Alok Sharma debates with Department for International Development

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)

Britain’s Place in the World

Alok Sharma Excerpts
Tuesday 15th October 2019

(11 months, 2 weeks ago)

Commons Chamber
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Department for International Development
Alok Sharma Portrait The Secretary of State for International Development (Alok Sharma) - Hansard
15 Oct 2019, 2:42 p.m.

It is indeed an honour to open the debate.

We live in the best country in the world: a country that leads on the world stage, as a permanent member of the UN Security Council and in NATO, the G7, the G20 and, of course, the Commonwealth. Ours is the only major country that is simultaneously meeting the NATO target of spending 2% of our GDP on defence and the UN target of spending 0.7% of GNI on international development. We should be proud of meeting both those targets, and of maintaining our security while supporting some of the poorest and most vulnerable people in the world. They are targets that this Government, under the Prime Minister, will continue to honour, and they are targets that are possible only with a strong economy.

Yesterday my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister set out a very positive agenda for government—a positive vision of what we can achieve, working together and delivering on the priorities of people throughout the United Kingdom—but if we are to move forward, we must first get Brexit done.

Angus Brendan MacNeil Portrait Angus Brendan MacNeil (Na h-Eileanan an Iar) (SNP) - Hansard
15 Oct 2019, 2:43 p.m.

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?

Alok Sharma Portrait Alok Sharma - Hansard

I have to say that the hon. Gentleman is always incredibly negative about the future of the country. I wish that he would be more positive. I wish that he would actually support the Union. He wants to break up our country, and we on the Conservative Benches do not want that.

Daniel Kawczynski Portrait Daniel Kawczynski (Shrewsbury and Atcham) (Con) - Hansard
15 Oct 2019, 2:44 p.m.

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?

Alok Sharma Portrait Alok Sharma - Hansard
15 Oct 2019, 2:44 p.m.

Indeed, and I will come on to that, but, of course, once we are out of the European Union we will be able to set our own trade policy.

John Howell Portrait John Howell (Henley) (Con) - Hansard
15 Oct 2019, 2:45 p.m.

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?

Alok Sharma Portrait Alok Sharma - Hansard
15 Oct 2019, 2:45 p.m.

I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for the work he does as a trade envoy in Africa. He has talked about trade deals in the future. We are, of course, having relentlessly positive discussions about those, but, as I have said, we must first make sure that we get Brexit done before we move on to the next stage of this agenda.

I campaigned to remain in the European Union, but ahead of the vote I said that I would respect the outcome of the national referendum, and in 2017, along with the vast majority of Members, I stood on a manifesto to deliver on that outcome. Well, it is high time we honoured that promise to respect the vote to leave. We must get Brexit done. We do want to leave the European Union with a deal, and that is why we have set out our fair and reasonable proposals. I believe that, should we get a deal, it is the responsibility of the whole House to deliver Brexit without further delay.

Tim Farron Portrait Tim Farron (Westmorland and Lonsdale) (LD) - Hansard
15 Oct 2019, 2:46 p.m.

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?

Alok Sharma Portrait Alok Sharma - Parliament Live - Hansard
15 Oct 2019, 2:47 p.m.

We are, of course introducing an immigration Bill, which will focus on a points-based system to ensure that people who come here have the skills that the country requires. Let me also say to the hon. Gentleman that he calls himself a Liberal Democrat, but his policy is illiberal and anti-democratic.

Stephen Metcalfe Portrait Stephen Metcalfe (South Basildon and East Thurrock) (Con) - Hansard
15 Oct 2019, 2:47 p.m.

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.

Alok Sharma Portrait Alok Sharma - Hansard
15 Oct 2019, 2:48 p.m.

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. What should be happening is that we should be coming together, but I must tell Opposition Members that we could have left the European Union by now if they had only supported the previous deal. [Interruption.] They did not do that. They did not do that, Madam Deputy Speaker. They are the ones who put jobs, the economy and business at risk because they did not support the Government.

Alok Sharma Portrait Alok Sharma - Parliament Live - Hansard
15 Oct 2019, 2:48 p.m.

I want to continue.

