Bishop of Durham raises global human rights, poverty, development and climate change in Queen’s Speech debate

On the 7th January the Bishop of Durham, the Rt Revd Paul Butler, spoke during the second day of debate on the Queen’s Speech, on the topics of child poverty, climate change sustainable development and immigration:

The Lord Bishop of Durham: My Lords, initially I want to note how little reference there is in the gracious Speech to the needs of children, except in the realm of education. There is nothing about children’s first 1,000 days, nor any firm commitment to tackle the iniquity of child poverty. How we treat children speaks volumes for where our priorities lie. Could the Minister please comment on this omission?

Before proceeding further, I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie of Downpatrick, on her passionate and insightful maiden speech.

I welcome the focus of the gracious Speech on the United Kingdom’s international engagement. However, some of the language used concerns me. All people, in all nations, are loved by God. The commitment to uphold human rights globally recognises this and, as we leave the EU, we must look outwards to avoid isolation. I worry, though, that our international focus is on how the UK stands on the international stage after Brexit, rather than on how we use that position, particularly how we use it to alleviate crippling poverty in developing countries. We must not have a solely self-centred approach to our international affairs. If DfID is merged with the FCO, there is a worry that UK aid will be used to advance UK foreign policy as opposed to being invested in alleviating poverty. Can the Minister allay our fears on this?

I welcome the Government’s continuing commitment to spend 0.7% of our gross national income on overseas aid, but will the Government confirm that this will be used not for our own gain but solely for the relief of poverty, tackling climate change and development?

In July, 1,142 bishops and spouses of the Anglican Communion across the globe will gather at the Lambeth Conference, many of them from nations tackling deep poverty and facing the direct impacts of climate change. They demonstrate that local church communities are excellent deliverers of sustainable development. Will the Government commit to continue to work with development agencies, such as Christian Aid and Tearfund, to deliver, through faith communities, the best use of development aid?

Aid alone, however, cannot tackle the task of lifting the poorest out of poverty. Trade will always be more significant than aid. So, with a fresh vision for trade, could we not seize the opportunity to lead the way in helping to improve trading for and with the poorest nations? We can surely offer a better model than the investment and support provided by nations such as China and Russia to nations such as Burundi and Rwanda, which often exploit natural resources and do not build the local economy, skills and knowledge in the long term. Let us look justly for trade deals with poorer nations which help them to develop, recognising that mutual benefit is better than exploitative practices.

I therefore note with pleasure the commitment in the gracious Speech to stop the export of polluting waste to countries outside the OECD. According to Tearfund, every 30 seconds someone dies because of diseases caused by plastic pollution. Many communities cannot adequately dispose of their plastic waste. Countries are themselves aware of the problem of multinational consumer goods companies selling single-use plastics, so the Rwandan Government were the very first to ban plastic carrier bags—way ahead of us. How will the Government ensure that life-saving aid money which is given to subsidise private sector investment in continents such as Africa is not used to commit environmental violations?

It was a shame that the gracious Speech did not commit to stop investing in fossil fuels. Our international development must be sustainable, investing in initiatives that focus on developing small community projects that create innovative off-grid access to energy.

Agriculture is vital in international development; it is also vital here. Along with hospitality, social care and other so-called lower-skill industries, agriculture requires good migrant labour. Any points-based immigration system must ensure these needs are met and uphold our value of treating all well. This includes refugees and asylum seekers. Here is one idea: if vulnerable refugees have skills we require, could we add points to assist them as migrants? This leads me back to where I began, on vulnerable children. The provisions dealt with in Clause 37 of the EU withdrawal Bill need to be retained to protect the most exposed children in our world.

Lord Anderson of Swansea (Lab): [extract] …I welcome the long overdue review of all our external departments. I join my noble friend Lord Collins, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham, the noble Lord, Lord Jay, and the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, in raising questions about the danger of DfID returning to the fold of the FCO. …

The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence (Baroness Goldie) (Con): [extract] …I think it was the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham who made an important point about children and education. …


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