§ 4.1 p.m.
§ The Earl of Sandwich rose to call attention to India's socio-economic achievements after 50 years of independence, and to the need for the United Kingdom to help her partners to combat poverty throughout the sub-continent; and to move for Papers.
§ The noble Earl said: My Lords, I rise to call attention to India's socio-economic achievements since independence and to the need for the United Kingdom to help her partners to combat poverty throughout the sub-continent. I extend my thanks to Cross-Bench colleagues who have enabled me to initiate this debate today and to noble Lords on all Benches, many of whom are more qualified than I to speak on the subject.
§ India is not often the subject of debate in this House, perhaps because there are sensitive issues in the background, but the 50th anniversary of its independence is a proper occasion to put this right. Within this very wide topic I propose to speak chiefly on aid and development. I know that others will strengthen the related arguments for trade and investment.
§ I shall concentrate on India but try not to exclude her neighbours. India has reappeared in our financial press in the past few years, not as a poor non-aligned country as we once thought it was, but as an emerging market of many millions with a huge stake in the world economy. How far this image can be realised remains to be seen.
§ We in this country greatly value our friendship and our trade and aid links with India. I believe that India would like to reciprocate and think well of us, despite the unfortunate media coverage which obscured the undoubted benefits of the Queen's recent visit. Further, I suggest that we have an historic commitment to the people of India, and all the countries of the sub-continent, which is in no way altered by the public relations problems of our new Government. The question is: are we making sufficient effort to sustain this unique relationship and to make it a priority?1068
§ Some ask why India, for her part, seems to be so unwilling to admit its close relationship with this country. That is often the case with separations. Once independent, one tries to remain on good terms but one does not often talk of the shared past. It is over, and so are apologies. There are new matters to talk about, on the basis of equality. I believe that the recent embarrassments have arisen because, even after half a century, we have not given up our colonial nostalgia and still assume that we should get special treatment—like being invited to mediate over Kashmir. Was the alleged remark of Mr. Gujral in Egypt that Britain is a third-rate power too cruel? I believe, nevertheless, that it serves as a useful reminder that India expects better of us, and of Foreign Office briefings.
§ Many noble Lords who have visited India will know, as did the early Congress leaders, that there is an astonishing parallel with Ireland, and not just in the colours of the national flag. Both countries inspire a strong mixture of emotions in Britain. Both have been harshly exploited by the British and have endured and resisted the pain, humility and denaturing force of colonialism over centuries. It is impossible to enter a debate on the socio-economic agreement without recording this. Yet, the words "apology" and "forgiveness" seem out of place. What is needed much more is understanding and the gradual rebuilding of confidence. This process takes time.
§ The Commonwealth and the monarchy are playing an important part, but it is between peoples, not nations or governments, through the mutual advantage of tourism and immigration, educational exchanges, trade, aid and investment, that we will ensure a lasting friendship.
§ I have a personal affection for India and Pakistan which goes back to 1962 when I first visited them by road, and to 1968, when my wife and I spent a year working in Delhi and Mumbai. We have kept in touch with many friends over the years. Two of my children have Indian godparents. My experience since has been chiefly of voluntary agencies working in the poorest communities. I consider it a great privilege to have contributed in small ways during my time with Christian Aid, Save the Children and CARE International, among others. During those 30 years I learned the simple lesson that, however much you think you can help, an outsider, whether an individual, an aid agency or government, will never have the same knowledge, understanding and expertise as the people themselves. They are all too aware of their problem but are deprived by others of the means to overcome it. The best thing one can do is to help them remove this exploitation, in whatever form, whether it is abuse of human rights, bureaucracy or just the neglect which leads to poverty.
§ In a nation of 950 million divided between hundreds of minority communities and 14 major language groups, Indian democracy is a remarkable survivor. Without underestimating the suffering that individual states and minorities feel, we as outsiders must be grateful for the relative stability of Indian politics over the past half-century. Long may this situation prevail throughout the sub-continent.1069
§ Under successive governments India has done an enormous amount to improve the condition of the masses of people who, as we all know, suffer from a range of deprivations. Given the now obvious disadvantages of centralised government, the past 50 years have seen remarkable achievements. These should be recognised.
§ South Asia as a whole contains nearly half the world's 1.3 billion poorest people. It has over half the world's 160 million pre-school children who are underweight. India's infant mortality rate has halved since 1960, but it is a sad fact that, although the fertile plains and wealthier regions have surplus food, any numerical successes in combating malnutrition have been offset by population growth. India's fast-growing urban industrial wealth is still dwarfed by the vast extent of its rural poverty.
§ However, largely because of improvements in distribution and communications, India has conquered mass starvation. This is an amazing achievement. There has also been considerable success in reducing fertility, especially in India where the rate has reduced to about 3 children per family and in Bangladesh where it is only 2.9. All of the expenditure on birth control programmes and the propaganda on all the great hoardings with the red triangle has finally paid off. Nevertheless, there will be 1,000 million Indians before we reach the millennium.
§ The UNDP's human development index provides some of the best indicators. I give some examples. India and Pakistan at 138 and 139 in the index are only just ahead of the 30 poorest countries in the index. Bangladesh, which has always been their poor relation, is a little behind at 144, while Sri Lanka, despite her internal conflict, is way up at 91.
§ Indian literacy has risen from 19 per cent. in 1952 to 51 per cent. today. That is low by world standards but considerably ahead of her two neighbours. Her aggregated school enrolment is 56 per cent., which is the average for all developing countries. Kerala would be number 80 if it were measured on the index, with female literacy as high as 81 per cent., while Uttar Pradesh would be down at 123.
§ The national figures for education are still far too low, especially for female school enrolment in rural areas. It is arguable that India started rural development too late. Despite land reforms, Nehru paid too little attention to rural areas, and Mrs. Gandhi's garibi hatao—"abolish poverty"—campaign merely reinforced central government control and was insensitive to local needs.
India's present rulers are well aware of the mistakes of the past and the need to avoid inevitable wounding comparisons. President Narayanan, in his Independence Day speech, singled out self-sufficiency and the doubling of life expectancy as the two great successes. "But obviously", he said:
these are not enough for us to be complacent about. Other countries have gone far ahead of us. We have to move faster … We have to put special emphasis on the development of infrastructure and investment".
Illiteracy, he said, was the greatest obstacle to progress, and he called for a new partnership of government and people in a mass campaign against illiteracy.
§ Those are stirring words. They are intended not just for Indians but for foreign donors and investors who are attempting to assist. The international community is only too keen to emphasise its part in India's success, but it is only now beginning to admit its role in India's failures; for example, the top heavy giant hydro schemes like the Narmada Dam, clearly unwanted in its original form by the local population. It would be absurd to suggest that foreign aid, which is only $2 per head of the population per annum, has made the impact that Marshall Aid did in Europe. It is a tiny proportion of the economy.
§ Bilateral aid from OECD countries has been falling steadily. Even Japan and Germany are unable to make up what we and the USA now seem unwilling to give. IDA lending to south Asia has also recently fallen. It has been India, against all the obstacles of caste, race and poverty—Indian health workers, Indian teachers and Indian entrepreneurs—which has created the achievement of bringing India some way out of poverty.
