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Overseas Voluntary Sector

Volume 519: debated on Wednesday 24 November 2010

Motion made, and Question proposed, That the sitting be now adjourned.—(Miss Chloe Smith.)

I thank you, Mr Bone, for taking the time to chair this debate. I welcome this Government’s policy to increase overseas aid from 0.56 to 0.7% of gross national income—a step that was agreed in 1970, the year of my birth. By the time I am 45, we might have met our promise. Other Governments have failed. I wish this Government well in meeting their stated aim within the projected time scale.

Although I welcome the increase in the Department for International Development budget, I want to know what it will mean in respect of my experience in the sector. One windy, rainy day in the Outer Hebrides—we do have such days—I clicked on the DFID website, being at a loose end, and looked at pages on working with DFID, funding opportunities, not-for-profit organisations, and programme partnership agreements. Hon. and right hon. Members will have guessed that it was one of those wet and windy rainy days in the Outer Hebrides when the wind howled and the rain lashed; they are few and far between, but they do happen. I also looked at the part of the DFID site that invites applications for a new round of PPA funding. Finally, in frequently asked questions, under “Proposal and Logical Framework information”, my eyes alighted on point 2, particularly the following sentence:

“Successful applicants cannot receive a PPA which is more than 40% of their annual income, averaged over the previous three years.”

Having been asked by VSO to go on an overseas placement to Cambodia, I had to ask what that meant. At this point, I should mention the sad news from the festival in Cambodia over the past couple of days, where up to 350 to 400 people lost their lives in a crush. In Cambodia, I was aware of DFID funding coming through VSO and of the high esteem in which DFID is held overseas.

Therefore, my interest in this topic was driven not by the rain, but by the fact that I had been on a placement to Cambodia, as a Member of Parliament, for two or three weeks, and I felt a debt to VSO. Voluntary service overseas expanded my horizons most definitely and I felt duty bound to ask what DFID had on the horizon for VSO—that will probably also affect One World Action and Progressio.

At a time of budgetary concerns, I felt that my interest was a mere courtesy, the sort of courtesy that we Scots are famous for—he said, looking at his friends from Northern Ireland—especially as the DFID budget is to grow, according to page 60 of the comprehensive spending review, by 37% over the next three years. Although my comments will be mainly about VSO, as I have said, this matter affects other organisations.

Two years ago, when I spent time as an advocate in Cambodia, using my status as an MP to bring about change in education, I saw the work of VSO and was privileged to bring about, to a slight extent, a change in teachers’ salaries, making them less prone to corruption and making exam results more believable, which is an important factor in an emerging economy if skills and professionalism are to be trusted. I saw the good work that VSO was doing. In its turn, VSO ensured that other MPs, not just me, saw what was happening outside the Westminster and western European bubbles.

Ever since its creation in 1958, with a grant of £9,000, VSO has blossomed into one of the foremost aid organisations in the world, aiding countries in training health workers and teachers, from Sri Lanka to Malawi and in 44 other countries, reaching 26 million people in those countries—not the total population, but the number of people that VSO reaches and touches through its programmes and partners.

I welcome you to the Chair, Mr Bone, and congratulate the hon. Gentleman on securing the debate. I will not even try to pronounce his constituency. We have difficulties enough in Northern Ireland with the English language, so it would be difficult to try to get that.

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that, for many years, one difficulty in respect of overseas aid has been that not all the moneys have gone to those most in need? Although we appreciate and welcome the increase in funding for the overseas voluntary sector, does he agree that it is essential that, during these economic times, money is targeted, because it can so easily be sidetracked to unscrupulous characters?

The hon. Gentleman anticipates me. He raises the concerns of many. I hope to demonstrate that such fears can be allayed, so perhaps the Gentleman will bear with me. If I do not answer his concern, I would welcome another intervention.

I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on securing this important debate. I apologise because I will not be able to stay to the end.

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the partnership between DFID and VSO is hugely valuable and that millions of people benefit from it? It is not an unreasonable proposition for its funding to be limited to 40%, but it might be unreasonable for that to be done in too short a time. VSO recognises that, if it has to accommodate that within three years, its programme could be halved. Does he agree that the Government should be prepared to negotiate to ensure that VSO’s services are not cut and that it gets the money, and that business, for example, should support this valuable work?

Again, my remarks have been anticipated. I welcome the right hon. Gentleman’s comments. It is important that money is spent properly and that, if changes are made, there is a managed transition, not a breakneck-speed shift overnight.

VSO has also helped in one of the most important government activities, without which there would no health care, no education and no spending. It has helped the Governments of Bangladesh and Sierra Leone specifically to collect taxes from their people. Perhaps Ministers’ eyes will light up at this point—perhaps not—but that is a sign that people are getting round to trusting their Governments. Perhaps some hon. Members would like VSO to go into the City of London to ensure that every penny of tax is paid. But I digress. VSO’s work in that regard shows that corruption abroad can be tackled, that the high-value components we take for granted in our civic lives can be established and that normal society can start to be built.

VSO specialises in capacity building. It takes nationals from various countries—mainly the United Kingdom—and places them mainly in less fortunate countries. The value of the professionalism of volunteers, if they were to be paid what the market paid them before they joined VSO, would be some £18 million. Hon. Members might want to think about that. Volunteers forgo £18 million in wages annually, presumably based on a 40-hour week, but on top of that they move abroad. However, it is not quite the abroad that we know or as we like to imagine it—it is the other abroad of malaria and dengue fever. I met a volunteer in Phnom Penh who was getting over a rather nasty dose of dengue fever. Of course, volunteers are often abroad in a village with no electricity and, perhaps, no running water—for not just 40 hours a week, but 168 hours a week and 24/7.

Volunteers build capacity in education and health. They build capacity wherever it is needed. They are ordinary men and women and I would argue, perhaps controversially in the current surroundings, that they have a greater sense of service than politicians, although, in fairness, most politicians get into politics to serve society. However, these people seem to get into volunteering to serve humanity.

These examples are just the tip of the iceberg and I am sure—I know—that other organisations do good work as well. However, this is threatened by what could happen to just 1% of the DFID budget. My colleague from Northern Ireland, the hon. Member for Upper Bann (David Simpson), raised the following matter in his intervention. VSO received 51% of its funding last year—less than a third of 1% of DFID’s budget in that period—from DFID. Almost a decade ago, VSO received 90% of its funding from that source, but this year it is projected to fall to 48% and in five years it will be less than 40%.

The problem stems from that rainy afternoon, where I read in point 2 of the FAQs titled, “Proposal and Logical Framework information”:

“Successful applicants cannot receive a PPA which is more than 40% of their annual income, averaged over the previous three years.”

That would be immediate from next April.

