By far the best known international target in the aid field is that of raising official development assistance (ODA) to 0.7% of donors' national income. To listen to those who now criticise this figure you would think that it had just been invented. The issue has been discussed since the 1950s The Pearson Commission, appointed by the President of the World Bank, Robert McNamara in 1968, proposed that aid should "be raised to 0.70% of donor GNP". The issue was discussed at the United Nations during the 1970s and finally was formally recognised in 1970 when the UN General Assembly adopted a Resolution which included the goal that "Each economically advanced country will progressively increase its official development assistance to the developing countries and will exert its best efforts to reach a minimum net amount of 0.7% of its gross national product at market prices by the middle of the Decade."
Sweden became the first country to meet the target in 1975 when it was later joined by the Netherlands. Norway and Denmark. Luxembourg reached it in 2000 and continues to do so. The United Kingdom attained it in 2013.
So, the figure of 0.7% of GNI (Gross National Income) comes out of detailed negotiation and agreement at the United Nations and out of work commissioned by the World Bank. A Labour Government in this country failed to achieve this target.
Aid better protects ourselves
A greater impetus was given to securing this target by the instability in the world caused, by amongst other things, through terrorism. Aid matters for our own security because the root causes of many of the problems we face in Britain lie elsewhere. From migration to terrorism, disease to climate change, the more we can do to tackle these issues upstream and overseas, the better we can protect ourselves here at home.
The countries which receive aid have changed as a result of the work undertaken by the Department for International Development (DfID) to tighten the aid budget and to make it deliver value for money. It announced some time ago that 16 countries would no longer receive bilateral aid from Britain by 2016. Take India for example. In November 2012, DfID announced that no new financial grant aid to India would be approved. Commitments to existing financial aid projects, all of which will finish in 2015, are being honoured. After 2015 any new programmes will take the form of technical assistance, sharing UK expertise in trade, investment, skills and health.
These changes reflect India's rapid growth and development progress in the last decade - its growing ability to finance its own development programmes meant that the time had come to end the UK's financial grant support.
Aid to China, too, was stopped in 2011. DfID's relationship with China now focuses on working together, where we share objectives, to reduce poverty and drive progress on the Global Goals for Sustainable Development Goals in developing countries.
What have we achieved in India? 3.6 million pregnant women and children under 5 have been given nutrition programmes. 2 million people have been provided with access to improved sanitation facilities.
We play a much more important role in the world
I firmly believe that spending 0.7 per cent of Gross National Income on international development - alongside our commitment to spend 2 per cent on defence (which I notice is not challenged) - means we play a much more important role in the world. But our commitment to the world's poorest does not come at the expense of spending at home. The Government will increase NHS spending in England by £10 billion in real terms by 2020/21, of which £6 billion will be delivered by the end of the next financial year. This will allow the NHS to offer 800,000 operations and treatments and spend up to £2 billion more on new drugs. We are funding more than the NHS itself asked for in its own forward plan. We also confirmed £15 billion funding for investment in our major roads, allowing over 80 per cent of the motorway road network to be resurfaced, and delivering over 1,300 miles of additional lanes.
All this is why I do not believe the Mail On Sunday's recent petition to end the 0.7% of GNI spent on aid makes any sense in today's world. However, we need to continue to make sure that the aid is well spent and does not fund terrorism or those who simply do not deserve it. In this case, the Mail on Sunday was right to point to the way in which British aid funds to the Palestinians seems to be being diverted.
The issue of the funding of terrorism in the Palestinian Authority needs to be rooted out
In December I raised a question with the Secretary of State for International Development about the amount of money that goes to schools in the Palestinian Authority which glorify terrorism. I gave an example of where this had happened. I was assured that financial assistance goes to the Palestinian Authority through a World Bank trust fund that has an independent audit.
I am not satisfied with the answer and have put down a written question to DfID about the same issue. My dissatisfaction arises from the fact that in 2011, the Palestinian Authority Registry published a Government Resolution granting all Palestinian prisoners imprisoned in Israel for security and terror-related offenses a monthly salary. According to the Palestinian Authority definition, more than 4,500 Palestinian prisoners are covered. These prisoners are paid from the general budget of the Palestinian Authority funded by numerous donor countries. So aid money pays the salaries of Palestinian terrorists imprisoned in Israel.
It is clear that in troubled parts of the world such as the Middle East, the use of British aid money should be carefully controlled by the funding of only specific projects not associated with Government. This was how Central and Eastern Europe was initially helped with assistance through the Know How Fund of which I was a Board member. And I recommend this approach.