§ It has also been Indian campaigners. The most positive phenomenon in the past two decades has been the involvement of people in their own development—notably the growth of community organisations. That is an increasingly important force for poverty eradication. I give one example. In Tamil Nadu alone there are an estimated 25,000 community organisations. That is more than the total in Kenya and twice the number in the Philippines, and they are the registered ones only.
§ I congratulate the old ODA, now reborn as the DfID, on its steady support for local as well as international NGOs, because it is undoubtedly through them that aid can reach the poorest people. The latest annual report gives prominence to ODA's work in Bangladesh in supporting organisations such as BRAC and Proshika as local NGOs while CARE Bangladesh was the channel for capacity-building aid to the smaller NGOs.
§ The larger NGOs are sometimes criticised as unelected bureaucracies. Aid through them may mean less formal accountability, but if they are efficient the cost generally outweighs losses. There is a much higher standard of monitoring and assessment than, say, 10 years ago.
§ I should like to ask the Minister to confirm that he intends to increase support for local NGOs in India as his predecessor did and, if possible, to comment upon the cost effectiveness of such aid which, in my view, is more appropriate and closer to the direct aid which the British taxpayer is prepared to pay than the subsidising of tied aid to large-scale power projects. Will he say whether some of the soon-to-be-abolished aid/trade provision money will be used for that kind of aid and investment in people, perhaps through the British Council or Commonwealth agencies?
§ May I ask the Minister, on behalf of Save the Children, why the education of young children is so low on the priority list? Now that the Andhra Pradesh primary education programme is ending after 10 years 1071 will he say what has been achieved there and, in particular, what has happened to the enrolment level and retention of girls?
§ I started deliberately with the "people" end because their well-being is the primary objective of international development. That is what we all want, not just this Government. We all want to see basic human rights in our foreign policy. It is just that some are more cynical than others about achieving them. We need to try. The latest Christian Aid campaign for fair trade through the supermarkets is a pioneering way of achieving those rights through the consumer. Today's announcement that the Government are helping Save the Children to rehabilitate child labourers in Pakistan is another reminder that what we buy cheaply here may be at the expense of human dignity elsewhere.
§ I do not underestimate the infrastructural programmes if they are targeted properly and the people are consulted. Mr. Wolfensohn's latest speech in Hong Kong makes it clear that the World Bank is taking on the responsibility as well as the rhetoric of community involvement and what he calls the difficult, riskier projects. I am certain that some aid money alongside inward investment is necessary to build capacity, open up markets and provoke competition.
§ Inward investment has increased over the past few years owing to the long overdue deregulation and liberalisation. Foreign investment made a huge leap from $151 million in 1992 to $1,750 million in 1995. No one doubts that India has tremendous potential, not least in her trade with Britain, if certain criteria are met. Many constraints are recognised by the ODI, such as structural weaknesses, inefficiency of small markets, skills shortages and weak technological capabilities. If India, Pakistan and Bangladesh cannot overcome those they will continue to depend heavily on central government interventions and foreign aid. At the same time, if aid can be injected at the right level, poorer communities will benefit and the vast consumer market which is already developing is bound to expand more dramatically.
§ I welcome every opportunity for developing countries such as India to appear more frequently in our media and aid agency publications and in debates in your Lordships' House and government statements. I hope that they increasingly will in the months to come. I beg to move for Papers.
§ 4.17 p.m.
§ Lord Desai
My Lords, we are grateful to the noble Earl for bringing this Motion to our attention and allowing us to discuss it. He has shown his extensive knowledge and interest in development aid not just for south Asia but for the whole of the third world. He brings to the subject not just a great deal of knowledge but a great deal of empathy. We are all grateful to him. The subject is vast. Even with the extra time available to us, it will he difficult to cover.
I wish to refer to the remarks the noble Earl made about the recent visit of Her Majesty on the occasion of the golden jubilee of the independence of India and 1072 Pakistan. He was right to say that it had the hallmarks of a family quarrel. What is of more interest to me is that the family connection between India and Britain has come full circle because of the presence in Britain of a large community from south Asia. It is no longer just an old colonial relationship, it has come back to the diaspora. To some extent, as with a family, the UK may not want to criticise a former colony, but in this respect it becomes difficult not to take a critical view of certain developments because, in a sense, we are no longer sufficiently distant or identical. There remains great concern.
As regards Kashmir, an issue which I do not believe we should debate tonight, there are genuine differences within the British/south Asian community. It would be foolish to pretend that those differences do not exist. The fact that neither Pakistan nor India wants us to discuss the issue is neither here nor there.
A point which I hope my noble friend Lord Whitty will answer concerns recent press reports about our High Commissioner in Delhi. I trust that my noble friend will tell me that Her Majesty's Government have full confidence in the excellent work of Sir David Gore-Booth. I was recently in India and had occasion to see his excellent work. I hope that my noble friend will reaffirm that view.
India's major socio-economic achievement is its vibrant parliamentary democracy. One forgets that when India became independent in 1947 it was not fashionable to believe that a developing country should have a parliamentary democracy. Indeed, many people believed that an authoritarian government was desirable and that democracies were for only moderately rich countries, perhaps only European countries. But India is one of the older democracies in the world; older than some European countries, such as Spain.
One must admire the courage and vision of the founding fathers who in 1947 took a gamble on universal adult franchise. Indeed, France achieved that only in 1945: until then women were not given the vote. Those who took that decision did so knowing the extent of illiteracy and India's myriad problems. It was a bold gamble and it paid off.
Today India is a vibrant democracy. One sees the proliferation of regional parties, caste parties, parties of untouchables and so forth. That should not cause alarm because it means that more people have a stake in the system, asserting through political action the rights that they wish to claim. However, because the economic system has not grown at a rate that permits India to afford a rapid elimination of poverty, people have taken the political route as a way of claiming scarce resources for themselves.
That is a healthy process. During the past 50 years, one of the favourite arguments of those who advocate PR as an electoral system is the gap between the proportion of seats and the proportion of votes which parties claim. In India during the 1950s there was one-party dominance and great disproportionality between votes and seats. However, there is now greater proportionality because many small parties which have strong regional affiliations are able to express the voice 1073 of their community at parliamentary level. Although it leads to fragile coalition government that is no bad thing because one wants governments which are not strong but which are capable of doing good. Those two aspects are not the same: in India strong governments have often done bad things.
One should also note another Indian achievement, in particular since we have recently hosted the meeting of the Commonwealth heads of government. The modern Commonwealth was born as the result of the efforts of Nehru and the then Labour Government to refashion it from the old Empire. After independence and after becoming a republic, India decided to continue to be a member of the Commonwealth. That led to the refashioning and redefinition of the Commonwealth. If it has become a large and flexible organisation spanning all the continents, some of the credit must go to India and the people who led it in the early days.
As the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, pointed out, while there have been tremendous political achievements there has been less than adequate progress in the social dimensions. He mentioned all the salient statistics and therefore I do not need to do so. However, in terms of literacy, health, the education of women and so forth, India presents a paradox. Yes, a great deal has been done, but a great deal more remains to be done. Compared with other developing countries, India is somewhat behind.
There is a related and more serious problem. Although the people who pioneered India's economic policy in the 1950s were sincere, intelligent and patriotic, they genuinely thought—indeed, it was then fashionable to do so—that rapid development would be achieved through a central, democratic planning mechanism with a large and growing role played by the state. After 50 years' experience, one must say that that rapid growth has not been delivered. The reasons are many and complex and we need not go into them.
