International Development (Official Development Assistance Target) Bill
The Committee consisted of the following Members:
Kate Emms, Committee Clerk
† attended the Committee
The Chair: Welcome to the Committee. I remind Members to set their mobile phones to silent. If they so choose, Members may remove their jackets. Before we begin our consideration of the Bill, we must first deal with the sittings motion.
That, if proceedings on the International Development (Official Development Assistance Target) Bill are not completed at this day’s sitting, the Committee do meet at 8.55 am on Tuesdays when the House is sitting.
I am delighted to be here and to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Crausby, for what one hopes will be as brief a period as possible, if you understand. The sittings motion seeks to achieve that, and otherwise speaks for itself.
The Minister of State, Department for International Development (Mr Desmond Swayne): It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Crausby. The sittings motion is proportionate given the short length of the Bill. I hope that we will be able to conclude our proceedings next Tuesday. However, if we do not, I should put the Committee on notice that at that stage I will seek to amend the sittings motion for sittings thereafter.
“(1) This Act comes into force on such day as the Secretary of State may by order made by statutory instrument appoint.
(2) The Secretary of State may not make an order under subsection (1) until legislation has been enacted placing a duty on the Secretary of State for Defence to ensure that the amount of defence expenditure as a percentage of the gross domestic product of the United Kingdom does not fall below the NATO guideline of 2 per cent. in any year.”
Sir Gerald Howarth (Aldershot) (Con): May say what an extraordinary pleasure and privilege it is to serve under your illustrious chairmanship, Mr Crausby? You and I go back a long way in our service to the Select
I am flattered that my right hon. Friend the Member for Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk has invited me to participate in this debate. As Committee members may know, I voted against this Bill. I wanted to speak in the debate on Second Reading but did not get the opportunity. Nevertheless, I had the great pleasure of accompanying my right hon. Friend during the recent Scotland referendum campaign. We tramped the lanes—I would not say the streets, for they were lanes—of Blainslie, as I recall, near Earlston, where I found on the canvass sheets the names of a number of members of my own family. As far as we were able to discern, they were on our side. I salute my right hon. Friend for contributing to the outstanding result in the Scottish borders, where 67% of the people voted to retain the unity of this great United Kingdom, and I am very flattered that he has invited me to participate.
Although I was unable to participate fully in the debate on Second Reading, I did intervene. I note that the vote was ultimately 164 to 6, whereas 283 Members voted for the European Union (Referendum) Bill, which would have enshrined in law a requirement that a referendum on the European Union and Britain’s membership thereof should take place before 2017, and there were no votes against—it was unanimous. I am rather curious that this Bill seems to be being expedited, while the European Union (Referendum) Bill, which is of great interest to the people of this country, has unfortunately been binned, largely because the Liberals and the Labour party would not afford it the time. I have said to my Conservative colleagues that they are very broad-minded in seeking to advance this Bill, promoted by my right hon. Friend—who is a Liberal Democrat—when the Liberal Democrats nevertheless helped to scupper our European Union (Referendum) Bill.
Two issues arise which are entirely pertinent to new clause 1. First, ring-fencing any departmental budget is a dangerous constitutional novelty. Elections are about priorities. They are about placing before the people a set of priorities, and different parties have different priorities. It is proposed that one particular Department should have its spending enshrined in law as a percentage of gross national income. I know that Members on both sides of the House feel that health care is an important issue. Some may feel that education is paramount. Why not enshrine in law spending on those two issues, which are undoubtedly of concern to the British people? I find it objectionable, in principle, that one single Department should be taken out and given this special treatment. Of course, it is open to a future Parliament to repeal the measure. However, ring-fencing overseas aid or any other Department’s spending is an attempt to limit the choices available to the people in a general election.
Secondly, singling out overseas aid for this unique constitutional experiment is even more wrong. I am not opposed to overseas aid. I was an international banker, and I served with Standard Chartered bank. I was responsible for funding an earth dam in the northern Nigerian state of Bauchi in the early 1980s. I believe that aid complements what is provided by both the commercial private sector and private giving. Aid has a role to play. Indeed, the Conservative party has an
I understand the Prime Minister’s commitment to enshrine 0.7% of GNI in legislation to fulfil the commitment in the Conservative party manifesto and in other party manifestos. I add, in parenthesis, that it was one of about 600 commitments made by the Conservative party in its 2010 manifesto, compared with something like 128 commitments made by Margaret Thatcher—of blessed memory, of course—in 1979. I am not sure that we have fulfilled all the commitments we set out in 2010. I have discussed this with the Prime Minister on a number of occasions, because I struggle to understand why he feels that this must be proceeded with at a time when the nation faces quite substantial economic problems—inherited, of course, from the catastrophic destruction of the public finances by the former Chancellor. It is a question of priorities. I do not suggest that we should have cut the overseas aid budget, but I do not think that it should have gone up by as much as it has. It is now something like £11.5 billion, which is about £4 billion more than it was when the coalition Government took office in 2010.
I must say to my hon. Friends in the Conservative party that I have yet to meet any of our people in the streets who think that this target should be a priority for a Conservative Government. They find the policy very strange and I would be interested to hear from any of my hon. Friends if they have a different experience.
We all subscribed to that and I subscribed to the manifesto commitment on overseas aid as well. However, as everyone knows, manifestos are shopping baskets and individual Members sometimes take a different view of some of the commitments given in a manifesto, especially when there are in excess of 600 of them.
“This country possesses great assets and advantages—a permanent seat on the UN Security Council, a leading role in NATO, a strong relationship with the United States, a major role in the affairs of the EU, and armed forces that are the envy of the world. We are a global trading nation and home to the world’s pre-eminent language.
But, looking a decade or two ahead, powerful forces of economics and demography elsewhere in the world will make it harder for us to maintain our influence. All this in a world that is becoming more dangerous, where threats as diverse as state failure, international terrorism and new forms of warfare are being amplified by the impact of climate change and the spread of nuclear weapons technology. In a world of shifting economic power and increased threats, the UK stands to lose a great deal of its ability to shape world affairs unless we act to reverse our declining status.”
Since 2010, the world situation has got far worse. We have seen the Arab spring and the annexation of an entire region by a newly vibrant Russia. Syria is imploding, Iraq is under enormous strain, there is North Korea
In 2009, my right hon. Friend the Member for Richmond (Yorks) (Mr Hague) said that there would be no strategic shrinkage under a Conservative Government. We have a Conservative-led Government and, although we have seen the departure of the right hon. Member for Lewes (Norman Baker), I think that we still have that coalition Government in place. However, while my right hon. Friend said there would be no strategic shrinkage, that is completely untrue. There has been strategic shrinkage and Britain’s influence has been diminished.
In speaking of influence, I do not buy the argument that overseas aid delivers as much influence in the world as hard power. I understand soft power. One of my responsibilities in the Ministry of Defence as Minister for International Security Strategy was defence diplomacy. It has a role to play and I class overseas aid in that category. However, if one walks with a big stick, one can speak softly, but we are in danger of losing the big stick.
