Madam Deputy Speaker, I will make a statement to the House on official development assistance. The House will know that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor updated the House yesterday on the economic challenges posed by covid-19. It is a truly sobering assessment. The UK is facing the worst economic contraction in almost 300 years and a budget deficit of close to £400 billion—double what we faced in the last financial crisis. Britain is responding to a health emergency, but also an economic emergency, and every penny of public spending will rightly come under intense scrutiny by our constituents.
Given the impact of the global pandemic on the economy and, as a result, the public finances, we have concluded after extensive consideration—and, I have to say, with regret—that we cannot for the moment meet our target of spending 0.7% of gross national income on ODA, and we will move to a target of 0.5% next year. Let me reassure the House that this is a temporary measure. It is a measure we have taken as a matter of necessity, and we will return to 0.7% when the fiscal situation permits.
The relevant legislation, the International Development (Official Development Assistance Target) Act 2015, envisages circumstances in which the 0.7% target may not be met, in particular in the context of economic pressures. The Act provides for accountability to Parliament in that event, and I will of course report to the House in the proper way. Equally, given the requirements of the Act, the fact that we cannot at this moment predict with certainty when the current fiscal circumstances will have sufficiently improved and our need to plan accordingly, we will need to bring forward legislation in due course.
We are not alone in facing these painful choices. All countries are reconciling themselves not just to the health impact of the pandemic, but the economic impact of covid-19. It is worth saying that on the 2019 OECD data, only one other G20 member allocated 0.5% or more of GNI to development spending, and that was before the pandemic. Many countries are reappraising their spending plans, as we have been forced to do. As a result, we nevertheless expect our development spending next year to total around £10 billion, maintaining our status as one of the leading countries in the world in ODA spend.
I can reassure the House that we will retain our position as a leader in the global fight against poverty. We will remain committed to following the rules set by the OECD’s Development Assistance Committee, and we will ensure the maximum impact from our aid through the strategic integration we are driving as a result of the merger at the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, the strategic thinking that is informed by the integrated review, and the further changes we are now making on how we allocate ODA to support a more integrated and overarching approach.
Let me say a little more on that integrated approach. Our starting point is the integrated review, with which we are setting the long-term strategic aims of our international work, based on our values and grounded in the British national interest. To achieve this, we will be taking a far more joined-up approach right across the breadth of government. That is why the Prime Minister created the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, bringing diplomacy and development together, in lockstep with the work of our other Departments. ODA is a vital, central and absolutely indispensable element of that strategic approach, but to maximise its effectiveness it must be used in combination with our development policy expertise, our security deployments and support abroad, and the strengthened global co-operation that we drive through our diplomatic network. We make our aid go further by bringing it together with all these other elements, and by making sure that they are all aligned and pushing in the same direction.
Last week, the Prime Minister set out how we are strengthening our defence and security capabilities. That will boost our standing in the world, while also contributing to our development efforts, including our soft power abroad. The clearest illustration of that is the peacekeeping that we do. We have British troop deployments in Afghanistan, South Sudan, Somalia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and elsewhere, which work hand in hand with our development and diplomatic efforts. Indeed, we are demonstrating that with our latest deployment of 300 UK troops to Mali. Our security and defence budget also helps countries to deal with new, emerging and evolving threats, for example, in supporting Nigeria and Kenya to assess and strengthen their cyber-security resilience. We will set out the full detail of the integrated review early in the new year, as we launch our presidencies of the G7 and COP26, with 2021 a year of leadership for global Britain as a force for good in the world.
This new strategic approach will allow us to drive greater impact from our £10 billion of ODA spending next year, notwithstanding the very difficult financial pressures we face. I will prioritise that £10 billion of spending in five particular ways. First, we will prioritise measures to tackle climate change, protect biodiversity and finance low-carbon and climate-resilient technologies, such as solar and wind, in poor and emerging economies. I can reassure the House that we will maintain our commitment to double international climate finance, which is vital to maintain our ambitions in this area as we host COP26. We will leverage our aid support through our diplomatic network, to galvanise global action and to make sure that countries come forward with ambitious, game-changing commitments in the lead-up to November next year.
Secondly, we will prioritise measures to tackle covid, and promote wider international health security. We will maintain our position as a world leader, investing in Gavi the Vaccine Alliance, COVAX, the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, and the International Finance Facility for Immunisation. We will continue to support and strengthen the World Health Organisation, as the second largest state donor; I spoke to Dr Tedros just yesterday about our efforts in that regard. We will also use all of our other levers to maximise British impact. For example, we have magnified our COVAX contribution through our diplomatic efforts, which helped to convince the board of the World Bank to announce additional funding last month of up to $12 billion for covid vaccines, tests and treatments. Again, I spoke to World Bank president David Malpass just last night about our important collaboration in that area.
Thirdly, we continue to prioritise girls’ education, because it is the right thing to do and because the fortunes of so many of the poorest countries depend on tapping the full potential of all their people, which must include women and girls in education. Our global target, working with our partners, is to get 40 million girls into education and have 20 million more girls reading by the age of 10. It is a major priority for global Britain as a leading supporter of the Global Partnership for Education, and just next year we will raise $4 billion globally, including through our UK-Kenya summit.
Fourthly, we will focus ODA on resolving conflicts, alleviating humanitarian crises, defending open societies, and promoting trade and investment, including by increasing UK partnerships in science research and technology, because these are the building blocks of development and they require a long-term strategic commitment.
Finally, at all times we will look to improve our delivery of aid in order to increase the impact that our policy interventions have on the ground, in the countries and the communities that they are designed to benefit and help. We will strengthen accountability and value for money, reducing reliance on expensive consultants for project management and strengthening our in-house capability to give us more direct oversight and control, including by removing the total operating cost limits that were introduced when the Department for International Development was established—a limit that applied only to DFID.
As a result of this spending review, the FCDO will take on a greater role in ensuring the coherence and co-ordination of development-related spending right across Whitehall. To maximise the strategic focus that I have talked about, I will run a short cross-Government process to review, appraise and finalise all the UK’s ODA allocations for next year in the lead-up to Christmas.
This is a moment of unprecedented challenge. On all sides of the House, we are defined by our willingness to make the difficult choices, not just the easy ones. With the approach that I have set out, we will maintain our international ambition. We will deliver greater impact from our aid budget at a time of unparalleled financial pressure.
Like many in the House, I am proud of our aid spend. I am proud of the big-hearted generosity of the British public, which we amplify with our diplomatic energy on the world stage. I am proud of the huge amount we do to support the poorest and the most vulnerable, right around the world. The United Kingdom is out there every single day—our people on the ground in the disaster zones, in the refugee camps, tackling famine and drought, helping lift people out of poverty, striving to resolve conflicts and striving to build a more hopeful future for the millions of people struggling and striving against the odds. Even in the toughest economic times, we will continue that mission. We will continue to lead. I commend this statement to the House.
