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4.32 p.m.

Baroness Flather: My Lords, I join in thanking the noble Earl for giving some of us this opportunity to speak about India because it is a subject very close to our hearts. We have a fifth Indian Member joining this House today. I have a warm feeling that there are now five of us on these Benches, although we still do not have a Cross-Bencher. If I use the term "we" rather indiscriminately, I hope that noble Lords will forgive me because I sometimes confuse myself as to whether I am speaking as an Indian or a British person. But that is an expression of my deep affection for both countries.

I was in India during the Queen's visit. I hasten to add that I was not part of her entourage, but, as it happened, I was there at the same time. I was treated with enormous warmth by both the Indians and the British. In fact, at the PM's lunch, the Indians kept trying to pull me into the receiving line where all the Indians were and David Gore-Booth, our High Commissioner in Delhi, kept pulling me back into the British line. I do believe that only those who have experienced that kind of situation will know how it makes one feel. I am still unable to find words to express the tremendous feeling of being wanted by both of my countries, if I may so express it.

I should like to say a few words about Her Majesty's visit because there have been so many different stories and newspaper reports about it. There is no doubt at all that the newspaper reports in Delhi were not very welcoming. I want to be very subtle but I am not sure that I shall find that possible. The Foreign Secretary in Pakistan used the word which I call the "K" word--your Lordships will know that I mean Kashmir--and words like "internationalisation" and "mediation". That was bound, by definition, to displease the Indians. By the time the party arrived in Delhi, so had reports of the Foreign Secretary's words. It was a very successful and worthwhile visit to Pakistan, but some of the terms used were not at all welcomed in India.

It had nothing to do with Her Majesty. That is something we should realise. It was purely the political situation. The Indians do not appreciate such expressions--and they did not do so. But that was no reflection on Her Majesty personally. As far as I saw, the people were delighted to have her in Delhi and all the functions that I attended were very happy and wonderful occasions.

The photographs of Her Majesty in Amritsar, which was supposedly going to be such a difficult visit, were the happiest of all those taken of her. It is extremely important to remember that the Queen was not in any way treated with disrespect or any less affection than she would have been otherwise. But there was some feeling that perhaps some diplomacy might have been used in Pakistan so that visits to both countries would have proved equally successful.

My friend Hugo Young attended a CHOGM in Delhi many years ago. He described the behaviour of some of the British as "post-Imperial condescension". I have never forgotten that term and I commend it to your Lordships. Indians are very, very sensitive about post-Imperial condescension. I am not trying to make a

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political point but I am sorry to say that that is how they felt in relation to the Foreign Secretary's approach. I met many people; friends, relations and other people working in different places. They all said that they did not expect that of the Labour Party.

As we know in this House, Indians hold the Labour Party in enormous high affection, much to my chagrin. It was during a period of Labour government that India gained independence. The last thing that the Indians said they expected was for a Labour Foreign Secretary to display condescension. Enough said about that.

At the same time, I heard how very much John Major's contributions to improving relations between India and the United Kingdom had been valued. If noble Lords think back, they will remember that during the period of office of my noble friend Lady Thatcher there was a very up-and-down relationship with India. It was really after John Major became Prime Minister that matters started to improve enormously. That was alongside India opening up. I must say that that was part of it. But, without exception, everyone said how much they liked John Major; how unpatronising, natural and normal he was. In fact, I would say he was very much himself, as he is here.

As my noble friend Lord Desai has mentioned--

A noble Lord: The noble Lord!

Baroness Flather: I am sorry, I should have said the noble Lord, Lord Desai. I think of him as a friend and therefore, I forgot. He has already mentioned that India is going through a new phase. The government are now made up of a number of coalition parties. It is difficult for a new system of coalition immediately to function smoothly. It is very much a question of people saying, "What are you going to give me for the support that I give you." When I was in the United States about four or five years ago I had the impression that the same phenomenon was occurring. It is as if the congressman supports the President on the basis of what is in it for him. This phenomenon of, "What is in it for my region?" or, "What is in it for my state?" is common. One has to perform a balancing act of giving a little but trying to get the central part of the government moving too. One has the impression that perhaps the governance in the centre has not yet started to work as decisively and as firmly as it should.

