Given that the Minister and I agree that the Government have made a general commitment to this region and that we both appreciate that the sums announced at

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Kuwait include money that could be devoted this project, I hope that he will be able specifically to address the UNHCR-UNICEF plan. I think it is common ground that the Government have done a huge amount in this region and that they wish to do more on education for children, particularly for girls. However, what we need to agree on today—I hope the Minister will play his part in contributing to this—is that when we have an innovative plan, when we have the support of the Lebanese Government, who would find it difficult in normal circumstances to finance anything that is now happening with Syrian refugees, and when we have international aid agencies in support of this plan and prepared to unite around it, it would be a mistake for us to delay any longer in providing this urgent support that is needed in an emergency. It is needed for children like the girl I mentioned who are losing hope because, despite all our efforts, they do not feel that we are reaching their needs and those of their fellow children—boys and girls like them. I hope the Minister can respond positively to the desire not just that this plan be supported but that it be properly financed.

5.4 pm

The Minister of State, Department for International Development (Mr Alan Duncan): May I thank the right hon. Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath (Mr Brown) for securing this important debate and for bringing such an important issue to the attention of the House? I commend him for so tirelessly using his influence to champion the needs of Syrian children and for pushing education further up the global agenda. If there is one thing we can all absolutely agree on, it is that what is happening to Syria’s children is intolerable.

In this brutal civil war, children have been shot at, tortured and sexually abused. In parts of Syria today, children are starving. They are also dying from diseases that three years ago could have been easily treated. Indeed, polio has returned to the country 14 years after it was officially declared polio-free.

More than 1 million children have crossed the borders to escape the bloodshed; some have had their families split up and some have seen their parents and friends killed. Away from their home, many face neglect, exploitation and abuse. As the right hon. Gentleman has said, even very young children are being sent out to work or beg, while girls as young as 13 have been sold into early marriage. Whatever the degree of trauma children might have faced, what is true more widely is that millions of them are missing out on a basic education.

A destroyed childhood is a destroyed life. As this crisis rages on, an entire generation of children is being shaped by this relentlessly brutal war that has ripped every bit of normality away from them. That will have profound long-term consequences for Syria, the region and even much further afield.

We have a clear responsibility to invest in these children now and to invest in Syria’s future, because they are Syria’s future. That is why, right from the start of this crisis, this Government have highlighted the plight of vulnerable children and focused on ensuring that they have the basics that they need to survive.

The UK is leading the way. We have pledged £600 million for Syria and the region, which is three times the size of our response to any other humanitarian crisis. We are the second largest bilateral donor after the United States. UK aid is getting food to almost 320,000 people a

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month. We are getting water to 930,000 people a month, and we have provided more than 300,000 medical consultations. Our support is reaching children and their families inside Syria, and also those refugees who have fled to Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq, Turkey and Egypt.

Food, water and medicine, however, are not enough. As the right hon. Gentleman knows all too well, bombs and bullets have forced nearly 2.3 million children out of school in Syria. Outside Syria, 735,000 school-age refugees are simply not going to school at all. As the number of refugees continues to rise, so will the number of children without an education—unless the world acts now.

Countries such as Lebanon and Jordan have been incredibly generous in welcoming these refugees, but their schools are coming under incredible strain. As many as one in four of school-age children in Lebanon are from Syria. We cannot afford to let these children—the future of Syria—become a generation lost to conflict.

That is why in September last year the Secretary of State played a leading role in championing the “no lost generation” initiative, which is designed to galvanise a global, co-ordinated effort to provide Syrian children with the education, protection and psycho-social support they all so desperately need. The UK has already pledged £30 million to the initiative, almost all of which has already been committed to specific projects.

For the past two years, I have personally worked with the United Arab Emirates on the Emirates-Jordanian camp for Syrian refugees, near Zarqa in Jordan. The camp is financed by the UAE, but it is the UK, through UNICEF, that is funding the education that is benefiting the more than 6,000 children in it. Furthermore, we have matched pound for pound the UK public’s generous contributions to winter appeals for Syrian children by UNICEF, War Child, Oxfam, and Save the Children. That is helping those agencies to deliver blankets, clothing and heating to help people to cope with winter conditions.

The right hon. Gentleman has asked the Government to support a plan to educate refugee children now in Lebanon, as well as vulnerable Lebanese children there. I want to make it clear that the Government fully support this excellent plan, which has been developed with the Lebanese Government and fits squarely within the “no lost generation” initiative that we have pushed. Lebanon has more Syrian refugee children than any other country, and the UNICEF “reaching all children with education” plan can make a huge contribution to achieving one of the key goals of the “no lost generation” initiative by ensuring that all children affected by the Syrian crisis can receive a good education.

The right hon. Gentleman has rightly drawn the House’s attention to the need to act now, and I share his sense of urgency. I am pleased to inform the House that the Department for International Development is already supporting one of the most urgent areas identified in the plan, namely the provision of textbooks for the current academic year. When she was in Lebanon in January, the Secretary of State announced that £4 million will be made available for 300,000 packs of textbooks for all children between the ages of six and 15 who attend state schools in Lebanon, including Syrian and Palestinian refugees.

The Government intend to provide further support for the “reaching all children with education” plan in Lebanon. I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that

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I want to work very closely with him as we assess just where UK assistance can add most value. As he said, I will discuss all this in more detail directly with the Lebanese Prime Minister tomorrow.

I am pleased to announce that the Secretary of State is planning a high-level meeting of key stakeholders—donors, host Governments, UN organisations and non-governmental organisations—to agree on how the international community can further ramp up its support for the education of Syrian children in the region, including by supporting the Lebanon plan. She has invited the right hon. Gentleman to attend that meeting, which will provide a further opportunity to rally support and to mobilise funding.

The right hon. Gentleman has done the children of Syria and Lebanon an inestimable service in fighting their corner. In this sphere, we respect and wish to

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support his work as a UN special envoy. Through DFID, this Government will do all they can to underpin his efforts. As a result of this debate, he can confidently tell other donors that the UK is there to support UNICEF’s Lebanese education plan. We will work with him to finalise the details.

It is the children of today who will have to rebuild their country tomorrow. The UK will continue to do everything possible to give them and Syria the chance of a better future. We continue to call on other nations to do likewise and to contribute more funding both to support this plan and to tackle the Syrian humanitarian crisis more broadly. The right hon. Gentleman’s role in this initiative is crucial, and his is an effort that we commend and support.

Question put and agreed to.

5.13 pm

House adjourned.