Commonwealth

Baroness Flather Excerpts
Thursday 30th June 2022

(2 years ago)

Lords Chamber
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Baroness Flather Portrait Baroness Flather (CB)
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My Lords, I hope that your Lordships have noticed how much of the Commonwealth is represented in your Lordships’ House today. It shows that we are interested in knowing what is happening to the Commonwealth, as much as we want to share.

One of the things which I feel were done incorrectly was line-drawing on a map. People were not consulted on whether they would like to be with each other, and some of the countries have had problems as a result, not to mention India and Pakistan. In India, we did not have the line of separation until a month before it came into force. We were very close to the line, so my family was very anxious, because they wanted to know where they were going to live. In the end, we were refugees in Delhi. We were not against an old building but we were still refugees, because my father left everything he owned behind.

My main feeling about the Commonwealth is that its members have not learned to understand one another, because until you do that, you do not do things together. When I first went to one of its meetings some years ago, the French-speaking and the English-speaking members had very few ways of communicating with one another. I hope that that has gone, but it is an example of how things can go wrong without meaning to go wrong. If there are two tribes who do not like each other, you do not want to put them in one country. I do not think that any research of that kind was done before the lines were drawn on the map. It is one of the weaknesses of the Commonwealth that I am not sure that everybody likes everybody else who lives next door to them.

As for India and Pakistan, first of all, it was going to be Muslim countries together and Hindus separate. Kashmir is a Muslim region, and it should definitely have gone to Pakistan; it has no business to be given to India, but it was not given to India either—it does not belong to anybody except itself. There is no end of problems with it, and they will not be resolved unless some definite action is taken. The UN said that we could have a plebiscite. We should have one. That would resolve the question of who it wants to be with. That is not for me to resolve, because I have no power to do anything. If I did, I would say, “Have a plebiscite.” The other thing we could do is try to increase the trade links, which we do not—we have a lot of army links, but no trade links, and that is not very good either. It is a big mess and I do not know whether it can be resolved. People have pretended to try to resolve it, but they have not been able to. Maybe the new generation, such as the noble Lord, Lord Ahmad, will have something to do with it and resolve something that is terrible.

A very senior Pakistani general said to me, “There’ll be no more war between India and Pakistan—a proper war—because we know we can’t win.” That is true—we are so much bigger than them—but imagine making a Pakistan whose main part was in one place and another little part, Bangladesh, was 1,500 miles away. How can a country work like that? It cannot work as a country if you have two very definite, separate bits, and it did not, so they attacked Bangladesh, which did not go down too well with India.

Anyway, here we are. That is what we are left with, so we have got to make the best of it.

Myanmar

Baroness Flather Excerpts
Thursday 10th May 2018

(6 years, 2 months ago)

Grand Committee
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Baroness Flather Portrait Baroness Flather (CB)
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My Lords, I will also start by saying how grateful I am to the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, for giving us an opportunity to say the things which are in our hearts.

I went to Burma some years ago. My visit was arranged by the Burmese ambassador at the time, who had been here for some years. When I arrived in Yangon, I was met by a captain, so I thought, “Ah! I will be put under close scrutiny—that’s why they’ve sent a captain to receive me”. It was very interesting, because when we got to the hotel, he said, “Here is my telephone number and my office number. If you need any help, just call me, but I will only come when you need me”. I thought, “My goodness! This bodes well”. I have to say that I had a wonderful visit. What I want to share with your Lordships is my feeling about Aung San Suu Kyi.

Even at that time, many people in Burma felt that she had polarised opinions against Burma, because everybody adored Aung San Suu Kyi so they hated everyone else. That is not entirely true. However, I know that at that time there was no trade with Burma—it had all stopped—and no airlines were coming in except for Biman from Bangladesh. It was isolated. My view was that if we wanted them to change, we should start making contacts, but nobody wanted to do that because Aung San Suu Kyi was under house arrest and, “Oh, she was the most wonderful person of all”.

Your Lordships may have got the feeling that I am not totally enamoured of Aung San Suu Kyi, nor have I ever been. She thought she was going to do good, and I am sure she intended to, but she has no opportunity. There is no possibility of doing things that the generals do not want, no matter what kind of position they accord you. In 1995, she was offered the prime ministership, but she refused because she said that they would not give her the power. No, they will not give her the power. Why would they ever part with the slightest amount of power? This is what we have to remember. We can say, “Oh, how wonderful—democracy and all that!” but there is no democracy. “How wonderful—human rights!” but there will be no human rights. I am fully convinced that the generals are in power and will stay in power unless something cataclysmic happens, and Aung San Suu Kyi is not a cataclysm.

In addition, all the people who used to support Aung San Suu Kyi in the early days, when she won the first election, have got too old or have died, so there is a new lot of people supporting her. It appeared that there was a chink of light, but I do not think she is up to it, because you have to be very strong to stand up to the sort of pressure she is under. It is not her fault entirely, but she is not a strong person. A lot has been made of the fact that she was not allowed to go and see her dying husband and so on. That may be so, but she lived in great luxury, in a beautiful house, with lots of people looking after her. I met a lot of people there, but one of the boys I met was her houseboy, who said that she took one to two hours to get dressed in the morning before she met the people who had come to see her in her home. I also met Professor Taylor, who said that she applied to do a doctorate at SOAS. He said that he looked at everything she had done and written, and that she was not up to a doctorate. So she is not a brilliant lady with a brilliant past, and possibly she will not have a brilliant future.

Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting 2018

Baroness Flather Excerpts
Thursday 22nd March 2018

(6 years, 3 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Baroness Flather Portrait Baroness Flather (CB)
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My Lords, the first few speakers in this debate made the Commonwealth sound like motherhood and apple pie—everything was perfect and cosy. It was left to the noble Lord, Lord Anderson of Swansea, to tell us something about the realities of the Commonwealth. I am sorry that he is not in his place because I think he brought us back to reality with his speech. Before I start my speech I want to say what a pleasure it was to hear the maiden speech of the noble Lord, Lord Geidt. I had the good fortune of working with him earlier on the memorial, so I was very pleased to see him here.

Anyway, back to the Commonwealth. All the things that are going on are all very well, but I remind noble Lords that the last CHOGM was the first time that there was a women’s forum. Everybody said how wonderful it was to have a women’s forum. But women form half the population of the Commonwealth and of the world. I do not think it is such a great thing that it took such a long time to have a women’s forum. In fact, do we need a women’s forum? Women’s issues should be discussed and thought about in the mainstream of CHOGM, not in a separate women’s forum. I have never believed in separateness because the people with the power to take decisions are not usually at those forums. Now we will have another one. That is good; we will keep having them.

What are the real problems of, say, Africa? We face the huge issue of climate change and lack of water. We also face children dying because either they are drinking dirty water or there is no water. But we do not have family planning. The noble Lord, Lord Alton, is not in his place. He says that we must bring religion back, but religion is not always beneficial to women. It may be beneficial to men but it is not beneficial to women. Certainly, his religion is not beneficial to women. The Catholic Archbishop of Uganda declared that there should be no family planning and that any woman who uses contraception will go straight to hell. The population of Italy is falling—how is that possible when they do not believe in contraception?—but the population of Africa is increasing. They keep having children and then some of them just die because they are sick or there is no water or there are too many of them and they cannot be managed. So we cannot always rely on religion to give us the best that we need. I do not think that Catholicism does, and nor does Islam. There is a very beautiful temple in Neasden which noble Lords may have visited. The priests there do not allow women in their presence because they would be contaminated by the women. I do not go to that temple; I would never go anywhere where they believed that. I do not think that noble Lords know that when they go there.

I have been reading about the issues on which the CHOGM will be focusing. One is a more sustainable future. Would not half the population of the Commonwealth be helpful in that? They will add to the economy and to whatever is needed to be done. Another is a fairer future. Women certainly have not got a fairer future. We have to realise that the Commonwealth is a two-tier entity. We cannot really now count the original Dominions as the Commonwealth because they are fully developed countries.

India, which is supposed to be such a vibrant economy, has the largest number of poor people, and we can imagine that the poorest of the poor people are going to be the women. It is not only that; there are hundreds of thousands of bonded labourers in India. They borrowed money and could not pay it back so they are bonded to the person they borrowed from. It goes on not only in that generation but in the next generation, so they live in slavery not for one generation but on and on. These are things that we must not forget when we think of India as being rich and such a vibrant economy. Money is not going down as fast as it should.

Another issue is a more secure future. We would all like a more secure future. Women get raped and abused. We know that in Nigeria girls have been taken away and have not been found. So women need a more secure future in the whole world, not just in the Commonwealth. Statistics show that 130 million girls are not in school. Whether their lives would be changed by going to school, we do not know—but if they do not go to school their lives certainly will not change. Forty-three percent—getting on for half—of women are married before the age of 18, and of course they are going to have children and are going to have problems. The noble Baroness, Lady Tonge, talked about abortion. If we get working on family planning and make it easily available to women, we may not need to have so many abortions or to think about it. It is just a terrible world for women. Whatever we do at CHOGM, a bit of focus on women is needed. The only way things can improve is if we have a non-political judiciary. The present Secretary-General is a lawyer and I hope that she will work on the legal side of the work in Commonwealth countries. If you have the rule of law, you will get all the rest. If you do not, you get nothing.

Commonwealth

Baroness Flather Excerpts
Thursday 16th March 2017

(7 years, 4 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Baroness Flather Portrait Baroness Flather (CB)
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My Lords, we have had a very interesting afternoon. We have heard a variety of speeches on a variety of issues. First, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, for the comprehensive way she introduced the debate. I do not think she left anything out in her opening speech.

We almost always have a debate on the Commonwealth every year. Some of it is the same as ever because obviously the issues do not go away so we have to remind ourselves of them. I was very pleased to hear the support for the new Secretary-General, who has been a good friend to many of us. One of the newspapers said she was very greedy because she was asking for the same pay as the former Secretary-General. Is that greedy? Should she accept lower pay just because she is a woman? Somebody else said she was spending so much money doing up the flat but she says it was started beforehand. That is not in the papers. Nobody says that the works had started before she took office. These are the issues that even in our society women have to face.