However, although somewhat later than the countries of east and south-east Asia, India has decided to open up its economy and go down the path of liberal economic reform. It is trying to attract foreign investment as a way of enhancing development. Since 1991, when the policy was adopted, there has been an acceleration of development. The economy grew by approximately 7 per cent. in 1994–95. The growth has been slightly slower this year, but I believe that the logjam has been broken.
The difficulty is that because India, unlike many other countries, has a strong democratic process and a number of vested interests have been created from the old economic system, there is a great resistance. In India one cannot have liberal economic reform, as in many other countries; it must come through consensus. Consensus is difficult to achieve when there are gainers and losers. The losers are usually more powerful than the gainers because they have gained from the old system.
India is currently going through a great open democratic debate about the speed with which liberal economic reforms should be implemented. However, at 1074 the same time there are claims of justice and fairness which must also be examined if the reform is not to increase inequality, which is bad enough. We are witnessing reform which is perhaps not proceeding rapidly, but it is irreversible. I do not believe that India will return to its old habits, but it may not satisfy the impatience of many people who would like it to do what they want rather than what it wants.
As regards the excellent record of Indo-British partnership, whenever I speak to people who are interested in investing money in India I tell them that they must be patient. I tell them that they are going to a sophisticated country which will not roll over. Yes, it needs money but it is not so desperate as to do anything people want. In that respect, India is unlike China. During the past 20 years, China has attracted a large amount of foreign investment, but it can set up special export zones where there are no trade union and environment laws, and so forth. One cannot do that in India because it is governed by the rule of law. Whatever criticism one can make, those laws will not easily be set aside merely for the sake of rapid economic development.
The cheering thing about India is that it has started a consensual, liberalising economic process in which, throughout, there will be a consideration of fairness. While it will not go as fast as we should like—India will be a fleet-footed elephant at best and certainly not a tiger—it will yet show us that that combination of liberal and economic reform and fairness can be achieved.
The second half of the noble Earl's Motion refers to what the United Kingdom can do. As I said in relation to the recent visit, I believe that there should be less politics and more business. Much as we should like to advise India on how to run its own affairs, either domestic or foreign, we should keep our own counsel and as much as possible try to further business relations. The position of aid and development and NGOs was well described by the noble Earl and I have nothing to add. All his points were well taken.
I am sure that my noble friend Lord Paul will say more about business; he knows more about it than I do. But we need to develop business relationships where trust exists on both sides. If there is trust on both sides between Indian and British businessmen, we can perhaps overcome India's fears in relation to foreign capital, perhaps more in the context of British capital than any other capital. We can demonstrate our sensitivity and care for India's interests and assure India that when we take our capital to India it is in the mutual interest of both India and Britain.
Yes, there are 950 million people. I do not worry about it. When I was born, India's population was one-third of what it is now. India has tripled its population and more than tripled its food production. Therefore, the Malthusian threat worries me less than anything else. What we have to look forward to is that combination of equity and freedom and economic betterment.
§ 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 1076 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—
§ 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. 1077 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 1078 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 1079 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.
1080 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 1081 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.
1082 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".
1083 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.
§ 5.11 p.m.
§ Lord Paul
My Lords, at the outset, let me thank the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, for introducing this Motion. Having had occasion to talk to him prior to this debate, I know that his knowledge and concern for India are great.
Allow me also to declare an interest. It is not the conventional kind of interest which custom requires, but an interest of emotion. As your Lordships are probably aware, I was born in pre-independence India. I remain deeply attached to the land of my birth and proud of its progress. Your Lordships will forgive me if sentiment shapes some of my observations today.
This Motion has a special significance in these times. After five decades of self-government, the entire south Asian sub-continent is now going through a profound transition. In India, in Pakistan, in Bangladesh and in Sri Lanka the exuberances of youthful expectations are giving way to the reconsiderations of middle age as these countries grow in nationhood.
India, the largest of these states in population and territory, is in the midst of a seminal collective self-examination, the kind of internal questing that its spiritual culture commends to individuals.
Since 1947 much has been attained. Who will not be moved by the commitment of the Indian masses to democracy, a commitment sustained under pressures which have swept away political liberties in the neighbourhood? Self-sufficiency in food production is a dream come true; and so are social and economic gains too numerous to mention. But the people of India realise that they have far to go before they redeem the pledge of Mahatma Gandhi to wipe the sorrow from every Indian eye.
And so, today, the needs and pace of development have provoked a challenging national debate about the merits of the four principles which have guided most Indian state policies for most of the past 50 years. Democracy, secularism, a planned economy and non-alignment in foreign affairs are being questioned and their validity discussed. Indians, as an intellectually lively and culturally diverse people, have many views and many proposals of revision. What is most encouraging is that this vitality is generally expressed without the prolonged violence that convulses many other nations.
From this vortex of discussion and reflection could emerge new features and new approaches. Democracy may well be refreshed as more government powers are devolved to regional and sub-state levels.
The introduction of the panchayati raj, empowering forms of local government, will create a fresh wellspring of democracy—three million newly elected legislators and councillors. The desire for economic reforms is widespread and enthusiastic, but enactment has much further to go. An economy cannot be vitalised only from the top or only by the few. Vast entrepreneurial energies remain to be unleashed and mobilising their release still needs attention. Nonetheless, the signals point in the right direction.
1085 As India embarks on the second half-century of its independence, its links with the United Kingdom symbolise a relationship of magnanimity. Rarely in history have rulers and ruled so rapidly dispelled the prejudices of the past. There are natural differences which, also quite naturally, emerge occasionally. We have seen this manifest itself during the recent Royal visit. Yet, as the Prime Minister of India mentioned to me in Edinburgh last week, these are tempests in a teapot and no damage to Indo-British relations has been done. We must accept the judgment of Prime Minister Gujral—a mature and balanced statesman—as the last word on this. These kinds of issues will always crop up. But the people of India and Britain are far too mature to worry about this. Whenever a Test match is played in this country, I have a battle, arguing with and settling disputes between my children and grandchildren as to who will win. If I tell them that India will win, I might find myself in trouble with one of the Members of your Lordships' House who is not here today!
The noble Baroness, Lady Flather, mentioned the relationship with the previous government. When the previous Labour Government was in power, a wonderful relationship existed. When my noble friend Lord Callaghan was Prime Minister he was greatly loved in India. I have no doubt that the new Government's relationship with India will be very good.
As we look ahead, there are many ways to strengthen the associations which India and the United Kingdom have so freely and voluntarily constructed. The British experience in social programmes, something we have long been engaged in, can be of immense value to any developing nation. We can make some significant contribution to improvements in Indian education, health, rural well-being and sanitation. In fact, this is where our focus should be.
All the foreign investment and technological improvement on earth will mean little to an impoverished citizen of the poorer nations if he or she has no clean drinking water and no immunisation from disease. In this context, Britain has much to offer and share with many Commonwealth countries—as, indeed, we have much to gain from international cross-fertilization.
Let me add a word on an issue of particular importance in current commercial transactions with the sub-continent and elsewhere. Let us export all we can of value and values, but we must not encourage abroad malpractices we deprecate at home. We must avoid contributing to the debasement of business ethics and standards. The OECD has now publicly expressed its concern about such matters. The Foreign Secretary, too, has commendably endorsed an ethical approach in his mission statement.
