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DFID needs to focus on that, while being sensitive and understanding the cultural issues that are often behind some of the problems for vulnerable groups. Many of the excellent microfinance and micro-insurance schemes exported from Bangladesh to India could be used with vulnerable groups and to support the national rural guarantee scheme, to which the hon. Member for Islington, North alluded.

In conclusion, I hope it has become clear that the Conservatives recognise the significance of the links between the UK and India. We want the UK Government, using UK taxpayers’ money, to make a significant contribution to sustained economic growth so that more Indians will be caught in the economic growth that is taking place, and to allow the maximum number of Indian people to benefit from the creation of open access, market access and increased trade. We want them also to increase opportunity, particularly in regard to education and health care, which many Indian people need but do not get.

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3.20 pm

Stephen Pound (Ealing, North) (Lab): I crave your indulgence, Mr. Pope. It would probably be appropriate, if not overly conventional, if you would allow me to say that exactly 24 hours ago my hon. Friend the Member for Middlesbrough, South and East Cleveland (Dr. Kumar) and I were present for the cremation service of the late Piara Singh Khabra, the former Member of Parliament for Ealing, Southall and a member of the Select Committee that shadows the Minister’s Department. I do not want to give his eulogy—that has been done elsewhere. However, it is notable that he was a strong and determined advocate of the work of the Department for International Development. He would typically have been able to speak from a position of knowledge and expertise, and above all great support of the Department, about many of the points on which we have touched this afternoon, including the delivery of food from his own state of Punjab—one of the most developed agricultural states of India, where food distribution is a major issue.

It is a considerable honour for me to follow the hon. Member for Boston and Skegness (Mark Simmonds), who knows a great deal about a subject on which most of us can hope only to realise how little we know. His contribution was articulate and well informed, and I was pleased to hear it. I want above all to mention my hon. Friend the Minister. I have met him in India and walked some of the DFID projects with him. He has for years—four in his present role, and six in previous roles—undertaken exemplary work, which I admire, and which inspires great affection and respect in many of my and his constituents. To commit in the past five years a budget of what I was going to call £1 billion—but I shall say 100 crore sterling, as we do in west London—is immensely impressive, and we are extremely grateful.

I wonder, nevertheless, whether the debate, entitled “India Country Assistance Plan” might not have been retitled. Assistance almost implies the stronger brother helping the weaker, or the stronger helping the minor partner. I should have preferred a title about an India partnership plan. Frankly, I think that we have moved on. India is now not a net recipient. In many cases it is a donor. The figures for Indian inward investment to this country climb ever higher. It is something like the third largest inward investor to this country. Partnership, rather than assistance, should be our watchword, although I do not remotely imply that there should be any major changes in the Department for International Development, whether further personnel changes or changes to its nomenclature.

As we look at India as a strategic partner and a major global power, the role of DFID has in some ways to be recalibrated. DFID currently operates in four states of India—Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Orissa and West Bengal—but it also has federally targeted programmes working throughout India. I want to raise with the Minister the role of India in the UK, including promulgating the role of DFID, because it is not entirely a one-way traffic. The British taxpayer is acting not, certainly, out of colonial guilt and not entirely out of fraternal feeling, but in some cases, let us be honest, out of enlightened self-interest in seeking partnership with the world’s biggest democracy, which is an emerging force for
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stability in a particularly unstable region—a country virtually surrounded by what some people might cruelly call failed states. It is a country that has much to teach us.

At present we are extremely fortunate in having people who will make the case for DFID in the UK. I invite the Minister to join me in praising, particularly, the work of Hindu Aid, including two people whom he knows extremely well: Ramesh Kallidai and Arjan Vekaria, who work to promote the work of DFID within the Indian population in the UK. DFID’s work will be more fully understood and more effective in country when people of Indian origin are able to make the case for DFID here in the UK, not just as part of a diaspora but within the wider community. I hope that my hon. Friend will also be prepared to join me in congratulating Sewa International, a British charity that enjoys the overwhelming support of the Indian population in Britain for its work in promoting such initiatives as the one teacher school, in which core challenges such as literacy in India are addressed on a scale not readily matched by other non-governmental organisations.

We have not touched on the matter of DFID working with NGOs, but in many ways it is an area of added value. DFID is a funder of first resort, but in many cases it is a pump primer. The unsung work of the Department for International Development, which it would be appropriate to mention this afternoon, includes developmental work that it does with NGOs in India. The Minister’s Department, acting particularly as a repository of advice, information and resource, does extraordinarily good work there, which is seldom acknowledged. I hope that the Department will continue to work with agencies such as Sewa International that have the experience required not only to help achieve the millennium development goals to which the Minister referred earlier, but to meet the transparency and compliance criteria mentioned by the hon. Member for Boston and Skegness.

