International Development Questions

18th October 2017

Priti Patel answers MPs' questions on the work of the Department for International Development.

Hurricane Relief (Caribbean)

 

1. What steps she is taking to provide hurricane relief in the Caribbean. [901226]

 

The UK Government mounted an enormous cross-Government response to the devastating hurricanes consisting of more than 40 aid experts, 2,000 military personnel and more than 50 police officers, with HMS Ocean, RFA Mounts Bay and more than 600 tonnes of humanitarian aid. I give my thanks to our military and civilian personnel, whose efforts during the hurricane relief effort were simply heroic.

 

Will my right hon. Friend assure me that our friends in the Commonwealth who have been affected by these recent hurricanes are receiving support and aid as they recover?

 

I thank my hon. Friend for his question. The hurricanes have been devastating, and I have seen their effect across our overseas territory. I can absolutely give the House an assurance that we are not just supporting the overseas territories; we are now working with them on the recovery and the rebuilding efforts, in addition to the relief efforts.

 

What progress is being made on the commitment that the Government made at the world humanitarian summit last year to increase spending on disaster risk reduction? How is that being implemented and in what countries is disaster risk reduction spending increasing?

 

The hon. Gentleman is right to point that out in terms of the grand bargain and the humanitarian work that Britain leads on around the world. He asks about progress. I can let the House know that enormous progress has been made directly with the humanitarian agencies that we work with, through the funding that we are putting in place. We are making sure that the grand bargain commitments are part of the funding performance that we now put in place with regard to the reform agenda.

 

My understanding is that military assistance to British overseas territories may not be paid out of the British aid budget. Is it not an absurdity that our defence budget has to pay for British military aid in the Caribbean?

 

Let me politely say to my hon. Friend that that is not wholly accurate. When it comes to support for the military budget, he will know that part of the official overseas development assistance goes to the Ministry of Defence, so, as I said earlier, this has been a cross-Government effort involving the Foreign Office, the MOD and the Department for International Development, and others, including the Home Office. We have all been providing a great deal of support to the overseas territories.

 

The Secretary of State is right that the scenes of devastation that we have witnessed are heartbreaking. As well as helping victims, we must try to prevent future damage, so will she reverse the recent trend in reducing DFID climate change funding, especially for the adaptation work that is so crucial to help vulnerable communities become resilient to hurricanes and other climate-related disasters?

 

We are very focused on resilience as part of the recovery programme and dealing with the challenges faced in respect of climate change. The implications of climate change for small island states are very much a focus of DFID, but also across the Government. We are leading many of the discussions internationally in terms of climate change—how we support resilience programmes through our aid budget, but also how to help countries have the preparedness that they need to deal with some of these disasters.

 

On Friday, the Secretary of State finally announced her big plans for the Caribbean’s recovery—a private sector taskforce, but not a penny of new funding. What are her plans to ensure that that taskforce helps those in need, rather than fat-cat profiteers? Is this really the best the UK Government can do?

 

I am disappointed by the tone the hon. Lady has taken, primarily because, having been to the overseas territory myself, I have seen the private sector absolutely wiped out. We are talking about not large sectors and industries, but men and women who have lost their livelihood—small shops and small businesses. That is effectively why we have established a private sector taskforce, which will work with the chambers of commerce and those grassroots organisations that will help small businesses to get back on their own two feet. She also asks about money and resources. Of course, we are providing all the support that is required.

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Leaving the EU: Preferential Trade

2. What discussions she has had with the Secretary of State for International Trade on securing preferential trading access to the UK for least developed countries after the UK leaves the EU. [901227]

 

DFID and the Department for International Trade are working together to prepare and plan for the day when Britain finally leaves the EU in 2019, when we will start to secure duty-free access to less developed countries and work on trade preferences.

 

The oil and gas industry, which is important to my constituency, uses copper and nickel—major exports of less developed countries such as Madagascar and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Does my right hon. Friend agree that free trade with those countries is good for them and good for the UK?

