[6th Allotted Day]
I beg to move,
That this House approves the Government’s policy towards the Treaty of Lisbon in respect of provisions concerning international development.
The challenge of eliminating global poverty is one of the greatest that faces our generation. Succeeding will require the concerted efforts of Governments in the developed and developing world, the private sector, civil society, individual citizens and the European Union.
The Lisbon treaty gives the European Union an opportunity to move on from years of debating the reform of its institutions to looking out on to the world and dealing with the issues that matter to the people of Europe. Not only in this Chamber is tackling global poverty much debated. In 2005, nearly 250,000 people took to the streets of Edinburgh to call on world leaders to help make poverty history. On one October day last year, more than 1 million Europeans stood up and spoke out against global poverty.
The Lisbon treaty will strengthen the European Union’s development assistance by ensuring that development aid is used to reduce poverty, humanitarian aid is allocated on the basis of need and non-aid policies take account of development objectives.
The Secretary of State speaks of giving aid to less developed countries. Given that the European Union has not been able to sign off its accounts for many years, what confidence can the public have that the European Union can monitor the funds given to other countries to ensure that they go to the people who genuinely need them rather than into dictators’ pockets?
I cite the example of the European development fund, the accounts of which have been signed off for several years. There was a qualified positive statement in 2006, but the qualifications were linked to the need to strengthen control in delegations. However, I assure the hon. Gentleman that the EDF is an example that I hope other elements of the European Union budget will follow.
I am sure that we are all glad that any account can be signed off in the European institutions. However, other European Union trade policies specifically prohibit the sort of development that makes the difference between poverty and wealth in underdeveloped countries. Is my right hon. Friend happy for us to hand over so many international development powers to those whose interpretation of representation is frequently a large house in a small country?
I know of my hon. Friend’s long interest in European matters, but I fear that she labours under a misapprehension in suggesting that significant development policy powers are being handed over as a consequence of the Lisbon treaty. It has been established for many years that the European Union and, in the case that we are considering, the United Kingdom Government have a role to play in development assistance. Rather than perceiving EU development policies as a barrier to achieving the UK’s objectives in development, we should view them as a mechanism whereby our objectives can be advanced.
On the European development fund, does the Secretary of State agree that the delays between decision and distribution are unacceptable and have a front-line impact on the people who suffer most? Is not it time to bring more of the money from Europe back to the Department so that we can get funding to people on the ground far quicker?
The first person whom the hon. Gentleman would need to convince of that policy is the leader of his own party, who has argued that global poverty is one of the three key challenges that the European Union should accept. Rather than disputing the Government’s position on the Floor of the House, the hon. Gentleman might want to discuss the matter in the first instance in the corridors of the Conservative party.
I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman will agree about the importance of trade policy in international development. Does he therefore regret that the Lisbon treaty, rather than reforming trade policy, reinforces the fact that trade policy is set in the secret and entirely unaccountable article 133 committee?
If I recollect, the 133 committee has existed since the treaty of Rome. It is not a decision-making body; it is a discussion body. As a former Minister with responsibility for trade, I know that matters come to Trade Ministers or other Ministers in the Council of Ministers for decision. I would respectfully say to the hon. Gentleman that given the weight in international affairs of countries such as China—we had the UK-China summit in recent weeks—it is hard to advocate the case for our being more effective in securing our trade objectives as a country of 60 million if we withdrew from a European Union of 27 member states. If, for example, he is honestly suggesting that we would be more effective in advancing the case of the Doha development round, which I know many Conservative Members support, if we spoke as a single country of 60 million, rather than as part of a European Union of 27 member states, perhaps the best place to start would be with those on his own Front Bench.
I am grateful to the Secretary of State for being so generous in giving way. Last week we heard the case for isolationism; now we are hearing the case for protectionism. I hope that he will be robust in telling the Tories that we are no longer in the 18th century.
I am not sure that my right hon. Friend is being fair—perhaps we should say the 19th century, because I am told that there are some modernisers on the Conservative Front Bench these days, although the case is as yet unproven.
However, my right hon. Friend’s point is well taken, and it is this. One reason we are so keen, working with the European Commission, to support the Doha development round is that if it were true to the promises made back in 2001, its conclusion would not simply serve the interests of the developing world, but be one in the eye for the protectionists and the isolationists. There are too many isolationists, both in Europe and on the Front and Back Benches in other parts of the House. Many of us recognise that in a world of such interdependence, it is through the collective strength of the European Union that we can tackle many of the biggest changes. Ironically, that is what the Leader of the Opposition now asserts, when he says that the European Union should be allowed to take a lead on climate change or global poverty. However, as we have heard in only the first few minutes of this debate, he has got some convincing to do of his own Back Benchers.
The European Scrutiny Committee received a report on EU development last year, in which one of the Secretary of State’s predecessors commented that
“one cannot easily determine what goals have been set and what progress has been made in achieving these”.
Does the Secretary of State not think that it might have been better had the treaty concentrated on reforming the acknowledged deficiencies in the existing programme, rather than giving more powers and money to the European development programme?
Whether it has been the work of Neil Kinnock or Chris Patten, there have been significant reforms in recent years. The treaty of course sets the legal framework, but there is a range of administrative structures that sit below the legal framework which are matters of ongoing consideration and deliberation. I began my remarks by reflecting back to 2005. Most of us who felt pride in seeing the G8 commit to its goals then, not least the significant uplift in aid to Africa, recognised that the European Union set the pace. If one considers that or the consensus on development—again, achieved during the British presidency—it is fair to say that real progress has been made.
I fear that I will not be able to convince those on my own side as effectively in the time remaining, but I have their best interests at heart.
Strengthening the development efforts of the European Union is a matter of direct concern to many of the world’s poorest people. Collectively, Europe is the world’s largest aid donor. In 2006, members of the European Union together provided £32 billion of aid, which accounted for more than half of total global development assistance. As the world’s largest single market, Europe is the most significant trading partner for developing countries and provides leadership on issues of great importance to them, including climate change, on which Europe lobbied in support of developing countries at the Bali conference and on which it set unilateral targets for greenhouse gases and established the world’s first international carbon trading system.
The Lisbon treaty provides the next step in the evolution of the European Union’s efforts to reduce poverty. During the cold war, the European Commission, along with other donor countries, too often provided politically motivated aid. However, in the late 1990s and the early years of this decade, important reforms were made to both EC and UK aid. Here, this Government established the Department for International Development in 1997, untied aid in 2001, and introduced the International Development Act in 2002, establishing poverty eradication at the heart of the UK’s aid efforts.
The Secretary of State is pushing at an open door when it comes to convincing many of us that co-operating with the European Union on this matter is a sensible approach. Will he, however, address the points on which there was serious disagreement between the Government and the EU during the negotiations on the treaty? For example, many of us would see the establishment of DFID as one of the achievements of this Government but, with the treaty, international development will be subsumed under, and answerable to, the external action policy. In other words, foreign policy will come first, and international development will come second. References to the most disadvantaged—that is, the pro-poor policy—will be removed by the treaty, and many of us are worried that this will result in a foreign policy that is much more geared towards middle-income countries, in contrast to the pro-poor policy that has been commendably pursued by DFID since the Doha round and the establishment of the millennium development goals.
The hon. Gentleman makes a serious and constructive point. I am grateful to him for acknowledging the success of the Department for International Development in recent years. He is right to recognise that the principles of the Union’s external action are set out in article 24 of the Lisbon treaty, which, for the sake of clarity, I will read to the House. It refers to
“democracy, the rule of law, the universality and indivisibility of human rights and fundamental freedoms, respect for human dignity, the principles of equality and solidarity, and respect for the principles of the United Nations Charter and international law.”
In the light of that definitive list of principles informing the external action of the Union, I would ask the hon. Gentleman, with the greatest of respect, to suggest which of them would contradict the best development policy as developed by the Department for International Development in recent years. Given the specificity of poverty reduction being identified for the first time, I would suggest that those principles provide a strong foundation for one of the key areas on which I hope there is common ground across the House.
I am grateful to the Secretary of State for giving me the opportunity to intervene again. One could have made exactly that point when the Overseas Development Administration was part of the Foreign Office. Those of us who were junior Ministers in the Foreign Office at the time will remember that the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs controlled the international development budget. Those budget and policy arrangements were very different from the kind of creative tension that now exists in the Cabinet between the Secretary of State for International Development and the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs. Under the Lisbon treaty, international development will be put under foreign affairs, and my concern—and that of many non-governmental organisations—is that that will skew the way in which international development is seen in the European Union, particularly in regard to supporting middle-income countries in northern Africa and elsewhere.
With respect to the hon. Gentleman, I have to say that I am not convinced by his case. Again, let me read directly from the treaty, this time from article 161. It states:
“Union development cooperation policy shall have as its primary objective the reduction and, in the long term, the eradication of poverty. The Union shall take account of the objectives of development cooperation in the policies that it implements which are likely to affect developing countries.”
I would argue that the explicit reference to the eradication of poverty—in the immediate term, the primary objective of the reduction of poverty, and in the longer term, its eradication—itself provides the reassurance that the hon. Gentleman is seeking, in terms of having confidence as to the basis on which aid is going to be spent.
Will the Secretary of State give way?
I will make a little more progress, then I will happily give way.
As I have said, important reforms of the European Union were made in the late 1990s and the early years of this decade. Brussels, the Kinnock reforms of the European Commission, and Chris Patten’s work on reforming the European Council’s external assistance have helped to make aid better targeted and more effective than it was in the past. Indeed, the improvements in EC aid have been recognised by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s development assistance committee and by the House of Lords European Union Committee. In a 2004 report, the latter noted that the European Commission had made significant improvements in aid management and organisational effectiveness, and, as I have said, in 2005 the United Kingdom, as holder of the European Union presidency, was instrumental in designing the European consensus on development. The consensus defined a common European approach to development based on the pursuit of the millennium development goals, and clarified how the Commission works within that common approach.
Some Members may believe that the UK’s contribution to aid through the EC would be better spent through our own bilateral channels—indeed, that has already been said today—but I believe that such a retreat from our European aid commitments would act against the best interests of the world’s poorest people. By providing a proportion of our aid through the European Commission, we encourage other member states to raise the level of their commitment. The focus on development and Africa during the UK’s presidency of the G8 in 2005 unquestionably galvanised European support for the breakthrough commitments by the 15 richest member states to spend 0.7 per cent. of national income on development by 2015. I simply do not believe that that commitment would have been achieved had this not been an issue on which we work together in Europe.
One of the Department’s successes has been in focusing on lower-income countries, on which 81 per cent. of its money is now being spent, while the comparable figure in Europe is 32 per cent. Does the Secretary of State fear that some of the Department’s excellent focus will be diluted by the treaty?
I do not recognise the percentage given by the hon. Gentleman. Certainly European support continues to be provided in the European neighbourhood, not least as a result of the changes that have taken place since the accession of the A10, but I understand that in the European development fund, which has already been mentioned, the figure is closer to 90 per cent. I do not think that any embarrassment should be felt about the fact that the European Union, whether it is working in the Balkans or in north Africa, has a considerable interest in ensuring that there is greater stability and prosperity on the EU borders. That in itself has merit and is important work.
Given that the European Union is such a large donor, disbursing about $10 billion of aid in 2006, does it not make more sense to get the EU aid policies right by staying in there? Does the treaty not help us by focusing on poverty alleviation?
I could not agree more. I think that to act otherwise would genuinely constitute a retreat, not just in terms of Britain’s national interests—I see the European Union as a means by which we can effect change on a broader canvas and more globally—but in doing a disservice to the world’s poor. They need not just a successful bilateral aid programme from the United Kingdom, but the delivery of effective aid over a number of years from major players in the European Union. That is the intention behind the work in which we engage regularly with other development Ministers.
May I take up my right hon. Friend’s point about aid effectiveness? He will be aware of today’s coverage of the impact of higher food prices on the provision of humanitarian aid, especially food aid. How does he expect not just the UK but the EU, with its big responsibility for agricultural food production, to be able to deliver food aid to the neediest people?
I sense that my hon. Friend is referring to Josette Sheeran, the director of the World Food Programme, who spoke on the radio this morning. I have had an opportunity to speak to her within the last month, when we discussed the issue of globally rising food prices. She said then, and repeated today, that she considers the World Food Programme’s stocks to be cause for concern.
I think that we shall have opportunities to work with ECHO, the European Humanitarian Aid Office, but many of us in the development community are turning our minds to the issue. For a number of years there have been relatively low commodity prices, including relatively low food prices, but given that the global population was 2 billion back in 1927 and will be 8 billion by 2027, continuing to provide decent and affordable food will pose a challenge to the international community.
The Secretary of State has made a case for the division of aid between expenditure through the European Union and direct expenditure. Can he confirm that the proportion of British aid being spent through the EU is approximately 40 per cent., and, whatever the proportion, is it Government policy for it to be maintained in the future?
I fear that I am not able to offer the hon. Gentleman a precise figure or recollection, but I will ask a ministerial colleague to confirm the figures. However, I do not believe the proportion to be anywhere near as high as 40 per cent. My recollection is that the United Kingdom contributes approximately £1 billion through a combination of European development fund and general European contribution, but for the sake of providing clarity to the House I will ensure that the specific figures are offered later.
On our policy moving forward, there are certain obligatory payments in terms of the European budget, but we have been strong supporters of the European development fund, which of course exists outside the mainstream European budget, because we have been convinced as a result of both its focus on low-income countries and the effective influence we have been able to wield over it, that it provides a useful tool in our armoury for influencing other European countries to deliver aid effectively.
On the subject of delivering aid effectively, does the Secretary of State welcome, as I do, article 210 of the treaty on the functioning of the European Union, which appears on page 135 of the consolidated text of the EU treaties? Paragraph 1 states:
“In order to promote the complementarity and efficiency of their action, the Union and the Member States shall coordinate their policies on development cooperation and shall consult each other on their aid programmes, including in international organisations and during international conferences. They may undertake joint action. Member States shall contribute if necessary to the implementation of Union aid programmes.”
That kind of co-ordination should, one hopes, do away with overlapping aid programmes, which we have sometimes seen in the past. In that sense, it is a great step forward.
I agree with my hon. Friend. I was in Sierra Leone on Saturday, and when travelling through Freetown one sees literally dozens of signs representing different aid programmes that over time have worked in the country. As I said in a speech to a broad cross-section of Government Ministers and civil society, I hope that the next time I visit Sierra Leone I will see fewer signs and more co-ordination. It seems to me a basic aspect of best development practice that there is a great interest in all of us securing effective co-ordination between donors.
Beyond showing the level of Europe’s dedication to addressing global poverty, providing aid through the European Commission is beneficial in a number of practical ways. The EC works in developing countries where the UK does not. Because the EU represents 27 member states, we are stronger when we speak with one voice—whether on trade policy or other matters. Also, the EU collectively takes a leading role in many aid areas, including humanitarian assistance.
Today, the European Union plays a major role in tackling poverty.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that EU aid not only benefits people in Africa and Asia, but has played a vital role in places such as Kosovo? Does he not also agree that the NATO intervention in Kosovo has helped that country move towards a fairer, more democratic society, and that it is not an unpardonable folly, as it has been characterised by the right hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond)?
I remember vociferously disagreeing with the right hon. Member for Banff and Buchan back in the happy days of May 1999, and I continue to disagree with him not only on the conduct of the Scottish National party’s policy, but on the policy that he advocated in relation to Kosovo. When Minister for Europe, I had the opportunity to visit Kosovo on a couple of occasions, and it is clear to me that it makes the case for so-called “soft power” on behalf of the European Union. We have a direct national interest in ensuring a degree of stability and prosperity in the Balkans. I defy any Member of any party to explain how we could have been as effective in influencing the western Balkans without the prospect of stabilisation in the first place, and the eventual prospect of a European future for many of those countries.
I shall make a little progress before giving way.
I do not particularly mind whether the principal magnet for those countries moving towards democratic standards and norms was the prospect of joining the world’s largest single market and thereby securing prosperity, or the fact that the EU is now a beacon of modernity, because the engagement of the EU in countries such as Bosnia and Kosovo will be benign in years to come, as it represents an effective deployment of soft power.
I strongly agree with the right hon. Gentleman on that last point, as I hope to make clear later if I am called to speak. However, I wish to address now a point on which we did not agree a few weeks ago. I raised with the right hon. Gentleman the question of the linkage between aid policy and foreign policy and diplomacy. He ripped into me—[Interruption.] Yes, he did—and in a very unkind way, I thought. He reverted to discussing the “aid for trade” link that there used to be in this country, although that was not the issue I had raised. Surely he understands that the EU links aid with trade, as well as with foreign policy. He thinks that is the wrong thing for this country to do, so why should we put so much money into an EU aid policy that makes those linkages?
It says something about the hon. Gentleman’s standing that in response to his suggestion that I had ripped into him, I said that I hoped I had not done so—although the Under-Secretary of State for International Development, my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, West (Mr. Thomas), said that he hoped that I had. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will forgive me if any discourtesy was extended to him in my earlier answer. His substantive point is important. He wants to know whether we can be sure that aid policies, be they the UK’s or the EU’s, have a firm foundation of poverty reduction. The insertion into the treaty of specific language on poverty reduction should give him, and hon. Members on both sides of the House, the assurance that they seek.
Surely it is incredibly important to have an EU perspective, so that we can influence the approach of other groups, agencies and partners. I am thinking in particular of other big aid donor countries, such as the United States. Surely a united European position helps us to influence what countries such as the United States do.
The point is well taken, although I would draw the House’s attention not to the example of the United States but to that of the new EU member states. When I was Minister for Europe, I had the opportunity to visit a number of the so-called A10 countries. Partly because of their lack of historical engagement in Africa, for example—I say this with the greatest respect to them—they would not have naturally alighted on development assistance as a measure of their commitment to modern global society, but for a collective and individual judgment that supporting international development was part of being a good European. Notwithstanding the cultural differences across the EU’s 27 members, that is why we are all collectively strengthened by working together on an issue such as international development. We bring the collective strength not of one country but of 27 countries to tasks such as tackling global poverty, which are big enough for us all and demand the engagement of us all.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that in areas of conflict, and particularly in fragile states, the division between defence, security and development becomes increasingly blurred and the need to interlink those policies becomes more pressing? The European Union has a specific advantage in that role, because it can co-ordinate the approach of 27 different member states, as opposed to states acting separately.
