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Post-2015 Development Agenda

Volume 551: debated on Tuesday 23 October 2012

[Mr Mike Weir in the Chair]

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Weir. I am pleased to have secured this debate on post-2015 development goals at a very appropriate time.

The issue for debate today is what should happen to the set of international goals for development when 2015—the date by which the development goals adopted in 2000 were meant to have been implemented—is reached. Should the world community create entirely new ones? Should we incorporate the 2000 millennium development goals, in so far as they have not been fulfilled? How do the goals after 2015 relate to the sustainable development goals adopted at Rio? Do we need goals at all?

Those are important issues and this is an appropriate time to discuss them, for a number of reasons. First, the international community—states, non-governmental organisations, charities and the rest—in both richer and developing countries is now seriously beginning to address those issues. In the UK, we have a particularly good opportunity to influence the debate about the strategic approach to be adopted after 2015, because the Prime Minister has a role as the co-chair of the UN Secretary-General’s high-level panel, which is looking at the global development agenda after 2015. The first full meeting of that panel takes place in London next week.

The first question to be addressed is whether there should be a new set of international goals like the millennium development goals. I strongly believe that there should, although not necessarily in the same format. The idea of an internationally recognised set of targets is, I believe, a good one. Targets such as the MDGs can focus attention, action and funding, and set achievable objectives. We can see how far progress is being made in particular areas. There is plenty of evidence that the existence of the millennium development goals of 2000 did encourage the world community to focus efforts. Without them some, maybe much, of the progress would not have been achieved.

Indeed, some of the millennium development goals have been met ahead of the deadline set during the various negotiations leading up to their adoption. For example, the proportion of the world’s population living in extreme poverty—that is, on less than $1.25 a day—fell in 2010 to less than half the 1990 rate, according to the World Bank’s preliminary estimates. That fall in extreme poverty applies in every region of the developing world, including sub-Saharan Africa, where the situation is sometimes the least positive.

The proportion of people without access to safe drinking water was also halved by 2010 and there were significant improvements in the lives of 200 million people living in slums around the world. That is more than double the millennium development goal of 100 million people having their lives improved in that way.

Other targets are on track to be met, such as the target to halt and begin to reverse the spread of TB by 2015. As for universal primary education, the overall enrolment rates of children of primary school age in sub-Saharan Africa increased from 58% to 76% between 1999 and 2010. Mortality rates for children under the age of five have fallen markedly and 6.5 million people at the end of 2010 were receiving antiretroviral therapy for HIV or AIDS in developing regions.

The number of children not attending school, which was 108 million in 1999, had fallen to 61 million in 2010. There has been progress and it is important to emphasise that, to answer those who suggest that there is no point in doing anything in the field of international development, that it is a waste of money and that we cannot do anything about it. We can make progress; the world community can do something if we act together.

There is no doubt that in many areas progress is slowing down, no doubt partly due to the economic crisis. Development assistance at a global level has now fallen for the first time in 14 years. In 2011 it fell by 2.7%, turning back an increase in the previous 14 years, during which the UK had, of course, been a leader. I am certainly glad that the UK has remained committed to the 0.7% target, which we hope other countries will follow.

We have reached the time to discuss what should replace the existing millennium development goals. The issue is being debated by NGOs and Governments, and our own Select Committee on International Development in the House of Commons is starting its own inquiry. It is inevitable when such debate takes place that all sorts of options will be put forward for inclusion in a new list of development goals, and it is difficult to choose between them. I am certainly not going to cherry-pick today and produce my preferred list of specific targets. Indeed, part of the reason why I was keen to secure this debate was to find out more about the Government’s thinking on these issues before the 1 November meeting, to which I have already referred.

However, I do want to suggest some main themes on which a new list or programme—whatever form the new international development agenda takes—can be based, and the reasons why. My first theme is responding to climate change and environmental sustainability. There are two reasons for that. The first is that the existing millennium development goal on environmental sustainability is arguably one where, in some areas, some of the least progress has been made overall. The second is that the extent and urgency of the threat from climate change is much clearer now than it was in 2000.

It is frequently the poor in the poorest countries who are the biggest losers from the potential effects of climate change. I do not have time to go into the detail today, but issues such as flooding and desertification come to mind. Access to sustainable and affordable energy is a big issue. There is still a big question mark about how climate mitigation and adaptation is to be financed; it is still far from settled following negotiations in Copenhagen and Cancun.

To emphasise the importance of climate change and flooding, I should say that I was in the Philippines earlier this year. Floods occurred in an area that had not been flooded for 50 or 60 years. The total number of deaths was between 25,000 and 30,000, among the poorest people of that area. That demonstrates the importance of doing something about climate change.

Absolutely. We are seeing that kind of example in many other countries in the world. While we must always be careful of trying to ascribe every natural disaster to climate change, the evidence is building about the effect on countries such as the one referred to by my hon. Friend.

