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Lord Hooson: The purpose of my intervention is simply to ask a question. Is it intended that the national assembly advisory committee or the Welsh Office should draw up a moral scheme for consideration by the assembly? It would be reassuring for those who are concerned about the relationship with voluntary organisations. The assembly can amend the scheme as it wishes, but it would be helpful if there were an intention to take one of those two courses.
The national assembly will have a key role in the funding and debating of priorities within the voluntary sector, both directly and indirectly. There is an opportunity for a new strategic partnership not only in the youth service, to which the noble Lord has referred, but in the whole area of social and environmental policy which has such an active voluntary sector in Wales. It is estimated that if the 23,000-plus voluntary organisations were active at the same time one in three of the population would be involved in the voluntary sector in Wales. There is a wealth of experience and good will which must be mobilised in partnership with the assembly in order to create a new kind of society in the context of which we will operate in the 21st century.
Already the voluntary sector exhibits that inclusivity and participation of which my right honourable friend the Secretary of State, Ron Davies, speaks so often. I sincerely hope that the Government will take on board the suggestion made by the noble Lord, Lord Hooson. Already compacts are developing between government and the voluntary sector throughout the UK.
I assume that any preparatory relationship or scheme between the voluntary sector and the assembly would be on the lines of the compacts already being drafted for all four nations of the UK, recognising the role of the voluntary sector, the key policy statements of voluntary organisations, the need for volunteering and the whole area of community development and, equally important, the whole procedure for partnership and representation, particularly representation in relation to funding decisions.
Here, I declare myself to be on a learning curve, because it is not easy for a public body, when dealing with voluntary organisations, to understand the nature of that organisation's culture. Very often it is possible for a public body to have certain priorities which may be strategically sound and which may have key functional objectives, but they are not well understood by voluntary organisations. It is particularly important that the assembly approaches the voluntary sector in a way different from its approach to local government, to the health service, as we have already heard, and to other partnership organisations which have a statutory basis.
For that reason, there is much merit in the WCVA's suggestion of a joint liaison committee, not that we want to create too many committees. However, there is a case for such a committee to advise the assembly and members of the voluntary sector and to oversee the working of the voluntary sector scheme.
Also, I am attracted by the proposal that there should be a support centre for the activity of the voluntary sector, providing information and support within the assembly building itself or close to it. I understand that the WCVA has made an offer on behalf of the sector to seek the funding for the operation of such a facility.
The Earl of Courtown: Like my noble friend Lord Aberdare, I welcome this clause but there are one or two points which concern me which I should like the Minister to clarify. I should also declare an interest as a trustee of a chronic pain charity which is based in South Wales.
My main concern is that voluntary fund-raisers are already complying with many rules and regulations as to how they work. Although I accept that there is a need for such regulation, it is now becoming excessive in places and it irritates many hard-working and dedicated fund-raisers who, quite understandably, do not like to be told to fill in more forms and comply with more regulations. Therefore, I am anxious that the assembly will not increase needless bureaucracy.
Finally, will the Minister tell me whether the assembly will be able to alter or change in any way anything concerning the relationship between charities and the Charity Commission? If so, what and how? I suspect that primary legislation would be required, but I should be grateful to the Minister if he would clarify the point.
Lord Stanley or Alderley: I have my name to this Motion for the same reason as my noble friend Lord Aberdare; that is, to try to find out what the Government have in mind with regard to the assembly's role in relation to voluntary organisations.
As my noble friends Lord Aberdare and Lord Courtown have explained the possible problems, I shall emphasise only one particular point. Will the assembly have the power to make rules and regulations for those voluntary organisations which are not dependent in any way whatever on state money or aid? I am thinking of, for example, the RNLI which is supported entirely by voluntary money and help.
