§ 6.32 p.m.
§ Lord Dahrendorf rose to call attention to the contribution of voluntary and charitable activities to individual as well as social well-being, to the relations between the voluntary sector and government, and in particular to the report by the Commission on the Future of the Voluntary Sector; and to move for Papers.
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, it is always a pleasure to introduce a debate in your Lordships' House given the extraordinary range of experience on any given subject which is assembled here. I, for one, look forward in particular to the maiden speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Byford.
§ One of the reasons I grew fond of this country, to the point at which I wanted to become, and eventually became, a citizen, is its vibrant civil society. When things need to be done, people do not wait for the state, for government to step in but get together and do it themselves. As a result the country is held together by the voluntary and charitable activities of individuals in innumerable, often local, associations; it does not fall apart at times when governments fail to give a lead. There is no better guarantee of liberty.
§ Some have tried to count the innumerable associations and have found there are at least 120,000. Therefore, as a result, there must be about 750,000 trustees of charities. Apparently many of them do not even know that they are trustees, although no doubt those of your Lordships who are among this number do. That must include virtually every Member of your Lordships' House. Thus every speaker tonight will probably declare an interest, albeit one without remuneration and often without recognition, but one which is a great source of satisfaction to them and to those whom they serve. My interest, among others, is that I have succeeded the noble Viscount, Lord Whitelaw, as chairman of the Council for Charitable Support; an organisation to which I shall refer again briefly.
§ Charities and voluntary organisations in this country go back a long way. The law has recognised them since Elizabethan times. In recent years however this whole "sector"—as it is unbeautifully called—has grown in importance, if not necessarily in size. There are at least two reasons for such growth. One is the withdrawal of the state from important areas of our lives. As a liberal I like a lean state, although I also want strong local government and a sensible measure of social provision for those in need. Moreover, it is often difficult to persuade people to give either time or money where a gap has merely been created by the withdrawal of public provision. Still, it is evident that no country, however rich, can provide certain services, such as long-term care for elderly people, out of the public purse. Where the state is absent and families fail, voluntary action is often the only resource left. We all have to become communitarians to make sure that decency and humanity do not go out of our lives.
§ The other reason the voluntary sector has grown in importance lies in the changes which are occurring in the world of work. The debate about the 48-hour week 315 is but a distraction from the much more important fact that a growing number of people above 55 years of age no longer have jobs; that many young people are—in the words of the Motion we debated earlier this afternoon—prevented from making their "full contribution to society"; and that the majority experience periods in and out of paid employment. Many things need to be done; many people have reserves of time. How do we put the two together? The American economic author, Jeremy Rifkin, has recently argued in his book The End of Work, that we have a choice between an increasing number of disgruntled and potentially criminal people without employment, and, as he puts it, "empowering the third sector".
§ In support of the Motion I wish to comment briefly on three questions. First, what should the voluntary sector do to get its act together? Secondly, what is, and what should be, the role of government in relation to the voluntary sector? Thirdly, what can be, and what needs to be done, in order to increase support for voluntary and charitable activities—both in terms of money and time? In all three respects I found the report by the commission chaired by Professor Nicholas Deakin entitled Voluntary action into the 21st century, informative, full of ideas and generally helpful, as is the response by government, in the title of which the Secretary of State for National Heritage adopts Deakin Commission terminology by calling it "Raising the Voltage".
§ First, as regards the sector itself, it is in my view of critical importance never to forget that diversity is the lifeblood of the voluntary sector. I go further and assert that the whole point of voluntary and charitable activity is that it can be idiosyncratic in purpose, amateurish in organisation, prone to make mistakes, and even fail in its objectives. It is indeed—and it should be—a creative chaos, within the law; of course, if that is not asking for the impossible. If anything, the Deakin Report recommends too much co-ordination and central organisation for my liking. The voluntary sector must never become, or strive to become, an alternative structure of government, even at the local level.
§ At the same time, there clearly are areas of overlap between the three so-called "sectors"; that is, voluntary activity, business and government. The Charities Aid Foundation, of which I am a trustee, helps individuals and businesses to direct funds to appropriate charities. Business in the Community has become an indispensable organisation, not just for funding initiatives but for providing management time, as it were. For good reasons the National Council for Voluntary Organisations which initiated the Deakin Report, as well as the Volunteer Centre, receives some government funding. It makes sense in the light of such facts to create a forum to pool experience, explore needs and, from time to time, express views either publicly or towards government. In a modest and deliberately unrepresentative way, the Council for Charitable Support has done that since the late Lord Goodman set it up. I understand that this council may soon be replaced by a somewhat more representative national forum.316
§ Secondly, I refer to relations with government. I suppose that Raising the Voltage means that government should put more energy into the needs of the voluntary sector. There is some debate about the recent move of the Voluntary and Community Division from the Home Office to the Department of National Heritage. I understand that the Labour spokesman for the voluntary sector in another place, Mr. Alun Michael, is still a member of the shadow Home Office team. Professor Deakin would like to see it all in the Cabinet Office. I confess that I cannot get excited about these arcane matters of bureaucratic location or even about a "concordat" between the sector and government, which Professor Deakin wants and Mrs. Bottomley does not like.
However, two things seem to me of major importance. One is that government at all levels—national, regional and local—make voluntary and charitable activity easier rather than more difficult. That may well require greater co-ordination within government (as by the Cabinet committee which the noble Viscount, Lord Whitelaw, proposed in his 1995 Goodman lecture). There is also the attempt suggested in the Government's response to the Deakin Report to work out,
some general principles that might assist the mutual understanding between government departments and voluntary organisations, to improve co-operation and good practice".
The important point is that government through their various agencies keep regulation of voluntary and charitable activities effective but also light. The Charity Commission is an unusual and rightly respected instrument in this regard. Perhaps it is ultimately better than any hard-and-fast definition of charities. It must not exaggerate the needs of efficiency and thus of control. Government in general should let the associations of voluntary action get on with their jobs even if some of their funding is taxpayers' money.
§ That takes me, thirdly, to the matter of funding. It would be tempting to start with the Budget. In one area it has what I regard as a perverse and, I assume, an unintended effect. Every penny off income tax takes £14 million from charities because of the effect on covenanted donations. It is a strange point which the Minister might ponder. However in 1994-95, charities in total raised no less than £15 billion. That is not including any valuation of the time given by the 700,000 trustees or the millions of volunteers. About one-third of that money consists of central and local government grants. The rest, however, comes from individuals, businesses and other sources. If one adds to such figures the fact that apart from its volunteers the sector has nearly 400,000 people in paid employment, one gains an idea of its economic as well as its social importance.
§ Many initiatives by individuals and groups contribute to funding voluntary and charitable activities. Among them the National Lottery has obviously acquired a special place in recent years. Probably some charities have suffered from the lure of gambling; others have not. The National Lottery Charities Board has done an excellent job in identifying deserving organisations and helping them especially with that most important yet often neglected need—the core funding of organisations.317
§ If I had one wish to be granted in that regard, it has to do with the millennium. Instead of a big splash, or perhaps in addition to a much smaller splash, I should like to see a millennium foundation established with lottery money. It should be handsomely endowed with at least £1 billion and it should be available for 100 if not 1000 years in order to fund initiatives of the kind preferred by the big American foundations like Ford, Rockefeller or MacArthur. That funding invariably includes and often concentrates on core funding including endowment funding. When I put the case to the Secretary of State, she seemed interested. I hope that in due course such interest will be translated into courageous action. Thinking big and long-term is one of the important aspects of the subject that we debate tonight.
When a Motion similar to that which I have put before your Lordships today was debated in another place on 23rd July of this year, the Member for Stratford-on-Avon who spoke in the debate began by saying,
In debating the future of the voluntary sector, we are debating the nature of our moral community".—[Official Report, Commons, 23/7/96; col. 235.)
§ How true, my Lords. Much has been done and no doubt more needs to be done to create wealth in the rough winds of the global marketplace. But none of that drive for competitiveness must detract from the moral texture of our lives, from social cohesion. Keeping Britain strong in this regard is one of the great tasks of the next decade and more. Fortunately we do not have to rely on government alone to that end but can each make our contribution. I beg to move for Papers.
§ 6.48 p.m.
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Dahrendorf, on his good fortune in the ballot and for drawing our attention to the voluntary and charitable activities. My speech will not stretch to the maximum 14 minutes. That is all the better because it will bring forward the time when we can enjoy the maiden speech of my noble friend Lady Byford.
I start by declaring an interest in the fields of forestry, agriculture and the environment, as vice-president of the Council for National Parks and the British Trust for Conservation Volunteers. The Council for National Parks helps to protect our national parks which give great pleasure to many millions of people each year. One of their vital roles is the development of new initiatives such as sustainable development policies to conserve our most treasured landscapes. I am therefore pleased that the commission recognised the expertise of the voluntary sector and the value of involving voluntary organisations in the early stages of innovative planning.
