[Relevant document: Oral evidence taken before the International Development Committee on 8 September 2015, on Sustainable Development Goals, HC 337.]
I beg to move,
That this House has considered the Sustainable Development Goals.
This motion also stands in the name of the hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Stephen Twigg).
On three occasions this week, the House has had the opportunity to debate the shocking and harrowing scenes we have witnessed through the media, as displaced and vulnerable people risk their lives, and often those of their children, to escape conflict and a poverty of existence that renders the possibility of a horrible death in the Mediterranean preferable to staying in their homes. I am grateful to the Backbench Business Committee for having granted this debate, but it does not, at least on the face of the motion before the House, afford a fourth such opportunity, but in truth, given what we have witnessed, it is not only timely but relevant to the underlying causes of what we have seen, as well as to our response as a nation and as individuals living in a global world.
The sustainable development goals that member states of the United Nations will agree this month and that have been driven entirely positively by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister in his largely unsung role as the chairman of the high-level panel responsible for the underlying principles are about the sort of world in which we want to live in this century. They are about doing what is right by the world’s poorest and most vulnerable people, and they are ultimately about the security of this country and of the British people.
As I made clear in my remarks in the debate I secured on corruption in Africa shortly before the summer recess, what we do as a country on international aid matters. It matters not only because we have a moral responsibility to do what is right, but because our spending on aid represents an investment in our security here at home, as well as that of our neighbours and allies. Why that is matters not, though it has much to do with the fact that the world is now so much a smaller and better connected place than when I and, I venture to say, most other hon. Members were growing up.
Technology has meant not only that we can know what is happening in nearly any part of the world almost immediately, but has made international travel faster and easier and revealed to many in the developing world the enormous disparity between our own comfortable lives and their daily struggle for existence. It is little wonder, when faced with extreme poverty, that many are prepared to make the decision to try to reach the developed world, and it is no surprise at all that when conflict arises the decision to try to reach Europe or north America is made by quite so many people.
If we get development right, which is what the sustainable development goals seek for the entire world community, the scenes we have all witnessed over the last few weeks will become less frequent. But if we get it wrong, we will not only have failed in the duties we pray for help in discharging at the beginning of each day in this House, but will have imperilled our own security and prosperity.
What are we talking about? What are the sustainable development goals that we and the world will shortly adopt and that will direct our aid spending over the coming years, and how, indeed, have we got here?
The millennium development goals, with which some at least are familiar, were agreed by the United Nations in 2001. Again, under the then Prime Minister, this country led the way, and the Labour party deserves suitable credit for that and for the moral lead the then Government demonstrated.
Eight in number, the millennium development goals sought to halve extreme poverty across the world by 2015, and in that, as the World Bank has reported, they have enjoyed a great deal of success. But that is not the whole story, for as the United Nations itself says in this year’s “Millennium Development Goals Report”:
“Although significant achievements have been made on many of the MDG targets worldwide, progress has been uneven across regions and countries, leaving significant gaps. Millions of people are being left behind, especially the poorest and those disadvantaged because of their sex, age, disability, ethnicity or geographic location.”
The message is clear, and was apparent even when the post-2015 development agenda began to be discussed by the world community three years ago: that while the goals have been largely effective, and have done much to shift the development focus to ensuring the eradication of poverty across the world, an enormous amount remains to be done.
It is with that in mind that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, with the Presidents of Liberia and Indonesia, published their work on the post-2015 development agenda in 2013, to which the world community has since been working. The principles there set forth—that no one in the world should be left behind; that sustainable development should be at the core for all countries, developed and developing; that economies should be transformed to ensure prosperity through growth; that peace should prevail; that all should have access to open and accountable institutions; and that the world should act together to end poverty—underpin not only what has been done since, but the final draft of the sustainable development goals themselves.
We first saw those following the work recommended at the Rio+20 conference in the zero draft published last summer, and there were at that stage, to my mind and that of others, simply too many goals and targets, laudable as each no doubt was. I know—or at least I think I know—that that was the view of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Development. As she said in a speech on 7 July 2014:
“The UK wants a simple, clear and inspiring set of goals and targets that centre on eradicating poverty. We believe this needs to include the missing issues from the MDGs: economic growth, governance, rule of law, tackling corruption, peace and stability, and putting women and girls first. We know the argument is far from won in the UN. There is broad agreement about the need to tackle extreme poverty…but a lack of consensus about how we tackle the root causes”.
In her aim of reducing the number of goals, targets and indicators, my right hon. Friend has been largely unsuccessful, although I gather from following the negotiations that that is not for want of trying. However, I pay tribute to her work and that of the Department in carrying forward the efforts started by the Prime Minister, and she has made enormous progress in focusing the goals from the zero draft, and in ensuring that things that the UK cares about—such as empowering women and girls—have taken centre stage. Under the leadership of my right hon. Friend, the expertise in DFID has benefited not only this country but the world community, and I have little doubt that that will rebound to her credit and that of Britain over the coming decades as the sustainable development goals lift many people out of extreme poverty and ensure a prosperity and peaceful existence that helps to secure our own position here at home.
As with all documents negotiated at an international level, there remain things that we in the UK think could perhaps have been done better, including the way in which some of the goals are framed. Goal 4, for example, seeks to:
“Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all.”
There is a plethora of linked targets and indicators, of course, but how, objectively, progress and compliance can properly be measured, particularly with poor or absent data sets in many developing countries, remains to be seen. Goal 14 provides another example. It requires that we:
“Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development.”
What that means to the Government of, say, a west African littoral state may be very different from what it means to a landlocked country in central Asia. How the goals will be interpreted in the coming years in the light of the 169 targets and 304 indicators represents a challenge for the international community, and I hope that my right hon. Friend the Minister will say something in responding to the debate about DFID’s approach to this task.
I do agree that they relate to many sections of society, and I would go further and say they stretch across almost the entire work that Governments in this country and throughout the developed world do. These goals will, of course, apply to the developed world as well as the developing world.
I congratulate my hon. and learned Friend on securing this important debate. May I take him back to the focus on specific goals and SDG 5 on gender equality? I share his concern about the plethora of targets and the implementation. Does he agree that we must ensure that the progress we made in the last Parliament in targeting violence against women and girls is not lost and that we must ensure more security for women and girls in some of the most unstable countries in the world, otherwise we will never achieve our aim of securing growth and prosperity in these countries?
I agree with my hon. Friend. The truth of the matter is we cannot make progress on eradicating poverty across the world and ensuring peace and stability for the most vulnerable people unless and until we get the message across that girls and women must have precisely the same opportunities as boys and men, and we must protect them in all respects.
FGM is, in a sense, part of the sustainable development goals. It is an abhorrent practice, and this Government and previous Governments have done what they can to change the law here to ensure that we stamp it out as much as we can. I know from my own questions to Ministers in the last Parliament and in this one that it is an important issue for this Government. The whole House agrees not only that FGM is an important issue but that it needs to be eradicated.
The strength of the millennium development goals was their clarity—their ability not only to focus minds and action but to communicate clearly what the world sought to achieve and by when. We set out to reduce extreme poverty by half, and by this year more than 700 million people will no longer live on less than $1.25 a day. We set out to eliminate the disparity in primary school enrolment between boys and girls, and we have done just that. The world also set out to tackle HIV, malaria and a host of other diseases, on which incredible progress has been made, despite my own bout of dengue last year.
In 2030, however, when I rise to challenge the Government of the day on the progress that has been made—I give notice now that I fully intend to do just that in 15 years’ time—will it be as clear, given the more amorphous terms of the sustainable development goals, that we have progressed as much? I hope it will—no doubt the whole House does—but I have my doubts that it will be as easy to show that we have made real achievements in tackling the root causes of the problems that do so much to impoverish the lives of many across the developing world and keep them in poverty.
No doubt we will have made real achievements by then, but the problem with international development that, at least until the last few weeks, all Members will have encountered is that it is often difficult to explain to constituents not only what we are doing but that those actions are having a real effect and benefiting all of us here just as much as they benefit those whose lives we are seeking to make better. This country spends—as it must now do legally and, I add, morally—0.7% of our gross national income on international development, yet how many of us are challenged again and again over that figure and over the value for money it delivers, particularly in times of necessary austerity in the public finances? For many, it is not enough that we are doing the right thing; we need to show that what we are doing delivers value for money and security for this country.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr Mitchell) understood this problem when he was Secretary of State. The fact that we have not only delivered our international obligation in relation to the 0.7%, when so many others have not, but also begun to communicate the effectiveness and importance of DFID’s spending in this area to a sometimes sceptical public owes much to the work that he did in transforming the agenda and lifting DFID from the shadows to become a Department that is properly seen as being partly responsible for the security of this country and its standing in the world. As I am sure the Minister will accept, we would not be where we are but for my right hon. Friend, nor would the Department have been able to deliver what it has delivered in negotiating the sustainable development goals and ensuring that the final draft that has emerged from three years of hard work will achieve as much as I believe it will.
Before closing and affording others the opportunity to express their own views as we move towards the point at which the goals will be adopted in New York later this month, I want to say a word or two about data and about money. I have already mentioned that, assuming the goals are adopted in New York, progress and compliance in relation to the goals is to be measured by reference to 169 targets and 304 indicators. Ensuring familiarity with those targets and indicators among non-governmental organisations, Government Departments, donors, recipients and others will represent a challenge on a scale for which the international development community is perhaps ill prepared.
The education of policy makers and those who implement their decisions will be critical, as will the resourcing of developing countries in particular, not just to educate those who need to carry out the work but to enable robust data to be collected routinely and in a manner that permits easy utilisation. Too often in developing countries, donors and the United Nations require data in different formats that are either absent or incapable of collection at least in the form in which they are sought. Too often, data that have already been provided are sought again and again, even if in slightly different ways, because the churn of staff within NGOs and donors means that everyone has their own way of working and measuring success against the indicators to which they are working.
This is an issue on which DFID, as a world leader, has a particular role to play. Insofar as it can properly be done, standardising data collection and sets across the international development community would not only enable progress on the sustainable development goals to be more transparent and easily communicable but free up the time of civil servants and others who are too frequently found tearing their hair out trying to find substitute markers for data for which they are being asked but to which they have no access. I would like to hear from the Minister that he and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will look into this agenda and make progress on it after the adoption of the goals. As I know from my own travels across the developing world, and across Africa in particular, that would do a great deal to help.
Then there is the question of money. It is unacceptable, given the commitments made by the richest countries in the world, that so many are still failing to meet the 0.7% target set at the Gleneagles summit. We have met that target, and I have little doubt that the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary would agree that we have pulled our weight, yet we remain the only major developed economy that has done so. As I have repeatedly said, doing so ensures our own safety and security and those of our allies, and they need to pull their weight too.
I am afraid not; I want to make some progress.
The financing for development conference in Addis Ababa in July was supposed to offer a milestone for others to meet their obligations, but very little appears to have changed and there seems to be no new money on the table. I hope to hear from the Minister that this is a priority for the Government, and that DFID and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office are doing everything they can to ensure that our international partners do as we have done.
It is true that the current migration crisis has been driven largely by events in Syria, in relation to which, in my view, the House took the wrong decision last year. However, it remains the case that many seeking to reach Europe and these shores are coming from north and west Africa and elsewhere. They are seeking to come here because their poverty dictates that they take the hard decision to leave their homes to seek a better life in Europe. If we get the sustainable development goals and their implementation right, fewer will choose that route. If we eradicate poverty in all its forms, as the world will promise to do in New York, there will be no point to that migration.
These goals matter. They matter to the garment worker in Dhaka in Bangladesh, to the fisherman in Bureh in Sierra Leone and to the market trader in Belen market in Iquitos in Peru. But they also matter to me, as they should matter to all Members in this House and to everyone we seek to represent as we discharge our duties in this place. Though they may still have failings, I welcome the sustainable development goals and I commend the motion to the House.
