EU Document 8403/08 and Addenda 1 to 5 relating to The EU—a Global Partner for Development—Speeding up progress towards the Millennium Development Goals.

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Mr. Lancaster: So, just to be clear, the Minister is not concerned that the most disadvantaged are no longer the focus of EU aid.
Mr. Malik: I have said exactly the opposite, and, much as the hon. Gentleman may want to reinterpret my remarks, I repeat that the beauty of the Lisbon treaty is that it allows us primarily to focus on poverty, which is hugely beneficial. It also ensures that aid is used solely in the context of poverty and not for any wider agenda. If the hon. Gentleman speaks to people who are leading the fight against poverty in the developing world, he will find that they concur with what I have said.
The Chairman: If no more hon. Members want to ask questions, we shall proceed to the debate.
Motion made, and Question proposed,
That this Committee takes note of European Union Document No. 8403/08 and Addenda 1 to 5, Commission Communication, The EU—a Global Partner for Development—speeding up progress towards the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs); and welcomes the progress being made.—[Mr. Malik.]
5.12 pm
Mr. Lancaster: It is a pleasure to take part in the debate, and I thank the Minister for his opening statement and for answering the questions. I was trying to be helpful earlier by pointing out that the forecast timetable for official development assistance as a percentage of gross national income is on page 25. I appreciate, however, that, as we have seen, it is not always easy to pinpoint an exact table in such a large document.
Much of what I was going to say has been covered in the questions, so rather than repeating myself, I shall focus on “The Millennium Development Goals: State of Play”, which forms part of the papers before the Committee and which was mentioned by the hon. Member for South Ribble. We have just passed the halfway stage in attempting to reach the MDGs. It is perhaps worth focusing on the fact that even if we were to achieve what is set out, we would, for example, have only got halfway to eradicating extreme poverty and hunger. If we run through the eight MDGs, we can have a quick look at where we have got to. There is some good news, which is welcome, but it is also clear that we have an awfully long way to go.
The aim of MDG1 is to
“Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger”.
There is still some hope that the extreme poverty target can be achieved globally, and sub-Saharan Africa is the only region not on track to achieve the goal. Sadly, however, the hunger target is unlikely to be reached. The objective of MDG2 is to “achieve universal primary education”. Although 72 million children are still out of full-time education, recent increases in child education mean that 88 per cent. of the target has been achieved. Once again, that is encouraging news, although it is unfortunately unlikely that sub-Saharan Africa and south Asia will meet the goal. That is a recurring theme, at least when it comes to sub-Saharan Africa, and it is clear as we run through the goals where the focus needs to be.
MDG3 is to
“Promote gender equality and empower women”.
Good work is being done on that goal, as I saw for myself recently in Malawi, but we are still a long way from achieving it, especially in Africa. Progress is hard to quantify, and gains in equality of access to remunerative labour markets remain modest, so more work needs to be done on that.
MDG4 concerns reducing child mortality. Although south Asia is on track to reach the goal, having reduced under-five mortality by 35 per cent., sub-Saharan Africa has reduced under-five mortality by only 10 per cent., which is far behind the required rate of progress. MDG5 concerns improving maternal health. With more than 500,000 women dying of treatable or preventable complications during pregnancy or childbirth, much still needs to be done to achieve the target of reducing the maternal mortality ratio by three quarters between 1990 and 2015.
MDG6 is about combating HIV/AIDS. At the end of 2006, an estimated 39.5 million people worldwide were living with HIV, up from 32.9 million in 2001. Once again, most of those people live in sub-Saharan Africa, as I saw for myself during my recent trip to Malawi and South Africa. Much more needs to be done. The number of people dying of HIV/AIDS increased from 2.2 million in 2001 to 2.6 million in 2006, so it could be argued that we are almost going backwards when it comes to achieving that goal.
Progress is being made on MDG7, ensuring environmental stability, but it is painfully slow and can be controversial, as other hon. Members mentioned during earlier questions. MDG8, which concerns developing a global partnership for development, is covered at length on page 141 of the document, so I shall not go into too much detail about that.
