HL Deb 11 November 1992 vol 540 cc227-66

6.8 p.m.

Lord Elton rose to call attention to the increasing importance of the work of voluntary agencies; to the Home Office publication The Individual and the Community—The role of the Voluntary Sector; and the role of other government departments in this field; and to move for Papers.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, the day appointed for this debate is significant in four ways. It is the anniversary of the armistice that ended the First World War and thus a big day for one of our major voluntary organisations, the British Legion. It is also the anniversary of the birth of my noble friend Lord Carr of Hadley, whom I welcome to the debate. It is the eve of, and therefore sees the peak of speculation on, the Chancellor's Autumn Statement. It is also the day for the decision of the General Synod on the ordination of women. It is a day of deep importance to the Church of England. I regret that it is a day of sorrow, as it would have been whichever way the decision went, for many members of that flock to which I belong. Your Lordships will recognise that for that reason the Archbishops' and Bishops' Benches are comparatively empty. On their behalf I extend to your Lordships apologies sent to me from Lambeth Palace. The most reverend Primates and the right reverend Prelates will not share with us the pleasure of hearing the maiden speech of the noble Lord, Lord Plant, whom I welcome to the Chamber.

Our subject today is a big one. The Charity Commissioners in their Trustee's Guide to the Charities Act 1992—an admirably lucid work on which they deserve congratulations —comment that the charity sector as a whole has an annual turnover of about £17,000 million. Its size was proved to me in a different way. Although I contacted only a tiny fraction of the voluntary and other organisations concerned, by Saturday lunchtime the replies I had received weighed three-quarters of a stone on the bathroom scales. Merely to make courteous mention of all those sources would take up half my time so I hope that your Lordships and all those who wrote will accept that I must rely on distillation rather than quotation. However, I record my warm thanks to all who wrote. In case it is necessary, I record my interest as president, chairman or trustee of half a dozen charitable voluntary organisations. I do so with great modesty as most of your Lordships will have taken on far more than I have.

One cannot cover everything from art to zoology or, indeed, from creche to hospice in a single speech so that my trawl for information is focused on those parts of the sector concerned with welfare issues. Other noble Lords will address other subjects.

Speaking to the Charities Aid Foundation—CAF —conference exactly a year ago, my right honourable friend the Prime Minister said: Voluntary action … improves the lives of those people that are helped, and in so doing I believe it also fulfils the lives of those people who do the helping".

As I shall have time for only a few words on volunteering, I hope that your Lordships will realise that that thought is fundamental to everything that follows, as is his recognition later in the speech that: Charities are not the sticking plaster of the welfare state. The activities of volunteers should be seen as part of the very cement that binds our society together".

Beside those two quotations I should like to place a third: Vigour and abundance of voluntary action … individually and in association with other citizens, for bettering one's own life and those of one's fellows, are the distinguishing marks of a free society".

That quotation, which I also heartily endorse, was from the third Beveridge report, Voluntary Action. Although it was written in 1948, I believe that the party opposite still accepts it. Therefore, it reveals the extent of the ground common to all Members of your Lordships' House. We can all welcome the finding by the Volunteer Centre in 1991 that the number of volunteers in the United Kingdom has risen to some 23 million. They turn in as many as 100 million man hours and woman hours every week.

That is the hallmark of a free society. We should help others in need of it. We are doing that. A government initiative which we can applaud today is the Charity Know-How Trust. The cash for it is found from a group of charities and it receives a matching grant from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. It is supported by CAF and is helping to found an independent voluntary sector in Central and Eastern Europe.

If Eastern Europe offers opportunities, Western Europe offers problems. One is the Community's draft legislation on data protection. Can my noble friend confirm that that would curtail a charity's ability to appeal by post and whether any other country has supported our objection to it?

As regards the United Kingdom, the Home Office paper named in the Motion reports the number of charities to be rising and that in 1990 it stood at about 171,000. It analyses the amount and sources of their income. The CAF survey, Individual Giving and Volunteering in Britain, elaborates on those figures and brings them up to date.

While a major consultant in the field—the Chapter One group—contests the CAF findings on the basis of experience with the larger charities, there is wide endorsement of its conclusions from those from whom I have heard in the voluntary sector.

Those findings are that 80 per cent. of the population gave something to charity in 1987. That dropped to 74 per cent. in 1989–90, the year in the Home Office paper, and recovered to 76 per cent. (still 4 per cent. below the 1987 figure) in 1990–91. Total individual giving is expressed, since the survey uses inferential statistics, in bands with a 95 per cent. probability of accuracy. The band for 1987 was £2.6 billion to £3.9 billion. It peaked in 1989–90 at £3.4 billion to £4.3 billion but fell in 1990–91 to £4.3 billion to £3.5 billion.

Comparing the mid-band points of the past two years, they show an overall fall in individual charitable giving of £300 million. That is a large figure, and an easy one to remember as it is precisely the sum said to be lost to the sector in irrecoverable VAT, to which I believe my noble friend Lord Limerick will refer.

The important matter is that in real terms the value of that income had fallen by over 16 per cent. As regards corporate giving, Charity Trends, another CAF publication, shows total support to have risen slightly in cash terms between 1989–90 and 1991–92, but in real terms it fell by 5.3 per cent.

We come to our subject against that background. There is a declining value of 5 per cent. in corporate and 16 per cent. in individual giving. That decline is from a level already strikingly lower than that achieved in the United States. There is an urgent need to raise public awareness of, and commitment to, charitable giving in this country. That requires the sort of campaign which the Windsor Group of charities was convened to manage. The members of the group have made a substantial cash commitment to it but the effective campaign which is urgently needed cannot be mounted without government backing. Will the Minister please tell the House what response the Government have given to the Windsor Group's request for help. Does not their response to the Know-How Trust provide a very apt precedent?

If we are to understand what is going on in the voluntary sector now, we need to see what has led up to it over a longish period. Throughout the 19th century private people, alone or with others, were identifying newly recognised needs and meeting them with newly devised services; for example, setting up schools, hospitals, asylums and so on. They were all designed, in the words of the Prime Minister, to improve the lives of the people they helped.

Throughout the first half of the 20th century, in the first great transfer, the state recognised those needs and either took on the services from private pioneers or reinforced them with massive provision of its own. In the last quarter of the current century we are witnessing, in the second great transfer, a passage of an increasing proportion of those services, not to the kind of private individuals who pioneered them but to their collateral heirs and successors in hospital trusts, on governing bodies of opted-out schools and in the voluntary sector more generally.

That nearly circular journey has been a long one. In it a good deal has been gained in the way of technology, savings of scale and standardisation and not least from the increase in volume which results in harnessing the resources of the state. Those gains are, generally speaking, quantifiable.

There have also been losses and they, though important, are not easily quantifiable: losses such as the immediacy, individuality and flexibility of response of smaller institutions; the simplicity and speed of their transactions; the institutional loyalty and clarity of purpose that spring from direct personal relationships and wither among the adversarial structures of large managements and enormous workforces; and the greater speed with which larger numbers of smaller organisations can identify and establish best practice, simply by reason of the greater diversity of their approaches, even when they do not compete.

The justification of the first transfer—to the state was the gains I have listed; the justification for the second—from the state—is the recovery of the losses caused by it. We must ensure that in recovering the greatest possible number of losses we lose the minimum number of gains. It is because I believe we are at risk of achieving less than this that I have tabled this Motion.

The transfer now in progress is being conducted under the influence of the conditions of the day, and of two in particular. The first is the recession, which puts pressure on a Government already committed to limiting public expenditure to restrict it still further. It is essential that we do not forget that the justification for this second transfer is to recover the losses suffered in the first. Most of those do not entail cost benefits and cannot deliver savings to the PSBR. If the process of transfer is captured by the intention to save tax payers' money and if the result is a reduction of volume, particularly if it is without the unquantifiable gains I have listed, we shall have kept most of the bath water and tipped the baby down the drain.

The second condition lies in the process by which the way we look at things changes and by which those changes alter the way in which we arrange our affairs. That process has now, I hope, reached its furthest swing towards materialism, in which we describe everything as a market and organise everything as a business.

But the inheritance which the Government received in the first transfer was not from companies seeking profit. It was from individuals who forwent profit in order to improve the lives of the people they helped. It was right for my honourable friend Michael Jack to tell this year's CAF conference that, the Government want the taxpayers' money to work harder".

So do we all. We are taxpayers too. But if the systems and practices introduced by the transfer work in ways which limit the immediacy, individuality and flexibility of response of the voluntary organisations, they will destroy the justification for making the transfer in the first place.

A prominent feature of that transfer is the establishment of contracts between central and local authorities on the one hand, and voluntary organisations on the other. The term "the contract culture" is now freely used in the sector. Contracting does offer advantages. The process of negotiating terms involves the parties in discussions in which the sense of partnership that we are seeking can develop and flourish. Beyond that, the advantage of contracts for authorities is that they can provide clear statements of the service bought and the standards contracted for. Put at its strongest, this means that it gives them a degree of control over the organisation.

The attraction of contracts for the voluntary organisations is that they provide certainty of income over a period. The duration of that period is important. Voluntary organisations live too much from hand to mouth. They, as my right honourable friend the Prime Minister said in the same speech, like businesses, need stability to enable them to plan their activities and their future".

He thus endorsed the Efficiency Scrutiny's welcome recommendation of a contract period of up to five years.

But it is not only the duration of the period, it is how it ends that matters. I know of two cases—the ITS in 1990 and the Maternity Alliance in the current year—where the Department of Health, as a major funder, announced a substantial reduction of funding after the start of the financial year in which it took effect. There may be other cases, at local as well as national level. My third request to the Minister is an undertaking that this really deplorable practice will cease in central government and be severely discouraged by it in local authorities.

I am sure that the proper system for major contracts is to use rolling contracts of not less than three years, reviewable every year. Then, even if the review takes a year, which sadly does happen, there will still be time for 12 months' notice and proper preparation for change. Perhaps I may make it absolutely clear that in this context, and in all others, a major contract is one that is of major importance to the voluntary organisation. In the eyes of the authority that may be tiny—indeed, it often is—and hence the cavalier treatment which voluntary organisations sometimes receive.

That system will not only help voluntary organisations to deliver a good service to clients, it will help to offer a little more security of career to their salaried staff who, in my experience, work tirelessly and with enormous dedication for less that they could get in the rest of the market. I pay tribute to them —as should your Lordships —for without their dedication the work of literally millions of volunteers and all the benefits which they generate will be lost.

But there are other risks with contracts. First, a voluntary organisation that contracts as the sole provider of a service to an authority and delivers the whole of its output under that contract becomes, in effect, no more than an agent of the authority to which it is contracted. It is under its control and subject to its policies. That does not disseminate the authority's function to the sector; it extends the authority's power over the sector.

Secondly, where the whole of a voluntary organisation's output of a service is under contract to an authority, even where others do also provide the same service, unless the contract is carefully and liberally drawn, it surrenders the freedoms to vary the service, to innovate and to experiment. But those freedoms are central to the purpose of the transfer and for which it was undertaken.

