Motion to Take Note
That this House takes note of the progress made across government departments in integrating the Universal Sustainable Development Goals into domestic policy in preparation for the United Kingdom’s Voluntary National Review presentation at the United Nations in September 2019.
My Lords, I am very grateful to noble Lords for agreeing to take part in this debate today. It provides a timely and important opportunity for the Government to report on progress made in implementing the sustainable development goals. It is also an opportunity to discuss and debate the processes for informing and involving other stakeholders in the run-up to the voluntary national review at the United Nations in July next year—just eight months’ time. I refer noble Lords to my entry in the Register of Members’ Interests and the capacity-building work that I have been doing in the Parliaments of Jordan, Kyrgyzstan and Ukraine, which fall under sustainable development goal 16—helping to develop strong and sustainable institutions.
In the current climate, it is good to be debating a subject on which there is broad cross-party consensus and which has been such a positive example of political parties working together to achieve agreed goals. Together we have achieved so much, but there is still so much to do to make these ambitious goals a reality. A great many noble Lords present in the Chamber this morning worked tirelessly over many years to achieve this commitment to sustainable development. The UK has been a recognised global leader in development, not least through its commitment to spending 0.7% of GNI on development. The UK played a major role, too, in getting agreement on the sustainable development goals in New York in September 2015. Indeed, the then Prime Minister, David Cameron, was co-chair, with the presidents of Liberia and Indonesia, of the high-level panel that produced an excellent initial report and which got the process off to a flying start. One of the key phrases from its report was, “Leave no one behind”.
Unlike the earlier millennium development goals, the sustainable development goals are universal. In other words, these goals are for us all—for the UK as much as for Ghana, and for Germany as much as for Tanzania. Successfully delivering the 17 goals here in the United Kingdom is an opportunity for us to lead by example. But the Government cannot deliver these goals alone. They can be achieved only by working in collaboration with the private sector, local government and academia, and with communities both within the UK and internationally, as set out in goal 17 —strengthening partnerships to deliver the SDGs. Will the Minister agree that unless the Government do the job of integrating the SDGs into domestic policy priorities in a more coherent and structured way, there is a real risk of the UK being left behind?
The UK will present its voluntary national review at the UN in New York in July 2019. Next year’s process will conclude with two days of discussion at the UN General Assembly at the end of September. This discussion will take place at the head of government level. The UK voluntary review will report on the progress achieved on the 17 goals, the 169 targets that underpin those goals and the 232 indicators that underpin the targets.
The UK report will, I imagine, consist of two parts and I would be grateful if the Minister confirmed that in his concluding remarks. One part will set out how the UK is helping to achieve these goals internationally, both through its bilateral development programmes and through its work through multilateral organisations. That is vital work and it is entirely appropriate that the Department for International Development should lead on it. Today’s debate, however, is on progress achieved in the domestic implementation of these goals. Although it is always a great pleasure to have the noble Lord, Lord Bates, responding on behalf of the Government, I none the less wonder why a Minister from the Department for International Development is responding to a debate about the domestic implementation of these goals. Should progress on their domestic implementation not be the responsibility of the Cabinet Office?
A comprehensive action plan for the domestic implementation of policy within the UK would not normally come under the remit of DfID, and this rather suggests to me that the Government do not see progress towards the SDGs as a domestic priority. According to UK Stakeholders for Sustainable Development, the UK is performing well on just 24% of the 143 targets that are relevant to the goals’ domestic delivery in the UK. For a further 57%, the performance is considered inadequate or there are gaps in the current policy approach. There is no time this morning to discuss all 143 targets—I am sure noble Lords will be pleased—so I will focus my remarks on just one or two areas of particular concern. Given that the theme of next year’s review is empowering people and ensuring inclusiveness and equality, I will address the overarching issues of poverty and inequality.
Sustainable development goal 1 is to end poverty in all its forms, everywhere. Clearly, the United Kingdom is a wealthy country in comparative terms, but the huge disparity of wealth in this country must continue to be a matter of great concern. Child poverty, increasing reliance on food banks, poor life chances and lack of social mobility should not be seen as acceptable in 21st-century Britain. It is shameful that UK has one of the worst rates of childhood food insecurity. It is equally unacceptable that so many elderly people, often living alone, all too often struggle to make ends meet and to heat their homes properly in winter. Today’s report from the housing charity Shelter shows that the number of homeless people in this country has risen by 13,000, or 4%, on last year’s figures, which is equivalent to 36 more people becoming homeless each and every day in this country. The recent report from the UN special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, Professor Philip Alston, is extremely damning and should make us all take a step back and look at the realities of social division in this country. Can the Minister say in his concluding remarks what the Government understand to be implied by the SDG to end poverty in the UK, and what plans they have to monitor progress towards achieving this goal?
Directly connected to the goal of eliminating poverty is sustainable development goal 10 on reducing inequalities. According to UK Stakeholders for Sustainable Development’s report Measuring up, the UK is performing particularly badly in this area and it has been projected that, in four years’ time, 1.5 million more children will live in poverty and the child poverty rate for lone-parent households—85% of whom are women—will have increased from 37% to 62%. Can the Minster say, in the context of fulfilling the targets in SDG 10, whether the Government are planning to introduce a comprehensive strategy to reduce child poverty?
It is more than three years since the 17 goals were adopted and, outside of the development community, awareness of their content and respective targets remains low in this country, which is deeply regrettable. I suspect that awareness that these goals also apply to this country is even lower. The run-up to the review next July provides us with an excellent opportunity to carry out a public awareness campaign. Does the Minister agree that the development education programme should be reinstated to promote awareness of the goals and to encourage debate about how they can be delivered in reality? Next year’s review also gives us the opportunity to learn from the positive examples of other countries. According to the Sustainable Development Solutions Network, the UK currently ranks 14th in the SDG index, so there are lessons to be learned from other countries as we approach the voluntary review next July.
In concluding, I would be grateful if the Minister gave reassurance today that the Government are still committed to implementing the SDGs domestically, here in the UK. Can he say how the UK is integrating the SDGs and the 2030 agenda across government—including with the devolved institutions, local government, civil society and the private sector—as part of the consultation process in advance of the voluntary national review report?
The adoption of the sustainable development goals in September 2015 marked a major step towards a global approach to making the world a better, fairer and more sustainable place for future generations. It would be deeply regretted if the momentum achieved three years ago were not maintained. This country has been a global leader in this process, and I hope the Minister gives reassurance today that we will practise what we preach and lead the way in delivering these ambitious goals in this country too. I beg to move.
My Lords, I am sure I will not be alone in expressing real appreciation to the noble Baroness for giving us the opportunity to look at this issue again. The forthright and challenging way in which she introduced the debate was a model of what accountability should be all about.
We are not a model for the world, as the noble Baroness has made very clear. Sometimes there is a fundamental confusion about structures, processes and motivation. I have not, anywhere in my life, seen a structure, a process or a goal which in and of itself changed the situation. Some structures inhibit change while others facilitate it, but it is the motivation and determination of people that get results. What the Minister has to do is to persuade us that running right through the Government at all levels and in all the relevant departments—most of them are relevant—is a culture and a spirit of determination and stamina to get things done. That is crucial and it depends on leadership.
An awful lot of economic nonsense is being talked about how our current systems and priorities are ultimately in the interests of the poor because unless you have a strong, throbbing financial and economic system, there is no chance of generating the resources needed by the poor. Superficially, and in some ways quite realistically, that is a truth which cannot be avoided. It is right that we have to produce the cake before we slice it up and perhaps that has not been taken as seriously as it should have been in our political past. But it is not like that; for anyone who has worked anywhere near the front line, of course it is not like that. People who are grotesquely disadvantaged, certainly abroad but also in our own society, and are in a way institutionalised in their disadvantage and poverty, need specific help to start playing. There is sometimes talk of having a level playing field for everyone, but some people have to be helped to be fit to play on that level playing field. You must have specific poverty-orientated and disadvantage-orientated policies designed to put people in a position of self-confidence and give them the ability to carry things forward. Of course, education is absolutely central to that.
What also matters deeply in fulfilling the objectives of the development goals is justice. We talk too easily about how we want to see justice across the world, but justice has to be built. That means setting up quite an expensive agenda of preparing people in their education and professional background for playing the key part that is necessary within the judicial system. Sometimes I think that these matters should have been spelled out more clearly when we adopted the goals. There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that the goals got the universal support they did—they got an enthusiastic response from, and the endorsement of, a large number of people in this country—because they were going to tackle poverty and social injustice. They were going to produce statistics about not just economic growth and development but how ordinary people’s quality of life would improve.
