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Poverty and Terrorism

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 6:46 pm on 27th February 2002.

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Photo of Lord Judd Lord Judd Labour 6:46 pm, 27th February 2002

My Lords, I declare an interest having spent most of my professional life outside Westminster working with humanitarian agencies. I am still very much involved—albeit now in a voluntary capacity—with organisations such as Oxfam, Saferworld and International Alert.

The noble Lord, Lord Dahrendorf, is to be congratulated on and thanked for a particularly scholarly and powerful introduction to the debate. Listening to our deliberations, I cannot help reflecting that in some ways we are in an almost classic pre-revolutionary situation—the grotesque concentration of power and wealth in the hands of a very few; the dispossessed billions; and the alienated, often well-educated, bitter élite which itself feels excluded and therefore sets out to exploit the impoverished.

It is that constituency of ambivalence that provides the ideal basis for terrorist activities. Many people would never contemplate terrorist action, but, in the context of struggling every day to survive until the next morning, sometimes inevitably ask themselves whether the terrorists are not on their side. When we talk so glibly about fundamentalism, we should ask ourselves how far fundamentalism really is a cause or how far it is a vehicle for the dispossessed. We do not have to look very far from where we are now to see evidence of that in the history of our own islands.

I want to talk very briefly, in the context of our concern about the link between terrorism and poverty, about some issues on which we should concentrate if we are to get things right for the future. First, there are the structural issues—not only the internal structural issues to which the noble Lord, Lord Dahrendorf, referred, but the structural issues internationally of trade and debt and of enabling the developing countries not simply to play on a level playing field but to climb on to the playing field in order to begin playing. If that is to happen, we must look at what we ourselves must do in terms of tariffs, restrictions on trade and so on.

There is also the issue of demography. In 2001, the world population was 6.1 billion. It is likely to be 7.2 billion by 2015. Ninety-five per cent of this increase will be in the developing countries, mostly in rapidly expanding urban areas. Imagine the pressure that will put on fragile political systems. Imagine the consequences of that in terms of unemployment and under-employment.

In the context of that population growth, a disproportionate number of children are under 15. In Algeria, 60 per cent of children are under 15. As I have seen for myself from my own work in the past, many of these children feel better off and more secure in an armed band that is fighting for their interests than left destitute in the city streets.

Then, of course, there are the refugees. In 1970, there were 2 million refugees, and by 2001 there were 21 million, not to mention the internally displaced people who do not have the formal status of being classed as refugees because they have not crossed a frontier.

Already the refugees from Afghanistan are destabilising Pakistan and the region. The same problems are occurring in west and central Africa, central Asia and the Caucasus. Above all, we see the kernel of destabilisation, alienation and resentment in the Middle East. The noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, is right to refer to that constantly. Until the issue is resolved, we cannot look forward to a stable world.

Then there are the deprived ethnic minorities within many societies of the world, not least our own. Deprived, dispossessed and disadvantaged ethnic minorities are often in a structured way unable to break out of their predicament, which leads to a breeding ground for conflict.

There are other issues, too. We can imagine the pressures that will develop if we do not, for example, tackle effectively the issue of climate change. Imagine what will happen as pressures develop because of the increasingly short water supplies in the world, or the dislocation caused by the irresponsible arms trade. It is extraordinary that the permanent members of the United Nations Security Council are the world's greatest exporters of arms. The culture seems to be that arms are good things to export unless there is an overriding reason for not doing so. In the context of what we are talking about, in terms of stability and the campaign against terrorism, the culture must change to one in which arms are seen as extremely dangerous things to export which should be exported only when there is a good security reason for doing so.

Those long-term issues must be addressed. In the midst of all this, there is an urgent challenge to talk honestly and closely to our American cousins. There seems to be a difference of emphasis between their unilateralism and militarism as a solution and the European emphasis on multilateralism and the realisation that, in the end, the battle will be won in hearts and minds. I hope that the Minister will reassure us that that difference is being debated strongly with our friends in the United States.