House of Lords
Thursday, 28 April 2011.
Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of Gloucester.
EU and NATO: Peace in Europe
My Lords, both the European Union and NATO have made invaluable and complementary contributions to peace in Europe. We do not consider it appropriate to compare the two as they serve different functions. While NATO has ensured, and continues to ensure, our security, there is more to peace than just security. It requires stability, shared values, economic development and political co-operation. The European Union has contributed that. We firmly intend to remain an active and committed member of both.
My Lords, I am grateful for the Minister’s compliment about NATO, but I am afraid that the rest of his Answer merely repeats the EU’s standard propaganda to justify its existence. Is it not true that democracy is the best guarantor of peace and that the EU is a deeply undemocratic institution? Secondly, is it not also true that the EU is failing on every other front as well so that it has become an emperor without clothes?
My Lords, I think the noble Lord will agree that democracy is a many-layered concept. It requires the rule of law, good judicial standards, effective policing, fighting corruption, good and free business enterprise and freedom of the press. All those are areas where EU operations are effective. No one is saying that everything in the European Union is perfect at the moment. It obviously has major problems, particularly for those who are members of the eurozone, but it is unrealistic to dismiss all those very important elements of peace and democracy to which the EU contributes alongside the harder power that NATO can deliver.
My Lords, at the expense of trying to do some damage to the noble Lord, Lord Pearson, I say that I thoroughly agree with the part of his statement about democracy being the best guarantor of peace. Will the Minister confirm that the European Union buttressing emergent new democracies in Spain, Portugal and Greece made a major contribution in that area and therefore relieved NATO of many of the problems that it would otherwise have had in defending its southern flank?
As I said, I think the two things are complementary. I know that the noble Lord, who is a considerable expert on these issues, would not forget the role of the Council of Europe, originally set up at the instigation of this nation which took a lead, which has helped to bring values to the whole European continent. All three institutions have made their mark.
My Lords, Senator John McCain, after recently visiting Libya, said that,
“the US has got to play a greater role on the air power side. Our NATO allies neither have the assets, nor frankly the will—there's only six countries of the 28 in NATO that are actively engaged in this situation”.
Does my noble friend agree with Senator McCain and what pressure is the UK putting on the non-participants to pull their weight? Is this not the real test of NATO’s credibility?
The Libya issue is going a bit further than this Question, but the Americans are playing an active part, as we know, in a whole range of areas in trying to bring some stability to a divided Libya. Other members of NATO are in constant dialogue and have been asked whether they will contribute. It is true that not every member of NATO is involved. There is the particular question of Turkey, which has not so far played a hard-power part in the NATO operation. At least this is a core of members in NATO and it is under NATO organisation as a whole, so it is working.
Does the Minister not agree that conducting a beauty contest of the sort posed by the Question is a futile exercise and that what we really need to be focusing on is how NATO and the EU can work together and co-operate in areas where they are both involved, of which there are quite a lot in the Balkans and north Africa? Will he say something about the progress of the remit that was given to the High Representative, the noble Baroness, Lady Ashton, and to the Secretary-General of NATO at the NATO conference last year to report by this spring on how the problems that have arisen about co-operation between the two can be eased?
The short answer is that foreign ministers, including our own Secretary of State, the noble Baroness, Lady Ashton, and NATO leaders are on the case. There is pressure to try to make progress and overcome the particular problems that arose over the Cyprus-related issue of Turkey, with which the noble Lord is extremely familiar, which have slowed down the integration and co-operation. Even so, in areas such as the West Balkans, where Eurofor and KFOR are operating, they have worked very closely together, so at a practical level there has been progress but on the bigger issues, which tend to be the visible ones, I agree that it has been slow progress for precisely the reason I mentioned.
My Lords, does the noble Lord agree that the two most militarist nations in Europe were France and Germany and it is one of the great miracles of the post-war period that they devoted their efforts jointly to setting up what is now the European Union rather than fighting each other? The implication of the approach to the economic union of the noble Lord, Lord Pearson, is that they have denied our children and grandchildren their inalienable right to die on the battlefields of Europe.
I agree with what the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, said, with great moderation, that a beauty contest between these organisations is rather pointless. All one wants to avoid is immoderate statements claiming perfection for one against the other. All these institutions have played their part. Occasionally some enthusiasts get a bit too outspoken on the part that one institution has played and that is the time for moderation.
I thank my noble friend the Minister for his comprehensive reply to such a silly, childish and provocative question. Does he agree, further to the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Tomlinson, that the east European countries becoming member states of the European Union has contributed massively to continued peace?
I think I heard a bit of immoderation the other way at that point. There is reason and sense in all these points of view and if anyone strives to go too far in claiming perfection for one organisation over the other it is bound to produce a reaction, which is just what we are hearing today.
Does the Minister agree that instead of this raking over the past of whether NATO or the EU made the biggest contribution to peace we should be looking to the future? Does he accept that this is a future where our great ally the United States, the anchor of NATO, is looking to Europe to step up to the plate and live up to its responsibilities in Libya and north Africa and that there is a huge responsibility on the British Government, with our French allies, to persuade the rest of Europe to live up to those responsibilities? We will be successful in doing this only if we have a British Government who are fully committed to and not semi-detached from the European Union. Will he persuade the Prime Minister to make a strong case for a bigger role for Europe in accepting these wider responsibilities?
The noble Lord makes a number of points. It is certainly true that the United States is expecting the European Union to contribute more to the overall NATO scene as we are doing. This explains why the original worries of the United States about duplication and overlapping have evaporated and the EU and NATO are working very effectively together. The coalition Government believe that we should have a very positive role in the present European structure, in its reform and in meeting its future problems. However, there is a wider world as well, with which we have to connect, and many of these issues are not just American responsibilities or European responsibilities but global responsibilities requiring a global partnership.
West Lothian Question
My Lords, the result of the recent Welsh referendum is a major development for devolution in Wales—one which the Government are committed to supporting and at the same time to making the legislative arrangements work effectively. In particular, the Government will make an announcement, during the course of this year, about their plans for a commission to consider the West Lothian question. It would be for the commission, once established, to consider what factors it considered relevant in its examination of the options.
Yes, my Lords, but devolution has resulted in unfairness which is unhealthy in any democracy. Does my noble friend agree that one of the ways that might solve this knotty problem would be if Members of another place representing constituencies from the devolved authorities voted in this Parliament only on legislation that affected their constituents?
My Lords, it has always been an important principle of another place that all MPs should have equal rights before the House. Any change from that principle will need very careful consideration. But devolution has made a difference, with the removal from Parliament’s daily business of issues relating to devolved authorities. It is right that we should consider what the impact of that should be.
The noble Lord cannot be held responsible, and nor can the Government, for doing nothing yet on the West Lothian question, first raised in 1977 by my dear friend Tam Dalyell, the former MP for West Lothian. Does the noble Lord realise that today he can make history? When we get the Scotland Bill I propose to move an amendment that would affect the funding for Wales and Scotland under something called a formula—which he may have heard of. A distinguished Select Committee of this House recommended that the formula should be changed substantially to one based on need. I hope he will give us an assurance that he will support my amendment when I move it.
My Lords, I caught the noble Lord’s eye as he entered the Chamber because I thought he might have something to say on this. He will know that the Welsh Assembly Government commissioned the Holtham inquiry into funding in Wales. Likewise, there was the Calman inquiry in Scotland. He is right that there are a number of interlocking legislative initiatives which tie in to this proposal—the Scotland Bill is one of them. I will resist the temptation he offers to support his amendment before that Bill arrives in this House.
My Lords, given the almost universal support among candidates at the current Welsh general election, in which obviously I quickly declare an interest, for the implementation of the Holtham commission report, can we have some further indication—albeit that I welcome what has been said on West Lothian—as Holtham, son of Barnett, is perhaps even more urgent for us in terms of financial relationships between the UK Treasury and devolved Wales?
I understand the interest of the noble Lord in this matter and indeed that of many noble Lords. The truth is that we are attendant upon the first priority of this Government which is tackling the budget deficit. Funding for the devolved authorities is a major matter and the Government have listened and agreed to take note of the Holtham commission because it is very useful material on which to base a decision that is comprehensive across all devolved authorities, as indeed the noble Lord, Lord Barnett, has indicated.
My Lords does my noble friend recognise that there are Members of this House who legitimately claim to speak for other parts of the United Kingdom—Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland? Does he further recognise that if the Government were to pursue the course proposed by the noble Baroness, Lady Seccombe, there might well be a suggestion that those restrictions on MPs at the other end of the corridor might also apply to Members of this House?
My Lords, is it not the case that, under the parliamentary boundaries legislation, Wales has suffered the most savage surgery, losing 25 per cent of its parliamentary seats? Was that not in clear breach of an Act of Parliament of 1986 which guaranteed a minimum of 35 seats for Wales and a solemn undertaking given by the right honourable Kenneth Clarke in 1992?
I do not want to go over the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill again, because noble Lords spent a long time on that issue. That legislation makes representation equal across the United Kingdom, which is a fair basis on which to start any consideration of devolution and funding of devolved authorities.
National Music Plan
My Lords, the review of music education, carried out by Darren Henley, has given us a blueprint for ensuring that every child has the chance to benefit from the positive effects that good music education can have. The Government welcomed Mr Henley’s review in their response of 7 February 2011. The national plan for music education will set out a more detailed response to the review’s recommendations and will be published later this year.
Will the Government provide sufficient extra funding for the national portfolio organisations to fulfil the ambitions of the plans, especially at a time of local authority cuts? With respect to extracurricular music education, including for gifted and talented children, will the Minister deal with the national patchwork which is so disruptive for funding? Finally, will he address the huge variation in the quantity and quality of musical education in schools which is a consequence of head teachers having such command over curriculum decisions? That variation disturbs the ambitions of the national music plan to provide a comprehensive service.
I very much agree with the noble Lord on the importance of trying to get to the point where there is a comprehensive service. His points about disparities in funding were well made. As a subset of broader problems with funding which exist across schools, there are great inequalities which it would be good to try to address, as we have started to do. We are looking at the funding system both in terms of how funding is delivered and the sums of money involved. We have announced the funding for this year, which, in difficult circumstances, matches overall the sums provided last year. We will need to look at that in the broader context of how we respond to the rest of Henley’s recommendations and set out a plan. So far as talented children are concerned, we have managed to find the money to support the music and dance scheme. I am pleased about that and I am sure that the noble Lord will be, too.
Will my noble friend recognise that music is of particular importance in educating children who suffer from learning difficulties and that, very often, you can break through to a child’s mind and responsiveness with music education? I hope that the Government will bear that in mind.
I very much take that point. The role that music can play for all children is hugely important. The previous Government recognised that and made a lot of progress in increasing and improving provision generally for all children. We are keen to build on that, but I recognise that the role music can play in helping children with special educational needs is important.
My Lords, may I invite the Minister to confirm the Government’s belief, which I think they hold, that the specialist music conservatoires in this country play a very important role in music education, not only in providing specialist education for performers but also in educating educators? Will he therefore pass on to his colleagues who deal with higher education the observation that continuing uncertainty about the availability of exceptional funding for this specialist education is not in the best interests of music education, either for students or the people whom they may subsequently teach?
Yes and yes, my Lords. I will certainly do that. I agree entirely agree with the point made by the noble Baroness about the important role that the conservatoires play. I hope that we will be able to build on Teach First, which is another excellent scheme introduced by the previous Government, and to look in particular at whether we can encourage more graduates of that scheme who have been through the conservatoire system to learn to teach and to spread what they have learnt. I will certainly relay the noble Baroness’s second point to BIS.
My Lords, what progress has been made in moving teaching towards being a masters degree profession and will such a degree provide an opportunity to develop some of the specialisms identified in the Henley review as being needed? Perhaps the Minister might visit Burdett-Coutts primary school, around the corner from here, which does a marvellous job in encouraging a great range of pupils to use musical instruments.
The noble Earl is very kind in trying to induce me to go around the corner with him; I would be keen. I was lucky enough last year to go to the Schools Prom at the Royal Albert Hall. If any Members of this House have been there in their roles, they will know what a fantastic, wonderful evening it is. It was one of the most life-enhancing evenings that I have had for a very long time—which may say something about my life as well. It made one realise how much is going on in schools, what music teachers and music services are delivering, and how music can bring so much to children in a range of ways. As the noble Earl knows, there are a number of ways in which we need to look at the quality and range of teacher training, developing the idea of school-to-school support and learning the best that schools have already developed. That should have an important part to play in the development of specialist music teachers as well.
If the Government intend to implement recommendation 11 of the Darren Henley report, that Ofsted’s remit should be extended to review the standards and quality of music education, will the Minister find a way of instructing Ofsted to take account of those many music teachers who bring enormous joy and fun to their pupils through music? It may not be easy to measure fun, but it is terribly important.
On recommendation 11, we will talk to Ofsted. I do not know how one develops a measurement for fun. Perhaps we should talk to the noble Lord, Lord Layard, who I am sure has developed an index for measuring happiness. However, I shall bear those points in mind.
My Lords, the UK contributes to the EU budget as a whole, not to individual spending programmes. Therefore, data on UK contributions to the EU budget not signed off by the Court of Auditors are unavailable. However, the recurrent failure to achieve a positive audit opinion from the court on the EU’s accounts is unacceptable. The Government set out recommendations to improve EU financial management and transparency at ECOFIN in February this year.
I thank the noble Lord for his explanatory exposition of this aspect of the unacceptable, on which we have not spoken previously. I merely seek to establish a transparent, independent regime and to deal with the problem of inclusion in the budget of expenditure which has been signed off in the accounts by the Court of Auditors. Perhaps I may ask a short question. Is it not a relevant consideration in the ongoing negotiations to seek to establish an acceptable regime?
I am grateful to my noble friend for once again drawing attention to the unacceptable situation that we face with regard to the European audit. I think that he puts his finger on one of the key issues, which is that we need to work towards a much simpler and more transparent regime. If the rules around the various European expenditure programmes were made less complex, it would be much easier for member states to comply with those rules. It is very much on that practical aspect of the regime that my honourable friend the Economic Secretary is working with the Audit Commissioner, others in Brussels and member states to make sure that we move to a simpler, clearer and more auditable regime.
Is the noble Lord aware that, just before he retired, the former Comptroller and Auditor-General of the United Kingdom, Sir John Bourn, said that if he had to apply to the expenditure accounts of the United Kingdom the system for audit employed in the European Union, he would refuse to give a positive assurance on any of those accounts because the real problem with the statement of assurance in the European Union is the statistical basis on which that audit is conducted? Will the noble Lord undertake to look at that question and to see whether, if one ever wants to get a clean audit, it is appropriate to try to initiate a reform of the statistical base of the statement of assurance?
My Lords, I am happy to say that we are already on the case in this matter. At the ECOFIN in February, the UK issued a joint statement with the Netherlands and Sweden making various points about what we believed needed to be done by the European Commission and the auditors in coming years. That included, among other things, moving the European audit basis to a more risk-based approach, which I think precisely addresses the point that the noble Lord rightly brings up.
My Lords, did not my noble friend’s earlier answer, when he described how information was not available, give a bit of a clue as to one way in which we can make progress? Would it not be much more satisfactory if there were full details of any failure properly to account for national expenditures in the EU budget? In that way we would at least know who was not doing things properly, by how much and when, and that shaming could have some role in getting people to behave better.
Again, I completely agree. That is precisely why the other two of the three key points made in the joint statement at the February ECOFIN were about greater member state responsibility for items of expenditure and greater transparency. Therefore, I think that we have already identified the three key areas where improvement needs to be made and needs to be made quickly.
We of course wish the Minister and the Government well in their labours with regard to this issue but we do not underestimate the challenge of the task and are not anticipating early progress. However, there is one set of sums of money relating to Europe in which the nation is greatly interested and on which I am sure the Minister is well briefed and aware of what is involved, and that is the amount of money we are committed to on eurozone bailouts. Will the Minister enlighten the House with those figures?
My Lords, I think that the answer to that lies on the Benches opposite. If we want to get into history, the previous Government in 2005 gave away a substantial part of the UK’s abatement and signed on to a financial perspective that set a course of significantly increasing EU expenditure. If, instead, they had worried more about the management of the funds that were going out from Europe rather than merely signing on to an ever-increasing UK contribution to an expanding budget, we would not be in the position that we are in today.
Motion to Agree
My Lords, I should like to touch briefly on two matters raised in the report. The first relates to the timing of future elections to the office of Lord Speaker, including any election that may be held this year. As we state in paragraph 2 of our report, we believe that the current provisions in Standing Order 19 relating to the timing of elections are defective. We therefore propose various amendments to the Standing Order, which are set out in full in the appendix to the report. The amendments are very technical but their purpose is to simplify the timing of future elections, ensuring that they will be conducted according to a predictable pattern. The practical effect of these changes, if an election is held this year, will be that it will be held on Wednesday, 13 July, with the result reported to the House the following week. The amended Standing Order would also provide for a longer handover period between any election and the new Speaker taking office. In other respects, the arrangements for future elections will remain as they are at present.
The second matter raised in the report relates to the tabling of Oral Questions. Many noble Lords will be aware that in recent months there has been increased competition for the limited number of Oral Questions. Under the current arrangements, most slots for Questions become available at 10 o’clock on either Friday or Monday mornings, and priority is given to noble Lords who can attend the Table Office in person at those times. These arrangements are inconvenient for many noble Lords, particularly those who live outside London or who have work commitments in the mornings. We therefore propose that in future the notice period for Oral Questions should be reduced from one calendar month to four weeks. This means that three or four Questions will become available on Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays. We further recommend that slots for Questions be made available at two o’clock rather than 10 o’clock, making it easier for noble Lords to go to the Table Office in person.
I hope that these changes will commend themselves to the House and I beg to move.
My Lords, I have a query about the proposed new Standing Order for the election of the Lord Speaker. If a Lord Speaker resigns or dies in, say, mid-October, the election of the new Speaker will take place within three months under this new Standing Order—that is, no later than mid-January. However, under the proposed Standing Order, the new Lord Speaker will take office on 1 September in the year of the election. We could thus have a new Lord Speaker elected in January but not able to take up the post until 1 September, with the role presumably being filled in the interim by the Lord Chairman of Committees. Is that correct or have I missed something?
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Norton of Louth, makes an interesting point. I assure the House that if a Lord Speaker resigned in the timetable that he envisages, it would certainly not be the intention that the new Lord Speaker would not then take office until the following September. I am afraid that I cannot give the noble Lord a precise answer to whether we have made a mistake in this. I hope that we have not but I shall have to write to him. However, that is certainly not the intention.
My Lords, I draw attention to the recommendation which the noble Lord has already mentioned at paragraph 14, that Standing Order 43 be amended in the terms set out in appendix 1 to reduce the notice period for Questions and Motions, other than those relating to legislation, from one month to four weeks. I am all in favour of reform and modernisation, but is this not in danger of going too far, too fast in making an immediate change from one month to four weeks? Did the committee consider a phased introduction, perhaps over several decades, in order to bring this about?
I can quite see the noble Lord’s concerns, but the committee did not feel that it was going too far in this reduction, which of course in February, other than in leap years, would mean no change. In some other months, it will mean a change from 31 days to 28 and in others from 30 to 28. Given the difference between 31, 30 and 28 in February, except for leap years, it would not have been sensible to have phased it in any other way than to make it 28 days right around the year.
Poverty in the Developing World
My Lords, I welcome this opportunity to call attention to those living in extreme poverty in the developing world. I also welcome in advance the contributions that will be made to this debate from a wide range of noble Lords; I look forward to hearing from them.
There were a number of reasons for calling for this debate at this time. Next week, an innovative campaign will be supported by a number of noble Lords called Live Below the Line. I will say something about that later. Next month, the annual G8 summit will meet, and last month the strategic review of UK aid was published by the coalition Government. Those would be reasons enough to hold a debate at this time, but there are also 1.4 billion individual reasons for having a debate on extreme poverty in the developing world. It is surely a disgrace and a moral outrage that, more than one decade into the 21st century, the existence of those 1.4 billion reasons to debate extreme poverty is still with us.
Extreme poverty is not about choosing between a hot meal and a cold meal; it is not about choosing between a hot drink and a cold drink; it is not about choosing between going to the cinema or having a night in with a DVD; it is not about choosing between a day out with the kids or buying them some clothes. Extreme poverty is about not having those or, sometimes, any choices at all. The daily reality of extreme poverty is that if your relatives become sick overnight you may have to choose in the morning between feeding your children that day or finding the relative medical care. It is about having more than one, perhaps many, talented children and having to choose which of them completes primary school or enters secondary school. It is about, when you need a drink, being faced with the choice of drinking contaminated water and risking disease. It is because of those choices—that absence of choice—that extreme poverty should appear on our agenda today.
The World Bank estimates, and others now accept, that 1.4 billion people live on less than £1 a day across the world. Of those, as documented by Paul Collier and others, perhaps 1 billion—the bottom billion—experience that extreme poverty in conditions where their situation may be permanent. They could be trapped in conflict or in landlocked states where, through the misuse of natural resources or poor governance, they are sent into a cycle of despair and permanent poverty that needs international as well as national action to tackle it.
Next week, some members of this House will take part in an innovative campaign organised by the Global Poverty Project—an organisation on whose advisory board I am pleased to sit—called Live Below the Line. The Global Poverty Project seeks to abolish extreme poverty within a generation. It wishes to keep alive the spirit of the Make Poverty History campaign of 2005 but to deepen and widen that movement for change to involve many more people the world over in a movement that will finally eradicate extreme poverty. Live Below the Line is an awareness and fund-raising campaign. It involves a number of partners with the Global Poverty Project. It is supported by the Prime Minister, the Secretary of State for International Development, the shadow Secretary of State for International Development and many others.
I am delighted to be supporting the campaign. I am not too delighted by the prospect of living on less than £1 a day for food and drink for five days, starting on Saturday. I suspect that soup, some good old Scottish recipes and tap water are likely to be the order of the day for me over my May bank holiday weekend. I am pleased to have the opportunity to raise funds for the Global Poverty Project and for an organisation called Positive Women, which is successfully carrying out projects for women—who, as I think we all now recognise, are the real change-makers in the developing world—in Swaziland, supporting income-generation projects and projects on education and the encouragement of rights, and wishes to expand that work into Malawi, a country dear to my heart and which would benefit from its work. Both of those charities are small, growing and have low overheads, and I am delighted to give them my support. I suspect that it would be improper for me to encourage noble Lords to sponsor me in this effort, but I ask them to pay particular attention to the letter that the noble Baroness, Lady Jenkin, and I circulated to all noble Lords during the Easter recess.
I want to address three points in particular. The first is the need for continued and sustained international action; the second is the UK’s aid review; and the third concerns conflict. Over the past decade or so, the UK has certainly led the way internationally on international aid and development. There is now cross-party support in this country for the target of 0.7 per cent of national income going to overseas development assistance. We must continue not just to stick to that commitment here in the United Kingdom but to take a lead in the international arena. A decade ago, the world met at the millennium summit and said clearly and unanimously:
“We will spare no effort to free our fellow men, women and children from the abject and dehumanizing conditions of extreme poverty … We resolve further:
To halve, by the year 2015, the proportion of the world’s people whose income is less than one dollar a day”.
The MDGs that resulted from that summit covered education, schooling, health and vaccination, maternal mortality, HIV/AIDS, the environment, economic growth and jobs. Crucially, millennium development goal 1 was that commitment to halve extreme poverty by 2015. The world may be on course to achieve that, but that trajectory is now threatened by the financial crisis of 2008 and the economic conditions facing much of the developed world today. I would argue that now is not the time to withdraw from that commitment or to stand back; now is the time to step up and ensure that, out of the current economic conditions, we create a fair world and one which is better ready to meet the real challenges of the 21st century.
The G8 in 2005 responded positively to the Make Poverty History campaign, probably the first truly global campaign, which argued for a significant increase in international aid and the cancellation of debt. Arising from the decisions made that summer was, first, the multilateral debt relief initiative, which saw the cancellation of debt for countries that were budgeting properly and had good financial plans for the future, and a promise of £50 billion extra aid to the poorest countries of the world. There was great hope at the time, particularly in Scotland where I was First Minister, that the events at Gleneagles had been a step change in the way the world would come together to tackle extreme poverty. But it has to be noted today that the commitments made then are not being met by all those who stepped up to the mark in July 2005, particularly in the European Union. Too many member states are not just withdrawing from those commitments but are indeed reducing their commitments to those in need elsewhere.
I do not think that that is acceptable, for the reason that the tackling of extreme poverty is not hopeless. We know that aid works and that, in the past decade alone, 50 million more African children now go to school and more than 5 million child deaths have been avoided by the kind of investment we have seen being made by the international community in African nations the length and breadth of the continent. We have seen improvements in governance and institutions—not enough, but there are improvements. We see constant improvements in levels of vaccination and maternity care and constant improvements in the provision of clean water.
We know that the long-term solutions are indeed those of better aid, better quality aid and greater quantities of it, as well as fairer trade through changes in the trade rules and the encouragement of fairer trade practices and better governance. We know what the solutions are and there is no reason why, if we pull together, we cannot achieve the goal through these different mechanisms and policies. Over the past fortnight we have seen publicity about food waste, which in this country alone amounts to £10 billion every year. Across the world, some £37 billion is spent on bottled water each year. We know that the resources exist for us to help tackle this problem in a sustained way.
My first point today is that the poor, particularly the extremely poor in the developing world, must not pay for the excesses of the rich and for the failure of governance that has occurred in the developed world over the past decade and more. Another point that I think the UK should raise at the G8 summit is the issue of tax avoidance. Tax revenues are the most sustainable source of development finance. It has been estimated by Christian Aid and others that some £160 billion could be raised in the developing world if measures were taken by the international community to tackle tax avoidance, ensure greater transparency of company profits, and thus increase taxation revenues. I hope that the UK Government might respond to that and other points in advance of and at both the G8 and the G20 summits this year.
I welcome the UK Government’s aid review. It is right that, after a decade of such investment in international aid by the United Kingdom, we should review the specific projects and the organisations that are being supported. I welcome the Government’s commitment to the 0.7 per cent target. I welcome the commitment to educating girls. I welcome the commitment to tackle conflict. I also welcome the contribution being made to a number of countries, not least Malawi in which, as I said earlier, I have a particular interest.
I would also like the Minister to respond today to a few points in areas of concern that arise out of the strategy that we have not had a chance to debate in the Chamber before now. First, with the increasing commitment to health initiatives which I understand have immediate short-term benefits, does that mean the deprioritisation of commitments to education, which in my view is the most significant long-term investment we can make for growth and tackling poverty, as well as good health, in the developing world? Can the Minister give us some reassurance that those countries that will miss out on UK aid as a result of the review will continue to receive support from the European Union, and that we will play our part in ensuring that that aid is used effectively in places like Burundi, which as it emerges from conflict is at a crucial stage in its development?
