House of Lords
Thursday, 1 May 2008.
The House met at eleven o'clock: the LORD SPEAKER on the Woolsack.
Prayers—Read by the Lord Bishop of Leicester.
House of Lords: Public Information
My Lords, a wide range of activities is taking place with the aim of raising understanding of the impact and relevance of the House of Lords. These include the Peers in Schools programme, appointment of regional outreach officers and new media initiatives such as virtual tours. The developments are taking place within the context of a five-year bicameral programme endorsed by both Houses that seeks radically to improve the connection between Parliament and the public.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for that Answer and for the support that he has given. I also thank the House’s information officer and the Hansard Society for their help in starting up the weblog, commonly known as the blog, which in the first six weeks of its existence has drawn 30,000 visits from the public, has had 600 comments from members of the public and is growing fast. Given that we no longer get reports of this place or, indeed, of the other place in the newspapers, and have not done so for many years, is not this a direct tool to reach out to the public to tell them what we are doing? If people look at the blog site, and preferably join in, they will see that there is great interest in what happens here and a desire by the public to be involved.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for his comments and congratulate him and his colleagues who started the Lords of the Blog project, which was launched last month and which, as he said, has attracted considerable interest. The project is conducted and hosted by the Hansard Society and is being run on a six-month trial basis. Any noble Lords who have not yet had the opportunity to look at it can find a direct link to it from this month’s issue of Red Benches. I am sure that the noble Lord will welcome other participants in it.
My Lords, does the noble Lord agree that the Lord Speaker deserves a bouquet of congratulations for the amount of public attention and people that she has brought to this House, thereby enormously increasing knowledge of it? She deserves to be thanked for that.
My Lords, I can hear the House’s ready acceptance of the noble Baroness’s remarks. Since 2006, the Lord Speaker has indeed been very active in this role. I mention particularly the Peers in Schools programme, in which I believe more than 60 Peers participate. I understand that more volunteers would be welcome. We also have the UK Youth Parliament event, which will take place tomorrow, and a further important programme associated with the 50th anniversary of the Life Peerages Act this year. There are other matters as well.
My Lords, will the Chairman of Committees join me in congratulating all those associated with the production of the excellent publication, The Work of the House of Lords, 100,000 copies of which I understand have been distributed? Does he agree with the following two propositions: first, that it is essential that a substantial sum of money be allotted annually for publicising the work of this House; and, secondly, that all forms of communication, not least the modern ones so powerfully advanced by the noble Lord, Lord Soley, should be considered at all times?
My Lords, I agree with the noble Viscount. The Work of the House of Lords is a great step forward and the information office, which produced it, deserves our congratulations. A budget of £4.8 million has been allocated in 2008-09 to fund the delivery of work to make the House and its work more accessible to the public. That is not a large amount in terms of the total budget, but it is quite a large sum of money.
My Lords, that is a difficult one to answer. I am happy to say that normally when I answer questions I do not get too much of that. But, of course, we are a party-political House and it is not unnatural, therefore, that Members from either side should occasionally get excited about a subject.
My Lords, the Chairman of Committees has given us some indication of the work that has been going on within the House of Lords with the help, assistance and guidance of the Lord Speaker. Could he give us a little more information about the current programme of Lords activity?
My Lords, I was fairly brief in my Answer because one does not want to take up too much time. I could go on at some length. I mentioned the Peers in Schools programme There are visits to Women’s Institute branches across the country and the “What a waste!” competition for schools followed the Science and Technology Committee’s report on waste reduction. We have recently appointed regional outreach officers with a remit to establish links with stakeholders in specific regions and localities in the UK. Each officer will spend approximately 10 working days a month in their local region. Many community groups have specific objectives to increase civic participation, and parliamentary outreach can play a key role in the attainment of that.
My Lords, does the noble Lord agree that the quality of information about the history of the nation conveyed to visitors to this House by the diligent guides is formidable and impressive? I have learnt a lot from them. Would it not be desirable if that could be supplemented or even replaced by more information from the guides about the work that we do here and how we do it? That would be a most useful addition to the valuable work that the guides do already.
My Lords, that is true. The guides whom we all see working on the morning tours do a very good job indeed, although one sometimes thinks that maybe they make too much of Henry VIII and his wives, which has rather limited parliamentary interest. It is important also that the guides explain the work of both Houses, which they do.
Prisons: Education and Training
My Lords, the Government see education and training leading to employment as an important part of their reducing reoffending strategy, with investment in offender learning and skills rising to more than £170 million this year. We have an ambitious programme of reform under way, much of which is focused on improving the skills and employment opportunities of prisoners, led by an interministerial group on reducing reoffending.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for that partly encouraging reply. However, does she agree that if prisoners—especially young prisoners—who have emerged almost entirely untaught from so-called looked-after status are not automatically to return to reoffending, what they need above all while in custody is education and training to help to equip them for a totally different life after their release? Under those circumstances, and not least in the light of the Government’s response to the important Leitch report, should not the Government play a far more proactive role by using incentives, financial penalties or whatever other means of encouragement are necessary to ensure that both the inmates and the institutions gain if prisoners enrol for skill courses, rather than more routine work, within the prison?
My Lords, the noble Baroness is right that the Government need to do more and I can reassure her that we have an ambitious programme of reform under way. As I stressed in my first Answer, we see the promotion of new skills for offenders as a key part of our strategy for reducing reoffending. She is right to draw attention to the fact that the Leitch report highlighted real gaps in skills, and offenders—and young offenders, in particular—are the very people in whom we see the greatest skill gaps.
My Lords, does my noble friend agree that if rehabilitation is the primary objective in penal policy, education and training in the most up-to-date forms is essential, but that it is also essential that this process starts the very day that a person begins his or her prison sentence? Can she assure the House that reports that the Government intend to put the emphasis on the end of a sentence, rather than the whole sentence, are not accurate? I know from my own experience of working with organisations involved in prisons that the need for that process to start right at the beginning is crucial.
My Lords, my noble friend highlights an important point. I think that the key step that the Government took was in 2001, when we transferred responsibility for offender education to the education department. Since then, the pivotal status of assessment on entry to prison has been a key factor in promoting the development of personalised learning for prisoners. Therefore, I do not accept that there is undue emphasis on the end of a prison sentence. However, offender learning through employment, for example, can take place only when a prisoner is able to go out on release and take part in employment. Therefore, I emphasise the importance of the assessment at the start of a sentence.
My Lords, is the Minister aware that prisoners with learning difficulties are often effectively excluded not only from education but also from offending behaviour courses and that there is evidence that, for that reason, many may have longer custodial sentences than others convicted of comparable crimes? Can she tell us what steps the Government are taking to make provision for such prisoners?
My Lords, if I may, I shall come back to the pivotal role of the assessment that needs to take place right at the start of admission into the secure prison service. Once offender learning has become the responsibility of the Learning and Skills Council and its delivery partners, their assessors are responsible for ensuring that they have the skills to identify learning needs, but an emphasis must also be put on doing the right things in the right order. It is not possible to help offenders to learn and gain new skills if they have drug and alcohol problems or are experiencing mental health problems. Therefore, it is absolutely right that the assessment is done, that access to the right services is secured and that that happens in the correct order.
My Lords, the Minister used the word “reform” and spoke of the fact that a group of Ministers is taking personal responsibility for these matters. In view of the importance of the issue, can she say whether prison governors are personally accountable for pre-set targets for achievement in this area and for the quality of the work that takes place?
My Lords, I come back to the importance of educational outcome, responsibility for which must rest with the education providers. However, responsibility for ensuring that offenders attend classroom and educational activities is very much with the prison governors, who have targets for achieving results in this area.
My Lords, what information can the Minister give us on the implementation of safe web access in prisons? Such access is very important but is in fact quite limited for a proportion of the prison population. Has there been progress on implementation?
My Lords, I think I can reassure the noble Lord that the successful completion of educational activities and the building of new skills is very much part of achieving an offender’s sentence outcome. A range of outcomes is required for a sentencing plan to be successfully achieved and it includes matters such as behaviour and alcohol and drug dependency. Although educational and skills achievements are important, I am sure the noble Lord will agree that it must be one of a number of the factors taken into account.
Health: Terminally Ill Patients
My Lords, the introduction of individual budgets in social care has transformed the care of some social care users. Learning from this, we need to understand how to support and allow health service users to design their own tailored care and support packages. The NHS Next Stage review will consider this issue and will report in the summer.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for her reply. Do the Government recognise that speed and flexibility are of the essence for these patients, yet delays after care assessments exist? If patients could directly arrange adaptations, such as fitting a stair rail or for care from a Marie Curie night nurse, their care would fit with the Government’s aim of putting people first, which would free district nurses from a gatekeeper function. Do the Government recognise the anomaly that, when patients receiving direct payments for social care deteriorate and become eligible for continuing care, their direct payments cease, thereby removing the ability to control their care at the end of life?
My Lords, I am pleased to acknowledge the issues raised by the noble Baroness concerning the problems faced by the terminally ill in often needing small amounts of money quickly and the issue that is created by direct payments and transfers to continuing care. Early findings from the pilots show that the introduction of individual budgets and direct payments in social care have transformed the care of some social care users. We need to learn how to support and allow service users increasingly to design their own packages. The Next Stage review is looking at different ways in which patients can be given greater control over their healthcare. This might include an offer of an individual budget that gives people with particular long-term conditions more control over their treatment. That work is at an early stage, but care for the terminally ill is a potential area to look at. I would particularly welcome the views of the noble Baroness on how that might best be achieved, in the window that those two factors provide us with, in the coming period.
My Lords, I should have guessed that the noble Baroness might ask a question that was not covered in my brief. I will have to get back to her about this. I know that that activity is taking place; we are developing the country’s first national end-of-life care strategy for adults, the delivery of which is about increased choice for all adult patients to cover all conditions and care given in all settings—home, hospital, care home and hospice—as well as care given in the last years of life, patients, carers and families. Part of that process will be about finding out people’s preferences.
My Lords, the noble Baroness may know that a national survey of direct payments published last year revealed that mental health service users have the greatest difficulty of all users in accessing direct payments, and that the statutory requirement to offer direct payments to this group has made no substantial difference to the level of provision. Will the Next Stage review look at ways of improving access to direct payments for that group of patients?
My Lords, the Government’s aim is to give people with particular long-term conditions control over their treatment, as I have said. Access to direct payments should be available to all people eligible to receive them. Indeed, as the noble Earl may well be aware, there is a proposal under the Health and Social Care Bill to extend direct payments provisions to people who have those sorts of difficulties and disabilities.
My Lords, I turn to the part of the Question referring to carers. Some people have had long-term carers. It is claimed the great majority of the terminally ill would like to die at home. At the very end, they do not necessarily need a great deal of intensive nursing, but their carers are terribly important to them. Would not direct payments help to ensure continuity with these same carers?
Health: Panton-Valentine Leukocidin
My Lords, Panton-Valentine leukocidin—PVL—infections are not a specific problem for playgrounds or parks. This is an uncommon infection that has been known about for many years. Like other infections, PVL is controlled by good infection control. However, these infections can be very serious. Health Protection Agency guidance on management of PVL, available since 2006, is currently being updated and new guidance from expert groups in diagnosis and treatment was published in March.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply, but the extensive press coverage on this over the past week indicates that the cases have arisen from playgrounds. There has been so much coverage, including on television, that many parents are anxious about the situation. Can the Minister tell us what information the department has, and what it thinks should be done to allay these anxieties and explain what should be done to protect children?
My Lords, I know that noble Lords may have read about PVL infections in the past few days. However, as I repeat, it is not a new condition; in fact, it was first described in the 1930s. The risk to the general public of becoming infected with PVL is small. Our advice to parents is always to maintain the good practice of appropriate hygiene measures, including proper cleansing and disinfection of cuts and minor wounds. Wounds should be covered with a dressing until healed and individuals should avoid contact with other people’s bandages and lesions. However, parents should not stop their children from going out to play. If the infection spreads or recurs, go to your GP or to an accident and emergency department for further investigation or treatment. The chances of contracting all types of these infections are reduced by maintaining good hand hygiene and not sharing personal items.
My Lords, in view of the recent hysterical response of the press in the run-up to the local elections, I am rather surprised that the Government have not announced that in the next few weeks there will be a deep-clean of all school playgrounds. Perhaps they are more sensible. The pharmaceutical companies are reluctant to invest in research in new antibiotics because the return is bad—antibiotic treatments are very short term. What incentives are being given to pharmaceutical companies to develop new antibiotics for these dangerous, resistant strains of bacteria?
My Lords, that is slightly wide of this Question. I have received no information that pharmaceutical companies are reluctant to continue their excellent research and development work. Indeed, the range of antibiotics available for a whole range of infections increases by the day.
My Lords, does not the Minister recognise that we all have a wide range of organisms on our skin? Indeed, 50 per cent of the population—that includes your Lordships’ House—have candida on them. These bugs become a problem only when the immune system is compromised and when there has been antibiotic overuse, because they become more virulent.
Do the Government recognise that we need to be encouraging children to be exposed to social interaction for their development and because it seems to have a protective effect against developing childhood leukaemia and may even have some protective effect against allergies and so on in the long term?
My Lords, the noble Baroness is absolutely correct. In fact, the doctors who were briefing me on this Question said that I could share with your Lordships' House the fact that 30 per cent of you will have the bacteria that creates this condition. It needs to be said that an infection of PVL normally manifests itself as minor skin infections, boils, carbuncles and abscesses, but occasionally this can become a severe infection. The Health Protection Agency is aware of this and is monitoring the situation most carefully.
My Lords, does the Minister accept that the most important message that should go out from this House on this issue has already been alluded to: it is to the media not to create a crisis out of a fairly normal affair that occasionally ends in a tragedy? Some reports in the media lead one to believe that they really want to put children in a totally fumigated room and throw away the key, whereas most of us are prepared to take the risks that inevitably arise in life and let children have a normal life.
My Lords, is it not the case that there is some doubt about precisely how the problem arises? Some children have contracted it from falling down and grazing or cutting themselves, whereas one 23 year-old lady contracted it with no knowledgeable links, as she had not fallen down. Does that not indicate that we need to have a little more research into this, and is such research going on?
My Lords, the noble Baroness is quite correct. This is not a new condition, but little is known about its origin and the spread of these particular strains. Infections are rare and most can be treated by antibiotics. Indeed, PVL infections occur in patients who have no previous history of direct or indirect healthcare contact. Research is being undertaken, and I will write to the noble Baroness detailing that.
My Lords, is the Minister aware that on 8 February 2007, I asked a Question on this subject? Is she also aware that it affects not only children, but also the military, people in colleges and people living together in close contact? Is it not the case that it may be being misdiagnosed as leukaemia or pneumonia? The white cells just pack up. Is it not time for statutory reporting?
My Lords, in response to this question and that asked by the noble Baroness, Lady Knight, we are funding a project through the HPA to look at the prevalence of community-associated PVL infections, which are the ones that have been in the news recently. The HPA is looking at technical developments in testing. However, I return to my original Answer which is that a lot of this is to do with hygiene, cleanliness, not touching things we should not touch and issues of that sort which feed into people living in close proximity to each other.
Brought from the Commons; read a first time, and ordered to be printed.
Business of the House: Debates Today
My Lords, I beg to move the Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper.
Moved, That the debates on the Motions in the names of the Earl of Sandwich and Lord Hameed set down for today shall each be limited to two and a half hours.—(Baroness Ashton of Upholland.)
On Question, Motion agreed to.
Parliamentary Constituencies (Northern Ireland) Order 2008
Mutilations (Permitted Procedures) (England) (Amendment) Regulations 2008
Building Societies (Financial Assistance) Order 2008
Building Societies Act 1986 (Accounts, Audit and EEA State Amendments) Order 2008
Cash Ratio Deposits (Value Bands and Ratios) Order 2008
Land Registration (Network Access) Rules 2008
Compensation (Claims Management Services) (Amendment) Regulations 2008
My Lords, I beg to move the seven Motions standing in my name on the Order Paper.
Moved, That the draft orders, regulations and rules be referred to a Grand Committee.—(Baroness Ashton of Upholland.)
On Question, Motion agreed to.
Millennium Development Goals
rose to call attention to the targets of the millennium development goals in the poorest countries and the action required to achieve them by 2015; and to move for Papers.
The noble Earl said: My Lords, I warmly thank our Convenor and my fellow Cross-Bench Peers for giving me this opportunity to address the issue of the millennium development goals. I also welcome the Minister and, as a former staff and board member of Christian Aid and former trustee of Anti-Slavery, I congratulate DfID on its inclusiveness. Many of its staff now come from the voluntary sector and its more recent policies owe a great deal to NGOs and civil society. These policies place the UK firmly in the avant-garde of international development. A French madrigal reminds us that May is a good month to open the window and think positively, even daringly. Today is May Day and this debate is about world poverty. This is the year of action on the millennium development goals.
I shall avoid the overused word “crisis”, but the background in poor countries in 2008 is rising prices, the old inequalities of gender, caste and class, and the ravages of conflict. Any poverty or debt reduction today is being cancelled by the effects of steeply rising food and energy prices. While the number of poor remains at about 800 million, the number of extreme poor is still rising and is close to 300 million. The number of malnourished children is set to rise in 32 countries. Some statistics are quite startling. Two million children die on their first day of life and four people die of TB every minute. I do not have to persuade noble Lords that poverty is a scourge much greater than terrorism or even natural disaster. It is an insidious and avoidable waste of human life, and for millions it is intolerable. Yet we go on tolerating it as inevitable. It was for that reason, and to mark the start of a new millennium, that world leaders decided to establish the MDGs, only to realise that they had set targets that they could not possibly reach.
We are now more than halfway to 2015 and it is clear that, although there are gains in health and education, especially in Asia, we are missing most of those goals altogether in the countries where they matter most: in the poorest, least developed, landlocked and conflict-ridden countries. That is confirmed by all the UN websites and the highly respected Countdown initiative.
The MDGs have accelerated the rate of aid giving, and perhaps the level of awareness, but I suspect that they have also become a vast propaganda weapon, a means by which donor Governments can claim almost systematically that they are doing far more than they possibly can. In Davos, the Prime Minister accepted failure. He said that the only means of attaining the MDGs now is through an emergency response, and we know that that will not happen. But I welcome his commitment and his current efforts to engage the private sector in this Herculean task.
I will concentrate on the health MDGs, MDGs 4, 5 and 6, today, because so much preventable ill health lies at the root of poverty. Men and women cannot claim their human rights, fight against oppressive authority or create a sustainable livelihood without good health. Children cannot attend school, learn skills or even, as they so often must, look after their ailing parents.
MDG 4 is to reduce child mortality. Here the results are generally quite positive. Under-five mortality rates on average fell from 185 to 166 per thousand live births between 1999 and 2005, but the target is two-thirds. Measles cases and deaths on the Asian subcontinent fell by nearly 75 per cent between 1999 and 2005, but there are 50 per cent more infant deaths in conflict countries than in peaceful ones. Save the Children recently published a telling wealth and survival index showing which countries could do much better.
MDG 5 is to reduce maternal mortality. DfID admits that that target is way off track. The odds that a sub-Saharan African woman will die from complications in pregnancy or childbirth in her life are one in 16, compared to one in 3,800 in the developed world. The global target is to reduce that ratio by three-quarters. Many more women who survive suffer disability and serious illness.
In Afghanistan, I am glad to say that the number of women receiving antenatal care or skilled assistance through childbirth has increased more than threefold since 2002, but such support is available only to one woman in five. Maternal mortality rates there remain among the highest in the world. We must do more about training. Can the Government explain why they are not placing more emphasis on the upgrading of traditional birth attendants in the poorest countries? I was disappointed in the Minister's answer earlier this year that TBA training has little demonstrable impact on reducing maternal death. I shall return to that later.
MDG 6 is to reverse HIV/AIDS, malaria, TB and other diseases. Prevalence rates of AIDS have levelled off, but new cases have grown, and there is a high level of new TB cases in sub-Saharan Africa. We all know that malaria is defying drugs, but out of 9 million new TB cases annually, only half a million are now multi-drug resistant. The Government have made a long-term commitment to the global fund against AIDS, TB and malaria and claim to be active in 132 countries with the aim of halving TB by 2015. Vulnerable groups, such as HIV/AIDS patients, are much more susceptible to TB. In Africa, one in three living with HIV/AIDS is dying of TB.
Here I briefly mention mental health, which is a gap in international health policy. According to the health charity BasicNeeds, neuropsychiatric disorder alone accounts for 14 per cent of all death and disability in the world. There is evidence that mental illness is a factor contributing to poverty, and this has not been adequately addressed through the MDGs. The noble Lord, Lord Joffe, will say more about that. Studies carried out in south Asia showed that children of depressed mothers were four times more likely to be underweight. Depression among mothers also increases their vulnerability to sexual abuse, which in turn exposes them to HIV/AIDS.
There is, paradoxically, a risk that if we throw money at individual MDGs, we may ignore the wider picture. Bold new initiatives to deal with major life-threatening disease or to meet a particular target can and do cut across developing countries’ own national strategies that have developed over time, often with donor encouragement. AIDS funding, for example, should not take priority over strengthening regular health services. This is not a new problem. I remember waves of UNICEF child health initiatives that bought new Land Rovers and paid higher salaries than governments could ever afford. The wide disparity between the salaries of civil servants and foreign organisations in developing countries means that the international agencies continually attract the best staff away from governments. I know that DfID has tried to deal with this in Afghanistan with some difficulty.
One answer is to work more through NGOs, but more important is the way in which governments engage with one another and the partnerships that can be forged between richer and poorer countries. My noble friend Lord Crisp will, I am sure, refer to his former department’s latest response to his ground-breaking report last year. This signals a new relationship between our own government departments and the developing world. The International Health Partnership, which was launched last September, already places more emphasis on better links from within our own health services.
Another way is a greater use of volunteering. The latest VSO initiative to expand its Civil Service pension scheme is a modest beginning, but it has won Cabinet support and should act as a catalyst to the NHS trusts to promote this partnership. Incidentally, it is 50 years since the VSO began from an office at Christian Aid, and I pay tribute to all its staff and volunteers.
I must mention the essential role of migration. The House of Lords Economic Affairs Committee recently poured cold water over this subject, rather in contrast to the earlier European Union Committee report, but I hope that the Home Office will follow through with its official welcome to Recommendations 11 to 13 in the Crisp report. Migrant health workers in effect subsidise our health services because of the added value of their training overseas. Countries such as Uganda are literally sacrificing one in six of their own trained staff. My local NHS hospital in Yeovil tells me that without migrant workers it would seriously struggle to deliver a service, and that because of our new immigration laws it can no longer fill paediatric posts from countries such as Malawi. Commonwealth countries are in particular demand because of English-language training.
Meanwhile, health services in some favoured African countries do receive aid from DfID, in line with central budgetary support, which is important. Ethiopia is one of these, although budgetary aid has been suspended there on human rights grounds. This has led to a more plural arrangement that combines central government funding with special projects and NGO assistance. DfID can therefore be proud of its support for health extension workers in countries such as Ethiopia, in which two women are trained for a year after completing high school and sent back to their own communities. The Community District Nursing Association is also training staff in Ethiopia, and the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists is active throughout Africa. Ethiopia has developed its network of health workers faster than most other African countries, and as a country where rural health was long neglected it could still become a model of sustainable healthcare.
In conclusion, I recognise that the canvas is much wider than the one painted by the MDGs. Although I applaud our efforts to increase aid, I am not one of those who believe that aid represents a solution. All our aid to Africa under this Government has, I am reminded by Saferworld and other organisations concerned about arms in the world, been cancelled out by the cost of conflict. We are making notable progress in rebuilding southern Sudan, but it is painstaking work. Too much of our aid, whether in health, education or employment, is still led by outside consultants. We need to pay much more attention to local initiatives in Africa, fairer trade, more microenterprise and, above all, to supporting the largest employer of the very poor—agriculture.
For obvious reasons, I have not been able to cover all the millennium development goals. I shall leave education to others. Safe drinking water and sanitation are, I know, a high priority for DfID and they are essential to improving health. Another priority is the empowerment of women, who are in the front line of development, which should never be forgotten. The elimination of trade barriers remains vital, while the share of world trade for the poorest countries continues to decline. The caste system in India deserves a much higher priority for this Government within the human rights dialogue going on there, which one could compare to the dialogue with China over Tibet and the Muslim minority.
There is an urgent concern about food prices, which others will mention. The International Monetary Fund is to create a new programme to offset food and fuel prices in the poorest countries, but that will not be enough. At this rate, it appears that we will not make poverty history in the lifetime of Members of this House. I beg to move for Papers.
My Lords, I thank the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, for giving the House the opportunity to debate this important subject. The millennium development goals are a set of admirable strategic targets, which are designed to uplift the lives and experiences of people in what Jeffrey Sachs, director of the Millennium Project, has described as “the interconnecting world”.
I shall comment on millennium development goal 3, which is,
“to promote gender equality and empower women”.
The 2007 UNICEF report, The State of the World’s Children, sets out in graphic detail why there continues to be an urgent need for international action to improve the circumstances of women. We learn, for example, that only 43 per cent of girls of the appropriate age in the developing world receive secondary-level education. In some parts of Africa, the figure is only a little over 20 per cent. We also read of the continuing practice of child marriage. We read that girls under the age of 15 are five times more likely to die in pregnancy than post 18 year-olds and that babies born to girls under the age of 15 are 60 per cent more likely to live for less than 12 months.
The most shocking information that I have found relates to decision-making in the home. In four African countries—Burkina Faso, Mali, Nigeria and Malawi—more than 70 per cent of male heads of households make the sole decision on matters relating to their wife’s health and medical care. In Malawi, Nigeria and Mali, more than 60 per cent of such men solely decide on household expenditure. In Mali and Burkina Faso, 60 per cent of men make the sole decision on whether the family will visit friends and relatives.
Interestingly, in 2003, research conducted by the International Food Policy Research Institute in Washington DC, showed that major determinants of decision-making in the home included access to or control over income and, importantly, levels of education. Of course, education is important for improving access to employment, but we can see here that it is also about improving confidence and providing these women with the means to gain control of their lives and to instil a sense of confidence and dignity into themselves and their children.
The objectives of the MDG programme are admirable. However, recent reports, including the Action Aid report on women and the millennium development goals, show that those MDGs farthest off track are those relating to women. Forty countries risk not achieving equal school enrolments for boys and girls until after 2025. The same report highlights the position of women under each of the MDGs and provides statistics to show that women and girls continue to be the majority of those experiencing hunger, those with little or no access to land and those with no access to education. They are not included in decision-making bodies, they die younger and they die of preventable and avoidable pregnancy-related causes. Also, more women than men live with HIV/AIDS and women are mainly responsible for fetching water.
WOMANKIND Worldwide, one of the NGOs that has campaigned on these issues for many years, has expressed disappointment at the level of progress being made and believes that this is due to a failure to address discrimination against women in all areas of the MDGs. MDG 8, for example, which is about global partnerships, should require Governments to build on and honour existing international agreements such as the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women, commonly known as CEDAW. Closer monitoring is called for on how aid impacts on gender inequality and there are calls for the diversification of aid to make sure that it reaches the smaller local and grass-roots organisations.
In September 2008, the UN high-level panel review of the millennium development goals will meet. Calls are made for Governments to commit additional resources to the delivery of the MDGs, and MDG 3 in particular. Reference is made to the need to address violence against women and to the protection of women and girls during and after armed conflict. Again, we already have a mechanism to deal with this; namely, United Nations Resolution 1325, which must be much more widely promoted and built on.
I have two final thoughts. First, the lack of quality gender-disaggregated data stymies our ability to determine the most productive way forward and to target effectively our resources. Secondly, we call for gender budgeting; that is, the analysis of the particular impact of expenditure on women and girls. This is a useful tool and can help to ensure that programmes and policies hit the intended targets.
My Lords, I, too, congratulate the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, on securing this hugely important debate. It allows us once again to concentrate our mind on issues that are so often pushed to the side of people’s immediate thought processes. I shall concentrate on India, which is unique among the developing countries as it boasts massive economic progress and yet, in what is almost a contradiction in terms, is facing greater disparity and less economic access and opportunity for those at the bottom of the social and economic ladder.
As a frequent visitor to India and as one of Indian origin, I am incredibly proud of the huge progress that my country of origin is making on the world stage. India is undergoing a phenomenal transformation and we should all applaud its achievements. Yet I hope that we do not lose sight of the fact that 600 million people live on less than $2 a day, with 300 million of them on less than $1 a day. Social and economic inequality is detrimental to the health of any society, especially when the society is as diverse, multicultural and overpopulated as that of India. Slow and unequal social mobilisation in various parts of the country has led to uneven economic growth, caste and social polarisation, low levels of literacy and educational attainment, and limited access to natural resources. All these impact on the life qualities of individuals.
