Tory front bench ruin Debt Bill – co-sign our letter to Cameron

On Friday, the Conservative party scuppered a bill by Labour MPs on Debt Relief.

The Debt Relief (Developing Countries) Bill was being taken through its report and third reading stages today by Sally Keeble MP after the bill’s promoter Andrew Gwynne, became ill.  A cross party consensus had been agreed at committee stage of the bill with the acceptance of a sunset clause that put a time limit on the bill. A last minute objection from Phillip Davies, MP for Shipley, was withdrawn, so the bill should have completed its passage through the Commons today. Baroness Quin had agreed to take it through the House of Lords.

The bill, which stopped secretive off-shore investment funds from profiteering out of third world debt, was the result of years of international campaigning on the subject.  It protected heavily indebted poor countries which benefit from UK taxpayers support   –  effectively stopping tax payers money being siphoned off by the so-called “vulture” funds.

The three Tory MPs  –  two of them Tory front benchers  – sat with bowed heads in the Commons Chamber and refused to admit which of them had objected to the private members bill. Their move effectively brought an end to the bill. Sally Keeble called their actions “abject cowardice.” We think that’s a fairly measured way to describe their actions.

We’re pretty disgusted by this, and we want to know whether this important bill was stopped on David Cameron’s instructions. Please co-sign our letter urging David Cameron to come clean now.

Here is a statement from Sally Keeble we’d like to publish:

“This action today gives the lie to the Tories’ pretence of supporting international development. This bill was a small, but significant step in helping the most impoverished countries deal with their debts. It also protected British taxpayers’ money.

The Tories obviously think that developing countries are good enough to use as tax havens from which to get funding. But they are not prepared to protect the poorest developing countries from the most blatant profiteering.

The Tory front bench  – the Tory Leader and   the Shadow International Development –  must own up if it was one of their team was responsible for scuppering this bill. Was it their deputy chief whip Andrew Robotham MP, the whip Simon Burns MP, or the chair of the bill committee, Christopher Chope? They are abject cowards who sat and hung their heads as one of them objected to a measure to help combat world poverty.

The Tories have given a green light to the vulture funds that make profits out of the debts of the poorest people on the world.”

Sign the letter to David Cameron urging him to come clean on whether this important bill was stopped on his instructions.

Article slamming Conservatives’ policies by Director of the UN’s Human Development Report Office

Fantastic article in today’s Guardian slamming the Conservatives’ policies on development by Kevin Watkins, Director of the UN’s Human Development Report Office, and former Head of Policy at Oxfam.

Cameron’s slum dogma

The Conservative plan for overseas aid treats Africa as a laboratory for free-market ideology

You don’t win general elections in Britain by fighting poverty in poor countries. That has to be good news for David Cameron, ­because the Conservative ­programme on ­international development would be a sure-fire vote loser.

Whatever your take on New Labour, its credentials on development are impressive. As a nation we have become more generous in our dealings with the world’s poorest people, moving from the lower leagues to the premier division of leadership on poverty reduction.

Aid has been an important part of the transition. The £9bn development assistance programme represents 0.5% of our GDP – three times the share in 1997. Britain has spearheaded global financing initiatives on HIV/Aids, malaria and child immunisation. And Gordon Brown was a key player in reducing Africa’s debt burden. You can see the benefits in a country like Tanzania, where debt relief helped to finance the removal of school fees and put another 3 million kids in classes.

It’s a tough act to follow. But that’s no excuse for what the Conservatives offer. Take the aid budget. The government has pledged not just to avoid cuts but to maintain pre-crisis spending commitments. It is now committed to making the UN target of spending 0.7% of GDP on aid a legally binding commitment. No other donor has gone this far. Cameron’s response has been a study in evasion.

He says that aid will be protected and that he backs the 2013 goal. But he has refused to endorse a legally binding ­target. And he has not ruled out financing climate change commitments from the aid budget – a move that would mean real cuts.

With the Conservatives committed to early and deep cuts in the budget, deficit aid spending is bound to come under the spotlight. This is a soft target, partly because there is no constituency for aid on the Tory backbenches. In a recent poll of prospective Conservative candidates, 90% saw no reason to make the protection of the aid budget a priority. As George Osborne looks to trim public spending while financing an inheritance tax handout, it’s unlikely he will go to the wall to defend the aid budget.

Aid spending is not the only problem. The green paper One World ­Conservativism makes it clear that the Conservatives will use aid to roll back the state in key services. “We bring a natural scepticism about government schemes,” as page 1 puts it. Public ­education systems in poor countries are failing the poor, so the argument runs. The solution: more private schools in slums, with governments using ­vouchers, bursaries and the public budget to support the development of non-state providers.

Sounds familiar? This is an agenda for exporting to poor countries Michael Gove’s “Swedish model” plan for schools in Britain. It is based on the same reductionist idea that education problems rooted in poverty, extreme inequality and social disadvantage can be tackled by expanding parental choice and shifting resources from public provision to private suppliers.

There is plenty wrong with public education in poor countries. That is why so many desperately poor parents resort to poor-quality private providers. But if the public education system is broken, then the challenge is to fix it, not to bypass it. Transplanting reforms from a ­country like Sweden, with its high-performing schools and low levels of inequality, into Britain is questionable. Applying them to slums in Lagos or ­Nairobi is positively silly.

Over the past decade aid has played a key role in strengthening public ­education across Africa. It has helped put over 10 million children in school. Progress on quality has been less encouraging, partly because of chronic under-financing and an annual deficit of 1.2 million teachers. Britain should be leading global efforts to tackle these problems, not treating the region as a laboratory for market-based ideology.

To be fair, the Conservatives have come up with some strikingly original ideas. My personal favourite is the MyAid fund, a proposal to allocate multimillion-pound financing across 10 projects according to a national online vote. So if 20% of the population vote for, say, immunisation in Malawi, that’s where 20% of the money will go. The fact that the voting public may not know much about health services in Malawi is clearly not an issue.

Perhaps the Conservative party could hire the X Factor judges to champion the different causes and guide our choice. Better still, why not ask them to write the development manifesto?