G8 — Statement

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 4:21 pm on 13th July 2009.

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Photo of The Bishop of Durham The Bishop of Durham Bishop 4:21 pm, 13th July 2009

My Lords, from these Benches we would like to express the same pride in the troops who are fighting in Afghanistan and the same sorrow at the deeply regrettable loss of life. My colleagues and I have been pushed by several of those who talk to us to ask why we are in Afghanistan. If the answer is as was given during Question Time—that we are there because we are part of something mandated by the UN—it would be very helpful if that was said more clearly and more regularly. There is a widespread assumption that we are there simply because certain politicians thought that it was a good idea at one stage.

Noble Lords may have had their attention drawn to the new encyclical from Pope Benedict which has come out in just the past week; there was an articles by the noble Lord, Lord Griffiths, about it in the Times this morning. In it the Pope draws attention to the urgent need globally for the UN to be more effective in what it was set up to do, which it has been prevented from doing by certain countries that are rather anxious about what might happen if it really did it properly. From these Benches—I speak for myself and, I suspect, for many of my colleagues as well—we would be delighted if the Government could say a bit more, a bit more frequently, about the way in which what we are doing coheres with a global international strategy, and that is not just something that we, with one or two friends, happen to have dreamt up.

We are grateful also for what we have heard about climate change. As noble Lords will know, several of my noble friends—the right reverend Prelates the Bishop of Liverpool, the Bishop of London and others—have spoken on that in recent days. On swine flu, the churches have done a lot of preparation, hoping neither to be alarmist nor retrograde in doing what we are doing but nevertheless making appropriate preparations should there be the kind of national crisis which some have suggested might come.

A couple of other things were said on which I think some clarity would help. It is widely said among various agencies that when the western countries give aid to the third world, quite a lot of it is earmarked for the purchase of goods from our own countries. If that is not so—I see the noble Baroness indicating that perhaps it is not—it might be helpful if we could know what proportion is so earmarked. In the past it has sometimes been the case that aid has been earmarked not least for the purchase of arms, about which many people feel a very bad conscience. It would help if that could be clarified.

Finally, I was expecting to hear something—I may have missed it because the Statement ran by us rather fast—about international debt relief, on which I know the Prime Minister has been very keen in time past. He has spoken movingly and effectively about it at previous summits but I do not think that I heard anything about it today. However, as I and others have said before in your Lordships' House, when the banks and some other large corporations were in difficulty last year we remitted debts on an enormous scale so that people could regroup and get back on track. Many of us have urged for many years that that should be done for third world countries. It has been done with very good effect for some, such as Tanzania, but there are many others, such as the Philippines, where it remains to be done. It seems to me that it is time to do for the very poor what we already, at the drop of a hat, do for the very rich. Perhaps the noble Baroness will enlighten us on what, if anything, the Government propose to do in that regard.