Stephen's contribution to the African Great Lakes Debate

Below is the text of Stephen's speech during the Security and Political Situation in the African Great Lakes Region Debate held in Parliament on Thursday 12th January.

You can watch the speech here

It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Glasgow North East (Anne McLaughlin), and I particularly support what she said at the end of her speech about the horrors of sexual violence in the DRC and the importance of the elections there. I reiterate the point that she and my hon. Friend the Member for Hyndburn (Graham Jones) made that it is often the poorest countries in the world that host the largest numbers of displaced people, including refugees. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Bassetlaw (John Mann) on securing this debate, and I echo all that he said in his opening remarks.

I congratulate the other Members who have taken part in the debate, particularly the members of the Select Committee who are here. They include my friend the hon. Member for Stafford (Jeremy Lefroy), who is an expert on Tanzania and Burundi. He has been a real champion for Burundi. I also congratulate the hon. Member for Mid Derbyshire (Pauline Latham), who is unable to take part in the debate but is a great champion of these issues and an expert on the situation in Uganda. My hon. Friend the Member for Hyndburn made a powerful speech. He talked about displacement and refugees in Africa, and the Select Committee will be addressing that important matter in an inquiry shortly.

I want to focus today on the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The scale of the humanitarian challenge there is enormous, with at least 1.6 million people internally displaced. It is estimated that about 5% of the poorest people in the world live in the DRC, and projections suggest that, unless things change, that figure will more than double over the next 15 years, which is the period for the global goals. That is the challenge that we face. Water Aid tells us that fewer than 30% of the people in the DRC have access to basic sanitation.

As others have said, the humanitarian crisis has been shaped by conflict and political instability. I echo what has been said about the encouraging signs with regard to the political position, and I congratulate the Catholic Church and others on the role that they have played in mediating talks over the Christmas period. Let us hope that we will now see movement towards elections in the DRC this year. As my hon. Friend the Member for assetlaw said, the United Kingdom can and must play a proactive role, not least in supporting electoral registration and the other elements for which the electoral commission in the DRC has responsibility.

The International Development Committee is currently conducting an inquiry on fragility and development in the DRC. As my hon. Friend the Member for Stafford said, we visited the country last July and saw some of the work that the Department for International Development was doing. I spoke in the debate on Tuesday about the support that the Commonwealth Development Corporation is giving to a very positive hydroelectric power programme in the Virunga region. We also saw some excellent peace-building work being done in the Goma region to bring together members of the community and the police to try to break down the barriers that have inevitably built up between them over the past 20 years. We visited a camp for internally displaced people in South Kivu and heard how cash transfer—an issue that has been in the news recently—is giving back control of their lives to people who have been powerless to do anything but flee from conflict. We also went to the Red Cross hospital in Goma, where a war surgery team run by the Red Cross treats a slow but steady stream of people who have suffered some of the most appalling gunshot and machete wounds. Those are positive examples of UK aid making a real difference to some of the poorest people in the world.

As everyone who addressed the subject of the DRC in this short debate has said, the recent history of that country has been violent and unstable, but there are now some reasons for cautious hope. Let us as a country play a positive and proactive role in supporting a peaceful solution that enables elections to happen, that enables those elections to be free and fair and that puts the focus on human rights, while seeking to bring peace to a country that has been savaged by war.

The humanitarian crisis in the Democratic Republic of the Congo will not disappear overnight, so it is important that, through DFID, non-governmental organisations and others, we continue the hard work to alleviate the worst aspects of poverty in that country. We who serve on the International Development Committee, on a cross-party basis, have seen at first hand the many good things that are being done to alleviate poverty in the DRC, and we look forward to releasing our report as a result of that inquiry shortly.

Stephen opens the Back Bench Business Debate on Yemen

Below is the speech Stephen gave opening the Back Bench Business Debate on the Yemen Crisis on Thursday 12th January.

You can watch the speech here

I beg to move,

That this House notes the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Yemen and the impact of the conflict on civilians; condemns any breach of international humanitarian law; and calls for an urgent independent investigation into reports of breaches of international humanitarian law on both sides of the conflict.

I thank the Backbench Business Committee for granting this very important and timely debate. It is good to see members of all parties in the Chamber. I pay tribute to those who have worked on Yemen for much longer than I have; my interest has arisen over the past year or so, as a result of my role as Chair of the International Development Committee.

