Clause 2 — Addition to list of treaties

Orders of the Day – in the House of Commons at 8:02 pm on 25th February 2008.

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Photo of Mark Francois Mark Francois Shadow Minister (Europe) 8:02 pm, 25th February 2008

I beg to move amendment No. 245, page 1, line 12, after 'excluding', insert—

'(i) any provision that increases the influence of the Common Foreign and Security Policy on international aid;
and

(ii) '.

Photo of Alan Haselhurst Alan Haselhurst Deputy Speaker and Chairman of Ways and Means

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments: No. 246, page 1, line 12, after 'excluding', insert—

'(i) Article 2, paragraph 12, inserted Article 2C TEC (TFEU), paragraph 4 relating to competence on development cooperation and humanitarian aid; and

(ii) '.

No. 268, page 1, line 12, after 'excluding', insert—

'(i) Article 2, paragraph 158, inserted Article 188C TEU paragraph 3, providing for a special committee, in so far as it relates to international development; and

(ii) '.

No. 247, page 1, line 12, after 'excluding', insert—

'(i) in Article 2, paragraph 161(a), amendments to inserted Article 188D TEC (TFEU), the words "Union policy in the field of development cooperation shall be conducted within the framework of the principles and objectives of the Union's external action";

(ii) in Article 2, paragraph 166(a), amendment to inserted Article 188H TEC (TFEU), the words "Such measures shall be consistent with the development policy of the Union and shall be carried out within the framework of the principles and objectives of its external action";

(iii) in Article 2, paragraph 168, inserted Article 188J TEC (TFEU), paragraph 1, the words "The Union's operations in the field of humanitarian aid shall be conducted within the framework of the principles and objectives of the external action of the Union"; and

(iv) '.

No. 272, page 1, line 12, after 'excluding', insert—

'(i) Article 2, paragraph 161(a), replacement paragraphs 1 and 2 of Article 188D TEC (TFEU), on the objectives of European Union development co-operation policy; and

(ii) '.

No. 273, page 1, line 12, after 'excluding', insert—

'(i) Article 2, paragraph 166(a), replacement paragraph 1 or Article 188H, TEC (TFEU), the words "other than developing countries", in relation to economic, financial and technical co-operation with third countries; and

(ii) '.

Photo of Mark Francois Mark Francois Shadow Minister (Europe)

In essence, the amendment seeks to strike out the provisions of the Lisbon treaty that increase the influence of the EU's common foreign and security policy over international aid. In doing so, it would allow the EU's development aid resources to be concentrated solely on the delivery of efficient development aid projects, often to the least developed countries, free from the risk that they could become entwined in the EU's political and non-development-related foreign policy objectives.

How does the Lisbon treaty risk politicising the EU's development aid and entwining it with the EU's wider foreign policy? First, it includes provisions such as those set out in our amendment No. 247 relating to article 188D of the treaty on the European Community—to be renamed the treaty on the functioning of the European Union—which states:

"Union policy in the field of development cooperation shall be conducted within the framework of the principles and objectives of the Union's external action."

Secondly, the treaty will create a Foreign Minister, albeit under another name, who could have ultimate—I stress the word "ultimate"—responsibility for the EU's aid budget. The Foreign Minister will be supported by the External Action Service, or diplomatic service, which it is proposed will incorporate all the EU's external actions, including—importantly in this context—development. The role of the Foreign Minister creates the risk that the substantial resources of the aid budget will be used to carry out EU foreign policy objectives above those of the provision of aid to the least developed countries, which may be less of a priority to the EU if seen solely from a foreign policy point of view.

Thirdly, the institutional changes proposed in the treaty would decrease the number of Commissioners and could thus leave development aid without its own Commissioner on an equal footing to the EU Foreign Minister. That is an important question on which I shall ask the Minister for reassurance later, so I am giving him notice in case he needs to seek inspiration on the matter.

Photo of Mark Francois Mark Francois Shadow Minister (Europe)

None the less, I see that further inspiration is being provided from elsewhere, so presumably when the Minister replies he will be doubly inspired. If he looks behind him he will understand what I mean.

The potentially harmful effects of the creation of the post of EU Foreign Minister have not gone unnoticed by organisations and charities that specialise in development aid. BONDBritish Overseas NGOs for Development—is an umbrella group for UK voluntary organisations working in international development, including Oxfam, the African Relief Fund, Christian Aid, Save the Children and UNICEF UK, and was one of the first to raise concerns. BOND stated:

"Attempts to consolidate the EU's profile on foreign and security policy risk sidelining commitments on development. The proposal to merge the jobs of High Representative and External Relations Commissioner into a High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy may be an opportunity to strengthen the EU external action and strategic vision, but it must not lead to sidelining commitments to development...The proposal that the High Representative, responsible for the implementation of the Common Foreign and security policy, also has at his or her disposal a significant aid budget and staff within an external action service suggests a potential danger of increased politicisation of development cooperation or instrumentalisation of development funds for implementing foreign policy objectives."

In an earlier debate, we have already touched on the role of the EU Foreign Minister in strengthening the EU's role in foreign policy; you will be pleased to hear, Sir Alan, that I do not propose to reprise all those points. However, in relation to this evening's debate, BOND is concerned that the Foreign Minister will have an inherent conflict of interest with development aid, and that needs to be addressed.

Photo of Shailesh Vara Shailesh Vara Shadow Deputy Leader of the House of Commons

Does my hon. Friend agree that if there was conflict of interest over limited resources, in the absence of a specific champion for development funds, the Foreign Minister would be under enormous pressure from those competing interests, whereas a specific champion for development aid would have his own brief and would fight much harder?

Photo of Mark Francois Mark Francois Shadow Minister (Europe)

My hon. Friend, as is his wont, makes an apposite point. In the British Cabinet, there is a Secretary of State for International Development and a Foreign Secretary, but in a slimmed-down Commission it looks as though there will be a Foreign Minister—by another name—but probably not a Commissioner for development. However, perhaps when the Minister replies he can reassure us that there will still be two posts. We certainly want to hear the Government's view and their answer to the question that my hon. Friend was entirely right to raise.

BOND also pointed out that as well as the possibility that the EU's development budget could be put under that of the Foreign Minister, there is the possibility that development aid could be left without its own Commissioner. As we know, the Lisbon treaty will reduce the number of Commissioners from 27 to 18, but like much of the treaty the details of which portfolios will be in the charge of the remaining Commissioners will be known only after the treaty is ratified—a point raised earlier by my hon. Friend Mr. Mitchell, the shadow Secretary of State. A leaked document from the EU Slovenian presidency also made that point clear, so I shall press the Minister on whether he can guarantee that EU development aid will have its own Commissioner, in the Commission, after Lisbon is ratified. A yes or no will do.

In the absence of such reassurance on that point, BOND has said:

"What is at stake is the future political space for development within a new institutional structure...This would not only blur the division of powers between the institutions but it would also allow development policy to be at the disposal of the High Representative."

The Lisbon treaty could therefore have a damaging effect on international aid. In practice, it could lead to the further concentration of EU aid on the EU's near neighbours and political priorities. Already, three of the top five recipients of the Commission's aid are middle-income countries—Serbia-Montenegro, Turkey and Morocco—that lie within the EU's immediate neighbourhood. Countries with the lowest incomes are notable by their absence, with only the Congo and Afghanistan making the top five. The Committee will realise that there are special reasons in the case of Afghanistan. With the Lisbon treaty, we can expect the EU's political aims to be further prioritised over those of the least developed countries. That may have led to the words "developing countries" specifically being omitted from the treaty's objectives for financial and technical co-operation, a deficit that we would remedy with amendment No. 273.

A lot of competing quotations from BOND were cited during the previous debate. The Government prayed it in aid, and Conservative Members rightly pointed out some of its concerns. Let me put on record something that BOND said on the treaty as a whole:

"BOND and its member organisations do not have a position on whether or not the EU reform treaty is adopted, or whether or not there should be a referendum."

On Second Reading, the Foreign Secretary was keen to give the House the impression—I choose my words carefully—that there was considerable support for the treaty among the NGO community in this field. Bearing in mind that BOND represents a collection of important NGOs, I think that the Foreign Secretary over-egged his case, to put it mildly. That is why it was important that I had the opportunity, which I have been pleased to take, to read that point into the record.

I shall conclude my remarks so that other hon. Members may speak. Amendment No. 245 is designed to remedy one of the treaty's major defects on international aid. It would make the EU's aid budget independent from its foreign policy and allow it to be used to the best advantage of the least developed countries in particular. Specifically, it would take responsibility for EU development aid away from the EU Foreign Minister and remove the risk of the EU's aid budget being diverted to the furtherance of the EU's foreign policy. Amendment No. 273 would allow financial and technical co-operation to be targeted to developing countries.

Given the dangers that I have outlined, I ask the Minister to give the Committee two specific assurances. First, if Lisbon is ratified, will the EU have its own development commissioner, independent of the Foreign Minister—yes or no? Secondly, if Lisbon is ratified, will development officials working in the External Action Service be responsible to that development Commissioner, if we have one? If we do not, will they report directly to the EU Foreign Minister? I hope that the Minister will attempt to answer those two clear questions, not least because we must consider whether to press the amendment to a Division.

Photo of Michael Moore Michael Moore Shadow Secretary of State for International Development

It will not be a surprise to Mr. Francois that there will never be common ground between us on the high representative and the development of the common foreign and security policy. I am sure that the authors of the BOND paper will be delighted by the slightly higgledy-piggledy manner in which every bit of it seems to have been quoted this afternoon. In the previous debate, I used one of the quotations that the hon. Gentleman cited, so I do not think that it is a killer quotation in favour of his broader point.

