HL Deb 20 June 2000 vol 614 cc149-52

2.44 p.m.

Lord Judd asked Her Majesty's Government:

By what criteria the proportion of the overseas development aid budget spent on primary and secondary education is decided; and what proportion they expect to assign to them in each of the next five years.

Baroness Amos

My Lords, the Department for International Development does not primarily allocate its resources on a sectoral basis. It is committed to the international development target of achieving universal primary education by 2015 and over the past three years has committed £300 million to support the development of UPE programmes. The DfID will continue to give high priority to universal primary education in its bilateral and multilateral programmes.

Lord Judd

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that reply, but does she agree that the prospects for development in much of the world are bleak? While more than 125 million children of primary school age—two-thirds of them girls—are still not in school and there is an adult illiteracy rate of more than 880 million, if we are serious about achieving anything in international co-operation for development, is it not essential that, together with other countries, we turn generalised commitments into specific measurable targets to achieve the goal of universal primary education by 2015?

Baroness Amos

My Lords, I agree with my noble friend's analysis of the number of children not in school, a significant proportion of whom are girls, and the high levels of illiteracy. A recent education conference in Dakar re-committed itself to the target of universal primary education, and UNESCO has been given responsibility for co-ordination and ensuring that that target is met. The Department for International Development has taken a sector-wide approach to the whole area of education in the countries in which it works. In the work that we do in those countries we set ourselves measurable targets and are committed to its achievement. We are sure that with political will that target can be achieved.

Baroness Rawlings

My Lords, the expansion of primary education is one of the key criteria for debt cancellation. As the Social Summit is to meet in six days' time in Geneva, at a time of considerable slippage in the HIPC process, does the Minister accept that to expand primary education is an essential element in pursuing debt cancellation? What proposals does the noble Baroness have to assist the primary and secondary education sectors in those countries which apply for HIPC debt relief? Further, can the Minister tell the House what role the British Council will play in this?

Baroness Amos

My Lords, there is a clear link between the importance of achieving universal primary education and the elimination of poverty. There is also a link between the importance of educating girls and the impact that that has on a number of social development indicators in countries across the world. As to the heavily indebted poor countries initiative, the noble Baroness will be aware that we have fought long and hard for a greater correspondence between countries in receipt of HIPC and a commitment by them to poverty reduction. Those countries must now produce poverty reduction strategies and demonstrate ways in which they will use the money saved through HIPC on areas like health and education. We are entirely committed to that process. Through the Commonwealth debt initiative we have created a greater link between debt relief and education in countries like Jamaica.

Lord Redesdale

My Lords, I welcome what the Government have achieved under their own debt relief programme, but does the Minister agree that girls in particular find it increasingly difficult to take part in education when governments cannot afford to spend money on primary education? In the light of that, is there not a case for relaxing some of the strict criteria that HIPC imposes, because of the small number of countries that are presently eligible for debt relief under that initiative?

Baroness Amos

My Lords, perhaps I may deal, first, with the number of countries eligible. It is not so much that a small number of countries are eligible but that the process of those countries going through HIPC has slowed down. That is one of the reasons why at the last World Bank/IMF meeting there was a commitment to the creation of an implementation committee to assist with the speeding up of that process.

We prefer to work with countries which have a commitment to putting money into areas like education. We want to work in partnership with those countries because we feel that it is important that the commitment comes from within a country as well as being supported with donor money like ours.

Baroness Gould of Potternewton

My Lords, a number of noble Lords have referred to the education of girls in developing countries. Can the Minister indicate any special initiatives which have been taken by the Government to overcome some of the problems in obtaining education which face girls in developing countries? I refer in particular to secondary education.

Baroness Amos

My Lords, we have taken a sector-wide approach to education. We are looking at primary education. In some countries we are looking also at secondary education. We are also considering the importance of training and developing the skills of teachers. If there are no teachers the skills cannot be developed.

Educating girls, even just at primary level, is the most effective development intervention any country can make. We have been encouraging countries such as Uganda, Kenya, Ghana, India and Bangladesh to take specific initiatives to target girls' education.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes

My Lords, I declare an interest as chairman of PLAN International, an NGO working in the field. Does the Minister agree that there is merit in working with NGOs—DfID is very good about it—which work in a wider field? NGOs can look not only at education but also at the wider issues such as the need for water or food. Children may be prevented from receiving education because they are needed to help with other practical issues.

Baroness Amos

My Lords, in our bilateral programmes on education we work with governments and with NGOs precisely because, as the noble Baroness indicates, NGOs on the ground can work across a range of sectors. They can pull communities together in a beneficial way. They can indeed be beneficial for girls and boys in those communities.