UN: Sustainable Development Goals — Question for Short Debate

– in the House of Lords at 6:27 pm on 16th June 2015.

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Photo of Lord McConnell of Glenscorrodale Lord McConnell of Glenscorrodale Labour 6:27 pm, 16th June 2015

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what are their priorities for the Sustainable Development Goals to be agreed by the United Nations in September.

Photo of Lord McConnell of Glenscorrodale Lord McConnell of Glenscorrodale Labour

My Lords, I start by drawing attention to my entry in the Lords register, which notes my association with a number of organisations that campaign and work in this area.

I am very grateful for the opportunity to raise the subject of the sustainable development goals here this evening, almost exactly six months since the House last debated this issue. At that time in December, we were debating the synthesis report by the Secretary-General of the United Nations, called The Road to Dignity by 2030, which outlined a way ahead following the widespread consultations that have taken place across the world over the previous three years. Here tonight we have the opportunity to debate and ask questions about the most recent report, just published by the United Nations, which is called—perhaps not very excitingly—

Zero

Draft of the

Outcome Document for the UN Summit to

Adopt the Post-2015 Development Agenda

. We can hope that they find a more exciting title by September, but in my view this is a very exciting moment, not least because the document contains much of what was expressed in our debate in December as key priorities if we are to change the balance of power globally and change the life opportunities for those who are most vulnerable and live in extreme poverty.

I am delighted to be followed this evening by the noble Baroness, Lady Jenkin, who will speak next in the debate, because this week yet again we will “Live below the line” to raise awareness about extreme poverty and raise funds for important causes. It is always a pleasure to share views with the noble Baroness in a debate of this sort. I am also delighted that the Minister the noble Baroness, Lady Verma, will be speaking at the end of this debate because previously when she spoke on this topic in your Lordships’ House she was just a whip. Now she is a Minister at DfID and is to be congratulated on her gradual promotion over the years to her now elevated position.

Ten years ago, we were making representations, marching, producing reports and lobbying hard for the Make Poverty History campaign to ensure that the G8 at Gleneagles in Scotland took account of the problems that face the people and countries of Africa and took decisive action to make a real difference there. Ten years on, there remains an incredible amount still to do. Reading the report from the United Nations, I welcome the focus the document gives to the potential of the post-2015 sustainable development goals. Many of the concerns that we have raised in recent debates here have been addressed.

The document sets out a very ambitious statement of purpose:

“We are resolved to free the human race from the tyranny of poverty and want and to heal and secure our planet for present and future generations”.

If it is agreed in September, it commits to collective action for sustainable development and states:

“As we embark on this collective journey, we pledge that no one will be left behind”.

To my mind, in a very welcome sense the commitments not only cover the traditional important areas of education, health and agriculture, which I am sure will be covered by other noble Lords in this debate, but crucially emphasise the importance of peacebuilding, tackling conflict, conflict prevention, good governance, the rule of law and human rights to sustainable development. Development is not sustainable without peace, and peace is not sustainable without development.

The document also covers the crucial issue of disaster risk resilience, which I have mentioned in your Lordships’ House before. As we have just seen in Nepal, and saw last year in the Philippines, disasters can destroy years of development in a single day if the structures—the housing, the roads, the emergency responses—are not in place to minimise the damage caused. These issues of concern are addressed in the new zero draft outcome document.

There are critical issues still to be addressed, and I think the United Kingdom is uniquely placed to address them. That is why this evening I want to address specific issues and question the Minister about the role of women, about finance and about data and monitoring.

On the role of women, as we would expect the document includes proposals for the United Nations General Assembly in September, including many references to the importance of gender equality, the rights of women, the education of women and girls and many other related issues. However, the targets do not reflect that emphasis. While a document that contains a firm statement of the importance of these issues is helpful and gives us direction and motivation, it is simply too challenging for those who will, in the 15 years that follow, try to achieve those goals for the targets simply to refer to increasing the number of women parliamentarians rather than to dealing with the real lives of women in communities, where they not only bear the brunt of disasters and underdevelopment but are by far the most important agents of change.

I met two very different women recently in Malawi, and I shall mention them both briefly. In a displaced persons camp in Chikwawa in southern Malawi I met Maria, who had been displaced by the extreme floods in January. She had her one year-old disabled son in her arms and told me about having been away for the day and coming back to her house to find it, her belongings, her crops and everything gone. Four months on, she is sharing a tent in a displaced persons camp. Her child has only the clothes he is currently wearing and has no obvious access to the assistance and treatment he clearly needs. Maria has no immediate prospect of finding new housing or even the cooking utensils or seeds that would allow her to start to lead a normal life again.

However, the next day there was a story of hope, because I met another woman in Dedza in Malawi, one of the driest and most barren parts of the country, where an irrigation scheme, which has been supported by Concern Universal and other organisations, had created a rice field of 200 acres with the work of the local community, which produced an income for them that they then reinvested in their community, expanding the rice field every year. I met the guy in charge in the local community, who had used the profits from his rice to rebuild his home, and he was very proud of that. At the next house I met a woman, who told me that she had six children, and that this year she expected to collect 50 bags of rice from her patch on the rice field. I asked her what she would do with the money she would raise from that—would she also build a new house? No, she said, she was saving the money to educate her six children. I thought that was a very telling moment.

That weekend, not only had I seen the way in which women suffer the most as a result of underdevelopment and disasters, but here was a woman who was an agent of change for herself and her family in the years to come. That emphasises the need to have stronger language and stronger targets on women. I would like to know whether the Secretary of State for International Development, Justine Greening, who has made such a priority of this area, will be prepared over this summer to argue hard for improving the targets on gender equality and women’s rights in the final outcome.

The second issue I want to raise is finance, which we have debated regularly in your Lordships’ House over recent months. The Addis Ababa summit of Finance Ministers in July will look at the financing of this plan for global development. Of course it needs to address tax, the private sector, illicit flows of finance and transparency in trade and in tax and ensure that there are more sources of income than just development aid. However, it needs leadership as well. Can the Minister say whether the Chancellor will attend on behalf of the United Kingdom? This is not just an issue for Development Secretaries but for Chancellors and Finance Ministers the world over, and the UK could and should take a lead.

