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Mrs. Shephard : We also have villages of 25 inhabitants. In my village there are two lots of almshouses, allotments, a parent-teacher association, a playgroup association, a sports and social club, a flourishing St. John Ambulance Brigade, a big youth section, a Women's Institute, a Mothers' Union and a forget-me-not club for the elderly--and I am sure that that list is incomplete.
Mr. Carlile : The hon. Lady is right to rebuke me for using the word even'. I agree that voluntary work is strong in rural areas. However, does she accept that in some rural areas in which, as in mine, there has been a decline in the cohesiveness of Chapel communities, there remains a considerable need to develop voluntary work?
Mrs. Shephard : I am not an expert on the decline or otherwise of Chapel communities. I defer to the hon. and learned Gentleman in that respect, although I must point out that in my village--I apologise for using a sample of one--the Chapel has moved itself to the neighbouring village, yet we have a flowering of voluntary organisations and activities. Whether the two are connected I would not like to say, but the Chapel's move does not seem to have made an appreciable difference. The position in Montgomery may be different.
This vast range of activities is run by volunteers from every social group. That point should be stressed because someone will certainly argue that voluntary activity is confined to the affluent middle classes. All the voluntary activities provide for different needs within the village and they enrich immeasurably the lives of those who give and those who receive. I should like to make a special mention of the playgroup movement, which flourishes in my village, in my constituency and throughout the country. Almost more than any other voluntary activity, the playgroup movement has encouraged the involvement of women from every social background, through the powerful incentive of the education, wellbeing and pre-school development of their own children. That truly powerful incentive has led to the involvement of women across the broadest social specturm and has provided them with the experience of running and organising an activity which directly benefits their own children, meeting other women in the processes and dealing with difficulties of organising an ongoing service.
The wide range of voluntary organisations should remind us that the voluntary sector sometimes provides a preferable service to that provided by the state, simply because it is different and therefore represents a choice. We can all find suitable examples, but I should like to mention a residential and day-care service for elderly and handicapped people. In one of the market towns in my constituency, Downham Market, two organisations run voluntary day care services for elderly people and for those who are physically or mentally handicapped. One of those organisations is based on the Methodist Church. How I wish that the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery were still in his place. No doubt he will be able to read that key point in Hansard.
The day-care centre based on the Methodist Church has so many people wishing to help that there is a waiting list of volunteers, which at the last count was about 180 people, who could not be fitted in to the facility that the Church wished to provide. That may be something of a record, but it represents the desire of so many people to contribute and to give. Those organisations are examples of day care facilities for the elderly and the handicapped provided by volunteers, but closely enmeshed with the service provided by the statutory agencies so that referral
Column 1125may be made by the local health service, GPs, hospitals and social services to voluntarily provided day care centres.
The voluntary sector has greater freedom to experiment with different ways of providing care than has the statutory sector. The recipients of the care and those running private, voluntary and statutory facilities can benefit. I shall use an example not from my constituency but from the city of Norwich, the capital of Norfolk, which provides a wide range of models which will be of interest in the debate. The Great hospital provides a continuum of care for elderly people ranging from small houses to sheltered flats and bed-sitting rooms all within a beautiful setting near the cathedral. Medical care is provided on the premises so that the continuum of care provides tremendous security for the clients of the hospital. It is a very old foundation--I would not be exaggerating if I said that it was 500 years old. It has always been run by volunteers--together with paid staff--who give up an enormous amount of time to organise the affairs of the Great hospital for the benefit of the residents. I used that example because it has inspired the statutory agencies in Norfolk, through Norfolk social services department and Great Yarmouth and Waveney health authority, to provide, in conjunction with the Broadland housing association a similar establishment for elderly people in Great Yarmouth. Thus the co-operation between the three agencies, with the help of volunteers in the WRVS and befriending, has established in Great Yarmouth a model of care which provides a continuum of care in a secure environment in which elderly people are tenants and not clients and that gives them an important sense of independence. They can choose how much care they need on a day-to-day basis. How invaluable it must be for an elderly person not to feel that he or she has to attend a communal meal but can have meals on wheels in his or her flat, provide his or her own meal or go into the dining room. They can exercise that choice every day. That model was based on the freedom to experiment in the voluntary sector which the statutory sector cannot enjoy, but it can benefit. Voluntary effort can also support the