In relation to conflict, I mentioned Burundi as one of the best examples of the impact of conflict in the developing world. The change and the difference in Burundi and Burkina Faso over the past 20 years are marked. These countries, which were at a relatively similar stage and trajectory of development, have seen a huge gap develop between them as a result of the impact of conflict in Burundi. It has happened in other countries too. We know that conflict, and particularly civil war within a country, can knock back development by around 20 years. So it is my view that tackling conflict, conflict resolution, building a sustainable peace, may be the most difficult but is certainly the most significant and important development challenge of our time. Because it is hard and difficult, we need to try even harder. I would welcome some information from the Minister today on when the Government’s stabilisation strategy might be coming forward, and when we will get a chance to debate the way ahead.
It is certainly the case that if you live in a conflict afflicted country, you are three times more likely to be affected by HIV/AIDS and that in our world today, some 26 million people are still displaced as a result of conflict despite the fact that cross-border conflicts have reduced in number. Life expectancy is lower, child deaths are higher, and of course unemployment is higher and growing businesses is much more difficult. If we are to meet the MDGs, we must first address the causes of conflict. For humanitarian reasons as well as for our interdependent interests, helping to develop stable and successful states has to be a priority in our development work.
Living below the line is a daily reality for 1.4 billion people the world over. Next week, some of us will experience just a little part of that existence. We will not have to live properly below the line in the way that hundreds of millions have to all over the world, but we will bring something to the level of awareness in this country and, hopefully, something to the charities we are supporting. I welcome the opportunity to debate these issues today and I look forward to the contributions of other Members. I beg to move.
My Lords, I would like to pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord McConnell, both for securing this debate today and for his campaigning work on this issue for many years, particularly during his time as First Minister of Scotland. He and I first ran into each other during a television debate when fighting seats we did not win in Scotland in 1987, an extremely uncomfortable experience for me to say the least. I doubt that either expected that 25 years on we would both be in this place or working together on the advisory board of the Global Poverty Project. It is a pleasure to follow him.
We are all here in the Chamber because we care about this issue. It is the reason that the noble Lord and I will be joining thousands of others across the world who are supporters of the Global Poverty Project by participating in the challenge to “live below the line” for five days next week. To quote the Prime Minister’s words of encouragement to us all:
“Live Below The Line is a great opportunity for thousands of people to engage with the challenge of world poverty and to raise awareness of the abject conditions in which too many people still live. I hope as many people as possible will sign up, and become passionate about the fight to end poverty”.
In my case, I will be raising money for Restless Development, the youth-focused development agency of which I am a patron, but others will be supporting other partners in this campaign, Think Global, Salvation Army, Christian Aid and Results UK, as well as Positive Women, which the noble Lord supports.
I hope that many noble Lords will visit us in the temporary lunchtime soup kitchen that we will be running here next week for those in Parliament who will be living below the poverty line. I am delighted to be able to tell you that the Lord Speaker is not only taking part in the challenge herself, but has kindly agreed that we can use the River Room kitchen for our communal, though meagre, lunches next week. I am known in my own family as the queen of soups and leftovers, but I have never before knowingly fed them lunch for 40p, which is what I will be doing for colleagues next week. Obviously none of us can ever truly know what it must be like to survive on £1 a day, every single day, but I hope that the challenge here and across the country will help us in some small way to understand it better, and in the process raise money for worthwhile causes.
In a world where over 1.4 billion people will go to bed hungry tonight, it must sicken us, as the noble Lord pointed out in his remarks, that Defra has calculated that here in the UK we will throw away more than £10 billion-worth of food this year. The contrast between our profligacy with the thought of others not eating at all should shame us. Live Below the Line is one way in which we are seeking to raise and highlight the issue and, in some small way, to address the injustice.
How can we best fight extreme poverty? We should be thinking about how we can best support people to obtain individual freedom, how their potential can be unleashed by Governments working for and not against them, and we should give communities the chance to trade their way out of poverty. To do that, communities need access to the basics, in order to achieve the millennium development goals, but they must also go much further: communities capable of fighting corruption must be supported; trade barriers must be broken down; microfinance must be encouraged; and new educated middle classes should be created. This is why I am an enthusiastic supporter of organisations, like Restless Development, that work with young people in some of the most deprived areas of the world to help to develop their potential. With more than half of the populations of the world's poorest countries under the age of 25, we have an opportunity to see a new generation that can stand up and demand more of their Governments, start new businesses and grow their economies.
We in the UK have a role to play. All political parties have supported the commitment to spend 0.7 per cent of national income as aid from 2013 and I especially welcome the Secretary of State's focus on transparency and value for money and DfID's focus on the development of small businesses as the engine for economic growth. The UK is leading the way in each of these areas, becoming the first country in the world to publish aid information to the standards of the International Aid Transparency Initiative; undertaking a root-and-branch review of all British aid spending through DfID country offices and international organisations like the UN to ensure effectiveness and results from our aid spending; and making plans to provide more than 50 million people with the means to help work their way out of poverty.
As we seek to grow enterprise, we must not lose sight of those who are excluded from opportunities in their communities. All too often, as the noble Lord pointed out, it is women who are left out. Women make up half of the world's population and do roughly two-thirds of the world's work, and yet even today it is thought that they may earn as little as 10 per cent of the world's income. The Government's new strategic vision that places girls and women at the heart of their development work is to be applauded. Not only will this focus on the pillars that so affect their lives, such as safe pregnancy and childbirth, economic assets, schooling and violence against women, but it will also mean working towards a positive, enabling environment in terms of women's political empowerment and legal rights.
The issue of empowerment is not a matter of political correctness, but it is absolutely fundamental to this debate. Experience proves that it is the most effective development tool available to us. Women, who look after their families and look after their children, want their daughters to be educated as well as their sons. If a mother has access to microfinance and can start her own business, the stability of the family is secured, even if her husband is involved in tribal conflict or the drugs trade.
I also welcome the forthcoming replenishment round for the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisations, known as GAVI, which the Government are hosting in June. If the international community comes together, GAVI will be able to vaccinate 250 million children and save 4 million lives. For just the price of a cup of coffee we can vaccinate a child against five killer childhood diseases.
Live Below the Line is one way of standing up for what we think is right in the world. In addition to the soup kitchen, next week the Lord Speaker will host an event in the River Room on Wednesday evening to which you are all most welcome. We cannot offer noble Lords lavish canapés, or even a glass of wine, but please join us at that event to learn more, or over lunch on Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday, and share with us our 33p or 40p meal.
My Lords, I am more than grateful for the fact that this matter has been brought before us for debate. Sometimes, as I sit on these Benches listening to the discussion of various pieces of legislation, I feel that I would like all of them checked out for how they impact on poor people, a kind of conditioning criteria by which we may judge the humaneness of the legislation produced by these Houses of Parliament. I am also delighted that a debate on extreme poverty comes before us like this, but I would want to check the abstract Latinate noun “poverty” against the poor people who constitute, as a phenomenon, the noun in question. I come from a crucible of abject poverty and have spent quite a lot of my adult life living among the poorest people in the world, so I cannot come to a debate like this without some kind of imagination filled with real examples on the issue.
I start by saying how personal the subject is to me just now. Our only daughter married a lovely Cambodian boy whose father, on the way home from school at the age of 15, was forcibly recruited into Pol Pot’s army in Cambodia. He spent the next three and a half years indoctrinated and drugged and was part of that army about whose devastating outcomes we know only too well. My daughter’s father-in-law has been traumatised by that and is a wreck of a man now. When we visit Cambodia, we are able, because of our son-in-law, to go well beyond where tourists go, into the villages and out into the countryside, and we experience a country that has known more than its share of trauma over the years. Therefore, for me, poverty is not just the absence of physical benefits and material things, but it is a state of mind that oppression, of one kind or another, has reduced one to over many years. Cambodia has become very dear to me and it is clawing its way very slowly out of the desperate situation of 20, 30 and 40 years ago.
I could add much to illustrate my concern and underline it by my experience over a number of years as chairman of Christian Aid’s Africa committee. I saw the effects of civil war in Mozambique, in Sudan and in Eritrea—Eritrea is slightly different—and all the devastating effects of war over many years. I shall never forget going to Mozambique and seeing no animals in the countryside because, over the duration of the war, they had been killed to feed people. I saw a young man who had been trained to fly MiG fighters for the Soviet air force by one side in that dispute, and once the Cold War was over, or at least the Warsaw Pact countries were loosening their hold on certain countries in Africa, he was retraining as a people’s lawyer to help ordinary people to identify their land holdings, the papers having been lost and the lands expropriated over many years.
It is stories like that that remind me of the small initiatives that happen in desperately poor countries to help people to take a step at a time out of poverty. Of course, the real matrix of my own understanding about extreme poverty comes from the 10 years that I lived in Haiti, the poorest country in the western world. I was there just three months ago and I saw the people living in tented villages and suffering from an outbreak of cholera. There are also those for whom floods, earthquakes, droughts and the terrible ravages of nature impose a kind of poverty on them that is wilful and hazardous and that comes at a moment’s notice. One can distinguish between that understanding of poverty and the chronic and endemic poverty that lasts generations and flows from the history of Haiti. It saw the first black republic in the world emerge from the shackles of colonialism in 1804, when 500,000 people, who had been plantation labourers, fled to the hills and went into subsistence farming. Two hundred years later, they have denuded the countryside of all its trees; they have completely impoverished the land; and 80 per cent of them are illiterate. While I was living there, AIDS reared its ugly head as early as the 1970s and 1980s—I remember it was such a new phenomenon in those days.
Therefore, the poor are very real in my mind. All the time, I want to try to imagine ourselves into the mindset of poor people as they look around them and wonder what options are available to them. I mentioned earlier—although will not dwell upon it—the poverty into which I was born, to a single mother with two boys living in one room for many, many years. Luckily, I passed the 11-plus and went to a grammar school—and was there with Members of this House in fact—but, for all that, I know that I have had a gilded life subsequent to those beginnings. What were the indicators that suggested to me that there was a way out of the poverty my mother and her family had known in the 1930s—soup kitchens and all that kind of stuff? During my childhood in the 1940s, our local Member of Parliament—to whose memory I pay immense tribute—was James Griffiths, who at that time was the deputy leader of the Labour Party. He turned down a job in Mr Attlee’s Cabinet in the Foreign Office in order to be Minister for Work and Pensions, in those days when our parliamentary leaders had lived a proper life somewhere else before they came into politics. Through his ministrations in the other place, he brought onto the statue book the Family Allowances Act—although that was Eleanor Rathbone’s creation—the National Assistance Act, the National Insurance Act, pensions legislation and so on. These, along with the Butler Education Act and the National Health Service, gave people trapped in poverty, as we were, a new horizon.
I ask myself where in the world that we live in, with this extreme poverty so endemic, similar indicators are to be found. We have the Bretton Woods arrangements, the World Bank, the World Health Organisation and the Food and Agriculture Organisation. They are all there, but how does that translate down into the mentality of people, who are trapped in poverty, who say, “This gives me my chance”? Until those great things that are thought up on high are appropriated by people below, they do not amount to much more than a bar of soap. That is the trick.
I will draw my remarks to a close as I see the time is up. I was present in Haiti just recently and remembered the work that we did planting trees. There are forests there that we planted 30 years ago. Building roads, forming co-operatives, organising little primary healthcare systems, education, literacy and desalinating seawater in order to give drinking water to people—these things can happen and can be done; but only by engaging with real people who are poor, not by talking about poverty until the cows come home.
I welcome the opportunity to play some part in this debate and urge your Lordships to look at this issue as something that should preoccupy us seriously and constantly through all our deliberations.
My Lords, I, too, congratulate the noble Lord, Lord McConnell, on securing this debate this afternoon and giving us the opportunity to debate these very relevant and important issues. I congratulate him, too, on his powerful argument and the birth of the campaign on living below the line. Sadly, I cannot join the noble Lord next week in living on a pound a day because I shall be in Mozambique—a country that the noble Lord, Lord Griffiths, knows well—delivering speeches on aid effectiveness. So in some ways I am with him in spirit, but I cannot be with him in body on that particular occasion.
Under the bilateral aid and multilateral aid reviews that DfID has just conducted, the aid allocation towards the poorest countries and those containing the largest numbers of poor people living in extreme poverty will increase substantially. Many of these countries face rising civil unrest; some face instability and conflict. Conflicts in various forms are one of the biggest obstacles to poverty reduction. Conflict pushes millions of people into poverty each year, and no sensible development strategy would be complete without focusing on both conflict prevention and post-conflict support. Since 2000, nine out of 10 new conflicts have in fact been relapses as fragile states have fallen back into war. By supporting conflict-affected countries, the United Kingdom is helping some of the poorest countries and people by helping to develop more responsible and accountable Governments, better access to security and justice, and better delivery of services such as health and education, as well as supporting household wealth creation.
One does not have to look far to find examples of extreme poverty related to conflict in the developing world. I recently had the opportunity to visit south and north Sudan—the noble Baroness, Lady Kinnock, and the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, were among the delegation—so we in this House have experienced the reality of conflict and poverty today. Sudan is of course shortly to become two separate and independent countries. There have been remarkable achievements in Sudan under the comprehensive peace agreement, which, after 20 years of civil war, led to a broadly peaceful referendum on the future of Southern Sudan.
However, there are numerous unresolved issues that could destabilise the area. Violence in the first months of 2011, in which 150 people were killed and 15,000 people fled their homes, demonstrates clearly how unstable and volatile that region can be. Violence, still influenced by the history of the war, is linked to a variety of issues: intercommunal violence over resources, especially cattle, land and water, often with a political dimension; human rights violations by security forces, and clashes between the Sudanese People’s Liberation Army and the communities in which it operates; and politically driven violence involving non-state armed groups, often along ethnic lines.
Southern Sudan will become the newest country in the world in July, as well as one of the poorest. In 2010, over 1.5 million people were severely food-insecure. In total, nearly half the population needed food aid at some stage. Over 50,000 children were acutely malnourished, and nearly a quarter of a million people were forced from their homes by violence. A further 400,000 returnees, we understand, are expected to come from Khartoum down into south Sudan in July, during the rainy season, where the danger of transit camps becoming semi-permanent is growing, with little food, overcrowding, no infrastructure and the threat of disease.
In the neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo, which I anticipate visiting in a few weeks’ time, nearly three-quarters of the population of some 62 million are not meeting their daily food needs. According to the World Bank, that reflects an extremely high level of poverty. Child mortality is shockingly high, with one in five dying before the age of five—by comparison, the UK average is one in 170. With a healthcare system devastated after years of civil war, maternal mortality rates have risen to more than one in 100. Progress on poverty reduction in the DRC depends on peace and security being consolidated across the country’s enormous territory, which is still facing unrest in the eastern and northern parts. With attacks by elements of the Lord’s Resistance Army, the LRA, this violence continues. I suggest that bringing stability and security to the DRC will require a significant uplift to the DfID programme, which seems currently reliant on aspirations to increase the number of girls going to school, to ensure that everyone who has the right to vote is properly registered, to improve basic health services and to bring maternal care and family planning services to hundreds of thousands of women.
As for the bilateral aid review’s vision for tackling conflict and fragility, as set out by the Secretary of State in a speech at the beginning of March, it is as well to note the assessment of Saferworld, which put the case for the bilateral aid review being a shift not so much towards the securitisation of aid as towards an underlying vision for how to approach conflict-affected or fragile societies. The Secretary of State stressed in March that it was imperative that countries should,
“build open and responsive political systems, tackle the root causes of fragility, and empower citizens to hold their Governments to account”.—[Official Report, Commons, 1/3/11; col. 167.]
This is indeed a worthy ambition. However, putting it into practice, as many noble Lords will know, will require more than just aid money.
Still in the context of the bilateral aid review and the multilateral aid reviews and their technical reports, the process calls for operational plans to be submitted by each DfID country office to carry these reviews through. That is very commendable, but can the Minister tell us when these plans will be published and when we in your Lordships’ House will have an opportunity to look at them in some detail?
In a similar vein, the reviews have recognised that the European Development Fund has one of the best records of aid delivery. I repeat that because some noble Lords may find it a difficult concept to grasp: the EDF is one of the best aid deliverers. Sadly, we cannot say the same for the European Commission, which was severely criticised earlier today by the noble Lord, Lord Sassoon, who made the point that some of its audit work was unacceptable. The Audit Committee has condemned its work there, too. So we need reform, and I should like to hear from the Minister what progress we have made post-ECOFIN in getting reforms on aid pushed through in the European Commission.
In 2000, world leaders committed themselves to a dramatic reduction in child deaths by 2015. As Save the Children has pointed out, there has been extraordinary progress. More than 4 million fewer children died each year than in 1990. However, there is a huge and urgent unfinished agenda with regard to the MDGs. Each and every year, 8 million children still die before they reach their fifth birthday, and 99 per cent of child deaths take place in developing countries. Children from the poorest countries are the least likely to survive. In this regard, Oxfam’s acknowledgement that the significant effort made by DfID in conducting the BARs and MARs is welcome; as it points out, reviewing aid policies to ensure that they deliver the best and most sustainable results for people living in poverty is a welcome and vital process.
I extend my thanks to the noble Lord, Lord McConnell, not only for opening this debate but for his support for the global poverty campaign alongside the noble Baroness, Lady Jenkin. I also thank him for introducing a new form of words. We often have debates about development, but they rarely focus so directly on the people who have to suffer extreme poverty. In one sense, we are trying to discern the invisible, because we can never see or analyse the most extreme forms of poverty. By its nature, it occurs out of reach of any government service, in semi-desert, rocky plateaus, forests and corners of shanty towns. Many years ago, I was in villages in northern Chad on the edge of the Sahara. I can be pretty certain that, with conflict and other factors intervening, those families will have somehow survived without any formal health and social services ever since.
Even NGOs, which seem ubiquitous in most poor countries, do not venture into some areas because of difficulty of access or civil war. I remember one field worker telling me that you cannot start a project with nothing at all if there is no one with skills to develop or opportunities to expand. I have always believed that because of the number of schemes in poor countries that fail altogether despite good intentions. There are too many shipwrecks of good will where money has been poured into holes in the sand or mantraps of corruption. I shall mention Southern Sudan in a moment. I know that the Government are concerned about this as part of their review.
On the other hand, some of the best development work can occur during a crisis and comes under a humanitarian heading. In times of conflict or when people are forced to live together in acute poverty, the UN relief agencies have been able to sustain life and livelihoods even in the most precarious conditions. We have heard examples from the noble Lord, Lord Griffiths. In these circumstances, how do we decide where to spend money effectively? I know that that is another preoccupation of the Government. Donors tend to use standard measurements of poverty such as the LDCs—the least developed countries—as listed on the human development index. However, poverty is not confined to the LDCs; it can occur in any country, which is why—thank heaven—we have kept India in the DfID portfolio.
Many of the very poor in our own society are again out of reach, some because they are escaping from the law, the Inland Revenue or some other persecutor. Many immigrant families are out of reach because they officially do not exist. Poverty has always been hard to define. In last year’s human development report, the UNDP introduced a multidimensional poverty index instead of using the normal national or international poverty standards. This index uses the main dimensions of health, education and living standards, but it includes household indicators such as floor space and personal assets as well as fuel, water and sanitation. By this standard, which does not take account of human rights, there are 1.75 billion poor—almost one in four people in the world. Out of 169 countries, the UNDP lists Mozambique, Burundi, Niger, Congo and Zimbabwe as the five very poorest. So what do the Government think about the multidimensional poverty index? Does the Minister know whether DfID is using it and, if so, why has it decided to take Burundi and up to 15 other countries off its own list of countries receiving bilateral aid? How has it made those calculations?
Today’s poorest may be found among the 40 million or so migrants and displaced people all over the world: people who are stateless and have nothing—no possessions, no food and no water—without the help of charity or international relief agencies. The most vivid examples are those fleeing from Libya even today, risking everything to reach Italy by sea. Does the Minister support the new European Parliament resolution of 5 April on migration, which calls on the EU to create a new instrument for these refugees and draws attention to the disproportionate burden carried by certain member states?
Bereavement is another form of poverty. Suddenly someone dies in the family. A UCL study published in the Lancet estimated that 12 per cent of all male deaths in the world resulted from violence, while 14 per cent were from traffic accidents, and maternal conditions were the cause of 15 per cent of all female deaths. Having visited south Sudan, as the noble Lord, Lord Chidgey, mentioned, I shall share some more statistics from that country, which is to become independent in July. Only half of all deliveries are attended by a trained health worker in Sudan; in the south by itself, only 10 per cent of births are attended. About 2,000 women in every 100,000 giving birth die in childbirth, and one in 10 babies still die from the effects of poverty. In some areas, the averages are much worse. This is because of the lack not only of food and resources but of education, which makes it impossible for the poor to attain good health and food security. Only 8 per cent of women in the south of Sudan can read and write.
The inability of outsiders such as us to help is also a problem. After the peace agreement five years ago, concerted attempts were made to introduce a basic package of health services. The Minister might know that the main channel of aid, the Multi Donor Trust Fund, ran into a host of difficulties and unacceptable delays, partly owing to the World Bank’s strict procurement rules. Basic health was to be introduced through a partnership between NGOs and the World Bank, known as the Umbrella Program for Health System Development. What happened to that programme, which was designed to support sub-contracted, performance-based public health in the south, to which so many international donors such as us have contributed? Even now, less than one-third of the people of south Sudan are reached by health services. Was it the lack of local capacity, which is so often blamed, or the excess of academic zeal and donor muddle, which usually gets away with it?
Finally, I congratulate the Government on their latest efforts to create a more honest, open and accountable environment for international development. I trust that, as the noble Lord, Lord McConnell, said, the Chancellor will take to heart some of Christian Aid’s recommendations on tax transparency when he attends the G20 meeting.
My Lords, over the past decade encouraging gains have been achieved against the targets of the millennium development goals. Yet, is it not unacceptable that 9 million children still die each year before they reach their fifth birthday? In sub-Saharan Africa, this represents the death of one in seven children under five. It is equally unacceptable that more than 350,000 women should die each year from complications during pregnancy or childbirth, 99 per cent of them in the developing countries.
Despite seeing recent gains across the world on many indicators of economic development and human well-being, the extreme poor remain trapped in poverty in the least developed countries. Many of these countries have been caught in decades-long poverty traps often marked by a high incidence of conflict and weak national institutions, and hindered by inequitable global economic structures. Concerted national action and better targeted global development assistance are needed to prevent these least developed countries from becoming increasingly marginalised, their populations struggling under extreme poverty.
I am grateful to the Government for ring-fencing the aid budget, especially in the current economic climate. This decision reflects the continuing commitment of the British people to assist the world's poorest and affirms the United Kingdom as an example within the international community. I believe that churches and other faith communities with deep convictions and roots in poorer communities around the world will continue to uphold and monitor the Government's decision on the aid budget, even as other funding pressures are faced at home. I urge the Government also to encourage other EU and G20 Governments to uphold their commitments to the world's poorest, who inevitably have been most acutely affected by the global financial crisis.
I welcome DfID’s recent review of UK aid, Changing Lives, Delivering Results. DfID’s commitment to focus aid on the poorest—and on achieving tangible and measurable results in addressing both the root causes and symptoms of poverty—is surely right, as is its focus on women, who are disproportionately affected by poverty. The wisdom of that policy has already been mentioned this morning. Important progress has been made in recent years on economic development and the United Kingdom has played a major role in this. However, this means that the world’s poorest billion people remain faced by more intractable and entrenched barriers to escaping poverty. It is therefore important that aid is well targeted and directed at the poorest countries.
Some of those poorest countries may, unlike Pakistan and Afghanistan, have little strategic importance to the United Kingdom, but nevertheless have a reasonable environment in which to absorb aid and achieve results in lifting more of the extreme poor out of poverty. Some of these poorest countries have never been aid recipients. Others have lost their United Kingdom aid programmes as a result of the recent DfID review, including, as we have heard, Burundi—which has recently emerged from conflict and needs to secure stability through a peace dividend—Angola, Niger and Lesotho. I urge DfID to make significant, alternative funding paths accessible to these countries and to consider their re-inclusion in the UK's aid programme, as they share many of the challenges that DfID has identified as priorities.
I would like to say something on the role of faith-based entities working with the extreme poor. Most UK aid flows from Government to Government but the reality is that non-state providers, including NGOs and faith communities, are often the most closely involved in the well-being of the poorest people and are to be found where government cannot reach. This is especially true in many fragile and conflict-affected states, where their Government’s service provision has broken down while faith communities continue to provide health and education services. DfID has recognised this fact in some contexts; for example, by supporting education provision by the Episcopal Church of Sudan and health and HIV work by the Anglican Church in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Changes in funding mechanisms are necessary to ensure wider access for faith-based entities to become partners with Governments in working to overcome poverty. Christian schools in the developing world, as I have seen in India and Tanzania, also have a particular role to play in the education of girls and equal access for all. As shown in Sudan, faith schools in developing countries can provide education at low unit cost, building on community-based school management.
The international development community needs to recognise the importance of people's faith and its values of service to others as a motivating factor in social development. Some local faith-based initiatives in Kenya have seen massive mobilisation for local communities to lift themselves out of poverty, in one case mobilising 10,000 people to unite in funding and constructing an irrigation project, while in another case over 800 farmers united to form a dairy co-operative. These initiatives were motivated by faith values and developed without external aid. It is important that DfID and other donors recognise the role and contribution of faith communities in development and promote more effective and accessible forms of partnership with these entities.
From the faith communities’ side, more work is needed to strengthen the capacity and co-ordination of their programmes. One such global initiative is the newly formed Anglican Alliance for Development, Relief and Advocacy, which brings together Anglican churches and agencies across the world to build capacity and co-ordinate responses. I was grateful that the Secretary of State for International Development announced at the General Synod of the Church of England in February that DfID would seek to strengthen ways of working with faith communities. I also welcome DfID’s moves to establish a working group to help develop a set of practical partnership principles for development agencies working with those communities. It is to be hoped that this process will quickly achieve renewed and strengthened support for and collaboration with faith communities and faith-based organisations in lifting people out of extreme poverty. It is encouraging to note that the Economic Affairs Committee of your Lordships’ House will shortly begin an inquiry into the economics of development aid.
In conclusion, while commending the Government’s commitment to maintaining and increasing the United Kingdom aid programme, I urge the Government to revisit their decision on closing aid programmes in some of the world's poorest countries and to continue to explore ways of achieving greater impact on the lives of the extreme poor through more extensive and effective partnerships with faith-based entities and other civil society actors. The UK should be proud of its work in international development. Together we can tackle global structural barriers to overcoming poverty while working with the poorest countries and peoples—with their Governments, civil societies, faith communities and private sectors—to achieve transformation in lifting millions more people out of extreme poverty.
My Lords, it is wonderful that we are having a debate on this subject, and I have great admiration for those who are going to take that active part. I am one of the more lazy Members of the House who will, like many others, be willing to support the project but not to live on £1 a day, which sounds a real effort. I am waiting to see how it goes.
My only real experience with poverty came about because I was asked, quite by accident, to become chairman of Plan UK, an international body which helps the poorest of the poor. Baroness Blatch was to have become the chairman but, as she became a Minister, she persuaded me to agree to do it. I was fortunate to be its chairman for 12 years. When I took over we were raising £2.5 million a year in the UK and by the time I left it was £26 million. I also have the current figures: £41 million in the UK and over £400 million worldwide. So it produces quite a lot of help for people. We also know how many other charities and NGOs work very hard. Many of these schemes are operated with one another, so that various NGOs work together.
