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25 Feb 2008 : Column 852

My reading of the provision—the hon. Member for Rayleigh, who moved the amendment, may read it differently and, if so, I would very much like him to point it out to me—is that taken in totality, article 3, particularly paragraph 2, does not lead to exclusive competence for the EU in international development matters. That is my starting point. If I have misunderstood the provision, I am sure that the hon. Gentleman, in his usual helpful way, will correct me. If I am right, however, that somewhat detracts from his arguments about competence.

Amendment No. 268, which deals with the special committee, refers to article 207 on page 133 of the treaty on the functioning of the European Union. I do not wish to read out the whole article, so I shall simplify it for the Committee. It provides for a special committee to be set up that, in consultation with the Commission—the special committee having been appointed by the Council to assist the Commission—can start negotiations and so on. The free-standing special committee cannot go off on a frolic of its own, as it is set up by the Commission and is responsible to it. Understandable concerns have been expressed about whether the high representative of the Union for foreign affairs and security policy would hijack the international aid agenda, but that matter is dealt with in paragraph 3 of article 218, which appears on page 139 of the consolidated text. I will not read out the whole thing—just what I think is relevant. If Members think that I am quoting selectively, doubtless they will let me know.

Mr. Francois: The hon. Gentleman and I are both minor veterans of Finance Bill Committees. I think that we have served on three.

Rob Marris: I have served on six.

Mr. Francois: I have served on three such Committees. Perish the thought that anyone in the House should accuse the hon. Gentleman of selective quoting.

Rob Marris: That exemplifies the hon. Gentleman’s generosity, because I was accused of selective quoting in the last EU debate—I cannot remember whether it was in the debate on the amendments or in the thematic debate—and, in a sense, that accusation was correct, because I did not read out a sub-clause that concluded the sentence. When I did so, it threw up a series of questions, which have been raised by the hon. Member for Hertsmere (Mr. Clappison), about the commonalty of foreign policy and so on.

Mr. Francois: For the avoidance of doubt, the Government have been guilty of selective quoting throughout the entire process. I do not want anyone to think that I have let them off the hook, but I am simply saying that when we debated the Finance Bill, by and large, the hon. Gentleman played a straight bat.

Rob Marris: I repeat my appreciation of the hon. Gentleman’s generosity. I certainly do not answer directly for the Government, as the hon. Gentleman and the House know.

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Meanwhile, back at the ranch, I turn to article 218 on page 139.

Mr. Bone: I do not know whether this is the problem with the European Union, or whether it is just a slip-up, but article 218 appears on page 141 of my copy of the consolidated text, although it appears on page 139 of the hon. Gentleman’s copy. Is it not typical of the EU that it cannot even get the page numbers right?

Rob Marris: I am using the Stationery Office publication, which I obtained from the Vote Office. The hon. Gentleman may have obtained a different copy from the Vote Office, but the copy I am using is the same as the one that has been placed on the Table in the Chamber.

Mr. Bone: I do not know whether this is an unusual procedure, because I have just taken my copy from the Table, so do the Government have a different version from us?

Rob Marris: I do not wish to prolong this exchange. As I said, I am not answerable for the Government. It is clear which version I am using. I would like to think that when I refer to article 218 of the treaty on the functioning of the EU, hon. Members can find it, whatever version they use. To put paragraph 3 of article 218 into context, it deals with the question of whether the high representative would hijack foreign aid, as hon. Members may recall. Now that we are focused on the issue, I shall, at last, quote the paragraph:

and so on. That clearly suggests that the hijacking or giving of exclusive power or authority to the high representative of the Union for foreign affairs and security policy does not include the concept that the high representative would abrogate the power to determine the EU’s policy for its aid budgets, let alone member states’ aid budgets. It refers to circumstances

That suggests that the Commission would, in instances in which the agreement envisaged does not relate exclusively or principally to the common foreign and security policy, submit its own recommendations to the Council. So there is a division there. Most hon. Members would not expect foreign aid to come under common foreign and security policy, although I understand that there is a fear about it being so subsumed.

I turn next to article 21 of the treaty on the European Union, which in my version of the consolidated texts from the Vote Office is on page 18. The final paragraph, which is the second part of paragraph 3, states:

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The word on which I would place emphasis for the purpose of the debate on the amendments is “consistency”, which is the fifth word of that paragraph and occurs again towards the end of the paragraph.

