Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

We have a lot to learn from such incidents. First, despite the massacre of hundreds of innocent victims, the terrorists have not been able to derail India’s economy. Secondly, they have succeeded in worsening relations between India and Pakistan, particularly when there was strong evidence of reconciliation and the development of economic unity between the two countries. Thirdly, as we have learnt in the West, there is no such thing as total security. Terrorism will flourish if we fail to arrest it. A way forward is to ensure that international legal processes are available to extradite those who commit such crimes. Fourthly, the United Nations must urgently consider sanctions against those countries that provide shelter and financial support to the terrorists.

To defeat terrorism, we must all look beyond our own interests. An attack on a democratic institution is an indirect attack on all the democratic and peace-loving

18 Dec 2008 : Column 945

institutions of the world—an enlightened world. I am delighted that the cricket tour is taking place, but I am sad that my team lost. I will let your Lordships into a secret. I met the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, and spoke to him about cricket. His cricket test is no longer valid. I support England and he now supports India. We shall have to revise that definition.

1.47 pm

Baroness Rawlings: My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, for initiating this important debate and for all her work. I also congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Paul, on becoming a Deputy Speaker. What a perfect first to be here in his new position for the start of this wide-ranging debate on India.

I would like to add to the words of sympathy from the rest of the House for the victims and their families of the appalling terrorist attacks between Wednesday 26 and Saturday 29 November. As the right honourable David Cameron said:

“My thoughts are with all those who have been caught up in these attacks. India and Britain stand together at this time in the face of terrorism”.

We could not, and should not, have a debate to call attention to the recent developments in India without placing great emphasis on the recent terrorist attacks. Yet it behoves us all to remember that, despite the recent news headlines, India, complex and diverse, is more than a country of poverty, caste and terrible terror attacks. It is also a hugely prosperous country, abounding in traditions, historical sites and so much culture. It naturally attracts tourists. In November, India undertook its first mission to the moon; on 12 November, Chandrayaan-1 entered lunar orbit and began sending back pictures of the moon’s surface.

As well as discussing those difficult and disturbing issues, let us also pay tribute to the impressive and wondrous. India is an important partner, especially in areas of trade, education and culture. We honour India’s democratic values and treasure her friendship. The noble Lord, Lord Anderson, spoke eloquently and cited Amartya Sen’s description of India as a huge subject. I will limit myself to three topics: the terrorist attacks; the economic situation; and the tourist industry in India.

The attacks on Mumbai were a terrible tragedy and were rightly condemned across the globe. In his outstanding speech, the noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, pointed out that it was an attack not only on Mumbai, but on many other parts of the world. As the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, said, it is thought that 173 people died in the attacks and, in addition to the Indian casualties, there were UK, US, Australian, German, French, Canadian, Italian, Mexican, Japanese, Chinese, Thai and Singaporean victims. If ever there were evidence that it was a global tragedy, not just an Indian one, that is it.

However, it would be even more dreadful if that attack were to signify the beginning of heightened military tensions between India and Pakistan. Cracks can already be seen, as on 11 December, when Shri P Chidambaram, India’s Home Minister, stated that,

18 Dec 2008 : Column 946

Given the history of tension, conflict and war between these countries, what action have the Government taken to attempt to defuse tensions and help to maintain good relations? Considering that the Prime Minister has just returned from Pakistan, perhaps the Government could update us on this.

In the Observer, William Dalrymple commented that part of the problem was the,

This is part of the great fear that jihadi groups in Pakistan are attempting to push India into an attack that would mean that Pakistan could move the focus of its army away from the Taliban and towards India. That would be an appalling situation. Can the Government tell us what is being done to avoid such a conclusion?

I turn to the Indian economy. More than 400 million people in India live on less than $1.25 a day, which is more than in the whole of sub-Saharan Africa. The development challenge is huge, but India is proof in point that the private sector can be the engine of development. Over the past two decades, it has had an annual average GDP growth of 5.7 per cent, and between 1981 and 2005 the proportion of people living on less than $1.25 a day declined from 60 per cent to 42 per cent. India is truly one of the world’s emerging powerhouses. However, India still has a long way to go. We must remember that India’s gross national income per capita is only $14 above the middle income status line. Moreover, while the proportion of poor has decreased, in real terms the number of people living at the $1.25 a day poverty line has increased from 420 million to 455 million.