Last week, the Prime Minister promised to end an era of retreat, yet today signals the biggest retreat by a British Government from our global role in decades. They have removed any credibility the UK has as a force for good in the world, and made it harder for us to pursue our national interest and create a safer, healthier, fairer and better world for us all. Make no mistake, our traditional allies and our detractors will take note of this move.
This Government have destroyed the long-standing cross-party support for spending 0.7% of GNI to eradicate global poverty and reneged on their promise to the British people, breaking a manifesto commitment and turning their back on all those they promised to champion: mothers, new-born babies and children who are dying from preventable causes, the tens of millions of girls who are out of school, and those whose lives and livelihoods have been destroyed by Ebola and malaria.
Britain and the world deserve better than a Foreign Secretary who has allowed the aid budget to be slashed, leaving our global reputation lying in tatters ahead of a year when the UK hosts the G7 and COP26. We know that we need a dramatic acceleration in the pace and scale of global climate action, and we all want the UN climate conference to be a success, but for that to happen we must harness the political will of other countries. As host, it falls to the UK to lead by example, not withdraw, yet cutting the aid budget does exactly that and has already attracted outspoken criticism from vital partners. I pity the Foreign Secretary having to explain to his counterparts that this is all part of his and the Prime Minister’s idea of “Global Britain”.
This Government have repeatedly delayed their review of foreign policy, with announcements being made on a whim. It is a disintegrated review. Do the Government actually have a strategy, a plan or even a vague idea? I have lost track of the number of times the Secretary of State has announced new development priorities, so perhaps he can confirm how long he will stick with these. Under the Conservatives, foreign aid has been diverted away from the world’s poorest. Will he now ensure that it is not squandered on vanity projects but instead focused on eradicating poverty and inequality?
In the year since the Conservatives pledged in their manifesto to “proudly” uphold the law to spend 0.7% of GNI on aid, we have been told by the Prime Minister that spending 0.7% of GNI was
“a goal…that remains our commitment.”—[Official Report, 16 June 2020; Vol. 677, c. 667.]
The Secretary of State has said that the commitment “is written in law,” and will be
“the beating heart of our foreign policy”.—[Official Report, 18 June 2020; Vol. 677, c. 945.]
His Ministers, the right hon. Member for Braintree (James Cleverly) and the hon. Member for Rochford and Southend East (James Duddridge), have told us, respectively, that
“the Government are completely committed to the 0.7% target…because it is the right thing to do.”—[Official Report, 9 July 2020; Vol. 678, c. 1198-1200.]
“We are bound by law to spend 0.7%, so it is not a choice; it is in the law, and we will obey the law.”—[Official Report, 30 June 2020; Vol. 678, c. 147.]
Now they have decided they do not actually like obeying the law.
This Government are developing a reputation, and many within the Secretary of State’s own party do not like what they see. Yesterday, his own Minister, Baroness Sugg, resigned because abandoning our commitment
“risks undermining…efforts to promote a Global Britain”.
I stand ready to work with her, with the hon. Members for Mid Derbyshire (Mrs Latham) and for West Worcestershire (Harriett Baldwin), the right hon. Members for Preseli Pembrokeshire (Stephen Crabb), for Sutton Coldfield (Mr Mitchell), for Ashford (Damian Green) and for South West Surrey (Jeremy Hunt), the hon. Member for Wyre Forest (Mark Garnier), the Chairs of the Defence and Foreign Affairs Committees—the right hon. Member for Bournemouth East (Mr Ellwood) and the hon. Member for Tonbridge and Malling (Tom Tugendhat)—the Father of the House, and many more who I do not have time to list, to stop this retreat. Can the Secretary of State tell us when the necessary legislation will be brought forward? Can he confirm that he will spend 0.7% of GNI on aid this year and what the estimated value of ODA will be?
This Government love to blame others for their shortcomings, especially when they cannot answer back. Rather than taking responsibility for their incompetence, spending £12 billion on a covid test and trace scheme that still is not working and wasting taxpayers’ money on over 184 million items of unusable personal protective equipment, this Government have chosen to make the world’s poorest pay for their failures.
The British people are extremely compassionate. They have seen a global health crisis cause devastation around the world and push millions of people into poverty, costing lives and livelihoods. They know that this is not a necessity but a political choice that this Government have made. We stand with them and oppose this ill-conceived, short-sighted decision.
Well, where to start with that?
The hon. Lady referred to a range of different issues. She referred to the UK’s work on disease and girls’ education. We entirely agree. These are total priorities, and that is why I set out the priorities—I appreciate that her response was written before she listened to what I said—so that I could give her and the House the reassurance that actually those are two areas that we will safeguard and prioritise. [Interruption.] No, we said we will safeguard those priorities.
The hon. Lady asked about climate change. As I made clear, our first priority will be to prioritise measures to tackle climate change and protect biodiversity, and we will maintain our commitment to double the international climate finance, which I agree is very important as we go into COP26.
The hon. Lady asked about our international partners. Of course our international partners, whether they are non-governmental organisations or the heads of the international organisations, will want as much generosity as possible. We understand that. I spoke to the Secretary-General of the United Nations, the president of the World Bank, and Dr Tedros at the World Health Organisation yesterday. They understand the financial challenges and the health challenges, and they know that we will be a stalwart, leading member of the international community as a force for good in the world, notwithstanding the pressure that we and many others will now face.
The hon. Lady asked about the legislation. We will bring that forward in due course. Obviously we want to make sure that it is as well prepared and carefully thought through as possible. [Interruption.] She says that we do not have to. On the one hand, she has said that we are breaking the law and changing our mind on the law—[Interruption.] It is very clear under the legislation. She should go and check—
The hon. Gentleman says that it is temporary. That is not what the legislation says: he should go and look at it very carefully. [Interruption.] Well, he has not got this quite right. We have taken advice very carefully on this, and it is very clear that if we cannot see a path back to 0.7% in the foreseeable, immediate future, and we cannot plan for that, then the legislation would require us to change it. We would almost certainly face legal challenge if we do not very carefully follow it.
On the hon. Lady’s question about the 0.7%, it will still apply this year.