Thirdly, I will mention the issue of data and monitoring. To implement these new development goals successfully we need not only a data revolution so that we can measure what is happening, but a revolution in attitudes to monitoring as well. There needs to be independent monitoring of the progress, parliamentary monitoring of the actions of Governments around the world and people themselves need to be involved in monitoring their experience of the implementation of those development goals if they are to be successful and truly sustainable.

Finally, on the position of children, reading through this document it is noticeable that children are regularly referred to as a “vulnerable” group. On a personal level, I will mention that issue in closing. It is very welcome that there are commitments, for example, to ending violence and trafficking in children, but I think the children of the world are the real agents of change for the future. Women may be the main agents of change in communities today, but their children will be the agents of change for our future, and the document should reflect that. If the British Government can influence some of that wording in these final few months, and have children as not only the vision for the future but the vehicle through which we will achieve that better future, the British Government will have done very well indeed.

Photo of The Earl of Courtown The Earl of Courtown Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

My Lords, I take this opportunity to remind the House that this is a tight debate: there are eight minutes for all remaining speakers apart from the Minister. If eight minutes shows on the timer, noble Lords have gone over their time.

Photo of Baroness Jenkin of Kennington Baroness Jenkin of Kennington Conservative 6:38 pm, 16th June 2015

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for initiating this debate and for timing it so well. As the noble Lord, Lord McConnell, just mentioned, he and I, and this year for the first time the noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson, are this week participating once again—the fifth time for both of us—in the Live Below the Line challenge. The official week, when most others participated, was at the end of April during the general election campaign, when we had other things on our minds. As noble Lords can imagine, the novelty has worn off and we considered resisting the challenge, but it has become part of the pattern of our year and I am sure that our generous supporters would miss the annual plea for sponsorship. The Minister, whom I, too, welcome to her place on the Front Bench, was good enough to join us last year and knows what we are talking about. The challenge means living on £1 a day for food and drink for five days, to raise awareness about extreme poverty and to raise funds for great charities in the sector that are doing what they do best to alleviate that poverty.

Many of the signs are promising. In the past five years the number of people still in extreme poverty, living on $1.25 a day, has fallen dramatically. Yes, there is still so much to do, but many signs are encouraging. The noble Lord is on his fifth and final day of the challenge, and I know how much he is looking forward to a gin and tonic tomorrow. I, on the other hand, am on day two. With no chance of a cup of coffee until Saturday, this year I am committed to taking the challenge to another level, starting every day with just £1 rather than the buying power of £5 at the beginning of the challenge. That meant five sandwiches yesterday, a 31p packet of cornflakes today and a bowl of rice to look forward to once the debate finishes. However, although we cannot pretend that this challenge does much more than make us think about poverty and hunger, as well as raising funds for good causes—and it is not too late for noble Lords to make a donation—it also gives us all an opportunity to discuss, debate and talk about the issues. Everyone I talk to wants to know: how? Why? What does it involve? Could they do it? This debate on the SDGs is an extension and expansion of that conversation, which is why I am so pleased to be participating today.

To many people both inside and outside the House, the term “sustainable development goals” will mean very little. The details of the 17 proposed goals and 169 targets will have largely passed them by. Despite the UN conducting the largest consultation programme in its history to gather opinion on what the SDGs should include, it is fair to say that the topic remains largely the domain of technical experts. From my own recent experience, it was certainly not an issue brought up for discussion on the doorsteps of Harwich at the beginning of May.

This does not mean that the sustainable development goals do not matter. On the contrary, the current plans contain some of the most ambitious international commitments of their time, which, if fulfilled, would have a transformative effect on the world and communities in which we live: ending poverty in all its forms everywhere, eliminating violence against women and promoting the rule of law and equal access to justice. Why more people are not talking about this transformational agenda should surely be the question that we ask. That leads me to conclude that our task here today is not just about setting priorities and championing one cause above another but to come together to examine why the sustainable development goals matter, and to raise the question of how we turn a technical discussion at the UN into an agenda for action that helps to lift the world’s poorest out of poverty and protects the most vulnerable.

I shall address why I believe why the SDGs should matter, first to the UK public and, secondly, to the world at large. First, they matter to the UK public as they are part of an agenda on which we as a country have shown considerable leadership and in which we have proudly played our part. It was our Prime Minister who, alongside the Presidents of Liberia and Indonesia, co-chaired the panel that made the initial recommendations to the UN Secretary-General in 2013—recommendations that sought not just to address the symptoms of poverty but to tackle its causes. Since then, we have been leading the way in shaping the SDG agenda and ensuring that the process is as open and inclusive as possible. The Secretary of State for International Development has made it a priority, and will continue to do so in the run-up to the September summit in New York and beyond.

Secondly, the goals matter to the world at large because, when we move past the technical discussions, we start to see the impact that they can have both here and abroad. In a bid to help Governments to frame the 17 goals, the UN Secretary-General recently clustered them into six themes: people, planet, dignity, prosperity, justice and partnership. It is through this lens that we start to realise what the agenda means. First, it is an agenda that focuses on all people. We are not talking about halving poverty; we are speaking of ending it for all people everywhere. This will mean ensuring that we reach the most marginalised and vulnerable in society. To a large extent, it will require focusing on women and girls, as the noble Lord alluded to, ensuring that they have the same opportunities as men in order that they, too, can realise their potential. It is also an agenda that recognises that people must live within the boundaries of the planet. Again, this affects us all. There are efforts that we can all make to cut down on waste and live within our means to ensure that we have a sustainable future.

The third and fourth pillars are ensuring a life of dignity and prosperity. All Members of the House will agree that there is no better way of fostering both dignity and prosperity than by creating sustainable livelihoods. Jobs and a reliable income are the drivers of a life of prosperity and dignity throughout the world.

On justice, ensuring that societies are peaceful, that governance is accountable and transparent, and that there is the rule of law, an independent judiciary and free and fair trade provides the building blocks for sustainable and growing economies. The great and lasting institutions that we have in Britain are often taken for granted. Our success as a country depends so much on the work of the Bank of England, the London Stock Exchange and the Royal Courts of Justice, to name but a few. They did not spring up overnight, equipped with expertise and knowledge to guide a global economy.

