The Lord Bishop of Peterborough: My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Lord, Lord McInnes, for raising this important Question. I draw attention to my non-financial interest as a vice-president of the Leprosy Mission. I hasten to add that, to the best of my knowledge, that excellent organisation has not been infected by the scourge of corruption.
However, all of us involved in third sector aid must be vigilant and realistic about the temptations even for those whose careers and lives are essentially altruistic. The diocese I serve used to have what the Anglican Communion calls a companion link with a diocese in a very poor area of a very poor African country, where corruption is rife at all levels. We found it extremely difficult to support church work, rural clinics, schools and so on without significant amounts of money going astray—despite our best efforts as required by the Finance Act 2010 and by our own ethical standards.
The Finance Act 2010 requires those giving money for charitable purposes to assure themselves that it is being spent as the donors intended. Although this is absolutely right, it makes it almost impossible for relatively small donors to give to anything other than large, well-managed appeals. The easy way out of this problem is to pull out of offering or providing aid in those contexts where corruption is most rife. On the small scale at which a parish, or even a diocese, operates, this might be the right and only option, unless we can afford to have our own people on the ground, which in any case adds a whole new layer of difficulty and potential for corruption.
Sadly, I suspect that the days of small organisations giving money for small projects in difficult areas may have to end. But on the scale of major NGOs and Governments, that approach will not do and cannot be countenanced. The sad fact is that the very poorest are the main victims of corruption. It is they who suffer and lose most, but they are also the ones who suffer even more if corruption is punished by the withholding of aid.
It is widely recognised, including by our Government and the United Nations, that we must design and deliver aid programmes so that corruption becomes as near to impossible as we can make it. I venture to hope that, as the Government and the larger NGOs address this issue, they will also consider how smaller charities and even individuals can safely offer aid and support to the sort of small-scale projects that can make a real difference to people but come under the radar of much of the policy-making in this area.
I am proud of our national 0.7% commitment to overseas aid, and of the wonderful work done by government, NGOs and faith bodies to serve and support the poorest people in the world. May we not put that noble task and responsibility at risk because of corruption, but instead lead the world, as we should, in finding effective ways to give aid that reaches the most needy people and communities.