HL Deb 14 February 1994 vol 552 cc6-8

2.52 p.m.

Baroness Gould of Potternewton asked Her Majesty's Government:

Why they have not met the Home Secretary"s pledge to fund the National Alliance of Women's Organisations, in order to support umbrella bodies within the voluntary sector.

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, no pledge of financial support to this organisation has been given.

Baroness Gould of Potternewton

My Lords, I thank the Minister for his extremely brief reply. We are aware that no funding has been given to this organisation and find that a little unsatisfactory. I ask for further clarification. Can the Minister say why this organisation, which is one of the few national umbrella organisations, if not the only one, does not receive any core funding from this Government, even though it meets the criteria laid down by the Home Office? Secondly, will the Minister indicate whether before taking the decision the Government consulted any of the 225 women's organisations that make up this alliance?

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, the Voluntary Services Unit makes grants both to national generalist voluntary organisations which provide services and support for other voluntary bodies or for the sector as a whole and to national voluntary organisations which promote voluntary activity. So far as I know, the organisation does not come into those categories; that is the reason why my right honourable friend, in making his decisions, did not include it for support.

Lord Elton

My Lords, as the body does not come into those categories, can my noble friend tell us which categories it does come within?

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, I do not know which categories it comes within. It covers a fairly wide number of voluntary organisations— as I understand it, about 200 or so. They range from the Mothers' Union at one end of the scale to the Camden Lesbian and black lesbian groups on the other.

Lord Ashley of Stoke

My Lords, is the noble Earl saying that this umbrella organisation, which represents some 6 million women, is excluded from government funds simply because of some bureaucratic division made by the Government in the categorisation of organisations? Is that the only excuse that the Minister can offer for denying payment to this organisation?

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, certainly not. There are endless organisations which approach my department and other departments requesting grants. Each department has to decide for itself which organisation it funds in the light of its own priorities, objectives and budgetary constraints. In my department the organisations that are funded are generally described as national generalist voluntary organisations, which are umbrella organisations.

Baroness Seear

My Lords, will the noble Earl ask his department to consider this matter again? It is well known by all of us who are connected with women's organisations that this co-ordinating organisation is very useful and it can save a lot of money by not duplicating the requirements of different organisations. It-seems to a great many of us that this was a very ill thought-out refusal. The letters that we have received about it were totally unconvincing. Will the Minister take this matter up again?

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, of course I would be entirely pleased to respond to the noble Baroness's request to have the matter looked at. I cannot imagine that she will get a very favourable reply, but I shall certainly look at the matter again. As I understand it, a number of organisations contribute a certain subscription towards this body. Nevertheless, those organisations seem to require a fairly hefty government grant as well. Perhaps they ought to put their subscription rates up.

Lord Ennals

My Lords, perhaps I may put two questions to the Minister. First, bearing in mind that the Conservative Women's Council is a member of this organisation, have any representations been made by the council concerning a grant? Secondly, does the Minister agree that it is important, as we have only 18 months to go before the United Nations Women's Conference in Beijing, that women's organisations should be encouraged and helped to prepare for that very important conference?

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, the answer to the last question is, yes, I am sure that it is desirable that they should do all that they can to prepare themselves. The answer to the noble Lord's first question is, not to my knowledge.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, in his first Answer the Minister responded that no pledge had been given to the National Alliance of Women's Organisations. While that is strictly true, is it not the case that the Secretary of State said in a speech to the Charities Aid Foundation in November last year that help should be given to umbrella bodies of voluntary organisations? If that is the case, is not the National Alliance of Women's Organisations an excellent example of an umbrella organisation which makes it easier for the voluntary services unit to deal with women's interests than having to deal separately with the 225 member organisations?

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, the noble Lord is correct in so far as he referred to the Charities Aid Foundation annual conference at which my right honourable friend the Home Secretary spoke. At that conference he reaffirmed the importance of the work of umbrella and generalist bodies in strengthening the voluntary sector. He made no commitment at all about the funding of particular organisations. That is the position.

Baroness Seccombe

My Lords, Members of this House and of the other place have been chairmen and members of the Women's National Commission. Does the Minister agree with me that it would be unfair to let this Question pass without recognising the work that is done by the Women's National Commission, and the fact that it is funded as an umbrella organisation for women's issues?

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, my noble friend Lady Seccombe is absolutely right. I am glad that she has drawn our attention to that point.