I would characterise the second theme that should feature in whatever development goals are adopted by the international community as equity and inclusiveness. That is to take account of the fact that general development targets can frequently fail to address the particular difficulties faced by particular sections of society. There is most obviously the need to ensure that targets take account of the biggest part of the population: women. The need for gender equality in the post-2015 framework has already been widely recognised. I would also point out that there are other sections of society that can also lose out when their special issues are not taken into account in the agenda that is developed—children, people with disabilities and ethnic minorities, to name but some of the groups.

Clearly, the answer is not to add more and more targets covering more and more sectors and groups to a list of development goals. What is needed is to ensure that there is sophistication in how broad targets are translated into specific programmes. As more countries in the formerly developing world have experienced substantial economic development, we have seen how poverty and deprivation can exist side by side with rapid economic development. That is why a sophisticated approach is important.

The third theme is tackling hunger and the causes of hunger. Again, eradicating extreme poverty and hunger is a target under the existing millennium development goals and some good progress has been made. In recent years, we have seen plenty of examples where hunger and malnutrition have worsened, with famine in a number of areas in the world. As food prices rise globally, there is considerable concern that the situation will become significantly worse, not better. There is now an increasing consensus that tackling food insecurity and supporting agricultural development needs should be a major focus of common action by the world community, and that certainly needs to be reflected in whatever post-2015 agenda is agreed, however it is structured.

The most recent estimates of undernourishment from the Food and Agriculture Organisation suggest that 15% of the world’s population now live in severe hunger. There has also been only slow progress in cutting child undernutrition. About one third of children in southern Asia were underweight in 2010. Of the 20 countries worst affected by food insecurity, the majority are in sub-Saharan Africa or south Asia, and we have seen some very recent examples of severe problems with famine and hunger in those parts of the world. As well as tackling the immediate outbreaks of famine and issues related to hunger, it is important to have a major emphasis on agricultural development and food security. We need to provide long-term answers to the problems that will be faced by increasing numbers of people in the world unless action is taken by the international community.

Some of the themes I mention could be regarded as part of the building blocks on which we develop new goals. There is a need to break down the barriers to world trade, which is important if developing countries are to make the best of their economic potential. Everyone here will be aware of the almost imperceptible movement following the Doha round negotiations. It is 11 years and there is still no sign of progress. We should not forget that for many developing countries, being able to get the benefits from trade is important and one of the top priorities that the international community must seek.

Another theme that should be part of the overall picture is the need to recognise the importance of peace and security, controlling the arms trade and preventing conflict. The biggest single factor that undermines and sets back development is war, big and small, and it is a stark fact that no low-income, conflict-affected or fragile state has yet to achieve a single millennium development goal.

I have outlined a number of themes that should be part of the debate. Clearly, we also have to consider how far some of the existing MDGs have been reached and how far those that are furthest from being reached should be incorporated in a new set of goals. I am not suggesting that the five themes that I have set out should be reflected in five specific targets. Indeed, each of the themes could in itself bring forward a number of specific goals, but those themes at least set out some of the key issues for development in the forthcoming years and should be the basis from which a post-2015 agenda, in whatever form it finally takes, should be developed.

I am interested to hear what others in the Chamber consider should be the key priorities for the post-2015 development agenda and to hear from the Government how they are to take that agenda forward.

I urge the Government, and the Prime Minister in particular, to play as active role as they can in setting this agenda and helping to develop it. Previous Prime Ministers achieved results on an international level because they gave the matter a high priority, and had the backing of the House and support from much of the public. I hope that the current Prime Minister will rise to the challenge of helping to set the agenda, to reflect both the concerns in this country and those that affect the international community as a whole.

We are in difficult times, but that means that there is even more of a case for fulfilling our moral duty and showing our solidarity with those who, in many cases, are the worst victims of the economic crisis that they had no part in causing. On many of the key issues of international development, the Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister have been saying the right things. The Prime Minister in particular now has an opportunity, through his role in the high-level panel, to show leadership, both at home and internationally, and I urge him to do so.

I apologise for arriving a few moments late for this debate, Mr Weir. I congratulate the hon. Member for Edinburgh North and Leith (Mark Lazarowicz) on securing this debate, which is extraordinarily timely not just because of the International Development Committee’s inquiry into the issue and the Prime Minister’s appointment as a co-chair of the high-level panel on future development goals after 2015, but because of the coincidence of roles that the Prime Minister is taking on at this time. He will also be chairing the G8 meeting in 2013, and taking on a role in the Open Government Partnership in which the UK should be playing a positive role in increasing transparency, particularly with issues such as transparency through the extractive industries and trying to increase accountability and transparency generally in development. It will also coincide with the historic moment when the coalition Government finally deliver on that 30-year pledge to devote 0.7% of the UK’s national wealth to international development, which gives us, at the very least, a great moral authority in talking about development issues and demonstrates that the UK, even in difficult times, has been willing to take a leadership position on development.

One of the things that the hon. Member for Edinburgh North and Leith has emphasised and that we should talk about in this debate is that the millennium development goals were supposed to be global goals. They were not just aid targets for poorer countries but targets that applied to all countries. We need to make it clear when we consider possible successors, such as sustainable development goals or whatever we want to call them, that they, too, should be global goals, which apply to rich and poor countries, developing nations, emerging economies and established economies. That is one theme that I ask both the International Development Committee and Ministers to pay attention to.

