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International Development

Volume 678: debated on Wednesday 15 July 2020

The Secretary of State was asked—

Climate Justice: ODA Allocation

What steps her Department is taking to prioritise climate justice in the allocation of official development assistance to developing countries recovering from the effect of the covid-19 pandemic. (904774)

Next year, the United Kingdom will proudly host COP26—a clear demonstration of the UK’s commitment to tackling climate change and our desire to secure global action. Development and diplomacy together will be integral to our work. We recognise that there are few global threats more serious than climate change, and its impact will hit the poorest and most vulnerable hardest. It is vital that we build back better from covid-19. We are prioritising activity that delivers clean, resilient, inclusive recovery, and the Government are committed to that task.

One of the greatest achievements of our overseas development aid programme has been working towards improving the position of women, but biodiversity loss has laid extra burdens on women, who, for example, have to walk further for fresh food or water. What steps will the Minister take to mitigate biodiversity loss in developing countries and reduce the burden on women?

The hon. Lady makes an incredibly important and accurate point. The fact that my noble Friend Lord Goldsmith is a Minister across the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the Department for International Development and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office shows the integrated approach that this Government take. Our work on development, our diplomatic work and our work to protect biodiversity and the environment all work together to ensure that women and other people who are vulnerable are not hit harder by changes to our climate.

Thank you, Mr Speaker. The Minister may talk the talk, but the hypocrisy is staggering. His Government continue to funnel billions into fossil fuel projects, including £1 billion in Mozambique. Their own impact assessment is damning, saying that it would lead to permanent loss of natural resources, food scarcity and displacement, undoing the very resilience that DFID aid is there to help build. Does he agree that this flies in the face of climate justice and undermines the very people it is his job to protect?

I welcome the hon. Lady to her place. This Government are absolutely committed to ensuring that we build back better, protect the environment and protect the most vulnerable people in the world. Last year, the Prime Minister announced that the UK would provide £1.44 billion over the next four years to the green climate fund, doubling our commitment to the largest international fund dedicated to supporting developing countries to adopt low-carbon, climate-resilient technologies. That makes the UK the largest single contributor in the world to that fund.

Returning to Education after Covid-19

What steps her Department is taking to help children in developing countries return to education after the covid-19 pandemic. (904775)

The UK is committed to ensuring a safe return to school for children all around the world. We are taking decisive action through our education programmes and will throw our diplomatic and development weight behind global efforts, including the UNICEF-led campaign to support children’s return to school. On Monday, we announced £5.3 million of new funding to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees to enable over 5,000 teachers to provide education in 10 refugee hosting countries.

I thank my right hon. Friend for her response and commend the work that she is doing in the Department. How will the new Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office assist the Global Partnership for Education replenishment next year?

The UK is proud to be the largest bilateral donor to the Global Partnership for Education, with a commitment of up to £225 million over a three-year period. As a major education multilateral, it has a key role in tackling the global learning crisis. That is more crucial than ever given the covid pandemic, which is having a profound effect on education systems across the world. The GPE is flexing about £400 million to support education stability, and the UK is keen to play an active part in the 2021 replenishment. We are presently exploring the possibility of how we could co-host that replenishment

IMC Worldwide was commissioned by DFID to build 31,000 classrooms in Pakistan for a fee of £107 million. It renegotiated to only build a fifth but kept 58% of the initial fee. The majority of the classrooms built were substandard and presented a risk to children. By October last year, only a quarter had been retrofitted. Will the Secretary of State put the two DFID reviews into what went wrong in the public domain? Why is the same classroom design being used in other countries? Were any children hurt, and when can they go back to school?

The safety of children will always be our No. 1 priority, and I agree that it is completely unacceptable that children were being taught in tents because buildings funded by UK aid were not being built to the necessary standards. As soon as DFID knew that there was a problem, we took urgent action to ensure that all schools knew that the buildings should not be used, while we worked with the contractor to agree a plan for retrofitting the affected buildings. Covid has caused some delays to that progress, and schools are closed until 15 September, but I understand that the first of the buildings will be handed over shortly, in a state that is considered acceptable. Global education continues to be an absolutely key priority for the Government and, whether in Pakistan or elsewhere, we are working hard to get children back to school.

Rohingya in Bangladesh and Myanmar

The UK Government are committed to protecting the Rohingya. I thank Bangladesh for its kindness towards vulnerable Rohingya refugees. I recently visited—virtually—Rakhine in Myanmar, where the UK has provided more than £44 million to all communities since 2017, including more than £25 million for the Rohingya. In Bangladesh, we have provided £256 million for the Rohingya response since 2017, including support for food, health and women and girls.

