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28 Jun 2007 : Column 158WH—continued

However, one must ask questions about India’s level of military expenditure, which depends on its relationship with Pakistan since the foundation of both states at the time of independence. I am glad that both states now work much more closely together. The railway and bus service has reopened, and there is a degree of co-operation and good relations between both countries, but we must remember that the tension between them has provoked both into developing nuclear weapons, eating up a fantastic amount of resources that could have been used far better on education, health, water, housing and an awful lot of other things. One could make that argument almost
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anywhere, but it is important that we draw some attention to those issues. Security comes from conquering poverty and giving opportunities to people, not from the possession of weapons of mass destruction.

India has grown very fast, and it contains all kinds of contradictions. I assume that if such development continues, it will make a lot of sense to make India a permanent member of the UN Security Council when the final agreements are reached about the allocation of seats.

John McDonnell (Hayes and Harlington) (Lab): I get some indication that my hon. Friend might be coming to a conclusion. I apologise to him for intervening now and for coming late to this debate; I had an interest in the debate in the main Chamber.

Like me, my hon. Friend signed early-day motion 1330 on Afzal Guru, the individual prosecuted for the attack on the Indian Parliament, who has been sentenced to death. It has been revealed that he was tortured during his interrogation. There are now significant anxieties about the prosecution of his case, and an appeal has been made to the Indian President. One of the issues about India’s status is its relationship with human rights. Will he be raising that issue before he concludes?

Jeremy Corbyn: I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention, and I fully understand why he has only just come to the debate. I signed that early-day motion willingly, because I believe that one should pursue cases in which there appears to have been a lack of access to proper justice. Where torture has been involved in the extraction of evidence, such evidence is certainly not admissible in courts in this country or under the European convention on human rights. The issue of discrimination based on caste and descent has been raised with the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and now the Human Rights Council. I fully expect that that case will end up there also, because it has been taken up by a number of human rights groups.

I was making the point that I see myself as a friend and admirer of India. I find its history, its cultural diversity and all that exists within it absolutely fascinating, and I look forward to its continuing growth. However, I also look forward to the development of a strong civil society and a strong adherence to the national constitution, the principles behind the universal declaration of human rights, to which India is a signatory, and the issues addressed by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. We cannot be blind to human rights abuses anywhere in the world. Unfortunately, the case mentioned by my hon. Friend is not a totally isolated example of such problems, and today’s debate has given us an opportunity to talk about them.

I welcome what the Minister said in his opening remarks and the commitment that his Department has shown toward India, particularly the huge commitment to education announced earlier this year when he and the then Chancellor were in India. That is a real commitment to lifting the poorest people out of poverty. Poverty is a terrible waste of human spirit, human resources, human opportunities and human life.
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We should think of all the geniuses in very poor Indian villages who die before they have a chance even to receive a proper education, and all that is lost to the rest of us as a result.

We have a duty, an obligation and, I believe, a desire to continue the partnership with India to ensure the development of all the social and public services that we have talked about, and of the civic society that will protect people from human rights abuses and discrimination, which unfortunately still exist in many parts of India.

4.3 pm

Richard Younger-Ross (Teignbridge) (LD): I shall restrict the majority of my comments to the India country assistance plan, but first I shall discuss a couple of the issues that have been covered.

I shall not give a description of the present situation in India; that has been described by the Minister and the Conservative shadow Minister, and particularly well by the hon. Member for Islington, North (Jeremy Corbyn), who in his usual way has blended fact and emotion to give a powerful picture of the situation. He also touched on the important issue of discrimination. In his intervention on the Minister, he used the term “tracking aid”. That is particularly important. One criticism of DFID is that it has not always been able to say exactly where its aid has gone and how effective it has been. I shall return to that point in a moment.

As well as praising the hon. Member for Islington, North, I must praise the hon. Member for Ealing, North (Stephen Pound), who made some pertinent points. He paid a moving tribute to his friend, the former Member for Ealing, Southall, and I think that we all associate ourselves with those comments. He used an important word—partnership. Perhaps he was saying partly that assistance was not the right term. In any aid programme, we should work in partnership. One of the failures of western aid, and now eastern aid as well, is that it has imposed solutions rather than working in partnership with local communities and non-governmental organisations to be most effective. That has led to a vast waste of effort and funding, which in the long term creates resistance in western countries. I praise the Government for trying to cut that down and I think that in some ways we are leading the way in making that partnership work.

Mr. Thomas: I will tone down the comment that I was going to make by way of a question. If the hon. Gentleman is characterising British assistance to India or indeed to any country as top-down or imposed, I completely and utterly reject that accusation. Where we work with Governments, we work closely with them to put our aid towards their priorities under their poverty reduction strategy. I hope that he will recognise that where Governments are not committed to poverty reduction—one thinks of Burma, Zimbabwe and so on—we work in other ways, outside Government structures, with NGOs and UN organisations as he describes. I hope that he will accept that.