When we leave the EU, there will be opportunities across the world. As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said yesterday, this Conservative Government will ensure that the United Kingdom continues to play a leading role in global affairs, defending our interests, promoting our values, and seizing those opportunities.

Rehman Chishti Portrait Rehman Chishti (Gillingham and Rainham) (Con) - Parliament Live - Hansard
15 Oct 2019, 2:49 p.m.

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?

Alok Sharma Portrait Alok Sharma - Parliament Live - Hansard

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Unfortunately, what has happened over the last few months—after we did not leave at the end of March—has indeed been a sapping of trust in democratic processes across our country, and that is why we must leave on 31 October.

Hilary Benn Portrait Hilary Benn (Leeds Central) (Lab) - Parliament Live - Hansard
15 Oct 2019, 2:50 p.m.

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?

Alok Sharma Portrait Alok Sharma - Hansard
15 Oct 2019, 2:50 p.m.

I have a lot of respect for the right hon. Gentleman so I am sorry to have to say this to him, but the Bill that he brought forward, which we refer to as the surrender Act now—I know other colleagues would refer to it differently—reduced the negotiating position of the Government. Our policy still is a preference for a deal, but he must take his share of responsibility if we end up with no deal on 31 October.

Ian Paisley Portrait Ian Paisley (North Antrim) (DUP) - Hansard
15 Oct 2019, 2:51 p.m.

Will the Minister give way on that point?

Alok Sharma Portrait Alok Sharma - Hansard
15 Oct 2019, 2:51 p.m.

No, I will not; let me make some more progress.

I was talking about the opportunities that we will have outside the European Union, and of course there will be opportunities that will boost British businesses with strong trading relationships with countries around the world, championing free trade.

Kevin Hollinrake Portrait Kevin Hollinrake (Thirsk and Malton) (Con) - Hansard
15 Oct 2019, 2:51 p.m.

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?

Alok Sharma Portrait Alok Sharma - Hansard
15 Oct 2019, 2:52 p.m.

My hon. Friend makes an important point, and as he will have seen in the Queen’s Speech and indeed the speech the Prime Minister made yesterday, environmental issues are very much at the top of the Government’s agenda.

Talking about the opportunities we have, in January our country will host Governments from across Africa here in London for the UK-Africa investment summit. The summit will bring together businesses, Governments and international institutions to encourage investment in Africa. This will also create opportunities for the City of London.

Liz Saville Roberts Portrait Liz Saville Roberts (Dwyfor Meirionnydd) (PC) - Hansard

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?

Alok Sharma Portrait Alok Sharma - Hansard
15 Oct 2019, 2:53 p.m.

First, may I just say that we are determined to respect the outcome of the referendum? Indeed, colleagues across the House, including some who now argue against it, at the time said this was a once-in-a-generation vote. Well, let’s get together; let’s respect the outcome of the referendum. And I have to say to the hon. Lady that I wish she was a bit more positive about our future as a country. I have outlined the fact that we lead the world in very many institutions; that will absolutely continue, and I hope that she will find that she is able to be a little bit more positive about our future.

The hon. Lady may recall that in the aftermath of the vote to leave many people said that the economy would turn down and we would lose jobs. That is not what has happened: the economy has stayed strong; employment is at record levels.

In DFID, our ultimate goal in tackling poverty is to support countries to help themselves and meet the sustainable development goals, to become economically self-sustaining and our trading partners of the future. I want developing countries to trade their way out of needing aid.

Of course the shadow Chancellor sees business as the enemy; that is his stated position. We do not; we see it as an enabler. The private sector has had the biggest impact in tackling poverty in the developing world in the last 100 years, and this Government, as my hon. Friend the Member for Henley (John Howell) said, are relentlessly pursuing free trade agreements; these will benefit businesses and consumers in Britain and in the developing world.

Governments around the world collectively spend around $140 billion every year on aid. However, the United Nations estimates that an additional $2.5 trillion is required annually in developing countries to meet the sustainable development goals. That investment gap needs to be met largely by the private sector. That is why I have established an International Development Infrastructure Commission to advise on how we can mobilise additional private sector funds.

But global Britain is about more than Brexit or free trade; it is also about the role we have to play in tackling some of the biggest issues facing our world.

