Dr. Charles Goodson-Wickes (Wimbledon) : I beg to move, That this House confirms its commitment to the role of the active citizen and voluntary organisations in society.
It gives me great pleasure to continue to develop the theme that I chose for my maiden speech. I do not claim any special expertise in the subject ; indeed, I see hon. Members on both sides of the House who have greater experience then I, both generally and in some of the more specific subjects that I shall touch on in my introductory remarks. I look forward to hearing their contributions.
The concept of active citizenship is hardly a new one. Throughout the ages, societies have progressed and prospered precisely because their members worked for the common good. However, the phrase has entered the political arena only in the past three years or so, and my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary and my hon. Friend the Minister of State, Home Office, who is to reply to the debate, have both spoken, during their tenure of office, of the importance of citizens involving themselves in their communities--the emphasis being on communities rather than on the more impersonal and intangible concept of society. The affection of the public tends towards Edmund Burke's idea of "little platoons"--representing the best of Whig and Tory traditions--as opposed to great battalions.
Why the phrase "active citizenship"? It is precisely to distinguish the concept from passive citizenship, if citizenship it is, whereby responsibilities have tended to be ceded to the state. It is not just east of the iron curtain that the destruction of communities in the second world war led directly to the heyday of Socialist planners. The heartless tower blocks--the ghastly stark architecture and all that goes with it--also appeared in the West. These horrors are only now beginning to be knocked down and transformed. Active citizenship means more than simply casting a vote or writing a cheque--whether to the taxman for the state to provide, or to charity, to absolve one's conscience without further obligation.
The motion seeks to raise awareness of the vital role of the active citizen, both as an individual and joining others in voluntary groups to help the community generally. All the trends are now towards people taking greater responsibility for themselves and their families--in housing, through tenants' and housing associations ; in education, through parent governors of schools, and, in health, through volunteers in hospitals, the local identity of which, I trust, will be enhanced by the proposals for self-governing hospitals. All that has been added to more traditional themes--lay magistrates drawn from all walks of life, youth club leaders, scouts, guides, St. John Ambulance, lifeboat men or simply membership of clubs and organisations with a charitable element. The desire to
Column 1110belong and the need to be needed are powerful human traits. As Abraham Lincoln reminded us, service to others is the rent that we pay for our place on earth.
It is all too easy, after a decade of major changes, with the emphasis rightly on enterprise and efficiency, for critics to portray an essentially materialistic society. Although I believe that to be unjust--all hon. Members can testify to the superb and inadequately recognised voluntary work done by so many in our constituencies--I suggest to the House that the well-established British tradition of generosity needs a gentle nudge in the right direction.
As we move towards the end of the century, a curious combination of trends is becoming evident. Not only do we have a general increase in prosperity ; we have a population that is living longer, fewer people leaving schools and entering employment, earlier retirement and more leisure time. However, there will always be a section of our society that needs extra support.
With the permission of the House, I want to explore means whereby resources, both personal and financial, can be guided, without any form of compulsion, into worthwhile projects. We now have the wherewithal, but we need the enthusiasm and energy to put it to the maximum advantage. On this side of the House, at least, we have long believed in the idea of individual self-help. It has always seemed to me that this rather narrow and selfish concept should be widened to what I choose to call "community self-help".
I can think of no better example to prove my point than the emergence of neighbourhood watch schemes. They started without the direct involvement of the Government or the police, with the object of protecting property. Perhaps that is materialistic, but, equally it is both prudent and proper. Not only have those schemes increased from a bare two schemes in 1982 to 66,000 this year, but, as I have seen in my constituency in Wimbledon, the movement has developed through a network of co-ordinators into a social entity in itself. People get to know each other and to discuss the needs of others in their areas. Self-interest, therefore, has led to more neighbourly behaviour and, perhaps most importantly of all, social cohesiveness. Local businesses have--perhaps not entirely altruistically, since advertising is involved--sponsored the production and delivery of newsletters. The success of the scheme has yet to be fully evaluated, although the trend for crime against property is downwards. It may prove to be an inexact science, but no one can discount the value of the cultivation of areas of common interest in an increasingly impersonal world.
A weakness in neighbourhood watch is often the understandable shortage of police manpower deployed in order to link up with the scheme. I suggest that the obvious remedy for that is urgent and vigorous recruitment to the special constabulary. It dismays me that in England and Wales the numbers have actually fallen from 17,000 in 1968 to 16,000 in 1987, and the picture in Scotland is very much worse. Although the increased recruitment of females is to be welcomed, it disguises the real drop in male manpower.
