HC Deb 01 March 2000 vol 345 cc411-2
3. Mr. David Drew (Stroud)

When she last met her EU counterparts to discuss the issue of poverty reduction. [111175]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for International Development (Mr. George Foulkes)

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State last discussed poverty elimination with her EU counterparts at the Development Council in November, at which she introduced a specific agenda item on improving the poverty focus of European Commission aid. I, too, met Ministers at the informal Development Council in Lisbon in January. I assure my hon. Friend that we are working to improve the contribution of EC development programmes to the international poverty eradication strategy.

Mr. Drew

I thank my hon. Friend for that good news. Does he agree that it is vital that the EU speak with one voice? The Government have a clear strategy on poverty alleviation. Anything we do to pull countries along with us is to be welcomed.

Mr. Foulkes

I agree. We are spending more than 70 per cent. of our development assistance in the poorest countries of the world. The EC did the same in 1987, but by 1997, the proportion was down to 54 per cent. That trend must be reversed. We are pleased that, at our suggestion, the Commission is to make proposals on improving the poverty focus. We expect the paper to be produced later this month. We believe that it should include a target of at least 70 per cent. of expenditure going to the poorest countries in the world.

Mr. John Wilkinson (Ruislip-Northwood)

Will the Minister make it clear to his EU counterparts that the eradication of poverty is not furthered by corruption, military adventurism overseas, or the expropriation of private agricultural holdings, as is happening in Zimbabwe? Will he ensure that there is a moral dimension to the EU's aid programme?

Mr. Foulkes

I agree with all the hon. Gentleman's points. We are especially concerned about Zimbabwe's proposals on land acquisition. We are in favour of land reform in that country and would encourage proper land reform. On his other points, the hon. Gentleman and I spent a couple of hours this morning in European Standing Committee B, discussing them in detail. I am sure that he knows that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, the Government as a whole and I are all committed to improving the poverty focus of the European Commission's programme.

Mr. Tom Clarke (Coatbridge and Chryston)

Is my hon. Friend aware that Poul Nielson, the European Commissioner for Development and Humanitarian Aid, visited Mozambique yesterday? Is he also aware that, at lunchtime, Glenys Kinnock criticised the EU's lack of speed in delivering assistance to Mozambique? Given the excellent response of his Department, will he join me in appealing to the EU to give as much aid, in every sense, as it can, while remembering the greater need for long-term development?

Mr. Foulkes

I understand that the EU has already pledged 1 billion—[Interruption]—sorry, I almost increased the figure substantially; the EU has pledged 1 million euro for humanitarian assistance in Mozambique and is considering ways in which that sum can be increased. Contrary to the words of the Opposition, my hon. Friend is absolutely right to say that the British Government are taking a lead in providing humanitarian assistance in Mozambique. I hope that other European countries will follow our example.

Mrs. Cheryl Gillan (Chesham and Amersham)

Last month, the Commission representative in London confirmed to me that aid programmes in Africa will show more cases of irregularity and fraud, that corruption is endemic, and that, when money is given directly to Governments, it is difficult to ensure that it is well spent. Despite that, last year, the Minister gave almost £1 billion of aid directly to foreign Governments, whereas only half that sum was delivered through non-governmental organisations, such as the British Council, the programmes of which have been slashed by his Department. Will he now admit that his policy has misfired and adopt the policies advocated by the Opposition to increase the use of NGOs and reinstate the British Council, which can deliver aid far more effectively than most Governments?

Mr. Foulkes

I am not sure how that question relates to the one on the Order Paper, but I can assure the hon. Lady, as I did in Committee this morning, that we are determined to ensure that the EU has procedures to prevent fraud and, if it does occur, to root it out. This morning, I gave the hon. Lady the example of the Côte d'Ivoire, where fraud was discovered and the money paid back. We do ensure that that takes place. Under the Labour Government, the delivery of assistance by the EU has improved year by year, and we aim to ensure that that progress continues.

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