That reminds me of women—not that I ever forget women. I am pleased that the noble Baroness, Lady Uddin, spoke about women. She spoke more about the leadership role of women. I have noticed how many Prime Ministers and leaders who are women do not focus on the needs of their sisters. It is very sad because they have to fight their way and they have to fight all the people around them, and are not terribly well supported in their roles. Certainly, if I go back to Mrs Gandhi, she did not do anything at all for women. Mrs Thatcher did more than people know but there are many women leaders and Prime Ministers who have done nothing for women.

My focus is always on the poorest women. Yesterday the noble Lord, Lord Watson, and I were at a conference on Nigeria. I said, “The women in Nigeria do three-quarters of the work and you give them nothing. They get nothing at all for that”. The people there did not say, “No, no, they do not do three-quarters”. Actually, I could have said they do almost all the work but I thought that would be a bit over the top, but they do. They do agricultural work and all kinds of other work and there is no return for them, and they are controlled totally by the men. They do not have any money, position or status.

As the noble Baroness, Lady Uddin, said, without the women we cannot have a change in society. Women are the only way to change the nature of society and the nature of society in the developing countries of the Commonwealth is not good—and that includes India. It is amazing. People say, “Oh, but India has so much money”. Yes, India has money but it is not for the people. The money is for the individuals who have money. That is the problem. Maybe Africa has money, I do not know, but it does not go to ordinary people and certainly not to the women. If we want a proper change, we have to start thinking about how to make it possible for women to have a reasonably good life and access to some money.

I have been involved in development issues since I came to this House. Everywhere I have gone, in every project I have seen, women earn a little bit of money; they change, their children change; they send their children to school—everything changes. Their health changes. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Crisp, that health is a very important factor. What he said about nurses was extremely valuable. In India, which is a great place for health tourism, nurses are not valued at all. They are treated almost as if they are street women. So even in the professions or jobs where they are badly needed, women are not valued or treated well.

I have to say a word about Bangladesh. I do not know whether the noble Baroness, Lady Uddin, will agree but I have been to Bangladesh several times and it does better than India on every tick-box. It does better on food security, health, education and family planning—in fact, very much better on family planning. I believe that is because there are so many women in paid work. We always say how dreadful these garment factories are; they are dreadful to an extent but they employ girls and women, who change once they are employed. If they get even a small amount of money, they change and when they do, everything else changes with them. In their families, they do not want to have children or to marry too early. All sorts of things happen.

I was speaking a little earlier today to the noble Lords, Lord Watson and Lord Boateng. I said how important it was to have family planning and they both said, “It’ll happen by itself—there’ll be more education and a change in their circumstances”. I do not quite know which circumstances they meant. I am sorry, but we have been saying for 50 years that everything will happen by itself and education will come. No, it is actually longer than 50 years because it was in the 1950s that we started saying, “Don’t worry, education will come and everything will change in developing countries”. Are we not still waiting?

When we have CHOGM next year it is my hope and expectation that we will be clear and straightforward, and not try to pretend that we must not say this or that. We have heard about the treatment of LGBT people. How can we tolerate that? We have to speak out about it. I say frankly that the religious and faith leaders have a real role to play in that. They have a real responsibility and should speak out openly and clearly to the faithful who follow them, but they do not. They are always a little ambivalent about it and they should not be.

We should not be ambivalent about issues which are extremely important and clear. We should not be ambivalent about the treatment of women, or about the fact that somebody like Zuma can build a huge palace for himself and it is said to be perfectly all right. It is not perfectly all right. What would Nelson Mandela say about Zuma? The value of the currency there has dropped like a stone, while he has this huge palace. There are issues in the Commonwealth which cannot be papered over as if they do not matter. We cannot paper over Mugabe. We ought to try to persuade other countries in Africa to say, “This is not the way to treat people”, when things are so bad. Zuma has now said that white farms are there to be taken. Everything seems to be going the wrong way round and they should not be doing those things.

At CHOGM, we ought to set down exactly what we want to see. It is not just about doing it for them; they have to do it for themselves but we have to help them and point out why. The noble Lord, Lord Crisp, also mentioned the rule of law. Nothing can happen in a country—no human rights or anything—if there is no rule of law. You can say, “All right, we have human rights”, but how will you make them happen? You cannot, so the rule of law is very important. I hope noble Lords will make sure that next year it is big on the agenda.

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Baroness Mobarik Portrait Baroness Mobarik (Con)
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My Lords, can I say just how much I have enjoyed listening to today’s debate? I thank all noble Lords for their contributions. It is a reminder of the depth of interest in and support for the Commonwealth in this House. Today’s debate has really done justice to such an important subject. I add my voice to those of other noble lords in paying tribute to my noble friend Lady Anelay for her excellent work as Commonwealth Minister.

This Government are strongly supporting moves to strengthen the UK’s relationship with the Commonwealth ahead of the Commonwealth summit, which we will be hosting next year. The Commonwealth is a truly extraordinary organisation with immense potential for global influence. Its members, large and small, developed and developing, cover more than a quarter of the world’s land mass. They are home to more than 2 billion people, two-thirds of whom are under 30 years old.