I say to the hon. Gentleman that one big thing that we press for all the time is greater co-ordination—within the United Kingdom, in the European Union and in other multilateral institutions. We want better co-ordination among political foreign policy objectives, development issues and, where relevant, defence matters. As Ann McKechin said, the lines between some of those matters are necessarily blurred on occasion. I wonder whether we should be a bit more pragmatic in our approach to the high representative and the other aspects of the new CFSP arrangements, notwithstanding my having asked in the previous debate for some reassurances on the high representative having administrative staff dedicated to this area. We have the prospect of a proper focus on poverty alleviation at the heart of the treaty, which is a pretty good guarantee that it will remain the major focus of development assistance and a vast improvement on what we had before.

Finally, will the hon. Gentleman consider the example of Kosovo, because I am not sure where he would put that on the great spectrum of development, foreign policy and defence-type issues? Although it is clear that a proportion of its population has to endure extreme poverty, Kosovo would not usually meet the benchmarks for most recognised assessments of extreme poverty. However, in the context of the past couple of weeks, surely we have an ongoing responsibility to Kosovo. The new set of arrangements will allow us to meet that, but a much more clear-cut separation regarding development would not.

Photo of James Clappison James Clappison Shadow Spokesperson (Work and Pensions) 8:15 pm, 25th February 2008

I support amendment No. 245, which strikes at the heart of a long-standing problem in the EU: funds being diverted away from aid, especially aid for the least developed and poorest countries, towards achieving foreign policy objectives involving countries that might be poor by our standards, but not compared with the poorest countries in the world.

Photo of Peter Bone Peter Bone Conservative, Wellingborough

Is not my hon. Friend's argument that aid is given to certain causes for political aims? Mr. Moore, too, raised that point. Such causes might be very good, but that process can take aid away from the least developed countries.

Photo of James Clappison James Clappison Shadow Spokesperson (Work and Pensions)

That is exactly the problem that amendment No. 245 confronts. Are we talking about aid given purely on the basis of development criteria—how poor a country is, its position with regard to human development and various measures of relative poverty—or aid given as part of a wider objective relating to political and strategic considerations? The amendment is very apt in that context. Having heard the fears of my hon. Friend Mr. Francois about the impact of the new high representative, the European External Action Service and the reinforced European common foreign and security policy, I think that they might come together to make the existing situation worse.

In saying that, I do not draw a veil over the existing problems of EU aid policy, which are long-standing and widely recognised. European Union development co-operation and aid have stretched back as far as the EU itself, certainly throughout the 25-year history of the Lomé convention. The EU has provided a significant proportion of world aid throughout its history. However, has the money that has been spent by European Union institutions—as opposed to money from individual states—been well used? There is often a sense that the European Union's relatively wealthy nations are trying to compensate developing nations for the effects that EU policies have had on them.

An academic study by Karin Arts and Anna Dickson concluded that over the long term, the European Union's policy on development has fallen short, saying that

"the sum effect is the creation of an ineffective, and perhaps symbolic, development policy. That is to say, ineffective in the realm of producing, encouraging or facilitating development, although effective in creating the image of an actor engaged with the world's poor."

That is absolutely relevant to my hon. Friend's amendment. Are we going to have an EU policy in which the EU is an actor going through the motions with other objectives in mind, or an EU aid policy that delivers aid to the poorest people?

Various views were attributed to Clare Short during our earlier debate. She put it succinctly when she said that the European Commission was

"the worst development agency in the world".

Her successor, Hilary Benn, to whom hon. Members have rightly paid tribute for his sincere convictions on this subject, put it in his own way. On the subject of European development aid, he told the Select Committee on Science and Technology:

"as I think everybody knows, it has not been terribly effective in the past."

Coming from the right hon. Gentleman, and knowing the terms that he tends to use, that is even more damning than the conclusion of the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood.

Time and again, reform has been promised. We were promised it in the treaty, and we have to see that reform against the criterion in my hon. Friend's amendment. We have heard time and again—I think that I heard shades of it in the speech made by the Under-Secretary of State for International Development, Mr. Thomas, when he summed up on behalf of the Government—the classic bureaucrat's defence: "Things have not been as they should, but we are putting them right."

The Select Committee on International Development put its finger on some of the long-standing problems in European Union policy when it reviewed the effectiveness of the promised reforms in 2002. It said:

"We remain concerned by the lack of transparency as to which funds are intended for poverty reduction, the continuing division of responsibilities between DG Development and DG External Relations, and the questionable ability of the Commission to staff its Delegations adequately and appropriately."

To be fair to those involved in the European Union's aid effort, lack of transparency and ineffective bureaucracy are hardly unique characteristics of the European Union, but they are important when we debate whether more and more policy making in aid will fall within the remit of central European institutions rather than that of individual member states.

In 2003, the International Development Committee said that it was waiting to see whether European Union reforms would result in a greater focus on poverty reduction, but it has been and remains the case that too little of the EU's international development effort is devoted to the poorest countries in the world. For the purposes of the amendment, we need to ask whether so much EU aid will continue to go to countries in eastern and central Europe and the Mediterranean region—countries that may be less developed than we and other western European nations are, but hardly count among the poorest in the world.

Far too little EU aid goes to the least developed countries, particularly those in sub-Saharan Africa. That is the situation that we confront now, and we must see the amendments in that context. If my hon. Friend the hon. Member for Rayleigh is right in his analysis of the impact of the high representative, the EU's new foreign policy-making institutions and its new drift towards integrated EU supranational control over foreign policy, the situation could get even worse—but my goodness me, we have grounds enough for concern already.

Less than half the European Union's aid goes to the least developed countries and low-income countries. Less than 40 per cent. of aid goes to sub-Saharan Africa. I heard the comments of the Under-Secretary of State for International Development about how matters had improved since 2002, but since 2003, the proportion of EU aid going to sub-Saharan Africa has fallen. I quote figures very helpfully supplied to me by the House of Commons Library, which tells me that the amount of EU aid going to sub-Saharan Africa as a proportion of the EU's overall budget has fallen from 38.9 per cent. in 2003 to 35.6 per cent. today. This debate is taking place against the background of a falling proportion of EU aid to sub-Saharan Africa.

When one considers the amount of aid being given to individual countries, the situation is even starker. In support of his amendments, my hon. Friend the Member for Rayleigh rightly highlighted the case of Mediterranean and eastern European countries; I think that he mentioned Turkey, Morocco and Serbia in his list of the top 10 recipients of EU aid. In fact, according to the note helpfully supplied to me by the Library, those countries are the top three. Turkey receives the most aid, Morocco the next most and Serbia the third most.

In terms of aid received per capita, the situation is starker still. According to the Library's calculations, Serbia receives about 60 times more aid per capita than Bangladesh, and a total of three times more in overall aid budget. I may be wrong, but I imagine that when those figures on the distribution of EU aid were produced, Kosovo was counted as part of Serbia. We can therefore read them in the context of European Union policy towards Kosovo and Serbia. That might be worthy on its own account. It might be intended to achieve just results, self-determination and a peaceful solution to the long-standing problems in the Balkans; there might be other issues as well. It is a complicated part of the world, and I do not propose to go into detail during this debate about all the merits of those issues, but the point of the amendment is undoubtedly that aid is a focal point for EU foreign and security policy. It appears from the statistics that the aid disbursed by the European Union is driven by the EU's common foreign and security policy objectives. It certainly cannot be driven by the relative poverty of Serbia or Kosovo, for instance, when compared with the very poorest countries, including Bangladesh.

Photo of Hugh Bayley Hugh Bayley NATO Parliamentary Assembly UK Delegation

The International Development Committee has conducted a number of inquiries into European Union aid. It appears to me that the hon. Gentleman is talking about the European Commission aid programme, which is highly skewed towards the near abroad—the Mediterranean countries, Turkey, Morocco, Egypt and so on—because that is its purpose. Aid to sub-Saharan Africa comes largely from the European development fund, and 90 per cent. of that fund's aid goes to the least developed countries. He is talking accurately about EC aid, but that is only part of the European Union's total aid package.

Photo of James Clappison James Clappison Shadow Spokesperson (Work and Pensions)

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. He makes a further point in support of my own, as the European Union's skewed aid policy is disguised within the subdivision of budgets. It is nevertheless money being spent, and it is counted as European Union aid. It may be divided up into different budgets, but as far as taxpayers and people interested in aid in this country are concerned, a very large sum of EU aid is being spent in countries that are relatively less poor, and a much greater amount is being spent in countries such as Serbia, Morocco and Lebanon. The European Union has political and security concerns about those countries, but they are not among the poorest nations in the world. The Department for International Development has set a target for 90 per cent. of its bilateral aid to go to the poorest countries—but the same imperative does not seem to govern European Union aid. Will the Minister for Europe give his estimate of how much of what the Government regard to be aid from EU institutions goes to low-income countries?

The expert analysis given by my hon. Friend Tony Baldry in the earlier debate on the motion about the Lisbon treaty was hardly comforting for the Government on that point. My hon. Friend spoke from his own particular perspective, but he said that he did not regard the treaty as a great step forward. He said that we were talking about a total non-debate that added to the democratic deficit. We have often heard it said that the European Union has comparative advantages because of its size and other factors, but the evidence of the lack of poverty focus, ineffective bureaucracy, lack of transparency, slow delivery and possible fraud seems to suggest that it does not perform as well as others in the field, such as nation states. To all those problems may now be added that caused by the role played by the European Union's reinforced common foreign and security policy. The issues that my hon. Friend raised were important.

