Overseas Aid: Charities and Faith-based Organisations - Motion to Take Note

– in the House of Lords at 3:51 pm on 12th July 2018.

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Moved by Baroness Stroud

That this House takes note of the steps being taken by Her Majesty’s Government to engage with small charities and faith-based organisations in delivering United Kingdom aid overseas.

Photo of Baroness Stroud Baroness Stroud Conservative

My Lords, as a forward thinking, generous and compassionate nation we have enshrined in law the commitment to spending 0.7% of our GNI on aid. This means that in 2017 the UK’s aid contribution was nearly £14 billion. What we do with this money has enormous potential to benefit people, create opportunity and build nations. However, we have to ensure that it delivers on that potential, benefiting recipients and doing right by the British taxpayer.

We know that to maximise impact we need to deliver aid that focuses on twin objectives—humanitarian need and the building of nations. In 2017, conflicts and disasters around the world left an estimated 201 million people in need of the last resort of international humanitarian assistance. These are the people that need our assistance purely out of the greatest need to survive and should be one of the primary focuses of aid.

We also know that long-term nation building is the foundation that underpins the ability of a country to develop. Countries need safety and security, a strong economy, effective governance, education and health systems and a stable environment. It is no coincidence that poverty is concentrated in high-risk settings. Eighty-seven per cent of people who are living in extreme poverty are in countries which are either fragile or environmentally vulnerable. Ensuring that we are working to stabilise these situations will allow people to flourish in the long term.

Small charities are an important part of a thriving aid landscape and have an enormous contribution to make. In the UK, 90% of voluntary sector organisations are small or medium-sized charities, delivering many valuable services in the community. Small international charities play a similar role and their impact is equally profound. Small charities are often more rooted in their communities and have a strong record of partnering with others. They have an intimate understanding of the needs and sensitivities of the communities that they work in. Small charities are able to innovate and do highly responsive work. They are often mobile and adaptable, and they can respond to the changing needs of their local communities. This also means that they are able to be among the first responders in a humanitarian crisis and can work in communities that are the hardest to reach.

In Syria, when larger aid organisations were unable to access Aleppo in 2016 and aid convoys were being blocked and even destroyed, small grass-roots organisations with close ties to the community were a lifeline for those who desperately needed aid. Charities like Hand in Hand for Syria were vital and they continued working with local people inside Syria when many other organisations considered the situation to be too unsafe, with a team even remaining in Aleppo when it was controlled by Assad loyalists.

Smaller charities are often highly specialist and can build skills and capabilities alongside local knowledge in complex areas. For example, the UK direct grant recipients include a project in Nepal, delivered by Anti-Slavery International, which started in February of this year, rehabilitating members of the Haliya community who have escaped slavery and labour exploitation. This is an excellent example of a charity using its specialist knowledge to support a community by partnering with a local organisation, the Nepal National Dalit Social Welfare Organisation, to offer its skills and expertise. Another example is the Fred Hollows Foundation, which is working in Pakistan to treat avoidable blindness. Workers use their expertise to train doctors, nurses and other healthcare professionals to recognise, diagnose and treat eye problems in their own communities.

The recent revelations about the conduct of staff employed by some larger charitable organisations have shone a light on the aid sector and some of the attitudes within it. This, though, should not discourage us from generosity, but it has shown how crucial it is that our aid is delivered in a manner that is effective, accountable and able to serve the local community. We know that DfID research shows that smaller charities have a stronger record than larger ones of handling some of these safeguarding issues, and the department has even considered partnering larger charities with smaller ones to encourage peer support for safeguarding policies.

Smaller charities are also popular with the public. A 2013 study found that given the choice between donating to otherwise equal large or small charities, almost three-quarters of people chose to donate to small charities with their own money. DfID’s UK Aid Match scheme is an excellent initiative which allows British people a say in how our aid is spent and doubles the spending impact. The budget for this is relatively small when compared with our total spending, but could be expanded further to include more of the smaller charities. The 2016 Civil Society Partnership Review noted that smaller charities were finding it difficult to access DfID funding due to the extensive requirements of the application process, despite their advantages and their popularity. This led to the creation of the Small Charities Challenge Fund, which has great potential for unlocking funding for smaller charities to increase and scale up their excellent work.

It must be recognised, however, that what makes small charities advantageous is their mobility and ability to direct their attention where it is most needed. Obviously, funding based on evidence and accountability is essential, but the bureaucratic demands that these applications place on smaller charities, which often do not employ full-time administrative staff, can be prohibitive. If DfID is going to support the needs of these small charities and allow them to play their role to its full potential, the bureaucracy has to be minimised as much as possible. Can the Minister say what DfID is planning to do to reduce paperwork and reporting demands on smaller charities, so that more of their time can be devoted to doing their actual work?

As part of the diverse landscape of UK aid, the impact of faith-based charities is also an important consideration. It should be remembered that worldwide, more than eight in 10 people identify with a religious group. Faith for a huge number of people is a key marker of identity and belonging. Faith-based charities are not a niche sector, given that almost half of all UK overseas charities are in fact faith-based. They also make up a significant number of the organisations working in human rights and in poverty reduction. According to New Philanthropy Capital, there are almost 50,000 faith-based charities in England and Wales. This number is growing. Almost 10% more new charities with a faith ethos were registered with the Charity Commission in the last 10 years than non faith-based charities. In the past, DfID has been hesitant to engage with faith-based charities and two years ago funded only two, but now this number has reached almost 30—a reflection of an important change in attitude and the beginning of a recognition of the role that they could play.

Often when states become weak, people increasingly identify with and rely upon traditional community structures and religious identities. When state institutions are weak, or have even collapsed, local faith leaders and religious institutions can fill the gap. Faith-based organisations often exist in the most remote parts of countries and can reach communities the state finds hard to. Organisations such as churches and mosques can play key roles in their community and are often trusted. The World Bank’s Voices of the Poor study found that faith groups are often seen as more embedded in and committed to local communities.

There is great potential to use and partner with these existing structures to deliver aid. In Malawi, for example, around 85% of the population is Christian, with a strong and thriving network of churches. The charity USPG is using that network’s already significant community centre to support women’s education, to educate their communities about effective management of the environment and to provide training in vocational skills. Faith-based organisations make a distinctive contribution to the delivery of social services in a way that is often more culturally sensitive and aligned with that community. It has been shown that faith-based organisations can draw on existing networks and motivations to play a vital role in grass-root mobilisation.

Faith-based organisations are also often prepared to play a key role in particularly difficult circumstances. Their contribution to the fight against HIV and AIDS in Africa has been substantial, such as in Zambia and Lesotho, where the faith-based health organisations on the ground make up a significant proportion of provision. The promotion of effective HIV prevention by faith groups such as the Islamic Medical Association of Uganda in the early 2000s is credited as having a significant impact on reducing the spread of the disease in communities targeted.

