International Development Questions

12th January 2017

Priti Patel answers MPs questions on the Department for International Development's work in Central Asia and Syria.

Tajikistan

 

1. What recent assessment she has made of the effectiveness of her Department’s work in Tajikistan. [907997]

 

UK development assistance has helped to reduce poverty and promote stability in Tajikistan since 2002. Between 2011 and 2016, DFID’s work has improved rural lives, promoted women’s economic empowerment, and delivered an important investment climate and managed public financial reforms.

 

I am grateful for that information. During a recent visit to Tajikistan I saw the good work that DFID had been doing, but many people have expressed concern about the fact that certain projects have been quite slow to be approved. Will my right hon. Friend update the House on the Department’s commitment to Tajikistan, and on when those projects might be signed off?

 

I thank my hon. Friend, both for his question and for going to see DFID’s work in-country. The Minister of State, my hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border (Rory Stewart), is overseeing new international development programmes, details of which will be published in due course.

Central Asia, including Tajikistan, represents an important strategic imperative in terms of our wider development objectives. We are, of course, committed to ensuring that commitments are implemented, and that we start to deliver on those programmes later in the year.

 

Tajikistan is very much at risk from climate change, which could threaten all the good work that is being done to improve livelihoods and economic development. Is dealing with that an element of DFID’s programme?

 

As the hon. Lady will know, a variety of challenges exist in this part of central Asia. Dealing with climate change is one, but others are economic security, financial management and performance issues. DFID’s combined approach will help to deliver greater economic security in the long run.

 

Aleppo

 

3. What steps the Government are taking to support people in Aleppo. [907999]

 

What has happened in Aleppo is a tragedy and underlines the regime’s callous tactics of siege, starvation and indiscriminate bombardment. Through the UK’s humanitarian leadership and diplomatic efforts, we are doing all we can do to support the protection of civilians and, importantly, ensure that they receive the aid they so desperately need.

 

I thank the Secretary of State for that answer. The UK committed £510 million in support at the London Syria conference in February last year. Is she on course to hit that target?

 

I thank my hon. Friend for his question on this important issue, which gives me the chance to restate to the House the British Government’s commitment to, and long-standing support for, Syria. We have surpassed that pledge of £510 million made at the Syria conference last year. It is fair to say not only that the UK can be proud of its support, but that we have ensured that there is the right support in terms of humanitarian supplies and the focus for the region, while at the same time using our international convening power to work with others globally to ensure that we do everything we possibly can to support Syria and the region.

 

At the world humanitarian summit in Istanbul last year the United Kingdom committed to the centrality of protection as a fundamental principle. How has that guided DFID’s approach to the situation in Aleppo, and what lessons will we learn from the tragedy of Aleppo for future civilian protection?

 

The hon. Gentleman makes an important point in relation to the conference last year and how the humanitarian community can come together and not just learn lessons, but understand ways of working in times of severe crisis and of conflict. There are a number of lessons we can learn, including on agencies working together, the pooling of resources, and making sure that Governments across the world are working together strategically in terms of both resource allocation and, importantly, our convening power—the leverage we all have collectively in the international space to challenge Governments where they are inflicting harm and causing grief and devastation, and to make sure that we stand shoulder to shoulder and are united in how we tackle the challenge.

 

10. People give to Singing for Syrians because they know that 100% of the money they donate will be spent on prosthetic limbs and medical salaries in the region, as close to Aleppo as we can get it. What more can the Secretary of State do to ensure that DFID money is spent in the region and not wasted on advocacy and lobbying in the UK? [908007]

 

First, I commend my hon. Friend on her work on, and leadership in, Singing for Syrians; it is an incredible organisation and has been very successful in raising important funds. On making sure that the money is not wasted and goes directly into the region and in-country, we not only support, fund and collaborate with trusted partners, but, importantly, measure the outcomes that we are delivering in these essential humanitarian policies.

 

The Secretary of State is already talking about Aleppo in the past tense, but the besiegement is still happening right now, and the British Government must do more. What representations has she made to the Foreign Secretary about putting in place more and harder sanctions on Russia?

 

The hon. Lady is absolutely right. The situation not only in Aleppo but in Syria full stop is beyond comprehension. She asks about representations. The Foreign Secretary and I work hand in hand on international issues, and the Government are calling for greater collaboration on access to humanitarian routes into besieged areas. This is not a case of one Department versus another; it is the voice of the British Government working together to make public representations and representations behind the scenes.

 

Before the war, Aleppo had Syria’s largest population of Christians. Now it is estimated that 90% of them have fled. In Parliament today, Open Doors will launch its World Watch List, which shows that religious persecution is one of the key drivers of migration. What can my right hon. Friend’s Department do to help the poor, persecuted Christians of Aleppo?

 

My right hon. Friend is absolutely right to highlight the plight of persecuted Christians, especially in the context of Aleppo and Syria. She asks what we can do. This is not just a matter for DFID; the whole Government must speak out on the issue and constantly make it clear that the persecution of minorities and religious groups is totally unacceptable. That is the right thing to do. We also need to make that case within the international community and work collaboratively with donor countries and other countries across the world.

 

Following the announcement during the Christmas recess that DFID would be piloting the use of drones to deliver medical supplies in Tanzania and to map weather damage in Nepal, what discussions has the Secretary of State had with Ministers in the Ministry of Defence about how drone technology could be used to deliver aid or assess humanitarian need in Aleppo and other parts of Syria?