There are specific matters on which it would be good to hear the views of the Minister. Are the Government and their relevant departments focused on the poorest—the poorest individuals in different countries, as well as the poorer countries in the world—or are they allowing themselves to be tempted in this aid programme and related programmes into saying, “We must generate growth”? Growth will not ensure social justice. We must have in place specific systems to balance economic growth and ensure that it works in the interests of everyone.
That will take great international economic co-operation. I hope that the Minister will tell us how that co-operation is going. A number of us are very concerned that one implication of Brexit and our withdrawal from Europe will be the undermining of the co-operation with Europe that has developed commendably through European programmes. What real, not theoretical, arrangements are being made to ensure that this is not lost? What about government departments? Is there enough liaison? Is there enough overarching leadership to ensure such liaison between individual departments?
What about NGOs? They have a rich tradition in this country. How far is their front-line experience being listened to? How far are they being drawn in as key players? Perhaps most importantly, are we ensuring in our approach the imperative of the countries we are supposed to be assisting being partners in all this? What part are we really giving them in the evaluation process—in working out whether what is being done is achieving what they are looking for? I hope the Minister can illustrate that point. Of course, civil society, not just government, needs to play a part in that evaluation process in those countries. Then, there is the question of how much the devolved Administrations are being involved and how much co-operation there is between them. Are positive outcomes of that being achieved?
On the issue of children, who are central to the challenge of development goals and their purpose, the Save the Children Fund reminded us that 60% of high-risk youngsters are being stunted in their educational and intellectual development. Some 40% are more likely to die before their fifth birthday and 15% are less likely to complete primary school. Girls in this group are 80% more likely to be married off as children. We have to face the realities of such issues. It is no good being seduced into looking at overall global statistics and saying that the record of growth is so much and that the record of achievement in getting homes and education for people demonstrates that we have made progress. We should be concerned about those who are excluded. Unless the excluded become central to our considerations in the development goals, we are failing.
My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend Lady Suttie on the comprehensive and powerful way in which she introduced this debate today.
I will start by quoting a sentence from a briefing I received this week, prior to this debate:
“Failure to act on climate change now will significantly increase the difficulty of achieving many other SDGs, and will have serious consequences for the stability of global financial systems”.
This sentence could have come from any briefing from any organisation campaigning on climate or environmental matters, but it did not—it came from the Institute and Faculty of Actuaries. It cheered me a lot, because it indicated to me that climate change has developed from being something that only a few biologists and physicists were worried about to a mainstream issue that rightly concerns people in all walks of life. And of course it should, because it is affecting all of us right now, and will affect our children and grandchildren even more in future. The actuaries are quite right that action on climate change can assist us in achieving many of the other SDGs, from education to poverty, from water and sanitation to equality. They also reinforce my view that we need to bring forward our climate change objectives, from 2050 to 2030. We have not much time, and giving permission for fracking is the last thing we should do.
The fact is that, even if we achieve the target of no more than a 1.5 degree rise in mean global temperature, given the rise we have already had, we will still have to face major negative climate events, changes in habitats, loss of biodiversity, poverty and mass movements of people. If we exceed that target, we will reach the tipping point beyond which we cannot stop it and, if that happens, I fear for the future of our species, as well as the rest of life on earth. So, even if we take a selfish point of view relating to our own species’ survival, it is absolutely vital that we do everything we can to slow down and halt global warming. Every degree of change in global temperature makes it more difficult for the diverse life on this planet to survive. That should matter to all of us.
The interdependence between human life and that of other species was illustrated very well in an item on Radio 4 yesterday, when they interviewed a researcher who had identified a gene in a species of fish which enables it to repair faults that arise in its own heart. Her work on this may help us understand, and indeed treat, heart disease in human beings. We rely on other species not only for our food, our clothing, our shelter, our arts and culture, cleaning up the air we breathe and reducing CO2 but for our health. The natural environment contributes to our well-being and mental health, as well as our economy. For these and many other reasons, we must halt climate change and not do a Donald Trump and stubbornly deny that it has anything to do with wildfires in Florida or, of course, flooding in Yorkshire. Can we hear about the Government’s progress on action against climate change?
The interrelationship between the various SDGs has been well illustrated to me in visits I have made to other countries. On a visit to India with UNICEF—one of those frontline NGOs referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Judd, and of which I have the honour to be an honorary fellow—I was shown women earning money maintaining the pump on the village well or manufacturing sanitation products. Through this work, they gained dignity and earned money to send their children to school, and the village got clean water and sanitation. When the children went to school, as well as education they got access to clean, safe toilets and clean water, lessons in hygiene and soap to wash their hands before lunch, and a child measurement programme that measured their development and identified malnutrition. In the homes, I saw stoves that used gas produced by biomass from animals and human waste, which prevented the women getting respiratory problems, which they used to get from burning smoky wood to cook indoors.
In Madagascar, I saw the devastation of vast areas of highly diverse primary forest caused by burning trees to make charcoal for cooking, in a country with more sunshine than you could ever hope for and the highest percentage of unique indigenous species in the world. Species such as lemurs and special kinds of woods on the red endangered list were being illegally exported to China, against the Government’s best endeavours. The problem is that you cannot blame the people for using what is there to survive. They are some of the poorest in the world and need to cook, eat, shelter and provide for their families, so they will sell what they can, use whatever is available for cooking and overharvest endangered species for food or medicine, without realising that they are killing the goose that lays the golden egg. It is for developed countries such as ours to use the expertise we have to help them make the most of the riches they have around them, their unique habitats and biodiversity. But here in the UK we face many of the same things. In our case, 15% of our species face extinction, mainly because of habitat loss and climate change. We may not know the value of what we have lost until it is gone.
Many charities and universities are taking up the challenge. In Madagascar, we saw a project run by Kew Gardens, one of the world’s leading botanic gardens working in plant conservation in this country and around the world. It is protecting a valley of primary indigenous forest using local labour, trained by expert botanists from Kew, to protect their environment. They earned some money for this, which alleviated their poverty and allowed them to avoid some of the environmental depredations. Kew needs money to provide the benefit of its experts to developing countries and to our own environment. In that respect, I am concerned that the government grant to Kew has been reduced. I wonder whether the Government can give me any hope that this situation might be reversed in the light of the work Kew does to help with the UK’s contribution to SDG 15 on life on land, goal 13 on climate action and goal 11 on sustainable communities.
I also saw a UNICEF project where children were rescued from the streets, having been left there by parents who could not afford to feed them. UNICEF was educating, feeding and clothing them but also trying to reunite them with their families and help them to get work. Here in the UK, as my noble friend Lady Suttie mentioned, we have thousands of children in food insecurity, whose parents rely on food banks and on breakfast clubs and holiday lunch clubs at schools. Universal school lunches in primary schools has been a great success and contributed not only to children’s nutrition and physical health but to their education and mental health. Will the Government expand that programme? Poverty is caused by low wages or employment or benefit uncertainty. The Minister might like to use this opportunity to explain the current status of the review of universal credit.
These few examples illustrate how interlinked the various sustainable development goals are, both here and abroad. Can the Government say what attention they are paying to the links between action on the goals and the individual goals? Sometimes spending on one can bring dividends in several other areas. After I had written the above, I saw the WWF briefing and its recommendations to the Government for the voluntary national review. I was interested to see recommendation 3:
“The VNR should look at interlinkages between the goals, identify accelerators and develop plans to take them forward”.
All I can say is that I agree.
This brings me to where I think the UK has failed most seriously in the way the SDGs have been implemented at home. We are not alone on this earth; we are not the only country and we are not the only species, and although we should help other countries, we need to do it all at home as well. Goal 3 is good health and well-being. Goal 10 is reduced inequalities. In this country, we have a shocking level of poverty, as clearly illustrated recently by the UN’s rapporteur on poverty, and a high level of health inequality. We have a poor rate of perinatal mortality and child obesity and, as announced this morning, 10 times as many children suffering from type 2 diabetes than was originally thought. Finally, we now even have falling life expectancy. These two failures are closely linked. They are also linked to goal 1, eliminating poverty; goal 2, zero hunger; goal 4, quality education; goal 7, affordable clean energy; goal 8, decent work and economic growth; goal 11, sustainable communities; and goal 13, climate action.
