§ 4.11 p.m.
§ Viscount Whitelaw rose to call attention, at the time of the commemoration of VE Day, to the need for service to the nation and overseas, and in particular to the valuable role of voluntary organisations; and to move for Papers.
§ The noble Viscount said: My Lords, shortly before he became Lord Stockton, Harold Macmillan entered the Leader's Room. "My boy", he said, which was a rather surprising welcome to a Leader of your Lordships' House, as I was 67 at the time. But I have never forgotten his wise advice to me. "Always", he said, "remember that in politics, as in life, the history of the past is a valuable guide to future action, not exact in everything but certainly not to be neglected". Of course, Lord Stockton was referring mostly to the history which he had known personally from all his long experience.
§ Now that many of us are commemorating VE Day we are in a similar position. We are discussing much of our own life as part of history. In moving this Motion, I do not intend to indulge in personal memories of bravery and successes, nor of tragedy and disaster. Equally, I shall not refer to amusing wartime anecdotes, of which I have no doubt there are many in your Lordships' House. Nor have I any intention of imposing on your Lordships' House details about armed services activities.
§ On the other hand, I hope that we can gain value from the actions taken, mainly by the civilian community, in wartime. Certainly history in this last war, and indeed in previous wars, proved clearly that the people of a nation join together with patriotic fervour when their country is at war, with many valuable results for the community. I believe that we can gain in peacetime by following their example.
§ If your Lordships agree with me, I hope that we may have some important ideas or valuable proposals for voluntary organisations which will be useful for the future and indeed memorable for the commemoration of VE Day.
§ I am very pleased to have the chance of opening this particular debate because since I left the Government I have spent much of my time concerned with charities and voluntary organisations. In particular, I have been Chairman of the Council for Charitable Support for six years, which has helped me to appreciate the problems of many charities and how much voluntary work is carried out behind the scenes by many dedicated people.
§ For that reason, I want to deal first with that part of the lottery arrangements which is directly concerned with voluntary organisations and the plans which are the responsibility of the Home Office. I have for some time been pressed by various charities about the plans of the National Lottery Charities Board. Indeed, I had intended today to ask my noble friend Lady Blatch to tell us more about it. But that, I am glad to say, has already been done.
§ The National Lottery Charities Board announced yesterday, after several months of consultation with the charitable and voluntary sector, the basis of its plans for 1394 applications and for the payment of grants. It was obvious that time would have to be taken for the board to organise its work. I am glad that, after consideration, the board has produced a full and detailed first grant programme which seems to me a very good and clear document.
§ It sets out its plans for applications by which the board and charities should be able to discuss their problems together. I emphasise that. It is easy to have doubts about things at the start, and there has been a great deal of rough and tumble about what was said yesterday about the board. I do not believe that that is justified. The board and the charities can get together to discuss their problems. I hope that that will be done, and I believe that that must be the next step.
§ I hope that my noble friend Lady Blatch will tell us more about the development of the "Make a Difference" voluntary initiative which was launched by the Home Secretary in 1994, and indeed inspired by the Prime Minister himself. I am glad to hear that my noble friend is chairing an inter-departmental committee on that initiative. Perhaps she will give us some information about her progress.
§ I feel that I should now turn correctly to the Women's Royal Voluntary Service. It tells me that it achieved Royal status in 1966 and is now the largest active voluntary organisation in the United Kingdom. What is even more remarkable, your Lordships may be surprised to know, is that one in 10 of its members is now a man. Its members are particularly active in hospitals, in the community and with the emergency services. All members of the WRVS in the private and public sector are committed to being the premier providers of voluntary assistance to those in need of care in their local community. I can only say that I know the Cumbrian branch very well as it has already tried to book me for a date next winter!
§ I turn now to two papers which have been sent to me, particularly about young people, one of which my noble friend Lord Henley has sent out from the Ministry of Defence. It is clear that good plans have been made for the young who wish to take part in the Armed Services. I know that some of my noble friends wish to talk about these in detail, and so I shall leave it to them, except to say that, if interested in the Armed Services, that is the way in which at the present time a young man can do and learn a great deal, certainly in the cadet world.
§ The second, on a different aspect, comes from the noble Lord, Lord Hunt (of Llanfair Waterdine)—I do not know whether that is a correct description but I have no doubt that someone will tell me—who is better known as Lord Everest Hunt, and very properly so. No one deserves that title more than he does. He has written a letter to me about this debate. He much regrets that he cannot come here to speak, as I do, but he has sent me his views on the young, together with an article which he had published in The House magazine. He is well known for having studied the problems of the young and, indeed, has given much of his life to that work.1395
I am most anxious not to use his article in his absence, but I think it is fair to put forward his main conclusions because they are important. He said:
On all this evidence and informed opinion, and from personal experience, I rest my case for a comprehensive programme to prepare all our young people for their opportunities and responsibilities as citizens of tomorrow".
§ It would indeed be extremely interesting to discover the reaction to that from the Armed Forces so far as concerns the cadets, and of course from many other people.
§ It is a highly controversial area. Some people believe that there should be compulsory military service of one sort or another. I know that that is a view which is held; indeed, I suspect that that is so in the case of the noble Lord, Lord Hunt. I believe that he was one of those who originally believed that that would be best but he has accepted over a long period of time that it is unlikely to happen. It would, therefore, be very interesting now to learn what exactly he would like to see instead. He is accepting that there is an alternative, and that was the point that he made in his article.
§ Personally, I hope that there may be a chance in your Lordships' House to discuss the issue of the young on some other occasion when both those views can be put forward. But I can say, with a little care and a little understanding, that now as far as your Lordships' House is concerned it is nothing to do with me. However, I believe that the value of a discussion such as we are having this afternoon shows some of the issues that will come up and some which should come up for full investigation.
§ Before I leave youth organisations, I should like to mention—because I think it is of great importance and shows great understanding—the contribution made to young people through the Duke of Edinburgh's Award and the Prince's Youth Business Trust; and, indeed, much of the work of Voluntary Service Overseas which is most helpful and valuable.
§ I am pleased that there are so many speakers with knowledge of these important subjects this afternoon. I ant sorry—I know that everyone feels something like this, but these things happen—that noble Lords will be later than they would originally have been. However, that does not mean that the debate will not be extremely valuable. I can assure noble Lords of one thing: it is now my privilege to listen to them with great interest, and that I shall most certainly do. I have one further comment to make: my Lords, I beg to move for Papers.
§ 4.22 p.m.
§ Lord Williams of Elvel
My Lords, the House will be grateful to the noble Viscount for tabling the Motion and also for introducing it in the way that he did. The noble Viscount will not remember it—indeed, why should he?—but he was Leader of the House when I was introduced here. I would like to take this opportunity to thank him for the courtesy and kindness on that occasion—and, indeed, thereafter—although I do remember occasions where that courtesy was present but the kindness only relative when I tried to make some relatively feeble intervention on party points and was put down very elegantly by the noble Viscount.
1396 Today, the noble Viscount has spoken of voluntary organisations and linked that with the anniversary of VE Day. He spoke with the authority and humour that we have all been led to expect from him. Of course, he speaks on VE Day as one who knows, as his record of military service in the war was of the most distinguished. I have to tell your Lordships that, in that particular, I am unable to follow the noble Viscount as I have no record of any sort. However, that was not for want of trying. It was quite simply that when the war started I was six years old and when the war finished, as your Lordships will figure out by the method of simple arithmetic, I had reached the majestic age of 12.
Having said that—and I believe that I ought to say this from these Benches—I wish to join with all noble Lords in celebrating the end of the Second World War and all that went with it. Millions of men and women gave their lives, not only from this country and our Western allies but also from Germany—in battle or by bombing or in the dreadful holocaust—and from what was then the Soviet Union some 20 million, so it is said. Many millions also suffered injury, both physical and psychological. We must honour, and we shall honour, all those—the dead and the damaged—regardless of race, colour, nationality or creed. And in honouring them, I hope that we will do so in the spirit that the noble Viscount introduced, not of triumphalism but in a spirit of reconstruction in trying to find out what we can do as a result of all this as well as in a spirit of sad remembrance and reconciliation. We must also recognise that what happened 50 years ago is now part of history and, however difficult it is for those who lived through the horrors of the time, we must remember that it is history for today's youth, in the same way as the Great War was history to those of my generation whose childhood was spent in its shadow.
Perhaps I may now address the other matters in the noble Viscount's Motion. It speaks of the,need for service to the nation".Now there is no doubt—at least I hope that there is no doubt—that at the end of the war there was a sense of community, that the war had been fought for some sort of purpose. We could not go back, it was widely said, to the 1930s. We had to find a different way of organising our affairs. It was the electoral expression of that feeling that resulted in the return of a Labour Government with Mr. Attlee, as he then was, as Prime Minister. The platform, if I may put it as such, was clear: it was to introduce a change in the way we ran our affairs. Perhaps the most potent example of this was the creation of the National Health Service, and it is a matter of record that it was Aneurin Bevan's experience with the Tredegar Medical Aid Society that set him on course to create such a service for the whole nation.
However, even leaving that aside, there was at that time general popular support for the principle that we were and are a community and that, in one way or another, we can only survive if we help one another—in short, that we were all members of the whole agglomeration of people, military and civilian, English, Welsh, Scottish and, indeed, Irish, who had joined in the enterprise of defeating the common enemy and now wished to join together to 1397 make a success of the peace. In the words of the noble Viscount's Motion, "service to the nation" was the order of the day.
So indeed, was "service overseas". Our community went further than these islands, and it is no accident that we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the founding of the United Nations almost exactly at the same time as we celebrate the end of the war in Europe. Idealism, both nationally and internationally, was in the air at that time.
Since then, of course, time has moved on. Britain is no longer a world power. Indeed, there are some who would say that Britain, to use the expression in the noble Viscount's Motion, is no longer capable of remaining a nation. Furthermore, the sense of community—that the individual can only realise his or her full potential within a community—seems to me, for some reason or another, to have been lost. There has developed—and I mean no party political implication at all—what Mr. Neil Kinnock has described as the "Me; Me; Me now" society. Public service—service to the nation—seems to be at a discount. Only last week I was drawing your Lordships' attention to the deterioration in the sense of service in local government. The same phenomenon, I believe, can be observed in the Civil Service. On the other hand, service overseas seems to me to be in good shape. It is certainly true of the Armed Forces that morale improves if there is work to be done, and that includes joining with others in United Nations peacekeeping operations, which our forces, in my view, do spectacularly well.
If public service is, as I say, at something of a discount, this lays an extra burden on voluntary organisations, and the noble Viscount was quite right to draw our attention to their importance and value. This theme will have particular resonance for your Lordships, many of whom are connected, in one way or another—including the noble Viscount, as he has explained—with such organisations from the Red Cross to the Boys' Brigade, or whatever organisation it may be. For myself, I have two connections. The first is historical, and dates back to wartime; my mother was a founder member of the Oxford Committee for Greek Famine Relief, which has since, as your Lordships will be aware, become Oxfam. The second is one which I have revealed to your Lordships on a number of occasions; that I am President of the Campaign for the Protection of Rural Wales.
Now it seems to me that voluntary organisations, whether operating overseas or at home, have two advantages and one disadvantage. The two advantages are simple to describe. First, there is no doubt in my mind that such organisations are able to move into areas where official organisations are reluctant to tread. There are many instances of this overseas, where Oxfam or Save the Children have been doing work of the greatest humanitarian value at times and in places where the political impediments are too great for effective government or inter-governmental operation. But this is also true in our own country, as I know from my experience with CPRW.
The second is that they are able to attract those with a sense of idealism, particularly young people, of whom the noble Viscount spoke, in a way that is not open, or hardly open, to official organisations. On the other hand, their 1398 disadvantage lies in the insecurity of their funding. Funding is difficult at the best of times, but has become a major problem in difficult economic times, and I must tell your Lordships that many voluntary oganisations are finding it difficult to keep their collective heads above water. There is no magic solution to this problem, but there seem to me to be two things to avoid: the first is more and more reliance on the corporate sector, which is by nature commercial and not there for the purposes of charitable work; the second is that funds could easily be syphoned off by the National Lottery—and I was dismayed to read in the paper only this morning that research by the National Council for Voluntary Organisations shows an estimated net loss of £57 million in the first year as a consequence of the lottery.
In conclusion, I would only say that the noble Viscount's Motion is welcome and timely. There are problems, but let us hope that we can solve them. If we do not, then I must tell your Lordships that I believe we would be betraying the trust of those whose sacrifice we will be commemorating this coming week-end.
§ 4.34 p.m.
§ Baroness Seear
My Lords, we in this country have a long, proud and outstanding tradition of volunteers and voluntary service. It is a tradition that has included a great many people throughout the centuries. They were often awkward characters who saw something which they believed to be wrong and were determined, in the teeth of fashionable view, to do something to put it right. There were awkward women as well as awkward men. When I think of awkward women I am thinking of women such as Elizabeth Fry who achieved rather more than some of the awkward men. But perhaps that is a partisan point of view.
In the pursuit of their chosen field, those people recruited other people—some of them were as awkward as themselves and that made for considerable difficulties—many of whom were prepared to serve under their leadership until the wrongs which they believed they had perceived were at least on the way to being righted. It would be to our great disadvantage if we put that spirit in peril. It is essential that it should be preserved. It was, of course, displayed to a remarkable extent during the years of the Second World War.
I have an advantage over the noble Lord, Lord Williams, in this matter. At that time I was living in a small town in Somerset and I remember the coming of the evacuees in the first week after war was declared. Everyone in that town from the richest to the poorest opened their homes to people they had never seen or heard of before and took them in as evacuees. There was a great feeling of community—although we would not have used that term at the time—and of mutual responsibility, one for another. There was a feeling of being—I have never found a better phrase for it—members one of another.
That exalted feeling was slightly tarnished 10 days later when it was discovered that the powers that be had sent us the wrong children. We had been sent children from the Isle of Dogs when we were supposed to have been sent children from Dagenham. All the Isle of Dogs children were turfed out and they sent us the Dagenham children. I recount that because it is a lesson in how important it is for the bureaucrats and those in power to get such things 1399 right. One woman said to me, "If I cannot keep Elsie"—that dates it, does it not?—"I will not have anyone else". That mistake did its utmost to undermine that sense of collaboration which had arisen so spontaneously and with such feeling throughout that small community.
This sense of voluntary effort and this commitment to voluntary effort is something that we must preserve. There was a moment in the 1960s when it looked as if it might be fading. It was as if there was a feeling that everything should be done by the state. I remember talking to a young news reporter when I was trying to get the carers' association established in a northern town. He said, "We all think this ought to be done by the state", while flaunting his red tic at me. However, I am making no party political points today. I am sure that that is not a point of view which would be supported in any of the parties in this country today. The belief today is in collaboration between the statutory, the private and the voluntary sectors.
We have volunteers and voluntary associations. They are both of the greatest importance if we are to foster and develop the sense of commitment, the use of volunteers and the volunteering spirit, which are very much part of our tradition. However, there are great difficulties confronting both the volunteers and the voluntary associations. I raise a specific point of which I have given notice to the Minister. I hope she received the message. One of the most outstanding and successful of the voluntary activities which we developed in this country is Voluntary Service Overseas. I am told that when someone on Voluntary Service Overseas returns to this country his or her right of residence is not established. If he or she needs support from the social services he has to apply, and the application be approved, because he has lost his right of residence. I am told that normally there will be no problem. When someone from this country has undertaken and completed Voluntary Service Overseas, and returns to this country, it is only right that he should be absolutely assured that he will have the same rights to social security support, if needed, as anyone has who has been living in this country all the time. It is not good enough to say that the officials will probably permit his application to be passed through as though he had been resident. If that is the position—and I checked it only this morning—would it not be a suitable gesture at this time to find some way in which that ruling could be altered? When people undertake Voluntary Service Overseas they would then know that on their return they would have exactly the same standing as any other person resident in this country throughout the time that they have been overseas.
Volunteering is not easy; it can be expensive. People need training and support for such work. My party believes—I believe that there is much support for this view outside my party—that in this country we need a community volunteer scheme under which sufficient resources could be made available for young people (although I do not exclusively refer to young people) to enable them to undertake voluntary work for a period of one year, or even two years.
Many of us were involved in community projects under the YTS scheme. Although such schemes have disadvantages, they had considerable merits. I must admit 1400 that we reached a point in which some of the churchyards in this country were so clean that it was impossible to find anything else to be done to them because of the proper determination that volunteers should not undertake tasks which took work away from regular workers. However, that is not an insuperable problem. So many youngsters are unemployed. So many youngsters, very often for lack of something better to do, become involved in crime. It is not suggested that there should be compulsion, but I believe that a volunteer scheme with sufficient inducements to make it just worth people's while, would be valuable.
It is a suggestion which the Millennium Fund might consider supporting. There are many proposals regarding the Millennium Fund. However, funds to enable such a scheme to start would be a worthwhile undertaking. It would begin to meet some of the most difficult problems that we have, not only with young people but with older people. As your Lordships' House demonstrates on all Benches, we are living an awfully long time; we go on and on. Your Lordships' House provides a very good, more or less voluntary, scheme for the aged! But a voluntary scheme to which people who do not have a House of Lords to attend could give their services would surely be worthwhile and need not entail the greatest expense.
The major purpose of such a scheme would not be training but service to the community. There is no reason why people should not acquire national vocational qualifications in the process. I do not refer exclusively to youngsters. Such a scheme would involve exactly the kind of work which would give people experience from which they could obtain national vocational qualifications. That would not be the purpose of the scheme but a valuable secondary outcome.