Alex Cunningham Portrait Alex Cunningham (Stockton North) (Lab) - Parliament Live - Hansard
15 Oct 2019, 2:55 p.m.

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?

Alok Sharma Portrait Alok Sharma - Hansard
15 Oct 2019, 2:56 p.m.

We have record investment going into the NHS. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister announced investments in hospitals, and I say to the hon. Gentleman that whether for aid or the public services the only way we can find that money is to keep our economy strong—something that would not happen under the Labour party.

My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister met leaders at the G7 this summer in Biarritz; all those countries support the UK’s campaign to give every girl in the world 12 years of quality education.

Henry Smith Portrait Henry Smith (Crawley) (Con) - Hansard
15 Oct 2019, 2:57 p.m.

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.

Alok Sharma Portrait Alok Sharma - Hansard
15 Oct 2019, 2:58 p.m.

My hon. Friend makes a very important point, and of course we urge all developed nations to come forward and match us in our 0.7% target. I would add that there are certain areas such as the fight against the spread of Ebola where the UK has been leading, and it would be very helpful if some of our international partners came alongside us in such endeavours.

As I have said, all those countries in Biarritz supported the UK’s campaign to ensure that every girl in the world receives 12 years of quality education, and we know that educating girls is the tool that can address a whole host of the world’s economic and social problems. Educating girls prevents child marriage and early pregnancy, helps women into the workforce and boosts household incomes and economic growth. We announced new funding at the G7 to provide education for children in the developing world caught up in crises and conflict; girls, who are more than twice as likely to be out of school in conflict areas, stand to benefit most from this support.

Since 2015, the UK has supported almost 6 million girls to gain a decent education. At the UN in September, the Prime Minister announced measures that will help to get over 12 million more children into school. That will boost future economic growth and improve women’s rights in some of the poorest countries in the world.

Patricia Gibson Portrait Patricia Gibson (North Ayrshire and Arran) (SNP) - Hansard

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?

Alok Sharma Portrait Alok Sharma - Hansard
15 Oct 2019, 3 p.m.

I do not think the hon. Lady was in the House in 2010 when we had an emergency Budget to deal with the economic mess we were left by the Labour party. I remember that in those debates, the Opposition told us that a million jobs would be lost as a result of the policies we were putting in place. Almost 10 years on, there are more than 3 million extra jobs in the economy, wages are outpacing inflation and we are seeing growth in the economy year after year. If she wants to avoid the uncertainty of no deal, why did she not support previous deals? Will she commit to supporting a deal if one comes back from the European Council?

Perhaps I can move to another topic that we lead the world in tackling—namely, climate change. We were the first major economy to legislate for net zero, and at the UN General Assembly, the Prime Minister doubled our support to help developing countries to tackle climate change. Climate change is not a problem created in the developing world, but the world’s poorest will be hit hardest by it and we have a responsibility to act. Some weeks ago, we saw the catastrophic effects of climate change in the Bahamas. The first responders on the ground saw the devastation caused by Hurricane Dorian and described the scenes as “apocalyptic”, with roofs ripped from buildings, homes under water and families left devastated by the loss of their loved ones. I am proud that our armed forces, supported by DFID and FCO expertise, led the British response. This was a joint global-British response to a natural disaster.

Sadly, disasters like these will become all the more common. Almost 1 million plant and animal species are at risk of extinction with floods, droughts and storms becoming increasingly frequent. Each one pushes yet more people into poverty. We cannot ignore this global threat. The Bills announced by the Prime Minister yesterday will continue the word-leading efforts that this Conservative Government have taken to protect our environment. Our new environment Bill will guide our country towards a cleaner and greener future. Under the Conservatives, we will continue to proudly lead the world in this area.

Mike Amesbury Portrait Mike Amesbury (Weaver Vale) (Lab) - Hansard
15 Oct 2019, 3:02 p.m.

What are the Government doing to stop fracking on a global scale?

Alok Sharma Portrait Alok Sharma - Hansard
15 Oct 2019, 3:03 p.m.

Perhaps the hon. Gentleman did not listen to me when I talked about the fact that we were doubling our commitment in terms of international climate finance. An enormous amount of work is going on in this area, and more will be set out. I would have thought that these are the areas he should be praising the Government on. This is somewhere where we have a joint and common endeavour. I wish that Opposition Members would occasionally be positive about what the Government are doing and what we are achieving in the developing world to help the poorest people across the globe.

