A PARLIAMENTARY campaign to overturn the Government’s cutting of international aid from 0.7 to 0.5 per cent of national income has received a serious setback. The Speaker of the House of Commons, Sir Lindsay Hoyle, ruled on Monday afternoon that an amendment to reinstate the 0.7-per-cent target would not be put to the House of Commons for debate and a vote.
Sir Lindsay said in the Commons on Monday afternoon that an amendment to the Advanced Research and Invention Agency Bill to reinstate the target would not be debated because it was “outside the scope” of the Bill.
He said, however, that the Commons should have the opportunity for a “decisive vote on maintaining the UK’s commitment to the statutory target of 0.7 per cent”, and that he would “be prepared to accept an application today for an emergency debate tomorrow”. Any vote at this stage would be non-binding on the Government.
Sir Lindsay was clear, however, that Parliament should be given an “effective” vote on the matter. “I now put that on the record and hope the Government will take up that challenge and give this House its due respect that it deserves. We are the elected members, this House should be taken seriously and the government should be accountable. I don’t want this to drag on. If not, we will then look to find other ways in which this can be taken forward.”
A former International Development Secretary, Andrew Mitchell, who is leading the revolt against dropping the 0.7-per-cent target, said in the Commons that he accepted that Sir Lindsay was “the referee on these matters, and that is that”.
Mr Mitchell went on to say, however: “The Government front bench are treating the House of Commons with disrespect. They are avoiding a vote on the commitments that each of us made individually and collectively at the last general election, on a promise made internationally, and in the opinion of some of Britain’s leading lawyers, the Government is acting unlawfully.”
Had the amendment been put to a vote, Mr Mitchell said, “it would have secured the assent of the House by not less than a majority of nine and probably of around 20 votes.”
On Monday evening, Mr Mitchell requested an emergency Commons debate, which was granted. The debate will be held at the start of public business on Tuesday, and will last for three hours.
Responding to news that the vote would not go ahead on Monday, the chief executive of Tearfund, Nigel Harris, said: “For people living in poverty, this ongoing cut to aid funding is a devastating blow. The UK’s life-saving aid budget has enabled our nation to have a world-leading role in providing vaccinations, education, access to clean energy alongside humanitarian support for communities impacted by conflict and climate change.
“It is hard to see how the Prime Minister will be able to show credible global leadership as host of the G7 this week when the UK is not keeping our promises to the world’s poorest people.”
The director of advocacy, at CAFOD, Neil Thorns, remarked: “It is extremely disappointing that there’s still been no vote on the aid cuts. This is a year of the utmost importance, with the UK hosting of the G7 summit this week and the climate talks in November.
“This is a missed opportunity for the Government to show what global Britain leadership looks like: ensuring that some of the world’s marginalised and vulnerable communities struggling to cope with the impacts of this pandemic, survive.”
Bond, a network of more than 400 NGOs working in development, expressed regret that the decision had been taken not to put the amendment to the ARIA Bill to a vote on Monday. “The Government’s continued attempts to prevent parliament from having a meaningful and effective say on whether the aid cuts should be reversed is nothing short of shameful,” a statement said.
“Too many aid and development programmes helping the most marginalised people have been closed down, taking away the basics, clean water and sanitation, vaccinations or education for children, food and shelter during conflict. How can the UK expect other G7 nations to step forward, when we ourselves are stepping back, despite knowing there is no economic need for us to balance our books on the backs of the world's poorest people? The Government should live up to its manifesto commitment and reverse cuts to the aid budget urgently or give Parliament a say.”
The Bishop of Southwark, the Rt Revd Christopher Chessun, wrote on Twitter on Monday evening: “I am glad a focused emergency debate will now allow MPs to reverse a cut which is impacting on the lives of millions of vulnerable people around the world and honour cross party election manifesto commitments. . . Shameful that any vote will have no teeth but a step in the right direction.”
The Bishop of Liverpool, the Rt Revd Paul Bayes, posted on Twitter that reversing the aid cut “means £4bn to the poorest of the Earth. Thank you to all who conscientiously and courageously oppose it. Shame, deep shame, on all who support it, or remain silent for the sake of a quiet life.”
The Archbishop of Canterbury posted on Twitter on Sunday evening that he was praying that the aid cut would be reversed. “The foreign aid cut is indefensible,” he wrote. “Tomorrow may offer MPs a chance to force the Government to reverse it. Let us hope and pray this happens, and that our unconscionable broken promise to the world’s poorest people is put right.”