 

The hon. Gentleman is right to highlight the fact that we have been innovating and looking at new technology in relation to aid provision via drones. A lot of work is taking place in that space, and we have had a number of debates in the House about other ways of delivering humanitarian assistance, particularly in besieged areas. In the specific context of besieged areas in Syria, work is taking place and there have been discussions. I can assure the House that we are actively pursuing this issue, not just in DFID but across the Government.

 

The Secretary of State’s heart is very much in the right place, as we all know, but the fact is that the greatest humanitarian catastrophe of modern times is taking place in Aleppo, Raqqa and Mosul today. In contrast to the warm words that we have heard in the exchanges of the past few minutes, should we not now admit that there is precious little that we in the liberal west can do to alleviate the appalling circumstances in Aleppo unless we have the support of the United Nations and Russia?

 

My hon. Friend makes an important point. In terms of the work that the Government are doing, we must never lose sight of the fact that we are leading in humanitarian assistance and support. People are in desperate need, and we have the right focus on giving them all the necessary support. The other point is diplomacy. It is the job of the Government to carry on putting on the pressure, and we must use all the avenues of international diplomacy to put that pressure on, where it is needed.

 

I should like to focus on Idlib in north-western Syria, where civilians who have fled Aleppo are the main target of Government strikes. Will the Secretary of State tell the House how DFID is supporting those wounded and displaced civilians?

 

I thank the hon. Lady for her focus on the humanitarian issue in Syria, which is of course associated with Idlib as well. She asks about the work that is taking place. There are extensive humanitarian efforts in terms of relief, food and shelter in what is a desperate situation. As she and the whole House will know, I have spent a great deal of time working with all the agencies that we are directly supporting and funding to ensure that supplies are getting through, and they are. I would add the caveat that this is taking place in a challenging environment and climate. We are getting supplies through, but it is increasingly difficult to do so.

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Topical Questions

 

T1. If she will make a statement on her departmental responsibilities. [908012]

 

Whether by giving to Syrian refugees, providing access to food or clean water, or creating jobs across Africa, UK aid helps us to meet our obligations to the world’s poorest. Such investment is also firmly in Britain’s national interest because it tackles the root causes of global problems while focusing on delivering world-class programmes that deliver value for money for UK taxpayers.

 

The Secretary of State has previously said that she is looking at allocating DFID funding to peaceful co-existence projects, including Save a Child’s Heart, whose valuable work brings Palestinians and Israelis together. Can she update the House on that very worthy project?

 

I am pleased to confirm that we are indeed working on a range of co-existence programmes in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories to support tangible improvements, as my hon. Friend the Minister of State has said. The programme is now in its final design phase and will be launched at the beginning of the financial year. [Interruption.]

 

Order. I understand the air of anticipation in the Chamber just before Prime Minister’s questions, but I remind the House that we are discussing matters that affect the poorest people on the face of the planet. They should be treated with respect.

 

The protection of civilians in Aleppo must remain our absolute priority, but if we are to provide food, water, shelter and humanitarian relief to civilians who, for four years, have faced the horrors of an inhumane war, we need to ensure that the ceasefire, although currently holding, remains more than a brief pause. Can the Secretary of State therefore say what efforts the Government are making to ensure that conflict does not reignite in Aleppo? What contingency plan does DFID have in place to continue providing aid to civilians should the conflict reignite? We must not see humanity in meltdown again.

 

The hon. Gentleman is right that the UK will do everything it possibly can to support the current ceasefire and, importantly, to safeguard humanitarian support in the region, too. That is down to our diplomatic tools and diplomatic efforts but, importantly, we are also making sure that all agencies work together to deliver the vital humanitarian support that is required.

 

T3. No self-respecting Conservative believes that we should be judged simply on how much we spend on something. Spending a guaranteed amount of money each year on overseas aid leads to waste and excess such as the £1 billion spent each year on consultants. When can we get back to some common sense and stop spending more and more on overseas aid every year when the money could be much better spent at home? [908014]

 

Like all Conservatives, I, too, want to focus on making sure that every penny of taxpayers’ money goes to helping the world’s poorest, which is exactly the mission of our Department. At the same time, my hon. Friend will know that overseas development assistance saves lives and transforms lives. He specifically refers to money spent on consultants, which is something that my Department is currently reviewing.

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T6. The most sustainable aid is aid through trade. Will the Secretary of State therefore ensure that, when we leave the European Union and the customs union, we give top priority and free access to our markets to exports from the poorest countries? [908017]

 

My hon. Friend will know that our priority is, of course, economic development and making sure that, through our aid, we are delivering long-term sustainable economic development and prosperity in everything we do. He is also right to note that DFID is working across Government as we leave the European Union to look at unilateral trade preferences and the work we can do to grow our trade footprint across the world.

T4. Unlike the hon. Member for Shipley (Philip Davies), we in the Scottish National party welcome the fact that OECD data show that, last year, the UK was one of only six countries to meet the 0.7% aid target. That, of course, includes the Scottish Government’s international aid fund. What assurances can the Secretary of State give that her Government’s commitment to that target is unwavering and will continue to be fulfilled beyond the next general election? [908015]

 

We have been unequivocal in our commitment to 0.7% and, in addition, it is a manifesto commitment. Let me restate again, for the benefit of the House, that the focus of my Department is on poverty reduction and on ensuring that that money is spent to drive taxpayer value and deliver programmes for the poorest in the world.

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