HL Deb 17 April 2002 vol 633 cc940-1

2.51 p.m.

Lord Ahmed asked Her Majesty's Government:

What they are doing to help long-term development in Pakistan.

Baroness Amos

My Lords, we are committed to supporting Pakistan's economic and social development for the long haul. The ultimate aim is the reduction of poverty, as set out in the Government of Pakistan's interim poverty reduction strategy paper. Our bilateral programme is focused on three objectives: creating the economic conditions for poverty reduction; improving health outcomes for poor people; and improving education outcomes for poor people. We are pursuing these through a combination of technical assistance, advice and financial aid.

Lord Ahmed

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that Answer. Does she agree that education is key to Pakistan's long-term development? What specific action is being taken to support primary education, particularly for girls?

Baroness Amos

My Lords, I totally agree with my noble friend that education is key to development. Our support is directed towards improving access and quality in elementary education in Pakistan. Integral to this is improving educational opportunities for girls. Our spending on education in Pakistan, which is mainly in the form of technical assistance, is expected to grow to £4 million this year.

One of our concerns is that Pakistan continues to make slower progress than other south Asian countries towards achieving the millennium development goal. Primary school enrolment growth rates, which are currently at about 70 per cent, have remained stagnant. We must ensure that those rates go up in order that girls and boys get into school.

Lord Weatherill

My Lords, is the Minister aware that I have recently returned from Pakistan after visiting schools in that country with 40 schoolchildren? When will Pakistan be readmitted to the Commonwealth? Does she not agree that Pakistan deserves every possible help, both moral and material, in view of the staunch stand it is taking in a very important part of the world?

Baroness Amos

My Lords, I was unaware that the noble Lord had recently returned from a visit to Pakistan. I am pleased to hear it because the more we know about what is happening there, the better it is for all of us. As to Pakistan and the Commonwealth, Pakistan remains suspended from the councils of the Commonwealth. At the last CMAG meeting—and, indeed, at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting—it was agreed that the road map to democracy, which should end in national and provincial elections in October 2002, is a good way to start. This issue will remain on the agenda of the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group. I agree that Pakistan has played an important role in the region. We all recognise that and we have supported President Musharraf in what he has sought to do.

Lord Avebury

My Lords, does the Minister agree that the commercial and legal environment for multinational business has improved greatly under President Musharraf, even though there is still some way to go in eliminating corruption and unnecessary bureaucracy? Can she confirm that the Pakistan/UK Business Advisory Group, which was formed partly as a result of discussions between the Prime Minister and President Musharraf during the Prime Minister's visit in January, has full access to Ministers in Pakistan and is therefore doing an excellent job? Can the Minister think of further ways in which to encourage UK investors to take a more sanguine view of the prospects in Pakistan, which there undoubtedly are?

Baroness Amos

My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, that the business environment has improved. Despite the drawbacks, the UK is now the biggest investor in Pakistan. The launch of the Pakistan/UK advisory group will enable both sides to explore new opportunities for developing the bilateral commercial relationship, including improved investment.

Lord Paul

My Lords, while work is being done in primary education, the Pakistani people are very intelligent and could achieve much by improving their higher education facilities. We could do a lot of work from here. Can the Minister confirm that we are paying attention to that?

Baroness Amos

My Lords, it is important that we work at all levels in regard to education. I am sure that there will be opportunities for partnerships—for example, between universities in Britain and Pakistan. However, our priority in terms of the achievement of the millennium development goal remains in primary education. I take the point of my noble friend's question.

The Earl of Sandwich

My Lords, does the Minister agree that the Question of the noble Lord, Lord Ahmed, is most important, especially in the context of anti-terrorism? Is it not essential that Her Majesty's Government are seen to be supporting education in vulnerable countries such as Pakistan, which has an exceptionally high level of illiteracy?

Baroness Amos

My Lords, I agree with the noble Earl. Our bilateral programme focuses on education, health and economic management. This year we plan to spend £47 million in Pakistan. The planned level of expenditure for 2002–03 is £60 million, of which a significant proportion will go to education.