Perhaps I may repeat what my noble friend Lord Courtown has just said. I accept now and I accepted during the passage of charities legislation that charities, particularly with regard to their money, need careful supervision. But on behalf of those many selfless and dedicated men and women--I call them slaves--who put in their time for nothing, I ask for an assurance from the Minister that the assembly will not add any bureaucracy to irritate them because, as the Committee will know, I do not trust politicians, assembly members or councillors not to be tempted to do so.
Lord Prys-Davies: Whatever the scale of the statutory provisions and whatever the market can provide, I am sure that in Wales we cannot go along without the voluntary contribution. Therefore, I am extremely grateful that the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, has given us an opportunity to discuss this clause, a clause which gives me a great deal of satisfaction.
Secondly, I am told by many people who are engaged with the voluntary sector in Wales that the relationships between the voluntary bodies and the assembly are not the only relationships which will matter. They tell me that the relationships between the voluntary bodies and the assembly and also local authorities will matter a great deal. That is because--and I believe the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, suggested that that is the case--in Wales, compared with England, there are very few financial resources available to the voluntary organisations, apart from local and central government.
Therefore, it is important to foster the relationship between the assembly, the local authorities and the voluntary organisations. But I am not sure that that can be achieved in the proposed scheme. Perhaps the Minister will comment on that.
Secondly, the permanent voluntary services unit is not without its critics. But I believe that there should be a group of inter-departmental senior officials within the Welsh assembly, possibly with an assembly secretary in the chair, to consider the relevance of voluntary activities across the frontiers of all the departments of the assembly. I ask the Minister whether that can be addressed in the scheme.
Perhaps I may refer next to the report of Lord Wolfenden on the future of voluntary organisations which was published in 1978. The committee envisaged that in the event of a Welsh assembly being established, there would be an increasing role for a central body representing the across-the-board interest of voluntary organisations in Wales to give a lead in providing advice and information. I believe that that recommendation is still valid and should be taken on board by the voluntary organisations in Wales.
Finally, reference was made to the charity commissioners. I have great respect for the charity commissioners and I have found them to be extremely helpful. But the day may well come when in Wales we shall need a Welsh office of the Charity Commissioners so that we do not have to look to Liverpool, Taunton or London. With those few remarks, I endorse very much what has been said by the noble Lords, Lord Aberdare and Lord Stanley.
Lord Roberts of Conwy: Like other Members of the Committee, I, too, have received a letter dated 21st May, which is very supportive of the clause from the Wales Council for Voluntary Action. In addition to the 600 organisations that the council represents in Wales, it states in the letter that it is in contact with a great many more. I know that organisation and I have no reason to doubt its claims.
The WCVA has very high expectations of the assembly and of the anticipated scheme. It states in the letter that there is a draft compact arising out of the Labour Party's election manifesto commitments, which is already available for consultation in Wales and
The same letter from Peter Bryant, who is head of policy for the WCVA, goes on to argue the need for a joint body to which the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas, referred--that is, a joint body between the assembly and the voluntary sector. The letter states quite clearly:
I pause for breath here because I wonder whether all these aspirations have been taken into account. I certainly hope that they were not just referendum-time promises, which were made to the voluntary sector simply to harvest a "Yes" vote. If such promises were made but not honoured, I have no doubt that there would be very deep disappointment throughout the sector.
However, while I wish the implementation of the clause well, I believe that someone should utter a word of caution to the voluntary sector and its representatives in Wales that it must safeguard its independence. Welcome as government support in financial and organisational terms may be, surely the strength of the sector lies in its independence and in its voluntary basis and spirit, which must on no account be compromised. As Mr. Bryant states on page one of the letter to which I referred,
and so on. That seems to me to spell out an enormous amount of influence on the voluntary sector. I hope that both parties--that is, the assembly and the voluntary sector--are aware of the potential fragility of their relationship and that they respect each other's independence as well as perhaps the dependence of the voluntary sector. It would be fatal to the voluntary sector if it found itself excessively controlled and directed by the public sector only to have its voluntarism exploited for uncertain ends.
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