Mark Garnier: I have never voted against the Government before. But the proposed cut to foreign aid leaves me with no choice.

22 Jan

Mark Garnier is the Conservative MP for Wyre Forest.

In the decade that I have been a Member of Parliament, I have never voted against the Government. There have been times when I have been queasy about my party’s position, but politics is a team sport and a long game. One unpalatable policy is frequently part of a wider, worthwhile agenda. However, and with a heavy heart, I am closer now to breaking the loyalty habit of the last decade than ever before. And the cause of this anguish? The Government’s proposals to abandon our commitment to maintain aid spending at 0.7 per cent of GNI.

My colleagues and I were elected on a promise to uphold our aid commitment. Breaking my word to the electorate, or to the world’s poorest and most vulnerable people, is a very big deal. So it’s about political principle, but its also about what we wouldn’t be doing.

The cuts proposed amount to roughly a third of the aid budget. If applied across the board, it’d mean a third fewer children immunised each year, saving about 100,000 fewer lives; it’d mean nearly a million fewer children per year supported through education; and two million fewer people reached with emergency assistance in crisis.

The devastating impact that such a cut would have is a reminder of the phenomenal impact that our aid makes. As the world deals with a pandemic that is the biggest humanitarian crisis of my lifetime, and its myriad secondary impacts that hit the most vulnerable hardest, there couldn’t be a worse time to withdraw this support.

The Conservative-led government that took office when I was first elected to Parliament in 2010 was faced with a long list of difficult decisions in the aftermath of the financial crash. One of them was, in the words of Andrew Mitchell, Secretary of State for International Development at the time, not to “balance the books on the backs of the world’s poorest”, and not to cut aid.

Ten years on, another global crisis and another Conservative government has taken the opposite view. Yet this cut would do little to balance the books. In the bigger picture of government spending its but a drop in the ocean, but for the impact we can achieve in the toughest places in the world it’s a colossal difference.

I’m also concerned about what this move would say about the role the United Kingdom seeks to play in the world – our “Global Britain” agenda. We look to the Biden administration to re-engage the United States with the world and, newly out of the European Union, we seek to present ourselves as their partner of choice.

In May, Samantha Power, appointed by the incoming President to lead the US Agency for International Development, in evidence to the House of Commons’ Foreign Affairs Committee, said “Your development commitment speaks for itself really. The way in which that has been sustained over successive administrations speaks to a desire to change the world for the better”.

High praise for our Global Britain aspiration. Yet this will no longer be the case if the proposed cuts are carried through. Instead of seeing a country intent on changing the world for the better, our most important ally will see our country stepping back when it should be stepping up.

I don’t think I could reasonably be described as a habitual thorn in the Government’s side. I’m proud of what Conservative prime ministers have achieved over the last ten years, proud to have served as a minister and proud of the agenda that this Government has set out. But if it is intent on a U-turn on our party’s commitment to international development, then what choice will I have?

Fay Jones: A ban on the rough sex defence – and other benefits of this Government’s Domestic Abuse Bill

10 Jul

Fay Jones is MP for Brecon & Radnorshire.

Lockdown has provided many with the chance to spend some rare family time together – learning a new Tik Tok dance or doing a Joe Wicks workout.  But for an alarming number of people, Covid 19 has not been their biggest threat.  For those suffering from domestic abuse, enduring lockdown with an abuser will only have increased the daily fear and anguish.

Consequently, I am enormously proud that this Government made the Domestic Abuse Bill one of its biggest priorities during the pandemic.  It could have chosen to drop the legislation; it stalled during Brexit and then fell again at the general election – but such is this Government’s commitment to victims that Ministers were given license to push it through.  From my spot on the Domestic Abuse committee, I saw just how much this Government wants to champion the rights of those who have been abused, and how good a track record the Conservative Party has on this issue.

While the Labour Party has always tried to argue it sits on the side of ‘the many and not the few’ – history does not support this, particularly in the field of criminal justice.  It was a Conservative Government that brought forward The Children Act 1989.  One of the last achievements of the Major Government was the Protection from Harassment Act 1997, which created the offence of harassment.  Making stalking an offence came from the Coalition Government’s Protection of Freedoms Act 2012.  Indeed, during Monday night’s debate, Theresa May rightly accepted plaudits from across the House for pushing through both the Modern Slavery Act 2015, and the early stages of last night’s Domestic Abuse Bill.

The Domestic Abuse Bill will deliver meaningful change; creating a Domestic Abuse commissioner designed to map the availability of services, establishing Domestic Abuse Protection Notices and Orders to provide victims with extra protection, prohibiting perpetrators of abuse from cross-examining their victims in family courts and legally recognising children as victims of abuse for the first time.  For many the biggest achievement of the bill is banning the ‘Rough Sex Defence’.  An enormous step in itself, this is evidence that Parliament works best when it acts cross party.  The combined campaigning strength of Mark Garnier and Harriet Harman have delivered a change in the law which will forever prevent murderers from arguing ‘they were asking for it.’

From my perspective, the Bill is also a good example of the strength of the Union.  In 2015, the Welsh Government passed its Violence Against Women, Domestic Abuse and Sexual Violence Act.  However in November last year, the Auditor General for Wales reported a ‘fragmentation’ in service availability as there was no single agency to coordinate the system.  This is something that the Domestic Abuse Commissioner can look into – demonstrating that the ‘jagged edge of devolution’ can be overcome with tenacious, pro-Union Ministers.

The Domestic Abuse Bill is landmark legislation which will go a significant way to protecting the estimated 2.4 million victims of domestic abuse each year and it is by no means the stand-alone example of this Government putting victims first. It is the latest in a long track record of legislative milestones.  Conservatives should never shy away from this record – it is a record of leadership and collaboration which is what the public wants to see from its Government.  Above all, it is a record of standing alongside those who truly need our help.