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International Development Policy

Volume 733: debated on Thursday 1 December 2011


Moved By

That this House takes note of Her Majesty’s Government’s proposals for international development policy, including proposals on the situation of Dalits.

My Lords, I am delighted to open this debate on international development. It is nice to see a few old friends present. There may be other preoccupations nearer home, such as the eurozone crisis or the recession, but I am asking noble Lords to look at the drama going on every day in countries suffering from poverty and injustice. I much look forward to the maiden speech of my noble friend Lord Singh, who knows a lot about this subject. I declare an interest having been associated for nearly 40 years with Christian Aid, mainly as a staff member and a board member, and having also worked closely with Save the Children, CARE and Anti-Slavery International.

The current director of Christian Aid, Loretta Minghella, said in a conference last week that,

“The scandal and outrage of 21st century poverty is wrong”.

More than 1 billion people suffer from hunger or injustice, and the two often go together. According to Save the Children, chronic malnutrition affects 178 million children—one-third of all children under five in developing countries. Of these, 7.6 million died from malnutrition, ill health or other effects of dire poverty last year. The world’s population continues to grow, being above 7 billion, and could grow by perhaps half as much again in this century. Yet the rate is slowing down with economic growth, and I believe that this planet has the resources to grow enough food and defeat hunger. We will further reduce the number of malnourished people provided we beef up support for small farmers in the poorest countries, and production and distribution are properly managed.

We in Britain are in the forefront of this campaign. It is my starting point that, largely due to the work of our voluntary organisations, the British public in their many forms have become much more aware of needs around the world. Thanks to our NGOs and church networks working overseas, aid today has enormous popular support, expressed in the manifestos of all the parties and leading to our ring-fenced aid budget, which is not surprisingly envied by other departments. Both Conservative and Labour Governments have a good record in maintaining this country’s reputation in development, even in conflict countries such as Iraq and Afghanistan where at times we have become unstuck militarily. The problem in Iraq was that huge sums of mainly US aid was wasted through foreign contracting firms and consultants. In Afghanistan, too much of our aid programme was skewed towards military objectives in Helmand. Nevertheless, through such projects as the national solidarity programme and the Afghan NGOs, we have undoubtedly made an important, long-term contribution. Child mortality has come down by 26 per cent since 2001.

Our official aid agency, DfID, has shown that it is second to none among OECD agencies, at least level with the Scandinavians, who have always had the highest reputation. I am certain that DfID will be able to spend its increased allocation up to the 0.7 per cent target, although there are real concerns that other government departments may poach some of the budget. No doubt the FCO and the BBC will find legitimate ways of using some of it for diplomacy and broadcasting because there is much common ground between them.

Yet despite DfID’s successes, I doubt that the public can be satisfied with the progress of the UN and our aid agencies in meeting the millennium development goals, or that our successive Governments have done enough to eradicate poverty. Everyone knows that government money is wasted, especially those who have worked in non-government agencies. This is why the coalition has decided to review the aid programme and test its accountability, to make sure that every project is value for money. Later, I shall ask the Minister whether that is achievable.

I am glad that my noble and right reverend friend Lord Harries will speak about the situation of the Dalits, since he also served on Christian Aid’s board. We are both well aware that a large proportion of India’s poor, about 170 million, are from that community. Atrocities are committed against them every day. I have described previously the appalling inhumanity of many caste Hindus, some in senior positions, and the urgent need for India and Nepal to implement the laws that they have already made. FCO and DfID have entered a dialogue with New Delhi and some of the active NGOs. I hope that the Minister will update us on that dialogue.

I shall not deal with multilateral agencies or the European Union today, but I hope that someone will. They were well covered by the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, in his debate last week, when the noble Lord, Lord Judd, demonstrated how essential they are in monitoring themes such as gender equality, human rights and trafficking. I can confirm this from my own work with ASI and Christian Aid.

During a stay in South Sudan in February and an IPU visit to Kosovo two weeks ago—two post-conflict states at different stages of development—I realised, not for the first time, that international development can mean very different things. South Sudan is one of the poorest states on earth and we are engaged with its new Government, not always successfully, on designing better systems for delivering education, health and clean water. The World Bank trust fund, as in Afghanistan, ensures that the money sits in an offshore account and is not spent until it has been through an arduous process of accounting, which can mean that it is not spent at all. Large sums have gone astray in the process and it is widely assumed that this explains the lifestyle of many senior members of government. The existence of excellent NGOs in South Sudan, however, has ensured that funds have reached the people directly as well as through the machinery of government.

In Kosovo, capacity building is much more formal and official. DfID has been a key actor in the building of confidence in institutions, and I was personally impressed by the advice it is giving to the Kosovo Assembly through Select Committees on issues such as finance, the constitution and the electoral system. In the main it is governance and the rule of law which receive UK funding. Kosovo has been a special concern of this country since NATO’s intervention in 1999, yet DfID has decided to close its aid programme at the end of next year and this could prove very damaging. I must ask the Minister what provision there will be for the embassy—or perhaps the EU or one of the German agencies—to take over the programme.

Incidentally on the theme of governance, the CPA is holding an important conference here this week which is benefiting parliamentarians from all over the world. Kosovo is one of 16 bilateral programmes that DfID has decided to close down by 2016 so as to focus its bilateral spending on 27 priority countries. I am sure that the Minister will explain how they became priorities and whether it was the focus on the poorest rather than on post-conflict countries.

The question is: do we have enough confidence in DfID? Do its projects represent value for money? Will they make a real difference to the lives of the poor? Evidently the coalition is not satisfied with DfID’s performance because it has commissioned a whole series of reforms and reports to make aid more effective and accountable. New Governments always do this to show up their predecessors and PR plays a role, but I know that the Secretary of State is personally committed to a strong humanitarian response, and his ministerial visits to Sudan and the Somali border testify to this. I am sure that he will encourage the excellence in DfID’s programme.

I was pleased that the bilateral review has led to a new focus on the conflict states and an emphasis on tackling the two scourges of the poor: maternal mortality and malaria. In this context we should note on World Aids Day the real progress made against that appalling condition, and I also welcome the new all-party group of my noble friend Lord Crisp, which will deal with global health and the vital question of health workers. UCL and the Lancet are also continuing their valuable joint research on global health.

Last week saw the first four reports from a new watchdog, the Independent Commission for Aid Impact, which is to report to Parliament on whether the UK aid programme is making a difference and achieving value for money. This is a tall order judging from what I have read of the initial recommendations for Bangladesh and Zimbabwe. The commission will have to delve into many of our overseas programmes in detail and while it claims independence it will rely heavily on the experience of DfID itself to steer it through. While I am impressed by the Government’s efforts to achieve greater accountability, I doubt they will have the energy and resources to follow up every project. Halving administration costs to only 2 per cent is surely too ambitious and I wonder if the Minister really thinks that it is achievable.

Corruption is endemic in the poorest societies and has to be targeted within our aid programme. It can be eliminated. I have always been impressed by what the Crown Agents have done with the customs and port rehabilitation programme in Mozambique, which still has a big UK training component. However, the Public Accounts Committee report on 12 October found that DfID did not estimate levels of fraud and corruption. It said that its increased budget was bound to lead to higher spending on multilateral projects which would be easier to manage and reduce the need for monitoring and assessment. Perhaps the Minister could confirm whether this is true.

Aid effectiveness is the international buzz word and the Fourth High-Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness is taking place this week in Busan in Korea. This forum follows the Accra agenda for action designed to promote deeper partnerships in development which respect the diversity of aid and acknowledge the ownership of the country concerned. This is an important principle, well known to NGOs, that rich countries have no right to make decisions for poor countries, although in practice they do it all the time. I would like to think that DfID is pursuing the agenda, but in international development when the donor agencies interfere they always say that they are doing it in the name of good governance, accountability and transparency. In reality hypocrisy wins and conditionality remains a powerful weapon of aid.

I have mentioned India, which is having a fierce public/private argument about its services at the moment. I am glad the Government have kept it in the portfolio, although replaced by Ethiopia as the largest UK programme. The role of China deserves a debate all on its own. China has taken a prominent position in Africa, not least through its gift of the impressive new African Union headquarters in Addis Ababa which will open with great ceremony next month. It is a significant investor in east Africa. Earlier suspicions that Chinese workers were replacing African ones were unfounded and China has a good reputation for major infrastructural schemes, such as roadbuilding and agricultural development. DfID has already looked at ways of working more closely with China on rural projects; I trust it will do so again. Investment in agriculture is vital, especially seen in the context of the effects of climate change—now being discussed in Durban—which hit the rural poor most of all. Is DfID doing enough to help these small producers, men and women, with agricultural extension schemes and to encourage the private sector to help finance transport and rural roads and so improve trade and food distribution?

There have been growing criticisms of land grabbing in South Sudan, Uganda and elsewhere by farms and forestry schemes, some of which are based in the UK. Multinationals are adept at evading codes of conduct and corporate responsibility although there are exceptions. Can DfID do anything to safeguard against these negative developments if they stem from British companies?

