36 Lord Desai debates involving the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office

Foreign Affairs

Lord Desai Excerpts
Tuesday 5th March 2024

(3 months, 1 week ago)

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Lord Desai Portrait Lord Desai (CB)
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My Lords, it is a great pleasure to welcome the noble Lord, Lord Cameron, to his position as Foreign Secretary. He is a rare example of someone who has been Prime Minister and come back as Foreign Secretary—are we not all lucky? However, I have to warn him that he has landed almost immediately on arrival into a problem created by another Prime Minister who became Foreign Secretary: Lord Balfour. The Israel- Palestine problem, or the Israel-Hamas problem, did not start in October 2023; it started in November 1917, and we still have it. Some here may remember Arthur Koestler, who was a communist and then became an ex-communist and was one of the few people who worked on a kibbutz in the 1920s. He said that:

“One nation solemnly promised to a second nation the country of a third”.


That was very much the message. Before Palestine had fallen from the Ottoman Empire, it was signed over to welcome Jews from all over Europe and America to come and make a nation.

It is a fact—I have been reading lots of books about this—that at no stage did we say that the Palestinians had any claim on the territory where they had been living for several centuries. That is the dilemma: two communities of very ancient origin can claim, truthfully and simultaneously, that it is their country and no one else’s. It has taken 100 years to prove who is right, and neither group is. We have to solve this problem because for a long time, not just since October 2023, there has been a lot of killing and damage done to both communities, carried out with a passion that is quite surprising. Obviously, being an atheist, I blame religion for this. The children of Abraham have quarrelled with each other now for about 2,000 years. After all, anti-Semitism was not invented recently; it was invented by the Christians, and the rest we know.

The events of 7 October, which were on a scale that we had not experienced for a long time, partly showed that Hamas was better prepared than it had been until recently. Given the retaliation by Israel in Gaza and elsewhere, is a two-state solution at all feasible to anticipate when passions are so heightened and so much killing has gone on? Twelve hundred people were captured or killed by Hamas in October while 30,000 Palestinian men, women and children have been killed. That is 25 Palestinians for each Israeli. Things are getting completely out of control. The question for the Foreign Secretary is whether a two-state solution is feasible any longer. Given the very peculiar shape of the partition that was decided by the UN, is it at all likely that a peaceful solution can be implemented and that these two communities will be able to live with each other for even a day longer if a ceasefire happens?

I do not know the answer, but there two outcomes are possible. One is that the territory can belong to only one country, and we have to find another solution for the refugees and people living on the Palestinian side. I am presuming that the Palestinians will lose; I do not desire that, but it is currently the situation. Where would the Palestinians go? There are millions of them to resettle. If they cannot resettle in Palestine, where will they go? That is the sort of problem that we are facing due to climate change, for other communities being made homeless because the sea level is rising or whatever.

We need to think about how to stop the Israel-Palestine war right now, as soon as possible, and then about how to rehouse the refugees scattered throughout Syria, Lebanon, Iraq and all those places, as well as people who are being thrown out of Gaza, the West Bank and everywhere else. We face the prospect of two different settlements because it is not possible to think that the two groups could live in a single area. That is going to be a major challenge, and we will have to create some room. I have one slightly quixotic suggestion and then I can sit down. Across the Caspian Sea, there are many Islamic states that were formerly part of the Soviet Union: Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan and so on. A tremendous amount of money ought to be raised to resettle the Palestinian refugees in that region. If everyone agreed to that, we might have peace for a while.

Universal Credit (Removal of Two Child Limit) Bill [HL]

Lord Desai Excerpts
Lord Desai Portrait Lord Desai (Non-Afl)
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My Lords, I support the right reverend Prelate’s nice, short Bill. In my five minutes, I shall talk about the history of why welfare states are always cruel to their claimants. That is a long tradition. I have a book coming out very soon, which I wrote during the pandemic, on why sound economics are always against the poor. Tax cuts are meant for the rich and are always good for the rich and for the economy, while benefit cuts are good for the poor and are somehow always good for the economy.