Before I call the next speaker, I must point out that 19 Members, including Front Benchers, wish to speak in the short time left before 5 o’clock. Rather than imposing a time limit, I suggest that we do what we did in the last debate, which worked well. If Members stop speaking after six or seven minutes, we will not need to impose a limit.
I congratulate the hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Stephen Phillips) on securing the debate and on his excellent speech, with which I concur. I also thank the Backbench Business Committee for granting today’s debate.
The International Development Committee has decided to make this subject the first area in a major inquiry during this Parliament into the sustainable development goals and their implementation. As the hon. and learned Gentleman said, the millennium development goals achieved fantastic results. The level of extreme poverty has halved globally over the last two decades, the number of out-of-school children of primary school age has fallen by almost half since 2000 and the maternal mortality ratio has declined by 45% worldwide.
The sustainable development goals aim to offer an innovative approach to tackling the underlying causes of the challenges we face today. This week the International Development Committee heard from a number of witnesses about the importance of a different approach. Melissa Leach from the Institute of Development Studies spoke of “synergies” and the fact that great strides can be taken on multiple connected issues. In other words, this work cannot be left to the Department for International Development alone. We must take a cross-governmental approach.
The aim of goal 9 is to build
“resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialisation and foster innovation”.
Clearly, DFID needs to work with the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills and other Departments to take that forward. Goal 7 talks about ensuring
“access to affordable, reliable, sustainable…energy for all”.
DFID will need to work with the Department of Energy and Climate Change to take that forward. As the hon. and learned Gentleman said, the way in which we finance the goals will be critical, and we will need buy-in from the Treasury as well as from DFID.
I wish to focus on three areas: fragile states, education and data. There is a distinct challenge for people living in countries affected by conflict which is not addressed explicitly in the sustainable development goals. As David Miliband said yesterday, we cannot combat global poverty without a plan to support the people who face unique problems. Fragile states such as Somalia and Afghanistan account for 43% of people living below the poverty line, and every indication is that that will rise to as much as two thirds by 2030, and neither the millennium development goals nor the SDGs address that problem explicitly.
The International Rescue Committee has suggested that we should introduce concrete targets for supporting those in extreme poverty in conflict areas. For example, we could have the goal that all children in conflict settings have the opportunity of a safe education by 2030. We could adopt similar goals for fragile states in healthcare, violence against women and girls, and other areas. I ask the Government to consider taking that idea forward.
As the hon. and learned Gentleman said, a theme of the sustainable development goals is that no one should be left behind. The greater focus on inequality as well as poverty is important, as is addressing inequality both within and between nations. Seven out of 10 people live in countries where the gap between the rich and the poor is greater now than it was 30 years ago. We know from the evidence from our own country, as well as from other parts of the world, that rising inequality has an impact on healthcare and other life chances.
One of the most important ways that we can tackle both inequality and poverty is to focus on education. I praise the Department for International Development for the fantastic work that it does on education. I am talking here about the work on girls’ education, and the development of the No Lost Generation initiative, which has helped to highlight the education needs of child refugees from Syria. I hope that education will remain at the top of the agenda during our response to the current crisis. We know the difference that investment in education makes in our own country, as well as in the poorest countries in the world. We need to look at increasing the proportion of DFID spend that goes towards education projects.
May I say how much progress the hon. Gentleman has already made in his new role?
On the issue of investment in education or in anything else related to development, how much will that be undermined by spending some of DFID’s budget domestically? The Minister might want to refer to this later. Is there any sense of what might be cut from the development budget to make up for domestic issues that might emerge as a result of the refugee crisis?
I was reassured yesterday by an answer the Secretary of State gave me on that precise point. We have not seen a shift in the Government’s definition of official development assistance. It has always been the case that the first-year costs of resettling refugees can come from ODA, and provided that that has not changed, I am reassured, but that will almost certainly be one of the items that the Select Committee considers as part of our immediate inquiry into the refugee crisis.
The SDGs have extended the scope of our commitment to secondary and tertiary education, and that is welcome. Indeed there is evidence that bolstering secondary and tertiary education can benefit primary education by developing a new generation of teachers and educational institutions. With regard to higher education, there is an important opportunity for the UK to take the lead. We can work with our universities to help develop higher education in the poorest countries in the world. We have real excellence in this area and could benefit from sharing our expertise with others. I urge the Minister and his Department to work with colleagues in the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills and the university sector to take that matter forward.
In evidence this week, Jamie Drummond, from the organisation ONE, spoke of a data crisis that needed solving. We need to improve the quality of data on those who are being left behind around the world. He told us that around a third of births in the world are not registered and that around two thirds of the causes of death in the world are not registered. Most data points for extreme poverty in developing countries are, on average, around a decade out of date. We must improve our data, so that we make decisions that are as effective as possible. This country has huge expertise in statistics and data analytics in Cambridge and London. I urge the Minister to look at ways in which we can share that expertise to build the knowledge base and institutions in the poorest countries to improve our contribution in this area.
At the turn of the millennium, the world made a commitment to tackle some of the great scourges of our time. It is right to say that we have made important progress in that regard. I agree with the hon. and learned Gentleman that we can be proud that our country has achieved the 0.7% target, and we should challenge others, including our European partners, to do the same. The summit in New York later this month is an important milestone. The goals matter, but what matters more is effective implementation. This House can play an important role in ensuring that that happens.
I congratulate my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Stephen Phillips) on securing this debate. I am struck that, over the course of my short life, the population of the globe has doubled. In looking at the rather numerous sustainable development goals, I note that there is no mention of population and the control thereof, by which I mean families and countries living within their means in terms of their populations. In view of the fact that population growth drives many of the problems that we are admirably seeking to deal with, it is a notable exception.
I was struck at first by the number of goals and the additional notes attached to those goals. Quite an industry seems to have grown up around the conversations that we have about the challenges that we all face. It concerns me that there has been such a growth in that industry and in the level of bureaucracy. I think we can all agree that a number of the goals are admirable and that we should seek to achieve them, but it worries me that we have ended up with 17 goals and more than 100 additional notes. If the Chamber will indulge me I will seek to try to slim down the number of goals that we should aim to achieve. I will do so not because I think anybody will necessarily implement Phillip Lee’s approach to development, but because it will highlight the fact that if we had more clarity and simplification, we may be much more successful in achieving our goals.
It is also noticeable that there is no mention of individual responsibility or of the word “opportunity”. Equality is all very well in some contexts in terms of outcomes, but we also need to emphasise that we need to see opportunity—the opportunity to be able to earn enough money to pay for food and a home.
Does my hon. Friend recognise that it is incredibly important to have good governance in those countries so that we can spend the money properly?
Of course, and that is why I have never been particularly enthusiastic about setting a spending goal for international development funding. I would happily come here and vote to spend 1% of GDP if I thought that it would be spent effectively in countries with good governance. The problem is that there is a litany of development expenditure projects in countries where there is poor governance and where the money has not been spent appropriately or had the desired impact.
One of the goals on which I would concentrate is on healthy lives, but why not just have the simple goal of eradicating infectious disease? It is not simple to achieve, but it is simple to say and quantify. To eradicate infectious disease we must know where it is. I got into some trouble a couple of years ago for pointing out that we needed to know who had HIV and hepatitis among the migrant population. Unless we know where the disease is, how can we seek to eradicate it? I think eradicating infectious diseases such as HIV and hepatitis would be an admirable goal and shared by significant numbers of people in South Africa and the near vicinity.
My second goal would be to achieve gender equality. When I look at some communities in this country and some countries around the world, the absence of women in positions of power and female role models in communities and families is, in part, why those communities have problems. For example, I strongly believe that if we emancipated women in Pakistani, Somali and Bangladeshi communities in this country, they would be less likely to have problems with extremism and young men going on jihadi holidays to Syria and elsewhere.
My third goal would be to live within the means of the planet, which I think encompasses at least half a dozen of the goals that the report has sought to detail. If we live within the means of the planet we do not need to start talking about carbon dioxide emissions or anything else. If we live within the means of the planet we will be doing just that: the environment will be stable, biodiversity will be protected and we will all have access to sustainable energy and the like. Living within the means of the planet is complicated but something we can achieve, but let us keep the words simple so that we know what we are seeking to do.
My fourth goal would be to reduce inequality between countries, not within countries. If everybody was equal within a country, where would be the desire to better oneself? I do not believe in economic equality; it does not exist. We must have a sense of seeking to better ourselves and for our children to have a better life. That is human nature and part of the natural order of things. Inequality between countries is in part what is causing the current migration crisis. In fact, it is probably about inequality between continents. Anyone could have predicted 10, 20 or 30 years ago that there would be migrant pressure from Africa into Europe. It is economic migration because the population of Africa is growing at a much faster rate than that of Europe. If someone is born into Senegal, Ivory Coast, Nigeria or wherever, they will migrate for a better life, job, house and future for their families. That is a statement of the obvious and among the recent migration flux, which undoubtedly has something to do with war, significant numbers of people are also travelling from Africa for a better life.
I agree with the hon. Gentleman’s comments about some of the reasons why people in parts of Africa want to migrate to Europe. Was it deliberate or an oversight not to mention the idea that some or most of those people are migrating here to take advantage of the benefit system? Did he not mention that because he knows it is not the case?
That intervention seeks to put words into my mouth that I did not say in an attempt to score a political point. Congratulations. I am not even going to address that point. The bigger picture is that people will move for a better life, and if there are more people on one continent and it is not as rich as another, it seems obvious that that will happen. That challenge will transcend not just my political lifetime but others to come, and it is something that we should discuss more.
My final goal would be to seek and disseminate knowledge. All these challenges require knowledge, understanding, innovation and invention. The challenges of peace and the stabilisation of the middle east and Africa require the dissemination of information to people there. If we are to have one goal above all it should be to seek new knowledge and disseminate it more widely.
That may well be the case, but my broader point is that if we have a shorter list and more clarity, we are more likely to achieve those goals.
It is admirable to think long term and strategically, and to address the big challenges, but I crave some simplicity and clarity so that we can all achieve what we want, which is a sustainable planet.
I congratulate the hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Stephen Phillips) and the hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Stephen Twigg) on giving us this opportunity to debate what the agreement calls
“a plan of action for people, the planet and prosperity”—
in other words, an agenda aimed at nothing short of transforming the world we live in.
I start by declaring an interest in this debate, as a former employee of the Scottish Catholic International Aid Fund, and until May a member of the Scottish working group on the sustainable development goals, which I may speak about briefly if time allows. I also declare an interest as a member of the human race and as a citizen of planet earth. The agreement to be signed by world leaders in New York later this month will affect every single one of us, as the draft declaration says, resolving
“to free the human race from the tyranny of poverty and want and to heal and secure our planet.”
We have spent a lot of time this week in the House discussing the very real scars and the insecurity faced by too many of our fellow human beings, and the realities of the tyranny of poverty and want, so it is fitting that we can end the week looking towards the better world that we all know is possible.
We have heard some of the history of the sustainable development goals, signed with a genuine sense of optimism and hope that they could be achieved by this year. Significant progress has been made, not least as a result of pressure applied during the Make Poverty History campaign 10 years ago. But the millennium development goals were not perfect and they have not been met in full. We have an opportunity now with the new sustainable development goals to do something different.
The question of the numbers is slightly academic. Perhaps there are 17 goals because that is how many are needed in order to build a framework that addresses holistically the numerous different challenges that still face the world. The fact that they are so wide in scope and that environmental considerations run through the goals, in addition to the specific goal on climate change, give us an opportunity to start to tackle poverty at its root. They recognise the necessity of tackling poverty among the most marginalised and disadvantaged groups, not just to meet basic material needs, but as a means of addressing the broader issue of inequality. We could have an interesting discussion of inequality between countries or within countries. It is important that the gap between the richest and poorest in whatever society is narrowed. All the evidence shows that it is better for society as a whole if we can narrow the inequality gap. That is the background to the principle of leaving no one behind that runs throughout the goals.
