Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

The Viscount of Oxfuird: My Lords, I believe that all noble Lords who referred to that did so in terms of the Motion that we are debating—that is, in the context of service to the nation. National service was where it started; service to the nation is where it will go.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I have no reason to disagree with the noble Viscount on that point. It was the suggestion of military service that I found particularly objectionable. If the noble Viscount did not make that suggestion, I apologise to him profoundly.

Baroness Flather: My Lords, perhaps I may clarify what I said. I gave an example of another European partner country, Austria, and referred to what is happening there. I asked the Minister to look into the exact details. People are required to do eight months of military service or 12 months of civilian service. I did not say that we should adopt that lock, stock and barrel; I said that we should look at it because it is a good example.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I respect the noble Baroness profoundly. I heard what she said, but

3 May 1995 : Column 1446

when she makes such a suggestion, I believe that she must be doing so with some measure of approval for it. Again, I may be wrong.

The fundamental point about voluntary service of all kinds is not only the extent to which we need it, but that we should not couple it with an abdication of public responsibility. There are so many things in this world which we have to do together and which we have to do through the medium of the state. I do not think that we can ever escape that. We shall all become involved with illness. We are all going to grow old—

Viscount Whitelaw: We are all growing old.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: At different rates. The noble Viscount is growing old more slowly and more elegantly than most other people of his age.

Above all, we must not regard voluntary organisations as a cheap option. We must not be tempted into moving from the very admirable support which parents can provide in terms of sports facilities in schools, for example, to what has been happening in the past year with parents and governors having to raise money for necessary teachers and text books. That is an example of an extension of voluntary effort which we, collectively, cannot accept.

If people criticise us for looking more at rights than at responsibilities, I must remind them that it was the previous Conservative Prime Minister who said:

    "There is no such thing as Society".

Those of us who believe strongly in voluntary organisations, in conjunction with collective efforts to improve and extend the rights of individuals, do so on the basis that the society in which we live is a society supported by voluntary organisations and that it must be a fair society. That is the basis on which a Labour Government were elected in 1945. That is the basis on which we on these Benches continue our faith in "society" to this day.

8.3 p.m.

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, we are indebted to my noble friend for initiating this important debate. In matters of voluntary commitment there can be no finer example than that of my noble friend Lord Whitelaw, who has given so much time and so much energy to public service. We are indeed grateful to him for that.

This is a timely occasion to acknowledge the debt that we owe to that selfless band of men and women whose dedication and concern for others do so much to enrich the quality of all our lives. This has been an excellent and heartwarming debate, giving full recognition to volunteers and volunteering and expressing a desire that long may they continue and flourish. As always, time will be the enemy and it will be impossible to do justice to the debate or even to recognise adequately all that the voluntary sector and volunteers are doing.

However, I would like to add my tribute in support of those who have spoken in this debate about the invaluable and selfless service performed during the war by so many hundreds of thousands of men and women, working with such organisations as the Women's Royal Voluntary Service (or the WVS as it was then), St. John Ambulance,

3 May 1995 : Column 1447

which was mentioned by my noble friend Lord Elton, and the YMCA, which was mentioned by my noble friend Lord Liverpool. These and many other voluntary organisations played such an important role in maintaining morale and inspiring community spirit.

We rightly look at the wartime period as one where the need to pull together for a common cause heightened everyone's sense of service. But we have a long and proud tradition of voluntary work both at home and abroad which predates the war and continues to flourish today. I might mention, for example, the British Red Cross Society, celebrating its 125th anniversary this year, or the Soldiers', Sailors' and Airmen's Families Association, now 110 years old.

Those organisations remain relevant and active today, side by side with newer bodies such as Help the Aged and ChildLine, which have developed in the last 50 years. One of the great strengths of voluntary organisations is that they spring up, grow and adapt according to the needs of the time. Voluntary organisations and volunteers have provided much of the impetus for modern movements, perhaps most notably protection of our environment. We are also blessed with more voluntary organisations today than ever before. There are about 170,000 registered charities and perhaps another 500,000 voluntary groups covering all manner of subjects.

There is also the work that is done for and in the community by our schools, involving hundreds of thousands of young people. My noble friend Lady Young spoke eloquently about that. Many young people are involved in the Guides, Scouts, Cubs and Brownies, to which groups my noble friend Lady Carnegy referred.

Individual volunteering is buoyant too: a growth of around 15 per cent. between 1981 and 1991. If translated into actual numbers, this would equal in total around 17 million volunteers. So, so much for the myth and the view expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Elvel, that the hallmark of the 1980s was "Everyone for himself".

Voluntary activity and voluntary giving have grown and continue to do so. Of course, numbers alone cannot reflect the huge variety of volunteering which takes place. Some people volunteer in a very structured way through a large organisation. Others help those around them and often do not classify it as volunteering; for example, helping a neighbour or visiting the sick. They are doing what comes naturally—and we must take care not to inhibit such spontaneity.

This Government recognise the great value and diversity of voluntary organisations. Our policies towards them are based on two key principles: first, to provide an enabling climate in which they can continue to flourish; and, secondly, to preserve their freedom so that their inherent qualities of flexibility, spontaneity and innovation are not lost. As my right honourable friend the Prime Minister put it last summer:

    "In all our policies, we must leave space for communities and voluntary organisations. We must not let big government undermine the vitality of neighbourhood or family—stronger, more adaptable organisms than any structure the State may try to put in their place".