This all started in the late 18th century. Until then, we had rates collected by the Church and the poor were looked after at the level of the parish. Then of course the Reverend Malthus decided that this was too much. The rates were raised by Speenhamland magistrates in the late 18th century, but the reverend decided that he could not possibly afford to pay the extra rates so he wrote a book, An Essay on the Principle of Population, in which he made up the “fact” that populations grow geometrically while subsistence grows arithmetically—which I have shown to be a complete falsity.

The idea is that if you pay the poor money then they will breed children, and there is no limit to what they will do. Under universal credit, if you get a job then there is a taper and your income will be taken back. It is not called “income tax”; indeed, it is higher than the income tax rate. The poorest people pay more for getting a job under universal credit than anyone else. There are lots of anomalies like that, and the anomaly that you cannot have more than two children is exactly of that sort. The modern welfare state, established by rational political economy since the early 19th century, constantly goes after and attacks the poor because it has been centralised and modernised, and because sound economics tells you that you should not waste your money on the poor; it should all go to the rich. Unfortunately, we have waited a great many years to improve this.

Universal credit has been shown by a report of your Lordships’ Economic Affairs Committee to be full of anomalies and not actually fit for purpose. I do not think we will get comprehensive reform of the universal credit system, but even this morning we have seen people trying to improve it by bits and pieces in different Bills so that the universal credit system becomes slightly more humane than it is.

I strongly support the right reverend Prelate’s Bill and will do anything that I can to improve it or make it more acceptable. As an economist, though, I plead guilty that it is my science that has made the poor miserable. We ought to do something better than this.

Commonwealth

Lord Desai Excerpts
Thursday 30th June 2022

(1 year, 11 months ago)

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Lord Desai Portrait Lord Desai (Non-Afl)
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My Lords, let me concentrate on the problems and not the virtues of the Commonwealth because I have only five minutes. First, as was said by the noble Lord, Lord McDonald, and others, there was a great constitutional change when India became part of the Commonwealth, as a republic could continue to be part of the Commonwealth which, after all, is an association of the former colonies of the United Kingdom. That was very welcome. Now, any country which was formerly a part of the British Empire could become a republic and still be a member of the Commonwealth. That is very straightforward.

Secondly, the fact that CHOGM took place in Kigali gives notice that there are non-British Empire countries that want to join the Commonwealth. That is a very welcome sign and a very good thing, because the Commonwealth is one of the few associations, apart from the United Nations, which straddles all five continents. But, at the same time, there is a difficulty: whether the traditions of the British Commonwealth, which have been talked about quite a lot this afternoon, will continue to be adopted by people who are not formerly from the British Commonwealth. We shall see.

Her Majesty the Queen, as many people have said, has been a very strong influence in maintaining the Commonwealth. Her reign of 70 years has more or less corresponded with the new Commonwealth. The problem is—and we have not actually talked about it—that the decision made in 2018, at her request, that Prince Charles continue to be the Head of the Commonwealth after she has gone was a mistake. I am sorry, but I have to say that that restricts the future of the Commonwealth. It would have been better had the Commonwealth decided to rotate its headship among other countries besides Britain. That would have been more democratic and more egalitarian. We should not always assume that the Commonwealth has to be led by the British Head of State. Of course, people will not protest too much but when tensions grow—especially because some countries will have problems with that, or there may be differences—that will be a major point of disagreement. Why should Britain always be the head of the Commonwealth? The Commonwealth should be a truly democratic association of countries which want to be members together.

Looking at the Commonwealth, it is a miracle that it has survived for so long. It is quite astonishing that countries which were not part of the British Empire have chosen to join it. That is very interesting and I continue to contrast the Commonwealth with, say, the UN, which is a very badly organised body. It is run by an oligarchy of five permanent members, which can plead that they are totally above international law, as they have done with a veto, for example. The Commonwealth does not have that defect and has been able to expel members that violated the Harare Declaration. From that point of view, the Commonwealth has some advantages. The question is going to be, how can the Commonwealth go on maintaining that advantage? A little bit more equality among members and making the role of Britain more ordinary, like other members, rather than special and always at the top, would be a very welcome change. I do not think it will happen, but it would be good if it did.

