13 Jul 2000 : Column 245WH

Westminster Hall

Thursday 13 July 2000

[Mr. Michael J. Martin in the Chair]

EC Development Assistance

[Relevant document: Minutes of Evidence taken before the International Development Committee on 4 July (HC 669-i)]

Motion made, and Question proposed, That the sitting be now adjourned.--[Mr. Mike Hall.]

2.30 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for International Development (Mr. George Foulkes ): The Government believe that Parliament should have a regular opportunity to discuss European Community development policy. This Chamber provides an excellent opportunity to do that and I welcome it.

In February, we debated in Westminster Hall the European development fund and we had a preliminary canter round the course on the successor to the Lome convention. The new Cotonou agreement was signed in Benin at the end of June and marks an important step forward in the European Community's relationship with developing countries. It is a welcome step forward and the successful outcome follows a great deal of effort by the United Kingdom Government, including my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Development, my noble Friend Baroness Amos and many of our officials, and a wee bit of help from myself--[Hon. Members: "Hear, hear."] I am especially grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Clydebank and Milngavie (Mr. Worthington) for his support. We hope that this marks a new beginning for EU development policy generally, which is the subject of our debate.

The EC's reputation in development must be at an all-time low and the Government are the first to recognise that. There is widespread consensus, which we share, that the present situation is intolerable. Poul Nielson, the Commissioner for Development and Humanitarian Aid, said that improvement is a question of do or die for EC programmes and Chris Patten said that they are an embarrassment. I am sure that the hon. Member for Richmond Park (Dr. Tonge) will agree, in her professional capacity, that the first step to recovery is to recognise that there is a problem. There is now such a recognition.

However, in the midst of this sorry state of affairs, there are at last some encouraging signs, not least because of pressure from the British Government during the past three years. The Commission is now committed to a wide programme of reforms, which Vice-President Kinnock is overseeing. Commissioners Patten and Nielson have announced plans to improve the management of EC development programmes and they are now starting to be implemented. There is at last a good draft development policy statement, again following pressure from a number of people, not least the British Government. However, that policy statement needs an action plan so that we can see how it will be implemented.

13 Jul 2000 : Column 246WH

I have referred to the new Cotonou agreement, which is a significant improvement. It has the clear objective of poverty eradication, as has our White Paper. It has a trade deal that seeks to integrate African, Caribbean and Pacific countries to the global economy in ways that benefit the poor. There will be an end to pockets of money for special interests and funding will now be linked to performance and needs.

However, I must sound a cautionary note. Those positive signs do not mean that the battle to turn the European Community's development performance round has been won. There is still a great deal of resistance to change, even among some Members of the European Parliament, and a lot of pressure to misuse precious aid resources. However, the Government believe that the way forward is clear, and I want to use this opportunity to spell it out.

First, we need a clear policy framework. The Commission has produced a draft development policy statement that goes a long way to providing that. We support its objectives of reducing poverty and integrating developing countries into the global economy, ensuring that globalisation, which could be a threat to them, can be an opportunity. It recognises that development policy goes beyond spending programmes. Other policies, such as trade, agriculture, environment and fisheries must support development too, as we have recognised in our bilateral programme. However, the development policy statement must be agreed and applied by all parts of the Commission to all programmes, not just to Poul Nielson's Directorate- General.

Mr. Bowen Wells (Hertford and Stortford): Does the Under-Secretary agree that the development policy statement looks like one of those declaratory rhetorical statements that we have become so used to in the European Community? It makes great statements, and puts forward great aims, but fails to show how it might be implemented and how the Community would marshal its forces to achieve it. How will this rhetoric be matched by action on the ground?

Mr. Foulkes : The hon. Gentleman has put more eloquently and forcefully what I was just saying. I think that he might also agree that the first step towards achieving implementation is knowing in which direction one is going, otherwise one could go round in circles. The Commission now has a clearer direction, and that is a first step. However, I agree that we now need a plan of action.

Mr. Gary Streeter (South-West Devon): We all agree that we like the reforms that have been introduced over recent weeks; it is certainly a great advance on the previous state of affairs. How long will the Government wait, however, before they decide whether the reforms will result in practical benefits on the ground for the EU aid policy?

Mr. Foulkes : That is a helpful question and I shall respond to it shortly, in a little more detail than I could in responding to an intervention. I welcome the hon. Gentleman's assumption that it will be a Labour

13 Jul 2000 : Column 247WH

Government who will have responsibility for ensuring the implementation of the reforms over the next five or 10 years.

Mr. Dennis Turner (Wolverhampton, South-East): Fifteen years.

Mr. Foulkes : Or fifteen years, as my hon. Friend says.

We need EC programmes to be more strategic. The European Community must do less if it is to be more effective, rather than spread its work so widely and try to do everything. There are a few areas in which it has a comparative advantage. Transport and trade are examples. The EC should establish its expertise in those areas and be ruthless about not trying to develop programmes in other areas in which it does not have such a comparative advantage.

Instead, the Commission should build strategic partnerships with other donors--including ourselves and other bilateral donors--and co-fund their, and our, programmes. Perhaps the hon. Member for South-West Devon (Mr. Streeter) would like to contemplate what that could mean in practice, using the well tried expertise, knowledge and contacts that we and other donors have, while being co-funded by the European Commission. Indeed, all sensible donors do that, not least to cut the burden on developing countries that have to deal with multitudes of donors clamouring at their Ministries' front doors, each with different procedures. That creates difficulties for small countries with limited capacity. It means that the European Community and, in particular, the European Commission should be less concerned about seeing the European Union flag on their projects. Those projects should benefit the developing country, not further the glorification of the European Union.

Thirdly, we need radically to modernise Commission procedures. It is not credible to require 40 signatures before amending a contract or to require all decisions to be taken in Brussels. Streamlined procedures will encourage faster projects and improve their quality because Commission offices overseas will be given more responsibility for programmes.

Many of the proposals that were made by Poul Nielson, Chris Patten and Neil Kinnock go in the right direction. It is likely that the speed of EC programmes will increase quickly. However, the EU needs vastly to improve the quality of its programmes as well as the speed of their implementation. Otherwise, bad programmes will be delivered quickly, which would not be an improvement--quite the reverse. The Government and other member states, civil society, and national and European Parliaments need to work hard to support higher standards.

The greatest remaining concern involves the allocation of EC resources. The Select Committee on International Development, which sits under the distinguished chairmanship of the hon. Member for Hertford and Stortford (Mr. Wells), examined this question in detail 18 months ago. Despite that Committee's recommendations, there has been no significant change since then. The case for directing more EC official development assistance to poor

13 Jul 2000 : Column 248WH

countries is stronger now than it was 18 months ago. Research continues to show that poverty will be reduced faster if resource transfers are directed towards poor countries, especially those with good pro-poor policies. Overall, most donors changed their spending during the past 10 years to match that pattern.

The EC is the shameful exception to that trend-- 75 per cent. of official EC development assistance went to poor countries in 1986, but the figure is only 54 per cent. today. The EC's Mediterranean programme is allocated about 1 billion euros per year, but Asia, which is a much poorer and larger region, with better policy scores and many times more poor people, is allocated less than half as much, which cannot be right.

Dr. Jenny Tonge (Richmond Park): Does the Under-Secretary agree that that is one of the most shameful aspects of European aid? Did not the Amsterdam treaty mention aid objectives to combat poverty? Are not we simply failing to fulfil those objectives?

Mr. Foulkes : The hon. Lady is absolutely right. That is why I said that that is the key criticism.

One good sign is that the Commission has acknowledged the problem in its draft development policy statement and in a staff working paper. As I said to the hon. Member for Richmond Park earlier, she will understand, in her professional capacity, that admitting the problem is the first step. There are pressures to direct EC aid funds to regions of high political profile for the EU, namely, those that are closest to us, including the middle-income countries of the Mediterranean and eastern Europe, rather than to the poorest countries. We are all politicians, and we have to recognise, respond to and counteract such political pressures--we must not ignore those pressures, which come from within the Commission and EU member states. Unfortunately, there is a habit in this context of making gesture commitments, which grab the headlines but are forgotten the next day. In the end, they have little impact because they are poorly thought through.

I hope that hon. Members will not misunderstand my argument. The EU's political, security and trade priorities are important--no one denies that. The EU is rightly concerned about stability on its borders, but it also has important security and stability concerns further afield. It must recognise that instability, conflict and poverty in Africa and Asia have a destabilising effect on Europe, as we know only too well. Poverty, conflict and environmental degradation in Asia and sub-Saharan Africa are a threat to us, as well as to the people of those regions.

That is not to say that the EC should not provide assistance to what is described as its near abroad--especially those countries with large numbers of poor people. However, we would all agree that the needs of middle-income countries are not the same as those of the poorest. The EC needs to develop the right tools for the job. In the poorest parts of sub-Saharan Africa, that might mean using substantial resource transfers to support economic and social reform in countries that are unable to invest in the health and education services necessary for sustainable development. On Europe's borders, that means assessing needs and priorities, and providing technical assistance that will help reform,

13 Jul 2000 : Column 249WH

rather than crowd out important private sector flows. What it does not mean is making huge financial pledges that will not be spent, and which would serve only to undermine further the EU's reputation.

I shall conclude, Mr. Deputy Speaker, because I want to give hon. Members the opportunity to participate fully in the debate, but I hope to catch your eye at the end and reply at length to the many points that will be made.

Mr. Streeter : I thought that the Under-Secretary said in response to my earlier intervention that he would tell me how long the Government are prepared to wait, and I should like him to deal with that point. I have disagreed with nothing that he has said so far, but if the current Patten reforms do not work on the ground, how long are the Government prepared to wait? Also, if the reforms do not increase the EU's performance, what do the Government propose to do? What specific action will they call for?

