House of Lords
Thursday, 22 November 2012.
Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of Bath and Wells.
Children: Child Protection
To ask Her Majesty’s Government what measures they are taking to ensure that children are protected against physical and sexual abuse.
My Lords, child protection is an absolute priority for this Government, as indeed it is for all Governments. It is also a priority for the police and local authorities, who have a statutory responsibility to safeguard and promote the welfare of all children. Following the Munro review of child protection, we are supporting local agencies to free professionals from central prescription, focus on early help, develop social work expertise, strengthen accountabilities and promote learning. The Government’s child exploitation action plan also outlines a range of measures to tackle this particularly pernicious form of child abuse.
I thank the Minister for her reply. Does she agree that children who are subjected to sexual abuse and have the courage to report that abuse must always be believed and should be treated as victims? Will she further agree—perhaps she could ask the Government this—that when the nine inquiries into child abuse are completed, the Government need to have an overarching review of lessons learnt from those inquiries so that all our children will know that they have someone to go to, that they can report abuse and that they will be believed? The level of child abuse in our country at present, and in the past, is a national disgrace.
My Lords, I agree with the noble Baroness that all victims must be treated with respect and that their allegations must be taken seriously. The Prime Minister and the Home Secretary have been very clear in another place and at all opportunities when speaking recently about this issue, that anyone who is or has been a victim of abuse or has relevant information about any abuse must go to the police. As for a full review after the various investigations and inquiries are completed, my right honourable friend the Prime Minister has not ruled that out. However, we wish to wait for the outcome of the various reviews before deciding what further steps to take in light of that.
My Lords, we have appointed children’s commissioners in Wales and England. Is it not time that we reviewed their powers? It seems that at the moment all they can do is listen to the victims and write about them. They should have more powers of inspection.
My Lords, perhaps the best way of responding to my noble friend is to refer to a very powerful speech that my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Education, Michael Gove, made at the end of last week, in which he set out very clearly our great concern about child abuse. He said that although all Governments have tried hard to tackle it, the state is currently failing in its duty to protect children. He made various statements in order to provoke debate and discussion. One of the areas that he focused on was accountability, the structures that are in place and the different roles for different people. He did not refer specifically to the children’s commissioners, but I know that because he feels so strongly about this matter, as we all do, he is very open to proposals which would lead to a greater and more effective approach to dealing with child protection.
Does the Minister agree that the police are regarded as not being sufficiently effective in this area? Will she ensure that the new police and crime commissioners have this issue as a top priority?
As the noble Baroness may recall, when I recently answered a Question about the role of police and crime commissioners with regard to dealing with various different kinds of abuse, I had the opportunity to make the point that there is a clear statutory requirement on the police to ensure that they safeguard the welfare of children. This is a very important matter and a priority. Under the heading of child abuse—other noble Lords may wish to ask about this—there are things to do with child exploitation, which is a specific issue within child abuse. If that is what the noble Baroness is referring to, after the recent government review on this, CEOP has taken the lead in ensuring greater training of the police in the area of child sexual exploitation, and that is being rolled out in all police areas in the country.
My Lords, it might be worth pointing out that there are only three Questions today, so there is plenty of time left. I think it is probably the turn of the Labour Party.
My Lords, following yesterday’s report by the deputy Children’s Commissioner Sue Berelowitz, what steps will the Government take to make sure that all those who are involved in the care, education and upbringing of children are alerted to her findings about the signs of sexual abuse? They are things such as staying out late, drinking alcohol and missing school. A combination of those things may well point to the fact that a child is being abused. That information ought to be much more publicly available.
The noble Baroness makes an important point because child sexual exploitation is a specific type of child abuse. As noble Lords will be aware, this form of abuse is very pernicious because those who are affected by it often do not consider themselves to be victims of that abuse. As the noble Baroness rightly suggests, it is very important that we ensure that the relevant agencies are properly briefed and made aware of what to look for. That was a recommendation that came out of the original government action plan, which was published a year ago. We are considering carefully the report published yesterday by the deputy Children’s Commissioner, and we will look to build on the action we already have in place.
Will the Minister join me in condemning those who called yesterday’s excellent report “hysterical”? The evidence was extremely sound. Will she encourage those who inspect local authorities to ensure that if authorities do not take into account the very clear evidence about the factors which lead to a young girl being abused, they should be downgraded when they are inspected?
I am grateful for the opportunity to make it absolutely clear that the report published yesterday by the Office of the Children’s Commissioner is very important. The Government will consider it carefully and seriously, and will respond later this year. As to the point made by my noble friend about inspections, as the House may or may not be aware, Ofsted carries out inspections of local authorities as regards their provision for child protection. The noble Baroness makes an important point; namely, that inspections have to be rigorous. Certainly, in recent times, the criteria and the way in which Ofsted has carried out these inspections has been tightened. We no longer accept a level of standard that clearly was not adequate to tackle this issue.
I should like to pick up on the point made by my noble friend Lady Howe. What are the Government going to do about what appears to be the culture of the police, certainly in Rotherham and Rochdale, where girls under the age of 16 were treated as bad girls, rather than appreciating that criminal offences were being committed by these men? The girls, being under 16, were victims and were not just acting as prostitutes. It is a very serious matter that the police were not recognising criminal offences.
That is absolutely right. Forgive me if I did not respond in a way that properly acknowledged that point. If there was any ambiguity in my response, it was because, as I was trying to make clear in my response to another question, there is both child abuse and child sexual exploitation. Child sexual exploitation, to which the noble and learned Baroness referred, until fairly recently has not been properly tackled for all the reasons that she gave. In light of the review and the action plan that the Government produced just over a year ago, much more is going on in the police services to make sure that the police are properly aware and take the action that they must to tackle this serious crime.
My Lords, I listened carefully to the Minister’s answer to the noble Baroness on the Liberal Democrat Benches about the Government’s response to the Children’s Commissioner’s report. It makes extremely grim and worrying reading that thousands of children and young people have or are being sexually abused, or are at risk of sexual exploitation. I am not sure that I heard the Minister condemn the Government’s source’s response to the report as being “hysterical” and I hope that she is able to do so. Does she agree with the comments in the report that many parents feel that they are ignored, or are assumed somehow to be at fault, if their child has been sexually exploited? Parents also must be involved in the solution.
I absolutely agree with the noble Baroness that the parents of those who have been abused have an important role to play in helping us to tackle this serious crime. Certainly, the recommendations made by the Office of the Children’s Commissioner in this report will be taken very seriously. We want to address this absolutely dreadful behaviour. We certainly will, as we already are, do everything that we can to make sure that this is addressed properly.
Violence Against Women and Girls
To ask Her Majesty’s Government what support they are providing to men seeking to control their violent or abusive behaviour; and how they are supporting organisations and partner support projects that assist those men.
My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper. In doing so, I declare an interest as a joint patron of Everyman, an organisation working to overcome such violent behaviour.
My Lords, the government strategy to end violence against women and girls sets out our approach to responding to perpetrators of domestic violence and abuse. This includes: challenging attitudes and behaviours through communication campaigns; funding the Respect Phoneline, which offers support and advice to people who are violent and want help to stop; and developing intervention programmes for convicted perpetrators of domestic violence and abuse—programmes delivered in partnership with support services for victims.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply, but does she believe that the prevention programme goes far enough? Surely she will accept that prevention is fundamental to reducing domestic violence, not only for the sake of the victims and their families but for reducing the financial cost to the NHS and local authorities. That is particularly important at this time, given the estimated 31% cut in support for refuges and support services for victims, which means that more of them will have to stay with the perpetrator. The Government need to help those perpetrators with a strategic prevention plan that includes a programme of education in schools.
I agree with the noble Baroness that primary prevention is vital. That is why we are trying to change attitudes that can lead to violence against women and girls at an early age through national advertising campaigns such as those against teenage relationship abuse and teenage rape. One of those campaigns will be starting again shortly. We are also working with partners to see whether more can be done to identify and support perpetrators at an early stage and encourage them into voluntary programmes to address their behaviour. However, as I am sure that noble Lords will acknowledge, we need to input a great deal of effort when perpetrators are picked up by the criminal justice system, because, while we want to try to tackle this before anyone commits this terrible act of violence in the first place, it is just as important that as soon as a perpetrator has been identified and has gone through the criminal justice system we have a robust programme in place to deal with these men to avoid them reoffending in future.
My Lords, does the Minister agree that drugs and alcohol are often important factors in domestic violence? Is she aware of the important work of the Family Drug and Alcohol Court, pioneered by the district judge, Nicholas Crichton, at the Inner London Family Proceedings Court, in addressing the issue of family drug and alcohol abuse? Will she look with her colleagues at ensuring that the funding of these courts is sustained over time? I apologise if the Minister is not aware of this initiative, but I recommend it for her attention.
I am grateful to the noble Earl for raising that matter and I will ensure that I am fully informed about it.
My Lords, I am sure that the Minister will agree that it is important that services working with perpetrators of domestic violence are delivered with a high degree of safety. Does she therefore share a concern and recognise that well meaning but ill thought-out attempts to do this work can end up doing more harm than good? What are the Government doing to ensure that where new services are developed, they are done well and meet agreed Respect service standards for practice and accreditation?
I am grateful to the right reverend Prelate for raising this matter. He will be aware that one of the things that the Government do is fund the Respect Phoneline, which is there for perpetrators or people who are inclined to carry out these terrible acts of violence. The Government also support Respect in its role in properly accrediting the kind of voluntary programmes that are important in local areas. We would certainly encourage anyone who wishes to follow one of these programmes to ensure that it has been fully accredited by Respect.
My Lords, does the Minister accept that there is a lot of relevance to this question in the report published yesterday by the Children’s Commissioner? The perpetrators of violent crimes and abusive behaviour are predominantly male and the victims are predominantly female. Will she have a word with my noble friend Lord McNally to see how similar partnership projects could be promoted in our prison establishment to ensure that violent and abusive behaviour is tackled there?
I am sure that on another occasion my noble friend Lord McNally will respond in greater detail. As I said in response to a previous Question, as part of the offender management programme there are clear programmes to address those who have gone through the system and been convicted of these crimes.
My Lords, I hope that the Minister is on some kind of productivity bonus, given the work that she is having to do today. I have two very quick questions. First, cuts to council budgets mean that half a million streetlights are having to be turned off, leaving women feeling unsafe when they are out at night and walking home. Will the noble Baroness write to local authorities to point out the issue about streetlights and safety for women? Secondly, we know that all the elected Labour PCCs have committed to a policy of making the fight against domestic violence a central part of their planning. Will the Minister write to all the other PCCs, inviting them to do the same? We would be very happy to let her have a copy of the policy.
I am grateful to the noble Baroness for her suggestion about streetlights. That is clearly an interesting idea. I will take it away and give it further consideration. On the role of the PCCs in taking the lead to address violence against women and girls, clearly the principle behind PCCs is that they are there to decide how to prioritise strategies in their local areas. However, local campaign groups have been very effective in raising those issues with PCC candidates, and I am sure that the organisation that acts as an overall body for PCCs will want to communicate this point to them as well.
My Lords, will the Minister bear particularly in mind the work done by Judge Crichton? His work is saving a lot of people and proving a lot more successful in its operation than other methods that have been tried. It would be dreadful if it were stopped.
I will certainly take on board what my noble friend said.
Small and Medium-Sized Enterprises
To ask Her Majesty’s Government how they plan to help small and medium-sized enterprises to access sources of finance.
My Lords, the Government recently announced that they are setting up a business bank to address long-standing gaps in finance for small and medium-sized businesses. This will build on a range of measures already in place. Increasing the supply of finance to lenders through the Funding for Lending scheme will lead to lower costs for borrowers. The Enterprise Finance Guarantee scheme helps small businesses lacking a track record or collateral secure bank finance. The Enterprise Capital Funds programme provides equity funding to businesses with high growth potential.
My Lords, according to the Federation of Small Businesses, three out of four small firms rate credit availability as either poor or very poor, and four out of 10 firms are being paid later than the agreed 30-day payment period, including by the Government. What will the Government do to enforce the excellent legislation on late payment of the previous decade and ensure that small businesses get their money back? Welcome as the announcement of the British business bank is, does the Minister recognise the failure of the regional growth fund, which was supposedly designed to help small businesses but was panned recently in the House of Commons by the PAC? When will the Government deal with small business as big business on the road to growth and to restoring the economy?
The word is “restoring” the economy. We have inherited a significant problem—I am talking about the previous Government—and we need to be careful not to get too political. Small business is at the heart of what we are trying to do. On a serious note, it is clear to me that all of us in this House want to achieve dynamism in the small business community. In fact, I am extremely grateful for the noble Lord’s Question because today we have published Best-Practice Guideline: SME Finance which sets out ways and options available relating to this critical subject. I do not want to go on too long, but there is a lack of confidence in business that banks will give finance. The banks have to look at themselves and consider that they are turning the screws on successful businesses too tightly and government have to work hard with them to make sure they get the finance.
Does the Minister agree that we need to continue with increasing competition within banking in the country, have greater transparency and more locally focused initiatives to lend to SMEs, as happens in the USA and Germany, for example?
Transparency in banking and increasing its scope and width by setting up new banks is absolutely fundamental to getting competitiveness into the banking system, which does not look very competitive at the moment. We have a range of schemes—I could go on forever. I will start with the enterprise capital fund, because it was started by the previous Government, which shows that all Governments are active. We have put another £200 million into it recently. We have the regional growth fund, with £1.4 billion, which will help small businesses in the regions, which I think is the noble Lord’s interest. There are many initiatives which I am happy to be questioned about.
My Lords, does the Minister accept that invoice discounting and factoring have a far greater part to play in funding small businesses, in particular in dealing with cash-flow problems?
The noble Lord is absolutely right, but getting access to factoring is much more difficult. Obviously, it smoothes the cash flow that is so critical for businesses. The noble Lord shows a great deal of knowledge in that area.
My Lords, the EIS has raised some £10 billion of risk equity capital for small business and been a great success. I declare an interest as chairman of the EIS Association. Is the Minister aware that a combination of the RDR reforms, which will greatly reduce the number of intermediary financial advisers, and the new FSA initiative to limit the marketing of most forms of EIS funds to professional investors only, is likely to considerably reduce the flow of risk capital for small businesses under the EIS scheme?
There are elements of give and take in that particular area. The EIS scheme is extremely beneficial. We have raised the limits of tax relief for that scheme—which is the “give”. The “take” is that the Government are concerned that it does not attract unsophisticated investors. It is important that investors are clear about the risk that EIS-registered companies have. After all, most are start-up and new businesses, which have an element of risk. So there is an element of give and take.
My Lords, after two and a half years and half a Parliament, it is about time that this Government started taking responsibility for their actions and stop blaming others for the consequences of their own shambles. However, when will this Government understand that announcing convoluted schemes every few weeks is not the primary way to help SMEs to recover? What will help businesses recover is creating an atmosphere of confidence. That will be created by increasing demand, and demand will be increased by moving from a policy of ever-tightening austerity into one of strategic economic growth.
If I may say so, that is a rather disappointing question from someone with so much expertise in business. We all know that the heart of the problem is the banking crisis. That was not caused on our watch, so we are perfectly entitled to look in the rear view mirror and say that it was not our fault. I do not think there is any lack of entitlement there. We have to get finance into the market, but what is much more important is that we have to be outward looking and developing trade. That is what the Government are doing and, my goodness, I have been to some countries over the past few years that have not had a labour trade Minister for years. That is why the Government are committed to expanding exports, helping SMEs and helping big companies to act as mothers to smaller companies in an export drive that is going to be fundamental to our growth.
My Lords, credit unions in the poorest of our communities have an excellent record of helping redundant workers start up and become self-employed. Will the Government encourage the credit unions in this country?
The noble Lord makes an excellent point. Of course the credit unions have a vital role to play, as does, funnily enough, anyone who is prepared to extend credit or lend money. As the noble Lord says, they do an incredibly valuable job in the slightly distressed regions.
My Lords, what does my noble friend think of the suggestion made by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham, soon to be the next Archbishop of Canterbury, who is on the parliamentary banking commission, that we should create a number of small banks by breaking up the big ones and increase competition in that way?
I am not going to prejudge the final report on that issue. I have some private views on it, with a view on the Church of England being one of them, but I will not go into those now.
Procedure of the House
Motion to Agree
That the 2nd Report from the Select Committee (HL Paper 54) be agreed to.
That Baroness Seccombe be appointed a member of the Select Committee in place of Lord Feldman, resigned.
Draft Care and Support Bill
Motion to Agree
That the Commons message of 20 November be considered and that a Committee of six Lords be appointed to join with the Committee appointed by the Commons to consider and report on the draft Care and Support Bill presented to both Houses on 11 July (Cm 8386) and that the Committee should report on the draft Bill by 7 March 2013;
That, as proposed by the Committee of Selection, the following members be appointed to the Committee: B Eaton, B Greengross, B Jolly, L Mackay of Clashfern, B Pitkeathley, L Warner;
That the Committee have power to agree with the Committee appointed by the Commons in the appointment of a Chairman;
That the Committee have power to send for persons, papers and records;
That the Committee have power to appoint specialist advisers;
That the Committee have leave to report from time to time;
That the Committee have power to adjourn from place to place within the United Kingdom;
That the reports of the Committee from time to time shall be printed, regardless of any adjournment of the House; and
That the evidence taken by the Committee shall, if the Committee so wishes, be published.
Motion agreed, and a message was sent to the Commons.
Millennium Development Goals
Motion to Take Note
That this House takes note of progress towards the successor framework to the Millennium Development Goals.
My Lords, I was delighted when I learnt that I had been successful in the ballot for today’s debate. It is a pleasure to see that my noble friend Lord Ahmad will respond for the Government today, and I am sure he will continue his excellent start on the Front Bench with his new portfolio. I tabled this Motion after receiving in March and April of this year two very disappointing answers to my Written Questions to DfID on our Government’s plans for engagement with the public, the private sector and here in Parliament on the shape and elements of the successor framework for the millennium development goals. The ministerial replies I received indicated that there were no plans to provide either House with an opportunity to debate this critical issue. Surely, on something as important as the millennium development goals, where the Prime Minister has a unique contribution to make on our behalf as co-chairman of the UN High Level Panel of Eminent Persons on the Post-2015 Development Agenda, and with Britain having the presidency of the G8 next year, the Government should not have had to be dragged to the Dispatch Box through a balloted debate. Parliamentary time should have been made available. The large number of noble Lords who are to follow my own remarks today show the necessity for the Government to do so. I hope that the Minister will reassure me that this will be the case.
I believe that the post-2015 goals require a redefinition of “development”. Development is about more than simply reducing poverty. At its centrepiece is the fight against corruption, the support of political and civil liberties, especially but not only for women, and access to public health for all—health that enfolds all diseases. The UK’s leadership on development should seek to strengthen the inclusion of values that we strongly support, such as the fundamental freedoms, rule of law and free market, and it must include a clear analysis of the distinctive nature of fragile and conflict-affected states. Unique targets for and within such affected populations are required in any post-2015 framework.
In the run up to 2015, we can rightly celebrate a number of successes brought about by the millennium development goals. They have taken development to the top of the global agenda. The target for halving the population of the world whose income is less than $1.25 a day has been achieved—a core goal in the overall UN strategy of poverty reduction in every country. The millennium development goals are also simple and easy to understand, communicate in every language and promote worldwide. However, these tangible successes must not divert us from the harder tasks ahead. Millennium development goal failings include the vast disparity between countries and the different goals in achieving the targets set. There is a growing cluster of countries that are being left behind. The millennium development goals were set by donors with little if any local involvement. This time round we must enshrine goals that respond to the demands, and meet the concerns, of the people we seek to support. What do these populations require? Overwhelmingly, they seek the fundamental freedoms: democracy, the rule of law, the development of the private sector, an effective fight against corruption and to lead their lives in an environment of peace and stability. In this light, I suggest that the narrow prism of development—as defined by the MDGs—is less than adequate for the tasks in hand.
This may be why a lopsided focus on certain development issues has emerged from the implementation of the MDGs so far. For example, the great expansion of global health institutions, such as the Gates Foundation, the GAVI Alliance—formerly the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation—and the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, has been highly valuable, helping countless millions in extreme need to achieve freedom from pain and suffering. However, the near-messianic focus of these new and powerfully funded global health institutions on single diseases or single health tools—such as immunisation—has pushed aside the World Health Organisation’s topmost priority of access to affordable public health provision, both preventive and curative, for all humanity.
These fast-forwarding, vertical health interventions have not only drained funding from the World Health Organisation’s Health For All campaign, but it has also weakened and hollowed out local capacity to plan, administer and deliver public health on a continuing and sustainable base to local populations. This core weakness of the MDGs affects the global topmost priority of health. Primary health should become as strong a goal as primary education. Nor do the MDGs’ overall statistical analysis on health, as understood through DfID’s expenditure, highlight the health needs of acutely underserved populations in continuing complex emergencies, who are perhaps the neediest of all. The new framework for the MDGs should address these issues rigorously.
I turn to the millennium development goal for primary education. The Government have mentioned in the other place that the MDGs’ focus on quantitative results has skewed incentives, such as measuring school attendance rates rather than the quality of education actually received by those who attend school. Interestingly, the Independent Commission for Aid Impact has criticised DfID for that in two recent reports on its educational programmes in Rwanda, Tanzania, Ethiopia and Nigeria.
I see four major gaps in the MDGs that need to be resolved in any successor framework: the fundamental freedoms, development of democracy, rule of law, development of the private sector and fight against corruption. I turn first to the fundamental freedoms and development of democracy. Our long-term aim in providing development assistance is to support the advance of a prosperous, well governed, democratic and stable polity that includes all its citizens equally in development. If that is the case, development cannot only be about poverty reduction. The problem is that the MDGs define development need through a poverty reduction lens, excluding such factors as human rights and corruption. In UK thinking, such neglect is accentuated by the lack of political economy analysis in our development policy, and because the FCO leads on human rights policy but not on all the related issues. This has resulted in a DfID development policy led by the MDGs that does not require the acquisition of a political understanding of the contexts in which it works. The lack of human rights in the MDG agenda needs to be rectified. Other national development agencies, such as Germany’s, have recognised the clear synergies between development and human rights, and development and democracy promotion. We are yet to set out a similar approach in the UK, leading to obvious concerns about their place in any post-2015 development framework. Will the Minister indicate in what way the Government intend to ensure that human rights will be central to any post-2015 framework?
A focus on the fundamental freedoms and the development of democracy highlights a more nuanced perspective of development need. Until now, the MDG agenda has focused largely on sub-Saharan Africa while neglecting areas such as the Middle East and North Africa. This is surprising, since the Middle East and North Africa suffers from structural violence, acute political repression and a severe lack of civil liberties, making it profoundly poor in terms of rights. The MDGs’ lack of focus on MENA arises from their privileging of material poverty over social and political change. Furthermore, despite the G8’s Deauville declaration in May 2011 that the Arab spring’s political movements,
“are historic and have the potential to open the door to the kind of transformation that occurred in Central and Eastern Europe after the fall of the Berlin Wall”,
such rhetoric has not been fulfilled with the action and funding appropriate to the scale of transformation identified. Is it surprising that such glowing forecasts have not come to pass and show scant signs of doing so?
In the UK, DfID and the FCO have agreed to work together on a £110 million Arab partnership initiative from 2011-12 to 2014-15. In effect, we are providing across MENA, over a period of four years, a level of funding that is about one-third of what Ethiopia received in 2011-12, even though this funding is for a political and social transformation that we believe is on a par with the fall of the Berlin Wall. Frankly, that is nonsensical and underlines the lack of consideration that the MDGs provide toward human rights, political and civil liberties, and confronting deep-seated political, social and economic forces that support corrupt, deeply unequal and repressive states. A focus on poverty based only on income and on delivery of social services enables the sidestepping of such fundamentally challenging issues at the expense of the people who experience them.
I turn to the rule of law, particularly in fragile and conflict-affected states. The increasing stress on the need for poverty reduction on security grounds has been a pillar of the work of DfID and of many other aid agencies since 9/11. This rests to a significant extent on the work of Paul Collier, who has argued that:
“War retards development, but conversely, development retards war”.
This belief leads directly to DfID’s identification of 21 out of 28 priority countries as fragile and conflict-affected. DfID says this is to capture the multidimensional nature of fragility. I am not denying that it is multidimensional, but I believe that the concept is being stretched for the purpose of justifying poverty reduction on security grounds. This surely provides an exceptionally weak foundation, as the major body of evidence from the field shows that it is misleading to argue conflict is development in reverse. Perhaps surprisingly, human conflict has often been the engine of development and not the obverse. Nor does it fully capture the range of factors and dynamics driving poverty and insecurity, which I would identify as corruption, heavy discrimination against different faiths, the enforced lack of freedom of association, and the lack of employment and commercial opportunities to generate entrepreneurship and private sector growth, and other matters. Surely we can all agree that these fragile and conflict-afflicted states are in a special category of concern, and that each population requires tailored and not template solutions. In his reply, can the Minister identify how the Government will incorporate conflict and security, particularly human and personal security, into the post-2015 framework?
On the development of the private sector, it is almost impossible without huge oil reserves to become a middle-income country without an industrial or manufacturing sector, particularly as this is where jobs and futures are created. Yet the MDGs do not even mention the private sector and most development work, ours included, focuses on small-scale initiatives, which do not add up to a growth strategy. I would very much welcome the Minister indicating whether the Government are working to include in the post-2015 framework words such as “industrialise” or “exports”, instead of what the Prime Minister highlighted in his recent Wall Street Journal op-ed, as the way to unleash the dynamism of developing economies. He said that it was,
“enabling farmers to access price information by mobile phone”.
While that is undoubtedly helpful, it is not a growth strategy that will lead to full-scale and long-term development. Can the Minister indicate whether the Government are considering how to integrate major trade preferences for developing economies into the post-2015 framework? Are they considering how to facilitate, rather than impede, migration, which has been shown to have positive development implications? After all, ODA is dwarfed every year by foreign direct investment and remittances. The post-2015 framework must harness and work with these financial flows.
On the fight against corruption, last year’s World Development Report made it clear that institutional legitimacy is the key to stability, while corruption has the doubly pernicious impacts of fuelling grievances and undermining the effectiveness of national institutions. Without comprehensive anti-corruption reforms, neither the long-term nor the immediate goals of development will be met. In his op-ed, the Prime Minister highlighted this point by mentioning corrupt elites and multi-national companies’ transparency but without putting any meat on the bones of how he intends to frame a post-2015 goal against such elites. Can the Minister suggest how the Government propose to develop a serious fight against corruption at all levels within the new MDG framework?
Finally, the four core pillars that I have identified require a broadly conceived post-2015 framework, where development does not solely mean poverty reduction but a redefined development of prosperity and freedom. I have raised many issues that have traditionally not spanned the majority of our development work on the ground. These involve the Foreign Office, UKTI and the British Council, among many more. It is essential that once the Government have developed our position towards the post-2015 framework, which will utilise large sums of UK taxpayers’ money and materially affect billions of people in the decades following 2015, that both Houses have the opportunity to debate this position. I look for a commitment from the Minister on this. It also indicates that we should begin a discussion here in Parliament on how best our ministries, agencies, and government-supported organisations should be shaped and led for the grave challenges that lie ahead for the rich and poor alike. I beg to move.
My Lords, it is a privilege to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Nicholson, and I pay tribute to way in which she has introduced the debate. I pay tribute to her work and understanding of these very important issues. She provided a comprehensive introduction. I support her call for greater time to be made available to debate these important issues. I hope that that message has been heard on the Front Bench and among the business managers. Perhaps there might even be a case for the Chairman of Committees looking at a special ad hoc Select Committee to look at the millennium development goals, supporting the work of the Prime Minister and the high-level panel, because of the wealth of expertise which exists in this House on this subject.
I will focus on one issue that the noble Baroness has already referred to: conflict and development. One of the elements that I have always found disappointing about the millennium development goals is that within the eight goals, within the 21 targets, within the 60 indicators, there is not one single mention of conflict prevention, or the essential condition of peace which precedes development in any country. Not a single low-income or fragile, conflict-affected country has yet achieved a single millennium development goal. Nine of the 10 poorest countries in the world are fragile states. It has been estimated that a civil war can cost 30 years of GDP growth in its impact on the economy. The noble Baroness mentioned Paul Collier who is highly esteemed in these areas and who said that war was “development in reverse”. One and a half billion people live in conflict-affected states: 60% of the refugee flows which are a prime cause of poverty are attributed to people fleeing violence. It is therefore essential that conflict prevention should be at the heart of the successor regime to the millennium development goals. I pay tribute to the Government for the way they are approaching this. They have led with documents such as the excellent Building Stability Overseas Strategy which shaped a cross-departmental approach to these issues and they have enhanced the Conflict Pool for conflict prevention. Prevention is always more cost-effective than intervention. If we have learnt anything over the past 10 years, we have surely learnt that by now. The expansion of the Conflict Pool up to £300 million in 2014 is very welcome indeed. Peace is the essential building block from which all else follows.
The millennium development goals were of their time. When they were conceived at the G7 conference—as it was then—in Cologne in 1999, the world was a very different place. It was a time of heady optimism between the fall of the Berlin Wall and the tragic terrorist attacks which occurred on 11 September and which slammed the door shut on a very optimistic view of how the world could develop going forward. I urge the Minister to feed back to the Prime Minister and to other departments that we do not just need to tweak the millennium development goals. They were of a time and of a place and we missed that opportunity because the successor to the Cologne agreement was the Monterrey development finance commitment where people said they would put up the money to make sure that the development goals were brought into reality. That has not happened and I am delighted that this Government, even in the toughest of economic times, are actually going to make good on that commitment by 2013. This gives tremendous credibility to the Prime Minister in advancing this case on the millennium development goals with colleagues at the G8.
Once we have peace and security and the aid and development are coming in, we must remember that the reason why most people have been lifted out of poverty over the past 10 years has not been as a result of any of that. It has been a result of the growth and dynamism of economies such as China and India. China has lifted more people out of poverty than any other nation in history. We need to remember the centrality of trade: trade liberalisation has been part of the drive for development. It is trade and it is aid, but it is all built on peace.
My Lords, I also thank the noble Baroness for initiating this very timely debate and for her wise words during her speech. In the MDGs, we have a common, agreed agenda. It is time-bound and measurable and includes priorities which have multiplier effects in other areas. Our obligation now, and post-2015, is to provide continuing leadership and partnership with developing countries on, for instance, child and maternal health, nutrition, education and gender rights. A huge amount is now at stake and we must work to accelerate progress towards meeting the MDG objectives before 2015. The framework we have had since 2000 has helped to raise global awareness of the interrelated and multi-dimensional nature of poverty. In addition, and importantly, MDGs have made the development process more understandable by both the public and policymakers. They are goals drawn up by 187-odd heads of state, so it was a challenging time. A global willingness to do more after 2015 will depend on the judgments that will inevitably be made about the MDGs’ achievements—essentially, a future framework will have to deal with the MDGs’ unfinished business.
Regrettably, the promise offered by the millennium declaration in 2000, which preceded the MDGs, has not been met. This declaration promised freedom, solidarity, equality, tolerance, the right to development and human rights, and that this would be for everyone. Together, these objectives spell out a firm commitment to social justice as the guiding spirit of the millennium declaration. However, that promise was lost in translation when the eight MDGs with targets and indicators were drawn up. Now we see clearly that the failure to retain an explicit commitment to equality has led to uneven progress and the persistence of inequalities and social exclusion. These omissions must be the major focus of efforts to devise a post-2015 programme.
In addition, the use of national averages to measure progress has meant that efforts have not been able to focus on the hard-to-reach poor, who are excluded because of ethnicity, disability, gender or location. We know that national ownership and leadership make the real difference and post-2015 these will absolutely have to be in place. The MDGs were primarily top-down; they were negotiated behind closed doors and then pushed through the General Assembly. A new post-2015 agenda must be grounded in human rights, reducing inequality and ensuring environmental sustainability, and the process has to be inclusive. It must be drawn up after a rigorous process of consultation and commitment to the concept of genuine partnership.
The challenges post-2015 are formidable but doable, and we can then hope for a green, inclusive and equitable world. Twenty years ago, more than 90% of the world’s poorest people lived in low-income countries; now 75% of the world’s poorest people live in middle-income countries. There is now a new geography of poverty, which will pose great problems in the discussions on the post-2015 arrangements. What we need to know, and to respond to, is how to deal with people who are systematically excluded and marginalised because of their social identities. We can tick the boxes when we use MDGs as our benchmarks, but social exclusion and environmental sustainability are not factored in and we must work out how these essential issues can be tackled.
As we look at the impact of the MDGs, it is also important to take into account the very different political and economic context of the post-2015 framework, as has been mentioned. A very important question is whether the UK is calling for data disaggregated by gender, disability and age. One of the problems we face is that we are unable to make those assessments. For instance, will there be an investment in ensuring that Governments in developing countries have the statistical support that they will need to provide these data?
Whatever else we do after 2015 we should not lose sight of working to meet the unmet promises of the MDGs, but we should also adopt an uncompromising position on finishing the job. In the months and years ahead, we must avoid a sort of Christmas tree approach, where we have a declaration haphazardly overloaded with goods like ornaments festooning the branches of the tree. We must stick with health outcomes such as child and maternal mortality, as well as literacy, respect of civic and political rights, a minimum of income as everyone’s right, meaningful employment, and goals that must survive after 2015. Global environmental sustainability also has to be a priority. This is a challenging list but one that, with political will, we can achieve.