I know and hope that the Government’s heart—like that of every hon. and right hon. Member in this Chamber—is in the right place, but do they realise what a sudden swing of the axe could do? It could equate to a reduction of volunteers by 50% and reduce the number of beneficiaries—the 26 million who are affected, reached and touched by VSO programmes—to 12 million. In short, the cuts will not hurt VSO as much as they will hurt those who benefit from the help and aid.

Organisations such as One World Action and Progressio will be pushed to cut where it is administratively quickest and easiest. Cuts will be too quick and too deep; transitional arrangements will be hard to make, if indeed they can be made at all. However, DFID is receiving an increase in funding. It is one of four Whitehall Departments to receive an increase, and one of two Departments, together with the Cabinet Office, to receive a double-digit increase in funding. According to the comprehensive spending review, the Cabinet Office budget has risen by 28% and that of DFID by 37%. On the surface, that seems to bode well for all organisations that use DFID funds. However, an increase in the departmental administration budget seems not to guarantee the safety of funds that go to the overseas voluntary sector.

Perhaps it might help to shape the rest of the debate if I were to point out that the partnership programme agreement funding is but one source of possible funding streams for voluntary organisations. If there is, as there will be, a 40% cap on a PPA, that is not necessarily a 40% cap on all the money that could go to a voluntary organisation. Such organisations could, for instance, also apply for in-country funds.

I greatly welcome the tone of the Minister’s remarks. They seem to indicate that the door is ajar, and that he is ready to ensure that the transition happens in the managed way that all in the Chamber would hope for and expect. The threat is perhaps not so great given that opening door from the Minister, and we have heard of the value of volunteering from the Prime Minister. I hope that I am wrong, and that this is not an instance where one arm of the Government is not fully aware of what another arm might do. In reality, we have been told that the PPA will give no organisation more than 40% of what they received, although the Minister now indicates differently and I am pleased at that.

What does the Department intend to do with the increase in funds? Under current budgetary plans, DFID’s budget will rise from £7.8 billion to £11.5 billion over the next four to five years.

I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on securing the debate. He speaks about the increase in funding. Does he agree that on occasion, resistance in the media or among some sections of UK society to increases in overseas aid inevitably involves criticism about corruption? That is where there is resistance to overseas aid. The Government, and all of us, need to do everything possible to eliminate the concept of corruption as it affects overseas aid.

The hon. Gentleman is correct in what he says about corruption. From my personal experience, and from examples of tax raising, VSO in particular has been effective in tackling corruption with very low resources. The increase in teachers’ salaries in Cambodia was about tackling corruption to ensure that students did not offer their teacher money to pass their exams. That was low-level corruption, but it is important that the idea and feeling of corruption is eradicated from a society.

VSO will put a volunteer in the field for about £661 a month; a consultant might cost up to £10,000. We have aid programmes that can use money and provide a good service with real value. During recent questions to DFID, a question was asked about the co-ordination between various NGOs and their advocacy departments. I went directly to some of the NGOs and found an umbrella group called Bond—British Overseas NGOs for Development. It ensures collaboration on various issues between the NGOs, so that each organisation works to its strengths and does not overlap. I say that to highlight that such groups are a lot more sophisticated than they are credited as being, certainly during DFID questions last week.

Why does the Department insist on cutting from budgets based on the average budgets of the past three years? If the cuts arrive, will the Minister guarantee that the shortfall will be made up by other pockets and purses within DFID? It is arguable that cuts based on average budgets of the past three years will be too deep and too fast. Although everybody has to find savings, surely we can find a way to cut that does not threaten our commitments to effectively spend 0.7% of gross national income in overseas aid. Organisations such as One World Action, VSO and Progressio are arguably among the best conduits for that aim. If the Government are committed to spending 0.7% of GNI on overseas aid while reducing the budget of UK-based agencies, where will those funds be spent? Where does the Department want to direct those funds? Is it planning for those funds to be directed to the World Bank, in the way I think has been suggested? What I said about consultant costs could be applicable to that.

Like the hon. Gentleman, I have had the great advantage of taking part in VSO’s parliamentarian scheme this year when I worked on a climate change project in Nigeria. I take his point about the value of VSO. Does he agree that VSO is almost the ultimate in the big society, with volunteers from across the world giving up their time for the big global society? That means that every pound spent on that organisation is such good value.

The hon. Lady is absolutely spot on. It is about the big society and being aware of a bigger picture. It is about spending money effectively. One thing that struck me when I spent two or three weeks in Cambodia with VSO was that I was not put in an hotel; I was not put anywhere plush or posh but I was camping in a room next door to the main VSO headquarters in Phnom Penh. No extra money was wasted. If I am honest, every penny seemed to be a prisoner with VSO, which means that it was being spent effectively in the right ways and places.

I hope that the hon. Gentleman does not mind me interrupting him once again, but I wondered whether I could ask if he had the experience of having electricity in his accommodation. Although there was supposed to be electricity in the flat in which I stayed in Nigeria, the vagaries of the power companies meant that it did not work while I was there. That is one interesting way of cutting back on costs.

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for that. I must have lived at the posh end of VSO, because I had a mosquito net and a fan.

Yes indeed—luxury. I had a reasonably comfortable night, but if the fan had broken down and the electricity had gone I would have been in real trouble. That goes to show that the experiences we have had were similar to those of other volunteers. Apart from a fan and a mosquito net, VSO has not feather-bedded MPs at all. Perhaps other volunteers have experienced far worse.

The reason that I make suggestions and raise the issue is to help the Government pause and get it right. I am sure that they want to get it right, but this is not about politics. Real people and real issues are at stake. The organisation started 52 years ago in 1959 with a £9,000 grant. That is approximately £160,000 in today’s money. It has blossomed into a world leader in overseas voluntary aid. It was the progenitor of other great organisations such as the Peace Corps in the USA, which started in 1961 with a grant of £30 million.

I believe that we are lucky to have such organisations working on our behalf and in our name, giving people from this country an opportunity to help, and most importantly, giving others a helping hand to make the world a better place. People do that without the need for weapons or sanctions. They do it mainly from the kindness of their heart and feel that the world could be a better place if they contribute in some small way. Their work should be supported at all levels and from all facets of life.

There is a fear—I hope only a fear as I am mindful of what the Minister said—that organisations could see a reduction in income from DFID. However, those organisations are planning to go below the Government ceiling anyway over the next few years. I appeal to the Minister, who I know is a sensible and reasonable man, not to do any harm, but to do good work. I ask him to crack canny with the pace, as they might say in Scotland, keep delivery in place and not endanger anything for the sake of 730 days, or two years, and to manage the transition in a careful, thoughtful way, without resorting at pace to the axe.

