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We also heard, belatedly, from the hon. Member for Harwich (Mr. Carswell). I was as surprised to hear him as I am sure he was surprised to be making the speech. I congratulate the hon. Member for Rayleigh
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(Mr. Francois) on his speech. We formerly served as Whips together and his old Whip’s tendencies, in helping us to get us to this hour, are still very much in evidence. The hon. Gentleman made, I think at relatively short notice, a well-informed speech about the amendments before us.

I think that we started this afternoon’s debate with a contribution from the Secretary of State for International Development, who made a point relevant to the amendments. We heard about my right hon. Friend’s world tour across many of the regions and countries that we have spoken about. He is, of course, a former Minister for Europe, and I am sure that he is as disappointed as I am that he is not standing here at the Dispatch Box this evening as we reach the halfway point in our Committee deliberations on the Bill. [Interruption.] Yes, I have to tell my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West that we are only halfway through our Committee process. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Wellingborough (Mr. Bone) says that the best is yet to come, so I thank him in anticipation of what I am about to say. By his own admission, the hon. Gentleman was a bit frustrated or angry earlier today, and he led a one-man walk-out—he was the walk-out. On his own admission, he lay down in a dark room. By all accounts, however, despite our disagreements, he retains a bright sense of humour and a sharp attention to much of the detail of the treaty. We look at the same evidence, the same arguments and the same history and come to diametrically opposed conclusions. Nevertheless, he does so with great consideration and honour. We simply disagree over the conclusions and will continue to do so.

As to the Opposition Front Benchers, let me deal first with the hon. Member for Rayleigh. As regular attenders in the Chamber will be aware, even when we disagree over amendments, the hon. Gentleman customarily argues for them in a coherent way. I will go on to explain why we disagree with amendment No. 245 in particular, but there are even greater arguments about some of the other amendments in the group.

In a relatively short speech, the hon. Member for Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk (Mr. Moore), who made his debut in today’s debates as the Liberal Democrats’ international development spokesman, got to the point immediately, identifying the weakness in the Conservative amendments. They seek to undermine the greater co-operation for which both my party and his party share a great enthusiasm.

9.30 pm

Amendments Nos. 245, 247 and 272 aim to exclude provisions that could increase the influence of the common foreign and security policy on international aid. The principles of the Union’s external action are set out in article 2(24) of the Lisbon treaty, which refers to

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Development mentioned that in the earlier debate.

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It is vital for there to be coherence throughout the EU’s external action. We would not want the EC development assistance plans in countries such as Zimbabwe or Fiji not to take account of the position on human rights and democracy. The provisions in the treaty do not mean that development will be secondary to foreign policy, as I shall seek to explain. They do not represent a return to the days of aid as an instrument of foreign policy. In fact, increased coherence as set out in the treaty will ensure that development and humanitarian aid form a key part of a coherent and effective external policy.

It is vital for the Union’s external action to be coherent and consistent. That is why the provisions that I have mentioned were included in the treaty. Other provisions have the same objective. For instance, article 2(161) states that the Union must

That requirement has existed since the Maastricht treaty.

Let me deal with some of the wider points that have been made about EU efforts on international development and aid. Owing to either a misreading of the evidence or a deliberate misunderstanding of it, we have witnessed a parody of the EU’s efforts in recent years. I have not and never will argue at the Dispatch Box that everything Europe does is anywhere near perfect—there is no organisation in the world that could not continue to improve—but to argue, as some have, that the EU has, in principle and in practice, let down the world’s poorest people is, in my view, a parody of the reality.

Let us look at some specific examples. In Sudan, €100 million of humanitarian aid has put the country firmly at the top of the Commission’s humanitarian agenda. In northern Uganda, 2 million internally displaced people were living in poorly managed camps without minimum basic services or adequate protection, and with recurrent cholera outbreaks. The Commission provided €19 million to improve conditions in the camps and help people to return home. In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Commission’s humanitarian activities focused on the most vulnerable, especially women and children. In Liberia, 14 years of civil war had a devastating effect on civilians. Half the population was undernourished in 2006, but there has been significant European investment. In Niger, more than 680,000 children were treated for acute malnutrition. As for Angola, there has been considerable investment in that war-torn country.

I do not claim that everything that Europe has done and continues to do has resolved all the great challenges that face the world’s poor. Let me say this in response to the hon. Member for North-East Cambridgeshire—

Mr. Vara: North-West Cambridgeshire.

Mr. Murphy: I apologise. Following a tour of the world’s nations, I should have been able to distinguish between North-East and North-West Cambridgeshire. Nevertheless, I entirely agree with the hon. Gentleman’s sentiment. We could debate the recent history of the party he supports, such as its
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dramatic—by choice—political failure of the world’s poorest when it cut the aid budget, but I am willing to accept that he did not support that agenda at the time, and certainly that he does not support it this evening. There is no disagreement that the EU has to do more, and indeed, the United Kingdom bilaterally can continue to do more, but the fact is that 90 per cent. of the European development fund does go to the poorest nations. In 2006, £32 billion of aid went to help some 18 million people in more than 160 countries. It has to be acknowledged that not all the money has gone to the poorest nations, but a strong case can be made that while there is rightly a focus on the poorest nations in the world it is also right to concentrate on the poorest communities in some of the middle-income nations, and that they are also entitled to the support of the EU and the UK.

