Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Eden of Winton: My Lords, I congratulate the noble Baroness on the way in which she has introduced this debate. She speaks with great authority founded on her long experience of the subject under discussion. By comparison, my own few faltering words will appear lamentably facile. I put before your Lordships this afternoon three words—greed, garments, goats—the relevance of which I hope will become apparent in a few moments.

The major efforts by governments and large organisations to alleviate poverty are vital. There is a need to ensure that, as far as possible, those efforts are precisely targeted and practical. We must ensure that the receiving end has a good administrative structure, not only at the top, but also well down the line. Two organisations, Oxfam and Merlin, set good examples of how to work in the field. They work with local people.

If one understands the culture of the people one is trying to help, there may be a hope of curbing some of the enthusiasm of greedy local officials who so often manage to siphon off the assistance intended for poor people. That applies equally in the commercial world. Agreements made by directors sometimes have little impact at the workface. For example, the logging operations in Congo were, in my view, rather disgracefully promoted by the World Bank. The interests of indigenous people are being ignored and their livelihoods destroyed. If trade is the answer to poverty, which in part it certainly is, let the wealthy West be more open with its markets to the export of poorer countries' products.

I have an interest in Sri Lanka. Many of those I know over there are totally dependent on the garment trade. What a difference it would make to them and to their future if the West were more liberal in opening its markets to their product. One way of lifting people out of poverty is to help them to help themselves. My friends Mr and Mrs Kotelawala in Sri Lanka head up a big organisation called the Ceylinco Group. They deploy the resources of the Grameen Bank. By means of making small loans, the bank provides start-up assistance on favourable terms to enable individuals, women as well as men, to establish themselves in business and so come to stand on their own feet.

In the post-tsunami world, Sri Lanka has benefited enormously from the very substantial and imaginative assistance given by the Government and by voluntary organisations. I congratulate them on the tremendous work that is being done. It is both practical and sensitive, but tragically even here there is evidence of widespread corruption, jealousies and grotesque bureaucracy. My son, Jack Eden, and my stepson, Robert Drummond, both live in Sri Lanka. They have mobilised their charity, Friends of the South, to give direct help to individuals. They give tools to artisans to enable them to start up work again. They are providing all the equipment necessary to a shipbuilder who has lost everything so that he can begin to rebuild his own business. Even so, they are frustrated in their efforts by officialdom.
26 Jan 2005 : Column 1287

I turn to my last word: goats. Where there are large populations of goats, there is invariably poverty. Where there is poverty, there are invariably large populations of goats. Goats are marauding and indiscriminately destructive creatures. In his typically trenchant piece in last week's Spectator, Matthew Parris described them as,

They destroy all vegetation, they kill reafforestation, they promote erosion and, in the long term, help to perpetuate poverty. Alternatives must be found.

So, I have spoken of greed, garments and goats; three words to ponder in the context of this debate. If those three words could be addressed along the lines I have suggested, they would go some way to offering a better future to the world's poorer people.

Lord Roberts of Llandudno: My Lords, it is a privilege to have the opportunity to join in the debate initiated this afternoon by the noble Baroness, Lady Whitaker. I come from Llandudno where we have a big problem with wild goats. There are around 260 of them wandering on the Great Orme, but I am sure that that is not the direction my speech should take today.

First, however, I too want to comment on the magnificent response to the tsunami appeal. I am told that the funds raised now stand at £250 million, which makes this the largest response to any appeal in the history of the United Kingdom. At the weekend I was proud to note that Cardiff hosted the Wales Millennium Centre concert. But I am also proud of all the small communities where handfuls of people have raised hundreds, if not thousands of pounds. When people see a need, they do respond.

That gives us an opportunity at this time, when need is so apparent, to engender a spirit of goodwill and generosity that could lead to the problems of poverty being tackled not just by governments, but taking their place in the hearts of the people. The opportunity is there, and it is one that I am sure we would squander at our risk.

Let us remember the events of 9/11. The hearts of the world were with the people of New York and around the United States as a result of that terrible disaster. Yet, in only a little while, so much of that goodwill had gone as a result of the actions following the disaster. The spirit of goodwill can be lost in a very short time.

We need to look at what has happened in the regions around the Indian Ocean and say to ourselves, "Here is a new opportunity". We must not then squander that opportunity. Thus, anything which follows that may undermine people's goodwill and generosity should be avoided at every step of the way. Action that arouses outrage and anger could do a great deal of damage, even though there is an opportunity for people to operate together and to begin to understand and sympathise with each other. It is not only governments which should take the lead, but also ordinary people.
26 Jan 2005 : Column 1288

We know that resources are limited. Yesterday, sadly, I read that the President of the United States wants another 80 billion dollars to continue the occupation of Iraq. It is a sad story when that money could be used in more positive ways. Some time ago in this House, I asked the Minister about the cost of British intervention in Iraq. He said that it was £1.3 billion for nine months. I am told that it is now more than £5 billion. The money there cannot be spent elsewhere.