Volunteering in the environmental sector is a segment of volunteers too often ignored in public discourse, despite its increasing popularity. To any individual, voluntary activity, as mentioned in the noble Lord's Motion, can make a positive contribution to that person's wellbeing—their sense of self-worth. There is companionship, and there are new friendships. Spending an afternoon getting covered in mud and adjourning to a pub for a well-earned pint does not happen just to 318 football and rugby players. Volunteers cleaning out a pond have just as much fun and enjoy their pint just as much. There is also a sense of worth from work accomplished. That is especially important for someone feeling himself or herself to be on the fringes of their community: the unemployed, people with learning difficulties or those who do not make friends easily. There are new skills passed on, some of which might be threatened, such as hedge laying and drystone walling. There is exposure to complex environmental issues, with the basis of understanding that not all problems are black and white, or solutions easy to find.
To the community as a whole, there are important contributions: the work actually accomplished—trees planted, litter removed, an urban wasteground turned into an oasis for wildlife. It can be amazingly important to a neighbourhood, estate or village that a local problem has been tackled by the people themselves. Local communities are strengthened tangibly and intangibly by neighbours coming together to work on projects to benefit them all—something negative has been turned into something positive. The new skills learnt and the sense of accomplishment benefit the community as well as the individual.
Although it is unwise to try to put a price tag on everything, there is a monetary value to the work thus accomplished which we ignore at our peril. I shall not deluge your Lordships with statistics, but quote only one figure from an organisation with which, as I said, I am connected, the British Trust for Conservation Volunteers. The value of environmental work done by conservation volunteers organised directly by BTCV in one year in the United Kingdom was £18.5 million.
It is for those reasons that the Government have contributed directly and indirectly to the voluntary sector. They have invested financially by means of grants, and that financial support is extremely important. I will not harp on the subject of grants, except to stress that notwithstanding the occasional scare stories the media discover, voluntary organisations are run with a leanness that would make many of our public bodies gasp and with a return on public investment with which any private sector industry could be pleased. For the environmental work by conservation volunteers that I mentioned earlier the return was nine to one.
But there is more than a monetary relationship to be considered. Within the past couple of years the Government have taken thoughtful steps to examine the sector as a whole and consider the interaction between the two. The Make a Difference initiative mentioned earlier canvassed widely to solicit ideas and direction and brought forward a comprehensive list of 81 recommendations concerning the interaction between government and voluntary organisations and volunteers. As the recommendations cover an extremely broad range of issues, consideration and implementation of them all will take time, but I take this opportunity to urge the Government to continue as they have started. The movement of the Civil Service office concerned with voluntary sector affairs to the new Voluntary and Community Division in the Department of National Heritage is welcome. It demonstrates the Government's understanding of the importance that volunteering has 319 in our society. I look forward to increased attention to the potential of the sector and more sophisticated understanding, analysis and support from the division. One point I would hope to see is an end to the contradictions caused by one departmental policy running counter to another, often at the expense of volunteering.
I wish to stress just how important government funding is to the work of bodies such as CNP and BTCV, not just in its own right but as a means of helping to lever contributions from other sectors. I am pleased that the Government will be considering tax relief options that encourage individual giving and that the Department of National Heritage will be encouraging private sector involvement with charities for mutual benefit.
I hope that the Government will examine very carefully the possibility of using the National Lottery for revenue support. However, in saying so, I am mindful of just how much society benefits from the day-in, day-out charitable work which risks being neglected by the current concentration on big capital projects by the lottery.
The Government are well placed therefore to enter the debate engendered by the report of the Commission on the Future of the Voluntary Sector. Improved co-ordination via a Cabinet Committee, and including voluntary sector organisations at early stages of policy formulation, are straightforward suggestions requiring serious consideration. The environment sector in this country depends as much on the voluntary organisations such as BTCV, the RSPB, the National Trust and the wildlife trusts as it does on government departments and statutory agencies. Without the dedication and enthusiasm of the millions of members and volunteers working daily in the environment this country would be a poorer place.
It is clear, therefore, that the independence of voluntary and community organisations must be safeguarded. However, voluntary work must not become a substitute for activity that is properly the responsibility of the state or the market. New sources of financial support are needed to supplement funding from both government and business. Charities need not be rich in pocket, but need to be worthy and wealthy enough to see that the richness of ability, enhanced by the voluntary sector, rewards the real fabric of our society.
§ 6.56 p.m.
§ The Earl of Longford
My Lords, when I listen to a debate in favour of voluntary action initiated so eloquently from the Liberal Benches, my mind goes back rather further than July of this year. It goes back to 1949. I remember a debate that took place then, very much along the same lines as this one, in which the proposer was Lord Samuel, then the Liberal Leader. At that time, being a general dogsbody for the Government, I was called upon to reply. In 1949, the heyday of the Attlee Government, it was still very uncertain what sort of attitude the Labour Party would take in the post-war world to voluntary action. It was regarded in some quarters as rather similar to privatisation today.
320 Herbert Morrison, the deputy leader of the party, whom I consulted, would have none of that. He insisted from the beginning that we should take a very firm party line, an international line, on behalf of voluntary action. I remember that he dictated some of the key phrases in the speech that I delivered in this House. He said, "Voluntary action is the lifeblood of democracy. Without voluntary action, democracy loses its soul." I received the credit for those eloquent phrases which in fact came from Herbert Morrison who had a good deal more authority. I am sure that that is how the Labour Party still sees the matter today; and I hope it is how the Minister sees it.
Perhaps I should reveal a guilty secret about the Minister which he may have suppressed as he has made his way upward in Conservative circles. I am told that I bear the same relationship to him that Neville Chamberlain bore to my wife. I do not know whether that helped either of them very much. Well, it has worked all right in the case of my wife, so it may work all right in the case of the noble Lord, leaving Chamberlain and myself to fend as best we can. I am very pleased that he is to reply.
Since we have 14 minutes in which to speak, which is seven minutes longer than I usually take and longer than I expected, I shall expand a little. Listening to the noble Viscount, Lord Addison, I think of his great ancestor, who was my mentor and instructor when I first came to this House in 1949. I am told that new Peers now have induction classes. I do not know what they are taught. Lord Astor was the great inductor of the noble Viscount's ancestor. He applied one particular process of induction which could perhaps be suitably applied today. I remember one occasion when I thought I was speaking well and he kicked me on the back of the leg. I agree that that could apply only to a Front Bench speaker. He kicked me, and hissed in my ear, "Sit down now. You've got the House with you. You'll lose it if you go on any longer". Of course, that tactic does not please the civil servant who has drafted the speech. Nevertheless, it was good party tactics.
So we find ourselves discussing this great question. As everyone has said, we have all been connected with many voluntary organisations. Personally, I have reached the stage where I find it safer to be a patron rather than a trustee. As a trustee you never know whether the thing might go "phut" and you will be called on. It is much safer to be a patron. That is a personal angle.
We must all do what we can in support of voluntary action. I shall mention three organisations, all recognised as doing good work today. I am president of one of them; the other two I founded with devoted help. I am president of the Matthew Trust, but I have done little to build up the trust. Ninety nine point nine per cent. of the credit goes to a remarkable man, Peter Thompson, who found himself in Broadmoor for four years. Re-emerging, he built up the Matthew Trust and after 20 years it is a respected organisation, as the noble Baroness, Lady Cumberlege, has told us more than once. There was a Minister who was less kind about the Matthew Trust, saying that those who benefited were unworthy, or words to that effect. In latter days the 321 noble Baroness, Lady Cumberlege, speaking for the Government, has said more than once that the Government holds it in high respect.
The question may be asked: what help has the Matthew Trust had from the Government? The answer is none whatever. It is worth asking why. I am connected with organisations which get help from the Government and I will not say whether they are more or less worthy, but the Matthew Trust has never had any help at all. It is rather the other way around. Peter Thompson was asked to preach in Broadmoor and contribute to the funds there. So it is not a question of the prodigal son having the fatted lamb cooked for him; it is more a question of the prodigal son cooking the fatted lamb for the father who thought he had lost him.
The achievement of Peter Thompson in building up the Matthew Trust is a remarkable story. I have never known anything like it in my time.
I turn to New Bridge, which I founded with expert help. I was involved in the inquiry for the Nuffield Foundation at the time. I visited many prisons. I opened the first debate in this House on prisons in the year in which the organisation was founded. The immediate impulse came from the noble Lord, Lord Montagu of Beaulieu. I need not go into all the details, but the noble Lord, Lord Montagu, helped to devise the name, New Bridge, and so New Bridge for ex-prisoners was born.
Today it has an exceptionally dynamic director. Its president is the noble Lord, Lord Henderson, who is respected by all, and, strikingly, its chairman is Sir Peter Lloyd, a former Home Office Minister. I will not dwell on his attitude to the policies of the present Home Secretary. That is another matter. I am trying to conciliate and not antagonise the ministerial spokesman.