I start by thanking you, Mr Bone, for enabling me to make a speech this morning rather than my being in the Chair. I know that that has been inconvenient for you, but it is very kind and much appreciated.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Na h-Eileanan an Iar (Mr MacNeil) on his good fortune in securing the debate. I suspect there will be some repetition this morning. My right hon. Friend the Minister will be aware that many hon. Members on both sides of the House hugely appreciate the fact that, even at a time of austerity, the Government have found it possible not only to protect DFID’s budget, but to enhance it. That is not particularly fashionable electorally. We all have constituents who say, “Why are you wasting that money over there when we ought to be spending it here?” However, I think we all agree that it is a mark of a civilised society that the relatively rich do their utmost to help the very poor. It is also money well spent in terms of international security and even business investment. We appreciate that.

The hon. Gentleman talks about the need for society to consider people in other countries, which is what we all look towards doing. I am sure that, before the election, he, like many other hon. Members in the Chamber, was approached by Christian Aid and other organisations regarding ensuring that the moneys needed overseas would continue to be provided. I understand that the Government have given a commitment to that. However, this debate is about VSO—overseas volunteers. Clearly, they are part of society as well, and many people want to contribute and do something. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that we must do more than, possibly, what the Government are doing and go along with what the hon. Member for Na h-Eileanan an Iar (Mr MacNeil) has proposed this morning?

If the hon. Gentleman will bear with me for a few moments, he will discover that we are not poles apart. When I go on to talk about VSO, he will understand that I think that a very good way of making a significant and practical contribution.

I need to declare two interests. First, I am a trustee of an organisation called the Society for the Protection of Animals Abroad. SPANA is probably the leading charity worldwide in saving and caring for working animals. There are very significant parts of the world, and societies, where working animals are people’s livelihood. Following disasters such as floods, earthquakes and famine, if those animals are allowed to die, people die, and I have never seen any point—brutal though this may seem—in saving a child’s life today only to see it die of starvation tomorrow. If we are to invest money well, we must ensure that the long term and the mid-term are catered for, as well as the very short term. I mention that not because SPANA receives money from the Government. It does not; nor does it wish to. What it does want from the Minister’s Department is greater recognition, a greater opportunity to play its part in helping in places where there is poverty and disaster and, if possible, a seat at the Disasters Emergency Committee table, because there is no such representation in that body. I ask my right hon. Friend to take that thought away with him.

My second interest to declare is that I am one of the growing band of parliamentary graduates of the Voluntary Service Overseas scheme. The hon. Member for Na h-Eileanan an Iar is one such, and others are present. I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Southend West (Mr Amess), if he is able to catch your eye, Mr Bone, will want to make an equivalent contribution.

I had the good fortune to spend a fortnight in Ghana in 2009 with the Ghana Federation of the Disabled. My task was to seek to promote good governance within the disability community in Ghana. That organisation is facing considerable change internally, following the passing of laws designed to assist the disabled. It is a moot point whether they will do so. As we all know, Mr Bone, passing laws is one thing; implementation is just as important. Part of the task was to prepare a paper designed to offer a template for future work by other parliamentary colleagues and by the organisation itself, and establishing relationships with Members of Parliament on the all-party disability group basis that we understand here, but that Ghanaians have no experience of. As an aside, I think it incredibly valuable for parliamentarians to have the opportunity to go overseas to contribute, but also to learn.

Hon. Members’ experiences overseas have been mentioned. I, too, had a mosquito net and a fan. My fan was called Ed—Ed was a cockroach. Ed and I became great friends over my fortnight in Ghana. The existence was basic and the funding was basic. I am told that VSO volunteers generally receive no more than £200 a month. Even in these days of austerity, most people in this building are accustomed to living on a little more than that. The great thing about such a scheme is that we get out of the city, out of the big hotel, into where the action really is and see life as it is, and perhaps make a modest contribution.

When I arrived in Ghana, I had the good fortune to be coming in on the back of an intake of 30 VSO volunteers just in that one country. They were people from all walks of life. That needs to be underscored. There is an impression that VSO is a gap-year experience or an immediately postgraduate experience, when people have the opportunity to volunteer before they take on marriage, children and other responsibilities and can no longer do that. That is patently not the case. Those 30 volunteers were people from all walks of life and various countries.

I recall an oil engineer and his wife from Australia. Within a fortnight, that couple had made a decision—he had given up his job; they had let their house—and two weeks after taking the decision, they were in Ghana, ready to go out to the west of the country to set up a communications system in the form of a very basic local newspaper. They were people in their mid to late 50s. I recall the former head teacher of a special needs school from the north of England who had taken early retirement to go to the north of Ghana to engage, not surprisingly, in special needs education there. I recall a relatively young civil servant from Leeds, who had given up a secure, pensionable, well paid job to go out to that country to assist in the way she felt she could.

There were young, middle-aged and quite elderly people—I put myself in that category, I suppose—who were all trying to do the same thing. The point has been made, and we ought to underscore it, regarding the present Government, that that is really the big society. That is the global big society. That is what it is all about. That is what I believe the Prime Minister wants to promote and what I know the Department would like to promote. The beauty of it, and it really is a beauty, is not only that the people participating through VSO make a significant contribution—we flit in and out, but most of the people who do that make at least a two-year commitment and some carry on for much longer than that—but that when they come home, they become super-engaged in civic society here because of the experiences they have had overseas, because of the privation. Malaria has been mentioned. A young lady who had been in the north of Ghana came back to the flat I was staying in, with typhoid. Things are rough, but because of that, when the volunteers come home, they bring a huge amount back with them that then makes a significant contribution to our society.

On the current financial situation, I stand to be corrected, but I think I am right in saying that VSO receives roughly 51% of its funding from DFID—my miserable maths suggests to me that some 49% comes from elsewhere. I say to the Minister that if there is to be a 40% cap, realistically that ought to be a 40% cap based on the income worldwide, because a huge contribution is made by industries, organisations and people from around the globe. It would distort the picture a little, in terms of value for money, if the 40% cap were based solely on income in the United Kingdom. I am sure that none of us wants that to happen. I shall explain why it is of such concern.

The hon. Gentleman is making an excellent point. Does he agree that the £18 million, which I suggested was the value in the marketplace of the wages of people such as the oil engineer from the antipodes who gave up his time to work for VSO, should be part of that equation?

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. We are talking about 250,000 national volunteers spread over 20 countries. It is incredibly good value for money. We have heard, and I am sure will hear again, about the low costs.

VSO is hugely cognisant of the fact that we live in an age of austerity and is hellbent on cuttings its costs by up to 30%, as quickly as possible. That will not be easy. It is easy to say that one should cut head office costs and get the money to the front line. We all want to see the money being spent at the sharp end. However, in organisations that require the preparation and paperwork that are inevitable with visas and travel documents, and in looking after people, there has to be a head office operation. VSO has recognised that, as with any head office operation, there must be room for savings. It will do its best to ensure that all the money that DFID gives, from whatever pocket of funds, is used to the best possible advantage.