It is not just on climate change and education that global Britain is leading the way. The senseless injustice of preventable deaths must end. Last week in Lyon, I announced more details of our pledge to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. AIDS is the biggest killer of women aged 15 to 49 globally. Our commitment to tackle these deadly diseases is a vital part of this Conservative Government’s decision to ramp up efforts to end the preventable deaths of mothers, newborn babies and children in the poorest parts of the world by 2030. We are investing in British expertise, and we work with the international community to ensure that, wherever somebody is born, they have access to the vital health services they need. That must include sexual and reproductive health and rights for women. That is why, at the UN General Assembly, I announced a package that will help 20 million women and girls to gain access to family planning each a year up to 2025.

Jamie Stone Portrait Jamie Stone (Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross) (LD) - Hansard
15 Oct 2019, 3:04 p.m.

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?

Alok Sharma Portrait Alok Sharma - Hansard

No, I do not believe that is the case. Of course, we will continue to co-operate with our friends around the world, and of course we will continue to play a leading part in NATO.

Sir Hugo Swire (East Devon) (Con) Hansard
15 Oct 2019, 3:05 p.m.

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?

Alok Sharma Portrait Alok Sharma - Parliament Live - Hansard
15 Oct 2019, 3:05 p.m.

I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend, who did such good work during his time at the Foreign Office tackling precisely these issues. Of course we will continue to work on supporting initiatives in these areas.

Tim Farron Portrait Tim Farron (Westmorland and Lonsdale) (LD) - Hansard

Will the Secretary of State give way?

Alok Sharma Portrait Alok Sharma - Hansard
15 Oct 2019, 3:05 p.m.

If I may just continue, I will come back to the hon. Gentleman.

Our country is leading the world in tackling some of the greatest challenges facing our planet today, whether in dealing with natural disasters or with the fallout from humanitarian crises around the world. We only have to look at the support we have provided to people fleeing Venezuela. We do not stand idly by while the Maduro regime brutalises its people. The leader of the Labour party may celebrate the achievement of that despotic ruler, seeing it perhaps as his blueprint for Britain, but we do not—[Interruption.] The right hon. Member for Islington South and Finsbury (Emily Thornberry) suggests that what I am saying is inaccurate—

Emily Thornberry Portrait Emily Thornberry (Islington South and Finsbury) (Lab) - Parliament Live - Hansard
15 Oct 2019, 3:06 p.m.

It’s bollocks.

Break in Debate

Alok Sharma Portrait Alok Sharma - Parliament Live - Hansard
15 Oct 2019, 3:06 p.m.

Perhaps—

Sir Hugo Swire Parliament Live - Hansard

And sexist, by definition!

Mr Speaker Hansard
15 Oct 2019, 3:06 p.m.

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.

Alok Sharma Portrait Alok Sharma - Parliament Live - Hansard
15 Oct 2019, 3:07 p.m.

Irrespective of whether or not that comment was offensive, may I just enlighten the right hon. Lady on what her leader said at a Solidarity with Venezuela event in 2015? This is what the Leader of the Opposition said:

“When we celebrate, and it is a cause—”

Emily Thornberry Portrait Emily Thornberry - Hansard
15 Oct 2019, 3:07 p.m.

That was four years ago.

Alok Sharma Portrait Alok Sharma - Parliament Live - Hansard
15 Oct 2019, 3:07 p.m.

If the right hon. Lady would only listen. The Leader of the Opposition said:

“When we celebrate, and it is a cause for celebration, the achievements of Venezuela, in jobs, in housing, in health, in education, but above all its role in the whole world as a completely different place, then we do that because we recognise what they have achieved.”

My goodness, if that is a sort of achievement we are going to have under a Labour Government, is pretty clear that they should not be let anywhere near Downing Street.

Let me go back to the Venezuela of today. Its economy has collapsed, public services have collapsed and the very being of the country is on life support. I am very proud to say that it is Britain that has stepped forward to provide life-saving humanitarian support to millions of Venezuelans. Last month, I announced an aid package that will deliver life-saving medicines and clean water to those suffering from this dire crisis, quite simply because it is the right thing to do.

