MPs defeat attempt to wreck overseas aid target law

05 December 2014

PA

Practical: the International Development minister, Desmond Swayne (left), is shown a lifesaver cube by the DfID Head of Humanitarian response, Dylan Winder, at the DfID disaster response operations centre, at Cotswold airport, Kemble, in August

Practical: the International Development minister, Desmond Swayne (left), is shown a lifesaver cube by the DfID Head of Huma...

A BILL that would commit the Government to spending 0.7 per cent of national income on international aid has been passed by the House of Commons.

MPs voted 146 to five in favour of the International Development (Official Development Assistance Target) Bill, but only after they had to defeat a number of wrecking amendments by opponents of the Bill during the earlier report stage, on Friday.

A number of Conservative MPs who opposed the proposed new law, including Philip Davies, Jacob Rees-Mogg, and David Nuttall, had tabled several amendments in an attempt to prolong the debate and kill off the Bill by using up the available time.

More than 100 of the MPs present were in favour of the 0.7 per cent target; so the Bill's supporters were able to force through a motion of closure on the debate after two and a half hours, and keep the Bill alive. It was later passed on the Third Reading.

The 0.7-per-cent target was first laid out by the UN in the 1970s, and was in both the Tory and Liberal Democrat manifestos at the 2010 election. Mr Rees-Mogg described the target as "tokenism", however, and a "grandiloquent expression of intent rather than proper legislation".

Mr Davies had previously referred to the aid target as "a handout to make a few middle class, Guardian-reading, sandal-wearing, lentil-eating do-gooders with a misguided guilt complex feel better about themselves".

One of Mr Nuttall's amendments would cut the figure to 0.35 per cent. He said it was bizarre that the Government had actually increased its spending on overseas development in recent years, "at a time when the country can arguably least afford it".

Speaking in favour of the Bill, the Labour MP and former church leader Gavin Shuker said that the UK had agreed to the UN aspiration of 0.7 per cent, and now had to live up to it.

He said that, together with Mr Davies and Mr Nuttall, he shared a desire to repeal the Bill: "Not because I aspire to living in a UK that is less generous, but because I aspire to living in a world which is more equal, and where each country has the resources, institutions, and industry that it needs to be independent of foreign aid."

His calls for MPs to quickly reject the amendments were echoed by Desmond Swayne, a Conservative junior minister in the Department for International Aid. A spokesman for David Cameron also said that the Prime Minister, who was not present in the House of Commons, backed the intention of the Bill.

Christian Aid said that it was delighted that the aid target continued to progress towards entering the statute book. Its head of advocacy, Laura Taylor, said in a statement: "British aid saves millions of lives every year. Enshrining the UK's commitment to 0.7 per cent in law will increase the predictability of aid, allowing recipient countries to plan better and helping the UK Government to make smart long term investments.

She went on: "Christian Aid calls on the Government to ensure that the Bill is now discussed at the earliest opportunity in the House of Lords, to give it the best chance of becoming law before the general election."

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