In conclusion, VSO gets huge bang for the buck. It is immensely valuable, not only worldwide but back here in the United Kingdom. In so far as is possible, even at this time, the Department should do its utmost to maintain the funding to ensure that current projects and planned future projects are possible.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Na h-Eileanan an Iar (Mr MacNeil) on securing this debate. I am pleased that BT broadband is working so well in the Hebrides. I always enjoy watching his contributions from the other side of the House and his remarks today were particularly thoughtful.

The economic crisis and the £900 billion public debt have made times hard. Charities and voluntary groups feel that pressure considerably. I welcome this debate because organisations such as Voluntary Service Overseas have transformed people’s lives. It is important that the House think of them as we try to bring public finances under control.

We must acknowledge that there is some good news: the Government are committed to spending 0.7% of our national income on aid and the DFID budget will grow to nearly £10 billion a year by the end of this Parliament. I welcome DFID’s plan to reform the aid system to prioritise clean water and sanitation programmes, and to give British taxpayers more transparency so that they can see where their money is going. I welcome the fact that the Government will cushion the impact of reductions in public spending through the £100 million transition fund, which will be available to smaller charities and social enterprises. Above all, we have a duty to show that we are getting value for money as Government spending is restrained to grow in line with inflation.

I will focus on apprenticeships abroad. When aid is well spent, it is hugely in our national interest. As was stated in the policy paper, “One World Conservatism”,

“well-spent aid has worked miracles: eliminating smallpox, almost eradicating polio…helping get millions of children into school and saving millions of families from hunger and disease.”

In the debate on global poverty on 1 July, I made the point that the best form of aid is sharing expertise and know-how. Above all, there is no substitute for knowledge. Providing vocational skills and training, such as apprenticeships, is one of the best ways in which we can help our neighbours overseas.

Hon. Members have spoken of their work for VSO. Many of them will have heard of Project Umubano in Rwanda, which I was privileged to go on over two summers to teach English. The people there are hungry not only for food and work, but for knowledge and skills. VSO does a huge amount to share concrete, practical skills. The Westminster Foundation for Democracy, with which I worked a few years ago in Uganda and Tanzania through the Conservative party, shares technical knowledge and advice with democratic parties abroad.

Perhaps in future, DFID might sponsor aid apprentices through VSO on a kind of apprenticeship gap year. Businesses, too, might contribute through social responsibility initiatives, and help to build technical capacity overseas. When apprentices return home to the UK, they will have a proper qualification and will have gained valuable experience, which will help to boost our domestic economy. The gap year is a time-honoured institution. It boosts the confidence of young people before they go to university or start work. Apprenticeship gap years would channel young people’s raw energy and enthusiasm into aid projects, and give them structured training.

We live in a multinational world. Working as an apprentice for DHL in Harlow is similar to working as an apprentice for that company in places such as Delhi, Hong Kong and Beijing. If we offered a high-grade apprenticeship, perhaps a level 3 qualification, it would be as well regarded as doing an apprenticeship at home.

The DFID accounts show that in 2009, we spent £356 million on “innovative approaches to development”. That pot of money might be refocused.

Many of my constituents in Harlow earn less than £200 a week. They ask why, at a time of cuts in public spending, we plan to spend so much on foreign aid. That is not an easy question to answer, other than with the moral case. However, if we can show that we are giving young people opportunities that they would never otherwise have, giving them proper qualifications and, on top of that, helping the poorest communities in the world, perhaps my constituents and the British people will welcome aid spending with open arms. A gap year apprenticeship scheme would be similar to the Government’s planned national citizen service. It might transform the lives of young people, and give them jobs and opportunities.

This is a matter not just of economic efficiency but of social justice. We cannot help everyone, but we can look for ways to increase what my hon. Friend the Member for East Hampshire (Damian Hinds) recently called the gross world product, or GWP, which benefits everybody, including the United Kingdom.

As I have said, there are pots of money in DFID, such as the spending on “innovative approaches to development”, that could be used to deliver this policy. I hope the Minister will consider this idea and the benefits it might bring to young people across the British isles and to our neighbours overseas.

I congratulate the hon. Gentleman who introduced the debate; I will not attempt to pronounce the name of his constituency. He covered the arguments extremely well, and there is little that I can add. I will not get too involved in the argument about funding, given the Minister’s intervention in which he suggested that it will all be fixed and that there is nothing to worry about. We will have to read Hansard carefully and reflect on the possibilities for VSO.

My being here is entirely the responsibility of my hon. Friend the Member for North Thanet (Mr Gale), but I do not regret it. He told a wonderful project manager at VSO, Elizabeth Goodwin, that I was just the right sort of person to take part in her scheme. Like my hon. Friend, I declare an interest that is listed in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. The trip that I experienced this year was funded by VSO.

To outdo colleagues, I concur that the living conditions were austere. I think that I had electricity—at least, I could see what I was doing—but there was no hot water. I ended up having to dangle some contraption in water. Initially, I thought it was a conspiracy to get me to electrocute myself, but I survived that prospect. There was also what appeared to be a tarantula that was keen, every evening, to get into bed with me, although I was somewhat reluctant to share my bed. There were other sorts of insects, which “I’m a Celebrity…Get Me Out of Here!” would be keen to have on board as a test.

In my early years as a Member of Parliament, in the ’80s, I went to the Philippines through the Inter-Parliamentary Union. The trip was well organised and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I suppose that as a result of that trip I fell in love with the country. Indeed, when President Fidel Ramos visited this country, I had the privilege of taking him on a tour of this place, and I kept in contact with him. Therefore, when Elizabeth Goodwin gave me the list of possible countries for me to visit, and one of them was the Philippines, I immediately said yes.

We in this country now know the Philippines far better than was the case in the ’80s, because many of our care homes and hospitals benefit from the wonderful care of Filipino nurses. I was told that my job was to support the Filipino nurses. I was somewhat bemused about how I was to support them but, simply put, I was told that my arrival would mean that doors would be opened. That is what I was charged with.

I stayed in the residence of the Philippine Nurses Association, which was right next to a large church that seemed to be worshipping 24 hours a day. Two days before I left, Filipino students were collecting their certificates from the college next to where I was staying— 34,000 students were queuing up, over a number of days, to get their certificates. I will never forget that. Sadly, because of the economic circumstances not only in this country, Ireland and Greece but all over the world, it will be difficult for those students to get jobs. Nevertheless, I congratulate each and every one of them.

During my 10-day volunteer period, I was tasked with a number of objectives, all of which we achieved. I was able to understand the depth and the extent of the current issues and concerns of the Filipino nurses regarding the health challenges faced in the Philippines. I was able to acknowledge the unique skills that Filipino nurses bring to their work, thus making them a much-cherished asset in the health care delivery system—as far as the Philippines is concerned, one of its greatest gifts is the people themselves. I always say to one or two grumpy constituents, “A smile doesn’t cost anything”, and yet it lifts spirits—it is certainly a great gift of people from the Philippines.