To be fair, there are some good points about EU delivery of aid. Progress has been made, so I do not want to stand here being entirely negative. The EU remains the leading donor in world aid, providing €93 per European per year. The EU is at the forefront of policy coherence and is focusing particularly on the effects of European policies in 12 key areas on developing countries and the MDGs. There is no question but that there are enormous effort and good will in that area, as we heard in a statement from the Prime Minister last year, but there is a sense in this debate that words are simply no longer enough. Rhetoric is one thing, but action is something else entirely.
Direct aid from the EU to Africa has been increased. That is just as well, because it is clear from the list showing progress made on the MDGs that for the majority of them, it is in Africa that the least progress is being made and the most work has still to be done. To give credit to DFID, it is on track to deliver both trade-related commitments. The first, made in 2005, is to increase trade-related assistance to £100 million; the second, which refers to infrastructure, is to increase aid for trade, as the Minister said in his opening statement, to £409 million by 2010.
The Under-Secretary of State for International Development, the hon. Member for Harrow, West (Mr. Thomas) said during the Lisbon trade debates:
“A powerful example of that is the difference that the Commission is making in India...The Commission is helping to develop an education system capable of offering eight years of quality elementary schooling to all children. As a result, between 2001 and 2006 the number of children between six and 14 who are not at school has fallen from some 25 million to about 14 million.”—[Official Report, 25 February 2008; Vol. 472, c. 833.]
That is a good example of our doing the right thing. The EU should be complimented on its work.
I want to point out some of our concerns without returning to the Lisbon treaty debate of a few months ago. I am not sure whether the Minister was present for that debate. I do not think that he was—another Minister made the winding-up speech—so it may be beneficial if I highlight our concerns that, as a result of the Lisbon treaty, we are going backwards when it comes to delivering aid effectively.
We feel that the treaty misses the opportunity to support open markets and significantly rejuvenate the EU’s aid programme, which unfortunately, despite recent improvements, is still underperforming, a fact that even the Minister admitted in his opening statement. Good will is one thing, but action is another.
Perhaps I will be forgiven for saying that I was not entirely convinced by the Minister’s reply, but we simply do not understand why those who drafted the Lisbon treaty felt the need to remove the reference to the “most disadvantaged” developing countries as a focus of EU development co-operation policy—a point I have already mentioned. If we are attempting to have an impact and make the biggest difference, surely it is right to look at the areas where we have the biggest problems. How will the EU achieve its end of the deal on the MDGs if it simply focuses more of its aid on countries that are geographically closer, rather than those whose needs are greatest? I hope that the Minister will be able to address that point specifically. Is it right that the focus of the EU’s aid is based on geography rather than on helping the most disadvantaged? I do not think so.
It is interesting that the Under-Secretary of State for International Development, the hon. Member for Harrow, West said:
“EC aid is still not sufficiently focused on meeting the millennium development goals...Europe spends nearly $100 in aid for every poor person in Asia, which is, alongside Africa, the key battleground for the achievement of the millennium development goals...Why is a child in Egypt worth 100 times more than a child in Bangladesh?”
I agree, but with the greatest respect to the Minister, I am not sure from his response that he agrees with his hon. Friend. Although the EU should take into account its comparative advantage in assisting developing nations that are geographically closer, we believe that if the EU and Britain are serious about achieving the MDGs rather than just getting good press releases, our aid must be channelled to those whose need is greatest. That is why we are so concerned about that aspect of the Lisbon treaty.
We are concerned about the possible politicisation of aid as a result of the Lisbon treaty. Moving the EU’s development responsibilities into the remit of the European external action service is, in our opinion at least, a retrograde step that runs the risk of aid becoming a political tool that would effectively remove the focus on achieving the MDGs as a key aim. Labour members of the Committee should agree with that, because in 1947, 1964, 1974 and 1997 the incoming Labour Governments of the day moved the role of development away from the Foreign Office. On each occasion it was to stop aid being used for political gains, so perhaps the Minister can explain why the Government are now happy for that position to be reversed under the Lisbon treaty. Why the sudden change of heart?
