India — Question

– in the House of Lords at 11:07 am on 17th July 2014.

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Photo of Lord Harries of Pentregarth Lord Harries of Pentregarth Crossbench 11:07 am, 17th July 2014

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what is their assessment of the new Government of India and the challenge presented by poverty in that country.

Photo of Baroness Northover Baroness Northover Lords Spokesperson (Women & Equalities), Baroness in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip), Lords Spokesperson (Department for International Development)

We congratulate the new Indian Government on their decisive victory in the largest democratic election in history. Development through good governance was a central plank of Prime Minister Modi’s election campaign. He has announced a government programme that aims to raise economic growth and improve opportunities for the poor.

Photo of Lord Harries of Pentregarth Lord Harries of Pentregarth Crossbench

I thank the Minister for her reply. As she knows, poverty in India is on an enormous scale. It has one-third of the world’s poor and more poverty than the whole of Africa put together. Is she aware that of the 320 million people living below the poverty level, 200 million are Dalits, 50% of Dalit villages have no clean water and 75% of Dalit women are illiterate? In her discussions with the Indian Government on this issue, will she press home the fact that tackling poverty on such an epic scale is integrally linked to tackling also a system that leaves the Dalits and other scheduled castes trapped at the bottom of an oppressive pile?

Photo of Baroness Northover Baroness Northover Lords Spokesperson (Women & Equalities), Baroness in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip), Lords Spokesperson (Department for International Development)

The noble and right reverend Lord makes a very good point. We and the Government of India are well aware of the figures that he outlines. It is encouraging to see that when the President addressed Parliament to lay out the new programme for the new Government, he emphasised that and said:

“My government is committed to making all minorities equal partners in India’s progress”.

DfID is giving a great deal of technical assistance to the Indian Government in this regard.

Photo of Lord Paul Lord Paul Non-affiliated

The Government of India and the Prime Minister are very much aware that the people have voted for him to remove and eradicate poverty. However, there is a very confusing message for the people of India. Will the Minister clarify whether Her Majesty’s Government are more interested in seeing poverty eradicated in India than in strengthening the market for sales of UK military hardware?

Photo of Baroness Northover Baroness Northover Lords Spokesperson (Women & Equalities), Baroness in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip), Lords Spokesperson (Department for International Development)

Again, I quote from the President’s address to the Indian Parliament on 9 June, when he said:

“My government will not be satisfied with mere poverty alleviation but commits itself to the goal of poverty elimination”.

That is extremely encouraging. India is an important bilateral partner for us but, as the noble Lord will know, DfID is strongly engaged to try to ensure that poverty is indeed alleviated, and we hope, eliminated.

Photo of Lord Loomba Lord Loomba Liberal Democrat

My Lords, I congratulate the Government on leading the way in fulfilling the UN target to spend 0.7% of gross national income on aid, underpinned by the forthcoming Private Member’s Bill sponsored by my colleague in the other House, Mike Moore MP. Will the Minister tell us what percentage of the international aid provided by the Government is spent on poverty-alleviating projects in India?

Photo of Baroness Northover Baroness Northover Lords Spokesperson (Women & Equalities), Baroness in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip), Lords Spokesperson (Department for International Development)

I thank my noble friend for his tribute to the Government. I am proud to be part of a Government who have finally met that 0.7% target. Everybody in this House knows how important that is, and how small a contribution it is in financial terms. That is something that we need to get across to the public as a whole. There is a moral case for this; it is extremely important.

My noble friend will also know that, as India grows, it is transitioning to looking after its own people; that is key. I have seen major Indian government projects in place supported with DfID technical expertise. That is the right way to head.

Photo of Lord Collins of Highbury Lord Collins of Highbury Opposition Whip (Lords), Shadow Spokesperson (International Development)

My Lords, 15 years ago there were just two dollar billionaires in India; now there are 46. The total net worth of the billionaire community in India has climbed from 1% to 12% of GDP. That is enough to eliminate absolute poverty twice over, with enough left over to double spending on health. What steps will the Government take to ensure that this fundamental issue of income inequality is properly addressed at the UN talks on post-2015 SDGs?

Photo of Baroness Northover Baroness Northover Lords Spokesperson (Women & Equalities), Baroness in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip), Lords Spokesperson (Department for International Development)

The noble Lord will know from our own history that poverty alleviation in our country was a slow process. India is moving very fast. Over the past decade, it has moved from having 37% living in extreme poverty to 22%. The important thing, as the noble Lord rightly identifies, is India’s investment in its own people. I have said that what the Indian Government have put on the record is very encouraging, as they seek to eliminate poverty among all their people with, as they stress, inclusiveness in doing so.

Photo of The Bishop of Carlisle The Bishop of Carlisle Bishop

My Lords, does the Minister agree that while the gender gap in employment and political participation is narrowing in India, there is still much that needs to be done by the Government for the health and safety of girls and women? If that is the case, can the Minister assure us that this matter will be given the attention it deserves at the Girl Summit being hosted by the UK Government next week?

Photo of Baroness Northover Baroness Northover Lords Spokesperson (Women & Equalities), Baroness in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip), Lords Spokesperson (Department for International Development)

The Girl Summit is extremely important. The right reverend Prelate is right about the gender gap in India, but I also notice that in the budget of last week money was put into trying to ensure that girls attend and are safe in school. I have myself seen a major programme which puts money into the hands of families of girls to try to ensure that they stay in school and have the incentives to be there.

Photo of Lord Flight Lord Flight Conservative

My Lords, does the Minister agree that the most important way to reduce poverty in India is to increase its growth rate? It has lagged behind that of China significantly over the past decade for a variety of reasons, whereas China has indeed alleviated poverty dramatically.

Photo of Baroness Northover Baroness Northover Lords Spokesperson (Women & Equalities), Baroness in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip), Lords Spokesperson (Department for International Development)

I agree with my noble friend that growth is essential for reducing poverty. As he will know, Mr Modi has a record in this regard. What he is doing at the moment by investing in that growth, stabilising prices and investing in infrastructure is encouraging because that is how he is most likely to relieve poverty.

Photo of Lord Patel Lord Patel Crossbench

I return to the point that my noble and right reverend friend Lord Harries of Pentregarth made. The poverty is related significantly to discrimination against a group which is a minority but is comprised of a large number of people: the Dalits. What will the British Government do to help India understand that and reduce the poverty among this group of people?