Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Clare Short: The hon. Lady makes an important point that concerns not only the UK, but the whole international system. About half the debt of the 42 countries in question is owed to the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and other multilateral institutions, while the other half is export credit debt to countries such as ours. Once the countries get into the HIPC process, they will stop paying, so relief is provided to more countries than just those that have completed the process. When the export credit debt is written off—that is happening, and the process is acting as leverage for a lot of good reform— it then counts towards ODA-GNP targets.

My Department's budget is the figures that we can see, and that money is not being spent on the debt relief. In the UK and everywhere else, when the debt is written off, it counts towards the ODA-GNP target. I hope that those comments are helpful, as they explain how the international system works. The ODA-GNP targets grow as debt is written off.

Dr. Tonge: I am not completely convinced. I accept the Secretary of State's explanation, but I still think that a bit of double accounting—it used to be called creative accounting in local government—is going on. I think that we are being told that more is being done than is actually happening, and that the overseas aid increase is not as big as it seems because other considerations are being taken into account. As the Secretary of State knows, I would defend her and the Department to the death if necessary for the work that they do. [Laughter.] How about that? However, I would not defend the Treasury, the Foreign Office or the Department of Trade and Industry. I am always watching very carefully what those bounders are up to, because they are always trying to pull the wool over our eyes and I think that the Department for International Development sometimes requires a bit of support. I shall leave that subject hanging in the air in the hope of getting a satisfactory response, perhaps from the Treasury, in future weeks.

The millennium goals are mentioned extensively in the report. We all know that they relate to reducing poverty, provision of primary education for all, and maternal and child mortality. I suspect that most hon. Members would assume that with my medical background, I would want desperately to deal with health issues. I do not. I am still hooked on the Prime Minister's concept of education, education, education. There is nothing quite like it in the whole world, and the fact that we are pushing towards primary education for everyone by 2015 is commendable. It is difficult to decide on the most important factor in development, and we have had endless arguments in the Chamber about what should come first, but education runs through all of them.

Some 120 million children of primary school age are still without proper education. I think that 53 per cent. of girls—and 74 per cent. of those living in south Asia and sub-Saharan Africa—do not go to school. One of the most touching sights in the developing world, especially in Africa, is the droves of little children in pristine uniforms marching to school out of their straw huts, shanty residences or wherever they live. The sight of them

25 Apr 2002 : Column 512

leaving happily and proudly is such a contrast with that of our children creeping like snails unwillingly to school. It is very refreshing to visit the country and see their enthusiasm.

In Bangladesh, one can see tiny children as well as older ones working in boiling heat all day to make bricks, but then having the energy to go joyfully into a schoolroom until sunset, so that they can learn something. Indeed, having done all that hard work, they believe that they are privileged to be able to do so. We must never forget how marvellous education is.

Africa has the lowest average primary school completion rate in the world. We know that many children drop out of school because of family commitments or the need for extra income. Of the 70 developing countries that have already built enough schools to educate all their children, only 27 retain 100 per cent. of children in school through to primary graduation. They are falling out of education rapidly; adult female literacy in developing countries declined in 2000 from 39 to 31 per cent.

I want to turn now, as the Secretary of State will expect, to a matter that concerns me hugely. She knows that I have recently returned from a visit to Sudan with the all-party group on Sudan. I hope that all its members will concur with what I shall say. There has been only one decade of peace in that country. Almost one in five children in the south die before they are five, but only about one in three children countrywide go to school. The adult literacy rate is less than 15 per cent. in conflict zones and it is rare to find anyone in southern Sudan who can read or write.

Some donors, including our Government, feel that education is development and that development cannot occur in conflict situations. I want briefly to run through the reasons why I think that we should try to reverse that policy. Education is considered to be long-term development, but UNICEF says that education must play a part in every emergency. It certainly does so when refugee camps are set up; there is always a school tent for the children. Surely the Department for International Development's definition of emergency assistance could be widened to include education. A large resource input would not be necessary. Southern Sudan is not asking for schoolrooms; its schoolrooms are big trees in the countryside.

Clare Short rose

Dr. Tonge: Perhaps the right hon. Lady could wait until I have given all my reasons.

Southern Sudan does not need big schoolrooms; it simply needs a few teachers—and more money to train them—who can move around with the population, which frequently has to move, as well as some chalk, slates, blackboards and a few books. We are talking about very basic resources. It does not need many resources. A better educated population, especially women, can help towards the peace process in southern Sudan. The more people are educated there, the more they will be able to recognise the risks of continuing conflict. Education should be seen as a basic resource.

Clare Short rose

Dr. Tonge: I want to make a couple of other points before I give way.

25 Apr 2002 : Column 513

UNICEF has said that educational activities—including those involving parents and members of the community—play an important part in building the community. We know how much civil society has suffered in southern Sudan and how much it needs educated people who can help to rebuild it. The people themselves say that education is what they want most, apart from peace. They want their children to go to school. If we are to prevent conflict and try to broker peace, we must concentrate more on education.

The kind of help and facilities that the people are asking for could travel with the population. We must remember that 80 per cent. of southern Sudan is at peace most of the time; the conflict has not been in the entire region all the time. It moves around, and the people there say that the facilities that they need could move around with the population. I shall now give way to the Secretary of State.

Clare Short: I am grateful to the hon. Lady. The answer to her question is yes, the humanitarian support for displaced and refugee children should always include education. The quality of the humanitarian effort in Sudan has been very poor. Until recently, 90 per cent. of the support was spent on aeroplanes, and only a tiny amount of the quite big expenditure was getting through to the people. After my visit, I sent one of our humanitarian advisers to get a commitment from the Government and from the Sudan People's Liberation Movement in the south that they would allow us to work with them to enhance the quality of the humanitarian effort. That includes getting children into school, although not yet as part of the rebuilding of the state—that will come after peace—but as part of the enhanced humanitarian support that will get displaced and refugee children into school. We will be working on that.

Dr. Tonge: That is excellent news. I hope that all the members of the all-party group who went to Sudan will have heard that; we shall come knocking on the Secretary of State's door asking for details very soon.

Like the hon. Member for Leeds, West, I am increasingly of the opinion that, although those countries need aid for education, health and clean water, they need trade and investment more than anything. If we look at the countries that have made progress, they are those that have trade and investment. I therefore endorse what the hon. Gentleman said. The Secretary of State mentioned the World Trade Organisation. We must strengthen that organisation instead of constantly denigrating it. People in this country should realise that, if the WTO were strengthened and had more representation from developing countries, it could be such a force for good in the world. Developing countries desperately need trade.

I shall refer quickly to commodity prices, which continue to cause instability in countries that depend on such income. Coffee is the perfect example, and problems are looming again in that respect: the price of coffee has fallen by 70 per cent. since 1997. I remind the House that a fall in coffee prices was one of the factors that triggered the Rwandan genocide. Trade issues must be watched carefully, because they can trigger much worse events in the world.

25 Apr 2002 : Column 514

At the G8 summit in June, the Government must propose tariff and quota-free access to all exports from the least developed countries by 2005. We must make progress on that. The everything but arms initiative, which the hon. Member for Meriden mentioned, must be expanded to include tariff and quota-free rice, sugar and bananas from the least developed countries. We have to give on these matters. The common agricultural policy, which is fast becoming a sick joke because of the time it is taking to reform it, has to be revised and agreed by EU leaders.

Next Section

IndexHome Page