The post-colonial passage is a difficult one. India has, however, demonstrated that freedom achieved can be freedom enhanced. In the contemporary world, that is a rare accomplishment which we in Britain should specially welcome. The fates of Britain and India, historically closely intertwined, are joined today by a mutual confidence in democracy and liberty. May that long remain so.
1086 Let me conclude with a philosophical thought. In our century, few nations have contributed more great souls to the spiritual environment than India. The roll call is splendid: Vivekananda, Tagore, Aurobindo, Vinoba Bhave, Krishnamurthy, Mother Teresa and many more, especially Mahatma Gandhi. This is an ultimate strength for India.
As India moves into the modern age of high-tech and globalisation, and as we participate in her efforts to do so, I hope both she and we will understand the importance of nourishing that attribute. In the past, many individuals from this country helped India preserve her heritage—even to discover herself. That sharing of spirit must never be lost. More than a hundred years ago, an English educator in India reminded us, in very moving words, that:Pity and need make all flesh kin.There is no caste in blood which runneth of one hue, nor in tears which trickle salt with all".The Motion before this House evokes the spirit of universality which Sir Edwin Arnold embraced in his epic poem "The Light of Asia". I hope it will continue to illumine our relationship with India in the future.
§ 5.23 p.m.
§ Lord Chorley
My Lords, I add my thanks to my noble friend Lord Sandwich for giving us this opportunity to discuss socio-economic development in the sub-continent. I am not sure whether my noble friend intended the debate to be principally about India, which it seems to have been, or to include in equal measure Pakistan. For my part, I shall speak on India for the simple reason that, as the noble Lord, Lord Desai, said, it is a large subject. I do so even though my prior ties tended to be more with Pakistan, a country for which I have an abiding affection.
One theme of the debate is the importance of a partnership approach to development. It is that on which I intend to speak by reference to what seems to me to be an outstandingly successful example of Anglo-Indian partnership. I refer to the work of the British Council in India. I must therefore at this stage declare an interest, in that I have the honour currently to be the deputy chairman of that excellent institution. It is an institution which seems to be far better known and certainly much better appreciated abroad, which is where we work, than at home. That is a pity.
The council has been operating in India for almost as long as that country's 50 years of independence. The great bulk of its work is of a developmental nature and, both directly and indirectly, much of its content is educational. It is my strongly-held belief—not a particularly controversial view—that the route to real and lasting progress in development, and in particular the relief of poverty, is through education and, to some extent, institutional change. That seems to be a much more fruitful approach than the great mega-projects such as large dams, which used to be all the fashion.
India is much the biggest operation of the British Council. And, interestingly—a fact I did not know till I was preparing for this speech—the great bulk of the council's staff in India are local people. There are 412 1087 professionally qualified local staff operating in India, compared with only a dozen or so UK expatriates. Over the years there has been increasing emphasis on forging local partnerships in that way because it increases local commitment and ownership of the council's programmes. I also make the point that the work is not just with the poor; it is also about working with those making strategic decisions and in identifying and supporting what may loosely be called the "young leaders" of the future.
One example of the many activities managed by the council has been the big DFID-funded Andhra Pradesh Primary Education Project, which was touched on by my noble friend Lord Sandwich. That raised learning achievement through teacher training and new textbooks for both boys and girls. New language books accelerate the acquisition of literacy; they also raise retention levels of the most deprived groups such as the scheduled castes and scheduled tribes. Teacher training contributes to raising the numeracy and scientific skills of both boys and girls. I am sure the noble Baroness, who is not now in her place, will be pleased to hear that we pay attention to girls too.
It is a cost-effective project. It is building more than 4,500 classrooms and providing more access to education for poor children. Experimental approaches to building schools using locally available materials and technologies both reduce unit costs and energy consumption. But they also raise the demand for labour, thus creating employment.
Project schools have increased enrolment, particularly of girls. When combined with the increase in learning that has taken place, the net result has been more poor children in school learning more. The evidence suggests that that will be to their private benefit as well as contributing to raising the growth potential of the economy.
Direct assistance to the poorest also involves meeting the needs of marginalised groups; for example, refugees, street children and migrant labourers who require a new type of education provision that is both flexible and low cost. For example, this year we worked with local partners to contribute to a number of regional seminars leading to follow-up programmes. One example was the, "Children as Partners in Education and Health" seminar in Calcutta, which included participation by street children alongside health carers and educationists from both government departments and NGOs.
Another major project—the Orissa Health and Family Welfare Project—is having a huge impact in the state of Orissa. That state has the highest infant mortality in India and one of the lowest figures for life expectancy. The project has helped the Government of India by increasing the availability, use, quality and effectiveness of health and family welfare services in 10 districts with a population of 20 million. It has found and tested new and more cost-effective methods of healthcare and delivery and substantially increased community participation in the planning and operation of health services. More recently, there has been an agreement, supported at ministerial level, for a new state unit to manage health affairs.
1088 At the other end of the education spectrum, the council manages at least 30 live academic and research links between Britain and India at any one time and is directly responsible for advising and placing 600 of the 3,000 Indians who come to the UK to study each year. Again, over 17,000 Indian civil servants, health professionals, educationists and others who deliver poverty alleviation programmes have been to the UK since 1971 for professional training. Graduates include the current President of India and the Comptroller and Auditor General. That seems to be a fairly good combination.
Human rights and open and accountable government are another important facet of the work of the council. While taking no political stance in the debate, the council has strengthened the capacity of institutions in civil society—often NGOs—which work towards the achievement of these aims while also targeting decision-makers to ensure that these issues are on their agenda. The council is also managing the Indo-British Legal Forum, led by the Chief Justice of India and the Lord Chancellor, which is due to be held in Delhi in December of this year. An exchange of ideas, including human rights issues, between the Indian and British legal systems will take place and the development of a more informed and independent judiciary will be encouraged.
I mention also our science, engineering and technology links; for example, the regional engineering project which is on the nature of vocational qualifications in engineering. This is very relevant to the Indian private sector which, as we heard from the noble Lord, Lord Desai, is now on the march and which is looking to the UK, and to the council in particular, for ideas and information on NVQs.
Finally, the council has considerable impact on the dissemination of development information through its eight British libraries in centres throughout India. These libraries have a total of 100,000 members, many of whom work with the poor. The libraries are a vital network and all the centres are connected through information technology. The council is currently working with the DFID on designing a project which will develop these centres into a clearing bank for development information to be used from next year onwards by the World Bank, the UN agencies, other bilaterals and local NGOs.
Last November I had the pleasure of visiting Pakistan, where I opened the new library at Islamabad with the Minister of Education. Then I went on to Lahore and inspected a library there. What struck me most was that they were indeed information technology based. There were still some books but lots of computer screens. It was brought home to me that a modern library is very much about IT and information resources. It is not about entertainment.
My theme throughout has been the importance of local partnerships. It is important to recognise and to emphasise the importance to the council of its other partnership—its domestic partnership—with the Department for International Development, which I have mentioned two or three times and which of course 1089 funds much of the council's work both in India and Pakistan and indeed throughout the third world. We value that support. That seems to be a suitable note on which to conclude my remarks.
§ 5.34 p.m.
