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Progress is made on law to increase international aid

19 September 2014


Ready: a DfID worker stands in front of a truck laden with aid, at a UK aid Disaster Response Centre, at Kemble airport, Wiltshire, last month 

Ready: a DfID worker stands in front of a truck laden with aid, at a UK aid Disaster Response Centre, at Kemble airport, Wiltshire, last month...

A MOVE to enshrine in law a requirement to spend 0.7 per cent of the UK's gross national income on international development passed its first parliamentary hurdle last Friday, when the International Development (Official Development Assistance Target) Bill received its Second Reading.

The target was first agreed as a global commitment in 1970 as a UN General Assembly Resolution. Thirty years later, the target was repeated by its inclusion as one of the UN's Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

The former Prime Minister Gordon Brown, when he was Chancellor of the Exchequer, began a process of increasing the percentage spent on overseas aid from 0.27 per cent, in 1997, to 0.6 per cent by 2010. The Coalition Government increased this further, meeting the 0.7-per-cent target in 2013, and has budgeted to retain it this year.

Speaking in the Commons debate last Friday, Mr Brown spoke about a photo of a ten-year-old boy, David, in the Children's Museum in Rwanda. A caption accompanying the photograph explained that his favourite sport was football, and his hobby was making people laugh. He was tortured to death. The caption recorded David's last words to his mother: "Don't worry. The United Nations are coming to help us."

"That young boy in his innocence and his idealism believed that the international community was coming to his aid," Mr Brown said. "He believed what we had said . . . He believed that when we made promises, we in the international community would keep them. It is to our shame that that young boy died, believing that help would come when it never did."

Mr Brown said that, although it was "too late to keep our promises to that young boy", the debate was about "how we keep the promises we have made as a country and as an international community".

The commitment to legislating for spending 0.7 per cent of gross national income on international development was in the manifestos of all three main parties. But the Bill before Parliament is a Private Member's Bill, presented by Michael Moore, the Liberal Democrat MP for Berwickshire, Roxburgh, and Selkirk. It has the support of the Government.

The International Development Minister, Desmond Swayne, told MPs: "We are leading in this matter, and that gives our country enormous authority when we speak on these matters."

The Bill does not contain any enforcement powers against a government that fails to spend 0.7 per cent of gross national income on international development. Instead, it requires the Secretary of State to make a statement to Parliament to explain why this has not happened.

The Bill also sets up an Independent International Development Office to "verify the extent to which [aid] is spent efficiently and effectively".

The Bill now moves to a committee stage for a detailed scrutiny of the its clauses.

The Bishop of Derby, Dr Alastair Redfern, welcomed the Bill's progress. He described it as "an important milestone in the UK's continuing efforts to meet the needs of those most marginalised in our broken world". He said that the vote - 166 ayes, and seven noes - demonstrated "the depth of cross-party support for enshrining the 0.7-per-cent development target into law".

In 2011, the Secretary of State for International Development at that time, Andrew Mitchell, in an address to the General Synod, emphasised the Government's commitment to meeting the 0.7-per-cent target and the other MDGs (News, 10 February 2011).

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