India — Debate

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 1:47 pm on 18th December 2008.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Baroness Rawlings Baroness Rawlings Shadow Minister, International Development 1:47 pm, 18th December 2008

My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, for initiating this important debate and for all her work. I also congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Paul, on becoming a Deputy Speaker. What a perfect first to be here in his new position for the start of this wide-ranging debate on India.

I would like to add to the words of sympathy from the rest of the House for the victims and their families of the appalling terrorist attacks between Wednesday 26 and Saturday 29 November. As the right honourable David Cameron said:

"My thoughts are with all those who have been caught up in these attacks. India and Britain stand together at this time in the face of terrorism".

We could not, and should not, have a debate to call attention to the recent developments in India without placing great emphasis on the recent terrorist attacks. Yet it behoves us all to remember that, despite the recent news headlines, India, complex and diverse, is more than a country of poverty, caste and terrible terror attacks. It is also a hugely prosperous country, abounding in traditions, historical sites and so much culture. It naturally attracts tourists. In November, India undertook its first mission to the moon; on 12 November, Chandrayaan-1 entered lunar orbit and began sending back pictures of the moon's surface.

As well as discussing those difficult and disturbing issues, let us also pay tribute to the impressive and wondrous. India is an important partner, especially in areas of trade, education and culture. We honour India's democratic values and treasure her friendship. The noble Lord, Lord Anderson, spoke eloquently and cited Amartya Sen's description of India as a huge subject. I will limit myself to three topics: the terrorist attacks; the economic situation; and the tourist industry in India.

The attacks on Mumbai were a terrible tragedy and were rightly condemned across the globe. In his outstanding speech, the noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, pointed out that it was an attack not only on Mumbai, but on many other parts of the world. As the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, said, it is thought that 173 people died in the attacks and, in addition to the Indian casualties, there were UK, US, Australian, German, French, Canadian, Italian, Mexican, Japanese, Chinese, Thai and Singaporean victims. If ever there were evidence that it was a global tragedy, not just an Indian one, that is it.

However, it would be even more dreadful if that attack were to signify the beginning of heightened military tensions between India and Pakistan. Cracks can already be seen, as on 11 December, when Shri P Chidambaram, India's Home Minister, stated that,

"the finger of suspicion unmistakably points to the territory of our neighbour Pakistan".

Given the history of tension, conflict and war between these countries, what action have the Government taken to attempt to defuse tensions and help to maintain good relations? Considering that the Prime Minister has just returned from Pakistan, perhaps the Government could update us on this.

In the Observer, William Dalrymple commented that part of the problem was the,

"abject failure of the Bush Administration to woo the people of Pakistan and Afghanistan away from the Islamists".

This is part of the great fear that jihadi groups in Pakistan are attempting to push India into an attack that would mean that Pakistan could move the focus of its army away from the Taliban and towards India. That would be an appalling situation. Can the Government tell us what is being done to avoid such a conclusion?

I turn to the Indian economy. More than 400 million people in India live on less than $1.25 a day, which is more than in the whole of sub-Saharan Africa. The development challenge is huge, but India is proof in point that the private sector can be the engine of development. Over the past two decades, it has had an annual average GDP growth of 5.7 per cent, and between 1981 and 2005 the proportion of people living on less than $1.25 a day declined from 60 per cent to 42 per cent. India is truly one of the world's emerging powerhouses. However, India still has a long way to go. We must remember that India's gross national income per capita is only $14 above the middle income status line. Moreover, while the proportion of poor has decreased, in real terms the number of people living at the $1.25 a day poverty line has increased from 420 million to 455 million.

The recent economic downturn has meant that,

"the global financial crisis began to bite in one of the world's fastest growing economies".

On 13 December, the Financial Times reported that India's factory output had fallen for the first time in 15 years. In October this year, industrial output was found to be 0.4 per cent lower than it was in October 2007. I could go on. Like many other economies throughout the world, the Indian economy is facing difficult times. Can the Government tell us what impact the troubling developments in the global economy will have? Can they also update us on the status of the Doha round of trade talks? Now more than ever, India would benefit from a pro-poor deal in Doha but, as the House will know, the talks have come to a grinding halt over the past 12 months. What discussions have the Government had with the Government of India about the talks, and what assessment have they made of the possibilities of progress following the US election?

A further detrimental impact on the economy is the fact that the recent terrorist attacks are bound to affect the tourist industry. The Indian Ministry of Tourism released a statement saying:

"India is a large nation and an incident in one place does not impact on tourism and day-to-day life in the rest of the country".

I hope that it is right. Will that statement be enough to convince people? According to the Financial Times, travel and tourism contribute 6.1 per cent to Indian GDP and employ more than 30 million people, which is 6.4 per cent of jobs. It is therefore vital that immediate action is taken to make certain the recovery of this crucial economic strand of industry. What action have the Government taken to aid a quick and speedy recovery for the Indian tourism industry?

Many noble Lords have asked what humanitarian assistance has been given, in conjunction with the Indian federal and Orissa state Governments, to the people of Orissa who have suffered in the outbreak of anti-Christian violence.

As we all recover from the shock of the recent developments in India, it has been most beneficial to have had this varied and informed debate on the issues surrounding that most beautiful and beguiling of countries. We look forward to the Government's response.