§ Viscount Slim
My Lords, it is my lot to be the last to speak before the Government and Opposition Front Bench speakers. Like anyone standing where I am at this point in the debate, I have heard much of what I might have said and what in fact I was going to say. However, there are a number of points that I might emphasise and perhaps a couple of new ones that I might make.
I count myself as an Indian. If the noble Baroness, Lady Flather, were here, I would tell her that, at least among the noble Lord, Lord Weatherill, and myself, there are two extremely good Indians on the Cross-Benches. I was born in India and went to a most marvellous school there, the Military College of India, which I visited the other day. It still maintains the very highest standards. It filled me with such pride to go back. Two thousand of us old cadets, from Pakistan and Bangladesh and from the Indians who work in this country, Australia, Canada, the Gulf and America went back. Apart from myself, they all seemed to be most successful fellows. Within India, they all hold high ranks in the military; they are top civil servants; and they are top businessmen. They are remarkably good citizens. They are also very good friends.
After attending the school, I had the honour, like my father, and like the noble Lord, Lord Weatherill, of serving in the Indian Army during the war. I have so much respect for the Indian soldier, sailor and airman. They come from great warrior tribes in India and the Kingdom of Nepal. We lived together, we worked together, we trained together and we fought the enemy together. When we went on leave we visited their villages and got to know their families. I do not have an Indian son. I was never lucky enough to be given one. But, certainly, we have had most happy relations with the people who worked for our family. I promised my father that however broke I was I would always pay the pensions of those who worked for him and my family. I have only just finished paying the last one because the widow has died.
I feel comfortable in India. It does not take me long to become a good Indian. I often say to Indians here in our country who do so much for us today in the way of commerce, culture and the way we are going to live in the future, "I have lived in India longer than you have lived in England. When I live in India I try to be a good Indian, but I do not forget that I am British. When you live in Britain, I want you to be a good Indian but at the same time a good Briton as well".
As the noble Lord, Lord Desai, said, with the coming together of our circle and of the communities living here and living in India we cannot help but be friends and work together. Friends can disagree. Friends do not always have to agree. But, as the noble Lords, Lord Desai and Lord Paul, said, when we come to business, 1090 we have to learn to trust each other. For my part, as a businessman, I make certain that we work in that way in India and we gradually build up that trust. Businessmen should realise that one does not go there for a quick buck. One goes there with patience. One is then gradually accepted and mutual trust and friendship develops.
I am most impressed in India by the management. This great and large democracy has not just stood still. It has advanced. It is succeeding all the time in various ways. The British businessman would be sensible to recognise the further liberalisation of the business world in India. He should go to see whether it suits him and make friends. I believe that it is the businessman who will push India forward to success.
India today is probably the largest industrial nation in Asia. I do not see the noble Baroness, Lady Flather, in the Chamber, but I would say to her that what also impressed me about India was the female management. There are very highly educated and competent women in India who, whether they are married or single, are all running good, family businesses. That is very noticeable.
The main reason why I have supported India all my life and will continue to do so, is that if things go wrong in other parts of South East Asia and if our Chinese friends—I can say that because very often I work in a factory in my group in China—cut loose and do not do the things that we want in the years to come, the great country of India will be the bulwark between east and west. For that reason our nation should work sensibly with it on foreign affairs and where matters of mutual defence are concerned.
India is beginning to get over a particular problem. I would like to see her play a more prominent role in world affairs. India is so great and large. It has such culture and very wise people. Because it is growing internally and because of the problems that it has on some of its borders, the Indian political scene remains inward-looking. However, it is beginning to look abroad. I believe that it is the businessman who will take the Indian into the rest of Asia. I hope that I shall live to see the day when India is the prominent nation, if that is allowed in our grouping today. I hope that it will be a leader in the world and particularly in Asian affairs. I believe that that time will come.
In my view our little debate has been very instructive. We have heard a great deal of very good sense spoken. We have all learned a bit more about India. I end by saying that I believe that we should all go to India. I hope that the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas of Walliswood, will go there as quickly as she can. I hope that she will realise that the situation regarding children working in India is rather different from what it is here. If there is no education around the village or the city one is living in, it is no bad thing to get a job. We have to watch that the children are treated decently and properly when they work. I drew my first wage packet in India. Like the children of many noble Lords, my own children have worked during every holiday since about the age of 13 years. A little bit of work for one's children does not do any harm at all.
1091 It has been an interesting and good debate. I very much look to the Government to re-establish the excellent relations that the previous Labour Government had with India. I hope that they will forge a new friendship and partnership, as the noble Lord said, with India. I hope that the Government will set about it without condescension, without preaching or teaching, but with both hands held out for mutual trust and fellowship. I assure the Minister on the Front Bench that I shall be watching.
§ 5.45 p.m.
§ Baroness Rawlings
My Lords, perhaps I may seek the indulgence of the House. I have never formerly been mistaken for my noble and energetic friend Lord Moynihan. But working as a member of our foreign affairs team I have the very good fortune to respond to this debate as a spokesman for foreign affairs, not least because of my special interest in the subject.
Previous recent debates in your Lordships' House have been concerned mainly with terrorism. Therefore, I welcome the positive choice of title by the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, for the debate which has provoked a very interesting and stimulating discussion today. It has attracted, too, so many distinguished speakers. I also compliment the noble Earl for giving us such a thought-provoking and wide-ranging introduction to what is an immense subject covering a gigantic country.
I must declare a deep and personal interest in India which I hope will endure for many years to come. I have great affection for the country, like so many other noble Lords who have spoken today. I spent my honeymoon there and I have been visiting India regularly now for over 30 years. I have very many dear friends there. It is a colourful nation, geographically vast and enormously rich in culture and history. It strives for, and has found, unity in its vibrant diversity.
The India that we know today is a remarkable achievement, as we have heard from nearly all noble Lords who have spoken today. Over the past five decades it has resisted the siren temptations of caste and religion and has remained united in a secular democracy. Indeed, in 1947, sceptics doubted whether the huge country that became the independent India—famously dubbed "a geographical expression"—which encompassed five religions, 18 major languages and 93 minor ones, could survive as a single nation. The early days did not appear to bode well for a nation born out of the violence and bloodshed of partition. But despite that India has remained intact and democratic. It has avoided the twin traps of autocracy and one-party rule which so many of her neighbours have stumbled into. India has proved that a multi-party democracy is equipped to reconcile the aspirations and the social and religious differences of a diverse and indeed divided society.
India's record of democracy, of free and fair elections, a free press and independent judiciary, is a record of which Indians are justifiably proud and it is one which the world admires. It is true that India's democracy has not prevented poverty, illiteracy or the blemishes of corruption. Nevertheless, it is a triumph for India and for the architects of her independence.
1092 There is little that has not been touched on by someone today even in the moving and fascinating speeches of the noble Lord, Lord Weatherill, and the noble Viscount, Lord Slim. But the potential of India to become the prosperous, democratic and progressive nation her leaders dreamed of in 1947 has not yet been fully realised. India has been blinkered in her progress and led astray down the blind alleys of protectionism, interventionism, narrow industrialisation and nationalisation which have been followed for so long and which have had disastrous consequences for India's economy.
India's enduring socialist rhetoric, which breathed its last gasp in the foreign exchange crisis of 1991, left behind a legacy of financial, intellectual, political and economic bankruptcy. At the beginning of this final decade of the century, India found herself an uncompetitive industrial island in a sea of poverty, paying the price for years of a socialist experiment which neglected and underfunded the basic infrastructure such as literacy, education and health. My noble friend Lady Flather told us of her very worthwhile micro projects in this regard.
