Overseas aid bill clears Commons – now heads for Lords
Michael Moore MP’s private members’ bill – aiming to bind future UK governments to spend 0.7% of Gross National Income on official development assistance (overseas aid) cleared the Commons triumphantly on Friday 5 December, with 146 MPs from several different parties backing the bill and only 5 or 6 opposing. It will now be considered by the House of Lords in January, and should be law before the General Election campaign starts at the end of March. This is a last minute delivery of a promise made by all three main political parties in their 2010 Manifestoes.
The TUC and British trade unions have supported the Bill (and its predecessors) as part of the #turnupsavelives coalition with development NGOs. My colleague Bandula explained our support before the 3rd Reading debate earlier this month. We will be contacting trade union and other peers before Christmas and engaging them in conversation after the New Year.
But as we get closer to legislation, two issues stand out above the moral case for using our wealth as a country to help those in greater need.
First, we now need to ratchet up the pressure on other developed countries to match the UK commitment. Britons should be proud that the UK was the first G7 economy to reach the decades old UN target, although several other smaller economies had beaten us to it and more are coming on board now, even though aid volumes are under threat overall. But we need a Government that won’t rest on its laurels and will take this legislation to the global community, show the leadership the UK showed in 2005 and demand that others match our commitment.
Second, if the Bill becomes law, then the argument about how much to spend on aid is effectively off the political agenda, despite UKIP leader Nigel Farage’s attacks and those of backbench and leading right-wing Conservatives. But that means we can start on a much more important conversation about what the aid is used for, and whether the traditional model of aid payments and sticking plaster solutions should be replaced by more radical and progressive development approaches that tackle the root causes of global poverty. That’s a debate where development NGOs have been too quiet, and where the voices of the global south should be given more prominence. But it’s also a debate that the right want to have too!
Unions have always supported those sticking plaster solutions, just as we support unemployment benefit for people out of work. But neither are solutions to the problems of poverty, which need deeper changes such as decent work, more equal societies, fair taxation and the freedom to join unions and bargain collectively over wages. If the Michael Moore Bill passes into law, there will be no more excuses for ignoring those key issues.