Bob Blackman Portrait Bob Blackman (Harrow East) (Con) - Hansard

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?

Alok Sharma Portrait Alok Sharma - Hansard
15 Oct 2019, 3:09 p.m.

My hon. Friend raises an incredibly important point. That major humanitarian crisis has been caused by the military in Myanmar. We have announced further funds of about £87 million to provide food, healthcare and shelter, and that support will help to reach over 1 million refugees but also, importantly, host community members. Of course I commend the Bangladesh Government for the support that they are providing for relocations, but we are very clear that we agree with the assessment of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees that conditions are not yet in place to allow safe and sustainable returns to Rakhine state.

Tim Farron Portrait Tim Farron - Hansard
15 Oct 2019, 3:09 p.m.

Will the Minister give way?

Alok Sharma Portrait Alok Sharma - Hansard
15 Oct 2019, 3:10 p.m.

I will not, because I am now going to wind up. I spent a year as a Foreign Office Minister, and I have now spent around three months in my current role. As I have gone around the world, I have seen and heard for myself how highly regarded our country is. We are respected for our values, for our support for democracy and the rules-based international system and for championing economic empowerment across the world. When the United Kingdom speaks, the world listens. I commend the Gracious Speech to the House.

Debate interrupted.

Girls’ Education

Alok Sharma Excerpts
Thursday 5th September 2019

(1 year ago)

Commons Chamber
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Department for International Development
Alok Sharma Portrait The Secretary of State for International Development (Alok Sharma) - Parliament Live - Hansard
5 Sep 2019, 12:18 p.m.

With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to update the House on the UK’s work to support girls’ education around the world—in particular, our work to help provide 12 years of quality education for all girls by 2030, and to leave no girl behind.

Educating girls is the tool that can address a whole host of the world’s economic and social problems. It is one of the five foundations of DFID’s wider work on gender equality, which tackles the barriers that hold women and girls back. Educating girls prevents child marriage and early pregnancy, helps women into the workforce and boosts household incomes and economic growth. Supporting education for girls and women gives them a greater voice. That voice helps them to shape their own future and advocate for changes in their own lives and, very importantly, the lives of other girls and women.

On a recent trip to Ethiopia, I met a group of teenage girls learning to code. One of them told me: “Education is a weapon that can change the world”—and she was absolutely right. Educating girls is central to achieving women’s rights and empowerment and to achieving the sustainable development goals. Nothing could be more important than giving every child the chance to make the most of their talents, ensuring that every child can reach their full potential.

We know that many girls become mothers before they finish school. The vital sexual and reproductive health services that they need are simply not available. In the Sahel, for example, child marriage and early pregnancy are endemic, stopping girls entering and staying in education. Three quarters of girls in Niger are married before their 18th birthday; more than one in four is married before the age of 15.

This situation is not acceptable. We in the UK are leading the action globally to address this injustice. Today I can update the House on the UK’s continued global leadership on girls’ education. The UK is a world leader on girls’ education. I am immensely proud to spearhead the British Government’s girls’ education campaign. That campaign—Leave No Girl Behind—was launched by our Prime Minister in 2018 when he was Foreign Secretary. The campaign leads by example. It gets girls learning, builds international political commitment and boosts global investment so that all girls have access to 12 years of quality education by 2030. The girls education campaign is an essential part of this Government’s broader endeavours to promote global Britain’s core values overseas.

Through our strong political leadership and the UK’s global diplomatic network, we have achieved many notable successes since the launch of the campaign in 2018. At the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in 2018, all 53 Commonwealth members agreed to work to ensure 12 years of quality education for all girls by 2030. At the G7 in 2018, over £2.3 billion was raised for girls’ education. At the United Nations General Assembly in 2018, the leaders of the UK, Canada and France came together with key partners from the global south—Jordan, Niger and Kenya—to endorse a joint statement that focused global political attention on girls’ education. This year we have led and launched the Safe to Learn campaign, which addresses violence that prevents girls from attending and learning in school.

