The Chancellor of the Exchequer (Mr. Gordon Brown): I can report a major advance that will support progress towards reaching our millennium development goals. Since Britain pioneered the international finance facility for immunisation, I can announce not only the engagement of France, Italy, Spain and Sweden in this project but that Norway has joined the project this week. I believe that other countries are ready to follow and that this initiative alone could save up to 5 million lives between now and 2015. It is one of the most important factors that make possible the achievement of the millennium development goals on infant and maternal mortality.
Barbara Follett: I thank my right hon. Friend for his reply and for everything that he and his Department are doing to try to meet the millennium development goals. However, does he agree that as 140 million children in the developing world, 65 million of them girls, are unable to access education, we have an enormous amount to do if we are to achieve goal 3 and eliminate gender disparity in primary and secondary education by 2015?
Mr. Brown: I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who takes a huge interest in these matters, particularly Africa, where many children are denied the prospect of education. There are 110 million children around the world who will not go to school today. Two thirds of them are girls, who suffer both from discrimination against girls and the lack of resources for education. The world could come together over the next few years with the fast-track action plan for education to speed up the offer of primary places, in particular, to girls as well as boys. The cost of that investment would be about $10 billion a year, which is a small price to pay for probably the most cost-effective investment that the world could ever make. Again, I hope that there will be all-party support for that initiative.
Mr. Mark Field (Cities of London and Westminster)
(Con): I want to take the opportunity to state that Her Majesty's Opposition support the Chancellor's broad objectives in this sphere. [Interruption.] It could indeed be described as an end to Punch and Judy politics. However, we urge him to provide a full report on further progress on the international finance facility along the lines that he set out, particularly efforts to try to achieve US involvement in this important sphere of work. We recognise that aid alone can never be sufficient. In pursuit of economic development, free trade, especially in agricultural commodities, is of key importance. Will the Chancellor ensure that effective action to reform the EU common agricultural policy, rather than mere words, becomes official Government policy?
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Mr. Brown: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his support for our initiative on debt relief and aid and on the international finance facility. We are moving forward with our proposal for the pilot project on immunisation, which will put $4 billion of extra money into vaccinating and immunising children in particular in Africa and Asia. We have won the support of a large number of European countries, and we believe we will have support from Latin America, Africa and Asia over the next few months, so that it will genuinely be a worldwide initiative with dozens of countries supporting the principles underlying the international finance facility. I hope that from the all-party support in the House we can build out to a consensus right round the world.
On trade, the hon. Gentleman knows I agree with the proposition that there needs to be progress. As he probably saw on Saturday at the G7 Finance Ministers meeting, Brazil made a new offer to open up trade in areas where it has been under criticism, and India indicated that it would make a further offer if there were similar and equivalent offers from Europe and America. It is now up to the trade negotiators to look at those new proposals and see whether we can unblock the trade talks. Of course, at the heart of it, as I said on Saturday, is the vexed issue of agricultural protectionism, where I hope we all agree that both Europe and America must make progress and make new offers.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer (Mr. Gordon Brown): Our aim is that by 2010 every HIV/AIDS sufferer will receive treatment. Advance market commitments for vaccines to prevent diseases that primarily affect poor countries were discussed at the G7 meeting of Finance Ministers at the weekend. We agreed a pilot scheme to be developed, which will support research and development and the delivery of vaccines that in the long term may help us in the search for a preventive vaccine for HIV/AIDS. I hope that there will again be all-party support for those initiatives.
Julie Morgan: I congratulate my right hon. Friend and the Government on all the efforts that they have made in this matter. What can my right hon. Friend do to ensure that the aid that is given for HIV/AIDS is spent as intended? On a recent visit to Kenya, I was told by the Ministry for Health, health professionals and non-governmental organisations that the rules of the International Monetary Fund made it extremely difficult for them to increase their public spending on nurses, doctors and other health officials. What can my right hon. Friend do to influence the situation and create the right balance between economic stability and public spending on health in countries such as Kenya?
As my hon. Friend may know, the British Government and other European countries in particular are signing agreements with a number of countries to give long-term support to those Governments so that
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they can make allocations to health and education, not just on an annual basis, but on a sustainable basis. We believe that that is the best way of ensuring that money goes to health and education, rather than going to corrupt projects or being wasted. As regards the short term, I will take up my hon. Friend's question about Kenya with my hon. Friend the Minister with responsibility for overseas development and write to her on the matter.
Mr. Jeremy Hunt (South-West Surrey) (Con): Does the Chancellor agree that the 2010 access to AIDS treatment target will not have any credibility unless intermediate targets and milestones are set by which we can measure whether progress is being made towards the achievement of such an important target?
Mr. Brown: I accept that when a long-term target is set, the real questions are whether there will be the money to deliver that target, and whether there will be proper development of policy to achieve it, so I agree with the hon. Gentleman that we must put in place both the necessary resources and the policy measures to achieve the target. There have been great advances in antiretroviral drugs and treatments, and great advances also in charitable and other medical projects that are helping AIDS sufferers in various parts of AfricaI visited some of those projects in the course of a visit to Africabut in the end it will require an agreement about the funding that we can provide, as well as the policy measures to implement it. I am glad that there is all-party agreement on that.