Another task I was given was to assist the Philippine Nurses Association in soliciting commitments and concrete action from the Philippine Government and the agencies. We argued the case for the placement of a nurse consultant position in the Department of Health, and we were able to meet everyone except the President of the Philippines, although the newly appointed Secretary of Health seemed distracted by the Miss Universe contest, which was going on at the time, and by an urgent message that dengue had broken out in one of the villages. However, I think he understood the message that Filipino nurses needed recognition and a consultant position.

We were also tasked with ensuring that Filipino nurses were provided with humane working conditions and properly reimbursed for their dedication and excellent skills. We argued for the creation of more jobs for nurses in the country, especially in rural areas, where health services are in dire need.

I was born in the east end of London, so I do not need anyone to lecture me about poverty in the UK, although I did not feel as a child that I was being brought up in poor conditions. However, we are all extremely wealthy in this country compared with the circumstances abroad. When one goes to the north of the Philippines, one can see how difficult life is. We went to Ifugao and climbed the rice terraces—I was in one of the two teams and I am delighted to report to the House that we did it four times more quickly than team A, which was supposed to be full of professionals. It was a wonderful experience, but we also visited what they called a health care centre there. We saw a lady who was waiting to deliver a baby—she had been in labour for about three hours—and the process of getting her to this particular health care situation on a stretcher was unbelievable. If any colleagues feel hard done by, they should take advantage of one of the opportunities presented by VSO to see how tough life is for some people.

Another task was to ensure the implementation of existing laws for nurses’ welfare. We argued for the implementation of the Nursing Act 2002 and the Magna Carta of Public Health Workers. We argued for an increase in the health budget—we visited the Senate and the Congress, and even lobbied Imelda Marcos and a number of other politicians in the Philippines.

We also argued for ethical recruitment policies when hiring Filipino nurses to work abroad. I am delighted to say that, when we visited our embassy in the Philippines, we were very impressed with how it was staffed—it was well run and there was a Filipino lady in charge of processing the work permits. However, a great concern—something I have raised with other Departments—was some unscrupulous companies in this country, which solicit money from Filipino students to get them to this country under a student visa programme, while misleading them by giving the impression that they can convert their student status into a permanent job here. Given how tough it is to seek any sort of living wage in the Philippines, such companies in the United Kingdom should be ashamed of themselves. I hope that the Department I am in touch with will eventually name and shame them. Hopefully, our embassy is dealing with that serious situation.

I was able to share experiences in advocacy and lobbying with key Philippine Nurses Association leaders through a forum and seminar that I addressed. I also feel that I was able to strengthen the positive image of Filipino nurses. We know that the chaps work on ships throughout the world, but Filipino nurses are also a great gift as far as the Philippines is concerned.

In conclusion, I felt that VSO had made a real impact in the Philippines, at least with the project I was introduced to. VSO Bahaginan is well organised and an efficient operation. It has made a tremendous impact, as far as I am concerned. VSO chooses its partners carefully, to ensure that they are in a position to make a difference in their country and able to benefit from the capacity building and skills support that volunteers and learning exchange programmes offer. VSO has long-standing relationships with its partners, and a sudden drop in funding, without due planning for withdrawal, would lead to a severe reduction in the working relationship. Hopefully, that will not happen.

VSO Bahaginan is a volunteer sending organisation. The profile of VSO volunteers has changed dramatically since the VSO began. Now, 30% of the volunteers are from southern countries—professional Filipinos volunteer in VSO’s programmes worldwide, then return to the Philippines with increased self-confidence.

When I was in Cambodia, we benefited round the table from the work of Filipino nurses, who were volunteering to help deal with the situation there. They took their expertise from the Philippines to help people somewhere else, which was a very heartening aspect of VSO. Help was going not just from the developed world to the developing world, but between countries in the developing world.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his contribution, which reinforces just how valuable this scheme is to a nation. Furthermore, the pattern that I mentioned is repeated for southern volunteers from India, Sri Lanka, Kenya and Uganda, to name just a few.

VSO volunteers also make other aid more effective. Many of our partners received direct funding from the Department for International Development, other donor Governments and international organisations. VSO volunteers’ capacity-building work—transferring skills, improving financial and human resources and management systems, and helping to shape strategies for partners—makes the money that countries receive work even harder. As a result of VSO volunteer efforts, partners can work out how funding can be spent more effectively, as well as evaluating its impact, accounting for money flows and reporting back appropriately to donors. The 2010 external evaluation report on this work said:

“Donors recognise that community-based organisations who have benefited from VSO support have more robust plans, structures and systems”.

The presence of volunteers therefore acts positively to support financial aid, and volunteers are value for money.

Obviously, all parliamentarians will say that they are in favour of VSO, which is a wonderful scheme. All parliamentarians understand that these are tough times for the economy, but I for one am delighted that we have had this debate, and I am pleased that we already appear to have had a positive response.

As ever, it is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Bone. I congratulate the hon. Member for—I will try to say it—Na h-Eileanan an Iar (Mr MacNeil) on securing a debate on what is undoubtedly an important issue. I am glad that the Minister has expressed his willingness to listen and perhaps to find an innovative solution. There is general agreement that all organisations—even those working in the international development sphere—need to spend money more efficiently and to reduce their reliance on public funds, but it is important that that transition should be managed in a way that does not unduly damage the great projects that organisations are running abroad.

I would like to share the experiences that I had this summer, and I draw Members’ attention to my declaration in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. As I said, I undertook a VSO placement in Nigeria. There is a level of competition about the various bugs that Members have had to put up with. The hon. Member for North Thanet (Mr Gale) had Ed the cockroach, while the hon. Member for Southend West (Mr Amess) had the tarantula that was keen to get into his bed. I am thankful that I did not experience cockroaches or tarantulas, and that was down to the gecko that lived in my bedroom. I think that it was eating everything else, so I am quite pleased that my cute little gecko was there.

I worked alongside the International Centre for Energy, Environment and Development, which does essential work, particularly on climate change. One thing about going to other countries is that we find out things that we had no clue about before. For example, the third biggest killer in Nigeria after malaria and tuberculosis is poisoning by fumes from cooking stoves, which kills 79,000 people every year. Never in a month of Sundays would it have crossed my mind that that would be such a huge problem. One of ICEED’s projects involves improving the efficiency of cooking stoves, which obviously has a health benefit. However, it also has a massive benefit in terms of climate change and emissions. Furthermore, if stoves are more efficient, the amount of deforestation can also be reduced. In a country where most cooking is still done on a stove, that makes a big difference.

The VSO office in Abuja, where I was, had projects on education and HIV, but I was working very much on the climate change projects, as I said. For a country such as Nigeria, climate change is an absolutely vital issue. The north is already experiencing the impact of increased desertification and a reduction, therefore, in agricultural effectiveness. In the south, one just needs to look at a map to see that the former capital, Lagos, with its 38 million people, is very vulnerable to any sea level rise. For such a densely populated city, that is obviously a great concern. Furthermore, the country is blessed with massive energy reserves, but it has frequent blackouts. It also has no proper gas network, so when the oil is extracted, the gas is flared. There are therefore many challenges in tackling the important problem of climate change.