I hope that this demonstrates that the UK is leading across a range of programmes to build commitment and boost investment globally in our mission to ensure all girls access 12 years of quality education by 2030. Only last month, at the G7 leaders summit in Biarritz, our Prime Minister announced £90 million of new funding to provide education for children caught up in crises and conflict. Girls, who are more than twice as likely to be out of school in conflict areas, stand to benefit the most from this support. The Prime Minister also announced £30 million for affirmative finance action for Women in Africa. This will help to break down barriers to women’s economic empowerment by providing up to 10,000 women with essential business training and thousands more with better access to business loans. Unleashing the economic potential of women will boost African economies, trade and investment opportunities, and increase global prosperity. This is in the interests of the UK and African countries and will provide girls with strong female role models.

At the UN General Assembly later this month, which I will attend, girls’ education will be at the heart of the UK’s activities and interventions. All UK-funded education programmes have a focus on girls and young women. Between 2015 and 2019, the UK supported 5.8 million girls to gain a decent education. Our Girls Education Challenge is the world’s largest fund dedicated to girls’ education. It is now supporting up to 1.5 million marginalised girls in 17 countries around the world.

I am absolutely clear that girls’ education remains a key priority for this Government. We must send a strong signal that we will not give up on half of the world’s population. I strongly believe that educating a girl ultimately helps to educate a nation. I commend this statement to the House.

Mr Speaker Parliament Live - Hansard

I call the shadow Secretary of State, who should take approximately three minutes.

Dan Carden Portrait Dan Carden (Liverpool, Walton) (Lab) - Parliament Live - Hansard
5 Sep 2019, 10:59 a.m.

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?

Alok Sharma Portrait Alok Sharma - Parliament Live - Hansard

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his response. We are at a time when there is an enormous amount of rancour in this House, and debates are perhaps not as good-natured as you would like, Mr Speaker, but this is an area on which I think we can all agree across the House. Education matters for every child, whether in our country or the developing world. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will be pleased at the reaffirmation yesterday of the 0.7% commitment in the Chancellor’s spending review statement.

I very much share the hon. Gentleman’s view that the work we do in developing countries is incredibly important. He talked about his visit to Kenya. I was in Nigeria recently to see the work we have done in Kaduna state, working with the state—the public sector—to ensure that thousands of teachers are retrained appropriately. I visited a school where the school roll was failing only a couple of years ago—it was down to 400—but it is almost double now, and over half the children there are young girls. I had an opportunity to talk to them, and they were incredibly enthusiastic and positive, not just about their own future but about their own country. That is because of the great education they are getting.

I agree with much of what the hon. Gentleman said, but I want to respond to his point about where DFID’s funding goes. I want to make it clear that over 95% of my Department’s education funding goes to the public sector to support improvements in education outcomes. That is right and proper. We are working across the developing world with countries and their education ministries to provide support. Of course, where state provision is weak or non-existent, it is right that we work with non-state providers, including paid-for schools, to provide education to children who would otherwise get none, and we continue to work with a range of education partners to ensure the best results and value for money.

The hon. Gentleman talked about ideology. There is one education ideology that I suspect we share, which is that it is vital that every child gets the right level of education. We are both committed to ensuring 12 years of education for every girl across the world.

Harriett Baldwin Portrait Harriett Baldwin (West Worcestershire) (Con) - Parliament Live - Hansard
5 Sep 2019, 10:59 a.m.

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?

Alok Sharma Portrait Alok Sharma - Parliament Live - Hansard

May I first pay tribute to my hon. Friend, who did so much work in this area during her time in government? I remember having conversations with her about this issue, which she is passionate about. We spend around £1 billion a year on education, in official development assistance, and it will fluctuate over the years. It is important that we also focus on outcomes, but I will take on board what she said about our trying to do even more in this area.

Mr Speaker Parliament Live - Hansard
5 Sep 2019, 10:59 a.m.

Order. Extreme brevity is required.

Chris Law Portrait Chris Law (Dundee West) (SNP) - Parliament Live - Hansard

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?

Alok Sharma Portrait Alok Sharma - Parliament Live - Hansard
5 Sep 2019, 10:59 a.m.

