4 Mar 2009 : Column 725

House of Lords

Wednesday, 4 March 2009.

3 pm

Prayers—read earlier at the Judicial Sitting by the Lord Bishop of Norwich.

Equality: Volunteers

Question

Asked By Baroness Afshar

Baroness Thornton: My Lords, the Government recognise the contribution to our society of volunteering. We are working with volunteer organisations to ensure that every volunteer is properly treated and has a positive experience. However, the diverse nature of volunteering and the varied relationships between volunteers and the organisations that engage them mean that equality legislation does not apply to volunteers in the same way as it does to employees. However, volunteers are currently protected from discrimination in so far as the organisation is providing goods, facilities and services to the public. These provisions will be retained in the equality Bill and extended to cover age.

Baroness Afshar: My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for that very helpful Answer. However, sometimes the good name of volunteers is ruined by unfair dismissals or accusations. In the light of the very important contribution that they make, would it be possible to allow them access to an ombudsman so that they have a route to clear their name?

Baroness Thornton: My Lords, the noble Baroness raises an interesting point. I know that this Question has been precipitated by the fact that the citizens advice bureau in York, where she is from, has experienced some serious issues concerning the way in which volunteers have been managed over the past year. I am happy to say that they have been resolved through an independent review by John Stoker. I can appreciate that those volunteers might wish to draw some broader lessons from their experiences about where volunteers should seek support and advice when they need it. We are not convinced that seeking employment rights under equality legislation is the solution, although exploring the possibility of an ombudsman may be one.

Baroness Wilkins: My Lords, in the light of the York CAB experience, what statutory rights might the Government think appropriate for such workers to be able to clear their name?

Baroness Thornton: My Lords, I should declare an interest. I have huge affection and respect for the work undertaken by the CAB service. Indeed, I was a CAB

4 Mar 2009 : Column 726

manager 30 years ago and have been a member of two CAB management committees. The important point here is that the York CAB resolved the issue through an independent review by John Stoker. I do not wish to discuss the details of the case but it is important to learn the lessons from that review and ensure that those lessons are taken on board by other charities and organisations with volunteers. I assure the noble Baroness that the Government will examine the issues that the review raised and we will certainly take action where appropriate.

Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts: My Lords, I declare an interest as president of the NCVO. If the Minister is inclined to consider further regulation of charities, will she bear in mind that they are currently under considerable stress, financial and otherwise, given the economic circumstances, and be careful about the additional burdens that she puts on a sector that carries out such valuable work for our society?

Baroness Thornton: My Lords, this Government have done a great deal to support the third sector and charities. We have, through the Charities Act, for example, modernised the legislation as it applies to charities, and we have supported volunteering organisations to ensure that volunteers get a better deal. We know that in the economic downturn charities such as Crisis are seeing an increase in the number of people coming forward to volunteer, and we wish to support them in providing support. This Government have put an enormous amount of resource into supporting the third sector because we regard it as a very important part of our civil society.

Baroness Thomas of Walliswood: My Lords, I recognise the great service done to the nation by volunteers and the useful route that volunteering presents to people who have been out of work or unable to work for some years and want to get back into the labour market. If I understood the Minister correctly, she seems not to welcome the idea of including protection for volunteers in the equality Bill. Does she have any other legislative route to improve the situation for volunteers?

Baroness Thornton: My Lords, volunteers are already covered by the current prohibition of discrimination in the provision of facilities, in the same way as anyone else, in existing anti-discrimination legislation, which will be retained within the equality Bill. Indeed, it will be extended to cover age. The equality Bill will include powers to ban and justify discrimination, for example, against older people in the provision of goods, facilities and services. We are currently taking forward those developments but we are not considering legislation applying particularly to volunteers. The nature of volunteering is something that evolves through support and encouragement by the organisations that deal with volunteering.

Baroness McIntosh of Hudnall: My Lords, I am sure that my noble friend would agree that the business of volunteering, although it may occasionally throw up difficulties, is on the whole good not only for the

4 Mar 2009 : Column 727

organisations that have volunteers but the volunteers themselves? What are the Government doing to encourage more young people into volunteering?

Baroness Thornton: My Lords, we have been keen to promote volunteering across the population but particularly through the creation of V, which was launched in 2005 in the year of the volunteer. It is the new national youth volunteering programme; a charity that encourages 16 to 25 year-olds to volunteer. For example, the British Red Cross, through V, offers opportunities for volunteering. In April, it will be offering full-time placements for those who want to commit themselves to 30 hours a week over 13 weeks. V also points to its success in getting young people who are not in employment, education and training back into employment through their volunteering work.

Baroness Rawlings: My Lords, as a former president of the National Council for Voluntary Organisations, I ask the Minister to answer the question posed by my noble friend Lord Hodgson. Will she explain the difference between being an employed person and a volunteer?