Like the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, I see the future of India involving, to a great extent, not just the financial and business sector, but also the micro projects. Like the noble Earl, I am a great believer in micro projects. I have worked with NGOs on the ground. I do not have much faith as regards the central government being able to change the lives of people in India. Sadly, after 50 years, I am worried about how little progress has been made in education, particularly the education of girls. I am worried about the situation of women there. However, it is important to stress that there are more women in high positions in public life, in business and in every sphere in India than in this country or indeed in any other western country.

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Therefore we should not concentrate on one aspect of the matter. India is a country of extremes. In India one sees extremes and everything in between.

However, I worry about the 70 per cent. of women who have nothing. It is a source of great pain to me that not enough is being done about that. I put my faith in the micro projects, which are growing in number in India and which are carried out by Indians with great success. I hope that the British NGOs and Her Majesty's Government will do everything possible to support those micro projects as that is where real change is taking place as regards the lives of slum children, those women who are beaten and some men who may suffer less pain than the women but who are in difficulty nevertheless. That is definitely one of the best uses to which money can be put as a little goes a long way with these projects and there is not much opportunity for some of it to stick to other people's hands.

I turn to family planning. The noble Lord, Lord Desai, was not so worried about population growth. However, there are other aspects of family planning than just the growth of population. I do not think of the population only in terms of numbers. I believe in the theory expounded by my noble friend Lady Chalker of children through choice. I do not care if people have 10 children provided they have those children through choice. I do not want people to have 10 children when they have not chosen to do so. Family planning is not yet accessible to everyone. That is another matter that we need constantly to address. Sometimes our NGOs in this country are too politically correct; they do not see what is really needed at ground level. They can also fall into the trap of being "do gooders". This is not a question of being a "do gooder" but of being pragmatic. We need to improve people's lives without patronising them. We need to involve local people in that process as much as possible.

Recently, I have given much thought to the Jalianwala Bagh incident in Amritsar. Every school book in this country mentions the Black Hole of Calcutta, but which one ever mentions the Jalianwala Bagh? We are sensitive about it. Despite what General Dyer's son said to the Duke of Edinburgh, we are sensitive about that incident. A great many men, women and children were shot indiscriminately in a confined space. If that had occurred in this country, would British people have forgotten it? I think not. We cannot forget it either. It is about time that a more balanced view was taken of Indian history and of the role of the British in India. It is not a matter of trains running on time; there are other aspects. We used to have famines every so many years. The last famine occurred in 1943 when millions of people died in Bengal because all the grain was diverted to the forces. About 3 million people died. Since then there has not been a famine in India. That is a great achievement.

The fact that India is still a democracy is a great achievement. India is equivalent to the whole of continental Europe; it is not a small island. In comparison to India, the United Kingdom is like someone's back garden; it is perfect, beautiful and tended. Noble Lords should reflect on that comparison

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when they think about India and about all the problems that beset India. How would noble Lords cope with such a vast country of so many separate nation states with different languages and different cultures? Would noble Lords be able to cope with that? Here we have difficulty in coping with some of the differences that arise within such a small kingdom. Everyone has a different vision of India. Noble Lords should not fall into the trap of thinking that they know India.

4.47 p.m.

Baroness Thomas of Walliswood: My Lords, I, too, wish to thank the noble Earl for introducing this debate and for doing so in such a stimulating and thoughtful way. Before I make my contribution, I need to make two apologies. The first is that whereas I have a good deal of experience in Latin America and the Caribbean I have no first-hand experience of life and politics in the Indian sub-continent. I am extremely grateful to the Library services for their help which has enabled me to participate in this debate at short notice. I am acutely aware that I cannot rival the expertise and special insights of those who have preceded me in this debate. I appreciated in particular the beginning and the end of the speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Flather, which I found interesting and humane as she explained vividly the feelings of people in India. My second apology is that I have an existing engagement this evening which may oblige me to leave this debate before its conclusion.

I turn to India's socio-economic achievements after 50 years of independence. I have been fascinated by the variety of opinions expressed by a wide range of different writers, both English and Indian, in the UK press during July and August. The economic reforms of the past three or four years have produced a high rate of growth at the present time and far greater opportunities for inward investment. In terms of the size of its economy, India could be the world's third largest economy by the year 2020. A more fundamental achievement--and one to which others have referred--is the eradication of famine; something which the British Government in India never achieved. Over the past 50 years a substantial middle class has emerged, both reflecting and contributing to a widening of educational opportunity and business enterprise. Some commentators have highlighted their expectation, and their confidence, that this growing economic self-confidence is resulting in a better directed foreign policy which includes a new approach to India's relations with her immediate neighbours, including Pakistan, and greater interest in South East Asia as a whole.