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to say that it is worth while having such high-level objectives. Certainly, the objectives that we have set ourselves as a country on climate change have helped to trigger domestic action, and with this Government, we have the acceptance of the targets in the Climate Change Act 2008 and the carbon budgets recommended by the Energy and Climate Change Committee, which have helped to incentivise the Government to deliver on energy reform, the green deal, the green investment bank, smart meter roll-out and emissions performance standards for power generating stations. They have also encouraged us to look at other issues that have been addressed in the sustainable development debate, such as the valuing of natural capital, which the Deputy Prime Minister, when he reported back from the Rio+20 summit, emphasised alongside the sustainable development goals. He said that in valuing natural capital, we were setting an important goal for ourselves as a developed economy in our use of resources and our approach to waste and growth and so on, which is important.

The Government set out an ambitious agenda on valuing natural capital in the natural environment White Paper in 2011. I am sometimes a little unsure of how we have fulfilled the potential set out in that White Paper so far and whether or not the Government now need to do a lot more in the valuing of natural capital and in ensuring that it is paid attention to. In an economic crisis, it is always easy to slip back into the idea that growth is the be-all and end-all of Government policy and that only through economic growth can we improve society. It is also easy to forget what we have been saying, which is that economic growth is not a perfect indicator of the quality of a society or of its success. The sustainable development argument is one that can help us to focus again on some of the slightly deeper questions around growth and sustainability.

I was always told in management training that objectives should be SMART—specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time-bound—but at the very least they should be SMT: specific, measureable and time-bound. When such objectives are set at a high level, we should not fall into what has sometimes been the trap at United Nations level of producing lots of slightly woolly, well-meaning, well-crafted and well-negotiated words that are not very specific. The millennium development goals actually achieved those things: they were quite specific; they were time-bound and measurable; as the hon. Gentleman said, they provided a marker on how different states are performing; and they led to some interesting lessons—for instance, as he pointed out, on the impact of conflict and war on achieving development goals. So the high-level panel and the new targets should be focused on delivering goals that are specific, measurable and time-bound.

The Deputy Prime Minister suggested in reporting back from Rio that there should be three important focuses for the sustainable development goals—food, energy and water—and the hon. Gentleman has referred to some of them. Many people also suggest other things that the goals should focus on. Climate change has rightly been referred to. It is crucial; the environment in which we all live and exist as a planet is the one that determines whether development is really possible. Other people have mentioned, for example, disability. Sightsavers has made the specific point to me that disability and poverty are interrelated, both in this country and in developing countries, so disability needs to be considered.

Many NGOs have made the point that human rights and social justice need to be reflected in the successors to the millennium development goals, because it is the poor who are not only most vulnerable to climate change and problems such as rising food prices and the lack of availability of food but who are most vulnerable to economic exploitation, injustice and oppression.

Noting what the hon. Gentleman said about conflict, it is perhaps important that the reduction of conflict and the achievement of peace should be reflected in the new goals. However, that leads to a slight problem and a risk that we end up with a kind of Christmas-tree approach, where everybody has contributed dozens of focused objectives and we try to have 100 priorities. Clearly, there must be some guarding against that. It has been suggested to me that perhaps there should be one overarching sustainable development goal that frames the debate and informs the other development goals. That overarching goal should focus on the poor; it should address sustainability; and it should refer to working within planetary boundaries.

“Planetary boundaries” is a really important concept that goes to the heart of what sustainability really means. Earlier today, I had a discussion with someone who I recommend to Ministers as a source of very sound and well-researched advice: Professor Melissa Leach of the STEPS—Social, Technological and Environmental Pathways to Sustainability—centre at the Institute of Development Studies in the university of Sussex. She told me that she did not like talking about environmental limits, because “limits” implied something that we could not go beyond, and that she preferred the term “zones of ecological stress”. I suggested that, for a politician, that phrase was not going to roll off the tongue terribly easily, but we agreed on the concept of planetary boundaries.

The idea of planetary boundaries is that in looking at development—this relates to economic growth as well—we have to be aware that not only with climate change but with, for example, biodiversity, water resource and other material and mineral resources, we have to work within the planet’s available resources and that, as we start to move over certain thresholds in all these areas, we enter, as she called them, “zones of stress” in which it is possible to advance development but it becomes more stressful and more difficult, and there is more tension and more conflict.

That idea of working within the planet’s resources—of observing planetary boundaries—is a very important concept for what could be an overarching sustainable development goal. However, it is very important that underneath that overarching goal we do not lose the detail and fail to address some of the issues that I have mentioned, such as food, energy, water, climate change, disability, human rights and so on.

In that list of the underlying tools and objectives, would my hon. Friend include financial inclusion? Well-regulated savings and insurance products, for example, are very important in triggering developments to achieve other goals.

I might have to think about that suggestion. I appreciate what my hon. Friend is saying and she makes a very important point, but there is a slight risk involved in considering financial inclusion. For people who are living on less than a dollar a day, the idea of savings products may be a little bit unrealistic. In framing global goals, we want to ensure that they are applicable to populations across the world.

