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China Western Poverty Reduction Project

4. Mr. Norman Baker (Lewes): What her policy is in respect of the China western poverty reduction project. [127740]

The Secretary of State for International Development (Clare Short): Britain supported the China western poverty reduction project at the World Bank board meeting in June 1999 because it is designed to bring significant benefits to 1.7 million of the poorest people in China. The hon. Gentleman will know that there was a campaign against the project. We therefore scrutinised it carefully and were convinced that, basically, it was beneficial. We also supported the board's conclusion that no funds should be disbursed on the Qinghai component of the project until an independent inspection panel had conducted an investigation, and it had been subject to further environmental and social assessments.

The report by the independent inspection panel, and the bank management's response to it, will be discussed at a World Bank board meeting on 6 July.

Mr. Baker: I am interested to know what the Secretary of State's position will be on 6 July--that is a key question. Is the Secretary of State aware that the World Bank inspection panel found seven major violations of World Bank policy in that particular project, including a lack of proper consultation, inadequate environmental assessment and a climate of fear in the area in question? With even the US opposed to the project, will she consider the matter carefully and conclude that it is not in the UK Government's interest, and certainly not in the Tibetan interest, to support this project?

Clare Short: We have not yet decided exactly what position we will take at the board meeting. There will be a discussion but not a final decision on 6 July. We are trying to maintain the project and benefits to some of the poorest people in China, some of whom have an annual income of only £23 a year. They live in remote villages for and represent four different ethnic minorities. We want to preserve a good project, but make sure that there is proper protection. We agree with a lot of criticisms in the panel report and, indeed, expressed some of those criticisms at the last meeting. We want to secure all those provisions, but also the project--that is our intention.

Mr. George Stevenson (Stoke-on-Trent, South): Does my right hon. Friend accept that many in the House welcome the Government's priority on the alleviation of poverty? Does she also accept that, no matter how desirable and well intentioned they are, schemes must comply with the regulations laid down by the World Bank? Given that the independent panel review found that seven out of 10 of the World Bank regulations have been violated, will my right hon. Friend make it as clear as possible that until the Government are satisfied that all those regulations have been complied with, they will not support the scheme?

Clare Short: I am very well aware that people are concerned about the situation in Tibet. I share the concern of those who have opposed this project from the start. My duty is to try to use UK influence to protect the interests of very poor people in China and make sure that that the

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project is good, but not to be swayed by a strong international campaign. I promise the House that I shall try to do that.

Mr. Tim Loughton (East Worthing and Shoreham): It is very alarming that the Secretary of State will not have made a decision when the meeting takes place tomorrow. Why, when the vote was taken, was it not supported by the United States, Canada, France and Australia, although Britain was for it? When will we see some vestiges of an ethical policy in our dealings with China in a policy that purely legitimises Chinese population transfer and all its obscene implications? The Government are kowtowing to the Chinese again. When will they stop?

Clare Short: The hon. Gentleman is deeply misinformed. China is opening up to the world. Its decision to join the World Trade Organisation is of crucial importance to humanity and the people of China, and will ensure that there is less oppression in China. China's record in reducing poverty in recent years has been very good, but in the most remote and the western parts of the country some of the poorest people live in some of the most inaccessible places. They have human rights to development, to education and to a decent livelihood. We will do all in our power to ensure that all human rights, including those of the poor, are protected everywhere, and that is what we are doing in China.

Mr. Ben Chapman (Wirral, South): Does my right hon. Friend agree that a principal thrust of the DFID's programme in China thus far has been the development of judicial and civic structures to aid social development and, in particular, the development of human rights? Against that background, is it not right that when the Chinese have decided to switch their attention from the coastal provinces to the poorer inland provinces, we should do our part to assist that project, provided that we can get the assurances that we seek?

Clare Short: My hon. Friend is right. We have been conducting judicial training, and helping not only in state enterprise reform but with access to education, health care and water in remote provinces with some of the poorest ethnic minorities. I am sure that the House would agree that that is the right thing to do.

Primary Education

5. Mr. Tom Brake (Carshalton and Wallington): If she will make a statement on progress towards the global provision of primary education by 2015. [127741]

The Secretary of State for International Development (Clare Short): Since the publication of our White Paper, we have worked hard to mobilise the international community to meet the target of universal primary education by 2015. We welcome the strong political commitment at the world education forum in Dakar to achieve universal primary education by 2015 and significantly to enhance investment in primary education.

Mr. Brake: I thank the Secretary of State for her response. Does she accept that, regrettably, gender equity in primary and secondary education is unlikely to be

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reached by 2005? What new targets will the Government argue for? Can she reassure the House that the matter will be discussed at the Okinawa summit?

Clare Short: Certainly, all the international development targets will be discussed at Okinawa for the first time, and one of them is progress on gender equity in education. In the poorest countries, girls tend to be excluded from school, and educating girls is profoundly developmental for a country. I am not willing to agree with the hon. Gentleman and to write off significant progress by 2005, because we are now making progress on the objective. Let us drive that forward. If we have not achieved the objective in all countries in 2005, we can reassess the matter, but let us not give in now; let us make further progress. I promise the hon. Gentleman that the subject will be discussed at Okinawa.

Mrs. Maria Fyfe (Glasgow, Maryhill): Does my right hon. Friend agree that when the target is reached, it will be an enormous step forward because never in human history has it been achieved? Being able to read and write, and to answer back, will make an enormous difference to the ability of people worldwide to cope with all that the world can throw at them.

Clare Short: My hon. Friend is right. There are 900 million adults in the world who are illiterate. We now have an international commitment to ensure that all children in the world get primary education, and widespread recognition that it is the most powerful development intervention that any country can have. Including girls in education, in particular, transforms a country as the girls grow up and increases the likelihood that their children will survive.

I am certain that we will make major progress by 2015. We might not achieve the target in every country, and we are less likely to achieve it in war-torn countries, but massive progress is possible. We are the first generation that can look to the elimination of fundamental illiteracy from the world. We can achieve that if we are serious.

Mrs. Cheryl Gillan (Chesham and Amersham): Uncharacteristically, I agree with the Secretary of State in that I support the objective of providing universal primary education by 2015. Does she agree that no money earmarked for development should be wasted on bureaucracy and that every penny should be focused on the front line? Why then, since she took office, has she increased her staff by 321, increased her administration costs by £20 million and doubled her Department's publications, including bumf such as vanity publications that cost more than £400,000--enough to double the basic education programmes in Colombia, Mozambique and Nepal? Is it not about time that she spent a little more on the education of children in developing countries and a little less on publicising her own Department?

Clare Short: The hon. Lady is characteristically wrong, misinformed, inaccurate and not attached to the truth. The Department's spending has grown by £1 billion under this Government, but the budgets shrank and shrank under the administration supervised by the Government of which she

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was a member. Slightly more staff are needed to have a bigger programme, but our staffing is small. There has not been a big increase in administration costs, but we have published the details of all our strategies and programmes--that is freedom of information that was hidden by the previous Government. Publication costs money, but it allows people in developing countries to know about the programmes that are for their benefit. The hon. Lady is misinformed as ever.

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