The project I was involved in worked with a network of climate change organisations that was trying to pass a Bill. The Bill is somewhat similar to our Climate Change Act 2008 and would set up a commission on climate change to provide cross-departmental expert advice to the Government. That would perhaps be done with a little more force than has been the case under the Ministry of Environment on its own. Although the Bill had been through both Houses of Parliament, the problem was that it needed to be harmonised, much like when we have ping-pong in this Parliament, and then signed off by the President. A very real deadline is approaching in April, when elections will take place. If the Bill is not signed into law by then, the whole thing will fall, and the process will have to start again from scratch.

I was giving advocacy and lobbying advice to the network of organisations involved. I ran a workshop to share some of the experience that we have had in this country of campaigning on issues such as climate change. I am pleased to report that since my visit in September, the Bill has been harmonised. The final hurdle involves getting the President to sign it off, and I hope that some of my suggestions to the youth organisations involved about a Facebook campaign—President Goodluck Jonathan is indeed on Facebook—might help to raise the issue up the agenda as the elections approach.

When I was in Nigeria, I was also able to see examples of best practice. Often, we in western countries think that we know best, and we go out and preach to people in other countries about what they should do. I was keen not to do that on my visit, so I did some research as preparation before I went and arranged to visit Cross River state, which has 60% of Nigeria’s forests. As Members will know, deforestation is a major factor in climate change.

In 2008, the state’s forward-thinking governor, Governor Imoke, introduced a moratorium on logging for two years while a UN process was put in place to decide how to bring in money for the forest, other than through deforestation. Those moves have been incredibly successful, and they are important for the unique habitat in the forests. I was able to meet the governor and to give some support to his work. Furthermore, Odigha Odigha, who has a long track record on campaigning to protect the lifestyle in the forest, has been put in charge of the forestry commission.

Experience outside the project is another of the real benefits of VSO, because we get to see the true country in a way that does not happen on a normal parliamentary visit. At ICEED, I worked alongside the volunteer Emily Bullock from the UK, who has a lot of experience in renewables.

I went down to the market to buy food and met a young lady called Chizoba, who was a tailor. She has worked hard to get her skills and to buy a little sewing machine, which she sets up in a corner of the market. She wants to build a business and, ultimately, to rent her own little shop in the market—I say shop almost in inverted commas, because these things are in the open air, where it is very busy. Dickson the driver was trying to save up the money to go to college to get his education. Meeting real Nigerians and being able to understand their lives was a huge benefit.

Taking part in the VSO parliamentarian scheme gave me a window, in a short time, through which to see the great value that organisations such as VSO provide. That value is not only in the projects in the countries that receive volunteer support. There is also great value for the volunteers, because of the skills and experiences in relation to life abroad that they bring back to this country.

Volunteering raises awareness that most people in the world do not have the home comforts, which we are all used to, of inside toilets, clean hot running water and electricity that continues throughout the day. It is easy, in our cocooned lifestyles, to think that life is the same everywhere, but that is not true. I hope that the Minister will be positive, and that some innovative solutions can be found to the funding concerns of VSO. I am delighted to have taken part in the debate.

I thank Back-Bench Members for keeping their comments relatively brief, which meant that they could all contribute.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Bone—I think it is the first time I have done so. I congratulate the hon. Member for Na h-Eileanan an Iar (Mr MacNeil) on securing the debate and giving us the opportunity to hear from several hon. Members about their experience of volunteering. That has been extremely interesting and helpful in showing some of the advantages and benefits that volunteers and host communities get from volunteering.

Hon. Members painted a series of pictures of their life as a volunteer, each one more gruesome than the last. Perhaps we should be grateful that everyone survived their experiences; but I found the speeches very useful—particularly the suggestions made by the hon. Members for North Thanet (Mr Gale) and for Harlow (Robert Halfon) about positive further action that might be taken. I am sure that the Minister will respond to those points. I was also struck by the work done by the hon. Members for Southend West (Mr Amess) and for East Dunbartonshire (Jo Swinson) in relation to volunteering abroad. Both seemed to have spent quite a bit of time working on advocacy, communication and policy, which shows that work done by NGOs in that area, both overseas and in the UK, is very important. Sometimes people criticise the advocacy and communications work of those organisations, and clearly it should be only a small part of their overall work, but it is also an important part of it, and we have seen the benefit of it in what hon. Members have told us today.

The background to any discussion of DFID budgets is of course different from the current discussions in relation to most Government Departments, because DFID is not suffering the large cuts being imposed on most other Departments. That is as a result of the commitment by the coalition, continuing the commitment of the Labour Government, to reach the target of spending 0.7% of gross national income on overseas aid. Of course we have questions about how the Government will get to that target, and concerns about the freeze for the next couple of years; but the Government know that we are fully behind the commitment to the overall target. The Minister and his colleagues will find that we support him in his commitment to it, even if sometimes those sitting behind him in his own party may be more lukewarm.

There will of course be a debate about how DFID money will be spent under a new Government. Some programmes will change. The Government are perfectly entitled to have such a review and debate. However, it is important that any review should not threaten the viability of existing, valuable programmes by organisations such as VSO. Nor should there be prolonged uncertainty during the review. I reiterate the concerns expressed by several hon. Members today about future funding for VSO. The point has been made that VSO does not object in principle to the objective of diversifying funding; but it is concerned—as are many other organisations—that the reduction to a share as low as 40% coming from the Government could have a negative effect on its work and, consequently, on already poor communities.

I welcome what the Minister has said about other possible sources of funding being available to organisations that currently get funding through partnership programme arrangements, but some of the other funding sources also have a 40% cap. There would not be any benefit in having to move from one scheme with a 40% cap to another one with a 40% cap. I hope the Minister will listen to today’s comments, and consider the suggestions that have been made by VSO for a transitional arrangement that would allow minimisation of the negative consequences of the 40% cap on PPA for the relevant organisations’ good work.

Volunteering overseas can and should, in good programmes like those run by VSO, maximise beneficial long-term effects on local development efforts by the way in which it builds the skills and capacity of local communities. As hon. Members have said, that is a crucial aspect of volunteering. The benefit is not just the effect of two, three or four weeks, months or years of volunteer work. Host communities gain long-term benefits from volunteers’ work. There is no doubt that the presence of volunteers is welcomed by the host countries. Also, there is little doubt that when volunteers return to the UK they have a greater understanding and appreciation of the issues that developing countries face. Hon. Members’ speeches made that clear.