My Lords, I, too, congratulate my noble friend Lady Nicholson on an illuminating speech—I look towards her so that she can hear what I am saying. I also congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Kinnock, on her contribution, which I think I can build on.
There has been, I think, almost universal agreement that the MDGs have been successful in reaching most of the world’s poor. Sadly and frustratingly, they have not reached the world’s most poor. Forty per cent of the populations living in fragile states are living below the poverty threshold of $1.25 a day. A third of the world’s poorest live in the 45 states identified as fragile by the OECD. Not a single fragile state has met any of the MDGs.
World Vision argues that a new set of goals must first correct the development deficit in fragile states if global initiatives are going to address the root causes of poverty. They point out that, within fragile states, women and children suffer most from the lack of progress in the MDGs, with fragility being the key driver of the high death rates for preventable illnesses.
World Health Organisation statistics show that 14 out of the l5 countries with the highest neonatal mortality rates have recently experienced, or are in the midst of, a civil conflict. A child born in a fragile state is twice as likely to die before their fifth birthday as one born in a stable, low-income state. They are five times more likely to die before their fifth birthday than a child born in a middle-income country. On average in a fragile state, 140 children die per 1,000 live births.
World Vision has pushed for a reduction in child and maternal mortality, MDGs 4 and 5, through its Child Health Now campaign. The United Kingdom has focused its efforts on securing a major push on MDGs concerning women and children’s health. More than a third of a million women have died during pregnancy or childbirth in the past year.
A number of strategies are being promoted to keep health high on the agenda post-2015. Save the Children, another well known charity, points out that there is a need to build on the health MDGs by first addressing their shortfalls. For example, the MDGs are aggregate targets and mask inequity within countries. The majority of MDGs could be achieved statistically by targeting only the “low hanging fruit”, the easy targets, without changing the situation of the poorest, the most vulnerable and the most isolated. The post-2015 agenda needs to ensure that health gains are further accelerated and sustained, with public health systems sufficiently invested domestically and through donors to serve the health needs of whole populations.
Our Prime Minister is now appointed to co-chair the high-level panel charged by the United Nations with addressing the post-2015 provision. He is in a prime position to lead the debate. We need the Prime Minister to ensure a specific focus on fragile contexts in the post-2015 framework in ways that draw on the principles of the new deal for fragile states, launched at the high-level forum at Busan, which builds on goals for peace-building and state-building.
In the post-2015 framework, we need to know what the thinking is about introducing overarching goals for health. How can the post-2015 development agenda both build on the successes and address the shortfalls of the health MDGs? What indicators would encourage a greater focus on equity and on reaching the poorest and most marginalised populations? Probably the most glaring omission from the MDGs has been a governance goal—the lack of a mechanism allowing citizens to hold Governments to account on the selection of development projects and the distribution of aid in health, education and so on, in their communities.
At the fourth high-level forum on aid effectiveness in Busan in December last year, a global partnership for effective development co-operation was unanimously agreed. It created a new partnership that is broader and more inclusive than ever before, founded on shared principles, common goals and commitments for effective international development. The post-Busan co-ordinating committee, of which our Secretary of State for International Development is a co-chair, is charged with developing global indicators for aid effectiveness. One of the most important is that dealing with ownership, results and accountability.
For the first time, Parliaments and local governments are recognised as playing critical roles in linking citizens with government and in ensuring broad-based and democratic ownership of countries’ development processes. This is the forerunner of a “governance goal”, with the target of accelerating and deepening the implementation of existing commitments and strengthening the role of Parliaments in the oversight of development processes, including by supporting capacity development, backed by adequate resources and clear, defined action plans.
My Lords, I too would like to congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Nicholson, on securing this debate and on the comprehensive and wide-ranging way in which she introduced it. I also apologise that I was caught out by there not being a fourth Question today so I missed the first minute or two of her speech.
Discussion of the framework that should take the place of the MDGs when they run out in 2015 is now in full swing and it is good that the House of Lords should have an opportunity to put its two penn’orth in. I declare my interest as president of the International Council for Education of People with Visual Impairment, an organisation which is not very snappily named but at least has the merits of doing what its says on the tin—promoting the education of children and young people with visual impairment. As such, we have a clear interest in what the post-2015 framework has to say about both disability and education.
There is now a widespread sense that it needs a stronger focus on the needs of the most vulnerable and marginalised and in this I very much echo what the noble Lord, Lord Chidgey, said. The word “disability” does not feature anywhere in the millennium development goals. Disability may have been perceived as a niche issue at the time, but we now know that disability is both a cause and a consequence of poverty. Disabled people make up 15% of the world’s population, yet it is estimated that 20% of the world’s poorest people are disabled.
While overall progress against the millennium development goals is being made, the most vulnerable are being left behind. According to the World Report on Disability, there are an estimated 1 billion people with disabilities across the globe. They face barriers to participation in society, such as in accessing development programmes and funds, education, employment, healthcare, communication and transport. People with disabilities and their families—80% of whom live in developing countries—are over-represented among those living in absolute poverty.
Furthermore, people with disabilities are particularly at risk from the effects of climate change, such as natural disasters and food insecurity. They are also more vulnerable in situations of conflict. They face discrimination on multiple levels yet remain absent in the implementation, monitoring and evaluation of MDGs. This has been compounded by a lack of reliable statistics on people with disabilities.
The International Disability Alliance and the International Disability and Development Consortium have jointly developed recommendations for a more equitable and inclusive post-2015 agenda for people with disabilities. They say that the new framework,
“must enable a focus on the poorest, most marginalised groups, such as persons with disabilities, ensuring … full and effective participation for persons with disabilities”,
and their representative organisations at all stages of the process. Any new global partnerships and international co-operation efforts must be driven by a human rights approach and be compliant with the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, including all projects and programmes, whether mainstream or disability specific, with equality and non-discrimination as priority themes. There should be a stand-alone goal on equality and non-discrimination, as well as the obligation to pursue these principles right across the new framework. All goals should be inclusive of persons with disabilities and measures of progress should be disaggregated to show impact on, and inclusion of, persons with disabilities within each goal. The current understanding and definition of poverty, progress and development should be revised to go beyond the most basic data of income, consumption and wealth.
I have not left myself much time to say why it is crucial for education to remain central to the post-2015 framework. However, education has been shown to be one of the most effective means of increasing the health, wealth and stability of nations. Now is not the time to move on from the focus of the education for all goals. The latest figures from UNESCO show that progress has stalled—more than 60 million children of primary school age remain out of school. Many young people lack even basic foundation skills. Around 775 million adults remain illiterate—two-thirds of them are women, which is only 12% down on the 1990 figure. Global inequality in learning outcomes remains stark. MDG2, like some of the other existing goals, has suffered from a lack of specific focus on reaching the most vulnerable and marginalised. Without needing to report progress in a disaggregated way across different sections of society, it was perhaps inevitable that people would focus on the lowest hanging fruit, the easiest to reach in the quest for results. Groups such as children with disabilities, being some of the hardest to reach, have thus been left behind. UNESCO estimates that a third of all children of primary school age who are not in school have a disability, and being disabled more than doubles the chance of a child never enrolling in school in some countries.
The Global Campaign for Education has made the following recommendations for education with a new framework: first, that there continues to be a central focus on the basic right to free universal and compulsory education; secondly, that the education provided in all countries is of high quality and that the children achieve learning outcomes relevant to their lives; thirdly, that education and learning are equitable and inclusive and that no population group is excluded from education or given substandard educational provision; fourthly, that there is a global recognition of the importance of a professionalised, properly qualified and supported teaching profession in order to achieve education for all; and, finally, that systems are developed effectively to monitor goals and targets and that the importance of accurate data collection is fully recognised as a means of ensuring equitable progress.
My Lords, it is a privilege to follow the noble Lord, Lord Low, and I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Nicholson, for achieving this debate. My friend, the Archbishop of Central Africa, Albert Charma, notes:
“The success of the MDG project is best witnessed through the eyes of a woman who can finally escape an abusive relationship because through her involvement in a microfinance project she can provide for herself and her children. It can be viewed also through the eyes of an orphaned child, who does not have to go to bed hungry and who can also attend school regularly”.
Success is about individual lives being transformed. The impact of the MDGs cannot be captured by statistical trends alone; context is everything. From the perspective of the Church of England, the development goals have provided a broad narrative from which we have been able to frame development. They have animated our networks and our relationships around the Anglican Communion and, on a day-by-day basis, our diocese networks and mission agencies have used the MDGs to mobilise parishes and clergy on global issues. They have also been taken up by our schools. Those most affected and likely to affect the future are taking part in the concerns of these goals.
Further, the MDGs have become a meeting place for faith communities, both here in the United Kingdom and elsewhere, to come together to campaign for the global common good and to share best practice. This is a very positive approach. It is an educational approach that has caught the mind and the public’s imagination and we should commend it. Of course, like other speakers before me, I am very conscious of the fact that the millennium development goals, as has already been pointed out by the noble Lord, Lord Chidgey, have not impacted as well as they might on the poorest in the world. Nevertheless, there has been an extraordinary achievement in the period of time that we have undertaken them.
We are now looking forward to the post-2015 reality. We have recognised that the MDG process has sharpened political attention and public engagement with poverty reduction efforts. That is something that many of us have longed for over many years. I am absolutely sure that the post-MDG agenda should not be defined by a group of people who regard themselves as experts or technocrats. We do not need a donor-centric model. We have to work to something that enables and empowers right across the board. I believe that the consultation process regarding the post-2015 reality needs to be generally universal in nature. We should not be limiting this to low-income countries, nor simply to sub-Saharan Africa. We need to think more broadly than that. It is important, however, to retain a target-based approach post-2015 and it is always true that when targets are inspiring, clear and measurable, we get the best results. They need to be few in number but clear.
I was very grateful for the words of the noble Lord, Lord Bates, earlier in the debate for, like him, I believe that a key element of the future must be a commitment to peacebuilding through disarmament. We have only to look at the realities of our world today to see the impact of indiscriminate arms and the continual build-up and maintenance of weapons which we no longer need for the future of humanity.
I have already referred to my belief that we need to challenge the existing donor-centric model of development. We need a new timeframe in order to accomplish the major transformations that we envisage. We need to return to the millennium declaration and see it as something that was, as it were, setting out before us a wider vision. The millennium development goals show that a set of clear and measurable targets can be a driver of transformative change. Of course, the world will not achieve all the MDGs, but they have galvanised all sorts of people around the world and all sorts of political persuasions have been empowered to think differently. A target-based approach to 2015 ought therefore to be retained and it is important to remember that targets work best, as I have said, when they are clear and ambitious but feasible and, above all, measurable.
My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Baroness, Lady Nicholson, for the comprehensive way in which she initiated this interesting debate. Despite the huge progress that has been made through the MDGs, hundreds of millions of people will still remain in desperate poverty after 2015. However, I am delighted that the Prime Minister’s role on the UN high-level panel will bring Britain’s first-class development expertise to bear in working with others to help shape the world’s future efforts.
The MDGs have shaped the world’s approach to international development for a generation, helping to put millions of children into school and save countless lives. They have focused international and country efforts on poverty eradication and have prompted an alignment of donor aid policies, giving time-bound and credible goals and targets for the world to achieve. We now know far more about the critical role that economic growth, trade, tackling corruption, effective government and open societies play in creating wealth and unlocking the potential of the poorest countries. Technology advancements that we could not have dreamt of even a few years ago are making it easier for Governments, business and society to share information. They are enabling citizens to use that information both to hold decision-makers to account and to make more informed choices in their daily lives. From understanding prices before you go to market to mobile phone banking technology and access to information, technology is driving transformational change.
It is also encouraging that the members of the high-level panel have a programme which involves listening to many more voices before setting out their ambitious new agenda for ending poverty in the years beyond 2015. In that context of listening, I would like to include a few remarks about young people and their role in this debate. Half the world’s population is under 25. Young people are the largest demographic bar none in relation to all facets of poverty. Indeed, young people are disproportionately affected by poverty across all indicators: 87% of young people live in the developing world and, globally, one-third of 15 to 24 year-olds currently live on less than $2 a day.
As we start to think about the successor framework to the MDGs, we must start to look at young people in a different way. They can no longer be viewed simply as beneficiaries of a new tranche of development assistance—still less as the problem. We must instead look at them as partners and leaders in the design and implementation of a new set of goals. The recent meeting here in London of the UN’s high-level panel included, for the first time in history, a session entirely dedicated to a dialogue with young people. The charity Restless Development, of which I am a patron, convened 23 young people from developing countries to come to share their ideas and thoughts on what should replace the MDGs after 2015.
Young people are a diverse demographic, affected differently by all the issues that the MDGs are targeting. However, they are all products of the MDG generation. There is no sense in discussing a future development framework without recognising the role that they can and must play as assets and problem-solvers.
I was present at a meeting last week hosted by the Conservative Friends of International Development, which I co-chair, and the ONE campaign, at which Justine Greening and Bob Geldof spoke. He reminded us of the conversation that he had in the 1980s with Margaret Thatcher, who told him that no one would have remembered the Good Samaritan if he had had only good intentions—he had money as well. This opinion, however harsh, contains a fundamental truth: it is difficult to make good on a promise to make someone’s life better if you do not have the resources to do so.
The intention of these goals is to ensure that billions of people across the world enjoy a better life by setting targets in health, education and so on that all countries should meet. Some countries will need those that have resources, like the Good Samaritan, to cross the road to assist them.
To many people in poor countries, the value of aid is obvious: at its most basic, such as through the supply of food or water, lives are saved. A more sophisticated use of aid, such as improving literacy and developing legal systems that underpin the rule of law, can foster economic opportunities. This creates not only a better life for those who receive it but business opportunities for companies from donor nations.
However, the current debate about the value of development aid is justified. No country wants to, or should, become dependent on the generosity of others. Aid should not be an alternative or a barrier to self-sufficiency, but a facilitator of it. What is certain is that the debate about aid needs to mature, so that we can have a serious discussion about how best to create new, stable trading partners that in turn can create opportunities and jobs in both emerging and donor countries.
There is a moral obligation to ensure that we support countries in their development, but there is also an economic interest. It is worth remembering that the Good Samaritan also benefited by crossing the road to help. He created the chance to work and trade with the person whom he assisted.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Jenkin of Kennington. In her emphasis on engaging young people in the shaping of the framework for the development goals beyond 2015, she makes an important contribution to our debate. I am delighted to thank the noble Baroness, Lady Nicholson of Winterbourne, for introducing this timely and important topic. I congratulate her on achieving this debate and, if I may say so, on making a characteristically clear and well argued introductory speech. As with others, I hope that she will forgive me if, in supporting the observation and arguments that she made, I concentrate on one issue in the comparatively short time open to me. I make no apology for concentrating again on the issue of disability, which the noble Lord, Lord Low of Dalston, has already comprehensively addressed.
I start these remarks in the same way that the noble Baroness, Lady Jenkin, and my noble friend Lady Kinnock did, by reminding ourselves of the achievement of the millennium development goals to date. The fight against extreme poverty has made great progress under the millennium development goals since they were agreed in the 2000 UN summit but, as others before me have said, the record is mixed. They have succeeded in building consensus and focusing attention and resources on important issues and making significant progress. The targets-based approach of the MDGs, the continuation of which I support, is not perfect but has made it possible to hold both national Governments and donors to account for specific development commitments. Setting targets and, in particular, an end date, has created a sense of urgency that has galvanised and united civil society and other advocates with national Governments and donors in trying to achieve change. Unfortunately, though, as we have heard, inequality and social inclusion are widening within most countries; indeed, they are widening within 16 of the G20 countries as we speak. More than 1 billion people continue to live in extreme poverty. None of the MDGs will be met completely, with some countries having made little or no tangible progress. Besides, while trying to achieve change, many Governments have focused on the targets that are easiest to reach rather than tackling the root causes of marginalisation and inequality.
Shaping the new framework needs to include those who were left out in 2000. I am thinking here in particular about people with disabilities. As the noble Lord, Lord Low of Dalston, reminded us, disabilities are not specifically mentioned in any of the eight MDGs or in the 21 targets of the 60 indicators. However, there is a strong link between disability and poverty. Disabled people are disproportionately represented among those living in extreme poverty. A recent World Bank comparative study of 15 developing countries found that disabled people were significantly worse off, were more likely to experience multiple deprivations and had lower educational attainment and employment rates than non-disabled people. The same study showed that disability also affects households and the wider economy.
Progress within the existing framework has not been equitable for disabled people because there is no requirement to include them or to address their needs. It has been assumed that the general development process will improve conditions for everyone. With the exception of MDG 3, which promotes gender equality, no incentive has been placed on development programmes specifically to address disadvantaged groups or to tackle issues of social exclusion. Therefore, disabled people represent many of the people who have not benefited from recent development gains. I think we should agree that intervention is needed when unemployment rate for people with disabilities in some African countries is 90%—a staggering figure.
I know that charities, such as Sense International, which supported me in my preparation for this debate and supports work placements for disabled people in countries across the world, are doing great work in this regard, but much more needs to be done. Disabled people’s economic contribution is as important as their work and their feelings of dignity, economic independence and self-confidence are to them. We know and understand that in this country, and it should apply across the world.
The problem of unemployment is also rooted in the fact that children with disabilities are still disproportionately excluded from school. Worldwide, there are approximately 106 million children with disabilities, and, while roughly 1 billion children are in school globally, the UNESCO report that has already been referred to estimates that, of the 61 million children now out of school, one-third have disabilities. This disproportionate exclusion means that disabled children miss out on education’s lifelong benefits: a better job, more social and economic security and more opportunities for full participation in society. This contributes to a cycle of intergenerational poverty as they establish their own households. All this means that disabled people are disproportionately represented among the 1 billion people who will continue to live in chronic poverty even if the MDGs are achieved.
Rather than concluding with a list that reiterates the remarks that other noble Lords have made, I request that the Minister addresses disability in his remarks and that disability should be included in the future development framework and should be mainstreamed across all the post-2015 development goals.
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Nicholson. We share a background in the voluntary sector. I strongly agree that we need more time, as is evidenced today, for debate. She said that there are huge imbalances between and within countries. The main target, the halving of poverty, is certainly a milestone, but the noble Lord, Lord Bates, reminded us that it will be met not because the west has helped the south, but because millions of Chinese have been lifted out of poverty, largely, in my view, by their own efforts. Not surprisingly, rural China remains poor. According to a Save the Children study, Born Equal, the urban/rural ratio of income in China has widened progressively to about 3:1 since 1990 and gender inequality there has also increased dramatically. The political climate in China, though restrictive, has certainly not inhibited urbanisation and entrepreneurial spirit, and the example of Mozambique shows that even communism can be adapted to some of the principles of smallholder capitalism.
The MDGs are primarily about aid to reduce poverty, but they should also be a catalyst to economic development, especially in agriculture. Oxfam rightly says that its influence on central Governments is fast diminishing. In itself, it makes a minute contribution in a country such as India. Of course, if aid misses its mark, it has to be our fault. While we cannot be blamed for the mistakes and corrupt practices of Governments, we are responsible for channelling our aid in the direction of the poorest and most vulnerable, and that is not something we are succeeding in.
It is said that OECD countries have not met the MDG targets in developing countries because they have not given enough. The $167 billion shortfall in development aid means that they have failed to meet the 0.7% target, and they will have to double their assistance even during a recession. As we are among a handful of countries trying to maintain or increase our aid budget, I agree with those who accept that aid must be value for money. I agree with the Prime Minister, who repeated that the coalition is determined to resist its Conservative Back-Benchers on this issue. Of course, none of this is as simple as it sounds. The public know there is corruption and bad governance out there. The aid agencies offer solutions, but their outreach is limited.
We have to convince the public that some aid is bound to be wasted, and that is difficult when we know there are hungry people in our midst. I would like to recommend a new MDG in public awareness. I have always believed that we know far too little in this country about other cultures, and in the US, the public know even less. How can we give more aid when we do not understand how its recipients live? It can be done through the media, educational exchanges and in many other ways, including through the MDGs themselves, as others have said. NGOs that are critical of the MDGs also admit that they have been a yardstick for educational purposes, although they are increasingly meaningless to academics since you can prove anything you like with statistics.
From an educational point of view, we should not complicate the present MDGs with human rights and governance tests that can scarcely be objective. After all, we are not free of corruption ourselves. I read recently that the EU gets only six out of 10 on Transparency International’s corruption perceptions index, with some member states scoring below five. I am convinced that NGOs in general are the best route to poverty eradication. Since the noble Lord, Lord Giddens, will speak later, I am glad to say that the LSE-based International Growth Centre lends economists to developing countries and shares experience gathered in those countries on subjects such as finance, banking, taxation and currency. Such NGOs can multiply the value of aid many times over.
Most NGOs that have kindly contributed briefings to this debate are concerned about inequality and the need to see in the post-MDG agenda a more universal recognition of poverty, with more benchmarks of progress. I strongly agree with those who say that gender disparity and inequality must be addressed, but across the whole spectrum of the MDGs, not as an addition to the list of new goals.
I was going to say a word about the health targets, but in this environment, it seems very appropriate that a Crisp should replace a Sandwich.
My Lords, I rise as requested to respond to my noble friend. I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Nicholson, on this important and timely debate and on setting out the big picture which, as I interpret it, is really about what sort of world we want to work towards. That is what this is all about. In that context, I am indeed going to talk about health.
Yesterday, I had the privilege of chairing two meetings of five All-Party Parliamentary Groups—Global Health, which I co-chair; HIV/AIDS; TB, Malaria and Neglected Tropical Diseases; and Population, Development and Reproductive Health—where we discussed precisely this issue. What health targets should there be in whatever replaces millennium development goals? A number of noble Lords took part, including the noble Baroness, Lady Tonge, and my noble friends Lady Hayman and Lord Low. We produced a list of principles at the end of the day, and I shall mention a few of them.
The first is that while the Government have talked about economic development being a golden thread throughout all development—and I think that is true—health is another golden thread. Disease, like conflict, destroys growth. It affects, and is affected by, all the other aspects of development. Healthy populations are more productive. We know that the scourge of HIV/AIDS in sub-Saharan Africa has destroyed growth for many years and has reduced the output of that part of the world. We also know that, the other way around, 25% of diseases are affected by the environment and that, of the most effective interventions to improve health, the two perhaps most effective are the education of women and clean water, neither of which are immediately obviously health interventions.
In the meeting, I think that we all felt that health, because of its central role, must be explicitly mentioned in whatever replaces the millennium development goals. We need to maintain momentum on the MDGs. As many noble Lords have said, there is unfinished business. We need to learn the lessons. There has been measurable real value and impetus from the MDGs. But, as the noble Baroness, Lady Nicholson, and others have said, we must be sure that they do not override local priorities, that single-issue disease programmes do not destroy local, more generalised healthcare systems and that they also address the wider issues, such as non-communicable diseases and disability. There is a clear need for a global framework but we also need local decision-making.
Looking forward, the group which met yesterday made the very strong point that, in all aspects of development, we need to focus much more on what women can do and on raising the profile of women in all countries of the world. That was a very strong theme. Linked to it was the management of population growth and contraception. We also spent some time talking about equity and the inverse care law which so many people have mentioned; namely, that in any given population, the poorest, who have the most need, get the least access to services.
We felt, ultimately, that we need one explicit health goal, which may be linked to other goals in other sectors. We discussed universal health coverage—the idea that healthcare should be available to everyone in the world through local health systems. We have not yet resolved exactly how we will want to take this forward. Perhaps I may say to the Minister that we will meet again and will no doubt write to him as part of the contribution to the DfID consultation on this.
On two personal points, first, I echo all the points about disability. I chair Sightsavers, which works on blindness around the world. It is very clear that so much can be done very cheaply to support disabled people. Our research shows us that in Nigeria, for example, people who are prevented from going blind or are treated with cataract surgery return to full economic employment within one year. It is very directly related to economic development.
Secondly, I believe that the goals chosen should reflect the needs of the whole world. It is not just about the rich world looking after the poor world, if I may put it like that. This is one world and there needs to be one-world goals. My personal proposal for the future is that in health terms, we should be looking for a goal that is about improving the health of the poorest 25% in every country. The goal should be linked somehow to measuring this in terms of a healthy life for the poorest 25% in every country. That could link closely to similar goals in education and elsewhere, and would leave the choices of what to do locally. If you happen to be a country in sub-Saharan Africa, HIV/AIDS would be the priority; in other parts of the world, other things would be the priorities. It involves us all and is outcome orientated.
In conclusion, let me return to the theme that the noble Baroness, Lady Nicholson, started with. This debate is about what sort of world we want to work towards. I believe that greater equity in access to healthcare is central to that.
My Lords, I, too, thank my noble friend Lady Nicholson for introducing this debate. By taking note of the progress towards the successor framework to the MDGs, I should like to draw the attention of the House to the International Olympic Committee’s adoption of the UN MDGs and its development of a partnership with the United Nations in the field of development through sport, education, humanitarian aid, health protection and the Olympic Truce, which I would urge the Government to take forward under the successor framework.
The partnership that has developed in the past decade between the world of sport and the UN is ipso facto recognition of the extraordinary power of sport, especially for young people, which is a key area of concern and was highlighted by my noble friend Lady Jenkin. It is a natural partnership, given the complementary nature of the UN’s objectives and the Olympic ideals for peace and human development. Essential sports values are very similar to the core values of the UN and, over recent years, the UN and sports governing bodies have worked increasingly closely together.
The IOC now has a longstanding record of pioneering work with the UN on the use of sport as a cross-cutting tool to promote peace, development and human rights, as has its work in advancing the purposes and principles of the UN charter and its fundamental values of freedom, equality, solidarity, tolerance, respect for nature and shared responsibility. UN and Olympic ideals have been linked in efforts to deliver tolerance and peace, which symbolically is reflected in the decision in 1997 to fly the UN flag at all Olympic competition sites.
The UN General Assembly resolutions endorsing the Olympic Truce have been sponsored by more member states than any resolution in the history of the organisation, including a record 193 nations for the resolutions ahead of the London 2012 Olympic Games. The UN millennium declaration included a statement which urged member states,
“to observe the Olympic Truce, individually and collectively, now and in the future, and to support the International Olympic Committee in its efforts to promote peace and human understanding through sport and the Olympic Ideal”.
In January 2006, for the first time, the UN Secretary-General met leaders of the IOC and agreed to strengthen co-operation in the use of sport as a tool to reduce tensions in areas of conflict. Co-operation between UN agencies and the world of sport has since been developed through a successful series of memoranda of understanding to undertake various activities worldwide in fields such as health promotion, humanitarian assistance, peace-building, education, gender equality, the environment and the fight against HIV/AIDS.
As a result, and in no small measure due to the active support and lobbying by the Foreign Office under the previous Government, in a historic milestone, in October 2009, the IOC was granted UN permanent observer status. This decision paid tribute to the IOC’s efforts to contribute to the achievement of the UN MDGs and equipped the sporting movement with an authoritative voice within the international community as an advocate for the role of sport in the service of peace and development.
Embedding sport and recreation into development policies provides a large umbrella for action from the most basic and local levels to the highest level of political activity. Within these partnerships, even small and individual gestures can have a major impact. On the same day that the Olympic Truce resolution was adopted in October 2011, the UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-Moon, met my noble friend Lord Bates who had recently completed a “walk for truce” from Mount Olympus in Greece to London. The Secretary-General praised my noble friend for raising awareness of the truce and noted that it highlighted the fact that everyone could make a personal contribution to peace.
In laying the groundwork for a successor framework, I hope that the success of the London Olympic and Paralympic Games will act as a catalyst for the Government to contribute to a lasting sports legacy to the Games by seeking to increase the number of joint endeavours between the sports movement and the United Nations system in community development, education, health promotion and HIV/AIDS prevention, particularly in gender equality, environment and sustainability, humanitarian assistance and youth empowerment, as well as social integration of persons with disabilities, thereby directly contributing to the achievement of the MDGs.
Sport is, and always has been, one of the most effective tools for bringing together people for a common purpose. It is a cultural phenomenon which transcends entertainment. In its purest form, it is a triumph of the human spirit. It is about heroes and legends; nor are those heroes necessarily the ones who fulfil the Olympic motto, “Citius, Altius, Fortius”. I recall the truly inspirational Phil Packer, an injured Iraq veteran, who was told that he would never walk again. He showed enormous courage, determination and commitment in completing the 2009 London marathon in 13 days. We can all reflect on the remarkable abilities of our Paralympians this summer.
If these outstanding Olympic qualities of self-discipline, selflessness, fortitude and endurance were more widely replicated through sport, we would succeed in making the world a better place.
My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Baroness, Lady Nicholson, for securing this most important debate at a very important time.
We have to ensure—through the UN, which has to agree to this—that all countries have to sign up to the millennium goals. We know that not all have done so. We also know that countries do not have to accept funds set aside for them through the goals. The World Bank has frightening figures showing that certain countries in Africa and Latin America are not taking up money that is available for education. I look to our Prime Minister and the negotiating team to ensure that this issue is addressed. We cannot force people, because that is not done, but we must make sure that there is a mechanism whereby they feel that they can take up the money, but not in a corrupt way.
I should like to consider the issues of natural disasters and conflict, because it is in those areas that health and education are abandoned. We know about the Security Council’s resolution that all women should have an opportunity and a right to be at the peace table and at the table when natural disasters happen. At present, women are not there and are far from being there. They are given just lip service. If women were there and were part of the millennium goals in the areas of conflict and resolution, things would be far different in terms of health and education. If we are not feeding children in the first 1,000 days of their lives, however much money we throw at or put into these countries, it will not help with education. We have to ensure that children get the correct food to enable their brains to grow. We have all seen the pictures of the brains of children of four or more that are not growing properly.
As regards natural disasters, schools are one of the places used for shelter because they are the best built and have the right facilities. However, the schools are then closed because of their use as shelters, and people cannot be educated. Education comes first after health and it is vital that schools are part of the refugee camps we establish following terrible disasters. At present, the schools come later, if they come at all. We cannot make up education. Also, if a child is out of school for a long period in certain countries, they never go back to school. That country then loses GDP and that child ends up working in forced labour. A girl is sold for marriage or for other activities. It is absolutely important to keep education at the front. If we educate a woman and she educates her children, their countries will benefit from their achievement of economic, social and political empowerment. There has to be a clearer vision for reducing inequality in education, and that should be a successor to the framework of the millennium goals. A number of Members have already made the other points that I wanted to make.
My Lords, I, too, am grateful to be speaking in this debate. The focus of the development agenda post-2015 should be on the empowerment of people in the developing world. There was always an element within the MDGs of top-down western Governments and NGOs saying what they believed was needed by the people in developing countries. Inevitably, it remains a problem in a debate such as this.
Of course, there was nothing wrong with the MDGs because they focused minds and, in some cases, produced excellent results. However, we are now in a new era. This is the era of mass communication, leading, I hope, to greater power to the people. An unpopular regime cannot last long if the whole community knows that the whole community knows it is against it. The power of Twitter and the like may be worrying for some of our leaders, particularly those at the BBC, but the implications for democracy in the developing world could be truly scene-changing.
Even now, the mobile phone is revolutionising life in Africa. Banking no longer needs a bank, or at least a bank building, and much needed information and knowledge is only a finger-touch away. People are already being empowered by modern communication and we must focus on helping that empowerment to enable them to get what they want. That should be our primary aim in the new era.
It is not all about votes and democracy. People also vote with their feet, or rather with their purses. Of course, any community in Africa or elsewhere will gratefully accept whatever is donated to them and, indeed, in some countries and regions there is a worrying dependency culture developing, which does no one any good at all. However, if families have to put in some of their own money, it is the women who will choose their priorities. Is it electricity or water? Is it transport or health? Is it education for their children? It is only the ability to make real choices that brings that sense of empowerment that leads in turn to self-confidence and even greater self-empowerment. It is a virtuous upward spiral that starts with economic freedom and can lead to greater democratic freedom.
I realise that such aspirations remain merely a dream to a huge number of people in the developing world. In many countries in Africa right now, the focus is purely on finding today’s food and water. However, we are talking here of tomorrow’s ambitions and what the long-term goals ought to be. We therefore need to look hard at how we can help the vast and growing numbers of Africans to find the means to take the choices to change their lives. I do not think we need to waste much time on seeking where to help. If 70%, 80% or even 90% of a country’s population are farmers, then teach them and help them to become profitable farmers. That is how to kick-start the rural economy. It is truly possible that Africa could not only feed itself but help to feed the world. With logistics, processing, packaging and retailing to serve the African urban food market, which is going to grow fourfold in the next 18 years, a whole new food economy could provide jobs and thus choices to a large number of people. By focusing on agriculture, countries such as Ghana and Ethiopia are already transforming lives. If you are worrying about the choices that the lady farmers of Africa might make with any new-found cash, fear not. I have yet to meet a single woman farmer in Africa who does not want to spend every penny that remains after feeding her family on educating her children.
How can we help and encourage better and more profitable smallholder farming in Africa? That is another whole debate, not for today, but there is no doubt that African agriculture is on the verge of a great leap forward, if it gets the right support. Furthermore, the rural economy, the rural environment, the status of women, the health and education of the next generation and, above all, the ability of people to make their own choices will depend on how successful we are in making profitable smallholder agriculture a reality over the next 15 years or so. It must be a key plank of any new development framework.