In another part of his speech, my honourable friend Mr. Jack, the Minister, said: I recognise that some within the voluntary sector are uneasy about developments in the contract field".

He explained that by adding: They have not got used to the jargon".

My next request is that my noble friend will explain to Mr. Jack that it is not the jargon that worries us but the culture.

Good contracts used in moderation can benefit the sector, and therefore its clients. But careless, illiberal or excessive contracting can do great damage to both, and is dangerous.

I said a moment ago that one of the attractions of contracting for central and local government was that it gave them a measure of control over the activity of the sector. The instinctive wish to exercise control may be weak in Ministers and council leaders, but it is strong in officials at both levels. One can understand its attractions. But if this transfer is to be successful it must maintain independence and flexibility in the sector.

In days of boom one might hope that that independence could be guaranteed by private sector funding. In days of recession it cannot. If we accept that the objectives of much of the voluntary sector are not only compatible with, but largely the same as, those of Government—and it is very hard not to—it follows that the Government have a duty to see that the sector remains at least as effective as it now is and, for reasons I hope I have explained, that voluntary organisations retain their autonomy within it.

That cannot be achieved by a reduction of government support to the sector at exactly the time the recession is both reducing income from all other sources and increasing the demands put upon it. Neither can it be achieved by contracting alone. That is why the speedy withdrawal of core funding in favour of contracting, never admitted by government but constantly attested to by practitioners in the field, must be reversed. My third request is that my noble friend the Minister will impress that on the voluntary service unit in his own department. That unit has a crucial part to play. The voluntary sector operates in almost all departmental areas of responsibility and the policy of each of those departments affects it closely.

If I detect from the Opposition Chief Whip that I am over time, then I say that I understood that I had 20 minutes in which to speak.

Lord Graham of Edmonton

My Lords, 15 minutes.

Lord Elton

My Lords, in that case I shall conclude with some regret and hope that I shall have time at the end. I request that the Minister informs the House of the composition of the ministerial group chaired by my honourable friend Mr. Jack; the terms of the mission statement of the voluntary service unit and the numbers and grades of the staff assigned to it in his department and attached to it from other departments.

As my noble friend Lady Macleod has sadly fallen and is unable to be present, I hope that your Lordships will be able—with much regret and good wishes to her —to use the time that she has vacated to make good my error of judgment. My Lords, I beg to move for Papers.

6.26 p.m.

Lord Plant of Highfield

My Lords, perhaps I may first thank the noble Lord, Lord Elton, for initiating the debate on this important and interesting topic, not least because it gives me the opportunity to speak about one of the few topics of which I know a little. I rise with some trepidation to make my first speech in your Lordships' House because, unlike most of your Lordships, my expertise, such as it is, is rather unspecific. I have spent my academic career teaching and writing about political philosophy and ideas. If my party had needed a spokesman on Plato, Aristotle, Kant or Hegel, I believe that I might have been of more immediate use to it than I currently am. I am sure that I have a great deal to learn from your Lordships about the practical aspects of public policy.

William Beveridge defined the sphere of voluntary action in the following way: To do things which the state should not do … to do the things that the state is most unlikely to do … to pioneer ahead of the state, to make experiments and to provide public services which could not be got by paying for them". So the central issue is the relationship between the state and the community in many ways. During the past 15 years or so we have seen a gradual decline in the degree of consensus about what the state should and should not be doing and thus of the context within which voluntary work should be undertaken and the kinds of needs that it should meet.

The government of the noble Baroness Lady Thatcher, the underlying principles of which were given powerful expression in the writings of the noble Lord, Lord Joseph, in the 1970s have, I believe, led all parties, for good or ill, to a reconsideration of the nature of the state and in particular the role of the state in the provision of welfare.

I come to the present debate with a very strong conviction that welfare, including health care, education and social security, is a basic right of citizenship which should be provided as fairly and as equally as possible to all citizens in the same way so that we try to secure their welfare rights as well as their civil and political rights. In the light of that I welcome the Home Office document's assertion that the encouragement of the voluntary sector should not be at the expense of, or be seen as an alternative to, public provision.

I say that because in the 1980s there were many siren voices in the think-tanks, such as the Institute for Economic Affairs and the Adam Smith Institute, influenced by American social policy theorists such as Charles Murray, who were arguing for the wholesale privatisation of core areas of the welfare state. That would inevitably have meant that the voluntary sector would have had to play a much more central role in basic welfare provision than I believe could possibly be justified. The point about the voluntary sector is just that it is voluntary and thus it has to be discretionary and cannot be universal in aspiration and in scope in terms of the needs it seeks to satisfy. "From each as they choose to each as they are chosen" may be the central philosophical foundation of voluntary action, but it cannot be a legitimate principle in terms of which to distribute the basic goods, meeting the common needs of society.

Nevertheless it behoves those of us who take this view of welfare to formulate some kind of philosophy of the voluntary sector which sees a central place for it even within an entitlement-based view of welfare. In the time remaining to me I just want to mention a few features of voluntary organisations which it seems to me should provide an indispensable place for the voluntary sector. The first has to do with the idea of community. An entitlement approach to welfare has the strength of providing for people's needs in a universal and predictable way, but nevertheless it can be impersonal.

Perhaps here I may quote a short passage from an important book by Michael Ignatieff called The Needs of Strangers. This is a book which has also provided the title of a report on the future of the voluntary sector published recently by Gresham College. Ignatieff says this: People have needs and, because they live within a welfare state, these needs confer entitlements—rights to the resources of people like me. Their needs and their entitlements establish a silent relationship between us. As we stand together in line at the post office, while they cash their pension cheques, some tiny portion of my income is transferred into their pockets through the numberless capillaries of the state. The mediated quality of our relationship seems necessary to both of us. They are dependent on the state, not upon me, and we are both glad of it. Yet I am aware of how this mediation walls us off from each other. We are responsible for each other, but we are not responsible to each other in the welfare state.

The question though is, while this may be the absolutely necessary means by which basic needs are met in a complex society, it cannot be a basis for community even though it is a necessary condition for one since it is so abstract and mediated. The voluntary sector has a central role to play as a counterweight to the impersonal function of the welfare state. The welfare state has its central virtues of equity, justice and fairness, but these are impersonal virtues which need to be complemented by the more discretionary virtues which voluntary action embodies. Each is necessary. One cannot replace the other.

Secondly, I think it is the case that people living in many of the most deprived areas in our society feel deeply alienated from the state, partly because of the deprivation which they experience, and as a result of that I think there are many of the agencies of the state where the social workers or social security officers may not be able to help them effectively to build up a sense of their own worth and self esteem. I suspect that the voluntary sector may have a central and crucial role to play in helping a sense of reintegration into a society which promises most people so much but can equally so effectively marginalise its less successful.

Thirdly, I believe that the voluntary sector can be more innovative than either state agencies or local authority bodies. It is in this context that I want to enter one caveat about the Home Office document, and in many ways I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Elton. First,—and I shall be brief about this—I strongly agree with the point that the noble Lord makes about the contractual culture. I think that the idea of target setting and monitoring may well destroy precisely the innovative capacity of the voluntary sector that is so important to it.

Further, there is the commitment to funding those agencies which accept prevailing ethical standards. I am a little worried about what interpretation is to be put on that. Given the Government's view about maintaining family values, would they fund, say, a refuge for battered wives? It is that kind of issue that needs addressing. Finally, there is a danger that the contractual method of the voluntary sector may become an agency of the state, which will precisely destroy all those virtues that I have tried to explain give the voluntary sector an indispensable role in a welfare society.

6.35 p.m.

Lord Gibson

My Lords, I am fortunate to follow the noble Lord, Lord Plant, and to be able therefore to be the first to congratulate him on his admirable maiden speech. I hope that we shall hear him on a number of other subjects. He said that he was not an expert on the things that affected this House but we know that he is, and I hope that we shall hear him often. We are grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Elton, for initiating the debate. I am somewhat embarrassed by the late start of the debate because I have to leave at a quarter past eight for an appointment for which I must not be late. If I miss some of the Minister's reply I shall read it with the greatest of care.

I should like to talk about voluntary work in the field of conservation because that is the field I know best having chaired the National Trust for nearly nine years. The trust is a major example of the contribution made by the voluntary sector to the public good. Of course there are other important players in the field both in the man-made and the natural environment, but the trust must be the largest conservation society in the world both in terms of the size of its holdings —more than 200 houses open to the public and half a million acres of beautiful landscape held for public enjoyment in perpetuity—and in terms of support. There are over 2 million members providing some £50 million a year subscription income alone, quite apart from the donations that they make to specific projects.

A feature of the trust's work that is especially relevant to this debate is the involvement of volunteers. The chairman of the trust, Lord Chorley —who was not able to be here this afternoon but would no doubt have told you this himself if he had been—told the annual meeting of the trust the other day that there were 23,000 volunteers last year, young and old, who put in one and a quarter million hours of work, equivalent to the hours worked by just over a quarter of the trust's permanent paid staff. It is an impressive figure and an encouraging one. He gave some examples of the work. There were 7,000 room stewards signing up for the season; over 500 professional volunteers such as surveyors, safety experts, archaeologists, insurance experts and so on. Then there is all the money that groups raise for the trust, as well as the ACORN camps which work on footpaths, fencing and so on in the Lake District and elsewhere.

How amazed the founders of the trust 100 years ago would have been to see the support that their ideals have engendered 100 years later. They of course were typical of the type of people in the late Victorian age who had strong social consciences and got together to found what had developed into very large charitable organisations. In the last century most of education, hospitals, savings and many other basic needs were primarily and sometimes exclusively served by voluntary organisations. But as the 20th century progressed the state began to do more, and of course much private philanthropy of the 19th century has been replaced in this century by business philanthropy, so that there are now really three providers of many of our social needs: the state, commercial enterprise, and enterprise of a non-profit making kind, a voluntary kind. We have, as it were, a triangular partnership.

In the field of conservation the state is represented not only by the Department of the Environment but by the two bodies funded by the Government, English Heritage and the National Heritage Memorial Fund, brilliantly lead until his recent retirement by my noble friend Lord Charteris, to whom we all ought to feel, and do feel, a great debt of gratitude because as its first chairman he set it on its way 12 years ago. Both English Heritage and the National Heritage Memorial Fund were closely in partnership with the National Trust. It has been a pretty spectacular partnership over recent years, first, for historic houses that have come to the nation such as Kedleston, Canons Ashby, Calke, Belton, Castle Coole in Northern Ireland, Sheringham, Chastleton, to mention only a few, and some superb countryside such as Abergwesyn in South Wales, Kinder Scout in the East Midlands, Studley Royal in Yorkshire, the historic park at Dynevor in Wales, Stowe landscape garden, and of course many coastal acquisitions under the Neptune scheme, acquisitions in the Lake District and so on.