Finally, this is not an agenda that can be achieved by one actor alone. It will need all of us to work together in partnership to achieve it. Government, civil society, academics and business all have a place at the table if we are to deliver this bold agenda. People, planet, dignity, prosperity, justice and partnership—an international development agenda that tackles the causes of poverty and not just the symptoms. They are priorities that I am sure the whole House can support.

Photo of The Bishop of St Albans The Bishop of St Albans Bishop 6:46 pm, 16th June 2015

I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord McConnell, for securing for us this opportunity to debate this important area.

As we mark the 800th anniversary of the sealing of Magna Carta this week, we are reminded that some ideas, initiatives or visions take a long time to come to fruition. Sometimes, all that one generation can do is to plant the acorn and it is for subsequent generations to appreciate the fully grown oak tree. Certainly in the years leading up to 1215, there was a period of exhausting negotiations, as Archbishop Stephen Langton travelled repeatedly between London and Windsor trying to find a text that would satisfy both sides and prevent war. It was, like many other negotiated settlements, a fudge, and, as Ralph of Coggeshall, one of the chroniclers of those days, wrote:

“By the intervention of the archbishop … and some barons, a sort of peace was made”.

No one was really satisfied. It was soon overturned but it was a vital step in a long process which has unfolded in the centuries since, leading us to where we are today.

I believe that the time is ripe for a new moral vision of the one world in which we all live, not just because it is morally right that we should do that but because, frankly, it is in our interests. Threats to the environment, political instability and resurgent nationalism in many parts of the world, the growth of extremism and so on call for a bold vision of creating a world in which we can all share in its opportunities and responsibilities and also share in its wealth. This is not a time for us to prevaricate, even if there are some details that we do not particularly like or we wish were not there. I know that there is a range of voices, even in our own nation, some of which do not support the initiatives at all and some of which do not support some of these goals. I hope that Her Majesty’s Government will resist these and continue to give a strong lead on the world stage, just as our Government have given a magnificent lead in funding international aid at a time of financial austerity.

We have these goals and targets, all of which have been examined in depth by scientists and academics, who have looked at their feasibility, cost and deliverability. Although there are clear inadequacies, I know that they are the best that we have so far. Some people are concerned that we may be left with just a series of bold but unrealistic promises which raise hopes but cannot be delivered. I certainly agree that if you want to bring about change in the world, you probably ideally need fewer goals and certainly fewer targets. I also think that, while the concept is inspiring in its scope, it does not come over as very inspiring when you wade through the unbelievably long and turgid material. Indeed, there is very little that is memorable about these 17 goals. One of my concerns is: how are they going to capture the hearts, minds and imaginations of people as things that we need to do? I certainly think that we need to try to summarise more what they are about. I am reminded of a sentence in an article I read—I think it was in the Economist—that suggested that the SDGs were about ending poverty and building global prosperity and sustainability. That is pretty abstract, but at least it might begin to focus on something memorable and communicable.

I would like to draw on a few points that have been made by Christian Aid, with which I am in close contact. Christian Aid has been working on the post-2015 development agenda for the past three years and is co-chair of the Bond Beyond 2015 UK coalition. Members of this House will know that Christian Aid works through and with partner organisations in more than 40 countries and is part of the global ACT Alliance, a network of church-based organisations working in development and humanitarian responses underpinned by a human rights-based approach. There are some points that Christian Aid wants to argue and underline.

First, there is a strong welcome for the prominence of “leave no one behind”, as has already been mentioned, within this political declaration and a hope that it could be retained and strengthened.

Secondly, Christian Aid gives a strong welcome to the emphasis on gender equality, including the stand-alone bullet point within the co-facilitator’s introduction. There is a need to see this strengthened in the political declaration, with reference to women’s rights and social norms. I hope that there should be a stand-alone paragraph on financing for gender equality under the section on “means of implementation”.

Thirdly, there is a desire that we should strengthen references to climate change and sustainability, with some specific targets for named temperature levels. Christian Aid thinks that that needs tightening up a bit if this is going to bite, and I agree, with the inclusion of references to sustainable energy and clear articulation of the green thread. The new agenda should drive low-carbon, climate-resistant development and address disaster risk.

Fourthly, there is a hope that the final text on “means of implementation” will incorporate strong paragraphs on tax and illicit financial flows, climate-smart development finance, private sector reporting and accountability, and financing for gender equality.

Finally, the section on follow-up and review needs beefing up, as some of the proposals are far too tentative. Could not the document make a clear recommendation on peer review and include references to stepping-stone equity targets in national implementation plans to ensure that no one is left behind?

The message we are picking up from our partners in the worldwide Anglican communion is that they are generally positive about these goals. Indeed, they comment that they would like them to be challenging but realistic. They point out that the millennium development goals provided a broad narrative within which we have been framing development, a narrative that has animated the church’s networks across the world and our relations with those around the Anglican communion, as well as with government and international bodies. The ever-expanding support for the millennium development goals was instrumental in shaping the development consensus and providing the political space for Governments, not least our own, to take a more progressive stand on development. There is great hope that these SDGs can do the same. However, the transition to SDGs will pose risks and opportunities. How can we manage the transition and carry our constituencies? How do we ensure that the transition does not result in declining levels of support for development or an erosion of an already fragile development consensus?

As with MDGs, these sustainable development goals place emphasis on revitalising global partnerships for sustainable development. As part of the effort to develop multiple stakeholder partnerships that mobilise and share knowledge and expertise, it is important not to overlook the role of churches and faith communities as agents of change. The last Government made good progress in this area, not least with their Faith Partnership Principles of 2012. Sadly, however, the potential benefits of strategic collaboration between the Department for International Development and the church remain largely untapped. I hope it is something that we can work on together.

Photo of Viscount Ridley Viscount Ridley Conservative 6:54 pm, 16th June 2015

My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord McConnell, on securing the debate and express my admiration for him and my noble friend Lady Jenkin for their living below the line. I remind them—perhaps naughtily—that there are free cheese biscuits in the Bishops’ bar. I welcome my noble friend the Minister to her role and have promised her that I will not be tiresome today.

I do not have an interest to declare in this debate although I have an investment in a DNA diagnostic company which might, at some stage in the distant future, prove to be useful in helping to fight infectious diseases in the developing world.