During the Ebola crisis in Liberia and Sierra Leone, a combined response by Muslim and Christian leaders working together was transformational. Faith leaders worked together, using the Koran and the Bible, to educate people about preventing the disease, providing biblical backing to the importance of quarantining patients. Crucially, they also worked to change traditional burial practices sensitively to ensure that burials were safe and that the treatment of bodies did not contribute to the spread of disease.

As in both these cases, engagement with faith groups can help to change and to shape attitudes in culturally sensitive ways when a culture change is needed. They can help to mobilise communities around contentious topics, such as ensuring that women who have been the victims of sexual violence in conflict are not ostracised by their communities. Faith community involvement in brokering dialogue around conflict resolution and reconciliation can also have a strong impact.

DfID has a number of long-term relationships with large faith-based charities, such as Christian Aid, Islamic Relief and World Vision, which have been successful. However, the launch of the UK Aid Connect scheme is one of the ways the Government are ensuring that they harness the potential of many other faith groups. By inviting proposals to this fund, it would be possible to address key development challenges, including global intolerance, extremism and poverty. As the Government roll this out, I call upon my noble friend the Minister to lay out more of the strategy for engaging with a new wave of small, faith-based organisations in the delivery of aid.

Some 50% of people polled on international aid spending in the UK were concerned about aid not being spent well. This is clearly an issue that matters to the public. We have enormous potential to have a positive impact through our aid spending. Faith-based organisations and small charities are two of the ways we can nimbly mobilise this potential. We have the information about what it takes to create prosperous societies and we have the evidence on how aid can be effective. What steps are the Government taking to engage with small charities and faith-based organisations in delivering UK aid overseas? I beg to move.

Photo of Lord McNicol of West Kilbride Lord McNicol of West Kilbride Labour 4:05 pm, 12th July 2018

My Lords, it is a great honour and privilege to join your Lordships’ House and to speak in this debate. I thank noble Lords on all sides of the House, all officials and staff for their very warm and hospitable welcome. I also extend heartfelt thanks to my two distinguished supporters, my noble friends Lord Kinnock and Lady Smith of Basildon.

I was touched to be able to take the geographic title of Lord McNicol of West Kilbride, a village on the west coast of Scotland where I grew up and where my political mind and views were forged. My title is a tribute to that community, but also, and more so, to my father, Iain, and my late mother, Zoe, who instilled the belief in me that all of us can achieve great things. Today is only my fourth day in your Lordships’ House and, although I feel a little—well, a large amount of—trepidation, it is great to be speaking in such an important debate. As an inexperienced newbie, as we just saw, if I make mistakes on procedure or protocol, please forgive me. In my 35 years working in the trade union and labour movement, I have had the good fortune to work with many amazing people who dedicated their lives to improving those of others. Politics and politicians often get maligned, sometimes deservedly, but I have never failed to be impressed by the dedication and passion for doing good that exists within.

Looking back at my time as general secretary of the Labour Party, I have nothing but admiration for the people I got the opportunity to work with. My only regret is that we did not win and thus make the difference, as we have in the past. I also owe so much to my union, the GMB, including the opportunities and experience it gave me over the years I served as an industrial and political officer. I hope to be able to share some of those experiences and knowledge in some of your Lordships’ debates that help shape the legislation that is so important to our country’s future. I do not think I could have joined your Lordships’ House at a more politically turbulent time. That makes the contributions we all put in even more significant. If we let down the people of these countries, they, their children and their children’s children will not forgive us.

Turning to the debate, I pay tribute to the noble Baroness, Lady Stroud, for securing such an important debate. The UK has a long and proud tradition of supporting those in need on the international stage. Small charities and faith-based organisations often form the bedrock of such help. I am delighted that this House has the opportunity today to recognise their contributions. Indeed, 37% of the UK’s aid spending is delivered through multilateral organisations. While much of this is through the larger NGOs or intergovernmental campaigns, the support and help provided by smaller groups saves and improves innumerable lives every year. It is important that the Government remain committed to spending 0.7% of gross national income on international aid and, although I am pleased that the Government have met this obligation thus far, I urge the Minister to give greater consideration to how smaller charities and faith-based organisations can be engaged in delivering this commitment.

The Minister will be aware that, through initiatives such as UK Aid Direct and UK Aid Connect, grants are offered and awarded to NGOs of all sizes, but, for smaller charities with limited resources, funding rounds can often open and close before they have been noticed. So I encourage the Government to work with charities of all scales and sizes to ensure that UK aid funding opportunities are well publicised.

I also encourage the Government to engage with small charities to help them navigate the often difficult application processes. As we have just heard, while larger NGOs will have extensive teams dedicated to completing such lengthy funding proposals, small charities, including those applying through schemes such as the Small Charities Challenge Fund, will often need support and advice. I hope that the Government can give assurances that such advice will be readily available.

I intend to use my time here to continue campaigning on issues that are important to me: those of workers’ rights and social mobility. But there is one specific area I believe this House has the ability to make progress on, and that is housing and homelessness. I believe that the homelessness crisis we face in the UK is a national shame. We must come together to find the ways and means to tackle it in all its forms. We have used those powers and means to act. We did it before in the late 1990s and early 2000s—act rather than step over or walk past with our eyes averted. I will work with all those organisations and individuals who want to put the plans and resources in place to end it. Thank you.

Photo of Baroness Hodgson of Abinger Baroness Hodgson of Abinger Conservative 4:12 pm, 12th July 2018

My Lords, on behalf of the whole House, I welcome the noble Lord, Lord McNicol, and I congratulate him on his maiden speech. The noble Lord has a distinguished history of public service. As we heard, he rose through the ranks of the Labour Party and the GMB union, culminating in seven years as the Labour Party’s general secretary. He joins a number of other distinguished noble Lords on the Benches opposite who came from that office. During that time, I understand that he dramatically improved the party’s financial position, so perhaps he might make some important contributions in our debates on the economy. I understand that, among his hobbies, he enjoys snowboarding and playing the bagpipes. While I do not think he will have the opportunity to demonstrate his snowboarding skills here, I hope that maybe we will have a chance to hear him on the bagpipes, although probably not in the Chamber. He is also a black belt in karate, so I understand the Opposition Chief Whip is keen for him to join the Whips’ Office so he can put his talents to good use. I am sure I speak for the whole House when I say that I look forward to hearing from him in the coming years on his key interests in workers’ rights, social mobility, housing and homelessness.

