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International Development Questions

10th October 2018

Harriett Baldwin answers MPs’ questions to the Department for International Development.

Kerala: Summer Floods

Daniel Zeichner (Cambridge) (Lab)
2. What steps she is taking to ensure that people in Kerala have access to clean water, sanitation and shelter after the floods of summer 2018. [906948]

The Minister for Africa (Harriett Baldwin)
Our thoughts are with the people affected by flooding in India. The Indian Government are leading the response. We have supported the multi-donor Start Fund, which provided £250,000 to help the delivery of emergency assistance. This included the provision of emergency shelter and water purification and hygiene kits.

Daniel Zeichner
Members of the Keralan community across the UK are understandably aghast at recent events. Will the Minister say whether, in the light of this week’s report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the Government will heed the advice of the world’s leading climate scientists to enable us to ​make the rapid, unprecedented and far-reaching transitions that will be needed to avoid similar crises in future?

Harriett Baldwin
We certainly welcome the report, and I hope the hon. Gentleman welcomes the Government’s commitment to contributing £5.8 billion between 2016 and 2020 to make a difference in this area. Since 2011, 47 million people have been helped to cope with the effects of climate change and 17 million have been helped to access clean energy, but there is more to do and we will do it.

Michael Fabricant (Lichfield) (Con)
Anyone who has been to Kerala knows it is a beautiful state with beautiful people. Has my hon. Friend had a chance to discuss with UK water companies their charity, WaterAid, and what they can do to help?

Harriett Baldwin
The Indian Government are of course leading on this, and I am sure that they will note my hon. Friend’s suggestion. He has clearly had the pleasure of visiting that beautiful part of India. I should say that Kerala is open again for tourism, and I know that the return of tourists would be welcomed.

Chris Law (Dundee West) (SNP)
The recent floods in Kerala and other natural disasters in the world tragically highlight the urgency of the global climate crisis. This week, the world’s leading climate scientists stated in a landmark UN report that we have just 12 years to keep global warming to a maximum 1.5º C, and the World Bank has already committed to ending upstream oil and gas projects by 2019. Can the Minister therefore explain what possible reasons there are for the UK to continue to fund fossil fuel use, particularly in countries that are already bearing the worst brunt of climate change?

Harriett Baldwin
I am sure that the hon. Gentleman welcomes the fact that that the UK is leading in terms of our commitment to end the use of coal. We are looking closely at the Powering Past Coal Alliance and leading an effort to get more countries to sign up to that alliance. The UK is showing strong leadership on that, and he should welcome it.


Freedom of Religion or Belief

Mr George Howarth (Knowsley) (Lab)
3. What plans she has to promote the right to freedom of religion or belief in developing countries. [906949]

The Minister of State, Department for International Development (Harriett Baldwin)
The UK promotes and protects the right to freedom of religion or belief internationally. Through our UK Aid Connect scheme, up to £12 million will be available over the next four years for organisations to promote the building of freedom of religion or belief.

Mr Howarth
I thank the Minister for her response. Will she give us some information about what she will do to collect better data about religious freedom and minority belief freedom in the countries where her Department supports programmes?

Harriett Baldwin
Clearly the right hon. Gentleman raises an important issue. I am delighted to be able to tell him that we are working closely with colleagues in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office on a project that will generate exactly that evidence on the persecution of religious minorities. The project’s long-term objective is to generate data to better inform international policymakers to promote freedom of religion or belief more effectively.

Dame Caroline Spelman (Meriden) (Con)
Religious literacy is crucial to understanding the way in which our policies affect developing countries. I am therefore glad that the FCO has relaunched its course on that, but it is only voluntary. What more can be done to encourage DFID staff to take up such courses?

Harriett Baldwin
I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend’s work as a Church Commissioner. She will be aware that the Prime Minister has recently appointed Lord Ahmad as her special envoy on freedom of religion or belief. In that role, he has the important job of ensuring that that is taken up as widely as possible.

Mr Gregory Campbell (East Londonderry) (DUP)
The Minister may be aware of case in Pakistan involving a young woman called Asia Bibi who, under blasphemy legislation, faces the possible fate of execution in that country this week. What representations can the Minister make, as a matter of the utmost urgency, to try to ensure that common sense prevails in the Pakistani courts in that case?

Harriett Baldwin
I assure the hon. Gentleman that I will immediately raise that case with my colleague Lord Ahmad and make sure that that representation is made forthwith.

Stephen Crabb (Preseli Pembrokeshire) (Con)
Pakistan is one of the largest recipients of UK aid, so does the Minister agree that along with our aid should come an expectation that the recipient should do everything in their power to improve the protection of basic universal human rights?

Harriett Baldwin
I certainly think that, in his capacity as the Prime Minister’s special envoy on freedom of religion or belief, Lord Ahmad will be making the points that my right hon. Friend raises as a matter of priority.

Kate Osamor (Edmonton) (Lab/Co-op)
The most recent report from the European Parliament intergroup on freedom of religion or belief and religious tolerance states:

“much of the world’s population is deprived of their right to freedom of religion or belief”.

What steps are the Department undertaking to ensure the protection of minority groups in Nigeria, as the Nigerian Government are reportedly unwilling to initiate forceful action?

Harriett Baldwin
The hon. Lady is right to raise the fact that three quarters of the world’s population live in countries with high levels of government restrictions on freedom of religion or belief. Nigeria’s constitution does guarantee that freedom. When my right hon. ​Friend the Prime Minister recently met President Buhari she was able to raise that important issue, and I am glad the hon. Lady shares the ability to raise it in Parliament.

Kate Osamor
I feel the need to prompt the Minister. Nigeria is one of DFID’s top five recipient countries and Nigeria has been identified by both the European Parliament intergroup and the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom as a “country of concern” with regards to its poor record on upholding the right of freedom to express religion. So may I ask the Minister again to tell the House what actions her Department has in place to ensure that the Nigerian Government uphold the rights of religious minorities in the country?

Harriett Baldwin
The hon. Lady is right to raise this issue. I am sure she agrees that humanitarian assistance should always be distributed on the basis of need, disregarding any issues of race, religion and ethnicity. I assure her that we regularly raise this issue, as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State did recently, and that there is a plan in place both at local and national level to address it.


Topical Questions

Daniel Zeichner (Cambridge) (Lab)
T8. In the week in which the UK hosts a major international conference on the illegal wildlife trade, will the Minister tell us what her Department is doing to tackle that international crime? [906969]

The Minister of State, Department for International Development (Harriett Baldwin)
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right—the UK is leading the world by hosting the summit this week, and it is at the forefront of tackling this heinous crime. I am delighted to announce to Parliament that there will be a further £6 million uplift to the illegal wildlife trade challenge fund, and more money for the international action against corruption programme to tackle illicit financial flows that are linked to the illegal wildlife trade.


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