Page last updated at 13:25 GMT, Tuesday, 23 October 2012 14:25 UK

Development aid debate

A cross-party group of peers has criticised government plans to enshrine in law a specific target for development aid spending.

The government wants to introduce legislation guaranteeing 0.7% of UK gross national income is spent on development aid, in line with the UN target.

But peers warned against committing future governments to such spending, as they debated a report on the subject on 22 October 2012.

The report, by the Lords Economic Affairs Committee, said that to reach the 0.7% target, the UK's aid spend would have to rise by 37% by 2015 - at a time when most other departmental budgets are being cut.

It said focusing on an abstract target could draw attention away from the effectiveness of aid, and its possible corrosive impact on the political systems in recipient countries.

Introducing the report in the Lords, committee chair Lord MacGregor of Pulham Market said the target would "deprive" future governments the flexibility to respond to changing conditions at home or abroad.

Conservative former chancellor Lord Lawson of Blaby was highly critical of the plans, telling peers the UK spent more on development aid than any other country bar the United States.

He lamented the government's "pathetic response" to the report - that the target was a "solemn pledge" made by the three main political parties.

He argued it would be better to spend a "fraction of what we are currently mis-spending" on development aid on educating future leaders in "our best schools and universities".

Labour's Lord Lipsey branded it a "mistaken" policy, and told peers he feared its effect on the public perception of aid spending.

Conservative Lord Tugendhat questioned why the UK continued to give aid to India when it can afford its "own space programme".

"We should not be shouldering its responsibilities to its people," he argued.

However, other peers supported the policy, and defended the proposals from criticism.

Crossbencher Lord Stern of Brentford and Conservative Lord Bates both argued that there was scope to spend even more on development aid.

Liberal Democrat Lord Philips of Sudbury - a solicitor who has worked with aid charities - criticised the report's recommendation to withhold aid where corruption is rife.

He suggested using NGOs as an "exclusive" means to deliver aid when government-to-government aid is not viable.

For the opposition, Baroness Royall of Blaisdon said the committee was "wrong" in its conclusions and welcomed the government's commitment.

She attacked Lord Lawson's remarks as "out of tune" with public opinion and "stuck in the 1980s".

Wrapping up the debate for the government, Baroness Northover said aid played a crucial role in driving growth and education in developing countries.

She told peers the commitment to spend 0.7% of GNI on development aid provided an example to others "to do likewise".

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