Aid money could go to defence - David Cameron

 
RAF C-17 transporter plane The RAF's C-17 transporter plane can be used for combat, peacekeeping or humanitarian missions

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The government is to consider spending money from the UK's £10bn aid budget on peacekeeping and other defence-related projects, David Cameron has said.

Such a move could see funds diverted from the Department for International Development to the Ministry of Defence.

The PM, who has been urged to cut aid spending by some Tories, said security and stability were often needed before development could take place.

Critics argue that aid money should not be used to compensate for defence cuts.

Analysis

David Cameron's suggestion that more aid money could be spent on peacekeeping missions overseas may please as many folk as it angers.

It's Conservative backbenchers he's seeking to pacify. They are furious that, while defence commitments abroad are increasing, MoD spending is being cut.

Many of them welcome the idea that more of the UK's aid budget, which some believe is too high anyway and shouldn't be ring-fenced, could be better spent.

Charities are extremely unhappy at the prospect of DfID's aid being "contaminated".

But the international development budget is tiny compared with the MoD's and, while any increase in DfID's contribution to the so-called Conflict Pool may comfort Tory MPs, it may not have much impact on future defence spending.

Mr Cameron has said he intends to protect all £10bn of Britain's aid budget, promising to spend 0.7% of national income on development.

But, speaking to reporters on his return journey from a trade visit to India, the prime minister said he was very open to the idea of the Department for International Development (DfID) sharing more of its money with the Ministry of Defence (MoD)

"DfID and the Foreign Office and the defence ministry work increasingly closely together," he said. "If you are asking me can they work even more closely together, can we make sure that the funds we have at our disposal are used to provide basic levels of stability and security in deeply broken and fragile states, then I think we should.

"That is an important part of development."

"We have our moral responsibilities for tackling poverty in the world. We also have national security responsibilities for mending conflict states and helping with development around the world and we should see DfID in that context," he added.

Officials said hundreds of millions of pounds could be diverted from aid to peacekeeping and stabilisation operations, particularly in fragile states.

A Downing Street source said one option under consideration was a significant increase in the size of the Conflict Pool - a fund jointly managed by the MoD, Foreign Office and DfID that supports conflict prevention, stabilisation and peacekeeping.

The money would not be used for combat missions or equipment and Downing Street insisted the plan would comply with international aid spending rules.

Conservative MP Colonel Bob Stewart said critics of the idea were "barking"

Defence Secretary Philip Hammond said it "made sense" to look at areas where defence supports international development "at a time when the defence budget is under pressure".

He said it was about using budgets "most effectively" and said proposals would be brought before the National Security Council before a decision was made.

BBC deputy political editor James Landale said this shift in priorities would go down well with Conservative MPs and voters who think it was wrong to increase aid while cutting defence.

The question now was what aid projects would be cut to pay for more security operations, he added.

Liberal Democrat chairman of the International Development Committee Sir Malcolm Bruce said switching funds from overseas aid to the defence budget would be "outrageous", adding: "You can't use the aid budget to make up for defence cuts."

2011-12 departmental budgets

  • MoD - £37.2bn (-4.5%)
  • DFiD - £7.9bn (+1.8%)
  • FCO - £2.2bn (-4.9%)

Source: Treasury

For Labour, shadow international development secretary Ivan Lewis said he supported a "coordinated approach to tackling conflict" but said the "major proportion" of UK aid money should continue to be used to "alleviate poverty, improve basic services and support job creation".

"Cameron's attempt to suggest aid money can be used to offset deep defence cuts is misleading and will not stand up to scrutiny," he added.

Oxfam's head of policy Max Lawson told BBC Radio 4's Today programme "millions" supported the protection of the aid budget and the money should be spent on "hospitals and not helicopter gunships".

Liberal Democrat MP Malcolm Bruce said a major shift in the budget was "simply not possible"

"We cannot see any penny diverted into the military," he argued.

Charity Christian Aid said it was "deeply concerned" that the "blurring of the lines between military action and aid delivery" could put aid workers at risk.

But Tory MP Patrick Mercer, a former Army officer, said security and overseas aid were "inextricably linked".

"So much of the aid we have attempted to spend in the past in places like Iraq and Afghanistan has not been delivered as effectively as it might because of the lack of a benign security environment.

"If that means more money has to be spent on defence in order to increase the efficacy of overseas aid spending, I'm all for it."

 

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  • rate this
    -6

    Comment number 1206.

    Just looking through alot of the comments on here ppl have no idea how good we have it here, but no they want more for their own benifits. Well maybe we should stop benifits and privatise the NHS. Then hopefully ppl will realise how lucky we are. To all those who say charity should stay at home, say that to a kid who doesn't have clean drinking water. Am sickened by the selfishness in the UK.

  • rate this
    +13

    Comment number 1084.

    Aid is completely useless as the countries recieving it never gets to those who need it. It goes straight into the pockets of the corrupt politicians. Now that we are seeing SOME sense we should invest this money where it belongs. Back into hospitals, schools and other services such as work placements and industry to create work for the British people. Fix England back to the way it SHOULD be

  • rate this
    +17

    Comment number 643.

    This seems like a perfectly sensible way to spend some of our aid budget, since maintaining peace and security is likely to have a big impact on many peoples lives and is essential if states are to develop strong economies capable of supporting themselves.

  • rate this
    -72

    Comment number 508.

    This is potentially a national disgrace. Using aid money, snatched out of the hands of starving children and war-torn families, to shore up Tory defense cuts. I am appalled by even the suggestion that this could be an option. 0.7% in foreign aid as a percentage of our GDP is a drop in the ocean. If Cameron wishes to plough more into foreign defense, then do it out of the remaining 99.3%.

  • rate this
    +145

    Comment number 445.

    We borrow billions each year, we cannot afford to give aid to the rest of the world.

    Imagine going into your bank and asking for a loan and giving the reason you are going to donate to charity.

    Time and time again we have seen missued aid money.

    Time to get our own accounts in order and when (if) we have a surplus, then look at helping less well off countries

 

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