Richard Younger-Ross: I do accept it and that the Government are trying to work in partnership, which is why I thought that the points made by the hon. Member for Ealing, North were particularly pertinent.
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But it was worth putting on the record that not all Governments do exactly as we do. Aid, particularly emergency relief aid, is sometimes wasted due to imposed solutions.

I move on to commend the Government’s work, in that it was the Labour party, during the last century and the beginning of this one, that showed a commitment to international development. The first Colonial Development Act was passed in 1929 and it was 35 years before a Minister for international development was appointed. That was Barbara Castle in 1964. It is the Labour party and Labour Governments that have maintained the independence of the Department for International Development, whereas former Conservative Governments have removed its independence and made it part of the Foreign Office. I am not too sure that the new huggy-huggy Conservatives would do the same. Perhaps the hon. Member for Boston and Skegness (Mark Simmonds) will confirm that.

Mark Simmonds: It is best to put on the record that Conservatives have made a commitment that DFID will retain its independence and separation from the Foreign Office. It will also have a Secretary of State at Cabinet level after the next general election, when hopefully the Conservative party will form the Government of this country.

I also say to the hon. Gentleman that significant contributions have been made by Conservative Members of Parliament who have been Ministers for overseas development, such as Linda Chalker and Chris Patten. Indeed, John Major’s Administration initially led the debt alleviation that has now come to fruition under the heavily indebted poor countries initiative.

Richard Younger-Ross: The hon. Gentleman has put on record the point that he wished to make. I was not trying to criticise the Conservatives too much. I recognised in my statement that they have moved on.

Stephen Pound: Following on from the intervention of the hon. Member for Boston and Skegness, it would of course be remiss to overlook the extraordinary: the signal contribution made by the hon. Member for Grantham and Stamford (Mr. Davies) as a member of the Select Committee. I am sure that the hon. Member for Teignbridge (Richard Younger-Ross) will wish to pay credit to him.

Richard Younger-Ross: I shall leave others to have their discussions outside this Chamber afterwards if they wish.

There is concern among international aid organisations about the new Prime Minister’s talk of the home agenda. I know that he is passionate about aid to the third world, particularly Africa. I attended a Catholic Fund for Overseas Development Pope Paul VI memorial lecture across the road, at which the Prime Minister, then Chancellor of the Exchequer, spoke. He spoke particularly passionately and well—very movingly, I will say—on the need to help African nations. I hope that that commitment will not be lost in his determination to change and have an approach
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different from the former Prime Minister’s on foreign affairs; I hope that that commitment will continue. I am fairly sure that it will.

The hon. Member for Ealing, North said that DFID was doing a good job. By and large, we all recognise, as I have, that DFID and the Labour party do a good job, but my purpose and that of Back Benchers here today is not just to say that, but to say that the Department can do a better job and to suggest improvements.

I move on to the India country assistance plan. I understand that the budget of the aid programme for India is currently £266 million and will rise to £290 million next year. As India grows and transforms in the next five to 10 years, DFID will seek to work with the three Indias. The consultation is welcome, but there is still concern that DFID has a somewhat outdated world view. India is classified as a middle-income country. The programme supposes that poverty can be found everywhere and is not confined within state boundaries. DFID categorises poverty by country. Obviously, poverty varies across a country such as India, but an average has been calculated for all parts of India.

Mr. Thomas: For the record and to help the hon. Gentleman—although why I should when he described our aid programme as outdated, I am not sure—I should say that India is not a middle-income but a low-income country. One reason why we believe that we should continue to provide substantial assistance to India is that it is one of the least aided of the family of low-income countries worldwide.

Richard Younger-Ross: Clearly, our advisers and Government advisers have looked at different sources; the Minister has made his point.

The National Audit Office report entitled “Department for International Development: Tackling Rural Poverty in Developing Countries”, which came out in March, made it clear that the Government need to abandon their outdated view of the world. The focus should be on communities themselves rather than on individual states. Due to economic growth, many states classified as middle-income countries still have extreme poverty, often in rural areas. The report shows that DFID’s rigid view of the world does not necessarily correspond with that reality. It is therefore a welcome step for there to be focus on the three Indias, as there is in the consultation. However, how will DFID reconcile that with the fact that it still seems to focus its funding on a country-by-country basis? Nevertheless, as I said, that step is welcome.