My main reason for speaking on this issue—I do not claim anything like the expertise of others in the debate—is that I was commissioned by the Wall Street Journal to write about the process of producing these sustainable development goals last year and I got interested in it. I am particularly interested in the question of priority setting and I will focus my remarks today on that issue. It is crucial that these SDGs are seen as an opportunity to set priorities within the development goals.

We need to have, I am afraid, a ruthless focus on value for money in what we direct our efforts towards because it is not a matter of identifying the biggest problems facing the world but of identifying the ones where we can get most results for the money that we are likely to spend. There is no question that money for foreign aid is limited The very brevity of the list of the eight millennium development goals and the deadline attached to them meant that they caught the world’s imagination, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans referred to the need for the SDGs to do so as well.

As my noble friend Lady Jenkin said, since 2000 the number of people living in extreme poverty and hunger around the world will have been cut roughly in half by 2015—a truly astonishing achievement. However, as the noble Lord McConnell, said, there is much further to go.

I worry that the list of SDGs may be too long because if you were to ask people to name the eight millennium development goals, most would not be able to do so. Even that list of eight was, perhaps, a little too long. All the pressure during the process of arriving at the SDGs has been to make the list even longer. NGOs and others have been bombarding those involved in the process with their own pet projects and the result is 17 goals divided into 169 targets. It needs leadership from the Secretary-General, Mr Ban, and politicians to bring focus to the process when the meeting takes place in September.

As Charles Kenny, a senior fellow at the Center for Global Development in Washington, put it, you should “never ask a committee to write poetry”. One person who could bring poetry to this process is the UN Secretary-General, but he needs to edit with an axe, not a scalpel. Perhaps that is a too violent a metaphor for the subject.

The worry is that the open working group’s proposals which have come to the zero draft are trying to be too comprehensive rather than forensic and targeted in order to arrive at an imaginative list that will enable us to measure progress by 2030. Bjorn Lomborg of the Copenhagen Consensus Center has been working with his expert analysts on trying to help this process by focusing on cost-benefit analysis. His 120 experts went through all of the 169 targets to try to put a number for cost benefit on them. This exercise was well received in many areas, particularly in the developing world, where it got more attention than it did in the west.

The numbers produced by this exercise were startling. Every dollar spent to alleviate malnutrition can do $59-worth of good; on malaria, $35; on HIV, $11. By contrast, on setting a millennium development goal of limiting global temperatures to two degrees above pre-industrial levels, his 120 experts, who included Nobel Prize winners, calculated that would do just two cents of good for every dollar spent. On the other hand, phasing out fossil fuel subsidies would achieve more than $15 of benefit per dollar spent.

Surprising as it may seem, the global aid industry very rarely carries out these kinds of cost-benefit analyses. People in this line of work generally recoil from rankings because they feel like a heartless exercise in discrimination against other goals that are still worthy. The aid industry often seems implicitly to take the view that funds are unlimited and that spending on one priority does not crowd out spending on another but that is patently not the case.

Trying to solve the world’s problems with poverty and other development challenges is not like solving a mathematical problem—there is no right or wrong answer. However, there are better or worse answers. It is vital, to the extent that we can, that we set priorities—setting aside sentimental commitments—and do the hard work of assessing costs and benefits.

Photo of Lord Rea Lord Rea Labour 7:00 pm, 16th June 2015

My Lords, we should all be grateful to my noble friend Lord McConnell for initiating this very timely debate on an extremely important subject. Looking back, I think it is fair to say that most people working in international development agree that the millennium development goals, now about to expire, provided a useful framework for action to improve health and, to some extent, reduce poverty in the developing world, whether or not those goals were fully achieved.

The post-2015 SDGs, which we are considering now, have been developed as a result of very wide consultation, which helps explain why there are so many of them—17 goals, with an average of 10 targets each, is a seemingly unmanageable number. It apparently proved difficult to narrow the number down even this far, since every nation had its own set of priorities. For each target, there still needs to be further scrutiny on how to measure and assess whether they have been achieved, how to monitor them in the future and, particularly, how they should be financed. Much of this work is ongoing and will continue until they are finally ratified at the end of the year, and after that too. Until then, there is a window of opportunity to hone the detailed targets further. The noble Baroness, whom I welcome warmly to her seat, will undoubtedly tell us about DfID’s work on the SDGs.

I will concentrate on goal 3, covering health, particularly the fourth part of it which is to,

“reduce by one-third pre-mature mortality from non-communicable diseases (NCDs) through prevention and treatment, and promote mental health and wellbeing”.

NCDs, by which I mean obesity and diabetes leading to heart disease, stroke and cancer, cause most of the deaths and the greatest burden on health services in developed countries such as our own. However, they now also cause more than half of all deaths in the developing world. Unlike the MDGs, which were aimed at the developing world, the post-2015 sustainable development goals have a worldwide application. The determinants of NCDs are wide but can be summarised as being associated with the post-industrial physical and nutritional environment in which most of the world’s population lives or is affected by. Unsuitable, often processed, food leads to obesity, overweight and diabetes, even among the poorest. This, with lack of physical activity, underlies heart disease, stroke and some forms of cancer. Tobacco smoking, the main cause of many cancers as well as heart disease, is still very prevalent, especially in the developing world. Atmospheric pollution also plays a role, particularly in the mega-cities of the developing world, in which an increasing proportion of the world’s population now lives.

Many of these determinants are touched on in the sustainable development goals. Obviously, I will not spell them out as that would be very tedious and take too long, but here are a few examples. Target 4 under goal 3, to,

“reduce … pre-mature mortality from non-communicable diseases”, is felt by some to be discriminating against older people. The word “avoidable” might be a better word than “pre-mature”. Little changes such as that would improve those targets. Target 3.a, to “strengthen implementation of” the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, needs to be emphasised. Target 2 of goal 2, to end malnutrition, should also include obesity as well as stunting and wasting; discouragement and, if necessary, regulation to reduce added sugar and fat in processed food and soft drinks should be included at some point.

Physical activity and atmospheric pollution are covered in goal 11, which concerns cities and includes targets on housing and mentions road safety,

“with special attention to the needs of those in vulnerable situations”.

Here I would include cyclists and pedestrians in order to encourage physical activity, and there are many other ways in which urban design can encourage a healthy lifestyle. More places in the draft document could be tweaked beneficially, but a short debate is not the place to lay them out in detail.