Mr. Foulkes : I have two options: I can deal with that point in my winding-up speech, or I can deal with it now, and I am happy to do so. The hon. Member for South-West Devon wrote to the Secretary of State about the matter on 23 June and received a reply on 10 July. He also raised it in the House during the most recent Question Time, and the Government spokesman gave a very good reply.

The Opposition are proposing what could best be described as an a la carte European Union, which we believe would be unworkable, unnecessary and counter-productive. If EC programmes are to be effective, all member states should contribute to them; if they are ineffective, we should improve them; if they cannot be improved, we should cut them back to avoid wasting money, and set more modest objectives that can be met. Patten and Neilson echo that approach.

To achieve those aims, we do not need the treaty changes that the hon. Member for South-West Devon has bandied about. We need clear objectives, close collaboration with the Commission and other member states, and a good understanding of the way in which EC programmes work. Unlike the previous Government, this Government have delivered all those things, including the publication of reform proposals. As I said during that recent Question Time, the previous Government increased expenditure in the agreement at Edinburgh from 20 per cent. to 30 per cent., and did nothing to improve effectiveness. We, on the other hand, have taken action. Amending the treaty to allow individual member states to opt in or out of the EC programmes would make planning impossible, cut the total amount of aid from the EU, and remove any incentive for reform. It is completely unrealistic and non-negotiable.

In his intervention during Question Time, the hon. Member for South-West Devon said--no doubt, he is thinking about it again--that the matter should be raised at the intergovernmental conference. As he ought to know, the IGC is concerned not with changes of policy but with making the institutional reforms that are necessary for enlargement. That is why the agenda includes the size of the Commission, voting procedures on the Council and other such matters. I am surprised that the hon. Gentleman is not aware of that.

13 Jul 2000 : Column 250WH

We believe that enlargement should remain on track. If it is to do so, negotiations need to be completed by the end of the year, and we expect them to conclude at the Council meeting in Nice in December. The agenda must remain focused. The IGC does not have time to get into wider policy questions; such a move would risk delaying enlargement and defeat the main objective of the negotiations.

I can assure hon. Members that the Government will continue to push hard for reform. The momentum for improvement is building up, and we are beginning to see real change on the ground. We accept that there is still a long way to go, but we believe that positive engagement is the right approach. That is how we will make progress. Unlike the Opposition, we are not isolationists.

This is a time of opportunity for improving the quality and efficiency of EC aid. We can even enjoy a little cautious optimism. The first challenge is to improve quality, not just speed; there are some grounds for optimism in that regard. The second is to reallocate EC funds, so that they make the necessary contribution to meeting the world poverty reduction targets. The European Community can make a great contribution, and the development assistance programme has one major advantage: it levers in assistance from European countries that would not otherwise use that money for development. That is its real added value. The programme, with that added value, can help us to achieve the poverty reduction targets for 2015--halving the number of people living in abject poverty, providing universal primary education and reducing maternal mortality rates. To do anything less than helping to get the European Commission programme moving in that direction would be to betray the poor, whom we are all here to help.

2.52 pm

Mr. Gary Streeter (South-West Devon): I welcome the opportunity to debate this important matter. I congratulate the Minister on the efforts that he has made to get the European Community to move on the aid budget. It has been a shambles for a long time, and has been getting worse in recent years.

The Minister and other hon. Members will know that I believe that the right kind of focused aid can make a difference and change lives. I strongly support such aid. That is why my experience of the EU aid programme has made me so angry. In the past two years, I have seen many examples of excellent bilateral work by non-governmental organisations--some funded by the UK Government, some by the organisations themselves--that has changed lives and made a difference in terms of sustainable development.

However, I have yet to encounter an example of strong and positive EU action that has been effective. I have been to 11 countries in the past two years, and I have yet to find it. I am not an unreasonable person, so I am looking out for examples of good practice, as well as bad. I have seen some plush offices, funded by the EU, but I have yet to see examples of action that has made a difference. It is vital that every pound that we spend and every hour of effort that we put in represents the best

13 Jul 2000 : Column 251WH

possible value. That is why I am angry about the performance of the EU aid budget in recent years and why I am determined to see change.

Mr. Tony Worthington (Clydebank and Milngavie): The hon. Gentleman says that he has been to 11 countries and seen plush European Union offices. Where?

Mr. Streeter : The best example is Kenya, which the hon. Gentleman may have visited. I believe that the EU office is for three countries in east Africa; no doubt he will make his own inquiries. I am sure that he does not disagree that the EU aid programme has been woefully inadequate.

We all agree that the EU aid programme has failings, and welcome the recent language of the Secretary of State. The key question is, what is to be done about it? The Minister referred to the draft development policy statement. However, the Secretary of State pointed out to the Select Committee on International Development that, although it is a good statement, care is required because it does not include an action plan. She said:

It is noticeable that, in recent years, EU aid performance has got worse and worse. During Question Time two weeks ago, the Minister, in his non-response to me about looking forwards to what practical changes can be made, merely referred to 18 years of Conservative government in which no changes took place.

Mr. Foulkes : Of course. We have had three years in government, and I have outlined the action that we are taking and the way forward. Can the hon. Gentleman give one example of something that my predecessors--Baroness Chalker or Chris Patten--did to improve the efficiency or effectiveness of EU aid? He is moaning, yet we are taking action. What action did our predecessors in his party's Government take?

Mr. Streeter : I intend to come to that. My first point is that the Minister has not yet achieved anything. As the Secretary of State said, all that the Department has is a piece of paper from the Commission and an intention to reform. The Minister said that until there is implementation on the ground nothing will be achieved. Nothing will be achieved for the children of Africa and Asia until the funding streams are diverted. Has that happened yet? No, it has not.

My second point is that, in the past three or four years, a growing consensus has formed about the true paucity of the EU development budget. The Court of Auditors annual report for the financial year 1997, which was published in 1998, blew the whistle on some of the worst examples of fraud and misuse. In March

13 Jul 2000 : Column 252WH

1999, the report by the five wise men revealed some of the failings of the EU aid programme. In 1998, the admission by the European Commission showed how poor the performance of the European Community Humanitarian Office was between 1993 and 1995. In January 1999, the Select Committee--which is chaired by my hon. Friend the Member for Hertford and Stortford (Mr. Wells), who is sitting behind me--unfolded some of the worst examples of EU aid.

The EU aid programme has never been good, but it has got much worse, and there is growing consensus on that. I do not blame the Government. I blame them for an awful lot, but not for that. In the past few years, it has been recognised that the aid programme is not merely poor or second-rate, but utterly unacceptable.

Mr. Foulkes : The hon. Gentleman asked me to give one of the several examples of the Government starting, in practice, to secure agreements to switch resources. In current negotiations, the Council has, on our initiative, severely cut the Mediterranean allocation. France was outvoted on that. We proposed a small increase in the Balkans. Cutting the MEDA programme represents a major change. That is just one example. Of course these things take time; we have to take 15 countries along with us. So far--at least where we can get a qualified majority--we have been able to do so. Can the hon. Gentleman give an example of the previous Government doing anything at all?

Mr. Streeter : I have made the point that it is only in the past three or four years that the true awfulness of the EU aid programme has come to light. The Minister gave one example of a specific decision. Can he give a second example?

Mr. Foulkes : Oh.

Mr. Streeter : Come on; let him give one example of a change in the EU's attitude and performance on the ground. One swallow does not a summer make. The programme will spend £800 million of British taxpayers' money in the financial year 2001-02, and I am angry about the performance in the past few years because we could have done much more bilaterally with the money. The Minister should reflect on that.

We accept that what I still call the Lome convention funds--we will all get used to the new expression in due course--must be left in the EU kitty. However, if the welcome reforms that have been pushed through do not deliver practical changes after a reasonable period, it will be time to make changes. It does no good for the Minister and his boss to use the right rhetoric if they cannot make the changes needed to improve the aid performance--not for their sakes or for my sake, but for the sake of the children of Africa and Indonesia.

Mr. Foulkes : The hon. Gentleman asked for one example, which I gave to him. He then asked for a second example. If he had listened to my speech, he would have heard the second example, which was Cotonou. That is a phenomenal agreement and a big change in the way in which we deliver European aid effectively to the African, Caribbean and Pacific countries. That fact is generally accepted--even some of the Government's critics accept it. I am not an apologist

13 Jul 2000 : Column 253WH

who says that EU aid is wonderful. I have never said that. The way in which aid is provided needs to change and is now moving in the right direction. If the hon. Gentleman will excuse the phrase, we have made a start, but we still have a long way to go.

Mr. Streeter : I certainly accept that there is still a long way to go. I repeat that I welcome the start, but I do not accept that the recent improvements in the Lome convention reflect the Patten reforms--negotiations on which have continued for more than a year. All that has happened is that a necessary negotiation has reached its conclusion. If the Minister had a hand in that, we warmly congratulate him.

I want our contribution to the EU aid budget to be properly spent, providing value for money and changing people's lives. We welcome the changes and support the Government's rhetoric, but I want answers to my questions. How long will the Government wait for the reforms to work their way through the system? If the reforms do not succeed, what will the Government do? The Minister's answers worried me greatly. He used the usual rhetoric about having clear objectives, collaborating with the European Commission and trying to persuade people--in the same way as that used for the past three years. Those methods have not worked.

Mr. Worthington : Will the hon. Gentleman answer his own question? What would be the policies of a Conservative Government? Would they withdraw from the EU development budget?