In rural areas of India, the ratio of hospital beds available to the population is more than 15 times lower than it is for those in urban areas, while the ratio of doctors is around 6 per cent lower and per capita expenditure on public health is more than 7 per cent lower than in urban areas. This growing inequality in health and healthcare spending affects largely the marginalised and socially disadvantaged population. The infant mortality rate of the poorest 20 per cent of the population is 2.5 times higher than that of the richest 20 per cent. A child in the low standard of living economic group is almost four times more likely to die in childhood than one in the high standard of living group and a female child is 1.5 times more likely to die before her fifth birthday than a male child. At the last census in 2001, the statistics showed that there are just 927 girls per 1,000 boys, a ratio that had declined from 945 per 1,000 in 1991.
I was in West Bengal a few weeks ago and I am grateful to the West Bengal Legislative Assembly for its invitation. The visit provided parliamentarians with an opportunity to have free and frank discussions about many of the issues that this debate will raise. Given our historical links with India, it is crucial that we encourage its politicians at all levels to recognise that the prosperity of a nation is valued by what happens to the poorest in its country.
It deeply troubles me that a person from the poorest quintile of the population, despite facing greater health problems, is six times less likely to access hospital care than someone from the richest quintile. There are three main reasons for this: geographical distance, socio-economic distance and gender. Poor access to health centres and basic healthcare is pronounced among families with little or no education. Poor transportation facilities add to the difficulties of access and little in the way of incentives is given to doctors and nurses to move to rural areas. Maternal mortality therefore remains much higher in rural locations.
The picture remains bleak in urban slums, too, where mortality rates for infants and those under five of the poorest 40 per cent are as high as those in rural areas. Urban dwellers remain extremely vulnerable to macroeconomic changes which impact on their earning capacity. Rising food and utility costs add to the difficulties of accessing nutritional food and people therefore opt for cheaper versions. Added to this are poor sanitation systems, poor housing and inadequate education, which expose urban dwellers to the increased risk of disease.
Particularly affected is the female population. In countries such as India, gender discrimination still exists on a large scale and females remain socially, culturally and economically dependent on men. They are still predominantly excluded from decision-making and are seen as an economic liability, mostly due to the dowry system. Maternal mortality rates have increased from 424 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births to 540 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births.
India has also seen a resurgence of many infectious but curable diseases, such as dysentery and diarrhoea, which kill about 600,000 children each year.
Greater focus on education and healthcare are the major pins in the eight millennium development goals. I understand only too well the complexities of India—a hugely successful multicultural, multilingual and multireligious country—so I understand that the solutions are equally complex. DfID and major aid agencies do excellent work in India but it is crucial that proper outcomes are set, recorded, tracked and monitored, that scrutiny takes place and that there is more equal partnership work to give ownership to the recipient countries.
My Lords, I, too, congratulate the noble Earl on bringing this subject to us today. It is a most important issue. I will spend my allotted time stressing and underlining many of the issues he and other contributors have already raised. I shall concentrate my remarks on the progress with the MDGs in Africa, noting my interests as a founding vice-chairman of the Africa All-Party Parliamentary Group and as a council member of the Association of European Parliamentarians for Africa.
Not all African countries are poor, but all are to an extent off target in plans to meet the MDGs. In the UN’s progress by region report, produced at the halfway stage in 2007, the most extreme region by far is sub-Saharan Africa. In only one of its bands—measles immunisation, which is a subset of Goal 4, to “Reduce child mortality”—was the region on target. On the other seven goals, sub-Saharan Africa’s column was sending out alarm signals; every one either off target, making no progress or actually in reversal.
While sub-Saharan Africa might be the cause for broadest concern, some specific MDGs across the developing world in themselves were resisting progress. With regard to Goal 6, combating HIV/AIDS was off target or showing no progress in all the regions looked at in the developing world, while reversing the spread of malaria and tuberculosis was off target or showing no progress in five out of eight regions.
I return to Goal 4, which aims to reduce child mortality of under-five year-olds by two-thirds. Four out of the eight developing regions were on target in 2007 to meet that MDG. That is encouraging, to a degree, but you have to consider that, according to Save the Children’s latest work, nearly 10 million children globally are still dying before the age of five every year. Of those, 4.8 million deaths occur in sub-Saharan Africa. At this rate of progress, the target to reduce mortality by two-thirds will not be met until 2045.
That fact could well highlight a design flaw in the MDGs. They seem to ignore the issues of equity and distribution, which Save the Children is rightly calling for Governments to place a much greater focus on. Although the United Nations maintains an MDG indicator database for individual countries as well as regional trends, there are problems with some of the data used for calculating the MDGs. There are data quality issues with birth and death registrations and cases of malaria and TB, which will remain until the PARIS2l consortium is successful in promoting high quality statistics in developing countries.
The question is: how will the goals be achieved? More aid seems to have been, to some extent, the accepted knee-jerk reaction—the argument is merely about how much aid. Some $50 billion per year in additional assistance seems to be the figure generally used as the amount needed to meet the MDGs, according to the United Nations’ Zedillo report, and the Gleneagles summit agreed to the doubling of aid by 2010. It has to be pointed out, however, that while increased aid will certainly help the more successful developing countries to reach their MDGs, it is not in itself the solution to pulling the poorest out of poverty.
In its report on strengthening parliaments in Africa, the Africa All-Party Parliamentary Group stressed that development partners must work in step with one another. Approaches need not be uniform but they should be co-ordinated, sharing information and insights, reducing duplication and dividing labour according to comparative advantage. Donors should do more to form common streamlined arrangements. Aid to developing-country Governments, particularly in Africa, through direct budget support, strengthens the particular recipients but risks making them more accountable to the donors and less accountable to their people through their parliaments. In that regard, the current European Commission Paper, The EU – a Global Partner for Development: Speeding Up Progress Towards the Millennium Development Goals, is welcome.
The lack of clarity over accountability for delivery and the national, regional, or global focus of the MDGs are highlighted by the Commission as outstanding concerns. It has identified four priority areas for action by the EU: aid volumes; aid effectiveness; EU policy coherence; and aid for trade. From the Explanatory Memorandum prepared by DfID, it appears that our Government are solidly behind the proposals set out in the European Commission document, but perhaps the Minister could elaborate on that in her response.
While the global response towards the MDGs, particularly regarding poverty reduction, has been encouraging, there is a risk of Africa being left behind. The key to Africa’s destiny lies in and with Africa, but the support of the international community, as pledged at Gleneagles, can serve to bolster African nations in their efforts; in particular, with help in developing the health and education systems that are essential precursors to the continent making real progress towards the achievement of the MDGs. In that regard, the United Kingdom has a responsibility to continue to play a leading role.
My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, for initiating this debate. It is entirely right and proper that, at a time when the focus of so much of our media is on City bonuses and house prices, we should focus on those for whom one meal a day and a roof over their head at night is a luxury.
Targets have their detractors, but those of the Millennium Development Goals really matter, because meeting them will save the lives of millions and failing to meet them will cost the lives of millions. Furthermore—and this is an important point—all countries have accepted and reiterated their commitment to them in the 2005 Millennium Development Goals summit. All countries have an obligation to do all they can to fulfil them, and that means the Governments of poor countries as well as the rich. This is a global task and a global responsibility.
As other noble Lords have said, there have been successes, particularly in Asia and Latin America, with some targets met and others on course. That is hugely encouraging. But elsewhere, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa, the lack of progress on many of the goals is deeply worrying.
I shall focus specifically on the three health goals: reducing child mortality; improving maternal health; and combating disease. I want to focus, too, on the challenges of meeting these goals in the most difficult circumstances of all: in fragile states where conflict, extreme poverty or sheer bad government mean that people are simply not getting the basic care that they need and deserve. I must declare an interest as chair of the trustees of Merlin, a medical aid NGO which operates in around 20 countries in just these circumstances.
The figures for sub-Saharan Africa are appalling. I take child mortality as an example. The proportion of children who die before they are five in the region as a whole was in 2005 about 17 per cent. In some countries, it is far worse. In the Democratic Republic of Congo, it is more than 20 per cent; in some regions, it is higher than that. More than one child in five dies before the age of five. Or let us take maternal health. The chances of a woman dying in childbirth are one in six in Sierra Leone and one in 38,000 in Britain.
Of course, not all is as bad as that: as the noble Lord, Lord Chidgey, has just said, the incidence of measles, a huge killer in Africa, is falling as vaccination spreads. But overall, this degree of poverty and vulnerability anywhere in the world in the 21st century is simply unacceptable. And conflict makes it worse still. The war in Liberia reduced the number of doctors in the country from 237—which is not, one might think, a huge number—to fewer than 20.
As the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, said, poverty and vulnerability of this kind are insidious but avoidable. That, too, is a point on which we need to focus. So what is to be done? As other noble Lords have said, part of the answer is finance. Like others, I congratulate DfID on its commitment over the years to poverty eradication. I hope that it and the Government as a whole will continue to lead both by example and by exhortation, notably at the European Union and G8 summits coming up this summer and the UN summit this autumn. I also welcome the Government’s commitment to the International Health Partnership, which is crucial in ensuring that the many committed actors in this field work together. I would welcome an assessment from the Minister at the end of this debate of progress in the International Health Partnership, launched last year.
As other noble Lords have said, the key point about funding is that it needs to be properly directed if it is to have effect. During and in the immediate aftermath of conflict, emergency humanitarian aid is essential. I pay tribute to the humanitarian operations of both the United Nations and the European Union in responding to really very difficult circumstances at present. The role of NGOs is also crucial. But even at this emergency stage, just after conflict, particularly as things begin to stabilise, donors need to focus not only on meeting emergency needs but on building up the basic capacity of health systems to cope with longer term needs. If that does not happen right from the beginning, there will be no chance of moving through that rather difficult process from emergency through transition to, we hope, recovery. In that context, training medical, nursing and support staff is fundamental—and I greatly look forward to hearing what the noble Lord, Lord Crisp, will say on that.
Even better would be to prevent conflict. I wonder if, at the end of the debate or perhaps later, the Minister could say what progress has been made in putting into practice the doctrine of responsibility to protect which was agreed in the UN summit in 2005—the principle that states are primarily responsible for protecting their own populations from genocide, war crimes and ethnic cleansing but, if they do not, they should be or can be encouraged to do so by others. I know that that is a delicate issue but if that doctrine could be developed and put into practice, with a very clear humanitarian objective, it could make a difference.
My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Earl for this very timely debate. I am especially grateful to follow the noble Lord, Lord Jay, because some of the things that I want to draw attention to have been notably taken up in his remarks.
I want to pick up on a word used by the noble Earl in his introduction, and in the speech that we have just heard—the word “conflict”. I begin by quoting a paragraph from the UN’s 2007 report. On page 4, it says:
“Insecurity and instability in conflict and post-conflict countries can make long-term development efforts extremely difficult. In turn, a failure to achieve the MDGs can further heighten the risk of instability and conflict. Yet in spite of a technical consensus that development and security are mutually dependent, international efforts all too often treat them as independent of one another”.
I want to illustrate the deadly seriousness of those words in this context, with reference to only two areas of the world—though among far too many; namely, the DRC, with particular reference to its eastern side, and the West Bank and Gaza in Palestine.
In the DRC, after so many terrible years and elections a couple of years ago with vast EU and other support, and with the assistance of the largest UN force currently operating, the January Goma accord is by no means working. There are a range of armies and militias; the national army is profoundly inadequate and a damage to security in itself. Well over 1 million people are away from their homes and their fields, whether in camps or in the bush. Thousands are dying every month from violence, disease, exposure and malnutrition, aided and abetted by the systematic trashing of the basic facilities, such as schools, churches and rudimentary health facilities. NGOs are greatly hampered from operating and the levels of rape are as high as ever, if not higher. There are other places where that is the case. Progress with the MDGs is clearly going backwards on every count and according to every witness.
There is a horrifyingly similar story in everything that is to be read and learned and listened to, not only about Gaza but throughout the West Bank. Palestinians have recently been described as the highest per capita recipients of aid in the world. Any aid is for survival: for humanitarian needs rather than development. A very recent report on a number of aid agencies spoke of a humanitarian implosion in Gaza. It described the West Bank as now being equal in deprivation, difficulty and insecurity to the poorest developing world countries. Here, too, progress with the MDGs is frankly impossible.
If we are serious about the MDGs—as our own and other Governments admirably mean to be and have been working to be—we have to be particularly serious about the most intractable places and the most vulnerable among the many vulnerable millions. That is a serious matter, because the former Prime Minister's Africa report of 2005 was much better at the places where things were less difficult than about where they were more difficult. I have tried to chase up the work of the Africa Partnership Forum, to which, amazingly, the Government have delegated work. Has this House ever had a debate on the Africa Partnership Forum? No. I have asked Ministers on a number of occasions for one but to date it has not happened. The Africa Partnership Forum is dealing with easier rather than more difficult issues—the most attractive issues, not with the most intractable places. The question posed by the noble Lord, Lord Jay, about what is to be done is critical. It requires fresh prioritising by our own and other Governments—by the EU Governments in particular and therefore our own among them.
What is to be done would be another debate in itself, but there are all kinds of questions about joined-up government. There is the delicate matter for this House and for this Government of reviewing the wisdom of running down the Foreign Office and the skills of sheer, persistent diplomacy, even if it has sometimes been run down in favour of DfID. There is patient, energetic, skilled and knowledgeable diplomacy to be done. There are huge questions, not only about accountability for aid in the most difficult and conflict-ridden places, but, as the noble Lord, Lord Jay, suggested, about protection and how that can be offered in places of extreme difficulty.
In the case of Palestine, we have to get into a position where we are not simply sitting apathetically assuming that that terrible situation will go on and on, especially as I continue to believe—whatever I am told by Government Ministers—that our failure to work at the issues of Palestine is serious for a whole range of other issues throughout the Middle East and in this country. In my last sentence I want to take up the noble Earl’s point that everything that we were talking about points to a scourge much greater than terrorism—now there is a challenge for the Government’s priorities.
My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Earl for initiating this debate. My concern is not so much with the nature of the MDGs themselves but with how possible it is to calculate progress or measure achievement with anything approaching scientific credibility.
I declare an interest as a patron of an organisation called Evidence for Development, which specialises in assessing the impact of development programmes. Evaluation, assessment and measurement, when talking about human societies, is a tricky science to which many hours of statistical study have been devoted. Such evaluation is increasingly refined and figures are constantly re-jigged. There is now, because of the MDGs, a worldwide commitment to numerical targets and deadlines. The problems are as follows. For each MDG the baseline from which most surveys take off is more often than not flawed, but most aid organisations, including the UN agencies, continue to rely on distorted government statistics which are manipulated for political benefit. Armies of evaluators regularly carry out surveys which may be too simple to be useful, too limited to assess overall impact or too technical to be implemented with any confidence in the results.
We may argue about what the MDGs actually represent: a common vision of what matters most for improving the lives of people in poor countries, as one commentator has put it; or a measuring exercise. To aim to reduce maternal mortality but fail to prove that it is in fact decreasing seems to me not only irresponsible but senseless. To have a genuine desire to help a community without knowing how best to do so is neither cost-effective nor honest.
Is a reduction in child mortality due to health intervention or is it a more general effect of factors such as knowledge transfer, access to markets and the like? Tanzania's decrease in child mortality is probably due to massive inputs of anti-malarials, bed nets and immunisation. But no one will know exactly unless these inputs suddenly cease. In fact, AIDS aside, mortality in Africa has been falling steadily for decades and no one is entirely sure why.
MDG 6 aims to reverse the incidence of malaria. However, the indicators chosen to chart progress are essentially unmeasurable. A WHO report funded by the UK Government is damming. It talks of
“a failure to clearly define goals and priorities”
of the measurement strategy at all levels; insufficient guidance given to countries on data collection; and no acceptable sampling methodologies employed, with the result that the data
“are essentially meaningless and impossible to interpret”.
Does it matter? After all, is not some aid better than none? It does matter because the wrong aid may be worse than none, and ineffective aid necessarily precludes more appropriate assistance. Furthermore, if progress by whatever means is detected surely we should know what has caused it. Otherwise how can we build our knowledge of what works and what does not? A second and more persuasive argument for getting it right questions the understanding of development itself. Is it a slow but logical process of political and economic change leading to greater national income and a subsequent increase in services leading to reduced mortality, more HIV drugs, education and communications? And if so, can it be speeded up by vast injections of money, including budgetary support? If it is the former, one has to ask what will happen when the foreign aid flow stops, as it must do at some stage.
No one should argue for less investment in global development, but it is legitimate to ask whether the MDGs are the best tools to advance the well-being of the poorest communities of the world and, if not, what would be a better approach.
As 2015 approaches, the UN still lacks data to prove whether the MDGs are being met. Journalists will be quick to challenge claims and disclose errors and these will be used to discredit foreign aid. This would not be a happy outcome but there is still time to act to pre-empt the embarrassment of failure.
My Lords, I, too, congratulate my noble friend Lord Sandwich on securing this debate and on his wide-ranging and challenging introduction. As he and others said, the debate takes place in the context of the UK being one of the leading—perhaps the leading—and most influential countries in international development today. I approach this debate in the hope of being able to influence policy, even to a tiny extent, to enable it to become more effective and have greater impact not only as regards its own activities but in its influence on other people’s.
This leading role is greatly to the credit of the Government, but it is also greatly to the credit of the very many people in the UK who are active in the field of international development, whether they are individuals doing things on their own account—we have examples of such people in your Lordships’ House—NHS organisations or universities. The UK has a great tradition, body of knowledge and expertise in international development. I am grateful for the Government’s recent response to my report, in which they said that they would do more to support people to deliver their international development goals.
In the short time available, I will pick up one key issue, which is that the principal constraint on better progress with the health millennium development goals is the shortage of trained health workers. Something like a billion people in the world do not have access to any kind of health service. That means that they do not have anyone to turn to for advice, information or help—sometimes for the simple knowledge that is needed. As a result, as we have heard from many noble Lords, many millions of people die or are disabled or damaged needlessly from things that could be avoided.
Why is there a great shortage of health workers? It is partly about migration, which we have heard about, not just to the developed world but to South Africa and other countries in Africa. It is partly about death; indeed, in southern Africa, there has been a higher incidence of death from HIV/AIDS among health workers than among the population at large. It is partly about an economic framework that in some countries, such as South Africa and Kenya, means that there are unemployed trained health workers. But above all it is because not enough people are being trained and educated.
Let me take a simple example in Ethiopia, a country with a population of some 75 million, a quarter more than the UK population. If every doctor who had been trained in Ethiopia in the past 30 years were still working there today, there would be 4,500 doctors. If you made the same calculation for the UK, there would be more than 100,000 doctors. In practice, there are some 5,500 doctors in Ethiopia—about 2,000 Ethiopians and 3,500 foreigners. Whatever else needs to be tackled, there is a pressing need to strengthen the training and education of health workers in such countries. That applies not just to the more stable countries. As my noble friend Lord Jay said, one of the first things that needs to be done by a country is to move out of active or hot conflict.
My second point is about what sort of workers there should be. Of course, this is about doctors and nurses, but what is needed in Ethiopia, for example, is a very large number of very local health workers who know how to do 20 things right, and do them right all the time, to tackle the things that people die of. It is about clean water, mosquito nets for beds, safe sex, immunisation and knowing what to do with a child who has diarrhoea. A range of simple things can be done.
All the evidence—and there is a great deal of it—shows that such approaches have failed in some places but that, where they have succeeded, they have done so because the health workers have been supervised and well trained, have been able to be trained again and are able to refer on to other workers. You need the whole range, but you need to start and you can do that quickly with a large body of health workers of that sort. Although I will not pursue this, there is, in addition, a great deal of evidence that the way in which health workers are trained and educated is important. That needs to be much more community-based and team-based if services are to be delivered at a local level.
In that context, I was pleased at the announcement 10 days ago by the Prime Minister and Mr Bush that they would support four African countries, including Ethiopia, in developing their health workforces. Can the noble Baroness who is to respond give us a little more information about what that will mean? There are three questions in particular. First, is this new support for increasing the number of health workers in those countries a welcome sign that a higher priority will be given by the Government to the development of health workforces in developing countries? Secondly, in supporting workforce development, will Her Majesty’s Government ensure that the evidence and the lessons that I have briefly referred to about the types of workers and the training that are needed—evidence that comes from as far afield as Brazil, Iran and Pakistan, as well as Ethiopia—are used and applied? Thirdly, will Her Majesty’s Government also ensure that there is proper evaluation and real-time learning from the scaling-up of the workforces in those countries?
In conclusion, there is evidence that a great deal more can be achieved by taking some practical steps and that this can be done if the United Kingdom gives greater priority to the development of trained health workers internationally as a central strand to all its strategies. If the UK also brings into play the extraordinary expertise, good will, experience and track record of the many British institutions that are able to support this, and if it uses its leverage, it can encourage others to do the same.
My Lords, I, too, am grateful to my noble friend Lord Sandwich for initiating this debate on this most pressing subject. I shall try to rise to his challenge of doing a little bit of positive thinking. Many of us from the African diaspora who live here experience a complex range of emotions in relation to Africa. Joy, sorrow, fear, pride and hope jostle for ascendancy as we watch news bulletins that appear to be able to tell us only of conflict, disease, poverty and corruption. This narrative is pernicious and distorts reality. Of course I am not suggesting that the continent does not face huge problems in these areas, but I and others object to the impression that people here are left with: that Africa is solely a continent of failed states with people who can only hold out their hands for charity from donor countries. On the contrary, Africans at home and abroad are energetic in their efforts to unlock the creative and economic potential of the continent. It is this aspect on which I shall focus.
I am grateful to Onyekachi Wambu of AFFORD, an organisation that supports African diaspora entrepreneurs to create and sustain economic development in Africa, for a briefing on some of the areas that I shall outline. The UN Economic Commission for Africa says that every year 8 million new people come on to the job market in sub-Saharan Africa. There is a clear need for a far greater focus on job creation that leads to self-sufficiency. This requires substantive shifts in policy and practice. In particular, it requires recognition that Africans and the African diaspora can harness their intellectual, financial and political capital to support entrepreneurship and to create and sustain jobs in a variety of sectors.
It is my belief that, across the continent, the creative talent that exists is huge and largely untapped. I also believe that supporting the systematic development of the creative and cultural industries can contribute to addressing the majority, if not all, of the millennium development goals. This is particularly the case with visual culture—fine art, carving, sculpture and film. According to the Daily Telegraph, nearly half of the 10 greatest sculptors of wood in the world come from Zimbabwe. Last year, I travelled to Maputo in Mozambique. I was immediately struck by the wealth of visual art in the streets and the markets—virtually everywhere. The artists and craft workers were poor people, often using found materials, working as a collective, trying to entice tentative tourists to buy beautifully crafted material at, what were for us, very reasonable prices.
Investment in the infrastructure and resources to enable creative expression that goes beyond producing clichéd work for the tourist market are sorely needed. Opening up markets for artists and creative workers across Africa and, importantly, in Europe and the USA could not only eventually make a vital contribution to economies but help to dispel myths about the lack of African achievement and about so-called “primitive” cultural traditions that have never engaged with modernity.
Consider this. A bright, intelligent student at a local school was surprised to learn that Africa was a continent, not a country, and was shocked to learn that there were cars in Africa. Imagine the impact of that lack of knowledge on the ways in which people here view African peoples. Conversely, think of the sense of pride and achievement that could come from global promotion of the diverse, vibrant artistic expression of sub-Saharan African people.
I draw the attention of your Lordships’ House to Nollywood. For those unfamiliar with that term, let me explain that it is a play on the word “Hollywood” in a similar vein to Bollywood. Nollywood is straight out of Nigeria and looks set to replicate some of the extraordinary cultural and economic success enjoyed by Bollywood. Since its birth in the early 1990s, Nollywood has generated $200 million in revenue and, with 350,000 people employed in the sector, it is one of the top employment generators in Nigeria. It is extraordinary, therefore, that this success story was not, I believe, mentioned in the 2005 Commission for Africa report.
As well as contributing to economic growth, fostering community and national pride and emancipating the human spirit, the arts can play a significant role in getting messages across to populations with varying levels of literacy and educational facilities. I have met people working in theatre in Kenya who spread knowledge about, and diminish the stigma of, HIV and AIDS through plays and workshops devised for rural and urban communities. I also draw attention to projects such as “Throne of Weapons”, an artwork made of weapons submitted after an arms amnesty in Angola, which not only produced a stunning art object but provoked vigorous debate and conveyed the need to avoid violent conflict in southern Africa. There are many other examples of good practice, which I hope will attract investment and support.
Earlier, I mentioned AFFORD. This UK-based organisation aims to maximise the potential of the millions of pounds-worth of remittances that flow into impoverished households in the developing world from diaspora peoples in the UK. AFFORD is proposing that the Treasury support its scheme RemitAid, an initiative that focuses on practical ways of optimising the benefits and mitigating the negative impacts of remittances through a genuine partnership between African diaspora peoples and the public and private sectors. The idea is that tax relief would be claimed on the charitable remittances sent from the UK to developing countries by UK taxpayers through formal money transfer channels regulated by HMRC. The scheme would be similar to existing tax incentives such as Gift Aid. AFFORD is proposing that the Treasury work with it to devise a workable, secure scheme. I urge the Minister to see whether there is a way of making progress on this important project.
Of course, none of us thinks that remittances or the arts and creative industries on their own will solve Africa’s problems, but each can make a significant contribution and, importantly, help to dispel an assumption of dependency on donor countries. They can help to recognise the agency of Africans and their diaspora and move us towards fulfilling the promise of the continent that is the birthplace of humanity.
My Lords, I, too, congratulate the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, on securing this important debate. In my view, it should be the topic of an annual debate.
I declare an interest. For 36 years I have been an obstetrician. I was born in Tanzania and I support several charities that work in maternal health in Africa. I am a patron of a charity called SafeHands for Mothers, whose director, Nancy Durrell McKenna, works tirelessly with Ethiopia. Another patron—also a Member of your Lordships’ House—is the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy of The Shaws.
Today, I wish to speak only in relation to millennium development goal 5, which relates to maternal health. Its target is to reduce maternal deaths by 75 per cent by 2015 and increase the percentage of women who have birth attendants. Those targets were set in 2000. In 1999, in a debate on international women’s day, I spoke on the same subject—at that time, more in hope. Today, I speak less in hope and more in despair.
During the time allocated for this debate, approximately 35,000 women will become pregnant, 5,000 of whom will suffer severe pregnancy-related complications. Many will live out the rest of their shortened lives with disability and increasing poverty, some discarded—yes, discarded—by their families and communities, and tragically around 180 to 200 will die, 99 per cent of them in developing countries. During every minute that your Lordships speak in this debate, one woman will die—one every minute. A mother’s death leaves a child without a mother; it sucks the lifeblood out of the family, drives the family further into poverty and destitution, and contributes to poverty in that society.
The current figure for global maternal deaths is likely to be grossly underestimated. There has been zero progress on millennium development goal 5, and it is the target that we are least likely to meet. Overall progress in reducing the number of maternal deaths—bar that in a few countries which have been successful in this regard, such as Sri Lanka, Malaysia and Thailand—varies from 0.1 to 1.1 per cent. We need a reduction in the maternal mortality rate of at least 5.5 per cent annually if we are to meet the target, although it is most unlikely that we will. At the current rate, south-east Asia will meet it by 2076, and Africa will probably do so 30 to 50 years later. In my view, the key impediments are a total lack of political commitment—more words than deeds—gender inequality and a lack of women’s rights in relation to health. It is true that Governments, including ours, are investing money and we hear reports of how the projects are supported, but there is no total commitment.
Therefore, I am absolutely delighted to congratulate Mrs Sarah Brown, who on several occasions recently has spoken powerfully and with passion and commitment on this issue in her role as patron of the worldwide organisation, the White Ribbon Alliance. Mrs Brown and many other influential women from the world of politics, business, the professions and other walks of life have come together in speaking out and committing themselves to the cause. I believe that women and women’s movements such as that will change Africa. As Mrs Sarah Brown said in one speech:
“It is clear that we are facing a global tragedy in maternal mortality. And I do not believe that we can begin to resolve any of the problems facing the developing world if we cannot first save the lives of these women. And when we know that 80 per cent of these deaths are easily avoidable, there is no excuse for delay in reducing them”.
For every woman who dies, 30 to 40 suffer from severe pregnancy-related complications. Dreadful conditions, such as obstetric fistula, affect upwards of 2 million women in sub-Saharan Africa alone. I feel that we need a new vision and a new strategy focusing on health systems, because changes in health systems have demonstrated success. I hope that the Minister can provide that vision. Let all of us here today and all those who listen to this debate make a pledge to mothers lost—tens of millions of them—that we will lose mothers no more.
My Lords, here we are, beyond the half-way mark between 2000 and 2015, and yet both overall and in many countries we are nowhere near hitting the targets that we set ourselves. The UN Secretary-General has—rightly, in my view—called for a high-level meeting in September this year to review progress and, we must hope and urge, to carry out a mid-course correction of a substantial kind. In declaring an interest as the chair of the United Nations Association of the UK, I should like to add how strongly that organisation supports both the noble Earl’s initiative in calling this debate and the UN Secretary-General’s review conference.
