Labour accused over lack of overseas aid

Clare Short, the Secretary of State for International Development, was accused last night of breaking a manifesto pledge to increase spending on aid, by Tories who claimed Labour was giving proportionately less to the developing world than when their party was in power.

New figures on aid spending, published in a parliamentary written answer, showed Britain gave 0.23 per cent of its gross national product (GNP) last year compared with 0.27 per cent in 1996. Labour's manifesto said the party would reverse a fall in spending that began under the Tories, and would commit Britain to a United Nations target of 0.7 per cent.

Gary Streeter, the Conservative international development spokesman, said Ms Short had promised to increase aid but had done the opposite.

The average spending for the past three years had been around 0.25 per cent of GNP, less than under the Conservatives, he said. While GNP had risen significantly since 1997, aid spending had not kept pace. "After all the rhetoric, it has sadly become clear that Labour has failed to deliver on this vital pledge, which was believed by everyone concerned about people living in abject poverty all over the world," he said.

Ms Short said earlier this month that her department had spent £2.2bn on aid to developing countries in the 1999-2000 year, in real terms 8.5 per cent more than the previous year.The budget would increase by £0.36bn this year and £3.07bn next year, she said.

A spokeswoman for the Department for International Development said spending would rise this year as a proportion of GNP. By the end of the nextfinancial year in 2002, it would have reached 0.3 per cent,she said.