The hon. Lady criticises the Government for the choices that we have had to make in the face of a global pandemic and a financial emergency. It is not clear to me what choices Labour would make or that she would make. [Interruption.] Was she suggesting that we cut the money—
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. Was the hon. Lady suggesting that we divert money from test and trace at this pivotal moment in the pandemic to meet 0.7%? Is she suggesting that any of the extra investment in schools, hospitals and policing announced yesterday should be cut in order to meet 0.7%? [Interruption.] She is shaking her head. In fairness to her, she has previously said that ODA should be cut because of the impact on the economy. She said it in the context of the GNI review that we conducted. Because she is shaking her head, I will quote her verbatim, to be accurate:
“we recognise that there has got to be cuts made…we’ve had a drop in GNI…those cuts shouldn’t come from DFID”
but should come from
“other government departments’”
spending on ODA. [Interruption.] The hon. Lady says, “Yes, yes, yes”—so does she advocate cutting the amount of ODA that the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs spend on climate change? [Interruption.] Again, we come back to the basic point that, given the financial pressures that we face, difficult decisions need to be made. [Interruption.]
The truth is that, in this spending review, the Labour party is defined by its total inertia in the face of the difficult decisions we have had to make. I am afraid that that gives it very little credibility when it comes to the SR.
When it comes to 0.7%, the House should recall that the Labour party has history on this. Members across the House, particularly the more long-standing ones, will remember that it was a Labour Government under Harold Wilson back in 1974—the year I was born—who first set the target of 0.7%. In the 46 years since—the whole of my lifetime—no Labour Government have ever hit 0.7%; not in a single year.
The hon. Lady talked in hyperbolic language about the damage that we will do with a shift to 0.5% and a £10 billion ODA budget. May I remind her that in the 13 years of the last Labour Government, not only did they never once hit 0.7% in any year—[Interruption.] The hon. Member for Cardiff South and Penarth (Stephen Doughty) does not like it. I will come to him in a second. The last Labour Government only ever hit 0.5% in two years out of 13.
The House need not take my word for it. The shadow Africa Minister, the hon. Member for Cardiff South and Penarth, was a Spad in DFID under the last Labour Government—
The hon. Gentleman says that it went up. That Government spent, on average, 0.36% of GNI on ODA. With a record like that, the hon. Gentleman, rather than chuntering from a sedentary position, should stay quiet on this subject. On the Government Benches, with our record, we will take no lectures from the Labour party when it comes to ODA.
It feels almost rude to interrupt a private dialogue. I understand the pain that this economic collapse is causing all of us. I have just received the appalling news that the whole of Kent has gone into tier 3, and I am aware of the pain that this will cause communities across my constituency.
I supported the Foreign Secretary taking over the DFID portfolio because I knew that the rigour he would bring to ODA spending would mean that it was always in the British national interest. Indeed, the way he has spoken about it this morning reassures me of that. He has spoken quite rightly about girls’ education, not just because it is good for girls in other parts of the world but because it is good for Britain. He has spoken about climate change, not just because it is good for the poorest and most low-lying countries around the world but because it is good for Britain. He has spoken about vaccination, not just because it is most important for the most vulnerable in the world, but again, because it is good for Britain. So does he understand why so many of us are disappointed that, knowing how well he will spend this money, not only in the interests of others but in the British national interest, we hear that it has been cut? I am sure that he feels that, too.
Could I perhaps ask the Foreign Secretary to look at a slightly different way of counting, because we all know that the 1970s DAC rules need to be reformed? I am not alone in saying this. The French Government have said it; the Netherlands Government have said it; and the German Government have said it. In fact, I think that I am right in saying that everybody, except the Swedish Government, has said it. Could we not count the enormous sums that he is already spending on vaccination programmes through the vaccine taskforce and the enormous money he is spending on UN duties—not just the 15% that DAC allows him to count—and could we not count that stability as our ODA capability and reinforce what he has done? Then perhaps we can look at the Bill he may be forced to introduce and make sure that it is not an open-ended Bill but has a sunset clause in black and white that we can vote on, too.
I thank my hon. Friend the Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee. He is absolutely right, and he said it at the outset: we make this decision with regret. I do not want to be in a position of having to change any of the ODA spend. I know how valuable it can be and, notwithstanding our absolute commitment to strategically focus it on the places and people who need it the most and the areas of maximum UK interest, of course this is something we do with regret. We do it as a matter of necessity, given the economic situation we face, and it will be temporary, in that we will revert to 0.7% as soon as the fiscal position allows.
My hon. Friend asked a range of questions about whether we could reconfigure money. We are not going to unilaterally pull out of the DAC rules, but he makes a good case for reform of the DAC rules. For example, some of the military spend, particularly on peace keeping and other things, is not counted. Clearly, it is not just good for military security in the countries where it is focused but an important element of soft power, and it is something we should do. However, I think that the right thing to do is to work on that reform from within DAC, rather than pulling out unilaterally, and that will take some time to do, but I take on board his comments.
My hon. Friend asked how we will make sure we get back to the target, and I am very happy to keep talking to him about that. The No. 1 thing in my view, and I would gently suggest this to him, is that we are still spending £10 billion next year on ODA. When I think of what he said about his constituents and how they will feel about the latest measures—we all are challenged by this—I think that they will think that we are making difficult decisions, but the right ones and the justifiable ones, in the very exacting situation in which we find ourselves.
To govern is to choose. As one Government to another—of course, the SNP has been in government since 2007—we understand that it is difficult. We are in unprecedented times; there are tough choices; and a lot of people are afraid and feeling very vulnerable. However, there will always be domestic pressure on the aid budget, and the UK Government have made a choice—an active choice—of deep consequence.
The fact is that this is not what was promised. This is not what was promised to the people of Scotland in 2014. This is not what was promised in the Conservative manifesto 11 months ago. The Foreign Secretary talks about scrutiny of spend, and I absolutely agree, but my inbox—I dare say colleagues feel the same—is unanimous this morning against this move. It is fair to say that in Scotland we have a disproportionate interest in international development, because of the history we have with our churches, our non-governmental organisations, our trade unions and our universities. Civic Scotland is keen on international development, and DFID—now merged, of course, into the FCDO—is based in East Kilbride. This is a betrayal: not just a betrayal of those promises, but a betrayal of some of the poorest and most vulnerable people in the world, who are also facing covid, the economic consequences and climate change, and they are going to be left by this in a dreadful situation.
When I say it is a betrayal, I would actually exempt the Foreign Secretary from that. I do not think that this is coming from him. I do not think that he has stopped it, but I do not think it is actually coming from him. I think that it is coming from the people around him and behind him. They are the people in the shadows, with their phoney think-tanks and their blogs. They are the people who proudly denigrate international aid because it is against their project and the people who want to link international aid to trade policy in the most grubby way possible. They are the people who get excited about a red, white and blue flag on a tail fin, and the people who think that what we need right now to buoy our spirits is a new royal yacht. They are the people who want to spend, as the Government have committed to doing, £120 million on a festival of Brexit—ye Gods!