The title chosen for our debate, which focuses attention on the poorest countries, reveals in itself one of the weak spots in any system which sets overall goals for a huge diversity of countries—some already beyond the point where they can really be considered developing countries at all, some making good progress towards the goals, and some even moving sharply away from them in the wrong direction. In such a system, the successes of the few—particularly if, as is the case with a number of Asian countries, they are also hugely populous—can mask the failure of the many. Those poorest countries, many of them in sub-Saharan Africa, make up what has eloquently but shamefully been called by Professor Paul Collier the “bottom billion”. Not only are they at the bottom now but they are fated to stay there unless we and they do something about it. The plight of those countries, mainly in Africa, was recognised at Gleneagles, when specific targets were set for the delivery of increased aid to Africa, but those targets are not being met and they need to be if the situation of the bottom billion is not to get even worse.
Another weakness of an overall system of targets such as the MDGs is that it gives the impression that, if sufficient financial resources are made available, all will be well and the targets will be met. That is far from being the case. Civil wars, regional mayhem and bad governance can all completely frustrate any progress being made towards the MDGs in individual countries and in whole regions. One has only to look at the Congo, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Côte d’Ivoire, Somalia or the Darfur region of Sudan to see the first two of those phenomena in action and at Zimbabwe and Burma to see the third of them. So, stabilising the security situation, bringing civil wars to an end and post-conflict peace building are, and often will continue to be, a sine qua non for making any progress towards achieving MDGs across a considerable range of countries. That is why we need to devote more effort and give more support to the UN and regional organisations, such as the African Union, to help in these situations. I hope the Minister can say something of what is being done in that respect, and in particular what steps are being taken to make a reality out of that responsibility to protect—to which my noble friend Lord Jay referred—which was endorsed with such a flourish at the UN summit in 2005 but which has remained virtually a dead letter ever since.
Bad governance is perhaps even more difficult to remedy, particularly when the neighbours of the countries so misgoverned are so reluctant to see any meaningful steps taken, and yet it is that same bad governance which can render the MDGs completely nugatory. You cannot progress towards the goals when your inflation rate is measured in thousands of percentage points or when a massive proportion of your gross national income goes into military expenditure. And yet that same international community which sets these laudable objectives and insists that they be met turns a blind eye to actions that make them inoperable. We surely need to move away from such an unhealthy tolerance of bad government.
We should recognise that such progress as has been made so far towards the MDGs has been due as much to the prolonged spell of economic growth which has benefited the whole world, developed as well as developing, as to the provision of official development aid. The combination of the two remains crucial. But with a probable global economic slowdown in the offing—indeed upon us in the developed world already—it will be even harder to achieve that than in the past. We must never forget that the economic slump of 1929 onwards which inflicted terrible damage worldwide to both developed and developing countries was caused by a financial crisis being turned into an economic crisis as a result of protectionist trade measures. The siren voices of trade protectionism are already being raised across the Atlantic in the US presidential campaign; they are to be heard in Europe too in connection with the development of policies to deal with climate change. They will need to be resisted if we are to have even the slightest chance of achieving the MDGs. If we are to allow false economies to be made in official aid as a result of an overall squeeze on public spending, then any hope of achieving them would rapidly disappear.
In recent months we have seen another threat emerging to achieving the MDGs: the rapid rise in food and energy prices. This is very much the subject of the moment with many ideas—some good, some misguided and some simply awful—being put forward to deal with these new threats. Yet there is no doubt at all that most developing countries, and certainly most of the poorest ones, are suffering grievously from high food and energy prices and the shortages that go with them. I therefore hope to hear from the Minister how the Government think we should deal with this both in the short term—strengthening the World Food Programme—and in the longer term, eschewing the sort of protectionist policies which we have heard from the French Minister of Agriculture in recent days.
As we head into choppier economic waters the European Union will surely need to continue to give a lead towards achieving the MDGs, and I welcome the Commission's recent communication on that. We need to do that not simply because we have a duty to help those less fortunate than ourselves, although that is indeed a compelling argument, but because it is in our own enlightened self-interest to do so. Globalisation means that we are all each other’s neighbours now. We will achieve neither security nor prosperity for ourselves if the poorest countries, that bottom billion, are left to founder.
My Lords, I too thank the noble Earl for initiating this debate. In this place, just two years ago, I made my maiden speech on the subject of water, sanitation and hygiene and meeting the millennium development goal for ensuring environmental sustainability. I have been very involved in that particular goal as a member of UNICEF's global task force for water sanitation and hygiene.
As we have already heard, we are now halfway through the MDG target of 2015. Although much good work has taken place, there remains so much more to do. Over 2 million children under the age of 15 live with HIV. Seventy-six per cent of deaths from AIDS in the world are in sub-Saharan Africa, even though the region accounts for only 12 per cent of the world's population. More than 1 billion people in the world struggle to find a drop of clean water. In many areas, women and children are forced to travel up to 12 hours a day to gather cooking, cleaning, and drinking water. When it is found, a single sip of contaminated water can bring disease and death, especially for children. As the noble Lord, Lord Patel, has already eloquently said, every minute, a woman somewhere dies in pregnancy or childbirth, from pregnancy-related causes—causes that could be easily prevented with the right help.
Bono, the lead singer of U2, who has been such a strong advocate for the G8 to take action in Africa, called the MDGs the,
“beatitudes for a globalised world”.
He was speaking at a national prayer breakfast in the US attended by the president, Congress and various heads of state and he said,
“It's not about charity, it’s about justice”,
“Africa makes a fool of our idea of justice”.
He was making the point that we are quite good at charity, quite comfortable with charity, but that our charity is overwhelmed by the reality in Africa and other countries where people live and die day-by-day in extreme poverty and hardship.
Now, in the midst of a financial downturn, we are talking about the need to give more. But even in the midst of the current credit crunch we remain a wealthy country and we must not lose sight of that fact. We must not lose sight of the 26,000 children under the age of five who die around the world every day, mostly from preventable causes; we must not lose sight of the fact that some 1 billion people live on less than 50p a day; and we must not lose sight of the fact that 854 million people—most of them women and children—suffer from chronic hunger or malnutrition.
However, noble Lords are, sadly, too familiar with the appalling statistics. What we sometimes do less well is to recognise how much good work gets done—much, if not most of it, by NGOs. Those NGOs, who are entirely reliant on charitable and government aid, do great work and that can get lost in all the despair, so I would like to tell you briefly about some positive work that is being done by one of the leading NGOs in the field, World Vision. I first came across its work when I met one of its executive directors, Keith Kall. I was amazed by this man. His dedication and commitment are a lesson to all of us. As we sit here today, he is back in Africa, only a few days after his honeymoon, helping some of the poorest people of that continent. I would like to share some personal stories that have been brought to my attention that show just how vital the work that people such as Keith, his colleagues and all the other dedicated staff, are doing.
Reagan is a robust, healthy African boy. He is a lively and talkative character and he makes friends quickly. He has a bright, sharp intelligence and is very funny. His friends say that he could be a comedian one day. He is known in his village, not for that reason, but for the fact that he was born to an HIV positive mother. Thankfully he is free of the virus. His mother has spoken about this in gatherings in her village and made it clear that it was no accident. In March 2004, she enrolled in a World Vision programme called Preventing Mother-to-Child Transmission of HIV. Without that kind of intervention, the rate of babies getting infected by an HIV positive mother is 30 to 40 per cent. That rate is reduced by half with intervention. We need to see much more of that type of work.
I know from my work on water sanitation just how crucial women are to meeting the MDGs. Indeed, the empowerment of women is one of the goals. World Vision shared with me another example of how they are doing that. Alice is a traditional Masai woman, but she does a lot of things traditional Masai women do not do. For example, she owns a house and cattle. She is a mother of four, but she lives apart from her husband. At 32, she graduated from primary school and she has her sights set on becoming a human rights lawyer. However, her story did not start that way. In her own words she says,
“My father pulled me out of primary school and married me off at the ripe age of 16 to a 40-year-old, abusive man”.
She endured years of beatings and after one particularly severe flogging that almost cost her an eye, she left her husband. Frustrated by her lack of education, she enrolled in the same primary school as her two sons. It was not easy. She was older than the other students and was a mother, but she kept with it and thanks to the kind of on-the-ground local support that agencies such as World Vision can provide, she will continue with her education. In fact, she is looking to a future in which she will defend Masai women and girls and perhaps even change her culture in the process. These are simple stories about ordinary people, but how extraordinary the transformation of their lives has been as a result of the drive to fulfil the MDGs. Dedicated staff such as Keith Kall and organisations such as World Vision really make a difference to people's lives, and I hope others will join me in supporting their work.
The year 2015 is around the corner and we have no time to waste in ensuring that we do everything we can to meet the MDG targets. I commend the Government and the Prime Minister for the recent announcements of increased funding, but it is still not enough. The Prime Minister has called for the global community to redouble its efforts. We have to see even more significant increases in funding and support now if we are even to hope to help the 72 million children who have no school to attend, or the 30,000 African children who will die from diseases that we know how to cure or prevent. We have to help those children because poverty kills one child every three seconds, so we are already too late to help the 120 children who have died while I have been speaking.
If the MDGs are the,
“beatitudes for a globalised world”,
the world cannot wait another 2,000 years. We have less than eight—less than eight years to make sure that all the children like Reagan and women like Alice have a chance to live happy and fulfilling lives; less than eight years to say that our time here made a difference and that we did not allow justice to be made a fool of.
My Lords, I am grateful, like others, to the noble Earl for this timely debate. At the launch of the MDGs, the then Secretary-General of the UN stated:
“We will have time to reach Millennium Development Goals … but only if we break with business as usual”.
In 2007, his successor suggested in a report foreword that there was a mixed record of delivery. He indicated that, despite some notable landmarks along the way such as the 2002 Monterrey conference and the 2005 world summit, we have fallen substantially short in realising these basic promises. Several speakers have made this point.
The 2007 report presents the most comprehensive global assessment of progress to date. The assessment is clear. Progress towards the MDGs is possible only when strong government leadership, policies and strategies that effectively target the needs of the poor are combined with adequate financial and technical support from the international community. Many developing countries—particularly in Africa—have made significant progress in preparing national strategies to achieve the MDGs, but the progress that developed countries have made in delivering fully on long-standing commitments to achieve ODA targets of 0.7 per cent of GNI by 2015 are much less impressive. The report notes that ODA fell between 2005 and 2007 as debt relief declined. We have yet to break the business-as-usual model.
It would be helpful to hear from the Minister how the Government are responding to the conclusions of that report. In particular, it would be good to hear about the steps they are taking to press other Governments to ensure that aid flows to individual countries that have secured national strategies are continuous, predictable and assured, and not tied to purchases in the donor country.
Despite the mixed picture painted in the report, I share the UN Secretary-General’s optimism that, if the political will exists, the MDGs are achievable. My optimism, however, is tempered by a growing awareness that the climate of development is become even more challenging. As our scientific understanding of climate change develops, so its impact upon development becomes ever starker. The Secretary of State for DfID in a speech last month at an event hosted at New York University's Center on International Cooperation, was right to remind his sceptical audience of the warnings of the UN's 2007 human development report. This report showed categorically that climate change is, and I quote directly,
“the defining human development issue of our generation".
Climate change is a cross-cutting issue that affects a range of development concerns, not all of which, such as migration and conflict—already referred to—are captured by the MDGs, even if it threatens all these goals. The development progress outlined by the 2007 report will be increasingly hindered and, in some cases, reversed by climate change. In this sense, the battle against poverty and the battle against climate change are increasingly interrelated. Progress on one front means nothing if we do not make substantial progress on the other.
It is not enough merely to cut significantly our own emissions; we must also help those who are already experiencing the impact of climate change to pursue suitable adaptation policies. This requires not only better integrating climate change assessments into our own development policies, but actively working with countries in the developing world to mainstream climate change into their own national strategies. Despite the encouraging raft of policy announcements and initiatives emanating from DfID, we still have a long way to go on both these issues. Many of the world’s poorest countries still lack the capacity and resources to assess climate risks. Our response to adaptation and poverty reduction is still too top-down.
The existing multilateral financing mechanisms to help finance adaptation in the developing world have so far delivered only around $26 million. This is a derisory amount when compared with the $40 billion that UNDP estimates will be needed by 2015 to strengthen national strategies for poverty reduction. The inequality between countries in their capacity to adapt to climate change is becoming increasingly apparent. Not surprisingly, a number of commentators, including the former Archbishop of Cape Town, Desmond Tutu, now talk of adaptation apartheid. Expressed in diplomatic language, the international response to adaptation, like our response to the MDGs, has fallen far short of what is required. Being a man of faith I remain optimistic that we can, if we break with a business-as-usual model, address these twin challenges in an integrated way to avoid 21st century reversals in human development and catastrophic risks for future generations.
I have spoken in macro terms, but should like to finish by speaking in micro terms; I have always been convinced that small is beautiful. I am pleased to say that in my own humble diocese of Southwell and Nottingham we are launching an environmental policy in June of this year in the hope of substantially shrinking our carbon footprint. MDGs are not micro-distant. We are all intimately and personally involved in making our contribution to this process.
My Lords, I, too, congratulate the noble Earl on introducing this important debate and his fine speech. Our Government deserve credit for their continuing commitment to reach the 0.7 per cent target of national income as aid by 2015. In September last year, in the Comprehensive Spending Review, DfID got the steepest increase of any department in order to keep the UK on track. We have much to be grateful to the leadership of the Prime Minister for.
However, debt relief is being charged against the 0.7 per cent target, as well as the costs of climate change, which were never envisaged when that target was created and were not included in the MDG costings which underpinned the commitments made. The costs of climate change have been estimated at between £50 billion and £100 billion. Already, £900 million has been allocated by the UK to climate change adaptation and mitigation. It is not clear whether this sum and additional future climate change funding will be treated as part of the 0.7 per cent target. Will the Minister clarify this critical point in her response?
Against this background, it is clear that, in addition to meeting the MDGs, funding additional to the 0.7 per cent is required and that new and creative approaches must be taken. The Prime Minister has been at the forefront of developing innovative financial instruments, first through the International Finance Facility for Immunisation which, together with UNITAID, has raised $1.25 billion, and then through the advance market commitment. In addition, other innovative proposals are being developed by organisations such as Stamp Out Poverty, a network of more than 50 UK organisations working on innovative sources of development revenue.
One of those proposals is a small tax on currency transactions which, according to a report last year by the UN University, has the potential globally to generate $33 billion annually. Due to the electronic automation of the markets, it can be put into operation almost immediately. The recently appointed Special Representative on Innovative Finance to the Secretary-General of the United Nations has said:
“We must have taxes on currency transactions”,
and the Secretary-General himself has expressed his support. The All-Party Group for Debt, Aid and Trade, after an in-depth inquiry, has recommended that the Government give serious consideration to the proposal. However, the Treasury has not so far been supportive of such a levy, even though more than £2 billion of extra aid revenue could be generated annually by a duty of less than one hundredth of 1 per cent on sterling transactions alone. Will the Minister outline the reasons for the Government’s opposition to such a levy? Development experts across the world believe that unless initiatives with this kind of vision and scale are introduced, it is hard to see how the MDGs will be met.
As signalled by the noble Earl, I now turn to funding for mental health, probably the most neglected health area in the developing world. Worldwide mental health accounts for 14 per cent of all deaths and disability, and 800,000 die each year from suicide, largely as a result of mental disorders. Such disorders are not simply the plight of wealthy nations; they equally burden the health of developing countries which can less afford to deal with them.
Given its worldwide prevalence, mental health is noticeably absent from the MDGs. None of the indicators for the three health-related MDGs—HIV, maternal health and child health—targets mental well-being. Despite their absence in the MDGs, mental health is present across all three health goals. The HIV infection is associated with rates of anxiety and depression five times as high among people suffering from mental disorders as the general population. In relation to the maternal health goal, I can add nothing to the eloquent address of the noble Lord, Lord Patel. In relation to the child health goal, it is hardly necessary to say that depression in mothers negatively impacts the health of children. The consequences are that babies of depressed mothers have a five times greater risk of being underweight and stunted by the age of six months.
Mental disorders do not receive any specific part of the health budgets in much of Africa or Asia. Most of the countries that do make provision for mental health care do so at a level of only 1 per cent of their health budget. It is essential to recognise that without addressing mental health, the three health-target-related MDGs will not be achievable. It is also essential to recognise that MDGs cannot be dealt with in isolation. I would urge DfID to take account of this in the application of its funds to meet the MDGs and also applaud it for its support of BasicNeeds, a UK charity which does such fine work on mental health in the developing world.
My Lords, we are privileged to be given the opportunity to take part in this important debate and I thank the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, for initiating it. He has been well known to me during the past 20 years. He has not just come into the debate fresh, as I have, because “sustainability” must be his middle name. He has been talking about these issues for many years.
I feel humble to be in the presence of so many people I categorise as knowledgeable and expert. The topic has been debated from all sides and, more importantly, by practitioners who try to assist human beings who are less fortunate than we are who live in this country. In listening to what has been said, I have felt saddened, appalled and angry, but determined to try to do my best.
I am pleased to hear general commendations to the Government for attempting to achieve the targets. In many other spheres, targets are sometimes derided as being inappropriate, but they are sensible mechanisms, or weapons, to use in judging whether one has been serious in trying to meet commitments. I have read the excellent document produced by Ian Cruse in the Library, and we have been well served by it. I am a member of a repertory company that appears regularly in debates on other topics, but I am a stranger to this repertory company, although I intend to attend its debates much more frequently. For someone like me, a layman in the field, it is a most worthwhile document in assisting me to appreciate what has been happening.
Let me give an illustration from my background. The House is well aware, because I declare it regularly, of my commitment to the Co-operative movement and idea. In 1949, I was a student at Stamford Hall, the Co-operative college near Loughborough. Among my contemporaries—I was a secretarial student—were students in management and social science from overseas. There were students from Nigeria, Sudan and India. A special friend of mine was a man called Mavro Mavromatis from Cyprus. In the way of the world, I went to Cyprus in 1976. I had lost touch with him, but said to the official taking us around, “By any chance, does the name Mavro Mavromatis mean anything?”. He went away, came back and asked, “Would you like to meet him?”. I said, “Yes”. He appeared, and he was the registrar of co-operatives in Cyprus. That made my day. I use that to illustrate that the Co-operative movement is very much involved in trying to do what it can in this field, particularly in education and organisation.
In 1895, the Co-operative movement established a body called the International Co-operative Alliance, with millions of people all over the world combining to do what they could to lift the lot of people out of poverty. The principal of the college told me yesterday that there is a co-ordination among the co-operative movements in Europe to try to do what they can in support of these goals. I asked him to give me one or two illustrations of the kind of things that are on his plate at the moment. He told me that members of the staff are in Ethiopia, eastern and southern Africa and Dar es Salaam. They are committed to a programme of post-tsunami reconstruction. In the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, and in the European Union, they are doing what they can. I say that with no sense of self-aggrandisement because, listening to what has been said today, I am conscious that the Co-operative movement is only one of hundreds of organisations which are doing their bit.
The Minister and her colleagues have a great responsibility not to let us and other parliamentarians off the hook. It is far too easy to be sidetracked by other issues—enormous issues that need to be solved. However, in a very busy life, the Prime Minister, members of the Cabinet and everyone in this country who has a place to work and to live, and, above all, a school for their children and a hospital or GP for their wives and family to go for advice, ought to reflect on just how lucky we are to be here. Therefore, I warmly welcome the opportunity to declare my interest in humanity and to pledge to the noble Earl that he can count on me at any time in the future to assist him in his efforts.
My Lords, I should like to focus on the relatively new MDG target, 5B, which is the ambitious target to achieve by 2015 universal access to reproductive health. I am most grateful to my noble friend Lord Sandwich for giving us the opportunity to debate this issue, and in particular for his challenging speech. The reproductive health target is in tandem with the maternal mortality target under MDG 5, but with its own indicators as to whether it is being achieved. It is called 5B because it is a new target that was added in 2005.
As has been said, MDG 5 is severely lagging behind any reasonable timescale, and at present rates, it is most unlikely to be met. In the opinion of those in this field, the new reproductive health element is essential to begin to achieve anything like the intended improvement in maternal mortality, as well as to fulfil the reproductive health commitment, agreed and enunciated as long ago as 1994 at the Cairo conference, that there should be universal access to sexual and reproductive health services. The resources and the will to meet that originally declared intention were never fully forthcoming, but some very considerable progress has been made.
More recently, the faltering progress in this field has been due to a combination of a lack of resources, adverse political climate and language and simple inertia in some countries. In the background in recent years has been the unhelpful attitude of the United States, which may not continue. In this country, my impression is that the relevant department, DfID, wants to do its best in this field in securing resources and encouraging the use of clear and unambiguous language in debating and discussing this issue. DfID and its Ministers should be given credit for recently allocating £100 million pounds over five years to UNFPA for contraceptive supplies, but recently the general level of support from us and other European countries has decreased, partly in the shadow of support for HIV/AIDS and apparently more immediate issues.
Now that MDG 5B is a clearly declared target, we should fully support it and, if possible, take the lead in encouraging others to support it. Apart from anything else, such aid contributes directly to achieving other MDGs and is meant to be one of the most cost-effective forms of assistance. This MDG is about the right to sexual health as part of general health but is also about sustainable fertility levels. In the excellent briefing note by the Lords Library on this debate, our attention was drawn to an article in the Financial Times on 14 March this year by two demographers who specialise in Africa. The article was entitled “Africa’s greatest challenge is to reduce fertility”. It particularly highlighted how in many of the poorest African countries the momentum of continuing population growth will jeopardise general development efforts and, in particular, other millennium development goals. We have been hearing recently how shortages of water and food may become even more acute. This issue has more recently been partly downgraded and diminished by its politicisation and by treating sexual health as being of a contentious nature. There is a danger that we will lose the more direct and hard-won language that followed from the Cairo conference if we agree to compromise for the wrong reasons. We should be leading in resisting that, both in Europe and elsewhere, and I hope that we can continue to take the lead with confidence in future European deliberations.
I shall mention two of the indicators for this MDG target, which are ways of judging its success, although there are four altogether. One is the unmet need for family planning. That has long been a recognised measure of how further assistance can usefully and genuinely be given and is framed in terms of the expressed needs of users. The figure for this is accepted to be hundreds of millions of couples. Another indicator is the contraceptive prevalence rate, which in most poor countries is extremely low. Both these indicators testify to the huge sums of money still required to begin to come anywhere near this declared target of universal access to reproductive health. I can quote the global annual amount required just to meet MDG 5B: it is billions of dollars, of which our share should be additional hundreds of millions of pounds annually. I am not going to quote, and do not have the time to argue for, particular figures, but I remind noble Lords of the very serious amounts of money required, money that in the opinion of many would be a most valuable investment in achieving this and so many other MDGs.
I understand that the Government should be taking the lead on MDGs in the September UN conference in New York. It is vital that our Government, who have a broadly good record on this in the past, should feel able to speak out in direct language about the increased commitment, both political and financial, needed at the global level to take MDG 5 seriously.
My Lords, I, too, should like to thank the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, for securing this debate and for all his work in this area. As ever, this has been a debate with enormous depth and range. This is indeed a key time for us to be debating the MDGs as we are over half way through the period they are supposed to cover, and the G8 and the UN meeting in September on the MDGs are coming up. It is time for us to consider where we are going, whether we are on course to get there and where we might need to take urgent corrective action.
The MDGs are, of course, an artificial construct. The noble Baroness, Lady D’Souza, is right to emphasise that they need proper evaluation. Nevertheless, as the noble Lord, Lord Jay, pointed out, they are a useful set of targets. If we meet them, we will save lives, but if we miss them, people will die. They have helped to focus attention on what needs to be done to tackle poverty, streamline country strategy plans and co-ordinate donors, although we clearly have a long way to go in all these areas.
Underlying all the MDGs is, of course, the relief of poverty. There are some welcome developments and perhaps they point to how best to take things forward. Hundreds of millions of people have been pulled out of poverty over the past 10 years in China and India alone, although hardly because of focus on the MDGs. Challenges remain even in those countries where significant numbers of people remain in absolute poverty, as the noble Baroness, Lady Verma, pointed out in the case of India. This has promoted other concerns, such as the environmental consequences of rapid industrialisation and the growth of urban poverty, both of which were experienced in Britain in its own industrial revolution, though not on the scale of what we are currently witnessing.
As my noble friend Lord Chidgey pointed out, there is a risk of a whole continent, Africa, being left behind. Many of the bottom billion, to use Paul Collier’s expression, are there, as the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, pointed out. However, Myles Wickstead, lead author of the Commission for Africa report, argues that we should be encouraged that some of the conditions necessary for progress towards the MDGs, such as better governance and peace and security, have already started to feed through into significant economic growth in some parts of Africa. The noble Baroness, Lady Young, rightly gave us hope in this area. As the noble Lord, Lord Graham, pointed out, many noble Lords are playing a key role in this field.
That said, none of the MDGs will be met in sub-Saharan Africa if current trends continue. One-third of sub-Saharan Africa’s population is malnourished and, without decisive action, one in six people globally—almost one billion people—will still live on less than a dollar a day in 2015 according to the UN. The risk to us all is clear. Poverty and unrest in one area of the world help to destabilise others. It is in all our interests to address these problems, as the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, pointed out.
How can we generally promote progress? There is a new and encouraging focus on social provision, which is an interesting development. After all, as Britain industrialised, a welfare safety net was put in place at the beginning of the 20th century with pensions, unemployment and sickness benefit that helped to underpin further development. We already know how microfinance transforms the situation of many poor women and their families, and social protection programmes, now recommended by the World Bank, mean that hunger is reduced and children are more likely to be in school. Families prioritise first survival and then their future interests by educating their children.
However, it is not just money. Gender equality is key, as the noble Baroness, Lady Prosser, emphasised. Educating girls improves the position of families, and encouraging the exercise of reproductive rights is central to the empowerment of women, as the noble Viscount, Lord Craigavon, said. The noble Lord, Lord Patel, gave a moving account of the terrible and needlessly high levels of maternal morbidity and mortality. Addressing this needs a great deal of political will, and I am not yet convinced that DfID through and through, as opposed to in particular parts, fundamentally realises how important this is. I welcome the Minister’s comments.
What are the areas of particular risk? What, besides the lack of will and resources, may undermine future progress towards the MDGs? The fragility of states, civil war and bad governance are fundamental, as the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Winchester, and others have said.
There are three areas that I should like to highlight: HIV/AIDS, climate change and the scarcity of resources and increasing food prices. There may be 10 years between infection and death, so we cannot yet know whether the AIDS epidemic has peaked. We are all now well aware of the devastating impact on societies—children left without parents and economic and social breakdown—that results from the AIDS epidemic. HIV/AIDS will never be adequately combated without addressing gender inequality. It is not surprising that AIDS in sub-Saharan Africa is becoming particularly a disease of young women.
The G8 pledged universal access to prevention, treatment and support by 2010, including prevention of mother-to-child transmission, paediatric treatment and assistance to orphans and vulnerable children, but, with less than two years to go, more than 70 per cent of people are not receiving such treatment. Only 11 per cent of women are receiving treatment to prevent mother-to-child transmission. The noble Lord, Lord Patel of Bradford, emphasised the importance of that in the case of the child to whom he referred.
Will the G8 Governments provide a comprehensive plan with annual funding pledges to meet those commitments, and what are the UK Government doing? When does DfID plan to publish its new AIDS strategy, which has been repeatedly delayed? What can the noble Baroness tell us about current DfID thinking on that? The noble Lord, Lord Crisp, and others, pointed to the extremely important need to strengthen health provision, training and retention of staff. I look forward to hearing the response of the noble Baroness in those areas.
As the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Southwell and Nottingham and the noble Lord, Lord Joffe, pointed out, we are just waking up to the potential impact of climate change. We now realise that not only is this a global problem, it is the poorest people who are likely to suffer first and most. Livelihoods in the poorest countries are often dependent on subsistence agriculture. It does not take much to knock that off course and for starvation to follow. As International Alert argues, the hardest hit by climate change will be people living in poverty in underdeveloped and unstable states with poor governance. The pressures in those societies are already very great. Add another, and some may reach breaking point. The background of poverty and bad governance means that many of those communities have a low capacity to adapt to climate change and face a high risk of violent conflict. Climate change will wipe out some of the gains made in the fight against poverty if urgent action is not taken.
I want also to consider what appears to be another downside of development: price increases, especially for such basics as food. That is surely partly the result of welcome improvement in the standards of living of populations in China, India and elsewhere, but which, without further agricultural development, will mean that those on the outside—that bottom billion—will be further marginalised. Do the Government think that the World Food Programme is capable of handling the immediate crisis? What proposals do they have for its reorganisation so that it can better tackle new crises? What research will be needed into agricultural production, and what role will the UK play so that the poorest countries can support themselves? What are we doing through the EU, the world's largest aid donor, in this and other regards?
