International Development Questions

2nd October 2019

Alok Sharma answers MPs’ questions to the Department for International Development.

Rt Hon Alok Sharma MP speaking in the House of Commons, October 2019

Oral Answers to Questions

International Development

The Secretary of State was asked—

Forced Migration

1. What steps the Government are taking to help reduce the number of people who are forced to migrate. [912497]

The Department is investing in migrant source countries to give people better opportunities to build decent lives at home. Over the past four years, support for UK aid across all programmes has enabled 14 million children to gain a decent education, and nearly 52 million people now have access to clean water and better sanitation.

Refugee settlement is one way to allow people to secure a safe and legal route to a safe country if they are classified as refugees by the United Nations. DFID funds and supports that, but there is no commitment to long-term resettlement programmes. Will the Secretary of State consider committing himself to a minimum of 10,000 refugees per year via resettlement and for a minimum of five years?

As the hon. Lady will know, in every year since 2016, the UK has resettled more refugees from outside Europe than any other EU member state, and I pay tribute to the local authorities that have already settled 16,000 refugees from Syria. The hon. Lady will also know that we intend to resettle 20,000 Syrian refugees, as well as up to 3,000 vulnerable children and their carers, by 2020. Under our new compact, there are global resettlement scheme plans to resettle 5,000 of the most vulnerable every year post 2020.

I welcome my right hon. Friend to what I think is his first session of questions as Secretary of State for International Development, and I wish him—as we all do—very well in the role. May I ask him to update the House on the quality of our £75 million safety, support and solutions programme, which has been used particularly on the migration route in Africa, including north Africa? A particular feature of the programme was the ability to return those who had escaped the clutches of traffickers to their home areas, where they could warn others that the outward route was dangerous and damaging. I should be grateful for an update.

I pay tribute to the fantastic work that my right hon. Friend did in this Department. He was an absolute champion for DFID.

Phase 2 of the safety, support and solutions programme is now running. We are delivering humanitarian protection to vulnerable migrants en route, as well as informing people about living conditions and—as my right hon. Friend mentioned—the other risks that they may face if they travel through the Sahel or the horn of Africa. One of our partners, the International Organisation for Migration, has reached more than 4,000 people with awareness-raising activities.

9. Global food insecurity is obviously a major factor in mass migration. Will the Secretary of State update us on what his Department is doing with aid agencies in respect of the merits of integrating nutrition into all areas of work? [912508]

The hon. Lady has raised an incredibly important point. We are working on nutrition with a range of multilateral agencies, and my ministerial colleagues and I continue to engage in discussions with them. At the United Nations General Assembly, it was announced that £61 million would be provided to develop crops that are better adapted to grow in higher temperatures and that can withstand drought. That is the sort of work that will make a long-term difference when it comes to food insecurity.

Will my right hon. Friend update the House on the Rohingya situation and tell us what discussions he has had with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and the Government in Dhaka about the situation in Cox’s Bazar?

My right hon. Friend did an enormous amount of work in this area as Minister for Asia, and I pay tribute to him. He will know that the major humanitarian crisis is caused by Myanmar’s military. He will also know that we recently announced the provision of an extra £87 million for food, healthcare and shelter, not just for the refugees but for those who are hosting them. The Minister in the House of Lords, Baroness Sugg, is currently in Bangladesh looking into these issues.

In north-east Nigeria, almost 2 million people have been internally displaced. In a disturbing development, the Nigerian Government have closed two major international non-governmental organisations, posing a risk to thousands of lives. May I urge the Secretary of State to do all that he can to press the Nigerian Government to enable those NGOs to operate, because they are about saving lives?

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. We are extremely concerned about this issue, and we have raised it with the Nigerian Government. We have asked them to complete their investigations as swiftly as possible. He is absolutely right: those organisations provide support to millions of vulnerable people, and we must make sure that that work continues.

A fortnight ago, I was privileged to be in Jordan to see some of the remarkable work of small organisations helping child refugees from the Syrian civil war recover from appalling injuries. What further support can DFID give to those small NGOs that make such a positive difference?

As my hon. Friend will know, we have pledged almost £3 billion since 2012 to provide support in Syria and neighbouring areas. We are working with a range of NGOs, and I would be happy to meet him to discuss the individual NGOs to which he referred.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change stated that the greatest single impact of climate change could be on human migration. By 2050, it is forecast that up to 1 billion people could be on the move as a result of climate change. The Select Committee on International Development recommended that the UK use last week’s UN climate summit to address that, so will the Secretary of State tell us specifically what discussions he has had on this subject and what concrete actions his Departments will take?

The hon. Gentleman raises an important matter. The Prime Minister made a number of key announcements at the UN General Assembly, including the doubling of our investment and commitment to the international climate finance fund. That is something that we will work on, but the hon. Gentleman is right that that is a key issue. The way to tackle poverty is also to tackle climate change.