We have today a moment of real clarity and divergence—that Scotland and the UK are two different places with two different ambitions on two different paths. It is a matter of fact that the cynics were right. After the UK’s politicisation of aid by merging DFID into the FCDO, there has been a crippling raid on its budget. DFID in East Kilbride is a deeply sad place this morning. Scotland independent—because of our interests, our history, our capacity and our ambition—will put international development at its heart. We will be committed to 0.7%, and it is clearer than ever today to the people of Scotland that the best way to achieve that aid policy, to be that global citizen, is independence.
First, may I say in relation to East Kilbride, and notwithstanding the pressures we face, we will be expanding the UK Government Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office in East Kilbride because we know the great work that it does and because we are stronger on the international stage when we are united?
The hon. Gentleman said that this decision was not what was promised in 2014 or at the last election. I hesitate to remind him that that was before the pandemic and the coronavirus, and before we were faced with—[Interruption.] Well, he is quite right to say that there are always domestic pressures and competing priorities in relation to the public finances, but we are not under any normal set of circumstances. We have got the worst economic contraction in over 300 years. We have a deficit double the size that we faced after the last financial crash, and we are having to make very difficult decisions. If he thinks we have made the wrong decision, I would like to hear from the SNP—a rhetorical, not an actual question—what he thinks should be cut in the investments the Chancellor announced yesterday in order to hit 0.7%.
The hon. Gentleman referred—in what I thought was actually pretty unsavoury language—to a crippling raid on ODA. We will spend £10 billion next year. His inbox may be different from mine, but I think our constituents will understand, because they live in the real world, that we have to make difficult decisions. This is still an extraordinary contribution that the taxpayers of this country will make to alleviate suffering and poverty around the world.
May I suggest that we squint at the nettles in what was said yesterday and what has been said today? Clearly, it would be illuminating to see the messages that the Foreign Secretary will have sent to the Treasury and the Prime Minister arguing against the cut. We know that this is not his idea.
May I ask the Foreign Secretary how much the amount of money would have gone down if we had kept 0.7% with an 11% contraction of the economy? Is that well over £1 billion? How much extra is being taken by coming down from 0.7%? Is the proposed legislation designed to make sure we come back to 0.7% or to make it possible to avoid coming back to it for a long time?
I end by saying that I first stood for election when the Foreign Secretary was born, and I became a trustee of Christian Aid to fight to get the Government to meet the commitment they had made a long time before to 0.7%. I rejoiced when we met it. It was not put on us by the Liberal Democrats; it was in our manifesto in 2010. I am glad that the Foreign Secretary was able to say in July that we would stick to 0.7%.
I thank my hon. Friend. He will be able to work out that the difference is £4 billion in savings next year. Of course we looked at whether we could just follow the contraction in GNI to deliver the savings that we need. We looked at every single option, but the challenge we have is that the pandemic is uncertain. That is what we found in the throes of coming out of the second national lockdown. As a result, the impact on the economy and the public finances is not just profound but also uncertain.
My hon. Friend asked some further questions about our seriousness in getting back to 0.7%. We are serious. He is right to say that it was a manifesto commitment that we were proud of, but I think that the country expects us to stand up and make difficult decisions, given the necessity of the situation that we face. We have made it clear that it is temporary, and we will get back to it just as soon as the public finances allow.
In the past six months, the Foreign Secretary has closed DFID, tried to abolish the Select Committee on International Development and cut more than a third of the aid budget. We still have no clarity on where those cuts have been or will be made, or their consequences. I have specific concerns about some of the areas that he details as priorities, as they might fall outside the ODA definition. The science element is written to fit the heavily criticised Newton Fund, and the trade aspect could lead to tied aid. In his letter to me, he states that
“too often, aid has lacked coherence, oversight or appropriate accountability across Whitehall.”
The same could be said in relation to Parliament. To address that, will he agree to present to the House an impact assessment of the cuts? Will he also agree to support the International Development Committee’s change of remit, so that we can scrutinise all ODA, so that both taxpayers and Members of Parliament may be assured that the money is being well spent?
I have to say to the hon. Lady, whom I respect and admire greatly, that we have not closed DFID, but merged the Foreign Office and DFID, precisely to give greater impact given the financial pressures we now face. She asked about tied aid; we are not suggesting any reversion to tied aid, which comes from a bygone era and is not something that I or this Government support. Nor have we tried to abolish the Select Committee; I have made it clear every time I have been asked, such matters are for the House to decide. Finally, she asked about when we will publish the GNI review detailed breakdown. Obviously, we are committed to full transparency, and the statistics on international development are published next year. They will be provided through a detailed breakdown of all the ODA allocations in 2020.
I thank the Foreign Secretary for his statement. The Chancellor’s statement yesterday setting out plans to amend the International Development (Official Development Assistance Target) Act 2015 and to reduce ODA spending for the next few years is profoundly upsetting to many, as it suggests that the UK is stepping back from its world-class, globally respected and unstinting commitment to supporting developing countries. I know that that anxiety is unfounded.
Does the Foreign Secretary agree that, while the silo budgets classified as ODA will be squeezed, we should take the opportunity that the global financial crisis has forced on everyone—as the Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee, my hon. Friend the Member for Tonbridge and Malling (Tom Tugendhat) set out—to review fully the DAC rules on which we classify our ODA spending? In the meantime, will the Foreign Secretary make it clear to the House that all Government spending that works to strengthen the stability, governance, health, education—and I take this opportunity to thank Baroness Sugg for her extraordinary work over the past year on girls’ education—and climate shock resilience of developing countries supports all the sustainable development goals? Will he commit to review the historical multilateral payments commitments, which could be used much more impactfully to drive the UK’s priorities?
I join my right hon. Friend in paying tribute to Baroness Sugg, a terrific Minister who will be greatly missed. I congratulate my right hon. Friend on her appointment as the UK’s international champion on various climate change issues. With her expertise, passion and dedication, she makes an excellent case for taking a more strategic approach, not only in relation to the ODA spend that derives from the FCDO, but looking right across the piece, across Whitehall, to ensure that it is allocated in the areas where it has the greatest life-changing impact. We will do that on climate change and biodiversity, and on girls’ education and helping the very poorest around the world.
For the record, the ODA GNI figure in 2010, the last year of the previous Labour Government, was 0.57%.
May I say to the Foreign Secretary that of all the promises that our country has made, to choose to break this promise to the world’s poorest people, is unforgivable? We are talking about a cut of roughly one third in the aid budget. The thought that some babies might not be delivered safely, or some children might not be able to go to school or be vaccinated so that they do not die of the diseases that our children do not die of, should trouble every single one of us.
