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Volume 817: debated on Monday 13 December 2021


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what progress they have made towards their commitments to providing (1) health services, (2) water and sanitation, and (3) access to justice, for marginalised communities in Nepal, including Dalits and Adivasis.

My Lords, the UK targets our development support at the most marginalised communities in Nepal, including Dalits, Adivasis, Janajatis and people with disabilities. The United Kingdom provides significant support to the Ministry of Health to strengthen systems and ensure universal health coverage, particularly for the most vulnerable. We provide £45.5 million in targeted security and justice assistance, and in 2021 we also repurposed our support to ensure that water, sanitation and health facilities reached 400,000 people, prioritising the most vulnerable in light of Covid.

I thank the Minister for his reply. The Dalits and Adivasis comprise about 14% of the population of Nepal, and they suffer the same kind of extensive humiliations as they do anywhere. In theory, the constitution acknowledges the rights of Dalits, but nobody has yet been appointed to the National Dalit Commission that was set up, and although a National Human Rights Commission has been set up, there are no representatives from the Dalit communities. Will he please press the Government on these issues?

My Lords, I pay tribute to the noble and right reverend Lord’s work in his role as chair of the APPG for Dalits. I think there are some encouraging signs from Nepal. He will be aware that in 2017, when local elections took place, about 22% of those elected to official local government positions were from the Dalit communities, so there is some progress. But he makes a very valid point and of course we will continue to lobby on strengthening human rights, not just for the Dalit communities but for all vulnerable communities in Nepal.

My Lords, I declare my interest as Colonel Commandant of the Brigade of Gurkhas. I am very grateful to my noble friend for the 100% renewal of the WASH programme delivered by the Gurkha Welfare Trust, as I am for the donation of ventilators, other medical supplies and some vaccines by COVAX. When will we fulfil our duty of care to the 30,000 Gurkha veterans who live in Nepal, through a bilateral donation of vaccines to Nepal to enable them to be vaccinated as well?

My Lords, first, I pay tribute to my noble friend’s work and, indeed, that of others in your Lordships’ House who drew specific attention to the plight of Nepal during the crisis in the summer. I assure my noble friend that we continue to prioritise help through the COVAX Facility for Covid. Also, the UK recently made a bilateral donation of 131,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine.

My Lords, Helen Grant, the Prime Minister’s special envoy on girls’ education, visited Nepal in October, and she met activist women and girls on education and climate change. Did that include representatives of the Dalit community, and did she use that opportunity to press the Government of Nepal to ensure that we leave no one behind and that everyone is included in dialogue on the future?

My Lords, on the specifics of my honourable friend’s meeting, I will certainly make sure that that was included and write to the noble Lord. On the more general point, in all our engagement—including on the importance of girls’ education and preventing gender-based violence—all communities, including the most marginalised, are of course included.

My Lords, I urge the Minister to return to the question asked by my noble and right reverend friend Lord Harries of Pentregarth, specifically about the two bodies which have been established—the National Human Rights Commission and the National Dalit Commission—on which there are no Dalits. Will he undertake to raise that specifically with the Nepalese Government and to ascertain why these constitutional promises have not been met? On the issue of Covid, what percentage of the 14% who are Dalits or Adivasis in Nepal have been vaccinated? What do we know about the number of fatalities that have occurred in line with the rest of the population? Is it not time that untouchability and caste were made history in the 21st century?

My Lords, as I have already made clear, I will follow up on the noble and right reverend Lord’s earlier point, specifically on representation. But I sought to illustrate that we are seeing some positive examples of inclusivity, albeit at a local level thus far. On the issue of the Covid-19 response, I can confirm that 24% of our support targeted particular vulnerable groups, including Dalits, Janajatis, Madhesi and Muslim minorities in Nepal.

My Lords, I am sure the Minister is aware of the SAHAJ programme—Strengthening Access to Holistic Gender Responsive and Accountable Justice; it is delivered by Voluntary Service Overseas in Nepal as part of the UK aid programme and has worked very successfully with hundreds of thousands of men and women and girls and boys. Many of those, particularly the women and girls, are from the Dalit community. Programmes such as this are in jeopardy if the Government do not sort out their UK aid funding. VSO found out about its funding after the last programme had ended. It needs to know that the money will be continued, and it needs to know in time so that it can work with its partners effectively in Nepal.

My Lords, I assure the noble Baroness that I am engaging directly with VSO on the priorities. I value it, and I am sure that all noble Lords acknowledge its valuable work. On the specifics of the programme in Nepal, I assure the noble Baroness, both as Minister for South Asia as well as Minister for civil society organisations, that I will look at that very closely.