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Pope Benedict XVI: State Visit Funding

Volume 725: debated on Thursday 10 February 2011


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government when the decision was taken to transfer £1.85 million from the overseas development budget to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to pay towards the cost of the state visit by Pope Benedict XVI in September 2010; and who took the decision.

My Lords, Ministers agreed in March 2010 that the costs of the papal visit falling to government should be funded from within the departmental baselines of the six interested departments involved in the planning process. In July 2010, the Chief Secretary to the Treasury set out a formula for the division of costs between departments, giving £1.85 million from DfID against an expected total for all departments of £10 million. In the light of final figures, the cost to DfID will in fact be substantially lower. Its contribution was not part of official development assistance and came out of running costs.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for his response. The sum of £1.85 million was nevertheless transferred from DfID to the FCO for the Pope’s visit—welcome though that visit was. Substantial funds have also been transferred from DfID to finance a loan guarantee for the Government of the Turks and Caicos tax haven. Is it not clear that the much vaunted ring-fence around overseas development already has serious and worrying holes in it? Will the noble Lord now give the House a clear undertaking that the practice of diverting funds that are intended for tackling global poverty to other purposes will stop forthwith?

The noble Baroness is raising questions far beyond the one she put on the Order Paper. She is asking me about what money was paid for His Holiness the Pope’s visit, which was extremely successful. Many people appreciated it, it gave great value and was a boost to our country and our relations with the Holy See. What I have given her is the Answer to her Question, which is that six departments contributed. The money did not come out of overseas aid; it has nothing to do with ring-fencing or non-ring-fencing; it is not associated with our overall target of 0.7 per cent of GDP spending on aid by 2013; and it seems to me that her question is grossly misplaced.

Can my noble friend help a little regarding the £1.85 million? If it did not come from the ring-fenced fund, did it come from money that would normally have been transferred as part of the conflict-prevention pool? Does the use of these funds fall within the conflict-reduction, aid and development remit of the department? Precisely what departmental heading did it come from?

As I tried to explain to the noble Baroness, it came from the running costs of the department. It does have running costs; and costs contributing to this project, along with all the other departments which contributed, including the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, are taken out of the funds that are used for running the department. Other economies might have had to be made in the running of the department, but they are not specified and I cannot give an answer.

Does the noble Lord accept that his reply is misleading to the House? Making a semantic distinction between the running costs of the Department for International Development and official development assistance is quite unacceptable. The administrative costs are there to administer the cost of overseas development, and however welcome was the visit to this country of His Holiness the Pope as a head of state, that can in no way be defined as overseas development.

The noble Lord is usually right in his interventions, but in this case he is dead wrong. The contributions from DfID and other departments all had their good reasons. It so happens that the Government take the view—and, I suspect, the noble Lord takes the view—that the work of the Catholic Church in health and education overseas reinforces and combines with our work in a most valuable way. I hate to hear any suggestion that it should be downgraded as the noble Lord’s question implied.

My Lords, may I have it put on the record that this was nothing to do with the Catholic Church? This was a decision of ministerial departments.

I am not quite sure what the noble Lord is saying. He is right—this was partly a visit by a head of state to Her Majesty the Queen, and a pastoral visit. The money I am talking about related to the heads of state costs incurred by the Government—and rightly so. The Church also made its contribution to other pastoral costs, but I am talking about the Government’s costs.

My Lords, did I hear my noble friend correctly? I think he said that the original allocation decisions were made in March 2010. Am I therefore right in thinking that he is vigorously defending the original decisions of the previous Government?

No. The noble Countess makes a good point; this was a unique visit, as we know, and there has been no basis of comparison with the visits of other heads of state. It was a mixture of a visit by a head of state and a pastoral visit; hundreds of thousands of people were involved and many organisations, including, of course, the Catholic Church.

My Lords, I declare a potential interest as a member of the Roman Catholic Church. I associate myself with the comments of my noble friend Lady Kinnock about the general concerns of ring-fencing, and I am grateful to the Minister for confirming the work of the Roman Catholic Church in relation to international aid—throughout the world, it spends millions of pounds. Is the Minister also aware of the amount of money that was raised by members of the Roman Catholic Church to help to pay for the Pope’s visit?

Yes, I am aware that considerable funds were raised by the Catholic Church and that is a very wonderful thing. I am also aware of the enormously good work that the Catholic Church does, often with the direct involvement of the Holy See, in development and in lifting people out of poverty around the world, and I am very glad to hear the general support of the noble Lord for that work.

My Lords, I declare an interest as a papal knight. Notwithstanding the discussion about which departments paid for the visit, does the Minister agree that it was a great success and gave an uplift to many people, and that the Pope’s visit to this Parliament was a day to remember for all those who attended?

Yes, I agree 100 per cent. I thought that it was a wonderful affair, superbly managed and organised, not least by my noble friend Lord Patten of Barnes, and it brought great reassurance and joy to many hundreds of thousands of people. It also improved the reputation of this nation, which, as noble Lords will remember, was questioned by a senior Vatican official before the Pope came. However, afterwards, he had a very different and much better view.