The appearance of so-called guardian angels in this country--in spite of the fact that they have impressed some of my
colleagues--caused me deep misgivings. Why on earth should a vulnerable passenger on the Underground be reassured more by a bestudded vigilante, festooned with badges, than by the comforting sight of a
Column 1111uniformed special constable? We should have a campaign to recruit "specials" to act as a bridge between the regular police force and the public, and to help improve our record in law and order, which does not always bear close examination. Crimes against people may be far outnumbered by crimes against property, but we cannot tolerate our constituents being afraid of going about their daily lives, in spite of the sterling efforts of our police force.
Mr. Alex Carlile (Montgomery) : I agree wholehearted-ly with what the hon. Gentleman said about the special constabulary. Does he agree that it has a further advantge, in that it enables people who might wish to change careers and to join the police force in their late twenties or their thirties to see what it is like while being specials, and also gives the chief officers of police the opportunity to see what they are like while they are acting as specials? Does the hon. Gentleman agree that there is a considerable advantage in recruiting to the police force people in early middle years with some experience of other jobs?
Dr. Goodson-Wickes : I am well aware of the hon. and learned Gentleman's interest in the subject. I endorse his remarks entirely. I have no doubt that my hon. Friend will comment with more authority and in further detail from the Front Bench.
Active Citizenship in uniform could also be developed in the reserve forces, which are very well represented in my constituency by the Territorial Army, sea cadets and air training units, for which a recruitment campaign was launched last year. As the last generation of employers who did military service pass into retirement, we, the only NATO country in Europe not to have national service, must ensure that society recognises the importance of releasing employees for such training. Although I recognise that this is not the direct responsibility of my hon. Friend, the importance of reserve forces to the country's defence is vital, and will I hope be the subject of a debate on another day.
The responsibility of employers leads to a third exciting area to be explored--namely the secondment by companies of employees to voluntary sector projects. I believe that this has been described by Ralf Dahrendorf as "social entrepreneurship". Mr. Dahrendorf can hardly be described as a Conservative. Our major companies, such as IBM, whose managers have discretion to allow up to half a day off per week to employees, British Petroleum and United Biscuits are now following the lead of companies in the United States. I welcome the fact, too, that the Civil Service is involved.
Once again it is a two-way process. The companies feel that their employees come back with broadened horizons, the employees feel they have achieved something themselves, and the Institute of Directors proclaims that the pro bono publico spirit is alive again. Business in the Community, an association of major United Kingdom businesses, also works with local and central Government and voluntary organisations to revitalise life in local communities in a wide range of projects. For example, in inner cities it supports urban regeneration, not only in bricks and mortar and in providing jobs, but by improving the environment and the quality of life. People are encouraged to stop whingeing
Column 1112and to tackle issues from basic social needs to taking pride in their surroundings by the elimination of graffiti and litter. More recently still, active citizenship has been addressed by the Prince's Trust and the Commission on Citizenship, under the patronage of the Prince of Wales and Mr. Speaker respectively. Those two organisations are jointly exploring means of giving opportunities to young adults from all walks of life, from the age of 16 to 25, to do voluntary work for from four to 12 months. That is clearly a critical time in young people's lives, as they move from dependency to independence. It is early days yet, but the Prince's Trust has already done a pilot scheme that may be complementary to the pioneering work done by community service volunteers. A recent paper, "Service for the Nation" published by the Royal College of Defence Studies, recognises the non-military possibilities of this type of initiative.
Again it is a question of providing a framework. It is not inventing a new and artificial breed. Ten per cent. of youngsters are already active in the voluntary sector, and their awareness of citizenship may now be increased by the inclusion of the subject in the restructured curriculum. I urge my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary to ensure that his Department works closely with the Department of Education and Science to recognise that citizenship, far from being a woolly sociological subject, has an important place in rounding the educational system, to go beyond mere academic qualifications. The hope is that prospective employers, following the example of the influence of the Peace Corps in the United States, will take positive note of those with voluntary work on their curricula vitae, before employing them.
In time, the scheme may be extended to adults, and to the retired. Energetic people with experience are increasingly ploughing back their expertise through organisations such as the Retired Executives Action Clearing House--REACH--which is an example of what I understand is fashionably known as "grey power".
Finally, I endorse the philosophy of the role of the voluntary sector in our society. There is a negative school of thought that thinks that the extension of Victorian values, of self-help and private charity is merely a cheap way of displacing the welfare state. However, the opposite is precisely the case. The voluntary sector not only allows extra resources to be provided, but manages those resources more efficiently than does the state. I see that as a most worthy move away from what Kingman Brewster, the former American ambassador in London, dubbed the "entitlement society".
