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
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
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."