I agree with my hon. Friend. In July, I had the opportunity to visit El Fasher in northern Darfur, where I saw the work being done by, among others, the European Commission. In Bangladesh, the Cyclone Sidr effects were mitigated by support provided by the European Union. Thus in fragile or conflict-affected states the European Union has a role to play. It can often complement the work being done by member states.
Does the Secretary of State agree that one of the most important and decisive things the European Union can do to assist the developing world and create that level playing field is to reform the common agricultural policy? In 2005 Tony Blair said that he wanted not only to reform the CAP but to abolish it. What progress has been made towards that laudable aim, and how does this treaty help?
There will be a fundamental review of the European Union’s budget, and I should also mention the so-called CAP health check. On the basis of my experience as Minister for Europe, when I was party to the previous series of negotiations on the European Union budget, I respectfully suggest that if the hon. Gentleman is serious about having an impact on that budget, the last thing he would wish to do would be to rip Scotland out of the United Kingdom, in which we are one of the decisive and major players in the European Union, and render himself less relevant to the central discussions about the CAP or the EU budget.
As I suggested, European aid is helping to make a difference in the fight against poverty. In India, the Commission has helped to construct more than 77,000 school buildings and reduce the number of children out of school from 25 million to 14 million in just five years. Humanitarian principles will for the first time be enshrined in EU law, ensuring that humanitarian aid is allocated purely on the basis of need, without consideration of the recipient’s origins or beliefs. This is aid that really matters, because the EU is the world’s leading humanitarian aid donor, helping some 18 million people in more than 60 countries every year. Indeed, last July when I visited northern Darfur I saw the kind of support being provided for people by the European Commission.
Thirdly, the Lisbon treaty will improve coherence across all the EU’s external actions—the source of some discussion already—ensuring that development objectives are taken into account in policies likely to affect developing countries. Such reform is as important as the changes to European aid, for although aid assistance will be necessary to tackle poverty in many developing countries, it will not be sufficient. Eliminating global poverty will require, beyond aid, the establishment of a global environment that allows developing countries to lift themselves out of poverty. The European Union can play an important role in creating such a global environment, through helping countries to manage the risks of conflict and climate change and to maximise the opportunities of international trade.
Economic growth is the surest path out of poverty, and trade is crucial to growth, as has been borne out by experience within the European Union.
I have been generous with the House, so I shall make a little progress.
By 2006, the single market had boosted gross domestic product by an average of £360 for every person in the EU. Nearly 60 per cent. of the UK’s trade is with other EU member states, and 3 million British jobs are linked to the export of UK goods and services to the EU. As well as being our most important market, the EU is of course the major trading partner for many developing countries and a major player in international trade negotiations.
I appreciate the right hon. Gentleman’s generosity in giving way. Today is the start of Fairtrade fortnight. The right hon. Gentleman rightly says that trade is in many ways more important than aid for developing countries, so what steps are our Government taking to try to remove some of the protectionism within Europe, which prevents many developing countries from making fair trade agreements with the UK and our EU partners?
One of the specific steps we are taking is to increase our support for Fairtrade Labelling Organisations International—an international confederation that works beyond the boundaries of the UK. As the hon. Lady knows, the Fairtrade Foundation supports the growth of fair trade and ethical products in the UK, but the labelling organisation has a wider international mandate. That support is important and reflective of our international approach. I am proud to say that the UK has the most developed fair trade and ethical market anywhere. Our challenge is both to broaden and deepen the range of fair trade products purchased in UK shops and to support international efforts to make sure that fair trade products are available not just in the UK but elsewhere.
As I was saying, the UK has been working to keep the EU’s focus on fulfilling the promise of the Doha development round. As a result of the EU’s economic partnership agreements, 35 African, Caribbean and Pacific countries have secured duty and quota-free access to EU markets. We now need a clear road map from the European Commission setting out how EPAs can be fully implemented to serve best the interests of the poor.
The Secretary of State knows that, in common with several of my colleagues on the Opposition Benches, I take a considerable interest in third-world matters. He has just referred to economic partnership agreements. Does he agree that there are severe criticisms from non-governmental organisations of how EPAs work in practice? There is strong concern about some aspects of climate change policy, as applied by the EU in relation to biodiesel. There is also the problem of corruption and related issues and the failure of the Court of Auditors, not to mention the question of the CAP. Is the right hon. Gentleman not giving us rather a rosy picture of what the EU can achieve?
I think the hon. Gentleman must be making up for lost time, as a number of those points were dealt with before he was in the Chamber. However, I shall endeavour to deal with at least the first point that he set out. I pay due respect and deference to his interest in the concerns of developing countries, particularly in relation to water and sanitation. He has a long-standing commitment to and interest in those matters, and it is right that all of us on the Labour Benches should acknowledge his role and expertise in those areas.
However, I am not convinced by the characterisation that the hon. Gentleman offers of the practice of EPAs, not least because they have been agreed only in recent months and weeks, and they are not yet in force—but I fully accept that there are continuing concerns about some of the policies. Last Friday I was in Ghana, where I spoke with the President of Ghana, who expressed concerns. Ghana has signed an interim agreement, and the President is keen to ensure that the full development potential of the EPA is realised in the weeks and months ahead.
Since we set out our policy in 2005, it is fair to say that, alongside the Germans, Swedes and Norwegians, we have been unyielding in our efforts in the Council of Ministers constantly to advocate that EPAs should recognise that reciprocity under World Trade Organisation rules need not mean symmetry—in the sense that there can be longer opening periods in developing countries.
Secondly, we have advocated effective aid for trade to support those countries’ transition to a more open-market environment, and we will continue to argue the case for that at Commonwealth Heads of Government meetings. When I attended such a meeting with the Foreign Secretary and the Prime Minister in November, we met heads of Caribbean nations, who signed a full EPA before the end of last year. They look to the United Kingdom to argue their case in the corridors of the European Union, and I am glad to say that the Under-Secretary of State for International Development, my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, West (Mr. Thomas), and I sought to fulfil that obligation by making clear the case not just for the disbursement of support for sugar and bananas but, more generally, for the kind of EPA that emerged. It is a matter that we care about and are concerned about, and we have continued to act to advance it on behalf of developing countries.
Before the Secretary of State tells us that he has been to Bangladesh, I shall say that I was there last week. I pay tribute to Department for International Development staff there, particularly Chris Austin and his crowd, who were working down in the cyclone-hit areas. One thing that struck me was the amount of aid that we are giving to such a country. I should like a firm assurance that our commitment to countries such as Bangladesh will not be diluted by the new agreement with our colleagues in Europe. Such countries desperately need the resources that they are getting from us, and the help from DFID and NGOs. Is the Secretary of State absolutely convinced that those will not be diluted in any way?
The short answer is yes. The longer answer is that although the hon. Gentleman beat me to Bangladesh—at least this year—I had the opportunity to visit in December, when I met Chris Austin and his team. The hon. Gentleman will be aware from his visit that in Dhaka, I was able to announce a significant uplift in the support that we offer to Bangladesh. In many ways, it is on the front line of one of the great challenges that is faced not just by DFID, but across the developed world: simultaneous human development and climate change. That is why we have worked so hard with Chris Austin and the team in Dhaka, who are doing an outstanding job on our behalf to frame policies that recognise not only the need for adaptation, but the pressing humanitarian difficulties that still afflict that country.
When I travelled down to the cyclone-affected areas in Bangladesh, as I know the hon. Gentleman did, I felt huge pride in the work being done not just on behalf of the people of the United Kingdom, but by a range of agencies, such as Save the Children, which was running a centre for many children who had been orphaned as a consequence of the cyclone. It is a huge credit to such organisations that, even in a country as far away as Bangladesh, British agencies working with partners from Bangladesh can make a real difference on the ground.
While my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is on his Cook’s tour of the subcontinent, will he tell the House whether he thinks the European Union and the United Kingdom have the balance of international aid right, given that there are more poor people in India than in the whole of Africa?
Of course my hon. Friend is right to recognise that there are vast numbers of poor people in India, which partly explains why the Department’s largest bilateral programme is with India. He also makes the fair, broader point that given the appropriate focus in the Department on low-income countries, we need to be mindful of the fact that there continue to be large numbers of poor people in middle-income countries. Equally, it is important to recognise that it is reasonable to look to a country such as India, whose aid dependency is diminishing as foreign reserves rise, to have a growing capacity to take responsibility for the poor people within its borders. In that sense, we have an effective development relationship with India, which was a subject of discussion between our Prime Minister and Manmohan Singh, the Indian Prime Minister, at the recent UK-India summit, but we need to continue to watch the situation.
Further to the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Rob Marris), if there are so many poor people in India, why is India running the biggest single overseas aid programme of any country in the region bar Japan? Surely Indian money should be kept at home, rather than used to meddle and extend India’s political reach in other countries in the region.
I get the sense that my right hon. Friend has a particular concern relating to India’s foreign policy, and perhaps that of the Government, so I shall leave that matter alone. I observe, though, that countries such as China that have historically been recipients of international aid are increasingly taking their place as responsible global citizens and contributing, for example, to IDA 15, the World Bank’s latest replenishment round. We all have an interest in supporting countries such as China in playing a bigger role in multilateral aid organisations such as the World Bank.
As well as helping to change the rules so that developing countries can play a part in international trade, we must help them to build their capacity to do so. The European Union has made a commitment to spend €2 billion on aid for trade by 2010 to help countries compete, and the UK has committed to spend £100 million a year on it by 2010. The European Commission is also forging a global reputation for the quality of its road infrastructure programmes. Roads are vital to increasing trade links within and between countries. In a region of south-west Tanzania criss-crossed by rivers and streams, the Commission has rehabilitated the road network, helping growers to reach marketplaces, farmers to access banks and teachers and students to travel to school.
However, the promise of increased trade cannot be realised in a country riven by conflict. Europe’s history shows that there can be little development without security, and developing countries live that reality. On average, a civil war leads to economic costs of more than £25 billion, and the equivalent of 20 years of lost development. Resolving and preventing conflict beyond European borders must be a priority for both UK and European aid. The UK’s new stabilisation fund of £600 million over three years is being established jointly by the Department for International Development, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Ministry of Defence in order better to prevent and respond to conflict in developing countries.
The European Union’s support for the elections in the Democratic Republic of Congo showed that the EU too can play an important stabilisation role. The tragic violence that followed the election result should not mask that country’s achievement in holding its first democratic elections for 40 years. Some 2,000 EU troops supported the UN to maintain a peaceful environment and ensure high voter turnout, EU logistical support transported 1,000 tonnes of ballot papers throughout a country the size of western Europe with almost no infrastructure, and the first European police mission in Africa provided training and support to Kinshasa’s police force.
As we have heard, climate change is one of the greatest threats facing development. Dealing with dangerous climate change is a clear priority for my Department, because developing countries, which are least able to cope with the effects of climate change, are most immediately vulnerable to suffering its consequences. We are therefore working across Government towards a global post-Kyoto framework, helping to build a global low-carbon economy and protecting the most vulnerable against the impact of climate change.
Earlier this month, I announced that my Department will spend more than £100 million over the next five years on researching the impact of climate change on the most vulnerable developing countries and helping those countries to put that information to good use. The UK will also play a role within the European Union to mitigate further climate change and help poor countries to adapt to the change that is now inevitable. The EU is recognised as a global leader on climate change. EU negotiators played a key role in securing agreement for a global adaptation fund for developing countries at the Bali conference, Europe’s unilateral pledge to reduce greenhouse gases by 20 per cent. by 2020 shows the seriousness of our intentions, and our emissions trading scheme is the first of its kind in the world. We need to ensure next that the emissions trading scheme links with others to become part of a global carbon market, press ahead with negotiations for a post-Kyoto deal, and establish more funding to protect the most vulnerable.
As we debate the terms of the Lisbon treaty, we live in a world where more than 1 million people are killed by malaria every year, 72 million children are denied the chance to go to primary school and 980 million people continue to live on less than 50p a day. Britain can choose either to retreat from that challenge or to rise to it. This Government believe that we must tackle global poverty, which is why our aid budget will rise to over £9 billion by 2010, roughly three times what it was in 1997. We also recognise that we cannot tackle this global problem alone, which is why the Prime Minister, with Ban Ki-moon, has called for the creation this year of a global partnership for development. That partnership must include the European Union, the developing world’s largest donor and biggest trading partner. Britain can choose either to retreat from Europe or to engage with it and help Europe to be a world leader in the fight against global poverty.
The Lisbon treaty will improve Europe’s efforts to tackle hunger, disease and illiteracy around the world. Those who seek to attack the treaty by attacking its development provisions risk doing great harm to the interests of the world’s poorest people. I commend the motion to the House.
I beg to move, To leave out from ‘House’ to end and to insert instead thereof:
“disapproves of the Government’s policy towards the Treaty of Lisbon in respect of international development because the Treaty does nothing to improve the efficiency of European Union aid, increases the influence of the EU’s foreign policy over its humanitarian aid and development assistance, decreases the freedom of member states to react to international crises, diverts resources to a European Voluntary Humanitarian Aid Corps, downgrades the least developed countries, is ambiguous about competence on international development, and overall is a step backwards in the provision of aid to the developing world.”.
Today’s debate on international development provisions in the treaty is welcome, and I hope that the Secretary of State will join in the consensus—embraced by his predecessor, among others—that we should have more debates on international development in the House. It is a subject of huge interest to our constituents, and it is vital at this time. International development deserves a much higher profile in this place.
I welcome the Liberal spokesman, the hon. Member for Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk (Mr. Moore), to his new post. One of the most satisfying aspects of international development policy is that it is not a Labour, Conservative or Liberal subject, but a British policy and a British agenda. Perhaps, like me, the hon. Gentleman will see it as his role to try to keep the Secretary of State and his Ministers up to the mark in successfully pursuing our common objectives, which our generation has a real chance of achieving.
We welcome much of what the Secretary of State said today, particularly his comments towards the end of his speech about climate change. We Conservative Members have argued for some time that the issue for Europe is tackling the three great challenges of our age: global poverty, global warming and global competitiveness. Many of the European Union’s policies—on trade, migration, sanctions and foreign policy—have profound impacts on international development.
Europe experiences at first hand the impact of poverty. Every year, thousands of young men and women—often bright, hard-working, motivated people, sometimes the cream of Africa—risk their lives seeking to make the perilous crossing from Senegal and Libya to the Canaries, Malta or Italy in search of a better life. They place themselves in the hands of the modern equivalent of the slave trade. Any attempt to deal with the migration challenge that the EU faces must have an international development aspect.
The EU is one of the world’s biggest donors. It provides 57 per cent. of the world’s official development assistance, which amounted to some €45.3 billion in 2005. About a sixth of that—€7.5 billion—was managed by the European Commission. That aid went to approximately 160 countries, territories or organisations. The Commission has about 3,500 aid and development staff. There is no doubt that the EU is a major player in international development; that is why it is so disappointing that the treaty bypasses many issues that are literally vital to billions of poor people around the world.
The treaty misses the opportunity to support open markets and to significantly rejuvenate the EU’s aid programme, which, despite recent improvements, is still underperforming. One of the Secretary of State’s distinguished predecessors, the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Clare Short), whose contribution is greatly underrated, but not by Conservative Members, branded the European Union’s aid
“an outrage and a disgrace”.
She said that EU aid is
“skewed quite dreadfully against the poorest countries”,
“You can’t keep throwing money and people into an inefficient organisation”.
There have been improvements since then, but we should face facts: British aid, on the whole, is much better than that spent through the EU. It is better managed, more focused on tackling poverty, and more decentralised.
Many things need to be done urgently to improve the quality of European Union aid. The treaty of Lisbon touches on some of them. We welcome the legally enshrined emphasis on poverty eradication, but the treaty ignores many issues, which I shall mention later. It is on those key issues that the Government need to focus.
The hon. Gentleman referred to the improvements that have been made to the way in which the European Union disburses and manages its aid budget, but does he not realise that it is absurd for the Opposition to demand that EU aid, and trade policies towards developing countries, be made even more effective while they oppose a treaty that will make it easier for Britain to secure its objectives within the EU, and while they pursue policies that would leave Britain isolated and ineffective within the EU? We cannot have both a weak Britain and an effective Europe.
Before my hon. Friend does so, does he agree that it is curious that, listening to the Secretary of State, one would think that this was a treaty of perfection? Over the days in which we have debated the Lisbon treaty, the Government have sought to pray in aid the support of a number of non-governmental organisations. Has my hon. Friend seen early-day motions 990, 1011 and 1012, which express the concerns of Oxfam, Save the Children and ActionAid, and use the words, “concern”, “caveats”, “omission” and “reservations”? The Secretary of State did not make reference to any of that: it was as if NGOs’ concerns simply did not exist.
They are indeed a collective Government, and I shall come on to the very point that my hon. Friend made.
I was talking about the issues on which the Government must focus in the debate. They not only support a treaty that does the European aid effort too little good and too much harm but, with their usual dishonesty and lack of direction, they support the treaty without the consent of our constituents, whom the Government assured—indeed, promised—a referendum if the situation arose. We may be in no doubt, as previous debates have underlined, that the Government have once again gone back on their word, supporting bureaucracy over democracy, by denying the public a say.
In fact, the Government’s approach to the debate on EU aid is typical of their disingenuousness, for the very reasons given by my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Tony Baldry). The Government misrepresented the views of some our leading NGOs by claiming that they supported the treaty. They are now pushing for the very reforms of EU aid that they previously opposed in negotiations. On 21 January, the Foreign Secretary said:
“One World Action, Action Aid and Oxfam have announced their support for the measures on development co-operation.”—[Official Report, 21 January 2008; Vol. 470, c. 1241.]
The Foreign Secretary had clearly not read the excellent briefing note prepared by BOND—British Overseas NGOs for Development—on the treaty. In precise and measured terms, it sets out both the things that the NGO community supports in the treaty and those that it opposes. Such disingenuous manoeuvres by the Government do not reflect well on them. Indeed, a representative of a leading NGO called my office the day after the Foreign Secretary made his misleading claim to clarify the fact that that NGO did not have a position on whether the treaty as a whole should be ratified or whether there should be a referendum. Today, a group of NGOs, including Oxfam and Christian Aid, have written an open letter, as my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury said, distancing themselves from the Government’s claims that the NGOs back the treaty.