Professor Leach talked to me about the three Ds: direction, diversity and distribution. “Direction” was the clear path that the sustainable development goals had to take. “Distribution” was looking at who gains, who loses and the social justice element of the development goals. “Diversity” was a really interesting one, in that it encompassed the idea that different countries might approach the development goals in different ways. Perhaps that is where my hon. Friend’s suggestion about financial inclusion might be brought into play. In looking at sustainability in terms of rich and developed countries, what she is saying is very important, but for some other countries the idea of financial inclusion might be a later step in the process. I recommend the three Ds to Ministers.

There are a few other points that I want to make about what form the new sustainable development goals should take. First, they certainly should be global; they should quite clearly apply to richer countries and more developed economies, as well as to the lowest-income countries.

Secondly, the goals should be steering the world to look at development within “planetary boundaries”—we might use that term. How can I put this idea in terms that might appeal to my right hon. and hon. Friends on the Conservative side of the coalition? If we look at it as a business, we are talking about operating the world as a business within a safe operating environment that does not take us into high-risk areas. So this is about observing the limits of climate change, biodiversity and resource use.

Thirdly, the goals must be ambitious. The millennium development goals were ambitious. The fact that, as a planet, we achieved some of them but failed to achieve many of them has been a useful tool in identifying where we had problems and in focusing on those countries that had the greatest problems. The sustainable development goals must not be woolly; they must be as ambitious and specific as the millennium development goals.

Fourthly, the goals could follow a formula that has been used in the climate change process of the United Nations framework convention on climate change: the idea of common but differentiated responsibilities, whereby because countries will respond in wildly different ways to the challenge of new development goals, different goals may apply with different degrees of rigour to different countries. For instance, for a country such as the UK, the goals may not be so much about involving women in education or achieving greater access for disabled people, because we would fancy that we would meet such goals already, but they might be about addressing waste, consumption, having too great a focus on relentless economic growth, inefficiency in using our resources and in overstepping planetary boundaries in the way that we handle our economy.

In that respect, I commend to Ministers a policy that unfortunately did not make it into the coalition agreement but that the Liberal Democrats adopted in opposition. Alongside a climate change Act, we wanted to have a waste and resource efficiency Act that took the same kind of target-setting and framework approach to the use of natural resources and natural capital. That would fit very neatly with the framework set out by the White Paper on the natural environment in 2011, and I still commend the policy to Ministers. I think we are talking about “coalition 2.0” or something, so perhaps it is a policy that we could still adopt in the remaining years of the coalition Government before the next election.

The final point I will make about the future sustainable development goals is that sustainability must be mainstreamed within them. One of the failings of the original millennium development goals, which I think the hon. Member for Edinburgh North and Leith referred to, is that environmental issues were slightly pocketed in the last of the development goals and the inter-relationship between environmental sustainability, poverty, justice and development was not really fully developed in the millennium development goals. We need to see that corrected. That was the message not only of the Rio+20 summit but of the original earth summit in Rio 20 years ago. As I say, it is very important that sustainability is mainstreamed within the agenda that we are discussing.

This is a remarkable opportunity for the UK to provide leadership in this area and a remarkable personal opportunity for the Prime Minister, as co-chair of the high-level UN panel, alongside his responsibilities with the G8 and the Open Government Partnership, while the Government are delivering on the historic pledge to devote 0.7% of our national wealth to international development. I hope that the Government make the most of this opportunity and provide real global leadership on sustainable development.

Thank you, Mr Weir, for giving me the opportunity to close the debate from this side of the House.

I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh North and Leith (Mark Lazarowicz) for securing this important debate and commend his work in the previous Government as special envoy to the Prime Minister on climate change issues. Both he and the hon. Member for Cheltenham (Martin Horwood) have stated that, as we speak about the millennium development goals and what comes next, climate change issues should feature significantly.

As we debate these issues, we face one of the biggest ever economic challenges, both at home and internationally. In that context, we must recognise that we are calling on the UK public to support international development at a difficult time, but that is the right thing to do. We are pleased that this Government are following in the Labour Government’s footsteps and continuing the commitment to increase aid to developing countries to 0.7% of gross national income—GNI. It is important to maintain that commitment.

From some of the things that the British public have done, we can see that they are hugely committed and generous where development and humanitarian disasters are concerned. During the Disasters Emergency Committee appeal to help some 13 million people in need after the east Africa drought last year, about £79 million was raised. We must continue our defence against the relentless attacks that some sections of the press and a number of parliamentarians have made on international development. We must continue to argue that development provides good value for what it achieves in developing countries. My hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh North and Leith and the hon. Member for Cheltenham pointed that out and highlighted some of the achievements. More importantly, with our current commitment of 0.56% of our national income, we are making great strides, and have done so over the past decade, in reducing poverty in some of the world’s poorest places. We have also reduced inequality, but much more needs to be done.