The situation is dominated by long-standing problems that have riddled the European Union's whole aid history. We need to be extremely careful that we do not make an unsatisfactory situation worse by handing over more influence and authority to the centralised European Union foreign policy institutions that the treaty introduces; my hon. Friend the Member for Rayleigh was right to mention those issues. I do not draw the reassurance that I would like from the Government's position on the issue, although I heard what the Under-Secretary of State for International Development, the hon. Member for Harrow, West, said.

Photo of Peter Bone Peter Bone Conservative, Wellingborough 8:30 pm, 25th February 2008

I am following carefully my hon. Friend's powerful speech. Is it not one of the problems with the new high representative—or Foreign Secretary—that if the European Union decides collectively on a particular foreign policy objective, its implementation is down to the high representative? He could mess around with the aid budget at will to achieve that objective.

Photo of James Clappison James Clappison Shadow Spokesperson (Work and Pensions)

My hon. Friend makes a germane point, which is relevant to the amendment. It does not matter what we call the high representative; everybody else in the world is calling him a Foreign Minister, but he was originally described as the European Union's foreign policy Minister. That has been changed to high representative. The fact remains that the post is a new institution, and the holder has been charged with the implementation and delivery of European Union policy, according to strategy and guidelines issued by the European Council. How he implements that strategy is a matter for him and for Foreign Ministers in the Council of the European Union. He has the right to bring initiatives before the Council. The Council then decides on the initiatives, often through qualified majority voting.

The point is that we are dealing with an individual who has been charged by the European Union with getting results in the field of foreign policy, and the levers of power have been put in his hands. The high representative is not only a member of the Commission, but chairs the Council of Ministers. He has all the levers of power for implementing European Union policy in his hands. There is therefore a risk that he will get his hands on the lever of European Union aid policy, as my hon. Friend the Member for Rayleigh said, and that it will become part of the European Union's overall foreign policy, as opposed to being compartmentalised as development policy, under which development money would be spent according to strict development aid criteria such as relative poverty. I have heard the Government's defence on that point, which relates to the insertion of the poverty criteria in the treaty, but their defence does not seem to be much more qualified than that. It does not strike me that that is something that the Government have been keen to trumpet in the past.

Shortly after an initial meeting in June to set out the framework for the intergovernmental conference mandate at the European Council meeting, the Government issued a document called "The Reform Treaty: The British Approach to the European Intergovernmental Conference, July 2007". It set out the Government's position after the European Council, and the decisions taken there by the previous Prime Minister. The document was to set the scene for the intergovernmental conference that came later in the year in Lisbon. It goes into detail about the Government's position. It gives a detailed analysis of what the Government regard as being the principal changes made to the treaty—the innovations and the Government's policy towards them. There is barely any mention in the document of development aid policy. When the Minister for Europe winds up, I challenge him to tell me what important announcements are made in the document about European Union development aid policy and our Government's policy towards it.

What the Government said about the change in the treaty is very thin indeed. There is mention of poverty, but not poverty in any particular country or the most disadvantaged countries. No refinement or clearer targeting is given. The fear in my mind is that the substantial EU aid funding, which comes in part from taxpayers in this country, will be spent according to wider objectives and not strictly according to development aid criteria. That is a fear for all of us who are concerned about development and aid.

Our wish is for aid to go to the poorest countries in the world, without being diverted because of other issues and priorities. It should go to the very poorest people in the world to give them the chance of a better future—to countries such as Bangladesh, to sub-Saharan African countries, to countries that are ravaged by AIDS and have terrible problems. Those are places where it can really contribute to development and to lifting people out of the direst poverty. We do not want it to go towards alleviating poverty in countries that might be poor by our standards but that are in a much better position than the poorest countries in the world. My hon. Friend's amendment hits the nail on the head: there is some risk of desperately needed aid funds being diverted away from the people who need them most.

Photo of Rob Marris Rob Marris PPS (Rt Hon Shaun Woodward, Secretary of State), Northern Ireland Office

I shall refer to the consolidated texts of the EU treaties as amended by the treaty of Lisbon, because I always think that it is useful to know what the wording would be if the European Union reform treaty—the Lisbon treaty—were agreed by the 27 member states, unamended. I start with article 3 of the treaty on the function of the European Union, which is on page 38 of the consolidated texts. Article 3, paragraph 1 is about common fisheries policy, the customs union and so on, but I would like to make a point about competence, which is mentioned in paragraph 2, although I stand to be corrected by Mr. Francois. Paragraph 2 says:

"The Union shall also have exclusive competence for the conclusion of an international agreement when its conclusion is provided for in a legislative act of the Union or is necessary to enable the Union to exercise its internal competence, or insofar as its conclusion may affect common rules or alter their scope."

My reading of the provision—the hon. Member for Rayleigh, who moved the amendment, may read it differently and, if so, I would very much like him to point it out to me—is that taken in totality, article 3, particularly paragraph 2, does not lead to exclusive competence for the EU in international development matters. That is my starting point. If I have misunderstood the provision, I am sure that the hon. Gentleman, in his usual helpful way, will correct me. If I am right, however, that somewhat detracts from his arguments about competence.

Amendment No. 268, which deals with the special committee, refers to article 207 on page 133 of the treaty on the functioning of the European Union. I do not wish to read out the whole article, so I shall simplify it for the Committee. It provides for a special committee to be set up that, in consultation with the Commission—the special committee having been appointed by the Council to assist the Commission—can start negotiations and so on. The free-standing special committee cannot go off on a frolic of its own, as it is set up by the Commission and is responsible to it. Understandable concerns have been expressed about whether the high representative of the Union for foreign affairs and security policy would hijack the international aid agenda, but that matter is dealt with in paragraph 3 of article 218, which appears on page 139 of the consolidated text. I will not read out the whole thing—just what I think is relevant. If Members think that I am quoting selectively, doubtless they will let me know.

Photo of Mark Francois Mark Francois Shadow Minister (Europe)

The hon. Gentleman and I are both minor veterans of Finance Bill Committees. I think that we have served on three.

Photo of Mark Francois Mark Francois Shadow Minister (Europe)

I have served on three such Committees. Perish the thought that anyone in the House should accuse the hon. Gentleman of selective quoting.

Photo of Rob Marris Rob Marris PPS (Rt Hon Shaun Woodward, Secretary of State), Northern Ireland Office

That exemplifies the hon. Gentleman's generosity, because I was accused of selective quoting in the last EU debate—I cannot remember whether it was in the debate on the amendments or in the thematic debate—and, in a sense, that accusation was correct, because I did not read out a sub-clause that concluded the sentence. When I did so, it threw up a series of questions, which have been raised by Mr. Clappison, about the commonalty of foreign policy and so on.

Photo of Mark Francois Mark Francois Shadow Minister (Europe)

For the avoidance of doubt, the Government have been guilty of selective quoting throughout the entire process. I do not want anyone to think that I have let them off the hook, but I am simply saying that when we debated the Finance Bill, by and large, the hon. Gentleman played a straight bat.

Photo of Rob Marris Rob Marris PPS (Rt Hon Shaun Woodward, Secretary of State), Northern Ireland Office

I repeat my appreciation of the hon. Gentleman's generosity. I certainly do not answer directly for the Government, as the hon. Gentleman and the House know.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, I turn to article 218 on page 139.

Photo of Peter Bone Peter Bone Conservative, Wellingborough

I do not know whether this is the problem with the European Union, or whether it is just a slip-up, but article 218 appears on page 141 of my copy of the consolidated text, although it appears on page 139 of the hon. Gentleman's copy. Is it not typical of the EU that it cannot even get the page numbers right?

Photo of Rob Marris Rob Marris PPS (Rt Hon Shaun Woodward, Secretary of State), Northern Ireland Office

I am using the Stationery Office publication, which I obtained from the Vote Office. The hon. Gentleman may have obtained a different copy from the Vote Office, but the copy I am using is the same as the one that has been placed on the Table in the Chamber.

Photo of Peter Bone Peter Bone Conservative, Wellingborough

I do not know whether this is an unusual procedure, because I have just taken my copy from the Table, so do the Government have a different version from us?

Photo of Rob Marris Rob Marris PPS (Rt Hon Shaun Woodward, Secretary of State), Northern Ireland Office

I do not wish to prolong this exchange. As I said, I am not answerable for the Government. It is clear which version I am using. I would like to think that when I refer to article 218 of the treaty on the functioning of the EU, hon. Members can find it, whatever version they use. To put paragraph 3 of article 218 into context, it deals with the question of whether the high representative would hijack foreign aid, as hon. Members may recall. Now that we are focused on the issue, I shall, at last, quote the paragraph:

"The Commission, or the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy where the agreement envisaged relates exclusively or principally to the common foreign and security policy, shall submit recommendations to the Council" and so on. That clearly suggests that the hijacking or giving of exclusive power or authority to the high representative of the Union for foreign affairs and security policy does not include the concept that the high representative would abrogate the power to determine the EU's policy for its aid budgets, let alone member states' aid budgets. It refers to circumstances

"where the agreement envisaged relates exclusively or principally to the common foreign and security policy".

That suggests that the Commission would, in instances in which the agreement envisaged does not relate exclusively or principally to the common foreign and security policy, submit its own recommendations to the Council. So there is a division there. Most hon. Members would not expect foreign aid to come under common foreign and security policy, although I understand that there is a fear about it being so subsumed.

I turn next to article 21 of the treaty on the European Union, which in my version of the consolidated texts from the Vote Office is on page 18. The final paragraph, which is the second part of paragraph 3, states:

"The Union shall ensure consistency between the different areas of its external action and between these and its other policies. The Council and the Commission, assisted by the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, shall ensure that consistency and shall cooperate to that effect."

