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It is also a great irony to hear Conservative Members complain that one of the EUs policy failures is that it spends relatively little aid in the least developed countries. In the debate earlier this evening, I cited figures that showed that during the last Parliament when a Conservative Government were in power, not only did the proportion of our national wealth given in aid contributions fall, but the proportion of British aid
given to the least developed countries fell sharply. The Conservatives have changed their policy, and I warmly welcome that. We should be particularly pleased that after 10 years of a Labour Government, the Conservative party has seen that it made mistakes in the past, and is arguing that such mistakes should not be repeated by the EU. I hope that it will apply the same strictures to the Government.
The lead amendment is grouped with amendment No. 272. I suppose it is possible that the right hon. Member for Wells could formally propose the amendment. As I understand it, that amendment would exclude article 161 (a) from the treaty, which specifies:
Union development cooperation policy shall have as its primary objective the reduction and, in the long term, the eradication of poverty. The Union shall take account of the objectives of development cooperation in the policies that it implements which are likely to affect developing countries.
That part of the treaty requires European Union development policy to have poverty focus as its primary objective. Members of all parties have said that that provision is extremely important, and have welcomed it. That is also the part of the treaty that requires the EU to co-ordinate policies run by other parts of the Union, such as its trade policy or agriculture policy, and to make them coherent with the development policy. Again, I have heard Conservative Members, as well as Members from other parties, support that provision warmly tonight.
If amendment No. 272 is moved tonight, will the hon. Member for Rayleigh and Members of his party support the deletion from the treaty of the poverty alleviation commitment and the policy coherence commitment? Having heard the speeches this evening, I should have thought that that was at least the one part of the treaty on which there was good cross-party consensus: policy coherence ought to happen, and the EU ought to pursue such policies. The EU would certainly be more likely to pursue those policies if they were in the treaty.
Mr. Vara: I support the amendments tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Rayleigh (Mr. Francois). I am particularly concerned about the prospect of the development budget being under the control of the European high commissioner, rather than under the control of a separate commissioner who deals with development. That proposal relegates the importance of development. Without a separate individual with authority at the EU negotiating table who speaks up on development, poverty and aid, the importance of that area of responsibility will be diminished.
Development is, as we all acknowledge, vital. We also all understand that we are dealing with limited resources. It is all very well to have comforting words from the Minister, and I do not doubt their sincerity, but I doubt the implementation of the mechanism to deliver the good deeds from the good words that have been articulated about achieving the alleviation of poverty throughout the world.
I was particularly struck by the memorable speech made by my hon. Friend the Member for Hertsmere (Mr. Clappison). He eloquently pointed out the fact that the most deserving countries are receiving less funding from the European Union. It was particularly noteworthy that he and my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough (Mr. Bone) commented on the fact that if the high commissioner were in charge of development aid as well as foreign policy and security, there is a strong possibility that decisions to do with aid would follow the principles governing foreign and security decisions.
By way of illustration, let me give a contemporary example. We have the declaration of independence in Kosovo, and 22 European countries have accepted that independence. Five have not. Incidentally, such a divergence of opinion is what I presume the Lisbon treaty will call common foreign policy, although I fail to see what is common about having a dispute of that nature. The point is that our so-called foreign policy is uncertain.
If there is uncertainty about foreign policy, that will clearly lead to uncertainty about the consequent aid policy. We are talking about poverty, about people starving and about getting money to those people as soon as possible. When people do not know where their next meal is coming from, they do not have time to wait for the resolution of a common foreign policy on which the aid policy depends.
Mr. Bone: My hon. Friend is making a powerful point. He gave an example of a significant split of 22 to five in the European Union over Kosovo. Circumstances could arise in which development was required in an area, but a split on foreign policy might lead to that aid being stopped.
Mr. Vara: I am grateful to my hon. Friend. Not only is there a danger that assistance and aid is delayed, but it could stop. When people rely on aid for their next meal, we run out of time for those lives.