I congratulate my noble friend Lady Stroud for so ably introducing this debate. I am particularly pleased that we are debating this topic because small charities and faith organisations play such an important role in helping to create a diverse and, therefore, more resilient and thriving aid sector. Before starting, I want to highlight my interests as listed in the register. Through my work as a co-chair on the APPG on Women, Peace and Security, I connect with many charities. I am also a trustee of the Chalker Foundation for Africa and a patron of Afghan Connection.

We should be proud that the UK was the first G7 country to achieve the UN target of spending 0.7% of GNI on aid. Faith-based and secular humanitarian organisations have a long history of responding to people in need. In recent years, the world has witnessed the phenomenal growth of civil society and the proliferation of charities and NGOs within that. While there are natural caveats about ensuring accountability, efficacy and transparency, this increase has meant more avenues through which the UK can deliver aid. However, all too often small charities are overlooked in spite of their valuable contribution to development. With DfID’s stated intention of delivering value for money, small charities generally have the added advantage of low overheads. They are often started by a person with a passion who may work all hours with almost no remuneration, often with the involvement of volunteers. In many cases, they tend to specialise because they have identified a gap that needs addressing. Although generally not having many resources, they are often innovative, light on their feet and flexible in their approach.

However, in spite of many such charities doing excellent work, they struggle to find funds. As any politician knows, fundraising is hard and time-consuming, in terms both of running events and trying to access grants. For most small charities, trying to attain government funding from DfID or the FCO has been almost impossible, yet the majority of development aid, with the figure sometimes put at 80% to 85%, comes from Governments.

While the MDGs halved the number of people globally living in extreme poverty, the SDGs have the ambitious goal of “leaving no one behind”. I am sure that the Minister will agree that a focus on women’s empowerment and girls’ education are the two linchpins in progress towards the majority of the global goals. To do this, work needs to be done at two levels. First, getting the constitution of a country right is important to ensure equality and equal opportunity. At government levels, work needs to be done on setting up healthcare and education systems. There needs to be security, law and order, land rights and institutions that can deliver for people.

Development aid is good at creating change at the national level. However, to really make change in a country, work needs to be done at grass-roots levels too. If not, it is hard for national laws and policies to reach people out in the country miles away from the capital and, all too often, inequality and customary law continue to preside. I have seen it on some of my visits overseas. I remember in Liberia asking women in a village why they were not bringing perpetrators of sexual violence to account. They told me that the elders would not let them visit the policeman in the next-door village, who would have given them access to the national legal system. They were made to come before the village elders—all men—who saw the situation very differently.

I have also seen how working at the grass roots can bring about enormous social change. I visited a village in Mali where a project on FGM had begun by persuading the elders that FGM was harmful to their women and girls. They had espoused this and had helped create change. It is small charities, these local, community-focused groups, which can really make a difference at the grass roots.

I have mentioned funding. As already mentioned by my noble friend Lady Stroud, it is hard for a small organisation to fill in the complex and lengthy application forms that DfID demands. I question whether it is really necessary to ask them to do so in the same way that is asked of a much larger NGO, which will usually have dedicated staff. Evaluation is important, but the processes are arguably too onerous. If we ask small charities to do this, all their time will be spent on applications and evaluations rather than on delivery, which is after all what they are about and what we want.

I congratulate the Government on launching the Small Charities Challenge Fund, aimed at charities which have income between £25,000 and £250,000. This is an excellent start. However, at the moment, it is a tiny proportion of the aid money spent. Are there plans to expand this fund? There are also quite a number of charities that are slightly bigger than this—medium-sized charities—which will not be able to apply. Are there plans to help with funding those? For example, Afghan Connection will not be able to apply for this fund as it has a slightly larger income, yet it appears to be too small for most other DfID funds. It is delivering children’s education in remote parts of Afghanistan, often when invited in by the local elders—exactly the type of project that is in line with what the UK Government encourage.

I understand that the Small Charities Challenge Fund is open only to small British charities. Are there plans to help with the funding of small overseas NGOs, rather than them necessarily having to rely on UK-based partners? As mentioned earlier, often the local NGO on the ground is the most effective, while it is often impossible for British NGOs to get into conflict-affected and fragile states. UK Aid Match is also an excellent scheme by which DfID matches the funds that a small charity raises. This has the added benefit of giving people a say about where they want DfID’s money to be spent.

The fact that DfID gives grants for only one year can be problematic. In some cases, especially where overseas posts have had to bid for funding, the money may arrive several months late. The charity may thus have a shorter time to spend it. It therefore has only a small window in which it can concentrate on the actual project and not worry about whether it will be able to continue after the year-end. Perhaps my noble friend the Minister might think about giving small charities longer-term funding over, for example, three years. Being effective on the ground means building relationships, and change can be effected much more easily where trust has had time to build up.

It is, of course, essential that small charities get appropriate funding; getting too little or too much can have a detrimental effect. Historically, DfID has always preferred to give larger grants as they are less manpower-intensive, but maybe other models can be followed. For example, in Iraq I met Hanaa Edwar, who won the Sean MacBride Peace Prize. She told me that she had acted as a funding platform by applying for funding and then distributing it to small NGOs. That adds one more step to the transparency chain, but has DfID considered a model such as this in fragile and conflict-affected countries?

Faith-based organisations can play a critical role, as we have also heard. I saw this in Iraq, where the Catholic Church was offering respite to Christian IDPs and refugees as they were not safe in the UN camps. Part of the raison d’être of Christian NGOs such as Tearfund, World Vision and Christian Aid is that they work through local partners because they believe that, for the most part, engaging in humanitarian and development work through local churches adds value. Tearfund succinctly sums it up in its recent report on this issue by highlighting the unique role that local churches and faith groups can play in fighting poverty. It is because they are integral in their communities, inspirational to their congregations and influential through their networks. It is not just Christian organisations; those such as Islamic Aid can often reach into countries and places where western organisations are unable to go.

When a disaster strikes, response times can make all the difference in saving people’s lives. Faith organisations are often among the first responders on the scene and provide the place where people go when they have lost everything. In the long run, capacity-building through churches and local faith organisations should be commended as one of the ways to build community resilience and as a means of helping to work towards the global goals. I am glad that the UK Government are now more welcoming to applications from these organisations.

There is one more area that I would quickly like to touch on: organisations dedicated to advocacy and lobbying need more support. Too often in the past, well- meaning people coming from outside have tried to impose change in developing and post-conflict countries. However, change really happens only when it is owned and driven by the people of that country themselves. Building change means building movements and campaigns, yet funding is nearly always directed to the easily measured project work. Too often in fragile countries, those who could have been instrumental in effecting societal change have had to dedicate themselves to delivering projects because they cannot afford to work for nothing.