Mr. Streeter : I thank the hon. Gentleman for suggesting that we will shortly have a Conservative Government. That is, of course, the expectation of the vast majority of people. I shall answer his question directly. I am a practical politician, and if there is an opportunity to change something that is going wrong, I will take it.

The agenda for the intergovernmental conference is under negotiation before the summit in December. The Minister is wrong to say that the IGC will discuss only enlargement and consequent structural changes. The IGC can consider any proposals from member states. There is consensus that the EU aid budget is going hopelessly wrong, and the IGC presents the best opportunity for proposing paving reforms. The United Kingdom Government will miss that opportunity if they are not careful.

In 12 months, or even 24 months, the Patten reforms may not have effected changes. The Secretary of State seemed to suggest that in her responses to the Select Committee on 4 July, because in her heart she realises that they will not work. When there is recognition that the reforms have not worked, member states that wish to do so should be allowed to withdraw the majority of their EU aid contributions. Instead of being wasted, that money could be spent bilaterally on improving the lives of people in Africa and Asia. I accept that the Lome convention money must stay on the table and that there might be other things that should not be removed, but unless EU performance is increased and improved, the lion's share of that £800 million should be spent bilaterally. That will require significant changes, and paving reforms should be tabled now.

13 Jul 2000 : Column 254WH

I have travelled extensively in the past three years; I was Conservative spokesman on Europe for 12 months, as the Minister will remember, and I know that there is a consensus in the European capitals that the EU aid programme is failing. There is also a consensus in Scandinavia and the northern European countries that radical action is necessary. In the southern Mediterranean countries, however, they use the EU aid budget as a second-tier immigration policy. That is what investment in the northern African states is all about.

It will be a wasted opportunity if there is no action at the IGC; we must capitalise now on the groundswell of recognition that there is a problem. I do not mean that we should withdraw from this or that, but we should spend money more wisely on behalf of the world's poorest people.

The Minister should visit the capital cities of EU member states to build an IGC alliance for action in a year or two if the EU aid budget does not improve. A mechanism may be put in place that is never utilised or implemented, but if it is not done--

Mr. Foulkes rose--

Mr. Streeter : I shall give way in a moment, but I want to finish my point.

The changes that I propose require unanimous agreement; they must be made now, or we will have to wait for the next IGC in five years' time. Imagine how many lives could have been improved during that time by implementing a streamlined, bilateral United Kingdom programme, rather than the inadequate, fraudulent, bureaucratic, badly focused EU aid budget. I am making a sensible, reasonable, do-able proposal; there is a window of opportunity in law and politics and the Minister is not taking advantage of it. It was clear from his answers to my questions that, if the reform programme does not work, he does not have a plan B, so the world's poorest will continue to suffer.

I hope that the reforms will work, but I am not optimistic about it. I urge the Minister to do something about the matter now and not to wait five years for another opportunity. There is a consensus that the vast bureaucracies of the multilateral agencies--the EU, the United Nations, the World Trade Organisation, the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, which are important in the globalised world--have let us down in recent years because they are trying to do too much. There is a lack of accountability and nation states acting bilaterally can often do better.

Multilateral action is needed and nation-state activity must be co-ordinated, as we cannot go back to a piecemeal world. I would therefore welcome more action from the Minister and the Secretary of State in calling for reform of the multilateral organisations. We have had a debate about the EU; what about the United Nations and the WTO? What about the IMF and the World Bank?

Mr. Colman : The hon. Gentleman mentioned large budgets. Does he realise that the total budget of the World Trade Organisation is the same as the travel budget of the IMF? Given the need for developing countries to be more represented, does he agree that the WTO should be further encouraged to ensure that more

13 Jul 2000 : Column 255WH

money is spent, so that a future development round is properly financed and developing countries are represented?

Mr. Streeter : Yes, that is a sensible suggestion; I am certainly not against it. We all recognise that the WTO has failed in its decision-making procedures and that Seattle was a disaster. The Government went there full of hope and glory, but returned hugely disappointed. We support whatever action is necessary to turn the WTO into a realistic and sensible organisation that can make decisions and implement them. At the moment, it is failing.

I call on the Department for International Development to take a lead in advocating reform of the multilateral organisations, particularly as the Secretary of State has been given the chairmanship of the important co-ordinating committee, about which we read in the week. More than anything, there is a window of opportunity not only to discuss EU aid reform, but to do something about it.

I ask the Minister not to be complacent and not to revel in his optimism about the rhetoric coming from Brussels, but to take practical steps as a practical politician. Will he table reforms at the IGC, so that the world's poorest people will not have to wait five years to get some sense from Brussels?

3.11 pm

Dr. Jenny Tonge (Richmond Park): I did not expect to speak now, but I shall. I hope that my voice holds out, as I am having trouble with it today.

I welcome the opportunity to debate EC development assistance again, as all hon. Members do. The hon. Member for Clydebank and Milngavie (Mr. Worthington) initiated a debate on the subject in February, but at that time we had not seen much progress, although it had been promised. In fairness, the budget is huge: 60 per cent. of global aid is delivered by European aid. There is no question but that some progress has been made, even since the previous debate. Two commissioners, instead of five, now deal with European aid, which must be good news.

It is even better news that Commissioner Patten is one of my constituents; it is wonderful to know that. I write to him, and he writes back to thank me--rather sarcastically, usually--for taking an interest in my constituents' lives. He is a good commissioner who does very useful work.

Two large papers have been published, including the EC development policy and EC development assistance paper and the management assistance paper, which is an ugly title. There is also the recent Cotonou trade agreement. Much inefficiency remains. I still smart when I think about the Court of Auditors' report that I read at the end of last year. It showed that a big AIDS project set up in 1994 with a lot of EU money to spend in South Africa had made no progress at all by 1997. The money was still sitting in the bank. In the past few days, we have heard more news about the AIDS epidemic raging throughout Africa. I wonder how many AIDS cases we, as European citizens, are responsible for because that

13 Jul 2000 : Column 256WH

money was not spent and the project did not get off the ground. I have a real worry that we are directly involved, because we have been so late in moving things forward.

During the crisis in Ethiopia, which was also debated in this Chamber, we learned that the pharaoh's granary--as I like to call it--that Ethiopia had set up to deal with food shortages following the previous famine had been depleted by the United States of America and the EU. The EU owed 70,000 tonnes of grain to Ethiopia. That is another example of European aid gone wrong. At that time, Ethiopia was suffering and was on the verge of another famine. Something is desperately wrong.

The greatest scandal of all--the Minister touched on this--is that in 1986 the least developed countries received 75 per cent. of the share of aid from the European Union but in 1997 received 51 per cent. I do not know what the present share is but I hope that it is rising again. We are pouring aid into Mediterranean countries in the Balkans, which are hardly least-developed countries: that does not comply with our policy of alleviating poverty.

Where is the true policy? We have it, because Commissioner Patten sent it to me. The EU policy document's conclusions are encouraging. It should

Mr. Wells : Can the hon. Lady translate that?

Dr. Tonge : I am hoping that the Minister can do that--and assure us that there are specific objectives for European aid and for monitoring and measuring outcomes. I am keen on evaluating projects. I have worked in the health service for many years and I am always being told that I have to evaluate what is being done with the money that is spent. We want assurance that there is an action plan for reforms and positive engagement by this country in controlling what is happening with the delivery of European aid. I have much sympathy with the hon. Member for South-West Devon (Mr. Streeter), who, as usual, got carried away by his Euro-scepticism. He was right, however, to say that we have a sincere desire--I hope that the Minister accepts that--to ensure that this country is participating in the delivery of aid. We do not want to come back here

13 Jul 2000 : Column 257WH

in five years' time bemoaning the ineffectiveness of European aid. We want to know that controls are in place and that we are getting to grips with delivering aid.

The other big paper is entitled "Management of External Assistance". I did not find it of great help. There was little reference to the Amsterdam treaty and no mention of international development targets. However, there was a reference to co-funding, which the Minister mentioned and which is dear to my heart. In a debate in February I asked why on earth, if there is a shortage of personnel in Europe, pooled funds cannot be delegated to a specific country with particular expertise in delivery and that country be told to get on with it, monitor it, evaluate it and report back to the EU on how the money was being spent.

I think that I understood the Minister to say that that will happen. I have tried to find concrete evidence in the paper from Europe but I find its language difficult to understand. I want an assurance from the Minister that that will happen.

I wish to say something about specific areas of aid rather than about the management of aid and aid policy in Europe. There is great concern among my Liberal Democrat colleagues about tied aid. I noticed that the issue of tied aid was mentioned in the Department for International Development's strategy paper on EC assistance. However, unlike many of the other objectives that were taken on board by the Commission, I see no mention of it in Patten's strategy. We need to know more about that.

The European Community must take up the cause to untie aid, and put pressure on member countries to do so. Their credibility as donors will be severely undermined if they do not end this commercial self-interest. Will the Minister assure us that the matter is being looked into, and that the European Union--like his own Government--has stopped the practice of tying aid?

Mr. Streeter : The hon. Lady is on to an important point. Does she agree that it would be helpful if the Minister could tell us whether other member states in the European Union--especially France and Spain, which do not have a great track record on straightforward aid--are being gradually brought into line, in relation not only to the EU aid budget but to their own bilateral programmes?

Dr. Tonge : I think that it is rather difficult for the British Government to dictate to other Governments in the European Union how they should deal with bilateral aid. However, in relation to those funds that are diverted to the European Union, we should certainly press for an agreement that European aid should not be tied to commercial interests in any country. Bilateral aid between one country and another is a different matter, in which I suspect we cannot interfere.

