Much talk, debate and passion has been spilt over the cause of House of Lords reform in the last few months; however, now that the government will not be pursuing this cause, how does it intend to fill the parliamentary time Lords reform would have taken?
A noticeable gap in putting into law the Coalition’s legislative promises has been the delaying of enacting a law that would commit the UK to spending 0.7% of its national income on international development. The withdrawal of Lords reform provides the government the opportunity to fulfil this promise sooner rather than later. I was not holding my breath that it would do so even before George Osborne’s non-committal response in the Commons.
This lack of priority to fulfil a commitment in the Coalition Agreement, which has cross-party support, (regardless whether you believe or not putting the target into law is a good idea – the Lords’ Select Committee on Economic Affairs, for example, published a report earlier this year calling on the government to drop the target and focus on choosing and funding the best ways to promote international development rather than fixating on funding levels alone) was brought home in the recent ministerial reshuffle.
The Secretary of State for International Development, Andrew Mitchell, became the Government’s Chief Whip with Justine Greening moving from Transport to International Development. The latter move has gained considerable coverage due to its supposed ramifications for expansion of Heathrow airport.
I was interested to note though, the widespread belief that it was considered a demotion. In terms of the budget that both departments control, they will be, by 2014-15, almost equal with the Department of Transport being slightly higher. I do not thus see that it can be considered a demotion in the financial heft available to the Secretary of State.
Instead, it simply seems that international development is considered an issue that ranks below transport in the greater scheme of things. I can see why that is the case, as transport is something that we face everyday whilst very few can see the impact of the UK’s international development.
Nevertheless, in terms of impact of people globally the UK’s international development budget is aimed at a far greater quantity of people than the UK’s transport budget will ever manage. It is also, for many around the world the only glimpse they have of us as a nation. It is thus hugely important for the UK’s international standing and reputation, and has great value and importance for how we present ourselves as a nation and how we are perceived globally. I do not see that as a demotion. Let’s see if the new Secretary of State is up for the challenge!