I think I have made my point: the health of the nation is a whole-government responsibility. I have long proposed a special high-level Cabinet committee on the health of the nation to which all other departments must report when developing new policies. Do they contribute to the health of the nation, or do they damage it? If they damage it, the department should think again. I still hope that the new Secretary of State for Health, with his understanding that the NHS will not be sustainable unless we focus more on prevention of ill health, will eventually come to the same conclusion. If he is not persuaded by me, perhaps he will be persuaded by this debate, which will show where we are failing and why it would be in the interests of all our people, now and in the future, for us to take a holistic view of health and well-being.
The evidence shows that poor people do not eat well; they live in areas with higher air pollution, in houses which are often cold, damp and expensive to heat because they are poorly insulated. Because of their disadvantages, they achieve less in education and so are less well equipped with the knowledge of how to promote their own health and to get a good, stable job. Their access to junk food is high and their access to good public services is low. Their local authorities are so pressed for cash that they have had to close sexual health services, weight management services, drug, alcohol and smoking cessation services, swimming pools, sports centres and children’s centres. All these impact most on the poor and particularly affect their health—QED.
Will the Government now act to improve our performance against goals 3 and 10 by addressing goals 1, 2, 4, 7, 8, 11 and 13?
Our thanks are certainly due to the noble Baroness, Lady Suttie, for this important debate about integrating sustainable development goals across government departments. I declare my interests as an emeritus professor at UCL and chair of a small environmental consulting company that works in developing countries. I am not sure that as much progress has been made as some of the government rhetoric indicates—so I follow the remarks of previous speakers. More should definitely be done to state and explain these broad goals. This is the first essential for effective policy and more could be done. Having one department in charge—DfID—inevitably biases the process towards the views of that department.
There is no doubt that DfID’s focus on humanitarian and democratic objectives has been effective, in policy and in engaging the public in these aspects of sustainable development. But there has not been the same focus, as the noble Baroness, Lady Suttie, also emphasised, on public information, public debate and joined-up policy in the many other areas, such as the environment, economic planning and long-term climate change, agriculture and energy. In the UK, these areas are jointly the responsibility of government departments and civil society—for example, professional, technical and commercial bodies, universities and many other organisations, including charities and donors.
The meteorological agencies around the world are an example of governmental bodies, and I was involved as chief executive of the Met Office. They did then, and do now, play an active role in helping government departments work towards sustainable goals: for example, in advising communities about weather extremes, floods and droughts, all of which are increasing as a result of climate change. But even technical departments of that sort, working with other environmental, medical and health organisations, have to work out how these environmental extremes affect health, the economy and the environment.
However, it has been disappointing to see in the last 10 years or more that in the UK, after 2010 the coalition Government and then the Conservative Government deliberately suppressed some of the integrated policy methods—particularly the one in which the Sure Start programme, which followed America, had been very effective. As I have seen, these were stopped in many villages and elsewhere in the UK. Equally, we had quite an effective system in Britain of regional economic initiatives. These were also immediately suppressed by the Conservatives when the coalition Government came to power. During a recent science committee meeting in the House of Lords, Rolls-Royce commented that, as a result of the demise of these regional economic initiatives, many companies that feed into big companies such as Rolls-Royce were not working so well. There has been partial reinstatement with local enterprise boards, but they are not as effective as what we had before.
International bodies and networks also play a leading role in the United Nations and intergovernmental organisations, and in international charities. Some of them have been very effective. We had a remarkable afternoon here in the House of Lords when Jimmy Carter came to describe his campaign for disease-free water, which he explained in his speech. The United Nations technical agencies have a long history of taking on more complex issues, regionally and globally. These agencies have also helped Governments with sustainable development, and have had a big role in feeding into the United Nations centre in New York. For example, the International Maritime Organization, which is based here in London—an NGO with which I am involved—supports and works with them. It recently took on the role of guiding the global shipping industry to reduce its carbon emissions, which of course significantly exceed the carbon emissions from aviation. Sustainable global policies should aim to reduce the volume of shipping, although this would probably impact on the global economy. The question of the economy and the environment has to be kept in balance at all times, but this new initiative by the IMO is a very important development.
A similarly important sustainable goal would be the limitation of vehicle emissions, which, even though it is being discussed, is not happening in the UK. In France, by contrast, there are road signs encouraging motorists to limit their speed in order to reduce emissions. In Britain, the signs on a motorway will tell you how fast you have to go to get to Bristol in 90 minutes, or whatever it is. That is why the UK is not raising this kind of sustainability goal. I have raised this question in Written PQs, with no satisfactory result.
Last week I was in Malaysia at a meeting of climate environment networks, in particular the Asian area of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. They were reviewing the issues in Asia. For example, there are critical issues such as the loss of forests, which is affected by global warming and sea-level rise but also by logging when richer countries remove their trees. This is a very important question. It is not just everybody working together. One fears that some countries are taking resources, which is having a bad effect on poorer countries.
Another important development is increased disease in some Asian countries. It is a major issue that needs to be considered internationally. Another is the question of water. It was remarkable to hear at the meeting that water availability in the slum areas of big cities is about 20% of what it was 10 years ago. With a greatly reduced water supply in urban communities you have women queuing up to get water at 3 am. This is an issue that the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, emphasised.
The Asian Network on Climate Science and Technology has been set up in Kuala Lumpur and Hong Kong, with support from the Malaysian Commonwealth Studies Centre at Cambridge. This has led to Asian scientists and technicians focusing on meetings in that part of the world rather than going to the United States or the EU. We need much more technical strength, solidity and co-ordination in the developing regions of the world. When you focus on that, you find that all sorts of developments are encouraged, which do not happen so well if all the technical people go and have their meetings in developed countries.
One network of technical groups has been very effective in looking at the effects of climate on urban areas. It is interesting that these networks have already developed new approaches, such as restoring communities after massive floods and using computer-based planning networks for extreme weather conditions. Some of these methods are of considerable interest, even to developed countries such as the UK.
In conclusion, global collaboration and sustainability are an important part of the UK’s policies, and we should work as closely as we can with all the networks of the world. As other speakers commented, the UK has big problems of its own and we should learn a lot from others.
My Lords, I, too, congratulate my noble friend Lady Suttie on obtaining this debate and on the excellent and thoughtful way in which she introduced it. I shall focus on the 16th sustainable development goal which is to:
“Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels”.
What progress has there been that can be reported in integrating that development goal into domestic policy? There is some good news. My first point is about the Bribery Act 2010, which is currently undergoing examination by a Select Committee of which I am member. The proceedings are televised and available in print. Your Lordships will be delighted to know that witness after witness says that the Bribery Act has been a great success and provides a gold standard for the world. There are problems and bits and pieces about it that we are examining, but the general thrust is that the Bribery Act is a way in which we can show the world how to tackle bribery and corruption, so that is a very good thing and one in which we can be a model for the world.
The second thing we can be proud of is that we retain our strong and independent judiciary. When my noble kinswoman Lady Walmsley was concerned about the environment in Madagascar last year, I was concerned about the judiciary. It was quite extraordinary that if you wanted your case listed, you had to pay an official to get your case into the list. It was extraordinary that if a judge went from outside the capital to the countryside to deal with problems and cases that occurred in country courts, he had to pay his own expenses, and Madagascar is four times the size of the United Kingdom. There are grave problems with the judiciary and its independence in many parts of the world, but that is one thing of which we can be proud and which we can report to the world.
However, there are problems. The first—the difficulty in recruiting judges—was outlined by the Lord Chief Justice, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Burnett, last Tuesday in evidence to the Commons Justice Select Committee. He said that successive cuts to the justice system and dilapidated court buildings have undermined morale among the judiciary. He is concerned about the mood across the judiciary in the wake of the long history of underfunding of the court system and cuts to remuneration. He said that the courts are currently having problems recruiting High Court judges. It is true that judges were offered a 2% pay increase in 2018-19, their biggest pay rise in 10 years. That is almost as meagre as the £5 we received recently. However, many younger judges were badly hit by changes to the judicial pension scheme three years ago, and consequently the remuneration for being a High Court judge, or indeed any judge, is not as great as it was. Who would exchange the freedom of the Bar for the constraints of the judiciary and its hierarchical structures for remuneration of that sort?
