UK MPs are known, via the media, for having expenses scandals, complaining about intrusion into privacy or other little things which may result in their re-election or booting out. On the issue of spending 0.7% of GNI (or GDP or whatever measurement of an economy), however, almost all MPs are set on it so much that there was a furious debate on it being missed out as a legislation for the current parliamentary session 2012-2013. Let’s take a look at some of the debates over the Queen’s speech. (All comments are accurately copied from UK Parliamentary records, Hansard. If any are wrong, please inform).
Malcolm Bruce (now Sir Malcolm Bruce), Chair of the International Development Select Committee:
…I am disappointed at the omission of legislation to enact the UK’s commitment to 0.7% of gross domestic product being provided for overseas development assistance. However, I recognise that legislation is not required for us to meet that commitment next year, and I very much welcome the fact that it was reinforced in the Queen’s Speech.
Ed Miliband (needs no introduction of his role):
What about the things that did not make it into the Queen’s Speech? How about the manifesto promise—the Prime Minister’s detoxification promise—to enshrine in law spending 0.7% of national income on aid. [Interruption.] They are not putting it in law.
David Cameron (needs no introduction of his role):
I hear absolutely what he says about a Bill for 0.7% of GDP on aid, but what I would say is that what matters most of all is that we reach the target in terms of the money spent.
Tony Baldry, former chair of the International Development Select Committee:
Some 40 years after they first promised to give 0.7% of their national income in aid, rich countries are less than halfway there. Among the major economies, only we in the UK are on target to meet our commitments.
Gareth Thomas, former Minister of State at DFID:
This Gracious Speech is striking in that it does not include a Bill to fulfil the commitment that 0.7% of our national income should be spent on development assistance. The three major parties all committed to legislating on that. Indeed, before the last general election, I had the honour of taking such a Bill through the pre-legislative scrutiny process. There is a strong case for Britain continuing to set an example on the provision of international aid for people in less well-off countries. We should think of the current west Africa food crisis and the huge numbers of people at risk of dying of hunger there, and of the considerable remaining health challenges in respect of HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria.
The lack of action by the Government parties in respect of the ancient, yet still very important, United Nations commitment that every rich country should give 0.7% of its income to help the world’s poorest is a huge missed opportunity. In the forthcoming debate on the Gracious Speech, I look forward to hearing the Secretary of State for International Development give a clear and detailed explanation as to why he has failed to convince his colleagues to introduce legislation to that effect.
Douglas Alexander, former Secretary of State for International Development:
Let me turn briefly to an issue that my shadow ministerial colleague and hon. Friend the Member for Bury South (Mr Lewis) will address more extensively in his closing remarks this evening. As a previous Secretary of State for International Development, I know the vital role that aid plays in embodying the values of this country, as well as in securing and protecting our vital interests. That is why I regret the fact that the Government have broken yet another promise by failing to include in this year’s Queen’s Speech legislation on the 0.7% target, despite promising to do so in both the Tory election manifesto and, indeed, in the coalition agreement…
Tom Clarke, Treasurer of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Overseas Development:
Was he not a little surprised, as I was, that the Foreign Secretary, during his rather long speech, could not say a few kind words about his colleague the Secretary of State for International Development, and even more so that the Foreign Secretary failed to explain this very important omission of something that we know has been dear to the heart of the International Development Secretary, namely introducing legislation on the 0.7% target?
Stephen Gilbert and Angus Robertson:
Stephen Gilbert (St Austell and Newquay) (LD): The right hon. Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire South (Mr Alexander) sees an expansion of diplomatic posts and embassies abroad and draws the lesson that ambition is contracting. Only he, who was party to an illegal invasion of Iraq, could talk about this Government’s imperial delusions. He made a particularly chippy and mean-spirited speech; I have come to expect better from him.
I want to touch on four topics in the brief time available: Iran, the events of the Arab spring in the middle east and north Africa, the current events in the horn of Africa, and Syria. First, however, I should like to welcome the Government’s commitment to delivering 0.7% of gross national income to people much less fortunate than ourselves around the world. Indeed, this coalition Government are the first Government in history to set out in black and white in their spending review, as reconfirmed last month in the Budget, that we will be giving less than 1p in every pound to help some of the poorest people around the world.
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Angus Robertson (Moray) (SNP): Will the hon. Gentleman explain why the UK has still not delivered on that commitment, given that it signed up to it at the United Nations 40 years ago?
Stephen Gilbert: I was just explaining that the coalition Government are delivering on that commitment. I would have thought that the hon. Gentleman would have had the good grace to welcome that.