Mr Crausby, perhaps you saw the television programme on Sunday night about Afghanistan, which you and I and other colleagues have visited. It was interesting to hear an official from the United States Administration speaking bluntly about Britain no longer being a reliable partner for the United States because we have cut back our armed forces so much.
Jeremy Lefroy (Stafford) (Con): It is a pleasure, Mr Crausby, to serve under your chairmanship. Would my hon. Friend agree that at this moment the actions of the United Kingdom in Sierra Leone, where our overseas development assistance budget combined with our defence budget has enabled us to play a role alongside the United States and, indeed, ahead of the United States and France, clearly show that that is not the case? Looking at strategic shrinkage, we should take into account the situation not only in Afghanistan, but globally, in which the United Kingdom is giving a clear lead in a very present danger.
Sir Gerald Howarth: I am grateful to my hon. Friend, for whom I have a huge amount of respect—I know his constituency, having represented Cannock and Burntwood for nine years, which is just south of his area. I take his point about the military contribution in Sierra Leone; that is entirely true. I pay tribute to 22 Field Hospital from my constituency, Aldershot, which has about 100 personnel out there. Together with Médecins sans Frontières and other organisations, they are doing a fantastic job.
With great respect to my hon. Friend, he should not confuse that humanitarian exercise with hard power—the ability to fight—or with hard-war fighting. They are not the same. That exercise has a role to play, but we are not committing anything like the numbers that we would need to commit to a military operation. It is our
Mrs Anne McGuire (Stirling) (Lab): It is a pleasure, Mr Crausby, to serve under your chairmanship. I am not sure that the right hon. Gentleman is making the case that he thinks he is. He has not yet explained why having, as he would see it, a greater defence capability and committing 0.7% of our GNI to international development at the same time are mutually exclusive; surely, they are not and he is arguing for his party to increase defence spending and not to reduce the commitment to 0.7%.
Sir Gerald Howarth: I am grateful to the right hon. Lady. As she knows, her predecessor is one of the most outstanding politicians produced by the Conservative party: my noble Friend Lord Forsyth makes a fantastic contribution in the other place. I take the right hon. Lady’s point but I set out my two issues at the start. First, I do not agree in principle with enshrining in law the protection of any departmental budget. Secondly, if we are going to ring-fence a budget, this should not be the one. She is playing to my argument and I hope, therefore, that she will support my new clause. They are not mutually exclusive. My hon. Friend the Member for Stafford makes the important point that we have civilian and military personnel in Sierra Leone. If we are going to enshrine a commitment to spend 0.7% of GNI on overseas aid, the only logical thing to do—given that we are all working together—is to enshrine a commitment to spend 2% of GDP on defence expenditure.
Mrs McGuire: Does the right hon. Gentleman not agree that this is one topic on which there is a political consensus? May I add that it is nice to make a contribution to another Privy Counsellor? The right hon. Gentleman made his own case, because the three main political parties supported enshrining this commitment in law. Indeed, any poll has assessed that around 56% of the British population think that the 0.7% contribution should be supported.
Sir Gerald Howarth: If I may correct the right hon. Lady, unless she knows something that I do not, I have not yet been admitted to the Privy Council. Perhaps she has some news, so I thank her very much indeed for informing me. [ Interruption. ] My right hon. Friend the Member for Eddisbury tells me that my candidacy has been considered, so even if I do not join him in support of the Bill, I might join him at the Privy Council.
Mr Stephen O'Brien (Eddisbury) (Con): On a point of order, Mr Crausby. Is it in order for an hon. Member who is both the author and the mover of a new clause to argue that to have any kind of percentage of GNI registered against any part of the budget of the national accounts is a dangerous novelty and wholly to be resisted,
Sir Gerald Howarth: Thank you, Mr Crausby. May I salute your noble stance on freedom of expression? My right hon. Friend makes a completely fatuous point. I am sorry to say that he has clearly failed to understand the point that I have been making. If a contribution of 0.7% of GNI to overseas aid is enshrined in law, my view is, although I do not agree with that principle, that the same should be done for defence. Why? Because, as I was saying, I, my right hon. Friend the Member for New Forest West and my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Filton and Bradley Stoke believe that the defence of the realm is the first duty of Government.
How do we explain to our constituents that we believe that the first duty of Government is defence of the realm, when our expenditure on defence is hovering at 2%? We are just bumping above the NATO limit. While the Prime Minister has been exhorting every other NATO member to spend more on defence, he and the Government refuse to take this opportunity to enshrine in law that we really do believe that the first duty of Government is the defence of the realm. I say to my right hon. Friend the Member for New Forest West, how can I look a soldier in the eye in Aldershot and say “Thank you for your service in Afghanistan, where you put your life on the line, were shot at, had your vehicle blown up, and you survived. I am sorry we’re having to make you redundant, but the good news is I’ve got a lot more money for overseas aid.”? I am sorry, but I find it offensive that I should have to do that to soldiers serving in the home of the British Army in Aldershot. That is the reality of what we face and how the measure is going to be projected, to the extent that people, beyond the usual suspects in overseas aid matters, take any interest in it at all.
I find it galling that a Conservative-led Government and my colleagues, many of whom I esteem and enjoy working with—at least, my hon. Friend the Member for Congleton—are prioritising something that, with all my meetings with Conservative groups around the country, I do not find to be the No. 1 priority. Those same people find it astonishing that when they see the nature of the turbulent and dangerous world in which we are living and read the manifesto highlighting those concerns and the Conservative party’s leadership’s declaration that we have to protect ourselves against those threats, what do we do? We are not increasing defence expenditure; we are cutting it. The Army will be down to 82,000. There will be more people going to the Help for Heroes rugby match at Twickenham than there will be members of the British Army. Our surface fleet has been cut to the bone; in 2001, there were 22 frigates and 11 destroyers, making 33 in total, and we are now down to 19 with the new builds. I welcome the new build, some of which was ordered under the previous Labour Government and some of which will be ordered by us but at any one time a third of those will be laid up, in refit or whatever.
There is a substantial reduction in the number of squadrons in the Royal Air Force. We are down to about 108 Typhoon and 88 quite ancient Tornado GR4s, making a total of around 200 aircraft, whereas just 12 years ago the total was well in excess of 300. We have no maritime patrol aircraft in the aftermath of the strategic defence and security review in which I participated as a Minister; we scrapped the Nimrod, quite rightly, because the aircraft was not performing in the way that we were entitled to expect—it was £750 million over budget and nine years late. We are incapable of meeting our International Civil Aviation Organisation commitments to provide a search and rescue capability across the north Atlantic. When that yachtsman got lost, we had to send an inadequate C-130 Hercules down to some islands off the west coast of Africa and across just to get a minimum reach. I am afraid that the figures speak for themselves.
Alistair Burt (North East Bedfordshire) (Con): It is a great pleasure, Mr Crausby, to serve under your chairmanship. We go way back so it is a pleasure to see you in your place. May I gently say to my hon. Friend that his case about defence expenditure has sympathy in the House and I would only ask him whether this is the right vehicle in which to be making the point? I do not see overseas aid expenditure pitted against defence expenditure. If the Government want to find more for defence, which they should, they can do so. He can bring forward his argument in a completely different form, but to do so in the way he is now, by pitting the two against each other, does not seem to be right. Accordingly, if we do not share his view on his new clause, it is for that reason and not because we are unsympathetic to his position.