Although there is always scope for improvement, the Government's record in this respect is excellent. In the last 10 years, the material support for the voluntary sector has risen 92 per cent. in real terms and now £280 million is provided annually, either by direct grant to over a thousand voluntary bodies or via the urban programme.
Mr. Stuart Randall (Kingston upon Hull, West) : I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way in his interesting speech. When the community programmes were cut in Wimbledon, was any of the socially related voluntary work then taking place chopped, as it was in my constituency of Hull to a serious extent?
Dr. Goodson-Wickes : I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. I hope that it is not
Column 1113impertinent of me to say that I suspect that I know more about the deployment of funds in the London borough of Merton than he does, but I bow to his experience in Kingston upon Hull, West. I could tell him of the vast range of organisations that are doing worthy work in Wimbledon, and which are critically examined every year to see whether they are fulfilling the criteria that I am putting before the House. Each year, we look at value for money.
That intervention takes me directly on to the figures that I gave the House, which do not take account of grants via local government. In fact, I have tried with little success to find the statistics that show the total sums so deployed. In answer to the hon. Gentleman, in the London borough of Merton alone, the budget for 1989-90 amounts to £600,000, ranging from the Wimbledon Guild, which specialises in flexible quick response to people in need, through Merton MIND and victim support schemes, and many other worthy organisations which I am sure are replicated in the hon. Gentleman's constituency. To quote the title of one of the leaflets produced by the National Council for Voluntary Organisations, such organisations should not be "taken for granted". However, the other side of the coin is that voluntary bodies should always examine their own organisations critically, to avoid empire building and the sort of top heavy bureaucratic structure which is exactly what the Government are trying to avoid. The whole exercise is nonsense if the maximum resources do not reach the target.
While not detracting from the marvellous work done by national organisations such as the Women's Royal Voluntary Service and the National Association for the Care and Resettlement of Offenders, the thrust of my argument for active citizenship implies a trend to more localised help within communities. I believe that people will respond more readily if they see in their own areas, the fruits of their efforts and generosity.
The House looks forward to the Government's White Paper on charities and their reaction to the Woodfield report.
Clearly, any recommendations for proper regulation of charities, combined with my right hon. Friend the Chancellor's recent raising of the threshold for payroll giving, would increase both the confidence of the public, and the level of giving, already running at £12 billion per year. Perhaps within the Government's response, or in addition to it, my hon. Friend the Minister will examine the relatively new concept of community trusts, sponsored by the Charities Aid Foundation. Here again, the argument is to link needs and resources on a local basis. Thirty such schemes have already been established. As they have shown the initiative which has been so well rewarded in the United States, perhaps more core funding would now be appropriate.
In conclusion, the role of the active citizen and voluntary organisations, combined with the concept of community self-help, is not wishy-washy do- gooding, it is a hitherto inadequately explored area, whereby a practical framework can be put in place for the benefit of all.
I believe that hon. Members of all parties will accept that increased affluence and prosperity in a free enterprise society must be linked to greater responsibility for others. In that spirit I commend the motion to the House.
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Mr. Alex Carlile (Montgomery) : I begin by congratulating the hon. Member for Wimbledon (Dr. Goodson-Wickes) on selecting this motion for debate this morning. It is a valuable opportunity to discuss both the good points and some of the deficiencies facing the voluntary sector. The hon. Gentleman is a rare if not a unique bird in this House, being both a doctor and a barrister and he has perhaps a broader opportunity than many, being a member of two professions that are under attack at present, to see the broad scope in which the voluntary sector operates and the problems that it faces. The hon. Gentleman illustrated the diversity of the voluntary sector. Even in a rural constituency such as mine, one can see that diversity, with activities ranging through bodies such as the Red Cross, which is extremely active in rural areas, in citizens advice bureaux, and in new agencies such as the bilingual English and Welsh AIDS helpline. Along with many other organisations they make a most valuable contribution to the community.
However, I should like to sound a note of caution. We must be careful that we do not rely too much on the voluntariness of the sector. It is right and of great benefit to society that the voluntary sector should prosper. However, that prosperity will not develop if it is not funded adequately, and that means adequate funding from both local and central Government to give the sector the encouragement and the resources that it needs to operate in a way that will benefit society as much as possible.
