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Aid Expenditure (Legislation)

Volume 513: debated on Wednesday 7 July 2010

7. Whether he plans to bring forward legislative proposals in this Session of Parliament to ensure that 0.7% of gross national income is spent on aid. (6267)

The Government are fully committed to our pledge to spend 0.7% of national income on aid from 2013, as defined by the rules of the OECD Development Assistance Committee, and to enshrine that commitment in law. We are looking into the best way to proceed and will inform the House when a decision has been taken.

I am grateful to the Secretary of State and I share his view that our aid commitment is both a moral imperative and in the UK national interest. Will he be more specific, however? The legislation that he is talking about will not cost the Chancellor a lot of money, so it will be easy to bring forward very quickly. Is he not a little worried that his Back Benchers might not be with him 100%, as many of them are uncomfortable ring-fencing his Department’s money?

I do not know of any Back Bencher who is not a strong supporter of this law. I share with the hon. Gentleman a frustration about the length of time it is taking to bring forward the legislation, but he will have seen the wise words of the Select Committee Chair in the debate last week when he made it clear that it would be sensible to look carefully at the precise terms of the law. There is some gentle disagreement among members of the development community and it is obviously right for us to consider all these matters before proceeding.

The Secretary of State will recognise the concern about recent newspaper reports of the amount of his Department’s budget that was spent on trade unions in this country and other politically correct causes. Given also the money that goes to China and India, and other money wasted by the EU, does he not accept that all that taken together undermines the case for the 0.7% requirement, particularly in this age of austerity?

My hon. Friend makes an important point about value for money and the effectiveness of British aid. That is why we have set up our bilateral review of every place where Britain is spending this important budget, so that we can be sure, as I said earlier, that for every £1 of hard-pressed taxpayers’ money, we are really getting 100p of value. He specifically mentions China. He will know that, on the day that the Government took office, we announced that we would stop all aid to China. The bilateral review is of course looking at India.

On trade unions, I would make two points. First, trade unions spend overseas money well on building the capacity of societies to hold their leaders and politicians to account. What is wrong, in my view, is funding development awareness. Sadly, the former Secretary of State felt it was right to spend hundreds of thousands of pounds of British aid and development money on supporting Brazilian dance groups—

Order. We are grateful to the Secretary of State, but we do not need any more; the answer is simply too long.