HC Deb 15 February 1977 vol 926 cc259-64

3.32 p.m.

Mr. Anthony Steen (Liverpool, Wavertree)

I beg to move, That leave be given to bring in a Bill to protect the work of voluntary organisations, community and neighbourhood organisations and self-help groups by ensuring that each local authority annually allocates a minimum amount of the funds available to non-statutory endeavour. This afternoon I should like to explain how the effect of public expenditure cuts can be minimised in social service provision and why legislation is now called for to protect the work of voluntary bodies.

Since the beginning of the Welfare State era, a continuous rash of social legislation has created expectations, stronger with each succeeding genera-ration, that the Government will solve all problems. As a result, people have grown conditioned to look to a beneficient State for everything, from the proverbial cradle to the grave, and they hesitate before lifting a finger to help themselves. For some time, it has been evident that the State can no longer cope with the task that it has taken on.

Local authorities now find themselves unable to perform many of the tasks that have been thrust upon them by Parliament. For example, the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act [Interruption]—

Mr. Speaker

Order. Courtesy costs nothing and we must listen to what the hon. Gentleman is saying. He is going to prove a case for bringing in the Bill. He is not dealing with the Bill.

Mr. Steen

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Members of the Labour Party will have difficulty in opposing the Bill unless they understand exactly what I am saying.

The Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act 1970 obliged local authoriwe make to them out of existing funds. In voluntary work organisations I include ties to find and help the handicapped. Yet how many authorities have actually put that Act into practice? Insufficient central funds have prevented the implementation of the Children and Young Persons Act. With an extended period of financial restraint, funds available for local authorities to run their statutory social and health services will be severely limited. That means that if the needy, sick, elderly and other disadvantaged groups are not to suffer, we must find alternative ways of caring for people without incurring massive public expenditure.

Utilising voluntary work organisations is one such way. They can provide a number of services more cheaply and run them more effectively than local authorities. They also have the advantage of not getting tied up in interminable ravels of red tape. They are usually smaller and get things done more quickly.

We therefore need to raise the status of voluntary work organisations and to increase the level of contributions that community groups, neighbourhood councils and self-help bodies as well as some tenants and ratepayers associations.

I make it plain that I am not advocating greater public expenditure. On the contrary, I am suggesting better value for money by diverting resources that could be better used. As the restraints bite deep, the tendency of local authorities will be to favour their own work. They will see as a first priority the need to sustain those services that they have been asked by Parliament to perform. Their attitude to grant aiding voluntary organisations will harden. It is for that reason that we need fresh legislation to help local authorities to reassess their priorities and to shift funds away from those of their services that are not cost effective to voluntary work organisations that can give better value. The purpose of the Bill is, therefore, on the one hand to protect voluntary work and on the other hand to accord it greater recognition.

There is no reason why the home-help service should continue to be run by local authorities. It is far more expensive than a voluntary neighbourhood service run by local mothers who, even on a part-time paid basis, could clean and care for neighbours. There would be no travel costs. The rates of pay would not need to be subject to union negotiations and help would be given at a grass root level from neighbour to neighbour.

As to play provision, voluntary play groups in Liverpool cost 25p. per unit per child per day as against 35p. per unit per child per day at the local authorities, play services. In your work, voluntary organisations run clubs at nearly half the local authority cost for similar provisions. While a local authority spends £70 a week on looking after a child in care, similar services provided by voluntary organisations cost about £50. Savings could run into millions if the pattern set by the Kent Social Services was followed by more local authorities. The number of children in institutional care in Kent has been substantially reduced by utilising foster parents who are ready, willing and able to take care of children. I am told that in Kent more foster parents have been located than there are children who need them and it is estimated that expenditure on child care could be down by as much as a third, that is, about £1 million a year.

Reducing the numbers of old people in institutions and bringing them back into the community is already saving a great deal of money. Plans are well advanced in Kent for keeping the elderly in their homes, using part of the money saved from institutional care to pay neighbours and friends who offer their support. Neighbourhood care in urban areas could also provide significant savings by organising family, friends and neighbours in caring for others. The Southern Neighbourhood Council in Liverpool is an example. Forty-four volunteer block and street councillors keep an eye on 800 old people, the handicapped and young children at risk. Eleven mothers are employed part-time by the organisation and they co-ordinate the operation. As a result, those living alone receive at least a weekly visit. Those with special needs benefit from daily visits. The area social work team is freed, specialist help being brought in only in an emergency.

The real purpose, therefore, of the proposed legislation is to give greater recognition to these kinds of enterprise and to ensure that these organisations continue to develop. There is a real danger that unless a slice of the local authority cake is earmarked for the promotion of such endeavours, cutbacks will dig deep and many of the organisations will not be able to ride the storm. Just as the small business needed protection from the bulldozer when the inner cities were being pulled down, so the voluntary bodies need protection now that their lifeline is at risk.

My Bill would provide a financial formula to determine what minimum proportion of the local authority income should be spent on this kind of work. One way to calculate this would be a percentage of the total rates revenue for the district which would have to be earmarked for non-statutory work. Another would be to agree a per capita sum in each local authority area—the minimum amount per head which the local authority would set aside to be spent on voluntary work.

It is not appropriate in this short introductory speech to go into greater details. Hon. Members will appreciate that I am only requesting leave to introduce the Bill and outline my proposals, not to spell out every clause and subsection.

Nor can I hope to explain all the terminology I have used, but those who are familiar with working in this field will know what I am about.

Through this Bill, voluntary work will be able to assume a far greater significance in the life and development of this country. Protecting voluntary work organisations is important to all of us on this side of the House as it provides an alternative to total State domination in community and social service provisions.

Question put and agreed to.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (West Lothian)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. This is a House of Commons point. We hear repeatedly from the hon. Member for Liverpool, Wavertree (Mr. Steen)—indeed it has become almost a feature of Tuesday and Wednesday afternoons—that he has this, that or the other proposal. When I went to the Vote Office to ask whether any of his Bills had been published, not a single one could be found.

The hon. Member says that he does not have enough time to outline all his legislative proposals, but is there not a moral, if not a legal, obligation upon him at least to go to the trouble of publishing the proposals, rather than abusing the procedures of the House and keeping us from the all-important Scotland and Wales Bill?

Mr. Speaker

That was not a point of order.

Mr. Steen

I must tell the House—

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman must refer to the point of order and not seek to address the House.

Mr. Steen

May I ask your advice, Mr. Speaker? One of my Bills has been published, and is it not correct that it Bills do not receive the consent of the House, they cannot be printed?

Mr. Speaker

I am concerned only with Bills that have the consent of the House. I have to see only that if the hon. Gentleman asks leave to introduce a Ten-Minute Bill and I agree to it, he has the chance to do so. Whether he ever produces the Bill is not my concern.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Anthony Steen, Mr. Ivan Lawrence, Mr. John Cope, Mr. Ian Gow, Mr. Charles Morrison, Mr. Tony Newton, Mr. Michael Grylls, Mr. Fergus Montgomery, Sir Anthony Royle, Mr. George Gardiner and Mr. Charles Irving.