Yesterday I spoke in a Westminster Hall debate in Parliament on foreign aid. Whilst aid is not a panacea and the UK often tends towards an "armchair approach to aid" whereby people "sit back, given money and do not ask hard questions about countries' governance", I defended the 0.7% of national income foreign aid spending commitment and argued that Britain should take the lead on foreign aid, particularly given our nation's long history of an empire and Commonwealth that ties us to many developing countries.
You can read my full speech below or on Hansard here.
"It is vital to say at the start of this important debate that I do not believe that aid is a panacea. I lament some of the adverts that we see on television every week showing emaciated black and brown children with bloated bellies, and, frankly, the poverty porn behind too many of our great NGOs. I am also concerned that, whether we are talking about Comic Relief or Sport Relief, there is an armchair approach to aid, whereby people just sit back, give money and do not ask hard questions about countries’ governance, transparency and trade—and in the end, it is trade that we want to see across the developing world
That said, this debate goes to the heart of the poverty that still exists in our world. Across the world, 124 million young people are not in school and not being educated. This country has a proud tradition, but it also has a colonial past inextricably linked to that of many of the countries mentioned in this debate. As a descendant of people from one of those countries—my parents are from Guyana—I think it is important to put that on the table. As we move from empire to Commonwealth, we remain interconnected.
I stand by the 0.7%. That target was first established in 1970 by Jan Tinbergen, a Nobel prize-winning economist, and he came to that figure because he believed it was the amount that would allow developing countries to get into growth. That is why Britain should stand firmly in a leadership role.
I represent a north London constituency that has seen two riots in a generation and that has deep pockets of poverty. Many of us in this House have talked richly today of travelling to developing countries; it is important that we understand that that is a privilege that many of our constituents do not have, and for that reason we play a leadership role in this debate. We lead and explain; we do not simply follow those who act understandably, given that they face poverty. However, we should always remember that constituents such as mine give far more in remittances to the developing world than is given in aid by the British taxpayer. The money is from people from all corners of the world who are working hard and paying their taxes, but also from those sending small amounts of money—indeed, I am one of those people—to relatives who barely have shoes on their feet. It is important to put that firmly on the table.
I remind the House that one of the biggest aid programmes was the Marshall plan. That was, in a sense, the birth of aid. It came at a time when this country was in rubble. We got $3 billion from the United States of America. That plan involved wheat, raw materials and industrialisation that was needed across Europe, and that money came through aid from the United States and birthed much of the current aid debate. It is important to preserve the 0.7%, which we put in statute, but also to have deep discussions about and scrutiny of where those funds go. Let us remember that this debate is not isolated. A long history ties us to these countries, which we now stand beside. We must remember our position in the Commonwealth, but also a history that carved up Africa with arbitrary borders and created lots of strife because of different tribal wars. For that reason, this is not the time to walk away from the important aid discussion."