We pass the despairing, poverty-stricken, hungry and hopeless on any march towards war and conflict. Opportunities are missed. I am sure that the Government have no intention of doing so, but any support by the United Kingdom for an incursion into Iran would bring such outrage that the 1 million people marching through London two years ago would be a fraction of those who would march on such an occasion.

We must work together peacefully and constructively, through international organisations, whether it be to bring peace, to restrict terrorism or to make the most of opportunities to bring an end to poverty. This year, we are all challenged to make poverty history. I will not speak at great length today, but others will speak and say, "Yes, the opportunity is there. This is what we can do". We already have examples of what we could do to eradicate so much poverty, which is a blemish on the lives of countless millions of people.

Some nation must take the lead. I am pleased about the efforts of the Chancellor of the Exchequer in Africa, so could the United Kingdom be the nation which says, "Look, this is our top priority in this coming year. The priority is to make poverty history."? We could do it if we could rise to that challenge.

The Lord Bishop of Southwell: My Lords, I, too, am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Whitaker, for initiating this important debate. It is timely not only because of the appalling human tragedy in the tsunami and the crisis and international action flowing from it, but also because 2005 offers the British Government the unique set of opportunities to garner the necessary political will to help make poverty history.

The disaster has seen thousands of lives lost and millions of livelihoods destroyed. The subsequent international response has highlighted, on the one hand, the fragility of human life and, on the other hand, the generosity of the human spirit. Like other noble Lords, one cannot but be moved by the passionate and charitable response of private donors and individuals.

The subsequent pledges by governments and international institutions will be crucial for Asia's long-term reconstruction. These pledges are to be applauded provided that they are honoured. They must represent new money, rather than the recycling of money already allocated to existing aid efforts for the poorest parts of our planet. A welcome moratorium on debt repayments for those countries most affected by the tragedy can be no substitute for the comprehensive cancellation of the unpayable debts of all the world's poorest countries.
26 Jan 2005 : Column 1289

Emergency assistance to those in immediate need and debt relief for the poorest must surely be accompanied by the determination on the part of the international community to tackling those systemic barriers, referred to by the noble Baroness, Lady Whitaker, such as the imbalance in international trade, which continue to prevent many countries in the region realising their full economic potential.

Ongoing trade negotiations and the implementation of new trade rules should not compromise the ability of countries affected by the tsunami to rebuild their livelihoods. As such, aid and debt relief must not be conditional on economic policy reforms such as privatisation, fiscal austerity or trade liberalisation.

The challenge, however, is to see how we can move from the particular, responding to the suffering and devastation caused by the tsunami, to the general, finding effective and sustainable mechanisms to tackling global poverty. It would be a terrible human failure if international compassion for victims of the tsunami blotted our compassion for the many millions of other people suffering from other humanitarian crises—from Darfur in Sudan, to Uganda, the Congo and Zimbabwe or the tens of thousands of people who die each day from poverty.

This poverty is sustained not by chance or nature, but by our human failing. It is a scar on our collective conscience. As the Church of England's House of Bishops' recognised in a statement earlier this month:

The impressive international response to the tsunami disaster stands in marked contrast with the lack of political will that has so far frustrated the attainment of the Millennium Development Goals (MDG). Given the conclusion of the UN Millennium Project's report that the MDGs are both affordable and achievable, it would be nothing short of scandalous if these targets were not met.

The specific recommendations of the Sachs report will no doubt be heavily debated. Such debate, while welcome, should not obscure the report's most basic point; namely, that with sufficient political will the MDGs can be met. Although the Sachs report provides a vision of how the world might look in 2015 if the goals are met, we should not be blind to what the world might look like if the goals remain elusive. Failure to meet these targets will result in shrinking islands of prosperity in a growing sea of depravity giving rise to an unbearable level of marginalisation and alienation.

It is encouraging that a number of the Sachs recommendations echo those made by the Chancellor in his speech earlier this year advocating the need for a new Marshall Plan. The decision to prioritise debt relief, aid and trade will have given immense encouragement to a significant number of people who have campaigned tirelessly on these issues in recent years.

As a member of the Make Poverty History Coalition, we, on this Bench, recognise that the issues of trade, debt and aid are inextricably linked and we
26 Jan 2005 : Column 1290
are committed to achieving change on all three. The Government can be assured that the Church of England, alongside many other members of the Make Poverty History Coalition, will mobilise its own constituency at key opportunities in 2005 to encourage the Government to drive forward the struggle against poverty and injustice. In doing so, we will repeatedly remind the Government that the MDGs are both achievable and affordable.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page