HL Deb 17 October 2000 vol 617 cc878-80

3.3 p.m.

Baroness Cox asked Her Majesty's Government:

What support they are giving to charitable organisations working to promote the welfare of children in the Russian Federation.

Baroness Amos

My Lords, the Department for International Development finances two projects in the Sverdlovsk region, to improve child mental health services and to improve services for vulnerable children. Both are managed by charitable organisations. The DfID has also supported projects run by British and Russian charitable organisations though the Health Small Projects Scheme.

Baroness Cox

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that encouraging reply. I must declare an interest because I am involved in several programmes for orphaned and abandoned children in Russia—programmes that are growing fast due to the enormous dedication of Russian colleagues working in difficult conditions. Is the noble Baroness aware that the funding agencies of the European Commission do not currently support charitable organisations if they have any links with the Russian Government? That is most unfortunate because such links can be extremely helpful in ensuring the effective implementation of programmes, their accountability and their sustainability. Can the noble Baroness say whether Her Majesty's Government would consider asking the European Commission to review its funding criteria on the matter?

Baroness Amos

My Lords, perhaps I may, first, pay tribute to the tireless efforts of the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, as president of Christian Solidarity Worldwide. Indeed, her efforts are well known in this House and Christian Solidarity Worldwide has carried out a range of family-focused childcare projects in Russia.

In response to the noble Baroness's specific question, I must tell her that I am not aware of any such blanket policy on the part of the European Commission with regard to funding agencies with links to the Russian Government. However, I shall be happy to investigate this further. Perhaps the noble Baroness will be good enough to provide me with any further details that she may have.

As regards the British Government's funding policies, many of our projects in Russia are led by, or involve, British NGOs, which are working in partnership with Russian official bodies.

Lord Archer of Sandwell

My Lords, as my noble friend is aware of the work carried out by Christian Solidarity Worldwide, especially the sterling work of the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, in establishing schemes such as those aimed at providing family fostering and child protection services, can she say whether there is any plan to ensure the long-term viability of projects that begin from something that is rather shorter term?

Baroness Amos

My Lords, I should point out to my noble and learned friend that sustainability is always the key consideration at the outset when we are looking at the kinds of work that we shall be funding from the department. We include at the planning stage of all our projects the issue of sustainability; indeed, we monitor the question of sustainability during the lifetime of our projects.

As regards foster family care, I can tell the House that we now have a health and social care partnership scheme. If there are any organisations planning to do more work in this area, I hope that they will be encouraged to apply for participation in that scheme.

Lord Hylton

My Lords, are the Government fully seized of the scale of the problem facing children in Russia? Are there not some 40 million children growing up in poverty, over 400,000 in very unsatisfactory, old-style institutions and thousands of street children, as well as other children at risk in all the major cities?

Baroness Amos

My Lords, we are well aware of the scale of the problem facing children. In fact, we recently set up a vulnerable children's project, which will be funded to the tune of £750,000. In addition, we are looking at a number of health-related projects that will also have an impact on children and on families.

Baroness Nicholson of Winterbourne

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for her excellent earlier reply. I can assure her that not only is there no blanket opposition to funding children's programmes by the European Commisson but that also, over the region, many millions of ecu are being dedicated to NGOs working with children. However, perhaps I may remind the noble Baroness of the great difficulty that we all face in the region in respect of trafficking in children who have been abandoned and are now being neglected—children for sale. I urge her department to put some finance behind that as, indeed, the European Union is now doing.

Baroness Amos

My Lords, I can tell the noble Baroness that we share her concerns about child trafficking; indeed, it is one of the areas that the DfID, with the FCO and the Department of Health, has been considering in terms of protecting children from such trafficking.

Lord Alton of Liverpool

My Lords, has the noble Baroness had a chance to consider the report that I gave recently to her officials relating to street children in Moscow, the 5,000 children in orphanages in and around the Moscow area and, in particular—alluding to the points just made—the trafficking that is now taking place with the selling on of children into prostitution? Is the noble Baroness aware of the punitive tax regime that applies in places like Moscow against foreign charities operating there and that new laws are currently being drafted? Will she ask her officials to do all that they can to remove the disincentives on foreign charities wishing to become involved in this important work?

Baroness Amos

My Lords, I can tell the noble Lord, Lord Alton, that we have been looking at the report. We are considering making a detailed response to it in the light of what we are already doing in Russia. I can tell the House that over the past nine years we have spent about £200 million in Russia. Our current expenditure is to the tune of about £27 million per year. On the specific question of the punitive tax regime, I shall take that point back to the department for consideration.

Baroness Rawlings

My Lords, while supporting Russian children's charities, will they also consider supporting one of the most important children's charities in Bulgaria, the Free and Democratic Bulgaria Foundation, which works with the British charity, Childhope? One of its main aims is to deal with the world-wide problem of street and vulnerable children. Can the Minister assure the House that essential basic support will be given to this worthwhile charity, which is vital as Bulgaria works towards European Union membership?

Baroness Amos

My Lords, I am sure that the noble Baroness is aware that we have very clear criteria against which we make decisions about which charities we will fund. I am unable to respond in respect of one specific charity, but I will take that question away and write to the noble Baroness. We are funding a range of NGOs working with children across the European Union as well as in Russia.

Lord Laming

My Lords, is the Minister aware of the work of the Russian European Trust? It is supported both by DfID and the task programme of the European Union which is trying to set up social care services across Russia in order, apart from anything else, to try to halt the decline in life expectancy in that country.

Baroness Amos

My Lords, I am aware of the work of the trust. One of the areas at which the department is looking in detail is the social fabric in Russia and ways in which we can help to sustain the systems of social services and social care.