I have been briefed for this speech by the UK Health Forum, of which I declare an interest as its honorary president. Its detailed response to the draft SDGs will come shortly to the Department for International Development, Public Health England and the international section of the Department of Health, which I think is now called NHS England.

Earlier, I asked the noble Baroness how DfID is approaching the September summit finalising the SDGs. I hope that she will talk about that. I would also like to ask her how, and at what level, the UK is approaching the imminent Addis Ababa meeting on the financing of the SDGs, because on that everything else depends.

Photo of Baroness Tonge Baroness Tonge Independent Liberal Democrat 7:07 pm, 16th June 2015

My Lords, I must first thank the noble Lord, Lord McConnell, for introducing this debate. I also declare an interest as chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Population, Development and Reproductive Health. I express my hope to noble Lords that I do not have to take injury time during this debate because I have a rather bad chest infection. My group has done a good deal of work on sustainable development and reproductive health in the last 10 years. I am well aware that the phrase “population growth” is a sensitive issue and must be tackled sensitively, but it must be taken into consideration when looking at these 17 sustainable development goals, with their 169 targets. They are daunting for everyone.

No goal can be attained if the population keeps on growing. For example, greater numbers of children may now be out of poverty as a result of efforts in the past 15 years all over the planet, but in the mean time greater numbers have been born and survived, so the world makes little progress and goals are not achieved. We are warned that the planet will run short of food, water and space and the very air we breathe will become more and more polluted. We must do something to stabilise world population.

For me, the solution lies in goal 5, which was pointed out in the briefing from Christian Aid mentioned by the right reverend Prelate. Goal 5 concerns gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls. However, to empower women and girls means, first, that we must ensure they have power over their own bodies and over the number of times that they have to give birth. None of the women in this House could have done much without control of their own fertility. We sometimes forget the revolution that free family planning was to women in the West; we have forgotten the advantage that we have. We know that there are more than 220 million women in the world who would use family planning methods—despite religion, culture and control by their men—if they had the chance.

Fortunately, some are now being given that chance with the initiatives that, I am glad to say, were started by the previous Government and supported by worldwide bodies such as UNFPA, IPPF and the Gates Foundation. I hope that the Minister—whom I sincerely welcome to her position; it is good to see her—will reassure us that this funding will continue and that the Government will insist that sexual and reproductive health, and family planning in particular, should be specifically mentioned in the goals and targets that we expect at the end of the year.

This campaign was given a great welcome and an amusing boost, unintentionally, by no less a figure than the Pope, who has never been a fan of artificial methods of birth control. He recently told the people of the Philippines, who have huge families—a great problem for their Government—that they should not breed “like rabbits”, which I thought was quite pithy coming from the Pope. I hope that they took his remarks as seriously as the Government of the Philippines certainly have.

Smaller family sizes such as those being achieved by countries such as Bangladesh, Iran, Rwanda, Brazil and Indonesia, despite religious and cultural difficulties, show that this can be done and done voluntarily—no coercion is needed. When family sizes are smaller, women can be educated and ensure that their children are educated. All can eventually join the workforce to make their country more prosperous and less dependent on aid, with more food and water to share, less space needed to live in and less pollution of the air we breathe. All are great bonuses from providing a simple measure such as family planning supplies.

This is not just enthusiastic old me banging my favourite drum. In 2012 the World Bank produced convincing statistics to show that economic growth follows the drop in fertility rate—that means that it follows the drop in family size—and not the other way round, which is what everyone used to believe. The countries I mentioned earlier are good examples if noble Lords want to look them up.

Yesterday we saw a welcome report leaked from the Vatican, showing the Pope’s concern for the world’s ecosystem and our responsibility in the West to change our lifestyles and energy consumption—I am becoming quite a fan. We in the developed world are greedily using up the world’s resources. We must remember that; it is our responsibility too. I wish we could see more emphasis on energy conservation instead of constantly seeking new sources of energy and that we could all start eating more frugally and not being so greedy. I am sure that the noble Baroness, Lady Jenkin, will show us the way—we should have a special session on it. We in the West are responsible for most of the degradation of our planet. We must accept that, while encouraging our fellow human beings in the developing world to change too.

In conclusion, I return to my all-party group and the work it has done. Six years ago, we published a paper entitled Return of the Population Growth Factoron how we are not going to achieve the millennium development goals because of this problem. In a couple of weeks, our latest contribution will be launched, entitled “Population Dynamics and the Sustainable Development Goals”. Much better than we can do—well, not that much better—two years ago the Royal

Society addressed this issue with a magnificent paper called

People and the Planet

. I urge noble Lords to read them all.

Photo of Lord Cameron of Dillington Lord Cameron of Dillington Crossbench 7:14 pm, 16th June 2015

My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Lord, Lord McConnell, for giving us the opportunity to discuss these draft development goals.

The objective of these new goals is, of course, to prioritise spending across all donors and recipients, with the notable difference from the MDGs in that this time around the recipient nations were actually given a say in what the priorities should be. However, to my way of thinking—I know I am not the only one who thinks this—having 17 goals and 169 targets is not really prioritising or focusing. To my mind, there is a risk that, in trying to do everything, we will achieve little or nothing.

I also hold to the view that the long-term aim of any aid programme should be to do itself out of a job. The long-term game must be to help the recipient people to stand on their own feet and help themselves with their own efforts and not have their countries constantly dependent on outside aid for their education, health or, worse still, food and nutrition, although clearly in emergencies we must all rally round and do what we can. So, taking a long-term view—and every country will be different—we, along with other donor countries, must try to analyse what is the best springboard or platform in that developing country which will in the long run best enable its people to help themselves.

At the risk of being repetitive on a theme I have mentioned in this House before, there is no doubt in my mind that, in sub-Saharan Africa at any rate, focusing on improved and profitable agriculture, mostly smallholder agriculture, is undoubtedly the best springboard to help the people help themselves. Nations such as China have already gone through their agricultural revolution, and in so doing helped more than 400 million people out of extreme poverty. However, most of Africa has yet to achieve that breakthrough, and they themselves recognise that. In the 2003 Maputo agreement, the African Union agreed to put 10% of its national budgets into agriculture. At least it understood its importance. This was reconfirmed in the Year of Agriculture 2014 and again in 2015 in the Year of Soils, which is not obviously unrelated to agriculture. But of course, the gap between commitment and practice has always been an African problem, and so far only seven or eight countries have fulfilled their Maputo commitment. This is a great pity because, if they could, they would transform both the health and wealth of their people.

