§ Dr. Charles Goodson-Wickes (Wimbledon)
I beg to move,That this House confirms its commitment to the role of the active citizen and voluntary organisations in society.It gives me great pleasure to continue to develop the theme that I chose for my maiden speech. I do not claim any special expertise in the subject; indeed, I see hon. Members on both sides of the House who have greater experience then I, both generally and in some of the more specific subjects that I shall touch on in my introductory remarks. I look forward to hearing their contributions.
The concept of active citizenship is hardly a new one. Throughout the ages, societies have progressed and prospered precisely because their members worked for the common good. However, the phrase has entered the political arena only in the past three years or so, and my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary and my hon. Friend the Minister of State, Home Office, who is to reply to the debate, have both spoken, during their tenure of office, of the importance of citizens involving themselves in their communities—the emphasis being on communities rather than on the more impersonal and intangible concept of society. The affection of the public tends towards Edmund Burke's idea of "little platoons"—representing the best of Whig and Tory traditions—as opposed to great battalions.
Why the phrase "active citizenship"? It is precisely to distinguish the concept from passive citizenship, if citizenship it is, whereby responsibilities have tended to be ceded to the state. It is not just east of the iron curtain that the destruction of communities in the second world war led directly to the heyday of Socialist planners. The heartless tower blocks—the ghastly stark architecture and all that goes with it—also appeared in the West. These horrors are only now beginning to be knocked down and transformed. Active citizenship means more than simply casting a vote or writing a cheque—whether to the taxman for the state to provide, or to charity, to absolve one's conscience without further obligation.
The motion seeks to raise awareness of the vital role of the active citizen, both as an individual and joining others in voluntary groups to help the community generally. All the trends are now towards people taking greater responsibility for themselves and their families—in housing, through tenants' and housing associations; in education, through parent governors of schools, and, in health, through volunteers in hospitals, the local identity of which, I trust, will be enhanced by the proposals for self-governing hospitals. All that has been added to more traditional themes—lay magistrates drawn from all walks of life, youth club leaders, scouts, guides, St. John Ambulance, lifeboat men or simply membership of clubs and organisations with a charitable element. The desire to 1110 belong and the need to be needed are powerful human traits. As Abraham Lincoln reminded us, service to others is the rent that we pay for our place on earth.
It is all too easy, after a decade of major changes, with the emphasis rightly on enterprise and efficiency, for critics to portray an essentially materialistic society. Although I believe that to be unjust—all hon. Members can testify to the superb and inadequately recognised voluntary work done by so many in our constituencies—I suggest to the House that the well-established British tradition of generosity needs a gentle nudge in the right direction.
As we move towards the end of the century, a curious combination of trends is becoming evident. Not only do we have a general increase in prosperity; we have a population that is living longer, fewer people leaving schools and entering employment, earlier retirement and more leisure time. However, there will always be a section of our society that needs extra support.
With the permission of the House, I want to explore means whereby resources, both personal and financial, can be guided, without any form of compulsion, into worthwhile projects. We now have the wherewithal, but we need the enthusiasm and energy to put it to the maximum advantage. On this side of the House, at least, we have long believed in the idea of individual self-help. It has always seemed to me that this rather narrow and selfish concept should be widened to what I choose to call "community self-help".
I can think of no better example to prove my point than the emergence of neighbourhood watch schemes. They started without the direct involvement of the Government or the police, with the object of protecting property. Perhaps that is materialistic, but, equally it is both prudent and proper. Not only have those schemes increased from a bare two schemes in 1982 to 66,000 this year, but, as I have seen in my constituency in Wimbledon, the movement has developed through a network of co-ordinators into a social entity in itself. People get to know each other and to discuss the needs of others in their areas. Self-interest, therefore, has led to more neighbourly behaviour and, perhaps most importantly of all, social cohesiveness.
Local businesses have—perhaps not entirely altruistically, since advertising is involved—sponsored the production and delivery of newsletters. The success of the scheme has yet to be fully evaluated, although the trend for crime against property is downwards. It may prove to be an inexact science, but no one can discount the value of the cultivation of areas of common interest in an increasingly impersonal world.
A weakness in neighbourhood watch is often the understandable shortage of police manpower deployed in order to link up with the scheme. I suggest that the obvious remedy for that is urgent and vigorous recruitment to the special constabulary. It dismays me that in England and Wales the numbers have actually fallen from 17,000 in 1968 to 16,000 in 1987, and the picture in Scotland is very much worse. Although the increased recruitment of females is to be welcomed, it disguises the real drop in male manpower.
The appearance of so-called guardian angels in this country—in spite of the fact that they have impressed some of my colleagues—caused me deep misgivings. Why on earth should a vulnerable passenger on the Underground be reassured more by a bestudded vigilante, festooned with badges, than by the comforting sight of a 1111 uniformed special constable? We should have a campaign to recruit "specials" to act as a bridge between the regular police force and the public, and to help improve our record in law and order, which does not always bear close examination. Crimes against people may be far outnumbered by crimes against property, but we cannot tolerate our constituents being afraid of going about their daily lives, in spite of the sterling efforts of our police force.
§ Mr. Alex Carlile (Montgomery)
I agree wholeheartedly with what the hon. Gentleman said about the special constabulary. Does he agree that it has a further advantge, in that it enables people who might wish to change careers and to join the police force in their late twenties or their thirties to see what it is like while being specials, and also gives the chief officers of police the opportunity to see what they are like while they are acting as specials? Does the hon. Gentleman agree that there is a considerable advantage in recruiting to the police force people in early middle years with some experience of other jobs?
§ Dr. Goodson-Wickes
I am well aware of the hon. and learned Gentleman's interest in the subject. I endorse his remarks entirely. I have no doubt that my hon. Friend will comment with more authority and in further detail from the Front Bench.
Active Citizenship in uniform could also be developed in the reserve forces, which are very well represented in my constituency by the Territorial Army, sea cadets and air training units, for which a recruitment campaign was launched last year. As the last generation of employers who did military service pass into retirement, we, the only NATO country in Europe not to have national service, must ensure that society recognises the importance of releasing employees for such training. Although I recognise that this is not the direct responsibility of my hon. Friend, the importance of reserve forces to the country's defence is vital, and will I hope be the subject of a debate on another day.
The responsibility of employers leads to a third exciting area to be explored—namely the secondment by companies of employees to voluntary sector projects. I believe that this has been described by Ralf Dahrendorf as "social entrepreneurship". Mr. Dahrendorf can hardly be described as a Conservative. Our major companies, such as IBM, whose managers have discretion to allow up to half a day off per week to employees, British Petroleum and United Biscuits are now following the lead of companies in the United States. I welcome the fact, too, that the Civil Service is involved.
Once again it is a two-way process. The companies feel that their employees come back with broadened horizons, the employees feel they have achieved something themselves, and the Institute of Directors proclaims that the pro bono publico spirit is alive again.
Business in the Community, an association of major United Kingdom businesses, also works with local and central Government and voluntary organisations to revitalise life in local communities in a wide range of projects. For example, in inner cities it supports urban regeneration, not only in bricks and mortar and in providing jobs, but by improving the environment and the quality of life. People are encouraged to stop whingeing 1112 and to tackle issues from basic social needs to taking pride in their surroundings by the elimination of graffiti and litter.
More recently still, active citizenship has been addressed by the Prince's Trust and the Commission on Citizenship, under the patronage of the Prince of Wales and Mr. Speaker respectively. Those two organisations are jointly exploring means of giving opportunities to young adults from all walks of life, from the age of 16 to 25, to do voluntary work for from four to 12 months. That is clearly a critical time in young people's lives, as they move from dependency to independence. It is early days yet, but the Prince's Trust has already done a pilot scheme that may be complementary to the pioneering work done by community service volunteers. A recent paper, "Service for the Nation" published by the Royal College of Defence Studies, recognises the non-military possibilities of this type of initiative.
Again it is a question of providing a framework. It is not inventing a new and artificial breed. Ten per cent. of youngsters are already active in the voluntary sector, and their awareness of citizenship may now be increased by the inclusion of the subject in the restructured curriculum. I urge my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary to ensure that his Department works closely with the Department of Education and Science to recognise that citizenship, far from being a woolly sociological subject, has an important place in rounding the educational system, to go beyond mere academic qualifications. The hope is that prospective employers, following the example of the influence of the Peace Corps in the United States, will take positive note of those with voluntary work on their curricula vitae, before employing them.
In time, the scheme may be extended to adults, and to the retired. Energetic people with experience are increasingly ploughing back their expertise through organisations such as the Retired Executives Action Clearing House—REACH—which is an example of what I understand is fashionably known as "grey power".
Finally, I endorse the philosophy of the role of the voluntary sector in our society. There is a negative school of thought that thinks that the extension of Victorian values, of self-help and private charity is merely a cheap way of displacing the welfare state. However, the opposite is precisely the case. The voluntary sector not only allows extra resources to be provided, but manages those resources more efficiently than does the state. I see that as a most worthy move away from what Kingman Brewster, the former American ambassador in London, dubbed the "entitlement society".
Although there is always scope for improvement, the Government's record in this respect is excellent. In the last 10 years, the material support for the voluntary sector has risen 92 per cent. in real terms and now £280 million is provided annually, either by direct grant to over a thousand voluntary bodies or via the urban programme.
§ Mr. Stuart Randall (Kingston upon Hull, West)
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way in his interesting speech. When the community programmes were cut in Wimbledon, was any of the socially related voluntary work then taking place chopped, as it was in my constituency of Hull to a serious extent?
§ Dr. Goodson-Wickes
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. I hope that it is not 1113 impertinent of me to say that I suspect that I know more about the deployment of funds in the London borough of Merton than he does, but I bow to his experience in Kingston upon Hull, West. I could tell him of the vast range of organisations that are doing worthy work in Wimbledon, and which are critically examined every year to see whether they are fulfilling the criteria that I am putting before the House. Each year, we look at value for money.
That intervention takes me directly on to the figures that I gave the House, which do not take account of grants via local government. In fact, I have tried with little success to find the statistics that show the total sums so deployed. In answer to the hon. Gentleman, in the London borough of Merton alone, the budget for 1989–90 amounts to £600,000, ranging from the Wimbledon Guild, which specialises in flexible quick response to people in need, through Merton MIND and victim support schemes, and many other worthy organisations which I am sure are replicated in the hon. Gentleman's constituency.
To quote the title of one of the leaflets produced by the National Council for Voluntary Organisations, such organisations should not be "taken for granted". However, the other side of the coin is that voluntary bodies should always examine their own organisations critically, to avoid empire building and the sort of top heavy bureaucratic structure which is exactly what the Government are trying to avoid. The whole exercise is nonsense if the maximum resources do not reach the target.
While not detracting from the marvellous work done by national organisations such as the Women's Royal Voluntary Service and the National Association for the Care and Resettlement of Offenders, the thrust of my argument for active citizenship implies a trend to more localised help within communities. I believe that people will respond more readily if they see in their own areas, the fruits of their efforts and generosity.
The House looks forward to the Government's White Paper on charities and their reaction to the Woodfield report.
Clearly, any recommendations for proper regulation of charities, combined with my right hon. Friend the Chancellor's recent raising of the threshold for payroll giving, would increase both the confidence of the public, and the level of giving, already running at £12 billion per year. Perhaps within the Government's response, or in addition to it, my hon. Friend the Minister will examine the relatively new concept of community trusts, sponsored by the Charities Aid Foundation. Here again, the argument is to link needs and resources on a local basis. Thirty such schemes have already been established. As they have shown the initiative which has been so well rewarded in the United States, perhaps more core funding would now be appropriate.
In conclusion, the role of the active citizen and voluntary organisations, combined with the concept of community self-help, is not wishy-washy do-gooding, it is a hitherto inadequately explored area, whereby a practical framework can be put in place for the benefit of all.
I believe that hon. Members of all parties will accept that increased affluence and prosperity in a free enterprise society must be linked to greater responsibility for others. In that spirit I commend the motion to the House.
§ Mr. Alex Carlile (Montgomery)
I begin by congratulating the hon. Member for Wimbledon (Dr. Goodson-Wickes) on selecting this motion for debate this morning. It is a valuable opportunity to discuss both the good points and some of the deficiencies facing the voluntary sector. The hon. Gentleman is a rare if not a unique bird in this House, being both a doctor and a barrister and he has perhaps a broader opportunity than many, being a member of two professions that are under attack at present, to see the broad scope in which the voluntary sector operates and the problems that it faces.
The hon. Gentleman illustrated the diversity of the voluntary sector. Even in a rural constituency such as mine, one can see that diversity, with activities ranging through bodies such as the Red Cross, which is extremely active in rural areas, in citizens advice bureaux, and in new agencies such as the bilingual English and Welsh AIDS helpline. Along with many other organisations they make a most valuable contribution to the community.
However, I should like to sound a note of caution. We must be careful that we do not rely too much on the voluntariness of the sector. It is right and of great benefit to society that the voluntary sector should prosper. However, that prosperity will not develop if it is not funded adequately, and that means adequate funding from both local and central Government to give the sector the encouragement and the resources that it needs to operate in a way that will benefit society as much as possible.
Two particular parts of the voluntary sector are causing me concern at the moment. The first is the citizens advice bureaux and the second is law centres. I should make it clear that I do not criticise the citizens advice bureaux in any way. They make a wonderful contribution in probably every constituency in the country towards meeting the problems that people face. Our constituency surgeries are large enough as it is, but imagine what they would be like if there were no citizens advice bureaux. We would probably be there from Saturday morning until late on Sunday night. If, as in my constituency, one has to hold surgeries in towns that are 30 or 40 miles apart, one would probably never meet the need at all if the CABs were not there to take the main part of the burden.
Citizens advice bureaux face complex problems these days. The complexity of those problems and, above all, the range of issues that they meet have increased dramatically in the past 20 years or so. When I was a small boy and was made to shake tins—probably illegally because I was under age to do so—to help my mother to collect money for the local citizens advice bureau, it was a small organisation meeting a residual need. Today, citizens advice bureaux, all over the country meet a mainline and a frontline need.
Many of the problems that they face are complicated legal problems, relating to housing, social security, race relations or other legal issues. In some areas—I cite as an example the well organised CAB at Thamesmead—it has been possible for the CAB to have legally qualified organisers, people with professional qualifications and a wide range of competence which they are able to use when they meet clients and to train their volunteers. But the salaries which the CABs are able to pay to organisers of that quality are small, so that the pool of people who are 1115 willing to make what in many cases is the self-sacrifice to work in what must be regarded as vocational jobs of that sort is diminishing.
In areas such as that, it is difficult to obtain suitable volunteers; they are not coming forward because many people are frightened by the range and complexity of problems. In other areas, such as in my constituency, where there is a well-organised CAB in Newtown, although the manager is extremely competent but not professionally qualified, she is able to draw on a larger pool of volunteers, perhaps because it is easier to find suitable volunteers in a country area. But the number of volunteers is diminishing there too, again because of the complexity of problems and the difficulty of resourcing suitable training opportunities for volunteers.
In some areas, local authorities are supporting their CABs well. In others, they are less willing to support them, and blame the Government for the lack of resources. It would not be helpful if, in this morning's debate, I entered into a political argument over who was responsible for the short funding of CABs and similar agencies. What is important is for the Government to take the co-ordinating role in ensuring that CABs throughout the country are properly funded so that they can give the necessary service to deal with an ever more complicated work load and an ever-increasing number of clients.
In real terms, there has been a general decline under Conservative rule in the provision of law centres and advice through such centres. The great thing about law centres is that what one might crudely describe as expensive expertise is provided in them at low prices. In the average law centre there is a small number of full-time workers, many qualified as lawyers, and they also rely on volunteers. On the whole, the volunteers are practising solicitors and barristers who give their time free to assist the law centre. They are, therefore, a cost-effective system of provision of legal advice, even set against the £45 an hour legal aid rate for solicitors doing criminal work, about which we have read recently, let alone the apparently much higher rates required by solicitors in central London if they are not to go bankrupt.
There is a great need for law centres and that need will increase if the Government decide to introduce legislation that puts into effect a substantial part of the Lord Chancellor's proposed reforms. I shall not debate the merits of the Lord Chancellor's Green Papers. For the sake of this debate, I am prepared to accept that there will be changes and that one of them, whether or not it is justified, is the loss of solicitors' privileges in relation to conveyancing.
The consequences of that loss will be that in rural areas, a substantial proportion of solicitors' income will probably be lost to financial institutions. The same will apply in urban areas, particularly since the sale of council houses has provided solicitors with conveyancing income for some years.
