Gary Streeter MP is Shadow International Affairs Spokesperson
My question was anticipated 2000 years ago and in reply the person we now know as the Good Samaritan sprang into literary life. The story is well known to us all. That parable teaches that our neighbour is whoever we come across in need - and that our duty to that person should be discharged to the best of our ability.
It is easy perhaps in a small close-knit community to care for the well-known friend who has fallen on hard times. Such a response would not trouble many of us in this room. And yet our injunction is to go wider and to reach further.
It would be easy of course if the needs of my neighbour were small and well-defined and my own resources were plentiful; but sadly that is not the picture that confronts us tonight.
In developing countries, nearly 12 million under-fives die each year - almost 32,000 children every day - mainly from preventable diseases.
The estimated numbers of children killed in armed conflicts in the past decade is 12 million; 12 million have been left homeless and 6 million seriously injured or permanently disabled.
There have been over 30 conflicts through the world in just the last decade. There are 17 conflicts in Africa today.
An estimated 1.3 billion people are still living on only a dollar a day.
This is an increase from 100 million in 1987.
The poorest 50 countries account for 2% of global income, and are home to one-fifth of the world's people.
A third of people in least developed countries are not expected to live beyond 40.
But these are just statistics. Let me tell you about people.
When we first met her she was standing nervously in front of her tiny mud hut with her 3 younger brothers by her side. She had obviously been told that special visitors were coming to meet her. Her crisp white tee-shirt - and those of her 3 siblings - dazzled in the mid morning Rwandan sun. She was 15 years old. 5 years earlier when she was just 10 her Tutsie father and mother had been hacked to pieces by machetes wielded by militant Hutus bent on genocide. Since then she has been single-handedly bringing up her brothers as best she can. When we left she hugged my wife and did not want to let go. She is called Alphonsine. She lives 4,246 miles away. Last week my wife and I received a letter telling us that Alphonsine had been brutally raped by a local man and is now expecting a child of her own.
Is Alphonsine my neighbour?
As I shook him warmly by the hand, I could see the sadness and weariness in his eyes. And no wonder, because for the past 6 months he had been working round the clock as an unpaid Albanian doctor working with the Mother Teresa Association in Kosovo. He was bringing much needed basic medical care to some of the 50,000 Kosovo Albanians who were then already displaced and living rough. As he drove us from burnt out village to burnt out village and introduced us to some of the pathetic terrified children he had treated he told me with pride about his own young children and his aspirations for them. His name was Alexi. We were in Kosovo. It was in December 1998. I learnt last week that one month ago he was shot by Serb militia men, because he was helping his fellow countrymen.
Was he my neighbour?
We rejoice that we live in a Global Village. We celebrate all of the opportunities that it brings - for travel, work, trade, holidays, new cultural experiences and cross boundary friendships.
We congratulate ourselves on the technology and progress that has made this possible. But we must also realise that awesome consequences follow in the wake of the world that we are shaping.
All of these people have become our neighbours.
It is hard for us to accept that these people are our neighbours because we know that the implications of this realisation are profound. If we just consider the statistics we will indeed become overwhelmed. We will never embrace our responsibility. Never make a start. But just because we can't do everything does not mean that we should do nothing. Just because I as an individual cannot transform the lives of all 900 million people living on the Indian sub-continent does not mean that I cannot made a real difference to the life of one person living on the Indian sub-continent.
What then is our proper response to our new neighbours many of whom are in need. It is simply this: to do what we can. Do what we can individually and collectively. Loving our neighbour is after all first and foremost a state of mind; an attitude; a lifestyle decision from which other decisions and implications flow. I see this as a ripple effect. It starts at the centre and moves outwards.
In our personal lives we must start by loving ourselves. A strange thing to say perhaps. But I am increasingly aware that we are raising a new generation of young people of low self-esteem. The obsession with the way we look, perhaps best characterised by the cruel pressure on young people to be thin; to be the right shape is a monster tearing our teenagers apart. The growing volume of people who grow up outside the love and security of a stable background is a ticking timebomb in the heart of our prosperous Western society.
It must be the case of course that our obligation is in practice defined and constrained by the realities of our daily existence. I come across the people I live and work with more frequently than those I just see on the television. It would be surprising if my attempt to serve were not more actively being worked out on a daily basis in that local context. Our own families and communities can expect our commitment.
