SINCE being elected in 1997, I have entered the Private Members’ Bill ballot pretty much every year, so it was a pleasant surprise to be selected a few weeks ago for this year’s round of Bills.
After deliberating over a number of different options, I decided to introduce a Bill to make good on a long-standing Liberal Democrat commitment to enshrine in law, the UK Government’s spending on aid to developing countries at 0.7 per cent of our Gross National Income each year.
I have always been a passionate advocate for International Development and as the Liberal Democrats’ shadow spokesperson for this policy area from 2007 until 2010, I urged the UK Government to fulfil this target set by the UN.
I am therefore very proud to have been a member of the first UK government to reach it and now, through this Bill, I want to ensure we keep achieving it and continue to make our contribution to fight hunger, poverty and inequality around the globe.
I won’t however achieve this important goal on my own, and I don’t need to. The Liberal Democrats, Labour and the Conservatives each included a commitment to enshrining it in law in their 2010 manifestos and it was also included in the Coalition Agreement.
I am pleased to say that the Bill has already gained strong cross-party backing as shown by its list of supporters, including the former Conservative Secretary of State for International Development Andrew Mitchell and the former Foreign Office minister Alistair Burt.
Likewise, I am very pleased that York MP Hugh Bayley and former development minister Tom Clarke add strong Labour support for the measure. The Bill is widely supported by NGOs too, who have called on the UK Governments to make this commitment for decades.
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 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 continue to work across the parties inside Parliament and with interested people outside to make that happen.
The passage of this Bill will come at a time when UK aid is already making a positive impact on millions of people across the world. For example, from 2012 to 2013, UK aid gave 19.6 million people access to clean water, 8.7 million people emergency food assistance and supported 5.9 million children – 2.8 million girls – to go to primary school. I could go on, but these figures do enough to demonstrate how UK aid provides millions of people with their most basic needs.
While the global economy remains weak and the gap between rich and poor remains appallingly wide, the need for an ambitious British commitment to development aid through this Bill remains strong. I know that some may argue that, during challenging economic times, aid should be scaled back and spending should be focussed entirely at home but I would disagree.
The global economic crisis has pushed many countries to the brink and poverty, hunger and instability are more prevalent than ever. With the refugee catastrophe unfolding in Syria and 1.4 billion people in the world still living in poverty, we have a moral obligation to continue to meet our aid commitments and play our part in providing food, water, shelter and medical help to people in desperate need. This is what UK aid delivers and this Bill would ensure that it continues to do so.
This is not just about the duty of the rich world, but also about its self-interest – in a globalised world problems do not stay local for long. Whether it is financial contagion, environmental degradation, political instability or migration, the problems of the developing world are firmly those of the developed world, too. In this situation, there is no awkward choice between altruism and national interests.
The UK benefits when people are lifted out of poverty, economies grow and countries become stable and this is why I believe it is in our own interest to maintain our aid spending.
Enshrining this target in law will enable the developing countries we support and the NGOs the Government works with to anticipate the assistance they will receive and plan effectively. There is no doubt that spelling out the UK’s aid commitments will also be a powerful tool to leverage outstanding commitments from other donor countries.
I hope the International Development (Official Development Assistance Target) Bill will help us to do just this and ensure that the UK continues to support those who are less fortunate than ourselves.
• Michael Moore is a Liberal Democrat MP. He is the former Scottish Secretary.