MPs back law committing 0.7% of national income to foreign aid
Around £11bn a year will go to international aid and development after Conservatives finally back Liberal Democrat bill.
The UK is a step closer to having laws that commit 0.7% of national income to foreign aid after the Conservatives finally backed a Liberal Democrat bill that is also supported by Labour.
After a lengthy debate before the Commons rises for recess, MPs voted overwhelming to pass the legislation, which was opposed by just seven Conservative hardliners. The target, which was hit for the first time in April, means around £11bn of public money a year going towards international aid and development.
Both the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats made manifesto promises to put the 0.7% measure into law and pledged to do so in the coalition agreement.
However, the Tories dragged their heels over the issue amid fears it was unpopular with their grassroots in a difficult economic climate, especially those who might be tempted to vote for Ukip.
The Liberal Democrats held the Conservatives’ feet to the fire on making the pledge after Michael Moore, the former Scotland secretary, won a ballot giving him a chance to introduce the legislation. Labour was strongly in favour of the bill, with Gordon Brown, the former prime minister, and Jim Murphy, the shadow international development secretary, both breaking off their campaigning against Scottish independence to lend support to the plans in the Commons.
In a rare appearance in parliament, Brown, MP for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath, said: “What we are talking about today is how we keep the promises we have made as a country and as an international community.
“What we are talking about is whether the parties who signed pledges during the last few years, the coalition agreement that contained these pledges, whether we are prepared to uphold these pledges which said specifically that the 0.7% target would be legislated on the statute book.
“We have not, even recently, not kept the promises we have made in Syria. ‘Why have you abandoned us?’ – these were the five words a young girl from Syria said to me.”
Desmond Swayne, a Conservative international development minister, confirmed government support for Moore’s private member’s bill during a second reading debate in the Commons.
“There are all sorts of arguments to be had about whether it should be 0.7% and a long debate might be had on that basis,” he said.
“Indeed, we might be having one today … but all I can say as an elected politician I feel myself bound by commitments that I have made and I made a commitment at the last general election to 0.7%.”
It requires no extra spending because the target was hit at the 2013 budget, but Tory rightwinger Philip Davies said the legislation was just something to keep “Guardian-reading, sandal-wearing, lentil-eating” do-gooders with a “misguided guilt complex” happy.
Swayne said international development aid was not charity, but money spent in the national interest to help make the world a safer place and bring down immigration. “I have no doubt that this is money well spent and in the taxpayers’ interest,” he said. “We live in a dangerous and disordered world. We are beset, one only may look at the port of Calais, to see how many people from all sorts of desperate circumstances in desperate countries all over the world, where poverty and injustice and misgovernance has reigned for generations.
“If we wish to see those movements of population reduced then it is in our interest to invest in good governance, to invest in economic growth in some of those countries.”
Introducing his bill, Moore, who is Liberal Democrat MP for Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk, said it would also introduce extra scrutiny of aid spending to ensure taxpayers got value for money.
“It is right we should do that … but this is not simply about our moral imperative, the importance of delivering for the poorest and most disadvantaged in the world,” he told the Commons.
“It is also about our interests here as well … the problems of other parts of the world do not stay local for long. Whether it is migration, whether it’s conflict that draws us in, whatever it might be all of that effects us every day.
“I would therefore argue this is not a choice between what is morally right and what is in our self interest. There is no awkward choice here – this is in our interest and it is the right thing to do.”
Charities welcomed the bill. Justin Forsyth, chief executive of Save the Children said parliament took a “giant step toward making history today”.
“To enshrine in law the commitment to spend 0.7% of national income on aid, a long term guarantee of help to those who need it most, will save millions of children’s lives,” he said.
- The Guardian,