|Previous Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|
Lord Desai: In speaking to this set of amendments perhaps we can finish our Second Reading speeches and then get down to the detailed business. On the one hand, the amendments seek to make precise what the Secretary of State can do; on the other, they seek to set out vast, general ambitions. Conflict between the two approaches is bound to arise.
Perhaps I may speak first to the amendment tabled by my noble friend Lord Judd, to which, as always, he spoke eloquently. I have one or two difficulties with the amendment. It would be nice to eliminate poverty, but it would be nice also to be modest in our ambitions. We have been unable to eliminate poverty in rich countries. Even now, after 200 years of growth, we are still struggling to do so. That is partly because, as basic poverty is eliminated, we rightly become more ambitious. What we seek is a steady, constant reduction in poverty. Perhaps I am becoming modest in my ambitions in what is not quite my old age.
I should like to see a steady reduction in poverty on a variety of fronts rather than a commitment on the face of the Bill to eliminate poverty, which is not easy to achieve--whether it be a commitment on the part of the Secretary of State or in terms of resources. The elimination of poverty requires a great deal of self-organisation on the part of the poor. Governments can enable, but it is not up to law-makers to say, "I hereby agree to eliminate poverty and therefore I shall do so". The White Paper refers to the elimination of poverty. I am happier with the idea of a "reduction" in poverty. If I write a book about poverty, as I have done, I may talk in grandiose tones, but on the face of the Bill I want to be fairly cautious.
However, I like Amendment No. 5 because it is fairly succinct. My noble friend Lady Wilkins, who made a very good speech on Second Reading, has succeeded in putting forward a good formulation. At some stage we shall have to expand the definition of "welfare" or that of "poverty" so as to include the dimension of human rights, because the latter is essential to the elimination of poverty.
Perhaps I may comment on Amendment No. 12, tabled in the name of the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich. I know what the noble Earl is trying to achieve. However, if he reads the sentence as reformulated in the light of his amendment, he will see that it would state that the Secretary of State must include the welfare of the civil society--by which he means "civil society organisations". It is right to recognise the importance of civil society organisations in the elimination of poverty, but to seek to improve their welfare is, I believe, something more than I should like the Secretary of State to be required to do. Again, that is partly because people think of civil society as encompassing all the nice and cuddly things that they like; but it is more than that.
We may believe that "civil society" is something nice, but the Mafia is also part of it. What are we to do about that? We have to be very tight and exact when dealing with the wording on the face of a Bill. If you are writing articles, making speeches or, indeed, writing books, you can say what you like. It is very important to be exact when proposing such amendments.
I turn, finally, to Amendment No. 3. When Mr Milosevic was recently handed over, as it were, by the Serbian Government, aid worth a billion dollars was given to that country. Let us make no mistake about it: it was a straightforward political deal. The political purposes behind such moves are sometimes good. You could perhaps believe that no political purpose should be allowed, but you may want to promote peace in Sri Lanka, for example, between the Tamils and others and say to those concerned, "If you have peace, we will give you money". Is that possibility to be forbidden by Amendment No. 3?
I know what my noble friend Lord Judd wants to do: he wants to eliminate profit making. He wants a tied element, and that is absolutely fine and correct. But, as it is, the amendment is far too broadly formulated to be helpful.
Lord Judd: I should like to make a few comments before my noble friend sits down. I always enjoy the academic and scholastic interventions that he brings us from the LSE, of which I have the privilege to be a governor. Indeed, I always listen to his profound analysis with great pleasure because it is stimulating. However, does my noble friend agree that perhaps one of the reasons why we must be modest about what we
Before my noble friend comments, perhaps he could clarify the following point. As always, I took his strictures most seriously about my definition of "poverty". I said that it was just one suggestion and that I should be most willing to consider others. With all his academic background, I wonder whether my noble friend is saying that "poverty" can be defined--
Lord Peyton of Yeovil: I trust that the noble Lord will forgive my intervention. If, occasionally, he would care to turn in the direction of the microphones in the Chamber, it would make it easier for Members of the Committee to hear what he has to say.