For many years I have admired the effectiveness of the International Development Association, which has done a lot for small farmers. However, I understand that even IDA is in the business of promoting private enterprise well out of reach of these farmers and perhaps at their expense. One of its loans to Mali, for example, covers the salaries of a Malian investment promotion agency. Will the Minister say whether the coalition should be supporting this kind of profit-led promotion?

In conclusion, I take noble Lords back to my original statement about public opinion. The Government have a mandate to use a very generous budget not only to bring relief from suffering but to enable the poorest farmers and many other communities to achieve a sustainable livelihood and thereby bring down the numbers suffering from hunger and the price of food as a matter of urgency. Will the Minister confirm that the Government are fulfilling this mandate? I beg to move.

My Lords, I am sure that the whole House will applaud the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, for having secured the debate and for having opened it so effectively. His commitment on these issues is steadfast. Like him, I greatly look forward to the maiden speech of the noble Lord, Lord Singh of Wimbledon, with all his background and experience.

I am, naturally, glad that the Government remain firm in their objective of securing 0.7 per cent of gross national income for the aid programme by 2013. However, apart from its diminishing value in real terms in the context of global financial realities, it is important to know what exactly is the Government’s definition of aid. It seems it is being repeatedly stretched to make up for cuts at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and elsewhere.

It is interesting that the noble Baroness, Lady Northover, is to reply to the debate. She has a long-standing reputation, established in opposition, not only for advocating 0.7 per cent but of constantly underlining the importance of the quality of the aid and development provided within that objective and, very significantly, of supporting the central related policies in the sphere of international rights, finance and trade.

I pay tribute to the many NGOs, whose work on international aid and development has been a bedrock of increased political commitment by all the principal political parties. Their advocacy is of a high standard, based as it is on real front-line experience. In preparing for this debate, I have, yet again, found invaluable the insight, analyses and challenges provided by Oxfam, of which I am glad to have been a previous director, Saferworld, of which I am a trustee, and the World Development Movement.

The debate is well timed. The High-Level Forum on Aid, effectively, is reaching its conclusions in Busan, South Korea, as we deliberate here today. Can we be assured that the commitments of the 2005 Paris declaration will not be sidelined in Busan and that those commitments will be strongly reaffirmed? It is surely disappointing that, as the OECD has confirmed, while the developing countries have made significant progress on delivering the commitments of the Paris declaration, particularly in improving their planning and financial management, donor countries have made significant progress on only one of their 13 targets—that of improving co-ordination between themselves.

DfID has announced its intention to reduce the amount of UK aid spent on budget support around the world by 43 per cent. Can the noble Baroness tell us more of the real rationale for this? While aid given directly to the budgets of developing countries may, of course, sometimes cause difficulties in measuring instant results, it can surely be an excellent means of achieving sustained positive outcomes. It allows developing countries to make long-term investment in the core services, such as the health and education systems. Is there not a danger that, in overstressing aid for specific targeted projects compared with demands for measurable short-term outcomes, the sustainable development process will be distorted and undermined? Is DfID, in its plans, and with its preoccupation—some might say obsession—with targets, getting that balance right? How will the indispensable long-term funding to establish essential supporting systems be ensured? Frequently the real sustained effect of aid can be measured only in the long term. That is certainly my experience of years of involvement.

Seven million people are already facing acute food shortages in Niger, Chad, Mali, Mauritania, Nigeria and Burkina Faso. This indicates that next year there will be a massive problem of food availability and the danger of widespread famine will become acute. The danger is all the greater because people have not yet had the opportunity to rebuild their assets and increase their resilience after the severe crisis of 2009-10. If in a so-called normal year 300,000 children die in the region from malnutrition-related causes, any small addition, whatever form it may take, can push these catastrophic figures disastrously higher still.

Greatly to their credit, the Governments of Niger and Burkina Faso have already signalled they will need assistance. In the light of these indications and clear warnings, and taking into account DfID’s commitments made in response to the challenging Humanitarian Emergency Response Review of the noble Lord, Lord Ashdown, to strengthen anticipation and early action in disasters and to build resilience to disasters, what exactly are the Government doing convincingly to apply these commitments in the grim realities once more accumulating in the Sahel?

Meanwhile, climate change poses a grave threat to food production and to the livelihoods of the poorest communities around the world, most especially of women, who rely on being able to grow their own food to survive. Changing rainfall patterns, longer and more severe droughts, floods and rising temperatures all present acute challenges to farmers and make it difficult for them to know when best to sow, cultivate and harvest their crops. This will inevitably eventually lead to vast movements of people, aggravating the pressures of migration and provoking instability.

This makes the events at Durban all the more relevant and urgently demanding. An effective global agreement to tackle climate change can no longer be delayed. Obviously this must include provision to assist the poorest countries and the most vulnerable people within those countries. The green climate fund is an imperative. What exactly are the Government doing to pursue innovative sources of finance to fund it—for example, a levy on global shipping or a tax on international financial transactions? As we listen to the Chancellor it seems very little, if anything. Indeed, there seems to be an entrenched ideological opposition to some of these proposals. This is inexcusable. How does the noble Baroness, with her past advocacy of precisely such measures, feel about that as the position of the Government? Do not all negative arguments about taxes on financial transactions, for example, fall into insignificance against the developing human nightmare? A minute rate of tax on financial transactions could produce very large resources for the battle for humanity.

One of the greatest obstacles to the implementation of the millennium goals on schedule is certainly the 1.5 billion people who live in states affected by conflict and fragility. I understand that, in response to this, a new deal has been proposed at the High Level Forum this week. Can the noble Baroness confirm that this is indeed the case and that the UK is meaningfully and not just rhetorically behind it? I gather it has five objectives: fostering inclusive and legitimate politics; establishing and strengthening people’s security and justice; promoting employment and livelihoods; ensuring fairer social services delivery; and better financial management. I, for one, would be cheered if all this can be confirmed. If it is agreed that aid in more fragile states should focus on achieving peace, it will mean that ensuring that conflict, security and justice issues, which have been absent from the current MDG agenda, are brought fully into the discussions also about what follows MDG in 2015.

Success in moving forward will depend upon the new deal becoming not only a deal between national governments and international donors but a deal between them and the people living in conflict-affected communities, ensuring that these people themselves have genuine ownership of development and peace-building processes. If countries are to make a successful transition to peace, it will be essential that dialogue processes are genuinely inclusive and sufficiently independent to bring in a meaningful range of differing perspectives and to keep the most sensitive issues on the table. The new deal must on no account limit itself to legitimising the use of aid for “train and equip”-style security and justice programmes. If it is to support sustainable peace, it must focus on not only the capacity of state institutions but on their culture and professionalism and how they behave. It is vital that they also focus on what matters to the people living in conflict-affected countries—less exposure to violence, greater confidence in their safety, access to justice, services and livelihoods, and political freedom and inclusiveness.

If I have become convinced of anything in a lifetime of work in these spheres, both in Parliament and outside it, it is that sustainable peace cannot be imposed or manipulated. It has to be built from the community upwards; building in widespread inclusiveness in the process and a real sense of ownership of that process and its outcomes by the parties to the conflict is absolutely essential. After all, the process began to move in Northern Ireland when the political wing of the IRA became part of it.

My Lords, I appreciate the opportunity given us by the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, to discuss once again this crucial issue. I was reading recently about the potato famine 150 years ago in Ireland and how 1 million people starved to death there and 1 million more emigrated. There was such poverty in some of the south Wales valleys, and then there was the cotton famine in Lancashire and its horrendous consequences. In many other places, such as the Highlands with its crofting problems, we realise that we ourselves have in the past been touched by such poverty. Possibly it is comparable to the worst poverty that we can see in the world today.

We have people who are humane and want to move in and help those in need. Sometimes the need arises because of the scourge of diseases, as in Africa at present, or the failure of the crop year after year, as has happened with the potato crop in Ireland—or else you have the greed of mine owners or mill owners or others who are the masters of their communities. There are so many reasons and often it is those reasons, some of which are very presentable, that cause such hardship for millions and millions of people. In the mid-1930s, the Duke of Windsor, then the Prince of Wales, visited Merthyr Tydfil and other places in south Wales and saw the devastation and said, “Something must be done”. It is easy to say. Today we see the Horn of Africa and the devastation in parts of Asia and the tremendous need in other parts of the world. Something must be done. In the south Wales valleys that something was done by intervention from outside. Often the people who are weakened and have no more motivation left—people who do not even have the energy to think of their futures—rely on outside aid.

I welcomed the other day the autumn Statement, which really confirmed this 0.7 per cent for international aid. We need it and it must be used, but we can also remember our tremendous debt to voluntary giving—and the noble Lord, Lord Judd, was part of that great movement. CAFOD, Oxfam, Save the Children, UNICEF and Christian Aid have done tremendous work, as have countless smaller charities that we may not know anything about, in parishes and communities—people who see the concern. I remember being involved about 20 years ago in the Ethiopian famine, when we had to thank the press and television for the way in which exposure at that level made people want to give. I remember standing with a milk churn in Llangollen after one such programme had shown the great need from some area in the world, and people queued up to donate.