The collapse of left-wing ideology elsewhere in the world ensured that the national consensus on socialism crumbled and was replaced by a consensus to liberalise and make market-friendly reforms. So India began the process of rapidly improving her "could-do-better" economic report card with widespread liberalisation. The sweeping away of Byzantine shackles of bureaucracy, including the tariff and licensing barriers of the "licence raj", has transformed the economy by starting to free the Indian market, bringing a wave of economic activity, inward investment and resultant prosperity in its wake. I am sure that the Minister will agree that government influence and intervention did not create prosperity for India, but that investment will.
We know that economic reform is not easy or without pain:There is no easy walk-over to freedom anywhere, and many of us will have to pass through the valley of the shadow again and again before we reach the mountain tops of our desire".That was said by Nehru in 1939. Economic reform is not always politically popular. It takes courage, persistence, focus and determination. Much has still to be done, but the effort will be amply repaid and with interest. Open markets create wealth and raise living standards. They promote greater choice and lower prices through competition. They provide opportunities for growth, investment and employment. That is the hard work that is necessary for India to give reality to her dreams of 50 years ago. I am sure that the Minister will agree.
Before our eyes, post-colonial, Congress-controlled and centralised India is being reinvented and replaced by competitive, decentralised, liberalised India. There are still major challenges to be faced in this new order: dealing with the rise of nationalist politics, fragmented along caste and religious lines is one such challenge.
The continued troubled relationships with neighbours Bangladesh and Pakistan is another. I should like to pay tribute to the statesmanship of Prime Minister I.K. Gujral and Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif who have acted 1093 recently to renew the stalled dialogue on Kashmir and who have set up a joint working party to address the issue. On behalf of the Opposition, I wish them success in that vital undertaking for peace.
I do not shrink from stating the obvious: Britain and India have a unique relationship, as was expressed so eloquently by the noble Lord, Lord Desai. As we near the millennium, our economic relationships are excellent. Over this decade, contact between our countries has matured into a flourishing partnership, fostered in the spirit of mutual interests and co-operation. As we have heard from the noble Lord, Lord Paul, with his great experience, we are linked together in so many ways, through our intertwined histories spanning centuries, both in times of conflict and of peace, through our intermingled cultures and our deep commercial links. We also share a common language, which facilitates both business and cultural exchanges between our countries.
I should like to pay tribute to the work of the British Council, which was mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Chorley. I totally agreed with all that he said. The British Council's operation in India is its largest in the world. We have a long-established tradition of academic exchanges, such as the Foreign Office Chevening Scholarships, which have enabled young Indian lawyers, bankers, journalists and managers to study in Britain. In 1994–95 some 550 students from India received support through British government scholarship schemes.
Moreover, the huge entrepreneurial and cultural contribution made by the 1 million strong Indian community living in Britain to our multi-ethnic, multi-religious society is invaluable and creates an unbreakable and dynamic bond between our two countries. Trade runs deep in the instincts of both our peoples. Our trading links span 400 years. We already conduct a vast amount of trade and investment opportunities together and the volume is increasing steadily. Today's figures make inspired balance sheet reading. Our exports to India in 1995 were worth more than £1.6 billion, an 80 per cent. increase since 1992.
I invite the Minister to pay tribute to the outstanding work of John Major in this respect. It was his foresight and vision, together with that of his Indian counterpart, Prime Minister Narasimha Rao, which led to the formation of the Indo-British Partnership in 1993. I am sure that the Minister will join me in applauding the success of that partnership. Since its foundation, British investment has grown by more than 50 per cent. with over 600 new Indo-British joint ventures established, many of which involve small and medium-sized businesses new to the Indian market. The huge Towards 2000 exhibition which was recently held in Delhi (at the time of the Queen's visit) was the latest step towards reaching the previous government's target.
I turn now to the second part of the Motion, which was carefully covered in great detail by the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas of Walliswood. Five decades on, poverty and India are no stranger to each other. Nehru's dream of ending poverty, ignorance and disease has not been realised. India is still one of the poorest nations on earth. Its 960 million people comprise 1094 one-sixth of the world's population and about one-third of those live in absolute poverty, existing on less than 1 US dollar a day; 130 million have no access to basic healthcare; 220 million have no safe drinking water; 70 per cent. of the country lacks basic sanitation and half of the country is still illiterate.
I pay tribute to the strong voluntary spirit in the United Kingdom and to the vital work of the voluntary organisations in India, such as Oxfam and Save the Children. I pay tribute also to the smaller charities, such as IMPACT, which does incredibly good work, and the travelling eye hospitals that I visited recently. I pay tribute also to all other charities working in this area.
I am pleased that the Government have already accepted many of the targets set by their predecessor; for example, the commitment to work with our overseas partners to halve the number of people living in absolute poverty by 2015. I hope that they will continue to lead on other of our initiatives with our partners; for example, on our work to produce a resolution on the plight of street children at the UN General Assembly in 1992, which was followed up at the UN Commission on Human Rights in March 1993. I hope that the Government will continue our efforts to ensure that children's rights are at the forefront of the international agenda and that they will encourage all countries to ratify the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.
I am sure that the Minister will continue to support our joint assistance partnerships with the World Bank, the United Nations specialised agencies and the European Union and that the Government will continue to lend support to the activities of organisations such as the Commonwealth Development Corporation, which spent more than £56 million on new investments in India in 1995.
I ask the Government to continue to persuade our partners in Europe and Asia that India should be included in future Asian-European summits as of right. I should like to have an assurance that under the present Government the UK is committed to continuing a modern partnership with India which is based on mutual respect that has learned from the lessons of the past and can put them to good use in the future.
India is already one of Asia's greatest regional powers. She has the capacity to be one of the world's economic powers if she continues with the current programme of economic reform. The increased authority that will come with greater prosperity will bring India new challenges and responsibilities. But as a nation of producers and consumers, by exploiting her immense human talent with help from her international friends India can graft the foundations of economic success into her rich heritage. I predict that it will not be 50 years before India reaches, not this time a tryst with destiny, but a tryst with posterity. As a global economic power, India will have a seat at the top tables in the international organisations and institutions of the 21st century. India will be a leading member of the Commonwealth, a full participant in the World Trade Organisation, ASEAN and the United Nations. This is an exhilarating prospect, and I do not believe that India 1095 will shirk the challenge of stepping out of the old into the new. An age of socialism has ended and the future—Asia's century—beckons India now.
I hope that the Minister will be able to take away with him the points so well made by so many noble Lords from all parts of the House today.
§ 6.1 p.m.
§ Lord Whitty
My Lords, I am sure that all noble Lords are grateful to the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, for providing this opportunity to debate the relationship of Britain with India and developments in that country. Not for the first time in this House I feel slightly daunted by the great experience of many noble Lords who have spoken—and some who have not spoken—and who have deep personal experience of India and emotional attachments to the success of that country. I speak of those who were born there, who have lived there, who have worked there and—with respect to the noble Baroness—those who have honeymooned there.
