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The hon. Member for Elmet (Colin Burgon) made an interesting speech, in which he focused on trade liberalisation. I confess, however, that I was slightly surprised at his attack on his own former Minister, now
the EU Trade Commissioner, Mr. Mandelson. I feel that it would be tactful to allow the Under-Secretary of State for International Development to adjudicate on this particular internal Labour dispute.
As we have come to expect, my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Tony Baldry) made an incisive speech that went to the heart of the issues that we are debating, namely, the fact that the Government are being forced to defend some of the very issues that they opposed during the negotiations. I shall return to that point in a moment. My right hon. Friend the Member for Wells (Mr. Heathcoat-Amory) highlighted the shortcomings of the EU in delivering aid, and outlined his concerns about the politicisation of aid. My hon. Friend the Member for Stone has a long-standing interest in these matters, and it shone through tonight in a passionate contribution that highlighted many of the shortcomings of the treaty.
The hon. Member for Portsmouth, South (Mr. Hancock) spoke with considerable experience, and echoed earlier speakers concerns that there was little in the treaty that would improve efficiency in the delivery of aid. The hon. Member for Glasgow, North (Ann McKechin) spoke with passion about the role of multilaterals in development. I hope that she will forgive me, however, if I do not quite share her confidence in the EU as a means to deliver those goals.
There are, as hon. Members have highlighted in their speeches, many areas of concern with the treaty. Indeed, in his opening speech, my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr. Mitchell) highlighted no fewer than five areas in which the Government sought amendments during the negotiations. Those concerns were expressed to my hon. Friend during his meetings with the Presidents of Sierra Leone and Ghana last week. I am sure that my hon. Friend is flattered that the Secretary of State seems to be following in his footsteps around the world at the moment.
In the brief time that I have remaining, I want to focus on just two of those concerns. The first is the impact of the provisions for shared competency on the effectiveness of the delivery of aid; the second is the politicisation of aid. As has been said, the EU is one of the major players in the development world, directly attributable for 57 per cent. of the worlds official development assistance, and literally making the difference between life and death for hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of people. The fact remains, however, that the European Union and many of its member states are not good at delivering aid and development.
Reference has been made to the description by the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Clare Short) of EC aid as an outrage and a disgrace during her time as Secretary of State for International Development. Positive steps have been taken since then, and the present Secretary of State rightly alluded to them in his speech, but those steps have been too little and too slow, and the EU still has a long way to go before it can truly be considered as an effective deliverer of aid. To be fair, this is something that the Commission itself recognised when it accepted that 40 per cent. of delays to aid projects were the result of the administrative processes of the EU. NGOs agree.
A survey by Oxfam found that about a fifth of EU aid arrives more than a year latesomething I experienced first hand and, I must say, with great frustration, during
my own time delivering development in Afghanistanbut apart from the poor distribution of aid, the EU also suffers from fraud within its aid programme, which accounts for 21 per cent. of all fraud investigations conducted by the European anti-fraud office.
While there is always room for improvement, the Department for International Development by contrast is generally well regarded as a deliverer of aidperhaps the Secretary of State should sit up with pride at this moment. A report from the Canadian Government said of DFID:
Today it is generally considered to be the best in the World.
a model for other rich countries.
It is a source of pride for this House that DFID is clearly seen by many as a world leader, while EU aid is widely viewed as inefficient, fraudulent, directionless and governed by an over-bureaucratic mechanism.
Conservative Members are therefore concerned that the Government seem determined to support a treaty that may, through the proposed entrenching of shared competence, undermine DFIDs role and make it more impotent in the international development arena by effectively limiting what it can and cannot do. Let me be specific. Article 118(d) of the treaty states that EU and national policy in this area shall
complement and reinforce each other.
The Commission may take any useful initiative to promote coordination between actions of the Union and of the Member States.
What exactly does that meanthat DFID aid and development programmes must reinforce those of the EU and that the EU can overrule Britains decisions on aid policy? Perhaps when the Minister winds up the debate, he will explain exactly how, given the relative efficiency of the UK compared to the EU in delivering aid, such a course of action would be in the interests of Britain, and perhaps even more importantly, in the interests of the developing world.