In answer to my right hon. Friend the Member for North East Bedfordshire, he is obviously on side on the inadequacy of our defence budget but does he not see the way that giving priority to overseas aid at the same time as slashing our defences will be interpreted in the country? I will withdraw the comment “weasel words” because my right hon. Friend and I had the privilege of working together when the Foreign Office and the Ministry of Defence worked together and, of course, we worked together on the conflict pool.
Sir Gerald Howarth: I am sorry. I did not mean to upset my right hon. Friend; I just feel very passionately about the issue. I am a conviction politician and see a dangerous world out there. The new world order is disorder.
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend the Member for Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk; he did not need to put me on the Committee. I am probably now going to have to buy everybody a drink for giving me this opportunity. I believe in this matter passionately, but I am not against overseas aid. It has a role to play and it has influence, but it is the question of quantum and the principle of the Bill that I find difficult. I want to see defence expenditure put on a par with aid and the Bill gives us an opportunity to do that.
“Anyone who knows anything about development knows that the EU is the worst agency in the world, the most inefficient, the least poverty focused, the slowest, flinging money around for political gestures rather than promoting real development.”
She was saying that at a time when 46% of DFID’s aid budget went on multilateral programmes. Today, of course, that figure is much higher as the Department’s annual report and accounts 2011-12, which were examined by the Select Committee on International Development in Command Paper 751, show.
There is a long record of criticism of the way that the aid budget is performing. I am happy to put on record my tribute to the current Secretary of State, my right hon. Friend the Member for Putney (Justine Greening), who understands that the British people want to see overseas aid spent on the real issue, which is relieving poverty. I am sure my right hon. Friend the Member for Eddisbury will confirm that she is doing her level best to ensure that the every penny is accounted for because she understands that it is taxpayers’ money.
I also pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Member for Eddisbury—I disagree with him on this, as he knows—for the extraordinary work he is doing in the Sahel for no reward at all. I will not say he is an example of soft power because he might take offence and think there was something physical about my comment, but he is an example of what we can do.
It is not that I am against overseas aid, but it is a question of quantum. We have plenty of evidence from those reports illustrating that aid, particularly channelled through multilateral organisations, is not spent efficiently.
Mr Clarke: I am very grateful to the hon. Gentleman, not least because I had almost forgotten the point I was going to make. He mentioned Clare Short and of course we recall her criticisms of European decisions about aid. Of course we agreed and still agree. Will he accept that at no stage during her time as Secretary of State for International Development did Clare Short do anything other than support the commitment to 0.7% of GNI?
Sir Gerald Howarth: I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman is right. Clare Short was a fantastic champion of overseas aid; I do not cavil with that at all. I am praying her in aid to illustrate the very point that was made by the Select Committee under the chairmanship of the right hon. Member for Gordon (Sir Malcolm Bruce). She made the point that so much aid—then 45%, now 66%—is not actually contributed direct from the Department for International Development in the UK, but is channelled through multilateral organisations that, in the words of the Select Committee report, were not as efficient at running those programmes as DFID was then and, hopefully, is now running even better under the stewardship of my right hon. Friend the Member for Putney. That is the point Clare Short was making, and all I was doing was praying her in aid.
In Committee yesterday my hon. Friend the Member for St Albans referred to the report from the Independent Commission for Aid Impact. I think my right hon. Friend the Member for Eddisbury had some responsibility in establishing the commission as an independent adviser to the Select Committee. I can do no better than quote my hon. Friend, who pointed out yesterday that the report published last week stated:
“The shortcomings that we saw in the programme”—
“and its serious deficiencies in governance; financial management; procurement; value for money; transparency of spending; delivery and impact, as well as its failure to use DFID's body of knowledge in trade and poverty, have led to a marking of Red for the programme”.
“DFID has not...developed an approach equal to the challenge, nor has it focussed its efforts sufficiently on the poor. While some programmes show limited achievements, there is little evidence of impact on corruption levels or in meeting the particular needs of the poor”.
These are not matters to do with the quantum of money spent; they relate to the operation of the Department itself. I salute my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, who has scrapped the programme because of the criticism made of the £67 million programme in southern Africa. That example illustrates that it is not working on the current levels of expenditure, yet we are about to enshrine in law the massive increase in expenditure that has taken place and we have not remedied the fundamental errors that have been pointed out by past Secretaries of State and now have been pointed out by an independent commission established by my right hon. Friend the Member for Eddisbury, among others.
I do not wish to detain the Committee any longer than I have already. I shall conclude with this comment. My right hon. and hon. Friends on this side of the Committee know that the biggest challenge we face is that of the budget deficit. In 2010 the budget deficit was £156 billion; in 1979, when Margaret Thatcher became Prime Minister, it was £10 billion. We have inherited a massive problem, which struck at the heart of the United Kingdom. In my view, our budget deficit is itself a threat to our national security, in the same way that, as Admiral Mike Mullen, the former chairman of the joint chiefs of staff in America, said, the American budget deficit is a threat to its national security. Our budget deficit is now just shy of 6% of gross national income. If we were spending £11.5 billion on overseas
We are puffing out our chest and saying, “Aren’t we magnificent? We have lived up to the 0.7% target. There are all these other countries, such as America, which only spends 0.19% of its GNI on overseas aid, and look at us—aren’t we good?” In fact we are spending 0.67% of our GNI, but that is not an exhortation to my right hon. Friend to go to the Treasury and get more money. We are puffing out our chest and saying, “Aren’t we good, aren’t we marvellous?” but it is not our money.
To the extent that I have apportioned it across the board, I have tried to be reasonable; I have tried to suggest that not all of this money is borrowed. I would argue that overseas aid should not be one of the highest spending priorities and that we could apply all of that to the deficit and therefore one could argue that it is all borrowed. I am not making that point; I am saying that if we apportion across the board that 5.94% of GNI is attributable to our budget deficit—that our budget deficit constitutes 5.94% of gross national income—then £650 million is borrowed money on which we are paying interest; we therefore have no right to puff out our chests and say how wonderful we are. We are borrowing this money from the banks to make ourselves feel good that we are giving it to the poor in the rest of the world. I do not think that argument will hold much water for the British people.
In conclusion, I apologise again to my right hon. Friend the Member for North East Bedfordshire. I did not intend to offend him, but I do feel passionately about this matter. The right hon. Member for Stirling has made my point for me, aided and abetted by my hon. Friend the Member for Stafford, who rightly drew attention to the combined military and civilian exercise in Sierra Leone. The right hon. Lady made a similar point: that in some respects, aid and defence are two sides of the same coin. If that is so, I rest my case. New clause 1 should be added to the Bill.
Mr Clarke : It is an enormous pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Crausby, in particular because we are considering a Bill as important as this one. The right hon. Member for Aldershot and I go back a long way. I do not recall having gone on any overseas trips together, which is a pity because I might have been able to persuade him not to make the speech he has just made; on the other hand, he might argue that that would have had the opposite effect.