Ukraine: Defence Relationships

Lord Desai Excerpts
Thursday 9th June 2022

(2 years ago)

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Lord Desai Portrait Lord Desai (Non-Afl)
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My Lords, I too thank the noble Lord, Lord Liddle, for introducing this debate, but it seems that for a while we were fighting not just the Ukraine-Russia war but the EU war as well, between Brexit and no-Brexit. Let us suspend that war for the time being and concentrate on the Ukraine-Russia war. What we do about Brexit is another issue. I speak as a remainer.

The most important thing is to understand and decide that the only solution to this war is that Ukraine regains its entire old frontiers and is re-established as a country safe from external aggression. If this is to be realised, we cannot go down the road that France and Germany, for example, have been proposing, of a peace in which Ukraine would lose its eastern Russian-speaking zones and be left with only western Ukraine. One principle that we established when we established the United Nations in 1945 was that national borders are sacrosanct and cannot be arbitrarily violated by one power set against another.

The problem will last much longer than people think. This is not going to be a 100-day war but probably a 1,000-day war, if not longer. Europe has a habit of going to war quite frequently. We went to war in 1914 until 1918, and then, within another 21 years, in 1939 we went to war again until 1945. We then thought that we had peace but again, we are back at war in Europe in 2022. This is because there are certain unresolved national issues in Europe. Russia has always felt that Ukraine somehow should be part of Russia and not an independent country. I had a colleague at the LSE who taught Russian history. When asked what his biggest dream was, he said, “An independent Ukraine.” At that time Ukraine was not independent. It then became independent temporarily and now it is threatened with control by Russia.

One thing we must make clear to the Russians and the Ukrainians in this battle is that we will stand by Ukraine until it regains its frontiers. Like many other noble Lords, I am in touch with some Ukrainian groups, who send me emails about what their idea of liberation is. We must make that the first priority. Neither our energy supplies nor our wheat supplies nor the debt position of third-world countries should gain priority over the world getting together to give Ukraine its borders back and some future guarantee of safety from another external attack by Russia. Some noble Lords have talked about a new world order, and one very important thing to recognise is that the United Nations has failed in this respect. The United Nations Security Council was built up as an oligarchy of big powers—the permanent members—and we saw the farce whereby Russia could not be indicted for its attack because China used its veto to protect Russia.

The UN will have to be repaired at some future date because right now it is not an effective body. We are left with the EU and the US. The western alliance is divided about how to deal with the Ukraine crisis. Some western European countries would like a quick, patch-up treaty, which will leave Ukraine divided in two and then Russia will go away. I think that is a mistake. We ought to insist that the UK will aid Ukraine for as long as possible, and that our aim is to guarantee that we will stand by Ukraine until the end, just as we stood in the Second World War.

Universal Credit (EAC Report)

Lord Desai Excerpts
Wednesday 23rd March 2022

(2 years, 2 months ago)

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Lord Desai Portrait Lord Desai (Non-Afl)
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My Lords, one of the great advantages of being a non-affiliated Peer is that I am always placed last on the list. I want to take a different stance from that taken by most noble Lords. I agree with all noble Lords that this is an excellent report and I have learned a lot from reading it. I have studied poverty in various ways in the UK, India and other places for much of my career in economics. There is one unfailing thing that one can say about these things: to those who have, more shall be given, and from those who do not have, what little they have shall be taken away.

Debt recovery procedures are much tougher on the poor than they are on the rich. In 2008, when the stock market collapsed, all previous discipline of balanced budgets was abandoned and money was printed like there was no tomorrow to give the banks, which had lost money, and everybody else lots of money so that they could re-establish the value of their property. The consequence was that, when universal credit had to be implemented, there was no money, surprisingly. It was therefore created in an atmosphere where it was said, “We don’t have any more money for all this”. So the poor, as always, were the last in the queue.

