|Previous Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|
Lord Renton of Mount Harry: My Lords, no one in this House knows more about international development and aid for good causes than the noble Lord, Lord Judd. He has spent a great deal of his working life devoted to such causes and all noble Lords are glad to hear his views on the Bill at Report stage.
However, I find it difficult to accept either of his first two amendments. If the word "only" is to be included, who decides whether the development assistance will relate only to the reduction of poverty? If that word were to be included, for rather semantic reasons a number of good causes may become divorced or separated from the aid that they would otherwise receive. I do not believe that adding the word "only" helps the cause with which the noble Lord is normally associated.
In relation to his second amendment, in a realistic world one has to accept that poverty will never be eliminated. There is no possibility of that. It is rather foolish to set oneself targets that in one's heart one knows are quite unachievable. Although we would all like to see poverty totally eliminated, as we would like to see children throughout the world receiving primary education, in a realistic way we have to accept that that will not happen. Therefore, perhaps the words that he suggests in his second amendment are a pipedream. I believe that the wording on the face of the Bill is preferable.
On the other hand, I agree with his third amendment relating to the broadening and clarifying of the definition of the word "poverty". I believe that the words,
The final point made by the noble Lord, Lord Judd, was associated with the reduction of terrorism, the war in which we are jointly engaged with others at the moment. If this Bill had been drafted earlier, it may have been sensible for the word "starvation" to have been included, specifically in the subsection to which the third amendment refers.
At the moment it is not possible for the Report stage of this Bill to pass without dwelling on the position of those who are likely to face starvation in Afghanistan in the weeks ahead. In this context I declare an interest in that my elder son has been working for Oxfam in Islamabad for the past three weeks. Naturally, I am aware of the passion he feels on the subject. The latest figures from Oxfam, supported by other major agencies, are that the United Nations estimates that 50,000 tonnes of food, particularly wheat, must move into Afghanistan within the next few weeks. In the past
Of course, it is difficult to achieve accurate statistics. I know that the Government believe that the World Food Programme organisation is meeting its target, but the aid agencies on the spot would say absolutely categorically, against the figures that I have quoted, that the target is not high enough. Stockpiling must take place before winter comes, not only of wheat, but also of blankets. There are few drivers and porters willing to risk their lives by driving through the Khyber Pass to distribute the aid properly.
I gather that there is no clear indication at the moment that the Taliban has been grabbing aid, but it is clear that 400,000 people are already suffering. The most worrying figure of all is that it is assessed that another half a million people will be cut off in the next few weeks. On top of that, one and a half million will not have enough food for the winter. In total, perhaps two and a half million people are at risk in one way or another.
I appreciate enormously the efforts of the Secretary of State, Clare Short, in immediately making more money available and in her bravery in going to Pakistan herself to see the situation. Whether there should be a pause in the bombing raids is not something that we should discuss here today, but, in the context of the work carried out by the Department for International Development, we must be aware of the number of those in Afghanistan who are at risk at the moment and who will be materially deprived if circumstances continue as they are at present.
Lord Redesdale: My Lords, I support the amendments tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Judd. I hope that he will not push them because I could not support him that far, but unlike the noble Lord, Lord Renton, I believe in the pipedream of the elimination of poverty as an ultimate goal.
However, I feel that pushing the definition of "poverty" too far may mean that we fall into the trap of making this into a legal debate on what poverty involves, which is a point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Renton. This issue has caused me some concern. The poorest countries in the world have some of the worst problems. But there are also some middle-income countries that have very poor areas, and people there are equally needful of our assistance, especially in areas that may not fall under a legal definition such as education and environmental assistance.
I echo the words of the noble Lord in relation to the work carried out by the Secretary of State. I have some concerns about linking aid to military action. I believe that it would be inappropriate to make too many points in relation to the present situation. I hope that
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Amos): My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord Judd for his remarks about the department, the role being played by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State and about myself. I thank other noble Lords who have also spoken.
My noble friend and I have debated this matter on many occasions. I understand his concern. However, what is appropriate in legislation against our longer-term political objectives is the issue at the heart of one of my noble friend's amendments. I welcome debate. The debate that we have had on this subject, both in Committee and today, is part of the process of raising awareness of what the Government are trying to do through their development agenda and our clear focus on poverty elimination.
Before addressing the detail of the amendments, perhaps I may say to the noble Lord, Lord Renton of Mount Harry, that his point with respect to the issue of--for example--starvation and the situation in Afghanistan is covered in Clause 3 which deals with humanitarian assistance. I agree with the noble Lord that we need to stockpile food in Afghanistan for the winter. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for International Development made that point. The noble Lord will be aware of the strenuous efforts made by the Government through our support for the World Food Programme and other NGOs to bring vitally needed help and supplies to the poor in Afghanistan. As the noble Lord said, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State is at this time in Pakistan.
I turn to Amendment No. 1. I fully recognise my noble friend's concern to make absolutely sure, for example, that tied aid cannot be provided under the Bill. But we do not believe that the clause requires the addition of the word "only" in order to do that. The clause already makes clear that the Secretary of State cannot--I repeat, cannot--provide development assistance if she or he is not satisfied that it is likely to contribute to a reduction in poverty. There are no other circumstances under Clause 1 in which development assistance can be provided. The Bill will make sure that such assistance can no longer be used to further improper commercial or political ends.
On Amendment No. 2, I fully recognise the efforts of my noble friend to combine his concern that on the face of the Bill we should reflect our long-term policy objective of the elimination of poverty and the concern that I set out in Committee that the elimination of poverty is too high a test to embed in legislation directed to the sanctioning of individual spending decisions. But we believe that under this new formulation the Secretary of State's decisions would
Turning now to Amendment No. 3, again I recognise my noble friend's efforts to find a definition of poverty that we shall be able to accept. But I believe that however we try to define poverty in the Bill--here I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale--we risk exposing the Secretary of State to the risk of technical legal challenge over whether the aspect of poverty that she or he had identified fell within specific elements of the definition, rather than within the meaning of the whole term. The proposed amendment offers the possibility of exhausting debate over the meaning and quality of "deprivation" and the compass of "human development" to the distraction of the purpose of reducing poverty wherever we find it and in whatever form it takes.
The Government's commitment to poverty elimination is firm. As my noble friend said, it is set out in our two White Papers. We are focusing our whole development effort on the need to reduce extreme poverty and on meeting the millennium development goals and international development targets. The Bill will establish our poverty focus in law. I hope that on the basis of my response my noble friend feels able to withdraw his amendment.
Back to Table of Contents
Lords Hansard Home Page