The recent economic downturn has meant that,

On 13 December, the Financial Times reported that India’s factory output had fallen for the first time in 15 years. In October this year, industrial output was found to be 0.4 per cent lower than it was in October 2007. I could go on. Like many other economies throughout the world, the Indian economy is facing difficult times. Can the Government tell us what impact the troubling developments in the global economy will have? Can they also update us on the status of the Doha round of trade talks? Now more than ever, India would benefit from a pro-poor deal in Doha but, as the House will know, the talks have come to a grinding halt over the past 12 months. What discussions have the Government had with the Government of India about the talks, and what assessment have they made of the possibilities of progress following the US election?

A further detrimental impact on the economy is the fact that the recent terrorist attacks are bound to affect the tourist industry. The Indian Ministry of Tourism released a statement saying:

“India is a large nation and an incident in one place does not impact on tourism and day-to-day life in the rest of the country”.

I hope that it is right. Will that statement be enough to convince people? According to the Financial Times, travel and tourism contribute 6.1 per cent to Indian GDP and employ more than 30 million people, which

18 Dec 2008 : Column 947

is 6.4 per cent of jobs. It is therefore vital that immediate action is taken to make certain the recovery of this crucial economic strand of industry. What action have the Government taken to aid a speedy recovery for the Indian tourism industry?

Many noble Lords have asked what humanitarian assistance has been given, in conjunction with the Indian federal and Orissa state Governments, to the people of Orissa who have suffered in the outbreak of anti-Christian violence.

As we all recover from the shock of the recent developments in India, it has been most beneficial to have had this varied and informed debate on the issues surrounding that most beautiful and beguiling of countries. We look forward to the Government’s response.

1.58 pm

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Lord Malloch-Brown): My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, for proposing this debate to discuss developments in India, especially in the light of the recent terrible events in Mumbai. I, too, congratulate my noble friend Lord Paul on taking on his role with consummate timing and occupying the Woolsack for the first time today.

Let me say at the outset that, as this debate has amply demonstrated, India remains vital to this country’s interests in so many ways. It is a country close to the heart and imagination of many of us. The close ties that bind the British people and the Indian people are rooted in over three centuries of engagement, mutual respect for human values, democracy and freedom and a colourful shared history. Government Ministers have said on many occasions that we regard India as a close friend and partner of the UK and the British people, not just in the context of promoting stability and security in the south Asian region, but in tackling together a wide range of international and global challenges, including the recent global economic downturn and promoting climate security, to name just two of the issues on which we work closely together. We cannot forget the close family and cultural ties that bind over 1.3 million British citizens to India, the world’s largest and most diverse democracy and home to over 1 billion people.

This debate comes only weeks after the terrible events we saw in Mumbai when a series of terrorist attacks on hotels and other public places left nearly 200 innocent people dead and many more injured. As my right honourable friend the Home Secretary said at the time, the attacks reminded us of the real challenges that we face from violent extremists and terrorists who threaten our way of life. As the noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, said, this was not just an attack on India; it was an attack on all of us, but especially on those of us here in the UK, in the United States and perhaps also Israel, if some of the press reports at the time are to be believed. Those attacks serve only to reinforce our shared determination to tackle extremism and violence wherever it arises. I join other noble Lords who have expressed their heartfelt sympathies with the families and friends of all those killed and injured in the attacks.

18 Dec 2008 : Column 948

I briefly turn to the aftermath of the Mumbai attacks and their implications for India’s relations with Pakistan. As noble Lords will be aware, and as several have generously commented on, the Prime Minister has just returned from the region at the weekend, when he met Prime Minister Singh in New Delhi and President Zardari in Islamabad. He used the occasion to press in both capitals the need not to allow the relationship to deteriorate, and to stress to both leaders that the way to prevent that was to ensure that justice was done and that there was no attempt to prevaricate, disguise or confuse the situation, but that those guilty were found and tried.

I also note the kind words addressed to our cricketers for their decision to go ahead with their tour. I shall not take sides about the win, except to say that from these Benches there was rather unsportsmanlike mumbling about whether it would not have been a good occasion for the Indians to have just let us win.

It is now widely acknowledged that the Mumbai attacks were perpetrated by members of a militant extremist group based in Pakistan, Lashkar-e-Taiba. During the past two weeks, we—most recently, the Prime Minister—have urged the Pakistani Government to co-operate fully with the Indian authorities’ investigation of the attacks to identify those responsible and bring them to justice. It is enormously important that no one doubts the evidence—which is utterly overwhelming —that the attacks were organised by groups and individuals based in Pakistan. Equally, there is no evidence to link those groups at this stage to the authorities or any part of the government system in Pakistan. We must start from the base that I have just described and ensure that there is no effort to prevent a clear criminal investigation being allowed to arrive at conclusions and to be followed by appropriate trials and justice.

