David Warburton – 2021 Speech on Foreign Aid Cuts

The speech made by David Warburton, the Conservative MP for Somerton and Frome, in the House of Commons on 13 July 2021.

I am pleased that the House has an opportunity both to debate and to determine this question. I have always defended our aid budget, and I do not think that we should search for economies at the expense of the most vulnerable globally and at the expense of our own reputation and influence globally.

I do not need to rehearse the case for ODA spending, which funds the vaccination of 55 million people; saves an incredible 10 million children from hunger; and helps to provide 50 million people with the means to climb out of poverty. I do not need to describe its soft-power benefits: the influence for Britain culturally, diplomatically, and politically; its symbolic significance; and its demonstration of leadership. I could not, therefore, support the reduction of that spending when the return to 0.7% is effectively at the whim or under the control of the Government. No matter how strong the intention to raise it again, events are always likely to overtake and overcome good intentions.

I am very grateful to my right hon. Friend the Chancellor for the conversations that we have had in recent days. Given the uncertainty in the economy, I entirely understand his reluctance to offer a date for the restoration of the 0.7%. However, a set of conditions would provide a pathway, governed by objective circumstances, to a solution. Ceding control of the mechanism to the OBR and basing it on conditions that were met as recently as 2018-19—and forecasted by the OBR in 2018-19 and in 2020 to be met in the following financial year—would provide that pathway back to our manifesto commitment and our duty to the world.

The Treasury is effectively outsourcing its spending decisions to the OBR and the state of the public finances. I do not believe that that has happened before and it provides us with the certainty we need that the cut is temporary and that our commitment to 0.7% will be upheld. It also ensures that our public finances are protected. That not only gives us a route back, but ensures that the current position is transitory, so I will support the motion. The worth of a commitment is whether it is upheld in the face of challenges, and the motion allows us to meet our challenges and our commitments.