Two particular parts of the voluntary sector are causing me concern at the moment. The first is the citizens advice bureaux and the second is law centres. I should make it clear that I do not criticise the citizens advice bureaux in any way. They make a wonderful contribution in probably every constituency in the country towards meeting the problems that people face. Our constituency surgeries are large enough as it is, but imagine what they would be like if there were no citizens advice bureaux. We would probably be there from Saturday morning until late on Sunday night. If, as in my constituency, one has to hold surgeries in towns that are 30 or 40 miles apart, one would probably never meet the need at all if the CABs were not there to take the main part of the burden.
Citizens advice bureaux face complex problems these days. The complexity of those problems and, above all, the range of issues that they meet have increased dramatically in the past 20 years or so. When I was a small boy and was made to shake tins--probably illegally because I was under age to do so--to help my mother to collect money for the local citizens advice bureau, it was a small organisation meeting a residual need. Today, citizens advice bureaux, all over the country meet a mainline and a frontline need.
Many of the problems that they face are complicated legal problems, relating to housing, social security, race relations or other legal issues. In some areas--I cite as an example the well organised CAB at Thamesmead-- it has been possible for the CAB to have legally qualified organisers, people with professional qualifications and a wide range of competence which they are able to use when they meet clients and to train their volunteers. But the salaries which the CABs are able to pay to organisers of that quality are small, so that the pool of people who are
Column 1115willing to make what in many cases is the self-sacrifice to work in what must be regarded as vocational jobs of that sort is diminishing.
In areas such as that, it is difficult to obtain suitable volunteers ; they are not coming forward because many people are frightened by the range and complexity of problems. In other areas, such as in my constituency, where there is a well-organised CAB in Newtown, although the manager is extremely competent but not professionally qualified, she is able to draw on a larger pool of volunteers, perhaps because it is easier to find suitable volunteers in a country area. But the number of volunteers is diminishing there too, again because of the complexity of problems and the difficulty of resourcing suitable training opportunities for volunteers. In some areas, local authorities are supporting their CABs well. In others, they are less willing to support them, and blame the Government for the lack of resources. It would not be helpful if, in this morning's debate, I entered into a political argument over who was responsible for the short funding of CABs and similar agencies. What is important is for the Government to take the co-ordinating role in ensuring that CABs throughout the country are properly funded so that they can give the necessary service to deal with an ever more complicated work load and an ever-increasing number of clients. In real terms, there has been a general decline under Conservative rule in the provision of law centres and advice through such centres. The great thing about law centres is that what one might crudely describe as expensive expertise is provided in them at low prices. In the average law centre there is a small number of full-time workers, many qualified as lawyers, and they also rely on volunteers. On the whole, the volunteers are practising solicitors and barristers who give their time free to assist the law centre. They are, therefore, a cost-effective system of provision of legal advice, even set against the £45 an hour legal aid rate for solicitors doing criminal work, about which we have read recently, let alone the apparently much higher rates required by solicitors in central London if they are not to go bankrupt.
There is a great need for law centres and that need will increase if the Government decide to introduce legislation that puts into effect a substantial part of the Lord Chancellor's proposed reforms. I shall not debate the merits of the Lord Chancellor's Green Papers. For the sake of this debate, I am prepared to accept that there will be changes and that one of them, whether or not it is justified, is the loss of solicitors' privileges in relation to conveyancing. The consequences of that loss will be that in rural areas, a substantial proportion of solicitors' income will probably be lost to financial institutions. The same will apply in urban areas, particularly since the sale of council houses has provided solicitors with conveyancing income for some years.
It seems to be generally agreed that as a result of that--I do not want to exaggerate the position--there will be a diminution of the number of solicitors in practice in the less legally lucrative areas of the country, such as in small towns and in areas where there are large proportions of council housing and so on. That will mean less legal
Column 1116expertise being available in the private legal market. As I say, that is an inevitable consequence. It may be justified, but I do not want to enter that discussion today.
Those changes will result in a deficit in the availability of legal services. If there is not to be a three-tier legal service--one for large companies, one for the middle classes and practically none for the rest-- part of the provision will have to be met through law centres. The Lord Chancellor's Department and the Home
Office--certainly the Government--should shoulder a substantial share of the responsibility for co-ordinating and funding the provision of law centres and their funding.
I have in the past been opposed to the widespread provision of law centres in rural areas, much to the irritation of the Law Centres Federation. But it is clear that they will be needed in the future if the number of solicitors' offices in rural and medium towns diminishes, as seems likely.