It is not only the volunteers who have difficulties; so, too, do the voluntary organisations. In our enthusiasm to collaborate between voluntary organisations and the statutory powers, a great many additional burdens and opportunities have been presented to the voluntary organisations. I suppose that almost every noble Lord takes part in one or other of such organisations. Your Lordships will be aware—the noble Viscount, Lord Whitelaw, has already mentioned the matter—that the financial problems of many organisations are extremely acute. It is very difficult indeed for them to keep their heads above water.
Perhaps I may make at least one plea regarding the financial help that the statutory bodies give. It would make a tremendous difference if the statutory bodies would make their grants on a three-year basis rather than one year. One simply cannot plan ahead on a one-year basis. After six months, those who ought to be involved in the work of the organisation find themselves spending all their time trying to raise money for the next 12 months. It is a ridiculous way to run those bodies. I beg the House to look at the possibility of extending core funding periods, once granted, to more than one year.
Core funding for voluntary organisations is a problem experienced by all of us. One can obtain money for projects but not for the essential overheads. No one wants expensive, luxurious administration, but there must be some expenses. The refusal to give money for core 1401 funding for voluntary organisations undermines those bodies and makes it impossible for that highly desirable collaboration to be continued in the years ahead.
§ 4.46 p.m.
§ The Lord Bishop of Exeter
My Lords, I have no doubt that all the speakers in this welcome debate are familiar with the voluntary principle through personal experience, by being committed to it, or both. Taken together, the faith communities in our country form a considerable proportion of the voluntary sector. Perhaps I may take up a point which the noble Baroness made. So far as concerns faith communities, much of the core funding is in place already because the structure is there. Let us hope that the attention being focused on the financing of the Church's employees, and other problems, will not detract from the large number of volunteers to be found in the faith communities who exercise actual responsibilities. With regard to those responsibilities, one cannot draw a line as to whether they simply concern the faith community or extend to all citizens. In the Church of England alone 25,000 churchwardens, 25,000 other office holders, 8,000 readers, and, more significantly, innumerable persons carry responsibilities in parish church-based projects which have an emphasis on social action in the district. It is a notable feature which has grown in the past 50 years.
With faith communities, there must be well over 100,000 volunteers with actual responsibilities. There has been a tendency of late to regard faith communities as private organisations concerned only with their own business. Perhaps I may assure noble Lords that that is not a true picture overall. Most of those communities have a proper concern for the well-being of the citizens around, and construct programmes accordingly.
As an incumbent, I am acquainted with a back streets down town parish in a seaside town. I shall use it as an example to make a general point on the voluntary principle. My experience tells me that voluntary work can lead people to grow in confidence—I pick up the point from the noble Baroness, Lady Seear—and to realise that they have gifts which they did not believe they had. That in turn can lead to them going on to gain qualifications for which they thought they did not have the ability. They can then move into wider areas of service as happened to one of the mothers in a parent toddler group that my parish church pioneered. The groups are common now; they were not 25 years ago.
The mother concerned had character but no qualifications and little confidence in herself. When I came to leave my responsibilities in the parish, the organisation of the large mothers and toddlers group was left in her hands. Later I heard that as a mature student she had gone on to gain a social work qualification. That principle is worth bearing in mind. One of the uses of the voluntary experience is that it can be a stage in people's lives.
I wish to offer your Lordships my experience at the moment—the difficulty of evoking voluntary effort in deep rural areas. There are two reasons for that. First, the rural economy is less favoured than other parts of our economy and people are busy in the deep rural areas 1402 making ends meet. Secondly, the population is sparser. That makes it difficult to be self-effacing in voluntary work in the sparsely populated rural areas where everyone knows everyone else's business.
That leads me to another of the general points about the voluntary principle which I wish to offer. Self-effacement is an essential ingredient for voluntary work. Once the engines of publicity focus on individuals, forces and motivations are set up which can harm the integrity of the voluntary enterprise. So let the publicity be for the voluntary principle as a whole, as it is being commended in the valuable Motion before your Lordships' House.
§ 4.53 p.m.
§ Baroness Young
My Lords, I am sure that we would all like to thank the noble Viscount, Lord Whitelaw, for introducing the debate this afternoon. I know that it has not been easy for him to be present today, and for that we are all the more grateful to him. I shall in a moment say something about the important issues which he has raised. However, before I do so, I must say how surprised I am, on looking at the speakers' list, to find that there is only one other speaker from the Opposition Benches apart from the two Front Bench spokesmen. I am delighted to see that the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, has put his name down to speak today. But one cannot help asking oneself what the reason is for the lack of speakers from the Opposition Benches. It is surely not a lack of interest in so important a subject.
§ Lord McIntosh of Haringey
My Lords, I regret that there are not more speakers from our side, but it is a fact of life that over the past year or so Labour debates have been comprehensively boycotted by speakers from the Government Benches.
§ Baroness Young
My Lords, I do not wish to embark on a great argument at the start of the debate. But I have looked up the figures and can only say that I found it surprising that the Conservative debate on education held on 22nd February was exactly the same. I am not in any way trying to suggest that there is a sinister plot going on behind all this. I am just surprised that it should be the case. I hope that it does not mean that the Opposition feel that debates in your Lordships' House are hardly worth attending, let alone taking part in.
The Motion is most appropriate, coming as it does on the eve of the 50th Anniversary of VE Day. It is an opportunity for reflection about society and the great sacrifices made during the war that we might enjoy freedom and what we have done with the freedom we have gained. Two great facts stand out. The first is that we have enjoyed the longest period of peace in Europe, at any rate in Western Europe, this century. Those born since 1945 have enjoyed a peace unknown to former generations who lived through the horrors of both the First and the Second World Wars. All of us have also enjoyed a prosperity beyond the imagining of former generations. That too is greatly to be welcomed. But most of us have experienced and noticed very great social changes as well. I do not intend to go through all of them, only to single out one which has had an effect upon our society.
1403 That change is the development of what I shall broadly call the child centred philosophy which I think lies behind many of the changes which have occurred and which are relevant to the debate. When my first daughter was born in 1951, an American friend sent me a copy of Dr. Spock's famous book. I believe that he has subsequently recanted on absolutely everything that he originally said. Nevertheless, his theories of the importance of the happiness of the child at all times have had a profound effect not only on the way children are brought up but on standards of discipline, both in the home and out of it, and also, of course, on the education system. The faults of the child are the responsibility of the parents or the teachers and learning must at all times be an enjoyable occupation. The modern desire to blame someone else for anything that has gone wrong and to demand immediate compensation suggests that this is being carried into adult behaviour. The emphasis put on the rights of the individual to happiness at all times, above all else in human relationships, is another consequence.
The debate today comes as a counterweight to all that. Good news, we are always told, is no news. Yet living on a steady diet of bad news means that many young people, and, indeed, not so young people, believe that there is nothing good in today's society at all. Contrary to what we so often hear, we have already learnt of much good that is going on, and the strength and importance of the voluntary sector illustrates that. The value of voluntary work, the concept of service and frequently of sacrifice, certainly in terms of time and money, cannot be overemphasised. Its total value to society in cash terms is enormous.
Despite the predictions to which the noble Lord, Lord Williams, referred, that with the advent of the welfare state after the war we should no longer need voluntary organisations, they have grown in number to take up specialist causes to fill the gaps left by the statutory services and to complement their work. As the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, said, they are an opportunity to experiment and try things out. It is a mistake, I believe, to think that help and compassion can be delegated to the state. To the voluntary organisation, voluntary work encourages individual responsibility. It makes us think about other people and their needs. It makes us ask what it is that we can contribute, rather than looking all the time at what our rights might be.
I therefore greatly welcome the fact that the Government have done much to encourage voluntary organisations and voluntary service over the past years. Millions of individuals are involved in voluntary work; and I am glad that the Government have amended the law to make it easier to make charitable donations and that the Charities Act 1992 creates a more effective legal framework under which charities can act. I am glad, too, that there have been increased direct grants to voluntary organisations. It is very valuable that there has been greater recognition of volunteers through the Honours List. If anybody ever deserved honours, it is those many people who have worked selflessly throughout their lives in voluntary organisations.
I sympathise a great deal with the remarks of the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, about core funding. Obviously some is needed. Money-raising is invariably hard and 1404 difficult. Those of us who have been involved in it, as I am sure everyone here has, know how difficult it is. It is a measure of the interest and activity both of an organisation and the individuals it comprises.
Much could be said about the national lottery. We have all read reports of charities which believe that they will lose a lot of money. It is very early days to make such statements. We do not yet know how the lottery will work out. It is quite new. Nor do we know, as so often happens when something new comes about, whether the first reactions will necessarily be right when we have had more experience of it.
In the time remaining I should like to touch on three areas of voluntary organisations and work of which I have some experience. Much has been said about the youth of today. I should first like to mention the organisation known as GAP. I was introduced to it by the late Lord Shackleton, who I believe was a founder member. He asked me if I would become a patron. As its name suggests, the organisation exists to help young people undertake voluntary work overseas between school and university or higher education. Its special characteristic is that both the young people who undertake the voluntary work and some 80 people who organise the work that they do are volunteers. It views the "gap" year as a ideal opportunity for young people to improve themselves through the experience of living and working overseas while making a personal contribution to less privileged people. I so much agree with the remarks of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Exeter about the confidence-building that comes from voluntary work. I know that the noble Lord, Lord Greenhill, who is also a patron, will have more to say on the subject of GAP.
I turn now to schools. It would be very difficult to overestimate the voluntary contribution that schools make to charitable causes. They involve their pupils in every imaginable kind of sponsored activity to raise money: walks, swims and cycle rides—in one case that I read about, from John o' Groats to Land's End. I can speak with more authority about the independent sector in my capacity as chairman of the Independent Schools Joint Council. But I know that it is equally true of the maintained sector. It is not at all unusual for a school of 400 children to raise £4,000 in the course of a year's charitable activities. It is not in the nature of school organisations to add up the amounts of money that their members raise. But if they were to do so, there is no doubt that the sums would run into millions. What is more important than the actual amount is the readiness of their response to good causes. Charities can rely on a degree of concern for others among young people that deserves to be acknowledged and celebrated.
The last area that I should like to touch upon is the corporate sector. I speak as a non-executive director of both the National Westminster Bank and Marks & Spencer. On inquiry at the bank, I found that nearly 900 Nat West staff are governors of schools and colleges. A further 1,200 are trustees and treasurers of charities and voluntary organisations. Many more are involved in voluntary activities such as counselling, advice work and fund-raising, both in the United Kingdom and beyond. In any one year, more than 30 Nat West staff are on full-time secondment to a charity. These people are able to make 1405 use of their talents and skills for good causes. But they also bring back some of the great benefits that they find in being outside their daily work to enhance their activities within the organisation itself.
The same is very largely true of Marks & Spencer. Thousands of employees are involved in some form of voluntary activity in the local community as school governors and in many voluntary organisations. The company has now developed an admirable scheme of part-time secondments. It has a policy of development through such secondments whereby an employee can work part-time for an organisation outside, gaining advantage from the outside world and giving to the outside organisation the advantage that comes from being trained and working within Marks & Spencer.
It would be a mistake to think that the corporate sector does not have a very large part to play. It is encouraging that it faces up to these responsibilities willingly. Both organisations give millions of pounds away each year to charitable causes. I believe that this is part of what they wish to do as part of their contribution to society at large.
In conclusion, I return to the starting point of the debate, the commemoration of VE Day. It is right to look back at the great sacrifices that were made by so many people and to draw attention at this time to the good work that is being done today. That good work needs encouragement from all of us, through money and donations, practical help and moral support—often volunteers are very lonely people. We do it because the voluntary sector is such an important part of our society and one that is invaluable.
§ 5.6 p.m.
§ Lord Dean of Harptree
My Lords, those among us who are old enough to have served in the Second World War will never forget the comradeship in arms and the pride in our regiment, ship or squadron. We remember the discipline which impelled us to give of our best so as not to let the side down. But that pride and discipline were just as evident in the whole population, as my noble friend Lord Whitelaw said in his opening speech. We remember, for example, the merchant seaman, those brave men who suffered heavy losses in bringing vital supplies to our shores. We remember the medical teams, the ARP men, the firemen and the police who did a vital job during and after air-raids. We remember, too, the women who in large numbers joined the Land Army and went into factories so that the men could be released for the Armed Forces. This spirit was just as evident in the Commonwealth, which without hesitation sent troops from near and far to fight alongside us. It is very clear that 50 years ago during the Second World War our resolve as a nation was loud and clear and our character showed at its best.
Are we all that different today? According to the "knockers" and doom merchants in the media and elsewhere, we have gone to the dogs. These people rejoice in the bad because they have no pride in themselves. They are a boil on a healthy society. Lance the boil, and the body is soon restored. We must not allow the doom merchants to destroy our institutions or undermine our morale. Today our character is as strong as ever. So is our 1406 spirit of service. We are rich in voluntary organisations, which help countless people each year and raise large sums of money. Without their efforts, the state services would be absolutely overwhelmed. Reference has been made to the national lottery and the possible adverse effect that it may be having on charities. I am sure that the Government and everybody else will keep a careful watch on developments in this field.
So the examples of voluntary service abound. They are found in the ex-service organisations, including the Royal British Legion, which keep in touch with old comrades and help widows and children in times of need and distress. There are thousands of volunteers who provide the human touch that state services, however good, cannot match. I think, too, of the Missions to Seamen, with which I have the honour to be associated. They are a splendid example of a worldwide service, which has its headquarters in London.
The missions were founded in 1856 in Bristol by an Anglican clergyman. They now have a presence in more than 350 ports around the world and have 100 seafarers' centres in the major ports. It is an Anglican organisation but it helps seamen of all religions and none. It defines its work as:The Anglican Church working to meet the practical and spiritual needs of seafarers of all races and creeds around the world".I am sure that the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Exeter, to whose impressive speech we have just listened, would approve of that definition.
The notion that seamen have a girl in every port is very far from the truth. They have immense problems in strange ports. They need and greatly value the friendship and practical help that are provided by the Missions to Seamen. According to the missions' annual report, last year their honorary chaplains and staff made over 56,000 ship visits and over 3,000 visits to seafarers in hospital. They welcomed over 890,000 seafarers to their centres. They held services for about 32,000 seafarers. They helped seafarers to make over 200,000 international calls home and assisted in 640 cases involving injustice. It is a magnificent record of selfless service at home and all around the world.
Mention was made of volunteers working overseas. Their work was referred to in particular by the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Elvel, and the noble Baroness, Lady Seear. Thousands of British men and women volunteer to work overseas in what can only be described as "hellholes"—countries ravaged by civil war, famine and natural disasters: doctors, nurses, aid workers, Red Cross and St. John Ambulance staff, to mention just a few. Those people go because they have a sense of duty and compassion calls them. They have no regard for their own health, safety or comfort.
Nearer home, there are the special constables, those friendly faces that we see on duty at the weekends and on bank holidays, when most of us are enjoying our time off. There are the Neighbourhood Watch schemes which have sprung up all over the country with volunteers who help strengthen our defences against crime and disorder.
Young people have been mentioned. We hear all about those who go wrong; but, as my noble friend Lady Young asked, what about those in school projects who assist in helping in their local communities? I suspect 1407 that there are very few schools up and down the country now which do not undertake some project of that kind. What about the boys and girls who befriend lonely old people, do their gardens and shop for them and visit them on a regular basis to keep them in touch with what is going on in the outside world? There is certainly a spirit of service among many of our young people. It is practical. They do not talk; they do.
So there are many good things in Britain today. It is appropriate, in a debate of this kind and at such a time when we are celebrating the 50th anniversary of victory that we should remember those things. Those of us who are getting long in the tooth can hand on the baton in the sure knowledge that the rising generation has inherited the traditions and possesses the character to ensure that Britain continues to make a major contribution to prosperity and harmony in the world.
§ 5.15 p.m.
§ Lord Charteris of Amisfield
My Lords, I consider it a great privilege to take part in this debate on service to this country, not least because it has been instituted by someone of whom it might well be said, as it was said of Othello, that he has:done some service to the state".To put it in more modern idiom, he has given long and faithful service to Queen and country. The noble Viscount is to be congratulated on having instituted this discussion.
Those of us who can remember events of 50 years ago will recall that after nearly six years of war it was accepted that it was natural, right and proper for men and women to serve their country in the armed services or in any other way at home and abroad. If those men and women had not done so, we should not have been victorious. Today, that concept is not so obvious in this country. We hear much more about "looking after number one", "charity beginning at home", "the world owes me a living" and "I have a right to this, that and the other and no obligation to do anything in return".
The first point that I want to make is that the "I'm all right, Jack" philosophy is absolutely not what the majority of young people believe, if they have been allowed to develop in a proper way. I speak with personal experience, as your Lordships may know, of one public school. But I know that what happens there happens not only in other schools in the private sector but also in practically all schools in the maintained sector.
Probably 60 per cent of a school's sixth form is actively involved in voluntary work. Those pupils give up their free time to serve others: to help old people and to work in the community. There are other young people who do not wish to have anything to do with that. However, I suspect that it is often because they have had family troubles or other events have occurred which have interfered with their upbringing. All I am saying is that it is the normal instinct of young people to want to serve others and indeed to sacrifice themselves in doing so. I too am involved with GAP and I know that we shall hear a great deal more about it from my noble 1408 friend Lord Greenhill. That is one example. When I was a trustee of the Rank Foundation we did a lot of work with young people.
At this stage of the commemoration it is appropriate that we should also reflect on what moved our opponents in the war on the matter of service. I should like to quote something written by the historian Sir Robert Birley, who was also a headmaster of Eton College. He was writing about the rise of three totalitarian states: Nazi Germany, the Soviet Union and the Union of South Africa.
