It is embarrassing to have a Minister replying to questions in the House of Lords and not knowing the answer to a single one of them. Lord Judd asked a question, which might or might not have been intended to be intelligent.
What support and encouragement they [HMG] are giving farmers in poor countries in view of the pressures on world food demand.As one would expect from politicians and DfID the support seems to consist largely of government to government aid, that having proved itself to be a worse than useless solution. Lord Judd followed this up with:
My Lords, I take the opportunity to congratulate the Government once again on their commitment to overseas aid. Does my noble friend agree that in our response to the global economic and financial crisis we must keep the plight of the world’s poorest people constantly in focus? With 75 per cent of the world’s poor still living in rural areas, and with most of them utterly dependent for their livelihood on agriculture, do the Government agree that for appropriate agricultural technology to be sustainable the farmers themselves have to be genuinely involved and that this means ensuring that extension programmes reach the poorest and the most excluded, including pastoral people, women and those living on subsistence farming? Can my noble friend reassure us on that point?Why exactly should continuing commitment to a policy that has done little good and a great deal of harm by keeping corrupt, oppressive, bloodthirsty kleptocrats in power, be a matter for congratulations is a mystery. The rest of the question as the reply to it is what one might call incomprehensible.
Other questions were of greater interest. Sadly, Lord Tunnicliffe did not know any of the answers. He had not read the article in the Financial Times, referred to by Baroness Northover but did acknowledge, in general terms, that trade was a good thing for developing countries. Whether it applied to the specific example the article called attention to remained hidden.
Lord Pearson of Rannoch asked:
My Lords, remembering the 25,000 deaths every day in the developing world caused by malnutrition and associated causes, have the Government made any progress with the analysis that we discussed during our Lisbon debates of the contribution made to those deaths by the common agricultural and fisheries policies and by US grain policies?He was even supported by Lord Tomlinson but the answers were rather vague. Yes, of course, we want the Doha Round to succeed but no, as it happens we have not really agreed on any position on the CAP and when it comes to the Common Fisheries Policy that destroys whole communities and prevents the countries in question from developing their industry, it is not even worthy of being mentioned. At least, Lord Tunnicliffe did not bother to mention it.
On and on it went. The Countess Mar wanted to know if the government supported a particular small-scale scheme in Kenya, which appeared to be successful in that it increased productivity (though without proper trade productivity is of little value). Lord Tunnicliffe did not know but if it is part of the government programme, which we give money to, then we do support it.
A more detailed question from Baroness Rawlings on wheat stem rust (she clearly does get briefed) brought forth bafflement. A particularly stupid and ignorant question from Baroness Tonge who, in true left-wing fashion has no clear understanding that non-Western countries might have different problems from Western ones, was swiped aside.
So what do we gather about the help we are giving to the poorest parts of the underdeveloped world? Clearly we are continuing with the insane policy of government to government aid without bothering to check out what the money is spent on.
In a general way we are in favour of the Doha Round being completed successfully but we do not want to look too closely into the problems of trade restricitons or CAP and CFP undermining the economy of developing countries. We do not care much about the fact that DfID and attendant NGOs also undermine the local economy of countries they invade and have not the slightest intention of helping them to be more successful economically.
Oh and we also know that DfID officials are incapable of briefing a minister well. Sack the lot of them, say I.