I heartily and sincerely congratulate Her Majesty’s Government on their approach to international development and direction of travel, but I hope that we can develop our work with smaller and faith-based charities. I hope my noble friend will agree that we need to work with big and small NGOs of all kinds if we are to reach the goal of the SDGs and really leave no one behind. I leave your Lordships with the thoughts of the US anthropologist Margaret Mead, who once said:

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has”.

Photo of The Bishop of Rochester The Bishop of Rochester Bishop 4:25 pm, 12th July 2018

My Lords, I had not intended to speak in this debate, because I did not think I would be able to be here, but I am prompted to do so in response to the mention of Tearfund by the noble Baroness. I am grateful to the noble Baroness for bringing forward this important debate on a significant part of our contribution to development in other parts of the world.

I will take you briefly to a visit I made two years ago to the ward of Matongoro, which is in the Kongwa district just east of Dodoma in Tanzania. In that village, which has been dependent on government assistance and international aid for quite some time, I encountered a significant transformation. Through the simple expedients of working with the villagers through the local church there to build the capacity of that community and identify that which they could offer, a particular piece of work has been done initially around agriculture, based on irrigation and farming techniques of appropriate technologies. I was taken to an area where a previously barren piece of land was replete with vegetables of all different kinds, which were being grown by the local villagers for the benefit of that community but, more importantly, in excess of their own needs. That product was then sold in the markets and the income was kept within that community.

This is an example of a partnership with Tearfund, which was mentioned by the noble Baroness, and a parish in my diocese—St Stephen’s, Tonbridge—and the local Anglican church in that community, so it was a three-way partnership facilitated by a faith-based organisation, Tearfund. It was remarkable that this village, which had been waiting for government funding to renew its dilapidated school, had invested the proceeds of their horticulture and selling of crops into rebuilding their own school, and so was not waiting for external funding. I was privileged to formally open their new school buildings in that village.

I use this as an illustration of the way in which, as has already been referred to, organisations that are close to the ground, which can respond immediately to local need in creative and often very simple ways, can bring about real transformation that affects the well-being of countless people, not least succeeding generations. Here we have an example of a school being rebuilt for the benefit of that community, of people finding gainful employment by being able to grow their own food and sell it for the benefit of that community, and of the economic cycle remaining within that community and thereby bringing benefits to all concerned.

I am grateful for this debate and I commend support, in whatever way, for these small-scale initiatives to Her Majesty’s Government and to all of us who have the opportunity to support and encourage them.

Photo of Lord Sheikh Lord Sheikh Conservative 4:28 pm, 12th July 2018

My Lords, I am pleased to speak briefly in the gap. I begin by saying that I, with my close family and friends, have our own charity, which is entirely funded by us. In addition, I am a patron of two charities.

Muslims all over the world believe in helping people who are less fortunate than ourselves. Muslims also believe that we have a moral duty to support charitable organisations through giving our time and resources wherever possible. I am sure everyone agrees there is a great deal of pleasure in giving, as both the donor and the recipient gain satisfaction.

There are many Muslim charities that are based in the United Kingdom. UK Muslims gave over £100 million to charity during the month of Ramadan last year. That is £38 a second. Muslim charities help deserving causes in the United Kingdom and provide support and assistance in overseas countries. Some of these countries have been affected by war; others are affected by famine, climate change or natural disasters. These charities perform splendid work in providing water, shelter and food. They are also involved in helping people to earn a living. I feel that charities should get involved in the education of young people and the training of people generally in order to make them self-sufficient.

I would like to emphasise that Muslim charities help to support and provide aid to non-Muslims as well as Muslims. They support people of all races, colours and religions all over the world. This fact needs to be appreciated, as it sets out the philosophy of the Muslim charities.

I have connections to several Muslim charities and know the trustees and senior executives. There are charities that have been doing remarkable work, going back to the early 1980s. It is the faith of the Muslims, and we believe that faith is the fourth emergency service. Individuals have shown a willingness to volunteer time, professionalism and extend friendship. While the giving of charity is part of the Islamic faith, most Muslims will give charity with humility. Muslims believe in discretion, and we feel that the left hand should not know what the right hand gives.

I would also like to state that Muslim charities are the bedrock of their local communities and help whenever there are problems in the UK. For example, after the Grenfell tragedy, Muslim charities played a vital role in helping the people who were affected.

I would like to add that at the charities with which I am connected there is proper governance, accountability and transparency in every aspect of their work. These charities have controlled their expenses and put into practice proper safeguards, which are implemented at all times.

I was very pleased that a recent event organised with Islamic Relief that I hosted in the House of Lords was attended by the Secretary of State from the Department for International Development and the Minister. DfID has provided support to Islamic Relief under the UK aid match programme. I would like to ask the Minister: is DfID willing to accept applications from suitable Muslim charities for similar support?

Photo of Baroness Barker Baroness Barker Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Voluntary Sector) 4:32 pm, 12th July 2018

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Stroud, for giving us the opportunity to discuss this topic today. I also congratulate the noble Lord, Lord McNicol, on an excellent maiden speech. I am intrigued to discover that he is a snowboarder because, to the best of my knowledge, he comes from the one part of Scotland where there is very little snow—that is why they built Prestwick Airport where they did. So he is clearly a man of great fortitude who works hard to achieve his goals.

I declare my interest as chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Sexual and Reproductive Health, a member of the APPG on Population, Development and Reproductive Health and of the HIV/AIDS group, and a supporter of the NAZ project, a black and minority ethnic organisation dealing with HIV and AIDS, principally in this country but also in other parts of the world.

For those reasons, I listened to the speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Stroud, with great interest. Faith-based health providers are a major component of health service delivery in many developing countries, especially in sub-Saharan Africa. The WHO estimates that at least 40% of healthcare services in sub-Saharan Africa are provided by the faith-based sector, and that between 30% and 70% of health infrastructure in Africa is owned by faith-based organisations. So it is clear that faith-based organisations are going to be a very important part of the delivery of health. That is not surprising: Christian missionary hospitals and Islamic hospitals were often the first medical facilities throughout Africa. Because of their extensive infrastructure, they are a critical component; they exist where the government sector and the private sector are poorly developed. They are very active in public health initiatives, particularly around HIV and AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria. They can aid and augment the supply of materials and medicines. They are sometimes the only genuine NGOs, and they are very much trusted and influential in the communities in which they work.

At the same time, some faith-based providers of services have very narrow, conservative interpretations of their faith that can have a direct effect on very important matters such as access to family planning, contraception, abortion and HIV/AIDS treatment, particularly condom distribution and condom use. That has very obvious consequences for women and girls. It is therefore only right that we look at that issue in some detail today, because it is critical not only to the lives of the people but to government organisations that are trying to work in a complicated landscape of providers.