Before those events, we already had a close working relationship with the Indian Government in addressing the challenges posed by terrorism. UK security and law enforcement agencies work closely with their Indian counterparts and there is a good flow of information both ways on operational and investigation work, as well as on the disruption of terrorist networks. In the wake of the Mumbai attacks, we are looking again at ways in which UK expertise on countering terrorism can be deployed effectively to help the Indian authorities. A similar offer is there for the Pakistan authorities as well. We will help the Indian authorities in any way that they wish with the necessary security preparations for the Commonwealth Games in New Delhi in 2010. We are also engaged with our Indian counterparts in trying to find ways to prevent terrorist financing and improve civil aviation security.

Before leaving the issue of Mumbai and its aftermath, I refer to the comments of the noble Lords, Lord Dholakia and Lord Bilimoria, on the number of Muslim victims of that outrage. It is critical to bear in mind just how indiscriminate it was and how, for terrorists of this kind, no life has any value. The victims are indiscriminate in that sense.

I now turn to a subject which has rightly been of some concern to so many speakers today, especially the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, in proposing the debate.

18 Dec 2008 : Column 949

That is the issue of domestic extremism within India, which manifests itself in many different ways. We recognise the noble Baroness’s close interest in the issue, especially in how social cohesion in India’s local areas can sometimes fracture and, for example, lead to the violence that we saw this year in Orissa and neighbouring states. While abhorring the violence resulting in Christian victims, we must recognise that it is not exclusively the preserve of one social or religious group or another in India, but often the result of various factors such as the interplay between religion and politics and other socio-economic pressures. As my noble friend Lord Anderson of Swansea observed, militants sometimes seek to exploit that for their own ends. However, I must say to my noble friend that the VHP is not proscribed as a terrorist organisation in India or, as he knows, here in the UK. If there is evidence that should lead to that being changed, we shall review it.

I reassure noble Lords that we have raised our concerns about the violence in Orissa State with the Government in India and their representatives in both London and New Delhi. For example, I discussed it with Anand Sharma, India’s Minister of External Affairs, when I visited New Delhi on 16 October, as well as with other officials. It was clear to me that the Indian Government recognised the strength of the international community’s concerns about what is happening in Orissa. We understand, and they assured me, that they urged the relevant state authorities to take immediate steps to bring the perpetrators to justice and to improve the local security environment.

The noble Baroness, Lady Cox, and others raised the concern that there may be a renewed confrontation and threat to life over the Christmas period. I will certainly pass on that concern and warning to our high commissioner in Delhi and ensure that we are alert to any signs of that. I was also asked about the assistance that DfID has provided for those displaced. Although there is no specific programme for the displaced, the UK is the biggest bilateral aid donor to Orissa State, and we have tried to do a lot there.

Let me make the Government’s position clear—although I think that no one would doubt it. All violence perpetrated against innocent people on the grounds of their faith, creed or social status is evidently completely unacceptable, but I add that we should recognise that India, with all its complexities—so eloquently described by the noble Lord, Lord Alton, and others today—is still at heart a democratic and open society, and one where the sanctity of the rule of law generally prevails. We also need to recognise that communal violence in India, whatever form it takes and in whatever social context, is not state-sponsored nor state-inspired, as is regrettably the case in so many other areas of the world.

In judging the balance of complex forces which lead to such conflicts, including the role of caste as well as of religion, we must bear in mind many of the insights offered today—for example, the observations of the noble Lord, Lord Parekh, about the economics of conversion—as well as the issue of the marginalisation of castes and the particular role of the dalits. I particularly noted in that regard the words of the noble and right

18 Dec 2008 : Column 950

reverend Lord, Lord Harries of Pentregarth, about the role of Christian dalits, who seem to suffer a double whammy—if one can use that word—of disadvantage. We are doing all that we can to combat caste discrimination in India. We work closely with civil society organisations through our own development programmes to raise awareness of the rights and benefits to which dalits are entitled in Indian society, and we will continue to do all that we can to encourage this work.