It seems to be generally agreed that as a result of that —I do not want to exaggerate the position—there will be a diminution of the number of solicitors in practice in the less legally lucrative areas of the country, such as in small towns and in areas where there are large proportions of council housing and so on. That will mean less legal 1116 expertise being available in the private legal market. As I say, that is an inevitable consequence. It may be justified, but I do not want to enter that discussion today.
Those changes will result in a deficit in the availability of legal services. If there is not to be a three-tier legal service—one for large companies, one for the middle classes and practically none for the rest—part of the provision will have to be met through law centres. The Lord Chancellor's Department and the Home Office—certainly the Government—should shoulder a substantial share of the responsibility for co-ordinating and funding the provision of law centres and their funding.
I have in the past been opposed to the widespread provision of law centres in rural areas, much to the irritation of the Law Centres Federation. But it is clear that they will be needed in the future if the number of solicitors' offices in rural and medium towns diminishes, as seems likely.
The Legal Aid Board is moving towards franchishing and granting licences, as it were, for certain types of legal work to have local or subject monopolies. But it must be realised—as I am sure the Government realize—that one cannot just hand over large areas of legal work, for example, to the CABs because, with the best will in the world, they do not have the expertise and people to do it, and they must rely for legal advice, by and large, on legally qualified people. If the number of solicitors diminishes, there will not be so many appropriate volunteers. At present, many solicitors give their services free to CABs on a regular basis.
As a result of changes which will take place—the introduction of greater competition in legal services which will have the effect that I have described in the areas to which I have referred—we shall need to establish a better and public legal service for the community at large. The only conceivable way of doing that is thorough law centres. That would rely greatly on the principle of voluntariness and active citizenship, which the Government encourage.
I support that principle, but it is no use just talking about it; the Government must examine the areas where it is needed and do the pump-priming to ensure that the need is met. I predict that in two or three years from now, if the Government do not prime the pump of law centres, there will be the deficit to which I have referred.
In making these points I do not want to imply that there is a serious deficiency in the voluntary sector. However, if there is a deficiency, it is that resources cannot keep pace with imagination. Different types of voluntary services are flourishing in all communities, and that is to be welcomed. I hope that the Government will not merely talk about encouraging imagination but will provide the funding to enable the active imagination of the active citizen who wishes to help others to be put to useful effect.
§ 10.9 am
§ Mr. Andrew Rowe (Mid-Kent)
I, too, congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Wimbledon (Dr. Goodson-Wickes) on raising this important issue. It is central to our time in terms of the need for an active citizenry, the number of people already involved, and the huge potential for involving many more of them. I speak partly as a member of Mr. Speaker's Commission on Citizenship, an initiative which will be of tremendous value to the development of active citizenship. In recent weeks, the 1117 commission enjoyed a philosophical seminar on citizenship. It was clear that there are serious and important differences of opinion about what a citizen is and what is meant by citizenship, but I will not pursue the matter today.
My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary and my hon. Friend the Minister of State have shown considerable interest in the subject. My right hon. Friend recently held a meeting to discuss some of the ways forward. The only universal agreement was that we did not want a national, bureaucratised, expensive machinery to be established for involving citizens in the work to be done.
Why should we bother about active citizenship? My hon. Friend the Member for Wimbledon has already covered much of the topic, but it will be convenient to refer to some of it again.
Modern developed industrial society is potentially alienating. Probably the most common single human ill in such a society is loneliness. Every week, general practitioners' surgeries are filled with people who have nothing wrong with them except that they are lonely and, because they are lonely, they are depressed, and their depression takes a physical form.
Half the demands on the National Health Service are psychosomatic. To a large extent, it is possible to relieve loneliness if only enough of us are prepared to take enough interest in our neighbour. It is true also that society is deeply lacking in self-confidence. It is an extraordinary phenomenon that even the most apparently self-confident people are extremely anxious about many things.
Yesterday, in the Children Bill Standing Committee, hon. Members talked about the fact that, of all the functions that a human being is called upon to perform, being a parent is probably the most demanding and certainly the one for which we have least preparation. As my hon. Friend the Member for Wimbledon said, tower blocks are designed to make it almost impossible for young mothers and fathers easily to find their peers with whom they can discuss their problems.
One of the features of psychiatrists' waiting rooms, marriage guidance—now called Relate—consulting sessions, drop-in sessions, Church groups and other service departments is that young parents imagine that their problems with their children are unique. They are astonished and hugely relieved to discover that most of what they are suffering is suffered by parents all over the country. Because they believe that their problems are unique and are based on a grievous fault, they are extremely unwilling to discuss them with someone in authority. That problem would easily be overcome if only we could devise methods by which acceptable helpers—the word "counsellors" is too pompous—or friends could be found to help people to develop the self-confidence that every parent needs.
Talking of self-confidence, hon. Members are well above average in their commitment to voluntary work and altruism. Contrary to popular belief, the curriculum vitae of Members of Parliament are studded with voluntary work. Nevertheless, I wonder how many hon. Members would feel confident when faced with various kinds of physical or mental handicap. I have been too sheltered from meeting various kinds of disability, and, confronted with the need actively to intervene, I would be nervous and, probably, grossly incompetent. By integrating children with special needs into mainline schools we would go a long way towards dealing with the problem. When 1118 confronted with someone having an epileptic fit, for example, most people would run away because they would not know what to do. There is a tremendous amount to be said for exposing people, particularly the young, not only to people who help the disabled but to people with disabilities.
One of the most remarkable experiments in our society is the Community Service Volunteers, of which I am a trustee. It frequently has two volunteers living arid working with a severely handicapped person. The most astonishing thing is not how much the handicapped person derives from it but how much he or she teaches the young people. Young volunteers who have done that work for six months or so say that they have been shaped arid hammered by the person whom they looked after. They feel that the benefit was substantially on their side.
§ The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. John Patten)
I am listening with great care to what my hon. Friend is saying. He has put a new thought into my mind. Is he saying that we must review our definition of the active citizen to mean not only formal volunteers but parents as the primary form of active citizenship—almost the foundation of the active citizenship movement in this country—with their responsibility for their children and families?
§ Mr. Rowe
I am delighted if I have put a new thought into my hon. Friend's mind. His mind is already so full of thoughts that it is remarkable that another can be fitted in.
The relationship between donor and recipient is enormously reciprocal. All of us are volunteers at one minute and paid at the next, and sometimes simultaneously. We tend to think of one role being exclusive of the other, but that is not the case.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Wimbledon has pointed out, ours is in many respects a squalid country with litter in the streets, graffiti on the walls and many filthy streets and passageways. That is the product of a variety of factors, one of which is that too many citizens feel no sense of responsibility for the areas in which they live or through which they are passing.
The motor car has given us all a wonderful freedom, but it has also given us freedom to pollute the neighbourhoods of others. We have only to watch cigarette packets being hurled out of car windows and McDonald's boxes and other fast food packaging being dumped on the roadside to realise that people have no clear sense of responsibility in this regard, even in their own localities. We have now begun to realise that we can no longer address all the problems of society by paying someone else to deal with them.
§ Mr. Randall
I am listening to the hon. Gentleman's speech with great interest. Implicit in what he has just said is a definition of the active citizen. Does he believe that, as some people have written—especially members of the Conservative party—the active citizens are those with money which they pass down to those without, or does he believe that the definition of active citizenship should embrace everyone in our society? If he holds the latter belief, how would he encourage, for instance, the homeless and deprived to become active citizens? Surely that in itself presents terrific problems.
§ Mr. Rowe
In my experience, and no doubt in that of the hon. Gentleman, generosity tends to come more 1119 readily from the poor than from the rich. I find a remarkable willingness to assist others on the part of those who have not much themselves; that willingness is not always so evident among those who have plenty.
We have a tremendous opportunity to encourage others to take more control of their lives. The homeless are a particularly difficult problem, but I believe that we should assist that often rather fragmented group—I have seen a number of television programmes that demonstrate the astonishing networks within it—to become more articulate and co-operative. I do not think that the motivation is difficult to derive, provided that people are prepared to get out there and do it. Such organisations as the Simon Community, which works regularly among such people, have built up the rapport that makes that possible.
The crux of the matter—I am sure that this is what the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, West (Mr. Randall) is teasing me to say, but I shall say it none the less —is that there can be no such motivation without some prospect of a result. Perhaps we need to consult the homeless more: given the opportunity, I think that many of them would come up with solutions to their problems that might well be much easier to accomplish than those that we are trying to present to them from above.
Personal growth is an essential element. One of the saddest features of many people's lives is their experience of an education system that has handed them information and tested them in ways that have often made them feel that they are always going to lose. Too many people do not believe that it is their responsibility or, indeed, a potential pleasure to achieve their own growth.
Yesterday the chairman of the Training Agency came to speak to a Committee of the House. He said that he believed that the solution to the training problems of which we are all so well aware was to encourage others to realise the ability to control their own learning processes. They should feel, he said, that training, the acquisition of knowledge and the enhancement of their job opportunities was a matter for them as much as for their employers: that rather than such benefits being handed out by some Government agency or employer, a partnership should exist.
My experience as vice-chairman of the Pre Retirement Association has shown me that the world is full of people who are frightened of retirement. They are terrified of having nothing to do, and cannot imagine ways of filling their time that will keep them occupied. Those who have no such opportunity become prematurely aged and, in many cases, the problem of the social services departments. But how many of us know people of 80 or 90 who are active to the point at which we almost wish that they would leave us alone because they are so full of ideas with which they bully us along? Such people often move very swiftly and contentedly from old age to death. We should encourage personal growth throughout people's lives.
We should not forget that active citizenship is often very convivial: it can mean getting out and meeting people, sharing ideas, being stimulated and stimulating others, and having good fun. It does not necessarily mean doing things only for other people. Myriad clubs have grown up where people can take part in dancing, bowls, 1120 bird-watching and a hundred and one other activities. If I may misquote John Donne, any man's misery diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind.
What else can be done? Let me list some fairly altruistric activities. First, there is befriending. We must establish a better mechanism—a sort of dating agency—for those who would like to befriend others and are not sure how to set about meeting people who need befriending.
Computer dating agencies, which have brought an increasing amount of pleasure and romance to single people, could be used as a model for a wide variety of other partnerships, such as ones between those who wish to give and those who would like to share. More could be done about that. A range of activities is open to people who are prepared to be friends, and if those activities were taken up they would assist the statutory services.
I have spoken in the House previously about the value of social workers being accompanied by volunteers. Volunteers not only give social workers companionship and, sometimes, protection against violence, but are frequently able to form the kind of relationships with families that it would be improper for social workers to develop. Such relationships may well be more effective than statutory social work.
There is a huge and unmet need for respite for carers. There are six million carers in this country, some of whom are as young as eight. Many of them desperately need the opportunity occasionally to go out to have their hair done, go shoppiing, meet a friend, go to the cinema or even have a holiday. There is a huge untapped market of people who would be prepared to take on that kind of work. Just as job sharing is creeping into the employment market, voluntary organisations responsible for administering social schemes should look much more seriously at job sharing among volunteers, as that could bring continuous support for a person or family.
Counselling is a huge growth industry, about which I sometimes have reservations. I think that too many counsellors vicariously work out their own anxieties on the people whom they are helping. That is actually a slander, because many counselling organisations take much trouble to vet and train their counsellors. There is no doubt that counselling, whether of those who have been burgled, involved in an accident or have debt problems, is much easier for a volunteer than for someone working for the statutory services. If someone is brought in from the statutory services, the person being cared for often has a lurking anxiety that the law will be involved.
I am interested to see that the hon. Member for Monklands, West (Mr. Clarke) is in the House, because if anybody is interested in advocacy, he is. Advocacy is an immensely important element that is greatly underestimated. If we in the Conservative party are serious about handing some power back to the consumer of the social services, we must make it easier for people to know what is available, what their choices are, how to make their choice and how to change it, if it turns out that they have made the wrong choice. Such a concept is frightening to many professionals. However, they should take comfort from the Italian hospital that, as a matter of course, attaches to all patients who come into the hospital an advocate to fight their battles for them, whether they be with the staff, over food or appointments, or merely to talk to them about their fears or whether windows are shut at the right time. Those advocates were greatly resisted when 1121 they were first introduced but the hospital now recognises them to the point of having two on its board of management.
We know how many primary schools have been kept going and made successful by the mothers who initially come to help because their children attend the school, but then find that helping children read, keeping an eye on them and helping in their play is such fun that they stay on long after their own children have left the school. We are much too shy about bringing volunteers into secondary schools. That is a large area of activity that is mutually beneficial. For example, how many men in local communities would enormously enjoy becoming unofficial coaches to a secondary school football team or whatever. They might want to be responsible for getting them to the matches. There is no reason why that should not become a growing part of the school provision, particularly in schools which, for all sorts of reasons, no longer feel that they can, or wish to, take teams away from the school. That would help to develop the partnership between the school and the community.
How long will it be before the police generalise the experiment being carried in Birmingham, Handsworth, where volunteers come out with them and interact with the public alongside the police? It diminishes the antagonism sometimes felt between Asian communities and an essentially white police force if some of the people going out with the police are Asian volunteers, who can speak to the public in their own language and with a clear understanding of their customs.
As the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Carlile) said, there is a question about standards. One consequence of having so many volunteers interacting in these various ways is that people become aware of where the shoe pinches and have ideas about who makes a good manager, and who a bad manager, of the statutory services. They are given a much clearer idea of what would be cost-effective expenditure, and what would not. That would be a valuable challenge for the statutory services.
Since this is the House of Commons, which debates, among other matters, what Governments should and should not do, I shall say a few words about the Government's role in this subject. As I have said, it would be wrong to have some kind of great national bureaucracy, presided over by a Minister who tries to create active citizens. However, why does the Inland Revenue Staff Federation find it so difficult to persuade the Treasury to allow its staff to have more time for the type of activity that my hon. Friend the Member for Wimbledon talked about? The IBM 10 per cent. rule that allows its staff to take the equivalent of half a day a week for voluntary activities has benefited the company enormously. It has provided the staff with a degree of self-confidence and flexibility of mind that more than repays the small amount of work that IBM loses. The company has discovered that the people who are trusted to go out for such activity, come back and wipe up the half day's work as though they had never had the time off. The Paraplegic Games are run almost entirely by IBM staff taking their 10 per cent. in a lump. I wonder whether we can persuade the Government to give a boost to a 10 per cent. club. There is already a 1 per cent. club and I think that businesses would enjoy the possibility of a 10 per cent. club, although they are sceptical because too many things are being wished upon them. However, I 1122 believe that this suggestion would be good for them. We are always hearing about the importance of training staff to be flexible.
One issue that Mr. Speaker's commission is considering is how we can accredit the sort of work that is done by active citizens. It is worth asking why only one school in the country has A-levels in the citizenship course. The answer is simply that traditional school teachers believe that citizenship should be done by less able pupils. That is a gross misunderstanding of what it is all about. If they have any sense, the employers of the future will be looking at active citizenship as an important part of someone's curriculum vitae. I hope that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science will take a closer interest in all this.
This is not just a domestic British matter. We live in a global village. Once the aeroplane was invented, all sorts of things came under strain—not least the British citizenship rules. People can travel all over the world and stock markets can respond to each other's communications within seconds, so we must consider the active citizen in a worldwide sense.
Some traditional useful activities are going on. I am associated with HOST, the Foreign Office, British Council and Royal Victoria League joint activity for making foreign students welcome in British homes. One of the most disastrous features of bringing foreign students to study here—we should do much more of it; I am a great enthusiast for it—is leaving them entirely alone at Christmas and weekends and never bringing them into a British home. They either go home feeling that Britain is a cold, unfriendly place or, worse, they are taken up by people who want to undermine this country and return them to their countries positively hostile towards us.
There is a good deal of sponsorship and that is entirely appropriate. There are some telling advertisements pointing out that for the cost of one not especially expensive dinner in a British restaurant a child can be maintained for a year in some other country.
The active citizen working abroad is indispensable to the future of the world. It is no longer a case of de haut en bas—no longer does all the expertise rest in Britain and the West, to be taken abroad by some generous missionary in a topee. We find when we arrive at these countries that sophisticated voluntary organisations already exist there and have a great deal to teach us. One of the biggest organisations of all has learnt that lesson well. The Church of England has now understood how much it has to learn from churches in places such as Uganda. I hugely value this reciprocity.
