Hammond: Foreign aid pledge bizarre

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Published: Wednesday 12th November 2014 by The News Editor

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Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond has dismissed a move to enshrine in law the UK’s commitment to spend 0.7% of national wealth on foreign aid as “bizarre”.

Mr Hammond said legislation – which was promised in the Conservative general election manifesto and the Coalition Agreement – was not required as the United Nations target was being met.

The Government has given its backing to a private member’s bill tabled by Lib Dem ex-cabinet minister Michael Moore in frustration over the Tories’ reluctance to put the measure on the statute book.

International development minister Desmond Swayne, who was David Cameron’s Commons aide, told the debate in which it cleared its first hurdle with a large majority that he felt “bound” by the manifesto pledge.

But in comments that will infuriate the junior coalition partner, Mr Hammond told the Daily Telegraph: “Trying to enshrine it in law – it’s a bizarre idea.

“Somebody says shall we have a law that says you’ve got to build a building. Think about it – in the mean time we built a building. Someone comes along and says now we’ve built it shall we pass the law which says we’ve got to do it? We’ve done it. We’re doing it. You don’t need a law to say we’re doing it.”

The Prime Minister’s determination to protect the aid budget from austerity cuts has proved highly unpopular with many party members and some backbench MPs.

A Lib Dem spokesman said: “At no point has Philip Hammond ever raised any concerns about this with us in Government.

“Michael Moore’s bill to enshrine the 0.7% international aid target in law is entirely in line with the policy of the coalition Government. It will provide people in grave need with lifesaving support, and set an example to other wealthy countries.”

Mr Hammond, who made his remarks while touring UK-funded Ebola hospital facilities in Sierra Leone, said he recognised public scepticism over the issue but said it did not apply to emergency spending in cases such as tackling the mass outbreak of the deadly disease.

“The scepticism that some people have about the aid budget, which I absolutely recognise … I don’t think has ever been directed at emergency aid,” he said.

“I’ve never detected in Britain at all people saying we shouldn’t be sending food aid or disaster relief or earthquake relief. It’s never been that bit of the programme. It’s been the ‘we’ll invest over two decades in education in India, economic development in East Africa’. It’s that bit of it that people sometimes question.

“But I’m sure the British people always feel very well-disposed to the disaster relief.”

Mr Hammond added: “In the round, people have some questions about the way the aid budget is used and we’ve got to keep making the case that it is in Britain’s interest and we will keep making the case.”

Published: Wednesday 12th November 2014 by The News Editor

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