When it comes to access to justice, I have to point to legal aid. Sir Patrick Hastings, Attorney-General in the Attlee Government—his name re-echoes in Gresford, where he appeared for the mine owners in the Gresford Colliery disaster inquiry—introduced the Legal Aid Bill in the Commons in December 1948. He said:
“It is the charter of the little man to the British courts of justice. It is a Bill which will open the doors of the courts freely to all persons who may wish to avail themselves of British justice without regard to the question of their wealth or ability to pay”.—[Official Report, Commons, 15/12/1948; col. 1.]
On Tuesday, the Lord Chief Justice, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Burnett, pointed to the fall in legal aid, and in so doing echoed the noble and learned Lord, Lord Neuberger, the former head of the UK Supreme Court, who said in 2017:
“It is all very well for us to sing the praises of our legal systems, to congratulate ourselves on the high quality of our judges and lawyers, and to take pride in the popularity of the common law in international business. But we have a serious problem with access to justice for ordinary citizens and small and medium-sized businesses”.
Back in 2010, the Conservative-Lib Dem coalition Government made deep cuts in public services to help reduce the UK’s deficit. The Ministry of Justice was one of the departments hardest hit; it was not protected in any way. At that time it had a budget of £10.9 billion to administer the courts, legal aid, prisons and the probation service. By 2017 the budget was down to £7.6 billion and for 2019-20 it is projected to be £6.38 billion. That is using Treasury public expenditure tables in real terms. That is a fall of more than 40% in funding for the legal system of this country. The result is that, frankly, it is impossible to make a decent living at the Bar in certain areas of law: criminal law, family law and so on. Ultimately, there will be a knock-on effect in the recruitment of high-quality people to the judiciary.
I am not proud of those cuts to legal aid. The noble Lord, Lord Hunt, spoke a moment ago about the cuts of that Government—the suppression, as he put it, of various environmental programmes. We were told at the time that austerity would last until 2015, by which time the deficit would have disappeared. How wrong we were. However, I am proud of the Modern Slavery Act and of the equalities Act, which indicated Lib Dem involvement in that Government. The UK Government’s Global Fund to End Modern Slavery supports work to end the terrible exploitation of vulnerable people, including women and children. The UK became the first donor to the Global Fund to End Violence against Children and contributes funds to tackle online child sexual exploitation. So there are positive signs.
We face dangers in our society in the area that the 16th goal refers to. On money laundering, the British Government’s own anti-corruption strategy, published in December 2017, said:
“The UK’s role as a global financial centre is important to the country’s prosperity but can also be exploited by criminals. The 2016 National Strategic Assessment of Serious and Organised Crime notes that the UK is one of the most attractive destinations for laundering the proceeds of grand corruption and that professional enablers and intermediaries play a role in this. The National Crime Agency estimates up to £90 billion of illicit funds are laundered through the UK each year”.
That is a disgrace and something we need to tackle immediately.
The second danger, as I see it, is that of drugs, not merely in London but throughout the country, such as in my home town of Wrexham. Incidentally, Wrexham has received an accolade from Quentin Letts; talking about Jacob Rees-Mogg’s press conference this week, he said that the “diversity count” of the people who held it,
“was as low as Wrexham on a wet Friday night”.
I wondered: what had we done? Anyway, around two years ago, Mr Gavin Rodda, a bus driver, started noticing an increase in drug use and homelessness at the bus station in Wrexham. Spice and Black Mamba, synthetic cannabinoids that have also become rife in Britain’s prisons, were still legal at that time. A blanket ban on those has been put through but the drugs are still widely available. Mr Rodda said that addicts in Wrexham say they can buy Black Mamba for £5 a gram, which is cheaper than heroin, crack cocaine and even a packet of cigarettes. This hits at the fundamental basis of our country.
I should have liked to address your Lordships on the overseas interventions into British politics that we are facing, but I see that my time is up.
My Lords, I should probably record that I am co-chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on the UN Global Goals for Sustainable Development. I also reference my entry in the register of interests, not least my position as vice-president of UNICEF.
The UN global goals for sustainable development were agreed in 2015, partly because our work was not done. The millennium development goals agreed in 2000 were perhaps right for the time—perhaps sufficient given what could be agreed then—but they were very targeted and simplistic. They were focused on particular aspects of education, health and access to water, and made only limited reference to, for example, gender inequality or climate change.
Although much progress had been made, even in areas where there had been substantial progress, such as reducing extreme poverty, the job was only half-done. So when the UK led the international consultation on what should replace the millennium development goals, it was agreed by everyone involved that there should be a much more comprehensive roadmap to the future that dealt not only with specific aspects of life that needed immediate attention, but other areas where the causes of extreme poverty, violence and despair were so deep that a comprehensive set of solutions was required.
We needed a set of goals that tackled peace and justice in strong institutions, as goal 16 does. We needed a set of goals that talked about resilience against extreme weather events and natural disasters, and did not just try to pick up the pieces afterwards. We needed a set of goals that addressed gender inequality and economic inequality, as well as the crucial issue of economic growth and development, particularly in expanding cities in developing and middle-income countries across the world. The goals needed to be in context, so there was a summit on financing development in Addis just three months before. They also needed to be placed firmly in the context of the impact of climate change, so they were agreed just before—but implemented after—the summit on climate change in Paris in December 2015.
So for once, the world had thought about this in advance. We did not just write the goals on the back of an envelope, submit them to a meeting and then walk away with another set of warm words, without the actions associated with them. We actually had a set of goals that had been debated and agreed in a proper context, and that had an implementation plan. At the core of that plan was the system of voluntary national reviews and national strategies that each country was expected to adopt and then offer back to the UN. We have seen incredible progress in some areas. In just three years, 111 countries have presented their voluntary national reviews to the UN. Not all of them have been high quality and perhaps not all have even been as honest as they needed to be, but at least there is a system in place early in the 15-year programme for countries to start to assess the progress they are making and discuss it with their peers.
Most interestingly, we have seen across the world businesses adopting the sustainable development goals in a way that never happened with the millennium development goals. In my view, that has not yet happened enough in this country, but around the world multinational corporations in particular—in Japan, for example; others are headquartered in Europe—are adopting these goals as part of their business planning for the future, realising that dealing with the risks associated with climate change, conflict, extreme poverty and a world where an increasing young population do not have the skills and opportunities to make the most of their place in it, has to be central to any sustainable, successful multinational business in the 21st century.
In all these areas where businesses are coming on board and countries are producing and presenting their voluntary national reviews, the UK has slipped a bit behind the curve. However, I do not doubt for one minute the commitment of individual Ministers, particularly the noble Lord, Lord Bates, who will respond to our debate today, or the Secretary of State for International Development, who made an excellent speech at an all-party group event last Tuesday, where we launched an initiative to encourage parliamentarians to become more involved in the consultation on the voluntary national review.
If we look back over the past three years—unlike the period before that, when the UK was at the head of the international charge to get a set of ambitious goals agreed and a comprehensive planning and assessment process in place—we see that not all the DfID programmes agreed over that time have really embedded the goals at their core. They may have been appropriate to the goals, but the bilateral programmes we agreed were not directly linked to countries’ individual strategies. Even in DfID, we could probably have done more on that, but across the rest of government, not enough departments have embedded the goals into their single departmental plans. The goals have not been the subject of an effective cross-government scrutiny process.
The UKSSD report published this summer, Measuring up, which considered UK progress on the goals, was a pretty fair assessment of the lack of UK progress. We could all have done more, the Government included, to encourage more UK businesses to adopt the goals. We could have taken the approach of Japan, where the Prime Minister’s office has led initiatives to get businesses to adopt these goals and take a sustainable approach to their development. Across all areas, the Government could probably have engaged more with civil society.
However, the Government have been distracted these past two years; I understand that and am willing, almost, to forgive it. We now need to use the voluntary national review as an opportunity to rekindle the process and re-establish Britain at the forefront of international and domestic action for these goals. To do that, we need not only the UK Government and Parliament to lead that charge; we need more local governments across the UK to do so too. I know that Birmingham City Council has recently formally adopted the goals and wants to see them at the heart of its preparations for the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games. That is a great objective and ambition for the city, but more of our cities, districts and counties across the UK could be adopting the goals and building them into their local planning.
The devolved Governments in Scotland and Wales—and, when they exist, in Northern Ireland—should be doing the same thing and should also be part of the voluntary national review process. We should be working with civil society and businesses across the UK to ensure that more of them integrate and embed the goals in their day-to-day work. If we do that, not only will we be able to present an honest voluntary national review next summer to the United Nations, assess our progress and engage people in that ambition; we can also rekindle the momentum here in the UK for our work at home and abroad to adopt, campaign for and achieve the goals by 2030.
