine for covid-19 is just one of many projects that help to protect some of the most vulnerable people in the developing world, but we cannot take our eye off the ball on the need to continuously tackle global poverty. Can the Secretary of State confirm reports that there is a rapid ministerial review happening of the aid budget and that the vast majority of new projects have been paused, and can she explain why these life-saving projects are being quietly put on hold without informing Parliament or engaging with the International Development Committee?

Our aid spending is linked to the growth of our economy. The challenge this year, in which gross national income will go down, means that the economy is likely to shrink. We are working closely with the Treasury to understand the likely forecasts and to ensure that we can meet our 0.7% commitment. We are working across Departments to ensure that we continue to drive UK aid spending and commit our official development assistance to the most vulnerable and poorest.

Developing Countries’ Debt: Private Creditors

What discussions she has had with her international counterparts on requiring private creditors to cancel debt owed by developing countries during the covid-19 pandemic. (903052)

What discussions she has had with her international counterparts on requiring private creditors to cancel debt owed by developing countries during the covid-19 pandemic. (903057)

What discussions she has had with her international counterparts on requiring private creditors to cancel debt owed by developing countries during the covid-19 pandemic. (903059)

The UK, the G20 and the Paris Club will suspend debt repayments from the poorest countries due this year. My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer and his G20 counterparts have called on private sector creditors to do likewise. At the World Bank spring forum, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Development amplified that call, along with other World Bank governors.

Happy birthday, Mr Speaker. Following comments from the UN Secretary-General in recent weeks on the increase in allocations of its special drawing rights currency to give countries more access to funding, what is the Secretary of State doing to get an SDR issuance agreed multilaterally? Will she support the UK and other rich countries transferring some of their allocation to poorer countries?

Last time, the allocation was split, and I am sure we would want it to be used by developing countries if special drawing rights were exercised. That could be part of the solution, but as the hon. Gentleman knows, 85% of the banks need to agree, and the US effectively has a blocking right, which means that this is perhaps not a short-term solution but one to work on over time with international partners.

I welcome the Government’s role in the G20’s suspension of bilateral debt payments due in 2020 from the world’s poorest countries, as well as their donation of £150 million to an IMF debt relief scheme used for covid-19. However, the World Bank is yet to take action on debt relief, despite that being one of the most important things we can do to support developing countries in this global pandemic. Can the Minister tell me what actions the Government will take to ensure that the World Bank moves to cancel debt payments, to support the world’s poorest?

I thank the hon. Lady for recognising the work that has already been done on suspension and relief. That will perhaps be looked at again, in terms of private sector relief and expanding either the data or the amounts of both those schemes, before looking at cancellation issues, which will have a longer-term impact. We need to focus on solutions that will help immediately and leave longer-term solutions for the longer term, but that is still very much on the table. I would not want to leave the House with the impression the World Bank is doing nothing. The international development banks overall are putting $200 billion into developing countries over the next 15 months as a result of the covid crisis.

Have a wonderful birthday, Mr Speaker. The coronavirus is having a significant impact on developing countries. The economic impact of the crisis is very severe. Poor countries face a debt crisis unlike anything we have seen. Their finances have been decimated by the global crisis, with private creditors exploiting the debt. The commitments made by the G20 at the spring meetings were a great start in reducing countries’ debt burdens. However, does the Minister agree that suspension is not enough and that it will lead to a further debt crisis in two years’ time? Does he agree that what countries urgently need now from the G20 is the cancellation of debt payments?

The hon. Lady is right that suspension on its own is not an adequate response, but it was the right response to make immediately. She mentions the private sector. The Institute of International Finance is already working with the 450 main private sector lenders and put in place the terms of reference 10 days ago. The private sector, far from being abusive, can join that debt suspension. There will be a case potentially for extending that period and extending relief more generally, and we will continue our discussions with Her Majesty’s Treasury on that. Ultimately, for some countries, cancellation may be an option, but we have to remember that 50% of countries were struggling even before covid.

Covid-19: African Union

What discussions she has had with representatives of the member states of the African Union to help support the response to the covid-19 pandemic in Africa. (903054)

I was delighted that the chair of the African Union Commission, Moussa Faki, was able to join and speak at the Gavi summit. This week, I would have spoken to all eight AU commissioners. Under our strategic partnership with the AU, we are revising our joint plan to work on covid-19 implications and intend to hold a virtual high-level dialogue later this month. I also speak to member states of the AU more directly.

The pandemic has shown us the vulnerability of not only the health systems in African countries, but their economies. The African Union has warned that nearly 20 million jobs may be lost. Has the Minister seen the excellent work of the African Development Bank as it focuses on the recovery and, in particular, focuses on the private sector as the key to employment and prosperity?

I thank my hon. Friend for that question. He clearly shares my concern that this is an economic crisis as well as a humanitarian and health crisis. The private sector and the African Development Bank play a critical role alongside supply chains, but particularly the ADB in relation to protecting livelihoods. I look forward to working as an alternate governor to the Secretary of State for that great organisation in Abidjan.

