Mary Creagh

Working hard for Wakefield

Speech in Parliament during 'Britain in the World' debate



Mary Creagh (Wakefield) (Lab): May I begin by paying tribute to our armed forces and the work they are doing across the world to protect our country and

1 Jun 2015 : Column 416

Britain’s national interests? We remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice during the last Parliament and we must never forget them. I also pay tribute to Foreign Office and DFID staff working often in challenging environments to improve people’s lives. I warmly congratulate the Secretary of State for International Development on her reappointment and on the commitment she personally has shown to the advancement of women and girls across the world. We also congratulate her colleagues the Minister of State, the right hon. Member for New Forest West (Mr Swayne), on his reappointment, and the Minister of State, the right hon. Member for Welwyn Hatfield (Grant Shapps), formerly known as Michael Green. He has shown that being deputy chairman of the Conservative party is no barrier to promotion to higher things, and we wish him well as he starts his big, proper Government job.

All three DFID Ministers have the great privilege and duty of delivering change to the poorest people in the world at a time of significant challenges. If we in this House wish to end the abuse of power, to end inequality in education and health, and to end the waste of worklessness and transform our world, we must rise to meet the challenges of globalisation, technology and migration. We believe we achieve more by our common endeavour than we achieve alone.

But this Queen’s Speech was notable for the things it did not mention as much as for those it did. The right hon. Lady’s party promised to scrap the Human Rights Act yet there was nothing on that in the Gracious Speech. We on the Labour Benches believe human rights are universal and inalienable. Mature democracies like ours should support the development of free societies everywhere while upholding our own legal and moral obligations.

Britain helped draft the European convention on human rights after the genocide of world war two. What message does it send to the bigots and tyrants of the world if we leave that convention? If we turn our back on human rights, what hope is there for those awaiting the death penalty in prisons around the world? What message does that send to Burma, Syria, North Korea, Sri Lanka and Iran?

Workers’ rights are also human rights, so will the right hon. Lady use some of the £1.8 billion she has earmarked for economic development to work with trade unions to tackle the abuses of migrant workers building Qatar’s 2022 World cup stadiums? The International Trade Union Confederation estimates that 1,200 workers have died so far. That is the human toll of FIFA’s corruption. The deaths of those people are a stain on the beautiful game. The right hon. Lady’s Government should organise a summit to press for change at FIFA, and that change must also include a review of the decision to award the World cup to Qatar.

Today we face the greatest refugee crisis since the second world war, with 55 million people in need of our help. Over the past two years we have seen a huge tragedy unfolding in the Mediterranean. People fleeing conflict in Syria, Libya and Eritrea are putting their lives into the hands of the traffickers because the world is turning away in their hour of need. The right hon. Lady’s Government were wrong to withdraw from the Mare Nostrum Mediterranean rescue force saying it acted as a pull factor, but they were right to realise their mistake, to correct it and to participate in the new

1 Jun 2015 : Column 417

Mediterranean rescue force, and we pay tribute to our armed forces who are engaged in that task.

This country has a proud history of helping those fleeing persecution, yet we have offered safe haven via the United Nations to fewer people than Germany, Austria, Canada, Sweden, France and even Australia. The right hon. Lady’s Government have resettled just 187 Syrian refugees under the UK’s vulnerable persons relocation scheme. Labour Members now urge her to work with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees to offer safe haven to the children of Syria.

Sir Alan Duncan: Given that we have given 25 times more than the French to assist those fleeing from Syria, does the hon. Lady think it also right that we should be put on the same basis for taking as many people into this country, when most of them would rather go back to their own land?

Mary Creagh: The right hon. Gentleman talks about our previous work. Under the UN scheme, we took 2,500 people from Bosnia and 4,000 Kosovar Albanians when our troops were engaged in the no-fly zone and the airstrikes in the former Yugoslavia. It is not a question of either/or; it is a question of and/and. Our country’s proud tradition of offering safe haven to those fleeing persecution should not be forgotten.

We heard some excellent speeches, including from the right hon. Member for Rutland and Melton (Sir Alan Duncan), but I will concentrate on Members who made their maiden speech. There was an excellent contribution from the hon. Member for Fareham (Suella Fernandes), who shared her family’s personal story in a powerful and eloquent maiden speech. My hon. Friend the Member for Great Grimsby (Melanie Onn) reminded us of the question of what happens when the renewables run out. She fought off UKIP in her seat, and she set out the future for her town, with 4,000 new green jobs in the energy sector in partnership with the European Union. The hon. Member for Taunton Deane (Rebecca Pow) made her maiden speech, and we are glad to hear that her constituency is recovering from the floods. There was also an excellent speech by my hon. Friend the Member for Burnley (Julie Cooper), who shared with us the fact that 90% of sound systems in Hollywood are made in Burnley, which we will all think about when we watch the next blockbuster.

We heard an excellent speech from the hon. Member for Ochil and South Perthshire (Ms Ahmed-Sheikh), who talked about the importance of women’s participation in politics. She represents a constituency that combines both The Famous Grouse and Gleneagles—she has the best of both worlds.

We heard a moving tribute to the members of our armed forces and about the needs of veterans from the new hon. Member for Plymouth, Moor View (Johnny Mercer). He paid a moving tribute to Lance Sergeant Dan Collins, who took his own life, and Lance Bombardier Mark Chandler, who was killed in action in Afghanistan. Those were deeply moving moments that this Chamber will not forget in a hurry.

