18 July 2023
Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Questions

Andrew Mitchell, Minister of State for Development and Africa, answers MPs’ questions to the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office.

Climate Finance Commitments

Caroline Lucas (Brighton, Pavilion) (Green)

5. What recent steps his Department has taken to help meet the UK's international climate finance commitments. (906036)

The Minister of State, Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (Mr Andrew Mitchell)

As the Prime Minister set out at COP27, we are committed to spending £11.6 billion on international climate finance over the timeframe originally envisaged.

Caroline Lucas 

I take some comfort from the Minister’s reply. He will know that there has been much speculation—and indeed, some leaks—in the national media that demonstrate real concern that the Government were reneging on their climate finance commitments. Could he explain to me and the 50 cross-party MPs and peers who have written to the Prime Minister about this when the £11.6 billion will be delivered in full, broken down by each year? Could the Minister explain how the commitment will be met and assure us that it will not be by raiding the aid budget? He will know that the money is meant to be new and additional. It would be wrong for it to come at the expense of recipients who are expecting that aid budget and should have it.

Mr Mitchell 

The hon. Lady will have noticed yesterday that there was a very considerable return of transparency in the figures published by the Foreign Office. She will have seen that the allocations for aid for next year are nearly double what they were this year. We have a commitment to greater transparency and I expect to be able to publish in full how we will reach the £11.6 billion, probably in September.

Karl MᶜCartney (Lincoln) (Con)

The Minister will realise that £11.8 billion is quite a lot of money. How do the UK’s international climate finance commitments compare to other G7 and G20 countries, or, historically, to before 2010?

Mr Mitchell 

We are a global leader on these issues, as my hon. Friend knows, and we have set a lead. Part of that leadership, but only part of it, is in respect of money. The UK has delivered extraordinarily on its commitments. For example, we met our previous climate finance commitments, including spending nearly £6 billion between 2016 and 2021.

Mr Speaker 

I call the SNP spokesperson.

Drew Hendry (Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey) (SNP)

The effects of climate change are intensifying—NASA has just reported that June was the hottest month ever recorded—so it is important that the Government stand by their promise to double international climate finance. Will the Minister, at the Dispatch Box, confirm that that is exactly what they will do, or is the rumour that they are about to renege actually the case?

Mr Mitchell 

The hon. Gentleman will have heard my response to the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas). I can tell him that we are committed to tripling our adaptation finance from £500 million in 2019 to £1.5 billion by 2025. I hope he will wait, with admitted patience, until September when we will be able to set all these figures out.



Afghanistan: Rights of Women and Girls

Ruth Cadbury (Brentford and Isleworth) (Lab)

6. What steps he is taking to support the rights of women and girls in Afghanistan. (906037)

The Minister of State, Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (Mr Andrew Mitchell)

We condemn the Taliban’s decision to restrict the rights of women and girls. We are working with international partners to urge the Taliban to reverse its decisions to ban women from working for the United Nations and non-governmental organisations, and to deny girls access to education.

Ruth Cadbury 

I thank the Minister for his answer. As he said, in Afghanistan, households led by women are effectively banned from leaving the home and are, therefore, wholly dependent on female Afghan aid workers. With the Taliban now effectively banning female aid workers from delivering humanitarian aid, even a one or two week delay in reaching families means that mothers are turning to appallingly unacceptable negative coping mechanisms such as child marriage. What is the impact assessment of the Taliban’s policy on the distribution of essential aid and what are the Government doing about it?

Mr Mitchell 

The impact assessment is truly horrific. The effect of the Taliban’s decision is absolutely appalling and we are working with other countries to press the Taliban to reverse its decision on education, especially that on 23 March and the ban on girls going to secondary schools. On the specific point the hon. Lady makes, we are doing everything, along with our likeminded allies and others with greater influence on the Taliban, to try to rectify that.



UN Convention against Torture

Kenny MacAskill (East Lothian) (Alba)

10. Whether his Department has received recent representations on the adequacy of the United Nations convention against torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. (906041)

The Minister of State, Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (Mr Andrew Mitchell)

The UK is a state party to the United Nations convention against torture and other cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment, and works closely with partners to eradicate the use of torture.

Kenny MacAskill 

War manifests itself not just in today’s combat but for future generations. As a signatory to the convention on cluster munitions, the UK is aware of the reprehensible nature of these weapons. Will the Minister assure us that US supplies of those weapons to Ukraine will not be allowed through US airbases in the UK?

Mr Mitchell 

The hon. Member makes a point about cluster munitions, and the position of the British Government is very clear: we have signed the treaty against their use. Other countries’ position is a matter for them, but that is the very clear position of the British Government.



Food Security: Developing Countries

Ian Levy (Blyth Valley) (Con)

13. What steps he has taken to help improve food security in developing countries. (906044)

The Minister of State, Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (Mr Andrew Mitchell)

We committed in the integrated review refresh, published in March, to lead an 18-month campaign to improve global food security and nutrition, and to mitigate the risk of famine.