There is also the question of debt relief. We hear a great deal about the unspent money in the European aid budget. Perhaps the Minister can tell us what possibility there would be of using the unspent 18 billion euros of aid money on debt relief. Debt negotiations will shortly be held in Okinawa. Why cannot that money be spent?

Mr. Foulkes : I shall say to the hon. Lady now, so that I do not have too much to reply to when I wind up, that

13 Jul 2000 : Column 258WH

1 billion euros of unspent money from the EDF has been used to fund the heavily indebted poor countries' debt relief. That, too, was undertaken on the initiative of the British Government, and I am sure that she will welcome that.

Dr. Tonge : I thank the Minister for his reply, but 1 billion euros is peanuts, really. It sounds as though there is an awful lot of money swishing around unspent. I would have thought that it could be much better used relieving the debt of the poorest countries of the world, rather than waiting until the European Union can divert it to the Balkans or the Mediterranean.

I also want to discuss the Cotonou agreement. I admit that I have not read it, but I understand that it is good news all round, except--I suspect--for the Caribbean banana trade. I hope that the hon. Member for Hertford and Stortford (Mr. Wells) will take up that point. He usually mentions it, as it is a subject dear to his heart, as it is to mine. I love bananas and I love the Caribbean. The Caribbean Banana Exporters Association, which has written to me, is still extremely unhappy with the tariff-only or first-come-first-served quota systems, which are being encouraged under the Cotonou agreement. That is serious news for the Caribbean. I shall say a little more about that in a moment.

The hon. Member for South-West Devon and I have just returned from Colombia, where there is a great deal of evidence that if we stop people growing the coca plant there--and, hence, cocaine--it could easily shift to the Caribbean, if the Caribbean countries cannot export their bananas. I urge the Minister to look closely at the matter, with the European Union, to find out whether we can obtain a better agreement for the banana trade, especially in the Caribbean.

Finally, I want to discuss a matter close to my heart--indeed, close to my chest, as hon. Members can hear. It concerns my recent trip to Colombia. The hon. Member for South-West Devon, the hon. Member for Ayr (Ms Osborne) and I investigated the circumstances of the displaced people in Colombia. We had great difficulty contacting the villages where those people were, because of silted-up rivers and transport difficulties. We saw at first hand that, for the people in the countryside in Colombia, by far the easiest thing to do was to grow the coca plant and export cocaine via the paramilitaries and the drug barons. There is no transport for anything else, and there is no access to the outside world. I pay tribute to the hon. Member for South-West Devon, who--literally--extricated me from the mud, having first extricated the hon. Member for Ayr. We are very grateful to him. Indeed, we would have left our wellingtons behind, but he dived in and rescued those as well. I rest my case--the hon. Gentleman is a hero.

The serious point is that the European Union intended to support Plan Colombia, which is the United States' answer to the civil war in Colombia. Under the plan, military aid, helicopters, guns and more guns would be poured in, and the coca fields sprayed, thus encouraging growers to go elsewhere. However, I am glad to say that, in Madrid, the decision was deferred. The European Union intended to support the plan by providing substantial aid for people who would be displaced by such action, and those colleagues who visited Colombia with me will agree that that is a terrible

13 Jul 2000 : Column 259WH

thing to do. Above all, Colombian people need Europe to provide better transport and facilities. They also need food, and they need to be restored to their villages and helped to grow crops other than the coca plant, but a simple measure such as dredging the rivers would have avoided the need for the hon. Member for South-West Devon to dive into the mud twice to rescue frail female Members. Perhaps that last observation should not be included in Hansard.

Matters are desperate--I cannot imagine how people live in such circumstances. It takes four hours of hauling boats across mud and tramping through jungle to get a handful of people up and down a few miles of river. That demonstrated to us in an extremely harsh way just how difficult it is for those people to survive. I plead with the Minister to use his influence in the European Union to try to do something.

3.27 pm

Mr. Tony Worthington (Clydebank and Milngavie): If anything proves the worth of Westminster Hall, it is debates such as this. Although only a few people are present, it is always interesting to note the replies received from other places on issues raised in this Chamber. This year, there has been more debate on international development than ever before. Nowadays, my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for International Development has a high profile in this Chamber, but in the past, he would not have appeared in Parliament, apart from at Question Time.

I congratulate the Government on securing this debate, because the issue is extremely important. The European Union distributes 30 per cent. of the world's aid, as part of some 60 per cent. that is distributed through the European Union and the member states. I have learnt that the development business must be principled, and by putting poverty at the centre of development, DFID has brought principle and priorities to development. Where there is no principle or overarching ideal, where the development process becomes contaminated, and where there is back scratching and paying off one's friends, we get into trouble. The hon. Member for Richmond Park (Dr. Tonge) referred to tied aid and short-term political gestures. There is a desperate need for poverty to be put at the centre of Europe's development budget. That has not happened because there has been no principled aid. Other hon. Members have asked about that and why areas bordering the Mediterranean are treated most favourably. Areas such as Asia, where the majority of the world's poor live, receive a tiny sum in comparison and sub-Saharan African hardly features.

Aid has been unprincipled, inefficient and underspent. I am sure that hon. Members will agree that, when faced with overwhelming need, there is a peculiar offensiveness about underspending--and the degree of that underspending is incredible. According to Chris Patten's figures and at the current rate of delivery, the Commission will take nearly nine years to deliver the aid promised to Mediterranean countries, seven years for Asia, 6.5 years for Latin America and 4.2 years for South Africa. The politicians representing the people of the European Union have willed that money but we have not even been efficient enough to spend it, never

13 Jul 2000 : Column 260WH

mind spend it wisely. It is an utter scandal that not one penny has yet been disbursed for reconstruction following the damage caused by hurricane Mitch. No doubt a Commissioner went to Honduras at that time to pledge money for the devastation caused by hurricane Mitch, but we have not managed to spend one penny through the European Union. The problem has become worse due to the lack of principle and because the poverty focus has lessened. My figures show that in 1986 51 per cent. of aid went to less developed countries and by 1996-97 that had fallen to 33.7 per cent. That is not good enough.

Having that poverty focus and putting it at the centre of development is particularly important in a multi-country organisation such as the European Union, in which allocations would otherwise be made according to traditional ties, with MEPs arguing for the parts of the world with which their countries have been associated.

There has been an immense improvement in the structure of the Commission and its responsibilities. No one in this country will sob about the departure of the Spanish Commissioner, Mr. Marin, whose activities in the distribution of aid were not what we would have wanted. The new structure is an improvement, but I am not happy that the Commissioner for Development and Humanitarian Aid, Poul Nielson, is junior to the External Relations Commissioner, Chris Patten. The hon. Member for South-West Devon (Mr. Streeter), who speaks for the Opposition, is nodding under the old Tory Government structure. Under that structure, Chris Patten, when he was a Foreign Office Minister, and Lady Chalker, when she was responsible for overseas aid, were in the same Department. We have taken enormous steps since DFID was set up independently.

Mr. Wells : I wonder whether the hon. Gentleman will compare that with the French position. The socialist Government in France have moved from an independent aid Department and merged it with the Ministry for External Affairs. They have moved in exactly the opposite direction, and I am not sure that this is a party political matter.

Mr. Worthington : Terms such as "socialism" are awfully confusing.

We should not assume, with regard to development, that one size fits all. In this country, the amount of attention that is given to development has increased exponentially since DFID's creation. That represented an enormous step forward, and I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Development for what has been achieved. It is almost perverse that the influence of development over trade and debt has increased since DFID's creation. Many people feared that development might be marginalised when DFID was created and that the Department would be regarded simply as an aid agency. It is an immense achievement that such marginalisation did not occur during the past three years--that may be partly due to the personalities involved. There is no doubt that there is much more liaison with the Chancellor and the Department of Trade and Industry than was the case previously.

13 Jul 2000 : Column 261WH

I am worried about how rarely the word "poverty" appears when Chris Patten speaks as the putative Foreign Minister for Europe. In a speech that he gave on 15 June, which was entitled, "A European Foreign Policy: Ambition and Reality", he listed three overall goals for him and his Commission during the next few years. The first goal was to work "with our nearest neighbours" and the second was to sell the EU to other parts of the world as a model of integration because it suggests how states can be gathered and power shared regionally. One can see the sense in that, if worldwide trade groupings develop in a manner that parallels the situation in the EU. The third goal was to create

A speech on this subject would not be recognisable as mine unless there was a reference to the European Community Humanitarian Office. As my hon. Friends know, ECHO obsesses me. It raises questions about transparency and it needs to communicate better about what it does. I mentioned earlier the lack of disbursement of money in response to hurricane Mitch. ECHO provides an express form of European aid--it involves the quick disbursal of aid in response to humanitarian disasters.

In our debate on this subject earlier this year, to which the Under-Secretary referred, I discussed the extent to which ECHO's website was kept up to date. In February, it contained a speech by Emma Bonino, who had ceased to be a European Commissioner some considerable time previously. Some updating has occurred since then, in that Mr. Nielson's name now appears on press releases. However, it is interesting that the latest statistics that it quotes on the disbursement of aid are more than a year old. If one is looking for information about Ethopia or Mozambique, there is no point in looking there. According to the website, the most recent parliamentary question about ECHO was asked in 1998. It is significant if an organisation of that scale cannot keep the information on its website up to date.

I want to quote from the news release about Mozambique that was issued on 3 March, with which many hon. Members are familiar. It symbolises what is wrong with the organisation. Some of us were in Brussels last week and met Mr. Nielson. He thought that he had been prompt in giving attention to Mozambique because he went there on 1 March--after the crisis had largely abated. We, and others, responded much faster than ECHO, which is supposed to lead the way.