In the 1960s, the development of Asia was despaired of. It would never develop, not least because it had the wrong religions. Africa often causes despair now, yet we see some hopeful, but very fragile, signs of development. We now need to be looking beyond 2015. What will take the place of the MDGs? Promoting good governance and the expansion of trade is surely as important as promoting aid giving. I challenge the noble Baroness to outline what she sees as the most promising trends in both delivering the MDGs and going beyond 2015 to bring that bottom billion in from the margins and out of extreme poverty. That extreme poverty is both a threat and an affront, which is why this debate and actions resulting from it are so timely.
My Lords, a brief glance at the news wires would make anyone think that the outlook is bleak. I quote:
“We are fighting a losing battle”; “eating away at children's futures”; “It's now or never”.
Those are all headlines for articles that discuss our progress towards meeting the millennium development goals. A key theme in all those articles seems to be that of time—how there is not going to be enough. Thus, as we head into the second half of the period set aside to reach the millennium development goals, it is with pleasure that I, too, thank the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, for moving this important debate. I totally agree with him in his opening May quotation, “To think positively”, also mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Young.
Now is indeed the time to re-evaluate our progress and to set out as clearly as possible what needs to be done to reach those most laudable goals. The millennium summit in September 2000 was a watershed moment for global development. For a decade, agreements and resolutions were made that culminated in the United Nations firmly committing itself to working towards sustaining development and eliminating poverty. The millennium development goals were the result of that summit; they were clear objectives that promised real improvements. Now, more than half way to the target of the year 2015, we are faced with the woeful fact that we may not be able to deliver on our commitments. The importance of that cannot be overestimated. It would be a double cruelty to have provided such a ray of hope to the world's neediest only to have it dashed through mismanagement.
There has been some progress, boosted by the economic progress in China and India. My noble friend Lady Verma highlighted so clearly the big problems that still face people in India—gender discrimination, health and education—and our responsibility. DfID has committed £252 million to reduce maternal and infant mortality in India.
The UN noted that the proportion of people living on less than a dollar a day had fallen from 23.4 per cent in 1999 to 19.2 per cent. It reported that, overall, the world was on track to hit the 15.8 per cent target for 2015. The noble Lord, Lord Joffe, spoke about DfID’s aid budget. I noted that there is a new DfID programme of £27 million for education in China for more than 5 million disadvantaged children.
Those statistics betray a troubling fact about our progress. As the noble Lord, Lord Jay—I commend his work with the Merlin charity—mentioned, it has not been evenly achieved. Although the world target for poverty might be within our grasp, the UN admitted that the benchmark proportion of 23.4 per cent living on less than a dollar a day in Africa will not be met through current efforts, as the noble Baroness, Lady Northover, said.
The goal of universal primary education is similarly unbalanced: 30 per cent of the children in sub-Saharan Africa and 12 per cent globally are out of school. Ninety per cent of all child deaths occur in only 42 countries, 39 of which are in sub-Saharan Africa. The amount of aid sent to sub-Saharan Africa is considerable. Yet in terms of progress, it is still lagging far behind. How does the Minister plan to address this? What plans does she have to target this region more effectively and to make certain that the focus is on outputs, not inputs?
According to the UN, the status quo commitment would mean that the target of halving the proportion of underweight children will be missed by 30 million children. Does the Minister have a plan to get us back on target? This issue is particularly poignant in the current economic climate. This year, the price of grain and rice commodities has increased by 40 per cent, which has largely been attributed to changing uses of land and to maladministration. The concern now seems to be not only about making progress, but also about the ability to afford even maintaining current levels. What conversations has the Minister had with the Treasury on the impact of current economic difficulties on the effectiveness of foreign aid? Could she outline ways in which strategies have changed to take into account the increased price in providing food aid?
Of all the millennium goals, those focused on healthcare seemed to be the least likely to be met. For this reason, the UK-led International Health Partnership was launched on 5 September 2007 to address the insufficient progress. What has been its effect? Can the Minister point to any specific impacts that the partnership has had to date, particularly on the shortage of health workers, about which the noble Lord, Lord Crisp, asked a very good question? In particular, what is being done to address the spread of HIV/AIDS? The UN report cites that by the end of 2006, an estimated 39.5 million people worldwide were living with HIV, up from 32.9 million in 2001. That is to say that in five years the increase in the number of people suffering from HIV is greater than the entire population of Switzerland. The number of people dying from AIDS has also increased, up to 2.9 million in 2006. The UN cites the use of non-sterile injecting drug equipment as the primary means of transmission. These are very sad facts indeed.
The Conservative Party has committed itself to increasing international aid, working towards achieving the UN’s target of spending 0.7 percent of national income on aid by 2013. Yet we must be ever mindful of the trap that this Government seem to be almost too keen to fall into—throwing money at problems and ignoring the results. This is why my honourable friend Andrew Mitchell in another place proposed to establish an independent aid watchdog to provide impartial and objective analysis, as I said in a Question to the Minister on 24 April,
“of the effectiveness of British aid”.—[Official Report, 24/4/08; col. 1639.]
As well as being independently reviewed, aid must be transparent, which is why we propose publishing the full details of all British aid spending on the DfID website so that the public can see where the money is going and, importantly, its effect.
I could recite more proposals—there is, as the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Winchester stressed, the basic problem of conflict, and, as the noble Baroness, Lady D’Souza, said in her challenging speech on the impact of development programmes, the question of how to deal with wrong aid—because they all stem from a similar position; namely, that aid needs a rethink. The noble Lord, Lord Hannay, emphasised the importance of getting back on track to meet the goals that begin with progress towards better governance in the affected countries. Aid needs to be scrutinised, focused on outputs and directly linked to empowering the poor.
We feel that we can meet these goals, but it will take an aid overhaul. Spending should be untied. That is the first step. It should be linked, too, to genuine progress on the ground that is verified by independently audited evidence. Essentially, we must make certain that the money that is being spent is being well spent and that the aid we provide is making a real difference and having a positive impact.
My Lords, this debate has been, as I knew it would be, a potent mixture of measured, moving analysis and urgent advocacy by a group of noble Lords who have said with one experienced voice that there is no time to lose, that this is no time for business as usual and that getting the millennium development goals back on track must be the top priority for 2008. I could not agree more. I thank noble Lords for their positive support for the work of DfID.
I thank the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, for initiating this extremely important debate and I thank noble Lords for their thoughtful and expert contributions. The millennium development goals were agreed by 189 countries with the aim of securing more prosperous, healthier and environmentally secure lives for millions of women, men and children by 2015. At this half-way stage, it is indeed timely to take stock of what progress has been made in meeting these problems and promises. The plea made by the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Hornsey, for recognition of the creativity in developing countries reminds us that we must always celebrate progress.
I begin by briefly reviewing where the world stands in meeting these promises. We are on track to meet the first MDG target to halve the proportion of people living on less than $1 a day. However, this global progress hides serious regional differences, as the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Winchester, the noble Baroness, Lady Rawlings, and several other noble Lords said. Strong growth in Asia is not matched by similar progress in Africa. Despite improved growth in many African countries, regional levels are not yet sufficient to sustain an expanding population above the poverty line.
We face real challenges in reaching the second target, which is on reducing hunger. Improvements in east Asia, in Latin America and in the Caribbean are again offset by the slow pace in sub-Saharan Africa and south Asia. A changing climate, environmental degradation and rising demand on agricultural land for non-food crops all pose challenges to ensuring that people do not go hungry. Rising food prices, as many noble Lords have said, are already putting millions at risk. The noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, observed this in his characteristically thought-provoking contribution.
The Prime Minister has recently written to other world leaders, calling for co-ordinated responses to addressing this problem. DfID itself has pledged an extra £30 million to support the World Food Programme’s work. The noble Lord, Lord Hannay, with all his experience, quite rightly said that this is the hot issue of the time. It is. As I said, we are giving an extra £30 million of support to some of the countries that are most affected by food-price inflation, including Zimbabwe, Somalia and Kenya. We will also take increased food prices into account when responding to humanitarian crises. In the longer term, DfID is investing £400 million over five years for agricultural research to increase yields and to make crops more robust.
The second MDG focuses on education. More children now have the opportunity that school provides—opportunity that is essential to individual prosperity and national economic growth. Since 2000, 26 million more children are now in school in Ethiopia and Bangladesh alone. That is progress. Despite such successes, however, as the noble Baronesses, Lady Rawlings and Lady Northover, said, 72 million children do not finish primary school. In answer, DfID has committed to provide £8.5 billion for education in poor countries in the 10 years to 2015, with spending set to rise to £1 billion a year by 2010.
Reaching the education target is also essential to meeting MDG 3, which is on gender inequality. The UK is committed to ensuring that girls and boys have equal access to the opportunities that education provides. We also want to see the rights of women integrated into the national plans of developing country partners and we are working to that end. My noble friend Lady Prosser, the noble Baroness, Lady Verma, and many noble Lords have said that there must be a stouter advocacy of women’s rights. In their description of women’s powerlessness, we reaffirm our commitment to poor women around the world.
Good health is a basic need; it is necessary for and improves with economic development. Many noble Lords, including the noble Lords, Lord Jay and Lord Chidgey, and the noble Baroness, Lady Northover, have taken particular interest in health today. It is here where progress has sometimes, as we know, been slowest. On MDG 4, by 2006 child mortality had declined by 20 per cent from 1990 levels, which is progress. But, as the noble Baroness, Lady Verma, so clearly stated, and as the noble Lord, Lord Chidgey, mentioned, the goal of reducing the number of deaths of under-fives by two-thirds will not be reached. At this rate, it will not be reached until 2045, when most of us will be long gone. However, we have many of the tools needed to do this. Improved sanitation, better maternal health and progress in preventing and treating major diseases would get us back on track. Rapid improvements in immunisation coverage, supported through the Global Alliance on Vaccines and Immunisation, show what can be achieved. The UK is a leading supporter of that alliance.
I turn now to MDG 5, which relates to maternal and reproductive health. One woman a minute dies avoidably during pregnancy or childbirth. Many more suffer disastrous long-term health problems. Progress on MDG 5 has been particularly slow, as the noble Lord, Lord Patel, pointed out in his moving and effective contribution. Stronger health systems and more accessible services are needed, a point to which I shall return. MDG 5 also calls for universal access to reproductive health. It recognises that women and men should have the ability to make their own decisions about the size and timing of their lives and their families. In 22 African countries, less then 10 per cent of women are using modern contraceptive methods. The UK has been a strong international advocate for sexual and reproductive health services and last year provided £100 million to UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund. I thank the noble Viscount, Lord Craigavon, for his recognition of that work.
MDG 6 aims to tackle the devastation caused by HIV, TB and malaria by reversing the spread of these diseases. Although progress is lagging in all three areas, there are also signs of hope. More than 2 million people are now receiving access to lifesaving HIV treatments, while countries such as Uganda, Thailand and Senegal show that effective prevention can work. Later this month, and building on evidence of what works—again, this has been said by noble Lords, in particular by the noble Baroness, Lady D’Souza—the Secretary of State will launch a strategy that will confirm the UK’s global leadership on HIV and AIDS.
Progress on HIV is also essential to make progress on TB. Improvements in Asia and Latin America have been undermined by increasing rates of co-infection with TB in sub-Saharan Africa. That is why DfID has invested in promising efforts to develop new TB drugs that will be easier to take and will work if current medicines become ineffective.
Malaria is the third target for MDG 6. Today, 1 million people die each year from malaria—mostly pregnant women and children and, again, overwhelmingly in Africa. Sleeping under insecticide-treated nets can prevent infection, and effective treatment exists. Earlier this month, the Prime Minister announced that the UK would provide 20 million insecticide-treated nets over the next three years.
Across all these diseases, the UK has led the way in making donor funding more predictable. Noble Lords have talked about, and the noble Baroness, Lady Northover, challenged me to talk about, the future. Funding has to be about more predictability for our partners. DfID has made an unprecedented long-term commitment to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria of up to £1 billion through to 2015.
As well as disease-specific action, it is vital that the basic building blocks to provide health services are put in place. As the noble Lord, Lord Crisp, highlighted—we congratulate him on his important work on this—sufficient trained health workers are needed. So, too, are reliable health infrastructure, predictable financing and access to essential medicines. The UK has also worked with developing countries, donors and international agencies to establish the International Health Partnership, to which the noble Lords, Lord Jay and Lord Hannay, referred. The IHP aims to better organise donors, international agencies and others behind country-owned, results-focused national health strategies. This is nothing new. It is not about new mechanisms or funding; it is about doing what we do, but doing it better.
We also have to address the specific needs of health workers. The Prime Minister and President Bush announced in Washington this month that DfID and PEPFAR—the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief—will work together to improve health and to strengthen the health workforce in Ethiopia, Kenya, Mozambique and Zambia.
MDG 7 relates to sustainable environment, water and sanitation. We are all becoming aware of the vital importance of protecting and sustaining the environments in which we live. This means tackling climate change and environmental degradation, increasing access to clean water and sanitation, and managing the impact of rapid urbanisation. Only progress on access to better sources of water is on track. However, as my noble friend Lord Patel of Bradford said, we cannot be complacent. We must put all these back on track.
The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Southwell and Nottingham will welcome the fact, as I hope will my noble friend Lord Joffe, that my right honourable friend the Secretary of State has made climate change and the need for sustainable growth top priorities for DfID. These will guide the UK’s work across all other MDGs. In March 2007, the Prime Minister launched a new £800 million environment transformation fund to support developing countries in meeting the challenges of climate change and sustaining environments.
So what more can be done? What more must be done? I have given an overview of the progress of seven of the eight MDGs. There are signs of hope, but we recognise that the world is at serious risk of breaking its promises. The eighth MDG provides a key to how we can turn the situation around. It calls for a global partnership for development. This means the Governments of rich countries meeting their commitments on international aid and being transparent about how they monitor and are accountable for that aid, as the noble Baroness, Lady D’Souza, emphatically stated. It means the Governments of developing countries and international institutions being more open and responsible for their own actions and it means that poor countries must be able to trade fairly with those that are economically more powerful.
In September 2007, the Prime Minister and the Secretary-General of the United Nations reaffirmed that we can achieve the MDGs, but only if Governments, business, faith groups and community organisations have the will to do so and the willingness to work together. The MDG call to action was launched and today more than 20 countries, representing half the world’s population, have pledged to join. The call focuses on four broad areas: the need to do more to harness growth and job creation; the need to redouble our efforts to bring the opportunity of education to the world’s children; the need to use the knowledge, tools and resources that we already have to improve health; and, last, the need to ensure that people live in sustainable environments with access to clean water and sanitation.
Next week, representatives of the biggest companies in the world are meeting in London to join the business call to action. Civil society has a crucial role to play, as my noble friend Lord Graham of Edmonton said when he spoke of the co-operative movement. Non-governmental organisations and faith groups can and do hold Governments to account for the promises that they make, and Governments must live up to their part, as the noble Baroness, Lady Northover, stated so strongly and as the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Winchester made clear in his moving comments about the conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo. At the G8 summit in July, Japan will re-emphasise the importance of the MDGs in focusing development efforts.
Several noble Lords asked me specific questions. I will do my best to rattle through as many as I can and I shall write to those noble Lords whose questions I have not reached before my time to speak is up. The noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, asked about the further research needed into the role of UN agencies in diverting in-country staff away from local health and other services. We agree that this is an important issue, which should be looked at in the broader context of push-and-pull factors that cause health workers to leave the public sector and/or to seek jobs overseas. DfID has committed £1 million to the Global Health Workforce Alliance, subject to performance, to support co-ordinated research, advocacy and action on addressing the human resource challenge.
The noble Earl also asked in detail about traditional birth attendants. I would say to him that such attendants are important in providing culturally sensitive care, but they often work in basic conditions, have no training in complicated deliveries and have little access to referral. DfID’s approach is to support increased access to skilled birth attendants and to encourage a healthy delivery in a safe facility. DfID is also supporting Governments to enable traditional birth attendants to accompany women in labour to the facility.
The noble Earl and the noble Lord, Lord Joffe, asked what we are doing on mental health and why it is the silent subject, as it were, in our debates. DfID supports research into understanding the impact of mental health issues in developing countries. This includes a five-year research programme in Ghana, South Africa, Uganda and Zambia. DfID is also providing money from the Civil Society Challenge Fund to support work on mental health and development. Our research into mental health is part of scoping work looking at what issues will need to be addressed beyond 2015. This also includes recognising the growing impact of other non-communicable diseases.
My noble friend Lady Prosser asked what DfID is doing to support UNSCR 1325 on women and peace-building. Her Majesty’s Government are a strong supporter of this resolution and DfID is supporting the UN Development Fund for Women to increase their involvement in peace-building and to address sexual violence, a point also raised by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Winchester.
The noble Lord, Lord Chidgey, asked about our response to the European Commission’s package, which was launched on 10 April. I say to him that the papers underline the need for member states to redouble their efforts to meet the MDGs. The UK is working with other member states in supporting the Commission’s efforts to reinvigorate the drive towards the MDGs in line with the call to action launched by Gordon Brown in July 2007.
The noble Lords, Lord Jay and Lord Hannay, asked whether progress has been made in the UN on making good on its responsibility to protect. In February, the UN Secretary-General appointed Ed Luck as the special adviser tasked with working in this field. The Secretary-General will report to UN member states later this year on institutionalising the responsibility to protect within the UN. The responsibility has not been applied to broader areas such as health and, as the noble Lord, Lord Jay, indicated in his remarks, agreement on the whole concept is fragile. We feel that attempting to broaden it to cover health or climate change may risk undermining the consensus achieved at the summit. I shall write to noble Lords in more detail on this point.
The noble Lord, Lord Jay, also asked what progress is being made on the International Health Partnership; I hope that I have covered that in my remarks. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Winchester asked what DfID is doing to support MDGs in the Democratic Republic of Congo. DfID recognises the conduct of peaceful elections in 2006, which was a major step forward for that country. However, many problems remain, particularly the high levels of violence and insecurity. We are committing £70 million to DRC this year to strengthen democratic governance, to provide a peace dividend for the population, to support the provision of health, education and water, and to reduce the suffering of the population.
The noble Baroness, Lady D’Souza, talked about the credibility of the MDG targets. They are aspirational targets and indeed there are difficulties in obtaining timely and reliable data. I shall write to her further on that. The noble Lord, Lord Crisp, rightly put to me many questions about what we are doing on health. I hope that I have covered most of them in my speech, but I will write to him. The noble Lord, Lord Patel of Bradford, asked about new strategies for the MDGs. In addition to our current approach, we aim to strengthen overall health systems, including by increasing the number of birth attendants who are skilled health workers.
I apologise to those noble Lords whose questions I have not reached; I will write to them. I thank all noble Lords who have participated in the debate—in particular, the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich—for their contributions to the cause today.
My Lords, in the remaining moments of the debate, perhaps I may thank all noble Lords who have spoken. I think that it was the noble Lord, Lord Graham of Edmonton, who said that we have been lucky enough to hear from speakers with real seniority and real experience. I will not dwell on the issues, but we shall certainly come back to them. Lastly, I thank the noble Baroness for her very comprehensive response. She is always enthusiastic and I hope that she will remain in her position. I beg leave to withdraw the Motion for Papers.
Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.
rose to call attention to the role of interfaith dialogue in strengthening society; and to move for Papers.
The noble Lord said: My Lords, one of the most divisive elements in our present-day lives is religion. This was never meant to be so, but extremists in many faiths are bent upon exploiting religion for their own nefarious political agendas. Although there is much warmth and friendship in this House, there is a great deal of fear and hatred in the world outside. As the threats in our daily lives have increased, many eyes have turned in the direction of Islam, from whose corner the recent spate of tragic events has emerged. In looking at Islam through its main reference source, the Holy Quran, we see a religion completely at odds with the actions of the perpetrators of the vile acts of terrorism committed in its name. This resulted in voices being raised and questions asked. Do Muslims hate other faiths? Is Islam mainly the religion of fanatics? Are we to witness the start of a clash between Islam and other faiths?
As these questions reverberated, for many Muslims this was a time for challenge and despair. On the other hand, the response of many in the horrified international community was an expectation that the Muslims would put their own house in order. Many now viewed with scepticism Islam’s message of peace and compassion; for if it was true, why, they asked, is it associated with violence and intolerance towards non-Muslims and the poor treatment of women? The answer is that both Muslims and non-Muslims use the holy book of Islam, the Koran, selectively. The events of 9/11 in New York and 7/7 in London, in Spain, Bali and other places, were despicable acts committed by misled youths, wrongly in the name of Islam. Islam not only prohibits the killing of the innocent but is also most severe on the act of suicide. There is a clear Koranic instruction against taking one’s own life. I therefore have no problem stating from the august Floor of your Lordships’ House, for all to hear, especially my co-religionists from the Muslim world, that exploding bombs as an act of suicide to kill innocent people in buses, bazaars, aeroplanes, trains, schools, places of worship or anywhere else, is totally un-Islamic and against the teachings of the Koran. All Muslims, therefore, must do everything to stop this evil depravity.
One of the least understood words in Islamic theology is “jihad”, which is commonly misunderstood by many as an aggressive act of a religion. Not many understand the notion of the greater jihad, which really means to strive. It is misinterpreted in the West, and also in the minds of many Muslims, as a call to religious war. It was explained by the Prophet of Islam as an attempt to control one’s own base instincts and work towards a better and harmonious world. The lesser jihad is to battle physically for Islam, but that, too, only as a defensive action against tyranny and injustice.
Another frequently asked question is: what is the reason for the anger in the Muslim community which leads to acts of aggression? Its origins are attributable to, among other factors, globalisation and world politics. I have often heard people in this country raise the uncomfortable truth that while Muslims rightly enjoy much freedom and the protection of the rule of law in Britain and other democracies, the same does not always apply for non-Muslims, and indeed Muslims, in many Muslim countries. What, then, has gone wrong for the Muslims?
To many onlookers, Muslims appear to be sailing on a ship with neither a captain nor an anchor, drifting aimlessly, buffeted by choppy, turbulent waters. There is clearly a dearth of competent, honest and moderate Muslim leadership reflecting the true faith of Islam and in tune with the 21st century. This leads me to suggest that, along with the problem of leadership, a related important problem in the Muslim community has been the failure of its own socially successful and materially secure role models in engaging with their own communities. The result has been that their less fortunate co-religionists have been left to their own devices in the hope that God will clear a path for the believers and any suffering undertaken in this world will be rewarded in the world hereafter. In such a context it is not surprising that the radicals and extremists have moved in to spread their poisonous message of hate and wanton killing.
Despite the influence of religion, most societies have been suspicious of and aggressive towards strangers who are non-kin and come from beyond the tribe. The embracing of the stranger is challenged by some for fear of diluting exclusive values and identities which they believe should be dominant in the national ethos. This promotes the negative values of exclusivity and hatred. It mobilises its supporters through emotive appeals concerning jobs, schools and homes, recalling ancient wrongs, with bogus threats and character assassination of entire communities.
Can I, then, as a Muslim, recognise God’s image in a stranger who is not a fellow Muslim? Can I see God’s image in a Hindu, a Sikh, a Christian or a Jew? Islam tackles this confusion through a passage in the Koran saying that Muslims should respect all of God’s creation regardless of religion or method of worship. The Koran says:
“Oh you men—we have created you male and female and I have made you nations and tribes that you may know one another. So, the noblest of you in the sight of God is the best for conduct”.
Other faiths have similar advice when faced with some of the same problems of strangers. The Hebrew part of the Bible commands:
“When a stranger lives with you in your land do not ill-treat him. A stranger who lives with you should be treated like a native born. Love him as yourself for you were strangers in the land of Egypt. I am the Lord your God”.
From the ancient Hindu scriptures, Subhashitam, comes this advice:
“This man is ours, that man is a stranger. Discrimination of this kind is found only amongst mean-minded people. Those who are noble, to them the whole world is one family”.
A great teacher and leader of the Sikh religion, Guru Gobind Singh, taught the commonality of religions and the oneness of God. He mentioned that the Ram of the Hindus and the Rahim of the Muslims were the same. The various scriptures of the main religions of the world point to the oneness of God. From the Christian faith the instruction in this context is very clear: love thy neighbour. The Zoroastrian and Buddhist faiths talk of the brotherhood of man.
We must fully participate in a thriving multicultural society in Britain, with different faiths living peacefully side by side. As a Muslim I implore the silent majority of my co-religionists to stand up and be counted as being against any form of terrorism in this country or anywhere else. Let us make sure that our voice is heard loud and clear so that any effort by the terrorists to hide their criminal intent under the mask of religious piety is categorically denied to them and unequivocally rejected by the community as a whole. That is important because, in a predominantly Christian Europe, Islamophobia and anti-Semitism appear to be gaining ground. This results in pressure on the Muslim and Jewish communities. The consequence is anger, confusion and frustration, and God’s vision of a just and compassionate human society remains unfulfilled.
The recently departed 20th century will be remembered mainly for two great wars in which millions were killed and countless others suffered. The wars were European in origin and led to the shameful and gruesome murders in Auschwitz, Belsen, Dachau and other places. In the context of the present, however, we must strive for greater friendship and understanding between all faiths, but especially among the Jews and the Muslims, who have so much tradition in common. The Co-Existence Trust—created by the hard work of the noble Lord, Lord Janner; now ably led by the noble Lord, Lord Mitchell; and of which I have the privilege of being a trustee—is a wonderful organisation created for just such a purpose.
The future of our world is almost certainly with our young people. My work with the Commonwealth Youth Exchange Council, a great organisation of uniquely dedicated officers and volunteers which has done so much for many young people in the Commonwealth, has convinced me that a very important component in our strategic thinking for our future harmony should be a partnership with the young people of today who will be the guardians of our civilised world of tomorrow.
In this context, my message specifically for the Muslim youth is to reject the extremists who take you away from education and responsible citizenship and point you in the direction of self-destructive violence. Whatever hardships and discrimination some of you may experience in the United Kingdom, please consider how precious to you are your human rights, free speech and the freedom to practise your faith in a democratic Britain which seeks to uphold these rights for all its citizens and which compares very favourably to the civil life of Muslims in many Muslim lands. Therefore, my young friends, come out from your mindset of feeling marginalised into the mainstream of the life of this nation, fully participate with panache and enthusiasm and then demand the rewards which will surely come your way.
Like many noble Lords, I am a great admirer of His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales. I recently read a brilliant speech that he delivered at the Sheldonian Theatre in Oxford that is truly remarkable for its interfaith encouragement and vision. I suggest that it should be read by everyone. In one excerpt from that great speech, he said:
“These two worlds, the Islamic and the Western, are at something of a crossroads in their relations. We must not let them stand apart. I do not accept the argument that they are on course to clash in a new era of antagonism. I am utterly convinced that our two worlds have much to offer each other. We have much to do together. I am delighted that the dialogue has begun, both in Britain and elsewhere. But we shall need to work harder to understand each other, to drain out any poison between us, and to lay the ghost of suspicion and fear. The further down that road we can travel, the better the world that we shall create for our children and for future generations”.
Among the many wonderful teachings of the Hindu religion there is one particular prayer from the Atharva Vedas that has come down from thousands of years ago and which I would like to share with the House. Its English translation from Sanskrit goes like this:
“We are birds of the same nest,
“We may wear different skins,
“We may speak different languages,
“We may believe in different religions,
“We may belong to different cultures,
“Yet, we share the same home: our Earth”.
In conclusion, I request the participation and effort of this noble House to rid from our world the menace of racism, extremism and terrorism and to bring the prayer from the Vedas to fruition. I beg to move for Papers.
I congratulate the noble Lord on drawing our attention to the importance of dialogue as a basis for achieving understanding and self-knowledge. Understanding those who are different adds to the sense of who we are.
The Institute for Jewish Policy Research, a social think tank for the Jewish community, has been aware of the need for this kind of dialogue for many years. I have the honour of being president of the institute. As long ago as 1960 the JPR was involved in the dialogue between Christianity and Judaism, particularly between the Catholic Church and the Jews, and for a number of years published a highly respected academic journal on Christian-Jewish Relations, so this dialogue has been going on for some time.
Underlying that, though, there has always seemed to be a paradox that needs to be recognised. That paradox lies in the difference between religion and faith. What divides us is not faith but the practices of religion. The Oxford English Dictionary defines “faith” as trust in the goodness of people. Faith gives rise to good works and to good will, and can easily exist in a multicultural society. However, as the noble Lord, Lord Hameed, explained, religion can be dynastic and tyrannical. It is the practices of religion that lead to fanaticism, to hostility, to violence and to the exclusion of women. It is religion that needs the dialogue, not faith.
So what can be done about that paradox? One of the first lessons that we at JPR have learnt is that interfaith dialogue must extend beyond the professional. The dialogue has to be extended beyond the clerics and the officials of religious organisations; it has to include those in other walks of life to whom religious identity is important. Religion is rarely our sole identity, and there is something very artificial about interfaith dialogue predicated on the notion of an exclusively religious identity. The chances of improving relations between religions are enormously enhanced by locating our efforts in the wider context of all the other things that define us: family, work, sport, intellect, culture. They all play a part.