At any rate, we have those fine people associated with the organisation. It has a network of help. Its volunteers are active throughout the prisons and it has, among other things, initiated a paper called Inside Time, written almost entirely by prisoners. I am glad to think that my daughter is one of the people most actively associated with the paper. It is a fine body. But what help does it get from the Government? It gets some help, but not very much. An employment agency which it operates does receive some help but the rest of its work is unaided. I ask the Minister to take that into consideration. Why is it that the Probation Service is ready to help the employment service of New Bridge but no other help is given? Generally speaking, the Prison Service would do well to realise how much help it receives from the voluntary action, of New Bridge. Those volunteers are most valuable in the prisons; it is a shame that they do not get any help.
Finally, I founded New Horizon, again with devoted help. After resigning from the Cabinet because of the failure of the Labour Government to carry out their promise to raise the school leaving age, a promise, of course, long since carried out, I was determined to do something, particularly for the age group 15, or now 16, to 21. New Horizon is today looking after 3,000 young people, nearly all of them homeless. Mr. Jon Snow was almost the first director. He has since gone on to 322 greatness, but he remains the chairman of New Horizon. The director is extremely efficient. They are undoubtedly doing valuable work.
It is worth considering how they are now placed, or how anybody who helps the homeless young is now placed. I am informed that the total grants going to youth have been cut by something like half in the last 15 years. It is extremely difficult for anyone trying to help youth to do the job that they have been doing. I must ask the Minister to bear that in mind.
A psychological aspect upon which it will be hard for the Minister to comment tonight is something which is in the minds of all workers. I can hardly expect the Minister to be aware that all social workers in New Horizon—and not only that organisation, but many others—are as fully qualified as any of the statutory workers and yet they are treated and looked upon as second class. How can we give the voluntary workers who are full-time, qualified social workers working for voluntary bodies a better standing?
I conclude by making a general point. I hope the Minister, when he replies, will firmly say, as Herbert Morrison said, supported by the whole House, in 1949: "Voluntary action is the lifeblood of democracy. Without voluntary action, democracy loses its soul."
§ 7.8 p.m.
§ The Lord Bishop of Newcastle
My Lords, Members of your Lordships' House who have already spoken have expressed their pleasure at the opportunity given us today to take part in this debate, introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Dahrendorf. I too wish to say how greatly I look forward to listening to the maiden speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, and her contribution to this discussion.
The voluntary sector itself, on which our attention is focused, embraces an astonishingly wide variety of enterprises, which range from great national bodies with professional and managerial staff, and with turnovers in many millions, to small, local groups with perhaps part-time staff and tiny shoe string budgets, the diversity to which the noble Lord, Lord Dahrendorf, referred.
I speak with the perspective of a churchman in the North East, who is grateful to be personally associated as trustee, patron or president with quite a variety of voluntary organisations. These range, at one end of the scale, from bodies such as the Newcastle Council for Voluntary Service, which has been at work for nearly 70 years and now provides support and advice for over 300 member bodies, and the Tyne and Wear Foundation, which has had quite astonishing success in attracting, channelling and distributing funds, and thus in raising the profile of the voluntary sector, to, at the other end of the scale, pensioners groups, victim support groups, the provision of laundry services for the elderly, and so on, with all of which I am proud to be associated.
With that perspective in mind I should like to touch on three points. The first is necessarily vague and impressionistic. It concerns the maintenance of the fabric of society, more particularly, in contrasted contexts, in the inner city and urban priority areas and in isolated settings deep in the Cheviots or the Pennines.
323 Sometimes in the inner city I ask myself, "How can society possibly hold together?". A few years ago, within a few weeks, if not days, in the same district ambulances and fire engines were pelted with stones; a brand new church school was invaded and vandalised; the Salvation Army was virtually forced out—and it is not easily put down; in addition to the burning of cars and houses.
Is it all falling apart? Are parts of our cities becoming ungovernable, I asked? Then I looked more closely. There are countless voluntary and community groups sometimes chaotically criss-crossing one another, many of them vigorous and some of them expressions of self-help out of desperation in the face of impending chaos. Those groups have played and play an invaluable part in keeping society together. It is true that some of the threads looked like gossamer. They can all do with guiding and resourcing. Something not dissimilar can be seen in some of the most remote parts of rural England, in west Northumberland. Close inspection shows how a sense of community is kept alive and fostered by a myriad of voluntary activities. That precisely relates to the reference in the Motion before the House to individual and social wellbeing.
That very general point leads me to the matter of partnership. Many, indeed most, voluntary bodies are committed to the notion of partnership, which nowadays is generally partnership with the public sector. The problem is how to preserve the true spirit and expression of partnership, for partnership implies a real measure of interdependence. It is perfectly true that he who pays the piper has some right to call the tune. It is essential that the use of any public funds should be properly supervised. It is clear that many voluntary bodies could not continue to operate without the provision of public funds by one means or another. Yet the relationship should not become uneven. Finance may well be provided in part by public funds. Indeed, it has been said that there is no country today where there is a substantial voluntary sector that is not dependent on governmental support. Yet the voluntary sector provides a contribution which the Government cannot afford to dispense with. It is voluntary, freely offered and much of it unpaid. It depends on local enthusiasm and the availability of volunteers.
Traditionally, the voluntary sector has been valued precisely because it has a measure of independence. It can be innovative; take a lead in pioneering new solutions to old problems; and can do creative work of its own. Nowadays I sense that the scaling down of state provision has left gaps which the voluntary sector is expected to fill. The consequence is that funding for voluntary sector activity has become increasingly conditional, the condition being the imposition of targets from outside the organisation. So my plea is that each party in the partnership recognises and respects what the other has to offer.
The matter of partnership has implications not only for voluntary bodies, local authorities and governing bodies. It also has implications for charitable trusts. In the North East, the Tyne and Wear Foundation has done a great service in bringing together the representatives 324 of trusts and in bringing about a more strategic approach to funding of the voluntary sector. While on the subject of partnership, I should like to pay tribute to Government Office North East. It has been very helpful in building the capacity of the voluntary sector to participate in partnerships, with the local authority as an equal partner who has much to offer and indeed much to give.
In conclusion, I am certain that the role of the Churches and indeed of other faith communities needs to be mentioned in this connection. They provide a great number of anonymous volunteers on whose inspiration and commitment voluntary work depends. The Church Urban Fund has been the catalyst for hundreds of projects nationwide, all of them partnerships of one sort or another. In the Diocese of Newcastle we are just about to launch a mission and community fund which may serve to continue the initiatives made possible by the Church Urban Fund. Much of that work is done ecumenically, through agencies such as the Churches Regional Commission in the North East, a fully ecumenical body which is our corporate public face in social and community affairs. Through that agency we have all been working together in making bids in connection with the Single Regeneration Budget Challenge Fund. There is partnership in practice.
Our various congregations certainly promote a sense of community in many neighbourhoods. Many of our individual members are moved by a sense of obligation to play their part in voluntary organisations, and a flourishing voluntary sector is, as the Deakin Report puts it, the backbone of a civil society and a vital indicator of democratic health.
§ 7.16 p.m.
§ Baroness Byford
My Lords, I crave your Lordships' indulgence and hope that I shall not be thought presumptuous in speaking so soon after my introduction. However, the debate today, so ably moved by the noble Lord, Lord Dahrendorf, is one which is close to my heart.
I declare an interest in that I am a volunteer and have been for the past 30 years. My main commitment has been to the Women's Royal Voluntary Service in Leicestershire, where I was a member of the county staff and a volunteer in my village. That involved the organisation of a wide variety of services, many of which, I am sure, are known to your Lordships, such as meals on wheels, hospital shops, children's holidays, emergency services, day centres and, in fact, refreshment centres in prisons also, of which the noble Earl, Lord Longford, reminded me when he spoke. My other voluntary work has been on the fund-raising side for a variety of charities, which is a different type of volunteering. Money is raised to provide funds for medical research and for others to provide professional care for such charities as Loros and Rainbows. On top of that, there were numerous flag days throughout the year. In fact people used to ask me, "Which hat are you wearing today?"
This country has a splendid record of voluntary service, which has been and still is a crucial part of British life. Today we are considering the whole 325 question of volunteering and charity work. I congratulate Professor Deakin and the commission members for the deep thinking which has gone into the report. It poses many questions and highlights the challenges that we face in the future. The report rightly deals with the interplay between central and local government and between the charities themselves. It discusses the whole question of standards of service, accountability and value for money. It includes the valuable contribution made by business in both management secondment and financial terms. It also includes the new contribution made by grants from the National Lottery.
My slight concern—I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Dahrendorf, who touched on it—is that too rigid a format can discourage small to medium sized voluntary organisations. Too much bureaucracy can put off the less experienced groups.
I welcome the input which the National Lottery has made to our communities. It is helping a multiplicity of interest groups, some of whom have never received such support in the past. In Leicestershire recent awards were published in our local paper—names such as Age Concern, Mission for the Deaf and the Royal Society for the Blind. Those are charities we know, but there too, more importantly, were new groups—Youth Access, community associations, an out-of-school club and a whole range of sports clubs. One project I was especially pleased to see and which was mentioned in our earlier debate was Homestart, an organisation which helps families in stress. That organisation started its being in Leicester some years ago and was recently given a grant for £192,000 to encourage it to create 60 new schemes throughout the UK during the coming three years.
