HC Deb 06 July 1994 vol 246 cc331-3 4.27 pm
Mr. Gyles Brandreth (City of Chester)

I beg to move, That leave be given to bring in a Bill to amend section 22 of the Education Reform Act 1988 to introduce a mandatory requirement for the National Record of Achievement of every school leaver to include details of the school leaver's contribution to community service; and for connected purposes. You will not be surprised to learn, Madam Speaker, that my favourite English historians are Messrs Sellars and Yeatman who, in their classic work "1066 and All That", divided the great moments and the great figures of history into those that were a Good Thing and those that were not. I believe that the whole House will accept that community service is indisputably a Good Thing.

In my part of the world, hundreds of young people are involved in community service—through their schools, through the scouts, the guides and the sea cadets, through Church groups and through voluntary organisations as different as the YMCA and the Chester rural youth action team, and through schemes as well established as the Duke of Edinburgh's award and as innovatory as the Central Council of Physical Recreation's sports leadership award.

Many young people in Chester and beyond are giving freely of their time—helping senior citizens to paint a kitchen, clearing a local canal, picking stones off waste land to turn it into a playing field, working with a will in the local hospital or hospice, serving the homeless and the discarded. Many thousands of young people are already committed to voluntary service—but not enough. We need more. In fact, we need them all, because community service should be part and parcel of every young person's education.

A number of people have been floating ideas in this area for a number of years. Indeed, looking through the cuttings file in the Library, it seems that the notion of some kind of national community service has been on somebody or other's agenda since the ending of national military service back in 1963. The Prince of Wales raised the issue again last week. The Labour party's Commission on Social Justice has explored the possibility. The Government have promised £350,000 as part of their "Make a Difference" initiative to encourage more first-time volunteers and to provide new opportunities and easier access to volunteering.

Across the political spectrum, I hear people talking about the role of the active citizen. I think that I even detect a certain squabbling as to the ownership of the concept of civic responsibility.

The Secretary of State for Education (Mr. John Patten)

We thought of it first.

Mr. Brandreth

The Secretary of State asserts that we thought of it first. He is right on most things, so I shall give him the benefit of the doubt on this. Argument, debate, conferences, pamphlets, editorials are all very well, but it is time for action, which is why I am proposing today a practical first step.

Thanks to the Education Reform Act 1988, every school leaver is now equipped with a national record of achievement. My Bill proposes that that all-important document should contain space for a clear and detailed record of the school leaver's contribution to the community. So, alongside the national vocational qualifications and the GSCEs, one would be obliged to show the detail of the community service that one has undertaken.

We can learn from the experience of the United States in this area. In 1992, Maryland became the first state to require community service from students as a condition of high school graduation. Other states now follow Maryland's example. I am not advocating a top-down approach with a heavy structure to impose compulsory community service, but a simple mechanism which will encourage an ever-increasing number of young people to give their time, energy and talent to the community, so helping the community and, equally important, helping themselves.

The move will have wide support. Dr. Martin Stephen, the chairman of the HMC community service committee, has been a pioneer champion of the cause. Community service volunteers, through its CSV education programme, are actively working with schools and colleges to involve young people in positive community action. Martyn Lewis, the good news broadcaster who is visiting the House today, is patron of "Youth for UK", a scheme designed to promote volunteering by 16 to 25-year-olds, based on the belief that all young people should be encouraged to undertake a period of voluntary work.

Wisely, "Youth for UK" wants young volunteers to begin by taking advantage of the opportunities that already exist. It wants to encourage greater co-operation between current providers without in any way threatening their independence. It wants to extend the scope for volunteering so that, in time, sooner rather than later, every young person in Britain will see community service not simply as an exciting challenge, but as a natural part of civilised life in a civilised society.

As you know, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I have been a Member for a couple years only, which is why I still claim to be loosely in touch with reality. Amid the arcane procedures and curious rituals that we have here, several of which still puzzle me, I have nothing but praise and thanks for the opportunities which exist for hon. Members to promote private Members' Bills. My first such Bill did not get past its Second Reading, but the essence of it was taken up by the DTI. My second Bill did not reach Committee, but aspects of it now form part of a Department of the Environment planning policy guidance note. The Video Recordings Act 1993 is now the law of the land and the Marriage Bill may yet be. I am pleased to report that it completed its consideration in Committee this morning.

Whatever the cynics may say in the House and beyond, we Back Benchers, as well as making a noise, occasionally make a difference. I understand that, since 1970, just six ten-minute Bills have reached the statute book. Given the contribution that the young can make to community service and given the contribution that community service can make to the young, it would be glorious if this Bill could be the magnificent seventh.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Gyles Brandreth, Mr. Sebastian Coe, Mr. Charles Hendry, Mr. Graham Riddick and Mr. Nigel Forman.