The Tory rebellion that had been expected to take place this evening over the government’s planned international aid budget cut has now been postponed, as Speaker Lindsay Hoyle did not select the amendment in question.
Hoyle confirmed to the House of Commons this afternoon that he considered the amendment to be “not within the scope of the bill”, referring to the advanced research and invention agency (ARIA) bill being voted on today.
Noting the “high level of interest” in a vote on the decision to reduce the UK’s aid target from 0.7% of gross national income to 0.5%, the Speaker denied Tory MPs led by Andrew Mitchell the chance to inflict defeat on their government.
But Hoyle said: “Under the International Development (Official Development Assistance Target) Act 2015, it is the duty of the Secretary of State to ensure that the target for official development assistance to the amount of 0.7% of gross national income is met by the United Kingdom each year.
“Up until now, however, the House has not had an opportunity for a decisive vote on maintaining the UK’s commitment to the statutory target of 0.7%. I expect that the government should find a way to have this important matter debated and allow the House to formally take an effective decision.”
As well as suggesting that there should be a binding vote on the matter, the Speaker said he would consider applications for emergency debates to take place tomorrow, and it is understood there will be such an application going in.
It is expected that there will be several hours of debate on Tuesday, which could be embarrassing for the government ahead of the G7 summit being held over the course of this weekend, though any result would be non-binding.
In the chamber today, Mitchell – a former Secretary of State for International Development – accused the government of “treating the House of Commons with disrespect” and said it was “acting unlawfully” according to leading lawyers.
The Conservative MP declared that the amendment would have passed by a majority of between nine and 20 if the vote had gone ahead. Hoyle said “I share the House’s frustration” and the Commons “should be taken seriously”.
Commenting on the outcome, Labour MP Chris Bryant tweeted: “What the debacle about the aid amendment today shows is that the UK parliament (as opposed to the government) has next to no say on expenditure.”
Preet Kaur Gill, who is Shadow International Development Secretary although the government department has been axed, said: “The strength and depth of support for protecting the aid we send to help the world’s poorest is clear.
“The Conservative government is leaving the UK isolated among wealthy countries by being the only one to cut this budget. A failure to reverse the cuts would entirely undermine our ability to solve global challenges, from the pandemic to the climate crisis.
“Rather than trying to evade another vote, the government must end its retreat and reaffirm its commitment to spending 0.7% of national income with a clear timeline.”
The remaining stages of the ARIA bill are set be held in the Commons today. The government has said the bill will fund “high-risk, high-reward” research giving experts the power to identify and enable transformational science.
Labour has warned that the new taxpayer-funded research and invention agency risks becoming a front for “sleaze in science” if ministers insist on exempting it from Freedom of Information and public procurement rules.