In response to the consultation, two of the eight questions are of particular concern. How can DFID help strengthen the accountability of public services, from national down to local level, in villages and slums? How can DFID best work with other UK Government Departments to help India address climate change? That relates to the point about sustainability that was raised earlier.

The accountability of public services and true development should be handled on a local level. Local accountability will go further in tackling corruption. Donors such as the UK should therefore channel more funds through local government; that could strengthen local government and vital local democracy. Much large-scale corruption occurs through singular central elites.

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4.14 pm

Sitting suspended for a Division in the House.

4.29 pm

On resuming—

Richard Younger-Ross: Much large-scale corruption occurs through singular central elites, which leads to single tribes and ethnic groups grabbing control of the reins of central Government. One central target that holds all the power and wealth of a nation is a much greater danger than strong local government that can respond to local needs and demands. That needs to be taken further into account in the assistance plan for India. DFID is obviously considering it, as it has asked questions about it.

DFID should therefore assess all its funding in India to ensure that as much of it as possible goes through local channels. That would go some way also toward mitigating the criticism made in the NAO report, as there would be a focus on communities rather than on the state. Perhaps the Minister will pick up on that point. Decentralisation saves money as well as improving delivery. The principles of decentralisation ensure democratic accountability and a closer working relationship between the public, who are the recipients of public services, and the authorities that provide them. Access to public services was touched upon earlier in the debate.

Climate change needs to be discussed. It is a welcome step that the consultation recognises that this is not merely a development problem and that DFID needs to work with other Departments on it, but how will help on climate change be funded? It is crucial that we understand that although development assistance agencies are the institutional vehicles for delivering financial assistance for adaptation to developing countries, the additional funding should not be part of existing commitments to development under the UN 0.7 per cent. GNP target.

Recent events in India have reminded us of the impact of climate change. It is a huge threat to development, especially in less developed and middle-income countries. In the past few days the southern Indian state of Andhra Pradesh has been working to reach the villagers worst affected by the heavy rains that have made more than 200,000 people homeless. That is yet another stark reminder that climate change needs to be taken into serious consideration.

There is a case for arguing that overseas development assistance from rich countries should include support for adaptation, but the obligation on rich countries, which are responsible for 70 per cent. of all greenhouse gases currently in the atmosphere, to help poor and vulnerable countries is based not on a moral obligation to help the less well-off but on the “polluter pays” principle enshrined in the UN framework convention on climate change. We therefore need to find funding outside the 0.7 per cent. target for overseas development assistance. It is particularly important in relation to the India country assistance plan that additional funding be found from outside that for the ODA.

We need to develop a framework that allows countries to accept different commitments according to
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their circumstances. Like India, each country should work towards the global stabilisation of emissions, but the stringency of their commitments should depend on their economic, developmental and environmental circumstances. Industrialised countries’ emissions should be allocated on a per capita basis, whereas developing countries should take on emission limitation or carbon intensity targets, or no commitments at all, depending on their development levels, and move steadily towards more stringent commitments as their economies grow.

For that to work, our international institutions need to start taking climate change seriously. The World Bank does not do nearly enough to focus on it, the International Monetary Fund does almost nothing, and the environmental agenda has conspicuously all but disappeared from the Doha talks. Climate change needs to be incorporated into all elements of development programmes. Ensuring that development objectives fully support climate change mitigation will require co-ordinated, integrated action from the IMF, the World Bank and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.

If we do not act now, the implications for the developing world and India will be stark. We are now familiar with the concept that many small island states will simply cease to exist, submerged and rendered uninhabitable by rising sea levels and extreme weather. The implications for bigger, coastal nations are just as severe and provide another example of the governance agenda overlapping with the climate change agenda. Any country with a highly fragile political system or prone to violence and instability will simply not be able to cope with the burden of extreme flooding and storm surges. Maintaining good governance or even a functioning state apparatus will be enormously difficult. Those are challenges that we might well face in the future.

4.34 pm

Mr. Thomas: I shall try to respond to some of the points that hon. Members have raised in the debate. I join my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North (Stephen Pound) in paying tribute to the considerable service given by our late hon. Friend Piara Khabra, who, as he said, was a great advocate of international development and, in particular, partnership with and aid to India.

The hon. Member for Boston and Skegness (Mark Simmonds), in his traditional way, asked a series of questions and made a series of comments. I welcome the spirit in which he did so, and we shall take his ideas into account when we come to the end of the consultation period and assess where to go next.

The hon. Gentleman asked what will happen when India becomes a middle-income country, which was a reasonable question as we expect India to reach MIC status at some point between now and 2015. That is one reason why we are seeking to concentrate our assistance in the poorer states of India, which have not experienced the rates of economic growth seen in the rest of India—hence our keenness to look at Uttar Pradesh and Bihar.

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