HL Deb 15 May 1986 vol 474 cc1269-72
Baroness Elliot of Harwood

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government what is the percentage increase in their funding of voluntary agencies working in the field of overseas aid since 1979.

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Young)

My Lords, we provide financial support for two main areas of work by voluntary agencies. The first is long-term development work, for which our support has increased by 169 per cent. in cash terms between the financial years 1979–80 and 1985–86. This includes the Volunteer Programme. The second is disaster, famine and refugee relief; our funding of the agencies for these purposes was very slight in 1979–80, and has increased by over 15,000 per cent. in the same period. We provide support on a much smaller scale for a range of other work by the agencies, but information on this is not held centrally.

Baroness Elliot of Harwood

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness very much for that excellent reply. Does it not show that the Government are determined to do all they possibly can for the voluntary agencies? Am I right in thinking that we have increased our programme for these agencies by 240 per cent?

Baroness Young

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for those supplementary questions. I have given the percentage increases for the years about which she has asked, and I think that it represents a very good record. We all appreciate how much work the voluntary agencies do in this field and that often, particularly so far as disaster relief is concerned, they are the quickest to get to the area and they make a most cost-effective use of the resources.

Lord Oram

My Lords, we can all welcome the support given from official funds to voluntary agencies because, as the noble Baroness has said, they disburse the funds directly to the people who need them more quickly sometimes than official projects can get under way. May I ask the noble Baroness how much of the funding that she has announced is under the pound-for-pound scheme which recognises in a practical way that the voluntary agencies do a great deal of fund raising themselves? This was true particularly during the course of the past year.

May I ask the noble Baroness a specific question concerning the need for education in this country about the problems of developing countries? For example, is she aware that the Centre for World Development Education has been facing serious financial difficulties in providing the excellent material that it does for our schools? It has had to dismiss three of its senior staff because of financial difficulties. Will the noble Baroness therefore ensure that in the review that I believe is taking place of that centre's finances every possible support will be given to it?

Baroness Young

My Lords, I have not a breakdown of the figures in precisely the form for which the noble Lord asked in his first supplementary question, but I agree with him that much of the money which goes to the overseas development projects is raised by the charities themselves in their own fund-raising activities, which, again, we greatly welcome. The Government have contributed on top of what the charities themselves have provided. To this end we are very glad that my right honourable friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer announced proposals in the Budget which are designed to give charities further tax advantages.

The other supplementary question that the noble Lord, Lord Oram, asked about developing education is wide of the original Question, which is on overseas aid, but of course if he cares to put down such a Question, I shall be happy to answer it.

Lord Taylor of Gryfe

My Lords, can the Minister assure me that those doing voluntary service overseas are not disadvantaged in their taxation arrangements as a result of this service? Secondly, do teachers who are engaged in the VSO programme get due credit for that service in their career structure?

Baroness Young

My Lords, I understand that some of the charities have asked questions about the Budget proposals. This is a matter for my right honourable friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and I understand that his officials are discussing it with the charities. On the noble Lord's second point, I think it is very much to the advantage of the education system that those young volunteers who have done two years service overseas are able to return to teach in this country with that valuable experience.

Lord Taylor of Blackburn

My Lords, will the Minister take note of my noble friend's question? If teachers are to be assessed, will it be a good mark in their career structure if they have done overseas voluntary service or similar work?

Baroness Young

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, will appreciate that that specific question about teacher assessment is wide of the original Question, and, again, if he cares to put it down on the Order Paper, I shall be happy to answer it.

Baroness Macleod of Borve

My Lords, can my noble friend the Minister give us any idea of the number of people from these islands who are helping voluntarily, or on a voluntary basis, overseas?

Baroness Young

Yes, my Lords; the latest figure available is 1,303. That is for the end of March 1986.

Lord Hatch of Lusby

My Lords, once again we have a Minister giving figures in cash terms in comparison with the figure for 1979. Presumably the subsidies to voluntary organisations come out of the overseas aid budget. What in real terms is the size of the overseas aid budget today compared with the figure for 1979? May I press again the question raised by my noble friend Lord Oram? Surely development education also comes out of the overseas aid budget, and therefore should there not be an answer available to the question he asked?

Baroness Young

My Lords, the grants to voluntary agencies for long-term development projects, often through joint funding schemes and the British Volunteer Programme, were in 1979–80 £4.6 million and in 1985–86 £12.5 million. That represents an increase in real terms of 56 per cent. The noble Lord will be aware that the proportion of money that goes to voluntary organisations is a relatively small proportion of the whole aid budget. But the point I am making is that we believe it to be very valuable that we are able to contribute to the voluntary organisations because they provide a cost-effective and quick way of dealing in particular with disasters. On the noble Lord's other point, as I said to the noble Lord, Lord Oram, if he cares to put down a Question about development teaching, I shall be happy to answer it.

Lord Hatch of Lusby

My Lords, with respect, the noble Baroness has not answered my question. I asked her what is the size of the total overseas aid budget today compared with that of 1979—the total overseas aid budget.

Baroness Young

My Lords, the Question on the Order Paper is about the money being given to voluntary agencies, and if the noble Lord puts down the Question to which he refers, again I shall be happy to answer it.

Baroness Fisher of Rednal

My Lords, does the noble Baroness also agree that the voluntary agencies have gained considerably from the original support for Band Aid, which the general public took to their hearts and to which they gave thousands and thousands of pounds? Is she aware that this week-end the Sports Aid programme is to take place throughout the world, sponsored by sportsmen from all over the world?

Baroness Young

Yes, my Lords, we all think that the work done by Band Aid and the fund raising efforts that have followed have been very commendable indeed and have made a major contribution to helping charities in the field.

Lord Mackie of Benshie

My Lords, will the noble Baroness tell the House whether the aid, which has risen by 240 per cent. in the case of the voluntary agencies, has resulted in a rise in the GNP of the countries concerned, or has it been entirely negatived by the fall in commodity prices?

Baroness Young

My Lords, I do not have figures with which to answer that particular question. Some of the aid goes to long-term development projects, and it is much to be hoped that it will make a major contribution to the GNP of the countries concerned. Other aid is, as the noble Lord will know, emergency disaster aid that is designed to help people in an immediately critical situation.

Lord Rea

My Lords, while we all very pleased that the funding of voluntary agencies has increased in this way, is it not the case that the total budget for aid overseas has actually decreased by some 20 per cent. over the past six years?

Baroness Young

My Lords, as I indicated earlier to the noble Lord, Lord Hatch, the Question on the Order Paper concerns money going to charitable agencies.

Back to