We are concerned at the move in the Lisbon treaty to enshrine qualified majority voting on all development aid spending. Once again, we think that might have an adverse impact on delivering aid more effectively. For instance, Britain and a few other countries refused to fund directly the Hamas Authority in Palestine and instead opted to fund NGOs, which was absolutely right. However, under qualified majority voting, we could be forced to fund authorities against our will. During negotiations on the Lisbon treaty, the right hon. Member for Neath (Mr. Hain), argued:
“Macro-financial assistance has been agreed urgently when required”.
He argued that moving to qualified majority voting was therefore unnecessary. As that was his position when arguing for the treaty, why when we had the debate did the Government suddenly perform yet another U-turn and have a complete change of heart.
Finally, one of my other principal concerns about the EU in this regard is that it is pretty inefficient at delivering aid. A recent survey by Oxfam found, for example, that about one fifth of all EU aid arrives more than a year late. DFID, by contrast, is much more efficient. Rather than DFID learning lessons from Europe, perhaps Europe should be learning lessons from DFID, which is a Department of which the Minister can rightly be proud.
With regard to corruption, EU aid programmes account for 21 per cent. of all fraud investigations conducted by the European Anti-Fraud Office—OLAF. That remains a major problem, so as we move forward and attempt to do more to make greater progress towards the MDGs, it is absolutely vital that we look carefully at the issue for fear that some of our money may not end up where we hope. I hope the Minister will be able to address some of the points I have raised when he winds up.
5.25 pm
Mr. Borrow: I begin by recalling a few comments that my hon. Friend the Minister made at a meeting in my constituency on Thursday when we were discussing international development. He said that politicians who are in favour of international development and increasing the 0.7 per cent. of gross national product being spent on international development aid, should remember that the people out there need to continue voting for politicians who are prepared to spend money on that area. We need to win that argument.
I want to say a little about the sustainability of the international aid budget in the years to come. In some areas, money spent now on developing wells and putting in water systems and infrastructure will not have been wasted, even if that level of development is not going ahead in 10 years’ time. There may be ups and downs in the level of international development aid that is going to the poorer parts of the world, but there are areas where if we do not sustain that investment, year on year, there will be really grotesque consequences, particularly in relation to health budgets. The sixth of the millennium goals concerns HIV/AIDS and other diseases, and talks about bringing about a reduction in the spread of those diseases by 2015. In order to achieve that we need to invest a lot of money in health systems and disease eradication programmes.
Last week, I was at the launch by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Development of the Government’s HIV strategy document. It pledges to put in £6 billion between now and 2015, as well as £1 billion for the global fund, to seek to eradicate HIV and AIDS and also to provide access to treatment programmes, which I want to talk about in particular.
A couple of years ago, I went to Botswana where nearly everybody who needed access to treatment programmes for HIV/AIDS could get them. Last year, I went to South Africa where many of the big businesses are bringing in similar programmes. As a result many people who would have died are now surviving.
When the millennium development goals were decided, the idea that it was possible to bring in drug schemes and make drugs available generally across sub-Saharan Africa was not really on the agenda. If it is put on the agenda—as is now happening—and if the global fund and all the other bilateral investments are successful, millions of people will be kept alive in sub-Saharan Africa as a result of drug treatment programmes.
Those drug treatment programmes need to be sustained. In 10 years’ time, people will not still be on the same drugs they are taking now. New drugs will be developed and people will need to move on to them. As the number of people with HIV/AIDS continues to grow, the number of people who need to be on those drug treatment programmes will increase. As the pool of infection increases, the pattern of the disease in sub-Saharan Africa and other parts of the developing world will follow the pattern in the developed world, where the incidence of new infections dropped in the 1990s. Once the drug treatment programmes kicked in more people were kept alive, but there came a point when the drop in the number of new infections stopped and new infections increased.
