Sustainable Development Goals

Part of Opposition Day — [15th Allotted Day] – in the House of Commons at 6:07 pm on 28th January 2015.

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Photo of Tony Baldry Tony Baldry The Second Church Estates Commissioner 6:07 pm, 28th January 2015

In 1983, shortly after being elected to this House, I went with an all-party team to Ethiopia to witness a famine of almost biblical proportions. Over the past 30 years, Parliament has moved considerably when it comes to all-party consensus on supporting the need to invest in international development. It is also fair to observe that throughout those 30 years, under Governments of different dispensations—for a time, I was Foreign Office Minister with responsibility for overseas development aid—we always had an aspiration to use 0.7% of our GDP to fund overseas development, but not until this Government has that been achieved. In both 2013 and 2014, we reached that target, and we were one of the few leading economies in the world to do so.

Like other Members, I am disappointed that we have had to have this debate in these terms. It must have been difficult for Mary Creagh to take up a Front-Bench brief so near to a general election, and I can understand her wanting to make her mark. However, it would have been perfectly possible for the usual channels and the two Front-Bench teams to have produced a motion for today’s debate on which we could all agree.

As everyone who has taken a close interest in international development issues will know—as indeed you, Mr Speaker, will know, because we served together on the International Development Committee—there are more critics of international development outside the House than inside it. One only has to look at the editorials of some of our national newspapers to see continuing criticism of our spending funds on international development. We should be totally up front about our position. We should explain not only that it is morally indefensible that billions of people in the world are living in grinding poverty on less than $1 a day, but that it is in our national interests that we support international development. We should be proud, collectively and on both sides of the House, of what we have achieved.

With all due respect to the shadow Minister, all those who listened to her speech—and all those who read it in Hansard—will have got the impression that she was slightly spoiling for a fight because she needed to find something to disagree about. When it comes down to it, one report by the National Audit Office does not add up to any policy differences.

We should focus on the sustainable development goals, which the Prime Minister has played a big part in leading—he co-chaired the UN Secretary-General’s high-level panel on post-2015 goals together with the President of Sierra Leone and the former President of Indonesia. It is absolutely right that the basic concept should be of no one being left behind: we must make it clear that no goals or targets are considered achieved unless they are met by all relevant economic and social groups. It is important that the social development goals are clear, concise, relevant and communicable. We should not have too many goals. Sometimes, there are so many goals that people forget what they are and they get lost.