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9 September 2014

Are MPs too busy to keep their promise to the world’s poorest?

This week, 100 MPs need to turn up to vote on the 0.7 per cent spending commitment on international development. At the moment, it's too close to call whether the bill will pass.

By Richard Darlington

On Friday, the House of Commons votes on the second reading of a Private Members’ Bill that’s been introduced by Lib Dem MP Michael Moore. The Bill is short and sweet and puts into law a commitment to spend 0.7 per cent of GNI on international development. Because of the way parliament works, 100 MPs are required to turn up and vote for it, in order to prevent just one MP objecting to it and killing it off. At the moment, it’s too close to call.

The idea was first floated by Gordon Brown in his speech to Labour conference in 2009 and became a pledge in all three parties’ manifestos. The commitment was repeated in the Coalition Agreement but after four years, the government has still not been able to find parliamentary time to introduce its own bill. So backbench MPs have been left to make their own attempts. Labour MP Mark Hendricks tried last year but fell at the same hurdle.

That’s why a coalition of NGOs have come together to try and get 100 MPs to “turn up, save lives”.  So far, they’ve got 70, but need another 30. There are almost 40 from Labour, 20 Lib Dems and 10 Tories. Despite his role in the Scottish referendum campaign, Jim Murphy says he will be in London. Former Cabinet Ministers Andrew Mitchell and Caroline Spellman are among the Tories who will be there and former Ministers Paul Burstow and Don Forster will join other Lib Dems. Tories from across the spectrum, from Peter Bottomley to Nadhim Zahawi, have agreed to agree on this one. In an age of partisan politics, it is going to be a rare moment of political consensus.

But if all the parties signed up to the manifesto commitment, why won’t more actually turn up and vote for it? Well, MPs are busy people, that’s for sure. But parliament has just had a six-week break and is about to have another four-week break. MPs are only being asked to come to parliament for ten days out of a period spanning 77 days.

So who might we expect to be there but hasn’t yet said they will be? How about the MPs who posed for pictures before last year’s G8 summit, backing the IF campaign that called for the law in last year’s Queen Speech? Here are about 60 of them.

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This vote is going to be close. So far, it is Labour MPs who are making up the numbers. That seems somewhat bizarre, given that the Tory benches cheered the Chancellor’s Budget speech when he announced that Britain would become the first G8 country to meet the UN’s 0.7 per cent target. It is also stated government policy, with Secretary of State Justine Greening saying only last week that the government supports the Bill. But perhaps most importantly, it is also a key part of David Cameron’s detoxification strategy and could be another symbolic defeat for Tory modernisers, after a similar failure to win over Tory backbenchers to support gay marriage.

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There is still time, but not much. Maybe you can help? Get on Twitter right now and ask your MP to #TurnUpSaveLives

It was Desmond Tutu that said, “a promise made to the poor is a sacred thing”, but by the end of this week, we’ll know whether the promise made by all three parties in their manifestos was worth the paper they wrote it on.

Richard Darlington was Special Adviser at Dfid in 2009-2010 and writes in a personal capacity