WORCESTER’S MP Robin Walker has revealed he wants to see aid spending to return to 0.7 per cent of national income ‘as soon as possible’.
The MP spoke out after the furore saw the Bishop of Worcester suggest the controversial cut in international aid approved by in Parliament ‘could become permanent’.
Dr John Inge spoke out after MPs voted by 333 to 298 in favour of the motion despite a significant Tory rebellion which included Malvern’s MP Harriett Baldwin.
Under a motion approved by the Commons, spending on international development would only be returned to 0.7 of the national income if the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) believes the UK is not borrowing to finance day-to-day spending and underlying debt is falling.
The Government claim the cut to 0.5 is needed because of the devastation to public finances because of the pandemic but critics have poured scorn on the decision and pointed out spending on aid would fall naturally if national income fell. A commitment to retain aid spending at 0.7 per cent was part of the Conservative manifesto at the 2019 General Election.
Mr Walker told the Observer he understood the concerns of colleagues such as Mrs Baldwin and said had questioned the decision at ministerial level.
“I’m comfortable with the assurances I have received from the Treasury this is not a permanent cut and we will return to 0.7 per cent as soon as possible,” he said.
“We will still be spending in the region of £10billion on international aid and I find the criticisms from the Labour Party somewhat ironic given it was the Conservative Party which legislated for 0.7 per cent of GDP to be spent on aid.
“The most Labour managed to achieve in 13 years in office was 0.5 per cent, the level we are proposing, albeit temporarily, now.”
Bishop John, the Church of England’s lead bishop for international development, said the Government’s test could be so stringent that it risked making the cut permanent.
“I am very disappointed that Parliament has not seen fit to honour this country’s laudable promise, enshrined in law, to devote 0.7 percent of national income to aid,” he said.
“As former International Development Secretary Andrew Mitchell said, it is not right the world’s poorest should be the only ones to suffer from a reduction in spending following the pandemic.
“The commitment was one of which the Conservative party could be proud and I hope it will be restored very soon.
Mrs Baldwin said: “As a Minister in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Department for International Development, I was privileged to see the lives saved across Africa as a result of the UK’s leadership on international development.
“It was a manifesto commitment as well and it needed a vote in Parliament to change that commitment. As the aid budget had already fallen in line with the decline in our economy, I did not support the idea of cutting it further and voted against.
“I will continue to campaign for the UK to be generous with its vaccines and to help every child in the world to benefit from a quality education because it is a win-win for us here in the UK.”