What is certain is that I have never succeeded in securing one of the highly coveted slots that give backbench MPs a chance to pilot legislation through Parliament – until now, that is.
In the old days I am sure that those lucky enough to emerge in the “top 20” of the ballot would have learned of their good fortune by letter or maybe even messenger. By contrast, I became aware of securing the second slot by text messages and a sudden spate of social media ‘notifications’. The letter duly followed.
In the weeks since, I have had many enquiries asking which issue I would choose and have had just as many (mostly) helpful suggestions – my thanks to all who took the trouble.
Having given serious consideration to a couple of possibilities, I have now decided to introduce a Bill to make good on a long-standing Liberal Democrat commitment about international development: to create a legal requirement for the UK government to meet the UN’s target of contributing 0.7% of our Gross National Income each year as Official Development Assistance to developing countries.
I am proud of the fact that we as a party have had a long term commitment to this goal and more recently to legislate to commit current and future governments to maintain spending at this level. And I am very proud to have been a member of the first UK government to reach the target. Now I want to see Liberal Democrats legislate for the commitment to keep achieving it.
We won’t do this by ourselves and nor should we. I recognise and welcome the fact that for some years now there has been cross party consensus, and widespread support from NGOs, on the need to make a legal commitment to this level of UK support for developing countries.
When I was the party’s shadow international development spokesperson before the 2010 election, the Labour government introduced a draft Bill to this effect, which we supported. At the general election the three main UK parties each included a commitment to legislation in their manifestos and, of course, in the Coalition Agreement we signed up to making good on that promise.
The Coalition’s priorities over the past four years may have worked against having the Government time necessary for the Bill, but I am delighted that my good fortune in the Private Member’s Bill ballot allows us the opportunity to provide the time. Since I intend to build on the work of people in our party and in the Conservatives and Labour, I hope the consensus will be maintained and the Bill will pass. For my part, I will work across the parties inside Parliament and with interested people outside to make that happen.
UK aid is making a huge contribution to people across the world, but at a time when the global economy remains weak and the gap between rich and poor remains appallingly wide, the need for a strong British commitment to development aid is more important than ever.
We are the first G7 country to reach the UN 0.7% target, but rather than rest on our laurels we should continue to show leadership to other wealthy countries by making it a lasting commitment.
I hope the International Development (Official Development Assistance Target) Bill will help us to do that.
* Michael Moore was the Liberal Democrat MP for Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk from 1997-2015 and Secretary of State for Scotland from 2010-2013.