The world is on course to have 200 million climate refugees by 2050, so will the Secretary of State tell us why his Government continue to be part of the problem by funding fossil fuel overseas, both with the Overseas Development Administration budget and with export finance. If he wants to be part of the solution, will he commit to work with Cabinet colleagues to increase the number of refugee settlements in the UK, as recommended by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees?

I say gently to the hon. Lady that we are regarded as world-leading when it comes to tackling climate change. If she had been at the UN General Assembly, she would have seen that. A whole range of announcements were made there. I am always happy to have a discussion with her, but she should acknowledge that the UK is actively leading in this area across the world. That is acknowledged by Governments across the world, too.

Venezuela: Humanitarian Support

2. What humanitarian support his Department is providing to Venezuelan people in (a) Venezuela and (b) neighbouring countries. [912498]

The humanitarian crisis in Venezuela is absolutely dire, with millions fleeing the Maduro regime. Last week, I announced an additional £30 million of vital humanitarian aid to deliver life-saving medicines and clean water, as well as support for vital health services for refugees in neighbouring countries.

Everyone will be glad that we are doing what we can to help. Would it be a good idea if party leaders together nominated members of the Youth Parliament to go and see what has caused this social, economic, humanitarian and political crisis in a country that should be the richest on its continent?

My hon. Friend makes an important point. Inflation is running at over 1 million per cent. in Venezuela and poverty has doubled. That is the economic model and regime that the Leader of the Opposition has been defending over a long period. People will know that Venezuela serves as a grim reminder of what might happen to the economy of our country and, indeed, the aid budget should the Opposition ever get their hands near government.

I welcome the invocation of the United Kingdom Youth Parliament, which, for the benefit of observers, customarily sits annually in the Chamber on a non-sitting Friday. A sitting is due to take place next month. It is a magnificent organisation that deserves the support of every one of us.

Until the Venezuelan Government were destabilised, HIV treatment was successful and deaths from AIDS were decreasing. Since destabilisation, HIV treatment is almost impossible for many people in Venezuela and the healthcare system has collapsed. What are the Government doing, particularly to ensure that antiretrovirals reach HIV-positive people in Venezuela?

The reason that the healthcare system and, indeed, public services have collapsed is the Maduro regime; that is something we have to acknowledge. As I have said, the support that we are providing includes healthcare support. There has been a big increase in disease outbreaks over recent periods, and that is why we are providing support for healthcare and vaccinations.

How much are the UK Government giving to the UN central emergency response fund, and how much is that fund giving to the Venezuelan crisis?

We have given about £2 million of support to the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies and to national societies. In terms of additional funds that we have made available, we do not discuss the value of programmes inside Venezuela or name partners, for security reasons. I hope that my hon. Friend will understand that.

Given the extent of the problem, the millions of people fleeing Venezuela and the amount that the Minister has alluded to, what steps are we taking to ensure that that aid is offered directly to the people affected and not diverted by the regime?

The hon. Gentleman raises an important point. We have a zero-tolerance policy when it comes to fraud, and we have robust controls against diversion. I can tell him that we have due diligence assessments in place to monitor the spending in Venezuela.

Supporting Women in Developing Countries

5. What steps his Department is taking to support women in developing countries in (a) business and (b) further education after they have finished school. [912504]

DFID’s support for the SheTrades Commonwealth programme has trained over 2,700 women-owned businesses. We recently announced £30 million for the Affirmative Finance Action for Women in Africa programme, which will help to unlock $3 billion of additional lending to women entrepreneurs.

Some of the most inspirational, determined business leaders and entrepreneurs in Romsey and Southampton North are women. Do the Secretary of State and his Front-Bench team agree that female empowerment cannot begin and end in school, but has to continue into the workplace? Will he commit to giving more support to make sure that we have women business leaders in the developing world?

My right hon. Friend is right. Economic empowerment for women is vital, and I made mention of the affirmative finance programme, which is tackling issues such as access to finance, access to mentoring support and overcoming laws that discriminate against women. It is worth pointing out that women typically reinvest up to 90% of their income into education, health and nutrition, compared to 40% for men, so investing in female-led businesses can transform societies.

Specialist organisations such as Khwendo Kor that deliver services to women are being restricted by other NGOs in consortia by exclusivity clauses, so that they can only bid with one organisation for funding, so expertise is being lost. Can the Secretary of State ensure that exclusivity clauses are removed?

I would be happy to meet the hon. Lady to discuss that case and to try to understand a bit better what we could do.

Menstruation stops many women participating in the business world and mostly affects the poorest, no more so than in the Rohingya camps, as Oxfam has told me. WUKA produces underwear that deals with the problem, is reusable and environmentally sustainable. Will his Department meet WUKA, Ruby Raut and others in St Albans who have developed the product to help women beat the problems of menstruation?