Some people question the whole role of voluntary organisations in today's society. Not many years ago people thought they would fade away. In fact between 1981 and 1991 23 million people were estimated to have taken part in voluntary organisations and charities—a 15 per cent. increase. In addition, thousands more are regularly involved in and give informal caring, the full value of which it is impossible to assess.
The word "volunteer" means different things to different people and covers a wide variety of commitment. Some people are professionally paid managers for voluntary organisations and charities; others give of their time freely without fee—a service beyond self. But whether as individuals or members of self-help groups, informal carers or members of large organisations, they all work together to strengthen our local communities, bringing a range of help in both social and financial terms.
The report discusses the demographic changes we face; the changing work patterns and the need to attract young people. I am not one of those who is gloomy about the future. More people are living healthier and fuller lives and will have additional time to give. As we have heard in this debate, young people are wanting to help. I was greatly encouraged recently to learn of a new contact centre which had been formed. Those centres provide a weekend place for separated families to come 326 together. When families break up it is usually the mother who is awarded custody of the children. Fathers often move away from the area in which they have traditionally lived. Collecting their children at the weekend can give them problems if they have nowhere specific to go. The new contact centres, which are open all day on Saturdays and Sundays, provide a place in village halls and towns where the families can meet. The interesting thing is that those who are helping to look after the children are themselves young people, and it is a wonderful example of young people being involved.
So I thank the noble Lord, Lord Dahrendorf, and I also congratulate the Government on their continued support for voluntary organisations and charities. Tax concessions, local and central government grants and the more recent input from the National Lottery have helped to strengthen charities and voluntary organisations. I am confident that they in turn will respond to the challenges facing them; that they will continue to innovate and grow, bringing greater cohesion to our local communities. It is a very British tradition and one which I am sure will continue to play an equally important part. I look forward to the expanding role that it will play in the 21st century.
§ 7.24 p.m.
§ Lord Borrie
My Lords, I have great pleasure, on behalf of the Whole House, in congratulating the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, on the excellence of her speech. As it is less than a year since my own maiden effort, I can readily recall the awe and trepidation with which I approached that task. But whatever feelings the noble Baroness may have had before she rose to her feet, she spoke with felicity, charm and a great deal of knowledge—knowledge of the voluntary sector which we are debating this evening; knowledge particularly of the voluntary sector in her home county of Leicestershire, and knowledge of the Women's Royal Voluntary Service.
The noble Baroness spoke with a certain forthrightness which typified her father, Sir Cyril Osborne, who was a respected Member of the other place for many years. I understand that the noble Baroness has been a tennis coach. This afternoon she played extremely well from somewhere at the back of the court and perhaps we may see her playing closer to the net on some other occasion. We certainly look forward to her speeches on many future occasions.
This country has a tremendously proud record of voluntary endeavour. We seem to be peculiarly keen to join together to pursue philanthropic or mutual aid objectives over an incredibly wide range of subjects. Indeed, your Lordships seem to be prone to engage in or support voluntary activity even more than the general public if my postbag since I became a Member is anything to go by.
What the voluntary sector does and how it organises itself at any given moment is dependent on the way in which central and local government organise themselves. In recent years the "value for money" basis of funding from government, the creation of all kinds of local bodies and quangos taking over former functions 327 of government and the creation of the National Lottery have all had a considerable effect on the financing of the voluntary sector and on the willingness of the general public to pay to street collections.
The ancient legal rules for defining a charity are in serious and overdue need of revision. So it was timely for the National Council of Voluntary Organisations to set up an independent commission under the excellent chairmanship of Professor Nicholas Deakin of Birmingham University. His team produced a detailed and comprehensive report.
Last week this House debated relations between central and local government following the report of a Select Committee of this House entitled Rebuilding Trust. The Select Committee was concerned that over a number of years trust between central and local government had broken down. One of its recommendations was that there should be some sort of concordat. That is not a popular word with everybody, but it is interesting to note that the Deakin Commission used the same word—perhaps as a shorthand—for some sort of discussion about the general principles on which the voluntary sector, on this occasion, and government can work together and produce a code of conduct for good practice and mutual good relations for the future.
I want to concentrate in my comments this evening on relations between the voluntary sector and local government. In evidence to the Deakin Commission the official representatives of local authorities seemed to make all the right noises. The Association of County Councils, for example, stressed the value that its members attach to active co-operation with the voluntary sector,on the basis that the sector is a key part of the fabric of the local community".The Association of Directors of Social Services—whose members are all employees of local authorities—said,it is essential that organisations concerned with community action, advocacy and voluntary activity in the purest sense of that word continue to be valued and supported".But the work of voluntary organisations can, in certain circumstances, create jealousy, even resentment and irritation on the part of democratically elected local representatives. A councillor might ask, "What legitimacy do they have to tell us councillors how to do our job?". However, councillors are not always as close to the community as they might be; they may not reside in the ward they represent; nowadays, because of the changes I have just mentioned, they may no longer be directly responsible for service delivery; and their claim to democratic legitimacy is not necessarily all that strong when an average of only 40 per cent. of the electorate vote in local elections. A voluntary community organisation that is directly assisting disadvantaged individuals to articulate their needs to local decision-makers does surely, as the Deakin Report says—I hope I have not unduly abbreviated what it says—have a legitimate right to be heard. The Deakin Report says, in a neat form of words, that it can provide a "voice for the voiceless".
328 The commission naturally welcomes the fact that some authorities are experimenting with various forms of community and citizen participation, consultation and community development which offer new and perhaps fruitful territory for co-operation with voluntary organisations. As I and many of your Lordships sought to indicate in the debate last week on local/central government relations, I see local authorities taking on more and more the role of community leadership. But good leadership should allow and indeed encourage others to blossom and to develop their skills and talents. I say boldly, "Let a thousand flowers bloom".
In February, the noble Lord, Lord Dahrendorf, who does us a service today in initiating the debate, performed another service by initiating a debate on wealth creation and social cohesion. In that debate I ventured to say that restoring social cohesion in the most disadvantaged parts of our major conurbations needed both changes in national policies and a bottom-up approach to a new partnership whereby central and local government share power with people living in areas that needed regeneration. Dr. Tony Gibson, whom I am sure the right reverend Prelate will know because of his work in, among other places, the Meadowell Estate in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, has said that,economic and social decline can be reversed but only by using the untapped and potential skills of local residents".Since the debate introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Dahrendorf, Dr. Gibson has published a book entitled Power in Our Hands—quite an evocative title—which pursues this theme of bottom-up voluntary action, drawing on numerous examples from the UK and abroad where ordinary people have done extraordinary things to create jobs, improve schooling, enhance the environment and engage in many other activities.
I mention that in this debate because we should not think of the voluntary sector as consisting only of an unchanging list of well-established and well-known organisations. We all have our favourites. Mine—just to declare one's interest—are the NSPCC, the citizens advice bureaux, the Prince of Wales Business Trust and the Birmingham Settlement. We all have our list of well-known and well-established organisations. They are all deserving of our interest and support. Long may they and others like them prosper.
However, the voluntary sector must be dynamic. It must include, and its established members should encourage, the smaller, local voluntary endeavours that local enthusiasts create out of nothing more initially than informal neighbourhood get-togethers. It does not really matter why they get together. As Dr. Gibson shows in his book, such initiatives may start with sport and social activities but lead on to activities that are significant for the community—clearing derelict sites, developing home insulation projects for the elderly, providing bulk-buying and credit union schemes, and many other projects. Local initiatives making local sense and, from small beginnings, creating or recreating a real sense of community strength and pride are of the very essence of the voluntary sector.
§ 7.35 p.m.
§ Lord Young of Dartington
My Lords, it was a privilege to hear the maiden speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Byford. It was grounded in day-to-day experience of the work of voluntary bodies and showed in every detail how valuable that kind of work can be. I hope, following my noble friend Lord Borrie, that, especially after the next election, she will consider getting closer to the net. We look forward to it.
I thank the noble Lord, Lord Dahrendorf, for initiating this debate on what I consider to be a most important subject—much more important perhaps than is yet recognised by the general public. Like all those who have taken part in the debate, and, I expect, like all those who are going to take part, I welcome the Deakin Report. It was a useful stocktaking review of the achievements and the problems of the voluntary sector. Its influence will not be soon lost. Behind that report stands the National Council for Voluntary Organisations which commissioned it. That body must have a central place in the future of the voluntary sector generally.
Its initials, NCVO, were drilled into my mind some years back by a somewhat odd experience I had. I was the first chairman of a government body, the National Consumer Council. Our first offices were in Queen Anne's Gate. That was very pleasant. Somehow or other when we started up there was an engaging man who had come from somewhere else in the Civil Service. He was a kind of porter and everyone liked him. He was keen on getting an honour. He was not alone in that. He had a look at the post each day as he was in a rather strategic position in the building. One day he came to the director of the organisation with a face of great glee and bearing an envelope which bore the initials NCVO. He thought his day had come. He thought that at last he was going to be made a Noble Commander of the Victorian Order. However, frivolity aside, the national council has a most important part to play.
