HL Deb 03 November 1993 vol 549 cc1088-90

3.14 p.m.

Lord John-Mackie asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether their grants to charities and aid bodies will remain the same or be larger than last year.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish

My Lords, at this stage in the financial year it is not possible to say what the level of grant will be. Several thousand grants are paid each year by 15 different departments through a wide range of different grant schemes. The total amount paid in 1991–92 was £3.4 billion. Information for 1992–93 is being collected but is not yet fully available centrally.

Lord John-Mackie

My Lords, in thanking the noble Lord for that Answer, may I point out to him—

Noble Lords

No. Ask a question.

Lord John-Mackie

My Lords, I take the help of my noble friends who suggest that I should ask the Minister to point out that there are tremendous differences in aid. There is direct aid, such as sending food and medicine, and long-term aid, such as the international development programmes which rely on a steady supply of aid. If that aid is cut, some of the long-term programmes will have to stop in the middle and will be destroyed. I should like the Government to think carefully before they cut that kind of aid.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish

My Lords, the Government are well aware of the balance to be struck between short-term aid and long-term development aid. Perhaps I might advise the noble Lord that the funding of the long-term development aid of which he has been speaking has been increased substantially over the past few years. We are currently funding on a 50:50 basis some 1,200 projects which are helping some of the poorest parts of the world. That is development aid; it is not food aid or special one-off aid.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

My Lords, does my noble friend not agree that, contrary to what is suggested in this Question, it is the job of Ministers at this time of year to look at all grants to see whether some of them are becoming less significant or less important than previously, with a view to looking after the interests of the taxpayer?

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish

My Lords, as my noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter knows, that is exactly what the Government do. We review all the funding which is given out by government departments to ensure that it is meeting the objectives set by departments efficiently and effectively.

Lord Allen of Abbeydale

My Lords, could the noble Lord at least confirm that it remains government policy not to reduce in amount any grant payable to charities or voluntary organisations because of anything that they might receive under the much to be regretted National Lottery?

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish

My Lords, the whole question of the money which comes from the National Lottery and of how it might affect money that has already been given by government departments has been dealt with over more than a few hours in this House. I have nothing to add to what has been said by other Ministers from the Dispatch Box. The essential point remains that we look at the effectiveness with which a service is being delivered, whether in this country or abroad, as the noble Lord, Lord John-Mackie, asked.

Lord Clark of Kempston

My Lords, does my noble friend not agree that since 1979 the tax incentives given to those people who contribute to charities have been a great help and incentive to charities and have relieved the taxpayer of some costs?

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish

My Lords, my noble friend is quite right about the incentives given in Budgets. Since 1979 every Budget has contained some measure of tax relief for charitable giving. I am happy to tell your Lordships' House that tax reliefs to charities are now worth around £1 billion a year.

Lord Elton

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that there are some areas, particularly that of crime prevention rather than crime detection or punishment, in which the voluntary sector can be far more efficient pound for pound than government or their agencies and that it would be cost-effective to increase their subsidies to that area of the voluntary sector?

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish

My Lords, the Government are well aware of the important role that the voluntary sector can perform in the sphere of work which my noble friend mentioned. I can assure him that the Government always look for the most efficient way of having a service delivered. If a service can be delivered better via the voluntary sector than via the local government or state sectors, we shall, of course, seriously consider that.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, is not the major problem for charities and aid bodies the fact that they are forced to take on responsibilities which have been abdicated by central government? Can the Minister tell the House what proportion of the aid to which he referred in his first Answer falls into that category, that is, expenditure which would otherwise be direct expenditure by central government?

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish

My Lords, this subject is one which divides the political parties and probably your Lordships' House. Some of us think that the voluntary sector has an important role to play in many aspects of our national life and overseas aid. Some other people think that everything should be done by the state. I am afraid that that is not a view which I share.