HC Deb 26 March 1998 vol 309 cc676-7
12. Mr. Bayley

What discussions he has held with representatives of the voluntary sector on millennium volunteers. [34905]

Mr. Alan Howarth

Representatives of the voluntary sector have been consulted fully on our proposals for millennium volunteers in separate consultation exercises held in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

We shall continue to work closely with the voluntary sector to develop the detailed criteria for the programme, which will be published in June.

Mr. Bayley

Is not the willingness of people to volunteer to help others for love and not for money a mark of a decent and socially inclusive society? If social inclusion means anything, all people ought to have the opportunity to be included. Has my hon. Friend, as part of his consultations, been speaking to bodies that represent disabled people? Will he make sure that young disabled people will be able to participate in the scheme?

Mr. Howarth

I entirely agree with my hon. Friend that working for others in a voluntary capacity is the mark of a civilised, inclusive society. It is essential that disabled people should be able to be millennium volunteers. I much appreciate the positive and practical responses to our consultation that we received from leading disability organisations. My right hon. Friend the Chancellor's announcement last week that people in receipt of incapacity benefit will in future be able to do any amount of voluntary activity removes a major barrier that the benefits system that we inherited has hitherto placed in the way of the social inclusion of disabled people.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton

Does not the independent sector of education possess many voluntary groups that do a great deal of good work in society? Does the Minister agree that the independent sector of education, as well as the maintained sector, plays a full part in community life? The sort of remarks that have been made from the Labour Benches about the independent sector are unjustified, and he should pay tribute to the role that the independent sector of education has played in the life of this country and in helping people to contribute to the voluntary community, which is so important.

Mr. Howarth

The hon. Gentleman is right—a number of schools in the independent sector, as in the maintained sector, have highly developed programmes to encourage voluntary activity among their pupils and students. We want to see much more of that. I commend, for example, the Changemakers charity, which is dedicated to encouraging voluntary activity in schools. If we are to strengthen the culture of volunteering in our society, it needs to begin in the schools.

Mr. Winterton

After all, the Minister and I both went to the same school—Rugby.