It's our moral duty to help world's poor, Mitchell will tell Tories


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The Independent Online

Andrew Mitchell will tomorrow tell Conservative activists who want the Government to cut its £8bn-a-year aid budget that it is morally right and patriotic to help poor countries at a time of austerity in Britain.

The International Development Secretary will tell the Tory conference in Manchester he is "proud" of the UK's leading role in combating poverty and disease. Confronting his critics head on, he will hold up a plastic syringe containing a vaccine that protects against severe diarrhoea and declare: "Britain will vaccinate a child every two seconds for the next five years and save a life every two minutes. Lives as important as the lives of our own children." In an interview with i, Mr Mitchell said: "These children die from diseases which no child in Britain dies from. If three children in my [Sutton Coldfield] constituency died of malaria, it would be a front-page story.

"We are dealing with a scale of deprivation and poverty out of all proportion to anything we see in Britain. We are determined not to balance the books on the backs of the poorest people in the world."

His unrepentant message to his Tory critics is that aid spending "is the right thing to do, but it is also very much in our national interest".

He explained: "If we had tackled the deep causes of poverty and dysfunctionality in Somalia and Afghanistan, we would not have to grapple with the symptoms today. These problems affect us here – terrorism, the drugs trade and illegal migration.

"If we want to tackle these problems at home, we have to understand and address their root causes abroad. Some people say we can't afford to engage in international development, but we can't afford not to."

It costs four times as much to deal with such problems years later as it does to tackle them "upstream", he said. Surveys of Tory activists and the public show hostility to the decision to raise the Department for International Development's budget to the global target of 0.7 per cent of gross national income by 2013.

But Mr Mitchell travels to Manchester armed with a new statistic. The Tories' latest private polling found that the number of people who agree that "even as we deal with our deficit, we should be proud of our aid commitments" has risen from 48 per cent three months ago to 51 per cent, while 38 per cent disagree.

Mr Mitchell's pledge will anger some Tory activists: to reach the target, aid spending will jump from £8.1bn in the current year to £11.3bn by 2013-14 – a 40 per cent increase – while other Whitehall departments are squeezed.