HC Deb 23 July 1996 vol 282 cc205-48 7.14 pm
Mr. Alun Michael (Cardiff, South and Penarth)

I beg to move, That this House welcomes and applauds the massive contribution made by the Voluntary Sector to the lives of individuals and communities throughout Britain and believes that it is the responsibility of Government to nurture the sector while respecting the independence of charities and voluntary organisations. It is a great privilege to open this important debate, which gives us an opportunity to celebrate the contribution of the voluntary sector to British society. I use the word "celebrate" deliberately because of the extent and diversity of the voluntary sector, its capacity for long-term commitment and innovation, its almost infinite variety, from large national organisations to the smallest local community groups, the vast diversity of interests with which it deals, from issues that affect a small number of individuals to issues that affect everyone in British society directly or indirectly, and because the activities undertaken by groups of individuals in association is a vital element in society, and the act of volunteering in itself is an essential act of citizenship.

Even that summary is inadequate, for, although we are dealing today with the contribution of the voluntary sector to British society, it also makes an enormous contribution to international affairs, particularly in the relief of poverty and distress, and does the painstaking work of helping communities in many parts of the world to develop the ability to help themselves. It can be argued that this in itself is of benefit to British society, because it is an important element in our nation's citizenship of the world. That also applies to organisations such as Traidcraft, which allows people to make consumer choices that respect producers in the third world, but which has increasingly joined with commercial companies to develop social audit as a way of accounting to all the company stakeholders for its performance.

However, it is the contribution of the voluntary sector to British society that we celebrate this evening. When I was asked by my right hon. Friend the leader of the Labour party to undertake a review of the relationship between Government and the voluntary sector, I thought that I knew a bit about the voluntary sector, having more than 30 years' experience of community activity at local level, Welsh level and national level, as supplicant for money, in grant-making in local government and in a grant-making trust in the early days of the Prince's Trust. My experience is similar to that of many other hon. Members, starting off with involvement in voluntary organisations through family, and later becoming involved through chapel, through the Scout movement and in other ways.

My perspective has changed a little in recent times. I have had discussions in the past two years from national conferences to specialised meetings, from gatherings in every region of England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland to local meetings such as the one that I had yesterday in Peterborough, a recent one in Loughborough and a meeting of black community leaders in Nottingham. From all those contacts, I am now convinced that I knew far less than I thought and that no one can possibly know the whole sector.

At this point, I should like to pay tribute to the immense amount of work undertaken by my hon. Friend the Member for Stockport (Ms Coffey), who was appointed by my right hon. Friend the leader of the Labour party to work with me on the consultation, who has also attended meetings up and down the country, and who has brought all her own experience and expertise to bear on listening and sharing ideas with the voluntary sector and working out how Government and the voluntary sector can best work together.

We deliberately refer in our motion tonight to the responsibilities of Government in nurturing the voluntary sector. It is important for Government to understand that they cannot and must not start off with a blueprint for the sector. The role of Government should be that of a careful gardener, caring and sensitive to the effects of its actions rather than those of a builder bolting together scaffolding to create a fixed and rigid structure. That distinction is important for those who have not been involved with the voluntary sector to understand.

It is also not enough to praise the sector or even to value it. We need to understand it as best we can and to make the decision-making of Government more positive and sensitive to the role of voluntary organisations, for the sector is not just useful, but essential, to the health of British society. In many areas, the voluntary sector is sensitive to specific communities such as inner cities or estates where the Church may be the only professionally-led organisation in the resident community. The voluntary sector's contribution to difficult situations is often crucial to the community and its health.

There is a key role for voluntary organisations in building up people's capacity to work as a community, to develop their personal skills as individuals and to develop a leadership capacity in the community. Having worked in such settings and having been involved in the training of volunteers, I never cease to be amazed at how such gifts are developed over time and, conversely, how we fail to recognise and nurture latent talent within the community that is often beyond the reach of statutory organisations and Government, but can be reached by independent voluntary organisations. That is recognised in Labour's "Road to the Manifesto" documents, in particular our belief that Government does not have the answer to every problem; it must work in partnership with the private and voluntary sectors for the benefit of the public". The voluntary sector is a key part of enabling people to shape their own lives instead of them being shaped for them in Government. One of the most important commitments made in "Road to the Manifesto" is the promise of real opportunities for those in the 18 to 25 age group. That must involve the voluntary sector, particularly where there is disillusionment over previous Government offerings and schemes. That is often particularly the case in specific communities, and we are opening a dialogue with the black voluntary sector in order to build bridges and lay foundations for success rather than making the mistake of funding for failure, as it has come to be called.

It is important to recognise the need to include all sections in society when we seek to nurture the voluntary sector. We have already recognised that many groups feel excluded or operate outside the traditional structures and umbrella organisations, important though they are and vital as their services to the voluntary sector have been over the years. We need to find a diversity of ways of debating issues and listening to the voluntary sector. That is the purpose of a number of initiatives.

Mr. Alan Howarth (Stratford-on-Avon)

My hon. Friend rightly draws attention to the extremely important contribution that voluntary organisations of black people make to our society. Does he agree that there have been problems with the new approach to contracting that we have seen in recent years, with the emphasis on project funding? That approach has tended to be to the disadvantage of black voluntary organisations, which typically commit themselves to generic causes that do not easily fit into the project model.

Mr. Michael

My hon. Friend makes a good point, which is at the heart of the need for the sort of initiative that I am talking about. Many small, developing or new organisations find it difficult to cope with gaining access to structure funds, European money and major Government projects. Unless the infrastructure exists within the local community, many organisations will be accidentally excluded although their role is crucial.

With reference to my hon. Friend's point, we certainly need the support and involvement of black communities—people of Afro-Caribbean and Asian communities in inner cities and other districts—if access to opportunities to work and train are to hit the targets for those who need them most and if we are to rebuild a sense of community and inclusiveness. This point relates specifically to the initiatives that the leader of the Labour party, the shadow Chancellor, my right hon. Friend the Member for Dunfermline, East (Mr. Brown), my hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw) and others have put their hands to in seeking a positive commitment to the needs of those aged 18 to 25.

Dr. Norman A. Godman (Greenock and Port Glasgow)

Due to the local government structure in Northern Ireland, voluntary organisations play an important part in the development of community education, training and employment in both the communities there. The voluntary organisations play an essential role in bringing the two traditions together, especially in terms of community education. Surely they should have some input into the distribution of European social funds, especially in community employment and training.

Mr. Michael

My hon. Friend makes a good point. It is true that voluntary organisations can often, as in the case of Northern Ireland, make a significant contribution to bridging the gap between communities as well as supporting the infrastructure of a specific community. The situation in Northern Ireland is different, and we need to consider an example that involves the voluntary sector and the relevant Department of State achieving an agreement and compact on the way that they should treat each other. We need to consider that example of good practice.

The importance of building bridges and laying the foundations for success within all communities arid all elements in the voluntary sector has been strongly reinforced by the extremely helpful interventions of my two hon. Friends. I am pleased with the initial response to the dialogue, which is demanding, but important and worth while. Government and local government must accept that the voluntary sector cannot always be a partner unless the infrastructure is nurtured. There are training and support needs that it is unwise to overlook when developing any strategy.

In recent years, there has been too much of an assumption that the voluntary sector can be stretched again and again, that core funding can be switched into project funding, that organisations can be told, again and again, to find tranches of matching finances. Such approaches have their place, but the infrastructure problems can be the greatest in the communities with the greatest need. Recognising that fact is essential for success—as in the examples that my hon. Friends the Members for Stratford-on-Avon (Mr. Howarth) and for Greenock and Port Glasgow (Dr. Godman) have just mentioned. Applying for European and other funds can be beyond the capacity of small local groups, but it is in the local community that the needs and contributions of such groups can be crucial.

The national lottery has introduced new money into the sector, but Government and local government need to ensure that the infrastructure exists in the local voluntary sector to enable the communities that most need help to apply for and use the money successfully. Dialogue will be a key part of our further round of meetings in each region and nation this autumn as we seek to find how best to turn principle into practice.

We must recognise that there is a special role for the voluntary sector in rural areas, where the problems, needs and potential solutions are different. Like the problems of rural crime, the needs of rural communities and the importance of the voluntary sector have been overlooked too often.

None of those points means that the Government have to be soft or woolly-minded in their approach; they mean that the Government cannot take decisions for the sector, but need to work with it to do the best for voluntary organisations and those they serve. It is not good enough for the Government to say, as one Minister did recently: We value the voluntary sector—we want you to help us achieve our objectives. The setting of objectives and the decisions on means need to occur together, in partnership.

It hardly gave the right signal when the Government shifted responsibility for the voluntary sector from one Government Department to another without the slightest discussion or consultation with the sector. The experts and civil servants were not asked and the move was undertaken without sensible consideration or planning. The move may not be the wrong one—like the Deakin commission, we believe that the jury is out, and the Department of National Heritage is currently on trial—but it was not the right way for the Government to act.

The Government took the right decision a few years ago when, reflecting a Labour decision, responsibility for charities in the voluntary sector was put in the hands of one Minister of State in the House of Commons—at that time, the competent and hard-working right hon. Member for Fareham (Sir P. Lloyd). It does not give the right signal for the response to this debate to be given by a Minister who is not responsible for the voluntary sector—an issue that is dealt with by his colleague, Lord Inglewood, the Under-Secretary of State in the House of Lords.

Mr. Andrew Rowe (Mid-Kent)

The hon. Gentleman might like to reflect on the fact that the voluntary services unit—the co-ordinating group in central Government—was at its most effective when it was linked to a Cabinet Minister with a budget of his own, and that a Labour Government determined that it should be transferred and downgraded to the Home Office.

Mr. Michael

I am surprised by the hon. Gentleman's contribution. I have practical experience of the work of the VSU on the ground. I worked in the youth service, with probation officers and with others. I remember the unit's effectiveness under the last Labour Government. The hon. Gentleman must have been visiting a different planet between 1974 and 1979. Many good initiatives were taken during that time.

It is a pity that this has not been followed by a burst of consultation and discussion by the Secretary of State and that she has not seen fit to take part in today's debate or even to listen to it. It is an omission on her part, and it is extremely disappointing. [Interruption.] The mumbling and groaning from the hon. Member for Gravesham (Mr. Arnold) is irrelevant to that point.

The Government's approach stands in stark contrast to Labour's approach. We have examined the relationship between the Government and the voluntary sector. We are delighted that the sector—through the Deakin commission, which was established by the National Council of Voluntary Organisations—is independent of the Government. The independent commissions and working parties in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland have been undertaking a basic review of the sector's future. The sector is reviewing its own future, which is an extremely positive development.

This work helps to set the agenda for partnership in Government, to use the title of our own consultative document. I pay tribute to the skill of Professor Nicholas Deakin in chairing the commission and in steering through a significant review of the work of the voluntary sector in England. It has helped and contributed to the thinking that has gone on in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. I compliment the NCVO on its selection of Professor Deakin as chairman of the commission.

I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Delyn (Mr. Hanson) hopes to refer to the useful and constructive manifesto that was drawn up by the Wales Council for Voluntary Action. I have had the opportunity to discuss the manifesto with the council. In September, I will join my hon. Friend the Member for Dumbarton (Mr. McFall) to have further discussions with the voluntary sector in Scotland. In both cases, there are overriding considerations, such as how a partnership approach is adopted by Government as a whole. However, there are specific concerns, not least the different legal issues that arise in Scotland, such as the inappropriate application of the English case law definition of a charity by the Inland Revenue. We need to be sensitive to those differences.

More generally, there is the question of how Government Departments can act consistently and together, rather than expect the voluntary sector to fit in with the rigid requirements of departmental structures. We are looking at this across Labour team boundaries. For example, I shall be meeting children's charities with my hon. Friend the Member for Darlington (Mr. Milburn), who deals with children's issues in the health team, and with my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Kilfoyle), the shadow Minister for youth in the education team, to discuss how the Government and the voluntary sector can co-operate much more effectively on issues affecting children and young people, including how we deal with offending by young people. We are doing this across the boundaries of the teams. In the future, we should encourage Departments to work across boundaries—there should be a greater flexibility which respects the nature of the voluntary sector and the issues with which it is trying to deal.

A number of other issues are being dealt with by my colleagues. For example, my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Smith) has given a commitment to easing the barriers to volunteering on those who are unemployed or on benefit. My hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn has outlined a local partnership approach to reducing crime and to tackling its causes, particularly in relation to youth crime, an area in which I have a great personal interest. The voluntary sector, local community groups, local government and the police should all have the opportunity to be involved.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham) has been undertaking a major review of the lottery, including its impact on the voluntary sector and the way in which funds that are raised are distributed. That work will make a significant contribution to developing coherent thought on the positive outcomes of the lottery. My hon. Friend the Member for Walton, the shadow Minister for youth, has stressed the central role of the voluntary youth service and of voluntary youth organisations generally in the future of the youth service. This is extremely important, especially in view of the way that the youth service has been under attack and diminished by the Government in recent years.

