UK House of Lords debate the Sustainable Development Goals: key quotes

On 16 July the British Parliament’s House of Lords debated the Sustainable Development Goals for the first time in six months. Below we have selected the key quotes from each of the speakers. The full Hansard text is available from

Lord McConnell of Glenscorrodale (Labour)

“Reading the report from the United Nations, I welcome the focus the document gives to the potential of the post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals… To my mind, in a very welcome sense, the commitments not only cover the traditional important areas of education, health and agriculture…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.”

“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.”

Baroness Jenkin of Kennington (Conservative)

“From my own recent experience, [the SDGs were] 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.”

The Lord Bishop of St Albans

“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.”

“There is a strong welcome for the prominence of “leave no one behind” within this political declaration and a hope that it could be retained and strengthened.”

Viscount Ridley (Conservative)

“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.”

“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.”

Lord Rea (Labour)

“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.”

Baroness Tonge (Independent)

“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.”

“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.”

Lord Cameron of Dillington (Crossbench)

“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.”

“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.”

Baroness Barker (Liberal Democrat)

“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.”

Lord Collins of Highbury (Labour)

“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?

“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.”

Baroness Verma, the Parliamentary Undersecretary of State, Department for International Development (Conservative)

“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 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.”

Read the full Hansard record at

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