The word on which I would place emphasis for the purpose of the debate on the amendments is "consistency", which is the fifth word of that paragraph and occurs again towards the end of the paragraph.

I know that there can be problems of translation of European Union documents, depending on which language they were originally written in. Sometimes they are stitched together from different delegations and different sherpas, as I believe they are called. However, the word in that paragraph is "consistency", not "coterminosity". The amendments, as I read and understand them, imply that in that part of the consolidated texts where the word "consistency" is used, "coterminosity" is meant. I do not read the texts in that way.

Photo of Bob Spink Bob Spink Conservative, Castle Point

In applying the argument that the EU seeks consistency between its various policies, is not the hon. Gentleman exposing the problem with this part of the Lisbon treaty? The EU has a policy of illiberal protectionism, road-blocking the Doha round of trade talks, not reforming the CAP and pursuing biofuels that will starve the poorest parts of the world. Consistency with those policies is just what is damaging international development and holding back the developing world.

Photo of Rob Marris Rob Marris PPS (Rt Hon Shaun Woodward, Secretary of State), Northern Ireland Office 8:45 pm, 25th February 2008

Taken in totality, without rehearsing the debates that we have had in the House, the European Union reform treaty takes the European Union a step further away from the protectionism that the hon. Gentleman fears may exist. I have those fears, but I think the treaty is a step in the right direction away from such protectionism. As I have said previously in our debates, the treaty as a whole is a two-way street. There are things that we can learn from the other member states, and there are certainly things that they can learn from us.

In respect of international aid and in many other fields, the treaty is a step forward in terms of leverage because, in certain areas where we agree with the other member states, it has a multiplier effect on the influence of the United Kingdom as a small country with a proud history and one that is still a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council. The treaty magnifies our influence, which has certainly declined from the 1900s, for good reasons, with the disappearance of the empire. Whether on international aid or other matters, within the European Union we have quite a measure of independence. The debates today on international development show that.

International development is not the exclusive competence of the EU and should not be. Where we can work with the other 26 member states to produce a greater effect in the world than we could by acting bilaterally, that is a positive for the countries that we are trying to assist and for the influence that the United Kingdom wishes to wield and continues to wield in the world.

Photo of Peter Bone Peter Bone Conservative, Wellingborough

I am grateful to be following the speech of Rob Marris, whose legal mind made powerful points—although the copies of the text do not always seem to be the same.

I was excited at this, day No. 6 of the Committee of the Whole House on the European Union (Amendment) Bill. I thought that, for the first time, there would be something to encourage me to support the treaty. The Government have led on the criticism of the failure of the European Union to deliver aid to the least developed countries in the world. They have been highly critical of the failure in the Doha round.

In my view, the greatest failure of the European Union has been the damage that it has done to developing countries—it has been criminal how it has blocked access to markets that would relieve poverty across the world. It seems strange that the Lisbon treaty will not improve the development aid situation, but make it worse. It seems incredible that instead of strengthening the role of development aid within the EU, we are going to make it a subsection of foreign policy. The high representative will run around trying to build empires and influence people, and will undoubtedly use the aid budget to implement foreign policy.

Amendment No. 245 seems a mild one that would improve the treaty; I do not think anyone on the Government side could argue against it. All it basically says is that the aid budget should remain unaffected by the high commissioner or high representative—given what many people think of the post, we could call him the effective Foreign Secretary.

Photo of Bob Spink Bob Spink Conservative, Castle Point

My hon. Friend just mentioned the Government side. Is he aware that in a recent review on the effectiveness of the EU, the Department for International Development itself said:

"The UK would like to see a greater focus on low income countries for spending from the EC Budget."

My hon. Friend may not be aware that I was a member of the Labour-chaired Science and Technology Committee, whose 13th report of Session 2003-04, on the use of science in UK international development policy, states in conclusion 11:

"It is not acceptable that 25 per cent. of DFID's funds have been potentially allocated to development programmes that are widely perceived to have been of dubious effectiveness...DFID's past failure to monitor its multilateral"—

The Chairman:

Order. The intervention is far too long. By including a great chunk of quotation, the hon. Gentleman has taken an intervention beyond its procedural purpose in the House.

Photo of Peter Bone Peter Bone Conservative, Wellingborough

My hon. Friend's intervention explains our dilemma. I do not blame the Government or Ministers, because I know that they are absolutely furious about how the European Union behaves on aid. The Government clearly do not have any influence in Europe; if they really were at the heart of Europe and if the European Union really did improve aid, the least developed countries would not complain. It seems to me that a protectionist ring is built around the European Union, which does not care much about people who live a long way from European borders. We spend £10 billion a year of taxpayers' money on the European Union. I am sure that if we directly gave away a small proportion of that, it would be more useful and effective and create a better living for people.

I turn back to amendment No. 245. I have not heard any Government Member say that it is a horrible wrecking device designed to destroy the Lisbon treaty, as they normally do. They have been very quiet. The amendment is so mild that I assume that, when the time comes, the Government will see the wisdom of their ways and accept it. Notes have been whizzing back and forwards and Members have obviously touched on things of which the Government were not aware.

This is an opportunity for the Government to accept a very mild amendment—the sort of thing that would be seen to improve the Bill if we were having a proper Committee debate that was going straight through, with none of this four-hour nonsense beforehand. I think it was the Lord Chancellor who said that he has never seen a Bill that has gone through Committee and has not come out much improved. The Government seem to be saying, "We are against any reasonable amendment because you're trying to wreck the Bill." There is something seriously wrong with our Government if they do not want to take on board reasoned arguments on how to improve things to help the less developed countries. If all they are concerned about is getting this through so that they win Brownie points with our European Union colleagues, that is an absolute disgrace.

I had the pleasure, until I was thrown off, of serving on the Trade and Industry Committee

Photo of Peter Bone Peter Bone Conservative, Wellingborough

I am sorry; I did walk out earlier on. I was very cross. I have lain down in a darkened room, and I am back here feeling a lot better, thank you.

The Committee was looking into relations with India and talking about the Doha round and the complete blocking by the European Union, which would not allow market access in order to protect French farmers. As a result, people in Bangladesh and other parts of the world were losing out. I said to a very senior business man from India, "What is the best thing that could be done to improve trade and relieve poverty in the sub-continent?" He said straight away, with no hesitation or prompting, "The best thing would be to pull out of the European Union." That is the problem. Most people outside the EU think that the development aid budget has been a complete failure and believe that the Government's influence at the heart of Europe is absolutely zilch. I do not see how this Bill will improve the situation; in fact, it will make it worse.

Photo of Rob Marris Rob Marris PPS (Rt Hon Shaun Woodward, Secretary of State), Northern Ireland Office

Let me gently point out two things to the hon. Gentleman. First, I was on that Select Committee with him, and the obstacle was certainly not the European Union alone, if at all—it was also to do with a two-way street and restricted market access to India. Secondly, it might help if he read the Lisbon treaty, if he has not already done so, because the consolidated treaties document to which he referred earlier is dated November 2006 and was published 13 months before the EU reform treaty was signed.

Photo of Peter Bone Peter Bone Conservative, Wellingborough

I was aware of the hon. Gentleman's second point.

The serious issue that we should confront as politicians is that there is real poverty in the world. The European Union was supposed to help to end that by getting together and moving forward, but we have not done so. I know that the Government are upset about that, but I cannot see anything in the Bill that improves it. We have a very poor situation that will be made worse by potentially moving control of the budget to a high representative. The hon. Gentleman said that there are all these legal reasons why it should not happen, but the trouble is that in reality, slice by slice, the European Union has always built empires.

Photo of James Clappison James Clappison Shadow Spokesperson (Work and Pensions)

Given that, beyond peradventure, the common foreign and security provisions are creating a situation whereby more and more people will look to Europe for foreign policy and more foreign policy will come from Europe, does my hon. Friend fear that development policy will follow in train of that?

Photo of Peter Bone Peter Bone Conservative, Wellingborough

I am grateful for that intervention.

This is not happening by design or because Government Members do not believe that what they are saying is correct, but history shows that whenever one gives more to the European Union it takes more, slice by slice, and develops empires, and the high representative will want to develop his or her role. By moving the aid budget towards foreign policy aims, it seems to me that that is exactly what will happen. I urge the Government to accept this very mild Opposition amendment to improve the Bill.

Photo of Hugh Bayley Hugh Bayley NATO Parliamentary Assembly UK Delegation 9:00 pm, 25th February 2008

It is a special irony to hear so many Conservative Members getting to their feet to express the view that development policy might be somehow hijacked if it came under the control of the foreign affairs wing of the European Union. I recall the time more than 10 years ago when their party were in government and Mr. Clappison was a Minister. At that time, the Overseas Development Administration, the British development wing, was part of the Foreign Office and it required a Labour Government to separate it in order to give development policy the independence that Conservative Members are now so staunchly defending.

In anticipation that Mr. Francois will get to his feet again when he has heard the Minister's response to his questions on behalf of BOND and other lobbyists, may I ask him whether his party, if it were ever to form a Government again, would commit to the retention of an international development Department separate from the Foreign Office? He has argued that it is a failing of the treaty that the European Union will subsume development policy within its common foreign and security policy. Will he give a commitment that his party would not do the same in the UK, were it to form a Government?

It is also a great irony to hear Conservative Members complain that one of the EU's policy failures is that it spends relatively little aid in the least developed countries. In the debate earlier this evening, I cited figures that showed that during the last Parliament when a Conservative Government were in power, not only did the proportion of our national wealth given in aid contributions fall, but the proportion of British aid given to the least developed countries fell sharply. The Conservatives have changed their policy, and I warmly welcome that. We should be particularly pleased that after 10 years of a Labour Government, the Conservative party has seen that it made mistakes in the past, and is arguing that such mistakes should not be repeated by the EU. I hope that it will apply the same strictures to the Government.