We are all responsible to some extent for improving the lot of our fellow human beings. The notion that people want to come here for a better life because we live in some sort of gilded society where the streets are paved with gold is slightly fanciful and wrong. One of the key factors in the sustainable development goals is that they will apply equally here as well: we are signing up to end poverty here at home, not simply doing it unto countries other than our own.
That takes us on to how DFID, and the UK Government as a whole, will approach the implementation of the SDGs. During the statement on the refugee crisis, the Prime Minister signalled a significant reshaping of
“the way we use our aid budget to serve our national interest.”—[Official Report, 7 September 2015; Vol. 599, c. 23-24.]
Personally, I believe our aid budget should be used to serve the interests of the poorest and the most vulnerable and marginalised around the world, so it will be interesting to know when we will get more detail of that shaping of the aid budget. It allows DFID to give recipient countries the opportunity to shape their own destinies and, importantly, to develop their own economies in the way that they see fit and not have to, for example, live with forced privatisation of national utilities or industries. I hope DIFD will also look at how it works with its civil society partners here in the UK on aspects such as funding cycles. These SDGs have a 15-year time frame and most DFID grants come out on a three-year cycle. This is an opportunity to look at long-term root causes of poverty and to find the solutions that we need.
There is also the question of the resources available to DFID and how these are spent. We have heard a lot this week about the UK Government reaching the 0.7% target, and I congratulate them on living up to what has been a cross-party goal, but as I said to the Secretary of State yesterday, it has been missed for 40 years; £87 billion could have been spent on meeting the MDGs and negating some of the humanitarian crises that we face today. Members might not be aware that while the UK is meeting the 0.7% target and meeting the 2% towards NATO, I have had it confirmed in an answer that some of that money will be counted twice, towards both of those goals. It will be interesting to find out exactly how that is to operate. The Minister also confirmed to me yesterday that some of the 0.7% is being spent on a communications role in the DFID office in East Kilbride, whose responsibilities include promoting the benefits of the Union to the people of Scotland. Quite how that reaches the sustainable development goals I do not know, but perhaps we will hear.
That brings me to the role that Scotland has already started to play in meeting the sustainable development goals. The First Minister has announced that her Government want to adopt them in full and work towards implementing them around the world and at home. I mentioned that I was part of a working group that looked at how Scotland could contribute to the sustainable development goals. It included representatives from across civil society, academia and business and other stakeholders, including DFID officials. Given how constructively that worked with the DFID input, I am keen to hear whether the Minister would be interested in setting up a similar cross-departmental and multi-stakeholder group to take that kind of work forward.
Given the consensus there has been with the Scottish Government so far, perhaps the Minister will confirm whether a member of the Scottish Government or a Scottish official, or indeed anyone from the devolved Administrations, will be invited to take a place in the UK delegation to the summit in New York in September, because this is a universal framework. I accept that international development remains reserved to this Parliament for now, but the principles that we are discussing are not reserved; they are common to all humanity.
In his recent encyclical letter, Laudato Si’, Pope Francis said:
“We are faced not with two separate crises, one environmental and the other social, but rather with one complex crisis which is both social and environmental. Strategies for a solution demand an integrated approach to combating poverty, restoring dignity to the excluded, and at the same time protecting nature.”
The Pope will attend the SDG summit, as will the Prime Minister. I hope that the Prime Minister will make a statement to the House when he returns to update us on progress and provide an opportunity for further scrutiny.
I congratulate my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Stephen Phillips) on securing this important debate. I am rather disappointed to follow the hon. Member for Glasgow North (Patrick Grady), given that he chose—it is unusual in this sort of debate—to bring in party politics from Scotland. Actually, we are all trying to do the right thing by people around the world. It is not about Scotland being separate from the United Kingdom; it is about the whole United Kingdom. That is what Ministers in the Department for International Development are working towards.
I want to make two main points: the importance of placing the protection of biodiversity and nature within the new goals; and the human and economic benefits of doing so. These points relate both to the forthcoming summit on the sustainable development goals and to the conference in December at which UN member states will adopt a new agreement to tackle the threat of climate change.
I agree with the Government that the new goals must be people-centred and planet-sensitive. Environmental and development agendas have often been looked at separately, so this new change in approach is important. It helps tackle a criticism of millennium development goal 7—on ensuring environmental sustainability—which was ineffective because it was not mainstreamed into the rest of the framework. The Government are rightly aiming to ensure that environmental sustainability is mainstreamed right through the post-2015 framework.
Anyone who has ever been to sub-Saharan Africa will know the paradox that in an area with awe-inspiring examples of natural beauty there can be massive abuse of the environment alongside poverty. There is a way of improving the latter while preserving the former. A central theme of the new sustainable development goals is prosperity; ensuring that human beings can enjoy prosperous and fulfilling lives and that economic progress occurs in harmony with nature. Goal 8 includes the aim that by 2030 Governments will have devised and implemented policies to promote sustainable tourism that creates jobs and promotes local culture and products.
The potential of tourism as a vital source for economic and development power that can strengthen and expand economies has not yet been fully realised. A 2014 World Bank report showed that tourism in Africa alone could create 3.8 million jobs over the next 10 years. Tourism in sub-Saharan Africa is growing. On average, international visitors spend £460 each, a substantial amount of money to the economies of developing countries and the businesses it supports.
There are obvious examples of successful tourism, such as Kenya and South Africa, but countries such as Mozambique are also making great strides, with international tourist arrivals growing by 284% between 2005 and 2010. Ensuring that tourism is sustainable is a key way to do that, by tying economic growth to environmental and wildlife protection.
Goal 15 is that we:
“Protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, and halt or reverse land degradation and halt biodiversity loss.”
The goal is that by 2020 Governments integrate ecosystem and biodiversity values into national and local planning, development processes, poverty reduction strategies and accounts. Action to end the cruel poaching and trafficking of protected species and address the demand for and supply of illegal wildlife products is urgently needed. If the world loses endangered animals such as rhinos, elephants, tigers, silverback gorillas, and even lions, tourism opportunities will be much more limited. At the moment, many people travel to see these magnificent animals, spending money and creating much employment for the local people.
We need to increase the capacity of local communities to pursue sustainable livelihood opportunities, ensuring that economic growth is not to the detriment of natural ecosystems and wildlife. Interweaving protection of the environment and biodiversity into the new sustainable development goals is the right thing to do economically and for the future of the planet, with almost universal agreement that doing it now will save the higher costs of trying to do it at a later date.
Making this work requires the last principle of the new goals as they stand: partnership. It will take global support to combat poaching and the trafficking of protected species, and in an ecologically interlinked world, nations will need to work together to mobilise and increase financial resources to conserve and sustainably use biodiversity and ecosystems. It will also require partnerships between Governments, civil society organisations and non-governmental organisations, and, importantly, the inclusion of the people on the ground. It is often said that the millennium development goal where the least progress was made was delivering partnerships. If that fails to happen again, it will be the world’s poor, once again, who suffer most.
I do not have anything like the background or expertise in this matter that my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow North (Patrick Grady) clearly has, or indeed that of some other speakers. My take on his comments is that he in no way intended to be party political but was simply pointing out that while it is correct and laudable and we should celebrate the fact that the UK is now contributing 0.7% of GNI in international aid, it is vital that we ensure that that aid is used to help the poorest people in the poorest countries on the planet and not for other purposes that the Government may believe to be valid but are certainly not a proper use of international aid funding.
I can understand why the Government are concerned that 17 draft development goals might be too many, because managing a programme of that size and complexity, keeping an eye on 17 targets all the time, is a difficult task. Having looked at all 17, I would not have liked to have decided which ones to leave out, because it is very difficult to identify any one that we could afford to leave behind—clearly anything that is not listed among the sustainable development goals will not get a lot of attention from the international community in future. I like the way that Ban Ki-moon has suggested we look at them: to put them under six different categories such as “people” and “dignity”.
Perhaps the aspect that is most seriously missing is solidarity: the feeling that, as somebody once said, we are all in this together. The whole SDG process can almost be summed up by one statement and one injunction. The statement is, “We didn’t inherit this planet from our parents; we have borrowed it from our children—it is their planet.” The injunction is, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” I cannot believe that if any of us were in the position of a subsistence farmer in the Ganges delta who is in danger of losing everything if the sea rises by another few feet, we would be happy if it was going to take the wealthy, influential, powerful countries of the world 25 years to come up with a solution to a problem that might wipe out our family in 10 years’ time.
If we compare what has happened in Bangladesh and in India over the past 30 to 40 years, we will see that, although economic development will be part of the solution, it is not the whole solution. Economists tell us that India is a much wealthier country than Bangladesh—wealth per person in India is almost twice that in Bangladesh—but life expectancy is higher in Bangladesh than it is in India. Bangladesh has done more to improve the wellbeing of its people than almost any other country on the planet. It has certainly done more and moved more quickly than any of its immediate neighbours, despite the fact that its wealth, as measured by economists, has not increased at the same rate.
We have to keep our eyes on that. We cannot afford to let success be measured simply by economic wealth in the traditional sense. We certainly cannot afford it to be measured by what happens to the average, because the whole point of solidarity on a global scale is that we measure our success not by how well the wealthiest or the average are doing, but by how badly the poorest are doing. By that measure we are failing very seriously indeed.
Bangladesh is the most densely populated country in the world, excluding unusual examples such as city states. With a population of more than 160 million, it is by far the most densely populated of the larger countries in the world. If we do not deal with climate change very soon, anything up to 50 million of those Bangladeshis will be displaced within the next 10 to 20 years. The wealthiest continent on the planet does not know how to cope with 2 million or 3 million refugees from north Africa. How on earth can we expect the Indian subcontinent to cope with the prospect of tens of millions—possibly 50 million—who have no choice but to leave their land because it is underwater?
On a humanitarian scale and a security footing, we cannot allow the SDGs to fail. I think we are past the point where we can allow them to be delayed or held up any longer. Some say it is too late to prevent climate change from seriously impacting on all of us, but it is not too late to prevent it completely.
Finally, I want this to succeed not because it is in our interests, but because it is not acceptable to me, in all conscience, to be part of a planet where thousands of my fellow human beings will die of starvation every day while at the same time, as we discussed earlier this week, we are trying to stop supermarkets throwing away massive amounts of food every day. That cannot be allowed to continue. We should be doing this not because it is in our or America’s interests, but because it is in the interests of the planet. We are all in this together. The solidarity of the human race has never been more important.
I refer Members to my entries in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. I commend the hon. Member for Glenrothes (Peter Grant) on an extremely thoughtful speech, and thank my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Stephen Phillips) and the hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Stephen Twigg) for their speeches and for proposing this debate. Indeed, I thank all Members who have spoken.
The millennium development goals have, by and large, been a success. Having lived in Tanzania throughout the 1990s, I saw what was happening in their absence. Malaria—I chair the all-party group on malaria and neglected tropical diseases—was taking a greater toll on people’s lives towards the end of the 1990s than at the beginning of that decade. The same can be said about many other diseases, but the introduction of the millennium development goals led to institutions such as the global fund and the Gates Foundation investing in tackling them. As a result, in the next few weeks we will hear about the tremendous progress made in cutting deaths from malaria by half, saving millions of lives over the past 15 years. Those lives would not have been saved but for the millennium development goals. Let us remember how much has been done through the MDGs.
The SDGs are of course far more ambitious, and I recognise that that raises some problems. The Sermon on the Mount is an incredibly ambitious statement. Every time I read it, I first realise how far I fall short, but at the same time it inspires me to go on to do better. It is the same with the SDGs. Every year, we should pick them up in debates such as this one. We will say, “Yes, we have made progress”, but they will also inspire us to do much better. I hope that the SDGs will do that in each member state that signs up to them. We must not lose ground against the millennium development goals or we will lose heart, as we will if the SDGs are simply not met and, for instance, we go backwards on infectious diseases.