I shall focus first on the humanitarian crisis in Yemen and then on the specific issue raised in the motion: the alleged violations of international humanitarian law by those on all sides. I shall not address the specific matter of arms sales to Saudi Arabia, as I know that my friend and co-sponsor of the motion, the hon. Member for Warwick and Leamington (Chris White)—who chairs the Committees on Arms Export Controls—will address that important issue if he catches your eye, Mr Speaker.

The Yemen conflict began early in 2015, less than two years ago, but it has its roots in the Arab spring of 2011. When Ali Abdullah Saleh was succeeded by President Hadi, the Houthi movement took advantage of the new President’s weakness, took control of parts of northern Yemen and later took the capital, Sana’a. From there the conflict intensified, with the intervention in 2015 of the Saudi Arabian-led coalition, backed by United States, United Kingdom and French intelligence, and on the other side the Houthi rebels, backed by Iran.

Yemen has been called the forgotten crisis—for example, by Amnesty International—but it is a crisis that we surely cannot ignore. The president of the International Committee of the Red Cross has said that the intensity and severity of the fighting in Yemen has left the country looking as Syria did after five years of conflict. It is estimated that since the conflict began nearly 10,000 people have been killed, roughly 4,000 civilians have lost their lives and 37,000 have been injured, which amounts to an average of 75 deaths or injuries on each day of the conflict. Surely, we cannot allow that to continue.

KEITH VAZ MP INTERVENTION - I pay tribute to my hon. Friend and his Committee for the work that they have done on Yemen, and, indeed, to the hon. Member for Warwick and Leamington (Chris White). The issue here is not just the scorecard of shame to which my hon. Friend has referred, but the granting of access to those amazing aid organisations. Does he agree that the most important aspect of what we are discussing today is the need for a ceasefire, which will allow the aid to get through?

I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend’s own long-standing work on the issue and to the work of the all-party parliamentary group on Yemen. He is absolutely right to say that a ceasefire is crucial, and I shall come on to access for humanitarian organisations.

At the end of 2015, the International Development Committee decided to conduct an inquiry into the crisis. Last year, we published two reports on Yemen. The first, which we produced on our own, related specifically to the humanitarian crisis, and the second was produced in conjunction with the Business, Innovation and Skills Committee, through the work of the Committees on Arms Export Controls. One of the recommendations in our first report was that the UK Government should put pressure on all parties to the conflict to comply with their obligations under international humanitarian law. That includes, very importantly, measures to protect civilians and, as we have been reminded by my right hon. Friend, to allow humanitarian agencies a safe space in which to operate.

The humanitarian situation is grave. Our own Government have described the crisis in Yemen as one of the most serious humanitarian crises in the world. The United Nations estimates that more than 80% of the population—more than 20 million people—are in immediate need of humanitarian assistance. Fourteen million people face food shortages, 19 million have no access to safe drinking water, and more than 3 million have had to flee their homes because of the conflict. The situation is particularly dire for children: the United Nations has estimated that eight children are killed or maimed every day in Yemen and that nearly 50% of school-age children are not at school.

The situation is exacerbated by the difficulty of gaining access for imports of essential supplies such as energy, food and medicine. That fuels the humanitarian crisis. Supplies are filtering through to the country more quickly than they were six months ago, and that progress is obviously welcome, but levels remain significantly below those of March 2015. Not only is that damaging the economy, but any further changes in the availability of food will pose a risk of famine. It is to DFID’s credit—I am pleased to see that the Minister of State, Department for International Development, the hon. Member for Penrith and The Border (Rory Stewart), is present—that it is putting more than £100 million into Yemen to help to relieve some of the most pressing humanitarian challenges. The UK is the fourth largest donor to Yemen, and we are leading the way in many respects, as we so often do in humanitarian crises, but we need to do more to press other countries to fund relief.

BOB STEWART MP INTERVENTION - If DFID is giving £100 million to Yemen—I totally support that—what is happening to the money? Presumably, it is blocked, because we cannot get through to the people who really need it. I suppose that it is in some bank or food store somewhere.

The situation varies in different parts of the country, but I remember that when the right hon. Member for New Forest West (Sir Desmond Swayne)—who is sitting next to the hon. Gentleman—was a DFID Minister, we discussed this issue when he appeared before the Select Committee nearly a year ago to give evidence. One of the challenges is precisely the one of which the hon. Gentleman has reminded us: securing ccess within the country, so that the aid can get through. The UK does not necessarily need to spend more money, but we should do our utmost to get the aid through. That brings us on to the challenges of achieving a ceasefire but also political progress in Yemen.

