There have been 2 exchanges between Alok Sharma and Department for International Development
|Tue 15th October 2019||Britain’s Place in the World||48 interactions (2,812 words)|
|Thu 5th September 2019||Girls’ Education||38 interactions (2,441 words)|
As the Secretary of State has just said, those are the priorities of people throughout the United Kingdom, but studies in Scotland have shown that the place that will be most adversely affected by Brexit is my constituency. With what direct money—what quantity—will the UK Government compensate the people of Na h-Eileanan an Iar for their political project, Brexit, given that those people will suffer the worst effects of it?
My right hon. Friend has talked about the importance of the United Kingdom’s helping and engaging with third world countries. Does he agree that when we pull out of the European Union, we will be able to give Commonwealth and third world countries much greater access to our marketplace than the current protectionist racket of the European Union?
Let me be as positive as my right hon. Friend about our place in the world. This Government have made a big effort to encourage investment from Israel, and to encourage bilateral treaties with it. What will happen about that in the future, and how will we take it forward?
May I point out that I stood on a manifesto promising to fight for a second referendum, a referendum on the deal, so that the people could have the final say on whatever is stitched up in the vape-filled rooms in Brussels and London? May I also point out that in the Lake District, where we have a marvellous export—our tourism industry—one in three of the staff on whom we rely are from overseas, most of them from the EU, and the Government’s proposal to introduce a £30,000 salary floor for those people would decimate our tourism industry? Will the right hon. Gentleman sort that out before he causes such enormous harm to such an important part of our economy?
In my constituency, 73% of people voted to leave. They did not directly express how they wanted to leave, but what I hear day after day is that we must leave, and we must leave on the 31st. I know that there are people who are concerned about a no-deal Brexit, but the best way to avoid a no-deal Brexit is to support a deal in the House, so that we can all leave with some degree of security.
Countries around the world are judged according to the values for which they stand, and the United Kingdom always advocates for democracy around the world. Does my right hon. Friend agree that if we do not deliver on the mandate that the public gave us in 2016, it will be completely and utterly wrong and will undermine our democratic process? Does he agree that we should therefore leave on 31 October with a deal, or, if that is not possible, without a deal?
The Minister has talked about a no-deal Brexit. In evidence to the Brexit Committee the representative of the Ulster Farmers Union, when asked what a no-deal Brexit would mean for his industry, replied that it would be “catastrophic”. Would the Minister like to explain to farmers in Northern Ireland, and everyone else who would be affected, why it is the Government’s policy if there is not a deal that that catastrophe should be inflicted upon the farmers of a part of the United Kingdom?
Will the Minister give way on that point?
The Minister talks about future opportunities for businesses. Rightly, this Parliament requires our businesses to observe very high standards of animal welfare, environmental regulations and workplace regulations. Will he make sure that future trade agreements do not undermine our competitiveness against imports from other jurisdictions that do not have to observe such high standards?
To state the obvious, Britain leaving the EU will decrease our influence in the world, not increase it. Seven of the countries with a seat at the table in Brussels this week have a population that is smaller than that of Wales, yet they will have greater influence over the future of Europe than the UK might have. Does the Minister not agree that Wales therefore will be better placed in the world with our own seat at the table, rather than in this Union of unequals?
If we are going to be great again and set an example to these other countries and help them, we need to be a healthy nation across the country, so what are the Government going to do about addressing health inequalities in our own nation—and perhaps deliver the hospital for Stockton in my constituency that was taken away by the Liberal Democrat-Tory Government in 2010?
Britain can be proud of its global record of development. Will the Minister encourage some other European countries to step up and match Britain’s international aid commitment? Countries including France and many others only contribute about half the national wealth that this country does, and they can learn a lot from global Britain.
I was listening very carefully when the Minister was talking about the importance of being positive about Brexit because the Institute for Fiscal Studies said last week that the UK is £60 billion worse off already as a result of Brexit, and we have not left yet, and it also said that the UK economy is now 2.5% to 3% smaller than it would be had the Brexit process not been started. Importantly for me, as I am sure the Minister will understand, 21% of my constituents in North Ayrshire are assessed as being vulnerable to the Brexit shock. What advice does the Minister have for the 21% of people in North Ayrshire who will be adversely affected?
What are the Government doing to stop fracking on a global scale?
A few minutes ago, the Minister mentioned the vital role of our armed forces in doing good works around the world, and all of us of a right mind here support our armed forces. As the hon. Members for North Wiltshire (James Gray) and for Glasgow South (Stewart Malcolm McDonald) know, Mr Vladimir Putin is not about the good of the UK; he is not our friend. In tackling the Salisbury situation, the co-operation of our EU friends was crucial. Is it not an incontrovertible truth that pulling out of our membership of the EU will make the task of our armed forces that much more difficult?