There is a very good reason why a comprehensive set of goals was needed: the complexity of the modern world and of the challenges domestically in the UK. Look at somewhere such as the Philippines, where a typhoon or an earthquake can demolish 25 years of development in just 25 minutes. Look at the African Sahel and the complexity across the region of the challenges of migration, climate change, extreme poverty, violence and conflict. Surely the answer is a comprehensive programme of goals and targets that recognises that each country will have different priorities but that together, these solutions give us some of the answers to the challenges that we face. If we are to do that, we all need to demonstrate more urgency. We are three years into a 15-year programme. We are nowhere near far enough along that journey, globally or nationally.
In the words of Malala Yousafzai, who spoke in September 2015 at the General Assembly at the hour when the goals were adopted, and who stopped the diplomats chattering on the General Assembly floor and asked them to listen for a minute: “Do not do what you have always done and agree these goals at a summit here and then walk away and leave them aside. Remember these goals, remember your commitments and implement them. Do not let us down”. Those words should ring in your Lordships’ Chamber today.
My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend Lady Suttie on securing this timely and important debate, if only because I get to follow the real insight and context of the noble Lord, Lord McConnell.
The SDGs are an important part of the toolkit for us to scrutinise the work of the Government. I will focus my comments on goal 11 on sustainable cities and communities and, within that, goal 11.1: to ensure by 2030,
“access for all to adequate, safe and affordable housing”.
I echo my noble friend Lady Suttie’s concerns about the danger of losing sight of the domestic issue, while wholeheartedly agreeing that it was a proud moment when we achieved 0.7% of GNI for developing nations under the coalition—guaranteed, by the way, through a Private Member’s Bill from Michael Moore because the Conservatives in government refused to deliver it through government time. I suspect that when David Cameron signed up to these aims in 2015 and called for all Governments to be held to account for the implementation of the global goals, he was looking beyond our borders and thinking that others needed to play catch-up rather than him. Now, in 2018, he has departed for his £25,000 Marie Antoinette-style shepherd’s hut.
What a contrast with the communities in the UK that will fall far short of the original objectives when this Government deliver the voluntary national review in July 2019. As my noble friend Lady Walmsley said, just last Friday a UN rapporteur ended a two-week mission and concluded that this Government have inflicted “great misery” on their people with,
“punitive, mean-spirited, and often callous”,
policies. The report, which will be presented to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva next year, states that in the UK,
“poverty is a political choice”.
He said that about 14 million people, a fifth of the population, live in poverty and 1.5 million are destitute, being unable to afford basic essentials. These figures are taken from the Institute for Fiscal Studies and the Joseph Rowntree Foundation. The IFS also predicts a 7% rise in child poverty between 2015 and 2022. Philip Alston, the UN rapporteur and human rights lawyer, said that it was his belief that this Government are in denial.
I see that the Government pushed back hard on the UN report, but Philip Alston is not alone in his findings. The recent investigation by two highly respected journalists at the Times, Rachel Sylvester and Alice Thomson, uncovered a similar story. As they have written in their columns and comments since, they were shocked by what they found in some communities: children going without meals, schools having to find shoes for children and the scandal that continues because of the lack of decent social housing, leaving people on low or no incomes with little choice but to rent in the worst parts of the private sector. Their investigation highlighted the toxic combination of unscrupulous landlords and inadequate benefit for housing, which is pushing thousands of families into homelessness. They found that housing benefit does not cover rents in 95% of the country. Only yesterday, the Residential Landlords Association published a report citing the benefit system as the main cause of ending a tenancy and leading to homelessness. To be a low-income family in the UK—even in work—in the private rented sector is to constantly teeter on the brink of homelessness.
Last year, 123,130 children were in temporary accommodation, defined as statutorily homeless. Today, Shelter published its annual report on homelessness, revealing that 320,000 people are homeless in Britain, This amounts to a year-on-year increase of 13,000, as my noble friend Lady Suttie said. The estimate suggests that nationally one in 200 people is homeless. In London it is much worse: every night we see people sleeping out on the streets.
My noble friend Lady Suttie and I team up once a year to do an annual sleep-out for the charity Depaul, which helps young homeless people. It is only one night a year; she is a hardy Scot who can sleep while it is raining, while I am the soft southerner who always wakes up the minute it starts. For us it is a small reminder of what it is like to sleep out, but it is nothing like the danger, the insecurity, the toll on mental health, the substance abuse and the early death, which Dame Louise Casey and the noble Baroness, Lady Armstrong, worked so hard to eradicate and reduce in the late 1990s in the early days of the Blair Government. It is back, and it is like an epidemic.
This week the Huffington Post conducted an investigation which showed that the Government’s use of “snapshot” rough sleeper counts on just one night of the year in autumn were being used to provide data on the nationwide levels of homelessness. It did its own analysis, which showed that 33 of 326 local authorities in England recorded zero rough sleepers for 2017, including, for example, the London Borough of Barking and Dagenham, where street sleepers are visible throughout the year.
I appreciate that the Minister will be unable to answer on the 169 targets today, so if he is unable to answer my questions, in particular on goal 11.1, will he undertake to write and respond to the following questions? First, which stakeholders will be involved in drawing up the VNRs relating to poverty, statutory homelessness and rough sleeping? Secondly, given that a year ago my complaint about government use of statistics on homelessness was upheld by the UK Statistics Authority, what methodology will be used to report on homelessness as part of goal 11.1? Is the Minister satisfied that that will be an accurate reflection? Perhaps I am getting ahead of myself and making an assumption that that figure will even be used, so my third question is: will homelessness and rough sleeping figures be reported as part of the identified challenges when reporting this July? Fourthly, I was extremely concerned to learn in the WWF brief for this debate that as yet there appears to be no consultation plan in preparation for reporting in July. Given the significant need for partnership to deliver this, is the Minister concerned that the Government are leaving it a little late, and when will the consultation plan be made available?
The SDG global indicators are a noble intent, and the Government were right to sign up to them in 2015. But it is critical that partnerships are formed and challenging questions are asked here at home, particularly on a goal that promises housing for all when it is so obvious that right here, right now, we are falling far short of that objective.
My Lords, like other noble Lords, I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Suttie, on securing this important debate today. But I must also thank her too. This is a timely reminder that there is a big world out there to be protected, not all of which is preoccupied by Brexit.
I appreciate that the view I am about to express may not gain universal support in this House, but at times I even feel sorry for former Prime Minister David Cameron. He will be forever associated with taking the United Kingdom out of the European Union, albeit by accident. However, Mr Cameron also did a number of things that may encourage historians of differing political persuasions to judge him more favourably. One notable achievement was his success in formulating the United Nations sustainable development goals—the SDGs—when in 2012, as British Prime Minister, he chaired a panel established by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to advance the post-2015 development agenda. As noble Lords will know, these goals had the collective aim of ending extreme poverty, fighting inequality and injustice, and tackling climate change in the period to 2030.
However, Mr Cameron not only helped to develop these admirable objectives but fought for them too. He told the United Nations General Assembly in September 2015 that fulfilling the sustainable development goals would require “action, not words”. He reminded the leaders of developed countries that they should deliver on their overseas aid spending commitments. He also went a step further, telling the Presidents and Prime Ministers of less prosperous nations:
“Eradicating extreme poverty isn’t just something that developed country governments can do. There’s a deep responsibility on the leaders of all countries”.
Mr Cameron resigned from office fewer than nine months after delivering those remarks. Since then, for understandable reasons, the focus of Whitehall and, indeed, the wider British public, has been elsewhere. But despite these distractions, it remains vital that the United Kingdom remains to the fore of the effort to ensure that leaders across the world keep to the commitments that Mr Cameron rightly asked of them.
This is where I believe Brexit provides the United Kingdom Government, under a different Prime Minister in Theresa May, with a golden opportunity to lead the way. It is unquestionably the case that, after leaving the European Union, the United Kingdom will be in search of new alliances and new partnerships, and not just in the area of trade. We regularly hear the phrase “Global Britain”—noble Lords would rightly expect me to expand this term slightly to “Global Britain and Northern Ireland”. As a nation, we need to expand our reach and our influence if we are to punch our weight in the years ahead. That means setting an example for others to follow. We must lead the way, and that must surely include the United Kingdom achieving the aim, as set out in the Motion of the noble Baroness, Lady Suttie, to integrate,
“the universal Sustainable Developments Goals into domestic policy”.
