Parliament is deep in its Summer Recess, and domestic politics is very much taking second place to world events. I was glad to welcome the Prime Minister down to Kemble Airfield last Thursday. He helicoptered in and then back to London in time to chair a meeting of the Cobra Committee at 12 to discuss the situation in Iraq. (‘Cobra’ sounds dramatic with images of snakes ready to strike and so on. It is the Whitehall bunker in which Minsters and officials meet in time of National or International crisis. However it actually stands for the much more mundane ‘Cabinet Office Briefing Room A.’ Very British in its understatement.)
Mr Cameron came to Wiltshire to see the UKAid Emergency Supplies Depot. It’s in a former hangar on the old RAF base and keeps at instant readiness non-food stores and equipment for emergencies. Vehicles, tents and tarpaulins, re-usable filtration containers filled with clean water, solar lights and so many other stores of an essential life-saving kind. The stores are deployed anywhere in the world at a moment’s notice – in this case by air-drop from Hercules aircraft over Mount Sinjar. It was good to meet the people responsible – many of them constituents – and to thank them for the vital work which they do.
The UK has spent £8 million on the effort- £2 million on emergency supplies, £3 million for DFID’s Rapid Response Facility, £2.5 million for the International Red Cross and £500k to help Kurdish and UN aid efforts in the region. On top of that we gave £5 million to the UN and NGOs to provide food, medicine and shelter. Add to that charitable giving epitomised by my step-children, Bertie and Kitty, who cycled 3000 miles from Toulon to Istanbul to raise funds for the Disasters Emergency Committee, and as a nation we can be proud of our generosity to the Yazidis and Christians being targeted by the evil fanatics of ISIL.
It is only right and proper that we do what we can to help in situations like this one. Yet by very definition they are unexpected and unquantifiable in advance. That is why I strongly support the UK overseas aid efforts. Yet I will not be supporting the attempts by a LibDem backbencher to write the UN target of 0.7% of GDP on overseas aid into law. I have two reasons. First, we should be ready to spend whatever is necessary whether that be more, or in some years perhaps less than that figure. What would happen if at the end of a year it had not been spent? Who would pay a penalty for breaking the law in that way? And second, these must be decisions for Ministers who must weigh up the competing demands of health and education at home, defence and diplomacy overseas. Tying their hands by writing the 0.7% figure into law seems to me both foolish, and also unconstitutional. There is a cloying self-righteousness about the proposed private members bill, as if it says more about the MP proposing it than it does about our Global compassion.
We must do what we can to help in the world, insofar as our economy allows us, and in response to urgent and identifiable need. I am proud of the contribution which North Wiltshire makes to that effort.