Lord Jeremy Purvis writes… Aid backlash faced off in Lords

Last Friday I had to face off against serious opposition to Michael Moore’s International Development Private Members Bill (The 0.7% Bill) during its Committee Stage in the House of Lords.

It was clear from the Second Reading debate a few weeks ago that the overwhelming majority of Peers, across all Parties, support the aims behind Michael’s Bill. Its aim is simple- to enshrine in law our commitment to spending 0.7% of Gross National Income on International Aid, helping some of the world’s poorest people.

Led by Nigel Lawson, a small number of Peers tabled a large number of amendments. Variously damaging, unnecessary and ill-considered the House was not impressed. I responded to each with courtesy and clarity, as Michael did to the protagonists against in the Commons. All the amendments were withdrawn but further stages in the Lords remain.

Ensuring that we make this commitment to a consistent international development budget (a commitment that the UK agreed to in 1970) means that we can move the debate on from how much we should contribute in aid, to how and where we can best use it effectively and transparently.

The aid budget in the past has been invariably volatile making it significantly more difficult to support long term projects, often including some of the most important, live saving, work we do, and that requires stable funding over many years.

Under this Lib Dem Coalition Government the UK is the first G8 Country to meet the 0.7% target. Once this Bill is passed we will be the first G8 nation to enshrine it in law. We will set an example to other wealthy countries and persuade them to join us in meeting the commitment we made all those years ago. It is our moral obligation to ensure that as few people as possible have to endure poverty, human rights abuses, educational discrimination and easily avoidable risks to their lives.

In the Lib Dems we regularly talk about the need to provide opportunity for all. We are working hard to create a future for this country in which everyone, no matter their background, has the chance to get on in life. We should not stop at this ideal as soon as our man made borders end. These liberal ideals are foundations upon which a better World can be built and we should do everything we can to get there.

As expected the few that tried to stand up against this Bill drew their protest out over many hours. It was a long debate but the cross party support we had established earlier in the Bill’s progress meant that we had a united front.

I am working hard to maintain this as it progresses through the next stage, called Report, which may be at the end of February. Thanks to the hard work of Michael Moore to bring this Bill to Parliament, and the work of Lib Dems across both Houses, I hope that soon the Lib Dems will be put another Lib Dem manifesto commitment into Law.

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  • Whilst the commitment is right – and represents a real achievement of the coalition government – there is an urgent need to justify the policy in terms of outcomes.

  • jedibeeftrix 10th Feb '15 - 1:06pm

    I’ll support it only if defence is enshrined at 2.1% of GDP.

  • David Cooper 10th Feb '15 - 2:46pm

    @”we can move the debate on from how much we should contribute in aid, to how and where we can best use it effectively and transparently.”

    There is strong evidence that much foreign aid is badly spent, and ends up in the pockets of criminals. A recent reports of the Public Accounts Committee showed that millions had been siphoned off by just one individual (Guardian, 29 Jan). Writing a law that obliges the UK to dole out a fixed pot of money, while making airy promises about openness and transparency at some later time, shows a cavalier attitude towards taxpayer’s money.

  • Well done Jeremy Purvis

    I listened to some of this debate and you are being unnecessarily polite to Lord Lawson when you say —
    “..Led by Nigel Lawson, a small number of Peers tabled a large number of amendments. Variously damaging, unnecessary and ill-considered the House was not impressed.”

    Lord Lawson is not only in denial about Climate Change he seems to be available to promote any rightwing lunacy that a lobbyists puts in front of him.

    The Liberal Democrats in parliament have done a good job in keeping this alive. The usual old prejudices about outcomes are bound to be trotted out — just as some people can always find an excuse not to give to charity themselves, they can always make calls against a UK government contribution to International Development.

    The comparison to military expenditure in one comment is laughable. Only days after the admission by the Minister that the MOD owns 15 Golf Courses and that the UK is building a brand new military base in Bahrain, whilst UK bombing raids continue in Iraq, can anyone be so deluded as to think the Military are strapped for cash?

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 10th Feb '15 - 10:59pm

    I think that international aid is way more important than defence – the more we help, the more friends we have.

  • Caron

    The world would be a lovely place if everyone though like you, but they don’t. Defence and Law and Order for me are right up there with the NHS and Education for importance and way ahead of Overseas Aid – which I do support.

    John Tilley

    If a new school or hospital was built would that show that we were deluded to think the NHS or Education were strapped for cash? Believe me I’ve worked in the military and they need every penny they get.

  • Toby Fenwick 11th Feb '15 - 1:23am

    This whole debate comes from a false premise: 0.7% has quite literally no evidential backing, and was designed in 1970 for 10 years under an economic growth paradigm that is so out of date as to be laughable. Just like the MoD 2% target, this target is all about spending money, and says nothing about what is required nor what is achieved; simply it is the antithesis of every piece ofgood budgetary practice that has been developed across the rest of the UK public sector since the early 1970s. The recent NAO report should give everyone – even aid supporters like me – pause for thought.

    For those who claim that as the UK has hit the notional target, it will encourage the others, I’d invite them to look at the data from the G8 in this Parliament. Simply, there has been no discernable impact on any other G8 country’s aid policy.

    I am all for long term aid planning, indeed, I used to work for DfID in Africa. There is no need to enshrine the target in law, and unless the bill’s proponents can explain when aid will have succeeded- presumably leading to a curtailment of aid spending- then this ill thought through policy and bill should go nowhere near the statute book.

