Coalition on brink of ditching foreign aid promise

THE coalition is on the verge of scrapping a commitment to enshrine UK foreign aid spending levels in law.

William Hague: I would get into trouble for preempting speech. Picture: PA
William Hague: I would get into trouble for preempting speech. Picture: PA

In a Queen’s Speech which is expected to be short on new legislation, it is understood that the government will attempt to push through populist ­measures to boost consumer protection, particularly on ­digital purchases.

The same bill will also see red tape slashed for businesses, simplifying 60 pieces of legislation.

But the row over international aid overshadowed the run up to the Queen’s Speech on Wednesday.

In an interview yesterday, Foreign Secretary William Hague gave a strong hint that the bill on aid which had been expected has been sidelined, threatening to split the Tory/Lib Dem coalition.

The Conservative Party has pledged in its election manifesto to set in legislation that the UK will spend 0.7 per cent of its GDP on foreign aid.

If the pledge has been dropped, the move will be a concession to the Tory right and the end of a key modernisation proposal from Prime Minister David Cameron who saw the international aid issue as one of the ways of ending the Conservative’s “nasty party” image.

In his interview, Mr Hague said: “The main thing on this is that we are meeting the commitment – we are going to be spending 0.7 per cent.”

He went on: “I would get into terrible trouble if I pre-empted the Queen’s Speech, which is only a few days away, but the main point is, irrespective of legislation, of being for or against legislation on it, is we are actually meeting the commitment to spend the money and that’s our international commitment.

“As far as I’m concerned, as Foreign Secretary, we have a commitment that we will do that and we are going to be meeting that commitment.”

Shadow development secretary Ivan Lewis accused Mr Cameron of lurching to the right in response to Ukip’s success in last Thursday’s council elections.

He said: “This broken promise is more evidence that David Cameron is in office but no longer in power.

“He is a weak leader vacating the centre ground to appease the right in his own party and stem the tide of Tory votes to Ukip. Not enshrining 0.7 per cent in law will make it easier for the Tories to siphon off aid funds to military and tied aid instead of focusing on our unfinished mission to end global poverty.

“This should be a wake-up call to all those who care about UK development policy.”

Melanie Ward, ActionAid’s head of advocacy, said: “At the last election, the Conservative Party made a manifesto commitment to enshrine this in legislation, so to go back on this would be an alarming broken promise.

“This matters because aid gives best value for money when it is predictable and poor countries are able to plan their development with certainty, while aid has the biggest impact when it is around for long enough to get the job done.”

The Queen’s Speech is set to see new consumer powers including forcing decorators who use cheaper paint than they charged for to completely redo their work. Garage forecourt owners would also be forced to contact drivers who they have overcharged by not properly calibrating their pumps.