In the interests of clarity, and in the light of the observation by the hon. Member for Banbury (Tony Baldry) that we are, indeed, a collective Government, may I draw the attention of the House to the letter that was sent to my colleague, the Minister for Europe, on 18 November 2007, signed by Charlotte Imbert, the general secretary of BOND, which stated:
“The EU Reform Treaty, in our view, has the potential for the EU to deliver a stronger poverty focus, and greater coherence in its development and humanitarian work. We welcome the fact that in the Treaty the eradication of poverty is the primary focus of development co-operation, offering a legal basis and purpose to European development assistance. The Treaty also represents a significant positive shift whereby all EU policies that affect developing countries will need to reflect (and not undermine) development and humanitarian objectives”?
I am not sure whether that clarifies the views of the hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr. Mitchell).
It certainly does not. The right hon. Gentleman is quoting selectively from a document. If he looked at the early-day motions, and followed what I said carefully, he would know that the suggestion was that the Foreign Secretary misrepresented the views of BOND and others. That is absolutely clear from the early-day motions.
The hon. Gentleman mentioned parts of a BOND paper with which he agreed. [Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman, who speaks for the Conservative party, mentioned the more sceptical parts with which he agreed. Does he agree with the parts of the paper that the Secretary of State has just quoted, or is he picking selectively from that BOND paper?
The hon. Gentleman has just undermined the Secretary of State’s statement, by accepting that the BOND paper was a carefully nuanced examination of the treaty—both good and bad points. The point that I am making is that the Foreign Secretary said clearly—I quoted him directly—that BOND and the NGOs were in favour of the treaty. That is not the case, as is apparent if one reads the whole letter.
There is much in the letter that BOND issued, as I said, and much more with which I agree, but I will not give a careful dialectic for every word in the document.
The Foreign Secretary’s misrepresentation of the NGOs’ position is worrying for two reasons. First—
Order. I get a little uneasy when words such as “misrepresentation” and “mislead” are brought into debate. I know that there is probably the inaudible qualification “inadvertent”, “mistaken” and so on, but we are starting to get into difficult territory when those words are used. I urge caution on the hon. Gentleman.
Thank you for keeping me on the straight and narrow, Mr. Deputy Speaker.
First, the representations of the NGOs’ position by the Foreign Secretary show that he has not examined closely the many concerns that they have raised about the treaty with regard to international development. I am sure that Ministers are aware of those concerns, and I hope that they will urgently meet the Foreign Secretary to raise them. Secondly, they show yet again that the Government are willing to indulge in deceitful arguments to promote the treaty. This comes as no surprise—
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, my Birmingham colleague. I will not ask him to go as far as my hon. Friend the Member for City of York (Hugh Bayley) did when he asked whether the hon. Gentleman agreed with every word from BOND. However, does he agree with this aspect of what BOND said:
“The implementation of the EU Reform Treaty will be the only real opportunity between now and next Financial Perspectives in 2014 to ensure that there is greater coherence between development cooperation and other EU external action policies and to improve effectiveness and impact of EC development cooperation”?
Does he agree with BOND at least on that point?
The implementation of the treaty could be an opportunity, but it is not the only opportunity, as I shall explain.
The hon. Gentleman’s intervention gives me the opportunity to say that I have been truly shocked by the menacing bullying tactics used by the Government Whips Office to cajole and intimidate their Back Benchers into the pro-Government Lobby. Some particularly appalling reports have been carried in the excellent newspaper, The Birmingham Post, which this week celebrates its 150th anniversary as Birmingham’s leading newspaper.
May I assure my hon. Friend—this is meant to be helpful—that nothing that he or any of the other Whips said made the slightest difference, unlike in the present case, to anything that we thought, said or did. It was done for the best of reasons, and as the speech that he is developing demonstrates, we did what we did, and others have subsequently found that that was the right thing to do.
There have been numerous reports of Labour Members returning from their constituencies after a weekend of having their backbone stiffened by constituents understandably trying to persuade them to honour their election manifesto promises, on which they were elected, to hold a referendum, only to have those early sparks of integrity and independence snuffed out by the brute force of the Government Whips Office. Indeed, such is the terror induced by the Chief Whip, the right hon. Member for Ashfield (Mr. Hoon), that it is said that younger members of the Labour party fear to walk past the door to his office, in much the same way as Russian citizens during the Stalinist era would avoid walking past the doorway to the KGB prison and torture chamber on Lubyanka street in Moscow.
I will certainly not withdraw them.
It is therefore particularly embarrassing for the Government that many of the substantial points of the Lisbon treaty which we are discussing today were opposed by the British Government while they were being negotiated.
I turn to five of those points. The first involves the new articles that set up qualified majority voting on urgent macro-financial and humanitarian aid. Although that ostensibly seems a benign change and is cited by the Government as an uncontroversial example of a move to QMV, it could raise important questions. To take a real example from the recent past, it might have been used to decide whether the European Union should continue to fund the Palestinian Authority after the 2006 elections, which returned Hamas to power. The UK and some other member states disagreed about that; the UK was keen to fund only non-governmental organisations, not the Hamas-led Palestinian Authority. Far from being uncontroversial, the point was rightly opposed by the Government in negotiations. The right hon. Member for Neath (Mr. Hain) argued that
“Macro-financial assistance has been agreed urgently when required”,
and that moving to QMV was therefore unnecessary. The Government are now fighting for a treaty that they themselves believe to contain elements that are damaging to the interests of some of the poorest people in the world. I hope that they will support the amendments that we have tabled to address the issue.
The second point is the treaty’s provision for the creation of a European voluntary humanitarian aid corps. That is a deeply questionable idea. The Secretary of State will know that, in general, my party is enthusiastic about the role that volunteers from developed and developing countries can play in international development; they help make a valuable contribution in poor countries, and—equally importantly—learn about the issues and become advocates for change.
Many Members will be aware of the work done by Voluntary Service Overseas, an outstanding British charity with which my party worked closely last year in Rwanda. Volunteering can be a positive experience. However, when it comes to urgent humanitarian assistance, we must recognise that there is a limit to what volunteers, however enthusiastic and well intentioned, can do. The Government agree with me; in negotiations on the constitution on that point, the right hon. Member for Neath said:
“The idea of establishing a European Voluntary Humanitarian Aid Corps should have no place within the EU’s humanitarian action”.
His wise judgment has been backed up by NGOs and BOND, which say:
“We oppose the creation of a European Voluntary Humanitarian Aid Corps”.
They go on to argue:
“Humanitarian response is for experienced, trained professionals, not for volunteers, especially in dangerous crises.”
They warn that a voluntary aid corps might not be guided by the highly important principles and commitments of professional aid workers.
A few years ago, that sentiment was echoed by Poul Nielson, then European Commissioner for Development and Humanitarian Aid. On 7 November 2003, he said:
“Humanitarian aid should be the ‘business’ of experienced, trained professionals such as NGOs and international organisations. It should not be delegated to a voluntary humanitarian aid corps, no matter how enthusiastic.”
He added that
“humanitarian aid is carried out in emergency contexts, wars, natural disasters, huge displacements of people, and in these contexts, know-how, experience and fool-proof reactions are essential as dangerous and traumatising situations are too often the rule.”
The Secretary of State will note that we have tabled an amendment on that point. I hope that he will feel able to support it; we are merely reflecting the views of the Government during the negotiations.
As a former journalist on The Birmingham Post, may I say that even that august newspaper is prone to journalistic embroidery, like all other newspapers? I speak from experience.
The hon. Gentleman should not underestimate the importance of international volunteering; it was indeed what was behind his party’s important initiative in going to Rwanda, and I know that that was transformative for many of his colleagues. That was an example of the role that international volunteering can play. The hon. Gentleman should not criticise the type of provision that he has mentioned.
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for her intervention. I understand her point, but I hope that I was making it absolutely clear that the business of humanitarian aid predominantly involves a greater degree of professionalism than can, inevitably, be provided by such a corps.
The third area that I want to discuss is poverty eradication. Conservative Members welcome the fact that the treaty will hard-wire the eradication of poverty as an objective of the European Union; that is surely good news. We applaud the EU’s support for the UK’s drive to scale up aid among member states, as did the Secretary of State when he cited the example of Gleneagles. However, judging by the disappointing record of many EU countries on delivering on their promises, there is still a long way to go. An influential report last year by the think-tank, Data, rightly named and shamed certain member states for not living up to their promises. It found that France, Germany, Italy and a number of other European Union countries are failing to live up to the solemn pledges on increased aid that they made at Gleneagles in 2005. That is, after all, why the then Prime Minister arranged for those pledges to be signed in front of the cameras of the world’s media.
I strongly endorse what my hon. Friend is saying. Many of us present are extremely keen to ensure that poverty is eradicated and have individually and collectively done as much as possible to try to make that case. However, the legal frameworks that are created for the common commercial policy, for example, and its connection to the External Action Service and all the rest that goes with it, create a dynamic that can positively prevent the very objectives that the Government have set themselves in relation to the millennium goals, because the European Union probably will not be able to achieve them.
My hon. Friend makes a good point, which I hope he will develop if he catches your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker.
From 2004 to 2006, Germany increased its overseas development assistance by a mere 2 per cent. In order to live up to its promises it needs, by contrast, to increase its aid by $869 million per year each year from 2007 to 2010. Italy, whose overseas development assistance fell by 30 per cent. from 2004 to 2006, now needs to give an additional $1.2 billion each year until 2010 if it is to maintain its side of the deal. France needs an additional $1.5 billion for the same period. Those countries, and others, are showing little or no sign of fulfilling the promises that they made to the developing world.
Those countries do not need a treaty in order to fulfil what they promised to poor countries in front of the world’s media.
We are concerned that the Lisbon treaty removes the reference to “the most disadvantaged” developing countries as a focus of the EU development co-operation policy. It is right that the EU should, to some extent, play to its comparative advantage of assistance to near-Europe countries. They are, after all, the most proximate markets for the European Union, and we have a strong interest in their growth and development. However, we must ensure that the focus is on reducing poverty. The Under-Secretary, the hon. Member for Harrow, West (Mr. Thomas), will know that I am a keen student of his speeches. One of my personal favourites is his speech entitled “Multilateral aid and the European Union’s contribution to meeting the Millennium Development Goals”, which he will remember he delivered on 24 February 2005, and in which he said:
“EC aid is still not sufficiently focused on meeting the millennium development goals…Europe spends nearly $100 in aid for every poor person living in the Mediterranean—and less than $1 for every poor person in Asia, which is, alongside Africa, the key ‘battleground’ for the achievement of the millennium development goals. Why is a child in Egypt worth 100 times more than a child in Bangladesh?”
That is a well-made point with which Conservative Members have much sympathy. The OECD is in agreement, saying that
“the Commission should look for opportunities to increase assistance to low income countries.”
I hope that the Minister will continue to fight to ensure that the European Union focuses its aid on the people who really need it. I know from his words that he will want to support our amendment, as it seeks to retain the reference to “the most disadvantaged” as a target for European aid.
A fourth key concern about the treaty is that development may be relegated to second-tier status within the EU’s external action framework—a point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury. I know that that is a concern echoed by many officials in DFID. DFID’s multilateral development effectiveness summary of 2007 noted:
“Community aid...sits in the middle of the Union’s wider external policy aims, with sometimes competing agendas”.
Furthermore, the respected OECD development assistance committee has found a risk that the ambitious multiple objectives of the consensus, including expanded political ones, could diffuse a focus on development and undermine longer-term strategic priorities. Members will note that we have tabled amendments on that point. It is surely inconceivable that Ministers will not support them, especially when the Government were, not so long ago, so very keen to ensure that the specific identity of development objectives was not undermined in the EU’s external action. We want to ensure that development retains a strong profile within the EU’s external action programme.
We are strongly supportive of an independent DFID. Why, then, do the Government support a treaty that seeks to move Europe the other way, subsuming development within the common external action programme? There is also an important point about leadership. Many observers are concerned that a reduction in the number of Commissioners could mean that there would be no Commissioner for development. BOND has made it clear that having a separate Commissioner for development is highly important, particularly in closing the gap between EU development policy and its implementation. BOND has said:
“We must ensure that there is a strong and independent voice for development.”
However, the principle of independence is missing from the treaty’s section on humanitarian aid.
Fifthly, the Minister will note that we have tabled an amendment addressing the question of shared competency over matters of international development. We seek clarification from the Secretary of State on what that will mean. We hope that he will be able to reassure us that there is no danger of the EU’s overruling Britain’s decisions on aid policy.
More generally, the treaty fails to address the many things that must be done to reform and improve the delivery of European Union aid. Such aid has been criticised for involving heavy bureaucracy and slow disbursal. In its oral evidence to the July 2006 House of Lords report on EU-Africa relations, BOND castigated the EU’s record of
“slow disbursement of funds, bureaucratic procedures and lack of capacity”,
“continue to hinder the effectiveness of European Community aid”.
A report by DFID suggested that delays were due to
“the inner workings of a byzantine bureaucracy with a procedure-driven ethos.”
Ironically, a study by the Commission found that 40 per cent. of delays to aid projects were the result of the administrative processes of the European Union, while only 25 per cent. were due to administrative problems in the developing countries receiving aid. A survey of aid recipient countries by Oxfam suggests that a fifth of EU aid arrives more than a year late, compared with just 3 per cent. of that from other aid donors.
The highly respected think-tank Open Europe has highlighted that one particularly wasteful administrative activity is the EU’s funding of other multilateral institutions, particularly the World Bank’s International Development Association. Over the past four years, the EU has passed on $2.1 billion of its budget to other multilateral organisations. That means a wasteful chain of transfers: national agencies administer a transfer to the EU, which then administers a transfer to another multilateral organisation, which then eventually administers aid to the recipient country, with administrative costs and delay at each stage. There are also serious concerns about fraud and waste in the European aid programme. Open Europe explains that just over 7 per cent. of the EU budget is spent on overseas aid, while aid programmes account for 21 per cent. of fraud investigations by OLAF, the European anti-fraud office. Fraud in this area is far higher than the Brussels average.
Despite attempts at reform, serious cases of fraud and waste are still coming to light. For example, in 2006, a report by the EU’s Court of Auditors found that aid for Russia had been misspent. It noted that one project had involved inventing a region on paper to meet the criteria for receiving EU funds, and fitness equipment that was supposed to help children ended up being used by Russian soldiers. I have read with great interest the multilateral development effectiveness summaries that have been posted recently on the DFID website. There is a lack of clarity about exactly how DFID assesses which multilateral agencies do the best job of tackling poverty. What we really need is much stronger impact evaluation of global aid so that we can make informed decisions about which channels will spend our aid most effectively.
The treaty calls for coherence in EU policies that affect poor countries. At the moment, there is manifestly a lack of coherence. There is a clear need to take action on that. In particular, the treaty fails to underline the importance of development assistance in tackling physical and psychological barriers to trade in poor countries. That is one of the most important aspects of all development. If our aid money is not to be wasted, poor countries must ultimately be able to trade their way out of poverty. Aid is a means to an end and not an end in itself.
Does the hon. Gentleman welcome, like me, article 209 on page 135 of the consolidated text, which states:
“The Union may conclude with third countries and competent international organisations any agreement helping to achieve the objectives referred to in Article 21”,
and so on? Paragraph (e) of article 21 refers to encouraging
“the integration of all countries into the world economy, including through the progressive abolition of restrictions on international trade”.
Taken as a whole, the provisions do link aid and trade and the development of countries. I welcome that; does the hon. Gentleman?
I hesitate to give the hon. Gentleman a straight answer, because he is a distinguished lawyer, but on the face of it there is much that we support in there. My right hon. Friend the Member for Wells (Mr. Heathcoat-Amory) has tabled an amendment that might probe that very matter.
The treaty strengthens the EU power over trade policy, which, incidentally, the Government were concerned about during negotiations. Unfortunately, that means that protectionist lobbies in Brussels could well hinder prospects for developing countries’ economies. As DFID says:
“The impact of EU on developing countries is a result of all its external policies. Not all of them are coherent with a poverty reduction agenda, most notable the CAP.”
The treaty postulates no significant reform of the common agricultural policy. The Government failed to get real reform when this country held the presidency in 2005.
The treaty makes no mention of much needed reforms to the EU’s “Everything but Arms” scheme. We certainly welcome preferential trade schemes that help the poorest countries, but “Everything but Arms” can and must do better. As the respected development economist Paul Collier writes on “Everything but Arms”:
“The devil is in the details and the details are wrong, probably deliberately”.
Over-complex, unclear and restrictive rules of origin are particularly stifling the scheme’s effectiveness. A similar scheme, the US’s African Growth and Opportunity Act 2000, which has included special waivers on complex rules of origin, has performed much better. AGOA has been able to effect a 50 per cent. increase in African apparel exports, whereas the “Everything but Arms” scheme has had little such success.
As we have heard, today marks the beginning of Fairtrade fortnight. We on the Conservative Benches strongly support allowing producers in poor countries the chance to set themselves free from the shackles of poverty by ensuring that they are paid a decent wage for their labours. We must also see Fairtrade fortnight as an opportunity to highlight the injustices of EU trade policy. All over the UK, as well as in many other countries, non-governmental organisations, local authorities, trading associations, producers and vast numbers of the public will voice their support for ethical economics.
Will the hon. Gentleman at least acknowledge the work that we and a number of member states have been doing in the course of the negotiations to push for significant reform of the rules of origin, precisely because of the point that he makes? Indeed, one of the reasons why Lesotho welcomed the economic partnership agreement discussions is that it will benefit significantly from liberalised rules of origin.
I acknowledge that many have argued passionately for the reform of the rules of origin. My point is that nothing in the treaty gives us any courage or hope that that might take place.
Disappointingly, the EU’s trade policies remain manifestly unfair. The “Everything but Arms” scheme is woefully far from fulfilling its potential and many have argued that it is even having negative effects. The EU’s direct export subsidies entrench impoverishment in developing countries and drain European taxpayers’ pockets. I hope that the Secretary of State will join me during Fairtrade fortnight in calling for the EU to listen to its citizens and make earnest reform of its trade policy.
The Under-Secretary underlines the point that we do not need a treaty to make progress. That is at the heart of the arguments that Conservative Members have presented for some days. However, if we are to have a treaty, it might at least deal with the important aspect that I mentioned.
