Oxfam scandal has made defending UK aid budget harder, Ruth Davidson says

Ruth Davidson Credit: ITV/Peston On Sunday

Accusations that Oxfam covered up sexual misconduct by some of its aid workers in Haiti have made it harder to defend the UK's foreign aid budget, the leader of the Scottish Conservatives has said.

Speaking on Peston On Sunday, Ruth Davidson said that international helpers who travel to somewhere which has suffered a disaster, such as the earthquake in Haiti in 2010 which killed up to 200,000 people, and allegedly exploit the vulnerable survivors for sex occupy "the lowest circle of Hell".

Not only did she find the behaviour of individuals within the organisation abhorrent, Ms Davidson said the decision to "protect the reputation" had also "really hurt people".

"The idea that instead of addressing that behaviour, instead of reporting it, instead of allowing the authorities in the country to deal with it, instead of allowing victims of that behaviour to see justice being done, the idea is that 'we will protect the reputation that we've built up ourselves' - I think that's what has really hurt people at the centre of this affair."

While incidents such as the Oxfam scandal anger people who argue that the UK's spending of 0.7% of its national income on aid is too high, it has angered those who argue that high spending on international aid and development is the right thing to do, more, she argued.

"We can't ignore all the good that aid does, and I know that the 0.7% debate is a big debate," the 39-year-old continued.

"I think (those who support UK aid) have all got a bigger job to do to explain what it actually is that British aid does around the world, and I think what Oxfam has done has just made that job 100% harder."

Ms Davidson used the example of The Halo Trust, a landmine clearance charity, which she spent four days with in Kabul last week.

The Edinburgh Central MSP applauded the charity for not only clearing landmines in Afghanistan, but also for helping to provide work for locals and keeping them away from the Taliban.

Aid such as this, Ms Davidson continued, not only helps the country directly, but also benefits the UK too.

However, on Sunday, The Halo Trust announced that it had suspended a member of staff following a sexual assault allegation.

In a statement, the charity said: "In Myanmar, a Burmese member of staff was suspended in January this year and is currently being investigated following an allegation of sexual assault.

"He denies the allegation.

"The local British Embassy and DFID were informed within 24 hours of the allegation.

"The Charity Commission has been informed.

"We take such allegations extremely seriously."

Ms Davidson also attacked Oxfam's Chief Executive's response to the scandal as "arrogant".

Speaking to the Guardian on Friday, Mark Goldring said critics were "gunning" for his organisation and suggested no-one had "murdered babies in their cots".

Ms Davidson added that if Mr Goldring wants "to continue to lead Oxfam, he has to demonstrate that he understands what Oxfam has doe wrong".

And in a column in the Sunday Mirror, Mr Goldring did strike a more conciliatory tone, writing: "We are sorry for the mistakes we have made. We should have been more open with the public about the fact that staff in Haiti were fired for sexual abuse. And we should have expanded our safeguarding team faster...

"As an organisation that fights for women's rights, the abuse of women in Oxfam's name is particularly hard to bear."

Ms Davidson added that her response to those who say that scandals such as Oxfam indicate that UK foreign aid should be cut, is to ask where they would like it to be cut from.

"Should we stop vaccinating children, stop educating girls, should we leave minefileds?" Ms Davidson asked.