If we can develop opportunities for active citizens of every age to share their experience and knowledge around the world, we shall do something to alleviate the astonishing problem that 15 per cent. of the world's population uses 85 per cent. of its energy. Over time, the great western democracies which have been so economically successful may be compelled to accept a slower rate of growth—or even a negative rate from time to time. It is extremely difficult to win a democratic election by promising people a slower rate of growth, but if enough people have been exposed to the opportunity of working alongside others in India, China and Africa, this sort of lesson will be more easily learnt.
Even in the European Community, some progress is being made. The Cumri Community Conservation 1123 Challenge, in which CSV has a part to play, includes an exchange with Portugal. It is good that the European Community is trying to build links across frontiers.
I believe with tremendous fervour that active citizenship is central to the sort of society in which we want to live. Millions of people have too little to do and too little self-confidence to understand what they can offer. They could be motivated relatively easily to give of themselves to others and, in so doing, to discover the great truth that giving of one's self to others enriches a person far more than any other human activity.
§ Mrs. Gillian Shephard (Norfolk, South-West)
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Wimbledon (Dr. Goodson-Wickes) on his choice of motion for debate and on the skilful way in which he introduced it.
I am delighted to be called to contribute to the debate because voluntary organisations, their membership and their contribution to British life are an essential part of the fabric of our nation.
The concept of voluntary work and service working side by side with the state is so familiar to us all that we sometimes tend to forget that such a tradition is not to be found in some of our European partners, or at least not to the extent that it is found here. It is a tradition that should be nurtured, encouraged and cherished and, as other hon. Members have said, never taken for granted.
It is impossible to exaggerate the importance and influence of the voluntary sector in all spheres of British life. We are told that there are more than 250,000 charitable organisations, but obviously the scope of voluntary organisations and activities goes much further than that. I want briefly to explore some of the reasons for their importance to us all.
First, there is the idea of voluntary effort being used to provide for a particular need. That represents a healthy desire on the part of communities not to depend on all solutions coming from the state. I was interested to hear the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Carlile) imply—he may not have meant to do so—that the force and power of voluntary organisations is less in rural areas than in urban areas. I think he used the sentence, "Even in a rural area like the one I represent there is voluntary activity." I suggest that voluntary activity is especially strong in rural areas; it certainly is in the one that I represent. Communities that are scattered and far flung are accustomed to shifting for themselves.
The village in which I live has a population of about one thousand and is by no means atypical.
§ Mrs. Shephard
We also have villages of 25 inhabitants.
In my village there are two lots of almshouses, allotments, a parent-teacher association, a playgroup association, a sports and social club, a flourishing St. John Ambulance Brigade, a big youth section, a Women's Institute, a Mothers' Union and a forget-me-not club for the elderly—and I am sure that that list is incomplete.
§ Mrs. Shephard
We have no pub, which may account for the great success of some of the voluntary organisations.
§ Mr. Carlile
The hon. Lady is right to rebuke me for using the word 'even'. I agree that voluntary work is strong in rural areas. However, does she accept that in some rural areas in which, as in mine, there has been a decline in the cohesiveness of Chapel communities, there remains a considerable need to develop voluntary work?
§ Mrs. Shephard
I am not an expert on the decline or otherwise of Chapel communities. I defer to the hon. and learned Gentleman in that respect, although I must point out that in my village—I apologise for using a sample of one—the Chapel has moved itself to the neighbouring village, yet we have a flowering of voluntary organisations and activities. Whether the two are connected I would not like to say, but the Chapel's move does not seem to have made an appreciable difference. The position in Montgomery may be different.
This vast range of activities is run by volunteers from every social group. That point should be stressed because someone will certainly argue that voluntary activity is confined to the affluent middle classes. All the voluntary activities provide for different needs within the village and they enrich immeasurably the lives of those who give and those who receive. I should like to make a special mention of the playgroup movement, which flourishes in my village, in my constituency and throughout the country. Almost more than any other voluntary activity, the playgroup movement has encouraged the involvement of women from every social background, through the powerful incentive of the education, wellbeing and pre-school development of their own children. That truly powerful incentive has led to the involvement of women across the broadest social specturm and has provided them with the experience of running and organising an activity which directly benefits their own children, meeting other women in the processes and dealing with difficulties of organising an ongoing service.
The wide range of voluntary organisations should remind us that the voluntary sector sometimes provides a preferable service to that provided by the state, simply because it is different and therefore represents a choice. We can all find suitable examples, but I should like to mention a residential and day-care service for elderly and handicapped people. In one of the market towns in my constituency, Downham Market, two organisations run voluntary day care services for elderly people and for those who are physically or mentally handicapped. One of those organisations is based on the Methodist Church. How I wish that the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery were still in his place. No doubt he will be able to read that key point in Hansard.
The day-care centre based on the Methodist Church has so many people wishing to help that there is a waiting list of volunteers, which at the last count was about 180 people, who could not be fitted in to the facility that the Church wished to provide. That may be something of a record, but it represents the desire of so many people to contribute and to give. Those organisations are examples of day care facilities for the elderly and the handicapped provided by volunteers, but closely enmeshed with the service provided by the statutory agencies so that referral 1125 may be made by the local health service, GPs, hospitals and social services to voluntarily provided day care centres.
The voluntary sector has greater freedom to experiment with different ways of providing care than has the statutory sector. The recipients of the care and those running private, voluntary and statutory facilities can benefit. I shall use an example not from my constituency but from the city of Norwich, the capital of Norfolk, which provides a wide range of models which will be of interest in the debate. The Great hospital provides a continuum of care for elderly people ranging from small houses to sheltered flats and bed-sitting rooms all within a beautiful setting near the cathedral. Medical care is provided on the premises so that the continuum of care provides tremendous security for the clients of the hospital. It is a very old foundation—I would not be exaggerating if I said that it was 500 years old. It has always been run by volunteers—together with paid staff—who give up an enormous amount of time to organise the affairs of the Great hospital for the benefit of the residents.
I used that example because it has inspired the statutory agencies in Norfolk, through Norfolk social services department and Great Yarmouth and Waveney health authority, to provide, in conjunction with the Broadland housing association a similar establishment for elderly people in Great Yarmouth. Thus the co-operation between the three agencies, with the help of volunteers in the WRVS and befriending, has established in Great Yarmouth a model of care which provides a continuum of care in a secure environment in which elderly people are tenants and not clients and that gives them an important sense of independence. They can choose how much care they need on a day-to-day basis. How invaluable it must be for an elderly person not to feel that he or she has to attend a communal meal but can have meals on wheels in his or her flat, provide his or her own meal or go into the dining room. They can exercise that choice every day. That model was based on the freedom to experiment in the voluntary sector which the statutory sector cannot enjoy, but it can benefit. Voluntary effort can also support the work of statutory agencies, and it is not always uncritical, and that must be a good thing.
The role of school governors, which, in one form or another is as old as the education system, is alien to education systems in France and Germany. What could be more logical than for interested consumers of a service and representatives of the local community to have a direct voluntary input into the provision of that service? How valuable it is for those providing that service that every community should have a group of lay volunteers with a specialised knowledge of that service. The new responsibility placed upon school governors by the Education Reform Act 1988, far from being a threat to those who work in the education system, as was maintained when the Education Reform Bill was passing through the House, has increased the understanding of the difficult and demanding role of teachers.
One school governor who is a successful business man with a small business, always had a certain disregard for people who received a regular salary cheque from the state and thought that teachers had an easy life, given the hours that he thought they worked and, as he put it, their 13 weeks' holiday a year. His close involvement as a governor of two schools under the Education Reform Act caused him completely to revise his opinion of the difficulty of 1126 teachers' roles, and the key managerial role of a head teacher of a school and has greatly increased his support for and appreciation of the education service. Those organisations and groups of volunteers which exist to support the statutory agencies can contribute to the statutory agencies and to the understanding of their work in the wider community.
We are all familiar with the many hundreds of thousands of groups that support and supplement the work of the statutory sector. My hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Kent (Mr. Rowe), who has a deep knowledge of the whole of this subject, pointed out the practical help that volunteers can give to statutory agencies. We could all cite scores of marvellous examples in our own constituencies. The Friends of the Wayland hospital in Attleborough in my constituency have, in concert with the regional health authority, raised sufficient money to provide and equip a wonderful rehabilitation centre, which is attached to the hospital. The people involved in that organisation feel that they have a stake in the hospital and are deeply involved with it.
When the White Paper on the National Health Service is brought into effect, I hope that it will be appreciated that, through the setting up of hospital trusts, we can capitalise on local community support for our hospitals so that they can have a greater freedom to benefit from local enthusiasm. That point has been widely missed in the public reaction to the White Paper, but I am confident that it will emerge as people have the opportunity more closely to consider those issues.
By working with statutory agencies, voluntary groups can supplement statutory provision. I wish especially to mention the organisation Homestart, which will be familiar to many hon. Members. There is an excellent branch in Thetford in my constituency, and another in the west of south-west Norfolk. Homestart has a paid organiser whose task is to organise carefully trained and selected volunteers to work with families that are potentially in difficulty and nearing breakdown. They help to prevent a breakdown and the possible taking into care of the children of the family. The volunteers are often people who have been through difficult times themselves. The statutory social workers must accept that volunteers can often provide much more realistic and practical advice—another point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Kent—than can social workers who have many cases on their books and who want to whizz in and out of homes at great speed. It is an extraordinary and effective use of volunteers.
My hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Kent made the excellent point that volunteering can and should be fun. Certain groups, which I shall describe as enthusiasts, can in pursuing their enthusiasms make a valuable contribution. Hon. Members could no doubt cite good examples of that. A large number of people in my constituency are deeply interested in the history of our area. Next month, a hardworking, skilful and gallant band of people at Swaffham, who have set up an excellent local museum, will have the satisfaction of seeing it opened by my right hon. Friend the Minister for the Arts. A similar venture at Watton, launched by a group of young enthusiasts, resulted in the opening of a museum about the role of the town of Watton during the last war. So strong is the commitment of such volunteers that they can infect a whole community with their enthusiasm.
1127 An interesting point that has not yet been mentioned is that those who are already grouped together to pursue an interest—for example, tennis, angling or potholing—have such a strong desire to help others that in many cases they feel that they have a responsibility not only to come together to enjoy their own interests, but to pursue a voluntary activity that will benefit others. In the market town of Watton the Loch Neaton angling club last summer equipped the local fishing water—I dare not call it a pond or I shall be drummed out of my constituency —and the surrounding grounds to enable handicapped people, especially handicapped youngsters, easily to gain access to the water's edge so that they can enjoy the sport of angling. I was fortunate enough to be asked to be present at a prizegiving for handicapped youngsters who, in many cases, had outstripped the prowess of non-handicapped anglers and caught large numbers of extremely large fish. This is not a fishing story; I actually saw the fish. It is another case of voluntary activity that should not be overlooked.
One of the most impressive marks of the strength of the voluntary sector is that certain tasks are wholly entrusted to it. In some cases, that is regarded with incredulity by our European neighbours. For example, they are amazed by our legal system, under which 98 per cent. of all criminal cases are, in the first instance, heard by lay volunteers—mainly magistrates who, although trained and expert, nevertheless are volunteers. It is only when we explain that system to visitors from, for example, France and Germany, that we appreciate how amazing it is.
Although south-west Norfolk has no coastline, I feel that I must mention the astonishing achievements of the Royal National Lifeboat Institution, which provides a lifeboat service for all our shores. I think that I am right in saying that it does so without any state aid. It is a superb, fantastic achievement, which is unique to Britain and of which we should be proud.
The spin-off from such a multiplicity of voluntary organisations—that rich texture of local personal involvement in all aspects of our national life—is the experience it gives of the workings of democracy and public life. Again, it is something that we tend to underestimate. Everybody involved in a club, a society or a voluntary organisation has to have experience of how to make that organisation work, of its procedures, of its annual general meeting and of nominations and seconding for elections. Boring as it may appear to some, our nation's involvement in so much voluntary activity gives a far greater number of people in Britain than in France or Germany a first-hand experience of the workings of the democratic process. Things sometimes go wrong, but that could also be said at national level.
We should not underestimate the importance in democracy of the educative process that is provided by voluntary activities. To no group is that experience more valuable than to women. Because of career breaks, women are more heavily represented than men in the voluntary sector. Indeed, their achievements lead many women to a greater involvement, or a desire for it, in public and political life. It is a pity that, within the public appointments network, there is not the sort of 1128 representation of women that their numbers within the population—52 per cent.—and their experience in the voluntary sector surely justify.
I warned my hon. Friend the Minister that I would be presenting to the House—and although he is not present, I do not shrink from doing so—a horrendous battery of statistics. When Ministers are exhorting the private sector and managers in the public sector to employ more women, to use their potential in the work force and to provide for them to return to work, can it be right that appointments to public bodies, which are within the gift of those Ministers show the following percentages? My figures are taken from 1987, and were my hon. Friend present I could say to him, given that he is chairman of the special ministerial group on women's matters, that I am confident that the figures will be far-outstripped and improved for 1989. In 1987, the percentage of women appointed to public bodies by the Home Office represented 30 per cent. of the total; by the Scottish Office, 29 per cent.; the Department of Health and Social Security, 26 per cent.; the Department of Trade and Industry, 22 per cent.; the Department of Employment, 16 per cent.; the Department of the Environment, 15 per cent.; the Welsh Office, 14 per cent.; the Department of Education and Science, 12 per cent.; the Department of Transport, 3 per cent.; and the Department of Energy, 0 per cent.
It is true that last year Cabinet Office public appointments reached 46 per cent. which is much more like it, but the Lord Chancellor's Department achieved only 18 per cent., telecommunications only 18 per cent., the Central Office of Information 14 per cent., and the Office of Arts and Libraries 12 per cent. The figures for women's representation on the boards of nationalised or privatised industries show that British Rail has two women, but the BAA, British Coal, the Electricity Council, the Post Office and something that I cannot read, but it is blameworthy, had no women at all.
§ Mrs. Shephard
How much more trouble my hon. Friend would be having with British Coal, which has no representation of women at all.
My hon. Friend the Minister has clear responsibility in this sector. I am confident that under his chairmanship of the ministerial group the position will be, and probably already has been, improved. Women must be allowed to use the invaluable experience that many of them gain from working in the voluntary sector to progress to public appointments or political life. I note that my hon. Friend the Minister is returning to the Chamber. He has missed all my compliments, but I hope that they have been noted down. I shall have to find a way of repeating at least one of my graceful compliments.
Many women approach political life via the voluntary sector and public appointments. We have only 41 female hon. Members out of a total of 650. If we are to use the potential of women to the extent that we should, the Government must put their house in order. I am confident that my hon. Friend the Minister will make every effort to bring women's representation up to a level that reflects not only their number in the population but their potential, experience, skill and contribution to this sphere, which is within the Government's gift.
1129 The voluntary sector is alive, well and growing. One of its most splendid aspects is that young people, through experience in school, are encouraged to be involved in it. My hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Kent said that he knew of only one school that had pursued citizenship studies at Á level. I know of no secondary school in Norfolk that does not run a community involvement course for all its youngsters at some stage of the secondary school curriculum. It is certainly not confined to the least able. Norfolk values such experience for youngsters, which I am delighted to say has led to the involvement of many young people in voluntary activities in the county.
We are at an interesting time in the development and encouragement of voluntary activity within state provision. The reforms passed in the Education Reform Act 1988 and those proposed in the White Paper "Working for Patients" place emphasis on the need for consumer involvement in the provision of state services. Via our unequalled tradition of voluntary activity, we can ensure that the voice of the consumer and the community are heard in state provision. I believe that we are better than anyone at such activity, and by harnessing that voluntary activity and enthusiasm into statutory provision we can move forward confidently using the rich tradition of the voluntary sector side by side with the splendid provision being made by the Government.
§ Mr. Harry Greenway (Ealing, North)
I join in congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Wimbledon (Dr. Goodson-Wickes) on initiating this most valuable debate. The concluding remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, South-West (Mrs. Shephard) drawing attention to the need to appoint more women to nationalised industries and boards were extremely important. I wonder how many women are listed among the great and good of this land who are available for the special appointments to which my hon. Friend referred.
§ Mr. John Patten
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for allowing me to intervene so early in his speech. I join him in expressing appreciation of the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, South-West (Mrs. Shephard). In the interests of open government, of which I am a strong advocate, I should say that at an earlier stage in her career I appointed her to a public appointment.
