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Millennium Development Goals

Volume 450: debated on Thursday 26 October 2006

9. What progress has been made on achieving the millennium development goal of education for every child; and what financial contribution the UK has made. (97064)

At the request of the United Kingdom Government, 19 African countries have submitted plans so that by 2015 every one of their children would be in primary education. The United Kingdom has committed, over 10 years, £8.5 billion to that effort. It is prepared to enter into 10-year agreements with the countries that have produced plans, and we have called a donor conference in early 2007 for all other countries, to invite them to contribute to the goal of achieving primary education for every child.

All of that is excellent news, but there are 100 million children in conflict-affected fragile states in the world, 43 million of whom have no opportunity at all to go to school. Those are the countries that receive the least financial support—or support of any kind—from the developed world. Is there nothing that we can do to make sure that those children—the most vulnerable children in the world—get the opportunities that we would expect for any child whom we know in our own country?

My hon. Friend makes a good point. Of the 110 million children who are not in education, a very substantial number are in countries where the education system has completely broken down because of conflict. I believe that, as a world, we will have to consider—just as we have done for health care—how we might provide international support in the future in situations where there is conflict and there are difficulties in running a civil education service from within a country. We obviously need to provide more funds for education in the poorest countries: £8.5 billion has been put into that by the British Government over 10 years. That would be enough to get 15 million children educated—and, therefore, a very substantial number of those who are not in school into school—but we need other countries to support us. We need Canada, which has already indicated that it will support, and other countries—Germany, France, Italy, Japan and America, which are all part of the G7—to support the effort. That is why we have called the donor conference, which will be held in Brussels at the beginning of next year, and that is why I hope that all the efforts of the international aid organisations will be directed at persuading other countries to contribute to what is the only way in which we can achieve the millennium development goals.

Given that achieving the millennium development goal of universal access to primary education is vital for individual fulfilment and for a country’s growth, will the right hon. Gentleman, in pursuing his laudable initiative to achieve improvement in this regard, pay particular attention to the problem that I have found in Malawi, Sierra Leone and Sudan—to name but three countries—whereby there is a very powerful cultural and institutional bias against disabled children? They cannot be left till last, because it is just not right.

The hon. Gentleman makes a very good point. Sometimes, girls are forgotten in education programmes, and sometimes disabled children are forgotten when we are developing education programmes in the poorest countries. Of the countries that have used debt relief to abolish user fees, Malawi, Uganda, Tanzania and Kenya have made huge progress in getting all children into education, and I hope that that can be a model for the future. As the hon. Gentleman knows, there are difficulties within Sudan that prevent the development of education, but we are ready to give it debt relief and to provide funds for education when it can sort out its internal affairs. However, I agree with him that we should never forget that the people who have the least chance of advocating their own case are those whom we should support most.

Since 1997, the UK has given crucial international leadership on tackling international poverty, and it would be wonderful if we could build cross-party consensus in the UK on this crucial work. Has my right hon. Friend considered pursuing policies based on an ideology of a small state and big spending cuts, leaving the most vulnerable with less support and relying on charities to step in, as some have advocated?

We could not afford to put £8.5 billion into education if we cut the international development budget. Let us be clear: if the Opposition are serious about supporting the doubling of international development aid and continuing to increase it, they will have to abandon at least some of the policies that they put forward last week.

Does the Chancellor welcome the support of the United Nations co-ordinator of the millennium development goals for reports to Parliament such as the one that we have embraced in legislation, not just because it is helpful on matters such as education, but because it represents the transparency that is essential as we challenge global poverty?

There was all-party support for my right hon. Friend’s International Development (Reporting and Transparency) Bill, which requires the Government to prepare a report annually on the amount of spending and how it is being used. I want to see that happen at an international level, and, as he knows, there is a new Commission for Africa to be chaired by Kofi Annan, which will report back every year on how we are doing in meeting the Gleneagles agreement. That will put pressure on individual countries and international organisations, and again, I hope that there will be all-party support for it.