Our central concerns remain that the European Union should first get right what it is supposed to be doing before trying to accrue yet more powers from national Governments. The European Union could do much better. It could tackle the key issue for development: dismantling European Union protectionism. Instead, the treaty gives the European Union more power over trade, which may make further necessary reform of the common agricultural policy even harder.
For the Government’s failure to honour their promise of a referendum, and for the reasons in our amendment, which clearly lists all those matters in which the Government failed to achieve their negotiating objectives, I urge the House to support our amendment and send a clear message about European Union complacency on a vital aspect of our national interest.
One of the Labour Government’s great achievements has been to make poverty alleviation the primary goal of our international development policy. We have won widespread public support for that policy and now even the Conservative party endorses it. It was not always so.
In the dogdays of the Conservative Government, I introduced an overseas development and co-operation amendment Bill, which sought to make poverty alleviation the primary purpose of British aid. Perhaps unsurprisingly, under the Conservative Government, it never reached the statute book. It is worth remembering the state of British development policy at that time.
During the 1992-97 Parliament, aid contributions fell as a proportion of Britain’s gross domestic product. Given that all parties now support focusing on poverty as the primary purpose of aid, it is significant that, during that time, the percentage of British aid to poor countries fell from 80 to 69 per cent. Aid to India fell by 23 per cent., whereas aid to Indonesia, which at that time had a per capita gross domestic product three times that of India, increased by 79 per cent. Singapore and Hong Kong then had a per capita gross domestic product higher than that of the United Kingdom; nevertheless they received more aid per person than Vietnam, one of the poorest countries in Asia.
I congratulate the Conservative party on catching up. Conservative Members, who now say that they support relieving poverty as a primary goal for British aid, tonight have the opportunity to show that they mean it. By supporting the Lisbon treaty, they will require the European Union to adopt a similar policy to the British Government’s.
The treaty states:
“The Union’s development cooperation policy shall have as its primary objective the reduction and, in the long term, the eradication of poverty.”
If Conservative Members genuinely believe what they have been telling the House for the past year or two—that it is important for Britain and the European Union to make poverty alleviation the primary purpose of aid—they should support the treaty. We will watch tonight to see whether they do that.
The hon. Gentleman says that no treaty is needed to fight poverty, but there was no treaty requirement to do that when his party was in power and it did not happen. There was no treaty requirement to do it over the past 10 years, when it has been British policy, and there has been only a slight movement in that direction—the proportion of EU aid going to least developed countries has increased in recent years from about 40 to 46 per cent. Not having a treaty does not lead to the implementation of a poverty reduction policy, but now we have the opportunity to provide, within the European Union, a treaty requirement for a poverty focus to aid. That can surely do nothing but help.
The hon. Gentleman and I are of one mind on this issue, but what I do not understand about that argument is why the treaty removes the phrase “the most disadvantaged”. My concern about EU aid increasing is that money is being given to middle income states, such as Morocco and Tunisia, for perfectly understandable reasons—Spain, Italy and others want to use it to prevent migration—and that less money is going to very poor countries. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman could give some thought to why that is. Also, the Government opposed the removal of the phrase “the most disadvantaged” in negotiations, but the Secretary of State made practically no reference to that, and I do not understand why not.
The current situation is as the hon. Gentleman outlined. Some of the biggest recipients of aid from Europe include the Maghreb countries, Egypt, Sudan and Morocco. It is because of the large amounts of aid that those countries receive that relatively less, as a proportion of European aid as a whole, goes to the poorest countries. The status quo permits a greater proportion of European Community development assistance to go to countries that are not the least developed. With the change in the treaty, we now have a lever to use in the European Union to ensure that that policy changes and that a greater proportion of aid goes to the least developed countries, which need it most.
The hon. Gentleman and I have worked together on a number of matters relating to the eradication of poverty in the third world. Does he not agree that provisions for the eradication of corruption would be worthy of inclusion in any arrangement? It is precisely because of the defensive nature of the European Union about questions of that kind that there is no such provision. Such a provision would really help to eradicate poverty, and I say that without prejudice to the fact that I do not believe that the treaty route is the right way to achieve the objectives that he and I share.
I share with the hon. Gentleman a firm belief that reducing corruption in developing countries would greatly help them to develop economically. He and I have both introduced measures in the House to change the law to help achieve that aim. Nothing whatever in the treaty would undermine that kind of legislation on a national or Europe-wide basis, but the treaty does contain something that might help it happen, which is the provision requiring greater policy coherence. The treaty stipulates:
“The Union shall take account of the objectives of development cooperation in the policies that it implements which are likely to affect developing countries.”
That is a signal to the Union that it ought to have coherent policy across the piece. I would like that to include Europe-wide action to criminalise transnational bribery and to ensure that cases of it are brought before the courts.
This is not just an academic debate about whether we like the European Union or not. EU aid is immensely important in the fight against global poverty. In 2006, the European Union’s own aid budget was about US$10 billion—roughly one tenth of all global aid. A quarter of all the UK’s aid—about £1.2 billion of the total for 2006 of £4.2 billion—is channelled through the European Union. I fundamentally disagree with the Conservative party’s proposal that our EU aid should be repatriated to the United Kingdom. If we did that, it would send a signal to many other countries with far less a commitment to aid that they could withdraw their contributions to the European Union, with the result that less aid could end up going to developing countries. There is a measure of agreement in the House that EU aid needs further reform, but we would be less likely to achieve that reform if we were to take our bat and ball home and repatriate our resources.
The International Development Committee, under the chairmanship of the hon. Member for Banbury (Tony Baldry) in the last Parliament and since, has long taken the view that European Union aid should be guided by the same poverty alleviation principles as are required for UK aid under British law. In 2001-02, the Committee produced a report on European Union development assistance, in which it called for such a commitment to poverty alleviation. In 2006-07, the Committee produced a further report, which acknowledged that some progress had been made. However, it also stated:
“We strongly welcome DFID’s advocacy of an increased focus by the Commission on poverty reduction in low-income countries. The European Council, however, now needs to make good on the commitments it made in the 2005 Consensus on Development to prioritise aid to the poorest countries, and to Africa in particular. We recommend that the Government look at all options available, including withholding funds, to encourage the European Union member states to agree parameters for Commission development activity that allow a dramatic increase in aid going to those who need it.”
That policy is infinitely more likely to become a reality if we have a treaty requiring the European Union to make poverty alleviation one of the primary focuses of its aid policy. We shall see, when Members vote tonight, whether the Conservatives attach greater priority to poverty alleviation as treaty-required aid policy than to their own policy of scepticism and isolation, which would reduce the ability of the United Kingdom to steer European Union aid policy in the direction of poverty alleviation.
In its examination of development policy in the European Union, the International Development Committee also focuses on other policies, including trade, the common agricultural policy and—I see that the hon. Member for Stone (Mr. Cash) is leaving the Chamber—the policy on combating international bribery. The European Union is a big player, internationally, and it is extremely important to achieve policy coherence. I quoted earlier the treaty provision which requires that. I see that the hon. Gentleman left the Chamber only for an instant, and that he is now back in his place.
Some Conservative Members have expressed concern about areas in which there is no EU policy coherence; the hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr. Mitchell) did so earlier. Most notably, he mentioned the common agricultural policy, but I am sure that he would agree that that applies to other areas as well. Is he really willing to give up a treaty requirement on the EU to improve policy coherence to defend the interests of developing countries? If he votes for his amendment tonight, he will give up the opportunity to achieve the sort of policy coherence for which he has just argued from the Dispatch Box. That would be weird, wonderful and bizarre, so I hope that he and other Conservative Members will reflect before they vote tonight. If they are genuine in what they say about supporting our Labour Government’s priority on poverty alleviation and the priority that we have given to international development, voting for their amendment tonight would show that their commitment to those objectives is lukewarm and that their commitment to isolationism in Europe is what really fires them up. That is the conclusion that I draw and I believe many people in this country would draw it, too.
It is a real pleasure and privilege to follow the hon. Member for City of York (Hugh Bayley). As he has reminded the House and demonstrated, he has a long and proud track record on this particular policy area and has rightly put the key principles of the treaty at the heart of this afternoon’s debate.
I also thank the shadow Secretary of State for his generous welcome to me. I was particularly pleased with his suggestion of consensus and I am certainly happy to do my bit to continue it across the House. I have to say, however, that a large chunk of his speech reminded me of many other debates on European affairs over the years where, as with other aspects of our debate over this particular treaty, there is very little consensus. It was nice to hear the familiar tones of what the hon. Gentleman had to say, but I regret that, for reasons that I shall advance as my speech progresses, we will not be able to support his amendment this evening. In particular, we cannot accept the assertion that the treaty is a step backwards in the provision of aid to the developing world. I know, however, that there will be many other areas of agreement and I look forward to further debates.
In the context of globalisation, Europe faces many difficult, shared challenges, which I believe are fundamentally best responded to on a co-ordinated basis. In the face of the growing pace and sustained nature of those challenges, the Lisbon treaty has to reform Europe’s institutions to make them more open, more efficient and effective. We have already debated key areas of consideration in the Bill where that is necessary, but that reform is also crucial to international development.
Providing development assistance to the millions of people less fortunate than we are is first and foremost a moral and ethical imperative. It is nearly eight years since the UN adopted the millennium development goals, and those ambitious targets have framed the international community’s work on development since then. But more than halfway towards our 2015 target, the most recent UN assessment shows that we are a long way from meeting our goals.
Regardless of Europe’s current institutional arrangements, we believe that there are important roles that Europe must play in the delivery of those goals.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that democratic consent is needed for that to be effective? If I were to promise to vote for the referendum he wants on being in or out of Europe, would he promise to vote for the referendum I want on the constitution, which would honour his manifesto pledge?
The right hon. Gentleman is assiduous in attending these events and I am delighted that he joined us today just before I rose to speak. May I commend to the right hon. Gentleman the article in The Guardian newspaper by my right hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr. Clegg), my party’s leader, which neatly sets out the reasons why we cannot, I am afraid, go along with the right hon. Gentleman’s request?
Despite some movement on poverty—particularly in the Asia-Pacific region, fuelled by the growth of India and China—sub-Saharan Africa remains very far off its key poverty reduction target. The level of extreme poverty in the region has moved from 46 per cent. to about 40 per cent., but it is estimated that given current economic trends, by 2015 360 million people in sub-Saharan Africa will still be living on less than a dollar a day. The moral imperative to improve the way in which we assist the developing world is therefore clear. But development is also fundamentally in our own interests, not least to provide stability in the world and security on these shores, to tackle migration, and to improve trade.
The hon. Gentleman makes much of the moral and ethical dimension, on which I agree with him entirely in principle. Does he not agree, however—I made this point to the hon. Member for City of York (Hugh Bayley), and I should like to know what the Liberal Democrats think—that poverty cannot be eradicated without proper and efficient mechanisms to deal with corruption in the developing world? It is not possible to remove poverty without removing corruption.
For once, I am at a loss to find a reason to disagree with the hon. Gentleman. I think he is absolutely right. His right hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood) mentioned corruption in the common agricultural policy. We must root out corruption: there should be no place for it in Europe, or in any other area where we are doing business or providing support.
Regardless of the current institutional arrangements in Europe, the Liberal Democrats believe in the principles of co-operation and multilateralism in international affairs, including international development. Beyond those principles, there are many practical aspects to recognise. As our development partners make clear, they also demand that donors place greater emphasis on cohesion, efficiency and effectiveness. That provides both an opportunity and a series of challenges for the European Union.
As the world’s largest economy, comprising some of the world’s richest nations, the EU has a number of obligations: not only to help the development of the extremely poor countries in Africa, Asia and elsewhere, many of which were once part of Europe’s empires, but to establish international structures to tackle the causes of poverty, be they conflict, climate catastrophe or, as the hon. Member for Stone (Mr. Cash) suggested, corruption. To a large extent European countries, acting alone or together through the European Union, have accepted those obligations.
EU members collectively are now the world’s largest international donors, accounting for more than half the world’s total official development assistance. As is shown by figures from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, the Community’s development assistance is larger than that of the World Bank, and several times larger than that of the United Nations Development Programme. The EU has played a leading role in the stepping up of the international community’s contribution on development. The agreement reached at the General Affairs and External Relations Council in May 2005, when the EU pledged to reach the international target of a contribution of 0.7 per cent. of gross national income to development by 2015, was a milestone. It provided a real impetus ahead of the G8 summit at Gleneagles later in the year, which made impressive commitments to increase aid to Africa by $25 billion per year by 2010, to increase aid to all developing countries by $50 billion per year by 2010, and to cancel 100 per cent. of debts for eligible countries.
The EU’s member states and institutions are central to the delivery of a large part of that agenda. The EU’s unique position in bringing together 27 nations offers a unique chance to introduce co-ordination and coherence to development policy across Europe, although the process is not without difficulties. Strenuous efforts have been made in recent years, resulting in the adoption of the European consensus on development in 2005 and that of the European consensus on humanitarian aid, which set out the principles, aims and criteria on the basis of which the EU and all its member states will pursue international development.
The fact that priority has been given to tackling poverty in the least developed countries represents a breakthrough, and that has now been incorporated in the Lisbon treaty. In its 2007 review, the OECD highlighted the positive reforms of recent years. It has reported:
“The adoption of the European Consensus has been a major strategic success”.
It has also argued that
“the community should continue to be a driving force for encouraging progress towards the agreed targets”,
but the EU’s current development structure is often complicated and confusing, and it is not short of critics. Indeed, the European institutions have a well-established reputation for bureaucratic complexity.
The OECD has highlighted the eternal tussle between control and oversight on the one hand and proper authority and appropriate decentralisation on the other. Its most recent report again expresses concern about attempts at micro-management and has recommended that
“the community should give more say to the delegations in prioritising and applying the thematic programmes in country.”
There are clearly important challenges here.
Unlike the common foreign and security policy, the Lisbon treaty does not make substantial changes to the Union’s development structures, but it does make a key change in refocusing the Union’s development policy on the primary objective of the reduction and eradication of poverty. We join the Government and development non-governmental organisations in welcoming that change.
I am listening carefully to the hon. Gentleman. He is experienced in foreign affairs, and he has seen, as have I, a number of examples of poor delivery of EU aid around the world over the years. Therefore, although the treaty’s reforms might be laudable in terms of giving it a poverty alleviation focus, does he have any confidence at all that the institutions of delivery within the EU are actually capable of delivering more effective aid in the future than they have been in the past?
We are in a period of transition. I have not ducked away from the need for Europe to get its act together on development aid, as on so much else: it needs to reform, and it must not regard the treaty as the end of that process. There is always room for improvement in delivery, efficiency and effectiveness. The Liberal Democrats believe that the treaty will provide the European institutions with more tools to do that job, but we should not be slouches in terms of keeping our eye on what happens. Although the hon. Gentleman and I differ on the analysis, he is right to keep focused on delivery.
The network of NGOs that operate through BOND—British Overseas NGOs for Development—have asked about how development policy will be implemented in terms of the new common foreign and security policy arrangements. While we believe that development policy can be complementary to the Union’s foreign policy objectives, foreign policies and development policies have different roles in international affairs, so it is important that the developing world’s viewpoints are central to the development of the Union’s external agenda. Having a focus on development in the reshaped Commission will be critical, and having a dedicated administrative structure for development will be essential.
I do not share the hon. Gentleman’s concerns, but may I pay tribute to him on the expertise that he has shown in this subject over many years? It is clear that poverty alleviation is now central to the treaty, but we will need to keep an eye on how the institutional arrangements are developed. I am sure that a part of that will be to ensure that there is adequate and proper focus on international development in the high representative’s new arrangements. It might be more straightforward to convince me on that than the hon. Gentleman; I believe that that is a perfectly appropriate way for things to develop.
Beyond the treaty and the institutional arrangements, we must ensure that the EU pursues the right development policies. A number of people have raised the issue of the economic partnership agreements, and the case can be made that the EU has not excelled itself in their negotiation. Now that the interim trade agreements have been initialled, the EU must honestly negotiate the comprehensive deals and honour the promises made to revisit provisions of the interim agreements.
As the hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr. Mitchell) and my hon. Friend the Member for East Dunbartonshire (Jo Swinson) remarked, as we start Fairtrade fortnight it is right that we celebrate the huge progress made on this issue over many years, particularly in the past few. Significant announcements have been made by Tate and Lyle about the future of its UK sugar sales and significant increases have been made in the amount of fair trade produce available in British supermarkets and elsewhere.
On trade policy more broadly, seven years on, the Doha development round remains stubbornly unresolved. At this year’s Davos summit, the World Trade Organisation’s director general, Pascal Lamy, shared his optimism that an agreement can be reached this year, but we have heard such statements before. The Doha round seems to be in danger of becoming part of some interminable groundhog day. If it is to be anything but that, the EU must be willing to drive forward an agreement that is genuinely in the interests of the developing world, based on a radical reduction of subsidies and tariffs and on improvements on market access.
In addition, we must keep the pressure on to ensure that environmental sustainability is a key millennium development goal. The agreement reached at Bali has the potential to address many of the developing world’s particular concerns about climate change, and we must all move quickly on technology transfer and adaptation. The EU must also ensure that Bali is only the beginning of a more comprehensive process. As the main player in establishing the Kyoto protocol, the EU must remain at the forefront of securing a successor agreement. It must learn from the experience of Kyoto and use all the tools at its disposal to ensure that the US and others come on board.
The test of our development policies will be judged in places as diverse as Kosovo, Gaza, Darfur and Sierra Leone. Under a new framework, the EU must ensure the following: a sharp focus on humanitarian assistance; proper policy coherence for development; a continued emphasis on the effective distribution of higher volumes of aid; and better aid implementation and management. Under the Lisbon treaty, it can, and must, make real progress in all those areas.
I think I am the only Member of Parliament whose constituency borders those of two Chief Whips—my right hon. Friend the Member for Ashfield (Mr. Hoon) and the right hon. Member for West Derbyshire (Mr. McLoughlin)—so I take some exception to the way in which the character of my neighbours has been traduced. They are both quite cuddly teddy bears, and I have never felt the slightest bit intimidated by either of them. I would be surprised if people thought that hon. Members are not able to stand up for themselves. I take exception to the remarks, particularly because I have had the experience of seeing at close quarters the Chief Whips for both the main parties in this Chamber.