In dealing with the Nazis, he describes how, after Hitler had come to power but before the war, he visited Prague. At Prague University he discussed with the professor of moral philosophy the almost miraculous way in which Hitler had succeeded in pulling the country together. Then the professor added,Don't forget too that Hitler has offered these young men the greatest bribe he can put before them. He has asked them to sacrifice themselves".The point is that that instinct towards service and sacrifice by young people is common to all races. In itself I think we can all say it is a thing of nobility; but it can be perverted by evil men for the pursuit of evil purposes. Hitler used it for evil purposes. In the war we used it for our salvation. I wonder whether nowadays we make enough use of it. Voluntary organisations make use of it, but do the Government? I do not know.
I confess here and now that in my view the best thing that could happen for the young people of this country, and for those trying to run our prison services, is the return of national service. I am sorry, but I am quite firm in that view and have no doubt that that is what my old friend and brother officer Lord Hunt was saying when he wrote to the noble Viscount. But I recognise that that is pie in the sky; it is politically impossible and unwelcome to the armed services for national service to be returned.
We are left with the problem of how to use that noble instinct in young people for their own good and for the good of the country. It is always easier to propound a question than it is to supply an answer to it. I do not know what the answer is. I hope that the lottery money will be used to increase voluntary services. All I ask—I do not know the answer but I hope the noble Baroness will give me some idea—is: are the Government doing enough?
§ 5.24 p.m.
§ Lord Elton
My Lords, my noble friend draws attention to the role of voluntary organisations in the context of our commemoration of the end of the war 50 years ago. That war claimed a great many lives from all the armed services, and had those men not thrown their protection around these islands no amount of voluntary service could have saved us from defeat, let alone secured victory in that fierce and terrible struggle.
They secured, many of them with their lives, the arena in which the volunteers were free to operate, and many of the earliest casualties were themselves volunteers, serving in the RNVR, the Territorial Army and the RAFVR. But the debt was not all one way. Voluntary service contributed both to the ability of the forces to fight and to the ability of the nation as a whole to sustain their effort and the will to win.
1409 The national will to win was an almost tangible thing that underlay even the most acute difficulties and the sharpest griefs of the time. There was a quality of life then which, as the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Elvel, commented, we have since lost. There was a general recognition that we were one people sharing one danger and with one objective. At 15 I was just old enough to recognise and appreciate that spirit when the war ended and to observe its evaporation in the years that followed. If it was possible again to recapture that sense of purposeful unity without the stress of war, we should indeed be a happier nation than we are today.
We are talking about a national trait; a thread in our character that both swells and narrows, indeed, but which has been constant throughout our history. One therefore cannot point to its beginning but I remember clearly what seemed to me, at the age of nine, to be something exceedingly special and which seems to me now, at the age of 65, to have been the beginning at least of a new and vital phase. It was a Sunday in, I believe, May. We went, as we always did, as a family to church expecting to sit in our place somewhere around the fifth or sixth pew from the front where we usually had our place as incomers from a neighbouring parish. We started early to be sure of occupying it. But this was when the British expeditionary force was pinned down in a perimeter round Dunkirk; it was the Sunday on which the King had called the nation to a national day of prayer. We had great difficulty in squeezing into that rather large building at the back. To start with I was pressed up against the font and the porch was still full after the service had begun.
There was less doubt in the public mind then than there seems to be now of where the ultimate source of strength lies in this universe and who enacted the most stunning example of service of all time. In those days, when we were all to some extent "at risk", we talked more openly of our faith and it is no accident that the image of London's war which, above all, has stuck in the public's mind is the photograph all of us have seen of the dome of St. Paul's standing unmoved and crowned with a cross in a sea of smoke and flame.
It was on that night, or another like it, that the Luftwaffe put over 700 aircraft over this city and this building, carrying over 1,000 tons of high explosive and more than 4,000 incendiary bombs. That is what caused the fire and smoke; and in it, and under it, on that and countless other nights, toiled hundreds of civilians equipped with only tin hats and stirrup pumps—just part of the voluntary contribution to our war effort. In the six months between November 1940 and mid-May 1941, ARP personnel in London and other cities took delivery of over 80,000 incendiary cannisters. Those bombs and 20,000 tons of high explosives between them caused 42,000 deaths and 50,000 serious injuries.
Of those who coped with that onslaught at its height in 1940, over 90,000 were members of the joint British Red Cross and St. John's Ambulance Service serving in civil defence whose work, unlike that of the air raid wardens, continues in a different way to this day. Countless children survived simply because of the families who, nationwide, took them in from the target areas, as the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, said. The role of the Red 1410 Cross was already wider than I realised before I prepared this speech. In the fortnight after D-Day it distributed over 5 million cigarettes, 53,500 razor blades, 29,000 handkerchiefs and 17,500 packets of stationery on the Continent. Today 25 per cent, of inquiries to their tracing service still relate to victims of World War II.
But the country was a web of volunteers and voluntary organisations. To a child certainly, and perhaps to adults too, the giving of much service seemed to them to be part of the natural fabric of life. The bi-weekly invasion of our dining room by knitters of balaclava helmets and sewers of blankets was certainly nothing out of the ordinary.
I mentioned the voluntary reserve forces, whose contribution to victory even the regulars came at last to acknowledge. They continue, and for 13 years I shared that continuity. That experience showed to me very clearly that the benefits of a trained, part-time volunteer reserve contributed more to this country than a small fraction of the credibility of its deterrent policy. It brought immense benefits to those who gave the service in the development of character, self discipline and an ability to work with, and for, others in a structured organisation. Those are characteristics of which there is a shortage today.
The 34 per cent. cut in the Territorial Army establishment achieved by Options for Change therefore had a real and noticeable impact outside the Army. I hope that Her Majesty's Government will not allow the number to fall below the present 59,000. If they are able to find means of increasing it, it can only bring good. If—I am emboldened by the noble Lord, Lord Charteris of Amisfield, to raise my whisper to a murmur—they were to reintroduce some form of national service, not necessarily military but involving the same introduction to ordered, disciplined and arduous work as peace-time military service can provide, I think I would not be the only noble Lord, or other, to support them. There would also be a notable effect, and a welcome one, on youth unemployment.
The noble Baroness, Lady Seear, suggested a half-way house to this, catering only for volunteers. I would certainly welcome that as a start, but with this reservation. In catering for volunteers, who already see the point of voluntary service and are already prepared to put aside their interests in favour of the interests of others, those people are likely already to understand and therefore to appreciate the value and also the pleasure of co-operative, disciplined, constructive activity. A compulsory scheme would extend that lesson further to those who most need it. That would have a good effect, and one that is unexpected, in the way that the right reverend Prelate has already pointed out it can be, on a society and on rates of offending at large. In the meantime I endorse the plea of my noble friend Lord Whitelaw for cadet forces and add my own for charities, such as my own Divert Trust, that seek to give meaningful, constructive activities as an alternative to crime, which is at first petty, then serious and eventually ends in prison, which is a course so often followed by our young people.
I said earlier that we had lost a quality of life which, during the war, brought out the best in a very great many of our people, and how much happier we would be if we could get it back. That will not be easy because it had two 1411 main causes, and one of them we must at almost any cost avoid. It was the emergency of actual enemy assault and repeated loss of life, civilian as well as military, that threw us together. Bombs do not distinguish between rich and poor, English and Scots, men, women and children. We were forced to recognise our common humanity in the face of the common danger.
The danger we now face is less dramatic, more insidious and much less likely to provoke the same result, which is exactly why it is needed and must be recognised. You cannot compare any of the mass media of today with any of the mass media of 50 years ago without discovering a catastrophic decline in regard for the truth and regard for the capacity of individual human beings to suffer from public comments on their private affairs. You cannot compare today's press with the press of 50 years ago without discovering a dramatic change in public perceptions of the balance between the rights of an individual against society and the duties of an individual to society.
These are urgent matters and we must deal with them. If this debate serves to draw them once again to the notice of the public and of the Government, it will have served a crucially useful purpose. As we look for the answer to this threat, let us keep in mind that picture of St. Paul's in the blitz, with the cross immovable in the tempest—immovable as a memorial of the greatest act of service—with a strong and natural link to that basic instinct of service, referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Charteris of Amisfield, in a most moving speech; and let us look to the spirit and tradition of service alive in the no fewer than 2,500 voluntary agencies listed today in the National Voluntary Agencies Directory as one means of defeating this new and dangerous enemy.
§ 5.34 p.m.
§ Baroness Flather
My Lords, I add my very grateful thanks to my noble friend Lord Whitelaw for initiating this debate. I am going to take this opportunity quite unashamedly to draw your Lordships' attention to the role of Indian soldiers during the last war. People have such short memories. When I was mayor of Windsor and Maidenhead I was asked at a Remembrance Day Service, "Does Remembrance Sunday mean anything to you?" I said, "How can you ask such a question of me? Soldiers from the Indian sub-continent made up the largest volunteer army in the Great War". My father was in Mesopotamia, living on bully beef. He had volunteered as a paramedic. They called them medical orderlies in those days. That is why I was saddened when I was asked, "Does Remembrance Sunday mean anything to you?" I fear very much that something similar is happening at this moment.
If I were to ask noble Lords, "Do you know of the contribution of Indian soldiers?", they would definitely answer in the affirmative. Some noble Lords at least would say, "Yes, we know from personal experience". I would accept that gratefully. But if I were to ask noble Lords, "Have you seen much talk about it in the media?", would they still be able to answer yes? I think not. I have been extremely disappointed by the coverage of the role of Indian soldiers during World War II.
1412 This is a historic moment and it is a moment to remind ourselves how much help was given in terms of human and other resources by that part of the Empire which was then called India. Is it likely that this country might not have survived until the Americans joined had there not been Indian help in the war. It is quite clear that the Indians were part of the Empire and they were expected to provide help. The soldiers were expected to fight. They did that unstintingly and with great dedication.
It is necessary to say something about the numbers involved. Although I do not like statistics as such, one needs to have some numbers to get the perspective right. At the end of 1945 there were 3 million fighting men from India in the armed services. There is a notion that most of them served in south east Asia. That is not true. In proportion they were a larger number in south east Asia—they numbered 700,000 out of 1 million—but the rest served in North Africa and Italy, and many of them were taken prisoner of war in Germany.
Perhaps I may give the composition of the Indian forces. This information does not mean a lot to me because I do not have much military experience. There were 19 infantry divisions; five armoured divisions; and 40 independent brigades. That made a total of nearly 3 million men. To be exact, the total was 2,920,000. The casualty figures should also be mentioned. Those killed, wounded, missing or taken prisoner amounted to 180,000.
India was a colony and was therefore expected to contribute men and resources but the bravery and dedication of the soldiers was well known. If there are noble Lords who served with the Indian forces, I am sure they will vouch for that. In World War II, 182 Victoria Crosses were awarded. Twenty-nine went to Indian soldiers.
At this point I must say that I miss the presence of Lord Pitt, because I am sure that on this occasion he would have liked to remind the House of the role played by West Indian servicemen in the last war. Therefore it falls to me to say a word about their role. There was a total of 20,000 volunteers from all the islands of the West Indies. Of that number, 6,000 went into the RAF and countless others served in various different capacities such as technicians and foresters. Many of them went to the United States to work in the munitions factories to help the war effort. That is something which is not generally known and was not known to me until I asked for information.
It is also important to make the connection with the present day from that point. The first ship to arrive here from the West Indies bringing immigrants was the SS "Empire Windrush". It carried to this country ex-servicemen from the West Indies who believed that they were coming to the Mother Country for which they had shed their blood in the last war.
Another interesting connection rooted in World War II is the migration to Southall. Southall has generally and pejoratively been called "Little India". There were two particularly noxious tyre factories in Southall managed by Indian Army officers. They found that they could not get labour for those factories so they went back to the villages of the regiment they served in and directly recruited men who had served with them. They brought them back to Southall. We must not forget the labour shortage in this country immediately after the war and the reason why 1413 people came here. We must not forget that many people were directly recruited and encouraged to come here. All that is so easily forgotten.
Perhaps I may also draw to the attention of the House something which I find very distasteful indeed. I hope that noble Lords will help me to lay it to rest. I find it very upsetting to see the National Front parading the Union Jack. They have a slogan saying, "We fought the war to keep people like you" (that is, me) "out of this country to keep Britain for the British". Surely, it was completely the other way round. We fought the war to keep people like them, the fascists, out of this country. I do not want the fascists to hijack the Union Jack and I hope that all noble Lords will say that whenever the opportunity arises.
Perhaps I may now quickly refer to the voluntary organisations, being someone whose background is totally involved with voluntary work. This country has a record better than all others that I know of as regards voluntary work. I do not believe that we realise how much more we do than, say, our European partners. I have had the good fortune both of being mayor of Windsor and Maidenhead and having had opportunities to travel to the countries we are twinned with. It has always been a surprise to me how little tradition there is of voluntary work and service in the countries of our European partners. Therefore, we must not run ourselves down. That has been said before. We must not become a nation of moaners and whingers.
There is one other factor I would like to bring to the notice of the House. Volunteering is extremely important. It contributes enormously to the welfare of the community. But one will not find people from voluntary work getting into positions of any importance anywhere. If I had stayed in voluntary work I would not have come to your Lordships' House. It is a great sadness that people do not recognise those who have worked in a voluntary capacity as being fit for public office. That is something we should be very conscious of: people who do the work at grassroots level should be the ones to move up the ladder. If I had not become involved in politics, no doubt I should still be happily doing voluntary work. I enjoyed my voluntary work and I did it because I wanted to. Nobody forced me to do it.
There is a very good example in Austria of a compulsory period spent either doing civilian service for one year or eight months in military service. It applies only to young men. Although it does not apply to women I understand that they are clamouring to join. It is absolutely free to a person either to opt for eight months of military service or 12 months of what is called "civil service", which is community work. It is not a bad example and one which is worth studying. I hope that the Minister will take note of it and perhaps get further information.
§ 5.46 p.m.
§ Lord Dubs
My Lords, I welcome the opportunity given us today by the noble Viscount, Lord Whitelaw, to discuss both VE Day and the contribution made to this country by the voluntary sector. I am also delighted to 1414 follow the noble Baroness, Lady Flather. I acknowledge the force of what she said about the contribution of Indian troops and the volunteers from the West Indies to our successful war effort.
However, I shall concentrate on voluntary organisations themselves. Perhaps I may declare an interest in that I am, and will be for a few more weeks, the chief executive of the Refugee Council, which is a medium-sized voluntary organisation. I also have links with a large number of other voluntary organisations. For example, I am a trustee of Action Aid. I believe that I have been chairman of at least five different voluntary bodies in my time. I also took the chair of a Labour Party policy group which developed Labour Party policy before the last election.
I found that an interesting experience because of the very clear response from the voluntary sector, which said to us, and to me, that it was the first time that any political party in this country had shown that level of interest in the voluntary sector and the way in which voluntary organisations operate.
I appreciate that as VE Day approaches we can commemorate not only victory but the indication of service to the community that so many people in this country gave during the war. It was a sign of the values we had at the time when we all agreed that a common aim should dominate everything we did. Perhaps noble Lords opposite will not agree with me, but I believe that it was those values which led directly to the election of a Labour Government in 1945.
We have now moved some way away from there. I noticed in speeches of other Members of the House this afternoon a regret that the wish to make oneself rich at the expense of one's fellow citizens dominates rather than the concept of service. I regret that, too. The history of the voluntary sector and the way in which it works today show that many people reject the "Let us go for money at all costs" philosophy and see the voluntary sector as an opportunity to give of their service to the benefit of their communities or the country.
As the noble Baroness, Lady Flather, said, we are very lucky in this country that we have a voluntary sector which is more vital, larger and more committed than the equivalent in any other European country. Thousands of people work in the voluntary sector and thousands of people give their time voluntarily either working for voluntary organisations or serving on their management committees. An enormous level of commitment is given for little money in the case of staff and for no money at all in the case of volunteers.
We have already heard this afternoon that the Church is one of our largest voluntary organisations. Dare I add that political parties are also voluntary organisations? Perhaps I may make the partisan point—I say this with pride—that the Labour Party is therefore the fastest growing voluntary organisation in the country today.
Perhaps I may point out the other characteristics of the voluntary sector. The first is—this is perhaps at variance with what I said about political parties—that most of the voluntary sector is characterised by its independence of government and by the fact that those who serve on its management committees do so voluntarily. The voluntary sector is characterised by the social aims of service to 1415 community and country. It represents motives that are unrelated to profit, and it comprises organisations which are often of charitable status.
The voluntary sector encompasses a wide range of organisations, from those which can be described as "fashionable" to those that are perhaps less fashionable and more radical such as the Refugee Council, with which I am associated. I know that this is not an occasion for fund-raising speeches, but I make the plea to the corporate sector, on which voluntary organisations increasingly depend for financial support, that it should be as generous to charities and voluntary organisations which are perhaps more radical and campaigning as it is to those which are more traditional and longer established.
There are a number of respects in which voluntary organisations can do things better than any other body, statutory or private. Perhaps I may describe them briefly. Voluntary organisations can innovate and take risks in the services that they provide. Voluntary organisations can develop their work and gain strength from having better links with the communities that they serve. They can often involve the users or beneficiaries of their services in helping to plan and provide those services. Voluntary organisations can be extremely cost-effective because they can target their work. They are effective at promoting change. They often challenge vested interests, whatever they are, and they are able to campaign for improvements in services because they speak from knowledge and experience and therefore with authority.