I remember also how we tried to get pure and safe drinking water for children in Rwanda. We had the appeal and there was some individual sacrifice. I wish I had a copy of the letter with me now from one lady from south Wales, who said:

“All my wedding presents have gone. I am living in one-room accommodation and all I have is the vase that my husband gave me on my wedding day. I am selling that vase because the need of the children of Rwanda is greater than my need”.

That is sacrificial giving. We should always say “Thank you” not only to the big organisations but to those whose hearts are, to use a Methodist phrase, strangely warmed when they see the need and want to respond to that need.

While some people are giving and giving most generously, this week I have heard of one or two examples that I dare not mention in this Chamber, which show how people respond to the needs and suffering of other people. Some are giving but others are taking and are trying to make a profit from the most vulnerable people and the poorest nations in the world. I am grateful to the Guardian newspaper for showing last weekend how venture capitalism had become vulture capitalism and how certain organisations and finance organisations are trying to milk the situation for their own benefit and the profit of their own people.

I have a reference to the Democratic Republic of Congo and the demand by venture capitalists for the repayment of £100 million debt, which is equal to giving 500,000 children schooling or giving 8 million people safe drinking water. The choice is there, but somehow the compassion of ordinary people is often not shared by these organisations.

I am grateful to a Methodist colleague of mine, Dr Mike Long, in Llandudno, who recently researched the situation in Zambia. I will not go into the details, and most noble Lords know it in any case. In 1979, Zambia was given credit by Romania for $15 million to buy agricultural machinery and vehicles. Zambia was unable to repay. We should remember that life expectancy in Zambia is 39.8 years. This debt mounted and in the end the demand was for $53 million by one of these venture capitalist organisations. It has been reduced to $15 million in a court case. But the people of Zambia find it so difficult.

In Lusaka, a declaration by the Christian churches of all denominations stated that:

“Zambia cannot pay back because the debt burden is economically exhausting. It blocks future development. Zambia will not pay back because the debt burden is politically destabilising. It threatens social harmony. Zambia should not pay back because the debt burden is ethically unacceptable. It hurts the poorest in our midst”.

We—the majority—give, and others are ready to reap the benefit from the most vulnerable and poorest people and nations of the world.

I thank the Labour Government of 2010 for their Debt Relief (Developing Countries) Act 2010, which might clear the debts of 40 of the poorest nations in the world. However, there are loopholes, one of which is Jersey. I hope that the Minister, who is a noble friend of mine of long standing, can give me some assurance that Her Majesty's Government will somehow or other try to bring the courts of Jersey into the embrace of that Act.

With those few words, I therefore say that we are joining other nations to give the poorest countries in the world a fresh start by breaking the chain of poverty. For many, it will be a beginning that they never dreamt was possible.

Like other noble Lords, I am grateful to the noble Earl for initiating this debate on such an important subject. It will be a particular pleasure to be able to listen to the noble Lord, Lord Singh.

I strongly agree with many of the points made by previous speakers, but I shall focus exclusively on the second part of the Motion regarding the proposals on the situation of the Dalits. Everyone is aware in general terms of the situation of the Dalits—the former untouchables—but it is difficult for us fully to take on board the extent and seriousness of their plight. To take, for example, the extent, more than 260 million people in the world continue to suffer from practices linked to caste, and of those, 170 million are Dalits living in India. As to the seriousness of their situation, more than 200 years ago William Wilberforce described what he referred to as “the cruel shackles” of the caste system as,

“a detestable expedient … a system at war with truth and nature”.

Since Wilberforce’s time, one form of slavery has been abolished, as we know, but not that associated with caste. It is properly described as a form of slavery. As the Prime Minister of India, Dr Manmohan Singh, said in 2008,

“caste is a blot on humanity”.

He described it as being parallel to apartheid. Manual scavenging, of which all noble Lords have heard, is just one of the many forms of degradation to which Dalits are subject.

In the light of this, it is obvious that it is not possible to consider issues of education, health and poverty reduction in India or other countries such as Bangladesh or Nepal where the caste system operates without highlighting and prioritising in policy terms the issue of caste and its terrible effect on the most vulnerable. Studies show that Dalits suffer quite disproportionately in education at every level, in health at every stage of their lives, and in access to benefits. There is absolutely no hope of achieving the millennium development goals without ensuring that every aspect of development policy takes fully into account the dire effects of caste with an appropriate focus on those suffering most as a result. DfID is of course aware of this, but does that awareness drive every aspect of policy in a concerted and consistent way and is the effect of this monitored?

More specifically, does DfID explicitly address caste exclusion across all the civil society programmes that it funds, developing clear benchmarks and indicators to monitor this? Furthermore, does DfID integrate social exclusion into all its programmes, beyond those of civil society? Does DfID support excluded groups in their advocacy and help them increase the accountability of Governments to the most excluded? In order that we might be clear that we are practising what we are preaching, does DfID ensure that in its own employment practices it has a team that is fully inclusive and representative? Following on from that, does DfID, throughout its India office, build understanding of social exclusion? Without positive answers to these and other questions, all attempts at poverty reduction will be undermined, as a growing body of research increasingly shows.

DfID also has a key role to play in influencing other donors, such as the Asian Development Bank, the European Community, the World Bank, the UNDP, and so on, better to understand and address these issues. DfID has a key role in ensuring that all UK NGOs and foreign investors adopt best employment practices in their policies. There is evidence in the past of some employment agencies used by NGOs excluding certain Dalit and Muslim names before passing on selected candidates.

I have mentioned that there are at least three key areas—education, health and access to benefits. I know that the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, will address education in particular and how Dalits are heavily disadvantaged in every aspect of education. I shall not therefore deal with that. However, I will briefly mention another area—children’s health. A recent study of children under 12 being treated showed that Dalit children were discriminated against in a variety of ways. By every indicator, this discrimination was shown to affect between 80 per cent and 90 per cent of encounters between Dalit children and those charged with providing them with some kind of medical help. I shall give some small examples. Medicine was placed in the hand without the person giving it actually touching the hand; or the medicine would be put on the floor or window sill; they were given less time with doctors and nurses; and the children were called names and treated roughly. It is not surprising that infant mortality—high in India as a whole—is particularly high among Dalits.

There is another particular area that the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, would have highlighted if she had been able to speak in the debate. I refer to the human trafficking and slavery of India’s Dalits. For example, there may be as many as 20 million people in Indian bonded labour, of whom between 80 per cent and 98 per cent are Dalits. In addition, children, particularly Dalit children, are being trafficked into domestic servitude and prostitution, with 40 per cent of India’s sex workers being children. Then there is ritualised prostitution and bride trafficking. In all these areas, it is Dalits who are most at risk and find it almost impossible to obtain redress. Often they do not have identity papers, they have difficulty being believed, and—believe it or not—a third of rural police stations do not even allow Dalits to cross the threshold. DfID has done well to institute the human trafficking in south Asia programme, but at the moment its resources are too small to make the impact that is needed—not just in cross-border trafficking but in India itself.

My point is therefore very simple. It is impossible to tackle the subject of poverty, particularly in India, Nepal and Bangladesh, without highlighting and prioritising the issue of Dalits and expressing those priorities in real policy terms. DfID is aware of this, but is that awareness driving every aspect of policy in a concerted and consistent way? Is the effect of this policy on the Dalits being properly monitored?

My Lords, I, too, am deeply grateful to the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, for achieving this debate and for his powerful opening speech emphasising the positive contribution that aid can make to breaking the “chains of poverty”, to use the phrase of the noble Lord, Lord Roberts. Yet, we heard from the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, of that continuing failure to tackle discrimination based on work, descent and caste. I therefore welcome the renewed emphasis on the situation of Dalits in south Asia, and look to ways in which international development policy can be used to affirm and develop human rights for those who are so savagely damaged by descent and caste.

I hope that we will not be lulled, if that is the right word, into thinking that this is a problem for India and south Asia alone. We need to watch the ways in which such discrimination exists in other societies, including our own, and I therefore welcome the determination of the UN Decade of Dalit Rights to identify and connect with the diaspora of those affected by discrimination based on descent and caste.

Like others, I want specifically to welcome the Government’s defence of their international aid budget of 0.7 per cent of GDP even though that involves some diminution in the actual amount of aid. But to defend that figure through tough economic times is a major tribute to the work of the Minister and of the Government as a whole. I hope that she and they will hear our congratulations on achieving that continued figure. I hope that in her reply the Minister will report on what she expects of the high-level forum on aid effectiveness in Bhutan, to which others have already referred.