I hope that the hon. Member for Rayleigh will respond to a second point. His amendment is grouped with amendment No. 272, proposed by Mr. Heathcoat-Amory, who I believe could still—

The Chairman:

Order. The hon. Gentleman has been here long enough to get the nomenclature right. We do not refer to colleagues by their name.

Photo of Hugh Bayley Hugh Bayley NATO Parliamentary Assembly UK Delegation

Proposed by the hon. Member—[Hon. Members: "Right honourable"]—Mr. Heathcoat-Amory. I do apologise, Mr. Haselhurst.

Photo of Hugh Bayley Hugh Bayley NATO Parliamentary Assembly UK Delegation

I am really getting in trouble now. Sir Alan, I thank you—

The Chairman:

Order. Does the hon. Gentleman want to take time out to think about this?

Photo of Hugh Bayley Hugh Bayley NATO Parliamentary Assembly UK Delegation

Sir Alan, I do not. I want to make progress on this point, and to do so quickly.

The lead amendment is grouped with amendment No. 272. I suppose it is possible that the right hon. Member for Wells could formally propose the amendment. As I understand it, that amendment would exclude article 161 (a) from the treaty, which specifies:

"Union development cooperation policy shall have as its primary objective the reduction and, in the long term, the eradication of poverty. The Union shall take account of the objectives of development cooperation in the policies that it implements which are likely to affect developing countries."

That part of the treaty requires European Union development policy to have poverty focus as its primary objective. Members of all parties have said that that provision is extremely important, and have welcomed it. That is also the part of the treaty that requires the EU to co-ordinate policies run by other parts of the Union, such as its trade policy or agriculture policy, and to make them coherent with the development policy. Again, I have heard Conservative Members, as well as Members from other parties, support that provision warmly tonight.

If amendment No. 272 is moved tonight, will the hon. Member for Rayleigh and Members of his party support the deletion from the treaty of the poverty alleviation commitment and the policy coherence commitment? Having heard the speeches this evening, I should have thought that that was at least the one part of the treaty on which there was good cross-party consensus: policy coherence ought to happen, and the EU ought to pursue such policies. The EU would certainly be more likely to pursue those policies if they were in the treaty.

Photo of Shailesh Vara Shailesh Vara Shadow Deputy Leader of the House of Commons

I support the amendments tabled by my hon. Friend Mr. Francois. I am particularly concerned about the prospect of the development budget being under the control of the European high commissioner, rather than under the control of a separate commissioner who deals with development. That proposal relegates the importance of development. Without a separate individual with authority at the EU negotiating table who speaks up on development, poverty and aid, the importance of that area of responsibility will be diminished.

Development is, as we all acknowledge, vital. We also all understand that we are dealing with limited resources. It is all very well to have comforting words from the Minister, and I do not doubt their sincerity, but I doubt the implementation of the mechanism to deliver the good deeds from the good words that have been articulated about achieving the alleviation of poverty throughout the world.

I was particularly struck by the memorable speech made by my hon. Friend Mr. Clappison. He eloquently pointed out the fact that the most deserving countries are receiving less funding from the European Union. It was particularly noteworthy that he and my hon. Friend Mr. Bone commented on the fact that if the high commissioner were in charge of development aid as well as foreign policy and security, there is a strong possibility that decisions to do with aid would follow the principles governing foreign and security decisions.

By way of illustration, let me give a contemporary example. We have the declaration of independence in Kosovo, and 22 European countries have accepted that independence. Five have not. Incidentally, such a divergence of opinion is what I presume the Lisbon treaty will call "common foreign policy", although I fail to see what is common about having a dispute of that nature. The point is that our so-called foreign policy is uncertain.

If there is uncertainty about foreign policy, that will clearly lead to uncertainty about the consequent aid policy. We are talking about poverty, about people starving and about getting money to those people as soon as possible. When people do not know where their next meal is coming from, they do not have time to wait for the resolution of a common foreign policy on which the aid policy depends.

Photo of Peter Bone Peter Bone Conservative, Wellingborough

My hon. Friend is making a powerful point. He gave an example of a significant split of 22 to five in the European Union over Kosovo. Circumstances could arise in which development was required in an area, but a split on foreign policy might lead to that aid being stopped.

Photo of Shailesh Vara Shailesh Vara Shadow Deputy Leader of the House of Commons

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. Not only is there a danger that assistance and aid is delayed, but it could stop. When people rely on aid for their next meal, we run out of time for those lives.

Photo of Bob Spink Bob Spink Conservative, Castle Point

My hon. Friend is making a passionate and compelling speech about aid, but does he agree that trade could be as important—if not more important—than aid? Does he know that statistics show that, in 2002, the EU policy on trade meant that we gave trade tariffs of 1.6 per cent. to the richest countries, with GDP per capita of more than £15,000, and tariffs of an average of 5 per cent. to poor countries, with GDP per capita of less than £5,000? Does he worry about that?

Photo of Shailesh Vara Shailesh Vara Shadow Deputy Leader of the House of Commons

I am most grateful to my hon. Friend for making that powerful point, which endorses my point that it is vital to have a separate Commissioner.

The Chairman:

Order. The point that Bob Spink made did not strike me as going to the heart of the amendment, so I hope that we will not go too far down that path.

Photo of Shailesh Vara Shailesh Vara Shadow Deputy Leader of the House of Commons

No, Sir Alan. I simply commented that I believed that my hon. Friend was making a valid point, which underlines that it is vital to have a separate spokesman for aid at the negotiating table, rather than someone who has to follow other trends—trade, which my hon. Friend mentioned, or foreign and security policy in the case of the high commissioner.

Photo of Rob Marris Rob Marris PPS (Rt Hon Shaun Woodward, Secretary of State), Northern Ireland Office

May I gently point out two matters? First, the common foreign policy of the European Union is decided not by qualified majority voting but by unanimity. Secondly, article 214 makes it clear that member states can have their own humanitarian foreign aid programmes, even in the absence of agreement on a European Union humanitarian aid programme. The UK could act in a case in which the European Union chose not to do so.

Photo of Shailesh Vara Shailesh Vara Shadow Deputy Leader of the House of Commons

I note the hon. Gentleman's point. On unanimity, I fully appreciate what is written in a treaty, but what happens on the ground is not reflected in the treaty. We have a so-called common foreign policy but there is nothing common in division, with 22 countries voting one way and five countries voting the other. On the hon. Gentleman's point about Britain's ability to give aid, we are not discussing Britain's aid, but what the European Union will do with its funds. I do not therefore understand the relevance of the hon. Gentleman's point.

Photo of James Clappison James Clappison Shadow Spokesperson (Work and Pensions)

We have had the argument previously and I do not want to go too far down that road, but if my hon. Friend examines the treaty, he will note incremental movements throughout it, including the extension of qualified majority voting beyond that which exists today, in favour of a common European foreign and security policy. Does he share my wish for the Minister to set out some concrete objectives, which would perhaps put our minds at rest at least a little in the context of the amendment?

Photo of Shailesh Vara Shailesh Vara Shadow Deputy Leader of the House of Commons

I agree with my hon. Friend and I hope that the Minister took those points on board.

Let me revert to the possibility that the European high commissioner would have charge of the aid budget. Several of my hon. Friends have mentioned the ever-increasing centralisation of decision making, with a few people at the top having ever-larger empires, for want of a better word, over which they would have exclusive control. We have noted that for several years the European budget has not been signed off, yet greater centralisation of funds will lead to the inevitable prospect of those funds, ever approaching the pinnacle, not being subject to as much accountability as we would like—in other words, the money will not go specifically to the people for whom it is intended It is therefore important that there should be a specific European Commissioner in charge who can be held responsible for the money and can try to follow where it goes—to which countries, to which projects and to which people.

We are discussing this important issue in the comfort of the Palace of Westminster. Many in the Chamber have had their evening meal and others know full well that they will soon be able to have theirs. However, I am reminded of the occasion on which, as the recipient of a fellowship from the Norfolk charitable trust, an organisation run by Tom Harrison and his daughter Deborah Harrison, I visited Ethiopia to see the starving for myself. I will never forget the occasion when— [ Interruption. ] Labour Members may well jest about the poverty and the dying in Ethiopia, but I assure them that their criticisms of our compassion are highlighted by the humour that they find in my comments about the dying and the starving in Ethiopia. I will never forget the occasion on which I went to a feeding centre, where hundreds of people were squatting, waiting for a bag of grain, a pot of oil and a little bit of salt, which was to last them for the next month.

This debate is about those people. It is about their next meal. We must recognise that this is not just another issue. We as politicians have a responsibility, in a global world, to our global brethren. It is therefore vital that where there is aid money, it is properly targeted and properly dealt with, and that there is proper accountability. By accepting the amendment that my hon. Friend the Member for Rayleigh has moved, we will ensure that our duty towards the starving of the world will be that much better fulfilled. If we do not accept the amendment, I am afraid that we as politicians do an injustice to all our rhetoric and an injustice to all the people who look to us for their next meal.

To conclude, when my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough said that the Government had not yet said that our amendments were wrecking amendments, the Minister said that he had not had an opportunity to do so. The Minister is an honourable Minister and I have an enormous amount of respect for what he says and what he does. I therefore very much hope that his comments were made in jest, and that he will not stand at the Dispatch Box and try to rubbish the well-meaning amendments that we have tabled. I urge the House to put aside party politics and accept our amendments, which are for the greater good of mankind.

