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Baroness Kennedy of The Shaws: My Lords, I, too, pay tribute to my noble friend Lady Whitaker, who has always been a champion of the poor. It is wonderful that she persuaded the powers that be to make space for this debate tonight.
It is a great source of pride to me that Labour in government has been playing such a powerful role in reminding the world of its responsibilities to the poor. This role for Britain in the international arena is what will inspire our young people. It is fair to say that many of our young have lost faith over the war in Iraq. But they know that there cannot be peace in the world without justice and they know that huge inequities fuel feelings of discontent. They care about poverty and they will be happy to know that the Government are playing such an important role. If our Government can gather the rich nations of the world around the flag of development, that will be a legacy of which we can be truly proud. So I add my admiration and appreciation to that of others for the energy and commitment of the Prime Minister and the Chancellor of the Exchequer, whose leadership has been awesome.
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I also felt particularly proud last Thursday night when I listened to "Question Time" on which our very own colleague, my noble friend Lady Amos, was one of the panel. She not only looked wonderful but, happily, she is a politician who does not speak like the talking clock, emitting a programmed response to questions. We all know what that is like. When she was asked about the Bush policy of exporting freedom, she very eloquently argued that real freedom could never be achieved without development and that poverty had to be alleviated if people were to enjoy any freedom that came their way. It is a view that I suspect we would heartily endorse.
I want to speak today particularly about the position of women and the importance of women's voices in seeking to find ways to alleviate poverty. I am a patron of WOMANKIND Worldwide. It is a wonderful organisation which does incredible work in the poorest nations to improve the position of women and children. It has been making submissions to the Commission for Africa on the importance of women in any dynamic strategy to make poverty history. A number of things are at the heart of that. The reason that WOMANKIND Worldwide argued so strenuously over the position of womenit is an argument that I take with me because I am an adviser to the World Bank Instituteis that in many of the poorest countries women are the hope for the future.
However, there are a number of problems, and among the ones that I want to highlight is unequal development programmesthe ways in which programmes are too often designed with men in mind and do not take account of the reality of women's lives in poor countries.
I also want to emphasise the problem of unequal property laws. That point is crucial, and I say this as a lawyer who has, at times, heard and read the work of Hernando de Soto. He is a very interesting Latin American thinker, who points out the way in which law can change people's lives in the poorest countries. Women constitute the majority of small farmers in sub-Saharan Africa, yet, because of customary laws, they continue to be denied the right to own the land they cultivate. Therefore, achieving gender equality with respect to property is a critical aspect of sustainable development and it is something for which we should be pushing considerably.
There are also unequal trade policies. Trade liberalisation and economic growth do not automatically lead to a reduction in poverty. The idea of liberalisation is being pushed on the developing world as the only way forward. I think that that should be challenged. It should be seen that some of these countries have to develop ways that are right for them in the hope that they will eventually reach positions of greater prosperity and join freely in the kind of market systems that we have been advocating.
The monitoring of trade policies has shown that such policies can impact very differently on men and women, but currently nearly all the policies are gender-blind. Therefore, we need to ensure that some of those policies really take account of the way that women
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have to carry double burdens: they are often the primary caretakers and are often the people who not only care for families but also grow the food on which the family lives and, indeed, make some money by selling it.
Many others have mentioned the issue of literacy. We must remember that, for many, education is still paid for and, as a result, families privilege their sonsthey value the education of boys over that of girls. That is another area where we could have influence.
I want to mention the issue of women and war. While more men are killed in war, women experience rape, sexual exploitation, torture, mutilation and all manner of horrors. Often they are involved in abduction and slavery. They are often left to head households and as sole providers and they remain very vulnerable to attack by armed gangs and militia. That severely restricts women's mobility and can grossly impinge on the household and agricultural production of the community. Of course, it also exacerbates poverty. It is very important to see conflict resolution as part of the poverty alleviation strategy.
I have two final comments: first, women and AIDS. Women carry additional burdens because of the prevalence of AIDS. Reproductive health is crucial for women and addressing those problems is part of the parcel. Secondly, violence against women is a serious human rights issue the world over, but it should be addressed, particularly in areas where women experience female genital mutilation and other serious abuse. I strongly urge that law is seen as one of the strategies. We should see law as part of the armoury in challenging poverty the world over.