Sometimes the partnership does not bring it off. The case I have in mind is Pitchford Hall in Shropshire, a house of great antiquity. It has no artistically very important contents but has all the historic interest and charm of a house with its accumulation of contents over many hundreds of years. The trust could not raise the money in the time available but English Heritage and the National Heritage Memorial Fund produced a scheme to rescue it within their resources. They were overruled by the Government. There is no point in having quangos if they cannot establish their own priorities within the resources allocated to them. They should determine their priorities. That case was a failure but on the whole over the past 20 or 30 years the system has much more often succeeded. The National Heritage Memorial Fund in particular has proved to be a priceless weapon in the fight to preserve our historic and natural heritage.

What of the future? The greatest contribution that the Government can make is to recognise that in the case of historic houses the private owner, whether his family has been in a house for generations or whether he has just bought it, is, if he can make a go of opening to the public, probably in this field the most valuable voluntary worker of all. Nobody recognises that more than the National Trust itself which has no ambitions ever to be more than a longstop.

I urge the Government to do more for the private owner who lets the public in on the grounds that it is the cheapest and, as many of us including the National Trust think, the best way of harnessing the voluntary sector to this goal. Fiscal help in the form of allowing maintenance funds, under the right conditions, not to pay tax and the removal of VAT on repairs to historic buildings to which there is adequate public access are the two steps for which this lobby is calling. I am entirely on their side. It is the only way that we shall achieve it. That would be the best form of partnership between the Government and the voluntary sector if we are to preserve this part of our heritage in the years ahead.

6.42 p.m.

Lord Joseph

My Lords, I want, though very briefly, to support the Motion of my noble friend Lord Elton and I apologise for the commitment that will prevent me from staying right through the debate. I am glad to pay tribute to the maiden speech of the noble Lord, Lord Plant. He and I have an overlap of interests: perhaps an overlap of points of view; but certainly plenty to debate. I look forward to reasoning with him and arguing with him in this House from time to time.

I hope that he will recognise in what he said about the universality of provision within the social services that that universal approach has to be very carefully shaped and reshaped from time to time to protect the spirit of self-reliance on the part of those who need the provision, and the motivation of those who provide the service. He will remember that Beveridge emphasised the need not to destroy the self-reliance of the population and to preserve both the work ethic and the voluntary spirit.

I am glad to follow the noble Lord, Lord Gibson, who speaks with passion and with experience of the needs of conservation, conservation which serves the interests, the sense of wonder, the education and the culture of the people of the country. I turn from the buildings that are part of conservation to the people for whom conservation is important, though I marvel, as I think we all do, at the scale, the variety and the dedication of the voluntary services. There will always be new needs and new enthusiasms on top of all the existing needs, but who can doubt that some of the human miseries with which voluntary services try to deal flow from one particular cause. It is a cause on which I have spoken to your Lordships before. The cause is inadequate parenting at all levels of income and education.

The House flinches from this subject because of its inherent delicacy and difficulty, yet I urge again that the subject be taken seriously. Of course inadequate parenting cannot be eliminated, but it can be reduced. The way to reduce it which lies open to our own efforts is through voluntary services. I should like to tell your Lordships that following a debate in this House only a few months ago the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children and the Council for Education Development have been in touch with me. We are very diffidently exploring the prospects for a few pilot projects in preparation for parenthood. Of course there are efforts going on all over the country —fragmented efforts—to provide something in the field of preparation for parenthood. We all know that it is a particularly difficult area in which to help which is made much more difficult by all kinds of current trends and all kinds of cultural influences. But if even marginally the extent of inadequate parenting could be reduced then all kinds of other fields of voluntary work would become less formidably large and hard.

I should like to speak briefly on the role of those voluntary bodies which on a large or small scale try to befriend families who want and need help in their own homes. Some of your Lordships know of my own enthusiasm for the work of Homestart which deploys nearly 4,000 volunteers. They provide about four hours of work a week in the home supporting families for an average of about 14 months. In that way they rescue nearly 20,000 children a year—fresh children each year—from what would otherwise be the prospect of family break-up and a life in care leading probably to criminality, addiction and all the other miseries.

I am talking therefore of truly radical voluntary work, work that gets at the root of later problems. If we can be less timid about trying to improve inadequate parenting where the help of voluntary services is welcome—I do not mean to impose it in any way—perhaps we can have some effect in reducing some of the other troubles that plague our society. I support my noble friend's Motion.

6.47 p.m.

Baroness Fisher of Rednal

My Lords, I shall not directly follow the line of the noble Lord, Lord Joseph, except to say that the constituency I represented in Birmingham—Ladywood—was an inner city constituency. The Ladywood Inner City Partnership does work identical to that mentioned by the noble Lord. There are certain education problems which we all know have to be tackled but that part of Birmingham is benefiting from inner city partnership money and urban aid. However, one of the problems in trying to help the group of people to whom the noble Lord referred is that Government cutbacks on inner city aid programmes and inner city partnership money will lead to fewer resources for the voluntary organisations that are working so hard with some of the most difficult families.

I should like to concentrate upon the importance of recognising the fact that thousands and thousands of people get themselves involved in money-raising schemes in the country. They are not attached to any organisation; they are just there when the need arises. One of the most successful are those, like the one we have in Birmingham, in a children's hospital. When one has a famous operation on a child, everyone knows about it. The parents want to raise money to buy some fantastic machinery for the hospital in order to cure other young children. The snowballing continues with all such activities. Thousands of people are involved, either shaking collection boxes on a Saturday for worthy causes, organising fun runs or doing all kinds of things. In many cases, those people are the backbone of local charities.

Therefore, when I looked at the Home Office publication, I was somewhat disturbed to see that such people are called, ordinary men, women and children". I do not call them ordinary men, women and children; I call some of them extraordinary. I took grave exception to the word "ordinary" being used to describe those people. Looking through the pages of the document, one can become a little worried when reading under "Awards for volunteering" that the Honours system, of course, reflects outstanding contributions by individuals in the voluntary sector". I do not know whether the words "outstanding contributions" mean the number of man hours that people have given or whether it means substantial donations being given in order to get one's name on the Honours list.

I should point out that the title of the publication is The Individual and the Community and not The Individual and Society which is the subject of the debate as set out on the Order Paper. In it, we can see that training for employment is mentioned. When various departments are working together and we see the TECs taking up most of the resources, we must look at those organisations—such as the Rathbone Society, which is known to me, and others—which are losing out on TECs. They are training young people whom we now call "educationally backward". But they are experiencing extreme difficulties because they are losing out on that form of finance.

I thought that the report was a little dismissive about what young people do. I only know what young people in Birmingham do. If we are to have the sleep-out—of which I am part—for the young homeless in the city, we shall have literally scores of university students sleeping out all night on 4th December, as will Boys' Brigade lads and other young people.

We are very fortunate in the West Midlands to have another group of people. However, I am not sure whether this is general throughout the country. I refer to the West Midlands' fire service young firefighters. They do a tremendous amount of voluntary work. Part of their training is based on being good firefighters in the future; but the specific efforts that they make are helping in many ways. That has to be praised.

I turn now to trends in charitable giving. We must recognise the fact that one of the big charitable trends that have changed are the TV marathons. When they are taking a score of the money raised they say things like, "We have now reached half a million; let us have someone else!" There is much fun and enjoyment. Such marathons give out large sums of money to some of the smaller charities that are well known in particular areas.

If we are looking at trends in charitable giving, I should point out that "payroll giving" is enunciated in the document. As unemployment, and the large number of people on the dole has increased, can the Minister say whether the number of schemes has decreased? We see specific numbers. But, in view of the number of people who are not working now, has the practice of money being stopped out of one's wages-in other words payroll giving—diminished?

My next point follows on from the latter. I see that the Windsor Group is mentioned in the document. I have never heard of the group. However, as I come from Birmingham, that is perhaps not unusual. I do not know what it is. But if those involved can give any guidance to people outside of Windsor, London or anywhere else, we would be most grateful. One of the real problems faced by the three charities with which I am involved is that of establishing the practice of payroll giving.

Inner-city partnership will be very important in the future if it is to carry out government policy of working together. We cannot afford for charities not to know from year to year how to develop if they find that government funding is perhaps only done on a weekly, monthly or whatever basis.

I should like to conclude by referring to some words from the document, The Individual and the Community. It says that the Government cannot instruct people to give to charity but it can create the right climate to encourage them to give more. Would the right climate be that the Government should make increased efforts towards putting the unemployed back into jobs so that they could be giving more generously than they can at present?

6.56 p.m.

Lord Henderson of Brompton

My Lords, the Motion tabled in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Elton, rightly calls attention, to the increasing importance of the work of voluntary agencies", at a time when they are experiencing great difficulties. Those difficulties are mostly caused by under-funding, or at least lower funding than that to which they have been accustomed. Of course, the funding comes from the Government, from local authorities as well as from private sources. That lower funding comes at a time when there is increasing demand for voluntary services. I am speaking about all kinds of voluntary services, but I am especially interested in social and advisory services. The fact that they are being starved of funds is very largely due to the recession; it is not merely because less money is being given by the three main sources of funds, but also because there is very much more for the social and advisory services to do as a result of the recession.

One normally thinks of the poorer parts of the United Kingdom in regard to the need for social and advisory services. But now that is not necessarily so. Indeed, I am told that there is a steeper deterioration in some of the more affluent areas where unemployment has risen disproportionately and comparatively fast—quite apart from disaster areas such as the mining communities. Therefore, there is a double reason to be grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Elton, for raising the matter this evening.

I should like to say a brief word about local authorities. I am slightly worried about indications that one or two local authorities are not funding social and advisory services as they have in the past and are tempted to reduce their rates thereby. If that practice were to spread, it would give rise to an horrific state of affairs. It is most important that local authority funding should be kept high.

As my time is limited, I should like to concentrate on one area only of voluntary service; namely, that concerned with youth crime where the Government have expressly welcomed co-operation between the statutory and voluntary services. In particular, I should like to draw attention to intermediate treatment. The Intermediate Treatment Fund is struggling for existence after its funding has been tapered off, and is soon to be extinguished by the Department of Health which founded it, I believe, in 1978. It is sad that that should be so just as the Criminal Justice Act 1991 is being implemented. The success of its policy of keeping young people out of custody depends largely upon the provision of intermediate treatment centres which magistrates can use as part of their non-custodial sentences. Magistrates will find it much harder to work with the grain of the 1991 Act if facilities for non-custodial treatment are unavailable.

The Intermediate Treatment Fund also plays an important role in discovering, promoting and supporting IT schemes which successfully divert young people at risk and at their most vulnerable. There are other agencies that also do that. There are IT schemes funded by local authorities, but the most active and innovative agency for the promotion of IT schemes is the Intermediate Treatment Fund which was a most important initiative introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Ennals, when he was Minister for Health. It has been continued until now by successive Ministers for Health.

