HC Deb 01 July 1996 vol 280 cc533-4
1. Mr. Brazier

To ask the Secretary of State for National Heritage when she last met representatives of the voluntary sector to discuss volunteering [33658]

The Secretary of State for National Heritage (Mrs. Virginia Bottomley)

Since taking over responsibility for volunteering, I have been meeting a range of people to discuss volunteering, both in the key national voluntary organisations and in local volunteer bureaux. We have a strong tradition of volunteering in the United Kingdom. It is an enormously worthwhile activity, enabling individuals of all ages to contribute positively to the communities in which they live. I am looking forward to building on that important tradition to encourage more varied and challenging opportunities for volunteering, especially among the young.

Mr. Brazier

I welcome my right hon. Friend's answer. Will she join me in supporting the splendid work of the cadet movement, which brings discipline, commitment and leadership to many young people throughout the country? I welcome the fact that the national lottery has dispensed grants to 14 cadet units to enable them to improve their training centres. Does my right hon. Friend have any advice to offer other cadet units that are seeking funding in that way?

Mrs. Bottomley

I share my hon. Friend's endorsement of the cadet movement and of the volunteers who devote so much time to bringing up the next generation and encouraging young people to take a responsible role in society. Involvement in worthwhile activities is one of the best ways of building the citizens of the next century and there is no doubt that the national lottery is making many more opportunities available.

Mr. Alan Howarth

Does the Secretary of State agree that a great deal more drive and coherence is needed in the promotion of volunteering? Will she issue guidance to local authorities to encourage them to think strategically about the involvement of volunteers across the range of their responsibilities? Will she also do all that she can to ensure that local authorities have the resources available to them to support volunteers and to promote good practice?

Mrs. Bottomley

Something like 23 million people—or one in two adults—are involved in volunteering each year. I believe that there is great untapped potential and I shall certainly take up the hon. Gentleman's ideas in carrying forward my new responsibilities. I intend to chair the interministerial group on volunteering and part of its work will be to ensure that local authorities are fully committed to the use of a maximum number of volunteers where appropriate.

Mr. Rowe

Has my right hon. Friend inherited the commitment made by the Home Secretary that every young person who wishes it shall have an opportunity to volunteer? If she has, will she assure us that she is going flat out to make that possible? Will she also tell the House whether she is making progress in negotiations about benefit entitlements to young people which often make it difficult for them to become involved in volunteering?

Mrs. Bottomley

There are a great number of factors involved in promoting volunteering, particularly among the young. Discussions about benefit matters and with schools must be part of that work. I was enormously impressed by Volunteers Week this year. I was delighted that 108 Members of Parliament accepted the Women's Royal Voluntary Service challenge to learn more about its work. I believe that there is further potential and we must make good the commitment to encourage young people to become involved in volunteering and to make it a habit for life.