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House of Lords Hansard

United Nations Sustainable Development Goals

01 February 2018
Volume 788


    Asked by

  • To ask Her Majesty's Government when they intend to publish the Voluntary National Review of the United Kingdom in relation to the United Nations Global Goals for Sustainable Development.

  • My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper and, in doing so, I welcome the noble Baroness, Lady Stedman-Scott, to her place to answer her first Question today—though I add that we are all delighted that the noble Lord, Lord Bates, will be back in his place soon, having withdrawn his resignation.

  • My Lords, I thank the noble Lord. I am sorry that noble Lords have me today, but I am thrilled to say that it is not a permanent arrangement. I am sure that this is going to be the longest seven minutes of my life. Nobody more than me wishes to see my noble friend the Minister back in his usual place soon. However, I was able to take advice from him yesterday. He said two things: “Answer the Question, and don’t be late”.

    The Government intend to present the UK’s voluntary national review of progress towards the sustainable development goals, or SDGs, in 2019. The Government are committed to delivering the goals, both at home and internationally, and departments are embedding them in their single departmental plans. High-level summaries of current plans were published on GOV.UK in December last year, together with examples of how government policies are contributing towards the SDGs.

  • I thank the noble Baroness for that reply. Two of the key SDGs on which the Government will report next year are SDG 4 on quality education and SDG 17 on partnerships. Tomorrow in Dakar, Senegal, the Government will be represented at the financing conference for the Global Partnership for Education, where commitments will be made that will help to achieve these goals, particularly on quality education, over the coming years. Will the Government increase their contribution to the Global Partnership for Education? Will the noble Baroness take this opportunity from the Front Bench to join me in urging the Secretary of State to make a substantial contribution?

  • I thank the noble Lord for his question. He is trying to lead me down the path of committing to provide extra money as I answer my first Question, but I am not going there. However, I will answer the question. The world has taken great strides forward in recent years on access to education: 89% of children are now in school. However, major problems remain with teaching quality, and in developing countries 90% of children are not learning even the basics of literacy and numeracy. We are proud to be a strong supporter of global education. Between 2011 and 2015, the UK supported 11.3 million children into primary and lower secondary education. The UK has been a strong supporter of the Global Partnership for Education from the outset. The Secretary of State for International Development will attend the replenishment conference tomorrow, and there will announce the size of the UK pledge as well as setting out DfID’s priorities for global education support.

  • My Lords, I welcome the noble Baroness to her role on the Front Bench and commiserate with her on the unexpected adventure that she faces. Nevertheless, I hope that she will be aware of the vital role that Parliament will play in advance of any United Kingdom voluntary national review. That being the case, what measures are the Government preparing to enable Parliament to scrutinise this review in advance of its presentation to the high-level political forum in the UN? Will these measures include holding the Government to account through passing enabling legislation and approving the necessary budgets?

  • I thank the noble Lord for his question. I love surprises. We still need to finalise the scope and process of the national review but expect to start it later this year. We will ensure that all interested parties have an opportunity to contribute their views. However, I am not able to answer the question about whether legislation will be involved. If I find that out, I will certainly let the noble Lord know.

  • My Lords, does my noble friend agree that the process of the voluntary review gives the Government the opportunity to showcase the work already carried out in supporting girls’ education, particularly on numeracy? For example, a DfID-supported project I witnessed in northern Nigeria which instilled basic numeracy skills meant that young girls could start micro-businesses.

  • My noble friend Lady Anelay makes a very good point. In her previous role she will have seen this type of very important work at first hand. We should be proud as a country and a Government of the things that we have achieved, and definitely of what we have achieved through education. That is critical. Between April 2015 and 2017, we supported 7.1 million children to gain a decent education. While that is good, that and better will do.

  • My Lords, what makes the sustainable development goals an incredibly powerful tool for change is the fact that they are universal. We are not simply saying to other countries, “Do this, do that”; we are judging the actions of other countries by the actions in our own country. The key to change is not only parliamentary scrutiny and engagement but the fact that all government departments—this is not a matter confined to DfID—should take their roles and responsibilities seriously. I hope that the noble Baroness will pass the following question on to the Prime Minister: will the Government please ensure that there is Cabinet responsibility for implementing the SDGs?

  • I thank the noble Lord very much for his question. The SDGs are critical, and there is no better way to demonstrate commitment than by leading from the front on this. Our Government were absolutely at the front of designing and developing the goals, and we were the first to sign up to them, so your Lordships should be in no doubt that we are right behind this. The fact that they are universal, so that we can all be measured against the same things, makes people focus on what they are trying to do and deliver on their promises. The way in which this is structured means that, internationally, DfID will lead on this, the Cabinet Office will have a co-ordinating role, and everybody in each department will know exactly what is expected of them. We long for them to deliver.