European Community aid programmes have underperformed badly for many years. They have been poorly focused, with unclear objectives. Unfortunately, the previous Government increased the proportion of British aid going through the European Union from 12 to 30 per cent. and took no action to improve effectiveness. We have, in contrast, worked to get agreement on a radical, poverty focused reform agenda. That is now in place and implementation has begun. We will maintain the pressure for more rapid progress.
I do not believe that anyone has made a more devastating critique than I have. The difference between Conservative and Labour Members—especially myself—is that we are doing something about the problem. The record of the hon. Gentleman's Government was to increase the spend and do nothing about effectiveness. Disgraceful!
In the renegotiation of the Lomé agreement, now the Cotonou agreement, we obtained a commitment to the international development targets which includes the objective of achieving universal primary education. We have been involved with the EC in reforming its delivery mechanisms so that it can put its money behind such objectives. Progress is being made, but much more is needed much faster. However, I am pleased that the EU is moving on its objectives.
I thank the Secretary of State for her response on Myanmar. Is it the case that the United Kingdom is co-operating in and leading the work there? Is France involved in work in Thailand to create employment opportunities to rescue youngsters and others from prostitution?
My ministerial colleagues with responsibility for European Union development work would say that the UK has been leading the pressure and the effort that is put into such work. We published a reform agenda, much of which has been delivered. It is agreed and has to be rolled out across the world. No one should give up on their efforts. The situation is bad and reforming something that is malfunctioning takes time and effort. However, that is moving forward with, of course, the agreement of member states.
On French co-operation in Thailand, I do not know whether they are involved in rescuing young people involved in the sex industry. However, I shall find out and write to the hon. Gentleman.
My right hon. Friend will be aware that 28 April is workers memorial day. This year's theme is the worldwide tragedy caused by the use of asbestos. Will she use her office to press to ensure that EU aid is not used to fund capital projects that use asbestos? Will she also press for the sensible implementation over time of a worldwide ban on asbestos?
I certainly give my hon. Friend that undertaking. I do not know whether the EU has rules about the use of asbestos in capital projects. I hope that it does, but I shall check and we will do all we can to deliver on a worldwide agreement not to use asbestos. I was in Sverdlovsk in Russia fairly recently. It produces asbestos and people there boasted about the large amounts that it could produce. I firmly pointed out the danger of that material. I shall look into the issues that he raises and get back to him.
In the Secretary of State's first year of office, she said that she was taking action on the EU aid budget and that she was
determined to ensure that this is spent more effectively."—[Official Report, 21 May 1997; Vol. 294, c. 91W.]
In her second year of office, she told us that the good thing about something as dreadful as the EU aid budget is that it is quite easy to improve and that things can only get better. However, the report on her third year of office reveals the truth that things have got worse.
The Ruhle report from the European Parliament shows that in 1999, for the first time ever, more than half the EU aid budget went to countries that are not low income or the least developed. Out of the top 10 countries that get EU aid, only one was poor. Instead of making cheap jibes and blaming the Tories, will she have the courage to admit that she has failed to keep her promises on EU aid, or is she just like the rest of her party—all spin and no delivery?
The hon. Lady gets worse, which is sad because one would think that in four years she would have learned something. I can tell her that 1999 was the second year, and anyone working in the field throughout the world who receives EU aid knows that major reform is in place. The situation has started to get better but it is very bad, and rather like her dreadful party it will take a long time to get better.