Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Mr. Andrew Rowe (Faversham and Mid-Kent): Does my hon. Friend agree that one of the shadows on

10 Apr 2001 : Column 864

the picture is the cost of elections? There are many developing countries where the cost of getting elected is so high that it is wholly unrealistic to expect a Member of Parliament not to spend his time in office trying to reimburse himself. That, of course, sharply undermines good governance.

Mr. Streeter: From his vast experience, my hon. Friend makes an important point. That is indeed the case. Some of the work that we have done in the Westminster Foundation for Democracy, about which I shall say a few words later, reinforces his point. It is not just the cost of getting elected; sometimes, in developing countries, the salary levels of people in important civil service positions are so low that although one can never condone corruption, there is almost an imperative for them to be open to such inducements in order to feed their families.

We have vast expertise in this country, and many in the developing world are hungry to learn from us about building good governance in their countries. There is a danger that the international development community is trying to do too much--its work is too scatter-gun. It would be far better to focus on a key issue, such as good governance, which will strengthen the framework, and to make sure that we can deliver on it.

From my experience with the Westminster Foundation for Democracy, which I strongly believe in and support--I am the vice-chairman of that excellent organisation--I know that democracy-building is long term, invisible, intangible and difficult to measure. However, I also know that it is essential for strong frameworks to grow and develop in developing countries, particularly those that have no recent history of democracy. We can be proud of the work of the British Council in supporting good governance abroad, and that work needs to be expanded.

I have set out two reasons why good governance should be written into the Bill, and there is a third reason. Focusing on strengthening the governance of a nation state is dealing with the world as it is. We know that globalisation is going on all around us, and we read books and articles and go to conferences about it. There are people out there protesting and trying to stop globalisation and the march of the multinational corporations. Sometimes they have a point, and sometimes they have a less strong point.

Most of us in the Chamber believe that there is no stopping globalisation: it is happening, and there is nothing much that we can do. In part, it is due to the success of the technological breakthroughs of recent times, increased mobility and the telecommunications revolution. Globalisation is here to stay. There are those who are trying to stop it, but others argue that it contains the answers to every problem faced by humankind. There are globalisation junkies who say that we should be thinking about global governance and allowing multilateral organisations to tackle the issues globally.

That is not yet the real world. Perhaps one day we will move towards global governance, although I have profound doubts about that. It does not seem to strike a chord with the reality of human nature, but there are those who think that that is the way to solve the problems confronting us, and there is an increasing fashion in international development to think along those lines.

However, we are still a world of nation states. The decisions of a national Government are still by far the most important decisions impacting, for example, on a

10 Apr 2001 : Column 865

child in Malawi. They are more important than anything that the World Bank or the International Monetary Fund may say or do. In trying to build good governance and working with the Government of Malawi to strengthen democracy, the civil service and civil society in that country will help them to make better decisions on behalf of the children of that country. By promoting good governance, we are cutting with the grain, not against it. We are not floating off into some philosophical nonsense about globalisation solving all our problems.

The world is made up of nation states, and this policy supports that important truth. I hope that the Minister will listen to these arguments.

Mr. Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (Cotswold): I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way. Does he accept that the advanced western nations are sometimes good at intervening militarily to prevent or suppress tyranny, but are often not very good at following up to create sustainable democratic civil institutions--in other words, good governance? That is why it is essential that when we give aid to countries such as Bosnia-Herzegovina we should try to promote the sustainable civil institutions.

1.30 pm

Mr. Streeter: My hon. Friend is right. Such action is hard to take, but it is ultimately the only solution. When we visit Kosovo and the Balkans, as I have done in the past couple of years, we sense that the NGO community has moved in, is reluctant to move out and is making all the decisions. It is far better for us to be strengthening capacity in emerging nations and allowing them to have proper, strong institutions of government. My hon. Friend makes a powerful point. No one is saying that such help is easy to provide, but it should be the focus of our aid. Those are the reasons why I believe that good governance should be included in the Bill and why I urge the Government to accept amendment No. 2.

I want to speak now to new clause 2, which deals with a similar but unrelated point. We accept that UK aid should have a poverty focus, but the stark reality is that 50 per cent. of the Department for International Development's budget is spent not by the British Government, but by other multilateral organisations. Some 30 per cent. is spent through the European Union, and up to 20 per cent. is spent via the United Nations and other multilateral organisations. Thus, 50 per cent. of our aid will not be subject to the poverty focus. The new clause asks the Government, what is the point of introducing an important safeguard and framework for UK aid spend, when half the money that we spend will not be subject to the poverty focus?

I do not want to bore the House with the failings of the EU aid budget. Very few quotations suffice to make the point, which we have debated time and time again. To be fair to the Secretary of State, she has been as critical as anyone of the EU's scandalous and abysmal failure in promoting the interests of the poorest people in the world. On 17 May 2000, she said:

10 Apr 2001 : Column 866

In the Financial Times in July 2000, she said:

In the same article, she said:

I could not have put it better myself. It is absolutely scandalous that the EU continues to misuse 30 per cent. of British taxpayers' money, because of lack of focus, fraud and misuse, and because it is getting it horribly wrong.

I am afraid that any hon. Members who think that the EU aid programme is getting better after the recent reforms are sadly mistaken. There is no evidence to suggest that that is happening. Two recent reports published by the European Parliament, that much-loved institution, state that the EU aid programme reached rock bottom in 1999. I should like to cite page 12/14--there does not seem to be a page 13--of one of those reports, which is dated 23 March 2001. In parliamentary terms, the report is hot off the press; indeed, in European parliamentary terms, it is extremely hot off the press.

Mr. Edward Leigh (Gainsborough): My hon. Friend makes some effective points about the EU budget. When we take power on 7 June--I sincerely hope that we will do so--and he takes his richly deserved seat in the Secretary of State's chair, what can he do to start the process of withdrawing us from the scandalous waste of money that he describes, so that we can spend taxpayers' money to relieve third-world poverty?

Mr. Streeter: My hon. Friend makes a telling point. In a moment, I shall spell out yet again our policy on ensuring that the abuse comes to an end and that we can scale back and claw back to member states the ability to spend the money bilaterally. We all know that that would ensure better value for money.

I shall return to that point shortly, but I want first to read my quotation from the important European Parliament report to which I referred. Of course, we enjoy reading these wonderful reports. The committee that produced the report

only one in 10--

It sees that as

The EU's aid programme is getting worse, and 30 per cent. of British taxpayers' aid money is spent via that aid programme.

Next Section

IndexHome Page