work of statutory agencies, and it is not always uncritical, and that must be a good thing. The role of school governors, which, in one form or another is as old as the education system, is alien to education systems in France and Germany. What could be more logical than for interested consumers of a service and representatives of the local community to have a direct voluntary input into the provision of that service? How valuable it is for those providing that service that every community should have a group of lay volunteers with a specialised knowledge of that service. The new responsibility placed upon school governors by the Education Reform Act 1988, far from being a threat to those who work in the education system, as was maintained when the Education Reform Bill was passing through the House, has increased the understanding of the difficult and demanding role of teachers. One school governor who is a successful business man with a small business, always had a certain disregard for people who received a regular salary cheque from the state and thought that teachers had an easy life, given the hours that he thought they worked and, as he put it, their 13 weeks' holiday a year. His close involvement as a governor of two schools under the Education Reform Act caused him completely to revise his opinion of the difficulty of
Column 1126teachers' roles, and the key managerial role of a head teacher of a school and has greatly increased his support for and appreciation of the education service. Those organisations and groups of volunteers which exist to support the statutory agencies can contribute to the statutory agencies and to the understanding of their work in the wider community.
We are all familiar with the many hundreds of thousands of groups that support and supplement the work of the statutory sector. My hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Kent (Mr. Rowe), who has a deep knowledge of the whole of this subject, pointed out the practical help that volunteers can give to statutory agencies. We could all cite scores of marvellous examples in our own constituencies. The Friends of the Wayland hospital in Attleborough in my constituency have, in concert with the regional health authority, raised sufficient money to provide and equip a wonderful rehabilitation centre, which is attached to the hospital. The people involved in that organisation feel that they have a stake in the hospital and are deeply involved with it.
When the White Paper on the National Health Service is brought into effect, I hope that it will be appreciated that, through the setting up of hospital trusts, we can capitalise on local community support for our hospitals so that they can have a greater freedom to benefit from local enthusiasm. That point has been widely missed in the public reaction to the White Paper, but I am confident that it will emerge as people have the opportunity more closely to consider those issues.
By working with statutory agencies, voluntary groups can supplement statutory provision. I wish especially to mention the organisation Homestart, which will be familiar to many hon. Members. There is an excellent branch in Thetford in my constituency, and another in the west of south-west Norfolk. Homestart has a paid organiser whose task is to organise carefully trained and selected volunteers to work with families that are potentially in difficulty and nearing breakdown. They help to prevent a breakdown and the possible taking into care of the children of the family. The volunteers are often people who have been through difficult times themselves. The statutory social workers must accept that volunteers can often provide much more realistic and practical advice--another point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Kent--than can social workers who have many cases on their books and who want to whizz in and out of homes at great speed. It is an extraordinary and effective use of volunteers.
My hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Kent made the excellent point that volunteering can and should be fun. Certain groups, which I shall describe as enthusiasts, can in pursuing their enthusiasms make a valuable contribution. Hon. Members could no doubt cite good examples of that. A large number of people in my constituency are deeply interested in the history of our area. Next month, a hardworking, skilful and gallant band of people at Swaffham, who have set up an excellent local museum, will have the satisfaction of seeing it opened by my right hon. Friend the Minister for the Arts. A similar venture at Watton, launched by a group of young enthusiasts, resulted in the opening of a museum about the role of the town of Watton during the last war. So strong is the commitment of such volunteers that they can infect a whole community with their enthusiasm.
Column 1127An interesting point that has not yet been mentioned is that those who are already grouped together to pursue an interest--for example, tennis, angling or potholing--have such a strong desire to help others that in many cases they feel that they have a responsibility not only to come together to enjoy their own interests, but to pursue a voluntary activity that will benefit others. In the market town of Watton the Loch Neaton angling club last summer equipped the local fishing water--I dare not call it a pond or I shall be drummed out of my constituency--and the surrounding grounds to enable handicapped people, especially handicapped youngsters, easily to gain access to the water's edge so that they can enjoy the sport of angling. I was fortunate enough to be asked to be present at a prizegiving for handicapped youngsters who, in many cases, had outstripped the prowess of non-handicapped anglers and caught large numbers of extremely large fish. This is not a fishing story ; I actually saw the fish. It is another case of voluntary activity that should not be overlooked.
