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Jo Swinson (East Dunbartonshire) (LD):
I appreciate the right hon. Gentlemans generosity in giving way. Today is the start of Fairtrade fortnight. The right hon. Gentleman rightly says that trade is in many ways more important than aid for developing countries, so what steps are our Government taking to try to remove some
of the protectionism within Europe, which prevents many developing countries from making fair trade agreements with the UK and our EU partners?
Mr. Alexander: One of the specific steps we are taking is to increase our support for Fairtrade Labelling Organisations Internationalan international confederation that works beyond the boundaries of the UK. As the hon. Lady knows, the Fairtrade Foundation supports the growth of fair trade and ethical products in the UK, but the labelling organisation has a wider international mandate. That support is important and reflective of our international approach. I am proud to say that the UK has the most developed fair trade and ethical market anywhere. Our challenge is both to broaden and deepen the range of fair trade products purchased in UK shops and to support international efforts to make sure that fair trade products are available not just in the UK but elsewhere.
As I was saying, the UK has been working to keep the EUs focus on fulfilling the promise of the Doha development round. As a result of the EUs economic partnership agreements, 35 African, Caribbean and Pacific countries have secured duty and quota-free access to EU markets. We now need a clear road map from the European Commission setting out how EPAs can be fully implemented to serve best the interests of the poor.
Mr. Cash: The Secretary of State knows that, in common with several of my colleagues on the Opposition Benches, I take a considerable interest in third-world matters. He has just referred to economic partnership agreements. Does he agree that there are severe criticisms from non-governmental organisations of how EPAs work in practice? There is strong concern about some aspects of climate change policy, as applied by the EU in relation to biodiesel. There is also the problem of corruption and related issues and the failure of the Court of Auditors, not to mention the question of the CAP. Is the right hon. Gentleman not giving us rather a rosy picture of what the EU can achieve?
Mr. Alexander: I think the hon. Gentleman must be making up for lost time, as a number of those points were dealt with before he was in the Chamber. However, I shall endeavour to deal with at least the first point that he set out. I pay due respect and deference to his interest in the concerns of developing countries, particularly in relation to water and sanitation. He has a long-standing commitment to and interest in those matters, and it is right that all of us on the Labour Benches should acknowledge his role and expertise in those areas.
However, I am not convinced by the characterisation that the hon. Gentleman offers of the practice of EPAs, not least because they have been agreed only in recent months and weeks, and they are not yet in forcebut I fully accept that there are continuing concerns about some of the policies. Last Friday I was in Ghana, where I spoke with the President of Ghana, who expressed concerns. Ghana has signed an interim agreement, and the President is keen to ensure that the full development potential of the EPA is realised in the weeks and months ahead.
Since we set out our policy in 2005, it is fair to say that, alongside the Germans, Swedes and Norwegians, we have been unyielding in our efforts in the Council of Ministers constantly to advocate that EPAs should recognise that reciprocity under World Trade Organisation rules need not mean symmetryin the sense that there can be longer opening periods in developing countries.
Secondly, we have advocated effective aid for trade to support those countries transition to a more open-market environment, and we will continue to argue the case for that at Commonwealth Heads of Government meetings. When I attended such a meeting with the Foreign Secretary and the Prime Minister in November, we met heads of Caribbean nations, who signed a full EPA before the end of last year. They look to the United Kingdom to argue their case in the corridors of the European Union, and I am glad to say that the Under-Secretary of State for International Development, my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, West (Mr. Thomas), and I sought to fulfil that obligation by making clear the case not just for the disbursement of support for sugar and bananas but, more generally, for the kind of EPA that emerged. It is a matter that we care about and are concerned about, and we have continued to act to advance it on behalf of developing countries.