I also welcome the establishment of the department’s faith working group, which recognises the importance of faith in many communities around the world and the need to explore how faith can contribute to the success of policies tackling discrimination—not just the work of faith bodies in this country, which I acknowledge and am very grateful for, but the contribution made by religious organisations and faiths throughout the world. In that context it is particularly good to be able to be part of a debate in which the noble Lord, Lord Singh of Wimbledon, is taking part, someone from whom I and many others have learnt much of the place of faith in societies all over the world. I should be grateful for comment on what progress the faith working group has made and whether any concrete steps have been taken as a result of its work.

The UK has a strong record on seeking an international aid policy which will have real impact. In particular, I want to both stress and encourage the new moves being made, not just here but throughout Europe, for greater transparency in the extractives sector. Tearfund’s recent report, Unearth the Truth, gives examples of the need to use natural resources for the real benefit of our poorest communities across the world. Exports from extractive industries are worth something like nine times the value of aid to Africa. Tearfund cites Sierra Leone and also Colombia as countries where conditions could be transformed if the revenue from the extractives sector was reinvested in meeting millennium development goals and in providing basic services such as health, water and sanitation.

I hope that the Minister will be able to comment on how we can have a more transparent picture of the way in which the extractives industry affects relationships with some of the poorest countries of the world and ways in which aid can be directed so that it can provide support and encouragement in the development of those countries.

The condition of the Dalits and of others discriminated against by work or descent must be a wake-up call for all those who believe in fundamental human rights. I am grateful for the stance of successive Governments in the crucial use of international aid to promote the care of the poorest in our world and I look forward to a renewed expression of the Government’s commitment to the breaking of those chains which bind not just those who are themselves in a situation of poverty but all of us in the worldwide culture in which we share.

My Lords, it is with a feeling of humility and trepidation that I rise to speak for the first time in this House, particularly after having listened to the earlier words and speeches that were put so movingly.

I shall say a few words on where I am coming from, and what I hope to bring to the House. I started life as a mining engineer, but not long after qualifying, was told by the then National Coal Board that British miners would never accept a Sikh mine manager. I was offered a job in the scientific department but politely declined, seeing it as an opportunity to go and see a bit of India, a country that I left as an infant. Surely people there would welcome me. They did not. I was seen as a Punjabi, and not welcome in the mines of West Bengal, but I stubbornly dug my heels in and gradually became accepted.

I returned to England to take up a post in a civil engineering management consultancy, and though there was some initial hostility, I was soon respected and valued and even assisted in taking a year off to do an MBA. It was while I was with this company that I noticed a strange end-of-day ritual that made me see the lighter side of our attitude to those we see as different.

We were on the fifth and sixth floors of an eight-storey building. Above us were the overseas civil engineers, who clearly thought themselves superior. They would go about with briefcases carrying labels of exotic places visited. At the end of the day they would get into the lift to go home. When the lift got to our floors, a curious thing would happen; those inside would unconsciously stick out their stomachs to give the impression that the lift was a little fuller than it actually was. We would barge in none the less; the stomachs would gradually recede and we all became fellow work colleagues.

The lift would then move to the floors below, occupied by the Department of Health and Social Security. We all joined in in sticking out our stomachs to deter what, in our bigotry, we saw as a lower form of life entering our lift. However, again, they took no notice and got in; the stomachs would grudgingly recede and we all got to the ground floor as fellow human beings—until the next day.

This strengthening of common identity by looking negatively at others is all too common. We see it all too often with a group of people who have been speaking together on a street corner. If one goes away, you can be sure that those remaining will often make some negative comment about the person who has just left, to strengthen their newfound sense of unity. We see it in the behaviour of football crowds. In its most serious form, it can lead to the active persecution of those we call different.

Guru Nanak, the founder of the Sikh faith, saw it in the India of his day some 500 years ago. He reminded us that we are all, men and women, equal members of the same human family and he criticised all notions and distinctions of race, caste or gender. These are 21st-century values being put forward in the 15th century. This theme has been central to my own life: from campaigning against apartheid in South Africa when it was unfashionable to do so, to supporting dissidents in the former Soviet Union and working with Amnesty International, and others, for greater social and political justice for all members of our human family. In this context, I fully endorse all the comments of the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, about Dalits, and the other remarks made by other speakers.

Some of us are quick to criticise some aspects of life in the United Kingdom but when we go abroad, even to our countries of origin, we see that this country is way ahead of much of the rest of the world—light years ahead in its freedoms, and its understanding and respect of different cultures and ways of life. Our country can take justifiable pride in the way that it has welcomed many from other lands and the lead it has taken in extending human rights, social justice and economic well-being to other parts of the world.

Moving to the central theme of today's debate, some 10 years ago I was invited to join a working group of DfID. I went as a cynic but was soon converted by the passion and genuine commitment of all those involved including, as has been mentioned, many voluntary organisations. I persuaded Sikhs to buy bonds of the GAVI alliance for the mass vaccination of 500 million people and urged the community to support the humanitarian work of DfID with its characteristic generosity. We also established Khalsa Aid, a Sikh charity.

At this time of economic recession, it is tempting to look to our need and ignore the suffering of others; in biblical terms, to cross to the other side of the street. Yet, as the continuing success of Children in Need showed, this is not the way of the British people. The euro crisis, economic difficulties in the United States and the emergence of new, major competitors also remind us that our economic future is inextricably linked to that of other nations, including the very poor. Britain is unique in the way it has led on many issues of justice and in the fight against poverty. It is a tribute to Britain that we are continuing to give assistance, with international development the highest priority. In the past year, Britain's development budget of just short of 0.6 per cent of GDP helped to train more than 95,000 teachers, build or refurbish 10, 000 classrooms, train more than 65,000 health professionals and provide clean drinking water to more than 1.5 million people.

In addition to the ethical arguments, there are strong economic and geopolitical imperatives for helping the poor climb out of poverty. These include the development of soft power and influence in key areas. By 2050, Africa will be a key trading partner, rich in resources with a population of over 2 billion. Understandable reservations about the misuse of aid should be tackled by more stringent checks and never be used as an excuse for doing less or doing nothing.

I could go on, but I am conscious that a maiden speech should be brief. Before I finish, I would like to thank your Lordships for your extraordinary kindness in making me feel so welcome, with particular thanks to the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Carey, and the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy, in introducing me to your Lordships.

My Lords, I am particularly delighted to be the first to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Singh, on his thoughtful and practical maiden speech, graced as it was with touches of humour. The noble Lord and I are old friends from years back, so it gives me particular pleasure to welcome him to this House today. He has had a very distinguished career, not only as a chartered engineer and management consultant—backgrounds that I share with him—but as an effective promoter of interfaith understanding, for which he received the Templeton Prize in 1989. The noble Lord was also awarded the interfaith medallion for services to religious broadcasting in 1991.

The field of work in which I have known him best is in his services to the prisons. He was the Sikh representative on the Chaplain-General’s consultation with other faiths back in the mid-1990s. When that was developed into the present Chaplaincy Council he continued to serve on it as the Sikh adviser to NOMS, in which capacity I know he has made a significant contribution—not always on the side of the establishment. The noble Lord has been the editor of the Sikh Messenger since 1984 and director of the Network of Sikh Organisations since 1995. He brings wisdom and the insights of the Sikh faith to our deliberations based, among other principles, on sharing with others whose needs are greatest and the equality of all human beings, as he mentioned. We look forward with eager anticipation to hearing from the noble Lord often in the future.

The noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, has given us a welcome opportunity of looking at DfID’s policy on aid to India and what we are doing to help the Government of India in promoting equality, particularly for the most severely disadvantaged communities. Even though untouchability was formally prohibited by the Constitution of India in 1950, it is so firmly embedded in the culture that 60 years on, the 170 million Dalits still endure extreme forms of social and economic exclusion and discrimination, as we heard from the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries. We need to consider whether, and if so how, DflD's policies could be geared towards helping India to eliminate the severe handicaps that Dalits have to endure, perhaps bearing in mind the saying of the Guru Nanak, the founder of the Sikh religion that, in his mother's womb no man knows his caste.

We would agree that DfID's work should be refocused on the poorest, and that concentrating aid on state partnerships in Bihar, Madhya Pradesh and Orissa, but with some elements stretching to five other states, is a simple if rather crude way of achieving that objective. The Dalit Solidarity Network-UK and the National Campaign on Dalit Human Rights in Delhi urge that we review our policies from a human rights perspective, in light of the fact that Dalits are not benefiting proportionally in the remarkable economic advance being made by India as a whole. We should therefore address caste-based exclusion and deprivation across the whole of the civil society programmes that we fund, developing clear benchmarks and indicators to monitor progress and ensure that we are getting value for money, as the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, has also said.

I doubt that there can be, as the Government response to the Select Committee report implies, an abrupt transition from a level £280 million yearly aid programme from now until 2015 to a partnership based on critical global issues. I would be grateful for an assurance that projects specifically geared towards alleviating caste discrimination will continue to be supported. UNICEF, for instance, has a knowledge partnership with the Indian Institute of Dalit Studies to unpack policy concerns of relevance to children. It is looking at the barriers that limit access by Dalit children to healthcare, which were also mentioned by the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, leading to high levels of morbidity and mortality in these communities.

