Alok Sharma responds to questions from MPs to the Department for International Development.
It is a delight to see the Conservative Benches so well attended for International Development Question Time.
My Department is providing expertise to help developing countries to reduce plastic usage and funding innovative pilot projects in, for example, Uganda and Ghana to improve recycling rates and waste collection.
Given that 2020 is set to become the first year in which the pieces of plastic in our seas outnumber fish, will the Secretary of State update the House on the Government’s plans for the UK to play its part in tackling that shocking statistic by means of, for instance, their new Blue Planet fund?
Let me first welcome my hon. Friend back to the House: we are all delighted that he is back with us. As he knows, the Government have committed £500 million to the Blue Planet Fund to help developing countries to manage the marine environment. The fund, which is in the process of being designed, will run for five years from April next year, and will focus on four priority areas in marine management: fisheries, pollution—including plastic pollution—climate change and marine protected areas.
I welcome my right hon. Friend’s commitment to tackling plastic use. In my constituency, Workington, people care about the future of our seas and oceans. Young students at Ashfield Infant and Nursery School, Holme St Cuthbert School and St Michael’s Nursery and Infant School have written a book about Driggsby, the young fin whale who sadly died on a Cumbrian beach, a victim of plastic poisoning. What is the Department doing to rid the world’s oceans of plastic waste?
About 70% of the litter in the ocean is plastic, and I therefore commend the work of my hon. Friend and his young constituents in highlighting the clear and present danger of plastic pollution to life in our oceans. The Government recognise the need for action and for our joint leadership, with Vanuatu, of the Commonwealth Clean Ocean Alliance, and we are supporting technical assistance for countries that are committed to taking practical steps to tackle marine pollution.
In the poorest countries, 93% of waste is burnt or discarded on roads or open land or in waterways. Will the Secretary of State expand on his answer to the first question, and tell us what he is doing to develop a system of improved waste collection while also encouraging recycling in many of those countries?
The hon. Gentleman has raised an important point. Let me give him a couple of examples. In Uganda and Ghana, my Department is providing support for pilot projects. We are working with businesses to improve waste management and increase recycling. In Uganda, for example, we are working with the Kampala plastics recycling partnership.
The Dutch non-governmental organisation The Ocean Cleanup has discovered that most plastics in the seas come from abandoned fishing gear and nets. Does the Secretary of State agree that assisting fishermen in developing countries is one way to eliminate that waste?
The hon. Gentleman is right. I have talked about the Commonwealth Clean Ocean Alliance, but he will also know that at the 2019 United Nations General Assembly the Prime Minister announced the global ocean alliance of countries which aims to protect at least 30% of the global ocean within marine protected areas by 2030.
Our Departments work together to ensure that development is at the heart of UK trade policy. This includes delivering the successful UK-Africa Investment Summit, where we announced the trade connect service. The service will help developing countries to make the most of preferential access to UK markets and support UK firms to strengthen their supply chains in developing countries.
I thank the Secretary of State for that answer. Increasing the number of women in the workforce is key to economic growth. What support is DFID giving to women entrepreneurs?
I commend my hon. Friend’s support for entrepreneurship in his constituency and more widely. The UK is absolutely committed to increasing women’s role in trade, recognising the importance of trade as a lever for equality. That is why we recently announced an extension to the Commonwealth SheTrades programme, which provides training and mentoring to female entrepreneurs and connects them to international markets and investment opportunities.
In 2013, Australia merged its aid and trade departments, resulting in worse-performing aid programmes and a mass exodus of development experts and even leading to DFID downgrading the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade to third-tier status for staff exchanges. Is that the future that the Secretary of State wants for his own Department, or does he agree that a standalone Department remains the best way for the UK to deliver world-leading international development projects?
Machinery of government changes are a matter for the Prime Minister, but the UK is and will continue to be a superpower when it comes to international development. He will have seen in our manifesto the commitment to spend 0.7% of GNI.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend on the success of the UK-Africa Investment Summit. What further steps are the Government taking to support British businesses, such as JCB in my constituency, to export more and generate local jobs?
