By Jim Murphy, Shadow Secretary of State for International Development
Whenever development hits the press, the Tory right hit the roof. Yesterday’s papers were full of reports that this government might finally give in to pressure and fulfil its commitment to legislate to spend 0.7% Gross National Income on Official Development Assistance. Naturally, the usual suspects have been telling anyone who will listen, just how upset they are.Another bruising row looms within the Conservative Party. and the one thing we know about David Cameron and his backbenchers is that from Europe to the greenest government ever, when the Prime Minister is put under pressure by his party he folds like a deckchair.
The Labour party has been demanding that Ministers keep their promise to legislate on 0.7% for years. It was a Labour government that put this country on the road to fulfilling that historic commitment, it was Labour whose pledge to legislate forced the other two parties to follow suit, and it is Labour that has shouted loud and most often about this government’s failure to do so.
Indeed, it was Labour’s Mark Hendrick, MP for Preston, who first forced the issue with this Coalition government by presenting his own Private Members Bill to legislate on the UK’s aid commitments.
We have always led the way in development – and that is a fact of which the party is rightly proud. The last Labour government helped 3 million people out of poverty a year, and 40 million people into education, tripled aid and dropped the debt, and built international coalitions (David Cameron, take note) to secure agreements that were right for Britain and the world.
Global development has been a tremendous success over the last two decades but there is much more to do. This generation has the power to eliminate aid dependency for good. We could enable a billion people to lift themselves out of poverty and prevent half a million a year from dying on their first day.
With real commitment we can help empower the powerless, and help give millions more the chance to live their life to its full potential.
So for Labour enshrining our commitments to the rest of the world in law isn’t a short term political device, it’s about making sure that no future government – even one at the mercy of the Tory right – can quietly turn their backs on the world’s poor.
Lib Dem MP Michael Moore was right this week to declare he would use his Private Members Bill to carry on Mark Hendrick’s work, and seek to force this government into keeping its promise. I am pleased that the government has so far signalled that they will not stand in his way.
But there’s still a lot to do. Ministers still refuse to sponsor government legislation. That means there will be less time to force this Bill through and without the rules that help ensure government business is voted on, there is a real danger that just one Tory backbencher could use parliamentary processes to stop the Bill progressing. Just ask Mark Hendrick – that’s what the Tories did to him.
A new Private Members Bill is no guarantee of new legislation. There are just ten months until the next General Election, and with the summer break fast approaching time is running out fast.
With this Bill, a vote in Parliament can save lives across the world. British aid makes a huge difference to millions – we should be proud of what our generosity can do for those in need and what it says about us as a country.
That’s why Labour will do everything we can to ensure that this Bill becomes a law. We know that the Tory right will do everything they can to hold us back, but whatever they do, the Labour party will not turn our back on those in need.