Those are staggering statistics. They mean that if the Commonwealth speaks as one voice, the world should listen. This is why the Commonwealth is so important to the UK. It is not only because of our strong cultural ties from the past, which of course matter to us enormously; it is also because of its potential to influence real change in the future. That is why we are investing so much in supporting the development of our fellow member countries: it is a crucial part of our expanded role on the world stage—the Prime Minister’s vision for a truly global Britain.

The Government are intensifying our efforts to end extreme poverty and promote development. Developing Commonwealth countries benefit substantially from UK official development assistance. In 2015, 10 of the top 50 national recipients were Commonwealth countries and total official development assistance to all Commonwealth countries was more than £3.5 billion. We are investing in the future of the Commonwealth. We support the Commonwealth Youth Programme and the Commonwealth of Learning, and provide funding of £23 million to the Commonwealth Scholarship Commission, which allows young people from Commonwealth developing countries to study and work at UK universities. Furthermore, we have recently agreed to fund a new three-year programme worth more than £33 million for the Commonwealth Fund for Technical Co-operation, the Commonwealth Foundation and the Commonwealth of Learning. This is in addition to our assessed annual subscription of £5.4 million. The UK remains the principal contributor to the Commonwealth Secretariat. This means that the UK plays a significant part in supporting the three Commonwealth intergovernmental organisations.

We are also literally looking to the future of the Commonwealth by supporting the work of the Queen Elizabeth Diamond Jubilee Trust to reduce avoidable blindness. Through its programmes, almost 50,000 people in Africa have had surgery to save their sight from trachoma, and more than 12 million doses of antibiotics have been distributed to people at risk. The noble Lord, Lord Crisp, asked about the trust, and I welcome his recognition of it. As I say, the trust is doing important work to eliminate blindness and I am pleased to say that we are providing £50 million of match funding to deliver such impressive results.

The Commonwealth is also important because of its potential to boost trade. The Prime Minister has been clear that leaving the EU presents an opportunity for Britain to revitalise its role as a great trading nation. Trade is a force for good, one of the most dynamic and transformational in the world. It creates jobs, raises incomes and lifts millions of people out of poverty. We believe that trade and development go hand in hand. Trade is a crucial driver of development because enterprise transforms lives, not just those of individuals but whole families, in particular when it creates jobs for women. That is why development is at the heart of the UK’s approach to international trade. Helping developing countries to grow more quickly, trade more freely and break their dependence on aid, it also helps to build up our partners for the future. It shares wealth and prosperity across the Commonwealth and beyond.

That is why we want to encourage more trade between Commonwealth members. It is one of the reasons why we welcomed the decision to hold for the first time a Commonwealth Trade Ministers meeting and why we took the opportunity to co-host it here in London. This is a crucial moment to renew our partnerships with Commonwealth countries and to further strengthen those close relationships we already enjoy. We should all be making more of the comparative advantage of trading within the Commonwealth. I am delighted that there was consensus at the meeting on the need to boost trade.

In response to the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, I say that leaving the EU means that we will want to make our own decisions about how to deliver policy objectives previously targeted by EU funding. We will be consulting closely with stakeholders to ensure that any ongoing funding commitments best help the world’s poorest and deliver value for money. I agree with the noble Earl that the CDC Group, which was formerly the Commonwealth Development Corporation, is an important way of delivering tangible support to developing countries. Since 2012 the CDC Group has invested only in Asia and Africa, but its portfolio of more than £3 billion covers 1,200 companies in 70 countries, and in 2015 these companies created more than 1 million jobs.

Baroness Flather Portrait Baroness Flather
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My Lords, the CDC Group has paid a great deal of money to Narayana Health, a corporate health provider in India, but everything I have found out about it indicates that it is a very rich organisation. If it is creating jobs in India, that is not the way to do it. If it can help people who cannot afford healthcare, it is not doing it.

Baroness Mobarik Portrait Baroness Mobarik
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I think the noble Baroness has raised this question in a previous debate. Perhaps I should write to her to clarify our position on that issue.

My noble friends Lord Popat and Lord Sheikh rightly recognised the important role played by our trade envoys in delivering our vision for a truly global Britain, particularly in enhancing our relationships with Commonwealth partners. I commend my noble friend Lord Popat for his personal work as trade envoy to Uganda and Rwanda since January 2016. I know that he has built strong links with both countries. The Department for International Trade has recently undertaken a review of the trade envoy programme and recommendations on its future direction are now with the Prime Minister.

The noble Baroness, Lady Benjamin, and my noble friend Lord Goodlad raised the issue of pensions. Uprating state pensions overseas is a long-standing policy of successive Governments. This has been the case for almost 70 years and there are no plans to change the policy.

To my noble friend Lord Sheikh I say that we are proud of our long and productive relationship with Commonwealth partners and are committed to delivering a future border system which welcomes investment and promotes prosperity. The precise arrangements for controlling immigration after the UK leaves the EU have yet to be determined. Openness to international talent will remain one of the UK’s distinctive assets.