I am pleased to hear what my right hon. Friend says he is doing for women and girls around the world. Can he confirm that the Government will also be looking at spending more and raising the profile of female genital mutilation, both here and abroad, and also of female education, particularly at primary level?
Break in Debate
Order. I did not hear the word, but if the word used was that which has just been put to me, it was tasteless. [Interruption.] I know that the right hon. Member for East Devon (Sir Hugo Swire) means well, but I am not sure that I regard him as a great arbiter on these important matters, although he may be starting to negotiate the learning curve. I am sure he is well intentioned and trying his best.
My right hon. Friend is talking about a humanitarian crisis. A few weeks ago, a large group of us were in Bangladesh where we witnessed the plight of the Rohingya. I know that his Department has announced more money to assist the Rohingya. What further efforts is the Department going to make to lessen the plight of the Rohingya and enable them to return home to a safe environment?
I call the shadow Secretary of State, who should take approximately three minutes.
Thank you, Mr Speaker. I thank the Secretary of State for advance sight of the statement and welcome him to his new role. He is the third Secretary of State I have faced in this position.
In its “World Development Report 2018”, the World Bank declared an international learning crisis. We know that it is too often girls who are most affected by the lack of education globally. They are twice as likely as boys to never start school. Given these figures, we welcome the Secretary of State’s focus on education, and girls’ education in particular.
While, like the Government, we recognise that the benefits of girls’ education reach far beyond the individual girl, does the Secretary of State agree that education is first and foremost a basic human right? That is why the Labour party is committed to a rights-based approach to education.
Last month, I visited Kenya and saw for myself the huge educational needs in that country. I visited state schools and low-fee private schools, meeting teachers, pupils, parents and civil society groups, and one thing was clear when it came to education: the people I met there wanted exactly the same things that my constituents in Liverpool want—decent, publicly funded schooling for their children. I am concerned about the growing support that DFID is providing to expanding private education in the global south, because we know that fee-paying private schools never reach the most marginalised children. We know from our own experience in the UK that universal public systems of education are the only way to reach all children. The International Development Committee has said that DFID’s support for private education is “controversial”. The last Independent Commission for Aid Impact assessment of DFID’s work to support the most marginalised girls found that DFID is “falling short” of its ambitions to educate the poorest and most vulnerable girls. One reason for that was a lack of influence by DFID on public Government-run education programmes.
In Kenya, I heard some worrying stories from parents and teachers about their experience with so-called low-fee private schools, and one chain of schools in particular: Bridge International Academies. Parents told me how they had been tricked into believing that their kids would benefit from scholarships, leaving them unable to pay fees and their kids missing chunks of schooling as a result. I met the head of the Kenya National Union of Teachers to discuss education in the country, and he had a very clear message: he wanted the UK to stop using aid money to privatise his country’s education system.
In August last year, Oxfam published its review of a DFID-funded education public-private partnership in Pakistan. It found that schools were failing to reach the most marginalised, relying on very low wages and poor employment practices. In February this year, the Send My Friend to School coalition released a report calling for DFID to ensure that its aid spending goes towards supporting education that is provided universally and is available free at the point of use. In April, a report from the National Education Union and Global Justice Now claimed that UK aid is being used to push an ideological agenda to expand fee-paying private education around the world.
Labour knows the importance of publicly delivered public services. That is why we will set up a new unit for public services within DFID that will champion education as a human right and a public good. Will the Secretary of State listen to the sector, to the unions and to teacher and campaign groups in the UK and the global south, who say that education is a universal right guaranteed by the state and not a market to make profits from? Will he shift his Department’s focus on education towards a human rights-based approach, so that all girls get the education they are entitled to?
In this difficult week, it is wonderful to hear the Secretary of State shine a spotlight on this incredibly valuable and important part of what the UK does. It is such good value for money. Can he commit to exploring whether the UK could be spending a greater share of our overall aid budget in this incredibly valuable area?
I welcome the new Secretary of State to his place; he will be the fourth in little over two years. Sustainable development goal 4 included a new agenda for global education, vowing to
“ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all”.
I fully welcome this commitment of UK aid to helping every girl to get an education. As we know, education can be the most valuable tool in the fight against global poverty, yet too many girls remain without access. In sub-Saharan Africa, 52.2 million girls of primary and secondary school age are out of school.
The education of women and girls must be made a priority in all educational international development programmes, and such programmes must explicitly address complex factors that keep girls out of education. Girls are more than twice as likely to be out of school if they live in conflict areas, and young women living in conflict are nearly 90% percent more likely to be out of secondary school than those in other countries.