Even in the present challenging circumstances, DFID is working to improve food and water security and to provide emergency resilience for those who are most at risk. Unfortunately, the organisations that have been, and in some cases still are, on the ground helping to alleviate the humanitarian situation have told the Select Committee that their work has been threatened by the conflict. Since March 2015, 13 health workers have died and 31 have been injured. The World Health Organisation tells us that more than 70 health centres have been damaged or destroyed completely and that more than 600 have closed owing to damage or shortage of supplies or staff. Last year, the non-governmental organisation, Doctors of the World, withdrew from Yemen because it simply could not guarantee the safety of its volunteers on the ground. A number of non-governmental organisations have told us that the humanitarian space in Yemen is shrinking, making it even more difficult for them to carry out their work. All sides in the conflict need to comply with international humanitarian law, and one of the ways they should do so is to ensure humanitarian organisations can work unimpeded in Yemen.

STEPHEN DOUGHTY MP INTERVENTION - Does my hon. Friend share my concern that attacks on humanitarian operations have occurred on both sides, including by the Saudi-led coalition sometimes even when co-ordinates have been provided? On 27 October 2015 it was reported that there had been an attack on a Médecins sans Frontières hospital, even though the co-ordinates had been provided to the coalition two weeks before.

I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for the work he has done on this issue and agree entirely with what he says, which brings me to the second part of my speech.

The second major recommendation that came out of both reports—it was also recommended by the Foreign Affairs Committee report, which disagreed with us on the question of arms sales but agreed with us on this issue—is that there must be an independent, United Nations-led investigation of alleged violations of international humanitarian law by both sides in this conflict.

ANN CLYWD MP INTERVENTION - I just want to make the point that not all Foreign Affairs Committee members disagreed with the report; a minority agreed with it.

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend and pay tribute to her for her long-standing interest in, and activity on, these issues, not least her active participation in the Committees on Arms Export Controls, which I believe perform a vital function and should continue.

MIKE GAPES MP INTERVENTION - I had not intended to intervene at this point, but as the FAC report has been mentioned, is it not a fact that all three eports—those of the Business, Innovation and Skills, the International Development and the Foreign Affairs Committees—were agreed by majority votes?

I believe that is the case; certainly ours was agreed by a majority vote. I thought that my hon. Friend was going to make the different point that all three reports are in support of this motion. I am not aware of any of those voting in the minority in any of those three Committees doing so because they disagreed with this recommendation. I hope that the hon. Member for Warwick and Leamington and I have framed a motion that can enjoy support across the House, because it focuses on the issue of an independent investigation.

FIONA BRUCE MP INTERVENTION - The Chairman of our Select Committee will recall that when we took that vote—my decision is on record—it was my particular concern that the independent investigation take place. I feel strongly about that and want to put it on record today.

I thank the hon. Lady, who is an assiduous member of the International Development Committee. I do indeed recall that her focus was very much on needing to see the independent investigation first, and that was why she voted in the way she did. However, we all agreed across the Committee that there should be an independent international investigation, and that, indeed, featured in our first report as well as the second.

Let me now focus on the proposal for an investigation that is independent and international. In May 2015, at the beginning of the conflict, Human Rights Watch accused the Houthi rebels of violations of international law in the southern seaport city of Aden; the crimes highlighted included the killing of civilians and the arrest of aid workers at gunpoint. Since then the Houthis have been accused of a range of other violations of international humanitarian law, such as the prevention of the import of basic commodities, as well as medicine, propane, and oxygen cylinders, into the besieged city of Taiz.

A United Nations expert panel has documented 185 alleged abuses. As my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff South and Penarth (Stephen Doughty) reminded us, Médecins sans Frontières, which often works in the most difficult and challenging humanitarian situations, suffered attacks on three hospitals in three months. In September 2016, the Yemen Data Project reported that one third of all Saudi-led raids on Yemen have hit civilian sites, and the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights has estimated that 66% of all civilian deaths in Yemen have been caused by Saudi-led air strikes.

