Previous SectionIndexHome Page

EU Aid Programme (Accountability)

4. Mrs. Teresa Gorman (Billericay): What steps she will take to increase the accountability of the EU aid programme. [46868]

The Secretary of State for International Development (Clare Short): We worked during our presidency, which has just ended, to try to improve the effectiveness of European Union development assistance; Austria also intends to make that one of the priorities of its presidency. We are encouraged that DGVIII--the

1 Jul 1998 : Column 343

directorate responsible for development in the Lome countries in Africa, the Caribbean and the Pacific--has plans for a programme of reform. We welcome the improvements that have been made, but it is clear that further improvements are needed.

Mrs. Gorman: I thank the right hon. Lady for that reply. In September, the European Union will reopen negotiations with third-world countries on aid. The right hon. Lady will be aware of the Court of Auditors' report on the appalling waste of money that has been put into the third world, involving awful cock-ups over the dumping of EU produce. For example, the EU provided more than £2 million to improve Namibia's meat production and abattoirs, so that Namibia could supply South Africa. However, the EU was also dumping subsidised European beef on South African markets at half the price that Namibia could manage. In another South African example, 2,500 jobs were lost in canning factories in the Capetown area because of the dumping of subsidised European fruit. Given the right hon. Lady's frugal reputation regarding waste, displayed in her famous remark about "golden elephants", can she assure the House that she will ensure that such waste of our public funds will not be allowed to continue during her stewardship?

Clare Short: The hon. Lady is absolutely right to say that the Court of Auditors has published damning reports on the performance of EU development assistance. She is also right on her wider question about the highly subsidised common agricultural policy and the dumping of food in ways that damage and undermine agricultural production in developing countries. We need reform of the CAP. The next World Trade Organisation round of talks on the general agreement on tariffs and trade will also consider agricultural subsidy.

The September negotiations on the Lome mandate relate to trade and development assistance for countries in Africa, the Caribbean and the Pacific. I assure the hon. Lady that the principles of efficiency in development, supporting good government and encouraging trade and self-reliance will be key to those negotiations.

Dr. Norman A. Godman (Greenock and Inverclyde): In addition to questions of accountability in the EU's aid programme, there are serious questions about its administration. In the middle east recently, I heard representatives of non-governmental organisations complaining bitterly about cumbersome Brussels procedures for paying out desperately needed funds. Can my right hon. Friend do something to speed up those procedures?

Clare Short: My hon. Friend is right to say that the slowness is appalling. It is partly because of the exposure of misspent money which results in more and more checks being put into the system which becomes slower and more inefficient. That does not solve either problem. I assure him that we have made it a feature of our presidency to try to get improvements. We have secured some but there is much more to be done. We shall continue to work as hard as we can to get the biggest improvements that we can.

Dr. Jenny Tonge (Richmond Park): I appreciate, and know of, the right hon. Lady's concern about

1 Jul 1998 : Column 344

accountability of European Union aid and I know that she has often spoken about it to the International Development Select Committee. I want to ask about the accountability and efficiency of European aid for AIDS in developing countries. She knows that one in four--sometimes a higher proportion--of the population in the Great Lakes region of Africa are suffering from the AIDS epidemic and are HIV positive. Over the past 10 years, the European Union has spent £160 million on various projects to do with AIDS but very little on an AIDS vaccine. The medical world believes that an AIDS vaccine is the only answer to the AIDS epidemic. Will she address the accountability of expenditure and do something about the EU encouraging research on an AIDS vaccine?

Clare Short: I cannot tell the hon. Lady without notice about EU spending on AIDS and an AIDS vaccine. I shall write to her. I agree that the evidence is clear that an AIDS vaccine should be possible. We have contributed to that, as have other countries. It is an important thing to do and the long-term answer, but there are other answers. Prevention is working. In Uganda, a national education programme has slowed the rise in AIDS. In Tanzania, we did research that showed that, if venereal disease were treated early, the spread of AIDS was slowed. A lot can be done on prevention, but we must back the vaccine as well.

Mr. Stephen Timms (East Ham): Given the encouragement of the recent prisoner releases in Nigeria, what prospect does my right hon. Friend see for normalising aid links between Nigeria and the EU, and, indeed, her Department?

Clare Short: My hon. Friend is right--there is a real opportunity in Nigeria. We must do all in our power to encourage the new Nigerian President to go for reform, democracy and proper protection of human rights. All of us are doing everything that we can to secure that aim. Up to now, aid spending has gone not through Government but through non-governmental organisations and local government. If Nigeria embraces reform, democracy and human rights, we shall be keen to work with the Nigerian Government to secure those reforms, which would be of enormous importance to the people of Nigeria and of the whole of Africa.

Mrs. Cheryl Gillan (Chesham and Amersham): On accountability, in response to my written question last week about the election in Togo, the Foreign Office deplored the harassment of election monitors, the confiscation of ballot boxes by the military, problems with the voter lists and polling cards and many other irregularities in the electoral process. In fact, it issued a declaration last month expressing concern. As Togo receives EU multilateral aid, would the Secretary of State say whether she also responded and what action, if any, she took during the presidency to attach conditions to the provision of aid to Togo?

Clare Short: I regret that I do not control EC spending on aid. I wish that I did, because I might then be able to bring about the improvements that the hon. Member for Billericay (Mrs. Gorman) called for. Without notice, I cannot speak with any authority on EC programmes in Togo. I shall find out what has been spent and write to the hon. Lady.

1 Jul 1998 : Column 345


5. Dr. Brian Iddon (Bolton, South-East): If she will make a statement on the future budget of the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East. [46869]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for International Development (Mr. George Foulkes): Additional contributions announced recently, including an extra £1 million from the United Kingdom, substantially reduced the potential shortfall in funding for UNRWA's essential core budget this year. Donors have agreed with UNRWA to monitor the situation closely over the coming months, to support a process of financial and management reform in UNRWA and to work together to resolve longer-term funding problems.

Dr. Iddon: When a group of us visited a Palestinian refugee camp on the Gaza strip a few weeks ago, we detected a rise in tensions due to rumours that services might have to be cut because UNRWA had a £12 million budget deficit while the population of the camps had grown by almost 30 per cent. UNRWA is a stabilising force in the region. I am sure that my hon. Friend agrees with that. I congratulate the Government on increasing the budget by £2 million, but will my hon. Friend continue to apply the pressure on other donors at least to maintain the present situation, if not to increase the funding?

Mr. Foulkes: I was pleased to meet my hon. Friend and a number of our colleagues earlier this week to get a report on their visit. I was able to confirm to him and my colleagues, as I am able to confirm to the House, that we are fully committed to the work of UNRWA and the vital humanitarian role that it plays, but also to its reform and to making it more efficient. The United Kingdom has committed a total of £25 million to Palestine this year, including the Palestine Authority, and we are willing to consider what further we can do to help the people in Palestine.

Mr. Nicholas Soames (Mid-Sussex): I warmly support the Minister's reply. Does he agree that there are opportunities for the know-how fund and the way in which it operates to be applied to the Palestinians, who have suffered such appalling treatment at the hands of the Israelis and are deeply deserving of our help?

Mr. Foulkes: What the hon. Gentleman says is wise. The know-how fund, as he knows, extends to the former Soviet Union and eastern Europe, but the methods are applicable elsewhere. We have considered helping Government institutions and the building up of capability in Palestine. I will certainly take further account of the recommendations and suggestions that the hon. Gentleman has made.

Next Section

IndexHome Page