The government has renewed its commitment to provide 0.7 per cent of gross national income on aid from 2013 in the Queen's speech this morning, but a senior figure at aid charity One has warned it must be "enshrined in law" to protect the promise.
This is the first time the UK government will have met this requirement, the Queen advised in her speech to open the Houses of Parliament today. But Adrian Lovett, Europe executive director at One, said it hasn't gone far enough by omitting a promise to take forward legal changes to ensure it is carried out.
Last month aid charities expressed outrage at the recommendations of a House of Lords committee report that called for the pledge to be dropped. "Reneging on our aid promises would deprive millions of the world’s poorest people of life saving medicines, clean water and the chance to go to school,” Max Lawson, head of policy at Oxfam said at the time.
Lovett joined Lawson in condemnation saying: "The Lords committee has chosen to ignore the evidence of the impact UK aid will have," and accusing the committee of having a "view on aid that is stuck in the 1980s".
Responding to the Queen's speech this morning Lovett welcomed the renewed commitment but urged the government "not to break their coalition commitment to enshrine our aid promise in law".
"This is a short Bill which is supported by all three major political parties. It can be passed quickly and should not detract from other parliamentary business," he said.
“By legislating, the government will ensure this lifesaving aid is secured and will increase the pressure on other countries to do more. David Cameron and Nick Clegg should ensure this legislation is in place before welcoming world leaders for the G8 summit in the UK next year.”
Oxfam sang from the same hymn sheet, adding, "There is no reason to delay a Bill which has all-party support".
Despite the reservations of the aid charities, the Department for International Development said the laws will go ahead:
"The commitment to legislate was set out in the coalition programme for government. The Bill is ready and will be introduced when parliamentary time allows," a spokesperson told civilsociety.co.uk.
"The coalition government is the first government in history to set out, in black and white in the spending review, clear plans to honour our aid pledge from 2013. This historic move was reconfirmed in the Autumn Statement and most recently in the March Budget."
Gift Aid Small Donations Scheme
The Queen also confirmed that the government would introduce the Gift Aid Small Donations Scheme in the coming Parliamentary year.
Sir Stuart Etherington, NCVO chief executive, said the measure was "encouraging" but that in the context of the tax relief cap it was "giving with one hand and taking with the other".
"The government should take heed of the widespread opposition towards the cap and drop it as quickly as possible," he said.
Caron Bradshaw, chief executive of Charity Finance Group said she is "delighted" to see the scheme taken forward but echoed Sir Stuart's concerns over the tax relief cap and advised that opportunities such as reforming pensions regulation had been missed.
"With the cap on tax relief on charitable donations still looming large, we need much clearer signs from government of its commitment to the sector," she said.
Lending its campaigning voice to the announcement of a draft Care and Support Bill, Alzheimer's Society said it was a step in the right direction but warned it must be acted on sooner rather than later:
"The draft bill suggests real progress can be made. But we still have no definitive timeframe for when the millions of people being put at risk by the current crumbling system will get the fair deal they desperately need. Consultation is important but it can't become a delay tactic. Action is needed now to support the most vulnerable in society.
"Underfunding of social crisis must be at the heart of reform yet this still isn't being addressed. Millions of people - including people with dementia - are being stripped of their savings. We are also in danger of bankrupting the NHS as more people reach crisis point. There is no time to wait."
Family Lives commented on the addition of a new Families and Children's Bill and the focus it brings on disabled children and those with special educational needs. However it warned that some measures contained within the Bill may adversely affect such groups:
"We are concerned that the proposals to alter statutory maternity leave and introduce more flexibility in parental leave will adversely affect many families, particularly low income families from being able to combine work and caring roles. Rather than helping to balance work and family commitments, Family Lives is concerned that shortening statutory maternity leaves will put undue pressure on mothers to return to work early," said Jeremy Todd, chief executive of Family Lives.