GRAHAM JONES MP INTERVENTION - I agree with my hon. Friend and concur with his point, but the UN panel also said that the problem facing the Saudi coalition and the Gulf Co-operation Council countries was that the Houthi rebels are operating in urban areas and against international law; they are effectively using civilians as human shields. There are problems with Saudi air strikes—they are killing civilians—but that point helps provide a more balanced picture of how this is occurring.

Yes, indeed. I was seeking to be absolutely balanced in making the point that very serious allegations have been made against the Houthis, and I ave just two examples—one from Aden and one from Taiz—but I reiterate the point of the UN panel that there have been 185 alleged abuses. I very deliberately say alleged abuses; that is why this motion argues for an independent investigation into all of those alleged abuses.

MINISTER TOBIAS ELLWOOD MP INTERVENTION -  I am concerned that, as usual in these debates, I will not have enough time to answer all the questions asked, although I will do my best. I did not wish to interrupt the hon. Gentleman’s speech, from which the House is learning a lot, and I hope he will concede that we take every report seriously, but the panel of experts that put the report together did not actually visit the country. We need to take account of that context when monitoring and understanding what is going on. I am not saying that we should ignore the report, but it is being used here today as if somehow we should add value to it. They did not enter the country; they were not able to provide the necessary intelligence that we would expect from a panel of UN experts.

Surely they did not enter the country because of the challenges that I have been describing; they did not wilfully decide, “We’re not going to bother going”, and just come up with the figure of 185. This was based on serious research and work done by the United Nations and I am disappointed that the Minister is so dismissive of that.

MINISTER TOBIAS ELLWOOD MP INTERVENTION - This is important, because the lines “There are 105” or “There are over 100” do get used. The Ministry of Defence has looked at every single one of the allegations, and we have asked for more information on a number of them. I am sorry to labour the point, but to offer clarification and give information to the House, the assessment was made by aerial photography with months in between, and therefore we cannot ascertain what has happened unless we have more information as to whether these acts of atrocity were caused by the Houthis or the coalition. That is the point I am trying to make.

I agree with that, and that is precisely why the motion says we should have a fully independent international investigation into all allegations against “both sides”. It may well be that some of these violations have been committed by the Houthis. I did not say that there were 105 alleged abuses by the Saudi-led coalition; there are alleged abuses by it, and there are alleged abuses by the Houthis as well.

GRAHAM JONES MP INTERVENTION - I should say in support of my hon. Friend that the UN panel was blocked from entering the country by the Houthis. The panel explains that in the report and points out that it tried everything to get in. Furthermore, the Houthis also blocked the peace negotiators from leaving Sana’a to go to Geneva for the peace talks. So the Houthis have been complicit in creating this problem of evidence.

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I have heard nobody in all the debates in the International Development Committee and other Committees of the House in any sense suggest that the Houthis are not to lame, and that is why the proposal is that we should have an investigation into abuses by both sides in this conflict.

JOHN SPELLAR MP INTERVENTION - Perhaps my hon. Friend is going to come on to this, but our discussion seems to be being conducted on the basis of the Saudi-led coalition versus the Houthis. Does this not miss the very unhelpful, and indeed sinister, role played by the Iranians, particularly in providing conventional weaponry? Without going into all the data, I would suspect that many more people have been killed, injured and dispossessed by the use of conventional weaponry, of which there is a steady pipeline coming into Yemen from Iran, than they have by air action.

I have already mentioned the role of Iran in supporting the Houthis, and any independent international UN-led investigation would certainly address the issue of Iranian involvement, but I reiterate the point that the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights has estimated that two thirds of all the civilian deaths in Yemen have been caused by the Saudi-led coalition.

STEPHEN DOUGHTY MP INTERVENTION - Surely one of the reasons that we need a full and independent investigation is that we are not clear about what has been assessed, and by whom. The Saudis have not produced reports through the joint incidents assessment team on the vast majority of the allegations, whether they are correct or not, and we are not clear about what this Government have assessed. Indeed, they have changed their position a number of times on the question of whether they have made an assessment or not. This has involved providing corrections to the House, in which it was revealed that they made mistakes in the evidence that they provided to us.

My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and I thank him for his comments because they enable me to move on to the question of the timeline—

The United Nations Human Rights Council discussed Yemen in September 2015. The Government of the Netherlands tabled a motion to the Human Rights Council that would have mandated what today’s emotion is proposing. That motion, tabled 16 months ago, would have set up a UN mission to document violations by all sides in the conflict since it began. The Netherlands withdrew the draft on 30 September 2015, and instead the Human Rights Council adopted a resolution tabled by Arab states which deleted calls for an independent inquiry.