Another principal concern of Conservative Members is the treatys politicisation of aid and the Minister will be aware that we have tabled amendments on this issueas, indeed, did the right hon. Member for Neath (Mr. Hain), who seemed rightly to share our concerns, during the treaty negotiations. Presumably he, like us, believed that for true development to occur in some of the harshest environments in the world, long-term development plans need to be effectively implemented and regularly scrutinised. Our concern is that that will not be allowed to happen while aid is used as a diplomatic tool by the EU and its high representative.
The Unions operations in the field of humanitarian aid shall be conducted within the framework of the principles and objectives of the external action of the Union.
Other articles are similar, but all highlight that humanitarian aid and development shall be subsumed under the principles of the EU External Action Servicea point made eloquently by my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury and by my right hon. Friend the Member for Wells. But what are those principles? The Secretary of State outlined some of the principles
covered by article 224 in his opening remarks, but the role of the European External Action Service is outlined in article 13 and at no point is humanitarian aid mentioned. Why not?
Let me be clear that in the view of many, including NGOs, that amounts to a clear politicisation of aid, which flies in the face of everything that previous Labour Governments have stood for. On four separate occasions in 1947,1964, 1974 and 1997, the Labour Party moved the role of overseas development away from the Foreign Officeon each occasion to resist the politicisation of aidso why the sudden change of heart? Why, after 50 years of doing the opposite and having opposed it in the treaty negotiations, are the Government now suddenly supporting the move to subsume the EUs humanitarian aid into the EEAS?
The proposals do nothing to improve the efficiency of EU aid; what they do is represent a retrograde move towards the politicisation of aid, marking a further nail in the coffin for the freedom of action for member states. We want the EU to work in partnership with DFID, not to dictate to it. These treaty provisions are a move in the wrong directionfor Britain, for the EU and for developing nations. Crucially, as previous debates have highlighted, the Government are once again going back on their word, supporting bureaucracy over democracy by denying the people the referendum they deserve.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for International Development (Mr. Gareth Thomas): This has been an interesting debate, and it is a genuine pleasure to follow the hon. Member for North-East Milton Keynes (Mr. Lancaster). I join the hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr. Mitchell) in welcoming the hon. Member for Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk (Mr. Moore), who now leads for the Liberal Democrats on international development. I also echo the hon. Gentlemans point that one of the most powerful examples of EU and EC at its best was the commitment to achieving the 0.7 per cent. UN target, agreed and endorsed at the EU General Affairs and External Relations Council in May 2005a very strong example of Europes convening power.
I thought that the speech of the hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield included one powerful pointthe section where he quoted at length the full force and wisdom of a speech made by the Under-Secretary of State for International Development, the hon. Member for Harrow, West (Mr. Thomas). However, I say gently to the hon. Gentleman, given the intemperate language that he used throughout much of his speech, that he might usefully reflect on the article written by Caroline Jackson, a Conservative MEP, in the Financial Times last week. She said:
The time warp of the partys European attitudes
has...damaging effects...it means that the right-wing nasty and dogmatic aspects of the partyso off-putting to voters from 1997 to 2005are still alive.
the Conservative leadership is now even prepared to see its MEPs sit among the non-attached members at the back of the parliamenta public admission of isolation and a poor position from which to operate in a parliament with increased powers.
I must correct one particularly intemperate charge that the hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield madethat the Foreign Secretary and other Foreign Office colleagues had effectively misrepresented the position of NGOs on this issue. Perhaps just one quote from my right hon. Friends speech on Second Reading should clarify matters, as he said:
One World Action, Action Aid and Oxfam have announced their support for the measures on development co-operation.[ Official Report, 21 January 2008; Vol. 470, c. 1241.]
I acknowledge that there are some genuine reasons to be worried about the performance of EC aid, and the hon. Member for Stone (Mr. Cash) and the right hon. Member for Wells (Mr. Heathcoat-Amory) raised some of those concerns. I pay tribute to the leadership of each successive Secretary of State for International Development over the last 10 years in championing reform and seeking to sort out what was a fragmented, outdated and incoherent organisational set-up, which, needless to say, resulted in long delays. However, I say gently to Conservative Members that we should perhaps not be surprised at just how poor EC performance on aid was, given just how bad the UKs own record on development was before 1997.
