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Poverty and Terrorism

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 7:32 pm on 27th February 2002.

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Photo of Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean Minister of State (Middle East), Foreign & Commonwealth Office, Minister of State (Trade), Department of Trade and Industry, Minister for Trade and Investment and Deputy Leader of the House of Lords (also Department of Trade and Industry), Minister of State (Trade and Investment) Deputy Leader of the House of Lords (also FCO) 7:32 pm, 27th February 2002

My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Lord, Lord Dahrendorf, for initiating this debate. His speech established a pattern for an extraordinarily well-informed and thoughtful debate.

If I may say so, initiating this debate has also been a very bold initiative. The discussion of poverty and terrorism is at once both enormously important and highly sensitive. My noble friend Lord Rea reminded us that, in recent months, Members of this House have experienced some difficulty in defining what we mean by terrorism, let alone in agreeing on its causes. In recent weeks, I have sat in international meetings and experienced precisely the same definitional problems with colleagues from overseas. I have heard IRA activities in Northern Ireland described as "freedom fighting", and I have listened to those who, in seeking to explain the causes of the horrors of 11th September, have come all too dangerously close to justifying what happened on that terrible day.

Like many others who have spoken today, including of course the noble Lord, Lord Dahrendorf, let me be absolutely clear and unequivocal: terrorism cannot be justified. Whatever the perceived cause or grievance, terrorist activity is always repellent and evil, involving as it almost always does, violence, murder and terrible suffering to innocent people. I disagreed a little with the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, because I do believe that terrorism is as old as history; we have only to remember the massacre of the Jews in York, or of the Huguenots in France. I agreed very much with the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan. Since recorded history began, there have been examples of those who believe that their cause was so different, so powerful and so justified that they had the right to force others through any means at their disposal to acquiesce in their demands.

What makes the voices of some individuals, filled with that potent combination of zeal and hatred, so persuasive to others? At what point do people with a legitimate political, social or religious objective turn from pursuing their causes through civil or political means and turn to violence, murder and other forms of criminality? As the noble Baroness, Lady Park of Monmouth, reminded us, some terrorist acts arise from the particular obsessions of individuals who do not find support and might even be described as outsiders in their own communities; examples include the destruction of the Federal Building in Oklahoma City, the sarin gas attacks in Tokyo and the 1970s kidnappings undertaken by relatively affluent and very self-absorbed European youth terrorists. Such acts were one-off because the terrorists were unable to draw on the support of the people who shared their sense of injustice and frustration.

Elsewhere, however, terrorism has taken deeper root. The noble Lord, Lord Dahrendorf, is again right: terrorist groups most likely to do significant damage are able to draw on support from within their own communities to enable them to plan and finance their activities. There are people who are prepared to support or acquiesce in terrorism as they share the terrorists' goals and are somehow able to condone their methods. There are many deep and unresolved conflicts in the world, many of which have been mentioned today, including those in Nepal, Colombia, Sri Lanka, Somalia, and—one of the deepest and bitterest—in the Middle East, which was the focus of the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, and my noble friend Lord Judd.

Some seek to justify terrorist activity because they believe that globalisation has made them powerless and that—as the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, said—forces beyond their control have marginalised their ability to act legitimately in their own interests. While acts of violence in pursuit of such arguments can never be justified by reference to poverty or deprivation, we have to deal with the arguments themselves. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Guildford was right: there is terrible poverty in the world, innocent people are suffering and there is appalling injustice. As the noble Duke, the Duke of Montrose, argued so very powerfully, a sense of injustice, perceived or real, is a very potent factor.

The issue for us is how we use the resources available to us to deal with that poverty and injustice. As the noble Lord, Lord Bhatia, reminded us, the Prime Minister said,

"power, wealth and opportunity must be in the hands of many not the few—if we make that our guiding light for the global economy, then it will be a force for good and an international movement that we should take pride in leading".

Some terrorism is criminal not only in its outcome of violence and destruction but in its motivation. My noble friend Lord Stone reminded us of the drugs trade in Colombia, where powerful armed groups finance themselves through the drugs trade, the illicit diamond trade in Sierra Leone and Liberia, and the appalling trade in human beings that is perpetrated right around the globe. Intimidation may be used to force support, but poverty too can be a powerful recruiting sergeant in such cases.

I return to a comment of the noble Lord, Lord Dahrendorf, in which he was supported by my noble friend Lord Parekh and the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich. The truly destitute—those who live on the edge of starvation—do not engage in terrorism. However, those who have the means to perpetrate violence also have the means of communication; they have the means of organisation and the technology. They also have money and resources, as the noble Baroness, Lady Rawlings, argued.

