WATCH: Speech in the Chamber 10th September 2015

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In 2008 or 2009 it was my privilege, with my right hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr Mitchell) and Baroness Jenkin, to help co-found the Conservative Friends of International Development. One of its key aims was to encourage the Government to enshrine the 0.7% commitment in law and push the MDGs and achieve them as rapidly as possible. I am pleased to note that subsequently not only did my hon. Friends the Members for Aldridge-Brownhills (Wendy Morton) and for Stafford (Jeremy Lefroy) and many others—whose omission is now no doubt, unfortunately, offensive to them—become involved with CFID, but in what is a testament to the universality of those aims of international development we have had the opportunity to work across party and also across a huge number of people, businesses and businessmen, including Bill Gates, who have been very kind in supporting us.

The point of CFID was to emphasise that compassion is truly a cross-party agenda. When I subsequently found myself fighting the seat of Boston and Skegness—and winning it, I am grateful to say—I realised that the main challenge the SDGs have and the MDGs had is public opinion. They will not be sustainable if we are not truly winning the battle in the country. That is not an attack by any means on the compassion we have seen across the nation during the recent Syrian refugee crisis. However, there remains a small but significant minority of people who are not yet convinced that adopting principles such as the 17 we are talking about today are in our national, international and humanitarian interest.

The simple point I would make in this debate, where there has been excellent cross-party consensus, is that until, working with businesses and all other parties internationally, we make the case that it is in all our interests to get development goals such as these moved from platitude to policy, we will not be able to make the kind of changes we are talking about today. I do not pretend for a moment that I have the ability to turn those platitudes into policies, but we should all be striving persistently to make the case, when we are told that Britain cannot afford to take in refugees, that it is in Britain’s interest and in all our interests to take in an appropriate number of well-resourced refugees so that we can make the global improvements we all want to see.

I want to make three further points. First, transparency is the single most important factor that the development goals can achieve, because it will allow us to say, “This is where your money is going” and “We have made a real, practical difference not only to our own lives but to those of many people around the world.” Secondly, addressing the fragile states agenda will mean that we are not increasing the burden on this country. Instead, we will be increasing the opportunity for economic development in countries that will one day graduate to become our trading partners, from which we would all benefit.

Thirdly, I want to refer back to the battle for public opinion. Until we have convinced the wider world that these are truly valuable universal cross-party goals, we will be unable to answer with integrity the constant criticism that has been heard over the past few weeks. We in the Westminster bubble might believe that there is total consensus on helping those less fortunate than ourselves, but too many of our constituents are not yet convinced of the validity of this case. I hope that excellent debates such as this one—convened by my Lincolnshire neighbour, my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Stephen Phillips)—will play an important part in convincing the wider public of the true value of this agenda.

 

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