“(1) This Act shall come into force on such a day appointed by the Secretary of State by an order contained in a statutory instrument.
(2) An order under subsection (1) shall not be made unless a referendum has taken place in the United Kingdom and more than 50% of those casting a vote do so in favour of meeting the target.
(3) This Act shall only have effect in those years where the United Kingdom records a budget surplus.
(4) The Secretary of State may vary the target mentioned in section 1 by an order contained in a statutory instrument in response to the UK leaving or joining a multilateral organisation which itself disburses ODA.
(5) This Act shall expire on the anniversary of its coming into force in the fifth year of its being so in force.”—(Philip Davies.)
Brought up, and read the First time.
Question put, That the clause be read a Second time.
The House divided:
Ayes 4, Noes 149.
Order. Will Members who are leaving the Chamber please do so quickly and quietly? Michael Moore has an important speech to make, and it ought to be heard.
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker.
The Bill matters because UK aid—from emergency relief and humanitarian assistance to capacity-building and economic development—saves lives and transforms lives. By enshrining this commitment in law, the parties represented in the Chamber honour the election commitments of 2010, and the coalition honours the coalition agreement; but what is perhaps more important is that we give predictability to our aid expenditure, critically for our partners and for the recipients of the assistance. We show leadership internationally, which can be used to press other rich countries to join us, the first G7 country to reach the United Nations target, and we move the debate forward to focus on how we allocate our official development assistance, not how much we spend on it. I recognise the need for the expenditure to be properly scrutinised, and the requirement for “independent evaluation” adds to the scrutiny that the House and its Committees provide.
I thank all the Bill’s supporters. There has been cross-party consensus on this issue since the publication of the first draft Bill back in 2010, and campaign groups and non-governmental organisations have given the Bill immense support. I am proud that, today, our country appears to be taking another important step, and doing everything that it should to help the poorest and most vulnerable in the world.
I pay tribute to Michael Moore. Without his efforts, we would not be here debating this important Bill. I also want to thank all Members who took the time to remain here today, and my hon. Friend Mark Hendrick, whose attempt to pass this Bill into law was blocked by some of the usual suspects the first time around. I thank, too, the campaign groups, NGOs, faith groups and charities, and people of good will across the United Kingdom who support this Bill. Few votes in this place can, with certainty, be said to save millions of lives; this one will.
British aid money built the sexual violence unit at Panzi hospital in Bukavu, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Our money supports the work of Dr Denis Mukwege in repairing the bodies and minds of women and girls who have suffered sexual violence and torture. When I visited in 2006, I heard how women were being kidnapped by militia groups and then gang-raped every night. The women and their babies will be rejected, or even killed, if they return to their villages. Dr Mukwege and his hospital give them a precious second chance at life.
British aid funds a Save the Children maternity hospital in Burundi, which I visited in 2009, where one in five children dies before their fifth birthday. British aid invested £24 million helping Rwanda set up its own tax system after the genocide. That investment has been repaid in collected tax revenues many, many times over. Labour in government more than tripled the aid budget from £2.1 billion to £8.5 billion. We worked with other countries to cancel $200 billion of debt and to lift 3 million people out of poverty every year. We helped to establish the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria.
As well as being morally right, Britain’s international development spending is in Britain’s national interest. We face huge challenges today. After a summer of conflict in Syria, Iraq, Gaza, the Central African Republic and South Sudan, we have the largest refugee crisis since world war two. There is also climate change and food insecurity, human trafficking and terrorism, and 1 million children die on their first and only day. There are also 168 million child labourers, and 17 million people living with HIV because of a lack of access to antiretroviral drugs to save their lives. These are huge challenges—global challenges—and it is in Britain’s interests to tackle them at the global level. By passing this Bill today, the UK will become the first country in the G8 to do so. While we have seen attempts by some Members to frustrate this Bill’s progress, we are many, they are few.
This Bill will ensure that aid becomes more effective, and provides long-term certainty for aid workers working in difficult, dangerous conditions. This Bill will be a catalyst to action by other countries, as next year the world agrees the sustainable development goals and how we can end global poverty over the next 15 years. Today we mark the first anniversary of Nelson Mandela’s death. Today we have an historic chance to honour his memory and to change this world for the better.
The promise to pass this legislation was in all three of our party manifestos. People complain that politicians make promises they do not keep. Today is our chance to keep our solemn promise to the poorest people in the world. Today, with this Bill, we stand with them in solidarity. The poorest people deserve more than charity. They deserve justice, so let us get on with it.
The Government support the Bill, and I believe that, in the face of an enormous humanitarian crisis across the world, it is a very timely Bill, and a Bill that meets our long-term commitments and the commitments we made at the last general election.