The Motion reminds us that, in September 2019, the United Kingdom is due to deliver a voluntary national review presentation on progress towards this objective. That is only 10 months from now. It has to be said that the language used by the Department for International Development in its written evidence on this subject to the House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee, provided just a few weeks ago, does not fill me with great confidence. The document said that the UK Government have,
“made significant progress towards some of the SDGs, and the UK has already met some of the targets”.
While I expect the Minister in his wind-up perhaps to scold me for my impertinence, this woolly language creates the impression that the Government are doing their homework on the school bus.
The President of the United States, Donald Trump, is constantly criticised for his so-called “America first” policy. He has withdrawn his country from a series of international agreements, he wants to build a big wall and fight trade wars, and he wants America to look inwards. In effect, President Trump has abdicated the position that his predecessors in the White House have traditionally held as the de facto leader of the free world. If the United States, in the short term at least, is refusing to set the standard for the nations of the world to follow, we in the United Kingdom and our allies must not be found wanting. We must stick to David Cameron’s commitments and implement the United Nations sustainable development goals with the minimum possible delay.
My Lords, I start by adding my thanks to my noble friend Lady Suttie for the skilful way that she set the scene. The universality of the sustainable development goals is neatly encapsulated as the “5Ps”: people, prosperity, planet, peace and partnership. Together with the overarching commitment to “leave no one behind”, they are designed to include us all. The noble Lord, Lord McConnell of Glenscorrodale, spoke passionately about the process following on from the millennium development goals and the need for a more comprehensive approach.
This debate, as we have heard from speaker after speaker, is about delivering the SDGs on the domestic front so that life is more decent for our own people and there are no repercussions on other nations arising from our domestic policies. The noble Lord, Lord Judd, made the point very forcefully about establishing a level playing field for all if we are going to achieve these aims. I hope that, when the Minister comes to respond, he will recognise that it will not do for him to concentrate on the actions of DfID. The debate is specifically on the Government’s progress on embedding the SDGs into their departmental practices in a holistic and integrated way.
The UK Stakeholders for Sustainable Development, UKSSD, is a cross-sector network of organisations which are working together to drive action on the UN sustainable development goals in the UK. Its report, Measuring Up, which I believe the Minister is aware of, expresses a level of disquiet about the Government’s lack of preparation for presentation of its voluntary national review, which will take place at the UN in July and September next year. I am concerned that DfID has been tasked with exercising overall control of cross-departmental delivery of the goals domestically. I have great respect for the Minister and the work that DfID carries out in delivering the 0.7% in the international arena, but its record of keeping tabs on ODA spend by other government departments has not gone so well. This does not bode well for DfID’s role in monitoring delivery of the SDGs across all government departments.
Of the 111 countries which have already presented their VNRs—voluntary national reviews—to the UN General Assembly, the ones that have stood out have been those which deployed responsibility right from the top. For example, in Germany oversight lies with the office of the Chancellor, and in Japan it is with the Prime Minister’s office. As the noble Lord, Lord McConnell, said, they have been leading from the front, including both the private and public sectors. The executive summary of the VNR report of the German Government to the High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development in July 2016 says:
“The State Secretaries Committee for Sustainable Development steers implementation of the Sustainable Development Strategy and oversees the updating of its content. … The Parliamentary Advisory Council on Sustainable Development monitors the German Government’s National Sustainable Development Strategy … The Council for Sustainable Development, an independent advisory council, promotes societal dialogue on sustainability. It consists of 15 public figures who … represent the economic, environmental and social aspects of sustainable development in its national and international dimensions”.
My last quote from the report is as follows:
“The implementation of the 2030 Agenda is carried out within the framework of the budgetary and fiscal requirements of the Federal Government”.
Will the leadership to deliver this agenda in the UK come from the very top? And will Secretaries of State take full responsibility for their departments’ performance against relevant SDG targets? Will the framework to monitor, assess and incentivise action be put in place? Will we engage our civil society partners in a high-level advisory capacity to represent economic, environmental and social aspects of sustainable development, as asked by the UKSSD? The issue was raised by the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Chesterton, who spoke of the useful expertise that lies in technical agencies. What is the plan to harness expertise of that nature?
The fact is that, four years on from the adoption of the SDGs, we have not produced anything that says we are taking this agenda seriously. This is poor performance from the country that was instrumental in bringing the UN document, Transforming Our World, in which the SDGs are embedded, to fruition and to universal acceptance. As the fifth richest nation, with an aspiration to cement the “Global Britain” brand on the international stage, we must lead by example; the point was made in the debate by several noble Lords, but I particularly associate it with the noble Lord, Lord Rogan. We must lead by example and fix our fault lines at home—fault lines that the EU referendum exposed in dramatic fashion.
Where is the UK action plan to tackle goal 1, which is to end poverty in all its forms everywhere? Several noble Lords—the noble Baronesses, Lady Suttie, Lady Walmsley and Lady Grender, among them—have mentioned the report of the UN special rapporteur on poverty. He concluded by saying:
“Poverty is a political choice”.
That is controversial, but he is right. In the recent Budget, the Government increased the personal allowance to £12,500, giving basic rate taxpayers an extra £130 per year. However, higher rate taxpayers will receive an extra £860 per year because the threshold for higher rate taxes was raised to £50,000. The Government had a political choice to make, and they decided they would give more to those who already had the most. If we had had an action plan in place, maybe other choices would have been made, and maybe it would be easier to sort out the disastrous implementation of universal credit.
We have heard numerous examples of why it is so important that the Government do not bury their heads in the sand but deal with the issues that noble Lords have outlined: homelessness and inadequate housing, eloquently brought to our attention by my noble friend Lady Grender; lack of access to justice, skilfully brought to our attention by my noble friend Lord Thomas of Gresford; and the threat to biodiversity and regression on policy to tackle climate change—a point made forcefully by my noble friend Lady Walmsley, whose example of fish that have a self-healing heart is one I will not forget in a hurry.
I will pick out a couple of examples that highlight some of the iniquities of our policy choices. SDG3 calls for us to ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages, and has a target within it that addresses the training and retention of health workers in developing countries. But how do we reconcile delivery of this target with the withdrawal of support for training our own nurses in England? Where will we get nurses for our NHS? Not from the EU 27, we are told. Inevitably, they will come from developing countries.
Let us take one other example, goal 12, which is to ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns. One of the targets we committed to was to rationalise inefficient fossil-fuel subsidies. The UK Government, as a member of the G7, have repeatedly reaffirmed their commitment to phasing out these subsidies by 2025 and the UK, as a member of the EU, has committed to phasing out environmentally damaging subsidies, including those for fossil fuels, by 2020. However, the Overseas Development Institute recently calculated the UK’s subsidies for fossil fuels at £13.3 billion per year between 2014 and 2016. Moreover, the ODI points to a lack of transparency and reporting on fossil fuel subsidies. The OECD confirms that the UK Government publish no official estimates of producer subsidies. Will the Government accept that they provide significant subsidies for fossil fuels and that such subsidies are completely inconsistent with their policies on climate change and the above international commitments? Will they change their policy so that UK Export Finance is not used to support fossil fuel exploration or the development of fossil fuel-based generation in other countries?
I have dwelt on this issue at some length not only because it dramatically highlights the conflicting policies of government departments but because it impacts heavily on SDG 14, which speaks to the health of our oceans. Plastics in our oceans are a risk not just to marine life but ultimately to human health as well. Most plastics are a by-product of crude oil. With the inevitable demise of the extraction and production of crude oil that we can look forward to, we can hopefully say goodbye to plastics that are harming our marine environment and develop more sustainable alternatives. Let us get on with putting in place the policies that will move us in the right direction. Spain has done so. Why cannot we?
To conclude, this debate has illustrated perfectly the beauty of the SDGs: they are universal. They span the Arctic to the Antarctic, the world’s oceans and the lands that lie within them. They encompass the breadth and depth of human existence, so that all of humanity can share the common values of being able to live a decent life with comfort, dignity and opportunity to fulfil our potential. That same breadth and depth means that we have not been able to do justice to much of the agenda of the global goals. We have only scratched the surface. I am sure that this is a subject to which we will return frequently in the coming months.
My Lords, I too would like to thank the noble Baroness, Lady Suttie, for initiating this debate. It is the universal nature of the SDGs that binds all countries together. All must seek to achieve them domestically and internationally. The voluntary national review is a vital tool in assessing progress and focusing our efforts where they are most needed. It is not a tool for Governments alone. The global effort to achieve the 2030 agenda must embrace economic, social and political action. Business and civil society have a responsibility to act.