My Lords, the successor framework is vital to ensuring that we maintain and build upon the aims of the millennium development goals. The international community has made great efforts to fulfil the goals, with excellent progress in areas such as increasing access to primary school education and improving sources of clean water. Research by the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund reveals that higher food prices increased the number of people living in poverty in the developing world. However, preliminary estimates suggest that the poverty reduction target is likely to be achieved ahead of 2015.
Millennium development goal 5, on improving maternal health, stands alone as the goal that has recorded the least amount of progress to date and it is far from reaching the 2015 target. Improving maternal health is not only a moral obligation, but is financially prudent. The United Nations Global Strategy for Women’s and Children’s Health suggests that maternal health problems result in losses to productivity of up to $15 billion per annum. I would be grateful if the Minister would inform your Lordships’ House about the steps Her Majesty’s Government are taking, along with our international partners, to address the lack of progress in this vital area.
I support the view of the United Nations System Task Team that the successor framework should focus on four key areas: namely, social development, inclusive economic development, environmental sustainability and peace and security.
I have been to Bangladesh. It deserves praise for being on track to achieve millennium development goals 1, 2, 3 and 4, which relate to poverty, primary education, gender equality and child mortality.
The overall number of people living in extreme poverty in sub-Saharan Africa has fallen. Research by the United Nations Development Programme, the Economic Commission for Africa, the African Union and the African Development Bank suggests that. The region is off target in meeting millennium development goal 1 on eradicating extreme poverty and hunger, goal 4 on reducing child mortality, goal 5 on improving maternal mortality and goal 6 on combating HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases.
I have spoken in your Lordships’ House and elsewhere about the importance of business and trade in the United Kingdom and in overseas countries. More business and trade uplifts people’s standards of life. I have travelled abroad to promote trade.
The change in Africa’s economic fortunes has been remarkable. The continent has even been referred to as “the next Asia” owing to its rapid growth. Forecasts by the International Monetary Fund suggest that seven of the world’s fastest-growing economies over the next five years will be in Africa: namely, those of Ethiopia, Mozambique, Tanzania, Congo, Ghana, Zambia and Nigeria.
However, many stumbling blocks remain for Africans. Average life expectancy is still only 56 years, child mortality remains high and overall literacy rates are only 67%. Africa’s economic growth is often described as “jobless” because of its failure to create jobs, in particular for the 60% of Africans aged between 15 and 24 who are unemployed.
In order to break the cycle of poverty, individuals need sources of wealth creation such as employment opportunities, access to trade and greater interaction with the private sector. In addition, measures must be taken to combat corruption. The UN System Task Team on the successor framework post-2015 development agenda published a report in June that noted the progress made in areas such as poverty reduction, but highlighted the deficiencies in areas including governance and accountability. It is a credit to Britain that the Prime Minister has been appointed as a co-chair of the high-level panel of eminent persons to advise on the post-2015 development agenda. This will ensure that Britain continues to take the lead on this vital issue.
The progress made through the millennium development goals has transformed the lives of the world’s least fortunate people. We have a moral duty towards these individuals to ensure that a successor framework is created that builds on the existing achievements.
My Lords, having had to take what the Americans euphemistically call a comfort break, I am sorry that I missed the speech of the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, in which he made reference to work going on at the London School of Economics. I assure him that I will read Hansard, and I thank him for the reference.
The UN report of 2012 on the MDGs shows a chequered picture that includes considerable successes, to which other noble Lords drew attention. However, it is important not to be intellectually lazy. We have no way of knowing how far changes happened because of the MDGs. Many of them might have happened anyway. At a minimum, we can say that it was an important consciousness-raising exercise on a global level—and probably quite a bit more than that. However, caution is needed in looking at the sources of the changes that happened around the world.
Today a much wider global discussion than at the millennium is going on about what the successor goals and strategies should be. This is one contribution to that discussion, as is right and proper. However, it is obvious that there are dangers as well as positives in this. For example, there could be a clamour to introduce multiple new goals, because everyone has their list of “musts”: must do this, must include that. So far in the debate I have listed 14 “musts” in what noble Lords said. It is clear that there should be some control over the list of “musts”, otherwise there is no chance of perpetuating a sustained programme. Noble Lords will remember the adage, “If everything is a priority, nothing is a priority”. I will make three brief comments based on that.
First, we should be conservative about the number of goals and the range of countries to which they should apply. In this sense I disagree with quite a bit that other noble Lords said. There should be no going above the existing number, and the goals should apply only to countries that have a significant proportion of those whom Paul Collier famously called “the bottom billion”. Aspirational targets are of no value without metrics, kept and systematised by the UN. Again, this suggests a concentration on concrete and definable ambitions, partly because the methodology already exists and also because there is a sustained amount of information on the existing millennial goals.
Secondly, it is very important to note that the pursuit of the MDGs was facilitated by a relatively benign economic environment after the turn of the century. The next few years might not look at all like this. We live in an extremely iffy and perturbing world. The world economy is slowing down; there is gigantic debt in the West; the EU is poised on the edge of potential catastrophe; in spite of the good news this morning about a ceasefire, there is the possibility of extended wars in the Middle East; and food security is looming in public consciousness as a global problem in a way that it did not at the millennium. This means that we will have to build into our assessment of the MDGs a range of new risk factors. A lot of attention must be given to how this is done.
Thirdly, we have one MDG where, because I work in the field, my view is that we have made no impact at all. It is the goal of ensuring environmental sustainability. Rio+20 has been a flop; in 20 years, virtually nothing of substance has been achieved. There are very serious problems ahead, especially from unmastered climate change. The level of CO2 emissions in the atmosphere is mounting every year. The world has made no sustained response of substance to this issue. Some people have suggested that sustainability should be folded across all the millennial goals. I disagree; it needs to be specified and it also needs metrics. For example, we need poorer countries to be able to jump technologies in the development process, as they did with mobile phones. I would welcome the Minister’s comments on any of these issues.
My Lords, I will restrict my contribution to considering one possible barrier to achieving the current goals: the lack of attention to mental health. This is not just another “must”. The current MDGs do not explicitly address non-communicable diseases such as cancer, cardiovascular disease or mental illness. This may be because when they were agreed in 2000 it was believed that infectious disease, malnutrition and a safe childbirth were the most important health problems facing poorer countries. Mental health was not mentioned; perhaps it was not seen as relevant or because of the stigma of mental disorders. In 2005, the World Health Organisation presented a rather different view. It published a report called Preventing Chronic Diseases: a vital investment. It made the point that non-communicable diseases kill people at economically and socially productive ages and kill them mostly in the developing world: 80% of chronic disease deaths were said to occur in low and middle-income countries.
Neuropsychiatric disorders are non-communicable diseases and make up 13% of the global burden of disease. It is estimated that by 2020, 20% of the world’s population will experience depression—a treatable condition. In 2011 the WHO mental health atlas report showed that in most countries worldwide, there has been little progress in implementing mental health programmes. At the United Nations high-level meeting on non-communicable diseases in 2011, the political declaration concluded that,
“there is a need to provide equitable access to effective programmes”,
on mental health. At last attitudes to mental health across the world are changing. This year 500 organisations representing the mental health community and civil society worldwide signed up to the World Federation for Mental Health’s great push for mental health programme. A survey of these organisations demonstrated a high level of agreement on what they wanted the WHO to do to progress mental health globally. Ministers of health from many member states have prepared a comprehensive mental health action plan to be presented to the WHO executive in January next year. This draft action plan suggests targets for countries for mental health service development.
Mental health is now being recognised formally as important on the world stage—not just in the United Kingdom, where we now have a commitment to work towards parity of esteem between physical and mental health. Like other non-communicable diseases, mental disorders affect all aspects of life and frequently co-occur with physical illnesses. I suggest that mental disorders are relevant to all of the current eight millennium goals. I will give some brief examples to explain what I mean. For example, goal 1 aims to eradicate extreme poverty and hunger. We know that acute and chronic mental disorders are associated with unemployment and a descent into poverty and thus treating mental illness as a root cause of poverty is key. Goal 3 aims to promote gender equality and empower women. We know that in most cultures women experience higher rates of mental illness than men, including prenatal and postnatal depression, and the emotional problems associated with domestic abuse, for example as a victim of violence, perhaps due to the mental health of their partners.
I take goal 4, reducing child mortality, and goal 5, about maternal health, together. Maternal depression affects birth weight and a failure to thrive in children. Mothers are more likely to cease breastfeeding early and their babies are more likely to develop serious diarrhoea and not complete their immunisations. Even with goal 7, ensuring environmental sustainability, we need to think about the mental health of migrants forced to leave their homes because of environmental disasters or war. Ignoring mental disorders is no longer acceptable. Mental health must not only be included in programmes serving the millennium goals, but must be seen to be included. Will the Minister indicate how the UK will contribute to making mental health a global priority in the development of successor millennium development goals, perhaps through advocacy but also through supporting alliances between economic, social, mental health and other stakeholders?
My Lords, when the millennium development goals were first promulgated at the millennium summit in 2000, it was easy and tempting to dismiss them as just another piece of UN flannel; more warm words designed to conceal a lack of action. It was easy and tempting, but quite wrong. In fact, the goals have proved to be a lot more effective than all the volumes of exhortations which preceded them in earlier years; also because they committed the Governments of developing countries—as well as those of donor countries—to implementing them. This provided that platform of equal and mutual commitment which was so often lacking in the past and which surely must be a clear part of any post-2015 system.
Of course, not everything has gone right with the development goals. Many donor countries have fallen short on their commitments and allowed their aid budgets to be squeezed by austerity. Many developing countries, particularly those in conflict zones, have made little, if any, progress towards achieving them; and the broad-brush approach used in 2000 has meant that the major achievements of a few populous countries in Asia in lifting tens of millions of their citizens out of poverty have masked the failures elsewhere. That is why the worst possible course of action would be simply to roll over the 2000 system and targets and then forget about them. We need to learn and apply the lessons of those first 15 years and that is the reason why I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Nicholson, for initiating this debate and introducing it so well.
Here are a few thoughts for the future. First, any post-2015 system should focus much more specifically on what Professor Collier—already mentioned several times in this debate—has eloquently called “the bottom billion”. It is the plight of those people, wherever they may be found—and we should be wary of the sweeping classification of countries as poor or middle income—which needs to be addressed far more effectively than before. We should not turn our backs on the Dalits in India or on the street children of many Latin American countries. Secondly, we surely need far more rigorous systems for benchmarking progress—or the lack of it—in both donor and recipient countries and for naming and shaming countries on both sides of that divide who fall short of their commitments.
Thirdly, we need to bring the private sector, both business and the great philanthropic foundations, into the heart of devising and implementing the post-2015 MDGs. Too often they have been treated as add-ons and their contributions have not always fitted as well as they should with national Governments and the great intergovernmental institutions. This time, we need to do better than that and we should not forget what a crucial role business has to play in the fight against corruption, in particular through such schemes as the extractive industries transparency initiative. In that context, when the Minister replies to the debate will he report on the progress of negotiations within the European Union to make the EITI a mandatory requirement for European businesses?
Fourthly, we need to focus more effectively on the gender aspects of the post-2015 MDGs. It is not enough to have a single gender policy goal, or set of goals, because gender issues crop up in every one of the goals. Nor is it enough to say simply that gender issues are cross-cutting and then ignore and neglect them in their application. Somehow we need to resolve that paradox. I therefore hope that before too long, the Government will come forward with their thinking on the post-2015 MDGs in the form, perhaps, of a White or a Green Paper or a discussion document. We need to move the national debate on aid on to more positive and forward-looking territory and away from the well-trampled terrain of the ring-fencing of our aid budget.
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Nicholson, for raising the issue of the millennium development goals and for her perceptive speech and questions, so eloquently followed by other contributors to the debate. There are problems that are always inherent in goals and targets. Let me take the example of schools. Let us suppose that there are goals to reach certain standards in reading and mathematics. Schools in deprived areas will have more difficulty reaching the targets than those in affluent areas. As head teachers often say, it depends on where children start off, and success should be measured by what improvement has been made from the baseline of when a child enters school. Some countries, as we know, have horrendous problems around climate, poverty, disease, malnutrition, overpopulation, corruption and conflict. They will find it difficult to reach goals that others find much less so because the baseline varies in different countries. I support overarching goals, but I agree with the UK-based Global Health Network that we need to focus on inequity by directly targeting the groups, regions and countries that have fallen furthest behind in the development efforts related to the MDGs, and that we should build on vital unmet existing MDG commitments rather than seek to replace them.
I shall focus on the well-being of children, and I declare an interest as a trustee of UNICEF UK. Children are vulnerable. The Save the Children Fund points out that 200,000 Syrian refugee children are at risk of enduring freezing temperatures this winter. More than 50% of the population of Gaza are children. Children are the hope of the future. Another key consideration, one that is supported by Women and Children First, is ensuring the involvement at the local level of civil society, communities and affected populations in the design, development, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of laws, policies and programmes; in other words, investing in people. A top-down approach, as my noble friend Lady Kinnock discussed so eloquently, may alienate and disempower the very people it seeks to help. Many women and children in communities must be enabled to have a voice, as the noble Baroness, Lady Jenkin, said.
UNICEF is about to carry out a consultation with children about the successor framework. Helping and empowering children demonstrates how important are the links between education, health, poverty reduction and gender equality. Improvement in any one of these aspects helps to improve the others. In helping children, development becomes more sustainable. Countries cannot tackle diseases such as malaria and HIV, reduce poverty or improve the capacity of populations without investing in children.
Other noble Lords have talked about education in this debate. A focus on education, particularly of women and girls, should be paramount. The Millennium Declaration and the UNICEF “A World Fit for Children” declaration can serve as guidelines and incentives for future progress, but with the caveat I expressed earlier that more targeting on specific countries and populations in difficulty should be a priority, and children’s well-being must be to the fore. A UN summit held in September 2010 set a target to ensure that by 2015 children everywhere, boys and girls alike, would be able to complete a full course of primary schooling. In 2008, enrolment in primary education in developing regions reached 89%, up from 83% in 2000. This rate of progress is insufficient to meet the MDG target of achieving universal primary education by 2015. Around 69 million school-age children are not in school, and almost half of them are in sub-Saharan Africa. I hope that the successor framework will address the shortfalls identified by Save the Children, which points out that there are inequities within countries which must be addressed.
However, there are many good examples of education initiatives which I hope will be shared so that good practice is developed across the world, particularly for women and girls. Can the Minister tell us how the successor framework is to be developed? What are the processes and who will have input into it? How will the UK contribute, apart from through the Prime Minister? Will voluntary sectors and local communities around the world be involved? Can the successor framework, while maintaining the ambitions of the MDGs, refocus within each of the eight goals in order to prioritise the most vulnerable, and be realistic about some of the threats to development such as conflict and overpopulation? That is not a must, but a should. I look forward to the Minister’s response.
My Lords, I, too, would like to congratulate my noble friend Lady Nicholson on securing this very important debate. It is widely accepted that the millennium development goals have concentrated the minds of donors on international development and it is acknowledged that some progress has been made. In declaring an interest as chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Population, Development and Reproductive Health, what is important is that we should bear in mind, when setting up the new frameworks, three overarching principles.
The first of these is sustainability. As the noble Lord, Lord Giddens, said, we need to address the effects of environmental change and global warming which, while they are caused mainly by us in the West, have a huge effect on people in the developing world. The second principle is that developing countries themselves, as was pointed out by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Bath and Wells, must be able to set their own agenda and priorities for the benefit of their people. They should not necessarily be completely bound by whatever replaces the millennium development goals or those vertical initiatives that we have seen from the donor community.
The third overarching consideration is population growth—I call it the elephant in the room. It is no good setting targets when the world population is still increasing by 80 million a year. That is the equivalent of adding another United States of America to the world every four years. The millennium development goals ignored population growth completely; it was not taken into consideration, although it is a huge challenge. A report published by our group three years ago, The Return of the Population Growth Factor, pointed out that in countries with high population growth, the number of school age children doubles every 20 years. Assuming a class size of 40, which is modest, this means that worldwide an extra 2 million school teachers are needed every year just to stand still, let alone to make any progress. The same problem affects other goals, of course. Population growth prevents progress. That is why I applaud the Government—yes, me, applauding the coalition Government—for prioritising maternal health and recognising at last that family planning is a human right. Our Government have recognised the fact that currently 222 million women around the world want to avoid pregnancy and need contraception. Coercion is not necessary, and religion and culture need not be a problem. Some countries have already achieved a reduction in fertility rates and falls in family size. Bangladesh has made great progress, as have Rwanda, Tunisia and countries in east Asia. What is surprising to many is that Iran runs an extremely good and successful programme for reproductive health and family planning for its women. We need to build family planning into the new post-MDG framework so that other countries can follow their success. Let us remember that if women are allowed to control family size and have the number of children they and their husbands want, there will be lower maternal mortality from unsafe abortion and unassisted childbirth, and all the complications that arise therefrom. Chronic ill-health in mothers who are too young or too weak to have large families can be prevented. Giving women access to family planning ultimately means fewer mouths to feed, less hunger and better food security—and that means less conflict. It means more girls and women in education and more women who are able to join the workforce. It cannot be repeated often enough that having educated women who can contribute to the economy means achieving the holy grail of economic growth.
My Lords, one of the benefits of the millennium development goals—alongside those of a sharpened public focus and broad narrative to which the right reverend Prelate alluded—has been the opportunity to learn sometimes what does not work and what does. The focus and funding that has come with these goals have allowed development agencies and countries to improve their performance in the areas of concern.
I use as an example the work done by the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine’s maternal and child health unit and declare an interest because I chair its advisory council. With support from DfID and under the millennium development goal of improving maternal morality, they have found a programme that trains, in-country, workers and birth attendants dramatically to reduce maternal mortality. Of course when you reduce maternal mortality, you have a hugely beneficial effect, reducing maternal morbidity and child and infant mortality, all of which is ongoing. Recognising that a lot has been learnt and is still being learnt, when we look post-2015, is tremendously important. Some wheels have been invented but we do not want to start reinventing every wheel in the post-2015 framework.
In the three minutes left, I echo three themes—unsurprisingly, themes that were raised by the noble Lord, Lord Crisp, because I, too, was at the event yesterday. I turn to women first—and perhaps, in the interest of brevity, I should stop there. We have huge amounts of evidence that, by improving the health, education and economic opportunities of women, their freedom from violence and forced and early marriage, their access to family planning, we underpin national development across the board. Women are absolutely crucial to that. Secondly, we must reach out to the bottom 25% in whatever part of the world they exist. Making this a universal and international aspiration and set of goals—not simply something that the developed world is doing unto the developing world—helps with this. I could say the same about women’s empowerment but perhaps this is a delicate issue in current circumstances.
Thirdly, there is the idea of having a single goal on health post-2015. Health is crucial to all those other areas of development, as the noble Lord, Lord Crisp, said. The noble Baroness, Lady Hollins, illustrated this in terms of mental health and the way in which not addressing mental health issues undermined achievement of the millennium development goals. As the House knows, my own interest is in neglected tropical diseases, which are not mentioned as such in the millennium development goals even within the health targets. Look at education, however. Children with worms do not go to school and, therefore, stop the achievement of the target. Look at economic development and the abolition of poverty. People who are blinded by oncho or trachoma are not going to be able to be economically active. Look at the reduction in HIV/AIDS. Women who have genital schistosomiasis are more likely to contract HIV and AIDS. Women with anaemia—because of neglected tropical diseases—are more likely to die in childbirth. Running through all those individual goals is the deleterious effect of neglected tropical diseases. You can go from that to health in terms of development. Having a single health goal—in terms of providing healthcare access, appropriate to that country, to everyone in that community—is one of the important overarching views going forward after the millennium development goals.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman. I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Nicholson of Winterbourne, for tabling this important and timely debate and for her terrific introduction, which focused our attention on the importance of the successor framework to the millennium development goals. I very much hope that the Minister will ensure that today’s debate feeds into the current listening process. I am proud that the Labour Government were at the forefront of establishing the MDGs and the global efforts to meet them. However, like my noble friend Lady Kinnock, I recognise that they sadly did not meet all the objectives of the excellent Millennium Declaration. I hope that we can return to that declaration in due course.
As we have heard, while targets have not been met in many cases, the MDGs have made a real difference to millions of lives. They were not just warm words but real targets, as the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, said. They have also enabled millions of people in developing countries to better understand the challenge, and importance, of developments. With the Prime Minister as co-chair of the UN panel responsible for leading discussions on developing a successor to the MDGs, the UK has both a huge opportunity and responsibility to bring about a sustainable, inclusive and more equitable world. The successor framework post-2015 must build on the success of the MDGs and address the shortfalls. Decreases in maternal mortality are far from the 2015 target. Use of improved sources of water remains low in rural areas, and there are still 1.4 billion people living on less than $1.25 dollars a day, over 70% of whom live in middle-income countries such as India. That hunger remains a global challenge cannot be right in the 21st century.
Millennium development goals should, therefore, remain focused on ending poverty and retain a number of clear, measurable goals. We must evaluate and learn the lessons of the past 12 years. As the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, says, we must take from it what does and does not work. The global context has changed significantly since the MDGs were first agreed. Since 2000 we have witnessed global economic climate and political shocks. Technological advances have been made and environmental sustainability and governance have rightly moved to the forefront of development debates. We have also seen the rise of new development partners, such as China, and emerging economies and the shifting of power from small groups, such as the G8, to the G20. In order for any successor framework to be effective it has to take into account these evolutions, be rooted in today’s world and look to future challenges. A new agreement must encompass sustainability, a rights-based understanding of development and focus on growth, employment and inequality.
It is crucial that we urgently address rising levels of inequality. We on these Benches believe that it is important that our approach to post-2015 should be values-led, with the goal of tackling inequality at its heart. The gaps between rich and poor are growing rapidly both within and between a number of middle-income and developing countries. Gross inequality is wasting the talents of millions of our citizens, leaving behind individuals and groups in society and inhibiting growth globally. A recent discussion paper by the UN system task team highlighted a lack of focus on inequality as one of the weaknesses of the MDGs, while an October report by the ODI shows that MDGs did not incentivise a focus on the poorest and that targets expressed as national averages,
“can mask sometimes quite large inequalities within countries”.
At a recent parliamentary meeting on post-2015, there was a unanimous support from global civil society representatives for a greater focus on inequality and a successor framework to the MDGs. A recent briefing by Christian Aid found that, in Brazil, the proportion of malnourished children under five is 76.1% higher in the quilombola community—the descendants of slaves—than in the population at large.
Save the Children’s recent report, Born Equal, shows that inequality is especially hazardous for child well-being and development. In an analysis of 32 middle and low-income countries, it found that a child in the richest 10% of households has 35 times the effective available income of a child in the poorest 10%. In order to address inequality, there should be a focus on responsible capitalism—addressing tax dodging, fair trade, sustainable growth, decent labour standards and climate change; social justice, that is to say social protection, free access to education and healthcare; and human rights, that is to say human rights without exception, including women’s rights. Tackling inequality is about justice and fairness. Global growth should work for everyone.
The successor framework must—and I say “must” advisedly, because I believe that women’s rights should absolutely be at the heart of all MDGs—focus on gender inequality, violence against women and girls, and the role of women in peace-building. I take this opportunity to draw attention to legislation that is currently being considered by the Egyptian People’s Assembly, and note that the noble Baroness mentioned Middle Eastern countries. In Egypt at the moment, they are discussing a law that would reduce the marital age for girls to nine. That cannot be right. Such a move would violate all international agreements on children’s rights. Can the Minister assure me that our Government are making their views known on this issue?
Real progress has been made on girls’ enrolment in primary education, but huge challenges remain. According to a recent report by the Gender and Development Network, women are estimated to account for two-thirds of the 1.4 billion people globally who live in extreme poverty. It showed that gender inequalities—the unequal control and distribution of resources, legal and labour market barriers, the lack of representation and gender-based violence, to cite but a few—leave women and girls disproportionately vulnerable to shocks such as rising food or fuel prices, natural disasters and conflict.
President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, co-chair of the post-2015 high-level panel, alongside the Prime Minister, said a few years ago that,
“for far too long, women’s will, women’s voices, women’s interests, priorities, and needs have not been heard, have not determined who governs, have not guided how they govern, and to what ends. Since women are often amongst the least powerful of citizens, with the fewest social and economic resources on which to build political power, special efforts are often needed to elicit and amplify their voice”.
Once women are given resources, however small, they use them to improve the lives of their families and communities, as the noble Lord, Lord Cameron of Dillington, suggested that they do in Africa. Women are powerful catalysts, but they need to be given the power in the first place. It is crucial that we tackle the abhorrent levels of violence still experienced by women in conflict situations and ensure that women have a greater role to play in peace-building and recovery. My noble friend Lady Goudie is right to say that women must be at the tables where conflicts are being resolved and peace built. Women should and must be part of the decision-making processes. Putting women’s rights at the heart of addressing the distinct challenges presented by fragile states must feature prominently in any new framework.
Provisions for an integrated approach to early childhood development should also be included in any new framework. This is based on our experience and on evidence that a joined-up approach to childhood development, which starts from when the child is conceived to when it enters school, and includes health and education provision, makes the greatest difference to a child’s life. Concern has been expressed about the absence of child protection in the current MDGs. Save the Children, for example, argued that there is evidence that the widespread violence, abuse, neglect and exploitation that children face is hindering progress on the current MDGs and the sustainable social and economic development of countries.
The current context in the UK, and in particular the recent report by the Children’s Commissioner, shows how important it is to focus our attention on, and listen to, vulnerable children. My noble friend Lady Massey of Darwen mentioned the Syrian children who are in refugee camps. Last week, I was in the Zaatari camp, where 55% of the population are under the age of 18.
A post-2015 framework has to be shaped in a more open, genuine and inclusive way, involving a wide range of actors in consultative processes. MDGs have received criticism for what has been described as a donor-driven approach and for not sufficiently involving all the actors of development. Gone are the days when developed countries can or should impose their will on the rest of the world. The new covenant must involve all countries, whether developed, developing or emerging, and all voices must be heard. It should not be directed at countries in the south, but instead reflect on behaviours in the whole world.
It is vital that any new agreement is developed through real partnerships between political leaders, civil society and the private sector in all countries. It could provide the opportunity for targets to cover national Governments, donors, regional bodies and the private sector. My own party is placing a big emphasis on co-ordination and co-operation. Indeed, we are in the process of organising a series of round tables with key stakeholders, which will inform our vision for a post-2015 international development framework.
In his statement after his appointment, the Prime Minister said he looked forward to listening to many voices. I welcome that. These voices must include, as the noble Baroness, Lady Jenkin, so rightly said, young people, but also disabled people, as we heard from the noble Lord, Lord Low, and my noble friend Lord Browne. The successor framework is an opportunity to build a more just and prosperous world. It is our duty to grasp it.
My Lords, first, I thank all noble Lords for their contributions to this debate and, as all noble Lords have done, draw absolutely appropriate attention to the post-2015 development agenda. At this juncture, at the outset, I also thank my noble friend Lady Nicholson of Winterbourne for calling this debate on such an important topic and take the opportunity to commend her on her outstanding contributions in the area of international development. I am sure that your Lordships’ House will agree that her opening remarks demonstrated her true expertise in this most vital of areas.
As we approach 2015, securing global agreement on the new framework to replace the current millennium development goals is a key priority for the Government and one that was, indeed, restated by the new Secretary of State for International Development. I listened very attentively, as I do through all debates. On international development in particular, I am fascinated by the expertise and am always learning of new things, new initiatives, new experiences and, of course, new proposals, all of which I have listened to very carefully and will certainly pass on to and share with colleagues.
In terms of priorities, I stand here both as a Minister in the Government and as a business manager of the House and underline the fact that in the two months that I have been on the Front Bench, this is the second occasion on which I have led and responded to a debate on international development, following the debate initiated by the noble Lord, Lord McConnell. I hope that that underlines the priority that the Government continue to give to this most important of issues. Noble Lords can of course rest assured that this is not the last time that we shall return to this subject, about which we can learn a great deal from your Lordships’ House.
The noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, talked about my right honourable friend the Prime Minister resisting calls from the Conservative Back Benches. Not so long ago, I was a Back-Bencher once—maybe I will be again, although I hope not too soon—and I assure your Lordships’ House that many on the Conservative Back Benches are 100% supportive of the Government’s stance. My noble friends Lady Jenkin, Lord Bates, Lord Sheikh and Lord Moynihan underline the quality and commitment that our Government, and the Conservative Party, have in respect of this important agenda. I hear what the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, said about being, as ever, short of time on debates but this is an important issue and we shall return to this subject.
What have the millennium development goals achieved thus far? As we have heard, there were eight goals, and there has been good progress against some of them. My noble friend Baroness Nicholson referred to these, and I will give two examples—the global targets for halving both the proportion of people living on less than $1.25 a day and the proportion of people without sustainable access to safe drinking water were both met in 2010. Advances in primary education completion and gender equality in primary and secondary education have also been encouraging. However, not enough has been achieved. The noble Baroness, Lady Kinnock, also raised this issue and I will return to it in a moment.
I will reflect on the comments of my noble friend Lord Sheikh and the noble Baroness, Lady Tonge. They cited examples of certain countries where things are being achieved. It is right that we highlight some of these positive achievements such as those in Bangladesh, where issues such as infant mortality and family planning have been challenged and looked at, and we are seeing success in those areas. I say to the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, that women have been central to the delivery of those objectives in that country. Long may that continue.
However, I also accept that not all developments have been positive. Infant and maternal mortality and access to basic sanitation, for example, are lagging far behind in many countries. We accept that the MDG framework itself was not perfect. For example, the degree of national-level ownership of the goals and the extent to which MDGs were incorporated into countries’ own development strategies has been limited. In some cases, the framework’s narrow focus on quantitative results has skewed resource allocations; for example, focusing on getting children into school, rather than looking at the quality of those schools, has meant that what is being taught has perhaps not had the focus it deserved. As pointed out my by noble friend Lady Nicholson, countries being left behind must be looked at.
We still have three years to go until 2015 and, as my right honourable friend the Prime Minister has said before at the United Nations, countries which are not yet playing their part must wake up and ensure that they do so. The noble Baroness, Lady Kinnock, talked about leadership and partnership. It is important that the UK continues to be a partner in ensuring that countries progress to the next level.
As we approach 2015, the global debate about what should happen next is rightly gathering pace. As was pointed out by the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, 1 billion people will still be living below $1.25 a day in 2015. The new framework must address the issue of poverty and build on the notable successes, some of which I have already highlighted, of the MDGs. Agreeing a development framework will be challenging; let us not ignore that. There are a number of issues and debates to consider.
First, there are important questions about what the post-2015 framework should cover. Any new development framework needs to tackle the root causes of poverty, not just the symptoms; as my noble friend Lord Bates said, we must look at prevention rather than intervention. It will need to put in place the building blocks for sustained prosperity, what my right honourable friend the Prime Minister refers to as the “golden thread of development”. This means focusing on key issues such as peace and security, the rule of law, property rights, jobs, strong institutions, the integrity of government and good governance. As many noble Lords have already said, these were not addressed in the current MDGs. It also involves a virtuous and upward spiral of empowerment, as aptly described by the noble Lord, Lord Cameron of Dillington.
My noble friend Lord Chidgey also raised important issues. For example, he asked about the post-Busan committee and the need to build on its work, especially as a governance indicator. We agree. The Government stand by this. As I have already alluded to, it is part of the Prime Minister’s golden thread agenda. The global partnership for effective development set up in Busan will be critical to the delivery of the post-2015 framework. The new framework will also need to address new challenges and opportunities that have emerged since the MDGs were agreed, including environmental sustainability—mentioned by several noble Lords—resource scarcity and urbanisation.
I will now dwell on some of the points raised during this excellent debate. First, the noble Lords, Lord Low and Lord Crisp, and the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, all talked about education, health and the important issue of women’s empowerment. A focus on the golden thread to which I have referred and the new emerging challenges should not be at the expense of human development. In particular, access to quality health and education is essential. The Prime Minister is committed to building on the MDGs and to “finishing the job” on education and health, as well as the empowerment of women and the assurance of clean water and sanitation. I assure your Lordships’ House that Her Majesty’s Government are committed to making this happen. We look forward to receiving contributions from all noble Lords, but I would particularly welcome proposals from the noble Lord, Lord Crisp, and the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, on some of the health development issues.
The noble Lord, Lord Giddens, also talked about sustainability, and said that this should be specified with particular references. He has rightly reminded us of the fundamental importance of environmental sustainability, and this will be used as a central plank of the post-2015 framework. My noble friends Lady Nicholson, Lord Chidgey and Lord Bates all talked about conflict and security, and whether they will feature in the framework. Fragile and conflict states are the furthest, I agree, from reaching the MDG goals. It is therefore right that any post-2015 framework reflects their unique challenges. One way of doing this, perhaps, would be for the post-2015 framework to build on the peace-building and state-building goals agreed as part of the new deal for engagement in fragile states.
