HL Deb 25 January 1983 vol 438 cc128-31

2.55 p.m.

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government what steps are being taken in schools to inculcate a spirit of service to the wider community.

The Earl of Swinton

My Lords, most secondary schools already provide opportunities for pupils to engage in community service, and in both primary and secondary schools pupils are encouraged to show consideration for other people and for their environment.

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for his reply. I noted that he used the words "community service". Would he agree that the words "community service" are unfortunate when used in the context of magistrates' courts, deter children from taking up community help and community work, and indeed are misunderstood by both children and adults? Can he possibly take steps to see whether this term cannot be changed?

The Earl of Swinton

My Lords, I would be sorry if what my noble friend has said were so. I have had inquiries made and I am not aware of any evidence that such an effect is at all widespread. The arrangements for community service by offenders are well established and have a most valuable part to play. Voluntary community service by young people has a splendid record in this country. However, I do not wish to appear complacent and if my noble friend has specific instances in mind I would be very glad to look into them if she would let me have the details.

Lord Molloy

My Lords, is the noble Earl aware that the point raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Trumpington, is very valid? Would he be prepared—as I think he said he would—to look into the matter? Is he further aware that the spirit of voluntary service, in which I am very much involved, is certainly high in our secondary modern and comprehensive schools, but it begins to wane when students reach that period where they have to start looking for gainful employment? Will he bear that point in mind as well?

The Earl of Swinton

My Lords, as I said to my noble friend Lady Trumpington, I really have not had any evidence that community service is looked upon as a punishment, putting off younger children who wish to do it. Of course, there are a number of factors which contribute as children grow up—they tend to have boy and girl friends, motor-bikes, video players and so on. All those things rather put them off community service as they grow older.

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, is my noble friend aware of the fact that I am the wife of an ex-headmaster and I have concrete evidence that the term "community service" is misunderstood? But is he also aware that I would like to congratulate the children who in many, many cases collect a great deal of money and do a great many valuable jobs which are greatly appreciated by the community?

The Earl of Swinton

My Lords, I do not think that there is a great deal more that I can say to my noble friend, but perhaps if she will give me the name of the school of which her husband was the headmaster we could take some action.

Lord Beswick

My Lords, is the noble Earl aware that, using the term "community service" in its widest context, such teaching could be absolutely wonderfully rewarding? Is the noble Earl also aware that the constant denigration by the Conservative Party and by the Conservative Government of service in publicly owned industry is bitterly disappointing to those who are engaged in that industry, bad for morale and bad for the national effort?

The Earl of Swinton

My Lords, I think that is somewhat wide of the Question.

Baroness Macleod of Borve

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that, whether it is encouraged in schools or not, there is a great wealth of public help given by young people in this country? I have knowledge of the situation as regards hospitals and I also have personal knowledge of young people who came forward recently at Christmas-time to help the single homeless in London. Is my noble friend aware that one only has to ask young people if they will come and help, and they do so?

The Earl of Swinton

My Lords, yes, I am very well aware of the enormous amount—I had better be careful with my words—of, I was about to say "community service", but I will now say "service in the environment", that is done by young people.

Baroness Masham of Ilton

My Lords, is my noble kinsman aware of the excellent work which is done in many of our schools through the Duke of Edinburgh Award Scheme, and that one of its categories is service? Is he also aware of the very great service that the teachers give in helping the children with the Duke of Edinburgh Award Scheme?

The Earl of Swinton

My Lords, this is positively embarrassing and looks like a plant and a put-up job, because I am sure that my noble kinswoman is aware, though Members of the House may not be, that I am county president of the Duke of Edinburgh Award Scheme in North Yorkshire and very well aware of the amount of work that it does. I should like to take this opportunity to pay tribute to all those—the teachers, assessors, adjudicators and others—who give help in this way. But I should not like to pick out in particular the Duke of Edinburgh Award Scheme, because there are many national voluntary organisations which include community service within their activities. I cannot mention them all, but, to name just a few, there is the National Association of Youth Clubs, the National Youth Bureau, the Scouts' Association, the British Red Cross Society and St. John's; and two which I should particularly like to single out, which are solely concerned with this aspect of work, are the Community Service Volunteers and the Youth Volunteer Force Foundation. I should like to pay tribute to those many thousands of people throughout the country who give their spare time to help in this sort of work.

Baroness Ewart-Biggs

My Lords, is the noble Earl aware that for the past three years in Northern Ireland a very important pilot scheme to extend and develop community service there has been operating, and that this scheme has helped to form links between teachers and the youth and social services in order to interest children in projects to do with the community? Would the Minister not agree that his right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland should start to support this particular scheme and that we should also all start to give serious thought to including community services within the curricula of our schools?

The Earl of Swinton

My Lords, I am very grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Ewart-Biggs, for drawing our attention to that work in Northern Ireland. I have just given a very long list of organisations that help, and I think that throughout the country there is a splendid record of help to the community through these voluntary organisations.

Lord Bruce of Donington

My Lords, again using the term "community service" in its widest sense, will the noble Earl agree that one of the best encouragements to young people in this regard and, indeed, to older people, would be if the Government themselves set an example?

The Earl of Swinton

My Lords, I think that by way of grants the Government indeed help a number of these bodies.

Lord Hatch of Lusby

My Lords, would the noble Earl agree that it would satisfy the objections raised by his noble friend Lady Trumpington if the term were changed from "community service" simply to "voluntary service"? In view of the fact that he referred to work in the children's environment and the noble Baroness referred to the work in the community, can he say whether this includes the world community? I ask this question because when there was a Ministry of Overseas Development one of its committees was assisting schools in matters like twinning with schools abroad and introducing children to other cultures. Is this still part of the Government's policy, or have they simply withdrawn from that effort?

The Earl of Swinton

My Lords, as to the first part of the supplementary question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Hatch, yes, I think that the words "voluntary service" have much to recommend them. As regards the second part and the worldwide aspect of voluntary service, I think I am right in saying that the Community Service Volunteers are similar to Voluntary Service Overseas. I think the latter tends to go more into the foreign aspects, whereas the Community Service Volunteers are more concerned with community service in this country.

Lord Derwent

My Lords, are not both Starred Questions and supplementary questions, as laid down in the Companion to Standing Orders, supposed to be a search for knowledge and not supposed to express a point of view?

Lord Nugent of Guildford

My Lords, can my noble friend the Leader of the House agree that the four Questions on the Order Paper today are models of brevity and conformity with the rules of order, and much to be welcomed?

The Minister of State, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Earl Ferrers)

My Lords, I think that that is an expression of opinion which each noble Lord will interpret as he wishes.

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