Amidst the kerfuffle of the Scottish referendum, a Private Members’ Bill brought by Liberal Democrat MP Michael Moore passed relatively unnoticed through Britain’s House of Commons on Friday.
Moore’s International Development (Official Development Assistance Target) Bill will enshrine in law a requirement to spend 0.7 percent of our annual Gross National Income on Foreign Aid. Right now, that’s about £11 billion. Not only that, but the money will be ring-fenced.
I always get nervous when taxpayers’ money is ring-fenced for anything unless there’s a clear need for a specific amount to meet nailed-down objectives. Otherwise, it reminds me of my days back at the BBC, when two decorators came in to paint the walls of the Radio WM newsroom just a couple of weeks before the building was due to be demolished. Well, there was money left in the budget wasn’t there? The fatuous edict that the money had to be spent, come what may, totally overrode the utter idiocy of actually spending it.
480 of our distinguished elected representatives didn’t bother to show up to vote on Moore’s Bill. Those that did voted it through by 164 to six, thereby showing themselves up to be as senseless and out of touch as whichever hair-brained BBC manager sent those decorators to emulsion our office.
Among those who voted against was Philip Davies, who rightly called the bill a “sop” to the “Guardian-reading, sandal-wearing, lentil munching liberals.”
Sir Gerald Howarth asked why international aid spending was being singled out when defence spending was “allowed to go hang?” Sir Edward Leigh hit the nail on the head, pointing out it should not be about “how much we spend on something” but the “value for money of what we achieve.”
They were whistling in the wind. Since the start of the economic crisis, Britain has been the only G8 country to increase its international aid budget and the Department for International Development (DFID), a profligate spender, escaped the cuts faced by other departments, quite wrongly, in my view.
The TaxPayers’ Alliance reckons foreign aid costs £500 per household. We could be getting much better value for money.
We could stop sending money to Brazil, which has its own foreign aid budget. Why should we fund countries that can afford to fund other countries? And why should China get any of our money? Not only is the country’s human rights’ record appalling, they’ve got £2 trillion in reserves in their own national bank account.
The issue of where the money goes needs greater scrutiny too. Africa has received some $400 billion in aid over the last 40 years yet it’s still the poorest continent on the planet. Yes, many projects are vital, especially those which provide emergency disaster relief and vaccination programmes for instance, but really: £1.2million towards the privatisation of utilities in Nigeria? That’s not aid, that’s politics.
Then there’s the out and out corruption. The ‘urban myths’ about British taxpayers’ money going to buy dictators’ jets that are actually true – Uganda’s President bought a £30million Gulfstream in the same year we gave him £70million. And when you and I helped fund the £500 million handed out by the European Union to Egypt to fight corruption, the inevitable happened. Yes, the money disappeared without a trace.
Meanwhile, charity desperately needed here at home isn’t forthcoming. When the Somerset levels flooded in 2014 for instance, the government refused to divert money from the foreign aid budget to stem the quite literal tide.
Few would begrudge handouts as part of our international civic duty, but Michael Moore’s Bill is likely to fuel a deepening public resentment about how much we give, to whom, and how money is spent.
I see no justification for making foreign aid payments to countries with poor human rights’ records, or to regimes that have previously abused or misused British aid; they shouldn’t get a second chance to fritter it away. Yet Moore’s Bill, if it passes its ongoing journey through Committee and the House of Lords, is likely to mean DIFD will find itself with more money than it knows what to do with and checks and balances will therefore inevitably slip.
I very much doubt the Bill will deliver ‘for the poorest in the world’ as Moore claims it will, because it is likely to make Foreign Aid spend less rather than more accountable. The people it is designed to help are almost certainly less likely to get to see any of it.
Suzanne Evans is Deputy Chairman of UKIP and the party’s PPC for Shrewsbury and Atcham.