It is timely that in the wake of the Commonwealth Conference, to which organisation India's leaders have contributed so much, and the 50th anniversary of India's and Pakistan's independence, we should be holding this debate. I am glad to have the opportunity to underline the commitment of the Government to co-operate with India and other countries of the sub-continent in the task of eliminating poverty in that part of the world.
The Motion of the noble Earl draws particular attention to the socio-economic achievements of India over the past 50 years. In many respects India has achieved remarkable success over that period. Despite its three-fold increase in population, average real incomes have more than doubled and the proportion of people who are living in desperate poverty has fallen to under a third. Life expectancy has almost doubled. At independence only one in three children was enrolled in primary school whereas the figure is now over 80 per cent. Since independence India has rid itself of famine and mass starvation and is now self-sufficient in food. At the same time, it has developed a broad-based industrial structure and a high level of technological skills. As my noble friends, Lord Paul and Lord Desai, the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, the noble Lord, Lord Weatherill, and others have said, despite the odds all of this has been achieved within a framework of a very robust democratic system in the face of potentially dangerous ethnic and cultural difficulties across the country.
However, today we have also heard about the extent of the social, environmental and economic challenges that remain. In India hundreds of millions of people still lack minimum levels of nutrition and shelter. India's progress in reducing poverty has perhaps not been quite as fast as that of other developing countries. Nevertheless, the Indian economy has begun to grow more strongly in recent years, averaging about 6 to 7 per cent. in the past three years. Despite the slowdown, the estimate for this year is 6 per cent. The exchange rate is stable; foreign exchange reserves are healthy; and foreign investment is increasing. The rate of inflation is at a historically low level.
1096 Recent successive governments of India have made considerable efforts to modernise and liberalise the economy. However, further reforms are still required. My noble friend Lord Paul and others say that unfortunately far less progress has been made in improving the physical infrastructure, particularly the social infrastructure, of the Indian economy. Without such improvements growth is likely to slow again in the medium term and to be of little benefit to the people of India who are still very, very poor. In our view and that of most Indian authorities, to obtain the resources needed to attack that poverty will require a substantial re-allocation of both public expenditure and private effort with a shift away from the numerous poorly targeted subsidy programmes still existing in some parts which often benefit the better off in India and which, in some cases, are prone to corruption.
All of this must be done within a democratic framework. One needs to create an India that is not like China or the tiger economies of south east Asia. My noble friend Lord Desai referred to it as a fleet-footed elephant. A fleet-footed elephant is a much nicer being than a tiger and takes the people with it. That is the great benefit of the democratic activity within India. But for the poor to benefit from the economic growth they need reasonable health and basic literacy. I refer in particular to the position of women in India. As the noble Baroness, Lady Flather, and other speakers emphasised, India still faces a serious problem in this respect, particularly among poor women. In many states only one-quarter of women are literate. To be illiterate worsens employment prospects and weakens the status of such women in society as a whole.
I agree with the noble Earl that Britain has a historic obligation to India. As the noble Baroness, Lady Flather, indicated, the relationship with India has not always been positive. There are some serious scars in our history. The record of the colonial, and sometimes post-colonial, power has not always been good. However, there is another side to the story. I am indebted to my noble friend Lord Callaghan, who is no longer in his seat, for reminding me that in the famine in 1947 ships on the high seas on their way from Australia to Britain were diverted to India to deliver grain to prevent a famine at that most difficult time for all of us. As a consequence, there was bread rationing in the United Kingdom. The record is not all negative, but there are some bad examples.
Nevertheless, in the past 50 years Britain has played a major role in India's achievements. India has been the largest recipient of British development assistance and investment from the Commonwealth Development Corporation. In 1996–97 our bilateral country programme for India was £87 million. In that year, including CDC investments, our total assistance stood at over £150 million. All of that was in addition to the very substantial British contribution to multilateral aid to India, especially through the European Union, the World Bank, the UN system and other multilateral support. Those figures exclude the public's contribution through non-governmental organisations and the private sector.
1097 Reference has been made to the recent state visit by the Queen and the Secretary of State to India. We believe that in reality the state visit was a very substantial success, notwithstanding the unfortunate coverage in the Indian and British media. Tens of thousands of people turned out to see the Queen in Amritsar, Madras and Cochin. She received an extremely warm welcome. The visit as a whole gave a real boost to Britain's interests. The Queen opened the largest ever Indo-British trade exhibition in New Delhi. The next day 10,000 business people visited it.
My noble friend Lord Desai, referring to the unfortunate press coverage, touched on the position of the High Commissioner in Delhi who had to deal with some of it. I can only repeat our total confidence in the High Commissioner and deny any implication that he was responsible for the bad press. As my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary said in the other place yesterday, and as I have said, the High Commissioner has conducted himself with great dignity, sometimes in very difficult circumstances.
My noble friend Lord Desai referred to the visit as a family quarrel. That probably pitches it a bit high. It was more like a warm family occasion, much enjoyed by all, but with a few fraught edges, as happens. Unfortunately, those fraught aspects were greatly exaggerated by the rather excitable international press which was in attendance. The term "tempest in a teacup" may be a better epithet for the visit. The Prime Minister and the Indian Prime Minister at Edinburgh last week agreed that it had been a great success. The Prime Minister told Mr. Gujral that the Queen had greatly enjoyed it. Mr. Gujral replied that the Indians were honoured that she had visited them. It was a great example of the mutual affection which exists between our countries.
Britain has supported a wide range of innovative projects to help the development of India. The main areas for DfID have been health, education, water and sanitation, urban development, rural development and the reform of the energy and power industry. During the state visit, the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh were able to visit some of those projects.
It is also important to recognise that British development assistance has changed in recent years. The noble Baroness, Lady Flather, referred to micro projects. There has been a shift away from big industrial projects in electricity generation, coal mines and railways to smaller projects involving the private sector in India and in Britain. Our assistance programme has concentrated increasingly on supporting policy changes and management reform in key sectors of the economy and on financing projects which directly tackle poverty and environmental problems and involve local people.
The creation of the department in May marks another milestone in our development assistance effort. DfID is now working with the Indian Government to ensure that our development assistance programme is focused more tightly on the elimination of poverty. Our aim is that all activities should make a real contribution towards improving the lives of the several hundred million people in India whose living standards are, by any standards, unacceptably low.
1098 The noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, my noble friend Lord Paul, the noble Lord, Lord Chorley, and others referred to the central importance of education, and, in particular, to the projects in Andhra Pradesh. At least a quarter of children in Andhra Pradesh receive no schooling. The latest gross enrolment figures for the first five years indicate that 73 per cent. of the age cohort has enrolled. Seventy nine per cent. of boys in this age group are enrolled; only 68 per cent. of girls. The position is especially bad for the scheduled castes. In some districts, less than 6 per cent. of scheduled caste girls are in schools.
To help address those problems, DfID and its predecessor departments over the past decade have been supporting primary education in Andhra Pradesh. The Andhra Pradesh primary education project has supported a major programme of training teachers, providing educational materials and constructing classrooms. There has been a significant improvement in enrolment and attendance, in teacher performance and in pupils' motivation to learn. That project has recently come to an end but in order to ensure that the gains made through it are consolidated and replicated DfID has committed a further £88 million for primary education in Andhra Pradesh and West Bengal through the Government of India's district primary education programme. We remain strongly committed to supporting primary education in India and ensuring that the experience we have gained through our relationship in Andhra Pradesh is used to good effect in other parts of the country.
