Cheers went up yesterday afternoon (9 June 2011) in a packed Westminster Central Hall when it was announced that 131 Members of Parliament had met with their constituents over tea to urge more justice and action for people living in poverty throughout the global south.
CAFOD, Christian Aid and Tearfund participants were prominent among 1,500 supporters from Britain’s big development agencies who attended the lobby ‘Tea Time for Change’.
Catholic priest Fr David Mahy, who had travelled from Aldershot, described his chat with his local MP Gerald Howarth as “very worthwhile”.
On behalf of Columban Justice and Peace, I enjoyed two cups of tea and an hour of time with Harrow East MP Bob Blackman who undertook to write to the Prime Minster on the issues of aid and greater corporate transparency.
“My MP says we’ve got to convince the public about aid”, said CAFOD supporter Agnes Milne, from Dunstable. “I think he’s right – there’s a lot of opposition” she added, “but our security doesn’t depend on arms, it depends on justice”.
Campaigners came from across the UK, and met their MPs around small tables set out around the various floors of Westminster Central Hall. The atmosphere was life-affirming and vibrant, with activity at every available table and photographers hovering. MPs were asked to keep up Britain’s good work on quantity and quality of aid.
The UK government has committed to ring-fence spending on international aid and have set out a timetable to reach the target of 0.7 per cent of national income by 2013. They were also urged to stop tax dodging practices and shine a light on the payments companies make to governments and tax havens.
This year, there are urgent opportunities for the UK government to press for more corporate transparency through UK legislation, at the European Union, and at the G20 meeting in November. Campaigners also wanted the UK government to champion a Financial Transaction Tax (Robin Hood Tax) at the G20.
The vast majority of MPs reinforced the commitment to 0.7 per cent in aid and agreed the need for greater transparency in multinational companies. Many were less sure that a Robin Hood tax would be possible because other nations would have to agree to it to make it workable, but they agreed to look into it.
Andrew Mitchell MP, Secretary of State for International Development, spoke at a rally before the lobby got underway and reinforced the British government’s commitment to meeting 0.7 per cent of national income.
“Your voices are being heard and the government is taking these issues forward” he said. He thanked CAFOD for bringing him on an exposure trip to Uganda several years ago and would always remember the commitment of workers on the ground, particularly the Medical Missionaries of Mary in their HIV/AIDS work.
Harriet Harman MP, Shadow Secretary of State for International Development, spoke at the end, urging the government “to act so that business and government play their part in tackling poverty”. Before her speech she had met around a small table with more than 20 of her constituents.
A final thank-you was given by Abi Akfinyemi, a Tearfund partner from Nigeria, who thanked the huge gathering “for standing up for global justice today”.
* More on Tea Time for Change - www.teatimeforchange.org.uk
(c) Ellen Teague is a freelance Catholic journalist who works regularly for The Tablet, JUSTICE magazine, Independent Catholic News, Ekklesia, Redemptorist Publications and the Messenger of St Anthony. She is also a member of the Columban Missionary Society Justice and Peace team, and chairs the Environment Working Group of the National Justice and Peace Network of England and Wales.