The motive, apart from its intrinsic worth, is to reduce the number of young people who might otherwise drift into criminality. In its work, it is spot on in fulfilling the aims contained in the Prime Minister's speech at the Charities Aid Foundation conference in November 1991 which is incorporated in the publication which is the subject of today's debate. He said: We want more recognition of the needs of smaller, lower-profile organisations, the vital little battalions of the voluntary world; and we want more recognition of the contribution of volunteers". The Intermediate Treatment Fund's staff with its accumulated experience, and the John Hunt Award Trust, have together performed just those functions. All over the country, intermediate treatment initiatives of the most imaginative and constructive kind have been actively sought out, promoted and developed. The funding has been put to exceptionally productive use, not just because of its intrinsic worth but because for every £1 in funding which the Department of Health has contributed, the Intermediate Treatment Fund has been able to raise no less than £5 from other sources. Such good value as regards such work is rare indeed. I hope that the savings generated by diverting young people from the huge cost of custody is money well spent. I hope that it will continue to receive official and private support.

I hope that the Government recognise good value when they see it and will be generous when the Intermediate Treatment Fund is relaunched next year under the dynamic new title of Divert under the dynamic leadership of the noble Lord, Lord Elton.

7.4 p.m.

Lord Carr of Hadley

My Lords, I hope that I may have your Lordships' indulgence if I have to leave before the end of the debate. I must leave not later than 8.30 p.m. When I put my name down to speak, I thought that that would be comfortably beyond the latest time at which the debate was likely to end. Like others, I say to my noble friend Lord Elton how much we appreciate his choice of this subject for debate. It is a most important subject. I join others in congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Plant of Highfield, on his maiden speech. As my noble friend Lord Joseph said, it was an interesting and thought-provoking speech. I hope that we shall have a mutual exchange of thoughts on these subjects on a number of occasions over the next months and years.

The strength and quality of voluntary organisations and work in this country is great. It is a precious asset and its scale and variety is something at which to wonder. It must be preserved. We must work constantly to ensure that it is increased and not allowed to diminish in quality or scale. We must put it to the best possible use. For a few moments that is what I want to make my theme. When one studies the booklet published by the Home Office, one can say that over the past decade governments have done a great deal to strengthen the voluntary movement in what otherwise might have been difficult times. They have made it easier to give. They have encouraged giving and the use of voluntary bodies in a greater variety of ways. Over the past decade, governments on the whole can take credit for their stewardship of the voluntary movement. But I should like to see government becoming more pro-active and less reactive to ensure that we put the enormous voluntary effort to even better use.

I wish to illustrate my point by taking one example. I have the great honour and privilege of being the president of the Rainer Foundation. It is a post I took over from the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, who cannot be with us this evening. It was a great honour to take over from him. The Rainer Foundation has a number of particular points. First, it is probably unique in that it works for young people between the ages of 13 and 25. There is no break in the middle. The spectrum of children growing into full adulthood is continuous. Some of the troubles the services in this country have are caused by the artificial break when a child becomes a juvenile, a young adult and so forth. The Rainer Foundation works over the whole range. That is one of the reasons why it has been able to do such valuable work for so many years. It has been going for well over 100 years under one name or another.

The Rainer Foundation has three main purposes: the first is to reduce the severity and frequency of re-offending among those with which it works; secondly, to reduce the use of custody and remand into prison for juveniles and young adult offenders; and, thirdly, in doing that, to innovate and successfully to develop and constantly improve methods of treatment and to pass on its successfully developed techniques to other organisations, whether in the public or voluntary sector. Where it is successful, what it does can be done on a much larger scale than it is possible for one body to do itself, and nor should it. That is where I hope to see the Government becoming pro-active.

I talk about the Rainer Foundation as an innovator. To ensure that no one thinks that I am exaggerating, perhaps I might mention the fact that its most famous innovation was, of course, the probation service. It was a pre-war effort, but that is the spirit which continues to inspire it. I should like to give a brief summary of its record. We have managed a good many projects, often in partnership with the probation service. What has been most striking is the impact these projects have had on sentencing and apparently also, I am glad to say, in reducing the rate of recidivism among those whom we treat. For example, at the Juvenile Justice Centre in Southend custody was reduced by 70 per cent. in the first year of its operation. In Aylesbury, the Kingsbury Project, in partnership with the Buckinghamshire probation service, had a marked impact on Crown Court sentencing. Between 1987 and 1988, 37 17-to-20 year-olds were sentenced to custody. By 1990 this had dropped to 17, and last year it was only five.

However, it is not only the reduction in custody that has been achieved. Figures on recidivism have also been encouraging. There is less than the normal amount of re-offending, and where re-offending occurs it is often much less serious than the original offences.

I could give your Lordships a number of examples, but I will only mention one more. At the Stone House Probation Hostel in Northampton, a study of 100 persons over a year demonstrated that only 46 became recidivists, compared with the normal 70 per cent. or 80 per cent.

I wish to say to the Minister that I hope the Home Office will look at those results and test the figures, if necessary. If that testing proves that the claims are substantial, perhaps the Minister will realise the precious gift he has in his hands to benefit young people, to reduce the amount of crime and to do both at much less public cost. That is where proactive investment will produce great social and economic benefits to our society. That is why I cry out for greater proactiveness.

7.12 p.m.

The Earl of Longford

My Lords, as one would expect, the noble Lord, Lord Elton, initiated the debate in a highly expert fashion, basing his remarks on much dedicated service. His example has been followed by all other speakers, including my colleague Lady Fisher and the noble Lord, Lord Carr. I join in the warm congratulations to the noble Lord, Lord Plant. I am glad that we heard the voice of political philosophy raised in this House; we do not hear enough of it. I gather that we shall hear more about Plato, Hegel, Kant and even Karl Marx. It was always a question when I was at Oxford as to whether Marx was a philosopher. No doubt we shall have enlightenment on such matters in time to come but today we were much impressed.

It was interesting to find so many references to Beveridge, as he is now called—William, later Lord Beveridge. I worked with him for three years as his personal assistant, I had joined the Labour Government in a humble capacity when work on voluntary action started. I did my bit, I made a speech in 1949 on behalf of the Labour Government. I was assisted with much of it by Mr. Herbert Morrison and in it I declared that voluntary action was the life blood of democracy, without it democracy loses its soul. I do not know whether people think that there are more eloquent things to be said about it today or subsequently; I reserve my opinion. At any rate, today we are concerned not with the past, not with words, but with deeds.

Like all other noble Lords who have spoken, I have been concerned in many forms of voluntary action. I have often mentioned the Matthew Trust, the New Horizon Centre for the Young Homeless which I founded with others; the New Bridge for ex-prisoners which again with others I founded and over which the noble Lord, Lord Henderson, now presides. He has been a good deal more successful in getting money from the Home Office than I was in the early days. When we started, the Home Office put it about that we were a homosexual set up. When it was pointed out that I had eight children, they said, "Oh, we know all about that. It's just cover"! At any rate, in these latter days they are much more helpful, although perhaps not helpful enough.

I wish to concentrate in these few minutes on a smaller organisation. I have been much impressed by the talk of thousands of people being helped by this or that movement, and of course all credit goes to the people who run those immense establishments. However, I am thinking today of the Effra Trust which may or may not be known to your Lordships. There is no organisation that I personally admire more in the field of social work than the Effra Trust, and no individual that I admire more in that connection than the lady who presides over it, Mrs. Jane Branston. There are several units; but the one that I know best, has 26 of the most difficult people to cope with that one could find anywhere. They are ex-offenders who have committed serious offences and who are so mentally disturbed that it is considered that they qualify for residence in an Effra home.

The Effra Trust tries to persuade them all—successfully, in my experience—that these are their homes. Some of them have been there as long as eight years, some people have died in one establishment that I have visited. There is no doubt at all that the trust is giving a wonderful service, if only because these unfortunate people would otherwise be let loose on the public and who knows what would happen.

I find it immensely inspiring and recommend noble Lords to pay them a visit. I hope they will do so in the near future because under the Government's financial rearrangements, there is a serious danger that in 18 months the Effra Trust will be compelled to fold up. I cannot go into the financial arrangements which may produce that, but it is a real threat. At any rate, that is how it seems to the devoted people running the trust.

I do not expect the noble Earl, when he replies, to say anything positive on the matter—I gave him a few minutes' notice before the debate started—but I hope he will promise to look carefully at the situation of the Effra Trust. These people are the most difficult in the country, they have found a home there and it would be an absolute outrage if the Effra Trust were wound up. It would only be because the finance which had previously been forthcoming was no longer available. I hope that the noble Earl will make sure that that outrage does not occur.

7.17 p.m.

The Earl of Limerick

My Lords, we are all obliged to my noble friend Lord Elton for initiating this timely debate. He has been my friend for more years than either of us would care to be reminded of, starting in the distinctly non-noble years. We are currently associated in various endeavours in the voluntary sector. I now have to do what I hate. Six months ago I accepted an evening engagement which could not be altered and I shall therefore be obliged to leave before the end of the debate, for which I apologise to the House.

My noble friend Lord Elton and the noble Baroness, Lady Fisher, among others, have drawn attention to evidence that the voluntary sector is alive and well. Recently I was engaged as treasurer of the Royal Marsden Hospital Cancer Appeal in helping to raise £25 million in a rather unfavourable climate. The individual efforts which contributed a good part of that amount were beyond praise.

I wish to start with a general point. The Government's acknowledgement of the role and importance of the voluntary sector is to be welcomed as exemplified in the many constructive interfaces and specifically in the fresh look taken in their paper: The Individual and the Community.

Inevitably, in a short intervention I shall speak to issues where the situation is, at least to my perception, less than perfect. But I would not like that to detract from the recognition of so much which is good and supportive, both of the voluntary sector in general —to the annual tune, we are told, of £2.4 billion—and also specific causes within the sector.

I turn to a specific but major area and that is the poor of London. Some 101 years ago the City Parochial Foundation was created by Act of Parliament to address the needs of those people, initially with a few thousand pounds. Today it has annual donations of around £10 million. For the past 20 years I have been a trustee of that body, as a Crown nominee, and earlier this year I became chairman. Naturally our centenary history, an eminently readable account by Victor Belcher—I commend that history—was required study. Comparing that history with the thrust of the Government paper, one is struck by an evident paradox. In the late 19th century and the first half of the 20th century, as my noble friend Lord Elton has remarked, the voluntary sector reacted to crying perceived needs not then regarded as the concern of central or local government, and addressed itself directly to meeting them. As the provision of social security and basic health came to be assumed by government, the role of the voluntary sector remained to identify new needs and often to get those needs adopted for public funding.

Now we have an apparent contradiction—in part at least. The question I ventilate here is whether the cart may now be put before the horse. The Government paper proclaims that dedicated individuals and groups can act flexibly and that they can spot and fill gaps in provision quickly. That is a good observation as that is the traditional role of those groups and they have performed it well. However, one detects some role reversal here. If voluntary organisations are to be service deliverers, their funding base has to be secure. However, it is becoming less and less secure.