The thing is, though, that unless you supervise the work that is done in these countries, it can often be wasted effort. I visited one country where we were helping to put in a new water supply that brought water from the top of a hill down to the bottom. The people themselves were building the channels to do this. Previously, when their own local government had built the channels, everyone had dug holes in the sides and taken the water out as it came down, so the people at the bottom got nothing. However, when the people built it themselves, and it was their project and their ownership, they were determined to see that it continued to work.
Giving people the opportunity to do things, and often giving them the technical help that is needed, is a good thing. I saw in an African country a flat-pack school building that had been sent by some European country. No one had ever opened the pack or known what to do with it. It was nothing to do with the plan. It was just unused, because no one had provided an engineer to tell them how to put it together and advise them on what to do. Children were still sitting and having their lessons outside where they loved the distraction of everything around them.
All these things come as quite a shock to you when you see them. In Ecuador I visited a swamp where the houses were built on stilts. When we asked these people, particularly the women, “Why have you come and settled here in the middle of this dreadful swamp?”, they said, “For a better life”. It makes you realise just how bad their lives must have been.
In Tanzania a child was sitting by a hole in the ground with a bucket and a little thing like a yoghurt cup. Every few minutes, there would be one little cup of water to put into the bucket. We helped them to put in a pump. Now even a small child can, with their own ability, pump enough water to have a bucketful in no time. These are the things that are so important.
It is also important to give people the opportunity to help themselves. If you give a woman two chickens, as we did in many countries, they turn that into a poultry business. Those women sold their eggs and bred more chickens—they were in business. In South America, particularly in Bolivia, where people were rebuilding shattered homes, I saw people there enter into microfinance in such a way that there was a rotating fund; the woman who got the first amount of money started up her little business, perhaps then a market stall, and she was then able to move that money back into the system by repaying her loan and another woman got the money.
It has been mentioned that women are terribly important. Someone asked, “How do you choose between women and health?”, but it is not a choice—both go together. If you educate the women, they are capable of ensuring better health standards for their children. In the Philippines I saw women whose homes had been burnt down, and we were helping them. They used to go and pay off a little bit of mortgage every day, because every day they earned a small amount of money and could afford to take a few pence out of that to meet their debts. Women have a marvellous record of meeting their debts and of helping others on the way to improving things. In all the shanty towns that you see, it is the women who have brought their children and families to the outskirts of the big cities—I have seen this particularly in Latin America—because that is how they can get a job, and they can gradually see their family rise and have opportunities.
There are so many things that I could go on and on about. A basic hut in Vietnam was blown down, and we helped the woman build a new one. She was a widow with seven children, and she was so grateful for what we would consider a garden shed—except that we had put in a concrete floor. She explained that that floor meant that she would now have one-third more food for her children than she had before. When she had an earth floor, insects used to come up out of the earth and take away one-third of her stored grain.
The only thing on which I did not agree with the noble Lord when he opened the debate was the cycle of despair. I understand, and I thought that the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, made this point very clear, that statelessness must cause this sort of situation—I am sure that crises, particularly conflicts, can do it—but I have been amazed by how unbelievably cheerful these people were, living in poverty at a level that you could hardly imagine. They were grateful for any help, but they were optimists. They were all looking to improve life if they could. It makes you feel rather ashamed that you have so much and they have so little.
The noble Lord also mentioned tax measures and tax avoidance. I think that you will never get rid of tax avoidance, but gift aid is enormously valuable. He mentioned that there is now an internationally agreed standard. One of the essentials is to be sure that the money really goes to the people you want it to go to. The element of corruption still exists and can take money away from people. I remember a woman from Tanzania, speaking at a women’s meeting at the United Nations, who said, “Don’t give us money; if you give us money, we never see it. Give us soap and we’ll be able to wash our children”. This is what we have to realise: unless we can supervise what is happening, unless we have a monitoring system of some sort to see that the help really goes where it is needed, it will be very difficult.
There is hope for people. They are uncomplaining, they are optimists and they manage with so little in life that it makes us feel humble to be aware of this. I know that we all want to do whatever we can to help.
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord McConnell, on enabling us to focus on this vital issue. We have heard the statistics before but they should not lose their power to shock. In 2010 there were 925 million hungry people in the world—some 13 per cent of the estimated world population. That is nearly one in seven, and nearly all of them are in developing countries. In sub-Saharan Africa alone, over half the population lives on less than £1 a day. Every 3.6 seconds one person dies of starvation, and usually it is a child under five.
As UNICEF reminds us, reducing poverty starts with children. That is why I want to focus my remarks on young people and on the importance of education as a proven route out of extreme poverty. I make no apology for returning to this theme, which I raised in our debate earlier this month. It seems vital to emphasise to the UK’s Department for International Development the value for money and effectiveness of focusing its resources on basic education.
I am proud of the previous Government’s commitment and achievement in these areas, and it is a source of great pleasure to see that the coalition Government appear to have the same commitment, leading the way in focusing on women and children’s health. We know that the best start in life is critical in a child’s first few years, not only to her survival but to her physical, intellectual and emotional development. Deprivations such as lack of immunisation, malnutrition, and lack of access to household water greatly hamper children’s ability to achieve their potential, contributing to an intergenerational cycle of poverty and hunger. Providing children with basic education, healthcare and nutrition breaks that cycle.
All the evidence shows that basic education is one of the most cost-effective development interventions, and not just for the child. It aids economic growth, helps prevent HIV, improves health and prevents conflict. So I welcome DfID’s recent review of UK aid and its publication earlier this month of Changing Lives, Delivering Results, which sets out where and how the coalition Government plan to focus their aid spending over the next four years. I agree with its declaration that education is the best investment we can make,
“for global prosperity and the future of our world”.
It states that an extra year of quality schooling lifts a country’s annual economic growth by 1 per cent, yet each morning 69 million children do not have the chance to go to school. Many more fail to complete even a level of schooling to get basic skills or progress to secondary school and thus move into good jobs.
UNICEF figures show that some 13 per cent of children aged seven to 18 in developing countries have never attended school. In sub-Saharan Africa, this rate is 32 per cent among girls and 27 per cent among boys. The figure for rural children in the Middle East and north Africa is 33 per cent. However, as UNICEF says, an education is perhaps a child’s strongest barrier against poverty, especially for girls. Clearly, getting girls into school begins what DfID calls,
“a chain reaction of further benefits”.
Educated women are more likely to send their own children to school, creating a virtuous circle of opportunity and prosperity. Therefore, I welcome the promise that UK aid will take simple, practical forms, which directly encourage girls to stay on at school, such as the appointment of more female teachers and schools-based counsellors, and the funding for separate latrines. I also welcome DfID’s commitment in Nigeria, for example, to get 500,000 more girls into school by 2015 to receive an improved education. By giving 60,000 families the money that girls would earn if they were at work, along with 5,000 scholarships to encourage more women to go into teaching, we are going to the heart of many barriers that exist to educating women in Nigeria—a country with the largest number of out-of-school children in the world.
It is not just a question of pumping in aid money. We know that for the handouts to become a hands-up to national and individual prosperity and health, government aid programmes must also tackle inequality, corruption and weak institutions. As long as the poor are denied a political voice, vulnerabilities will remain. We have heard many examples today from other noble Lords that have reinforced this point. We need to be reassured that developing countries are working to ensure an equitable distribution of the rewards of economic growth. Greater powers to control their own affairs are important to local communities and individual households. OneWorld’s global poverty update in January notes that direct cash transfers, often conditional on children’s attendance at school and for immunisation, are proving effective. OneWorld also reminds us that,
“accountability through democracy and individual rights creates the environment in which governments come under pressure to end wasteful practices and corruption”.
I end my remarks with a question for the coalition Government and for DfID. How much are they willing to pressure aid-receiving countries to pursue democratic equality and diversity values as part of their aid-giving education policies? Could the Minister, in replying to that question, tell the House how pursuit of these values in recipient countries is monitored and evaluated? In the six minutes for which I have spoken, shockingly, 100 under-fives have died of starvation. UNICEF’s latest report says that,
“we have a chance to nurture a generation”—
who will be able—
“to realize their rights, laying the foundation for a more peaceful … world, in which each successive generation of children can thrive”.
That is a goal worth striving for.
My Lords, I also appreciate the opportunity to take part in this debate. On Tuesday I was in a church where many of the homeless found refuge. One or two women there went around washing the feet and legs of those who had been trudging around the streets, homeless, and sleeping—if they were sleeping at all—in various doorways. The whole scene shocked me. It was not far away, possibly: it was on Lexington Avenue in New York, where, in the midst of all the wealth, there was more than one oasis of deep sadness. Then I saw figures that showed that one family in five in New York depends on handouts to survive. The problem is everywhere; we are in a global situation where, in the midst of our comparative wealth and well-being, so many people are totally deprived.
The noble Baroness who spoke before me mentioned how many children had died in the course of this debate. Every day, 22,000 children die; one dies every four seconds. The silent killers are hunger, poverty, easily preventable diseases and treatable illnesses, which can lead to diarrhoea and malaria. Impure water is often the carrier of such diseases. We know that we can tackle such things if we have a mind to do so, and if we are ready to invest in pure water supplies, well-drilling and so on in many places. I am very grateful to those organisations that do this. As has already been mentioned, 0.7 per cent of our gross income is now ring-fenced for development aid. I do not want that to go in any direction other than to hands-on aid for the people who need it most. I understand that Sweden, Norway, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and Belgium have already reached this target. We must make every effort possible to contribute in this way.
Much of the work done in the developing world—if it is developing—is done by voluntary and charitable organisations. A couple of months ago we tried to find out how much effort went into preventing and treating HIV in Uganda. One fact I was not able to find, either from parliamentary Questions or anywhere else, is exactly how many different organisations are working to this end. There are many organisations. I wonder if there is not some way, without adding a level of bureaucracy or hindering in any way, to ease, say, visas, export licences and other facilities. Is there some way of co-operating with and co-ordinating the efforts of these different voluntary organisations? I am sure that could make them very effective. I was involved at the time of the great Ethiopian famine in organising two mobile clinics that went from Wales to Tigray in northern Ethiopia. The only co-ordination was through the Vatican at that time. Even though I am a Methodist, I was absolutely delighted that the Vatican was playing such a significant role in co-ordination. Is there some way that we could co-ordinate without interfering—co-ordinate to make every project even more effective than at present?
Yesterday in this House we spoke of the core curriculum. I was late in getting up and did not get my question in. Is there not a place for a global overview in the core curriculum? It is a small world compared to the one I was brought up in. It is a world in which there is so much poverty, but so much knowledge and so much to be learnt. I wonder if our children are learning about the great needs of this world in which we live. Is there not some way that the core curriculum could involve something such as international development or world need among its subjects? We could even have partnership or twinning schemes between schools and community organisations in the UK and various places overseas. There are some; I know many churches are linked overseas in this way. Could we somehow be more positive about it? It does not take a great deal of money. All it takes is a bit of vision and enthusiasm. Could we not have such a partnership scheme? Perhaps women’s organisations in Wales could link with women’s organisations in Zimbabwe or something like that. We would then have a real link, whereby people could learn about each other and be able to help one another.
We are often critical of the tabloid press in this country. I deplore the way that some elements of that press, although not all of them by any means, comment in a totally negative fashion on asylum seekers and refugees. That closes the door to co-operation and understanding. Would any tabloid newspaper be willing to develop good relations with countries in which there is great poverty and become involved in a campaign that was not negative and did not close the door but reached out a helping hand to people who have no idea of the sort of life that people enjoy in the UK?
People have dreams. I remember hearing a children’s choir from Kampala sing and then asking them what they wanted to be when they grew up. Some of those little kids were totally destitute. One wanted to be an airline pilot, another a vet and another a nun, even though they were on Methodist premises. A sturdy little 10 year-old lad, when asked what he wanted to be when he grew up, said, “I want to be president of Uganda”. As I say, people have dreams. If the Government, media and people of the UK seek to build bridges between us and those who most need our help, that little lad might indeed one day become the president of Uganda.
My Lords, I am so grateful that on the day before we are enwrapped in the euphoria of the royal wedding, as we should be, we are focusing on the needs of the most marginalised abroad and at home. There are a thousand good reasons why we should keep the needs of those 1.4 billion to 1.6 billion people right in front of us. One reason is that we need to be continually embarrassed by the failure to achieve the millennium development goals and to be continually reminded of the necessity to try to hit them. We simply must not forget that. We need to ensure that where there is good governance, such as the significantly good governance shown by DfID now and in the past, it is used to seek to embarrass those who do not live up to their aid commitments.
On 12 April the US Government announced a cut in their aid budget roughly equivalent to the aid the United Kingdom gives from its Exchequer every year. The United States still remains the largest global cash giver but it is the smallest contributor in terms of the percentage of its GDP of any major nation. Will the Prime Minister face down President Barack Obama at the G8 about his responsibility and that of his nation to ensure that development does not take place on the back of the poor, which is precisely what this Government said they would not do with aid? The figures from the US budget review announced on 12 April indicated a very revealing statistic. This is relevant to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Roberts, a moment ago. US aid development assistance will amount to $2.525 billion within a total of $48 billion, but the operation of the US aid development assistance will cost $1.35 billion. In other words, roughly half of what is being spent to aid the poor will go on administration. Will the Minister indicate the trajectory of administrative costs borne by the DfID budget as the years progress? Will we too find ourselves sucked into allocating more money to administrative costs rather than spending it on direct development assistance? That is an important point.
I want to emphasise a particular area about which I feel very strongly as somebody who works in a business setting. Next week the World Economic Forum on Africa will take place from 4 to 6 May in Cape Town. The summit will be chaired by Peter Brabeck, the chairman of Nestlé, and by Tim Flynn, the chairman of KPMG International. I declare an interest as the latter body is the partnership for which I work. I will be attending the summit in two roles: one reflecting my responsibilities at KPMG International and the other as chairman of Millennium Promise UK. The summit is one of the positive opportunities in which leaders across the continent will gather. Pretty much every viable president who is not held down by travel restrictions will attend, as will many leaders of non-governmental organisations. A vast array of people from businesses and NGOs committed to development will gather for three days in Cape Town. We will sing a positive story of the growth of Africa’s countries. Poverty, of course, is not just an African issue but we will focus on that matter.
I come back to the important question of how we ensure more effective co-ordination of the multiplicity of agencies, as the noble Lord, Lord Roberts, said. Will the Minister comment on the extent to which DfID sees its role as enabling fewer charities with larger budgets to focus on development assistance rather than encouraging a plethora of charities and campaigns in this area? Brilliant as next week’s campaign will clearly be, it is another one joining the long line. Eating up resources on administration and back-office facilities cannot be the right way to ensure that we get the maximum resources to the front line.
The British Government are committed to ensuring that enterprise is part of the way forward in overcoming the next round of development challenges. Enterprise, business development and microfinance have a part to play, but global and indigenous corporations have a significant role in driving investment. It is not just a matter of relieving poverty but of driving investment that embeds prosperity in countries and builds up the capacity for local work and employment. That is why it is so good that the chairmen of both Nestlé and KPMG are facilitating and leading the summit in Cape Town next week.
World Malaria Day occurred on Monday this week. We have already been reminded that every 3.5 seconds a child dies as a consequence of extreme poverty, hunger and disease, but every 45 seconds the mosquito takes its toll in all the African countries that still struggle with malaria. However, the good news is that, because of the Global Fund for AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, we are just a short breath away from seeing the end of the malarial mosquito’s dominance in a few years’ time. The Japanese corporation Sumitomo Chemical Company has provided more than 700,000 bed nets to ensure that every child and adult sleeping in a Millennium Promise village in 10 different countries are free of the impact of that mosquito. That corporation has given away the technology to allow local production of the nets in African countries. That is a responsible and appropriate engagement on the part of business.
The many businesses that have lined up behind the Global Fund, such as Chevron, News International, Standard Chartered, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and many others, prove that business has a critical role to play in partnership with bilateral development organisations and NGOs. My organisation has just taken on a five-year commitment to Pemba, a large island off the coast of Tanzania. I will visit it at the beginning of July to see for myself what a five-year plan will do for 7,000 people, with eight countries contributing the $2 million that are necessary to put in the infrastructure to provide water, healthcare, transport, businesses and educational services. Business has a role to play in this regard. It is in the frontline of ensuring that people get jobs that will provide them with prospects and opportunities, enable them to pay tax with robust tax systems being put in place, that local exchequers are able to invest in their own infrastructure and build up their own countries. I hope that the Minister will encourage DfID’s policy to bring enterprise to the forefront of development as that is the right policy.
My Lords, I too thank the noble Lord, Lord McConnell, for securing this very important debate and allowing us all to make a positive contribution.
I wish to focus my comments on the role of women in combating global poverty. Worldwide, women and girls bear the brunt of poverty, as was mentioned by other noble Lords earlier, and of hunger and discrimination. They comprise more than 60 per cent of the world’s chronically hungry people. Inherited hunger, when malnourished mothers give birth to malnourished children, is a huge obstacle to development in countries ranging from Afghanistan to Haiti. It is estimated that 70 per cent of those living in poverty are women. Women and girls continue to suffer from gender discrimination, violence and further human rights violations in all societies. Women not only cook for their families but sow, reap and harvest food. Women comprise well over half of all farmers worldwide. Eight out of 10 farmers in African countries, and six out of 10 in Asia, are women. For example, in Kenya, female farmers have fewer opportunities and resources than men. While women receive the same farm inputs that currently benefit the average male farmer, they have nevertheless increased their crop yield by 22 per cent.
I know from my family experience about the role that women have played in supporting their families. My maternal grandmother married at the age of 14. She was illiterate and had no opportunity to go to school because she lived in a small village in Cyprus. She fed her seven children by baking bread and selling the loaves each day for a very small amount of money to people in her village, and by taking in washing and laundry.
We know that women are crucial to unlocking sustainable solutions to hunger and poverty. As the World Food Programme’s executive director said recently,
“Women are the secret weapon to fight hunger … Our experience at the World Food Programme also shows that in the hands of a woman, food is far more likely to reach the mouths of needy children. That’s why, in emergencies like the catastrophic earthquake in Haiti, we channel our relief through women whenever and wherever feasible. More than half of the people we feed, globally, are women and children”.
There is widespread agreement that educating women and girls is the cornerstone of economic and social development, and it is the key to smash the cycle of generations of inherited hunger. Empowering women in every sense is not just a female issue, but a human rights issue—the right to a peaceful, healthy and prosperous future.
Like many women, when I was pregnant I got a bit fed up with the number of people—usually men—who said things such as, “Giving birth is the most natural thing in the world. Women in Africa just squat down and give birth in the fields then go right back to work”. How many women have heard that? Not only were such comments not helpful, I found them offensive. It just is not true. The World Health Organisation says that complications during pregnancy and childbirth are among the leading causes of death and disability among women of reproductive age in developing countries. Most women—99 per cent in 2008—of those who die while pregnant or after having a termination live in developing countries, mainly in sub-Saharan Africa and south Asia. There is an African proverb that a pregnant woman has one foot in the grave. This is the biggest health gap in the world today and one of the greatest injustices.
The millennium development goals include reducing maternal mortality by three-quarters, as well as achieving universal access to reproductive healthcare. The goals set a target of halving extreme poverty, halting the spread of HIV/AIDS, providing universal primary education and ending gender discrimination in education. We know that progress has been mixed, with action on maternal mortality being particularly slow. I should welcome the Minister’s comments on this important aspect.
Here in the UK, where we are used to discussions about motherhood focusing largely on lifestyle choices—whether to be a working mother; whether to breastfeed, and so on; there are endless discussions on “Woman’s Hour” on such issues—it is all too easy to forget that for women in large parts of the world, having a child is literally a matter of life or death. As the noble Baroness, Lady Gardner, said, some of us living in the West sometimes need to take stock and reflect on how much we have.
I welcomed the UK Government’s announcement at the United Nations summit that they intend to refocus their aid programme to put the lives of women in developing countries at its heart. The key aim to invest in girls and women is absolutely right. The government commitment to doubling the number of lives of women and babies saved through UK aid by 2015 is ambitious. As a result of the new strategy, the aim is that at least 50,000 more women and 250,000 babies will survive, and millions more couples will get access to family planning. Other countries, both donors and developing nations, need to be challenged to do the same and more.
Amnesty International’s report, From Promises to Delivery, outlines crucial steps that Governments can take to deliver meaningful progress on the MDGs over the next four years. The report states:
“The MDGs promised some of the world’s most impoverished and excluded a fairer future but it is now painfully obvious that unless urgent action is taken governments will fail the most vulnerable communities”.
Three main issues—gender equality, maternal health and slums—are highlighted in the report to illustrate the gulf between the current MDGs framework and international human rights standards. I should like the Minister also to comment on this aspect and to say what progress we are monitoring and expecting. On gender equality, the report shows how the MDGs fail to ensure that Governments address women’s human rights across all targets despite their being an essential element in tackling poverty. Where gender equality is listed in the MDGs, it is limited to a single target to eliminate disparities in education.
“In Haiti … women are the unbreakable core of families and communities. This country will only be rebuilt if that core is strong and empowered,”
said Concern Worldwide’s country director. As part of its clean-up effort after the terrible earthquake, and to simulate the economy, Concern Worldwide kicked off a series of cash-for-work projects and one-off cash transfers, with women being the main beneficiaries. The director explained that:
“In getting the local economy going again with injections of much-needed cash, it makes perfect sense to make women primary beneficiaries”.
Women have traditionally played a crucial role in the progress of their families but are now pushing for a level platform by breaking taboos and inspiring others to do the same. While we know that there is a long way to go in developing countries to meet the MDGs’ three targets, women are key to tackling inequality and global poverty in developing countries. If we fail to achieve these goals—and there is a short time to go before the target date of 2015—it would be unacceptable from both the moral and practical standpoints.
My Lords, as other noble Lords have done, I thank the noble Lord, Lord McConnell, for getting this debate on the agenda. I am being selfish, because it gives me an opportunity to talk on a subject that I feel passionately and strongly about. The noble Baroness, Lady Hussein-Ece, has spoken about some of the things I would have mentioned—that is, the situation of women.
Who are the poorest of the poor in the poorest countries? It is the women. They eat last when everyone has been fed. The girl child does not get as much food as the boy child. We all know these things, and we should be talking about women, first and foremost, because they keep the family going and, in fact, they keep everything going. If women stopped working, those countries would stop working.
I begin by congratulating the Government on what DfID is doing. At last, after a long time, it has returned to look at issues that concern women—family planning, education for women and girls, and all matter of things that help women. Unless we can help them, nothing can change. It is women, not men, who will bring about change to poverty. Men have been ruling the roost for at least 2,000 years that we know of. Has anything changed? No, it has not. They do not work as hard as women; they do not take responsibility like women do; and I disagree with the noble Lord who said that, if we educate children, everything will change. Who will educate the children? The women will. It is the women whom we have to provide for. We have to give them the ability to send their children to school.
I know of the many terrible things that are done to women, because I have been involved in development for 18 out of the 20 years that I have been in your Lordships' House. I have seen projects and the situation of women. I have visited the fistula hospital in Addis Ababa, where there are rows of cots with little bundles on them. You cannot see them without getting tears in your eyes—I might break down, so I apologise in advance. I asked them, “Are these all very young girls?”. They said, “No. Most of them are very malnourished”. The women cannot give birth, either because they do not have the strength or because they are too young.
In Nigeria you can buy a girl of 12 for two goats—and they do. I have a new friend from Nigeria. When her mother became a widow, his brothers came and took everything away from the house. They not only took every thing away, they took his two younger wives as well because they could work. They left my friend’s mother with all the children—13 of them—with nothing to feed them on and no possibility of looking after them. She parcelled out the children to friends and neighbours—one child here, one child there—and eventually got a job cleaning toilets in a hospital for £30 a month. Then she took back all the children. My friend was educated by the Commonwealth Countries League education fund. She put herself through university by going to Lagos overnight and buying things that she could sell in her town. She did this constantly to pay for her university education.
Women are incredible. Give them an opportunity and they will grab it and run. Three-quarters of Indians live on 30p a day. Yesterday, the Secretary of State said that the poorest people are in India. Certainly, the most malnourished are. All statistics tell us that Indians are the most malnourished people in the world—even more so than Africans. Yet India is booming; that is the other side of the coin. There is so much money in India now that it makes you feel ill, because it is in your face all the time, in every city—money, money, money. They say that Indians have $3 trillion in Swiss banks. None of it goes anywhere; it sits in the banks, or is spent in India in a grotesque and obscene way. Nothing is spent on the poor. Bill Gates and Warren Buffett wrote to Indian billionaires to try to arrange a meeting. They did not even get a reply. The billionaires did not say that they would not come; they did not even reply. This is the position in India, despite the fact that it is booming.
To some extent it is right to ask why a lot of aid should go to India when the Indians do not want to help themselves. The Government give money for poverty alleviation, but where does it go? It goes to all the hands that it passes through: hardly 5 per cent reaches the poor. Corruption is a cancer in Africa and on the Indian subcontinent. It is horrifying to see how little of what is provided reaches the people whom it is meant to reach.
I have talked about all the things that I worry about. Now I will say something about how we can start changing extreme poverty. We should start employing women. In India and Africa, people will not employ women. I was told by a number of big businesses, “Women are not trained”. Of course, the boys come out of their mothers’ wombs ready trained. It is a question of giving training to women. They learn very quickly; they are hungry for everything. If you help a woman to earn money, what does she do? Does she gamble or drink? No, she spends it on her family. She sends her children to school and improves her health and that of her family. The only way to change the future is to work with women and give them opportunities to earn money. That will change them within weeks and months, not years. It is not a question of education; they will not get education. However, if they have the resources they will certainly give education to their children. No man has ever said to me, “I want my children to go to school”, but every woman in every project that I have visited has said, “I want my children to go to school. I want my daughters to go to school. I do not want them to have my sort of life”.
Providing family planning and financial resources is the way forward. Women in India are used as hod carriers. My builder was appalled to hear that. The Indians do not see them; they do not see what women do. Let us make a plan to help women to earn money, because that is the way forward.
I start by thanking the noble Lord, Lord McConnell, for today's debate. As the noble Baroness, Lady Flather, said, the subject of extreme poverty, especially relating to women and children, is very close to one’s heart.
More than 1 billion people around the world live in extreme poverty. Many of them go to bed hungry every night. Every year more than 11 million children die before their fifth birthday. More than 500,000 women die in pregnancy or childbirth. Sadly, these people are victims of extreme poverty. Poverty is the lack of basic human needs such as clean and fresh water, nutrition, healthcare, education, and clothing and shelter, because of the inability to afford them. Fundamentally, poverty is a denial of choices and opportunities, and a violation of human dignity. It means a lack of the basic capacity to participate effectively in society. It means not having enough to feed and clothe a family, not having a school or clinic to go to, not having land on which to grow one's food or a job to earn one's living, and not having access to credit. It means insecurity, powerlessness and the exclusion of individuals, households and communities.