Lord Desai: I still believe that the elimination of poverty is practically impossible but that its reduction is possible. Over the past 100 or 200 years we have considerably reduced poverty, but it has returned time and again. When scrutinising legislation, we ought to be considering achievable, operationally meaningful ambitions. The role that DfID or any government can play in the elimination of poverty is fairly limited because, eventually, it is a task for the poor. Only they can eliminate their poverty: we cannot do very much about it. However, we can be helpful. We can take the obstacles out of the way; we can remove the trade barriers and other protectionist devices that have been put in place; and we can help with education, healthcare, the provision of water, and so on. But it is really a matter for the poor, who will, by their own efforts, eliminate poverty. Therefore, although elimination is something that I would talk about in an academic environment, I would not speak about it in a legislative context. That is an important point.
As far as concerns the definition, I already know that "poverty" is a multi-faceted concept; indeed, I have probably said so myself. However, if you are going to talk about the reduction or elimination of poverty, you must have a reasonably quantitative definition that will enable you to monitor the situation and thereby ascertain whether it is decreasing year by year. If you have 37 dimensions of poverty, you can never be sure whether or not it is decreasing; but with just one or two dimensions you can make that assessment. Of course, you will not capture the whole of poverty but you will have introduced a provision that is operationally meaningful and helpful. That is the conflict. When you are dealing with the law, you have to be fairly precise in what you propose. You must not set impossible tasks.
Lord Alton of Liverpool: The interesting debate between the noble Lords, Lord Desai and Lord Judd, is one that gets to the very heart of how we perceive legislation--whether it is about the technical objectives of a department or a broad, sweeping statement of intent. In some ways, we must try to combine the best of both arguments. I am tempted to recall to the Committee the story of two Pre-Raphaelite painters; namely, Rossetti and Morris. Whenever Rossetti saw a poor man, he would empty his pockets and give every penny that he possessed to him. He would then go away and think no further about the poor man. However, Morris would never give a penny to any poor man in the street; but he went forward to build a world in which there would be no more poor men. Therefore, one was all heart and the other was all head. I believe that the policy we follow must be a combination of both those considerations.
The noble Lord, Lord Judd, is right to remind us that we regularly fall short of the objectives that he, as one of the most hard-headed Ministers--and, indeed, one of the best--to hold office in the department, set for himself. In office, he worked for targets and recognised the need to have an overall objective. In a later amendment, he rightly reminds us of the United Nations' target figure of 0.7 per cent set in 1970 under Resolution 2626. The figure at present is around 0.3 per cent, but 0.7 per cent is itself an attainable target.
We probably cannot eliminate or eradicate poverty as such. Therefore, the noble Lord, Lord Desai, is right to remind us that as an objective in itself it is a target that we can put up front and work towards. Nevertheless, we must also be realistic and douse ourselves with some cold water in recognition of the fact that it will probably not come about. The World Bank currently estimates the level of poverty in the world as affecting about 800 million people who are said to be racked by starvation or despair, or, indeed, living below any rational definition of human decency.
I broadly welcome the Bill but believe that Amendment No. 2 would add to it in terms of the commitment that it proposes. I also support the arguments put forward by the noble Baroness, Lady Wilkins, as regards Amendment No. 5. She is absolutely right to remind us of the importance of attaching to our objectives certain criteria for which our aid programme should not be used. It is quite clear that abuses have taken place in the past--whether it be a matter of human rights or a neglect of people in particular categories and groups. We shall return to the human rights issue when we deal with later amendments. I am glad that the noble Baroness has flagged this point so early in our Committee debates. I very much support it.
Finally, I turn to Amendment No. 12. My noble friend Lord Sandwich reminded the Committee of the importance of civil society and of civil organisations. I know that many noble Lords have been involved in the building of civil society in places such as South Africa, Rwanda and Burma. Indeed, I know about the
One of the lessons to be learnt from eastern Europe and the collapse of the Soviet Union post 1989 is that of the problems caused by not having in place sufficient groups and organisations to rebuild a fractured civil society, as was the case in the aftermath of the collapse of communism in those countries. It is right for us to try to find the appropriate words. If the proposed words are not quite right, we have between now and Report to fulfil what I believe are the proper objectives of all the amendments we are discussing.
Back to Table of Contents
Lords Hansard Home Page