I have referred to the initiative taken by my right hon. Friend the Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair), my right hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott) and a number of my hon. Friends on attacking and tackling the needs of the 18-to-25 age group. In each of these, as in the general thrust of policy, we come back to the matter of partnership.

"Partnership" is an easy word to use. Who is against co-operation and partnership? However, it is not that easy. Any partnership is tough, whether between individuals or between organisations. The nurturing of a partnership involves a long-term commitment on the part of the Government. My right hon. Friend the Member for Sedgefield has said that we should "say what we mean and mean what we say". We need to work out what "partnership" means and what mechanisms are needed to make it happen. That was firmly in mind when the Labour party, in clause IV, made the unique commitment to co-operation and partnership with the voluntary sector.

The approach of the Government to building partnership needs to be positive. However, it was not a Labour party member or someone from the voluntary sector who made this point most strongly, but a business man who was appointed to a quango by the Government. He said to me: "I can't understand the Government's approach to partnership. You can't go into a partnership with your mind made up, telling others what you want out of it. That wouldn't be accepted in business. You have to be prepared to work it out together. That is the problem with applying a strict contract culture to the voluntary sector. If there is a top-down approach, as is too often the case, if voluntary organisations are seen by the Government as little different to a group of private companies that are bidding for contracts, then it is not a partnership—it is the strong binding the weak; it does not have the creative strength of a genuine partnership.

This is a real worry, as I have seen a letter from a district auditor telling a local authority that all its relationships with the voluntary sector—including the giving of small grants—should be imbued with the contract culture. That attitude could undermine the relationship between the voluntary sector and local government, which is of crucial importance to local communities. In recent years, we have understood the tremendous pressures that there have been on local government—with the cuts in the finances available to local government, there has been pressure on the way in which they have reached partnership agreements and supplied grants to local voluntary organisations. That is bound to lead to pressure and to misunderstandings.

During the course of our regional meetings last September and October, I was reassured to find that, to a great extent, the voluntary sector and local government regarded each other as partners in adversity under the Government. It is an area of difficulty, but at least in some areas there have been real efforts to change it back to a positive relationship. I know that there were difficulties in the Manchester area. Manchester city council members specifically appointed a working party, chaired by the chair of social services, to look at how to create a new partnership with the voluntary sector in that city. I believe that positive changes have been made.

There have been various initiatives on the part of a variety of Labour authorities—from Islwyn to North Tyneside—in finding new ways of doing things positively in partnership with local authorities. Other authorities, including some in London and Nottinghamshire, for instance, have opened the books to the voluntary sector to try to share the problems faced by local government to see how to overcome problems and how best to work together.

Those proposals are very positive, but we need to ensure that the Government do not force people in local government or agencies to spend time chasing money. It is possible for a huge amount of paperwork to be generated which takes the key staff of small organisations away from the task of running the organisations—from working with the local community and people who need their services and concentrating on quality of service—and involves them in the continual paper chase to try to ensure that money is there for the following year.

Like many of my hon. Friends, I have had experience of that difficulty and it often undermines the quality of work. That problem is also caused by the move from core funding to a purely project-based approach. We need a strategic approach which recognises that voluntary organisations have to be healthy if they are to be able to respond to the challenges of changing society and to act as partners with government in meeting those challenges.

Certainly there has been a positive response to the statements of principle in our consultative document, published by the Labour party earlier this year, and a series of detailed and positive contributions have been received from a whole range of organisations. We are now digesting those contributions. We will consider the mechanisms of government and how to turn principle into practice. We need to find a way to define the relationship between Government and the voluntary sector, including agencies of Government and local government, to carry our principles through in practice to develop the partnership approach that I have mentioned.

One way to do that—to use language that is becoming common in Government—is to establish a compact between Government and the voluntary sector and to seek to replicate that in relevant detail within Government Departments and other agencies. The Deakin commission has also stressed the positive value of such an approach and mentioned the need for a compact in its recommendations.

I have had an opportunity to consider the compact in the strategic document drawn up by voluntary organisations and the Northern Ireland Office, to which I referred earlier. Of course, Northern Ireland has a different history and faces different challenges, but we should learn from that experience in, for instance, setting out how community care issues should be dealt with and the way in which the sector and Government should treat each other. There has been too ready an expectation by the Government that volunteers, carers in the family and in the community and the voluntary sector generally will pick up the pieces and fill the gaps. Often they do so, but they do so with resentment, because the Government have not worked with them as a partner to identify and then meet public need.

I commend the way that the three local government associations in England and Wales have worked with the voluntary sector to draw up guidelines on, for instance, ensuring that charitable money is not used to subsidise the public purse when a local authority seeks to deliver services through voluntary organisations. It is to be hoped that the new single local government association will build on those foundations. Central Government should adopt a similar approach, encourage their agencies to do so and reflect what has been done by the local government associations. I note that the latest Association of Metropolitan Authorities publication contains further discussion about quality and how to introduce quality into partnerships. It is promising that such issues are being pursued by local government.

As I hope I am making clear, partnership is not an excuse for inefficiency. As the business man I mentioned said, we need to work together. When the voluntary sector uses public money, we should seek ways to measure performance—together. We will encourage the Audit Commission to consider the ways in which partners in the voluntary sector and in government, locally and nationally, can set targets, minimise bureaucracy and find performance indicators that reflect their joint performance in meeting the real needs of the community.

The need for accountability and effectiveness is accepted by the voluntary organisations, which have often been pioneers in effective management, as they have in so many areas. Examples of good practice need to be shared, as with the Central Council for Jewish Community Services, whose imaginative appointment of Dr. Eric Livingstone—who is qualified in medicine and in the law—as an ombudsman has allowed independent resolution of complaints about and between different organisations.

In a meeting yesterday, the voluntary sector representative, from a group concerned with mental health, said that we need to challenge the voluntary sector. It is the greatest challenge of all to be taken seriously, and we will look for value for money and for accountability to those who are served—when service to a group or community is the issue—but we will seek ways to undertake the evaluation together and to share both the purposes and the means of improving performance. The way in which the Audit Commission has increasingly worked with local government rather than outside it, addressing it as a partner instead of as a separate group of organisations, shows that that approach could work well in the overlap between Government, local government and the voluntary sector.

We will ensure that those principles, and the others set out in our document that I do not have time to detail tonight, will be put into effect across government under the oversight of ministerial task force, chaired by a senior Cabinet Minister. I welcome the arrival of Ministers on the road to Damascus, if the Government support our motion tonight, but I warn them that they are signing up to a tough approach. The voluntary sector needs to be helped to expand and develop, and it needs to be treated as a partner, or rather as a disparate group of partners with differing needs and contributions, but its independence also needs to be respected and, indeed, celebrated.

Some have suggested that the voice of charities should be stilled. Some Conservatives believe that charities should not bite the hand that feeds them, as though they were dependent puppies to be humoured. A similar conclusion was suggested by the Centris report, but we believe that such an approach is wrong in principle. In a democratic society, how can Government seek to silence a voluntary organisation working for the good of principles set out in charitable objects, if paid lobbying by those who have a commercial interest continues unabated?

If the Alzheimer's Disease Society cannot speak for sufferers and their carers, who can? Yet who best to provide targeted services on behalf of government? I do not seek to be specific about one society, but the example makes the point better than any amount of philosophical analysis. Our concern is given point and poignancy by the experience of my hon. Friend the Member for Houghton and Washington (Mr. Boyes). I hope that the Minister will endorse the views that I have expressed on that point when he speaks.

I have not been able even to scratch the surface of the contribution made by the voluntary sector, or to list the issues that we need to address, far less to expand on the answers. For instance, I have not had time to discuss trusteeship, charity law or the definition of charity, which the Deakin commission suggested that the Government should try to tidy up. Incidentally, it will not pay to be too tidy, nor would the Government would be wise to embark alone on the task of writing a new definition, which might look simple but might unexpectedly cause a small earthquake in Peru. Each of those topics, and many more, deserve a full debate to themselves. However, I hope that I have at least indicated Labour's approach and the strength of our commitment.

I hope that the Minister will tell us something about the Government's approach that is of value to the voluntary sector. I hope that we shall hear an agenda for action, but I doubt it. The voluntary sector made a big commitment to the "Make a Difference" working party, for instance, and felt that the response from the Government failed to match its commitment and lacked enthusiasm. When we asked for documents that set out the Government's commitment to "think voluntary", my researcher met blank incomprehension across Departments until at last one small leaflet was found, which an official from the Department of National Heritage said was the only publication about that initiative.

The Government must do better. Volunteering is an essential element of citizenship, and access and recognition must be offered to those in work and out of work alike who provide voluntary activity. That can be done, as the Prince's Trust Youth Volunteers have recognised. The Government need to encourage and show commitment to volunteering by their employees and to exchanges, so that officials and Ministers develop the better understanding that is necessary for partnership. The Government should also encourage the private sector in the initiatives that have been taken by Business in the Community and many individual companies.

Above all, the contribution of the voluntary sector is crucial to the renewal of civil society and to restoring the sense of community that is at the heart of Labour's project. That has been recognised personally by the leader of the Labour party and the partnership approach is not only in the party's constitution, but it is at the heart of the road to the manifesto process, as Labour plans for government.

In proposing the motion tonight, we are setting on the record, in the House of Commons, our recognition of the massive contribution by the voluntary sector to the lives of individuals and communities throughout Britain and of the fact that the potential is even greater. We are acknowledging that the Government need the voluntary sector and accepting our responsibilities as a partner that we can look forward to fulfilling in government. We are recognising the responsibility of government to nurture the sector while respecting the independent charities and voluntary organisations.

It is a privilege and an honour to introduce the motion on behalf of the Opposition.

7.49 pm
The Minister of State, Department of National Heritage (Mr. Iain Sproat)

I am pleased to respond to the motion and to set out the Government's policies in relation to the voluntary sector, just as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and I are pleased to have taken on responsibility recently for Government policy on volunteering, the voluntary sector, the National Lottery Charities Board, charities legislation and community development.

The themes that I wish to bring out this evening are both the continuity of the Government's commitment to volunteering and the voluntary sector, and the change and development signalled by the move of responsibility for voluntary sector matters to my Department.

I shall begin by setting out what I understand the voluntary sector and volunteering to be about. It is a large sector: depending on definitions, there are perhaps 400,000 to 700,000 voluntary organisations in the United Kingdom. The sector includes about 180,000 charities in England and Wales registered with the Charity Commission. As the House will be aware, there is a wide range of voluntary organisations that do not meet the legal test necessary for charitable status.

Voluntary organisations are diverse, covering such areas as health, disability, housing, education and the environment. They are independent and they are very important. Voluntary organisations can often be far more effective and sensitive than Government at responding to needs. They may be far better than Government at injecting elements of user-involvement in the provision of services.

Voluntary organisations are a vital part of the national landscape. This is not mere hyperbole. To check the truth of the statement, we have to think only of a few of those organisations that are now more than a century old: the Royal National Lifeboat Institution, the Royal National Institute for the Blind, the British Red Cross, the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, the Salvation Army and the National Trust.

Equally important are the myriad of small local voluntary bodies, which are such a force for good in communities throughout the country. Indeed, they are perhaps more typical of the voluntary sector than are the well-known national charities. The great majority of charities have an income of less than £10,000 a year.

I turn specifically to the role of the Department of National Heritage. My Department seeks to promote the health of the voluntary sector and to encourage volunteering. It seeks, although one might quibble with the terminology, to nurture—to use the word that the hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Mr. Michael) properly and effectively employed—the sector.

We have a broad-ranging programme of work, which I shall outline. It includes the promotion of volunteering, support of voluntary organisations by means of grants to membership, training and advice bodies, co-ordination of policy within Government through the ministerial group on volunteering and the voluntary sector, responsibilities in relation to the legal framework within which charities operate, and the national lottery, which is an unprecedented source of new funds for voluntary organisations. I shall take each responsibility in turn.

The Government's aim is to promote volunteering as an activity that can involve anyone and everyone in his or her community. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister's "Make a Difference" initiative, begun in 1994, brought together a team from the public, corporate and voluntary sectors to draw up a strategy to demonstrate that volunteering is a worthwhile activity, and to suggest how volunteering opportunities might be made available for all those who wished to be involved.

After consultation with more than 300 organisations, the "Make a Difference" team brought out a report entitled "An Outline Volunteering Strategy for the UK" in June 1995. The report contained 81 recommendations addressed to the Government, to employers and to organisations that involve volunteers. The Government responded by announcing a package of measures worth £20 million over three years.

