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5.3 pm

Tony Worthington (Clydebank and Milngavie) (Lab): The right hon. Member for Wells (Mr. Heathcoat-Amory) said that he did not have time to go into foreign policy. I want to do so, although I doubt that I will have the same concerns as him.

I want to talk about one aspect of the proposed constitution: the relationship between foreign policy and development policy—the world of international development. I do so as a supporter of the Department for International Development, which has been one of the great successes of this Government. What I fear is that some of DFID's achievements may be undermined, or put under some kind of threat, by the arrangements that are being made in Europe. Those arrangements do not have to lead to a step backwards, but I would like an assurance from the Minister that such points are being taken into account.

DFID has been a great success. That is the experience of members of the Select Committee. Every one of them, of whatever party, feels that DFID has been a major step forward. When we go to the countries to which we give assistance, they are lavish in their praise of DFID in comparison with other international development departments. When we go to the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund or any other international forum, we find that DFID is considered a great step forward. Within a very few years, it has become the pre-eminent international development department in the world.

It was right for the Overseas Development Administration to stop being a section of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and for it no longer to be controlled by the FCO. However, under the EU, the development and co-operation remit will be moved back firmly to the control of the equivalent of the FCO. That remit would become part of the foreign policy area that is considered by the treaty. Activities in the common foreign policy other than development issues would become pre-eminent and those issues would be downgraded, which would be unfortunate.

EU development assistance and that provided by each of the EU's individual nations come to more than half the development assistance made available in the whole world. If development assistance becomes subservient to foreign policy considerations, I fear that development issues will take a step backwards.

Let me refer to some of the gains that we have obtained from the establishment of DFID. The first and most important is that aid and development have become principled and focused. Our statute now says that the purpose of development aid is to end poverty. We hold to the millennium development goals for ourselves and were influential in saying that they should become an enormous global commitment. It is DFID's ambition that 90 per cent. of our aid will go to the poorest countries by 2006.

British development money cannot be used for purposes other than the reduction of poverty. The International Development Act 2002 insists that development policy is maintained and operated on the basis of its developmental principles, institutions and instruments. That means the reduction of poverty, which is a very simple and powerful purpose.

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We use development assistance for development. It is a long time since the Pergau dam, when aid money was used to provide sweeteners for trade or foreign policy goals. It was important that DFID broke free from the FCO and established its own mandate. I am not criticising the FCO, which has different goals and purposes, but it was important to give development its own pre-eminence and budget.

We banned tied aid so that it became clear to all concerned that the reason for development assistance was not the furthering of British industry, but the needs of the recipient country. That is in total contrast to the United States Agency for International Development, whose money is spent on American goods. It makes it clear that its purpose is to further American foreign policy goals. The principal recipient of the assistance provided by USAID is Israel. That would not happen under our policy, because our goal is the relief of poverty. For example, we would not write in provisions on assistance such as those introduced by the Americans when they consider giving AIDS money to an African country. They may say that it is a condition of the aid that the recipient country's Government buys American genetically modified food, but such an approach is anathema to us. We would not say that a country must embrace American goals before it may receive assistance.

DFID did more than just establish its independence, because the fact that it became independent brought other big players in the British Government along with it. The alliance between DFID and the Chancellor of the Exchequer has been enormously important in getting momentum behind debt relief. DFID does not go round the world as a small and marginal Department. It always has a key economic Minister involved, which is probably why its budget has increased more quickly than those of other Departments. The Chancellor's international finance initiative is the world's only show in town if we are seriously to increase aid, which needs to be done, and achieve the millennium development goals.

The situation in Britain is different from that faced by Development Ministers in other countries. The common position of European countries is similar to the one from which we moved because their senior Foreign Ministers are generally responsible for all external relationships, including development co-operation. European development policies frequently resemble foreign policies rather than development or aid policies.

During the Doha round, there could be no doubt that the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry was fully behind DFID in attempting to deliver fairness to the poorer nations of the world and against the sickening unfairness with which richer countries treat trade. The sustainable development goals of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs are based on the same principle. It would be interesting to hear about how the Minister for Europe is working actively with DFID to pursue the millennium development goals. Are the goals at the heart of British foreign policy? I shall not be critical of him if his answer is no or say that that is wrong, but if it is his answer, there is not a natural fit between foreign and development policy. I am worried that, as the European constitution develops, we will lose what we have gained.

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I praise the European Development Commissioner Poul Nielson for his contribution over the past few years. He had to work extremely hard to improve the EU's performance on development, and it has improved modestly. He has had some success in asserting development priorities and his policy has been similar to DFID's policy of pursuing the millennium development goals. Who or what will succeed him? He inherited a situation in which development policy was subsumed by foreign policy and great patience was required before the pledge of European development money could be fulfilled. There were multiple Development Commissioners and the allocation of assistance reflected a requirement to keep the neighbours of Europe happy rather than a consideration of need.

The tying in of development and foreign policies could be a major step backwards. Although there is European commitment to the millennium development goals to end poverty, only just over 40 per cent. of European development assistance goes to the poorest countries and the situation remains unsatisfactory. The head of the Overseas Development Institute, Simon Maxwell, gave evidence to the House of Lords European Union Committee. He pointed out that, in 2002, India, which has one of the highest concentrations of poor people in the world, received Euro14 million in new commitments and that Bangladesh received Euro32 million. Incredibly, Morocco received Euro124 million and Romania received Euro696 million. How can it be justified that Mauritania—a small country—received 15 times more than India in new commitments from the European Union?

In Europe, where the development function has not been separated from the foreign policy function, aid money is not put to best use. My concern is that the gains made by Poul Nielson and those working with him will be lost by aid being returned to stand securely under the foreign policy heading—after all, international development is an alternative form of foreign policy, another means by which we interact with the world. DFID has been extremely successful in that respect, but there is a huge difference between the foreign policy pursued by the United States and that advocated by ex-President Havel of the Czech Republic. Havel said:


That is what development assistance should be about; it is not the language of common foreign and security policy. There can be no doubt about the purpose of American foreign policy: it is to pursue the military, business and resource interests of the United States. It is as simple and as brutal as that. However, that form of foreign policy is incompatible with development policy and rests very uneasily under that heading.

Mr. MacShane: I draw my hon. Friend's attention to the White Paper "UK International Priorities: A Strategy for the FCO" which was presented to Parliament last week by my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary. I do not want to go into the details, but on page 39 my hon. Friend will find the language that he seeks in respect of progress towards poverty

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reduction, sustainable development, international finance facilities, and the New Partnership for Africa's Development. All that is at the heart of British foreign policy.


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