HC Deb 05 June 1980 vol 985 cc1660-2
9. Mr. Teddy Taylor

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will make a statement on the work of the Voluntary Services Unit of his Department

The Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Timothy Raison)

The Voluntary Services Unit was set up in 1973 for the purpose of encouraging voluntary effort. It has three main functions: to make grants to certain voluntary organisations; to co-ordinate and develop Government policy towards the voluntary sector as a whole; and to take initiatives to encourage voluntary effort in the community. I believe that, since its inception, the VSU has played a significant role in achieving its objectives.

Mr. Taylor

At a time when we are being told that a painful search for economy is being made in every area, has the Home Secretary's attention been drawn to the fact that the unit has committed itself to giving £42,000 of taxpayers' money to a body called " SCARP ", whose national newspaper, which I have here, records on the front page that 1980 should be the year of "Rock against Thatcher", explains that Tory policies are no good for anyone, and invites applications for lapel badges with the slogan " Rinse Out Blue Scum ". Does the Home Secretary feel that this is an appropriate use of public money? Will he be willing to discuss with the Charity Commission how many bodies supported by the VSU enjoy charitable status——

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman is also taking up enough time for two supplementary questions. That is two that we have lost altogether.

Mr. Raison

I agree with my hon. Friend that the issue of the newspaper to which he referred is quite deplorable. The grant is currently under active review. The matter has, I understand, been drawn to the attention of the Charity Commission which has the responsibility for deciding what is charitable, and not the Home Secretary.

Dr. Summerskill

Will the hon. Gentleman resist attacks in general on the VSU in view of the very valuable work that it has done and is doing towards the development of voluntary services? Will he give an assurance that the funds given to the unit are, in real terms, just as great as when the present Government took office, and if possible even greater?

Mr. Raison

I said in my reply that we attach importance to the role of the VSU. I believe that I am right in saying that we have maintained the level of funding in real terms.

Mr. Alan Clark

It may or may not be desirable to attack the VSU in general, but can my hon. Friend at least assure the House that he is looking at all those organisations which receive grants from the unit because in a very large number of cases they are, to a greater or lesser degree, subversive, and that causes grave disquet among those who know about it?

Mr. Raison

Actual complaints about objectionable political activity have been received in respect of only two projects financed by the VSU. Funding for one of these, the Tyne and Wear resource centre, has now ceased. The other matter, as I have said, is under review.

Mr. Allan Roberts

One of the greatest things about our democracy is that central and local government departments very often fund voluntary organisations which are critical of the body funding them. Does not the hon. Gentleman agree that if we were to attack and criticise any voluntary group that criticised an organisation or a State body that funded it we would be destroying democracy?

Mr. Raison

Clearly, we do not intend to control every detail of every activity of organisations funded by the VSU, but, as I have said, I believe that what occurred in the case of the newspaper referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Southend, East (Mr. Taylor) was quite unacceptable.

Sir William Clark

My hon Friend says that the matter is under review. When will the review be completed? Does not he agree that, while the review is going on, no further money should be given to this organisation?

Mr. Raison

The matter will be concluded very rapidly indeed.

Mr. Alton

Is the Minister seriously saying that any organisation which publishes in its newspaper the views of perhaps even another organisation—which I believe is what happened in this case—will have its grant reviewed and possibly withdrawn? Is he saying that he is introducing a form of State censorship of organisations like SCARP?

Mr. Raison

I am not saying that I am introducing a form of State censorship, but I suggest to the hon. Gentleman that he should have a look at this newspaper and ask himself whether he thinks that the material was justified.