My hon. Friend is making a passionate and compelling speech about aid, but does he agree that trade could be as importantif not more importantthan aid? Does he know that statistics show that, in 2002, the EU policy on trade meant that
we gave trade tariffs of 1.6 per cent. to the richest countries, with GDP per capita of more than £15,000, and tariffs of an average of 5 per cent. to poor countries, with GDP per capita of less than £5,000? Does he worry about that?
Mr. Vara: No, Sir Alan. I simply commented that I believed that my hon. Friend was making a valid point, which underlines that it is vital to have a separate spokesman for aid at the negotiating table, rather than someone who has to follow other trendstrade, which my hon. Friend mentioned, or foreign and security policy in the case of the high commissioner.
Rob Marris: May I gently point out two matters? First, the common foreign policy of the European Union is decided not by qualified majority voting but by unanimity. Secondly, article 214 makes it clear that member states can have their own humanitarian foreign aid programmes, even in the absence of agreement on a European Union humanitarian aid programme. The UK could act in a case in which the European Union chose not to do so.
Mr. Vara: I note the hon. Gentlemans point. On unanimity, I fully appreciate what is written in a treaty, but what happens on the ground is not reflected in the treaty. We have a so-called common foreign policy but there is nothing common in division, with 22 countries voting one way and five countries voting the other. On the hon. Gentlemans point about Britains ability to give aid, we are not discussing Britains aid, but what the European Union will do with its funds. I do not therefore understand the relevance of the hon. Gentlemans point.
Mr. Clappison: We have had the argument previously and I do not want to go too far down that road, but if my hon. Friend examines the treaty, he will note incremental movements throughout it, including the extension of qualified majority voting beyond that which exists today, in favour of a common European foreign and security policy. Does he share my wish for the Minister to set out some concrete objectives, which would perhaps put our minds at rest at least a little in the context of the amendment?
Let me revert to the possibility that the European high commissioner would have charge of the aid budget. Several of my hon. Friends have mentioned the ever-increasing centralisation of decision making, with a few people at the top having ever-larger empires, for want of a better word, over which they would have exclusive control. We have noted that for several years the European budget has not been signed off, yet greater centralisation of funds will lead to the inevitable prospect
of those funds, ever approaching the pinnacle, not being subject to as much accountability as we would likein other words, the money will not go specifically to the people for whom it is intended It is therefore important that there should be a specific European Commissioner in charge who can be held responsible for the money and can try to follow where it goesto which countries, to which projects and to which people.
We are discussing this important issue in the comfort of the Palace of Westminster. Many in the Chamber have had their evening meal and others know full well that they will soon be able to have theirs. However, I am reminded of the occasion on which, as the recipient of a fellowship from the Norfolk charitable trust, an organisation run by Tom Harrison and his daughter Deborah Harrison, I visited Ethiopia to see the starving for myself. I will never forget the occasion when [ Interruption. ] Labour Members may well jest about the poverty and the dying in Ethiopia, but I assure them that their criticisms of our compassion are highlighted by the humour that they find in my comments about the dying and the starving in Ethiopia. I will never forget the occasion on which I went to a feeding centre, where hundreds of people were squatting, waiting for a bag of grain, a pot of oil and a little bit of salt, which was to last them for the next month.
This debate is about those people. It is about their next meal. We must recognise that this is not just another issue. We as politicians have a responsibility, in a global world, to our global brethren. It is therefore vital that where there is aid money, it is properly targeted and properly dealt with, and that there is proper accountability. By accepting the amendment that my hon. Friend the Member for Rayleigh has moved, we will ensure that our duty towards the starving of the world will be that much better fulfilled. If we do not accept the amendment, I am afraid that we as politicians do an injustice to all our rhetoric and an injustice to all the people who look to us for their next meal.
To conclude, when my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough said that the Government had not yet said that our amendments were wrecking amendments, the Minister said that he had not had an opportunity to do so. The Minister is an honourable Minister and I have an enormous amount of respect for what he says and what he does. I therefore very much hope that his comments were made in jest, and that he will not stand at the Dispatch Box and try to rubbish the well-meaning amendments that we have tabled. I urge the House to put aside party politics and accept our amendments, which are for the greater good of mankind.