My noble friend Lady Nicholson and the noble Baroness, Lady Kinnock, raised the crucial issue of human rights, and whether they will be central to a new framework. Around the world, it is an unfortunate reality that human rights are not being safeguarded. I assure them that the commitment of the previous Government is retained by this one. The excellent work done in this area by the previous Government continues to be built on. The UK believes that human rights should be reflected as a new part of the post-2015 framework. Discovering how best to achieve this through indicators, for example, will require a process of broad consultation and negotiation among member states. It needs agreement. This is a sensitive political issue with some countries, as I am sure noble Lords will acknowledge. It will be important to find common approaches, but it is an issue that cannot be ignored. My noble friend Lady Nicholson also raised the issue of the private sector. I was reminded of an issue that came out of the high-level panel meeting, brought up by the president of Liberia, about bringing forward a compact of people working together from all sectors of society, including the private sector. I assure my noble friend that Her Majesty’s Government are committed to working with all partners in developing the post-2015 framework. There are two private sector representatives currently on the high-level panel, and the London meeting of the panel had a session specifically on private sector engagement. We will continue to develop a new global compact with civil society, business and Governments to ensure that the new goals which are set target issues such as industrialisation failure in the post-2015 framework.
The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Bath and Wells talked of the target-based approach and the need for it to be maintained. The existing MDGs have put particular issues on the agenda and it is right that we now build on them. I agree with the right reverend Prelate that a target-based approach serves as useful political advocacy to incentivise focus and action for Governments. It also incentivises a focus on measurement and, most importantly, is results-focused.
Above all, elements of the new framework, as many noble Lords have reminded us, need to be focused, prioritised and, most importantly—I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Giddens—deliverable. A long wish list of issues and themes will have little traction or political resonance, as opposed to a prioritised framework. Debates are ongoing about the broader architecture of the framework, which needs to have a clear and prioritised set of goals which is likely to have more political traction than any high-level narrative. How these translate into targets at a national level is also an important question. National targets need to be set: it is no good having high-level, meaningful targets if countries themselves cannot actually work with donor countries to deliver them. What fosters real country ownership and accountability is incentivised action and results on the ground.
The Prime Minister has talked about poverty and various noble Lords have reflected on it. I am reminded of the words of Mahatma Gandhi when he said that,
“poverty is the worst form of violence”.
What he meant was the need to empower people. Poverty is an evil which we need to eradicate and it is right that we remain focused on doing so. However, I accept that some goals will apply to some countries more than others. There are clear responsibilities for donor countries on, for example, the transparency of aid flows. Any goal on extreme poverty would be most relevant to poor countries. Targets on gender equality, mentioned by several noble Lords, should also be applied to several countries.
The noble Baroness, Lady Royall, and other noble Lords, rightly raised and focused on the issue of inequalities. She is a strong advocate of women’s rights and we shared common ground on the issue in the previous debate. Her comments resonate with all in your Lordships’ House. I assure the noble Baroness that Her Majesty’s Government are absolutely committed to putting a central emphasis on women’s rights in any post-2015 framework. We know that this is a key issue, but it is also a key part of a country’s development. I will, of course, raise the particular issue of the proposed new marriage law with my noble friend Lady Warsi and we will write to her in this regard as well.
My noble friend Lady Nicholson also asked whether Her Majesty’s Government would work to facilitate migration through a new framework. Whether, and how, to address migration in a post-2015 framework will be dependent on the priorities and this will be discussed.
There are a number of possible frameworks. We also talked about other inequalities including the issue of disability, so eloquently raised by the noble Lords, Lord Low and Lord Browne. There are a number of ways to incorporate disability and other forms of inequality into the post-2015 framework. One solution could be simply to disaggregate the measurement of targets in the new framework, a point touched on by the noble Baroness, Lady Kinnock. Another solution could be to set “getting to zero” goals and targets. Meeting these targets would require the needs of everyone to be met, including the most vulnerable and marginalised groups. A third option would be to focus on areas where inequality is particularly pressing. In this context, it is important to dwell on the words of my noble friend Lord Moynihan. I pay tribute to his efforts on the delivery of the Olympics and Paralympics which set a great example. They had the slogan of “Inspire a generation”: they inspired a nation and can perhaps inspire the world. Disability issues need to be central to any development goals and we shall be looking to raise them.
The noble Baroness, Lady Hollins, raised the issue of mental health. Once again, this should be reflected in the millennium development goals, but it is an unfortunate reality that, in certain countries, the issue of mental health is not recognised or is even hidden away. It is important that education about mental health and acceptance that this is a challenge faced by these countries is brought to the forefront so that the issues and challenges can be rightly targeted and addressed. Mental health is a fundamental health issue in the developed and developing world and Her Majesty’s Government will work with all parties to ensure that it remains a key focus.
I am conscious of the time and that there is much to be covered in this debate. I can assure the House that these debates are part and parcel of the Government’s wider consultation on the post-2015 development network. In the time left, I will answer some of the other questions which were raised. The noble Baroness, Lady Tonge, rightly raised the issue of reproductive health and family planning. Access to family planning is a fundamental right for women and the millennium goal of universal access to reproductive health was not met. We therefore need to consider how this can be built into the post-2015 goals. The noble Baroness, Lady Massey, and my noble friend Lady Jenkin raised the issue of involving the next generation. Our children and young people are vital in determining the MDG goals post-2015. I can assure my noble friend and the noble Baroness that, in the final day of its London meetings, the high-level panel hosted a range of broad, in-depth consultations between high-level panellists, civil society groups, the private sector and young people. The young people meeting was crucial in hearing the particular perspective of youths, some of the key challenges of which were so ably and eloquently set out by my noble friend Lady Jenkin.
The noble Lord, Lord Hannay, asked me about the EITI. Transparency, accountability and governance are important and, in the interests of time, I will write to the noble Lord in this regard.
As a spokesman on this issue I assure the House that this important issue is close to my heart and that the Government will continue to consult on it because of the wide range of experience and wisdom held within your Lordships’ House.
I finish by saying that the United Kingdom is committed to doing everything it can to deliver a bold, useful and realistic post-2015 framework that will drive poverty reduction and deliver real improvements in the lives of generations to come. As has been said by several noble Lords, a new framework needs to be simple, ambitious but, most importantly, actionable. It needs to reflect the diverse conditions of development and be relevant for low, middle and high-income countries as well as fragile and conflict-affected ones. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Bath and Wells rightly said that these particular goals should be about transformative change; I totally concur with those sentiments. However, I am sure that all will agree that this debate underlines yet again the true expertise and informed opinions of your Lordships from across the Chamber. As this fascinating debate was over lunchtime, it was also apt that we had references to Sandwiches and Crisps.
The Government continue to be proud of the role that Britain plays against global poverty. We will continue to live up to that reputation as we pursue the unique opportunity to be the generation that addresses this key issue and eradicates absolute poverty.
My Lords, I thank the Minister very much indeed for his full and detailed response. In this nation, with our wide, rich and varied experience and tremendously diverse but inclusive population, we have the most profound interest in the life and futures of the world. I mention the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Royall of Blaisdon, about the legislation which is now in front of the Egyptian Parliament. We are absolutely right to be concerned. It is a clear example of why your Lordships rose in such large quantities and with such a profusion of interventions in this important debate.
I am reminded of Pliny the Elder when he made his famous remark about Africa when I say that something new is always coming out of your Lordships’ House. The noble Lord, Lord Low, remarked that disability does not appear anywhere in the MDGs. What is this all about? The noble Baroness, Lady Hollins, also remarked on the absence of mental health. This is simply not good enough. As the noble Lord, Lord Sheikh, said, people need sources of wealth: they have to live and survive. We think, most profoundly, that the MDGs deserve a full-scale investigation in terms of the future post-2015 and we thank the Minister very much indeed for his commitment.
The point made by the noble Lord, Lord Bates—that we should set up an ad hoc committee—might be a way forward and begin, as the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, said, by inviting the Government to contribute at least a Green Paper and, perhaps, a white one. Ministers know that this is an important topic and that this House, particularly, wishes to be heavily involved.
Prisoners: Voting Rights
My Lords, with the leave of the House, I will now repeat a Statement made in another place by my right honourable friend the Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice:
“Mr Speaker, I wish to make a Statement about the Government’s approach to the judgments of the European Court of Human Rights on prisoner voting.
This is a subject that provokes intense debate, not least in this House. As the House will know, from as early as the case of Hirst in 2004, the court found the United Kingdom’s bar on prisoner voting to be ‘general, automatic and indiscriminate’ and concluded that it was, in the court’s view, in violation of Article 3 of Protocol 1 of the European Convention on Human Rights—the right to free and fair elections.
The previous Government committed to implementing the judgment and issued two consultations that did not resolve the issue. Litigation has continued in the domestic and Strasbourg courts. In the case of Greens and MT in 2010, the Strasbourg court again found that the UK was in violation of Article 3 of Protocol 1 of the convention, and gave the UK six months to bring forward legislative proposals to remove the violation. This deadline was stayed pending the UK’s intervention in a further case, Scoppola, involving the Italian Government. In this case, the Attorney-General argued in person before the court that national parliaments’ discretion to determine policy on this issue should allow for a complete bar on prisoner voting.
The judgment in the Scoppola case was handed down in May this year. It concludes the Strasbourg court’s consideration of the issue. In that judgment the court made it clear that in its view the ‘margin of appreciation’ afforded to individual Council of Europe member states to decide on how far prisoners should be enfranchised was wide, but confirmed its position that a complete bar was outside that margin. The judgment restarted the clock on Greens and MT and requires the Government to ‘bring forward legislative proposals’ to give effect to the judgment by tomorrow, 23 November, and to enact the required legislation.
The Prime Minister has made clear, on the record, his personal views on this subject. I have done the same. Those views have not changed. However, the Government are under an international law obligation to implement the court judgment. As Lord Chancellor, as well as Secretary of State for Justice, I take seriously the obligation on me to uphold the rule of law. Equally, it remains the case that Parliament is sovereign, and the Human Rights Act explicitly recognises that fact. The current law passed by Parliament remains in force unless and until Parliament decides to change it.
As Lord Justice Hoffmann put it in a case in 1999: ‘Parliamentary sovereignty means that Parliament can, if it chooses, legislate contrary to fundamental principles of human rights. The Human Rights Act 1998 will not detract from this power. The constraints upon its exercise by Parliament are ultimately political, not legal. But the principle of legality means that Parliament must squarely confront what it is doing and accept the political cost’.
Last month, the Attorney-General made it clear in evidence to the Justice Committee that it is, ‘entirely a matter for Government to make proposals but ultimately for Parliament to determine what it wants to do. Parliament is sovereign in this area; nobody can impose a solution on Parliament, but the accepted practice is that the United Kingdom observes its international obligations’.
The judgment requires the Government to bring forward legislative proposals for Parliament to consider. It will then be for Parliament to scrutinise and decide on those. So I have today laid before Parliament a draft Bill for pre-legislative scrutiny, and the Leaders of both Houses are writing to the Liaison Committees proposing that a Joint Committee of both Houses be appointed to conduct that pre-legislative scrutiny. We judge that pre-legislative scrutiny of this nature is appropriate given the significance of this issue and the strong views on both sides that exist right across this House.
The draft Bill sets out three different potential approaches for the committee to consider. Presenting a draft Bill with that range of options reflects the spectrum of views that we know exist on this question. However, it will of course be for the committee, once established, to consider whether approaches beyond those canvassed in the draft Bill should also be considered by Parliament in due course.
The first approach in the draft Bill is for prisoners sentenced to less than four years to be entitled to vote. A four-year bar has previously been discussed by Parliament. The second approach would limit the vote to prisoners sentenced to six months or less. The final approach would effectively restate the current position that anyone incarcerated following conviction would not have the vote.
The committee will want to consider these approaches, their consequences if they were in due course adopted by Parliament, and whether there are other options; for example, the Italian system, found to be compliant by the court, disenfranchises prisoners post-release. The committee will, I am sure, consider evidence on this and other approaches. It may also want to reflect on the consequences of Parliament’s ultimate decision for the rule of law and the UK’s international standing. The committee might also wish to think about practical implementation. The administrative consequences and costs of different approaches for the Prison Service, the courts, the electoral registration system and electoral registration officers could be significant.
The House will want to note that this draft Bill does not yet deal with territorial extent. Any Bill introduced into Parliament would need to extend to the whole of the United Kingdom, although the Bill is currently drafted for England and Wales only. The Government will engage with the devolved Administrations during the pre-legislative scrutiny process to ensure the legislation applies correctly in Scotland and Northern Ireland, in recognition of the interaction with devolved policy matters.
When the Joint Committee has finished its scrutiny, the Government will reflect on its recommendations. We will continue the legislative process by introducing a Bill for full debate and scrutiny as soon as possible thereafter.
I have set out in some detail for the House the background to the draft legislation that I am publishing today, and the respective roles of the Government and Parliament in resolving this issue. I commend this Statement to the House”.
My Lords, that concludes the Statement.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for repeating the Statement. It is an issue of enormous interest and concern, not only in your Lordships’ House and the other place but across the country.
This is not the first time the UK Government have had to look at this issue. As the noble Lord said, it has been controversial since the 2004 Hirst case, when the European Court of Human Rights ruled that the UK’s blanket ban on prisoner voting was contrary to Article 3 of Protocol 1 of the convention. The Labour Government disagreed with the court’s decision. We appealed and we continued to challenge the decision until we lost office. There may be differences of view on this issue but the Labour Government provided clarity and a consistent position throughout our time in government.
One of my concerns now is the lack of consistency and the confused messages from this Government on the issue. Many of us will recall Prime Minister David Cameron’s comments in the House of Commons in November 2010 that it would make him,
“physically ill even to contemplate having to give the vote to anyone who is in prison”.—[Official Report, Commons, 3/11/2010; col. 921.]
As the Minister said, he has made similar comments since. Just a few weeks after those comments—in fact it was the last day in the Commons before the Christmas Recess in 2010—the Government snuck out a Written Statement announcing that prisoners on sentences of less than four years would get the vote. That would have meant roughly 30,000 prisoners getting the vote, nearly 8,000 of whom having been found guilty of violent and/or sexual offences, although other prisoners, presumably guilty of the same offences but serving slightly longer sentences, would not have got the vote. At the time, we asked the Government to share the legal advice on which the decision was based, but they refused to do so.
Then, following an overwhelming vote in the Commons in favour of the status quo on 10 February 2011, the Government appeared to abandon that policy and, this year, the Attorney-General again appealed to the European Court in the Grand Chamber and we supported that appeal. Then, just last month, the Guardian newspaper reported government plans for a draft Bill on prisoner voting. At the time, that was categorically denied by the Government, yet, four weeks later, we have a draft Bill. We need to digest the details of this draft Bill and will work with the Government to ensure that it receives the pre-legislative scrutiny that any such Bill deserves.
The Labour Opposition’s views on this issue are well known and well documented. We are unhappy with the European Court ruling on prisoner voting. It is not a case of our Government failing to hold free or fair elections, or of massive electoral fraud; this is about those convicted of an offence deemed so serious as to warrant a prison sentence being denied while they are in prison a number of rights and privileges, including the privilege of voting. The Labour Government remained consistently of the view that this should be within the margin of appreciation that nation states are given by the court.
Prison is a punishment, and we feel equally strongly about the state’s responsibilities aggressively to intervene to address offending behaviour of prisoners and to try to prevent reoffending. Improving physical and mental health, literacy, preparation and training for work and preparation for life outside prison are crucial ways in which any country should seek to end the cycle of offending. The notion that depriving a serving prisoner of the vote means that it is more likely that they will reoffend is absurd.
We have to respect, and will respect, the rule of law. We cannot abide just by those judgments that we agree with. We are mindful of our obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights and of the way that it has protected human rights across Europe for more than six decades. However, we regret that the Government wasted the opportunity to reform the court during their recent chairmanship of the Council of Europe. They failed to secure changes that would have led to the court respecting the unique circumstances of each individual member country and have prevented it adjudicating on domestic social policy such as this.
Parliamentarians should know the Government’s legal advice on what is needed to discharge our obligations under the convention on human rights. We need full information and clarity on the ramifications of any decisions that Parliament may take, because there is a risk that choosing the wrong option could lead to compensation claims from prisoners and to us as a country being in breach of the rule of law.
We have again requested that the Government publish their legal advice so that Parliament can make an informed judgment. Does the Minister consider that it would be helpful to your Lordships’ House, the other place and any Joint Committee if the legal advice on which the draft Bill relies could be made available to Parliament? If not, why not?
How long do the Government anticipate the pre-legislative scrutiny lasting? My reason for asking is that the Government’s position on this issue has changed so often and caused so much uncertainty that it would be helpful for it to be clarified as soon as possible. When is Parliament likely to be able to vote on these options as the Government have outlined and are the Government likely to recommend any of the three options to Parliament?
This is an important issue that causes enormous concern in the country, in your Lordships’ House and in the other place, and we need clarity. On the one hand, we have the Prime Minister saying that even contemplating giving prisoners the vote makes him physically sick and the Government denying press reports that there would be a draft Bill, yet, on the other, we have a draft Bill being published today. Surely, on this issue, the Government should offer some consistency and leadership and be clear about their intentions.
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, for that very constructive response and I accept immediately her offer to work with the Government to make this a constructive exercise. Obviously, the first objective will be to set up the Joint Committee and then to let it get down to its work. I hope that I have not damaged her political prospects too much.
My Lords, I had not realised that I had been quite so constructive as the Minister thought.
I am sure that when she reads Hansard she will agree with me, but if she wants to be more abusive to me in a letter, I shall put it in the Library of the House.
We can have analysis of how this issue has been handled during this past 10 years and whether there were better ways of doing it. The Statement today lets Parliament set out a path to resolving the issue which is sensible and which may help us get to a solution which addresses the complex and sometimes conflicting issues to which the noble Baroness referred. It is an acceptable view—I heard Mr Jack Straw express it again today—that denying prisoners the vote is a denial of civic and social rights but not of human rights, but the problem that we face is that the court has taken a different view and that we are legally committed to obey or recognise it. The Joint Committee will be able to listen to a wide range of views, which I am sure will be forthcoming.
It is a long-standing convention that the Government do not disclose their legal advice. However, on this exceptional basis and to facilitate appropriate parliamentary scrutiny of this issue, the Government will publish a summary of their legal position once the proposed Joint Committee convenes. My right honourable friend the Lord Chancellor has also made it clear that the Government will try to give the committee all facilities and information to allow it to come to a considered judgment. We could have lots of fun debating who should have done what and when during this past decade, but today we can set off on a path which allows Parliament, with a full regard—this I do take from what the noble Baroness said—to the wider implications of whatever decision is taken, to take this matter forward. As always, we will listen carefully to the views of this House.
My Lords, I do apologise for jumping up earlier and I shall jump down pretty soon. My remarks are based on many years as a member of the board of visitors of Pentonville prison and many years as a member of the mental health review tribunal dealing with Broadmoor.
First, I wonder about the inmates of Broadmoor, some of whom, one hopes, will become normal, if not totally, criminal lunatics with time. Will they eventually get votes? The same would apply to institutions where the prisoners are drug addicts. What would be their position? I have a feeling that every prison has a hospital. Who is going to judge whether the patients in the prison hospitals are in fit state to vote?
I also wonder whether Members of Parliament who have prisons in their constituencies have thought about their future voting figures—rather different perhaps from what they are now. There are a great many questions to be answered. I have a feeling that I share the views of the Minister and I hope that he can put my mind at rest on some of my questions.
My Lords, the list of questions raised by the noble Baroness illustrates why this has been a very difficult issue. The issue of prisoners with mental illnesses has been looked at separately, but parallel, to this. However, the level and seriousness of illness has been a concern and that is why there are a range of options. I hope that when the Joint Committee is set up it will look at some of these issues and take evidence from a wide range of people with experience and expertise. I pay tribute to the noble Baroness’s personal expertise and experience in this area. Some serious examination is needed now based on good analysis and well informed opinion from people with experience. That then needs to be synthesised by the Select Committee into a well informed recommendation to Parliament. It is a sensible process and the indications are that all sides of the House will pay their part constructively.
My Lords, when I was on the human rights committee we visited the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. It was concerned that Britain, which had previously implemented all decisions of the European court, would give encouragement to the notorious abusers of human rights around the world by not implementing this one. Will the Minister comment on that? Will he further comment on a letter dated 30 August 2011 that was sent from the European court to the British Government? The final paragraph of the letter states:
“The Chamber would therefore regard as reasonable an extension of six months after the date of the Grand Chamber judgment in Scoppola (no 3) for the introduction of a Bill to Parliament”.
Not a draft Bill; not a committee for the introduction of a Bill to Parliament. Surely we have missed the boat already.
No, I do not think we have missed the boat already. In neither House have we pretended that this is an easy issue to deal with. If there was a consensus on what to do, we would have dealt with it quickly and early. However, we have conflicting views and we are taking this forward.
I agree with the noble Lord on one thing. I heard Mr David Davis in the other place say that what we do on this would be a precedent, and he is quite right. If the United Kingdom were to decide on a “pick-and-mix” attitude to the rulings of the court and the application of human rights, others would gleefully grab that example when we try to take them to task. I did not agree with the noble Baroness when she was rather dismissive of the progress we made in Brighton in reforming the court. I do not think that anybody has denied that the court needs reform and we made great progress there that is ongoing.
The most significant thing for me was the day after the declaration was signed when the Attorney-General hosted a tour de table where each of the responsible Ministers from the Council of Europe gave an explanation and a justification of how they were implementing the convention. Here was a Russian Minister—I know Russia is not perfect—explaining and justifying its stewardship of the ECHR. I am old enough to remember meetings with the old Soviet Union when any attempt to raise human rights was taken to be an interference in its internal affairs and could not be discussed. I consider it tremendous progress by the convention and by the Council of Europe.
My Lords, I am very glad that we now have a framework but I am sorry that we are still embarked on the approach from the wrong way round, which is why the consultation has failed. The question should not be who should have the vote—that is what was laid down by the European court. The question is who should not have the vote. The consultation failed because it asked the wrong questions. I am concerned by that approach, although I am very glad to see that the Government are going to allow consideration of other options such as the one I have always advocated that the sentencer should award the removal of the right to vote at the time of sentence noted to a crime. I also note that there is still concern about costs. That a slight red herring. I have always understood that the costs are minimal because it will be postal voting which happens for all remand prisoners now anyway.
My concern and question relates to the current law passed by Parliament. As far as I understand it, the only law that affects voting is dated 1870. It condemns a person to prison as being a form of living death. That conflicts quite starkly with the Statement about rehabilitation revolutions which we have just heard from the Secretary of State. Is the law of 1870 still held to be applying or is there a new law at the back of this very sensible proposal? I look forward to helping the Select Committee when the time comes.
I would have to take advice on whether the 1870 law is the only one. I presume that there have been successor electoral laws since then. However, I agree with the noble Lord that we now have a framework. Whether the wrong questions have been asked or in the wrong order, the committee once set up will have considerable leeway to set its own terms of reference. My right honourable friend in the other place made it clear that although the draft Bill gave a number of options that was not the full scope of where the committee could go or what the committee could examine. The Lord is quite right that mention of cost is a bit of scaremongering. It would be handled, I suspect, as postal votes. On the point mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Trumpington, I remember a newspaper suggesting that in the Isle of Wight the seat could be swung by the block vote from Parkhurst. It is a reductio ad absurdum of the debate.
I am told that the law disqualifying prisoners from voting is now contained in the Representation of the People Act 1983. We have moved on 100 years and it is interesting that the Act is now nearly 30 years old.
There have been many red herrings in regard to the methodology of prisoner voting. I suspect that it would be done by postal votes, which would not be a tremendous burden on the administration of any elections. However, that is another matter on which the committee can take expert advice.
My Lords, whether we like it or not—and if not now then at some time in the future—and whether it makes someone sick or not, the Government are under an international law obligation to implement the ECHR judgment. That being the case, is my noble friend able to identify the countries in the European Union that allow those convicted of crimes to have the right to vote? As the Minister responsible for providing the initiative for the rehabilitation of offenders, does he accept that by granting prisoners the right to vote, it will help in the rehabilitation of offenders?
My Lords, that illustrates the range of opinions on this matter. The Secretary of State set out his personal view and the personal view of the Prime Minister. I share the view of my noble friend that it could be possible to devise a system of enfranchisement for some prisoners that could play a useful part in a rehabilitation process. That may be something that he, or other bodies with which he is associated, may wish to put to the committee.
As regards the Council of Europe, some 41 members give prisoners the right to the vote to some degree or another and six continue with a blanket ban. Those six are: Armenia, Bulgaria, Estonia, Russia, San Marino and the United Kingdom.
My Lords, I welcome the Statement as it offers a number of options. You can accept the changes and, therefore, observe the rights of the convention; or, if you refuse, you can leave it. To reject and leave the convention would be a proper exercise of parliamentary democracy. Is the Minister aware that I am a member of the human rights committee in the Council of Europe? That committee has received reports of many abuses of human rights, particularly in eastern European countries. I was sent to release 130 people from an Armenian jail, who had been accused of threats to the state simply by holding a public protest. I was able to get them out of jail because I was able to argue that Armenia is in breach of human rights. However, having listened to them, I know that they would like parliamentary sovereignty to overrule the human rights convention and they are watching Britain to see whether we do this.
My Lords, I am aware of the service of the noble Lord, Lord Prescott, not only on the human rights committee, but more generally, to the Council of Europe. That council and its membership is something of which Britain has, rightly, been proud. His illustration is a perfect follow-up to what the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, referred to. I hope that the committee and the other place, when they weigh in the balance the various competing issues, take full account of the fact that we might seem to be setting a precedent whereby it is optional whether one complies with the convention and the court. There are those on whom we have previously been able to exert pressure where that pressure will be the less because we have provided them with a precedent. It is not a complete and convincing argument but it is one that should be put into the mix for careful consideration.
My Lords, does the Minister agree that in today’s society, which is so affected by the pressures of the popular press, there is a danger of prisoners being given pariah status, as illustrated by the fact that candidates for police and crime commissioner who had had a minor offence years ago in their youth were automatically disqualified? Should that not be in the forefront of the consideration of the Joint Committee? Can the Minister also clarify whether, and at what point, this matter might be subject to a free vote rather than a whipped vote?
My Lords, on the latter point, I am afraid I cannot give the House guidance. Without trivialising it, the answer is how long is a piece of string; how long will a committee ponder, deliberate and take evidence on these issues and then bring them forward to Parliament. The process is there and I cannot believe that it will be approached frivolously. It will be approached seriously by those who serve on the committee. They will bring forward their recommendations and then the Government are committed to bringing forward legislation in the light of that.
I agree with the right reverend Prelate on the way that this debate is handled by the media. I am pleased that the Government are concentrating their efforts on rehabilitation—I was very pleased that the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, lent her support to that concept—and it is worth considering that this could be part of a rehabilitation process. That will be a part of the discussions that the committee will have to consider.
My Lords, many people serve up to 50% of their sentence in prison and the remainder on release when, of course, they could exercise their vote. So are we not fulfilling our obligation to the ECHR already?
Apparently not. A number of people have pointed out that those in prison on remand retain the right to vote and a range of others who are incarcerated also retain the right to vote. The noble Baroness points out that those who are released, having served part of their sentence, can resume their right to vote. However, in the view of the court, that was not sufficient to clear the hurdle that it believed was implicit in the Article 3 responsibility. The committee will look at the issues. If there is a way that Parliament, particularly the House of Commons, can find favour with, we will take that solution forward.
My Lords, the Minister will be aware that the Scottish Parliament has more clearly delineated the relationship with the ECHR than this Parliament has. Can he give us some indication, particularly in the light of his response to the right reverend Prelate, on the timing of getting legislation through Parliament and what he thinks the implications of that would be for the referendum on Scottish independence, which is now less than two years away?
I do not want to speculate on that. I shall repeat what my right honourable friend said in the other place concerning the devolved areas and jurisdictions. This morning, he talked to the Scottish justice secretary, and to Wales and Northern Ireland, and the reason they were not in the original document was simply that we were not able to consult them in advance of publication. However, as this matter is taken forward, we want them all to be fully involved.
China: Multilateral Nuclear Disarmament
Motion to Take Note
That this House takes note of the case for intensified discussions on multilateral nuclear disarmament with China.
My Lords, in moving the Motion standing in my name, I draw the attention of your Lordships to my entry in the register of Members’ interests, particularly my engagement with a number of organisations devoted to multilateral nuclear disarmament, improved non-proliferation and increased nuclear security. When I first submitted this Motion to the ballot for debate, I thought it was an opportunity for the House to debate and, maybe for the first time, for the Government to report to Parliament on the P5 discussions on confidence-building measures and nuclear disarmament that have been taking place since 2009.
Members of your Lordships’ House may be aware that I have some investment in these discussions. In particular, in a speech that I gave to the conference on disarmament in Geneva on 5 February 2008, I reminded those listening that the preamble to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty made it clear that,
“all States party to the Treaty should work towards ‘the easing of international tension and the strengthening of trust between States in order to facilitate the cessation of the manufacture of nuclear weapons, the elimination of all their existing stockpiles, and the elimination from national arsenals of nuclear weapons and the means of their delivery’”.
I observed that the international community, in the context of the anticipated NPT Review Conference, was seeking,
“a transparent, sustainable and credible plan for multilateral nuclear disarmament”,
one that addressed,
“proliferation, so that disarmament and counter-proliferation both move forward together”.
I announced then that the United Kingdom Government:
“As part of our global efforts … hope to engage with other P5 states in other confidence-building measures on nuclear disarmament”,
through the anticipated NPT review cycle, the aim being,
“to promote greater trust and confidence as a catalyst for further reductions in warheads—but without undermining the credibility of our existing nuclear deterrents”.
That announcement subsequently led to the first ever meeting of the P5 states, including China, in London in 2009, which then went on to a meeting in Paris to discuss these issues, and another in Washington in 2012.
It is interesting that at the time of that meeting in Washington on 28 June 2012, the head of our delegation to the P5 conference, Robert Hannigan, issued a press release, the last sentence of which read:
“I am pleased that we have come a long way since our initial discussions in London and can focus this week on implementation of our commitments and taking forward new initiatives on nuclear disarmament, including confidence-building measures and exchanging verification experiences”.
I start my remarks on this Motion by inviting the Minister, either when he responds or at some stage, to build on that short press release to make it clear to the House what these steps are and to account to Parliament for them. What engagement do we have with our P5 partners, particularly China, on these very important matters? A significant and potentially world-changing conversation is taking place and the first reporting of it cannot be to the next review committee of the NPT. There ought to be some reporting of these discussions to Parliament and I am unable to find any proper reporting of them taking place.
That was my initial focus. However, since then I have had the benefit of a visit to China, in late October and early November. In the context of my recently acquired board membership of the Nuclear Threat Initiative, I was invited to attend a board meeting in the company of the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, who has served on that board for 10 years. For those of your Lordships who do not know what the Nuclear Threat Initiative is, it is an NGO based in Washington and led by Sam Nunn, who for many years as a senator was chair of the armed services committee of the Senate, and Ted Turner. For 10 years, it has done groundbreaking work on reducing the use and preventing the spread of nuclear, biological and chemical weapons, while working to build trust, transparency and security, principally from the United States but also in Russia and China. All of these trust-building, transparency and security measures are preconditions of the fulfilment of the NPT. I congratulate the Nuclear Threat Initiative on the work it has done; the House should record its congratulations to the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, on her decade of contribution to that significant work, which has gone relatively unsung.
Over the days that we were in China, we had the privilege of meeting analysts, researchers, academics, retired senior military, senior officials and the Chinese Foreign Minister to discuss, among other things, nuclear disarmament, non-proliferation and nuclear security. We also had the privilege of attending a seminar at the Chinese institute of contemporary relations; an excellent discussion about regional challenges, including what is happening in the East China Sea, at the Carnegie centre of Tsinghua University; and an international conference of technical experts and analysts of disarmament and verification under the auspices of an organisation that has the acronym PIIC.
All of this was absorbing and interesting and, as it was the eve of the change of leadership in China and as we had the advantage of detailed briefing and informed discussion about regional security issues in the broader geopolitical context, it was immensely informing and remarkably optimistic in its sense of engagement and trust-building. I note that the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, is scheduled to speak in this debate. I hope she will agree—we have not caucused on this issue—that what was striking in those meetings, when all these interesting and important issues were being discussed, was how comparatively irrelevant Europe and in particular the United Kingdom were to those discussions. The expression I have used since then is that you had to have relatively sharp elbows to get between the Russians who were present, the Chinese and those from the United States as they discussed these great global issues. It was very difficult to get a European or British voice or justification. I concluded that this was perhaps because there was no manifestation of any great effort being made on the part of our country or of Europe to engage significantly with the Chinese.
However, we live in an interconnected world. China is the EU’s second biggest trading partner, after the United States. Until two days ago, the EU was also China’s biggest export market. I noticed that the Chinese announced on Tuesday that the United States has overtaken the European Union as their biggest export market, as demand on this continent has dropped off because of the financial crisis. However, since the start of 2012 alone, we have had shipments from China to the EU valuing $276.8 billion. We are integrated with China not only economically but politically and if we have taken the lead economically, why do we appear to be holding back politically in our engagement with China, which is such an important power? We can do more and I hope that the short debate we will have over the next two hours or so may make some contribution to that engagement.
As Jon Huntsman, the former United States Ambassador to China between 2009 and 2011, writes in December’s Prospect magazine:
“Over the next years China will face multiple challenges”.
He sets them out but I do not intend to repeat them here; I think everyone knows what they are. Among those challenges, he says, the new leadership and the new president, Xi Jinping, will have to face the responsibility of dealing directly with the United States and the rest of the world over global issues of security and defence. The discussion that will take place, which we—that is, the Europeans and in particular the United Kingdom—have to be part of, will set the tone for potential global peace and stability.