In Peterborough, the excellent charity Unite 4 Humanity has been raising money for the Rohingya Crisis Appeal and working with those on the ground in Bangladesh since the start of the crisis. Many others, such as the UK Emergency Medical Team, are there too. Will the Government continue to work with charities and others to help to protect the Bangladeshi and Rohingya communities?

UK aid development work delivered through charities and other organisations will remain a priority, given Bangladesh’s vulnerability to climate and man-made disasters. My hon. Friend is absolutely right to highlight the excellent work of Peterborough-based Unite 4 Humanity, which I thank for its work, alongside other charities that have stepped up to respond to the Rohingya crisis. Members may have seen on TV adverts this morning that the UK’s Disasters Emergency Committee has launched a coronavirus appeal for vulnerable communities—including the Rohingya—in seven countries. I am pleased to confirm that the UK Government will match funds raised by the UK public, up to £5 million.

Sustainable Agriculture

The transition to sustainable agriculture is critical to achieving food-security, nutrition and climate objectives. We have ensured that the UK is taking a leadership role through its hosting of COP26 and our support for several bilateral and multilateral initiatives promoting sustainable agriculture. That support includes £176 million invested in the global agriculture and food security programme, which directly addresses climate change through the use of mitigation and adaptation technologies such as resilient seed varieties, more efficient irrigation and increased intercropping.

Protecting the rainforest in Brazil is crucial for our climate and biodiversity goals, so will the Minister ensure that UK aid supports sustainable agriculture in Brazil so that we prevent deforestation and ensure stable and prosperous communities?

My right hon. Friend makes an important point. As she will appreciate and understand, rain forests are the world’s lungs. Through the Partnerships for Forests programme, the UK supports sustainable agriculture in Brazil, including through support to address deforestation caused by cattle ranching in the Amazon region, as well as through measures to eliminate from the supply chain cattle produced on illegally deforested land. The UK also supports sustainable agriculture in the soya-producing region of Cerrado.

Poverty Reduction: ODA

As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has said, the work of the UK to reduce poverty remains central to the objectives of this Government. The way we use ODA will continue to be guided by our responsibilities under the International Development Act 2002, including our commitment to poverty reduction. The Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office will enhance our ability to be a force for good and partner to countries in need that seek support to help them climb the ladder of the sustainable development goals towards being strong, peaceful, economic states.

This Government cannot be trusted to tackle poverty here in the UK, and nor can they be trusted to tackle poverty overseas. In the middle of a global pandemic that is pushing millions into poverty, this Government have shut down the Department for International Development and dissolved a dedicated parliamentary Committee so that they can avoid scrutiny of aid spending. Will the Secretary of State please inform the House of how aid will be scrutinised from now on?

This Government remain absolutely committed to the 0.7% commitment, which is enshrined in law, and that will continue in the framework of the new Department. On scrutiny, clearly it is a question for Parliament how that scrutiny takes place and what the new framework of Committee assessment might be. However, the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary are absolutely clear that scrutiny should continue to be an absolute focus. It is incredibly important, and all of us as parliamentarians know just how important it is that we watch over, and can provide insight and broader reflection from all those we talk to, to make sure that Government do their best possible. The Government are continuing to support that, and the Foreign Secretary will set out where he hopes to do that in due course.

It is with great disappointment that this is the last DFID orals, and I want to pay tribute to all those officials in the Department for their work. I want to assure all those who recognise the importance of development and of supporting the world’s poorest that we in the Opposition will not follow the misguided path of the Government.

In recent weeks, we have heard the Secretary of State and hundreds of non-governmental organisations contradict the Prime Minister’s claims that there was

“massive consultation over a long period”—[Official Report, 16 June 2020; Vol. 677, c. 678.]

of time ahead of his announcement that he would scrap the Department. Can the Secretary of State tell us whether the Prime Minister misled Parliament, whether she misled the Select Committee last week and when an apology will be forthcoming?

I concur absolutely with the hon. Member that all those who serve—now and in years past—have brought a commitment to helping the UK do as much as it can to support poverty reduction. That commitment will continue and those who are making that their life’s work will continue to be part of the FCDO.

The Prime Minister was clear, as I have been, that any announcement is always brought to Parliament first. The ongoing consultation is now working continuously, and Baroness Sugg is leading that. However, consultation with NGOs was going on before that in relation to all sorts of other issues. That relationship with our NGOs and civil society organisations is something we take very seriously, and we will continue to do so.

The decision to axe the Department was done on a whim by the Prime Minister to try to distract from his handling of the pandemic. That is why there are still no details of what the new Department will look like, how it will operate or how it will be scrutinised to guarantee value for money for UK taxpayers who are rightly proud of the work DFID has done in tackling poverty around the world. Will the Secretary of State guarantee that funds will be focused on the world’s poorest and that any cuts to the aid budget come from funds that currently go to middle and upper-income countries or have been found to have limited development impact, such as those outlined in the ONE campaign’s real aid index?