The Select Committee says that DfID's new Indian programme should have a strong focus on reducing child and neonatal deaths, and the Government agree with them—although they also agree that resources should be switched from health, which now absorbs 40 per cent of the budget, to sanitation, to which only 1 per cent is allocated.

Although India has reduced the under-five mortality rate from 118 to 66 per thousand births between 1990 and 2009, it is not on track to achieving the reduction by two thirds of this rate by 2015, called for in the millennium development goals. In the UN’s 2010 report on the MDGs, it says that revitalising efforts against pneumonia and diarrhoea, while bolstering nutrition, could save millions of children’s lives. The Global Alliance for Vaccination and Immunisation, GAVI, referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Singh, and to which the UK is the largest contributor in the world, is funding the adoption of vaccines against these diseases in an increasing number of countries. We promised $485 million out of the total of $1.5 billion subscribed at the pledging conference in London last June, believing, as we do, on solid evidence that this is one of the most cost-effective ways of spending aid money to help attain MDG4.

Paradoxically India still has the largest number of unimmunised children globally—7.2 million in 2010—even though it is the world's largest manufacturer of vaccines. It has introduced measles vaccine in about half the states and is making some good progress with Pentavalent, but only in two states as compared with the original plan for 10; while as yet it has no plans for rolling out vaccination against pneumococcal disease and rotavirus, which are the two biggest killers of children worldwide.

A delegation from the APPG Against Childhood Pneumonia, of which I have the honour to be co-chair, visited Bangladesh in November and was told it was on course to roll out all three of these vaccines nationally over the next few years. Penta is already being delivered, as the delegation saw on a visit to a village 50 kilometres from Dhaka. GAVI estimates that the second measles vaccine will start in 2012, followed by pneumococcal conjugate vaccine in 2013 and rotavirus in 2014.

It is not therefore altogether clear to me why India lags behind on saving children's lives when the potential is so clearly there. Will my noble friend say whether the plan for Pentavalent has been scaled back because GAVI had yet to be satisfied that vaccines could be effectively delivered and administered in India? Will she also say whether DfID can help India to solve any of the logistical problems that are delaying these programmes? I gather that more than 25,000 cold chain points have been established, but that active management of their proper functioning and timely repair is critical. If this is blocking approval by GAVI of the programmes, is it something on which DfID could offer technical assistance, bearing in mind our very substantial investment in GAVI itself?

I would be grateful if my noble friend could also say what monitoring there is of the existing immunisation programmes in Bihar and Madhya Pradesh where less than 50 per cent of children were covered in a 2009 survey, and in Orissa where the coverage was under 60 per cent, to ensure that Dalit children were being protected, at least in proportion to their numbers. If, as one might suspect from the UNICEF study already referred to, discrimination and the fear of discrimination inhibits access to healthcare generally for Dalits, the probability is that the existing programmes are not reaching these deprived people. In Bihar, for instance, the reason given for the partial information of a third of those missed was an awareness and information gap, which was far more likely to affect Dalits than the rest of the population. Would DfID be able to help to design local awareness-raising campaigns in our three target states, possibly with the help of experts in communication from the Dalit diaspora?

The Select Committee recommended that DfID should fund the collection of data on caste, tribal and religious affiliation of those who access maternal services or have institutional deliveries, but the Government's response was that adequate disaggregated data were available without further studies. Are they equally confident that disaggregated data exist for access to vaccination and immunisation programmes and if not, will they consider funding a pilot study in the three target states?

On education, the Select Committee had nothing to say about Dalits except indirectly, where it particularly welcomed DfID's new focus on girls' education. In their reply, the Government said they would use the opportunity of India's request to support their flagship secondary education initiative to look at,

“ways to help get more Dalit girls into secondary school and ensure they can afford to stay there".

According to a UNICEF study from 2006, the dropout rate of Indian Dalit children from primary education was 44 per cent, and the National Commission for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes says that for girls this rises to an astonishing 75 per cent. There is no doubt that Dalit girls suffer even more extreme discrimination, prejudice and persecution than boys. Stories about the rape, violent assault and murder of Dalit girls appear regularly in the media. To mention one: when five boys were frustrated in their attempt to rape a 17 year-old Dalit girl in Lucknow last August, they poured kerosene over her and set her on fire. AsiaNews reported the comment of Anulraj Anthony of the Justice and Peace Commission of the Catholic Bishops Conference. He said that two aspects revealed the vulnerability of the victim: "She is a girl and a Dalit". So it hardly surprising that vulnerable girls from these communities have an uphill struggle to get anywhere in the educational system.

The UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Education has made special reference in his 2006 report to the needs of girls from communities that experience discrimination, and says that literacy is as low as 9 per cent for the Mushahar women of Bihar state. Surely one way of improving Dalit girls' access to secondary education is to reduce their dropout rates from primary education and to promote MDG2A, to ensure that girls as well as boys complete a full course of primary education. The empowerment of women everywhere starts with literacy, and this is an absolute imperative in a society where there are ancient cultural barriers to the equality of particular communities.

We have our own problems here with deprivation of children from Gypsy and Traveller communities, and I am often struck by the parallels with the caste system. So it is not in a spirit of criticism that I want DfID to do more to help India to address the acute disadvantage suffered by the Dalits in health, education and, indeed, access to public services in general. It would be presumptuous to say that we can make more than a minor contribution to helping them to eliminate dysfunctional cultural norms that have persisted for millennia, but I hope that our aid to India can be concentrated on helping it to meet its own objectives.

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Sandwich for obtaining this Cross Bench day debate on this subject and allowing our noble friend Lord Singh to participate. Some of us are more familiar with him on the morning “Today” programme, when we are not entirely awake, hearing his few words of wisdom. Now I am fully awake, I realise that his words are even more wise. I believe we should be grateful to the present Government for the direction of progress by this department since the election. That obviously includes the funding commitments, even with the latest adjustments.

The structure of the millennium development goals allows us to make international comparisons, and I am aware that the Commonwealth representatives are currently discussing MDGs in a conference at Westminster. One of their concerns is the fast-approaching deadline of 2015, and what happens after that. In this large area, I would like to focus particularly on the importance of MDG5, and mainly on 5B, which is about achieving universal access to reproductive health by 2015. We should be grateful that the Minister, Andrew Mitchell, even in his shadow role before the election, appreciated the importance of this field of reproductive health; and we are very fortunate now to have as a spokesperson in this House, the noble Baroness, Lady Northover, whom we know—as the noble Lord, Lord Judd, said—is an expert in the whole field of international development as well reproductive health. I also welcome the noble Baroness, Lady Kinnock, to these debates from her Front Bench.

As I am sure the noble Baroness, Lady Northover, will confirm, we had good news on Tuesday from her Under-Secretary of State, Stephen O’Brien, at a family planning conference in Senegal, where DfID has committed £35 million of new money for contraception in an area of the world that is particularly able to benefit from it. It is helping to save thousands of women’s lives. He is quoted as saying:

“Family planning is a smart, simple and extremely cost effective investment of aid. It is at the centre of all our development work and we are going to ensure more women are given the choices they want and deserve”.

That statement is very encouraging, and I hope that it leads to further such initiatives, as well as informing the practice of the other parts of the department. That is a very good instance of one of the main concerns, which is meeting the unmet global need of an estimated 215 million women who want to avoid or delay pregnancy, but who have no access to any effective methods.

To return to the department as a whole, we have recently had the opportunity to read the financial management reports of the Auditor General, the Commons Public Accounts Committee following that, and the reports and recommendations of the Independent Commission for Aid Impact, which was initiated by the department. Parts of these examined such things as effectiveness, value for money, leakage through fraud or corruption, running costs, delivery chains and suchlike. This is not the place to follow up those considerations in detail, but it is useful to have an independent opinion on such things.

Even on a cursory reading, one realises the full complexity and problems of successful and effective delivery, especially into other less developed countries, of the services required. One of the issues raised, partly in the context of bilateral versus multilateral spending, was the rather unusual,

“pressure to spend increased resources”,

which was mentioned by the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich. When money might be available, but the skills, facilities and manpower to deliver bilateral aid programmes effectively are not there, it might be easier to support multilateral programmes instead, when effectiveness and value for money would be more difficult to assess.

The large proportion of money that is required to be donated through EU channels can also suffer from a lack of accountability. I understand that a new agreement is up for negotiation, and I hope that we can take the lead among our European partners in helping to frame new uses for that money, over which we can have more oversight. Maybe the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, who will follow me, will be able to add to that,

I mentioned MDG5 at the beginning. That is, by common consent, the most off-target of the MDGs and, given that the target year is 2015, the hope now is that these aims will continue to be pursued beyond that year. Some progress in that MDG has recently been reported. The recent figure of 500,000 maternal pregnancy-related deaths, has now been reduced to 360,000. According to the Guttmacher Institute, 30 per cent of such deaths can be reduced by the provision of good family planning.

