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6.54 pm

Mr. Mike Hancock (Portsmouth, South) (LD): I have more than a little sympathy for the hon. Member for Banbury (Tony Baldry), who tried to deal with the chapters in the treaty that we hoped to discuss this afternoon. Chapter 3 on humanitarian aid and the previous two pages spell out many of the issues that have been mentioned. He was right to say that no one who has participated in the debate has any doubts about the House’s commitment to development, to helping eradicate poverty, to developing, when possible, initiatives that relate to aid and to ensuring that we get better value for money.

However, there are some serious questions about the chapter on humanitarian aid. I intervened earlier to mention a recent visit that the Under-Secretary made to Bangladesh, followed by a visit by my hon. Friend the Member for Rochdale (Paul Rowen) and me a few days later. We visited what are undoubtedly some of the poorest parts of the world. I pay tribute to the Department’s work there and I cannot give it more
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praise than to say that it is a credit to our nation. The European Union could do worse than take some lessons from the Department about the way in which it operates.

The Secretary of State spoke in his opening remarks about his visit to Sierra Leone and his journey through Freetown, where he saw many signs, which showed who was working there. He said that he wanted to see fewer—I pay tribute to the proper English of my hon. Friend the Member for East Dunbartonshire (Jo Swinson), who put us all right earlier—signs but greater co-ordination. Many hon. Members who have spoken are experts and know that, when travelling around, one witnesses the failure of co-ordination in many countries. I am at a loss to find anything in chapter 3 to suggest that things will be better co-ordinated.

I am with hon. Members who are worried about corruption and the amount of it that affects European aid. I have witnessed European work on numerous occasions in many parts of the world, including Kosova. Anyone who believes that European aid in Kosova has not been corrupted has not seen the real Kosova. Tens of millions of pounds have been misappropriated in Kosova over the years and it is a travesty to suggest that that has not happened.

I want the Government to assure the House that the treaty will not seriously impede the legitimate aims of the House and our country of following the same pattern of humanitarian aid that we have followed in the past 40 years. I want the Government to assure us that we remain committed to supporting those countries that have traditionally been the UK’s allies and looked to us for a lead. I want to be sure that that commitment will not be diluted and I want the Secretary of State and the Under-Secretaries to give us a full-blooded commitment that the treaty and the suggested amendments to it will not do the opposite of what everyone who has spoken wishes. I wanted the way in which the treaty can be of greater benefit to the humanitarian needs of the world to be spelled out line by line.

Mr. Cash: Does not the hon. Gentleman agree that the Government have a serious problem? We all want things to happen to improve the lot of people in the third world, but is not it extraordinary that the Government, for reasons of state, continue to promote a treaty, in which they clearly did not believe in respect of international aid in their negotiations?

Mr. Hancock: That is a good point. There has been ample opportunity to explain that this afternoon. The Secretary of State was generous in giving way and sought to clarify the point, but it is so serious that I hope that we get further clarification in the Under-Secretary’s winding-up speech. I hope that the Minister will not be reluctant to expose the House to his thoughts on that issue. As others have said, the hon. Gentleman is right, yet again, to push it.

I also have some difficulty with what the Opposition spokesman said. The right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague) smiles, but I was not being critical; I was trying to offer some assistance,
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because the Conservatives were so critical of the idea of a volunteer corps. I have had the privilege of writing a report for the Council of Europe on the work of the International Committee of the Red Cross and the Red Crescent. We saw at first hand in Bangladesh how the volunteer corps, whose members had been properly trained by the Red Crescent, proved invaluable in being available on the spot. The International Committee of the Red Cross has said time and again that if every country bothered to train a volunteer corps that could be co-ordinated properly, a lot of the problems that are encountered initially could be sorted out far quicker, without having to wait for aid to come from elsewhere. Setting up a volunteer corps, based on the sound principles of training and proper co-ordination, should therefore not be so easily dismissed.

Rob Marris: The hon. Gentleman referred to chapter 3, on humanitarian aid. He will therefore be aware that article 214.5, on page 137 of the consolidated texts, says:

That framework of rules and procedures could do the very thing that he wants, which is to ensure that ill-informed and unprofessional volunteers do not participate. Indeed, quite the reverse: the treaty could professionalise the work and lead to further help across the world.

Mr. Hancock: That is exactly the point that I was trying to make. The hon. Gentleman has made it far more eloquently than me and I am grateful for his intervention. The disappointment from our side arose from what the Opposition spokesman said on the matter. I want to see that co-ordination and I want to see a volunteer corps established, properly trained, properly funded and properly dealt with.

As the hon. Member for City of York (Hugh Bayley) said, it was all too apparent that people had used the BOND letter to suit their own purposes. It was unfortunate to say the least that expressions of support from some world-renowned organisations, such as Oxfam, Christian Aid and others, were written into statements by the Foreign Secretary in such a way as to imply their absolute support with no reservations, when the letter clearly established that they had more than a few reservations about what was happening. It is only fair that we should give organisations an opportunity to have the record put straight. I welcome the comments of hon. Members who have attempted to do that, but I accept the fair point that the hon. Gentleman made, which is that other people had been very selective. That was a fair point, but we have to take the letter in its totality. We have to accept that there was good and bad in it, and we cannot see it in any other way.

