Andrew Mitchell highlights the impact on women and girls if the UK cuts its overseas development budget and calls on the Government to reconsider breaking the commitment to 0.7% GNI.
It is a privilege to take part in this debate. I draw the House’s attention to my interests set out in the register.
I want to talk about the position of women across the world and the deep poverty that disfigures our world. I think the whole House will accept that we cannot understand international development unless we see it through the eyes of a girl or a woman, because girls and women suffer most grievously from the effects of poverty. They suffer first and hardest from climate change, food insecurity, conflict and disorder. As we have heard, so many are in important caring roles, and they are often, in the developing world, the earners in families. Some 2.1 billion girls live in countries that, even before the pandemic, were not on track to meet any of the gender equality targets set down by the United Nations. One of the best ways of changing the world is to educate girls. If we educate girls, they marry later, educate their own children, tend to be more likely to be economically active, and adopt leadership roles in their communities. That is why the Prime Minister is so right to champion—to aspire to—every girl getting 12 years of education.
But all this great work will be prejudiced—British leadership will be prejudiced—if we break our promise on the 0.7% commitment. We have recently seen horrific cuts, often of more than 50%, in Britain’s role in this area. For example, in family planning—giving women control over their own fertility so that they can decide whether and when they have children—there has been huge British leadership since 2012 and before, but if these cuts go ahead, 8 million women will not get access to family planning. I have seen the powerful effect of British leadership in this area empowering women. I remember, on one occasion, watching 60 women sitting under a tree in Uganda hearing what was possible thanks to UK taxpayers. At the end, they were asked if they wanted to proceed to further consultation about contraception and women’s health, and every single hand under that tree went up. The cause of women’s empowerment will be set back if these fearsome cuts go ahead.
As chair of the G7, we are the only country cutting back. Only a week ago, France committed to 0.7% for the first time. Germany has reached 0.7%. The United States has added $15 billion to the aid budget. We are relinquishing our global leadership. Every story on the world stage will be about cutting life-saving support. One of the key aspects of global Britain is being trashed and binned. The Government must stop being timid and put this matter to a vote of this House. Failure to do so means that that they may be implementing an unlawful Budget from April. Let the Government ask the House its view on whether we wish to break the promise on which we were all elected just over a year ago.