The Foreign Secretary said that he intends to make decisions about where the reductions will fall before Christmas. Will he assure the House that the decision on whether that will go ahead will be brought to Parliament, so that we can decide whether to break our promise or, instead, to keep our word?
May I thank the right hon. Gentleman? I know that he cares about this subject passionately and served as International Development Secretary himself. Frankly, he used rather hyperbolic language, but he should have at least noted the reassurance that I gave about strategic prioritisation—even with a reduced financial envelope—and our commitment regarding disease, particularly immunisation and vaccination around tuberculosis, covid, malaria and the like. He mentioned schools, and he will have noted that I said we would be safeguarding girls’ education. He wanted to trade figures with me, so I hope that he will bear with me: when he became Development Secretary in 2003, ODA spend was 0.34% of GNI; and when he left in 2007, it was 0.36%. The Conservatives are the ones who hit 0.7%, and we are proud of that. We will go to 0.5% next year. I think I am right in saying that the last Labour Government hit 0.5% in only one year of his tenure as Development Secretary, so he should have just a little bit more humility when he engages in quite such hyperbolic critique of what we have achieved on this side of the House.
I thank the Foreign Secretary very much for his courtesy over recent months, for his extremely welcome support for the Independent Commission for Aid Impact, and for his kind comments about Lady Sugg, who was a brilliant Development Minister. I hope that everyone in the House will read her principled and moving resignation letter, which she released yesterday.
My right hon. Friend and I both know that, seen from the Biden White House, this is a dismal start to our G7 chairmanship. As the former Prime Minister said yesterday, the 0.7% is a promise that we as Tories do not need to break. My right hon. Friend knows, does he not, that taking a further 30% out of the development budget will drive a horse and cart through many of the plans that the British Government have so strongly supported for eliminating poverty. It will withdraw access to family planning and contraception for more than 7 million women, with all the misery that that will entail; 100,000 children will die from preventable diseases; and 2 million people—mainly children—will suffer much more steeply from malnutrition and starvation as a result of these changes. In spite of what he says about prioritising girls’ education, which is extremely welcome, under the existing plans probably 1 million girls will not be able to go to school. I hope that he will bear in mind that these reductions make little difference to us in the United Kingdom, but they make a massive difference to them.
I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend, who was a fantastic Development Secretary. We have talked at length about these issues since our time in opposition, and will continue to do so. He mentioned a number of points. He read out some statistics. With respect, I do not think it is possible to talk with the precision that he did about the implications, because we are not going to take a salami-slicing approach and just say, “We’re going to cut a third from all areas of ODA.” That is not what we are going to do. We are going to take a strategic approach. We will safeguard those areas that we regard as an absolute priority, including many of the things he mentioned, particularly public health and international public health, alongside covid, climate change and girls’ education.
My right hon. Friend talked about ICAI. As he knows, I am committed to reinforcing ICAI’s role; we welcome the transparency and scrutiny. Finally, he talked about the US. With respect, I disagree. At 0.5% next year, we will still be spending a greater proportion of GNI than the US. Given the widespread cross-party concerns in the US about defence spending within the European context, I think they will welcome the fact that we are increasing our security and defence budget.
If, during a global pandemic, the Government do not accept that solving problems abroad before they reach our shores is worth doing, this is an argument we are never going to win. There has been a year-on-year reduction in deaths from terrorism and extremism from countries where we have been investing huge amounts of development resources. Now that we are withdrawing that resource, the opposite will happen. This is also an economic argument, because where we have to use the military to respond to extremism, civil strife and the breakdown of law and order, we put British armed forces—our service people—in danger, we spend an absolute fortune and Britain ends up paying a very high price for our credibility. Does the Foreign Secretary not accept that when we withdraw international development aid and resource, we will end up paying far, far more by using the military in the long term? This is an economic and a military argument.
Before the Foreign Secretary answers that question, I must point out to the House that when a Minister makes a statement, the idea is that people ask short questions. They are not meant to be making speeches. A question is one phrase with a question mark at the end. It does not require lots of statistics, a huge preamble or lots of rhetoric. We are only a quarter of the way through the list of people who have asked to speak in this statement, but we have used up three quarters of the hour allocated to it. That simply is not fair to the other people who have yet to ask their questions, so I beg for short questions—and if the questions are short, it will be easier for the Foreign Secretary to give shorter answers.
I will take that encouragement, Madam Deputy Speaker. The hon. Gentleman asked about two things. I accept the premise that our security is strengthened by the action we take abroad, although of course that includes the reverse proposition, which is that our defence and security spend abroad—including some of the stuff that is covered by ODA and some of the stuff that is not—also has a soft power impact. I mentioned cyber earlier. The creation of the new National Cyber Force and artificial intelligence agency is important to protect us here but it will also reinforce the capabilities of our most vulnerable partners abroad. The hon. Gentleman also mentioned health. I have explained at some length why we will be safeguarding and prioritising our international public health spending.
I thank my right hon. Friend for his statement. While I am a supporter of our 0.7% commitment, I understand that in these difficult times tough decisions have to be made. Will he therefore again confirm that it is the Government’s intention to return to 0.7% when the situation allows? Will he also join me in reminding the House that while the Opposition are expressing outrage, the Labour Government never hit 0.7%? Our 0.5% will stand very well in comparison.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Labour barely hit 0.5%, let alone 0.7%. I accept that there is cross-party concern about this challenging set of circumstances and these difficult decisions. The difference is that we are making these difficult decisions and we are being honest and upfront with the British public about it.
The proposed cut in aid spending, breaking our nation’s promise to the world’s poorest, is not just callous and unnecessary but entirely against our own self-interest. We are currently an aid superpower, and this move undermines the soft power we so desperately need in the post-Brexit era. I and the Liberal Democrats will join all others across the House to fight this short-sighted move. The Foreign Secretary says he is doing this with regret, and I believe him, but does he accept that in a few years he may well regret what he is doing?
I share the hon. Lady’s passion and her commitment to the role that ODA plays in our soft power abroad. I gently remind her that, at 0.5%, we will still be on the 2019 figures and the second biggest ODA spender. I just ask her, as we ask all the other parties and all hon. Members, whether she can explain how else she would deal with the financial emergency that we now face, because I have not heard a peep of other positive, credible alternatives from the Lib Dems, let alone from the Labour Benches.
One of the most shocking parts of the Chancellor’s statement yesterday was that we will borrow £396 billion this year alone, with a further £369 billion to come by 2023. Given the truly parlous state of our public finances, does my right hon. Friend agree that the temporary cut to our foreign aid budget, deeply regrettable as it is, is a necessary reflection of our altered circumstances and is needed, frankly, to keep our aid spending in line with our taxpayers’ priorities?