The crux of the team's strategy was the need to establish effective local centres to match volunteers with opportunities to volunteer. In many parts of the country, that strategy already existed through the network of locally funded volunteer bureaux, but in many other parts it did not. We have taken action on this by funding nearly 40 new local volunteer development agencies in areas where there was previously no such organisation. Their function is to increase awareness of volunteering and to promote opportunities to volunteer by working closely with a wide range of organisations, including schools, health authorities and local businesses, as well as voluntary organisations.

The aim is that, by the end of the three years, there will be coverage throughout England. There has been a similar response in the other parts of the United Kingdom. A national helpline has also been set up, so that volunteers can get information from wherever they are in the country for the price of a local call.

The "Make a Difference" team also drew attention to the fact that the young and old people are less likely to volunteer than those in the middle age groups. The strategy highlighted the need to encourage the involvement of the young and the older groups. The Government's programme includes challenge grants to encourage new and effective volunteering opportunities for both these age groups. Outstanding examples of organisations involving volunteers in the community, and of individual commitment to volunteering, are recognised by the Whitbread "Make a Difference" volunteering awards.

The Government's funding policy reflects the diversity of voluntary organisations and seeks to provide support that can reach across all parts of the sector, reaching both traditional, large organisations and small informal groups in cities, towns and villages throughout the land.

Dr. Godman

I readily acknowledge the Minister's responsibility, but may I remind him that the Finance Act 1987 introduced a payroll-giving scheme, which allows employees to make a tax-free donation or donations to charities up to a maximum of £1,200 per annum? Does the Minister agree that the time has come to increase the limit to, say, £2,400 per annum?

Mr. Sproat

The hon. Gentleman makes an interesting point. It is certainly one that my Department will be considering in the context of the Deakin report. I shall be mentioning gift aid and payroll giving, which I take seriously.

I was saying that both large traditional organisations and small informal groups are targets in encouraging volunteering. By way of example, my Department funds the Women's Royal Voluntary Service, a large traditional voluntary organisation whose 140,000 volunteers carry out a vital role within the community delivering meals on wheels, serving in hospital shops and helping at the scenes of emergencies.

At the other end of the scale, the Department funds the national bodies that support the work of the local volunteer bureaux and councils for voluntary service, and in this way contributes to the welfare of thousands of local voluntary organisations. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and I remain committed to continuing that support.

It is not only through grants that the Government channels financial support to the voluntary sector. Direct support from the tax system is also important. Last year, charities received the benefit of tax concessions worth about £1.5 billion, which constituted vital help to their work.

The Government have made it easier for individuals and companies to give to charity in tax-efficient ways. The hon. Member for Greenock and Port Glasgow (Dr. Godman) mentioned payroll giving, which the Government introduced, along with gift aid, as powerful supports both to charities and to those who give to charity. It is the value of these programmes and tax concessions, as well as the legitimate interest of the public in how charities spend the money that they are given, that makes it so important that charities are accountable.

Mr. Rowe

One of the most valuable innovations has been the give-as-you-earn scheme. However, the advance of the scheme has somewhat disappointed its devotees. Perhaps my hon. Friend will either assure me that I am out of date or give an assurance that the Department of which he is such a shining light will do everything that it can to extend and improve the scheme.

Mr. Sproat

My hon. Friend is certainly not out of date. He has raised a matter that we shall be considering closely. The Deakin report, to which I shall come, provides us with an opportunity to consider a range of interlocking subjects applying to charitable giving and volunteering in general.

Another element of our work is the ministerial group on volunteering and the voluntary sector, which is chaired by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for National Heritage. That group brings together at ministerial level representatives of the many Departments with an interest in voluntary organisations, to try to ensure that policies and action are consistent—not standardised—and that Departments work well with voluntary organisations and volunteers.

The Deakin report was published on 8 July. The work of the Deakin commission was concerned with England only. Equivalent exercises have taken, or are taking, place in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. The commission took a wide range of evidence, and produced a thoughtful report, which has important messages for many people associated with voluntary organisations and volunteering.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)

It might be appropriate to mention that the Minister's former Aberdeenshire colleague, Colin Mitchell, died on Saturday. He was chairman of the Halo trust, an admirable charity that indulges in the dangerous work of raising land mines.

Will the Minister give an undertaking that that committee will meet the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations, which is worried about the effects of the reorganisation of local government and it calculates that it is £10 million down as a result of the lottery? Will the appropriate body meet it and talk seriously?

Mr. Sproat

I was sad to see that Lieutenant Colonel Colin Mitchell, a former Member of the House, died at the weekend. I am sure that the whole House would wish to join in the hon. Gentleman's tribute, or implied tribute.

As for meeting the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations, I cannot give any commitment on behalf of my right hon. Friend, but the hon. Gentleman makes a reasonable request, which I will pass on to my right hon. Friend with the expectation that she will be glad to fulfil it.

My right hon. Friend and I will be looking closely at the recommendations of the Deakin report on behalf of the Government. As I told my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Kent (Mr. Rowe), it will give us a chance to consider the whole area of charities, volunteering, and volunteers who are part of the voluntary sector and those who are not. We take the matter extremely seriously, and I am glad that, just after my Department has taken over responsibility for that, we have the chance to consider a report which has studied the matter so thoroughly.

I come now to the national lottery. Any debate on the voluntary sector in Britain must deal with the impact of the national lottery. The lottery has provided charities and voluntary organisations with a major new opportunity. As the House well knows, charities and voluntary organisations are one of the five specific areas of good causes supported by lottery funds.

The National Lottery Charities Board has already awarded £318 million to more than 4,000 organisations, involved in a wide variety of worthy causes. But it is important to realise that the board is not the only source of lottery funds for charities and voluntary organisations.

More than half the awards made so far by the other distributing bodies—the Sports Council, the Arts Council, the National Heritage Memorial Fund—are to voluntary organisations working in sport, the arts and heritage. It is estimated that more than £800 million from the first full year alone of lottery ticket sales will go to charities and voluntary organisations.

Mr. Michael

The Minister makes a fair point about the direction of moneys, but will he acknowledge my point about the infrastructure needs and the difficulty of making detailed applications unless organisations have large resources, and that there is an issue there to be addressed?

Mr. Sproat

That is an extremely important issue. It applies to charities and small sports organisations which may wish to fund the purchase of kit and so on. Again, we shall consider that in the context of the Deakin report, but we are also considering it with regard to all the distributors of lottery funds.

It is certain that the national lottery has made a very positive contribution to the income of charities, but I come now to the difficult question whether the lottery has had a negative or positive effect on other aspects of voluntary organisations' income.

Mr. Dalyell

That is very important.

Mr. Sproat

It is.

We should face that fact squarely. The Conservative party has no interest in pretending that things are other than they are—nor, I am sure, do the Opposition. That is matter that we must consider. It was extremely difficult to gauge the effect in advance. The House realised that there was a serious problem here. It was decided that part of the lottery moneys should be given to charities in the first place, because it was predicted that they might find things more difficult as a result of the lottery.

The House will be aware that that was a concern of a number of charities and voluntary organisations when the lottery legislation was being debated. The Government responded by giving a commitment to monitor the incomes of such organisations following the introduction of the lottery.

The issue of charities' income is complex and uncertain. Charities and voluntary organisations are diverse, in terms of the size of individual organisations, their aims and objectives, and the means by which they are funded. Research in that area has to be equally sophisticated if it is to capture reliable information and allow reasonable conclusions to be drawn from it. We worked with the National Council for Voluntary Organisations, and its sister bodies in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, in planning the research. We announced the research last October, and it is being carried out on two fronts.

The main and more important element of the research will look at income trends. That involves analysing the accounts of more than 7,000 charities and voluntary bodies throughout the United Kingdom, and will cover a period from 1991 to 1992—three years before the introduction of the lottery—to 1996–97, the second full year after its introduction.

The data are being prepared by an independent company, and the work began in the new year. It will analyse changes in all sorts of income—donations, legacies, sales, investments and so on. That is inevitably a long-term study, and results so far have merely, but usefully, revealed trends in income in the period leading up to the introduction of the lottery, thus providing a benchmark from which any changes can be measured. Next year, we will have available analysis of the results of the first full year following the introduction of the lottery, with full results of the research available in 1998.

The other, and secondary aspect, of the research involves considering the results of a number of surveys which have been carried out into public giving and charities' income. It uses data from surveys such as the family expenditure survey and those carried out for the National Council for Voluntary Organisations by national opinion polls. That aspect of the research will inevitably be less definitive, as samples are smaller, and in general it will rely on secondary sources of information—in many cases, people's recollections of their pattern of giving, rather than on an examination of charities' accounts.

Some charities have certainly reported a fall in income since the introduction of the lottery. For example, Alexandra Rose day reported that the proceeds of its flag day in 1995 were 12 per cent. lower than in 1994. Others, however, are reporting an increase. For example, the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children publicly reported an increase of £2.2 million on an income of about £25 million in voluntary donations in 1995. Still other organisations have reported an increase, but do not wish to publicise that fact too widely in case it has a damaging effect on their future fund-raising.

The picture is thus a mixed one, and is further complicated by the fact that charitable income may be affected by many factors, of which the lottery is, at most, just one. They range from poor weather on a flag day to the growth of Sunday trading. Fewer people may concentrate their shopping on a Saturday, as they traditionally did, and may now shop on a Sunday. Yet people making street collections still tend to go for the Saturday crowds, which are lower. I give that as an example of the complicated reasons why donations may fall.

Mrs. Anne Campbell (Cambridge)

Does the Minister accept that the family expenditure survey, although an excellent document in itself, is not designed to collect information about voluntary contributions to charities and voluntary organisations? In fact, it was quite inaccurate when it tried to estimate the amount that people spent on national lottery tickets, so it does not seem to me to be a very reliable source of estimating how much people spend on charity.

Mr. Sproat

The hon. Lady reinforces the main point that I was trying to make: although we take surveys as evidence, we build into our calculations the fact that those surveys are not always set up to calculate the amount, as the hon. Lady quite rightly said of the family expenditure survey, and in other surveys people remember giving more or less to charities, which then turns out not to be apparent from the income of the charity itself.

The hon. Lady is quite right to emphasise that it is difficult to get accurate information. That is why we are trying, by going back in our analysis to 1991–92, to get a proper benchmark in the years before the lottery, and then to get proper benchmarks on what is received after the lottery has been going for a full year, two full years, and to publish it. The House may then make its own decision on what it thinks is the evidence before it and the consequences that that evidence would appear to show.

As a further example of the genuine difficulties in interpreting surveys, the NOP survey, commissioned by the NCVO, suggested that the number of people donating to charities fell from 81 per cent. of respondents to 70 per cent. after the introduction of the lottery. On the other hand, the overall sums given did not decline in the same period, which suggests that those who are giving are giving more.

Furthermore, figures from the annual family expenditure survey, which the hon. Lady mentioned, suggest that the number of households giving to charities has in fact remained pretty stable—it has neither gone up nor down since 1993. We have to take the evidence and place on it what judgment we think is suitable.

It is thoroughly unclear whether, or by how much, charities' incomes have changed since the introduction of the lottery. It is even less clear what might have caused any change. After all, any new call on disposable income, including but not limited to the national lottery, could have some effect on charitable donations. The causes will remain an issue of continuing debate, but, once the results of the survey of charities' income are available, the facts of any change will be clear, even if the reasons are not necessarily clear.

The last important area of my Department's responsibilities that I shall describe is in relation to charities legislation and the Charity Commission, which supports and supervises charities in England and Wales. Charities are devoted to the public interest, and accordingly, have a privileged status and receive particular benefits, including tax relief, as I mentioned earlier.

The public support charities generously. Public confidence in them is therefore vital. The Deakin report has a number of important recommendations about the law on charities, and on management and standards. These will obviously need to be considered carefully. At this stage, all I wish to say is that the Government fully support the Deakin committee's view that the legal framework must be appropriate for the modern world and the role that charities play in it, and we shall consider with great care what Deakin has to say on the need for reform.

Public confidence depends on donors knowing that the money that they give is put to good use and for the purposes for which they give it. The parts of the Deakin report devoted to improving management and standards in charities will no doubt be taken to heart by voluntary organisations. The Deakin report has also confirmed the need for an effective independent body to oversee the charitable sector. That, of course, is the responsibility of the Charity Commission.

My right hon. Friend's responsibility is for the appointment of the charity commissioners, who are accountable to her for the overall efficiency of the commission. The commissioners are, however, independently responsible for their operational and policy decisions, and answerable to the courts.

Major reforms to the law regulating charities and the commission were contained in the Charities Act 1992, much of which was consolidated in the Charities Act 1993. Both Acts updated the powers of the Charity Commission—for example, to conduct investigations and to protect charitable property—and updated the requirements on charities—for example, by introducing a new charity accounting framework. That framework came into force on 1 March this year, effectively completing the implementation phase of the reforms.