One of the most impressive marks of the strength of the voluntary sector is that certain tasks are wholly entrusted to it. In some cases, that is regarded with incredulity by our European neighbours. For example, they are amazed by our legal system, under which 98 per cent. of all criminal cases are, in the first instance, heard by lay volunteers--mainly magistrates who, although trained and expert, nevertheless are volunteers. It is only when we explain that system to visitors from, for example, France and Germany, that we appreciate how amazing it is.
Although south-west Norfolk has no coastline, I feel that I must mention the astonishing achievements of the Royal National Lifeboat Institution, which provides a lifeboat service for all our shores. I think that I am right in saying that it does so without any state aid. It is a superb, fantastic achievement, which is unique to Britain and of which we should be proud.
The spin-off from such a multiplicity of voluntary
organisations--that rich texture of local personal involvement in all aspects of our national life--is the experience it gives of the workings of democracy and public life. Again, it is something that we tend to underestimate. Everybody involved in a club, a society or a voluntary organisation has to have experience of how to make that organisation work, of its procedures, of its annual general meeting and of nominations and seconding for elections. Boring as it may appear to some, our nation's involvement in so much voluntary activity gives a far greater number of people in Britain than in France or Germany a first-hand experience of the workings of the democratic process. Things sometimes go wrong, but that could also be said at national level.
We should not underestimate the importance in democracy of the educative process that is provided by voluntary activities. To no group is that experience more valuable than to women. Because of career breaks, women are more heavily represented than men in the voluntary sector. Indeed, their achievements lead many women to a greater involvement, or a desire for it, in public and political life. It is a pity that, within the public appointments network, there is not the sort of
Column 1128representation of women that their numbers within the population--52 per cent.--and their experience in the voluntary sector surely justify.
I warned my hon. Friend the Minister that I would be presenting to the House--and although he is not present, I do not shrink from doing so--a horrendous battery of statistics. When Ministers are exhorting the private sector and managers in the public sector to employ more women, to use their potential in the work force and to provide for them to return to work, can it be right that appointments to public bodies, which are within the gift of those Ministers show the following percentages? My figures are taken from 1987, and were my hon. Friend present I could say to him, given that he is chairman of the special ministerial group on women's matters, that I am confident that the figures will be far-outstripped and improved for 1989. In 1987, the percentage of women appointed to public bodies by the Home Office represented 30 per cent. of the total ; by the Scottish Office, 29 per cent. ; the Department of Health and Social Security, 26 per cent. ; the Department of Trade and Industry, 22 per cent. ; the Department of Employment, 16 per cent. ; the Department of the Environment, 15 per cent. ; the Welsh Office, 14 per cent. ; the Department of Education and Science, 12 per cent. ; the Department of Transport, 3 per cent. ; and the Department of Energy, 0 per cent. It is true that last year Cabinet Office public appointments reached 46 per cent. which is much more like it, but the Lord Chancellor's Department achieved only 18 per cent.,
telecommunications only 18 per cent., the Central Office of Information 14 per cent., and the Office of Arts and Libraries 12 per cent. The figures for women's representation on the boards of nationalised or privatised industries show that British Rail has two women, but the BAA, British Coal, the Electricity Council, the Post Office and something that I cannot read, but it is blameworthy, had no women at all.
My hon. Friend the Minister has clear responsibility in this sector. I am confident that under his chairmanship of the ministerial group the position will be, and probably already has been, improved. Women must be allowed to use the invaluable experience that many of them gain from working in the voluntary sector to progress to public appointments or political life. I note that my hon. Friend the Minister is returning to the Chamber. He has missed all my compliments, but I hope that they have been noted down. I shall have to find a way of repeating at least one of my graceful compliments. Many women approach political life via the voluntary sector and public appointments. We have only 41 female hon. Members out of a total of 650. If we are to use the potential of women to the extent that we should, the Government must put their house in order. I am confident that my hon. Friend the Minister will make every effort to bring women's representation up to a level that reflects not only their number in the population but their potential, experience, skill and contribution to this sphere, which is within the Government's gift.