If I may, I will tell a little story about the chap who was walking over the Clyde bridge in Glasgow. He saw a man getting ready to jump in, so he ran after him and said, “Come down, come down—there’s nothing we can’t talk about.” The man did come down and they did talk, and then they both jumped in. I will not jump in in support of the argument the hon. Gentleman presented, because I found it profoundly unconvincing. Not only do I support strongly the Bill sponsored by the right hon. Member for Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk, but, having reflected on last night’s debate, I offer him my sympathy because last night I saw his Bill hijacked on the Floor of the House by Europhobia and today it is being hijacked by an issue that should be debated on its own merits: defence. We are being asked to consider whether the long-standing commitment by the United
I am delighted to support the Bill, which follows on from the International Development (Reporting and Transparency) Act 2006, which, in the year of Make Poverty History, I was fortunate enough to get through the House. As I said last night, in this modern Parliament the person sponsoring a private Member’s Bill can go only as far as the Government of the day are willing to accept. That was my situation then, but if I had had agreement at that time, I would have gone as far as the right hon. Member for Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk seeks to do with his Bill. That Act, until it is amended, as I hope it will be, by this Bill, says that there should be a report to the House by the Government of the day on how well we are doing against the target. The Bill takes us much further in a very welcome way, and quite rightly commits us to the achievement of that figure. Call it ring-fencing; I do not mind. It is perfectly reasonable for this reason.
At one point during the debate last night, I felt that I was becoming too angry—I think the Minister will recall what I said. However, this morning I read what I said and I do not withdraw a word of it. In fact, I probably was not angry enough. If we are going to sit through the Committee—I know you will keep us in order, Mr Crausby—not debating what is in the Bill and what the right hon. Gentleman seeks to achieve, then we are going back on the clear decision that was taken on Second Reading.
A couple of political points were made and I am trying to resist the temptation to not respond, but I will very briefly. On the business of the economic problems that we are facing that are all due to the previous Labour Government, we are in Committee at the moment; we are not appealing to the great British public. We all know there was an international crisis and that Britain was not alone in suffering from the impact of it. The impact was felt in Ireland, Greece, Germany, France and the rest, and we are supposed to believe that we were an island of sanity in a sea of hysteria. That is what we are dealing with. Should that be adduced as the reason for not supporting the Bill? I think not. Indeed, I think it is a reason for saying “Yes, the Bill is extremely timely.” That is the point.
If we look at the whole history of the commitment to 0.7% GNI, we find that it has fluctuated under various Governments. The Labour Government—Tony Blair’s Government—inherited a figure, believe it or not, of 0.28%. Look at where we are now. It cannot be right, especially given that all the political parties are committed to the figure. I apologise to my hon. Friend the Member for Angus because I should have mentioned the SNP last night; it is committed to the figure and I accept that, but so too are the Conservatives, the Liberal Democrats and the Labour party. If that is so, what is the problem with putting it into legislation? The danger
As we spoke last night, a child died every three seconds. Some hon. Members might feel that it is difficult to explain to their constituents that as a Parliament and, in the case of the coalition, as a Government they are trying to tackle that problem, to address the millennium development goals and to fight the terrible poverty that people see before their very eyes on television and the major issue of conflict. Much of our defence expenditure might be avoided if we endorsed the millennium development goals on conflict prevention. If that were so, we would then move on to what the Brandt report, which I mentioned in my maiden speech when I was first elected to Parliament 32 years ago, sought to achieve: the interdependence of developing and developed countries. Look at Sudan, where there was a terrible conflict; there are great reserves there, which if properly exploited and shared among the whole population could create a wholly different situation in that part of the world.
If, as I hope, we say today that the new clause tabled by the hon. Member for Aldershot is unconvincing, we are saying that we have a commitment to the poorest people in the poorest countries. We have to look those people in the eye as well as our constituents. For many years, those countries and people were exploited and we owe them something. Looking forward, it is in their interest as well as ours to have an international trading policy that means that they benefit and so do we, our constituents benefit and so do they, and our taxpayers benefit and they see growth beyond their wildest dreams.
I do not want to be unfair—far from it. I want to pay a compliment, which I hope that my constituents and my Scots colleagues will not hold against me, to the Prime Minister for committing to the figure of 0.7%. That is to his credit, because he must know that the heart of much of his own party is not in that policy. That is quite evident. One of the best political broadcasts I have seen was the conference broadcast by the Conservative party in 2010 or 2011, in which the case for the commitment to 0.7% was explained much more eloquently and professionally than I am doing. I realised that the Conservatives were doing two things. They sought to persuade the British people that it was the right thing to do, but understanding the views of members of their own party and newspapers such as the Daily Mail, they sought to explain in a brilliant political broadcast why it was right to have that commitment to international development aid and in particular to 0.7%.
The case for ring-fencing has been made. We have moved on from 2006. Having achieved that figure, which is, as I have said, a tribute to the previous Labour Government and to the present coalition Government, we must make sure that we never go back on it, whatever the influences on us. Those influences may be great—the international economic crisis from which we are, I hope, recovering may not be the last—but whatever the circumstances we face, the poorest people in the poorest parts of the world are waiting for clean water, trying to deal with preventable diseases and trying to ensure that girls get an education when they have hitherto been denied one. All those things are rightly contained in the objectives of the right hon. Gentleman’s Bill. I hope,
Michael Moore: Before I turn to the details of the clause, I wish briefly to set the scene and welcome all the contributions, recognising the strength of feeling, passion and divergence of view. I make no apology for inviting my hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot to take part in the Committee. He is here to challenge, and he represents a view that exists in the House, which was expressed on Second Reading and during last night’s debate on the money resolution. I am grateful to my right hon. and hon. Friends on both sides of the Committee for their willingness to serve. We have a distinguished Committee, myself notwithstanding, serving on this important Bill.
I repeat the gratitude that I expressed on Second Reading to the non-governmental organisations, their supporters and countless people across the country who have helped me and other Members to prepare for the Bill and who have helped to create the arguments that the right hon. Member for Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill and others have advanced over long, long years. The Bill that I have the privilege and the good fortune to introduce builds on the work of millions of people who have made the case for such policies over decades.
I want to put on record my thanks to officials and Ministers in the Department for International Development. Its work is recognised internationally as some of the finest in this sphere. Britain leads in this area. The previous Government set up the Department, and the coalition has continued to develop it. As a Scot, on a couple of occasions I have been privileged to visit the substantial number of DFID employees—somewhere between a third and half of the total—who are based at East Kilbride, just south of Glasgow. I have had the privilege of visiting that office on a couple of occasions, seeing at first hand the excellent work done there as well as here in London and in many different countries around the world.
