HC Deb 06 March 2002 vol 381 cc278-9
6. Mr. Bob Blizzard (Waveney)

What steps she is taking in pursuit of the goal of free universal primary education in developing countries by 2015. [37320]

The Secretary of State for International Development (Clare Short)

We are working hard to mobilise the international development system to focus more sharply on the delivery of the commitment to universal primary education by 2015. We have made clear in all forums our view that this goal can be achieved only if primary education is free. We are also working in 29 countries to support delivery of this policy and, since 1997, we have committed £650 million to that work. We will do more.

Mr. Blizzard

I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer. Poorer countries are supposed to have developed education-for-all plans by September, and richer countries have pledged that those plans will not fail through lack of financial support. What is the international position in relation to the deadline and the pledge, which are very important if we are to overcome the problem of charging for basic education in developing countries?

Clare Short

My hon. Friend is right. Through UNESCO and the high-level group co-ordinating implementation, we are trying to drive a country-by-country review across the world to make sure that reformers are helped and backed up. Tanzania has double the number of children entering primary school this year because charging has been dropped. Despite moves forward across the world, some countries are not making progress, and more pressure must be put on them. Money alone cannot achieve our aim—Governments must be committed to the objective and willing to put in place the reforms and then the international financial support will follow. We have made some progress but more is needed. We are trying to focus the international effort so that countries that are failing to make progress feel that they are under more pressure to do so.

Michael Fabricant (Lichfield)

The Secretary of State is absolutely right to say that money alone will not do the job. She will be aware of huge corruption in some of the countries in the third world and in developing nations. What steps are she and her colleagues taking to try to stamp out such corruption and ensure that money directed at education goes to the very people that she and her Government are trying to help?

Clare Short

I have said to the hon. Gentleman before that something comes over him when he puts on his red tie—he starts talking sense. He is right that aid is useful and powerful in driving reform and advance where there are a lot of poor people and where there are reformers. It can speed up economic development and health and education provision, which in turn moves countries forward. Corruption, which wastes those resources and blocks progress, has been neglected in the past as an embarrassing question, but no more. We now focus with others on cleaning up financial management systems, on making sure that public finances are run transparently, on proper procurement and on strong anti-corruption authorities. That is the only way to ensure economic development. We are driving that policy as hard as we can.

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