The press release illustrates the way in which the European Commission and ECHO respond to problems. In it, Mr. Nielson announced

13 Jul 2000 : Column 262WH

Hon. Members who were with us last week will remember asking the head of ECHO about what had been spent in Mozambique. She did not know, and told us that she would have to write to us about it. Given that we had produced a major report about Mozambique it was strange that she had not prepared for it, and did not have an answer. It is not good enough to announce that 25 million euros of emergency aid to Mozambique was forthcoming.

The press release goes on to state:

The press release concludes:

Dr. Tonge : I am sure that the hon. Gentleman knows this, but the communication from the European Commission on reform of the management of external assistance specifically states in its operational conclusions that the present arrangements for ECHO are "unchanged". There is no will to do anything about the situation.

Mr. Worthington : The hon. Lady has stolen my punchline. Despite all the changes that are occurring in the EU in terms of the structure of development, it is clear that, as she says, arrangements for ECHO remain unchanged. That is not good enough, and it must be changed.

Mr. Streeter : I am enjoying the hon. Gentleman's speech. I recognise his experience, so I will ask him a genuine question. He has criticised previous EU aid arrangements and has expressed a lack of confidence in the current reforms, particularly in relation to the emphasis that Commissioner Patten gives to poverty focus. He has also agreed that ECHO will remain unreformed.

Is the hon. Gentleman optimistic that, in the medium term, the EU is capable of running an effective and efficient aid programme? Will there come a time--perhaps we are approaching it--when we must draw the conclusion that much of the money would be better spent bilaterally? I am not talking about cuts; I am talking about getting better value for our money. Is he close to reaching that conclusion?

Mr. Worthington : I have not agreed that ECHO will remain unchanged. It has been said that it will, but I believe that, through the kind of pressure that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary and my right hon. Friend

13 Jul 2000 : Column 263WH

the Secretary of State have applied, change has occurred and more will come. That change will be extremely useful. It will be an uphill task, but one that can be accomplished.

There will be enormous gains to be made from getting Europe moving together on development issues. Development will be delivered only if there is the necessary money. It cannot be done simply by words. We cannot say that we must all work together and then go for bilateral work. There is enormous benefit in having a development budget as our input into solving the north-south issue. The money must be there and it must be spent wisely.

I have referred previously to the link between the provision of assistance in humanitarian disasters and the military. Every time that I consider major disasters, such as the Mozambique crisis or the refugee crisis in Kosovo, I am more convinced of the need for a mechanism to facilitate the rapid deployment of military equipment. Now that our feelings about Mozambique have, perhaps, cooled a little, we must remember that, in this place, we argued about getting helicopters to Mozambique--5,000 miles away. It was absurd: there are helicopters all around the world. The hon. Member for Hertford and Stortford (Mr. Wells) asked where the Americans were. Those regions are full of American helicopters. We must be able to link up logistically, either at a European level or at the level of NATO.

I remember going to the headquarters of the Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs, the UN organisation concerned with humanitarian response, and being astonished when I was told that, within the previous nine months or a year, the office had responded to about 30 humanitarian disasters. We had not heard of some of them, such as the snowstorms in Mongolia, but they were all major disasters, requiring a co-ordinated response, including the provision of heavy-lift facilities to get the supplies in. We are doing things amateurishly, and we must stop. The European Union has a role to play in improving how we operate.

The more I see of where EU money goes, the more I think that we must start using the funds that are spent on central and eastern Europe. I have never heard anything favourable about how they are disbursed. This is an unexamined area, and we should consider it carefully fairly soon to make improvements. I look forward to the Minister's response to that and other issues.

3.50 pm

Mr. Bowen Wells (Hertford and Stortford): We should acknowledge the progress made by the Department for International Development on the European development budget since the report of the International Development Committee on the future of the European Community development budget on 21 January 1999.

Although we have not achieved one commissioner to administer European development aid, we have reduced the number from approximately six to two, which is a major achievement. The Select Committee, and the Secretary of State, who gave evidence to it, wanted the

13 Jul 2000 : Column 264WH

number to be reduced to one. However, we have reduced the chaotic structure of the European Community. I agree with the Minister that we have a long way to go from here.

Our paper set out the objectives and the general policy to be followed by the European Community in aid matters. They are wonderful words, but we have a deep suspicion that words and big figures are not followed by action. As the Minister said, we need an action plan.

We must now move on and do what needs to be done to make management and organisation of the European development budget more effective. I shall speak first on the co-ordination of European development aid, secondly on its management, thirdly on its accounting in the United Kingdom and Europe and, finally, on the role of the European Parliament and the budget. In response to the remarks of the hon. Member for Richmond Park (Dr. Tonge), I shall speak briefly about bananas.

I start my discussion of co-ordination with a quotation from Chris Patten's first speech, on 15 June, in his new role as the External Relations Commissioner. The title of his speech was "A European Foreign Policy: Ambition and Reality". He said, in paragraph 13:

The figures that I mentioned show that much aid from Europe is delivered not by the EU but by its member states. We must properly co-ordinate the functions of the EU's development aid programmes with the functions of member states' bilateral programmes. Since its formation, the International Development Committee has managed to persuade most presidencies--although, notably, not the Portuguese presidency--to organise a meeting of the chairmen of each national Parliament's development committee to discuss co-ordination of bilateral programmes. We have included the European Parliament's committee in our deliberations. That is a start, but member states are not pursuing it with meaningful co-ordination of their actions. The result is that in Nairobi and the rest of Kenya, in Uganda, in South Africa and wherever European bilateral programmes or EU aid programmes operate, our actions are almost totally unco-ordinated. Co-ordination takes place only through a sort of

13 Jul 2000 : Column 265WH

networking among ambassadors and aid officials. Much money is wasted and the scarce time of officials is wasted in trying to develop meaningful programmes that will help the poorest of the poor. There is a huge question to be answered about co-ordinating the bilateral projects and reaching agreement on the division of functions between the European Union and the bilateral players.

There is a case for centralising the co-ordination and negotiation of EU aid and bilateral aid in one office in each country in which European aid programmes operate. Such offices could be led by one member state. It is rare for all member states to have a presence in a country. The French could lead one project, the British another, the Danish another, and so on. Such co-ordination is needed to provide aid properly.

Given the total amount of European aid, one European voice pushing a policy of poverty-focused world aid programmes could influence international organisations such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund in their roles in development and debt issues. Nothing less than that should be our aim. If Europe pulled its weight and was properly co-ordinated, it would dominate organisations in the United Nations family such as the United Nations development programme, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, the United Nations Children's Fund, the United Nations conference on trade and development and the WTO. However, we must first start with Europe, and we have not even begun there.

Ms Oona King (Bethnal Green and Bow): Is there not an inherent tension between member states' desire for step-by-step accountability and the ability of the Commission to do the job? Will not enlargement make the task more difficult by involving 27 countries and, I think, 21 languages, instead of the current 15 countries and 11 languages? We must consider the implications of enlargement when trying to achieve the more streamlined approach that the hon. Gentleman described.

Mr. Wells : The hon. Lady is right. Enlargement will pose a huge problem for co-ordination and co-operation. That is why it is urgent that we get on with the proper management and reorganisation of the Commission. Unfortunately, the hon. Lady could not be with us in Brussels last week, but she will have learned that we began, tentatively and inadequately, to move towards co-ordinating the EU.

Now we need to push hard. The Minister needs to visit Brussels weekly to assess the EU's progress. He should set objectives, have them agreed and send Mr. Anthony Smith to find out how much progress the EU has made in a week. Perhaps a week is too short in Europe, but he should certainly go at intervals at which we can measure progress. To put things right, we must be determined. Madam Deputy Speaker has a reputation for being determined and persistent. The Minister and his officials must be equally determined and persistent to make the co-ordination effective.

As a result of the Committee's work, the Minister's work and so on, we have also managed to secure a promise from the EU to produce an annual report on European development assistance. If that is produced, it

13 Jul 2000 : Column 266WH

will have a co-ordinating and an accountability function, which will be extremely valuable. I am sure that the Committee looks forward to seeing the report and working on it.

The hon. Member for Clydebank and Milngavie (Mr. Worthington), my colleague on the International Development Committee, has spoken about the management and administration of the programme and how we should move that forward. The Committee's report quoted Philip Lowe, who was the director-general of DG VIII at the time, but is now the chef du cabinet of Vice-President Kinnock, who is re-organising the Commission. He said--

Madam Deputy Speaker (Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody): Order. I hesitate to interrupt the hon. Gentleman, but it might be helpful for the record if he identified exactly which quotes he is giving.

Mr. Wells : I am delighted to do so, Madam Deputy Speaker. The quote is from paragraph 60 in the summary of conclusions and recommendations of the International Development Committee's report. That should lead hon. Members to the right place. I cannot see the number of the House of Commons paper.

Madam Deputy Speaker : Perhaps 669.

Mr. Wells : Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. Paragraph 60 says that Philip Lowe pointed out that

Incidentally, the Department for International Development is sometimes guilty of not introducing easily understood budgets that are spent 100 per cent. in line with what the Department said at the beginning of the year. The famous unallocated portion of the DFID's budget has not completely disappeared. Under "technical assistance", which is just under half of total expenditure, DFID gives very little explanation to Parliament or the British public of how it proposes to spend that and how it succeeds in spending it. We are sometimes guilty of not introducing the type of budget that Philip Lowe described, but we must aim to do so. The European development budget is very far from that ideal.