For many faith-based organisations, the provision of healthcare services is an important part of their mission, and those faiths live out their values within their service provision. That is absolutely understandable, but, within different religions and at different levels of religious organisations, there is often quite a variation in understanding of what their practice is and should be. At its heart, the Catholic Church has very clear policies, particularly about access to contraception and abortion. In other religions, it is less clear. For example, there is a debate raging about whether intrauterine devices are abortifacients. That can have a major impact on a population of women and girls.

It is an issue that people in the aid sector return to time and time again. Nobody doubts that religious organisations can be of major importance in the development of the health, wealth and economy of a nation, but, as public policy, and in particular local political public policy, is often heavily influenced by external religious funding sources, it can sometimes bring about a great change. It is interesting that we are discussing this today when the President of the United States of America is in town. His Government came in and reintroduced what is known as the global gag rule. If fact, they extended a previous US Government policy to deny funding to any organisation that they deemed to be a provider of abortion services. That is having a huge impact across the world. Not only does it affect those services that provide safe abortions, it has a direct impact on services that provide access to family planning and contraception, which may not necessarily provide abortion services but are caught under that rule. That in turn has a knock-on effect on the general health systems of, in particular, low-income and middle-income countries.

As ever, the Minister will not be surprised that I ask: how is DfID, as one of the leading providers of funding for contraceptive services and access to safe abortion—because our Government recognise that it is one of the key interventions that can be made to affect the economic outlook of not just women and girls but of the country—going to calibrate the distribution of moneys? DfID has not had a change in policy, but it now has to operate within a landscape in which other major funders, chiefly those of the United States, have changed.

Back in 2011, a report was produced by the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Population, Development and Reproductive Health. It was called, Sex, Ideology, Religion: 10 Myths about World Population Growth and produced by Richard Ottaway, the then Conservative MP, and was a riveting read for any of us interested in this field. He made the important point that most of the tenets of major religions were devised well before many of today’s issues, such as the changing technology of reproductive health and contraception, climate change and access to water and food, were the emergencies that they now are in certain parts of the world. Therefore, their consequences are somewhat different. He rightly says that all religions have a belief that family planning is a good thing and permissible. What is questionable, and where they differ, is on how that may be achieved. For some, we know that access to contraception remains a taboo: for others it is not.

When DfID is in the business of deciding which religious organisations will be part of its strategy for a country, will it ask about and take into account the policy that that religious group and its providers in the field will follow? That is not to weed people out or say that some people may never have any funding; it is about ensuring that the objectives of the programme that we set, which are laudable, for the at-risk populations in those countries are met.

I simply say this. There will always be funding for religious organisations; they will always have a legitimate part to play. But we need to have greater transparency about the nature of their funding alongside that of other people, so that we ensure that key vulnerable populations do not miss out completely on essential health services.

In the brief time available to me, I will mention another small but interesting issue that came to my attention during the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting. I listened to an Australian senator, Linda Reynolds, who was talking about orphanage tourism. It was a new issue to me, but one that I was interested to hear about. The Australian Government are about to change their laws on trafficking to include orphanages. They are doing that because considerable investigation, not least in places such as Cambodia, has revealed that so-called orphanages operate to standards which make one question them. Children are often there who have not been separated from their family but are there as part of a lure to tourists. It is a way in which desperate people attempt to gain an income.

The Australian Government are not only going to change their law to try to clamp down on orphanage tourism, they are promoting a smart volunteering scheme. It is often generous-hearted young people, often with the backing of their community here at home, who volunteer and form short-term attachments to children. We in the West now know that putting children in institutions is to condemn them to just about the most awful health and life outcomes and we tend not to do it. We tend as far as possible to support children in any setting other than an institution.

It is perhaps time that we began to look internationally at some of this. I am not suggesting that right at this moment we change our laws, but I ask the Minister whether he and his department might ask their counterparts in Australia what they are doing, why, and what we might learn from them.

Faith-based organisations have a very long tradition of helping some of the poorest and most desperate people in the world. In so far as they continue to do that, they deserve our backing, but we must ask increasingly that we have a debate with faith leaders about the exclusivity of some of the policies behind their engagement in this work.

Photo of Baroness Smith of Basildon Baroness Smith of Basildon Shadow Leader of the House of Lords, Shadow Spokesperson (Northern Ireland), Shadow Spokesperson (Cabinet Office) 4:45 pm, 12th July 2018

My Lords, I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Stroud, on securing what has been an impressive debate. I very much support her choice of subject, as it provides your Lordships’ House with an opportunity to reflect on action, on progress to date and on what else can be done to ensure the best outcomes.

It was also a pleasure to hear the speech of my noble friend Lord McNicol. Not only was it an excellent speech, but the fact that he made his maiden speech in the same week he was introduced to your Lordships’ House indicates that he will waste no time at all in getting to grips with his new role. I look forward to him playing an active and positive role and to his future contributions. I suggest perhaps that he might save his bagpipes for future Labour Lords’ curry nights, which might be more appropriate.

I welcome the fact that the noble Lord, Lord Bates, will be replying to today’s debate, because he has form on this issue. None of us can have forgotten, as we followed him on Twitter around the world how, having taken leave from your Lordships’ House, he marched his way towards Athens—I think it was Athens that he walked to, and I see the noble Lord nodding. It was the highest service he could give. There are two pillars of what charity organisations, faith-based organisations, voluntary organisations and NGOs are about. One is trying to raise funds, and the other is that campaigning role of drawing attention to the issues that you mean you have to raise funds as a way to try to resolve them. The noble Lord is the most appropriate person in government to reply to today’s debate.

My last position in government, so far, was at the Cabinet Office and included being the Minister responsible for charities in the voluntary sector and social enterprises. Like so many in your Lordships’ House, I have been involved in the charity and NGO sectors for a number of years in different ways. Today, we have heard from noble Lords across the House of their involvement, and I suspect that if we spoke to any Member, we would hear very similar stories of their engagement in different kinds of organisations of all shapes and sizes.

One of the things that struck me in my role as a Minister was both how vast and how diverse the sector is, in terms of organisation size, whether they employ staff, have volunteers or a mix of both and the services they deliver and campaigns they run. There is also the role of those who support these organisations. I was struck by how people were so very generous with their time, money and expertise, without which these organisations would be unable to function.

Over decades, across the developing world the UK has maintained a proud tradition of supporting those in need and tackling global challenges head on. The public continue to be generous. Close to 40% of the UK’s aid spending is delivered through multilateral organisations and groups formed by intergovernmental organisations which have a high level of public recognition. However, as we have heard today, there is so much less awareness of the excellent work of smaller charities, NGOs and faith-based organisations in this field.