§ Mr. Greenway
There can be no greater tribute to the foresight of my hon. Friend the Minister or to the perception of my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, South-West in accepting the post.
Women are treated unequally. When they have had their families and return to paid or voluntary work, society does not allow them to return to the post that they left, yet they are much better people for the experience of having brought up children. In-service training or a suitable course would help to bring them up to date. They should be encouraged to come back into voluntary work or professional work at the point at which they left off, or even a little higher.
Women make particularly good magistrates. There ought to be many more of them.
§ Mr. Greenway
My hon. Friend says that there are 42 per cent., but that is not enough. My experience of women magistrates, particularly in children's courts, is that they always go to the heart of the problem. They never back off in the way that sometimes their male counterparts back off. I must beware of generalising, but I reiterate that women make outstanding magistrates and that there ought to be more of them.
I should not, however, like the nation to go the way of Ealing council. Its policies regarding women are excessive. There is a very expensive women's unit that disburses large sums of tax and ratepayers' money on promoting women's activities, particularly for lesbian women. I have mentioned on other occasions that advertisements can currently be seen all over Ealing that are directed at lesbians only. They are being invited to join courses in self-defence.
§ Mr. Greenway
Yes, it is disgraceful, because it is discriminatory. Self-defence is valuable and important for all women. To make it available just to a handful of women, excluding all the others, is to discriminate against women who are not lesbians. I believe that women who are not lesbians are in the vast majority.
There are other activities for women on which councils such as Ealing spend money. They provide courses on subjects other than self defence for women, as well as free parties and binges, with transport provided. Men are excluded. The patronage of women does not promote voluntary activity of any kind. That is wrong and insulting.
§ Mr. Greenway
I am glad to see that my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, South-West agrees with me. [Interruption.] I am also grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone (Miss Widdecombe) for her support. It is disgraceful, and something ought to he done about it.
Before my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Kent (Mr. Rowe) leaves the Chamber, I should like to refer to his most interesting speech. I was a professional teacher for 23 years. I am a little concerned about the suggestion that volunteer parents should run school teams. The good, willing amateur is not always the best equipped to work with children. I should support his idea if he would agree with me—and I think that he might—that anybody who wants to coach a soccer, baseball, netball or other team as a parent ought to be trained in how to coach and teach children. It is a specialised job. It should not be given just to the enthusiastic amateur. He or she can do more harm than good.
§ Mr. Rowe
I explained to the Minister that I had to leave the Chamber before the end of the debate, for which I apologise. I accept entirely what my hon. Friend says. Two elements, however, need to be considered. First, if there are no activities, because the school does not have the resources to provide them, I believe that some enthusiastic amateur activities are better than none. Secondly, many people with remarkable skills are often excluded because they are not qualified teachers. Their skills should be welcomed in schools. I think that that trend will grow. However, I accept absolutely my hon. Friend's point.
§ Mr. Greenway
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for speaking in such a welcome way from the Government Front Bench. If a person has a skill, that does not always mean that he can impart it to children. However, with that proviso, I go along with his happy intervention from that distinguished position, and I wish him a good day.
The weakening of the influence of the Church has gravely damaged—perhaps more than anything else—the volunteer spirit in our land. Jesus taught us to be good neighbours. "I am my brother's keeper" is fundamental to a willingness and a desire by the Christian individual or the Christian-influenced individual to go the extra mile, in any circumstances, if there is a job to be done. The Christian will examine his conscience and go and do it, if that is humanly possible. If there is a need for someone to run a youth club, or to help with meals on wheels, or to assist in countless other ways that are open to volunteers in our land, the Church has always taught that it is the duty of a Christian to give his time and talents without payment, as Christ did. That has always been part of the cement of the community of this land. The weakening of the Church has weakened that cement to the point of serious crumbling in some areas, which is very sad.
On the theme of its being more blessed to give than to receive, I believe that, in giving service of any kind, volunteers receive so much more than they give. The old lady who gives her time to look after a little child gets much pleasure and stimulus from being responsible once more for looking after a small child.
Volunteers also exercise polo ponies. Their riding has to be of a.certain standard, but a wonderful thing; they do not have to bear the expense of owning polo ponies but they have the pleasure of riding them, and sometimes being bucked off on a cold day. However, they get back so much more than they give by exercising those ponies, and an experience of life that they might not otherwise get because they are riding ponies of a particularly spirited and able kind that are not always available to the amateur.
School governors have been mentioned by many speakers. I do not want to be pernickety, but I have to fence a little, having rightly paid a compliment to my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, South-West. School governors have not been around for as long as schools. Education was first brought to this land by the Church. Monks and nuns—well learned people—passed on their gifts to their pupils, but there was no question of school governors in the middle ages. School governors have arrived on the scene only in quite recent times.
§ Mrs. Gillian Shephard
Does my hon. Friend accept, nevertheless, that there has always been an involvement in education in this country of those who have not been teachers? My point was that there has always been a broader responsibility than that which is taken on by those whose task it is to impart knowledge. I feel confident that my hon. Friend will be able to accept that point.
§ Mr. Greenway
As always, my hon. Friend's confidence is well placed because I certainly accept that point. It is true to say that often teachers, such as monks, worked for no pay. Cardinal Hume, for example, was—and still is—an outstanding teacher. His unpaid service as a teacher has brought countless gifts to thousands of boys. He continues to teach as prelate and in his leadership of his Church. I am not, of course, saying that teachers should not be paid properly for their work, but so often, the man 1132 or woman working for altruistic reasons in teaching, as in other areas, seems to give so much more as a volunteer than the professional does.
I had experience of running the largest school in the country. When I asked teachers to do various tasks, they would say, "Harry, will I be paid extra for it?" I do not say that that is not a legitimate question for someone who has a family.
§ Mr. Greenway
They sometimes called me Harry and sometimes headmaster, but most often they called me sir and if they did not, I waited until they did. But increasingly, towards the end of my time in teaching, it was Harry.
I found that often when there was a demand for cash, the individuals concerned were not as good at the task as those who were prepared to do it for nothing. That seems to be an important principle, especially when applied to those masters and mistresses—if that is still a legitimate term in my profession——
§ Mr. Greenway
Perhaps I had better ignore that comment. The masters and mistresses who gave their time to run the debating society, to produce the school play or to take the team out every week did a marvellous job because they were doing it on a voluntary basis.
The headmaster of Harrow, Ian Beer, who was an outstanding head at three schools and played rugger for England—I have known him for 30 or 40 years—said recently that if the voluntary teaching of games in schools were phased out, as he fears it may be by the professionalism of teachers today who demand to work only within the hours set for them, teachers would lose a wonderful and special contact with their pupils. There is no doubt from my own experience of taking a team every Saturday throughout my time in the profession, whether cricket, rugger, hockey or riding, that that is true. I know that the relationships forged between teachers and pupils through those activities were of infinitely greater value than the relationships forged in the formal atmosphere of the classroom, especially when one was pressing towards examinations, which placed great pressures on masters and pupils.
§ Mr. Alex Carlile
I agree with the substance of the hon. Gentleman's comments, but does he not agree that teachers are much more likely to do important voluntary work such as he has described if they feel that they are valued as professional people? Does he not agree that teachers' salaries are still so low, especially considering the cost of living in London and other major cities, that they do not feel properly valued?
§ Mr. Greenway
I do not want to spend long on that point, but I had better take up the challenge. I received the Houghton award, so often spoken about, in 1974 from the Labour Government. By 1979, the value of that 34 per cent. increase had been eroded to nothing by the 27 per cent. inflation rate. Between 1979 and today, teachers' pay has improved by 30 per cent. in real terms and they are better paid than ever. I am not saying that there are not problems, such as the cost of housing, but they are better paid than ever before. There is also an increase in special 1133 posts for them, so there are big opportunities for teachers. At least half the profession today are in posts of extra responsibility or extra prestige and are paid for that, which is to be welcomed.
Members of Parliament have a special position as leaders in the community—as do others, of course. I have no doubt that all my colleagues in the House today play leading parts in the voluntary sector in their constituencies. I am the president or patron—mostly president because that is somehow a better title—of 58 voluntary organisations and there are two or three more in the pipeline. Among those is that fine organisation, the British Legion, in which people take enormous responsibility as volunteers for the community in which they live. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] I am glad to hear the sound of support. Old comrades who are ill are visited by volunteers who take them food or perhaps a bottle of brandy or whisky, which they would otherwise be unable to afford. In Greenford recently, a young man in his 30s died from cancer, leaving a widow and young children. I am proud of the way in which my colleagues and friends in the Greenford branch of the British Legion rallied round the widow and children to look after them and give them love and support at a sad time. That is typical of the work that volunteers do in the British Legion.
Other hon. Members have mentioned scout and guide groups, and I am president of many. I also want to mention Age Concern, an organisation in which Members of Parliament and others who can find the time will be welcomed. Sometimes people who are together for 52 weeks a year are glad of the company of others, such as the good old president who breezes in and spends an hour or two with them, listening to their problems and talking them over. The same is true of those of more mature years who go to tea dances, about which we have heard so much.
I am president of the local branch of the Cancer Research Campaign and, like other branches, it raises thousands of pounds for cancer research. A young member of my family has been struck down by cancer and it is a great comfort to think that the treatment he is receiving has been made possible by the work of thousands of people who support the Cancer Research Campaign. I am glad to have put my own effort into it. Many volunteers work for that organisation because a member of their family has died from cancer or because they know someone who is suffering from it. Many people are cured today who would not have been cured without the efforts of such organisations.
Tenants' groups are important, as are the Red Cross and Arthritis Care—and I am president of the local branch. Some people suffering from arthritis can scarcely move and they need the support and encouragement of volunteers. Choirs and drama groups throughout the land are also warmly supported.
I want especially to mention a pub committee of 10 at the Plough in Northolt, which I formed six years ago because I heard that the Mandeville special school wanted to build a pool for mentally handicapped children. They were managing to get some money together but they were not going about it as constructively as they might because they did not know how to do so. I became the president of the group. We met once a month for four years and raised —70,000 and built the pool. The group made the most magnificent effort, raising funds in every conceivable way. 1134 They had their hair cut off, they grew their hair very long, they threw me into a swimming pool more than once and did all sorts of things.
The great thing about that group was that it was made up of ordinary men and women—housewives and lorry drivers, for example. None of them were professional people, but all had great hearts and all were determined. During those years, there were times when they said, "Harry, we can't stand any more." A couple would walk out for a month or two because of the tremendous pressure, but the hard core held firm and we eventually raised the money to build the pool, which was opened by Princess Anne last year. That was done entirely by the Northolt community and the Plough pub.
That is volunteering of the most constructive and wonderful kind. Why did they do it? One or two of them had children at the school. One of them told me, "My son cannot move. I think he might get some pleasure from being in warm water. He has nothing else so let us try to do something for him".
Many other things can be done within the community. The young can hold concerts for the elderly on a voluntary basis. The elderly love to see the young on stage, acting and singing for them, and the young can go out in the interval with cups of tea to give them extra pleasure. I am president of a group in my constituency that does that. Every year, we put on two concerts for pensioners. We attract 600 pensioners—all of them living in the constituency because it is a constituency effort—to each concert. We have some professional help and have to raise the money to pay for that, but otherwise the concerts are staged on an entirely voluntary basis. The more the young are integrated with the old, the more each will gain.
Trevor Huddleston is one of my greatest and longest-standing personal friends—although not, perhaps, always a political ally. I went to see him a few years ago when he was Archbishop of Mauritius. He is a wonderful man. No one else could have been so inspired in setting up voluntary groups. He had a hostel for the poor elderly, a hostel for the blind and an orphanage all on the same campus. The elderly loved the children, the blind loved the children, and the children loved the blind and the elderly. They were all integrated. Trevor Huddleston was inspired enough to set up groups of volunteers to raise the money for that. The leadership of such men has blazed a trail and set an example that the rest of us should study and follow if we possibly can. We can gain so much by doing so.
Voluntary lunch clubs for the elderly are enormously important. Sometimes local authorities set too much store by the numbers who attend, and they close them if they do not consider that there are enough people. I should like the principle to be established that a relatively small number can be regarded as constituting a feasible lunch club that can receive support from the local authority.
The travel pass for the elderly is enormously important, too, but some local authorities—in London anyway—seem to be threatening old people by not stating clearly that the pass will be reissued when it comes up for renewal. The Labour council in Ealing and other local authorities know very well that they must, by law, provide those passes. If necessary, under an amendment that several of us supported during our proceedings on the London Regional Transport Act 1984 they can be required to do so by the Secretary of State. Yet still the local authorities drag their feet as a means of exercising power over old people. They say, "We may carry on with the passes, but it is down 1135 to us." That is a cruel and unacceptable approach. The passes are elderly people's right and we should let them know that they are entitled to the passes and that they will have them regardless of what Ealing or any other council says. I am glad to see the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, West (Mr. Randall), the Opposition Front Bench spokesman nodding his head in agreement.
Good neighbours are much better than good social workers, although that is not to decry the work of good social workers. Someone who cares about the person next door without being nosey is worth more than fine gold. That personal relationship will continue through thick and thin, whereas social workers necessarily come and go. However good a job a social worker or home help does there will be days when he or she will be required elsewhere and the continuity will be broken. The neighbour, on the other hand, is always there.
I end, as I began, by calling on the Churches to strengthen their efforts to teach individuals to be volunteers and to be committed to the community in which they live.
§ Mr. David Amess (Basildon)
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Wimbledon (Dr. Goodson-Wickes) on choosing this subject for debate and on his lucid speech. Wimbledon may be the home of tennis but, metaphorically speaking, Basildon has plenty of the round things that one needs to participate in the game. I also congratulate my hon. Friends the Members for Mid-Kent (Mr. Rowe) for Norfolk, South-West (Mrs. Shephard) and for Ealing, North (Mr. Greenway) on their excellent contributions.
I am particularly pleased to be able to participate in the debate because it gives me another opportunity to praise all those in my constituency who have done such good work. Before I do that, however, I wish to congratulate the Government on promoting the ethos of individual responsibility. If that concept had been advanced with more determination in the 1960s we should not have faced many of the difficulties of the past 10 years. I congratulate the Government on all the encouragement that they have given to active citizens and voluntary organisations throughout the country.
My hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North struck a chord when he mentioned the difficulties that he has experienced with his Socialist council. I am convinced that Socialist-controlled Basildon district council has no concept of what being an active citizen, or being engaged in voluntary work, actually involves. If it did, my poor hard-pressed ratepayers would not be faced this year with the largest rate increase in the country—57.9 per cent. It is no good taking money from the ratepayers and saying that it is genuine giving. That is a ridiculous concept. It is because of the council's approach to these matters and because of its fiscal mismanagement that in my constituency we have the most expensive theatre in the country. Even if there were a bottom on every seat every day of the week, we still could not meet the overall cost.
§ Mr. Amess
It is a Socialist-controlled council. It has a majority of one. The casting vote is held by a Liberal 1136 Member, who then announced that he was becoming an Independent, but on every conceivable occasion he has voted with the Labour party. However, he has not had the guts to come out as a Labour party member or, perhaps, the Labour Members will not have him in their party. It is disgraceful that the hard-pressed ratepayers of Basildon are faced with that enormous rate increase.
I know that my hon. Friend the Minister has heard me mention before the "I love Basildon campaign". I am delighted to tell him that we have made tremendous headway with that campaign, which is all about saying that we have a fine town and that we want to keep it that way. We are tackling the problems that my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Kent mentioned, such as litter, graffiti and vandalism. I shall be appearing unannounced in Basildon at various times throughout the night to discover what is going on there. I want to discover why we have little gatherings on street corners creating disturbances, when there is plenty for young people to do there. I shall also be visiting various parts of the town where there has been rubbish dumping. I want to see at first hand how we can encourage the whole community to participate in keeping the town the fine place that it is.
I am delighted to say that in Basildon we have a successful neighbourhood watch scheme. Some 526 schemes have been registered, covering 21,040 properties and helping 62,000 people. We also have five industrial watch schemes, three marine watch schemes and four hospital watch schemes. Six years ago Basildon had the highest reported rate of crime in Essex, but I am delighted to say that that is no longer the situation. The neighbourhood watch schemes have made a valuable contribution to the overall reduction in crime.
As someone who was born in the east end of London and lived there for 29 years, I can tell the House that it used to have a strong community spirit. The role of the active citizen and of voluntary organisations was paramount in the overall strength of that community. I deplore the way that—I believe through bad planning decisions in the 1960s—the community spirit has been somehow lost. I hope that what the Government are attempting to do in Docklands will restore the situation and will enhance the role of the active citizen and of voluntary organisations.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North who I believe within the next fortnight will be involved in national motivation week. That will make an active contribution to promoting the role of the citizen.