I am delighted that, once again, we have a shared view about the importance of girls’ education. The hon. Gentleman is right that education is a long-term challenge. He talks about the UK’s commitment. The Prime Minister was absolutely committed to the 12 years of education for girls during his time at the Foreign Office—in fact, he launched our work on this—and he is totally committed now, so I think the hon. Gentleman will find that this is a key area of focus for us.

I also share the hon. Gentleman’s view that we have too many children across the world who are not in education. The latest figures suggest that over 260 million children, of whom about 130 million are girls, are not in education, and that is not good enough.

The hon. Gentleman asked a specific question about the £90 million commitment that the Prime Minister has made for educational emergencies. I can inform him that this includes £85 million for Education Cannot Wait, which will support 600,000 children, including girls, in emergencies. I hope he will appreciate that we are absolutely focused on helping children across the world, with this particular money very much focused on those living in emergency areas.

Bob Blackman Portrait Bob Blackman (Harrow East) (Con) - Parliament Live - Hansard
5 Sep 2019, 12:30 p.m.

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?

Alok Sharma Portrait Alok Sharma - Parliament Live - Hansard
5 Sep 2019, 12:31 p.m.

My hon. Friend raises a really important point, which is that basic sanitation and the availability of clean water are vital. I saw one of the projects in Ethiopia that has been funded through DFID, and I had an opportunity to meet some of those who are benefiting from it. I spoke to a lady who previously spent five hours a day getting water for her children, and now she is able to spend that time working, raising money to educate her kids.

Stephen Twigg (Liverpool, West Derby) (Lab/Co-op) Parliament Live - Hansard
5 Sep 2019, 12:31 p.m.

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?

Alok Sharma Portrait Alok Sharma - Parliament Live - Hansard
5 Sep 2019, 12:31 p.m.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question, but also for the very fine work he does in leading his International Development Committee. We have always had a very good relationship and I very much hope that that will continue.

I agree with the hon. Gentleman that we need to be doing even more in terms of promoting not just the UK but others to corral in finance into this area. I talked in the statement about the amount of money that was corralled in last year at UNGA. As I have said, girls’ education will be a key focus of the work we will do at this year’s General Assembly.

Sir John Hayes Portrait Sir John Hayes (South Holland and The Deepings) (Con) - Parliament Live - Hansard
5 Sep 2019, 12:32 p.m.

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.

Mr Speaker Parliament Live - Hansard
5 Sep 2019, 12:32 p.m.

Have it framed and put it up in the loo.

Alok Sharma Portrait Alok Sharma - Parliament Live - Hansard
5 Sep 2019, 12:33 p.m.

My right hon. Friend raises a very important point. Of course, studying STEM subjects is really important in the UK, but also abroad. He showered me with a quote. May I give him one back from a young lady I met who is learning to code as a result of funding provided by DFID? This was when I met a group of young people in Nigeria. She said:

“Education is a weapon that can change the world.”

That is what young women in developing countries believe, and we are providing such support to help them to build better futures.

Chi Onwurah Portrait Chi Onwurah (Newcastle upon Tyne Central) (Lab) - Hansard

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 ?

Alok Sharma Portrait Alok Sharma - Parliament Live - Hansard
5 Sep 2019, 12:35 p.m.

I do not want to introduce a discordant note into the statement, as we are in agreement on much of this, but I would just point out that the Prime Minister, when he was the Foreign Secretary, was absolutely behind launching the 12 years of education for every girl campaign, so I would say it is slightly churlish for the hon. Lady to raise the points she has. However, on the wider point about family planning, I agree that work needs to be done. I saw some of the work that we are doing during my visit to Nigeria, and we will continue to work on that. If she has particular ideas, I would welcome her coming to have a discussion with me.

Dr Caroline Johnson Portrait Dr Caroline Johnson (Sleaford and North Hykeham) (Con) - Parliament Live - Hansard
5 Sep 2019, 12:35 p.m.

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?

Alok Sharma Portrait Alok Sharma - Parliament Live - Hansard
5 Sep 2019, 12:35 p.m.

My hon. Friend raises an important point. She talks about Yasmine, whom she met, and who I suspect, like her, is a role model and a champion for young girls—she in her constituency and Yasmine in other areas. On support, as I have pointed out, a large element of the £90 million—£85 million—is going to Education Cannot Wait. I agree with her that this is an incredibly important programme to support.

