Aid commitment dropped from Queen’s Speech

Author: By Jane Merrick and Brian Brady

Gordon Brown told Labour’s conference in September that the Government’s commitment to spend 0.7 per cent of national income would be enshrined in law to ensure it was not watered down by future administrations. The new law was expected to be unveiled by the Queen on Wednesday when she sets out the legislative agenda for the final session of this Parliament before the next election.

But government sources confirmed yesterday that the proposal will come in the form of a draft bill only, meaning that it has no chance of becoming law before polling day.

Campaigners criticised the decision last night, and claimed the delay was designed to play party politics and create “artificial dividing lines” between Labour and the Tories during the election campaign.

The delay could also trigger criticism on the Labour benches as Mr Brown tries to build momentum for the Government after the row with The Sun last week over the war in Afghanistan. However, the Queen’s Speech will contain a bill to restrict excessive awards to bankers.

The news comes as a ComRes poll for the IoS shows Labour has slipped three points from last month and is now on 25 per cent, 14 points behind the Tories on 39 per cent. The Lib Dems are on 17 per cent.

The Tories back the 0.7 per cent spending commitment, worth about £10bn a year to the world’s poorest nations, but oppose putting it on a statutory footing.

An NGO source said it was likely the Government would tell voters during the election campaign that the new law would be brought in if they backed Labour on polling day.

In his Labour conference speech, Mr Brown said: “What was once an aspiration ? 0.7 per cent of national income spent on international development aid ? has become with Labour a promise, and will in future become a law.

“We will pass legislation that the British Government is obliged to raise spending on aid to the poorest countries to 0.7 per cent of our national income. Others may break their promises to the poorest. With Labour, Britain never will.”

The NGO campaigner said: “This shouldn’t involve particularly complicated legislation, given that all parties are committed to 0.7 per cent, but without a commitment to at least try to get this on the statute book before the election, it looks like an attempt to play party politics and create artificial dividing lines.

“This allows Labour to announce in their manifesto that they would enshrine it in law and the Tories wouldn’t. But if it was in Queen’s Speech as legislation, the Government could get this through before the election.”

A government source confirmed the 0.7 commitment would be in the form of a draft bill. The source added: “This is because of everything else needed to get through in what is a short session. There isn’t enough time.

“The legislation will be subject to a scrutiny committee that will go through the draft bill, showing we are fully committed to the legislation and to get the ball rolling. But we don’t think we can get it through in this session.”

Campaigners say the 0.7 per cent spending on aid provides a lifeline to the world’s poor and significantly helps the fight against malaria, Aids and maternal mortality in Africa .

The UK has pledged to meet the 0.7 per cent target, one of the Millennium Development Goals, by 2015. Last year it spent around 0.5 per cent.

The Queen’s Speech will contain a bill to bring into British law the Convention on Cluster Munitions, which will prevent the armed forces from using such weapons and create a legal obligation to destroy them within eight years.

The law will also make clear that other nations need to remove cluster bombs from British territory. The UK signed up to the convention last December.

The election battleground: The main differences between Labour, the Tories and the Lib Dems

LABOUR

Health

New rights for NHS patients to get treatment within 18 weeks or access to a cancer specialist within two ? or be offered private treatment. Right to free check-up for over-40s. A Social Care Bill.

Education

An Education Bill giving new rights to parents including personal tuition for secondary-school pupils who fall behind. Extension of trusts and academies, and federations with the best headteachers in charge of a group of schools.

Economy and tax

Financial Services Bill to curb bankers’ bonuses, while a Fiscal Responsibility Bill will put on a statutory footing the pledge to halve the deficit in four years. Plans to cut childcare vouchers for higher earners are highly controversial.

Law and Order

Policing, Crime and Private Security Bill will introduce tougher penalties for knife crime. Stop and search forms slimmed down, freeing up time for frontline police work. New entitlements for residents to have say in local crime prevention measures.

Environment/energy

New generation of nuclear power stations announced last week, with planning law shake-up to force them through. Push ahead with third runway at Heathrow. Energy Bill will create four carbon-capture and storage plants.

Welfare and jobs

Under-25s out of work for a year offered a job, training or work experience, with threat of benefits being taken away if they refuse. £1bn fund for 150,000 new jobs, two-thirds going to young people. Supervised units for teenage mothers.

CONSERVATIVES

Health

Slash bureaucracy and save £1.5bn to be spent on more NHS dentists and offering patients the choice of where treated. Renegotiate GP contract. Introduce an NHS Autonomy and Accountability Bill. New Department of Public Health.

Education

Give heads powers to dismiss under-performing staff and award bonuses to best teachers. Trainee teachers must achieve at least a B at English and maths GCSEs. Allow best schools to become academies.

Economy and tax

Cut inheritance tax for £1m estates. No plans to yet cut Labour’s 50p rate. Link pensions to earnings and keep benefits for over-75s. Scrap tax credits for those earning £50,000, but keep child benefit.

Law and Order

Police to alert public of offenders in their area. Provide 5,000 more prison places by extending existing jails or building new ones. Abolish Human Rights Act. Scrap ID cards. Increase taxes on cheap alcohol. Annual cap on immigration.

Environment/energy

Pledge to scrap Heathrow third runway. Would introduce carbon-capture and storage technology more quickly. Back nuclear power stations, but have warned of an “energy emergency”. Invest in tidal power. Simplify energy bills.

Welfare and jobs

Restore link between pensions and earnings. Introduce tougher tests for people on incapacity benefit. Those unable to find a job will take part in long-term community projects. Refusers to face sanctions. Schemes funded by private sector.

LIBERAL DEMOCRATS

Health

Save £500m a year by slimming down health quangos and limiting salaries of top NHS managers. More powers for ward sisters, and 3,000 more midwives. Creation of independent regulator for inequality in NHS funding.

Education

Popular 2005 manifesto pledge to scrap tuition fees ditched. Pupil premium to raise funding of the most disadvantaged pupils to level of those in private schools. Cut infant class sizes. Create independent Educational Standards Authority.

Economy and tax

Scrap income tax on those earning less than £10,000. Introduce a “mansion tax” of 0.5 per cent on homes worth £1m and over. Freeze public- sector pay, scrap Trident replacement, ID cards and regional development agencies.

Law and Order

10,000 more police on the beat. Community justice panels, nationwide use of restorative justice and rigorous community punishments an alternative to short-term prison sentences.

Environment/energy

Opposed to third runway at Heathrow and to new generation of nuclear power stations. Will invest in wave, wind and solar power. Simplify energy bills and invest in green technologies.

Welfare and jobs

Pay 800,000 young people undertaking work experience £55 a week for three months. Increase number of apprenticeships and places on university and vocational higher education courses.

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