§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education and Employment (Mr. Alan Howarth)
By the end of the consultation period we had received 533 responses to the separate exercises carried out in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. The responses to our proposals were highly positive. I will publish a summary of responses to consultation in England at the end of April.
§ Mr. Howarth
What will make millennium volunteers distinctive will be the provision of high-quality opportunities across the country for young people to make a sustained commitment to a programme of voluntary activity. That will promote active citizenship to the benefit both of communities and of young volunteers, who will learn, develop personally and receive recognition for their achievement. The first schemes will start, as we promised, in the summer.
§ Mrs. Virginia Bottomley
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that many Conservative Members welcome the millennium volunteers initiative, which follows much of the "Make a Difference" work that we set in hand? Is he also aware, however, of the growing irritation among older people—who make a great contribution to the community and whose needs are not recognised in the new deal—that the Government have little concern for their interests or contributions? I do not want him to think that I have asked that question only because I have reached my own half century.
§ Mr. Howarth
I strongly suspect that the right hon. Lady may be misleading the House on the last point.
670 Our commitment to encourage a culture of volunteering among young people in no sense disparages the voluntary activities undertaken by people of all ages and the contribution that they make to our society. In proposing a new compact with the voluntary sector, the Government are very fully committed to promoting voluntary activity right across society. We simply think that it is extremely important that we should, as a Government, take steps to ensure the provision of structures and high-quality opportunities for young people to undertake sustained voluntary activity.