Know-how Fund

Oral Answers to Questions — International Development – in the House of Commons at 1:45 pm on 11th November 1998.

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Photo of Mr George Foulkes Mr George Foulkes Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for International Development, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for International Development

The know-how fund is supporting 573 projects.

The aim of the fund is to support the former communist countries in their transition to pluralist democracies and well-regulated market economies in a way that benefits all levels of society, particularly the poorest.

Photo of Elfyn Llwyd Elfyn Llwyd Opposition Whip (Commons), Shadow Spokesperson (Communities and Local Government), Shadow Spokesperson (Culture, Media and Sport), Shadow Spokesperson (Northern Ireland)

I thank the Minister for that reply. The Minister will know that Slovenia and Estonia are two states that are currently aspiring to European Union membership. Both states have great problems. Slovenia has economic problems and Estonia has very serious environmental problems. Is it not therefore unfortunate that there is to be a reduction in the total amount of know-how fund expenditure in the Baltic states?

Photo of Mr George Foulkes Mr George Foulkes Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for International Development, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for International Development

As well as know-how fund expenditure, we contribute a huge amount towards EU expenditure in those pre-accession countries through the Poland and Hungary aid for reconstruction of the economy programme, so there is a great deal of British money going in that relates to accession. Through our bilateral programme, we do not support accession per se but we support projects, including environmental ones, which help those states graduate towards accession. I can assure the hon. Gentleman that we take account of that. If he has any particular suggestions that he would like us to consider, I would be happy to meet him to discuss them.

Photo of Mr Nick St Aubyn Mr Nick St Aubyn Conservative, Guildford

Many know-how fund projects will depend on volunteers. Is the Minister aware that Voluntary Service Overseas is now, for the first time in nearly 30 years, recruiting school leavers for some of its projects? On behalf of all gap-year organisations, for which I know the hon. Gentleman has a great deal of respect, will his Department consider funding such organisations and recognise at last that school leavers on longer-term projects, with the right structure and training, can aid the countries that they visit as well as aiding their own development?

Photo of Mr George Foulkes Mr George Foulkes Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for International Development, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for International Development

More years ago than I care to remember, I used to run the Scottish Union of Students overseas volunteer programme, which was very successful. The right hon. Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram), who has moved round the country from East Lothian to South Edinburgh and who now resides in Devizes, knows very well what I did. I say honestly that I was not aware that the VSO had moved back to taking school leavers. We have been supporting substantially its programme for volunteers, with each volunteer costing about £12,500. We have been giving significant support. If the VSO is supporting school leavers, we would certainly consider any request that it made for additional support.