I want to pay tribute to my right hon. Friend Michael Moore for his dedication and his co-operation in
Committee, but I also want to pay tribute to my right hon. Friend Mr Mitchell, because I do not believe that I as a Minister in this Government would be at this Dispatch Box giving support to this Bill if it were not for the work he did, principally in opposition but then in the Government as Secretary of State. We owe him a tremendous debt of gratitude for the work he did.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield did something else as well. I believe we have improved this Bill since it came to us on Second Reading. In Committee we took out what was the old clause 5, and now the Bill requires the Secretary of State to report to this House. It underlines the primacy of this House. She is under a requirement to show how she has established that the calculation of whether we have reached the 0.7% commitment is independently verified. His singular contribution in creating the Independent Commission for Aid Impact put in place this independent mechanism that measures our aid, scrutinises it and ensures that it is of the highest standard. That will also be the body that will establish the independently verified figures, so I twice commend him on what he has done.
This is an excellent and timely Bill, and I hope it will be passed today.
You will be pleased to learn, Madam Deputy Speaker, that I do not intend to detain the House for long, but I do want to put on record my wholehearted support for this Bill and the Scottish National party’s support for it. I also want to congratulate Michael Moore on his perseverance and patience in bringing it forward.
Given that enshrining the 0.7% commitment was in the manifestos of parties across this House, it is perhaps disappointing that it has taken until now, and taken private Members’ business, to reach this point, but perhaps more disappointing is that today’s debate has been dominated by such protracted discussion of trivial and spoiler amendments instead of the most important issues and the substance of the Bill.
Aid is not a trivial matter. Thousands of people in our constituencies understand that it saves and transforms lives, and they understand the value of the UK’s aid contribution. Many of our constituents give their own hard-earned money to organisations that are tackling the underlying causes of poverty, and they expect us to keep the promise that was made in 1970 to play our part as a responsible member of the international community. If we fail to pass this Bill, we would be letting them down, we would be letting down the millions of people who could benefit from our interventions, and we would be letting ourselves down by failing to live up to the expectations of those who have trusted us to do the right thing.
I will not detain the House for long, but I want to add my congratulations to my right hon. Friend Michael Moore on piloting this Bill through the House so skilfully. I also want to say that it is a matter of huge pride to many of us in the House and to our constituents that this Bill will, we hope, reach the statute book before too long. It puts into operation a promise that all the three main parties in this House have made to the public. It is not only the right thing to do, but it is hugely in Britain’s national interests. It not only makes some of the poorest people in the world more secure, safer and less conflict-ridden; it also helps to make them more prosperous, and it does the same thing for Britain, too—it makes us safer and more prosperous in the long term. It is a huge investment in the future lives of our children and grandchildren.
The one point I want to emphasise is that passing a Bill like this in this House places a strong obligation on us to ensure that the taxpayer is getting value for money: that we are delivering these results on the ground; that when we take a pound of hard-earned taxpayer’s money, we really do deliver 100 pence of value.
I have some sympathy with the comments that some of my hon. Friends made about value for money and the importance of the Independent Commission for Aid Impact. As the Minister just said, the ICAI is the right body to tell the public—the taxpayer—whether the money is being well spent. We made a commitment in opposition to set up an independent commission, and we did so after the election when we were in government. Many voices from the civil service and the international development community urged us not to set it up, but we did so. As I know, it is an uncomfortable experience for Ministers to see its findings, but this was the right thing to do. In deciding to pass the Bill today, this House must acknowledge that the other side of the coin is to accept independent evaluation from a body reporting to Parliament, the legislature, not to Ministers in the Executive, to ensure that the money is being well spent.
Britain is a brilliant exponent of international development. We are very good at it, but when we get it wrong we must put our hands up, and we must have the self-confidence to accept the discipline of independent evaluation by the ICAI. The commission is very well run by Graham Ward and his fellow commissioners, John Githongo, Mark Foster and Diana Good. They have already done a great job, and we must have the confidence in ourselves in order to have the confidence in them to ensure that the ICAI is now a permanent part of the international development architecture.
It is a pleasure to follow Mr Mitchell. The whole House and many out there in the country will appreciate the integrity of his work and the commitment that he gave as Secretary of State for International Development. Although it was not a particularly high hurdle, the record and reputation of British aid—particularly that part of our spending that goes through the European Union—is now significantly higher, and his reputation reflects his work in that area.