Finally, we must all acknowledge the crowning glory of India's achievement over the past 50 years; namely, the maintenance of the world's largest parliamentary democracy and an admirable level of freedom of the press and of speech at both national and state level.

However, a number of articles, in particular those written by Indian correspondents, draw attention to some of the attendant difficulties. They point to a level of corruption, to an increase in social disorder and

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crime, including against women, and to a revival of mutual communal suspicion between different ethnic, religious and linguistic groups.

There is a suggestion that professionally educated Indians are leaving India to find more congenial work elsewhere. However, the overwhelming problem is the level of poverty within a large and growing population which may outstrip the population of China within the next few years.

Yesterday we debated the Statement on the outcome of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Conference in Edinburgh. The point I would have made had I intervened in the debate is that this country must now address its fellow members of the Commonwealth as equals. For that reason, I think it quite inappropriate for the United Kingdom and its people to criticise India's political performance or propriety, still less to advise leaders in the Indian sub-continent as to how they should tackle that kind of problem.

But the crude evidence of the effect of poverty in India and the rest of the sub-continent is so overwhelming that as a matter of common humanity it puts an obligation upon the British and the British Government to see what can be done to assist those living in the Indian sub-continent to solve the problems which poverty brings in its wake.

This is a huge subject and I wish to mention only four aspects; namely, lack of access to sanitation, the malnutrition of children, child labour and the role of women--and I can say only a few words on them. In New Delhi today less than 40 per cent. of houses are connected to sewers; and in India as a whole only 25 per cent. to 49 per cent. of people have access to any form of sanitation. The variation in the figures depends on what one means by the word "sanitation". I shall not go into a long discussion on that technical matter. Interestingly, this situation which is so dangerous to the health of the population, in particular because of the growing concentration of India's people in cities, has persisted despite the increase in the number of people with access to clean water in India and the sub-continent.

In India, Bangladesh and Pakistan respectively, 81 per cent., 97 per cent., and 74 per cent. of the population have access to safe water compared with 29 per cent., 48 per cent., and 47 per cent. of the population who have access to decent sanitation. In such conditions disease flourishes. The most common of those diseases is simple diarrhoea. Not only is diarrhoea with its accompanying dehydration a killer for small children, but ignorance among their mothers often prevents them from providing the essential liquids which can prevent death and assist in a cure.

A third of under five year-olds affected by diarrhoea in India are still not treated with the simple oral rehydration therapy which I sought to encourage mothers to employ when I helped in a health clinic in Peru some 30 years ago. It is worth noting that a study in Karachi indicates that the poorest people are spending the most in seeking medical attention--a diversion of funds from more worthy objectives which should be avoidable.

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Equally, it seems clear from the documentation that a large amount of the malnutrition which affects the children of the poor in India, as in other places, is due to ignorance about how a young child's diet should progress over the first two years. We are strongly committed to the idea that by educating women in the simple rules of sanitation and nutrition some of the ills of even the most acute poverty could be avoided, the health of children greatly improved, and their ability to benefit from education greatly increased. Of course the health of women, in particular younger women before and during their childbearing years, should be a priority which could contribute to a reduction in the growth of the population.

Finally, there is the disgrace of child labour which still persists in India despite a legislative framework which should have prevented it and to which attention has been drawn in a recently published document by Christian Aid. Its report carefully assesses the operation of child labour in the sports goods industry which is said to employ some 25,000 to 30,000 children in India out of a total workforce of 300,000, many of whom are working in their own homes. It is an important industry for India exporting some 62 million dollars per year, for which the United Kingdom is the largest market. Again, poverty and ignorance are the motors which drive women and children to work long hours in poor conditions for minimum wages for the profit of factory owners and the British consumer.

