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The Earl of Sandwich: My Lords, the noble Baroness has again led us into a timely discussion of poverty. We have heard the Chancellor skilfully draw our attention back to Africa and the many challenges there. The tsunami has again concentrated our attention on the immediate relief of suffering, but we must keep disasters in proportion. Even the record numbers of dead and displaced this time are small beside the casualties of war in Africa, the Middle East and Asia. In Sri Lanka alone, tens of thousands had died before the tsunami. A similar number of dead in Iraq, including civilians, has hardly evoked international sympathy on the scale we have recently seen. Why is that?
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The numbers of war dead are again eclipsed by the hundreds of millions of absolute poor, of whom millions suffer untimely death from treatable diseases. Their pain can be just as acute as drowning or gunshot wounds. It would be absurd to make these comparisons academically. I seek only to refocus attention on the more fundamental needs of one in six of humanity, which in some ways may be easier to meet than those of the victims of natural disasters.

I welcome the Secretary of State's new commitment in this context, but it is not a foregone conclusion that the millennium development goals will be met even in Asia. For example, India, with more than 300 million people living below the poverty line, is simultaneously a leading industrial nation and one of the poorest. India suffered enormous losses and damage from the tsunami and yet, with its considerable experience of emergency relief, it preferred not to seek help but to look after its own and many of Sri Lanka's victims too. But it was a typically mixed message, because with so much poverty in many areas, India still needs and benefits from international aid.

One of the critical factors in the complex maths of world poverty is the caste system. Its victims are largely invisible. So many of us subconsciously recognise caste as important; just as many of us turn away from it as an intractable problem. Yet the new Indian Government have to combat rural poverty, and the needs and rights of India's dalits, as they are called, are paramount. There are about 160 million dalits—formerly called untouchables—so that with 300 million people living on less than a dollar a day, there is a close link between poverty and caste.

Every week Indian newspapers are full of appalling crimes—exploitation and murder at the hands of high-caste landlords and political bosses. The caste system takes its toll in death, as it does in life. In emergencies, the poorest victims are always the last to be found in the debris, and their families are sometimes ignored and left to care for their own. And it is usually they who have to remove the bodies.

We often speak of rights in these debates, but for these people, rights hardly exist. The lowest castes in India are often unaware that the law is on their side, although their employers manage to take every precaution to avoid it.

Human rights and legal education can go much further than economic development, although I hear what the noble Baroness says, because such work gives families the chance to improve their lives using existing legal channels. I hope to pursue this issue through a visit to dalit organisations in India during the coming Recess. I have only one question for the Minister: does he consider that caste is preventing India meeting its millennium development goals, and to what extent is the dalit community a focus of DfID policy?

It will require courage for aid workers to tackle poverty in states such as Bihar, where only good governance will really make a difference. More than half of India's poor live in only four states.
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India's millennium development goals figures are most encouraging. Income poverty is falling steadily by all standards, and infant mortality is well down, from 127 per 1,000 births in 1970 to 68 in 2000. But there are many regional variations, and poverty indicators suggest that most targets are unlikely to be met by 2015. While the infant mortality rate has halved nationally, it is unlikely to fall as low as the target of 27 per 1,000 births by 2015.

The percentage of children under three who were malnourished in Orissa actually rose during the 1990s and the figure improved only marginally in other states. Even primary education may not hit the target: only 75 per cent of girls attend primary schools, and only two thirds complete their primary school education. Even DfID, with its considerable reputation in India, says that these goals are possible to meet only with effort. While water targets are good, those for access to sanitation—still below 30 per cent—are not. India still has a long way to go.

Lord Parekh: My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lady Whitaker for introducing this extremely important debate relating to the abolition of poverty in developing countries. This is one area in which the Labour Government have done a great deal of which to be proud. They have untied the aid budget so that poor countries receiving aid from us remain free to buy goods and services from the most cost-effective sources.