The Economic Secretary to the Treasury (Mr. Ivan Lewis): The Government's approach to the reform of structural and cohesion funds for the period 200713 has called for greater focus on new member states, more freedom and flexibility for structural fund spending within member states, and a greater focus on the Lisbon agenda for productivity and growth. That approach is set out in the negotiating box tabled by the Foreign Secretary on Monday 5 December, which reflected the views of all member states.
Matthew Taylor: Before the general election, the Chancellor pursued a policy of getting billions back from the European Union to the UK by repatriating regeneration funds. Since the general election, it seems that the Prime Minister has been pursuing a policy of giving away billions of pounds to the EU by giving up part of our rebate. What is the Treasury view on this apparent U-turn in policy?
We do not accept that that analysis is accurate. The negotiations are ongoing, and we cannot make commitments on specific regions. Under the UK proposals, which were tabled this week, receipts would be the same as those under the previous proposals from Luxembourg. It is important to recognise that three
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quarters of regional funding is already provided domestically. This year, the South West of England Regional Development Agency has a budget of £153 million to invest in the economic development and regeneration of Cornwall and the wider south-west region.
Mr. Andrew Love (Edmonton) (Lab/Co-op): When my hon. Friend considers the future of structural funding, will he take into account the decision by my Conservative-controlled local authority to turn down £1 million of economic development funding because it does not want to match fund, which will affect the most vulnerable and deprived in my community? Is that not an early example of the hypocrisy and double standards of the Conservative party?
Mr. Lewis: Of course, I agree with my hon. Friend. However the Conservative party tries to rebrand itself, it will always stand for the same ideology and philosophy, which does not involve using resources to help some of our more disadvantaged communities. Any decisions that we make in the future will take account of that local authority's failure to provide the right local leadership.
Adam Price (Carmarthen, East and Dinefwr) (PC): In the proposals set out on Monday, the Government are offering more flexibility on the timing of expenditure and the required level of match funding in return for a 10 per cent. cut in the structural funds compared with the Luxembourg proposals Will the Minister confirm that that new flexibility will be available to convergence fund regions in the UK such as west Wales and the valleys as well as to the EU 10?
Mr. Lewis: As I have said, the most important difference that we make involves the money that we spend in the United Kingdom on regional policy. We will take account of the concern expressed by the hon. Gentleman.
Chris Bryant (Rhondda) (Lab): The Minister knows that because of the extraordinary success of this Government's economic policy, Wales in particular has strode ahead economically, so much so that we may no longer qualify for funds that are available to regions because of poverty. Will he guarantee that whatever happens in the EU negotiations over the next two weeks, he will continue to work with colleagues in the Welsh Assembly to make sure that the economy in the south Wales valleys continues to be regenerated?
Mr. Lewis: I agree with my hon. Friend. A combination of macro-economic stability and labour market intervention through the new deal to create new jobs has been at the centre of the Government's policies on social justice and economic growth. Those policies will continue, and we will continue to work with elected representatives in Wales to ensure that the prosperity that is developing continues to grow into the future.
Mr. Richard Spring (West Suffolk)
(Con): In his Mansion house speech, the Chancellor talked about the necessity of EU economic reform, and the Prime Minister has subsequently discussed budgetary reform. Could the Government ever have imagined that issues
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such as economic regeneration funding would inflame the new member countries and have the French running rings around us over the common agricultural policy? Given that our EU presidency has been marked by isolation, incompetence and lack of preparation, will the Minister take this opportunity to apologise for both the lack of reform and our national humiliation?
Mr. Lewis: That contribution demonstrates why the Conservative party will never be fit to be in government. We are in the middle of the most sensitive negotiations and hold the EU presidency, and Her Majesty's Opposition are seeking to undermine the Government in those negotiations. The only change on abatement occurred because we believe that we should pay our fair share of the costs of enlargement. Does the Conservative party believe that we should pay our fair share of the costs of enlargement?
Keith Vaz (Leicester, East) (Lab): Of course the Minister is right that the first duty of any Government in negotiations is to protect Britain's position but, as he also said, there is a cost to enlargement. The Conservatives supported enlargement, as did the whole European Union. It would be completely unfair to hamper the new member states because they do not have the funds fully to integrate into the European Union. I wish my hon. Friend well in the negotiations and ask him to remember that the future of Europe depends on our ability to treat all nations equally, which means giving the necessary funds to new member states.
Mr. Lewis: I entirely agree with my hon. Friend, who has a lot of expertise in this area. The changes that we have made to the negotiating position so far are about ensuring that this country pays its fair share of the costs of enlargement. I assume that the Conservatives would believe that to be the correct policy. We will be willing to make other significant changes in terms of the rebate only if the French radically change their position on the common agricultural policy. That has remained this country's position throughout the negotiations.