Mr. Mike Hancock (Portsmouth, South) (LD): Before the Secretary of State tells us that he has been to Bangladesh, I shall say that I was there last week. I pay tribute to Department for International Development staff there, particularly Chris Austin and his crowd, who were working down in the cyclone-hit areas. One thing that struck me was the amount of aid that we are giving to such a country. I should like a firm assurance that our commitment to countries such as Bangladesh will not be diluted by the new agreement with our colleagues in Europe. Such countries desperately need the resources that they are getting from us, and the help from DFID and NGOs. Is the Secretary of State absolutely convinced that those will not be diluted in any way?
Mr. Alexander: The short answer is yes. The longer answer is that although the hon. Gentleman beat me to Bangladeshat least this yearI had the opportunity to visit in December, when I met Chris Austin and his team. The hon. Gentleman will be aware from his visit that in Dhaka, I was able to announce a significant uplift in the support that we offer to Bangladesh. In many ways, it is on the front line of one of the great challenges that is faced not just by DFID, but across the developed world: simultaneous human development and climate change. That is why we have worked so hard with Chris Austin and the team in Dhaka, who are doing an outstanding job on our behalf to frame policies that recognise not only the need for adaptation, but the pressing humanitarian difficulties that still afflict that country.
When I travelled down to the cyclone-affected areas in Bangladesh, as I know the hon. Gentleman did, I felt huge pride in the work being done not just on behalf of the people of the United Kingdom, but by a range of agencies, such as Save the Children, which was running
a centre for many children who had been orphaned as a consequence of the cyclone. It is a huge credit to such organisations that, even in a country as far away as Bangladesh, British agencies working with partners from Bangladesh can make a real difference on the ground.
Rob Marris: While my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is on his Cooks tour of the subcontinent, will he tell the House whether he thinks the European Union and the United Kingdom have the balance of international aid right, given that there are more poor people in India than in the whole of Africa?
Mr. Alexander: Of course my hon. Friend is right to recognise that there are vast numbers of poor people in India, which partly explains why the Departments largest bilateral programme is with India. He also makes the fair, broader point that given the appropriate focus in the Department on low-income countries, we need to be mindful of the fact that there continue to be large numbers of poor people in middle-income countries. Equally, it is important to recognise that it is reasonable to look to a country such as India, whose aid dependency is diminishing as foreign reserves rise, to have a growing capacity to take responsibility for the poor people within its borders. In that sense, we have an effective development relationship with India, which was a subject of discussion between our Prime Minister and Manmohan Singh, the Indian Prime Minister, at the recent UK-India summit, but we need to continue to watch the situation.
Mr. MacShane: Further to the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Rob Marris), if there are so many poor people in India, why is India running the biggest single overseas aid programme of any country in the region bar Japan? Surely Indian money should be kept at home, rather than used to meddle and extend Indias political reach in other countries in the region.
Mr. Alexander: I get the sense that my right hon. Friend has a particular concern relating to Indias foreign policy, and perhaps that of the Government, so I shall leave that matter alone. I observe, though, that countries such as China that have historically been recipients of international aid are increasingly taking their place as responsible global citizens and contributing, for example, to IDA 15, the World Banks latest replenishment round. We all have an interest in supporting countries such as China in playing a bigger role in multilateral aid organisations such as the World Bank.
As well as helping to change the rules so that developing countries can play a part in international trade, we must help them to build their capacity to do so. The European Union has made a commitment to spend €2 billion on aid for trade by 2010 to help countries compete, and the UK has committed to spend £100 million a year on it by 2010. The European Commission is also forging a global reputation for the quality of its road infrastructure programmes. Roads are vital to increasing trade links within and between countries. In a region of south-west Tanzania criss-crossed by rivers and streams, the Commission has rehabilitated the road network, helping growers to reach marketplaces, farmers to access banks and teachers and students to travel to school.
However, the promise of increased trade cannot be realised in a country riven by conflict. Europes history shows that there can be little development without security, and developing countries live that reality. On average, a civil war leads to economic costs of more than £25 billion, and the equivalent of 20 years of lost development. Resolving and preventing conflict beyond European borders must be a priority for both UK and European aid. The UKs new stabilisation fund of £600 million over three years is being established jointly by the Department for International Development, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Ministry of Defence in order better to prevent and respond to conflict in developing countries.
