On 14 October, I listened to a disappointing Queen’s Speech – plenty of warm words that showed a general election is on the horizon, but woefully short of commitment to real action. It lacked any meaningful content on foreign affairs or climate change, for example. In the week of debates that followed the Queen’s Speech, I spoke on the day themed ‘Britain’s Place in the World’. I urged the government to reflect on how our values should and could inform every aspect of our foreign and international development policy.
Yes, British values taught in schools (democracy, rule of law, individual liberty, mutual respect and tolerance for different beliefs) are all vital and I support them all. But in the 21st century, and the world as it is, we should also have human rights, equality and environmentalism as values underpinning everything in our relationships with the rest of the world.
You can read the full text of my six-minute speech below, or watch it on the video at the end.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Barrow and Furness (John Woodcock). I have a great deal of time for him, as I do for the many contributions that have been made by Members from all parts of the House. In some ways, this highlights my frustration with the way we have to work in this place, with so many people making so many excellent points, but with such a short time in which to debate them. I do not know what we do about that, but I find myself holding back from intervening because I know that we are short of time, and yet wanting to discuss things.
I want to talk today about our sense of values, which I heard admirably expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Stephen Twigg). I want to add to what he said and to develop that theme by suggesting that we have human rights explicitly named as a British value. I agree with the five values on the curriculum: democracy, rule of law, individual liberty, mutual respect and tolerance for different faiths. Of course, I support them, but greater emphasis should be placed on human rights, environmentalism and equality. In fact, it looks as though the Government almost agree with me, because right at the end of the Queen’s Speech, it says that the Government will prioritise
“tackling climate change and ensuring that all girls have access to twelve years of quality education.”
I suggest that that points towards the values of environmentalism and of equality. I ask the Ministers on the Treasury Bench to discuss this with their colleagues in the Department for Education to find out whether those priorities can be put on the school curriculum posters to go with the other five.
As a Labour MP, I know that our party is founded on the principle of equality. In government, we pioneered the world’s first Climate Change Act in 2008 and the world’s first legally binding carbon emissions reduction target, so, of course, I support prioritising climate change and I support prioritising gender equality.
I want to discuss a couple of points. I had hoped to hear something more explicit in the Queen’s Speech, and in subsequent speeches, about how we can honour the value of human rights in relation to two global crises—one of forced migration, which is amounting to a record 70 million people this year, and the other of antimicrobial resistance, which is currently killing 700,000 people each year, and rising rapidly.
As has been said by others today, the war in Syria alone has resulted in 13 million Syrians being forced to flee, but, unfortunately, only 28 nations accept refugees on the UN High Commissioner for Refugees resettlement scheme—that is 28 nations out of the entire world. I ask the Ministers on the Treasury Bench to consider what further things they can do to encourage other states to take refugees into the resettlement scheme. I agree that, yes, we are one of the best in the world, and we should be proud of that, but I would like us to be the very best. One way in which we can do that is to expand our commitment to resettlement and put more emphasis on the prevention of refoulement—forced return—and on the prevention of conflict in the first place. I would like to see more resettlement, not less, and I would like to see more of it globally, because too many of the world’s refugees are concentrated in countries that can least afford to look after them. In Lebanon, for example, one in four of the population is a refugee from Syria and most of them live in poverty, and in Turkey there are 3.6 million refugees. That is not good enough. We are not doing enough to share that responsibility.
Domestically, the immigration Bill must also include an end to indefinite detention of refugees. That should be part of our commitment to human rights and our sense of values and who we want to be seen as in the world. That was in an amendment that was tabled on the Immigration Bill and then the Immigration Bill fell and now we have to start all over again. Please, let us put it back on the agenda.
I would also like to see the end to any use of immigration detention for victims of torture, the return of the Refugees (Family Reunion) Bill and an increase in resettlement generally.
The consequences of antimicrobial resistance are costly in financial and human terms. I have mentioned the number of deaths, but there will also be cumulative financial costs of up to $100 trillion by 2050 if we do not take action successfully. I cannot even begin to think how much that money could achieve if we were not going to lose it on the costs of antimicrobial resistance. I must pay tribute to my niece Aliyah Debbonaire, who is currently in the closing stages of her PhD, identifying novel antimicrobial drug candidates from microbes in extreme environments. I am very proud of her, but she is not the only one. Other experts on antimicrobial resistance are available, such as Lord O’Neill, who committed his wise words on antimicrobial resistance to the report published in 2016. I urge the Government to redouble their efforts. They published their vision earlier this year and it is a good one, but it could be so much better.
If we are truly to reflect our values in our place in the world, what better way than by following Lord O’Neill’s recommendations to improve sanitation and global surveillance of drug resistance, and to promote the development of vaccines—a matter about which I feel particularly strongly?
I salute the work of DFID, which is a globally respected Government Department. It has a great deal to be proud of in our role in the world, but I would like us to be so proud of it that it is part of how we describe ourselves and part of how we encourage children to think of this country when they are talking about our values.
For most of us, our values are what get us up in the morning. They motivate us, we pass them on to our children and they are the reason that most of us are here. We often fall short, and that makes us human. But being part of humanity, we need to get up again, examine our consciences and try to do better. Last week in my local progressive synagogue I had the great honour of being part of the Yom Kippur service, and words about getting up, trying again and doing better were very much a part of it.
Our love for one another should take us beyond our differences and past our fears. It should help us get over our failures, and renew and redouble our determination to do better, to live up to our values, to celebrate those values and to show the world that that is who we really are.
I’m going to leave aside Brexit and this weekend’s events for a moment – but you can keep up to speed with what’s happening by reading my Autumn crisis blog on my website. I’m trying to update it regularly, as we go. https://www.debbonaire.co.uk/in-parliament/2019/10/19/thangam-debbonaire-my-live-blog-through-this-2019-autumn-uk-national-crisis/Last week I listened to a disappointing Queen’s Speech – plenty of warm words that showed a general election is on the horizon, but woefully short of commitment to real action. It lacked any meaningful content on foreign affairs or climate change, for example. In the week of debates that followed the Queen’s Speech, I spoke on the day themed ‘Britain’s Place in the World’. I urged the government to reflect on how our values should and could inform every aspect of our foreign and international development policy. Yes, British values taught in schools (democracy, rule of law, individual liberty, mutual respect and tolerance for different beliefs) are all vital and I support them all. But in the 21st century, and the world as it is, we should also have human rights, equality and environmentalism as values underpinning everything in our relationships with the rest of the world. You can watch my six-minute speech here:
Posted by Thangam Debbonaire MP for Bristol West on Monday, October 21, 2019