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Millennium Development Goal

Volume 454: debated on Thursday 7 December 2006

9. What progress is being made towards the millennium development goal of education for every child; what financial contribution the UK will make to meeting that target; and if he will make a statement. (104891)

The United Kingdom is committed to spending at least £8.5 billion on aid for education over the next 10 years. We are entering into 10-year agreements to help finance poor countries’ education plans and we have called an international donors’ conference on education for early 2007.

I thank my right hon. Friend for that reply and for his commitment and leadership in achieving that specific millennium development goal. Research by Save the Children shows that half the 77 million children who are currently not in education live in conflict zones. The pigmy villagers that I met in Bukavu in the Democratic Republic of the Congo earlier this year were desperate for their children to receive an education. Will my right hon. Friend ensure that half of all education spending for reaching the millennium development goal goes to children in conflict-affected fragile states? It is so important to offer children, especially those who have been in militias, an alternative.

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The latest figures show that 39 million children—half of the world’s children who do not go to primary school—live in fragile, conflict-afflicted states. That is a particular problem where traditional and conventional systems of education do not provide for those young children. Something must be done in those places. The Red Cross and Médecins sans Frontières deliver health care behind conflict lines. It is now important to consider whether we could establish an organisation to help deliver educational services to young children, even in broken-down states and those where there are conflicts. I look forward to working with our international partners and the World Bank on that. Perhaps a fast-track initiative can help provide new opportunities for children who are otherwise the victims of not only conflict but illiteracy and poverty.

Given that Ghana, Kenya and Tanzania have all scrapped school fees in recent years and subsequently enjoyed a dramatic rise in pupil attendance, does the Chancellor agree that, when providing funds to meet the millennium development goal on primary education, he should ask for explicit commitments from recipient Governments that they will abandon policies that restrict access and adopt policies that promote it?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for asking that question, because it allows me to say that the support that we are giving is for free primary education. When we sign agreements that give countries long-term funding, it enables them to make the long-term decision that, whatever is happening from year to year, they will be able to fund education free of charge over the long term. When I was in Kenya, I heard that, in the week in which it made education free for primary school children, 1 million children turned up to be registered for school. They had been denied that education for years—or all their lives, in most cases—and now they were able to go to school free of charge. We will continue to push for free education as part of these plans, and I hope that we can persuade other countries that that is an essential element of providing opportunity and an escape from poverty for young people in developing countries.

Yesterday, Joseph Kabila was inaugurated as president of the Congo after its first election in 40 years. During that election, I met women who felt desperate about their own and their children’s lack of education. Does my right hon. Friend agree that education is critical if we are to entrench democracy? Will he encourage his fellow Ministers to continue to support, and also pressurise, newly elected Congolese politicians to pursue and tackle issues of good governance, security and the distribution of mining and tax revenues in order to create the conditions in which we can meet this millennium development goal?

I know that my hon. Friend has taken a particular interest in the problems of that country, and I hope that, after yesterday’s inauguration, things will progress there. We are ready to provide funds for education, and we are working with 17 African countries on 10-year plans for their education. We are also working with Canada, the Netherlands, Sweden and Norway on long-term predictable financing. Now we need to win over all the other members of the G7 to that project; that is the task for next year.