Providing aid to struggling countries overseas is just as vital to Britain’s security as tanks and guns, International Development Secretary Andrew Mitchell has insisted.
The Birmingham MP was defending himself as Conservative backbenchers in the House of Commons openly criticised the Government’s commitment to aid.
David Cameron has made a commitment to raise the foreign aid budget to 0.7 per cent of gross national income, and enshrine the figure in law.
It would mean spending on international development rises from £7.5 billion last year to £11.4 billion in 2013 – an increase of 34 per cent, after taking inflation into account - while funding is being cut for services at home.
And Mr Mitchell, Conservative MP for Sutton Coldfield, has come under fire as the Minister responsible for the policy after suggesting the nation should be proud that Britain is an “aid superpower”.
He faced unusually hostile questioning from his own party colleagues as he answered questions in the House of Commons.
Peter Bone (Con Wellingborough) asked him: “The brave men and women of our armed forces put their lives at risk every day to protect civilians and rebuild societies in far-off lands. That is real overseas aid.
“Does the Secretary of State agree that it is surprising that his budget is increasing by £4 billion when the defence budget is being cut by billions and billions of pounds?”
But Mr Mitchell, who served as a United Nations peacekeeper in Cyprus during the 1970s, insisted: “Having served in the armed forces, I yield to no one in my respect for them.
“However, I point out to my honorary friend, who I know takes a close interest in these matters, that Britain’s security is maintained not only by tanks and guns, but by training police in Afghanistan, getting kids into school in the horn of Africa, and building up governance structures in the middle east.”
James Gray (North Wiltshire Con) asked: “The Secretary of State recently described Britain as an aid superstate. Can he tell us what an aid superstate is—and do we really want to be one?”
Mr Mitchell told him: “I was referring to the fact that throughout the world brilliant work is being done with Britain in the lead on development, and we do so because it is not only morally right but absolutely in our national interest.”