I wish to oppose this Third Reading and the principle behind the Bill—[Hon. Members: “What a surprise!”] I listen to the heckling coming from all round the House as I say that—[Hon. Members: “Absolutely right!”] And it continues. Right hon. and hon. Members would do well to realise that the extent of the disconnect between what they want to do and what their constituents want is nowhere higher than in the area of overseas aid. The most recent poll I have seen was conducted by YouGov. On the question of whether we should increase or decrease our overseas aid, 66% said we should decrease it, and only 7% said we should increase it. In this House, however, the ratio of support seems to be even stronger in the other direction, with Members simply ignoring what their constituents want to see happening in this area.
There is a cosy cartel of establishment parties that ignore what their constituents want in this area, and instead choose—[Hon. Members: “Utter rubbish!”] Again we hear the heckling of Members who do not want to listen to the facts on how their constituents feel about what they purport to do in their name—[Interruption.]
Order. Before the hon. Gentleman takes an intervention, may I ask the House to give him the courtesy that has been given to other Members this morning? He might have something important to say.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way. He is obviously not aware that very large numbers of people in this county feel passionately about inequality in the world, about the Ebola crisis and about many other crises, and that they believe that donating money, through the taxpayer and individually, to help to alleviate that terrible suffering involves a moral duty as well as a public good.
I am aware that there is a significant number of people in that category, and I pay tribute to what many of them do through their private charity in choosing to give their own money to charitable causes, whether here or overseas. But that is not what we are talking about here. We are talking about taking away money from our constituents under threat of law and forcibly transferring it overseas. I say again that reputable polling on what our constituents believe shows that two thirds of them want to reduce overseas aid and only 7% fall into the category that contains almost everyone in this Chamber, who want it to increase.
No, I want to finish my point.
I say again that that polling is simply ignored by a cosy cartel of establishment parties that put aside what their constituents want and displace it with what they want instead—
Thank you very much indeed. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman is aware that, every month, 30 million people support charities. May I remind him that this is not an either/or? Many of those people wish not only to give money personally but to see their country, their nation, supporting people who have nothing when we have so much. Will he at least accept the fact that there is a spirit of decency, generosity and giving abroad in the land, even if it has not quite become apparent to him yet?
I do accept that spirit, and I believe that people deserve great credit when they give voluntarily, out of their own resources. What I object to is Members of this House forcing people to give their money to overseas aid through the force of law, when only 7% of our electorate support that course of action.
The last opinion poll I saw showed that when people were asked what they thought we were giving in international aid, they said 15%. So perhaps there will be dancing in the streets of Rochester when the hon. Gentleman returns and tells his constituents that we have cut it to 0.7%.
I thank the Minister for his intervention. It reveals the extent of the weight he attaches to the views of our constituents. Members are voting in large numbers to increase and put into law the 0.7%, which represents a rising amount of output, as though they were doing something on behalf of their constituents, when they know that the vast majority of their constituents do not want them to do that.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that his constituents, like mine, would not support the premise of the Bill, which means that, as spending as a percentage of GDP goes down as the cost of government as a whole is reduced, the Government will be spending a higher and higher percentage of their income on overseas aid? My constituents certainly would not want that, and I am sure that his would not want it either.
The hon. Gentleman is quite correct. He is one of the very few Members who appear actually to vote as their constituents would wish them to.
We have heard today that the numbers are being revised upwards still further. We are now going to be spending £12.4 billion on overseas aid. My party wants to reduce that amount—[Interruption.] We do not want to eliminate it entirely, as Philip Davies might wish, but we want to cut it by 85%. That would give us a saving of £10.5 billion to spend on the priorities of our constituents.
The other question that Members around the House simply seem to ignore is that of whether we as a country can afford this. If we want to give overseas aid on a sustainable basis, we have to sell overseas more than we buy from overseas, yet we now have a current account deficit coming close to 5% of GDP. That figure is usually the sign of a country in crisis and in an unsustainable position, yet we are going to enshrine in law an obligation to make an overseas transfer of 0.7% of our GDP indefinitely, through force of law.
We saw the autumn statement and the Office for Budget Responsibility and its three-men-and-a-dog approach to forecasting the current account deficit. This blithely assumed that the 5% gap would disappear and become less than 2% over the forecast horizon. For some reason, it was assumed that overseas transfers would trend lower, but there is no serious prospect of that happening while we are handing over 0.7% of our resources as overseas aid, never mind our contributions to the EU and the rising amount of remittances that we see transferred overseas as a result of the degree of immigration we have seen in this country.
The hon. Gentleman clearly does not see the point of giving aid for humanitarian or compassionate reasons, but will he at least acknowledge the self-interest involved? Would he acknowledge that, if we want a safer, more secure world, with fewer people being forced to leave their countries—which his party certainly does not like—sharing our wealth more equally would be a very good way of achieving that?