I had better move on to the substance of the debate.
I welcome the changes embodied in the treaty because they embed principles of concern to us that are starting to be set out, particularly on poverty eradication. It must be possible for us to work better collectively to ensure that our efforts on aid and all development issues are progressed. Such an approach would be better than countries’ sometimes operating individually and not necessarily always co-ordinating. The more co-ordination to make our efforts count, the better. Various figures have been cited showing that the EU is responsible for between 55 and 77 per cent. of world development aid, and I am sure there is no disagreement in the Chamber about the fact that we must take measures to ensure that aid and assistance are given as effectively as possible.
As has been said, we have done well and the EU has made a major contribution to push forward the agenda. Reference has been made to the commitments that we achieved on the millennium development goals and at Gleneagles on extending aid to Africa. Those commitments are important and we need to build on them. The Opposition have made much of saying that the EU is ineffective and that its delivery does not work. Many examples have been given, but they are not an argument that we should not embed proper principles in the EU’s work—the issue is how we make that work operate more effectively, not that we should not go ahead with the treaty, which embeds the principles that we want.
There has been evidence of improvement in EU policies and their promotion. Every four years, the OECD development assistance committee undertakes a peer review, and its conclusions were different from the rather gloomy picture that we have been given so far. The review commended both the role of the Commission in reshaping development co-operation and the progress made since the previous review four years ago.
Major independent development policy think-tanks such as the Overseas Development Institute are calling for more development aid to be channelled through Europe. There are clearly different interpretations of what happens, but it appears that progress has been made, so it is essential that we build on it. It is important that we continue to restate the principles that will be embedded in the treaty if it is carried: for example, that the primary objective of development policy is the reduction and, in the long term, the eradication of poverty; that humanitarian aid is recognised as a fully fledged Union policy; that the EU’s development co-operation policy and the policies of individual member states reinforce each other; that we should be working towards that end; and that development policies should operate independent of political stance. It is vital that we maintain that independence and that we promote all those principles.
I have seen positive work carried out by the EU. Children from one of the poorer villages in my constituency have been to Burkina Faso, one of the most deprived countries in Africa, to help to dig a well. They have raised money for schools and projects in the country. It was exciting for them to be able to participate in even a minor part of that work. The EU has financed the construction of more than 900 classrooms and more than 300 primary schools and the establishment of canteens in the country’s three poorest regions. That is extremely important work.
The International Development Secretary set out what has been done by the EU and our country to promote democracy and advance in a terribly troubled country—the Democratic Republic of the Congo. I saw that work at close hand when, with other members of the all-party group on the great lakes region and genocide prevention, I visited the country to monitor the elections last year. It was a humbling experience and I can testify at first hand how extraordinary it was to see the work being done by the EU and MONUC—the United Nations Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Soldiers were making sure that the elections were fair, and they transported thousands of tonnes of ballot papers. It was an extraordinary experience to see at close hand so many people taking part in a peaceful registration process and election in an area of such conflict. The EU, DFID and our officials in the country are greatly to be commended for their work.
Pride can be taken in that achievement; the country is still extremely troubled and progress is difficult, but there is no doubt that the situation is now different. The latest estimate is that in the period of civil war, more than 4.5 million people died as a result of starvation or poverty, or directly from conflict and violence. Interestingly, the last study that was done—I have met its authors, who produced it by analysing what people knew of deaths in different periods—showed some evidence that in the east, the most troubled area, the number of deaths had started to fall. That might have changed again recently, but the fall in the number of deaths presumably occurred because more effort and assistance had been put into that area since the worst of the conflict than into areas that were not so troubled. There is thus hope for the aid process, but there are clearly an amazing number of areas in which a huge amount of work remains to be done.
Taking the DRC as an example of a country in which the EU should and does play a major role, one of the key issues is the reform of the security sector. My hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, North (Ann McKechin) pointed out that we want to maintain the independence of the policy aims of our development work, but that work necessarily correlates with work on security, military intervention and protection in conflict zones. Security sector reform is, and will continue to be, a critical issue in the DRC, and the European Union deserves praise for the creation of EUSEC—the EU security sector reform mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. I hope that Ministers will ensure, as far as they can, that we maintain the work of EUSEC and do not start withdrawing it in the coming period, when it will continue to be important to work on security sector reform and to maintain a presence in the DRC. Such action will be critical; without it, we might be prevented from ensuring that our development efforts have an impact on the dreadful problems that that country faces, which we need to deal with.
The EU has also played an important role directly in security in the DRC through the role of EUFOR and the troops that we have there, which helped the MONUC forces to secure the 2006 elections; the work of the EU’s special envoy to the great lakes; and the significant role played in the recent Goma peace accords. The EU’s role is important and must continue to be important. I want a treaty that embeds further the principles that we want to adopt and makes that work more effective, not one that states that we will withdraw our co-operation.
Structural reform is important, and points have been made about the possible shortcomings. Although there will be fewer Commissioners in the EU, I hope that we can keep one with direct responsibility for development. I hope that we will pursue that as a Government.
We had an interesting debate earlier about British Overseas NGOs for Development, and we can all cite different quotations from it. The secretary of our all-party group spoke to BOND earlier today to establish its position. As I understand it, it says that it is not its job to take a position on the treaty itself or on issues such as a referendum. It states that it
“strongly welcomes the proposed legal framework for development policy with poverty eradication at its heart, and the legally enshrined principle of the coherence of EU policies with development objectives.”
My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Northfield (Richard Burden) pointed out what it had said about now being the opportunity to improve the treaty and the development and legal framework. BOND goes on to say that its issue is not with anything in the treaty, but about how its principles will be translated into practice. Any failings in EU policy should mean not that we tear up the good proposals and changes in the treaty, but that we consider how to operate them in practice. Arguments that the EU does not always work properly are not arguments against the treaty as such.
I am listening carefully to the hon. Lady’s thoughtful speech. What is there in the treaty that will make the European institutions deliver aid more effectively? If nothing in the treaty would do so, how does she intend to see that that is brought about?
It is important that the treaty should include at its heart the principle of eradicating poverty, as well as a legally binding statement on the rights of children. Such issues are important. A treaty of itself does not make practice and implementation work; it sets out the framework within which they happen. That should be our aim in the treaty before us.
At a meeting in January with the all-party parliamentary group, Louis Michel, the EU Commissioner for Development and Humanitarian Aid, admitted that there had been problems with the time taken to implement EU programmes. We need to streamline the processes, but there are massive difficulties. There is corruption in countries such as the DRC, and it is not easy to implement policies in a country with only a few hundred miles of paved road. One can meet women there who say, “Our problem is that our children can’t go to school until they’re old enough to be able to walk the distance to get there.”
There are huge problems, and it is hardly surprising that there are difficulties in implementing programmes. One cannot write into a treaty how to implement policies on such issues. That is not to say that those issues are not important, and it does not take away from what the treaty says, but changes clearly need to be made to the treaty to make it work for a Commission involving more countries. Streamlining is needed; there can be no doubt about that. There are also other issues that we need to take on board. In the DRC, the issue of illegal logging is critical, as are climate change and the sustainability of rain forests and local communities.
I take exception to one point in the BOND document. BOND is opposed to the creation of a European voluntary humanitarian aid corps, which is a huge shame. I do not understand why. The treaty refers to establishing
“a framework for joint contributions from young Europeans to…humanitarian aid operations”
and says that rules and procedures for the operation of the corps will be worked out. BOND has expressed concern about the potential dangers. Obviously, that issue needs to be dealt with, but I have seen so many young people fired with enthusiasm who have had fantastic experiences and learned so much in other countries that I am concerned that BOND has taken that viewpoint. I think that the creation of the corps is a positive item in the treaty, and I support it. For a number of reasons, I support the treaty. I hope that we can take it forward and deal with the issues raised.
I enjoyed the speech of the hon. Member for Amber Valley (Judy Mallaber). To begin precisely where she ended, the issue with the volunteer corps is that it will be linked with humanitarian situations. As many of us have experienced, the first thing a developing country suffering a crisis wants is for professionals to come in with expertise and specialist skills to try to assist; perhaps the last thing it wants is a group of young people with good intentions who may not have the skills and expertise to be able to help with the situation. Let the EU do things that member states and international non-governmental organisations cannot do—it has a role, of course, as a multilateral aid provider. Gathering together a lot of young people and sending them overseas to increase their experience is a tremendous thing, but it is already being done by many different countries and international NGOs. Why does the EU need to trample on that territory?
I shall start with a highly controversial statement: I think that the European Union has been incredibly effective in the past 40 or 50 years in providing international development. It has been perhaps the most successful organisation ever in delivering one kind of development. I see looks of horror from certain colleagues, so I shall explain my remarks. If we define development as helping a country to become strong and acquire the rule of law, a market-based economy, a strong civil society, freedom of speech and organisation and an emphasis on human rights—if we define it as raising living standards—it is true that in the past 30 or 40 years, the European Union has been an incredibly effective framework for development in countries such as Spain, Greece, Portugal and the Czech Republic, as well as the Baltic states. In years to come, the impact will be felt in countries such as Romania and Bulgaria, which are already members, and in countries that have yet to enter the European Union.
The best thing about the European Union is the fact that the most effective form of development is the journey to join it. Countries have to jump the hurdles that we rightly set before them to become members of the European Union. Living standards for individuals in those countries are transformed in five, 10 or 15 years in a way that I have not seen happen anywhere else in the world through any other form of development. I make that point because it is important that the European Union focuses on its core business, and on doing what it does very well. That is why I strongly support enlargement.
I recognise that from time to time, treaty amendments are needed to enable ever more countries to make decisions in a coherent way. It is a pity that the Lisbon treaty goes well beyond that. I have travelled in the former Yugoslavia, the Caucasus, and in countries on the east of Europe, and the only political vision that those countries have is to work their way towards membership of the European Union. That is the journey or underpinning that makes those countries strong. I wonder what Europe would be like today if we did not have the framework of the European Union. I wonder how all those small countries would end up, and whether they would have the momentum for political progression and change, and for improving living standards, if we did not have the framework of the European Union.
My hon. Friend might have suspected that I would intervene at this point. When he speaks about European union, does he have in mind the European Union, with all its accumulated functions, as set out in the treaty, which merges all the existing treaties, or does he have in mind—I do not want to tempt him too far down this road—more of an association of nation states, through which we can co-operate to achieve objectives, but without a strict legal framework, which could be counter-productive on international development issues?
I agree with the hon. Gentleman that EU enlargement has been an important driver for development, but he will agree that there must be some geographic limits on enlargement. The EU has association agreements with countries that it would not accept into membership, including countries in north Africa and the middle east. Surely it is right that the European Union, which has been very good for development in central and eastern Europe, should apply that same expertise and those same strictures further afield, particularly in the poorest countries.
The hon. Gentleman anticipates my second point, which is that of course enlargement has natural limitations. We can count the number of countries that we know could fit comfortably in the European Union. Of course, enlargement must happen at a pace that the whole enterprise can cope with, but it is membership and the journey towards membership that brings the benefits. My thesis is that when the EU starts to undertake a different kind of development—external development—it does not do it very well. That triggers a debate on whether it should do it at all, in the way that it is trying to do it, or whether external development is better left to member states or other agencies. If I have time, I hope to develop those thoughts.
Putting aside the great success of enlargement, my observation is that the performance of EU development over the past decade or two has been woeful. We have considered statistics on the performance of the EU. In the three years in which I shadowed the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Clare Short), then Secretary of State for International Development, there were a number of international humanitarian crises and disasters. On every single occasion, the aid that DFID was able to provide was immediate, proportionate, relevant and helpful, but the assistance that I saw ECHO try to provide was nearly always far too late, was bureaucratic, did not work or did not arrive. There was a huge gap between the assistance that the UK could provide in a humanitarian crisis, and what the EU was able to deliver.
I do not want to taunt Labour Members, but we used to say that they did not understand the difference between spending money and making an impact on the ground. I am sure that they would deny that that is the case now, if it ever was—Members might have their own observations to make on the subject—but there is a huge difference between the EU spending money on development, aid and assistance and making an impact on the ground. Having visited various parts of the world, I have not seen the impact that the combined dollar spend and the euro spend by the EU should have made. We have heard that the focus is on the wrong countries, and that can be demonstrated with a startling statistic: 81 per cent. of the UK aid budget goes to the lowest-income countries, as we heard earlier, but the proportion of the EU institutions’ budget that does so is 32 per cent.
It is not just that the EU has spent money in the wrong places, but that, as I said, it has tended to spend money slowly and bureaucratically. A number of international NGOs are desperate for finance for projects, and often come to us to discuss those things. Someone may suggest, “Why not apply to the EU for some money?” and the reaction is nearly always: “It’s just too complicated. It’s too long-winded, we never get there, and it’s just not worth it.” Interestingly, DFID looked into what was going wrong with EU aid some years ago, and it found out that some of the delays were due to
“the inner workings of a Byzantine bureaucracy with a procedure-driven ethos.”
A study by the European Commission itself found that 40 per cent. of delays to aid projects were due to
“the administrative processes of the EU”.
Only 25 per cent. were due to administrative problems in the developing countries that received the aid.
Some 35 per cent. of aid from all other donors arrived on time, but for the EU, the figure was a miserable 14 per cent. On average, 3 per cent. of aid from all other donors arrived over a year late, but the EU has managed over the past 10 years to hit a staggering figure of 21 per cent. What is the point of DFID giving the EU £1 billion a year if it helps to fund such a bureaucratic, slow and unfocused performance? That is not the only problem. DFID has reported that it spends 5 per cent. of its total budget on administration. The EU has various development budgets and departments—we know that it is complicated—and it has a much larger budget, so the percentage spend on administration should be lower, but in fact, the administrative cost is 8.7 per cent., which is a huge amount of money.
EU aid is not effective in far too many cases, and it is right to conclude that EU development aid and the institutions that seek to deliver it are often not fit for purpose. That is not to say that everything they do is bad or wrong, but the disadvantages and disbenefits outweigh the benefits. What is the solution? I am not an isolationist—I do not want us to withdraw from active involvement in the European Union—but there is a case for one of two alternatives. It is disappointing that in the run-up to the Lisbon treaty those alternatives were not more actively pursued by the Government. First, there is a case for bringing more of the spend back to the member states so that we can spend it more effectively. We should not spend it on other things, but we can spend it more effectively on bilateral aid, where needed, around the world. The fact that some countries do not have much of a bilateral aid programme does not undermine the general thesis that the United Kingdom and many other countries, including Germany and France, have significant bilateral aid programmes, and the money would be better spent that way than by pushing it through the EU’s coffers, where much of it is wasted and misplaced.
The first point that should have been more actively discussed in the run-up to the Lisbon treaty is that member states should have more control of the way in which that money is spent. Secondly, the Government should consider the fact that the US spends most of its aid money through USAID—the United States Agency for International Development—which is independent. If I am right that the EU institutions and aid departments are not fit for purpose, what is wrong with the prospect of setting up a new EU international aid agency? It should be semi-detached, not lost in the corridors of that astonishing bureaucracy in Brussels, and it should operate as something through which the EU can channel its aid. It would be a multilateral effort, but it would be done in a more effective and focused way.
I know that the Minister is concerned about some of the EU’s decisions on its development budget, so will he say in his winding-up speech how much longer the Government will wait for the EU to improve its performance before taking a more radical approach? The Prime Minister made an important speech in India just before Christmas—it may have been just after Christmas; I am not entirely sure—in which he discussed the importance in the globalising world of the 21st century of multilateral organisations. I agree with him. We are living in a time of interdependence and globalisation, and we need to tackle some of our problems in collaboration with other states and multilateral organisations. He mentioned in particular the UN, the World Trade Organisation and the World Bank. Interestingly, he did not mention the EU. The problem with the multilateral approach is that it works only if those organisations are properly organised and deliver what they intend to deliver. My theory is that the EU does not do so, so it is time for a rethink.
Finally, the aid agenda is changing rapidly, and rightly so. If one goes to almost any African country and asks people what is the biggest problem in their country, they hardly ever say that it is poverty—they say it is corruption, which at every level is endemic to those societies. There is corruption in government, and corruption throughout civil society. We need to focus more on the democratic capacity of institutions in those countries, and bring to them values and benefits that we enjoy in this country and take for granted. Our aid and development focus should underpin and promote such values in every country that is open to receiving that message. The UK can play an important role by working to develop democratic institutions, whether through the rule of law or by helping political parties to become stronger and make a more coherent case for running their country more appropriately. The work by the Westminster Foundation for Democracy and party-to-party work are incredibly important. I remember attending a conference on democracy in Istanbul about two years ago, and the NGOs and some of the bureaucrats seemed to assume that one could do democracy without politicians. We cannot: we need people who are prepared to put their head above the parapet.
The EU is not well placed to promote democratic values. It certainly cannot promote party politics and underpin the important role that parties and politicians play in the developing world. If I am right that we need a greater focus, not a lesser one, on governance and democratic issues, the EU is not the institution to provide such a focus. It should let the member states spend that money more wisely, or set up a new agency that can do so effectively.
In his opening speech, the Secretary of State said that eliminating global poverty was one of the greatest challenges facing the world, and nobody could possibly argue with that. We should look not just at the principles to which people say they are committed, including the eradication of poverty, which no one in the House would oppose, but at how they are carried out in practice. That is the true test of any institution or organisation. In this country we view Europe either as a utopia which represents the most perfect mechanism ever constructed by man or woman, or as an empire of evil. Of course it is neither, but those are the themes that run through the debate. We should try to avoid such thinking.
We should look at how the philosophy and the principles of the European Union as they relate to aid and trade are implemented. At its root, Europe’s approach to trade and aid is incoherent. The treaty states that it aims to improve the coherence of wider EU policies with development objectives and poverty eradication. Who can argue with that? However, in the articles on trade policy, the treaty’s apparent favouring of a liberalisation approach over other objectives risks enshrining incoherence at the heart of the treaty. We must examine that.
My view of the current trend in the EU is probably not the majority view in the House, but we should encourage minority viewpoints at all times. I would argue that the EU Commission is perhaps—the Minister may wish to disagree—the most powerful neo-liberal force in the various world trade organisations which do much to shape the world and the lives of its people. In the most recent world trade talks, it adopted key demands made by corporate pressure groups such as the European Services Forum to force open services markets in poorer countries to multinational companies.
