Last week saw the 10th anniversary of my election to parliament. It passed without much fanfare but it did prompt some of my friends and family to reflect that in 10 years I have never managed to get control of my own diary.
As a result I still (despite all the best efforts of my long-suffering staff) agree to invitations that have me visiting North Roe Primary School, Sound Primary School and Sumburgh Airport – all before lunch!
School visits are always particularly stimulating. The children in North Roe had been studying democracy and were immersed in their own election campaign.
At Sound I met pupils who are taking part in the “Send My Sister to School” campaign. It is estimated that 67 million children worldwide still do not have the opportunity to go to school and learn. More than half of these are girls. Although the UK, through the work of the Department for International Development, has been at the forefront of international efforts to improve this situation much remains to be done.
I was impressed by the pupils’ obvious enthusiasm for such an important cause and took delivery of hundreds of messages to take back to London with me. I will be presenting their work at Downing Street before the summer recess.
At a time when many are questioning the rationale behind the UK’s international aid programme, statistics like these show why we should provide opportunities for people in the developing world to work themselves out of poverty.
Ultimately, of course, we should be aiming for a world where aid is not necessary. However, this is a way off yet and until this point is reached our assistance can make a real difference.
The UK is set to reach our target of spending 0.7 per cent of GDP on development assistance by 2013, two years ahead of schedule. If this can help get more girls into school and boost prospects for health and economic growth I think it will be money well spent.
To those who remain unconvinced that we should be in the business of supporting countries in the developing world, I would say that aid is not simply a moral issue but is also firmly in our own interests.
We are not responsible for the difficulties that some developing countries experience but neither are we isolated from them. Disease is no great observer of international boundaries, and as we saw in New York in 2001 and London in 2005, nor are terror and extremism.
While we should avoid simplifying what can be complex issues, it is true that many of the dangers we now face as a country are grounded in poverty and lack of opportunity in other parts of the world.
Contrary to the view expressed famously by Neville Chamberlain, events in a far away country between people of whom we know nothing can have a real impact on the lives of people in the UK.
Alistair Carmichael MP