Mr. Douglas Carswell (Harwich) (Con):
I wish to make a few succinct points in favour of the amendment. We need to keep separate the common foreign and security policy, and international aid, for a number of reasons. Let me preface my comments by saying that international aid is vital, and for Parliament and the Government, it should be right up there with education and the health service. It is vital because there is an enormous disparity of wealth in the world
that is ultimately unsustainable. The western world needs to do much more to alleviate poverty. That fact alone means that this subject deserves its own focus and deserves someone to take responsibility for it, separately from any considerations on foreign and security policy.
Union development cooperation policy shall have as its primary objective the reduction and, in the long term, the eradication of poverty.
Mr. Carswell: I was speaking specifically to the amendment, which seeks to establish a separation between the common foreign and security policy and international aid. I am not debating the more general point that the hon. Gentleman has raised.
Linking international aid with the foreign and security policy would diminish the effectiveness of such aid. In any discussion on foreign relations, there are two schools of thought: one deals with realpolitik, the other with idealism. In the making of foreign policy, there is usually a healthy tension between the consideration of the two different strands. I suspect, however, that the individuals and institutions responsible for foreign and security policy will be less prone to idealism and to moral concerns about improving international development than if the two areas were kept separate. At European level, we need to keep separate those responsible for foreign and security policy and those responsible for international aid.
any provision that increases the influence of the Common Foreign and Security Policy on international aid.
Mr. Carswell: I thank the hon. Gentleman for his helpful intervention. If we were to Europeanise international aid, and to tie it around a foreign and security policy, we would diminish our efforts to alleviate poverty.
Mr. Clappison: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way. I shall give the House three quick examples: putting a vice-president of the Commission in the Chair of the Council of Ministers; requiring the convergence of actions in foreign and security policy; and putting a dutynot a responsibilityon individual member states to consult other members of the Union and the Council of Ministers before undertaking any independent foreign policy of their own. Those are three examples; I could give the House a much longer list.
Mr. Bone: Is this not one of the problems involved in looking at the reality of the situation from a legalistic point of view? History has shown us that, wherever there has been a slight chance of a European Union representative taking more, they have done so. That is the reality of the situation, whatever the treaty says.
If we look at the efforts that have been made in the field of international aid in recent decades, we can see a growing awareness in this country of our responsibilities. That is to be welcomed, and in fairness, it has happened under Governments of both parties. It is striking, however, that the great innovations in international aid have often come from the bottom up. Charities have been formed in discussions around peoples kitchen tables, and spontaneous efforts have been made by the Churches or by other philanthropic organisations. These efforts have come from the bottom up, and they have put pressure on western Governments to take action and to put international development firmly on the agenda. If we were to Europeanise our development efforts and make them a tool of a foreign and security policy, we would squeeze out the potential for pluralism.
I think that that would impoverish our efforts to alleviate global poverty. We need to keep questions of foreign and security policy quite separate from those of international aid. I do not think that our international aid policy should be subject to considerations of realpolitik. I believe that the amendment keeps the two issues separate, so we should support it.
Mr. Jim Murphy: I am delighted to have the opportunity once again to respond to a debate that has been interesting for the whole afternoon and evening. We have all had the opportunity at the start of Fairtrade fortnight to reflect on some of the big issues facing our country on a group of policies that so many of our constituents rightly feel so passionately about.
We heard from the hon. Member for Hertsmere (Mr. Clappison), as we often do, quite fairly. We also heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Rob Marris), who spoke in a style that is increasingly his trademark. He displayed his ability to find his way through a treaty and its text in a way that no European bureaucrat anywhere on the continent could do with such ease. I offer that as a compliment. We heard from my hon. Friend the Member for City of York (Hugh Bayley), who has demonstrated such personal and political commitment to this issue over a number of years that he is rightly, fairly and genuinely admired on both sides of the Committee for his careful attention.
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