The world has become chaotic in recent years, mainly due to poverty. There is a lot of terrorism and many people are dying of hunger; so many wrong things are happening. Unfortunately, extreme poverty is prevalent both in developing and developed countries. According to Oxfam, 13.4 million people in the UK live in poverty—20 per cent of the population. According to Save the Children, 1.6 million children live in severe poverty in the United Kingdom.
In 2000, the United Nations established eight millennium development goals, which include the eradication of extreme poverty, education, gender equality, the empowerment of women and a global partnership for development. I declare an interest as founder and chairman trustee of the Loomba Foundation, a UN-accredited global NGO. My charity is committed to raising awareness of the plight of widows and children around the world who are suffering through poverty, illiteracy, HIV, malaria, conflict and social injustice.
In many developing countries in south Asia and across Africa, when a poor woman loses her husband she loses her place in society. She is left on her own without any help. She is poor, uneducated and with no job, and has to depend on her children, who become the breadwinners for their family. Where do the children work? They work on the streets, where often they get involved with crime. They also work in factories where child labour abuse is commonplace. The aim of the Loomba Foundation is to promote the fundamental freedoms and human rights of widows and their children around the world by raising awareness of the gross injustices that women face when losing a husband, and by removing the stigma associated with widowhood.
The Loomba Foundation works together with UN bodies, government officials, leaders and advocates to fight for the more than 245 million widows worldwide who suffer dreadful prejudice and discrimination, by promoting gender-sensitive reform of national laws and policies; eradicating anti-widow superstitions, traditions, and social practices; promoting gender equality and women’s empowerment; implementing poverty-reduction strategies; and promoting opportunities for the education of widows and their children. The Loomba Foundation is educating children of poor widows in India and the selection of the beneficiaries is made without regard to religion, gender or caste.
During 2006-08, our community-based project, launched in partnership with Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Unite charity, benefited 1,500 HIV orphans in five townships outside Johannesburg. In 2007, the foundation became a global partner with HRH Prince of Wales’s charity Youth Business International and is empowering young widows by setting up businesses for them in Kenya, Uganda, Syria, Nepal, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. The Loomba Foundation and Oxfam GB are working in Rwanda through a partnership programme to enrich and empower the lives of widows of the genocide.
In 2009, the Loomba Foundation started a new project in association with the Cherie Blair Foundation for Women and SolarAid in Malawi and Kenya. Through this important partnership we work with rural communities in both countries to use solar power to fight poverty and climate change. The Loomba Foundation published the comprehensive research study last year, Invisible, Forgotten Sufferers—The Plight of Widows Around the World, which revealed the plight of 245 million widows and 500 million children around the world who suffer in silence. There are 100 million widows who live in poverty struggling to survive; 1.5 million widows’ children around the world will die before they reach the age of five. We have presented the book to UN Secretary-General His Excellency Ban Ki-moon, the honourable President of India and the US Secretary of State, among many other dignitaries. I am arranging for a copy to be placed in the Library.
At the 65th UN General Assembly last year, the United Nations declared 23 June as International Widows Day. The declaration was made unanimously by all 192 member nations. Noble Lords can see how important this issue is. We are proud that it was the Loomba Foundation which initially launched International Widows Day at the House of Lords in the UK in 2005 and has ever since campaigned tirelessly for the UN recognition. The UN-recognised International Widows Day is an effective platform for national Governments, NGOs, corporates and individuals to focus and highlight the plight of impoverished widows throughout the world. It is indeed the commencement of a journey to restore widows’ rights and empower them, which will also enable the UN to meet the millennium development goals on extreme poverty, healthcare, education, equality and empowerment.
I am glad that through our educational and empowerment programmes, my charity has been able to give respect and dignity to widows and help them to break the vicious cycle of poverty. However, we need to do more.
My Lords, I also thank my noble friend for initiating what has been a very timely debate. He mentioned the Global Poverty campaign and Positive Women, an NGO which is small, effective and remarkable in many ways and which I also know very well. My noble friend has shown his expertise and commitment. I have worked over a number of years with him as both of us have similar views and interests in international development.
This debate, as it always strikes me, has again been extremely impressive. Your Lordships show not only a real grasp of the issues but a passion for working for change. There is the global commitment to halving poverty by 2015. The millennium declaration is a unique compact between the north and the south and represents a consensus across the world that world poverty is a global problem. Poverty means that if you are a woman you walk several kilometres every day to collect water and firewood. It means suffering from diseases that were eradicated in rich countries decades ago. It means that children whom I have met on many occasions will never hold a pencil, never mind touch the keyboard of a computer. It means that you live in a dangerous and unhealthy environment. It means that you and your children will often go to bed hungry. It means that you are powerless, voiceless, fearful and marginalised. Malaria, HIV/AIDS and maternal and child deaths kill millions every year. Add to that the conflict that has claimed thousands of lives and then we understand why there is a perception that Africa, in particular, is a wasteland of poverty, conflict and disease.
This is not a time for pessimism and cynicism. Great leaps forward have been made and more is certainly needed and possible in the battle that has to be waged against the endemic inequities which keep the people poor, excluded and powerless. Some countries have suffered serious setbacks and economic growth has been extremely unequal. The UN asserts that while the gaps in human development across the world are narrowing they remain huge. Now, however, is not the time to peddle doom and gloom about these issues, but rather to show that aid works and that effective development can and must be supported. That is why donors should focus on what they do best and should work with Governments on health, education, good governance, and support for justice and taxation systems.
In the current financial climate we hear many horror stories but those alone will not bring the necessary responses and justified support for international development which we need to see. Pictures and words about pathetic and supplicant people engender a sense of hopelessness about what can and must be done to make poverty history. A central plank of the Government’s development policies is to work on fragile states and to seek the objective of value for money. Would the Minister care to comment on the view that increasing aid to fragile states is hardly consistent with the value-for-money objective? Is the Minister aware that the National Audit Office has warned DfID that serious efforts have to be made to minimise the clear risk of fraud and corruption in countries where governance and financial systems are weak?
Indeed, Andy Sumner, a very respected development economist, has statistics showing that more than 80 per cent of DfID’s bilateral aid to Africa and Asia by 2014-15 will be going to countries defined as “very corrupt” by Transparency International. Is that not a cause for some serious concern? When we read the inevitable stories of mismanagement of UK development assistance, how then will the Secretary of State justify claims on value for money and how does DfID propose to deal with the clear risks that exist in this situation? Are there plans to ensure that civil society, faith groups and parliaments have access to information that makes it possible for them to track and monitor government expenditure? Is DfID engaged in supporting that in countries where we work?
As many noble Lords have said, a critical element in the arguments that we make about tackling extreme poverty is gender equity. If we do not achieve the MDG targets, we will not achieve gender equality; if we do not achieve gender equality, we will not meet the MDG targets. Extreme poverty erodes the skills, experience and networks that, through women, keep communities going. There is a perfectly justifiable priority for tackling the most intractable MDG—as others have mentioned, it is on maternal mortality—but such is the low value, status and respect given to women that we will not see the fundamental change that we need if we are to be able to save those precious women’s lives.
We say this in the context of an OECD report that projects that aid will increase at about 1 per cent a year compared with a 13 per cent annual growth rate in the past three years. We should therefore be concerned that additional aid to low-income countries is likely very soon to be outpaced by population increases. Fifteen DAC members that are EU countries are promising a collective target of 0.7 per cent in 2015. One of them is the United Kingdom. Will the Minister confirm that the Government are absolutely sure that the 0.7 per cent target will be reached by the UK by 2015? Does the Minister agree that in the current circumstances innovative sources of financing development must be found? Will the Government support calls for increased taxation of the UK’s financial sector, which according to the Institute for Public Policy Research could raise an extra £20 billion of revenue every year? The revenue that accrues could be used to tackle poverty at home and abroad and to meet the effects of climate change. This so-called Robin Hood tax has widespread support. The European Parliament recently adopted a position backing the idea of a tax that ensures that financial services make a contribution to the cost of recovery from the banking crisis. Global agreement on such a tax would be best, but the UK’s stamp duty demonstrates that it is possible to introduce a successful, well designed financial transaction tax without undermining competitiveness. According to experts, a levy, even at the very low level proposed, is expected to raise funds that can contribute to global collective goods, especially green technology and development aid. Would the Minister care to comment on whether it is likely that the UK will support the view of Chancellor Merkel and President Sarkozy that now is the time to move forward on the financial transaction tax?
May I also ask whether the UK will join members of the G20 that urge greater control of food speculation? Does the Minister agree that the activities of commodity investors and hedge fund managers have exacerbated the increases in food prices that we have seen and the resulting hunger and increased poverty?
I shall finally make one small point. Many Members of this House have spoken of making poverty history. There are things that we can do. New sources of finance are one of them, and hope I have made a case for them. What we have to do is to make sure that we make poverty history and not our future.
My Lords, I join all noble Lords in thanking the noble Lord, Lord McConnell, for securing this important debate today and for his most informed speech. I know he is passionate about his work on conflict prevention and resolution and on Malawi. I am sure he will agree with me that the quality of contributions today has been outstanding. While a number of questions have been raised, on the whole we can say that the whole House is committed to seeing that British aid produces a sustainable and positive outcome on the lives of the world’s poorest and most vulnerable people.
The British people have consistently demonstrated their generosity and their far-sightedness in responding to the needs of the poorest people in the world. That is why the coalition Government’s decision to live up to Britain’s international development commitments, despite the difficult economic circumstances we face, is something that we believe the whole country can be very proud of. We will not balance the books on the backs of the poorest because we know that it is in our moral and national interest to help to achieve the millennium development goals. British aid has already helped half a billion people lift themselves out of crushing poverty, saved the lives of 6 million children through immunisation and put tens of millions more children into school.
However, the scale of the challenge is immense and we need to deliver more than ever before by focusing our effort where the need is greatest, not only saving but transforming millions of lives by providing access to food, clean drinking water, basic healthcare and education. Our approach is defined by our determination to deliver the greatest possible return on our investment, both for the world’s poorest people and for the British taxpayer. That is why since the election we have undertaken three reviews: of our bilateral programmes, our support through multilateral organisations and our response to humanitarian emergencies.
The results of the bilateral aid review have enabled us to direct UK funding to the countries where it will have the most impact on the poorest people. For example, we have scaled up our programmes in countries such as Pakistan and Ethiopia, where British taxpayers’ money can help even more people to access basic necessities. We are ending programmes to countries which do not need aid, such as Russia and China, and we will instead work in partnership with them to help reduce poverty around the world. We will invest more of our resources where the need is greatest and where our money will have the most impact. Other donors will continue to work in countries where they are better placed to help.
I disagree with the noble Baroness, Lady Flather, about India. India may be a growing economy but there are more poor people in India than there are in the whole of sub-Saharan Africa. This is therefore not the time to end our aid—
We will work with India to encourage those very rich people to help the poor people but in the mean time we will focus on the three poorest states–Bihar, Madhya Pradesh and Orissa—and start to make a transition away from aid towards a partnership in which we will work together to build prosperity in the world and reduce poverty wherever it remains.
The multilateral aid review took a long, hard look at the value for money offered by 43 of the multilateral organisations through which Britain has, until now, invested aid. It assessed the relevance of each organisation or fund to the UK’s development objectives and their ability to deliver results on the ground. This rigorous and robust exercise which reported in March has provided, for the first time, a comprehensive overview of the strengths and weaknesses of each multilateral agency or organisation. The review confirmed that the multilateral system is a critical complement to what the UK Government can do but it also found evidence of significant weaknesses.
The review has helped the UK to make evidence-based decisions about how we deliver funding through all of the multilateral agencies to make the greatest possible impact. This includes significant increases in funding to some of the best performers, and a withdrawal of DfID core funding from four organisations that make a poor contribution to UK development objectives. The review has also given a real impetus to efforts to improve the international system. It has generated significant interest in other countries, civil society and the institutions themselves. We will be working with all of these stakeholders to strengthen the ability of the multilateral organisations to deliver value for money and better results on the ground. Improvements will benefit both the taxpayer and those living in poverty.
The humanitarian emergency response review, which was chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Ashdown, proposed placing humanitarian response and resilience to disasters at the heart of the development agenda, better integrating it with development programmes. This is a challenging vision for DfID and for other development agencies, and we are now considering all the noble Lord’s recommendations. The Secretary of State for International Development will present DfID’s response to the report in the coming weeks.
I shall address some current situations. It is critical that change in the Middle East and north Africa is met with and supported by an ambitious and effective international response. DfID is working with the EU, international financial institutions and the UN to ensure timely and generous support for greater political openness, better governance and economic opportunity for all. In addition, our bilateral programmes in Yemen and the Occupied Palestinian Territories continue to support delivery of basic services for the poor and vulnerable, and to address humanitarian needs.
In Libya, Britain is taking a leading role in international efforts to protect civilians from ongoing attacks by the Gaddafi regime and to help avert a humanitarian crisis. The situation in the west of the country is getting worse every day. Towns, including Misrata, are under siege and civilians lack access to basic necessities such as food, water and electricity. There is also a shortage of some crucial medical supplies. The UK was one of the first countries to support the humanitarian needs of the Libyan people. So far, we have given more than £13 million for medical and food supplies and emergency shelter, and assisted the evacuation of more than 17,000 vulnerable people.
We are increasing our efforts to tackle poverty in a number of conflict-affected and fragile states. Helping to address conflicts in the developing world, and fighting poverty among those caught in wars and violence, must be central to our aid policy if we are to help end global poverty. Nine of the 10 poorest countries in the world are fragile states. In Africa, more than two-thirds of the poorest people live in countries affected by conflict and fragility. Not a single low-income, fragile or conflict-affected country has yet achieved a millennium development goal.
That is why this Government have committed to invest 30 per cent of UK aid in fragile and conflict-affected states. We are taking an integrated approach, bringing a sense of unity and common purpose to Whitehall to tackle instability and conflict overseas. This work will make a real difference to the health, education, safety and opportunities of the some of the poorest and most vulnerable people.
The World Bank’s World Development Report 2011: Conflict, Security, and Development, released earlier this month, has emphasised that citizen security, justice and jobs are all needed to break the cycle of violence and conflict. The UK is already investing in results in these crucial areas. For example, the bilateral aid review sets out how we will create 200,000 jobs in Afghanistan, train 3,000 Somaliland police in human rights and establish 300 community security schemes in fragile areas of Pakistan.
I am pleased that the noble Baroness, Lady Flather, supports DfID’s programmes which place emphasis on women and girls. Like her, we strongly believe that transforming the lives of women and girls is the only route to helping eliminate poverty. This House has debated these issues a number of times recently, including in celebrating the centenary of International Women’s Day. However, the challenges remain. Not only do girls and women suffer disproportionately from poverty, with a third of a million women dying from avoidable deaths in pregnancy and childbirth, but 10 million more girls than boys are out of school. My noble friend Lady Gardner of Parkes spoke about women holding the key to faster progress on poverty reduction. She spoke about the two chickens given to a woman to start a small business. Recent research has shown that, for example, a $10 increase in women’s income achieves the same benefits to their children’s health and nutrition as a $110 increase in men’s income. That is what I call value for money.
The Government are therefore committed to putting girls and women at the front and centre of international development. DfID has published A New Strategic Vision for Girls and Women, committing us by 2015 to saving the lives of at least 50,000 women in pregnancy and childbirth and 250,000 newborn babies, allowing at least 10 million women to access modern methods of family planning, supporting over 9 million children in primary education, of which at least half will be girls, and 700,000 girls in secondary education, helping 2.3 million women to access jobs and 18 million women to access financial services, and working in at least 15 countries to prevent violence against girls and women.
We also campaigned hard for the creation of the new UN Women organisation, headed by Michelle Bachelet. We were one of the first to provide funding for the establishment of the new agency and we look forward to its first strategic plan so that we can provide longer-term funding. We are delighted that Mrs Bachelet will visit Britain on 16 and 17 May.
We want to empower women to make choices for their own and their families’ health, and to make pregnancy and childbirth safe for mothers and babies. The noble Baroness, Lady Hussein-Ece, highlighted the great plight faced by many mothers not just in poor countries but in this country too. People—often men—think that childbirth is easy. I wish that they could have a jolly good go at it just once.
As I said earlier, at least a third of a million women and girls die in pregnancy and childbirth each year and 500 million give birth without skilled care. At the end of last year, the UK Government published their Choices for Women framework for results, which sets out how UK aid will save the lives of thousands of women and children. The framework also contains specific commitments to deliver results for the poorest women, who have the greatest need but are being left behind, by focusing on the poorest 40 per cent of households. It also has a particular focus on education for adolescents to build girls’ capability to make healthy choices.
Another example of our very practical approach to improving the health of poor people relates to vaccinations. Immunisation is one of the most cost-effective health interventions available. Our support to the GAVI Alliance, which increases access to immunisation in developing countries, has so far has helped to immunise 288 million children in the world’s poorest countries and to prevent 5.4 million deaths between 2000 and 2009.
At the Davos World Economic Forum in January 2011, the Prime Minister also announced that the UK would double its commitment to the Global Polio Eradication Initiative, provided other donors step forward with additional contributions and countries build polio eradication into their routine immunisation programmes. An additional 45 million children will be vaccinated against polio as a result, most of them in the poorest and remotest regions of the world.
Transparency is essential to delivering and demonstrating results so that taxpayers in the UK see where aid money goes and citizens in poor countries can check that it is being used properly—and shout if it is not. The Government’s UKaid Transparency Guarantee increases the amount of aid information published. DfID was also the first donor to publish information in line with a new international aid transparency standard.
The noble Lord, Lord Hastings, mentioned the importance of wealth creation and economic development. We all know that the private sector is the crucial engine for economic growth, which provides new jobs, new opportunities and new markets to lift people out of poverty. However, not enough has been done in the past to support the private sector. DfID has now set up a new private sector department to become more business-savvy and work closely with private sector—both in the UK and with entrepreneurs in poor countries—to drive private sector growth.
DfID will over the next four years increase access to microfinance using technologies such as mobile banking and give small and medium-sized enterprises greater access to financial services. That will help 50 million people and small firms to get access to savings, credit, insurance and other financial services, which is critical to helping them withstand economic shocks, increase their incomes and pay for basic services such as health and education.
It is the world’s poorest who will be hit first and hardest by climate change, yet they are least responsible for its causes and least able to cope with its effects. Left unchecked, climate change will cruelly impede our progress towards development goals and jeopardise our existing gains, but it is not just poor countries and poor people that will be hit. There will also be a knock-on effect on our security and national interest. That is why the UK is showing international leadership in supporting poverty reduction by helping developing countries to adapt to climate change, take up low-carbon growth and tackle deforestation.
For example, in Bangladesh, we have made it possible for more than 90,000 homes to be raised on other platforms to protect 500,000 families and their livestock from seasonal monsoon floods. On low-carbon development, we will give greater emphasis to partnering developing countries to help them attract private investment.
I am running out of time, so I will march through responses to some of the questions asked. The noble Lord, Lord McConnell, asked about the publication of the stabilisation strategy; it will be published in the coming months. As soon as it is, we will inform him. He also asked whether education will now not be a priority. Education is fundamental to everything we do; it is the key to beating poverty and the greatest investment we can make for global prosperity and the future of our world.
The noble Lords, Lord Chidgey and Lord McConnell, asked about the European Union. The MAR found that the European Union budget programmes are less poverty-focused than the EDF, but that they address some of the key issues that other organisations cannot. Therefore, it is important that we ensure that the programmes reform their systems to deliver the best outcomes. The noble Lord, Lord Chidgey, also asked about the publication of country office plans. Operational plans for all DfID country offices and for departments in the UK will be published during May.
The noble Baroness, Lady Jenkin, whom I wish well on her five days of living on less than £1, made the point that we have many challenges ahead. They will be addressed only if everyone signs up to the commitment. That is why we encourage other donors to live up to their commitments—what they have promised and pledged—but also to commit to 0.7 per cent of GNP, as the UK has by 2013. To answer the question of the noble Baroness, Lady Kinnock, that will be legislated for. The noble Baronesses, Lady Warwick and Lady Kinnock, asked about the conditionality of UK aid on good governance. I agree that that is crucial, but we must not abandon those countries that do not have good governance. It is really about making sure that what they are doing has oversight from donors.
I have run out of time. To those to whom I have not responded today, I promise to respond in writing.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for her responses. We look forward to further clarification of any points that have not been addressed in her closing remarks. This has been an excellent debate. Contributions from several noble Baronesses and others on the importance of women and girls’ empowerment and education have brought that issue to the forefront. My colleagues in Positive Women, for which I am raising funds next week, will be delighted to hear that. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Gloucester, the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, and others mentioned the importance of going beyond Governments to civil society and faith groups to ensure that our aid and development work goes as far and as deep as possible.
We were all inspired by the captivating speech of the noble Lord, Lord Griffiths, which brought home to us the critical importance of these issues for the people affected by them, not for the institutions or Governments. The whole debate has been not only a call to action but also an inspiration to those like the noble Baroness, Lady Jenkin, and I who, over the next week, will live below the line on less than £1 a day. When the noble Baroness and I first debated together back in 1987 in an STV studio in Scotland, we could not have imagined that today we would be speaking on the same subject with the same passion and with the same outcomes in mind. It is good to have been able to take part in this debate on those terms.
We look forward to the challenge, and we hope that the hundreds of people who will join us next week have been inspired by the unity of purpose and call to action that the House of Lords has displayed today. I beg leave to withdraw the Motion.
Government Departments: Soft Power
My Lords, the two debates today might almost have been merged into one because they cover very similar ground. I look forward to the contributions that are going to be made, and I know that many noble Lords have had a long-term interest in this area. I must mention, although I do not think it is particularly relevant today, my interest as a patron of the Africa Educational Trust and that I am a member of the advisory board of Thales UK.
We could spend the whole of this debate trying to define the term “soft power”, and many academics do exactly that. I noticed that Joseph Nye will be speaking in the Commons next month, so I will leave it to the academics to hold the theoretical discussions and concentrate today on what I think is important. I want to talk about the use of all the avenues of influence that add up to soft power, and I was interested to note that at Question Time today, the Minister, when talking about NATO and the EU, said that peace was also about stability and shared values. His comments were, I believe, very relevant to the theme of this debate. I also wanted the House to have the opportunity to discuss the use of soft power, in particular the need for government co-ordination in this area, partly because of my experience in government and because of my concern that the comprehensive spending review might lead to rather short-sighted cuts that might have long-term consequences for Britain’s influence in the world.
Many people will immediately think of the British Council, the BBC World Service and of the importance of overseas students in this respect, and I will mention those issues later as, I am sure, will many others. But I want to start my comments by referring back to the Green Paper produced by the last Government entitled Adaptability and Partnership—Issues for the Strategic Defence Review. It was written by the Ministry of Defence, but crucially in close consultation with the Foreign Office and DfID. One of the themes of that Green Paper was “understanding and anticipating”. That theme is very relevant, especially at a time when domestic security cannot be separated from international security, and the pace and nature of the changing threats we face are increasingly challenging.
In the section dealing with defence diplomacy and security co-operation, the Green Paper acknowledged that defence investment in the range of activities that we know as defence diplomacy is modest. That may be something of an understatement. These activities—contributing to conflict prevention, capacity building, training, advice on security sector reform—can all play a significant part both in understanding the nature of emerging threats and in helping other countries to co-operate with us in tackling them. Yet we spend less than 0.5 per cent of the defence budget in this area, although I think it could legitimately be questioned whether all that spending should come from just the defence budget.
Some significant steps were taken by the previous Government. The Foreign Office established a strategic communications and public diplomacy board, and I would be interested in any progress on that. We also saw a very important step in the establishment of the stabilisation unit, which brought together not only funding from the Ministry of Defence, Foreign Office and DfID but personnel from these three very different departments, enabling them to work together in one unit. A visitor to the unit would not be able to identify the home department of those working there, which is a very significant step forward. As I understand it, there will soon be a stabilisation strategy which we all look forward to.
That work was very good and those steps were significant—they did represent progress. However, I am not convinced that there is a total buy-in from everyone in all the departments nor that everything is quite as joined up throughout the piece as it perhaps should be. That is why I would urge Ministers to take a very active and personal interest in ensuring departmental co-operation. Moreover, I fear that when it comes to squeezing budgets, it is often the areas of small spend that become the easy targets. It is easy to think that if the spend is low, then so must be the contribution. That is simply not the case with soft power. During my time at the MoD I saw increasing pressure—which I am glad to say was sometimes resisted—to squeeze things such as defence diplomacy, training budgets and so on.
Perhaps I may disabuse anyone who thinks that this area simply involves defence attachés going to cocktail parties. I am glad to have the support of my noble friend Lord Boateng in this, as he will know from personal experience that that is not a true image. I put on record the fact that almost all the defence attachés whom I met were modern, focused and well respected in their host countries for the practical help that they gave on issues such as stabilisation, security sector reform, training and, very importantly, establishing democratic accountability of the armed forces in those countries. I would also emphasise the need for co-operation between government departments. I do not think that every embassy achieves the same level of integration and effort or that every embassy works as much as a team as it should. There is some scope for improvement there.
Of course, I came across some specific problems when I was a Minister. As I mentioned in the debate initiated last November by the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, I believe that those who work in the field of aid and development are sometimes too apprehensive about working with colleagues in military uniforms. I have a particular example in mind where the only way to get aid delivered was to improve security on the ground, which in itself required in-country security-sector reform. Although that could be delivered only with the help of our military advisers, the local DfID official was totally opposed to any military presence.
I think that some advances have been made, and I was particularly pleased when the DfID White Paper was published some 18 months or more ago. As it pointed out, unless you have stability and security on the ground, it is often impossible to provide the necessary aid. I do not want to exaggerate the problems, but ensuring a joined-up approach is definitely an area where ministerial leadership is important.
Perhaps I may get the Minister’s reaction to the fact that the United States has for the first time published what should become a quadrennial diplomacy and development review which oversees all the various contributions made by the State Department and others responsible for aid. Although I do not think that we should copy everything the Americans do, I also wonder whether we should not consider having our own version of such an overview of all these activities to ensure that we get the maximum impact from all of them.
As I mentioned in my opening remarks, many other areas are important in respect of using soft power to extend our influence. I am sure that others will mention the BBC World Service. I have long been a firm admirer of the work that it has achieved. Yesterday I received a letter—I am sure that others have received it as well—from Peter Horrocks at the BBC. In respect of the World Service, he writes:
“We know that our content has been enthusiastically consumed by audiences in the Arab world in recent months. Our online audiences have gone up by 300%, makeshift projection systems showing BBC Arabic TV have been erected by protestors in the capital cities of various Middle Eastern countries, and our radio broadcasts have been relied on when TV or online has been disrupted. But in just a month’s time, we will need to cut back dramatically on our services as a result of the funding reductions”.
This is a very serious situation and I must ask the Minister for specific assurances that he will look at it. This is a critical time for that region and clearly the work that the World Service is doing is very important indeed. Quite frankly, I do not care whether the money comes from the Foreign Office, DfID or anyone else. We need clarity on the role of the World Service and certainty about its future. Recent events have highlighted its value yet again, but it cannot fulfil its potential if it is going to stagger from funding crisis to funding crisis. I hope that Ministers will not close their minds to looking at this issue again.
