HC Deb 18 November 1991 vol 199 cc16-7
36. Mr. Speller

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what effect the write-off of outstanding debt to third world countries will have on his plans for aid to Africa.

The Minister for Overseas Development (Mrs. Lynda Chalker)

The statement of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister at Harare that we are to reduce the official debts of the poorest, most heavily indebted countries by around two thirds is greatly welcomed by eligible countries. The granting of Trinidad terms will significantly enhance the overall level of United Kingdom support for the poorest countries, especially those in Africa.

Mr. Speller

Does my right hon. Friend accept that not only have certain countries been helped by this great relief but it has done a great deal for the reputation of this country, which has removed an unbearable burden from countries overburdened by debt to the advanced world? Will she press for countries in west Africa such as Nigeria and Ghana to be included among those with great needs and with great expectations of this Government?

Mrs. Chalker

I thank my hon. Friend. The cost to the United Kingdom of the two thirds write-off will be more than £500 million, which will therefore greatly benefit the nations that come under the Trinidad terms. We believe that Nigeria should be eligible for debt relief; we continue to argue her case in the Paris Club. Her official debt stands at about $12 billion.

Mr. Pike

In view of rapidly changing circumstances, including writing off certain debts and the ending of apartheid in South Africa, what priority is the Minister allocating to the educational needs of black people in South Africa to help them meet the challenges ahead once apartheid is ended?

Mrs. Chalker

The whole world knows that black people in South Africa are owed education. We have concentrated our help in South Africa on education and we shall continue to do so. But now at last there is help from the South African Government for black South Africans. It is not yet enough, but they have started well and they intend to continue, so that debt to people is being assisted by British aid, too.

Mr. Rowe

There can be no one in the aid world who does not appreciate my right hon. Friend's assiduity and the tremendous practicality with which she tried to skew aid programmes to practical purposes. Will she assure us that when giving aid to developing countries in Africa, she will do all in her power to prevent the Governments of those countries from looking for sophisticated pieces of equipment and machinery which are far beyond the capacity of the people in those countries to use and to stimulate and support simple, practical courses of the kind which at the moment are, incongruously, run at the Institute of Child Health in London when they should be run in Africa?

Mrs. Chalker

I thank my hon. Friend for his comments, with which I sympathise. Over the past two and a half years I have taken a great deal of interest in diverting, so to speak, the former big projects to small, local-level projects. I know about the work of the Institute of Child Health and warmly commend it, as I commend the work of many other British specialist institutes. With our non-governmental organisations, they provide some of the most effective ways in which to give help to the poorest people who so desperately need it.