UPDATE: I have now written to the Foreign Secretary, Dominic Raab:

“In the meantime however, I would ask you to please examine again whether these cuts to aid spending could be done more sympathetically with respect to those most in need.”

3 June 2021:

In order to protest cuts to Overseas Development Aid (ODA) taking spending below the legally-required 0.7% of GDP, rebels have tabled an amendment to the Advanced Research and Invention Agency Bill.

This is the text of the amendment (emphasis mine):

“ARIA and official development assistance

• (1) In this section, “a qualifying year” is a calendar year in which, in the opinion of the Secretary of State, the United Kingdom will not spend 0.7% of gross national income on official development assistance (ODA) in the absence of ARIA financial assistance which qualifies as ODA.

• (2) In a qualifying year ARIA must, in accordance with its functions, provide sufficient financial support which qualifies as ODA for the United Kingdom to spend at least 0.7% of gross national income on ODA in that year.

• (3) The Secretary of State must make grants to ARIA sufficient for ARIA to meet its duty under subsection (2).

• (4) Notwithstanding section 14 (commencement), this section comes into force on 1 January 2022.”

Member’s explanatory statement

This new clause is intended to reaffirm the duty in the International Development (Official Development Assistance Target) Act 2015 for UK official development assistance (ODA) to amount to 0.7% of gross national income each year. It would require ARIA to make up any shortfall in that proportion from January 2022.

Advanced Research and Invention Agency Bill, (Amendment Paper), Report Stage: Thursday 3 June 2021

As I understand it, the effect of this new clause would be to have ARIA top up ODA in a year where it would otherwise fall short. This is clearly a contrivance to enable a rebellion, not a good idea from a policy point of view. It is not ARIA’s intended purpose to administer development aid.

You can find ARIA’s purpose in the explanatory notes to the Bill which may be found here:

ARIA is expected to emulate key features of the US ARPA model tailored to the UK R&D landscape. This may include:

• Organising ambitious research goals around the long-term programmes of work which are led by so-called Programme Managers. Programme Managers facilitate cohesion between individual research projects in pursuit of transformational breakthroughs. Programmes may include basic research through to the creation of prototypes and commercialised technologies.

• Significant autonomy for Programme Managers who are able to take advantage of innovative and flexible approaches to programme funding.

• A tolerance to failure in pursuit of transformational breakthroughs embedded in its culture. Only a small fraction of ambitious goals will be achieved, however ARIA will provide value from its failures, including spill-over benefits gained from intermediary outputs. For example, a particular goal may not prove technologically viable but in pursuing it, scientists may happen across another promising technology.”


That is, the purpose of ARIA is irrelevant to ODA: the amendment would create an encumbrance and distraction from the intended functions of the institution.

Irrespective of the arguments about ODA of 0.7% of GDP, I would therefore vote no to this amendment. The situation has echoes of the debacle over the so-called “genocide amendment” to the Trade Bill, which was also superficially attractive but fundamentally flawed as a legislative proposal. While I would agree that there is a good case this ODA cut is harmful and clumsy, I cannot agree that this is the right way to correct it.

As a matter of principle, I regret that the then Government put this spending target into law – contrary to normal and good practice – and I would certainly vote to take it out. That is not to make any assertion about the merits of ODA overall or any particular programme. I have enormous sympathy through my contacts for the problems of neglected tropical diseases and the suffering in that regard which these cuts may cause and I will write to ministers setting this out.

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