I should like to pay tribute to a number of bodies. The National Council for Voluntary Organisations does an excellent job in representing the voluntary sector. Under Richard Fries, the Charity Commission has done a good job and has developed much more sympathy for the voluntary sector. I may not always agree with him, but he listens and has, I believe, made the Charity Commission much more accessible to voluntary organisations. If I am giving out medals, I must also give one to the Voluntary Service Unit of the Home Office. No Member of this House can have had more disagreements with the Home Office than I have had over the years, but that unit has developed a sensitivity towards and an understanding of the voluntary sector. I sometimes have bitter arguments with it, but it now understands and knows how the voluntary sector operates. I only wish that some other government departments would learn from the VSU.
I should like to refer briefly to the National Lottery Charities Board. I have with me the results of a survey—although I do not know of anybody who was interviewed. I hope that those results will not limit the charities that will benefit because a low priority has been given to overseas development, refugees, women's issues, ethnic and cultural minorities and other people affected by discrimination. I hope that the board will recognise wider responsibilities than those suggested by the survey, about which I know very little, although I question some of the results that have been published so far.
We are very lucky in this country in that we have in our voluntary sector an enormously high level of commitment from both staff and volunteers. That makes up for the fact that there is no financial incentive. I could give many examples of that—and not only from my own organisation, the Refugee Council. I have met people who 1416 work for Oxfam and for Action Aid in distant places overseas and in difficult conditions. I have met many people who work for voluntary organisations in this country and who show a high level of commitment for a low level of pay. Another feature of the voluntary sector is that those who work as professionals within it tend to do so for less pay than they could earn in local government or the private sector.
However, I do not believe that we should see the voluntary sector as a cheap option. If we do that, we belittle the voluntary sector. Furthermore, we should not see the voluntary sector as a means of coping with government-imposed cuts in national and local services.
The voluntary sector, which tries to raise money wherever it can, bears a heavy burden in terms of VAT. I know that this is an old argument, but it is still true: the VAT burden on the average charity is very heavy.
I refer briefly to political activities by charities. I used the word "campaigning" a moment ago and I dare say that the Charity Commission will say "Tut, tut" to that. The revised draft of the Charity Commission's guidelines is an enormous improvement. Charities are, of course, constrained by the present legislation and by legal precedent, and I believe that some further relaxation would be desirable. We could all live with charities which spoke out within their remit on behalf of the causes for which they are working.
I also believe that funders should accept that sometimes the charities that benefit from their funding may well be critical of them—whether they are local government or central government. I think that it is healthy and a sign of a pluralist society that the Home Office can accept that organisations such as mine can criticise it and that we still receive some funding from it. If we are to have an efficient voluntary sector, it needs the resources to be able to train its staff and to have proper professional management. That would represent and lead to good value for money.
I take to heart the comments of the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, about funding and core funding. It is ridiculous to fund voluntary organisations on a one-year basis because they will not know how to plan. One of the reasons why I applaud the VSU is that it offers three-year funding. I do not believe that the Department of Employment has got its funding of training and enterprise councils right. The TECs tend to make decisions about the voluntary organisations that they fund just days before the beginning of a financial year. On one occasion, my organisation suffered a 48 per cent, cut—and we were only told about it by one of the TECs two days after the start of that financial year. One cannot manage on that basis. It is absolutely impossible. Please will the VSU talk to other government departments and exercise more influence on them?
Finally, voluntary organisations battle hard for their funds. Of course, we can raise money for particular projects whenever we are able, but core funding is vital. I ask the House to understand that if voluntary organisations 1417 are to operate effectively, efficiently and with professional standards of management, they need core funding. That would enable the voluntary sector to improve on the very good contribution that it is already making to life in this country.
§ 5.58 p.m.
§ Lord Holderness
My Lords, the pleasure that I felt listening to the speech of the noble Lord increased my sadness that I have not had the opportunity of hearing more speeches from the Benches behind him. I am sad also that I did not hear more about the distinguished achievements of my noble friend at the end of the war. He was correct to emphasise the very different challenge that we face now.
My noble friend Lord Dean spoke about some of the good things that came out of the war 50 years ago. However, despite all of those, there was a very great deal about the war which none of us (whether or not we played an active part) ever wants to see repeated. I am sure that noble Lords agree. Our universal prayer must be that we shall never see its like again.
The sad thing was that people not only suffered greatly while the fighting continued, but, as we have heard from a number of sources recently, there was a great deal of suffering in the reunion of families once the fighting had ended and when the men came back to this country. That might make the case for wiping it from our memory as quickly as possible, but I believe that would be foolish.
I may have been lucky to find, looking back, that the war taught me a great deal. Without that knowledge my life would have been infinitely poorer. More relevant, and no doubt much more interesting than the effect of war on my life, is the effect that it had on many others. I should like to take as examples two men who had but a small share of the good things of this world before the world began. One was a miner in South Wales, unemployed and suffering with his family all the deprivation that we can so easily imagine. He volunteered, served the whole war abroad and then moved to a skilled and responsible job in government service.
The other man came from an unhappy home. He had spent some time in a borstal. He was in danger of what I think we call becoming institutionalised. He also volunteered, served in the Middle East, was captured in Crete, came back, married, raised a family and obtained a good job. No doubt there were many people like those two men. After early years when nothing seemed to have gone right, they had the opportunity in their war service to do something for others, and in so doing found their own worth.
Some years after the war—I hardly dare say this in front of the noble Lord, Lord Charteris, whom until now I have been proud to call my noble friend—I was involved in the arrangements to end national service. Many people were critical, including some like my noble friend with active brilliant minds, but on the whole I believe the decision was right in the circumstances that prevailed nearly 30 years ago.
1418 I have since been pleased—I am sure my noble friend will be pleased—by the thousands who over the years have served in the forces as volunteers to their benefit and that of the nation. Equally encouraging—a number of my noble friends have drawn attention to this—is the large number who have given and continue to give service of different kinds to meet a variety of needs. They are the old and the young. I look forward to hearing more—we have already heard about it from my noble friend Lady Young—about the excellent organisation called GAP: many people serve the needs of disabled people and those in the grip of drink and drugs. It is unnecessary to try to point out how endless are the needs.
Many of those who are doing voluntary work already have jobs to keep them busy, but the appeal that I think my noble friend has made is to a group far wider than that. It is an appeal to the whole nation. He is not appealing merely to those who have been lucky in life and have time and energy to spare, but also to those who have reason to feel that fate has dealt rather harshly with them. They may have been out of work for many months; they may have come out of prison and are unable to find a job; they may be trying, possibly alone, to bring up a family without having friends anywhere near them.
It is to me small wonder that such people think that society owes them a debt and that they owe little to society. Yet I believe they are wrong. The nation, of which we are all joint members, does not consider them of little consequence. Successive governments have recognised their obligation to them. Those whom the Government help in one way or another would be not just wise but very much happier if they recognised an obligation in return. That is not an attempt to make any crude suggestion of a direct repayment of any help the state provides, but I believe that those who have been helped in their need would find themselves more valuably helped if they themselves gave to others in comparable need.
The two wartime friends I mentioned might well have argued that their country thought them of little value, but the service they gave to Britain during the war had the important effect of making them aware of their own worth. Therefore I am convinced that the appeal which I think my noble friend is making for a great increase in voluntary service has a double purpose. It has the power, obviously, not just to lighten the load of those who have fallen on hard times, but equally, and possibly more importantly, service by the very people whom life has hit hard has the power, if they are prepared to acknowledge it, to give them a new respect and fresh confidence in their own value.
§ 6.5 p.m.
§ The Earl of Strathmore and Kinghorne
My Lords, I have to confess to feeling rather as though I am making a maiden speech. When I made my original maiden speech, I was already lucky enough to be on the Front Bench and able to draw on the expertise of civil servants. This is my first solo flight. I hope that your Lordships will forgive me if my take-off and landing are a bit bumpy.
I am grateful to my noble friend for initiating this debate since I have filled some of my time since last July getting to know one or two parts of the voluntary sector. In 1419 particular, I have been honoured to succeed the late Lord Thurso as president of the Boys' Brigade, and perhaps I may take this opportunity to pay tribute to his contribution there, as in so many areas. Succeeding someone like him in a position like that, one gets a very clear, if humbling, sense of the tradition of public service in our national life. Perhaps I may add how deeply sorry I was to hear of his death only last Saturday. I am sure that the whole House feels a deep sense of loss.
My noble friend's Motion mentions the commemoration of VE Day. That is useful. For those of your Lordships who remember the war, the commemoration is one of personal experience, personal involvement and, in many cases, personal loss. For my generation, it is an example and a lesson. That lesson implicit in my noble friend's Motion and opening speech is that the war, terrible as it was, had this great virtue—that people pulled together, in many ways, not just at the command of the authorities, but in private ways, as they felt they could, for the good of all.
Peacetime is different, principally in the fact that there is not so pressing or so easily identifiable an enemy; but there remains just as great a need for everyone to work for the common good, here and overseas, and particularly in the voluntary sector.
I hope that your Lordships will not think me trite if I give a little anecdote which illustrates much of what I want to say. It is a true story. I know of a middle-aged woman who found herself at a point in her life depressed and isolated. The local rector was worried about her. He also had another problem. The village lollipop man had died, and the road crossing in the village, which was on a busy road, was a danger to the children in the local church school. He suggested—it was inspired—that the woman concerned might take on, if only for a short time, the role of lollipop lady. I suppose in these days of political correctness some people would say lollipop person, but it sounds terrible to me.
The lady did it and she enjoyed it. People chatted to her; she felt involved and useful—having felt useless—and her morale improved. The children were safer because of her. She was even paid a little by the local authority. But do not let us get romantic about it. It also meant dropping whatever she was doing, five days a week, a number of times a day, whatever the weather to go and stand i n a very unglamorous yellow coat, holding a large yellow sign, on or in the road. That was service to the nation—ridiculous in a way but necessary and admirable.
Voluntary work has many rewards but it also requires that great wartime virtue of discipline, and indeed self-discipline, putting oneself at the disposal of others and not letting them down, even when one could be doing something much more amusing or, indeed, profitable.
It seems to me that our debate today will be useful if we identify some practical considerations which are important in mobilising people. Voluntary work does not just happen; it needs organisation. It needs—to return to my anecdote —people such as the rector, who put two problems together and came up with two solutions. I like to believe that there are many such wise people in the Church; indeed, the presence of the right reverend Prelate 1420 the Bishop of Exeter this afternoon confirms that. It needs public involvement and sometimes expenditure, if only to provide yellow coats and lollypops.
There must be a balance between public provision and the work of the voluntary sector. Each needs the other. This is not a party political point, nor should it give rise to party political conflict even where those on the various sides differ about details of where the balance should be struck. I hope that we can all agree that those undertaking voluntary work need to believe that their efforts are additional to public policy and are underpinned by it.
In that context, I wish to mention one or two specific areas of policy. Many voluntary organisations are helped by small grants, either from central or local government, which allow them to employ a core of staff. This is certainly the case with the Boys' Brigade. In this way, for a small amount of public expenditure a great deal of work in the national interest—the vast majority of which is unpaid—is organised.
Any of your Lordships who are involved in voluntary work will recognise the difficulty of fundraising. It often feels like chasing one's tail; employing someone to raise money to pay someone to raise more money. Meanwhile, a lot of effort is going on fundraising and not on doing the work for which the funds are raised. Of course, raising money is a part of voluntary work and charitable giving is something to be encouraged. But a little public money here goes a very long way.
What has happened in recent years has been a move away from providing public money for core funding and towards what I believe is called project funding. However, project funding is year-on-year. Many of those who work in the voluntary sector, normally for very little money, do so with little certainty as to whether they will be employed next year. That is a poor reward for their commitment.
Again, government decisions cost voluntary organisations money. I know about that through the Boys' Brigade. We all agree that seatbelts in minibuses used by youth organisations are needed. But they have to be paid for. The Boys' Brigade has hundreds of minibuses. I know that Ministers are alive to the problem and have tried to phase in the new policy as sensitively as possible. But I will just sum up the problem by saying, "Help!".
Again, leaders of voluntary organisations need training. They give their time, and a little public money to pay for their training is a good investment. It is my information that grants for that purpose are far fewer than they used to be.
Perhaps I may give one more example. Many voluntary groups use local schools in the evenings. Many school governors have started charging up to £40 per night for the use of rooms. That can make a big difference to a small group; it can mean life or death. That is emphatically not a whinge about public spending. Public expenditure has, of course, to be carefully controlled, and I support that. I also know—before my noble friend on the Front Bench tells me at the end of the debate—that a good deal of public money is still spent in just this way. I simply wish to say, "Long may it be so". Can we keep a close eye on it? We get so much for so little.
1421 The value of voluntary service is not to be measured in cash terms. I am not a great quoter but the other day I came across the following:cash payment has become the sole nexus of man to man".The Oxford Dictionary of Quotations allows me to tell your Lordships that that was Thomas Carlyle speaking more than 100 years ago.
Nowhere is that more true than where service to the nation in the common good is concerned. What the voluntary sector gives to the nation as a whole is a sense of service; service which anyone can undertake in any walk of life. It ties us together. One gets to know people one would otherwise never meet, working for a common end.
The Boys' Brigade is more than 100 years old. It is founded on the belief that the values it exists in order to foster are absolutely necessary to us all. Academic excellence, business flair or entrepreneurial skills are all very necessary. But I cannot help believing that, if everybody felt a sense of value—perhaps the obligation— and even the pleasure of work in the service of the nation, many of the social problems that we face would be on the road to being solved.
People want to serve the nation, I believe. Sometimes they do not know how and need to be helped. I hope that this debate will give the voluntary service a real boost. My noble friend has, with his usual wisdom, picked a good target and a good moment.
§ 6.15 p.m.
§ Lord Greenhill of Harrow
My Lords, for many of us, May 1945 was not quite the end of World War II but that does not diminish the thrust of the Motion that the noble Viscount has put before us. It is clear, and it is very satisfactory, that the majority of us in this House find ourselves in sympathy with the Motion. Much of our discussion can take place without party-political conflict.
Regrettably, we are often conscious that in many parts of the world there is diminished respect for this country. We are glad to know that there is continued respect for our Armed Forces, but in many other matters such respect is not shown.
Our personal obligation for service to the nation is still widely maintained. Perhaps I may be forgiven for mentioning the Diplomatic Service in that respect. The contribution of voluntary organisations to our interests is remarkable and it could be increased if they were more properly supported.
Looking back, it is encouraging to remind ourselves from time to time of the virtues of the old Colonial Service both before and after the Empire was being dismantled. The sacrifices made by members of that service and their wives were at that time respected. We can be respected once again if the work of our voluntary organisations can be supported more effectively.
Many Members of your Lordships' House are active supporters of chosen voluntary organisations. Some noble Lords will no doubt refer to the objectives and needs of such organisations. Many are household names and one is proud to point them out. I wish to speak for a moment 1422 about two organisations which I and many others have tried to help over many years. One organisation is very large and the other is comparatively small.
The first organisation is the VSO, about which my noble friend Lord Cairns will speak today. The second is the GAP. Unlike the VSO, the GAP, which has been mentioned several times today, has no government subsidy. It is an entirely voluntary organisation. Its object is to fill the gap for young people between school and university. Although it was first started many years ago by a schoolmaster of a public school of which I was a governor, it now draws its volunteers from both state and independent schools in almost equal proportions. The programme for 1994–95 involves more than 1,000 UK volunteers, 33 projects and about 300 reciprocal volunteers. I will quickly give a list of the work undertaken by GAP volunteers in a large number of overseas countries: taking conversation classes and helping with the teaching of English as a foreign language; assisting with sports, boarding duties and other activities in English-speaking schools; caring for the young, old, handicapped or under-privileged in hospitals and charitable homes; and working on farms and conservation projects.
Young people readily find satisfaction, benefit and fascination in taking part in those activities which are manifestly to the advantage of all parties involved. It comes at the right time in their lives. But such voluntary organisations need more money, although a surprising number of GAP helpers and members undertake responsibilities without material reward. But the GAP certainly needs money. Where is it to come from?
Currently the press are enjoying argument about the use of lottery money. The noble Viscount brought encouraging news. It would be sensible and in the interests of all of us if some of the lottery money went to deserving voluntary organisations. I noticed that one citizen said in the press last week that he did not mind who it went to as long as some came to him. I hope that that is not a usual attitude. However, lottery money is unlikely to be significantly available. But some of the jackpot winners might give some thought to periodic unselfish gestures.
But is there not need today for more co-operation between voluntary organisations and government agencies? I have been told that there is less co-operation between voluntary organisations and government agencies than there was in the 1960s and 1970s. People who took part in co-operative meetings in those days assure me that this is so. I should be happy to show the evidence to others who might be interested. Does the Minister who will wind up these discussions think that there is room for further co-operation than is practised at present? If she does I trust she will look into the possibilities for some beneficial change.
§ 6.22 p.m.
§ Baroness Carnegy of Lour
My Lords, those of your Lordships who are old enough may remember a Johnny Mercer song which was popular towards the end of the war which ran:Accentuate the positive,Eliminate the negative,1423Latch on to the affirmative,Don't mess with Mister In-BetweenLooking back, looking at the present and looking forward, perhaps those words sum up as well as any what noble Lords have said about how people felt in this country during and immediately after the war. With all its terrors, anguish and suffering, most of our countrymen who lived through the war experienced and extraordinary unity of purpose and a determination not to be diverted from the cause which they felt was heart lifting.
