Universal Sustainable Developments Goals - Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 11:59 am on 22nd November 2018.

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Photo of Lord Judd Lord Judd Labour 11:59 am, 22nd November 2018

My Lords, I am sure I will not be alone in expressing real appreciation to the noble Baroness for giving us the opportunity to look at this issue again. The forthright and challenging way in which she introduced the debate was a model of what accountability should be all about.

We are not a model for the world, as the noble Baroness has made very clear. Sometimes there is a fundamental confusion about structures, processes and motivation. I have not, anywhere in my life, seen a structure, a process or a goal which in and of itself changed the situation. Some structures inhibit change while others facilitate it, but it is the motivation and determination of people that get results. What the Minister has to do is to persuade us that running right through the Government at all levels and in all the relevant departments—most of them are relevant—is a culture and a spirit of determination and stamina to get things done. That is crucial and it depends on leadership.

An awful lot of economic nonsense is being talked about how our current systems and priorities are ultimately in the interests of the poor because unless you have a strong, throbbing financial and economic system, there is no chance of generating the resources needed by the poor. Superficially, and in some ways quite realistically, that is a truth which cannot be avoided. It is right that we have to produce the cake before we slice it up and perhaps that has not been taken as seriously as it should have been in our political past. But it is not like that; for anyone who has worked anywhere near the front line, of course it is not like that. People who are grotesquely disadvantaged, certainly abroad but also in our own society, and are in a way institutionalised in their disadvantage and poverty, need specific help to start playing. There is sometimes talk of having a level playing field for everyone, but some people have to be helped to be fit to play on that level playing field. You must have specific poverty-orientated and disadvantage-orientated policies designed to put people in a position of self-confidence and give them the ability to carry things forward. Of course, education is absolutely central to that.

What also matters deeply in fulfilling the objectives of the development goals is justice. We talk too easily about how we want to see justice across the world, but justice has to be built. That means setting up quite an expensive agenda of preparing people in their education and professional background for playing the key part that is necessary within the judicial system. Sometimes I think that these matters should have been spelled out more clearly when we adopted the goals. There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that the goals got the universal support they did—they got an enthusiastic response from, and the endorsement of, a large number of people in this country—because they were going to tackle poverty and social injustice. They were going to produce statistics about not just economic growth and development but how ordinary people’s quality of life would improve.

There are specific matters on which it would be good to hear the views of the Minister. Are the Government and their relevant departments focused on the poorest—the poorest individuals in different countries, as well as the poorer countries in the world—or are they allowing themselves to be tempted in this aid programme and related programmes into saying, “We must generate growth”? Growth will not ensure social justice. We must have in place specific systems to balance economic growth and ensure that it works in the interests of everyone.

That will take great international economic co-operation. I hope that the Minister will tell us how that co-operation is going. A number of us are very concerned that one implication of Brexit and our withdrawal from Europe will be the undermining of the co-operation with Europe that has developed commendably through European programmes. What real, not theoretical, arrangements are being made to ensure that this is not lost? What about government departments? Is there enough liaison? Is there enough overarching leadership to ensure such liaison between individual departments?

What about NGOs? They have a rich tradition in this country. How far is their front-line experience being listened to? How far are they being drawn in as key players? Perhaps most importantly, are we ensuring in our approach the imperative of the countries we are supposed to be assisting being partners in all this? What part are we really giving them in the evaluation process—in working out whether what is being done is achieving what they are looking for? I hope the Minister can illustrate that point. Of course, civil society, not just government, needs to play a part in that evaluation process in those countries. Then, there is the question of how much the devolved Administrations are being involved and how much co-operation there is between them. Are positive outcomes of that being achieved?

On the issue of children, who are central to the challenge of development goals and their purpose, the Save the Children Fund reminded us that 60% of high-risk youngsters are being stunted in their educational and intellectual development. Some 40% are more likely to die before their fifth birthday and 15% are less likely to complete primary school. Girls in this group are 80% more likely to be married off as children. We have to face the realities of such issues. It is no good being seduced into looking at overall global statistics and saying that the record of growth is so much and that the record of achievement in getting homes and education for people demonstrates that we have made progress. We should be concerned about those who are excluded. Unless the excluded become central to our considerations in the development goals, we are failing.