Much of the problem is undoubtedly due to the EU's not having sufficient people on the ground in the countries to identify the sort of investment that it should make, and to liaise with the Government and with people engaged in development matters, health, population and education. They simply do not have sufficient people in their offices to do this. The result is that they get lumbered with the bottom of the shopping list of the Department that is dealing with outside bodies that wish to help or aid the country, and often get the

13 Jul 2000 : Column 267WH

dud projects. That is part of the problem. We must focus on the staffing of the European development budget if we are to get this right.

Only last week the Secretary of State said in evidence that there was a proposal to deconstruct what are termed in the European budget "technical assistance offices". We are not at all sure what TAOs are. We are told merely that they are a kind of consultancy to which the European Union delegates the implementation of all the projects to which they agree. They are clearly highly inefficient because the EU does not implement them and spend the money allocated to them. Indeed, TAOs are constantly subject to condemnation by the Audit Commission for very serious fraud, maladministration and mismanagement. Projects are simply not evaluated. It would appear, prima facie, that to get rid of them and deploy people in the Commission is the only answer to the lack of personnel available to carry out sensible assessment of projects on the ground and have them properly evaluated, implemented and agreed to in Brussels.

The second problem is micro-management in Brussels. There are people in the Department for International Development who have a season ticket to Brussels and who go over to look at a series of project proposals and solemnly make great detailed decisions on them. That takes a huge amount of time; this is the micro-management of the programme. The EU says that it should not have to countenance such detailed management by member states. That is probably right, but what has to be set up is a sort of board process by which we agree the projects that are to be funded and implemented. Following that, projects with objectives that have been agreed and evaluated should be delegated to the management in the countries in which there are EU aid officials, possibly helped by bilateral programmes with the member states in those same countries. If that were done, there would be no micro-management by Brussels and we could get on with the job.

I will cite an example, which brings me a little way towards my banana remit. In St. Lucia, the EU has agreed to implement cultural and social programmes to compensate for the unemployment caused by the decline in the banana industry. A promise was given that aid would be delivered when banana production began to decline as a result of EU action. That promise was made three years ago. The banana industry has declined; it is delivering only half what it used to deliver. Yet the villages and towns and their people have not received one cent of EU aid. They have been left to get on with those difficult adjustments all on their own. That is the sort of thing that happens because the EU simply does not implement the programmes. We must aim to do something about that. The Minister and his staff must agree a management structure with the EU and monitor its implementation.

My next point is a technical one relating to how we account for EU aid in the British budget. I think that in this we are unique. We assign all money spent as part of the EU budget and the European development fund to the budget of the Department for International Development. That comes through the Treasury. The EU sends the bill to the Treasury. I do not

13 Jul 2000 : Column 268WH

know whether the Treasury pays it or simply sends it to DFID, which then pays it. That includes the whole of the European Union budget, which means all the money spent on the Mediterranean and north African programme, MEDA, on the PHARE programme for the applicant countries, on the TACIS programme for the former Soviet Union, on the Asian and Latin American countries, and so on.

That money is all lumped together and put into the budget of the Department for International Development. It appears in the budget that the International Development Committee monitors. That distorts statistics, because much of the money does not go directly to the poor. The objective is not that it should go to the poor. It relates instead to European Union foreign policy objectives such as MEDA, which is designed to keep north Africans out of southern Europe and provide economic opportunities in those countries. It is a perfectly legitimate programme, but not one that we would classify as overseas development. The same applies to PHARE and TACIS.

The Treasury should stop passing on expenditure on MEDA, PHARE and TACIS to the DFID budget. We could then compare the DFID budget with the budgets of other European Union countries which do not assign those programmes to their overseas development budget. That would change the statistics and change the perspective on the European Union budget within that of DFID. That has not happened because the present circumstances hold an advantage for DFID. If the European Union does not spend the money assigned to it, DFID can spend that money on other matters of a bilateral nature, because the money has been assigned to its budget by a vote in Parliament. Of course, we applaud that, but it is no excuse for distorting the normal method of accounting for European programmes.

It is not generally understood that the European Parliament's Development Committee has no control over the budget of the European Union. That function is carried out by a large committee called the Budget Committee. The members of the European parliamentary committees have one representative on the Budget Committee, or possibly a few more. I am not certain of the number, but their representation is small. Therein lies the reason why the European Parliament does not effectively monitor and control the European Union budget. I advocate a change in that method of operation. I understand that it is a popular continental method of budgeting, but it is clearly to the detriment of the proper administration and accountability of the European Union development budget.

Finally, I come to the banana issue. The European Union has issued a statement this week in which it says that, because it has been unable to agree an alternative programme, it will go along with the American proposal for a tariff-only solution. According to the Caribbean Banana Exporters Association--I believe that the hon. Member for Richmond Park has its briefing document in front of her--that would bring about a catastrophic and immediate end to the Caribbean banana industry. The British Government cannot view that prospect with equanimity, and no Member of Parliament should endorse it.

13 Jul 2000 : Column 269WH

The Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food is taking a lead on this matter, but I beg the Under-Secretary and the Secretary of State for International Development to call together all concerned--as I have urged the Minister of State at MAFF to do--and, as a matter of urgency, go and link arms with the West Indian banana producers and persist, bully, shout, scream, stamp and do whatever is necessary to protect those vulnerable countries. Otherwise, they may turn to the drug industry, as the hon. Member for Richmond Park said. Many will be extremely reluctant to do so because of the implications for law and order, society and education--leaving aside the implications for this country, the rest of Europe and the United States--but will be unable to defend themselves from the huge sums of money that are involved. Unless the United States manages to stop that transition, a serious social and developmental problem will eventually be laid at the Minister's door.

Dr. Tonge : Does the hon. Gentleman agree that it is curious that the United States is prepared to step up the war against drugs in Colombia, and spend huge amounts of money fighting the drug barons and the growing of coca, yet it does not see that the problem will get even closer to its back door if it allows the new banana regime to continue?

Mr. Wells : It is inexplicable, as the hon. Lady says. As with many aspects of the world in which we live, we must look to the world of politics to understand what has happened in the United States. The situation is partly explained by the large contributions that are made to the political parties of the Democrats and the Republicans by the large US banana producers. In fact, they do not produce bananas. They merchant, ship and sell them, but the companies are US-owned, which distorts the picture.

According to the information that has reached me, an opportunity exists to negotiate an agreement--which the Americans would go along with--to get a WTO waiver for a regime that will allow for a transitional period, and may ensure the survival of at least the most efficient parts of the Caribbean banana industry. I enter a plea for that in the context of this debate about European Union development budget matters.

We have begun to make progress on the European Union development budget. There is a will on the part of the Commission, and of the two Commissioners involved, to improve performance. We must now move on to the detailed technical management of the budget. If further progress is to be made, enormous effort and energy from the Department for International Development will be required. The Department has excellent Ministers and staff, and I hope that they are given the necessary time to do that.

4.17 pm

Mr. Foulkes : I am grateful to be able to speak again.

I am sure that hon. Members agree that this has been a useful, important and comprehensive debate, and an effective use of Westminster Hall, as my hon. Friend the Member for Clydebank and Milngavie (Mr. Worthington) said. I shall try to respond to all the points that have been raised. One thing that I am not short of is time, although I might be short of other relevant materials. I shall do my best.

13 Jul 2000 : Column 270WH

The debate has been significant not only for its speeches, but for the fact that my hon. Friend the Member for Bethnal Green and Bow (Ms King) sat through its entirety, asking only a couple of questions. I understand that she has to leave early for other important business. I noticed that my hon. Friend the Member for Ayr (Ms Osborne), one of those saved by the hero of the hour--the hon. Member for South-West Devon (Mr. Streeter)--during the visit to Colombia, popped in to listen to a substantial part of the debate. The debate was notable for three--four, if I include myself--very balanced speeches, although one was a little more partisan than the others. We understand why, and sympathise with the hon. Gentleman about his need to take that approach. He and other hon. Members made several excellent points.

It is vital that we should constantly keep up the pressure on the European Commission to improve the quality of its aid programme. However, that is the responsibility not only of us in government, but of the International Development Committee--which has been fulfilling that responsibility--other Governments and Members of the European Parliament. The Commission, which is accountable to the Council of Ministers, is to some extent accountable to the European Parliament.

Although others therefore have a responsibility, we of course accept ours. We have published our reform proposals, and the paper has been circulated widely and picked up by other Governments. To some extent, it is the blueprint for the reform that is taking place. As I said, we have seen some signs of improvement, and they are genuinely attributable to constructive dialogue. Standing and shouting does no good, but we have tried to express our concerns forcefully and illustrate the way forward.

As has been noted, the Commission has been reformed. Where five commissioners used to deal with the matter, two now do so. Vice-President Kinnock is overseeing a programme of reforms, and Commissioners Patten and Neilson plan to improve the management of development programmes in particular. As several hon. Members--including me--have said, we need to implement the plans, criticise constructively and push hard for further reform.

In an astonishingly wide-ranging concluding comment, the hon. Member for South-West Devon advocated reform of organisations such as the United Nations, the World Trade Organisation, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. Of course, that goes beyond the substance of this debate, but I can assure him that the Government are looking at reform of the World Trade Organisation. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry is taking the matter forward, and my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer is taking a lead on the reform of international financial institutions. We are also taking a lead on UN reform, particularly in respect of agencies that are involved in development, for which we have a particular responsibility.

The hon. Member for South-West Devon suggested that, because my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Development has taken the lead in a cross-departmental committee on conflict in Africa, she has immediate responsibility for all such areas. Of course, we accept the need for coherence; we have

13 Jul 2000 : Column 271WH

introduced coherence into the language of development. I spoke about the importance of trade and agriculture policies, among others, and we are developing such policies. However, the hon. Gentleman's comments were rather niggardly, and I found his equating a specific announcement with an entire range of reforms somewhat strange.