I will mention four SDGs. On goal 3, on healthy lives, I want to echo the point made by the hon. Member for Glasgow North (Patrick Grady) about the need to take a long-term approach. I believe that we must look at incredible challenges, such as the challenge of anti-microbial resistance to drugs, which means that we need to look at the global goods in which we must invest in order to develop antibiotics. That is not a three or a five-year funding programme, but a 20-year funding programme.
When the Select Committee went to Nepal earlier this year, we saw the great results of DFID’s long-term work on afforestation. We must do more on that great long-term project. On goal 3, we must also do much more on the integration of healthcare systems, rather than having the silo mentality that there has been in the past, although it is starting to break down.
Goal 8, on sustained, inclusive and sustainable growth, is absolutely crucial. My hon. Friend the Member for Mid Derbyshire (Pauline Latham) has already mentioned it with specific reference to tourism. Hilton reckons that 70 million jobs may be created globally through tourism in the next 10 years. That will bring very good, high-value employment to countries that need it. We need full, productive employment and decent work for all.
Last night, I had a meeting with a great friend who works in Uganda and the Congo. Mainly as a result of his and his colleagues’ work, although with some support from DFID, he now works with 24,000 farmers in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, one of the poorest countries on earth. They have introduced a cocoa business that now brings tens of millions of dollars into the country and provides livelihoods for tens of thousands of people. That has been developed over the past few years, showing what can be done in the most incredibly difficult and challenging situations.
Goal 13 is on combating climate change and its impact. I had the privilege of walking with my daughter in the Swiss Alps a couple of weeks ago. I walked in the same mountains 35 years ago, when I worked in Switzerland. The glaciers are now less than half what they were then. That is on our doorstep in Switzerland; it is not Kilimanjaro, where I lived for 11 years and could see the glacier almost shrinking before my eyes. Climate change is a reality and, as the hon. Member for Glenrothes said, it is affecting countries such as Bangladesh right now.
Hon. Members have already referred to goal 16, on peaceful and inclusive societies. Without peace and inclusion and without greater equality within societies, we will not see development. I have just mentioned the Congo, and it is rare that there is development in the absence of peace; it takes much more effort.
I again want to mention Tanzania, where I had the pleasure to live. With the exception of the short war with Uganda, it has by and large been at peace since independence in 1961. Very few Tanzanians seek refuge elsewhere, because they want to stay in Tanzania, which is a peaceful and largely well-governed country. It is a poor country, but people want to stay there. Goal 16 is therefore absolutely crucial.
I again thank hon. Members for giving us the opportunity to discuss the SDGs today, but we must revisit them in detail every year so that we can be challenged and see where we have fallen short.
I am grateful, Madam Deputy Speaker, for the opportunity to say a few words, and I thank the Backbench Business Committee for agreeing to the request of the hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Stephen Phillips) to hold this important debate.
As chair of the all-party group on global education, I will restrict my comments to the cause of global education. Members of the House would be forgiven, given the enormity of the refugee crisis, for being unaware that Tuesday was International Literacy Day. I echo the words of the director general of UNESCO, Irina Bokova, who rightly described literacy as “a human right”, “a force for dignity” and
“a foundation for cohesive societies and sustainable development”.
How right she was that promoting literacy must be at the heart of the new agenda. By empowering individual women and men, literacy helps to enhance sustainable development across the board, from better healthcare to food security, eradicating poverty and promoting decent work. Few would deviate from that sentiment, and it is borne out in goal 4 of the new sustainable development goals.
The hon. Member for Stafford (Jeremy Lefroy) is right to describe the millennium development goals as a success. We should not characterise the past 15 years as a failure, but we must be mindful of the need to build on those goals and of the challenge. We need to set the goals for the next 15 years in a spirit of challenge.
There are 250 million children in schools who are not learning basic skills, despite the fact that half of them have spent at least four years in school. There has been success in getting many millions of children into school. The hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Mrs Grant) and I went on a trip to Nigeria to see the policies that are getting children who were out of school into school. However, we need to look with renewed vigour at the quality of the education in those schools and at the value we place on the teaching profession across the world. I say that as a former primary school teacher here.
There is a continuing gender divide between boys and girls, although great strides have been taken and DFID has undertaken excellent work to bridge the gap. There remain 774 million illiterate adults in the world—a decline of just 1% since 2000. Some 58 million primary school children remain out of school and 59 million adolescents remain out of secondary school. UNESCO has described this as a global learning crisis, and it is right. In short, this is a period of vastly unfinished business.
If the SDGs are to be effective, they will demand more stability and predictable funding from existing funding mechanisms. The hon. Member for Glasgow North (Patrick Grady) spoke about the different funding cycles, with the 15-year cycles of the targets and the three-year cycles under which DFID operates.
Given the enormity of the task before us, that is an inevitability. There will be a mix of funding prospects and I will move on to talk about one of them now.
I saw at first hand the approach of the Global Partnership for Education in Tanzania, as well as the funding it secured. It built a partnership between government, civil society, international organisations, students, teachers, foundations and the private sector, and got them all working together. But—and this is a big but—despite the UK making the largest pledge of any donor, the Global Partnership for Education fell well short of its £3.5 billion target. The UK pledge is contingent on the UK making up no more than 15% of donor contributions, and there is concern about the conditionality of that pledge. Although it has already been called for this afternoon, it is critical that the Government continue to put as much pressure as they can on other countries throughout the world to make pledges or to increase their pledges, specifically in the area of education.
Time is short, but I want to reflect quickly on one other issue. One omission from the millennium development goals in respect of education was the issue of disability and access. There was no mention in 2000 of disability. I commend DFID for its disability framework, which is now being enacted, but it is staggering to reflect that disability was not mentioned then. It is mentioned in the sustainable development goals, but, if we are to meet meaningful targets on disability and access to education, we need the data as well. I visited schools in Nigeria and Tanzania, and I will shortly go to Kenya with the all-party group. I do not want to see what I have seen elsewhere, which is little evidence of provision for the disabled or differentiation in treatment. We need data to make a judgment on success and where we need to go.
Finally, SDG 4 makes impressive reading. Many of the overriding omissions in the MDGs—matters we have been campaigning for over many years—have been dealt with and are now included. I do not want, in 15 years’ time, anybody to be talking about vagueness, vacuousness or a lack of enthusiasm in the targets. I therefore suggest that, when the goals are accepted, DFID put in place an overarching strategy for SDG delivery with reviewing and reporting mechanisms, as we have heard this afternoon, so we can assess whether the targets are being met and the wish list, the entitlements of the goals, are practically delivered on the ground for the benefit of humanity.
Thank you very much, Madam Deputy Speaker, for calling me to speak in this debate. What a delight it is to serve under your speakership. We have worked together in the past, when you were Chairman of the Backbench Business Committee.
I congratulate my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Stephen Phillips) on securing the debate, as well as the hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Stephen Twigg), who on this occasion I may call my friend. We worked together 20 years ago and, goodness gracious me, to be participating in a debate with him now is a unique opportunity—probably a horror for him, though.
I would like to take this opportunity to refer to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests on my recent visit to Zambia and Zimbabwe with Results UK. We went to have a look, during the summer recess, at international development projects.
I am delighted we are having this debate. I am acutely aware that my right hon. Friend the Minister has done a very fulsome job on this. He came down to my constituency and met not only my students but one of my local churches. He was incredibly impressive, I have to say. I am therefore delighted that, with the Secretary of State, he will go to the UN sustainable development meeting, where they will be able to ensure that these goals are adopted. It is helpful that he has the support, including my support, of this place. He knows we are directly behind him. We are giving him all the support and the help he needs. It is very important to ensure that the development goals are adopted, because they are more ambitious than the millennium development goals.
I have always supported the idea that we should invest 0.7% of gross national income in international aid. Indeed, we are now world leaders in delivering that commitment. It must be done, and done in such a way that is transparent, targeted and managed in a way that is not corrupt—strength of government is incredibly important. I hope the recent issue of refugees from Syria crossing the Mediterranean and eventually coming into Europe has turned those people who think that investing in international development is the wrong idea.
Over the last 35 years, I have seen how international development can make significant changes. In 1979, I went to what is now Zimbabwe, Malawi and South Africa. In 1994, I joined my hon. Friend the Member for Ribble Valley (Mr Evans), who unfortunately is not here at the moment, to view the Malawi presidential election campaign. If anybody ever wishes to come to my office, they will see the posters showing how to vote in a Malawi general election, although I do warn Members that they will first have to learn how to speak Chichewa, which is quite a difficult language. At this stage, I think I should also declare an interest as I am the chairman of the all-party groups on Zambia and Malawi, and the vice-chairman of the all-party group on Zimbabwe.
I was there at the beginning, and it was a delight to speak to the Malawian Cabinet at the time.
As I said, in mid-August, we went across to Zambia, after which I went down to Zimbabwe, both of which countries have significant problems with HIV, tuberculosis and malaria—I pay tribute to the work of my hon. Friend the Member for Bracknell (Dr Lee) on eradicating malaria. HIV breaks down the immune system, making people more susceptible to TB and other things. It is a very painful condition. I am told it turns one’s lungs into sponges and is a very painful way of dying. In addition, some people might have heard me talking earlier about how we can save hedgehogs as well.
I am keen that the Mediterranean boat refugees coming into the UK are screened for TB and HIV, and I am told that the Government will ensure that. As I mentioned after the Prime Minister’s Syria statement, Plymouth is a dispersal centre for asylum seekers. TB is becoming a real challenge in the largest urban conurbation west of Bristol. This is a good example of how investment in overseas aid can benefit the UK by reducing costs in the NHS, which we should all welcome in no uncertain terms.
The global fund has prevented 37 million deaths from TB, while 15 million people are now on antiretroviral treatment for HIV, which is incredibly important, so I urge the Government to support its vital work, including at its pledging conference next July. I would also be grateful if they included good governance, because that is also important.
The improvement of health in low and middle-income countries, such as Zambia, contributed to over a quarter of the growth in these countries between 2000 and 2011, showing that global health is vital for the development of all nations. I was told in Africa earlier this year that El Niño was about to enter southern Africa in a big way, which will have significant implications for humanitarian issues. We have to be prepared, so I hope Ministers will put that on the agenda. This weather system will also create problems for agricultural development in Zambia, Zimbabwe and other places, which is something else we have to be careful about.
In Zimbabwe, I met DFID officials—DFID has more staff there than the embassy—and we visited an abattoir, which was interesting. If these ambitious SDGs are to be met, they must help the middle-income countries, such as Zambia, as well as the lowest-hanging fruit. I am delighted that the 2015 Conservative party manifesto pledged to
“lead a major new global programme to accelerate the development of vaccines and drugs to eliminate the world’s deadliest infectious diseases”.
I am incredibly proud of our Prime Minister, who led our party into a great election campaign and victory and who is committed to these issues. I also pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr Mitchell), who did great work in taking this agenda forward.
Finally, I mention two other desperately important areas: education and making sure we have decent boreholes and water so that people can thrive.
It is a pleasure to speak in this debate. As we have heard, the sustainable development goals are a new universal set of goals, targets and indicators that UN member states will use to frame their agendas and policies over the next 15 years. Importantly, they outline a number of high-level objectives for countries, encompassing a broad range of social, economic and environmental objectives, including ending poverty, ensuring access to education and achieving gender equality.
Enormous progress was of course made on the millennium development goals, showing the value of a unifying agenda underpinned by goals and targets. The United Nations Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, has argued that since they have been in existence the MDGs have saved millions of lives and improved conditions for millions more around the world. Yet despite their success, the indignity of poverty has not been ended for all. As has also been highlighted, too many people have been left behind, particularly the poorest and those disadvantaged because of their sex, age, disability, ethnicity or geographic location. In addition, other major threats, including climate change, have not been fully tackled.