Nor can the British Council stagger from crisis to crisis. It has made a fantastic contribution to the world’s understanding of Britain and the promotion of our culture and heritage. Yet it, too, is facing very severe and real cuts which will undermine much of the reputation it has established. I am sure that many people in this House also share my concerns about the future of overseas students, whose presence here has brought this country many benefits once they have returned home.
In addition to co-operation between government departments here, there is one other point that I want to raise with the Minister—the scope for co-operation with other countries in the field of soft power. We all agree that prevention is better than cure and that should be the first objective. We have long acknowledged the need to co-operate on hard power through institutions such as NATO. But it is important to remember that, as in Afghanistan, you cannot win by hard power alone. No one would say that soft power is a substitute for hard power; we need both, and we all need to recognise that. However, I should like to ask the Minister about co-operation with other countries in this area. Many allies are reconsidering their level of diplomatic presence and military representation with a view to closing posts. We could end up with a situation where many allies are pulling out of the same country and leaving a vacuum in terms of understanding what is happening there. That might be unwise and could be dangerous.
I would also like to know from the Minister the extent to which there have been meaningful discussions, and how near we are to getting conclusions, on the role of the European External Action Service and our contribution to it. What are the Government’s thoughts on the progress here? Are we linking our work on this to a proper assessment of what we should be doing collectively and what we must continue to do by ourselves? When the Prime Minister launched the national security strategy he said that it is about how we project power and influence in a rapidly changing world. To do that, I hope that Ministers are fully sighted of all the work that increases the influence of this country in the world. The challenges that we face are daunting. I think that it is crucial that we use all the influence for good that we can and that soft power must be a mainstream part of government considerations, not just in defence and the Foreign Office but throughout government as a whole.
My Lords, I have been in a debate like this before, back in 1981 in the other place when I was Transport Secretary. After many attempts, the Commons rightly used my transport Bill to introduce compulsory seatbelts for the first time in this country. You might have thought that the next day it would have been front page news, but not quite, because the morning’s papers were dominated by another event that would happen that day—the marriage of Charles and Diana. We may well find that this debate is also overshadowed, but that in no way reduces its importance.
I congratulate the noble Baroness on the excellent way in which she introduced the debate. I shall pick up one part of what she said, about the BBC World Service and journalism generally. The best of British journalism can have a big influence for the good. Honest and independent reporting of what is taking place can influence a debate inside a country; it can inform a bigger audience around the world, and when done well it brings credit to this country. I am talking here about journalism, not newspapers indulging in practices such as phone hacking that want nothing more than the information on the private lives of real and imagined celebrities. To my mind, that is not journalism but a form of unjustifiable prying, which has rightly been declared illegal, and I look forward to the day when the Government announce that they will set up an inquiry into how this can be prevented.
The kind of journalism that I am talking about is truthful, independent reporting that deals with important national and international issues and is not influenced by the prejudices and views of proprietors. I am also talking about fearless reporting, which we have been reminded of recently by the deaths of two journalists in Libya—the latest casualties in a long line of those whose jobs as reporters have put them at risk. There are outstanding examples in this country of the kind of journalism that I am talking about, and the kind of journalist, not least in the BBC—not the game show hosts, but reporters such as John Simpson, Jeremy Bowen and people of that kind.
We should not ignore the influence that this kind of journalism can have. I am chairman of the Thomson Media Foundation, which was formed half a century ago by Roy Thomson. I took over from my noble and learned friend Lord Howe some years ago. In the Middle East, we run inquirer rewards for investigative journalism, with entries from Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, Gaza and the West Bank and investigations into prison conditions and healthcare. This has been funded partly by the Foreign Office, and I pay tribute to it for that. In the gentlest way possible, I would love to know what future plans there are, following my letter of about six or seven weeks ago.
I will concentrate on the BBC World Service. I remember in 1967 being sent off by my newspaper to the Middle East war. After a rather hairy journey by fishing boat, my colleagues and I arrived in Beirut. Our aim was to get to Damascus and Amman, but for some time the borders were closed and news was censored. My abiding memory of that period was of an American journalist with his ear to the transistor radio, desperately trying to get the latest, accurate news of what was happening in the war. The World Service in those days was the gold standard.
Things have obviously changed since those days. We have channels providing 24-hour television news; in the Middle East, which I seek to concentrate on, we have powerful new channels such as Al-Jazeera; and we have the internet playing an increasingly important role. Nevertheless, taking a worldwide perspective, the BBC World Service has a formidable audience of 180 million people and retains a formidable reputation, which is paid tribute to by a wide range of people including Kofi Annan, who said that it is,
“perhaps Britain's greatest gift to the world”.
That is some praise.
The service has sought to develop as conditions have changed. It has started an Arabic television service, which has become a 24-hour service—partly, perhaps, because of the urging of the Communications Committee of this House. In the Arab world its online audience has gone up, as the noble Baroness was saying, by something like 300 per cent in the past few months, while it should never be forgotten that radio remains a powerful medium internationally, just as it does in this country. I do not claim that the development has been perfect, but that has often been because of lack of funds and sometimes perhaps because of a lack of vision in its funding department. One story, told some years ago, was that the Foreign Office was highly sceptical of one bid on the grounds that it did not really think that the internet would ever catch on.
What I know for certain is that the World Service has always had to fight hard for the resources that it needs. That certainly applied in the Thatcher years, and I remember the then Foreign Secretary, my noble and learned friend Lord Howe, battling away for money at that time. I was always rather divided between the prospect of the former Chancellor being made to appear before the public spending hanging jury, where he had sent so many of us, and supporting his cause. In the end, I supported his cause.
There have been problems in the past, and there should be no doubt about that, but nothing, I suggest, on the scale of what is now being envisaged: cash savings of 20 per cent over the next three years; the closure of five full language services; and the end of radio programmes in seven languages. Overall, the service will lose an audience of something like 30 million people. To take the impact on just the Arabic service, as the noble Baroness indicated, in a month’s time the television service will reduce from 15 live hours of news a day to seven hours by cutting out overnight and morning coverage. Yet it is competing with Al-Jazeera. Radio will be cut from 12 hours a day to seven, and 44 of the Arabic staff will be made redundant. Yet two days ago, my noble friend, who is now sitting on the Front Bench, repeated a Statement by the Foreign Secretary on the Middle East: war in Libya, crisis in Syria, unrest in Yemen and Bahrain and crucial decisions in Palestine, not to mention Egypt and Tunisia. The question that has to be asked is whether this is conceivably the right time to be cutting back on the World Service. No one blames the Government for not foreseeing what has happened in the past months in the Middle East—I do not think that many, if any, actually did—but the point is that it has happened and we now need to respond to this new situation.
Personally, I agree with the Foreign Affairs Committee of the other place, under the excellent chairmanship of my friend Richard Ottaway, that the decision on cuts should be reversed. Let me put the point another way. All the evidence suggests that the decisions on funding and transfer to the BBC were taken very quickly without exploring the options. I am not opposed in any way to responsibility going to the BBC, but if that is going to be the case, guarantees need to be written in. We might look at options for change there that would provide resources without affecting the BBC overall. Frankly, it would be to everyone’s benefit, and it would make a financial saving, if the BBC Trust were abolished and the noble Lord, Lord Patten, could become the proper chairman of the BBC with a board rather than, as at the moment, “chairman” being an honorary title. I certainly believe that it would be to the benefit of the commercial arm of the BBC, BBC Worldwide, and would mean financial gain to the corporation, if it were allowed to raise private capital to develop. That would mean changing the ownership structure, a course that was actually first set out by the previous Labour Government.
To explore these options—and there are others, such as funding from the DfID budget—will obviously take a little time, rather more than the six or seven days that it took to produce the present policy. No one would criticise the Government for a moment if these cuts were put on hold while the new situation, particularly the situation in the Middle East, was considered further along with other options.
We should remember above all that the BBC World Service is truly a world leader, that it brings credit on this country and that it is remarkably cost-effective for the good that it does. I urge the Government to think again on policy here and start fresh talks with the BBC. We should recognise that a new situation has arisen, and we should be thinking of developing the World Service, not cutting it back.
My Lords, I welcome this debate on soft power, proposed by my noble friend Lady Taylor, for the very reason that it gives me the chance to engage in a debate that I think will express a groundswell of support for what the noble Lord has just been saying about the World Service. After a career in broadcasting of 40 years, it is obvious that this is close to my heart and that developments in this area give me great cause for alarm.
The BBC World Service is indeed, as the noble Lord, Lord Fowler, says, a global brand, up there with Coca-Cola and Microsoft as one of the major forces that influence the lives of people across the world. It is a brand that is the envy of every other broadcasting institution. Coca-Cola is a pleasure and Microsoft is a technology, but the World Service is more than both. It is of course a technology, but it is overall an idea and one that is among the most precious and vulnerable in the world today—the idea of truth, as embodied every day in the meticulous, thoughtful and impartial news created by highly respected and trained journalists. Peter Horrocks, its current managing director, when he was speaking to the Foreign Affairs Committee of the other House, called it,
“the most significant, most reputable international news organisation in the world”—
but, he went on, “it is being damaged”. Well, he would say that, wouldn’t he? Except that he is not alone. Voices have been raised from all corners of the globe; Ban Ki-Moon is just one of those to deplore what is happening.
This damage is not accidental. It is the outcome of the deal struck by the Government and the BBC during last year’s spending review, and that deal does neither of them credit. In return for a licence fee settlement until 2016, the BBC is to take over the funding of the World Service in 2014, but with no guarantee that it will ring-fence that funding. Meanwhile, instant cuts to the BBC’s funding require savings of £46 million a year. In January, the blow fell: as we have already heard, five language services, short-wave transmissions to China and Russia and a quarter of staff were cut. Is this the wisest way for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to share its load of the Government’s cuts? Is this compatible with the need for this country to have thoughtful and accurate influence around the world? While doubt hovers around the scale and impact of our hard power—the military—the power of the word, at which we excel, should rather be strengthened and endorsed.
Instead, the BBC’s cuts to its language services mean that it will lose, as we have heard, 30 million listeners across the world. It is hard to imagine 30 million, so let me give some leverage on that scale. Earlier this week, John Sullivan died. He was the playwright who created “Only Fools and Horses”, which was acclaimed in his obituaries as perhaps the most popular sitcom of all time. What is more, the obituary declared that its audiences regularly reached 20 million. In domestic terms, 20 million was considered extravagantly successful, yet the BBC is about to drop 30 million listeners—half as many again—from its non-domestic audience. In losing its Hindi service, the BBC will save a mere £680,000 annually and lose an audience of 11 million.
Various explanations are offered for these choices; none of them appears appropriate or convincing. The first is that everyone must take their share of the hurt of the cuts—everyone is suffering. However, is it not out of proportion for such a prestigious and valuable institution to lose 20 per cent of its funding and a quarter of its staff, with the consequent damage to British standing across the world? In his evidence to the Select Committee, Sir John Tusa, who was managing director of the World Service from 1986 to 1992, called for a,
“serious examination of the impact of these reductions on an important part of the UK’s international voice”.
Part of that examination must focus on the criticism that the world has moved on and that the World Service is somehow out of date in the context of global media—that digital technologies with their 24-hour rolling news, the rapid spread of social networks and the availability of mobile phones render the quiet and exact appraisal of the facts out of date. When was the truth ever out of date? This point of view is one seen strictly through western eyes.
Most people across the globe still receive the World Service through short-wave transmissions. In the poorest places, among the poorest people, ill served by internet reach, the World Service is prized. In places such as China and Russia, where powerful Governments seek to block information, the World Service has the potential to be ever more important. Access to short-wave radio is relatively risk-free in these countries, whereas access to the internet is not. We should not downplay our transmissions to such countries. The worldwide supporters of China’s dissident artist, Ai Weiwei, and Burma’s Aung San Suu Kyi look to the BBC’s international reach to reach them wherever they are with truthful, unbiased reporting.
Our other focus must be on the timelines of history. It is tempting in the short term—we have already heard examples—to see that economies could be made to the parts of the World Service that are directed at settled parts of the globe, and that money saved to bulwark services wherever there is trouble already or wherever there is perceived to be latent trouble. The BBC is alert to such strategies, as we have just heard. However, it is unwise to be sure how the future will play out. Who could have predicted the Arab spring? Who knows where it will be next? The standing of Britain, as sustained by the World Service, depends on something more than episodic shifts and retreats in world politics. It depends on a constant broadcasting presence and a reputation as an international broadcaster of steady, reliable news and information, whose probity is beyond doubt and whose serious reporting and analysis can always be heard everywhere.
In this day and age you simply could not invent the World Service; imagine the struggle to finance it, define and agree on its impartiality and embark on its network of agreements. It is perhaps no surprise that the excellent Arabic language channel, Al-Jazeera, founded in 1996, was founded by ex-World Service employees. The World Service is already here, established at a time when such things were possible and when the BBC could proudly boast a coat of arms that declared, “Nation shall speak peace unto nation”. It is here, and in terms of British influence in the world it gives outstanding value for money. It is here for us to support, defend and fund. Surely it would be appropriate for there to be a small transfer of funds from the Department for International Development, whose own budget will increase by 37 per cent to £11 billion. In keeping up a free flow of information to millions of people, the BBC World Service contributes to the very objectives of DfID.
I am heartened by a recent window of opportunity in that an outstanding Member of this House has been appointed chairman of the BBC Trust. Will the Minister reassure us that we can look forward to the serious reconsideration of these matters, for which I now call?
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor, on securing this important debate. Particularly at times of international crisis and pressure there is a mistaken tendency for us to focus on so-called hard power, and soft power can be crowded out. The noble Baroness has enabled us to focus on this important matter.
I say at the start that it is very important to clarify that those of us who regard soft power as important do not at the same time regard hard power as unimportant. On the contrary, I come from a part of the world where I am very much aware that special forces, intelligence gathering, the increasing use of cyberdefence and all the rest of the paraphernalia of hard power are extremely important, though sometimes they are at their strongest when they are used as a threat rather than when they are actually implemented. We are seeing a little of that at the moment in various parts of the world. It is very important that we sustain the capacity to project hard power, which has been leaking away in recent decades. However, it is true that sometimes those who emphasise soft power find it difficult to bring the two together. The noble Baroness pointed out earlier that DfID, for example, sometimes seeks to distance itself in a way that is, frankly, wholly inappropriate. It is very important that the various components work together in this regard. Therefore, I emphasise that when we speak today about soft power it is not as an alternative to, but as a component of, the projection of power of this country.
In recent decades there has been a hesitation to speak about the projection of power of our country as though there was something wrong with that and we should be much more held back and reticent about these things. If our country can be a power for good why should we not be proud of that projection of power? We do not have a history of always being perfect in that regard, but no country has. Anyone who travels around the world with open eyes and an open mind can see that this country has had a tremendous influence for good in many parts of the world and can continue to do so. If we do not ensure that we project that power, others with more malign attitudes will.
One of the difficulties has been that in the country as a whole, and perhaps in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office too, there has been a feeling that there are other countries with greater population and more access to resources and commodities, which must inevitably mean a falling away of power for our own country. There is some truth to that. However, when countries fell away, it was not fundamentally because their populations diminished or their resources and commodities decreased and were exhausted, but rather because their conviction about their purpose failed them.
For me, the important power that our country has and the contribution it can give lie in some of the things that the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, was talking about—our convictions and the things we believe in. The issue is not just about our systems of government, but the culture of our government and the way that we do things. These are important and we should continue to project them. They strengthen us as a country. As they strengthen us, there are other social and economic benefits for our country. This is not merely an altruistic question.
That is why it is so short-sighted to be reducing our capacity to project our ideas through, for example, the BBC World Service. I ask the Minister to confirm what I understand was said recently to the House of Lords Communications Committee by the deputy chair of the BBC Trust: that when the BBC takes over full responsibility in 2014, it will restore the funding of the World Service, and that the current cuts are primarily the responsibility of the Foreign Office. If that is true, can the Minister assure us that that matter can be attended to directly within government at this point, and not simply passed on to the BBC, which does not yet have full responsibility? I should welcome clarification on that. A number of other noble Lords with much more experience of the BBC World Service have spoken much more eloquently about it than I.
I should like to focus on two or three other areas in the time at my disposal. It has always surprised me how few people in this country realise what an extraordinary jewel the British Council is. I pay tribute to the previous Government who increased its funding over a period. It is important that that funding is sustained as much as possible over the next period, although there are threats to it. That is not to say that I entirely go along with some of the strategic judgments of the British Council.
For example, I remember that some years ago I was concerned about what was happening in Peru and other parts of Latin America. Money was being taken away, DfID offices closed and the British Council office in Peru was closed—as happened in a number of other Latin American countries—and all the funding was funnelled away to places such as China, because that was supposed to be the big area of growth and development. Frankly, I do not care how many British Council offices you put in China, they will not make a great deal of difference there. However, they would make an enormous difference in places such as Peru. The policy was particularly extraordinary, given that this country is one of the biggest investors in Peru. Yet that somehow did not seem to matter. Here was a country where we had real links and understandings. It was a country coming out of conflict after the Shining Path. We did not pay attention. We reduced our funding and influence on programmes of government. Now we find that Peru is in the middle of a political crisis and is sliding back towards authoritarianism and political fascism. We are not there and we could be doing something good in a relatively smaller country where our budget would make possible real improvement in development. That would not be possible in a country such as China.
I want to ask questions not just about how much money we put into places but about our strategy and the way that we try to deal with these issues—including in our own country. It is surprising that the British Council is not more to the fore in teaching English as a foreign language to the many people in our country for whom English still a foreign language, given that the British Council has extraordinary experience of this throughout the world. Yet, even in my own part of the world, Northern Ireland, where the peace has brought us many people from other parts of the world, the British Council is not being used as it might be in this regard.
I come back to another area that I have mentioned a number of times, and about which I know that my noble friend the Minister feels very strongly: the importance of the Commonwealth. Here we have a remarkable institutional opportunity to use soft power in a striking way. Not only the previous Government but others before them focused on the development of our relationships within Europe and outside. I am a strongly pro-European Member of this House, but our interests and relationships in Europe do not have to be at the expense of relationships with the Commonwealth. Our friends the French have not diminished their commitment to the Francophonie with their commitment to the European Union. I sometimes think that we feel that it has to be one or the other; this is simply a dreadful mistake. I seek an assurance, which I know will not be hard for the Minister to give because he is personally very committed, that the Government recognise and are continuing to build our relationships within the Commonwealth, which are of enormous importance.
The terms of the Motion address the question of departmental co-operation. This is important. For example we have, in government departments that have responsibility for policing services throughout our country, a tremendous resource when developing policing systems in other parts of the world as part of post-conflict development. We have in our medical schools and colleges throughout the country all sorts of ranges of skills. Some of them come simply from long-term academic commitments and some from the experiences that we have had in our own country and in other places. Our educational system is a huge resource and strength for us, and yet at the moment I despair of the attitude that seems to be around that we should obstruct students from other parts of the world from gaining access to our courses because of some notion that they might decide to stay. The truth is that the vast majority of students at a senior level take what they learn from us back to their own countries and become part of a network of ambassadors for our country all around the world for the rest of their professional careers.
This is not something that only we recognise. I am working with Martti Ahtisaari, a former President of Finland and a Nobel Prize winner. He wants to do something for sub-Saharan Africa, and for north Africa. With the rest of us, he is trying to establish a fund to bring 100 PhD students to universities in this country. As a former President of Finland, he recognises that the best place in Europe for them to come is to this country, to some of our best and most esteemed universities, because they will not just learn academic subjects but become imbued with a culture that can strengthen democracy, as well as professional and academic development, in their own countries. It does not come out of books or down the line; it comes when you soak up—as young students do, like sponges—the culture of the country in which you have come to live and study, and which you then take back to your own country.
Finally, I will say something not just about government departments but about this Parliament. It is the mother of Parliaments. We should hang our heads a little at how we have behaved over the past few years, and at how we are perceived; but our reputation and standing are not yet completely gone. I appeal to the Government to understand that this Parliament, in both its Houses and in all its aspects and Members, is a tremendous resource for the development of democracy in other parts of the world, and to see this as a resource that can be used through WFD, the IPU, CPA and all the relationships that we can use and develop.
Again, I thank the noble Baroness for bringing this opportunity to us. I hope that the Foreign Office in particular will accept responsibility not for looking to a continual sliding down of the strength and power of this country, but for taking the opportunity to develop all its resources and move forward with pride and a sense of ourselves as a country that has something to give to the rest of the world.
My Lords, I too, start by thanking the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor, for introducing this debate on an important and broad subject, and one which I would like to broaden still further in talking about the role of culture and the arts in soft power. I declare an interest both as chief executive of the Royal Opera House and as a trustee of the British Council.
The recognition of the importance of culture and the arts in the exercise of soft power is still underdeveloped and underplayed in this country. There is an enormous difference between the amount of time, money and thought we spend on conventional diplomacy and on military interventions—necessarily so; I do not dispute that—and the amount of time, money and thought we spend on soft power, cultural diplomacy or cultural exchange, call it what you will, although I rather like the term “cultural exchange”. In my view, cultural exchange is seen as desirable but not essential. Yet the impact can be as dramatic and as long-lasting. Cultural exchange is a very effective way to build trust and strengthen relationships around the world. When it works well, it helps to explain and understand what lies behind conflict. It explains and can give understanding of different viewpoints and cultures; it breaks down national stereotypes; it can help to find solutions to issues and conflicts that may seem intractable; and it can help promote dialogue and deep and lasting relationships of mutual understanding.
One of the most obvious manifestations of cultural exchange is the big tours—exhibitions and performances —going around the world which are a vital part of the international work of our arts organisations. They have a huge reach and impact and can do things and reach places that conventional diplomacy cannot. For example, when the Tate took its Turner exhibition to Russia in 2008, it was at a time of fraught diplomatic relations between the UK and Russian Governments, Russia having ordered two British Council offices to shut down. The exhibition, however, passed off without a hitch. It was able to exist outside the realm of politics, and relationships at a cultural and human level were strengthened. Mutual understanding deepened because of that exhibition.
Another example is the Shah ’Abbas exhibition at the British Museum in 2009. Working in association with the Iran Heritage Foundation, the British Museum was able to exhibit pieces never before seen outside Iran, with the effect of both building trust for the UK in Iran and developing knowledge and understanding of Iran here in the UK. Persuading the Iranian president and others to allow those objects to leave the country was a lengthy and complicated process, but the result was incredibly powerful, producing a fantastic and unique cultural event that will live long in the memory.
At the moment, the superb Afghanistan exhibition, also at the British Museum, shows how cultural institutions can do current affairs. There are some truly amazing pieces that were so nearly lost over the years. Our impressions of Afghanistan, so much from the media, are of conflict—a conflict in which we are involved—yet here you see a country at the crossroads of the ancient world and of more recent history, too.
In an article for the Times last week, the director of the British Museum, Neil MacGregor, wrote about the wider significance of the loan of the Cyrus cylinder from the British Museum to the National Museum in Tehran. He said:
“Exhibitions are of course about objects. They are not about politics or diplomacy. But around the objects on show, exhibitions create a forum of public discussion, a space in which people may safely discuss difficult questions”.
That is a really important point. Cultural exchange like that should never be used to achieve political aims. That will fail but their very existence outside politics enables meaningful dialogue to take place.
I saw that myself in Cuba with the Royal Ballet in 2009. The response to the tour was phenomenal. People were queuing overnight for tickets in a country where dance is so integral to cultural identity. It was a huge occasion for Cuba, for our principal dancer Carlos Acosta and for us. It struck me that all sorts of conversations could take place that otherwise would not have happened, from being stopped in the street by people to the very highest levels of government. Now all that sort of work is being done by individual organisations using their own funds. How much more could be done with greater co-ordination by the Government and with some modest funding?
The big exhibitions and tours may grab the headlines but there is a lot of work that goes on below the radar that is equally important—maybe more so. Arts and culture can help to build citizenship and a democratic plural society. They give citizens a forum for self-expression and for challenging the status quo. This is not about telling people what to do or about transplanting our own ideas into another culture; it is about helping to provide spaces in which people can express themselves. I was struck recently by a quote from a Syrian student who, when asked by a British MP how he viewed the British Council, said, “It is my bubble of oxygen. It is my opportunity to express myself”. That is a powerful idea.
This does not mean putting up buildings or trying to recreate successful British institutions overseas. It is about enabling and supporting other nations to do it themselves. I am thinking particularly of the Arab world, and Egypt may be a good example of what I mean. It takes time and a huge amount of careful effort to build trust in countries such as Egypt, and there are no quick fixes, but the work that the British Council has been doing there has been established over a long period of time. Crucially, it cannot be about telling people what to think or how to do things. It has to be about self-determination and relationships.
One of the projects that the British Council has been running in Egypt is cultural leadership international, which seeks to identify, celebrate and support the next generation of international cultural leaders and help them develop their skills and talent. The programme fosters strong relationships and is helping to develop an international network of future cultural leaders, but it also builds capacity in all the countries where it is taking place by giving people the skills to contribute to their own societies and strengthen the influence and position of the cultural sector within civil society.
Sir Nicholas Serota, the director of the Tate, was telling me of an exchange programme for curators that the British Council ran back in the 1980s. It produced six curators who are now directors at major museums in Germany. The legacy of that project is invaluable. In his view and mine, building relationships with the next generation is phenomenally important, and we should be doing more of that in Asia, the Middle East and Latin America. We, the Royal Opera House, have been working with the National Centre for the Performing Arts in Beijing to develop skills and capacity back stage. This will have a lasting impact which will benefit the wider cultural sector in China and will create a long-term relationship between our two organisations and the UK and China. This kind of capacity-building work is really important for the future.
I was in Abu Dhabi recently and went to Saadiyat Island, which the Abu Dhabi people are developing as a global arts hub. They are building outposts of the Louvre and the Guggenheim, but what they want help with now is in developing the skills they need to create institutions that express their point of view and culture. Helping to develop capacity is something we are great at in this country—the British Museum is there, as it happens—and this is where we should be channelling our energies.
The opportunities for us are huge, but the current lack of clarity and co-operation between government departments and cultural organisations means that we are not making the most of them. There is a focus, a necessary focus, on trade and exports, but for our reputation and relationships generally and globally, there should be a focus on promoting cultural dialogue too. Communications between the various different agencies—the Foreign Office, DCMS, other departments, the Arts Council, the British Council and arts organisations—could be improved by the establishment of a committee or organisation to bring all those various parts together that is much broader and more inclusive than the Public Diplomacy Board. Is this something that the Minister would consider? A strategy document outlining how UK cultural institutions and individuals are able to contribute to exporting British values abroad, what might be expected of them and how they can be assisted would also help to strengthen the impact of much of the good work already being done. Again, I would love to hear the Minister's thoughts on this proposal.
