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Tax and malnutrition should top G8 agenda, say clerics

14 June 2013


What if . . . : protesters on the march to Hyde Park pass Westminster Abbey on Saturday. Report below

What if . . . : protesters on the march to Hyde Park pass Westminster Abbey on Saturday. Report below

TACKLING tax secrecy and avoidance should be top of the agenda for the G8 group of the world's wealthiest countries, when it meets in Northern Ireland next week, the Archbishop of Canterbury and his predecessor, Lord Williams of Oystermouth, have said.

The G8 leaders from Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia, the United States, and the UK, are scheduled to meet at Lough Erne, in Northern Ireland, on Monday and Tuesday. The UK took on the one-year presidency of the group in January.

In a video message delivered to a rally in Hyde Park last Saturday, organised by the "Enough Food for Everyone IF campaign" ( News, 25 January), Archbishop Welby said: "The G8 is the centre of financial resource and power in all kinds of ways. . . One of the biggest issues we face is around how aid is used. The issues of tax transparency are increasingly at the top of the agenda, and are really, really important. . .

"My prayer would be that, in this country and across the world, that we are deeply committed to enabling people to be self-sustaining, so that global hunger can be ended in our lifetimes."

Writing in The Timeson Saturday, Lord Williams said that there was a "serious willingness" on the part of G8 leaders "to engage in the global problem of tax evasion and the financial secrecy that makes it possible". It was important that the UK Government did all it could to put an end to "hugely harmful" tax secrecy, he said. He suggested that the G8 countries introduced "a public register of all the beneficial owners of all companies, foundations, and trusts". 

Speaking in London on Monday, the Prime Minister, David Cameron, said that forging "an international agreement on tax-evasion" would be on the G8's agenda, "because we can't just clamp down on this in the UK - the cash would simply move elsewhere." Mr Cameron said that in groups such as the G8 "many of the rules of the game are set: on trade, on tax, on regulation."

A statement from the Archbishops and Bishops of the Church of Ireland, issued last week, extended "a very warm welcome to the leaders of the G8 nations and their officials as they meet in County Fermanagh". But it went on to warn: "Just as God in ancient Israel took notice of the merchant who used unfair weights to gain advantage, so he still takes notice of questionable commercial practice and inequity in economic life today."

A letter signed by Roman Catholic bishops from the G8 nations, including Cardinal Sean Brady, the RC Archbishop of Armagh called on the G8 leaders to "strengthen just tax, trade, and transparency policies for the common good of all".

A letter from faith leaders in Wolverhampton, including the Bishop of Wolverhampton, the Rt Revd Clive Gregory, was sent to the Prime Minister last week, calling on him to place hunger on the G8's agenda. Bishop Gregory said: "The belief that nobody should starve or suffer from the effects of malnutrition is shared by people of all faiths and none, and we are urging the Government on behalf of the communities we represent to lead the G8 towards decisive and positive action to eradicate this global evil."

A report, Fragile but not Helpless, was published by World Vision last week, on behalf of the IF campaign ( Comment, 7 June), before the Government's "Nutrition for Growth" event, which took place on Saturday. The report said that rates of child malnutrition were worse in countries affected by violent conflict.

"Preventing violence is therefore at the heart of many aid agencies' efforts to prevent child malnutrition in fragile states," a statement accompanying the report said. "However, this does not mean that malnutrition cannot be addressed in places suffering from violence."

THOUSANDS flocked to Hyde Park in London on Saturday, to call on the G8 Summit to take action to tackle global hunger, and to hear from speakers such as the former Archbishop of Canterbury Lord Williams, the Microsoft pioneer and philanthropist Bill Gates, and the actor David Harewood, writes Joe Ware.

The rally, organised by the Enough Food for Everyone IF campaign - a coalition of more than 200 organisations, including Christian Aid and the Church of England - estimated that about 45,000 people had turned out.

The leaders of the G8 meet on Monday in Enniskillen, Northern Ireland, and campaigners are calling on them to take action to help the 868 million people in the world who do not have enough food. The actions that they are asking for are: a crack-down on "tax-dodging", improving corporate and government transparency; and ending the practice of land-grabs.

Lord Williams, who now chairs Christian Aid, led a minute's silence. Backstage, he said: "We've got the resources in our world to tackle the problem of hunger. The IF campaign is saying there are a few very basic steps that can be taken, a few ways we can really push our politicians to make this happen in our lifetime."

For 3500 worshippers, the day began at the Methodist Central Hall, Westminster, for an ecumenical service. After the Great Hall and overflow venue were filled, latecomers had to stand in the street.

Those inside heard a recorded video message from the Archbishop of Canterbury, who congratulated the British Government on committing itself to spending 0.7 per cent of GNI on aid. "But it's important that we put before them the needs of the global community in which we live, with which we are interdependent," Archbishop Welby said.

The sermon was given by the RC Archbishop of Westminster, the Most Revd Vincent Nichols, who said: "We have gathered today to show our solidarity with those millions who are made to have less because the food system is skewed in favour of those with both financial and political power."

Tomorrow, thousands more people are expected to rally in the Botanic Gardens, Belfast, before the G8 meeting on Monday.

Joe Ware is a journalist at Christian Aid.


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