I would describe the result on Second Reading as emphatic, not least because there had been a contested Bill the previous Friday. To be able to get 170 or so people in the Chamber to debate this issue is a tribute to the priority that colleagues gave to it. One hundred and sixty-four were in favour and six were against, and last night, we improved our score even more: 295 were in favour of the money resolution, while seven were against. The scale of that support reflects the cross-party background to the Bill, which, as others will be aware, very much reflects previous efforts from Members in other parts of the House as well as my own to act on this issue. It was in the manifestos of every party—Labour, Conservative, the Liberal Democrats, the SNP and others—at the last election and therefore has the broadest possible support. I am delighted that it was in the coalition agreement, and although I am disappointed that measures were not introduced sooner, I am glad to have the chance to put that right with this private Members’ Bill.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill—I hope he is happy for me to call him my right hon. Friend—made the case passionately for why the Bill matters and why development assistance
My contention, which I understand my hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot will not accept, is that demonstrably development assistance not only saves lives, but transforms them. The World Bank—I quoted this statistic on Second Reading—estimated that the measures taken over the last 30 years have lifted 700 million people across the globe out of extreme poverty. Arguments were made on Second Reading, and I echo them today, that the many countries that have received development assistance over the years have developed into what we tend to describe as emerging powers and now are highly successful trading partners of ours and many others across the world. If I may, I move from it being morally right and perhaps our duty to make this commitment to it being in our national interest as well, both economically, in terms of creating and fostering strong economic ties with countries that are now developing very strongly, and in terms of harder-edge stuff to do with defence. What we can do to assist people in these war-torn or climate-change-ravaged parts of the world is ensure that they are supported in-country and to develop, and that they do not then become part of the vicious cycles of terrorism, migration or other issues, which frankly arrive on our doorstep before long. As I said on Second Reading, I do not believe that there is some awkward choice between the moral responsibility, as I would see it, and our national interest; this is something that works on both counts.
On reaching the target, I will not re-rehearse the history of its coming into play in the 1970s, and the work of the Labour Governments of the day, the Conservative Government subsequently, and the recent Labour Government, who really did ramp up the amount of spending that was done. We are delighted to have reached the target in the past year. I said as much on Second Reading, when I stated that we had spent
However, since that debate, the Department has published its statistics on international development for 2014. Pages 8 to 10 explain that the collective effect of revised figures from the original estimates and changes in methodology—not least the adoption of more recent European accounting standards, which have caused problems elsewhere in recent times—has been a reduction in the ratios referred to by the hon. Member for Aldershot to 0.67%. That gives a further purpose to the Bill in
Clause 1 is the heart of the Bill. It puts a duty on the Secretary of State to ensure that the ODA target amounts to 0.7% of GNI and that that is reached in 2015 and each subsequent calendar year. It also seeks to ensure that that is accounted for and reported consistent with the 2006 Act, which the right hon. Member for Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill piloted through the House. I pay tribute to him once again for that and for his work within the Department. The clause provides for that duty, as well as how we will know if it has been achieved. I hope that the Committee will support it.
My final comment is on the new clause. I do not disagree that we should be spending 2% on defence in this country; that is absolutely vital. However, I also agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for North East Bedfordshire that these two things are not mutually exclusive. It is possible, given our long-standing international commitments, to reach the target on international development without prejudice to a legitimate debate on defence spending as well. He pointed out some of the real challenges, which we are familiar with from our own visits, experiences and debates here in the House. I hope, given the mood of the Committee, that the hon. Member for Aldershot might withdraw the new clause. However, should he push it to a Division, I would intend to vote against it.
Mr Mike Weir (Angus) (SNP): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Crausby. I want to make a brief contribution to this debate. I fully support the Bill. The right hon. Member for Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk and I have not agreed on very much in recent years, but we do agree on this particular matter. It was good to hear the impassioned speech from the right hon. Member for Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill on the subject. I am sitting in front of him, so I will not say anything that angers him.
If we look back at the history of this, the target has existed since the 1970s. Sweden became the first country to make the target way back in 1974. Norway and Denmark reached it in 1976 and 1978, and Luxembourg in 2000. All of them have consistently met it since. The Netherlands has also met the target since 1975. We have just met—or just not met, as Members say—the target. That is a major step forward. It is worth noting that 0.7% of GNI is a fluctuating amount that depends on the state of our economy. That undermines the argument that we cannot do it because of economic conditions, because it reflects our country’s economic conditions.
I agree with what the hon. Member for Aldershot said about the changes in the world since the 1970s. He went on about the changing need for hard power because of the way that the world has changed, as have the dangers in the world. However, that is equally true of the area of international development. Countries face much greater dangers in many ways than they did in the 1970s.
We have only to look at what is happening with climate change throughout the world. The other week Christian Aid brought representatives of a partner organisation from Bolivia and the Philippines to Parliament, who discussed with MPs how their nations had been impacted by climate change. I spoke to a gentleman from the Philippines who talked about the increased ferocity of the typhoons which are hitting those islands due to the impact of man-made climate change, and about the fact that the coastline is changing. Fishermen were losing their livelihoods because of coastal erosion and the impact of saltwater coming into previously freshwater areas. Roads were being swept away soon after they were built. All of these are huge development difficulties which face nations such as the Philippines—and many others in the Pacific and Indian ocean region—because of these changes. We have also seen changes throughout Africa. Hard power and soft power do go together in some ways. In west Africa the British Army is helping with the Ebola crisis, which is another huge crisis which we never saw coming. The Disasters Emergency Committee is now doing an appeal for the Ebola crisis, which it does not usually do for a disease. That is somewhere where armed force and soft power go well together.
I say to the hon. Gentleman that it seems to me that soft power is important in defusing many of these situations before they get to the stage where hard power ends up being necessary. The use of hard power has in fact made these situations worse in some countries. It is not as simple as the hon. Gentleman said. He talked about the effectiveness of aid, but it seems to me that that is more of a way in which we have to look at what is being done. In passing, I say that it is a shame that the Government seem determined to take out clause 5 of the Bill, which would have been a good way of looking at the effectiveness of aid.
it is commonly accepted that ODA has the meaning given to that term by the Development Assistance Committee (DAC) of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. ODA is currently defined as resource flows to developing countries and multilateral institutions provided by official agencies or by their executive agencies, which meet the following tests: they are administered with the promotion of the economic development and welfare of developing countries as their main objective, and they are concessional in character and conveying a grant element of at least 25%”.
I make that point because I looked at the statistical release from the Department for International Development, which talked about meeting the 0.7% target. I was interested in some of the items which make up that 0.7%. This, again, is where the organisation set out in clause 5 would have been of some interest. The release states that:
Michael Moore: I am the grateful to the hon. Gentleman who intervened and made a couple of good points. Official development assistance is a term that is defined by the OECD and by the Development Assistance Committee. It is policed by them, and the UK has
Mr O'Brien: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way. I do not want to prolong the point, but as it happens I ought to declare an interest in so far as I find that my father is caught up in precisely this point. He is now 82 and only receiving 60% of the pension in this country because he was the last colonial officer appointed by this country who went to serve in Southern Province, Tanganyika, as it then was, as district officer. Because it was under a mandate, having been a reparation in 1919, he was never a formal colonial officer but a member of Her Majesty’s Overseas Civil Service and, as such, the Tanzanian Government took over the responsibility for his pension in his early years. They promptly declared it bankrupt, so he has only been able to contribute since he was 33 into his current scheme. There is absolutely no comeback on any fund whatever and we just have to accept that those who were in that situation have to suffer.