The Government have also increased the aid budget, almost doubling it since they came to power in 1997, and I am glad to hear that they intend to double it again and reach the United Nations target of 0.7 per cent by 2015. I particularly welcome the effort being made by the Government in reforming the common agricultural policy in the European Union and also with regard to the well known Commission for Africa.

If we keep going at this pace, I would not be surprised if the Prime Minister and the Chancellor of the Exchequer were, in three or four years' time, to receive the Nobel Peace Prize. I very much hope that they will. That could be the first time that a present and a future Prime Minister both receive the Nobel Peace Prize for the enormous effort they are making. I wish them well.

While I compliment the Government on what they have done so far, we still have a long way to go. We talk about 2015, by which time we want to halve world poverty. By 2015, at the current reckoning, between 80 and 100 million people will have died of poverty and disease. That is too large a number to contemplate. In fact, each one of these deaths indicts and diminishes us.

Even then, the question remains. This is not the first time we have seen efforts in this direction. It happened in the mid-1960s and again in the mid-1970s. It is very easy to lose momentum in these matters. What should we be doing so that the momentum that we have generated is kept up? That will require a clear and
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unambiguous programme of action, a firm institutional structure in place so that it generates its own logic, and a mobilising of popular support so that even when governments slacken, enough steam will come from people at large to make sure that the process continues.

That leads me to a few important points. Poverty, by and large, as all the economists and political scientists will certify, is a result of four important factors. First, the heavy indebtedness of some countries means that a large amount of their money or earnings goes towards servicing the debt, leaving them very little to develop their own infrastructure. Secondly, there is political instability and civil war, a great deal of corruption and lack of social conscience in many of the developing countries. The third factor is unfair trade, about which I need not say more because many noble Lords have spoken about this, and the fourth is lack of resources. Those are the four fundamental factors responsible for the enormous amount of poverty that stares us in the face in the world at large. We should be asking ourselves what we can do on each front.

Naturally, there is a good deal to be done by the poor countries themselves. Civil wars are not sent by gods, nor are they natural events. They are human creations, and there is a great deal that those countries can do themselves. They can also do a great deal about the corruption that prevails. Nevertheless, there is a substantial agenda to be addressed by us, and I want to speak about these four factors very briefly.

On debt relief, I think we have taken a lead. I remember some years ago—in 1997 or 1998—when I was involved in a movement that Bishop Tutu started in Britain, in my own city of Hull. Although we have taken that on board, we have not really pushed the matter as much as we could have done.

On the question of civil wars and political instability, although a great deal needs to be done by the countries themselves, we cannot entirely be absolved of our own responsibility. The major powers have caused a good deal of harm to developing countries by using them as pawns in geo-political strategies—in Afghanistan or Iraq, for example. I can give noble Lords half a dozen examples straight away. If we cannot at least help them we ought to ensure that we abstain from inflicting harm on them. Some of the civil wars are in fact caused by our own policies, wittingly or unwittingly, and if we could at least learn to discipline ourselves and not use those countries as pawns, we would have done enough on that front.

I turn to the two last questions, of fair trade and aid. Many noble Lords have spoken on fair trade, and I do not want to spend too much time on it, except to hope that when the Doha round takes place in December in Hong Kong, we will at least have reached a broad consensus on what we should be doing. As for aid, it is important to bear in mind that some economies like to argue that fair or free trade will do the trick and that aid is not really important. I do not think that would wash, for the very simple reason that many poor countries do not have the facilities—the infrastructure,
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the water supply, basic education, roads, ability to eliminate diseases, and so on—and they need foreign aid.

That aid can come not only from government sources, although that is quite important of course; when we talk about 0.7 per cent, we are directing our attention to the Government. But there are lots of other sources from which aid can come. The global lottery is one that has been talked about; Tobin tax is another; and I can think of many others, such as individuals earmarking a certain percentage of their income to be collected by the national government. What is important is to bear in mind that none of those things can work unless we recognise a certain spirit of global solidarity. That spirit of solidarity is missing, and without it we cannot generate the momentum. That would require some very imaginative gestures, such as creating an international poverty day in which we all participate.

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