Normally in addressing this subject I try to avoid what one might call the numbers game. However, recently we have had the rather stark reminder of the world population reaching 7 billion, with attendant future upward projections. That has resulted in journalistic and more learned diagnoses of how serious or otherwise that milestone is. As we invoke population numbers as a contributing factor to climate change, we must always be aware that our western environmental footprint is many times that of most of the developing world. For example, one figure is that our footprint is 20 times more damaging to the environment than an Indian’s. The Indian Health Minister said that the birth of the 7 billionth child was a great worry and told the Times of India that all celebrations should be put on hold until the population stabilises. As we know, that is some way off for India.

I am always astonished when people casually mention, quite commonly, the inevitability of wars being caused by the shortage of water. There are many other essential commodities in danger of becoming scarce, particularly with the increasing demand from countries such as China, which understandably want to raise their standard of living. Last weekend, the Times had an article with the headline:

“Standing between the world and starvation”.

It was about the increasing price of and demand for phosphorous fertiliser being produced in China and its inevitable exhaustion, which is, admittedly, some years away. However, that is the basis of what might be unsustainable agriculture in many parts of the world, which often includes GM crops.

I am afraid that it might be human nature to hope for some magic solution to all these problems—that is, until they are palpably upon us. It is similar, but even more so, with the population numbers. If there is any magic solution there, it is simply the offer of choice, mainly to women, rather than any talk of coercion, as there might have been in the past. This is part of the sustainability debate, and I hope that the department can take it as its task to lead us in anticipating such crisis situations in the future.

When earlier I said that I normally avoided talking about numbers in this field, it was partly because of my belief that, even more importantly, we should focus on the quality of life, rather than quantity. In marking the 7-billion milestone in debates in the UN in New York, the rather unfortunate phrase “the bottom billion” seemed to emerge. It refers to the poorest, who have little or no access to basic needs. While not wishing to give currency to that phrase, maybe we should be as concerned about them as we are about the increasing numbers. It is encouraging that the department now seems to be targeting a reduced number of poorer states, as well as identifying fragile states for special attention.

I referred earlier to people expecting magic solutions to save us from ourselves. Sometimes that takes the form of comforting myths as to why we need not address population growth seriously. As a member of the All-Party Group on Population, Development and Reproductive Health, I hope I may recommend a recent publication, which was co-authored by one of its vice-chairs, Richard Ottaway MP, who is also chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee in the House of Commons. It is a highly readable and attractive publication, called Sex, Ideology, Religion: 10 Myths about World Population Growth. This was published about a month ago and will shortly be available online on the group’s website, which is on the All-Party Group’s list. It deals more concisely and eloquently than I can now with why we should continue to take population growth seriously. I am sure that the department will continue to do that, along with its many other responsibilities, which we have heard about today.

My Lords, I warmly congratulate my noble friend Lord Sandwich on obtaining this debate on international development policy. I sometimes feel that we devote too little time to foreign affairs and development as we apply ourselves to our primary task of scrutinising and improving the Government’s legislative proposals. I never felt that more strongly than yesterday, when the Foreign Secretary’s Statement on relations with Iran was not repeated in this House. I have no intention of diverting this debate on to that ground, other than to say that it was a lamentable decision. If we want to be regarded as a mere superfluous appendage to the other place, that is the surest way to go about it.

I should also like to congratulate my noble friend Lord Singh on his extremely graceful maiden speech. Ten years ago I chose to make my maiden speech in a debate on international development, so I cannot but congratulate him on his choice of subject matter.

The coalition Government’s decision to ring-fence our overseas aid from the spending cuts was a courageous one when it was first made and is all the more so now that they are sticking to it in the face of much discouraging economic news. Through all the cacophony of press criticism of that decision, I have yet to hear one respectable argument for making developing countries far poorer than we are suffer because of an economic crisis for which they have absolutely no responsibility. In any case, they are already suffering from the slowing of the global economy.

I am certainly not going to cheer the decision of two days ago to reduce the sums earmarked for aid in the latter part of the current spending period. However we are—and this I do welcome—sticking to our Gleneagles and UN commitments. That 0.7 per cent of our gross national income is going to be a good deal less than was earlier anticipated is, I fear, an ineluctable fact. I hope that the Minister replying to the debate will be able to say what we are doing to hold other developed countries to their Gleneagles and UN commitments, which some of them are missing by a very wide margin indeed. We should not spare their blushes, however much they would like us to do so. What plans do we have to use next year’s G8 and G20 meetings to get those commitments back on track?

I was encouraged to hear that the Secretary of State for International Development had recently been to China to discuss the scope for co-operation between us in helping developing countries. Can the Minister say something about the outcome of that visit? Did the Chinese respond positively? What sort of programmes and projects could we work on together? I hope, too, that we are working on similar trilateral co-operation with countries such as India and Brazil, which are just beginning to mount serious aid programmes. Some time back I suggested that co-operation over aid could be one of the best ways of thickening up our relations with those emerging powers. Are we doing that now in a systematic way? Brazil in particular has many links with African countries, both cultural and economic, and it has devised imaginative and effective programmes for bringing its own poorer citizens out of the abject conditions in which many of them lived, so it would surely be an ideal partner if we could agree to work together. Have we got anywhere down that road?

I return briefly to a question that I put to the Minister recently: namely, the plight of UNESCO following the lamentable US decision to withdraw all its support from that organisation when Palestine was admitted as a member. I hope that we have not concealed our disagreement with that deplorable move. Why on earth should developing countries around the world be punished for giving the Palestinians a status that is no different from that which we all, including the US Administration, believe is our right? That sort of behaviour is a throwback to the worse mistakes of the previous Administration. I know that it is mandated under US law, but that is an explanation not an excuse.

Be that as it may, I hope that when we come to consider our own future support for UNESCO we will take all that into account. I very much support the broad thrust of our policy of holding UN agencies to account for the quality and effectiveness of their development work, but no organisation can take a cut such as UNESCO has had to take overnight without a lot of disruption and some damage to its overall performance. Can the Minister say how we are planning to respond? With some sympathy, I hope.

I am sorry to disappoint my noble friend Lord Craigavon but I am not going to say anything about EU aid. Having taken the afternoon off from the festivities in the Moses Room and chosen to participate in your Lordships' debate on this aid programme, I thought that I might as well go the whole hog. Therefore, I will not refer to the EU’s programme but I will follow my noble friend by drawing attention to the 2015 deadline for achieving the millennium development goals—a deadline that is now well above the horizon.

A lot has been achieved and more certainly will be in the next three years, but it is already clear as daylight that we will fall short, and by a substantial margin. Moreover, too many of the successes have been concentrated in too few of the developing countries, so it is surely high time for us to clear our own minds about what we will aim to achieve after the 2015 deadline. I suggest that we will need a better focused, less broad-brush approach and that it should concentrate on what Professor Paul Collier has so eloquently called the “bottom billion”. I am sorry if the phrase offended my noble friend. Our decision to ring-fence our aid puts us surely in pole position to lead the search for an improved MDG mark 2. I hope that the Minister can tell us that we are already at work with that in mind. If so, can she give us some idea of where we think the main emphasis of those future programmes should be?

One other point I would like to raise is the question of failing or failed states. Last July DfID produced an excellent paper on this tricky subject which I could not fault, partly because it followed so closely the path set out in a number of preceding reports, not least that of the UN reform panel on which I had the honour to serve. Prevention is better than waiting for countries to go over a cliff and then trying to catch them in mid-air or, more often, picking up the pieces in the aftermath of the disaster. It not only costs less but saves many lives that would otherwise be lost.

Is this a proper task for development agencies or should they, as some critics suggest, concentrate exclusively on the alleviation of poverty? I suspect that this is in any case something of a false choice. The poverty of failing or failed states is in many cases dire. One of the characteristics of those states is that for purely political reasons their poverty cannot be alleviated by classic developmental policies. Are we just to let them stew? I would say not. Moreover, it is essential to demonstrate that the international community’s responsibility to protect—R2P, as it is called—is not just a recipe for military intervention but a call in the first instance for strengthened policies of prevention. Therefore, I argue that helping those states to avoid failure is very much a proper object of our development policy. I hope that the Minister will say something about how the department is following up and implementing that first-class paper of last July.

In conclusion, I very much welcome the recent decision by DfID to put more resources into the BBC’s World Service Trust. The fact that much of the World Service’s output has genuine developmental value is surely not in doubt and has been quantified. It is high time to recognise this potential as another facet of our development policy. It should have happened a good time ago, as some of us in this House urged last winter, but better late than never. Back-Benchers are supposed to get more pleasure out of criticism than praise, but I am truly pleased to speak so positively about the coalition Government’s development policies—more positively, I suspect, than some of their supporters in another place would have done. I hope that that will be some small encouragement to the Government to stick to the path they have chosen to follow.

My Lords, I also add my thanks to the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, for initiating this debate, and indeed for his lifelong, strong commitment to international development. I also congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Singh of Wimbledon. He clearly brings great wisdom and experience to the work of this House, and as his maiden speech has shown today, we can look forward to many more interventions of that calibre from the noble Lord.

