Treaty of Lisbon (No. 6) — [6th Allotted Day]

Part of Business of the House (Lisbon Treaty) (No. 5) – in the House of Commons at 4:19 pm on 25th February 2008.

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Photo of Andrew Mitchell Andrew Mitchell Shadow Secretary of State (Home Office) 4:19 pm, 25th February 2008

I beg to move, To leave out from 'House' to end and to insert instead thereof:

"disapproves of the Government's policy towards the Treaty of Lisbon in respect of international development because the Treaty does nothing to improve the efficiency of European Union aid, increases the influence of the EU's foreign policy over its humanitarian aid and development assistance, decreases the freedom of member states to react to international crises, diverts resources to a European Voluntary Humanitarian Aid Corps, downgrades the least developed countries, is ambiguous about competence on international development, and overall is a step backwards in the provision of aid to the developing world.".

Today's debate on international development provisions in the treaty is welcome, and I hope that the Secretary of State will join in the consensus—embraced by his predecessor, among others—that we should have more debates on international development in the House. It is a subject of huge interest to our constituents, and it is vital at this time. International development deserves a much higher profile in this place.

I welcome the Liberal spokesman, Mr. Moore, to his new post. One of the most satisfying aspects of international development policy is that it is not a Labour, Conservative or Liberal subject, but a British policy and a British agenda. Perhaps, like me, the hon. Gentleman will see it as his role to try to keep the Secretary of State and his Ministers up to the mark in successfully pursuing our common objectives, which our generation has a real chance of achieving.

We welcome much of what the Secretary of State said today, particularly his comments towards the end of his speech about climate change. We Conservative Members have argued for some time that the issue for Europe is tackling the three great challenges of our age: global poverty, global warming and global competitiveness. Many of the European Union's policies—on trade, migration, sanctions and foreign policy—have profound impacts on international development.

Europe experiences at first hand the impact of poverty. Every year, thousands of young men and women—often bright, hard-working, motivated people, sometimes the cream of Africa—risk their lives seeking to make the perilous crossing from Senegal and Libya to the Canaries, Malta or Italy in search of a better life. They place themselves in the hands of the modern equivalent of the slave trade. Any attempt to deal with the migration challenge that the EU faces must have an international development aspect.

The EU is one of the world's biggest donors. It provides 57 per cent. of the world's official development assistance, which amounted to some €45.3 billion in 2005. About a sixth of that—€7.5 billion—was managed by the European Commission. That aid went to approximately 160 countries, territories or organisations. The Commission has about 3,500 aid and development staff. There is no doubt that the EU is a major player in international development; that is why it is so disappointing that the treaty bypasses many issues that are literally vital to billions of poor people around the world.

The treaty misses the opportunity to support open markets and to significantly rejuvenate the EU's aid programme, which, despite recent improvements, is still underperforming. One of the Secretary of State's distinguished predecessors, Clare Short, whose contribution is greatly underrated, but not by Conservative Members, branded the European Union's aid

"an outrage and a disgrace".

She said that EU aid is

"skewed quite dreadfully against the poorest countries", and that

"You can't keep throwing money and people into an inefficient organisation".

There have been improvements since then, but we should face facts: British aid, on the whole, is much better than that spent through the EU. It is better managed, more focused on tackling poverty, and more decentralised.

Many things need to be done urgently to improve the quality of European Union aid. The treaty of Lisbon touches on some of them. We welcome the legally enshrined emphasis on poverty eradication, but the treaty ignores many issues, which I shall mention later. It is on those key issues that the Government need to focus.