I know that the hon. Member for Glasgow, North (Ann McKechin) wants to get in, so I end by thanking the Oxfam project team in Bangladesh, particularly Jahan Rume for the tremendous work that she does on behalf of Oxfam, ably supported and properly co-ordinated as she is, as well as our team, led by Chris Austin and others from DFID, which has worked
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wondrously hard to pool all the efforts. It is a great credit to us that the people of Bangladesh are so grateful for the way that we have responded to their needs. However, it beggars belief that DFID should have to pay the Ministry of Defence out of its own funds for second-hand, out-of-service boats from the Royal Navy, so that it can provide inshore craft.

My final message to the Secretary of State is this: the people in the cyclone areas of Bangladesh that we visited said that they did not want more food, more money or more handouts. What they wanted was good technical help, so that they can get back to work. Their work is fishing. What they need is new nets and new boats—not a boat each, but boats that co-operatives can run, and £700 for a boat and a net that can harness the resources for 10 families is not a big price to pay. DFID and others, including the Prime Minister, should look into what they can do to give more of that aid to the people in that country.

7.5 pm

Ann McKechin (Glasgow, North) (Lab): I thank the hon. Member for Portsmouth, South (Mr. Hancock) for his courtesy. I also apologise to the House for my unavoidable absence for part of the debate.

It is fair to say that this debate has been characterised by an argument about bilateralism versus multilateralism. I would like to argue the case for a multilateral approach. The European Union has a unique strength, given its ability to look at the full range of issues that impinge on development, not only in its direct humanitarian work, but in promoting European values, such as human rights, equality, democracy and freedom. The European Union has the ability to look not only at aid, but at trade, foreign affairs and security, all of which, most of us would agree, have a major impact on development. That is why I particularly welcome the formal recognition in the new treaty that the primary objective of EU development policy should be the reduction and eradication of poverty in the context of the millennium development goals.

In many parts of the world, the formal distinctions between security, foreign and development policy are increasingly no longer relevant. When we interact with fragile states, the ability to offer a comprehensive range of interlinked policies becomes even more crucial. In the periods immediately after conflict, which we are witnessing in countries such as Afghanistan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, it is all the more important that we should act together. A good example of that is the European Union’s security sector reform programme, which is operating in the DRC and Burundi. Indeed, the EU is the only meaningful body promoting such co-ordination and is the source of one of the very few effective security sector reforms in the entire region, which includes a mechanism to ensure soldiers’ pay.

Questions have been raised recently about Belgium’s agreement of a military aid package with the DRC Government, but purely on a bilateral basis. That should be a cause for concern. I hope that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State agrees that it is of the utmost importance that all EU members should work within the EU security reform processes to ensure
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that the difficult issues of conflict and corruption in the DRC can be tackled in the most effective way.

Although there have undoubtedly been problems with European programmes in the past, the biggest structural problem that faces the global aid community today is that the aid structure is running out of control. In the 1960s, most poor nations had an average of about 12 bilateral or multilateral donors. Now the average is 33. In just one year Tanzania, for example, had to receive more than 540 separate aid donor missions. Uganda has more than 40 donors and 684 different aid instruments, while St. Vincent, with a population of 117,000, was asked to monitor 191 indicators on HIV/AIDS alone. The list goes on, but only a quarter of global aid currently comes through multilateral bodies such as the EU. Despite the ever increasing number of donors, however, programmable aid has largely stagnated since 2002. We simply cannot go on in this manner, with such huge levels of bureaucracy holding least developed countries down, in their attempt to achieve the millennium development goals.

If we agree that aid budgets throughout Europe should increase to the target of 0.07 per cent. of gross domestic product, we need to do more to achieve effective harmonisation and alignment of aid policies. We simply cannot ignore the European Union’s role, and we cannot even more ridiculously call for it to do less or for all the money to be transferred into our bilateral programme. The EU is the world’s largest donor—more than 55 per cent. of world aid comes from Europe—and its influence will grow as new accession states start to form their own development capacities. We therefore have a global presence that we can work with, and the only logical approach is to work for appropriate reform and to achieve a high level of policy alignment.

I welcome the fact that the treaty accepts that, for the first time, humanitarian aid is to be allocated only on the basis of need, without consideration of the recipients’ origins or beliefs. It also states that non-aid policies should do no harm and, wherever possible, should support progress towards development goals. Particularly importantly in relation to trade—given that the treaty states that the principles of the commercial policy of the EU are based firmly on trade liberalisation, and makes no specific mention of the need for that to be linked to a pro-development focus—I would argue that we should treat the no-harm principle for non-aid policies as a minimum, and not as the limit of our ambitions for European development.