This is a timely opportunity to consider how best to implement international development objectives in what is, as many noble Lords have intimated, a rapidly changing and deteriorating international environment. Today, we are discussing these issues against the backdrop of faltering progress towards meeting the MDGs and in the knowledge that most of the world’s poorest countries will not meet the 2015 targets, as well as knowledge of the emerging and growing threats linked to climate change, food security, and a very disappointing record on aid.

One particular statistic has called into question whether the MDGs are actually able to reach the most marginalised, disadvantaged and hard-to-reach poor. We now know that 75 per cent of the world’s 1.3 billion poor people actually live in middle-income countries, and that in fact 20 years ago, 93 per cent of poor people lived in lower-income countries. We have seen a huge shift in that period. Does this evidence not then dictate that we need to focus more on poor people, not just on poor countries? We can tick the boxes when we use MDGs as our benchmarks, but social exclusion, environmental sustainability, and governance are just not factored in to the MDGs. The MDGs are formulated in terms of average progress, and fail to assess whether progress has been broad-based or indeed equitable. MDGs’ assessment processes tend to obscure what is happening within countries.

All the evidence shows that the most disadvantaged people—who have been referred to by many noble Lords today—are being left further and further behind. Social disparities are seriously holding back progress. With that MDG focus on aggregate progress, we will not deal with those intersecting inequalities which are so resistant to change, and when such uneven progress is being disguised by the process used by the MDGs. Meanwhile, as Ban Ki-Moon said recently,

“inequality eats away at social cohesion”.

All of this sits very well with both aspects of the debate: international development and the Dalits. The work of the Institute of Development Studies in Sussex and the Overseas Development Institute is very clear and very good indeed, and I recommend it.

In Latin America, for example, extreme poverty is much higher among indigenous and Afro-descendent populations compared with the white Latino population. The region’s poor earn only 3 per cent of the total regional income, and make up 25 per cent of the population. Remarkable progress has been made, however, by Governments in Brazil, Chile, and Malaysia.

Noble Lords have drawn attention to the plight of the Dalits, who are denied fundamental rights and opportunities. This evidence clearly makes the case for challenging discrimination which leads to entrenched poverty and indeed to terrible suffering. In Nigeria, only 4 per cent of mothers in the predominantly Muslim north-west are delivered in a health facility, compared with 73.9 per cent in the predominantly Christian south-east. In Kenya, minority ethnic groups have lower immunisation levels and higher under-fives mortality rates. A poor indigenous woman in Guatemala has one year of education compared with the national average of almost six years.

In every country and in every region, people are being denied their right to play their part in social and economic developments. This is on the basis of gender, race, ethnicity, religion, and often location—if people live far away from the capital, it is much easier for their needs to be ignored. This is systematic social, economic, and political discrimination, and leaves people literally and metaphorically at the end of the road. This calls for an expansion in developing countries of, for instance, social protection, access to decent work, minimum wages, and many other opportunities which people need if they are to see real progress.

In 2000, the millennium summit identified the need for social justice. Does the Minister agree that dealing with inequalities is the key to realising that aspiration, of which we have somehow lost sight?

Global aid budgets are critical to the achievement of the MDGs. We are obviously very clear that the achievements of this Government in getting agreement across the whole party on overseas development are extremely important, but we want some clarity on the reduction in overseas development aid. A reduction of something like £1.17 billion seems to be on the cards. That is enough to vaccinate millions of children against deadly diseases and, for example, to cover the training of midwives, who would be able to save many lives. Will the Minister give some detail on which budget lines will be affected by this reduction in funding? Bilateral programmes depend on long-term sustainable financing. Incidentally, this is a core effectiveness principle which the Government have signed up to in Busan. Will the Minister give an assurance that bilateral funding for country programmes will not be reduced?

Will the Minister perhaps also indicate whether the World Bank allocation will be reduced? In the context of the Durban conference, will he clarify whether it is the intention to take money for climate change adaptation and mitigation? Will the Government give an assurance that this will be additional money and that it is not the intention to take the necessary resources from the DfID budget? Of course, the Labour Government made a very strong commitment to 90 per cent of funding for climate change being additional funding, with 10 per cent being not additional but focused on poverty reduction. Are the Government also prepared to agree to that arrangement?

My final point is on the prospect of a commitment to the financial transaction tax—referred to by my noble friend Lord Judd—which I think it has been proven does not have to be global. The FTT is seen increasingly as not only desirable but feasible. It has been endorsed by Bill Gates, by a clutch of Nobel peace laureates, by UNICEF and the UNDP, and by many other economists and others, as well as, as the Minister knows, the Liberal Democrat manifesto before the last election. Robert Peston has recently said that an FTT,

“would improve the functioning of capitalism”.

Does the Minister agree with this view? I look forward to her response.

My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, for securing this debate and for introducing it, as ever, so cogently. As others have also said, he has an outstanding record of work in this area. Once again, the depth of experience among noble Lords has shone through. I was struck by the very wise maiden speech of the noble Lord, Lord Singh of Wimbledon, which I thoroughly enjoyed. I am sure that we all look forward very much indeed to his future contributions.

This debate—in its title, at least—spans all that the Department for International Development does and has an especial and additional focus on Dalits. In some ways, their plight serves to show up all that we should be doing: if we are not addressing the needs of the most marginal people, then what is our purpose? Underlying all this is fairness. Across the world, too many people live in conditions that are anything but fair. In sub-Saharan Africa, one child in seven does not live to see their fifth birthday simply because of unsanitary conditions and dirty water. Every year, more than 1 million children lose their mothers simply because those women did not receive adequate care during pregnancy and childbirth. Each day, 69 million children do not have the chance to go to school.

As the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Ripon and Leeds said, we know that what we are doing to help people out of poverty is right, but we also know that it is in everyone’s interest. The noble Lord, Lord Hannay, played his part in the UN high-level panel, which made very clear that particular link. If we fail to tackle the root causes of the global challenges that face us, whether they be economic instability, conflict and insecurity, climate change or migration, then we will all suffer the consequences. That is why I am very pleased that, despite our economic situation, the coalition has kept to its commitment to spend 0.7 per cent of GNI on aid from 2013. I thank noble Lords for the welcome that they have given to that commitment, as well as for the very kind words that have been expressed to me by noble Lords.

I can also assure noble Lords that, as well as meeting their promise on the quantity of British aid, the Government are determined to ensure the quality of British aid. We are doing what we can to encourage other countries to meet their promises. It is in extremely difficult circumstances that this is the case, as noble Lords will appreciate, and we are also, as referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, trying to bring in the BRIC countries. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State received a positive response when he was in China and I look forward to hearing more from him on this issue.

On the quality of aid, the coalition Government undertook the bilateral and multilateral reviews referred to by noble Lords. The noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, in particular, asked about specifics, particularly in relation to the bilateral review. All DfID’s programmes were assessed against need, effectiveness and other factors, including what was being done by other donors. DfID concluded that British aid should in future be focused on 27 countries, which together account for three-quarters of global maternal mortality, nearly three-quarters of global malaria deaths and almost two-thirds of children out of school. This tighter focus will ensure that we concentrate our efforts where the need is the greatest, increase our impact on fragile or conflict-affected states and deliver in the places where most poor people live. Aid to Russia and China has been stopped, while another 14 countries will see their existing aid programmes closed by 2016.

The noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, asked about Kosovo. I can assure him that DfID’s graduation from Kosovo will be a phased process, honouring existing commitments and exiting responsibly. After 2012, the British embassy will continue to support Kosovo and UK funding will continue through the EU and other multilateral agencies. The noble Earl will no doubt note how well the EU came out of the multilateral review, and we are very glad that the UK can continue its strong funding through that, which will support Kosovo.

In the multilateral aid review, DfID assessed 43 international funds and organisations to which the UK contributes. Nine organisations, including UNICEF and GAVI, were assessed as providing very good value for money and therefore we are increasing their funding. The noble Earl asked whether there was a particular proportion that would go between bilateral and multilateral countries. There is not a fixed proportion. In the multilateral review, four organisations were deemed to be underperforming and have been placed on special measures. We are pressing for UNESCO, the Food and Agriculture Organisation, the Commonwealth Secretariat and the International Organisation for Migration to improve their performance. Should we see no improvement when these organisations are re-assessed in 2013, the UK will reconsider its support.

I hear very much what the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, said about UNESCO, which we did indeed discuss at Question Time the other day. I have written to him on that subject and I hope that he will receive that letter shortly. We bear in mind the balance between the challenges facing UNESCO in this regard and its need to make sure that it delivers more effectively than thus far.

These are extremely difficult times for the United Kingdom. Therefore, it is even more important that people can see that the aid that they are supporting through their taxes is targeted, focused on the poorest, and makes a difference. The noble Earl is quite right that there is great public support for aid.