The Legal Aid Board is moving towards franchishing and granting licences, as it were, for certain types of legal work to have local or subject monopolies. But it must be realised--as I am sure the Government realise-- that one cannot just hand over large areas of legal work, for example, to the CABs because, with the best will in the world, they do not have the expertise and people to do it, and they must rely for legal advice, by and large, on legally qualified people. If the number of solicitors diminishes, there will not be so many appropriate volunteers. At present, many solicitors give their services free to CABs on a regular basis.
As a result of changes which will take place--the introduction of greater competition in legal services which will have the effect that I have described in the areas to which I have referred--we shall need to establish a better and public legal service for the community at large. The only conceivable way of doing that is thorough law centres. That would rely greatly on the principle of voluntariness and active citizenship, which the Government encourage.
I support that principle, but it is no use just talking about it ; the Government must examine the areas where it is needed and do the pump- priming to ensure that the need is met. I predict that in two or three years from now, if the Government do not prime the pump of law centres, there will be the deficit to which I have referred. In making these points I do not want to imply that there is a serious deficiency in the voluntary sector. However, if there is a deficiency, it is that resources cannot keep pace with imagination. Different types of voluntary services are flourishing in all communities, and that is to be welcomed. I hope that the Government will not merely talk about encouraging imagination but will provide the funding to enable the active imagination of the active citizen who wishes to help others to be put to useful effect.
Mr. Andrew Rowe (Mid-Kent) : I, too, congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Wimbledon (Dr. Goodson-Wickes) on raising this important issue. It is central to our time in terms of the need for an active citizenry, the number of people already involved, and the huge potential for involving many more of them. I speak partly as a member of Mr. Speaker's Commission on Citizenship, an initiative which will be of tremendous value to the development of active citizenship. In recent weeks, the
Column 1117commission enjoyed a philosophical seminar on citizenship. It was clear that there are serious and important differences of opinion about what a citizen is and what is meant by citizenship, but I will not pursue the matter today.
My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary and my hon. Friend the Minister of State have shown considerable interest in the subject. My right hon. Friend recently held a meeting to discuss some of the ways forward. The only universal agreement was that we did not want a national, bureaucratised, expensive machinery to be established for involving citizens in the work to be done.
Why should we bother about active citizenship? My hon. Friend the Member for Wimbledon has already covered much of the topic, but it will be convenient to refer to some of it again.
Modern developed industrial society is potentially alienating. Probably the most common single human ill in such a society is loneliness. Every week, general practitioners' surgeries are filled with people who have nothing wrong with them except that they are lonely and, because they are lonely, they are depressed, and their depression takes a physical form.
Half the demands on the National Health Service are psychosomatic. To a large extent, it is possible to relieve loneliness if only enough of us are prepared to take enough interest in our neighbour. It is true also that society is deeply lacking in self-confidence. It is an extraordinary phenomenon that even the most apparently self-confident people are extremely anxious about many things. Yesterday, in the Children Bill Standing Committee, hon. Members talked about the fact that, of all the functions that a human being is called upon to perform, being a parent is probably the most demanding and certainly the one for which we have least preparation. As my hon. Friend the Member for Wimbledon said, tower blocks are designed to make it almost impossible for young mothers and fathers easily to find their peers with whom they can discuss their problems.
One of the features of psychiatrists' waiting rooms, marriage guidance--now called Relate--consulting sessions, drop-in sessions, Church groups and other service departments is that young parents imagine that their problems with their children are unique. They are astonished and hugely relieved to discover that most of what they are suffering is suffered by parents all over the country. Because they believe that their problems are unique and are based on a grievous fault, they are extremely unwilling to discuss them with someone in authority. That problem would easily be overcome if only we could devise methods by which acceptable helpers--the word "counsellors" is too pompous--or friends could be found to help people to develop the self- confidence that every parent needs.
Talking of self-confidence, hon. Members are well above average in their commitment to voluntary work and altruism. Contrary to popular belief, the curriculum vitae of Members of Parliament are studded with voluntary work. Nevertheless, I wonder how many hon. Members would feel confident when faced with various kinds of physical or mental handicap. I have been too sheltered from meeting various kinds of disability, and, confronted with the need actively to intervene, I would be nervous and, probably, grossly incompetent. By integrating children with special needs into mainline schools we would go a long way towards dealing with the problem. When
Column 1118confronted with someone having an epileptic fit, for example, most people would run away because they would not know what to do. There is a tremendous amount to be said for exposing people, particularly the young, not only to people who help the disabled but to people with disabilities.
