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Primary Education

3. Mr. Fabian Hamilton (Leeds, North-East): How she intends to encourage (a) more spending on primary education and (b) less spending on arms in the world's poorest countries. [681]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for International Development (Hilary Benn): I am sorry about that, Mr. Speaker. I was basking in the glow of all those warm words.

The elimination of poverty will take place only with improved levels of education. The UK has consistently campaigned for universal primary education to be a central focus of poverty reduction programmes as part of the debt relief process, and over the last four years we have committed more than £600 million to support primary education in developing countries.

We are also working to reduce the demand for and supply of weapons, and will be introducing new controls on the export of arms from the UK.

Mr. Hamilton: I thank my hon. Friend for that answer. I know that the Secretary of State attended the Dakar United Nations world education forum in April last year, when the declaration was made about the establishment of universal primary education by 2015. He will know

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that Oxfam has set up its global initiative for a monitoring programme and a budget of £8 billion per annum to ensure that the targets set by Dakar are met. Does my hon. Friend agree that £8 billion for universal primary education is considerably less than the world spends on arms in one month? Does he agree also that it is essential that the targets set for primary education ensure that girls have equal access?

Hilary Benn: I agree, especially with my hon. Friend's point about the education of girls. As the House will be aware, of the 113 million primary age children who are not in school, two thirds are girls. If we can get developing countries to ensure that girls have equal access to education, considerable benefits will flow for development in those countries as a result.

Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire): Will the hon. Gentleman consider marking his welcome assumption of office by taking an initiative? Will he appoint a special articulate ambassador to go to some of those poorer countries, and will he consider for that role the reluctantly noble and former right hon. Member for Chesterfield?

Hilary Benn: I am being led into dangerous waters. I thought for a moment that the hon. Gentleman's offer was a job application. However, he will not take it amiss if I decline it on the ground that we already have a most formidable advocate on those issues—my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State.

Debt Relief

4. Mr. Bob Blizzard (Waveney): If she will make a statement on recent progress made in debt relief for heavily indebted poor countries initiatives. [682]

The Secretary of State for International Development (Clare Short): Twenty three countries have now qualified for relief under the heavily indebted poor countries—or HIPC—initiative. More than $53 billion of debt relief has been agreed for those countries, which together owe $74 billion, so most of their debt is written off. The money released is directly linked to poverty reduction.

The impact of that debt reduction means that social expenditure in those countries is projected to rise by an average of $1.7 billion per year. We hope that, in addition, Ghana, Sierra Leone and, possibly, Ethiopia will qualify for relief this year, but most of the remaining 10 eligible countries are affected by conflict or have no commitment to reform. We need greater progress in conflict resolution to bring debt relief to the remaining 10 heavily indebted poor countries.

Mr. Blizzard: I thank my right hon. Friend for her answer and congratulate her on leading the world in a vital initiative which may do more than many other things to relieve poverty. She has mentioned that the money will be spent on things such as health and education. How is that spending being monitored and what can we do to ensure that countries that are benefiting from debt relief do not fall into new debt?

Clare Short: I am grateful to my hon. Friend. The most important achievement of the enhanced HIPC package is the commitment of countries to preparing poverty

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reduction strategies, openly consulting their people about all their economic policies, including how they mean to grow the economy and how they will use aid, debt relief and their own revenues to drive forward social programmes for all. The new instrument will be used for monitoring and for countries' better accountability to their own people. That is a transformation of the way in which the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank work in such countries—it is more open, more poverty focused and more participatory.

I very much agree with my hon. Friend that we must make sure that those countries do not get into debt again. We need improved practice in export credit procedures across the world so that loans are not guaranteed for bad projects that bankrupt countries. We shall try to work on that at the export credits committee of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development to try to get higher standards across the world.

Mr. Gary Streeter (South-West Devon): I congratulate the right hon. Lady on continuing in her important role of spearheading our country's attack on global poverty, which is possibly the greatest moral challenge facing our generation. I pay tribute to the genuine work that has been done on debt relief.

Has the Secretary of State seen the United Nations report commissioned by Kofi Annan, which said last week that debt relief has taken a long time and, in many cases, has not gone far enough? It calls, in part, for a new initiative on debt relief. I pay tribute to the progress that has been made, but does the Secretary of State agree that there is now a need for a new momentum? Does she have any specific plans to give that momentum to this important issue?

Clare Short: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman and agree that this is the most important moral issue for the world; it is also the most important issue in terms of the sustainability of the planet. If we do not make progress, we will have increasing catastrophes, so it is in our self-interest to pay much more attention to these matters.

I do not agree with those who say that we need debt relief for more countries, including middle-income countries that have managed their debts badly and need the Paris Club to recycle those debts and get better economic management. I do not agree with the current drop the debt campaign for 100 per cent. relief for those who are already getting debt relief and owe money to the IMF and the World Bank. We should not privilege countries according to whom they owe money; we should go by need. The point of the HIPC initiative for the 41 countries that are so indebted that they can never pay is to relieve the burden of debt so that they can adopt good social and economic policies. They will continue to need aid and other support for years, but we should get debt out of the way and better economic management in place. Then we can support such countries in building up their economies and providing public services, rather than just providing more and more debt relief.

Mr. Streeter: I thank the Secretary of State for her answer. Is not this weekend's summit in Genoa an opportunity, however, for our country to continue to take the lead in debt relief? Is she aware that if her Government continue to lead the international community on the forgiveness of unpayable debt and pursue the issue

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ruthlessly until all the world's poorest nations receive a real dividend, she and her Government will have and will deserve the full support of Opposition Members?

Clare Short: It is very important in Genoa to drive on and to keep the 23 countries on track. There were wobbles in Zambia and it would be a terrible setback if its programmes fell away. We must move Ghana forward; it has just had elections and needs some help, as do Sierra Leone and Ethiopia. We need to keep everyone to the agreement that, as countries are exiting the initiative, we consider sustainability, as oil price rises are throwing things out of kilter. The other thing that we want to achieve at Genoa is the establishment of a health fund for the supply of drugs and commodities, to bring down prices, increase availability and lever in research. That needs to be complemented by the establishment of health systems through poverty-reduction strategies. I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his support for those efforts.

Intellectual Property Rights

5. Mr. David Chaytor (Bury, North): If she will make a statement on the progress of her Department's commission on intellectual property. [683]

The Secretary of State for International Development (Clare Short): The commission on intellectual property rights promised in our White Paper was established in April. It is tasked with considering how international intellectual property agreements can most benefit developing countries and poor people. Its membership includes an impressive range of experts originating from Argentina, India, the United Kingdom and the United States of America. It has embarked on a series of studies and consultations. Its recommendations will be submitted to me in spring 2002.

Mr. Chaytor: I thank my right hon. Friend for that reply. Does she agree that it is particularly important that the views of developing countries are properly heard on all aspects of the intellectual property regime, particularly those concerning access to genetic resources and the development of drugs to treat terminal disease? How will she specifically ensure that the voices of developing countries will be heard in the commission's deliberations?

Clare Short: Two members of the commission are prestigious intellectual property experts—one from Argentina and the other from India—so it is an international body. It will be taking evidence and visiting developing countries to do so.

Many people assume that an intellectual property regime is not in the interests of the poorest countries, but I doubt that. There is no research into the diseases of poverty because pharmaceutical companies would not receive any return for it. We need a reasonable and fair global intellectual property regime and cheaper drugs in poorer countries, with companies able to charge higher prices in richer countries. The commission will consider issues such as a global system. Improving the relevance of intellectual property law to the poor of the world in developing countries is the commission's whole purpose.

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