Over the past two years at JPR we have been trying to put that concept into practice. The project is called “Recreating the European Common Good”, and is generously funded by that farsighted New York-based organisation, the Ford Foundation. The project started with a major series of round-table discussions in seven European countries, including the UK. The problem discussed is a weakening of the sense of shared belonging in European societies, and the significance of religious differences looms very large. Most importantly, because each individual is valued for all the facets of their identities—they are not merely seen as a Muslim, a Jew, a Catholic, a Turk, an Afro-Caribbean or an Arab—the possibility of reaching a more general and more profound understanding of what needs to be done is greatly enhanced. It is this sense of shared belonging that is the key to successful interfaith dialogue. Through the generosity of the Ford Foundation the project will continue for a further 18 months, and from its conclusions we will develop practical recommendations that will be disseminated throughout Europe.
Leading up to that exercise, JPR has followed the same principles in a series of seminars we have conducted in Britain. What emerges is the importance of finding a way in which minority groups can organise themselves to represent their interests. The common ground is universal human rights, as the noble Lord, Lord Hameed, said. We all seem to agree that when religious or culturally specific values come into conflict with the common good, the universal human rights principles must take precedence. Religious understanding is more effectively achieved when people are encouraged to concentrate on the common good, and on the kind of moral and values-based society that faith is meant to achieve.
Interfaith dialogue is a big issue that requires more than five minutes. We are all small players in this drama, but each of us is helping to create a society with a greater sense of shared belonging. That is what interfaith dialogue is about.
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lords, Lord Haskel and Lord Hameed, on the tremendous work they do for interfaith dialogue. Forty-eight hours ago I spoke in this Chamber—I think the noble Lord, Lord Williamson, was here—and said that I felt some trepidation at speaking in a debate that was participated in exclusively and dominated by lawyers. I have that same feeling of trepidation speaking today on a subject in which I have no expertise when there are so many people in the Chamber, particularly the right reverend Prelates and people such as the noble Baroness, Lady Afshar, my noble friend Lord Sheikh and the noble Lord, Lord Janner, who have been involved in the issue of interfaith dialogue for so long.
I want to speak for one reason alone: this is a massively important subject, and the greatest challenge we face in our world is to avoid the clash of civilisations that is talked about so much. We desperately need an interfaith dialogue, not just, as the Motion of the noble Lord, Lord Hameed, says, in order to strengthen society, but, if I may push the Motion a little further, because we need it internationally as well to strengthen what is called “the world community”. Of course you cannot divide a domestic interfaith dialogue from an international one; an interfaith dialogue in this country involves talking to immigrants and to communities that have relatives overseas and have communication all the time with them.
Political and diplomatic relations between Islam and the West, which in my view are at something of a crisis point, need the involvement not just of politicians but of people of faith as well. Politicians such as Mr Tony Blair can play an important role. I pay huge tribute to his decision to set up his own faith foundation, though in his comments on radical Islam he often misunderstands the origin and nature of, and what has created, political Islam.
Interfaith dialogue is important also because there are parts of the world to which the West hardly talks because it does not like the mixture of politics and religion, yet how can you begin to understand that spectrum called political Islam if you do not talk to or engage with it in any way?
Part of the tension between Islam and the West is not a clash of religions, but a clash between belief and unbelief. We simply do understand or appreciate how deep, how embedded or how strong is religion in many parts of the world. Not so long ago, a friend of mine and Member of the other place told me how he went to the Middle East and rather fancied himself as someone who could talk to people of extreme views there. He met someone from the spectrum of political Islam and they did not get on very well. After a while, the Muslim on the other side of the table said, “Well, we are not agreeing politically, but there is one thing we have in common: we believe in the same God”, to which my friend replied, “I do not believe in God at all”. That is the not the way in which this dialogue can proceed constructively. We have an aggressive secularism in the West which is deeply antipathetic to people in other parts of the world.
Another reason that we need dialogue is that the development of Islam in Europe will have an impact on the development of Islam worldwide. Scholars such as TJ Winter at Cambridge have a tremendous impact worldwide, but we hear only about extremists in mosques and not about people who can have a real influence in the evolution of Islam worldwide.
Politics and Islam are intertwined for historical reasons. Arab nationalisms failed and were succeeded by the Muslim brotherhood. Secular liberalism failed and was succeeded by the Islamic revolution. Many things come under the term “political Islam”: Islamism, Islamic democracy, an Islamic republic. They form a spectrum at one end of which is a theocracy and, at the other, people who just want to live under a Government who vaguely support the principles of Islam. We have to recognise that it is a spectrum, not label everyone in the same way and recognise the importance of religion in politics.
Many problems in the Islamic world that most concern us in this House come from a lack of development rather than from religion. The noble Lord, Lord Haskel, said that it is not faith but religious practice that creates problems and tensions. I think that it is a lack of development, which is often wrongly attributed to religion.
I sometimes think that people just expect the values of the Enlightenment suddenly to take grip in foreign countries overnight, without remembering that it took centuries for us to separate church and state. Even in the 19th and 20th centuries, and probably even today, we have laws whose origins are religious. It will take time for the values that we support to take a grip elsewhere. We cannot just expect everyone to become like us.
Interfaith dialogue can enrich our society, as the noble Lord, Lord Haskel, said, and increase mutual understanding. We have much that we can learn from Islam. True Islam is spiritual, internal, about drawing close to God, and nothing to do with blowing up politicians or creating imaginary caliphates. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Hameed, and for the opportunity to make those few, simple points.
My Lords, I must apologise to the House because I hoped to be here in time to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Hameed, on initiating this important debate. I know that in his distinguished tenure of the post of High Sheriff of Greater London he did and continues to do a great deal in the field of interfaith dialogue. Today’s debate is only one more initiative in that record.
It is a timely debate, because the 21st century in our experience is so very different from the times in which most of us grew up. Mark Thompson, the director-general of the BBC, in his recent lecture on faith and the media which he delivered in Westminster Cathedral, traced the evaporation of the consensus which was strongly maintained when he began his career 20 years ago. It is the consensus that Nietzsche was right, that an Entzauberung—a breaking of the spell—had occurred and that it would spell God’s funeral in western European culture in only a matter of time.
However, the 21st century, as the noble Lord, Lord Lamont, indicated, is unlike the 20th century. It is already clear that the 4 billion to 5 billion people in the world who follow some kind of spiritual path are not going to conform to the pattern that we have seen in our own country of relegating religion to the leisure sector. Rather, in a global crossroads such as London, we are feeling the new spiritual turbulence. It is not only the arrival of new religious communities, but also the invigoration of long established ones. In Greater London, the most sober statistics are that, every single week, 630,000 Christians are at worship in more than 4,000 churches. If that were true of any other gathering of citizens, we would regard it as a non-trivial fact. Despite my earnest attempts to repress enthusiasm wherever I find it, I can testify from personal experience that a new generation of believers is making a profound impact on the Diocese of London.
The truth is that we do not live in a secular country; we do not live in a religious country; we do not live in a Christian country. But all these perspectives are present and if we do not have constructive conversation between them, there will be conflict, not least with the dogmatic secularists whose faith is at least as passionately held as any other.
We have to encounter this new challenge of constructive conversation. We begin in a rather poor place because of the low level of our spiritual education. Schools are not the place for proselytising, but, as we face the challenges of this new century and these new circumstances, every child has the right to an education which includes religious literacy, ethical clarity and common values, and spiritual awareness. I stress “ethical clarity and common values”, because, talking to some recent converts to exclusive forms of Christian faith and to Islam, I found a strong reaction, not, as some would have us believe, against our values, but against the vacuum of values, the loss of a clear moral compass and the fragmentation of relationships, above all in the family. That is the context in which many people are turning to extremely exclusive forms of religious faith.
Faith can be and often has been a source of conflict—let us face it. That goes especially in the 20th century for the faiths which sustained the political religions such as Communism and Nazism, which tried to build a heaven on earth and just created a living hell. But faith can also be a resource in circumstances of conflict. To hear some people talk, you would think that the problem really lay between the adherents of the various religions. I have had the privilege of talking to the noble Lord, Lord Hameed, on this subject on many occasions, and there is huge common ground between adherents of the faiths which in their different ways look back to Abraham, and there are also meeting places in the conversation with eastern religions.
We need places and strategies to promote healthful interactions. I object to the general term “faith school”. We do not run our 150 schools in the Diocese of London as a faith monoculture. In our Haringey academy, for example, the students speak 70 languages, from Albanian to Zulu, and profess a variety of faiths. The term “faith schools” is sometimes used to suggest that the head teacher of the local C of E primary is really the sinister agent of some mind-bending cult. What is supposed to be the opposite of a faith school? Is it a “doubt school”, perhaps?
Beyond the schools, I have two further practical suggestions for strategies. First, I commend the progress made in Liverpool in developing the organisation Faiths4Change, which brings the various religious traditions together to work at common challenges facing the environment of that city. Unity comes when you look together in the same direction at a common problem rather than minutely scrutinising one another. That is not a unique example; the approach could be used more widely.
Finally, over the past three years more than 20,000 people from all faiths have participated in the programmes of the centre that I founded in the City of London, St Ethelburga's Centre for Reconciliation and Peace. It was a church that survived the Great Fire and the Blitz but fell victim to the Bishopsgate bomb in 1993. It was rebuilt, still bearing its scars, by a consortium supported by people of every conceivable faith.
There is a great deal of academic work on interfaith matters. We have been trying by practice, trial and error to develop a number of toolkits to help other groups with the how of addressing interfaith tensions. Our work has been greatly enhanced by a tent of meeting, raised thanks to a Muslim donor, made out of goats’ hair and Gore-tex; in the current rain, it has an unmistakable aroma. That is an idea for something that we could spread through all the communities of this country—a place where everybody has to remove their shoes and sit close to the ground, which has made some very difficult conversations possible.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord Hameed for introducing this timely debate and other noble Lords for the valuable contributions that have been made. I shall talk about the experiences that we have had working with Muslim women, particularly in West Yorkshire. One thing that we found early on was the extraordinary lack of understanding, when there was a division by religion, of what people’s neighbours were like. We were working with three generations of Muslim women, whose idea about their non-Muslim women neighbours was that they were very much like the women in “Dallas” and “Dynasty”. When we talked to the non-Muslim groups, they always had a vision that all the Muslim women were hidden, suppressed and oppressed. One of the first things that interfaith activities can do is to try to bridge this gap, which cannot be done by high-level discussions.
What we found worked best was working at the school gate and among women, on particular things that mattered to them, to their children and their community, beginning with common causes, such as raising funds for the school, and moving on to the idea of sharing knowledge and information. From those small beginnings, we have found that many schools celebrate all faith feasts, which is quite uncommon, with people bringing in food on such occasions. The first step towards interfaith activity is to work with people who cannot and perhaps do not have the time or the skills to speak at the policy level of decision-making but who have specific common needs that can be addressed at the local level.
I thank the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London for his emphasis on education. One thing that we found when working with the Muslim Women’s Network across England was that often religious education was simply not that. What was not happening was people with a real understanding of religion and of their faith speaking about their faith—the insiders talking to the group. One suggestion that the Muslim Women’s Network has made is that perhaps we should have teachers who go around schools, each with their own faith and their own ideas, who can be open to discussion.
That kind of discussion across divides is perhaps the best way in which to open minds without creating prejudices. I certainly found that this was possible about 20 years ago when I started talking about Islam and feminism. I remember that most of my feminist colleagues in women’s studies thought that “Islam and feminism” was an oxymoron. To begin with, it was regarded as an absolute failure and unscholarly to talk about women’s rights in Islam; we found that the process of explanation was slow, took time and patience and needed an open mind.
We need to build the possibility of having an open mind from the very beginning—from primary school, where I am pleased to say that it exists, to secondary school, where I fear that it does not exist, to tertiary education. Then people such as me, who are trying to teach final-year university students about Islam, would not find themselves obliged to dismantle barriers of prejudice that have been built by the media and by a lack of good education right through schooling. It is difficult in your final year at university to begin to rethink all the thoughts that you have had. Perhaps one policy suggestion would be to look seriously at school education as opening minds rather than instilling information about a particular faith and as opening a dialogue instead of insisting on being of one faith or another. My hope is that that process would take us further. I assure your Lordships that at university level there is a vibrant discussion going on that accommodates the reality that all faiths are towards the same end and just have different means.
My Lords, as chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Humanist Group, I, too, am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Hameed, for initiating this timely debate and for his impressive rebuttal of extremism today. It gives me the opportunity to raise some secular concerns about how the Government are implementing policies designed to encourage community cohesion and dialogue between people of different faiths.
As noble Lords will be aware, a significant proportion of British people say that they are not religious, although we may hold strong beliefs. By my reckoning, these non-religious citizens in total outnumber all the adherents of minority religions in the UK put together. It is also worth noting for context that most of those identifying themselves as religious do not seem particularly zealous. For instance, a BBC/ICM survey found that among Hindus 77 per cent went to a place of worship only once every few months. Similarly, 73 per cent of declared Christians were only occasional attendees, as were 69 per cent of Jews and 54 per cent of Sikhs. Defying the media stereotypes, 42 per cent of Muslims said that they did not visit their mosques most months. Indeed, only about one in 10 people in Britain attend a place of worship regularly.
Given this background, I trust that noble Lords can see the problems and in some cases the dangers of defining complex ethnic communities through religious identity. The growing Chinese community is largely non-religious; is it to be excluded from government-sponsored dialogue? What about the vibrant Afro-Caribbean community? Can it be properly represented by religious groups? I suggest that it probably cannot. I am sure that the Minister would also agree that many immigrants to Britain, particularly those seeking asylum, come in search of freedom from political, cultural or religious oppression. Some will have settled gratefully into a largely secular society. As my noble friend Lord Haskel asked so eloquently, given the host of interests and aptitudes shared across our increasingly diverse communities, is it sensible to encourage the identification of those communities by the religions that might on occasion divide them? I understand and share the concern for greater dialogue between faiths. I simply caution the Government about conferring status and privilege on religious groups that are sometimes self-appointed and unrepresentative, with immoderate agendas and perhaps a vested interest in maintaining tensions.
No doubt there is a hard-headed Whitehall approach that argues that, if religious fundamentalists present the biggest threat, we should entice them to engage with more moderate religious opinion and accept as the price to be paid the political truism that the squeaking wheel gets the most oil. If that kind of realpolitik is at work, it is best conducted within the larger framework that supports our core British values of tolerance of belief, freedom of speech, respect for equality and human rights. We surely all agree that robust dialogue is an essential element of our democracy, especially when we are forced to defend our certainties in open, rational debate.
The declared goals of the Department of Communities and Local Government are to,
“defuse inter-community tensions; build community cohesion … foster co-operation on local issues and; work jointly on social and educational projects”.
We humanists support all that and our beliefs have pedigrees as old as the major religions. So why should we not be part of this government-sponsored dialogue between belief systems? We already play a constructive role as founding members of the Religion and Belief Consultative Group. Humanists now sit on local education standing advisory councils for religious education—the aptly named SACREs.
Regrettably, interfaith bodies that the Government promote, such as their Faith Communities Consultative Council, explicitly exclude the non-religious. The Minister will know that a recent report from the Faith Communities Capacity Building Fund warned that local government found that the faith sector was reluctant to address equalities issues, especially those around gender and sexuality. Is the Minister concerned that discrimination of any kind makes it difficult for local authorities to co-ordinate their work on religion and belief as defined by law and the equality standard for local government? The Human Rights Act 1998 outlawed discrimination against people on grounds of their religious or non-religious beliefs. Will the Government review their current practice to ensure that it is not in any way discriminatory? The noble Lord, Lord Hameed, calls our attention to the role of interfaith dialogue in strengthening society. Does the Minister agree that including humanist beliefs in government-sponsored consultative processes and dialogue would make them more representative and thus strengthen society?
My Lords, I join others in warmly congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Hameed, on his profound and pertinent address to us. Calling for a more energetic involvement of Muslim leaders in civic life today is a particularly important practical contribution.
Many of us first woke up to the issue of real differences in society 27 years ago with the Brixton riots. At that time, there was a beautifully written, eloquent and powerful report by Lord Scarman and a wonderful editorial in the Economist shortly after that. In 1981, the Economist spoke about social and racial deprivation, schooling and work programmes and said that every employer could do his stuff by hiring young blacks as Britain came out of recession. That was a practical point and a practical call for action. How disappointing it is that even now there has been no such independent judicial inquiry in this country following the 7 July bombings in 2005. Then it was not race that began to be the issue but religion. Religion is an extremely difficult subject for us. Religion is not part of the public space; it is part of our private space. My practical recommendation, advice or request to the Government is that we move away from that and begin to record people’s religions.
I always mean to declare my interest, so I apologise. I am a lay canon at Guildford Cathedral and on the remuneration committee at St Paul’s Cathedral. I have many other interests, but, in particular, I am a director of an executive search firm, Odgers, where we look for leaders from all political parties, genders, races, colours and religions who can take on key public roles. One of the great grievances in the Muslim community—and rightly so—is that Muslims are so underrepresented in civic leadership. That is an understandable and legitimate point.
What can we do? The Office of the Commissioner for Public Appointments form asks for personal information. We have a great number of complaints about this form from all sorts of people, but noble Lords must understand that it has a virtuous intent. You must state your gender and give your age in delicate age brackets—I can put my tick in the 56 to 65 box, which is quite delicate. You must state any disability. Then we come to ethnic origin—Asian, Bangladeshi, Pakistani, black African, mixed ethnic, Chinese. You can also self-report; you can call yourself what you like and nobody will challenge that. Then there are a lot of questions about political activity, which is a little touchy because some people think that that should be more in their private space than their public space for some of these roles. Nevertheless, we cross-question people on their precise political activity. Nowhere is religion recorded.
Two years ago, going to speak in Dubai about parliamentary structures, I asked the House of Lords Library—a wonderful institution, as all will agree—who were the Muslim Members of the House of Commons and the House of Lords. The Library staff could not tell me. I was given a list, but when I got to Dubai my Muslim hosts told me that it was ridiculous because they were not Muslim names at all. Never would I wish to insult the staff of the House of Lords Library, but we do not have the information. We know the occupation, university status, age and all sorts of things about Members of the Commons and Lords, but we do not know their religions.
If, as we should, we want to ensure that all groups are fairly and properly represented, the time has come to look again at whether religion is reported. It should be self-reporting: people should not have to fill out the form. But I know that there are many appointments where, if you could find that enlightened, moderate responsible Muslim leadership, in many cases people would say, “Other things being equal, that is someone whom we would like to appoint”. At the moment, the information is not there.
I now come to three practical examples. I believe that there is a common vision about where we want to go and how we are going to get there. I draw attention to the wonderful multifaith centre being established at the University of Surrey. We have an excellent canon, Jonathan Frost, who has managed to gain resources from the Faith Communities Capacity Building Fund. It is a £6.5 million multifaith centre with chaplains and faith leaders. Buddhists, Christians—Anglicans, Catholics, Methodists—Orthodox Jews, Muslims, Sikhs and Hindus are represented. It is not just a shared space—it is not just one size fits all—but has dedicated worship facilities for the six faiths combined with communal areas, meeting rooms and cafés designed to become focal points and catalysts for the promotion of strong interfaith relations. That is a huge force for good and a wonderful example from which we can learn.
I now move to my next example. I notice that the noble Lord, Lord Sheppard of Didgemere, has left, which is most unfortunate, because this was started by Dermot O’Brien, the son of Stephen O’Brien, who started London First. The ADAB Trust is an initiative for picking up, in particular, Muslim and other black and minority ethnic undergraduates. It helps by coaching them into the employment market, giving assessments, encouraging them and giving them mentors. At my work, Leon Ayo, who is of mixed-race origin himself, has been giving a huge amount of time as a volunteer to coaching, assessing, developing and training these youngsters.
Thirdly, the Three Faiths Forum, with Faith Matters, has developed the ParliaMentors initiative, so that Members of the House of Lords and the House of Commons can spend time with an Islamic, Jewish or Christian student. I would like noble Lords to know that the Member for Worthing West has been very active in this initiative, which achieves a great deal of good.
I congratulate the noble Lord on his debate and I hope that, apart from philosophising, at the end of the debate we shall have some practical measures for action, of which my most important is that we should start recording people’s religions, where they wish, if we are to create the leadership that we want in society.
My Lords, I, too, am most grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Hameed, for this important and timely debate. As chairman of the All-Party Parliamentary Inter-Faith Group, which the noble Lord, Lord Ahmed, and I got going last year, I look forward to picking up suggestions—either now or later—about the programme that this group might pursue to help parliamentarians have a greater awareness of this dimension.
Although I have been deeply involved in interfaith relationships over many years with the Jewish and Muslim communities, we are talking in Parliament and therefore I want to focus specifically on the role of Parliament and that of government. Some people doubt whether government have a role. The noble Lord, Lord Macdonald, who I am sorry is not in his place, raised doubts about the proper role of government in this sphere. Because the Government are concerned with communities, and because so many communities in the world now have an increasingly close association between their community life and their religious identity, the Government are right to be concerned about this area. As we know, the cause of all this is globalisation. People are being uprooted from their traditional communities and their traditional identities and finding their community around the church or mosque in great cities. Therefore, the role of religion as a marker of identity has been heightened. The Government are quite right to take that into account in their concern for social cohesion.
As regards more practical issues, I particularly welcome the fact that within the Department for Communities and Local Government there is a cohesion and faith division which is charged with engaging with faith communities. I further welcome the report of the Commission on Integration and Cohesion, Our Shared Future, published in June last year, and the Government’s response to it, published in February this year. Of the many recommendations in that report and the Government’s response, I want to focus briefly on two, the first of which is the importance of citizenship education.
Recommendation 8.12 of Our Shared Future urged that the recommendations outlined in the report of Sir Keith Ajegbo on citizenship education should,
“be taken forward as a matter of urgency”.
The Government accept that. Citizenship education is crucial to the future cohesion of our society and is an area where the faith communities could play a very significant role, for all religious communities contain a solid religious and philosophical basis for good citizenship and motivate their members to relate well and caringly for others. So there is a resource here, within the faith communities, that I hope those responsible will draw on as appropriate. Nor, of course, should this be confined, or even primarily linked, to religious education, because what faith communities have to offer goes much wider than that.
The other, rather more difficult and tendentious area is that of faith schools. As we know, there is a great deal of hostility to such schools in some quarters. Therefore, the recommendation in Our Shared Future is particularly important. It points out that,
“in February 2006, leaders from the main UK faiths signed a joint statement to promote a scheme to teach pupils about other religions as well as their own, and to follow the guidance in the national non-statutory framework for RE”.
It went on to say:
“It will be important for Government to monitor the effectiveness of this voluntary agreement on RE in faith schools. We also recommend consideration of whether Ofsted inspections should cover RE teaching in faith schools (which is currently exempt)”.
That is a crucial paragraph. What matters is not so much the existence of faith schools but what is taught in them and how it is taught—whether it is taught as genuine education or as propaganda; whether pupils are encouraged to look self-critically as well as appreciatively at their own tradition; and whether they are encouraged to be open to the possibility of their own understanding of truth being challenged, enlarged and enriched by contact with other religious traditions.
I know that these recommendations do not belong in the Minister's own department. If he is not able to address the matter today, I very much hope he will pass my two concerns to the Department for Education. These are crucial areas where the faith communities have a role to play, for good or potentially for ill.
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Hameed, made an eloquent plea for interfaith dialogue, one problem of which was illustrated for me earlier this week when I helped to launch a document by Christian Solidarity Worldwide on apostasy and the problems of people in many countries changing their faith.
I also note that in the prayers with which we begin our daily sittings we pray for the tranquillity of the realm. We need to ensure that interfaith relations do not raise barriers, but equally we need to avoid the mushy pitfall of saying that we all worship the same God and concentrate on shared values and shared social action.
The starting point is surely the affirmation of the importance of faith itself. If we approach faith from the context of a narrow, interfaith agenda, this could be regarded as being defensive, as if politicians think of faith as a problem because it upholds differences. This itself can generate social tensions, as if to have a faith is to be a threat, when believers do, and must, work with those of other faiths.
I contend that only by recognising the differences between different faiths can we build good relationships. We are exhorted to love our neighbours as ourselves. Before that relationship there must be an understanding of ourselves and our own faith. In their consultation document published in December last year—which has not been much referred to—the Government coupled their engagement with an interfaith objective with a clear affirmation of faith, and that I applaud.
On the subject of bonding and bridging social capital, the Government drew on the work of the US academic David Putnam and his definition of two kinds of social capital: bonding social capital and linking or bridging social capital. The former refers to the social capital defining social groups while the latter refers to the relationships between those groups. In the consultation document the Government champion bridging social capital but are more cautious about bonding social capital. I make two points in reference to this.
First, if we are to love our neighbours, we need to affirm ourselves and our own faith. The linking process assumes there are groups that can be linked and sustained by bonding social capital. Surely bonding social capital is part of the solution. Further, if, as the Minister says in the preface to the consultation document, our aim is cohesion, we should not limit our definition of “bridging” social capital to interfaith relationships. The truth is that there is an incredible amount of bridging social capital within the several faiths. I give examples from my own Christian faith with which I am most familiar. In 2003, the Evangelical Alliance of Wales published the Church Diversity Index which provides an overview of all the theologically mainstream denominational groupings in Wales. This shows that there are 26 Christian denominations in Wales embracing—this is the important point—very considerable ethnic and class differences. Umbrella bodies such as the Evangelical Alliance help to bring these groups together.
Secondly, we should celebrate linking social capital within congregations. Less than five miles from where we are debating is Westbourne Park Baptist Church, which embraces in one congregation of just over 120 people some 33 different nationalities and different social classes which one ordinarily would not expect to come together. With its associated family centre, that church runs 14 social projects used by people of all faiths and none. Surely, therefore, we should first affirm such initiatives for the linking social capital that they already sustain even as we encourage them to develop this further on an interfaith basis.
Who are the Government seeking to encourage? Some are very much already within the interfaith context, but the real challenge is to encourage the more conservative elements of faith communities. In my judgment the shared act of commitment on page 16 of the document is unnecessary. It will be counterproductive put up the backs of some of those communities.
Finally, I share a thought from Wales, where there is always something new, and commend an example of best practice. I am on the Council of Reference of Gweini—the Council of the Christian Voluntary Sector in Wales. In March this year, in tandem with the Wales Council for Voluntary Action, we published the first interfaith audit of a UK nation, which provides a rigorous research assessment of all faith community congregations in Wales. It was part-funded by the Welsh Assembly Government. It concluded that such congregations, of which there are 4,400, contribute massively to the economy of Wales, in addition to, importantly, the considerable social capital. Here is a pioneering model that could be followed elsewhere in the United Kingdom.
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Hameed, on initiating the debate on interfaith dialogue, which is a subject very dear to my heart. Unfortunately, in view of the time constraint I am not able to deal with the matter fully.
My life has been shaped by a multicultural and multifaith background and it has been greatly enriched in consequence. I was brought up in Uganda and my formative years were spent in an environment where my fellow school pupils came from different religions and racial backgrounds. Uganda at that time was an affluent country, and one of the reasons for the prosperity was the existence of peace and harmony between the communities. In 1972 General Amin expelled the Asians and a significant part of that community came to United Kingdom.
Britain is a land of opportunity. This country provided us with the environment and circumstances where our hard work and positive attitudes towards other communities enabled us to flourish. I honestly believe that the British, for all their faults, are tolerant. This country for many years has welcomed people from abroad who have been able to settle and work here and have contributed towards the advancement and well-being of the United Kingdom. I am indeed proud to be British and to live in a country where the freedom of an individual and his or her religious beliefs are respected.
In 2003, the Conservative Party formed the Conservative Muslim Forum and I was asked to chair it. I was subsequently asked to chair the newly founded Ethnic Diversity Council of the party. One of the issues that we are actively promoting is interfaith dialogue and the building of harmony among the various religious and racial groups. There are more similarities between people than differences and it is important that we promote the similarities, as all religions have a message of peace and harmony.
I am a practising Muslim and proud of my religion. Islam regards Muslims, Christians and Jews as people of the book and we believe that the books of Allah are the Koran, the Torah, the Gospel and the Psalms. There is frequent reference to Jesus Christ, Moses and other prophets in the Holy Koran. The Koran contains a chapter on Mary, mother of Jesus. Islam is indeed a religion of peace and forbids any form of suicide bombing. Jihad is an Arabic word which means to try one’s utmost, and a Muslim must carry out good deeds. I am mentioning these points because I have spoken on these and other matters on a number of occasions at various meetings. I feel that I should dispel any misunderstandings and correct wrong ideas. It is important for us to do that as part of the interfaith dialogue, as it creates understanding and respect for one another.
Unfortunately in certain parts of the United Kingdom, particularly in the north of the country, there is a lack of interaction and engagement between the various communities. I am pleased that there are initiatives that are creating good relationships between the communities. There is a need for interfaith dialogue at every level, including parliamentary groups, national organisations, community leaders, religious groups, places of worship and, of course, the communities. It also requires support of the Government and local authorities. I am indeed an optimist and believe that with a holistic approach we can achieve this.