 

My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and I am well aware of his constituency’s links with the sectors he mentions. By increasing trade opportunities for UK firms, we can help the world’s poorest countries trade themselves out of poverty, which everyone in the House wants.

 

In many of the countries in which the Department for International Development operates, co-operation on the ground with the European Union is crucial to the impact of our efforts. Will the Secretary of State assure us that work is being done to ensure that that development co-operation with the EU continues?

 

The hon. Gentleman makes an important point about development co-operation. We lead in many countries, both bilaterally and multilaterally, but co-operation is vital to delivering on the ground for the world’s poorest. We will continue to work not only with the EU, but with other partners in some of the poorest parts of the world where they can add value and where there is great need.

 

The United Kingdom has historically imported 50% of the sugar that we consume on preferential terms from developing countries, and it is then refined by Tate & Lyle. Will the Secretary of State reassure the House that the jobs, both at home and abroad, that depend on that agreement will be given proper consideration in the Brexit negotiations?

 

My right hon. Friend is absolutely right about trade preferences and the implications for securing jobs in this country and about creating new markets in developing countries and new trading opportunities. As part of the discussions, those subjects will be at the heart of securing a prosperous future for our country and for poor countries around the world.

 

What reassurance can the Secretary of State provide that post-Brexit trade agreements for the least developed countries will enshrine good-quality employment rights and high standards of health and safety, align with fair trade policies and support trade union recognition?

 

It is important for the hon. Lady to recognise that Britain is at the forefront of that, unlike the EU, which has yet to agree trade preferences and good trading opportunities with some of the world’s poorest countries. Britain will lead the world in free trade, but, importantly, we will also help the poorest countries to invest in skills, technical assistance and capacity building and create new markets. [Interruption.] The hon. Lady says no, but she should recognise that her party did little when in government to support trade in poor countries, which is exactly what this Conservative Government are doing.

 

11. Does my right hon. Friend agree that Brexit offers us the opportunity to go further than the EU’s rules and to strengthen the UK’s offer on trade with the world’s poorest countries, so that they can trade their way out of poverty? [901236]

 

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The mission of this Government and of my tenure at DFID is to do exactly that. We want to ensure that economic development is at the heart of everything we do, meaning free trade, market access and helping countries to stand on their own two feet.

Natural Disasters: Emergency Funds

3. What steps she is taking to ensure that emergency funds can be made available from the aid budget to help British overseas territories to recover from natural disasters. [901228]

 

Overseas development assistance rules have not and will not stop Britain providing money needed for the hurricane recovery and reconstruction effort. The UK has committed over £60 million to the Irma and Maria relief efforts, and we are of course working with all our international partners to provide support.

 

Does the Secretary of State agree that recent events highlight the need for greater use of disaster recovery insurance to protect vulnerable nations, such as those in the Caribbean? Will she update the House on the Department’s work in that area?

 

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The Caribbean Catastrophe Risk Insurance Facility has paid out $49 million in the last month alone to the islands affected by the recent hurricanes. Through the World Bank and other international financial institutions, Britain and the British insurance industry are leading the way in providing more insurance support internationally.

 

In recent years, 58% of deaths caused by disasters have occurred in fragile states. What assurance can the Secretary of State give us that the aid budget for disaster relief will remain compliant with official development assistance rules and will focus on resilience and recovery for some of the world’s most vulnerable people living in those fragile nations?

 

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question. He is right to highlight the fragility of many countries. Our aid budget is there to provide relief and the preparedness to help them to deal with many of the disasters and catastrophes that take place through climate change and conflict and through man-made disasters, too. That is effectively DFID’s focus.

 

Would a cross-departmental unit focused on the overseas territories, staffed by DFID, the Foreign Office and the Ministry of Defence, help to solve some of the problems of co-ordination and provide a better response to our OTs?