The noble Lord, Lord Judd, is right to flag up whether the emphasis on results puts the longer-term programmes under some question. The answer is that we are acutely aware that development is a long-term process. We are fully committed to that. The concentration on education, health, girls’ education and so on underlies that commitment, but it is also important that people can see the end-result of their aid giving so that we can ensure that we can maintain the percentage to which we have committed this Government.

No other Government thus far have managed to achieve that. I bear in mind what the noble Baroness, Lady Kinnock, said about there not being as much money available, even when we meet the 0.7 per cent, as if we had a really flourishing economy. That is enormously to be regretted, but I note what other noble Lords said about the achievement of reaching even 0.7 per cent. I pay tribute to the previous Government for helping us on that way, but this coalition Government are committed to that.

Just as DfID has scrutinised multilateral donors, it is offering itself for scrutiny because that is very important in people understanding where this money is going—hence the new Independent Commission for Aid Impact, ICAI, which published its reports recently, and DfID’s new aid transparency guarantee. The focus on results does not mean that we do not understand how development is a long-term effort.

We also know that the concentration on fragile states will not easily produce instant results, but we are acutely aware that conflict breeds poverty. No low-income, fragile country has yet achieved a single millennium development goal. I hope that I can assure the noble Baroness, Lady Kinnock, that we are making plans for after 2015. Although at the moment there is tremendous focus on trying to ensure that as many elements of those MDGs as possible can be delivered, we are looking beyond that.

We are increasing the level of funding for fragile states to 30 per cent of development aid by 2014-15, while the building stability overseas unit, which is based jointly with DfID, the Foreign Office and the Ministry of Defence, is focusing on upstream prevention. Some of the lessons learnt from the lack of development awareness in the early days in Afghanistan, for example, must surely be applied in the future, as well as some of the lessons from Iraq. For example, not destroying the infrastructure needed to support the civilian population once the initial conflict was over is one lesson that was carried through, with the building stability overseas unit emphasising that that was to be the way that things were approached in Libya.

I know that noble Lords will understand and commend DfID’s focus on women and girls, recognising that daughters, mothers and wives tend to reinvest gains in their own families and communities, completing a virtuous cycle of development. We will also invest in girls’ education. One extra year of schooling can increase a girl’s wages by 10 to 20 per cent, helping to end the transition of poverty from one generation to the next. We will maintain a particular focus on maternal health, saving the lives of 50,000 women in pregnancy and childbirth.

I hope that the noble Viscount, Lord Craigavon, will welcome the fact, as he seems to have done, that we will also give at least 10 million more girls and women access to family planning. Contraception costs less than £1 a year. The noble Viscount noted that the global population figure now stands at 7 billion, which shows how important the policy is. That cannot be overstated.

More generally, we are seeking to provide people with the means to pull themselves out of poverty. Wealth creation is the engine of long-term growth, as we have seen in parts of Asia, and so we are putting in place the conditions—land reform, better transport links, fairer legal systems and improved internet access—that we hope will encourage that development. Within DfID, a new private sector department is helping to promote this. We will redouble our efforts to open global market opportunities to developing countries, pressing the EU to do all that it can to make sure that poor countries benefit. We will continue to lobby G20 countries to provide 100 per cent duty free, quota free, market access for the least developed countries.

Where British companies invest in developing countries we will make sure that they do so in an open, transparent and accountable manner. The new Bribery Act helps to reinforce that. We strongly encourage businesses to respect human rights and the environment and we provide support for international standards, such as the OECD guidelines for multinational enterprises.

I was asked about the extractive industries. UK support for that has contributed to 11 countries reaching compliance status and 22 other candidate countries going through the validation process by September 2011. The right reverend Prelate is absolutely right that it is extremely important to look at the economic development of these countries and to make sure that that is occurring in a way that assists the population at every level, down to the bottom billion to which reference has been made, and not simply to those at the top, and that we do not concentrate simply on aid.

Good health is a basic starting point for people who are trying to lift themselves out of poverty. That, too, is an area on which we very much focus. At the moment, there is a strong emphasis on malaria in all our country programmes with a view to helping halve malaria deaths in the 10 worst affected countries. On this World AIDS Day, the British Government remain at the forefront of global efforts to tackle HIV/AIDS, on which I note that I have another debate immediately after this. Although we have made huge progress, there are still more than 34 million people living each day with HIV. Our main focus is on women and Africa where there is the highest incidence and the greatest vulnerability.

Alongside all our proactive work on governance, health, education and economic growth, we will continue to respond to humanitarian emergencies. As noble Lords know, more than 13 million people are experiencing the worst effects of the drought that has spread across the Horn of Africa. UK aid is providing much-needed support, including food, vaccinations and clear water and sanitation. Our response to humanitarian crises has also been reviewed by my noble friend Lord Ashdown—a review that has been widely welcomed internationally. The incidence and severity of natural disasters is likely to increase due to climate change. We know that the poorest and most marginal will be hit the hardest and worst. The noble Lord, Lord Judd, is absolutely right about that and it is a major focus of DfID.

Time is running short, and I want to turn now to the Dalits. Noble Lords have rightly made the point that members of the Dalit caste suffer from the most severe forms of poverty, deprivation and exclusion. Often living apart from the rest of society they routinely face discrimination in accessing basic services and are barred from undertaking certain occupations. The case of the Dalit girl mentioned by my noble friend Lord Avebury brings that graphically home to us. We have heard much about their plight from noble Lords—in particular, the noble and right reverend Prelate, Lord Harries of Pentregarth, and my noble friend Lord Avebury, who have been doughty champions of Dalits in this House in terms of those overseas and those in the United Kingdom.

Britain is committed to helping India to eradicate caste discrimination. Indeed, as noble Lords know, discrimination on the grounds of caste was abolished by the constitution of India in 1950, but we recognise that there is a long way to go. The UK regularly raises such issues with the Government of India, about which the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, asked. It was last discussed in September on a ministerial visit by my noble friend Lady Warsi.

DfID’s development programme is specifically designed to benefit the poorest and most excluded, including Dalit women and girls. We are seeking to increase the number of Dalit children, especially girls, enrolled in school. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for International Development is due to visit India shortly and plans to meet Dalit girls while he is there and seek to address how we can ensure that more of them are in school and able to see school through.

At a strategic level we are supporting civil society programmes, such as the poorest areas civil society programme and the international partnerships programme. Both are aimed at tackling discrimination, and together the two programmes should help more than 25 million excluded people.

DfID is also working with Dalit groups in Bangladesh and Nepal to help them access basic services, such as health and education. DfID Nepal is working with the Dalit NGO Federation and my honourable friend in the other place, Lynne Featherstone, visited Nepal in June this year in her capacity as champion on violence against women, and engaged with Dalit women there. The noble Earl, Lord Sandwich will remember that when we were in Nepal a few years ago through DfID, we also met Dalit groups and I certainly found that extremely informative.

I am aware that I am running out of time and have numerous questions from right across the House. My best strategy is to write to noble Lords in answer to the numerous questions raised. To conclude, as ever this has been an extremely stimulating, wide-ranging and constructive debate, which has amply demonstrated the House’s understanding of the many complex challenges which we face in our efforts to alleviate poverty and suffering across the world. We know there are major challenges facing all of us, we know we are all inter-linked and the noble Lord, Lord Singh, put that beautifully. Something happening in one area of the world will have an impact elsewhere. We know it is a challenge maintaining aid when we are in the midst of our own economic problems. We also know that, whatever those problems are, those who are the most vulnerable are those who are already at the margins—the poorest and especially the women and children among them. I know that view is shared right across the House.

My Lords, I do not want to stand in the way of another important debate, on HIV/AIDS—a very relevant and connected debate, albeit in the United Kingdom—so I will be brief.

This has been a very heartening debate because it is encouraging to know about programmes that are really working and to hear people who are sympathetic and instrumentally involved in seeing policy through. I was very encouraged by that.

It is a Cross-Bench day so I thank all the Cross-Benchers, if not for electing me, for electing the subject of the debate and also the subject of the Dalits, raised by the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, which I think strengthened the content of the debate. It is a very wide canvas and it is almost impossible to fill in all the areas. I hope that he will be recruiting from Members of the House for his new all-party group on Dalits; it will have a lot of impact on legislation here, where the Dalits are also discriminated against.

I thank the Minister for her stamina, not least because she was up late last night, as was I, and saw what was happening. She now has another debate to respond to. The 0.7 per cent target is still there. I was hoping for a fuller answer on the multilateral agencies. I am slightly alarmed to think that the IOM as well as UNESCO, mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, are on trial in some way in the aid programme, because they have such a reputation, and as he said, they need support day by day.

I must thank my noble friend Lord Singh for his maiden speech. I was a student in India years ago and the gurdwara was the place to go when you were really down and out—I remember that so well. We think in our childhood culture of the bearded as being wise. I am sure that he has always been told that he is wise, but, more than that, he is a mining engineer. We need those to give real strength to our debates.

I thank the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, who always brings up interesting subjects, and the noble Lord, Lord Judd, whom I have known for many years. I thank all your Lordships.

Motion agreed.