Tackling global poverty and inequality is the paramount issue of our time, and I think that all of us, across the board, agree that we must continue to redouble our efforts, even in these challenging economic times at home, to reduce poverty and inequality, whether in the poorest or in middle-income countries. We must all focus our attention on the challenges posed by poverty and inequality around the world, and by unemployment, especially among the young. In focusing on what happens post-2015, we need to give even greater priority to ensuring that people have economic opportunities—opportunities to work and to develop their own countries by making that contribution themselves.

In the developing world, more than 1.4 billion people live on less than $1.25 a day, yet developing countries’ economic potential is enormous. We are already seeing signs of that in many countries, including India and China, but inequality is of great concern. We must ensure that, as we discuss what happens after 2015, we have a clear answer on how we will address the poverty of middle-income countries, which is where the great majority of the world’s poorest people are concentrated, and increasingly so. We must work with countries that are doing better economically, and help them to start to solve their own problems with our support and partnership.

We have achieved a great deal that we can be proud of over the past 10 to 15 years. I am really proud that when Labour was in government we acted as a global leader in international development, and I am pleased that this Government are pursuing the same agenda. The commitment to the millennium development goals was a central part of that story. My right hon. Friend the Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath (Mr Brown) and Tony Blair, both former Prime Ministers, created the Department for International Development to ensure that development was high on the agenda of the British Government and of the international community; that we decoupled the development agenda from economic, trade and defence interests, and focused on poverty alleviation in particular; and that we maintained the commitment to 0.7% of GNI.

Would my hon. Friend care to comment on one particular policy? I think, and the Minister might confirm, that the Government have not taken up the baton handed over by the previous Government regarding carbon reporting. Does she agree that limiting carbon reporting to the top 1,800 companies is not in the spirit of the commitment that the Labour Government gave when they talked about fulfilling the millennium goals?

I could not agree more, and I hope that the Minister takes the opportunity, as the last man standing in his Department, to answer that question. The hon. Member for Cheltenham, who highlighted his interest in and commitment to tackling climate change, will also want to hear the Minister’s answer.

On my point about the previous Government and about focusing on the future and building on the commitment to the millennium development goals, the argument was about ensuring that the international community saw tackling poverty in developing countries not just as in its economic interest, but as its moral duty. That argument must be maintained, and we must maintain, too, the consensus on moving forward and continuing to make the case for tackling poverty and inequality in the developing world.

The hon. Lady seems to be slipping slightly into the trap I described, talking about sustainable development only in terms of what needs to be done in the poorest countries. Does she accept that this is also about setting ourselves goals for resource use, carbon reduction and so on?

I certainly did not intend to do so. I did mention middle-income countries, and I will come on to our own work and what we should be doing. As the hon. Gentleman pointed out, the Climate Change Act 2008, which Labour introduced, is a key part of the argument that we have a responsibility on those issues, as much as on what happens in developing countries, so I completely agree with his points.

Let us remind ourselves of what has been achieved over the past 10 to 15 years. Between 1990 and 2005, the poverty rate fell from 46% to 27%—that is 400 million people lifted out of extreme poverty. As my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh North and Leith said, the mortality rate for children under five has fallen dramatically, from 12 million in 1990 to 7.6 million in 2010, but we must continue the effort to keep reducing that number. This year, we reached the millennium development target of halving the number of people without access to clean water, but further work remains to be done. Millions more children, particularly girls, in the developing world are going to school and getting the education that will help them to create a better and more prosperous future for themselves and their families. Reminding ourselves of those achievements is important, particularly when some people would prefer to imply that development assistance is not making a difference. Development assistance clearly has made and is making a difference, and those of us who believe that we must continue that effort need to continue to make those arguments.

We have also made great strides in improving aid effectiveness. We did so when we were in government, and I know that this Government have spoken a great deal about the importance of aid effectiveness and transparency. I encourage the vigorous pursuit of that agenda. We need to be able to have public confidence in the way public money is being used when, rightly, more and more questions are being asked about how that money is used to achieve the goals that we all seek.

There are economic pressures here at home and in other donor countries, and as my hon. Friend said, we see that budgetary pressure in the reduction in aid money for particular countries. That is why it is crucial that the UK, which has been seen as an international leader on those issues, makes the most of its position to put the case for continued commitment to the millennium development goals, learning from the things that have been successful and identifying the areas that we need to prioritise. That means that we need to see the Prime Minister carrying out a strong international leadership role through his position as chair of the UN committee that is developing the post-2015 millennium development framework.

As my hon. Friend and other hon. Members said, that is an important opportunity to build a genuine partnership between donor and recipient countries to ensure that development is being done not to countries or to people, but with those countries. We must keep the focus on sustainable development, not philanthropy and charity. There are great concerns that the emphasis on charity through Departments is not what developing countries and the people of the developing world need or want. They want development and self-sufficiency, and we need to play our part in ensuring that happens.

We call on the Government and the Prime Minister to ensure that the focus on empowerment, human rights and labour standards is maintained. It is worrying that one of the first things the Government did in their reviews was withdraw funding from the International Labour Organisation, which does a great deal of work to improve labour conditions in developing countries.

