Harriett Baldwin calls on the Government to allow a vote on its decision not to spend 0.7% of gross national income on development assistance which is enshrined in law and is a win-win for both developing countries and businesses in the UK.
Mr Deputy Speaker, may I thank you and Mr Speaker for allowing today’s emergency debate and congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr Mitchell) on securing it?
I have had the privilege of representing the UK as a Minister in the Foreign Office and the Department for International Development and of seeing, around the world, the good that our aid budget does. Whether from our work in the midst of the Ebola outbreak in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo—where the fact that the UK had invested in vaccines and their cold chain deployment meant that we were able to contain that deadly disease—or from the work that we put into neglected tropical diseases, which has meant that we have been able to contain and control other diseases from reaching the UK, surely we should have learned how important it is for the UK for us to work on such shared global challenges for humanity.
I have had the privilege of going to Goma, near where the volcano is erupting, and seeing how we have brought fresh water there. It was UK expertise and UK firms that won the contract to do that, which benefits our economy here and those exporters as well. It is a win-win for the UK public and for the world. I feel very strongly that it was a great privilege to say that we were—as we used to be—the only G20 country that met its NATO 2% target and the 0.7% UN target for aid. Surely if global Britain means anything, it means that, and being able to say that so proudly.
I was particularly proud to stand on a manifesto that again committed to those metrics for our position in the world. Politicians hesitate to break manifesto pledges because they know that the electorate will punish them at the next election if they do, whether they are George H. W. Bush saying “Read my lips: no new taxes” or Nick Clegg with his tuition fees. People realise that they should not break manifesto pledges because the electorate dislike it, but in this case I feel that the people who benefit from our aid budget the most are the ones who have no voice in this place. I have met them, and I need to articulate on their behalf how important this spending is.
There is another reason why I feel particularly passionate about the subject: the fact that we have enshrined the 0.7% in law. I know that there is a get-out in section 2 of the 2015 Act, under which a Secretary of State who inadvertently does not meet the 0.7% target can come to Parliament, explain why and state how they will get back to it. However, actually targeting 0.5% is absolutely a contentious legal issue and something that I think may well be challenged in the courts. The Government have a large majority, so the simplest thing to do, if it is such a good idea, would be to come to Parliament for that consent. The power that the Executive have is derived through us in Parliament; therefore they need to show respect for Parliament by coming and asking us, and giving us a vote, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Sir Edward Leigh) put it so powerfully.
I could expatiate at length about how passionately I feel that we are making the wrong decision, but in this week, when we are hosting the G7, when we need to vaccinate the world and when cases are really beginning to grow exponentially across many African and Asian countries, and when we heard last week from every country at the 142nd Inter-Parliamentary Union Assembly that they need the vaccines, let us get out of this hole by giving our vaccines to the world.