It is important that charities should be accountable. Abuse is, fortunately, rare, but it must be tackled effectively, as must failures of administration. The monitoring framework set up by the 1993 Act seeks to achieve that, and it aims to do so without imposing unnecessary burdens on charities. The deregulation task force on charities and voluntary organisations made a significant contribution in helping to get that balance right.

Recommendations from the deregulation task force that were accepted by Ministers included the creation of a new light-touch regime for charities with income or expenditure of £10,000 or less—so that in general they are not required to submit annual reports or accounts to the Charity Commission, or to have their accounts audited or independently examined. For larger charities, the income or expenditure level above which accounts have to be audited was raised from £100,000 to £250,000.

To enable it to fulfil its new role under the 1993 Act, the Charity Commission has been undergoing its own transformation under the direction of the chief charity commissioner. The commission has progressively built up its support and advisory role to charities, and is putting in place new monitoring arrangements. Its investigative powers have been strengthened, and it has enhanced its policy division so that it can play a greater role in developing issues affecting the charitable sector as a whole. This all amounts to a significant modernisation of the commission's role.

Mr. Michael

I get the impression that the Minister is moving away from the Deakin report. He referred to the recommendations of the report, which were directed at a variety of organisations, including the Charity Commission and many organisations in the voluntary sector. The first set of recommendations were to central Government. Will the Minister say a little about the Government's response to those recommendations—specifically those directed to the Minister and his Department?

Mr. Sproat

Certainly. The hon. Gentleman is quite right. The whole concept of the concordat is central to one of the passages in Deakin, but we would like to consider it in more detail, for the simple reason that it is a very important recommendation.

It is also a very difficult recommendation. It is one thing to say that the Government must sign, but with whom in the voluntary and charitable sector would the Government sign? Although I am absolutely not rejecting the idea, we need to examine it closely. It is important to get things right in principle, and then to translate them into practice. That is what we want to do. We received the report only on 8 July, but we will look at that point, as well as the point about standards of management and accountability.

We are strongly aware of the importance of voluntary organisations and volunteering. A recent study by the volunteer centre of volunteering in eight European countries suggested that volunteering in the UK was significantly higher than in all the other parts of Europe surveyed—51 per cent. in the UK, as against 35 per cent. in Holland and 19 per cent. in France. The figures on individual charitable giving tell a similar story, with private giving accounting for 12 per cent. of charitable income in the UK, as against 7 per cent. in France and 4 per cent. in Germany.

Those are traditions that my right hon. Friend and I wish to foster. Furthermore, in the words of the motion, we accept the responsibility to nurture the sector while respecting the independence of charities and voluntary organisations.

8.18 pm
Mr. David Hanson (Delyn)

I very much welcome the opportunity to contribute to the debate on the voluntary sector, because it is a rare opportunity for the House to consider this issue.

I pay tribute to my hon. Friends the Members for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Mr. Michael) and for Stockport (Ms Coffey) for their sterling efforts in raising the issue of the voluntary sector in the Labour party and throughout the country. Without being too sycophantic, I praise my right hon. Friend the leader of the Labour party for initiating the debate, because it is important that the Labour party involves itself in the voluntary sector, because, traditionally, many people outside the Labour party have not seen the party as being central to the voluntary sector. That is changing. It was never really the case that the Labour party was not involved in the voluntary sector. The consultation itself has involved some 2,000 people giving their views to the Labour party about the future of the voluntary sector.

I chaired the consultation session that we held in north Wales, largely because, as well as being the local Member of Parliament, for 10 years before I was elected I worked in the voluntary sector as a regional and a national officer with the Spastics Society, and later as a director of a drug abuse charity. I feel that for too long the Labour party has allowed the Conservative party to occupy the high ground, given that Labour has been deeply involved in the voluntary sector at local level and is now developing a policy for the future.

The two parties differ on that—on the approach that should be adopted to the future development of the sector. If we all look at our constituencies, we will see the benefits of voluntary sector activity. For instance, the Royal National Lifeboat Institution is stationed in my constituency. Then there is Amnesty International, which campaigns for justice and fairness throughout the world. There are playgroups, organising play activities for young people; Oxfam, with its shops and campaigning activities; Crossroads, which provides support for carers; the cancer support organisations, the credit unions, the Women's Royal Voluntary Service, the citizens advice bureaux and Barnardo's. Every constituency contains many groups of that kind.

I am not referring only to traditional groups and major charities. Only last Friday, I opened a revitalised chapel in a small village in my constituency which had been built again, brick by brick, by a voluntary organisation that wanted to develop the environment. I never fail to be amazed at the level of support that there is for the voluntary sector and the principle of volunteering, and I note that members of the Labour party have been involved, actively and locally, in every activity in my constituency that I have mentioned so far.

The voluntary sector in Wales is a major source of activity and benefit. Many Welsh Members of Parliament recently received a copy of the manifesto of the Wales Council for Voluntary Action, which clearly demonstrates the amount of voluntary activity currently undertaken in Wales. The citizens advice bureaux, for instance, currently provide 400,000 consultations in Wales each year. The volunteer bureaux recruit 8,000 new volunteers per annum. Pre-school play groups currently support 48,000 children. The housing association movement—which has not been mentioned so far—currently provides 46,000 dwellings for 75,000 people. Voluntary organisations in Wales own 177,000 acres of land, and own and manage 230 miles of coastline.

As has been said, there are 22,000 voluntary organisations in Wales, and staff value is estimated at some £2 billion a year in terms of the salary that staff would require if they took paid work. The voluntary sector provides 12,000 jobs in Wales, and raises £600 million in cash each year. It is a major source of activity, and it is important to our local community. People become involved in the sector because it gives voice to new and unrecognised needs—a voice that can change and raise public awareness. It provides new ways of meeting society's requirements, and enables people to participate in public life and fulfil the civic duty that their community demands. It also allows volunteers to develop skills and experience that will lead to personal fulfilment and, we hope, improve many people's employment prospects.

Despite the importance of the voluntary sector, I believe that the two parties have very different approaches to it. I do not wish to be churlish to the Minister, but I feel that there are problems to be dealt with. They are wide-ranging, but I think that many voluntary organisations in Wales and elsewhere agree that they should be addressed.

My hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth mentioned the "contract culture". The state seems increasingly to be trying to determine what voluntary organisations do by arranging for funding to follow contracts. We should also examine the campaigning roles of voluntary organisations. There is currently not quite a disdain, but a frowning on some campaigning work. My hon. Friend mentioned biting the hand that feeds voluntary organisations. There is concern about the level of campaigning activity—activity that, in my view, is vital to the voluntary sector. If the voluntary sector does not represent service users who are in need, often no one will.

The question of core funding also needs to be addressed. Many voluntary organisations—such as the one of which I was a director before I became a Member of Parliament—depend on such funding to undertake the activities that they perform so well. It is neither attractive nor interesting to campaign for photocopying facilities, secretarial support or help with the cost of telephone lines or rental payments in fund-raising, but such things are important to the success of voluntary agencies and their ability to meet the needs of their communities. We should stress the need to maintain and develop long-term core funding.

The Government's attitude to value-added tax impinges greatly on the voluntary sector, which still cannot claim back VAT on much of its expenditure. The fact that voluntary agencies must pay VAT on goods up front hits them hard. I do not want to be too disdainful of the Government's approach, but it is felt that, in many quarters, voluntary activity may be seen as a substitute for Government action, as opposed to an element in a partnership. That attitude needs to be challenged.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth said, and as the motion suggests, it is the job of Government to nurture the voluntary sector and to encourage voluntary activity. Those roles demand a re-think of the Government's approach, which I think Labour can genuinely undertake. We need to recognise the worth and value of voluntary organisations, and their commitment to genuine participation and involvement with Government and local authorities. I believe that Government's job is to establish a proper framework for that relationship to develop.

A number of aspects need to be improved, and the Welsh voluntary sector has pressed for such improvement. For instance, we should involve the voluntary sector more in consultation about the Government's activities. The sector can represent service users; it can represent those who are at the sharp end of Government policies, and it can assess the impact of those policies on the groups that it represents.

We should also consider the ways in which Government can encourage recognition of the importance of training, and of the ability of the voluntary sector to develop individuals as part of the encouragement of quality that the Government should be undertaking. Perhaps, when he replies to the debate, the Minister will tell us whether the Government are considering ways of increasing recognition of the qualifications of volunteers. Voluntary action could perhaps form part of a vocational programme, returning people to work but also enabling individuals to be recognised for what they have done. That is important, especially for unemployed people but also for retired people who may have retired early to contribute to the community. The Minister might also consider ways in which unemployed people could contribute.

I hope that the Government will consider a volunteer charter, which would put volunteering at the centre of community life and enable it to be seen as a mainstream activity encouraged by the Government. The Government could help to support the untapped wealth and activity represented by the voluntary sector. They should also consider extending the sharing of good practice: I refer not just to local authorities and health authorities but to the business sector. There are many good ideas in that sector, involving secondment, support and financial activities. The role of Government should be to help to support the voluntary sector to help to bring those good practice ideas together.

Finally, we should pay close attention to funding. Core funding is important but it needs to be established on a longer-term basis than currently. In my area, local government reorganisation has caused some uncertainty about long-term funding and it is important to look not only at core funding but at matching funding. Many voluntary organisations secure resources from the national lottery and from local authorities but require matching funding. For example, an organisation in my constituency has just received £750,000 from the lottery but has to raise £250,000 in the community to trigger that £750,000. That is a great deal to raise locally, but the worth of the project is established locally.

There is much support for the voluntary sector and much activity and initiative on its behalf and Labour will continue to be at the heart of that. There is more that the Government can do to pull the strands together, to look at ways of encouraging the sector and to assist it in doing what it does best—meeting the needs of local communities and having an independent, active campaigning role. I commend the motion to the House.

8.30 pm
Mr. Julian Brazier (Canterbury)

I welcome the opportunity to take part in the debate. I agree with much of what the hon. Member for Delyn (Mr. Hanson) said, but over the years the Government have already taken on board many of the ideas that he has suggested.

Voluntary work plays a fundamental role in the minds of many Conservatives. The Government have a good record on this issue, as the huge increase in charitable funding and the increase in the size of the voluntary sector show. People who work for charities are highly motivated. The majority of them give their time for nothing and we could all give examples of excellent work carried out by local charities. As recently as a fortnight ago, I was working in my local prison canteen wearing a Women's Royal Voluntary Service hat.

Mr. Roger Gale (North Thanet)

I am sure my hon. Friend looked very pretty.

Mr. Brazier

I welcome that comment from my Kentish colleague.

I want to focus exclusively on voluntary work among young people. First, I shall deal with the administrative and regulatory problems that are faced by some organisations that deal with young people and, secondly, I shall speak about the cadet movement. While I am enormously impressed by the large number of organisations that do splendid work with young people, I am concerned about some of their administrative problems. Last year I was privileged to write a pamphlet with John Blashford-Snell, the explorer and well-known youth worker, about some of these problems.

Youth organisations face an extremely complex set of relationships with central and local government and with a number of overlapping co-ordinating bodies in the voluntary sector. I shall give a few examples. Answers to parliamentary questions suggest that the YMCA and youth clubs are getting small grants from the Department of Education and Employment, the Department of the Environment, the Department of National Heritage and the Home Office. One can imagine the amount of administration by the Government and, more importantly, by charities that is involved in getting money from four Government sources. However, the principal focus of youth activity is local government, and some organisations have to deal with several parts of local government.

In addition, there are three major co-ordinating voluntary organisations within the youth movement. There is Youth Clubs UK; then there is the organisation which used to be called the National Association of Boys' Clubs but which now has a much longer and more complicated title, as it sensibly also involves girls' organisations; and the National Council for Voluntary Youth Services. Those bodies all play a partial co-ordinating role and two of them assist in channelling money from the Government.

The complexity for an organisation that is trying to help young people of dealing with so many different organisations is difficult to exaggerate. The chief executive of one project said that he was dealing with no fewer than 10 organisations that were either governmental or wholly or partly funded by the Government.

Some youth organisations face another problem. In a sense the one that I have outlined is a problem of success: it is a welcome fault that so many parts of Government are involved in charity. I shall shortly make some proposals to make life a little simpler. The second problem is much more sinister and arises from our increasingly litigious environment. We all remember the recent story about the rugby referee who was sued for several hundred thousand pounds because of an injury sustained on the field by a player. He was covered by insurance, but many organisations are not fully insured or are not fully aware of the risks. In any case, I am not convinced that insurance is always the answer.

