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Bishop of Bristol asks for foreign-aid assurances

11 September 2020

House of Lords hears of concerns about commitment to aid

PA

The Prime Minister chairs a Cabinet meeting in the newly designated Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, at the beginning of this month

The Prime Minister chairs a Cabinet meeting in the newly designated Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, at the beginning of this month

THE Bishop of Bristol, the Rt Revd Vivienne Faull, has sought assurances from the Government that it remains committed to spending 0.7 per cent of GDP on international aid.

Bishop Faull asked a question in the House of Lords, on Wednesday of last week, the same day as The Times reported that the Chancellor, Rishi Sunak, was “seeking to divert billions of pounds from foreign aid to pay for upgrades to Britain’s intelligence and defence capabilities”.

The Prime Minister’s official spokesman, however, was quoted in the story as saying that there was “no change” to the 0.7-per-cent policy, and the Foreign Secretary, Dominic Raab, said later that the Government was “absolutely” committed to it.

Bishop Faull addressed the Minister for Overseas Territories and Sustainable Development, Baroness Sugg: “I have personally seen, through the Anglican Communion’s worldwide partnerships, the positive impact that the UK’s overseas aid has made to alleviating poverty. I share the concerns of other peers about the reports of the Government’s intent to overturn the legal commitment to spend 0.7 per cent of gross national income on aid.

“At the risk of tedium, I hope that the Minister will continue to give this House assurances that the Government have no such plans, which would reduce the UK’s impact under the UN sustainable development goals.”

Baroness Sugg replied: “I assure her that we will continue to be guided by our responsibilities under the International Development Act, which, of course, includes a commitment to poverty reduction.”

Bishop Faull wrote on Twitter later that day: “After worrying media reports I am glad to have reassurances from Baroness Sugg in the HOL that government remains committed to maintaining 0.7% GNI in Aid. Total will be less because of recession, but the commitment to the law and government manifesto remains.”

Speaking on Times Radio on Thursday of last week, Christian Aid’s director of policy, public affairs, and campaigns, Patrick Watt, described The Times’s story as “concerning”, but said that he was “encouraged” by Mr Raab’s “very clearly saying that the commitment from the Goverment that was in the manifesto and is enshrined in UK law to the 0.7 per cent aid target is here to stay. So we very much hope that that will continue to be government policy.”

It was important, Mr Watt said, “that aid is spent on poverty reduction”.

The merger of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Department for International Development, which aid agencies have criticised vehemently (News, 19 June), came into effect on Wednesday of last week. The creation of the merged department, the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, did not change the legal framework for aid, “which states very clearly that aid is there to reduce poverty”, Mr Watt said.

He continued: “And we ought to remind ourselves that, actually, because we have the 0.7-per-cent aid target, and national income is, of course, reducing at the moment because of the effect of coronavirus on the economy, the absolute volume of aid spend is falling. It actually will fall by somewhere between £2 billion and £3 billion in the next year. So, it becomes doubly important that the money that we are giving to the poorest countries is being spent in ways that have demonstrable impact for people in poverty.”

The impact of the pandemic on the poorest people in Asia, Africa, and Latin America would make it “a very odd moment to choose to reduce the UK’s commitment to tackling poverty”, he said.

The Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office announced last week £119 million of aid “to tackle the combined threat of coronavirus and famines, which is expected to help alleviate extreme hunger for over six million people in Yemen, Democratic Republic of Congo, Somalia, Central African Republic, the Sahel, South Sudan and Sudan”.

In February, the former International Development Secretary Rory Stewart warned the Government against spending aid “on bullets rather than babies” (News, 28 February).

On Thursday of last week, Bishop Faull asked another question in the Lords, about the refugee resettlement scheme, which, “as far as we can tell . . . remains paused since March”. She asked what plans the Government had “to launch the new global resettlement scheme, and why they have continued deportations and not inward refugee resettlement?”

Responding for the Government, Baroness Trafford said: “We took 52 people from Greece back in March, but it has been incredibly difficult because of the lack of flights coming here. Of course, that has led, in some sense, to people reverting to trying to get here in small boats, and that is not at all the situation we want because they are simply being exploited. . . Obviously, we will restart it as soon as it is practical and safe to do so.”

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