Baroness Thornton: My Lords, that is a very good question. Noble Lords who are involved in the law will know that being a volunteer is quite different from being an employed person. We think that we have drawn the line of protection in the right place. There would be significant difficulties in extending to volunteers the protection from discrimination that currently applies in employment. That is because of the diverse nature of volunteering and the relationship between volunteers and the organisations that engage them. By its nature, there is not a contract that has the obligations that exist between employer and employee.

Schools: Music

Question

3.08 pm

Asked By Baroness McIntosh of Hudnall

To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they will continue to support and extend the provision of music education in schools.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Children, Schools and Families (Baroness Morgan of Drefelin): My Lords, music is not only an enjoyable and beneficial activity in its own right, it offers enormous benefits right across a child’s education. We believe that all children should have the opportunity to learn to play an instrument while at primary school, and in November 2007 we announced £332 million investment in music education, to include singing, new instruments, performance and access to free music tuition for primary pupils to 2011.

Baroness McIntosh of Hudnall: My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that extremely encouraging reply, but she will be aware that a recent Ofsted report, Making More of Music, indicates that the Government’s

4 Mar 2009 : Column 728

very commendable investment is not yet paying off as consistently as it should. Will she ensure that an even stronger message goes out from her department to all schools, emphasising the benefits of music education not only to individual students but to the whole school community? Will she perhaps place particular stress on singing, which, as she and I both know, is very enjoyable and relatively cheap to deliver?

Baroness Morgan of Drefelin: My Lords, I thank my noble friend for her question and for giving me the opportunity to send a strong message to all those concerned about music education. We are extremely committed to making music education a reality for all children, particularly in primary schools, where we are investing significantly in the “Sing Up” campaign. We hope that, by 2011, all schools will be singing schools.

Baroness Walmsley: My Lords, will the Minister get the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority to produce clear guidelines about musical progression? Non-specialist teachers, in particular, find it difficult to plan and assess musical progression. Secondly, will the Minister show leadership for the “Sing Up” campaign by returning to the Parliament Choir for its performance of “Messiah” in York Minster in November?

Baroness Morgan of Drefelin: My Lords, the temptation to sing a song for this great House is almost getting the better of me. I love the Parliament Choir. When I came into the House, one of the most welcoming experiences was to be a member of the choir. I take the noble Baroness’s point about progression in music very seriously. We are not expecting all primary school teachers, for example, to become music specialists, but we are putting in place the professional development that teachers need to be confident leaders of singing. We are also training young people. I will take the noble Baroness’s concerns back to the department.

Baroness Verma: My Lords, can the Minister say how much of the £349 million Music Standards Fund allocated to local authorities for key stage 2 pupils has been spent and how the Government have monitored local authority outcomes?

Baroness Morgan of Drefelin: My Lords, I can say, for example, that we made a commitment to invest £10 million capital in the musical instrument fund. Those resources have been used to secure 94,000 new instruments, which come to £8.25 million for 2008-09. I think that is what the noble Baroness is driving at. If I have not picked up the right numbers, I shall write to her as quickly as I can.

Lord Low of Dalston: My Lords, the Minister will be aware of the inspiring example of the national youth orchestra of Venezuela. What can the Government do to promote in this country the Venezuelan initiative known as “El sistema”, which has given rise to the national youth orchestra and has, in the past 30 years, taken 250,000 people off the streets, off drugs and out of prison, put a musical instrument in their hands and

4 Mar 2009 : Column 729

given an opportunity for the transformative power of music to point the way for the dispossessed in society to have a better life?

Baroness Morgan of Drefelin: My Lords, we have recently launched the “In Harmony” pilots, which are doing what the noble Lord suggests. They are taking place in particularly deprived communities in this country. There are three pilots, and we are investing £300,000 a year in developing the concept of using the orchestra environment as a way of working with children, particularly young children. As the noble Lord said, putting an instrument in the hands of four year-olds in—I am sorry; I will write to the noble Lord with the location of the pilots—and working with the whole community through the unifying force of music makes an impact on the lives of deprived children.

Lord Howarth of Newport: My Lords, does my noble friend agree that musical education can be particularly beneficial for young people, often boys, who have not otherwise been motivated or successful at school, by giving them a different chance to succeed, developing concentration, confidence, empathy and social skills for the benefit not only of the individual but of the whole school?

Baroness Morgan of Drefelin: My Lords, I agree. That is why we are focusing on primary schools and why we have made a commitment to give all children at key stage 2 one year of free instrument tuition. Our aspiration is that at least half those children will carry on with that tuition, and that by 2011 we will see 2 million learners taking instrumental lessons.

Lord Skelmersdale: My Lords, for a child to progress as a musician, they need a specialist teacher. How many local authorities do not have peripatetic music teachers?