The noble Baroness, Lady Uddin, mentioned the importance of embedding women’s rights in all future trade deals. I reassure the noble Baroness that the Government, through their delivery of a successful Commonwealth summit and their wider trade policy, are committed to building genuinely inclusive prosperity that benefits and provides opportunities for all. We welcome the opportunity for dialogue on human rights and good governance brought about by our close trading partnerships with countries around the world.

Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting

Baroness Flather Excerpts
Thursday 17th December 2015

(8 years, 7 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Baroness Flather Portrait Baroness Flather (CB)
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My Lords, everybody has expressed delight at the election of the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Scotland, to the post of Secretary-General. I am sorry but I have to do the same. I like to think that it is good to have friends in high places. I hope that the noble and learned Baroness will be very successful.

I think that I have spoken in every Commonwealth debate that the noble Lord, Lord Luce, has initiated. It is wonderful that he keeps on bringing these debates to your Lordships’ House, thus giving us the opportunity to think about the Commonwealth more seriously than we normally do. Once again, I thank him for that.

We were so delighted that CHOGM had a women’s meeting—we should be delighted, because it was the first time. It has even been said that there should be a women’s meeting every time CHOGM takes places. Can you think, though, of a men’s meeting where women do not attend? We have a women’s meeting where the men do not attend. Who holds the power? Who holds the decision-making? It is the men, but they do not attend the women’s meeting—they do not listen to what women have to say about the issues that concern them. This bothers me greatly.

I believe it is the first time that there has been more general agreement between all the attendees that they will do something about climate change. It is really amazing that there was an agreement. When, however, do we think they will have an agreement about working on violence against women or about population and access to family planning? The Commonwealth does not have to fall in with Saudi Arabia, which is not part of the Commonwealth. Nor does the Commonwealth have to fall in only with Catholics. There are Catholics within it and they do not have to practise family planning, but it should be available to everyone else. I wonder whether it will ever happen.

On a previous occasion, I said that, without rule of law, nothing can change in a country. We have to think about that. Corruption is endemic, we all know that. It will not go away just by our waving a little piece of paper saying, “We will tackle corruption”. I am from India and, although I have lived here more years than I lived in India, I know India well because I go there every year. Corruption is endemic and I do not know what the present prime minister is doing. So far, there is no sign of anything except that people come to work on time. That is the only thing that anybody has noticed.

We have laws on the treatment of women. Somebody mentioned about making them work—they do not work, nobody bothers about the laws. Women suffer all the way through. Unless we deal with the needs of half of the population of developing countries, we cannot be called civilised.

Queen’s Speech

Baroness Flather Excerpts
Thursday 28th May 2015

(9 years, 1 month ago)

Lords Chamber
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Baroness Flather Portrait Baroness Flather (CB)
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My Lords, I will focus on international development, but before I start I would like to say how much I enjoyed the opening given by the noble Earl, Lord Howe. It was his usual thoughtful, well-considered opening and it is good to see him in a new role. Perhaps he will not be on the Front Bench every day I come into the Chamber, as he was in the previous Session. I think he got a bit tired.

I would also like to say how much I associate myself with the remarks of the noble Baroness, Lady Helic. I feel very much in a similar position to her, although I came to this country much earlier and not from an area that was badly damaged or treated badly. This country has been good to me. I have enjoyed living here and I cannot now imagine living anywhere else. I am glad she said that and I absolutely agree that this is a country where you can make your own life. You do not have to be given it, you can do it yourself. Another noble Baroness across the Chamber is shaking her head.

I turn now to not so pleasant things. The topic is international development, but it is really about 1 billion people—women—who are not remembered. In India and Africa, and maybe in one or two other, smaller areas, you will find that there are 1 billion women altogether. The lives they lead are really not imaginable by people who live in this country. I use the word “imaginable” advisedly, because their lives are unbelievably horrible. They have no status. They are not even treated as human beings. If they get ill, people wait for them to die because it is so much easier if they die, because then they get another woman who is stronger and younger. It is really time for us to start focusing on the situation of women. We cannot change anything through international development unless we change the lives of women.

We have allowed this to go on and we have allowed the lack of family planning to go on. The population of the world is burgeoning. Have we not noticed that? Have we not noticed the impact of that? As there is no water and very little food, nearly 8 million children die before they are five years old, and 2.4 million children die when they are just born. This is a world that we should not be accepting. Some 290,000 women die every year in childbirth and still we do not focus on family planning. It has barely made its way into everyday language. People speak about it but they are still a bit edgy or nervous; it is not a subject that you talk about. I went to my local Rotary to talk about women and their situation, and afterwards a number of people said to each other, “We do not really want to hear these things”. No, they do not. Nobody wants to hear these things. A woman in India who gets HIV is not allowed to go to the clinic because then everyone will know that she has HIV, so she is kept in until she dies, or whatever. It is not a good world for women.