I have received an extremely sad letter from the headmaster of the school that I attended, Wellington college, which is famous for the leaders that it has produced over the years, especially in the armed forces. I was one of its least distinguished pupils. The gist of the letter was that it is becoming extremely hard for any headmaster to give responsibility to pupils. I have since had testimony from the headmaster of another school who wrote in the same vein. Surely one of the most important aims of any organisation for young people, whether it is a school or a voluntary organisation, should be to give young people responsibility. However, it has become increasingly hard to do that because of the risk of being sued if something goes wrong.

There is an almost circular argument. The point of giving people responsibility is to give them the opportunity to make mistakes. If there is no scope for making mistakes, there is no responsibility, but when QCs get hold of those mistakes in court, we can see where they will lead. In framing laws to deal with voluntary organisations and schools, it is important to consider the fact that we want young people to be given responsibility and that that will sometimes lead to mistakes.

We have a good background in trying to create a suitable environment for voluntary organisations. The voluntary sector is having a bigger and bigger stake in schools through local management and by way of grant-maintained schools, which have attracted pupils from a range of backgrounds. We have a terrific record by virtue of increased activity in the voluntary sector and the additional money that is available, not least from the national lottery.

We must address both problems—lack of co-ordination and the threat from lawyers—and we must do so imaginatively. I do not pretend to have the complete solution, but I should like to throw in three ideas. First, just as we now have a formal focus for charities and the voluntary sector as a whole in the Department for National Heritage, so it would be appropriate to designate a Minister to have overall responsibility for youth—perhaps the same person. That does not mean that he should tread on the toes of his colleagues in other Departments, but he should have a co-ordinating role in Government for policies that will affect young people. There is such a job in France and in several English-speaking countries—a Minister for Youth.

Secondly, the Government should try to reorganise the lines of communication. I understand that the interface with voluntary organisations is complicated and we do not want the Government to start nationalising them—that is the last thing that we should do if we wish them to remain effective. Nevertheless, it seems strange to have so many Government and non-Government bodies involved in co-ordinating the activities of voluntary organisations that deal with young people.

On good Conservative principles, it must be possible to achieve some mergers and amalgamations that will lead to a slightly less confusing picture being presented to the heads of youth organisations who are trying to get on with their projects and not spend too much time on administration. We must also give better legal protection against litigation to people involved in youth work. Nobody wants to encourage dangerous practices, but no head of a youth organisation or school should. feel frightened of being sued because they have given a sensible level of genuine responsibility to young people.

I should like to spend a few minutes discussing the cadet movement. In his remarkable book, General Colin Powell comments, as a young teenage black growing up in Brooklyn, about the impact of his introduction to the cadet movement at college. He said: My experience in high school, on basketball and track teams … had never produced a sense of belonging or many permanent friendships. On joining the cadet force, he said: The discipline, the structure, the camaraderie, the sense of belonging were what I craved. I became a leader almost immediately. I found a selflessness within our ranks that reminded me of the caring atmosphere within my family. Race, colour, background, income meant nothing. He said that they would go the limit for each other and for the group. The cadet movement plays a unique and positive role in the life of this country. Some 150,000 young people take part in the sea, air and army cadets and the combined cadet force. They develop a sense of adventure, responsibility, team work and good citizenship. Having served as an officer in the Territorial Army for some 13 years—we have shared most of the centres in which I have served with cadet units, and often took them training with us—I have been constantly impressed by the terrific opportunities that the organisations provide for developing leadership, a sense of discipline and a sense of commitment amongst some of the most deprived young people in the areas. In many cases, it made a terrific difference to their lives in just the way that Colin Powell described so eloquently.

From the beginning of next year, there will be an exciting development in the cadet movement. For the first time ever in this country, the director of reserves and cadets—we will know who it is to be shortly—will be a reservist, someone from the volunteer reserve, instead of a regular general put into the post by the Ministry of Defence. That offers terrific opportunities for the cadets as well as for the volunteer reserves.

I hope that the Department of National Heritage will take an interest in the cadet movement. I was extremely excited to discover that no fewer than 14 cadet organisations—13 of them from the Navy—have managed to obtain grants from the national lottery for capital spending for their training centres. I was deeply impressed by my own sea cadet training centre in Whitstable when I visited recently, but I was concerned at the state of their building. I am encouraging my local cadet centre to get on with bids for national lottery funds.

The cadet movement plays a vital role for our armed forces and provides many high-quality recruits, but its wider value to the community is immeasurable. It is extremely important that, whoever is co-ordinating voluntary and youth policy within the Government—I cannot think of a better person to fill that role than my hon. Friend the Minister of State—should keep a watchful eye from outside the military establishment. When cadet organisations are competing with spare parts for Tornados or the latest piece of kit for a branch of the armed forces, the relatively small sums available to those vital organisations can be threatened. That is why the appointment I mentioned is so welcome, and why a watchful eye is needed.

I end where I began, by saying that voluntary organisations play a vital role in the life of our country. I have been involved with them on and off throughout my life—I did my first voluntary work from school—and I believe that they play a vital role in our community, especially in developing young people.

8.43 pm
Mr. Chris Davies (Littleborough and Saddleworth)

Couched as it is in such general terms, surely no one will disagree with the motion tabled by the leader of the Labour party. We welcome and applaud the contribution made by volunteers to the lives of individuals and communities. Of course we should respect the independence of those organisations and, within constraints, we want the Government to nurture such organisations, or at least not to go out of their way to harm them, either advertently or inadvertently.

The questions for consideration are what role charities and voluntary organisations should be playing within our society, the extent to which they should be supervised and the degree to which they should be funded from the public purse. There is a danger of believing that voluntary organisations can, in some way, be neatly defined and packaged within some sort of administrative framework. I do not believe they can and I think that that is widely recognised throughout the House. They are too varied and too numerous. Sometimes, in my experience, they can be a little too varied and too numerous.

For example, in Oldham there is a great deal of enthusiasm for animal welfare, yet the shelter of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals is in financial difficulties and there are divisions among those running another shelter. Despite that, plans are being made and funds are actively being sought for the promotion of two new shelters. One might hope that the individuals involved would pool their talents, but perhaps there is a risk in suggesting that, because it might curb the entrepreneurial enthusiasm of the volunteers involved—they are very committed people—in a way that might not be for the overall good. Freedom and flexibility must not be curtailed without good reason if voluntary organisations are to flourish.

There are said to be some 240,000 voluntary organisations in Britain working for public benefit, but there are as many as 1.3 million if one includes all the different societies, preservation groups and so on. In Oldham and Rochdale, the Council for Voluntary Service will say that in one borough—the two boroughs are almost identical—there are 300 organisations and in the other there are 1,200. It is simply a matter of definition.

Mr. Rowe

Underlying the debate is the assumption that every voluntary organisation is working for the public benefit. A substantial number of voluntary organisations are doing nothing of the kind, whether they be the National Front or a whole host of others. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that one of the problems with the whole business of defining this difficult area is that what some people believe is for the public benefit, others believe passionately is for the public disbenefit? Would the hon. Gentleman care to comment on that before he continues with his interesting remarks?

Mr. Davies

I agree with the hon. Gentleman, who has hit the nail on the head. Fortunately, the debate so far has not touched upon that difficult subject and, since the Minister and the Opposition Front-Bench spokesman did not comment on it, I shall not do so.

As I was saying, there is a problem of definition. We can compare the attitude of groups in the receiving of public money. Voluntary organisations such as housing associations, which are almost entirely publicly funded, are in the voluntary sector and have voluntary committees of management. In practice, they work like professional landlords running a commercial organisation, although in most cases they are non-profit—making. Like many organisations which are dependent on public sector funding, they have felt the pinch of late because they have become totally dependent on public funds.

That contrasts with an organisation such as the Royal National Lifeboat Institution, which has always placed great importance on raising funds voluntarily so that a dependency culture does not develop. I can tell the House that, 600 ft up in Saddleworth, the RNLI's fundraising activities seem to be just as enthusiastic as they are at sea level. Voluntary organisations and charities spend vast sums of money each year—£15 billion by some estimates. Although they control and spend those huge sums, the payment of staff can become divisive.

Criticisms have been directed at some of our most well-known charities working in overseas development when their administrative costs are brought to public attention, yet how can organisations working in such difficult circumstances, handling huge sums of money and requiring full-time organisers with great expertise do anything other than employ full-time professional staff? After all, how many people are prepared to don the hair shirt and make the sacrifice of working for little or nothing for a cause in which they believe? Judging from the recent debate on Members' pay, perhaps we cannot expect too much of people working in the voluntary sector when we are not prepared to ask the same of ourselves.

It is almost a year since I was elected to the House and some nine months since I made my maiden speech. Umpteen contributions in debates, four Adjournment debates, two ten-minute Bills and endless defeats in the Lobbies have not yet dimmed my enthusiasm. If ever my energy wavers, I have only to listen to my opponents.

Like many hon. Members, I make sacrifices. I work long hours, and I have given up many leisure and outside pursuits. I also demand sacrifices of those close to me. When people ask me how many hours I put in as a Member of Parliament, I say that they should ask my four-year-old daughter how much time I spend with her—the answer is, not enough.

I never forget that I am in a privileged position, as I am paid to do a job I really want to do—voicing political beliefs and representing my constituents. Like every hon. Member, I am in that position thanks to the efforts of hundreds of unpaid helpers in the voluntary organisation that is my political party. I rely hugely—as we all do—on the support of those individuals.

I am also aware of the difficulties that can arise when the relationship is blurred between the professional and the amateur—the paid and the unpaid. There is no easy solution. Perhaps there is no solution. The same applies to the Olympic games, where there is no way of defining the difference between amateurs and professionals when they compete against one another.

Idealism is important in politics. If I lose my idealism or betray that felt by others, the support of my volunteer helpers will quickly fade away. Similar difficulties arise when a voluntary organisation performs a function that is considered to be the responsibility of a public authority.

Like the hon. Member for Canterbury (Mr. Brazier), I recently joined the Women's Royal Voluntary Service for a morning to help out with meals on wheels. I went round Saddleworth with a local resident, Ron Bunting of Uppermill. Perhaps I should add that 10 per cent. of all WRVS volunteers are men. We went to see some of my constituents delivering the meals that had been provided by the social services department. I got a great deal of satisfaction out of those few hours of voluntary work. I hope that Mr. Bunting gets the same satisfaction out of the one day a month that he gives to the WRVS. I enjoyed meeting people, although that is difficult to avoid when one is a Member of Parliament. It is almost a requirement of the job. I also enjoyed talking to my volunteer colleague, helping others and knowing that my tiny contribution enabled Oldham social services department to spend its resources on other useful work around the community.

When a voluntary organisation undertakes a specific task on behalf of the local authority, who is the professional? Is it the organisation—such as Help the Aged, which provides specific services for Rochdale—or is it the council which commissions those services? I find that impossible to answer. It is important for those in positions of public authority to recognise the expertise within voluntary organisations. That respect is all the more deserved because of the financial contribution that voluntary organisations make simply by extending the service provision beyond that provided by the public purse.

The worker voluntary organisations in Rochdale may cost some £2.5 million in public money, but are worth nearly £25 million—the equivalent cost had the work been carried out and paid for directly by the public authority.

Some 21 million people in Britain are involved in voluntary activities, but in my experience only a tiny minority are the movers and shakers who take initiatives, accept responsibilities and make things happen. Many hon. Members will be aware of the saying: if something needs doing, ask a busy person.

It is rather a shame that the character of Linda Snell in "The Archers" on Radio 4 is not entirely sympathetic, because the role she plays within that fictional community has always struck me as of great value to the village of Ambridge. In almost every community, a handful of people make things happen. We should give them every possible thanks and support. The difficulty is knowing how to focus that support in a meaningful manner. I commend the report of the independent commission on the future of the voluntary sector—the Deakin report—which explores many of the issues in detail.

If so many people have never made a physical rather than financial contribution to a charity or voluntary organisation, perhaps the Government could find ways of encouraging them to do so. The sense of purpose, of usefulness, sociability and companionship, all give satisfaction and pleasure to the people who become involved in voluntary organisations. If the Government could find a way positively to encourage more people to take the first steps towards getting involved in the first place, there would be long-term benefit to the community.

I conclude by asking the Minister to consider some particular matters. First, good organisation, a clear financial structure and proper accountability are essential to the running and supervision of voluntary organisations. Nothing destroys the credibility of such an organisation quicker than the mere whiff or suspicion of financial mismanagement. In England, the Charities Commission registers and supervises charities. In Scotland, there is no equivalent organisation and much less public accountability. The Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations has estimated that nearly 50 per cent. of voluntary organisations are unintentionally or deliberately evading the law. Perhaps the Minister would like to bring that to the attention of the Secretary of State for Scotland.

Secondly, voluntary organisations require continuity of funding and a longer-term perspective so that they can make longer-term plans and avoid the hand-to-mouth struggle for funding that so many have to endure year after year. If the Government intend progressively to reduce funding to a voluntary organisation, they should make that clear sufficiently far in advance, so that the organisation can make the necessary structural changes and adjustments rather than sinking ever deeper into financial mire before reaching crisis point.