Again, we cannot nor should not ignore the reality of our own nationality. We define ourselves to large extent by our nationality. Our democracy is expressed in the context of our geographical country. It is an absurdity for some politicians to seek to water down that important building block of human nature. Naturally then I would expect to feel and work out in practice my commitment to my neighbour in large measure to "my fellow countryman". But in the 21st century our commitment dare not and should not end at Dover or Heathrow. And there are mechanisms available to us to help meet our neighbours' needs on a wider stage.
I have been greatly impressed by the work of some of our leading charities and aid agencies that I have seen for myself in the past 12 months.
Many mistakes have been made in aid and development practice in the past 30 years. Many will surely be made in the future. But there is a sense of progress towards principles that work.
We have learnt that it is no good simply to jet in a team of do-gooders from the North dig a hole in the right place in the South put in a hi-tech pump and zoom off again, believing you have brought water to that village and solved all their problems. It is necessary to carry out any such project in partnership with local people, who can take ownership of that project. It will take time to build relationships. We have to train local people to maintain, manage and repair the pump. On a recent visit I saw in Southern Kenya a water pump that was providing clean drinking water for 3 villages and several hundred people who no longer had to walk hours each day to obtain poor quality water. The local elders showed me their pumphouse with great pride, explained the rota system that they had developed to manage and maintain the pump. This had changed hundreds of lives for the better. We have learnt to build capacity in local people so they can stand on their own two feet to ensure sustainability. It was a Tear Fund project. It was excellent. And the money that we all gave to Tear Fund made it possible.
I shall never forget the farmers from South West Rwanda who I met in February of this year. 3 years ago there was starvation in that region. But they were proud to show me the crops they now grew from newly terraced and fertilised hilltops, techniques they had learnt from a World Vision worker called Edwin. His skill and concern for our neighbours had changed the lives of thousands of people. At the end of my visit to their farms the President of the local farm co-operative - truly a man it would be easy to characterise as an illiterate, ignorant peasant as he shuffled down the muddly road - produced from his back pocket a profit and loss account and then confidently gave me a financial presentation - as thousands of people stood behind me in silence - of which a partner in KPMG would have been proud. He told me how much crops had been grown last year. The average yield per hectare, how much seed they retained for this year, how they had given some seed to a neighbouring community to get them going in the same way; and how they had sold the surplus crop at a good profit and had bought some cows with the proceeds. I was then introduced to these special cows. These much-loved well cared for cows represented success. 3 years ago these people were starving, now their tummies are full and they are growing in self-esteem and confidence. We did that. The money we all gave to World Vision helped these neighbours of ours. And they are learning to stand on their own two feet. Now they are learning to help others.
We have learnt that capacity building, projects which are sustainable are vital. We have learnt the importance of civil society - judges, civil servants, the police the voluntary sector all these groups are crucial in helping a poor country to grow strong. We are learning the importance of good governance and how pointless it is to pour our money down the throats of corrupt dictators.
And as nations we can make a difference. In this interdependent Global Village it is no longer acceptable to hide behind the skirts of isolation of our narrow minded self interest. Being a good neighbour means making the contribution that each country can make. And Britain has a special place in all this. As a permanent member of the UN Security Council, a member of G7, the head of the Commonwealth and a member of the EU, Britain is in a unique position. With our heritage of international involvement and connections, with the advantage of our language becoming the world's favoured medium, with our stable Parliamentary democracy and widely recognised skills in both peace-keeping and war fighting we have a unique contribution to make to today's Global Village.
We are a nation of considerable influence, and we should use that influence to persuade our allies and our friends around the world to pursue policies that bring benefits and not burdens to our neighbours. The world is now a highly uncertain and unstable place. We do not know what future there will be for Russia. We do not know how China will develop. We cannot tell the impact that Islamic fundamentalism will have on our world in the 21st century. But we do know that Britain must play up to its full potential in advocating policies that bring peace, stability and prosperity. When the dust settles on the conflict in the Balkans, we must make sure that it was not the failure of diplomacy and political will on the part of the West that has added to the agony that Milosevic's evil has instigated. The response of the British public to that terrible crisis has been characteristically generous. Over ƒz31 million pledged by private individuals to meet the needs of our neighbours. The British people have demonstrated very clearly that the Kosovar Albanians are our neighbours. History will judge us all severely if through a lack of political will and moral principle we fail the people of Kosovo now.