Baroness Morgan of Drefelin: My Lords, I cannot tell the noble Lord that, but I will check. The Institute of Education recently undertook a survey of local authority music services, and we now know that about 50 per cent of children at key stage 3 are accessing music services. We expect that that will rise to 80 per cent by 2011. That is up from 13 per cent in 2005, so we are going in the right direction. I will check the figure that the noble Lord has asked for and will write to him.

Lord Filkin: My Lords—

Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords—

The Minister of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change & Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Lord Hunt of Kings Heath): My Lords, shall we hear from my noble friend first?

Lord Filkin: My Lords, I am grateful for my noble friend’s lack of bias, as ever.



4 Mar 2009 : Column 730

Does the Minister agree that it is essential that the good progress that has been made in getting primary school children to learn to sing in schools and the work of the cathedral music outreach programme, which is supported by the Government, must be strongly supported into future years?

Baroness Morgan of Drefelin: My Lords, this gives me the opportunity to stress that we want to ensure that all young people have the opportunity to enjoy a lifetime of singing, but we also want to promote and support the most talented musicians in our schools. We must have a strategy that will support children who want to attend a cathedral school and to have a career in music as well as all of us who want to enjoy it in our everyday life.

St Helena Airport

Question

3.17 pm

Asked By Lord Hoyle

Lord Tunnicliffe: My Lords, we announced on 8 December 2008 that there will be a pause in negotiations over the St Helena airport contract. We are reviewing whether it is right to proceed with this project in the present difficult economic climate and we will announce the outcome of our considerations just as soon as we can.

Lord Hoyle: My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that reply, but is he aware that the whole future of the island depends on the award of the contract for the airport? We have had an early decision that the contractor will withdraw, which means that hotel developments and St Helena becoming a leisure centre will not come to fruition. The island will still be dependent on the Government, so this is penny wise and pound foolish. Can my noble friend give me a little more definite information on when this will proceed? If it is not going to proceed, what plans do the Government have for the island?

Lord Tunnicliffe: My Lords, I cannot add very much detail to my response. Her Majesty’s Government have had discussions with interested parties on this issue. We do not believe that the situation is black and white. Prior to and during the tender process, officials from the department undertook detailed consultations with interested parties to accommodate their concerns. More recently, my honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for International Development, Mike Foster, met Impregilo, the bidding company, to explain the Government’s current position. He has also met the Governor of St Helena to explain where matters stand and to hear his views. The bidding company has decided to extend its bid until the end of April.



4 Mar 2009 : Column 731

Lord Shutt of Greetland: My Lords, the Minister will be aware that I visited St Helena a couple of weeks ago. It took two weeks to be there for 56 hours. Does he agree that, in the DfID annual report, the overall budget for overseas development is £5 billion and that the year-on-year cost of the airport for St Helena is likely to be less than 1 per cent of that? Does he agree further that, although the developed world has responsibilities for international development, the United Kingdom has a specific duty to those dependent overseas territories such as St Helena?

Lord Tunnicliffe: My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord on his commitment in getting to St Helena for 56 hours. I am briefed that it was a pleasant experience. It is a wonderful island. I also congratulate him on his assiduous study of the DfID annual report—if only more would do that. I cannot entirely agree with his conclusion that the amount would be less than 1 per cent, but it is in the order of magnitude of 1 to 2 per cent. It is a little more than people realise. It is a significant sum of money and one has to take account of that in these difficult times. We accept that we have a specific responsibility for the three territories, to look after them and to sustain communications with them, but I can go no further on any assurances on this project.

Lord Waddington: My Lords, the noble Lord will forgive me for mentioning that, in 2000, I asked a series of questions pointing to the urgent need for the building of an airport on St Helena. I made a number of speeches to the same effect. Many years have passed since then, during which St Helena has not prospered and the population has fallen dramatically. I do not want to make a party-political point, but I urge the Minister to do his level best to get things cracking, because time is not on the side of St Helena. Something has to be done and done quickly.

Lord Tunnicliffe: My Lords, I can assure the House that I shall do all that I can to urge the Secretary of State to make an early decision, if only out of the sheer terror of returning here to give this sort of answer.

Lord Trefgarne: My Lords, will the noble Lord say what nature of airport is intended for St Helena? Will it take the largest aircraft or will it just be for regional flights?

Lord Tunnicliffe: My Lords, my understanding is that in the outline project the runway was to be 2,200 metres. As an ex-aeroplane driver, I can say that that means that you can cater for very large aeroplanes, but to get the sort of range that you need for St Helena, which, as has been illustrated, is in the middle of nowhere, you would be talking about relatively modest 737-type aeroplanes, producing the average journey to, say, South Africa.


Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page