Those are the Government principles, but how are we putting them into practice? First, by funding the voluntary sector—in 1992-93, direct funding of voluntary organisations totalled over £½ billion (£563 million to be

3 May 1995 : Column 1448

exact), an 11 per cent. increase in real terms over the previous year. Once funding for housing associations is included, that increases to nearly £4 billion. Last year the Government contributed almost £160 million to non-governmental organisations working on overseas development projects and in emergency situations. Our overall support for their much valued work has more than doubled in the past four years.

Furthermore, recent research by the Rowntree Foundation shows an increase of public sector funding of the voluntary sector in 1993-94 of 26 per cent. in real terms. In addition, tax relief for charities in 1993-94 totalled £1.5 billion, contrary to what was said in an unusually gloomy presentation by the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh. That tax relief is made up of direct tax relief, non-domestic tax relief and in some cases VAT relief. Charitable giving has been made easier and more tax efficient.

Much has been said about core funding, a point that has been well taken. It was mentioned first by the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, and then by my noble friend Lady Young. We do not reject the importance of core funding and the use of core funding on voluntary organisations where that can be shown to be the most effective way of supporting their work. We support also the trend towards more targeted funding through project grants and contracts for specific pieces of work. I noted what my noble friend Lord Liverpool said, but there are many organisations that are happy to do specific work which is funded directly by the Government.

We are not alone however in funding voluntary organisations. Local authorities, grant-making trusts and businesses also do much to help. I wish to pay a tribute and place on record that much of the business and commercial sector is playing a real part in funding voluntary organisations. We do them an injustice if we are critical of what I believe is a growing interest in the voluntary sector.

We recognise that, whoever is providing the money, it is important that voluntary organisations are properly involved in the funding process and have clear information on the terms of the support. In partnership with those other funding bodies we have produced new draft Guidelines for Funders of Voluntary Organisations. Those documents codify the existing good practice which should be followed by those who fund voluntary groups and offer the chance to improve overall standards.

The Government have also encouraged new methods of funding to maximise the value obtained from any grant or contract. One example is the single regeneration budget which combines 20 previously separate grant schemes into a single fund for regeneration. The SRB offers more local input into the allocation of money; encourages the public, private and voluntary sectors to pool their talents; challenges bidders to devise innovative projects; and levers in significant additional money. In the first round £4 was raised for every £1 of SRB funding. Voluntary organisations were involved in nearly half the successful first round applications and, as we embark upon the second round, I look forward to even greater success on their part.

3 May 1995 : Column 1449

I should mention also, as some noble Lords have, the National Lottery. I know that many voluntary organisations have concerns about the impact of this major new enterprise. I can assure your Lordships that the Government are committed to monitoring the levels of charitable giving following its introduction, and I am confident that charities will ultimately benefit greatly from the lottery.

I am aware that studies have suggested that the lottery may lead to a reduction in individual giving, but it is far too early, as my noble friend Lady Young said, to say whether that will be so and, more importantly, what effect the lottery will have on charities' total income, of which individual giving is just one element. Meaningful comparisons will need to consider a 12-month period. It is too simple merely to assume that fluctuations in charitable giving since November 1994, whether up or down, are due entirely to the lottery. Many other factors could be at work. We have made a commitment also to monitor the level of charitable income following the introduction of the lottery. The need to analyse charities' accounts and to consider a 12-month period means that the findings will not be available for some time. I can give the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, an assurance that I have not merely met the charitable organisations that he mentioned; I shall be meeting the NCVO next week.

The National Lottery Charities Board is now set to become a very big funder indeed. On present forecasts up to £280 million a year will be available to be distributed by the board, and I am pleased to say that the board was able to announce yesterday the start of its first round of applications and that it hopes to make its first grants within six months. That is good progress given that the charities board alone among the lottery distributors has had to start work from scratch and has been determined to consult the voluntary sector widely before beginning to make grants. I hope that the voluntary sector realises that that is painstaking and complex work.

Deregulation is another way in which the Government are helping voluntary organisations. They can benefit as much as business from the removal of unneccesary red tape. Last year we set up a task force to pursue deregulation issues affecting the charitable sector. That reported last July. Of the 189 proposals for deregulation contained in its report, 132 have been accepted or are under review.

One example is the proposed "light touch" accounting regime which will mean that charities with low annual incomes will be required to provide less detailed information in their accounts. We are currently consulting charities and voluntary bodies about those measures and hope to bring them into force on 1st December.

We attach particular importance to the input of individual volunteers who contribute enormously to the well-being of our communities. Those volunteers serve our country at many different levels, from local groups such as Neighbourhood Watch schemes, of which there are now 130,000, as we were reminded by my noble friend Lord Dean, right through to those volunteering overseas. VSO, for example, currently has over 1,700 volunteers serving in about 50 developing countries, and many have spoken of the work of that organisation. Their skills and

3 May 1995 : Column 1450

experience make a huge difference to those countries and it is no surprise that their talents are increasingly in demand. Back at home volunteers provide invaluable support to the statutory sector, working in hospitals and as school governors, magistrates and special constables and they are the lifeblood of the vast majority of voluntary organisations.

Perhaps I may say to the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, as an aside that as a parent I was proud, and I believe it was an obligation on my part, to become involved in fundraising for the school. I wonder whether the noble Lord will do anything to prevent that healthy activity which supports young people and their work inside and outside school.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page