Gordon Brown today challenges the Conservatives to support Labour's attempt to pass the world's first-ever law to protect government spending on aid to Africa and other poor countries.
Writing in The Independent, the Prime Minister warns that 2010 will be a critical year for overseas aid as developing nations struggle with a global recession which can make the "grim difference" between life and death for their people. After poor countries lost trade and cut budgets for schools and hospitals, Mr Brown believes the next 12 months will be as decisive as the past 10 years.
The Government will today publish a draft International Development Spending Bill to enshrine into law its promise to raise the share of UK national income spent on aid to 0.7 per cent by 2013, the target set by the United Nations. Although there is no parliamentary time for the measure before the general election, Labour would introduce it soon afterwards if the party retains power and is urging the Tories to do the same. To coincide with the Bill's publication, Labour is launching a new campaign on global poverty today.
Aid agencies are worried that the Tories would not bring in a law to cement the 0.7 per cent goal. They also want Mr Cameron to pledge not to divert millions from the aid budget to climate change projects.
The Tories said last night that Mr Brown would not be able to make overseas aid a "dividing line" between the two main parties. Andrew Mitchell, the shadow International Development Secretary, said: "Our commitment to achieving, by 2013, the UN target of spending 0.7 per cent of national income as aid is crystal clear and we support this legislation."
Although David Cameron has promised to protect spending on the NHS and overseas aid, the shadow Chancellor, George Osborne, last night committed the Tories to immediate cuts if they win the election. Within weeks, an incoming Cameron government would withdraw tax credits from people earning more than £50,000, scrap child trust funds for better-off families and cut wasteful spending on outside consultants and advertising campaigns.
Speaking at the London School of Economics, Mr Osborne said: "Everyone knows that the Government's spending plans for next year are driven by a looming general election and not economic reality. So, with the date of the general election increasingly likely to be after the beginning of the next financial year, that means we will need to make early in-year reductions in existing plans."
Mr Osborne said immediate cuts were needed this year "to establish credibility and support a sustainable recovery".
His speech underlines the divide between the Tories and Labour, which would increase public spending by more than £30bn in the 2010-11 financial year, warning that early cuts could wreck the recovery.