Ian Levy 

The devastating war in Ukraine and the destruction of its agricultural sector has sadly meant that, at the start of 2023, roughly one in three Ukrainian families were classified as food insecure. Whether we live in Blyth Valley or in Kyiv, food security is of the utmost importance. Will my right hon. Friend assure me his Department is doing all it can to ensure that Ukrainian families are getting the vital support they need, despite what is happening in their country?

Mr Mitchell 

I can give my hon. Friend that assurance. In November, Britain will host a major event in London focused on preventing children from starving to death, and on preventing malnutrition and food insecurity.

Patrick Grady (Glasgow North) (SNP)

It is all good and well that the UK is hosting events, but the reality is that the amount of money it has to invest in food security is declining, because of cuts to the aid budget and now because of the Home Office’s use of official development assistance to house refugees. If the Home Office really wants people not to come here on small boats, perhaps it would be better to spend that money on famine relief and food security so that people do not flee their countries in the first place.

Mr Mitchell 

The hon. Gentleman is right to point to the importance of international development in tackling these problems upstream. He will have seen yesterday’s publication of the very sharp increase in bilateral aid, and he will also have noticed that I announced that we will spend £1 billion on humanitarian relief next year.



Topical Questions

Henry Smith (Crawley) (Con)

T1.   If he will make a statement on his departmental responsibilities. (906057)

The Minister of State, Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (Mr Andrew Mitchell)

My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary is at the United Nations in New York for a meeting of the Security Council under the UK presidency.

Since the last oral questions, we hosted the Ukraine recovery conference in London, which raised $60 billion towards Ukraine’s reconstruction. My right hon. Friends the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary attended last week’s NATO leaders summit in Vilnius, where a new tranche of military support for Ukraine was announced. The new White Paper on international development to 2030 is the subject of a written ministerial statement today.

Henry Smith 

On Sunday, in Auckland, New Zealand, the UK signed the CPTPP—the comprehensive and progressive agreement for trans-Pacific partnership—which represents more than 500 million people and a GDP of more than £12 trillion, which is larger than the European Union. As well as the economic benefits to this country, what diplomatic benefits will the agreement bring?

Mr Mitchell 

I congratulate my hon. Friend on getting the letters of the agreement in the right order. He will know that the agreement spans 12 economies across Asia, the Pacific and now Europe. By 2040, we hope that it will add £2 billion to our GDP.

Mr Speaker 

I call the shadow Minister.

Ms Lyn Brown (West Ham) (Lab)

There are reports of widespread, systematic and targeted destruction of 26 communities in Darfur. Eighty-seven bodies were found buried in a mass grave last week, and fears are growing of genocide. I welcome the fresh sanctions, but what steps are the Government taking with international allies to ensure that the International Criminal Court has the resources needed to investigate and to hold those responsible to account?

Mr Mitchell 

I want to assure the hon. Lady that we will do everything we can to make sure that there is not a culture of impunity in the dreadful civil war in Sudan. Together with our allies, we hold the pen at the United Nations, and with the Intergovernmental Authority on Development, the African Union, and the Troika—all of these different organisations—we are doing everything that we can to ensure that there is transparency on what is being done in Darfur and to bring to an end this dreadful conflict.


Alicia Kearns (Rutland and Melton) (Con)

Thank you, Mr Speaker, and thank you for your strong response to the point of order last week on the threats against me by President Vučić of Serbia. One colleague here raised the daily reports that we are receiving about extreme identity violence in Darfur, which will only get worse. As a UK penholder, what are we doing to create a protective wedge between civilians and the militias? Will my right hon. Friend show leadership at the Dispatch Box by declaring these as crimes against humanity, because it matters that Britain says that now?

Mr Mitchell 

I fully understand what my hon. Friend is saying about Darfur. She will know that I first went there with David Cameron in 2006 and saw what was happening on the ground—what George Bush called a genocide. We will do everything that we can to protect the civilians there who are in great jeopardy today. That involves the use of words, as my hon. Friend said, and actions at the UN. We will do everything that we can, as holder of the pen, to ensure that progress is made.

Helen Hayes (Dulwich and West Norwood) (Lab)

T6. Last month the UN’s world food programme announced the cessation of food aid in Ethiopia following the large-scale diversion of supplies. The UN has this week estimated that 8.8 million people in northern Ethiopia are in need of food aid, and severe malnutrition has increased by 196% over the past year. Will the Minister set out what the Government are doing to respond to this desperate humanitarian crisis? (906062)

Mr Mitchell 

We are working incredibly closely with the UN agencies, in particular the World Food Programme. We are conscious of, have investigated, and I think have now dealt with the issue of food being stolen. We announced recently that we would spend £143 million on humanitarian support in the horn of Africa.

David Mundell (Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale and Tweeddale) (Con)

I welcome the written ministerial statement on the international development White Paper, although an oral statement to the House would have been better. How does my right hon. Friend the Minister intend to achieve the consensual approach that is clearly his aspiration for international development, and does he agree, having heard many examples this morning, that nutrition and combating hunger must be at the heart of any strategy?