 

My hon. Friend highlights the importance of co-ordination. The cross-Government hurricane relief effort was strong and co-ordinated. We have to respond accordingly to crises when they happen, and we work together effectively. We are joined up and are making sure that we deliver for the people who need help.

 

We are just 10 days away from the negotiations in Paris on changing the ODA rules, and the Government still cannot clearly tell us their position. Will the Secretary of State tell us what changes the UK Government are seeking? Can she guarantee those changes will not divert aid away from the poorest?

 

The hon. Lady is absolutely right. The House may have noticed that the secretary-general of the OECD was in town yesterday, and I met both him and the chair of the Development Assistance Committee to discuss this issue. They are the first to recognise that such small island states need resilience to the impact of climate change and that we need greater agility in applying the rules to many of those countries. We will have that discussion at the DAC in 10 days’ time.

 

Rohingya Refugees (Bangladesh)

4. What steps the Government are taking to increase long-term support for Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh. [901229]

 
5. What steps her Department is taking to help Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh. [901230]
 

The UK is the largest bilateral donor to the Rohingya refugee crisis in Bangladesh. DFID has worked in Cox’s Bazar for many, many years, and it has recently stepped up efforts with an additional £30 million in the light of the refugee crisis. We are working with many partners, and I am sure all colleagues in the House, including those who spoke in yesterday’s debate, recognise the difficulties we face in providing aid because of the scale of the refugee crisis. Britain is leading, and we are working with our international aid partners.

 

I accept that the UK is the largest bilateral donor, but the Secretary of State will know there is a United Nations conference on the issue next week. Will she clarify today the UK Government’s objectives at that conference? How will she put pressure on other countries to step up to the plate, too?

 

The right hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. I have already called for violence to stop and, importantly, for aid access to be granted. The point about the UN efforts is that we have to have a co-ordinated approach and response to the aid effort, aid delivery and aid access. It is also important that we ensure our voices are heard by the Burmese military, so that they stop the violence and introduce protections for the Rohingya people, rather than the persecution we have seen so far.

 

Although the majority of Rohingya Muslims have sought sanctuary in Bangladesh, 40,000 refugees in India face deportation back to Burma. Has the Secretary of State raised that with her Indian counterparts? If not, will she now guarantee that she will do so?

 

The hon. Lady is absolutely right about the plight of the Rohingya people inside India, which shows the level of dispersal and displacement. With my Foreign Office counterparts—the two Departments are obviously working together—I will pick this up with the Indian Government. Importantly, our focus right now is on the relief efforts in the light of the humanitarian catastrophe in Bangladesh.

 

What pressure can be applied to the authorities in the region and particularly to the office of Aung San Suu Kyi? Tributes have been paid to her in the past for her work to bring people together to try to bring an end to the onslaught and murder that continue in the region.

 

Of course Aung San Suu Kyi has an important role to play. She has a voice, and she needs to use it to stop the persecution and, with the Burmese military and with what is effectively her Government, to create routes home for the Rohingya people, giving them security, rather than the fleeing and persecution we have seen. It is not just for the British Government, although we are doing this, but for all international voices to step up, come together and make that abundantly clear to her.

 

Topical Questions

T1. If she will make a statement on her departmental responsibilities. [901241]

 

Over the next five years, the UK is providing £175 million in life-saving humanitarian aid to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where political insecurity and increasing violence are forcing people to flee their homes.

 

Sustainable development goal 4 focuses on inclusive and quality education for all, but a recent joint report by Leonard Cheshire and the UN Girls’ Education Initiative has found that girls’ education, especially of those with disabilities, is being overlooked in many developing countries. Will the Government seek to advance this SDG with the utmost vigour to ensure equal educational opportunities for all across the world?

 

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right about the value and importance of girls’ education around the world. DFID and the UK Government lead in this area. We have encouraged, through the UN and other international bodies, other countries to step up, and of course we will continue to do that.

