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New Partnership for Africa's Development

10. Hugh Bayley (City of York): What recent discussions he has had with African leaders about the New Partnership for Africa's Development. [45525]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Denis MacShane): The New Partnership for Africa's Development is a subject of frequent discussion with Africa's leaders. It was discussed by my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary during his visit to Africa in January, by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister at the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting and by

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Baroness Amos, the Minister for Africa, in her capacity as the Prime Minister's personal representative for the G8 Africa plan.

Hugh Bayley: I congratulate the Government on supporting that initiative right from the start. Does my hon. Friend agree that unless we increase the volume of trade between Africa and the Quad countries—the United States, Canada, Japan and the EU—there is no prospect whatever of NEPAD delivering what is needed? Is he aware that the value of agricultural subsidies in the Quad countries is greater than the entire gross domestic product of sub-Saharan Africa? Unless we cut those subsidies, the region has no real prospect of exporting the one commodity it has to export—agricultural produce. Will my hon. Friend tell me what the Government are doing both in this country and in the EU Council of Ministers to cut agricultural subsidies in Europe?

Mr. MacShane: Not only is my hon. Friend right, but even before becoming a Member of this place he had one of the most distinguished records on this issue. Subsidies of $1 billion a day are paid to protect the northern markets, mainly of the European Union and the United States. The Prime Minister has taken a lead, criticising subsidies on both sides of the Atlantic. My hon. Friend is right: no amount of aid, however much we increase it, can remotely match the need for increased trade and commerce and more open borders, both in the EU, and in the US and the other leading northern countries that he mentioned.

Mr. Richard Spring (West Suffolk): Given the lack of free and fair elections in Zimbabwe, what role does the hon. Gentleman perceive for both NEPAD and countries such as ours in ensuring that, by contrast, the impending elections in two extremely fractured African countries—Sierra Leone and the Democratic Republic of the Congo—are indeed free and fair? What mechanisms will be put in place to help to ensure that?

Mr. MacShane: The hon. Gentleman raises important points, although I should be reluctant to ask NEPAD to shoulder all the problems of Africa. Its discussions are principally about economic development. We firmly believe that the more that trade and commerce are open, the richer countries will become and the more their political processes will be stable and democratic. We shall continue to insist on the tightest monitoring of the elections in the two countries to which the hon. Gentleman referred.

Mr. Tom Clarke (Coatbridge and Chryston): Is my hon. Friend aware that, last night, the meeting of the all-party great lakes region and genocide prevention group, chaired by my hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham (Mr. Lammy), heard very disturbing evidence, especially from Church people, about genocide in the Congo? Will my hon. Friend assure us that the Government are watching that carefully and are using their influence to the full?

Mr. MacShane: My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary visited the DRC and the great lakes region in January with his French counterpart. We are working closely, especially with the French, who have a greater

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colonial heritage in that area than us, to put an end to the massacres—I think that is the correct word—that are causing such damage and anguish there. It is a constant preoccupation and we need active policy engagement with Africa—a political policy to try to secure the international rule of law as well as an aid policy.

Mr. David Lammy (Tottenham): Does my hon. Friend agree that, given the events in Afghanistan, one of the reasons why the G8 should make a bigger engagement with Africa, with serious resource implications, is that two failed states—the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Somalia—pose a big threat to the African continent?

Mr. MacShane: My hon. Friend is right. That is why, at the G8 meeting in Canada later this spring, the issue of Africa will be addressed. It has been very much put on the agenda owing to the active support of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister. We want to improve the quality and the quantity of aid to Africa, but above all we want to allow Africa to trade and to become more attractive to direct foreign investment. It is through economic growth that the people of Africa can build a better future.

UK-Japan Bilateral Relations

11. David Wright (Telford): If he will make a statement on UK-Japan bilateral relations. [45526]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Denis MacShane): The bilateral relationship between the United Kingdom and Japan is strong. On the global level, Japan is a key ally in our efforts to ensure global prosperity and security and to promote democracy and the rule of law worldwide. On the economic level, over 1,000 Japanese companies operate in this country, creating over 80,000 manufacturing jobs and many thousands of jobs in the service sector.

David Wright: My hon. Friend will be aware that Japanese investment in Telford has been significant in recent years. Indeed, the United Kingdom is a bridgehead for Japanese investment into Europe. Has my hon. Friend had any discussion with his counterparts in the Japanese Government about the Government's position on the euro?

Mr. MacShane: Telford is such a popular area for Japanese inward investment that, I am advised, people can get sake on tap there. My hon. Friend is right to draw attention to the euro issue, but Japanese inward investors continue to place their confidence in Britain. Some 46 per cent. of all investment in the European Union is in the United Kingdom and the sterling-euro exchange rate is only one of a number of factors, but if ever the Conservative party's total opposition to Europe and the euro were to be perceived as the British Government's position, that would have a disastrous impact on all inward investment into the United Kingdom.

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Point of Order

3.31 pm

Mr. Michael Howard (Folkestone and Hythe): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Have you received any indication from the Chancellor of the Exchequer that he intends to make a statement on the Wanless report, in view of the fact that his terms of reference require Mr. Wanless to report by April 2002?

You will be aware, Mr. Speaker, that it has been widely trailed that the Chancellor's plans for health spending will be included in his Budget statement tomorrow. Would it not have been appropriate for the House to have sight of the final Wanless report well in advance of the Budget? Indeed, can we not conclude from the non-appearance or postponement of the Wanless report's publication that the Chancellor's idea of a debate on those issues is to start it in the morning and shut it down just a few hours later?

Mr. Speaker: I have not been notified of any such statement, but I inform the right hon. and learned Gentleman that written Question 5, which deals with that matter, will be answered this afternoon.