Column 1129The voluntary sector is alive, well and growing. One of its most splendid aspects is that young people, through experience in school, are encouraged to be involved in it. My hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Kent said that he knew of only one school that had pursued citizenship studies at A level. I know of no secondary school in Norfolk that does not run a community involvement course for all its youngsters at some stage of the secondary school curriculum. It is certainly not confined to the least able. Norfolk values such experience for youngsters, which I am delighted to say has led to the involvement of many young people in voluntary activities in the county.
We are at an interesting time in the development and encouragement of voluntary activity within state provision. The reforms passed in the Education Reform Act 1988 and those proposed in the White Paper "Working for Patients" place emphasis on the need for consumer involvement in the provision of state services. Via our unequalled tradition of voluntary activity, we can ensure that the voice of the consumer and the community are heard in state provision. I believe that we are better than anyone at such activity, and by harnessing that voluntary activity and enthusiasm into statutory provision we can move forward confidently using the rich tradition of the voluntary sector side by side with the splendid provision being made by the Government.
Mr. Harry Greenway (Ealing, North) : I join in congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Wimbledon (Dr. Goodson-Wickes) on initiating this most valuable debate. The concluding remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, South-West (Mrs. Shephard) drawing attention to the need to appoint more women to nationalised industries and boards were extremely important. I wonder how many women are listed among the great and good of this land who are available for the special appointments to which my hon. Friend referred.
Mr. John Patten : I am grateful to my hon. Friend for allowing me to intervene so early in his speech. I join him in expressing appreciation of the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, South-West (Mrs. Shephard). In the interests of open government, of which I am a strong advocate, I should say that at an earlier stage in her career I appointed her to a public appointment.
Mr. Greenway : There can be no greater tribute to the foresight of my hon. Friend the Minister or to the perception of my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, South-West in accepting the post. Women are treated unequally. When they have had their families and return to paid or voluntary work, society does not allow them to return to the post that they left, yet they are much better people for the experience of having brought up children. In-service training or a suitable course would help to bring them up to date. They should be encouraged to come back into voluntary work or professional work at the point at which they left off, or even a little higher. Women make particularly good magistrates. There ought to be many more of them.
Mr. Greenway : My hon. Friend says that there are 42 per cent., but that is not enough. My experience of women magistrates, particularly in children's courts, is that they always go to the heart of the problem. They never back off in the way that sometimes their male counterparts back off. I must beware of generalising, but I reiterate that women make outstanding magistrates and that there ought to be more of them.
I should not, however, like the nation to go the way of Ealing council. Its policies regarding women are excessive. There is a very expensive women's unit that disburses large sums of tax and ratepayers' money on promoting women's activities, particularly for lesbian women. I have mentioned on other occasions that advertisements can currently be seen all over Ealing that are directed at lesbians only. They are being invited to join courses in self-defence.
discriminatory. Self-defence is valuable and important for all women. To make it available just to a handful of women, excluding all the others, is to discriminate against women who are not lesbians. I believe that women who are not lesbians are in the vast majority. There are other activities for women on which councils such as Ealing spend money. They provide courses on subjects other than self defence for women, as well as free parties and binges, with transport provided. Men are excluded. The patronage of women does not promote voluntary activity of any kind. That is wrong and insulting. Mrs. Gillian Shephard indicated assent.
Mr. Greenway : I am glad to see that my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, South-West agrees with me. [Interruption.] I am also grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone (Miss Widdecombe) for her support. It is disgraceful, and something ought to be done about it.
Before my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Kent (Mr. Rowe) leaves the Chamber, I should like to refer to his most interesting speech. I was a professional teacher for 23 years. I am a little concerned about the suggestion that volunteer parents should run school teams. The good, willing amateur is not always the best equipped to work with children. I should support his idea if he would agree with me--and I think that he might--that anybody who wants to coach a soccer, baseball, netball or other team as a parent ought to be trained in how to coach and teach children. It is a specialised job. It should not be given just to the enthusiastic amateur. He or she can do more harm than good.