As the excellent report from the UK Stakeholders for Sustainable Development group argued, we need to make the most of the opportunity the VNR gives us to establish how and where the Government and other stakeholders should focus their efforts. I know the Minister has welcomed that report, describing it as a,
“very good contribution to the work that is going into the voluntary national review”.
As the UKSSD says, there is an enormous amount to celebrate in the UK’s progress towards the goals. But, as every noble Lord has said in this debate, we cannot be complacent. We still live in a society where discrimination and inequality exist. Climate change has presented us with many challenges, as highlighted by my noble friend Lord Hunt. As the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, stressed, the important point on the SDGs is their connectedness, which requires a collaborative approach. The noble Baroness gave an excellent example, which was also in the UKSSD report, relating to goals 2, 3, 8 and 10. We have a food system in this country that struggles to provide healthy, sustainable, diverse diets for everyone. We have high and growing levels of obesity and the highest levels of household food insecurity in Europe. As the noble Baroness said, we have only to look at the headlines this morning to see the problem: there are nearly 7,000 children and adults under 25 with type 2 diabetes in England and Wales—10 times the number reported before.
This debate is about what form the review will take. What are the Government doing to ensure it is effective? Since 2016, many other Governments have published their VNRs, and around 40 will publish theirs during the same 2019 forum as the UK. The format of those published so far has varied greatly, but the most recent UN guidance recommends that each VNR contains details of how progress will be reviewed regularly at national level. We have our Commons Environmental Audit Committee, which recently produced an excellent report to which the Minister gave oral evidence. I hope the Minister can confirm today that there will be a broader process to review progress annually and that it will include civil society. I hope details of that will be given in the VNR.
The Government have so far said that the review will be consistent with those presented by other countries and will reflect the UN guidance. Some 18 months ago, the Commons Environmental Audit Committee examined how the Government were implementing the SDGs and scrutinised the framework for national monitoring and reporting. It suggested that the Government seemed,
“more concerned with promoting the Goals abroad”,
“undertaken no substantive work to promote the Goals domestically or encourage businesses, the public sector and civil society to engage with the Goals”.
DfID, an excellent department, is committed to the SDGs, but is it appropriate for the domestic agenda? Many noble Lords have made that point. The Government have argued that “the most effective way” to implement the SDGs is to embed them in Whitehall departments’ single departmental plans. As my noble friend Lord McConnell asked, what real progress has been made on that? Where is the co-ordination? We now have a task group at Whitehall level, but where is the evidence that that is working?
The key point I want to emphasise in today’s debate is that the UN guidance also mentioned a stakeholder engagement plan identifying key stakeholders and methods of engagement—not just online, but all methods—to ensure that all stakeholders contribute and that their contributions are properly gathered. The UN says that all sectors and levels of government, civil society, private sector, trade unions—I have previously emphasised strongly in this Chamber that trade unions get missed out whenever there is a publication on progress on the SDGs—Members of Parliament and human rights institutions should be considered. How has Parliament been engaged in the SDG process? Are the outlined plans all we have?
In evidence to the House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee last October, the Government highlighted several ways in which they were engaging with business in the VNR process. They were also talking about a roadshow going around the United Kingdom. Will the Minister tell us whether that roadshow has started? We do not have a huge amount of time. We all know that the Government have been preoccupied with other matters, but this is a serious agenda. It requires a much more positive impact. For me, the Government’s process so far has simply not been proactive enough.
The Commons committee argued that raising awareness and encouraging engagement would increase the number of people and organisations able to contribute to meeting the SDGs. That is the fundamental point. It is not simply the actions of government that will result in our achieving the 2030 agenda but the actions of business. And what will prompt business? It will be their employees and trade unions. Trade unions operate not just domestically but globally, and some of the global trade union federations have had a positive impact in terms of goal 8 on employment standards. So let us see a much more proactive approach from this Government.
How does the Minister respond to the recommendation that the Government should work with the national media to launch a national campaign to raise public awareness and to make the public realise that this is not simply about ODA or the 0.7% aid target, important though those issues are, but about how we all have a responsibility to build a better world, which means positive action from all of us? It is not simply a matter for the Government.
Finland’s VNR emphasises the need for private initiatives, separate from government efforts. Can the Minister tell us whether the Government will be encouraging the private sector to develop its own strategies? We have heard local government mentioned in the debate. It already drives local improvements and developments, and already aligns with the SDG targets. Earlier this month, Birmingham City Council, with cross-party support, became the first council to approve a motion recognising the role of local authorities in achieving the sustainable development goals.
The VNR process and report need to engage with and reflect progress at the regional and devolved levels. Scotland and Wales both have different but progressive approaches to delivering and tracking the SDGs, and their experiences should be incorporated throughout the voluntary national review process and report. Can the Minister give us any further information on the commitments that he made on mechanisms for consulting Parliament and the devolved Administrations on their areas of specific responsibility, and can he give us a commitment that that will include local government? Can he also give me a commitment that he will meet trade union representatives, particularly from the TUC, to discuss how they can play a role both domestically and internationally in delivering the SDGs?
My Lords, I join others in paying tribute to the noble Baroness, Lady Suttie, for securing this debate. It is an important contribution to meeting the objectives of the SDGs and the voluntary national review—namely, that there should be consultation with parliaments. I thank her on behalf of the Government for making her time available for that purpose in this debate.
The noble Baroness referred to certain critical areas where she urged further action, although she recognised that the UK is respected as a global leader in development—a view that was widely shared in many of the contributions. We can be proud of that: UK aid is a badge of hope around the world. The noble Lord, Lord McConnell, highlighted the contribution made by David Cameron at the high-level panel in drawing up the goals—a point made also by the noble Lord, Lord Rogan.
The efforts of the noble Lord, Lord McConnell, in this area as co-chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Sustainable Development Goals have been hugely influential in placing the goals in context. He made a significant point about the Addis summit on financing for development. Several noble Lords mentioned that this is not something that Governments can do alone; as the noble Lord, Lord Collins, said, it has to be done in collaboration with civil society, private companies and other Governments.
The noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Chesterton, recognised that we could learn a great deal from each other. In fact, I came to this debate from an excellent meeting at The Oval cricket ground with the Commonwealth heads of statistics, who have come together to share expertise and knowledge on how better to collect and use data for measuring the SDGs. There were some fascinating contributions on what is being done, particularly from some of the small island states such as Samoa. Also highlighted at that meeting was a point made by the noble Lord, which is the contribution of our expertise. In that context, he was referring to the Met Office, as I know personally from the work that it has done and continues to do in the Caribbean in forecasting major disasters. However, in this context, it is the incredible work done by the Office for National Statistics, which is at the heart of producing data in this area. Its expertise is a real prize for this country.
Before I turn to the many specific questions raised in the debate, perhaps I may follow the model of the noble Lord, Lord McConnell, and explain a little of the rationale behind the SDGs. We were all left with choices about what to do when the SDGs were drawn up. Some countries decided to dedicate a department to look after them and to appoint one person to be responsible for them. However, the SDGs cover a great breadth and touch every aspect of our political, economic and social life, as many speakers have said. Therefore, our judgment, which we set out in our agenda 2030, published at the beginning of this process, was that, rather than having SDGs as the responsibility of one department, with other departments perhaps shuffling their responsibilities on to that department, it would be better to ensure that all government departments were responsible for meeting the goals and targets in their specific area. We felt that the effort should be co-ordinated in a domestic setting by the Cabinet Office. Oliver Dowden, with whom I work very closely, has been responsible for this, and in fact we are both giving evidence to the Environmental Audit Select Committee for its report on this issue. Oliver Dowden is responsible for co-ordinating the work at the Cabinet Office, but the policy leadership sits within DfID.
I take on board some of the criticism about whether I am the right Minister to respond to this debate. Having had the week that I have had, I would have been thrilled to make way for other Ministers who wanted to respond. However, as the DfID Minister with responsibility for supporting our Secretary of State, Penny Mordaunt, on this issue in the department, and as the spokesman on Treasury matters in your Lordships’ House, I hope that I can respond to some of these issues.