On the matter of partnership—although I do not mean to rebrand the Department and move it from assistance to partnership—many of us visited Gujarat after the earthquakes and took a considerable sum of money which had been raised here. We were delighted to work with the Department and with NGOs from Oxfam to the Catholic Fund for Overseas Development, but that was all under the umbrella of Sewa International. Since its inception nearly two decades ago, the UK organisation has worked to promote public service and volunteering in Britain, in partnership with DFID. The Minister will be aware that this year Sewa International has involved the entire Hindu community in raising funds for local causes, such as Refuge and Macmillan Cancer Support.

3.27 pm

Sitting suspended for a Division in the House.

3.42 pm

On resuming—

Stephen Pound: I was talking about Sewa International’s work with organisations, such as Refuge and Macmillan Cancer Support, and on blindness, old-age-related problems, learning difficulties and
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conservation by providing skilled, able and willing volunteers. My point is that the Department for International Development’s work in partnership with groups such as Sewa International is seldom acknowledged, seldom appears on the balance sheet and is difficult to quantify in actuarial terms, but the tangible difference that it makes to people’s lives is beyond price. The Minister obviously has no alternative to being target-oriented and to working within the Department’s brief, but I hope that colleagues on both sides of the House recognise that there is vastly more to the Department than simply the transfer of funds.

On the sustainability of some of DFID’s projects, in which the Minister has taken a personal interest, it is a matter of some concern to those of us who are not unfamiliar with some of the donor organisations in India that schemes are often time-limited, for obvious reasons, and the sustainability element of such schemes is often overlooked. I was interested to note from the Department’s last three years’ reports that a policy seems to be emerging of taking snapshots of schemes in which DFID was involved and assessing how they stand up on their own. Is that now the Department’s policy or is it a reflection of the Minister’s deep personal commitment and serious analysis of the situation? We often think of sustainability in terms of the economy and the environment, but it is equally significant and important in terms of country assistance plans and country partnership plans.

My point above all is that DFID is doing a good job. The fact that everyone recognises that is not a reason for it not to be mentioned. The Minister is very much part of that process and he has the admiration not just of the wider community in this country, but of many people throughout the world, particularly in India.

My slight worry concerns the scheme’s future as India becomes ever richer. We are talking about a country with more than 10 per cent. GDP growth per annum. If the problems with power supply and transmission are factored in, that is geared down, but if India were able to resolve those power supply, transmission and creation problems, its GDP growth would almost certainly be around 14 per cent. or 15 per cent. per annum, which would be both stunning and staggering. Some people might ask why this country, which is admittedly immensely wealthy, should provide support through organisations such as DFID to a country with such rapid growth, and I was cheered to hear the Minister refer to islands of abject poverty in the wider sea—in India they are probably islands of affluence in a sea of poverty.

Overall, India is growing and life is slowly getting better for the majority, although there is a particular problem in rural areas. With a number of imaginative schemes, such as computers and laptops in villages, distance learning projects and health provision, the Indian Government, working with DFID, are addressing the specific issue. I implore the Minister and all my parliamentary colleagues not to think that we are at the stage at which India does not need partnership. It does. It needs assistance and it needs DFID. Equally significantly, I suggest that this country, our continent of Europe and the world need the emerging democratic superpower of India as a partner.

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If one of the purposes of these debates is an examination or assessment of a Department, I would give DFID high marks in virtually every category. It could do more and it could do better, but what it is doing is of a very high standard. On behalf of my constituents and those of many other hon. Members, I thank the Minister and his Department.

3.47 pm

Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North) (Lab): I thank the Whip, the Speaker or whoever chose this subject for debate, because it is very welcome, as there are huge issues relating to India that need discussion and debate. I am sure that hon. Members will agree that it is disappointing that more colleagues are not present this afternoon when there is a huge Indian diaspora in Britain that has an enormous interest in India, which is an enormous and important country.

I have been to India a number of times. I was most recently there last year for a Mumbai peace meeting—my visit is recorded in the Register of Members’ Interests—about peace issues concerning India, which was organised by Focus on the Global South. It occurred to me during that and other visits to India that one cannot but be shocked, day in, day out, by the disparity between wealth and poverty. Mumbai is a rapidly growing city. It has fantastic affluence and wealth, and also appalling poverty alongside them. Indeed, on a previous visit to attend a World Social Forum meeting I saw in some parts of Mumbai a combination of almost feudal levels of rural poverty and the western-type problems of a post-industrial society.

The World Social Forum meeting was held at a former machine tool factory that had been closed down due to lack of orders because the work had essentially been taken over by the Chinese, who could produce identical machine tools considerably more cheaply. The paradox was a fast-growing, financially encouraged economy with a large number of highly skilled industrial workers who had been making machine tools, but were unemployed and had become hawkers on the streets. Only a few miles away there was dreadful rural poverty.