Mr Weir: I thank the hon. Gentleman. To be clear, I was not suggesting that his aged father, or anybody else, should not get their pension. I was simply querying why this is overseas aid in terms of the 0.7%. Because the same could be said about the ECGD writing off some debts. I accept that if you write off debt, it helps the country whose debt is written off, but some of it might have been for rather dodgy things in the past. One of my constituents asked me whether it covers arms deals. Will the Minister say whether it does?
There are some issues about how it is calculated, but the principle is sound, my party supported it, all parties supported it and we have to go ahead with it. It is a good thing, it will do a great deal of good and we should be at the forefront of it and encourage as many others as possible to do so, including our European partners, who have not done so yet.
The hon. Member for Aldershot spoke about defence spending. That is, of course, a different matter. He says that no one in his constituency asks him about overseas development. I am sorry, but there is not a queue of people in my constituency asking me about defence spending, despite the fact that I have a military base in my constituency as well. In fact, many people raise questions about certain aspects of defence spending that they would like to see cut; Trident being the obvious example. It is an interesting area to open up and we could have a debate, but that is perhaps for another time.
Jeremy Lefroy: I shall restrict my remarks to a few on areas that have not been covered. First, on my hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot’s new clause 1, I sympathise with the idea of having a 2% ring fence for defence. If he were to bring forward a Bill in his own name at some point, I would happily be one of the sponsors. My constituency is home to a very significant Ministry of Defence base and will be, like his, one of the seven largest army bases in the country from next year, when we receive two more regiments. I firmly believe that a minimum of 2% of GNI should be spent on defence. In fact, one could argue that it should be considerably more than that in these dangerous times.
Mr Swayne: I point out to my hon. Friend that he will have the opportunity on 9 January to support such a Bill in the name of our excellent colleague, my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Mr Chope) .
I firmly believe in this and my hon. Friend has made a very strong case. The only point on which I disagree with him is linking it to the International Development (Official Development Assistance Target) Bill. I shall give just two reasons in addition to those already mentioned why I believe that this is very important. The first is that it is not just aid givers or development assistance providers who seek to hold themselves to targets. The Abuja declaration has committed many African countries to the target of spending 15% of their domestic budgets on health. Many have not reached that, some have, and as a result those that have—Rwanda, for instance—have seen their health services very much improved; in fact, I would say, transformed. We are not asking our taxpayers to do something that many developing countries are not asking their citizens to do. I also see a great appetite in developing countries to reduce dependence on overseas development assistance, which I think we would all want to see. Indeed, part of British overseas development assistance is spent on helping to strengthen the tax collection authorities in those countries so that they will require less assistance in the future. We are not holding ourselves to account while letting others not hold themselves to account. We support developing countries that are in receipt of overseas development assistance in setting their own targets to which they hold themselves to account.
My second point is on global public goods, which is just a name for things that benefit absolutely everyone. In this case I am particularly thinking about preventing and fighting disease. I declare an interest as chairman of the all-party group on malaria and neglected tropical diseases. In that role I have played only a small part in building on the excellent work of my right hon. Friend the Member for Eddisbury, who set up the group. He will agree that, without long-term, consistent dedication to providing overseas development assistance for the development of global public goods—such as drugs and vaccines in the fight against malaria, TB, HIV/AIDS and, in the future, antimicrobial and antibiotic resistance, which is one of the biggest single threats that we face—we will not be able to develop such global public goods.
In a report published just a couple of weeks ago, the all-party group noted that, whereas in 2008 there were just one or two anti-malarial drugs coming from the assistance given through the Medicines for Malaria Venture, there are now six, four of which are directly attributable to the public-private partnerships supported by long-term, consistent ODA principally supplied by the United Kingdom and the United States of America. That is one of the major reasons why a 0.7% target is so important. Such a target would provide reliable, long-term assistance to those programmes, which are vital for health and well-being, and those global public goods, not just for the poorest on the planet but for everyone on the planet.
Alison McGovern (Wirral South) (Lab): It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairship, Mr Crausby. I am pleased to be here today to consider this important Bill alongside such brilliant Members—[ Interruption. ] I think there was a sedentary remark about my use of the term “chairship.” I do not see what is wrong with “chairship,” and I shall keep using it. I think the word flows naturally from the use of “Chair” to refer to the person in the Chair.
Sir Gerald Howarth: In my experience a chair is an inanimate object, and I take great exception to the Labour party’s politically correct insistence that we use “Chair” in this pathetic fashion. I do not think “chairship” is in the “Oxford English Dictionary”, but “chairmanship” is.
Alison McGovern: Thank you, Mr Crausby. Given the other remarks made by the hon. Member for Aldershot this afternoon, I consider myself to be in the very best company following his retort to my use of language. I could say that the rules of the English language are descriptive, not prescriptive—they describe what is done, not what ought to be done—but that might trouble the Committee a little too long on a trivial matter.
To get on to much more important matters, I briefly pay tribute to the right hon. Member for Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk for choosing to introduce this Bill through his fortuitous placement in the private Member’s Bill ballot. I am pleased that the Bill has managed to chart a course through the internal coalition ructions on money resolutions that seem to have scuppered a couple of the other highly placed private Members’ Bills. It is slightly surprising that we are discussing this issue as a private Member’s Bill, as the commitment to spending 0.7% of gross national income on international development is the policy of all four parties here today. Three parties committed to legislating for it in their previous manifestoes and, as has been mentioned, it was in the coalition agreement. We have to wonder about the many possible reasons why this is not a Government Bill.
The previous Government began the process of meeting the UN’s target of 0.7%. It is a credit to the Government that they built on that legacy, and that Britain has now reached that target. It is one of only five richer nations to do so, and it is alone in the G8. Some argue that we
“A very small Bill, on just a few sheets of paper, will save many hundreds of thousands of lives of people we will never meet and whose names we will never know.”—[Official Report, 12 September 2014; Vol. 585, c. 1187.]
If the Bill is enacted it will not tie the hands of future Governments, as the House of Commons may repeal it. Nor will it prevent any party from placing a commitment to cut development assistance to below 0.7% in its manifesto and seeking a mandate to do so, as it is not possible to do that. If it is enacted, I hope that one day it will be repealed, not because the British people have become less generous, but because with Britain’s help terrible, enduring poverty has finally been defeated worldwide. This House should aim to make aid an anachronism. However, the clause would require any Government who want to abandon the UN target to make their case to Parliament and the people.
Of course, there are questions about how to ensure that 0.7% is not only a financial commitment on paper and that every pound is spent wisely, but we will come to those points when we discuss the later clauses. As it is, the Opposition support the Bill and wish it speed on to the statute book. Therefore, I will not speak for long.
On a minor technical note, has the right hon. Member for Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk had any discussions with Treasury Ministers about the decision to calculate compliance with the target on the basis of calendar years, rather than financial years? Does he think that there is the potential for development budgets to be set below 0.7% in some financial years and balanced out by higher spending in the next year so it meets the target within the calendar year?
Michael Moore: As I understand it, it is based on the availability of data from different Departments and across the development sphere, rather than any attempt at sleight of hand. However, if I am wrong, I am sure the Minister will correct me.