More widely, it is right that candidate countries of the EU benefit from EU support, such as aid support and aid investment. That is why the European neighbourhood policy is important. Earlier this afternoon, I had to pop out of the debate to meet the Deputy Prime Minister of Ukraine, a country that received £160 million in 2006 in total EC aid; it also received almost £6 million in UK bilateral aid, which is administered through the Department for International Development. It is important that we continue to invest in—to use the dreadful diplomatic-speak—Europe’s “near-abroad”, which are those countries to the east and south of Europe’s borders. We must continue to invest in those countries, rather than only in the poorest countries in the world. We wish to see stability and continuing democratic process.

Mr. Clappison: The hon. Gentleman is making a forceful and thoughtful speech, but is he really saying that there is no disproportionality in the aid devoted by the EU when, for example, seven times as much aid per head is given to Turkey than to Bangladesh? Is there any proportionality in that?

Mr. Murphy: We must continue to try to find ways to get money to individuals in the poorest nations and to the poorest communities in some of the middle-income nations. I am not seeking to argue that everything Europe has done, is doing or will do is precise and perfect. That is why there must be continued reform. However, I am arguing that it is in our national and international interests that there continues to be investment in, for example, Serbia, to encourage democracy and the rule of law there, and that we encourage economic progress, open markets and human rights in, for example, Kosovo.

Let me turn to the text of the treaty and the concern of the hon. Member for Rayleigh about the effect the potential loss of an EU Development Commissioner could have on EU efforts in international development. Although I have yet to hear it said specifically thus far in any of our days of deliberations on the treaty, I think that it is common ground that a reduction in the number of Commissioners is a good thing. Thus far, in six days of debate both in Committee and on Second Reading, we have not heard from those on the Conservative Benches of one thing that they welcome in the treaty. I know that Conservative Members’ worry is that if they welcome a millimetre of it, they will be
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slammed by the UK Independence party and other Europhobes. [Interruption.] Instead of chortling, I shall give the hon. Member for Rayleigh the opportunity to welcome some parts of the treaty.

Mr. Francois: I say to the Minister that we are opposed to this treaty because it transfers great powers from Britain to the EU, and I remind him that his Government promised the British people a referendum on that basis. That, and not what UKIP might or might not say, is our primary concern.

Mr. Murphy: Again, the hon. Gentleman welcomes nothing in this treaty, be it on international development or foreign policy. I remind the House that the Conservatives are alone, because they are the only Opposition party in Europe and the only conservative party in Europe to oppose the treaty’s every sentence. He opposes every aspect of the treaty.

The number of Commissioners will be reduced from 27, because there are not 27 full-time jobs to do in the European Commission and thus there is no justification for having 27 separate bureaucracies. In addition, as we welcome Turkey and others into the European Union in future, the number of Commissioners would continue to be a difficulty if it was not addressed. More importantly, the treaty does not make provisions on which Commissioners and portfolios will remain—there is no specific alignment as to which Commissioner portfolios would continue on a full-time basis. Nothing has been decided on the portfolios or roles carried out by individual Commissioners or by the collection of Commissioners.

Commissioners come and go, and much is dependent on the power and personality of Commissioners, but the treaty text is what is important and unavoidable, and, for the first time, it legally enshrines humanitarian aid. That aid should be offered and provided in line with three principles—impartiality, neutrality and non-discrimination—which have been established by the Red Cross.

Let us consider some different aspects of the treaty text. Article 21(d) on page 18 states that the Union should try to

Article 21(e) states that it should try to encourage the integration of all countries into the world economy

Paragraph 5 of article 3 on page 5 states clearly, for the first time:

The specific roles of individual Commissioners will continue to evolve. There is no ideological disagreement about that between the left, right and centre across the European Union. As we move from
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27 to 18 Commissioners, there will of course be a need for some changes in portfolios. What is beyond doubt is the fact that the treaty text for the first time carries within it an absolute guarantee about the primacy and importance of the eradication of poverty.

I think that I am being encouraged to allow the hon. Member for Rayleigh the opportunity for a couple of moments’ response. However, I should say that amendment No. 246 would exclude the Lisbon treaty provision that states that the Union and the member states share competence in the areas of development co-operation and humanitarian aid, but that any Union action in those fields does not result in the member states being unable to act—it is very clear as to the extension of the shared competence. Member states are still entitled to act. Let me remind the House that European Community action in the field of development co-operation was formalised in the Maastricht treaty. Along with humanitarian aid, it has, in practice, been an important part of the Community’s external action since its foundation.