Education is a long-term challenge and one that is easily disrupted. Humanitarian crises are becoming more protracted, and one major challenge is coming up with a long-term solution to the children whose education is disrupted by this. Last week, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees published a report that found that, of the 7.1 million school-age refugee children around the world, more than half do not go to school. With one third of the £90 million funding earmarked for those living through the world’s forgotten crises, I ask: what proportion will be spent on those girls who have fled conflict but have been left without an education due to displacement?
Furthermore, the Government’s programmes to help women in developing countries overwhelmingly focus on children—those under about 10—and adult women, and there is a gap that adolescent and teenage girls can fall through, leaving them out of programmes to get them into education and keep them safe from sexual violence. Can the Secretary of State tell me how he plans to address that specific age group?
Across the developing world, the main obstacle to girls being in education is the lack of running water, sanitation and toilet facilities. My right hon. Friend has recently visited Africa, including Nigeria. Ten per cent. of the girls in the world are not in education. What more can we do to invest in this area so that we can provide the facilities for girls to have education?
I congratulate the Secretary of State on his appointment to this important role in Government. I welcome very warmly both his statement and the commitment the UK made at the G7 to Education Cannot Wait. Clearly, we need other donors to rise to the challenge in the way the UK has. What will he be doing over the next few weeks to ensure that the full replenishment of Education Cannot Wait is achieved, so that children living as refugees get the education that they deserve?
G. K. Chesterton said:
“Education is simply the soul of society as it passes from one generation to the next.”
The work we do in this country will both be exported and inspire others worldwide. So will the Secretary of State look at girls studying STEM subjects—science, technology, engineering and maths—and particularly going into engineering in this country? The hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne Central (Chi Onwurah) and I worked on this when I was in government. It will inspire others. It will nourish our society, as we nurture the taste and talents of young women with a practical, vocational and technical bent.
Have it framed and put it up in the loo.
As chair of the all-party group on Africa and of the all-party group on diversity and inclusion in science, technology, engineering and maths, I wholly welcome this emphasis on women and education, just as I condemn the Prime Minister’s past remarks when he implied that women went into higher education to find husbands. As well as the emphasis on women in STEM, will the Secretary of State say what he is doing to ensure that period poverty is not a barrier to continued attendance at schools in developing countries, an issue that was investigated by the all-party group on Africa ?
I refer Members to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests in that I recently went on a visit to New York. In New York, I met Yasmine Sherif, the director of Education Cannot Wait, a global fund established by the UK in 2016, which aims to ensure that children in conflict zones—some of the most vulnerable children in the world—receive an education. What is the Secretary of State doing to support that vital organisation?
Female genital mutilation, child sexual exploitation, child marriage and child trafficking all cause girls to drop out of school. DFID and the British Council have been excellent at changing culture abroad. Can the Secretary of State say how we can learn those lessons and bring those lessons to the UK so that we can change our culture here?
Break in Debate
In how many third-world countries are girls like Malala at risk of attack or assassination, and do we have any programmes to assist the Governments in those countries to protect them?
I welcome the Secretary of State and this G7 initiative. Does he accept that this is not just about Governments? Why do we not involve more legislators around the world, working together and using the Inter-Parliamentary Union and the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association to share good practice and ideas? I chair the World Health Organisation global legislators group to cut road deaths, which is a very good model. Can some of us, on an all-party basis, come to talk to him? This is a great campaign and we should be helping legislators around the world to improve conditions for girls.
Forty years ago, when I was a trustee of Christian Aid, we knew that educating a girl could break cycles of poverty in one generation and could also lead to later marriage, fewer children, more prosperity and better health. Can the Secretary of State say now, or in a later statement, how the increase in maths provision for these girls around the world has been improving, thanks to our efforts?
I welcome this statement. When I go on “Send My Friend to School” visits in Chester, girls’ education is always the No. 1 issue raised with me by British schoolchildren. However, will the Secretary of State confirm that, if we do not get right nutrition and healthcare as part as the package that supports education, that could damage education for girls? It is about getting the whole picture right.
I welcome my right hon. Friend’s comments: no girl or young woman should be denied access to education, and I am proud that we are funding schemes at home and abroad. Will he confirm that he is prioritising girls and young women in conflict zones, as well as those in overseas territories and our Commonwealth partners who have suffered from natural disasters?
A third of girls in Yemen are reported to be married before their 18th birthday and 9% are married before they are 15. What is the Minister doing to ensure that those girls in Yemen in a conflict zone are getting an education and what will he do to end conflict?
I welcome the Secretary of State to his position. Will he confirm that good practices such as the “Send My Friend to School” initiative are important in exploiting the messaging on this, as is the mental health of girls involved in education? What will the Government do to continue to support the mental health of young women in their education?