With all due respect to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Coventry, it is all right to talk about religion, but what has religion done for women? It has done nothing for them. Catholicism or Islam have positively been bad for women. If women are not allowed to have contraception, then in some areas, especially in Africa where there are so many Catholics, they may have seven, eight or nine children. Three or four of those will die of disease and hunger because the men do not bother. It is the women who have to feed them and find their food. That does not matter to anybody. It does not matter to the bishops. A bishop in Uganda recently said to all his priests, “Tell the women that they are going straight to hell if they use contraception”. This is not the kind of world that we should be living in in 2015.

In 1950, there were 2.7 billion people in the whole world. There are now about 7.25 billion in this world, and the demographics suggest that by 2050 there will be between 9 billion and 10 billion. I know that it is too late to turn the clock back, but we could at least stop it ticking on and on, forwards and forwards, and try to help especially the women who do not really have lives; they are either baby-making machines or just workers. It is said that women do three-quarters of the work but earn 10% of the wages and own 1% of the property in the world. It really is time that our attention is focused, when it comes to development work, on the women. They change very quickly if they are given the opportunity. They learn very quickly. They have nothing, so if you do anything for them they change.

On that note, I say to the noble Lord, Lord Collins of Highbury, that the garment factories are extremely important to women. Okay, they do not get paid the wages that women earn in this country, but they would have nothing without those garment factories. Please remember that that is all they have. Also, in regard to children working, a poor family cannot manage unless the children work. It is no use trying to be very moral and grand and saying, “Oh no, we do not want children working”. No, tell the companies that employ them that we will buy their goods if they let the children work for five, six or seven hours and give them a good meal. Do not say, “Don’t work”, because families cannot survive and will beg on the streets, which is no better. In fact, it is worse. So there are things happening in the world that we really do not know of.

The noble Lord, Lord Crisp, was the first person to mention women today. I told him, “You mentioned women”, and he said, “I knew that you would, but I was ahead of you”. I am often the only one who talks about women in this Chamber. I was the first person to talk about population connected to climate change. What are we doing? Okay, everything is going to change if we do not do this or do not do that, but if the number of people keeps on increasing, the climate will keep on changing. It is a self-evident fact; if you have 7 billion-plus bodies, it is not going to be the same as having 2.7 billion bodies.

Let us, therefore, start really looking at the elephant in the room and start working on population. Bill Gates, who spends the money perhaps of a small country’s GDP, says that he wants to eradicate malaria. That is wonderful, but every time he goes to eradicate malaria, there will be that big tranche of children who we will not have vaccinated. If he put his money towards family planning instead of malaria, we would see much better results than he thinks are made in respect of malaria.

Commonwealth

Baroness Flather Excerpts
Thursday 17th October 2013

(10 years, 9 months ago)

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My Lords, I have always associated the noble Lord, Lord Luce, with the Commonwealth. I know that his father, too, was involved in it—although probably it was not called that at the time. I am from the Commonwealth. I have kept my links with my country of origin, India, and I also visit Africa frequently.

Many speeches this afternoon were in praise of the Commonwealth: in praise of what is going on and in praise of what is possible. I am sorry that my speech may not be quite in that vein. I have in my hand the 16 items of the charter. They are like apple pie and motherhood. Anybody could use the charter, in any country, as a model. There is nothing in it with which you could possibly disagree. However, words do not make reality, and I fear that that is what the charter will be: no reality, only words.

I will tell the House why I say that. Noble Lords may have read recently that the Indian Government had decided to give a lot of money for food for the poorest. The view is that it is not getting to the poorest, and that either the money or the food is disappearing to the middlemen. That is one thing. The second thing is that, if the food does get to the poorest, everybody assures me that it will not get to the women and girls; it will go to the men and boys. This is the reality of the Commonwealth. India has the largest number of undernourished people in the whole world, but look at the money that has come into that country and its economic prosperity. However, that money has gone mostly to Switzerland. There are trillions of dollars in Switzerland belonging to Indian businessmen, which is very depressing.

As regards Africa, I was in Uganda last year. Every time I saw a good farm or a good building, I discovered that it belonged to the president’s wife. I think that she owns about a third of the best assets in Uganda. That, again, is very depressing. Who is carrying the loads? It is the women. Where are the men? They are in the shops. Nothing has changed and I fear it is very likely that nothing will change. We cannot influence that. The saddest thing is that there is no desire to improve the situation of women because clearly that does not suit the men. If the women slave all day and ask for nothing, is that not the best thing for the men?

Somebody referred to women’s economic contribution. Indeed, without them, these countries would not function. When I was in Jamaica, I suggested to the women that they should go on strike for a day and the whole country would come to a standstill. Women make an economic contribution but it is not recognised. They are not entitled to anything and they are not given anything. People need education and food. An item in the charter refers to food, shelter and education. Instead of having 16 items in the charter, we should have two very important ones and try to put them in place.

I am a great admirer of all the links we have with the Commonwealth. I hope that that will continue and grow. I belong to two organisations. One educates very poor girls in the Commonwealth—girls only, please note—and the other supports a disabled children’s centre: the only one in India which trains women and men from other south-east Asian countries. We should continue with all the things that we can do as individuals or groups. However, I am not sure that the Commonwealth will do much for the people who need its help.