Our experience in the European Union with the World Trade Organisation negotiations and the economic partnership agreements shows that it is vital to preserve and strengthen a development focus in our trade work. I would contrast the position here in the UK—where the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform shares my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, West (Mr. Thomas) with the Department for International Development as a development Minister, and where we have a long-standing policy on the adverse effect of failing to sequence trade liberalisation reforms to allow domestic capacity to grow—with that of the European Union, which has often fallen back on protectionist arguments. That is why I would argue that the UK should be
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pressing heavily, as part of the Lisbon treaty, for a separate Development Commissioner who has equal status to that of the Trade Commissioner and that of the new high representative on foreign affairs.

If we were to take a no-harm approach—and nothing more—in trade policy, we might limit the possibilities of further meaningful reform. The present round of economic partnership agreements, for example, has failed to reduce or eliminate export subsidies. I also agree with other hon. Members that we need to lift access not only to the least developed countries but to all African countries. Whether we are talking about Kenya or Zambia, agricultural access to the European Union is vital to their economies, and we should now start to give that access without exception.

Another example is that the European Union does not currently control the import of timber known to have been illegally logged, despite the fact that the WWF estimates that the EU is responsible for around €3 billion-worth of illegal timber trading a year. Such exports fuel conflict in areas such as the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and also have a devastating impact on global carbon emissions. That is a perfect example of the need for the European Union to act to co-ordinate policy in member states. A pro-development agenda in all parts of the policy making machine in Europe should recognise the value of such changes.

I also hope that the new administrative structure will ensure that we can act together in important spheres, particularly in regard to taking forward the Paris declaration on aid co-ordination and alignment within Europe. With 27 states, the risk of a growing topsy-turvy jumble of aid programmes is all too high, which is why political priority and momentum must be put into pressing the case for greater, not less, collaboration. If possible, we should clearly separate the neighbourhood countries programmes from those funding streams with a stronger poverty-reduction focus, including the work of EuropeAid.

The present artificial split of nations between the Development Commissioner and the External Relations Director needs to end. African, Caribbean and Pacific countries, as well as Asia and Latin America, should be brought together under a new, strengthened Development Commission portfolio. The message of today in the Lisbon treaty is that acting together, in co-operation, should mean better aid, and a better chance of reaching the millennium development goals.

7.13 pm

Mr. Mark Lancaster (North-East Milton Keynes) (Con): It is a pleasure to wind up this excellent debate, which started in characteristic style with the Secretary of State treating us—albeit with great charm—to the normal campaign of explanation that the treaty is a wonderful, innocuous document and that any Member who could not appreciate its merits was simply suffering from the usual Conservative paranoid delusions about its contents. He was quick to outline benefits such as the enshrined emphasis on poverty eradication, which we also applaud, but I had hoped that he would have been just as quick to acknowledge some of the shortcomings.

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All too often in debates of this nature, it is easy to get caught up in the detail and to miss the bigger picture. So let us be clear about what we are debating today. The treaty does little to improve the efficiency of EU aid; in fact, it does the reverse. It has the potential to decrease the freedom of action of member states to react to international crises, and it actively politicises the delivery of aid—something that the Government previously claimed to oppose.

Hugh Bayley: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Lancaster: I am not going to give way, because we are very short of time, and it would be unfair on the Minister if he had no time to speak.

Crucially, with the removal of the reference to the most disadvantaged, the revised treaty will shift the EU’s priorities away from the least developed countries. In our view, that marks a step backwards in the provision of aid and support for the developing world.

I shall start, however, with the positives. Compared with other aspects of the treaty, it is fortunate that there is at least some consensus across the House on the subject of humanitarian development, as has been demonstrated by the contributions today. The hon. Member for City of York (Hugh Bayley) made a passionate speech about poverty alleviation, the principles of which are, I am sure, shared across the House. The hon. Gentleman will forgive me, however, for saying that the only flaw in his argument was his assertion that we needed a treaty to deliver that aim, or indeed any other of the aims highlighted by hon. Members—a point underlined, perhaps inadvertently, in the earlier intervention of the Under-Secretary of State for International Development, the hon. Member for Harrow, West (Mr. Thomas).

The hon. Member for Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk (Mr. Moore) made an informed first contribution in his new role on the Front Bench and, having said that he felt unable to support our amendment, he proceeded to support many of our concerns on the nature of the treaty. He might not thank me for reminding him that he even managed to find a degree of consensus with my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Mr. Cash).

The hon. Member for Amber Valley (Judy Mallaber) made a thoughtful speech, arguing for the need for better co-ordination and greater efficiency in the delivery of aid. I agree with those points wholeheartedly, but she failed to outline which elements of the treaty would help to deliver those goals.

My hon. Friend the Member for South-West Devon (Mr. Streeter) made an excellent speech, based on a long-standing interest in aid and development—an interest underlined by the fact that it is now nearly 10 years since I first met him in Pristina, when I was Captain Lancaster and he was the shadow Secretary of State for International Development. He also rightly highlighted the concerns about the effectiveness of the delivery of EU aid, a point to which I will return shortly.

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