One of the most remarkable experiments in our society is the Community Service Volunteers, of which I am a trustee. It frequently has two volunteers living and working with a severely handicapped person. The most astonishing thing is not how much the handicapped person derives from it but how much he or she teaches the young people. Young volunteers who have done that work for six months or so say that they have been shaped and hammered by the person whom they looked after. They feel that the benefit was substantially on their side.
The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. John Patten) : I am listening with great care to what my hon. Friend is saying. He has put a new thought into my mind. Is he saying that we must review our definition of the active citizen to mean not only formal volunteers but parents as the primary form of active citizenship--almost the foundation of the active citizenship movement in this country--with their responsibility for their children and families?
Mr. Rowe : I am delighted if I have put a new thought into my hon. Friend's mind. His mind is already so full of thoughts that it is remarkable that another can be fitted in.
The relationship between donor and recipient is enormously reciprocal. All of us are volunteers at one minute and paid at the next, and sometimes simultaneously. We tend to think of one role being exclusive of the other, but that is not the case.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Wimbledon has pointed out, ours is in many respects a squalid country with litter in the streets, graffiti on the walls and many filthy streets and passageways. That is the product of a variety of factors, one of which is that too many citizens feel no sense of responsibility for the areas in which they live or through which they are passing.
The motor car has given us all a wonderful freedom, but it has also given us freedom to pollute the neighbourhoods of others. We have only to watch cigarette packets being hurled out of car windows and McDonald's boxes and other fast food packaging being dumped on the roadside to realise that people have no clear sense of responsibility in this regard, even in their own localities. We have now begun to realise that we can no longer address all the problems of society by paying someone else to deal with them.
Mr. Randall : I am listening to the hon. Gentleman's speech with great interest. Implicit in what he has just said is a definition of the active citizen. Does he believe that, as some people have written-- especially members of the Conservative party--the active citizens are those with money which they pass down to those without, or does he believe that the definition of active citizenship should embrace everyone in our society? If he holds the latter belief, how would he encourage, for instance, the homeless and deprived to become active citizens? Surely that in itself presents terrific problems.
Mr. Rowe : In my experience, and no doubt in that of the hon. Gentleman, generosity tends to come more
Column 1119readily from the poor than from the rich. I find a remarkable willingness to assist others on the part of those who have not much themselves ; that willingness is not always so evident among those who have plenty.
We have a tremendous opportunity to encourage others to take more control of their lives. The homeless are a particularly difficult problem, but I believe that we should assist that often rather fragmented group--I have seen a number of television programmes that demonstrate the astonishing networks within it--to become more articulate and co-operative. I do not think that the motivation is difficult to derive, provided that people are prepared to get out there and do it. Such organisations as the Simon Community, which works regularly among such people, have built up the rapport that makes that possible.
The crux of the matter--I am sure that this is what the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, West (Mr. Randall) is teasing me to say, but I shall say it none the less--is that there can be no such motivation without some prospect of a result. Perhaps we need to consult the homeless more : given the opportunity, I think that many of them would come up with solutions to their problems that might well be much easier to accomplish than those that we are trying to present to them from above.
Personal growth is an essential element. One of the saddest features of many people's lives is their experience of an education system that has handed them information and tested them in ways that have often made them feel that they are always going to lose. Too many people do not believe that it is their responsibility or, indeed, a potential pleasure to achieve their own growth.
Yesterday the chairman of the Training Agency came to speak to a Committee of the House. He said that he believed that the solution to the training problems of which we are all so well aware was to encourage others to realise the ability to control their own learning processes. They should feel, he said, that training, the acquisition of knowledge and the enhancement of their job opportunities was a matter for them as much as for their employers : that rather than such benefits being handed out by some Government agency or employer, a partnership should exist.
My experience as vice-chairman of the Pre Retirement Association has shown me that the world is full of people who are frightened of retirement. They are terrified of having nothing to do, and cannot imagine ways of filling their time that will keep them occupied. Those who have no such opportunity become prematurely aged and, in many cases, the problem of the social services departments. But how many of us know people of 80 or 90 who are active to the point at which we almost wish that they would leave us alone because they are so full of ideas with which they bully us along? Such people often move very swiftly and contentedly from old age to death. We should encourage personal growth throughout people's lives.
We should not forget that active citizenship is often very convivial : it can mean getting out and meeting people, sharing ideas, being stimulated and stimulating others, and having good fun. It does not necessarily mean doing things only for other people. Myriad clubs have grown up where people can take part in dancing, bowls,
Column 1120bird-watching and a hundred and one other activities. If I may misquote John Donne, any man's misery diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind.