Mr. Rowe : I explained to the Minister that I had to leave the Chamber before the end of the debate, for which I apologise. I accept entirely what my hon. Friend says. Two elements, however, need to be considered. First, if there are no activities, because the school does not have the resources to provide them, I believe that some enthusiastic amateur activities are better than none. Secondly, many people with remarkable skills are often excluded because they are not qualified teachers. Their skills should be welcomed in schools. I think that that trend will grow. However, I accept absolutely my hon. Friend's point.
Mr. Greenway : I am grateful to my hon. Friend for speaking in such a welcome way from the Government Front Bench. If a person has a skill, that does not always mean that he can impart it to children. However, with that proviso, I go along with his happy intervention from that distinguished position, and I wish him a good day. The weakening of the influence of the Church has gravely damaged--perhaps more than anything else--the volunteer spirit in our land. Jesus taught us to be good neighbours. "I am my brother's keeper" is fundamental to a willingness and a desire by the Christian individual or the Christian-influenced individual to go the extra mile, in any circumstances, if there is a job to be done. The Christian will examine his conscience and go and do it, if that is humanly possible. If there is a need for someone to run a youth club, or to help with meals on wheels, or to assist in countless other ways that are open to volunteers in our land, the Church has always taught that it is the duty of a Christian to give his time and talents without payment, as Christ did. That has always been part of the cement of the community of this land. The weakening of the Church has weakened that cement to the point of serious crumbling in some areas, which is very sad.
On the theme of its being more blessed to give than to receive, I believe that, in giving service of any kind, volunteers receive so much more than they give. The old lady who gives her time to look after a little child gets much pleasure and stimulus from being responsible once more for looking after a small child.
Volunteers also exercise polo ponies. Their riding has to be of a certain standard, but a wonderful thing ; they do not have to bear the expense of owning polo ponies but they have the pleasure of riding them, and sometimes being bucked off on a cold day. However, they get back so much more than they give by exercising those ponies, and an experience of life that they might not otherwise get because they are riding ponies of a particularly spirited and able kind that are not always available to the amateur.
School governors have been mentioned by many speakers. I do not want to be pernickety, but I have to fence a little, having rightly paid a compliment to my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, South-West. School governors have not been around for as long as schools. Education was first brought to this land by the Church. Monks and nuns--well learned people--passed on their gifts to their pupils, but there was no question of school governors in the middle ages. School governors have arrived on the scene only in quite recent times.
Mrs. Gillian Shephard : Does my hon. Friend accept, nevertheless, that there has always been an involvement in education in this country of those who have not been teachers? My point was that there has always been a broader responsibility than that which is taken on by those whose task it is to impart knowledge. I feel confident that my hon. Friend will be able to accept that point.
Mr. Greenway : As always, my hon. Friend's confidence is well placed because I certainly accept that point. It is true to say that often teachers, such as monks, worked for no pay. Cardinal Hume, for example, was --and still is--an outstanding teacher. His unpaid service as a teacher has brought countless gifts to thousands of boys. He continues to teach as prelate and in his leadership of his Church. I am not, of course, saying that teachers should not be paid properly for their work, but so often, the man
Column 1132or woman working for altruistic reasons in teaching, as in other areas, seems to give so much more as a volunteer than the professional does.
I had experience of running the largest school in the country. When I asked teachers to do various tasks, they would say, "Harry, will I be paid extra for it?" I do not say that that is not a legitimate question for someone who has a family.
Mr. Greenway : They sometimes called me Harry and sometimes headmaster, but most often they called me sir and if they did not, I waited until they did. But increasingly, towards the end of my time in teaching, it was Harry.
I found that often when there was a demand for cash, the individuals concerned were not as good at the task as those who were prepared to do it for nothing. That seems to be an important principle, especially when applied to those masters and mistresses--if that is still a legitimate term in my profession--
Mr. Greenway : Perhaps I had better ignore that comment. The masters and mistresses who gave their time to run the debating society, to produce the school play or to take the team out every week did a marvellous job because they were doing it on a voluntary basis.
