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House of Lords

Tuesday, 20th June 2000.

The House met at half-past two of the clock: The LORD CHANCELLOR on the Woolsack.

Prayers--Read by the Lord Bishop of Oxford.

British Aid Payments

Lord Willoughby de Broke asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they will in future make British aid payments to recipient countries direct rather than through the European Union institutions.

Baroness Amos: My Lords, we are obliged by EU treaty to contribute to the EC's development programmes. These are often of poor quality and we are addressing this. We restricted the growth of the external assistance EC budget in March 1999, succeeding in holding down growth to 1 per cent for the years 2000-06--in stark contrast to the agreement at the 1992 Edinburgh Council for a 180 per cent increase for 1992-99.

Lord Willoughby de Broke: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for that reply, but it really is not good enough. Is the noble Baroness aware that it takes an average of four and a half years to implement any EU aid programme, between the time it is agreed and the time that aid reaches the recipients? By then, the problem is probably over or the intended recipients are dead. Would it not be much better if British taxpayers' money was responsibly used by the Government rather than given to the treacle-waders in Brussels to dispose of in this incredibly inefficient way?

Baroness Amos: My Lords, we recognise the deficiencies in the EC aid programme. We published an 18-point strategy to improve the poverty focus and effectiveness of EC development assistance. We already have a large bilateral programme; however, we recognise that our leverage as a development and aid donor is much increased through our multilateral programmes. The EC is one of the largest multilateral donors in the world, and we see our commitment as being to improve the European Union so that poverty focus and effectiveness are increased.

Lord Shore of Stepney: My Lords, the Edinburgh Council agreement was obviously a great mistake. Will the Minister confirm that something like 30 per cent of our total aid programme is now siphoned through Brussels--in a programme that matches the CAP in incompetence if not corruption? Is it not time that the wishes of the Secretary of State to repatriate the programme and to bring it under British

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administration and British priorities should now be carried through, in spite of whatever the treaties have said?

Baroness Amos: My Lords, my noble friend is entirely correct: 30 per cent of our development assistance programme goes through the European Union. That is why we have such a strong commitment to trying to improve the programme. We have published institutional strategy papers to cover the range of multilateral donors, including the European Union, the World Bank and UN system. We have made it clear that we want to see improvements in that system. As I said in my original Answer, we feel that the leverage that we are able to apply, both through the European Union process and working in concert with our European Union partners, means that it is important that we improve the effectiveness of the programme rather than withdrawing from it.

Lord Hylton: My Lords, would it not be a great mistake to pre-judge the effect of the reforms already identified by our commissioner, Mr Christopher Patten, and which I understand he has already begun to implement?

Baroness Amos: My Lords, I can confirm that there has been a commitment to reform of the EC programmes. We are much encouraged by that. However, we want to see more than just a commitment to reform. We want to see the reforms implemented, and we are pushing for that implementation. Both Commissioner Patten and Commissioner Nielson, who are now the two commissioners with responsibility for development assistance, have shown commitment to the reform.

Earl Russell: My Lords, is the Minister aware that the rhetorical panoply now deployed by certain English politicians against increasing co-operation between the countries of Europe was once deployed by English politicians against increasing co-operation between the countries that have come to make up Britain? Will the Minister agree that they were wrong once, and may well be wrong again?

Baroness Amos: My Lords, I have made the Government's position clear. We see our role as being part of the commitment to reforming the European Union programmes. We have published a strategy which makes it very clear what we expect to happen. Some of the reforms are already being taken on board. We want to see much clearer implementation, and an action plan associated with the development policy strategy that has now been developed. Yes, I agree with the noble Lord that it is important that we work with other countries on this matter rather than against them.

Lord Lamont of Lerwick: My Lords, if, as Commissioner Patten has said, EU aid is badly managed, less efficient and not in the interest of those who receive it, can the noble Baroness explain what is

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the leverage that we get through disguising the fact that the aid has come from this country and channelling it through the EU? What is the benefit in that?

Baroness Amos: My Lords, the EU programme, of which 30 per cent of our budget forms part, is extremely large. One of the things that we want to see is greater emphasis on the elimination of poverty, which is the focus of our own development programme set out in the White Paper. If greater resources are channelled through the EU to lower income countries to assist in poverty eradication, as we began to see happening in the recent renegotiations on Lome, for example, clearly that process will be speeded up.

Lord Bruce of Donington: My Lords, does my noble friend agree that the investigations carried out last year into the whole operation of these funds as administered by the Commission showed widespread fraud and irregularity? Does the Minister agree that for British taxpayers, who contribute £2.5 billion net to the Community, it would be far better for the programme to be repatriated so that we can direct the aid where we want it to go?

Baroness Amos: My Lords, I believe that I have already addressed the point. Perhaps I should repeat that member states are now working with the new Commission to stop fraud and strengthen controls. We have been leading that process. We want to ensure that EU funds are spent properly and effectively on development and other programmes. That is the agenda to which the Government have committed themselves, and I believe that it is a good one.

Development Aid: Universal Education

2.44 p.m.

Lord Judd asked Her Majesty's Government:

    By what criteria the proportion of the overseas development aid budget spent on primary and secondary education is decided; and what proportion they expect to assign to them in each of the next five years.

Baroness Amos: My Lords, the Department for International Development does not primarily allocate its resources on a sectoral basis. It is committed to the international development target of achieving universal primary education by 2015 and over the past three years has committed £300 million to support the development of UPE programmes. The DfID will continue to give high priority to universal primary education in its bilateral and multilateral programmes.

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Lord Judd: My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that reply, but does she agree that the prospects for development in much of the world are bleak? While more than 125 million children of primary school age--two-thirds of them girls--are still not in school and there is an adult illiteracy rate of more than 880 million, if we are serious about achieving anything in international co-operation for development, is it not essential that, together with other countries, we turn generalised commitments into specific measurable targets to achieve the goal of universal primary education by 2015?

Baroness Amos: My Lords, I agree with my noble friend's analysis of the number of children not in school, a significant proportion of whom are girls, and the high levels of illiteracy. A recent education conference in Dakar re-committed itself to the target of universal primary education, and UNESCO has been given responsibility for co-ordination and ensuring that that target is met. The Department for International Development has taken a sector-wide approach to the whole area of education in the countries in which it works. In the work that we do in those countries we set ourselves measurable targets and are committed to its achievement. We are sure that with political will that target can be achieved.

Baroness Rawlings: My Lords, the expansion of primary education is one of the key criteria for debt cancellation. As the Social Summit is to meet in six days' time in Geneva, at a time of considerable slippage in the HIPC process, does the Minister accept that to expand primary education is an essential element in pursuing debt cancellation? What proposals does the noble Baroness have to assist the primary and secondary education sectors in those countries which apply for HIPC debt relief? Further, can the Minister tell the House what role the British Council will play in this?

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