My third point is about the European social fund and the concerns about it that have arisen over the past year or more. A letter from the Department for Education and Employment to the Oldham council for voluntary services says: A payment in respect of our final claim for the 1994 ESF programmes has been received from the Commission, but there is insufficient sterling to enable us to make all the payments due … Accordingly you will shortly receive a payment which will take your total grant to 95 per cent. of the value of your final claim". The Department reminds the recipients of a condition attaching to the approval of their dossier to the effect that 'all payments are subject to the … Department receiving full and appropriate amounts from the European Commission; the Secretary of State for Employment shall not be liable for any deficit in the grant which may arise'", adding the words: At this stage we are still hoping that it will not be necessary to invoke this clause". I hope that the Minister will accept that, although that may all be entirely legal and above board, the reality for voluntary organisations is that they are left being tossed around by the waves in a stormy sea, trapped between huge organisations—the Government and the European Commission. Some contingency funds should be made available to bridge that gap.

Finally, the Minister will know that, some years ago, the Government ruled out changes to charitable status. As a result, human rights organisations, community development groups and others are excluded from charitable status. It has always seemed to me ludicrous and appalling that organisations such as Amnesty International—I acknowledge the point made earlier about Amnesty by the hon. Member for Mid-Kent (Mr. Rowe)—cannot gain the full financial benefits of charitable status.

I hope that the Minister will consider how changes could be made to accommodate the needs of such organisations, which play such an invaluable role in a way that reflects all that is best and most decent and honourable in humanity. If an organisation such as Amnesty International is not promoting the public benefit, it is difficult to think of an organisation that is. I hope that the Minister will reflect on that point.

8.59 pm
Mr. Roger Gale (North Thanet)

I shall touch on a significant point that the hon. Member for Littleborough and Saddleworth (Mr. Davies) made, but first I shall take the opportunity to raise briefly three separate but related issues.

First, I wish to use the debate to say thank you. In his opening remarks, my hon. Friend the Minister of State said that the number of voluntary organisations in this country was between 400,000 and 700,000, depending on how we define them. Most of those seem to be in Kent, which may explain why the Government Benches are dominated tonight by Kent Members. Most of those organisations—dare I say it?—seem to be in my constituency, doing God's work; I mean that literally.

I started an audit in my mind, and began to go through the voluntary organisations with which my constituency is blessed. It was an impossible task. I considered the Herne Bay end of my constituency, and thought of the Strode Park foundation for the disabled, and all the volunteers who raise money for that. Then there is the Queen Victoria memorial hospital's league of friends, and all the people who raise money for that.

We also have the Cabin Radio hospital radio organisation, which has been running for more than 20 years, and all the people who year on year devote their time to it. There are the youth organisations in the town, which I shall say more about later, and all the other people who donate hours and hours of their time to doing things for other people. All those are in Herne Bay alone.

Then I thought about the villages and the Margate end of my constituency, with the Royal National Institute for the Blind home at Westcliff house, the Royal School for Deaf Children, and all the people who support those. Then there are the parent-teacher associations, which are involved in a wide range of fund-raising events for schools.

I thought to myself that there cannot be a Member in the House who has not felt as I do, come Friday or Saturday night when my wife and I find ourselves getting dressed to go out for this week's helping of rubber chicken and Black Forest gateau, and thinking, "Oh Lord, do we really have to do this tonight?" Then we get there and find a room full of people.

For us it is just another event, but for those people it is their once-a-year day, and every person in the room is devoted to the cause for which they have been working all year. It could be the Red Cross or the St. John Ambulance, whose members turn out for all the fund-raising events for the other organisations to ensure that nobody gets hurt, and who do such a sterling job, or it could be the Royal National Lifeboat Institution, the Rotary Club or the Lions.

In Margate, we have the Winkle Club and the 12 Nails—organisations of which no one else in the House has ever heard, which raise funds and give money to charity for no other reason than that their members want to help people. On behalf of everybody in the House, I want to say thank you to all those organisations, especially to those who do things for the young people of our constituencies.

My hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury (Mr. Brazier) rightly talked about the magnificent work done through the cadet organisations—the Army cadets, the Navy cadets and the RAF cadets and, of course, the St. John cadets and the Boys Brigade too. Those are organisations from which young people learn comradeship, discipline and the roots of helping other people, and because of that become the volunteers of tomorrow.

A fortnight ago, I was fortunate enough to spend part of Sunday at the St. Lawrence cricket ground in Canterbury, watching teams of young people from all over Kent playing "Kwick" cricket. It was all run by volunteers—people doing things in their own time. Some of them were schoolteachers, some youth workers and some voluntary organisers, but they all turn out to encourage young people to do something constructive.

When we talk about young people, everyone thinks of drug taking, rock and roll, graffiti and all the rest of it, but an enormous number of them take part in voluntary, fund-raising activities. It is the kids who are out walking, swimming and doing a sponsored this or that to raise funds to help other people.

There are also the better known organisations, and every constituency has them. For me, the scouting movement—the guides and scouts—is epitomised by Ann Wells of the 1st Margate St. John's troop. Ann has been taking the underprivileged children of my constituency and the Isle of Thanet on summer camp not for one, five or 10 years, but for well nigh 40 years—how she has avoided the attention of the Patronage Secretary, I do not know—every summer, without fail, because she will not let those kids down. Those people are the unsung heroes of this country. When we are talking about volunteering, it behoves all of us to remember them and to say thank you.

Hon. Members on both sides of the House will know that in the tedium olympics of the House of Commons, I bore for England on two subjects—the media and the other is animal welfare—and you would be surprised, Madam Deputy Speaker, if I did not mention animal welfare organisations.

The hon. Member for Littleborough and Saddleworth referred to the sad demise of the RSPCA shelter in the Oldham and Rochdale area and of the efforts of others to set up a new shelter. I very much hope that Marc and Beverley Doyle will be successful in their fund-raising events. I am sure that he is trying to help them and, if I can help him to help them, I will be pleased to do so.

I have a concern which relates in part to some of the organisations on which I have touched and in part to the point that the hon. Member for Littleborough and Saddleworth made about the plethora of voluntary organisations—animal welfare organisations, in particular, but it goes across the board. With his new responsibilities, my hon. Friend the Minister should want to look long and hard at the work and powers of the charity commissioners.

I have a gut feeling—I suspect that it is shared on a cross-party basis—that there are far too many reinventions of the wheel in charitable work. As a consequence, too much hard-earned, hard-won and hard-sponsored money is spent on replication of headquarters, officers, typewriters, telephones and all the other things which together make up charitable and fund-raising work but which, by the same token, ought to be more co-ordinated so that more of the money goes right to the sharp end to help the causes about which we are all concerned.

In thanking people, I want to thank all the animal welfare organisations that do so much for animal welfare and contribute to the work of the all-party animal welfare group, which I am privileged to chair—in particular, the RSPCA and the National Canine Defence League, which provide the secretariat for Pathway—a group that is trying to promote the cause of people with pets who need housing.

People tend to forget that, when the British talk about animal welfare, they are talking about the relationships between animals and people. An enormous number of people get immense pleasure out of their companion animals. There are organisations helping them—I am thinking in particular of the Pat Dog organisation, of which I am privileged to be a member. It is extraordinary to take an animal into an old people's home or a hospital and to see the pleasure that others gain from the opportunity to touch, feel or talk to that animal.

My second pitch to my hon. Friend the Minister is that, in asking him to seek greater co-ordination among charities, I would encourage him in turn to encourage the national lottery to make funding available to some of those animal charities that undoubtedly have suffered through lack of funds as a result of the introduction of the lottery.

Finally, I must do a little special pleading, and I must declare an interest. I have a godson—a lad called Nicholas, who is a keen sportsman. He has been diagnosed as suffering from a heart disease and, from being a very active sportsman, he has been told virtually overnight, "Stop everything or you may die." He is one of the lucky ones. I understand that between four and eight people a week—no one is quite sure how many—die suddenly in the prime of their lives. Very many of them are athletes and many die as a result of physical exertion because they do not know that they have a heart condition.

An organisation called Cardiac Risk in the Young, or CRY, seeks to promote the screening of young people—especially young athletes, but also the families of people who have suffered such bereavements—because it is believed that the disease may be congenital. My hon. Friend the Minister has a particular interest in voluntary organisations through the national lottery and sport. CRY has applied for national lottery funding. Those young lives could be saved. I urge him to be sympathetic to that appeal.

9.9 pm

Mr. Alan Howarth (Stratford-on-Avon)

In debating the future of the voluntary sector, we are debating the nature of our moral community. Two principal schemes of social relations have been set forth over the years in our characteristic public debate: the bureaucratic and the market models. Both ideologies are attempts to provide for moral community and both are necessary, but even in better balance than they are now, they are insufficient. Each allows too much personal distancing, too many moral alibis.

A rich pattern of voluntary action helps to offset the limitations of both the state and the market. There is a range of human needs that the rights-based ideologies of the liberal state fail to acknowledge or succour: needs for belonging, giving, respect, dignity and care. Care in the community is an admirable aspiration and an admirable phrase, but it must fully mean what it says and not be a euphemism for a state and its agencies that usurp neighbourly responsibility or allow neighbours to escape responsibility beyond paying their taxes. If neighbours are strangers, truly there is no such thing as society.

In ascribing such limitations to bureaucratic systems, I do not intend to attack the welfare state. I deplore the disparagement of dependency. It has been a great civilising advance that people in time of need should be able to depend on institutionalised help; but if demands for efficiency and pressures to contain public expenditure are as great as they have become, there is a bleakness about the welfare state. It makes a vital qualitative difference if welfare state professionals do not have time to listen to the story of an elderly person or hold the hand of a dying one.

We lack adequately expressive political language with which to discuss such requirements of a good society. The terminology of civil society, fraternity, mutuality even, is archaic and fails to evoke with vividness and precision the multifarious and changing possibilities of human social engagement in our times. The Labour party is profoundly right to stress the importance of community and stakeholding. If those terms are liable to sound nostalgic or utopian, it is because they refer to a range of human needs that have been neglected for too long in our conventional political discourse.

Voluntary action goes beyond what the political can provide. We can and must facilitate and promote it, but we cannot specify in performance indicators and efficiency indices the little, nameless, unremembered, acts of kindness and of love which are often in fact remembered but which transcend the limitations of welfare bureaucracies and market relations. It is not possible to guarantee through contracts that the packages of care that are to be bought and sold will be the genuine article and will truly be care.

Professor Deakin and his colleagues have written a splendid report on voluntary action that deserves our careful consideration. They take a synoptic view and analyse valuably the significance for voluntary action of forces of change: the retreat of the state from social responsibility; constraints on the funding of the welfare state; disillusion with conventional politics and the search for means to sustain civil society; the need to champion minorities in our democracy; the effects of widening inequality and persistent discrimination; the altering of family structures; and new technology and its impact on work. The Deakin commission invites us to heed a warning from the historian, Frank Prochaska: the voluntary sector is swimming into the mouth of Leviathan. There was a turning point in 1990 when the Home Office efficiency scrutiny laid it down that, in their deals with voluntary organisations, Departments should establish clear policy objectives for any core or project grant or scheme relating to objectives in departments' planning processes. Grants or schemes which no longer relate to such objectives should be phased out. With the implementation of that policy, we have seen the Government seek too extensively to capture the voluntary sector for their own purposes.

There can be no objection, of course, to the Government working closely with voluntary organisations, seeking to mobilise the resources of the community for clearly defined purposes that have been agreed in wide debate and insisting on value for money, but I hope that the Minister will agree that there are dangers in the new "contract culture". Those dangers are described in paragraph 2.3.7 of the report, where it refers to concerns about becoming over-dependent on local authority funding; anxiety that the quality of service to users might conflict with 'value for money' objectives and that competition may upset existing harmonious relationships … possible restrictions on advocacy and campaigning, problems of sustaining sufficient core funding, lack of freedom to innovate and excessive bureaucracy in monitoring of implementation. The Association of Directors of Social Services has acknowledged those hazards. What matters is that Whitehall Departments, health authorities and local authorities accept that not only he who pays the piper should call the tune and that voluntary organisations are respected as independent partners pursuing a role complementary to that of the state. There is much matter on the relationship between local government and the voluntary sector for consideration by the new single local authority association for England.

I wonder whether the commission was wise to suggest, as it did, that there should be a new definition of charitable purposes and a new "concordat", as the Deakin commission calls it, between central Government and representatives of the voluntary sector. If a concordat established the principles that the commission proposed, it would be a fine thing, but we should not allow ourselves to forget that when Napoleon established his concordat with Pope Pius VII, he held him captive and took the crown from him to place it on his own head. Although I am sure we can be confident that the Secretary of State entertains no such folie de grandeur, we ought not to place such temptation in the way of Ministers.

