Sustainable Development Goals — Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 1:17 pm on 17th September 2015.

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Photo of Lord Collins of Highbury Lord Collins of Highbury Opposition Whip (Lords), Shadow Spokesperson (International Development) 1:17 pm, 17th September 2015

My Lords, I, too, want to thank the noble Lord, Lord Chidgey, for initiating this debate and to pay tribute to his work generally on international development.

The year 2015 has been remarkable for international development, with the agreement on global plans for the next 15 years ready for approval by UN heads of states next week. Like my noble friend Lord McConnell, I strongly welcome the agreement and the Government’s part in helping to achieve it. I am proud, too, of our past achievements: the MDGs focused attention on poverty worldwide, galvanised political action and showed that immense progress is possible. As we have heard in the debate today, the agreement on 17 stand-alone goals and 169 targets differs because the framework will apply both to developed and developing nations alike. As my noble friend Lord McConnell said, by leaving no one behind we will be delivering change for all.

Labour’s priorities in delivering the sustainable development goals have been: rights—for women and children, workers, indigenous populations, LGBT groups and disabled people; universal health coverage; and climate change. What does the Minister see as the UK’s priorities within the expansive agenda that we now have? How does she intend to galvanise political will on her chosen concerns?

Making available an annual progress report would ensure that all Governments are fully accountable. They should fully engage with international review processes and set up national accountability systems. As noble Lords have stressed today, parliamentarians play a key role in this process, both at home and abroad. Will the Minister tell us to what extent—how and when—the Government will engage with MPs and Peers of all parties on this new agenda?

I welcome the Government’s push that has delivered an SDG framework with a strong and explicit commitment to gender equality. Sadly, however, as a Guardian headline put it this week:

“20 years on from the UN summit in Beijing, equality remains a … dream”

Critical issues such as maternal health, reproductive rights, sanitation and FGM fall between the remit of a range of UN agencies or between the cracks. MDGs helped focus attention on issues such as pregnancy care and childbirth, such that in the past 25 years maternal mortality has fallen globally by 45%, but developing countries still account for 99% of the deaths, with more than half in sub-Saharan Africa.

As highlighted by the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, development goals will require effective co-ordination across government departments, devolved Administrations and stakeholders that have a role to play across the different goal areas of the new framework. Success in any one goal area will be dependent on progress in others. Strong co-ordination is particularly relevant for transnational issues such as violence against children, including trafficking, FGM and online sexual exploitation.

For example, as we heard in the debate, implementation of target 16.2 on ending all forms of violence against children will involve a wide range of UK government departments. To successfully implement this target, cross-departmental co-operation will need to be developed—as highlighted by the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton—bringing together both the UK’s domestic and international contributions. Such a model can serve as a blueprint for other areas of SDG implementation. What mechanisms does the Minister envisage to help co-ordination between sectors and stakeholders to ensure ongoing monitoring, and to adapt to changed circumstances?

It is vital that the Government and DfID should continue to play a global leadership role on gender equality. As the noble Baroness, Lady Northover, said, it is vital that they continue that role. However, to deliver and sustain the necessary change, we need to fully back women on the ground. That is why I support the development by DfID—in partnership with, and implemented by, women’s funds—of a new strategic fund under SDG5 to provide core, flexible and long-term funding to women’s rights organisations. Will the Minister explain how DfID will ensure that all SDG5 target areas are equally and comprehensively addressed in DfID’s work to support women’s rights and gender equality under the strategic vision for girls and women?

Women who are the most affected by poverty have the least access to, and influence over, the decisions being made to tackle it. The Rana Plaza disaster which killed 1,129 people was a stark reminder of the human cost behind cheap fashion in our high streets. Some 3.6 million women work in Bangladesh’s garment industry, most of them in factories similar to the Rana Plaza. Progress has been made, with retailers signing up to legally binding building safety agreements, but Governments need to act, too. Will the Minister take the lead in advocating the change needed to protect the lives of workers around the world, including support for ILO conventions?

Although significant progress was made at Addis Ababa, as we heard, on financing for development—highlighted particularly by the noble Lord, Lord Chidgey—we still need global agreement on tax transparency 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.

The UK already has a competitive advantage in global health, and the Government must continue this by prioritising SDG 3, on health. The three sub-goals that require particular focus are: target 3.2, to end preventable newborn and under-five deaths; and target 3.3, to end the epidemics of AIDS, tuberculosis, malaria and neglected tropical diseases. I urge the Minister to sustain and, where possible, increase the UK’s £536 million invested annually in malaria to achieve malaria elimination. Most importantly, on this side of the House we believe that the focus should be on universal health coverage, which will make countries resilient to health concerns such as Ebola before they become widespread emergencies.

Climate change hits the world’s poorest people the hardest, as they lack the resilience to cope with drought, flood and food insecurity. Goal 13 acknowledges this and makes clear that failure properly to address the issue will undermine the potential of the entire agenda. As the right reverend Prelate said, the means to deliver will be determined at the UN conference in Paris, but it would be good to hear from the Minister how the Government are co-ordinating their engagement there with the New York agreement, as the outcomes are so clearly dependent on one another.

This side of the House has been clear on our priorities: tackling inequality and the attainment of human rights; universal health coverage; and combatting climate change. I hope that the Minister is able to match our ambition in her response to this debate.