FCO Objectives: Prioritising Development Opportunities

What co-operation there is between her Department and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office on prioritising development opportunities identified as FCO objectives. (903055)

Development policy and foreign policy are remarkably intertwined, which is why the Department for International Development and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office already work together in 32 bilateral posts, nine multilateral missions and eight FCO-DFID joint units. To deal with coronavirus as effectively as possible and to co-ordinate our international efforts, we established a superb joint conflict, security and governance covid-19 hub, so the UK has a stronger presence in the world when speaking as one Government, rather than as only individual Departments.

Beyond the immediate covid response, the past 30 years have shown us that trade, not aid, lifts developing nations out of poverty. With this in mind, does the Secretary of State agree that the considerable soft power that her Department wields should be used to encourage and expand trading opportunities with developing nations?

The UK Government are firmly committed to ensuring that developing countries can reduce poverty through trading opportunities. Indeed, that is one of the critical outcomes, and we will have to work very hard to help those countries get back on their feet. DFID has a joint team with the Department for International Trade, which is working to enhance market access for developing countries, ensuring that they can take advantage of this access through trade-related assistance and using our influence in organisations such as the World Trade Organisation.

Happy birthday, Mr Speaker.

Yesterday, the International Development Committee released its review into UK aid, which concluded that DFID was by far the best Department to deliver it. The integrated review is formally paused, but it seems that the Secretary of State is carrying out her own stealth review. The official development assistance meeting was chaired by the Foreign Secretary. All but 200 future DFID programmes are paused, and DFID looks as if it is taking most of the forecast ODA cuts. Can the Secretary of State tell us what is the scope of the review, what is the timetable, and why the Committee found out through whistleblowers rather than through official channels?

I thank the hon. Lady for her Committee’s report, which I was able to read overnight before it was published. I also thank her for her compliments about DFID. Indeed, the effectiveness with which DFID is able to deliver aid is because the Department has decades of honed experience in understanding the most effective and targeted ways of spending taxpayers’ money and getting the most developmental impact. It was a really encouraging report. As I said earlier, because of the likely drop in gross national income, we are having to assess, across the board, how we will manage the 0.7% target in the coming year. We are working across Government to ensure that we do that as effectively as possible, because as far as we are all concerned—the Prime Minister has been very clear on this—UK aid must be spent to help the world tackle covid-19.

Palestinian Authority Funding

What steps she is taking to ensure that funding to the Palestinian Authority is used to support her Department's objectives in that region. (903056)

The UK remains determined to work for peace in the region, and that means supporting a stable Palestinian Authority that can deliver essential public services to Palestinians and act as an effective partner for peace with Israel. In 2018-19, UK support helped the Palestinian Authority provide education for 26,000 children, half of whom were girls, and deliver 3,000 more immunisations and 111,000 medical consultations. I recently announced £20 million in new funding to help Palestinian health workers battle the coronavirus on the frontline.

Happy 50th birthday, Mr Speaker. [Interruption.] I’ll definitely get called again.

There has been some excellent working between the Palestinian Authority and Israel in response to covid. However, an investigation has shown that groups funded by the OHCA—the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs—and the World Health Organisation have links to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, which is a proscribed terrorist organisation. Can the Minister assure me that no UK aid money has been channelled in that way?

The UK has provided £840,000 to the WHO and UNICEF in response to covid-19. We maintain robust measures to ensure that aid is not diverted. We are determined to continue to play our responsible part in cross-Government approaches to support the Palestinian people and to work towards peace in the region.

Covid-19: Support for Charities’ Response

What steps her Department has taken to support UK charities in their response to the covid-19 pandemic in developing countries. (903060)

What support she is providing to international NGOs based in the UK to help those organisations respond to the covid-19 pandemic. (903064)

Charities and non-governmental organisations are crucial partners for DFID and play a critical role in ensuring UK aid reaches the most vulnerable. We have used schemes such as our rapid response facility to send £45 million of special funding to them. We want them to deliver some of the rest of the UK’s £764 million coronavirus response. Where our charity partners are struggling, we have introduced a special procedure to make sure they remain our partners for the long term.

Many happy returns from the residents of Bishop Auckland, Mr Speaker.

Earlier this week, Members from across the House marked World Oceans Day, outlining how we can put nature at the heart of a clean and resilient recovery. Does my hon. Friend agree that Durham University’s transforming energy access initiative will help the deployment of renewable energy sources, as part of the UK’s ambitious climate change targets?

Increasing the deployment of clean energy is a key part of helping countries build back greener after the covid-19 crisis. DFID’s transforming energy access programme, in which Durham University has played a valuable role, is supporting technology and business model innovations, accelerating access to affordable clean energy. It has already improved energy access for more than 5 million people in sub-Saharan Africa and south Asia. This is the sort of ambition we hope to be able to scale up from April 2021 under the Ayrton fund.

Many happy returns, Mr Speaker.

UK-based international charities are under unprecedented pressure at a time when their services are most needed, with the latest research indicating that more than half have cut back on their overseas programmes and nearly half, particularly small organisations, are at risk of not surviving for another six months. Will the Minister ensure that the review of their work begins by the Government dealing with those with the lowest transparency scores and tackling programmes that do not put poverty reduction at the heart of their work?