I therefore agree with the noble Lord, Lord Dahrendorf, my noble friend Lord Rea and the noble Baroness, Lady Rawlings, that the link between third world poverty and terrorism is a highly complex and difficult one. It is perhaps less contentious to describe it in terms of the relationship between poverty and conflict. However, I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Park, and the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, that to imply that poverty causes conflict or terrorism would be a huge injustice to the millions of the world's poor who work hard day in and day out and never turn to violence. Nevertheless, poverty can provide fertile ground for conflict to grow and for those with evil intent to pervert the thirst for social and economic justice into violence and terrorism.

One issue is all too clear: conflict causes poverty. However, although it causes poverty everywhere, it does so perhaps most obviously in Africa. As the Prime Minister said last October, the state of Africa is a scar on the conscience of the world. Twenty of the world's poorest countries are either involved in violent conflict or have recently emerged from it. The stark truth is that the poor are terrorism's most numerous victims.

Let us take an appalling example that is so brutally fresh in all our minds. The World Bank has estimated that the additional slowdown in the world's economy resulting from the 11th September outrage will mean that, in 2002, 10 million more people will have to survive on less than one dollar a day. The World Bank has also argued that tens of thousands more children will die as a result of poverty related illnesses. So the terrorists who perpetrated that evil are also responsible for hurting the most vulnerable people and the weakest countries in the world. I assure my noble friend Lord Stone and the noble Lord, Lord Maclennan, that Her Majesty's Government believe in tackling poverty because it is right to do so and because our humanity and our sense of justice demand that we do.

I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Dahrendorf, mentioned the statistics that Bill Clinton gave in his Dimbleby lecture. I add that a quarter of the world's population die of the diseases related to poverty: AIDS, TB, malaria and diarrhoea. Some 10 million children die every year from malnourishment and preventable illness. Moreover, 113 million children do not have access to primary education and as a result 800 million people cannot read or write.

The impact of poverty is not just an individual human tragedy. As the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, said, poverty destabilises societies. It can be the soil in which terrorism thrives. Even stable poor countries are unlikely to have the resources to implement effective counter-terrorism measures. To stop money laundering or the illegal movement of arms and explosives is difficult enough in a county like ours, let alone in the poorer countries of the developing world. Countries without resources to provide basic services for their populations may find those with extremist ideological messages coming in to fill the gaps, particularly in the field of education.

As conflict is such a powerful factor in preventing development and keeping people poor, resolving or avoiding it has become central to the international development agenda. In pursuing the prime purpose of our international development effort—the elimination of poverty—we in this country help address the potential causes of conflict and strengthen countries' individual capacities to counter terrorism. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Maclennan, that it is very important to do that at a practical level. For example, we help countries to improve the effectiveness of their administrative systems. We support legal and judicial reform. We assist in the development of accountable and democratic government and transparent financial and commercial systems. We promote the will and capacity to crack down on corruption. Helping countries stamp out money laundering supports their efforts to combat corruption, organised crime and the drugs trade and helps them contribute to the fight against terrorism. The noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, is right—where there is conflict, we can support institutions set up to encourage power sharing, inclusiveness and moderation. We support security sector reform in recognition of the devastating role that unaccountable and repressive security services can play in fostering conflict and inhibiting development.

An example of that is the work we have undertaken in Indonesia, a country of 200 million people, 300 ethnic groups, 350 languages and many problems with poverty and exploitation. Our aid programme focuses on three areas: policy formulation and budgetary management which benefits the poor; governance reforms; and forest management for the benefit of forest communities. It includes support for a policy dialogue on security service reform, parliamentary oversight of defence, law enforcement, budget management, a strategic defence review and a democratic framework to police what is happening.

I refer to what is happening in transforming Sierra Leone. Our training there has constituted a vital part of our effort. We have achieved much with our own military resources. British short-term training teams provided basic infantry training to some 10,000 men. We are now continuing to provide training, support and advice through the UK-led International Military Advisory and Training Team.

In the year 2000-01, DfID committed more than £26 million to projects and programmes whose principal aim was conflict reduction and over £272 million was committed to projects and programmes whose principal aim was to improve the quality of governance in developing countries. I hope that that gives an illustration of the real commitment that exists to building up those institutions. Improving the quality of governance has been a significant objective—alongside other objectives—of over half DfID's bilateral spending commitments in the past year. NGOs play an important part in that. Total expenditure through UK civil society organisations in 2000-01 was £184 million, the largest sums being sent to the British Red Cross, Care International UK, Oxfam, Save the Children Fund and the VSO.