We need to recognise that having high ambitions is one thing, but realising the long-term funding consequences of some of the programmes is equally important. That ties in with another development goal, which has to do with pharmaceutical companies and the TRIPS—trade-related aspects of intellectual property rights—agreement. There could be a long-term problem if we cannot ensure that future drug treatments are available on a similar cost basis to those that exist at present. Developments take place. For example, people with HIV/AIDS can now take once a day a pill containing various drugs that will keep them alive. In western Europe and north America, those pills are very expensive. They are used in certain parts of sub-Saharan Africa, but not widely. We have to ask ourselves whether we can obtain those drugs at a reasonable price and continue to obtain newly developed drugs at a reasonable price for the developing world.
I am making a few points that are not critical but which I wanted to flag up as things we need to be aware of in the years ahead. I am particularly looking beyond 2015. The Government have committed themselves to a lot of funding and a big increase in funding between now and 2015, but that is not the end of it. There are long-term commitments that we and other countries in the rich part of the world need to make beyond 2015.
5.31 pm
Mr. Michael Moore (Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk) (LD): The hon. Member for South Ribble has made a powerful case about the need for sustainability in funding. I hope that the Minister will address that head-on and pick up the questions asked earlier about the underlying assumptions on economic growth in this country and throughout the European Union, so that we can understand the extent to which there is risk between the stated economic growth figures and the ones that we are beginning to come to terms with as a result of the economic downturn. As the hon. Member for South Ribble has said, if, at this critical phase of our work towards achieving the millennium development goals, there were a suggestion that we would reduce the funding or that some of it was at risk, that would send out the opposite signal to all the efforts this year.
This is a hugely important year, because we are past the mid-point as we look to 2015 and achievement of the millennium development goals. As the hon. Member for North-East Milton Keynes has set out, we are failing pretty badly on the MDGs. It is important that not only at the European summit in a couple of weeks’ time but at the September UN summit and all the other major gatherings between now and then, all Governments, particularly in the wealthy western world, are focused on what has to be done to achieve the goals.
As the hon. Gentleman has said, we must not lose sight of the fact that the targets are pretty modest. For example, they involve halving the percentage of people who live on less than $1 a day, halving the number of people who are hungry, and halting and beginning to reverse the spread of AIDS and other serious diseases. In 2015, even if we catch up to where we should be, the job will not be done, as the hon. Gentleman has said, and the cost of failure is something that we surely cannot contemplate, for all sorts of reasons that I do not need to stress now.
It is right that Europe should work together to tackle the problems that we have analysed and debated this afternoon. We are the wealthiest economic bloc in the world and, collectively, the largest international donor—we give more than 50 per cent. of official development assistance. Europe has played an important role in developing the global political momentum towards achieving the millennium development goals and in finally recognising a timetable for achieving the 0.7 per cent. target, which was debated for decades. That target was agreed three years ago at the General Affairs and External Relations Council, and there is no doubt that it gave important impetus to the G8 meeting in July of that year, where hugely ambitious targets were set for aid to Africa and to other developing regions and countries. Again, we need to see evidence that we are on track to achieve those targets. Thus far, the information suggests that, sadly, we are far from it.
The European consensus on development was a breakthrough in recognising the importance of poverty alleviation as the central focus of European development policy. As the Minister has said, that is at the centre of the Lisbon treaty, which allows us to focus on the actions that flow from that commitment.
The hon. Member for North-East Milton Keynes takes a different view from me on what the treaty means for international development policies more generally. As he has said, we rehearsed the arguments in the debate on the Lisbon treaty a couple of months ago in the Chamber. I agree with him that in an ideal world the reference to the most disadvantage countries would still be there, but—perhaps he cannot be persuaded on this point—the location of poverty alleviation at the core of the European Union’s international development objectives is a major step forward.
I also suggest to the hon. Member for North-East Milton Keynes that occasionally we have perfectly legitimate reasons for supporting countries that are nearer to home, some of which have very important links to European countries. Where the development of such countries goes off track, it can lead to significant consequences for Europe—I thinking of Kosovo, which will not hit the top of any league tables on poverty or other indicators. I hope that the hon. Gentleman agrees that it is essential that Europe collectively makes a long-term commitment to supporting Kosovo’s economy and to helping its development.
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