I am the Parliamentary unpaid spokesman for the National Association of Hospital Broadcasting Organisations. Most hon. Members have a hospital radio station in their constituencies. There are more than 300 hospital broadcasting services, involving some 11,000 volunteers, which broadcast to a listening audience of 250,000. For my sins, I used to broadcast in what was a cubby-hole in St. Andrew's hospital, Bow. I can speak first-hand of the magnificent efforts of those people who broadcast in our hospitals. The therapeutic effects of hospital radio has been proved time and time again. I do not want to miss the opportunity to ask my hon. Friend the Minister to encourage one of his colleagues in the Home Office to consider our case for community radio and to consider whether there is any way in which the Home Office could give us our own frequency. At the same time, will my hon. Friend the Minister have a word with our right hon. Friend the Chancellor to see whether he would consider zero-rating VAT on hospital radio broadcasting 1137 equipment, thereby treating us in the same way as people who are involved in talking books for the blind? We estimated that that would save us about £250,000 a year.
My hon. Friend the Minister may recall answering an Adjournment debate on 24 May 1985 about St. Luke's hospice. My hon. Friends the Member for Norfolk, South-West and the Member for Ealing, North also mentioned the role of hospices. On that occasion, I told my hon. Friend the Minister about the remarkable efforts of a couple called Trudy and Les Cox. I am not aware of any millionaires who live in Basildon. If there are any, they have certainly not come forward to join the Conservative party, because I would have tapped them for a membership fee. By and large the people who are involved in our hospice movement are very ordinary people. In just four years, they have raised more than £650,000 through all sorts of ordinary activities, such as raffles, jumble sales and tombolas. So far the largest donation from any company has been £10,000, for which we are grateful. We have not received any bequests. That money has been raised solely through the hard work of dedicated volunteers.
My hon. Friend the Minister will recall that Trudy and Les Cox were inspired to set up the hospice when they listened to the words of Dame Cicely Saunders who said, "You matter to the last moments of life and we will do all we can not only to help you die peacefully, but to live until you die". Until I went out recently with Trudy Cox, who is a district nurse, I had not appreciated the fact that not only is she trying to cope with organising the fund-raising activities for the hospice, but she is spending her time visiting people who are actually close to death, which in itself takes a tremendous toll on the individual. Trudy Cox originally started that work because she once knocked on the door of a house, a child came to the door, she went up to the bedroom and found that the mother was in bed dead with her children around her. They had not even realised that their mother had died. She said that, after experiencing that sort of scene, she would ensure that, through the hospice movement, she would never be put in such a position again. I just wanted to tell my hon. Friend the Minister that they are making marvellous headway. Indeed, we hope to open the hospice next autumn.
§ Mr. Amess
The Women's Royal Voluntary Service in Basildon is very active and has 500 members. It works in the hospital in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Billericay (Mrs. Gorman), who unfortunately could not be here today, and to which it has so far given £23,000 worth of equipment, such as portakabins for the hospital grounds. The WRVS provides about 500 meals a week in the area and a luncheon club where all senior citizens from our area are invited to attend a day club. It also organises books on wheels and makes about 30 rounds per week. It will shortly help to start a tea bar in the new Basildon magistrates court. Again, my hon. Friend the Minister had to answer another Adjournment debate about the courthouse in Basildon. He will be delighted to know that Lord Mackay of Clashfern will be opening that courthouse next year. I thank my hon. Friend the Minister for his efforts in that area. Recently the WRVS supplied clothing, bedding and garments to a number of families who were unfortunately burnt out of 1138 their houses in the Felmore part of the constituency. I was delighted that last year one of its members was named in the Queen's honours list.
Basildon hospital League of Friends celebrated its anniversary last year and is an essential element of the voluntary scene in Basildon. It has raised £250,000 since the hospital was opened 25 years ago. It has a membership of roughly 300 people. A small army of volunteers work a five-day week in the hospital in the out-patients' canteen and the ante-natal cafeteria. There are two groups, one group works in the mornings and the other in the afternoons. They are the unpaid, unsung heroines of our hospital in Basildon. Recently they donated £30,000 to the day centre for the treatment of handicapped children. I could mention many other things about that group. One lady, aged 83, is still responsible for organising the volunteers in the ante-natal section.
We also have a branch of the Relate organisation in Basildon. It used to be called the Marriage Guidance Council. Unfortunately we live in a society in which marriage is not as popular as it used to be. I am glad that the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Carlile) is in his place because I am sure that he will remember that when he and I were new Members of the House, I was one of those who tried, perhaps cack-handedly, to try to amend the legislation because I was against the reduction in the period before which one could obtain a divorce. I know that the hon. and learned Gentleman sought to intervene on that occasion. I believe that I and my colleagues who have a strong view on the subject have, sadly, been proved right. I am doing all that I possibly can to deal with those single parents in Basildon who are valiantly trying to cope with all the problems that must be faced when a husband or a wife leaves the family. I congratulate the Relate organisation in Basildon on all the voluntary counselling that it gives in the constituency. It is a magnificent organisation.
We all have St. John Ambulance brigades in our constituencies. We take them for granted, but we should not. Their members are always present at sports activities and conferences. They are unpaid enthusiastic volunteers.
I commend also the Samaritans, an organisation founded in 1953. We recognise that its work is secret and its members known by numbers, but they do a magnificent job in being the comforting source on the other end of the telephone. They deal with many traumatic cases and give reassurance whenever they are asked to do so.
I take this opportunity to mention also the national organisation called Life. My views on abortion are known in the House. I applaud the Life organisation which is responsible for dealing with those mothers who have had their babies and who then find that they are in financial difficulties with the care and maintenance of the children. I hope that if my hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone (Miss Widdecombe) catches your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, she might go into some brief details about the excellent work of the Life organisation.
The Scouts and Guides movements in Basildon, as throughout the country are absolutely magnificent. I was a member of the Scouts in Newham until the age of 17. It plays a remarkable role in keeping young minds occupied. Those young people might perhaps be on street corners without it, which is something that I intend to find out in the next few weeks when I participate in the "I love 1139 Basildon" campaign. We should pay tribute to all the national and local organisers of the Scout and Guide movements.
Basildon Boys Club and the Vange Boys Club are two well-organised groups in the constituency. Their members voluntarily organise young people in sports and leisure activities. They fund-raise week in and week out and they should be congratulated on their work.
Only recently I was asked to open a new centre for the Town Crier organisation in Basildon. It is manned by 30 volunteers who make tapes that blind people can enjoy. Again, I very much applaud their work.
My hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North mentioned the British Legion—another magnificent organisation. I very much hope that those people in Basildon who are in a position to do something will listen favourably to the British Legion's reasonable request that we have a permanent war memorial in Basildon. It is not good enough for us just to pay our respects at a tiny insignificant wooden cross. The British Legion very much wants us to have a permanent war memorial, not to glorify war, but to make sure that we never forget and that we never participate in war in the future.
We all have groups of the Rotary Club, the Lions and the Round Table in our constituencies. We should never take their work for granted, whether at Christmas, Whitsun or Easter, when they raise so much money from which local communities can benefit.
The Women's Institute in Basildon is certainly thriving and, again, I applaud its work.
The final organisation that I wish to congratulate is the Crossroads, care attendants scheme, which is responsible on a voluntary basis for giving care to people who have disabled children. It gives counselling advice and looks after the disabled people while the carers can take a holiday.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Wimbledon on bringing this important matter to the attention of the House today. I applaud every person who is a member of a voluntary organisation. I abhor the very tiny percentage of the British public who, when a tin is rattled in front of them, or when they are asked to support something, say, "I am not going to have any part in it. Why should I? It is up to the state to do it all." That tiny minority of people are those who would not get off their backsides to help anyone. I deplore their attitude.
By far and away the overwhelming majorty of the British public are active citizens and participants in voluntary groups. No town is worth anything without the quality of its citizens, and I am proud that on both counts Basildon has plenty.
§ 12.8 pm
Mr. Eric S. Heller (Liverpool, Walton)
I shall speak only briefly to say that most hon. Members, irrespective of which political party they belong to, agree that we should support and give aid to voluntary organisations.
I have been a member of voluntary organisations more or less since I was old enough to join one. They have been varied. My first voluntary organisation was the Cubs, then the Scouts, then the Rover Scouts, and then all sorts of other organisations. The voluntary organisations of which I have been a member for longest is the trade union 1140 movement. It should not be forgotten that Members of the House are here because we are members of voluntary organisations. Political parties are voluntary organisations; we do not have to join them. We do not have to join the Church. Indeed, we do not have to join anything, but we decide to do so because we want to be active citizens and to play our part in society. On this subject, I agree with much that has been said today by hon. Members whose views on other issues would probably upset me.
The voluntary organisations in my constituency do a magnificent job. Young Church groups—of all religious persuasions, although they were started by Roman catholics—in my constituency raise money to decorate, and look after old people's houses and to be helpful to the old folk in other ways.
An excellent job is also done by the League of Friends of Walton hospital and other great hospitals. The Salvation Army in my area does a first-rate job. I am bound to admit, however, that because of the legislative changes that are being made by the Government, who are abdicating their responsibilities in certain matters, Church groups are beginning to do jobs that they should not have to do.
We must get the balance right between the work of voluntary organisations and the role of the state. I do not want our society to be run by a vast bureaucratic state organisation that has tentacles everywhere, determining what people should and should not do and think. That would be the worst possible society in which to live. It would be George Orwell's "1984" writ large.
It seems that there are tendencies even in our present society to move in that direction. For example, I saw on television last night how it is possible for little pellets to be placed in animals so that they can be traced wherever they go. Human beings are animals. People might want to put pellets in us so that we can be traced all the time. It is a horrific thought. Where is it all leading? I want a society that is a combination of voluntary activity—the active citizenship of the mass of the people—with the state taking a positive role, being responsible for certain groups in society.
I am a non-bureaucratic Socialist, basically what I would call a non-state Socialist. That does not mean that I do not believe in public ownership. I want public ownership to develop in many ways, adopting different ideas, but I do not want to see the creation of a vast bureaucratic society, and I would be the first to oppose such a concept.
I pointed out that I had belonged to many voluntary organisations. I will not name them all, but they include the Royal Air Force Association. There are many others which, if I am not a member of them, I have supported over the years and to which I still regularly give financial aid. They do a magnificent job. But I have supported and been a member of the trade union movement for the greatest length of time.
Whenever I think of voluntary organisations my mind goes back to 1947 when there was a great ship repair strike in Liverpool. About 20,000 of us took part and it lasted six weeks. During the first week, when the strike committee met—the whole thing was voluntary—we discovered that the local old-age pensioners' association had been used to gathering once a week at the Bootle Labour club for an afternoon's meeting. The old folk had not been told that we had taken the club over, and we did not know they were coming.
1141 In the event, lots of elderly people turned up for their meeting. Our senior shop steward and chairman was an Irishman named Michael Head, who had a beautiful tenor voice. He said, "We can't just leave all these old people sitting here. We must do something to entertain them. Let us put on a concert for them this afternoon". We did. He sang, some read poetry, others did juggling or played the piano. I had no idea that among the shop stewards and strikers was so much talent. It was an excellent example of voluntary action to provide the old folk with entertainment.
Throughout that strike we continued to entertain the pensioners every Wednesday at the club. They wanted the strike to go on for ever, though we did not. So popular were the concerts that more and more pensioners turned up each Wednesday afternoon. When the strike was over, many of those who had taken part in the entertainment continued to do voluntary work—not during the daytime because they were working—and, for the rest of their lives many of them went on to be involved in voluntary activities, whereas previously they had not thought much about it.
I commend to hon. Members in all parts of the House, and particularly to Conservative Members, a pamphlet on the role of trade unions which has just been produced by the Catholic Truth Society. It outlines in clear terms the importance of trade unions, and in many ways it is critical of the Government's attitude, policies and legislation on trade union activities. It points out that, in one sense, this great voluntary organisation is being undermined, even stopped in its tracks, by the type of legislation being introduced by the Government.
I supported the Solidarity movement in Poland from the day it was created. I am a passionate believer in solidarity. I do not want the Government to use legislation to stop the voluntary activities of trade unions. I do not want state-run and controlled trade unions. I repeat, I hope that all hon. Members will read that pamphlet, which is based on the teachings of the Church.
Indeed, I must tell those on the Opposition Front Bench who have been producing documents about trade unions that I wish that they, too, would read that pamphlet. It would do them the world of good because it is much better than much of what they have been producing. Such a first-class document is it that I wish they had read it before arriving at some of the ideas that they have, because they are only reflecting what the Government are saying.
§ Mr. Patten
I hope that I did not mishear the right hon. Gentleman's last remarks. I do not think I caught the names of the documents that he says he does not like, nor the authors of them. Perhaps he will tell the House the names of the people to whom he is referring. It is all a mystery to me, and I cannot imagine to whom he is referring.
§ Mr. Heffer
Time will tell. All will be revealed about which policies I do not like and about the policies in the documents I mentioned.
I welcome the debate because we should give all possible support to voluntary workers and organisations. They do a magnificent job, particularly those who help in hospitals. For example, they take books to hospitals in Liverpool.
1142 Hon. Members should not be divided on the issue. We must not use voluntary organisations as an excuse for not carrying out the responsibilities that the state must accept. Voluntary organisations cannot solve all the problems.
We used to have voluntary hospitals, and I am glad that there were. When I was 16, I had peritonitis. If the voluntary hospital had not been there, I would not be here now. We could not continue with only voluntary hospitals, we had to establish the National Health Service. It is like building houses for people who cannot afford to buy them. There must be council house-building schemes. The state has an important role to play, but I disagree with those who say, "Do not give anything to voluntary organisations." There must be a balance between the state and voluntary organisations.
For a long time I was a chairman of a theatre group. I did not act, but that caused all sorts of problems. The actors would come to me and say, "I should have had that part." I would say, "it is nothing to do with me; I am only running the organisation, and I have nothing to do with who is in what play." That was the Merseyside Unity theatre. Theatre groups do a magnificent job, whether they are village theatre groups or theatre groups in large cities. They all help to make life better by giving a wider view of society and creating greater understanding.
§ Miss Ann Widdecombe (Maidstone)
My remarks will be briefer than I intended, not only because other hon. Members wish to speak, but because the hon. Member for Monklands, West (Mr. Clarke) has been waiting patiently for his opportunity. I have considerable sympathy with him. I know what it is like to sit in the House on a Friday, hoping to speak, and I trust that his wishes will be more fully realised than mine have been this year.
I add to the many and well-deserved congratulations to my hon. Friend the Member for Wimbledon (Dr. Goodson-Wickes) on securing the debate on this important subject and on an eloquent speech. I apologise to him for having missed his opening comments. I was prevented from being in the House at the time. My hon. Friend has provided an opportunity for a wide discussion for which I am sure the House is grateful.
Much has been said about the ethos of voluntary work. We are dealing with a changing social climate. I reiterate the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Basildon (Mr. Amess). He congratulated the Government on promoting active citizenship and the role of voluntary organisations. Their achievement is more remarkable because it has been brought about at a time of national prosperity. When a nation is prosperous there is always a temptation for people to believe that the state can take care of everything because the money is available to do so. There is a temptation also for an individual in a prosperous society to salve his conscience merely by giving some of his disposable income to charity, rather than by playing an active role. I do not wish to imply any derogatory motives to people who give to charity. Without the considerable funds that charities need, they and other organisations would not be able to carry out their work. Consciences are often salved by putting money in a collection tin, or even by making a regular contribution, and the active part is too often ignored.
It is an achievement for the Government that, at a time of prosperity, they have been able to generate a climate in 1143 which active citizenship is regarded as an essential element of everyday life. Proof of that is the growing number of charities in the directory of voluntary organisations, which seems to get fatter each year. That implies that there is growing recognition of the individual citizen's role.
The background against which we are asking citizens to be more active is rather different from that of 20 years ago. Hon. Members have mentioned the decline in church attendance. That has had two effects: first, fewer people are available for voluntary work, and, secondly, it is less easy for people to find the help that they need. When congregations were large and a member of the congregation was in need, it would have been known by the rest of the church population—certainly by the vicar or priest—and action would have been taken before that person even had to ask. Without that base and with the increasing problem of loneliness and people having to cope on their own, there is not such a readily recognisable source of help for those who are suffering. Many of those who are driven to phone the Samaritans and take advantage of organisations that help people who are in despair, because they have not had the ready base of an extended family or of the Church.
