HL Deb 09 June 1999 vol 601 cc1426-8

3.47 p.m.

Baroness Berners asked Her Majesty's Government:

What funding they are sending to South Africa to support non-governmental organisations who are working to improve standards of education within black communities.

Baroness Amos

My Lords, one of South Africa's major development challenges is better education for the communities disadvantaged by apartheid and it is a priority for our development partnership. We are working to help improve school and adult education in some of South Africa's poorest provinces. The programme draws on the services of local non-governmental organisations. We plan this financial year to spend around £5 million on support to education in South Africa. We also plan to provide about £150,000 this year through the Joint Funding Scheme for NGOs working in education in South Africa.

Baroness Berners

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that encouraging reply. I know that she is aware of the terrible legacy of a whole generation of black African education neglect. It has engendered so much poverty that only major initiatives can make any improvement to this appalling scenario and give some hope to the rising generation. Does the Minister agree that the main areas of concern are in pre-primary, primary and junior high school education? In order that the basic grounding can be set in place, what research have the Government carried out in rural areas to establish local needs? What monitoring is subsequently carried out to ensure that the funds are properly used?

Baroness Amos

My Lords, I agree with the noble Baroness that apartheid has left a terrible legacy in South Africa. The main areas of our programme cross all sectors of education, including adult education. A considerable amount of work has been done at local level, particularly in some of the poorest provinces of South Africa, with local NGOs and provincial government, as well as with national government, to identify the priority areas in different provinces. I will be happy to write to the noble Baroness to explain some of the detail of that work. As far as concerns monitoring, we always set monitoring in place when we support any project. We are helping the South African Government to develop better performance indicators for the work they are doing in this area.

Lord St. John of Bletso

My Lords, does the Minister agree that, following the general election in South Africa, one of the greatest challenges facing President Thabo Mbeki will be not only to reduce the escalating levels of crime but also to reduce the high levels of unemployment? Among black people under the age of 25, almost 50 per cent are unemployed. I welcome the Government's support to NGOs. However, do they have plans to promote vocational and skills training to assist not merely those who have recently completed their education but also more elderly members of the population to prepare themselves for the job market?

Baroness Amos

My Lords, the noble Lord's mention of the general election offers me an opportunity to congratulate the South African Government on the successful outcome, and to place on public record the fact that the elections were not marred by the kind of violence that has been seen in the past.

The noble Lord raised a specific question regarding crime and high levels of unemployment. The South African Government are well aware that in their social agenda they need to take these issues on board. Our own programme in South Africa includes not merely education but other areas as well; 15 per cent of our aid budget in South Africa is spent on education and training, not merely education. The noble Lord's point regarding vocational skills and training is being taken on board.

Lord Hughes of Woodside

My Lords, having just returned from seeing the elections in South Africa last week, perhaps I may join with those who wish to congratulate the President, Thabo Mbeki, and wish him a successful future. Is the noble Baroness aware that among voters in South Africa there is a great deal of optimism for the future of democracy and a great deal of enthusiasm for future developments? Does the noble Baroness agree that in relation to NGOs, who undoubtedly do a tremendous job, spending priorities must lie with the South African Government?

Baroness Amos

My Lords, I agree with my noble friend that there is a great deal of optimism in South Africa regarding the future, although, as I have mentioned, a number of social issues need to be addressed. On the question of NGOs and our partnership in South Africa, a key element referred to in our White Paper on the elimination of world poverty is working in partnership not merely with government but with NGOs, the business sector, trade unions and so on. That is the approach we have taken in South Africa. Our country strategy paper was agreed following consultation with all of those groups. It is important that, in terms of bilateral work, we agree our priorities with the South African Government.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire

My Lords, is the Minister aware that the universities in South Africa need an international partnership? During the period of apartheid British universities were extremely helpful in providing scholarships to those who opposed the then South African regime. President Mbeki is, after all, a graduate of Sussex University. Are the Government giving attention to maintaining that level of partnership? In a situation in which American universities will be extremely active in pursuing partnership, British universities should attempt to maintain a useful intellectual relationship.

Baroness Amos

My Lords, I am happy to agree with the noble Lord. A number of British universities are working in direct partnership with their South African counterparts in terms of the exchange of knowledge, ideas and expertise, as well as promoting student exchanges. The British Council is also active in the area of scholarships. There is a great of contact and partnership in this area.