Official Development Assistance

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 2:08 pm on 9th July 2020.

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Photo of Oliver Heald Oliver Heald Conservative, North East Hertfordshire 2:08 pm, 9th July 2020

Mary Kelly Foy made a strong point about the strength of the work of DFID. The rest of her speech would probably have gone down better with her local constituency Labour party.

My hope, as my hon. Friend Tom Tugendhat said, is that the merger of DFID and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office will be an opportunity to reaffirm Britain’s role as a compassionate, ambitious and outward-looking leader on the global stage. Britain is known for its development help and does a distinctive form of development. I pay tribute to the current Secretary of State and recent incumbents of the post.

As UNICEF said recently, Britain can be proud of enabling every child to survive, thrive and unleash their full potential. From their championing of 12 years of quality education for every girl, to their commitment to ending preventable child deaths and remaining the largest donor to Gavi, the vaccine alliance, this Government have demonstrated their dedication and support to children around the world. We want to continue that work, and I believe that it will be possible to do it within the new Department.

I particularly want to pick up on a point that the Chair of the Select Committee made about the views of my hon. Friend Mrs Latham on safeguarding. One of the strengths of DFID has been not only that it has delivered this distinctive aid and, of course, much of it helping and empowering women around the world, as well as helping children, but that it has led the way on the importance of safeguarding. It is important that we have the right measures in place to avoid the sort of scandals that we have had with sexual exploitation, abuse and harassment. Over the past 20 years, work has been done in this area, and it seemed to be improving, and then it has happened again. DFID did great work at its London safeguarding summit on 18 October 2018 in driving the collective effort to try to respond to this. The International Development Committee has produced important reports on this matter and it is currently looking at it again.

This history, which goes back 20 years, is something that I became involved in when Oxfam asked me to sit on its independent commission, looking into the events in Haiti. We were able to do a great deal of research, and we found that, in the in-depth research in three countries on women and girls in refugee camps, sexual harassment, exploitation and abuse was quite common and transactional sex was endemic in two of the three countries. There was even a lack of understanding both by aid workers and the recipients of where the line should be drawn in terms of sexual misconduct. For example, one older woman explained that she had to wait in line for food, because the younger women, who were prepared to be girlfriends of the people handing out food, took precedence. To be fair to those at Oxfam, they responded to the crisis with great energy, and they produced a 10 point plan and agreed to all our recommendations in our report. That resulted in a major overhaul of their systems to ensure that standards were maintained.

Now I have a seven-minute speech and I see that I have 22 seconds left. I will just say that I am also on a DFID aid worker ID steering group and I am determined and very much hope that that can continue its work, because we do need to be able to identify aid workers and their history and then put the protections in place.