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25 Feb 2008 : Column 765

Points of Order

3.33 pm

Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North) (Lab): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. You were good enough to inform Members that a review of Members’ allowances was to take place. As I understand it, you informed us that there should be a debate in July in connection with the Baker review on salaries and that the report on expenses and allowances should be ready for the autumn. As I say, we appreciate your keeping us informed. May I put it to you, Sir, in view of the public concern over the whole issue and the rather misleading impression that we are all on the make at public expense that, if it is in any way possible, the review should have greater urgency and should not wait until the autumn? I put it to you, too, that the matter is causing damage to the reputation of the House. The sooner we can resolve it, the better.

Mr. Speaker: I say to the hon. Gentleman that the House unanimously—including him—agreed to put the matter to the Members Estimate Committee, which I chair. The House has charged me with a responsibility and I will carry out that duty until the House decides otherwise. That is a good thing for the reputation of the House.

David T.C. Davies (Monmouth) (Con): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Given the comments of the chief inspector of prisons at the weekend about the crisis into which the system has been plunged, could you tell me how I, in my relative naivety, can persuade the Government that the matter calls for an urgent statement, especially given that the Secretary of State for Justice is telling magistrates not to put people in prison?

Mr. Speaker: The hon. Gentleman should table questions on those issues. If he wishes, he could apply for an Adjournment debate. Those are ways in which he can help matters.

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Business of the House (Lisbon Treaty) (No. 5)

Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Order [28 January],

Question agreed to.

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Treaty of Lisbon (No. 6)

[6th Allotted Day]

Mr. Speaker: I inform the House that I have selected the amendment in the name of the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague).

3.35 pm

The Secretary of State for International Development (Mr. Douglas Alexander): I beg to move,

The challenge of eliminating global poverty is one of the greatest that faces our generation. Succeeding will require the concerted efforts of Governments in the developed and developing world, the private sector, civil society, individual citizens and the European Union.

The Lisbon treaty gives the European Union an opportunity to move on from years of debating the reform of its institutions to looking out on to the world and dealing with the issues that matter to the people of Europe. Not only in this Chamber is tackling global poverty much debated. In 2005, nearly 250,000 people took to the streets of Edinburgh to call on world leaders to help make poverty history. On one October day last year, more than 1 million Europeans stood up and spoke out against global poverty.

The Lisbon treaty will strengthen the European Union’s development assistance by ensuring that development aid is used to reduce poverty, humanitarian aid is allocated on the basis of need and non-aid policies take account of development objectives.

Mr. Shailesh Vara (North-West Cambridgeshire) (Con): The Secretary of State speaks of giving aid to less developed countries. Given that the European Union has not been able to sign off its accounts for many years, what confidence can the public have that the European Union can monitor the funds given to other countries to ensure that they go to the people who genuinely need them rather than into dictators’ pockets?

Mr. Alexander: I cite the example of the European development fund, the accounts of which have been signed off for several years. There was a qualified positive statement in 2006, but the qualifications were linked to the need to strengthen control in delegations. However, I assure the hon. Gentleman that the EDF is an example that I hope other elements of the European Union budget will follow.

Mr. Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con) rose—

Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe and Nantwich) (Lab) rose—

Mr. Alexander: I give way to my hon. Friend.

Mrs. Dunwoody: I am sure that we are all glad that any account can be signed off in the European institutions. However, other European Union trade
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policies specifically prohibit the sort of development that makes the difference between poverty and wealth in underdeveloped countries. Is my right hon. Friend happy for us to hand over so many international development powers to those whose interpretation of representation is frequently a large house in a small country?

Mr. Alexander: I know of my hon. Friend’s long interest in European matters, but I fear that she labours under a misapprehension in suggesting that significant development policy powers are being handed over as a consequence of the Lisbon treaty. It has been established for many years that the European Union and, in the case that we are considering, the United Kingdom Government have a role to play in development assistance. Rather than perceiving EU development policies as a barrier to achieving the UK’s objectives in development, we should view them as a mechanism whereby our objectives can be advanced.

Mr. Bone rose—

Mark Pritchard (The Wrekin) (Con) rose—

Bob Spink (Castle Point) (Con) rose—

Mr. Alexander: I am spoilt for choice. I am happy to give way to the Member for The Wrekin (Mark Pritchard).

Mark Pritchard: On the European development fund, does the Secretary of State agree that the delays between decision and distribution are unacceptable and have a front-line impact on the people who suffer most? Is not it time to bring more of the money from Europe back to the Department so that we can get funding to people on the ground far quicker?

Mr. Alexander: The first person whom the hon. Gentleman would need to convince of that policy is the leader of his own party, who has argued that global poverty is one of the three key challenges that the European Union should accept. Rather than disputing the Government’s position on the Floor of the House, the hon. Gentleman might want to discuss the matter in the first instance in the corridors of the Conservative party.

Mr. Bone rose—

Bob Spink rose—

Mr. Alexander: I give way to the hon. Member for Castle Point (Bob Spink).

Bob Spink: I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman will agree about the importance of trade policy in international development. Does he therefore regret that the Lisbon treaty, rather than reforming trade policy, reinforces the fact that trade policy is set in the secret and entirely unaccountable article 133 committee?

Mr. Alexander: If I recollect, the 133 committee has existed since the treaty of Rome. It is not a decision-making body; it is a discussion body. As a
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former Minister with responsibility for trade, I know that matters come to Trade Ministers or other Ministers in the Council of Ministers for decision. I would respectfully say to the hon. Gentleman that given the weight in international affairs of countries such as China—we had the UK-China summit in recent weeks—it is hard to advocate the case for our being more effective in securing our trade objectives as a country of 60 million if we withdrew from a European Union of 27 member states. If, for example, he is honestly suggesting that we would be more effective in advancing the case of the Doha development round, which I know many Conservative Members support, if we spoke as a single country of 60 million, rather than as part of a European Union of 27 member states, perhaps the best place to start would be with those on his own Front Bench.