On 24 November 2015, the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, the hon. Member for Bournemouth East (Mr Ellwood), who is in his place today, told this House that Saudi Arabia was investigating reported allegations of violation of international humanitarian law. He said:

“These investigations must be concluded…The situation on the ground is very difficult and, in many cases, we are unable to have access to verify what has happened…We have been wanting to encourage Saudi Arabia and other parties that are involved…and e want these cases looked into efficiently and properly by the country itself.”—[Official Report, 24 November 2015; Vol. 602, c. 1184-5.]

That was 14 months ago.

On 3 February last year—almost a year ago—during Department for International Development questions, the former DFID Minister, the right hon. Member for New Forest West, said:

“We have supported the UN Human Rights Council resolution that requires the Government of Yemen to investigate those matters”.—[Official Report, 3 February 2016; Vol. 605, c. 907.]

He said that the Government of Yemen should investigate alleged violations of international humanitarian law that were happening during the conflict. The following day, during a Back-Bench business debate, the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, the hon. Member for Bournemouth East said again that he had raised the issue of an investigation directly with the Government of Saudi Arabia. That was almost a year ago.

Then the International Development Committee conducted its first inquiry, and on 8 July last year, the Government published their response to our report. Their response stated:

“The UK Government is not opposing calls for an international independent investigation into the alleged breaches of IHL but, first and foremost, we want to see the Saudi Arabian Government investigate allegations of breaches of IHL which are attributed to them”.

That was six months ago. In August last year, following the ministerial corrections to which my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff South and Penarth referred, I wrote to the Foreign Secretary regarding the corrections to parliamentary questions and Westminster Hall debates relating to allegations of violations of IHL. The Foreign Office’s response in August reiterated what had been said in response to our inquiry—namely, that the Saudis should be the ones to investigate first and foremost.

Last September, during a debate on an urgent question tabled by my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn), the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, the hon. Member for Bournemouth East said that Saudi Arabia had to conduct thorough and conclusive investigations into incidents where breaches of IHL had been alleged. He praised the fact that Saudi Arabia had released the results of eight reports in the previous month. That was four months ago. Then in October, during an Adjournment debate led by my right hon. Friend the Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz), the Minister of State, Department for International Development, the hon. Member for Penrith and The Border, who is in his place today, reiterated that Saudi Arabia needed to be the party that investigated violations. He stated that the Government were

“very clear that the investigation needs to be led, in the first instance, by the Saudi Government”.—[Official Report, 18 October 2016; Vol. 615, c. 782.]

So, over the past 14 months, the Government have repeatedly been asked about Saudi Arabia’s own investigations. To my knowledge—the Minister might be able to update us today—Saudi Arabia has produced nine reports on violations, even though there have been many more allegations made. Progress on this matter as been glacial, and I find it remarkable that the Government are still holding the line that Saudi Arabia must take responsibility for investigating its own alleged violations.

MINISTER TOBIAS ELLWOOD MP INTERVENTION - I hope that the hon. Gentleman will forgive me for interrupting him again, but I think it will be helpful if I provide further clarity as he develops his argument. First, on the Human Rights Council and the formation of texts, there is the question of consensus, as we have seen more recently in relation to UN Security Council resolution 2334. He knows this from his own experience. It is consensus that eventually leads to the creation of a text that is agreed by everyone so that it can actually pass. I hope that he recognises that fact. My second point—just to test your patience, Madam Deputy Speaker—is that I agree absolutely that the production of these reports has been far too slow. The reason for that is that we are dealing with a country that has never written a report like this in its life and it is having to learn the hard way how to show the transparency that the international community expects.

I thank the Minister for those points of clarification, which I understand and appreciate. Of course I recognise the way in which United Nations bodies, including the Human Rights Council and the Security Council, operate. The point that I was seeking to make is that the original text from the Netherlands would have enabled the independent investigation to begin more than a year ago. Because of the diplomacy involved—I accept some of the realities of that—that did not happen. My argument today is that that has been a missed opportunity and that we could have started on this path at a much earlier stage.

SEEMA KENNEDY MP INTERVENTION - The process is slow because Saudi Arabia is a fledgling state. It is still a very young state that is not used to this level of scrutiny and transparency, and it will therefore take a long time for these reports to come out.