It was a positive, and for many of us—we must admit—an exciting and formative experience which helped us, difficult though it was at the time, in our subsequent lives. Today I believe that most of us know in our bones that there is something a bit wrong about the negative atmosphere which we have created collectively. The media, as a means of competing for readers and viewers, vie with one another in accentuating bad, frightening and shocking news. Leaders and institutions in many spheres are presented, frequently without good reason, as cynical and corrupt. Parliament and politicians—at least what people see of them on television—seem to be about disagreements and divisiveness.
Somehow we know in our bones that the spirit of this country in wartime was in fact closer to what life is really about than is the frequently negative spirit of today. In our somewhat negative frame of mind, we are inclined to tell ourselves that there is not much that we can do about it.
I believe that it is quite right to use this weekend and this debate, as noble Lords are doing, to look around us in this United Kingdom and observe the immense number of good things that are happening, particularly among young people.
I wish to draw attention—and I am surprised that it has not been mentioned before—to just one area of activity in which in the past I worked as a volunteer for many years; that is, Guiding and Scouting. I believe that the scale and quality of what takes place today in those movements is not widely recognised. After all, it is good news, so it does not make the headlines. Nor is it known that the whole of the revenue funding of those movements is raised by the young people themselves.
The 1994 figures show that nowadays there are no fewer than 750,000 members of the Guide movement in the United Kingdom, of whom something like one in 10—75,000—is a volunteer adult leader who works week by week, year in year out with some 36,000 groups of girls which vary from groups of five and six year-olds, known as Rainbow Guides, to 17,600 Brownie packs, 10,600 Guide companies and 1,300 Ranger groups. Of course, Scouts and Venture Scouts now include girls. In Scouting, there are likewise more than half a million young people led by 110,000 adults.
We need to realise that across the country, through those organisations alone, quite apart from the other organisations which we have been discussing, something like 1.3 million of our young people, helped by 200,000 adults, are experiencing a movement which is permeated by the spirit of service and working together with a shared common purpose.
Every Brownie and Guide programme has ability and readiness to serve as one of its eight points. Brownies call it "lending a hand"; Guides talk about "Guide action"; and 1424 in their handbooks there are lots of practical ideas, embraced enthusiastically, for planning and carrying out service projects suitable for their age group.
For older members, there is a programme of reaching out into the community. Teams are working in a systematic way in the United Kingdom to extend guiding into areas where hitherto it has not existed and where it is needed greatly. There are lunch clubs for disabled people, holidays for needy single mothers and their children, hospital shops, trolley services, hospitality for overseas students and so on.
For 16 to 30 year-olds there is a scheme known as GOLD—Guiding and Overseas Development—under which people can apply to work on overseas voluntary projects, something like Voluntary Service Overseas, where the work will usually be shared with Guide people in the host countries. For individuals, the projects may be short, perhaps for three weeks, or longer ones of perhaps 18 months. They may be carried out from year to year. Guiders raise the money for their own costs. They undergo training beforehand and they are usually involved in the forward planning.
Recent projects have included teams teaching English, doing community development, teaching Guiding skills and the like in Thailand helped by Thai guides, in Sri Lanka, in Kenya, in Russia, in the Czech Republic, in Slovakia and Estonia. Many of those schemes continue and lead to Guide people from those countries coming here and undertaking similar projects in this country.
Likewise, Scouts are deeply involved in community projects both at home and abroad. Teams of their young men and women have recently been involved in fascinating schemes in Russia, Poland, Romania, the former Yugoslavia, Uganda, Rio de Janeiro, India and various countries of Africa. The story is an amazing one. Indeed, I believe that we really need a whole debate to discuss it.
What the Scouts and Guides are doing and what they have to tell us over this weekend is that the spirit of service, the experience of sharing, of working together and of sustaining one another even when times are hard, is burning brightly and being rekindled year by year even by people who are very young like Scouts and Guides. Those organisations and all who work through them need our encouragement and support. I believe that they especially need encouragement to innovate in order to reach out into communities where they are most needed in new ways.
As a result of this weekend in our United Kingdom, I hope that we shall, perhaps, be a little less negative and cynical, that we shall more frequently "accentuate the positive", and that we shall look to the young to give us a lead.
§ 6.31 p.m.
The Viscount of Oxfuird
My Lords, I, too, congratulate my noble friend Lord Whitelaw on the masterly way in which he opened the debate. There are few in your Lordships' House with such a long record of service to our nation, given in so many varied spheres. It is a real pleasure to have the opportunity to contribute to a debate on a subject on which our whole House can unite.
1425 As a number of noble Lords have observed, we are about to celebrate one of the most momentous events of this century. I can think of no more appropriate way of doing so than by examining practical ways in which we can offer service to our nation which is relevant to the peacetime conditions we have been fortunate enough to enjoy in recent years. For many of us, when we think about "service to the nation" our minds inevitably go to our own experience of National Service—that is, compulsory military conscription. The noble Lord, Lord Hunt, in his letter to my noble friend Lord Whitelaw mentioned that, as did my noble friend Lord Elton, the noble Lord, Lord Charteris, and others.
For those of us who shared that experience—and I know that there are many Members in your Lordships' House who did so—it was a unifying experience: a time of common endeavour, shared opportunities and the comradeship of living and working together for two years with acquaintances, many of whom became friends, from different backgrounds, different parts of the country and different ways of life.
I believe that National Service was good for the country and good for the individual, and that it left the participants at the end of the experience with a broader outlook and better equipped to take a place in society. National Service served our country well, but time moves on. I would be the first to admit that there is no longer any operational requirement to conscript upwards of 350,000 young men every year into our Armed Forces. They do not want them and, being a professional body, they cannot use them.
How, then, can we learn from the value of that past experience as we look to the future and plan for what, it is hoped, will be a period of sustained and lasting peace? In recent years our society seems to have found it increasingly difficult to find an established place for our young people. Between the ages at which the family and the educational establishment cease to hold our young people and at the point at which they themselves start to build a family and establish themselves in a permanent job, there is a widening gap. In most cases, that gap occurs in the years between 16 and 20. Young people of that age are moving from dependency to independence, yet at that crucial time in their lives our society, in effect, seems to say that it does not really value them or care sufficiently to help them through that awkward transition.
The noble Lord, Lord Dahrendorf, summed it up well in his preface to the extensive study in the field by Enrico Colombatto of the London School of Economics. He said:We send them into the wilderness of an anomic society and ask them to come back when they have settled down".Numerous surveys confirm that young people in general have talents, energies, skills and enthusiasms which represent a valuable national resource. Almost all are highly impressionable and seek leadership to help them begin to realise their strong ideals and aspirations. It is noteworthy that many countries in the world and almost all the countries of western Europe, with the exception of the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland, recognise that by conscription of their youth in some form of military or community service.
1426 Is there something here from which we as a nation can learn? One characteristic of our country that I know your Lordships would be the first to recognise is our British nervousness about any form of conscription which might somehow be seen as an attack on the freedom of the individual. So let us examine whether some form of community service to the nation by our youth can be established on a purely voluntary basis.
The concept of voluntary work assumes that young people wish to contribute at least some of their time and energy to the benefit of others and of society. The motives of the volunteers may vary from being purely altruistic to gaining work experience, to widening horizons or just to meeting others and enjoying their companionship. We in Britain have a distinguished record of voluntary work. Much of it is long established and internationally respected. There has been mention of the St. John Ambulance service and Voluntary Service Overseas, founded in this country by Alec Dickson in 1958.
More recently, industrial and governmental sponsorship has been an important feature in the development of voluntary services. It is estimated that the youth service, an all-embracing term describing the separate and independent bodies which make up a partnership between statutory authorities and voluntary agencies, reaches over 6 million young people and involves about 500,000 full-time, part-time and volunteer workers.
It is widely acknowledged, so far as it is possible to generalise about such an amorphous body as the youth service, that it does an excellent job and provides an invaluable service, harnessing the energies and aspirations of its young volunteers. For those who volunteer, it provides a stimulus, a sense of belonging and achievement and a better understanding of citizenship in its broadest sense. However, by definition, it relies entirely on the volunteer spirit and therefore does not necessarily attract the growing number of alienated and apathetic under-achievers, nor, at the other end of the spectrum, the selfish, the self-indulgent or those who achieve without any regard or consideration for others. Much as idealists and wishful thinkers may hope otherwise, it is unrealistic to imagine that the volunteer ethos will attract more than a minority of young men and women. Furthermore, experience shows that those who would benefit most from undertaking full or part-time voluntary service are those who are least likely to volunteer for it. The conclusion I am forced to draw is that we are unlikely to inculcate into our young people the positive values I described earlier by voluntary means alone.
It seems to me therefore that some approach short of military conscription should be found to enlist young Britons into the service of their country on terms that they and the nation would find effective and acceptable. An approach I commend to your Lordships might be described as the title of this debate—service for the nation. I acknowledge a debt of gratitude to my friend General Sir John Wilsey for pioneering this idea and for first bringing it to my attention. His concept of "service for the nation" commends itself as a practical and 1427 acceptable method of harnessing the energy and the needs of young Britons, especially their need for job-related training, to the requirements of our country.
Under the proposed scheme every young person would be required to give 12 months' service to the nation between the age of leaving school and the age of 25. They would be permitted a great deal of flexibility and would have the choice of when, where and in what capacity they would make their contribution. I believe that there is more than enough worthwhile work to be done without jeopardising any existing job or undermining any current area of employment. Indeed, I believe that such a scheme would create and generate new opportunities and investment to the benefit of the workforce and the country as a whole.
I believe that such a scheme would also be economically viable. There is today a massive amount of waste in economic and human terms in funding the present high level of youth unemployment. These are wasted resources which could be redeployed to help fund the proposed scheme; to remunerate moderately the participants; and to pay for the additional training and support costs of identified national projects.
When better than at this historic moment when we remember the sacrifices which led to the victory in Europe exactly 50 years ago to look again at General Wilsey's idea? Uniquely at this stage of Britain's postwar history, a combination of factors makes the proposal not only viable but positively necessary. Soon the opportunity will pass from those of us who experienced the cohesion, self-discipline and national sense of purpose engendered during the Second World War and its aftermath as we pass into retirement and cease to exert an influence on opinion or events in our country. I leave you with the words of President Kennedy:Ask not what your country can do for you—ask what you can do for your country".
§ 6.43 p.m.
My Lords, I, too, welcome the noble Viscount's initiative in having this debate which I think will be a source of great encouragement to the voluntary sector as a whole. I would like to speak a little about VSO, with which I have been associated for over 20 years, as my noble friend Lord Greenhill indicated I would, and to try to draw from that experience perhaps one or two features which may have a broader application in other areas.
VSO has had more than 20,000 volunteers who spend two years overseas and is currently operating in some 58 different countries. I see volunteers when they apply to VSO and I wonder at their sense of idealism. I have seen volunteers in their posts, in conditions often of great hardship, and I wonder at their effectiveness. And I have seen the volunteers as they return and I admire the satisfaction they get from the service that they have given. I wonder whether we make as much use as we should of all those who wish to serve. VSO turns down, for various reasons, about half of those who apply. There must be other areas in which they could work.
I wonder, too, whether we take the right attitude to these people when they return. I often find that employers see returning volunteers rather as oddballs for 1428 having spent two years abroad. That is in sharp distinction to the almost hero-like reception that I see more regularly accorded to members of the Peace Corps in the United States when they return. VSO has a simple formula and it is organised, I believe, with considerable skill and sophistication. It provides something like 45 per cent. of the manpower aid programme of this country at about 15 per cent. of the cost. This is fully acknowledged by the ODA, which has been a tremendous supporter. I pay particular tribute to the noble Baroness, Lady Chalker, whose personal support and eloquent speaking out for VSO have been a great encouragement.
We are also lucky in that when I step down as chairman we have been able to persuade the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, to take on the role. His willingness to go to some uncomfortable parts of the world has had a great effect. I pay tribute also to the Foreign Office and to the Metropolitan Police, whose negotiating skills over the past six months resulted in the successful return of two volunteers who were held hostage in Sierra Leone for over six uncomfortable months.
VSO, like many other organisations that have been referred to today, is suffering great difficulty in raising private funding. The National Lottery is mentioned by many as being a reason for this. That may in part be true but I note that in nearly every OECD country this pattern is the same. I suspect that the root causes of that may be slightly more difficult to tackle. That is not to say that those who are concerned with the National Lottery and the distribution of charitable funds do not have a great role to play. I believe that they do and I hope that they show imagination in tackling an opportunity which is there for the taking.
In the aid world the voluntary organisations are being used at an increasing rate. In the Nordic countries about 30 to 35 per cent. of all official aid is distributed through the voluntary sector. In some cases in Sweden up to 85 per cent. of aid funding comes from official sources. In the United States and Canada the figure is more like two-thirds; and I am glad to say that the experience of VSO lies within that range, although official aid funded through the voluntary sector in this country is proportionately significantly less than in most other major donor countries. The World Bank, too, makes great use of NGOs. In the last reported year, some 50 per cent. of all bank-funded projects involved NGOs compared with only 8 per cent. for the period between 1973 and 1988.
The question of the effectiveness of the voluntary sector is difficult and complex. The objectives are hard to quantify and are interrelated. I am on the council of a research organisation, the Overseas Development Institute (ODI), which is undertaking interesting work on this issue. However, at this stage I wish to confine myself to making this point. Most of the most sophisticated donors in the aid world appear to be using the voluntary sector at an increasing rate. That factor brings into question the relationship between the official donors and the agencies. Are the agencies sub-contractors—people who can undertake the task more cheaply? Sometimes they can. I believe that the VSO figures which I have given suggest that that is so. 1429 Alternatively, are the agencies able to participate in developing strategies towards aims which are common to both?
I believe that more could be done in this field. Studies which I have undertaken suggest that in this country we have a more restrictive official attitude towards a constructive dialogue between official donors and the voluntary sector. I do not know whether that is through fear of judgment with hindsight on the accountability which has to exist.
Clearly there is a need to agree the criteria for support to the voluntary sector. However, there is, too, a need to find the right ways to acclaim its success. I think, and hope, that the VSO is an object of pride. A number of noble Lords have referred to the VSO; I am delighted that that is so.
I believe that there is a lack of channels for volunteers. I have come across many people who would like to give service but who are unable to find the right ways to do so. The noble Baroness, Lady Young, spoke of the role of the private sector. She gave two good examples. I believe that the works of the companies she mentioned are exceptional. I do not believe that those companies are the rule; and I do not believe that the private sector in general shows the level of imagination that it should in creating the right environment.
We have to be careful that the voluntary sector is not seen by official donors as some kind of competitive threat. I believe that there is room for a more radical look at how the voluntary sector can play an even greater part in our lives today. I hope that this debate will start the process. We have to find ways to facilitate the full potential of individual willingness to serve. We have to take advantage of the ingenuity and the diversity of the voluntary sector in order to create a sense of individual and collective participation both for this nation and internationally.
§ 6.55 p.m.
§ Baroness Seccombe
My Lords, as we approach the forthcoming weekend and the festivities commemorating the end of World War II, I can think of no better issue to debate, and no better person to propose it, than the Motion proposed by my noble friend Lord White-law. Throughout his life my noble friend has served his country with distinction and has been an inspiration to many in my party. I thank him for bringing the matter before us today.
There are many forms of volunteering: for example, public service as a magistrate, a councillor, and service in the TA. Perhaps I may add here that my husband and I are immensely proud of our elder son who is commanding his regiment in the TA. There are countless voluntary organisations and, of course, small but highly significant helping hands, given sometimes on a daily basis, to those who are in need. It is that category to which I wish to speak today.
Voluntary service is, I believe, a very special British activity. It is a quality of which we can be justly proud. But I do not mean those who are in paid employment with a voluntary organisation. Those people give 1430 dedicated service and are most important as pump primers. Their role, however, must not be confused with that of a volunteer. They are professionals within the charity field. They have a career structure and should receive a salary commensurate with their responsibilities and not paid a pittance because they are employed by a charitable organisation. Volunteers, for me, are the millions of our people who spend their time with generosity of spirit working through an organisation or helping individuals directly.
I hope that noble Lords will forgive me if I tell a short story. Someone I knew and respected retired when he was nearing 70. His wife was handicapped as a result of a motor accident. But despite his responsibility for looking after her, he decided that he should do some voluntary work for Meals on Wheels. Perhaps he was one of those early members of the WRVS! On one of his daily rounds, as usual he had to find the route, the road, the house and the person concerned. That probably took him longer than he realised. As he approached his last visit, he could see a man looking agitated and hanging over the gate. As he emerged from his car, my friend was accosted, "Where have you been? Do you realise what time it is? Do you know that I am an OAP and I am 66?" As he was several years younger than my friend, I can quite understand my friend's feelings when he replied, "I am an OAP too, several years older than you; and you can blooming well get your own lunch next time". I quote that story as I believe it is just as important to receive with love, grace and gratitude as it is to give; and perhaps that is something we can all learn.
It is often the volunteers who bridge the gap when demands for services in different fields, such as social services and healthcare, just cannot be met. Informal volunteering often results from a situation concerning a relative, a neighbour, or a friend, perhaps fetching shopping, taking someone to hospital for treatment or visiting them in hospital. I believe that it is the pleasure that can be gained from such gestures that encourages volunteering. It brings people together and develops true citizenship.
Voluntary work has been very much part of everyday life for over a century. I hope that it will not be seen as sexist if I say that probably the vast majority of such work in the past was done by women. That was caused probably by the long working week of men and the lifestyle of women, the majority of whom stayed at home after marriage, giving them the opportunity to contribute to life in the community.