If we are looking to focus harder on what really matters, I maintain that improved agriculture could well be the best route to fulfilling a lot of the sustainable development goals. Running through them quickly, the first goal is to end poverty everywhere. Well, if 70% to 90% of your population are farmers, what is the best way of helping them put money in their pockets? Incidentally, what is the best way of preventing their children running off to add to the urban slums? The answer, of course, is to promote entrepreneurial agriculture.

The second goal is nutrition and sustainable agriculture. That speaks for itself, although I admit that the connection between agriculture and nutrition is not always as simple as it might first appear, but it can be made to work. The third goal is health and well-being. Again, if a variety of local food products can be maintained and supplied, particularly to kids, that is one of the best ways to achieve improved health and resistance to diseases. School feeding programmes, which are now becoming more common, based on local production, are an excellent way of achieving this not only for the kids but also for the surrounding community, which benefits from the new variety of crops being grown.

The fourth goal is education. If you ask any lady farmer what she is going to do now that she has learnt to make money from her farming, I can guarantee 100%, as the noble Lord, Lord McConnell, said, that the answer will be, “I am going to educate my children”—and she does. The noble Lord told a story about this and I will do the same. A couple of years ago, I met a granny who had educated her children from the proceeds of farming four acres in Kenya. I asked her, “Did it work? What are they doing now?”. She replied, “Yes, my son is an airline pilot and my daughter is teaching IT in India”. That was achieved from farming four acres but with assistance given in the form of training and a water pump. That is very important.

The fifth goal is empowering women. Some 70% of farmers in sub-Saharan Africa are women and, if they can become the successful breadwinners, it is more likely that they will earn the respect of their families and their communities. Improved agriculture is the key. The sixth goal is all about water. Very often the economic justification of a good clean supply of water is that it enables the farmers to double the yield of their crops. Africa has the lowest percentage of irrigated crops in the world and the smallest amount of water-related infrastructure, although often there are very good supplies of water underground if they had the money and the tradition to tap into them. This is an important goal and, again, agriculture is inherently involved.

The eighth and ninth goals are all about promoting sustained and inclusive economic growth, which to me are in grave danger of meaning all things to all men and probably therefore likely to produce low amounts of focus and activity. But if they were focused on developing food production and food processing and entrepreneurial activity right down the food chain, that effort could reach out to over 80% of the population and actually achieve some sort of inclusive economic growth. Like in China, if you can kick-start the rural economy in that way, who knows where it will lead?

The 10th goal—and I will make this my last point because my message is probably getting a bit boring—is about reducing inequality. Many farmers in Africa are the poorest of the poor in their country. But if we teach them to thrive, with new seeds and simple agricultural and basic business knowledge, we could end the intergenerational poverty that has long been the blight of Africa.

I will stop there but I hope that your Lordships have got my drift. As to how we actually promote improved and profitable agriculture in Africa, that is a whole different subject, which I will have to leave to another day. But these SDGs are a very good start, albeit to my mind not quite focused enough.

Photo of Baroness Barker Baroness Barker Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Voluntary Sector and Social Enterprise) 7:20 pm, 16th June 2015

My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Lord, Lord McConnell—my fellow VSO volunteer—for introducing this debate. I have come recently to international development and, frankly, it is a vast, complex picture to try to understand. I want to echo in part the words of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans, but also the message from the noble Viscount, Lord Ridley, which I took very much to heart, about trying to identify those things that are strategic, sustainable and make sense. It always strikes me in international development that there are people with great hearts who are motivated by seeing local problems and issues, trying to work at a strategic level and battling time and again—not with a default position that they think that money is endless but with a lack of data about what works. All of us in these debates are trying to help our Government to work towards a position of having the maximum influence in these very important discussions over the next few months.

I want to talk about HIV/AIDS and ageing, two issues that concern me. In HIV, the concentration and focus brought about by the existence of the millennium development goals have made a true difference. The number of people accessing treatment now is 13.6 million. It was 1 million 10 years ago. In 2013 there were 2.1 million new infections, compared to 3.4 million in 2001. In 2013 there were 1.5 million AIDS deaths, compared to 2.3 million in 2005. This is not perfect but in dealing with the AIDS pandemic the international community has registered a considerable success and we need to tell our fellow citizens in this country, who are sceptical about the benefits of international aid, that this is an important development. As we know from the scientists, if we cannot beat HIV/AIDS in Africa, we are never going to conquer it here.

That said, we have not met all the targets on HIV/AIDS. The zero draft of the outcomes document has a very ambitious target for AIDS but it is important that we refocus and make sure that there are resources behind that, because we have a very small amount of time—a number of years—within which we have to try to get ahead of the curve on HIV or else the epidemic is going to go out of control. UNAIDS has released 90/90/90 targets: by 2020, 90% of people living with HIV will know their status; 90% of those people will be accessing treatment; and 90% of those will be virally suppressed. If we can do that, we can truly begin to make the progress that we need in order to finally overcome HIV/AIDS. The opportunity to control the epidemic is finite, which is why we have to do it within the framework of international development agreements. To achieve that change, we have to deal with people who are deeply unpopular and marginalised within their own societies—those such as gay people, sex workers and so on. These are the people to whom their own Governments find it difficult to give political priority, so although it is a soft touch for us politically it is important that we stick with the programme.

One other important thing to mention on HIV/AIDS is that we need to keep up the focus on research and development. Much of the success that has happened over the last 15 years has come about because of the development of generic drugs. The cost of those drugs has plummeted. That has come about because manufacturers in different parts of the world have been able to benefit from research done by countries in the West, which they usually kept to themselves to maximise their profits. But through the intellectual pooling arrangements we have enabled a sharing of intellectual property, which has had a profound impact on the development of new drugs. On trade agreements, too, it is important that low and middle-income countries should have those trade flexibilities which enable them to provide generic versions of medicines to their populations. That is unbelievably important in places such as India and the whole of southern Africa, where, again, if we do not contain the virus it will be a public health disaster of unlimited proportions for the whole world.