No, I do not acknowledge that; the idea that by giving all this overseas aid we are reducing immigration to our country is complete baloney. Immigration tends to come much more from middle income people; the most strife-torn and poorest people do not have the money to pay people smugglers to come illegally to our country. I do not think the argument the hon. Lady makes is right, and the evidence does not support the idea that overseas aid reduces immigration or benefits us from a selfish perspective of leading to more trade. Indeed, we completely untied aid from trade. Other countries, most notably France, have traditionally tried to bring some benefit to constituents and companies by saying, “We will give you this aid but it should be spent in this way which will benefit not only your countries, but our constituents.” By untying aid in that way, we have it even less popular than it previously was.
There is an idea that we can somehow sustain giving away 0.7% on overseas aid every year, even when we are borrowing 5% of our output every year and we have no plans to put that right. Even the OBR says that our exports are going to grow more slowly than our imports; it just has preposterous assumptions that suddenly we are going to get 2.5% of extra GDP from investment income and somehow transfers are going to decline—they are not. All this money we are giving in overseas aid we are borrowing—and doing so from overseas. We are purporting to be a rich country that is able to give this great handout of 0.7% of everything we produce every year, but we are not giving what we produce—we are giving money that we are borrowing from overseas. These are debts we are building up for our children and our grandchildren. We see the other forecast that debt as a proportion of household income in that sector is going to go up to 180% of GDP, and that is partly happening to pay the taxes this Government need in order to give away 0.7% of their output to overseas. People here should think about what our constituents want and about whether it is sustainable to give away this amount of money when we are actually having to borrow it all from overseas.
The hon. Gentleman has tried to paint a picture of a cosy cartel and of us not listening to our constituents. Does he believe that, given that we have all listened to the voices of many churchgoers, mosque-goers and synagogue-goers in our constituencies, all of whom have written to us, and to the voices of people such as the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Catholic cardinals, the leaders of all the major faiths and many others, who have all urged us to be here today to vote for this Bill? Does he think we should not be listening to their voices? Does he think they are part of some sort of cosy cartel?
I think right hon. and hon. Members should listen to all our constituents. The problem is that we listen greatly to those who write to us and lobby us on these matters, but we ignore the fact that the vast majority of our constituents are opposed to what they want. That is why I refer to the radical tradition—the tradition of Gladstonian finance. It is now being represented not in the hon. Gentleman’s party but in mine, because the vast majority of working-class people in this country do not want to give vast amounts of their income to the Government, including for it to be given away in overseas aid.
The hon. Gentleman should know that Gladstone said the lives of the hill tribesmen in the wilds of Afghanistan were as “inviolable” in the “eyes of almighty God” as are our own. Gladstone was a champion of humanitarian intervention in other parts of the world and he would have been proud of our turning up to save lives today. The hon. Gentleman should not quote him in defence of his mean-minded approach.
I could not disagree more. The difference between the Liberal Democrat party today and the Liberal party of Gladstone could not be greater. What Gladstone would have welcomed—what he was extolling—was private charity. The last thing he would want is the Government to tax people—on the pain of fines unless they give their money, and of going to prison if they do not pay the fines—and for that money to be used as a political class at the top of that country might discern, giving away overseas 0.7% of everything we earn, when we are actually having to borrow 5% of our output, from overseas, in order to finance it. That is the complete antithesis of everything Gladstone stood for, as is what the hon. Gentleman’s party has become.
We may be able to find a degree of consensus on my final point. The only good principle of this Bill is that it sets a precedent for this House taking back control of Government spending, which we abandoned in the 1930s. During that period of national Government, with an overwhelming majority, right hon. and hon. Members of this House gave up scrutinising effectively the spending of government. We now have instead three estimates days a year, when we debate everything except the spending estimates, and then we have one or two votes a year that almost invariably go through nem con, and there is no real scrutiny of spending. So the principle of saying what public spending every Department or activity should have, and putting that into legislation or at least into a process where this House can effectively hold Ministers to account, is a good one. However, specifying a minimum without a maximum is not a sensible way to do it.
It is a great pleasure to follow Mark Reckless. I used to enjoy listening to him when he was a compassionate Conservative and now he is a compassionate “UKIPer”. He brings a lot of wisdom to this debate. It is important that we realise that what he has just articulated is the view of not just members of the United Kingdom Independence party, but of many members of the Conservative party, including a lot of my hon. Friends who have participated in these debates. Unfortunately, this is the first contribution I have been able to make to the debate on this Bill, because I was unable to speak on Second Reading, I did not serve on the Public Bill Committee and I was not able to speak to the amendments I had tabled on Report because the Bill’s promoter moved a closure motion, which was rather undemocratic.
