I don’t rebel lightly because I take the view I was sent to Westminster as your MP because the majority of voters locally wanted a Conservative government. But once in a while there are is an issue which I find, with great regret, I cannot support the government on – one of which is the cuts to our aid budget.
I know that locally there are very strong views on either side of this debate and many will disagree with me. So let me start by saying I agree wholeheartedly that charity has to start at home – and we have many pressing issues that need resolving after the pandemic.
I also agree that if there is a period when one could reasonably say we are unable to meet our international aid commitments, it is the aftermath of a pandemic.
We should also be clear that even after the proposed cuts, Britain is still being extremely generous by international standards, the biggest bilateral aid donor after the United States and Germany.
Only this week we announced £548 million commitment to the COVAX scheme to help get the vaccine to developing countries.
It will provide a massive 1.3 billion vaccine doses to 92 poorer countries this year, sufficient to vaccinate up to 20 per cent of each of their populations.
COVAX deliveries are already under way and countries like Ghana, which I visited as foreign secretary, received their first shipments many months ago.
But I also think when you have a global crisis you need a sense of perspective. Tough though it has been for us, there are many people for whom the devastation has been much worse.
When I set up my charity for AIDS orphans in Kenya nearly 20 years ago, I met many families living on the breadline in the slums of Nairobi.
Others eked out an existence in parched villages with little water supply.
Thanks to rising global prosperity the proportion of the world’s population living in extreme poverty (formally defined as less than $2 income a day) has declined during our lifetimes: it was around half the world’s population in the 1960s when I was born – but it is now less than ten per cent.
However, that good news has been set back by Covid. Last year, for the first time in many years, extreme poverty increased, and the World Bank say around 100 million more people are living in destitution as a result.
In the end the Speaker ruled there could not be a vote in the Commons on Monday on this issue. But he also made it clear there should be a vote soon.
I hope we get a chance to have that vote because if we are to make changes to our aid budget that affect so many people around the world, it should be done only after parliament has had its say.