The hon. Lady anticipates my final remarks. She used the word “slow”, as did the Minister. I have used the word “glacial”. The process is too slow, and I look forward to hearing the Minister tell us at what point the British Government will take the view that we need to move to an independent inquiry. I quoted the Government saying six months ago that they were not opposed to calls for an independent international inquiry but that first and foremost they wanted to see the Saudi Arabian Government carry out their own investigation. This situation has pertained for 14 months. How much longer do we have to wait before we can move to an independent investigation?

TOM BRAKE MP INTERVENTION - Is the hon. Gentleman aware that the Ministry of Defence has delivered two training sessions in Saudi Arabia on the process of investigating alleged violations of international humanitarian law? I hope, as I am sure he does, that the MOD will have underlined the importance of dealing with these matters in an expedited manner.

Absolutely, and I am sure that the Minister will have more to say on that when he speaks later. If it was the purpose of those sessions to remind ll parties concerned that they have obligations under international humanitarian law, it is vital that those obligations should be fulfilled quickly.

The view taken by the International Development Committee and other Select Committees of this House was that we would only get the full investigation that we need if it was completely independent. It is now long overdue for us as a country to move to support a fully independent international investigation. It is simply not acceptable for us to wait indefinitely for the Saudi Arabians to conduct their own investigations while people are still dying in this conflict.

GRAHAM JONES MP INTERVENTION - Morocco has 15 jets, Jordan has 15 jets, Kuwait has 15 jets, Bahrain has 15 jets, Qatar has 10 jets, the United Arab Emirates have 30 jets and Sudan has 15 jets. This is not just about Saudi Arabia; it involves the Gulf Co-operation Council and the Arab League as well. Will all those countries be involved in the inquiry?

As I have made clear throughout every intervention that I have taken, the inquiry would cover all allegations made against any party to the conflict, but it is quite clear that the Saudis lead the coalition and their alleged violations will be investigated. My right hon. Friend the Member for Warley (Mr Spellar), who is no longer in his place, reminded us earlier that the Iranians will also require investigation.

GRAHAM JONES MP INTERVENTION - Who dropped the bombs then? What do the allegations say about who carried out the air strikes and dropped the bombs?

They say it was predominantly Saudi Arabia. There is little doubt that the Saudis have the predominant air power. But of course it is not only about the alleged violations involving air power; it is about all the alleged violations by all sides, including shelling by the Houthis, which must be investigated. That is the purpose of saying today that we want to see an independent international investigation.

I finish by saying that the motion enables the House to come together and to put to one side our different points of view on the question of UK arms sales to Saudi Arabia and others—the motion is not about that. I reiterate that, although the International Development Committee and the Business, Innovation and Skills Committee took one view on arms sales and the Foreign Affairs Committee took another, all three Committees took the view that we should have an independent, UN-led international investigation. This debate provides Members on both sides of the House with an opportunity to send a clear message to the Government and the wider international community that we want to see urgent and immediate progress to enable a fully independent investigation to take place.

Stephen's contribution to the CDC Bill Debate

Below is the text of Stephen's contribution to the CDC Bill on Tuesday 10th January 2017.

You can watch the speech here 

In July last year, as part of our ongoing inquiry, the International Development Committee visited the Democratic Republic of the Congo. As part of that, we went to see a hydroelectric power plant in the Virunga national park, which has been part-funded by the CDC. It is reinvesting a proportion of its earnings into community development projects and protecting the environment. The plant is bringing electricity to a region in which only 15% of the population has previously had access to power, and it has the potential to generate millions of ollars each year and thousands of jobs for local communities. I cite that because such projects are impressive and demonstrate the positive impact that the CDC is already having.

PAULINE LATHAM MP INTERVENTION - As the hon. Gentleman knows, I was also on that visit, and that is probably one of the most impressive projects I have ever seen. It provides light to so many people in the DRC who so desperately need it. Those are just the sorts of projects we have talked about and said that the CDC should be investing in more, because they create jobs and make life better for so many more people.

The hon. Lady is a highly valued member of the International Development Committee and I agree with her. The purpose of my remarks on Report this afternoon is to reinforce the point she made. Those are positive projects. We want to ensure that the high-quality we saw in that example in Congo becomes the norm for all CDC investments, particularly as the limit is increased, which I will come to in a moment.