I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for all the work that she has done in Bangladesh in tackling humanitarian issues, and she raises an important point. We have a flagship programme called the Girls’ Education Challenge, which does fund support for 23 menstrual hygiene projects across 13 countries, but of course I would be happy to meet with her and the company in her constituency.

Ukraine is a country that is perhaps redeveloping rather than developing. Can the Secretary of State tell us what projects he is supporting for women in business and education in the east of Ukraine, where there is a war with Russia, particularly through the International Committee of the Red Cross?

I am not aware of the details of programmes that the hon. Gentleman talks about, but I would be happy to meet him to discuss that case.

Topical Questions

T1. If he will make a statement on his departmental responsibilities. [912512]

Governments around the world collectively spend around $140 billion every year on aid. However, the United Nations estimates that an additional $2.5 trillion is required annually in developing countries to meet the sustainable development goals. That investment gap needs to be met largely by the private sector. That is why I have established an international development infrastructure commission to advise the UK Government on how we can mobilise additional private sector funds, alongside public money, to deliver on the sustainable development goals.

I welcome the Secretary of State and the new Ministers to their posts. Representing a coastal constituency, I am only too well aware of the impact of pollution and plastic waste on marine life and our beaches. It was great to join many of my constituents at the recent great British beach clean. Given that much of the plastic problem affects developing countries—especially island nations—how are the Government using the aid budget to help to clear up our oceans?

My hon. Friend raises an incredibly vital point. He may be aware that the Prime Minister announced at the United Nations General Assembly last month that we are encouraging countries to join the UK-led global ocean alliance of countries in support of protecting at least 30% of the global oceans within marine protected areas by 2030.

The Secretary of State has announced a new commission of business and finance leaders to mobilise private finance to invest in some of the world’s poorest countries. What action is he taking to guarantee that all aid-backed private investments uphold labour rights and living wages for workers in the global south?

I think that is a sort of welcome for the infrastructure commission we have set up. The hon. Gentleman is right to say that labour rights are vital. When I was Minister for Employment, I worked with the International Labour Organisation on these issues, and if he has particular suggestions to make, I would be happy to discuss those with him.

The Secretary of State is failing to take labour rights seriously. He is a career investment banker by trade, and he has—[Interruption.] I think it is relevant that he has gone from corporate wealth management to managing the UK’s aid budget. Feronia, a Canadian palm oil company based in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, has received tens of millions of pounds of UK aid via the CDC Group; it has been plagued by scandal for years; and, in July, Joël Imbangola Lunea, a community activist involved in a land dispute with Feronia, was allegedly murdered by a security guard employed by the company. Joël was father to eight children—

Order. May I just appeal to the hon. Gentleman to get to his question mark, because a lot of colleagues want to contribute and they must do so?

Will the Department now launch its own investigation into this case and the litany of failures surrounding Feronia?

The hon. Gentleman is very welcome to write to me about the case. He wrote an article a few days back describing me as

“exploring ways to profit from human misery”.

May I just point out to him, with respect, that he could perhaps take some lessons from the Chairman of the Select Committee, who knows a lot more about development than he does?

T5. Many of my constituents are concerned about plastic pollution, and I recently attended the launch of plastic-free Congleton. What are the UK Government doing to reduce, and indeed stop, plastic pollution in developing countries? [912516]

My hon. Friend is a true champion on humanitarian and environmental matters. I made reference in a previous answer to what we are doing about plastics, but I can also inform her that the UK Government have pledged £70 million to directly tackle this issue in developing countries, through the provision of technical assistance and testing practical approaches to increase plastic recycling rates.

T2. This month, we are celebrating 25 years of Fairtrade in the UK. At his first appearance at the Dispatch Box, will the Secretary of State reaffirm this Government’s commitment to Fairtrade? Will he join me in celebrating, with the Fairtrade Foundation, such a milestone achievement? [912513]

The hon. Lady will know that we run a range of projects designed to ensure that we have fair trade, and of course I commend the work that goes on in this area.

T3. The Minister is aware of the devastating 2005 earthquake in Azad Kashmir, with massive loss of life and damage to housing and infrastructure—and of the gratifying international response, with assistance. Although the recent earthquakes were not on the same scale, they are causing major hardship; so what assistance is the Department providing to the authorities there, both for emergency relief and for long-term reconstruction, to help the long-suffering people of Azad Kashmir? [912514]

As the right hon. Gentleman knows, we are a major aid donor to Pakistan overall. We are in discussions with the National Disaster Management Authority in Pakistan, and we stand ready to respond and provide funding if it is indeed requested.

T6. Further to the question by my right hon. Friend the Member for Warley (John Spellar), will the Government press for the United Nations group on India and Pakistan to make a fact-finding visit to Kashmir to assess the humanitarian and human rights situation there? [912518]

We have a long-standing position on Kashmir, which has been reiterated and followed by successive Governments, but where there are matters related to humanitarian issues we of course always look at those.



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