Alison McGovern: I leave it open to the Minister to contribute to the discussion. However, I know that the right hon. Member for Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk appreciates that, although this might seem like a technical accounting matter, consistency, and therefore predictability, in development funding is almost as important as the sums themselves. That is one of the arguments for legislating.
I consider the new clause tabled by the hon. Member for Aldershot to be a spoiling clause aimed at holding back the Bill, and as such I cannot support it. I do not disagree that the Government have cut rapidly—in some places, haphazardly—Britain’s defence budget and weakened many parts of our armed forces. The Government will be remembered for having cut the regular Army based on massively over-optimistic estimates of recruitment to the reserves. The brave, dedicated men and women who serve in our armed forces, to whom I pay tribute, deserve far better. In fact, they have a vital, and sometimes neglected, role to play in development.
I am passionate about reconnecting the Ministry of Defence, the Department for International Development and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office so that they work together more effectively overseas. However, using our armed forces as a misplaced argument against the Bill serves neither our service people nor the wider defence agenda. Linking development spending to defence is no more sensible than linking it to the size of the health budget, or to education or transport spending. If we start down the road of coupling together different Departments’ spending levels, we will end up with an incoherent budget process.
Sir Gerald Howarth: Will the hon. Lady accept that the introduction of the Bill and her support for it effectively promote that discussion? There has been a singular, unique exercise to ring-fence one Department. She rightly asked: why not health or education? That is the argument that will ensue. I have proposed what I believe to be the important issue of the moment. I think that there is some synergy between overseas aid and defence anyway, for the reasons set out by many hon. Members, but does the hon. Lady not understand that she is creating a division by what she is proposing?
Alison McGovern: I think that the hon. Gentleman has misheard me. I did not say that justifying the ring-fencing of development spending will mean that there will be justifications for other ring-fences; I was saying that coupling together different parts of the budget would create unintended consequences. Those sorts of connections between two parts of the budget would make the whole budget process incoherent and, as I said, create unintended consequences down the line. Britain must maintain its NATO commitments and, as things stand, it does, but concerns about cuts in defence spending should not be addressed through the debate on this Bill.
I conclude by returning to the point of the Bill, which is to help us keep the promise that we all made. Development promises are not always kept; if we look through the history of international development we see how often great words are said at summits and promises made that are not kept. It is important that we use the Bill as a tool to help us to keep the promise that we made, which is doubly important because it is in the sphere of international development. When poverty is down the road from us, when there are poor people in the next town, it is sometimes too easy to look away and focus on things that are easier to deal with. How much easier is it for us to look away when extreme poverty is 100,000 miles away? However, I know that if we were with those people in extreme poverty who need help, we would not look away. We would help, and, as has been said, in the long term it would be better for us to help. For all the reasons that have been mentioned and well explained, the Bill is the right thing to do, and the Opposition support it.
Mr O'Brien: Just before my right hon. Friend the excellent Minister has his chance to contribute to proceedings, I would like to make a couple of points, albeit briefly, because most of the arguments have been well advanced by other Committee members.
It might be helpful to cast our minds back to the fact that not only was the promise that 0.7% of our GNI would be spent on ODA in all three of the main parties’ manifestos at the 2010 election, but that that promise survived the negotiations on the coalition agreement. It became a promise on which we were keen to deliver, and I am pleased that it is being delivered under the coalition Government, although I accept that that delivery comes on the back of a combined effort over many years and is not, of course, the work of the current Government alone.
For those of us who were in ministerial office in DFID at the start of this Parliament, the question arose as to how we should pursue the policy. One thing that became clear was that 0.7% is of course arbitrary. It is a very long-standing commitment under the UN, and by every test in the book, a percentage is arbitrary—it is intended to set a goal and an aspiration. We therefore considered whether it was appropriate to come up with declaratory legislation. Like every other Member of the House, no doubt, I had some misgivings. I am sure that one of the underlying concerns of my hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot, who tabled new clause 1, is that declaratory legislation raises a question: just how valuable and important is it for the House to consider such legislation?
There is one distinction between this area and defence. As I said in a previous debate—my hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot quite rightly quoted me—I am indeed extremely sympathetic to the question of there being a minimum 2% on defence and he knows full well that I have every good reason to be, as I have a son currently attending the Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst. Therefore, I want to see our armed forces as well provisioned as possible.
However, the one thing that we could overlook is that making a 2% choice for defence is always a matter of policy choice for any Government of this country, because I do not for a second quibble with my hon. Friend that the defence of the realm and the security of our citizens is our first duty. The issue for overseas development assistance is that that is a definition set by the Development Assistance Committee, an external body that then has to measure that, in an auditable way, before it is channelled through our own Treasury; all ODA expenditure is, in fact, channelled through one source so that it can be measured.
Because it is an external measure, and because—for whatever reason—it is expressed as a percentage, it has helped motivate people at a global level, particularly in trying to achieve the millennium development goals, and, perhaps more importantly, the more economically focused goals that will come after them in 2015, which I hope will happen as a result of the advice that our Prime Minister was involved in developing, as part of the three-party advice committee that proposed to Ban Ki-moon what should come after the MDGs.
My feeling is that there is a strong motivational power, and we should not doubt for a second how important that is for UK interests. I do not think it is worth while discussing whether we agree with this as a moral matter; that is a matter for us all individually, and to justify to our constituents. However, even in Britain’s own interests, the one thing I think that my hon. Friend
If I may be personal for one second, it was extremely interesting to hear a report by my son, who of course attended the passing-out parade last term of those who had just graduated from Sandhurst, and Sir Peter Wall said to them, “You are the first graduates who will not immediately be deployed to Afghanistan. You are now making a choice: between being part of the reactive Army, for all the asymmetric threats that now face us, and the adaptive Army, for when there is a cyclone, or some kind of earthquake, and we send you quickly to help ensure that there is water and access for people in very grave plights, and where the British Army is able to support a co-ordinated effort with mobilised money and discipline, and indeed with the NGOs and others who are able to do that.” We are excellent—I would claim world-leading—in both areas, and we should look at this issue very much in the round. It is because ODA is externally defined that we need to have something that helps us to do this.
Sir Gerald Howarth: I take my right hon. Friend’s point, and clause 5 is designed to provide greater transparency. However, will he accept that the reason that defence is comparable to this is that there is a NATO requirement? This is a UN requirement—0.7% to be spent on overseas aid. There is a NATO requirement, and NATO is the cornerstone of our defence. NATO itself has a number of headings of expenditure, which it is eligible to contribute to the 2%. So there is actually a lot of analogy between the two.
Mr O'Brien: I do not doubt that for a second; as I understand it, we are meeting our NATO commitments, and indeed, as it happens, we are just above the 2% at the moment. And of course, given that our Government have been urging others to follow suit, that clearly puts some—how shall I put it? I will use an American phrase—moral suasion that we should at least maintain that level, to maintain the backing to our own argument.