The hon. Gentleman also said that I revelled in optimism. I tend to be accused of being somewhat jovial and optimistic from time to time, but I am realistic.

Mr. Worthington : My hon. Friend is a Hearts supporter.

Mr. Foulkes : My hon. Friend reminds me that I support Heart of Midlothian football club, which explains why I sometimes look disappointed. However, if one is a Hearts supporter, one is by definition optimistic.

In my opening speech, I dealt in detail with the specific proposal of the hon. Member for South-West Devon on the intergovernmental conference, so I need not do so now. He tried to convince hon. Members that the IGC is an appropriate forum--and that the paving mechanism is an appropriate way--in which to deal with such matters, but he has convinced no one but himself. As my hon. Friend the Member for Bethnal Green and Bow rightly said in a telling intervention, enlargement will make some of the problems even more difficult to deal with. That underlines the need to deal with them now, before enlargement. To incorporate the paving motion that the hon. Gentleman proposes into the IGC discussions would complicate matters enormously.

The hon. Gentleman also failed to appreciate the question of leverage, which is one crucial benefit of the EC development programme. In this country, we have a very effective bilateral development programme, as does the Netherlands, Germany and some Scandinavian countries. The EC development programme levers in a percentage of money from other countries that may not have effective development programmes, may not put resources into development and may not have the mechanism for delivering development programmes. If the EC development programme can be made efficient and effective, the great prize will be resources from those countries that would not normally contribute money for development.

Mr. Streeter : I intended to deal with the leverage point because it is important. It is not beyond the wit of man or woman to come up with a system that introduces an appropriate mechanism into the EU aid programme in the way that I am suggesting, so that member states that want to opt out would have to demonstrate that their bilateral programme was of no less value than their contribution to the EU aid programme. What is wrong with that? It is simple and sensible. What is the point of levering in extra money if it is spent in the wrong place, in the wrong way and does not arrive on time?

Mr. Foulkes : The hon. Gentleman is living in cloud cuckoo land. If he accepts, as I do, that it is difficult, but

13 Jul 2000 : Column 272WH

achievable, to make the EC programme efficient, effective and poverty-orientated, he must realise how much more difficult it would be to persuade an independent sovereign nation to change its programme, to put in more money and to change its priorities to accord with our priorities. That would be impossible.

Mr. Streeter : Diplomacy.

Mr. Foulkes : I am not sure that the hon. Gentleman is the best person to advocate that.

Mr. Streeter : The Minister may be.

Mr. Foulkes : I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman's confidence.

The hon. Gentleman also referred to the policy statement and its fine words, but asked about the action and where the beef is. I said earlier that we must know the direction before we can work on its implementation. The policy statement must be made operational. An action plan must state who will do what and when. We are working on a road map to help the Commission with its operational action plan. The Department for International Development is offering that practical assistance so that it knows the direction in which to move and how to do so.

The hon. Gentleman suggested that Ministers should be travelling around the capitals of Europe to advocate his crackpot idea. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and I have frequent discussions with Development Ministers of our partner countries to try to bring them on board. It sounds patronising to say that they are coming round to our agenda, but we are making alliances with people who believe the same as we do--for example, Evelien Herfkens in the Netherlands and Eddy Boutmans in Belgium.

I shall be in Madrid the week after next because we believe that more work is necessary with our partners in Spain. I am hoping to go to Rome in a few weeks to speak to Rino Serri to try to ensure that we are moving in the same direction on making EC programmes more effective and more poverty-orientated. I recently met some Development Ministers at an informal meeting in Paris, and the Secretary of State met them at the Development Council--we are having constant discussions. I endorse the comments of the hon. Member for Hertford and Stortford (Mr. Wells), who said that there are excellent officials in the DFID section that deals with Europe. They work day and night, almost literally--perhaps they are training to be Members of Parliament--in pursuit of our agenda.

I turn to the comments of the hon. Member for Richmond Park (Dr. Tonge), who made a constructive speech. I hope that I will do her no harm by praising her--she was good enough to say some good things about the Department. We are at one with her on tied aid, which we have pursued strongly. It is our policy to press for the untying of EC aid and to get other members to come along with us. We are also pursuing bilateral untying, which she--or perhaps it was another hon. Member--said would be more difficult to achieve. At a recent meeting of the development assistance committee of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, we pressed strongly for that but,

13 Jul 2000 : Column 273WH

unfortunately, four countries were opposed to increased untying. We need to maintain the pressure in that context, and I am happy to give the assurance that we shall do so.

Mr. Wells : Will the Minister name the four countries? I can think of three--the United States, Germany and Japan--but what is the fourth?

Mr. Foulkes : The hon. Gentleman got two out of the four right--the United States and Japan. My recollection is that the other two are Denmark and France. If I am wrong, I shall correct myself later.

The only slightly grudging part of the speech of the hon. Member for Richmond Park was when she rightly said that unspent European money should be used for debt relief. In that context, I quoted the astonishing figure of 1 billion euros, but that is just one chunk of unspent money from one fund--the European development fund. On our initiative, it was taken out. We are also pressing for other contributions, including, for example, a further 54 million euros that is financed from the EC budget for Asian and Latin American heavily indebted poor countries. We are keeping up the pressure in that context--that approach involves an effective use of underspend to help the world's poorest countries. I hope that the hon. Lady appreciates that 1 billion euro from that fund is a not ungenerous contribution.

Dr. Tonge : Will the Minister confirm--I have lost my notes--that unspent European aid amounts to 18 billion euros?

Mr. Foulkes : Money that should have been spent this year but has not yet been spent may well be spent in subsequent years. I agree with the hon. Lady about the principle that money that is unspent and is unlikely to be spent in the relevant area in future years should be considered for diversion to debt relief.

The hon. Lady and the hon. Member for Hertford and Stortford asked about Commission staff. Some Members of the Commission and of the European Parliament have suggested that we should increase the number of staff who work in the Commission on development. I suspect that that would not go down too well with the British public or in the British Parliament. We want more effective use to be made of staff who already work for the European Community. We should also ensure that they are more effectively deployed and improve the skill mix.

The hon. Member for Hertford and Stortford, I believe, asked about technical assistance offices. Our view is that we should get rid of poorly controlled and monitored technical assistance offices, which would free up programme resources for contracting in expertise. That is in the management reform plans, which are being overseen by Neil Kinnock. Progress is being made, in terms of reallocating staff responsibilities and increasing effectiveness. I can confirm that 1 billion euros was unallocated and was transferred to the heavily indebted poor countries initiative, and 8 billion euros from EDF aid has been allocated but is unspent. We are trying to ensure that that money is spent on the purposes for which it has been allocated.

13 Jul 2000 : Column 274WH

The hon. Member for Richmond Park also gave us a dramatic account of her visit to Colombia with the hon. Member for South-West Devon and my hon. Friend the Member for Ayr--an interesting and unusual trio. They deserve our congratulations for taking that initiative. I spoke about it to my hon. Friend the Member for Ayr and--briefly--to the hon. Member for Richmond Park, and I know that the visit was not without danger. It bodes well for us that members of the Select Committee, party spokesmen on international development and others are willing to take such risks to get a better understanding of the issues.

The hon. Lady referred to infrastructure projects, mentioning, in particular, the dredging of a river. My hon. Friend the Member for Ayr also spoke to me about that. The European Union has projects worth 9 million euros currently under way. I do not know the exact details, but I can certainly check out that specific case. Indeed, my hon. Friend has written to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State about it, and I shall make sure that the hon. Member for Richmond Park receives a copy of the reply. The EC is also supporting the Colombian peace plan, although the figure has not yet been agreed.

The hon. Lady referred to Plan Colombia. I appreciate her concerns about the plan. We had reservations about it too, until my right hon. Friend the Minister for the Cabinet Office, who has taken on responsibility for the matter, discussed it with the Americans and managed to persuade them to change the military aspect of the plan. That was a great step forward. We are now more supportive of the Colombian peace plan. We support the idea that the Commission should contribute to it, on the clear understanding that the plan must be even-handed in relation to all the parties in Colombia and must help to improve the Colombian Government's performance on human rights.

Dr. Tonge : I am surprised that the military element of Plan Colombia has been modified. If that has happened, it is extremely good news, and huge congratulations are due to the Minister for the Cabinet Office. Can the Minister give us more details?

Mr. Foulkes : Certainly. My right hon. Friend the Minister for the Cabinet Office recently went to the United States and subsequently took part in meetings in London and Madrid. She has taken a great personal interest in the matter and has worked closely with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. My Department also provided briefing. She made a significant impact on the issue. I agree with the hon. Member for Richmond Park about the needs of Colombia. In Cartagena, I saw the real poverty among black people.

Several hon. Members, not least the hon. Member for Hertford and Stortford, raised the question of bananas. I agree with the hon. Gentleman that the discussion on that issue has dragged on for too long. Throughout all the discussion, the United Kingdom Government have involved every Department, in an example of joined-up government. The Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food has led, supported by the Foreign Office, the Department for International Development, the Department of Trade and Industry and other

13 Jul 2000 : Column 275WH

Departments. Our objective remains a rapid WTO-compatible solution that meets the needs of the vulnerable Caribbean producers.

I shall not describe all the work, lobbying and discussions that we have undertaken. The hon. Member for Hertford and Stortford said that we should shout and stamp our feet. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has impressed on the President of the United States the importance of the issue to the small and vulnerable economies of some of the Caribbean islands. That shows how important we consider the matter to be. We will continue to press the issue, because it would be unhelpful if the EU were driven down the tariff-only route.