As the Chancellor said at the Dispatch Box yesterday, and notwithstanding the regret and the financial pressures, it would be difficult to justify to our constituents, with all that they are going through and all that they expect of what we do domestically, if we were not looking at every area, including this area, to try and see our way through. However, as he rightly said, it is temporary, and we will get back to 0.7% when the financial conditions allow.
Thank you, Madam Speaker.
“International aid saves lives. It supports the world’s most fragile and it gives the world hope.”
Those are not my words, but the words of just one of many constituents who have contacted me to express their anger and sadness at the decision to reduce the international aid budget to 0.5% of GDP. Has the Foreign Secretary carried out an impact assessment identifying how many lives could be lost as a result of slashing assistance to some of the world’s poorest countries?
We will still be spending £10 billion next year. I will run an allocation process that allows all the other Departments that bid for aspects of ODA to scrutinise these things very carefully to mitigate precisely the risks that the hon. Lady talked about.
I deeply respect arguments against this decision, but will the Foreign Secretary agree that to describe the enormous amounts of taxpayers’ money we will continue to spend as “dismal”, “unforgivable” and some of the other things we have heard today actually damages public support for this cause in the long run?
I think my hon. Friend has a point about the way our constituents will view the decisions that we take. We need to make sure that everything we do on our aid budget, development and our foreign policy abroad attracts and commands their confidence. If we somehow immunised our ODA budget, in a way that no other budget domestically has been immunised, I think they would ask questions, if not be very concerned by that approach, so I think my hon. Friend is right.
In the light of the announced reduction in the aid budget, will the Foreign Secretary commit to ensuring that aid will be focused on areas of utmost need, such as tackling the systemic issues and cultures of impunity, which enable modern slavery and violence to affect the world’s poorest people?
The hon. Lady is absolutely right. I have set out the list of priorities, including conflict prevention, promoting accountability in countries and dealing with violence—particularly violence against women, but all violence against civilians in conflict situations. We will run the allocation process to make sure that we safeguard our top priorities, which include those that she mentioned, as best we can in the reduced financial envelope that we face.
I understand the difficult financial decisions that we as a Government have had to make at this unprecedented time. However, I know that all Conservative Members will agree that we need to ensure our foreign aid is targeted to the most vulnerable in the world. When the Independent Commission for Aid Impact report is published later this year, will my right hon. Friend come back to the House and update right hon. and hon. Members on exactly how we can target our support better to ensure it reaches the world’s most vulnerable?
My hon. Friend is right, and he will recall that I said back in August that we wanted to reinforce, not undermine, the role of the Independent Commission for Aid Impact to strengthen the transparency, reinforce the accountability and make sure that we get the very best critical analysis of where we have the most impact. As soon as the review is finalised, copies will be placed in the Libraries of the House and shared with Select Committees, and I will make a statement to the House.
The Foreign Secretary says that this cut is both temporary and a matter of necessity. Although borrowing is up, the overall cost of borrowing has fallen because of falling interest rates, yet the poorest countries are not able to respond to the economic consequences of covid in this way, as richer countries can. As we are the global host of the G7, the UN Security Council and COP26, will he press the Chancellor to lead by example for global Britain, particularly in relation to the new US Biden Administration, and to leverage more funds from the US as well, so the poorer nations get the best deal in the worst year—next year, of all years, when it will be needed most?
The hon. Gentleman makes an excellent point, which is that we are facing acute difficulties, and we are very concerned about what that will mean for the most vulnerable countries, both on health grounds and financial grounds. We have a direct stake in that, as well as a moral responsibility, and in everything we are doing—from International Monetary Fund debt relief to World Bank projects and, indeed, the allocation review that I have already mentioned to the House—we will safeguard the £10 billion to make sure it is focused on shoring up the poorer countries, the most vulnerable countries, as they come through this pandemic.
As a member of the International Development Select Committee during the previous Parliament, I quite understand the need for the UK to live within its means in these exceptional circumstances, and I welcome the fact that we are still spending more of our gross national income on development than the vast majority of other countries. However, can I have an assurance from the Secretary of State that no more UK aid will go to China—a country that is, in effect, developed, and of course one that has a very poor human rights record?
My hon. Friend may know that we ended bilateral aid to China in 2011. There is, though, still a case for some collaboration in the development space with China, and the example I tend to give is climate change. Yes, China is the biggest net emitter, but it is also the biggest investor in renewables, and even with all the other challenges we have with China, that is an area in which we want to try to work and engage positively.
Over the past few weeks, the UK Government have threatened to break international law, and are now retreating from pledges given both domestically and internationally to support some of the world’s most vulnerable people at a time of unprecedented global crisis. I wonder whether the Foreign Secretary can really be content with the way his Government’s policy is undermining the UK’s international standing and claims to global leadership, and seeing them shrivel so miserably on his watch.
The wonderful thing about this job is that when I travel abroad, I realise the high esteem in which we in the United Kingdom are held, not just for our democracy and our way of life, but for the contribution we make. I hear that from both sides of the aisle in the United States, and there is lots of talk from President-elect Biden about the renewed approach to multilateralism. I have heard it in the calls I have made, from Dr Tedros, from David Malpass at the World Bank, and indeed from António Guterres. If the hon. Gentleman encourages me to look at the United Kingdom in the way that others do, I would point him to the Ipsos Mori surveys carried out by the British Council, which showed that particularly among young people around the world, we are rated as the most attractive country, with the highest trust—alongside Canada—in our institutions.
As a long-term supporter of our global Britain agenda, of which aid is a key part, I am deeply concerned by yesterday’s announcement that we will not be keeping to 0.7% next year. I appreciate the difficult economic decisions this Government have had to make because of the coronavirus pandemic, but given that the 0.7% target is also a manifesto commitment, can my right hon. Friend confirm to me that this fall to 0.5% is only temporary? I also note that the Government have said we will return to 0.7%
“when the fiscal situation allows.”—[Official Report, 25 November 2020; Vol. 684, c. 850.]
What exactly does that mean, and can my right hon. Friend set out the steps that the Government will take to return us to that aid target?
I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for the enormous expertise and experience she brings to the House from the development sphere. I can confirm that it will be temporary and, as I have already said, it is done as a matter of necessity and with regret. She asks what steps we will take. The most important thing is that we will need to see the impact of the virus on the economy and then on the public finances. We have come through what is effectively a second wave. We need to shore up against that. The measures the Government have announced aim to do that.
