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Tony Baldry: We are all members of the Select Committee on International Development, and we have spent the last two days in Brussels questioning and listening to Commissioner Nielson. The Select Committee has published three reports in the past criticising European development aid. I would not wish to pre-empt our report, but we got the sense of the institutions of Europe, the Commissioners and everyone involved in development aid wanting to get to grips with this matter, and of their getting to grips with it. I am sure that there are points to be made at the margins, but the thrust of what is happening in the European Community is reform and the desire to get to grips with it.
I have one or two brief points that I want to make, in addition to what the hon. Member for City of York said. Hon. Members have to find ways of questioning and scrutinising Ministers more closely about what happens at Council of Ministers meetings. This is not just a development aid problem; it goes right across the institutions of Parliament. I have no doubt, from everything that we have heard, that the Secretary of State for International Development is one of the more robust Ministers in the EU Councils responsible for international development in terms of trying to ensure that as many of the EU programmes as possible are poverty focused.
Our ability to get information on those issues is, however, fairly limited and tends to be obtained from occasional written parliamentary questions, either before or after a Council of Ministers meeting. How can we
I am conscious, however, that our colleagues in the European Parliament have much greater access to what is going onthey are, of course, by definition, there in the European Parliament. In Brussels, I felt that various areas of policy had become something of a secret garden. That was not intentional; no one actually wished to keep us away from the information in question, but simply as a consequence of the rhythm of how policy develops in Europe, we do not always get the full effect of what is happening.
It would probably be helpful if those of us in the House who take an interest in international development met United Kingdom members of the European Parliament's Committee on Development and Co-operation. We were fortunate enough to meet a number of them on Monday evening, and what they had to say was extremely interesting, on a whole range of issues. They had insights into policy development that were sometimes different from ours. I think that we helped them with insights into policy development here. Part of the suspicion that we sometimes have of the European Union and its institutions would be allayed if we in this House could work out better mechanisms for interacting with the European Parliament, the Council of Ministers and the Commission. Notwithstanding the fact that we have now been a member of the European Union for almost a generation, we have not yet succeeded in that.
The International Development Committee will, I am sure, try to talk to Commissioners, officials and colleagues in the European Parliament at least once a year, but that is not a substitute for the rigorous, continuous involvement between this place and elsewhere in Europe which is necessary. We need to consider how we can improve that situation. As I came away from spending two days talking and listening to people in Europe, I had a clear feeling that there is a deficit, not in Europe's institutions but in the way in which the two places work together.
Roger Casale (Wimbledon): Having participated in the debate on Second Reading and followed closely, through Hansard, the debate in Committee, I have been very impressed with the level of cross-party consensus on the Bill.
I fear, however, that on new clause 3 there is a danger of the good intentions that informed the Conservative party's support for the Bill running up against the intransigence of its general foreign and European policy. Its suggestion that Britain should be involved in multilateral aidfor example, through the European Commissionbut that we should be able to exercise the threat of withdrawing that aid every time a project breaks down brings to mind that rather unsuccessful mantra about being in Europe but not run by Europe, which was repeated so many times before the last election. The Conservative party is playing the same record again and again.
Roger Casale: I rather suspected that I might become the fourth Member who has raised the issue with the hon. Lady to have my interpretation of her remarks corrected, and she has not disappointed me. She has, as she made clear, been challenged on this matter four times, and she has not yet ruled out the fact that the purpose of the new clause is to provide a lever controlling the distribution of multilateral aid whereby Britain could withdraw its participation in an individual project if we felt that there was a flaw in the management or delivery of aid.
Surely the whole point of multilateralism is that we pool our resources, and we must put our trust in the relevant institutions, which in this case includes the European Commission, to undertake proper monitoring and exercise effective control.
Just this morning, in European Standing Committee B, we had a long and very interesting debate about the way in which the European Commission monitors, through the Court of Auditors, the aid and assistance that has been given to the Palestinian Authority.
We discovered that there are many difficulties in the distribution of that aid which arise from the management structures and the effective co-ordination of the different agencies involved. Not least among those difficulties, of course, are the political situation and the deterioration of the security crisis in the middle east. Surely, however, it is the job of the Court of Auditors and the European Commission to exercise its judgment in relation to these matters. We must monitor that process, and there are mechanisms for doing so multilaterally to determine whether it is right to continue to make that aid available.
In the Committee this morning, some hon. Members felt that we should be cautious about giving further aid to the Palestinian Authority. I was not one of them; I think that we should be stepping up our aid in this instance. It would be wrong if we in the UK reduced our commitment to the European Union's strategy for stabilising the middle east through support for the Palestinian Authority simply because we had come to the view that we should be more cautious.
David Cairns (Greenock and Inverclyde): I apologise to my hon. Friend because I have not been here for the whole debate, as I had another engagement. I suspect that he may have been referring to me when he spoke of some members of the European Standing Committee who take a slight hard-line view on this matter. I am sure that he will accept that the reservations of some hon. Members arise not from any lack of generosity or of a willingness to engage in the reconstruction of places such as Afghanistan and Palestine but from a desire to ensure that European taxpayers' money is well spent. We must have a rigorous monitoring system. The Court of Auditors does a good job, but it is of necessity done after the event. As the money is provided on a continuing basis, some of us feel that we need reassurance that the monitoring is taking place.
Sometimes we tend to think that Britain is a special case in the European Union, but the point about multilateral organisations is that the relationships between individual member countries and the multilateral agencies must always be the same. How would a body such as the EU fare if any individual member state threatened to withdraw support every time it noticed that something was going wrong?
Mr. Baron: In answer to the hon. Gentleman's question, the EU agencies involved might not like what happened but the poor of the world might benefit because aid would be more effectively directed by a country that views the relief of poverty, rather than the pursuit of politics, as a priority.
Roger Casale: The hon. Gentleman is simply arguing that it would be better to give aid bilaterally than multilaterally. He seems to be saying that Britain is best; that we are best placed to know where money should be spent and how it should be spent; that we can monitor that spending and that we should not bother with multilateral organisations at all. If that is his position, it is not unreasonable, but I do not agree. The points made by the hon. Member for Richmond Park (Dr. Tonge), who spoke for the Liberal Democrats, are salient. There is a big debate about multilateralism versus bilateralism, but I think that the multilateralists have won. If the hon. Gentleman wants to take us back to bilateralism, he will find it difficult to support the Bill.