A climate of uncertainty and even confusion exists. The Department of Health, for example, has announced it will now limit its Section 64 grants for core costs to five years. Traditionally trusts have started new work, so what do voluntary organisations now do? They are encouraged to look to "other sources". What are those other sources? Other sources can only mean local authorities, companies, individual donations or charitable trusts. In the case of the nearly 2,000 organisations funded by the City Parochial Foundation and the Trust for London in the past five years, the money raised from companies and donations was negligible. Local authorities increasingly were unable to pick up trust funding. Indeed some authorities warned us not to encourage voluntary endeavour because they could not take it on. Therefore we are forced increasingly to become core funders ourselves. It is this role reversal that I question.

On the one hand, it is hardly likely that government, local or central, will go out looking for problems, the amelioration of which is bound to cost a substantial sum of money, in the way that the voluntary sector does. On the other hand, when the voluntary sector in its traditional role identifies such urgent needs, or indeed if these needs emerge from projects which may be core funded by government departments, there are realistically no other sources than government to pick up substantial costs. In the present climate for fund-raising, charities are less rather than more able to respond in real terms. I believe that that question needs to be thought through more than it appears to have been thought through so far.

That brings me to the matter of the Trust for London, a sister body to the City Parochial Foundation. Again I declare an interest as chairman of the trustees. The Trust for London made its first grants in 1988. On the initiative of my honourable friend Sir George Young, its £10 million endowment came from the proceeds of asset disposal on winding up the GLC. Wonders have been performed—we have a report to support this—using the annual income of around £700,000 for the whole of London in responding to needs and inspiring action at the micro-level in the very poorest districts and communities in London, often with ethnic minorities. The benefit is out of all proportion to the cost, as illustrated in the report.

How can that good work be extended? It can only be done by an increase in the endowment. I am in touch with my honourable friend Sir George Young, who is now happily back at the Department of the Environment, to see how this might be achieved. Clearly it makes sense to apply the proceeds of surplus asset disposals in London to the lasting benefit of poor Londoners by adding to a capital fund rather than distributing to boroughs in very temporary relief of revenue constraints.

I conclude with a brief reference to a subject that was flagged by my noble friend Lord Elton and that is the burden of VAT. I cannot quantify that burden as no cost can be put on the use or misuse of the time of volunteers. I draw my information in part from the Institute of Export. I start from the position that the institute has to charge VAT on all its subscriptions. After years of argument with Customs and Excise, we have now established that 80 per cent. of subscriptions can be related to the cost of providing a journal and handbook to members and thus can be zero-rated. We do not ask to be exempt, thus losing offset on VAT inputs, but our present partially exempt status is an administrative nightmare. Every quarter we must undertake some two days' work on detailed analysis. Our director general has to sign a daunting declaration, any error in which could lead to a heavy penalty. The end result is the repayment of a few hundred pounds. That sum is probably much less than the cost of calculation. One can multiply that cost across the country and contrast that attitude with the helpful attitude of the Inland Revenue towards charities.

I appreciate that VAT is a matter not entirely within our national control. I suspect that there may be some definitional overlap between this matter and the draft directive on freedom of information, to which my noble friend Lord Elton referred, as to whether the definition of companies in Article 58 of the European Community treaty extends to non-profit organisations and thence whether UK charities fall within its scope. Some relief from this VAT burden not only in cash terms but in terms of relieving those who administer charities, and who are seldom accountants, would be of incalculable help to the voluntary sector.

7.27 p.m.

Baroness Masham of Ilton

My Lords, in his foreword to the document, the Prime Minister says: I believe that we in Britain can he proud that voluntary action is such a distinctive feature of our country". I agree that we have many excellent voluntary organisations carrying out valuable work throughout the country. However, I read in some of the literature pertaining to this debate that the UK is the only country in Western Europe that asks no service from its young people. In Germany over 100,000 young people are engaged in service in hospitals, children's homes and old people's homes. In France, 16,000 serve in schools, medical centres and in economic development. A further 7,000 work in civilian defence, that is the fire and ambulance services, at home and on standby, to help tackle natural disasters in the rest of the world. Some 4,000 more work in disadvantaged neighbourhoods tutoring, providing after-school care and beautifying blighted environments.

Last Thursday I spent the day at Deerbolt Young Offenders' Institution in County Durham. The Catholic chaplain had organised a seminar with youth workers and some of the inmates so that the young people who had got into trouble could explore ways, with the youth workers, of how best they could be helped when they returned to their communities on being discharged. Many of the youth workers had never been inside a penal institution. Some were overawed when they visited the Legs—the units where the boys are accommodated—and the block.

Many of the offenders said when they left the institution that they became bored, were hassled by the police and then re-offended. They felt if they had a telephone number and a place where they could contact the youth workers, those youth workers could perhaps keep them on the right road and help them obtain an interesting occupation even if there was no employment to be found. They put employment at the top of their list of things to help them keep out of trouble. Co-operation between the statutory services and the voluntary sector, as the report rightly says, is so vital. The youth workers felt co-operation from the probation service was vital if they were to be able to help these young offenders on the latters' discharge.

At Deerbolt the boys do voluntary work in the community, and that is excellent. The same is true of many other establishments. But there are thousands of young people getting into trouble. It would be far better for society if they did not offend in the first place. Should we not be looking at France and Germany, which seem to have an organised youth service? With the reorganisation of care in the community, does the Minister think that there is any hope of organising a scheme to give the multitude of young people something useful and productive to do? Would it not help care in the community if we had an organised community youth service, lasting for say a year or 18 months.

It is good to hear of voluntary work being done in prisons. Much talent is being locked up, and it is good to hear of Braille transcription being undertaken in prison to help the blind, and of other projects. I hope that the Minister will encourage such projects throughout the prison service. Helping less fortunate people is one of the best ways of rehabilitating prisoners.

I should like to give your Lordships an example from one of the voluntary organisations—and its funding—with which I am involved, the Spinal Injuries Association. This is a self-help group of people with spinal injuries who work to support the members, who have back and neck injuries, due to injury or illness, which have resulted in paralysis. We give information, provide holiday facilities, a counselling service, a legal advice service, and an emergency care service under which trained carers may go into a member's home for up to two weeks. We campaign for the correct treatment. We have produced a book called So You're Paralysed which has been translated into many languages and several other booklets on many different aspects of paraplegia.

Two of our specially adapted narrow boats were funded by Coral Racing and the other by the Young Farmers. Fund raising is an essential part of survival and is necessary in order for us to pay our excellent staff. We are supported by the racing industry, Heinz, British Coal, Bass and many others, including our members. The Bingo Association of Great Britain has raised £300,000 for the Spinal Injuries Association.

We have run an awareness campaign to try to prevent neck injuries being caused by diving. That has been sponsored by Barclays Bank. We are involved with an independent living project so that people who have become paralysed can be helped to plan their lives. That project is an example of the National Health Service—Stoke Mandeville Hospital—working with a voluntary organisation—the Spinal Injuries Association. It is sponsored by Rowntree, and it is run by an independent living adviser.

Voluntary organisations cannot sit back. They have to go out and find sponsors. In these difficult times of economic distress, voluntary organisations are very concerned when companies have to withdraw their support.

There are many people working in so many different ways to provide help. Many organisations have found that it is not easy having paid and unpaid staff working together, but one only has to look at the London Lighthouse, an AIDS project, to see how well that can work. The important factor is that volunteers should be given enough support and organisation so that they feel confident.

If care in the community is to be successful, the community needs training and encouragement to accept some of the people coming out of institutional care. If government departments do not monitor what is happening and give support when needed there will be a monumental muddle; but voluntary organisations must not lose their freedom.

I now have one minute in which to thank the noble Lord, Lord Elton, for this very important and interesting debate and to congratulate the maiden speaker. I should also like to point out that next week is European Drug Awareness Week and that there are many things which need to be done in the voluntary sector. I hope that the Home Office and other government departments will look very carefully at the continuation of voluntary organisations. Otherwise, some of them will have to close down.

7.34 p.m.

Lord Alexander of Weedon

My Lords, this debate is surely timely, for the demands on the voluntary sector have never been greater. I should like to refer in a moment or two to Crisis, a leading charity for the homeless with which I have a personal involvement. But there is no doubt as to the general picture. Demands on the voluntary sector are continuing to rise. Social needs are bound to grow during a long and deep recession, but the ability of our society to respond by contributing money is diminishing. We all know how contribution levels grew during the 1980s but we now have a situation, according to the publication Charity Trends 1992, in which the level of corporate giving is diminishing in real terms, the level of individual giving is static, and the level of statutory contributions is also reducing. That means that there is bound to be a demand for money which cannot at present be met.

My own employer, NatWest, contributed close to £12 million to charitable causes in 1991. That record compares well enough with other large businesses, but we receive an enormous number of requests, no fewer than 10,000 so far this year. So we have to focus most of our support on financial education and financial literacy. In that way we can use money, skills and people in areas to which we can bring our own special strengths. However, the sad fact is that neither we nor other companies can anything like match the demands that people seek to make on us.

All of that highlights the importance of a number of points made in the publication The Individual and the Community. It is very reassuring that the Government do not see the voluntary sector as a cheap alternative to statutory bodies. Inevitably the voluntary sector sometimes feels that its actions may be regarded by the Government as a substitute for the discharge of those responsibilities which should properly fall upon the state. It is important that the voluntary sector should be seen quite firmly as supplementing, not replacing, the responsibilities of the Government.

It is also timely that the report stresses the importance of partnership. With increasing demands and considerable restraints, it is vital that the voluntary sector and the statutory authorities should work together and harness their resources efficiently. Voluntary agencies and companies working in close partnership with statutory authorities can also help those authorities to monitor the effectiveness with which they use their own resources. I see that, too, as important.

Perhaps I may now mention briefly the work of Crisis, which was established some 25 years ago as Crisis at Christmas to help meet the needs of homeless people over the Christmas period. Since 1972 it has run the Open Christmas shelter, which last year provided accommodation and food for some 2,000 people in London over the Christmas period. But the homeless are with us all the year round, not just at Christmas. I am sorry that we shall not hear from my noble friend Lady Macleod who, with her late husband, was an inspiration for the creation of Crisis and remains closely involved with our work.

The work of Crisis has grown so that now it acts as a major agency for attracting funds which help to contribute to the financing of some 260 projects across the United Kingdom. Crisis distributed about £2 million last year, in some cases supplementing grants given by statutory authorities. That is one example of funding in partnership. Our responsibility to those projects is all the more sobering and important because of the move away from local authority core funding. That undoubtedly has the effect, as my noble friend Lord Elton said, of lessening stability and the ability of projects to plan on a sound basis.

Another example of partnership with statutory authorities was the cold weather shelter which Crisis ran with funding from the Department of the Environment. An unkempt building in Tooley Street, just south of the river from here, was transformed by 30 volunteers, working round the clock, into a short-stay shelter for the homeless. Crisis ran the hostel, largely through volunteers. It accommodated 300 people, 100 of whom were subsequently rehoused. That is most important. Short-stay shelter is no substitute for permanent housing, and co-ordination between the various agencies in this area is vital.