The private sector provides around nine out of every 10 jobs in developing countries. Its development and success is vital in helping countries to achieve sustainable and long-term development. I therefore believe it makes sense to increase the CDC’s investment threshold.

Poverty reduction must be at the heart of the Government’s development agenda, which must explicitly include the work of the CDC. In 2011, the predecessor International Development Committee produced a report, “The Future of CDC”, as the group approached its then cap of £1.5 billion, as set out in the Commonwealth Development Corporation Act 1999. The Committee’s report concluded that the CDC’s mandate should be changed to a specific focus on poverty alleviation. Given that job creation is one of the very best ways to reduce poverty, it is important that the Government have a development investment arm that will help poorer countries to create new and innovative jobs.

As has been said by Members on both sides of the House, the CDC made significant changes following the 2008 National Audit Office report and the 2011 International Development Committee report in line with recommendations to move towards a focus on the alleviation of poverty. As has also been said, those changes were reviewed recently by a further NAO report released just before Second Reading of the Bill in November 2016. The report was mostly positive, and noted that the 2012 to 2016 investment strategy shifted the CDC’s investment focus to poorer countries, which is welcome. The report noted that the CDC had exceeded the targets agreed with DFID relating to financial performance and development impact. However, it also said that the CDC should do more to measure the development impact of its investments. That would not only provide a better basis for investment decisions, but increase the transparency of the CDC.

Poverty alleviation is absolutely central if we are to make a success of the global goals—the sustainable development goals agreed in 2015. Africa needs to generate 15 million new jobs every year if it is to achieve its global goals. That can be achieved only by working with the private sector, including organisations such as CDC. CDC has helped to create nearly 25,000 jobs in Africa and south Asia directly, and it says it has helped o create more than 1 million jobs indirectly. The businesses in its portfolio support around 18 million jobs. I am therefore happy to see the increase in the threshold, but I have a number of concerns to which I should like the Minister to respond.

MARK FIELDS MP INTERVENTION - The hon. Gentleman will know that I respect not only his passion, but the balanced way in which he deals with CDC issues. Does he share my concern that we risk having a more prescriptive approach towards the CDC, which is a part-private sector organisation, than we have towards a range of non-governmental organisations that are beneficiaries of large-scale DFID programmes, which might be somewhat distorting? Although he makes valid points about the concerns, if we are to hamstring CDC in the way that one or two of the proposals would have us do, it would be an undesirable outcome for DFID.

I am certainly not arguing for prescriptions to be applied to CDC that would not be applied to other organisations funded by DFID. My hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff South and Penarth (Stephen Doughty) has made the valid point that, shortly before Christmas, the Secretary of State set out a number of conditions for suppliers to the Department, and that they should apply to CDC. I am emphasising my support for the proposal to put poverty reduction at the heart of CDC. All hon. Members would agree that that should be at the heart of the Government’s entire development and aid strategy, including DFID. I can plead not guilty to the charge that the right hon. Gentleman puts to me. I am not proposing in any sense to hamstring CDC. I am certainly not proposing, and I do not believe the Opposition amendments seek, to impose any restriction on CDC that would be out of step with the restrictions we apply to other bodies funded through overseas development assistance.

STEPHEN DOUGHTY MP INTERVENTION - My hon. Friend makes a strong point, which is very much the point. The proposals are about bringing CDC more in line with DFID’s overall priority countries and sectors, and with the restrictions placed on other UK aid money.

I agree with my hon. Friend. I have read what the Minister said in Committee—reassurance can be gained from it—but I look forward to hearing him again today. It is very important that we have a sense that, with a very substantial increase in the potential money going through CDC, we will ensure that it is geared towards poverty reduction wherever it is invested. As my hon. Friend rightly points out, part of that is the question of which parts of the world and which countries the CDC will invest in. Investments in some countries can deliver a lot more jobs and poverty reduction than investments in others.

As I have said, I am happy with an increase in the investment threshold, but we must ensure that the money is spent wisely. The 2012 to 2016 investment plan has expired and we are yet to see the 2017 to 2021 investment plan. I suggest that it would have been beneficial for the Bill, the Government and CDC if Parliament had seen the plans for the next four years of investment before it as asked to raise the investment threshold. The amendment from my hon. Friend the shadow Secretary of State would ensure that, if the Government introduce regulations further to increase the limit, they would have to be preceded by a detailed plan of investment from CDC that could be scrutinised by Parliament. I welcome and support that amendment.