Moving on to international aid, there is a lot of criticism in the country at large about retaining our aim to spend 0.7% of gross national income on international aid. People say that we cannot afford it, but one of the great advantages of having a statement of how our taxes are spent would be that they would be able to see that the proportion being spent on international aid is actually tiny. I do not care if I get criticism from some of my constituents for saying that this is a moral, Christian obligation that we have to carry out and achieve. We simply cannot stand by and let innocent people die through a lack of the most basic infrastructure.
Michael McCann, member of the International Development Select Committee:
However, it says a lot about the Government’s priorities that the issue of House of Lords reform has been placed ahead of the commitment to legislating for that 0.7% expenditure…. That commitment should not have been ducked. Not only did all three main parties make that commitment in their manifestos but, even more importantly, our commitment sent a message around the world—that the UK was prepared to be bold, which could encourage others to be equally bold and to walk in our footsteps to reach the 0.7% figure.
Daniel Kawczynski and Michael McCann:
Daniel Kawczynski: Slightly earlier, the hon. Gentleman referred to the figure of 0.7% of GDP going on international aid. Does he agree that it is important that we as parliamentarians keep reiterating that figure to our constituents? When people complain to me about our spending on international aid and I tell them it is only 0.7% of our overall GDP, they realise it is a very modest amount.
Mr McCann: I entirely agree: that is a modest amount for a developed country to pay to ensure starving people across the world can expect to receive food and drugs. Only a few weeks ago, I and some other Members visited Zambia and Malawi, and saw the difference malaria and AIDS drugs were making to families.
I congratulate the Secretary of State for International Development on the fact that we are increasing our funding on international development aid from 0.56% to 0.7% from next year. I am delighted that we are doing that. Lots of people have lobbied me to ask why that is not enshrined in legislation and commenting that we cannot guarantee it will happen, but I believe the Secretary
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of State and the Government that we will deliver the scale of funding that we have committed to achieve next year.
I listened closely also to the hon. Member for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow (Mr McCann), who stressed the target of 0.7%, to which the United Kingdom Government have signed up for more than 40 years and have not delivered on so far in one single financial year;
I would be grateful if the Minister could clarify what part of the 0.7% of GNI in aid that we intend to spend will be channelled through the European Union. I commend him for his desire to have transparency in aid, which is absolutely right, for reasons that my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Bob Stewart) touched on. It would be perverse if, having gone to the trouble of making aid transparent in the UK, the large portion of our aid that goes through the EU and the European Commission was obscure. A lot of EU aid is used to prosecute foreign policy in relation to its near abroad, seemingly as an extension of the External Action Service. As chairman of the all-party group on Morocco, which is the largest recipient under the European neighbourhood policy, I can say that in general terms the money seems to be reasonably well spent.
Mark Lazarowicz, former Shadow Minister for International Development and Anas Sarwar, member of the International Development Select Committee:
I find it surprising that the Queen’s Speech did not include legislation to make spending 0.7% of GNI on overseas development assistance mandatory. I do not accept the argument that the time cannot be found. The legislation would be short and would have all-party agreement. Given the experience of the previous Session, when legislation was sometimes in all too short supply, I do not think it would be difficult to find time. All I can assume is that the Government, although prepared to do good by stealth and quietly stick to the 0.7% spending target, were nevertheless not prepared to proclaim their commitment from the rooftops, for fear of attracting too much attention and political flak from their more right-wing members and supporters. I understand why that might have seemed an attractive course of action, but I believe it to be a great mistake, and one that will be counter-productive to the Government’s stated commitment.
Those who do not support the 0.7% commitment in law will have scented weakness in the omission of the promised legislation, and will draw the conclusion that they should press more, in the hope that they can undermine the spending commitment as well. However, if the Government had gone ahead with legislation, there would have been a battle, but once it was through, the very fact that disengaging from such a commitment would be more difficult—requiring, as it would, a new Act of Parliament to repeal it, and one that would certainly face strong opposition—would make the commitment much more likely to remain, no longer being subject to real attack.
Anas Sarwar (Glasgow Central) (Lab): My hon. Friend raises the important point of the 0.7% target. Would not setting such a target also be an opportunity for the Government to leave a lasting legacy, so to speak, for future Governments, demonstrating the immense commitment of the UK people to international development?
Mark Lazarowicz: Indeed it would, which leads to me to the point that other countries look at what we in the UK do on development assistance. The UK under this Government—as, indeed, under the last—is seen as a world leader. In the current world economic situation, many richer countries are beginning to cut their overseas development assistance. The world community is beginning to draw back from the pledges it has made to the poor in poorer countries. Promises are being broken. An unequivocal commitment from the UK that we are standing by our promises—not just for one spending programme, but for the long term—would encourage those elsewhere in the world who want the promises
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made to the poor to be kept and who want to ensure that the weakest in the world community do not become the greatest victims of the world economic crisis.