Sarah Champion Portrait Sarah Champion (Rotherham) (Lab) - Parliament Live - Hansard
5 Sep 2019, 12:36 p.m.

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?

Alok Sharma Portrait Alok Sharma - Parliament Live - Hansard
5 Sep 2019, 12:36 p.m.

First, I agree with the hon. Lady that education is absolutely vital because we know that, for every girl who goes to secondary school, infant mortality is cut in half. About 12 million children would escape stunting due to malnutrition if every girl went to secondary school, and we would see significantly higher GDP growth across the world. Of course, we share any learnings that we have across Government, and we will continue to do so.

Dr Julian Lewis Portrait Dr Julian Lewis (New Forest East) (Con) - Parliament Live - Hansard

rose—

Break in Debate

Dr Julian Lewis Portrait Dr Lewis - Parliament Live - Hansard
5 Sep 2019, 12:37 p.m.

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?

Alok Sharma Portrait Alok Sharma - Parliament Live - Hansard
5 Sep 2019, 12:37 p.m.

I think the simple answer is too many, but the wider work that DFID does on humanitarian support and security clearly aids the objective of making sure that children—girls—are able to go to school safely and live in an environment where they feel that they will not be threatened if they go to school.

Mr Barry Sheerman Portrait Mr Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield) (Lab/Co-op) - Parliament Live - Hansard
5 Sep 2019, 12:38 p.m.

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.

Alok Sharma Portrait Alok Sharma - Parliament Live - Hansard
5 Sep 2019, 12:38 p.m.

As the hon. Gentleman and other colleagues in the House will know, in all my previous roles, I have, I hope, been very open to having discussions and, indeed, learning from colleagues who may have much more detailed knowledge built up over many years, so I would welcome an opportunity to sit down with him and other colleagues.

Sir Peter Bottomley (Worthing West) (Con) - Parliament Live - Hansard
5 Sep 2019, 12:39 p.m.

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?

Alok Sharma Portrait Alok Sharma - Parliament Live - Hansard

May I pay tribute to my hon. Friend’s work over many years in this area? He has highlighted one of the organisations he has been involved in. The support we have provided over the last four years has meant that 5.8 million more girls are getting a decent education and it is vital that we continue this work.

Christian Matheson Portrait Christian Matheson (City of Chester) (Lab) - Parliament Live - Hansard
5 Sep 2019, 12:39 p.m.

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.

Alok Sharma Portrait Alok Sharma - Parliament Live - Hansard
5 Sep 2019, 12:40 p.m.

The hon. Gentleman raises a vital point, and we need a holistic approach to our work. I believe that is very much what DFID does as a Department.

Luke Graham (Ochil and South Perthshire) (Con) Parliament Live - Hansard
5 Sep 2019, 12:40 p.m.

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?

Alok Sharma Portrait Alok Sharma - Parliament Live - Hansard
5 Sep 2019, 12:40 p.m.

Yes. I thank my hon. Friend for the work he does locally in championing education in his constituency. As I set out, the vast majority of the £90 million that the Prime Minister announced at the G7 is for conflict zones and to help those in Syria and areas such as Cox’s Bazar. We will continue to focus on that.

Alison Thewliss Portrait Alison Thewliss (Glasgow Central) (SNP) - Parliament Live - Hansard
5 Sep 2019, 12:41 p.m.

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?

Alok Sharma Portrait Alok Sharma - Parliament Live - Hansard

As the hon. Lady will know, we do a wider piece of work across Government to end conflict, working with our partners internationally. For example, around £3 billion has been put into a UK programme on Syria. Clearly, however, we must keep focusing on these areas. It is important that, if children are caught up in these areas, they continue to receive basic education and we are focused on that.

Martin Whitfield (East Lothian) (Lab) Parliament Live - Hansard
5 Sep 2019, 12:42 p.m.

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?

Alok Sharma Portrait Alok Sharma - Parliament Live - Hansard

Mental health is of course an important issue, which has risen up the agenda over a number of years. The Government are doing their part through the Departments of Health and Social Care and of Education and, where DFID is able to offer support, it will do so.