I should like to pay tribute to the Minister for Housing, Sir George Young, who in spite of the constraints on the funds available to him seeks to understand and ameliorate the problems of homelessness. His constructive and sympathetic approach is a great asset. We hope that he will support the cold weather initiatives again this year. It will undoubtedly be much needed.

Crisis has diverse sources of funding: from the widow who gives £5, to schoolchildren who do a sponsored pilgrimage from Canterbury to London over an autumn weekend, and large companies that help with donations. But Crisis is still able to fund only about half the projects which apply for assistance. I quote Crisis as an example of a voluntary organisation that seeks to use its talents flexibly. Those talents are largely the immense goodwill of many dedicated individuals whom we are able to bring together to help supplement what the Government do. I am bound to say that in some cases it substitutes its work for work which arguably in a perfect society the Government should be able to do.

Finally, perhaps I may stress how important it is that at a time of increased demand and diminishing resources the work of the voluntary sector should be well focused and cost effective. That drive for efficiency also means that charities need an effective management team backed by trustees who take their responsibilities as seriously as if they were directors of companies. That need is reinforced by the new Charities Act. I strongly believe that the voluntary sector has to be truly accountable if it is to command the commitment of individuals and volunteers and continue to make an enhanced contribution to improving social provision. I welcome the publication that we are debating and the opportunity given to us by my noble friend to talk upon this important topic.

7.42 p.m.

Lord Judd

My Lords, I join those who have thanked the noble Lord, Lord Elton, for giving us this opportunity for today's debate. It has gone to the heart of the quality of our society. I join also in congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Plant, on a distinguished, reflective and informed maiden speech in which he brought to bear his considerable learning and experience. It augurs well for what he will bring to the House in the years ahead.

In his introduction the noble Lord, Lord Elton, paid tribute both to the volunteers and to the staff of voluntary agencies. I am glad because I believe it is that unique combination that is very much the key to the genius of the voluntary sector. As noble Lords on all sides of the House will know, I have had the good fortune to spend a good deal of my working life in the charitable and voluntary sphere. One of the things I have come to admire is the professionalism of volunteers who are unwilling to put up with second best. The number of hours they spend on training and preparation to do their work effectively indicates how seriously they take the task in hand. We congratulate them on their professionalism, but what is very often overlooked is the voluntary effort of so many of the professionals. Not only do they take small remuneration; often they work hours way beyond what would normally be regarded as the call of duty. Having worked in that sphere I have come to recognise that a very special asset is the collective calibre and talent in the voluntary sector in the United Kingdom.

If we are to talk of the staff and volunteers and their relationship with government I hope we will not overlook the compassion, concern and generosity of the millions of spontaneous donors who make possible so much of the charitable work in this country. They donate not only money but frequently goods. If we are taking this issue seriously tonight I hope that one of the messages we send to those in government with responsibility for financial and tax affairs is that we must come to grips with the current threat from Brussels to introduce VAT on voluntary effort. The prospect of VAT being imposed on donated goods is a nightmare. The value added to donated goods is the voluntary effort that goes into raising resources for charitable work. To see charitable activity of that kind taxed is totally unacceptable.

Both the noble Lord, Lord Elton, and the noble Lord, Lord Plant, spoke of the interface between the official and voluntary services. One point we have been making in various ways in the debate is that if we will the end we must will the means. If there is a significant place for voluntary organisations in our society the state must ensure that they are provided with the resources to take on those responsibilities. As the noble Lord, Lord Elton, said, it is important in that context to watch what is said tomorrow with some care and attention.

Sometimes people have commented to me on the potentially close relationship between voluntary organisations, charities and the public sector. I am always worried when I hear that. I believe deeply in the role played by public administration. I want good public services and public administration in the society in which I live, but my view is that the role of voluntary agencies is in some ways much closer to the role of the private sector. The voluntary agencies are entrepreneurs but entrepreneurs of ideas, experimentation and initiatives in the interests of the disadvantaged in our society. It is that originality that we have to preserve.

One issue that I feel I must deal with is the prospect of a state lottery. I have never been quite sure where a banana republic begins, but I am fearful about a society that becomes unduly dependent on a state lottery for its cultural, voluntary and similar aspects of national life. It is a matter of balance. One of the things that worries people in the voluntary sector is the indication that a state lottery will attract money that would otherwise go to the voluntary sector and so penalise the voluntary sector. We need to think very hard about that.

Beyond that general point lies the more specific anxiety that at a time when we are talking about the importance of voluntary effort, and the initiative, spontaneity and decentralisation which should be a characteristic of voluntary activities, we will see a move towards centralisation as we set up cumbersome state apparatus to decide how the money raised in the lottery is allocated and where. I say to those making these plans that if we take seriously the spirit of voluntarism the potential contrast is quite sick. It is very important that those responsible take seriously the creative and original dimension of voluntary activities and, in working out how money is allocated, preserve the essence of voluntary effort and not just make it an adjunct of public administration.

7.49 p.m.

Lord Westbury

My Lords, I should like to thank my noble friend Lord Elton for introducing the debate and illustrate one or two points made by him. St. John Ambulance, with whom I am connected, has some 30,000 adult members and a further 25,000 cadets. Together they give about 4 million hours a year doing voluntary work on public duties. Eighty per cent. of public events are covered by the voluntary services of St. John Ambulance and many of them, like football, could not legally take place without first-aid cover.

Since we are now in the football and rugby season, it is appropriate to illustrate the voluntary sector's contribution to those major spectator sports. St. John Ambulance asks London clubs for a minimum donation of £11.60 per 1,000 spectators plus £75 for an ambulance and £120 if a mobile first aid unit is required. The figure is slightly lower for other clubs, and obviously some organisations for which we provide cover are able to be more generous than others. Donations from event organisers, therefore, do no more than cover running costs.

St. John Ambulance relies on its many loyal supporters to raise the balance of funds required. It costs £350 to train each volunteer. A modern ambulance costs £40,000 and a mobile unit is £60,000. Even basic first aid equipment, such as dressings, stretchers, etc., are provided by fund raising. A relatively small crowd can require about four St. John personnel. However the organisation will be providing four ambulances and 60 personnel for Saturday's match at Twickenham. A similar level of service provided by the NHS would be vastly more expensive; for example, whereas St. John Ambulance asks for a donation of £75 for the use of an ambulance, the charge for the use of an NHS ambulance on similar duties is at least £200. It is interesting to note too that each policeman on duty will cost the organiser of the event £85. Similar comparisons are easily provided for other sports such as cricket, tennis, racing, and for public events such as major agricultural shows, festivals, concerts, and so on.

Community care is an important field for co-operation between voluntary organisations and the statutory authorities. A study in 1985 by the Office of Population Censuses and Surveys identified around 6 million carers in Britain. The Family Policy Studies Centre has estimated that the cost of the service currently provided by those carers, even using a very conservative figure of £4 an hour, would be between £15 billion and £24 billion a year. The Department of Health has even run an experimental scheme to look at new ways in which the voluntary sector could provide support for carers. That is ample acknowledgement of the tremendous need.

Voluntary care covers many fields. I take one for my example: the care of older people. We live in an aging society and the number of people aged 85 years and over is rising dramatically. Fifty-one per cent. of carers are aged 45 to 64 years and 28 per cent. are over 64 years of age. The majority devote at least 50 hours a week to care. Many suffer considerable strain under the burden and many themselves are not fit. It is important that adequate provision is made to identify and support those often isolated members of the community.

For demographic and social reasons there is a decreasing number of able people available to meet the needs of the increasing number of carers, and I do not refer only to those engaged with the elderly. It is a problem that needs further study. Increasing numbers of women now work either full or part-time. Families move to different parts of the country either because of, or in search of, employment. Thus the network of families in communities breaks down, often leaving isolated those in need of care.

An illustration of co-operation between the voluntary and statutory sector can be found in a charity called Counsel and Care, which provides nationwide an advice and information service for all older people and their carers. Over the years it has built up a comprehensive database of information, to the extent that one-third of the inquiries it receives comes from the social services department itself.

It is imperative that the tradition of offering service to others is nourished and maintained. There are many voluntary bodies which seek to encourage people, particularly the young, to offer their services to others. It is vital work to help ensure that there are willing, volunteer carers for the future. St. John Ambulance has chosen to rise to that challenge and will be launching a major Care in the Community initiative in April next year. However, there is a point at which such generosity of spirit and willingness to serve is not enough of itself, and I call upon Her Majesty's Government to consider carefully setting aside resources and funding to enable the voluntary agencies to provide their services in the efficient and cost effective way that those agencies and Her Majesty's Government would wish.

7.55 p.m.

Viscount Brentford

My Lords, I should like to thank my noble friend Lord Elton for so eloquently introducing this subject and leading us into what has been a most interesting and helpful debate. I should also like warmly to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Plant of Highfield, on his admirable address. We look forward to hearing much more from such an extremely able addition to your Lordships' House.

The voluntary sector is very wide indeed. I wondered, when thinking about this debate earlier, whether it included your Lordships' House, bearing in mind the remuneration that noble Lords receive. I wondered also whether it spreads across the road to the Synod of the Church of England which met in Church House this afternoon and very narrowly gave approval to the ordination of women. I am not quite sure whether that is also part of the voluntary sector.

The theme that I should like to adopt from the Home Office report, which has been mentioned by my noble friend Lord Elton and other noble Lords, is that of partnership. I read a sentence from page 7 of the report: The Government … seeks a free, vigorous and creative partnership with the voluntary sector, in which both parties can make their distinctive and valuable contributions". I shall speak in particular on the theme of partnership between the voluntary sector and local authorities.

I first pick up on what my noble friend Lord Elton said about the risk of contracting, about which I am also slightly anxious. It can favour larger organisations to the detriment of some of the smaller ones working in the field. I have the privilege to be president of an organisation called the Field Lane Foundation which, among other things, provides residential homes for the elderly. Currently there is tension between commercial efficiency and the low costs that the local authority (with which in every case we have very good relationships) quite rightly look for when they purchase a service. There is a tension between efficiency and the desire of the organisation to maintain its own purpose and aims. Following what other noble Lords have said, an example might be the amount of time that a carer is able to spend with a client.

Another aspect of contracting is the competitive spirit that is encouraged by offering contracts rather than grants. I am told that experience in the USA, in documents published by the NCVO, suggests that that can be very damaging to the nature of voluntary work and may reduce the incentive and opportunity for people to become involved. It is right that voluntary organisations should be both professional and efficient. Contracting needs to be watched.

The second need of the voluntary sector is stability at the present time. Again, the point about length of term of contracts was validly made by my noble friend Lord Elton. Voluntary organisations need stability and certainty to plan the services that they offer. They may want to expand, and develop and offer services to the local authority. They need to have stability. Voluntary organisations do not have large built-in reserves to tide them over changes. Therefore the whole matter needs to be thought through and planned carefully so that the voluntary sector knows its position.

