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Poverty Overseas: Uk Assistance

Volume 569: debated on Tuesday 27 February 1996

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Whether they ARE satisfied with the level of public awareness of poverty overseas and of the United Kingdom's aid programme, and if not, what steps they propose to take to improve it.

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office
(Baroness Chalker of Wallasey)

My Lords, the ODA is constantly striving through its information department to increase the public awareness of the extent of poverty overseas and of the UK's development programme to alleviate it. Our recent communications review has produced recommendations to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of public information.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that encouraging Answer. As most news about the third world relates to emergencies and not to development, will she assure the House that the Government will do more to promote development through education and the media? Will she also assure the House that it will not he left entirely to non-governmental organisations, which are reducing their aid and education programmes drastically, and to the European Union, which increasingly must pick up the bill for good education materials in the United Kingdom?

My Lords, I thank the noble Earl for his question. Although the media give me probably 95 per cent. of my coverage for just 12 per cent. of the budget, the other 88 per cent. of the work is eminently valuable because so often it prevents tragedies. As regards the noble Earl's second point, I believe that he is aware of the excellent education publications produced by the development educational organisation, World Aware. I know that he recently helped to produce some new teaching materials on India. I hope that he also knows that World Aware is core-funded by the ODA. No projects were supported by the European Union in 1995 which the ODA had declined to fund. That is because we specifically give grants of more than £650,000 to organisations undertaking development education.

My Lords, my noble friend is aware that I am chairman of the UK branch of Plan International. In contradiction of what was said by the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, I must point out that the organisation is not reducing expenditure on educational projects but it is increasing expenditure. Therefore, his statement is not a blanket statement that applies to all NGOs. Has the Minister any plans to meet representatives of World Aware?

My Lords, I thoroughly agree with what my noble friend said. Most of us are trying to spread the word further because we believe that, as regards education at every age and in every quarter, it is valuable that people are made more aware of the problems to be tackled. I am pleased that I shall soon be meeting World Aware's business leaders' forum. One of the things that business is increasingly realising in this country is that it is in its own interest that we undertake good development work overseas, which in the long term brings benefits to Britain as well as to those countries.

My Lords, is the Minister satisfied that, in spite of years of effort by the Churches and voluntary agencies, the time and space available within the school curriculum are so limited that the Department for Education and Employment cannot do a great deal to improve it?

My Lords, while I am pleased that the Churches and voluntary agencies continue to do as much as they can, the ODA is looking at what more it can do with the Department for Education and Employment to increase the opportunities for young people to learn the facts about a situation at an early age. Perhaps then more people will grow up with an understanding of why development overseas is essential to this country.

My Lords, having risen several times to ask my question, I now understand how hard it is to praise the Minister. I congratulate her and her department on helping the Street Children's Consortium launch today its directory of resources. Is that not a good example of how a small amount of public money can he magnified to have impact where it really matters among some of the most deprived sections of humanity?

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord McNally, for his kind remarks. In launching the Street Children's Consortium book this morning, I saw people from all over the world who have come together to share their knowledge in the best possible way in order to try to alleviate the plight of street children. That is a serious plight in more parts of the world than television has shown. I have been saddened but privileged to see some of the excellent work that is being done all over the world in that respect. We should do all that we can to help the Street Children's Consortium.

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that poverty is to some extent—indeed, a great extent—caused by over-population? My noble friend has done splendid work in drawing attention to that problem. Will she tell your Lordships to what extent there is some hope that the lesson that she has been teaching has been learnt?

My Lords, my noble friend Lord Renton is right. The difficult problem of population running way ahead of the growth of developing countries is one which needs to he tackled continuously. In the past few years, this country has been doing far better. At the Cairo conference, I announced a programme of £100 million to be spent over two years on family planning projects and sexual health projects. In fact, I have been able to commit £181 million on those projects in that same time span. But the other critical part of tackling population growth so that we can alleviate poverty is education, and above all to educate women, because the more education they have, the more they realise that it is right to have smaller families.

My Lords, will the Minister accept that those of us involved in World Aware are very grateful for the Government's support? Will she also take heart from the fact that a public opinion poll published just last autumn indicated that 80 per cent. of the British public is in favour of maintaining, and preferably increasing, the overseas aid programme? I hope that she finds that a powerful argument on the part of the British public when she takes on her colleagues in the Treasury and elsewhere.

Does the Minister accept that no country in the world is more dependent on its international relationships than Britain, and that she will receive support from all quarters of the House when she works with her colleagues in the Department for Education to ensure that no youngster leaves our schools unaware of Our relationship with the world and our dependence on a prosperous, stable world for the future of the British economy.

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Judd. World Aware is an excellent organisation. As I mentioned earlier in answer to my noble friend, it is very good that it is tackling awareness among business leaders because business leaders as well as the rest of us need to understand what we are dealing with. It may he that the public opinion poll results will show further improvements; and I shall never give up fighting for something which I believe firmly is right for Britain as well as for the developing countries. I need only say that the opportunities for Britain based on our international relationships have grown, are growing and must continue to grow. More investment in development is needed.

My Lords, is the Minister satisfied that there is no duplication among certain organisations as regards their work on education? What steps is she taking to liaise with the British Council on that?

My Lords, as the House well knows, I am never satisfied about anything. However, because there is so much work to be done, I believe that there are niches into which each of the organisations can fit.