The sustainable development goals are due to be adopted at the UN summit later this month. They aim to build on the progress achieved by attacking the problems that have been neglected, but, importantly, by addressing the underlying root causes. The sustainable development goals must be integrated and interlinked, which the UN argues is crucial to ensuring that the purpose of the new agenda is realised.
At this point I would like to refer to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests and to my visit to Zambia during the recess, as part of a parliamentary delegation with the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport (Oliver Colvile), to see patients and service providers in HIV and TB clinics. During that visit it become clear that addressing health and illness is also fundamentally about addressing basic standards of living and ill health prevention. Access to clean water, sanitation, clean energy and infrastructure are crucial. We were devastated to hear when we visited one clinic that a man had carried his young son to the clinic for 48 hours only for him to die on arrival. Timeous access to healthcare is as important as the provision of healthcare. Those issues must be addressed in an integrated manner.
Along the negotiation process, there have been those who have criticised the quantity of goals and targets proposed. Critics have warned that there are far too many to focus Governments’ attention and resources in the way that they must to galvanise a better world. However, as highlighted in evidence heard in a meeting of the Select Committee on International Development that I attended on Tuesday, it is recognised that the goals are visionary. Prioritisation is not about separating particular goals to focus on, but about taking an integrated and joined-up approach. By not approaching goals in an integrated way, we would miss opportunities and key synergies, and would risk running into tangible difficulties.
As other Members have stated, underpinning the new goals is an important framework, which DFID has led on, that aims to leave no one behind. That will ensure that the goals are met for all social groups and that progress on targets is disaggregated. The UN sustainable development agenda states:
“Recognising that the dignity of the human person is fundamental, we wish to see the Goals and targets met for all nations and peoples and for all segments of society…we will endeavour to reach the furthest behind first.”
That will require Governments across the world to address entrenched poverty and inequality, discriminatory beliefs and attitudes, and the challenges facing marginalised groups. In that regard, it is important that those most affected are able to participate in implementation, monitoring and reporting, as a fundamental part of ensuring that no one is left behind. Those groups must have a voice in both local and international implementation.
I agree that public opinion and a good research base are important in securing transparency.
One group of society that has seen particular inequality, marginalisation and extreme poverty is the disabled. One billion people globally have a disability, and 80% of them live in developing countries. Disability is both a cause and a consequence of poverty. Research from the World Health Organisation indicates that people with disabilities are over-represented among the persistently poor and are less likely than others to be able to move themselves out of poverty. It is also reported that people with intellectual disability and mental health problems face a high risk of social exclusion and discrimination. All these vulnerable groups must be assisted.
In March 2015, the DFID disability champion, Beverley Warmington, highlighted issues surrounding poor data on disability, which can lead to disabled people being overlooked by decision makers. We therefore look forward to thorough data collection, as other Members have mentioned.
In summing up, as already mentioned and importantly, the sustainable development goals are not about tackling problems only in particular developing countries; they apply to developed countries too. If the UK is to take on the universality of the sustainable development goals, we must ensure—and strive to make sure—that no one is left behind within our own country. I therefore look forward to seeing the Government applying the policies of the goals in an integrated manner right across all our policy-making decisions.
I welcome the sustainable development goals, although it will be inherently difficult to apply them in some areas. They are, however, visionary, and we must work together collectively, internationally and across the nations of our own country to ensure that they are applied as comprehensively as possible.
Order. Before I call the hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Wendy Morton) to speak, I must say that this is the fourth time in two days that I have looked at the Government Benches and nobody has stood up. Perhaps it has not been properly explained that when one speaker finishes, it is normal for everyone who wishes to participate in the debate to stand—instantaneously, at that moment. If a Member fails to do so, it indicates that they are not paying attention to the debate or not engaged with it, so that they do not deserve a chance to speak. I simply issue this as a warning.
I am grateful to my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Stephen Phillips) for securing this debate. As co-chair of the recently formed all-party parliamentary group on sustainable development goals, I welcome it. It is timely, given the forthcoming UN summit at the end of this month, when the new goals are due to be ratified.
In a week when Syria and the Mediterranean refugee crisis have once again come to the forefront of our minds—and become the focus of numerous debates in this Chamber—the need for an integrated and universal approach to overseas aid and humanitarian aid is reinforced. Such situations highlight that something more must be done. We need to strengthen support and meet the special needs of people living in the areas affected by complex humanitarian emergencies. They also highlight the way in which humanitarian aid and international development take many forms to respond to complex and often-changing situations. Some require a short-term solution, while others require much longer-term solutions and highlight the need for collaborative integrated approaches involving the international community, NGOs, civil society and, indeed, faith groups.
The millennium development goals were established 15 years ago, and there were eight of them. There has been some criticism of the limitations of those goals, but I believe that they formed a fundamental foundation and provided the building-blocks to rally the international community around tackling the indignity of poverty. I believe that they achieved an awful lot, for example, reducing child mortality and poverty, and improving access to education and to water and sanitation. We have heard about those things today.
In the past 10 years or so, I have been to Africa as a volunteer on a number of occasions, doing so with some of my Conservative colleagues. I went to learn and to see for myself. I have seen the difference that good international development can make, when Governments work together with the international community, non-governmental organisations and others to focus on making a difference, often post-conflict. The MDGs have played a big part in that, and I have seen where they can really work. Sometimes humanitarian aid is needed and welcome, but in other situations it is not a handout that people want, but a hand-up.
I therefore welcome the broadening of the goals, so that they now include the empowerment of women; the promotion of peaceful and inclusive societies to encourage sustainable development; and a recognition of the devastating impact that climate change can have on some parts of the world. We have spoken about the 17 goals, 169 targets and numerous indicators. The list is long, and an argument can be made that it should be much shorter, but what is significant is the universality of the goals, their interdependency and the way in which they have the potential to bring together those different arms of government, the international community, civil society and the private sector. I hope that in doing that they will result in a more sustainable and inclusive approach, and a more long-term move towards self-dependence and self-responsibility.
As with anything, all this will come down to one thing: implementation and delivery. A collaborative approach will be needed, as will accountability. The communities that the SDGs seek to help deserve that, but Governments on all sides should expect to be held to account, as should the NGOs and civil society. Let us not forget that the British public also expect accountability. It is an interesting time in development. We face a complex situation right across the world, and global actions are often required to tackle the root causes of some of these problems. I am proud that we signed up to the 0.7% target on international development, but now it is time to deliver on it.
I wish to end by telling a quick story. We have heard many such stories from hon. Members, whereby they have talked about their experiences from trips to Africa. A couple of years ago, when I was in Rwanda, I visited a women’s co-operative. One of the NGOs had worked with a group of women to encourage them to set up their own business, in beekeeping. By setting up their own businesses, they had got together as a group, where they received a lot of support from one another. They were also managing to create an income, which was then going into educating their children. That is a great example of where a handout creates a hand-up in a longer-term, sustainable way. That is why I am pleased that goal 8 is included in the SDGs, as it introduces that focus on economic development. I look forward to hearing what happens at the UN summit and seeing this agenda move forward.
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for noticing me as I jumped to my feet with great rapidity. I congratulate the hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Stephen Phillips) and my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Stephen Twigg) on securing this crucial debate. I also want to declare that I spent more than a year living and working in Sierra Leone as director of the British Council there and four years at the World Economic Forum, which of course deals with many of the issues we are discussing.
The sustainable development goals represent a vitally important set of targets that the international community must achieve if we are to secure a future based on durable and inclusive growth. As the House knows, every one of those goals is critical, but today I want to concentrate on No. 13, which focuses on combating climate change and its impacts.
The first point to establish is that there is no longer any reasonable doubt about the science of climate change. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is a gathering of the world’s 1,000 most eminent climate scientists, and they have made it absolutely clear that human activity is causing global warming. Indeed, as Lord Deben—formerly a Conservative Member of Parliament, and now the chairman of the UK’s Committee on Climate Change—has stated,
“The connection between global warming and human activity is now as clear as the connection between smoking and lung cancer”.
Human activity is the problem, and human activity must therefore provide the solutions if we are to prevent a rise of at least 3.2° in global temperatures by 2100. The consequences of that would be all too real: the seas rising because the ice caps are melting, heat waves more frequent, and—as we have seen very close to home—flooding and extreme weather on the up. If nothing is done, we can expect more droughts and floods, affecting food security and global poverty, and hitting the poorest countries with the lowest CO2 emissions hardest. We can expect seawater to become more acidic, affecting biodiversity and, again, food security. We can expect the sea level to rise by between 0.5 and 1.5 metres, displacing more than 100 million people and dwarfing the current tragic refugee crisis. To put it simply, if we are to have any chance of meeting the 17 sustainable development goals, we must start with a serious, actionable, large-scale plan to tackle climate change.
Climate change is, of course, tragically topical, because all the signs point towards the refugee crisis becoming increasingly acute as conditions in the global south become worse as a result of drought and severe weather. That was put succinctly by Jamie Drummond of ONE only yesterday:
“In our analysis, there are three extremes—extreme poverty, extreme climate and extreme ideology—that risk taking over certain parts of the world, and if we do not have a pretty enlightened and aggressive long-term investment strategy, future flows of refugees will increase.”
Indeed, they will increase exponentially.
If we are going to feed the world, as the SDGs compel us to do, we need farmers and farmland, much of which is threatened by rising sea levels, desertification and acidification due to climate change. If you own an agri-business and those farmers work for you, it will not be a case of smaller profit margins; it will be the end of your business, and the end of your livelihood and theirs. A coastal city as vast as New York or a coastal town such as Port Talbot in my constituency of Aberavon—both reliant, to differing degrees, on tourism and coastal industries—will find that its economy, and eventually its very existence, are threatened.
As I said at the beginning of my speech, I worked for the World Economic Forum for four years. During that time, I was privy to the thoughts of CEOs and leaders of some of the world’s largest companies. and most had the same message: “Your business is not sustainable if your planet is not sustainable.” The sustainable development goals give us an opportunity to inspire businesses and Governments to reinvent growth—growth of the right sort, which does not lead to the impoverishment of billions of people or the destruction of our planet—and public-private partnership is the key to that reinvention.
I deeply regret the Government’s decisions on renewable energy subsidies, and I urge them to reconsider. However, I welcome the fact that the sustainable development goals, as a whole, are more business-oriented than the millennium goals were. There are more references to job creation and sustainable growth, both of which can be achieved if businesses and Governments invest in green technology and energy innovation. For their part, businesses must accept and embrace their responsibility to commit themselves to those measures, although many will be regulatory and could be spun by short-termists as burdensome. While aid will be necessary for some of the goals, and I would never advocate cuts in overseas development assistance, combating climate change will require large-scale investment, both public and private, first and foremost.
The hon. Gentleman is making a very important speech. Does he agree that, if we are to achieve the sustainable development goals, it is critical for a proper and enforceable agreement to be made on climate change at the Paris summit later this year? Does he agree that that is part and parcel of the solution to the issue with which the SDGs seek to grapple?
I absolutely agree and therefore underline the importance of us leading by example, which is why I mentioned some of the regrettable decisions made in removing subsidies for renewables. Nevertheless, the Paris discussions and the SDGs mesh together and I hope we will show leadership in Paris in the coming months.
Supporting and enabling sustainably minded business is the key to generating significant wealth at home and abroad. With that in mind, I will finish by saying that there will necessarily be trade-offs and this will be a real test of the Government’s dedication to, and understanding of, the sustainable development goals. Climate change is a classic example of such trade-offs. In the short term fossil fuel companies are likely to perceive themselves as losers, even if the end result is a net improvement for society and the global economy in general. Effective leadership from all concerned Government Departments will be necessary, and innovative solutions will have to be found.