The proliferation of donors and the exponential growth of projects are real problems for many developing countries, and in particular their Governments. Those Governments have limited financial and administrative resources, yet they are asked to work with more and more donors, each of which has its own systems of reporting and auditing. Governments are asked to participate in reviews of dozens, if not hundreds, of projects, in each sector—for example, the OECD counted no fewer than 560 social infrastructure projects in Mozambique alone in 2002. The treaty seeks to rationalise that process so that instead of countries such as Mozambique struggling under the weight of well-intentioned initiatives coming from myriad nation states across the globe, there is greater coherence, at least within the European Union’s 27 member states. No one could sensibly argue that Mozambique and her Government should expect to be supported in a way that puts such an enormous burden on the country and her people. That is the purpose behind the initiatives in the treaty. All of this argues for closer co-operation between donors and a shared competence in development co-operation, as the Liberal Democrats have also said this evening.

I want to give the hon. Member for Rayleigh the opportunity to respond, so I turn finally to the question asked by the hon. Member for North-West Cambridgeshire (Mr. Vara). The dry, legalistic answer to his entirely fair question is that for the UK to remove the specific articles of the treaty as required by the amendment would put us in a position whereby we could not fully ratify the treaty. That is the dry, legalistic and factual position, and I hope he is reassured on that point. More widely, there is determination to ensure that the European Union is more effective in the future—to harness the political determination of all 27 Governments to deliver the things we all believe in.

9.45 pm

Mr. Francois: I am grateful to the Minister for his generous remarks about the style in which I introduced the amendments. It is fair to say that this debate is somewhat less heated in nature than our debate about common foreign and security policy and the debate on
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defence we never really had time for. I have some specific comments about the Minister’s remarks, but first I want to refer to some of the other contributors.

The Liberal Democrat spokesman spoke briefly, presumably because he wanted to give others an opportunity to contribute. He made a plea to us about greater co-ordination on policy—I think I quote him correctly. He gave as an example greater co-ordination on defence, which he said the Liberal Democrats would welcome.

Mr. Moore: If necessary.

Mr. Francois: I am not sure that the hon. Gentleman made that caveat at the time.

Last Wednesday, the House would have had the opportunity to debate in detail whether we wanted greater co-ordination on defence if we had been able to deal with any of the defence amendments, but the invidious nature of the Government’s business motion meant that we never even reached that point. I say gently to the hon. Gentleman that we have argued—as we did strongly at business questions last Thursday—for an extra day of debate on the Lisbon treaty so that we could discuss the defence implications in detail. I hope the Liberal Democrats support that intention. Shall I give way briefly to the hon. Gentleman so that he can say yes?

Mr. Moore indicated dissent.

Mr. Francois: I am rather disappointed by that response, especially as the hon. Gentleman raised the matter. It is a shame that the Liberal Democrats do not want defence debated.

The hon. Gentleman talked about the need for greater co-ordination, but when we debated the motion earlier, the Under-Secretary of State for International Development (Mr. Thomas) spilled the beans. During the peroration by my hon. Friend the shadow Secretary of State for International Development, the hon. Gentleman leapt up rather excitedly to intervene on points of origin, if I am quoting him correctly. We were debating how policy on points of origin might be changed—

Mr. Thomas: Rules of origin.

Mr. Francois: I am grateful to the Minister. During debate about rules of origin, the hon. Gentleman leapt to his feet saying, “You don’t need a treaty to change the arrangements on rules of origin.” That was the spirit of what he said. In a sense, that is our entire argument today: we do not need a new treaty to improve co-operation in the delivery of EU aid. [ Interruption. ] The Minister laughs to hide his embarrassment, but he blew the gaffe on the Government’s position during the peroration by my hon. Friend the shadow Secretary of State—I know he did because I saw his boss wince the instant he said those words.

Rob Marris: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Francois: I am coming to the hon. Gentleman—he does not need to anticipate me.

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The Minister blew the Government’s case, and it is too late for him to take back his words. I now turn to the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Rob Marris). Does he want to intervene first, or will he hear what I have to say? Perhaps he will let me make some progress and refer to his comments, and then he can intervene.

Can we clear up the point about numbering, because there was confusion about which bits of text we were using? I understand that we have the treaty of Lisbon, which is numbered, and the consolidated text, which has been provided by The Stationery Office and, obviously, is also numbered. Also available in the Vote Office is the European Union publications office’s version of the consolidated treaties. The page numbering is slightly different in the EU publications office’s version and the TSO version, which was why there was confusion between my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough (Mr. Bone) and the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West about which page we were on. We have two consolidated versions, but the document from the EU publications office predates the other. I can say to the Minister that yet again, we and the EU are not on entirely the same page— [ Interruption. ] I am trying to clear up the situation, because several hon. Members were confused by the difference in the numbering.

Let me turn directly to the point made by the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West when he quoted from article 21 in the consolidated text. I shall quote the paragraph to which he referred:

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