Mr Mitchell 

I am extremely grateful to my right hon. Friend for his comments. As he knows, we will hold a summit specifically on stopping children starving to death in November. I hope that the White Paper will be announced at that summit, but of course he is right. This is a cross-party White Paper designed to ensure that we reach the sustainable development goals, which are way off target at this midway point, and do something to combat the appalling dangers that the world faces, and which we have seen so graphically in recent days, on climate change.

Sarah Champion (Rotherham) (Lab)

T7. For more than a year, the House has been highlighting the threat of atrocity crimes returning to Sudan, as the Minister has heard again today cross-party. Last week, we saw more mass graves and widespread and systematic identity-based targeting of communities. How much evidence do the Government need before they acknowledge those crimes against humanity, and act on their own policy to take effective action to prevent and respond to atrocities? (906063)

Mr Mitchell 

The hon. Lady is entirely right in the language that she uses about the atrocities taking place in Sudan and Darfur. That point has been extensively ventilated at this question time. All I can say to her, to add to what I have said already, is that we are working very closely with our allies, particularly the Americans, on precisely the subject that she has identified.

Vicky Ford (Chelmsford) (Con)

Murder, rape and pillage continue on a massive scale across Sudan. As well as ensuring that humanitarian aid gets to those on the borders, and the financial sanctions that we introduced last week, will the ministerial team look further at ways to cut off the source of funding for this violence, in particular by sanctioning Al-Khaleej Bank and Omdurman National Bank, which are associated with the two warring generals?

Mr Mitchell 

My right hon. Friend, who knows a lot about the subject, can rest assured that we are looking at all possible sanctions and other measures that we can take. She refers to humanitarian access. She will know that 15 humanitarian workers have been murdered during the course of the violence, but we will do everything that we can to ensure that what she wants to see happen happens.

Chi Onwurah (Newcastle upon Tyne Central) (Lab)

T8. The Department’s travel advice is highly respected, with observance considered mandatory by many businesses. What advice will the Minister give to a British organisation that needs to send an employee to Uganda—advice that protects the rights of that employee and their privacy, while also protecting LGBT+ employees in this country from exposure in Uganda to its cruel Anti- Homosexuality Act, which criminalises LGBT+ intimacy and freedom of expression? (906064)

Mr Mitchell 

The hon. Lady is absolutely right. The British Government and the whole House are appalled by the law that has been passed by Uganda. We make very strong representations, our high commission there works closely with affected groups, and we always keep travel advice under sharp and close review.


Cat Smith (Lancaster and Fleetwood) (Lab)

T9. In the past decade, more than 1.7 billion people have been affected by climate disasters through displacement, drought and food insecurity. The climate crisis is both creating and aggravating humanitarian emergencies. Where is the ambitious strategy for UK aid to build resilience and offset the implications of climate breakdown? (906065)

Mr Mitchell 

The hon. Lady is right to identify climate change as the great existential crisis of this era. Two weeks ago we had the hottest temperature seen in the world ever on the Monday; it was then exceeded on Wednesday and exceeded again on Thursday. One way we have changed how humanitarian work is done is by building in more adaptation and resilience when we deploy humanitarian support, and we will go on doing that.

James Sunderland (Bracknell) (Con)

Evidence suggests that malaria is on the move; it has appeared in parts of the US and is creeping across Europe. Can the Foreign Office please confirm that it is serious about eradicating malaria and neglected tropical diseases across the world, and say what plans are being taken, if any, to keep British people safe?

Mr Mitchell 

My hon. Friend is entirely right. I was recently in Mozambique, where they had managed to cut malaria infection by 50%, but we saw that climate change is now leading to its increasing again. We will do everything we can to make sure that what had previously been a successful policy of malaria eradication gets back on track as soon as possible.


Alex Cunningham (Stockton North) (Lab)

Following up the question from my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle upon Tyne Central (Chi Onwurah), a Billingham constituent is regularly in touch with me. Her Ugandan girlfriend lives in fear of her life every day, as new laws have seen more and more LGBT+ people persecuted. What more can the Government do with our allies to help people such as my constituent’s girlfriend and protect LGBT+ activists and human rights defenders in Uganda?

Mr Mitchell 

We are making representations as often as we can. There are limits to what we can do, but we are seeking to stretch those limits as far as possible. I spoke to the Ugandan Foreign Minister on 4 May to underline our opposition to the Anti-Homosexuality Act and highlight its impact on the safety of LGBT+ people in Uganda. Both the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary have spoken to the Ugandan Foreign Minister and the Ugandan high commissioner in London.

Dr Neil Hudson (Penrith and The Border) (Con)

The Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee is finalising our report on food security, which has come into sharp focus because of the pandemic and the war in Ukraine. With Russia regrettably pulling out of the Black sea grain deal, will my right hon. Friend reassure the House that the UK Government are working closely with the UN and NATO allies such as Turkey to restore that deal, which is so important for food security across Europe and in developing countries?

Mr Mitchell 

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Of course, we should make it clear that what Russia is doing is leading directly to people starving in Africa. Everyone should understand that, as well as the atrocious action that Russia has taken in invading a neighbouring country.