Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Mr. Rowe: My hon. Friend is probably aware that one of the pressures under which the EU operates is that whenever there is evidence of malfeasance there is a huge outburst of scandal and horror, and then, instead of reviewing all its procedures and ensuring that there is one accountable person, the EU simply increases the number of signatures that have to appear on each authorisation. Far from improving accountability, that requirement hugely diminishes it, and colossally increases the time that such an authorisation takes to go through the system.

Mr. Leigh: My hon. Friend, who speaks with great knowledge on these subjects, makes a perfectly valid point. It is difficult to advise the EU on how to proceed, but I suppose that the problem boils down to a lack of

10 Apr 2001 : Column 875

political oversight, of national interest and of national concern--the equivalent of Ministers being brought back to the House to be brought to account. As a result there are scandals and bad publicity, and as my hon. Friend says, it is then necessary to add another layer of bureaucracy because people involved in the process get worried about their career and the way they will be reported in the press.

The Commission, in a statement on development policy, has analysed the problems that it faces in implementing commitments. Fair enough. It listed them as

Let us consider the point about lack of human resources. Is the reason why the EU is unable to devote itself adequately to relieving poverty in the third world the fact that it does not have the right number of staff? The Commission has argued that there is a shortfall of 1,300 staff, and that therefore it simply cannot deliver the programme in the way it should. It says that the shortfall has the obvious effect of leaving a few staff to deal with an enormously increased amount of money to spend and makes it obvious that the efficiency of the programmes will be damaged, and that it will be less likely that they will be followed up and corruption detected.

Is it true that the reason why the EU is performing so badly is that there is a shortfall of 1,300 staff? I suspect not. My viewpoint is shared by the International Development Secretary, who declared her opposition to giving the Commission any more money for staff and has promised to "fight to the death" to prevent it unless the Commission improves the quality of what it is doing already.

The International Development Secretary, to whom I pay tribute, is being absolutely robust in this. She is saying that the problem is not due to lack of staff at all. Fair enough. If we therefore are all agreed--I see Labour Members nodding--why is she willing to continue to use the European Commission to distribute aid despite its being, in her words,

and despite the fact that, in her words,

I have never heard a Minister, whether Conservative or Labour, use such strong language to describe any EU institution. This is not someone who has a reputation as a Eurosceptic trying to score political points, but the International Development Secretary, who describes the Commission as

That is why the group of amendments before us is so apposite. It does not make sense for the International Development Secretary to continue to use and depend on the EU for aid distribution despite its being truly awful. Surely she and her junior Minister, who is here today, must agree with the Conservative new clause to propose that no aid be allowed to be distributed by a third party unless the Secretary of State is satisfied that it is likely to result in a reduction of poverty. That is all the new clause is about.

10 Apr 2001 : Column 876

2.15 pm

If we place our hopes in the illusion of the EU's reforming itself and suddenly becoming, contrary to all the expectations of the International Development Secretary, an efficient organisation which works solely for the reduction of poverty in a holistic manner, I believe that we are fooling ourselves. The all-party International Development Committee, in producing the report, has been

That all-party Committee says that it would be foolishness to assume that the EU will now reform itself. The EU has far too many problems with its aid programme to reform itself effectively in the foreseeable future.

I believe that it would be better if the United Kingdom took the decision to spend this money itself, controlled by this Parliament, for the reduction in poverty in the world and to help the world's poorest people.

Dr. Jenny Tonge (Richmond Park): I rise to speak to amendment No. 6, but I hope that the House will allow me to make a few comments first on the other amendments and the new clause before us.

The hon. Member for South-West Devon (Mr. Streeter), as usual, said a great deal about good governance, and many people in the House would agree with what he says. It is indeed fundamental. It lies at the core of any development programme in an underdeveloped country. However, as the hon. Member for Hertford and Stortford (Mr. Wells) said, we must question what good governance is. It is sometimes extremely difficult to put a finger on what its ingredients are.

I was about to rise to ask the hon. Gentleman whether Uganda would be an example of good governance. I remember his having great doubts when we were out there, and yet Uganda seems to be doing quite well in development terms, and delivering the goods as far as the Department for International Development is concerned. If we intend to declare that people will get aid only to further good governance, and that that is at the very core of poverty alleviation, it is worth remembering that it is quite difficult to assess what good governance is.

The hon. Member for Hertford and Stortford mentioned the police and the judiciary. In doing so, he perfectly illustrated what I am always saying: that poverty can be alleviated only by addressing very many factors. One cannot give one factor a higher priority than another. How can one have a good police force, and above all a good judiciary, without education? Should not education therefore lie at the core of development? One cannot educate people or maintain good governance unless those people are relatively healthy and have a health care system--so should not health care be at the core? One cannot have good health without clean water, so should not clean water be at the very core? So is not clean water just as important as good governance? They all go together; it is thus absolutely right that the core powers are set out in the way that they are, and that they do not give one factor more importance than another. It is important that we go ahead on many fronts.

Certainly, it may sometimes feel, as the hon. Member for South-West Devon said, that this is a bit of a scatter-gun approach, but it has to be that way, because

10 Apr 2001 : Column 877

these aspects will improve and the countries involved will improve only if all those factors are addressed at the same time. I cannot therefore support the amendments tabled by the Conservative party.

We all have sympathy with what has been said about the inefficiency of European Union aid. I shall not bore the House again with my story of reading reports from the Court of Auditors. They contain absolutely horrific stories of projects not started, not completed or not reported on, and of money not even wasted but simply not used--just sitting there, not delivering the aid that was intended. Sadly, EU aid gives the Conservative party another opportunity for a bit of Europe bashing, and I wish that the EU would put its house in order because it provides such a wonderful excuse to attack Europe and all things European.

I remind Conservative Members that if they had played a more wholehearted part in setting up all those institutions, and if they had been there enthusiastically insisting that the European aid budgets were managed properly, instead of washing their hands, like Pontius Pilate, of all things European, we would be in a much better state today and they could not criticise what goes on in our name.

Mr. Wells: As the hon. Lady will know, because she was a member of the Select Committee when we drafted the report to which my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Leigh) referred, we recommended not that we should withdraw money from the European aid programme, but that we should make that programme perform better. Does she agree that Mr. Chris Patten and Mr. Nielsen--the two Commissioners principally concerned with European aid--have introduced many new measures which will come into force this year and promise to make European aid much more efficient and to deliver pro-poor policies in the third world?

Dr. Tonge: Yes, I entirely agree with the hon. Gentleman, and I am hopeful that reform will take place. Conservative Members have quoted the Secretary of State on many occasions this afternoon. She is unhappy about the way things work, and she will ensure that we will not contribute more funds until they improve. I have a lot of faith in my constituent, Commissioner Patten--he is not all the Conservative party's; he is partly mine too. He and his colleague are sincerely trying to improve matters, but I repeat that it is very foolish of the Conservative Opposition continually to carp about the systems that they set up but now want nothing to do with.

I want to make one last point on European aid. It is rather strange that the Conservative party says that good governance and political considerations are of the very essence if we want to relieve poverty, and that good governance must be top of the aid agenda, since that is precisely what many European aid projects do. They are trying to deliver good governance, which will improve the countries where they operate and bring them into the first world and, eventually, the European Union. Conservative Members have been speaking on both sides of the argument.

Next Section

IndexHome Page