Tuesday News Review

Fox letter on aid budget leaked

Liam Fox has objected to the Government’s plans to protect spending on overseas aid and warned David Cameron that he “cannot support the proposal in its current form” according to a letter leaked to the Times. The Defence Secretary has reportedly discussed the issue with International Development Secretary Andrew Mitchell and Foreign Secretary William Hague as well as in meetings with the Prime Minister. The Conservative manifesto promised to devote 0.7% of gross national income to international aid, but Dr Fox is believed to be concerned that committing the promise to law could leave the Government open to a legal challenge. The leaked letter is likely to be seen as an attempt to undermine the Prime Minister and Dr Fox is believed by some to still harbour leadership ambitions despite being pipped to the post by Mr Cameron in 2005. – Politics Home

Dr Fox’s letter, obtained by The Times, makes clear that he raised his concerns with International Development Secretary Andrew Mitchell and Foreign Secretary William Hague before writing to the PM. “I have considered the issue carefully, and discussed it with Andrew and William Hague, but I cannot support the proposal in its current form,” wrote Dr Fox. “In 2009 the proportion of national income spent on ODA was only 0.52 per cent.” Putting the commitment no the statute books “could limit HMG(overnment)’s ability to change its mind about the pace at which it reaches the target in order to direct more resources toward other activities or programmes rather than aid”, warned the Defence Secretary. More stringent monitoring requirements may threaten the Ministry of Defence’s ability to report and fund some of its own activities as ODA, he said. And he warned: “I believe that creating a statutory requirement to spend 0.7 per cent ODA carries more risk in terms of potential future legal challenges than, as we have for the covenant, putting into statute recognition of the target and a commitment to an annual report against it. “The latter would be my preferred way to proceed.” Downing Street declined to comment on a leaked letter. – the Independent

Huhne denies wife’s claims

Chris Huhne, the Energy Secretary, put his political career on the line by saying he would welcome a police investigation into claims that he put pressure on his wife to take speeding penalty points on his behalf. As officers considered acting on a formal complaint against the Liberal Democrat Cabinet minister, he went before the cameras for the first time to dismiss claims by his now estranged wife, Vicky Pryce, as “simply incorrect”. Mr Huhne said of the allegations: “They have been made before and they have been shown to be untrue. And I very much welcome the referral to the police as it will draw a line under the matter. “I don’t want to say any more than that. I think the police can get to the bottom of this.” He made the 65-word statement as further details emerged of events on the night of the alleged offence and MPs raised fresh concerns about the harm the affair was causing the Government. – the Telegraph

The pressure on Chris Huhne will increase today as Labour accuses him of trying to duck MPs’ questions on the Government’s strategy for cutting Britain’s carbon emissions. The Liberal Democrat Energy and Climate Change Secretary is fighting to save his Cabinet career after allegations that he allowed another motorist to take points on their licence for a speeding offence he committed in 2003. His former wife, Vicky Pryce, has claimed that he “pressurised people” to take on the points in order to avoid a driving ban – which, if proved, could result in a charge of attempting to pervert the course of justice. Yesterday Mr Huhne put a brave face on the initial inquiries being made by Essex police into the affair. “These allegations are incorrect. They have been made before and found to be untrue and I very much welcome the referral to the police as it will draw a line under the matter,” he told the BBC. – the Independent

MPs push for law to stop forced marriage

Forced marriage should be made a criminal offence to send a stronger message that it will not be tolerated, says a report by a cross-party group of MPs today, which criticises the lack of progress by successive governments on the issue. Organisations such as the Southall Black Sisters and the Honour Network Helpline, which provide vital support to those at risk of forced marriage, are under threat of closure because of funding cuts, warns the report. The cross-party Commons home affairs select committee says ministers and local authorities need to move quickly to prevent these services closing, which would “materially damage” ability to protect and support the victims of forced marriages. The report says forced marriage remains an issue that affects thousands of young people in Britain, and, while more at-risk individuals are seeking help, there is still insufficient support. “This situation is set to worsen, with many specialist services at risk from spending cuts,” it adds. – the Guardian

Social care changes floated by Cameron

Councils could lose some control of their multibillion-pound social care budgets to the NHS as part of the changes to the Government’s health reforms. At present, the NHS is only responsible for funding hospitals and GPs and does not control the budget for long-term care – particularly for the elderly. But yesterday, in a speech to healthcare professionals, David Cameron signalled that this divide could end as part of the Government health reforms. The Prime Minister said the changes “must tackle the longstanding and damaging divide between health and social care, including the bed blocking that still afflicts so many of our hospitals”. At the same time, Stephen Dorrell, the former Conservative Health Secretary and Chairman of the Health Select Committee, suggested that such a change could be included in a reform Health Bill. – the Independent

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