Xi Jinping faces that challenge in the context of the renewed hope that President Obama has engendered that he will pursue his Prague agenda in his second term in office and seek to take significant steps towards a world free of nuclear weapons by reducing the salience of nuclear weapons and their numbers. He outlined his vision for a world free of nuclear weapons in a major speech in Prague in 2009, and the cheering of the people of Europe was audible as he outlined it. I have to say that the political support that he received thereafter was conspicuous by its absence, but he had other domestic challenges.
Not only did he outline that challenge but in September 2009 he chaired the summit meeting of the Security Council in which it unanimously adopted the ambition of a world free of nuclear weapons. We are now in the situation where all the important global leaders espouse the challenge of zero nuclear weapons, including our own Prime Minister, Mr David Cameron. We are committed to a world free of nuclear weapons; we have signed up to that.
Since then, the US and Russia have signed the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, known as New START, requiring both of them to reduce their deployed strategic arsenals significantly. Thereafter, though, by and large there is no more good news. It appears that all the nuclear-armed states of the world plan to spend approximately $1 trillion on renewing or improving their nuclear weapon systems, so the rhetoric is for a world free of nuclear weapons but the steps towards it are conspicuous by their absence. More needs to be done. The reduction of these stockpiles is a global responsibility. Of course the United States and Russia have by far the biggest arsenals, but we are not going to make any progress unless we, the P5 countries, take our shared responsibilities for these steps, and that includes China.
What is striking about our engagement with China is that its nuclear weapons are shrouded in secrecy. There is nothing very unusual about that, of course; most of the nuclear weapons states in the world have a substantial degree of secrecy about their nuclear weapons. The Chinese analysis is that they have a very small number of nuclear weapons and they have a no-first-strike policy, a combination that requires a deal of secrecy. That then engenders suspicion, and there is a whole spectrum of speculation about whether it has thousands, including some hidden in tunnels—some analysis by Georgetown University suggested that, with no basis—or whether the view that General Robert Kehler, the head of US Strategic Command, is said to take, that they have several hundred nuclear weapons, is likely to be correct. The conclusion that I came to in my discussions with both Chinese experts and the experts that we had in our company, including Eugene Habiger, the retired US Air Force four-star general who served as commander-in-chief of US Strategic Command, was that the smaller of those numbers is more likely to be correct.
It is important for a starting point of the steps that we are taking if these discussions to know where the United Kingdom Government stand in this broad range of views. If they believe the larger estimates, which in my view are significantly exaggerated, they feed western unease about Chinese ambitions and create difficulty when it comes to building trust and confidence, whereas if they tend to the lower end of the spectrum and they share the view of the US Strategic Command, there appears to be a basis for some sensible discussion, should nuclear disarmament discussions be multilateralised.
If we rely upon Wikileaks, there was some suggestion that as recently as 2008 very senior members of the FCO shared the view that the larger numbers were likely to be the truth. I do not expect the Minister to comment on Wikileaks, but it would be helpful for an informed discussion if the Government made some public declaration of where they think Chinese nuclear weapons sit in this range of speculation, and what the basis for our discussions should be.
The purpose of all of this is that if we are to achieve the ambition that we say we all share, we have to prepare ourselves for a discussion across the world about ridding the world of these nuclear weapons. It is possible that if President Putin and President Obama move beyond the phase of New START, there will be a new set of discussions. We know from his public utterances that President Putin’s view is that they need to be multilateralised. What will our contribution be other than saying, “When the time is right we will engage with these multilateral discussions”, and what steps will we take to encourage the Chinese to engage?
In the context of these P5 discussions, what possibility is there that we, the Americans and the French, having hosted meetings of these P5 discussions, can encourage the Chinese and the Russians to host discussions too? That would be a significant statement to the rest of the world.
I suggest this as a possible way forward for engagement with the Chinese. What possibility is there that we and the French will voluntarily buy into the verification and transparency of the New START regime in order to set a model for the Chinese Government to buy into it too, so that we can move away from our inherent suspicion about China’s nuclear weapons system and its intentions?
My Lords, it gives me great pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Browne of Ladyton, on the subject before us. I am only sorry that because of the pressure on the House of Lords over the past few days there are not more people present to take part in this debate, because we are now looking at the second greatest economic power in the world, and perhaps the third greatest military power, and it is important that our Parliament understands better than it does at present, and takes a greater interest in, what is happening in that remarkable country.
I shall start by bearing out even further what the noble Lord, Lord Browne, was saying about the significance of the Nuclear Threat Initiative, which held a meeting in Beijing. It is a body that, as he rightly says, has great influence in the United States; it has been consistently strongly in favour of multilateral nuclear disarmament, has great influence with the Houses of Congress, particularly the Senate, and is greatly respected in many parts of the world. Indeed, it has access to an astonishing extent to countries where even foreign offices do not have the same kind of contacts or relationships that they ought to enjoy.
Furthermore, we also had great help from the University of Tsinghua, one of the key Chinese universities. There has been a lot of the discussion in our own House recently about universities. This particular university has great standing in China, is very internationally minded and has enabled many students to come forward with a real understanding of the global situation. It is a matter of great regret that that university, like many others, has run into the extraordinary visa problems that have been thrown up by the new immigration policies of the United Kingdom, which in many ways are very discouraging to people in China who we ought to relate to very closely.
The other thing to say about Tsinghua University is that its rector—Dr Yang Fujia, who, as it happens, is also chancellor of Nottingham University—has been a significant bridge between this country on the one hand and the United States and China on the other, and he has consistently and continually worked on trying to create better and more understanding relationships between this country and China.
I shall begin by saying a word or two about the situation thrown up by the change of leadership in China. I am delighted to see that there are speakers in this debate who know a great deal about this subject, and I hope that they will contribute their knowledge to this discussion. It is of the first importance that we understand what opportunities and difficulties confront what is, after all, a generational change. There has been no change for over a decade in the system of Chinese leadership, as distinct from the personalities, and it is that system that we have to try to understand, and which I believe China will have to try to change.
The election of Mr Xi Jinping as the new leader of China, following Wu Jintao, does not bring about any huge change in the doctrinal policy likely to be followed by the country. Some people in China believe that Mr Xi Jinping, partly because of his background, is likely to be rather more open-minded to the world and perhaps rather more liberal, but that view is not necessarily correct and is not tremendously widely held.
There were no systematic changes in this leadership shift. Although it was relatively seamless in appearance, there was obviously a great deal of difficulty, chaos and indecision over the past year or two running up to this change. We need only look at the fact that Mr Bo Xilai, the very popular leader of one of China’s major provinces, Chongqing, has been not just removed, but purged from the Communist Party. I understand from my Chinese contacts—and I have been to China quite a few times in the past few years—that one of the reasons behind this was precisely the clash between his popularity and the policies that he was suspected of being likely to pursue. When the Politburo made the decision to purge Mr Bo Xilai, one of the real problems it had was deciding on what basis it was going to purge him. It ultimately purged him on grounds of corruption, but there were certainly many rumours in China that he might be purged on grounds of treason. I mention that only because it is of such significance to look at a leading Chinese who was not a member of the Politburo, but a fast-rising star, in a situation where regime change began to be widely discussed.
I very much hope that the noble Lord, Lord Wilson, and others Members of this House will make their contribution to this debate.
That purging suggests that we are looking at a very much more stormy period than most of us recognise or believe. Why is there such a stormy period? I shall mention some of the factors that remain unresolved in China. I speak as somebody who passionately hopes that China will make her way to a more open society because she is a country of great significance and importance. I shall list them very quickly. The first major factor is the rift in the leadership. The second is that the leadership has left itself wide open to the challenge that it is overtaken by cronyism and that far too many of the new leaders are princelings. The sons—alas, not the daughters—of the great leaders of the long march and the original red revolution have become significant financial players. In many cases, they are chairmen or vice-chairmen of the big state-owned enterprises and banks, and are, in fact, becoming something of an oligarchy. That is ironic in a way, given the original ideals of the Chinese revolution.
The third big factor is corruption. It is widespread in China, not least in local government, where it is fed consistently by the seizure of land and its sale to developers for large sums of money, most of which do not find their way back to the peasants who lived on that land. Very often, the money is siphoned off, sometimes abroad, or to the private fortunes of those who have the ability to turn that land from peasant, farming land into development land, with huge planning gains.
The fourth factor is that China has been slow to recognise the need for at least a basic welfare state. It is beginning to move on this. For example, at present something like 95% of the Chinese population is covered by some sort of very basic healthcare, whereas the figure only five years ago was 15%. The Chinese are beginning to move, however slowly, in that direction, but they are still a very long way from something like the National Health Service, in which they have shown considerable interest.
The fifth factor, but I shall not go on about it, is crucial to understanding the unrest in China, which is very great. Three years ago, when I went to speak to the China Reform Forum, the training college for the young elite of the Chinese Communist Party, one of the things that surprised me was the sheer scale of demonstrations in China, running into the thousands, all too many of which had to be put down by the People’s Liberation Army. In other words, those demonstrations were much more than the flag waving and shouting of slogans that we have day after day across the street under King George V’s statue. They were altogether different.
I shall mention one other factor, which is very important. It is the house registration system, with which many people in Britain are not familiar. Other people know more about this than I do, such as the noble Lord, Lord Wilson, and other Peers. It is a system under which you are registered in the house in which you are born. That house registration becomes your passport to whatever benefits or, for that matter, duties, you have in that province of China. Quite basically, it means that if you are born in a rural state, you will have only the most basic education and health services, very many benefits will not apply to you, you will have a very low pension, if any at all, and you can leave the province where you are registered only as a migrant worker carrying with you the lack of the benefits and rights that people in Shanghai, Beijing or Guangdong undoubtedly enjoy. One might almost describe the house registration system as a blockade to social mobility, and it is one of the reasons why the leadership of China has consistently become more an elite divorced from a large number of the people.
Having said all that, let me return to the issue we are discussing in this debate: the nuclear issue. I shall say a few words about the problems that China confronts in foreign affairs, which have already been adduced by my noble friend Lord Browne, but are worth saying a little more about. The first thing to say is that the United States’ modernisation of nuclear weapons is regarded in China as an extremely serious challenge. Whether we like it or not, China still sees three countries as posing a certain threat to itself. One of those countries is the United States, the second is India and the third is Japan. I shall say a word about each. I am not pleading for China, but I understand why the modernisation of conventional and nuclear weapons in the United States troubles China very much indeed. After all, the United States is the biggest naval presence in the Pacific and its defence budget is equivalent to the next 13 countries in the world, which include China, Russia, France, the United Kingdom and many more, and, if Mr Romney had become president, it would have been increased very substantially.
I want to say a few words about nuclear modernisation. One of those words concerns the attempt to get smaller and more effective nuclear weapons—thermobaric weapons—which add a number of other fragmented materials to uranium or another nuclear product, usually U-235, to make the effect of those bombs much more explosive and much more devastating.
A perhaps equally frightening weapon is the “mother of all weapons”—the MOAW—so called, unfortunately, by the nuclear military industry. It is so powerful and so explosive that it is capable of knocking out anything buried several meters under earth, or even several tens of meters under earth. It is the biggest explosive device that anyone has ever invented.
Also very troubling is the introduction of nanotechnology into nuclear development. It means the opposite of the mother of all weapons; it means tiny nuclear bombs which can blow up a whole city but which are extremely hard to detect. It will be very difficult for the NPT—or to be more precise, the International Atomic Energy Agency in Geneva—to inspect, discover and track nuclear weapons as tiny as are now being developed. Therefore, China has some reason to be worried, as does the world. Not just China, but nuclear weapon countries—P5 and outside—all over the world are developing this highly sophisticated and rather terrifying technology.
I referred to India, which China sees as a rival. One of the most destructive steps ever taken in the world of attempting to deal with multilateral disarmament was—I said it rather loudly at the time but not many people were listening—the US-India agreement of 2008. It was a terrifying agreement because, not only did it exempt India from any of the controls by the nuclear suppliers group—an essential element in the whole structure of trying to control and govern nuclear weapons—it also enabled India to bypass issues about the comprehensive nuclear test ban treaty and fissile material induction, simply by the United States agreeing with India that it would not be pressed on any of those issues. It was a desperate act of irresponsibility by George Bush. I share my noble friend Lord Browne’s view that we are lucky to have seen Mr Obama re-elected if we are really concerned about the possibility of nuclear destruction in this world.
Let me add a little to what my noble friend Lord Browne has already said about what we might do. It is crucial to build on China’s doctrinal addiction, as he said, to the concept of no first use. China likes no first use because, effectively, it means that it is protected from being morally blamed when it deals with a country which is, for example, likely to move towards the development of nuclear weapons. For 20 years, it has enabled China to take a moral position in the P5 and then to argue to everyone else that they should take the same moral position. So far, no one else has done so.
However, in 2000, when the members of the nuclear proliferation treaty met in order to discuss what might be done, they strongly argued for—under great pressure from the non-nuclear weapon states—the idea of what was called at the time a major move towards an attempt to get multilateral agreement on no first use. They called for negative security assurances; in other words, a promise that, “If you meet certain conditions, we will not attack you with nuclear weapons or, in some cases, any other kind of weapons”.
Since 2000, there has been very little move forward on negative security assurances, which I believe to be one of the key elements in trying to get a sensible world of nuclear order. But I would say loud and clear that one of the things that this country and the Foreign Office—I give due credit to the Foreign Secretary and others in the Foreign Office for the work that they have tried to do in this field—should do is discuss the possibility of bilateral no first use agreements between the P5, and beyond the P5 between the P5 countries and those which are so-called nuclear weapon states not recognised within the P5—in other words, build up a network of no first use rather than simply making an announcement about no first use.
I am sorry if I have taken some time but this is a rather major subject. Finally, the other area where we can go a very long way to try to bring China within a more globally responsible structure—it is not very good at global responsibility—is by agreeing to start negotiating on things such as no first use, and moving on to things such as CTBT, of which China is a member, and the fissile material cut-off treaty, in an effort to bring this country, which is not an aggressive country but is certainly a troubled country, within the sphere of global responsibility. That very much includes its very special relationship with North Korea, which I am glad to say is getting somewhat better.
My Lords, the subject of this debate might seem at first sight to be a little esoteric, but I suggest that it is not. It is, in fact, at the heart of any meaningful effort to make progress towards the objective of a world free of nuclear weapons, which was set out in President Obama’s Prague speech. However, the issue is equally at the heart of achieving that other objective, which is supported by a wider body of opinion than the first, of a world with far fewer nuclear weapons than exist now, and with such weapons stood down from the state of high alert that currently persists and playing a less prominent role in the defence and security strategies of the states that possess them. Add to those considerations the facts that President Obama has recently been elected to a new term of office, that the Democrats have a larger majority in the Senate than they had before that election and, at the same time, that a sweeping shift in the leadership of China is taking place—the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, told us some interesting things about that—you have all the conditions for a highly topical debate.
The tireless efforts of the noble Lord, Lord Browne, as the convenor of the Top Level Group of UK Parliamentarians for Multilateral Nuclear Disarmament and Non-proliferation, and of the European Leadership Network, which met last week in London, are so noteworthy that he must be warmly congratulated, not least for the wide-ranging speech with which he opened the debate.
If nuclear disarmament discussions between the nuclear weapons states, the P5, often resemble a dance of the seven veils, it should be recognised that China has not, as yet, shed much in the way of those veils—fewer than most of the other nuclear powers. Its statements of nuclear strategy, which have just been referred to, are cast in the most general of terms and are bereft of any of the specifics that would be needed to provide the transparency required if genuine steps towards disarmament were to be achieved. That may not have mattered much, so long as China’s nuclear arsenal was pretty small and so long as the US-Soviet and, subsequently, the US-Russian strategic weapons negotiations were effectively the only game in town. However, given that China is reportedly alone among the P5 in still adding to its arsenal, and with the need for negotiations outside that original duo becoming more pressing, that is no longer the case.
Moreover, in the context of verification processes, to which in general terms China has always shown itself to be remarkably allergic—that was as true in the discussions on climate change as it is of nuclear disarmament—China will surely be a necessary component of any steps towards wider nuclear disarmament. China’s firm support for bringing the comprehensive test ban treaty into force, which will require its own ratification but which has not taken place, will be an important element of any renewed effort to get the United States Senate to ratify that treaty. There is therefore plenty to discuss with the Chinese, even if they were not the closest allies of two extraordinarily problematic possessors of nuclear and weapons, Pakistan and North Korea, and a crucial component in the international efforts to head off a third, Iran.
Fortunately, there already exists one forum for such discussions, to which the noble Lord, Lord Browne, made reference, in the shape of the regular, if so far pretty infrequent, consultative meetings between the P5—the five nuclear weapons states recognised as such under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. The discussions, for which the noble Lord, Lord Browne, deserves a share of the credit, were initiated a few years ago. What is needed now is for those meetings to become more frequent, and for them also to become more operational and less academic. For example, those consultations could, first, make progress towards defining the terms of a fissile material cut-off treaty that would be supported by all five of the recognised weapons states, if ever Pakistan’s veto on even beginning the negotiation of such a treaty in the conference on disarmament could be removed or circumvented. Secondly, a better understanding could perhaps be reached in that P5 forum on how verification measures could be achieved without the risk of proliferation, and draw on the experience of the Anglo-Norwegian research project, known as VERTIC. Thirdly, consideration could be given on how to handle multilateral nuclear disarmament negotiations among a wider group of countries, should a further round of US-Russian nuclear weapons reductions make that a realistic possibility.
There is a compelling case, too, for a much more intensive bilateral discussion between Britain and China on nuclear matters than has hitherto taken place. I hope that the Minister will say something about that and will commit the Government to stepping up those exchanges. They may not be likely to produce instant results but they could contribute to establishing greater confidence and understanding between the two parties, which will be an essential component of success in any future, wider negotiations.
Any dialogue with China on nuclear matters will need to address also the issues raised by the cases of North Korea, Iran and Pakistan. If North Korea is to be brought back into the six-nation talks, and if these are to make progress, China will need to play a more proactive role in its bilateral dealings with North Korea than it has done hitherto. Let us hope that the new leadership in Beijing will be prepared to look at that and will recognise and respond to the need. Then if Iran’s nuclear ambitions are to be brought back firmly within the ambit of its obligations under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, and the potential disastrous outcomes of either a nuclear arms race in the Middle East or of hostilities in that region are to be avoided, China will need to give wholehearted support to the twin-track policy of sanctions and the offer of serious negotiations to which—it must be faced—it has not up to now given wholehearted support. Thirdly, if the conference on disarmament is not to lose all its not very abundant credibility as a forum for negotiation, China will need to help persuade its ally Pakistan to cease blocking negotiation of a fissile material cut-off treaty.
In conclusion, we should face up to the obvious facts. China’s role as a global actor in pretty well every sphere of policy is on the rise. Clearly that goes for nuclear policy, too. The case for intensified discussions, both multilateral and bilateral, between this country and China is unanswerable—but is it going to be answered?
My Lords, as is the case perhaps too often when I speak in the House, I find myself reverting to the ancient past in my own recollections. I will try to avoid it, but there is no doubt that on the subject brought before us by the noble Lord, Lord Browne of Ladyton, on which the two subsequent speakers emphasised the importance of the threatening weaponry concerned and of multilateral consideration of how we handle it, there is common ground. The question that may interest other people, as it has me, is how far we can be confident in a country such as the People’s Republic of China, which has a history that is unique in so many ways and which is overwhelmingly important in the consideration of this subject.
Remarkably, this reminds me—this again is one of my faults—of the occasion some 60 years ago when I first became aware of the importance of China. I was proceeding with two other Cambridge undergraduates, my noble friend Lord Jenkin of Roding and EAW Bullock—I think that he later became a diplomat—through south Wales, campaigning for the Conservative Party in the Constitutional Club of Ebbw Vale. On the evening we were in Tredegar Constitutional Club, the news was announced that the Labour Party Foreign Secretary, Ernest Bevin, had announced Britain’s decision to recognise the emergence as a country of the People’s Republic of China. We were asked with some anxiety whether we agreed with this hazardous Labour Foreign Secretary in taking such a view. Fortunately, we had all been instructed in international law by Professor Eli Lauterpacht at Cambridge, and were able to say that, if a Government have been established with clear, credible control of a clearly defined territory, we should recognise it.
I have been facing this question in prospect for some 60 years and I now underline what other speakers have already said about the huge importance of China in this context. I shall add one other thing: it could have been historically uncomfortable if we had not given that answer because 250 years before that, George III, in consultation with Emperor Qiang Long, agreed on the importance of communication and a relationship between our two countries. So there has long been mutual respect, which makes this debate important.
In today’s context, one wonders about the western media’s outpourings on China’s party congress and its constitution, focusing too often on Chinese leaders as though they were old men in black suits, ignoring political reform and being highly challenged. We have to underline—as others have already done—the importance in this context of hoping for active participation by the People’s Republic of China. It is an area where there is some anxiety—as there often is about the People’s Republic of China. How we can be sure, our media often ask, about the sincerity and credibility of the people that I have indicated they describe? Fortunately, there have been a number of examples of the Chinese Government’s respect for the importance of law and the legal system, not only in the international fields that we are talking about, but in relation to their Government and, for example, to the discussions with us about the future of Hong Kong, which became an important issue. From that time they had respect for the special nature of Hong Kong in the context of a two-country system, which in a way exceeded our legitimate claim.
Our title to Hong Kong, under the lease we had agreed at the end of the 19th century, extended only to some 18% of Hong Kong’s territory and we had claimed the remaining 82% by the sheer force of our presence there. The Chinese had become accustomed to regarding the legitimacy and unity of the entire territory, recognising the importance of it being distinguished from and identified as a special component in the China where Hong Kong was thereafter going to live. That shows the respect we can expect from the attitude of Chinese leaders to the importance of an international legal approach to this question, and of securing agreement between China and the remainder of the world—not just with ourselves, but with all those concerned with the continued existence of these nuclear weapons.
It is important to remember that China in fact has respect for law as such. I have had some contact with this, apart from the Hong Kong negotiations, because of my presidency of the Great Britain-China Centre for many years. Perhaps I should have declared that interest earlier than now. The truth is that considerable discussion and negotiation takes place between our own modest GBCC and Chinese authorities about the role of law in a society, whether national or international. We have been able to discuss with the Chinese a range of important aspects of the legal system nationally, including the need for professionalism in China’s judges, the establishment, with our help, of a judicial studies training programme, the improving role of judicial management, consideration of strengthening the rights of defence lawyers, and a code of conduct for Chinese lawyers in other respects. In administrative law, there is the promotion of media freedom and ethics and, although it may be difficult for all of us to believe it, pushing human rights up the Chinese news agenda and improving the position of media regulation within that society.
All this may seem to be a departure from the subject we are primarily addressing, but I hope it helps to assure colleagues in this House of the importance of the subject of the possible possession of these fearful weapons by one of the world’s largest societies, but alongside that, the importance of its awareness of the role of law whether within the nation or between nations. We should note the extent to which, for historical reasons, our country has the capacity to undertake this kind of discussion. That is because of a substantial, historic—and conceited, if I may say—Government as important as the People’s Republic of China. So I feel much assured—
Perhaps I may ask the noble and learned Lord a question. He conducted a brilliant negotiation over Hong Kong when he was Foreign Secretary, but does he regard the fact that Hong Kong has survived for 20 years as an indication that we now have a well settled two-regime system in China?
Indeed, of course I do, and I would add that I have shed Hong Kong behind me because of the extent to which it has been established. We can all take from that some comfort about the nature of the People’s Republic of China as well. It is that satisfaction which has enabled me to go on other missions to China to discuss matters of common interest, including that which we are discussing today.
I am delighted as always to find myself speaking in the same tone and striking the same note as the noble Baroness who has just so kindly intervened in my observations. It is time that I came to a close.
My Lords, I start by congratulating my noble friend Lord Browne on getting this important subject debated in your Lordships’ House, and I do not say that with tongue in cheek in any way, because I am fully in favour of intensifying discussions on multilateral nuclear disarmament. I have long been of the view that the size of nuclear inventories on both sides of the Cold War were grotesquely high. All the main participants could have unilaterally reduced their inventories by 80% without any loss of physical security.
Having said that, I should make it quite clear that I do not favour a nuclear-free world. I am absolutely delighted that nuclear weapons were invented when they were and I am delighted that, with our help, it was the Americans who invented them. If we think of a world in which they had not been invented, it is very easy indeed to see world war three starting on many occasions after 1945. One of the reasons I want nuclear weapons is that I never again want to see a battle of the Somme, Passchendaele or Verdun, of Okinawa, Kursk or Stalingrad. To take another piece of evidence, let us look at relations between India and China. They fought several wars, and I was at the MoD when they both got nuclear weapons. We were supposed to be scandalised about it, but I was delighted. That proved, and it seems to me to have done so since, that nuclear weapons are as much a deterrent to gentlemen with brown skins as they are to those of us with white skins. I am glad that both of those countries have a nuclear capability.
I have always viewed the possession of nuclear weapons above all else as a deterrent. In many lonely years in my party, when I was one of the few people saying loud and clear that I wanted us to retain nuclear weapons, I never for one moment thought that we were going to be engaged in a strategic nuclear exchange with the Soviet Union or that there would be one between NATO and the Warsaw Pact. Why, then, was I so insistent that we should have nuclear weapons? For a very simple reason: because I saw the possibility that I might be wrong. The cost of being wrong in a matter of this sort is absolutely incalculable, as your Lordships will know.
How far down we go is a very difficult question. I have personally been most impressed by the writings of the late, great Sir Michael Quinlan. He seemed to think that—if I read him with understanding—if anybody were to use nuclear weapons again, such would be the shock and horror that you would only need one or possibly two and that would be the end of exchanges. His proposition was that all anybody needed was two or three intercontinental ballistic missiles. It would be very difficult indeed to persuade the taxpaying populations of those countries who had that capability that they should invest in the platforms necessary to be able to dispose of those missiles.
I want to say one thing to your Lordships on the subject of deterrence. I believe in deterrence absolutely fundamentally. I believe it not only in nuclear weapons but I believe it in other weapons systems—some of which we have abandoned. I can remember once being at some seminar and a very distinguished, international civil servant—for the life of me I cannot remember who it was—saying that it was very difficult to explain to people the principle of deterrence. I said that it was very easy to explain the principle of deterrence. Every one of my constituents understood it. You only had to go around a council estate and see the sign on the side door: “Beware of the dog”. This is what deterrence is all about.
However, there are various areas of deterrence where we have been very unimaginative up to now. If your Lordships will forgive a personal reminiscence, I shall never forget when, a few years ago, I sailed across the Straits of Magellan from north to south in a normal ferry towards the eastern end and, as one came up to the southern shore of the straits, there were slopes, not cliffs, and, on both sides of the ferry terminal, there was a big sign: “Illegal. Zona me Nada”. Everybody knew what this meant. It was a very good deterrent, saying: “Don’t come here. You’re in danger of being killed”. There were mines, which was excellent. You often see outside sensitive military establishments in America the words, “Do not enter. You might be killed” or “shot dead”—I forget the exact terms used—making it absolutely clear that, if you go where you should not go, you are liable to be shot.
I am fully in favour of that sort of open deterrence where people know. It is a way of saving life rather than anything else. In this context I draw your Lordships’ attention to what used to be called the neutron bomb. It is a very misleading description. It was not necessarily a bomb. It was a warhead that could be attached to a torpedo or a missile. The main thing was that it was not a standard nuclear warhead. Its full title was the ERRB—enhanced radiation reduced blast weapon. I can think of many uses for it in this day and age. It is something that we could go and talk to the Chinese about. Building on the example that I just gave your Lordships about the Straits of Magellan, you could use an enhanced radiation reduced blast warhead to create cordons sanitaire along various borders where people are causing trouble.
I will give an example. Your Lordships may say that this is impractical, but nobody lives up in the mountains on the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan except for a few goats and a handful of people herding them. If you told them that some ERRB warheads were going to be dropped there and that it would be a very unpleasant place to go, they would not go there. You would greatly reduce your problem of protecting those borders from infiltration from one side or another. These things are not talked about, but they should be, because there are great possibilities for deterrence in using the weapons that we already have in that respect.
I have already taken up half my time, and that is probably quite enough today. I am very relieved to say that I do not have any fears whatever of being confronted with a nuclear-free world so long as we have the French, God bless them.
My Lords, I start by thanking the noble Lord, Lord Browne of Ladyton, for initiating this extremely important debate, particularly as our discussions on China and multilateral nuclear disarmament are not just necessary but increasingly urgent, as we have heard from other speakers.
We know of the projection of China’s power, the significant uplift in its capabilities and the response that this is eliciting from the United States, among other countries. In a way, the crisis of China’s success in attaining the three goals of Deng’s era—affluence, stability and power—has resulted in such a changed dynamic, paradoxically known as its success trap, that that in itself poses a host of new problems both internally and externally.
For a generation, China’s foreign policy was guided by Deng Xiaoping’s injunction to “hide brightness, nourish obscurity”; that China, as a poor and weak country, should keep a low profile, avoid conflicts and concentrate on economic development. The foreign policy posture was defensive and accepted the US-dominated international order by free-riding on American protection of its investments and, of course, trade with Western free markets.
However, it is hard to maintain a low profile when your country has second-biggest economy in the world, its military spending is growing in double digits and has done so for more than 20 years, and you have a physical presence in every continent. With 50 million citizens living abroad and 80 million overseas Chinese, China is present in many of the world’s trouble spots. Only last year we witnessed the Chinese airlift of 38,000 citizens out of Libya in the lead-up to the no-fly zone. Its maritime footprint is increasingly visible, with its export-dominated economy and a navy needed to protect shipping lanes. Its interests and influence are bound to affect its outlook and actions.
Some Chinese analysts argue that China’s foreign policy outlook is grimmer than ever. Wang Jisi, President Hu Jintao’s adviser on foreign policy, argues that despite the balance of power shifting in China’s favour, its assertiveness on the South China Sea, the Yellow Sea, the Senkaku Islands and the Indian border have helped to create the conditions for a resurgence of American power in Asia, which I will come to later.
This summer has seen a series of maritime disputes involving China, Japan, South Korea, Vietnam, Taiwan and the Philippines. In the dispute over the Senkaku islands, a Chinese newspaper suggested skipping the pointless diplomacy and moving straight to using the atom bomb on Japan. There is little doubt that both countries got to this point through excessive nationalism and both Governments are trying to play the dispute down, but nationalism, when unleashed, cannot be dampened that easily. The Economist states that a recent poll in China suggested that more than half the people thought the next few years would see a “military dispute” with Japan.
The European Council on Foreign Relations has published an outstanding series of reports on China, to which I pay tribute. An interesting thing is that it asked Chinese scholars to address and identify the issues they see as significant in the future. In a series of excellent essays, a wide variety of views emerged but, on the whole, it is not optimistic reading. From those who are multilateralist and want Chinese leadership to be engaged and responsible, to nationalists who want a clear and assertive stance, there runs a thread of pessimism and their challenges are significant. There are widespread fears that the next 10 years will be exceptionally difficult, both economically and politically, as dissent within the system grows. The social media site Weibo has at least 30 million active daily users, exposing official wrongdoing and voicing solidarity with the virtual community. The pervasiveness of corruption and the gap between rich and poor since the removal of the “iron rice bowl” of the Deng era, which leaves most without an adequate health or welfare system, is increasingly coming to the fore. In 2011, there were more than 100,000 mass disturbances—in other words, protests—reported.
Some years ago, Yan Xuetong, a scholar at Tsinghua University, was asked what he wanted from Europe. He said:
“When we go to war with America…I would like Europe to remain neutral.”
For him, a multipolar world is not a given, as he foresees an era of bipolarity with China rising, in the next 10 years, to become the only counterpart to American power. He wants a rethink of some of the fundamental doctrines of the Deng era: the quest for multipolarity, where he thinks a bipolar world of the US and China is inevitable; the principle of non-alignment, which he wants to abandon, thereby foreseeing an alliance with Russia. He also sees an advancement of the norm of intervention as the Westphalian system, based on sovereignty, is on the way out with the rise of American and European involvement in interventions.
The rise of nationalism in incidents in the South China Sea and East China Sea suggests that Chinese people want to see their economic clout reflected in a projection of power. Inevitably, there will be tension between domestic pressures and grand strategy. According to the Economist, fears among scholars that China is unstable at the grass roots, dejected among the middle strata and out of control at the top suggest that there is a deep-seated fragility in the system. When you have an information-age economy and a one-party state you may get the ability for spontaneous mobilisation alongside a crisis of legitimacy, which is an unhappy mix. Twenty years of double-digit military growth have raised the stakes in fishing, shipping lanes, energy resources and forward defence, making it more difficult to avoid territorial issues. With the rise of nationalism, it will be more difficult for new leaders to deal with China’s rise in its neighbourhood and beyond. China’s power has not improved its external environment any more than it has resolved its internal dynamics.
The question arises, therefore, of what can be done in the near term to bring stability to China’s neighbourhood. International safeguards in the Asia-Pacific region to limit the scope for mishaps to escalate into crises—particularly maritime ones—would be a solution. A series of confidence-building measures could be augmented with hot lines for communication between the relevant Governments in the event of an emergency or confrontation. Secondly, a dispute-resolution mechanism, including treaties to resolve disputes over sovereignty, is most urgently needed. Most importantly, and the US is taking clear steps over the Senkaku Islands in this regard, is bolstering deterrence. The islands are administered by Japan and so fall under American protection. The US therefore has, so to speak, “a dog in the fight” and can use its influence to defuse the situation.