What else can be done? Let me list some fairly altruistric activities. First, there is befriending. We must establish a better mechanism--a sort of dating agency--for those who would like to befriend others and are not sure how to set about meeting people who need befriending.
Computer dating agencies, which have brought an increasing amount of pleasure and romance to single people, could be used as a model for a wide variety of other partnerships, such as ones between those who wish to give and those who would like to share. More could be done about that. A range of activities is open to people who are prepared to be friends, and if those activities were taken up they would assist the statutory services.
I have spoken in the House previously about the value of social workers being accompanied by volunteers. Volunteers not only give social workers companionship and, sometimes, protection against violence, but are frequently able to form the kind of relationships with families that it would be improper for social workers to develop. Such relationships may well be more effective than statutory social work.
There is a huge and unmet need for respite for carers. There are six million carers in this country, some of whom are as young as eight. Many of them desperately need the opportunity occasionally to go out to have their hair done, go shoppiing, meet a friend, go to the cinema or even have a holiday. There is a huge untapped market of people who would be prepared to take on that kind of work. Just as job sharing is creeping into the employment market, voluntary organisations responsible for administering social schemes should look much more seriously at job sharing among volunteers, as that could bring continuous support for a person or family.
Counselling is a huge growth industry, about which I sometimes have reservations. I think that too many counsellors vicariously work out their own anxieties on the people whom they are helping. That is actually a slander, because many counselling organisations take much trouble to vet and train their counsellors. There is no doubt that counselling, whether of those who have been burgled, involved in an accident or have debt problems, is much easier for a volunteer than for someone working for the statutory services. If someone is brought in from the statutory services, the person being cared for often has a lurking anxiety that the law will be involved.
I am interested to see that the hon. Member for Monklands, West (Mr. Clarke) is in the House, because if anybody is interested in advocacy, he is. Advocacy is an immensely important element that is greatly underestimated. If we in the Conservative party are serious about handing some power back to the consumer of the social services, we must make it easier for people to know what is available, what their choices are, how to make their choice and how to change it, if it turns out that they have made the wrong choice. Such a concept is frightening to many professionals. However, they should take comfort from the Italian hospital that, as a matter of course, attaches to all patients who come into the hospital an advocate to fight their battles for them, whether they be with the staff, over food or appointments, or merely to talk to them about their fears or whether windows are shut at the right time. Those advocates were greatly resisted when
Column 1121they were first introduced but the hospital now recognises them to the point of having two on its board of management.
We know how many primary schools have been kept going and made successful by the mothers who initially come to help because their children attend the school, but then find that helping children read, keeping an eye on them and helping in their play is such fun that they stay on long after their own children have left the school. We are much too shy about bringing volunteers into secondary schools. That is a large area of activity that is mutually beneficial. For example, how many men in local communities would enormously enjoy becoming unofficial coaches to a secondary school football team or whatever. They might want to be responsible for getting them to the matches. There is no reason why that should not become a growing part of the school provision, particularly in schools which, for all sorts of reasons, no longer feel that they can, or wish to, take teams away from the school. That would help to develop the partnership between the school and the community.
How long will it be before the police generalise the experiment being carried in Birmingham, Handsworth, where volunteers come out with them and interact with the public alongside the police? It diminishes the antagonism sometimes felt between Asian communities and an essentially white police force if some of the people going out with the police are Asian volunteers, who can speak to the public in their own language and with a clear understanding of their customs. As the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Carlile) said, there is a question about standards. One consequence of having so many volunteers interacting in these various ways is that people become aware of where the shoe pinches and have ideas about who makes a good manager, and who a bad manager, of the statutory services. They are given a much clearer idea of what would be cost-effective expenditure, and what would not. That would be a valuable challenge for the statutory services.
Since this is the House of Commons, which debates, among other matters, what Governments should and should not do, I shall say a few words about the Government's role in this subject. As I have said, it would be wrong to have some kind of great national bureaucracy, presided over by a Minister who tries to create active citizens. However, why does the Inland Revenue Staff Federation find it so difficult to persuade the Treasury to allow its staff to have more time for the type of activity that my hon. Friend the Member for Wimbledon talked about? The IBM 10 per cent. rule that allows its staff to take the equivalent of half a day a week for voluntary activities has benefited the company enormously. It has provided the staff with a degree of self-confidence and flexibility of mind that more than repays the small amount of work that IBM loses. The company has discovered that the people who are trusted to go out for such activity, come back and wipe up the half day's work as though they had never had the time off. The Paraplegic Games are run almost entirely by IBM staff taking their 10 per cent. in a lump. I wonder whether we can persuade the Government to give a boost to a 10 per cent. club. There is already a 1 per cent. club and I think that businesses would enjoy the possibility of a 10 per cent. club, although they are sceptical because too many things are being wished upon them. However, I
Column 1122believe that this suggestion would be good for them. We are always hearing about the importance of training staff to be flexible. One issue that Mr. Speaker's commission is considering is how we can accredit the sort of work that is done by active citizens. It is worth asking why only one school in the country has A-levels in the citizenship course. The answer is simply that traditional school teachers believe that citizenship should be done by less able pupils. That is a gross misunderstanding of what it is all about. If they have any sense, the employers of the future will be looking at active citizenship as an important part of someone's curriculum vitae. I hope that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science will take a closer interest in all this.