The approach should not be so joined up or centralised as to become homogenised or overtly political in its aims. The independence of artists and cultural institutions to plough their own furrow gives them real credibility in the world. So there is a delicate balance to maintain. Different organisations must play to their strengths, and projects will be successful only if they are born out of a genuine synergy between contributing organisations, but the contribution of culture to soft power needs to be taken far more seriously. It needs to be properly thought through and given more powerful direction. Crucially, it must receive greater support from government, both financially and through advice and high-level backing, in order to fulfil its full potential for improving the global standing of the UK and for helping to build strong civil societies around the world.
My Lords, like others who have already spoken, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor, for starting off the debate. I also extend special thanks to my noble friend and neighbour here Lord Alderdice for the extent to which he underlined the necessity for us to have confidence in the value of the soft power which we have all been discussing. It has been echoed by many others. I do not feel, although the word features in the debate, that co-ordination is necessarily the most important thought to have in mind. I do not mean to dismiss the idea just offered by the noble Lord, Lord Hall, but perhaps because of my experience in the Treasury, of which my noble friend Lord Fowler could not help reminding the House, I feel the real problem is that of allocation of resources, alongside discovery of the confidence in what we have, to defend and enlarge and expand with the right allocation there.
It will not be very popular to say this, but there is a problem because there are two candidates for the lion’s share of resource allocation in this area—the lion is not to the same scale in each case—the Ministry of Defence, which is as important as anything and does not have a very notorious reputation for skilful management or estimation of resources, and the other, I have to say with some regret, is DfID. The idea that it should have guaranteed access to guaranteed resources on the scale it does, as the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, pointed out, is a very powerful resource for that department. The fact that I am criticising it does not mean that I do not have a sufficiently bleeding heart. In my time in government we allocated not 0.7 per cent of GDP to the ODA, as it then was, but no more than 0.36 per cent because we felt ourselves constrained by the long running shortage of resources. One has to have that willingness to be flexible about it. I have always regretted—I would, wouldn’t I—the subsequent separation of the FCO from DfID or the ODA. I do not like one remark made by my noble friend Lord Fowler about the FCO. He suggested that it was the FCO which undervalued different aspects of it. The FCO joins with everyone who has spoken so far in recognising the value—it is the problem of allocating the resources. I feel we need to be willing to say that some things are so important that DfID should have some reduction in its allocation.
The partnership between DfID and the other Foreign Office departments was useful—it avoided duplication of bureaucratic establishments around the world: it enabled me to select rising DfID staff members and offer ambassadorships to them. I remember in particular, when I was with Her Majesty the Queen on a state visit to Nepal, feeling some pleasure that our ambassador there then, Tony Hurrell, was the first ambassador to be appointed to the Diplomatic Service from the ODA, with some pleasure being given to the department for that unification of respect. When the ambassador gave a picnic in the foothills of the Himalayas before we departed I was able to congratulate him on the knighthood conferred upon him on that visit by Her Majesty the Queen and to say that he probably did not imagine when he joined the Department of Employment as a clerk aged 18 that he would end up being knighted in Kathmandu. That integration of DfID, ODA and FCO is a virtuous state of affairs.
Beyond that, the question is how should one enhance and achieve the right balance of resources in other departments. I cannot avoid mentioning the foreign service. The noble Lord, Lord Hannay, initiated not the first debate of its kind on, I think, Armistice Day last year, pressing the need for Britain to have a properly resourced and active diplomacy. That is all part of the concerted way in which we have to make the most of our soft power, as colleagues have already been pressing. It is an area, incidentally, where full exploitation of linguistic skill is important, helping the foreign service present our wider case.
Looking at the three substantive aspects of this topic that noble Lords have so far discussed, I join my noble friend Lord Fowler and others in emphasising the immense importance of the World Service of the BBC. The reductions that have recently been imposed are, quite frankly, foolish and unjustified, and the more quickly they can be restored, the better it will be for all of us.
I can offer some anecdotal insight into the extent to which the World Service has had its impact on affairs in a remarkable series of ways. On my second visit to Yugoslavia after Tito had gone, one of the things that one had to do was visit Tito’s former residence. One of the most striking features of going there was to find that the radio set was tuned into the World Service and to hear subsequently that Tito was able to protect himself against the risk of Soviet onslaught through the information that he had been getting on the World Service about what was happening to Dubcek in Czechoslovakia. In that area, the World Service was rendering a valuable cause.
I remember also visiting for the first time Prime Minister Papandreou in Athens with our ambassador there, Sir Jeremy Thomas. That was, I think, the first meeting between a British Foreign Secretary and the Greek Prime Minister since Anthony Eden had been there. When we went to Mr Papandreou’s house to see him, one suddenly heard from behind the wall the World Service theme—
“Ta-ta-tum, tat ta-ta tum, ta ta-tum, ta ta-ta tum”—
and so on. He was at pains to tell us just how important it was for him. We know also that Mr Gorbachev and his wife heard the first news of what was happening to them in the Moscow scene on the World Service. So I cannot emphasise too strongly the importance of that.
I shall not add anything to what has been said about the British Council but I shall close with one word about a representative non-departmental public body, the Great Britain-China Centre, declaring an interest as the long-serving president of that organisation. It is a very good example of an agency that is not directly under government control. It is very well suited to the delivery of soft power, allowing work to be conducted at arm’s length from government but with the reassurance that the work is not intended to destabilise China. It allows us to call on professional expertise and initiate the discussion of important issues in China. The resources that we get from government are a grant-in-aid of £270,000, and a further £1 million is raised by us to go in support of three programmes. The first is a judicial studies training programme that has been running in partnership between this country and China for some years. I think that more than 60 judges in 34 different courts in China have recently received training of that kind. The second programme is pressing the case for better legal protection for the media. The third—this, again, is interesting—is common discussion on the use of the death penalty. As a result of that, we like to think that the legislative committee of the National People’s Congress is likely within a short period of time to reduce by 13 the number of offences that carry capital punishment in China— 68 currently do so. That is an impact of soft power in a rather unexpected place.
The final example, which no one else has mentioned but which I think can be categorised as soft power alongside the importance of Parliament, is our monarchy. In China, curiously, I had an interesting insight into the importance of the perception of our monarchy in countries around the world. At the end of our negotiations on the Hong Kong prospect and at my final meeting in that context with Deng Xiaoping, he was at pains to attach importance to the antiquity and history of our relationship. It did not start in a very good way some centuries ago but now he was anxious to pay respect to our Royals. He said:
“We have decided we can trust Britain and your government and therefore would like to invite Her Majesty the Queen to come to China on a State Visit to confirm our friendship”.
So, indeed, she did, two years after the signing of the Hong Kong Joint Declaration. On the Royal Yacht—a sadly discarded manifestation of our soft power; I think that it was soft rather than hard—we were able to entertain the entire Chinese Government in Shanghai Harbour. Tomorrow’s news, it may be thought, is another example of the importance of royal soft power among the many assets which we have and which we should promote as effectively and as strongly as we can with as many well-allocated resources as we can persuade the Treasury to undertake.
My Lords, it is a privilege to follow the noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe, although I have to observe that I will be intrigued to see what Hansard makes of the musical interlude in the middle of his speech.
I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor, on initiating this debate and I thank her for it. It gives us a welcome opportunity to highlight the underemphasised, underappreciated but hugely important role that soft power plays around the world. By “soft power”, I mean what can be achieved for the improvement of international relationships and for the standing and reputation of this country through culture and the arts and through sport, learning, discourse, the exchange of ideas and thought, and creativity. Of course, it will not solve all our problems and sometimes hard power will be needed. Sometimes hard power is resorted to too readily, as was the case eight years ago in Iraq. However, soft power has much to offer in helping to shape the framework of relationships and, ultimately, in making hard power less necessary.
I want to recall three moments over the past three decades that I believe illustrate that rather well. The first was in 1983. I had just been elected as a Member of Parliament in the other House and, with my other newly elected colleague, Clare Short, I visited Turkey on behalf of a number of Turkish humanitarian organisations based in this country. Turkey at that time was under military government. Military trials were taking place and the principal purpose of our visit was to observe those trials. I also had the chilling experience of talking to people who explained in graphic detail how they had been tortured and to newspaper editors who spoke of how they feared the censor’s pen with every page that they produced.
One of the people whom we succeeded in visiting was Bulent Ecevit, who had been Prime Minister of Turkey some years previously. At the time, he was under house arrest; he was to continue to be under house arrest for another three or four years. He said to us, “My lifeline is the BBC World Service. It is the way in which I know what is happening, not just in the world but in my country”. Four years later, Bulent Ecevit was released from house arrest and went on to become Prime Minister of Turkey again. The information that that lifeline had provided him with through that period was crucial in helping to shape the policies that he subsequently put in place.
Sixteen years, later, in 1999, when I was Secretary of State for Culture, I went on an official visit to China. The principal purpose of the visit was to support the tour of the Royal Ballet to Beijing. It is a great pleasure to be speaking in the same debate as my noble friend Lord Hall of Birkenhead, whose brilliant leadership of the Royal Ballet and the Royal Opera House over recent years has been outstanding.
The Royal Ballet’s visit to Beijing was remarkable. It received standing ovations every night. It was packed out. By the time of the final performance at the end of the week, the President, Jiang Zemin, had decided that, having heard so much about it, he wanted to come to the ballet. By that time, I think that I was in Kunming. I had to get back straightaway to Beijing so that I could be there to welcome him to the ballet. Not only did Jiang Zemin arrive, but so did the Deputy Prime Minister, 10 Ministers and deputy Ministers and a collection of members of the Central Committee of the Communist Party. In all, there were about 50 official guests, all sitting in a row, all leaping to their feet several times during the evening to applaud what was going on on the stage. In the interval, Darcey Bussell came backstage, and the President immediately fell in love with her.
During that interval discussion, I mentioned that over the previous week I had been trying with no success to persuade a number of different ministries and organisations to agree exchanges of television programmes between our two countries. The President looked around at the army of officials who were sitting against the wall and said, “That would be a very good idea”, and they immediately wrote it down in their notebooks. At the end of the evening, the ambassador, who was with me, turned to me and said, “This is the most impressive show of engagement with our country that we have ever seen from the Chinese Government. It has been the most remarkable event”.
Two days later, NATO bombed the Chinese embassy in Belgrade. Thousands of protesters surrounded the British embassy in Beijing for the following week. The Ministry of Culture in Beijing phoned DCMS two days into those demonstrations to say, “Things are not terribly good between our two countries at the moment, but we just wanted to say how much we had appreciated the visit of the Secretary of State and the Royal Ballet. For us, culture is different”. Of course, within a year, relations between Britain and China had been substantially repaired.
The third incident that I want to mention took place just a couple of months ago. On behalf of the British Council I went to Slovakia to lead a series of discussions about support for the creative industries in that country. Not only did we have extremely good discussions about the importance of the creative industries and how they can be nurtured and supported, but with us was someone from the Ministry of Culture in Estonia, who said that over the past two or three years his country had been following a programme that the British Council had helped to put together of mapping, support, education and investment in the creative industries. He said how successful the programme had been.
From these various experiences I draw just two or three lessons. The first is the enormous importance of a number of key institutions. Noble Lords from all sides of the House have already spoken of these. They include the BBC World Service. It is remarkable that voices from all parts of the House have said to the Government that they really do have to think again about the cuts in funding that are now being experienced by the BBC World Service. The BBC World Service is far too precious and we should not lose what we have in that remarkable institution. These key institutions include the British Council and major arts organisations; all are facing financial stringency. They also include the best and finest of our universities. The decision of the Government to place a cap on the number of foreign students who can come to study at our universities is simply crazy. It sits alongside the even crazier decision to abandon all funding for arts and humanities teaching at our universities. The importance of nurturing and sustaining these institutions is something that we need to put at the forefront of our policy-making.
Secondly, the Motion before us specifically highlights the need to co-ordinate better between departments—the DCMS, the Foreign Office, UK Trade & Investment, BIS and the Department for Education. There needs to be much more joint working to ensure that we can make the best of the great strengths that we have in this country. There also needs to be joint working between the institutions themselves, by getting the BBC World Service, the British Council and the universities to work more closely and effectively together.
Thirdly, we need to reassert at the heart of government how crucial all this is. It is not just about co-ordination; it is also about leadership and making sure that someone at the heart of government at a senior level is leading the way in ensuring that all this happens. As a country, we are rightly ready to step up to the plate, to do what it takes and to pay what is needed when hard power is necessary. We should do the same, feel the same and act the same when it comes to soft power, too.
My Lords, holding a debate on how this country should best marshal and make use of its soft-power assets is surely essential at a time when our hard-power assets are tightly stretched and, I would argue, underfunded to fulfil the tasks that were set out in last October’s strategy review. However, that debate on hard power is not for today. What is surely not in doubt is that, over the years ahead, we will need to rely more on our soft-power assets and learn to put them to better use if we are to sustain the capacity to protect and further our interests worldwide. I therefore welcome the initiative taken by the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor of Bolton, to hold this debate, all the more so as I know from personal experience how hard she worked when a Minister to improve co-ordination on conflict issues between the MoD, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and DfID —I do not mean conflict between those three departments, although in the past it has been known to occur.
My first general point is that no amount of better co-ordination, highly desirable though that co-ordination certainly is, can compensate for serious reductions in the resources available to the soft-power assets that are being co-ordinated. My second general point is that you need to co-ordinate not only over the use of soft power but over the allocation of resources to your instruments of soft power. Of that upstream co-ordination, there has been very little trace under either of the previous two Governments. First, under the previous Government, discretionary spending on conflict issues was slashed following the fall in the value of sterling in 2008. Then a number of the FCO’s scholarship programmes—the Marshall scholarships, the Chevening scholarships and the Commonwealth scholarships—were squeezed to ease pressure on the FCO budget. Then large cuts were imposed on the BBC World Service, to which many noble Lords have referred, including on the Arabic service and the Middle Eastern outreach of the World Service English programmes, just when the events in the Middle East pointed towards a need for increased, not decreased, funding, although I admit that that decision was taken before the events of what is called the Arab spring. If that is co-ordination, it was pretty well concealed. We surely need a better, more holistic approach than that.
I make no apology for concentrating heavily, as a number of other noble Lords have done, on one particular soft-power asset, the BBC World Service, which has been described, correctly in my view, in a really excellent recent report by the Foreign Affairs Committee of another place as a jewel in the crown of these assets. No one reading that report, as I did a couple of days ago, could do so without a sinking feeling that the Government have stumbled into an ill-judged and excessive cut to the World Service— 16 per cent over the next four years—without any very clear idea of the implications, above all in the Middle East.
I have two specific points to put to the Minister to which I hope he will be able to reply in responding to the debate. First, when this House debated the matter on 11 February, I and others raised the issue of the need for more, not fewer, resources for the Middle East and Arabic broadcasts. I suggested then—a suggestion that has been taken up in more detail in the Foreign Affairs Committee report to which I referred—that if DfID were to fund in some way the developmental work that the BBC already does, which has been certified as being of the value of something like £25 million a year, resources could be released without any net additional cost to the FCO budget. I wonder where matters now stand on that issue. I had a rather helpful response to a question I asked of the Secretary of State for International Development when he most impressively addressed the Cross-Benchers yesterday, and I hope that the noble Lord will be able to take that forward. Above all, when the Government respond to the Foreign Affairs Committee’s report, I hope that there will be something precise there. Surely it is time to move beyond the rather vaguely helpful remarks of the Foreign Secretary when he gave evidence to the committee.
Secondly, a wider issue about the World Service is the governance arrangements once the BBC becomes responsible for funding the World Service from the licence fee in 2014. Here again, a careful reading of that Foreign Affairs Committee report does not, frankly, inspire a lot of confidence. The decision to switch funding responsibility to the BBC was taken at the very last moment in a singularly back-of-the-envelope way. The Government’s response to queries about the future governance and how one can be sure that the priorities will not be leeched away by the needs of the BBC’s domestic services now sounds awfully like flying on a wing and a prayer. The case for a new covenant between the Government and the BBC Trust—this is what has been put forward by the Foreign Affairs Committee—seems a genuinely good idea. I hope the Minister can say that the Government broadly accept it and will work up such a covenant so that we do not have a kind of death of a thousand cuts for the World Service in 2014.
I now turn from the BBC to the issue of discretionary spending on conflict issues. The irony here is that just as we in this country have begun to achieve a degree of co-ordination in this area—which is admired and is being emulated by other countries—we have in many cases cut the resources for the programmes that we were supporting. We are withdrawing support for example in places such as the Caucasus, where such soft-power assets are really very important. Last October’s strategic review had some reasonably encouraging things to say about this sort of discretionary spending on conflict issues and about the need to do more for failing and failed states, and I wonder whether the Minister could give us some specifics about how we are approaching that now after the strategic review. Are there more than just warm words in that review?
Finally, we are debating how we in Britain are co-ordinating the use of our soft-power assets. However, here, as with hard power, we are surely in the years ahead going to need to work much more in concert with other like-minded countries in the European Union, NATO, the Commonwealth and at the United Nations if we are to maximise the impact of our soft power. I give two examples from the past. First, UN peacekeeping was virtually invented by a great British UN official, Brian Urquhart. That is a massive soft-power development over the years, which has brought peace and stability to many countries that were failed or failing states. The European Union is another example. The enlargement of the European Union has seen the most massive deployment of soft-power assets—far greater than the United States, with all its hard-power assets, has been able to deploy—and it has brought tremendous benefits, both in southern Europe and in central and eastern Europe. These multilateral institutions, of which we are members—and often very, very important members—are a really crucial part of our soft-power effort.
Of course some of our soft-power assets, such as the World Service and the British Council, are more specific to us, but there are many others in conflict prevention and post-conflict peace-building on which we need to work together. I wonder what plans the Government have for strengthening that wider co-ordination of effort so that we can make less go further and help to marshal the multiplier soft-power effect that these big international organisations can have.
If I have struck a rather critical note in this debate it is because so much needs to be done and because some course corrections are sorely needed. However, given some flexibility in application, this country could achieve a tremendous amount—it is already doing so but it could achieve far more. These soft-power assets of ours are hugely valuable and are far more valuable than the soft-power assets of practically any other country in the world, so do let us make the most of them.
I welcome this very timely debate, led by my noble friend Lady Taylor. I echo the words that we have just heard: this country has so much to offer and has done so much already. It is quite extraordinary to think of the influence of the United Kingdom throughout the years. You need think only of the English language, but there are many other aspects in which we have had influence. There has been some talk today of the importance of our culture and so on, but no mention of things like football and cricket. These sorts of things carry with them an immense image of Britain. Both the noble Lord, Lord Fowler, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe, mentioned the monarchy. It is quite true, I suspect, that this will not make the headlines tomorrow for the same reason as the noble Lord, Lord Fowler, gave—because the royal wedding will get the headlines. Some 10,000 journalists are here from other countries, and maybe one message is that some of the monarchies in the Middle East might like to take a lesson or two on constitutional monarchy, which could help them to some degree.
In my opening comments, I said that this debate was timely, because I have believed for some considerable time that there is a mood shift around the world against dictatorship. That mood has been growing for some considerable time; it has been led, as several noble Lords have said, by the intervention of hard power from time to time. With Iraq, or going right back to the Falklands, which the noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe, will well remember, the removal of dictators can at times precipitate a continuing change, which is profoundly important. But there is no doubt in my mind that one of the biggest changes at the moment, which is enabling the Arab spring and other events to take place, is the development of the internet. Perhaps we should remember at a time like this the contribution of Sir Tim Berners-Lee in developing the world wide web. These contributions that we have made are very wide and very deep.
I do not want to say anything about the BBC World Service other than that I agree with everything that has been said and it is the height of madness to cut it at the current time when people are holding up banners in some of the demonstrations in the Middle East saying, “Thank you BBC”. Attention was drawn to this by the e-mails from Peter Horrocks to many Members, but it was not the first time I had seen a banner like that in the middle of a demonstration. The BBC is immensely important to this.
I want to focus a little on what else we have to offer. When people think of the image of the United Kingdom around the world, apart from things like the English language, Shakespeare and football and so on, they will think of good governance and the rule of law—and they will think of a constitutional monarchy and freedom of speech. When all those people stand on the pavement outside the House, taking photographs of the demonstration, which so many of us are worried about, of the man who has been there for many years, that is as much about saying how the British are a free people as it is about saying, “My God, this is an environmental disgrace”. I would love to read their e-mails or letters to know which side of the argument is carried. It is a demonstration of the people’s views on the commitment in the United Kingdom to the rule of law. It is that issue that I want to come back to.
The Minister will know, as I have raised this on a previous occasion, about the development of a postgraduate school of law, which I have been working with at Zayed University in Abu Dhabi, with outreach into Palestine. That is the sort of thing that we need to do. I want to develop that theme, because it leads on to something else. The conversations that I had about a year ago led to conversations with a couple of other Arab ambassadors. One of them was the Tunisian ambassador, who is no longer with us. The new Tunisian ambassador, Hatem Atallah, came to see me on Tuesday and spent an hour with me here in the House, when we discussed in some depth what Tunisia needs. I have been very anxious throughout all my contacts—and I know that this applies to this and the last Government—not to tell countries what they need but to ask them what they need and how we can assist. That is very important.
Some of the things that the ambassador mentioned are very important. He told me that the Tunisian elections will take place on 26 July, and the Tunisians look forward to international observers on that from the EU and so on. He told me that the National Assembly will then have the duty to draw up a constitution. Then we got into the detail. He was saying that the Arab spring—I will call it that, although they were not his words—has led to enormous expectations about democracy, freedom, the rule of law and so on. Anybody in this House who has had any time in politics at all knows the danger of having raised expectations that you then cannot deliver on. The problem that we face, particularly in the Middle East at the moment, is: the expectations of democracy and so on are enormously high, but how can you deliver on them?
One thing that Mr Atallah and I talked about on Tuesday was what sort of questions you ask when you are setting up a new constitution. We talked about the importance of the Ministers being accountable so it is about what sort of questions they are asking them but, as he said, it is also about what questions they are asking the people standing in the elections. One thing that he wanted, perhaps more than anything else, was the opportunity for Tunisian people in relevant positions to come and stay here in the United Kingdom to work with various groups. This will warm the heart of the noble Lord, Lord Fowler, because we discussed in some depth how we could help them to develop a free and responsible media.
His view was that they did not need any help with journalist courses, as they have those. He said the problem was that, when somebody left one of those courses with their qualification, they had been taught all the right things but were then told what to write. In other words, they had no opportunity to learn how to report in a balanced, neutral and informative way. For example, the reporting of elections will be immensely important, but he wondered where the journalists would come from who could see an election taking place and know how to report what the various candidates were saying. He told me that it would be very useful if they could place journalists here in the UK to see elections taking place. It may be too late for next week, but he will be writing to me about that to indicate in a bit more detail what they want. I will endeavour to see that we do it. I hope that the Thomson Foundation, which both I and the noble Lord, Lord Fowler, have mentioned, might be able to help on that.
There is a range of areas here where we have to think rather differently. My noble friend Lady Taylor cast this debate in terms of the co-operation between government departments. I do not doubt that at all but we have to be more flexible in our thinking because it also needs to involve ways in which we can use all the other institutions that we take for granted—whether private, public or anything else—in order to try and place people for experience. If, as I suspect, they have the basic training right in many cases, as in the journalism example that I gave, we need to focus on how we can then help their journalists to learn beyond that.
Much the same applies to the rule of law issue. When I began to question the Zayed University in Abu Dhabi about what it offers, I was sent all the details of its law course but, not being a lawyer, I ran them past many experts here in this House who have been helpful to me. Yes, it is a good course but, interestingly, on the postgraduate side it virtually stopped. What happened was that any good student then went to Britain, the United States, Europe or elsewhere to get their postgraduate training. I told them, “If you're going to do that and are to be taken seriously in this world in future, you have to do human rights or humanitarian law and international law”. That is what we are now exploring. We are looking at doing it in an outreach operation with Palestine as well, in order to help them develop the mechanism of the state. That is working through universities but we already have here an organisation, based at York University, which helps British universities to connect with overseas ones. I am very encouraged by that and I work with it to try and make these contacts, so we really have to think much more adventurously.
I also think that we have to start looking ahead a bit. It was almost impossible to predict what happened in the Middle East. There are other areas where there is change but they are actually signalling it. I shall give the example of Cuba. If you want to read the speech of Raúl Castro, it will take you a lot longer than the 12 minutes that I have been given here. It is interesting, though, because he is clearly saying that Cuba wants to open its economy and its political system.
It is not just in Cuba or the Middle East. There is what I regard as a historical shift away from an idea that somehow or other some people are born to rule and can be in power for 40 years, towards the idea of democracy, freedom and the rule of law. We in the United Kingdom have to get away from the idea that we are somehow to blame for these things and that we are imposing our values on other people. Ideas about democracy and the rule of law are not just Western concepts; they have been around in many other forms. We can say with confidence that if you want a modern, progressive, stable and peaceful society, you need certain basic factors such as democracy, freedom of speech and the rule of law. We need to identify those areas where we can be most helpful and offer that help. I hope that in some way we can all lend our support to that.
My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor of Bolton, for her introduction to this debate, particularly at the beginning when she helped us to understand its breadth by mentioning a concept difficult to grasp at first—that of almost soft military power. She mentioned the importance of the stabilisation unit and the importance, from her experience, of a buy-in from all departments.
This has been a wide-ranging debate and, as someone who knows very little about the subject, I think it has been a valuable one. The noble Lord, Lord Alderdice, and my noble friend Lord Soley both touched on the concept of exporting our convictions and our values. The noble Lord, Lord Hall, and, I think, my noble friend Lord Smith both touched on the idea of culture breeding conversation and ways of influence. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe, and the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, rightly pointed out to us that, important as co-ordination is, at the end of the day government is about resource allocation, and it is these resource allocation issues that we must face. I shall return to this important issue.
A feature of the debate has been the fact that seven Peers have mentioned the BBC World Service and its importance. The noble Lord, Lord Fowler, brought that into play by the power of journalism and, almost romantically, the power of truth as soft power and influence. The whole dilemma that we face with the BBC was put over most passionately in the excellent speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, and I hope that the Government will listen to it.
I would like to look back, say, 10 years, to when soft power was, in a sense, around. We were in government at the time. Soft power had five distinct thrusts: the BBC World Service, the British Council, the various scholarships, the conferences that were developed through Wilton Park and quite a big commitment by embassies and high commissions on what might be said to be cultural public events. This was called soft power but also public diplomacy.
Along came Jack Straw, who, if nothing else, is a pretty pragmatic and down-to-earth individual, and he initiated a study by the noble Lord, Lord Carter of Coles, into how we were doing this soft power—this public diplomacy thing. I am afraid that the outcomes were a bit of a shock. For instance, the report showed that there was little design in the range of activities that could demonstrate a link to outcomes. Research showed that over long periods, whatever the activities, people’s attitudes to the UK did not change very much. Put broadly, around the world we were not much liked. We were grudgingly admired but thought to be cold, fairly heartless people. Public diplomacy had not warmed people to us, nor—during the Iraq war, for example—led them to think worse of us. The Government of the day reacted to this. The first major change was to introduce the Public Diplomacy Board, with external expertise and consultancy help to develop programmes.