The EU also needs a global China policy. Currently, when the Chinese think of the European Union they see 27 bilateral relationships and an overarching body principally concerned with trade. It is instructive that when Angela Merkel goes to Beijing the red carpet is somewhat plusher than when the EU high representative arrives there. It is imperative that the EU take a deeper strategic role in its relationship with China. One method of doing this is to strengthen its voice on other matters around the world so it can be seen as cohesive, representative and a potential partner to be reckoned with.
The most important bilateral relationship that concerns China is with the United States. We know that the projection of Chinese military power has elicited a significant response on the part of the US. China’s claim to about 80% of the South China Sea and its development of a new generation of more capable intercontinental and submarine-launched ballistic missiles has increased its ability to deliver nuclear warheads to the United States. There is also great concern that the deployment of China’s nuclear-powered submarines in the next few years, armed potentially with long-range delivery systems for atomic warheads, will cover the whole of the US from the deep waters of the South China Sea.
However, as the noble Lord, Lord Browne, pointed out in his opening remarks, US power is still overwhelmingly greater than China’s—indeed, greater than that of any other state in the world—and it would not be unreasonable to suggest that the rise of China’s strategic military power might be a reaction to US guarantees to so many countries with whom China has disputes within its neighbourhood. US attitudes are also coloured by China’s record on nuclear proliferation, which was so aptly recorded by the noble Lord, Lord Hannay. Its assistance in providing missile technology to Pakistan, despite its commitments to abide by the International Missile Technology Control Regime, and its lack of wholehearted co-operation on Iran’s nuclear proliferation attempts are notable. Added to that, there is the apparent lack of determination on the part of China to work towards resolving the issue of North Korean nuclear proliferation.
I agree with other speakers that China’s ambitions are predictable, but its approach to disarmament does not give rise to optimism. If China wishes to lead in future, it might do better to signal its capability for leadership by leading in the multilateral fora for nuclear disarmament.
My Lords, I am no expert in nuclear affairs but I have listened with enormous interest to the noble Lord, Lord Browne of Ladyton, and others who are expert in that subject. It seems that we seldom get a chance to talk about China in general in this House, so I hope I may be forgiven if I join those who have a broader-brush view of the subject of this debate. I fear that the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby, is very generous in thinking that I may be able to interpret what is happening in the new Chinese leadership and what they are all going to do, but I will come back to that, to the extent that I can, a little bit later on.
The crucial background to all of this is the astonishing, phenomenal growth of the Chinese economy over the past two decades. It really is unprecedented in history. Part of it is what you see physically on the ground—the astonishing rise of skyscrapers in Shanghai; the transformation of Beijing, particularly in the suburbs—as well as the less pleasant side of that, such as the destruction of some of the older parts of Beijing. I feel sad about the fact that although the courtyard house in the centre of Beijing that I lived in about 50 years ago survived until about two years ago, the developers have now caught up and on my most recent visit to Beijing I saw that it had gone—but to my pleasure I saw that many of the traditional parts of Beijing are being preserved, which is good news.
However, the really significant thing is not those skyscrapers; it is the fact that millions and millions of people in China have been raised out of poverty, and that is what really matters. More germane to what we are discussing is the fact that inevitably when a country like China becomes as economically powerful as it now is—and even more, will be in the future—what goes with it is a greater degree of influence and involvement in the rest of the world. That is perhaps doubly so when, as the noble Baroness, Lady Falkner, has just pointed out, the growth of military expenditure has gone up very greatly in the past few years. It is very striking to look at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute’s assessment—it is only an assessment—of expenditure on military matters by China, which it puts at $130 billion in 2011 as compared to only $88 billion four years previously in 2007. These are enormous sums of money, and enormous changes must be going on in China’s military power.
It is clear that when China gets involved in international and nuclear affairs, as in the case of North Korea, it exerts great influence. It was striking that China was so outspoken in 2006 when North Korea did its first test of a nuclear device. It shows what can happen and can be done when China involves herself in these sorts of international issues.
Two things follow from the growth of power and potential influence. The first is a question of other people’s trust in China and China’s trust in other people, and of transparency. As my noble friend Lord Hannay said, it is important that there should be as much transparency as possible in China’s strategic and military aims and its military expenditure. Perhaps that matters in particular in the case of the territorial disputes which are now very apparent in the East China Sea and the South China Sea, because the countries in that region will want to know what China’s strategic policies are and to be able to trust what China says. The disputes have been there for a very long time; Chinese maps have covered those areas as part of China long before—if we are to believe this morning’s Financial Times, the map appears as part of the new Chinese passport. With China now a very powerful military country, these issues are clearly very delicate and the handling of them will be of enormous importance.
The second thing is China’s involvement in discussion of international issues and playing the major part that it should have in international organisations. Here perhaps, to the extent that I can, I shall say a short word about the new Chinese leadership. We do not know as much as we would like, but you can tell, looking at the list of the new standing committee of the politburo, that they are remarkably well qualified. Academic qualifications may not always produce good political leaders, but the academic qualifications are there. Let us take the individuals—to pick up on what the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby, said. The new president, Xi Jinping, comes from a family of those who were major players in the Chinese Revolution. His father, Xi Zhongxun, was disgraced, like many of that generation, during the Cultural Revolution. He returned to a position in Guangdong province just opposite Hong Kong, and it just so happens, to join the reminiscences, that, in 1979, when the railway line between Canton and Kowloon in Hong Kong was reconnected for the first time since the Chinese Revolution—how recent that is and how different it seems—I visited Canton/Guangzhou with the then governor, later Lord MacLehose of Beoch, a Member of this House. We met Xi Jinping’s father, Xi Zhongxun and asked him what he did when he was in disgrace and under house arrest. He said, “Well, I read a lot of books. One of the series of books I read was Winston Churchill’s books about the Second World War”.
There is a hinterland there for somebody with that family as a background; somebody who then, as it were, did penance as a young man in the Cultural Revolution. There is also a hinterland with the new premier, Li Keqiang, who studied, among other things, English law. How they will face up to the massive problems that confront them, and how they will deal with the factional disputes which, as mentioned earlier, must have been a major concern over the past year at least, we do not yet know. However, perhaps one can take some encouragement from the hinterland they have.
I hope that will be of value in the broader question of involving China in international organisations and international discussions—all the things that have been mentioned in the debate today. Maybe, since many of those organisations were set up long before China resumed its place as a major world player, we shall have to adjust the way we deal with things and adjust bits of the organisations to encompass China. A new major power coming in sometimes will not be comfortable but I suggest that we should be prepared to adjust if necessary.
To return to the precise subject of this debate, it is clear to me that a greater involvement by China in crucial international issues must include the issue of multilateral nuclear disarmament and I hope, like other noble Lords, that Britain will play its role in that as well.
My Lords, I would like to follow the reason given by the noble Lord, Lord Wilson, and say that I am not going to talk a great deal about the nuclear situation. I think it is a serious matter and I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Browne, on the debate. I have sat and listened to a great deal, although the absurdities of the argument on nuclear become clearer time and again. There are good and bad nuclear states, and we do not know if Israel is one or not. What is clear is that they all exercise a considerable amount of power and influence in their regions. It is not surprising therefore that Iran, whatever we say, might secure a weapon to have that kind of influence.
I used to live near Capenhurst as a young lad and I used to hear all the arguments about why we needed the weapon. It was not a weapon of war—it was to be purely for energy and civil use. We know that the two go together, and that is one of the problems. My concern is with the security of the world, and China’s influence on it. I want to concentrate some of my remarks on my own experiences with China.
I was appointed chair of the China Task Force by Premier Wen and Tony Blair. I was asked to look at how to improve the relationships between China and the UK in medicine, education, the arts, economy, climate change and sustainable cities. They are all very relevant to the threats to security, prosperity and the economic facts that we face in our global problems today. I was clearly involved with climate change. We know that if you accept the science there is a connection between cutting carbon emissions and climate change. The consequences that will flow from that are very considerable indeed. I accept the science and I think most people do. The negotiations I led at Kyoto in 1997 took the first steps towards recognising that problem and targeting the cut in carbon gas emissions. It was an important step forward but it was only for the 47 industrial nations. I first saw the influence of China with the Group of 77. We were trying to find a global agreement with very difficult problems to be solved. China played a major part in getting the Group of 77 to agree that the Kyoto agreement could go ahead, even though they did not believe that the rich nations, to which the carbon targets would apply, would make it work. But they went along. If it had not been for China, we would not have got the first stage of Kyoto. The targets did not directly affect China, as it was absolved from them, as were the developing countries.
That was the first time I saw the influence of China and I knew from then, in the 10 years of negotiations I continued to play a part in as the Deputy Prime Minister, that you really need to have China on board in those discussions. I also knew that you needed to have America on board. In the case of climate change, the two competitors were China and America. They both had different views and saw themselves as competitors. Indeed when the Kyoto agreement is finally ratified, we will have to go without America because America was not prepared to accept the kind of changes that were necessary to achieve that global solution to a global problem.
I can give a good example, which came out of the negotiations. We were trying to get an agreement by 2012 and, in the later stages, which the Prime Minister and the President of the United States attended in Copenhagen—they all turned up—they could not agree a common formula which would have meant a global solution to a global problem. What was that? Simply, if there were a limit on the amount of carbon that you could issue, that would limit the consequences of growth in different countries. They all saw it that way. Mr Todd, who was the American negotiator, said at one stage, “Look, the problem between China and America is very simple: we are both the biggest producers of carbon”. That is true. Both of them are responsible for about 25% of the world’s production of carbon. He said, “Therefore, it is a mathematical problem, not a moral one”. If you want to find consensus and agreement, you had better start thinking about how to get agreement on fair terms. It is all right with nuclear—if you have the bomb, you are a negotiator. I was very interested to hear what the noble Lord, Lord Browne, said about us having the bomb but being on the outside when the discussions go on between the three big players.
Another interesting point came from that: why is China in the P5? It is only in it because it has the nuclear weapon. China has now been admitted into the IMF, the G8 and all the other organisations that it is part of, including the ILO, because people recognise that China has a major influence on decisions, if you want a global solution to a global problem. The problems are of that nature, the same as nuclear. The nuclear situation is about a military equation; it is about who is paying for it, who has the bomb and whether we can keep it. I was interested to hear a noble Lord saying, “I would want the bomb because it keeps peace”. He may well be right, but I do not know. The real point is that in the international arguments on the economy, you must have fairness, and that fairness has to be based not on equality but on equity and what is fair to all. The United Nations principles will apply.
In arguing his case, Mr Stern was ignoring the fundamental point of fairness; namely, if you measure the contribution of the gases that are causing a problem and poisoning the world on a per capita basis, you begin to find that it is 20 tonnes per person in America and six tonnes per person in China, and less in other countries. If you say you have to limit growth because of the scientific predictions, you had better find a principle that is fair to all. In the UN, that principle was about equal opportunities; indeed, it is the same common principle but with different responsibilities and capabilities. That is one of the main principles that we shall need if we are to find a global solution to a global problem. In this case, everyone will be affected by the consequences of climate change. We hear it and see it, day after day. To that extent, to find a solution you had better have principles that people can say are fair to all. That is very important.
Another example of that was when the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, spoke of a major economic power. That is true, but China is often interpreted in western press—not that they are very friendly to China—as being second, if you measure it by GDP. Of course, that is more than Japan. I remember when the figures came out but they are now predicting that it will be greater than America. If you measure it per capita, that is not the case. The wealth of China measured in GNP is about halfway up the high-income countries. Perhaps you are going to ask China to co-operate, to limit their growth and not to bring as many people out of poverty. I was pleased to hear someone mention that. Fifteen million people a year come out of agriculture into jobs in the cities. They have reduced poverty by half a million; it is one of the few countries that has been able to do that. Of course, it has a massive scale of poverty, but that must be taken into account.
The GDP is another measure that is wrongly interpreted and which needs to be understood. It leads to misunderstandings. More importantly, it leads to a lack of consensus on how you deal with the problem. People say to me that China is basically a super power, but China does not seem to like that; it is the first to say that it is not a super power. I say, “You are the first undeveloped nation that I have noticed that sends a rocket to the moon”. It is like India, another great country that is developing at a rate of growth three and four times greater than the developed countries. That is a significant factor; the growth in the world will come from developing countries. We must also recognise that they will produce more carbon in the process. If you recognise that principle, does that mean giving a greater share of the growth to these countries, which are limited by the carbon output? This is a big, fundamental question of seeking to find agreement not between the 47 countries we had at Kyoto but between 190-odd countries. After all, they will all be affected by it, so while we begin this discussion about nuclear, prosperity and peace will be maintained by what people feel to be a fair share of whatever happens in these global solutions. China has shown that it wants to be involved and wants international stability. Why would it not? It fears America, as America fears China. As we put more and more military equipment around different parts of the world, the Chinese think that is evidence of that.
One point I would really like to make, which has always influenced me on this, is that China and India are in the early stages of industrialisation. That means they have been in that process for only about 30 years. We had 200 years of industrialisation. When you look at the criticism concerning human rights, civil rights and trade union rights, all those concerns were fought against in our country. We will fight against them in China; that is what is happening at the moment. There is a correlation with the development of industrial growth, as along with it came liberties that were fought for by individuals. That is precisely what happened in this country. While we must readily protest to China—I have done that myself by saying to premiers, “You have to have recognition of human rights. You must be doing that”—you do not then lecture them as if we were somehow a nation that had no problems in human rights. Look at the history of Britain. Blimey—in the colonies, and even in Northern Ireland, did we observe every human right consideration? Of course we did not. We are told constantly about that.
My point is not to apologise for that but to try to understand what motivates the Chinese in this process, if it is to have a major part. Why do they want to play a part? Why are they learning through the process of industrialisation how they can play a part and develop all those things that we in our democratic states say they should be aiming for? I will argue that that is the case, but understand the process: do not make it more difficult or look as if we are hostile to them. What we need is to encourage them to the best practices, and I think that change is coming.
I had a conversation in a lighter tone with Premier Zhu Rongji. In 1998 or 1999, he gave me a book to read on the Chinese economy. He asked me the next day what I thought of it. I said, “It is very impressive. You have growth in one year that we cannot get in 10”, which of course is continuing, “but I am confused”. He asked, “What are you confused about”? I said, “I kept reading in the book about the socialist market economy. What the heck is that?”. He began to explain it to me, using an example that some of your Lordships may remember. Ted Heath was well liked in China. He went to China and asked if he could bring a panda bear back. He brought a panda called Chi-Chi back; I think it went to Whipsnade zoo. He went there for a second time a year later and asked for a second panda. They told him, “This time it will be $1 million”. Ted Heath naturally said, “The first one was free. Why is the second one $1 million?”. They said, “Ah, it is now the socialist market economy”.
The Chinese are going through that process of change and if they are using that language, they understand where they are going, but it will be their process. What they call socialism is with Chinese characteristics, and in defining that we need to understand where they are going and how. Leadership is an important part of that, as indeed is the development of the public themselves. To that extent, I am hopeful that your Lordships will see those developments. We need to understand the change and measure it against some of our own history, instead of being hypercritical and assuming that just by taking democratic plants and planting it there, all they have to do is to find the political will. Well, the democratic process can be very hurtful, as I found in Humberside this week. Leaving that aside, I would say on this that China will play a major part, whether that is through the military, peace, security or climate change, which I have spent most of my time on. They will play that part as a willing partner and we should try to understand the difficulties that are taking place. After all, we will be the beneficiaries of an enlarged China rather than there being any question of threats and Cold Warriors, as I heard earlier. We need to ensure that China plays a positive role and develops itself, and we need to understand its difficulties. It is just as important to reach agreement on this among the P5 countries as it is to get 196 nations to agree on the Kyoto agreement by 2016.
My Lords, I, too, take this opportunity to pay tribute to my noble friend Lord Browne of Ladyton’s untiring work and commitment in the field of nuclear disarmament. He has made a powerful case for intensified discussions on multilateral nuclear disarmament with China.
The Chinese economy has been growing at a formidable pace. Some of its major communities look more and more like Western ones in terms of business, commercial and industrial development and, for increasing numbers of people, in terms of standard of living as well. China, with a significant percentage of the world’s population, is a rapidly strengthening power and is making its presence felt economically, politically and militarily—as Japan and Taiwan, on its doorstep, are only too aware.
A recent report to the US Congress by the US-China Economic and Security Review Commission describes China as “the most threatening power” in cyberspace and as being,
“on the cusp of attaining a credible nuclear triad of land-based intercontinental ballistic missiles, submarine-launched ballistic missiles, and air-dropped nuclear bombs”.
The report argues that the United States should increase efforts to integrate China into nuclear arms agreements. In that regard, I noted with interest the proposition from my noble friend Lord Browne that Russia and China should also host further meetings on the nuclear disarmament discussions to which he referred.
We have a new leadership in China, which might mean nothing as far as change is concerned, but which alternatively could represent a potential opportunity for a significant positive change in international relationships. We, along with other nations, are also facing the prospect, at a time of economic austerity, of further considerable expenditure on maintaining and updating our nuclear deterrent. The question that my noble friend raised is what the Government’s reaction is to these developments, and what is their position on the case for multilateral nuclear disarmament talks involving China.
A nuclear weapon state, as defined in the nuclear non-proliferation treaty, is one that had manufactured and exploded a nuclear weapon or other nuclear explosive device prior to 1 January 1967. As we all know, there are five internationally recognised nuclear weapon states: ourselves, the United States, Russia, China and France. Countries such as India and Pakistan that have developed a nuclear capability since that 1967 date are considered de facto nuclear weapon states. In addition, there are those states which are widely regarded as harbouring nuclear intentions, of which the most notable is Iran.
Article VI of the non-proliferation treaty states,
“Each of the Parties to the Treaty undertakes to pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament, and on a treaty on general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international control”.
Attempts have been made, with varying degrees of success, to reduce the dangers posed by existing nuclear arsenals and prevent the further proliferation of nuclear weapons technology. Treaties and agreements have been sought to bring about the gradual disarmament of the five recognised nuclear powers. However, given the overwhelming nuclear superiority of Russia and the United States, the focus has been on bilateral treaties between these two countries aimed at reducing the size of their arsenals.
Attempts have also been made to restrict the development of new nuclear weapons systems by the nuclear powers, and to seek to limit or halt the proliferation of nuclear weapons technology and know-how by imposing export restrictions on nuclear-related technologies and monitoring civilian nuclear facilities.
Bilateral talks aimed at restricting the nuclear arsenals of the Soviet Union and the United States began during the late 1960s. As has been mentioned this afternoon, the most recent treaty was signed in 2010 and committed the USA and Russia to a number of disarmament measures. It also provided for a verification regime which includes on-site inspections of deployed and non-deployed systems. It laid down reductions in the nuclear arsenals to be achieved by 2018. Referring to the treaty, President Obama said:
“With this agreement the United States and Russia—the two largest nuclear powers in the world—also send a clear signal that we intend to lead. By upholding our own commitments under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, we strengthen our global efforts to stop the spread of these weapons, and to ensure that other nations meet their own responsibilities”.
However, the same degree of progress could hardly be said to have been made at the multilateral level. The Conference on Disarmament was established in 1979 as the single multilateral disarmament negotiating forum of the international community. Although not formally a UN organisation, the Conference on Disarmament, which comprises 65 member states, is mandated and financed by the UN, and it reports to the UN General Assembly annually. However, it has achieved little—in recent years, in particular.
China’s initial quest for a nuclear weapons capability was motivated by recognition of the political value of nuclear weapons and a determination to remove what it clearly regarded as its vulnerability to nuclear blackmail. Following its first nuclear test in 1964, China announced that it would adhere to a policy of no first use of nuclear weapons and called for worldwide nuclear disarmament.
Today, China appears to be the only one of the five original nuclear weapon states that is increasing its nuclear arsenal. Yet in a defence paper last year, China reiterated its long-held nuclear policies of maintaining a minimum deterrent with a no-first-use pledge and shunning any nuclear arms race. China has never defined in quantitative or qualitative terms what it means by a minimum deterrent posture. In the defence paper, China stated that it,
“pursues an open, transparent and responsible nuclear policy”,
but there is no governmental source giving basic information about the size of China’s nuclear arsenal or its future plans.
China’s intentions, particularly in the light of its nuclear weapons proliferation and its growing economic and political clout, is clearly, rightly or wrongly, of concern to the United States—a United States that is turning its attention and resources more and more to the Pacific region and Asia and rather less to Europe. Indeed, the United States believes that the European members of NATO should make a rather more significant contribution to the defence of European interests. The extent to which United States support in some key areas of operational activity was crucial to the success of the action against the former Libyan regime has probably reinforced, not weakened, that view.
Europe should be a significant player, not least in relationships with China, for whom Europe is a major trading partner. However, a point my noble friend Lord Browne of Ladyton made, as I understood it, is that Britain and Europe are not regarded in China as important players with regard to nuclear weapons and nuclear disarmament. As far as China is concerned, the United States and Russia are the other nuclear powers. No doubt the fact that treaties and agreements on nuclear disarmament have been largely bilateral between the USA and Russia has contributed significantly to that view. However, it would be helpful if the Minister could in his response talk about the level and extent of our contacts with China on nuclear disarmament questions and about progress that might be feasible. Have we taken any recent initiatives on raising and pursuing multilateral nuclear disarmament, and does the Minister believe that recent economic, military and political developments in China represent a growing need as well as an opportunity to seek to pursue multilateral nuclear disarmament talks involving China?
As things stand, we are likely to see a further spread of nuclear weapons, not least among those nations not signed up to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Large stockpiles of nuclear weapons remain in the world. Some are being modernised and expanded. The number of nuclear armed states has grown and is likely to continue to grow. A significant number of states who currently hold nuclear weapons or which might develop them are in regions of instability and tension.
If we are to stop this potential further proliferation and expansion, further progress on multilateral nuclear disarmament talks between the main nuclear powers, including China, would seem to be a prerequisite. There surely is a need to go further than bilateral treaties and agreements between the USA and Russia, crucial though they are. There also surely is an opportunity, in the light of the economic and political changes that have taken place and are taking place in China, for Britain to play an important role in seeking to ensure that the prospects for talks and further progress in the field of nuclear disarmament are fully explored and pursued.
My noble friend Lord Browne of Ladyton has drawn an important issue to the attention of the House. I hope that the Minister will be able to give a considered response to the points and concerns raised in this debate.
My Lords, I sometimes feel that the best Thursday debates in this House are slightly like a really good academic seminar. I feel that I have been benefiting from that today through the speeches of a number of noble Lords, including some from whom I learnt on my first visit to China in 1981. I went from Beijing to Hong Kong, where a very wise political adviser called Wilson, as I recall, explained to me what I had half-understood while I was in Beijing.
The noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe, talked about the ancient past. In preparing for this debate and in thinking about what we are asking of the Chinese, I was reminded of when I, as a very green graduate student, started learning about nuclear deterrence and nuclear reassurance in the early 1960s. The first seminar I went to on nuclear reassurance was a discussion between Professor Hans Morgenthau and Professor Hans Bethe, one of the atomic scientists who designed the bomb, on “Are Nuclear Weapons Moral?”. Hans Bethe, in particular, was involved with the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists and then Pugwash in attempting to establish a dialogue with Soviet experts.
In the 1960s, that was extremely difficult. Most of their Soviet counterparts were coming out of an extremely dark period that had no previous contact with the West. Nevertheless, we managed, through successive formal and informal engagement—what we now call, particularly in east Asia, dual-track diplomacy—to begin to establish common terms, a common language, which we are now attempting to do with the Chinese. I think we would say that it is, in some ways, a little easier with the Chinese because they came out of their dark tunnel rather longer ago—20 years ago now—than the Soviets with whom we were dealing in the 1960s.
The United Kingdom retains a firm commitment to the long-term goal of a world without nuclear weapons. Our aim is to build an international environment in which no state feels the need to possess nuclear weapons; an environment that will allow nuclear states to disarm in a balanced and verifiable manner. That is to say that Her Majesty’s Government do not share the rumbustious views of the noble Lord, Lord Gilbert, which clearly provide a strong argument that the world would be safer if Saudi Arabia and Iran had their own nuclear deterrents.
The agreement of the first-ever NPT action plan in 2010 was a major step in the right direction on multilateral nuclear disarmament. For the first time, all 189 signatories to the NPT committed to make progress towards this shared goal. But of course we understand that we and the other nuclear weapons states—that is, not just Russia and the United States, but including the UK and China—have particular responsibilities. I would emphasise to the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, that the United Kingdom policy has been a matter of continuity from one Government to another for a considerable time. This is absolutely not an area of partisan disagreement.
This Government announced in our 2010 strategic defence and security review that we are reducing operationally available warheads from fewer than 160 to no more than 120, reducing our overall nuclear weapon stockpile and reducing the number of warheads so that we are the smallest of the nuclear weapons states in terms of the number of operational warheads and missiles. That is perhaps partly why the Chinese look to Russia and the United States as their natural counterparts. However, that is not to say that the United Kingdom has been standing back from this important area. As the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, noted, we have entered into the ground-breaking UK-Norway initiative on disarmament verification, the first of its kind in bringing together a nuclear weapons state and a non-nuclear weapons state, and the Prime Minister recently agreed with his Brazilian counterpart that we will explore with Brazil how we can work together on further ways to achieve a world without nuclear weapons. We are a firm supporter of the comprehensive test ban treaty. We are a firm supporter of the need to negotiate a fissile material cut-off treaty, and we bitterly regret that Pakistan has so far put a block on further progress on that. We are also firm supporters of nuclear weapons-free zones, and we hope that a new zone, the south-east Asia nuclear weapons-free zone, will be ratified soon.
The UK and China therefore share a fair amount of common ground. We are both committed to starting negotiations on a fissile material cut-off treaty. We have both given negative security assurances to non-nuclear weapon states and to nuclear weapons-free zones. I should say to the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, that in the SDSR in 2010 the UK announced a new stronger negative security assurance, and the UK and the P5 have given negative security assurances in the context of nuclear weapons-free zones. We are not standing still on that.
While China has not yet ratified the CTBT, China has signed it, has maintained a moratorium on testing since 1996 and continues to signal its commitment to ratification. This is dependent of course on how the Chinese see the US Senate as making progress towards ratification. We continue to call on China and all other states that have not yet done so, including the US, to ratify the CTBT at the earliest opportunity.
The UK continues to work closely with China and the other nuclear weapons states to encourage further progress towards multilateral disarmament. I should pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Browne, for initiating the P5 process, because that precisely pulls together all five countries. The 2009 London P5 conference brought together for the first time officials from the five nuclear weapons states when the noble Lord was Secretary of State for Defence. That makes clear our unconditional support for the NPT and our insistence that we wish to engage in dialogue aimed to build mutual understanding and trust to take forward our commitment to disarmament. Since then, we have had important further exchanges in Paris and then most recently in Washington in June this year. In between, there have been a number of other more specialist discussions. The P5 has agreed to hold a fourth conference next year in the context of the 2013 NPT preparatory committee. We naturally hope that one of the two P5 states that have not yet acted as host will host this conference—perhaps next, most appropriately, the Russians.
We welcome, in particular, the constructive role that China is playing in this dialogue, especially its leadership of work to develop an agreed P5 glossary of definitions for key nuclear terms. This glossary will be a key tool in increasing our mutual understanding and in facilitating further P5 discussions on nuclear matters. The Chinese have shown considerable drive in taking forward this crucial piece of work, including hosting the first P5 experts meeting in Beijing. Again, I remind noble Lords that it was with that sort of work that we started with Soviet experts in the 1960s. It establishes a common understanding of what one is talking about across different spoken languages and different traditions of expertise.
We welcome, too, the constructive role that China has played in seeking progress with Iran through the E3+3 process, and the positive way in which China has engaged with the United Kingdom on a range of nuclear security initiatives and on efforts to reach agreement on an arms trade treaty. Increased transparency by China, for example by providing a good deal more information on the scale and capabilities of its nuclear arsenal, would help everyone, and would help achieve our shared commitment to build mutual confidence and trust. Uncertainty about China’s nuclear capabilities risks creating misunderstanding, particularly in the context of its current military modernisation programme. China is modernising its deterrent. We have only unverified estimates of how far that modernisation also involves expansion, which leaves room for alarmist estimates from some quarters—as we have seen.
The noble Lord, Lord Browne, asked what would happen if larger multilateral discussions on nuclear disarmament were started to expand the bilateral process. Since the UK deterrent is so much smaller than those of Russia and America, it makes good sense for those countries to be the two most directly engaged. However, we welcome the expansion of discussions as far as we can into a multilateral process. That is in part why we see the P5 exercise as being so enormously valuable.
The noble Lord, Lord Hannay, asked how far verification would be part of the P5 process. We have already discussed the UK-Norway initiative. When the P5 countries met at expert level in London in April 2012, it was the first time they had discussed verification. The British and Norwegians presented some of their work. The question of transparency for all nuclear weapon states was also raised by the noble Lord, Lord Browne. The UK has taken great steps on transparency. We have done our best to explain as clearly as we can how many nuclear warheads we have and how many we are putting on each of our minimum-deterrent submarines. We see that as an example to all others to provide as much information as they can, and of course we regret that China has not yet begun to release information on the size of its arsenal. We see our dialogue with the Chinese as one way of encouraging them to improve their transparency and thus build up mutual confidence between states.
The noble Lord, Lord Browne, also raised the question of how far P5 discussions should be reported to Parliament. It is a condition of P5 discussions that they are confidential. It is felt by all those engaged in them that this is necessary to enable open and meaningful dialogue, which is where the value of the P5 process lies. However, the P5 countries issued a joint statement after each of their conferences—something that we hope will happen again at the end of next year’s conference. I will certainly feed back on whether the Government should provide a Written Statement and as full information as we can to Parliament.
A number of noble Lords raised the question of developments in China, and of how far the British are actively engaged with China. I asked the Box for some figures on the number of British ministerial visits to China. More than 14 senior UK Ministers went in 2011, together with two Scottish Ministers, the First Minister for Wales and there were a number of royal visits. There were fewer visits this year, partly because when the leadership is in transition, it is less easy for them to find the time to have extended dialogues with senior politicians from abroad, or for us to know exactly who we might want to visit. However, we are actively engaged and see the Chinese as natural partners. In particular, I will remark on Andrew Mitchell’s role in visiting China to persuade the Chinese to sign a development memorandum of understanding just before the last multilateral conference on global development in Korea. We talked to the Chinese about a partnership in helping African development and that is the sort of way we see ourselves engaging with the Chinese, to encourage them, little by little, to shoulder more global responsibilities. We are engaging. I do not agree, as I think the noble Lord, Lord Browne, suggested, that the United Kingdom is in any sense holding back politically in China.
When I was in Northwood some months ago, I was fascinated to hear from people involved with Operation Atalanta about the way in which there is now limited engagement with Chinese warships on anti-piracy patrol. It is a limited area of engagement—the Chinese will have nothing to do with multilateral command— but clearly there is a sense of growing mutual understanding of how one goes about keeping the international sea lanes open. Much of this, however, is strengthened by what in east Asia they call two-track diplomacy. Here, things such as the Nuclear Threat Initiative have an enormous value. I have learnt much about that over the years from my noble friend Lady Williams. We give every support we can to initiatives of that sort. The Government also support Wilton Park conferences, the UK-China forum, which I have been on once or twice, the activities of the body of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe, and many other conferences, links and intellectual and student exchanges.
The last time I visited Beijing, I found myself lecturing at Peking University to a joint London School of Economics-Peking University MA in international relations. That is all part of how, I hope, we are helping to train generations five and six of the Chinese leadership—we are now on generation four and a half, as I see all the newspapers telling us. The Government welcome enormously the work going on outside governmental constraints to engage the Chinese in all these discussions. We are committed to the P5 process and to preparations for the next review conference of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty, which will come up in 2015. We look forward to continuing our constructive engagement with China on all levels; bilaterally, as part of the successful P5 dialogue, and through our regular multilateral exchanges. We are committed to encouraging further progress with China and all NPT states parties against our shared commitments. We are also clear—I am sorry to disappoint the noble Lord, Lord Gilbert—that we will remain resolute in pursuing positive steps towards a world without nuclear weapons.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for his considered reply to the debate—not just the content of the reply but the tone of the reply. I start my short response by reinforcing the non-partisan nature of these debates and the way we can move forward. The two groups which I convene, one here in this Parliament and one in Europe, are fixed on multilateral nuclear disarmament. In our group in this Parliament we are fixed on supporting the Government in their ambition to make a contribution and show leadership to a world free of nuclear weapons. This is far from being a partisan issue, but that will not stop us being challenging on occasion in relation to this area of policy.
As the Minister said, we have had many notable contributions to the debate. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe of Aberavon, was in a most engaging, wise and, I am pleased to say, optimistic frame of mind. He emphasised the role of the rule of law, which is very close to my analysis of these issues and how we can move forward. On the one hand we had a typical battling performance from my noble friend Lord Prescott. Many of us on these Benches are pleased that he is back among us, not for the reason that is probably at the forefront of other people’s minds, but because it is perfectly clear that he has a major contribution to make to the great issue of climate change. He has a history of driving improvement and change internationally in that regard. We have seen an example of that and I am pleased that he is back and in fighting fit mode. I personally am grateful that he graced this debate with a contribution.
