Clause 14 - Functions of the commission etc.

International Development Bill – in a Public Bill Committee am 4:00 pm ar 15 Mawrth 2001.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Photo of Mr Andrew Rowe Mr Andrew Rowe Ceidwadwyr, Faversham and Mid Kent

Given that the Secretary of State for the Department to which the Bill relates has always shown a degree of scepticism about the value of putting development funds into higher education, I want to know that there is a serious intention to ensure that suitable candidates are supported in adequate numbers in achieving the training or post-qualification opportunities that they need. I understand full well that the Secretary of State is concerned that in many countries the higher education system has tended to fall into the hands of a self-perpetuating elite. It is therefore difficult to pretend that in such countries a direct grant to the higher education system is a grant for the relief of poverty, especially if many who receive such grants or scholarships do not return to their own land.

However, I also understand full well that in many countries in which DFID is active there is an unmet need among people who work with the disabled and the very poor, or who develop agricultural and other expertise, for the sort of opportunities that are currently—and, I suspect, will be for some time to come—provided only by higher education institutions in this country. I am anxious that we are making matters difficult for too many people, and I speak from considerable personal experience.

Every year for many years, my wife and I have entertained in our house students from the Centre for International Child Health, which is one of many centres of excellence in this country which provide training and postgraduate qualifications for people working overseas. I have been greatly impressed by the variety of people who come here for a year, who have included nuns who work in very difficult conditions in refugee camps in Goma and are funded, with difficulty, by their NGO. They return home with considerably more skill with which to develop the services that are so desperately needed.

One of my wife's current students is a man from Sierra Leone whose family must be traumatised since to take up his place on the course, he had to come here with an inappropriate visa, and his wife and child—when she first heard fireworks, she thought that she was being shot at—are now in a dispersal asylum centre somewhere in the north of England while he continues to study in London. That is one example of the difficulties encountered by people for whom we show too little sympathy and provide too few resources.

I am taking the opportunity presented by the clause to make the case to the Minister that we must be more generous and find better ways of ensuring that the people who win the scholarships are the right ones. One problem is that some are chosen by their superiors for a year of rest and recreation, either as a result of a bribe or because they think it would be nice, when people who need the course and could achieve much more as a result of it do not get a look in.

There are twin elements to be considered: first, we must ensure that the right people are selected and, secondly, we must increase the opportunities for people who, in the most difficult conditions, return to do the sort of work that DFID is supposed to be making a priority.

Photo of Dr Jenny Tonge Dr Jenny Tonge Democratiaid Rhyddfrydol, Richmond Park 4:15, 15 Mawrth 2001

I want more reassurance. Let me expand on the remarks of the hon. Member for Faversham and Mid-Kent. I want to ensure that students who have not been nominated by their Governments can come here on scholarships—that NGOs, for example, may nominate them. We have had a sort of assurance, but I am particularly concerned about people in southern Sudan who cannot come here on scholarships because their Government will not nominate them.

Photo of Chris Mullin Chris Mullin Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for International Development

Clause 14 has been transferred from the Overseas Development and Co-operation Act 1980.

In reply to the hon. Member for Faversham and Mid-Kent, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is not sceptical about the value of higher education. The Department's recent launch of the skills for development programme recognises the importance of developing key skills in any economy. However, as the hon. Gentleman acknowledged, development of a skills base is often best achieved by strengthening institutions in the country concerned, rather than by sending people to Britain on scholarships. That is my right hon. Friend's position and I am sure that the hon. Gentleman accepts that it is sensible.

Clauses 13 and 14 allow the Commonwealth Scholarship Commission to function. The scheme has been reviewed recently and my right hon. Friend has taken a close interest in the review, which concluded that the commission is generally doing a good job. However, in future, more will be done under the programme to promote education and training in developing countries as well as over here—for all the reasons to which the hon. Gentleman referred, poor people in the countries of the students concerned are not helped if students remain here after completing their studies. That will be the future trend. The clauses are taken from the 1980 Act, and we intend that the scheme will continue.

The hon. Member for Richmond Park asked about specific provision for people not nominated by Governments. We have made provisions to allow individuals who might oppose their Government or who are exiles to benefit from the programme. I believe that the Secretary of State gave the hon. Lady an assurance to that effect on Second Reading, which is in column 203 of Hansard.

Photo of Dr Jenny Tonge Dr Jenny Tonge Democratiaid Rhyddfrydol, Richmond Park

I thank the Minister. I just wanted to hear that again.

Photo of Chris Mullin Chris Mullin Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for International Development

I am just here to spread happiness.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 14 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 15 and 16 ordered to stand part of the Bill.