Skip to main content

G8 Summit

Volume 448: debated on Thursday 13 July 2006

2. What progress he expects to be made at the forthcoming G8 meeting in St. Petersburg towards agreement on education provision for every child; and if he will make a statement. (84763)

We call on all G8 and other countries to join us, and the fast-track initiative of the World Bank, in 10-year plans to expand education so that, instead of the situation today in which 100 million children are denied schooling, all children throughout the world will have the right to education.

I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer. Yesterday, 10 children from St. Joseph’s primary school, in my constituency, met the Prime Minister and pressed him on this very issue. One read a poem, which included the following words:

“Education is the key,

Look how it’s helped you and me,

Help them to feel safe and secure,

Knowledge unlocks the door for the poor.”

How can my right hon. Friend help to ensure that those children’s words and efforts are not in vain, especially if other countries renege on their commitments?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. He has led a campaign in his constituency, and I hope that there are many Members in all parts of the House who are able work with schoolchildren and teachers in their constituencies, so that the “education for all” initiative gains support throughout the country, and schools in Britain can link up with schools in Africa. Two thirds of the 100 million children who do not receive education are girls. Many are at school, but the pupil:teacher ratios are anything from 100:1 to 150:1. Britain has set aside £8.5 billion over the next 10 years—the Secretary of State for International Development will make a statement later today on future plans—so that we can lead the way in providing education for all. That is the most cost-effective and beneficial investment that the world could ever make, and I hope that all Members can join together to support it.

This is clearly an ambitious and bold project that we Liberal Democrats would wish to support, but it will clearly also be very expensive. In light of that, and of the views of the Office of Government Commerce, will the Chancellor of the Exchequer consider redirecting the savings made by not proceeding with the identity card scheme into this area?

One of the benefits of running a successful economy, which the Liberal party might not understand, is that it is possible to spend money on both international development and domestic policy. We have proved over the past nine years that it is possible to expand public expenditure on policing and the Home Office, education and health and social services generally, and still to double the amount of money in real terms going into international development. I hope that the Liberal party will review its own spending plans, so that it can prove to the public that it, too, could be trusted with the spending of money.

Would my right hon. Friend care to develop his thinking on the education for all programmes and the strategies of African countries, particularly in view of the need for them to be fully funded and consistent with paragraph 18(a) of the Gleneagles communiqué?

I am not—I do not have it to hand—aware of what the (a) part of paragraph 18 says, but the whole House will thank my right hon. Friend for his work on the International Development (Reporting and Transparency) Bill, which will require the Government to report regularly to Parliament on the successes in, and the challenges of, meeting the international development aid targets. His work has been welcomed by all non-governmental organisations and pressure groups not only in this country, but around the world.

Yes, we will keep to the Gleneagles agreement on these issues, and at the same time we will continue to expand spending not only on education, but on health. The vaccination initiative introduced in the past few months, providing £5 billion extra for vaccination, will ensure that over the next 20 years millions of children will be able to survive, where previously they would have died. This initiative involves both education and health, and we are showing that this Government are properly funding it.

For education programmes to be worth while, we also need a decent environment for children. Can the Chancellor explain why he was unable to address the G8-plus-five legislators’ dialogue last weekend, which was very disappointed not to hear from him? Can he also tell us of any progress that has been made with the climate change fund, which he announced with many headlines at the time of World Bank’s spring meetings in Washington?

I am glad that the hon. Gentleman agrees about the need for action on climate change, and I hope that he will support not only our UK climate change levy but our public investment programme, so that the World Bank will set up, as he knows, a fund providing loans and grants to enable developing countries to move into alternative sources of energy and to make more efficient use of existing energy.

If media reports are to be believed—not always the case—Vladimir Putin was successful in keeping Africa off the core agenda of the G8 meeting in his country at St. Petersburg. Can the Chancellor reassure the House that education has the greatest potential to transform the lives of people on the continent of Africa? Will he try to ensure that the subject of education provides a means of broadening the debate so that Africa is not forgotten? It played a central part in Gleneagles, but it seems to be less central in St. Petersburg this week.

I suspect that middle east issues will form a big part of the G8 agenda in St. Petersburg, but I can assure my hon. Friend that African issues will be discussed. I can also assure him that the Germany presidency of the G8 next year fully intends to make development a central part of what it does. The IMF and World Bank meetings in September are focusing heavily on issues of development and providing finance for it. There is also a UN reform commission that is looking into how the UN can play a far more effective role in development in future. Far from those issues being off the agenda after Gleneagles, they are definitively on the agenda, and I believe that the public action by non-governmental organisations, Churches and faith groups, which have kept it on the agenda over the past year, will also keep it on the agenda in future years. I hope that MPs on both sides of the House can join Churches and faith groups in making sure that in every country there is a full knowledge of our responsibilities to the developing countries.

At the forthcoming meeting, will the Chancellor urge his G8 colleagues to live up to their promises on programmes for dealing with HIV/AIDS, particularly programmes relating to children? Will he take steps to ensure that UK Government programmes that are administered multilaterally alongside G8 partners or the EU give HIV/AIDS a much higher priority than they have in the past?

I will not be attending the meeting at St. Petersburg on Saturday, but I was at the meeting of Finance Ministers there only a few days ago. What was decided there was that we would push the development agenda forward. We discussed health issues and promised that HIV/AIDS sufferers would get some form of treatment and help by 2010. We know that 25 million people have died as a result of AIDS, we know that there are 12 million AIDS orphans and we know what our responsibilities are. Instead of promoting what I believe are divisive ideas about education vouchers, I wish the Conservative party would unite around the necessary funding that should go through Governments and civil society to deal with problems of health and education.