I am sure that I am not alone in knowing of small organisations that raise funds through their churches and local communities to provide schools, teachers and medical support, for example, in some of the poorest places in the world. By targeting their limited resources, they can contribute to saving and improving lives. Some take on the work themselves through volunteers who commit time and expertise. Others fundraise to support paid professionals to deliver services. The delivery models differ, but the objectives remain the same.

In recent years, the Government have promoted funding initiatives to support the work of charities in delivering aid overseas. The Government must rise to the challenge to ensure that these schemes are accessible and open to charities and organisations of all sizes. At the same time, they need to ensure proper accountability and the effective use of that funding.

The UK Aid Connect initiative requires organisations to construct their own consortiums prior to bidding, but the effect of that is to gear the scheme much more towards larger charities and NGOs that have the resources and experience to form such groups to navigate the process. I remember in my role as Minister talking to some of the organisations that were getting together to form these consortiums. The amount of time, energy and effort it took to bring the organisations together, to get common policies and to fill in the forms could be very difficult. So we should do more to make it a process that does not remove the accountability or the good governance that we need but also does not put onerous barriers in the way that prevent the best, in a sense, becoming the enemy of the good and prevent us getting the right applications when we need them.

Small charities can make an enormous contribution to developmental goals, but UK aid must be genuinely open to them. I echo the point made by my noble friend Lord McNicol. Can the Minister say something about the steps that the Government are taking to help smaller NGOs and charities to apply for UK aid funding, including from UK Aid Connect? That would be quite helpful, as there is this barrier for small organisations.

Similarly, the Small Charities Challenge Fund, which I think other noble Lords mentioned and which forms part of UK Aid Direct, provides grants of up to £50,000 to organisations with an annual income of £250,000 or less. I welcome the fact that the Government have earmarked certain funds specifically for those small charities but, again, can the Minister provide some additional information on this? I fear that it could well be those organisations at the higher end of the scale, while the small organisations who perform low-level but equally valuable projects find it difficult to apply because they do not have the scale in order to do so. Any information on that would be helpful.

If the Government are to be successful, as has been indicated, in engaging with smaller charities, they need to understand and know precisely what proportion of the UK aid budget is spent supporting these smaller organisations and also to identify the outcomes from such organisations. It is not the case that just because an organisation is small, local and maybe more mobile that it is automatically providing better outcomes. The Government need to look at that assessment of outcomes. My noble friend Lord McNicol identified that about 36% of UK aid is delivered through multilateral organisations, but much of this is through the larger NGOs and those much larger intergovernmental organisations. Is there any kind of estimate of what proportion of multilateral aid is delivered through small charities, using that definition that is used by DfID of £250,000?

On the issue of transparency, I want to say something about the £1 billion Conflict, Stability and Security Fund, which I think the noble Baroness, Lady Hodgson, referred to. The fund is a significant part of the ODA budget, but it has quite a secretive nature and we get little information about how it is spent. Can the Minister say something about the fund, including whether those smaller organisations—charities, NGOs and faith-based organisations—have had access to that fund and been able to secure funding?

The point raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Stroud, is crucial: for the public to continue their support of charities and the voluntary sector, there has to be trust and confidence. They are only able to undertake the work that they do, which is valuable and often essential, when the public, our Government and the Governments and civic society in the countries they work in have confidence that they are working to the highest possible standards. That means that the strong ethical values and principles that brought them into being has to be the focus of their work and reflected at every level of the organisation and in all they do. What that does not mean—this is a point that the noble Baroness, Lady Barker, very eloquently identified—is that ideological views should in any way override public policy, particularly in the areas of HIV, reproductive health and family planning.

But neither does it mean that everything has to be undertaken by volunteers. Whatever the size of the organisation, it has the same responsibility to its staff as does any organisation. Staff in this sector are entitled to decent wages and working conditions and a safe working environment. That means that there is a role not just for the Charity Commission but for the Government, particularly with regard to the governance and oversight of how such organisations operate.

That responsibility also has some limits. When I was the Charities Minister, I disagreed profoundly with Oliver Letwin MP, who was then drafting the Tory party manifesto on limiting the campaigning role of charities—even to the point that he declared that charities which received funding from government, even for service delivery, should not campaign on policy issues. That is an extraordinary thing to require. I took completely and totally the opposite view. If charities are involved in service delivery, for example, and particularly if they use government money, and they identify how an issue can be better resolved or dealt with, they have an obligation to say so. Whether they receive any government funding or not should be completely and utterly irrelevant. Governments should never use funding as a way of gagging legitimate debate.

If we always want to improve public policy, NGOs and other organisations working in the field have expertise, sending back information and providing information to government. If government is not listening to campaigns for better healthcare—whether it is reproductive health, HIV, safe access to health facilities, or safe food and water—it is right for those organisations to campaign on these issues, and receiving funding for service delivery should not prevent that. To pursue that route would be a bit like putting our head in the sand: “We know best; we are delivering; it does not matter if it can be improved or not”.

Unfortunately, much of that manifesto and that way of thinking found its way into legislation in the Transparency of Lobbying, Non-Party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Act 2014. I have no difficulty whatever with transparency, but it would be helpful if the Minister could say something about the very legitimate campaigning role of charities. I draw attention to the fact that, when the Minister was marching to Athens—I do not know how many pairs of trainers he got through en route—a key part of that was drawing attention to the issues he was raising funds for.

As I began my speech today, I commented that we should recognise, with some pride, the UK’s role, through decades, as a world leader in aid, whether it is immediate humanitarian aid in the wake of any kind of disaster or rebuilding communities that have been devastated by conflict. We accept responsibility and want to contribute, and I think the public do as well. We should therefore be enormously proud of the UK’s determination to tackle such global injustices, and proud of the British public, who want and expect us to contribute.

Too often, people think of charities as somehow well-meaning amateurs. We are way beyond that. The roles charities large and small play, and the professionalism they bring to the work they offer is exceptional—I see the noble Baroness, Lady Stedman-Scott, nodding; she has experience here—and it should be recognised as such. However, that does not negate that government also has a role, particularly in governance and oversight.

Photo of Lord Bates Lord Bates The Minister of State, Department for International Development 4:58 pm, 12th July 2018

My Lords, I join other noble Lords in paying tribute to my noble friend Lady Stroud for securing this debate on this important and timely topic. She began by drawing on her own experience of the work that she had seen, such as the work of Hand in Hand for Syria, in Aleppo, and the assistance it had given. She told us about small charities and faith-based organisations, particularly those which work on the Ebola outbreak in Sierra Leone to stop the spread of that disease. She pointed to the area of conflict, where people are often in search of those they can trust, and how they frequently turn to people from faith-based and local community-based charities.

