On 29 September 2009, Gordon Brown told the Labour Party Conference: (my emphasis)
And let me say what was once an aspiration – 0.7% of national income spent on international development aid, has become with Labour a promise, and will in future become a law. We will pass legislation that the British government is obliged to raise spending on aid to the poorest countries to 0.7% of our national income. Others may break their promises to the poorest, with Labour Britain never will.
Unfortunately, he forgot to mention his promise to the Queen who offered only this in the Queen’s Speech (note to foreign readers – the Queen’s Speech is written by the Government, not the Queen):
Draft legislation will be published to make binding my Government’s commitment to spend nought point seven per cent of national income on international development from 2013.
Note the phrase “draft legislation will be published“. That means somethinig quite different from the key phrase “My Government will legislate to …” that you find elsewhere in the, er, Gracious Speech. It is Whitehall code for “we did not make room in the legislative programme for …“. It is quite different in meaning from the Prime Minister’s promise less than two months ago: “We will pass legislation that …“. The most positive interpretation is that the Government hopes that a friendly back-bencher might pick up the draft legislation and push it through as a Private Member’s Bill (which would not be a bad legacy for an MP who expects to leave Parliament at the next election).
On the subject of promises, the UK agreed on 24 May 2005 as part of a joint EU commitment that it would increase ODA to 0.56% of GNI by fiscal year 2010/11 (and reach 0.7% in 2013). In 2008, the UK’s ODA/GNI ratio was 0.43% of GDP. Even when you take account of the possibility of a contraction of GNI from 2008 to 2010, meeting this promise will require an increase in British aid over the next two years of about 33% in real terms. A European Commission report is warning that only five EU governments appear likely to meet or exceed the 0.56% target: Sweden, Denmark, the Netherlands, Ireland and Luxembourg.
Here’s my idea. Though there was no room in the legislative programme for a short bill to legislate for aid to reach 0.7%, the Government did manage to find room for a Fiscal Responsibility Bill. Perhaps this bill could include – either in the Government’s draft or as a result of a backbench amendment – a clause requiring aid to be increased to 0.56% in 2010 and to 0.7% of GNI by 2013, and to remain above that level thereafter? Investing in global social justice is as much a matter of “fiscal responsibility” as ensuring that domestic borrowing does not exceed investment (the grotesquely mis-named “Golden Rule” which is neither golden nor a rule).
I’m sure Gordon Brown will want to keep his promises, after all. This seems a good opportunity.