I wish to mention the role of the media and I ask that they show restraint in their choice of stories and words relating to any religious group. We are proud of our free press in Britain and we applaud that freedom, which is the key part of our democracy. We need, however, to exercise this freedom with care and responsibility.
I conclude by saying that we must all strengthen the interfaith dialogue, which will enable our diverse communities to live in harmony.
My Lords, I, too, welcome the debate and thank the noble Lord, Lord Hameed, for introducing it. The German theologian Hans Küng asserted that there was no peace for the world without peace between the religions, no peace between the religions without understanding between the religions and no understanding between the religions without dialogue. Therefore, I want to underline three features of that dialogue as I have lived it and have tried to work at it in the past nine years in Leicester, which is probably the second most diverse city in the United Kingdom.
First, such dialogue involves sustained and lasting relationship building, with high maintenance costs in terms of time, understanding and patience for lengthy periods. The dialogue between faiths is not principally an academic exercise; still less is it a quick fix for fast-moving government initiatives. Rather, faith can be understood, encountered and subject to dialogue only by means of conversations between practitioners who are ready to become friends. It is in such sustained relationships that we have been able to build the Faith Leaders’ Forum in Leicester, complementing the work of the Leicester Council of Faiths. This has led to many practical initiatives, including the establishment of ongoing and, now, sustainable conversations between Christians, Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs and Jews across the city, and the establishment of a number of initiatives, which include Christians and Muslims meeting to eat and mark the ending of Ramadan and the returning of hospitality to mark the Easter feast, and a joint imams and vicars cricket match, which has received widespread attention at Leicestershire county cricket ground.
That is the soil in which trust, understanding and relationships grow, but these are slow-growing plants. They have led us in Leicester to assert and practise the principle that an attack or threat on one place of worship is an attack or threat on us all. They have led us to pioneer a programme of “unfamiliar journeys”, enabling the anxious occupants of the village and market towns of middle England to see and hear public conversations between Christian and Muslim theologians—experiences that have been repeatedly transformational.
Secondly, such dialogue demonstrates that people of faith hold their convictions with an absolute loyalty, believing that they are true and non-negotiable. This is of course inconvenient for a postmodern, post-Enlightenment and sometimes secular society. However, it demonstrates that cohesion and security are not to be achieved by banishing religion from the public square, nor by treating all faith communities as a homogenous group, without being willing to particularise, or discriminate—in the positive sense of the word—between them.
The benefits of this passionate and unyielding commitment to non-negotiable values is that it can bring to public debate dimensions of policy-making that go beyond self-interest—for example, in addressing international debt and poverty, in securing the best deals for immigrants and asylum seekers, and in addressing the great challenges of climate change. In all these fields, faith communities are working on practical initiatives which arise not from compromising on belief but from seeing the potential in our traditions for imagining a better world. That has led to the creation of the St Philip’s Centre for study and engagement with other faiths, teaching and training, among other things, public sector employees to be alive to the sensitivities of the diversity.
Thirdly, interfaith dialogue builds the understanding that people of faith are ordinary, engaged, practical, useful and valued members of their communities, not some exotic species engaged in mysterious, irrational and obscure rituals unconnected to the health, well-being and flourishing of their neighbourhoods, their schools, their community centres and local economies. In Leicester, a study carried out some three or four years ago demonstrated and described more than 400 faith-based voluntary organisations serving the needs of local people, often the hardest to reach and most vulnerable. It is out of this shared and very practical experience of the principles of volunteering and public service that much of our dialogue takes place. That dialogue is not between professionals—between priests, rabbis and imams—but between school teachers, police, local government officials, city councillors and businessmen who happen to be people of faith and want to share their deepest convictions with each other, as well as the ways in which those convictions are worked out in their public roles.
The three principles of having patience and conviction and being earthed in practical realities are the lived experience of interfaith dialogue in my city. They are the hallmarks of this enterprise and the roots from which sustainable, cohesive and flourishing cities and civilisations can grow.
My Lords, I, too, thank my noble friend Lord Hameed for choosing to raise this important and sensitive issue for discussion. My thoughts are coloured by my experience as a schoolchild in a religious minority of one in a mainstream school. It made me aware of one point: it is not what you say but what you do. Actions speak louder than words, or, as the Chief Rabbi put it rather more elegantly, there is face-to-face interfaith activity—that is, dialogue—and there is side-by-side, collaborative social action. I have no doubt that the latter is more fruitful in terms of our aims in this debate. We have to proceed on the basis that proselytism or even persuasion by example change nothing because we are dealing with faith, and all faiths expect—indeed, even take sustenance from—criticism of their followers, for which they are prepared.
Words should, at the least, not incite ill-will. It was so helpful that the Second Vatican Council issued the document Nostra Aetate, which repudiated the concept of collective Jewish guilt for the death of Jesus, and sought relationships with Jews based on cordiality and mutual respect, lessened only by the apparent retention of the aim of conversion. In our words we must be constructive, not divisive.
University campuses are the home of words and ought to be the home of interfaith dialogue. Going to university provides young people with the chance to engage with others of different faiths but similar aims, at a formative age, and often for the first time. Appeals to freedom of speech and academic freedom, however, may not override the law relating to racial harmony and freedom from harassment on campuses and the responsibility of vice-chancellors to promote it—a topic to which I adverted when your Lordships' House debated anti-Semitism on campuses last June. To its credit, Cambridge University has a Centre for the Study of Jewish-Christian Relations, which helps teachers and a Centre for the Study of Muslim-Jewish Relations. There is also a Cambridge Interfaith Programme, but not in Oxford, my own old university. It grieves me to note that David Irving, described by an English court as a Holocaust denier and an anti-Semite, was invited to the Oxford Union, along with a BNP representative, while the university remained passive. The university needs to be reminded of its duties under the Race Relations (Amendment) Act and other Acts to promote racial harmony and good relations between different groups, like other universities.
It is recognised that vituperative debates about Israel go on to such an extent that Jewish students feel beleaguered. Universities need to understand the legal limits of freedom of speech to be wary of manipulation and to rise to the defence of all their students, especially any whose academic welfare is threatened.
I turn to the constructive activities that are flourishing under the interfaith title. One can have nothing but praise for the exceptional work of the Council of Christians and Jews, in which my noble and right reverend friend Lord Harries has played a leading role. More shame then that there are calls from certain religious quarters for boycotts of Israeli goods and activities. Sometimes Jews feel that anti-Israel attacks may well be anti-Semitism in a new guise. Therefore, it is heartening to see the list of interfaith groups and activities that exist. There are nearly 300 organisations listed in the directory of the Inter Faith Network for the UK.
There is special value to be found in activities that bring together young people from different faiths for fun or for more serious purposes. The Maimonides Foundation for Jews and Muslims has education projects, for example, working together on art and football. Daniel Barenboim conducts the deeply moving West-Eastern Divan Orchestra of Palestinians and Israelis, which was acclaimed at the Proms, on the West Bank and elsewhere. In Israel, an Arab-Israeli lawyer, Wafa Fahoum, promotes education of Israeli soldiers and activities for young people, such as tennis; note that she is a woman. This is noteworthy as there are hindrances to the full participation of women in interfaith activity because of the religious and cultural prohibitions with which we are all familiar. Many women-only interfaith activities have sprung up, of which I counted 42 organisations in the report, in 2006, by Fatheena Mubarak on those activities. Still, it is a pity that the mixed-sex organisations cannot be more inclusive.
Health and the environment provide the most valuable ways forward. There is wonderful interfaith work globally, in Africa and elsewhere, on HIV prevention and cure. There is scope for the future in the environmental movement because all religions broadly accept that we have a moral and religious obligation to take care of our natural environment and hand it on in good condition to our children. It is God’s creation. The interfaith environmental organisations deserve government help. There is hope for progress if we avoid hate-filled language, appreciate where each other’s hearts lie and go forward with the activities that we were all put on earth to do: healing, protection of the land, education and families. I trust that the department will place its resources accordingly.
My Lords, I salute my noble friend Lord Hameed and the non-stop efforts that he makes in the area of interfaith dialogue. I am proud to be his friend. Today is very important, not least because he plays an important part in the work of an organisation called the Co-Existence Trust, which was formed by Crown Prince Hassan of Jordan and myself some time ago, to unite Muslim and Jewish political leaders worldwide. We now have members in 45 parliaments, and my noble friend is one of the vice-presidents. We have a constant battle against racism—Islamophobia and anti-Semitism in particular. I was listening to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leicester and thinking of the 28 years I served in that city, which is likely to become within the next few years the first city in Britain with a non-white majority. The right reverend Prelate does a tremendous job and made a tremendous speech, which I appreciated.
I salute my noble friend Lord Mitchell, who has taken over the leadership of the organisation which brings people together against anti-Semitism and Islamophobia. We must work in that area if we want to continue to live in a decent, comfortable and friendly country, and fight together, hand in hand, against racism and hatred of that sort. I am proud of my association with Mohammed Abdul Latif Jameel, founder of the Coexist Foundation. With St Ethelburger’s Centre of Peace and Reconciliation, it makes a vital contribution to interfaith work in Britain and beyond.
We all know that, as the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leicester said, dialogue between members of different faiths is absolutely key to building a stronger, more cohesive society; it is the first essential. We have seen the terrible consequences in this country, especially in London, of people of faith replacing discussion and dialogue with extremism, violence and murder. I am pleased that our Government, especially the Department for Communities and Local Government and Secretary of State Hazel Blears, are working hard to combat the growth of that problem.
Dialogue is the first step towards a decent, friendly, happy life together. The crucial step to better relations was outlined by Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks in his recent book, The Home we Build Together: the need for people of faith to work together side by side as well as talking face to face. He is right: we must work together. We must turn strangers into friends, and work towards our common good. Both dialogue and joining together on shared projects and paths lead to better relations and a more positive future between faiths.
I am not going to hold up another good friend of mine, the remarkable noble Baroness, Lady Verma. I shall end by saying that there are only two ways in which we need to remember this. First, we must all work hard together to build interfaith dialogue, so that we can work together for our common good, decency and peace. Secondly, the alternative to coming together in this way is indeed being torn further apart.
My Lords, I, too, join in thanking the noble Lord, Lord Hameed, for his most eloquent speech. I am pleased to be following the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leicester and my dear friend, the noble Lord, Lord Janner. Our connection is of course Leicester, which is a wonderful place to start talking about interfaith dialogue. In Leicester, we are not frightened to challenge those willing to create differences among the many communities that live there side by side.
As a little girl, I grew up in Great Britain when there were very few people from my community here. On one side of my house I had an Irish Catholic family, and on the other side there was a very strongly Scottish family, so we grew up with this wonderful mix of children playing out in the streets at a time when children played out in the streets. We fought, ate and did everything together. It is amazing how our faith was never in question. I was never less confident about the faith I had been born into, the Sikh community. I went on to marry my dear husband from the Hindu community, and my wedding dress came from my uncle in the Muslim community. I therefore understand the great things that all the different faiths bring together. If as children we are encouraged to dispel the prejudices that we inherently come to know as we grow older, all the things that the noble Lord, Lord Hameed, mentioned in his wonderful speech would be the great creators of wonderful cohesive societies.
I find it incredibly depressing that those who purport to be our community leaders tend usually to be those who are the great dividers of our communities. When I was in Paris talking to a group of ladies from the Muslim faith, I asked, “Do you know what Islam is lacking today? It is lacking the presence of good women from Islam who can speak its message to the world”. People will then be able to see that there is a much more positive side to Islam that the rest of the world does not always see.
I agree with the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London that communities which do not want to become involved with the cultures that exist in Great Britain today have gone into a vacuum in which they have created cultures which try to provide the moral leadership, the family lives and the networks that most of us were used to but which are now lacking. There are no easy solutions, but dialogue starts when people are tiny tots. Children are great teachers in showing how you can get on. You can disagree—it is amazing how children disagree and fight, and the next day are back together again, but adults have forgotten that lesson.
I was really pleased to hear the noble Lord, Lord Hameed, say that within the Muslim community the moderate Muslim must get up and make his voice heard. As my noble friend Lord Sheikh said, the media have a huge responsibility. In recent years, they have worked on heightening the prejudices of people who do not understand a particular situation, faith or religion. Growing up in a country where so many freedoms are available, I believe that there is an onus on those of us who can to go out there and encourage people from the business and academic communities sometimes to challenge those community leaders who speak on our behalf.
My plea to the Government is this: when you give funds to organisations in local communities, look carefully at where the money is going. I can assure your Lordships that I have been on many tours and trips, and I have sat in the back of community halls and listened to the venom from these supposedly great community leaders installed in the audience. I challenged Mark Thompson from the BBC, when I said to him that the media have a responsibility to show the moderate voice of all religions, otherwise all you get are nutters and fruitcakes coming forward to speak. It is important to note that in having this debate, we unfortunately allow the BNP and other extreme organisations to flag up and inflame prejudices.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord Hameed for initiating this important debate and so eloquently opening it today. As others have said, in our current climate it is so easy to see faith and religion as instruments of division rather than unity; as bringers of unrest rather than peace. So I want humbly to address what has been happening on the ground in Wales and build on the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Anderson of Swansea.
After 9/11, the First Minister, Rhodri Morgan, rapidly called together the leaders of all the great faith groups in Wales and started a programme of meeting twice a year. Thus, the faith groups and politicians come together regularly in a spirit of open dialogue as the Faith Communities Forum. This provides a platform to discuss issues concerning the faith communities, communities of those of no faith and the Government. Members include all the faith groups and the leaders of all the political parties. The faith leaders then decided to meet more often and out of that emerged the Inter-Faith Council for Wales, which now has a formal constitution and officers in Cardiff and Swansea. It links to Cytun, formerly the Council of Churches for Wales, whose objective is to bring together different denominations to,
“witness, work, reflect and pray together more effectively”.
Last June, the Muslim Council of Wales invited the Archbishop of Westminster, Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor, to address an audience of about 500 people. It was the first time that the cardinal had addressed the Muslim community, and his address opened the door to honest and frank discussion between Muslims and Christians without worrying about political correctness. Following that, a second successful discussion was hosted to look at the fears that faith communities have about each other, and in June another meeting will look specifically at turning ignorance into knowledge and intolerance into understanding.
At a local level, the Muslim Council of Wales has supported and sponsored the 1st Cathays (Al-Huda) Scout Group in Cardiff, which was set up in 2006 and is now one of the biggest groups in the region. It recently hosted a dinner in honour of the visit of church leaders from Syria and Lebanon. The Archbishop of Wales and the Archbishop of Cardiff attended the dinner, and the guests from Syria and Lebanon were amazed at the understanding and relationships that had been built up between the two faiths.
The Muslim Council of Wales is bringing men, women and organisations from different faiths together to work alongside each other and demonstrate the positive work that interfaith groups can achieve through shared aims to tackle the great problems of today’s world at every level. At social functions that it has arranged, to which I have had the honour of being invited, there have been representatives of all the religious groups: Jews, Hindus, Buddhists and so on.
Much important interfaith work is in educating children and young people about faith issues and interfaith relations to minimise their susceptibility to extremism and ensure that they do not fall into the wrong hands. That is happening at every level in society. The Islamic Social Services Association Wales was recently launched to mirror regular social services but is tailored specifically to be sensitive to and cater for the needs Muslim families.
Healthcare sees interfaith in action. As noble Lords know, I have for many years worked with the dying and have seen how often those of no faith seek spiritual support as they become aware of their own dying and also how the religious barriers fall away when the great unknowns are faced, such as the questions: Why me? What have I done to deserve this? Is there anything after this life? In our cancer centre in Cardiff, we recently opened an interfaith room as a place for quiet reflection and solace for those who wish to pray, think or simply get away from the busyness of the hospital for a few moments. It houses a resource of items and texts of significance from the great religions and other texts that are completely secular. It was jointly dedicated at a simple ceremony by representatives of the different communities, all wanting to bring some comfort to patients, their families and staff.
The relationships between interfaith leaders are precious and must be nurtured. They are developed at grass roots, in the classroom, at the school gate, in the workplace and by being together at social functions and sharing charity fundraising events, just to name a few.
I am not blinkered to the prejudices that exist in our society; even in Wales, I am not blinkered. This year on Holocaust Day, the monument to the victims of the Armenian genocide was shamefully desecrated. It had been funded and erected outside the Welsh National Temple of Peace and Health—the old League of Nations building in Cardiff—by the tiny Armenian community in Wales.
Faith and religion are often seen as instruments of division and unrest. Interfaith work at all levels of society—from the school yard to Scotland Yard, from the community centre to central government, from the school assembly to the Welsh Assembly, from the university common room to the House of Commons—is the key to the future of multifaith, multiethnic Britain. We must continue to keep open hearts and minds so that the name of religion cannot become an excuse for tribal approaches and warring factions in society.
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Hameed, is to be congratulated on introducing this debate. The noble Lord’s commitment to interfaith activity is total and his excellent and, dare I say, brave speech makes it abundantly clear that he is prepared to stand up and be counted.
I have recently become chair of the Coexistence Trust, and I feel privileged that the noble Lord, Lord Hameed, is one of our trustees. I have taken over from its founder, my noble friend Lord Janner of Braunstone. I am delighted to say that he is remaining as president of the trust, together with His Royal Highness Prince Hassan of Jordan. I am also thrilled that my noble friend will continue to travel the world enlisting the support of parliamentarians against the twin scourges of anti-Muslim and anti-Semitic activity. It certainly makes me sleep a little easier at night knowing that my noble friend is there to be consulted and to help. He knows full well that I will seek his advice and seek it often. His work on behalf of the Jewish people is legendary, and we all owe him a huge debt for his tireless work.
When the results of today's local elections become known, we may well be horrified to learn that the BNP has made significant advances. For that to have happened should concern us all. It should act as a wake-up call to the many ethnic groups in this country, and we should be working together to counter that enemy. The BNP has become very sophisticated—no longer unkempt thugs, today its members dress in suits and ties, understanding full well that they need to change their image. They have also needed to change their message: instead of crude racist smears, today they harness all the powers of mass media communication. It is the BNP that has mastered the use of the internet in communicating its message. In that respect, it leaves all the other parties standing. But no matter how well dressed they are, how smooth their presentation may be, no matter what technological wizardry they employ, their underlying message is still the same. It is about hatred, it is about intolerance, it is about racism and it is about total rejection of our multicultural society. Whatever their guise, they are as abhorrent as they have ever been.
The BNP and its ilk are one threat. The other threat, of course, is terrorism. Islamic extremists have made no secret of how they regard the Jews. Noble Lords should read the propaganda that those fringe bodies put out—Dr Goebbels himself would approve of every word. The Jewish community in this country realised long ago that wringing our hands was not an option. We needed to take proactive action. The BNP and Islamic extremists may well hate each other, but they are united in their hatred of Jews.
Walk past any synagogue when there is a service in progress and you will see security guards in attendance. Go to any Jewish social event and the security will be intense. The Community Security Trust is the Jewish community's answer to the threats that we face, and I pay tribute to it. Like many noble Lords here today, I am committed to interfaith dialogue. It is good to talk, but talking is not enough. It may make us feel good, but how much does it change the facts on the ground?
When I look at BNP election material, I see articles directed at the Asian community and, in particular, the Muslim community, but we are not fooled. All that is required is for the words Asian and Muslim to be changed to the word Jewish. The message is clear: we are their enemy; we must fight them together.
Last summer, I read the chilling book, The Islamist, by Ed Husain. It tells of his journey as a second-generation Muslim; how he became radicalised and became a leading member of the extreme Islamist political action group Hizb ut-Tahrir; and, finally, how he became disenchanted. He says:
“I returned to Britain because I believe it is my home. I want my children to grow up here”.
That is the truth. Wherever we come from—I am a third-generation immigrant—we, too, want our children to grow up in a secure and tolerant society.
I advocate action, so let me say what we at the Coexistence Trust would like to do. We want to be proactive. Our first action has been to form a group of Muslim and Jewish parliamentarians from both your Lordships' House and the other place. We will work together to combat the BNP. We will go to universities and schools to talk about where we can work together. Let us work together to address the issues that are common to both communities such as kosher and halal meat, family law and faith schools. We have much in common.
Finally, without any sense of superiority whatever and simply because the Jewish community got there first, our immigrant story perhaps needs to be recounted so that the Muslim community can have some appreciation of where we got it right and where we got it wrong. A hundred and twenty-five years ago, my family and hundreds of thousands like them came to Britain. They were penniless, could not speak the language, ate strange foods and faced fierce prejudice. Despite this, they endured and prospered. When they came, they lived in the East End of London and the poorer districts of Manchester and Leeds. Where they trod yesterday, the Muslim community treads today. It is clear that we have much in common and that we should help each other.
My Lords, the varied, moving and often powerful contributions to today’s debate illustrate why my noble friend Lord Hameed has chosen so well this subject for debate in your Lordships’ House today. I think that we all thank him for that.
I have just three points to make. First, dialogue must be entrenched by deeds. Secondly, it must be respectful and learn from the experiences of other faith traditions. Thirdly, it must not be a polite fudge—a pretext for dodging the hard questions.
Earlier in our debate, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London cited the experience from Liverpool of Faiths4Change. Eighteen months ago, I, along with Mr Akbar Ali, the trustee of the Liverpool mosque, planted an olive tree on a vacant site in Toxteth in Liverpool that is owned by the Catholic Church. The site has been gifted to Habitat for Humanity, a Christian charity that has built 150,000 houses throughout the world. I recently attended the handover of the first houses on this site. The new householders contributed “sweat equity” by helping in the construction work. They pay for their home through no-profit, no-interest long-term loans. The Liverpool project has been spearheaded by Shannon Leadbetter, a dynamic young Anglican woman.
In his deeply thought-provoking and stimulating new book, The Home We Build Together, to which the noble Lord, Lord Janner, referred earlier, Dr Jonathan Sacks, the chief rabbi, writes about his visit to a Habitat for Humanity project in London, in which Jews and others from non-Christian faiths have been involved. He says:
“Habitat for Humanity is a metaphor for our common life. Society is the home we build together”.
Dialogue must be entrenched by deeds.
Dialogue also needs to be honest, respectful and willing to learn from the experiences of other faith traditions. The most obvious contemporary example, to which the noble Lord, Lord Mitchell, and others alluded, is ensuring that the story of the Holocaust and anti-Semitism are never forgotten. I was particularly moved to be involved earlier this year in the Holocaust Memorial Day when the commemoration was held in Liverpool.
As an English Catholic, however, it also strikes me that a proper understanding of the Catholic story, from the 16th century until emancipation in 1829, can also throw a lot of light on what happens when religious believers are ostracised, alienated or radicalised. There was, after all, even a time when a Bill was laid before Parliament to remove children over the age of seven from their family homes if their Catholic parents did not conform.
Scores of young men—brilliant academics such as Edmund Campion, Robert Southwell and John Gerard—slipped out of the country and returned as Catholic priests, often hunted down, arrested, tortured and put to death. Campion was ultimately tried here in the Great Hall before being taken to the Tower of London and then to Tyburn, today’s Marble Arch, where he was hanged, drawn and quartered. Happily we live in better times, but the effect then was dramatic. For those whose families faced ruinous fines and the confiscation of property and land, it inspired courage and defiance. For the state, it created a new wave of brutality. Every organ of the state was used to wage systematic persecution. It also led to a disastrous blurring of an explicitly religious mission with subversive political and violent conspiracies. The more the so-called bloody question was put to Catholics, the more impossible their situation became. If they fully understood their own history, English Catholics would be in a particularly good position therefore to reach out to young Muslims living in Britain today.
Dialogue needs to be entrenched by deeds, and understanding and sensitive of other people’s histories and their stories. It also needs to be truthful and honest, and not to dodge tough questions. Reference has been made already to the situation elsewhere and millions of Christians have been persecuted for their faith in many parts of the world. The Jubilee Campaign which I helped to found some years ago has often highlighted many of those cases. We need to enter into the pain and suffering of each other’s traditions. People from all faiths suffer for their faith in different parts of the world.
As my noble friend Lord Hameed has said, we all need to face some hard truths and to disentangle legitimate questions about the use of violence, and the place of tolerance and respect. Dialogue needs to establish how we can learn to live together despite our differences. Mistrust and bitter divisions will not be replaced overnight and, at times, we will need patience, which, surely, was the lesson that many of us learnt during the years of Archbishop Derek Warlock and Bishop David Sheppard—Lord Sheppard as he became—during the period of the so-called Mersey miracle in Liverpool.
My noble friend Lord Hameed has already done much valuable work in facilitating trust and mutual respect, and I join others in hoping that this debate will deepen and strengthen those initiatives.
My Lords, I very much want to follow along the lines of what the noble Lord, Lord Alton, has said. When I was a boy, I would have assumed that interfaith dialogue was about trying to get Protestants and Catholics to talk to each other. I had no concept of someone being a Jew and I had certainly not thought about anyone being a Muslim. I grew up assuming that it was very difficult to be a Catholic and a loyal British citizen. The discovery that Catholics thought Campion was a hero rather than a traitor was something of a shock to me when I first went into the choir school of Westminster Cathedral at the age of 11.
We need some rather longer perspective in this debate. I want to start by urging that we think about our own histories and the difficulties that we have had. That puts into context the situation we now have with the British Muslim community and helps us to understand how that community will come to terms with being in Britain.
Some years ago, I read a copy of the Huddersfield Examiner on the 100th anniversary of the incorporation of Huddersfield as a borough. It had a very useful and long article on one of the biggest problems Huddersfield faced in the late 19th century. It was about how Huddersfield was to come to terms with its new immigrant community, which was foreign, hated British values, had foreign priests, even had smelly cooking and wanted to keep its own separate identity. It was referring of course to the Irish Catholics.
We have overcome that, although when I was fighting a constituency in Manchester in 1974, I recall a long evening discussion with the assembled Catholic clergy of Moss Side—Irishmen to a man—who had a rather ambiguous attitude towards terrorist activities against the British state. During the evening, they argued not only that separate education for Catholics was a must, to stop them from being contaminated by too much mixing with Protestants, but one or two of them also argued that we should have separate universities as well.
We have come some distance from that, but we need to remind ourselves that it is not just interfaith but intrafaith as well. While I was preparing for this debate, the Library usefully provided me with an article by Rabbi Jonathan Romain in the Times two years ago. He talked about the problems of coming to terms with interfaith dialogues and the discovery that you also need to have a dialogue between the reform community in Judaism and the orthodox community in the liberal community. He said that perhaps we also needed a “Council of Jews and Jews”. Not that long ago, Christianity was a little like that.
Two summers ago, I read the history of the Maynooth seminary in the context of the debate about how we train imams in Britain. The Liberal Government, after the Irish rebellion of 1801, decided that it would be worth putting money into training Catholic priests within the United Kingdom. The Tories objected, and went on objecting to funds being provided for this foreign religion for 20 or 30 years afterwards. It was successful in helping the move towards some reconciliation between Protestant Britain and the Catholics who lived within it.
The noble Lord, Lord Sheikh, talked about social values and citizenship issues, particularly in the north of England where we have the second and third generations of a new wave of immigrants facing huge contradictions in the values of tradition and modernity and between their perception of British values and their own self-worth and identity. I have found it quite shocking on a number of occasions that there are people living in Britain whose children were born here but who still insist that they intensely dislike Britain. It is not so much the British state that they dislike but what they sense to be British values. That is a huge set of issues that is much more concerned with citizenship, social attitudes and attitudes towards women than faith, and we have to deal with it. My experience, when I found myself speaking to large groups of British Muslims in Yorkshire and Lancashire in 2003 and 2004 in the wake of my party’s attitude to the Iraq war, was this. I tried to talk about liberal values to groups where all the men would sit in one area of the hall and if any women were there at all, they were seated somewhere else entirely. That was an interesting experience, but I am not sure that those audiences were always entirely sympathetic towards my ideas of a liberal society.
We should recall the experience of the surge of Jewish refugees and asylum seekers from Tsarist Russia a century ago, because there were similar problems. We had a second generation of immigrants who felt that there were real contradictions between their values and those of British society. Many of them were poor and some were quite alienated; a few turned to radical causes such as anarchism, revolutionary ideas and communism. Indeed, some time ago I discovered that the Sidney Street siege of that period involved a mainly Jewish group of revolutionaries against the British state.
Our values and the values of more traditional communities are things that we need to negotiate. After all, our values have been changing. Only some 20 years ago, when talking to the vicar of my local church about the role of women in the Church of England, did I discover the sheer depth of male prejudice that still existed. Not long afterwards he left that church because he recognised that he disagreed with much of the congregation, and moved to the Diocese of London. The Church of England has moved some way from that position. Indeed, I was trying to think of the last occasion on which I went to a service conducted by a male priest—I think it is now some months. Moreover, I was happy to meet several members of the campaign for women bishops earlier this morning. The Church of England is still on a journey towards accepting that women play an equal part; the Roman Catholic Church has a much longer journey ahead of it.