I want to take a slightly different stance from that taken by most speakers. Why is the political economy of welfare, if I may so call it, so mean to the poor? This is not just about universal credit, although I would say that it is especially horrible to the poor. For a long time, we have had a tradition that the poor should be treated with suspicion. The poor will be suspected of being lazy and shiftless and if they are ever unable to prove that they are seeking work, that will immediately lead to some kind of punishment by taking their benefit away.

It is interesting that the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, who has shared with us his committee’s great report, quoted the Theory of Moral Sentiments and cited the Chancellor. During the pandemic, I have written a book about why political economy is so misanthropic. Adam Smith was all right; he was generous in his attitude towards the poor and how the whole purpose of an economy was to create wealth not only for the few but for the many, if I may coin a phrase. It was with the Reverend Malthus and Ricardo that economics became very mean. When Malthus invented his completely fake theory of population growth, it was to make sure that the poor were not given more money because, if they were given it, they would breed more people and therefore it is useless to give people more money. David Ricardo put that in his theory of how there should be an iron law of wages. We then had the poor law reform in the 1830s and so it continued.

The logic was simple. There are so-called paupers who cannot work due to physical reasons, but they are all right. Then there are the poor, who are to be suspected because they are capable of working but likely to be lazy and shiftless, so the maximum meanness ought to be exercised in compensating the poor—you have to make them work. Finally, under the great and rational Benthamite rule, workhouses were created so that the unemployed would be in those, and nowhere else, to be strictly supervised by the poor law commissioners. Bentham wanted the children of the poor to be employed from the age of four as apprentices, so that they would learn that work was their fortune.

We have continued like this. I remember when we had the idea, before universal credit came, that if a single person was poor they would get so much but if it was a couple, they would not get twice that: they get less than twice because somehow the poor do not need as much money as the rich. That of course led to people living apart. Then people had to spied on by their local council in case they were cohabiting, which was not so much a sin as an economic crime, and so on.

We have this attitude, and it has not gone away. During the 2010 to 2015 Government, corporation tax was cut because cutting corporation tax or income tax is always good and beneficial to society. However, as far as the poor are concerned, cutting it is good for society because that is where we have to save money. This sort of logic has continued. I do not know how one can move the political and economic system from appreciating that announcing a 1p cut in tax in 2024 will get you applauded in Parliament. However, had he said that he would restore the £20 cut in universal credit, he would have done much more than was expected of him.

Anyway, I want not so much to ask questions but to make a couple of points. How does whatever minimum entitlement we have decreed for universal credit compare with the poverty levels that the European Union has laid down? The World Bank has a measurement of poverty for the third world; it is around $3.50 per day per person. The EU standard is 60% of median income; I may be wrong by a few percentage points but 60% of median income is the EU poverty level. Is the universal credit entitlement below or above the poverty line?

I should also say that, as soon as I started studying these things, I found these arrangements so complex that you need a PhD to know what is going on. I remember that there used to be a very fat book published by the Child Poverty Action Group in the 1960s to help people make their way through the variety of benefits and things, with all the conditions and exceptions and this and that. Why do we make the poor work so hard for the pittance we give them? Why can we not simplify the matter so that people get their money in a certain, predictable way? After all, as someone else said, we are not giving them much money compared with how much we have lost in fraud. It is nothing; it is a pittance. Although we were right to give money for furlough, we did not give a similar amount of money to the poor.

So we need a political rethink of why we do what we do. Why is the logic always misanthropic in our political economy, or whatever you want to call it? I hope that reports like this one will make us think that we have to change our attitude completely and not expect the poor to be more patient, more frugal and more rule-obeying. The fault, dear Brutus, is in ourselves and not in the poor.

