Pomp and poverty

Yesterday morning in the UK, the Queen’s Speech took place amidst the occasion’s usual pomp. During a lavish ceremony at the Houses of Parliament there were guards, Lords, Earls, maces, Strangers, Black Rod and a whole host of other terms that we rarely hear, some we only just about understand but all are an essential part of the tradition and workings of the “mother of parliaments”.

Queen delivering speech

Image: Parliamentary copyright/ Parliamentary Recording Unit

The Speech, which marks the State Opening of Parliament, takes place in May each year and it is the government’s opportunity to set out what legislation it intends to pass in the coming twelve months. Now, whilst the government does not have to include everything it will do in the next twelve months in the speech, if something does make it into the speech it can be taken as a definite notice of intent that that is what the government is going to do. That is why we were hoping that the speech this year would include a promise to legislate on the 0.7% target for international aid. It did not.

That isn’t to say that we aren’t pleased with what was there. Whilst the government did not promise legislation they did reaffirm their commitment to meet the target by 2013 in the speech which is good news. Meeting Britain’s aid promise will put 15.9 million children in school and help over 9 million people overcome malnutrition in the next four years.

However, it does feel like the government have missed an open goal here. The legislation is ready, it is not a long bill and it was in the manifestos of all three main political parties before the last general election and the coalition agreement. Why wait? There are plenty of people around the world who are probably wondering the same thing. ONE’s report “Small Change/Big Difference” shows the fantastic results that could be achieved if the government keeps its promise to the world’s poorest: better nutrition for 9.6 million people, safe drinking water for 17 million people, 5.8 million safe births saving the lives of 50,000 mothers, the list goes on…

The UK has long been a world leader in international development and this would be its opportunity to do so again. If the UK legislates for and meets the 0.7 target it would the first G8 country to do so; a record the government and the British public can be proud of when the Prime Minister welcomes other world leaders to the UK for the G8 in 2013.