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Queen’s Speech debate 2017 – Day 1

RayCollins.jpgRay Collins on the current generation of politicians’ opportunity to eliminate aid dependency for good

“The truth is that UK development influence is massive, greater than our foreign policy, and this isn’t just about money, Britain is saving lives and bringing stability and security, and that’s good for our economy”.

Not my words but those of Priti Patel in an interview with The Guardian this week. And worth repeating as the first of five days debate on the Queen’s Speech focuses on Britain’s part in creating a just, safe, secure and sustainable planet free from the fear of hunger and poverty.

While welcoming the political consensus on spending 0.7% on development, I’m concerned that the Conservative manifesto challenges the internationally agreed definition of what constitutes Official Development Assistance. The government must undertake the widest consultation process with NGOs and development charities before talks commence with so called ‘like-minded’ countries.

The universal nature of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the principle of ‘leave no one behind’ are vital tools. ‘Decent jobs’ is a key part of Goal yet DfID’s recent review of this made no mention of the role of trade unions.

In holding the government to account, Labour will put human rights at the heart of our work. By supporting trade unions, women’s associations and other civil society groups we give them a voice in mounting their own advocacy challenges to their governments, including the defence of workers’ rights.

We shall be urging the UK government to tighten the rules on corporate accountability for abuses in global supply chains. We need to stop clothing made by people working in horrendous conditions from reaching our markets and demand action from major companies. Labour will also be pressing for a fairer tax system for the world’s poorest people and countries, demanding decisive action on tax havens including crown dependencies and overseas territories ensuring a public register of owners.

On global trade agreements there are opportunities. But these must be governed by principles, the most important of which is a pro-poor, pro-development policy. Hard Brexiteers advocate a bonfire of regulations threatening millions of jobs. We will demand the maintenance of high social and environmental standards in trade agreements post-Brexit, to guarantee continuing access to the EU market.

This government has a poor record when it comes to respecting parliamentary sovereignty, failing to meet Labour's commitment to an International Trade White Paper. We demand provisions for proper parliamentary scrutiny of all proposed trade deals and treaty obligations.

A multilateral approach to global engagement, working with our allies, is essential to counter and confront terrorism. Britain has a proud tradition of leadership in the world. Despite the government’s focus on Brexit, must do more to evidence its commitment to ensure we are a major player on the world stage.

The challenges are great: securing peace and stability in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and Ukraine, defeating ISIL, and addressing Iran and North Korea’s nuclear programmes. In the Middle East, we need to continue to press for a two state solution but we have also seen ongoing tensions in the Gulf. The government must act with Gulf countries in the region to deescalate the situation and encourage Qatar to engage with its neighbours over their concerns about extremism. 

Leaders cannot act with impunity, the use of chemical weapons in Syria is a crime and those responsible must be held to account.

The government’s commitment to passing new legislation, setting a framework for the UK to implement sanctions after we leave the EU, is both necessary and welcome. It also provides us with an opportunity to debate more fundamental questions, about the purpose and scope of our future sanctions regime, and about how we can make sanctions work more effectively.

Human rights are universal and mature democracies must support the development of free societies everywhere, while upholding their own legal and moral obligations. We are now seeing a world where LGBT+ people are facing not only discrimination and anti-gay laws but increased violence. The killing, torture and arbitrary detention of people in Chechnya, due to their actual or perceived LGBT status is the most horrendous example. According to the Russian LGBT network most detainees are now released due to the wide spread media coverage of the atrocities.

Labour is calling on the government to make regular inquiries regarding the progress in the investigation of the anti-gay purge in Chechnya and demand they publicly demonstrate support for journalists and human rights defenders working to expose and counter abuses by Chechen authorities. It is also time for the government to appoint a minister with cross departmental responsibilities for the Human Rights of LGBTI persons.

The current generation of politicians has the power to eliminate aid dependency for good by empowering the powerless. That is Labour's vision and that is what we will press the Government to do.

Lord Ray Collins of Highbury is both Shadow FCO and Shadow DfID Minister in the House of Lords

Published 22nd June 2017

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