My enthusiasm for the voluntary sector is reasonably well founded. It rests on my view of the opportunity the sector now has for filling a very important gap in the national life. On that I follow the wise words of the noble Lord, Lord Dahrendorf, earlier in the debate.
The greatest asset of the voluntary bodies is the sense of public service which they embody. The many millions of volunteers who work for them do not do so for the sake of financial gain to themselves. The very large number of paid staff who are also most necessary—they complement and are the organisers of the volunteers' work—do not join the voluntary bodies for the sake of the share options that they may get. Unfortunately, the sense of public service has taken a beating in the past 10 years or more. Privatisation, quangos galore and distrust have undermined the spirit of the Civil Service. Although one can hope that it will be fully restored in time, at the moment there is a gap, which I believe will continue in some form or other.
As a virtue in the public sector has been in part lost, so a virtue has been added to the voluntary sector. The domain of public service has been vacated and can be filled in part by both the old and well-established voluntary bodies and the new ones which are joining 330 them every year. Whether they will be able to take advantage of what I believe is a brilliant opportunity will depend on various conditions being met. The right relationship will have to be established with government, as the noble Lord, Lord Dahrendorf, said. I very much liked his suggestion about the setting up of a millennium foundation. I hope that the Government take that seriously.
The opportunity is there but, as I say, it depends on conditions being met. Apart from establishing the right relationship with government, in my view the voluntary bodies need to take much more seriously than they have done—I am generalising wildly, of course—the need for more training for volunteers and, above all, more training for management and administrative staff. It is encouraging that more is being done than before. The Open University has a special interest in the training of volunteers and people to work in the voluntary bodies and so has the City University. Things are being done, but not enough, to add efficiency to ethic. Ethics need to be backed by efficiency, which is good and strong management. Although there are many brilliant managers in the sector, there are not as many as we would like or as many as there needs to be if the great opportunity that I have talked about is to be seized.
The moral advantage that the voluntary bodies have could even be the spearhead of a moral renaissance. That is their greatest advantage. But there is also an institutional advantage, which is that as the public sector has contracted, the voluntary sector has been able to expand. It has also been called on to do so. Of course, the voluntary sector cannot do the whole job that government or the welfare state have done, but it can do a lot, particularly by pioneering flexible new approaches to old problems. There needs to be a new appreciation of what is needed if a greater degree of civic responsibility is to be restored to the nation.
Another condition is that without surrendering their independence or variety, which are both vital characteristic marks of their existence, in my view the voluntary bodies need to pull together more effectively than they often do, not to speak with one voice, but to speak more nearly with one voice on certain questions than they have often been able to do. Partnership is needed within the sector as well as between voluntary bodies, local authorities and government organisations. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Newcastle rightly spoke of the importance of partnership. All I am saying is that partnership needs to come from within the sector as well as from outside it. There is a need for more co-operation at all levels, wherever it is appropriate and wherever different voluntary bodies gather together to pursue a common purpose.
Perhaps I may give three short examples of what I mean. The first field I draw on is health. I believe that one of the most remarkable developments of the past 25 years as regards organisation is the growth and development of self-help bodies. The College of Health estimated not so long ago that there are at least 1,500 national self-help bodies, many of them with local branches. They depend almost entirely on volunteers.
331 It is estimated that there are 2 million members of those self-help bodies. They are beginning to show more willingness to co-operate between themselves. For instance, the Neurological Alliance consists of 22 self-help groups such as the Multiple Sclerosis Society, the Parkinsons Disease Society, the British Epilepsy Association, the Stroke Association, the Huntington's Disease Association, the Dystonia Society and many others. They have come together to work in some ways more effectively than they have done before for improved care, particularly for the carers of people with disabilities or with chronic illnesses. They have set out to influence policy-making and they have already made their influence felt. They have considered how they can raise even more money than the large sums which they have already raised in order to carry out research into neurological diseases generally.
The second field that I draw on is that of employment generation. The Wise Group has an outstanding reputation for what it has done to create new employment opportunities for young people. Having started in Glasgow, it is now extending its sphere of operations to what it calls "social franchising" by bringing in other bodies and new ventures in many other parts of the country. In many ways it is brilliant and is answering, in its own pioneering way, one of the great social needs of the time in providing more employment for young people.
The third field is housing. There is a new body called "People for Action" which has gathered together a national network of 30 or so housing associations, which are considering together how they can add to their own function of housing other functions that will be useful to those who live in their different housing schemes. There is a willingness to consider new roles for housing associations. That new consortium-type body is leading the way. I notice that I have just about come to the end of my allotted time, so I thank your Lordships for listening.
§ 7.50 p.m.
§ Baroness Hamwee
My Lords, I too should declare a number of interests although I am conscious that they are undoubtedly far fewer than those of many other noble Lords—and certainly of the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, to whose maiden speech we listened with considerable interest. The noble Baroness is clearly a doer as well as a very effective speaker.
The role of the voluntary sector in society and in the lives of individuals is many faceted. Perhaps it has facets about which we may be more aware at the end of the debate than we were at the beginning. The subject certainly raises major issues both of philosophy and of practicality. The issue of personal satisfaction and of the legitimacy of gaining satisfaction from playing a part was raised by, among others, the noble Viscount, Lord Addison, and the noble Lord, Lord Young of Dartington, who referred to a sense of public service. In a newspaper article today on the Budget, my noble friend Lord Russell referred to altruism as another sort of feel-good factor. I liked that analogy.
332 It occurred to me that there is quite a stark comparison to be drawn between the voluntary sector and politics with regard to the way in which the two draw, or fail to draw, people into their midst. Politics is characterised by a loss of faith. Today there is a general loss of faith in institutions, and there is certainly a loss of faith in the political process. Alongside that, there is increasing interest among members of the public in single issues rather than in a range of issues which is what party politics, and politics in the broadest sense, encompass. There is also the satisfaction of being hands-on. Perhaps this is not the Chamber in which to say that politics has a tendency to become something of a "talk" rather than a "do", but it does. One understands the satisfaction to be gained from being involved, as the right reverend Prelate put it, as either the "big boots" or the "short shoestring" of real action.
Trustees are among volunteers, but increasingly the staff of voluntary organisations are professionals. The noble Earl, Lord Longford, referred to the need to ensure that the standing of professional staff in the voluntary sector is recognised. Perhaps more could be done by way of secondment between the voluntary sector and the public sector than we have seen, but I must say that my experience from local government is that secondment between central and local government runs along the lines that central government is delighted to take in assistance from local government, but that not much happens the other way. Staff are certainly required to have professional skills even if sometimes their remuneration is practically invisible. The issue of their standing was brought home to me recently when the head of the paid staff of an organisation with which I am concerned raised with me the question of her title and suggested that she should be referred to as the "chief executive officer"; that being a more appropriate term these days than "director".
My noble friend Lord Dahrendorf described the working of trustee bodies by saying that they can be idiosyncratic, amateurish and prone to making mistakes. My noble friend described it as "creative chaos". I doubt whether I shall be the only one among your Lordships to identify with that description. However, trustees too are required to be professionals—in the same way as are school governors. They have a range of skills which can usefully be used and which are often sought out. The noble Viscount, Lord Addison, referred to the leanness of many organisations; I can testify to that.
One area in which trustees are now required to be involved is fund-raising. I am not referring only to going out with a collecting box, because a very sophisticated level of fund-raising, of networking, is now required among those who, in a trustee capacity, are able to dispense considerable sums of money. The whole question of funding and of the funder being entitled to call the tune requires considerable debate, not least because the trustees of a number of major charitable foundations are not required to account publicly, as would be required of a sector of government. I do not make any accusations in suggesting that their workings are not transparent, but I think that it is a matter of fact that frequently they are not. That makes it difficult to debate the balance between funding for special projects 333 and for the core activities of such organisations. I refer to the issue of creating strategies. I very much agree with the noble Lord, Lord Young, that we need more cohesion in the voluntary sector. Competition and the aggression of the market are not appropriate to this sector.
Certain disbursements of funds are application-led, if I may put it in that way. A major funder is the National Lottery Charities Board, but other lottery distribution bodies require partnership funding, as do many other funding bodies. As the right reverend Prelate said, the preservation of the spirit of partnership is important. Too often there is an uneven relationship and decisions are skewed by the requirements or ideas of the larger body, the funding body.
I disagree to some extent with my noble friend Lord Dahrendorf who said that he did not get excited about the location of government responsibility for the sector. I am not particularly excited, but I am a bit exercised by it. The balance between ensuring that the ground is covered and not stifling innovation may be affected by where such matters are discussed. Central government is not very good at making the connections. The proposal by the Deakin Commission for a parliamentary committee is worth serious consideration. The Government's response—that Select Committees of another place are the appropriate bodies to undertake such work—seems too easily to reflect the demarcations of Whitehall and thus to lose the opportunity of making the cross-departmental connections which a parliamentary committee might achieve.