We are hopeful about a vaccine for next year, but we have to be cautious because we are not there yet. I am afraid there is an inherent degree of uncertainty about the situation, which is why we are in the position of not being able to rely just on the limited derogation written into the legislation which allows an ex post facto, if you like, derogation, having inadvertently missed the target. That is not the position we are in. We will, as I said, do it as soon as the fiscal conditions allow.
From actively breaking international law in a “very specific and limited” way to breaking commitments on international aid, does the Foreign Secretary not realise how his Government are slowly weaning Britain from its role as a world leader, day by day making us more irrelevant on the world stage? Every former living Prime Minister can see why this move is morally wrong and politically unwise. Why can the current Prime Minister and his Government not see it?
I think the current Prime Minister, and certainly this Foreign Secretary, gets a little fed up with hearing Britain being done down. I have to say to the hon. Lady that, despite the coronavirus pandemic and the fiscal conditions we face, we are none the less putting in £10 billion, which, on 2019 figures, has us as the second-largest overseas development aid contributor. When I speak to our interlocutors abroad, from Asia to Africa, and when I speak to our multilateral partners, from Dr Tedros to António Guterres, they do not share this self-flagellating defeatism or this will to do Britain down. They understand that we make an unparalleled contribution in the world as a force for good. We shall continue to do so.
We now know that because of the Government’s choices the economic price facing the country is higher, that the manifesto commitments the Conservatives made last December can no longer be trusted, and that when the Government talk about hard choices what they really mean are real-terms pay cuts for key public sector workers such as teachers, teaching assistants, police and firefighters, and cuts to support for the world’s poorest. Can the Foreign Secretary at least tell us what he thinks the public will be more concerned about: aid that goes to the world’s poorest which actually saves us money in the longer term, or the gross waste of public money through billions of pounds of poor Government contracts and barrels full of public money handed over to Tory donors?
The hon. Lady has advocated cutting ODA in the past. She now shakes her head. [Interruption.] She wants to fudge it as repurposing. We are not going to fudge it in the way that she does. We are going to be very honest with the British public about an incredibly difficult set of decisions. We are making sure that we can see our way through the pandemic. We will still be contributing £10 billion to the world’s poorest, to climate change and to girls’ education. I think they will understand. If the hon. Gentleman has any alternatives, rather than just criticising from the Opposition Benches, we would be glad to hear them.
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. A short question coming up. Will my right hon. Friend please confirm to the House that the UK’s aid spend will also be focused on ensuring that the most vulnerable around the world get access to vaccines?
The fact that the aid budget is set as a percentage of GNI means that it is necessarily self-regulating. Budget allocations on such a basis remain consistent with the prevailing economic conditions, so if 0.7% was okay for normal times, surely it must be fine for lean times, too. Having reneged on a key Tory manifesto commitment less than a year after the election—in itself surely something of a record—will the Secretary of State advise the House of what detailed analysis he has commissioned to quantify the cost to humanity of removing £4 billion in aid from the poorest communities in the teeth of a global pandemic?
I do not think it is right to say that just because there is a percentage based on GNI, that means we can deal with a situation of the severity that we face now, with the worst economic contraction in more than 300 years and a budget deficit double that of the previous financial crisis. These are not ordinary times in which the natural stabiliser built into the target can apply. The hon. Gentleman asked how we will safeguard and prioritise; we have an allocations process. We are not going to salami-slice ODA across the different pots of money; we are going to make sure that we do it in a strategic way, and I will be taking that forward in the weeks leading up to Christmas.
My right hon. Friend has said that, going forward, the right decisions will be made to deal with everything from poverty to extremism. For that to be the case, he has to focus on the safety and security of women and girls, which requires access for them to good and safe education. Will he update us on how we will continue to do that? During this, the week of the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, the greatest number of women being abused are Uyghur women who are being abused by the Chinese state. Will he update us on what support he can provide to Uyghur women?
I have set out before the House how we will safeguard what we are doing on girls’ education and how we will maintain our leadership role with the global targets that we set.
We are very concerned about the position in Xinjiang. We recently made Five Eyes statements on it and brought together, in the United Nations Third Committee, a much broader pool of countries to express our concern. What needs to happen now is that the UN Human Rights Commissioner, or another independent fact-finding body, needs to be able to have access to check the facts, because China’s rejoinder is always that this is just not happening. There are too many reports that it is, we need to get to the bottom of this, and the UN Human Rights Commissioner has a role to play.
The provision of overseas development aid is not a selfless act: it is in our interest to foster global peace and sustainable development, thereby reducing the migration associated with war, climate change, disease and famine. What is the Foreign Secretary’s assessment of the impact on international peace building and migration associated with the Government’s choice to cut foreign aid?
The hon. Lady is absolutely right. I do not see a siloed distinction between our moral interest in what we do abroad and the national interest—they are often combined. In respect of some of the areas that she mentioned, she should look at what we are doing on defence and security; it may not be strictly within the DAC rules, but it does have a huge impact on our soft power abroad and the stability of the countries that she mentioned. We are going to use the allocation process to make sure that we mitigate some of the concerns and risks she mentioned, but of course we will not be able to continue all the funding that we are doing. These are difficult choices that come as a matter of necessity in the emergency financial situation that I am afraid we find ourselves in.
The International Development Committee has long recommended that there should be a single sign-off by—since its takeover of the Department for International Development—the FCDO on all UK ODA spend, no matter which Department spends it. Who in the FCDO will ultimately be responsible for that? I appreciate that the Foreign Secretary is far too busy.
Ultimately, the Secretary of State and Ministers are responsible to Parliament for financial spending. We look carefully at both the underspend and the overspend. We are constantly looking not just to strengthen our internal processes—we have looked at that again as a result of the merger—but to make sure through ICAI and the Select Committees in this House that we have maximum transparency. If my hon. Friend has any other specific proposals in that regard, I would be happy to consider them.
On 30 June, the Secretary of State said in response to a question from my hon. Friend the Member for Angus (Dave Doogan):
“I assure the hon. Gentleman that we are committed to spending 0.7% of GNI on aid.”—[Official Report, 30 June 2020; Vol. 678, c. 142.]
Will the Secretary of State confirm whether he was not being truthful with the House at that time, or did the Chancellor and the Prime Minister simply not tell him what they were planning to do?
Amid all the hyperbole, I understand the point that the hon. Gentleman is making, but the truth is that the full scale of the economic situation was not clear—[Interruption.] It was not clear, because we were coming through—[Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman is chuntering. Let me answer the question; I am trying to take him seriously on this and he should listen to the answer. The fact is that if he looks at June, we were coming through the first wave. We had not got ourselves into a position of having to go into a second lockdown and, frankly, the full financial effects were not clear. He is right to make that point, but there is a very clear reason why we have had to take the measures that we have, which we take as a matter of regret. We wanted to avoid that, but it is because of the nature of the virus and the prolonged financial impact that it has had on businesses and, as a result of that, on the public finances.