On the subject of ageing I simply say that, at the moment, there are more than 868 million people aged over 60. By 2050, there will be more than 2 billion and we will have reached the unimaginable point where there will be more people aged over 60 than children under 15. That in itself must have an extensive impact on all sustainability and on health systems. I reiterate the point that I made to the noble Baroness the other day: that in all these negotiations, our Government should press for the generation of more age-related and gender-specific data so that we can begin to drill down into the patterns of what is happening. Older women need to be included in those targets for gender equality, as they are just as likely as younger women to be subject to violence. The noble Lord, Lord Rea, was also right to say that non-communicable diseases fall disproportionately on older people, and if we do not include them in this we will never make an impact on them.

The noble Viscount, Lord Ridley, is right that this could be a bit like a Christmas tree. We could put so many baubles on it that it falls over. None of us wants to do that. We all want to make sure that the analysis is correct and that the data generated enable our Government, and other Governments, to make that informed assessment about what is most effective and how we could all make limited resources go further to reduce poverty.

Photo of Lord Collins of Highbury Lord Collins of Highbury Opposition Whip (Lords), Shadow Spokesperson (International Development) 7:28 pm, 16th June 2015

My Lords I, too, thank my noble friend Lord McConnell for initiating this debate and I pay tribute to all those living below the line. Two thousand and fifteen is a critical year for development, with the intergovernmental negotiations finalising work next month ahead of the September summit to determine the global plans for the next 15 years. Like other noble Lords, I ask the Minister: at what stage is the Government’s assessment of the first zero draft, and is she in a position to give a clearer indication of the Government’s negotiating stance?

Like the noble Viscount, the Secretary of State and the Prime Minister have both commented in the past that the number of goals and targets is too many.

I would welcome the opportunity to hear from the Minister what she sees as the UK’s priorities within this expansive agenda, and how she intends to galvanise political will on her chosen concerns.

Our commitment to the world’s poorest and most vulnerable is not just morally right; it is in Britain’s national interest. We need global agreement on tax transparency and to ensure that companies pay their tax in-country. We need to support Governments to collect their own taxes to reduce aid dependency and foster good government. As my noble friend Lord McConnell said, critical to this will be a strong agreement on finance and resourcing which addresses these structural issues, increasing tax transparency by committing to public country-by-country reporting by multinationals and universal open data formats. It is therefore vital that the UK has a strong presence at the Financing for Development summit next month in Ethiopia. Is the Minister in a position to confirm that the Chancellor of the Exchequer will be attending?

If we are to unlock development the UK must push for a bold and visionary global agreement and in tonight’s debate I once again want to focus on three vital areas—access to healthcare, climate change, and protection of human rights and tackling inequality. Universal health coverage, with access for all without people suffering financial hardship will make countries more resilient to health concerns such as Ebola before they become widespread emergencies. Earlier this month the Secretary of State said in the other place that the Government had strongly advocated universal health coverage. Can the Minister say if this now means the Government will support UHC in the language of the health goal in the SDGs?

As we have heard in the debate, climate change hits the world’s poorest people the hardest as they lack the resilience to cope with drought, flood and food insecurity. Given the clear links between climate change, inequality, poverty and economic development, does the Minister agree that a post-2015 agenda without a stand-alone goal on climate change will undermine the potential of the entire agenda? In advance of the UN conference in Paris on climate change it would be good to hear from the Minister how the Government are co-ordinating their engagement on these two opportunities, the outcomes of which are clearly so dependent on one another.

On human rights I pay tribute to the work of the previous Government in helping change global opinion on the issue of gender-based violence. Last Thursday I pointed out in your Lordships’ House that turning promises into action is vital as despite many gains, progress across the millennium development goals has been uneven for girls and women. The MDGs did not effectively address the factors that underpin gender inequality. The United Kingdom has pushed for a post-2015 framework with a strong and explicit commitment to gender equality. The Minister in the previous Government, the noble Baroness, Lady Northover, committed the UK to a stand-alone goal geared to achieving gender equality and women’s empowerment. Just as importantly, the noble Baroness also confirmed that there should be rigorous mainstreaming of gender equality concerns across the other priority areas and goals. I would be grateful if the Minister could confirm that this commitment will also be reflected in the Government’s forthcoming negotiating position.

Finally, seven out of 10 people live in countries where economic inequality has increased in the past 30 years. Gender inequality is the most persistent form of prejudice but inequalities can also occur across urban-rural divides, or have different ethnic, religious or racial group dimensions. Discrimination on the grounds of disability is also a critical factor fuelling inequality. The all-embracing nature of the zero draft risks prevarication and duplicity, potentially enabling governments to selectively address those goals and targets most aligned to their existing agenda.

This side of the House has been clear where our priorities would be. Tackling inequality and ensuring the attainment of human rights, including the fundamental rights of women and girls, remain at the heart of these agreements, as does, of course, combating climate change. I hope that the Minister is tonight able to match our ambition in this field.

Photo of Baroness Verma Baroness Verma The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for International Development 7:35 pm, 16th June 2015

My Lords, I start by thanking the noble Lord, Lord McConnell, for securing this debate, and commend him on his long-standing commitment to international development. With only a few months before the UN summit in September, it is right that we come together at this time to discuss the post-2015 development agenda. Before I continue, I also congratulate the noble Lord and my noble friend Lady Jenkin on their absolutely magnificent effort in making us all aware of how difficult it is to survive on £1 a day. I did it last year and can tell your Lordships that it was incredibly hard to manage. My noble friend magnificently produced three meals a day for us, but I really wanted to go back and eat a decent meal after the five days I spent eating stodge.

As your Lordships will know, this year is one of the most important for the international community in recent memory. In just one month, Governments will convene in Ethiopia, as noble Lords have said, to agree a new way to finance international development. The noble Lords, Lord McConnell and Lord Collins, asked whether the Chancellor would be in attendance. I cannot at this moment tell your Lordships who will be going, but we will be working incredibly hard to ensure that we get partners and to be as ambitious as the UK always is. The UK is always at the forefront in leadership in trying to get other countries galvanised into being much more ambitious. We are currently in the final stages of negotiations on the post-2015 agenda, which will culminate in a summit in September setting the direction for international development for the next 15 years.

