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International Development (Official Development Assistance Target) Bill — Report

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 12:00 pm on 27th February 2015.

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Photo of Lord Forsyth of Drumlean Lord Forsyth of Drumlean Conservative 12:00 pm, 27th February 2015

My Lords, I support my noble friend’s amendment, which I think is an important one, particularly in the light of the material that has been produced by the National Audit Office and others showing that in the last eight weeks of 2013, while most people were thinking about Santa Claus, the department spent £1 billion of its budget, and 40% of its budget was spent in the last two months of the year. That indicates what we used to have blighting local government, where suddenly all the roads were being dug up and the parks were being spruced up in the last few weeks of March because the local authority had to spend the budget. We all know that that does not result in value for money. I am entirely persuaded that there may have been examples in the last two months of 2013 that did represent value for money, but that is not the point that is being made. My noble friend’s amendment is very important for that reason.

I am really looking forward to hearing the reason that will be given by the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, and my noble friend the Minister for refusing to accept it. The noble Lord, Lord Purvis, has been selling the Bill on the basis that it places a statutory requirement on government to spend 0.7% of GDP on overseas aid. As my noble friend has pointed out, it does nothing of the sort. As I indicated earlier, it simply requires the

Secretary of State to make a Statement explaining why the target has not been met. The Government have met—in fact, gone over—the 0.7% target without the benefit of the Bill. But once the Bill reaches the statute book, the position that obtained this year, where the Government could choose to spend 0.7%—or more, in this case—if they wished will be constrained because, according to the Bill, the Secretary of State must explain why the 0.7% target has not been met, and there are certain criteria that would seem to justify not meeting the target.

The criterion in Clause 2(3)(b) is,

“fiscal circumstances and, in particular, the likely impact of meeting the target on taxation, public spending and public borrowing”.

I respectfully point out that the target was met by the Government this year entirely on borrowed money. There was no money in the kitty for this purpose. If a Secretary of State was a member of a Government who had a statutory requirement to make a Statement to the House if they had not met the target, which included a condition that related to the levels of public borrowing—I recall that the coalition Government promised at the start of this Parliament to eliminate the deficit; in fact we have managed to eliminate only half the deficit—would it be reasonable for a Government in those circumstances to argue that they could not meet the 0.7% target because of the,

“fiscal circumstances and, in particular, the likely impact of meeting the target on taxation, public spending and public borrowing”?

Therefore, far from strengthening the position of a Government to spend 0.7% of GDP, the Bill greatly weakens the position, and I commend my noble friend Lord Lawson for his amendment, because it is entirely appropriate that these conditions should be there to justify a Secretary of State perhaps not being able to meet the target. I look forward to hearing an explanation as to why it is appropriate to have paragraphs (a), (b) and (c) and not (d) and (e) as my noble friend is proposing.