This is not just a domestic British matter. We live in a global village. Once the aeroplane was invented, all sorts of things came under strain--not least the British citizenship rules. People can travel all over the world and stock markets can respond to each other's communications within seconds, so we must consider the active citizen in a worldwide sense.
Some traditional useful activities are going on. I am associated with HOST, the Foreign Office, British Council and Royal Victoria League joint activity for making foreign students welcome in British homes. One of the most disastrous features of bringing foreign students to study here--we should do much more of it ; I am a great enthusiast for it--is leaving them entirely alone at Christmas and weekends and never bringing them into a British home. They either go home feeling that Britain is a cold, unfriendly place or, worse, they are taken up by people who want to undermine this country and return them to their countries positively hostile towards us.
There is a good deal of sponsorship and that is entirely appropriate. There are some telling advertisements pointing out that for the cost of one not especially expensive dinner in a British restaurant a child can be maintained for a year in some other country.
The active citizen working abroad is indispensable to the future of the world. It is no longer a case of de haut en bas--no longer does all the expertise rest in Britain and the West, to be taken abroad by some generous missionary in a topee. We find when we arrive at these countries that sophisticated voluntary organisations already exist there and have a great deal to teach us. One of the biggest organisations of all has learnt that lesson well. The Church of England has now understood how much it has to learn from churches in places such as Uganda. I hugely value this reciprocity.
If we can develop opportunities for active citizens of every age to share their experience and knowledge around the world, we shall do something to alleviate the astonishing problem that 15 per cent. of the world's population uses 85 per cent. of its energy. Over time, the great western democracies which have been so economically successful may be compelled to accept a slower rate of growth--or even a negative rate from time to time. It is extremely difficult to win a democratic election by promising people a slower rate of growth, but if enough people have been exposed to the opportunity of working alongside others in India, China and Africa, this sort of lesson will be more easily learnt.
Even in the European Community, some progress is being made. The Cumri Community Conservation
Column 1123Challenge, in which CSV has a part to play, includes an exchange with Portugal. It is good that the European Community is trying to build links across frontiers.
I believe with tremendous fervour that active citizenship is central to the sort of society in which we want to live. Millions of people have too little to do and too little self-confidence to understand what they can offer. They could be motivated relatively easily to give of themselves to others and, in so doing, to discover the great truth that giving of one's self to others enriches a person far more than any other human activity.
Mrs. Gillian Shephard (Norfolk, South-West) : I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Wimbledon (Dr. Goodson-Wickes) on his choice of motion for debate and on the skilful way in which he introduced it.
I am delighted to be called to contribute to the debate because voluntary organisations, their membership and their contribution to British life are an essential part of the fabric of our nation. The concept of voluntary work and service working side by side with the state is so familiar to us all that we sometimes tend to forget that such a tradition is not to be found in some of our European partners, or at least not to the extent that it is found here. It is a tradition that should be nurtured, encouraged and cherished and, as other hon. Members have said, never taken for granted.
It is impossible to exaggerate the importance and influence of the voluntary sector in all spheres of British life. We are told that there are more than 250,000 charitable organisations, but obviously the scope of voluntary organisations and activities goes much further than that. I want briefly to explore some of the reasons for their importance to us all.
First, there is the idea of voluntary effort being used to provide for a particular need. That represents a healthy desire on the part of communities not to depend on all solutions coming from the state. I was interested to hear the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Carlile) imply--he may not have meant to do so--that the force and power of voluntary organisations is less in rural areas than in urban areas. I think he used the sentence, "Even in a rural area like the one I represent there is voluntary activity." I suggest that voluntary activity is especially strong in rural areas ; it certainly is in the one that I represent. Communities that are scattered and far flung are accustomed to shifting for themselves.
The village in which I live has a population of about one thousand and is by no means atypical.