The European Unions support for the elections in the Democratic Republic of Congo showed that the EU too can play an important stabilisation role. The tragic violence that followed the election result should not mask that countrys achievement in holding its first democratic elections for 40 years. Some 2,000 EU troops supported the UN to maintain a peaceful environment and ensure high voter turnout, EU logistical support transported 1,000 tonnes of ballot papers throughout a country the size of western Europe with almost no infrastructure, and the first European police mission in Africa provided training and support to Kinshasas police force.
As we have heard, climate change is one of the greatest threats facing development. Dealing with dangerous climate change is a clear priority for my Department, because developing countries, which are least able to cope with the effects of climate change, are most immediately vulnerable to suffering its consequences. We are therefore working across Government towards a global post-Kyoto framework, helping to build a global low-carbon economy and protecting the most vulnerable against the impact of climate change.
Earlier this month, I announced that my Department will spend more than £100 million over the next five years on researching the impact of climate change on the most vulnerable developing countries and helping those countries to put that information to good use. The UK will also play a role within the European Union to mitigate further climate change and help poor countries to adapt to the change that is now inevitable. The EU is recognised as a global leader on climate change. EU negotiators played a key role in securing agreement for a global adaptation fund for developing countries at the Bali conference, Europes unilateral pledge to reduce greenhouse gases by 20 per cent. by 2020 shows the seriousness of our intentions, and our emissions trading scheme is the first of its kind in the world. We need to ensure next that the emissions trading scheme links with others to become part of a global carbon market, press ahead with negotiations for a post-Kyoto deal, and establish more funding to protect the most vulnerable.
As we debate the terms of the Lisbon treaty, we live in a world where more than 1 million people are killed by malaria every year, 72 million children are denied the chance to go to primary school and 980 million people continue to live on less than 50p a day. Britain can choose either to retreat from that challenge or to rise to it. This Government believe that we must tackle global poverty, which is why our aid budget will rise to over £9 billion by 2010, roughly three times what it was
in 1997. We also recognise that we cannot tackle this global problem alone, which is why the Prime Minister, with Ban Ki-moon, has called for the creation this year of a global partnership for development. That partnership must include the European Union, the developing worlds largest donor and biggest trading partner. Britain can choose either to retreat from Europe or to engage with it and help Europe to be a world leader in the fight against global poverty.
The Lisbon treaty will improve Europes efforts to tackle hunger, disease and illiteracy around the world. Those who seek to attack the treaty by attacking its development provisions risk doing great harm to the interests of the worlds poorest people. I commend the motion to the House.
disapproves of the Governments policy towards the Treaty of Lisbon in respect of international development because the Treaty does nothing to improve the efficiency of European Union aid, increases the influence of the EUs foreign policy over its humanitarian aid and development assistance, decreases the freedom of member states to react to international crises, diverts resources to a European Voluntary Humanitarian Aid Corps, downgrades the least developed countries, is ambiguous about competence on international development, and overall is a step backwards in the provision of aid to the developing world..
Todays debate on international development provisions in the treaty is welcome, and I hope that the Secretary of State will join in the consensusembraced by his predecessor, among othersthat we should have more debates on international development in the House. It is a subject of huge interest to our constituents, and it is vital at this time. International development deserves a much higher profile in this place.
I welcome the Liberal spokesman, the hon. Member for Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk (Mr. Moore), to his new post. One of the most satisfying aspects of international development policy is that it is not a Labour, Conservative or Liberal subject, but a British policy and a British agenda. Perhaps, like me, the hon. Gentleman will see it as his role to try to keep the Secretary of State and his Ministers up to the mark in successfully pursuing our common objectives, which our generation has a real chance of achieving.