Let me ask the hon. Gentleman a question about his statement that so many Conservative Members and supporters share his and my view on these issues. Why is that view so poorly represented within the Conservative parliamentary party, and why we have had only six or so people in the No Lobby today?
I am not sure that it is represented only by a small number of Conservative Members. We saw during these proceedings that the preponderance of people supporting the Bill were on the Opposition Benches and I suspect that a lot of Conservative Members have grave concerns about the Bill—
They are not here at the moment, but I cannot answer as to where they are. I do know that the Chair of the Treasury Committee, who was in the same Lobby as me in the first vote earlier today, and his Committee have produced some important work on this subject. That Committee has reached a consensus on a number of issues relating to ring-fencing overseas aid and the way a Bill such as this can distort the public expenditure decision making that should be being done by the Government.
The hon. Gentleman is entitled to his own views, but the misunderstanding at the heart of his intervention is that he probably thinks we should equate generosity in spending other people’s money with generosity in spending our own money. Those of us on my side of the argument are keen to encourage people to participate in giving aid for good causes, including causes overseas. We support, and have campaigned strongly for, encouraging tax relief for those sorts of donations. It is easy for people to say, “I want to be generous with somebody else’s money.” As the hon. Member for Rochester and Strood has just said, we are talking about being generous with money—taxpayers’ money—that we do not have but will have to borrow. We should be very careful before we put a burden on future generations.
As well as support for inoculations and clean water, the area of overseas aid that my party does support is emergency disaster relief, as there is a particular role for Governments and their mechanisms for working quickly. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that emergency relief is one area in which Governments can do useful work?
Absolutely. That is one area in which the British people are traditionally incredibly generous. I am talking about humanitarian disasters such as Ebola and the ghastly happenings in Syria at the moment. The British people as individuals are prepared to put their hands in their pockets to get out their own money and to contribute to these causes. Taxpayer support is at its best when it is in the form of matched-funding, because then the taxpayers’ money follows what the people want. We get into problems when we have an administrative Department second-guessing what people think and then saying, “Let’s have a slab of money thrown here and another slab there.” That is when overseas aid falls into disrepute.
In an earlier intervention, I quoted from the 2012 British social attitudes survey. I think it is worth re-emphasising what I said. When asked what their highest priority would be for extra Government spending against a list of possible options, 41.9% of people said health, 30% said education and 0.5% said overseas aid. When asked for their next preference, 31.5% said education, 29.5% said health and 0.5% said overseas aid. The problem is that people do not want extra taxpayers’ money to be spent in this area at a time when the increases in public expenditure on health and education are not as great as those on overseas aid.
Does my hon. Friend agree that it is important for the public to know the whole truth about this Bill? As all parties have agreed that spending cuts need to take place in the next Parliament, the truth is that the more that is spent on overseas aid, the more that will need to be cut from other Departments such as health and education.
That must be correct. If we have a pot with a declining amount of money, we may be taking out more from that pot for one particular topic—overseas aid. We know now that, as a result of the change in the GDP, we will be spending an extra £400 million next year on overseas aid, raising the total amount to £12.4 billion.
If the hon. Gentleman has any concerns about spending money that the UK does not have—indeed the UK has been in deficit since 2001—nuclear weapons, and not overseas aid, should be the target. Do he and his colleagues oppose any renewal of Trident?
Order. The hon. Gentleman well knows that this Bill is a narrow one. I appreciate that he is answering the point made by the hon. Gentleman, and it is perfectly reasonable for him to do so, but I am sure that he will not stray into discussing any other Bills whether in his name or that of any other Members.
This Bill sets such a bad precedent that we should not follow it in other areas, and we should look to repeal it rather than extending the precedent right, left and centre.
As always, there is logic in what my hon. Friend says, but, as Madam Deputy Speaker has said, I will not go down the route of making comparisons between this Bill and any other Bill that may or may not be discussed in due course. Over the coming weeks, I shall try to work out a convincing response to my hon. Friend’s intervention.
Cross-party consensus often results in rather woolly legislation. My concern, like that of my hon. Friend Jacob Rees-Mogg, is that this Bill is an exercise in tokenism; it is gesture politics. It is about raising expectations beyond what is actually going to be delivered by the Bill itself. Clause 1 sets down a statutory duty. Normally, a breach of statutory duty is something against which an individual or an organisation can litigate. They can sue in the courts against the Government for being in breach of a statutory duty. Clauses 2 and 3 negate that possibility. What they say is that notwithstanding the statutory duty set out in clause 1, there is no remedy in law; the only remedy is through a report to Parliament. There is not even a requirement for a debate. The promoters and supporters of the Bill see this as a fantastic breakthrough in law-making. They believe that they now have a new statutory duty to meet a target, but when one looks at the detail of it, one sees that it is a statutory duty without any right or ability to enforce it.
