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
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
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
"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
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
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).