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 A last minute objection from Phillip Davies, MP for Shipley, was withdrawn, so the bill should have completed its passage through the Commons today.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.

The Tories announce their Afghanistan strategy, but there’s a lot left unanswered

In this article in The Times, William Hague and George Osborne are credited with announcing a new Tory policy for the development of Afghanistan. Their aim, so they say, is to draw on the military to carry out “quick impact aid work and infrastructure projects in the aftermath of fighting.” Surely this sounds like a good idea: drawing on the excellent experience of our Armed Forces to aid with construction. It is a good idea (when done properly), but it is not new. DfID incorporated it into its Afghanistan strategy months ago.

In 2008, the Department for International Development carried out a comprehensive consultation, including government ministries, civil society, the private sector and most importantly Afghan communities. The resulting strategy for Afghanistan includes a vital role for the military. Douglas Alexander is quoted in The Times as saying, “The highly praised provincial reconstruction team operating in Helmand already brings together military and civilian support in delivering a comprehensive approach to stabilisation.” This is a strategy that can provide positive results, but the role of the military must be considered wisely. What is crucial to success in Afghanistan is a balanced partnership between civilians and the military, as well as the Afghan Government. Indeed, it is vital that development comes from the Afghan state and that is why DfID channels half of its funding through the Government.

The Tories are often quick to criticise civilian aid work, but in doing so they run the risk of relying too heavily on the military. In a country with as bloody a past as Afghanistan, civilian aid groups are often able to reach communities that the military simply cannot. It is vital that this role is not overlooked. A spokesperson for Médicins sans Frontières is quote in The Times saying just this: “We secure access to very tricky parts of the world because of civilians understanding that we are not military. Where military sell themselves as humanitarians it is very, very problematic.”

There is little meat on the bones of the policy beyond simply stating that the military could be used. The Times reports that DfID will be dismayed to hear that funding for the military activities would come out of the International Development budget. This would lead to a real-terms cut in aid for civilian development. What is also unclear is how much of this new Tory policy relies on what people on the ground believe to be right for development. DfID’s consultation spread the net wide and included local communities. What is not clear is how far the Tories have consulted outside of the military.

Tim Nicholls