On the other hand, I thought that my noble friend Lord Gilbert was in many senses at his most—what shall I say?—challenging and perhaps contrarian best. I am tempted to engage with him on the detail of some of his analysis of the value of nuclear weapons. He must be alone in this world in thinking that the Middle East needs more nuclear weapons. I do not think anyone will agree him. I have tempted him to speak, and I should not have done so.
I am provoked. Would my noble friend really like to live in Israel in a totally nuclear free world?
I would if there was peace must be the response to my noble friend. Since we are conscious of the time, perhaps we should have this debate in detail on another day, but I would just say that my noble friend reminds me of an experience I had when I was in China recently. I was standing on the Great Wall. I mused that for 13,000 years the Chinese thought that that wall was the ultimate deterrent. Now it is a tourist attraction in the middle of their country because it did not succeed in keeping the Mongolians out. However, for 13,000 years, some 10% of Chinese GDP and the population were employed in building it. That is my attitude to nuclear weapons in the 21st century. They may well have served a purpose at a certain time, but they have become part of the problem and not necessarily part of the continuing solution. Their proliferation to some of the most unstable parts of the world where they are in the hands of some of the most unstable regimes has generated a problem for all of us that we need to deal with multilaterally.
Noble Lords will forgive me if I do not go through all their contributions in detail because I am conscious of the time. I listened carefully to the Minister’s reply and I am grateful for his reiteration of a commitment to a world free of nuclear weapons. I thank him for his promise that we may at some stage have a further report on the P5 discussions, even if that is only the agenda of what these important countries are discussing. I should be grateful if the noble Lord would take back to his ministerial colleagues the fact that some of the behaviour of the P5 in other multilateral forums requires an explanation. An example is the P5’s agreement on 19 October to vote collectively and en bloc against the draft multilateral disarmament resolution of the most recent UN General Assembly. That is quite disturbing when set against the shared ambition. I thank the Minister for his consideration of the points I raised and I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Rosser for the support of our Front Bench for the agenda that I espouse in relation to these questions.
I suspect that we will want to return to these issues on another day. I shall conclude my remarks by thanking all those who have contributed, and particularly the Minister. Perhaps I may ask the Government whether, at some stage in the near future, there could be an opportunity for this House in government time to debate these issues, including their interaction with our plans and strategy in relation to ballistic missile defence.
Terrorism Act 2000 (Proscribed Organisations) (Amendment) (No. 2) Order 2012
Motion to Approve
Moved by Lord Taylor of Holbeach
That the draft order laid before the House on 19 November be approved.
Relevant documents: 11th Report from the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments.
My Lords, the Government are determined to do all that they can to minimise the threat from terrorism to the UK and our interests abroad. Proscription of terrorist organisations is an important part of the Government’s strategy to tackle terrorist activities. We would therefore like to add the organisation Ansarul Muslimina Fi Biladis Sudan, known as Ansaru, to this category. Having carefully considered all the evidence, the Home Secretary believes that Ansaru meets the statutory test for proscription and that it is appropriate to exercise her discretion to proscribe it. This is the eleventh proscription order amending Schedule 2 to the Act.
Section 3 of the Terrorism Act 2000 provides a power for the Home Secretary to proscribe an organisation if she believes it is currently concerned in terrorism. The Act specifies that an organisation is concerned in terrorism if it commits or participates in acts of terrorism; prepares for terrorism; promotes or encourages terrorism, including the unlawful glorification of terrorism; or is otherwise concerned in terrorism. If the test is met, the Home Secretary may then exercise her discretion to proscribe the organisation. In considering whether to exercise this discretion the Home Secretary takes into account a number of factors. These factors are: the nature and scale of an organisation’s activities; the specific threat that it poses to the United Kingdom; the specific threat that it poses to British nationals overseas; the organisation’s presence in the United Kingdom; and the need to support other members of the international community in tackling terrorism.
Proscription is a tough but necessary power. Its effect is that a listed organisation is outlawed and is unable to operate in the UK. It is a criminal offence for a person to belong to a proscribed organisation, invite support for a proscribed organisation, arrange a meeting in support of a proscribed organisation, or wear clothing or carry articles in public which arouse reasonable suspicion that an individual is a member or supporter of a proscribed organisation.
Given the wide-ranging impact of proscription, the Home Secretary exercises her power to proscribe only after thoroughly reviewing the available relevant material on the organisation. This includes open-source material as well as intelligence material, legal advice and advice that reflects consultation across government, including the intelligence and law enforcement agencies. These decisions are taken with great care by the Home Secretary, and it is right that both Houses must approve the order proscribing a new organisation.
Having carefully considered all the evidence, the Home Secretary firmly believes that Ansaru is concerned in terrorism. Noble Lords will appreciate that I am unable to go into much detail, but I am able to summarise. Ansaru is an Islamist terrorist organisation, based in Nigeria, which publicly emerged in January 2012. It is motivated by an anti-Nigerian government and anti-Western agenda and is broadly aligned with al-Qaeda. Ansaru is believed to be responsible for the murder of British national Christopher McManus and his Italian co-worker, Franco Lamolinara, in March 2012.
The proscription of Ansaru will contribute to making the UK a hostile environment for terrorists and their supporters, and will signal our condemnation of this organisation and its activities. I should make clear to noble Lords that proscription is not targeted at any particular faith or social grouping but is based on clear evidence that an organisation is concerned in terrorism.
Finally, I have already said that the Government recognise that proscription is a tough power that can have a wide-ranging impact. Because of this, the legislation provides for an appeal mechanism. Any organisation that is proscribed, or anyone affected by the proscription of an organisation, can apply to the Home Secretary for the organisation to be de-proscribed. If refused, the applicant can appeal to the Proscribed Organisations Appeal Commission, a special tribunal that is able to consider the sensitive material that often underpins proscription decisions. I believe it is right that we add Ansaru to the list of proscribed organisations under Schedule 2 to the Terrorism Act 2000. I commend this order to the House.
My Lords, I strongly support my noble friend in what he said about the proposed proscription of this organisation. Acting swiftly and early is one of the best ways of attempting to prevent terrorist activity, and I wish that we had done more of that in earlier decades. The swift action that my noble friend proposes is excellent.
I also welcomed what the Minister said when he stressed again the view that proscription is not aimed at any particular religious faith, calling or group. That is something that we have to shout from the political and ministerial rooftops, because there is always the suspicion that, as news of an action mutates and develops around the world, people will think this is anti-Islamic, anti-Catholic or whatever. I applaud what my noble friend said and I hope that government Ministers such as him will never miss the opportunity of saying that we are blind to religion but eagle-eyed in the prevention of terrorism.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for his presentation on the SI today and for ensuring that a copy of the Home Secretary’s letter was sent to me prior to the debate. As I made clear when we had a similar order previously, of course we support the Government on issues of national security and we work on the basis of cross-party co-operation. I am grateful to him for his explanation of how decisions are reached, which is helpful for the House. I appreciate that the process of obtaining evidence on which action can be taken is often complicated. This week, and during the Committee stage of the Justice and Security Bill, we have discussed how the Intelligence and Security Committee operates. One of the things that became clear is that evidence is obtained from a number of different sources and it is often only by putting it together like a form of jigsaw that the true picture can be obtained. That is a complex matter to address. The Home Secretary has to be satisfied on the basis of the accuracy of that information in deciding what action can be taken—and taken as quickly as possible, as the noble Lord, Lord Patten, pointed out.
As the Minister said, a group can be proscribed under Section 3 of the Terrorism Act 2000 if it,
“commits or participates … prepares for terrorism … promotes or encourages terrorism, or … is otherwise concerned”.
That illustrates why it is so important that information is accurate and up to date. My understanding, which was confirmed by the Minister’s comments, is that the Government are acting today against a group that was only indentified as a separate, independent entity earlier this year, in January 2012. I also commend the Government on their speedy action, given the processes that have to be gone through to reach this stage.
Obviously the Opposition do not have access to the same information or intelligence data as the Government, but we have seen some of the publicly available information and we are satisfied that the Home Secretary is justified in her judgment that Ansaru meets the criteria required under the Act and we support the Government in the Motion to proscribe this group. We are particularly concerned about the links, which the Minister confirmed, between Ansaru and the kidnap and murders of Christopher McManus and his Italian colleague Franco Lamolinara. The treatment of these two men was barbaric and despicable. It is quite right that the UK Government take action against any group which is prepared to commit such acts of terror against UK citizens.
From reports, it would appear that Ansaru is linked to, or is a breakaway group from, the long-established Boko Haram sect. That sect is not proscribed. I appreciate and understand that the Minister cannot always provide detailed information to your Lordships’ House, but will he ensure that the status of Boko Haram is kept under review? I appreciate that, so far, the actions of this group have been mainly confined to Nigeria. I hope that the Government will not hesitate to take action to proscribe Boko Haram if links to the UK, or any credible threats to UK citizens at home or aboard, were to emerge.
Finally, as I mentioned in similar debates, when the Prime Minister, David Cameron, was in opposition he repeatedly attacked the then Labour Government for not proscribing Hizb ut-Tahrir. The Minister has been very clear on this today—that any action to proscribe a group has to be taken on the evidence available. I know how complex and difficult it can be to get all that evidence and present it in an appropriate manner. The party opposite has now been in power for two and a half years and Hizb ut-Tahrir has still not been proscribed. I am not going to make the same points as were raised against us when we were in government. I thought at the time those comments were inappropriate and irresponsible, and it would be inappropriate and irresponsible of me to make similar ones now. All I ask for is an assurance that the Government are keeping the activities of Hizb ut-Tahrir under observation and review and that should there be evidence that this group should be proscribed, that matter will be presented to your Lordships’ House.
I thank the noble Baroness for her positive support of this measure. She will understand totally that the Government do not talk about other groups that they may be looking at. The Government keep a range of options open and have a global view of the terrorism threat. I hope that the noble Baroness will therefore understand why I do not go into any detail about any of the groups that she has specifically mentioned. However, I think that she can see by the way that the Government are acting in this case that we are undertaking our responsibility to try and maintain the security of our nation, of our citizens overseas and others as best as we can.
We are concerned about Hizb ut-Tahrir, and we will continue to monitor its activities very closely. Such groups are not free to spread hatred and incite violence as they please. The police have in any case comprehensive powers to take action under criminal law to deal with people who incite hatred, and will do so.
I welcome the contribution of my noble friend Lord Patten, who made a very important point. This is directed against terrorism, not against faith or beliefs. It is about the way in which people dispense with their humanity in the pursuit of objectives which we cannot tolerate. I hope that noble Lords will support this measure and I commend it to the House.
Arrangement of Business
My Lords, I point out that the timings for the QSD are very tight. Noble Lords are usually exceptionally good at adhering to the allocated time, but I am available to help if necessary. Finally, when the timer shows four, the noble Lord speaking is doing so in his fifth minute.
Religion in the United Kingdom
Question for Short Debate
To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the role of religion in society in the United Kingdom.
My Lords, I am grateful for this opportunity to discuss the role of religion in public life. Religion today has a bad press and has been pushed into the margins of society. Even there, key beliefs such as the importance of marriage are attacked by those intolerant of the rights and beliefs of others. To me, as a Sikh, this pressure to keep religion out of public life is like saying, “Keep ethical considerations out of politics”. This is bad in itself but what is worse is to see some within our different religions reacting to this pressure by withdrawing from involvement in daily life to contemplate the hereafter.
This disconnect between the practice of religion and the challenges and concerns of daily living is totally contrary to the central teachings of religion. Guru Nanak, the founder of the Sikh faith, was highly critical of some holy men who had withdrawn to the wilderness in search of God. He told them that God was not to be found in the wilderness but in the service of our fellow human beings. He taught that religious disciplines like fasting, going on pilgrimages and, for Sikhs, the serving of food in the gurdwara to whoever enters, are simply reminders of our responsibilities to wider society. Unfortunately, some people in religion see these as an end in themselves and no wonder many in wider society see religion as being irrelevant to our lives. If we look at the behaviour of those who misuse religion in the pursuit of power or to justify cruel or discriminatory behaviour, we can see why religion has got such a bad public image.
Looking at the world about us, it is right to acknowledge the huge advances made by secular society in the pursuit of material wellbeing. Astonishing advances in scientific understanding and gigantic leaps in medical and genetic research mean that we are now able to play with the very building blocks of life, with the prospect of treating previously incurable disease and significantly increasing our life span.
For some, life has never been so good, but not for all. Alongside these positive achievements, we also have a record prison population of about 90,000. More than 10,000 traumatised and bewildered children are taken into community care every year. When we consider that the annual cost of keeping someone in prison is about £38,000 and that of keeping a child in care is about £2,500, we get a small glimpse of the financial cost of irresponsible living.
Only last weekend, the Secretary of State, Michael Gove, said that more children should be taken into care to save them from,
“soiled nappies and scummy baths, chaos and hunger, hopelessness and despair'.
We have record numbers of abortions and teenage pregnancies and binge drinking, not only among the young but, as we have heard recently, even among the elderly as a way to cope with the tensions and problems of selfish and uncaring society. The use of drugs in the search for elusive contentment has risen dramatically.
We regularly address such issues in your Lordships’ House, asking what the Government are going to do about this or that. The carefully researched answers couched in elegant terms amount to, “Not a lot”. This is not a criticism. Limited amounts of money can be shifted about but the real problems go much deeper. It is a bit like trying to treat the spots and sores of deeper maladies with cosmetic creams.
When Jesus Christ taught that,
“Man shall not live by bread alone”,
he reminded us of the futility of pursuing a mirage of happiness through more and better material possessions. The fallout from lifestyles that disregard wider responsibilities is seen in rising rates of divorce and separation. Children from divorced or separated parents, once a comparative rarity in the classroom, are now all too common, often showing patters of behaviour that link them to physical or emotional abuse.
Our different religions acknowledge the importance of the material side of life, but also remind us that this must be accompanied by constant reflection on the ethical implications of what we do and, importantly, active consideration for the wider well-being of society—something that Sikhs call “sarbat ka bhalla”.
It is sometimes argued that the problems created by selfish living and a lack of wider responsibility can be addressed by better citizenship training. The difficulty here is that citizenship looks at society as it is and teaches children to conform to transient and sometimes questionable social norms. Religion frequently challenges such norms. For example, in the 1950s, accommodation adverts in shop windows would often say: “No blacks or coloureds”. This was accepted by the culture of the times but opposed by religious teachings.
Today, we have both the challenge and opportunity of different faiths living side by side and must now move beyond superficial niceness to actively promoting common values that benefit society. The one God of us all is not interested in our religious labels but in what we do.
Our different religions remind us that the well-being of society starts with the family and a recognition of the importance of marriage as a committed relationship in which a couple are prepared to endure trials and tribulations to ensure a stable and positive environment for children. In school, children are taught the three Rs of basic education. In the home children can learn the equally important three Rs of right, wrong and responsibility.
We live in a society where different lifestyles are rightly respected. However, we cannot afford to ignore the harm done to children by transient and selfish relationships. A true story puts it better than any words of mine. Two children were seen fighting hammer and tongs in the school playground. Finally a teacher managed to prise them apart and asked what it was all about. Eyes brimming with tears, the smaller boy said, “His dad has taken my mum away”. We cannot afford to ignore the clear findings of surveys by Civitas and the ONS that show that in general married couples enjoy better health and better home care in old age than their single and cohabiting peers, and that children who live with married parents do better at school.
In recent years, the Government has made tentative attempts to engage with faiths through various government-chaired committees. Unfortunately, the nature of this engagement is often reflected in the name of initiatives, such as Prevent, geared to preventing religions making nuisances of themselves. Instead of Prevent, we need a greater enabling focus that helps religions to work more fully at all levels with secular society.
It is true that some in secular society are working to address many of the ills of which I have spoken. Religion has huge potential to add much needed impetus to their efforts, in our common goal of a fairer and more responsible society for our children in a world of new challenges and opportunities.
My Lords, it is a privilege to speak in this debate after the noble Lord, Lord Singh. Like many other Members, I have benefited from his wise words on “Thought for the Day” in the morning—a good start to many days.
At its best, religious faith motivates people to make changes in society for the better. At national level, this might mean founding a charity or beginning a movement. At local level, it may mean starting an initiative to change one’s neighbourhood.
At present, the key marker in the social policy world is the idea of civil society. There are various definitions, but perhaps it is best described as that part of our lives which is neither the market nor the state, nor our lives as private individuals. The problem, however, is that civil society in general lacks capacity and resilience, largely as a result of being for many years undervalued, under-resourced and lacking the sort of entrepreneurial energy necessary to develop creative solutions to the problems that it faces.
In practical terms, and at the core of the issue at the level of local communities, this translates into two related sets of activities: how local people take part as human agents in bringing about change in their community or neighbourhood and, where they are not able to bring about change, how they can be enabled to join together to hold to account those who are responsible for their welfare.
These aspirations fit well with the core Christian themes about valuing people for who they are, recognising their God-given agency and intrinsic capacities, and building relationships of mutuality and dignity which create fellowship and provide a framework of values. This provides for a prophetic engagement, calling to account structures and systems that dehumanise and undermine human flourishing. These aspirations are supported by many friends of other faith groups.
I wish to refer to a charity, Near Neighbours; as its chairman, I declare my interest. The Near Neighbours programme was begun to increase social interaction between people of different faiths and ethnicities and people of no faith, and to encourage local people to come together to transform their community. This is done by working at different levels; by training faith leaders and young leaders; by providing local community workers; and by giving small grants of up to £5,000 to local groups with a good idea. In the areas in which Near Neighbours is working, a local centre, one of the Church of England’s network of Presence & Engagement centres, acts as a resource hub and focus for good practice in interfaith working.
So far, halfway through the three-year programme, Near Neighbours has given 300 small grants to a value of £1 million. These projects range from a small project working with young people of different faiths in a London park, where volunteers from a mosque and a church come together, to a series of meals between Jews, Muslims and Christians in Luton, a homeless drop-in centre in Leicester hosted by Christians and Muslims, a project in Bradford encouraging women of different faiths to learn to cycle and a Sikh-led project in Birmingham supporting parenting.
Faith communities have many resources: buildings, volunteers, local embeddedness and trust. They develop local leaders and share the values of hope, faith, love, forgiveness and peace, which our society so desperately needs. The Government have recognised in funding Near Neighbours that these resources can be unlocked to benefit local communities more widely. The Church of England and the Church Urban Fund have recognised that working in this way with the Government can deliver real results.
In a world where we see nations and faiths in conflict, Near Neighbours shows us that in our local communities people of faith can come together to improve our society.
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Singh, on this important debate in the Chamber today and I will be delighted to hear Members of our House from different religions speaking this evening.
Today, I would like to tell you about my own Jewish connections and the Jewish community’s role in society. I am going to speak specifically about Mitzvah Day. I am proud to be one of its community advocators. This community-based project was held last Sunday, 18 November, in the UK and in many other parts of the world. It is a day when the Jewish community comes together to help society, not financially, but by giving our most valuable asset: our time.
Mitzvah Day is devised from the fundamental Jewish teaching of tikkum olam which means literally in Hebrew, “to repair and to heal the world”. On this day, my Jewish community joins with communities of all faiths, working together to promote happiness, duty and the importance of communities supporting our own society. We can do this through planting trees, collecting food for the homeless, or speaking to individuals who do not have family nearby. These are essential duties that are built in religions and in society.
My very good friend, the right honourable Ed Miliband, the leader of the Opposition, recently described Mitzvah Day so accurately:
“It’s through thousands of small actions that we build our families and our communities. The fruits of Mitzvah—small tangible signs of hope and solidarity—show that the shared wealth of a nation is measured not so much in pounds and pence, but in the bonds of compassion, care, and community”.
Compassion, care and community come together.
We speak of the importance of one nation—Britain as a community. The role of religion is important and evident in this Motion. Through communities and understanding we are all united. The contribution made by religious communities to our society is outstanding and we should recognise and praise their input into our country.
I want to ask the Minister how communities are being commended for their role in society and how our Government are using their initiative to build a stronger society in Britain. We must recognise and celebrate our true diversity and continue to work with all our minorities in our fine country and to keep Britain as it is: a truly unique place in which we are very fortunate to live.
My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Lord, Lord Singh, for securing the debate today on one of the key issues facing the UK and its diverse religious communities.
The benefits of religion and of those who follow a faith to their communities locally or nationally cannot be underestimated. Others have spoken of problems in society today and I want to focus on the positive work of our faith communities. Six years ago, when I was deputy chair of the East of England Development Agency, we funded a report on the vital role played by faith communities in social, economic and spiritual terms in our region. The research was carried out by the University of Cambridge and it discovered that volunteer time in our faith communities was valued at a minimum of £30 million a year. Work is varied and its scope impressive—working with homeless people, support for those who abuse drugs and alcohol, and anti-racist projects as well as the more traditional social cafes and outreach groups from church, synagogue and gurdwara.
Particularly important has been the support and, therefore, the benefit to child-focused services, including a project in Watford called Girl About, supported and promoted by the Soul Survivor church, working across Watford in a safe and supportive environment with vulnerable young teenage girls in and out of school. There is also much work in faith communities with the elderly. The survey mentioned that, in the region, more than 30% ran both formal and informal learning projects to help adults to improve their skills.
I remain impressed whenever I visit a faith-based organisation at its commitment to its outreach work. The Faith in the East of England report says:
“Secular bodies find it hard to understand that people of faith must be true to their faith, and not confuse this with a fear of religious people trying to convert others”.
It is on the basis of public benefit that the Charities Commission grants 99% charitable status to religious applicants. Last week, however, there was a heated debate in another place, suggesting that this might be under threat because of the case of the Preston Down Trust, a member of the Plymouth Brethren. It was denied charitable status because of an inability to demonstrate true public benefit and concerns about disbenefit to adherents, including, for example, not permitting any of their young people to go to university and worries about those who chose to leave. The debate in Hansard suggests that all Christian charities are now under threat as a result of this case.
The truth is far from that. Nearly 20% of all charities on the register are for the advancement of religion, with many hundreds of new Christian charities being registered each year. The commission is working with many faith groups to make applications easier and faith groups were a key part of the consultation in 2006 before the new guidance came into place. The Evangelical Alliance said of the new guidance:
“Religious Charities can be reassured that the propagation and teaching of faith principles will continue to be regarded as beneficial, provided it is open to and directed towards the public as a whole”.
This last phrase is key to the Preston Down Case, and why it differs from others. Others may speak on this later in the debate, but I am aware that, even with recent improvements, many of the brethren groups are not what we would describe as truly open, as they have restrictions on free and open contact with the outside world, especially with family members who have left. Contrast that with the exceptional contributions by many faiths that I have outlined earlier and the clear guidance from the Charity Commission. I think we have much to be proud of from across our faith communities, and their contribution to the United Kingdom today.
My Lords, I welcome the opportunity afforded by this debate that the noble Lord, Lord Singh, has initiated today. I congratulate him and thank him for his inspiration over the years as a contributor to Radio 4.
As in all things, there is good religion and bad religion. It can be argued that since 9/11 a view has developed that religions are most authentic when they are most angry and irrational. All of us who claim a religious foundation to our lives need to acknowledge the reality of toxic behaviour, but good religion seeks the welfare of others and is a force for good in society.
Much of what our society is today is a consequence of the enlightenment. Christians like John Locke sought to develop a world view on how we live together valuing one another in all our differences, within a pluralist society. Christianity is not a religion of the private sphere, however much some inside the tent, and outside, might wish it. Christianity is a faith which seeks, in many creative ways, to contribute to the manner in which we understand ourselves. The value we give to each person, and the delicate balancing act which is at the heart of all politics, is ultimately about how we hold together questions of identity and difference, belonging and otherness.
Often in the Church of England, our debates are proxy for wider debates within society. Matters of gender, equality and minorities are all issues that we meet elsewhere in society. Yes, I know we did not crack it on Tuesday over women bishops. Although that has undoubtedly been a public relations disaster and a serious setback, religion is faith committed to working at it. The Church of England belongs to all within this country and when we get it wrong, we are left in no doubt about it and we have to make amends. I believe that we will do so, particularly in the matter that we have debated this week. I thank your Lordships for all the contributions that have been made, some of them not so easy to accept but nevertheless importantly said.
If your Lordships want to see the contribution of religion in British society today, look at your local church, synagogue, mosque or gurdwara—not at the Taliban or the Tea Party. Religion is both shaped by society and helps in the shaping of society. There is mutuality here. Like many, I became a Christian because I wanted to participate in creating a world in which compassion, justice and the making of peace for all humanity might be possible. I found that the manifesto of Jesus Christ offered me a credo for such hope. Yet many others will have come to the same conclusion and dedicated themselves to the same vision inspired by some other creed or manifesto, or that innate compassion within them whose origin they simply do not understand but know what it commands them to do and to be.
Religion can be both radical and reactionary, often at the same time, but then it is to a greater or lesser extent a human creation. God, however perceived, is always greater than human interpretation. When, at its most radical, it offers a critique of society’s value, where that is necessary, and proffers support in the outworking of a vision for a more human and humane world, religion is good. Religion both shapes and is shaped by society. Well managed, both serve each other and the common good. There will of course be conflict from time to time but we should not be afraid of that. Religion is not so much about giving answers as providing an environment for dialogue in society, where all may seek the welfare of the other and strive for the betterment of all humanity.
My Lords, I, too, thank my noble friend Lord Singh for bringing this debate before the House. There remains a keen interest in this House in discussing matters of communities, faith and religion, even though they are too often neglected elsewhere, and this interest is very welcome. I thank the Minister, who I know has a keen interest in these matters, for joining us in her new role.
It seems to me that this debate on the role of religion in society is asking three questions. What do people think the current role of religion in society is? In reality, what is the actual role of religion in society? Perhaps most importantly, what do we want the role of religion in society to be? I do not claim to have definitive answers to these questions. I have been a practising Hindu for as long as I can remember. I would never claim to be an expert on my faith; indeed, I often regret that I do not know more about it. When growing up in Uganda, I was fortunate to be taught at a local Christian school. While I may not always have stayed on the right side of the disciplinary elements of the school, I left there with a very healthy respect for and interest in Christianity.
It was only after moving to Britain, when I was 17, that I really began to take an active interest in my faith—a faith that I consider to be more of a way of life. My faith has given me courage and strength when times are hard, guidance when the path is not clear, a community that is stronger together and joy on so many occasions. These benefits, if I may call them that, are not unique to any one faith and I am sure that many people here and elsewhere can empathise with them. However, I consider myself to be a man of faith.
It is worth highlighting the inspirational nature of faith and religion. Faith inspires me to be a better human being. You only have to look at the work of the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions to see how faith can inspire someone. This inspiration is not limited to Iain Duncan Smith; vast numbers of believers are committed to creating a better society here and abroad through volunteering, politics and work. In my own community, so many institutions and charities are manned and supported by volunteers who act so selflessly.
Religion can and does have a very positive impact on society but, as I am sure everyone here would agree, this is not a one-way street. Far too many conflicts have their roots in religion and far too often the tone of religious organisations feels divisive, exclusive and outdated. I appreciate that that is easier said than done, but religions need to ensure that they are relevant to the societies that they encounter. If we continue to presume that all the instructions written thousands of years ago in our respective faiths are literally the be-all and end-all, I fear that the importance of faith will continue to decline, and this will leave our great faiths on the defensive.
People’s understanding of the role of religion in society may not always match up with what is happening, but it is undoubtedly true that those of us who believe in the power of fait need to work hard to explain why it is relevant. We must ensure that we are relevant but not outdated—that we are bringing people together through our deepest principles and not being divisive.
Last year the Prime Minister gave a speech in Oxford to mark the 400th anniversary of the King James Bible. He said that Christian values were central to Britain and should be treasured, including responsibility, hard work, compassion and humility. These are the values that I identify with my own religion as well, and I believe that any society with those values at its core will always flourish.
My Lords, yesterday I was proud to speak at the School of Oriental and African Studies to inaugurate an exhibition called “Sugar and Milk”. It was about 10 Zoroastrian Parsee families who settled in south-east England and the stories of what happened to them after they settled in this country. What came across strongly was their identity and their religion as part of integrating into British society. Before I left India to study in this country as a 19 year-old, my father told me, “Son, you’re going to live abroad, and I don’t know if you’re going to come back to India. Wherever in the world you live, integrate with the community that you are living in to the best of your ability but never, ever forget your roots”. In the exhibition I saw how proud those families were of their roots and of their religious identity.
I thank the noble Lord, Lord Singh, for initiating this debate at this crucial time, in Interfaith Week. My friend, the Nobel laureate Amartya Sen, has written and spoken a lot about identity and the fact that we as individuals have not just one identity but several. For many of us, part of that identity is our religion. In my case I am proud to be an Indian, I am proud to be British, I am proud to be an Asian Briton and I am proud to be a Zoroastrian Parsee.
Mahatma Gandhi is reported to have said that in numbers Parsees are beneath contempt, but in contribution, beyond compare. The basis of the Zoroastrian faith is three words: humata, hukhta and huvarshta—good thoughts, good words and good deeds. The good deeds that religions promote have been mentioned; the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, said that nearly 20% of charities in this country are linked to religions and their advancement. The Prime Minister has spoken about the big society. Religious communities practise the big society and have been doing so for generations. It is not just about religious communities looking after their own, either; it is about putting back into the wider community, and I am proud to say that the Zoroastrian Trust Funds of Europe, which is celebrating its 150th anniversary, does just that.
Yet, sadly, religion is declining in this country. Some surveys show that 50% of people in this country say that they have no religious affiliation, while one survey said that 65% of youngsters between 18 and 24 had none. I am proud to be a patron of the Faiths Forum for London, working alongside my friend Maurice Ostro, the founder patron, with the nine faiths of the Inter Faith Network to try to promote interfaith dialogue and harmony.
I was brought up in the Indian army, and my father was posted all around India. The Indian army is huge, over 1 million strong, and contains all religions. I was brought up from childhood to celebrate different religions and their festivities, whether Sikh, Muslim, Hindu or Christian. I went to several schools, Anglican and Jesuit. India is one of the most secular and pluralistic societies in the world.
We talk about tolerance of faiths and communities. I hate the word “tolerance”—we should be celebrating each other’s religions and faiths. The most important thing is that no relationship can exist without mutual trust and respect. If there is mutual trust and respect among our religions, we have such a great future ahead.
I think the Minister said that this Government do God and religion. Are they doing enough to encourage and promote religion and religious faith? Could they do more? What religions do more than anything else is promote integrity and values. Religions are not about rituals or doing things right, but about doing the right thing. We are so lucky to live in one of the most open countries in the world, and I am so proud of the fact that we have wonderful celebrations of religions in this country.
I thank my noble friend Lord Singh for securing this debate. There are hundreds of different religions throughout the world. Christianity, Islam and Hinduism are embraced by nearly 75% of the world’s population. Christianity has become the largest religion in the world. There are about 1 billion Catholics and nearly half a billion Protestants. Islam is the second largest and the fastest growing religion in the world today. Muslims are estimated to number 1.1 billion. Hinduism dates to about 2,000 years before Christ. It is the source of Buddhism and Sikhism. Today there are some 800 million Hindus in the world.
Since the earliest prehistoric times, faith and belief have always been part of the texture of human society. Neither in the past nor in the present is it possible to find a society in which religious issues have not been raised. It may even be claimed that human endeavour in the realm of religion and belief has been more strenuous and longer lasting than efforts in the area of knowledge and art. In many historical events, religion can be seen to have dominated all relationships. All members of society belong to the church. Churches, sects, denominations and cults are religious organisations. The differences among them lie in their relationship to the social environment. It is possible that in many human societies unfavourable economic conditions, stagnation and backwardness may coexist with religious belief, but this coexistence does not necessitate any causal relationship; one cannot be presented as the cause of the other.
The espousal of a religious doctrine influences the way a person views the world, and when an entire society of people adopts the same religious beliefs, cultural, political, and economic changes are inevitable. Elements of society such as geography, resources and outside pressure also influence religious doctrines. Although societies and religions differ a great deal from one to the next, the connections between the two are inherently evident and similar in all religions. The power of humans to control events is limited, so religion provides an institutionalised means of adjusting to life’s uncertainties and risks. Humans need to feel that the world is comprehensible and that there is a rhyme and reason for the events of their lives. Religion is generally perceived as fulfilling social functions, such as preserving and solidifying society, creating a community of believers, cultivating social change and providing a means of social control. It also fulfils personal functions, such as answering ultimate questions, providing rites of passage and reconciling people to hardship.
In traditional societies, religion was seen as an authority in all areas of social life; few activities remained unaffected. In modern industrial societies, religion is one of many specialised institutions. As a result, religion has been stripped of many of its former functions and must compete with other institutions for authority. To the extent that individuals accept religious teachings and incorporate them in their business, politics, education or family life, religion has an indirect influence on these spheres. However, religious institutions have no direct authority or control. Whenever religion has played its proper role, society has been able to maintain a relatively peaceful balance and harmony among the generally disruptive and self-interested tendencies of politics and economics. Thus, the original role of religion prefigures the idea that civil society is needed to balance and correct the competing interests of state and capital in modern societies.
The proper role of religion has been to provide a higher purpose and meaning to human life that transcends limited self-interest; to counterbalance the disruptive tendencies of politics and economics with shared values able to hold society together; to provide a moral structure in which human beings act; and to stand up for and protect the “little ones”—those who are marginalized and oppressed within the usual power schemes. However, religion has often failed to play its proper role.