Mr. Wells : I am delighted to hear that response and I want to encourage more activity. However, the Government make the mistake of looking for a WTO-compatible agreement. That is like pursuing a will-o'-the-wisp. No agreement will be WTO-compatible. The only possible solution is to reach an agreement with the United States and obtain a waiver under the WTO for the developing countries.

Mr. Foulkes : The hon. Gentleman expanded on what I said. I might have used some shorthand. We are trying to ensure that neither the United States nor any other country will challenge the agreement in the forum of the WTO, because we want to assist the Caribbean producers.

I shall respond to some of the points made by the hon. Member for Richmond Park, who mentioned evaluation. We are trying to ensure that EU projects can be more easily evaluated and clearly shown to be effective. Instead of examining inputs and how much money is spent, the EU should monitor outputs and the effectiveness of programmes.

The hon. Member for Richmond Park also asked about AIDS. That is particularly topical, as the AIDS conference in South Africa has just concluded. She mentioned an ineffective programme from a few years ago. Changes have taken place and the European Commission is now taking a leading role with its HIV-AIDS strategy. As a doctor, the hon. Lady will understand the details better than I do. The Commission is concentrating on four key elements: mother to child transmission, essential care for people living with AIDS, vaccine development and microbicides for HIV prevention. We support those priorities and strongly support the vaccine development role. I hope that she will agree that we are developing new initiatives that could be models for other measures.

Dr. Tonge : I was not suggesting that we were not taking positive action on AIDS. I simply deplored the delay, which allowed the epidemic to take hold in Africa. The world has not seen such an epidemic since the bubonic plague.

Mr. Foulkes : We could spend a long time talking about the growing problem of the AIDS epidemic. To be honest, I think that the biggest cause of its taking hold was not the slowness in EC delivery, but the reluctance

13 Jul 2000 : Column 276WH

of some African leaders to accept that it is a problem, their turning a blind eye to it and their not having their own programmes and not taking up some of ours that we offered them.

My hon. Friend the Member for Clydebank and Milngavie, in a customarily informed speech, raised the question of underspending--as, I believe, did the hon. Member for Hertford and Stortford--and the scandal of non-disbursement of hurricane Mitch money. This also relates to questions raised by Commissioner Patten in his criticisms of micro-management of programmes by member states. That is a good example of the invalidity of Commissioner Patten's criticisms. Member states' micro-management was not the main cause of the delay in relation to hurricane Mitch. The Commission's proposals took a year to prepare. That is one of the criticisms that we share with my hon. Friend. The member states approved it within three weeks of receiving it. That suggests that the delays in the Commission's procedures, with the 40 signatures and the referrals back to Brussels, were the problems in the past.

My hon. Friend said that he was not happy with the new structure. He agreed that the reduction from five to two Commissioners was an improvement. I have reservations about there being two Commissioners rather than one, about one being senior to the other and about the Development Commissioner being the junior one. Our separate development Department is increasingly seen by other bilateral donors as a good model for having development assistance as a high priority. Even Charles Josselin, the French Minister with responsibility for development, who, as the hon. Member for Hertford and Stortford said, now works in the Quai d'Orsay, agrees that our model is very effective, but because of his influence in the Government and the party in France--although he is, of course, part of the structure of the Foreign Ministry--he has very much an independent remit and can get on with a great deal of the work without interference and supervision.

My hon. Friend rightly mentioned the importance of coherence in relation to working with other Departments and the influence that a separate Department for International Development can have on other areas.

My hon. Friend also mentioned ECHO, as my colleagues and I thought he might. It is right for him to raise his concerns, which he also did when he was in Brussels last week. I hesitate to say this, but I feel that we have to be balanced in our judgment on ECHO. Emma Bonino, who was quite an individual--dynamic, and unpredictable in some ways--made a significant impact on the EC's humanitarian work. Two major evaluations were made of ECHO's work in 1998 and 1999: they gave a positive assessment of ECHO's performance but identified a number of areas that could be improved. For example, its performance in key areas such as co-ordination with other agencies and transparent strategies for engagement, particularly in the grey zone between relief and development, which my hon. Friend identified, was to be improved.

We are particularly supportive of the evaluation's recommendations to improve transparency and to enhance co-ordination mechanisms with other parts of the Commission. I am sure that my hon. Friend agrees with that. ECHO has recently introduced new strategy

13 Jul 2000 : Column 277WH

guidelines, with proposals for a global plan, which it will present to the Humanitarian Aid Committee before it is finalised. That has been a positive exercise and has given member states the opportunity to feed in information and views at the planning stage.

My hon. Friend said that the new ECHO director, Constanza Adinolfi, could not answer his questions about money for Mozambique. She was appointed only in February, and we can understand that she may take some time to get into the job. However, she has a reputation for achieving results, and I hope that my hon. Friend and other hon. Members will give her time to implement some of the new recommendations on the organisation of ECHO.

Mr. Worthington : I recognise what my hon. Friend is saying and I am trying not to be unbalanced about ECHO. However, every other aid organisation could give specific information about how it had spent money. If we asked OCHA about emergencies, it could tell us exactly what was spent and when. On Mozambique, ECHO refers to 31 and 24 March, and 25 February. It talks about giving money to no specific target population. The primary aid type is general. The amount is 5.58 million euros. We receive meaningless information, so I ask my hon. Friend to keep up the pressure on ECHO to be transparent and to show how, when and where it is spending money.

Mr. Foulkes : I can assure my hon. Friend that we shall keep up the pressure on ECHO, although I am not sure which document he referred to. He also mentioned ECHO's out-of-date website, but we must all be careful about criticising other organisations on that matter, which has today been raised in the other Chamber. Like other hon. Members, I plan to have a website, so that people can access information about my surgeries and other issues. I already appreciate that it is not easy to find a system that can regularly be kept up to date with all the information. That imposes particular responsibilities.

My hon. Friend also asked about co-operation with the military, and I think that he used the word "absurd" regarding what happened in Mozambique. On reflection, what happened was not absurd. My Department obtained helicopters that were immediately available close to Mozambique. We hired pilots who were nearby and transported them to Mozambique effectively. Having agreed an appropriate funding arrangement with the Ministry of Defence, we mobilised resources from the United Kingdom for the next stage of assistance.

We are considering, rightly, how development workers and military personnel can work more closely together. Next week, I shall visit Kosovo, and I look forward to seeing Operation Trojan, which my officials and other hon. Members have told me is a good example of co-operation between development workers and the military.

My hon. Friend asked about PHARE and TACIS. Time moves on for all of us, and PHARE is now part of the pre-accession budget, along with separate funds for infrastructure and agriculture: ISPA and SAPARD respectively. He is probably becoming as fed up as I am with all these acronyms. Their aim is not development, but helping applicant countries to converge with EU policy and EU standards.

13 Jul 2000 : Column 278WH

Incidentally, we are phasing down our development programme in eastern European countries and increasing our activity in the poorer countries in the far east of the former Soviet Union. We shall certainly keep PHARE and TACIS under review, as far as we are affected. If the International Development Committee felt that it was appropriate, it could doubtless do the same.

The hon. Member for Hertford and Stortford made positive remarks about the Department and the genuine improvements to European Commission development assistance, while acknowledging that more still needs to be done. He also raised the important issue of co-ordination. We agree that countries both inside and outside the European Union should co-ordinate their programmes. That is why my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State visited Tanzania with three other European Development Ministers to investigate working together more effectively. That was a welcome initiative.

All donors need to co-ordinate more. As the hon. Gentleman will be aware, the World Bank recognised that fact with its initiative on the comprehensive development framework, which aims to co-ordinate donors in backing poverty reduction strategies drawn up by developing countries. He should welcome the move towards accepting poverty reduction strategies as varying the criteria for assistance. We recognise the need to minimise the burden on poor countries with limited capacity. When the President of Guyana was a Finance Minister, he often asked me how a small country with 750,000 people could deal with all the donors and all their requirements. We understand that problem, which is why we are trying to improve co-ordination.

The hon. Gentleman asked about the accuracy and transparency of the Department for International Development budget and whether the budget had been fully spent. I do not have precise figures, but almost 100 per cent. of the money allocated to the Department was spent last year. That is not bad. I am sure that he agrees that that level has been similar in the past two years. As for variation from published plans, I am sure that he is not suggesting that we should not change priorities. Conflicts and natural disasters require responses, and we might have to suspend programmes with countries in which coups or political changes take place until they return to democracy. Given that need for flexibility, it is even more remarkable that we have spent 100 per cent. of the budget.

The hon. Gentleman also raised the issue of a single voice in the United Nations. The EU already co-ordinates well in UN development bodies. I have attended meetings and seen that for myself. Normally, an EU statement agreed in advance is read by the representative of the presidency. He mentioned the European Parliament and correctly said that its Development Committee did not control its aid budget. The Development Council has no such responsibility either. The General Affairs Council decides development budgets. We have examined that issue and will continue to do so. We are also talking about poverty eradication to members of the European Parliament's Budget Committee. I spoke to a British member to ensure that she understood our priorities of targeting poverty and questioning some of the allocations to Mediterranean development assistance.

13 Jul 2000 : Column 278WH

I hope that I have answered most of the questions raised. The Government feel that Europe's development assistance stands at an important crossroads. We need to resist short-term political pressure for gesture spending and focus resources where they are needed most. Some sensible proposals for reform are on the table, and we press at every opportunity for their

13 Jul 2000 : Column 279WH

implementation . We are cautiously optimistic that they will provide concrete improvements in the quality and efficiency of programmes. We will continue to apply pressure. That will allow the EC programmes to fulfil their potential and make the impact on global poverty that they must have if we are to meet our poverty eradication target.

Question put and agreed to.

 IndexHome Page