How does one have a dialogue with a country such as India on human rights? So many of the speakers today reflected the sensitivity that they know we must bring to bear on this. After all, this is a country that has gone through a brutal attack on Mumbai without subsequent revenge attacks on communities that might be thought to be associated with it. It has had an astonishing incidence of internal and externally supported violence of different kinds, and each time the reaction of the people of India has been in general to show enormous tolerance towards what has happened. The reaction of the Government of India has been to try to suppress any momentum towards intercommunal confrontation. It is in that context that we must talk to India about human rights.

An important EU-India dialogue is scheduled for 2009—the date has not yet been set—and the UK does all that it can on every occasion to raise the case of the dalits and other cases that concern us, such as the tragedies in Orissa, but perhaps the most important intervention that I could make was to find the chairman of the National Commission for Minorities in his very run-down and poorly functioning office, surrounded by huge paper files of the kind that one remembers and that are almost the metaphor for the old India bureaucracy. I had an astonishing discussion with him in which he reflected a profound understanding of the events in Orissa. Equally, however, one was left wondering whether he really had the authority in the Indian Government to carry through the right kind of investigation into what had happened and the right kind of redress. It seemed to me that, to help him and others to redress the balance and ensure that human rights are implemented at the state as well as the national level, the gentle touch of the partner was needed—the offer of capacity-building support and the dialogue in his office—and not necessarily the diplomatic grandstanding from abroad such as always calling in the high commissioner.

Our relationship with India has gone beyond that point. We must be firm but sensitive in the way in which we try to push forward this complex agenda. We must understand the developmental dimensions to this; I referred to the National Commission for Minorities, with its evidently limited administrative and budgetary capacity to take on the vast agenda of minority rights across the country. Behind that are the questions not only of how we help India to establish a more efficient court system and a more effective rule of law, but of how we nudge it to comply with international human rights norms on issues such as freedom of religion. How do we build up a police system? As the Minister covering India, I am constantly bombarded with consular cases where those who have run into difficulties in India feel that they cannot get quick justice out of the

18 Dec 2008 : Column 951

court system. How do we help India with its enormously difficult regional relations? After all, this is a massive country that is complex and inevitably challenged by its own diversities of religion, nationality, ethnicity and language but that must also survive in one of the world’s most difficult neighbourhoods. Its challenges are enormous.

As was observed, the country is set in a context in which the India of rapid development is offset, as so many noble Lords observed, by an India that is still mired in rural poverty. It was noted that 456 million Indians are still living on less than a dollar a day, as the noble Baroness, Lady Rawlings, said. That is one-third of the world’s poor. Seventy million more people in India are living on less than a dollar a day than are in the whole of sub-Saharan Africa. If Bihar—a state which DfID has made a priority for its own development programmes—was a country, it would be the 10th poorest country in the world. These are astonishing inequalities in a country in which the modern, urbanised, middle class whom we saw in Mumbai on our TV screens in recent weeks lives side by side with others in a country that is still mired in the worst of poverty. It is therefore critical to meet the challenge of bringing both our own development programme to bear and, as the noble Baroness, Lady Rawlings, said, ensuring that India, like the rest of the world, is helped through this economic crisis and that issues such as free trade, which are so important to India, are not lost as a consequence of global economic recession.

I finish on a sad pre-Christmas note. The current Doha development round is not in particularly good health, and the hoped-for ministerial meeting before Christmas could not occur because agreement was not considered to be highly likely. We go into a new year with increasing anxieties about our ability to preserve global free trade for India as much as for ourselves in an era of recession and inevitable tendencies towards protectionism.

2.17 pm

Baroness Cox: My Lords, when I won the ballot, I felt some apprehension at the challenge of addressing the complexity, and indeed the rich diversity, of the land that is the subject of today’s debate. However, when I saw the list of speakers, my anxieties were immediately allayed, because I knew that they would bring such wide-ranging expertise and personal experience that it would create a debate that was a rich amalgam of informed concern, constructive criticism and warm appreciation of India’s rich history and the achievements of a modern, secular democracy. Indeed, my expectations were fully fulfilled. It is also a great delight that this should be the first debate over which the noble Lord, Lord Paul, has presided as a new Deputy Speaker, and I join others in congratulating him on his new position. I am also extremely grateful to the Minister for the way in which he has addressed so many of the questions and issues that have been raised so comprehensively.

In conclusion, I warmly thank all noble Lords for making the debate truly significant—a debate which I hope will be received by our Indian friends as an indication, indeed proof, of real friendship, a friendship

18 Dec 2008 : Column 952

that has been cherished for so long and which we will continue to cherish. I hope that the debate will contribute to that friendship. I beg leave to withdraw the Motion.

Motion withdrawn.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page