Lord Hunt of Chesterton: My Lords, I welcome the debate in a critical year in which the world is focusing on saving and improving the lives of hundreds of millions of people in developing countries. A considerable success of this Government is that politicians of all parties in the UK now accept that it is in the interests of the whole world to eliminate poverty and ill health everywhere. In our global village, global health, tourism, trade and security are interdependent. Development, as other noble Lords have commented, also benefits the quality of human life; it leads to less social violence, more gender equality, democracy, culture, education and international understanding.
As the recent Sachs report to the Millennium Commission has emphasised, there are many different ways in which programmes of improvement can operate. A wide range of different contributions are needed and countries use quite different approaches with success in quite different ways.
I compliment my noble friend Lady Whitaker on her introduction, but I would like to moderate her enthusiasm on two points. Development is not just a matter of economics. Economists have not always been particularly effective in identifying funding or even in understanding many of the issues of development. They are not universally successful in running businesses either.
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The great breakthroughs in development have come from many types of expertise. So I particularly welcome the fact that DfID has seen that it needs to have a wider interdisciplinary approach which is advocated in the Sachs report. Recently, the House of Lords Science and Technology Committee, chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Mitchell, welcomed the appointment of a chief scientist in DfID.
My other point in connection with my noble friend's enthusiasm is that the Government need to ensure that all of their departments and agencies should contribute to collaborative development projects. DfID is taking a lead but it needs to lead with all the other departments as well. Much more could be done in that direction, but DfID is reluctant to spend its budget through other departmentsthe usual Whitehall game. Surely it should also have the role of co-ordinating other departments' purchases, as mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Selsdon, and of encouraging them in their wide international roles and responsibilities.
The Meteorological Office, of which I was proud to be the head for five and a half years, provides specialist advice and training in developing countries, like other government agencies. The improved weather services that result are essential to warnings of storms, floods, droughts, improved agriculture, safety for fishermen and civil aviation, which, of course, benefits tourism worldwide.
I particularly commend the Leader of the Opposition on his recent remarks. He has emphasised the need for such multilateral networks involving organisations in the UK and those in other countries. I have been hearing about very important networks developed with hospitals and universities in the UK; they are developing effective operational collaboration on a day-to-day basis. In terms of weather forecasts, if one collaborating organisation does not produce a weather forecast on a Monday morning it will receive a telephone call.
The advantage of such activities is that they can be carefully monitored and developed and they can involve many more people in the UK than the rather few and sparse members of DfID, which is a very economical and tightly run organisation. In that department they have to rely on providing large grants distributed to central governments and international agencies in the developing world. Sometimes there is not much control and, as I understand Mr Brown found in his visit to Kenya, the funds are not even being spent.
In my role as the UK permanent representative in the World Meteorological Organisationa United Nations bodyand as chair of an NGO, ACOPS, I know that UN agencies can be extremely good and great forces for good, but sometimes they need very careful monitoring to focus on their deliverables and to avoid malpractice. I refer noble Lords to the fairly strong debate held in this House on 18 January and to the debate, which will probably be equally strong, that is to be held on 3 February.
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One of the greatest threats to development comes from natural disasters. More than 80 per cent of the economy of some central American states was destroyed by hurricanes, including the famous Hurricane Mitch in the 1990s. By contrast, the local economies of the United States and Japan are not destroyed by the frequent natural disasters that affect other countries. That is because they have engineering and preventive measures, warning systems and carry out very fast remedial measures following disasters.
We should greatly welcome the decision of the United Nations conference on natural disasters, held last week, in which DfID represented the UK and which the Prime Minister mentioned in his speech on 10 January. It was held in Kobe. Unlike the previous conference in 1994, to which I was a representative, I understand that the conference recommended that, even with trans-boundary hazards, early warnings are needed, including for tsunamis. To achieve that goal will require overcoming many bureaucratic and political obstacles, as I have seen. I hope that the Minister will explain how the UK will work to implement that vital recommendation. It would help many totally preventable disasters in the future, such as the flooding in Mozambique a few years ago and the recent tsunami disaster.
We should also note that climate change makes such communities more vulnerable. Despite threats from the United States that it might have been removing any such consideration from the final resolution of the Kobe conference, could the Minister confirm that that point was agreed by the conference?
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