I ought to wish you happy birthday as well, Mr Speaker. That was rather remiss of me.

The hon. Lady makes a very important point. Civil society is an important policy and delivery partner for DFID and I absolutely recognise the work it does. Our continued partnership will be critical in ensuring that UK aid reaches those most in need as a result of covid-19. There are a number of funding schemes and programmes that DFID has recently announced and allocated, including a new £30 million UK Aid Direct funding round that is open specifically for small and medium-sized charities based both in the UK and internationally to support the global response to covid-19.

Topical Questions

If she will make a statement on her departmental responsibilities. Happy birthday from Blyth Valley, Mr Speaker. Does my right hon. Friend agree that to tackle the virus, so that we can all be safe from future waves of infection— (903066)

I want to put on the record that black lives matter. We must listen to those communities that face discrimination, and solve the unconscious biases that still create injustice and lost potential. My Department will redouble its efforts to drive out discrimination and support the poorest countries to achieve genuine mutual prosperity free of prejudice. That struggle for equality is exactly why it was so important last week that the UK brought together, via video link, the London 2020 global vaccine summit as part of a 60-country effort. A historic $8.8 billion was raised to vaccinate the world’s poorest people. Gavi will immunise 300 million more children as a result.

Sorry about that, Mr Speaker, and happy birthday again.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that in order to tackle this virus so that we can all be safe from future waves of infection the international community must work together, co-ordinating and increasing support for vulnerable countries, and delivering the appropriate international financial and health system assistance?

Strong, resilient health systems are vital to national and global health security, and to helping to protect the world from infectious diseases, including covid. The UK has so far pledged £764 million of UK aid to help end the covid-19 pandemic, in support of the co-ordinated international response through the international financing institutions, multilaterals and global health initiatives, alongside DFID programmes. Through our multilateral partnerships and our regional and national programmes, we support developing countries to make their domestic healthcare systems stronger and more resilient and to better prepare for, prevent, detect and respond to health crises, including covid.

Penblwydd hapus, Mr Speaker.

The UK’s Commonwealth Development Corporation does important work, but deeply concerning evidence has come to light, thanks to the work of Finance Uncovered, regarding CDC investments in Myanmar, including $30 million in an internet service provider called Frontiir, which, at the orders of the Myanmar Government, has blocked independent news sites reporting on atrocities taking place against the Rohingya. Will the Secretary of State now urge CDC to immediately divest from this company? Is she sure that none of the other microfinance programmes being supported is indirectly helping the Myanmar regime?

The UK Government condemn any action to restrict the freedom of expression of journalists, and have repeatedly raised the issue of internet restrictions and shutdowns at the highest level with the Myanmar Government, but, after going through due diligence, CDC invested in Frontiir to extend internet access to more people in Myanmar and to combat poverty. The company has followed the international Global Network Initiative standards by posting transparency statements so that users know whether the site has limitations upon it.

Wishing you a bostin’ birthday from the Black Country, Mr Speaker. I was recently lobbied by a year 12 student from Wednesbury called Queenie, who wanted to ensure that no one in the world cannot access a vaccine. So I wish to ask my right hon. Friend: in addition now to being the largest funder of Gavi, The Vaccine Alliance, what work is the UK doing and what message does she have for Queenie to ensure that she can carry on in her fight to make sure that everyone can access vaccines globally? (903068)

Queenie is clearly a wise young person, and it is a really important question. The UK is at the forefront of efforts to drive global collaboration and resourcing, including through our engagement through the access to covid tools accelerator and through industry for the development of new vaccines at the speed and scale required to ensure access for all those who will need them. As well as contributing £1.65 billion to fund Gavi’s core programme we have committed £48 million to its newly launched covax advanced market commitment, aimed at incentivising manufacturers to produce sufficient quantities of a potential vaccine to ensure future access for low-income and middle-income countries.

Happy birthday to you from Tewkesbury, Mr Speaker. Many people in east Africa have suffered from food insecurity for very many years, and of course the challenge has been multiplied recently. Will the Secretary of State give us a quick assessment of the position in east Africa and what the Government are doing to help people there? (903069)

The UK is proud to support the World Food Programme, with £500 million last year, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation, with £40 million, and the International Fund for Agricultural Development, with more than £50 million, in their efforts to end hunger, achieve food security and improve nutrition across Africa. We are also assisting countries to respond to the desert locust upsurge in east Africa, which threatens 25 million people with severe food shortages. UK aid has funded a supercomputer to track that and help develop early warning systems and has provided £5 million to the UNFAO’s regional emergency appeal.

In addition to dealing with the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff South and Penarth (Stephen Doughty), will the Secretary of State urge the CDA to avoid investments that involve making, selling or utilising single-use plastic packaging? (903071)

I assure the right hon. Gentleman that all Departments are closely integrated in the work of humanitarian aid, economic development and improving our planet. The work of my right hon. Friend Lord Goldsmith means that we are fully integrated in ensuring that economic development is not done at the cost of the environment and the planet.