It is a pleasure to follow Alec Shelbrooke and to have heard the many excellent speeches and interventions of right hon. and hon. Members. I am grateful for the opportunity to speak on this issue in the Chamber because it is an issue of immense importance to me and my constituents.
I believe it is incumbent on us as global leaders in this country, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, to be seen to be helping other nations where possible, especially those nations with which we have historical colonial links. The hon. Gentleman referred to our duty to set the scene for those who come after, not just in this country but elsewhere in the world where we have influence. It is my belief that there is a duty on us to lead the way, but I am also aware that there is so much need on my own doorstep and subsequently the aid we give to other countries must be limited. We must also therefore be effective with the 0.7% that we give. We must make sure that that money goes where it is needed most.
Probably everyone in this House will be aware of the phrase, “Cut your cloth to suit your clothes.” That is what international aid must be—we must do it, but in a sensible way to make the most of the cloth that we have. We must make sure that the money set aside goes to where it needs to go and is as effective as it can be.
The UK spends 0.7% of its gross national income on aid and, in the 2017 general election, the major parties in this House committed themselves to maintaining spending at that target in their manifestos. I support that. However, it is clear that we need to be cautious about how it is distributed and make sure it is done right.
The Library briefing for today’s debate, supplied by the excellent Library staff, states that the Department for International Development spends a majority of the aid budget, which is provisionally estimated at £14.5 billion for 2018. Some parliamentary Committees and other organisations have raised concerns about how effectively Departments other than DFID can deliver aid. Aid spending can be broken down into a number of functional sectors and, in 2017, the two largest sectors by spending were social services infrastructure, at 42%, and humanitarian aid, at 17%.
Hon. Members have referred to the stories we have heard over the last year and a half of senior staff members of some charities—not all, thank goodness—having been involved in terrible activities that involved sexual abuse and taking advantage of young people, including parents and single women. We need an assurance—which I think we have had from the Minister, to be fair, in statements to the House—that that can never happen again. We want to make sure that that is the case.
On charitable giving, I know very well that my constituents are hearty givers. The 2016 individual giving survey undertaken by the Northern Ireland Council for Voluntary Action found that a large proportion of respondents donated money to charity—89% over the last 12 months. This figure is consistently higher than UK-wide levels, which stand at 62% on average. So my constituents, per head of the population, are 27% more generous when it comes to giving. It is always good to know that people are generous and it is good to know that the people of Strangford are especially generous.
We are generous people in this House—all of us—but we are also thrifty and careful in what we do and we like to ensure that money spent is well spent. That is where I question the Department—not on what we give, but on how we give it and making sure that it goes to the right place. DFID money and assistance go to countries that have an appalling record of human rights abuses, and I ask the Minister what has been done to ensure that the money that is given to those countries can focus its way through to ethnic groups and small religious minority groups to ensure that those people actually benefit from it. As chair of the all-party parliamentary group on international freedom of religion or belief, this is something that is close to my heart, and to the hearts of all those who have spoken and who will speak after me.
Some Members have referred to climate change. Last Wednesday, we had the opportunity to attend a mass rally out on the green, in which Christian Aid was very much involved. It was a pleasure to be there and to meet some of my constituents and other people from Northern Ireland who were there to encourage us as politicians to ensure that action is taken. There is an onus on us to ensure that we do our bit here, so that we can help others elsewhere. The hon. Member for Elmet and Rothwell mentioned ideas on renewables for countries where sunshine is plentiful, and that might be an appropriate method in those places. This is now a regular topic of conversation in my office and my advice centre, and I think it is probably the same in everybody else’s as well, because people are genuinely interested in this subject. They want to see the rest of the world address climate issues, including the problems elsewhere that we in the west have perhaps contributed to over the years.
It is my sincerely and deeply held opinion that more money should and must be given to relief projects that enable people to self-sustain. One of the missionary bodies in my constituency that I support is the Elim Mission Church. It not only gives men, women and children a meal but teaches them the skills to enable them to earn money themselves. We were looking at projects that can be of real benefit—those are the projects we should encourage. We need to look at the funding to see whether we are facilitating people’s lives in refugee camps instead of providing them with the things they need to get into a community where they can live, work, raise a family and earn a living, and thereby be self-sustainable. That is all any of us really want to do.
I particularly want to give credit to the important work being done by WaterAid. In Northern Ireland and probably some parts of Scotland, we have some of the highest levels of rainfall in the whole United Kingdom, and we have the luxury of water on tap whenever we want it. In other parts of the world where water is a scarce commodity, WaterAid—and other charities, to be fair—are working hard to ensure that clean water, hygiene and sewage disposal are available. These things that we take for granted are all important issues. They also include job sustainability.
We all have Churches and missions in our constituencies, and we are all pleased to have them. People are compassionate and understanding; they have a conscience and want to help others. The Churches in Ards include the Presbyterian Church, the Church of Ireland, the Methodist Church, the Baptist Church and the Roman Catholic Church, and they are all helping with projects across the whole of Africa and the far east. They include projects in Sudan, Uganda, Kenya, Swaziland and Zimbabwe. Those Churches are actively involved with marvellous projects to deliver education, health and water.
Last September, I had an opportunity to be in Pakistan with a delegation from the all-party group to meet some of the leaders in Pakistan and to discuss human rights issues with them. We also discussed some of the projects that we do. We also met representatives from DFID. There is a wonderful opportunity to be involved in education programmes through the different systems that DFID has in place. There are opportunities to work alongside the Churches, the non-governmental organisations and the missionary groups to deliver education. We should use those organisations as a conduit to make that happen, because that has not been done in the way that I would like to see it being done. For instance, the universities and schools in Pakistan want to have projects in which they can work with DFID and with groups in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland to look at ways whereby they can develop those projects. That would create an opportunity for those of a minority religion or members of small ethnic groups to be educated so that they, too, can apply for jobs. It is not fair that some of the Christians in the small ethnic groups are given the menial jobs such as sweeping the streets. We need to ensure that everyone has an equal opportunity and that is a way of doing that.
When we are funding infrastructure projects, we need to ascertain how much goes to worthwhile projects and how much is taken up in administration. I understand that this is a difficult job, but I believe that our ambassadors in our embassies are best placed to ensure that our funding is being appropriately used. Again, I must say that I support international aid and support the Government’s commitment to it—I would perhaps like to say a bit more on that—totally and fully, but I believe we must make better use of those on the ground, including the local missionaries. How can DFID work better with some of the missionaries, Church groups and people who are well placed in countries across the world to try to ensure that aid gets through to those who do not normally get it? I refer to the embassies, to the NGOs and to those who are at the frontline of need and able to help. Every penny we can give must make a difference; otherwise, it is pointless to continue to give. I look forward to hearing how DFID and the Minister intend to ensure that we are as thrifty as we are generous.