In 1995, lifestyle for us all is very different. Men retire earlier and have more free time; and most women are in employment until the birth of their first child. More and more of them are well qualified and experienced in their chosen career. With the safe arrival of their baby, some have to return to work, some choose to do so, while others choose to be full-time mothers—an honourable and important role, particularly in the early years of a child's life.
This change in work patterns has caused an anomaly which I wish to bring to your Lordships' attention. Mothers at home often use this stage of their life to combine their role with voluntary work where the need 1431 is greatest: the WRVS, the NSPCC, the RNLI, and so on. One could go on for ever. Some may be involved in a minor way, while others may be responsible for projects involving millions of pounds. I am sure that many of your Lordships on all sides of the House have encountered such situations. However, at a later stage some of those women wish to return to their career or take other employment. It is then that they can encounter difficulties. Their counterparts who have continued working have a CV that charts their career development, whereas the women returners are told that theirs looks a bit thin. The problem is that most women are modest and do not blow their own trumpets. Their achievement in the voluntary field may be just as impressive and responsible as anything achieved in employment, yet because it was done for love and they were not paid for it, it is undersold and consequently undervalued. I should like to see some way of raising the profile of voluntary work on a CV so that its value can be appreciated and recognised as a significant plus on a job application.
Of course, many employers will already recognise the value of volunteering and helping to develop the skills of their own staff. An increasing number of companies allow employees time off for voluntary work or send staff on secondment to voluntary organisations. Over 5,000 companies subscribe to the payroll giving scheme. I hope that we will be able to create a culture in which more businesses recognise the true value of voluntary work.
I was delighted when my right honourable friend the Prime Minister decided to widen the scope of the Honours List and accept nominations from the public. As a result, many of us have seen local heroes and heroines honoured, bringing pleasure to countless people. I believe that it was a most imaginative initiative.
I was also pleased to read of the "Make a Difference" project. At the launch of the National Volunteering Helpline, my noble friend Lady Blatch said:Everyone has something to offer through volunteering … I believe there are many more people who want to be involved … Volunteering can be rewarding for the volunteer and can help to reinforce or rekindle community spirit by bringing people into contact with each other".I support that wholeheartedly, particularly in urban areas which can be the loneliest places in the world if you are a new resident or just not involved in the community. About half the adult population is already involved and young people have a tremendous record, often being the inspiration to older members of their family.
The voluntary sector must be independent. It requires generous support from government in the form of help and guidance and, of course, assistance with funding. It will also benefit from the lottery to the tune of around £300 million per year for charities alone.
However, I feel that it would be wrong if that balance changed and the Government interfered in the running of voluntary organisations. It is, after all, the imaginative, immediate and enthusiastic response that volunteers can organise which inspires those who wish to serve. They do tremendous good and are rightly praised for their magnificent contribution.
1432 As we approach this historic weekend, it seems an opportune moment to remember all that the volunteers do in every aspect of life. Volunteers have, I am sure, many things in common, but without doubt they all have an abiding passion to create a better society for us today and for our heirs and successors tomorrow.
I get very tired of those who demonstrate, shouting about rights and not responsibilities. We have much to be proud of in this country and voluntary service comes near the top of my list. Like my noble friend Lord Oxfuird, I feel that we should always remember President Kennedy's words, and I repeat them because it emphasises them:Ask not what your country can do for you—ask what you can do for your country".Millions of our people do just that. I hope that the special commemoration will inspire many millions more so to do.
§ 7.4 p.m.
Lord Bird wood
My Lords, in the Chamber this afternoon we have enjoyed an almost pastoral warmth and unity. I do not know whether my feelings harmonise quite so entirely. Let me put it like this. The next sentence in my speech is going to be in a foreign language: honour, self-sacrifice, nobility, manliness, tolerance, self-control, humility. The questions I ask myself about these ideas—because every one of those words is an idea—are when, and how, and why did they drift away from our everyday lives.
These are virtues, not values, and they are the birthright of every human being. They have nothing to do with scholarship or background and everything to do with example. And like a steady light illuminating these qualities is the idea of service. We are living today in a time when power is draining away from the political class. New sources of power over ourselves and our society are more than ever global and personal. Where the government of nations was once seen as service, now it is perceived as self-advancement.
Only a little while ago, to hold one of the great offices of state was the point and purpose of the whole of a life and involved sacrifice. Today it is in danger of becoming a useful thing to have on a CV. In contrast, elected local council members are generally regarded as motivated by service. National political affiliations, of course, colour this, and sometimes obliterate it totally. Serving others becomes part of an answer to the question: "Who is my neighbour?". The parish, the ward, the town hall make the question real, immediate, almost domestic.
One of the tragedies at this time is that the ideals of leadership and service have split apart. I believe still that in the Armed Forces leadership and service to the ones who are being led and to the ones to be defended are fused together. But we demand proof that with leadership comes no privilege. So the cost of curtains in an officer's house is more real to us than our idea of service.
The Motion asks us to remember service in the context of a war. War gives to "service" the hard edge of death. War makes extraordinary demands, and it is to this country's credit that we link these sacrifices to an idea of 1433 service. But the Motion goes further by asking us to recognise the value of voluntary service. Governments in peacetime can have uneasy relationships with voluntary activities.
Because a successful voluntary movement taps into a strong sense of purpose, its aims often cut across or through the political objectives of the state. If one has a message for any government, it is that volunteer service shares the aspirations of authority but with the luxury of single-mindedness. But there is a message for voluntary organisations too, in that they do not have a monopoly of compassion.
Other noble Lords have remarked, and I shall add my own voice, that we are fortunate that in this House in the person of my noble friend Lady Chalker we have a Minister who has created new trust between the voice of government and the voice of service in other countries.
Because the media are now so powerful, it is fashionable in some circles to blame the press for the loss of virtue. The press is largely blameless in this respect. It shows us the pictures and writes the words about catastrophe and misery. It shows us things that trigger our caring response. If the tabloid headlines shout, they shout to good purpose. You can quarrel with the dignity of a headline such as "Little Miss Courage", but you cannot quarrel with the instinct behind it.
I have been reflecting on the role of service as a critical influence for a civilised society. Service in a wholly secular world has had part of its spiritual support knocked away. However, service still draws its deep strength from being one of the very few moral absolutes that we can look upon today.
People might wonder how the idea of service can survive in the world of industrial management. Perhaps some of the popular feeling that gathered in response to the salaries of some business leaders sprang from a perception that high material rewards were incompatible with service. I am not sure whether that is so. A king in his castle can serve with as much selfless integrity as the stretcher-bearer. It is all in the measure of the man.
Is service then in the gift of powerful individuals? Galsworthy described such people 60 years ago as,Always dining, always in the know, with frosty eyes".No. Service is the gift of every individual, often bound up with ideas of citizenship and always with ideas of putting somebody else before yourself.
§ 7.12 p.m.
§ Lord Vivian
My Lords, I am most grateful to my noble friend Lord Whitelaw for bringing this Motion to the attention of the House today. I pay tribute to Her Majesty's Armed Forces, which now consist entirely of volunteers, for the service that they have provided to the nation and overseas during the past 50 years. At the same time, I should like to strike a note of caution to those in authority who may be tempted to tamper further with the Armed Forces of the Crown and their resources, thereby imperilling the security of the realm.
The Royal Navy, the Army and the Royal Air Force have served the nation and the United Nations with distinction, dedication, courage and loyalty in a highly 1434 professional and skilled manner. They have been impeccably led by senior officers who have dedicated their faith and trust to their subordinates and have welcomed the heavy burdens of responsibility. During the past 50 years, our Armed Forces have been faced with the Cold War and a possible attack on Western Europe by the former Warsaw Pact powers. Other difficult operations, some involving bloody battle, many involving the loss of servicemen's and servicewomen's lives in the course of carrying out their duty to the nation, have also been undertaken. Those that instantly come to mind are the Korean War; Suez; the withdrawal from Aden; the deployment of British forces to Kuwait in 1961; the Cyprus problem; Northern Ireland; the Falkland Islands; the Gulf; Bosnia; and the many other United Nations operations in which our Armed Forces have taken part in an attempt to make the world a safer place. There are many other areas in which our Armed Forces have been engaged; I have named only a few. And not to be forgotten are the many actions in which our Special Forces have been involved.
In all these conflicts and deployments our Armed Forces have carried out the instructions of Her Majesty's Government and have been entirely successful in their missions, upholding government policy and showing that the nation still leads the world in facing up to difficult situations. However, this very true and real statement of success and achievement begs the question as to how and why these volunteers in the Armed Forces have been so successful.
Success has not been achieved by merely having superior technical weaponry, nor through having greater numbers of men and women in uniform. It has been achieved by the careful selection of individuals and using a tested and realistic system of training. It is from early days of training that leadership qualities are enhanced and the fine examples shown by senior officers and warrant officers noted by more junior ranks. It is careful training, superb leadership and good pay and conditions of service that bring about the high morale for which our forces are so well known. That high morale is an essential ingredient to sustain their confidence, ability, expertise and knowledge, which in turn ensure the success and achievements in which the nation has been fortunate enough to share during the past 50 years. There is something very special about our Armed Forces, and that special quality must not be allowed to be taken away for the questionable benefit of some short-term financial saving.
The Armed Forces have gone through two major upheavals: Options for Change and the Defence Costs Study, and they are now very much concerned with the Bett Report, which with the best will in the world will inflict further changes and turbulence. I am not against making changes that lead to better systems and improvements. Indeed, it would be harmful to our Armed Services if changes were not implemented. But there is a time for change and equally a time for stability. Several years are now needed devoid of major new change, allowing stability in staff work at sea, land and air headquarters, and during which time the three services can take further stock, assess the Bett Report in their own time and implement the substantial changes that have 1435 been announced in the past few years. That is not to say that ships are to be kept in dock, regiments confined to barracks and aircraft grounded. The reverse is true. Our fighting units must continue to be well motivated. The sword must be kept finely honed and razor sharp, ready to be thrust immediately into any enemy who threatens our security.
Noble Lords are well aware that all three services have their own separate characters and apply different methods to achieve their aims. They recruit different people; they manage their assets, resources and personnel in a different way. But at the heart of all three services there must be an appealing career structure, with good pay and conditions of service and meaningful training, if the right sort of person is to be attracted to the Armed Forces in the future. It is essential that the three service Chiefs of Staff are now allowed to command, control and manage their own service, planning for the future without further disruptive policy statements from the Government.
However, there are some worrying matters concerning the future capability and effectiveness of our Armed Forces—Armed Forces which retain credibility and are so well respected throughout the world, and especially within the United Kingdom. It has been said on numerous occasions that we live in dangerous and uncertain times. The former Soviet Union is in a very critical state and is developing meaner and leaner armed forces concentrating on high-technological weaponry. Yet its military doctrine is unchanged, as was witnessed in the recent mass murder of Chechens by Ministry of the Interior troops. It was an operation taken straight out of their textbooks. Iran has purchased three Kilo Class Russian submarines and is generally rearming. The spread of the evil factions of fundamentalism from Morocco along the North African coast through the Middle East and into Iran and Central Asia gathers momentum daily.
The security of the United Kingdom is of considerable concern in these difficult times. What greater reasons are therefore needed to retain sufficiently large and well trained Armed Services, all coming from the voluntary sector, coupled with a highly efficient intelligence organisation—again coining from the voluntary sector—whereby we are able to continue to protect the shores of the United Kingdom?
The Armed Forces of the Crown may once again, sooner rather than later, be required to deploy in the interests of the security of the Realm. Unless manning levels are increased to realistic figures for future conflicts; unless the required sophisticated weaponry is produced now and issued into service as soon as possible; unless sufficient military hospitals are made available for training military medical staff and for care of the wounded from battle; and unless large enough field training areas are obtained to carry out all arms and inter-service training for high-intensity warfare, we shall be failing our own armed services. If we do not take urgent action to remedy those matters, it could be said that there might even be a risk of failing to achieve the customary success in a future conflict. If that should happen, it will not be the fault of our armed services. Those volunteers will always show the courage, determination, devotion, dedication, loyalty and service to the nation that we have come to expect.
1436 In this commemoration of VE Day, I pay great tribute to the Armed Forces of the Crown. The need for them in the future will be as great as it ever has been in the past. The nation is in debt to our volunteers—the servicemen and servicewomen who have protected the shores of Great Britain so diligently and retained freedom and liberty for our country for the past 50 years.
How fortunate we are to have such a professional and highly skilled Royal Navy, Army and Royal Air Force, staffed and manned by volunteers and complemented by a uniquely efficient intelligence organisation. Long may they last!
§ 7.22 p.m.
My Lords, I too am grateful to the noble Viscount for introducing this subject for debate at this time. Many of your Lordships had to serve the nation at its time of greatest need and have very distinguished war records. The noble Viscount is no exception. Fortunately, we are enjoying a long period of relative peace. Certainly, there has been no conflict on the scale of World War II for 50 years. Thus, there has been little fear of the general deprivations caused by an all-out war.
We do not have an empire to look after. So what adventure or service can a young person expect to undertake? Our Armed Forces still provide adventure but in a very disciplined environment which is not suited to everyone. A further problem is that members of the armed services are trained, where necessary, to be aggressive, and that may not be desirable.
Many speakers have suggested that there is a need for national or adventure service. I suggest that there is a desperate need for that kind of opportunity. Much of the youth of today has been raised on a diet of television and screen violence. Such young people have little respect for their fellow men. However, they have never faced the reality of having a frank discussion with someone who is carrying an AK47. They might see themselves as holding the M.16. Frequently, our youngsters' behaviour leaves a lot to be desired. They expect to have everything on a plate and have no idea how lucky they are to live in our highly developed society. I am sure that all your Lordships understand the problem and many speakers have already addressed it.
We have heard the call "Bring back national service". That is a non-starter. The armed services are now highly professional and technical organisations with long and expensive training cycles. Members of the forces are all volunteers and highly committed. Not everyone is suited to service life and, outside of general war, I have some moral difficulties with conscription. The noble Viscount, Lord Oxfuird, referred to the change in society in these times, and I agree with him.
But there are many opportunities for "voluntary national service". For many years I have been involved in the TA. Many speakers have praised the TA, with justification. It does not have the disadvantages of regular service life and allows the individual to get on with a civilian career as well. It is very gratifying to see the improvements in the character and manners of a TA soldier as he or she progresses through training. But in the 1437 end the TA is a military organisation, designed to provide a reserve for the defence of the realm. Again, it will not suit everyone.
Perhaps we should consider expanding the VSO concept referred to by the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, and the noble Earl, Lord Cairns. At the moment, as the noble Lord, Lord Greenhill, explained so well, it is aimed at reasonably well educated people rather than poorly qualified school-leavers who need to see how people live in the less developed world. The Overseas Development Administration also provides task forces, especially in Africa and Bosnia, but almost exclusively recruits very experienced ex-servicemen, not the youngsters who need to see the world.
I am heavily involved with an international NGO but it recruits only mature vehicle mechanics who are very skilled and experienced. I am advocating a task force of youngsters led by experienced and fully mature leaders who will go out into the developing world, do some good and get real experience of life. They would require basic training in the UK, covering matters such as first aid and, I suspect, cooking, along with basic hygiene and survival skills. Tasks in countries would frequently involve constructing roads, tracks and bridges or repairing infrastructure such as generators for hospitals, water schemes and the like.
The noble Earl, Lord Strathmore and Kinghorne, referred to the Boys' Brigade. Its ethos would be a good model. As candidates, I suggest a mixture of genuine volunteers, on the one hand, and, on the other hand, those youngsters who have attracted too much attention from the police. Careful selection from the latter youngsters is essential. There would be no point in sending out those who are already hardened criminals or thugs, however young they are. But a 16 or 17 year-old who has borrowed someone's car without permission and needs guidance with the development of his life might be ideal. Perhaps some connection with the requirement of "actively seeking work" for youngsters might be appropriate.
A few minutes ago the noble Viscount, Lord Oxfuird, said that those who would benefit most would be least likely to volunteer. How very true that is. It may be that some positive encouragement to undertake adventure service overseas may be required.
The noble Lord, Lord Williams, mentioned the problem of funding. Clearly the scheme would require substantial funding. But we pay considerable amounts of unemployment benefit to youngsters, and the cost of living overseas in Africa is much less. The unavoidable costs are related to the air travel. The efforts of the Government with regard to overseas aid funding is very welcome. Demand will always exceed supply, but the Government's record is excellent.
Many speakers have advocated some form of national service, while recognising the limitations of conscripted military service. My recommendation is that we have adventure service overseas to show our youngsters what 1438 the rest of the world is really like. We can then expect them to be better members of our society when they return.
§ 7.28 p.m.
My Lords, there are very many in your Lordships' House who served in the last war—other ranks, like myself; leaders, such as my noble friend Lord Whitelaw; and others working in an enormous variety of occupations—to ensure a successful end to a terrible five-year conflict. Inevitably, many of us look back at this time. Memories are sharpened and emotions are stirred. But now we are 50 years on, during which time, as the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, said, we have lived in comparative peace. During this time the voluntary sector has expanded, involving, I believe, a much wider age group, people who give their time and effort to help in the numerous organisations which desperately need them.
Living as I do in a very rural area, I believe we have far more volunteers involved in social work than may be the case in towns. In our small town we have five charity shops and volunteers serve in those shops. They also visit the sick at home or transport patients to and from hospital. Perhaps that is more common in the country than in the cities.
Though it is not strictly a voluntary organisation, the Commonwealth War Graves Commission has contributed in an outstanding way to bringing together so many countries over which the war was fought. Nothing but praise is due to it for the attention and care given by local gardners to the cemetery. Visiting such cemeteries leaves one with a feeling of deep gratitude for the love and understanding that has gone into ensuring a peaceful final resting place. In many instances volunteers look after those graves. I am sure that visits to the cemeteries will continue as future generations, either looking for their ancestors or studying history, will ensure that they are never neglected.