Our economy has taken a terrible shock this year and that is why 0.7% means that we have already had to cut aid by £2.9 billion this year. Yesterday, I heard an update from the World Food Programme in South Sudan. It has had an even worse economic shock not just from covid, but from the ongoing conflict and the fact they have had locusts and biblical floods. Now, more than half the population is facing famine. The Foreign Secretary recently sent his special envoy for famine prevention and humanitarian affairs to South Sudan. Can he reassure the House that he will make no further cuts to the programming in South Sudan?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to point to South Sudan. I could give a list of countries that risk the compound effect of conflict, covid and famine. We could add Yemen, Burkina Faso and north-east Nigeria, which is why I launched the first UK special envoy for famine prevention and humanitarian affairs, Nick Dyer, and why, as we go through the allocation process that I have described to the House, these are precisely the things—conflict, humanitarian and covid—that we will look very carefully to safeguard for all the reasons that she described.
The UK is seen as a world leader when it comes to international development. Our legislation ensures that aid is focused on poverty reduction. Can the Foreign Secretary share his views on tied aid and address the concerns of numerous Members on both sides of the House about the Government making a return to tied aid, which will harm not only the people who benefit from UK aid, but our nation’s reputation globally?
The hon. Gentleman asks a really good question. I do not agree with tied aid. I do not believe that we should go back to that system; I think it is from a bygone era. However, I have listened carefully to leading economists such as Paul Collier and, in particular, Stefan Dercon, who talked about the fact that the most enduring and profitable—for the countries affected—long-term partnerships, which are sustainable, do have a sense of partnership and two-way benefit. That is what makes them an enduring partnership. I was so impressed with the argument by Stefan Dercon that I hired him into the new FCDO when we merged the Departments to make sure that we had a really good progressive approach to the partnerships—particularly the long-term partnerships—that we take with those countries.
The Churches played the key role in the 20-year cross-party consensus on aid, and I pay tribute to their achievement since Jubilee 2000 and Make Poverty History. We all realised what abolishing DFID really meant. Why did the Secretary of State not realise it?
I join the right hon. Gentleman in paying tribute to the Churches. Maybe they have a power of foresight that has been lost on humble politicians, but all I would say is that even at the point at which we did the merger, I do not think anyone could have foreseen the depth of the financial implications. As a former Treasury Minister, I think he would understand this; he has been through the process. The analysis was not there and the structural hit—not just for one year—to the public finances was not clear at that time. It is clear now. We have had to take a difficult decision. I have to say to him, as a former Minister, that these are decisions that, typically, Conservative Governments front up and, on the Labour side, they abdicate.
I welcome the opportunities that an integrated budget provides. I also welcome the Foreign Secretary’s focus on defending open societies. After the Prime Minister’s affirmative reply to my letters to the Foreign Secretary of 4 September and 12 October about securing global Britain’s leadership on LGBT+ rights, will the Foreign Secretary undertake to instruct officials to engage with the United Kingdom Alliance for Global Equality and any other relevant organisations to help to formulate the programmes of work that could be delivered and announced by the Prime Minister or him when the United Kingdom hosts the global Equal Rights Coalition conference next year?
I pay tribute to my hon. Friend, who has championed this cause relentlessly and with great passion and great eloquence. We are a global leader in this and we should be proud of it—I am proud of it. We are proud to be the Equal Rights Coalition co-chair with Argentina, and we are ambitious about what we can achieve through that strategy and the impact it will have. He talked about NGOs. Civil society has an incredibly important role to play, and we are committed to working with all the NGOs, including the United Kingdom Alliance for Global Equality, in the weeks and months ahead.
Having experienced three 100-year floods within eight years, we are only too aware in the Calder Valley of how vital immediate emergency help is from Government. While I agree with the short-term reduction in international aid because of the massive generational cost of borrowing money, among other things, does my right hon. Friend agree that the UK should continue to be a major donor in addressing the worst humanitarian and natural disaster crises throughout the world?
As I have set out, that is of course one of the priorities that we will safeguard as we reduce the financial envelope. My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I think there is cross-party consensus. For all the public criticism there sometimes is of the ODA spend, alleviating conflict and dealing with the aftermath of humanitarian disasters is what ODA should be spent on and what it should be prioritised for. That is what this Government and global Britain are all about.
The pandemic has reminded us that the virus does not respect borders. Countries with weaker health systems and poor water and sanitation facilities are less likely to defeat covid-19, maintaining the virus’s threat to the UK and the world. Can the Secretary of State confirm whether that was taken into account when making the decision to cut vital aid? Can he explain what he means by returning to the 0.7% commitment when the fiscal situation allows? What metrics will be used to determine that point in time?
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right about covid and other public health priorities. That is why, as I have set out, we are not just taking a salami-slicing approach to the £10 billion of ODA next year. We will look strategically. As I have already said, that is one of the priorities. It is difficult to give him the precision he may want on when fiscal conditions will allow us to get back to 0.7%, but that is a result of the pandemic. I am sure we will have greater clarity as the weeks and months go ahead. We have got to get through this pandemic and allow the economy to recover. This is a temporary measure taken as a matter of necessity and we will get back to 0.7% as soon as the fiscal conditions allow.
To say that I am disappointed by the decision is an understatement. I am horrified that we have decided to break a manifesto commitment, and I am horrified by the message it sends to the many women who have suffered such horrendous acts of sexual violence in conflict, especially given the fact that yesterday was the UN International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. I know how hard it is and that the Foreign Secretary did not want that decision, but why did he and the Government not look at reforming this and at a multi-year funding formula—rather than one based on the calendar year—to reach the 0.7%? That would have given us the long-term strategy and the commitment to the world’s poorest.
I thank my hon. Friend for what he is saying, and I understand that he is trying to be constructive. I think he is referring to the idea that we could reform and change the approach, as many have suggested even before the pandemic, to say that the 0.7% commitment is averaged out over several years. I understand that, and I think it is a good proposal. It is something that perhaps we should consider in any event, but the reality is that the depth of the economic hit, the depth of the contraction and the knock-on effect to the public finances mean that I am afraid that would not be able satisfy the challenge and the extent of the necessity that we face in trying to reconcile domestic and international priorities.
I have to inform the House of a correction to the result of the deferred Division held yesterday on the draft European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 (Relevant Court) (Retained EU Case Law) Regulations 2020. The number of Members voting Aye was 356, not 354. The number of Members voting No remains at 261. There is no change to the outcome of the Division.