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United Nations Sustainable Development Goals

Volume 782: debated on Wednesday 26 April 2017


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what action they plan to take to deliver the United Nations Global Goals for Sustainable Development by 2030.

My Lords, the Government are firmly committed to delivering the global goals, both at home and internationally. Our public report, Agenda 2030, of 28 March this year outlines our approach and provides examples of how we are contributing to the global goals.

My Lords, the UK and indeed this Government led internationally on the establishment of the global goals, and in particular on the fact that they should be universal and that their implementation should be monitored with accurate, up-to-date data. It is therefore disturbing that today’s report by the House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee highlights that there is a suggestion that the Government will stop the Office for National Statistics establishing the data on which the implementation could be measured inside the United Kingdom. Will the Minister assure us that that is not the case and that the UK will continue to show global leadership, both abroad and at home, and practise what we preach?

First, I pay tribute to the work of the noble Lord in his chairmanship of the all-party parliamentary group on the SDGs. Certainly, he is right to acknowledge that we have been at the forefront of the negotiating of the global goals and that we will be at the forefront of their implementation. On his specific point about data, we have passed that across to the Office for National Statistics. There are 17 goals and 240 measures. It is quite a big task to undertake. The ONS has come up with a consultation document. Initially it was delayed from October to 9 May; that was its own decision. Now, unfortunately, that 9 May announcement has been delayed by the purdah rules of the general election, so I would expect it go ahead soon after. It is very important that civil society organisations and business groups participate in that because, as the noble Lord suggests, data will be critical to ensuring that the goals are monitored and delivered.

My Lords, SDG 16 commits the Government to tackling illicit financial flows, which lose developing countries an estimated $100 billion a year. That is why it is all the more disappointing that the Government have blocked any talk of transparency in our overseas territories as part of the Criminal Finances Bill. Following the Panama papers leak, does the Minister agree with me that the Government must get a grip and set up public central registers of beneficial ownership, ensuring the same transparency in our overseas territories as we have in the UK?

I do not know whether the noble Baroness was present last night, as I was, when we had the debate on this issue. The Government brought forward an amendment which commanded the support of this House—including the Liberal Democrat spokesman. I am sure that the noble Baroness will be very happy to speak with her colleague about that if she has any disagreement.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that one of the things that jeopardises sustainable development is a combination of conflict, where there is the need to bring conflict resolution, and corruption? In the light of the Government’s welcome announcement that they will sustain development programmes and funding for development overseas, will he tell us what priority a new Government are likely to give to combating conflict in situations such as South Sudan, where famine has come as a direct result of it, and dealing with corruption, where aid money can be embezzled and misused?

The noble Lord is absolutely right. We have said that the 0.7% commitment stands, but we are also absolutely resolute that there needs to be reform of the international aid system to ensure that that hard-earned money, provided by British taxpayers and other taxpayers from around the world, gets to where it is most intended. That is why we are behind arguing for global goal 16 on peace and security—because, without peace and security, there can be no development or growth. That is also why we have committed the large sum of money—£100 million—to South Sudan and to the other areas which are touched by famine at present.

The Minister mentioned the recent DfID report setting out the priorities, which gave examples of all the targets and goals. I am really disappointed that, on goal 8, “Decent work”, and goal 10, “Reduced inequalities”, no mention is made of civil society. In particular, no mention is made of trade unions, nor the work of the ILO in addressing the appalling labour standards in our supply chain. Can the Minister explain this omission?

I can—or will certainly attempt to. What is happening with the SDGs is that they not only apply internationally—we are bound to them internationally as collective goals; 193 nations signed up to them—but are very much targeted at what we will do domestically to implement them. One recognition we made through that on goal 8, which is crucially important, is that employment is now at record levels in the UK. It is at the highest level since records began in 1971. One thing we are saying is that that is a good example of where UK labour market reforms have brought about changes that can increase growth and achieve the target of global goal 8, to which the noble Lord referred.

My Lords, like the noble Lord, Lord Alton, I welcome the Prime Minister’s pledge to maintain the commitment of 0.7% of GDP for overseas aid. But I would be glad to know the Minister’s views on the usefulness of targeting aid in support of the goals not solely through large organisations but through more local partners such as those highlighted in the West Bank and Gaza by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leeds on 21 March.

We are absolutely of the opinion that we should work closely with civil society organisations and that we are part of a global partnership to leave no one behind, which applies and cuts across all the goals. We will engage with local partners, who are in the best position to deliver the improvements and the targets that we seek on the ground. We will continue to do that and I know that many religious organisations, including church organisations, also have a crucial role to play in that around the Middle East and in Africa.

My Lords, some of us are a little more sceptical about what the Prime Minister said about the 0.7%. Can the Minister clarify whether that 0.7% will be spent according to ODA principles by a separate department that is not linked to any other department in Whitehall?

The 0.7% was a commitment made in 1970 and it was first brought in under a Conservative-led Government—and it has been sustained under a Conservative Government. What we have said is that the 0.7% commitment was never in doubt and will remain continuously. But we are absolutely committed to saying that we want to look very carefully at where and how that money is spent, to ensure that every single penny given goes to the people who are most in need. That is our commitment and we will stand by it.