The sacrifices made in the last war will not be forgotten. But the future is in the hands of the young, as many noble Lords have said. We must never allow another global war to start. Hopefully, with more understanding between nations and the advance of ever more sophisticated communications, peace will be guaranteed. We have every reason to commemorate the end of the 1939–1945 conflict and I feel that today's debate is a perfect start to the celebrations we shall have over the next few days.
§ 7.32 p.m.
§ The Earl of Liverpool
My Lords, I join with other noble Lords in thanking my noble friend Lord Whitelaw for initiating this debate today. I shall confine my remarks to the works and aspirations, past and present, of the YMCA movement. I have an interest to declare in this regard in that I am president of the Stamford and District YMCA and chairman of the YMCA Movement Trust Fund. In the latter capacity I and my committee are charged with assessing applications for funding specific projects from YMCA organisations throughout the country. We are in the same position as most other grant or loan-giving charities and voluntary organisations in 1439 that the demand far outstrips supply. But we see at fairly close quarters the hopes and aspirations of many YMCA organisations.
Before expanding on the work done today I should like to spend a few moments reminiscing on the origins of the YMCA and its wartime activities. It was set up in 1844 by George Williams, a draper who sought to provide spiritual and moral welfare for young men in that trade. The link between the YMCA and the Armed Forces began in Britain in 1890 when Colonel Goldsmith, a YMCA president in Devonport, suggested that the association should provide activities and support at summer training camps for army volunteers. Over the next few years the YMCA became involved with the expanding Territorial Army.
Perhaps I may refer briefly to the activities of the YMCA during World War I. When war broke out, the YMCA immediately put out an appeal for £25,000 to fund emergency war work. Such was the support that the money was raised within days. The main focus of the YMCA's work during the First World War was the YMCA hut. Built in cities, villages and railway stations in England and along the front lines and base lines of the French battlefields they provided a comfortable, relaxing retreat for soldiers and supplied food, a place to rest and stationery for letters home.
It was during that period that the red triangle was adopted as an easy-to-recognise emblem of the movement and through the war-time stationery it became well known. I am advised by the head office of the YMCA that it has on its records a letter from a mother written in gratitude to the YMCA and I should like to read a part of that to your Lordships. She wrote:I want to thank you for what your association has done for my boy. When the war broke out he went to the Crystal Palace for his training and found the YMCA there a boon. He was sent to Blandford to complete his training and the YMCA was there. He was drafted to Gallipoli and to his amazement he found the YMCA on the Peninsula. He was wounded and sent to Suez where once more the YMCA was a great help to him. And yesterday I received a letter from him from Alexandria to say he was convalescing and spending the whole of his spare time in the YMCA building".I hope that I do not weary your Lordships with the YMCA. As I said, I am confining my remarks to that association and shall endeavour to move quickly on to the Second World War. As soon as that war broke out the YMCA stepped in with a new idea of bringing comfort to the troops. As we all know, there is nothing that keeps the British soldier together so much as a cup of tea, and the first tea car or mobile kitchen was fitted out, painted camouflage green and was in use on the streets of East London by 23rd September. By the end of 1940 there were 500 vans in use.
As well as visiting isolated army outposts along the British coastline, the vans followed the troops into France and Flanders. Following the evacuation of Dunkirk, the vans were on hand at Dover to serve 5,000 gallons of tea to the weary troops. During the Blitz the tea cars rushed to the aid of burning cities and by January 1941 there were 70 in use in London alone.
As the war went on the YMCA developed new services—library vans, entertainment vans and even cinema vans, and permanent centres for troops. In 1944, overshadowed by much vaster events, the YMCA 1440 celebrated its centenary. As hordes of British and American troops gathered in London to prepare for their return to France, YMCA members were congregating in the city for an anniversary service in St. Paul's Cathedral. The preacher was the then right reverend Primate William Temple, who had headed the YMCA's education work with troops during the First World War. One eye witness who was present at that service said that on coming out of the cathedral they found the sky black and filled with planes. Those planes were just going over to bomb the beaches in preparation for D-day and one-and-a-half months later the first YMCA tea car landed back in France to follow the troops on their trail through to final victory in Germany.
Coming back to today, I should like to say that this voluntary organisation, this charity organisation, now works for the physical and emotional well being of young people, particularly those in real need—the homeless, the unemployed and the drug abusers. It helps as many women as men and is one of the largest youth welfare charities in the country, coming into contact with around 1 million people a year and having 85,000 members.
Each local YMCA is autonomous and runs a mix of facilities tailored to the needs of its own community. Included in the five main areas of work is housing. The YMCA is the biggest provider of young people's housing in the country with 6,300 beds in 70 locations. Recently, several YMCAs have pioneered "Foyer" projects which provide homeless and unemployed young people with accommodation, help them to look for work or training and, eventually, fix them up with a permanent place to live. It is a most creative and valuable initiative because it sets out to break the vicious circle of no job, no home—no home, no job.
The YMCA is one of the biggest training organisations in the country, training 30,000 young people and unemployed adults every year through youth training programmes, Restart programmes for unemployed adults and job clubs. On the personal and social development side, the YMCA's main aim is to help individuals to develop as people and grow in confidence. It does that through youth work in youth clubs and on the streets, counselling for drug abusers and victims of abuse, children's day camps, Christian activities, drop-in advice centres for young people, providing advice on family and relationship problems, drugs, HIV and AIDS and a wide range of other social and educational activities.
The message I should like to leave your Lordships with is that the YMCA movement, if noble Lords have not already gathered it, is alive and well, that it has come a long way since its birth in 1844 and that there are many dedicated workers furthering its cause. But there is never enough money to fund all the work which we would like to do. If I had a wish it would be that when the YMCA movement trust fund committee comes to look at the numerous applications for pump-priming funding we will not have to attempt to use the wisdom of Solomon in dividing too small a cake among the many deserving initiatives. Perhaps I should look to my noble friend the Minister on the Front Bench. I rather doubt that. Perhaps I should look to the Millennium Fund or even the National Lottery, in respect of which my noble friend Lord 1441 Whitelaw gave some encouraging news on a concise and readable book which I shall certainly endeavour to get at the earliest moment.
§ 7.42 p.m.
§ Baroness Strange
My Lords, we are really grateful to my noble friend Lord Whitelaw for moving this important Motion at this time, and for the powerful and evocative speech he made. It is an honour to speak, however badly, in a debate moved by my noble friend.
I was not quite old enough to serve my country at the sharp end during the war, though I shall not forget when I was in London in 1942 being bridesmaid to my brother in the old Guards Chapel and hearing the eerie sound of the siren going off and the noise of the ack-ack guns. I shall not forget either the steady drone of planes flying over us as we sat in the basement shelter of our school, Oxenfoord, listening to the unforgettable words of Churchill on the wireless while we knitted. I was not adept enough to knit socks, so I knitted orange wool helmets for merchant seamen which enabled them to be seen in the sea if their ship was torpedoed. My aunt was in the Merchant Navy, so I always prayed she would never need one. She would have noticed my dropped stitches.
If I had known that my noble friend Lord Dean of Harptree was going to talk about seamen's missions I would of course have worn a silk dress made from material bought by my aunt in the seamen's mission in Shanghai in the early 1960s. The seamen's missions there and in our home ports were always places of refuge and comfort for merchant seamen.
My other aunts were voluntary air raid wardens in Lambeth. In daytime they worked. One worked as a draftsman in the Admiralty; the other ran the Queen Victoria Girls' Club for Deprived Girls. At night they donned their helmets and took up their stirrup pumps and went down to the post. Outside the backdoor of their house in Lambeth still hang their tin helmets and by the front door there is a notice from one of my Aunt Victoria's convoys, "Lights mean death".
I should like briefly to share with your Lordships my husband's memories of the end of the war. He was rather ahead of his artillery group in an armoured car which arrived on the quay of a small German town on the Baltic. As he was standing on the quay breathing the sea air a U-boat surfaced. He promptly stepped on board and knocked on the conning tower. When the commander emerged my husband said, "The war is over", which was a good guess, "and I have captured you". After some discussion and much schnapps drinking they had a small ceremony and handed over to my husband a large flag with a swastika on it and the commander's sword. Again, after more schnapps, they asked my husband what he thought they should do. He said, "The war is over. I think you should all go home". And so they did. That story shows much of the spirit of our festivities this weekend.
It is always important to bring good out of evil. I think one of the best things that came out of the war was the concept of service for others, willing and unstinted. What else can anyone ever do to repay the marvellous gift of life? The spirit of service has continued and is reflected in 1442 many of the voluntary services about which noble Lords have spoken so movingly. At this late hour not a noble Lord here would thank me for reiterating any one of them.
Before I pay tribute to the Royal British Legion, I wish to thank Her Majesty's Government, on behalf of the War Widows Association, for their restoration of pensions to war widows who have subsequently remarried and for whom the second marriage has ended in death, divorce or legal separation. This will bring physical comfort and spiritual recognition of their husband's brave sacrifice to so many courageous ladies whom I am proud to represent.
In paying tribute to the Royal British Legion in this year of all years, I make especial mention of its war pensions department which not only has 57,000 ongoing appeals but which helps over 13,500 new appeals each year. Three thousand representatives go out to all the major tribunals at London, Leeds, Manchester, Exeter, Chester, Cardiff and Newcastle, and of course to Edinburgh.We do what we can, when we can, for any of the people out there",says Tom House of the war pensions department. And he—and they—do, too, bless them. They have a 50 per cent. success rate in entitlement tribunals and a 37 per cent. success rate in disability tribunals. The women's branch, among many imaginative and useful services, also sends out £5 and a birthday card on their birthdays to all service widows.
The Royal British Legion's present campaign, Disregard, is to encourage local government housing authorities to disregard war pensions when assessing housing benefits. Some do, some do not. They are trying to make them all do.
When my mother died, I found a small book open on the page "Happiness is playing cards with grandma". So it is. I gave it to my daughter. Happiness is also helping other people. My noble friend Lord Whitelaw's noble lady and I attended the same school. I am sure therefore that my noble friend is aware of our school prayer, as she of course is, which seems to me to sum up the spirit of this debate:Teach us good Lord to serve Thee as Thou deservest,To give and not to count the cost.To fight and not to heed the wounds,To toil and not to seek for rest,To labour and not to ask for any rewardSave that of knowing that we do Thy will".
§ 7.49 p.m.
§ Lord McIntosh of Haringey
My Lords, in opening a debate with such humanity and skill, as the noble Viscount always does on this subject, he tempts us into reminiscence and into a warm feeling that we are all on the same side. He tempts us into drawing what might well be wrong conclusions from the spirit of comradeship which did exist during the war. While taking part in the warm feelings and sharing them very strongly, in the time available to me I want to say something about the wrong conclusions that might be drawn from our feeling of unity and what has happened since.
Obviously, VE Day has different memories for all of us. For me it was going out with my parents on to Parliament Hill on Hampstead Heath and seeing the bonfires and fireworks all over London, and having Buckingham Palace and the Palace of Westminster pointed out to me. Somehow that brought me, as a 12 year-old, into the spirit of London as it was at the end of the war.
I have been reminded of it very much recently because I have been reading Philip Ziegler's London at War, which has a very large number of quotations from letters which my grandparents, a working-class family living in Walthamstow, wrote to their daughter in California. Of course, they could not write about the war as such because the censor would have cut out, and did, anything of that kind. They describe the feelings of ordinary people in London during the war. I have found immensely moving both re-reading those letters and the excerpts from them which Philip Ziegler uses.
We have been talking about the celebrations at the end of the war. I notice that my grandmother wrote after their street party in Walthamstow, which was early in June, that the trestle tables were set up, which were borrowed and none hired. They took out three Morrison shelters and they put them in the street to form a stage. A grand piano was found which was used for the dancing. My grandmother says that of course, in this plebeian part of London, the party had to be outside because none of us had a room big enough to hold a party.
It is the role of ordinary people in the war that we should be celebrating today. I am not the only one who thinks so. Our great leader during the war, Winston Churchill, in a speech in Westminster Hall in 1954, said,I have never accepted what many people have kindly said, namely that I inspired the nation. It was the nation, and the race dwelling all round the globe"—He would not say "race" now, I hope—that had the lion's heart. I had the luck to be called upon to give the roar".That was the spirit of a wise man and, if I may say so, in great contrast to his grandson, of whom I am sure I should be asking for permission to use his copyright on that speech. Fundamentally, we are talking about ordinary working-class people when we celebrate the unity of spirit that existed during the war. That is the first lesson we should learn.
Surely, the second lesson should be—and the noble Lord, Lord Holderness, expressed it well—"never again". In Durham Cathedral there is a chapel for the Durham Light Infantry. In the chapel there are the flags of course 1444 and a reminder in stone that in the 1914–1918 war 37 battalions of that regiment were raised to fight what was for most of them a totally pointless and futile war. Durham miners formed themselves into 37 battalions of the Durham Light Infantry. Again, in the 1939–45 war, 18 battalions were formed to fight what we all believe was a necessary and worthwhile war.
Surely, the lesson from that is not, as we heard a couple of years ago in debates in this House, about the names of regiments and their survival, but "never again". The only honour that we can do to those who served and died in the Durham Light Infantry and other regiments is to say that there shall never be a need for even one Durham Light Infantry battalion, let alone 37 and 18 battalions in different wars in this century. If we carry that lesson to the end of this century and beyond we shall have performed a service.
I do not believe with von Moltke that,Without war the world would sink into materialism",and that somehow we are bound to lose in peacetime the spirit that we had in wartime. I certainly do not believe that the voluntary sector, which is an essential part of the corporate life of our community, is in any way a party political issue.
I was taken aback by the noble Baroness, Lady Young, who I can only assume got out of bed on the wrong side this morning. In effect she was accusing the Labour Party of not being interested in the voluntary sector. Nothing can be further from the truth. It is not just that the Labour Party has very firm policies about the funding and organisation of the voluntary sector. As my noble friend Lord Dubs rightly said, it is not just that we depend on and pay tribute to citizenship and community empowerment or that we are the fastest growing voluntary organisation in the country. Look at our history and that of the trade unions and the friendly societies. They are voluntary organisations. In the last century they were the origin of the spirit of ordinary people and far larger than anything today. Their objectives were to care for each other and their own communities. After all, trade unions and friendly societies were not only providing for their members but also for those who were not members of unions. And, as my noble friend Lord Graham rightly reminds me, there is also the Co-operative Movement.
It has been very valuable to have tributes to the organised voluntary sector, but how many more people are there who are unsung, unpaid carers for the elderly and disabled in their own homes? These people whom no one recognises or gives any thought to enormously outnumber the formal voluntary sector. There is no government policy to help and protect them. There is no tax relief for them of any significance. All these things are going on around us. It is not organised, but the spirit of British people is showing itself because we believe in family and community life.
It would wrong not to talk about the formal voluntary sector. Indeed, the NCVO is seeking a meeting with the Minister, the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, in the near future. I know that it has issues for discussion with her which are of great importance. If she is able to say anything about those issues it would be very helpful. The National Lottery is undoubtedly eating into the revenues of voluntary organisations. The noble 1445 Baroness, Lady Young, said that it was early days, but the NCVO knows, from a survey carried out in March of this year, that the proportion of people giving to charities, which used to be 81 per cent., is now down to 67 per cent. Charity donations have reduced in value by 4 per cent. The projection for the first 12 months of the National Lottery is a loss of over £200 million.
I remind your Lordships that 30 per cent. of charity income is from voluntary donations. There can be no doubt that the charities are losing out and that there are therefore huge financial problems for individual bodies. What Government help is there going to be for those charities in difficulty? What is the position as regards the distribution of the National Lottery? The charities are getting only 6 per cent. of that money now. Although it is a large amount of money, they need a great deal more, including perhaps money from the Treasury's 12 per cent., if there is to be a continuation of the work of the voluntary organisations. What are the Government doing about VAT for charities? My noble friend Lord Dubs and other noble Lords have mentioned that. What are the Government going to do about tax-effective individual donations? Above all, what are the Government going to do about monitoring the effect of the National Lottery on charities and voluntary organisations?
There has been somewhat of a diversion in the debate with talk about national service. I was sorry to hear noble Lords, including the noble Viscount, Lord Oxfuird, the noble Lord, Lord Charteris, the noble Lord, Lord Elton, and, indeed, the noble Baroness, Lady Flather—in an otherwise marvellous speech—speaking about the possibilities of national service. I was glad to hear the noble Lord, Lord Holderness, and the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, express their opposition to that idea. I have no doubt that there is a role for a voluntary civilian service. Indeed, the Social Justice Commission has paid tribute to that. After all, it is in the tradition of Roosevelt's New Deal, but national service? National military service? Surely not in these days—
The Viscount of Oxfuird
My Lords, I believe that all noble Lords who referred to that did so in terms of the Motion that we are debating—that is, in the context of service to the nation. National service was where it started; service to the nation is where it will go.
§ Lord McIntosh of Haringey
My Lords, I have no reason to disagree with the noble Viscount on that point. It was the suggestion of military service that I found particularly objectionable. If the noble Viscount did not make that suggestion, I apologise to him profoundly.
§ Baroness Flather
My Lords, perhaps I may clarify what I said. I gave an example of another European partner country, Austria, and referred to what is happening there. I asked the Minister to look into the exact details. People are required to do eight months of military service or 12 months of civilian service. I did not say that we should adopt that lock, stock and barrel; I said that we should look at it because it is a good example.