I touch on the question of research, which is needed by many voluntary organisations to ascertain the demand for their services. It can be expensive and time-consuming for them. I suggest that local authorities should provide a comprehensive and freely available research service within their areas detailing the amount and location of need. That would save much time, energy and expense and it would enhance the partnership between voluntary organisations and the local authorities.

Finally, I refer to the partnership between different voluntary groups. I have encouraged Field Lane Foundation and other voluntary organisations with which I work to meet with other voluntary organisations to see how they can work together in particular in the community field. Can they help each other? Can they provide services together? That is another aspect of partnership which local authorities can encourage in their area. If local authorities can assist and support voluntary groups to work together it will benefit the outworking that everyone wants to see. It will be valuable in the community care field after next April. The theme of partnership which runs through the report needs to be expanded and strengthened at every level of voluntary work.

8.1 p.m.

Baroness Seear

My Lords, it is no criticism of the speech by the noble Viscount, Lord Brentford, but it is almost a cliche to say that what we see is partnership between the statutory, voluntary and private sectors. If there is to be real partnership, there has to be trust and understanding on both sides as to what is needed. I wish to underline as heavily as I can what the noble Lord, Lord Elton, and the noble Viscount, Lord Brentford, said, about the need for reliability and stability in the arrangements for funding.

The noble Lord, Lord Elton, said that contracting is not always a satisfactory substitute for core funding. Every voluntary organisation that I know of always has difficulty in raising the money for core funding. Of course no one supports excessive administrative overheads. But one cannot mount any organisation without some office at the centre; and for that core funding is required.

In order to raise money from public authorities for core funding, the practice is to negotiate for a year ahead. I ask noble Lords to consider in more detail what that entails. The voluntary body has to make its plans. It takes time, and time is money. It has to have a date to see the public authority, the government department. That can involve a considerable wait. It has to negotiate with the government department. It has then to wait—sometimes for weeks—to hear where it stands. That body is then told that it has or has not been given a grant. Let us assume that it has been given a grant. By the time that money is in the bank, it has to start the business all over again. That is time consuming and extremely wasteful. The people who undertake such negotiations ought to be engaged on the professional work of running the organisation, and they are not. They are being deflected into unnecessary activities. I ask the noble Earl to take this question seriously.

Is it possible to have three-year contracts which will roll over? Yes, there will have to be reports at the end of each year, but it is stability that one needs. How can one run any business, large or small, from a sweet shop to ICI, unless one can rely on some stability on funding: what the money will be and how the funding will come in. Of course there will be variations. I implore the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, to take the point seriously. Stability and longer-term funding are necessary so that the voluntary bodies do not have to waste so much time redoing the claims that they make and in the planning, talking, preparations, discussions and arguments.

Other factors arise in the negotiations. It would be nice if we could occasionally have the same people to deal with. I refer to the speed with which officials change. One meets with new officials whose knowledge of the subject is not always as great as it might be. An education process has to be gone through before the official understands what one is talking about. Unless one is lucky, by the next meeting, he or she has moved off. It would be nice to have some specialisation within the department so that the people with whom we deal are familiar with the subject and we could rely on them. We attain that relationship at times, but there is so much change that one has to keep starting the process all over again.

Of course we would all like to deal with only one government department. Government departments are always telling us to get our act together. Would it not be possible for government departments to get their act together, so that we could deal with several departments at one go and not have to troop around from one office to another achieving a little support here and there, and then realising that, on occasions, one department is playing another one off. We are always told at the end of the day, "That will be all right but there is always the Treasury". Of course we never get anywhere near the Treasury, but departments will always use that reason as the excuse why one cannot receive what one thinks has been promised.

So much for relationships with government departments. That would help life a great deal. However, there is a bigger problem. We have to be careful that we do not destroy the very heart of voluntary organisations. Why are they valuable? They are valuable for their independence, their ability to initiate, and to stand up to governments and to tell governments where to get off. Not infrequently that is a very necessary job. If a voluntary body is 90 per cent. dependent on public money, how voluntary will it remain over the years? The important issues will never be raised because they will make it too difficult when it comes to negotiations on funding.

We need to look urgently at the future of voluntary bodies in this country. I believe that we need to have, as they have in the United States, a few powerful, well financed funds, trusts or foundations which are completely independent of government so that there are other sources to which to go. At present a number of private funds and trusts are listed in a thick book which costs £50. If we could have countervailing financing—I know that this is a long way off—away from government departments, then the independence of the voluntary sector could he maintained. If we do not have such financing, bit by bit the voluntary sector will become little more than a limb of Government administration and that would be a great loss.

I believe that a committee of your Lordships' House could with great advantage examine what ought to be done about the long-term development of the voluntary sector in this country. It is the kind of subject that we are good at dealing with. We have a great deal of experience in this Chamber. We know the value of government departments and the need for collaboration. But we also know the risks. Will the noble Earl give thought as to whether a committee of noble Lords might consider where the voluntary sector is going. Is it going in the right direction? If not, how can it be saved?

8.8 p.m.

Lord Richard

My Lords, it has been a fascinating and useful debate. I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Elton, on bringing the subject before the House. It is one of those subjects which this House is well qualified to discuss. Everyone in the Chamber has been involved with the voluntary sector in some shape or form. The amount of experience and expertise displayed from all Benches within the past few hours has been remarkable.

The debate has also been remarkable for the maiden speech of my noble friend Lord Plant of Highfield. It was a speech of high quality, if I may respectfully and humbly say so. It was clearly well thought out. It had considerable intellectual content. I look forward to a little Hegelian dialectic between my noble friend Lord Plant and the noble Lord, Lord Joseph, as to precisely where one draws the line between the activities of the state and of the voluntary sector. It is a prospect which I relish. I sincerely congratulate my noble friend upon the power of his speech. All who heard it will look forward to the opportunity of hearing him again.

The debate has provided us with an opportunity of drawing attention yet again to the valuable work of Britain's voluntary agencies. We also welcome the Home Office report which shows that the Government's attitude towards the voluntary sector is now more positive. This country has a proud tradition of providing help to those in need but lately the voluntary agencies have assumed an even greater role.

As a number of noble Lords have said, the other side of the coin is that many charities are beginning to believe that the Government are asking them to step into the role of providing as charities services which should be available to citizens as of right. For example, in the implementation of the Children Act the Department of Health has provided no less than £250,000 for training for the whole of the voluntary sector. I am told that Barnardo's alone spent £1.6 million in 1991–92 retraining its staff for that purpose. It is that type of relationship which I find disturbing. It exists not only in the example which I have given but in many other sectors.

We in this country have one of the largest voluntary sectors in the world. The noble Lord, Lord Carr of Hadley, used the word "awesome". I note that it is the noble Lord's birthday today; perhaps he will allow me to express our congratulations. The noble Lord used the word "awesome" in looking at the whole of the voluntary sector. The word is extraordinary and not inappropriate because the sight is awesome. The Charities Aid Foundation states that in 1990 171,434 charities were registered with the Charity Commission. Their total income is between £16 billion and £18 billion. In terms of employment the sector is 80 per cent. larger than the motor industry and the same size as the energy and water supply industries. The voluntary sector plays a most important part in our national life and we must safeguard its future.

There is evidence, however, that as the recession has deepened so the total income of all charities has fallen in real terms. That view was expressed by many speakers. The Charities Aid Foundation has found that during the past three years donations from large companies have declined and legacies to the top 400 charities have fallen. At the same time it is estimated that government grants fell by an average 5.5 per cent. per year between 1985 and 1990. While the amount the Government are willing to spend on fees may have increased, grants, and especially core funding grants, seem to be increasingly threatened. I strongly agree with what was said tonight about the importance of core funding. However good the objectives of the organisation may be, however desirable and effective it may be, it cannot achieve them unless its core funding is guaranteed somehow or another.

I am concerned also that one result of the present economic background is that more charities are having to draw on their reserves in order to meet spending commitments. Barnardo's and the Spastics Society are in that position. Both have warned, rightly and inevitably, that that is only an interim position. They cannot continue to eat into their reserves merely to preserve the level of their present activities. Barnardo's is also faced with the position that the value of its assets is decreasing due to property devaluations. The effect of the recession is therefore proving to be extremely disquieting.

We on these Benches welcome the work of the Home Office voluntary service unit. It has made great strides in its liaison with, and its support for, the voluntary sector. I hope that tonight the Minister will comment on its future and the expansion of the unit's work.

As the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, said, there is a need for more co-ordination between government departments as regards voluntary agencies. On the one hand the Department of Health urges local authorities to support voluntary organisations in order to ensure the success of community care and child protection. On the other hand the Treasury and the Department of the Environment are squeezing local authority budgets and local authority expenditure. The left hand and the right hand need to work more closely together and move more in the same general direction.

I do not oppose a contract culture per se. That is a somewhat inelegant phrase but it appears to be part of the vocabulary used in this area of our national life. It can derive more certainty as contracts are usually for longer than a year but I wish to echo what I have heard from many speakers tonight. We do not want contracts to replace a commitment to core funding and we do not want voluntary organisations risking their independence to experiment and to be radical, as the noble Lord, Lord Joseph, wanted. They should be independent from government and from local authorities. Will a ruling be made soon on the question of VAT being chargeable on contracts when it is not chargeable on grants?

While we welcome the fine words of the Government on the high value of the voluntary sector —indeed, we echo them —we are concerned lest that commitment remains verbal only. The voluntary sector needs a number of things: it needs funding; it needs recognition of its valuable role in providing services which otherwise would not be provided; it needs VAT exemptions for local authority contracts; and, most of all, the Government must make it clear that they respect the independence of the voluntary sector. Contracts should not be awarded only to those charities which the Government find acceptable and perhaps acquiescent. Contracts should be awarded also, and perhaps in particular, to those which are more critical of government policies. Core funding must be safeguarded as it is not at present.

8.17 p.m.

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, the House is grateful to my noble friend Lord Elton for introducing the subject for debate. His knowledge of, and interest in, so many parts of the charitable and voluntary sphere are well known. Although the debate is described as a "short" debate it has enlisted a formidable array of knowledgeable speakers. It has also enlisted an equally formidable array of noble Lords who, for one reason or another, said that they would not be able to stay until the end of the debate. We understand those reasons. It only remains for me to commiserate with those noble Lords who do not have a pressing engagement at eight o'clock tonight. I am grateful to those who have resisted the temptation to leave and who have remained.

The debate has been notable for the maiden speech of the noble Lord, Lord Plant of Highfield. His speech was bound to be brief according to the rules but that did not make it any the less attractive. It was an interesting and knowledgeable speech. The noble Lord said that he did not believe that he had any great qualifications for taking part in the debate because his qualities lie in another field. All I can say is that the proof of the pudding was in the eating and it was very tasty.