We also hope that the Government will continue to prioritise the other rights agendas, particularly women’s rights, which are integral to the post-2015 millennium development goals, and that there is a strong voice for women. In conflicts, we know that women face a great deal of violence and that rape is used as a weapon of war. It is important that UN Women and other such agencies are supported so that they are strong advocates for speaking up about human rights violations against women, both in conflict zones and, more generally, in developing countries. I ask the Minister to ensure that that is central to the Government’s response and to the Prime Minister’s work as chair of the UN committee, and that gender, equality, human rights and labour standards issues are not neglected or ignored.

Does my hon. Friend accept that there is an interconnection with, for example, education? If we are to get more and more children into school, we need to address gender and disability issues.

I totally agree. As my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh North and Leith mentioned, we need to highlight that issue. We also need to recognise that disability rights are anathema in many countries. We have a responsibility to share the learning on some of the things that have been successful in our country. The rights agenda goes beyond one group and includes those with disabilities and other groups that are particularly marginalised.

Despite economic growth in middle-income countries, we know that in countries such as, say, India there are still some 400 million people living on less than $1.25 a day and more than 800 million people living on less than $2 a day. There are important questions to explore on how we can enable countries such as India to do more for themselves while ensuring that we do not pull out our aid efforts, which would leave large numbers of people in more challenging, difficult circumstances.

We should continue to support efforts to lift those people out of poverty and, over time, allow those countries to take more responsibility. Although there are pressures on such middle-income countries, we need to ensure that our efforts and focus remain on the poorest. Even if the Governments of those countries do not act and respond to those challenges in the immediate future, we should work with them to enable them to do so.

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for giving way a second time. Rather than whether Britain should be giving aid to India and how many poor people we could help there, is not the important lesson from the Indian experience that, as Institute for Government studies emphasise, distribution is quite an important part of the sustainable development goal process?

India has achieved remarkable economic growth, but that has not benefited the whole population. As the hon. Lady points out, there are vast numbers of poor people still suffering in poverty in India. That is one reason why we should not hook the new sustainable development goals in too narrow-minded a way to economic growth. Instead, we should consider issues such as social justice and distribution, too.

I agree. We should consider things more broadly and do more to overcome some of the simplistic critiques that those countries are doing well in some respects but are not addressing poverty and growing inequality. That is why we believe that the post-2015 millennium development goals should place greater emphasis on inequality. As the United Nations Development Programme stated, the lack of focus on inequality should be of great concern, because understanding the drivers of inequality can sometimes indicate whether a situation might lead to conflict, so the focus on inequality should be as important as that on poverty.

In countries with greater economic growth, there is a big question whether that growth is pro-poor. That is where the Department for International Development is making interventions through, for example, private-sector funding. The Minister must answer the question whether those interventions will create jobs and opportunities and generate income for the poorest. Does the DFID funding that is being channelled into countries such as India through the private sector meet the same accountability standards that we expect of non-governmental organisations and other recipients? Are the same kinds of standard applied and is there clarity on the monitoring of those measures? I hope the Minister can address that point as well.

If, in future, there is greater emphasis on channelling aid funding through the private sector—we are not averse to that in principle, but we need to know whether such investment is going to be about development and addressing poverty—that has to be looked at closely, and the monitoring arrangements have to be as rigorous as they are, or should be, in other sectors.

I want to focus on questions about what happens next. A key thing that needs to be looked at is how the post-MDG goals are developed. They must be considered in co-operation and consultation with the developing nations, and they need genuinely to be in the form of partnerships. We need to ensure that we are ambitious about tackling inequality as well as poverty, and the focus on economic development must be pro-poor. We have already seen that, even in countries where there has been a great deal of growth, not enough effort has been made to ensure that some of the poorest people are not left behind. More attention must be paid to that by ensuring that those countries play a bigger role in addressing the economic inequalities that have arisen, as well as by ensuring that we play our part to address those challenges.

The Opposition believe it is vital that, as we look to the post-2015 millennium development goals and what replaces them, we should not only recognise what has been achieved, but identify where the big challenges remain and ensure that we stay ambitious and aspirational about what can be achieved in the coming decades. We do seek to eradicate poverty over those coming decades, and if the international community has the will and there is international leadership—I hope the Prime Minister will take that role seriously—there is no reason why we cannot address and tackle poverty. It is important that we keep that momentum and maintain our efforts to tackle poverty and inequality.

I want to highlight a few key issues. First, I hope that the Government continue to keep to their commitment and start to deliver on increasing aid to 0.7% of GNI. I hope that that promise will be maintained. Media reports of the new Secretary of State’s comments about her belief, or lack of belief, in development have been worrying for many people in the developing world, as well as in the communities that work on those issues. I hope the Minister can reassure us that the new Secretary of State is still absolutely committed to this agenda and that the promise will be kept—[Interruption.] If I can have the Minister’s attention, I hope that the promise will be kept on that agenda.

Secondly, there has been a great deal of focus on issues such as tax avoidance, which the Government have said a great deal about, but we need to see action, because billions of pounds of public money and potential tax revenue are lost to developing countries, so I would welcome a response from the Minister on what his Government are doing practically to address that issue.

