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G8 Finance Ministers Meeting

Volume 447: debated on Thursday 15 June 2006

The G8 communiqué called for an enhanced dialogue between oil producers and oil consumers to bring greater stability to the oil and energy markets, supported the education for all initiative on international development and advanced market commitments for health. The communiqué also called for an urgent agreement on world trade to thwart the dangers of protectionism.

My right hon. Friend referred to the education for all initiative and he will be aware that thousands of schools up and down the country, including Leith Walk, Trinity and Granton schools in my own constituency, supported the “My friend needs a teacher” campaign. What positive steps were Finance Ministers able to take to advance the commitments made on this matter at Gleneagles last year?

Hundreds of schools around the country are now linking up with schools in developing countries, and the Department for International Development is providing support to enable those schools to have teacher exchanges or contact between the pupils in the different countries. I applaud the initiative of the schools in my hon. Friend’s constituency. As to progressing the education for all initiative, 110 million children are not going to school today, two thirds of whom are girls. For $10 billion a year, we could provide education for every child. As the House knows, the British Government have set aside £8 billion over the next 10 years to make possible a major education initiative that will help millions of children into school, but we will need the support of other countries and also the fast-track initiative of the World Bank to expand to achieve that. We discussed with other countries on Saturday how to secure a co-ordinated campaign to enhance the number of children going to school. That will be a subject for the G8 meeting next month, which the Prime Minister will attend, and will also feature in the September meetings of the World Bank, where we hope to reach further agreements. It is a major international initiative and I hope that, by this time next year, we will have signed up all the major countries to make it possible.

Did the G8 Ministers discuss the importance of education in preparing our children for the highly competitive global economy in which we live, or did the Chancellor tell G8 Ministers the truth about his pledge instead, which is, in the words of the permanent secretary in the Department for Education and Skills, that it is a “pipe dream” and that

“no research was being done”

on it? He said that it was designed for the next day’s headlines, not for the next generation of school children.

What the hon. Gentleman says is completely wrong. I announced in the Budget new money for capital spending on schools, so that each pupil in state schools would have exactly the same amount of capital spending invested in him or her as is the case in private schools. [Interruption.] They do not think that investment in buildings or computers or equipment is important. [Interruption.] When we came to power, the average investment per pupil in buildings and equipment was £100 a year; today it is £1,000 a year—a tenfold rise. The hon. Gentleman should look at his own party’s policies, which have consistently tried to cut expenditure on education.

Will the Chancellor continue his commitment made at Gleneagles last year to halve world poverty by 2015? If the wealthiest countries can increase their spending from £20 billion a year to £200 billion a year over the next decade, we can indeed reach that target. If his fellow Finance Ministers think that is challenging, will they look at global arms expenditure, which is £900 billion? In the comprehensive spending review that he will announce later this month, will he give a commitment that the United Kingdom will do more than its bit to ensure that the target of halving world poverty by 2015 is achieved?

International development spending in the United Kingdom increased last year and this year and will increase next year. We are on course to meet our targets for international development spending. World development aid is increasing. We have signed the agreements that make it possible to write off multilateral debt, so in total we expect up to £170 billion of debt to be written off. The condition of that is that the money will go to education, health and anti-poverty programmes in the developing countries. At next month’s meeting of the G8, we are determined to push forward so that every country agrees that the commitments that we made for the millennium development goals on poverty, education and health are met. I hope that that is the common view in all parts of the House.

Did the G8 Finance Ministers discuss the fact that in 2005 Britain recorded its slowest economic growth for 13 years? In the first quarter of this year, our growth put us 15th out of the 23 Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development states that have reported so far. We are below the OECD average, below the G7 average, behind the EU 25 and no better than the poorly performing eurozone. We may be ahead of slow-growing France, Germany and Italy, but when will we start catching up with the world’s successful economies?

The Conservatives seem to be banking on a recession. They must face up to the fact that growth is strengthening this year and will be faster in the second half of the year than in the first half. Growth since 1997 is far faster than it was in the 18 years before 1997, and we are the country that has low inflation, low interest rates, high employment and sustained growth—the opposite of what happened with two major recessions in the Conservative years. The hon. Lady will also have to face up to the fact that, to maintain our levels of growth, we will need the investment in education and science and the investment in the infrastructure for the future, so her announcement at the time of the Budget that she would not support the additional public spending will have to be revisited. I hope that she will agree that she has to do that.

The Chancellor is in denial about the way everything is going in the economy. If everything is going so well, why has Derek Scott, the former economic adviser to the Prime Minister, criticised the Chancellor’s “higher taxes”, “intrusive micromanagement”, “deteriorating fiscal position” and “burdensome regulation”? Does the right hon. Gentleman agree with Derek Scott, a Labour insider, that Labour’s record is “mixed”, “depressing” and “dispiriting”?

If things are going so badly, why did the shadow Chancellor praise us only a few months ago for our record of macro-economic stability? Why did he praise us for having an economic record in creating stability, which his party had never achieved? If things are going so badly on regulation, why did the Heritage Foundation, which is beloved of the right wing of the Conservative party, report that we are a more liberal and deregulated economy now than in 1997, when we took office? If things are going so badly, why are there more people in work, why are interest rates low, why are there more home owners, and why is there more prosperity in this country than ever the Conservatives could achieve?