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By Peter Hoskin
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The
last Conservative
manifesto
contained a commitment not just to spend 0.7 per cent of national
income on overseas aid, but also to ‘legislate in the first session of a new
Parliament to lock in this level of spending for every year from 2013.’

The
Coalition
Agreement
made a similar promise to ‘enshrine this commitment in law’.

But
– what’s this? – today’s Times reports
(£)
that the legislation to enshrine the 0.7 per cent commitment into law
will not be mentioned in this year’s Queen’s Speech, which will be delivered on
8th May. Three years into this Government, and this particular pledge still
hasn’t been met.

At
which point I should probably say that we at ConHome are – on the whole, and
with all the usual caveats about transparency and efficiency, etc – sympathetic
to the aid target
. I won’t reheat the reasons here, not least because most
of them are contained in Robert
Halfon’s post
for our Compassionate Conservatism series today.

But,
even so, I still think there are good reasons for David Cameron not to enshrine
the target in law – or at least understandable ones. Some of them are
political: any attempt to legislate will provoke an awkward level of opposition
from Tory backbenchers. We have already seen this in miniature, with
Christopher Chope terminating
the Labour MP Mark Hendrick’s efforts to this end.

And
other reasons are more fiscal. As George Osborne confirmed during his Budget
speech this year, Britain is going to become the first G8 country to achieve
the aid target anyway. That hasn’t required reams of legislation. It’s just
required a Chancellor with a mission.

Of
course, the idea is that legislating for 0.7 per cent will dissuade other
Chancellors from backing away from it in future. But, as important as the aid
target is, I’d prefer our finance ministers to enjoy flexibility to act as the
situation demands. As Labour’s child poverty targets have shown,
legal requirements can quickly be subverted – and yet politicians still unfairly catch
flak when they then try to take a different approach.

When
it comes to enshrining the aid target in law, much depends on whether you
believe manifesto commitments ought to be inviolable. But, in any case, given the
polling
, I doubt too many voters will weep if Mr Cameron gave this one a
miss.

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