Volunteering programmes from the UK can also provide an opportunity for members of the diaspora communities in the UK—from south Asia, Africa and elsewhere—to develop or indeed re-forge their links with their countries of birth or heritage. That is another area of work in which VSO has been involved for a number of years. One programme, which, I understand, faces the end of its DFID funding, is VSO work with diaspora communities in the UK to allow them to develop links with their countries of birth or heritage. The current programme, which I understand finishes in May 2011, was funded under a scheme that will not continue after 2011. I understand that VSO has been told it could apply for funding from the global poverty action fund, but it will not be able to do that if it also gets money under the PPA fund, which is its main source of funding. I hope the Minister will comment on that, today or later.

Inevitably there is much agreement on both sides of the House in a debate such as this, which reflects the recognition of the good work done by volunteers and organisations such as VSO. I welcome what the Minister said about considering other sources of funding to assist VSO, in particular, with its concerns and fears, and I hope he can answer today the questions raised in the debate. The hon. Member for Na h-Eileanan an Iar told us that the monetary value of the work done in developing countries through volunteering is £80 million a year; but, because of its knock-on effects—the multiplier effects and the funding that can be obtained locally for volunteering work that is also done locally, and the long-term benefits—even that £80 million a year proves its value many times over. The Government should consider that when they make decisions about future funding of VSO and similar organisations that do valuable work overseas.

I thank the hon. Member for Western Isles—[Laughter.] I have copped out—for initiating the debate, which is particularly poignant in the light of the recent death of Linda Norgrove in Afghanistan, who came from the hon. Gentleman’s constituency. We have people like Linda in mind when we approach this debate.

I welcome the opportunity to address the issue of international development and the important contribution that can be made by the voluntary sector. I assure hon. Members that the coalition Government are certainly not reducing the budget for the work of the voluntary sector overseas. Indeed, as will be seen, we have set out our plans for increasing support to the most effective voluntary organisations. Over the years, Britain has established a global reputation for its work on international development, as a result of the work of successive UK Governments and the contributions from civil society, the private sector and UK citizens.

I shall not say Na h-Eileanan an Iar again. What the Minister said sounded very welcome on first hearing. Is he guaranteeing that VSO organisations that believe their funding will be cut will not suffer a sudden drop in their funding but will be able to continue on their expected path—that come this April, the axe will not be falling?

I shall come to that point more specifically in a moment. In short, the answer is that I am not going to guarantee that individual organisations will have all their funding guaranteed in perpetuity. The whole point of what the Department is doing is to establish value for money, but I shall come to those arguments later.

Our argument is not for funding in perpetuity, but for managed funding transitions and changes. We do not want a sudden drop in April. We want organisations to be able to manage the changes that are already projected, with spending being limited to below 40% in the next three to four years. I ask the Minister to take that on board, and to ensure that the good work that we heard about from all Members is not threatened in any way. That is a really serious point.

I fully understand the hon. Gentleman’s argument. I shall deal with it later in more detail, but we believe that there are additional components in any organisation’s potential funding that will allow flexibility and additional funding on top of the core funding. That could—although it is not necessarily guaranteed—sustain the level of funding that they hope for.

The House will be aware that, despite the difficult economic challenges, the coalition Government have publicly stated that we will not balance the books on the backs of the world’s poor. We have protected the aid budget, and made a firm commitment to achieving the aid target of 0.7% of gross national income from 2013. The Prime Minister, the Chancellor and the Secretary of State for International Development have shown tremendous courage and leadership at a time when many were calling for reductions in the UK’s aid budget.

Tackling poverty is not only a moral imperative; it is in Britain’s self-interest. Well spent UK aid is one of the best investments we can make. Not only does it enable poor people to improve their lives, but it is good for our economy, our environment, our safety and our future. Quite simply, it is tremendous value for money. Our vision is simple. It is to make life better for the poorest in the poorest countries.

There is clear evidence that aid works. Over the past 25 years, we have seen 500 million fewer people living in poverty despite the rapid growth in the world’s population. In 2007-08, UK Aid trained more than 100,000 teachers, vaccinated 3 million children against measles and supplied just short of 7 million anti-malaria bed nets. However, we should not underestimate the scale of the challenges that we face. Some 25,000 children die every day from easily preventable and treatable diseases; and 1.4 billion people still live on less than $1.25 a day, more than two thirds of them being women and girls. Those factors, as well as new challenges such as climate change, mean that we need to maintain and strengthen our efforts.

I recognise the valuable contribution made by international voluntary organisations, many of which are effective in tackling poverty and promoting growth. They deliver services to improve the lives of poor and marginalised people, often in places that official donors do not reach. They enable citizens to be more effective participants in decisions that affect their lives. They hold Governments and others to account, and they assist public engagement in development. It is for those reasons that the UK places importance on building and maintaining the capacity and space for an active civil society; it is part of our overall approach to international development.

Members will be aware that an important part of the UK voluntary sector’s work overseas includes the special contribution of international volunteering organisations. Such organisations make a valuable contribution by offering UK citizens and others a unique opportunity to make a practical difference to poor people’s lives in developing countries by sharing their skills, their knowledge and their commitment. I pay special tribute to former volunteers who have returned to the UK from their overseas assignments and are putting their knowledge, skills and learning to good use in their local communities. Some, it seems, are in the Chamber doing just that.

The House will be aware that in October the Prime Minister announced a new scheme to support international volunteering. The international citizen service will give thousands of young adults in the UK the opportunity to join the fight against poverty by volunteering in developing countries. Volunteering is a powerful way to experience other cultures, and it allows the returned volunteers to broaden the UK’s public understanding of global poverty.

The Department for International Development funds voluntary organisations in many ways. More than 50% of the support provided by DFID to civil society organisations is made through DFID’s country offices. The remainder is provided from central funds. I shall come to these shortly. In 2009-10, DFID provided £362 million to UK civil society organisations to assist in poverty reduction overseas. That was equivalent to roughly 9% of UK bilateral assistance. Additionally, DFID provides support to many local voluntary organisations in those countries where the UK has a presence. The UK also supports voluntary organisations indirectly, through contributions to the United Nations, the European Commission and other multilateral organisations.

Through those investments, we have been able to achieve significant results. With DFID support, Care UK is working with the private sector in India to provide affordable micro-insurance to 210,000 families in disaster-affected communities; the Gender Links programme in Malawi has contributed to an increase in women’s representation in its Parliament from 14% to 22% in the May 2009 national elections; and WaterAid is helping 1 million people gain access to clean water and sanitation in Asia and Africa. These are significant results, and the UK can and should take pride in them.

The coalition Government are strongly committed to supporting effective civil society organisations. The House will be aware that DFID is providing support to civil society organisations over the next three years through its PPAs, or programme partnership arrangements.

I am just coming to the nitty-gritty, but I shall allow the hon. Gentleman one more stab before getting stuck into the detail.

Aid works—as the Minister said, fewer are in poverty, and he gave a list of impressive statistics. However, I have to say that I am not as heartened as I was when he intervened on me. Will he work to ensure that there is a manageable and careful transition—the £26 million being reduced to £12 million—without damaging any of the good work?