DFID it is world renowned for its focus and programme expertise, and that will continue to be the case. Poverty reduction will continue to be a critical focus on how we spend the 0.7% that the Government continue to be committed to. We enshrined it in law and it will stay: the Prime Minister is absolutely committed to that. Interestingly, I think there is a real challenge with the sustainable development goals—there are 17 of them—and the ability to help a country become self-sufficient and climb up that ladder will absolutely continue. We will continue to commit to the 0.7% target, based on GNI.

Supporting Democracies during Covid-19

The UK must never be afraid to stand up for what it believes in. We have seen this with our support for the people of Hong Kong and the introduction of our own Magnitsky-style sanctions regime. That is why our health and economic responses to covid-19 have also included further support for governance, transparency and freedom of speech. Our development work must support countries to stand strong, and that means supporting democracy.

The Minister is absolutely right to highlight the challenges for democracies from the pandemic and the opportunities for autocracies. In a year when the UK will be in the chair of the G7, the Commonwealth and COP26, does my hon. Friend agree with me that this is an opportunity for the Westminster Foundation for Democracy, which I have the honour of chairing, to do more work for the combined Department to promote and strengthen democracies around the world?

It is a great pleasure to answer what will be my last DFID oral question from my hon. Friend. DFID and the FCO are strong supporters of the Westminster Foundation for Democracy’s work. I thank him for his commitment to democracy via his work as chair of the WFD. In 2019-20, FCO funding of £3.3 million and DFID funding of £3.9 million has been allocated. There will be constraints on ODA over the next few months as we respond to covid-19. Via the integrated review, we will examine all options for enhancing UK democracy support. The merger and the establishment of the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office presents an exciting opportunity to strengthen the UK’s support for democracy, governance and open societies.

Global South: Covid-19 Funding

How much of the funding the UK in response to the covid-19 pandemic has (a) been allocated to and (b) reached the global south. (904780)

The UK has pledged up to £769 million of UK aid to support the global health response and vulnerable countries. As the host of the record-breaking GAVI summit and the world’s top donor to CEPI, the UK is leading the way in finding a vaccine that helps the most vulnerable countries. We have also made sure that new funding goes directly to the immediate response in these countries, and reflects programmes already in place to help people straight away.

As of last week, the Government had given less than half of the money that is committed to support the world’s poorest in the face of this devastating global pandemic. It really is not good enough. Have the Government simply outsourced the responsibility to the various multilaterals? Does the Minister have any idea whatsoever of where UK taxpayers’ money has actually gone?

As I explained, the UK is playing a leading role in the international response to the pandemic, with pledges of up to £769 million of UK aid to help to address the urgent needs in vulnerable countries through research and development, through money to the International Monetary Fund’s Catastrophe Containment and Relief Trust and in supporting the global health response. We are working with the UN to ensure that our contributions are channelled to NGOs and other recipients as quickly as possible.

FCO Merger

What assessment the Government made of the potential merits of merging her Department with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office prior to the announcement of the integrated review of security, defence, development and foreign policy on 26 February 2020. (904781)

Both the merger and the integrated review are evidence of this Government’s commitment to a unified British foreign and development policy that will maximise our impact around the world, project our values and be a stronger force for good—they go hand in hand.

The Bond network says that it has not been consulted on this merger and the integrated review has been restarted behind closed doors. Will the Government commit to meeting Bond and other civil society organisations so that those on the frontline can inform the new Department’s aid priorities?

Baroness Sugg leads in the Department in meeting the CSOs, and there are regular meetings ongoing. The integrated review is working over the summer to pull together the key issues, and development is an absolutely critical strand within that.

Last week I asked the Secretary of State what partner organisations and non-governmental organisations were consulted prior to the announcement of the merger of the Department for International Development and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. She said that the statement on the merger was first made to Parliament and that there has been ongoing consultation since then. This stands in stark contradiction to what the Prime Minister said previously when he told this House that there had been

“massive consultation over a long period.”—[Official Report, 16 June 2020; Vol. 677, c. 678.]

Therefore, was the Prime Minister aware he had taken a decision without any evidence to support it, or did he mislead Parliament to create an illusion of legitimacy for this ideologically driven, disastrous merger?

As set out in previous answers, the Prime Minister made the announcement of the new departmental framework to Parliament first, and there are ongoing discussions led by Baroness Sugg and the permanent secretary with the CSOs and the NGOs.

Topical Questions

This Government are committed to standing up for the right of every girl to 12 years of quality education, building on a strong basis of global leadership, including DFID’s education support for at least 5.8 million girls between 2015 and 2019. The new FCDO will deploy our world-class development expertise alongside the UK’s diplomatic skills, respected around the world, to get every girl into school.

