HC Deb 22 February 1988 vol 128 cc19-20
68. Sir Russell Johnston

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if the Government will match, pound for pound, the money raised by Comic Relief.

Mr. Chris Patten

I should like to congratulate the organisers of Comic Relief on their magnificent effort. We attach great importance to the work of the voluntary agencies. That is why we have increased, by 50 per cent. to £9 million next year, the support of the joint funding scheme, which matches pound for pound the cost of agreed projects.

Sir Russell Johnston

That is not exactly an answer, as the Minister knows.

Mr. Skinner

Of course it is an answer, but it is a lousy one.

Sir Russell Johnston

I am grateful to the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) as always. Will the Minister specifically match pound for pound the amount raised by Comic Relief and give a Government commitment, which would surely have a positive effect on any future voluntary efforts, to match pound for pound the money raised for overseas aid in this way?

Mr. Patten

If we were to do what the hon. Gentleman suggests— I accept that it might be a headline-making gimmick—it might limit the amount of money that we provide to the Horn of Africa. So far, taxpayers' generosity has exceeded that of those who contributed so magnificently to Comic Relief. As taxpayers, we have contributed almost £36 million to the relief operation in Ethiopia. When I was in Sudan recently I announced an extra £15 million worth of support for Sudan, in addition to the £10 million that we made available just before Christmas.

Miss Lestor

I acknowledge the contribution that the Government have made to Ethiopia and other areas. Does the Minister agree that the hon. Member for Inverness, Nairn and Lochaber (Sir R. Johnston) was asking for extra money—not that the Government should merely match what has already been given—to stimulate interest in this country? Comic Relief—and the little effort that was made here—captured the imagination of thousands of people. Will the Minister reconsider his action, bearing in mind that such action from him, in addition to what is already being given, would help to keep people's minds on the problem and encourage them to give more generously?

Mr. Patten

Of course I welcome the interest that was shown in the contributions to Comic Relief. I repeat that we shall be doing more in Ethiopia and Sudan. We shall be adding to what we have already given from a growing programme. We have increased by 50 per cent. our support for the pound-for-pound joint funding scheme with non-governmental organisations.

Forward to