The number of working women is increasing. That means that what used to be the natural source of voluntary work, particularly that which is most easily done by day, is drying up. With more mothers and grandmothers working, fewer people have time on their hands. I do not absolve men from their responsibilities in active citizenship, but it is generally recognised that housewives used to play an important part in social and welfare work and simply keeping an eye on the neighbours. They are no longer such a common feature of society.
Also, many families are breaking up into small units, so there are not the large families with a ready recognition of needs that there used to be. That has meant that more old people look to society rather than to their families for support. More old people are living on their own rather than receiving the care and attention of a large family.
I grew up in a generation whose grandparents were looked after at home—my grandmother was at home throughout my childhood—and I feel that the change is something of a loss to society. The daily mix of young and old, promoting an understanding of old people's interests, was a crucial education for me, although I was not aware of it at the time.
Although I appreciate that today such concerns are mainly the province of the Home Office, it is essential for us to inculcate in children from the start the ethos of looking after their neighbour and trying to find what he or she requires. In my constituency, Maidstone grammar school for girls has won itself a well-deserved reputation for the immense amount of social care and loving work performed by its girls. That work is often unsung, so I am grateful to have the opportunity to publicise it today.
I did not learn of the girls' work directly from them; I learnt of it by encountering the fruits of it, sometimes in the most amazing places. When, for example, I visited the Crisis at Christmas centre last Christmas, I was told that all the preparations—food, bedding and so forth—had been assembled by the girls, who had got up at 6.30 am on both Christmas Eve and Christmas Day to make those preparations.
1144 I thought that I had been brought up to a tradition of service, but I know that if, as a girl of 15 or 16, I had been asked to get up at 6.30 on Christmas morning, go to a relatively cold and unwelcoming place and warm it up and then do several hours' work, I would have taken a rather jaundiced view. Yet those girls did it voluntarily, and their work is deeply appreciated.
I have also visited Guide Dogs for the Blind, of whose Maidstone branch I am president. It has been trying to raise funds for a new training centre, and, indeed, has succeded in doing so. There I met the head girl of Maidstone grammar school—which by then did not surprise me, as the girls seem to pop up wherever there is such work to be done. It transpired that, not through sponsorship—that is, using other people's money—but through their own efforts and direct fund-raising, they had managed to raise enough money to train a guide dog. That is a remarkable achievement, the more so because it is only one of many. On another occasion, when I called on some old people in almshouses, I was told that the girls from the grammar school had just been round with some harvest offerings.
If every school taught such work as naturally as Maidstone girls' grammar and its splendid deputy headmistress Mrs. McCabe, we would found a society in which active citizenship would become even more important. Those girls are taught to operate as individuals. They are not part of a voluntary organisation for which collecting tins are produced; they are putting in their own efforts. Much has been said today about the relationship between charities and the state—always a fraught relationship—but the relationship between the individual and charities is also extremely important.
My hon. Friend the Member for Wimbledon spoke of the role that the citizen can play as an individual in combating crime. The one set of crime statistics that has undeniably shown a fall—although Opposition Members sometimes seek rather ungraciously to deride it—is the burglary statistics. The number of burglaries has undoubtedly declined: equally undoubtedly, much of that is due to the functioning of neighbourhood watch schemes.
We have an extremely efficient neighbourhood watch in Maidstone, and I was involved in setting up an equally efficient one in Fulham. Not only does the scheme deter burglars—which, after all, is its main purpose—but it calls citizens together, makes them aware of each other's needs and encourages them to play an active role. The alertness of an individual and his willingness to interfere and become involved is crucial to combating crime.
I am rather sorry that my hon. Friend the Member for Wimbledon is not present, as I am going to criticise an attitude which seems prevalent in society and which is backed up by the police and by official Home Office advice. I think that it has dangers. The following advice is enshrined in documentation from the police to the general public; if someone tries to snatch your handbag, let it go, because if you resist you may end up with some such injury as a dislocated shoulder.
That is the wrong advice. We are encouraging a social lack of will to combat crime. The criminal will not be deterred mainly by the thought of detection, although that is important, or by the thought of punishment, because that is often much too light these days, but by the fact that he will encounter resistance. Much street robbery and opportunistic crime is carried out on the spur of the moment because the individual is convinced that he will 1145 not meet with resistance. Therefore, we have created a society in which girls have handbags snatched on the Underground and nobody goes to their assistance, people are attacked, or even raped, in the street, the attack is witnessed, but nobody goes to their assistance. By that advice, we are creating a social attitude that we should not become involved and it is dangerous to interfere.
There is a happy medium between the gung-ho advice of, "Have a go, no matter what the risks" and the attitude of the priest and the Levites of old, who passed by on the other side of the street. There is no need to swing from one set of advice to another. The question whether to resist an attack or weigh in to help somebody who is being attacked is an individual decision. Official advice should not be given telling us to go a different way.
There must be a social will so that where we see crime, we try to stop it by the appropriate means. There are plenty of examples of valiant old ladies beating off burglars, much to the amazement of the burglars—not the old ladies—and of crime being stopped by children and the weaker members of society who rally round to help. It is up to all of us to do so. Any incident in which somebody is attacked in public and not helped, shames us all. That is why the Guardian Angels were greeted with cheers when they appeared.
Whatever reservations my hon. Friend the Member for Wimbledon may have expressed about the role of the Guardian Angels, that is the citizens' way of reacting to a situation that they are no longer prepared to tolerate. Whatever suspicions he or the police may have towards the Guardian Angels, the very same suspicions were held about Securicor, which is now regarded as a respectable and established everyday fact of life and an organisation which backs up the role of order in society.
Individual alertness and involvement are as important in crime as they are in the voluntary organisations, on which much of the debate has tended to concentrate. We should consider some of the voluntary organisations and their work because through them active citizenship can support and enhance the basic work of the state.
I shall take up the offer of my hon. Friend the Member for Basildon to comment on the organisation, Life. It is appropriate for me to comment on this organisation because one of its largest branches is located in Maidstone. It is tempting to think that Life merely acts as a political campaign, pressuring for the sort of changes in the law that my hon. Friend the Member for Basildon and I wish to bring about. However, while other organisations do that, Life has a large, ever-growing and extremely expensive-to-run charitable wing that looks after the needs of mothers who face unwanted or unexpected pregnancies.
The Maidstone branch of Life is run by an extremely remarkable man, Denis Neale. He is remarkable not only for the work that he has done for Life but for the personal circumstances in which he undertakes the work. Last year, when the hon. Member for Liverpool, Mossley Hill (Mr. Alton) was introducing his Bill to curb late abortions, a large rally was organised in Maidstone which the hon. Member for Mossley Hill, representatives of various churches and I were to attend. There were nearly 1,000 people involved in the rally and an enormous amount of organisation and co-ordination was involved including, for example, the co-ordination of the different churches, interest groups and charities, as well as the general public. That was a time-consuming task.
1146 Two weeks before the rally took place, Denis Neale's teenage daughter was involved in a car accident that left her paralysed for life. Denis Neale carried on at the wish of his brave young daughter, Vicky, and other members of his family. He continued with the goal he had set himself of organising the rally, and he has carried on since in the long-term purposes that he set himself—to make life easier for the young girls who find themselves pressurised by families into taking a course that they do not want to take. After that, some of them have to manage for themselves, sometimes in severe poverty and deprivation.
The counselling work that Life does for young girls who have been thus pressurised, sometimes, alack, comes too late. They have already had the abortion into which they were pressurised and they arrive at Life much too late, suffering from grief, guilt, uncertainty, fear and misery. In Sheffield, where Life has a massive organisation, there lives a young lady who is so distressed by what has happened that she can no longer pass the offices of the British Pregnancy Advisory Service. She has been known to collapse outside them and to be an hour late for work because she has to make a wide detour around them. The state offers her nowhere to go, but she can go to Life. I hope that the friends whom she has found there will continue to supply her with the necessary support to lead a much happier life.
Some needs are obvious, others are not. A part of charities' role is sometimes to draw attention to aspects that the state has overlooked but which, after a few years, it then starts to deal with. A good example of that was the charity for battered wives, who have been a fact of life for centuries without having been recognised by the state as a group in need of special provision. Erin Pizzey and the charity for battered wives drew their plight to the state's attention, and the state has since recognised it and acted accordingly.
All sorts of people work towards these unrecognised ends. We are familiar with the splendid work done by organisations such as MENCAP, which operates very effectively in Maidstone. I also commend much smaller initiatives, such as the organisation called Spadework in Maidstone. It was set up specifically to cope with the needs of mentally handicapped youngsters who, having come of age, can no longer rely on the special provision of the state but are not ill enough to be institutionalised. They need some form of activity from which to earn their living, in the same way as the rest of us. Spadework set up an organisation that sent out groups of mentally handicapped girls and boys to do gardening. They look after people's gardens and charge a proper rate for the job. The organisation is run almost entirely by volunteers; the girls and boys must be supervised, work has to be found for them and the whole effort needs co-ordination. If for nothing else, I am grateful to them because they sorted out my garden not long ago——
§ Miss Widdecombe
I am sure that they would be delighted to do the hon. and learned Gentleman's garden, but it would be rather a long way to go. I suggest that he has a similar organisation set up in his constituency, whereafter I am sure the youngsters will attend to his garden first.
1147 Active church groups do a great deal. I am especially grateful for the work of Dave King and his support group in Maidstone, which does so much on the council estates and in the less well-off areas for those in need.
There is a wide range of support schemes for families and for the victims of crime. The state has followed the lead of the charitable sector, and it is now generally recognised that the victim's problems do not end if and when the criminal is apprehended and convicted, or when the police close the file on the solved or unsolved case. That is another example in which charities are leading the state.
For all those reasons the work of voluntary organisations is important. But each voluntary organisation is comprised of individuals. One does not have to belong to a voluntary organisation to look after the needs of one's neighbour. We should teach our children from an early age to do simple things, such as doing the shopping for the old lady who lives down the road, and not just to leave the shopping on the kitchen table and go home, but to stay and talk and provide the companionship which that old lady may need. As they get older, children should be encouraged to do voluntary work, as the girls from Maidstone grammar school do. People should not use having a full-time job or having to look after a family as an excuse for non-active involvement.
We should all ask ourselves what we do for our neighbours apart from our paid jobs—I include in that Members of Parliament. Those who do not take on an immediately active role where they see need have no business to criticise the state for its lack of provision, or the number of people employed in any particular job, and ultimately have no business whatsoever to expect to rely on the neighbours whom they have not served.
§ Mr. John Bowis (Battersea)
We have had a wide-ranging debate and a wide range of agreement. I agree particularly with my hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone (Miss Widdecombe) who suggested that Members of Parliament should lead the way and contribute to the voluntary sector.
I was surprised that the debate that my hon. Friend the Member for Wimbledon (Dr. Goodson-Wickes) initiated so ably followed some of the lanes down which it has travelled, not least when the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heller) spoke. Of course he was quite right to say that the trade union movement is a voluntary membership movement, but I shall not dwell on his eloquent opposition to the closed shop. I absolutely support his last point about the theatre and the role of the arts in society. He also referred to his membership of the Cubs. I, too, started my voluntary work as a Cub and I suppose that many of us can dyb, dyb, dyb and dob, dob, dob, together. Perhaps that sums up what is best in our society—doing our best for our fellow members of society in Britain.
We have talked about the beneficiaries and the organisers of voluntary work. But the crucial, key point is the role of the individual contributing as best he or she can. Very often the individual has a role at home, looking after the family, and as members of the family become elderly or disabled, that role is extended. People also play such a role 1148 at work, often through the vocational nature of their work. We should not underestimate the voluntary spirit when people give up a high salary to take on a role which they feel is more rewarding to themselves and to the people whom they serve. Many people use their spare time in a multiplicity of ways, taking on the role of the professional supporter of people in the community.
The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, West (Mr. Randall) asked Conservative Members about whom we were talking when we mentioned people who played a role in the voluntary sector. I suggest to him that everyone has such a role. It is a question not of financial status, but of individual will to use one's skill and abilities. I include those who, in theory, we think we are helping when, often, they are the very people who have something to contribute as providers of support and as contributors to their fellow sufferers. We should not, for example, underestimate the role of the disabled as voluntary helpers to their fellow human beings. Everyone has a role.
§ Mr. Randall
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his remarks. Does he recall that at the Conservative party conference last year the Home Secretary, when speaking of the role of citizens, suggested three ways in which they could provide help—first, being a parent governor of a school; secondly, involvement in neighbourhood watch; and thirdly, charitable giving. How does the hon. Gentleman think everyone would fit into those slots?
§ Mr. Bowis
It is obvious that not everyone can be a parent governor—he or she would have to be a parent with a child at school. Therefore, only a limited range of people could fill such a slot. I warmly support the role of individuals in their children's schools, in crime prevention and in other aspects of society, and also an individual's giving to charity and charitable giving as a whole. It may be the rich man, with his eye-of-the-needle problem, who should be giving more or it may be the widow's mite, which is just as valuable. I do not wish to discuss the party conference debate last October. It is important to accept that everyone has a role.
I wish to dwell for a moment on the way in which young people can contribute. Indeed, I am involved with certain organisations in that area. I think especially of an event in which I participated yesterday afternoon at the Emanuel school in my constituency, which is sited on the banks of the railway line where the Clapham junction train disaster occurred last December. I went to support the school and the many people who attended the unveiling of the memorial to the disaster, which was carried out jointly by one of the boys of the school and a survivor of the train crash. As we stood there—silent other than for the sound of passing trains below the edge of the embankment—our minds returned to that early morning when the crash occurred. We remembered the way in which those young boys and their teachers immediately went down the embankment, at some risk to themselves, to give comfort and succour. They were, first, saving lives; secondly, comforting the injured; and thirdly, supporting the rescue services. They did that not because they were organised to do so, but because they perceived a need. They understood how they, as individuals, could respond to that need, and they did so. It is an example of the best in our society when people of all ages, under all conditions, perceive a need and respond to it.
1149 While standing on the embankment during the unveiling of the memorial I was reminded of another occasion some years ago—less publicised and less sung —when there were great winter floods. At that time I was staying in my in-law's village in Warwickshire. The brook overflowed into nearby houses, one of which was occupied by an old lady. The village joined together and found shelter for her. However, that was not the end of the story; it was not just the British coming together. That lady's next-door neighbours, a young couple, went into the house and took out all the damp and ruined items, dried what was reclaimable and replaced those that were not. They then got out their pots of paint and redecorated the house so that when the old lady returned she would feel that it was her home, and not experience the aftermath of disaster that makes such experiences so much more traumatic. That is an example of young people perceiving a problem, believing that they could put it right and doing so.
Earlier this week, I visited the Cancer Research Campaign, which was mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Greenway). Every year it holds a major fund-raising event in Battersea park. I was there to present prizes and publicise the triple challenge that will take place this summer. It is a tremendously successful organisation that raises millions of pounds and is almost self-sufficient. The event was a combination of a professional fund-raising organisation and two sponsors, to which I pay tribute—Whitbread and the London Broadcasting Company. I pay tribute to the role that local radio stations play in London. LBC and Capital Radio have fine charitable connections with Battersea park. A well-run charity, industry and young people came together to raise money for a problem that they understood. My hon. Friends rightly said that people understand because, sadly, problems are brought home to them through their families and friends.
I was speaking to an organisation earlier this week called Projects by the Blind (Wandsworth), which is in my constituency. It provides reading and newspaper tapes for the blind and partially sighted. It provides a centre for companionship for such people during the day and offers creative work for those who can manage it, some of whom are partially sighted and some completely blind. The organisation has an element of self-help supported by the community. I used to call it "Projects for the Blind", but it proudly said "No, we are called Projects by the Blind". The blind help themselves with society's support. With a little help, pump-priming and back-up, such people are able to contribute to their wellbeing.
I work with other organisations that go way beyond our national shores and deal with the problems of the world, such as Hungry for Change and Results. They aim to find solutions to the massive global problems, and its results are so huge that one might find them difficult to comprehend. If it is broken down into the cost of saving a child's sight or rehydration tablets to cure diarrhoea, which can cause death, and one considers the cost of immunising a child, one realises how simply and cheaply British people can assist by saving or adopting a child elsewhere in the world.