I know that there can be problems of translation of European Union documents, depending on which language they were originally written in. Sometimes they are stitched together from different delegations and different sherpas, as I believe they are called. However, the word in that paragraph is “consistency”, not “coterminosity”. The amendments, as I read and understand them, imply that in that part of the consolidated texts where the word “consistency” is used, “coterminosity” is meant. I do not read the texts in that way.

Bob Spink (Castle Point) (Con): In applying the argument that the EU seeks consistency between its various policies, is not the hon. Gentleman exposing the problem with this part of the Lisbon treaty? The EU has a policy of illiberal protectionism, road-blocking the Doha round of trade talks, not reforming the CAP and pursuing biofuels that will starve the poorest parts of the world. Consistency with those policies is just what is damaging international development and holding back the developing world.

8.45 pm

Rob Marris: Taken in totality, without rehearsing the debates that we have had in the House, the European Union reform treaty takes the European Union a step further away from the protectionism that the hon. Gentleman fears may exist. I have those fears, but I think the treaty is a step in the right direction away from such protectionism. As I have said previously in our debates, the treaty as a whole is a two-way street. There are things that we can learn from the other member states, and there are certainly things that they can learn from us.

In respect of international aid and in many other fields, the treaty is a step forward in terms of leverage because, in certain areas where we agree with the other member states, it has a multiplier effect on the influence of the United Kingdom as a small country with a proud history and one that is still a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council. The treaty magnifies our influence, which has certainly declined from the 1900s, for good reasons, with the disappearance of the empire. Whether on international aid or other matters, within the European Union we have quite a measure of independence. The debates today on international development show that.

International development is not the exclusive competence of the EU and should not be. Where we can work with the other 26 member states to produce a greater effect in the world than we could by acting bilaterally, that is a positive for the countries that we are trying to assist and for the influence that the United Kingdom wishes to wield and continues to wield in the world.

Mr. Bone: I am grateful to be following the speech of the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Rob Marris), whose legal mind made powerful points—although the copies of the text do not always seem to be the same.

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I was excited at this, day No. 6 of the Committee of the Whole House on the European Union (Amendment) Bill. I thought that, for the first time, there would be something to encourage me to support the treaty. The Government have led on the criticism of the failure of the European Union to deliver aid to the least developed countries in the world. They have been highly critical of the failure in the Doha round.

In my view, the greatest failure of the European Union has been the damage that it has done to developing countries—it has been criminal how it has blocked access to markets that would relieve poverty across the world. It seems strange that the Lisbon treaty will not improve the development aid situation, but make it worse. It seems incredible that instead of strengthening the role of development aid within the EU, we are going to make it a subsection of foreign policy. The high representative will run around trying to build empires and influence people, and will undoubtedly use the aid budget to implement foreign policy.

Amendment No. 245 seems a mild one that would improve the treaty; I do not think anyone on the Government side could argue against it. All it basically says is that the aid budget should remain unaffected by the high commissioner or high representative—given what many people think of the post, we could call him the effective Foreign Secretary.

Bob Spink: My hon. Friend just mentioned the Government side. Is he aware that in a recent review on the effectiveness of the EU, the Department for International Development itself said:

My hon. Friend may not be aware that I was a member of the Labour-chaired Science and Technology Committee, whose 13th report of Session 2003-04, on the use of science in UK international development policy, states in conclusion 11:

The Chairman: Order. The intervention is far too long. By including a great chunk of quotation, the hon. Gentleman has taken an intervention beyond its procedural purpose in the House.

Mr. Bone: My hon. Friend’s intervention explains our dilemma. I do not blame the Government or Ministers, because I know that they are absolutely furious about how the European Union behaves on aid. The Government clearly do not have any influence in Europe; if they really were at the heart of Europe and if the European Union really did improve aid, the least developed countries would not complain. It seems to me that a protectionist ring is built around the European Union, which does not care much about people who live a long way from European borders. We spend £10 billion a year of taxpayers’ money on the European Union. I am sure that if we directly gave away a small proportion of that, it would be more useful and effective and create a better living for people.
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I turn back to amendment No. 245. I have not heard any Government Member say that it is a horrible wrecking device designed to destroy the Lisbon treaty, as they normally do. They have been very quiet. The amendment is so mild that I assume that, when the time comes, the Government will see the wisdom of their ways and accept it. Notes have been whizzing back and forwards and Members have obviously touched on things of which the Government were not aware.