The relationship between Government and charities in Britain has historically been a subtle and elusive affair. Wisely, the legislators of 1601, 1883 and 1960 forbore to define charities. Instead, the preamble to the Elizabethan statute itemised a range of highly varied, illustrative fields of charitable undertaking. Subsequent case law and administrative practice have built on that foundation, taking the Elizabethan examples as models to be paralleled in the altered circumstances of later ages. No doubt, in each succeeding generation, as in our own, the absence of clear definition has been found exasperating and the determination of legitimate charitable activity by reference to case law and precedent inhibiting. On the other hand, as the Goodman report observed in 1976, To define is to confine. I think it is better otherwise. After all, in an important sense, our charities define us.

The Deakin commission offers Ministers a host of practical suggestions. Rightly, it praises the National Lottery Charities Board for its energy, care and effectiveness in its early work and its resilience in standing up to virulent, bigoted and even racist criticism.- I hope that the Secretary of State will respond to the suggestion that the National Lottery Charities Board should be allowed to support self-help and mutual aid groups and to delegate executive as well as consultative functions to its regional bodies.

I particularly hope that the Government, encouraged by the Minister, will consider carefully what the commission says about the benefits system and volunteering. It said: The benefit system rules must not be a constraint on the ability, especially of young people, to volunteer. The Government accepted during the passage of the Social Security (Incapacity for Work) Bill that in certain circumstances voluntary work could be classified as "exempt" work so that disabled volunteers would not necessarily forfeit benefit, provided that their work was within the 16-hour limit. However, the threat of losing benefit and the limiting effect on the hours of paid exempt work that a disabled person can do severely discourage voluntary activity.

Under the Jobseekers Act 1995, the Government have not conceded that voluntary work should be classified, in the jargon, as a "positive outcome"—something that is positively approved as a step towards re-entering employment. Under jobseeker's allowance, an unemployed person doing voluntary work must be continually available for work. That makes it harder for the individual to make a full or sustained commitment to volunteering. At least, as the commission proposes, the Benefits Agency should use the introduction of JSA this autumn to issue the most constructive guidance that it can to benefits offices.

Time prevents me from saying much that I would like to say. As the commission says, the Government need to take the voluntary sector seriously. They should see it as a partner in their quest to nurture what Beveridge called a welfare society and recognise the immense contribution that the voluntary sector can make to the quality of our social experience.

9.18 pm
Mr. Andrew Rowe (Mid-Kent)

As has become apparent in all the descriptions that have been given, the voluntary sector is, like Proteus, impossible to grasp—at least in a short debate. It is worth remembering that, like the rest of us, it is capable of distortion in the service of prejudice. Perhaps the most hurtful examples are to be found among religious organisations, whether in the marches and counter-marches in the name of religion in Northern Ireland or in the cruelties and terrorism of the different forms of Islam.

At its best, the voluntary sector offers the best opportunity we have in society of keeping a focus on whole people. One of the great problems for government involves the Haldane doctrine, which says that we should divide government in terms of function rather than in terms of interest. The Government find it almost impossible to see people as whole people; they see them as candidates for housing, for health, for education or for old-age pensions, not as whole people.

I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will remember that the danger of the contract culture, which has many advantages for the voluntary sector if properly defined, is that it makes it even harder for voluntary organisations entering into contracts to think across departmental boundaries and carry out the lateral thinking that brings people back together as whole people.

I share the view of my hon. Friend the Member for North Thanet (Mr. Gale) about the plethora of organisations and their ignorance of one another. I once carried out a piece of research in three tiny villages in Fyfe and ascertained how many voluntary organisations there were. I presented my report to the three tiny villages in a village hall one night. The villages were all within five miles of one another and I shall never forget a man who stood up at the back of the hall and said that he had been working for a society for the blind in his village for the past 25 years and had had no idea that there was another organisation working for the blind five miles down the road.

We need to use information technology and the powers of the Charity Commission to put voluntary organisations in touch with each other. They do not have to co-operate and they do not have to like one another, but they should at least know that they are there and can work together if they want to.

There is a desperate need to look at the frontiers between public and voluntary provision. For the past five years, I have been a judge of the Barclay's "new futures" competition. Barclay's has given £6 million over five years to create a competition in which schools can bid for relatively small sums for their particular interest. One of the most depressing features of the huge list of bids is how many of them are aimed at making good the shortcomings in the school system; that should not be the case.

My remarks are disjointed because I am aware of the time limit.

I found it extraordinary that the Deakin report—so good in so many ways—made no mention so far as I could see of the 30,326 justices of the peace in England and Wales, the 4,233 justices in Scotland or the 20,569 councillors in England alone. We must not forget that those people are just as much volunteers as everyone else.

I stress that volunteering develops mankind. The Deakin report states: There is plentiful evidence that staff secondments, development assignments and volunteering in community activities enhances employee motivation, performance, loyalty and capacity for team work. As the hon. Member for Delyn (Mr. Hanson) stressed, the voluntary sector is valuable in developing individuals. That is why I am passionately disappointed that the Government still have the extraordinary view that if someone who is unemployed sets himself to a medium-term piece of volunteering the benefit that he will derive from that is less than the benefit that he would derive from the often scarce possibility of taking a job that may not last more than a few days or weeks. I believe that that is a huge error.

The ownership of projects is vital, particularly for young people. This society of ours—which takes at least half our young people and keeps them in tutelage until they are at least 25 years old—has grossly underestimated the ability of young people to perform tasks, their desire to perform tasks and their need for support in performing tasks. Today we presented to the three main political parties suggestions from young people as to what might be considered in the party manifestos. The ideas sprang from a day in Coventry, about which I have spoken before. The key note of the day was that the young do not want to take over society, but that they want to be consulted; nor do they believe that they should have everything done for them.

The schools that have controlled bullying have done so by using young people. The local communities that have begun to make inroads into the drug culture have used young people as their ambassadors. Communities that have begun to build bridges between the older generation and other generations have given young people the responsibility of bringing older people back into the community. We underestimate the young people in this country and we do not give them the responsibility that they could take. Above all other things, the voluntary sector in this country should give young people the opportunity to define what they can do, give them the resources to do it and develop them into the sorts of people that they want to be.

9.26 pm
Mr. Andrew Miller (Ellesmere Port and Neston)

Hon. Members should congratulate my hon. Friends the Members for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Mr. Michael) and for Stockport (Ms Coffey) on the tremendous work that they have done in this consultation exercise. I was privileged to attend a large meeting in Manchester some time ago, along with my hon. Friend the Member for Bootle (Mr. Benton), at which we heard from a wide range of the voluntary organisations that operate in the north-west.

I am familiar with many of these organisations. Hon. Members will know from looking at the record of Members' interests that I have a connection with the Manufacturing Science and Finance Union, which has a huge number of members operating in the voluntary sector. These people are not just employees of charities and voluntary sector organisations, but an integral part of that sector. Many of those people are extremely well qualified and could command higher salaries in the private sector. They work extremely hard for those organisations because they believe in the ethos that has been described in the debate.

My hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth made the point—as was described in Labour's "The Road to the Manifesto"—that we do not believe that the state should take over this work, but that there needs to be a better partnership than exists at the present time. One of the issues—I hope that the Minister will take it on board, given his responsibility in the Department of National Heritage—is how, in partnership, we can create the funding opportunities using such mechanisms.

My hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth referred to the national lottery. In my constituency, the local authority has put forward an imaginative scheme under the national lottery for the conversion of an historic building into a centre that can be well used by the voluntary sector. It wishes to get parts of the voluntary sector that have a synergy into the same kind of community so that they can help each other cut down on some of the administrative costs. The Minister should examine such imaginative schemes carefully.

There has been a long debate about which part of Government carries the responsibility for the voluntary sector. We need to recognise the enormous cross-departmental functions that are involved in supporting the voluntary sector and the Government should concentrate on breaking down the vertical, integrated barriers between Departments. Charitable money needs to be used effectively and I am sure that we all agree about that. Better long-term support should be given to some projects, instead of the short-term approach that is adopted at the moment. Applications for support also need to be considered carefully, because the procedures are overly bureaucratic at the moment and, indeed, the Minister acknowledged that in his speech.

My hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth mentioned crime. Today, I received a helpful letter from the Cheshire constabulary in response to an inquiry that I made about the needs of a community that was being plagued by unruly youths. Cheshire police have adopted an imaginative scheme in which they are working with the voluntary sector to make available, during the summer months, a huge list of voluntary sector organisations that will all work with the police to support young people in that community. That type of partnership is a good illustration of what can be done.

Little mention has been made of the question of housing associations and I shall finish on that point, because I am aware of the pressures on time. The housing association sector is deeply troubled about the impact that the recent enormous changes have had. The Government should reflect on the quotation in Labour's policy statement on the voluntary sector from a senior figure in the housing association sector, who said: We grew so fast that somewhere along the line we lost our soul. We must restore the soul to that important sector. I hope that the Minister will take on board many of the suggestions that have been made by people on both sides of the House.

9.32 pm
Mr. Jacques Arnold (Gravesham)

I welcome this debate on the voluntary sector because volunteering is an essential part of our community and it is one of the great characteristics of the British way of life. I have been closely involved with the Scout movement throughout my youth and for 10 years as a leader in the Scout movement. I have the honour to be the secretary of the all-party Scout Association parliamentary group and it is a sobering thought that one third of the Members of the House, on both sides, has been involved in the Scout Association in their youth.

I remind the House that we are talking about an organisation that admits youngsters, boys and girls, at the age of six to the Beaver section; at the age of eight to the Cub Scout section, which in many ways is the most enthusiastic age group numbering nearly 250,000 young people; at the age of 11 to the Scout section, the main traditional part of the Scout movement; and at the age of 16, to the Venture Scout section. Many of those young men and women go on to become leaders in the movement.

Some 648,000 young people in this country were members of the Scout movement last year, attending weekly meetings and participating in many activities in the open air in summer and at other times of the year. Worldwide, there are 25 million Scouts in 210 countries and it is worth remembering that two thirds are to be found in the developing world.

It is worth considering briefly the aim of the Scout movement— to promote the development of young people in achieving their full physical, intellectual, social and spiritual potentials as individuals, as responsible citizens and as members of their local, national and international communities. All the good work achieved by the Scout movement takes place under the leadership of 100,000 dedicated volunteers. These are wonderful people who give up their spare time during the evenings and at weekends. They juggle the various demands of job, family and scouting. The movement depends upon the quality, commitment and enthusiasm of its adult leadership. Volunteers give their time freely to help the development of young people.

All leaders must undertake training to equip themselves to do a better job. The movement's training programme has become recognised by professional trainers as one of the best of its sort.

Youth organisations, however, are vulnerable to applications from unsuitable people, including the irresponsible and the criminal, and from perverts. The Dunblane tragedy was very much an illustration of the potential threat to youth movements such as the Scout Association. The association is extremely effective with its vetting procedures. Any adult offering his or her services to scouting will be checked through the movement's well established vetting procedures.

Those procedures include checks to ascertain whether the applicant has had any contact with scouting in any other area of the United Kingdom and whether his or her record of service was satisfactory. Checks are made against all publicly reported cases of offences against young people. The local references that applicants provide are checked and there is a meeting with local scouting managers and the individual to ensure that he or she is suitable for the intended appointment. There is a system of continuous reporting and monitoring of all leaders.

In the light of Dunblane and other unfortunate incidents, the Government have responded to the problem of vetting. I commend the White Paper published by the Home Office entitled "On the Record: The Government's Proposals for Access to Criminal Records for Employment and Related Purposes in England and Wales". I hope, however, that my hon. Friend the Minister will reconsider the charging proposals. A charge of £10 per inquiry is a hefty burden for the voluntary sector of youth organisations. The Scout Association alone vets 50,000 potential leaders a year. The thought of £500,000 being spent in that way is a considerable deterrent.

There are many organisations with voluntary leaders. The sister organisation, the Girl Guides Association, is one. If the House will indulge me, I pay tribute to my wife, Patricia, who runs, often single-handedly a guide company. There are also the armed forces cadets. I highlight the Gravesend sea cadet unit, which has been displaced as a result of the Ministry of Defence building disposal programme. There are also the Boys Brigade, the Red Cross, St. John Ambulance and the Salvation Army.

When we take account of the work that is undertaken by voluntary organisations and individuals in other areas, such as care of the disabled, the elderly and the chronically sick, along with the work of victim support organisations and bodies linked to sports, conservation, not to mention the work of the citizens advice bureaux, every Member of this place will be aware of the excellent work done by volunteers in his or her constituency.