If we can persuade individuals that there is a problem, as soon as they are aware of it, they understand it. If we can achieve solutions that are manageable to them, we shall begin to get movement. There is a range of problems, many of which have been mentioned in the debate, but there is a range of solutions, some of which cost nothing. 1150 It costs nothing to assist someone who is being attacked in the street—a matter that was mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone. I mentioned the boys of Emanuel school. It costs only time and effort to help.
Support, by means of cash in kind, is required from the public, various agencies and local government. Sometimes the cost is vast. Sometimes the cost is in terms of assisting the carer to take a break. We know about the virtues of respite. That is a form of pump-priming that we should not ignore. If money is directed towards solving the problems at a level that people can understand, they will respond and we shall begin to overcome some of the problems.
Hon. Members have referred to the difficult balancing act that has to be performed. There is a danger that state support can sometimes supplant the voluntary spirit. We need to examine the extent to which the state is taking over the solving of problems. Individuals who previously were involved and who would like to be involved again in voluntary work no longer feel that they are wanted and needed. There is a danger, as voluntary organisations increasingly become the agents of central and local government, that that feeling will grow.
§ Mr. Randall
Based on my own experience, I see exactly the opposite trend. In my own city, the financial constraints that have been imposed upon local authorities as a result of rate capping and other measures have led to the local authority's role being considerably diminished.
§ Mr. Bowis
That may be true in some cases.
Reference has been made to the voluntary hospital services. The hon. Member for Walton referred to them. When there were cottage hospitals the local community was very willing to support them. However, when cottage hospitals became part of the regional health service, the local community began to feel that they were no longer welcome and that they could not continue to support such a small part of a vast organisation.
I am not suggesting that we should go overboard either way; we have to get the balance right. Too often nowadays the first question asked by a voluntary organisation is, "Who will fund us?" The first question used to be, "How shall we raise the money?" Voluntary organisations now say that they want full time staff and premises. It is getting slightly out of balance. We ought to concentrate on those who benefit from the services and ensure that the resources that are available are devoted to them.
Society has to be careful about the extent to which it interferes. I support and have a high opinion of the dial-a-ride service. Unfortunately, it is now in danger of becoming bureaucratised. The need is seen to be so large that it is beyond the scope of any individual or voluntary organisation to cater for it. Consequently, the dial-a-ride service is looking to national and local agencies to provide support.
Another danger is that the bureaucrats tend to dictate to the users of the services what is in their best interests. The users of the dial-a-ride service are disabled. On the whole, dial-a-ride is very good at listening to the disabled because it is a local service. Increasingly, however, as London Regional Transport takes over the management of dial-a-ride in London there is a danger that it will want to provide a neat package that is suitable for the whole of London. It does not want to hear about the preferences of disabled people in my part of London. The service is in danger of being swallowed up by bureaucracy. The 1151 individuals whom we are seeking to help will suffer. There has to be a balance between the desire to assist and the rights of the individuals who are being assisted—the right of the disabled to mobility. Without wishing to take matters too far the other way, we must get the balance right between the individual contributor to charity and voluntary work and the role of the state.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone said, if we are considering ways in which the individual can become more involved, we must go back to the schools. She rightly highlighted some of the schemes at Maidstone grammar school, where the girls do great community projects. I also wonder whether we should not look at the role of children within schools. In my day, there was a far greater role for the pupil in the management of the school, cleaning, washing dishes and helping with the grounds, play areas and sports fields. I do not want to undermine the role of the school caretaker, but children seem to be brought up to assume that everything will be done by the caretaker. When they become householders, they will look at the snow that has fallen on the pavement, on which old people could fall, and they will say that it is the role of society to clear the snow. As President Kennedy said, we should ask not what our fellow man can do for us, but what we can do for our fellow man, and that is the message we want to put across.
Another aspect of voluntary work is that concerned with crime. I point out to my hon. Friend the Minister that nowhere in London shows better success in beating crime than my area of Battersea. The police, the community, Wandsworth council, local firms and residents' associations have all got together to defeat crime. That is an example of voluntary action supported by the state locally and nationally.
I also support the point made earlier about the role of industry in supporting projects. In Battersea, a firm called Skillion decided that it would play a part by sponsoring some of the clean-up of the River Thames. It persuaded me to join various young people from Manpower in taking out some of the rubbish from the river bed. That was a splendid operation and should be repeated by other firms locally. In Wandsworth, we have signs which say, "Wandsworth the brighter borough environmental improvement scheme." Wandsworth council does that because it is a well-run council. I suggest that firms could do that as well, and we should then see signs saying, "Woolworth encouraging the brighter borough with the improvement scheme." Why should not the firms that became involved take some of the credit?
Moving up the age range, I wonder why we do not make more use of the skills of retired people. As the age of retirement comes down, so there is an increasing reserve of skills we should use. In further education, those practical skills are already used and secondary schools could do the same, as could the many areas of need in the community. I suggest to my hon. Friend that he could promote through his colleagues the idea that every local authority should build up a register of skills and volunteers available, which should be tied in with the needs of the voluntary sector. Such a register would bring everybody together in the community to contribute and we should have played a valuable part.
1152 I congratulate my hon. Friend on raising this topic. As Members of Parliament, we see the best of voluntary organisations in our constituencies and we see some magnificent work. If we come back to that moment at Emanuel school, we see that the best work of all is when an individual sees a problem and goes out to do something about it on his own initiative.
§ 1.9 pm
§ Mr. Patrick Ground (Feltham and Heston)
I join those who have congratulated my hon. Friend the Member for Wimbledon (Dr. Goodson-Wickes) on the motion. I am sorry that I could not be here for the early part of the debate.
I particularly welcome the way in which my hon. Friend has worded the motion. Too often our discussions of voluntary organisations turn to thoughts on what they should or should not be doing, on which there is a division of opinion. Some fear that voluntary organisations will carry out functions that should more properly be carried out by public bodies, while others appear to suggest that they should be carrying out functions that could be carried out by public bodies under their statutory powers.
I particularly welcome the fact that the motion simply celebrates the existence of active citizenship and voluntary activities. That is an appropriate emphasis. Judging by my constituency experience there is a mass of flourishing voluntary organisations of all sorts—on the whole happily and effectively doing what they set out to do and not particularly worried about the discussions that I have just described. They can see that there is a job for them to do and they get on with doing it.
I am fortunate in having two remarkable voluntary organisations in my constituency which provide me with accommodation for my surgery. Unlike many hon. Members, I suspect, I hold my surgeries in premises owned by voluntary organisations. That is a way of showing the importance that I attach to their work.
I was interested by what my hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone (Miss Widdecombe) said about the role of a voluntary activity in keeping law and order. I share her reaction to what was said when the Guardian Angels came to England recently. It was interesting to note that, whatever the official reaction may have been—from the police and other authorities, there was quite considerable support among the public at large for the idea of active citizenship as represented by the Guardian Angels. I am aware that American experience of the work of the Guardian Angels varies but when I went to the west coast of America, I found what I saw of their activities impressive and thought that it justified the public's reaction.
I welcome the greater emphasis on volunteer work by the Metropolitan Police. In areas of south London the police have accepted a role for a form of special constable working with neighbourhood watch schemes. That is an interesting development which could well be copied by other areas that are interested in incorporating the services of volunteers in the process of keeping law and order. Similarly, I am interested in the announcement made in the past few days about a new type of volunteer in the Metropolitan police, who will be dressed quite differently from a police constable, in a uniform that the public can easily identify as being that of a volunteer.
1153 I was interested in the exchange between the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, West (Mr. Randall) and my hon. Friend the Member for Battersea (Mr. Bowis) about the extent of involvement throughout the community in voluntary work and in the concept of whether there was any social limitation on the activity of the active citizen. I share completely the attitude of my hon. Friend the Member for Battersea that there is a role for the active citizen throughout the community. I believe that, wherever one is living, there is a role for the active citizen.
I would like to stress the role of the active citizen in relation to the environment and to pay tribute to the work of the amenity societies throughout the country and to the Civic Trust. I have been heavily involved for many years in the amenity society where I live. I believe that the environment of an area very much reflects the activity over the years of active involved citizens. Areas with consistently active citizenship in relation to the environment and proposals for an area have often managed to retain their character and their amenities and have reasonably sympathetic forms of development around them.
In areas where that is more difficult, there is still a role for the active citizen. In the past two or three years I have been especially concerned with the problems caused on council estates by thoroughly anti-social tenants. Very often, a minority of anti-social tenants makes life a misery, rather than a pleasure, for a great number of people living around them, especially in blocks of flats, but also on housing estates. I am delighted when I see one or more residents prepared to stand up to that conduct—to complain, to organise neighbours to bring it to a stop and, if necessary, to galvanise the local authority into taking action, if necessary by threatening or bringing eviction proceedings. Unless such anti-social behaviour is tackled, very often there is little remedy for the living conditions of the people concerned. It is a counsel of despair to say that all the others should move out and get transfers rather than be willing to face up to the problem in the first instance. I applaud those active citizens who are prepared to take action and to give evidence against anti-social tenants.
I am happy to say that the local authority in my area is eventually prepared to respond, where it is satisfied that there is a sufficient number of people genuinely concerned about the behaviour of anti-social tenants and willing to give evidence and to do something about it. That is an important element of active citizenship which applies in places where living conditions are extremely difficult. The role of an active citizen is potentially one of great importance when it comes to improving such an environment for large numbers of people.
I welcome the debate and I associate myself with all the remarks about the importance, the role and, indeed, the flourishing character of voluntary organisations. However much time we may spend developing and talking about statutory functions, which must inevitably happen in parliamentary debates, it is good that we have spent some little time talking about those things that we would regard as fundamentally important and, perhaps, even more important than many of the matters that we have to spend very much more time discussing.
§ Mr. Stuart Randall (Kingston Upon Hull, West)
I congratulate the hon. Member for Wimbledon (Dr. Goodson-Wickes) on bringing this motion before the House today. It has been interesting to hear the views of hon. Members of all parties, although I note that most speeches have come from Conservative Members. That is probably because this subject was promulgated by the Home Secretary last October when he made a major speech at the Conservative party conference on the active citizen in the context of crime prevention.
Three hon. Members have made particularly interesting points. My hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heller) talked about getting the balance right, which is at the nub of this whole issue. Although we have heard hon. Members of all parties talk about the various organisations that we all have in our constituencies and the benefits of them—the Christian ethic has come through strongly—I believe that there is a strong political element at the heart of this matter and that is what I should like to address.
This is a philosophical issue. The hon. Member for Wimbledon made an excellent speech in getting his case over. I am not saying that I agree with him, but he made a number of philosophical points that I should like to address. Essentially, I believe that at the heart of this matter is the balance between the role of the state and that of the voluntary organisations.
§ Mr. Tom Clarke (Monklands, West)
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way because I have waited all morning for the privilege of raising this point. Today I received a letter from the Scotttish Council for Voluntary Organisations, expressing great interest in this important debate and enclosing a five-point charter for the voluntary sector. I should like my hon. Friend's comments on two of those points. The first point relates to the acceptance of the voluntary sector as a complement to, not a substitute for, state provision. The second point relates to the need to recognise that independent voluntary sector comment is vital to our democracy. In other words, voluntary groups should not simply be seen to be participating actively in communities; they believe that people's views about how to shape our society and about Government policy are also important. Does my hon. Friend agree with those observations?
§ Mr. Randall
Yes, I do. There is no doubt in my mind that there can be no dispute about the importance of the active citizen and the voluntary organisations in which such people tend to work, although of course, they do not belong to organisations. There can be no dispute across the House about that matter. I would support general acceptance of that view on democratic matters.
A number of philosophical points hinge on the question of balance. I believe that individualism must be allowed to flourish; that bureaucracy must be controlled and that people who work in the areas to which hon. Members have referred must be given every opportunity to do their job properly. What we have seen from the Conservative party —this is where it becomes political—has been fits expression of the way in which the roles of the state and the voluntary and charitable organisations fit in with its views of Victorian values and with the notion of Lady Bountiful dishing out the goodies——
§ Mr. Randall
I am sure that when the Minister of State replies to the debate he will be able to address that point.
Even newspapers such as The Sunday Times, which is hardly a Labour-supporting newspaper, are expressing views about the shift towards Victorian values and philanthropy being the thing of the day. Towards the end of his speech, the hon. Member for Wimbledon said that during what he claimed to be the present period of greater prosperity, the well-off should share their financial benefits with others. His remarks had a philanthropic ring about them.
I refer to the notion that the wealthy—the top 2 or 3 per cent. who have done very well thank you out of the Government's tax regime—should help out and give. We have heard how charitable giving has been on the increase while the role of the state has been cut back, all expressed in terms of the removal of the dependency culture and so on.
We have an ultra-capitalist Government who are very Right-wing—that is clear and nobody would dispute it —and who are pursuing avidly their philosophy of rolling back the frontiers of the state. That has been manifested in the way in which local authorities have been constrained. Indeed, the whole of the public sector has been constrained and, as a result, we are witnessing the failure of large areas of social policy. That, in turn, is causing a breakdown of law and order.
That is why a Home Office Minister has been present throughout, and will reply to the debate. This is a home affairs matter. The Government see the voluntary organisations as the mechanism to overcome anti-social, criminal, unacceptable behaviour in society. That is what it is all about, and the Home Secretary made that clear at the last Conservative party conference and at a meeting of the Industrial Society earlier in the year.
We have heard some commendable speeches, and the hon. Member for Battersea (Mr. Bowis) made a balanced and moderate speech.
§ Mr. Randall
It is sometimes awful to receive praise from the opposite side of the House. The hon. Gentleman made a wise speech which fitted in with the direction in which we should be going. There was, however, in his and other Conservative speeches, a certain amount of goody-goody stuff, and I say that not in a disparaging way.
Hon. Members have been addressing the whole question of the ethos of how individuals should operate in society. If Conservative Members want to see pupils cleaning the schools—[Interruption.] I remember serving the custard during school dinner time. I am not complaining about remarks that have been made on that score or about the need for people to have a feeling of responsibility. The Christian ethos came through, and I totally support that.
All of that was good stuff, but until my right hon. Friend the Member for Walton spoke, I felt that the debate was rather off-beam, with the Conservative argument being presented with emphasis on their ultra-capitalist way of running the economy, with their obsession for the market, which is causing a breakdown in society. The degree of homelessness, crime and so on is making many 1156 people, including Conservatives, react to the sort of society we now have. As I say, the voluntary organisations are seen as a mechanism for countering that.
§ Mrs. Gillian Shephard
Will the hon. Gentleman explain how the description of my hon. Friends of people from all sections of society who are happy to give their time for nothing fits in with his description of a capitalist society?
§ Mr. Randall
Many people, including most hon. Members, are prepared to give their time. I welcome philanthropy, but I do not want society to be dependent on it. Much has been said about the way in which companies give. I welcome charitable giving, but what happens when an economy drops? Economies are cyclical. If certain services are reliant on that kind of giving, it must be consistent. If there is a recession and profitability drops, charitable giving will become vulnerable and we will let down people. The hon. Lady's argument has serious defects. State funding should be encouraged.
The interaction between the state and voluntary organisations is important. The participation of people in voluntary organisations clearly shows that there tends to be a higher rate of participation when a local authority is involved. From our experience in voluntary organisations, hon. Members know that a core of a few full-time people adds a terrific stimulus to an organisation and makes it more effective.
I do not know where the hon. Member for Wimbledon got the subject of the debate. Perhaps it came from the Whips' Office. [Interruption.] Conservative Members now want to push the subject as part of their underlying philosophy, because of the failure of social policy in this country.
§ Mr. Randall
The Minister will have an opportunity to comment.
Why have the Conservatives waited 10 years to do this? The oil money has been flowing for some time. The reason is that the Government are in schtuck over the crime figures. Violent crime figures are still rising, and the Government do not know what to do. That is at the heart of the issue.
As a result of the Government's extreme economic policy, society is divided. No hon. Member would argue that it is not greedy and selfish, and that self-interest prevails. That is the essence of Thatcherism—"I'm all right, Jack; pull the ladder up."
§ Mr. Ground
Is not the debate the complete antithesis of what the hon. Gentleman has said? The people who are involved in the great mass of voluntary organisations doing things for other people are not behaving as the hon. Gentleman suggests that they should.