I agree with the noble Viscount, Lord Addison, about the distortions which are sometimes caused by conflicting policies or by policies which do not lie easily together. I accept that similar issues arise at local level although I take issue with the noble Lord, Lord Borne, who said that councillors are not necessarily representative. Indeed they are not—and that is another debate—but at least they are elected, even if only 40 per cent. of the electorate turns out to elect them. I am happy that my electorate has always turned out in rather higher numbers than that. However, even if the percentage is only 40 per cent.—or even only the 20 per cent. that would balance our 65 per cent. in Richmond—the opportunity of an election nevertheless exists.
To give more power to a strong voluntary organisation rather than an elected body—I do not suggest that the noble Lord put it in this way—may lead to the organisation hijacking the matter. However, I agree that to encourage more than a thousand flowers to bloom at local level is of great importance. From personal experience, I testify to frustration in not having the means to encourage that blossoming by applying water and—I hope this will not be misread—fertiliser.
Sometimes the tasks of voluntary organisations that deliver services which are the responsibility of the public sector require more recognition than they get. Recently I have come to realise that the tasks of voluntary organisations in connection with the public sector are even more extensive, in that there are now many extremely authoritative bodies that comment helpfully on the workings of the public sector. The 334 Joseph Rowntree Foundation is a major player in this field. Sometimes, I believe that all politicians should retire and leave it to them.
The balance between service delivery and advocacy—the whole area of campaigning—is another area that requires greater debate. I am aware that the Charity Commission has recently assisted with guidelines that perhaps give greater scope for this. But the role of the Charity Commission as both adviser and regulator is one that causes a degree of conflict in the minds of those who relate to it, although this is not a deliberate act on the part of the commission. It can be confusing to receive advice and find that the regulations conflict slightly with it.
The whole question of the definition of a charity is one on which your Lordships have touched. I accept the comments that have been made in this debate about the need for a better appeal mechanism for those organisations that are refused charitable status. Having worked with the Charity Commission and a number of charities for a period, I have come up against different interpretations of public benefit. Those to whom I have spoken have tended to be helpful but in the long run the help has not been quite as much as was at first thought.
I too recognise the importance of the voluntary sector in our pluralist society and in the lives of individuals. I thank my noble friend for introducing this debate, especially for his call to think big and long term. However, as the noble Lord, Lord Borrie, has said, I too believe that we should think small.
§ 8.3 p.m.
§ Lord Dubs
My Lords, we owe a debt of thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Dahrendorf, for initiating this debate and giving us an opportunity to have a good discussion. He started the proceedings with a very thoughtful contribution. That has characterised the debate. All of the contributions have been very thoughtful, and many have been based on a great deal of personal experience. Perhaps no one can call upon a span of time as long as that of my noble friend Lord Longford, but a great deal of experience has been contributed to the debate. No one has contributed more experience than the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, who displayed a sense of commitment and energy in her speech. The people of Leicestershire will be wondering how they can manage without her. I hope that we see a good deal of the noble Baroness in this House, but in saying that I also feel guilty in not knowing how people back home will manage without her. She faces a dilemma in that respect. We shall welcome her contributions based on her personal experience.
I declare a personal interest. Until last year I was director of the Refugee Council, which is quite a large charitable organisation. I am currently a trustee, or on the management committees, of a number of other bodies.
I congratulate the Deakin Commission and the NCVO for the important contribution they have made to a better understanding of the voluntary sector and for pointing to the directions in which the work of the voluntary sector and the various relationships with it can be made 335 more effective. I believe that Professor Deakin has done an excellent job. We must not allow the report to sit on the table collecting dust after a few moments of appreciation. The report must be a guide to action and set the agenda in this area for many years to come.
I also congratulate the Labour Party. For some time it has been active in working with and consulting the voluntary sector. Earlier this year the party produced an excellent report entitled Labour and the Voluntary Sector which set the agenda for partnership in government. That report was steered by my honourable friends Mr. Alun Michael, aided by Ms. Ann Coffey. That was a good contribution. The Labour Party recognises that government does not have the answer to every problem. We believe that government must work in partnership with the private and voluntary sectors for the benefit of the public. The Labour Party takes the voluntary sector very seriously indeed.
I also pay tribute to the Charity Commission, to which the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, referred. I believe that the commission has improved significantly over the years under the very able leadership of Richard Friess. It has shown an improvement in both its understanding of the voluntary sector and its sensitivity to the various pressures and difficulties which that sector faces. After all, the voluntary sector is very large. Noble Lords have referred to its size and to the hundreds of thousands of people involved as staff, volunteers or individuals serving on management committees. The total income of the voluntary sector is estimated at £15 billion a year, which makes it a significant force in the economy.
The voluntary sector has a number of important characteristics. It is diverse, exciting to work in, and exciting in what it sets out to achieve. It is innovative and often based very firmly in the local community. And it has the ability to respond quickly to new needs. That is not a characteristic shared by central or local government, which tends to respond more slowly. The voluntary sector also involves its clients in the work it does. It has the ability to empower individuals in local communities and, very importantly, uses volunteers both on management committees and to supplement its professional staff. My noble friend Lord Young referred to the need for more training in the voluntary sector. Certainly, volunteers should never be seen as an easy option. They require training and supervision in order that they can give of their best in a context where they feel rewarded for volunteering. That places an additional burden on voluntary organisations to provide training.
Many noble Lords have referred to young people. Many volunteers are themselves young people. Sometimes one tends to knock young people in society. I know from personal experience how young people are incredibly keen to volunteer and to support the efforts of voluntary organisations. That is one positive aspect. Another positive aspect—there are many others that I do not have time to mention—is overseas development where voluntary organisations have played a leading part in helping and supporting development and providing crisis relief in many poor countries of the world. It is a great tribute to this country that our voluntary organisations in the overseas development 336 field are held in high regard throughout the world. The last group I mention is the voluntary organisations that work with and comprise ethnic minorities. I was directly involved with many refugee community organisations when I was with the Refugee Council. I was always impressed by the way in which those organisations provided superb support in their own languages for people who came to this country to seek safety from persecution abroad.
Emphatically, the voluntary section is not, and must not be seen to be, a cheap option to get things done. There is a tendency to say that voluntary organisations can do something cheaply, and so forth. I agree that normally voluntary organisations are very cost-effective. Many of them are very professional in their approach. They provide an effective combination of professional paid staff and volunteers. But, please, let no one say that they are somehow a cheap way of doing things. That insults the professionalism of voluntary organisations and belittles them. They have the right to be treated with respect for the capable work they do.
We have had the Government's response to the Deakin Report for about a week. I enjoyed the photograph of the Secretary of State with a lot of children and balloons in the air. To see smiling Secretaries of State, one would think that the Government were changing. Perhaps when the Government respond to Select Committee reports we can have similar photographs. It is a pity that the response was not as enthusiastic as the delightful photographs of the schoolchildren and the Secretary of State, all smiling. The response was enthusiastic in parts but where the Government were asked specific questions they did not show the sort of response that they perhaps should have done.
Let me turn to links between the Government and the voluntary sector. I appreciate that some of the responsibility has now moved from the Home Office to the DNH. Let us examine the DNH. It does not help to argue the point but we need a more firmly based sense of what the relationship is about. I believe emphatically that the role of government should be to enable and encourage rather than to insist and direct.
The Government have a part to play. Of course they have a good start. I do not have direct experience of the voluntary and community division of the DNH, but I worked closely for some years with its predecessor body, the VSU at the Home Office. That body was excellent. It consisted of officials who understood the voluntary sector and who were sensitive to it. Not that I did not have many disagreements with them; I did. But they were healthy disagreements, based upon an understanding of what both sides were about. I have to make the assumption that those good qualities from the VSU are now in the VCD of the DNH.
It is a pity that there is so much knowledge and experience in one part of the Civil Service while other government departments do not have it or do not seem to display it. I should like the VCD to take a more positive lead and to be given the authority to take that lead across Whitehall in setting the basis for the Government-voluntary sector relationship. I am sorry 337 that the Government rejected the Deakin proposals for a concordat. I do not like the word, but they have rejected the proposal for an arrangement which could make a positive contribution to relationships and towards setting the context in which that relationship could flourish.
There is, of course, a ministerial group. It is called the Ministerial Group on Volunteering and the Voluntary Sector (MGVVS). In the Government's response to the Deakin Report, that group is referred to. I wonder whether the Minister can tell us who attends its meetings, what is discussed, and what has emerged that is positive.
The next key point to which I wish to refer is the freedom to campaign. Voluntary organisations suffer from constraints because of case law. The Charity Commission has tried to make things better, and it has gone as far as possible. Voluntary organisations should be able to campaign to advocate the cause of their own clients, because they have more experience than anyone else in the country in that area. I know that from my experience at the Refugee Council. For example, take an organisation such as the Alzheimer's Society. Who can better advocate the cause of people suffering from Alzheimer's disease than those people in the Alzheimer's Society who know what it is about. They speak with strength. I should like to see the legal and political context relaxed so that organisations in the voluntary sector can campaign more than they are allowed to do at the moment. There are too many constraints.