This is an opportunity for the Government to accept a very mild amendment—the sort of thing that would be seen to improve the Bill if we were having a proper Committee debate that was going straight through, with none of this four-hour nonsense beforehand. I think it was the Lord Chancellor who said that he has never seen a Bill that has gone through Committee and has not come out much improved. The Government seem to be saying, “We are against any reasonable amendment because you’re trying to wreck the Bill.” There is something seriously wrong with our Government if they do not want to take on board reasoned arguments on how to improve things to help the less developed countries. If all they are concerned about is getting this through so that they win Brownie points with our European Union colleagues, that is an absolute disgrace.

I had the pleasure, until I was thrown off, of serving on the Trade and Industry Committee—

Mr. Jim Murphy: You probably walked out.

Mr. Bone: I am sorry; I did walk out earlier on. I was very cross. I have lain down in a darkened room, and I am back here feeling a lot better, thank you.

The Committee was looking into relations with India and talking about the Doha round and the complete blocking by the European Union, which would not allow market access in order to protect French farmers. As a result, people in Bangladesh and other parts of the world were losing out. I said to a very senior business man from India, “What is the best thing that could be done to improve trade and relieve poverty in the sub-continent?” He said straight away, with no hesitation or prompting, “The best thing would be to pull out of the European Union.” That is the problem. Most people outside the EU think that the development aid budget has been a complete failure and believe that the Government’s influence at the heart of Europe is absolutely zilch. I do not see how this Bill will improve the situation; in fact, it will make it worse.

Rob Marris: Let me gently point out two things to the hon. Gentleman. First, I was on that Select Committee with him, and the obstacle was certainly not the European Union alone, if at all—it was also to do with a two-way street and restricted market access to India. Secondly, it might help if he read the Lisbon treaty, if he has not already done so, because the consolidated treaties document to which he referred earlier is dated November 2006 and was published 13 months before the EU reform treaty was signed.

Mr. Bone: I was aware of the hon. Gentleman’s second point.

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The serious issue that we should confront as politicians is that there is real poverty in the world. The European Union was supposed to help to end that by getting together and moving forward, but we have not done so. I know that the Government are upset about that, but I cannot see anything in the Bill that improves it. We have a very poor situation that will be made worse by potentially moving control of the budget to a high representative. The hon. Gentleman said that there are all these legal reasons why it should not happen, but the trouble is that in reality, slice by slice, the European Union has always built empires.

Mr. Clappison: Given that, beyond peradventure, the common foreign and security provisions are creating a situation whereby more and more people will look to Europe for foreign policy and more foreign policy will come from Europe, does my hon. Friend fear that development policy will follow in train of that?

Mr. Bone: I am grateful for that intervention.

This is not happening by design or because Government Members do not believe that what they are saying is correct, but history shows that whenever one gives more to the European Union it takes more, slice by slice, and develops empires, and the high representative will want to develop his or her role. By moving the aid budget towards foreign policy aims, it seems to me that that is exactly what will happen. I urge the Government to accept this very mild Opposition amendment to improve the Bill.

9 pm

Hugh Bayley: It is a special irony to hear so many Conservative Members getting to their feet to express the view that development policy might be somehow hijacked if it came under the control of the foreign affairs wing of the European Union. I recall the time more than 10 years ago when their party were in government and the hon. Member for Hertsmere (Mr. Clappison) was a Minister. At that time, the Overseas Development Administration, the British development wing, was part of the Foreign Office and it required a Labour Government to separate it in order to give development policy the independence that Conservative Members are now so staunchly defending.

In anticipation that the hon. Member for Rayleigh (Mr. Francois) will get to his feet again when he has heard the Minister’s response to his questions on behalf of BOND and other lobbyists, may I ask him whether his party, if it were ever to form a Government again, would commit to the retention of an international development Department separate from the Foreign Office? He has argued that it is a failing of the treaty that the European Union will subsume development policy within its common foreign and security policy. Will he give a commitment that his party would not do the same in the UK, were it to form a Government?

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