I was the Minister for International Development who shepherded the Act, which placed a statutory duty on government to pay 0.7% of GDP in Official Development Assistance, through all its Commons stages.
It is now to be replaced which is particularly worrying because, if the full payment is not made in any year, the Act only requires a statement from the Secretary of State in both Houses explaining why.
To amend or repeal the Act would appear to indicate a much longer-term intention to set aside the commitment.
I do not doubt that this measure is popular, I have had any number of complaints about overseas aid, even before we met the 0.7% commitment and protected it in statute.
Most people consider such aid to be charity and, accordingly, believe that it should ‘begin at home’ (thereby completely misinterpreting the meaning of the phrase, which was coined as a challenge to people who flaunted their philanthropy in public whilst treating their family and employees with meanness).
Charity is something you give away freely without any expectation of return.
International aid is not charity, rather it is an investment we make in the expectation that we may prosper and trade in a more stable and secure world, less prone to insecurity and waves of migration.
It is also a ‘soft power’ by which we project our influence abroad. In this respect it is much more versatile and deployable than our investment in our military capability to project power.
I do not doubt that our retention of a seat at the UN security council owes more nowadays to the fact that we are the World’s second largest donor, rather than that we remain a nuclear power.
There are many things I would wish to see reformed about our aid effort. Jus for starters, it needs to be even more focussed on economic development and ability to trade: when I was the minister I would constantly remind people that ‘aid is all about jobs’.
But we are in queer street: the Chancellor has told us that our Economic crisis is only just beginning. We are at greater risk of further economic shocks because we are borrowing so much. George Osborne used to constantly remind us of the need to ‘fix the roof while the Sun is shining’, well now the roof’s been blown away.
So, protecting any item of public expenditure comes down to a question of priorities. I know most of my constituents will disagree, but I believe that as we re-establish ourselves as an independent power outside the EU and seek to increase our influence in the counsels of the World, then cutting our International Development Aid is a wrong priority.