The second step—a very pragmatic and important idea—was to stop worrying about whether people liked us a lot. It would be nice, but the point was that we should develop programmes and key themes. We chose several themes, such as climate change, green cities, religious tolerance and democratisation. The idea was, through our soft power, to demonstrate values and raise issues with which we could engage people, as opposed to a simplistic “Will they like us?”. At the time there was also a review of the World Service and the British Council which, in general, did not change. There was a strategic withdrawal from broadcasting to some post-Soviet countries and the start of the Farsi and Arabic television services. The development from that was the creation in 2009 of the new Strategic Communication and Public Diplomacy Forum, which seemed to have fairly widespread support. The House of Commons Foreign Affairs Select Committee concluded that these new arrangements,
“with the relevant high-level body now chaired by the Foreign Secretary rather than a more junior minister, appear to be in accord with the more central place that public diplomacy is taking in the FCO’s work”.
The previous Government had a reasonable record in recognising the breadth and complexity of soft power and the importance of co-ordination.
What of the present Government? The Library has been the source of much of my research. It found relatively few hard statements by the Government on soft power. Mr Hague certainly made a comment, saying that he had,
“inherited a structure of government that had no effective mechanism for bringing together strategic decisions about foreign affairs, security, defence and development”.
I assume that by that group he meant soft power. He announced:
“It is our intention to transform this, using the National Security Council where appropriate to bring together all the departments of government in the pursuit of national objectives so that foreign policy runs through the veins of the entire administration”.
How far have the Government got? This is the point at which we turn to the Minister for a progress report on how far the Government have got on co-ordination, soft power and what their attitudes and positions are. Therefore, I would like the Minister to respond in four key areas. I have to mention the BBC, which so passionately concerns almost anybody who knows anything about this area.
First, do the Government believe in soft power? In other words, do they have a definition of it and does it form an important plank of FCO policy? More importantly, does it form an important part of the Government’s policy framework? I hope the answer to that will be yes. What mechanisms do the Government have in place to achieve co-ordination? What mechanisms do they have to make sure, in the words of my noble friend Lady Taylor, that all departments buy into the efforts of government to exercise soft power? There is a particular area that I should like the Minister to touch on. Again, I thank the Library for this. I would never have found such an obscure reference. Perhaps that is unfair. I would never have found it; whether it is obscure is probably a comment on my industry. The Library found the annexe Soft Power in the FCO Business Plan. Section 5 is headed “Use Soft Power to Promote British Values, Advance Development and Prevent Conflict”. That is a definition of soft power. Paragraph 5.1 of the actions to be taken under the business plan states:
“Develop a long term programme to enhance UK ‘soft power’, co-ordinated by the NSC”.
This big piece of work was supposed to be completed last month. I hope that the Minister can give us a progress report on that. Paragraph 5.1.v states:
“Devise a strategy to enhance: (a) the impact of UK contribution to conflict prevention, (b) the impact of UK educational scholarships, (c) the impact of the British Council and BBC World Service, (d) links with democratic political parties overseas, and (e) the impact of the UK’s promotion of human rights”.
I hope that we will be given a progress report on that, which may answer many questions.
How do the Government make their decisions? How do they conduct the trade-offs and decide the resource allocation issues about which we have heard? We are not talking about billions of pounds and the macroeconomy but modest sums and modest trade-offs, as has been illustrated. Do we have clear objectives? Do we measure the outcomes effectively? Do we have a sense of relative values?
It is very important that the Minister explains how the decisions regarding the BBC were arrived at, how it can be sustained and whether the FCO and the Government will reconsider them. A 16 per cent cut in a £270 million budget is not a large amount of money in macroeconomic terms. As I have stressed, it is absolutely right to get value for money. However, I believe that the first cut of £19 million will result in the loss of 30 million radio listeners. That works out at something like 65p a listener.
In response to an Oral Question from the noble Baroness, Lady Kinnock, on the British Council and the BBC, the Minister said:
“I like to agree with the noble Baroness on as many things as I can, but I just do not agree on this. It does not completely contradict anything. If anything, the position of the BBC World Service will be enhanced”.—[Official Report, 21/10/10; col. 884.]
A number of noble Lords have quoted from Peter Horrocks’s e-mail. It is a very telling e-mail that bears quoting again. He refers to the impact that the BBC had in reporting the recent disturbances in the Middle East. The e-mail states:
“But in just a month’s time, we will need to cut back dramatically on our services as a result of the funding reductions. For instance the TV service will reduce from 15 live hours of news a day to 7 by cutting our overnight and morning coverage. Radio will be cut from 12 live hours a day to 7. And we will lose 44 of our valued Arabic staff, many of whom played an invaluable role in the coverage of the uprisings, often appearing on English output in the UK and around the world, as well as broadcasting in Arabic”.
How does the Minister reconcile that with the statement that the position of the BBC World Service will be, if anything, enhanced?
My Lords, I know that it is something of a cliché to say that debates we have in this House are timely, but in this case the word has particular relevance, because it so happens that we are in a stage of review and policy advance in a number of key areas, of which this is one of the most key of all. Therefore, this kind of debate, which shows the House of Lords at its very best, is immensely valuable in influencing and sending messages to those who make the final policy inside and, indeed, outside government. In that sense the debate is particularly timely, and it was introduced brilliantly by the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor, whom we congratulate on choosing this subject and on the way in which she introduced it.
Although we are discussing these matters in advance of many developments, and despite the need for a policy review and, indeed, answers to the Foreign Affairs Committee’s report, particularly in relation to the BBC World Service, I will seek to answer as many questions as I can in the time available. There are some things that I cannot yet answer, and some that I will not have time to answer, but I shall do my best, particularly to cover the five or six points put by the noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, from the opposition Front Bench—all of which strike me as highly relevant.
The noble Baroness began by rightly seeking to focus our minds on the question of what we mean by soft power. Those of us in government who are trying to look at these things consider that it is the ability to influence the actions of another through attraction, rather than coercion. Soft power is working to exert this influence in order to achieve our national interests in an interdependent world and to make our maximum effective contribution to the stability, balance and prosperity of that world.
In order to do this, we need now more than ever to appreciate what is sometimes overlooked in our foreign policy debates—the new landscape of power, influence and understanding of attitudes and motives which has emerged in perhaps the past two or three years, and certainly in the past five years since the rise of the internet age in this century, which radically changes the modalities of foreign policy. In this new world it is not about power over others but about working to preserve, promote and protect our interest through the appeal of our values and culture, historical and contemporary; working with, rather than working to impose.
As it is a central theme of the debate, I have been asked about co-ordination. I want to say a bit about that. The Government have been and are looking closely at how to improve the co-ordination across Whitehall of soft power resources. This is aside from the fact that a good deal of soft power projection lies outside government and its control—and rightly so. One of the priorities of the coalition Government, as set out in their structural reform priorities, is to use soft power to promote British values, advance development and prevent conflict. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s published business plan, to which the noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, referred, recognises these aims and sets out the requirement for a long-term programme to enhance UK soft power, co-ordinated by the National Security Council. The work and review of the strategy foreshadowed in the business plan has started. I have been asked whether it has finished. Although there was hope that these matters would be completed by the end of last month, your Lordships will not be surprised to hear that one or two distractions have occurred on the foreign policy scene. In fact there has been a massive range of distractions which have had an effect on how we must order our priorities and work programme. We are therefore not quite there yet; there has been some delay.
My right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary asked the FCO to undertake a review of how to achieve the best results for the country from the soft power activity across Whitehall. That is foreshadowed in the business plan. This review, involving engagement with external experts, will not only shape the future of the FCO’s soft power output but influence how best to co-ordinate our efforts across Whitehall to improve effectiveness and value for money. The review has started. It has been somewhat disturbed by Middle East events, but an initial framework document has been produced. We attach great importance to the review and are looking for robust outcomes to enable us to use our valuable assets to drive forward the Government’s foreign policy priorities. Our next immediate step is to use the annual meeting of the FCO’s heads of mission, which takes place early next month, to test ideas. We are always drawing valuable lessons from the unfolding and dramatic events in the Middle East.
The noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, rightly asked whether we believe in all this.
No, we do not plan to publish the review.
I was asked the basic question: do we believe in this concept? Perhaps I may personalise this a little and claim a few veteran medals in the field. I was a member of the famous Foreign Affairs Committee in the early 1980s that invented the concept of cultural diplomacy and injected it into public debate. I was responsible—possibly it is unwise to admit this—for writing books in the 1980s about “softnomics”, which foreshadowed and preceded the development and picking up of the concept of soft power by the media, experts and academics in the late 1990s. It was a little late in the day, but they got there in the end. Therefore, I need not apologise for being slow off the mark in understanding the central nature, which was bound to come with the internet revolution, of soft power being the essential oxygen and blood flow of international relations in an increasingly important way.
When my right honourable friend made his first strategic speech after taking office, he talked of a networked world where connections between groups and individuals across the globe also make up the relations between nations, and where these connections are being rapidly accelerated by the internet. He was absolutely right. The interconnectivity that the internet has enabled has led to a diffusion of power from Governments to citizens. It has also led to a transfer of power, as we all know, from the Atlantic world to the high savers and dynamic economies of Asia, Latin America and so on. However, it means that Governments must operate differently. We do not have the monopoly of data that previous Governments had 20, 30 or 50 years ago: citizens do. Intercommunication is swift, cheap and instant. It has changed the balance of power between citizens and government and turned on effective protest. This was predicted in things we wrote and argued about 20 years ago, and has now happened. Effective protest on the streets is easier and can be organised much more swiftly. The streets have been enabled, as we have seen recently in the Middle East and north Africa. These forces have shown themselves to be potent against even the most entrenched regimes.
I will make one further general point before I come to specifics. Perhaps we should not think only in terms of soft power, or of the distinction between soft and hard power. As my noble friend Lord Alderdice rightly said in his superb speech, these matters are interwoven. First, wars tend increasingly to be intrastate rather than interstate conflicts that cannot be won by force of arms; the concept of overwhelming force is redundant. Instead, parties must include ways to engage with different levels of society, using, with agility, the appropriate soft power tools that are available, namely cultural, political, military and economic. Without the elements that focus on breaking down barriers of mistrust, conflict continues and grows worse. Power in its military form does not deliver.
There are also those—again, this was predicted in the past; we saw it coming—who use the internet to generate hostility and encourage violence against our society and all advanced societies. The modern media environment means that people's perceptions and misperceptions can matter as much as reality. Persuasive words, deeds and images can be transmitted globally in an instant. That is why we have to uphold our core values of democracy, freedom, poverty reduction and human rights. Hard power remains necessary in some cases, but as the nature of conflict and of threats to our security changes, alternative methods of credible influence will play an increasingly central role. I have spoken in general terms to answer the justifiable questions of noble Lords and of the Front Bench opposite.
I turn now to the issue of soft power assets and how we wield them. This has been the central theme of the debate. Our basic soft power resources lie, as the noble Lords, Lord Smith and Lord Hall, made clear, in our culture; in projecting the UK as a nation to which others feel attracted and amicably disposed; in our political values, so long as we are seen to uphold and prosper by them at home—it is no good if we do not; in the legitimacy and fairness of our foreign policy; and in the potential for British-based non-governmental and professional bodies and institutions to influence and bond with counterparts across the globe. Those are the resources. More specifically, moving on from generalisation, our attractiveness rests on offering a positive domestic constitutional model that appears to work—I think ours does on the whole—operating under a popular monarchy, which is itself a soft power asset, as noble Lords have rightly reminded us in the debate, and on having a successful economy.
It is no use arriving on the scene of soft power projection if we are in a state of economic destitution and have lost control of our budget. Our national credibility depends on the budget rigour to keep within our means, which of course is by no means the situation now but the one, alas, that we inherited from the past; on running an efficient and flexible military; on supplying generous overseas assistance and humanitarian aid; on a highly intelligent pattern conveying how we operate our own national intelligence model; on public diplomacy, public governance and administration; on high-quality judicial advice, training standards and personnel and best practices in law; on courses in a whole range of professional fields and skills; and, as noble Lords have mentioned, on increasing educational exchanges and offering scholarships, which we do. Indeed, I have some notes which show how we have expanded our commitment from the immediate dip which was about to take place in the Chevening scholarships and other areas. As we have heard in some brilliant speeches this afternoon, soft power impact also depends increasingly on artistic and design promotion and exchange.
That is undoubtedly a formidable arsenal. In many cases we have already put it in place, but it has not always been deployed or transmitted as effectively as it should, and that is what we have to put right. To wield our soft power resources effectively in today’s information-connected world we have to avoid the pitfalls of lecturing and seeming to confront rather than work with target recipients; of failing to show deep enough respect for other people’s cultures and, even more, their histories; and of glossing over our own past errors. That is especially topical at the moment. We have particularly to face that when we got involved, as we did, in the Iraq adventure—I know that it is controversial—there was an expenditure of reputation and of soft-power impact. It might have been justified for other reasons but we now have painstakingly to rebuild it. We would be shutting our eyes not to accept that.
Fortunately, we have one major ready-made system for soft power transmission through the Commonwealth network. Again, my noble friend Lord Alderdice and others pointed this out. We also have a huge reservoir of historical experience in the emerging world with which to help repair past damage. I wanted to say a little more about the Commonwealth contribution because we have an almost ready-made system—a gigantic transcontinental network of linkages—with many common values, giving this country a unique advantage which many other countries envy and wonder why we do not use still more effectively to link ourselves with the emerging powers and the new world landscape that lie ahead.
It is this Government’s very active policy, with which I am proud to be associated, to both reinvigorate our membership of the Commonwealth and to contribute with the other 53 members to the invigoration of the Commonwealth system throughout. We have plans afoot in detail which will unfold, first, with the eminent persons group of Commonwealth experts who are about to produce their ideas, and then as we move towards the Commonwealth heads of government meeting in Perth at the end of October, to expand and gain general support for them. That will be one of the most important international meetings of the first two decades of the 21st century, on a par with the global governance group which is the counter group to the G20 group, which in turn has largely replaced the G8. This is an informational age in which we have to know how to use the electronic media sensitively, which means avoiding propaganda terms, and how to avoid overcentralisation of our soft power messages and influences by working with an opening gateway for non-governmental soft power activities. It has to be accepted, and has been pointed out by your Lordships, that other media systems have vastly multiplied in power and reach. Al Jazeera is usually the one we mention. We have to compete with these latest techniques by moving beyond traditional broadcasting systems. To that I now want to turn. I would like to say more about the targets and objectives, which are obviously commerce, security, humanitarian work, political goals in foreign policy, the impact of our foreign policy soft power and the feedback into our own sense of national pride, purpose and unity. All these are subjects that should be dilated on, but time prevents me doing so.
Now let me turn to the hot issue on which your Lordships have rightly focused: the cuts to the BBC World Service. The first question was about why we have cut this budget. I do not want to go into what I know noble Lords opposite will say is the boring subject of the financial situation, but there have to be cuts all round. The previous Government were planning very elaborate cuts. We have gone even further. Everyone has taken the pain.
It is also true that the World Service cannot stand still and that online and FM audiences are growing while shortwave listener numbers have been falling. That is not true in every area, as the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, reminded us, but in 2009-10, the shortwave audience for the BBC World Service fell by about 20 million, not because of closures but simply because of the change in the way people get their news. For instance, in Russia, online audiences increased by 120 per cent while radio audiences declined by 85 per cent. Television news remains the key vehicle, as we have seen in recent events in Egypt and the wider Middle East. BBC World News, which is not part of the World Service network, has a weekly audience of 74 million people and within the BBC World Service, the Arabic and Persian services have not reduced their broadcast hours. Therefore, I think that my noble friend Lord Fowler, who is enormously well qualified on these matters, has been misinformed on that question. BBC Arabic TV is keeping its hours.
Some of my noble friends and the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, referred to the Foreign Affairs Committee and its criticism. The Foreign Secretary will be replying in detail in a couple of weeks, which is why I cannot answer all the questions that have been put today. However, there are two things that I should briefly like to mention about that report. The first is about whether it is true to say that the cuts have been disproportionate. Everyone knows that the Foreign Office took an enormous hit from the fall in sterling, and if you measure over the period from 2008, when that hit really damaged the Foreign Office budget, the net effect of the cuts to the British Council and the World Service has been to bring them back to the same proportion as they were in 2008. In 2007-08, they were 13 per cent, and in 2013-14 they will be around 14.4 per cent of the total FCO budget.
Finally, there is the question of whether the aid budget can support the work of the BBC World Service. I cannot give a final answer, but in the remaining seconds of my ration of time, I will try to bring noble Lords up to date on where we are on this issue. We believe that the BBC World Service provides a development benefit to many countries, and we are continuing to explore with DfID and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development officials whether a proportion of BBC World Service expenditure should be reported as ODA assistance. This will require the agreement of the OECD Development Assistance Committee. The BBC World Service portion of the overall FCO settlement includes £25 million a year in anticipation of being able to score some of these activities as official development assistance. I emphasise that this does not imply additional funding for the World Service although I understand that the World Service is in discussion with DfID about the funding of specific projects. Indeed, that matter is reported in the Foreign Affairs Committee report.
Any decision to reverse the reduction to the World Service’s budget would have to be funded from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s core budget. The Government believe that the transfer of funding to the licence fee will increase the BBC’s ability to achieve useful economies of scale through the whole of the BBC family. We will help a more secure future for the World Service. In spite of the challenging financial situation we believe the World Service has a valuable and promising future and I am pleased to say that we have managed to find an additional £3 million in the last financial year to help the World Service with its restructuring costs. We have also provided £10 million for investment in new services and £13 million per annum to help it meet its share of the BBC pension deficit. These are small but concrete signs that the FCO fully supports the value and reputation of the World Service.
Several of your Lordships asked whether the Government will reconsider. I cannot say that today; I can say that we will certainly consider. Some very powerful points have been made and these will certainly be brought to the close attention of policymakers. That is what I can say today—I know it is not enough for some of your Lordships but I hope it indicates the general approach and attitude of the Government to this crucial matter.
The Government are committed to refocusing our soft power efforts to ensure an efficient, innovative and more co-ordinated approach. We are currently working on a cross-government strategy, as I have described, on how best to deliver and take advantage of the tools and assets at our disposal. The key will be that our strategy has strong enough direction so that even when unexpected events occur, as of course they have in the Middle East, our response is flexible but consistent with our broad direction and not seen as a departure from the main path forward.
Finally, we must recognise our soft power limits and order our priorities accordingly so that we are clear that we cannot intervene in every crisis and to ensure that we have the public understanding of these limits. There are many more points that I wanted to add but time has run by. Let me emphasise that by increasing the effectiveness of our considerable soft power efforts we are already adjusting to the challenges of an entirely changed world. Many commentators have rightly suggested that we are moving into an age not of soft power, not of hard power, but of smart power which is a subtle new interweave of both power deployments. In the face of major new challenges from jihadism and Islamic civil war to pandemics and climate change, from rising protectionism to nuclear proliferation, we all have to formulate a new strategy that combines all the hard and soft power facets available to us not only in government but outside government as well. The Prime Minister has labelled this the new liberal realism and the task now is to tailor our UK resources and experience to fit the new direction. I believe that the UK has all the tools at its disposal to deliver on this goal in the 21st century.
My Lords, very briefly, I want to thank the Minister for his response and for the information he gave us to show that the Government are taking this issue seriously. I want also to thank all those who took part in this debate. The noble Lord, Lord Fowler, said that we would not get the headlines tomorrow. I think we can live with that because one of the purposes of the debate was to demonstrate the breadth and depth of the influence that this country can have and, as the noble Lord, Lord Alderdice, said earlier, should have and should not be worried about putting forward in the future. Sometimes our history pulls us back on this and we should not be inhibited.
The debate has demonstrated the very wide range of topics that are covered here. The noble Lords, Lord Hall and Lord Smith, both gave us very good examples of the cultural and artistic dimensions and I will remember the phrase that the British Council provided that “bubble of oxygen” as well as the example the noble Lord, Lord Smith, gave us of the response of the Chinese.
We had mention of the contribution of overseas students. We could have spent more time on that, but time is always limited. I think that we enjoyed the entertaining reflections of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe, on his time in the Foreign Office, which gave an insight. He mentioned the possibility of revisiting the issue of whether the Foreign Office and DfID should be split. I might be one of those who would also be interested in revisiting that question, because I am not sure that we have always got the balance of responsibilities right.
I was grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, for reminding us so bluntly of the pressure on resources and some of the difficulties, for example, of the scholarship programmes, which have been so valuable in the past. I must admire my noble friend Lord Soley for getting in a mention of football before I could, which is unusual to say the least. He also reminded us that soft power is very significant in stabilisation and transition phases. We will have to give more attention to that in future.
Strong pleas, led by my noble friend Lord Fowler and the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, were made throughout the debate for the BBC World Service. We understand some of the constraints on what the Minister could perhaps say this afternoon. The noble Lord, Lord Fowler, said that no one would blame the Government for not foreseeing the situation that has now arisen in the Arab world. Many of these decisions were taken before those events. As many noble Lords have said today, it is important that the Government think again. I heard what the Minister said about the possibility of there being some difficulties with using DfID money, but I hope that those can be explored further because where there is a will, there is a way. The significance of the contribution of the BBC World Service, particularly at this moment, is so enormous that the Government will have to revisit the matter in some way.
The noble Lord, Lord Smith, said that soft power was underemphasised and underappreciated, and that we needed leadership. I think that it has been appreciated and understood. The Minister said that the debate was timely because of the work that is going on within government. I hope that the contributions today have helped him reinforce the message that soft power is important and requires co-ordination throughout government as well as with other institutions. I thank all those who have taken part in the debate. I seek leave to withdraw the Motion.
City of London (Various Powers) Bill [HL]
My Lords, my long association with the City of London has resulted in close involvement with many legislative issues of concern to the City, but this is the first occasion on which I have sponsored a City Private Bill in your Lordships' House. It is not, however, the first occasion on which I have sponsored such a Bill, since, as the Member for the City in the other place, I introduced the City’s last private measure, the City of London (Ward Elections) Bill, some 11 years ago. That Bill, to revise and extend the City’s franchise, excited a good deal of debate. When I came to this House in 2001, it still had some six months to run in the lower House. My past did not, however, catch up with me, as it were, as my noble friend Lord Jenkin of Roding had kindly agreed to take the measure through the upper House while I was still engaged with it in the other place, such was the elongation of the proceedings. The vagaries of the parliamentary timetable can have unexpected, even serendipitous, results.
By way of contrast—I think that my noble friend Lord Lucas will confirm this—this Bill is not likely to generate a similar profile. Its main aim is to deal with some deregulatory changes to local street trading legislation, balanced by more effective enforcement where this is needed. It might reasonably be described as a modest measure.
Before describing the provisions specifically, I should perhaps say a few words about the context. The character of the City in recent times—and by that I mean the past 100 years or so—has been that of a location where business flourishes but where few people reside. The figures speak for themselves. Some 300,000 people commute daily to work in the offices of the City but only some 9,000 live there, of whom around 6,500 are resident voters.
For the past century, there has been no street trading in the City, other than in a small area in the extreme east on Sundays. This is governed by the only existing City trading legislation, currently contained in the City of London (Various Powers) Act 1987. I shall address this exception to the general position slightly later in my speech. The ban reflects the City’s nature as a business district and the significant pressure created during the day by the working needs of the business community. As buildings are redeveloped and replaced by the high-rise structures that we are seeing today to meet current demands, the pressure on the highways at the busy times of day is increasing rather than reducing. That is why the changes proposed in the Bill to enable the City to issue licences to facilitate the holding of events and to increase the availability of on-street ice-cream selling are designed to address an established need in a way that will not create additional pressure or conflicts in the use of limited space.
There have been occasional events—normally at weekends, when the City is much quieter—where the City’s current blanket prohibition on street trading has presented a problem. One example was a celebration of the 800th anniversary of the first London Bridge in 2009 organised by City livery companies. I should perhaps in parentheses acknowledge the precise anniversary date to be a slightly moveable feast, as there is also evidence that the original bridge was opened by Peter de Colechurch in 1206. In any event, in 2009 the bridge was closed to facilitate the celebrations, but only those livery companies able to obtain stalls at the Southwark end of the bridge were able to sell examples of their craft to members of the public; no trading could be permitted at the City end. There is now also an increased retail presence in One New Change next to St Paul’s. Those responsible for this retail offering aim to attract shoppers to visit the City at weekends and, to do so, may wish to seek to hold special events of a promotional nature.
So far as concerns the detail of the Bill, Clauses 1 and 2 are technical and deal with citation and interpretation. Clause 3 relaxes the existing street trading prohibition currently contained in the City of London (Various Powers) Act 1987 to allow street trading for limited periods. The clause will allow the City of London Corporation to issue temporary licences, typically to enable the sort of event I have described on London Bridge. A licence may be issued to an organisation which will arrange for others to carry out the street trading under the terms of the licence. Clause 4 makes consequential amendments to the existing street trading code, and Clause 5 makes non-compliance with the terms of a temporary licence an offence. Clause 6 sets the maximum penalty for street trading offences, including non-compliance with temporary licences introduced by Clause 3, at level 3, which is currently £1,000. The penalty set under the 1987 Act is at level 2, but level 3 is now the penalty set for street trading offences in London generally.
Enforcement is also the prompt for Clause 7, which responds to the fact that the current regime has not been an effective deterrent to illegal activity. In particular, there have been recurring instances of the persistent deployment of ice-cream vans trading illegally in the City. These vans have been the source of numerous complaints from members of the public, local businesses, local schools and St Paul’s Cathedral. In 2010, acting in response to such complaints, the City brought 247 cases of illegal trading before the courts. The fines imposed on the individual traders were insufficient to deter the activity.
Clause 7 proposes two changes which would obviate the need repeatedly to bring the same person before the courts. The first is, as I have already mentioned, to increase the level of fine for illegal street trading from £500 to the level applicable elsewhere in London of £1,000. Secondly, the new enforcement powers in the clause enable the ice-cream van to be seized, a deterrent already used by the City of Westminster. The detailed provisions to introduce that second change ensure that the legitimate interests of any trader subject to such a procedure are properly taken into account. They require a court order if the vehicle is to be forfeited or disposed of and empower the court to order that the City corporation pay compensation to the trader if proceedings have not been properly brought.
I mentioned earlier the exemption to the prohibition on street trading in the City. It relates to a small part of Petticoat Lane Market. In the early 1960s, a new road scheme to Aldgate on the eastern edge of the City led to the loss of certain pitches occupied by some of the Petticoat Lane street traders in the part of Middlesex Street in Tower Hamlets. Responding to representations by the displaced traders, the City corporation agreed to accommodate them within the City. This was achieved by allowing a specific exception for a small part of Middlesex Street within the City to the general City restriction on street trading.
I can claim first-hand knowledge of that provision. In May 1983, the constituency boundaries of the Cities of London and Westminster South were due to break out for the first time from the ancient, original boundaries of the ancient cities of London and Westminster at the next election, whenever it should come. As an act of pietas, together with the chairman of the highways committee of Westminster City Council, on Rogation Sunday I walked the ancient boundaries of the two cities, which of course involved visiting Middlesex Street. I have always liked to feel that it was because news of our walk reached No. 10 that the 1983 general election was announced the next day.