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Selective Schools (Transitional Arrangements)

3.32 pm

Mr. David Chaytor (Bury, North): I beg to move,

My Bill proposes a change—an improvement—to the current policy on selection that will have widespread support among the overwhelming majority of parents throughout the country. Of course, I do not make my recommendations lightly—I am seeking to improve policy. I call in my support what the head of the No. 10 policy unit said in a recent speech. I quote from the transcript:

Therefore, my Bill offers the fourth way to deal with the contentious and divisive issue of selective admissions policies in secondary education.

First, it is important to recognise that three current forms of permitted selection to state secondary schools are of most concern: selection by religious affiliation, selection by aptitude and selection by ability. As the question of religious affiliation in faith schools has been widely debated in recent weeks, my Bill deals purely with selection by aptitude and by ability.

In respect of ability, there are currently more than 160 selective schools in England, spread across more than 30 local authorities. Although those local authorities with wholly selective policies are largely, although not entirely, concentrated in the south-east of England, almost one quarter of all English local education authorities are still affected by selection to a greater or lesser degree. It is also important to remember that, in addition to the vast majority of English local education authorities, both Scotland and Wales have rejected selection. It is significant that the Northern Ireland Assembly is currently considering the recommendation of the Burns report to end selection in Northern Ireland.

In respect of selection by aptitude, under the School Standards and Framework Act 1998, a school which considers itself to have a specialism is entitled to select pupils on the basis of aptitude up to a maximum of 10 per cent. of the intake for a given year. Subsequently, the programme of specialist schools has been significantly developed to the point at which the Government now propose that half of all schools should be designated as specialist schools. However, only a small minority of those schools have chosen to exercise the option to select.

The concerns about selection have been debated for many years and can be summarised as follows. In respect of selection by ability, for every one grammar school there must be, by definition, three secondary modern schools to take those pupils who have failed the 11-plus examination. It is no coincidence that those local

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authorities with wholly selective admissions policies tend to have greater numbers of schools in serious difficulties and poorer overall levels of performance than equivalent local authorities with comprehensive systems. It is also significant that the most recent research on selective systems by both the university of York and the National Foundation for Educational Research indicates that the most able pupils performed at least as well, if not better, in comprehensive schools as in selective schools. In those local authorities with partially selective systems, the price of selection is paid by those schools that, although notionally comprehensive, are so heavily creamed by selection that they can never hope to be in a position to attract the critical mass of highly motivated pupils that is necessary to raise performance levels across the school or to compete on a level playing field with schools that have a genuinely comprehensive intake.

In addition, concerns about the impact of selection by ability focus on the very possibility of being able to identify ability accurately at the age of 11. In the House alone, there are many individuals of high ability who slipped through the 11-plus net and whose talent was only revealed many years later. Across the country, there are millions of such people. That represents a waste of talent on a massive scale that the nation can no longer afford.

In respect of selection by aptitude, similar concerns arise. How many parents, on looking back at their children's development, could have accurately predicted their aptitudes and interests at the age of 11? How many teachers can assess such aptitudes accurately? The main examining boards do not recognise any objective tests for aptitude. It has been said that the distinction between aptitude and ability is that aptitude is seen as a measure of potential, but the question must be asked: what is the nature of that potential? Is it potential ability or potential something else? The concern is that selection by aptitude could be exploited as a means of selection by ability by the back door. The fact that, to date, few schools have chosen to select by aptitude suggests that the majority are well aware of the difficulties of both definition and assessment.

The central issue for any Government committed to increasing equality of opportunity and reducing social exclusion should therefore be the impact of educational selection at 11 on these twin objectives: how we can best develop equality of status for all our schools while maintaining diversity of ethos and continuing to drive up standards and raise performance levels for all our children? This is where my Bill can assist. It proposes a maximum of 5 per cent. of pupils who can be selected and suggests a transitional period of three years in which the reduction to that figure can take place. However, the precise threshold for selection and the time scale of the transition are clearly matters of detail that are subject to negotiation.

While gradually reducing—but not abolishing—selection by ability and aptitude, the Bill will gradually reduce differentials of status between schools because all schools would become more comprehensive in their intake. As few specialist schools have chosen to select by aptitude, the gradual reduction from 10 to 5 per cent. should cause little difficulty. Some grammar schools claim that their examination performance indicates a superior level of education and the reduction would enable us to test that hypothesis.

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The gradual redistribution of pupils would ensure that all schools start to acquire the critical mass of able and motivated pupils that is so necessary. The process would reduce the extent to which allocation to a school determines a child's progress and life chances. It would significantly enhance equality of educational opportunity and reduce levels of social exclusion as the educational apartheid of the English system is gradually dismantled.

The first way of dealing with selection was to have a grammar school in every town. The second was to try to abolish every grammar school in the country. The third way has been to introduce the concept of selection by aptitude and to establish a system of parental ballots, but that is unworkable. My Bill proposes the fourth way. It recognises that the remarkable success of British primary schools has been due entirely to comprehensive education; that the startling increase in the proportion of young people going to university has been largely the result of the extension of comprehensive education; that the significant improvements in GCSE results in recent years have been achieved largely by comprehensive schools; and that many parts of England retain a highly divisive system of secondary education that works against equality of opportunity, reinforces social exclusion and constrains levels of achievement.

The Bill proposes a gradual transition to a new 5 per cent. maximum on selection by ability or aptitude; it proposes a period of three years during which the transition should take place; it would ensure minimum disruption to pupils, staff and their schools; it would require greater transparency in the mechanisms of selection; and it would bring about the most radical extension of educational opportunity that this country has seen for a generation. I commend the Bill to the House.

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