Peter Bone Infuriates Ministers By Blocking International Aid Commitment

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ALAN DUNCAN
Alan Duncan (pictures) was furious with Tory Peter Bone for talking about the bill | PA

Tory backbencher Peter Bone left ministers and MPs furious after blocking an attempt to enshrine the UK's commitment to spend 0.7% of its income on overseas aid.

Bone refused to let legislation aimed at making the target legally binding progress because he argued that a bill promoted by a backbench MP should not be used for such a "huge step change" in policy.

International Development Minister Alan Duncan pleaded with him to stop talking, but as the MP for Wellingborough Bone was still speaking when the time allotted for backbench legislation ran out the bill was unable to make further progress.

A furious Duncan slapped down his hands onto the Government front bench after Big Ben tolled 2.30pm and the legislation's time expired.

The minister had earlier signalled the Government's backing for Labour MP Mark Hendrick's International Development (Official Development Assistance Target) Bill.

Because of Bone's intervention the Bill failed to get a second reading and now slips back into the list of private members' bills but with Government assistance it could find more time for debate.

Duncan told Mr Bone "the clock is ticking" and pleaded with him to allow the Bill to make progress.

"May I just appeal to your good nature and implore you to let this Bill go through on second reading today.

"I would really implore you, for the good of so many people in the world who need our help, to do that."

But Bone was unmoved and said: "Of course you are seriously committed to the Bill, so is the Prime Minister, so is the coalition.

"But it has to be a Government bill done properly through this House. In a second reading debate you have to discuss the principles involved."

The coalition agreement commits the Government to enshrining the 0.7% commitment in law, but ministers have yet to find time for the legislation.

Preston MP Mr Hendrick said his Bill would allow the commitment to be honoured without taking up the Government's parliamentary time.

Under his proposal, if a government failed to meet the 0.7% target the relevant secretary of state would have to make a statement to Parliament explaining why.

"Politicians from all sides of this House must realise that by supporting this Bill they support the hope and the trust that millions of the world's poorest have put in Britain to make their lives better," he said.

"In terms of economic hardship for Europe and the world's wealthiest, it's easy to dismiss a commitment on international aid spend but these problems pale into insignificance as people in the developing world battle for what is basic survival."

Before Bone blocked the Bill, Mr Duncan had said: "Today stands to be one of the most important days we have seen in the history of international development."

But he argued that the Bill would need to be amended to remove Hendrick's call for an independent international development office to monitor aid spending.

Duncan said: "To all intents and purposes we have done this already by setting up the independent commission on aid impact."

The minister acknowledged that aid spending was controversial saying: "There is a debate in this country ... about whether in a time of austerity we should be committing to spend 0.7% of our national income on official development assistance.

"I actually believe that everyone from this country can hold their head high, both within the United Kingdom and when they are abroad, for what we are doing.

"We will be, if this is passed, the first seriously wealthy country to commit to spending in this way."

The Bill was also backed by shadow international development minister Tony Cunningham, who said it dealt with "one of the great issues of our time".

But Bone, who started speaking with around five minutes left of the short debate, said: "We had half-an-hour to do a second reading of a Bill on a major piece of legislation, a huge step change in the way governments have looked at overseas aid over years and years."

He said the Government should use the time allocated for the House of Lords Reform Bill to take its own aid legislation forward.

With Government whips and other Tory MPs urging him to stop, Bone said: "This Bill can continue, come back on another day and be debated properly."

After the Bill's time concluded, Tory Anna Soubry (Broxtowe) said: "It is very much to be hoped that perhaps this place can change its procedure so that we don't have a situation where one person can thwart something where there is so much cross-party agreement."

The next available opportunity for debate on backbench legislation is September 7, but there is no guarantee the Bill will make progress.

Duncan later said: "The Government supports this Private Members' Bill proceeding to Committee Stage and I am disappointed that it has now been delayed.

"The Government's own Bill is ready and we will introduce it when parliamentary time allows.

"We remain committed to enshrining our aid pledge in law. We are firmly on course to invest 0.7% of national income to save lives and create a safer and more prosperous world for the UK."

Oxfam head of government relations Kathleen Spencer Chapman said: "It is very unfortunate that one MP has decided to stand against the wishes of the vast majority of the House of Commons and block efforts to give legal force to Britain's promises to the world's poorest.

"Enshrining a commitment to aid spending in law has all-party support and would be a historic step for the UK Government and Parliament, ensuring that lifesaving UK aid remains a cornerstone of UK policy.

"The Government should respond to this setback by bringing forward their own legislation as soon as possible."