Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, I add my very warm thanks to my noble friend Lady Whitaker for tabling this debate, which I believe is of global importance. Our interdependent world is in need of urgent change, which requires leadership and consistent action by wealthy countries working together in partnership with each other and in partnership with developing countries. I am, of course, delighted that this Government are providing leadership and that this country is on track to meet the UN target of 0.7 per cent of national income to be spent on aid. I celebrate the fact that they are working in partnership and not in isolation.

I am slightly concerned about statements that the Conservative Party would wish unilaterally to withdraw the UK's contribution to the EU's aid programme. As we learnt from the debate last Thursday, European development aid has greatly improved and in some areas has made remarkable achievements; indeed the European Commission has today launched a new consultation document on the future development of policy. I would draw particular attention to the achievement of the EU peace facility for Africa, which backs the operations of the African Union, helping to bring much needed stability to the region.

I want to touch on long-term action to tackle failing states and the role of women. Those who suffer most when a state is unable or unwilling to carry out its basic functions are poor people. They suffer through low living
 
26 Jan 2005 : Column 1313
 
standards, crumbling infrastructure, the spread of disease, limited access to basic services and pervasive insecurity. The World Bank estimates that 500 million people live in such countries. Instability in one country can spill over to its neighbours and to the whole region, as can refugees, disease and crime, as we have seen in Afghanistan and Sudan. Promoting more effective states is, therefore, a moral imperative, as well as being in our common interest.

The challenge is to produce capable states in which peace and security are guaranteed over a sustained period. Without adequate institutions and good governance there is seldom peace; without peace there can be no long-term development and growth. A prerequisite for growth is the implementation of policies that promote education and health, that protect the rights of minority communities, strengthen the capacity of civil society, and take action against corruption. Through its partnership fund, the Department for International Development is providing invaluable assistance in all these areas. As the noble Lord, Lord Brett, pointed out, the trade unions are also providing essential assistance in this area.

The British Council, the Westminster Foundation for Democracy and the BBC World Service also have very important contributions to make in helping to build effective and competent institutions and nurturing good governance. I should be grateful for an assurance from my noble friend the Minister that the Government will continue to provide the necessary support to these important institutions.

More and more women in developing countries are engaging in their systems of governance. They are assisted by organisations such as AWEPA—European Parliamentarians for Africa—which has always made the attainment of gender equality at all levels of political decision-making one of its key aims. It has made great progress. The first president of the Pan-African Parliament of the African Union is a woman; 48.8 per cent of Rwanda's MPs are women; and in Mozambique, Namibia and South Africa, women occupy over 25 per cent of national parliamentary seats. Fine role models—but that is not enough, hence the need for the Third millennium development goal that seeks to,

Throughout the world, women are primary carers in their families and communities, but they are also central to their local economies—90 per cent of agricultural production in Africa is carried out by women. Women have always done unpaid work, but where governments have supported the small-scale, localised co-operative and small business approach, this has resulted in effective local marketing of produce. Women's contribution to growth is, of course, enhanced by asset formation. In Birkina Faso, for example, women have more secure land rights than in other African countries and farmers' productivity there is significantly higher than in neighbouring states.

One extraordinary woman who has made a great difference to the lives of thousands is Dr Wangari Maathai, founder of the Green Belt Movement and the first African woman to win the Nobel Peace
 
26 Jan 2005 : Column 1314
 
Prize. As my noble friend Lord Griffith said, she and thousands of others in Kenya and all over east Africa have been empowered by the planting of trees. These women have planted more than 20 million trees on farms, in schools and in Church grounds in order to conserve the environment. In doing so, they have helped themselves and their families. By stemming the problem of deforestation and desertification through the planting of trees, women have become economically productive, harvesting fruit and timber and providing stability in the home. Dr Maathai has understood for many years that if you enable a woman to lift herself out of poverty, she will take her family with her. That is a great outcome by any measurement.

Action to reduce poverty is the world's greatest challenge. It is a matter of justice for the poor, but also an imperative for a secure world in which the richest and the poorest nations are interdependent. Britain holds a special global responsibility through its presidencies of the G8 and the European Union. We all have a vested interest in their success. In the words of the South African constitution,

Lord Brennan: My Lords, nations have characters. It is in the character of our nation that it should give help to developing countries, especially the poorest. This Government have pursued a sustained and vigorous development aid programme. That reflects our national character. The public response to the tsunami appeal was incredible. That reflects our national character. This coalition of government policy and public sentiment is fortuitous.

The Government are exercising leadership among the developing nations to reduce poverty. This coalition should fortify our Government to be ever more determined in this year's negotiations to reduce poverty in two particular ways. The first is funding. We should say "yes" to debt relief if the consequent saving to each country is properly used; and say "yes" to changes in world trade if that is done with sophistication and justice.

But most important of all, in the short-term we should say "yes" to achieving our promise to reach the millennium development goals. In 2000, we promised the poor that we would do that. In 2005, we are expected at the United Nations in September to tell them what progress we have made. We promised that by 2015 there would have been significant progress. The only realistic policy that has been put forward to achieve such goals— additional as they are to other aid programmes and commitments—is the international finance facility proposed by the Chancellor two years ago.

Apart from a scheme from France to do with an international taxation system, it is the only way put forward to honour the promise. In those circumstances it is pertinent to ask any country that does not agree with this scheme: what is your alternative? If the alternative is inaction or prevarication, we should say "no". If the
 
26 Jan 2005 : Column 1315
 
promise is made between adults and broken that would be dishonourable. A promise made by rich adults to poor children that is broken is unforgivable. This policy deserves all-party and national support. I hope it receives that throughout 2005.

The second leadership issue for the Government is the management of aid. The time has passed to give money liberally to the governments of the poorest countries. It is past—over. From now on, you get the money against results-based analysis. Capacity building is not an end objective, it is the process through which you reach that end.

I invite the Government to pursue three ways of better managing aid. First, either by country—for example, Sri Lanka after the tsunami—or by sector education, to create international development trusts which involve governments, NGOs and governments of the poorest countries. The purpose of such trusts is to make sure that that money is spent the way it should be. Why not? Which government would put their own importance above the more important objective?

Secondly, there should be much more emphasis on the funding of NGOs and faith-based organisations giving local help. That is where poverty is best alleviated. Lastly, there are local schemes. In any village or small town of any poor country, to which many of us have been, they want to eat, they want to have their health looked after and they hope to have basic—and I mean basic—education to make tomorrow a better day. It is bottom-up—people to people.

Those three methods for the better management of aid are a very important objective. This year—2005—is an important year. It is a decision year. I invite the noble Baroness, Lady Whitaker, whom I thank for initiating this debate, to have another one in the autumn to take account of what we have done or failed to do this year. We have the resources; our Government and our nation have the political and national will. Others should join us.


Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page