International Women’s Day and Protecting the Equality of Women in the UK and Internationally

Lord Desai Excerpts
Thursday 17th March 2022

(2 years, 2 months ago)

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Lord Desai Portrait Lord Desai (Non-Afl)
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My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Sikka. At least I will not feel lonely talking about the economics of gender inequality. First, the title of the debate says

“furthering and protecting the equality of women”.

We are really saying that we are combating inequality and hoping that we can reduce it as much as possible.

The central inequality I want to talk about, which is almost eternal, is who does the work. Economists tend to talk about work in terms of paid work. They say there is work then there is leisure, but how does an individual choose how many hours to work? That is all fine, but a lot of work is unpaid and most unpaid work is done by women. We have very little accounting of unpaid work in formal economic analysis and very few policies to deal with unpaid work.

Over a long career in economics, I have explored the idea of citizens’ income—basic income, as it used to be called. The argument with basic income for a long time was that it did not actually deal with the gender issue. How it was dealt with was that citizens’ income should be available for all voters, paid without asking any questions. But then it was said that, if you paid people just the basic income, without work, they would stop working—and then what would happen? That is an irony about paid work: whether you pay basic income or not, unpaid work has to be carried on, because society lives on unpaid work—not only with cooking, childcare, nursing and care of the elderly, but all sorts of things, such as cleaning the house, that are mainly done by women.

It is a very interesting paradox—not paradox, but something to note—that when something like universal credit or other welfare state arrangements are made, there is a great compulsion to say whether you are seeking work. Unless you are seeking work, you are not eligible to be paid money when you are out of work. It is very interesting, because quite a lot of women will not be able to seek work because of unpaid work demands made on them because of the size of the family and other things, which may make it difficult for them to qualify for universal credit in a world in which that is a requirement.

One problem we will have to face is whether we can fashion a basic income package just for women, or for anybody who does unpaid work. That is especially important in the discussion on the Health and Care Bill. It has often been mentioned that some social care workers are not involuntary social care workers as such, but in a family the social care burden has fallen on the woman, who is around. They are unpaid, in a whole category of unpaid social workers, and we ought to be doing something about unpaid social care workers. One idea would be to create a basic income especially for women. Just as we talk about citizens’ income, this would be women’s citizens’ income. You would have to be of voting age to be able to accrue, earn or receive that basic income.

I recently contributed a piece to something called the Palgrave International Handbook of Basic Income with a co-author who was a woman, who was very much the leading light in this joint work. She pointed out that the distinction between paid and unpaid work is central to the issue of gender inequality. Because unpaid work is not compensated, women always have inequality of income relative to men. I know that there is no money in the Government and that they want to cut taxes rather than give money away and so on, but we are about to enter a very difficult economic period in the next five or six years. We will have stagflation and all those sorts of things, so we will have to take greater care of vulnerable citizens, who are mainly women.

Since the Minister answering for the Government is in charge of giving money away on pensions and all sorts of other things—we always have to go to her and say, “Look, can you give us a bit more?”—she ought to explore the idea that women should be paid something like £50 a day for the weekend. It would be a sort of weekend bonus; nothing very much, but only for working-age women. We ought to experiment with that, because doing so would be an experiment in trying to reduce the inequality gap between men and women who are of working age.

That is about it; I do not want to say any more about this and that, because I am the 17th speaker out of 18. However, I want to make one remark on what the noble Lord, Lord Farmer, said. He mentioned the woke controversy that is going on. It is a peculiar thing that the debate about what and who is a woman. It is interesting. It is a difficult job, because the people who question the word “woman”, and so on, are probably as deprived as everybody else. However, we cannot have the majority suffer because the minority feels that it is deprived.

I am not a lawyer, and this is not a flippant comment, but I think we ought to make a distinction of women by birth and women by choice, and men by birth and men by choice. That kind of usage could become normal, or at least usual. We are not insulting anybody, but there is a question of choice. There should be symmetry for both sexes. If you can say “women by birth” and “women by choice”, it may be that the noise—

Baroness Thornton Portrait Baroness Thornton (Lab)
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I want to say something to my dear friend and former economics teacher at the LSE: he probably should not go there because this is not about choice. People who are gay do not choose to be so; they are gay. People who believe that they are a woman believe they are a woman. People who believe that they are a man believe they are a man. There is absolutely a debate to be had but, frankly, it is not a choice.

