Sustainable Development Goals — Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 12:08 pm on 17th September 2015.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Lord Purvis of Tweed Lord Purvis of Tweed Liberal Democrat 12:08 pm, 17th September 2015

My Lords, it is always a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord McConnell, who has demonstrated to the House the depth and breadth of his knowledge and experience in this area. I agree with many aspects of his contribution; indeed, he said many of the things that I am now having to think about saying differently in my contribution.

Before I start, I wish to refer noble Lords to the register of interests. I also pay tribute to my noble friend Lord Chidgey, who introduced this debate with skill and detail showing that, as we all know on these Benches, his record speaks for itself. That the House has an opportunity to debate these issues, in advance of the discussion of the draft resolution, is a tribute to him for bringing it to us.

It is frequently frowned on, if not sneered at, when we hold to bold ambition. An air of cynicism often pervades much commentary when we talk about tackling the major global issues and a desire to resolve them. The seemingly intractable situation in Syria allows some to think that humanity cannot address its own deficiencies and that people need to come to terms with settling for their lot in the world. Even worse, some think that some in the world have a predilection to live in conflict, in poverty or without justice—that they are somehow not capable, as we are, of having a prosperous economy or a way of life based on western culture. Others take the view that if they simply learned to be like us and operate an economy like we do—overlooking our deficiencies in recent years—the issues would effectively solve themselves.

As we have witnessed the crises in recent weeks, we have seen the difficulties of many conflict areas but also the resilience of people seeking better lives for themselves and their families—the struggles that they go through and the lengths that they go to for a better life—which in many respects humbles those of us here. I hold to the view that bold ambitions are not just admirable things in their own right but are necessary in order to shape our thinking so that we can achieve great things. We must develop our hard policies to match them.

When I had the privilege of leading the then International Development (Official Development Assistance Target) Bill through your Lordships’ House on behalf of Michael Moore in the other place, I cited the bold ambition, announced in 1970, that developing countries should by the end of that decade provide 0.7% of their GNP to support the development of other nations. It took much longer than it should have, and some of the richest countries in the world are shamefully far off meeting this ambition, but in this decade we in the United Kingdom have done so. Parliament has decided that we should do so year on year until we have made a meaningful impact on these global issues, so it is the law of our land that government should meet this condition to address the world’s problems.

A number of years ago, many would have said that this would have been unachievable; yet people came together and decided we would achieve it. The fact that we have done so gives us an unparalleled opportunity within the OECD and the wider donor community to shape thinking in the future and, indeed, to mould these priorities. We are assisted in this in having in the UK the development body most highly regarded in the world.

At the start of the millennium development goal period, many would have thought that eradicating malaria, for example, was similarly a worthy ambition but one hardly capable of being achieved—yet my noble friend indicated the progress being made. In a report published today and launched in another place by the Secretary of State for International Development as we debate this Motion, the results of such hard policy to meet bold ambition can be seen. Between 2000 and 2015, the rate of new malaria infections has reduced by 37% and the global malaria death rate by 60%. This is a profoundly strong record and one that simply could not have been possible without ODA, including, critically, that from the UK, working in partnership with our global neighbours afflicted by high levels of the disease. The ambition for a further 90% reduction in malaria incidence and mortality by 2020 is achievable, but only with additional resource. Critically—this is where I agree with the noble Lord, Lord McConnell—resource is needed now to create the impact for the future, rather than delay to the level of support.

I use the example of malaria as it highlights to me what can be achieved across all 17 goals. Increased ODA, with a bold ambition and clear and accountable work streams to deliver it, can see real impact. That is why I have been extremely disappointed with the position the EU as a whole has taken—on behalf of the richest region on the planet—that EU countries would only catch up with the UK by the end of the SDG period in 2030. This is shameful. Although I welcome the Addis Ababa Action Agenda, the A4, the dispiriting part of it was the lack of ambition on finance from the most developed nations—critically, from the EU.

