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Foreign & Commonwealth Office Questions

20th February 2018

Harriett Baldwin answers questions from MPs on her work as Minister of State for Africa.

Girls’ Education

David T. C. Davies (Monmouth) (Con)

2. What steps his Department is taking to support the delivery of girls’ education throughout the world. [903890]

Craig Tracey (North Warwickshire) (Con)

9. What steps his Department is taking to support the delivery of girls’ education throughout the world. [903897]

The Minister for Africa (Harriett Baldwin)

Girls’ education is a moral imperative. Women and girls have the right to be educated, equal, empowered and safe. ​This is one of the Foreign Secretary’s top priorities, and he has instructed his officials to put girls’ education at the heart of their work.

David T. C. Davies

Given the appalling revelations about some employees in Oxfam and the subsequent attempts to cover that up, could the Minister assure us that any organisation that is asked to deliver education for girls’ programmes anywhere in the world by the British Government is fit for purpose?

Harriett Baldwin

I share my hon. Friend’s assessment that this is an utterly despicable example. I hope he agrees that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Development has shown real leadership by writing to all the organisations with which we contract to ensure that safeguarding levels are raised. I believe that you have allowed her to make a statement on this subject later this afternoon, Mr Speaker.

Craig Tracey

During the Foreign Secretary’s recent trip, what discussions did he have with Burma, Thailand and Bangladesh on the Government’s policy on the education of women and girls?

Harriett Baldwin

My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary champions this issue at every opportunity, including the opportunity that my hon. Friend mentioned. He will be aware that not only has my right hon. Friend shown tremendous leadership on this issue, but he has appointed a special envoy for gender equality and has really put this work at the heart of the diplomatic network.

Rachael Maskell (York Central) (Lab/Co-op)

Khwendo Kor provides education at the north-west frontier province of Pakistan, an incredibly dangerous environment for women and girls. UK Friends of Khwendo Kor tries to bring people over to the UK to provide human rights support, but the Home Office often blocks them. What discussion has the Minister had with the Home Office to help this situation?

Harriett Baldwin

The hon. Lady is absolutely right to highlight the important work that a range of different organisations do, often in partnership with us. If she has specific examples on which she would like me to make representations to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, I would be delighted to receive her correspondence.

John Cryer (Leyton and Wanstead) (Lab)

Further to the previous question, what discussions has the Minister had with the Government of Pakistan on the education of girls in that country? Can she tell the House what proportion of UK aid to Pakistan goes towards the education of women and young girls?

Harriett Baldwin

It is certainly very significant. Last month, I had the pleasure of meeting two very impressive education Ministers from different parts of Pakistan. As the hon. Gentleman will be aware, education is quite devolved across different parts of Pakistan. As for the specific statistics that he wishes me to provide, I will follow that up in a letter to him.

David Evennett (Bexleyheath and Crayford) (Con)

I welcome the work that my hon. Friend and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office are doing in this field, but does she agree that in a place such as Africa, a huge amount more needs to be done?

Harriett Baldwin

My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. There is a huge amount to be done. Something like 136 million girls around the world are not in education. As my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary has said, this is truly the Swiss army knife of development, because it works in so many different ways. It helps to resolve issues of conflict and is also important to advance global prosperity.

Alison Thewliss (Glasgow Central) (SNP)

CNN recently reported the story of 12-year-old Halima from Yemen, who wants to become a doctor, but whose father is being forced to make the choice to marry her off to make ends meet. He will receive £2,000 as a dowry for marrying off his daughter. What will the Minister do to prevent conflict in Yemen so that young women there can fulfil their potential?

Harriett Baldwin

The hon. Lady is absolutely right to highlight a particular example that illustrates the challenges faced by girls around the world. The UK Government have demonstrated significant leadership on this issue as a way of progressing peace and development around the world, and are urging all parties to the conflict in Yemen to make a political solution.

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International Peacekeeping

Jess Phillips (Birmingham, Yardley) (Lab)

15. What steps he is taking to support international peacekeeping efforts. [903903]

The Minister for Africa (Harriett Baldwin)

The UK champions peacekeeping financially, politically and militarily. Since 2015, we have more than doubled our commitment to UN peacekeeping, with British forces deploying to South Sudan and Somalia. There are now more than 700 UK personnel deployed on eight UN peacekeeping missions in seven countries.

Jess Phillips

In the light of ongoing reports of sexual abuse by UN peacekeepers, does the Minister agree that increasing the number of women peacekeepers is a vital part of addressing the crisis in the long term? Will she also tell us the proportion of peacekeepers from the UK who are women and what plans she has to increase their representation on UN deployments?

Harriett Baldwin

I appreciate the hon. Lady’s leadership on the issue and her work on all aspects of it. I think that she will admire the leadership role that the UK has played not only in putting the subject on the UN’s agenda last year, but with the our Prime Minister’s appointment to the Secretary-General’s Circle of Leadership. I assure her that we will continue to champion that agenda at every opportunity.

On the topic that the hon. Lady raised about women from our armed forces, she will know about the impressive agenda that includes the Armed Forces (Flexible Working) Act 2018, and that we are aiming to increase the proportion of women from 11% to 15%.

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Topical Questions

Jeremy Lefroy (Stafford) (Con)

T5. The people of the Democratic Republic of the Congo have suffered for far too long. At least 6 million people have died in the past 20 years—it is probably more—and 4 million were internally displaced last year, which is more than the figure for any other country in the world. Will the Minister say what the British Government are doing to ensure that we do all we can to see the suffering brought to an end? [903934]

The Minister for Africa (Harriett Baldwin)

My hon. Friend is absolutely right to highlight this disastrous situation and the importance of the UK’s role. He will be aware that the DRC is an extremely dangerous place even for the UN peacekeepers; some were killed last year. The UK Government are calling on President Kabila to respect the constitution, to fulfil the commitments made in the Saint-Sylvestre accord and to continue with the implementation path to elections this year.

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Peter Grant (Glenrothes) (SNP)

The Foreign Secretary will be aware of the plight of my constituents, Mr and Mrs Westwood, who were first of all defrauded of their entire possessions in Zimbabwe and then forced to flee for their lives by armed gangs with very close links with the Mugabe regime. Will he explain why the Westwoods recently received a letter that appeared to indicate that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office was no longer willing to give them any assistance? Will he agree to meet me and the Westwoods to give them his personal assurance that the FCO will not abandon them?

Harriett Baldwin

I am happy to give the hon. Gentleman that assurance.

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