I therefore hope that the Government will recognise that it would be to the advantage of their stated cause to introduce a Bill to make the 0.7% commitment mandatory. If they do not do so, I suspect that one of the hon. Members who signed the private Members’ Bill book today who comes up in the ballot will almost certainly choose to introduce such a Bill anyway, thereby putting the Government in the invidious position of either supporting it or asking Members to vote down legislation that they support. I therefore hope that the Government will think again on the 0.7% commitment.
However, legislation is one thing. Targets are important; what is also important is how spending on international development meets long-term development objectives and short-term crises.
I want to contribute on a number of issues, starting with international development. I support the aid target of 0.7% of GNI. It is a useful target. As others have said, it has been in place for many years, and it can help to identify an amount over time and enable us to compare what different countries are achieving. It is a real credit to the campaigners outside Parliament who pushed for our Governments to get to this stage, and it is a real credit to the last Labour Government that they set in motion the work to achieve that figure. It is also a real credit to this Government that they have retained the target. I have greatly enjoyed hearing support for it right across the Chamber, from Members of all parties. Let us remember that when the Labour Government came to power in 1997, international development aid had fallen to a quite low amount. From then onwards, we saw a steady increase towards the point when this Government have set out this firm commitment.
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There are two issues to discuss about the figure of 0.7%. Much of the discussion about international aid both within and without Parliament tends to focus on achieving that figure, but in my view we do not focus enough on what is being done with the money and why. Members have had the opportunity to see some of the projects in action—I saw them when I travelled overseas—but many people outside Parliament have not. We need not only to give more publicity to what is being done with that money in their name, but to be assured that it is being spent in the best possible way. Aid needs to be effective. While we focus on this figure, I think we need to talk more, plan more and do more in seeking clear outcomes. That is why clear goals such as the millennium development goals are important. We must develop the capacity of beneficiaries to become sustainable and productive economies.
I am proud that Labour made a commitment to meet the UN’s target of spending 0.7% of GNI on aid and to legislate on it by 2013, and I was pleased when that was taken on by the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats and included in the coalition agreement. I thought that surely the Government would not revoke that policy, which would prove to the country that the Tories were no longer the nasty party and that they genuinely believed in the moral duty of rich countries to help the poorest parts of the world. As the International Development Secretary said this year,
“On the whole, politicians should do what they say they are going to do”.
However, the Government now claim that a Bill to enshrine such a commitment in law cannot be introduced due to lack of parliamentary time, given their focus on the economy and, of course, the all important matter affecting the other place. That is a ridiculous notion. The Queen’s Speech did nothing to stimulate growth in the economy, nothing for young people looking for work, nothing for families whose living standards are being squeezed and nothing for small businesses that cannot get money from the bank.
Rather than telling developing nations, “Sorry, but we are simply too busy tackling the pressure issue of House of Lords reform and the accession of Croatia to the EU to provide you with proper assistance to help your citizens climb out of poverty,” a Bill committing to spend 0.7% of gross national income on aid would not and should not detract from other parliamentary business. It is supported by all three parties, would do much to show the international community that there is a genuine commitment to standing up for global social justice, and would undoubtedly increase the pressure on other countries to do more.
Legislation would also ensure that aid is maintained at an affordable level. Just as the absolute aid level may fall when Britain’s income goes down, so too should it rise when the national income goes up. As the charity ActionAid stated, legislation matters because aid needs to be around long enough to do the job. Many countries such as Ghana are now moving towards an end to dependency on aid, but that can happen only if we support them until that point. Legislation would provide the certainty that is needed for aid to be most effective.
It is a real shame that the Government have failed to capitalise on the cross-party agreement to legislate to meet the UN’s target of spending 0.7% of gross national income on international aid…which we could have shown by taking advantage of the cross-party consensus and legislating for 0.7% of gross national income to be spent on international aid from 2013. That would have resonated around the world, to the benefit of us all in the developed and developing worlds.
Before I refer to wider issues of concern to my constituents, let me welcome the Government’s support for Labour’s overseas aid commitment of 0.7% of gross national income. I am disappointed, however, by the Government’s sleight of hand—as if nothing had happened—in rowing back from enshrining the pledge in law. The proposal has cross-party support and was included in the Conservative and Liberal Democrat manifestos and promised in the coalition agreement, but was missing from the Queen’s Speech.