I know that the A4 is for the whole term of the SDG period, but I do not want this to be the final word from the EU perspective. The UK assumes the presidency of the EU in July 2017. I do not want it to be wholly subsumed by angst about our relationship with the EU. I want the first item for the UK presidency to be to convene an EU ODA finance summit where we have a new EU position to accelerate the delivery of the 0.7% target. I want it to be brought forward for each EU member by a decade. That means signalling to our neighbours now that they must commence political and parliamentary work to accelerate support between 2015 and 2020.

We know from our experience in the UK that this can be done. It is not easy; it is sometimes controversial. I saw that for myself having to respond to amendments during the Bill’s passage, but we in the UK must take the lead, and it must be ratified under our presidency.

The successful delivery of the goals will make a meaningful difference to humanity. Of course, it has not proved easy to agree on the 17, as indicated by the noble Lords, Lord McConnell and Lord Chidgey. Some have argued that 17 is too many. I want to focus on goal 16, outlined by the noble Lord, Lord McConnell. In many respects, all the other goals cannot be delivered and we cannot create the long-term basis on which development will be successful unless meaningful improvements are made within that goal.

Paragraph 16.7 of the draft resolution states that we must,

“ensure responsive, inclusive, participatory and representative decision-making at all levels”.

That is very welcome, but as the noble Lord, Lord Chidgey, said, “parliament” is not mentioned. Interestingly, it is in the Addis action plan, as a footnote, but not in the goals themselves. The resolution does not draw sufficient attention to the necessity of each developing nation to have a functioning and supportive parliament. Without a parliament properly resourced, free to hold government to account and scrutinise priorities, and to debate and agree rule-of-law solutions to development issues, we will struggle to achieve meaningful impact of the SDG ambitions across all the different areas. Many of the barriers to the effective delivery of the SDGs—corruption, maladministration, poor decision-making, donor countries dominating the policy agenda over recipient countries—are often symptoms of the lack of a properly functioning parliament.

I understand why “parliament” was missing from the draft resolution, but I believe very strongly that building capacity and parliamentary strengthening is of major importance. It pained me to read the IDC report from the Commons in the previous Session, which highlighted the incongruity of the UK paying the US National Endowment for Democracy to deliver parliamentary strengthening work on behalf of the United Kingdom. That is not an appropriate answer.

Yesterday, I was at a very good parliamentary strengthening event where the CPA, the WFD, the British group of the IPU and others—parliamentary clerking staff and the National Audit Office—were together. We have the best foundations in the UK Parliament to develop much stronger support for parliamentary strengthening. It is a challenge to us in Parliament how we use the fantastic skills available to us.

I end on the second part of the goal, which, as the noble Baroness, Lady Mobarik, mentioned, concerns abuse, exploitation, trafficking and all forms of violence against and torture of children. It is of course welcome, but there needs to be strong consideration of the detailed outcomes and how it will be developed. Too often, children are systematically used in areas of conflict or dispute by protagonists. It is one of the most insidious examples of war crimes. In some examples, we see children used politically, knowing that they are the next generation which can be targeted for future conflict.

Ten days ago, I was in the Occupied Territories in the West Bank, where the incidence of child detention by the IDF remains high. Children are arrested under security law, not civil law, often in the middle of the night. They infrequently have their rights read to them in Arabic, if at all. More than 90% have testified to being hand tied, and 80% hooded, in contravention of international standards and calls from our FCO that that practice end. As I left Hebron that evening, I saw a child of no more than 10 years old escorted away by three soldiers—something which would have an impact on any of us used to our approach in the United Kingdom.

Of course, there is the wider humanitarian aspect: 100,000 children born as refugees in the Syrian crisis; 5 million going without education; 10 million at risk in Yemen. None of these goals will be successfully achieved if we do not focus our resource on children and also on increasing the level of ODA support. We are less than 1% of the world’s population but we have a considerable role to play. I give the Government my full support in making sure that we work with our colleagues around the world to deliver on these goals.