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T5. Oxfam marked its 75-year anniversary earlier this month. I am proud of the work that British charities such as WaterAid, which was founded here in 1981, are doing around the world. Will the Minister outline what the Government are doing to support charities’ excellent work on campaigns for women and girls to have a safe and private place, as they come of age, to keep themselves clean? [901245]

 

My hon. Friend is absolutely right, because DFID and Britain are working with many partners, including WaterAid. I pay tribute to this country’s great non-governmental organisations that provide wash and sanitation facilities for women and girls around the world, and protect their health and wellbeing. I pay tribute to what my hon. Friend and other Members are doing to work with them.

 
 
 

T4. DFID is prioritising getting humanitarian aid to the Rohingya Muslim refugees in Bangladesh, but will the Secretary of State say what she is doing to ensure that priority is also given to medical aid, including the psychological therapies that will be desperately needed for those very damaged people? [901244]

 

Of course, the medical aid and support that is going in is critical, because there are cases involving children, and parasites and diseases have really taken hold. Psycho-social care is now being put in place through many of the partners that I met just last week, including the Disasters Emergency Committee and other aid charities. A great deal of work is taking place, but there is much more to do in the light of the hundreds of thousands of people who are currently fleeing for their lives.

 
 

T6. In its recent assessment of conditions in Cox’s Bazar, the International Rescue Committee found unprecedented levels of sexual violence against women and girls, and that 50% of pregnant women were not receiving the medical treatment they need. Will the Secretary of State tell us who will attend the critical conference in Geneva next week? Will she commit to mobilising the resources needed not only from DFID, but from international partners, to get these people the help that they need? [901246]

 

The hon. Gentleman is right to raise maternal health and protection for women, girls and children. We are working with the UN agencies, including the Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs, to make sure that child protection and the protection of women feature heavily in their work and at next week’s meeting. Officials are attending next week, and it is important to say that Britain has led the way in calling out these issues and providing resources to the agencies that are delivering on the ground so that they can protect women and children.

 

We should rightly be proud of the enormous holistic contribution that the UK has made in responding to the Syria crisis, but what effort has been made in parallel? What credit does my right hon. Friend give to the charitable effort that has taken place and what has it achieved?

My hon. Friend is right to make a point about the charitable contribution that has been made across the United Kingdom to all the aid efforts for Syrian refugees. There are many examples of that happening in which we have all been involved. The situation continues to deteriorate, and DFID and the Government continue to provide all the support that is needed. Through our aid match scheme, we are providing help directly to many of the charities, as well as contributing to the relief effort.

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T8. A recent reply to a written question stated that nearly 11% of the aid budget is managed through the EU. Will the Secretary of State tell us what concrete plans she has to ensure that that money is properly used after Brexit? [901248]

 

The hon. Lady is right to point out that we make contributions through other organisations, particularly the European Union. After Brexit, we will ensure that that money is not only spent accountably and in a transparent way, but doing exactly what it is there to do: serving the world’s poorest and providing relief to those people who desperately need that aid support.

 
 

Thank you, Mr Speaker. What access can my right hon. Friend give to her Department’s procurement programme for innovative, UK-built food aid drones?

 

I thank my hon. Friend for highlighting the opportunity for DFID and the Government to use technology to provide much-needed food aid relief around the world, such as in refugee camps and crisis zones. Our procurement system has now changed. We are working with a range of suppliers to ensure that we can get the innovators to the Government to deliver the support that is needed.

 

A12/A120 Consultations

Strategic Road Network Consultations

There are two important consultations running at the moment on key strategic road infrastructure improvements - the A12 widening scheme and the upgrading of the A120. Priti has been campaigning to secure new investment in these roads and has welcomed the consultations taking place. Members of the public can review the proposals for the A12 and A120 at the weblinks below, attend consultation events, and respond to the consultation. Feel free to also contact Priti by email to: [email protected] with your views too.

Widening the A12

Upgrading the A120

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