I therefore urge the Government to take seriously the following five recommendations: first, to reverse the recently announced cuts to renewable energy subsidies; secondly, to invest in renewables infrastructure and the research capabilities required to engineer them; thirdly, to attach climate change conditions to overseas aid directed to infrastructure projects; fourthly, to convene a global sustainability summit to develop a road map for public-private partnerships for sustainable growth; and, fifthly, to reform the companies legislation to ensure that the articles of incorporation of any given company must include a commitment to what the World Business Council for Sustainable Development calls triple-bottom line reporting—namely people, planet, profit. This means that the performance of a company should be measured not only in terms of its short-term profitability, but also in terms of its commitment to fulfilling its societal and environmental obligations.
If the Government could adopt these five recommendations, I believe that our country would be well on the way to showing real leadership and making a serious contribution to achieving sustainable development goal 13.
In 2008 or 2009 it was my privilege, with my right hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr Mitchell) and Baroness Jenkin, to help co-found the Conservative Friends of International Development. One of its key aims was to encourage the Government to enshrine the 0.7% commitment in law and push the MDGs and achieve them as rapidly as possible. I am pleased to note that subsequently not only did my hon. Friends the Members for Aldridge-Brownhills (Wendy Morton) and for Stafford (Jeremy Lefroy) and many others—whose omission is now no doubt, unfortunately, offensive to them—become involved with CFID, but in what is a testament to the universality of those aims of international development we have had the opportunity to work across party and also across a huge number of people, businesses and businessmen, including Bill Gates, who have been very kind in supporting us.
The point of CFID was to emphasise that compassion is truly a cross-party agenda. When I subsequently found myself fighting the seat of Boston and Skegness—and winning it, I am grateful to say—I realised that the main challenge the SDGs have and the MDGs had is public opinion. They will not be sustainable if we are not truly winning the battle in the country. That is not an attack by any means on the compassion we have seen across the nation during the recent Syrian refugee crisis. However, there remains a small but significant minority of people who are not yet convinced that adopting principles such as the 17 we are talking about today are in our national, international and humanitarian interests.
The simple point I would make in this debate, where there has been excellent cross-party consensus, is that until, working with businesses and all other parties internationally, we make the case that it is in all our interests to get development goals such as these moved from platitude to policy, we will not be able to make the kind of changes we are talking about today. I do not pretend for a moment that I have the ability to turn those platitudes into policies, but we should all be striving persistently to make the case, when we are told that Britain cannot afford to take in refugees, that it is in Britain’s interest and in all our interests to take in an appropriate number of well-resourced refugees so that we can make the global improvements we all want to see.
I want to make three further points. First, transparency is the single most important factor that the development goals can achieve, because it will allow us to say, “This is where your money is going” and “We have made a real, practical difference not only to our own lives but to those of many people around the world.” Secondly, addressing the fragile states agenda will mean that we are not increasing the burden on this country. Instead, we will be increasing the opportunity for economic development in countries that will one day graduate to become our trading partners, from which we would all benefit.
Thirdly, I want to refer back to the battle for public opinion. Until we have convinced the wider world that these are truly valuable universal cross-party goals, we will be unable to answer with integrity the constant criticism that has been heard over the past few weeks. We in the Westminster bubble might believe that there is total consensus on helping those less fortunate than ourselves, but too many of our constituents are not yet convinced of the validity of this case. I hope that excellent debates such as this one—convened by my Lincolnshire neighbour, my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Stephen Phillips)—will play an important part in convincing the wider public of the true value of this agenda.
I must start by declaring my interest in the subject of this debate. In a previous life, before I entered the House in May—that seems a long time ago—I undertook 27 international assignments, mainly in the poorer countries of the world, often working with United Nations agencies of one sort or another. Perhaps more important, given the one contribution I want to make to the debate, is the fact that I was recently elected as the chairman of the new all-party parliamentary group on explosive weapons. In the light of that, I should like to build on the important contribution made by the hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Stephen Twigg), which dealt with places that have previously suffered from conflict.
I would generally be supportive of the development goals, but there is a sad and extremely important omission. This goes beyond what the hon. Gentleman was saying. After a conflict, we often find that a desert has been created, and we cannot describe that desert as peace. I have been extraordinarily impressed by the debates on refugees over the past two days, but one point that some Members made deserves to be revisited today—namely, the assumption that when the military had left the scene, peace would break out and it would be an easy task to return refugees to the area. It is not going to be like that.
What we will see in Syria will in many ways be like another Cambodia. It will take years and years to clear up the detritus of war. When the military has left the scene—the theatre of war—the conflict has not ended; tens of thousands of people are killed and maimed annually because of the explosive weaponry that is left around. We will not be able to tackle some of the goals on education, health and the like until we have cleared the detritus of war from those areas. The impact of war is huge and profound. War is probably the best way known to mankind to create poverty. It destroys not only people, but infrastructure. As somebody who, at one stage, worked on a water project in Namibia, I know only too well the difficulty in starting from scratch and in trying to build up simple resources of providing clean water to people.
After conflict comes the development. Often we have to reconstruct things from the ground, and that is so much more difficult if people are walking on landmines and tripping over explosive weapons that have been left behind. I wish to see more of that work being done by the UK and added to the development goals. I know that, as we speak, there are people in Libya who are helping to clear up some of the explosive weapons that have been left behind, and I pay tribute to them, but unless we do more on that front, it will be a much slower task to engage in the capacity building that is needed.
I think it was my hon. Friend the Member for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow (Dr Cameron) who mentioned some of the health challenges that are faced by different societies. After a period of conflict, there are huge levels of mental health problems, particularly among the citizens who have remained in those lands throughout the period of conflict. There is a huge need for counselling to help people see the world anew. We need to ensure that, in all our approaches, we pay particular regard to those states that have suffered from conflict and from the increasing complications that they bestow on them.
I welcome the SDGs. They take a more holistic approach to development, addressing the root causes of poverty and inequality to bring transformative change that will leave no one behind. Significant achievements have been made on many of the MDG targets, but progress has been uneven. As the UN Millennium Development Goals report of 2015 states:
“Although significant achievements have been made on many of the MDG targets worldwide, progress has been uneven across regions and countries, leaving significant gaps. Millions of people are being left behind, especially the poorest and those disadvantaged because of their sex, age, disability, ethnicity or geographic location.”
It is really important that we concentrate on the poorest of the poor wherever they live in the world. I am thinking here of the Dalits, who are below caste level. One of the many jobs that they undertake is to go out at night—they are not even allowed to go out during the day—and clean up human excreta with their hands. I am talking about those kinds of people who are the poorest of the poor. We must not leave behind those in middle-income countries—the minorities and the ethnic groups.
Before I turn to the specific points that I want to draw to the Minister’s attention, I want to comment on how encouraged I was this week during a meeting of the International Development Committee where witnesses from international non-governmental organisations and civil society and campaigning representatives voiced such strong support and enthusiasm for the SDGs and for the process by which they have been developed. The wide consultation seems to have brought about a real buy-in for the approach that the SDGs encourage. I am talking about joint working between donor and donee countries, NGOs and civil society, and the real focus on addressing the underlying causes of poverty. That focus is both people and planet-centred and promotes economic growth while ensuring that development is sustainable for the earth’s resources. It is about how the world can work together and it is really exciting. I pay tribute to all those in our Government who are involved in those negotiations.
I wish to raise two specific points that I mentioned earlier—I am sure the Minister did not leave the Chamber just because of that. DFID is undergoing a review of how it structures grants and its relationship with civil society. I wish to highlight the advantage of rebalancing more funding away from large international, institutional NGOs towards those that operate at local partnering level. The power of local groups to mobilise communities, shape people’s values and build a sense of identity is immense, and there is growing understanding that in certain communities, granting aid to large organisations can sometimes—not always—harm rather than help.
A study of one community in Pakistan by Masooda Bano points to the fact that large grants to non-native organisations can, on occasion, disincentivise a community from using resources that it already has, and effectively weaken the latent energy and initiative that can be a community’s greatest weapon. The way that funding is structured can make a significant difference to its effectiveness. There are areas where small grants over a long period of time could be preferred over up-front large grants. Creating more flexibility for how aid is structured can bring better returns for fewer resources invested.
For example, Tearfund has told me about a community in Okulonyo in northern Uganda where a local faith-based charity launched a project of advocacy training and community mobilisation in 2011. The community has been transformed and empowered. It has mobilised and lobbied its Government for much needed aid and infrastructure projects including health services, water pumps and roads. For an investment of $330,000 it has been calculated that a benefit of almost $10 million has been received by that community. That is a return of $30 dollars for every $1 put in—even Warren Buffett would be pleased at that.
I have already spoken to DFID Ministers about how much value for money small grants to small organisations can provide, and I urge Ministers to look again at that. I hope the Minister will confirm that small organisations are being engaged in DFID’s civil society review, just as larger ones are. In the past DFID has perhaps not worked as much with local, embedded partners as I would like it to do in the future, and that is important. Yes, oversight is harder and the risks might be greater, but the gains can be disproportionately beneficial. I urge DFID to be entrepreneurial about that.
Let me turn to the importance of leaving no one behind. Earlier, I read out a list of causes for which people can be left behind, whether due to gender, geography or those in ethnic minority groups such as the Dalits. This is a paradigm shift: leave no one behind regardless of their ethnicity, gender, geography, disability, race or other status. That is admirable.
However, I believe that one word and cause of inequality is missing from that group: belief. No one should be left behind because of what they believe, whether they have any faith or none. Ministers know that I have raised on a number of occasions my concern that an underlying cause of poverty is a lack of freedom of belief, freedom of thought or the freedom of speech that can follow, resulting in conflict, violence, loss of opportunities, homelessness, displacement and more. If we are determined to tackle the underlying causes of poverty, we cannot leave that behind. Fostering religious freedom should be seen as a priority not only for tackling conflict once it has happened, but to prevent it before it takes place and to promote stability.
As Brian Grim argues in his book, “The Price of Freedom Denied”, religious freedom fosters respect towards others with a different belief in the same society, therefore reducing tensions. I would go further than that, because I think it will contribute to the achievement of our SDGs. For example, goal 5 promotes the rights of girls and women. So much harassment of women is linked to religious discrimination against women—the respected report by the Pew Research Centre states that such discrimination takes place in 32% of countries. Goal 8 is about economic welfare, and employment discrimination as a result of someone being involved in a faith group is rife, as we see in countries such as Iran.
Let me give another example—sustainable development goal 16, the promotion of peace, as well as sustainable development goal 8, economic growth. In countries where freedom of belief is not respected, conflict disrupts economic activity. Foreign and local investors become reluctant to invest, jeopardising sustainable development and economic growth. As businesses corroborate, an opportunity to invest, conduct normal business practice and prevent industries from struggling is weakened. Egypt’s tourism industry, for example, has faced such challenges. By promoting and practising freedom of belief, a path to security and economic well-being can be laid.
I urge Ministers to consider this and to engage faith groups in their civil society review. Is it not time to review the Department’s faith partnership principles? Finally, would DFID consider engaging in the joint learning initiatives on faith and development instituted by some of the major international NGOs working on poverty relief, such as Tearfund, CAFOD and World Vision?
I congratulate my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Stephen Phillips) on securing such an important debate.
The House yesterday debated the crisis unfolding in Syria. The debate made it abundantly clear that if we are to help developing or vulnerable nation states, we need an international approach, clear goals and a long-term strategy. As we can see in the case of Syria, ensuring the stability and prosperity of our neighbours does not just meet a moral obligation; it is an imperative in our current world. This is why the millennium development goals were and the sustainable development goals are so critical, now more than ever.