Despite massive opposition from developing countries, the EC and the ESF got almost everything they wanted into the services text of the Hong Kong World Trade Organisation ministerial decision, which increased pressure on poor countries to open up their markets for basic services such as water, health care and education. Previous episodes of liberalisation in these sectors restricted poor people’s access to those essentials.
The world is dotted with examples of that. It was the EU Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson, our former comrade, who said:
“We want to liberalise trade and grow markets in which to sell European goods and services. Multilateral negotiations”—
in the WTO—
“offer the biggest prize in achieving this.”
So EU trade policy makers generally share with the massive number of corporate lobbyists who hang about in Brussels the belief that promoting business interests by opening up markets in developing countries will automatically generate economic growth and reduce poverty. Accordingly, Governments actively encourage the corporate sector to help formulate trade policies. As one senior Brussels-based business lobbyist says:
“There is a broad political consensus. We share a common interest.”
The assumption that trade liberalisation will automatically lead to economic growth and cut poverty in developing countries has become the received wisdom. It was openly stated by our good friend, Trade Commissioner Mandelson, most recently in an article in The Observer on Sunday 2 February. That argument is advanced despite little convincing empirical evidence that trade liberalisation is associated with subsequent economic growth, and strong evidence that it can have extremely destructive impacts on poorer economies and the lives of poor people there.
A report from the Commission for Africa, which was set up by Tony Blair, concluded:
“Forcing poor countries to liberalise through trade agreements is the wrong approach to achieving growth and poverty reduction in Africa and elsewhere.”
The economists Adam Smith and David Ricardo, the godfathers of free trade theory, were also against rapid trade liberalisation. After a quarter of a century of experimenting with trade liberalisation, poor countries remain locked in a poverty trap, and rich countries continue to push developing countries to liberalise trade through global institutions such as the WTO. The EU plays a key role in that process.
The Lisbon treaty makes international trade an exclusive competence of the EU and includes foreign direct trade in a common commercial policy. It reduces the power of the member states over trade. Article 188 of the new treaty retains a special committee of officials from EU member states which is currently known as the article 133 committee. The House will be pleased to hear that I shall not elaborate on that, as I covered it extensively in a previous debate.
Economic partnership agreements are the instruments through which the neo-liberal policy of Commissioner Mandelson is pursued. To his credit, the Under-Secretary of State for International Development, my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, West (Mr. Thomas), has expressed reservations about the effect of economic policy agreements. A briefing from the Trade Justice Movement explains what those agreements mean, and it is worth putting that on the record. I shall highlight three elements.
First, EPAs require countries to liberalise tariffs on the vast majority of products, with exclusions only in exceptional cases. That would open up markets in African, Caribbean and Pacific countries to the EU’s subsidised agricultural products and more competitive manufactured products, undermining the livelihoods of smallholder farmers and the promotion of value-added production. Secondly, EPAs introduce new regulations on services, competition and Government procurement that would make it extremely difficult for ACP countries to support local companies, create new jobs and grow their economies. Thirdly, EPAs introduce stricter rules on intellectual property that would make it more difficult to access and afford educational materials on the internet.
I find myself in agreement with much of the hon. Gentleman’s argument. I agreed up to a point with the hon. Member for City of York (Hugh Bayley), but what the hon. Member for Elmet (Colin Burgon) is saying about economic partnership agreements is right and reflects the views of 19th century reformers who were anxious to achieve a balance between free trade and the proper care of the people who would be affected—hence, the corn laws. He may be interested to know that his constituency is the area where my family came from, and that Samuel Smiles and John Bright, both of whom would have strongly approved of what he said, were advocates of the policy that he promotes.
I shall probably have a midnight visit from the Whips, now that I have secured the hon. Gentleman’s support. On a serious note, I welcome the many contributions that he makes. The subject of our debate is important and he makes some significant points.
What are the effects of EPAs? I shall give three examples. Studies for Kenya’s Ministry of Trade, the International Monetary Fund and the EC indicate that under a proposed EPA, Kenya could lose up to 65 per cent. of its industry, 12 per cent. of its Government revenue and millions of rural livelihoods. As a further example from another country, Traidcraft reported that Jamaica’s dairy market liberalisation decimated small farmers, left local milk production with barely one tenth of the market in Jamaica and led to the EU supplying two thirds of the island’s milk powder.
The treaty effectively adopts a neo-liberal approach to its relationships with other countries; that is what it has to do with them.
I pray in aid Christian Aid, which has talked about the liberalisation of the tomato trade in Senegal, although that may be a subject of small importance to us. It showed that local prices halved while imports of EU paste increased twentyfold. We must be clear. As many fair trade organisations have pointed out, we must understand that the Lisbon treaty increases the powers of the unelected Trade Commissioner. I do not have a great deal of faith in that post as it is currently filled—nor, probably, will I have faith in it as it will be filled in future. Given the absence of any transparency or accountability in the EU’s trade decisions, hopes that the European Parliament will be able to challenge that increased power are effectively a pipe dream.
To come back to my central point, a few other hon. Members and I believe that the whole way in which the neo-liberal agenda relates to poorer countries must be challenged, because it involves a pernicious and harmful set of policies that will harm not only working people in Europe, but those in poorer countries across the world. Commissioner Mandelson’s global statements on Europe and on how he wishes to fashion it in future are bad news for us and certainly for the millions of our constituents who are so committed to fair trade policies, which EU policies—as currently designated and given where they are heading—will overturn.
There is no real debate or division in the House about the fact that 27 member states working together on international development will often be much more effective than 27 individual countries pursuing their own policies. Very often, however, the frustration with European development policy is that it has not delivered on its promises. That frustration was well summarised by the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Clare Short), when she was Secretary of State for International Development. She labelled the European Commission
“the worst development agency in the world”,
and went on to say:
“If we could drive forward a really coherent committed development agenda throughout the Commission it could be a fantastically powerful force for good”.
Today we are debating the treaty of Lisbon. The contribution by the hon. Member for Elmet (Colin Burgon) summarised why we have all been cheated in this debate. We have not had a public referendum or a proper public discussion. This is it: today is it as far as international development in respect of the treaty of Lisbon is concerned. He talked a lot about EPAs, although as far as I am aware they are not particularly mentioned in the treaty. As he acknowledged, he mentioned them because he opposes the whole thrust of EU trade policy. I am not sure whether he has caught on to Tony Blair’s third way, but that is a matter for him and the Labour party—it is a problem for the Labour Chief Whip, not for us. We all have our crosses to bear.
The hon. Gentleman’s position demonstrates that it would have been much better if we had had a proper national public debate on the treaty. Large numbers of people involved in development-related NGOs would like to have got involved in that. We have heard BOND prayed in aid so often because, I suspect, the Foreign Secretary sought to enlist all those development NGOs as supporters of the treaty and they, not unreasonably, resented that. They wrote and made that clear. ActionAid said that
“it would be premature to conclude that the Treaty is going to deliver the changes needed to improve European development policy”.
It went on to say that it has
“reservations on the Treaty’s discussion of trade, and particularly on the proposed extension of the Commission’s competency to cover services, investment and intellectual property”.
Save the Children expressed concerns about the
“omission of the principle of independence in the chapter on humanitarian aid, and the proposal to create a European Voluntary Humanitarian Aid Corps”,
and Oxfam said that there were a number of caveats and concerns about the treaty that it and other development NGOs had raised.
Today, we have had no real opportunity to probe those concerns; a single sitting of a Select Committee provides more opportunity to probe people’s concerns. This debate is a set-piece bit of theatre, in which many of the contributions, interesting though they have been, have not been about the treaty but about European co-operation and international development as a whole.
I should like to focus on four issues that the Government sought to lobby against and oppose during the negotiations. The first is that the treaty allows EU aid to become subsumed within the EU’s external action policy. Significant and important development values could become diluted and taken over by the foreign policy agenda. I was fortunate enough to be a junior Foreign Office Minister when the Overseas Development Administration was part of the Foreign Office. I was Baroness Chalker’s spokesman in this House, so I have lived through a time when international development was subsumed within foreign policy. I have to tell the Secretary of State that foreign policy prevailed; it will prevail even more, I suspect, as the European Union moves increasingly towards a common position on foreign policy.
Clearly, the Government were uncomfortable about that and they opposed it in the Lisbon negotiations. However, today we have heard little account of why and why Ministers were satisfied with the outcome. I bet a penny to a pound that in the next few years there will be times when UK Secretaries of State for International Development will be frustrated that international development policy is being subsumed by the external action plan—effectively, the foreign policy—of the European Union.
What the hon. Gentleman has mentioned will get even worse than it is now. Is it not the case that European international development policy is geared towards the better-off Francophone states on the fringes of the Mediterranean, rather than towards sub-Saharan African or other very poor countries? Will that situation not get worse?
The hon. Gentleman takes me neatly to the second of my four points. Everyone who has spoken has rightly said that the treaty refers to pro-poor policies; actually, it would be staggering if it did not. However, the treaty has an inherent contradiction, in that it removes reference to “the most disadvantaged”. As it happens, a very substantial proportion of EU development aid goes to middle-income countries, many in what is euphemistically known as the Maghreb. That is not a development policy, but a policy through which countries such as Spain, Greece and others—understandably, within their own terms of reference—try to improve the situation in middle-income countries such as Egypt, Morocco and others in north Africa in the hope that that will prevent more migrants from coming from those countries to mainland Europe. That policy is not one of development. I suggest that the removal of the reference to “the most disadvantaged” will mean that more money will be given to middle-income countries. As my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr. Mitchell) said, the Under-Secretary of State for International Development, the hon. Member for Harrow, West (Mr. Thomas), made exactly that point in an effective speech a couple of years ago—far too much money is being given to middle-income countries. So why were the Government content about that phrase being removed?
The treaty provides for the creation of a voluntary humanitarian aid corps. That, too, was opposed by the Government in negotiations. It is the sort of thing that sounds like a good idea, but when one gets down to the practicalities—how it is to be funded, how it is to be supervised, where it is to go, and in what circumstances it will operate—it is clear that it will be a distraction from the work of some already very professional NGOs or will give Governments who should be committing resources for humanitarian intervention an excuse to say, “Well, we will just fund the voluntary humanitarian aid corps.” Whatever the position, we know that the Government opposed that during the negotiations, and no explanation has been given today as to why that was the case and why Ministers are now happy to sign up to a voluntary humanitarian aid corps.
The treaty provides for an extension of qualified majority voting to urgent macro financial and humanitarian aid, which removes the UK’s veto on these matters. Again, the Government opposed that in negotiations. There must have been some good reason why they opposed what is clearly a reasonably technical provision. People at UKRep, DFID and the Foreign Office must have felt that there had been occasions in the past when they would have been in difficulties if the provision had prevailed and they could foresee situations in future when they would be in similar difficulties. Why on earth was that not discussed or explained to the House?
We have had no explanation on any of the issues where the Government sought to oppose the treaty of Lisbon in the negotiations in which the right hon. Member for Neath (Mr. Hain) and others were involved. Ministers have not come to the Dispatch Box to say, for example, “We opposed the voluntary humanitarian aid corps in negotiations on the treaty but we got the following assurances, undertakings and promises, so we now feel that we can sign up.” What we got from the Secretary of State today was a thoughtful, elegant “motherhood and apple pie” speech about why international development is good for us. We all know that international development is good for us—we are not here to debate that but to debate how the treaty of Lisbon affects our relationship with the European Union as regards international development. However, we have not had that debate.
I agree with much of what my hon. Friend says, but I invite him to consider another point. The debate is not only about our relationship with the European Union but our own domestic law. The object of the exercise is that the Lisbon treaty, by virtue of the Bill, will be implemented into UK law. In many respects, what we are discussing is now to be termed an exclusive competence, which means that we will be excluded from legislating in that field. I am sure that he understands that.
Yes, I do. However, all treaties, whether the Single European Act, Maastricht or Amsterdam, have had a similar effect on the provisions that they have dealt with, and that is why it is important to have a sensible debate about the exact provisions and how they apply.
The other thing that we have not had a proper debate about is what the treaty does to improve the efficiency of EU aid. The hon. Member for City of York (Hugh Bayley) mentioned two International Development Committee reports, one of which was done when I chaired the Committee and the other during this Parliament, which raised considerable questions about the efficiency of EU aid. The fact that EU aid is not always completely efficient is not a reason for not having it, but we need to know how the treaty will make its delivery more efficient. I do not think, in all fairness, that we have heard from the Treasury Bench a single instance of where it is believed that the provisions of the treaty of Lisbon will make the delivery of international development through the EU more effective and efficient or give better value for money.
This has been a total non-debate, and the whole process merely adds to the general democratic deficit. I say that as an ardent pro-European, as everyone in the House knows. I campaign for Britain in Europe, and I will continue to do so. However, the way in which we have conducted this whole process leads to huge numbers of people—our constituents—feeling that they have been cheated out of a proper public debate. We have not had a debate on the ramifications of the treaty of Lisbon as it relates to international development, and that is very sad. This has been a fraud of a debate, and for that reason I will join my hon. Friends in the Lobby in support of their amendment.
We are debating what is supposed to be a reform treaty—that is what it was called before it became the treaty of Lisbon—and no area is more ripe for reform than the policies connected with international development and aid. The aid budget is part of the general EU budget, which is, as the House knows very well by now, a byword for inefficiency, mismanagement and waste. It has been subject to qualification by the auditors for 12 years in a row. No private sector organisation would have survived that. If the EU were a private company it would long ago have collapsed or been taken over, and the directors would have been sacked or in prison. If this really were a reform process, it would have tackled the lack of accountability and poor management at the heart of the European Union in its budget.
We know that the Government share those misgivings, particularly on the aid side. The European Scrutiny Committee receives reports on the EU programme, and on one occasion last year it was, in its measured and diplomatic way, very critical of EU procedures. I will quote, almost at random:
“in general, evaluations point to long delays in implementation and highlight the rigidity and slowness of Commission procedures”.
Many hon. Members who have been more intimately connected with the Department know full well that there is something seriously wrong with the delivery of aid at EU level.
No reform was carried out, and instead the treaty centralises more powers. I strongly agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Tony Baldry), who described the process of capture in relation to the Foreign Office provisions of the treaty. The Government need to explain why, when this country has moved its aid programme away from the Foreign Office, the treaty moves in exactly the opposite direction. That need not have been done; it is a result of last year’s secretive negotiation process. The Government would have got support from the House in opposing this if we had known about it, but the critical decisions were made in secret by officials in the early part of last year. The treaty text was then presented to member states only two days before the European summit in June, at which it was all politically decided.
My hon. Friend the Member for Banbury is right about the politicisation of aid that will result from this, which is bound to undermine historical and traditional British priorities about aid and where it should go.
Will the right hon. Gentleman at least acknowledge that the treaty represents a significant step forward in terms of development co-operation, in that it enshrines the fact that the primary purpose of EC development spending should be fighting poverty?
No, I am afraid I cannot agree to that. The existing Maastricht treaty text specifies
“more particularly the most disadvantaged among them”—
a reference to developing countries, and where aid should go. The explicit intention was to direct aid to the poorest countries in the world. That article was repealed by the Lisbon treaty, and it was not replaced by similar wording about the direction of the aid budget. I am afraid I do not agree with the Under-Secretary.
Indeed, the treaty reinforces the move towards expenditure on things such as the neighbourhood policy. There are obviously deserving countries on the borders of Europe, but they are by no means the poorest countries in the world. It is not clear to me why we should distort the British aid programme, in ways of which I know the Government disapprove, by swinging it away from the poorest countries to those politically important to the EU.
Running right the way through this treaty is a sort of “little European” attitude, which sees everything through the prism of continental Europe. That is completely out of cue with our historic and traditional concerns and responsibilities, which are global. Our horizons are much wider. It has been alleged in a puerile way that we in my party are somehow isolationist. Quite the reverse: we are the true internationalists. We believe that our responsibilities go much wider than Europe. Of course we are concerned with continental Europe. This country has often gone to war in the past to stop the continent falling under the domination of a single power. But we are also a maritime, global country with historic responsibilities that go much wider. That state of affairs will be undermined and distorted by this treaty.
The other aspect of international development is trade. Trade has an enormous ability to lift countries out of poverty, and many studies have shown that even quite modest increases in trade flow have a much more benign effect on the lifting of countries out of poverty than even the most generous aid programmes. Trade rewards efficiency, and it creates a self-sustaining mechanism for economic lift-off. Many countries, such as South Korea, Taiwan and Singapore, have followed that path. Aid, by contrast, reinforces dependency and invites corruption.
I am a trade liberaliser; liberalisation is very important, as was recognised in the millennium goals of eight years ago. Tragically, not enough has been done since then to liberalise trade. The Doha round has stalled. The additional tragedy is that we are trapped; there is nothing that this country can do. We are quite unable to do anything on our own, and we do not have a trade policy. Hon. Members might remember that we used to have a Board of Trade. It does not exist any more. There is no expertise in this country; very few officials and practically no Ministers engage in trade policy at all, because we have handed over trade policy to our ex-colleague Peter Mandelson. He twice left the British Cabinet in disagreeable circumstances, and is now in an unelected body that meets in secret, which has a monopoly on trade policy. It is he who decides, not us.
The reason for that is the fact that we are stuck in an old-fashioned customs union. The rest of the world has gone in the completely different direction of creating free trade agreements. That is the modern way; that is what more prosperous parts of the world have done. They have not created customs unions where everything is concentrated in an over-regulatory centralised system. They have created free trade areas that enable individual members to do bilateral deals and make agreements with other countries, including poor countries. We are unable to do that. Instead, we have the prospect of the European Commission bullying poor countries by trying to impose agreements on them that they often feel they do not want.
I believe in free trade, but it is not an ideology. It must be entered into only on terms acceptable to the countries concerned. If we had more freedom, as the fifth largest economy in the world, to help those poor countries and the poor people in them, we could do something to help them before the Doha round is brought into effect. But we cannot do that, because of the complete inability of the European Union to think in any other way than centralisation or the reinforcement of the customs union, which is practically unique in the world. It is not a model that has been followed elsewhere.
That argument was never examined during the so-called reform process that started in 2001. There was a fanatical resistance to any diminution in the powers of the central organisations.