  • Toby Fenwick 11th Feb '15 - 1:29am

    Caron: security and development must coexist and they have a symbiotic relationship. Properly used, a strong UK military would be a boon in development terms by providing a security bubble in which political space us created to do nation building and promote peace: South Sudan provides a tragic example of what goes wrong when it goes wrong.

    It’s not defence or development: it has to be a balance of both.

  • Alex Sabine 11th Feb '15 - 2:28am

    I very much agree with both of Toby’s comments. But I won’t hold my breath for this eventuality: “unless the bill’s proponents can explain when aid will have succeeded – presumably leading to a curtailment of aid spending…”

    I can think of few government programmes which are so successful that they render themselves obsolete! Instead a failure to achieve the declared objectives is itself the justification for expanding the programmes.

    Don’t get me wrong: I think aspects of development aid are worthwhile and important, though I agree with Toby that “the recent NAO report should give everyone – even aid supporters like me – pause for thought”. This is perhaps not surprising when the focus is purely on hitting an arbitrary quantitative target by a particular year (2013-14), which resulted in a highly artificial requirement to ramp up spending suddenly and rapidly to hit that target.

    The profile of the spending increase is very telling: DfID’s budget shoots up from £7.9 billion in 2012-13 to £10.1 billion a year later – a rise of 28% in cash terms and only slightly less in real terms. (The broader Official Development Assistance measure used to gauge compliance with the 0.7% of GNI target shows a similar scale of increase.)

    It seems highly unlikely that this ‘flash flood’ has resulted in a sensible allocation of resources. And because the economy has grown faster than expected DfID ended up spending an extra £1 billion in just 8 weeks to ensure compliance with the target. As the FT reported recently: “Halfway through the year [2013], DfID officials had forecast they would need to spend £2.7 bn in November and December to hit targets, but discovered months later that this would need to be increased by £1 bn, the NAO said.”

  • Jane Ann Liston 11th Feb '15 - 9:32am

    A pedant writes: Headline should be ‘Jeremy Purvis’, or ‘Lord Purvis’, not ‘Lord Jeremy Purvis’.

  • David Cooper 11th Feb '15 - 12:22pm

    @Ian Sanderson
    Ian, international aid is probably the best counter to mass migration caused by strife. But this is not what is at issue.

    The questions is whether we should pass a law to spend 0.7% GDP on aid. To do so without having first put in place robust measures to counter corruption and misuse is reckless, and shows a total lack of respect for the taxpayer.
    Overseas aid should not be a process which takes from moderately wealthy UK citizens and gives to the corrupt super rich overseas . Right now the evidence from NAO shows that this is exactly what happens.

  • David Cooper 11th Feb ’15 – 12:22pm
    “…….without having first put in place robust measures to counter corruption and misuse is reckless, and shows a total lack of respect for the taxpayer.”

    David Cooper, before lecturing the world on ” robust measures to counter corruption ” should we start with our own Prime Minister, the membership of The House of Lords and all those corrupt Bankers in the City of London?

    Ian Sanderson’s point about migration was well made. Rather than building fences at Calais and deporting useful members of society who have lived here for years, the tax-payers’ money would be much better invested in appropriate technology, locally sourced and maintained – which provides sustainable economic development and prosperity in countries where people are so poor.
    Their plight at the moment is so desparate that they are prepared to walk across the Sahara and then spend everything thatvthey have on a boat ride which they hope will take them to a better life in the UK ? They do this in the knowledge that they will probably die on the way.

  • David Cooper 11th Feb '15 - 5:05pm

    I would love to throw the lot of them in prison. But are you suggesting that because we are soft on criminal bankers, it is OK to throw taxpayers money at other corrupt individuals? How on earth do you arrive at that conclusion?

  • David Cooper 11th Feb ’15 – 5:05pm

    I did not come to that conclusion, you did. So I cannot give you an answer. 🙂

    But to follow your point. — what information do you have to show that someone in DFID has been shown to “…throw taxpayers’ money at other corrupt individuals” ?

    What fraction of the DFID budget goes that way? Are you talking about £ Billions ?

  • David Cooper
    I meant to include in my last comment that The Guardian report to which you made reference concludes with this –

    “…..A DfID spokesman claimed there was no proof that Ibori had been linked to a PIDG-backed firm.
    “Britain’s investment in PIDG has helped to create 200,000 jobs and driven £6.8bn of private investment into some of the world’s poorest countries, developing their economies and making them less dependent on aid,”

  • Tom Papworth: I thought it was obvious that I was saying that outcomes were more important than inputs. As Toby Fenwick says measuring inputs is the antithesis of good budgetary practice. It is still right that we make commitment to development aid – whether the percentage should be enshrined in law is another matter.

  • David Cooper 11th Feb '15 - 10:50pm

    @JohnTilley I quote;
    “MPs on the public accounts committee heard allegations that £19m of PIDG money may have ended up with a firm associated with the convicted money launderer James Ibori, because of a failure of control…. the committee said that neither DfID nor PIDG had provided documentary evidence to allay MPs’ concerns.”

    If the DfID can’t satisfy the committee that there is proper oversight of how aid is spent, they should not be trusted with taxpayer’s money.

  • Toby Fenwick 11th Feb '15 - 11:04pm

    The irony being that James Ibori is in jail because of a very successful and deeply commendable investigation by the Met Police’s special unit on corruption which is paid for by DfID.

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