Lord Desai Portrait Lord Desai (Non-Afl)
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This is not the first time one of my proposals has bitten the dust. The fact that I taught the noble Baroness at LSE makes me proud that she has finally sorted me out. That being said, I think I should conclude.

Refugees: Mass Displacement

Lord Desai Excerpts
Thursday 6th January 2022

(2 years, 5 months ago)

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Lord Desai Portrait Lord Desai (Non-Afl)
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My Lords, once again, I thank the noble Lord for introducing this topic and, once again, I am sorry to say that I am not going to join in his idealistic, very sincere and moral teaching. I do not think that the second part of his proposition, that we should get some international movement to do something about this problem, will do any good, because we already have enough international agreements that have not done any good. I have spoken on this before.

Basically, the international system is a failure. As the noble Lord, Lord Singh, said, the United Nations, whatever its ideals, created an institution in which there are five permanent members, at least two of which right now, China and Russia, are creating refugees and the likes of the Uighur crisis. As the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, said: do not worry about doing good; just stop creating problems.

One root cause of the refugee problem is the break-up of the Ottoman Empire—I am sorry to go back 100 years. The break-up of the Ottoman Empire and the abolition of the Caliphate created a huge problem in the Middle East, and a lot of our refugee problems are in the Middle East—I do not have time to go into all this.

Let me come to Afghanistan. Who created the Taliban? We did. Afghanistan was a nice, peaceful place; it had a king—and then, the Russians decided to go in and make it communist. Then, of course, the Americans decided that we had to fight the godless communists, so they armed the Taliban with drugs and guns. The Taliban were our own creation. We say, “We don’t like you because you are against women.” Again, I do not have time to go into it, but the roots of the Taliban are in the mid-19th century and the Deoband school of Islamic theology, which is in India. Everybody should have known what the religion, the theology, of those people is, but we armed them, and now we say, “Oh, my God, how did this happen?” Well, we did it.

There has been so much Christianity hovering around today. I feel like saying that the first murder registered in the Bible is in the family, and I feel like Cain. “I am not my brother’s keeper. It is bad enough that I murdered him, but I am not going to do anything further please—get me out of here.”

Please do not do anything. The idea that we, the United Kingdom, are going to cure the world’s problems by taking our foreign aid from whatever it is right now to 0.7% is so arrogant that I cannot begin to think why we do it. We have enough problems at home. Get rid of the food banks—that will help.

International Development Strategy

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Thursday 16th December 2021

(2 years, 6 months ago)

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Lord Desai Portrait Lord Desai (Non-Afl)
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My Lords, I must declare that for much of my academic life, I studied development and have written a lot about it. I did a lot of work on human development. Coming from India, I have also been observing over the last 60 years the course of development aid.

While I am very impressed by the idealism shown by speakers today, and I thank the noble Lord, Lord McConnell, for introducing his debate, I am afraid I do not take part in the idea that foreign aid, development aid or overseas development aid—whatever you want to call it—actually does very much of what it is claimed to do. Ultimately, I am glad that DfID has become part of the Foreign Office, because development aid is an arm of diplomacy. The noble Lord, Lord Balfe, and the right reverend Prelate talked about soft power and it is about that. You are buying soft power; that is why we give money away.

After all, if we want to cure poverty, there is a lot of poverty at home. There are food banks here; our pensions are the lowest in Europe. Of course, you could say that our poor are not really poor—the real poor are out there. But if you look at what has eliminated poverty in Asia, by and large, in China, India, South Korea, Singapore and Taiwan, it was industrialisation, which was helped a lot by the entry of foreign capital. This is a professional observation; I am not making these things up. We deindustrialised and Asia industrialised—that is the simple story of the 1970s and 1980s.