We should be proud of what we have already achieved—for example, in education. The millennium development goals set an ambition to give every child in the world an education, and partly because of that 76 million fewer children are out of school, 67 million more received pre-primary education and 50 million more received primary education. But there is still a significant amount left to do: 58 million children of primary school age are still denied the education they deserve. As the New York summit approaches, we have an opportunity to see how we can build on the millennium development goals and bring about an end to world poverty and deprivation.
I would like to make three points. First, we need a long-term, ambitious strategy. Yes, the MDGs were right to set a target of education for all, but it is not sufficient that there is access to some education. It is necessary that education is sustained and of quality. Let us learn from what we have already done and then improve on it. Yes, more children received primary education but, according to UNESCO, insufficient secondary education, and academics criticised the emphasis on getting children into school rather than the learning outcomes, which is why 126 million young people are still unable to read or write.
Secondly, we must recognise that local problems need local solutions. We need to empower local communities, and the MDGs have shown that this produces the best results. Vietnam designed a curriculum that focused on disadvantaged pupils, which more than halved the number of children who had never attended school. Non-formal education schemes in Ghana also showed promise, expanding education to areas beyond the reach of the mainstream public system. Students were taught in the languages spoken at home, and provided with the skills they needed for their local communities.
Thirdly, we need clear goals that are concise and specific. The outcome document for Rio+20 stressed that the SDGs should be
“action-oriented, concise, easy to communicate, limited in number, aspirational, global in nature…while taking into account different national realities”.
We should measure success on the basis not of the number of goals we set, but of the outcomes we achieve. Setting a smaller number of ambitious but achievable goals that will empower local communities to resolve local issues with local solutions is the right approach.
I end where I started. Today it is critical that we work with the international community. That is not simply altruistic or humanitarian; it is necessary for our own peace and security.
I thank my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Stephen Phillips) and the hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Stephen Twigg) for securing this important debate. The sustainable development goals are truly ambitious. The awesome target that the world is setting itself—getting to zero on extreme poverty and preventable child deaths—if achieved, would be a first in human history. We should be proud to be part of a generation aiming to achieve that. The mantra of “No one left behind” is a call to arms for all of us, forcing us to turn our attention to the poorest and most dispossessed in the world, including the most marginalised in our own country.
Compared with the millennium development goals, which allegedly were drafted by a few old men in a basement, the sustainable development goals have been shaped and agreed by all participants in a transparent process that has taken over three years. Indeed, they were said to be the “most participatory in UN history”—although I do not know whether that is a particularly high bar to reach. We can only hope, therefore, that that will mean better involvement by all the countries taking part and that by 2030 we will have made good progress on the goals. Britain has been strong in implementing the millennium development goals, and I hope that other countries will follow our lead. I was initially troubled by the fact that the number of goals has more than doubled, from eight to 17, but I am glad that goal 16, which deals with governance, has got a look in.
The sustainable development goals reflect a change in the development and aid landscape, with developing countries no longer seen as passive recipients of charity, which has been a common criticism of the UK’s aid budget. In that regard, I echo the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Boston and Skegness (Matt Warman), who is no longer in his place, on how we, as legislators, must communicate how important our international aid is, both for citizens of this planet and for Britain’s national interest. We are aiming for everyone to become active participants in their own growth and success. International aid needs to come out of the charity silo and be seen as part of a developmental means of incentivising and encouraging enterprise all over the world.
The concept of globalisation, and of a truly global world, is better understood in 2015 than it was in 1999 and 2000. This interdependence is present in the internet, for example, but also in global terrorism and guerrilla wars that do not respect national boundaries, and in diseases such as SARS—severe acute respiratory syndrome—and Ebola. These subjects are of more immediate concern to my constituents, and those of all right hon. and hon. Members, than they were in 1999 and 2000. It is up to us to show our constituents that our aid money is being spent well. I would be interested to hear from my right hon. Friend the Minister how his Department plans to communicate what it is doing, making it part of the national conversation.
To my mind, the most essential goal is the one relating to governance and transparency, because it will bring real change for the long term. I have a particular interest in the issue of property rights—for two reasons. First, before coming to this place I was a commercial property lawyer. Secondly, my family, who were forced from Iran by the Islamic revolution, have spent the past 35 years trying to reclaim land that was stolen because of an inadequate system of land registration. When there is no proper system of land registration and property rights, both economic and democratic reform suffers. We know from our own history that it was the emergence of secure property rights that laid the foundation for the industrial revolution and the subsequent explosion of per capita incomes. It is absolutely essential that an individual’s rights to property are sheltered from predation by the state.
As other Members have quite rightly pointed out, the key element of successful implementation of the SDGs is having proper data. We can leave no one behind only if we know who they are, where they live, and what they need. Data are absolutely key. My hon. Friend the Member for Congleton (Fiona Bruce) highlighted cases of discrimination against women, the rural poor and indigenous peoples, so I will not reiterate what she described very well. I would be interested to hear from the Minister the Department’s plans for encouraging British companies to improve data capture and analysis in countries where DFID money is spent. The idea of “no one left behind” applies as much to the UK as to the rest of the world.
I would like the Minister to give some examples of how the Department will implement the SDGs immediately following their coming into force into January 2016, particularly in relation to its goals in ensuring real, long-term, sustainable changes and prioritising property rights, transparency and the democratic process in our overseas development goals.
I am grateful to be able to speak in this timely debate and congratulate hon. Members on securing it. It is a real honour to speak among people who have shared their stories of their own experiences of development. As I reflect on the past couple of years in my role of shadowing the Government in this area and the privilege of standing at the Dispatch Box, I think of the many times I have been to places in the poorest parts of the poorest countries in the world and the effect that that leaves on one. I wish we could find better ways to communicate that to our parliamentary colleagues more widely, and to the country.
This is a timely moment for the debate because 2015 is a historic year for international development. The world will soon come together at the UN in New York to agree the sustainable development goals. It is a once-in-a-generation opportunity for us to define a collective approach to tackling poverty and inequality across the world.
Fifteen years ago, political leadership by the previous Labour Government garnered global efforts to tackle extreme poverty and led to the millennium development goals. I am often struck by the need for clear and consistent political leadership in bringing the world together to tackle the challenges that we face. In 1996, there was no Department for International Development; it took a change of Government to usher it in. In other words, it took political leadership. Now, consensus exists across the main parties that 0.7% is something that we should not just aspire to but deliver, and I rightly give credit to the current Government for that. The legal settlement for this was passed via a private Member’s Bill with cross-party support throughout the House. It is political leadership that gets this business done. The sustainable development goals will therefore require political leadership not just to get them over the line but throughout the next 15 to 20 years to ensure that they deliver.
What are the benefits? Over the past 15 years, despite the pictures we still see on our televisions that sometimes skew the debate, the millennium development goals have led to unprecedented changes. Every day, 17,000 fewer children die across the world. Extreme poverty has been reduced by half. Access to improved drinking water has become a reality for a third of the world’s population. Chronic under-nutrition has declined. Remarkable gains have been made in the fight against malaria, tuberculosis and other infectious diseases. These successes prove that progress is possible. We must now show similar ambition in the agreement and implementation of the sustainable development goals. Global action works.
However, as we have heard, considerable challenges remain. More than 1 billion people still live on less than $1.25 a day. Each year, millions fall into poverty as a result of expensive healthcare costs. Despite the fact that the effects of climate change will be the most destructive in the world’s poorest countries, agreements on carbon emissions remain out of reach. The new SDGs must set out to erode those problems and address poverty and growing economic inequality, and throughout the legislative process I have argued for clear political leadership in that process.
Change should be delivered in three vital areas, and they should be prioritised for us to tackle inequality: universal healthcare coverage, climate change and human rights for all. It may aid the House to reflect on the fact that this is a universal deal that will apply not just to the developing world, but to our country too. Therefore, we should be unapologetic in our calls for universal healthcare coverage, action on climate change and human rights.
Health inequality is one of the most pernicious types of inequality. Being without health means being without work. It means that people do not have the ability to look after their family or to aspire to great things for their children. Poor health provision in developing countries is a major driver of poverty. Universal health coverage would stop 100 million people each year falling into poverty. It affirms the right of every person to have the opportunity for a good standard of health and a good life without suffering financial hardship as a result.
It is not just about individuals. Nigeria coped with its Ebola outbreak thanks to a functioning health system, yet Sierra Leone struggled because of inadequate availability of treatment. Strong general health systems help to tackle specific life-threatening outbreaks of infectious diseases. That is why we have argued for a far greater shift from simply delivering vaccines and reactive measures, to empowering countries and communities to assess and address their own individual health needs. Indeed, our 2015 manifesto committed to establish a world centre for universal healthcare right here in the UK. We have also repeatedly called on the Government to commit to a stand-alone goal on universal health coverage in the SDGs over the past two years, but they have been reluctant to do so.
With the draft almost entirely finished, does the Minister agree that goal 3—
“Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages”—
is insufficient for the task and that the phrase “universal health coverage” should be included in the top-line text of the goal? I have been encouraged in recent months by Ministers shifting towards that view, so would it be possible to get more movement in the final few weeks?
Climate change is development in reverse. The progress over the past 15 years in tackling poverty and improving health, food security and access to sanitation could all be eroded if global temperatures are allowed to soar. If temperatures rise by 3 °C, an additional 250 million to 500 million people, predominantly in Africa and western Asia, will be at risk of hunger, and between 1.5 billion and 2 billion more people will be at risk of dengue.
This December we hope that the United Nations framework convention on climate change will conclude with a new binding agreement on climate change, because this is our last best chance to ensure that temperatures do not rise more than 2 °C. However, for the reasons I have outlined, climate change targets should also be central to the SDG package. Although goal 13, which deals with climate change, is welcome, it contains placeholder language in place of a deal that will not be reached until December and will not start to be implemented until 2020. That is why I have been pushing for the SDGs to have a stand-alone goal on climate change. I have also called on the Government to negotiate hard to get goal 13 to commit to restricting global warming to 2 °C. What steps have the Government taken to ensure that such targets are included in the SDGs?
Human rights are sacrosanct: they must be preserved, protected and extended across the world and here in the UK. Specifically, women should have control over their own bodies and not have to live in fear of gender-based violence. Children should expect to be able to be protected from abuse, neglect and mutilation. Workers must have the right to work in safe conditions, to join a trade union, to expect the benefits of trade to affect not just some people but all communities, and to receive a wage that guarantees them a good quality of life. Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender communities must have the freedom to live without fear of persecution because of whom they love. People of faith should be free to associate and gather to worship, and must not face discrimination in the workplace as a result of what they believe. Indigenous communities must be allowed to express their identities without fear of oppression. Disability should never be a barrier to full participation in society, be that in this country or elsewhere in the world. Our values are human rights, and those values should not stop at the water’s edge, so it is right that this deal is universal and has universal human rights running throughout it. It would be good to hear more from the Minister about the methods of implementation and measurements of such rights in the deal.
With the imminent completion of the SDGs, we have a unique opportunity to tackle the drivers of poverty and inequality across the world. As Members from both sides of the House have said, we must do more to address the threats of climate change and to avert future rises in world temperatures. We have to tackle health inequalities, ensure that wealth no longer dictates who does and who does not get treated, and ensure that who lives and who dies is not based on their income. We must be robust in defending and advancing human rights at home and abroad.
The deep and complex challenges we face in the world today will not go away unless we take firm political action. As I said, there was no Department for International Development in 1996. It took a change of Government in 1997 to establish it. Were the British people any less generous towards those overseas in 1996 than they were in 1997? No, they were not, but it takes political leadership and political will to get things done. In that context, we wish the Minister well in his work in New York later this month.
It is always a pleasure and a privilege to follow the hon. Member for Luton South (Mr Shuker). I pay tribute to all the speakers. We have benefited from a very mature and high-quality debate, and we have very much benefited from the experience of several Members who have a long track record of involvement in international development overseas. It has been a real pleasure to sit through the debate, and I have to say that I have made some 10 pages of notes.