Because time is quite short, I may not address all the questions that were raised. I undertake to write to noble Lords if necessary, although I hope that over the next few minutes many of your Lordships questions will be answered in my speaking notes. In December, the world will come together in Paris to agree a binding international treaty to tackle the global dangers of climate change. Noble Lords have made outstanding contributions today on the expectations but also the challenges facing us in the debate on sustainable development goals.

In 2000, the international community agreed the millennium development goals, and the years since have seen the greatest-ever reduction of poverty. As my noble friend Lady Jenkin and other noble Lords said, the MDGs galvanised the international community to achieve amazing results, and we can point to major successes. As has rightly been pointed out: extreme poverty has been cut by over 50%; there have been real improvements across all health targets; more than 9 out of every 10 children worldwide now have a primary education; and we are well on our way to tackling hunger and malnutrition.

However, it is important to emphasise that the MDGs were not perfect. There was too much focus on access rather than outcomes in areas such as education, they were not strong enough on environmental sustainability and they did not include the critical issues that a number of noble Lords raised today of peace, good governance and economic growth. As we reach the MDG deadline of 2015, discussions are under way to agree the next framework and a set of universal goals that will build the world we all want to see by 2030. The UK Government have been, as has rightly been pointed out today, at the forefront of delivering progress against the MDGs and have played an active role in working to define what comes next.

The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans wanted reassurances that the UK will continue to lead and will remain a strong voice. I reassure him that we absolutely will. We have, both through our legislation of 0.7% and our commitment that at every conference that we attend and with all our partners we will re-emphasise the importance that the UK places on it. The Prime Minister has said on many occasions that we cannot prosper on the backs of poor people; they must come up along with us. The UK’s priorities for this are clear. Over the next 15 years, we must eradicate the scourge of extreme poverty and put the world on a pathway to sustainable development. We must finish the job of MDGs, but also go beyond them to focus on the quality of services such as education, rather than just on access to education. We have to tackle climate change and environmental degradation as an integral part of our work on poverty eradication and global prosperity.

We must also do better. On the issue of ensuring gender equality, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for International Development has said that it continues to be an absolute travesty that half the world’s population so often cannot participate in education, work or public life. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord McConnell. We want to see gender as a stand-alone goal. It must cut across all our programmes and across all participation. I very much agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Barker, that we must not see it as one part of the life cycle of women. It must be an end-to-end discussion, and I very much look forward to being part of that discussion. Sometimes the debate focuses very much on the front end, which is absolutely right, because unless we get that part of the discussion right, we will never be able to progress and look much more deeply at how it impacts on other parts of the life cycle.

We must end the curse of violence against women and girls, and stop practices such as female genital mutilation, and child, early and forced marriages. I have campaigned against those practices for many years, and it is distressing that, in the 21st century, we still have to tackle these really miserable issues. We also have to focus on crucial issues that underpin successful poverty reduction: economic development, peace, good governance, access to justice and the rule of law, and stamping out corruption. Without achieving these, poverty eradication will be impossible.

We must ensure that no one is left behind. This principle, highlighted by the UN’s high-level panel co-chaired by the Prime Minister, is a major step forward. Too often people are left behind because of race, gender, disability or other forms of status. We support the call by the high-level panel to ensure that no target will be considered met unless it is met for all economic and social groups. The UK has also been at the forefront of the international community when arguing for a strong goal on gender equality. I am pleased to say that the goals and targets include all the UK’s priorities that I have outlined. If we can galvanise the international community behind our objectives, they will have the transformative impact that we need to see.

It is crucial that we are able to communicate the agenda to citizens around the world. We want to see the post-2015 framework inspire people everywhere to hold their governments to account to deliver the goals. We therefore want to secure a final outcome that resonates with people and speaks to issues that they grapple with. Again, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord McConnell, that it must be about talking to children and getting them involved as part of the debate. Our world today is increasingly unrecognisable compared to the year 2000. To match the vision that we have for a new age, we need a new global partnership. The UK’s vision for the next 15 years represents a major step forward to a world where we have moved beyond the old-fashioned north-south divide, where we have come together to confront our common challenges.

A number of questions have been raised. In the short time I have, I will try to respond to some of them. The noble Lord, Lord McConnell, and the noble Baroness, Lady Barker, asked about data and monitoring. I agree on the points about monitoring and reviewing. We want a robust global review mechanism in the UN, and it must be open and transparent. Accountability will take place at national level, but success, of course, will always depend on the engagement of Parliaments and citizens in all countries. That is why it is important that people across the world are engaged in the SDG agenda.

The noble Lord, Lord McConnell, raised the issue of targets in respect of women. The UK is making the experiences and lives of women and girls one of the very highest priorities in our post-2015 process. We have argued hard for a strong stand-alone goal on gender equality, and I am pleased to see that goal 5 contains many transformational targets and issues, including FGM and child early and forced marriage.

Photo of Baroness Tonge Baroness Tonge Independent Liberal Democrat

I am very pleased to hear what the Minister says about gender equality, but do the Government intend to carry on their initiative on sexual and reproductive health and family planning?

Photo of Baroness Verma Baroness Verma The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for International Development

I have a response to the noble Baroness in my pile but, if I do not reach it, I promise to write.

We are optimistically cautious that Addis will deliver a strong financial and policy package.

The noble Lords, Lord Rea and Lord Collins, and others raised the issue of universal healthcare. Our view is that we are at the forefront of arguing for a strong health goal focused on assuring quality health outcomes for all ages. We recognise universal health coverage as an essential means of ensuring effective health outcomes, and are pleased to see its inclusion as a target in the proposal of the open working group on sustainable development goals. It is the UK’s ambition for this framework to make sure that no one is left behind.

The right reverend Prelate asked about faith groups. We are working hard to ensure that the implementation, monitoring and review of SDGs includes all relevant groups, including faith groups. Part of my own area of responsibility is working with civil society and faith groups, and I look forward to the right reverend Prelate working with me.

I have hit 12 minutes and I shall get into huge amounts of trouble if I continue. On that note, I shall respond in writing to noble Lords on outstanding questions.

House adjourned at 7.47 pm.