My hon. Friend did an enormous amount in her previous career to ensure more bilateral trade and investment. The summit was indeed a success, building partnerships with Governments and companies for the future, and that will lead to more trade and jobs in both regions.
I welcome the report and its recognition that my Department is a force for good that saves children’s lives and makes a real difference. The report is in line with the Government’s ambition to end preventable maternal, new-born and child deaths by 2030.
Without global leadership, we will not meet sustainable development target 3.2 and end preventable child deaths by 2030. Does the Secretary of State agree that we should place child health on a level footing with the Government’s commitment to girls’ education?
The hon. Lady cares deeply about this issue, which I completely understand. We made a manifesto commitment to tackle preventable deaths by 2030. I hope in the coming weeks to set out a detailed strategy on how we will do that.
The UK Government have an outstanding record on contributing to the 50% fall in the number of children in developing countries who die before their fifth birthday but, even with that progress, UNICEF calculates that 52 million children will still die before the age of five by 2030. What more can we do to provide additional leadership to make sure we get rid of diseases like pneumonia, as well as the lack of access to basic vaccines, which will help to end this blight?
We support organisations such as the Global Fund and, as my hon. Friend knows, the UK will host the replenishment of GAVI later this year. He is right to highlight this important issue.
In August, I announced an International Development Infrastructure Commission to advise me on mobilising additional private sector funds alongside public money to deliver on the sustainable development goals. The United Nations estimates that an additional $2.5 trillion is required annually to meet those goals, and the commission has now made recommendations on how to turbocharge infrastructure investment in developing countries. At the recent UK-Africa investment summit, I announced that the UK will work together with the Governments of Uganda, Egypt, Kenya, Ethiopia and Ghana— initially—to do just that.
I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer. I was pleased to see that COP26 will be held in Glasgow. Will he update the House on preparations for that conference?
A successful delivery of COP26 in November is a key priority for the Government, and cross-departmental work is being co-ordinated through the Cabinet Office. It is vital for current and future generations that all of us around the world step up to the challenge.
Will the Secretary of State clarify what his Department’s policy is on spending UK aid money on expanding fossil fuels overseas?
I think the answer was given earlier by the Minister of State, Department for International Development, my hon. Friend the Member for Pendle (Andrew Stephenson) in respect of the statement the Prime Minister made at the Africa investment summit.
I am afraid that that is just not good enough. Last week’s UK-Africa investment summit cost the Department more than £15 million of aid money, on a one-day event. I wonder whether the Secretary of State can say now whether any of that money was spent on business-class flights or five-star hotels, because the Department will not disclose the figures until autumn 2021. At the summit, almost £2 billion-worth of new energy deals were struck for fossil fuels. How on earth can he justify using taxpayers’ funds to help fossil fuel companies when we are in the midst of a climate catastrophe?
If the hon. Gentleman had read the communiqué that came out of the summit, he would have seen not only the billions of pounds of investment, but the UK support going to developing countries. He always castigates private investment, but perhaps he ought to read what the UN Secretary-General wrote in November in the Financial Times, where he pointed out that the private sector is vital to advance development goals. Sometimes the hon. Gentleman needs to read and listen to the experts, rather than to people on his own Benches.
My hon. Friend raises a good question. The summit highlighted the UK’s distinct offer to support clean growth, and our expertise in low-carbon sectors and green finance. For example, along with the President of Kenya, I attended the London stock exchange for the launch of the first green Simba bond, which the UK Government helped to develop.
Will the Minister confirm that educating and employing women and girls will remain a key strategy for his Department?
Absolutely it will.
Women and girls are very much at the heart of our approach to economic development, and I am sure that all colleagues would agree that no society can truly flourish if half the population is held back. At the UK-Africa investment summit, I announced further support for our work and opportunities for women programme, which will help at least 100,000 additional women to achieve better paid and more secure work.
The UK has a major responsibility for the plastic pollution we see, particularly in developing countries, so what work are the UK Government doing to stop the trade in and export of plastic pollution from the UK?
I set out earlier what we are doing in this particular area. There is a legitimate export market for plastic waste and secondary raw material, but we take firm action against those engaged in the illegal export of contaminated, low-quality and unrecyclable plastic waste.
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