I have found, year in and year out, that each successive mayor of Gravesham, as he works through his year, comments on the way his eyes have been opened by the voluntary organisations that he visits and works with as called upon by the mayoralty. Their work has had a considerable effect on those who have been fortunate enough to be called to be mayors.

We all know that the National Lottery Charities Board has distributed £380 million to 4,600 charitable bodies. Of the funds distributed through the Millennium fund, half have gone to voluntary organisations. That is additional to the funds distributed by the Foundation for the Sports and the Arts. I want particularly to commend the grants that have been made to organisations in my constituency, such as the Black Knights marching band of young people who have received money for musical instruments and the transportation of those instruments, the Jugnu Banghra dancers of the Sikh community who have received funds for their facilities, and the MEAPA gymnastics group which has received £250,000 for a gymnasium.

This debate has been of immense value, and it is a commendation of the work of our wonderful volunteers.

9.39 pm
Dr. Norman A. Godman (Greenock and Port Glasgow)

I have been present for the whole debate, but I shall be brief. My wife, Patricia, is both a bailie and a justice of the peace, so I was pleased to hear the tribute paid to JPs and councillors, and presumably Scottish bailies, by the hon. Member for Mid-Kent (Mr. Rowe).

Along with the hon. Member for Gosport (Mr. Viggers), I have the honour of representing the House on the executive committee of the Royal National Lifeboat Institution. I have to be brief, so I want to fire a couple of questions at the Minister. He may not be able to answer them this evening, but, given his usual courtesy, I art sure that he will write to me.

First, I was pleased that both the Minister and my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Mr. Michael) referred to the important role performed by voluntary organisations and community groups in Northern Ireland, especially at a time such as this. I am proud to be associated with the Northern Ireland Council for Voluntary Action, which plays a significant role in assisting people in both communities and, at the same time, in bringing together members of both traditions in various community activities.

Recently, NICVA commissioned a report into long-term unemployment in Northern Ireland from Professor David Donnison of Glasgow university. In fairness to the Government, I should say that, in response to a written question of mine on 17 July, the Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office, the right hon. Member for Westminster, North (Sir J. Wheeler), paid that report a fine compliment.

The Scottish voluntary sector has an annual income of £2 billion, equivalent to 5 per cent. of GDP, and it employs upwards of 40,000 people, who are involved in more than 50,000 forms of voluntary management. We do have problems, to which the Minister, again in fairness to him, referred.

We do not have a charity commission in Scotland, which is a matter for regret. I am not sure that we want the English regulations imposed on Scottish charities, but, as the hon. Member for Littleborough and Saddleworth (Mr. Davies) said, the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations has had to develop a non-statutory register, which has revealed that almost half of Scottish charities—around 10,000—are currently out of touch, and, to quote Lucy Pratt of SCVO, are either unintentionally or deliberately evading the law. The Scottish Charities Office, a Division of the Crown Office, will react to complaints about individual charities, but does not undertake routine scrutiny. That is a matter for serious regret. There is a need, as outlined by my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell), for the Scottish Office to work much more closely with the SCVO.

I recommend to the Minister the SCVO's recent report entitled "Scotland's Lottery". One of its recommendations states: Some of the estimated £500M the Government gains in tax from the lottery should be reinvested in advertising and in encouraging more planned giving to charities through Give As you Earn, GiftAid, covenants etc. I said earlier that the upper limit of give-as-you-earn should be increased from its present level of £1,200 to £2,400 per annum. That suggestion should be followed up.

The report makes many other recommendations that would tighten up matters in Scotland in a way that would benefit those who are assisted by all the voluntary organisations in my country.

9.44 pm
Mrs. Anne Campbell (Cambridge)

This has been a very intelligent and interesting debate, and it has shown how valuable is the voluntary sector in society today. It is an important building block in cementing together the different strands of a diverse culture and in giving a sense of self-worth to those who volunteer.

I acknowledge the massive contribution made by the voluntary sector to British society. The benefits are apparent not only to the beneficiaries but the volunteers themselves. Volunteering promotes self-esteem. It enables volunteers to express views and exert influence on policy makers, both locally and nationally. They have a greater sense of purpose and a greater sense of control over their own lives.

The voluntary sector is supported by the Labour party because volunteers become stakeholders in society—a point made very well by my hon. Friend the Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Mr. Howarth). That is why a new Labour Government will use the proceeds from a windfall tax on the privatised utilities to fund a scheme to get young people back into work or training or into the voluntary sector.

Labour believes that the voluntary sector is a valuable way of engaging many young people in the main stream of society, to give them self-esteem and to help them to help themselves. We also recognise the enormous contribution made by the voluntary sector in improving the quality of life for many people. Most charities are now changing their roles from the traditional paternalistic model, and are moving to a user-led approach that empowers volunteers as individuals rather than simply service charities' beneficiaries.

We are totally behind these changes. We welcome the Deakin report and the proposal of the concordat between central Government and representatives of the sector. I am delighted that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition has endorsed this proposal, and I urge the Secretary of State for National Heritage to do the same.

Volunteering is a popular activity. There are 23 million people involved in volunteering. It is more popular as an activity than almost every other pastime apart from dancing.

The hon. Member for Littleborough and Saddleworth said that, if something needed to be done, we should ask a busy person. Well, even so, much volunteering is concentrated in those who are middle-aged, on high incomes and with good educational attainments. But that is not true of informal volunteering in community care, where it is more likely to be black and ethnic minority as well as lower income groups who are most involved. We should be aware of that, and acknowledge that very important contribution.

We need to look at more ways of involving older people and younger people in voluntary work. We know that those who are paid out-of-pocket expenses are much more likely to volunteer, and that there are also concerns about benefit entitlement for people who are unemployed. I hope that the Minister will be able to reassure the House that, when the jobseeker's allowance is introduced next October, jobseekers will not be deterred from volunteering, and nor will those on incapacity benefit or severe disablement allowance.

There has been a great change in the way in which the voluntary sector has interacted with local authorities over the past two or three years. Now, many charitable organisations are contractors for local authority statutory services. This has produced a huge increase in income for many volunteer bodies. In fact, one survey estimated that the statutory income of those dealing with elderly people had doubled while those with services aimed at children and families had increased by 20 per cent.

However, the problem—as ably pointed out by my hon. Friends the Members for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Mr. Michael), for Stratford-on-Avon and for Delyn (Mr. Hanson)—is that the money is tied to specific contracts and services. If it replaces other funding, it prevents charities from doing what they see as important. If voluntary organisations are to retain their independence, they must continue to receive grants that are not tied to specific areas of work. As my hon. Friend the Member for Delyn said, core funding is essential, because it will enable organisations to remain independent.

The Minister mentioned the effect of lottery ticket sales on charitable giving. Earlier, we discussed the family expenditure survey, and the fact that it may not be an accurate reflection of the amount that people give to charities. Its unreliability in estimating such small amounts of expenditure was illustrated by its assessment that lottery ticket sales were 42 per cent. lower than they actually were. It can hardly be relied on to estimate the amount that people put in collection tins and the envelopes left on doorsteps.

The Minister said that the picture was confused, and I agree. An enormous amount of work needs to be done to assess the effect on charities. The National Council for Voluntary Organisations, however, has calculated—through work with National Opinion Polls—that 6.4 per cent. of charitable donations were substituted for lottery tickets, and that mainly the smaller charities were affected. Those are the charities that rely on street collections, door-to-door collections, small raffles and lotteries, and those are the charities that have failed to benefit from the national lottery.

The chairman of the National Lotteries Charities Board, Mr. David Sieff, has said that any small organisation will be able to apply at any time, probably for amounts between £500 and £5,000; but, if we look at the grants given in the past year, we see that grants of less than £10,000 still make up less than 2 per cent. of the total spend. That means that the funds are going to large, well-organised charities that have the professionalism and expertise to make large successful bids. The Government should recognise that smaller organisations lose because of that. The Community Development Foundation has pointed to a general lack of information and assistance for such groups.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham), the shadow Secretary of State for National Heritage, has produced a leaflet that helps small organisations applying for grants. The Government could follow his lead, by providing assistance for groups that need help. We should also consider the smaller community groups that may benefit from much smaller sums than the minimum limit of £500. Labour is exploring ways of getting cash down to a local level without creating expensive bureaucracies.

The hon. Member for Canterbury (Mr. Brazier) highlighted the complexity of funding for youth organisations. I hope that the Minister will make use of his valuable expertise, and will try to simplify the system so that those organisations do not lose.

I realise that time is short, and the Minister has been generous in that regard. Let me add, however, that people have a misperception about the amount of money that goes to charity when they buy their lottery tickets. When members of the public were asked how much of the pound they had spent on their ticket would go to charity, most replied, "17p"; in fact, it is less than 6p. That raises the question whether the proportion given to the various good causes should be reconsidered. It certainly does not tally with people's perception.

There is also the problem of corporate giving. There is room for improvement by companies themselves in regard to donations to charity. Corporate donations to charity in the United Kingdom still amount to only one tenth of donations in the United States. The hon. Member for Mid-Kent mentioned the excellent Barclays new futures scheme, which provides a good example for other commercial organisations.

I acknowledge the work done by my hon. Friends the Members for Cardiff, South and Penarth, and for Stockport (Ms Coffey). I am sorry that my hon. Friend the Member for Stockport was detained on other duties, and was not able to speak and give us the benefit of her valuable expertise from which we could all have learned. Both my hon. Friends worked hard in the consultation with voluntary organisations in helping to evolve Labour policy on the issue.

The voluntary sector is not a way to get cheap welfare. The role of volunteers, and especially carers, must be respected and supported. Everyone in a civilised society must agree with that. They must not be forced to carry their often willingly borne burdens alone. The remarks by the Secretary of State for Health which were reported in The Guardian on 10 July make it clear that he regards the voluntary sector as a way to reduce public expenditure. He said: Carers and volunteers must look after elderly parents in order to limit their impact on public spending. That is a disgraceful view of the voluntary sector.

We encourage carers and volunteers to look after elderly parents, but we realise that we must give them the support that they need. Everyone agrees that the voluntary sector is about more than that. We celebrate the unique contribution that it makes to our society, and wish it well for the future.

9.55 pm
Mr. Sproat

With the leave of the House, I should like to respond in the few minutes remaining to as many points as possible. The hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Mr. Michael) said that we were "celebrating" the voluntary sector. The word was well chosen, and I concur with his sentiment.

My hon. Friend the Member for North Thanet (Mr. Gale) said he welcomed the debate as a chance to say thank you to all volunteers at every level. He gave the remarkable example of a lady in his constituency who for 40 years had spent her volunteer time taking under-privileged children on holiday. That is at the heart of what all hon. Members admire about the voluntary sector.

The hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth spoke about the work of the Churches. By happy chance, this very afternoon the hon. Member for Alyn and Deeside (Mr. Jones) brought a delegation from St. John's Methodist church in Connors Quay to see me, and it was interesting to hear about its work. It holds monthly lunches for people whose ages range from 60 to 96, and organises ballet and tap dances for young people and tea rotas in hospitals.

We all applaud the giant charities, but we should remember that most charities are small and consist of local people who do not have much money but who do all they can to help their fellow human beings. I am glad that the hon. Member for Alyn and Deeside brought that group to meet me.

The hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth, no doubt unintentionally, cast rather a slur on my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for National Heritage. She is in Atlanta, Georgia, watching the Olympic games in her role as the Secretary of State in charge of sport. The debate was originally scheduled for last Tuesday, but, perfectly fairly, it was moved from then to today by the Opposition.

My right hon. Friend was not able to take part today but had certainly intended to make a powerful opening speech. No one in the Government is keener on voluntary work than my right hon. Friend, and we shall prove that by the way that we shall grip this vital subject in the Department of National Heritage.

The hon. Member for Delyn (Mr. Hanson) generously said that, perhaps in the past, the Conservative Government had held the high ground in voluntary work. I do not know whether that is true, but I certainly do not wish to inject party politics into that area. If the other parties are now sharing that high ground, that is to be welcomed, because it must be for the good of those who are helped.

My hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury (Mr. Brazier) has the territorial decoration, and has 13 years experience in the Territorial Army. From his long experience, he spoke about the difficulties of youth organisations in dealing with so many different bodies. He gave a recent example, which showed that no fewer than 10 different bodies had to be dealt with by one organisation.

My hon. Friend made an extremely important point. Had I but world enough and time, I would deal with it at greater length, but I take note of what he said. I take note also of his extremely important point about litigation. We will look at that in the context of our review of all charity and voluntary subjects.

I know that I have to sit down in about 15 seconds, so that we can deal with the next business. I shall close by emphasising the extent to which the Government remain committed to the voluntary sector.

Question put and agreed to.


That this House welcomes and applauds the massive contribution made by the Voluntary Sector to the lives of individuals and communities throughout Britain and believes that it is the responsibility of Government to nurture the sector while respecting the independence of charities and voluntary organisations.