Britain has a role to play elsewhere too. Enlargement of the EU right up to the borders of Russia over the next 2 decades is the best possible way of seeking to underpin democratic principles, market economy, the rule of law, and respect for human rights, security, stability and ultimately prosperity in Central and Eastern Europe is a prize worth reaching for. We must make sure that we do not miss this truly historic opportunity to greatly improve the lives of our neighbours in greater Europe.
And of course as well as skilful diplomacy and strength of leadership, Britain must pursue policies of international aid and development which reflect our global perspective. I broadly support the way that we are now seeking to do this focusing on poverty eradication measures.
Our obligation to our neighbours leads us also into seeking to improve the effectiveness of global institutions.
In this Global Village who will co-ordinate international activity? It should be the United Nations ... and yet.
The UN remains a place where a senior official can still compare the bureaucracy unfavourably with that of the old Soviet Union; where discord between "the south" and the North paralyses decision-making; where America still owes nearly $1.5 billion in dues.
Over the past two decades, virtually every large commercial organisation and most big governmental ones have gone through a process in which they have had to answer the question: "What can I do that other people cannot?" The result: takeovers and lay offs in the corporate world and privatisation in the public sector. Despite several committees pondering its future the UN has so far shirked most of the big questions.
The UN is an enormous body that among other things buys half the world's children's vaccines, protects 22 million refugees, is host to 7,500 meetings a year in Geneva. The diversity is complicated by a structure that bewilders even its own staff. It is fairly easy, for instance, to find officials in Geneva who believe that the World Trade Organisation is part of the UN.
The UN will have to change from a body that tries to do everything everywhere into the "narrower, deeper organisation" reformers have always wished it would be. What should is concentrate on? One answer would be global problems that nobody else can tackle.
Taking responsibility for refugees and peacekeeping is something the UN should be able to do, and yet UNHCR simply was not ready to cope with the flood of Kosovo refugees. Now 57 days into the military conflict it is just beginning to get its act together.
In the final analysis, "If the UN's friends do not reform it, its enemies will." Britain must keep on pushing for reform.
The current international financial architecture, the cornerstones of which are the IMF and World Bank also need reform. They were created in 1945 (as part of the Bretton Woods settlement). At that time, with just 39 member countries, the IMF was principally concerned with nursing the leading economies back to health. However, in the half century since their inception the global economy has changed beyond recognition. As we know, new technology and the free flow of capital have created global markets that trade financial instruments unthought of 50 years ago.
The ideal financial system has three main components:
- continuing national sovereignty
- global financial markets that are regulated and supervised
- integrated global capital markets.
Larry Summers, the US Deputy Treasury Secretary - soon to become Treasury Secretary - and a leading economist in his own right, has argued that these three goals are incompatible, referring to them as the "impossible trinity". For instance, those who want global financial market regulation and integration must forfeit a large degree of national sovereignty.
The IMF should move away from its "one size fits all" economic prescription. Clearly a wider debate needs to be had on suitable economic policies for developing countries. Britain must play a full role in this process.
Last Year The Guardian newspaper ran a campaign called "The New Slavery". It was a powerful slogan for a powerful message that Third World poverty and in particular the burden of Third World debt was the equivalent to the evil of slavery which we finally abolished here in 1833.
I strongly support that theme. Debt is not necessarily bad - we all borrow to invest - people and nations alike. As a general principle it is right to encourage people to repay debt. But where countries are paying more in debt repayments than healthcare or education and their people are living in crushing poverty something is wrong. I support the Jubilee 2000 crusade for a significant cancellation of debt - especially where a country is prepared to commit itself to spending those released funds on positive poverty reducing expenditure. I do not support debt cancellation where the money will simply go on arms or bigger palaces or Swiss bank accounts. But where people living in poverty will be helped by debt cancellation these are chains that we should break.
On 28 October 1787 William Wilberforce began his campaign for the ending of the slave trade. The group of people who gathered around him in what we now call the Clapham Sect had an enormous influence in their generation and beyond. There were life changing initiatives and projects of many kinds impacting people at home and overseas. The focus was the abolition of slavery and the reformation of manners in the nation - but the waves they created went much further.
Perhaps today we need a similar surge of value based political action on a wider stage. Many challenges face us: As I have said the plight of many of our neighbours should be a wake up call for those of us who still hold a Christian World View. The Global Village in which we now live makes such a response both a necessity and a possibility.
We have fashioned the circumstances in which Alphonsine and Alexi have become our neighbours.
We have created the means by which they may be better helped. And now we must will the individual and political courage to make it happen.