I am proud that my colleague, my hon. Friend the Member for Bury South (Mr Lewis), has urged the Secretary of State for International Development to include overseas aid legislation in the Government’s plans. This is not about a level of spend for one year and saying, “Job done”, but a statement about Britain’s role in the world and our commitment, as a compassionate nation, to the development of the poorest countries of the world.
Ivan Lewis, Shadow Secretary of State for International Development:
The idea that spending 0.7% of our gross national income on aid is excessive simply does not stand up to scrutiny, even in the context of difficult times and difficult choices…Aid has made, and does make, a tremendous difference…The Government’s failure to include the 0.7% aid commitment in legislation in the first Queen’s Speech breached a clear Tory manifesto commitment and a key element of the coalition agreement. Their failure to include it in this second Queen’s Speech is not only a broken promise
Alec Shelbrooke and Ivan Lewis:
I would like to emphasise that the hon. Gentleman seems to be under some illusion, probably based on stuff he has read in the media or on certain internet sites, that the Conservative party is not committed to 0.7%. He listened to my speech earlier and I hope he is not going down the road of saying that we are not committed to it, which is deeply offensive to many Conservative Back Benchers.
Mr Lewis: I read in the hon. Gentleman’s manifesto and I read in the coalition agreement that 0.7% would be enshrined in legislation in the first Session of Parliament. We are now at the beginning of the second, yet there is no intention to do so. That is why people have doubts.
Andrew Mitchell, current Secretary of State for International Development:
The Government are clear about Britain’s promise to allocate 0.7% of our national income to development, as confirmed in the Gracious Speech. That is a promise not to balance the books on the backs of the poorest people in the world…Mr McCann: If the figures are so low, why is the Secretary of State not legislating for 0.7%?
Mr Mitchell: I will deal directly with that in a moment…Many Members have raised the question of the legislation, so let me confirm again today that the Bill is ready and will be introduced when parliamentary time allows. As the Queen set out in her speech, next year the Government will meet our historic aid promise for the first time ever. Our plans are set out in black and white, and the Prime Minister and I have made it clear that the Bill is ready and will proceed. In the Gracious Speech, Her Majesty set out clearly the commitment to 0.7% and the Chancellor has confirmed in his Budget that that will take place. Next year, historically, this Conservative-led coalition Government will reach the commitment that we have all made.
Mark Hendrick (Preston) (Lab/Co-op): The Deputy Prime Minister referred in his statement to the commitment to providing 0.7% of GNI for development assistance. All three major political parties would like to put that commitment into law. Why, therefore, did the International Development Secretary—he is in his place next to the right hon. Gentleman—categorically refuse point blank to support my private Member’s Bill? Members of both parties in the coalition have said that they will support the Bill, and doing so would save parliamentary time and get it through sooner, rather than later.
The Deputy Prime Minister: As the hon. Gentleman knows, the response to his private Member’s Bill is a matter for the House. I should point out to him that if he attaches such significance to legislating on this issue, why on earth did his party not do it in 13 years in office? We are very clear that we will be delivering our commitment to allocate 0.7% of GNI from next year, and that we will legislate as soon as we possibly can.
As seen from the above, almost all MPs (mostly those from Labour), are critical of the failure to have the 0.7% legislation. Some Tory MPs are on their side. Only a talk about the ‘other’ side of the topics, that is, the effectiveness of foreign aid/Official Development Assistance.
0.7% has grown to be such a worry that a certain Labour back bencher, Mr. Mark Hendrick, has created a Private Member’s Bill, titled International Development (Official Development Assistance Target) Bill 2012-13. Simply speaking, he wants the legislation now!
This icky matter of 0.7% is so grounded in almost every MP. The 0.7% legislation almost became a legal or parliamentary pledge in the previous Labour Government. Now the beat continues…
Hear me out, I support 0.7% but more importantly, aid effectiveness should be the centre of the target. I’ve written about this before here and here. The Lord’s Select Committee on Economic Affairs has criticised the Coalition Government’s chase towards that target. The Center for Global Development has long ago also admonished developed countries’ chase towards that goal. The German Development Institute / Deutsches Institut für Entwicklungspolitik (DIE)’s Dr. Peter Wolff argues that especially with other forms of financial assistance, 0.7% should no longer be a central aim. The Institute of Development Studies’ Professor Lawrence Haddad says that this focus on 0.7% may be distraction away from true themes of development Yet, UK MPs, plod on.
I’ve no qualms or am not critical of these MPs drive towards 0.7% Just wondering if they’ve read the above (not my blog posts, the articles on 0.7%).