Although it is a fortnight ago since our MPs had a debate on Foreign Aid and the result of the votes did not tragically provide a good outcome it is still worthwhile repeating some of the words and indeed we can call on MPs who claim to be supporting the need for Peace in Yemen to challenge their voting decision. The positive words on the 13th July came from Tim Loughton who is the MP for East Worthing and Shoreham. He along with Peter Bottomley who is the MP for West Worthing voted for the Foreign Aid to be returned to 0.7%. They were joined in that approach by the three MPs for Brighton and Hove. So a total of five Sussex MPs voted for 0.7% but sadly the other 11 Sussex MPs voted for 0.5%. As it happens five of those MPs are members of the Government, but nevertheless there are six who could have been persuaded if they had listened to Tim’s statement which was
The hon. Gentleman makes a very good point about Yemen, although it should be acknowledged that the UK gave aid to Yemen well in excess of what we had budgeted for, and that we have a very generous record. Does he agree that it is not only a question of emergency aid? If we are to find peace in that country, we will need to give aid for its reconstruction to keep it out of civil war and famine again, so it is entirely the wrong time not to step up with the money necessary for a lasting peace.
As it happens of the six other Conservative MPs who all voted to retain the Foreign Aid as being merely 0.5%, three have never commented about Yemen before in the House of Commons. However the other three have done so which does rather indicate that they should have responded to Tim Loughton’s comment in their voting. Sadly that did not happen. One of them is Andrew Griffith who in a slightly strange sense literally a year earlier on 13th July 2020 stated
I am proud that so many young people in my constituency have raised the situation in Yemen with me. Saudi Arabia itself is a young country, with half its population under the age of 25. Will the Minister assure me that he will continue to raise human rights with his counterparts?
Then in October 2016 there was a debate on Yemen and indeed a vote which tragically was opposed by the Government and indeed all Conservative MPs apart from Chris White who sadly lost his seat in 2017. One of the Sussex MPs who did participate in the debate was Nusrat Ghani even though she voted against the Labour proposal at the time and she voted in favour of 0.5% two weeks ago. However she stated as part of her statement in October 2016.
The situation in Yemen is dire. As the House has already heard, nearly 7,000 people have lost their lives as a result of the conflict, and more than 14.4 million people in Yemen are food-insecure. The recent ceasefire provided a welcome few days of relief, allowing much-needed humanitarian aid through to areas that simply cannot be reached while clashes are going on, as was passionately noted by Keith Vaz.
A true and lasting solution to the humanitarian crisis in Yemen must come from a longer, stable ceasefire during which efforts are made by both sides to agree a long-term, balanced peace deal that the people of Yemen have invested in themselves. I strongly support the Government’s work at the UN and, through our ambassador, Edmund Fitton-Brown, in Yemen. We should be proud that we have contributed £100 million to the UN’s humanitarian response, making us the fourth largest donor. I am pleased that our ambassador was present at the Kuwait talks. Our support for the UN special envoy, both politically and financially, is also extremely welcome.
And then a few years earlier Henry Smith who is the other West Sussex Conservative MP who supported the 0.5% decision even though he is not part of the Government referred to Yemen on 24th April 2018
The current situation in Yemen is not just a civil war or a sectarian conflict; it is also in many ways a proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran. In addition to diplomatic pressure being brought to bear on Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states, what pressure is being brought to bear on the allies of Tehran and that side of the conflict?
Later on in the debate on the 13th July Tim Loughton made a more indepth comment and perhaps it is appropriate to end on it here
I welcome the fact that this Government have brought this motion before the House today, but I am afraid that I am going to vote against it, and to restore the 0.7% commitment. I am worried that the new criteria would only have been met in one of the past seven years, and goodness knows when it will be met again. Effectively, we are locking in 0.5% for the foreseeable future. I absolutely acknowledge the huge generosity of the UK taxpayer and the contribution by COVAX and others, but we cannot stop now.
I voted and campaigned for that 0.7% commitment, and was really proud that a Conservative-led Government enshrined it in law. I proudly stood on a manifesto to keep it in 2015, 2017, and 2019. Our 2019 manifesto said that
“We are proud of our peace-building and humanitarian efforts around the world, particularly in war-torn or divided societies, and of our record in helping to reduce global poverty” and “We will proudly maintain our commitment to spend 0.7 per cent of GNI on development”.
There were no riders that that was dependent on the state of finances, on whether debt was going up or down, or on how much revenue the Treasury was bringing in. There was no small print, no ifs and no buts, and I believe in standing by manifesto pledges. It would have been even more unsatisfactory if we had not at least had this vote today.
Everyone has talked about difficult decisions. It was specifically to avoid short-term difficult decisions that we enshrined that commitment in law, and crafted a careful formula so that the money went up in good times and down in bad times, as is happening. However, this will be a double whammy, as has been said: funding is going to go down because the economy has contracted, and it is going to go down further because the formula is being changed as well. Covid has impacted severely on many countries whose health systems are far less resilient than ours at dealing with the pandemic, and as we know, global pandemics need globally co-ordinated action, including us all facing the challenges posed by the new strains mutating in far-flung corners of the world. The UK plays a key part in that and must continue to do so, not just with vaccines.
However, this decision is also a false economy. Abruptly pulling projects part way through—pulling funding for the malaria programme in Nigeria, which is supposed to go on until 2024; cutting £48 million from the NHS overseas training scheme, when people are being trained in important posts in developing countries; the £80 million cut to water sanitation in the middle of a pandemic; and the circumstances in Yemen that I mentioned earlier—makes no financial sense and increases uncertainty.
Global Britain is not just about projecting military and diplomatic influence, or pursuing new trading and investment partnerships beyond this continent. Complementary to global Britain is the exercise of soft power, which is hugely important and has proved highly influential and effective for UK plc. Our world-leading commitment to 0.7%, enshrined in law, is an important and, I have to say, very cost-effective part of that. Climate change is a major focus of it—we are chairing COP, for goodness’ sake. What message does this reduction to 0.5% send to the rest of the world? This is a false economy at the wrong time.