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Topical Questions

Volume 672: debated on Wednesday 4 March 2020

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.”]