The debate was also notable because one of the participants has a birthday today—I refer to my noble friend Lord Carr of Hadley. I am surprised that he has resisted the temptation to have another engagement but I hope that after the end of the debate he will enjoy an engagement in full measure.

The voluntary sector does not, as your Lordships well know, have quite the uniformity which its name suggests. It has always struck me what a remarkably diverse collection of organisations it is. No one knows, oddly enough, exactly what is its size. It probably consists of something like half a million voluntary organisations of all shapes and sizes. Not all of them are well-established charities with household names. Not all of them are run along strict business lines. Some of them are tiny organisations with little money, whose success depends upon a few local enthusiasts working hard for no reward at all. The noble Lord, Lord Henderson, referred to them as the vital little battalions of the voluntary world. When that kaleidoscope of varied organisations is lumped together—if one can do such a thing with a kaleidoscope—they represent a rich seam of British national life. Those voluntary bodies contribute enormously to the totality of life, and of caring, in the country as a whole. Our lives would all be considerably the poorer without them.

One merely has to take one example of many—and I would take the work of that remarkable man, the late Lord Cheshire. The Cheshire Foundation, which looks after the incurably sick, took over my old home at Staunton Harold in Leicestershire, nearly 40 years ago now, and I had the privilege of being a trustee of his foundation for some 15 or so years. I shall never forget the first trustees' meeting which I attended in 1955. It was decided that there would be no more Cheshire Homes because there were enough and the organisation would become too large. There were six.

There are now 83 in the United Kingdom and 180 abroad in 48 countries. No one can know how many people's lives have been affected, alleviated or transformed by the work of the late Lord Cheshire and his foundation—and one need not have been a patient to be so affected. I take this organisation as only one example of one particular field of voluntary work. However, it is certain that people's lives have been helped by voluntary effort in a way which would have been impossible had they been left solely to the care of the state. That is not a reflection on the state, it is merely a fact.

I am also glad that our voluntary bodies are playing an important role in spreading the idea of voluntary activity beyond our shores, to the new democracies in Eastern and Central Europe.

My noble friend Lord Elton referred in that connection to the draft EC data protection legislation. The Government share charities' anxieties about the Commission's first draft of the data protection directive. That would have severely hampered fund raising by charities. The Commission issued a redraft on 15th October. There have been a number of consultations. The preliminary indications are that the redraft goes a long way towards meeting the anxieties of charities. The Government will continue to work towards seeking a directive which is as close as possible to United Kingdom law.

The Government are, and will remain, committed to supporting and to promoting volunteering in the community. That support is not limited to words of encouragement. Between 1979–80 and 1990–91, the level of direct support to voluntary organisations rose by 150 per cent. in real terms. It now stands at £472 million a year.

Tax reliefs to charities, and charitable giving, are now worth the quite considerable sum of over £900 million a year. Excluding that tax relief, in all the Government are supporting the sector annually to the tune of £2,600 million. That is a substantial amount by all, or any, standards.

In today's debate there have been understandable cries for more money or for better distribution of funds. My noble friend Lord Joseph referred to inadequate families and the fact that, for whatever reason, they need help. He said that the problems of such families often contributed towards encouraging criminality, and he was quite right about that. On a similar subject, my noble friend Lord Carr said that we should look at the work of the voluntary sector to see whether or not that keeps people away from crime. He said that we should look at the figures and, if that is the case, we should back the voluntary agencies. He made an extremely persuasive speech. We do look at the figures. There are endlessly good arguments for spending more money but we must set some parameters on expenditure. We spend a great deal. It is important to see that what we spend is spent wisely and properly.

The noble Lord, Lord Judd, referred to a national lottery. I realise the fears which the voluntary sector has on that. Of course, charitable bodies will be an important category of recipient of lottery proceeds. Money from the lottery will not replace conventional public expenditure. Consideration is being given to amending existing legislation to protect the small lotteries from which many organisations derive their income.

Some voluntary agencies which are involved in providing aid and relief, such as Oxfam or Save the Children, are household names in almost every country. They provide swift and effective assistance when disasters strike, but they also make a unique contribution to improving the conditions of the poorest communities. Their contribution is so valuable that the Overseas Development Administration provides those organisations, and others, with substantial amounts of money. In 1990–91 over £88 million was given to non-governmental agencies. The final figure for 1991–92 is likely to be well over £100 million.

Volunteer agencies, the largest of which is Voluntary Service Overseas, now account for about half of all the personnel who are working overseas and assisted by the Overseas Development Administration. The work of the voluntary agencies is essential in the developing world. Their courage and fortitude, working in places like Sudan and Somalia, are outstanding and these non-governmental bodies are often the best local ambassadors for Britain that we could wish to have.

It is important, too, to have the involvement of the business sector. Many businesses give very generous support to voluntary organisations, by cash donations and in more practical ways. There is also much that they can do to promote volunteering. We have, therefore, been supporting the Employee Volunteering Initiative. That is designed to promote the practice of companies encouraging their employees to become involved in local projects.

Our leading national charities and voluntary organisations are increasingly prepared and equipped to provide services throughout the country. They are also prepared to take advantage of the growth of what is often termed—and we have heard it so often this evening—the "contract culture". Developments in the contract field are sometimes viewed with a certain amount of unease in case the drive for efficiency, and compliance with contracts, might undermine the traditionally independent voice of the sector. I understand that anxiety, and that is one reason why we have emphasised the need for voluntary organisations not to become totally dependent upon public funds.

My noble friend Lord Elton said that he objected to the jargon on contract culture and asked me to pass on his objections and his other strictures on the subject to my honourable friend Mr. Jack. I shall do that. I hate jargon in any form and I shall be content to pass on the remarks of my noble friend.

My noble friend referred also to the withdrawal or change from core funding. The noble Baroness, Lady Fisher, said that funding needs to be constant in order that people know where they stand. We recognise that core funding is essential to some aspects of the work of many voluntary bodies. We remain committed to that concept. However, we cannot merely write out a cheque and leave it at that. We must satisfy ourselves that the funding is used cost effectively. That has been, and will remain, the concern of the voluntary services unit of the Home Office.

On a similar tack, my noble friend Lord Alexander of Weedon said that core funding lessened the ability of organisations to know where they stand. That is true. However, there are advantages in contract culture. There is room for both. It is important to decide how best to apportion the available resources, however limited they may be.

The noble Baroness, Lady Seear, made a penetrating and devastating speech, as she always does, about the insecurity attendant upon annual funding. Again, that is a similar point. She asked for three-year contracts and said quite sharply that no one, not even a sweet shop or ICI, would run on an annual basis. That may well be true except in the case of the government. She will be aware of the dramas that have been going on recently as regards public expenditure. I know that the noble Baroness will accept that it is difficult for a department always to agree something on a long-term basis when it does not know itself how much money it will have at its disposal. I shall certainly look at that point because it is a very real one.

Several noble Lords, including the noble Lord, Lord Richard, referred to VAT. That is a subject all on its own and of great complexity. Time will not allow me to do so this evening, but I shall look at the points made and get in touch with those noble Lords who expressed concern.

Partnership is another means of harnessing government and voluntary effort. We want to see statutory, private and voluntary organisations working together. The noble Baroness, Lady Fisher, referred to payroll giving. She asked whether that had decreased because of the recession. There are 6,000 schemes and 300,000 participants. Oddly enough, far from going down the contributions have increased, though not as much as we would have liked.

The noble Baroness, Lady Masham, was concerned that formal arrangements should be made about young people taking part in voluntary service. I was interested to hear what she said. The idea has been canvassed before but it has not received substantial support from the voluntary sector, the business sector or from the statutory services. There are many opportunities for young people to volunteer. A campaign is to be launched next year by the Volunteer Centre and Radio 1 to attract young people and to match them to the available opportunities.

My noble friend Lord Elton referred to the membership of the Ministerial group on the voluntary sector. It includes Ministers from 14 departments. I shall contact my noble friend on that matter later because it might take up an unnecessary length of your Lordships' time if I were to outline them now. Similarly, I shall let him know the content of the voluntary service unit mission and the staffing.

The partnership approach is now engaged in all walks of public life and activity. The Royal National Institutes for the blind and the deaf, for example, are making an invaluable contribution to an employment programme which is designed to help people with disabilities. The noble Earl, Lord Longford, referred to the Effra Trust. He said that he did not expect an answer and that was very kind of him. However, I shall give him one. The Home Office is aware of the concerns of that trust about its ability to continue to provide offender beds under the new community care arrangements. Officials of both the Home Office and the Department of Health are jointly working to try to ensure that voluntary organisations such as the trust can continue to operate under the new arrangements.

My noble friend Lord Carr referred to the Rainer Foundation. The Home Office is aware of its expertise in the field work with juveniles and young adult offenders. As my noble friend recognises, the Home Office has already provided funding for a number of the foundation's projects dealing with offenders. I hope that the foundation will be able to continue to make contributions to criminal justice work under the new partnership arrangements.

Many points have been raised by your Lordships, but in the time available I have been able only to address my replies to a mere sample. The desire to give, and to give freely, is an integral part of the make up of every person and nothing should be done to numb that virtuous quality. I hope that everything will be done in future to encourage volunteer work and giving.

8.33 p.m.

Lord Elton

My Lords, it remains for me to thank all Members of this House for their contributions to a debate which has been not only impressive but nostalgic for me. The first occasion on which I heard the noble Earl, Lord Longford, speak on the subject of Mr. Beveridge was long before his third report and when I was in short trousers at my private school. I do not believe that the noble Earl's views have changed, but he has matured wonderfully.

I too congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Plant, on his successful embarkation on the waters of this House. I apologise to your Lordships for transgression of the time allowance which was drawn to my attention by the grimaces of my noble friend Lord Long. I also apologise to the noble Baroness, Lady Fisher of Rednal, who drew attention to the error in the Motion. Together they made me determined, when I get home, to look in my shoes in order to scrape out the clay.

I conclude with just three questions of which I have not give my noble friend notice because I have the answers for him. They centre on funding and the burning issue of core funding. Do Ministers doubt the cost effectiveness of at least maintaining historic levels of cash support to the voluntary sector? In that case let them consider the survey referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Henderson, which showed that for every pound of government money expended through the ITF (in which I declare an interest) the recipients were able to raise £5. That is good value for taxpayers' money.

Do Ministers doubt that a stimulus to the sector will contribute to the stimulation of the economy generally which is now so urgently needed? Let them reflect on the figures given by the noble Lord, Lord Richard. He told noble Lords that it accounts for 3.4 per cent. of the GDP; it gives paid employment to over 450,000 people, which is up to 80 per cent. more than that of the motor industry.

Finally, do Ministers doubt the political wisdom of supporting voluntary organisations with cash? They should consider the 450,000 employees and the 23 million voluntary workers who are all adults and have votes. I congratulate the Government on making the progress which they have. Under the stimulation of that statistic, I hope that they will progress even further and faster. I beg leave to withdraw the Motion.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.