We will of course long remember this debate for the maiden speech of the noble Lord, Lord McNicol. He brings passion and expertise to this House, and we welcome him. I have to tell him that it is not every Back-Bencher who gets the Leader of the Opposition responding to a debate in which they have made their maiden speech. He clearly has a bright future ahead of him. Although he is from West Kilbride—I am treading dangerously here; I tried to pick up a signal on my smartphone so that I could check the facts—in the great town of East Kilbride is the headquarters of the administration of all British overseas aid. We have over 800 people there. I think it is a new town. I am not sure of the distance between the two but the name Kilbride certainly connects them. The noble Lord talked about the importance of trade unions. Internationally, we are working increasingly with trade unions and the International Labour Organization in the area of human trafficking, because often they are the first ports of call and essential partners in combating that evil trade.

My noble friend Lady Hodgson talked about a number of examples from Liberia to Mali, as well as about peacebuilding in Iraq. I was glad that she mentioned the work of Afghan Connection. It is an inspirational organisation whose chief executive is Sarah Fane. It is incredible to see the impact that a very small charity focused simply on building schools in remote rural parts of Afghanistan is having. I must not get too carried away with enthusiasm about the charity because I think it might be applying for a grant from DfID. Officials are saying, “You have to be careful and even-handed”. I am sure that there are other organisations doing similar work, but I was particularly impressed by that one.

The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Rochester gave a practical example of a partnership between his diocese, Tearfund and the local community in Tanzania. I particularly enjoyed that example because sometimes aid is perceived by people in need as having a patronising element to it. Therefore, helping people to deploy the skills they already have in providing for their own future and building their own schools is very much where we are heading.

The noble Lord, Lord Sheikh, talked about the generosity of Muslim charities. I attended the wonderful event in the River Room. In one of those amazing juxtapositions, in the space of one week I went from announcing an aid match for the Lent appeal for Christian Aid to doing to the same for CAFOD. I then went to the launch of Islamic Relief, involving zakat. We were UK aid-matching them all. The first time I heard that £100 million had been given in one month by the Muslim community of Britain, I had to double-check it. I thought, “Surely there’s an extra nought on the end”, but the figure is absolutely correct. I do not know why we do not hear more in the media about our British Muslim community. It is the most generous of the faith communities in the United Kingdom and we are incredibly proud of the contribution that it makes to this great country.

The noble Baroness, Lady Barker, said that while of course we want faith-based charities to be a channel for aid, providing help to those in need, it is important that they do not become a barrier. That was an important point to make, particularly in reference to sexual and productive health. This country has been at the forefront in advancing that on the international agenda, often against some opposition from different quarters. We held a very successful conference on that very subject just last year to highlight our ongoing commitment to ensuring that people get the sexual and reproductive health treatments and help that they have the right to receive.

The noble Baroness, Lady Smith, reminded us that there is almost a “triple word score” benefit from getting volunteers to do fundraising and to help. Not only do they provide practical support for the charity’s aims but they build a sense of society within our own community, and they also highlight the cause that underlies it. She said it was very important that we remain focused. She will know from her time in ministerial office that it is tempting, when we hear wonderful stories of charities, to focus on their inspirational founders and leaders, but she was right to remind us that our hard focus must be on the outcomes that they deliver for the people in need.

The noble Baroness also underscored the importance of safeguarding. Protecting the safety of those we are seeking to help must be our Hippocratic oath: “first do no harm”. I do not know whether it is correct for me to acknowledge it but, in that context, our distinguished colleague my noble friend Lady Stowell is chair of the Charity Commission, and I am sure she will find this debate very helpful in her work.

As DfID’s Minister for Civil Society, I know that small charities and faith-based organisations do extraordinary good around the world. My department is committed to working with them to deliver the sustainable development goals and to eradicate extreme poverty from the world by 2030. I would like to focus first on small charities and then on faith communities.

Small charities are a vital part of the civil society ecosystem and do remarkable work, as all noble Lords have recognised. They are able to innovate and specialise, and often can better engage with the British public than their larger counterparts. In 2016, DfID’s civil society partnership review found that despite the added value that they bring, small charities often felt excluded from DfID funding, as the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, and my noble friend Lady Hodgson both referred to. This presented an issue for my department, which we have worked hard to resolve.

At the heart of this effort is DfID’s Small Charities Challenge Fund, which was launched last summer to provide funding opportunities for very small, UK-based charities. The noble Baroness, Lady Smith, and the noble Lord, Lord McNicol, asked what more could be done to draw attention to this fund. One thing we are seeking to do is engage parliamentarians, both in this House and in the other place. Parliamentarians have constituency-based connections and, in this House, many noble Lords are representatives, trustees and patrons of particular charities. They can help signpost this fund’s existence. The first round of the fund closed in September last year and I am pleased to announce the commencement of the first four projects, with more to follow over the summer. One of these projects will establish a community recycling centre in the Gambia, creating local employment and reducing pollution; another will provide access to safe water and sanitation in rural Malawi; yet another will focus on quality healthcare and rehabilitation; and the final project will improve access to affordable and clean energy, which is a key issue in sub-Saharan Africa. This is just the start of DfID’s exciting new collaboration, and I look forward to further developments and announcements over the coming months.

I should say that the funding window for the next round is open right now. For those tuning in—people with insomnia might tune in to the Parliament channel in the early hours—if you are involved in a charity, go to a search engine and punch in the words “Small Charities Challenge Fund” and “DfID”, and you will find out how to apply. The window will be open until the end of September.

In the process of doing that, we said that it was very important to ensure that we got feedback from small charities as the pilot progressed. Like my noble friend Lady Hodgson, the small charities told us that our application process was too long. We therefore designed a one-stage application form on a bespoke online platform. They also told us that our due diligence process was too onerous. I should put in a caveat here: we are dealing with taxpayers’ money and with some of the most vulnerable people in the world and it is right that our due diligence be demanding, but not too onerous. Therefore, we have implemented a more proportionate, streamlined process.

My noble friend Lady Hodgson asked about the difficulties of cash flow, which is a critical issue for many small organisations trying to make payments and meet commitments. Therefore, we created a tailored payment-in-advance approach to ensure that grant holders do not have to dip into their own reserves to deliver the project effectively.

The noble Baroness, Lady Hodgson, asked us to think about multi-agreements. We looked carefully at that but we are concerned that we do not create a dependence upon aid. Often these small charities are lean, effective and mobile, as the noble Baroness, Lady Stroud, reminded us, and that is their great advantage. There is a place for the small as well as for the large in the system and we do not want to conscript them into a dependency on future grants of government aid; we want them to continue doing their good work.