I agree with every word my right hon. Friend is saying. Does he recollect that one of the problems was when President Sarkozy put his foot down and took the words “undistorted competition” out of the treaty? That wording could conceivably—although I doubt it in practice—have provided the sort of free trade that my right hon. Friend and I agree about. In fact, it is more likely, particularly given French influence in Africa, that there will be more protectionism, working exactly against the interests of the people whom we want to protect and want to see prosper.
I agree with my hon. Friend. Those dangers are real, and he is also right to say that we gave way far too readily to the French preoccupation with protectionism and the lack of competition. All the way through the Convention on the Future of Europe, we sustained defeat after defeat. For instance, at present we have a residual ability to sign international agreements bilaterally, particularly in the area of intellectual property and services. That ability is removed by the treaty. Indeed, the whole common commercial policy, which will include those areas, becomes an area of exclusive competence for the first time. That means that member states are literally forbidden to legislate in that area or to conclude any agreements with outside countries. Also included, and again the Government did not want this, is foreign direct investment—a huge area that will be transferred from national control to the EU. Again, the Government tabled amendments and argued against that notion all the way through the Convention, and again they lost.
My other point on trade is that at the very least we should know what is going on, but we do not. I have tried many times to find out what is really happening in the EU Commission and Council with regard to the negotiations in question. In a parliamentary question a year or two ago, I asked for the details of the EC anti-dumping and anti-subsidy advisory committee. It was an important question, because the committee was imposing emergency tariffs on shoes to the detriment of companies in my constituency. I was told in the reply:
“The minutes of the Advisory Committee are not available to the public.”—[Official Report, 3 July 2006; Vol. 448, c. 857W.]
The article 133 committee decides the details of trade matters. Again, I asked to see the minutes, and I was told that it meets weekly, that there are no formal minutes, but that it does publish outcomes. I got a copy of the outcomes, and for greater accuracy, I have brought a copy with me this evening. It is not helpful because everything has been deleted. The document details the outcome of a meeting of 17 February 2006, and everything of any interest has been deleted: there are 16 deletions. I want to know what is going on in those negotiations. There is a reference to aluminium being discussed, but that has been deleted, too. I do not know what they were saying about aluminium, but it might have been interesting. It says at the end:
“Over lunch the Committee discussed the following items…the Aid for Trade Task Force…and information by Denmark on the issue of cartoons.”
No other information is given. The committee obviously had a good lunch, but it does not tell us what was discussed, who said what, who decided what, who voted, or even whether there were any votes.
Not only is that whole area of policy secretive and in conflict with British aims, but we know that the Government did not want it at the time. The House should not accept it now.
I endorse what my right hon. Friend the Member for Wells (Mr. Heathcoat-Amory) has said. It is absolutely extraordinary that we are here and the House is virtually empty. The right hon. Member for Rotherham (Mr. MacShane) pops in every now and again like a little gadfly, and he occasionally speaks up. I wish that he would contribute to this debate, because I am sure that he has a great interest in such matters. He told us on the radio the other day that while I was droning on, as he put it, he had taken an approach of Lenten abstinence in these debates. Considering the fact that he has intervened on a number of occasions, I would be grateful if he would take the opportunity to do so today.
I agree, as a matter of fact.
The problem is that this is an issue of enormous importance. I do not want to give the impression, any more than my right hon. Friend the Member for Wells does, that the Conservatives are not genuinely interested in the developing world and third-world problems. The Under-Secretary of State for International Development, the hon. Member for Harrow, West (Mr. Thomas), who is now in the Chamber, knows that I, and other Conservative Back-Bench Members, dedicate a great deal of our time to trying to deal with these questions.
The Secretary of State was kind enough to refer to my work on the all-party group on water and sanitation in the third world, of which I have the honour to be chairman. An early-day motion on that subject was signed by 250 Members of Parliament, while 310 supported my early-day motion on the reduction of third-world debt. Why? There is all-party recognition that the subject is incredibly important. It is utterly unacceptable that people should die needlessly in developing countries. It is appalling and disgraceful that a child dies every 15 seconds for lack of proper water. That is unacceptable, and it is essential that the Opposition, as well as the Government and the Liberal Democrats, should fight to ensure that we have policies that work.
Against that background, I am deeply worried about the manner in which the EU functions on aid. Irrespective of our belief that help and the eradication of poverty should remain at the heart of our policy making, the EU is not the mechanism for achieving that. All the evidence points in the other direction. We heard my right hon. Friend the Member for Wells eloquently express the fact that the documents that he elicited were left blank. We know that the European Court of Auditors has issued a number of reports over an extended period to demonstrate that the way in which EU aid is delivered is not good enough.
We know that the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Clare Short), when she was Secretary of State for International Development, was deeply critical of the way in which the EU functioned in relation to her responsibilities. I do not believe that what she said at that time had anything to do with the Iraq war. It was just an objective assessment of how she saw the operation being conducted under the aegis of the EU.
Why would I be concerned about the specific obligations imposed under the treaty? For example, as I said in an earlier intervention, and as my right hon. Friend the Member for Wells mentioned, the fact that the treaty arrangements provide for exclusive competence in this field is a retrograde step. Exclusive competence, for those who have the faintest idea about the EU—not for those who pretend that they do not know, allow these processes to continue and then pretend that our Parliament and our Government have some residual ability to legislate—means that states cannot legislate in that field. It means that the ability of this House and its better means of delivering the objectives that we all seem to share—with the proviso that we, for our part, would like to exclude exclusive competence, as the Government intended—are contracted out.
I wish that some Members of this House would be honest enough to realise that they are effectively conning the British people when they pretend that they are improving the lot of people in the third world, when this exclusive competence will mean that we will no longer be able to make provision to help the people whom we all agree need help.
My hon. Friend is making a powerful point. Does it not follow from what he is saying that if the EU gains exclusive competence in this area, because it has a long-standing history of being very bad at spending aid, particularly on the less developed countries, and because the treaty does nothing to improve that, there is a danger that less aid will go to the very poor countries in future?
I agree. It is pretty extraordinary to hear the Government advocating a policy—we certainly are not advocating it—of more EU competence in this field. That is because—it is necessary to be blunt and direct about such matters, even if at times that is controversial and unpopular—some of the countries that are part of the EU have the most appalling record of behaviour in African countries. I would like to know, for example, whether the involvement of Belgium in Congo would be regarded as one of the great aspects of humanitarian aid and help to the people of Africa during the 19th century.
I do not think that we are without blemish but I will say emphatically that we created and helped a lot of those countries through education, infrastructure and development over an extended period, including in the old colonial territories. That work far exceeds anything that President Mugabe has done for his country. He has brought the whole edifice of Zimbabwe to its knees. I believe that the EU will not be able to provide the opportunities and facilities that will genuinely help the countries that need it most.
Africa is approaching a crisis. There are serious difficulties in South Africa and serious problems with AIDS. As I said when I intervened on the hon. Member for City of York (Hugh Bayley), with whom I have worked closely over an extended period, the difficulties of eradicating poverty are made 1,000 times worse by the inability to deal with the problems of corruption. They cannot be separated.
The Court of Auditors has often rejected the way in which the European accounts have been operating. Nothing in its reports suggests that it should have an exclusive competence over handling international aid in Africa. It is not best placed to secure proper anti-corruption policies such as those advocated in the Bill that I proposed last year, or many of the Department’s recommendations, which, on the whole, pointed in the right direction. I do not agree with everything that the Department has done and I do not believe that it has gone nearly far enough, but we have an absolute responsibility to bring forth the problems of transparency and accountability in our debates. I am not convinced that the European Union will do anything to improve the position.
The treaty does not refer to corruption. As my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Tony Baldry) said, it contains much motherhood and apple pie, but there is no evidence that it will deal with the seriously ingrained problem of corruption, which is endemic in much of the third world. We have a responsibility to our taxpayers because the aid money paid to the European Union through tax mechanisms, and thereby from the European Union to the developing world, is our taxpayers’ money. We must ensure that it is used properly.
My hon. Friends and I are determined to improve the lot of people who live in appalling conditions. The way in which some people in the third world live is a form of modern slavery. It is inconceivable to us, sitting in the House of Commons, that people should live on such limited resources. That is mostly unnecessary and happens because there is no proper control. I strongly condemn the idea of transferring more and more functions to the European Union when we have a track record and our Government have tried, albeit not entirely successfully, to tackle those matters. I had a great deal of time for the right hon. Member for Leeds, Central (Hilary Benn), the Secretary of State’s predecessor, who is now the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. He worked incredibly hard and was truly dedicated. I say the same of the Under-Secretary, because I know that he wants to make things better. I simply do not believe that the European Union is the right way to go.
Leaving aside questions of aid and development, the infrastructure in developing countries can be improved only if they have the finances and resources to achieve that, as well as the expertise that goes alongside. The way in which the whole operation is currently conducted, including the enormous debts that those countries have been encouraged to incur and the amount of interest that they have had to repay, simply has not left them with enough money to invest in infrastructure. There is a new 1980s and 1990s generation of people in Africa and the rest of the third world who understand the problems that their countries face. They want genuine improvements, and I believe that the answer lies in proper free trading arrangements. I am appalled by the failure of the Doha round. The customs union and the way in which protectionism operates in Europe are detrimental to the third world, and I strongly believe that the powers should be repatriated.
I have more than a little sympathy for the hon. Member for Banbury (Tony Baldry), who tried to deal with the chapters in the treaty that we hoped to discuss this afternoon. Chapter 3 on humanitarian aid and the previous two pages spell out many of the issues that have been mentioned. He was right to say that no one who has participated in the debate has any doubts about the House’s commitment to development, to helping eradicate poverty, to developing, when possible, initiatives that relate to aid and to ensuring that we get better value for money.
However, there are some serious questions about the chapter on humanitarian aid. I intervened earlier to mention a recent visit that the Under-Secretary made to Bangladesh, followed by a visit by my hon. Friend the Member for Rochdale (Paul Rowen) and me a few days later. We visited what are undoubtedly some of the poorest parts of the world. I pay tribute to the Department’s work there and I cannot give it more praise than to say that it is a credit to our nation. The European Union could do worse than take some lessons from the Department about the way in which it operates.
The Secretary of State spoke in his opening remarks about his visit to Sierra Leone and his journey through Freetown, where he saw many signs, which showed who was working there. He said that he wanted to see fewer—I pay tribute to the proper English of my hon. Friend the Member for East Dunbartonshire (Jo Swinson), who put us all right earlier—signs but greater co-ordination. Many hon. Members who have spoken are experts and know that, when travelling around, one witnesses the failure of co-ordination in many countries. I am at a loss to find anything in chapter 3 to suggest that things will be better co-ordinated.
I am with hon. Members who are worried about corruption and the amount of it that affects European aid. I have witnessed European work on numerous occasions in many parts of the world, including Kosova. Anyone who believes that European aid in Kosova has not been corrupted has not seen the real Kosova. Tens of millions of pounds have been misappropriated in Kosova over the years and it is a travesty to suggest that that has not happened.
I want the Government to assure the House that the treaty will not seriously impede the legitimate aims of the House and our country of following the same pattern of humanitarian aid that we have followed in the past 40 years. I want the Government to assure us that we remain committed to supporting those countries that have traditionally been the UK’s allies and looked to us for a lead. I want to be sure that that commitment will not be diluted and I want the Secretary of State and the Under-Secretaries to give us a full-blooded commitment that the treaty and the suggested amendments to it will not do the opposite of what everyone who has spoken wishes. I wanted the way in which the treaty can be of greater benefit to the humanitarian needs of the world to be spelled out line by line.
Does not the hon. Gentleman agree that the Government have a serious problem? We all want things to happen to improve the lot of people in the third world, but is not it extraordinary that the Government, for reasons of state, continue to promote a treaty, in which they clearly did not believe in respect of international aid in their negotiations?
That is a good point. There has been ample opportunity to explain that this afternoon. The Secretary of State was generous in giving way and sought to clarify the point, but it is so serious that I hope that we get further clarification in the Under-Secretary’s winding-up speech. I hope that the Minister will not be reluctant to expose the House to his thoughts on that issue. As others have said, the hon. Gentleman is right, yet again, to push it.
I also have some difficulty with what the Opposition spokesman said. The right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague) smiles, but I was not being critical; I was trying to offer some assistance, because the Conservatives were so critical of the idea of a volunteer corps. I have had the privilege of writing a report for the Council of Europe on the work of the International Committee of the Red Cross and the Red Crescent. We saw at first hand in Bangladesh how the volunteer corps, whose members had been properly trained by the Red Crescent, proved invaluable in being available on the spot. The International Committee of the Red Cross has said time and again that if every country bothered to train a volunteer corps that could be co-ordinated properly, a lot of the problems that are encountered initially could be sorted out far quicker, without having to wait for aid to come from elsewhere. Setting up a volunteer corps, based on the sound principles of training and proper co-ordination, should therefore not be so easily dismissed.
The hon. Gentleman referred to chapter 3, on humanitarian aid. He will therefore be aware that article 214.5, on page 137 of the consolidated texts, says:
“The European Parliament and the Council, acting by means of regulations in accordance with the ordinary legislative procedure, shall determine the rules and procedures for the operation of the Corps.”
That framework of rules and procedures could do the very thing that he wants, which is to ensure that ill-informed and unprofessional volunteers do not participate. Indeed, quite the reverse: the treaty could professionalise the work and lead to further help across the world.
That is exactly the point that I was trying to make. The hon. Gentleman has made it far more eloquently than me and I am grateful for his intervention. The disappointment from our side arose from what the Opposition spokesman said on the matter. I want to see that co-ordination and I want to see a volunteer corps established, properly trained, properly funded and properly dealt with.
As the hon. Member for City of York (Hugh Bayley) said, it was all too apparent that people had used the BOND letter to suit their own purposes. It was unfortunate to say the least that expressions of support from some world-renowned organisations, such as Oxfam, Christian Aid and others, were written into statements by the Foreign Secretary in such a way as to imply their absolute support with no reservations, when the letter clearly established that they had more than a few reservations about what was happening. It is only fair that we should give organisations an opportunity to have the record put straight. I welcome the comments of hon. Members who have attempted to do that, but I accept the fair point that the hon. Gentleman made, which is that other people had been very selective. That was a fair point, but we have to take the letter in its totality. We have to accept that there was good and bad in it, and we cannot see it in any other way.
I know that the hon. Member for Glasgow, North (Ann McKechin) wants to get in, so I end by thanking the Oxfam project team in Bangladesh, particularly Jahan Rume for the tremendous work that she does on behalf of Oxfam, ably supported and properly co-ordinated as she is, as well as our team, led by Chris Austin and others from DFID, which has worked wondrously hard to pool all the efforts. It is a great credit to us that the people of Bangladesh are so grateful for the way that we have responded to their needs. However, it beggars belief that DFID should have to pay the Ministry of Defence out of its own funds for second-hand, out-of-service boats from the Royal Navy, so that it can provide inshore craft.
My final message to the Secretary of State is this: the people in the cyclone areas of Bangladesh that we visited said that they did not want more food, more money or more handouts. What they wanted was good technical help, so that they can get back to work. Their work is fishing. What they need is new nets and new boats—not a boat each, but boats that co-operatives can run, and £700 for a boat and a net that can harness the resources for 10 families is not a big price to pay. DFID and others, including the Prime Minister, should look into what they can do to give more of that aid to the people in that country.
I thank the hon. Member for Portsmouth, South (Mr. Hancock) for his courtesy. I also apologise to the House for my unavoidable absence for part of the debate.
It is fair to say that this debate has been characterised by an argument about bilateralism versus multilateralism. I would like to argue the case for a multilateral approach. The European Union has a unique strength, given its ability to look at the full range of issues that impinge on development, not only in its direct humanitarian work, but in promoting European values, such as human rights, equality, democracy and freedom. The European Union has the ability to look not only at aid, but at trade, foreign affairs and security, all of which, most of us would agree, have a major impact on development. That is why I particularly welcome the formal recognition in the new treaty that the primary objective of EU development policy should be the reduction and eradication of poverty in the context of the millennium development goals.
In many parts of the world, the formal distinctions between security, foreign and development policy are increasingly no longer relevant. When we interact with fragile states, the ability to offer a comprehensive range of interlinked policies becomes even more crucial. In the periods immediately after conflict, which we are witnessing in countries such as Afghanistan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, it is all the more important that we should act together. A good example of that is the European Union’s security sector reform programme, which is operating in the DRC and Burundi. Indeed, the EU is the only meaningful body promoting such co-ordination and is the source of one of the very few effective security sector reforms in the entire region, which includes a mechanism to ensure soldiers’ pay.
Questions have been raised recently about Belgium’s agreement of a military aid package with the DRC Government, but purely on a bilateral basis. That should be a cause for concern. I hope that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State agrees that it is of the utmost importance that all EU members should work within the EU security reform processes to ensure that the difficult issues of conflict and corruption in the DRC can be tackled in the most effective way.
Although there have undoubtedly been problems with European programmes in the past, the biggest structural problem that faces the global aid community today is that the aid structure is running out of control. In the 1960s, most poor nations had an average of about 12 bilateral or multilateral donors. Now the average is 33. In just one year Tanzania, for example, had to receive more than 540 separate aid donor missions. Uganda has more than 40 donors and 684 different aid instruments, while St. Vincent, with a population of 117,000, was asked to monitor 191 indicators on HIV/AIDS alone. The list goes on, but only a quarter of global aid currently comes through multilateral bodies such as the EU. Despite the ever increasing number of donors, however, programmable aid has largely stagnated since 2002. We simply cannot go on in this manner, with such huge levels of bureaucracy holding least developed countries down, in their attempt to achieve the millennium development goals.
If we agree that aid budgets throughout Europe should increase to the target of 0.07 per cent. of gross domestic product, we need to do more to achieve effective harmonisation and alignment of aid policies. We simply cannot ignore the European Union’s role, and we cannot even more ridiculously call for it to do less or for all the money to be transferred into our bilateral programme. The EU is the world’s largest donor—more than 55 per cent. of world aid comes from Europe—and its influence will grow as new accession states start to form their own development capacities. We therefore have a global presence that we can work with, and the only logical approach is to work for appropriate reform and to achieve a high level of policy alignment.