WES STREETING MP INTERVENTION - Successive Governments can be proud of the role played by DFID in improving lives and the economies of some of the world’s poorest countries but, in light of much of the public debate on international development spending, much of what my hon. Friend says on parliamentary scrutiny is correct in principle. Does he agree that that is absolutely essential for maintaining and building public confidence in international development spending?

I absolutely agree with what my hon. Friend says, which chimes with my conclusion on the importance of scrutiny of both CDC and the Government, including scrutiny by the House.

MARK FIELD MP INTERVENTION - I have a lot of sympathy for what the hon. Gentleman says—in the context of the debate it would be useful to have an idea of the programmes that CDC has in mind for the future. I hope that, when the Bill goes to another place, there is another opportunity to have one. However, does he recognise that, given the nature of CDC’s expertise and experience, it might to an extent have slightly different goals from other NGOs who receive DFID money? In other words, given CDC’s expertise, particularly its private sector expertise and experience, the absolute predominance of the alleviation of poverty could in some cases not entirely apply to everything it does.

The focus and priority needs to be on poverty alleviation. At the beginning of my speech, I gave the example of a project we visited—the hon. Member for Mid Derbyshire (Pauline Latham) reinforced the point. That project undoubtedly delivered things beyond poverty reduction, but at the heart of that investment and its impact was the reduction of poverty. Keeping the reduction of poverty in mind is a useful lodestar for DFID when it approaches the work of CDC. I would need some persuading that a project should be funded that did not have some connection to the alleviation and reduction of poverty.

Let me now turn to the issues of scrutiny that were referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford North (Wes Streeting). The recent NAO report, as was rightly said by the hon. Member for Bedford (Richard Fuller), revealed that the target development impact score is on average being met, but only on average. CDC is making some investments that fall below the target. Some 23% of investments since 2013 have fallen below the target score based on their investment difficulty and propensity to generate employment. Given that the objective stated in CDC’s current investment policy is to

“focus its investments into the geographies and sectors where there is the most potential for development impact”,

it is unclear why CDC is investing in projects that achieve lower scores. So I say to the Minister that, along with a more robust approach to measuring development impact, I would like a minimum threshold for impact implemented in the new investment strategy.

As with all DFID spending—and, indeed, broader aid spending by other Government Departments—the International Development Committee will scrutinise very closely CDC’s work in the months and years ahead. It is vital that we ensure the British taxpayer gets value for money for every pound spent on international development. As has been said on all sides of the House, the CDC has become more transparent following the Committee’s 2011 report and the NAO report in 2008, but more can still be done to ensure that money is being spent as well as possible. One way that could be achieved—I ask the Minister to explore this—is to allow the Independent Commission for Aid Impact to play a bigger role, for example carrying out a regular assessment of CDC investments, allowing scrutiny so we can really ensure full effectiveness and value for money of the programmes in which the CDC invests.

I think we can say that the CDC has been a world leader among development finance institutions in publishing details of its investments since 2012 under the International Aid Transparency Initiative. That is very welcome, but I suggest it would improve transparency further if it published similar details on its entire active investment portfolio, including those made prior to 2012. I ask the Minister to address that point when he responds to the debate. That would enable greater scrutiny of CDC’s entire portfolio and hopefully provide assurance to the public that all CDC investments are focused where they need to be: on the goal of poverty reduction.

In conclusion, I believe that the CDC has helped the UK to be a leader in global development, but as with any area of Government spending we need to ensure that every penny is going where it can have the greatest effect: the right places and the right people delivering value for money for the taxpayer. One way to achieve that is by regular scrutiny of the CDC, including by Parliament. I give a commitment that the International Development Committee will play its role in ensuring that we scrutinise and hold to account both the Department and the CDC as the additional money is allocated. Most importantly, as with all areas of development spending, we need to ensure that the ultimate goal is poverty alleviation and eradication, and that we never lose focus on that.

Stephen raises constituent's concerns over Aintree Hosptial

On Monday evening, a number of constituents contacted Stephen regarding waiting times in the A&E at Aintree Hospital. Pictures, shared on social media, showing people waiting on beds in the corridor caused deep concern. 

Stephen spoke to City Talk to discuss our constituent's stories and what more can be done to solve the crisis. 

He also wrote to the Chief Executive of the hospital raising these concerns. The letter is below: