HL Deb 15 July 1997 vol 581 cc910-2

3.3 p.m.

Lord Judd

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What is their response to the suggestion of the Human Development Report 1997, published by the United Nations Development Programme, that poverty is "a denial of choices and living a tolerable life", and what action they will take in consequence.

Lord Whitty

My Lords, the Government strongly endorse the view expressed in the report that the eventual elimination of world poverty is possible given political will in both the developed and the developing countries. Like the report, our approach to poverty eradication will involve tackling it in all its many dimensions. On aid specifically we intend to sharpen the focus of our programmes so that they directly involve the people, in particular the poorest, thus benefiting them and enabling them to exercise greater choice over how they run their lives and have greater security in their lives.

Lord Judd

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that reply. Will he assure the House that the Government accept the objectives, established by the OECD last year, to halve the proportion of people living in poverty by 2015? Do they also agree that one good means of achieving that would be to accept the 20/20 proposition whereby donor governments provide 20 per cent. of their aid budgets for social infrastructure and recipient governments use 20 per cent. of their budgets for the same purpose?

Lord Whitty

My Lords, yes, I can assure the House that the White Paper on international development, to be published in the autumn, will endorse the targets set out in the 1996 OECD report, to which my noble friend refers, and, in particular, the overriding target of halving the proportion of people living in extreme poverty by 2015. The achievement of those targets will require the mutual commitment and partnership of recipient and donor countries which is implicit in the 20/20 concept.

Lord Moynihan

My Lords, the UNDP report is somewhat critical of the development of globalisation and suggests that the poorer countries are becoming marginalised by the unequal and often protective nature of trading partnerships between the richer countries. Do the Government agree with that view? If so, what action do they intend to take through their aid and trade policy?

Lord Whitty

My Lords, there is undoubtedly something in that view. The position of the countries with the lowest incomes has deteriorated over the period, in part as a result of being left out of some of the development of globalisation. We do not, however, take the view that more restrictive trade practices would help those countries either on their own behalf or in terms of any multilateral arrangements. We intend to use our aid programme and our broader programmes to ensure that in some of those countries aid and trade benefits go to the poorest within them through a greater gearing of the programmes, a greater use of NGOs, and pressure on the countries themselves to ensure that the poorest benefit.

The Earl of Sandwich

My Lords, in view of the increasing importance of the human development report, have the Government changed their definition of the poorest countries measured by GNP in the direction of the other human development indices?

Lord Whitty

My Lords, I have to be honest and say that I need detailed notice of that question. I shall write to the noble Earl. The definition used in the report is one that has existed for some considerable time. We have given the indices of achievement in the aid field according to that definition.

Viscount Montgomery of Alamein

My Lords, in the light of what the noble Lord said, does he believe that the Government will put more resources into the technical assistance programmes which provide training in developing countries, which generate employment thereby, and which have proved beneficial in the past?

Lord Whitty

My Lords, yes, the whole strategy behind re-gearing programmes to meet the needs of the poorest people is to ensure that they can benefit from training and other infrastructure developments rather than to provide aid to a particular country. It is all part of the gearing strategy to which I referred.

Lord Bruce of Donington

My Lords, while quite properly pursuing the policies advocated in the international field for the purpose of the relief of poverty—poverty far exceeding anything we experience here—will my noble friend nevertheless bear in mind that within the UK some 40 per cent. of the population lives below the poverty line, as defined in Europe, and that at least one household in every five in the UK lacks an employed person within it?

Lord Whitty

My Lords, I broadly accept those statistics. I assure the House that the elimination of poverty within the UK is one of our prime objectives and is in no way contrary to the achievement of the elimination of poverty in some of the poorest areas of the world.