Ministers clash over aid spend move

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Published: Thursday 13th November 2014 by The News Editor

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Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg has clashed with Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond over the move to enshrine in law the commitment to spend 0.7% of national wealth on overseas aid.

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.

But Mr Clegg said Mr Hammond’s comments, made during a visit to Ebola-stricken Sierra Leone, were “bizarre” and a sign of how the Tory Party had shifted position in recent years.

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, previously 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 infuriated 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.”

Mr Clegg hit back, telling LBC Radio: ” I think what is a little bizarre, to put it as diplomatically as I can, is that the Foreign Secretary, a Conservative, should go to Sierra Leone to tear up his own manifesto.

“It was a Conservative Party manifesto commitment to legislate on this commitment.”

He continued: “Here you have got a Conservative Foreign Secretary, who now decides to go to one of the countries where we are providing very useful help to a country like that, where we are for instance providing very significant help leading the world in dealing with Ebola, which we wouldn’t be able to if we didn’t set aside this money.

“He goes to an Ebola-affected part of the world in Africa and says that we somehow shouldn’t deliver his own party’s own manifesto commitment.

“I think that is a measure of quite what has happened to the Conservative Party over the last several years.

“When we went into office with them it was totally uncontroversial, this idea that we would do what they had been saying for years – as we had as well – which is we need to honour the international commitments we had made to devote some 0.7% of our national wealth to some of the poorest and most wretched communities in the world.

“Four-and-a-half years later, they used to believe in the environment, they used to believe in helping people on the other side of the world, now they are claiming it is bizarre. It was their own idea.”

Mr Clegg acknowledged there had been problems with some aid projects, but said that was true of most public spending – highlighting issues at the Ministry of Defence (MoD), a department Mr Hammond was in charge of until July this year.

“There are areas of public spending where money is not well spent everywhere,” he said.

“I have been in Whitehall long enough to know this, just look at the MoD’s budget if you want an example of catastrophically misspent public money.

“We need to be very vigilant and programmes where the money isn’t necessary or isn’t being properly delivered should be closed down.

“But think of the victims of Ebola who are being helped because of British generosity, think of the people in Syria, the millions of people.”

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.”

A Government spokesman said: “The coalition Government remains committed to investing 0.7% of our national income in overseas development.

“As part of this, we will continue to support the private member’s bill going through Parliament, which looks to enshrine this commitment in law.”

Shadow international development secretary Mary Creagh said: “On every issue, from Europe to green energy, as soon as the Tory right wing raises its head, the Tory leadership folds like a deckchair.

“David Cameron made meeting the 0.7% aid target a symbol of the change he claimed to bring to the Tory party – a change that lies in tatters as they bang on about Europe and stand up only for a privileged few.

“David Cameron should now state if he will support the 0.7% bill in December and if he does, slap down his Foreign Secretary. At a time when Ebola is devastating West Africa and conflict rages in Syria and Iraq, this is not the time for another broken promise.”

Published: Thursday 13th November 2014 by The News Editor

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