Older People: Their Place and Contribution in Society

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Friday 14th December 2012

(11 years, 7 months ago)

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I add my appreciation to the most reverend Primate for initiating this debate. I should also like to add a personal note. I have felt very privileged that I have had the opportunity to get to know him, and I am grateful for the kindness that he and Mrs Williams have shown me on more than one occasion. I will remember that as a great good fortune for me.

We all know that we, here, are the luckiest old people in the world. There is no doubt whatever about that. When ageing, there cannot be anything better than to be in this place, to have things to do and to have wonderful people to talk to. It used to be called the best day centre in the world. It is, and we should never stop appreciating how many wonderful old people we meet. Some of us who, when we came here, thought that we were entering middle age in our 50s, realised that we were actually quite young. Then old age crept in. Old age has crept up on me without my realising it. Now that I am nudging the age of 80, I still do not understand how that happened. Where did the years go? I think that has happened because I have been so happy and productive here. Therefore, old age has no meaning when you are productive and doing things. It has a negative meaning when you are not productive and not doing things. It has a positive meaning when you can have a fulfilling time.

My experience is that I have just become old without realising and I do not see myself as old. I think it was the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Scotland, who said we have bits and pieces attached to us that keep us going. I have two new knees, a huge pacemaker and a stent and I feel wonderful. We are very lucky in this day and age but we also have to blame medical science for keeping us going. Many people who are not fortunate enough to be in this House do not find the fulfilment they need in their lives. I was very interested to hear the things the noble Lord, Lord Wei, suggested should be done. That is very important.

I am going to say something about families a little later, but I want to suggest something now. We have heard about volunteering and the contribution of elderly people—I had them in my notes but I will not speak about them because many noble Lords already have. I started my life in the voluntary sector so I have seen what people do—friends of mine looked after elderly people in hospitals when they were about five or 10 years older than the patients. Older people, who are well and fit, will do things and keep doing things and that is a wonderful thing and a wonderful example for us all. They save money for the country and that is a very good thing. However, we have to consider that somebody in their mid-50s who has lost their job may be told that they are too old to get a new job. That frightens me. Why should you be too old when you have such a long life span? You should not be too old until your mid-70s. It is extremely difficult to understand.

We need an initiative whereby people can participate in different activities. We have things called day centres. I have been to day centres because in my previous life I was a councillor. I know about day centres. I also know about sheltered accommodation because I decided to take responsibility for it. They are not designed to encourage people to do things for themselves and for other elderly people. Things cannot change unless elderly people—elderly like me, of course—can take responsibility for doing something for and with other elderly people so that there is pleasure, enjoyment and activity.

We have youth centres. What is a day centre? You sit around the room and get a meal. That is not good enough. Sometimes they have some card games and things but it could and should be much more than that. There should be a centre of the third age where people can go. There should be a workshop there for people who want to make or do things. There should be a number of different kinds of activities for people to participate in. There should be advice on starting a small business and how to get a loan to start one. It should be an overarching centre that anybody can access.

I would also like councils to encourage people to become a group to look at local issues. Who knows better what is happening in their local community than the older people? Starting such a group is not about money, although of course if you start a centre there will be need to be some money—you could convert a day centre into it.

I am very much in favour of people being treated with dignity. I hated the little young things calling the older women and men by their first names. I thought that was very unpleasant. It really is unbelievable that people can treat older people like that.

I have almost run out of time so I shall quickly go on to families. I was brought up to believe that we should respect old people. That seems to have completely disappeared in this country. You see older people standing and youngsters—the sort of people who are able bodied—sitting and not giving them seats. That depresses me.

When I was visiting sheltered accommodation I noticed that many of the people there had no visitors at all. They had separated from their brothers and sisters and their children and no one was visiting them. That, again, is a sad development. I would hope that people would nurture and foster family. It should not be like an Asian family, where you are dominated, but something with which people feel connected.

My last point is about Asian families. The noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, gave a lot of facts and figures but, basically, people imagine that Asians look after their own families—well, they do not any more. In fact, in some cases, Asian families have a far worse time than white families. I have known of parents being put in attics without heating and so on. Yes, they are with the family and no one can say that they have thrown their parents out, but it is not right and it is not what it should be. We should not make any assumptions about anyone looking after their parents and we should try to make a life for older people.

Religion in the United Kingdom

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Thursday 22nd November 2012

(11 years, 7 months ago)

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My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Lord, Lord Singh, for giving us this opportunity to say a few words about things that matter to us. I was beginning to think that this debate should have been called “In praise of religion”. I was pleased that the noble Baroness, Lady Falkner, put in a word or two that did not quite pass for praise of religion.

I am the last speaker, which is both an advantage and a disadvantage. I had some notes, but I felt that I ought to say things which have come to mind listening to all noble Lords who have contributed to this debate. First, I am a secularist and an atheist, but I call myself a Hindu atheist because a lot of the principles that I live by are drawn from my Hindu ancestry and upbringing. I do have a set of principles. A lot of people seem to think that the only kind of atheist is like Dawkins; no, not all atheists are like him. I do not push my atheism on to anybody else. I say, “I am atheist; you have your own choice. If you do not wish to be an atheist, that is your choice”. At the same time, however, I hope that people would also say that to me.

