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Queen’s Speech - Debate (3rd Day)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 4:17 pm on 23rd May 2016.

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Photo of Baroness Northover Baroness Northover Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (International Development) 4:17 pm, 23rd May 2016

My Lords, I was delighted that the gracious Speech reaffirmed Britain’s commitment to international development spending and identified it as helping to deliver global stability. It was my noble friend Lord Purvis who introduced the legislation in this House to confirm the United Kingdom’s historic commitment to 0.7% of GNI for development.

As others have made clear, we now live in a closely linked, globalised world. A disaster in one part of the world quickly has its effect on us—witness the Syrian crisis or the terror struck by Ebola; think of SARS spreading to five countries in 24 hours and then onwards to six continents. We cannot tackle climate change, global migration or economic crises alone, so rather than reducing we need to strengthen our participation in international groupings—in the EU, but also in the UN and other pan-national bodies.

There are indeed major challenges facing us. There has been a welcome reduction in the number of conflicts between states since the end of the Cold War, but in recent years there has been a sharp increase in the number of conflicts within states. These are often more complex, affect more people and last longer—hence the record number of refugees globally.

Moreover, climate change is likely to contribute further to instability. We have rising populations and mass migration into unsustainable cities in which climate disasters will be magnified. How we deal with such crises has not kept pace with the scale of these changes. Clearly, more and better collaboration is required, not less.

As we speak for the first time, a World Humanitarian Summit is being held. It is meeting in Istanbul, close to where men, women and children are risking their lives to cross the Mediterranean. Those there must recognise the special vulnerability of women and girls in conflict and seek to address it. I was very pleased that in her opening remarks the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, emphasised the importance of that work, but it is astonishing that it took the Dutch Foreign Minister to harangue those who were setting the agenda for that summit to ensure that women and girls should be front and centre. Where were we in those discussions? I share the frustration expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Collins, about the lack of central involvement of women in discussions on the future of Syria, for example.

This summit follows the ground-breaking agreement in Paris on climate change and the agreement in New York to endorse the sustainable development goals. The latter promised to end extreme poverty by 2030 while leaving no one behind. Many groups have tended to be left behind—women and girls, as I have said; those with disabilities; older people, as HelpAge and others point out; and those whose sexuality is rejected by the majority. I note with concern that support for LGBT civil society groups in a particularly risky country, which I will not identify but which the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, will probably be able to identify immediately, has apparently not yet reached those for whom it was intended. The money was earmarked by my noble friend Lady Featherstone and I oversaw its dispersal to the FCO for the country in question, so I wonder what has happened there.

We know of the particular vulnerability of refugees and refugee children who are therefore out of school, as Save the Children and UNICEF rightly identify. As I refer to education globally, I also pay tribute to the wonderful noble Baroness, Lady Perry, whose quiet, hugely well-informed and cross-party commitment to education has been wonderful. I am very sad that she has decided to leave this House, but it seems as though she is taking the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, with her, so I do hope that they will not be dropping any more babies anywhere.

I welcome the sentence about development in the Queen’s Speech. Let us hope that on 23 June the British people recognise that it is better to be in Europe and working together, including for stability and development globally, and that, as we face the huge challenges of our century while celebrating the decline of conflict between states, we realise that a brighter future is best achieved through co-operation rather than isolation.