I welcome the fact that the treaty accepts that, for the first time, humanitarian aid is to be allocated only on the basis of need, without consideration of the recipients’ origins or beliefs. It also states that non-aid policies should do no harm and, wherever possible, should support progress towards development goals. Particularly importantly in relation to trade—given that the treaty states that the principles of the commercial policy of the EU are based firmly on trade liberalisation, and makes no specific mention of the need for that to be linked to a pro-development focus—I would argue that we should treat the no-harm principle for non-aid policies as a minimum, and not as the limit of our ambitions for European development.
Our experience in the European Union with the World Trade Organisation negotiations and the economic partnership agreements shows that it is vital to preserve and strengthen a development focus in our trade work. I would contrast the position here in the UK—where the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform shares my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, West (Mr. Thomas) with the Department for International Development as a development Minister, and where we have a long-standing policy on the adverse effect of failing to sequence trade liberalisation reforms to allow domestic capacity to grow—with that of the European Union, which has often fallen back on protectionist arguments. That is why I would argue that the UK should be pressing heavily, as part of the Lisbon treaty, for a separate Development Commissioner who has equal status to that of the Trade Commissioner and that of the new high representative on foreign affairs.
If we were to take a no-harm approach—and nothing more—in trade policy, we might limit the possibilities of further meaningful reform. The present round of economic partnership agreements, for example, has failed to reduce or eliminate export subsidies. I also agree with other hon. Members that we need to lift access not only to the least developed countries but to all African countries. Whether we are talking about Kenya or Zambia, agricultural access to the European Union is vital to their economies, and we should now start to give that access without exception.
Another example is that the European Union does not currently control the import of timber known to have been illegally logged, despite the fact that the WWF estimates that the EU is responsible for around €3 billion-worth of illegal timber trading a year. Such exports fuel conflict in areas such as the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and also have a devastating impact on global carbon emissions. That is a perfect example of the need for the European Union to act to co-ordinate policy in member states. A pro-development agenda in all parts of the policy making machine in Europe should recognise the value of such changes.
I also hope that the new administrative structure will ensure that we can act together in important spheres, particularly in regard to taking forward the Paris declaration on aid co-ordination and alignment within Europe. With 27 states, the risk of a growing topsy-turvy jumble of aid programmes is all too high, which is why political priority and momentum must be put into pressing the case for greater, not less, collaboration. If possible, we should clearly separate the neighbourhood countries programmes from those funding streams with a stronger poverty-reduction focus, including the work of EuropeAid.
The present artificial split of nations between the Development Commissioner and the External Relations Director needs to end. African, Caribbean and Pacific countries, as well as Asia and Latin America, should be brought together under a new, strengthened Development Commission portfolio. The message of today in the Lisbon treaty is that acting together, in co-operation, should mean better aid, and a better chance of reaching the millennium development goals.
It is a pleasure to wind up this excellent debate, which started in characteristic style with the Secretary of State treating us—albeit with great charm—to the normal campaign of explanation that the treaty is a wonderful, innocuous document and that any Member who could not appreciate its merits was simply suffering from the usual Conservative paranoid delusions about its contents. He was quick to outline benefits such as the enshrined emphasis on poverty eradication, which we also applaud, but I had hoped that he would have been just as quick to acknowledge some of the shortcomings.
All too often in debates of this nature, it is easy to get caught up in the detail and to miss the bigger picture. So let us be clear about what we are debating today. The treaty does little to improve the efficiency of EU aid; in fact, it does the reverse. It has the potential to decrease the freedom of action of member states to react to international crises, and it actively politicises the delivery of aid—something that the Government previously claimed to oppose.
I am not going to give way, because we are very short of time, and it would be unfair on the Minister if he had no time to speak.
Crucially, with the removal of the reference to the most disadvantaged, the revised treaty will shift the EU’s priorities away from the least developed countries. In our view, that marks a step backwards in the provision of aid and support for the developing world.
I shall start, however, with the positives. Compared with other aspects of the treaty, it is fortunate that there is at least some consensus across the House on the subject of humanitarian development, as has been demonstrated by the contributions today. The hon. Member for City of York (Hugh Bayley) made a passionate speech about poverty alleviation, the principles of which are, I am sure, shared across the House. The hon. Gentleman will forgive me, however, for saying that the only flaw in his argument was his assertion that we needed a treaty to deliver that aim, or indeed any other of the aims highlighted by hon. Members—a point underlined, perhaps inadvertently, in the earlier intervention of the Under-Secretary of State for International Development, the hon. Member for Harrow, West (Mr. Thomas).
The hon. Member for Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk (Mr. Moore) made an informed first contribution in his new role on the Front Bench and, having said that he felt unable to support our amendment, he proceeded to support many of our concerns on the nature of the treaty. He might not thank me for reminding him that he even managed to find a degree of consensus with my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Mr. Cash).
The hon. Member for Amber Valley (Judy Mallaber) made a thoughtful speech, arguing for the need for better co-ordination and greater efficiency in the delivery of aid. I agree with those points wholeheartedly, but she failed to outline which elements of the treaty would help to deliver those goals.
My hon. Friend the Member for South-West Devon (Mr. Streeter) made an excellent speech, based on a long-standing interest in aid and development—an interest underlined by the fact that it is now nearly 10 years since I first met him in Pristina, when I was Captain Lancaster and he was the shadow Secretary of State for International Development. He also rightly highlighted the concerns about the effectiveness of the delivery of EU aid, a point to which I will return shortly.
The hon. Member for Elmet (Colin Burgon) made an interesting speech, in which he focused on trade liberalisation. I confess, however, that I was slightly surprised at his attack on his own former Minister, now the EU Trade Commissioner, Mr. Mandelson. I feel that it would be tactful to allow the Under-Secretary of State for International Development to adjudicate on this particular internal Labour dispute.
As we have come to expect, my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Tony Baldry) made an incisive speech that went to the heart of the issues that we are debating, namely, the fact that the Government are being forced to defend some of the very issues that they opposed during the negotiations. I shall return to that point in a moment. My right hon. Friend the Member for Wells (Mr. Heathcoat-Amory) highlighted the shortcomings of the EU in delivering aid, and outlined his concerns about the politicisation of aid. My hon. Friend the Member for Stone has a long-standing interest in these matters, and it shone through tonight in a passionate contribution that highlighted many of the shortcomings of the treaty.
The hon. Member for Portsmouth, South (Mr. Hancock) spoke with considerable experience, and echoed earlier speakers’ concerns that there was little in the treaty that would improve efficiency in the delivery of aid. The hon. Member for Glasgow, North (Ann McKechin) spoke with passion about the role of multilaterals in development. I hope that she will forgive me, however, if I do not quite share her confidence in the EU as a means to deliver those goals.
There are, as hon. Members have highlighted in their speeches, many areas of concern with the treaty. Indeed, in his opening speech, my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr. Mitchell) highlighted no fewer than five areas in which the Government sought amendments during the negotiations. Those concerns were expressed to my hon. Friend during his meetings with the Presidents of Sierra Leone and Ghana last week. I am sure that my hon. Friend is flattered that the Secretary of State seems to be following in his footsteps around the world at the moment.
In the brief time that I have remaining, I want to focus on just two of those concerns. The first is the impact of the provisions for shared competency on the effectiveness of the delivery of aid; the second is the politicisation of aid. As has been said, the EU is one of the major players in the development world, directly attributable for 57 per cent. of the world’s official development assistance, and literally making the difference between life and death for hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of people. The fact remains, however, that the European Union and many of its member states are not good at delivering aid and development.
Reference has been made to the description by the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Clare Short) of EC aid as an “outrage and a disgrace” during her time as Secretary of State for International Development. Positive steps have been taken since then, and the present Secretary of State rightly alluded to them in his speech, but those steps have been too little and too slow, and the EU still has a long way to go before it can truly be considered as an effective deliverer of aid. To be fair, this is something that the Commission itself recognised when it accepted that 40 per cent. of delays to aid projects were the result of the administrative processes of the EU. NGOs agree.
A survey by Oxfam found that about a fifth of EU aid arrives more than a year late—something I experienced first hand and, I must say, with great frustration, during my own time delivering development in Afghanistan—but apart from the poor distribution of aid, the EU also suffers from fraud within its aid programme, which accounts for 21 per cent. of all fraud investigations conducted by the European anti-fraud office.
While there is always room for improvement, the Department for International Development by contrast is generally well regarded as a deliverer of aid—perhaps the Secretary of State should sit up with pride at this moment. A report from the Canadian Government said of DFID:
“Today it is generally considered to be the best in the World.”
The Economist said that DFID was
“a model for other rich countries”.
It is a source of pride for this House that DFID is clearly seen by many as a world leader, while EU aid is widely viewed as inefficient, fraudulent, directionless and governed by an over-bureaucratic mechanism.
Conservative Members are therefore concerned that the Government seem determined to support a treaty that may, through the proposed entrenching of shared competence, undermine DFID’s role and make it more impotent in the international development arena by effectively limiting what it can and cannot do. Let me be specific. Article 118(d) of the treaty states that EU and national policy in this area shall
“complement and reinforce each other”.
More worrying is Article 214(6), which says:
“The Commission may take any useful initiative to promote coordination between actions of the Union and of the Member States.”
What exactly does that mean—that DFID aid and development programmes must reinforce those of the EU and that the EU can overrule Britain’s decisions on aid policy? Perhaps when the Minister winds up the debate, he will explain exactly how, given the relative efficiency of the UK compared to the EU in delivering aid, such a course of action would be in the interests of Britain, and perhaps even more importantly, in the interests of the developing world.
Another principal concern of Conservative Members is the treaty’s politicisation of aid and the Minister will be aware that we have tabled amendments on this issue—as, indeed, did the right hon. Member for Neath (Mr. Hain), who seemed rightly to share our concerns, during the treaty negotiations. Presumably he, like us, believed that for true development to occur in some of the harshest environments in the world, long-term development plans need to be effectively implemented and regularly scrutinised. Our concern is that that will not be allowed to happen while aid is used as a diplomatic tool by the EU and its high representative.
To be clear, article 214 says:
“The Union’s operations in the field of humanitarian aid shall be conducted within the framework of the principles and objectives of the external action of the Union”.
Other articles are similar, but all highlight that humanitarian aid and development shall be subsumed under the principles of the EU External Action Service—a point made eloquently by my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury and by my right hon. Friend the Member for Wells. But what are those principles? The Secretary of State outlined some of the principles covered by article 224 in his opening remarks, but the role of the European External Action Service is outlined in article 13 and at no point is humanitarian aid mentioned. Why not?
Let me be clear that in the view of many, including NGOs, that amounts to a clear politicisation of aid, which flies in the face of everything that previous Labour Governments have stood for. On four separate occasions in 1947,1964, 1974 and 1997, the Labour Party moved the role of overseas development away from the Foreign Office—on each occasion to resist the politicisation of aid—so why the sudden change of heart? Why, after 50 years of doing the opposite and having opposed it in the treaty negotiations, are the Government now suddenly supporting the move to subsume the EU’s humanitarian aid into the EEAS?
The proposals do nothing to improve the efficiency of EU aid; what they do is represent a retrograde move towards the politicisation of aid, marking a further nail in the coffin for the freedom of action for member states. We want the EU to work in partnership with DFID, not to dictate to it. These treaty provisions are a move in the wrong direction—for Britain, for the EU and for developing nations. Crucially, as previous debates have highlighted, the Government are once again going back on their word, supporting bureaucracy over democracy by denying the people the referendum they deserve.
This has been an interesting debate, and it is a genuine pleasure to follow the hon. Member for North-East Milton Keynes (Mr. Lancaster). I join the hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr. Mitchell) in welcoming the hon. Member for Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk (Mr. Moore), who now leads for the Liberal Democrats on international development. I also echo the hon. Gentleman’s point that one of the most powerful examples of EU and EC at its best was the commitment to achieving the 0.7 per cent. UN target, agreed and endorsed at the EU General Affairs and External Relations Council in May 2005—a very strong example of Europe’s convening power.
I thought that the speech of the hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield included one powerful point—the section where he quoted at length the full force and wisdom of a speech made by the Under-Secretary of State for International Development, the hon. Member for Harrow, West (Mr. Thomas). However, I say gently to the hon. Gentleman, given the intemperate language that he used throughout much of his speech, that he might usefully reflect on the article written by Caroline Jackson, a Conservative MEP, in the Financial Times last week. She said:
“The time warp of the party’s European attitudes”—
she was talking about the Conservative party—
“has…damaging effects…it means that the right-wing ‘nasty’ and dogmatic aspects of the party—so off-putting to voters from 1997 to 2005—are still alive.”
Earlier in the article, she noted that
“the Conservative leadership is now even prepared to see its MEPs sit among the ‘non-attached members’ at the back of the parliament—a public admission of isolation and a poor position from which to operate in a parliament with increased powers.”
I must correct one particularly intemperate charge that the hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield made—that the Foreign Secretary and other Foreign Office colleagues had effectively misrepresented the position of NGOs on this issue. Perhaps just one quote from my right hon. Friend’s speech on Second Reading should clarify matters, as he said:
“One World Action, Action Aid and Oxfam have announced their support for the measures on development co-operation”.—[Official Report, 21 January 2008; Vol. 470, c. 1241.]
He specifically mentioned development co-operation; nothing more than that.
I acknowledge that there are some genuine reasons to be worried about the performance of EC aid, and the hon. Member for Stone (Mr. Cash) and the right hon. Member for Wells (Mr. Heathcoat-Amory) raised some of those concerns. I pay tribute to the leadership of each successive Secretary of State for International Development over the last 10 years in championing reform and seeking to sort out what was a fragmented, outdated and incoherent organisational set-up, which, needless to say, resulted in long delays. However, I say gently to Conservative Members that we should perhaps not be surprised at just how poor EC performance on aid was, given just how bad the UK’s own record on development was before 1997.
Let me provide three examples which stand out. In 1985, India bought helicopters from the UK after Margaret Thatcher bullied Rajiv Gandhi into ignoring the advice of his aviation experts who were against the sale. That money came out of Britain’s aid budget and it was given to India on condition that it bought those helicopters. In 1991, we saw £234 million of British aid being used to finance the Pergau dam project in the hope of securing future arms deals from Malaysia—completely and utterly illegal and hugely damaging to Britain’s reputation in development. Then, what about the huge decline in British aid that took place under the Conservatives? Given such a dismal record when the Conservatives were in government in comparison to our own development spending, is it at all surprising that they should have completely ignored the need to reform EC aid?
Yet a series of such reforms have been championed and supported by every Secretary of State, seeking not just to improve the general functioning of the EC but to reform the way in which the EC delivers its aid. Those reforms include the clear strategic priorities for EC development aid, so we now have a clear EU development policy, the European consensus on development—drafted, in large part, in Britain and taken through during our presidency with the primary and overarching objective of poverty eradication and the achievement of the millennium development goals.
We have seen radical improvements in management performance and the establishment of a new EU implementation agency. The hon. Member for South-West Devon (Mr. Streeter) spoke about the need for such an agency, but there is one already in place—EuropeAid. We also have an effective multi-year planning system that sets out clear strategies, clear budgets and the expected results. In addition, financial administrative control mechanisms have been simplified, helping to speed up still further the delivery of aid on the ground where it matters. There has also been substantial decentralisation, helping to get EC aid decisions down to the local level, thereby seeking to improve the quality of aid and speeding up the disbursement of money.
Opposition Members who have backed evaluation and monitoring, and the independence of evaluators, will surely welcome the independent evaluation of EC aid. Those reforms, championed by Labour Secretaries of State, have been delivered over the last 10 years. Such has been the progress that the OECD, in its review of EC development co-operation—[Interruption.]
Order. Conversations are breaking out throughout the Chamber. The House must listen to the Minister.
The OECD noted that EC aid had improved substantially. It commended both the role of the Commission in reshaping its development co-operation and the progress made since its 2002 review. The House of Lords European Union Committee charted significant improvements in aid management and organisational effectiveness, and commended the Commission on its efforts. It went on to note that more needed to be done if the EU’s aid was to match the best. This was, it said, mainly a matter of intensifying and carrying to completion the reforms that were currently in train. That was the purpose of the speech of mine to which the hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield referred.
I believe that the EC is the force for good that the hon. Member for Banbury (Tony Baldry) wants it to be. A powerful example of that is the difference that the Commission is making in India, along with our aid and what is being done by the Indian Government and the various states of India. The Commission is helping to develop an education system capable of offering eight years of quality elementary schooling to all children. As a result, between 2001 and 2006 the number of children between six and 14 who are not at school has fallen from some 25 million to about 14 million.
My hon. Friend the Member for Elmet (Colin Burgon), among others, mentioned trade. I am a huge fan of my hon. Friend in many ways, but I beg to differ with him on this one occasion. I believe that open, well-regulated markets are a force for good in developing countries, just as they are in the European Union more generally. An example is the difference made by generic drugs in reducing the prices of antiretroviral drugs. I recognise that there are concerns about the issue, however, and I look forward to having other opportunities to discuss my hon. Friend’s concerns with him.
Other Members on both sides of the House raised specific issues relating to actions by the EC. Time does not allow me to focus on them, but I will consider whether I need to write to the Members involved.
In a series of interventions, which were taken up by the hon. Member for North-East Milton Keynes, the hon. Member for Banbury asked whether foreign policy would now dominate development aid. Let me say gently to him that I do not think it will do so at all. For the first time, we have provision in the treaty for joint objectives for the EU’s external actions, but—as I said in my intervention on the right hon. Member for Wells (Mr. Heathcoat-Amory)—for the first time a treaty encapsulates the principle that poverty should be the driving focus of all EC aid.
The treaty will deliver a series of sensible reforms in the way in which Europe operates, specifically in regard to development. It makes clear that the primary objective of development spending is the reduction and, in the long term, the eradication of poverty. It can only be helpful to the cause that we have discussed today. It also reinforces the need to ensure that development objectives are taken into account in all EC policies that affect developing countries, and provides a separate legal basis for humanitarian aid, enshrining the principles of good humanitarian assistance. Those are positive, helpful reforms, and I commend them—and the treaty more generally—to the House.
Question put, That the amendment be made:—
The House divided: Ayes 153, Noes 341.
It being more than four hours after the commencement of proceedings on the motion, Mr. Deputy Speaker put forthwith the Main Question, pursuant to Orders [28 January and this day]:—
That this House approves the Government’s policy towards the Treaty of Lisbon in respect of provisions concerning international development.