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Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for giving way, but before she leaves that point, I was explicit. I said clearly that I thought fundraising by parents and governors for such things as sports facilities was entirely admirable. Like her, I have been involved in it myself. What I thought was not acceptable was when we had to go to fundraising and voluntary contributions for essential parts of schooling such as paying teachers and buying schoolbooks.
Voluntary collective action strengthens local communities and institutions and our sense of obligation to one another. It strengthens the civic bondsomething we all want to see. Volunteering is a community activity and, with a developed sense of service, acts as a civilising influence on individuals and the receiving community.
Last March, my right honourable friend the Home Secretary launched a major new volunteering campaign, the Make a Difference initiative. We want to increase the number of volunteers. We want especially to involve people who have not previously been involved in the life of the community. We aim to do that by improving the information available on volunteering, by promoting good work that volunteers do and by encouraging the voluntary, public and private sectors to work together in support of voluntary activity.
People have many different motives for volunteering or choosing not to do so. Make a Difference reflects that diversity by building on the strong tradition of volunteering that we have in this country. The Make a Difference team, headed by Nicholas Ward and comprised of senior figures from the public, private and voluntary sectors, is considering a wide range of issues affecting volunteering. It will be publishing its report in the first week of June, and the Government will place a high priority on considering how the issues it raises can best be taken forward.
The noble Lord, Lord Greenhill of Harrow, asked whether there was room for improvement in the voluntary sector's involvement with the Government. As in a school report, I shall say that there is always room for improvement. As the Minister responsible, my door is open and I meet with people from the voluntary sector constantly. They are now structurally part of the Make a Difference team. There is a healthy relationship between
To help to improve the information available on volunteering, we set up two months ago the National Volunteering Helpline. That answers in part the point made by the noble Earl, Lord Cairns. This is a single nationwide number which anyone can call at the cost of a local call to find out more about volunteering opportunities in their area. The number is 0345 221133. Your Lordships may wish to make a note of it! Many people with an interest in volunteering can be discouraged by not knowing how to become involved. We hope that the helpline will provide one way of helping them over this hurdle.
There are two other elements of Make a Difference. The first is the Development Programme which has made available almost £½ million in support of 27 projects across the UK that are using innovative approaches to increase the number of volunteers. The other is the production of action plans by government departments. These have been produced under the direction of the Ministerial Group on the voluntary Sector, of which I am the chairman. The aim is to raise the profile of volunteering in Whitehall and to bring about a greater involvement of volunteers in the policies and programmes of each department and throughout the public sector.
I know that some people are calling for the introduction of national volunteering or community service schemes which are mainly aimed at young people. Recognising the many benefits that volunteering brings, I can see the attractions of such schemes. We must do all we can to spread the volunteering message and to make it easy and attractive for those who wish to do so to contribute to the community by voluntary activity. But this requires a light touch and we must be wary of anything that is over-organised or bureaucratic.
Nor should we overlook the multitude of schemes which already exist to support voluntary activity by young people such as those run by community service volunteers and the Prince's Trust volunteers. We welcome the diversity of all those schemes. While I recognise the potential benefits of a formal national volunteering scheme, we are determined not to impose new or costly bureaucratic structures. The benefits of such a programme can also be achieved through a more general development of volunteering.
As we commemorate the 50th anniversary of VE Day, I would also like to give a specific mention to the role of the armed services in supporting youth volunteering. The Ministry of Defence funds four cadet forces, all of which are community-based voluntary organisations attached to the Armed Forces and promoting the personal and social development of 13 to 20 year-olds. Between them they have some 132,000 cadets. These cadet forces provide training and teamwork skills and enable young people to acquire increased self-confidence and develop leadership skills. I welcome in particular the initiative that some local cadet forces are taking to provide opportunities for young people, often from deprived backgrounds or at risk of offending, to participate in cadet force activities. Such
I am delighted that young people today are maintaining the tradition of voluntary work. A survey in 1991 found that 55 per cent. of those aged 18 to 24 were volunteers, which is slightly higher than the national average or the population as a whole. This is not, of course, a reason to be complacent. The importance that we attach to Make a Difference is clear evidence of our commitment to increasing voluntary activity. But it does indicate that the flame of volunteering continues to burn brightly, and that bodes well for the future.
I hope that the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, will forgive me because I wish to return to the point that she raised about the status of young people with the VSO when they return from abroad. The point that she made about national vocational qualifications is well taken. I know that there is activity to ascertain whether the skills which young people acquire through volunteering can be recognised through the NVQ system.
In a moving account of the contribution made by people in the Indian sub-continent and elsewhere during the war, my noble friend Lady Flather made the telling point about the hijacking of the Union flag. All I can say is that we must not allow Fascist-type groups to bring our great flag into disrepute.
I join the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, in paying tribute to the voluntary sector generally and the NCVO in particular and the Charity CommissionRichard Fries and all his staff, who are doing a valiant job. They are becoming much more responsive to the voluntary sector. I also join the noble Lord in paying tribute to the VSU in my own department.
The point was made about training and enterprise councils and annual funding. Perhaps I may ask the noble Lord's party the following question. The funding of the training and enterprise councils is part of PES. Is it now to be Labour policy that PES will not be annual funding but public expenditure will be on a three-year rolling programme? We have a rolling programme for expenditure, but every government will have to conduct an annual review of what the particular programme will be. I am afraid that training and enterprise councils are part of that funding
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I know that we are time limited but the noble Baroness is being most helpful on this matter. Surely she understands that the TECs are moving to rolling funding under the licensing system that is being introduced as from the beginning of this year.
I congratulate my noble friend Lord Strathmore and Kinghorne on his truly maiden speech. He brought home to the House the value of voluntary service at any levelmundane or profoundand the practical way in which such work benefits both the community and the person giving his or her time.
I am not sure whether I heard the noble Lord, Lord Greenhill, correctly. I thought that he said that the VSO does not receive government funding. The VSO is a fine organisation and is greatly valued by Her Majesty's Government. In 1994-95 grant from the ODA to the VSO was £17 million. In 1995-96 the grant is likely to increase by 7 per cent. to £18.256 million. That is the largest block grant from the ODA's budget for support to British non-governmental organisations. I welcome the comments on NGO funding made by the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, in his excellent speech.
Perhaps I may be forgiven for resorting to military language when I say to my noble friend Lord Whitelaw, "We salute you". We salute you for initiating the debate. It really has been a privilege for me to reply. I reiterate the principles which guide our policies. We appreciate the enormous contribution which volunteers and voluntary organisations make and we recognise that independence is central to their strength. We want a relationship with them which acknowledges the mutual benefits that partnership and co-operation can bring. That is the way to ensure the vitality of our voluntary sector. It is the way to ensure that it can be retained for the next 50 years and beyond.
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