As this is the last oral questions for the Department for International Development, I would like to place on record my thanks, and I know that of the whole House, to all those who serve now and who have served in the Department over the past 23 years. I know that their talent, passion and commitment to help to deliver world-class development programming, policy thinking and humanitarian support to the most vulnerable will be at the heart of the new FCDO and will be critical to its future.

May I place on record my gratitude to the Secretary of State and her team for what she has done in this important Department? I hope that the spirit of what DFID does will continue. She is aware that in Afghanistan and Iraq it is so easy to win the war but lose the peace. Will she agree to meet me, before she loses her job title, to see whether the military can be given funds to create a stabilisation force that can operate in those difficult environments where it is too dangerous for NGOs to function?

I would be very happy to meet my right hon. Friend to discuss that. The Conflict, Stability and Security Fund exists to do just that and we need to think about how we maximise the use of all our UK efforts to help the most vulnerable, so I look forward to debating with him.

Going into this pandemic, many of the world’s poorest countries were spending more on debt payments than their own healthcare. The current suspension of payments is welcome, but will the Government go further and support the cross-party multi-faith call, co-ordinated by the Catholic Agency for Overseas Development, to cancel those debts and enable those poorest countries to focus on tackling the virus and climate change? (904816)

As the hon. Lady is aware, we put £150 million into the IMF emergency fund, and the Treasury continues to lead in the Paris Club discussions and with the G20 to ensure that the right solutions are found for the long-term sustainability that those most vulnerable countries will need.

I thank my right hon. Friend for her fantastic work as Secretary of State. What steps are her Department and the new FCDO taking to ensure that UK taxpayers receive value for money for our international aid contributions? (904815)

Ensuring taxpayers’ money is well spent is central to DFID’s work and it is embedded in all our activity and will be at the heart of the new FCDO. Programmes are regularly appraised and monitored to ensure that they are value for money, performing effectively and delivering on manifesto commitments.

Nestlé has withdrawn Fairtrade cocoa from its Kit-Kat products, costing some of the poorest farmers £20 million a year during the global crisis due to the pandemic. Will the Minister join me and the Co-operative party in urging Nestlé to restore cocoa from Fairtrade farmers in their Kit-Kats to give the poorest farmers a break and to create a Fairtrade chocolate Kit-Kat? (904819)

I draw the House’s attention to my former role as chair of the Trade Out of Poverty all-party parliamentary group. The hon. Gentleman raises an important point about the importance of fair trade as well as free trade. Now that the United Kingdom has left the European Union and we are able to define our own trade policy, we will ensure that fairness is at the heart of all the trade that we do around the world.

Last week, China and Russia vetoed the United Nations Security Council’s approving aid to Syria from Turkey. How will the United Kingdom continue to help those in need in Syria? (904817)

The United Kingdom is disappointed about the reduction in aid corridors in Syria. We are pleased that the cross-border humanitarian access will continue through Bab al-Hawa, but we are appalled that Russia exercised its veto and restricted aid through Bab al-Salam. The UK remains committed to supporting Syrians, who are the victims of the egregious politicisation of humanitarian aid, and we recently announced £300 million to the Syrian pledging conference.

Five hundred and sixteen—that is the number of known breaches of international law in Yemen by Saudi forces, an increase of at least 200 in recent years. Yet last week, the Government claimed they were only isolated events and no pattern existed, as they resumed selling weapons that are killing Yemeni civilians. Given the DFID-FCO merger, can the Minister please explain how they reconcile that with UK stated aims to provide water, food, sanitation and peace to Yemen—and exactly how many breaches of international law are required to establish a pattern? (904822)

The UK Government welcome Saudi Arabia’s unilateral ceasefire in Yemen, and we are disappointed that the Houthis have not engaged with that ceasefire. The United Kingdom’s arms control regime is one of the most robust in the world, and we will ensure that we continue to support the people of Yemen and NGOs working in Yemen, as we have done with our recent funding announcements.

Children have a basic human right to education, yet there is huge concern that Palestinian children use textbooks that promote and encourage violence. I welcome the Government’s work pushing for an international review of the curriculum ahead of the new academic year. Will my right hon. Friend provide an update on the progress of the interim report into the content of these textbooks, and will he confirm that the findings will be made public and acted on swiftly? (904818)

The first call that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State made when she entered post was to the Education Minister in the Palestinian Authority to register our disquiet over the points that my hon. Friend has raised. We will continue to ensure that Palestinian children are educated with our support through the United Nations Relief and Works Agency—half of them are girls—but we will also ensure that that education does not encourage violence or prejudice against Jewish peoples.