Photo of Douglas Carswell Douglas Carswell Conservative, Harwich 9:15 pm, 25th February 2008

I wish to make a few succinct points in favour of the amendment. We need to keep separate the common foreign and security policy, and international aid, for a number of reasons. Let me preface my comments by saying that international aid is vital, and for Parliament and the Government, it should be right up there with education and the health service. It is vital because there is an enormous disparity of wealth in the world that is ultimately unsustainable. The western world needs to do much more to alleviate poverty. That fact alone means that this subject deserves its own focus and deserves someone to take responsibility for it, separately from any considerations on foreign and security policy.

Photo of Hugh Bayley Hugh Bayley NATO Parliamentary Assembly UK Delegation

The hon. Gentleman argues that we need to do more to ensure the eradication of poverty. The treaty states:

"Union development cooperation policy shall have as its primary objective the reduction and, in the long term, the eradication of poverty."

Why is he supporting a group of amendments that include the deletion of that proposed policy from the treaty?

Photo of Douglas Carswell Douglas Carswell Conservative, Harwich

I was speaking specifically to the amendment, which seeks to establish a separation between the common foreign and security policy and international aid. I am not debating the more general point that the hon. Gentleman has raised.

Linking international aid with the foreign and security policy would diminish the effectiveness of such aid. In any discussion on foreign relations, there are two schools of thought: one deals with realpolitik, the other with idealism. In the making of foreign policy, there is usually a healthy tension between the consideration of the two different strands. I suspect, however, that the individuals and institutions responsible for foreign and security policy will be less prone to idealism and to moral concerns about improving international development than if the two areas were kept separate. At European level, we need to keep separate those responsible for foreign and security policy and those responsible for international aid.

Photo of Rob Marris Rob Marris PPS (Rt Hon Shaun Woodward, Secretary of State), Northern Ireland Office

I imagine that the hon. Gentleman is speaking to amendment No. 245, which proposes to delete

"any provision that increases the influence of the Common Foreign and Security Policy on international aid".

Will he give the House three examples of provisions in the treaty of Lisbon that increase that influence?

Photo of Douglas Carswell Douglas Carswell Conservative, Harwich

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his helpful intervention. If we were to Europeanise international aid, and to tie it around a foreign and security policy, we would diminish our efforts to alleviate poverty.

Photo of James Clappison James Clappison Shadow Spokesperson (Work and Pensions)

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way. I shall give the House three quick examples: putting a vice-president of the Commission in the Chair of the Council of Ministers; requiring the convergence of actions in foreign and security policy; and putting a duty—not a responsibility—on individual member states to consult other members of the Union and the Council of Ministers before undertaking any independent foreign policy of their own. Those are three examples; I could give the House a much longer list.

Photo of Douglas Carswell Douglas Carswell Conservative, Harwich

I am always willing to take interventions from either side of the Chamber.

Photo of Bill Cash Bill Cash Conservative, Stone

I could give the House about 40 examples, and Rob Marris knows it.

Photo of Douglas Carswell Douglas Carswell Conservative, Harwich

Any other interventions? I am more than happy to take them.

Photo of Peter Bone Peter Bone Conservative, Wellingborough

Is this not one of the problems involved in looking at the reality of the situation from a legalistic point of view? History has shown us that, wherever there has been a slight chance of a European Union representative taking more, they have done so. That is the reality of the situation, whatever the treaty says.

Photo of Douglas Carswell Douglas Carswell Conservative, Harwich

Again, I agree, and I shall be happy to take any further interventions.

If we look at the efforts that have been made in the field of international aid in recent decades, we can see a growing awareness in this country of our responsibilities. That is to be welcomed, and in fairness, it has happened under Governments of both parties. It is striking, however, that the great innovations in international aid have often come from the bottom up. Charities have been formed in discussions around people's kitchen tables, and spontaneous efforts have been made by the Churches or by other philanthropic organisations. These efforts have come from the bottom up, and they have put pressure on western Governments to take action and to put international development firmly on the agenda. If we were to Europeanise our development efforts and make them a tool of a foreign and security policy, we would squeeze out the potential for pluralism.

I think that that would impoverish our efforts to alleviate global poverty. We need to keep questions of foreign and security policy quite separate from those of international aid. I do not think that our international aid policy should be subject to considerations of realpolitik. I believe that the amendment keeps the two issues separate, so we should support it.

Photo of Jim Murphy Jim Murphy Minister of State (Europe)

I am delighted to have the opportunity once again to respond to a debate that has been interesting for the whole afternoon and evening. We have all had the opportunity at the start of Fairtrade fortnight to reflect on some of the big issues facing our country on a group of policies that so many of our constituents rightly feel so passionately about.

We heard from Mr. Clappison, as we often do, quite fairly. We also heard from my hon. Friend Rob Marris, who spoke in a style that is increasingly his trademark. He displayed his ability to find his way through a treaty and its text in a way that no European bureaucrat anywhere on the continent could do with such ease. I offer that as a compliment. We heard from my hon. Friend Hugh Bayley, who has demonstrated such personal and political commitment to this issue over a number of years that he is rightly, fairly and genuinely admired on both sides of the Committee for his careful attention.

We also heard, belatedly, from Mr. Carswell. I was as surprised to hear him as I am sure he was surprised to be making the speech. I congratulate Mr. Francois on his speech. We formerly served as Whips together and his old Whip's tendencies, in helping us to get us to this hour, are still very much in evidence. The hon. Gentleman made, I think at relatively short notice, a well-informed speech about the amendments before us.

I think that we started this afternoon's debate with a contribution from the Secretary of State for International Development, who made a point relevant to the amendments. We heard about my right hon. Friend's world tour across many of the regions and countries that we have spoken about. He is, of course, a former Minister for Europe, and I am sure that he is as disappointed as I am that he is not standing here at the Dispatch Box this evening as we reach the halfway point in our Committee deliberations on the Bill. [Interruption.] Yes, I have to tell my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West that we are only halfway through our Committee process. [Interruption.] Mr. Bone says that the best is yet to come, so I thank him in anticipation of what I am about to say. By his own admission, the hon. Gentleman was a bit frustrated or angry earlier today, and he led a one-man walk-out—he was the walk-out. On his own admission, he lay down in a dark room. By all accounts, however, despite our disagreements, he retains a bright sense of humour and a sharp attention to much of the detail of the treaty. We look at the same evidence, the same arguments and the same history and come to diametrically opposed conclusions. Nevertheless, he does so with great consideration and honour. We simply disagree over the conclusions and will continue to do so.

As to the Opposition Front Benchers, let me deal first with the hon. Member for Rayleigh. As regular attenders in the Chamber will be aware, even when we disagree over amendments, the hon. Gentleman customarily argues for them in a coherent way. I will go on to explain why we disagree with amendment No. 245 in particular, but there are even greater arguments about some of the other amendments in the group.

In a relatively short speech, Mr. Moore, who made his debut in today's debates as the Liberal Democrats' international development spokesman, got to the point immediately, identifying the weakness in the Conservative amendments. They seek to undermine the greater co-operation for which both my party and his party share a great enthusiasm.

Amendments Nos. 245, 247 and 272 aim to exclude provisions that could increase the influence of the common foreign and security policy on international aid. The principles of the Union's external action are set out in article 2(24) of the Lisbon treaty, which refers to

"democracy, the rule of law, the universality and indivisibility of human rights and fundamental freedoms, respect for human dignity, the principles of equality and solidarity, and respect for the principles of the United Nations Charter and international law."

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Development mentioned that in the earlier debate.

It is vital for there to be coherence throughout the EU's external action. We would not want the EC development assistance plans in countries such as Zimbabwe or Fiji not to take account of the position on human rights and democracy. The provisions in the treaty do not mean that development will be secondary to foreign policy, as I shall seek to explain. They do not represent a return to the days of aid as an instrument of foreign policy. In fact, increased coherence as set out in the treaty will ensure that development and humanitarian aid form a key part of a coherent and effective external policy.

It is vital for the Union's external action to be coherent and consistent. That is why the provisions that I have mentioned were included in the treaty. Other provisions have the same objective. For instance, article 2(161) states that the Union must

"take account of the objectives of development cooperation in the policies that it implements which are likely to affect developing countries."

That requirement has existed since the Maastricht treaty.

Let me deal with some of the wider points that have been made about EU efforts on international development and aid. Owing to either a misreading of the evidence or a deliberate misunderstanding of it, we have witnessed a parody of the EU's efforts in recent years. I have not and never will argue at the Dispatch Box that everything Europe does is anywhere near perfect—there is no organisation in the world that could not continue to improve—but to argue, as some have, that the EU has, in principle and in practice, let down the world's poorest people is, in my view, a parody of the reality.

Let us look at some specific examples. In Sudan, €100 million of humanitarian aid has put the country firmly at the top of the Commission's humanitarian agenda. In northern Uganda, 2 million internally displaced people were living in poorly managed camps without minimum basic services or adequate protection, and with recurrent cholera outbreaks. The Commission provided €19 million to improve conditions in the camps and help people to return home. In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Commission's humanitarian activities focused on the most vulnerable, especially women and children. In Liberia, 14 years of civil war had a devastating effect on civilians. Half the population was undernourished in 2006, but there has been significant European investment. In Niger, more than 680,000 children were treated for acute malnutrition. As for Angola, there has been considerable investment in that war-torn country.