§ Lord McIntosh of Haringey
My Lords, I respect the noble Baroness profoundly. I heard what she said, but 1446 when she makes such a suggestion, I believe that she must be doing so with some measure of approval for it. Again, I may be wrong.
The fundamental point about voluntary service of all kinds is not only the extent to which we need it, but that we should not couple it with an abdication of public responsibility. There are so many things in this world which we have to do together and which we have to do through the medium of the state. I do not think that we can ever escape that. We shall all become involved with illness. We are all going to grow old—
§ Lord McIntosh of Haringey
At different rates. The noble Viscount is growing old more slowly and more elegantly than most other people of his age.
Above all, we must not regard voluntary organisations as a cheap option. We must not be tempted into moving from the very admirable support which parents can provide in terms of sports facilities in schools, for example, to what has been happening in the past year with parents and governors having to raise money for necessary teachers and text books. That is an example of an extension of voluntary effort which we, collectively, cannot accept.
If people criticise us for looking more at rights than at responsibilities, I must remind them that it was the previous Conservative Prime Minister who said:There is no such thing as Society".Those of us who believe strongly in voluntary organisations, in conjunction with collective efforts to improve and extend the rights of individuals, do so on the basis that the society in which we live is a society supported by voluntary organisations and that it must be a fair society. That is the basis on which a Labour Government were elected in 1945. That is the basis on which we on these Benches continue our faith in "society" to this day.
§ 8.3 p.m.
§ Baroness Blatch
My Lords, we are indebted to my noble friend for initiating this important debate. In matters of voluntary commitment there can be no finer example than that of my noble friend Lord Whitelaw, who has given so much time and so much energy to public service. We are indeed grateful to him for that.
This is a timely occasion to acknowledge the debt that we owe to that selfless band of men and women whose dedication and concern for others do so much to enrich the quality of all our lives. This has been an excellent and heartwarming debate, giving full recognition to volunteers and volunteering and expressing a desire that long may they continue and flourish. As always, time will be the enemy and it will be impossible to do justice to the debate or even to recognise adequately all that the voluntary sector and volunteers are doing.
However, I would like to add my tribute in support of those who have spoken in this debate about the invaluable and selfless service performed during the war by so many hundreds of thousands of men and women, working with such organisations as the Women's Royal Voluntary Service (or the WVS as it was then), St. John Ambulance, 1447 which was mentioned by my noble friend Lord Elton, and the YMCA, which was mentioned by my noble friend Lord Liverpool. These and many other voluntary organisations played such an important role in maintaining morale and inspiring community spirit.
We rightly look at the wartime period as one where the need to pull together for a common cause heightened everyone's sense of service. But we have a long and proud tradition of voluntary work both at home and abroad which predates the war and continues to flourish today. I might mention, for example, the British Red Cross Society, celebrating its 125th anniversary this year, or the Soldiers', Sailors' and Airmen's Families Association, now 110 years old.
Those organisations remain relevant and active today, side by side with newer bodies such as Help the Aged and ChildLine, which have developed in the last 50 years. One of the great strengths of voluntary organisations is that they spring up, grow and adapt according to the needs of the time. Voluntary organisations and volunteers have provided much of the impetus for modem movements, perhaps most notably protection of our environment. We are also blessed with more voluntary organisations today than ever before. There are about 170,000 registered charities and perhaps another 500,000 voluntary groups covering all manner of subjects.
There is also the work that is done for and in the community by our schools, involving hundreds of thousands of young people. My noble friend Lady Young spoke eloquently about that. Many young people are involved in the Guides, Scouts, Cubs and Brownies, to which groups my noble friend Lady Carnegy referred.
Individual volunteering is buoyant too: a growth of around 15 per cent. between 1981 and 1991. If translated into actual numbers, this would equal in total around 17 million volunteers. So, so much for the myth and the view expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Elvel, that the hallmark of the 1980s was "Everyone for himself'.
Voluntary activity and voluntary giving have grown and continue to do so. Of course, numbers alone cannot reflect the huge variety of volunteering which takes place. Some people volunteer in a very structured way through a large organisation. Others help those around them and often do not classify it as volunteering; for example, helping a neighbour or visiting the sick. They are doing what comes naturally—and we must take care not to inhibit such spontaneity.
This Government recognise the great value and diversity of voluntary organisations. Our policies towards them are based on two key principles: first, to provide an enabling climate in which they can continue to flourish; and, secondly, to preserve their freedom so that their inherent qualities of flexibility, spontaneity and innovation are not lost. As my right honourable friend the Prime Minister put it last summer:In all our policies, we must leave space for communities and voluntary organisations. We must not let big government undermine the vitality of neighbourhood or family—stronger, more adaptable organisms than any structure the State may try to put in their place".Those are the Government principles, but how are we putting them into practice? First, by funding the voluntary sector—in 1992–93, direct funding of voluntary organisations totalled over £½ billion (£563 million to be 1448 exact), an 11 per cent. increase in real terms over the previous year. Once funding for housing associations is included, that increases to nearly £4 billion. Last year the Government contributed almost £160 million to non-governmental organisations working on overseas development projects and in emergency situations. Our overall support for their much valued work has more than doubled in the past four years.
Furthermore, recent research by the Rowntree Foundation shows an increase of public sector funding of the voluntary sector in 1993–94 of 26 per cent. in real terms. In addition, tax relief for charities in 1993–94 totalled £1.5 billion, contrary to what was said in an unusually gloomy presentation by the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh. That tax relief is made up of direct tax relief, non-domestic tax relief and in some cases VAT relief. Charitable giving has been made easier and more tax efficient.
Much has been said about core funding, a point that has been well taken. It was mentioned first by the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, and then by my noble friend Lady Young. We do not reject the importance of core funding and the use of core funding on voluntary organisations where that can be shown to be the most effective way of supporting their work. We support also the trend towards more targeted funding through project grants and contracts for specific pieces of work. I noted what my noble friend Lord Liverpool said, but there are many organisations that are happy to do specific work which is funded directly by the Government.
We are not alone however in funding voluntary organisations. Local authorities, grant-making trusts and businesses also do much to help. I wish to pay a tribute and place on record that much of the business and commercial sector is playing a real part in funding voluntary organisations. We do them an injustice if we are critical of what I believe is a growing interest in the voluntary sector.
We recognise that, whoever is providing the money, it is important that voluntary organisations are properly involved in the funding process and have clear information on the terms of the support. In partnership with those other funding bodies we have produced new draft Guidelines for Funders of Voluntary Organisations. Those documents codify the existing good practice which should be followed by those who fund voluntary groups and offer the chance to improve overall standards.
The Government have also encouraged new methods of funding to maximise the value obtained from any grant or contract. One example is the single regeneration budget which combines 20 previously separate grant schemes into a single fund for regeneration. The SRB offers more local input into the allocation of money; encourages the public, private and voluntary sectors to pool their talents; challenges bidders to devise innovative projects; and levers in significant additional money. In the first round £4 was raised for every £1 of SRB funding. Voluntary organisations were involved in nearly half the successful first round applications and, as we embark upon the second round, I look forward to even greater success on their part.
1449 I should mention also, as some noble Lords have, the National Lottery. I know that many voluntary organisations have concerns about the impact of this major new enterprise. I can assure your Lordships that the Government are committed to monitoring the levels of charitable giving following its introduction, and I am confident that charities will ultimately benefit greatly from the lottery.
I am aware that studies have suggested that the lottery may lead to a reduction in individual giving, but it is far too early, as my noble friend Lady Young said, to say whether that will be so and, more importantly, what effect the lottery will have on charities' total income, of which individual giving is just one element. Meaningful comparisons will need to consider a 12-month period. It is too simple merely to assume that fluctuations in charitable giving since November 1994, whether up or down, are due entirely to the lottery. Many other factors could be at work. We have made a commitment also to monitor the level of charitable income following the introduction of the lottery. The need to analyse charities' accounts and to consider a 12-month period means that the findings will not be available for some time. I can give the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, an assurance that I have not merely met the charitable organisations that he mentioned; I shall be meeting the NCVO next week.
The National Lottery Charities Board is now set to become a very big funder indeed. On present forecasts up to £280 million a year will be available to be distributed by the board, and I am pleased to say that the board was able to announce yesterday the start of its first round of applications and that it hopes to make its first grants within six months. That is good progress given that the charities board alone among the lottery distributors has had to start work from scratch and has been determined to consult the voluntary sector widely before beginning to make grants. I hope that the voluntary sector realises that that is painstaking and complex work.
Deregulation is another way in which the Government are helping voluntary organisations. They can benefit as much as business from the removal of unneccesary red tape. Last year we set up a task force to pursue deregulation issues affecting the charitable sector. That reported last July. Of the 189 proposals for deregulation contained in its report, 132 have been accepted or are under review.
One example is the proposed "light touch" accounting regime which will mean that charities with low annual incomes will be required to provide less detailed information in their accounts. We are currently consulting charities and voluntary bodies about those measures and hope to bring them into force on 1st December.
We attach particular importance to the input of individual volunteers who contribute enormously to the well-being of our communities. Those volunteers serve our country at many different levels, from local groups such as Neighbourhood Watch schemes, of which there are now 130,000, as we were reminded by my noble friend Lord Dean, right through to those volunteering overseas. VSO, for example, currently has over 1,700 volunteers serving in about 50 developing countries, and many have spoken of the work of that organisation. Their skills and 1450 experience make a huge difference to those countries and it is no surprise that their talents are increasingly in demand. Back at home volunteers provide invaluable support to the statutory sector, working in hospitals and as school governors, magistrates and special constables and they are the lifeblood of the vast majority of voluntary organisations.
Perhaps I may say to the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, as an aside that as a parent I was proud, and I believe it was an obligation on my part, to become involved in fundraising for the school. I wonder whether the noble Lord will do anything to prevent that healthy activity which supports young people and their work inside and outside school.
§ Lord McIntosh of Haringey
My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for giving way, but before she leaves that point, I was explicit. I said clearly that I thought fundraising by parents and governors for such things as sports facilities was entirely admirable. Like her, I have been involved in it myself. What I thought was not acceptable was when we had to go to fundraising and voluntary contributions for essential parts of schooling such as paying teachers and buying schoolbooks.
§ Baroness Blatch
My Lords, all I can say is that the schools are being funded in real terms more generously than they were under the party of noble Lords opposite.
Voluntary collective action strengthens local communities and institutions and our sense of obligation to one another. It strengthens the civic bond—something we all want to see. Volunteering is a community activity and, with a developed sense of service, acts as a civilising influence on individuals and the receiving community.
Last March, my right honourable friend the Home Secretary launched a major new volunteering campaign, the Make a Difference initiative. We want to increase the number of volunteers. We want especially to involve people who have not previously been involved in the life of the community. We aim to do that by improving the information available on volunteering, by promoting good work that volunteers do and by encouraging the voluntary, public and private sectors to work together in support of voluntary activity.
People have many different motives for volunteering or choosing not to do so. Make a Difference reflects that diversity by building on the strong tradition of volunteering that we have in this country. The Make a Difference team, headed by Nicholas Ward and comprised of senior figures from the public, private and voluntary sectors, is considering a wide range of issues affecting volunteering. It will be publishing its report in the first week of June, and the Government will place a high priority on considering how the issues it raises can best be taken forward.
The noble Lord, Lord Greenhill of Harrow, asked whether there was room for improvement in the voluntary sector's involvement with the Government. As in a school report, I shall say that there is always room for improvement. As the Minister responsible, my door is open and I meet with people from the voluntary sector constantly. They are now structurally part of the Make a Difference team. There is a healthy relationship between 1451 the ministerial team in the Home Office and the Voluntary Services Unit, which has been praised during the course of the debate.
To help to improve the information available on volunteering, we set up two months ago the National Volunteering Helpline. That answers in part the point made by the noble Earl, Lord Cairns. This is a single nationwide number which anyone can call at the cost of a local call to find out more about volunteering opportunities in their area. The number is 0345 221133. Your Lordships may wish to make a note of it! Many people with an interest in volunteering can be discouraged by not knowing how to become involved. We hope that the helpline will provide one way of helping them over this hurdle.
There are two other elements of Make a Difference. The first is the Development Programme which has made available almost £½ million in support of 27 projects across the UK that are using innovative approaches to increase the number of volunteers. The other is the production of action plans by government departments. These have been produced under the direction of the Ministerial Group on the voluntary Sector, of which I am the chairman. The aim is to raise the profile of volunteering in Whitehall and to bring about a greater involvement of volunteers in the policies and programmes of each department and throughout the public sector.
I know that some people are calling for the introduction of national volunteering or community service schemes which are mainly aimed at young people. Recognising the many benefits that volunteering brings, I can see the attractions of such schemes. We must do all we can to spread the volunteering message and to make it easy and attractive for those who wish to do so to contribute to the community by voluntary activity. But this requires a light touch and we must be wary of anything that is over-organised or bureaucratic.
Nor should we overlook the multitude of schemes which already exist to support voluntary activity by young people such as those run by community service volunteers and the Prince's Trust volunteers. We welcome the diversity of all those schemes. While I recognise the potential benefits of a formal national volunteering scheme, we are determined not to impose new or costly bureaucratic structures. The benefits of such a programme can also be achieved through a more general development of volunteering.
As we commemorate the 50th anniversary of VE Day, I would also like to give a specific mention to the role of the armed services in supporting youth volunteering. The Ministry of Defence funds four cadet forces, all of which are community-based voluntary organisations attached to the Armed Forces and promoting the personal and social development of 13 to 20 year-olds. Between them they have some 132,000 cadets. These cadet forces provide training and teamwork skills and enable young people to acquire increased self-confidence and develop leadership skills. I welcome in particular the initiative that some local cadet forces are taking to provide opportunities for young people, often from deprived backgrounds or at risk of offending, to participate in cadet force activities. Such 1452 initiatives should be encouraged and applauded. None of that would be possible without the 23,000 adult volunteers who run the cadets.
I am delighted that young people today are maintaining the tradition of voluntary work. A survey in 1991 found that 55 per cent. of those aged 18 to 24 were volunteers, which is slightly higher than the national average or the population as a whole. This is not, of course, a reason to be complacent. The importance that we attach to Make a Difference is clear evidence of our commitment to increasing voluntary activity. But it does indicate that the flame of volunteering continues to burn brightly, and that bodes well for the future.
I hope that the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, will forgive me because I wish to return to the point that she raised about the status of young people with the VSO when they return from abroad. The point that she made about national vocational qualifications is well taken. I know that there is activity to ascertain whether the skills which young people acquire through volunteering can be recognised through the NVQ system.
In a moving account of the contribution made by people in the Indian sub-continent and elsewhere during the war, my noble friend Lady Flather made the telling point about the hijacking of the Union flag. All I can say is that we must not allow Fascist-type groups to bring our great flag into disrepute.
I join the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, in paying tribute to the voluntary sector generally and the NCVO in particular and the Charity Commission—Richard Fries and all his staff, who are doing a valiant job. They are becoming much more responsive to the voluntary sector. I also join the noble Lord in paying tribute to the VSU in my own department.
The point was made about training and enterprise councils and annual funding. Perhaps I may ask the noble Lord's party the following question. The funding of the training and enterprise councils is part of PES. Is it now to be Labour policy that PES will not be annual funding but public expenditure will be on a three-year rolling programme? We have a rolling programme for expenditure, but every government will have to conduct an annual review of what the particular programme will be. I am afraid that training and enterprise councils are part of that funding—
§ Lord McIntosh of Haringey
My Lords, I know that we are time limited but the noble Baroness is being most helpful on this matter. Surely she understands that the TECs are moving to rolling funding under the licensing system that is being introduced as from the beginning of this year.
§ Baroness Blatch
My Lords, I know that and I pay tribute to them. They are doing so in the framework of knowing their budgets year on year.
I congratulate my noble friend Lord Strathmore and Kinghorne on his truly maiden speech. He brought home to the House the value of voluntary service at any level—mundane or profound—and the practical way in which such work benefits both the community and the person giving his or her time.
1453 I am not sure whether I heard the noble Lord, Lord Greenhill, correctly. I thought that he said that the VSO does not receive government funding. The VSO is a fine organisation and is greatly valued by Her Majesty's Government. In 1994–95 grant from the ODA to the VSO was £17 million. In 1995–96 the grant is likely to increase by 7 per cent. to £18.256 million. That is the largest block grant from the ODA' s budget for support to British non-governmental organisations. I welcome the comments on NGO funding made by the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, in his excellent speech.
Perhaps I may be forgiven for resorting to military language when I say to my noble friend Lord Whitelaw, "We salute you". We salute you for initiating the debate. It really has been a privilege for me to reply. I reiterate the principles which guide our policies. We appreciate the enormous contribution which volunteers and voluntary organisations make and we recognise that independence is central to their strength. We want a relationship with them which acknowledges the mutual benefits that partnership and co-operation can bring. That is the way to ensure the vitality of our voluntary sector. It is the way to ensure that it can be retained for the next 50 years and beyond.
§ Viscount Whitelaw
My Lords, I have always been wholly against wasting time at the end of a long debate and I shall not do so today. I wish to say only that we had a bad start, which was nothing to do with us. Many noble Lords then made sure that we had an extremely good debate.
I am grateful to my noble friend Lady Blatch. It was good of her to wind up the debate and I greatly appreciate that. I am also grateful to my noble friend Lady Young for suggesting the idea of the Motion to me. I am grateful to all noble Lords who made sure that the debate went along well and I am grateful for what they said. If one takes part in a debate one is doing the debate good. Therefore all noble Lords did good and I thank them for that. I beg leave to withdraw the Motion for Papers.
§ Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.