The City of London (Various Powers) Act 1965, which established the exemption to which I just alluded, gave traders permission to trade for their life only, and restricted trading to a few hours on Sunday. When street trading in the City was considered again in 1987, although the code then enacted remained as generally and geographically restricted as that contained in the 1965 Act, the City was given a power to grant street trading licences in Middlesex Street to new applicants, thus ensuring that the Sunday market there would continue to thrive. The 1987 Act lays down the costs that the City may recover from market traders through charges; however, it requires the maximum figure to be set by by-law. The consequence of that somewhat outdated approach is that the weekly figure recoverable from each trader has remained unchanged since 1989 at £15. Meanwhile, those Petticoat Lane traders whose stalls are in Tower Hamlets face a weekly charge of £32. For the City to recover its allowable costs would require a £25.40 weekly fee. Clause 8 changes the arrangements for fixing the fee to bring them more in line with arrangements elsewhere in London, where a fee reflecting the cost that may be recovered is fixed following consultation with the traders.
The Bill then returns to matters relating to ice cream in Clause 9. The provision is designed to facilitate easy access to iced confectionaries, when they are in demand, by enabling such products to be sold by retailers on the highway outside their premises, provided that the appropriate consents are obtained, which require neighbouring frontagers to be consulted.
I am profoundly impressed by the attention which the noble Lord, Lord Myners, has paid to the detail of the Bill. The corporation has been anxious to provide as much space as it can, given the likelihood that people who have chairs and tables outside their shops will take advantage of it. It is very good of the noble Lord to have attributed to me the decision about 11 metres, but in fact it is contained in a Bill which was formulated elsewhere.
I wonder whether the noble Lord might consider this. If we extended this to a slightly longer distance, we could actually allow the distribution of ice creams on the trading floors of investment banks rather than the large bonuses that so many of us find so unpalatable.
I am again grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Myners, for lending colour to the debate, but I do think that his latest suggestion is actually outside the immediate terms.
Before leaving street trading, I should refer briefly to other local legislation on street trading before the House and the Government’s recent response to the consultation on modernising street trading and pedlar legislation. I know that this is of particular interest to my noble friend Lord Lucas. The conclusion reported in the response that the services directive applies to the retail sale of goods, including pedlary and street trading, will undoubtedly impact on the other private promotions relating to street trading which seek to impose or tighten existing regimes. However, the issues considered in the response do not impact on this Bill, which is moving in the opposite direction and seeking to facilitate trading that is currently prohibited.
I have come to my final remarks. The Bill also addresses two small deficiencies in the statutory regime governing the City’s walkways, which are paved areas dedicated by developers for public access. The first change enables the City to recover its costs from developers for resolutions relating to walkways as it can when dealing with other applications to vary rights of passage. The second would facilitate the civil enforcement of parking offences on walkways, bringing them into line with arrangements on the highway.
This is a modest Bill containing a number of small but important provisions relating to the specific circumstances of the City. I therefore ask noble Lords to give the Bill a Second Reading.
My Lords, easy access to ice cream is something that I would appreciate at the moment, but sadly we are outside the City of London, if not the City of Westminster, so this Bill has no effect on that. I congratulate my noble friend on the Bill and I am entirely happy with its provisions, but I want to encourage the City, through him, to continue in this direction and to do better, and I want to encourage the Government to pick up on their excellent reply to the consultation process and commit to taking that further soon.
At a time when we are bumping along the bottom of a recession, or whatever we appear to be doing, it is incumbent on every public authority to look for ways that give people opportunities to get going in business, to start up in a small way and thus begin to build the new businesses of the future. Many great businesses, including that run by the noble Lord, Lord Sugar, Marks and Spencer and a number of others, started out as individual enterprises just selling goods door to door or from a market stall. However, over the past 10 years or so we have seen a succession of local authority Bills that have sought to restrict the ability of people to engage in these activities—to, as it were, keep the streets clean and tidy and empty rather than having them as places of commerce. There is a misconception that having worthwhile stalls and street traders around drives punters away and keeps them out of the shops, thereby reducing a town or city’s revenue. I think that that is entirely mistaken.
My noble friend Lord Brooke referred to the narrowness of the City thoroughfares and how crowded they are at lunchtime. I worked in the City for 12 years and in many cases I would agree with him, but there are well-established open spaces in the City, albeit not large ones, that are never crowded. There are little patches near the churches, the area outside the Guildhall and the area to the south of St Paul’s towards the bridge. We do not have to have vast street markets, but to make use of little opportunities, particularly in places like the City, where there are so many potential customers who are so well paid. Let us take those bonuses—here, I share the attitude of the noble Lord, Lord Myners, to them—by getting people to spend them on recreating something of a real economy in this country by buying goods that have been designed and made here by companies that are based here.
People start with little operations and finding somewhere to sell and promote items. The City has control, and I guess that if it put its mind to the matter it could find sites for 100 stalls. Remembering my time as a City worker, I would be delighted to pass one or two of them on my way to and from a sandwich. My wife, or whomever else I was giving a present to at the time—I am looking back to my time as a bachelor in the City—would be delighted if I came home with products from one of these stalls.
It is incumbent on the City to look at things in this way. It not only has to play its part in its own health and in the health of the bankers, insurance agents and others who fill it but has to provide opportunities for others to build businesses and to flourish because of its unique assets. That applies to the City of Westminster and other prosperous areas of London. As my noble friend said, the City of London has been uniquely deficient in street trading and it is time that was remedied. I am delighted that it is taking this small step and I very much hope that it will proceed to take it further. It would be to the benefit of us all if it did.
Turning to the Government’s reply to the consultation, I am grateful to noble Lords opposite for having started this consultation when they were in power. I am delighted that it has come to such an elegant conclusion. Pedlary should be free of restrictions, and people should be able to get out and sell goods door to door or move around the streets without an established place. It seems to me to be a correct interpretation, both of the European law as it stands and of our philosophy, that people should be free to go out and make a business and a life for themselves. We should encourage that. I very much hope that my noble friend will confirm that this is a conclusion that the Government intend to take forward into legislation at a reasonably early date. It is not a large affair and I am sure it could be tagged on to something else. I would not expect it to have a Bill of its own, but I hope that it will not be left to languish.
I am also grateful for what the consultation response says about street trading and the lifting of some of the restrictions to which that has been subjected by local Bills. It is important to get this moving now and to open up these opportunities. We need to look at how to encourage people who are currently on benefits or who are unemployed to get out and start trading in little ways. Many such people are very capable traders, and to barter and to deal is in their blood. We need to offer them the opportunity and space to do that. We do not need to wait for a couple of years until the back end of the Government and a thin legislative programme to put this through; we need to grant people this freedom now. I very much hope that my noble friend will say that the Government are looking forward to make early progress on this. I look forward to helping her in any way that I can.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Brooke, for introducing this Bill and the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, for adding so much detail to it. The Bill is produced by a distinguished former Member of Parliament for the City of London. My only connection with the City is that I spent the first seven years of my working life in Ironmonger Lane opposite the Guildhall working for a firm of chartered accountants, and I also spent many years on the City of London Corporation committee managing Hampstead Heath and Parliament Hill Fields.
I would like to deal with some of the detail in the Bill. Clause 10, on City walkways, calls for a crackdown on parking a vehicle on or over a footway. When the noble Baroness replies, I would like her to say whether this means, as in many other local authorities, that a vehicle can park with two wheels on the outer kerbstones. There is a difference and it would be very interesting to know whether the City of London Corporation has considered that, or whether it is over the whole of the footway. As both previous speakers have said, the City also consists of very narrow streets, and in certain circumstances it may be necessary to park on the footway, even with the parking restrictions that are there. This may harm many traders in that particular area. In outer London—I am not saying this is the right thing; in fact I do not like it—many of the boroughs have organised parking on the footway, with an official order allowing that. I think it is horrific, but it gets the cars off the streets when the street is narrow and the footway has some depth to it.
I would also like to talk about Clause 9, the item on ice cream which has excited so such interest in this Chamber. First, I would like to deal with the statistics—the noble Lord, Lord Myners, talks about why there is the threshold of 11 metres. The parliamentary writers of the Explanatory Notes obviously had difficulty with the number 11, because they have actually used the number 15 in the Explanatory Notes and refer to 15 metres rather than 11 metres. I rather suspect the 11 is something to do with 99, which I believe is an ice cream, and they go in those sort of numbers.
It says in the clause that it is not street trading if it is undertaken from a “receptacle”—wonderful word—located within 15 metres, or “11 metres” as the actual Bill says, of the trader’s premises. I worry about this because 11 metres—or 15 metres, whichever it may be—is a fair distance from the shop. It represents quite an element of street clutter and flies directly in the face of the Mayor of London—of Greater London, not the City of London—who is very much in favour of decluttering the streets. Indeed, if you go to outer London boroughs, where I am still a councillor, and to many other places, you will find that many local authorities charge a licence fee for putting items like boards on the street. That is not to help the customer, but to bring in income, and it is something that worries me.
Reverting back to the important matter of ice cream, we really need to watch the quality of the ice cream—and it really is a serious matter—sold by the shops and street traders, whether in vans or receptacles. Visitors to the City of London, and in Westminster as well, find the prices and the quality vary; people complain of ice creams containing 90 per cent water. This is an area where the tourists come to as part of the London experience; but the ice cream in London is not quite the experience of a gelato in other parts of Europe.
The fightback against rip-off Britain, whether it is ice creams or anything else, is missing from the Bill. It particularly should not happen in the City, which I see as the showcase for the nation. In this Bill, the City is actually leading in a fightback against restrictions in a very positive way. The Bill actually eases matters for a variety of reasons—probably a good thing—which is against what other local authorities are doing, as they are actually tightening up in many ways. With the loosening of the restrictions comes a responsibility for keeping the highways and the footways tidy and clean. Sadly, people who travel and who walk and drive around in our environment have a habit of throwing things down on the street; even more so when there is street trading. That must be looked at. I think the City, with its very narrow streets, should be careful about being too restrictive, as well as opening up matters.
Bridges were mentioned. I was disappointed not to see a mention in the Bill of what many developers are doing in developing town centres around the country. I had a meeting with a developer the other day, and the words used were “living bridges”. The noble Lord, Lord Brooke, mentioned Southwark bridge. There is no reason why a bridge that is wide enough should not have small traders in small shops or cubicles across that bridge, making it into a living bridge, as happens in many cities, such as Florence and Rome.
As was said in a previous debate, this Bill may not make the headlines tomorrow, but it is an important move forward.
My Lords, I seize the opportunity to speak in the gap in support of what the noble Lord, Lord Brooke, described as a modest Bill, to express the hope that the Government will support it, as the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, suggested.
The Bill facilitates the reintroduction of street trading into the City of London, bringing the colour and vitality of which the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, spoke so eloquently. Importantly, it fosters a sense of community in the City. I was chairman of Land Securities when it commissioned the development at New Change at the junction of Cheapside and St Paul’s. We intentionally commissioned a programme with narrow alleyways and squares to recreate the sense of the City as a community and a vibrant area. Today I had lunch in Bow Lane, one of the narrow alleyways; then I went off to smoke my Cohiba in the square in front of the Guildhall. Therefore, I recognise fully what the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, suggests about the potential in the City to create a more lively community.
I support the comments made by the noble Lord, Lord Palmer of Childs Hill, in connection with the critical issue of ice creams in Clause 9, which the noble Lord, Lord Brooke, will have to focus on as the Bill makes its way through Parliament. There are clearly strong views on the subject of ice creams; I do not speak with the knowledge of the noble Lord, Lord Palmer, but my aspiration will be that we should not rest until we all enjoy a lolly of the same size as Mr Bob Diamond.
My Lords, what a fascinating place the House of Lords is, with its range of issues and topics. I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Brooke, on introducing this matter at this stage. He gave us an excellent synopsis of the Bill and some fascinating history.
I share the enthusiasm of the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, who I knew would rise to this occasion, having experienced his contributions in a previous debate on the subject of pedlary. I was tempted to declare a conflict of interest on pedlary, but my pedalling has two Ls rather than one, so I decided that it was unnecessary.
There was a point that I wanted to ask the noble Lord, Lord Brooke, to address when he replied. The Bill refers to complying with the European convention, but it is silent on whether the Bill actually complies with the European directive, which was of course the subject of the consultation document. I, too, congratulate the Government on keeping up the good work started previously. The consultation document is excellent.
The Bill is laudable and the intentions are genuine but, as we know, the road to hell is paved with good intentions—and the word “paved”, if noble Lords will pardon the pun, might be appropriate in these circumstances. I could not help noticing in the executive summary of the consultation document that it says that to,
“ensure the continued freedom of pedlars to trade, and to prevent re-regulation by another route, we intend to amend the current general exemption from street trading regulation for certified pedlars by clearly defining the exempted mode of trade”,
as well as withdrawing the necessity for certification. It then said,
“This should ensure that pedlars are generally free to trade and not subject to the street trading regime. It will also aid local authority enforcement of illegal street trading by enabling them to establish more quickly when traders are not trading as pedlars”.
I hope it is right in that optimistic assessment because I must admit that when you go through the responses to the consultation document, what is interesting is the variety of responses even among pedlars themselves. For instance, what constitutes a trolley, whether it has ice cream in it or not, since they vary considerably in size? There is an importance to that because in some cases, if it gets to be too large, the question is whether they are really pedlars and mobile in their trade or static street traders. Although we might be considering a somewhat arcane and obscure thing today, I am sure it will eventually have some legal interpretation.
In short, I share the enthusiasm expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, and by my noble friend Lord Myners about encouraging people to provide what can be, at its best, a very valuable service and is, for many people, a first-stage entrepreneurial experience. The secret with legislation, however, is in getting the balance right because we know that there will be examples of exploitation going on. Although for many this area will perhaps seem to be of minor importance, I feel sure that the impact will be quite wide-ranging. To conclude, I broadly welcome the legislation. I would be grateful if the noble Lord, Lord Brooke, could address the question of whether he feels that the proposed legislation complies with the directive—a view which seems to be doubted in the consultation document.
My Lords, I have listened with interest to the debate this afternoon. Having learnt about noble Lords’ views on this Bill I am pleased, as my department’s representative in the House, to respond to this debate on the Government’s behalf. My noble friend Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville brought history alive and put flesh on the bones of his Bill, my noble friend Lord Lucas encouraged the use of little opportunities to start little businesses for the future, and my noble friend Lord Palmer of Childs Hill talked about clutter and ice creams and the City of London as a showcase of renown. Then the noble Lord, Lord Myners, leapt into the gap with his support, as did the noble Lord, Lord Young, in whose time this all started.
I am happy to respond to my noble friend Lord Lucas by committing to take forward the response to the consultation on street trading and pedlary. I generally support his call for more local product sales. We are committed to following on from the recommendations from the consultation on pedlary as soon as possible and are hoping to consult on specific measures by the end of this year.
As your Lordships know, this is a private Bill and therefore one that traditionally the Government neither support nor oppose unless for some reason it contains provisions that are contrary to public policy—in which case, I understand, it is the Government’s role to bring such matters to the attention of the House. The House will be aware that in January I reported favourably on the assessment carried out by the promoters of the Bill of its compatibility with the European Convention on Human Rights. My department has now had a further opportunity to consider the content of the Bill, and I take this opportunity to report to the House that certain elements of it give cause for concern as to their compatibility with the provisions of the European Union services directive, should the Bill progress.
Of prime interest to my responsibilities are the proposed amendments to allow the City to license temporarily a wider range of street traders than it currently does. This Bill has emerged against the background of the Government’s work to assess the need to change and modernise street trader and pedlar licensing and certification. Some of your Lordships will be aware that the Government have recently published their response to a detailed consultation that draws on the views of stakeholders involved in street trading and pedlary legislation in the United Kingdom. In addition to reflecting on the views of stakeholders who responded, it had also become necessary for my department to consider the impact of the European services directive on authorisation schemes such as the licensing of street traders and the certification of pedlars.
As retailers of goods are deemed to be service providers within the scope of the directive, limitations on their activities in the form of authorisation schemes must be justifiable within the terms of the directive. They must be justifiable in respect of both service providers that are already established in the UK and those from other member states that might wish to provide services on a temporary basis within the UK—maybe even making ice cream. The Government’s response sets out our analysis of the effects of the application of the services directive to retail services and these authorisation schemes. It concludes that we must make some changes to ensure compliance with the directive.
I shall take this opportunity to outline our main proposals. There are a number of changes that we consider necessary, and we intend to consult on draft regulations to implement them later in the year. The areas for consultation are: the amendment of parts of the existing street trading licensing regimes to bring them into line with the directive; repeal of the Pedlars Acts and the certification of pedlars as a deregulatory measure; and the removal of provisions in private or local Acts and in devolved regimes that make certain pedlars subject to street trading regimes, which is also a deregulatory measure.
To ensure the continued freedom of pedlars to trade, and to prevent reregulation by another route, we intend to amend the current general exemption from street trading regulation for certified pedlars by more clearly defining the exempted mode of trade. This should ensure that pedlars are generally free to trade and are not subject to the street trading regime. This should also aid local authority enforcement of illegal street trading by enabling local authorities to establish more quickly when traders are not trading as pedlars.
The full publication, which is available on the BIS website and in the House Library, sets out our proposals for change and our general analysis of the effects of the services directive in more detail than I can give today in the context of this debate. I hope that noble Lords will choose to take some time to look at the response document, and at the consultation document when that is published later.
My noble friend Lord Brooke mentioned the European services directive, and I address that now. I mentioned that the Bill gives rise to some concern about compatibility with the services directive, and I shall outline briefly what those elements are. All local authorities that seek to apply authorisation schemes on street traders will already be aware that they must do so in accordance with the provisions of the directive, as implemented in the UK by the Provision of Services Regulations 2009. Where there are provisions in existing regimes that might be applied in a way that is not compatible with the directive, it is for the local authority to ensure that they are not so applied.
In general, authorisation schemes and specific elements of them must be justifiable in their application to service providers already established in the UK, and in their application to those who wish to provide their services on a temporary basis in the UK. In respect of those established in the UK, authorisation schemes, and the specific elements of them, need to be shown to be non-discriminatory and necessary because of overriding reasons related to the public interest. It also needs to be shown that the objectives cannot be met by less restrictive means—that is, that they are proportionate.
In respect of authorisation schemes that apply to temporary providers from other member states—for example, those who might come to the UK to test the market here—the grounds on which such authorisation schemes can be justified are much more limited. Local authorities need to show that the application of such schemes can be justified based on one of only four available grounds: public policy, public security, public health or the protection of the environment. The application of such a scheme must also be non-discriminatory and proportionate. In this context, our view is that the most likely available justification to local authorities will be that of public safety, where such a case can be established. This fundamental difference in available justifications in respect of established and temporary service providers has led the Government to conclude, in our work on the national street trader regime, that it is probably necessary, at least in part, to have a regime that treats each one differently where necessary.
As to the current Bill, our concerns relate to the elements that might not be able to be applied in a way that is compatible with the directive. Clause 3 contains proposals whereby the City would be able to grant temporary licences to trade for up to a maximum of 21 days. Time limitations on authorisation are not banned by the directive, but they must be justifiable in respect of established service providers and temporary providers. It is not clear in the Bill that it is possible to justify such a limit in all cases. The promoters’ stated purpose for these licences—that the intention is to permit trading only in respect of short-term properly defined events—might aid them in framing a justification for these limitations or perhaps in better framing the restriction, but further consideration is necessary.
The second element of the Bill that I would draw to the attention of the House is that concerning the fees chargeable to temporary licence applicants in Clause 3. This provision allows the City to charge such fees as it may determine to cover the reasonable administrative costs or other costs incurred by the Corporation in connection with its functions. However, the directive limits the charges payable under an authorisation scheme, providing that they must be proportionate to the cost of administering such a scheme. They should not in any event exceed that cost. Although strictly speaking the Corporation is not therefore allowed to charge more in respect of an authorisation scheme than is permitted by the directive, noble Lords might consider, for reasons of legal clarity, whether this should be put beyond doubt in the Bill.
The final element of the Bill that I should mention is Clause 9, which relates to permitting the sale of ice cream, using an approved container, outside premises. One effect of this approval system, as currently presented in the Bill, is to permit only occupiers of premises within the City to sell ice cream on the street, albeit within 11 metres of those premises. This, in the view of my department, is likely to be considered indirectly discriminatory against temporary service providers who, by definition, have no established premises in the United Kingdom. The directive prohibits measures that are discriminatory, either directly or indirectly. We suggest that the promoters should rethink these provisions in relation to temporary service providers.
Noble Lords will have noted that the coalition Government want to see all retail businesses, including those operated by licensed street traders, thrive over the coming months as the United Kingdom economy grows. We applaud measures that are good for business and encourage entrepreneurship at all levels. Extending opportunities to licensed traders in the City of London is certainly aligned with the Government’s desire to encourage opportunities for growth. We do not believe that the issues mentioned above are by any means insurmountable.
I am pleased that there has been much of interest in this debate, and to have been able to make a contribution from the Government’s perspective. I know that noble Lords are far-sighted and might recognise that the contents of this Private Member’s Bill not only reflect issues of interest to the residents of and visitors to the City of London but lead us to reflect on the wider developments in street trading and pedlary policy, which will be part of my department’s work into the summer. I hope all stakeholders with an interest in these areas—noble Lords and interested Members of the other place who have been active in the consideration of other private street trading Bills—will choose to get involved in shaping that future landscape. We can all play our part in helping to achieve the large-scale regrowth of the economy, which in a localised way the promoters of the City of London Bill would apparently like to see achieved on a smaller scale within their authority.
My Lords, I cordially thank all colleagues in your Lordships' House who have taken part in this debate. I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Palmer, on picking up the reference to 15 metres as against 11. As I deliberately handed the credit for the figures in the Bill to the Corporation, by definition I cannot take any credit for the fact that this magical and instantaneous concession to the noble Lord, Lord Myners, has been achieved in the course of this Second Reading, but I am sure that the Corporation will be grateful.
I thank my noble friend Lord Lucas for his speech and his observations about the Bill. I concur with his comment about the number of open spaces in the City and the fact that there are opportunities available therein to be able to expand at some stage in the future what has already been done. I well remember the campaign waged by that remarkable property developer Fred Cleary, of Haslemere Estates, who I think was chairman of the Metropolitan Water Trust Society, and who sought to quadruple the number of gardens in the City by increasing the number of flowerboxes and using the water troughs for flowers since there were no longer horses that wished to drink from them. He was successful and his efforts had a highly beneficial effect on the look of the City. One of the pleasures of the City of London is that there are plenty of people around—it is a miniature version of the big society—who want to make it a more congenial and agreeable place in which to work. I am sure that the Remembrancer of the City of London—a post which has existed since 1571—will take note of the various suggestions which my noble friend Lord Lucas made about further extensions.
I will not necessarily answer the questions asked me by the noble Lord, Lord Palmer, in exactly the order in which he asked them but I will deal first with parking. It is an issue with which I have some parliamentary familiarity, as one of the facets of being an inner-city MP, whereby you have only 75,000 voters but cover an area where the best part of a million people come to work every day, is that if they get into trouble with the parking authorities—in my case, in either part of my constituency—they do not know who to write to, and by definition they do not know the councillors concerned. However, what they do know is that the constituency has a Member of Parliament. Therefore, I had to handle a large number of complaints, which came in from all over the home counties, on the part of people who had been tested by the parking disciplines.
A professional photographer from Norfolk took enormous care always to photograph his car, wherever he parked it, when he came to London on professional business in order to have an absolutely cast-iron defence, whichever parking authority took him to the courts. I am delighted to say that when this problem was pointed out to the Corporation of London and it was warned that some people were photographing their cars to make sure that they were not committing an offence, every single parking official in the City of London was issued with a camera so that every time they administered a charge they had physical proof that the person had parked outside the space involved. As regards the specific question that the noble Lord asked, Section 15(1) of the Greater London Council (General Powers) Act 1974 enables civil enforcement against a vehicle parked partly or wholly on the pavement in the City and elsewhere in London. Clause 10 will extend such civil enforcement to vehicles parked on city walkways that may be some distance from the highway. It does not change the position for vehicles parked on the pavement.
The issue of the distance from the frontage of an establishment selling iced confectionery has already been dwelt on, unless the noble Lord wishes to press it. As to the quality of the ice cream being offered, which clearly plays a role in making the City an attractive destination to tourists—in addition those who work there, as the noble Lord, Lord Myners, mentioned—the provisions of the Bill will not directly impact on the quality of the ice cream; however, the ability to effectively enforce action against rogue traders who often overcharge for their product, together with the increased sale of ice cream by premises that fall within the remit of the City’s food safety officers, should result in standards increasing.
The noble Lord, Lord Young of Norwood Green, who was generally friendly towards the Bill, asked about the directive. It was, of course, a subject addressed by my noble friend Lady Wilcox. I am sure that, just as with the suggestions of the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, about further extensions to the City’s liberality, the noble Lord, Lord Young, will have taken note of what she said about the directive. Her department was consulted on the contents of the Bill before deposit and made no comments, other than to draw attention to, first, the need to ensure that any authorisation scheme complied with the services directive and, secondly, the general review that the Government are undertaking and the likely consequent need for change to some local Acts. On the basis of that, it could be said that the Government were keeping their cards fairly close to their chest, and the test may well come hereafter. At any rate, the issue has been attended to and looked at.
I will bring these remarks to a conclusion. I began my opening speech by referring to the last City of London Bill that I sponsored before entering your Lordships' House. I shall end the debate by referring to the first such Bill that I dealt with in the 1978-79 Session of Parliament, now a third of a century ago, which concerned Epping Forest and the then proposed M25 motorway. The City of London Corporation, acting as conservators of the forest, fought a long campaign to protect it, as it had in the 19th century when the forest acted as the green lung for London's East End. The Bill was the culmination of the campaign and settled an agreed route, with tunnelling to preserve the natural aspect of the forest.
It is perhaps worth reflection that among the greatest supporters of the City of London Corporation during the passage of the Bill were the then Members for Newham North West, Arthur Lewis—whom some noble Lords will remember—and for Harlow, Stan Newens. Noble Lords might reasonably think that such veterans of the Labour movement would not be the City of London Corporation's greatest admirers, yet great tributes were paid to the Corporation for what Arthur Lewis repeatedly described in the Official Report, 6 March 1979, cols. 1202-05, as the excellent job the City did in the public interest. For connoisseurs of the East End’s political history, I warmly commend these four columns of debate. Arthur Lewis in particular was so dedicated a constituency Member that, in order to test the security provisions on the urban transportation of irradiated fuel through his constituency, he once turned up at his local station in battle dress. His commendation of the Corporation of the City of London was particularly appreciated in the square mile.
In approaching the regulation of street trading and seeking to accommodate competing needs in a measured way, I venture to observe that the City is continuing to adopt the same approach in this Bill as Arthur Lewis attributed to it in 1979. I hope that these provisions commend themselves to the House. I beg to move.
Bill read a second time.
House adjourned at 5.30 pm.