I pay tribute to my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Stephen Phillips) for bringing his forensic intellectual rigour to this important subject. If I have a prejudice, it is that so much of the misery and poverty in the world arises out of an absence of the rule of law or, indeed, of law. My passion, in so far as I am still capable of passion, is for us to find more innovative and creative ways of bringing the legal experience, of which we have an abundance in this country, to countries clearly so much in want of it.
My hon. and learned Friend was right to say that from the very outset—the Prime Minister’s chairmanship of the high-level panel some three years ago—the United Kingdom has led the process of coming up with the global goals, as we must now all learn to call them. This document, “Transforming our World: The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development”, is the output. It proudly points out:
“Never before have world leaders pledged common action and endeavour across such a broad and universal policy agenda.”
It was agreed by all 193 member states in August. As it has already been agreed, there will be none of the late-night sessions towards the end of the conference we had to endure at Sendai or that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State had to endure at Addis Ababa. All the Heads of Government will have to do is to appear in New York, bringing their quota of glamour and sprinkling their magic to promulgate the new development goals.
Before I launch into elliptical orbit with hyperbole, I have to level with the House. This is the third, fourth or perhaps even fifth debate on this subject—however it has been presented, this subject has been the essence of the debate—to which I have responded in this Chamber, in Westminster Hall or in Standing Committee upstairs. The record will show that this document was not my ambition. We set out with a rather different objective. We wanted something much more concise, something more easily communicable, something that would inspire enthusiasm, and something that would enable people, because they could remember the goals, to hold Governments to account.
I said, even earlier this year, that we were prepared to expend diplomatic and political capital to reopen the issue and get back to that original ambition, which we believed we shared with the Secretary-General. The reality, I have to tell the House, is that there was no enthusiasm for such an enterprise. We cherish our leadership role and the influence that we have. It seemed to me much more sensible to accept the consensus, rather than war against it. There was, after all, a perfectly legitimate fear on the part of our allies: namely, that by reopening the process, we might sacrifice some of the important gains that we had made, particularly on the “golden thread”, as the Prime Minister referred to it, of the importance of economic development, governance, the rule of law, driving out corruption and human rights.
On reflection, having read the document, which I commend to hon. Members, I take my hat off to our negotiating team. I think that we have the best outcome that was to be had. Just look at the document. There is the robust language of the preamble. Those of us who are concerned about communicability should look at the clever way in which the agenda is grouped under “People”, “Planet”, “Prosperity”, “Peace” and “Partnership”—it is almost poetry. I am sure that there is something for the spin doctors to work with there when communicating the agenda. There is the rallying cry that absolutely nobody will be left behind. That is the standard by which all the targets are to be judged: no target will be met while any segment of society is left behind.
There is the really strong language of goal 16 on governance, which, as I have intimated, is one of the most important achievements as far as I am concerned. That whole question was largely ignored by the millennium development goals. There is the importance that is attached to gender, to which we gave such enormous effort, with the targets on female genital mutilation and on early and forced marriage.
I want to put on the record the thanks of the Opposition to our excellent negotiating team in New York, who I had the privilege of meeting. While the Minister is walking us through the goals, I wonder if he might say a few words about the two goals that I mentioned, specifically the placeholder language in the climate change goal and the need for a commitment to universal healthcare within the language of goal 3. He mentioned that he had some regrets about the process. I wonder if he shares those two in particular.
I have every intention of addressing those issues, if the hon. Gentleman will bear with me.
There is the full integration of climate change into the heart of the process. At the last minute—I hope this will be of some comfort to my hon. Friend the Member for Stafford (Jeremy Lefroy)—we even secured the language that we wanted on anti-microbial resistance. There is the inclusion of modern-day slavery, on which there is cross-party consensus.
I just draw the attention of Members to one single quote from the document, if I may treat them to it:
“We envisage a world of universal respect for human rights and human dignity, the rule of law, justice, equality and non-discrimination; of respect for race, ethnicity and cultural diversity; and of equal opportunity permitting the full realization of human potential and contributing to shared prosperity. A world which invests in its children and in which every child grows up free from violence and exploitation. A world in which every woman and girl enjoys full gender equality and all legal, social and economic barriers to their empowerment have been removed. A just, equitable, tolerant, open and socially inclusive world in which the needs of the most vulnerable are met.”
Those are our values and we have managed to get them into the declaration in an unequivocal way. That is an enormous achievement, against all those countries who, frankly, believe that development is just about economics and, if you please, leave human rights at the door. If I may say to my hon. Friend the Member for Bracknell (Dr Lee) I share his ideological outlook. We are from the same stable. It all just goes to prove how two like-minded people can read the same document and come to radically different conclusions, but I am happy to have that discussion with him.
We have the global goals and they must now be the starting point for everything the Department does. The foundation is the 0.7%, but there now must be a clear line of sight between the goals as set out in the document and the departmental plan we develop. The goals are, of course, universal. They apply to us. Members have referred to the fact that there must now be a cross-Whitehall approach led by the Cabinet Office to ensure we meet the global goals. As far as the United Kingdom is concerned, there must be no cherry-picking—we are committed to the entire package.
As far as DFID’s work is concerned, however, we have to consider where our comparative advantage lies: what we do best, where we can make the greatest impact, where we can secure the greatest value for money and what are our strategic priorities already. They remain our strategic priorities: the reform of the international system, to make sure that all the agencies and multinationals with whom we work also bend themselves to these new global goals; and our right and proper attachment to the gender question and the rights of women and girls. That must remain one of the forefront activities by the Department. We have to, quite properly, retain the emphasis we have placed on sustainable and inclusive economic development as the only permanent way of exiting poverty. Of course, we still—hon. Members have been right to draw attention to it—have to provide the very basics of water, nutrition and health to so many of the world’s poor people.
On specific choices, however, and on the question of where our main effort lies, they will be determined by those priorities and the process, which has already begun in the Department, of the bilateral aid review. We will examine every single country in which we operate and ask the following questions: why are we operating in this country? Are there other countries that we ought to be operating in instead? What are we doing in those countries? Are there things we need to be doing more of, or things we need to be doing less of? Are there things we are not doing that we ought to be doing? That whole process is under way.
In line with that is the multilateral aid review. We have to examine all the partners through which we operate. Are they delivering value for money? Are their objectives aligned with ours? Are they efficient? Are they still a useful operating model? All that has to take place. At the same time, there will be some conditioning as a consequence of the security and defence review, which will guide policy in those areas of the world where our concern is greatest. Our spending portfolio will have to evolve. We will have to do development differently and integrate climate change into everything we do. We have to be climate smart in all our projects and all our doings. These are things we will develop over the next few years.
My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham quite properly drew attention to data, and was joined in that by the hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Stephen Twigg), my hon. Friend the Member for South Ribble (Seema Kennedy) and the hon. Members for Ceredigion (Mr Williams) and for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow (Dr Cameron). We are alive to that concern, as is the document, which speaks of the need for a data revolution. That process has already begun. Our former colleague, Lynne Featherstone, when Parliamentary Under-Secretary, hosted a conference on data. We recognise the huge deficit and the need to make an enormous effort to address the matter. The question of the indicators is still open. We do not expect them to be finalised and published until next March. It might be of some comfort if I say that the national statistician, John Pullinger, is chairing the committee, and I am confident that the indicators will be focused and will enable us to make the appropriate measurements.
I had a very different take on the outcome of Addis Ababa from my hon. and learned Friend. I thought it was a triumph, particularly because it went beyond aid. I share his disappointment at the inability of other G20 and G8 nations to step up to the plate and deliver on the 0.7% target, but my understanding is that at Addis Ababa the EU made a time-bound pledge in respect of the least-developed countries. Its strength, however, lay in its going beyond aid—to questions of harnessing the private sector, of harnessing countries’ resources and of tax reform and widening the tax base. These important issues all came out of it.
The hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby, as well as the hon. Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Catherine West) in an intervention on him, asked about the transfer of the aid budget to dealing with the refugees. I can reassure the House that there is no change in the definition of ODA, and no cut is being made to make money available for refugees, but clearly there are always opportunity costs: money spent in one way is not available to be spent in another. That is a perfectly proper evaluation for the Government to have made.
I have already addressed the issues raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Bracknell. The hon. Member for Glasgow North (Patrick Grady) asked about the national interest. I do not see a disparity between our national interest and how we deploy our official development aid. I regard the way that we spend it as an investment in pursuit of our national interest. We want to live in a safer, more stable and more prosperous world. That is in our national interest, and I believe we should pursue it.
I will certainly pass on what I took to be the application by the hon. Member for Glasgow North to be included in the delegation to UNGA. I do not know how the delegation is being made up; all I can say is that I know that I am not going.
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is in her place and will have heard this exchange. The hon. Gentleman is right to draw attention to that important relationship and I very much look forward to meeting Humza Yousaf, which is scheduled in my diary for Monday.
My hon. Friend the Member for Mid Derbyshire (Pauline Latham) referred to the importance of biodiversity and tourism. That is an important point. We must not forget that tourism is an important earner for many poor countries.
The hon. Member for Glenrothes (Peter Grant) asked a very important question, on which I have reflected a great deal: “If you wanted a shorter list, what would you have left out?” That is one of the reasons why, on reflection, I have come to the belief that we have the best document that we could have come out with. He said that he regretted the absence of solidarity. I commend the document to him: the word leaps out of the page several times. I assure him that solidarity is there.
My hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport (Oliver Colvile) reminded me of the very enjoyable time I spent among his students and his congregation, even if it was small. [Laughter.] There were many more students than there were in the congregation. He reminded us of something that is increasingly true and that many hon. Members will have experienced on their travels to see our operations in the rest of the world. In many of our posts the DFID element is significantly bigger than the Foreign Office element. That is a measure of the way that we have placed primacy on the international development role, but in all those operations we represent one Government—Her Majesty’s Government.
My hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Wendy Morton), who has long experience in Rwanda—I have joined her there on a number of occasions—spoke of the need for long-term sustainability, particularly in respect of goal 8.
The hon. Member for Aberavon (Stephen Kinnock) brought to bear his important experience from Sierra Leone and his other operations. He rightly drew attention to the importance of our pitch at the Paris climate change summit in December. I have spent some time over the summer visiting countries and getting them to up their game in their offer for Paris. In particular, I have encouraged Bangladesh to make sure—[Interruption.] I see that I am trespassing on the time. I am sorry if I have been unable to answer all the questions; I will write to hon. Members, but I must give the remaining time to my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham.
If anybody thought that my right hon. Friend, who answers for the Government in this debate, lacked passion as he enters his sixth decade—or perhaps his seventh; I am not sure—they have obviously failed to see him at the Dispatch Box today.
This has been an incredibly important debate, in which the views of the House have been made clear to Ministers—those views have been almost unanimous—about the importance of the sustainable development goals. My hon. Friend and neighbour the Member for Boston and Skegness (Matt Warman) talked about the extent to which our constituents sometimes raise with us international development and the amount we spend on it. This Department—under my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, whom I am pleased to see on the Front Bench listening to some of the contributions in the debate—is leading the way in making clear to our constituents quite how important international development is, both for doing the right thing and for our security in our country.
It is impossible in the time available to do justice to the contributions that have been made in this debate, but it has been a full debate, in which views have been expressed across the House, making it clear that there is political leadership here and that we will do the right thing and the thing that is necessary for our national security. For all the reasons that I gave when I opened the debate, I commend the motion before the House.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House has considered the Sustainable Development Goals.
Lay Members of the committee on Standards
That, in accordance with Standing Order No. 149A and the Resolution of the House of 17 March 2015, Mr Peter Jinman, Mr Walter Rader and Ms Sharon Darcy be re-appointed lay members of the Committee on Standards for the period ending on 30 March 2017.—(Dr Thérèse Coffey.)