I say this with open hands: I do not want the Minister to find himself painted into a corner. I am sure he is not trying to do that. I ask for the flexibility of approach that will enable this good work to remain intact. That is really important. I know he might not feel able to give a full commitment this morning, but he might want to give himself wriggle room to make the transition manageable. It is most important, but it is above politics.

There is plenty of scope in the way the system works to give the hon. Gentleman a solid degree of reassurance and the comfort he seeks. I shall explain the components of the system; it might lead him to feel he has had that reassurance.

I start with the programme partnership arrangements, the crux of our funding debate. They provide flexible funding. That is the key. A flexible contract emerges from the PPAs for those partners that get a three-year funding deal. The PPAs provide funding for some of the best-performing organisations, and they are highly competitive. We also want to ensure that voluntary organisations do not become dependent on DFID funds. That is a key part of the argument. That is why, in the next round of PPA funding that begins in 2011, DFID will provide funding to a maximum of 40% of an organisation’s annual income. That is what we have been discussing this morning.

Our commitment to supporting voluntary organisations extends far beyond the PPAs. In October, the Government launched a new £40 million a year global poverty action fund, and projects will be selected on the basis of demonstrable impact on poverty, the clarity of their outcomes and the value for money they offer.

Let me respond to some of the contributions made this morning, which will add further detail to our discussion. We have covered—if not wholly to the satisfaction of the Member for Western Isles—the shortfall point.

My hon. Friend the Member for North Thanet asked if the 40% threshold should apply to an organisation’s global income. We have to look at the audited accounts of any such organisation. Looking at global income compared with UK-only income, we see that UK-only income is the major component of British voluntary organisations’ income. For instance, for VSO in the year 2009-10, the UK-only income was about £50 million and the global income was about £60 million. So, yes, my hon. Friend’s suggestion would make a difference, but the difference between global income and UK-only income is not so huge that it is—let us say—a multiple of the amount of money that would otherwise emerge from a PPA.

My hon. Friend also asked if his charity, or the likes of it, could be represented on the Disasters Emergency Committee. DEC is not in the gift of DFID. It is a voluntary alliance of the UK’s biggest charities and is designed to co-ordinate urgent action in response to any large-scale disaster. So, membership of DEC is more about scale and urgent response than anything else.

My hon. Friend the Member for Harlow (Robert Halfon) asked whether we could support overseas apprenticeships. That is why we are supporting the new international citizen service, so there is scope for a very positive outcome regarding the objectives set by my hon. Friend.

My hon. Friend the Member for Southend West (Mr Amess) asked how we can support volunteer organisations. Let me outline again the components of our support. We offer support through PPAs; through in-country funds, which have significant scope for supplementing anything that emerges out of the capped 40% of a PPA; through challenge funds, which can do the same, and now we also have both the global poverty action fund and the international citizen service. So there are many routes through which the total picture of a volunteering organisation’s funding can be pieced together.

I will give way one more time in a moment.

The key for the coalition, at a time when we are under enhanced scrutiny of the way we spend our development money, as my hon. Friend the Member for North Thanet rightly said, is that we must look for quality and value for money in everything we do. We also need to enhance the process by which we do that—hence, the various components I have just outlined—and not just offer a lump sum of funding through a PPA.

One point I want to draw to his attention is that I fear that organisations that are holding PPA money are unable to apply for or access other pots of money from DFID. I am not certain whether the Minister is saying today that they will now be able to do that, or that other organisations might come in. However, the difficulty is that we have this transition phase; the organisations are planning for that change anyway, but it is just the speed of the change that is a concern. It is in April—or two or three years from next April—that the change is due, and I ask him to allow some latitude to ensure that it is a managed and not a brutal change.

I would wholly agree with the hon. Gentleman if there were to be a sudden cut with no alternative funding stream or transitional source, but that is not the picture. Yes, there will be a cap of 40% on the underlying three-year agreement, but I have just outlined three, four, even five different channels that an organisation, if it can show value for money, can readily use to supplement what he describes as a “shortfall”.

For example, if we take an organisation that might have, through its PPA, 50% of its annual income paid for by DFID, and that figure goes down to 40%, it is not beyond possibility that that 10% difference can once again be made up from the alternative funding sources I have outlined.

I will say something else, if I may, and then see whether the hon. Gentleman still wants to intervene. He himself asked whether other funding schemes have a 40% cap. The 40% figure applies only to PPAs because a PPA provides far more flexible funding than project-based funding does, and that is why the regime is designed to be different.

I am grateful to the Minister for giving way. Can we have some clarity, either in today’s debate or afterwards, regarding the ability of organisations that qualify for PPA funding to get other types of support as well? I have been briefed that one of the schemes that VSO might otherwise have been able to gain support for from the global poverty action fund will not be able to gain such support because VSO holds a PPA with the Department. Is the Minister saying that in fact, organisations can have a PPA and also receive funding from some of the other sources he has outlined?

I cannot say whether that is true in all cases; I do not want to mislead the hon. Gentleman by saying for certain that it is true in all cases. However, in many if not most cases, I believe it to be true. I undertake to write to him with a clear explanation of how the system works in detail, which is one of the advantages of having a debate such as this in Westminster Hall.

I thank my right hon. Friend for giving way and for his remarks on the international citizen service. However, will he give real incentives to companies, particularly multinational companies, to ensure that the service offers real apprenticeships for people to work overseas in the countries we have discussed?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising that point, because one of the important thrusts of DFID under the coalition Government is that we want far greater engagement from the private sector, both in the delivery of development and in the likes of the apprenticeship scheme he is describing. So, the answer is yes—that is exactly the direction in which we want to go. That is why my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Development is setting up a specific, bespoke private sector section within DFID, to ensure that the private sector can be a real engine for development in the years ahead.

In today’s difficult fiscal landscape, the increased funding that DFID is making available imposes a double duty to ensure that every pound of taxpayers’ money is well spent and can demonstrate real value for money. We cannot maintain support for a growing aid budget unless we can offer the British public independently verified evidence that funds are being well spent and achieving practical results. That is why the coalition Government have established the independent commission on aid impact, and why we are seeking value for money in every review we conduct and decision we make.

Earlier this year, the Secretary of State announced that DFID was undertaking comprehensive reviews of the UK’s bilateral aid, multilateral assistance and humanitarian and emergency support. Those reviews aim to ensure that UK aid focuses on the areas where we can have most impact and deliver maximum results and maximum value for money. We are also working to ensure maximum value for money from our support to voluntary organisations. That will mean higher levels of competition.

Many British organisations are doing a brilliant job in tackling poverty. We will continue to support those excellent organisations, and through greater competition we will ensure that every pound of taxpayers’ money is well spent and produces top quality results.

Order. Thank you for that splendid debate. As the hon. Gentleman who has secured the next debate is here in advance, and as I believe that the Minister is doing a “double-act” this morning—