We welcome much of what the Secretary of State said today, particularly his comments towards the end of his speech about climate change. We Conservative Members have argued for some time that the issue for Europe is tackling the three great challenges of our age: global poverty, global warming and global competitiveness. Many of the European Unions policieson trade, migration, sanctions and foreign policyhave profound impacts on international development.
Europe experiences at first hand the impact of poverty. Every year, thousands of young men and womenoften bright, hard-working, motivated people, sometimes the cream of Africarisk their lives seeking to make the perilous crossing from Senegal and Libya to the Canaries, Malta or Italy in search of a better life. They place themselves in the hands of the modern equivalent of the slave trade. Any attempt to deal with the migration challenge that the EU faces must have an international development aspect.
The EU is one of the worlds biggest donors. It provides 57 per cent. of the worlds official development assistance, which amounted to some €45.3 billion in 2005. About a sixth of that€7.5 billionwas managed by the European Commission. That aid went to approximately 160 countries, territories or organisations. The Commission has about 3,500 aid and development staff. There is no doubt that the EU is a major player in international development; that is why it is so disappointing that the treaty bypasses many issues that are literally vital to billions of poor people around the world.
The treaty misses the opportunity to support open markets and to significantly rejuvenate the EUs aid programme, which, despite recent improvements, is still underperforming. One of the Secretary of States distinguished predecessors, the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Clare Short), whose contribution is greatly underrated, but not by Conservative Members, branded the European Unions aid
an outrage and a disgrace.
skewed quite dreadfully against the poorest countries,
You cant keep throwing money and people into an inefficient organisation.
There have been improvements since then, but we should face facts: British aid, on the whole, is much better than that spent through the EU. It is better managed, more focused on tackling poverty, and more decentralised.
Many things need to be done urgently to improve the quality of European Union aid. The treaty of Lisbon touches on some of them. We welcome the legally enshrined emphasis on poverty eradication, but the treaty ignores many issues, which I shall mention later. It is on those key issues that the Government need to focus.
Ms Patricia Hewitt (Leicester, West) (Lab): The hon. Gentleman referred to the improvements that have been made to the way in which the European Union disburses and manages its aid budget, but does he not realise that it is absurd for the Opposition to demand that EU aid, and trade policies towards developing countries, be made even more effective while they oppose a treaty that will make it easier for Britain to secure its objectives within the EU, and while they pursue policies that would leave Britain isolated and ineffective within the EU? We cannot have both a weak Britain and an effective Europe.
Before my hon. Friend does so, does he agree that it is curious that, listening to the Secretary of State, one would think that this was a treaty of perfection? Over the days in which we have debated the Lisbon treaty, the Government have sought to pray in aid the support of a number of non-governmental organisations. Has my hon. Friend seen early-day
motions 990, 1011 and 1012, which express the concerns of Oxfam, Save the Children and ActionAid, and use the words, concern, caveats, omission and reservations? The Secretary of State did not make reference to any of that: it was as if NGOs concerns simply did not exist.
Mr. Mitchell: My hon. Friend is on to something. However, in deference to Ministers I should say that the crimes of which he accuses the Government were committed by the Foreign Secretary, not the International Development Secretary.
I was talking about the issues on which the Government must focus in the debate. They not only support a treaty that does the European aid effort too little good and too much harm but, with their usual dishonesty and lack of direction, they support the treaty without the consent of our constituents, whom the Government assuredindeed, promiseda referendum if the situation arose. We may be in no doubt, as previous debates have underlined, that the Government have once again gone back on their word, supporting bureaucracy over democracy, by denying the public a say.
In fact, the Governments approach to the debate on EU aid is typical of their disingenuousness, for the very reasons given by my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Tony Baldry). The Government misrepresented the views of some our leading NGOs by claiming that they supported the treaty. They are now pushing for the very reforms of EU aid that they previously opposed in negotiations. On 21 January, the Foreign Secretary said:
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