Treaty of Lisbon (No. 6) — [6th Allotted Day]
Business of the House (Lisbon Treaty) (No. 5)
Tony Baldry (Banbury, Conservative)
There is no real debate or division in the House about the fact that 27 member states working together on international development will often be much more effective than 27 individual countries pursuing their own policies. Very often, however, the frustration with European development policy is that it has not delivered on its promises. That frustration was well summarised by Clare Short, when she was Secretary of State for International Development. She labelled the European Commission
"the worst development agency in the world",
and went on to say:
"If we could drive forward a really coherent committed development agenda throughout the Commission it could be a fantastically powerful force for good".
Today we are debating the treaty of Lisbon. The contribution by Colin Burgon summarised why we have all been cheated in this debate. We have not had a public referendum or a proper public discussion. This is it: today is it as far as international development in respect of the treaty of Lisbon is concerned. He talked a lot about EPAs, although as far as I am aware they are not particularly mentioned in the treaty. As he acknowledged, he mentioned them because he opposes the whole thrust of EU trade policy. I am not sure whether he has caught on to Tony Blair's third way, but that is a matter for him and the Labour party—it is a problem for the Labour Chief Whip, not for us. We all have our crosses to bear.
The hon. Gentleman's position demonstrates that it would have been much better if we had had a proper national public debate on the treaty. Large numbers of people involved in development-related NGOs would like to have got involved in that. We have heard BOND prayed in aid so often because, I suspect, the Foreign Secretary sought to enlist all those development NGOs as supporters of the treaty and they, not unreasonably, resented that. They wrote and made that clear. ActionAid said that
"it would be premature to conclude that the Treaty is going to deliver the changes needed to improve European development policy".
It went on to say that it has
"reservations on the Treaty's discussion of trade, and particularly on the proposed extension of the Commission's competency to cover services, investment and intellectual property".
Save the Children expressed concerns about the
"omission of the principle of independence in the chapter on humanitarian aid, and the proposal to create a European Voluntary Humanitarian Aid Corps",
and Oxfam said that there were a number of caveats and concerns about the treaty that it and other development NGOs had raised.
Today, we have had no real opportunity to probe those concerns; a single sitting of a Select Committee provides more opportunity to probe people's concerns. This debate is a set-piece bit of theatre, in which many of the contributions, interesting though they have been, have not been about the treaty but about European co-operation and international development as a whole.
I should like to focus on four issues that the Government sought to lobby against and oppose during the negotiations. The first is that the treaty allows EU aid to become subsumed within the EU's external action policy. Significant and important development values could become diluted and taken over by the foreign policy agenda. I was fortunate enough to be a junior Foreign Office Minister when the Overseas Development Administration was part of the Foreign Office. I was Baroness Chalker's spokesman in this House, so I have lived through a time when international development was subsumed within foreign policy. I have to tell the Secretary of State that foreign policy prevailed; it will prevail even more, I suspect, as the European Union moves increasingly towards a common position on foreign policy.
Clearly, the Government were uncomfortable about that and they opposed it in the Lisbon negotiations. However, today we have heard little account of why and why Ministers were satisfied with the outcome. I bet a penny to a pound that in the next few years there will be times when UK Secretaries of State for International Development will be frustrated that international development policy is being subsumed by the external action plan—effectively, the foreign policy—of the European Union.