So what should the United Kingdom and its people do in response to this humanitarian challenge? First-- I know that it has been said often--we most sincerely believe that the Government should ensure that the United Kingdom contributes its due share, 0.7 per cent. of GDP, to aid. Secondly, that aid must be targeted. We must move away from using aid money to enable UK firms to sell helicopters to India and move towards ensuring that it reaches the poorest people and is concentrated on better sanitation, better delivery of basic health care to the poorest, and better education for women. Thirdly, we must make sure that the aid programmes which we finance run with the grain of what local people can themselves achieve with relatively small amounts of financial assistance. Often the non-governmental organisations are better adapted to the need for co-operative endeavour with local people for the improvement of their living conditions, and perhaps the government sector could learn some useful lessons in that respect.

Fourthly, we may need to consider the question of debt forgiveness if the levels of debt are still hampering progress within the Indian sub-continent. Fifthly, I believe that British people have a role to play. As consumers, importers and retailers, we can ensure that goods made with child labour, whether from the Indian sub-continent or elsewhere, are not sold in this country, just as we now try to avoid selling or buying products made from wood from unmanaged forests. It is exactly the same kind of campaign.

I hope that the Government agree with the urgency of the problems of poverty in the Indian sub-continent, and their effect upon women and children. I hope that they agree that for historical, practical and humanitarian

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reasons we can and should help to tackle those problems. Perhaps it is worth saying here that while I speak in largely humanitarian terms, it is simply good sense to help the poorest people to move out of poverty. Poverty is dangerous in every way that one can imagine, both to those who suffer it and those who live alongside it.

I should like to close with the words that appear on the front page of UNICEF's annual report on progress towards achievement of the targets set by the 1990 World Summit for Children. The words are directed to us all, and not just to the developing world. It says:

    "The day will come when the progress of nations will be judged not by their military or economic strength, nor by the splendour of their capital cities and public buildings, but by the well-being of their peoples; by their levels of health, nutrition and education; by their opportunities to earn a fair reward for their labours; by their ability to participate in the decisions that affect their lives; by the respect that is shown for their civil and political liberties; by the provision that is made for those who are vulnerable and disadvantaged; and by the protection that is afforded to the growing minds and bodies of their children".

India, like every other country, does better in some respects in relation to that list of desirables than it does in others. We need to help each other to move towards that world.

5 p.m.

Lord Weatherill: My Lords, in congratulating the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, on introducing the Motion, I hope that he will forgive me if I indulge in nostalgia--not, I assure your Lordships, colonial nostalgia, but because I spent some five years in the Indian Army which were the most formative years of my life. It is often forgotten, and it may be worth reminding ourselves on this occasion, that during the last war the Indian Army had 1.5 million men under arms, every single one a volunteer. It received the highest number of awards for gallantry of any army in that world conflict.

It may be true that in those days there were some in India, particularly the politicians, who viewed the British with a degree of suspicion and unpopularity. That was certainly not true in the armed forces. On my first day in action in Burma, I thought that we were being attacked, looked out and saw that it was raining. I discovered that I was, in fact, dry. I looked again, and found four pairs of feet--four young soldiers had been holding a groundsheet over me for most of the night. One does not forget that kind of thing. Our affection for the Indian people was immense; and I believe that their affection as regards us was also very high.

Secondly, I owed my parliamentary seat in Croydon North East wholly to my declining command of Urdu. I had not expected to win the seat in 1964. When a cheer went up from our astonished supporters, my bride burst into tears. My loyal supporters thought that it was an expression of emotion at her husband's success. Only I heard what she said. It was: "You fool, you've ruined our marriage". I was there for 30 years and was very proud to represent that constituency. The Asian community always gave me my majority in Croydon. So perhaps the House will forgive my nostalgia.

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I agree with the remarks of the noble Baroness, Lady Flather, about not knowing India. Incidentally, she always used to describe me as an honorary Indian; I represented Indian interests on the Cross-Benches, until others arrived. Mark Twain, on being asked whether he could describe India, said that he was so overwhelmed by its tremendous complexity that he threw down his pen in frustration.

India is a country of 3 million square kilometres and 950 million inhabitants, 75 per cent. of whom were born after Indian independence--so most of the people do not remember those days. It is the home of 1,600 languages--Urdu is a kind of Esperanto--and different dialects. It has some of the most ancient religions: Hinduism, Jainism, Sikhism, Buddhism, Christianity and Judaism. I was interested in the fact that Her Majesty, in visiting Kolar, went to see the ancient synagogue in Kochi. One must not forget Islam. There are more Moslems in India than there are in Pakistan.