Mr. Denis MacShane (Rotherham) (Lab) rose—

Mr. Bone rose—

Mr. Alexander: I give way to my right hon. Friend.

Mr. MacShane: I am grateful to the Secretary of State for being so generous in giving way. Last week we heard the case for isolationism; now we are hearing the case for protectionism. I hope that he will be robust in telling the Tories that we are no longer in the 18th century.

Mr. Alexander: I am not sure that my right hon. Friend is being fair—perhaps we should say the 19th century, because I am told that there are some modernisers on the Conservative Front Bench these days, although the case is as yet unproven.

However, my right hon. Friend’s point is well taken, and it is this. One reason we are so keen, working with the European Commission, to support the Doha development round is that if it were true to the promises made back in 2001, its conclusion would not simply serve the interests of the developing world, but be one in the eye for the protectionists and the isolationists. There are too many isolationists, both in Europe and on the Front and Back Benches in other parts of the House. Many of us recognise that in a world of such interdependence, it is through the collective strength of the European Union that we can tackle many of the biggest changes. Ironically, that is what the Leader of the Opposition now asserts, when he says that the European Union should be allowed to take a lead on climate change or global poverty. However, as we have heard in only the first few minutes of this debate, he has got some convincing to do of his own Back Benchers.

Mr. David Heathcoat-Amory (Wells) (Con): The European Scrutiny Committee received a report on EU development last year, in which one of the Secretary of State’s predecessors commented that

Does the Secretary of State not think that it might have been better had the treaty concentrated on reforming the acknowledged deficiencies in the existing programme, rather than giving more powers and money to the European development programme?

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Mr. Alexander: Whether it has been the work of Neil Kinnock or Chris Patten, there have been significant reforms in recent years. The treaty of course sets the legal framework, but there is a range of administrative structures that sit below the legal framework which are matters of ongoing consideration and deliberation. I began my remarks by reflecting back to 2005. Most of us who felt pride in seeing the G8 commit to its goals then, not least the significant uplift in aid to Africa, recognised that the European Union set the pace. If one considers that or the consensus on development—again, achieved during the British presidency—it is fair to say that real progress has been made.

Mr. Bone: Will the Secretary of State give way?

Mr. Alexander: I have been generous to the House and I should make a little progress.

Mr. Bone: Oh!

Mr. MacShane: He’s walking out!

Mr. Alexander: I fear that I will not be able to convince those on my own side as effectively in the time remaining, but I have their best interests at heart.

Strengthening the development efforts of the European Union is a matter of direct concern to many of the world’s poorest people. Collectively, Europe is the world’s largest aid donor. In 2006, members of the European Union together provided £32 billion of aid, which accounted for more than half of total global development assistance. As the world’s largest single market, Europe is the most significant trading partner for developing countries and provides leadership on issues of great importance to them, including climate change, on which Europe lobbied in support of developing countries at the Bali conference and on which it set unilateral targets for greenhouse gases and established the world’s first international carbon trading system.

The Lisbon treaty provides the next step in the evolution of the European Union’s efforts to reduce poverty. During the cold war, the European Commission, along with other donor countries, too often provided politically motivated aid. However, in the late 1990s and the early years of this decade, important reforms were made to both EC and UK aid. Here, this Government established the Department for International Development in 1997, untied aid in 2001, and introduced the International Development Act in 2002, establishing poverty eradication at the heart of the UK’s aid efforts.

Tony Baldry (Banbury) (Con): The Secretary of State is pushing at an open door when it comes to convincing many of us that co-operating with the European Union on this matter is a sensible approach. Will he, however, address the points on which there was serious disagreement between the Government and the EU during the negotiations on the treaty? For example, many of us would see the establishment of DFID as one of the achievements of this Government but, with the treaty, international development will be subsumed under, and answerable to, the external action policy. In other words, foreign policy will come first, and
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international development will come second. References to the most disadvantaged—that is, the pro-poor policy—will be removed by the treaty, and many of us are worried that this will result in a foreign policy that is much more geared towards middle-income countries, in contrast to the pro-poor policy that has been commendably pursued by DFID since the Doha round and the establishment of the millennium development goals.

Mr. Alexander: The hon. Gentleman makes a serious and constructive point. I am grateful to him for acknowledging the success of the Department for International Development in recent years. He is right to recognise that the principles of the Union’s external action are set out in article 24 of the Lisbon treaty, which, for the sake of clarity, I will read to the House. It refers to

In the light of that definitive list of principles informing the external action of the Union, I would ask the hon. Gentleman, with the greatest of respect, to suggest which of them would contradict the best development policy as developed by the Department for International Development in recent years. Given the specificity of poverty reduction being identified for the first time, I would suggest that those principles provide a strong foundation for one of the key areas on which I hope there is common ground across the House.

Tony Baldry: I am grateful to the Secretary of State for giving me the opportunity to intervene again. One could have made exactly that point when the Overseas Development Administration was part of the Foreign Office. Those of us who were junior Ministers in the Foreign Office at the time will remember that the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs controlled the international development budget. Those budget and policy arrangements were very different from the kind of creative tension that now exists in the Cabinet between the Secretary of State for International Development and the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs. Under the Lisbon treaty, international development will be put under foreign affairs, and my concern—and that of many non-governmental organisations—is that that will skew the way in which international development is seen in the European Union, particularly in regard to supporting middle-income countries in northern Africa and elsewhere.

Mr. Alexander: With respect to the hon. Gentleman, I have to say that I am not convinced by his case. Again, let me read directly from the treaty, this time from article 161. It states:

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