When it comes to poverty reduction, if we really believe that foreign aid is for poverty reduction, we should give money to the poor—find where the poor are and give cash to them. I remember saying this in your Lordships’ House about 15 years ago, when the noble Baroness, Lady Amos, was the Minister for DfID. At the time, $50 billion was spent on overseas aid, and I said that we should give $50 to each poor person, and that is it—that would do more to cure poverty than anything I know of. Of course, we do not do that; we have a very elaborate model of what poverty is and what we want to eliminate.

As we have observed this afternoon, very sincerely, all sorts of things can be related to poverty—political unrest, gender discrimination and all sorts of other things, which I do not want to repeat. One has to have a clear argument as to how the many things we do are actually going to reduce poverty. In the very nice paper produced by the Library, I see that in the ODA allocations by thematic areas for 2021-22, 40% of the money goes on two items: “programmes with cross-cutting themes”, whatever that means, and

“Arm’s-length bodies, international subscriptions and other fixed costs”.

Those two items take £3 billion out of the £8 billion. I really do not know what they do, but they must do something. How much money goes on hiring consultants who tell us why teaching women cooking in India actually reduces poverty in India? I am sure that there is a lovely consultation paper that would tell us how to do that.

I am sorry to be a Daily Mail-like person here this afternoon, but after 60 years of studying foreign aid I am no longer starry-eyed about it. I would like the Government at some stage to do some thinking about whether money going abroad actually reduces poverty or whether it just encourages lots of NGOs. Secondly, is a pound spent abroad good enough, or should we spend it at home, because we have food banks, gender discrimination, disability problems and low pensions? Universal credit has just been cut in this country. What is all the money for? After 60 years of foreign aid, should we not leave our arrogance behind and say, “It is not really up to us to go out and cure poverty there, which we don’t even know anything about”? Give it a break.

China: Genocide

Lord Desai Excerpts
Thursday 25th November 2021

(2 years, 6 months ago)

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Lord Desai Portrait Lord Desai (Non-Afl)
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My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord Alton for bringing this matter to our attention but I am sorry to say that I shall depart from him.

We do not actually live in a world of laws—certainly not in the international sphere. We live in a world of power and national sovereignty. About 30 years ago, I founded the Centre for the Study of Global Governance at LSE, which I ran for 30 years. So while I am not a lawyer, I know something about this. The United Nations is not a system that can ever settle a dispute, which it does not do, or deliver justice. Nothing is going to happen about the Uighurs. Nothing happened about the Holocaust. All the virtues that people claim about the Holocaust happened after 6 million people had died. We knew what was happening and we did not do anything. Indeed, some countries, such as the United States, tightened their immigration rules to prevent Jews coming from Germany. All this Holocaust business is sort of after-the-event boasting. We did not even talk about the Judeo-Christian civilisation until after 1945. The story of Christian anti-Semitism is well known.

I do not deny the ongoing tragedy regarding the Uighurs but, as the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, says—who, unfortunately, is not in his place; I am sure that he is having a nice lunch, and good luck to him—we have not prevented a single genocide in the post-war period. We may have a genocide convention, which is nice and fine, and a human rights convention, but the Chinese kill not only Uighurs; 40 million Chinese died in famine and nobody did anything, and they do not like the Falun Gong. We live in a lovely paradise of human rights, liberal laws, tolerance and all that, notwithstanding our various problems, which we will not worry about now—we live in good liberal order but the world does not.

Lately, there has been an anti-China feeling, which started with trade and competition in cyber goods. We used to love China and then suddenly went against it because of competition. Suddenly, the climate has changed. The United States formed the quad against China and agreed AUKUS. We are going to rush to the defence of Taiwan but we are not going to rush to the defence of the Uighurs—do not worry about it. We are not going to start a world war for this; we have never started a world war for any genocide.