Equally, funders must recognise the independence of voluntary organisations. I can give an example of the Refugee Council. We were receiving money for a training project from a TEC. We were told that we had a 48 per cent. cut in our money three days after the financial year to which that money referred had begun. That put us in an impossible position. It did not enable us to function at all well. There are points about funding to which I shall refer in a moment.
I welcome the fact that my noble friend Lord Borrie referred to the importance of the relationship between local government and the voluntary organisations. Many voluntary organisations are locally based in particular communities. The point applies also to the NHS, quangos, TECs and other bodies. I note that the National Lottery Charities Board has got off to a reasonably good start, has resisted political pressure, and has supported real, grassroots organisations. It may need to be made more accountable. A colleague of mine in another place, Dr. Cunningham, has a committee which is looking at the whole work of the National Lottery and its impact on the voluntary sector.
I turn quickly to the subject of a Select Committee. I am sorry that the Government responded somewhat unhelpfully. The point is not the relationship between one department, the DNH, and the voluntary sector, important though that is. The point is that many government departments have such relationships and encourage such relationships. That is why a departmental Select Committee of the other place is not the answer. We want a broad ranging Select Committee 338 which can cover the overall relationships between government departments and voluntary organisations and look further at the implementation of the Deakin Report. I suggest either a Select Committee of this House sitting possibly for one year to see how it operates, or a joint committee between this House and the other place. We can do more in that respect. I regret the Government's somewhat tepid response.
The idea of a voluntary sector law commission is worth pursuing. Again, the Government were not very responsive. I should like to know whether the Charity Commission and the Law Commission were consulted before the Government, as it were, said, "We are not interested in this idea".
In conclusion, the Government have increased the tax burden on charities over the years, particularly through VAT. Whereas I do not believe that any party can make promises about what might happen when there is a change of government, what we need is a government who will have a greater level of commitment to the voluntary sector than we have seen from the Conservatives over recent years. I sincerely hope that after the next election there will be a change of government and that the voluntary sector will have the support from the centre which it deserves.
§ 8.17 p.m.
§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of National Heritage (Lord Inglewood)
My Lords, I know that we are all most grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Dahrendorf, for initiating this debate which is so important, focusing as it does on the voluntary and charitable sectors which play such a significant part in contemporary Britain. A number of those sectors have been described in interesting detail. His opening remarks, which got the debate off to such a good start, come with the authority and expertise that one would expect of the chairman of the Council for Charitable Support.
I should like also to join others who have complimented my noble friend Lady Byford on making such a worthwhile contribution to the debate in her maiden speech. We all know that she has considerable experience in this area, not just in Leicestershire but with the Womens' Royal Voluntary Services. She has drawn on that experience to good effect. I, and I am sure all your Lordships, look forward to many further contributions from her on future occasions.
Quite rightly, all the speakers have highlighted the important contribution which voluntary organisations and volunteers make to individuals' well being and to the wider health of society as a whole. Effective voluntary organisations channel the energies of individuals to help themselves and others imaginatively to meet people's need to contribute to society. They encourage individual and community responsibility, as the noble Lord, Lord Borrie, pointed out, thus building stronger communities and a stronger society, as the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Newcastle showed us with some of his examples from Northumbria. Moreover, the organisations can engage the skills and 339 enthusiasm of our citizens in an age of greater leisure and earlier retirement, and enable people to put something back into society.
We believe firmly in the value of voluntary organisations, and have a set of policies to support and encourage effective and accountable activity by them. The transfer to the DNH of responsibility for volunteering, voluntary organisations and community development, together with the excellent civil servants to whom the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, referred, fits well with the department's other responsibilities for the arts, sports, museums, libraries and the built heritage, all of which aim to enrich people's lives and make a difference in communities.
The Secretary of State takes a close interest in such matters and herself chairs the Ministerial Group on Volunteering and the Voluntary Sector to which Ministers from all Whitehall departments are invited. Many attend but sometimes senior officials attend when Ministers cannot. That group agreed the response to the Deakin Commission, Raising the Voltage, to which reference has been made. The group encourages constructive working relationships between government departments and voluntary organisations. We aim to bring forward programmes in the department to support volunteering and community development and to support the infrastructure of the voluntary sector.
I was most intrigued to learn from my noble kinsman Lord Longford, himself a notable supporter of voluntary work who has never been afraid to support causes that he believes are right even if they do not command popular support, that he spoke in a similar debate in 1949, nearly 50 years ago, and as Minister, standing where I do now and before I was born, quoted Herbert Morrison, who said:Voluntary action is the lifeblood of democracy. Without voluntary action democracy loses its soul".I do not imagine that I would agree with everything that Herbert Morrison said or did but I have no problem concurring with that sentiment.
That point was made in a different but perhaps more personal way by the noble Lord, Lord Dahrendorf, describing how he looked at our country with the eyes of an outsider, but with eyes of someone who wanted to join us. My noble kinsman Lord Longford also mentioned three particular charities with which he is involved; the Matthew Trust, the New Bridge Trust and the New Horizon Youth Centre. I do not know of them personally but I have no doubt that they are examples of the kind of organisation which we hope to see thrive in their respective activities.
There has been a certain amount of debate about money. In 1994-95 total central government funding for voluntary organisations, for a huge variety of purposes amounted to £3.4 billion and charities also received tax relief to the total of £1.7 billion. It is the case that if the rate of income tax is reduced that may have a direct consequence on reducing the amount of income which charities receive. However, one must also look at the effect of reducing the income tax rate on stimulating a further generation of wealth, which in turn helps towards paying for the charities.
340 The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, emphasised the importance of a sound economic foundation for voluntary organisations, without which they cannot deliver their services. It is worth noting that of the £595 million of grants from central government paid directly to voluntary organisations in 1994-95, 28 per cent. was for core funding and a further 4 per cent. was for capital expenditure. It is right and important that government departments secure value for the money that they make available to voluntary organisations. But while that may look like a fee for services, those services cannot be delivered unless the funding allows them to be soundly based financially and to pay for their proper overheads.
Reference has been made to the National Lottery. Its introduction has given charities and voluntary organisations an unprecedented source of new funding for projects and initiatives across a wide range of activities. The lottery has been successful in generating sufficient new money to make a positive difference to the work of organisations such as the Citizens Advice Bureaux, providing real help and advice for people in need. Your Lordships will remember that this House debated the National Lottery one week ago.
National Lottery funds have been awarded to more than 10,000 organisations, most of which have been either charities or voluntary organisations. Of the £2.7 billion available, more than £2.4 billion has been awarded to good causes. The National Lottery Charities Board, whose work was valued highly by the Deakin Commission, has made more than 4,000 of these awards, many of which have gone to smaller charities and voluntary organisations.
I welcome the launch earlier today by the National Lottery Charities Board of its fourth grants round. The board's theme for this round is to increase opportunities for people and extend choices by promoting learning throughout life. The board has stated that it will especially welcome bids from groups which encourage people, particularly the young, to volunteer. It will also fund projects extending learning opportunities to disadvantaged groups and projects which promote self-help, community regeneration and enterprise through learning opportunities.
The National Lotteries Charity Board also aims to fund development and support services for voluntary organisations in order to make voluntary and community groups more efficient and effective. In announcing the board's latest grant fund the board's chairman, David Sieff, said that in supporting projects which increase opportunities and which help voluntary and community groups achieve more, the board hope that its grant will have a significant impact on disadvantaged communities. The Secretary of State and I wholeheartedly support the board's clear intention to help the voluntary sector both through helping the sector itself to develop and through improving people's opportunity to be involved in the sector through volunteering.
Throughout the debate, reference has been made to the report of the commission on the future of the voluntary sector in England, published by the National 341 Council for Voluntary Organisations and chaired by Professor Nicholas Deakin. Its report, published last July, was a thoughtful, considered document which made a number of recommendations to government and others with an interest in voluntary organisations. The Government were pleased to publish a detailed response, Raising the Voltage, on 12th November. I wish to point out in particular our response to recommendations 28 and 29 of the Deakin Report which referred to the relationship between the voluntary organisations and local government. That important point was raised by the noble Lord, Lord Borrie. I refer to the issue touched on by a number of speakers; the possibility of some particular parliamentary committee looking into the sector. It is usual for such select committees to be set up along departmental lines. That must, in the first instance, be a matter for Parliament and in the other place for the National Heritage Select Committee. There is much in the report that the Department of National Heritage and the Government generally are already doing. For example, the commission urged the DNH to "raise the voltage" on voluntary sector interests within government at all levels. We have already started to do this by discussing the report of the Deakin Commission at the Ministerial Group on Volunteering and the Voluntary Sector. One of the first things that we have decided to do is to revise and update the Think Voluntary leaflet, first issued by the Home Office Voluntary Services Unit in 1993. It is intended to raise awareness of voluntary sector issues within other Government departments.