We must recall the tremendous issues faced by the state and national Government in India. As my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North (Stephen Pound) said, we must remember the relationship between this country and India. When I come through St. Stephen’s, I always smile at the picture of Sir Thomas Roe presenting his credentials to the Mogul emperor because the legend underneath refers to him

I am not quite sure whether the next 300 years were about British “influence” in India; they were more to do with empire and control. Some of our paintings should be slightly more honest about that relationship. We must understand both the history of India and the relationship between this country and India.

I support the aid programme for two reasons. First, it is right to do so anyway, because of the poverty in India and the blighted and wasted lives that it creates. Secondly, as a former colonial power in that country, we should do as much as we possibly can. A great deal of wealth was made for this country out of India, and
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the very least that we can do is assist Indian development. We should be very clear about that.

I shall re-emphasise the Minister’s earlier point by quoting from the excellent briefing that was produced for the debate, because it cites a stark figure for the proportion of the world’s poor who live in India:

The millennium development goals state that we will deal with those matters by 2015. That is an enormous task, and 2015 is not that far away.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North said, the question is about developing a partnership, as much as an aid programme, which encourages and assists the Indian health and education services to conquer those problems. The poverty in the villages is dreadful, wasteful and quite appalling. When I intervened on the hon. Member for Boston and Skegness (Mark Simmonds), I welcomed the minimum labour scheme that has been introduced to rural areas. It has made a difference, which means that some of the worst aspects of absolute poverty have been reduced, although I should not say removed.

The issues of access to land, access to markets for goods and the prices that are paid to those producers for them must be addressed. There are literally tens of thousands of farmers in rural India living in the most appalling debt, and the suicide rate among them is terrifying. In many cases they have borrowed money from unscrupulous money lenders to try to develop their farms, but have not been able to achieve the prices that they deserve for their goods and investment. They still have to pay the debt, however, and if they cannot, the bailiffs arrive and all the rest of it. Suicide is often regarded as the only way out by those people. I do not suggest that the British aid programme can solve all those problems, but I know that the Minister is well aware of the issues. The rural development programme is geared towards those people and those issues.

I intervened on the Minister about discrimination on the basis of caste and descent, about which I feel strongly. Together with my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Rob Marris), I am involved with the International Dalit Solidarity Network. Indeed, I am the honorary chair, so I do not have to declare it because there is not any money involved. It is an effective campaign that has done a great deal to expose the issues of discrimination against caste and descent, and the sheer numbers of people who are involved.

The recent Library briefing, “A political introduction to India”, which I commend, makes the point that untouchables, as the lowest caste or the sub-caste of Dalit people are known,

It is a perverted form of Hinduism that encourages discrimination such as the untouchability of people of the lowest caste, and it has bedevilled much of Indian politics for a long time. Mahatma Gandhi was opposed
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to the untouchability aspect of the caste system, and Ambedkar was the author of the Indian constitution that specifically outlawed Dalit discrimination.

The legal rights of the Dalit people exist in the law and constitution, but any form of redress clearly does not. I have discussed poverty among Dalit peoples, but the other problems that they face are violence against them, murder and death. If any Dalit tries to marry outside the caste, unfortunately in some parts of India, one or both parties to the marriage are likely to be killed. This is a brutal source of discrimination against peoples. It is up to us not to solve that issue completely, but to support the organisations that draw attention to such abuses of human rights, and to ensure that the aid programmes, about which the Minister has reassured me, support human rights, access to law and justice and a campaign to end discrimination against a people on the basis of caste and descent. What happens to them is simply wrong.

Discrimination exists in the public and private sectors. I shall deal with the public sector first. In Indian law, there are reserved places for public sector employment, and election to the Lok Sabha, the national Parliament, and state assemblies for people of the lowest caste. I understand why it has been introduced, and on one level I support it because it ensures that the Dalit people are represented. Unfortunately, however, such quotas can act as a glass ceiling, meaning that as soon as the public authority has fulfilled its obligation to employ the specified number of people, it neither goes any further nor feels the need to do so. I hope that through the Department’s aid programme for education, we will do our best to ensure that there is no discrimination concerning access to the schools that are involved in British or European aid programmes.

In the private sector, there has been a campaign for the adoption of the so-called Ambedkar principles of employment, which are non-discriminatory employment practices. When I intervened on the Minister earlier, I was again reassured by his response. Several British companies have voluntarily signed up to the principles, and the International Dalit Solidarity Network is in discussions with several of them to promote the Ambedkar principles to ensure that they do not become involved in any form of discrimination.

The other general point is that India’s economy is growing rapidly and in many ways disproportionately, and many people fall by the wayside as the juggernaut moves ahead. There are in India forces such as the trade unions and others that are trying to ensure that economic growth is more cohesive, and that attention is paid to the needs of the urban and rural poor.

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