Britain is a truly multicultural and multi-religious country. While some of our politicians may claim that multiculturalism has failed, there is a strong case to be made that it operates successfully every day when Britons of different faiths, ethnicities and backgrounds co-operate alongside each other to make the nation what it is today.
My Lords, I am immensely grateful to my noble friend Lord Singh for initiating this timely debate. Through centuries of human history, up to our present day, one of the most divisive elements is religion. That was never meant to be so but extremists in many faiths are bent on exploiting religion for their own nefarious, political agendas. As we know, religion can be a force for peace or war. It can heal or hurt. It can create or destroy on a scale unimaginable to previous generations. Human history is filled with episodes involved with religion and of misguided believers responsible for the slaughter of fellow humans on the altar of religion.
Although there is warmth and friendship here this afternoon, there is fear and hatred outside in the world. We cannot be discouraged, for there is enough commonality in world religions to enable us to reach out to our fellow humans. Although humans have demonstrated their genius for creativity and achievement, we have lost none of our ability to destroy and kill fellow humans with impunity. When extremists inflict violence on society in the name of religion, the innocent are often their main victims. That has to be resisted by the community at large. Voices must be raised in protest and we must withhold the robe of sanctity when it is sought as a cloak for violence and bloodshed, even if the perpetrators are from our own faith. As human beings, we are all more alike than different—irrespective of our physical make-up and self-created labels which might suggest otherwise. The challenge before us is to respect and understand others without compromising the bedrock of our own faith.
Let us now look at the philosophical analysis of religion, which relates to logic that the human can understand and relate to. Religion and politics speak to different aspects of the human condition. Religion binds people together in communities, and politics helps to mediate peacefully between their differences. One of the greatest tragedies of the 20th century came when politics was turned into a religion. The single greatest risk to the 21st century is that the opposite may occur, not when politics is religionised, but when religion is politicised.
Finally, in the vision of the modern thinker, trade would do for a man what politics could not; that is, tame passions and change the outlook of man from aggression to consumerism and production, thus integrating nations for mutual benefits from trade and finance. All these notions, however, do not answer man’s curiosity about himself. His sense of comfort, however, is well manifested in his loyalty to his tribe and community. Economics does not explain his quest for self-knowledge and identity. Religion answers this human dilemma. No other system explains, as religion does, our reason for being on this planet.
My Lords, I thank almighty God, or whichever deity your Lordships happen to choose this afternoon, that we do not have some Minister for spiritual affairs, because religion is, rightly, not a matter for the Executive or Parliament, despite the presence of all those right reverend Prelates and most reverend Primates in your Lordships’ House. The leading spin-maester of the previous new Labour Administration once said that they “didn’t do God”. Whatever my noble friend may say in her wind-up, I hope that her words will not include a pledge to set up some Minister of religion.
However, I hope that our assessment will, first, recognise that Governments can benefit much from the spiritual guidance and advice of religious groups and, secondly, give a clear recognition of the role that decent spiritual values play in our society, although I claim no monopoly in this on behalf of organised religions. One of my dearest friends who I admire most is at the same time highly clear-sighted on spiritual values and matters of right and wrong, while being what could only be described as a high-church atheist in his total disbelief of the eternal or any deity. I also trust that my noble friend’s speech will not strike a utilitarian note towards religious groups along the lines of just how useful their cash and skills are, at a time of organising the delivery of voluntary work in these moments of austerity. Then there is the assessment of the role of religions in the big society, of which, alas, we have heard not much these days.
In reality, religious groups have already for a long time involved themselves in the work of the helpful and hopeful small society of communities that surround synagogue, church or mosque. Essentially, in relation to religion’s role in the UK, the Government should ensure three things. First, they should ensure that sincerely and often long-held religious beliefs, when they do not happen to fit in with the political social policy priorities or fashions of the day, are not marginalised or, at worst, sneered on by those in power as being backward or out of touch with progress—that much abused word—but, rather, treated with reasonable respect. Secondly, the Government should reflect the concern of our indigenous faith groups for those persecuted abroad—from minority Islamic groups under attack in a Turkey, a Syria or an Iran to Christians of all hues, from Chaldean Catholics to those right-on evangelicals among the half million who have experienced total religious cleansing in post-conflict Iraq. Thirdly, the Government should bend over backwards on the home front to protect the freedoms of religious groups in the United Kingdom, however small or strange they might appear to our governing class.
For example, contrast my, “If it’s all right by His Holiness the Pope, then it’s certainly all right by me”, brand of Catholicism is many a liturgical mile away from that of the tiny Plymouth Brethren. However, we should be very cautious before we interfere with religious freedoms. They are now under attack on public benefit grounds in the United Kingdom. If such freedoms fall on this, other religious groups may well follow. We had all better watch out.
My Lords, I very much welcome this debate and appreciate the tabling of this subject by my noble friend Lord Singh. The problem is not, as the noble Lord has stated, with other religions. Like him, I am deeply concerned about the increasing dominance of secularism. As a consequence, many Christians find themselves not only marginalised but in some cases victimised. I am sure that this applies to other faiths, too.
The UK is constitutionally Christian. It is explicitly not a secular state. The monarch at her coronation swore an oath to God, not to a secular philosophy. Thank God for her continuing faithful, godly service. History has shown that this Christian constitution provides for a tolerant society in which people of all faiths or none are free to worship or not as they please. It has provided the basis for the kind of stability, peace, prosperity, happiness and individual freedom that still eludes a great many countries in the world that have not had this important influence. It is why many of us are so proud of our heritage. There is much more one could say about the historical influence of Christianity on life in Britain. It is evident all around us in the Palace of Westminster.
It is difficult in the time allocated to the debate adequately to express my concerns. I am sure that we all feel the same. Like the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, I chair one of the Christian charities that make up a huge proportion of our voluntary sector. This has been referred to already. Many of the charities attempt to provide valuable support in a society that our Prime Minister described as “broken”. It is seriously disturbing that many Christians should feel that their contribution to public life is now being not only ignored but denigrated. Atheist groups are actively campaigning to stop Christian and Catholic groups opening new schools—even going to court to get them stopped, as happened recently in Richmond. Christian charities are finding it increasingly difficult to get funding from public bodies.
I will give two examples. The late Earl Ferrers spoke of an example close to his home in Norfolk. A homeless charity run by a Baptist church was told that it would lose its funding unless it stopped allowing people to say grace before meals. Pilgrim Homes, a charity providing homes for elderly people, was denied funding by Brighton Council because it could not in all conscience comply with the diktat that all its Christian residents had to be questioned about their sexual orientation every three months. I find it difficult to believe that this is happening in Britain. I am sure that we are all aware of NHS nurse Caroline Petrie who was disciplined for making a kind, gentle offer to pray for a patient. The banning of prayers and the news last week about the demotion of Adrian Smith, who expressed a personal view about gay marriage, are further worrying challenges.
Most of these cases were resolved in the courts, but the fact that they were raised at all is indicative of how far we have departed from being a faith-based society. Despite the Minister’s assurance and the comments that have been made already, the prevailing political attitude that I am concerned about was succinctly expressed in the famous statement by Alastair Campbell, “We don’t do God”. We all want to live in a society where people, regardless of their religion, can make a full contribution to public life and be respected for it. We should not make compliance with some sort of secularist state orthodoxy a precondition for full participation in society. The power of God can change lives and influence communities and society. It has done so in the past. Doing God and doing good is what millions of people in Britain want the freedom to do today.
My Lords, I, too, thank my noble friend Lord Singh of Wimbledon for introducing the debate. I will set it against the context of the polarisation that we are seeing between people who have faith and those who do not. That is something on which we have not yet spent enough time in this debate. We also see a broad lack of public understanding of the roles that faith can play in wider society. That is something I urge the Minister and the Government to reassess, by looking at the contributions that faiths have made. I will give some quick examples.
The first of these is the hospice movement, in which the UK has been, without doubt, the world leader. The modern hospice movement was founded by a profoundly believing Anglican, who built on the work already done by the Sisters of Charity, a Catholic order from Dublin. Both Dame Cicely Saunders and the Sisters of Charity founded our modern hospice movement, which has changed the way that we view death and dying in this country. It has been a good thing for all of us; it is something brought to this society by people of faith, because of what their faith told them about how people should approach their death. This is something that we have now managed to do in a multifaith, as well as a single faith, way—indeed in a non-denominational and non-faith way—but it started with faith.
The second is work with people with enduring mental illness. More than 20 years ago I was struck by the report of the Health Advisory Service into how people who are homeless and had long-term mental illness were treated. Often the line from the healthcare professionals was: “Do not bring your smelly homeless people to us”. It was the churches, the synagogues, the mosques, the gurdwaras, the temples and whoever else who picked up the pieces and sometimes—though not always—showed kindness. It is clear that faith organisations can make a great contribution to the well-being of people with mental disorders. It is also an activity and task carried by many faith organisations, which largely goes unrecognised by government.
So too does the work of many faith organisations, including my own West London Synagogue—I declare an interest here—in working with destitute asylum seekers. They cannot return to their own country, but are caught in a mess not of their own making caused by the unbelievable length of time it takes for applications to be processed and appeals to be heard. They are not allowed to work, either. The Government may not relish what some faith organisations do to help these destitute people, but they have to recognise that these people are still human and still here. This needs to be acknowledged. The noble Lord, Lord Janner, talked about Mitzvah Day, and it was on Mitzvah Day last week when members of my synagogue and people of many other faiths helped asylum seekers around London.
It is not only about what religion can bring but about how people are and what they believe. It is about the fundamentals of what makes human beings tick. It is about the need to give as well as receive—the volunteering and gift relationship ideas so rooted in faith. Governments have not been very good at recognising the role that religion can play in wider society. So will the Minister say whether the Government will now consider drawing in people of faith to debates about education for everyone, volunteering for everyone and the need to learn to give and receive? Politicians are no use at teaching these things, but religion can and at its best does. It does that day by day, not always well, but often brilliantly, setting a tone—as the noble Lord, Lord Patten, has just said—for wider society which the Government could and should recognise.
My Lords, the role of religion in society is recognised in our charity law, but this has become contentious in the case of the Preston Down Trust. I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, that this is not the thin end of the wedge for the charitable status of our churches. I say that due to a comment in the decision letter from the Charity Commission, which says the question,
“will turn on the doctrines and practices of this particular religious persuasion”.
This also explains why, to my knowledge, none of the main denominations are at all concerned. This religious persuasion is the Exclusive Brethren, which sits under the universal leadership of Bruce Hales, in Australia. In August, this group incorporated in the UK as the Plymouth Brethren (Exclusive Brethren) Christian Church Ltd. I have family in this Hales Exclusive Brethren, which is not to be confused with any other brethren groups. The Hales Brethren hold to the doctrine of separation, so exclusives cannot live in semi-detached houses, as they share a party wall with non-brethren. They cannot eat with non-brethren, cannot have friends with non-brethren; they have no TV, radio, cafes, restaurants, etc. They can attend only brethren schools and they now work only for brethren businesses. Attending university is banned. Is it not contradictory to give gift aid to charities struggling to encourage young people into university and also to groups whose beliefs prohibit that choice for their young people? This is a very controlled environment to live and grow up in. Unsurprisingly, the preliminary findings of Andrew Mayers from Bournemouth University and Jill Mytton are that the mental health outcomes for former Exclusive Brethren are poor. I await with eager interest their full report.
Only last night I spoke to a gentleman who told me about someone who is currently in the Exclusive Brethren. The man had been to a pub and unfortunately he was spotted by a brethren brother, so he has been “shut up”, a term which means that no brethren can live with him. His wife and family were removed from the family home by the leadership and he has no contact with them. The brethren have also stopped doing business with him. The man has left the Exclusive Brethren, but his parents are still in. The only contact he has had with them is a five-minute conversation and he said to me, “They will not even have a cup of tea with me”. He also said, “I miss my parents so much”. But what about his children? That was the position I grew up in: cut off from my only living grandparent who was eight miles away because I was not in the Exclusive Brethren. This is why Kevin Rudd, the former Prime Minister of Australia, once said:
“I believe that this is an extremist cult and sect … I also believe that it breaks up families”.
If this is Christianity, it is not as we have ever known it before. I commend the Charity Commission on seeking to deal with this Christian sect, but many who would give evidence to the First-tier Tribunal fear the implications for families still in the brethren. The Charity Commission must ensure that victims can give evidence and tell their stories anonymously.
The Exclusive Brethren is a matter for the church collectively. I believe there needs to be a church-led inquiry into the Exclusive Brethren; a theological and psychological inquiry perhaps chaired by a former Archbishop. It is not a noble or honest response to seek to deal with a fudgy law in a decision letter than turns a blind eye to these victims. The Exclusive Brethren maintain that these assertions are without foundation, so they should welcome such an inquiry. Victims can be hard to find, but I hope that many former Exclusive Brethren will hear this debate and so will know that I am hosting an event in Parliament for former Exclusive Brethren so that parliamentarians can also hear their stories.
Groups about whom there is credible evidence that they harm health, split families and send no one to university can exist in a liberal society, but whether they should be charities is very much open to doubt. The religion and public benefit guidance needs to be clarified, but we also need clarity on the outer limits of what is acceptable behaviour for all religious groups.
I offer my apologies to the noble Lord, Lord Singh, not to have delivered a celebratory speech, but I cannot get out of my mind that there might be a young person listening to this debate in a brethren school who just wants to go to university. It is important that we should say that that is not wrong.
Before the noble Baroness, Lady Falkner, rises to speak, I know that we are here to talk about faith, but if we could keep faith within the time limit, that would be appreciated, otherwise we will eat into the Minister’s time.
My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Lord, Lord Singh of Wimbledon, for initiating this debate. I fear that he will not concur with most of what I am going to say, but I thought it important to speak in the spirit of bringing a bit of balance to the debate.
I want to emphasise the role and importance of the secular space in public life. In that arena I am a secularist, and secularists can be religious too. As a society we can uphold everyone’s right to their religion or belief as well as their right to change or abandon it. Religions have just as much right to express their views as anyone else, but those views should not be privileged in the framing of public policy and law unless specifically related to policies of non-discrimination. Secularism, often unjustly maligned, is becoming more widely understood and recognised as its importance in a multi-religious society becomes more appreciated. The UK could hardly be more multi-religious, but France, India and even the United States opted for secular constitutions to avoid hegemony by any one religion.
Separating religion and state enables those of all religions and none to participate as equal citizens. The fight for that equality, which we now take for granted, has been fought over hundreds of years by non-conformists, Catholics, Jews, and non-believers. In fact, in the 1880s the founder of the National Secular Society, the Liberal MP Charles Bradlaugh, was obstructed from taking his elected seat in another place four times because of his non-belief, and was responsible for the Oaths Act 1888 which ended this affront. We take the Bishops’ Bench rather for granted as something very normal, but, in international terms, it could hardly be less so. We sit in the only Parliament in the world that gives bishops the right to sit. None of our reform proposals contemplated their departure, except as a by-product of the wholly elected option.
Let me turn to same sex marriage to which the established church is so opposed. It is surely entitled to that view and to tell its flocks not to partake in it. However, what rather alienates those who believe in it is that the church has sought to put pressure on the Government not to legislate on same-sex marriage, despite knowing that liberal religious groups, the non-religious and probably many individual Anglicans and Catholics wish to proceed with it. The church is, therefore, still seeking to restrict others’ freedoms, and I invite it to ponder on this.
I admire much charitable work done in the name of religion. However, there are also secular charities, and doubtless those of all religions and none contribute happily to both. In a society in which church attendance continues to dwindle and congregations age—I am sure there are anecdotal exceptions, but the statistics are very clear—we rapidly approach a time when we need to think about the extent to which religious precepts should be allowed, often through the workings of both Houses, to override the view of the people on sensitive social issues. When I say “the view of the people”, I mean even religious people.
It is remarkable that, according to reputable polls taken during the Pope’s visit, only somewhere in the range of 8% to 15% of Catholics agreed with their church’s official doctrine on such sensitive social issues as contraception, homosexuality and abortion. In conclusion, I very much regret our House’s repeated rejection of assisted dying legislation and stem cell research. I am convinced that that was done on religious grounds, while the public are so markedly in favour of those.
The secular point on which I would like to conclude is that religions should not have privileged positions to restrict others' freedoms—something that they do far too often.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Singh, for initiating this important debate, for his wise and gentle contribution to the religious life of this country and for the part he has played as a founding member and vice-chair of The Interfaith Network for the UK, which this year celebrates its 25th anniversary. It has helped to ensure that religious groups that may elsewhere find themselves in conflict meet here in Britain in friendship and peace. This is a great blessing to us all.
Religion is often misunderstood in secular times. It is seen as a strange set of beliefs and idiosyncratic rituals, both of which we could lose without loss. A better way of understanding religion, even from the outside, is as a sustained education in a life lived beyond the self. Many—perhaps all—of the world’s great religions teach their adherents the importance of making sacrifices for the sake of others, through charity, hospitality, visiting the sick, helping the needy, giving comfort to those in crisis and bringing moments of moral beauty into what might otherwise be harsh and lonely lives. Religion is the redemption of our solitude.
Long before these functions were taken over by the state, religious groups, here and elsewhere, were building schools and hospitals and networks of support. According to the extensive research carried out by Harvard sociologist Robert Putnam, regular worshippers today, in America and Britain, are more likely than others to give to charity—regardless of whether the charity is religious or secular—do voluntary work, give money to a homeless person, donate blood, help a neighbour with the housework, spend time with someone who is feeling depressed or help someone find a job. They are more active citizens and significantly more likely to belong to community organisations and neighbourhood groups. They get involved, turn up and lead.
Not for a moment do I say that to be good you need to be religious. However, religiosity as measured by attendance at a house of worship turns out to be a better predictor of altruism and empathy than education, age, income, gender or race. If this is so, the social implications are immense. Just as religions were building a welfare state before there was a welfare state, so now, and in the future, they may help sustain a welfare society in areas where the need for help is greater than the ability of Governments to provide it. They act as a counter voice to the siren song of a culture that sometimes seems to value self over others, rights over responsibilities, getting more than giving, consumption more than contribution, and success more than service to others. I therefore commend the Government for their support in bringing Britain’s many faiths together in acts of volunteering. I urge them to consider further ways of valuing the formidable altruistic energies of our faith communities for the good of all of us together.
My Lords, I rise with the deepest respect for the noble Lord, Lord Singh, and thank him for allowing us to have this debate. It has been a humbling experience to hear noble Lords across the House. I will endeavour to add to the mosaic of this discourse.
Islam has been present on our shores since 1707 and is a widely practised religion. There are hundreds of places of worship in addition to strong civil society organisations such as An-Nisa, the Henna Foundation in Cardiff, Radical Middle Way and the London Muslim Centre. These are the backbone of our young and old, and provide support to the community in general, as well as providing leadership and enhancing interaction with one another and helping us stand together in a crisis. The events of 9/11 and 7/7 were turning points for all of us, not least for Muslims. The subsequent government response, with the Prevent agenda, caused long-lasting damage vis-à-vis confidence and trust in our institutions, resulting in Muslims being made a suspect community. Those involved in Northern Ireland matters will appreciate the gravity of that impact. During the most difficult period, many of these organisations played a pivotal role in ensuring calm and enabling dialogue and engagement with government structures, within the community as well as wider society. There has been a remarkable amount of work at the grass-roots level to ensure peace and stability.
Religion has been a fundamental driver to this work. I pay tribute to the noble Lords, Lord Singh and Lord Sacks, the Inter Faith Network and the office of the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury, among many others who worked in close collaboration with faith groups, building strong alliances. As a result, we have a community growing in confidence about their citizenship of the UK and their obligations to society. There is good news, but it is not often spoken of or acknowledged. One survey found that the UK is respected and regarded highly by Muslim communities: 87% of Muslims feel a sense of belonging; 83% of Muslims feel proud to be British citizens; and 77% of Muslims strongly identify with Britain, while only 50% of the wider public do so.
There are vast arrays of community work going on. One example is that this November, a number of Muslim organisations came together in partnership with parliamentarians and launched an exhibition, held in the other place, that drew attention to the prevalence of Islamophobia but highlighted the contribution Muslims make as citizens in wider British society. While optimistic campaigns highlight the positive contributions Muslims make towards society as inspired by their religion, it is important to underline the devastating impact that misunderstanding religions has caused.
This lack of understanding on the part of wider society, whether in the media or in general public life, has contributed to harmful ideas about, and attitudes towards, Muslims. There has been a disturbing increase in Islamophobia and Islamophobic incidents. A study of newspaper articles about Muslims by academics at Lancaster University found that a majority of the articles referred to Muslims within the context of extremism and/or terrorism, and noted that:
“Overall the project highlighted a serious journalistic problem—Muslims who just get on with their lives aren’t seen as newsworthy”.
Worryingly, these misconceptions draw inappropriate links between Muslims and extremism, which contribute to Islamophobia and neglect the positive contribution that Islam inspires and requires Muslims to make in societies.
There are of course matters we as Muslims need to address—the facts that about 80% of women are economically inactive, the fact that women’s leadership is lacking in public life and the fact of changing society and family structures. All those have huge implications and we ignore at our peril the benefits of working alongside faith organisations to tackle these social effects on our society. I believe that faith is the building block that can contribute towards a cohesive society, but it must be on the basis that there is equity and justice among us all.
My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Lord, Lord Singh, for giving us this opportunity to say a few words about things that matter to us. I was beginning to think that this debate should have been called “In praise of religion”. I was pleased that the noble Baroness, Lady Falkner, put in a word or two that did not quite pass for praise of religion.
I am the last speaker, which is both an advantage and a disadvantage. I had some notes, but I felt that I ought to say things which have come to mind listening to all noble Lords who have contributed to this debate. First, I am a secularist and an atheist, but I call myself a Hindu atheist because a lot of the principles that I live by are drawn from my Hindu ancestry and upbringing. I do have a set of principles. A lot of people seem to think that the only kind of atheist is like Dawkins; no, not all atheists are like him. I do not push my atheism on to anybody else. I say, “I am atheist; you have your own choice. If you do not wish to be an atheist, that is your choice”. At the same time, however, I hope that people would also say that to me.
The other thing that I strongly believe in is that if atheists or secularists push their views on other people, they become like the religious. Very often we find that religious people push their views on us. They like to make us feel that there is something wrong with us. I do not believe that there is.
The noble Lord, Lord Singh, is a very fortunate man. I do not know whether he realises that. He represents the most modern of the religions that we have spoken about today. It is the religion most suited for our modern life. The things that the founder, Guru Nanak, wanted the Sikhs to follow are very relevant today. It is just unfortunate that the followers do not follow them. I am afraid that that is the story of most religions: the followers do not follow their own religions. Guru Nanak did not know that he was starting Sikhism; he was a Hindu. But the Hindus were so tied up with ritual that he felt that something had to be done to bring people back to the principles rather than getting lost in ritual. The Gita, the most important book of the Hindus, says that ritual is the lowest form of worship. Everybody should take that to heart. Ritual is not what God watches. If there is a God, he looks at what kind of things you do and not the kind of worship you go into.
Having said that, of the two women who influenced me most, one was a Catholic nun and the other was a Salvation Army colonel. Why? They dedicated their lives totally to helping other people. This is where sewa comes in. I believe, first, in what the Gita says: you must do all your actions according to right and proper thinking. “Dharma” is not translatable into English, but it is your duty, the right way, the right thinking.
The second thing I believe in is the Christian saying from the Bible, that you should do to other people what you would like them to do to you. If the Christians just followed that, they could do no wrong. The third is seva, which the Sikhs say: service to other people. If you have just a few things to follow, you are in a better position than anybody else.
My Lords, I confess what pleasure it gives me to stand in a House as diverse as this, which can command speakers of this quality from across such a wide range. I, like others, must congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Singh, on bringing this debate to the Floor of the House. He, like me, has done his apprenticeship on “Thought for the Day”. I did it for 17 years. He had 10 minutes, and even the two and three-quarter minutes that “Thought for the Day” takes is under great pressure from me.
We have celebrated the undoubted positive outcomes of religion but, like other voices here and as a religious person, I want to congratulate those who have had the courage to ginger us up with their thinking today. Self-congratulation is not necessarily always the best way of looking at our religious beliefs or the contribution of our religions to society around us. The right reverend Prelate has alluded to some of that too. I welcome the debate with science, secularism and humanism. If we cannot stand on our own feet in proper debate I do not know what on earth the point is. There should be no privileges as far as I am concerned: I want to be kept on my toes and I want what I contribute to the public debate to be sharp, self-critical and to lead me to be ready to collaborate with people of good will wherever they come from. I therefore thank the noble Baroness, Lady Falkner of Margravine, for what she said. I also want to express that an essential element within religion, which is so often so tight-lipped, is a sense of humour that allows us to see just how puny we are sub specie aeternitatis.
There are two tests for good religion and every time I think about the contribution of religion to society I think of them. First is the offering of a safe space for its adepts and adherents. There has to be somewhere where the vulnerable and minorities of every kind can feel safe. There has to be somewhere they can go to where they can fraternise, mix with people and know that they are not at the mercy of circumstance. The second is the refusal of good religion simply to serve the internal needs of its own religious group. I do not want any religion turning into a cult: we have heard mention of that today. Nor should it become sectarian in its interests or scope. We have had plenty of evidence that religion needs to be outward looking. The Sikh religion, which emphasises service—as the noble Lord, Lord Singh, uttered in his very first sentence—is a good example of that.
I will obey those who say that I must not take up too much time and I will allow a little on the credit side to flow across the Dispatch Box to the Minister. This credit from me may be the last she gets, so I hope she will enjoy it.
When I came into this House in 2004, the BBC stopped me doing “Thought for the Day” because I had chosen to take the Labour whip and they cannot have politicians doing “Thought for the Day”. As you well know, nobody must have a point of view when they do that programme. I want to say, as a personal testimony that I was a member of the Labour Party before I was a Christian and I was not going to give that up for anything in the world. It was the Labour Party that opened my eyes to see the world in a particular way: it was my Christian faith that gave me the fire in my belly to go out there and do something about it. I have sensed in this debate that the fire is not only in my belly but in the belly of many of those who have spoken today.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Griffiths, for giving me some credit but despite it I will have to rush through because I only have eight minutes in which to conclude.
I thank those who have contributed to this well informed debate, and particularly the noble Lord, Lord Singh, for focusing attention on this important subject. The noble Lord has extensive experience as a leading figure in the Sikh community and is an invaluable supporter of national and international interfaith work.
This Government believe that religion plays a vital role in British society. Not only do we support people in their right to follow a faith if they choose to do so; we also celebrate faith and faith communities’ contribution to society. I agreed with the noble Baroness, Lady Neuberger, when she spoke of the great contribution of faith in the areas of healthcare and education. As I put it in my 2010 speech to the Anglican Bishops’ Conference: unlike previous Governments—I am sorry, but I am going to have to say this—we do “do God”.
Faith communities make a vital contribution to national life and have done for centuries: guiding the moral outlook of many, inspiring great numbers of people to community service, providing help to those in need. Across the country, people from different faiths work hard in countless churches, mosques, temples, gurdwaras and synagogues, and in charities and community groups, to address problems in their local communities. The noble Lord, Lord Singh, summed this up better than I can when he spoke about the state being there when things in society go wrong, but religion being there from the outset to stop them going wrong in the first place. My noble friend Lord Hussain eloquently detailed his perspective on the role of religion today and its importance.
The 30,000 faith-based charities in this country make a huge difference at home and abroad. We warmly endorse the work of charities that do so much to support the fabric of society for the public benefit.
Research shows that people of religious observance are more likely to be volunteers. The Government are recognising and harnessing that fact. I congratulate my noble friend Lady Eaton on her contribution and leadership on this issue, specifically on the Near Neighbours programme. Through our £5 million investment in this Church Urban Fund programme we are using the existing infrastructure of the Church of England to build productive local relationships between people of different faiths.
Places of worship of different faiths in a town or city can sometimes be unaware of the work each is doing, often to address similar problems. The Government want to help build effective, co-operative working relationships between people of different faiths. We continue to fund the important work of the Inter Faith Network for the UK and the Faith-based Regeneration Network, intermediary bodies that link up, encourage and resource interfaith dialogue projects and faith-based social action. The previous Government had supported an annual Interfaith Week since 2009 and we are delighted to continue to do so.
The Government are also happy to support A Year of Service, to highlight and link up faith-based volunteering efforts during Her Majesty the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee year. The noble Lord, Lord Janner, was right to highlight Mitzvah Day, which is part of that. I am sure that noble Lords will agree that there could be no better tribute to Her Majesty.
The Government are also committed to maintaining the status of religious education as a compulsory subject that all pupils must study throughout their schooling, subject to parental choice. Religious education is important so that children can understand the history that has shaped the values and traditions of this country, forming a key part of promoting the spiritual, moral, social and cultural development of children and young people. We consider religious education fundamental to children’s learning. The Government also remain committed to the provision of collective worship in schools—or, as I knew them, assemblies.
The noble Lord, Lord Curry, was right to say that the UK has a strong Christian heritage. As I said in a speech when I led the largest ever ministerial delegation to the Holy See earlier this year, Britain is proud of its established church and Europe must be more confident in its Christianity. It is therefore right that religious education reflects the fact that the religious traditions of Great Britain are in the main Christian. Last year, every state school in England was provided with a King James Bible to mark its 400th anniversary and recognise the huge influence it has had on our culture, language, society and values—values that my noble friend Lord Popat was right to say are as much his values as a Hindu as they are Christian values.
The noble Lord, Lord Curry, also raised concerns about the perceived marginalisation of Christians. I am in receipt of the Christians in Parliament All-Party Parliamentary Group report setting out these concerns, and we are currently considering a response to that.
Local authorities are responsible for drawing up locally agreed syllabuses, which non-faith-based maintained schools must follow. These syllabuses are broadly Christian, while taking account of the teaching and practices of the other principal religions in both that local area and wider Britain. Faith schools can develop their own syllabuses and we see thousands of fantastic Jewish, Hindu, Christian and Muslim schools setting the highest standards, both in faith teachings and more generally. This approach, which responds to local factors, giving local authorities a unique, locally agreed syllabus, chimes with this Government’s view of localism.
All academies have to teach religious education under the terms of their funding agreement with the Secretary of State. Academies are not required to follow a locally agreed syllabus, but can choose to do so. I am proud to say that one-third of free schools—our flagship education policy—are also faith-based.
Noble Lords will agree that freedom of religion is a fundamental human right. The Government defend the right of people to follow a faith and express that faith, free from discrimination, intolerance or persecution. In an important and enjoyable intervention, my noble friend Lord Patten was quite right to raise the international dimension of this freedom. I hope that he will take comfort from the fact that my role, both in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and at the Department for Communities and Local Government, deals with the international and domestic aspects of freedom of religion.
In 2010, this Government made it a requirement for all police forces to record anti-Semitic attacks. We are funding tighter security measures in Jewish faith schools. We appointed the first UK envoy for post-Holocaust issues, Sir Andrew Burns. We are funding the Holocaust Educational Trust’s Lessons from Auschwitz project and we are committing funds to the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust, all moves which I know the noble Lord, Lord Sacks, welcomes and supports
We are now finally starting to tackle the more recent scourge of anti-Muslim hatred. As we announced last week, we are funding the Measuring Anti-Muslim Attacks programme and have established the cross-government Anti-Muslim Hatred group, allowing us to respond department by department to the growing problem of anti-Muslim hatred. I hope that the noble Baroness, Lady Uddin, will welcome these initiatives. We have changed the law to allow councils to continue to hold prayers at the beginning of their meetings should they wish following an attempt by the National Secular Society to have the long-standing practice banned.
I was grateful to my noble friend Lady Brinton for her clarification on the ongoing Plymouth Brethren case and to my noble friend Lady Berridge for sharing her moving account and her expertise in this matter. The noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, was right to ask what more we could do. I hope that, after his discussions with me, he will see the fact that the Zoroastrian community was represented at the Cenotaph on this Remembrance Sunday as a step in the right direction. The noble Lord, Lord Hameed, quite rightly raised the challenging issue of when faith is distorted and used as a tool for fear and violence. My noble friend Lady Berridge reminded us that this distortion is not confined to any one religion. The noble Baroness, Lady Flather, raised important issues of choice in religion and the choice not to have a religion. I am sure that many noble Lords are, like me, relieved to hear that she is not of the Dawkins brand of atheism.
This Government believe that faith should have a seat at the table in public life. I agree with my noble friend Lady Falkner that this is not a position of privilege but that of a strong contributor to the public debate. Yes, there will be setbacks both in the public debate and the debate within faiths, as the right reverend Prelate alluded to, but the place of faith in the public debate should not be altered as a result. Indeed, my appointment as the first Minister for Faith and Communities—not for spirituality, but for faith and communities—demonstrates the Prime Minister’s commitment to the voice of faith communities being heard at the Cabinet table. The Prime Minister has said that our faith communities make Britain “stronger” and he was right to say that,
“we are a Christian country. And we should not be afraid to say so”.
This Government have held faith receptions at Downing Street for major festivals: Vaisakhi, Eid, Hanukkah and Diwali—and, yes, it was right that this coalition Government introduced the celebration of Easter as well.
When I first set the tone for this Government’s faith agenda in 2010, declaring that we would “do God”, many warned that this was something that a government Minister should not say. Two years on, I am heartened to see that so many Ministers have got behind this agenda, and our actions demonstrate the importance that we attach to the role of religion in British society.
House adjourned at 6.47 pm.