These changes are working and the fund is reaching a smaller, more diverse set of organisations. In the second round of the fund, 90% of applicants had not received DfID funding before, and 62% of shortlisted applicants are based outside London and the south- east, an important development of which I know the noble Lord, Lord McNicol, will approve. Sometimes the larger organisations are centred in the capital for obvious reasons but there are brilliant charities across the entire country. However, we will not stop there. As a pilot programme, the Small Charities Challenge Fund is being used to gather evidence on how we can work even more effectively with organisations in the future. To this end, we are increasing our engagement with the sector and are constantly gathering feedback. I will shortly be hosting round tables with both successful and unsuccessful applicants and the information gathered will be used to ensure that we can improve the system for the next rounds.

Our work with small charities is not just limited to funding projects: we are also working to develop their capabilities. To achieve this, we have worked to deliver a bespoke programme of capacity-building initiatives. This includes learning events, webinars and regional roadshows. We are also working to better understand the value of small organisations based overseas. I will come back later to the specific questions I was asked about this. By helping organisations based here and overseas develop their capacity we can achieve a sustainable legacy that will enable civil society to flourish around the world.

Moving on to faith-based organisations. I am again pleased to confirm a real shift in DfID’s approach in recent years. The noble Baroness, Lady Stroud, drew on evidence which showed the tremendous number of faith-based charities registered in England and Wales—there are 50,000 with a faith-based ethos. DfID clearly and publically recognises that religion is crucial to development. Most people in developing countries believe that faith is important to them, with the Afrobarometer study in Africa showing that 80% of surveyed people felt that religion was a very important factor in their lives.

Faith is also a huge motivator for giving, with statistics showing that, on average, those with faith give nearly twice as much to charity. Faith-based organisations make a significant and distinctive contribution to poverty reduction. They can inspire confidence and trust and are often seen as more embedded in, and committed to, the local communities they serve. They are often uniquely placed to deliver services to marginalised peoples and communities. For example, in sub-Saharan Africa, these organisations provide at least 40% of health services, as the noble Baroness, Lady Barker, rightly remarked. They are also vital in providing humanitarian assistance in crises with their extensive networks and roots in local communities. They stay for the long haul. After the Nepal earthquake, faith-based groups were the first in and the last out.

Faith-based organisations can empower poor people to ensure that their voices are heard, and can subject Governments to essential scrutiny. Civil society has a crucial role to play. It contributes to the building of peaceful states and societies, reducing certain types of conflict and retaining a presence when government can no longer function.

Working effectively with these groups is essential in meeting our objectives. In 2010, DfID established the Faith Working Group and in 2011 it published the Faith Partnership Principles. Since then we have seen a dramatic change in the way that DfID looks at faith and faith-based organisations. The department has invested in a wealth of faith-focused research and has participated in a joint learning initiative with other organisations. It is part of the International Partnership on Religion and Sustainable Development, a major network that brings together bilateral donors. We are also working closely with our colleagues in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to protect freedom of religion and belief. This work recently culminated in the appointment of my noble friend Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon as the UK’s special envoy on freedom of religion and belief. I should like to make one other point. In my work in this area I often meet with representatives from Humanists UK because it is important to recognise that some of the most persecuted groups around the world are those with no belief at all. Atheism is regarded as blasphemous and people often face imprisonment and punishment for their beliefs. I am pleased to announce that we will be launching the faith in development forum, which will encourage a more active dialogue between the department and faith groups.

In the time available to me, perhaps I may address some of the questions which were asked. My noble friend Lady Stroud asked what steps we are taking to engage with small charities. I mentioned the Faith in Development Forum, and in addition officials and Ministers are undertaking regional visits around the UK to draw attention to the Small Charities Challenge Fund. The noble Lord, Lord McNicol, asked what advice and support was available to charities. Guidance is available on the website, and I have referred to webinars. We are also looking at other ideas on how we can extend awareness of this project.

My noble friend Lady Hodgson asked whether there are plans to expand the fund. Officials are cautious because we are in the middle of a spending review, but I have to say that the first impressions are outstanding in terms of the quality of the bids received, and I am sure that we will want to see this go further forward. My noble friend also asked what we are doing to support NGOs overseas. The recently announced Jo Cox memorial grants—a £10 million fund in memory of Jo Cox—are for both UK and overseas-based charities looking at women’s empowerment and conflict prevention.

The noble Baroness, Lady Barker, asked whether we will collaborate in the distribution of aid, given that the USA has changed the way that it is distributing aid. DfID’s policy on sexual and reproductive health services is clear and has not changed. We will be working with others to make sure that the shortfall caused by the implications of the Mexico City policy is met and that the important work continues. I have to say that it is very important that other countries should step up to the plate as well on this. The UK is doing a lot and other countries should be doing a lot more.

The noble Baroness, Lady Smith, asked me to say a little more about the range of smaller charities. The average income of SCCF-shortlisted applicants is £90,000 a year, which is well below the £250,000 ceiling. That shows that we are breaking new ground. I think that I have covered the key points, but I shall look again at the debate and if there is anything that I have missed, I will write. For now, I do not want to fall foul of the Standing Orders and exceed my 20 minutes in front of the Leader of the Opposition.

Let me therefore conclude by saying that here in the UK, as well as overseas, the picture is made all the more compelling by the wonderful work done by both small charities and faith-based organisations. We at DfID want that to continue and we want to work in increasing partnership with them, as the UN sustainable development goal 17 points to. We want to do that because we want to alleviate suffering. We want to bring hope of a better world in future for the vulnerable, the sick, the refugees and those who are most marginalised in our society—and in that I am sure we are absolutely united.

Photo of Baroness Stroud Baroness Stroud Conservative 5:18 pm, 12th July 2018

My Lords, this has been a most interesting debate. I thank all noble Lords for their contributions. I again warmly congratulate the noble Lord, Lord McNicol, on his maiden speech. Not only do I look forward to the bagpipes, along with others, but I welcome his overture to take forward the issue of homelessness, which is a passion close to my heart as well. I particularly agreed with his point about funding rounds closing without small charities being even aware that they were open in the first place, and with the comments of my noble friend Lady Hodgson and of the noble Baroness, Lady Smith of Basildon, about the complexity of the application process, so I was delighted by the Minister’s response about it being too long and too onerous and the action that DfID has taken to address those issues.

I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Barker, for her commitment to ensure that government funding is used appropriately by small faith-based charities and achieves the objectives for which the money is given. I also thank her for the sensitive manner in which she made her comments.

I thank the Minister hugely for his reply, and I am absolutely delighted that he used the debate to make his announcement. I am pleased to hear about the commencement of the first four projects and that the next round is now open. I thank each noble Lord who contributed to this debate for the consensus across the House that small charities and faith-based organisations have a huge amount to contribute to international aid and development.

Motion agreed.

House adjourned at 5.20 pm.