HL Deb 05 June 2000 vol 613 cc918-9

2.51 p.m.

Baroness Whitaker asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether the outcome on education of the World Education Forum in Dakar is satisfactory.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, we welcome the progress achieved at Dakar. The forum resulted in a strong political commitment to education for all by governments of developing and donor countries, the United Nations and international financial institutions. Commitments were made to the development of national action plans and there was agreement on the need for significantly enhanced investment by governments and donors in primary education. We will do all in our power to help drive this commitment forward.

Baroness Whitaker

My Lords, I thank my noble friend the Minister for that encouraging Answer. Given that some of the countries most in need of primary education can least afford it and that our consensus was that they ought to be supported, can he say what the Government will be doing to drive forward the strategy and to mobilise the resources for support?

Perhaps I may trespass on his patience and ask a further question. Does he agree that it would be a great boost to the objective of primary education for all by 2015 for the Prime Minister to put the subject on the agenda for the G8 summit at Okinawa in July?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, my noble friend is right to suggest that poorer countries are the worst affected by lack of primary education. Unfortunately, the problem is not always poverty: it is their governments' attitude to primary education and whether they give it enough priority. Therefore, the commitment that we have made at Dakar, and encouraged others to make, is that no government who are seriously committed to achieving education for all will be held back by lack of resources. That has been our policy for a number of years.

As regards the G8 summit at Okinawa, my noble friend is right in saying that the issue should be debated and officials are negotiating with the Japanese hosts about it.

Baroness Rawlings

My Lords, Thomas Bediako, the NGO representative at Dakar, said that the draft framework falls well short of what we hoped for: that it is short in time-bound commitments; weak in financing; lacks mechanisms for transparency and accountability; is vague; and lacks detail. How can Her Majesty's Government support it and do they endorse that criticism?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, it is hardly likely that a conclusion from a conference which includes representatives from the governments of 118 countries, NGOs and international organisations will reach a full agreement on a strong and unequivocal final communiquéé. Clearly, all such matters are the result of the lowest common denominator and some of the stronger statements must be omitted in order to avoid disagreement. That is universal; it does not happen only at Dakar and only on education. Our policy is to welcome its positive aspects and the commitment that I made in my supplementary answer is the most realistic we can achieve.

Lord Dormand of Easington

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that one of the most depressing features of such conferences is that nothing appears to happen as a result? Does he accept that this country can greatly benefit from the commitment outlined in his Answer?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, it is important to recognise that the policies that the Government have put forward since publication of their White Paper in the autumn of 1997 have resulted in a more realistic appraisal of the causes of poverty and the need to deal with it in the world. It is also important to recognise the relationship between poverty and education. If we have achieved something in convincing others of that, my noble friend is right.

Baroness Williams of Crosby

My Lords, I appreciate the Minister's reply, but is he aware that during the east Asian financial crisis there was a sharp drop in the recruitment of children to primary schools; for example, in Indonesia by as much as 20 per cent? Can he assure the House that one of the outcomes of the Dakar forum will be that when such countries in financial difficulties approach the International Monetary Fund or the World Bank it will be ensured that the education of their children will not be one of the areas to be cut under pressure to achieve a budget surplus or balance?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, I agree with the noble Baroness. It is important to insist on ring-fencing of educational budgets, in particular those for primary and basic education.

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