Three weeks ago I paid what I suspect may be my last visit to India--though secretly I hope that it will not be. I went with a patron of the Tibet Society to visit the Dalai Lama in Dharamsala. I also took the opportunity to visit my Indian "son" in Gurgaon. Many of the jawans in C Squadron of the 19th Lancers lived in that part of the Punjab. When I first visited Gurgaon, it was a small agricultural village. I went back there some four years ago. As I got into my car to drive back to New Delhi, a small boy got in and refused to budge. I said to Sukh Lal, who had been in my squadron, "Get him out". But he sat there tightly. Eventually, I said, "Who is he, anyway?". He said, "Sir, he is my grandson--but he is now your son; I have given him to you. Take him back to England and look after him". I had to tell him that I was one of the world's great experts in immigration, and I did not think that would be possible, but that I would pay for his education and look after him. I went back to see him. Gurgaon today is a big industrial town. It is a classic example of what has happened to the Indian economy since the British left in 1947. In those days, needles had to be imported into India. Today, India leads in all the areas of industrial production, not least in the new technologies of space, nuclear science, medicine, computers and bio-chemistry. Indeed, a great deal of computer work is done at present in the city of Bangalore.

Despite a massive increase in population, thanks to the "green" revolution, India is now largely self-sufficient in food. As the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, said, that is an amazing achievement.

As mentioned by all speakers, surely the greatest achievement of all is that India has remained a democracy when so many other countries have fallen by the wayside over the past 50 years. India has held aloft the flag of democracy. In 1994, I went as a Commonwealth observer to South Africa. I remember meeting President Mandela, who said to me, "If I become president, I shall immediately seek to rejoin the British Commonwealth". I had to say to him: "I am afraid, Mr. Mandela, you will not be doing that". "What do you mean?" he asked. I said, "It is no longer the British Commonwealth, it is 'the' Commonwealth".

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The modern Commonwealth started after 1947, when India, then a republic, joined. The event that I perhaps remember most from my time in Speaker's House was receiving a visit from the last Soviet ambassador, who came to see me on his retirement. He said, "Mr. Speaker, I understand you are chairman of the Commonwealth Speakers and Presiding Officers this year. Tell us more about the Commonwealth". I said, "What do you want to know about it, your Excellency?". He said, "I think this will be a very interesting lesson for us to study". I remember saying to him, "Well, your Excellency, this is a very small country. I am not certain we can tell you very much more about it. If you really want to know how to run a very large country with different religions, races and states, you had better go to see the Indian High Commissioner. I can easily arrange that". And I did. It is a remarkable tribute to the Commonwealth that eventually the old Soviet Empire ended up as the CIS--the Commonwealth of Independent States. It is a direct reflection of that conversation in Speaker's House.

Despite what has been said in the press about the Queen's visit--I was interested to hear what the noble Baroness, Lady Flather, had to say about it--Dr. Singhvi, the Indian High Commissioner in London, told me a couple of days ago what a great success it had been. Incidentally, I do not know whether noble Lords are aware of the fact, but I understand that he is about to leave London after seven years. He is probably one of the best and most highly regarded High Commissioners that we have had here for many years. He is not only an eminent scholar and leading constitutional expert, a poet and an author, but he is leader of the multi-faith ideals with which I have been associated with him. His time here in London has been termed "the golden phase" in Britain's relations with India. That has been largely due to the leadership that he has given in representing his country.

We politicians frequently talk about getting the balance right. We talk about the balance of trade, the balance of payments and all those sorts of things. There is another balance which I hope I may be allowed to mention in this debate, that is, the balance between spiritual values and material progress. Whenever that has gone wrong, disaster has always followed.

Despite India's material progress in the past 50 years, it has remained a deeply spiritual country. During my visit three weeks ago I went again to Rajghat, the place where Mahatma Gandhi was cremated. I looked again at the words inscribed on the walls of the little room in which the visitors' book is placed for signature. They come from a book written by Mahatma Gandhi in 1925 called Young India:

    "Politics without principles; wealth without work; pleasure without conscience; knowledge without character; commerce without humanity; worship without sacrifice".
Those words will never be forgotten in India because they remain in that sacred place; I should like to suggest to your Lordships that they also be adopted here in the United Kingdom.

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