My final point concerns climate change. The Government and the Prime Minister have said that they want to be the greenest Government ever. We need action, not just rhetoric. I hope that the Minister can shed more light on what will be done, both domestically —[Interruption.] If he will stop heckling, I hope he can shed more light on what will be done both domestically and internationally on the issue.

We introduced the 2008 Act. We hope that the Minister will work with his coalition partners to step up the effort on climate change. If we do not do more to support developing countries in the face of what is likely to be catastrophic for many sections of the population in some of the poorest countries, our efforts in development will be undermined. I hope that he can take this issue seriously and answer the questions seriously.

I thank the hon. Member for Edinburgh North and Leith (Mark Lazarowicz) for securing a debate on such an important topic.

Securing global agreement on a framework that updates the millennium development goals is a priority for the coalition Government as we approach 2015. I welcome the broader parliamentary engagement that is occurring. The Government are pleased that an independent inquiry into the post-2015 development agenda has been launched by the International Development Committee. The Department for International Development is keen to work with the House on this topic. The inquiry provides an opportunity for key players to contribute their views on the post-2015 agenda, and I look forward to reading the final report.

The eight MDGs launched in 2000 have generated an unprecedented degree of global consensus on development and have also worked well as a communication and advocacy tool, both with the UK public and internationally. The framework has helped to focus people’s minds and efforts on tackling global poverty in terms of real, practical action. It has channelled actions logically and consistently and released the full effort of the world on the issues covered by the eight goals. As a focused set of targets and indicators, the MDGs have encouraged better availability and quality of data in developing countries, making it easier to increase the focus on results. We now need to build on that success.

In terms of how the world has done against the MDGs, the picture is mixed, as we heard earlier. We have seen unprecedented reductions in poverty rates, and achievement of the targets on increased access to safe drinking water and primary education. Progress has been slower, however, for nutrition, basic sanitation and child mortality rates, and maternal mortality is lagging a long way behind. The MDG framework itself has its doubters. One criticism is that the MDGs’ focus on results at the global level has masked uneven progress both between and within countries. The degree to which the set of goals has fitted closely with countries’ own development strategies has varied, and a number of critical issues were not covered, such as growth or conflict.

In some cases, the framework’s focus on quantitative results has skewed incentives—for example, the focus on measuring school attendance rates rather than the quality of education actually received by those who attend the school. As we approach the 2015 deadline for the targets set just over a decade ago, there is a big question to be answered about what should happen next. Unsurprisingly, there are a number of different views. An updated framework for development needs to build on success so far, while also addressing the weaknesses of the current MDGs. The world has changed significantly since 2000, so it is vital that any new international framework for development is able to reflect the new challenges and opportunities that we face both today and in the future.

Agreeing a development framework to replace the MDGs will be challenging. There are a number of intellectual challenges and debates around them that are both technically and politically complex. First, there are clear questions around what should be included in a post-2015 framework for development and how each issue should be measured. Given that some of the MDGs under the current framework are unlikely to be reached by 2015, some argue that the goals should simply be rolled forward post-2015. However, that would collide with the fact that a number of important issues such as conflict, corruption, poor governance and climate change were not included in the MDGs in the first place. Simply rolling forward the current goals would ignore the importance of quality as well as quantity in the development process.

Secondly, although this is covered in part by MDG 7, there is a view that the MDGs should be replaced by a framework focusing much more on environmental sustainability and not just on poverty eradication. Our ability to manage environmental risks and use natural resources sustainably is critical to increasing the living standards of the poorest people in the world, but would such a shift risk losing the sharp focus of the current set of goals?

Thirdly, there is an argument for adopting development goals that apply to emerging and rich countries as well as the poorest countries. The actions of the rich—for instance, on carbon emissions, which have been mentioned—should not perhaps be allowed to damage the interests of the poor.

Those debates are crucial for the poorest people in the world and must be addressed in any new framework for development. The UK is an intellectual leader on international development issues, and we have an important role to play. The Department for International Development has set up a new team dedicated to thinking about those issues and to engaging with international Governments, civil society, business and individuals.

More broadly, the process for debating many of the issues and deciding on an international development framework post-2015 is well under way. The UN Secretary-General has launched a high-level panel on the post-2015 development agenda; the panel will deliver a report by May 2013, making

“recommendations regarding the vision and shape of a post-2015 development agenda”.

I am pleased that the Prime Minister has been asked to co-chair the panel alongside the Presidents of Indonesia and Liberia.

The panel met in New York on 25 September. Subsequent meetings will be in London imminently, on 1 November, and in Monrovia and Jakarta early next year. The meetings will focus on development challenges at three levels. The London meeting will focus on poverty at the individual level, while the following meetings will tackle national challenges and international issues—in other words, people, then countries, then global.

The panel’s overall aim is to set out an ambitious new agenda for ending poverty in the years beyond 2015 while maintaining the simplicity contained in the current MDGs. The panel is clear that it does not want the new framework to focus on aid only. A new framework should focus on helping the poorest people get out of poverty and stay out of it. It should apply to very poor countries as well as to countries where aid plays a less important role, but where large numbers of poor people still live. It is not simply about handouts from rich countries. The panel wants its outcome to reflect a new global consensus on how development works and what matters in practice for success.