I take my hon. Friend’s point about the NATO expectation. However, it is not as yet auditable, by virtue of the NATO definition; it is still a matter of complete policy choice for a sovereign British Government how we decide to make expenditure on the defence of our realm. Of course, putting it in those terms underlines how important it is that it is indeed our choice, decided under this sovereign Parliament. That is equally the choice for overseas development assistance. It is purely because the definition is external that we need to satisfy its importance. By having this commitment, we demonstrate that it is not worth going through the argument, advanced by many who are not in this place, to redefine official development assistance. The danger is that that would let everybody else wriggle off the hook, when we are all trying to urge them to get there. It is far better to stick to the official development assistance definition; to demonstrate that it is quite possible to get there; and to ensure that we have the most rigorous processes in place to avoid some of those occasions, which my hon. Friend advanced in support of his argument, where DFID finds its expenditure is not meeting its original intended target, although those are a small proportion of the
I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk on introducing the Bill and steering it so skilfully through the House so far, and I strongly hope that it will receive acclamation. We should oppose new clause 1 because it tries to draw a parallel and a connection between defence and international development, when a connection exists only in the total projection of the UK interest. We should not have to tie one set of policies to another because, at that rate, we might be at risk of not being able to stand behind the very promises that we wish to advance.
By placing a duty on the Secretary of State to meet the target and to report how it has been met by quoting the figures for GNI and overseas development aid, the clause discharges the commitment of the coalition to legislate on the matter and the commitment that was made in a number of our manifestos. As such, I support the clause and the important duty that it places on the Secretary of State.
Turning to the new clause, I feel almost that I ought to declare an interest as a serving officer in the armed forces of the Crown. I entirely understand the passion with which my hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot addressed the issue. I would have been surprised had he not spoken so passionately, given his long record of involvement and service to defence on the Select Committee and as a distinguished Minister of the Crown, a service for which he was quite properly acknowledged. I would not accuse him of hyperbole but he used one or two items of loose language. At one point he spoke of slashing defence expenditure and increasing foreign development aid. Now, I know how such an impression can come about. He knows as well as I that if two or more Tory MPs meet, they will find ways of discussing how we might increase defence expenditure but, as a conviction politician and a former Minister of the Crown, he would never have overseen such a policy of slashing defence expenditure. On the contrary, he was responsible for overseeing a commitment in defence procurement of £100 billion over the next decade. I share his aspiration in what he seeks to achieve in the new clause but, like the Opposition Members who intervened during his speech, I do not see any mutual antipathy between the two. They are very much as sides of the same coin. We should pursue both and I do not believe that the commitment expressed in the Bill should be conditional on another Bill that may or may not proceed on 9 January. I ask him to consider not moving his new clause when we come to that point in our proceedings.
I come finally to the question about the difference between the calendar year in which we report overseas development aid and the financial year in which we do all our other business. I confess that that has caused me
No greater difficulty is presented than by this reporting requirement whereby we have to deliver overseas development aid according to a target within a calendar year, while our financial year runs to April. We therefore have to spend a greater proportion than we might normally do of our budget in the calendar year in order to meet a target but then we have a quarter of the year still to go. I have asked several times why we cannot sort that out by having one year, whichever that is. Unfortunately, the answer is that the overseas aid committee of the OECD, which measures our development aid, has decided that it should be so. We are one of the largest contributors of overseas development aid, certainly in terms of our expenditure, and perhaps we ought to be able to call the shots. I will therefore take as an action point from the hon. Member for Wirral South a commitment to investigate whether we might take steps to change that and I will write to her with an answer.
Alison McGovern: I am terribly sorry for having raised that point. If I had known that it was such a bugger, I would have not wanted to have intruded on what has clearly been the Minister’s private grief. I rise briefly to commit that, if the Opposition can be of any assistance in undoing the entanglement to ensure that we are clear in our commitment both in actual terms and in accounting terms, we will work together with the Government to do so.
Mr Swayne: I am grateful for that commitment. I am confident that that would lead to a better way of doing things and organising our affairs. It might even lead to a better way of spending overseas development aid.
Jeremy Lefroy: Will my right hon. Friend assure the Committee that the discrepancy in timing will not lead his Department to accelerate expenditure in order to meet such a target if that is not in the interests of good Government? That has been brought up from time to time.
Mr Swayne: That is precisely the danger that we must avoid. To meet the overseas development aid target within a calendar year when there is a different financial year over which to deliver it is a bit like trying to land a helicopter on a handkerchief in a gale. I am convinced that we must not go down the route that my hon. Friend rightly pointed to of attempting to spend money to meet a target. We must ensure that our money is all properly spent.
Sir Gerald Howarth: We are coming to the end of the debate. I recognise the Committee’s indulgence and it will be relieved to hear that I will be in the United States next week and therefore I will not be around to act as a thorn in its side. [ Interruption. ] My right hon. and hon. Friends may insist that I should be here, but I have a family commitment to honour, or I would be here to lay my wreath at the Royal Garrison church in Aldershot, where I am a church warden. However, I will be in the States.
I am grateful to the Committee for having listened to my arguments with greater courtesy than I showed my right hon. Friend the Member for North East Bedfordshire, for which I apologise. He is a much better Christian than I am, and I know he is much more able to forgive than perhaps I am. I am grateful and will not press new clause 1, which was tabled by me and my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley (Philip Davies). Perhaps it will be debated at a later stage.
Michael Moore: I will be brief in setting out the purposes of the clauses. Clause 2 sets out the requirement to lay the statement before Parliament if we have not reached the 0.7% target. There might have been an example this year where we thought we had, but it turned out that we did not. The clause clearly explains what is required of the Secretary of State. It sets out the allowable excuses for not having made the target in a particular year. They are listed in subsection (3)(a), (b) and (c): economic circumstances, fiscal circumstances, and circumstances arising outside the United Kingdom. It also imposes a duty to ask the Secretary of State to describe any steps that will be taken to ensure that the target will be met in the calendar year following the report year.
Subsection (5) seeks to grapple with the issue that the hon. Member for Wirral South and the Minister have just explored as far as the accounting periods are concerned. As a recovering chartered accountant, not even I was interested in the minutiae of what was going on, other than to know that the Minister is totally in control of it, of which we are all immensely grateful.
Clause 3 deals with the extent of accountability. It is explicit that the accountability of the Secretary of State is to Parliament and to nobody else. This would not be subject to judicial review beyond Westminster were the provision not to be met. Finally, clause 4 deals with the repeal of section 3 of the right hon. Gentleman’s Act of 2006. It has the happy assumption that we will have reached the 0.7% target and therefore it is no longer necessary to report when we will meet it.
Alison McGovern: I will speak briefly to clause 2. We support the proposals for the reporting mechanism as set out in the clause. It is right that any failure to meet the 0.7% target should trigger a detailed statement from the Secretary of State, rather than simply noting such a failure in an annual report. The report must include details of remedial steps that will be taken the following year to meet the target as proposed. In drafting the clause, did the right hon. Member for Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk envisage that such a situation
We have no objections to clause 3 standing part of the Bill. The duty to be accountable to Parliament represents sufficient enforcement of the aims of the Bill. Neither do we have issues with clause 4. The provision for reporting on progress towards the 0.7% target as set out in the 2006 Act is clearly rendered obsolete by it.
Michael Moore: In answer to the question asked by the hon. Member for Wirral South, it would be a matter for the Government and for the House to determine what the most appropriate form of scrutiny would be.