So let us all calm down and face the fact that there is nothing that any convention can do to force anything on a sovereign state, not just China. We could not do it to Cambodia or even in Rwanda and Burundi—remember what happened there—at which time an Assistant Secretary-General of the United Nations was from Africa and later became Secretary-General. We know all this, but we have a conscience. We do not like what is happening in China and somehow we are supposed to do something. What? What are we actually going to do? The Foreign Secretary is new, and so she said something about the Uighurs. After some explanation, she would have learned that the realities of power are very different. While we need moral courage, we have to realise where we are.

Let me add one more thing that I have not mentioned while I have been a Member of your Lordships’ House. People in Asia know what was done to them by the British Empire. We poisoned the Chinese with opium on the grounds of free trade from 1840 on—they have not forgotten that. I will not go into other problems. Do not think that we are morally superior to them. The Chinese will come back to us, saying, “We know what you did to us. Don’t you dare tell us about humanity”.

A little realism is called for. As I have said, we are not going to enter a world war with China—not for the Uighurs. We may do so for cybertechnology, but not for the Uighurs. We must have a realistic discussion as to what we will do. The answer is: not much.

Social Security (Up-rating of Benefits) Bill

Lord Desai Excerpts
Lord Stoneham of Droxford Portrait Lord Stoneham of Droxford (LD)
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My Lords, I will be brief and speak on behalf of my noble friend Lady Janke, our Front-Bench spokesman on this Bill. Unfortunately, she cannot be here today.

First, I will say that we are glad that the Government have reconfirmed their commitment to the triple lock in the long term throughout all these discussions. We are disappointed that the Commons have rejected these amendments. The Government had an excellent opportunity to maintain their manifesto commitment while taking into account the special circumstances of the pandemic. We will not be pursuing this amendment —we accept that this has to be accepted—but we thank the noble Baroness, Lady Altmann, for the work that she has done.

We are concerned that pensioners will not be protected from the effects of the economic pressures now coming from inflation. The Governor of the Bank of England is very uneasy about the situation and we want to know whether the Government are prepared to keep an open mind and look particularly at the case of the poorest pensioners as time goes on in the next few months, when these pressures will come to a head. More importantly, we are extremely supportive of the maintenance of the triple lock in the longer term.

Lord Desai Portrait Lord Desai (Non-Afl)
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My Lords, we have been hearing lately that the House of Lords is a rather useless body and that the other place is better—but twice recently your Lordships’ House has asserted that it cares more for the people than the other place. The noble Duke, the Duke of Wellington, stood up for the right of the citizen to clean water, asserting that against what the Commons had said. We also stood up for the triple lock and had that rejected.

I have a very simple suggestion for the Government. Since they have no intention of helping pensioners, why can they not be honest and say that the triple lock simply means that we will raise pensions by the lowest number of the three which are here, unless it is higher than the Bank of England target of 2% inflation? The 2% inflation that the Bank of England has chosen as its target is not a statistic. It is not disputable because they have made it up. It will always stay at 2%. So the Government could at least guarantee to be honest; they could just give 2% and run away. They should not give false promises and then not fulfil them.

Lord Rooker Portrait Lord Rooker (Lab)
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My Lords, I will briefly follow the introduction made by the noble Lord, Lord Desai. I will not address the issue—I did that the last time we sat—but there is a wonderful clarity about this issue. With ignorant journalists in the media calling for the abolition of your Lordships’ House, this issue shows, above all, that we will always be an irritant to the Government, whatever party is in power. It was the same when I was over there; the House is an irritant. The clarity with this issue, particularly for those of us who do the Peers in Schools programme, it that it is a wonderful example that is very easy to explain of the fact that the Commons always has the last word.

So, whatever the arguments about the composition and powers of this place—and the idea that we can legislate at will, which we cannot—this example gives wonderful clarity on the fact that the Commons always has the last word. Our job is to ask MPs to think again and again, and sometimes again—I have known examples of three occasions. But the fact of the matter, which the elected Chamber cannot run away from, however it is dressed up, is that the Commons has the last word—and I think that is to your Lordships’ advantage for the way we operate.