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Lord Redesdale: My Lords, can the Minister say when any progress will be made towards re-evaluating the position that the WTO has taken towards Lome? The demise of Lome could exacerbate the economic situation in ACP countries.
Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, there are two issues involved, the first of which is the question of a future Lome agreement. We are expecting proposals from the Commission towards the end of January. After that, negotiations will begin within the European Union to consolidate the position of the EU as a whole. We shall be discussing the WTO arrangements thereafter. The WTO issue is one which has been in the forefront of our minds, as the ruling has been a deeply unwelcome one for many ACP countries. However, notwithstanding that fact, any Lome agreement must be WTO compatible. Her Majesty's Government have already made that clear, not only to our friends within the WTO but also to the ACP states.
Lord Palmer: My Lords, can the Minister say what plans the Government have to help countries in the ACP regime which have no alternative other than to grow bananas, and where diversification is simply not possible?
Lord Campbell of Alloway: My Lords, is the noble Baroness aware that despite a barrage of words she has not answered the question? If you cannot grow bananas and you cannot grow anything else, I am not surprised that she cannot answer the question.
Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I am sorry if the noble Lord does not think that I have answered the question as I tried hard to do so. I believe that I was fairly explicit about what we are doing in the Caribbean. We have a forum on the Caribbean which will consider diversification, and we are discussing inward investment there. In the rest of the ACP countries we are looking at other forms of diversification. However, we recognise the difficulties that the noble Lord has drawn to our attention and that is why, as I told the House, we have proposed a five-year grace period. I believe that goes a long way to answering the points that have been raised.
Lord Hughes of Woodside: My Lords, as my noble friend has said, discussions on the future of Lome are at an early stage. Is she aware that there are some views circulating in the Commission that the Lome agreement should be abandoned entirely and dismantled in favour of EU bilateral negotiations with each of the ACP countries? Does she agree that that would be disastrous for those countries? Will she make quite clear that we should have a sensible, proper, progressive development of the Lome agreement?
Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, there are a number of different views within the EU about the way forward in these areas. I assure my noble friend that Her Majesty's Government's position is that we should proceed to a new Lome understanding in the way that he has described.
Lord Moynihan: My Lords, on the subject of good governance which the Minister mentioned, can she tell the House whether the Government will recommend that Zimbabwe remains a beneficiary of the Lome agreement, given the proposals of the Zimbabwean Government to nationalise several million hectares of
Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, the situation which the noble Lord describes is indeed a difficult one. We do not, of course, know how Zimbabwe will take forward what are at the moment proposals. Many noble Lords have already approached me about this issue. So far we do not have a clear view on how the Zimbabwean Government will take forward those proposals. I cannot give the House any undertakings about what will eventually happen, but I can assure the House that the matter will be taken into consideration, along with others, in regard to good governance. I hope that that gives the noble Lord some assurance.
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, this Government are keen to support the use of libraries by children. They are central to a number of important initiatives we are putting in place. The National Year of Reading will be a high profile campaign to encourage reading by young people and their parents. The National Literacy Strategy will begin next September in primary schools and will encourage them to devote an hour a day to literacy for all their pupils and will make available money to support the purchase of extra books for children. The plans outlined in the report, New Library: the People's Network, will build on the sound education in literacy and numeracy which we shall provide for children. Most significantly, through the information technology which we shall provide in public libraries, we shall actively encourage children to use them. Libraries in all their forms will continue to make an important contribution to education and leisure.
Baroness David: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that encouraging report; quite a lot is clearly going on. But in the light of the UK survey of secondary school libraries commissioned by the Library Association, where great disparity of provision was found, could the Minister consider providing criteria for school libraries to ensure more consistency of provision and greater fairness for pupils across the country? For instance, every school should have a chartered librarian on its staff. Only 24 per cent. of schools had one; 30 per cent. of schools had no full-time or even part-time librarian. Libraries should be open for a certain number of hours. The amount spent on books should be a recommended sum. Some 13 per cent. of schools spent £10 or more per pupil on books, but 20 per cent. spent less than £2. Will the Minister tell me if it is possible to use these criteria because, after all, £2 per pupil is less than one paperback a year?
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I certainly agree with the first part of the noble Baroness's question. Children who take any kind of responsibility in a school benefit from that. However, I am less sure whether that results in better care of the books.
Lord Peston: My Lords, is my noble friend aware that I, too, was heartened by his first reply to my noble friend? One agrees that local management of schools is intrinsically a good thing. But for those of us who come from a generation for whom libraries were a boon and were central to our education, will he reiterate the Government's view that books play a primary role here and, in my judgment at least--I hope my noble friend agrees--whatever the merits of information technology, it is not a substitute for reading a book?
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I certainly did not suggest, or at least I did not mean to suggest, that information technology was a substitute for reading a book. However, it is a fact that many young children are well used to the idea of using screens and keyboards. If they can be brought into libraries to use screens and keyboards there is a greater probability that they will also read books. My noble friend is entirely right about the necessity for real reading.
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