Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Mr. Hopkins: I think that the wishful thinking is all on my hon. Friend's side. He has a passionate belief in something that he wants to happen. My argument is that the arrangement is inherently deflationary and is causing problems and stresses between members of the eurozone, which are doing less well than those outside it.

Mike Gapes: My hon. Friend missed my earlier remarks. I shall not repeat them, but I suggest that he read tomorrow's Hansard.

18 Jun 2002 : Column 232

We live in a global economy with three large currency blocs, and countries that are left outside face a real danger of speculation against their currencies. Owing to the excellent economic management of my right hon. Friend the Chancellor, we are not experiencing that problem, but throughout the past 60 years the British economy has faced all kinds of difficulties, including runs on our currency and having to borrow from other central banks. I do not wish our economy to get into that state again.

This debate is about wider questions. Reference has been made to immigration and asylum. I made two speeches on that subject last week, and I shall not repeat them now, but I want to draw attention to the fact that we in the European Union countries must recognise that there may be a downside to enlargement if we start to build robust external borders against potential applicant countries. The changes mean that we need to be especially sensitive to Bulgaria and Romania. British Customs officials are already helping Bulgarian efforts to stop smuggling. People from the Home Office and our police force are helping other countries in central and eastern Europe. Other EU countries, especially Germany, are also providing assistance. That is the way forward.

Three weeks ago, I was in Bulgaria with the NATO Parliamentary Assembly and we discussed NATO enlargement. At the end of our proceedings, we adopted a resolution that recognised the importance of sending positive signals to countries that wish to be part of the NATO defence alliance. There will be a major summit in Prague in November when six or seven new members could join. In 1999, three new members—Hungary, the Czech Republic and Poland—joined. The 19 could therefore become 26 or even more members. However, I am worried that the process is not being thought through sufficiently sensitively.

There is a danger that the United States, in its enthusiasm to push for the widest possible enlargement of NATO for political reasons, will weaken its effectiveness. That raises a fundamental issue for Europeans. We should not get into a position whereby NATO is less effective and the US can pick and choose about defence matters. We have not yet built the strong European security and defence policy that will enable us as Europeans to act without the US, if necessary.

We need a strong EU for our European interests. We have witnessed American attitudes to Kyoto, steel and the US farm Bill. We know that the compassionate conservatives across the pond tend to global unilateralism. I believe that we in Europe have to defend our global interests. That means a strong EU with this country at its political and economic heart.

8.58 pm

Mr. John Baron (Billericay): I am pleased to be called to speak in such a good humoured and wide ranging debate. One could focus on several issues, but I want to confine my remarks to one of the EU's most serious deficiencies: the tendency of its overseas budget to be increasingly dominated by political considerations at the expense of its stated objective of relieving global poverty. An increasing amount of aid is being directed towards middle-income countries for political purposes and the poor of the world are consequently suffering.

The crime is compounded by the fact that the low-income countries need our help more than ever. Recent research shows that world inequality is increasing.

18 Jun 2002 : Column 233

According to the economist Branko Milanovic, the richest 1 per cent. of people earn more than the 60 per cent. of households at the bottom of the income distribution.

Previous research has been able to compare only the average income of countries. A more recent study shows that the gap between rich and poor countries is much greater than was previously understood. Meanwhile, the World Bank has warned, in a new study, that many developing countries are at risk of not achieving the poverty goals established by the United Nations.

In addition, we all see regular evidence on our television screens that much more needs to be done. For example, last week, the United Nations World Food Programme warned that southern Africa is facing its worst food crisis for more than a decade, with about 13 million people facing starvation. Yet, despite all this evidence that much needs to be done, the EU is increasingly turning its back on those most in need. The latest figures show that the proportion of the overseas aid package spent in low-income countries was 39 per cent. in 2000, compared with 76 per cent. in 1990 and 85 per cent. in 1980. The most recent figure represents a new low.

There is little doubt that the EU is increasingly playing petty politics with the poor of the world to foster stability in the countries surrounding its borders, rather than eliminating poverty. Why else do Asia and Latin America combined receive only 12 per cent. of the EU overseas aid package, when one third of the people living in absolute poverty live in India alone? Why else does Poland receive twice as much aid as Asia and Latin America combined? Why are the top 10 recipients all countries bordering the EU?

Despite those facts, this country allows nearly 30 per cent. of its overseas aid budget, which amounts to nearly £800 million a year, to be directed through the EU. I believe that that is very wrong. No single country can end world poverty. Only a team effort by the richer nations and the multilateral institutions can effectively tackle the problem. However, it is wrong that we are providing UK funds to bodies that do not share that objective. As a country, we should be ashamed of ourselves. Rather than trying to reform the system, however, the Government are set to increase the amount that we commit to the EU overseas aid package by more than £1 billion by 2003–04. Clearly, this must be wrong, because all we are doing is committing more money to those middle-income countries bordering the EU at the expense of the low-income countries that are increasingly desperate for aid.

Surely the time has come, if only as a matter of principle, to say to the Commission, "Enough is enough. Either change your objectives and help the poor of the world or we shall ourselves increasingly commit resources to achieving that objective, using moneys gained by reducing our contribution to the overseas aid package." Britain has built up an enviable record on international aid over the years, and our aid agencies enjoy a similar reputation, yet the Government appear to be attempting to sacrifice our good name on the altar of the EU overseas aid package.

Meanwhile, despite the EU being the worst aid agency in the world—in my opinion—the only target that the Government have published in their recent White Paper

18 Jun 2002 : Column 234

on measuring the effectiveness of EU aid is set for 2006. Must we wait another four years before we can determine whether things are getting better, when it is increasingly evident that the percentage of aid given to low-income countries continues to fall? That will be another four years during which money will continue to be wasted, mismanagement persist and hundreds of thousands of lives will be needlessly lost, all because the Government refuse to take a principled stand and challenge the EU's increasing tendency to play petty politics.

One of the main priorities of politics must be the relief of poverty, wherever it exists. I am sure that Members on both sides of the House agree with that objective; it is just that we differ as to the means of achieving that goal. Yet, when dealing with one of the most powerful of tools to alleviate poverty—international aid—the Government have clearly turned their back on the poor of the world by allowing the EU to discriminate in favour of the middle-income countries.

I urge the Government to act now, before too many more lives are needlessly lost, because actions speak louder than words. I look forward to hearing the Minister's views on how the Government plan to put the situation right.

9.5 pm

Mr. Andrew Miller (Ellesmere Port and Neston): I shall be brief, to ensure that the hon. Member for Galloway and Upper Nithsdale (Mr. Duncan), who is representing the Scottish Conservative party, can speak.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Hartlepool (Mr. Mandelson) rightly said in a pamphlet that if the EU did not exist, we would have to invent it. There are those who stick their heads in the sand and believe that globalisation will go away; similarly, others believe that globalisation can continue without our strengthening Europe. Both positions are clearly wrong. In the UK in the 1970s, the left took the view that we could isolate ourselves economically, but it is clear that that is no longer an option. From the moment at which it was possible to press a button and transfer funds across national frontiers, the world started to change. In that regard, I fundamentally disagree with my hon. Friends the Members for Luton, North (Mr. Hopkins) and for Glasgow, Pollok (Mr. Davidson), who are adopting a pre-1980s, rather than a post-1980s, position.

Mr. Menzies Campbell (North-East Fife): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Next Section

IndexHome Page