Wednesday, 14 July 2021

Overseas Development Assistance (ODA)

Has the statutory duty on Ministers to apply 0.7% of Gross National Income (GNI) to Overseas Development Aid (ODA) been superseded by a vote in the House of Commons? This may appear to be the case but this post argues that under the statutory scheme it is lawful even if, politically, a reduction in ODA is considered to be undesirable.

The statutory scheme:

The International Development (Official Development Assistance Target) Act 2015 places a duty on the Secretary of State to "ensure that the target for official development assistance ... to amount to 0.7% of gross national income ... is met by the UK in the year 2015 and each subsequent calendar year" - section 1.

The Secretary of State has to report to Parliament if the target is not met - section 2 - and to explain why the target has not been met. 

The Act plainly envisages that it may not be met if, for example, economic circumstances reduce gross national income.

Section 3 provides

that - "(1) the only means of securing accountability in relation to the duty in section 1 is that established by the provision  in section 2 for the laying of a statement before Parliament, and (2) accordingly, the fact that the duty in section 1 has not been, or will or may not be, complied with does not affect the lawfulness of anything done, or omitted to be done, by any person."

This has all the hallmarks of a "duty" enforceable only in the political sphere. 


Government information shows that the 0.7% target was met in 2020 when the UK provided £14,471m in ODA. That was actually a reduction of £712m on 2019.  The change was driven by a reduction in GNI due to the effect of the Covid-19 pandemic on the size of the UK economy. 

Statistics on International Development: Provisional UK Aid Spend 2020 - GOV.UK (

Vote in House of Commons:

On 13 July 2021, the House of Commons considered a Written Ministerial Statement relating to Treasury Update on International Aid dated 12 July.  The Statement received approval by the House (333 votes to 298). The result is that total spend on ODA will reduce though the government remains committed to returning to the 0.7% GNI requirement in the future. The debate of 13 July is reported by Hansard.

There is an appearance that a statutory duty has been superseded by a resolution of the House of Commons but analysis of the 2015 Act shows that the duty in section 1 is plainly subject to control by the government and Parliament. The appearance may be somewhat unfortunate but, constitutionally, the provisions should not be seen as objectionable.

14 July 2021.

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