The noble Lord, Lord McConnell, referred to Penny Mordaunt’s position and I would like to press that a little further. I was pleased that he remarked on how persuasive, powerful and passionate she was at the all-party parliamentary group event on 13 November. While I was at this Dispatch Box responding to the Budget debate, she was speaking at that event along with Richard Curtis. He does a tremendous amount to raise awareness of the goals internationally and in urging us to do more domestically.
Penny Mordaunt has been asked by the Prime Minister to be the Cabinet lead on the sustainable development goals, and it is right that we have a policy lead and a Cabinet-level voice. In addition to being Secretary of State for the Department for International Development, she is also the Minister for Women and Equalities. Many noble Lords touched on that important point about equality, and gender equality in particular. Therefore, she has a double role, which makes her the ideal person to ensure that government departments live up to their commitments.
Let me be clear about what those commitments are. The first thing that government departments have to do is to identify ownership within the department of the specific goals that fall within their policy remit. They must then report on progress towards those goals in their annual report and accounts. Responses from the annual report and accounts—the high-level summaries—are collated by the Cabinet Office and published. Then, crucially in terms of government, is how they work. Government effectively works through two mechanisms—two levers. One is the spending review, which will take place next year. The other is the single departmental plan, which is the strategy. The strategy must set out how the department will achieve the declared ambition of the Prime Minister and of this Government to meet their obligations under the sustainable development goals.
The process by which we will undertake this review is that we have been consulting with external stakeholders already. I pay tribute to the work of business in particular, and the work of organisations such as the UK branch of the UN Global Compact, whose events I have spoken at. There was a road show around the UK encouraging businesses to hardwire this into their planning. That was a useful exercise. The noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, talked about the Institute and Faculty of Actuaries, which is now beginning to hardwire into its thinking—out of enlightened self-interest, I suggest—the need to adhere to those goals.
I will return to the contribution of the noble Baroness, which was significant in a number of regards. It highlighted the interconnectedness and the interlinkages to which she and the noble Lord, Lord Collins, referred between different goals. She talked about climate, which trips across goals 6, 7, 11, 12, 13, 14 and 15. Some people say it should actually be all of them, but those deal specifically with the environment. They of course will have cross-government responsibility. You cannot say that Defra alone is responsible for meeting our climate ambitions, although it leads on that along with BEIS. It is something that touches every aspect of government. Therefore, the goals in the single departmental plan must reflect that from each of the domestic departments.
On the voluntary national review, a website is available which I have highlighted. I know that the noble Lord, Lord Collins, said, “Not just electronically”, but there are many mechanisms by which people can feed into this review and tell us what they are doing—because it is not just about what the Government are doing.
I will make one further contextual point. I felt this very strongly at the excellent event at which the UK Stakeholders for Sustainable Development presented its report on measuring up. There are two ways that we can approach this. On the one hand, the Government can do their standard thing, which is to defend to the hilt their record on meeting every single objective, target and measure. They will have an argument for it, and we have skilled civil servants who can do that. Or we can say, “Listen. This is going to be done by more than one Government. This is long term. We are talking about 15 or 25 years for a lot of these targets. There will be lots of different political compositions”. Already, within the UK, it is not just a Conservative Government. There are devolved Administrations, local authorities and trade unions of different complexions as well. Therefore, if we are to address this, we need to go into it with a slightly more grown-up approach. We should say that we believe passionately that the SDGs represent a template for a good society that has been agreed internationally by all 193 member states of the UN General Assembly, and that we will work towards their implementation domestically and internationally.
If we take that approach, if someone wants to produce a score card and tell us that we are succeeding in one area such as access to clean water but we are not doing as well in another area—the noble Baroness, Lady Grender, mentioned housing—so be it. That is the benefit of having a measure. Before we had the SDGs we did not have any coherent measures. Therefore, we should not be afraid but should try to keep the debate at that level, where it seeks to recognise that this is a template that, I hope, successive Governments in this country and around the world will commit themselves to seeking to implement.
I always enjoy the contributions of the noble Lord, Lord Judd, in this House. Often I am too busy listening to him to take note of his remarks. But I noted one particular point that he made when he began. He challenged us to persuade him and the House that there is a culture and spirit of determination to get things done in these areas. I have tried to set out what our approach is on that. He also made a great comment that echoed something said by the noble Lord, Lord Rogan, which was to remind us that the excluded must be central. At the heart of this, what made these goals different was the statement that no one would be left behind.
I am very proud of what the Government have done over the past year under the leadership of our Secretary of State, Penny Mordaunt. She came to the department with a passion that those with disabilities should not be on the fringes of our consideration but central. One manifestation of this was an outstanding global disability summit, which we hosted in July. Many noble Lords were able to attend that. We simply brought to bear the convening power of the UK to draw attention to that issue, which was an important point.
The noble Lord, Lord Thomas, also reminded us that, while we have a lot of work to do, a lot of good work has been done. He talked about the Bribery Act being a gold standard internationally. If we are to have good governance in peaceful and inclusive societies—he mentioned in that context SDG 16 in particular—it is clear that we must have transparency. People in a country should be able to see where the money that comes into the country has been spent—money that is meant for them. Transparency and tackling of bribery is very important.
The noble Lord, Lord Rogan, touched on that again when he said that there was a responsibility not just on us but on individual leaders within those countries to do all that they can to ensure that the SDGs are met. He also mentioned the Equality Act and the Modern Slavery Act. When my time on the Front Bench is done, what I will be most proud of is working with our now Prime Minister on taking what is now the Modern Slavery Act through your Lordships’ House with the incredible amount of work that went on, done by many people in this House, to shape the legislation into its ground-breaking form.
Many noble Lords mentioned climate, particularly the noble Baronesses, Lady Walmsley and Lady Sheehan, and the noble Lord, Lord Collins. The voluntary national review findings will be presented to the UN high-level panel by Penny Mordaunt next year, so it makes sense that she continues her leadership through that process. There will be a submission of the main messages to the UN by 17 May; submission of the full report to the UN on 14 June; presentation of the voluntary national review at the high-level political forum between 16 and 18 July; and then the first heads of government level review of the sustainable development goals at the UN General Assembly in September. I should also point out that the Prime Minister has been asked to be the climate resilience champion at the UN Secretary-General’s climate summit next year. That will be a moment to raise this issue up the international agenda.
The noble Lord, Lord Hunt, asked us to learn from others, and I have referenced some of those points. The noble Lord, Lord Rogan, talked about the importance of setting an example, and we are conscious of that. As we go into the voluntary national review, we are trying to do things that are slightly different. What that needs to contain has been set out for us—the five goals that will be the particular focus of next year. That changes from year to year, and we will address that. One difference about the way the UK is doing this, as well as the volumes of data and statistics that come with this issue, is that we want to demonstrate an inclusive approach whereby we capture not just what the Government or even the devolved Administrations are doing but what is happening in civil society. That is crucial to delivering on these targets.
Therefore, I am happy that the government website we opened for feedback on UK sustainable development goals, which is easily accessible, has had 36 responses from civil society organisations so far. They include the Salvation Army and Stonewall, and academic institutions such as the University of Wolverhampton. Some really good responses have come in. The time to review the responses from civil society was going to conclude in November, but we have managed to move it to January. Until 11 January 2019, organisations can let us know what they are doing and what impact they are having in this area. That will give more time for engagement.
I am happy to give an undertaking that trade unions are an important part of our national life and should be consulted. The specific way in which we have gone about that is for the government departments responsible for specific goals to reach out to their stakeholders, including of course trade unions, and seek their opinion on what more they should be doing to reach the targets.
I hope that, in that brief summary of what has been an excellent debate and contribution to the voluntary national review process, a number of things have come out. The first is that it is not the responsibility of one party or one Government, but the responsibility of us all. Also central to this is the ambition that we not only achieve these goals but, in so doing, leave no one behind. That is a pledge which we continue to be committed to and will continue to work with others towards, and I know that all noble Lords who contributed to this debate agree with it as well. I thank again the noble Baroness, Lady Suttie, for giving us the opportunity to make those comments.
My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have taken part in this thought-provoking debate today. It has left some questions unanswered, but it has also revealed some areas where more is being done than perhaps some of us were aware. That might be an issue of government communication. I also thank the Minister for his characteristically courteous and detailed response. Many of us will want to study it in more detail and look at some of the responses that have been given here today, not least about the website, because it appears that a lot is being done but there is a communication issue, because civil society and NGOs, et cetera, do not feel they are being involved to the degree they should be. Having said that, I again thank the Minister for his very detailed reply and thank noble Lords for taking part in this important debate today.