Christian Matheson – 2021 Speech on Foreign Aid Cuts

The speech made by Christian Matheson, the Labour MP for the City of Chester, in the House of Commons on 13 July 2021.

The Prime Minister told the House earlier that there was common ground in the House. I think he is right, but I suspect, having listened to contributions from the Conservative Benches, that he is not standing on that common ground. I pay tribute to the right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr Mitchell) for the courage that he and other Conservative Members have shown in standing up for this issue consistently, and also standing up for their manifesto, along with the rest of us. The Government have a good story to tell on this issue if they wanted to—on Gavi, for example, and on their support for education for women and girls. I wonder why they do not want to tell this story to the country. I think it is because too many of them are ashamed of it and because, as the right hon. Gentleman said, they are playing to a gallery but playing to the wrong gallery. It is a dangerous game that they are playing.

The proposals before the House today are myopic and mean-minded. They are mean-minded because we can see that this is a trick—a fiscal trap. We were promised a straight up-and-down vote but we were not given one; instead we were given this little twisting mechanism. It is mean-minded, too, because, as we have heard, it will cost lives to make these cuts, and because they are already a cut to what would have been a smaller cake anyway. The money had already gone down and to cut it further is simply mean. With any of these programmes we cannot simply turn the taps on, then off and then back on again. The damage that will be done to British overseas aid programmes will carry on long after we restore the 0.7%, if, under this proposed mechanism, we ever do restore it.

This cut will set programmes back. It will set research and development back, including for my constituents. I have a constituent who works in water purification and another who works in localised energy matters. These cuts will have an effect overseas, but let us be clear: they will have effects in this country as well, in terms of innovation and our ability to take technologies across the world. They will have effects in areas such as the polio eradication programme. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn) has said, cuts of 95% will set that programme back. The cut is myopic, for the reasons already set out by my right hon. and learned Friend the Leader of the Opposition and the hon. Member for Tonbridge and Malling (Tom Tugendhat): it will damage British soft power, with the British Council telling me that it will lose 15% to 20% of staff and will be unable to carry out programmes in the countries where we need to be influencing; and it will affect our strategic position, as the Leader of the Opposition has said.

Overseas aid is a moral issue, but if we cannot look at it like that, let us be clear: our adversaries, Russia and China, and our enemies, al-Qaeda and Islamic State, will fill the gap if we do not, and this will simply make matters worse in the long run. This is a short-sighted, short-termist cut. It is mean-minded. I pay tribute to the right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield for his leadership, and I will not be accepting this motion tonight.