Another aspect of our educational commitment was mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Rawlings, and the noble Lord, Lord Chorley. It is the role of the British Council. It has played a major part in improving educational links and resources in India and the developmental effects that they provide while at the same time sustaining British/India relations. I pay tribute to the British Council for the role it plays in that respect.
Others speakers referred to India's health requirements. Since 1990 Britain has committed over £100 million to health projects in India. DfID is helping to introduce a new method of providing TB care. We have made the largest ever grant for vaccination to the Government of India's polio eradication programme: £47 million over three years.
Family planning was mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Flather. The innovations that Britain supports include the building of partnerships between Indian state governments and other Indian NGOs and British NGOs to give people greater access to family planning. India's population is still growing at about 20 million a year which stretches national resources. Those efforts are aimed at giving couples choice of contraception and helping them to improve their own and their children's lives as well as potentially relieving pressure on future economic resources.
There are also the health hazards caused by inadequacies in water and sanitation. That was mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas of Walliswood. DfID is helping the Indian Government to develop long term strategies for urban and rural water 1099 supply and sanitation as well as supporting a variety of projects; for example, the £16 million Maharashtra rural water supply project where DfID is financing four piped-water supply schemes to 210 villages and one small town. The provision of healthy water and sanitation will greatly improve not just the quality of life but the economy and society.
The noble Baronesses, Lady Thomas and Lady Rawlings, referred also to child rights and child labour. Although basic primary education in India has increased and improved greatly, millions of children—perhaps as many as 45 million—still spend their childhood working. The great majority of those children will never attend schools. They will be poor, illiterate and extremely vulnerable. There is a complex approach to eliminating child labour in India. There are numerous initiatives of government and non-government agencies. Children are working in hazardous industries such as firework manufacturing, but children in those industries are in a minority compared to the huge numbers working in agriculture. Girls suffer particular problems in the under-age sex industry. Britain is providing support to the ILO's programme to combat trafficking in children and their exploitation in prostitution. We also fund NGO activities through Christian Aid and Oxfam.
There has been considerable publicity over the weekend about the UNICEF report on child labour with some slightly misleading reporting. The report recognises that there needs to be priority in tackling the problem of child labour. Those priorities should concentrate on the exploitation of children in highly exploitative and dangerous work. This very morning my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for International Development was attending a conference on child labour in Oslo. In a speech she reflected the concern felt in Britain about child labour. She said:There is huge public interest in the UK for world wide support to the governments, communities, workers and families who are tackling problems of child labour in their own countries. UK consumers are increasingly not prepared to buy goods produced by exploiting children, but we are also learning that boycotts or overnight exclusions of children from certain industries can hurt those most whom we are trying to help".The Secretary of State gave the example of football stitching which she described as a highly exploitative industry in Pakistan, although it was not the most intolerable work. It is one that has rightly drawn international attention. She was delighted to announce that DfID under the Government of Pakistan memorandum of understanding intends to fund Save the Children to implement a social protection programme for the children involved in that trade which should ensure that when, at the end of next year, children stop working in the football stitching industry they are not forced into more hazardous and equally exploitative work. That is a model of partnership between government, business and NGOs.
I have dwelt substantially on the role of government, but NGOs and the private sector have their role to play. Many Indian NGOs are making a great contribution as is a wide range of British NGOs which have been generously supported by the British public. Among those operating on a large scale in India are Oxfam, Christian Aid, Action Aid, Save the Children and CARE 1100 International. Although non-governmental organisations have smaller resources at their disposal than government programmes, they are often much more able to work effectively on small scale projects with local communities, and, as my noble friend Lord Paul said, with local government and the new democracies at that level in India. The White Paper to be produced by the Department for International Development will review the support for NGOs with a view to strengthening it.
There is also a vital role to be played by the private sector. The private sector in India itself has brought about much of the transformation of the economy, as my noble friend Lord Desai and the noble Lord, Lord Chorley, as well as other noble Lords said, but so has the international private sector which has provided a huge increase in inward investment in India. Not least I should mention the Indian entrepreneurs based partly in India and partly in Britain. There has been a major contribution by the Indian community in Britain to the development of India over recent years.
In all development issues we are committed to ensuring that the elimination of global poverty is a determining factor in our international policy. I have dwelt substantially on India in this debate, as have most noble Lords. Obviously, we also have parallel policies in relation to Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Nepal. We are committed within that region of the world not only to bilateral arrangements but also to the work of the EU, the UN and many multilateral institutions of which we are members in making a more effective contribution to the elimination of poverty.
In a country so vast as India, partnership with central government is not enough. That is why DfID is also working to develop close partnerships with several of India's state governments. We are keen to focus our efforts in those states where our help is most needed and where it can be most effectively used. In the global fight against poverty, no partnerships will be more important than the partnerships we make with the countries of south Asia. Substantial reductions in global poverty depend crucially on reducing poverty in that area. Our long history of friendship with India and the other countries of the region, our shared commitment to democratic values and the close links at all levels between our institutions and peoples, which have been much touched on in this debate, give us great opportunities to build and strengthen our partnerships. The Government are strongly committed to seizing those opportunities and to making the most of them in the vital work of eliminating global poverty.
I am very happy to concur with some of the remarks of the noble Baroness, Lady Rawlings. We intend to move into the 21st century in a modern partnership with India based on mutual respect and longstanding friendships between so many in this country and so many in India.
§ 6.23 p.m.
§ The Earl of Sandwich
My Lords, I feel that I am in a holy place. There have been many soothing words this afternoon, not least from the Minister who has just sat down. It has been an encouraging and enjoyable debate. 1101 I want to detain the House for only a minute or two. At the risk of being regarded as racist, I particularly congratulate today our Indian colleagues who have brought to this debate a quality which perhaps we ought to hear more often. I should like to thank those noble Lords in particular.
I noted that the Minister made no attempt to defend the assault on Indian socialism by the noble Baroness, Lady Rawlings, who carried out that job very ably. I am relieved that we do not need to go into those past experiences. There have been awful experiences within India and between ourselves and India. The whole thing has been gradually laid to rest by what noble Lords have said. I thank especially the noble Lord, Lord Paul, for his remarks about the relations between our communities and the words of the Prime Minister over the Queen's visit. We are all reassured by that.
I should like to thank the Minister for his detailed responses, which I look forward to reading tomorrow, particularly as regards the NGOs. We all look forward to the White Paper. This will be a tremendous job, but we shall take it carefully. Taking things carefully is another theme that has been mentioned this afternoon. We must not expect all the results to come at once. My enthusiasm at the beginning of the debate has been properly tempered, not least by the two soldiers on either side of me with their tremendous stories, reminding me of the importance of nostalgia at certain times.
We should spare a thought for the mahout—this poor coalition government—which has to deal with the fleet footed elephant. We have not said a lot about that. The noble Lord, Lord Paul, and others reminded us that a coalition means getting closer to the people. It means more participation and more representation, as the noble Lord, Lord Desai, said. It is exciting. Women are also coming forward.
On a final and sombre note, the United Nations gave me a figure which staggers me. Some estimates indicate that in their entire education Indian girls stay in school for only two years on average; I do not say that that is a national average. We have to help India—we do not have the answers; India has them—to overcome the very challenging targets. I beg leave to withdraw the Motion.
§ Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.