Faced with the obvious threat which terrorism poses to our way of life since September 11th, we have also redoubled our efforts to deal with terrorism head on. We can all take pride in the part that Britain played, alongside the United States and our other allies, in the international coalition against the Al'Qaeda terrorists in Afghanistan. We can take pride in what has been achieved: severe damage to the terrorist networks and the liberation of the Afghan people from that very brutal regime. I assure the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, that we remain committed to Afghanistan for the long term, including through our development and reconstruction efforts. British troops are leading the early phase of the international stability assistance force which is providing such an important element of security for the fledgling civilian government.

We are also fully engaged in the international community's efforts to thwart terrorism more generally. We have been working with our colleagues in the G8 on ways of cutting off terrorist financing, strengthening aviation security and enhancing co-operation on intelligence and security matters. In the EU, we have agreed to create a European arrest warrant, a common EU definition of terrorism and a specialist anti-terrorist team in Europol.

In the UN, Security Council Resolution 1373 requires all member states to respond to the global terrorist threat, and establishes the Counter-Terrorism Committee to monitor progress towards that goal. The fact that that committee is chaired by Sir Jeremy Greenstock, our Permanent Representative at the UN, is, I believe, in part a recognition of the lead which Britain has long taken internationally on action against terrorism.

Next week at the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting—the noble Baroness, Lady Rawlings, was kind enough to mention that my noble friend Lady Amos, together with my right honourable friends the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State, will represent us at that meeting—we shall strongly support the Commonwealth response to international terrorism.

As for this country, our own anti-terrorist legislation means that we have already complied with many of the obligations of Resolution 1373. We are one of the few states to have ratified and implemented all 12 of the international anti-terrorist conventions. We are looking again at what we can do in terms of having the right forces and the right capabilities to meet the additional challenges we face from international terrorism as regards what our Armed Forces are doing. The noble Lord, Lord Dahrendorf, referred to the new chapter in the strategic defence review which is indeed very important. We have a string of anti-terrorism legislation in the Terrorism Act 2000 and the Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Act which received Royal Assent last December.

My right honourable friends the Prime Minister, the Chancellor of the Exchequer and Clare Short have led the international effort to place the reduction of poverty at the core of the international development effort. Since 1997 the UK has increased its official development assistance spending from 0.26 per cent of gross national product to a planned 0.33 per cent in the year 2003-04. We are committed to making substantial additional progress. I assure the noble Lord, Lord Astor of Hever, that we are also using our influence internationally to strengthen the global commitment to reduce poverty in every poor country in the world. I assure my noble friend Lord Judd that we put that argument to everyone. We put it as much to our friends in the United States as we do elsewhere.

The noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, and the noble Lord, Lord Judd, were also concerned about debt. The Government have strongly supported the heavily indebted poor countries debt relief initiative which the World Bank and the IMF began in 1996. We have tried to accelerate that initiative. We have pledged over £300 million to the trust fund established to help multilateral institutions provide debt relief and to help the indebted countries. I remind the noble Lords, Lord Bhatia and Lord Judd, of the much firmer arms control policies that we have and the far greater transparency that has been in place on arms exports since 1997.

We should also remember that all countries have signed up to the United Nations millennium development goals. Prime among those is halving the proportion of people living in extreme poverty by 2015. That will enable 1 billion people to free themselves from extreme poverty. But to do that, there will have to be much greater international efforts than are currently being made. By some estimates, the extent of those efforts will have to double; even then, as the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, reminded us, billions will remain in poverty.

Our efforts will not succeed simply by rich countries handing out more money. Success will critically depend on the governments of developing countries adopting accountable and representative forms of governance, combating corruption and upholding the rule of law, and strategies for poverty reduction, which will ensure that their resources are used to the most productive effect.

Success will also depend on development assistance being used as effectively as possible. It should be focused where it has the greatest impact. The noble Lords, Lord Desai and Lord Bhatia, and many others were right to emphasise the importance of the Doha trade round. The globalisation of politics that brought the terrorists to the United States has to be matched by the globalisation of our efforts to eliminate poverty. We must act on the growing understanding that desperate poverty is as morally unacceptable in Africa or Asia as it is in Britain, and it is every bit as dangerous.