Nevertheless, I agree strongly with the point made by the right reverend Prelate about the problem of the vacuum of values in our society. Young Muslim women whom I sometimes meet when campaigning politically in Yorkshire have reacted against what they see as the consumerism and amoralism of our society by adopting the strict veil. There is something to be said for that if the choice for a 17 year-old is between wearing almost nothing on a Saturday night and covering yourself up; it is not an easy one. We have to engage in dialogue that is not just interfaith, but concerns the nature of British citizenship and how we cope with continuing immigration and the formation and preservation of separate immigrant communities; how to build and maintain social capital under the conditions of globalisation; and how to prevent the establishment of communities that are generationally poor, as the Irish Catholics and the Jewish immigrants from Tsarist Russia were, and as many of the new Muslims from south Asia are also in danger of becoming.
I hope that we all agree that we are in favour of a liberal and tolerant approach to faith, to politics and to society, that we are all opposed to fundamentalism in any religion as well as in politics, and that we have to examine our own conscience and our own institutional religions as we come to terms with the beliefs and prejudices of others.
My Lords, I add my thanks to those of all other noble Lords to the noble Lord, Lord Hameed, for introducing the debate today. He has brought together a community of diverse people who are, in a way, representative entirely of the problem we are discussing, if Members of the House can be called representative of anything. It is a remarkable achievement. Not only that, it parallels in many ways the problems—except that we lack the really extreme views of some people—that we see and are discussing both within the global community, which goes together to make the global society, and within our national community, where British society is, if you like, the sum of a series of little communities. In that sense, therefore, this is a special day.
However, I want particularly to talk about another aspect. If we are not careful, it would be easy to concentrate on the ills of society and the things that have been done by society in general. The noble Lord, Lord Alton, referred to state brutality, but we could talk equally about religious brutality. Over the centuries, many things have been done in the name of religion; Christianity in the Middle Ages was not a religion of which to be proud. The only thing I would say, but not in exculpation, is that if one considers society in that way, you can find even greater evil done by people without religion. I am thinking, in particular, of Alexander—one of the heroes we like to worship from antiquity but who killed enormous numbers of people—Attila the Hun, Genghis Khan and, bringing things a little closer to home, Stalin and Mao. They make the ills perpetrated by religion, if it was religion, look quite small.
I do not really think that the ills of religion had much to do with religion at all—a point made strongly by the noble Lord, Lord Hameed, in his introduction. In my view, the ills that have been perpetrated generally have been perpetrated in the name of politics, which has all too often been used to corrupt religion. Speaking as a politician, that gives me no pleasure. However, we need to be aware of that background because, even today, I suspect that the international horrors of the Muslim religion, if I may put it that way, have more to do with politics than with religion. Economics and the fear of change can all too often be very powerful drivers for people who think that they control society. We live in a rapidly evolving society and that is one of the issues that we all have to face.
In preparing for the debate I felt that I was climbing a severe precipice, with few handholds and few cracks to guide me up it. I am immensely grateful to all noble Lords who have contributed to the debate for making the slope somewhat easier. However, I still feel I am probably only about a quarter of the way up.
I come back to the parallels that we all face. On the international level, about which I am singularly unqualified to answer, we can see the same freakish extreme members of society as we have within our own, and we can see the bulk of international communities doing their best to make modern society work. We may not agree with everything those communities do, but that is what they are trying to achieve. That parallels where we are today. At the other end, as I have said, we see the differences in our own communities. We all know people who take views that we disapprove of and who we disagree with fundamentally, but we have to make the system work.
This is a delicate matter for the Minister who has to wind up. I see that he appears to have metamorphosed from the noble Baroness who is on my Order Paper—and, I suspect, on everyone else’s. I hope that nothing untoward has happened to her to keep her away. It is not up to me to advise the Government or tell them how to do their business, but this is a particularly delicate matter. If we are to make progress, the discussion has to be local and community-based. The problem for Governments will always be how to intervene to bring that about when government, by definition, is national and tends to be top-down.
The best illustration of that is something that is going on at present. The Government are looking to put together a course to train young people to do just the work that we all think should be done: to work in the community, bring people together and develop the local community so that it works and goes forward together. The problem for the Government in devising that course is how they ensure that they are not producing a one-size-fits-all solution. If the Minister is able to give us some assurance on that, that will be enormously helpful. Government money is a wonderful catalyst, but it has to be only a catalyst, and not dictate what happens. Once we start down the road of the Government setting the parameters of how society is to go forward, we are in deadly danger, and we should not do it.
I want to finish back on a religious note. I have a house in the south of France, and a wonderful sculpture appeared there last year. It is a flat granite slab with, incised on it, the word “co-exist”—with the “C” formed from the Muslim crescent, the “X” as the star of David and the “T” as the cross of Christianity. It is a remarkable unity.
My Lords, it is with some humility and trepidation that I respond to this debate on behalf of the Government. As the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, said, this is a delicate matter. I agree with him on that 100 per cent.
I thank the noble Lord, Lord Hameed, for initiating this wonderful debate. I have learnt a great deal from listening to noble Lords. Nearly all the major faiths in our country have had a voice here today, as well as humanists. I welcome that, because this debate is very important. Much has been brought to it. I said that I reply for the Government with some trepidation because, although I have a faith—a primitive Methodist faith in origin—I live in a city where, in the last census, more citizens identified themselves as Jedis than as Christians. I thought that that was part of Brighton and Hove’s sense of humour. One has to treat it that way or one gets lost.
This is a tremendously important and prescient debate. Britain is a society with traditions, as the noble Lord, Lord Hameed, said, of great religious tolerance. In modern times, this has allowed Christians to be members of different denominations without conflict. But we must recognise that Britain is now a multi-faith society.
During the last century, we have welcomed immigrants who have brought a significant part of our economic success and contributed positively to all aspects of public life. As the noble Lord, Lord Sheikh, said, Britain has for many become a land of opportunity—it certainly was for him. Immigration has led to a wider range of faiths being practised, which in turn has meant that different weights and importance are attached to faith as part of people’s identity and values.
Some thought that the advance of science and technology would lead to the decline of religion. The noble Lord, Lord Lamont, referred to the values of the Enlightenment, which I suppose one could have seen as having the potential to lead to the decline of religion and faith. But that has not happened. For some people, religion is more important now than ever—they want to express it publicly and they want it to inform political debate, which it certainly does.
However, Britain is also a society in which many do not regard themselves as practising a faith, in which ethical values may be drawn from a declaration of human rights rather than a holy book or be informed by the pursuit of individual happiness. The noble Lord, Lord Haskel, reminded us of the importance of that.
Government and, to some extent, faith communities are now finding ways to respond to these changes, challenges and choices. Dialogue between faiths and communities has emerged as an intrinsic tool to help our communities and wider civil society work through these responses.
Last year saw the publication of an important report by the independent Commission on Integration and Cohesion, Our Shared Future, to which I think the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries of Pentregarth, made reference. In it, the commission recognised the important contribution of faith communities to building integration and cohesion through their support for projects and networks, their community buildings, their leaders on the ground and the promotion of shared values such as neighbourliness and decency, among others.
The commission asserted that the way in which relations between people of different faiths and beliefs develop in the coming years will be very important to integration and cohesion, and saw interfaith activity as having an important role to play in strengthening these relationships. It also highlighted the importance of interfaith activity and suggested that this could go further to include dialogue between people of faith and no faith.
Evidence provided by faith communities to the Commission on Integration and Cohesion revealed a broad range of work under way, including projects to improve community relations; conflict resolution and mediation; teaching family and parenting skills; health work; improving language skills; and providing support networks.
But we have also seen in other contexts a growing interest in and recognition of the role that interfaith activity and action can play in building stronger and healthier communities. For example, the local government White Paper suggests that every local authority should have an interfaith forum—many noble Lords have referred to such fora during today’s debate. It was suggested also that they should be tied closely into local strategic partnerships. Our own Prime Minister has stated that he wants stronger interfaith dialogue where people find the common ground that exists between religions and communities in the United Kingdom, and the creation of local interfaith councils in every community. I was touched and impressed by the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Deech, who pleaded for places of academic study to play their part in this. That, too, is an important part of those shared partnerships tying in to community work.
As a result of the growing interest in interfaith work, and specifically in response to the report of the Commission on Integration and Cohesion, the Government will publish in July an interfaith strategy. I shall outline what we are aiming to achieve in developing such a strategy. The Government’s vision for Britain is one of strong, confident communities in which people of all backgrounds get on well and work together. Many people of different faiths and beliefs live side by side. The opportunity lies before us to work together to build a society rooted in the values that we all treasure, but this society can be built only on a sure foundation of mutual respect, openness and trust. This means finding ways to live our lives of faith with integrity, and allowing others to do so, too.
We all want a Britain which acknowledges, values and celebrates the contributions made by all our citizens, where people of different faiths and beliefs, and those with none, but shared values, live and work together in an atmosphere of mutual understanding. That is why building cohesion is a priority for my department. Britain has a proud tradition of tolerance and understanding, but we should never take that for granted. Now more than ever we need to promote dialogue between faiths, understanding what they believe in and what they hold dear, and developing together the values that we all share.
Interfaith activity is key to promoting this meaningful interaction. We have supported interfaith work for a number of years with the aim of increasing understanding between different faith groups, building cohesive communities and breaking down barriers. There has already been a marked increase in the number of local interfaith groups, with some 256 interfaith and multifaith local bodies, an increase of 173 or so since 2000 and 42 since 2005. We have also invested a total of nearly £14 million between August 2006 and March this year through the Faith Communities Capacity Building Fund. I heard very much the words of the noble Baroness, Lady Verma, that we must make sure that we spend that money well. It certainly should not be diverted towards what she colourfully described as the nutters and fruitcakes who sometimes attempt to inhabit that world.
The investment supported faith communities to make a real difference to improving community cohesion through bringing different faith groups together and creating trust and mutual understanding, both with each other and with the wider community. Bids which supported local interfaith councils, tackled faith hate crime and reduced intercommunity tensions were given priority. This afternoon we heard from a number of contributors about the value and importance of bringing people together through specific community projects. I was much taken by the cricketing example from Leicester, not just because I like cricket very much but because it was a brilliant thing for Imams and reverends to play cricket in that wonderful sporting space. I was impressed, too, by the examples that the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay of Llandaff, gave of work in Wales, where there is obviously a unique approach to those issues being adopted and followed. We can all learn from that—and I am sure that our strategy will continue to be informed by that approach.
Over the past 20 years the Inter Faith Network has supported the development of local interfaith groups and remains a key partner of Government in the developing work of that interaction between faith communities. The network also helps regional and local bodies to foster co-operation, increase trust, mutual understanding and respect, defuse inter-community tensions where they exist and contribute to community cohesion. The Government intend to continue providing the network with sufficient funding to support its important contribution in this area. We are very fortunate in the UK to have a national organisation such as this. I am told that it is unique in Europe, and I doubt that I am the first person to state that if the Inter Faith Network did not exist, we would need to invent it.
There is also an ever-increasing focus on faith communities as a result of the increasing recognition that a multifaith approach can deliver a broad range of social actions and help to build cohesion in our local communities. The good relations that exist between different faiths very much underpin this work. Again, I congratulate those noble Lords who have participated in this debate who have an unparalleled record of work. The noble Lord, Lord Hameed, is a wonderful example, as is my noble friend Lord Janner, and the new chair of the Co-Existence Trust, my noble friend Lord Mitchell, who have all done sterling work in ensuring that those good relations develop, thrive and are encouraged.
In developing an interfaith strategy, we learn from that and we are taking the opportunity to reflect on how best we in government can support it, where and in what circumstances interfaith activity works best and how we can work in partnerships with faith and non-faith-based communities and organisations to take this forward. We are continuing to explore the role that different government funding programmes might play in supporting increased interfaith activity. We are thinking about where additional investment is needed to help secure a more sustainable footing for interfaith activity and how this might be deployed in the most effective way. It is informed by the continuing evaluation of the Faith Communities Capacity Building Fund; the findings of research currently being carried out by the Inter Faith Network, the Faith Based Regeneration Network and, importantly, the Local Government Association, which we should perhaps focus on most particularly today.
The responses that we have received to our interfaith consultation document Face-to-Face and Side-by-Side: A Framework for Inter Faith Dialogue and Social Action, will continue to inform our decision-making process and will be taken into account in our decision on the nature and extent of any future funding. Our strategy will be published in July.
We are building on a long history of people from different faith communities in the United Kingdom working together to build mutual understanding and respect and develop strong and positive relationships with one another and with wider civil society. That is not to say that the Government do not recognise that at times religion can be a source of conflict and tension. Many noble Lords referred to that, including my noble friend Lord Macdonald and the noble Lord, Lord Lamont. But evidence suggests that faith communities in the United Kingdom can also play an important role in resolving conflict by building community cohesion and acting as a vital source of social capital in their local communities.
Breaking down the barriers between communities, identifying shared values and commonalities and working together are essential components to building a cohesive community. However, as my noble friend Lord Macdonald said, we need to have robust dialogue—a point also made by the noble Lord, Lord Alton. I hope that there is consensus around that point. The noble Baroness, Lady Afshar, made an important contribution in that sense when she spoke about the need to break down barriers in her difficult and challenging work with Islam and feminism. That is a groundbreaking area of study which has cast interesting light on that whole debate.
I recognise that faith is not the only occupant of the public domain in this regard. It is populated by multiple identities of faith, gender, sexuality, ethnicity, culture, belief and non-belief. Multiple identities are the norm in our society and no one route working in isolation will build the bridges between polarised or shared identities needed to achieve our vision of cohesive communities. That point was well made by the noble Lord, Lord Anderson. Improving interfaith dialogue is one route, and has shown itself to be positive and productive.
Let me reflect for a moment on the diversity of our society. Each of us has our unique identity, made up of a complex mix of identities that govern the different roles we play in our everyday lives. While it is important that we recognise these distinct differences, it is equally important that where there are common links between faith communities we use these shared values to encourage constructive and open debate on the issues where there may be differences. Interfaith dialogue acts as part of the social glue that joins our differences in culture, faith and ethnicity.
This great diversity of our society is, I believe, a great strength, but if there is no room for debate, misunderstandings fester, and are more difficult to remove. The Commission on Integration and Cohesion has highlighted the importance of going beyond interfaith dialogue to encourage meaningful dialogue between people of faith and no faith and people of different ethnic backgrounds and cultures. This has been echoed by those who feel excluded at the table of interfaith dialogue.
The key rubbing point for many interfaith forums is the role of “secular” society in this dialogue. The commission recommended that,
“a less shrill, more positive dialogue between religious and non-religious sectors is developed through the intercultural strategy”.
We aim to reflect this in our strategy. Our different religious traditions offer us many resources for this and teach us the importance of good relationships characterised by honesty, compassion and generosity of spirit.
I end with a reflection on shared values. In Britain today people of many faiths and beliefs live side by side. The opportunity lies before us to work together to build a society rooted in the values we all treasure. These are shared values which are recognised across a range of traditions, both religious and secular, and across the whole of society. Significantly, these shared values were expressed in the shared act of reflection which was developed by faith communities for the millennium. These values are: community; personal integrity; a sense of right and wrong; learning; wisdom and love of truth; care and compassion; justice and peace; respect for one another, for the earth and its creatures. These values will define our future and strengthen our communities. I am confident that the Government’s policy on building more inclusive and cohesive communities chimes with all these.
I call for dialogue which is face to face and side by side. I call for an understanding of differences to promote social unity. On this election day above all we need to reflect that we cannot ever allow a vacuum to develop because, as the noble Lord, Lord Mitchell, said, the extremists will follow in if we do. We need to be ever vigilant in pursuing this debate and its value to our society and our communities.
My Lords, I thank noble Lords for the consensus in the House that interfaith friction in interpersonal relationships should be dealt with with all seriousness. I therefore recommend that the House revisits this subject, which acts as a catalyst in helping to treat and eradicate our fear of one another.
With great humility I salute noble Lords for their contribution this afternoon on a cause we all hold dear to our hearts. For me, it has been a great privilege and an immensely useful experience to listen to such valuable contributions. I thank noble Lords and I am encouraged by the words of the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, the Minister, for his well thought-out discourse on interfaith work. I beg leave to withdraw the Motion for Papers.
Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.
Alcohol Labelling Bill [HL]
My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.
Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.
House in Committee accordingly.
[The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN OF COMMITTEES (Lord Faulkner of Worcester) in the Chair.]
Clause 1 [Warnings on alcoholic beverages]:
1: Clause 1, page 1, line 2, after “ensure” insert “so far as is practicable”
The noble Baroness said: I should like first to thank the noble Lord, Lord Mitchell, for being kind enough to rearrange the Committee stage of the Bill so that I could be present to speak to my amendments following an absence of several weeks after an accident. I am most grateful.
Before tackling the amendment I should declare various interests. Noble Lords should know that until September 2006 I was the chief executive of the Portman Group, an organisation funded by major alcoholic drinks producers to promote sensible drinking by consumers and responsible marketing by producers. I was also a member of the Alcohol Education and Research Council. I am a paid non-executive adviser to a global wines and spirits company, Brown-Forman, and I have undertaken various projects for other drinks producers in my capacity as an independent consultant. In my earlier career in the voluntary sector I worked and campaigned for several organisations concerned with maternity and infant welfare issues.
I also acknowledge the valuable assistance that I have received from the Wine and Spirit Trade Association and the British Beer and Pub Association in preparing the amendments to which I wish to speak. The WSTA represents about 90 per cent of wine sales by volume in the UK market, 80 per cent of imported spirits and all of the major multiple alcohol retailers. The BBPA represents 98 per cent of all beer sold in the UK market. The amendments in my name are also supported by the Scotch Whisky Association, the Gin and Vodka Association and the National Association of Cider Makers. I make that roll call not just to thank those organisations but to demonstrate the willingness of the industry to act effectively on the issue covered by the Bill and to demonstrate their willingness to make it workable in practice.
Legislation making it mandatory for labels to carry pregnancy advice is somewhat premature, if I may use that expression, at a time when the voluntary labelling agreement negotiated between government and industry is getting off the ground and attracting significant positive compliance. Nevertheless, my main concern has been to work as constructively as possible with the noble Lord, Lord Mitchell, to make sure that if and when his Bill becomes law, it will be as workable and non-contentious as possible in practice. I appreciate that his overriding concern is to see pregnancy advice on labels and that how it gets there is of secondary importance. I am therefore very glad that he has added his name to most of my amendments, which are designed only to acknowledge and honour the voluntary scheme and to keep any statutory provisions as a failsafe mechanism or back-stop.
Amendment No. 1 proposes to insert,
“so far as is practicable”,
after “ensure” in line 2. It is a shame that we have to start with one of the amendments to which the noble Lord, Lord Mitchell, has not added his name. I wish to make it clear from the outset that my intention is absolutely not to provide a device that lets companies off the hook.
As I said, in general I believe that the Bill’s measures should kick in wherever the voluntary scheme is not complied with. However, some types of package, container or label formats would make it very difficult to comply with the Bill’s requirements. Miniatures are the obvious example. There is a requirement in the United States for pregnancy advice on labels, but I have seen writing on some bottles so miniscule that I question the value of such a format to the consumer. Surely it is a tenet of all UK and EU labelling requirements that the information concerned should be meaningful to the consumer and proportionate to the goal. We certainly should not go for a measure that includes miniatures just because we know that they do that in the United States. After all, there are some very strange rules in the US relating to miniatures that I do not think we would go for here at all. I understand that in Washington DC, for example, it is illegal to sell miniatures singly. They have to be sold in six-packs because it is thought that selling them singly somehow encourages misuse. I should have thought that the opposite would apply, but that is a bit of an aside.
The noble Lord, Lord Mitchell, introduced the Bill some time ago and has since changed the wording of the text of the advice to bring it into line with the wording now advocated by the Department of Health and which is in the voluntary agreement. I still hope that I may be able to change his mind and that he will accept this amendment, which would bring the Bill into line with other aspects of, and assumptions behind, the voluntary agreement.
There is also the question of disproportion, which I touched on at Second Reading. There are certain packages and label formats where disproportionate cost, even to the point of threatening commercial viability, would be an issue for certain companies if this provision became a mandatory requirement for every single label on every single brand. That would apply, in particular, to small businesses, especially in the wine sector, where thousands of brands are tested each year in the UK market using hundreds of UK agent companies. We are talking about a very small fraction of the market. If this had been government legislation, it would have needed a regulatory impact assessment. However, just because it is a Private Member’s Bill, I do not think we should forget that there are regulatory impact issues for small businesses and, indeed, for consumer choice. As I said, hundreds of companies would be faced with the choice either to comply at cost or simply not to supply the UK market at all. I would not be concerned about these small businesses and their predicament—even if it were a cost predicament—if I thought that, by making the requirement mandatory for 100 per cent of labels on 100 per cent of brands, we would be doing women a favour, but the shortfall that would occur as a result of the kind of exemptions that I have in mind would make no difference at all to women’s awareness of the advice. We do not need 100 per cent of labels to carry this message. Labels are only part of the information stream bringing this vital message to women. The voluntary agreement between industry and government acknowledges that the labelling regime will play,
“a part in supporting a wider government-led campaign”.
The word “practicable” could also deal with another situation that I have in mind to make the requirement more practical—that is, to acknowledge that it is not reasonable to expect all brands to comply all at the same time with a single enactment date. In practice, I think that it would be reasonable to allow the gradual phasing-in of a labelling requirement for some niche brands with a very small market share but a long shelf life. Many of these brands will be owned by large global companies and so cost is obviously not ultimately a barrier, but the logistics of label production mean that it might be practical to deal with these brands later rather than sooner—for example, within two years rather than two months. Again, the voluntary agreement envisages that those considerations should be taken into account. It says that the Government understand that these labelling changes will happen as part of normal industry cycles for making changes to labels.
I did a small amount of research on the way in which the word “practicable” has been interpreted by the courts. I was relieved to see that it seems to have been interpreted in a fairly tight way. It is certainly regarded as much stricter than the phrase “reasonably practicable”. It is regarded as meaning feasible rather than “if you feel like doing it”. I stress that this is not meant to be a device to let anyone off the hook. If I am unable to persuade the Minister to accept the phrase in my amendment, I would ask him at the very least to consider bringing back an amendment on Report or at Third Reading with a new clause or schedule for the specific exclusion of things, such as miniatures, which it seems reasonable to exclude from the requirements of the Bill. I beg to move.
I am very glad to be able to support my noble friend Lady Coussins. She has moved the amendment with great skill and most comprehensively, for which I am grateful. I have had no chance to discuss any of these amendments with her before today's debate, but quite independently I arrived at the same conclusions concerning miniature bottles.
Miniatures contain either five centilitres or, occasionally, only three centilitres—usually when the bottle contains cognac. It is almost impossible to get any meaningful warning on a bottle that size. If there were lettering a millimetre high it would swamp the rest of the bottle. I do not think anyone would willingly buy a miniature, not least because they are terribly bad value. If you multiply a miniature by 15 to get the price of a bottle, it would be enormously expensive. Mostly, you get given them free on British Airways flights, no doubt to compensate for your delayed luggage. British Airways are very good at that: I have a collection of empty miniature bottles which are useful for various things.
This is an unanswerable point. I suppose that there may be other containers which are difficult to label, but the miniature bottle is certainly one. I urge the noble Lord, Lord Mitchell, to think very carefully about it.
I was slightly horrified when I learnt that I had to deal with this Bill, not having been involved with it previously. However, when I looked at it closely, I came to some conclusions, which are mine and not necessarily the policy of my party. I shall oppose all the amendments before us today because I believe that the Bill's proposals are right, so I shall speak only once. I have heard the noble Baroness, Lady Coussins’s, explanation of this amendment, with the insertion of the words “so far as is practicable”, but I still find it very difficult to understand. Those words must be open to all sorts of interpretations, so I cannot accept this amendment and nor can I accept any of the others.
We, in this Committee, all know the dire consequences of drinking to excess but many young women do not. Alcohol-related deaths have almost doubled since 1991 and continue to rise. The costs to the NHS are huge. Alcohol-related injuries and disease cost around £1.7 billion a year and about 353,000 people were taken to hospital in England in 2006 as a direct result of alcohol abuse. Clearly and unambiguously, labelling is now necessary, especially for pregnant women or those hoping to conceive. The Government’s labelling of every cigarette packet has certainly got the message across about smoking being dangerous to health. Now that message must be followed through to the labelling of alcoholic drinks. A toned-down warning, something that says, “We hope that you abide by this”, is absolutely no use whatever, and these amendments suggest that. I am sorry, but I will not be supporting them, and I support the Bill in its entirety.
The noble Baroness talks about alcohol abuse. Does she not concede that the greatest alcohol abuse occurs in clubs and pubs, but there will be no need to have labels put on the glasses served to the mainly young people concerned? That is the problem. It has little to do with whether there are labels on the bottle or cans.
I in large part echo the words of the noble Baroness, Lady Harris. Reading through the amendments, I have particularly concerns about the first. I am rather disappointed that, in moving the amendment, there was no suggestion that the label on the bottle should be clearly displayed at the point of sale, when somebody is purchasing it. That creates a loophole within the Bill. People will perhaps then argue through various bits of case law that their bottle or label is too special, precious or different in shape to warrant carrying the relevant warning.
My other concern is that there is no requirement for the warning to be legible. We all know and have seen times when, for example, the sell-by or the shelf date of a product is stamped in such an illegible way that we need two pairs of glasses and a strong light to see which year it was, let alone which day or month. I am concerned that exactly the same method could be used to print pale grey on a light background, or a shade of green on green or whatever, so that the label would not be clearly legible. In that spirit—and I use the word advisedly—I have grave concerns about the amendment.
Briefly, I warmly welcome this Bill in Committee, the co-operation and work undertaken between many of the interests involved, and the work of my noble friends and the noble Lord, Lord Mitchell, in bringing this forward. I do not intend to speak any further in Committee, but am grateful for the work that has been done.
I share the disappointment expressed about the amendments. It should be as strong as possible. After all, we were recently reminded by a report from Alcohol Concern that 1 million children have an alcohol-dependent parent. Of course, we are particularly concerned about the foetus at this point. This is an opportunity to break some women and mothers from their use of alcohol when their child is at an early stage, so that the children do not experience their parent with that dependency.
I want to quote briefly from a report from the mental health charity Rethink. Referring to what we have learnt from advertising on cigarette packets, it states:
“Large warnings on cigarette packets in the UK have had a dramatic effect. 12 per cent of quit attempts in 2004 were prompted by packet warnings. Packet warnings are the second largest source of callers to the NHS Stop Smoking Helpline. As the warnings have grown bigger, the number of people who said that the warnings had stopped them from having a cigarette doubled, and the number of people saying they have led them to consider quitting has gone from 25 per cent to 40 per cent”.
These warnings are clearly important. I know that we are talking about the size, and the small warnings. I look forward to listening to the Minister’s response on this. In general and on principle, however, I welcome the Bill and the work done on it. I regret that it is not stronger, but recognise that compromises have to be made.
Would my noble friend not agree that you cannot go into a pub or club and buy one or two individual cigarettes, having no sight of the packet? If you want a cigarette, you have to buy or have access to a packet and therefore you will see the warning. The analogy with alcohol is imperfect because you can drink an awful lot in a year without buying a bottle or can of beer, or whatever.
The noble Lord, Lord Monson, made a valid point that many young people who overindulge do so in a social setting where they would not be buying the entire bottle, and therefore would not see the label. But the point of the Bill is to create a culture whereby people are educated about the damage that alcohol can do to them. Irrespective of whether on a particular Saturday night they had a couple of drinks too many and did themselves harm, they would be more aware in general of the damage of alcohol through the labelling process.
Secondly, we know from recent research figures that since the smoking ban, the consumption of alcohol in social domestic settings has increased considerably. That is where people would be privy to the warnings on bottles and so on.
Perhaps I may say to my noble friend Lord Mitchell that the first amendment always takes time, so don’t worry. It is of course up to him to decide what he wishes to do with this amendment, but I thought it might be useful if I placed the Government’s position on the record. Thereafter, unless asked specifically, I shall not take part in the debate. I shall sit here and smile.
I congratulate my noble friend on his perseverance and his success in bringing his Private Member’s Bill to Committee stage. I am very pleased to see the noble Baroness, Lady Coussins, again in her place and on her feet.
As we have said on both occasions that my noble friend has sought to introduce his Bill, the Government support fully the ethos and motivation behind it, and are determined to tackle alcohol-related harm in whatever form it may take. As Members of the Committee will recall, last year we reached a voluntary agreement on labelling with the alcohol industry which will provide people with information about how much they are drinking and what it means for their own health. We also expect that the industry should include information on what drinking alcohol during pregnancy means for the health of the child. On Amendment No. 1, the Government’s agreement with industry contains an exemption similar to the proposal put forward by the noble Baroness, Lady Coussins, because it is aimed at providing flexibility to a minority of small producers in cases where the logistics of production and distribution would have disproportionate costs.
My noble friend’s excellent Bill proposes a warning on drinking alcohol during pregnancy. We commend this entirely. We have been clear with the industry that it should include pregnancy advice on labels. Our strong preference is for industry to use government wording, but labels may also use the French pregnancy advice logo. However, we hope that the voluntary agreement will accomplish even more than my noble friend’s Bill, incorporating additional information on units and relating these to daily recommended alcohol consumption guidelines.