When I was a law student, I was told that there was no point in having a command in law without a sanction. It seems that this Bill fails to deliver an effective sanction against a failure to fulfil the duty set out in clause 1—whether or not one supports that duty. I fear that this Bill shows that we in this House are out of touch with the wishes of the British people, and it will, in the end, disappoint in practice.
As people realise the distorting effect that this measure will have on other spending plans, hostility towards it will increase. In its report on the autumn statement of 2013, the Treasury Committee said:
“Ring-fencing, by definition, requires that the balance of public expenditure restraint and cuts be borne in the rest of public expenditure. Each successive year of public expenditure restraint results in an increase in ring-fenced spending as a proportion of the total. The smaller non-ring-fenced areas in turn have to bear a higher proportion of any savings in subsequent years. The IFS has shown that non-ring-fenced expenditure may fall from 61.6% in 2010-11 to around 50% in 2018-19 of total Departmental Expenditure Limits.”
The Committee cites as a specific example the fact that overseas development expenditure as a percentage of departmental expenditure in 2010-11 was 2.2% but it is expected to have almost doubled to 4% by 2018-19, a far higher percentage increase than in any other area of public expenditure. I do not think that fits in with the priorities of the people and I do not think that has been spelt out clearly enough, if at all, by the promoters of the Bill or by my right hon. Friend the Minister in his all-too-brief remarks on Report.
There is another important point about ring-fencing. As the Treasury Committee has said, it reduces the discipline on spending in the areas subject to it. The rigour of negotiations between the Department and the Treasury on allocations will be weakened since it is known by both sides in advance that the spending is protected. When there is ring-fenced expenditure, a departmental Minister cannot go before a Cabinet Committee and say that they need more money to spend on a programme and, when the Chief Secretary to the Treasury asks where they are going to get the money from, point out where another Department is wasting a lot of money.
Leaving aside the general validity or otherwise of the hon. Gentleman’s argument, does he not accept that such Bills have a positive aspect as they can encourage other countries to follow suit and ensure that they have a level of spending that means that we can work together worldwide? Is that not a good thing about a Bill and is it not a good idea?
That takes me back to the debate we had in this House on the climate change legislation, when my hon. Friend Philip Davies and I, along with three other Members, voted against Third Reading. One of the arguments in favour of the Bill was that it would set a global example and everybody would follow us. What has happened is quite the opposite. We have put on our hair shirts and increased the subsidies for electricity, thereby increasing the costs to consumers, whereas the rest of the world has carried on as though nothing much has happened. I do not see any evidence of other precedents that shows that the high-minded idea of setting an example means that everyone will follow us. We have already been spending roughly 0.7% of GDP on overseas aid, as has been said earlier, and very few big countries, if any, are following our example.
Is it not the case that since we have been increasing the amount we have been spending as a proportion of our GDP, other countries have been reducing the proportion they spend? That completely blows a hole in that argument and it looks as though other countries are leaving it to us to spend the money rather than doing it themselves.
My hon. Friend makes a good case. This is one reason we need proper evidence-based policy making in this place. The Minister asserted earlier that the Bill would encourage others to do exactly the same and increase the proportion of GDP spent on aid, but where is the evidence of that happening? I do not think there is any evidence, and the evidence that there is seems to point in the opposite direction. If there is evidence, it will be very useful when we come to discuss the issue of the proportion of GDP we spend on defence.
I have considerable concerns about the Bill and want to close by referring to the accountability to Parliament covered in clause 3. It does not seem to me that the clause delivers anything more than a bit of hot air. All that it requires is the laying of a statement before Parliament. It does not have to be a statement to the House, by which I mean one on which questions can be asked and answers given. It merely involves a document being put in the Library. It does not seem to me that that is the sort of accountability the people promoting the Bill are talking about when they engage with their constituents. They are hyping up the Bill as though it will deliver fantastic results when all it will actually do is put unnecessary constraints on the Government.
The Bill is proposed to come into force on
Those of us who think the Bill is misguided and a waste of time are not against giving help to those from other countries who are less well off than ourselves. Years ago, when Lord Patten of Barnes was in charge of overseas aid and did a job not as distinguished as that done by my right hon. Friend Mr Mitchell, somebody asked how we would stop migrants coming from north Africa. Lord Patten memorably said that we should start buying their tomatoes. Aid through trade is a lot more powerful. If the House spent more time discussing how we can improve aid through trade, the world would be a better place.