I do not claim that everything that Europe has done and continues to do has resolved all the great challenges that face the world's poor. Let me say this in response to the hon. Member for North-East Cambridgeshire—

Photo of Jim Murphy Jim Murphy Minister of State (Europe)

I apologise. Following a tour of the world's nations, I should have been able to distinguish between North-East and North-West Cambridgeshire. Nevertheless, I entirely agree with the hon. Gentleman's sentiment. We could debate the recent history of the party he supports, such as its dramatic—by choice—political failure of the world's poorest when it cut the aid budget, but I am willing to accept that he did not support that agenda at the time, and certainly that he does not support it this evening. There is no disagreement that the EU has to do more, and indeed, the United Kingdom bilaterally can continue to do more, but the fact is that 90 per cent. of the European development fund does go to the poorest nations. In 2006, £32 billion of aid went to help some 18 million people in more than 160 countries. It has to be acknowledged that not all the money has gone to the poorest nations, but a strong case can be made that while there is rightly a focus on the poorest nations in the world it is also right to concentrate on the poorest communities in some of the middle-income nations, and that they are also entitled to the support of the EU and the UK.

More widely, it is right that candidate countries of the EU benefit from EU support, such as aid support and aid investment. That is why the European neighbourhood policy is important. Earlier this afternoon, I had to pop out of the debate to meet the Deputy Prime Minister of Ukraine, a country that received £160 million in 2006 in total EC aid; it also received almost £6 million in UK bilateral aid, which is administered through the Department for International Development. It is important that we continue to invest in—to use the dreadful diplomatic-speak—Europe's "near-abroad", which are those countries to the east and south of Europe's borders. We must continue to invest in those countries, rather than only in the poorest countries in the world. We wish to see stability and continuing democratic process.

Photo of James Clappison James Clappison Shadow Spokesperson (Work and Pensions)

The hon. Gentleman is making a forceful and thoughtful speech, but is he really saying that there is no disproportionality in the aid devoted by the EU when, for example, seven times as much aid per head is given to Turkey than to Bangladesh? Is there any proportionality in that?

Photo of Jim Murphy Jim Murphy Minister of State (Europe)

We must continue to try to find ways to get money to individuals in the poorest nations and to the poorest communities in some of the middle-income nations. I am not seeking to argue that everything Europe has done, is doing or will do is precise and perfect. That is why there must be continued reform. However, I am arguing that it is in our national and international interests that there continues to be investment in, for example, Serbia, to encourage democracy and the rule of law there, and that we encourage economic progress, open markets and human rights in, for example, Kosovo.

Let me turn to the text of the treaty and the concern of the hon. Member for Rayleigh about the effect the potential loss of an EU Development Commissioner could have on EU efforts in international development. Although I have yet to hear it said specifically thus far in any of our days of deliberations on the treaty, I think that it is common ground that a reduction in the number of Commissioners is a good thing. Thus far, in six days of debate both in Committee and on Second Reading, we have not heard from those on the Conservative Benches of one thing that they welcome in the treaty. I know that Conservative Members' worry is that if they welcome a millimetre of it, they will be slammed by the UK Independence party and other Europhobes. [Interruption.] Instead of chortling, I shall give the hon. Member for Rayleigh the opportunity to welcome some parts of the treaty.

Photo of Mark Francois Mark Francois Shadow Minister (Europe)

I say to the Minister that we are opposed to this treaty because it transfers great powers from Britain to the EU, and I remind him that his Government promised the British people a referendum on that basis. That, and not what UKIP might or might not say, is our primary concern.

Photo of Jim Murphy Jim Murphy Minister of State (Europe)

Again, the hon. Gentleman welcomes nothing in this treaty, be it on international development or foreign policy. I remind the House that the Conservatives are alone, because they are the only Opposition party in Europe and the only conservative party in Europe to oppose the treaty's every sentence. He opposes every aspect of the treaty.

The number of Commissioners will be reduced from 27, because there are not 27 full-time jobs to do in the European Commission and thus there is no justification for having 27 separate bureaucracies. In addition, as we welcome Turkey and others into the European Union in future, the number of Commissioners would continue to be a difficulty if it was not addressed. More importantly, the treaty does not make provisions on which Commissioners and portfolios will remain—there is no specific alignment as to which Commissioner portfolios would continue on a full-time basis. Nothing has been decided on the portfolios or roles carried out by individual Commissioners or by the collection of Commissioners.

Commissioners come and go, and much is dependent on the power and personality of Commissioners, but the treaty text is what is important and unavoidable, and, for the first time, it legally enshrines humanitarian aid. That aid should be offered and provided in line with three principles—impartiality, neutrality and non-discrimination—which have been established by the Red Cross.

Let us consider some different aspects of the treaty text. Article 21(d) on page 18 states that the Union should try to

"foster the sustainable economic, social and environmental development of developing countries".

Article 21(e) states that it should try to encourage the integration of all countries into the world economy

", including through the progressive abolition of restrictions on international trade".

Paragraph 5 of article 3 on page 5 states clearly, for the first time:

"In its relations with the wider world, the Union shall uphold and promote its values and contribute to the protection of its citizens. It shall contribute to peace, security, the sustainable development of the Earth, solidarity and mutual respect among peoples, free and fair trade, eradication of poverty".

The specific roles of individual Commissioners will continue to evolve. There is no ideological disagreement about that between the left, right and centre across the European Union. As we move from 27 to 18 Commissioners, there will of course be a need for some changes in portfolios. What is beyond doubt is the fact that the treaty text for the first time carries within it an absolute guarantee about the primacy and importance of the eradication of poverty.

I think that I am being encouraged to allow the hon. Member for Rayleigh the opportunity for a couple of moments' response. However, I should say that amendment No. 246 would exclude the Lisbon treaty provision that states that the Union and the member states share competence in the areas of development co-operation and humanitarian aid, but that any Union action in those fields does not result in the member states being unable to act—it is very clear as to the extension of the shared competence. Member states are still entitled to act. Let me remind the House that European Community action in the field of development co-operation was formalised in the Maastricht treaty. Along with humanitarian aid, it has, in practice, been an important part of the Community's external action since its foundation.

The proliferation of donors and the exponential growth of projects are real problems for many developing countries, and in particular their Governments. Those Governments have limited financial and administrative resources, yet they are asked to work with more and more donors, each of which has its own systems of reporting and auditing. Governments are asked to participate in reviews of dozens, if not hundreds, of projects, in each sector—for example, the OECD counted no fewer than 560 social infrastructure projects in Mozambique alone in 2002. The treaty seeks to rationalise that process so that instead of countries such as Mozambique struggling under the weight of well-intentioned initiatives coming from myriad nation states across the globe, there is greater coherence, at least within the European Union's 27 member states. No one could sensibly argue that Mozambique and her Government should expect to be supported in a way that puts such an enormous burden on the country and her people. That is the purpose behind the initiatives in the treaty. All of this argues for closer co-operation between donors and a shared competence in development co-operation, as the Liberal Democrats have also said this evening.

I want to give the hon. Member for Rayleigh the opportunity to respond, so I turn finally to the question asked by Mr. Vara. The dry, legalistic answer to his entirely fair question is that for the UK to remove the specific articles of the treaty as required by the amendment would put us in a position whereby we could not fully ratify the treaty. That is the dry, legalistic and factual position, and I hope he is reassured on that point. More widely, there is determination to ensure that the European Union is more effective in the future—to harness the political determination of all 27 Governments to deliver the things we all believe in.

Photo of Mark Francois Mark Francois Shadow Minister (Europe) 9:45 pm, 25th February 2008

I am grateful to the Minister for his generous remarks about the style in which I introduced the amendments. It is fair to say that this debate is somewhat less heated in nature than our debate about common foreign and security policy and the debate on defence we never really had time for. I have some specific comments about the Minister's remarks, but first I want to refer to some of the other contributors.

The Liberal Democrat spokesman spoke briefly, presumably because he wanted to give others an opportunity to contribute. He made a plea to us about greater co-ordination on policy—I think I quote him correctly. He gave as an example greater co-ordination on defence, which he said the Liberal Democrats would welcome.

Photo of Mark Francois Mark Francois Shadow Minister (Europe)

I am not sure that the hon. Gentleman made that caveat at the time.

Last Wednesday, the House would have had the opportunity to debate in detail whether we wanted greater co-ordination on defence if we had been able to deal with any of the defence amendments, but the invidious nature of the Government's business motion meant that we never even reached that point. I say gently to the hon. Gentleman that we have argued—as we did strongly at business questions last Thursday—for an extra day of debate on the Lisbon treaty so that we could discuss the defence implications in detail. I hope the Liberal Democrats support that intention. Shall I give way briefly to the hon. Gentleman so that he can say yes?

Photo of Mark Francois Mark Francois Shadow Minister (Europe)

I am rather disappointed by that response, especially as the hon. Gentleman raised the matter. It is a shame that the Liberal Democrats do not want defence debated.

The hon. Gentleman talked about the need for greater co-ordination, but when we debated the motion earlier, the Under-Secretary of State for International Development (Mr. Thomas) spilled the beans. During the peroration by my hon. Friend the shadow Secretary of State for International Development, the hon. Gentleman leapt up rather excitedly to intervene on points of origin, if I am quoting him correctly. We were debating how policy on points of origin might be changed—

Photo of Mark Francois Mark Francois Shadow Minister (Europe)

I am grateful to the Minister. During debate about rules of origin, the hon. Gentleman leapt to his feet saying, "You don't need a treaty to change the arrangements on rules of origin." That was the spirit of what he said. In a sense, that is our entire argument today: we do not need a new treaty to improve co-operation in the delivery of EU aid. [ Interruption. ] The Minister laughs to hide his embarrassment, but he blew the gaffe on the Government's position during the peroration by my hon. Friend the shadow Secretary of State—I know he did because I saw his boss wince the instant he said those words.

Photo of Mark Francois Mark Francois Shadow Minister (Europe)

I am coming to the hon. Gentleman—he does not need to anticipate me.

