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Topical Questions

Volume 634: debated on Wednesday 17 January 2018

Yesterday I launched the UK’s new action plan on women, peace and security, alongside the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Ministry of Defence. Empowering women and girls and placing them at the heart of our efforts to prevent and resolve conflict helps to bring a lasting peace and a safer, more prosperous world. This is good for developing countries and for the UK.

We obviously work closely with our EU partners on the delivery of international aid. As the Secretary of State makes her plans for working with the EU after we leave, is she working on the assumption that Turkey will be a member state?

I am not anticipating that will happen. I have been clear that we will work with all our European partners. We will be much more focused on the things that matter to us and our strategic priorities as we do so, but we will continue to work hand in hand with many countries in Europe.

T8. British taxpayers can be proud that their money goes to the salaries of Palestinian teachers, but does the Secretary of State share my obvious concern that some of those teachers are working at one of the more than 30 Palestinian Authority schools named after terrorists who have murdered Israelis or at one of the three named after Nazi collaborators? (903347)

As the House knows, we constantly challenge the Palestinian Authority in relation to anything that might encourage or glorify violence. I can assure the House that we ensure that no payments are made to those who have those connections. We do all we can to encourage the Authority to understand that naming places after those who have been involved in terrorism does not contribute to the peace process.

T2. Will the Secretary of State conduct an independent review of DFID aid delivery mechanisms in Iraq in order to evaluate reports that UK aid is not reaching vulnerable religious minorities? (903341)

We look very seriously at any such allegations. There is a constant review in the Department to ensure that some of the challenges that come in on religious discrimination are evidenced. I challenge the agencies as well, and we will continue to do this. We do not have evidence of significant discrimination, but we are always on the lookout for it.

Does the Secretary of State agree that DFID money spent on repairing catastrophic hurricane damage in the UK overseas territories, which often hits the poorest the hardest of all, should always qualify as legitimate overseas aid?

I do agree with my hon. Friend. The rules that we are constrained by have not prevented us from coming up with the funds needed to help those areas hit by Hurricanes Irma and Maria. This is also a lesson that we should continue to invest in our defence capabilities, because we were very reliant on our armed forces to get into those places.

T3. Yesterday, officials from Myanmar and Bangladesh agreed details for the repatriation of the Rohingya, but reports suggest that the Rohingya will have no guarantee of citizenship on their return, that they could be forced to return against their will, and that they will be vetted individually as potential terrorists. Before giving the UK Government’s support, what will the Minister do, beyond taking the two Governments at their word, to verify that repatriation for the Rohingya will be safe, voluntary and— (903342)

I think the hon. Lady for her question because it affords me the opportunity to remind the House what these people have fled. They should have a say in what happens to them, and we absolutely agree that those returns must be voluntary, safe, dignified and sustainable, but those conditions are far from being met.

Would I be right in assuming that my right hon. Friend will use my International Development (Gender Equality) Act 2014, which imposes a statutory obligation on every penny of her Department’s budget, to protect women and children in all matters in Myanmar and Bangladesh?

I absolutely will do that. Yesterday, as has already been mentioned, we launched further policy to strengthen our humanitarian efforts in that respect, and particularly towards women and children. We have also drawn on our defence capabilities to build capacity in the Bangladesh police force to keep everyone in the camps safe.

T4. Many of my Rohingya constituents have family in the refugee camps in Bangladesh who are fleeing persecution—[Interruption.] (903343)

Order. The hon. Gentleman is asking about the conditions of life for occupants of refugee camps. I know there is an air of expectation, but I just remind colleagues that we are discussing some of the poorest, most vulnerable and most marginalised people on the face of the planet. I ask for due respect.

Thank you, Mr Speaker. Many of my Rohingya constituents have family in the refugee camps in Bangladesh who are fleeing persecution and who wish to join their family in the UK, as they are entitled to do. They continue to face obstacles and unnecessary bureaucracy, however, so what are the Government doing in the refugee camps to help to reunite families?

If any hon. Member of this House has individual cases, I would be very happy to look at them. A huge amount of effort is going into not just trying to reunite families but enabling people who have fled for their lives to identify who they are—many of them have lost documents. A very good, methodical programme is doing that, but I would be happy to discuss any cases that hon. Members have.

In relation to the work undertaken by the Department to combat modern slavery, will the Secretary of State take this opportunity to praise our former colleagues Anthony Steen and Sir John Randall for the work they have done?

I am very happy to do that. They have made a huge contribution to an agenda that is one of our Prime Minister’s priorities. We are stepping up our efforts to ask other nations to lean in and follow suit.

I am keen that the myriad health and vaccination programmes funded by my Department yield more than the sum of their parts. We can also use these programmes to set up sustainable healthcare systems in those countries. One of my priorities is to join up the programmes to yield primary care services in the countries with which we work.

Will my right hon. Friend lead an international effort to support developing countries in creating jobs and livelihoods for young people?

I know my hon. Friend wants us to set up a dedicated fund for that cause, and I am looking at options for what we might do. He is right that we need to create more jobs to enable countries to collect taxes and set up public services, and he will see much more of that under my tenure.

T6. Recognising that Yemen is gripped by the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, Norway recently suspended its arms sales to Saudi Arabia. Why won’t the UK? (903345)

Again, as the House knows, arms sales are very carefully controlled. Every case is looked at, and serious scrutiny is provided both by this House and through the law. The coalition, which is backed by the United Nations, is dealing with an insurgency in Yemen, and it faces serious challenges from rockets fired towards its own territories. We are working to apply the law rigidly.

This Government have rightly been at the forefront of the international fight against modern slavery. Does my right hon. Friend believe that we can spread around the world some of the best practice learned here?

My hon. Friend is right. In addition to the leadership we have shown and the work my Department does, there is more we can do to harness the power of technology to prevent people from falling victim to slavery and trafficking.

T7. What are the UK Government doing to address the civil rights situation in Honduras, where Jesuit priests and others are being intimidated for questioning the validity of recent elections? If DFID cannot intervene in this, will the Secretary of State raise it with the Foreign Secretary? (903346)

I speak regularly with the Foreign Secretary about all these issues, and I would be happy to discuss that one. As we look at the footprint we have across this world and wish to do more to engage with more of the world, it is extremely important that we have that oversight of what is happening on the ground. We wish to help developing nations—not just their economies, but their human rights and civil society.