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Departmental Funding

Volume 672: debated on Wednesday 4 March 2020

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.