The other thing that I strongly believe in is that if atheists or secularists push their views on other people, they become like the religious. Very often we find that religious people push their views on us. They like to make us feel that there is something wrong with us. I do not believe that there is.

The noble Lord, Lord Singh, is a very fortunate man. I do not know whether he realises that. He represents the most modern of the religions that we have spoken about today. It is the religion most suited for our modern life. The things that the founder, Guru Nanak, wanted the Sikhs to follow are very relevant today. It is just unfortunate that the followers do not follow them. I am afraid that that is the story of most religions: the followers do not follow their own religions. Guru Nanak did not know that he was starting Sikhism; he was a Hindu. But the Hindus were so tied up with ritual that he felt that something had to be done to bring people back to the principles rather than getting lost in ritual. The Gita, the most important book of the Hindus, says that ritual is the lowest form of worship. Everybody should take that to heart. Ritual is not what God watches. If there is a God, he looks at what kind of things you do and not the kind of worship you go into.

Having said that, of the two women who influenced me most, one was a Catholic nun and the other was a Salvation Army colonel. Why? They dedicated their lives totally to helping other people. This is where sewa comes in. I believe, first, in what the Gita says: you must do all your actions according to right and proper thinking. “Dharma” is not translatable into English, but it is your duty, the right way, the right thinking.

The second thing I believe in is the Christian saying from the Bible, that you should do to other people what you would like them to do to you. If the Christians just followed that, they could do no wrong. The third is seva, which the Sikhs say: service to other people. If you have just a few things to follow, you are in a better position than anybody else.

Commonwealth Parliamentary Association

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Thursday 8th September 2011

(12 years, 10 months ago)

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My Lords, I have been thinking a great deal about what the Commonwealth is. Is it an organisation? No, it is not an organisation. Is it a family? No, I do not think it is a family. I think it is a voluntary association of nations. It is a very good thing that it is voluntary, and it is certainly an association of nations. Many speakers have said that things have to be looked at and judged and that perhaps improvements need to be made. I want to state right at the start that I am not an uncritical admirer of the Commonwealth, but more about that in a minute.

My origins lie in the Empire before the partition and independence of India. India was quite rightly known as the jewel in the crown because, as the right reverend Prelate mentioned, in the two world wars we supplied a huge number of people as well as materials. India became a giant factory providing materials for the war effort. In the Second World War more than 2.5 million men volunteered. I am sure noble Lords know about the memorial that now stands on Constitution Hill to commemorate the contribution of Indians, Africans and people from the Caribbean islands because, amazingly, all these volunteers were not remembered on any of the memorials. It is very important to keep that in mind because that binds the UK to the countries that were there to help at the right moment. I was interested in what the noble Baroness, Lady Gardner of Parkes, said about being called a colonial. I am quite happy to be called a colonial. I may not be one now, but I was one. I always say that it is the Empire striking back, so it is all right. I sometimes feel that I am here to remind people that we were part of the Empire and we are here now.

Anyway, to more important things. I think that we have set down too many absolute values for the Commonwealth to follow. If you set down too many absolute values, your attention is not necessarily focused on the most important ones. I believe that the most important thing, which was not mentioned in any of the papers, although it is an absolute value and has been mentioned as such, is the rule of law. Even with democracy, if you do not have the rule of law you have nothing. I am afraid that it is something in which many countries of the Commonwealth are sorely lacking. We have to find a way to help Commonwealth countries to develop better systems and to realise how fundamental this aspect of life is. You cannot have human rights without the rule of law. You cannot stop violence against women without the rule of law. You cannot protect the rights of individuals. Everything turns around. You can have democracy, but if you have corrupt politicians, who is going to stop them unless you have the rule of law? I want to make a particular plea because all the work the CPA does, which is wonderful, is about parliamentary democracy. It is necessary and essential, and it is an amazing programme, but somehow or other we have to bring in ways of improving the rule of law.

The other matter that concerns me deeply is that we talk an awful lot about climate change. We have talked about it in this Chamber. We talk about it, and we have conferences on climate change, but we do not talk about population. If in 1950 there were 3.6 billion people on this planet and there are now 7 billion, minus one or two, surely it is going to affect the climate. Surely no one can say that it will have no impact. There is no water, and all the trees have been cut down. It is extremely important that we start looking at population increase. Most of the population increase is in Commonwealth countries. In the next 30 years or so, the population of Africa is likely to more than double. Where will the food come from? Where will the water come from? No matter how many lightbulbs you change, or aeroplanes you do not use, it is not going to help with climate change. You have to look at the population. You have to consider helping women to not have so many children. This is a taboo subject. Nobody wants to talk about it, but it is essential for every possible reason: the needs of the people, too many young people, and not enough work, education, water or food. I therefore make the great plea that we should think about climate change aligned with population.

My last word—and it literally is a word—is that nowhere did I see corruption mentioned in the papers I have received. Is it not amazing that we all know how much corruption there is in Commonwealth countries and we do not mention it or talk about it? We have to be realistic. We have to be honest. We have to look at the situation as it is, not as we would like to imagine it is.