Questions to the Secretary of State for International Development
09 Nov 2015October 28’s questions to the International Development Secretary saw myself as the Shadow International Development Secretary, Shadow Ministerial colleagues and fellow Labour MPs ask the Government questions on a number of vital issues of international development. Issues raised included the ongoing refugee crisis, the Government’s failure to show international leadership on climate change and the misuse of the international aid budget.
The key reasons we raised these issues are:
1)There are growing concerns that the Government are looking for creative ways to top-slice the aid budget and renege on their 0.7% international aid commitment:
The UK has committed to spending 0.7% of its GDP - about £12bn - on foreign aid, with its spending priorities focusing on health, education, water sanitation, the environment, economic growth, and promoting stable governance.
Following the Government’s decision to fund its response to this Summer’s refugee crisis from the existing international development budget, rather than provide additional funding for the emergency situation, there are growing concerns that in other areas the government is looking for ways to divert the international development budget to other uses - from the use of aid to build prisons in Jamaica - the UK will provide £25 million from the government’s existing aid budget to help fund the construction of a new 1500 bed prison in Jamaica - to funding MI6.
I therefore asked the Government "Where does building prisons fit into the UK’s stated spending priorities for foreign aid?” additionally asking ”Does the Minister understand concerns about aid money perhaps increasingly being siphoned off for other purposes?”
2) As has been widely recognised, the Government is refusing to play a full role in tackling the refugee and migrant crisis:
The Government has not resolved to take a reasonable number of Syrian refugees – let alone refugees from elsewhere - and in terms of the broader global context leading to this crisis its own aid watchdog has criticised its support as failing to make a “real difference to fragile and conflict states”.
In this week’s debate, my colleague Alex Cunningham MP said that “Refugee children in Europe also face a tough winter. Last week the UNHCR expressed concern that unaccompanied children moving within Europe are at a heightened risk of violence and abuse, especially in overcrowded reception centres, while Save the Children operations in Italy and Greece have identified that these children are suffering a high level of psychological distress.”
One area of great concern is that the situation of 5.6 million refugee children inside Syria remains desperate as winter approaches - this includes up to 2 million children living in areas of the country largely cut off from humanitarian assistance.
Meanwhile, Lebanon now has the highest per capita refugee population in the world, and is host to over 1.2 million refugees.
This winter, an estimated 190,000 economically vulnerable Lebanese, Syrian and Palestinian refugee families (950,000 individuals) are likely to be exposed to the cold and in need of basic assistance and shelter improvements/weatherproofing support over the ruthless winter months in Lebanon. Of those, 11,500 families have been identified as highly vulnerable.
A recent study by NRC - No Place to Call Home - found that almost 50% of refugees interviewed in Lebanon were living in unfinished housing, accommodation without a toilet or running water, or exposed to the elements and that 18% or refugees were living in informal settlements.
I therefore asked: “There are terrible reports of the conditions in the Syrian refugee camps on Greek islands such as Lesbos, with no dry clothes, no shelter, no food, and children sleeping in bin bags, and conditions can only get worse as winter approaches. Are the Government really prepared to turn their back on people like these?” and my Front Bench colleague Mike Kane MP additionally asked “what action will the Government take on the specific issue of the complexity and cost of registering stateless children?”
3) The Tory-led Government has failed to take the necessary lead internationally on climate change:
As we approach COP21, the UN Climate change conference in Paris this November, the UK has failed to show leadership on reducing carbon emissions and reaching a global deal. The progress Britain has contributed to in terms of international development in the last 15 years - in areas such as tackling poverty, improving health food security and access to sanitation - will be eroded if global temperatures are allowed to continue to soar.
This is an important issue for international development as developing countries are those most likely to suffer the effects of climate change. In these countries, climate change has already started affecting economic growth, health indicators, water availability, food production and the fragile ecosystems.
In terms of the COP 21 UN conference on climate change which will take place in November - where key NGOs active in this area internationally hope for global deal to be reached to keep global warming below 2 degrees – many have expressed concerns that richer countries are trying to move away from a global deal to bilateral agreements. In this regard, the UK has said it will lower carbon emissions by 40% by 2030 as part of the European position, but has not committed to any position of its own. This position is weak and less than what is provided for in the Climate Change Act.
Furthermore, one of the new UN Sustainable Development Goals (which have followed on from the Millennium Development Goals) is combatting climate change.
For this reason the Labour MP for Halifax Holly Lynch asked the Minister “What progress her Department has made on its work on the effects of climate change in developing countries?”
Additionally in the debate, Labour Colleague Paul Blomfield MP raised the issue of the ongoing war and crisis in Yemen, Debbie Abrahams and Richard Burden MP raised the issue of Palestine, and Louise Haigh MP raised the issue of religious rights in Kashmir – you can read the full debate on Hansard here .