Alongside the panel’s London meeting next week will be a series of discussions with civil society, business and young people. It is a critical part of the panel’s work and is vital if its conclusions are to be taken seriously by the international community when the panel reports at the end of May next year. I reassure the hon. Member for Glasgow South (Mr Harris) that the process to support the Prime Minister in Whitehall involves a cross-ministerial team, with DFID, the Department of Energy and Climate Change and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs all working together to enable coherence with the Rio+20 follow-up and the climate change agenda.

While the Minister is on that subject, can he touch on the two-year delay so far in the Government’s setting up of the network of marine conservation areas? It has not received an awful lot of Government attention and I am extremely concerned about it, as are other Members. It offers a poor example to other developing nations when we lecture them on how to conserve marine areas.

I do not think that that is immediately relevant to the topic on the Order Paper for this debate, but it is an important issue, so I am happy to write to the hon. Gentleman with as much information as we have on that question.

The hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Bow (Rushanara Ali) discussed jobs and economic opportunities. I assure her that the issue will be addressed through a dedicated session during the panel’s meeting here in London next week. That panel will draw on this year’s comprehensive world development report by the World Bank, which deals specifically with jobs.

Although the high-level panel report is an important input into the international debate on the post-2015 framework, it is not the only one. The UN Secretary-General will produce his own report for the special session of the General Assembly next September. Numerous other forums are discussing the post-2015 development framework, but the UK Government will work hard to maintain coherence among the different processes.

To reply to some of the comments made earlier, the hon. Members for Edinburgh North and Leith and for Workington (Sir Tony Cunningham) both mentioned climate change. The Rio+20 meetings have established an open working group specifically to propose sustainable development goals, as that is another strand of the activity in play at the moment. On inequality, we must focus on the poorest and not just measure average success, which can disguise a lot of facts beneath a simple headline figure.

My hon. Friend the Member for Cheltenham (Martin Horwood) gave us a master class on how the MDGs might be broadened after 2015 by the introduction of some more thoughtful concepts of sustainable development. He said that they might include planetary boundaries and zones of ecological stress. [Laughter.] Although some might laugh, I assure him and the House that the team at DFID are very familiar with planetary boundaries, and particularly with the idea of doughnut economics, as it is described, which combines planetary boundaries with social minimums—in other words, the constraints of the environment with some of the basic needs of human life. I have to say that when it comes to doughnut economics, I prefer to keep it simple.

The hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Bow mentioned our withdrawal from the International Labour Organisation. I urge her to stop repeating her party’s mantra. Let me say it one more time so that she understands the decision that we took after the multilateral aid review. Our conclusion after considering the ILO was that its main activity does not coincide sufficiently with DFID’s prime objectives, so it is true to say that we have terminated our core funding, but we work with the ILO on a case-by-case basis in countries and on programmes where its work is useful for the elimination of poverty.

On labour conditions, a number of people were killed in an accident at a factory in Pakistan, to use a recent example. There is a role for organisations such as the ILO or domestic organisations to campaign for basic human rights and working conditions to be maintained in garment factories, for example, in Pakistan, Bangladesh and many other countries. Does the Minister agree that development funding should support such organisations to ensure that people can go to work and expect to leave in safety without their lives being at risk? Surely he ought to agree that our efforts should support organisations that campaign to ensure decent labour conditions and labour rights and challenge companies to do the right thing and protect the lives of people at work.

No one questions the objectives that the hon. Lady has just outlined, which is why they are contained in the programmes and actions of DFID, and in all the bilateral programmes relative to such issues. That is why we have a pioneering initiative called RAGS, the responsible and accountable garment sector challenge fund, which covers employment conditions. Where the ILO can contribute to helping us in the field, we will work with it. However, where we get better value for taxpayers’ money working with other people, we will work with other people. It is on that case-by-case basis that we are happy to work with the ILO. Core funding given centrally does not represent value for taxpayers’ money.

Let me finish by saying a few words about what we hope the panel will achieve on the main topic of the debate. The three co-chairs of the panel believe that ending absolute poverty should still be the primary objective of any new framework for development. We hope that the panel can agree on that key message and rally support from Governments, citizens, civil society and business around the world.

The UK also believes that there are five principles that a new framework needs to uphold. First, poverty eradication should remain at the centre of a new global framework for development. Secondly, any new framework needs to speed up efforts to reach the targets in the current MDGs, and hold Governments to account for the promises that were made to achieve them. Thirdly, it should tackle the root causes of poverty, not just the symptoms. Fourthly, it must be based on, and take account of, the views of the poorest people in the world. Finally, simplicity is essential. The new framework should be bold and ambitious, but must maintain the clarity of the current MDGs.

I conclude by once again thanking the hon. Member for Edinburgh North and Leith for securing the debate. It is interesting, stimulating and important, and I am sure we will come back to it in the months ahead.

Sitting suspended.