HC Deb 19 December 2001 vol 377 cc278-9
4. Mr. Gordon Marsden (Blackpool, South)

What plans her Department has for supporting the development of civil society and activities in the voluntary sector in Romania. [21885]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for International Development (Hilary Benn)

Together with our partners—in particular, the European Community and the World Bank—we are supporting the development of civil society and the voluntary sector in Romania, both of which have an important part to play in working for change that will benefit the poor. Our activity includes helping to establish a national network of citizens advice and information services and enabling non-governmental organisations to provide child and family support.

Mr. Marsden

In thanking my hon. Friend for that answer, may I say that it is particularly welcome given that Romania, of all the former east European regimes, has faced the most challenging problems in social policy since 1989? Will he and the Department in general liaise with their colleagues in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to ensure that the UK/Romania action plan, which was introduced earlier this year to prepare for enlargement, gives sufficient emphasis to social programmes, particularly those involving child care, the Roma and minorities? [Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker

Order. I ask the House to come to order; we are still dealing with important questions.

Hilary Benn

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I very much agree with the point that my hon. Friend makes about the need to take forward the agreed plan of action. Romania is one of the poorest countries in Europe. It has experienced growing poverty, and the recent report on its progress towards accession to the European Union has identified the need for increased capacity in government, particularly in public administration, and reform in the private sector. Romania has a terrible child protection legacy on which the Government are seeking to make real progress. We are supporting that work through our programme and through the EC; there is also a big problem of discrimination against the 3 million Roma, half of whom are illiterate. We need to ensure that the programmes that are being supported in that country address all those issues, so that Romania can work towards its EU accession, which we very strongly support.

Michael Fabricant (Lichfield)

The Minister has rightly referred to the economic plight of Romania, whose economy is now more or less at a standstill. Does he agree that the United Kingdom has a lot to offer Romania, particularly with advice on how to stimulate its economy with private enterprise, with a view to acceding to the EU? However, does he think that the situation in Romania has been helped by the cut in aid, which the Government have reduced from £6.4 million to just £3.7 million this year?

Hilary Benn

Our programme bilaterally amounts to £6 million, but that is dwarfed by the EC programme, which is currently £390 million a year, of which our share is £76 million, so the hon. Gentleman has not quite got his figures right.