§ Mr. Randall
The hon. and learned Gentleman made an interesting speech. He said that he wanted all people involved as active citizens. I share his view. However, it is difficult to get people to participate when they are losing out. How do we get the homeless, those living in poverty, those who have drug or alcohol problems, and split families to participate? We do not. They are trying to survive day by day. The Government's social policy, which has emanated from their extreme economic policy, has resulted in a role for voluntary organisations and the 1157 active citizen. All I am saying is that in a divided society it is much more difficult to motivate people to give encouragement to others.
§ Mr. Ground
I am sorry to interrupt a second time; but one of the voluntary organisations of which I spoke—the Feltham community association—is providing work and activity for those who are unemployed and find it difficult to obtain employment.
§ Mr. Randall
Voluntary organisations are taking up many of the problems, but the Government's funding policy is preventing much of that work. The operation of the community programme has resulted in 16 voluntary workers in my city losing full-time jobs, and in the ending of much good social work. The Government have placed emphasis on projects connected with economic development, and on capital rather than social programmes.
Active citizenship should not be limited to the prosperous and beneficent minority whom the Conservative party generally wishes to perform that role —the "crumbs from the table" syndrome. The Government tell people that it is their duty, and we welcome that, but those who talk of duty should also talk of rights. The recipients of voluntary services should have certain rights. I have not time to go into detail, but I believe that everyone should have the right to a reasonably decent house, good health, education and, in the case of the elderly and those unable to cope, proper care. We have not really defined the active citizen today, and perhaps the definition is too complicated for us, but we have not defined rights either—although I do not think that the Conservative party would support that notion in any event.
How far do the Government want to go in charitable giving? That is an important philosophical question. I think that when my hon. Friend the Member for Walton talked about the balance, he was referring indirectly to the relationship between the public sector and the voluntary sector, supported by charitable giving. I fear that the thinkers and researchers in the Conservative party want to dispense with local authorities and arrange for all the work to be done by the voluntary sector, although whether it is able to do so will depend on a number of economic factors. I find that prospect very worrying: I think it is immoderate. Local government is being prevented from doing good work. I know that the Minister will agree when I say that my local authority in Hull is excellent. Its members are terrific people, and their good work has been hampered.
I have mentioned social policy. The Secretary of State for Social Security said in a speech yesterday that welfare groups would find poverty in paradise. That does not help the position; we are talking about people who are essentially losers. We must ensure that voluntary organisations are funded properly, for a service of adequate quality cannot be provided otherwise.
The debate has been interesting and I congratulate the hon. Member for Wimbledon on initiating it. I also congratulate the voluntary sector on the terrific work that it does in Britain generally. Everyone should be an active citizen. We must establish the framework of how we run this country's economy and—as my hon. Friend the Member for Walton said—we must keep in perspective the balance between the voluntary sector, aided by charities, and the public sector.
1158 The Government have developed their policy to combat crime, and we welcome that. However, so far the policy has created inequality and a divided society and has not solved the problems. Until we get rid of the Government and have a more moderate economic policy in this country, I am afraid that matters will continue to deteriorate and the Minister will still have to cope with the high levels of crime in this country.
§ The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. John Patten)
The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, West (Mr. Randall) referred to his days doling out custard at school. I hoped that with the onset of convenience Socialism, he might dole out a few new-style Labour party policies about the active citizen and the voluntary sector but, alas, we heard nothing new during his speech. The one thing he said with which I could agree was that it was good fortune that my hon. Friend the Member for Wimbledon (Mr. Goodson-Wickes) was successful in finding time for his debate today and for propounding his thesis with clarity and eloquence. All hon. Members in the Chamber are pleased to have been here for the debate.
The theme of the debate was one that my hon. Friend the Member for Wimbledon developed in his notable maiden speech and it is an interest that he has held consistently since he came to this place. Therefore, it was all the more insulting for the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, West to suggest that the topic was foisted on my hon. Friend. If the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, West has any decency, he will stand up and I shall give way to give him the opportunity to apologise to my hon. Friend the Member for Wimbledon.
§ Mr. Randall
I do not need to apologise to the House. If there was anything offensive in what I said, I would apologise. The hon. Member for Wimbledon and I know each other from Committees. The Government are determined to have this policy accepted because of the failure of their economic policy and the crime that has ensued.
§ Mr. John Patten
If the hon. Gentleman is not going to apologise, he should sit down and not waste the time of the House.
There is an ancient history to the concept of active citizenship. People have long wanted to help their fellow men and women in their village, community or town. It is a concept with which we are familiar and is not something new that has been dreamt up by the Conservative Government. From the time of Rousseau, philosophers such as Burke, Lincoln, and Ralf Dahrendorf, have talked in their writings about the active citizen.
In an amazingly lightweight effort, the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, West said that he did not know what an active citizen was. I had better give him a definition that he can chew over. I borrow it from an excellent article that I wrote—for nothing—on the subject in The Guardian six or eight months ago. My definition of active citizens is that they are, quite simply, those who make something more than a solely economic contribution to their communities. They not only care and say they do, but act on their caring instincts. The crux of the definition is that, for them, good will is necessary but not sufficient, 1159 and the contribution that they make is one that is clearly visible, even if not always measurable in a quantifiable sense.
Active citizens act for a range of reasons—to help others, to put their skills to the best possible use and to enjoy the active life and rewards that go with voluntary work, for instance. It can be very enjoyable to make new friends, to undergo training, to learn new skills and, above all, to help others. I echo the remarks of the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) about that.
Many of those who come within the category of active citizens would not necessarily recognise themselves as such. They would certainly not expect their daily activities to be debated on the Floor of the House, which is why I welcome the opportunity that my hon. Friend the Member for Wimbledon has given us today.
In many ways the model active citizen—the idea of the volunteer, the productivity of the volunteer, the free-thinking nature of the volunteer, the innovative way in which volunteers do things—has served as a paradigm for the Government when developing our thinking in recent years about the importance of devolving power from the centre to communities and individuals. As several of my hon. Friends have said, there are numerous examples of that in Government policies of recent years —school governors, the opportunities for NHS hospitals to become self-governing units, the opportunities that my noble Friend the Minister for Housing, Environment and Countryside is giving to people in housing co-operatives and housing management units to run their own affairs. So the Government have learnt from the good example of the active citizen and the voluntary sector and an appreciation of that has been evident in all the contributions today, through which I intend to run in the order in which they were made.
I turn first to the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Carlile) not only because he spoke first but because he is leaving shortly to be an active citizen in his work with the National Records Office. He raised two important points: the first was the need for adequate funding for the voluntary sector from the Government. I should remind him that public sector support for the voluntary sector now runs at £2 billion and direct grants given by central Government to the voluntary sector run at about £280 million a year. That represents an increase of 221 per cent. in Government support for the voluntary sector since 1979.
A similar amount of support, although not quite as much, has gone to the citizens advice bureaux, to whose work in his constituency the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery paid tribute, as do we all to those in our constituencies. The hon. and learned Gentleman wove them into a rather appealing argument about the need to preserve the solicitors' conveyancing monopoly so as to ensure that there are at the same time enough solicitors to give free help to legal aid. That was one of the most ingenious arguments I have heard for a long time. If I am ever in trouble in the courts I shall go to the hon. and learned Gentleman—if he will take my brief.
The main responsibility for funding local citizens advice bureaux lies with local authorities. That has been so since 1948, when the law was changed to enable them to provide that support. Funding is primarily a matter for each local 1160 authority to decide, taking its priorities into account. The Government rightly fund the service, and our grant to the National Association of Citizens Advice Bureaux now runs at almost £9 million—up 167 per cent. in real terms since 1979. So our support for the voluntary sector through grants to the CAB is formidable.
My hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Kent (Mr. Rowe) made a remarkable speech which I hope will be widely read by the professionals in the voluntary sector. He knows as much about volunteer work as anyone in that sector and spoke from the heart about important issues such as job sharing among volunteers and being cautious about developing counselling services too far—because of the dangers of becoming too bureaucratic.
My hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, South-West (Mrs. Shephard) spoke next. Before she came to this place, she gave valuable public service as the chairman of two health authorities. I remember reshuffling her from North-West Norfolk health authority to Norwich health authority. There can be no greater form of active citizenship than chairing a health authority. She said that, like many other things—and I would choose neighbourhood watch—volunteerism is not only for the affluent classes. I found it rather offensive that the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, West, who has now left the Opposition Front Bench, suggested that volunteerism was only for those who were affluent and middle class. The hon. Gentleman is more interested in speaking to other hon. Members than in listening to the debate.
My hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, South-West pressed me quite hard about the number of women that we were appointing to public bodies. I can tell her that 21 per cent. of Government appointments to voluntary bodies and statutory and public bodies are women. We give considerable grant aid, for example to the important "women into public life" campaign. We continue to fund that campaign, and many Departments appoint women to more than a quarter of their posts. The Departments which show major recent increases in the appointment of women include the Department of Social Security, the Home Office and the Cabinet Office. However, one of the problems we face is that we do not receive enough nominations of younger women in their 20s and 30s and the public appointments unit would be extremely pleased to hear from people who want to nominate younger women, as we receive very few such nominations.
My hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Greenway) is president of some 58 voluntary groups in his constituency. That shows how many active citizens there are in Ealing, North and how lucky they are to have such an active Member of Parliament. I look forward to the 100th birthday celebrations that my hon. Friend mentioned. He talked about the relationship between churches and volunteering, a point also mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone (Miss Widdecombe) in her notable speech. He also gave me one of the most engaging pieces of information that I have ever heard in the House—that a number of volunteers freely give up their time to exercise polo ponies in Ham. I have long thought that polo was a sport for the very rich. The thought that active citizens freely give up their time to subsidise that sport by riding polo ponies is a new and interesting development of outdoor relief for the rich. Perhaps we will soon have new monastic orders such as "the little sisters of the rich" rattling tins and asking people 1161 to give to those who have never known what it is to want. I congratulate my hon. Friend on bringing that to the attention of the House.
Basildon of course figures large in the interests of its Member of Parliament. My hon. Friend the Member for Basildon (Mr. Amess) told us about the "I Love Basildon" campaign in which he plays a major part. When they open me up post mortem, they will find Basildon on my heart. As a Minister I have visited Basildon more often than any other place in the country. I have answered more Adjournment debates on Basildon than on any other issue.
My hon. Friend reminded me of a couple of the Adjournment debates to which I replied during my ministerial career in different Departments. I am glad to learn that some of the things for which he was pressing have come true. He referred to the Adjournment debate some years ago about the magistrates' court in Basildon. I am extremely glad that my noble Friend the Lord Chancellor will be opening the new magistrates court in Basildon—proving that Adjournment debates can be worth while.
I remember an Adjournment debate many years ago in which hopes of building a hospice in Basildon were expressed. I was a junior health Minister, which in those days was a modest post. My hon. Friend the Member for Basildon said that the individuals involved hoped to raise enough money to open a hospice. How marvellous it is that only four years later Mr. and Mrs. Cox and others have raised £660,000, and the hospice may soon be erected.
My hon. Friend asked me to mention to my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer the zero rating of hospital equipment. I shall have a gossip with him about that, as I will with my hon. Friend the Minister of State, Home Office, who is responsible for radio issues, about community radio when I see him on Monday.
The hon. Member for Walton made a remarkable speech, which reminded me of the one he made, to which I listened with equal care, when, to my surprise, I found myself winding up a debate on Anglican Church issues. There were some echoes in his speech today of the one that he made on that occasion.
The hon. Member for Walton at least had an intellectually coherent view of future Socialist policy for the voluntary sector. Although I did not agree with all his speech, I found it intellectually appealing to hear him clearly set out his view of the right mixture of voluntary and state provision. The hon. Gentleman referred to it as "non-bureaucratic Socialism", and I see him nodding in assent.
The hon. Member recommended that hon. Members should read some books and dissented from what he fears will appear in the Labour party's policy review. Perhaps I can swap him a book, if he has not read it already, by a distinguished one-time hon. Member and Foreign Office Minister, Mr. Evan Luard, whom you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, will probably remember. He wrote an excellent book entitled "Socialism without the State".
§ Mr. Patten
I am delighted that the hon. Gentleman has read it. It may have influenced his thinking and led him some way towards a positive attitude on the voluntary sector.
Evan Luard was my Labour party opponent in 1979. Being a political canvasser or campaigner is a form of 1162 active citizenship. In 1983, he became my SDP opponent and, as an active citizen, slogged the streets for it. Alas, he was deselected in favour of a passing Guardian journalist. My hon. Friend the Minister for Overseas Development and I experienced passing Guardian journalists being sent to our constituencies of Bath and Oxford, West and Abingdon. I beg The Guardian to send them again and again. Nothing is better for a Conservative candidate than a journalist from The Guardian. I dare say that I shall not be so lucky in the future; perhaps it will be someone from the Sunday Sport.
My hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone made a powerful speech. She said that one does not have to be a member of a voluntary organisation to help people. That is what this debate on active citizenship is about. The examples that she gave of young people shopping and giving time to the elderly were telling.
My hon. Friend the Member for Battersea (Mr. Bow is) referred to payroll giving. My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer is currently having new forms printed for the upper limit of £480. They will shortly be available and I will ensure that hon. Members who attended the debate receive one.
§ Mr. Patten
I have already asked for one, I shall send one to the retiring hon. Member for Vauxhall (Mr. Holland) when he begins his new job in Florence, in which I wish him well, so that he can contribute substantially.
My hon. Friend the Member for Battersea rightly drew our attention to the fact that the level of giving in this country is lower than the United States.
Last, but by no means least, my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Feltham and Heston (Mr. Ground) reported that he has a good relationship with the voluntary sector in his area—so much so that he holds his advice surgeries in its property. I expect that many hon. Members feel that we might as well move into the citizens advice bureaux offices anyway, or that they might as well move into ours, so close is the relationship between us and the people in the voluntary sector.
My hon. and learned Friend also made a number of important points about the need to involve special constables in the areas from which they were recruited. It is most important that they should be used for policing purposes in neighbourhood watch areas as we try to build up the role of the active citizen.
My hon. and learned Friend also referred to the importance of the active citizen in looking after the environment—a speciality of my hon. Friend the Minister for Overseas Development who has done so much to stress the importance of environmental issues in the context of overseas aid. We shall be having a debate soon on that point. It will be a very interesting debate, so I do not intend to take up much more time. However, this debate has been so good that it is important to reply properly to all the points that have been made.
The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, West is concerned about the relationship between the active citizen and crime. It is extremely difficult to be an active citizen if one is working in the teeth of local opposition. I am sad to say that there are areas where that is the case. The London boroughs of Brent, Ealing, Hackney, Haringey and Lambeth still refuse to build a proper partnership between the police and the public, through the police consultative 1163 committees. In his annual report to the Home Secretary, published yesterday, the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis said:I am disappointed that the hope I expressed in last year's report, that the majority political parties in the boroughs of Brent, Ealing, Hackney, Haringey and Lambeth would begin to participate in their local consultative groups has not been realised.That is very sad. I invite the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, West, to whom I shall happily give way, to say that he will visit those councils and try to persuade them to take an active part in the police consultative committees, which involve active citizens in their areas as well as the police and the local authorities. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will want to stand up and respond to me.
§ Mr. Holland
In the case of Lambeth, which the Minister mentioned, it is relevant to point out that the entire reorganisation of the Metropolitan police was undertaken by the police after consulting Marks and Spencer and other commercial bodies. There were no consultations with either the Members of Parliament for the area or local councillors. That is the kind of treatment that many of these boroughs have had from the Met, and it is much to be regretted on both sides.
§ Mr. Patten
As that was probably the last opportunity for the hon. Gentleman to intervene during one of my speeches, I was happy to give way to him, since his hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, West, leading for the home affairs team—and they need some leadership 1164 —on the Opposition Front Bench simply refused to say that he would encourage Labour boroughs to play their proper role in local police consultative groups.
§ Mr. Tom Clarke
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I seek your guidance. When Government Whips give an assurance to Back Benchers, is there any way in which that assurance might be upheld?
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Harold Walker)
I well appreciate and sympathise with the hon. Gentleman's point, but I am afraid that this is a matter over which I have no control.
§ Mr. Greenway
Ealing has a very good police consultative committee on which I and the other Members of Parliament for the borough sit. It is widely representative of the community. We have to deal with the Ealing council's anti-police committee, on which the council spends a large sum of public money, and it is always denigrating the police.
§ Mr. Patten
I think that my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North has said it all.
It remains only for me to congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Wimbledon on his excellent speech and on the way in which he has created so much interest in the importance of the active citizens and voluntary organisations.
§ Question put and agreed to.
That this House confirms its commitment to the role of the active citizen and voluntary organisations in society.