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Baroness Berners: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that encouraging reply. I know that she is aware of the terrible legacy of a whole generation of black African education neglect. It has engendered so much poverty that only major initiatives can make any improvement to this appalling scenario and give some hope to the rising generation. Does the Minister agree that the main areas of concern are in pre-primary, primary and junior high school education? In order that the basic grounding can be set in place, what research have the Government carried out in rural areas to establish local needs? What monitoring is subsequently carried out to ensure that the funds are properly used?

Baroness Amos: My Lords, I agree with the noble Baroness that apartheid has left a terrible legacy in South Africa. The main areas of our programme cross all sectors of education, including adult education. A considerable amount of work has been done at local level, particularly in some of the poorest provinces of South Africa, with local NGOs and provincial government, as well as with national government, to identify the priority areas in different provinces. I will be happy to write to the noble Baroness to explain some of the detail of that work. As far as concerns monitoring, we always set monitoring in place when we support any project. We are helping the South African Government to develop better performance indicators for the work they are doing in this area.

Lord St. John of Bletso: My Lords, does the Minister agree that, following the general election in South Africa, one of the greatest challenges facing President Thabo Mbeki will be not only to reduce the escalating levels of crime but also to reduce the high levels of unemployment? Among black people under the age of 25, almost 50 per cent are unemployed. I welcome the Government's support to NGOs. However, do they have plans to promote vocational and skills training to assist not merely those who have

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recently completed their education but also more elderly members of the population to prepare themselves for the job market?

Baroness Amos: My Lords, the noble Lord's mention of the general election offers me an opportunity to congratulate the South African Government on the successful outcome, and to place on public record the fact that the elections were not marred by the kind of violence that has been seen in the past.

The noble Lord raised a specific question regarding crime and high levels of unemployment. The South African Government are well aware that in their social agenda they need to take these issues on board. Our own programme in South Africa includes not merely education but other areas as well; 15 per cent of our aid budget in South Africa is spent on education and training, not merely education. The noble Lord's point regarding vocational skills and training is being taken on board.

Lord Hughes of Woodside: My Lords, having just returned from seeing the elections in South Africa last week, perhaps I may join with those who wish to congratulate the President, Thabo Mbeki, and wish him a successful future. Is the noble Baroness aware that among voters in South Africa there is a great deal of optimism for the future of democracy and a great deal of enthusiasm for future developments? Does the noble Baroness agree that in relation to NGOs, who undoubtedly do a tremendous job, spending priorities must lie with the South African Government?

Baroness Amos: My Lords, I agree with my noble friend that there is a great deal of optimism in South Africa regarding the future, although, as I have mentioned, a number of social issues need to be addressed. On the question of NGOs and our partnership in South Africa, a key element referred to in our White Paper on the elimination of world poverty is working in partnership not merely with government but with NGOs, the business sector, trade unions and so on. That is the approach we have taken in South Africa. Our country strategy paper was agreed following consultation with all of those groups. It is important that, in terms of bilateral work, we agree our priorities with the South African Government.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords, is the Minister aware that the universities in South Africa need an international partnership? During the period of apartheid British universities were extremely helpful in providing scholarships to those who opposed the then South African regime. President Mbeki is, after all, a graduate of Sussex University. Are the Government giving attention to maintaining that level of partnership? In a situation in which American universities will be extremely active in pursuing partnership, British universities should attempt to maintain a useful intellectual relationship.

Baroness Amos: My Lords, I am happy to agree with the noble Lord. A number of British universities are

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working in direct partnership with their South African counterparts in terms of the exchange of knowledge, ideas and expertise, as well as promoting student exchanges. The British Council is also active in the area of scholarships. There is a great of contact and partnership in this area.

E-Commerce Envoy

2.53 p.m.

Lord Chadlington asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Why they have not appointed an e-commerce envoy to promote the new technology, despite advertising the post in November 1998.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, no final decisions have yet been taken. The Government plan to make an announcement on the e-envoy shortly.

Lord Chadlington: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. About 10 million people in Britain now have access to the Internet; and it is estimated that about 5 per cent of world trade will be conducted by e-commerce within five years. What practical policies do the Government propose to protect consumers in this new environment?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, the Government agree strongly with the argument behind the noble Lord's remarks. We recognise that electronic commerce is increasing, and that it will and ought to increase. We have announced, both in our competitiveness White Paper and in the White Paper, Modernising Government, quite ambitious targets for our response to it. These are enormously important matters, as is recognised in the fact that the appointment referred to in the noble Lord's Question is a prime ministerial appointment. The Prime Minister takes it extremely seriously, as we do.

Lord Blackwell: My Lords, I declare an interest as an officer in an organisation with an interest in electronic commerce. Does the noble Lord agree with the report's conclusion that, while protecting the interests of consumers, it is important to focus on measures that will facilitate electronic commerce, rather than run the risk of delay through over-regulation which may inhibit such commerce? In particular, can priority be given, first, to ensuring a proper legal basis for contracts and signatures on the Internet and, secondly, to ensuring proper jurisdiction over tax for trade on the Internet?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: Yes, my Lords, I agree entirely with the noble Lord. These issues must be addressed, and are being addressed, in the development of the legislation on e-commerce that was announced in the Queen's Speech. They are extremely complex issues.

Lord Chalfont: My Lords, on the subject of protecting consumer interests, is the noble Lord aware that Lloyds Bank Internet banking service failed to

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complete over 1,500 transactions over the previous Bank Holiday, and that a spokesman explained that it was because the computer system had failed to recognise that it was a Bank Holiday? Will the noble Lord assure us that, when the e-envoy, as he is popularly called, is appointed, he will do his best to ensure that this kind of thing does not happen again?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I did not know of the incident to which the noble Lord refers. I thought that Bank Holidays were set up for the benefit of banks, and that banks would be the first to recognise them. That is not quite how we see the role of the e-envoy. We see it as a marketing and promotional role rather than the regulatory role that is implied by the noble Lord.

Baroness Carnegy of Lour: My Lords, although the noble Lord is making an excellent job of answering these questions, as he always does, I am sorry that the Minister at the Department of Trade and Industry is not present. The report of the Trade and Industry Select Committee of another place which made the criticism referred to by my noble friend Lord Chadlington is critical of many aspects of the Government's approach to their forthcoming electronic commerce Bill. In regard to electronic signatures, at paragraph 40 of its report the committee points to the omission of consultation regarding the place of electronic signatures in Scots law as a serious omission. What are the Government doing to remedy this urgent matter? If the noble Lord cannot answer now, perhaps he will write to me.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, my noble friend Lord Sainsbury, who is the Minister responsible for these matters, is on government business in the United States this week. He would have taken this Question had he been available to do so. I apologise for my inadequate presence in his absence.

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