Let me provide three examples which stand out. In 1985, India bought helicopters from the UK after Margaret Thatcher bullied Rajiv Gandhi into ignoring the advice of his aviation experts who were against the sale. That money came out of Britains aid budget and it was given to India on condition that it bought those helicopters. In 1991, we saw £234 million of British aid being used to finance the Pergau dam project in the hope of securing future arms deals from Malaysiacompletely and utterly illegal and hugely damaging to Britains reputation in development. Then, what about the huge decline in British aid that took place under the Conservatives? Given such a dismal record when the Conservatives were in government in comparison to our own development spending, is it at all surprising that they should have completely ignored the need to reform EC aid?
Yet a series of such reforms have been championed and supported by every Secretary of State, seeking not just to improve the general functioning of the EC but to reform the way in which the EC delivers its aid. Those reforms include the clear strategic priorities for EC development aid, so we now have a clear EU development policy, the European consensus on developmentdrafted, in large part, in Britain and taken through during our presidency with the primary and overarching objective of poverty eradication and the achievement of the millennium development goals.
We have seen radical improvements in management performance and the establishment of a new EU implementation agency. The hon. Member for South-West Devon (Mr. Streeter) spoke about the need for such an agency, but there is one already in placeEuropeAid. We also have an effective multi-year planning system that sets out clear strategies, clear budgets and the expected results. In addition, financial
administrative control mechanisms have been simplified, helping to speed up still further the delivery of aid on the ground where it matters. There has also been substantial decentralisation, helping to get EC aid decisions down to the local level, thereby seeking to improve the quality of aid and speeding up the disbursement of money.
Opposition Members who have backed evaluation and monitoring, and the independence of evaluators, will surely welcome the independent evaluation of EC aid. Those reforms, championed by Labour Secretaries of State, have been delivered over the last 10 years. Such has been the progress that the OECD, in its review of EC development co-operation [Interruption.]
Mr. Thomas: The OECD noted that EC aid had improved substantially. It commended both the role of the Commission in reshaping its development co-operation and the progress made since its 2002 review. The House of Lords European Union Committee charted significant improvements in aid management and organisational effectiveness, and commended the Commission on its efforts. It went on to note that more needed to be done if the EUs aid was to match the best. This was, it said, mainly a matter of intensifying and carrying to completion the reforms that were currently in train. That was the purpose of the speech of mine to which the hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield referred.
I believe that the EC is the force for good that the hon. Member for Banbury (Tony Baldry) wants it to be. A powerful example of that is the difference that the Commission is making in India, along with our aid and what is being done by the Indian Government and the various states of 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.
My hon. Friend the Member for Elmet (Colin Burgon), among others, mentioned trade. I am a huge fan of my hon. Friend in many ways, but I beg to differ with him on this one occasion. I believe that open, well-regulated markets are a force for good in developing countries, just as they are in the European Union more generally. An example is the difference made by generic drugs in reducing the prices of antiretroviral drugs. I recognise that there are concerns about the issue, however, and I look forward to having other opportunities to discuss my hon. Friends concerns with him.
Other Members on both sides of the House raised specific issues relating to actions by the EC. Time does not allow me to focus on them, but I will consider whether I need to write to the Members involved.
In a series of interventions, which were taken up by the hon. Member for North-East Milton Keynes, the hon. Member for Banbury asked whether foreign policy would now dominate development aid. Let me say gently to him that I do not think it will do so at all. For the first time, we have provision in the treaty for
joint objectives for the EUs external actions, butas I said in my intervention on the right hon. Member for Wells (Mr. Heathcoat-Amory)for the first time a treaty encapsulates the principle that poverty should be the driving focus of all EC aid.
The treaty will deliver a series of sensible reforms in the way in which Europe operates, specifically in regard to development. It makes clear that the primary objective of development spending is the reduction and, in the long term, the eradication of poverty. It can only be helpful to the cause that we have discussed today. It also reinforces the need to ensure that development objectives are taken into account in all EC policies that affect developing countries, and provides a separate legal basis for humanitarian aid, enshrining the principles of good humanitarian assistance. Those are positive, helpful reforms, and I commend themand the treaty more generallyto the House.
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