The noble Lord, Lord Dahrendorf, recognised the importance of trying to ensure the best practicable working relationships between the Government, be it national or central and voluntary organisations. Much can be achieved by representatives of both sides discussing relevant issues and writing down some principles of good practice. We intend to undertake this work in partnership with representatives of voluntary organisations and I believe that useful progress will be made. However, the Government agree with the noble Lord, Lord Dahrendorf, and disagree with the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, that the term "concordat", proposed by the Deakin Commission, implies too rigid a framework, not least because by definition the voluntary sector is always in a state of some flux and does not lend itself to defined modes of representation.
As has been mentioned, the Deakin Commission recommended that the definition of charities should be reformed, with a single definition based on a new concept of public benefit rather than the existing definitions which go back 400 years. It did not suggest a specific new formulation but recommended extensive public debate.
In exercising its responsibilities, the Charity Commission has begun to review more actively whether bodies currently on the register actually meet the requirements of charitable law. In the light of the monitoring requirements of the Charities Act 1993, the Charity Commission will next year introduce an IT-based register, which will enable a more systematic and thorough review of the register. This work is immensely significant. It will be the first complete 342 review of the register. It is an excellent opportunity for the Charity Commission to use all its expertise to consider the scope of charity in the light of today's society and expectations.
The Charity Commission is committed to stimulating public discussion on this issue. It knows that its powers to change things are limited and it will work within those powers. But once this systematic analysis is complete, we will all have an opportunity to consider whether further changes are necessary. Of course, it is not a one-way process and the Charity Commission will also be looking at purposes that are currently not charitable, where your Lordships, I or the wider public might think they should be. I look forward to seeing the results of this work as it emerges. Those in the charitable sector and outside will have every opportunity to contribute.
We recognise, too, that voluntary organisations are by definition independent. That must of course mean that they are free to conduct their affairs as they see fit, subject to the rule of law. While the Government rightly insist that funding given for a specific purpose is used for that purpose, they also recognise the important role of voluntary organisations in advocacy for the interests that they represent.
But there is a difference between charitable status and the ability to campaign widely—perhaps indiscriminately—however worthy the cause they may be advocating. The Charity Commission has issued helpful guidelines which clarify how far a charity may become involved in political campaigning.
The report by the commission on the future of the voluntary sector touched only on volunteering. However, a number of speakers this evening—not least of all the noble Lord, Lord Dubs—emphasised its importance. Volunteering can be of immense value both to the volunteers themselves and the communities to which they contribute. Volunteers often discover that they have a great deal to offer to those communities, and this can foster a real sense of identity and community pride.
The value of volunteering has been promoted since 1994 through the Government's Make a Difference initiative which brings together the voluntary organisations, the public sector and the business world. As part of that initiative the Secretary of State recently launched grants programmes worth £3 million to ensure that it is straightforward for everyone to get involved. The grants will widen and strengthen the volunteer bureau network so that there will be a centre in every locality ready to match potential volunteers with worthwhile volunteering opportunities.
The Government are particularly keen to make opportunities available to the young and have pledged that by the end of 1997 every young person who wants to will have the opportunity to volunteer. A comprehensive action plan will be announced which will make that pledge a reality and enable our young people to make a positive contribution to their communities.
343 As we have seen, volunteering has a strong tradition in our country. Many of those involved in community activity do not see themselves as volunteers. For example, do parents involved with parent/toddler groups, those who coach in sports activities—did my noble friend Lady Byford see herself self-consciously as a volunteer when she took up tennis coaching?—or those who organise tenants' associations see themselves as volunteers? I doubt it. But their contribution to the quality of life of communities through their activities is considerable and beneficial.
The Department of National Heritage invests well over £1 million each year in organisations which promote, support and develop work in communities. I refer of course to organisations such as the Community Development Foundation, the Standing Conference on Community Development and Community Matters. In addition, grants made by bodies such as the Sports and Arts Councils also significantly contribute to improving the quality of life.
The Secretary of State for National Heritage has made a firm commitment to help communities help themselves. She has launched two new programmes worth a total of half a million pounds to benefit small groups by helping them to co-operate and learn from each other. These will be the sort of groups I have just mentioned—volunteer-run, generally with no paid staff and having a turnover of less than £10,000 a year. Such groups often feel isolated—I am sure that your Lordships know that—and they have a need for information or practical help of some sort. They do not always have access to appropriate training.
This may contrast with other groups that may already have that particular information and expertise. Grants will be made available to enable 1,400 visits between groups so that they can swap information, skills and ideas—helping them help themselves, and helping them to form the basis of a relationship which we hope will last well beyond the period of grant. The other programme will provide grants to larger organisations which can deliver training or target information to small groups.
A consultative conference will be held in London in December. This will enable people active in local groups, as well as representatives from larger organisations, local and national government, to consider how government and others can best support community development.
I was pleased to see that the Deakin Commission addressed a number of its recommendations to the corporate sector. I would like to emphasise the importance of private sector involvement in volunteering and the work of voluntary organisations. Many businesses and employers already give significant support to voluntary organisations and volunteering. Our aim is to encourage that involvement further. In this case our role is to provide a suitable framework for partnership and to encourage them where possible and appropriate. For example, the department provides financial support to Business in the 344 Community, which plays an important role in promoting the value of business involvement and in helping business leaders to plan practical action.
Business in the Community has also helped employers to see the advantage to themselves of development of staff skills and morale through individual and team involvement in the community, a point that was also clearly made in the Deakin Commission report. Links between companies and voluntary organisations cannot be emphasised too much. It benefits both parties.
As I draw to my conclusion, I would once again like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Dahrendorf, for initiating a debate on such an important topic I thank all your Lordships who have spoken during the debate and who have contributed to a very worthwhile discussion.
Although we have now published the government's response to the Deakin Commission report, this is really the beginning and not the end of the process. There is much work to be done in continuing to "raise the voltage" on these issues, in publicly clarifying the principle that should underpin government relationships with voluntary organisations, in developing best practice in this area and in considering, when they are available, the findings of the Charity Commission's systematic review of the register. While that is continuing we shall continue to promote volunteering through the Make a Difference initiative, to encourage private sector involvement in voluntary activity and to make grants to a huge variety of voluntary organisations whose work contributes to the achievements of government and society's objectives.
I recall my noble kinsman's comments about his noble friend—my noble friend Lord Addison's grandfather. I must keep in mind the advice he received. I shall not go on longer, save to say on behalf of the Government that we believe that voluntary and charitable activities make an incalculable and unique contribution to individual and social well being. The Government are committed to supporting and encouraging them. We can and shall do so.
§ 8.37 p.m.
§ Lord Dahrendorf
My Lords, it remains for me to thank all those who have spoken in and contributed to what was a thoughtful debate. It has been one which augers well for the future of the voluntary sector. I should like to offer a special word of gratitude to the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, whose combination of personal experience and thoughtfulness was quite remarkable and perhaps characteristic of the best in this debate.
It is not for me, in this final minute or two, to go over the ground again. I am taking away three particular strands of general argument. One is that much of what happens in the voluntary sector is quite closely related to what happens in local communities. I am grateful that the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, mentioned the non-governmental organisations for voluntary activities in the international field. They, among several other important organisations, illustrate what can be done by voluntary activity.
345 The second important strand I noted is the one which the right reverend Prelate put so well when he talked about keeping society together. That will have to start where people form communities on the ground. It is not something which can be done by legislation or by government as such.
The third strand is the values which represent the work in the voluntary sector—values of service, values of civic responsibilities, values of altruism. However, make no mistake, those who work in the voluntary sector derive great satisfaction from so doing. Those in the voluntary sector are sometimes liable to complain that they do not receive enough recognition. I often feel that this is an area of activity and life where satisfaction lies in the activity itself. I know that many who are active in this world feel that way. Recognition does not need to be recognition by government.
What we have heard will give us many opportunities further to advance the case of the voluntary sector. It is crucial. When the noble Earl, Lord Longford, spoke about discussions nearly 50 years ago, I thought he was going to refer to Lord Beveridge, who, after his other reports and after inventing the welfare state, turned his attention very much to the voluntary sector and the need for the voluntary sector. That is as true today as it was then.
We need a thriving economy. We need a public sector which, as the noble Viscount, Lord Addison, said, does things which are properly within the realms of state activity. But, in the end, what keeps our society together is the activity of many millions of individuals which is based on their own motives, interests and sets of objectives, and the many little and larger associations formed around that. My Lords, I beg leave to withdraw the Motion.
Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.
§ 8.40 p.m.
§ Lord Graham of Edmonton
My Lords, perhaps the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, would allow me to intervene briefly because there is an inadvertent error to the list of speakers. That shows that my noble friend Lord Carter is to wind up for the Labour Benches in the following debate. Your Lordships will see that my noble friend Lady Hayman is not my noble friend Lord Carter and, equally, that my noble friend Lord Carter is not my noble friend Lady Hayman. The error is entirely mine and I should like to apologise to the House for it.