I intend to be brief because the case for the Bill is overwhelming, as the votes this morning showed. I warmly congratulate Michael Moore on his good judgment in introducing the Bill and on his tenacity in seeing it through. He has made this a very proud day for Parliament and for those who support decency, honesty and compassion in the way we deal with those less prosperous than ourselves.
As each Member, including myself, has been speaking, every three seconds a child has died. The small minority who have been keeping the House back today as we aim towards the noble objectives of the Bill may feel able to look the parents, the families and the communities of those children in the eye and justify what they are doing. I could not.
No. The hon. Gentleman has had enough to say and I found him totally unconvincing.
What I do find convincing is a commitment to ensuring that as we have now reached 0.7% of GNI, it is perfectly reasonable that that should be written into legislation, and equally reasonable that the House should feel that there is accountability. Under the Bill there is a report to the House, whatever Government are in power, indicating how the figure was achieved, how the expenditure has been monitored, and how we honour the manifesto commitments of the major parties, which made the British people fully aware that such legislation would be put before the House.
Again, I congratulate the right hon. Member for Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk. The Bill is a major step forward. I will look my constituents in the eye, and I believe wholeheartedly that they believe that at a time of international pressure, such as we discussed this week, there is all the more reason why the poorest people in the poorest countries, who have given so much to this country over the years, should have their poverty respected, addressed and eradicated. That is what this excellent Bill seeks to do.
I very much admire and respect the emotion that comes from those who support the Bill, though it is not an emotion that I would express in that way. The problem with the Bill is that it does not reflect that depth of emotion. I listened carefully to what Mary Creagh said. The stories that she tells are desperate and tragic and deserve to have help in solving them. All decent people would think that is right. But then it is a question of how that help is to be given, and by what means this country as a whole, both as a Government and as a people, decides to give it, and that is where I find the Bill so inadequate.
I disagree with the hon. Member for Wakefield when she says that the Bill delivers on the commitment given in the party manifestos. Although I happen to think that it was not a wise commitment to give, I think that the Bill singularly fails to do that, because it says it does something but provides no means of ensuring that it is done, and that is not a proper means of legislating. If we had wanted a real Bill, it should have been introduced on a resolution from a Minister, because it would tie down spending, and Back-Bench Members, under the relevant Standing Orders, cannot bring in such Bills. The Bill is therefore unable to make a commitment to spending in any real sense.
What could a Government Bill have done instead? It could have set out where the revenues would come from to fund the promise. It could have hypothecated some element of taxation. It could have set up an independent body to ensure that the revenue was dedicated to the causes that are, in and of themselves, enormously admirable. But the Government chose not to do that. Instead, they chose to support a Back-Bench measure that will have absolutely no effect beyond a declaratory one.
What is the benefit of a declaratory Bill? We heard an hon. Gentleman say that it might lead others in the same direction—a good example Bill—but I do not accept that or think that it is right. We do not change the laws of other countries by what we say we are going to do. We might do it by what we actually do, but a mere declaration of good intention does not, in fact, lead to the good intention being carried out. Indeed, were that the case, the Bill would never have been brought forward, because the original declaration—on the commitment to 0.7% of GDP—was made in 1975, and it was made by a large number of countries that all missed it for many years. The idea that fine-sounding declarations lead to behavioural change is, I think, demonstrably false.
We then come to the details of what the Bill actually says. It would reinforce the duty to reach the 0.7% target from 2015, but, as has been pointed out, it would not come into effect until half way through 2015 so there is an internal contradiction as to its efficacy. It merely makes a statement that that has to be done, and done under a certain framework.
Beyond the declaratory effect, I do not think that that is the right way to legislate. All Governments at all times have a duty to consider their budgetary expenses in the round. There may be occasions when the most pressing expenditure is for a budget different from overseas aid—perhaps the health service in a particularly difficult winter, or the defence budget if the tensions caused by Russia become more extreme. To declare that one area of spending will be protected when no others will is not a sensible way to proceed when constructing the public finances. That has become clear with the issue of hypothecation of tax revenues, which has almost invariably led to an excessive amount of revenue in one area when other areas are in need. The most obvious example is the old road fund licence, where we simply ended up with too much money for roads and the fund was raided.
That is always the case with hypothecation of taxation, and it is why the Treasury has always set its face against hypothecating taxes, but the same applies to the reverse principle—the hypothecation of expenditure. There may be years when that is not affordable. There may be years when we need to spend more, perhaps because there is an emergency. That is the type of aid I am most in favour of: the emergency aid that only Governments can deliver. I believe that other forms of aid are fundamentally a matter of private charity, which Governments support through gift aid, allowing charities to claim back the taxation, rather than being something where it is right for Governments to tax modestly well-off people in this country in order to be charitable.