The Minister blew the Government's case, and it is too late for him to take back his words. I now turn to Rob Marris. Does he want to intervene first, or will he hear what I have to say? Perhaps he will let me make some progress and refer to his comments, and then he can intervene.

Can we clear up the point about numbering, because there was confusion about which bits of text we were using? I understand that we have the treaty of Lisbon, which is numbered, and the consolidated text, which has been provided by The Stationery Office and, obviously, is also numbered. Also available in the Vote Office is the European Union publications office's version of the consolidated treaties. The page numbering is slightly different in the EU publications office's version and the TSO version, which was why there was confusion between my hon. Friend Mr. Bone and the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West about which page we were on. We have two consolidated versions, but the document from the EU publications office predates the other. I can say to the Minister that yet again, we and the EU are not on entirely the same page— [ Interruption. ] I am trying to clear up the situation, because several hon. Members were confused by the difference in the numbering.

Let me turn directly to the point made by the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West when he quoted from article 21 in the consolidated text. I shall quote the paragraph to which he referred:

"The Union shall ensure consistency between the different areas of its external action and between these and its other policies. The Council and the Commission, assisted by the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, shall ensure that consistency and shall cooperate to that effect."

He said that the key word was "ensure", but I would argue that the key word is "shall", because it implies an element of compulsion and is used three times in the paragraph. In a sense, he picked the wrong paragraph to support his argument. I hope that he appreciates the fact that I bothered to read in detail the passage that he put before the Committee.

Photo of Rob Marris Rob Marris PPS (Rt Hon Shaun Woodward, Secretary of State), Northern Ireland Office

Let me make three points. If the version of the consolidated treaties that the hon. Gentleman is brandishing is the same as the one I have in my hand, it is dated 20 November 2006, so it is completely out of date. Secondly, I stressed the word "consistency" in the quote that he cited, not the word "ensure". Thirdly, the hon. Gentleman rightly said that I am occasionally known for being legalistic. May I suggest that he does some research on the arcane way in which the European Union uses the word "shall"? I have done such research, and on many occasions in European Union treaties, shall means not "must", but "has the power to". Bizarre as that is, it is the legalistic interpretation of the word, and the hon. Gentleman, as the shadow Minister for Europe, really ought to know that.

Photo of Mark Francois Mark Francois Shadow Minister (Europe)

As the shadow Minister for Europe, I know that there was a great deal of argument in the context of national Parliaments about whether the relevant word should be "shall" or "may"; we will come on to that subject tomorrow, so I will not dwell on it now. No doubt we shall debate that point in detail tomorrow—the Minister is smiling already. In the paragraph of article 21 that the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West cited, the word "shall" appears three times, and I think that it appears in a compulsive context.

Photo of James Clappison James Clappison Shadow Spokesperson (Work and Pensions)

Has my hon. Friend conducted detailed research on the history of judgments of the European Court of Justice, where the meaning of the word "shall" is determined according to the degree of integration that it implies?

Photo of Mark Francois Mark Francois Shadow Minister (Europe)

As usual, my hon. Friend, with his experience of serving on the European Scrutiny Committee, makes a good point. We all know that the history of the European Court of Justice shows that it is an activist court. In its judgments, it has tended to push the boundaries of EU competence and to interpret the word "shall" as my hon. Friend describes, rather than taking the advice of that well-known lawyer in the House of Commons, the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West.

Photo of Jim Murphy Jim Murphy Minister of State (Europe)

I know that many outside the House will pay great attention to the detail of which text we are reading from, so it is important, in having this great debate about international development and the poorest in the world, that we get it right. The text in my hand is the one with which we have been dealing throughout these six days of debate; the other text is the consolidated text of the EU treaties from 2006.

Photo of Jim Murphy Jim Murphy Minister of State (Europe)

The hon. Gentleman says that he knows, but his copy has not yet been opened. That might not translate for Hansard, so I should explain that his copy is still covered in polythene. The text that he has not yet opened was published in 2006, before the Lisbon treaty was even agreed to. The text in my hand is the one that we have been working from this evening, and every day of our deliberations.

Photo of Mark Francois Mark Francois Shadow Minister (Europe)

The sealed copy is not mine; I picked it up off the Table in the Chamber about half an hour ago. This one is my copy—The Stationery Office copy, which is the current copy. Could we get back to the matter under debate?

Perhaps we could debate this substantive point. The Minister did not provide any assurance with regard to the question that I specifically asked him when I introduced the amendment. I asked him whether he could provide the House with any guarantee that there would be a Commissioner for International Development if the Lisbon treaty were ratified. He skated through the question by saying quickly, "There will, of course, be some changes in portfolios," rather hoping that nobody would notice. The Conservatives noticed, however, and my hon. Friends on the Back Benches and I pressed him repeatedly on whether he could give us a commitment that the Commissioner would be retained. I think that the House will recognise that he did not give us such a commitment.

I said that for that reason, I might be minded to press the amendment to a vote. However, we have a dilemma. Because of the structure of the Government's business motion, if we press the amendment, the timing of the Division will mean that we lose any ability to get to the next group of amendments. I am keen to make some points, however briefly, about those amendments, so although I am not satisfied with the Minister's reply—I tell him that to avoid confusion—I have decided, on balance, to seek the leave of the House to withdraw the amendment so that we can debate for at least four minutes the amendments in the second group. That way, we will at least manage to touch on aid operations—which, because of how the Government have structured the business motion, we could not do if we voted on amendment No. 245. On that basis, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Photo of Mark Francois Mark Francois Shadow Minister (Europe)

I beg to move amendment No. 248, in clause 2, page 1, line 12, after 'excluding', insert—

'(i) Article 2, paragraph 167, inserted Article 188I TEC (TFEU) relating to the procedure for adopting decisions on urgent financial assistance in respect of a situation in a third country;
and

(ii) '.

Photo of Michael Lord Michael Lord Deputy Speaker (Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments: No. 249, page 1, line 12, after 'excluding', insert—

'(i) Article 2, paragraph 168, inserted Article 188J TEC (TFEU), paragraph 3 relating to the legislative procedure for the framework for humanitarian aid operations; and

(ii) '.

No. 250, in page 1, line 12, after 'excluding', insert—

'(i) Article 2, paragraph 168, inserted Article 188J TEC (TFEU), paragraph 5 relating to a European Voluntary Humanitarian Aid Corps; and

(ii) '.

Photo of Mark Francois Mark Francois Shadow Minister (Europe)

I shall do my best to cover the key points in the five minutes that I have. The amendment would strike out of the treaty moves towards majority voting on the provision of urgent financial assistance. By doing so, it would remove a damaging ambiguity from the treaty, as well as keeping the Government to their policy of only a few years ago, when Mr. Hain sought to delete the same provision from the original EU constitution. The Government's view as expressed by him, to quote their argument for the amendment, was as follows:

"The intention appears to be to move to QMV for macro-financial assistance, but this article confuses the issue as it is not clear whether it refers to the macro-financial assistance or not. Macro-financial assistance has been agreed urgently when required."

However, it appears that the Government now enthusiastically support majority voting on that matter, although not much else relating directly to it has changed in essence. The relevant treaty provision states:

"When the situation in a third country requires urgent financial assistance from the Union, the Council shall adopt the necessary decisions on a proposal from the Commission."

As that proposal remains somewhat ambiguous, I should have liked time to press the Minister for an explanation of the circumstances in which he believes the power will pertain.

I shall mention our two other amendments briefly. Amendment No. 249 would strike out moves towards majority voting on humanitarian aid. It would strike out a controversial measure that opens up the possibility of the EU Foreign Minister pursuing EU foreign policy under another guise. For instance, there could be a situation in which aid to a foreign Government was unacceptable to the UK Government and would bring with it foreign policy commitments with which we were uncomfortable.

Let us take one potential example: under the treaty, it would be possible for a qualified majority of EU states to think it right to provide humanitarian aid to the Hamas Administration in Gaza. The United Kingdom might oppose that aid, yet could still be outvoted under QMV. Giving up a veto in that area could force us into being party to a course of action that we find morally repugnant, and bind us to handing over British taxpayers' money for a cause whose values we firmly oppose. It would be extremely foolish of Ministers to claim that such a situation would never arise. The treaty provision could have wide-ranging implications for our foreign policy, and there should be no place for it.

Amendment No. 250 would strike out the provision in the Lisbon treaty that allows the European Union to set up a European voluntary humanitarian aid corps. It is curious that the provision is still in the treaty, given that when the right hon. Member for Neath was negotiating at the constitutional Convention he said:

"The idea of establishing a European Voluntary Humanitarian Aid Corps should have no place within the EU's humanitarian action".

That was the Government's argument. Incredibly, this is another example in which, despite their previous opposition, the Government are now telling us that they support an idea. Mr. Lancaster brought his experience of Afghanistan to bear on the argument when he suggested that what development companies primarily need is experienced technical professionals to help them. I tend to agree with his argument.

Amendment No. 248 seeks to remove a harmful aspect of the treaty by removing provision for majority voting on urgent financial assistance. The right hon. Member for Neath explained that that measure was both unnecessary and ambiguous. If we had time, I would have asked the Minister for Europe to give more detail about possible circumstances. Amendment No. 249 seeks to remove provisions for majority voting on humanitarian aid in respect of areas where there could be conflict with our own independent foreign policy. I have given an example relating to Gaza. Amendment No. 250 would delete references to—

It being two hours after the commencement of proceedings in the Committee , The Chairman left the Chair to report progress and ask leave to sit again, pursuant to Orders [28 January and this day].

To report progress and ask leave to sit again.— [Mr. Watts.]

Committee report progress; to sit again tomorrow.