Developing Countries: Book Supplies

– in the House of Lords at 2:30 pm on 12th January 2000.

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Photo of Lord Walton of Detchant Lord Walton of Detchant Crossbench 2:30 pm, 12th January 2000

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether, in view of the concern being expressed by educational authorities in developing countries about the demise of the former Educational Low-priced Book Scheme, they will consider offering financial support to the Educational Low-priced Sponsored Texts (ELST) charitable trust.

Photo of Baroness Amos Baroness Amos Government Whip

My Lords, there is no possibility of the Department for International Development providing a blanket subsidy to ELST for the provision of books to developing countries. The Educational Low-priced Book Scheme was such a subsidy and was terminated because it failed to benefit those most in need--poor students in the poorest countries.

Photo of Lord Walton of Detchant Lord Walton of Detchant Crossbench

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that somewhat discouraging reply. I am a trustee of ELST. Is the Minister aware that this charitable trust was created specifically at the behest of British publishers and, in particular, at the behest of educational bodies in many developing countries which lamented the demise of the old ELBS scheme? Furthermore, is she aware that the scheme the DfID has attempted to put in its place for producing a bibliography based upon a Glasgow bookseller has not succeeded in replacing the ELBS, whereas the ELST has now been able to produce seven books and has many more in the pipeline which could be made available to developing countries if funds were forthcoming?

Photo of Baroness Amos Baroness Amos Government Whip

My Lords, I can assure the noble Lord that I am aware of the role he plays with ELST, and the role that other noble Lords have also played with the organisation. However, it is important that the House should recognise that DfID supports the book sector through a number of different mechanisms. One mechanism is our bilateral country programme. The department also supports Book Aid International and the association for the development of education in Africa. According to the information I have to hand, the bibliography of low-priced English texts has been an extremely successful element of the mechanisms we have put in place.

Photo of Baroness Gardner of Parkes Baroness Gardner of Parkes Conservative

My Lords, is the Minister aware that many people, as well as many charities, collect books and are keen to send them on to developing countries? I was told to contact Book Aid. However, is the Minister aware that Book Aid only sends books to a limited range of countries--not nearly as many as the Ranfurly Library supplied? Furthermore, when books are made available, those wishing to send them find that they cannot afford the cost of transport. Is there anything the Government can do to help, perhaps in terms of mail ships which might be travelling to these countries and could carry the books? Can the noble Baroness also look into the matter of whether books will be received duty free, as people in poor countries cannot afford to pay duty on such items? I have had duty charged even on paper dress patterns which I sent to be helpful to someone. Can the Minister look into those problems?

Photo of Baroness Amos Baroness Amos Government Whip

My Lords, as the noble Baroness indicated, Book Aid International is the main mechanism by which books are sent to developing countries. I agree with the noble Baroness that it does not cover the entire range of countries to which individuals and organisations may wish to send books. I believe that the Government can only play a limited role. However, individuals and organisations may wish to contact individual embassies and high commissions--something I have done myself when I have secured surplus books. Sometimes those embassies and high commissions can arrange for books to be transported.

Photo of Baroness Chalker of Wallasey Baroness Chalker of Wallasey Conservative

My Lords, I feel that I should admit to the House that it was I, as Minister, who decided that, because we could not get books to the poorest students in the poorest countries, the original scheme should be changed. Therefore, prior to May 1997, the responsibility lay with me. Can the Minister find any way of extending the range of countries to which Book Aid International, which is the most efficient organisation, dispatches books? Perhaps those connected with international airlines can take note that a few kilos of books going into an airport, plus agreement at the other end, achieved, one hopes, by a British high commission or embassy, would make a very major change.

Photo of Baroness Amos Baroness Amos Government Whip

My Lords, first, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Chalker, for indicating that it was her decision and not this Government's decision that resulted in a change to the policy. However, it is a policy we entirely endorse because, of course, the core of our development activity is focused on the elimination of poverty. Secondly, I take on board the points raised by the noble Baroness. We shall discuss with Book Aid International the possibility of extending the range of countries. I am sure that we can encourage our individual high commissioners and ambassadors in countries across the world to have discussions with international airlines flying to those countries.

Photo of Lord Peston Lord Peston Labour

My Lords, I declare an interest as chairman of the ELST charitable trust. I confirm the remarks of the noble Baroness, Lady Chalker. At the time I sat on the Opposition Front Bench and it was my duty to attack the noble Baroness for her decision. I shall not resile from the need to attack my noble friend for doing nothing better than did the noble Baroness, Lady Chalker. Rather oddly for a Conservative, the argument of the noble Baroness was that her main concern lay with the poorest of the poor. I believe that we were promised a scheme that would reach that sector. As I understand it, the Government, of which I am the most fervent supporter, have made no progress whatever in that regard. There is no evidence that the scheme put in place has helped the poorest of the poor. The group that has helped the poorest of the poor is ELST. The only problem is that that group has no money. Will my noble friend at least look at this matter? Can she also assure me that from now on all other overseas aid will be stopped unless it helps the poorest of the poor?

Photo of Baroness Amos Baroness Amos Government Whip

My Lords, we are quite happy to consider any application from ELST that meets our objectives. As I said, a number of different mechanisms have been put in place to meet the educational needs of developing countries. That includes, for example, consideration of the book sector through our bilateral country programmes. Only at the end of last year when I visited Jamaica I looked at a scheme funded as part of our bilateral programmes. I assure my noble friend that we shall ensure that development resources are effectively targeted on our core activity, which is the elimination of world poverty.