Mr. Rowe: My hon. Friend is probably aware that one of the pressures under which the EU operates is that whenever there is evidence of malfeasance there is a huge outburst of scandal and horror, and then, instead of reviewing all its procedures and ensuring that there is one accountable person, the EU simply increases the number of signatures that have to appear on each authorisation. Far from improving accountability, that requirement hugely diminishes it, and colossally increases the time that such an authorisation takes to go through the system.
Mr. Leigh: My hon. Friend, who speaks with great knowledge on these subjects, makes a perfectly valid point. It is difficult to advise the EU on how to proceed, but I suppose that the problem boils down to a lack of
Is it true that the reason why the EU is performing so badly is that there is a shortfall of 1,300 staff? I suspect not. My viewpoint is shared by the International Development Secretary, who declared her opposition to giving the Commission any more money for staff and has promised to "fight to the death" to prevent it unless the Commission improves the quality of what it is doing already.
The International Development Secretary, to whom I pay tribute, is being absolutely robust in this. She is saying that the problem is not due to lack of staff at all. Fair enough. If we therefore are all agreed--I see Labour Members nodding--why is she willing to continue to use the European Commission to distribute aid despite its being, in her words,
If we place our hopes in the illusion of the EU's reforming itself and suddenly becoming, contrary to all the expectations of the International Development Secretary, an efficient organisation which works solely for the reduction of poverty in a holistic manner, I believe that we are fooling ourselves. The all-party International Development Committee, in producing the report, has been
I believe that it would be better if the United Kingdom took the decision to spend this money itself, controlled by this Parliament, for the reduction in poverty in the world and to help the world's poorest people.
The hon. Member for South-West Devon (Mr. Streeter), as usual, said a great deal about good governance, and many people in the House would agree with what he says. It is indeed fundamental. It lies at the core of any development programme in an underdeveloped country. However, as the hon. Member for Hertford and Stortford (Mr. Wells) said, we must question what good governance is. It is sometimes extremely difficult to put a finger on what its ingredients are.
I was about to rise to ask the hon. Gentleman whether Uganda would be an example of good governance. I remember his having great doubts when we were out there, and yet Uganda seems to be doing quite well in development terms, and delivering the goods as far as the Department for International Development is concerned. If we intend to declare that people will get aid only to further good governance, and that that is at the very core of poverty alleviation, it is worth remembering that it is quite difficult to assess what good governance is.
The hon. Member for Hertford and Stortford mentioned the police and the judiciary. In doing so, he perfectly illustrated what I am always saying: that poverty can be alleviated only by addressing very many factors. One cannot give one factor a higher priority than another. How can one have a good police force, and above all a good judiciary, without education? Should not education therefore lie at the core of development? One cannot educate people or maintain good governance unless those people are relatively healthy and have a health care system--so should not health care be at the core? One cannot have good health without clean water, so should not clean water be at the very core? So is not clean water just as important as good governance? They all go together; it is thus absolutely right that the core powers are set out in the way that they are, and that they do not give one factor more importance than another. It is important that we go ahead on many fronts.
We all have sympathy with what has been said about the inefficiency of European Union aid. I shall not bore the House again with my story of reading reports from the Court of Auditors. They contain absolutely horrific stories of projects not started, not completed or not reported on, and of money not even wasted but simply not used--just sitting there, not delivering the aid that was intended. Sadly, EU aid gives the Conservative party another opportunity for a bit of Europe bashing, and I wish that the EU would put its house in order because it provides such a wonderful excuse to attack Europe and all things European.
I remind Conservative Members that if they had played a more wholehearted part in setting up all those institutions, and if they had been there enthusiastically insisting that the European aid budgets were managed properly, instead of washing their hands, like Pontius Pilate, of all things European, we would be in a much better state today and they could not criticise what goes on in our name.
Mr. Wells: As the hon. Lady will know, because she was a member of the Select Committee when we drafted the report to which my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Leigh) referred, we recommended not that we should withdraw money from the European aid programme, but that we should make that programme perform better. Does she agree that Mr. Chris Patten and Mr. Nielsen--the two Commissioners principally concerned with European aid--have introduced many new measures which will come into force this year and promise to make European aid much more efficient and to deliver pro-poor policies in the third world?
Dr. Tonge: Yes, I entirely agree with the hon. Gentleman, and I am hopeful that reform will take place. Conservative Members have quoted the Secretary of State on many occasions this afternoon. She is unhappy about the way things work, and she will ensure that we will not contribute more funds until they improve. I have a lot of faith in my constituent, Commissioner Patten--he is not all the Conservative party's; he is partly mine too. He and his colleague are sincerely trying to improve matters, but I repeat that it is very foolish of the Conservative Opposition continually to carp about the systems that they set up but now want nothing to do with.
I want to make one last point on European aid. It is rather strange that the Conservative party says that good governance and political considerations are of the very essence if we want to relieve poverty, and that good governance must be top of the aid agenda, since that is precisely what many European aid projects do. They are trying to deliver good governance, which will improve the countries where they operate and bring them into the first world and, eventually, the European Union. Conservative Members have been speaking on both sides of the argument.