I have a slight suspicion—this does not apply to current Ministers and certainly did not apply to my right hon. Friend Mr Mitchell, who was a most distinguished Secretary of State—that it is always possible for Governments to grandstand about their generosity overseas using other people’s money. Therefore, I would not follow the principle even if I thought the Bill was any good, but I do not think it is any good. Its sanctions are useless. It refers to laying a statement before Parliament. Statements are put before Parliament every day. Hansard is full of statements put before Parliament, which are hardly read. I read some of them. Some are very interesting and important, and they are always beautifully written, because Hansard’s command of the English language is so fine that they do not allow sloppy grammar to get through, even from Her Majesty’s Government. A statement from a Minister is not a particularly powerful form of being held to account.
The provisions laid down in the Bill for what the statement will need to say are otiose. No Bill, once it is an Act of Parliament, can be enforced against proceedings in this House. If a Minister entirely fails to take any notice of the requirements of clause 2(3) and puts down a statement saying, as a former Labour Minister memorably said, “There’s no money left”, or something pithy like that, the Bill has no form of recourse against what he has done.
Does the hon. Gentleman consider that the Bill will be susceptible to enforcement through judicial review? For instance, could a judge determine that a decision on spending for a certain year needed to be taken again because it was not compliant with the law?
No, it would not be enforceable by judicial review because the sanction provided for is a proceeding in Parliament, and proceedings in Parliament are not judicially reviewable.
Is not that, of itself, a reason why a judge might determine that because the legislation specifies no remedy that a court can enforce, the general remedy of judicial review would be applicable?
No. There is a remedy, but it is not enforceable in the courts. It is essentially at the discretion of Ministers because it is a proceeding in Parliament and therefore not challengeable outside.
Parliament is very unwise to bring its proceedings into legislation because it is of such constitutional importance that our proceedings are not judicially reviewable. If we legislate in such a way that we bring our proceedings into the orbit of the courts, we have to be careful about whether a judge may feel that Parliament’s intention was to allow the courts to interfere, overriding the Bill of Rights. I therefore take the greatest exception to clauses 2(3) and (4), which are erroneous in terms of what Parliament ought to be trying to do.
The Government really ought to be held to account for clause 5. They removed from the Bill a detailed, if perhaps rather expensive, way of holding the Government to account and put in something of the most utter wishy-washiness.
I return to the question of whether this Bill increases or decreases trust in politicians. When the House of Commons, and later the House of Lords, legislate to say merely that it is nice to do something, but with no means of enforcing it, and failing to use all the procedures that we have at our command to make sure that it happens, are we assuming that electors do not understand what we are doing and that we can pull the wool over their eyes? Will they not look at what we are doing? This is not a real keeping of the commitment that was made. It is a minimalistic, tokenistic approach to pretending that we have done what we said we would do, because when we looked at what we had proposed in our respective manifestos we realised that it was a silly thing to do because the hypothecation of expenditure is fundamentally unwise in any budgetary system. For that reason, I will oppose Third Reading.
I am pleased to be here to support the Bill on Third Reading. I pay tribute to Michael Moore for bringing this important Bill to the House. It will have a huge impact in the developing world by saving lives, supporting families and encouraging increasing independence. By demonstrating that we are making a commitment on which we will follow through, we will provide certainty about development aid, which will allow those who are involved in the expenditure of that aid to make long-term and properly structured plans that will make a difference in the societies that need them. In such a way, we will take an important step away from providing aid only in disasters and emergency situations, and towards delivering aid in a more strategic way that can make a tangible difference to people’s lives.
The Bill will have an important impact on our influence internationally. It will allow us to tackle issues related to aid, including fairness in society, corruption, support for stability in developing nations and progress for extremely vulnerable people who are not only on the margins of society, but on the margins of marginalised society. The Bill gives us an important opportunity to reinforce our support for those people.
The Bill will have an influence internationally by encouraging others to move in the same direction as we in this country and this Parliament have done. Other hon. Members have pooh-poohed the idea that anyone looks to this Parliament for leadership internationally on such issues, but they are wrong to do so. There is considerable evidence that where the UK takes a stand and does something important and significant, other countries follow. As an example, when the water, sanitation and hygiene measures were discussed at high-level meetings, the UK Government’s decision to send ministerial representation completely changed other nations’ decisions about who they would send to those meetings. That resulted in the taking of proper decisions rather than simply more talk on that key issue.
Northern Ireland still has one of the highest levels of charitable giving of any part of the UK, and in my constituency there is considerable support for the measure. We have heard other Members’ views about the lack of public support for any increase in international aid, based on polling. However, many things based on polling are predicated on myths peddled by those who are in principle opposed to the matter in hand, whether that be immigration or, as in this case, international aid.