My noble friend’s Bill rightly proposes that, should it be enacted, it will come into force by no later than 1 January 2010. We agree that swift action is needed. Our voluntary agreement with industry is clear that we expect to see the majority of alcohol product labels carrying the health information by the end of 2008, which is soon and well within the timeframe that my noble friend proposes.
It is fair to give industry, which has shown willing thus far, the opportunity to improve labelling without new regulation. And we have given the industry a reasonable period of time within which to meet the terms of the agreement announced last May. We shall be monitoring the industry to ensure that this has taken place, and have appointed CCFRA Technology Limited to carry out an initial collection and analysis of data from a sample of alcoholic drinks labels throughout the UK. A second sample will be taken towards the end of 2008.
We will be looking at the presentation. My noble friend’s original Bill contained some detailed provisions, but there are also amendments tabled that would lighten its requirements.
I remind noble Lords of the Government’s position. While our voluntary agreement is not so prescriptive on placement, size and other things, we expect the industry to produce labels that consumers can easily read and take in. Visibility, legibility and intelligibility will be the key measures of effectiveness. It is clear that we must await the results of the monitoring, but I sincerely hope that the outcome is as positive as the Government and my noble friend would like. However, if it becomes evident that progress on implementing the agreement is insufficient and that the industry has not delivered, Ministers have made clear that they are willing to legislate following public consultation.
The Bill has given the Government the opportunity to consider what further action might look like. We are satisfied that primary legislation to require the industry to comply with the voluntary agreement would not be required since the Secretary of State for Health already possesses adequate regulation-making powers under the Food Safety Act 1990. That means that, should it prove necessary, and I sincerely hope it will not, the Government could make labelling mandatory through secondary legislation.
In summary, we support my noble friend’s aims, but we do not agree that his Bill will provide the public with information as swiftly or as effectively as we expect our voluntary agreement with the industry should do. Under the agreement, we expect positive changes to the majority of labels by the end of 2008. They should provide unambiguous, clearly presented information about units and guidelines on sensible drinking. We expect that labels should include information on drinking and pregnancy.
My noble friend’s Bill also has implications for the devolved Administrations. This is particularly true for Scotland where food labelling is a devolved matter and a Sewel motion would be required. Noble Lords must also be satisfied that details such as enforcement are properly provided for in each part of the United Kingdom. I am pleased to say that our voluntary agreement is UK-wide and does not present these difficulties.
Our preferred approach, for now, is a voluntary approach, but we are serious about labelling and have powers to extend regulation. If we are not satisfied that the industry has delivered, we will not hesitate to move to a mandatory scheme.
The Minister has given me a lot to think about. I will consider very seriously what she said. I am delighted that the noble Baroness, Lady Coussins, is in her place. It was the right decision to postpone the Committee stage of the Bill. She has been very helpful. She was in hospital, and we are glad to see her on her feet. I am pleased that she is making a contribution to this. In the beginning, I was not absolutely convinced that she was on the side of the angels, but we have spent quite a bit of time trying to find a practical solution to these issues, and she brings a wealth of knowledge from her experience in the drinks industry. There are two areas where we do not agree, and I am certainly less strident than the noble Baroness, Lady Harris, on this issue. It will be interesting to see how the Committee proceeds.
Since Second Reading, there have been a number of developments that are well worth mentioning. First, the National Institute for Clinical Excellence, which had in some ways equivocated on this issue, came up with a strong position regarding alcohol and pregnancy. That was very good for all of us who have supported this position. Secondly, the BMA has been consistent in its support for what we are trying to do and supports compulsory labelling.
However, the most interesting thing that has happened relates to Diageo, which is a major drinks manufacturing company. It manufactures Guinness and lots of spirits, and is a leader in the industry. Its position on this is quite clear: it does not like a voluntary agreement and does not want one. It wants legislation. I went to see Diageo, and it issued a press release. I shall read what the managing director of Diageo Great Britain wrote; it is worth listening to:
“We believe that this is crucial if we are to avoid confusion among women. If a pregnant woman walks into a shop and sees two bottles of wine, one with a pregnancy message on it and another without, we want to avoid her thinking that one is better for her than the other. A voluntary labelling agreement would carry this risk”.
“We have been waiting for NICE to confirm its position. We believe that all alcohol producers should include the new guidance on their products. Now is the time for Government to make it a mandatory requirement. We should remember that information on labels is only one way to communicate a pregnancy message. Labelling will only be effective if part of a wider package of responsible drinking communication including programmes, interventions, websites and other resources”.
When it comes to it—when the independent survey to which my noble friend referred takes place—Diageo may well not have complied, because I do not think that it wants to. It is absolute: it wants in black and white what it should and should not do.
I listened to what noble Lords said about the amendment. I have thought a lot about the issue of miniatures. Clearly, you cannot have a label bigger than the bottle. That is not practicable. The American example is good. You may not be able to read it, you may need good eyesight to be able to read something on a small bottle, but it is there. It is part of a method of thinking; it is part of where we stand on the issue. I see no reason for any exception, even for miniatures.
In any other area, you do not get an exception just because you are a small business. It is absolute: if you have to do certain things, you have to. I cannot see the issue. Just as the rules on tobacco were a 100 per cent requirement that had to be complied with, exactly the same should be true of alcohol, without exclusions.
There are always issues about phasing in but, as my noble friend said, the Government will look seriously at what is the situation at the end of 2008. It is now May, and there are eight months ago, which is not long. By then, we will know exactly where we stand.
On the issue of pubs and clubs, which the noble Lord, Lord Monson, mentioned, I was in a bar in New York a few weeks ago with some friends. There in the bar—not on the glasses but with the bottles—was a clear message that stated that drinking when pregnant can affect the unborn child. There are various ways in which the message can be put across. Even in the club and pub culture, we can do that, as we did in the case of tobacco.
I want to keep the provision as it is; I think that it is correct; I do not think that practicability should be an issue. That is where I stand.
Is the noble Lord aware that the Diageo commitment to mandatory labelling for pregnancy does not extend to miniatures? It has said that it would be happy to do it only on containers above that size. Because the noble Lord is so delighted with Diageo’s position, which I can understand, I wonder if that alone might persuade him to think twice about a specific exemption for miniatures. I shall not go to the wall on any of the other aspects, but that seems to me a logical thing to do.
2: Clause 1, page 1, line 2, leave out from “carries” to second “the” in line 3
The noble Baroness said: The amendment would remove the obligation to put the pregnancy advice on the brand label or the most visible surface. Amendment No. 29 is consequential on that. Amendment No. 28 concerns a related issue, which I will deal with at the same time. Amendment No. 6, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Monson, to which I am sure he will speak, would do the same thing in relation to the pictogram or logo. I support that; I am sorry that I was not quick enough off the mark to add my name to the amendment.
Under the clause, the advice in the text would have to be put on the front label of the bottle. That is what “brand label” is understood to mean. I suggest that this would be overrestrictive and possibly counterproductive. The assumption in the voluntary labelling scheme is that producers have flexibility, as we heard from the Minister, over where the information and advice go. The phrase “the most visible surface” in any case is arguably subjective. What is it in the case of a can, a soft tube or a foil pouch, all of which are containers of alcoholic drinks that are currently on the market? Producers need the flexibility to incorporate this pregnancy advice in the most practical way, subject of course to legibility criteria, which we will come to later.
Another point that is worth making is that there is no case for separating the different elements of the sensible drinking message, which will be the case if the amendment is not accepted. The voluntary agreement deals with the five elements of the sensible drinking message, which go together en bloc on whichever place is the most suitable on the label. There is no case for separating out one aspect of the sensible drinking message. Placing them all together would have much more impact.
Insisting on the front label creates a rather unfair, and certainly unscientific, parallel between alcohol and tobacco. The voluntary agreement, as I said, includes the pregnancy advice as part of the overall sensible drinking message. There is no sensible smoking message. It may well have been necessary—I am sure that it was—to have strong legislation in the face of the intransigence of the tobacco industry to change, but this is patently not the case with the alcohol industry, which is willing to engage in a partnership with the Government to try to achieve a culture change. In this way, it is absolutely different from the tobacco industry.
Amendment No. 28, which applies to Clause 14 and is on a related point, would insert “primary” after “sealed” on containers. This is simply a pragmatic measure that would ensure that the advice appeared on the main consumer unit—in other words, the bottle, can, pouch or tube—and not on any outer or additional packaging such as the cardboard wrapper or the box of a multipack. It would be unreasonable to expect it to be incorporated on both, partly because of cost but mainly because it would be of little or no use to the consumer if it appeared on packaging other than the primary packaging. I beg to move.
The noble Lord, Lord Mitchell, has gone a considerable way—although not quite far enough—towards meeting the concerns of those who have misgivings about the Bill. We thank him for that. I also thank him for tacitly accepting my recommendation that drinks containing less than 0.5 per cent alcohol should be exempt. I tabled an amendment to that effect when the previous Bill was in this House. It lapsed because the Bill proceeded no further, but I am glad that he has picked up on it.
I shall focus on my Amendment No. 6, to which I was glad to hear that the noble Baroness, Lady Coussins, lends her strong support. Most of the amendments of the noble Lord, Lord Mitchell, would convert the Bill into an enabling Bill, leaving this or a future Government to decide on precise details such as the size of the lettering, the colour of the labels and so on and so forth.
However, an anomalous requirement in Clause 1(2) remains, perhaps inadvertently. It stipulates that a future Government must insist on the warning appearing on the,
“brand label, or on the most visible surface”.
A future Government could require the lettering to be six inches high and printed in fluorescent ink, or half a millimetre high and printed in pale grey. They would have no choice over the siting of such advice. That these words should remain in the subsection would be inconsistent with Amendment No. 29, to which the noble Lord, Lord Mitchell, has put his name, which deletes exactly the same wording from Clause 14. That reinforces my supposition that his failure to put his name to the deletion of these words was inadvertent.
3: Clause 1, page 1, line 3, leave out “warning” and insert “advice”
The noble Baroness said: Amendment No. 3 and those identical to it deal with replacing the word “warning” with the word “advice”. Again, the parallel with smoking is an issue. For tobacco products, the word “warning” is justified. The messages on packets of cigarettes, such as “Smoking kills” or “Smoking causes serious damage to your health”, are warnings. But in the case of alcohol, this Bill is seeking the promotion not of a warning but of advice. It cannot be a warning, partly because we do not know enough for it to be as bold as with smoking. Private Members’ Bills should of course be evidence-based even if they are not obliged to come up with a regulatory impact assessment.
In June 2007, the British Medical Association said:
“Determining the incidence of FASD is complicated by a lack of reliable and consistent data collection, and the difficulty in diagnosing the range of disorders. Consequently, the incidence of FASD in the UK and internationally is not accurately known. The relationship between maternal alcohol consumption and the development of the range of disorders is not fully understood”.
However, we know enough to understand that there is some kind of relationship to worry about, which is why the current Department of Health guidance is framed as it is. It states:
“As a general rule pregnant women or women trying to conceive should avoid drinking alcohol. If they do choose to drink, to protect the baby they should not drink more than one to two units of alcohol once or twice a week and should not get drunk”.
For labelling purposes, this is abbreviated to:
“Avoid alcohol if pregnant or trying to conceive”.
The second part of that advice is extremely important. It is not just about the dangers of damaging the foetus, but also about excessive alcohol consumption having an adverse impact on fecundability or the chances of conceiving in the first place. I believe that the Department of Health knows from recent qualitative research that this aspect of its pregnancy advice is less well known and less well understood by the target audience, so it is particularly important to include. I am very supportive of the text proposed in this Bill, apart from the words “GOVERNMENT WARNING”.
We also know from research over several years that people’s responses to so-called health warnings are not positive and can even be counterproductive. It is much more sensible to position this in terms of advice. I propose to delete the words “GOVERNMENT WARNING” from the beginning of the prescribed text because we must start from the consumer and what we know about how they would respond to public health messages. Having what is called a warning would be bad enough, but I am afraid that something calling itself a government warning is doubly bad for the chances of its being taken seriously. There is simply no need for it; let us concentrate on advice. In any case, all labels will carry the Drinkaware website address, which has detailed information about alcohol and pregnancy. I beg to move.
It is hard to add anything to the excellent argument made by my noble friend Lady Coussins. Before we leave Clause 1, I want just to refer to something that I do not think has been mentioned, although I was not able to be here for the Second Reading debate—it was held on a Friday, which as noble Lords know is not the easiest day to be in the House.
The noble Lord, Lord Mitchell, will correct me if I am wrong, but I do not think that any mention of pictograms was made in his earlier Bill, which had to be withdrawn. It is an interesting idea and in many ways a pictogram may be better than a written warning. However, while one can visualise easily a pictogram of a pregnant woman, one of a woman trying to conceive is rather more interesting. All sorts of images come to mind, some of which might fall foul of the censorship lobby. Has any thought been given to this? Perhaps there is an American example that could be copied. It may sound frivolous, but it is an interesting point mainly because, as the noble Lord, Lord Mitchell, told us on the last occasion, it is when a woman is trying to conceive or has just done so that the foetus is in the most danger.
I shall deal first with the questions raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Coussins. I agree that “advice” is a better word than “warning”. Having thought about it and discussed it, I think that we are giving advice rather than issuing warnings. I feel quite comfortable with the changes and I accept the point that a government warning is for most people a red rag to a bull. It is good that the word will be removed.
To answer the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Monson, I should tell him that in France a very effective pictogram is used. It shows the outline of a woman who is clearly pregnant and holding a glass of champagne, as they would in France, surrounded by a clear circle with a cross through it. It makes the point that, whether you are pregnant or thinking about becoming pregnant, alcohol should be avoided. I do not think that any more graphic an example is necessary.
On Question, amendment agreed to.
4: Clause 1, page 1, line 4, leave out “GOVERNMENT WARNING:”
5: Clause 1, page 1, line 6, leave out “warning” and insert “advice”
On Question, amendments agreed to.
6: Clause 1, page 1, line 8, leave out from “carries” to “a” in line 9
The noble Lord said: I have already spoken to this amendment, but the noble Lord, Lord Mitchell, chose not to respond to it when replying to Amendment No. 2. However, it is an important amendment because the wording here is anomalous and does not chime well with Amendment No. 29, which deletes precisely the same words in Clause 14. I wonder whether he might give his view on whether he mistakenly left these words in and would be prepared to remove them, if not at this stage, at the next one. I beg to move.
7: Clause 1, page 1, line 9, leave out “warning”
8: Clause 1, page 1, line 10, leave out “warning” and insert “advice”
On Question, amendments agreed to.
9: Clause 1, page 1, line 12, at end insert—
“(4) No advice as required by subsections (1) and (2) shall be required on any container if the producer of that container is in compliance with the voluntary labelling agreement between the alcoholic drinks industry and the Department of Health as expressed in the Memorandum of Understanding dated 24th May 2007.”
The noble Baroness said: This additional subsection would prevent the most responsible producer companies in the industry being penalised for their leadership by having to go to the trouble and expense of changing their labels yet again, in line with the Bill’s requirements, when they have already complied with the voluntary scheme which is nearly but not quite the same. The option of the wording or the logo is the same apart from the words “Government Warning”. There is flexibility within the voluntary scheme to put the advice on the back label as part of a block of text which also includes the key aspects of the sensible drinking message; namely, the daily unit benchmarks for men and women, the unit content for the particular container, the Drinkaware website address and a responsibility message.
The memorandum of understanding setting out the voluntary scheme deals with pregnancy advice as an important integrated aspect of the sensible drinking message and there is no good reason to separate it out, as the Bill requires. It would be a crying shame for the Bill to undermine the voluntary agreement which has been reached following detailed negotiations between the Government and the industry. It would risk sending out a negative message to the industry about how worth while it may or may not be in the future to work in partnership with the Government and, indeed, with other stakeholders in this way.
As we heard from the Minister, the Government intend to review progress on implementation of the scheme towards the end of 2008 and they hope that the majority of product labels will be suitably amended by then. Compliance levels, or commitments to introducing the new production cycles required to achieve compliance, are already respectably high across the industry; I referred to some figures in the Second Reading debate which I shall not repeat here. I am glad that the noble Lord, Lord Mitchell, by adding his name to the amendment, seems happy to accept that it would be fair and just to expect the provisions of his Bill to apply only to those who have not complied already with the voluntary scheme. I beg to move.
I accept what the noble Baroness, Lady Coussins, says on this. The way the wind is blowing is clear from what my noble friend the Minister said. We already have a memorandum of understanding. If that is not complied with, it is clear that the Government will come down like a ton of hot bricks—or at least I hope they will. People in the industry will read this debate and be well aware of what is behind it all. I am happy to go along with the amendment and to lend my name to it.
On Question, amendment agreed to.
Clause 1, as amended, agreed to.
Clause 2 [Size of warnings]:
10: Clause 2, page 1, line 14, leave out “warning” and insert “advice”
11: Clause 2, page 1, line 20, leave out “warning” and insert “advice”
12: Clause 2, page 2, line 2, leave out “warning” and insert “advice”
13: Clause 2, page 2, line 6, leave out “warning” and insert “advice”
On Question, amendments agreed to.
On Question, Whether Clause 2 shall stand part of the Bill?
Thank you. It would be sensible to lose Clauses 2, 3 and 4, and it would not damage or reduce the overall impact of the Bill to do so. As they stand, the clauses are over-restrictive, inflexible and not helpful.
Clause 2 is superfluous given that the food labelling regulations, which also cover alcoholic drinks, already prescribe for clarity and legibility. The relevant parts of the Food Labelling Regulations 1996 state that any information on labels,
“shall be easy to understand, clearly legible and indelible and, when a food”—
or, in this case, a drink—
“is sold to the ultimate consumer, the said particulars shall be marked in a conspicuous place in such a way as to be easily visible … Such particulars shall not in any way be hidden, obscured or interrupted by any other written or pictorial matter”.
I cannot see any reason to go any further than that, in the interests of consistency—which, after all, is one of the five principles of better regulation, an agenda enthusiastically endorsed by the Government. I shall read a couple of sentences from the guidance on the consistency principle produced by the former Better Regulation Commission, on which body I used to sit:
“Regulators should be consistent with each other, and work together in a joined-up way … New regulations should take account of other existing or proposed regulations”.
It is really not in producers’ interests to put consumer information on labels that is illegible. Retailers would reject it, and so would consumers. The value and importance of reputational risk should not be underestimated.
Many of the same arguments apply to Clause 3, where the over-prescriptiveness could end up being counterproductive, partly because of the design of labels—if the label were black and/or red, the impact of the requirement here could be completely lost—but partly because if pregnancy advice is being included as part of the wider sensible drinking message, as in the voluntary agreement, the design and positioning of the package as a whole needs to be addressed by the producer companies. It is too restrictive and illogical to compel them to observe particular requirements for one aspect only out of the five-point plan.
Industry needs flexibility to research and introduce improved logos or pictograms as well. We have been talking about the French logo and heard a description of it, but producers need the freedom to investigate consumer insights so that they could possibly offer improved variations on that in future. I am aware of consumer research recently done in Japan that showed that consumers on the whole assumed that that particular logo meant that alcoholic drinks had contraceptive properties, and it would be a bit of a disaster if that happened here. We cannot assume that logos will be set in stone or that the prescriptive way in which the clause is currently framed is the best way to do it.
There is a short and simple reason for Clause 4 not to stand part: it is not necessary. It is already a legal requirement under food safety legislation, which covers alcoholic drinks, that manageable product recalls should be facilitated. The Food (Lot Marking) Regulations 1996 require containers to be marked in order to identify the batch to which the container belongs. Many of those markings are actually minute codes, providing precise information on the time of packaging and the line number on which the product was packaged. I simply cannot see what additional reasons relating to alcohol and pregnancy would require anything further, or for the existing law to be restated.
Once again, the noble Baroness, Lady Coussins, has made her case so well that there is no need for me to embellish it. We are pushing against an open door, in that the noble Lord, Lord Mitchell, has been kind enough to accept the deletion of these clauses. I must express some peripheral regret at the disappearance of Clause 2, which demonstrates—if demonstration were needed—the way in which imperial and metric measurements can coexist in perfect harmony in a potential Act of Parliament. There is no need for heavy-handed bureaucracy or the heavy hand of the law to outlaw one form of measurement. I suppose I should declare an interest as a patron of the British Weights and Measures Association, as was the late Gwyneth Dunwoody, whom we shall all miss.
I am always in favour of simplifying things and getting rid of bureaucracy. On the size of the print, however, I have studied quite a few wine bottles, and I have noted that when the warning is about 1 millimetre high, it is very difficult to read. As the noble Baroness, Lady Coussins, said, it also depends on the colour of the label. Black print on a red background is extremely difficult to read.
I wonder whether the noble Lord, Lord McColl, has understood that it will be up to the Government of the day to decide on the size of the lettering and the colouring. It is not in the Bill, but it has been turned into an enabling Bill. I think that that answers his concerns on that point.
Clause 2, as amended, negatived.
Clause 3 [Appearance of warnings]:
14: Clause 3, page 2, line 10, leave out “warning” and insert “advice”
15: Clause 3, page 2, line 11, leave out “warning” and insert “advice”
16: Clause 3, page 2, line 12, leave out “warning” and insert “advice”
17: Clause 3, page 2, line 17, leave out from “type” to “; and” in line 18
18: Clause 3, page 2, line 20, leave out “warning” and insert “advice”
19: Clause 3, page 2, line 27, leave out “warning” and insert “advice”
20: Clause 3, page 2, line 29, leave out “warning” and insert “advice”
On Question, amendments agreed to.
Clause 3, as amended, negatived.
Clause 4 negatived.
Clause 5 [Product description]:
21: Clause 5, page 3, line 7, leave out “warning” and insert “advice”
On Question, amendment agreed to.
On Question, Whether Clause 5, as amended, shall stand part of the Bill?
I see the point of Clause 5, but if somebody buys a can of beer at an alcoholic strength of 3 per cent, it is half as dangerous as a can of a rival beer which has 6 per cent alcohol. It seems rather draconian to say that this should not be pointed out. I suppose that the purveyor of the weaker beer should not say, “This is much safer for pregnant women than my rivals”. I suppose it would be acceptable in that case. The stronger the alcoholic beverage, the more dangerous it is.
Clause 5, as amended, agreed to.
Clauses 6 and 7 agreed to.
Clause 8 [Enforcement]:
22: Clause 8, page 3, line 29, leave out paragraphs (a) to (c) and insert “a local authority”
The noble Baroness said: The purpose of this amendment is to ensure that we do not leave any enforcement loopholes. The best way of doing that is to go for simplicity. It may seem at first sight that to delete every paragraph and replace them just with the words “local authority” is a little imprecise, but I have proposed this catch-all wording because of advice that I have received from LACORS, the local authority co-ordinating body for regulatory services. Taking the remit of the food labelling regulations, which also cover the labelling of alcoholic drinks, LACORS states that the enforcement authority would be,
“a combination of TSOs in County Councils and Unitary Authorities in England and Wales; EHOs in London Boroughs, Metropolitan Authorities in England and in Scotland and Northern Ireland. In other words, enforcement by ‘Local Authorities’ would cover all eventualities”.
So, for simplicity’s sake, the experts suggest that “local authorities” would catch everybody and not expose us to the risk of possibly leaving somebody out. I beg to move.
On Question, amendment agreed to.
Clause 8, as amended, agreed to.
Clauses 9 and 10 agreed to.
Clause 11 [Penalties]:
23: Clause 11, page 6, line 27, leave out paragraphs (a) and (b) and insert “to a fine not exceeding level 5 on the standard scale”
The noble Baroness said: I propose through this amendment to downgrade the potential penalties for breaches of the labelling requirements under the Bill. I do so for reasons of consistency and proportionality—two of the better regulation principles. I have already read out a bit of the advice on the principle of consistency; on proportionality, the advice is as follows:
“Policy solutions must be proportionate to the perceived problem or risk and justify the compliance costs imposed—don’t use a sledgehammer to crack a nut”.
The first comparison that I would make is, again, with the Food Labelling Regulations 1996, under which any person found guilty of an offence is liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding level 5 on the standard scale, which is currently up to £5,000. The kind of offences that we are talking about under the food labelling regulations would be misleading nutritional information, selling food after the use-by date or not marking or labelling the product in compliance with the regulations. We are looking at a comparable type of message or advice in the Bill. No term of imprisonment is mentioned in the food labelling regulations and no reference is made to conviction on indictment.
There is another comparison, which I suspect the noble Lord, Lord Mitchell, would rather make—the penalty under the Tobacco Products (Manufacture, Presentation and Sale) (Safety) Regulations 2002, under which an offence would attract a penalty harsher than the one that I propose in that it specifies on summary conviction a term of imprisonment not exceeding three months or a fine not exceeding level 5—but please note the either/or. So even here there is no additional mention of a penalty on conviction on indictment of up to two years’ imprisonment, as is currently in this Bill. The penalty is also clearly either three months or the fine, whereas in the Bill it could be both—although I see that the noble Lord intends to try to change that himself. Would he consider going further still and support my amendment, taking the view that the parallel with the food labelling regulations and not the tobacco regulations is the fairer and more consistent approach?
As I argued earlier, we are not in a tobacco situation here: we are talking about advice, not a warning. Smoking kills, whereas alcohol in moderation can be beneficial to some groups in the population. Even in the very specific and special circumstance of pregnancy, it is important to keep things in a proper perspective. I would hate us to fall into the trap of sending out disproportionately alarmist messages and thereby cause problems, not alleviate them, as happened in the USA and Canada in the 1980s, for example, when completely unfounded misinformation about foetal alcohol syndrome reportedly led to unprecedented distress, anxiety and even requests for abortion on the part of healthy women who had been light drinkers, but were scared by the way in which the media and others had distorted research findings that were applicable only to women who were clearly problem drinkers and consuming very high levels of alcohol.
We are not dealing with a potential offence that should be capable of putting someone behind bars for two years or at all. A fine at level 5, which is the most severe level, is adequate. Anything more than that could be counterproductive, as it could be seen as so disproportionate that convictions would be unlikely. That would, in turn, defeat the whole object of creating an offence. I beg to move.
Once again, the noble Baroness has put the case extremely well and I cannot really add to it. The key word is “proportionate”. For the reasons that she mentioned and the comparison that she has drawn, this suggestion would be disproportionate. There is also a practical aspect. As I said at Third Reading of the Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill, our prisons are full to bursting. Unfortunately, the Government are creating more offences for which people can be sent to prison, but this is crazy for practical reasons let alone moral ones. I would have thought that a fine—possibly an unlimited fine—and not imprisonment is the right penalty for such an offence.
This is another clause on which we disagree. On the fears that women might have in this country, given the amount of media publicity on foetal alcohol syndrome and the dangers of drinking when pregnant or thinking of becoming pregnant, I think that most people have begun to get the message by now. I am not sure that that is particular.
I have a real problem with this amendment. I cannot see that there is any difference between a label on a packet of cigarettes and a label on a bottle of alcohol. A label is a label. There would be a legal requirement and if somebody chooses not to comply, they should face the same penalty as for tobacco labelling. As far as I am concerned, the clause should stay as it is in the Bill. As far as a fine is concerned, who would be the transgressors? They would be supermarkets, manufacturers and whoever. If they are fined, they are fined and they will just get on with life. There should be real teeth to this provision and the wording in the Bill should stand.
Could we hear from the Government? This is an important matter. The Government are rightly concerned that our prisons are full to bursting point. They must have a view on whether it is wise to provide for the possibility of imprisonment for such an offence.
26: Clause 14, page 7, line 38, leave out from “any” to end of line 40 and insert “pre-packaged alcoholic drink above 0.5% alcohol by volume, including any product developed or marketed primarily as an alcoholic drink notwithstanding that the product—
(a) is classified as a foodstuff for the purposes of licensing or customs and excise legislation, or(b) appears to be solid or heavily textured (or can be made to be, for example, by freezing or shaking).”
The noble Baroness said: This amendment proposes a more comprehensive definition of “alcoholic beverage” that takes into account innovation over recent years in the drinks industry, and without which some products that are particularly popular with young adults may find themselves in a loophole and able to escape the Bill’s obligations.
It is too restrictive to define “alcoholic beverage” only as something in liquid form. When I worked at the Portman Group and we were strengthening the code on the naming, packaging and promotion of alcoholic drinks, we realised that some products might avoid the code’s remit unless we updated the definition to take account of products which looked more like solid or semi-solid crushed ice, gel, jelly, thickened cream or had some such texture. Sometimes these products are not even classified as alcoholic drinks for licensing purposes. The Portman Group upheld a complaint against one of these products that appeared on shelves next to sweets and baking products. It had a very high alcoholic content and was attractive to children. The code got rid of it by ruling against its packaging and getting the retailers to destock it.
The definition proposed in my amendment is taken from the definition used in the Portman Group’s code. I am happy to note that the noble Lord, Lord Mitchell, supports this amendment, which would ensure that the alcoholic products that would be captured by this definition would be covered by his Bill, or any other requirements concerning pregnancy advice on labels. I beg to move.