We also heard a great speech from the new hon. Member for Lewes (Maria Caulfield). She and I share an Irish heritage, although I cannot say that I have

1 Jun 2015 : Column 418

burned any effigies of the right hon. Member for Gordon (Alex Salmond), although there is always time—so good, they burned him twice!

The hon. Member for Belfast East (Gavin Robinson) made an excellent speech, and he talked about the importance of Bombardier to his constituency.

My hon. Friend the Member for St Helens North (Conor McGinn) spoke movingly about how he was a child of the peace process. He talked about the contribution of the Irish community and the difference it has made to Britain. We also had two speeches from Members who can perhaps be described, in the words of Thomas Hardy’s “Tess of the d’Urbervilles,” as maidens no more: the Mayor of London, who is also known as the hon. Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Boris Johnson), and the right hon. Member for Gordon, who waxed lyrical on the Prime Minister’s secret renegotiations with the EU. He compared the renegotiations to the South Sea Company, whereby a company was set up but people were not allowed to know its purpose until it was all finished.

We heard excellent speeches from the new hon. Member for South Antrim (Danny Kinahan) on the need for the military covenant to be recognised in Northern Ireland and from the new hon. Member for North Cornwall (Scott Mann), who described delivering his own and others’ election literature.

The hon. Member for Portsmouth South (Mrs Drummond) rightly reminded us of the debt we owe the intelligence services.

The new hon. Member for Glasgow North (Patrick Grady) began by wishing peace on this House and ended by wishing peace on the world.

The hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mrs Trevelyan) reminded us of Sir William Beveridge, one of her predecessors, and the importance of realising the potential of every child.

The hon. and gallant Member for Wells (James Heappey) spoke eloquently of his service to his country in Basra, Kabul and Sangin.

My hon. Friend the Member for Lancaster and Fleetwood (Cat Smith) spoke of the proud history of non-conformism in her constituency and our duty to accept more refugees.

The hon. Member for Dudley South (Mike Wood) also spoke about the importance of businesses in his constituency and the need to keep working in Europe.

Let me turn to the three immediate tasks ahead of the International Development Secretary in the next six months: the financing for development summit in July; the sustainable development summit in September; and the climate summit in December. Those international summits will shape the life chances of millions of people, yet only one, the climate summit, received a mention in the Gracious Speech. Will she encourage her right hon. Friend the Chancellor to attend the financing for development summit, to demonstrate UK leadership? It will be crucial to convince other wealthy countries to make their fair contribution to put poorer nations on the path to a low-carbon, secure and sustainable future.

At September’s summit, the world must focus the new sustainable development goals on the growing gap between rich and poor. Inequality reduces growth, hindering development. Ensuring women’s political, social, economic

1 Jun 2015 : Column 419

and human rights will help eradicate poverty and achieve inclusive economic growth. Across the world, millions of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people face criminalisation, hatred and persecution. Inequalities in gender, caste, race, sexuality, community, disability, religion, and ethnicity far too often determine people’s life chances. Ensuring that everyone has access to healthcare is essential to ending poverty. The best way to protect against disease is to build a resilient, publicly controlled, publicly funded health service. With Ebola still lingering in Sierra Leone and Guinea, will the International Development Secretary now prioritise the provision of universal health coverage in the sustainable development goals?

The third summit is the climate summit in December. As many right hon. and hon. Members have said, the effect of climate change will hit the poorest people hardest. Eradicating poverty goes hand in hand with tackling climate change. If we do not cap temperature rises below 2°, millions of people will fall back into poverty. DFID must be fully involved in the preparations and negotiations for the climate conference. The climate change crisis is not an abstract geography and weather question, but a threat to the lives and livelihoods of millions of people.

The Gracious Speech was marked by the commitment to the EU referendum. Our country needs strong alliances around the world. Those alliances start in Europe, and a strong Britain benefits from a strong European Union. The Prime Minister has been uncharacteristically coy about what he is trying to renegotiate with other EU leaders. Labour Members look forward to making the case for remaining in the biggest market in the world, the protector of our rights and freedoms as workers and consumers, and the most successful peace process the world has ever seen.

In conclusion, there is an ambition across this House to see a better world, as Members from both sides have passionately made clear in a range of speeches today. The last Labour Government cancelled debt, trebled the aid budget, and brokered ambitious deals on trade and climate change. We will not allow that history to be rewritten by Conservative Members. In Opposition, we will support the Government unfailingly and in good faith where it is appropriate to do so. Where it is not, we will force them to act, as we did when the Government failed to act on their 2010 manifesto promise to commit 0.7% of gross national income to international development aid. This Government must not squander the leadership role that the 0.7% commitment gives them. As many hon. Members have said in this debate, we have to choose and shape Britain’s future place in Europe and in the world. As the global village becomes smaller and more connected, we believe we must build a world where power, wealth and opportunity is in the hands of the many, not the few, and where we achieve more by our common endeavour than we achieve alone.

The Labour Party will place cookies on your computer to help us make this website better.

Please read this to review the updates about which cookies we use and what information we collect on our site.

To find out more about these cookies, see our privacy notice. Use of this site confirms your acceptance of these cookies.