The headmaster of Harrow, Ian Beer, who was an outstanding head at three schools and played rugger for England--I have known him for 30 or 40 years- -said recently that if the voluntary teaching of games in schools were phased out, as he fears it may be by the professionalism of teachers today who demand to work only within the hours set for them, teachers would lose a wonderful and special contact with their pupils. There is no doubt from my own experience of taking a team every Saturday throughout my time in the profession, whether cricket, rugger, hockey or riding, that that is true. I know that the relationships forged between teachers and pupils through those activities were of infinitely greater value than the relationships forged in the formal atmosphere of the classroom, especially when one was pressing towards examinations, which placed great pressures on masters and pupils.
Mr. Alex Carlile : I agree with the substance of the hon. Gentleman's comments, but does he not agree that teachers are much more likely to do important voluntary work such as he has described if they feel that they are valued as professional people? Does he not agree that teachers' salaries are still so low, especially considering the cost of living in London and other major cities, that they do not feel properly valued?
Mr. Greenway : I do not want to spend long on that point, but I had better take up the challenge. I received the Houghton award, so often spoken about, in 1974 from the Labour Government. By 1979, the value of that 34 per cent. increase had been eroded to nothing by the 27 per cent. inflation rate. Between 1979 and today, teachers' pay has improved by 30 per cent. in real terms and they are better paid than ever. I am not saying that there are not problems, such as the cost of housing, but they are better paid than ever before. There is also an increase in special
Column 1133posts for them, so there are big opportunities for teachers. At least half the profession today are in posts of extra responsibility or extra prestige and are paid for that, which is to be welcomed. Members of Parliament have a special position as leaders in the community--as do others, of course. I have no doubt that all my colleagues in the House today play leading parts in the voluntary sector in their constituencies. I am the president or patron--mostly president because that is somehow a better title--of 58 voluntary organisations and there are two or three more in the pipeline. Among those is that fine organisation, the British Legion, in which people take enormous responsibility as volunteers for the community in which they live. [ Hon. Members :-- "Hear, hear."] I am glad to hear the sound of support. Old comrades who are ill are visited by volunteers who take them food or perhaps a bottle of brandy or whisky, which they would otherwise be unable to afford. In Greenford recently, a young man in his 30s died from cancer, leaving a widow and young children. I am proud of the way in which my colleagues and friends in the Greenford branch of the British Legion rallied round the widow and children to look after them and give them love and support at a sad time. That is typical of the work that volunteers do in the British Legion.
Other hon. Members have mentioned scout and guide groups, and I am president of many. I also want to mention Age Concern, an organisation in which Members of Parliament and others who can find the time will be welcomed. Sometimes people who are together for 52 weeks a year are glad of the company of others, such as the good old president who breezes in and spends an hour or two with them, listening to their problems and talking them over. The same is true of those of more mature years who go to tea dances, about which we have heard so much.
I am president of the local branch of the Cancer Research Campaign and, like other branches, it raises thousands of pounds for cancer research. A young member of my family has been struck down by cancer and it is a great comfort to think that the treatment he is receiving has been made possible by the work of thousands of people who support the Cancer Research Campaign. I am glad to have put my own effort into it. Many volunteers work for that organisation because a member of their family has died from cancer or because they know someone who is suffering from it. Many people are cured today who would not have been cured without the efforts of such organisations.
Tenants' groups are important, as are the Red Cross and Arthritis Care--and I am president of the local branch. Some people suffering from arthritis can scarcely move and they need the support and encouragement of volunteers. Choirs and drama groups throughout the land are also warmly supported.
I want especially to mention a pub committee of 10 at the Plough in Northolt, which I formed six years ago because I heard that the Mandeville special school wanted to build a pool for mentally handicapped children. They were managing to get some money together but they were not going about it as constructively as they might because they did not know how to do so. I became the president of the group. We met once a month for four years and raised £70,000 and built the pool. The group made the most magnificent effort, raising funds in every conceivable way.
Column 1134They had their hair cut off, they grew their hair very long, they threw me into a swimming pool more than once and did all sorts of things.
The great thing about that group was that it was made up of ordinary men and women--housewives and lorry drivers, for example. None of them were professional people, but all had great hearts and all were determined. During those years, there were times when they said, "Harry, we can't stand any more." A couple would walk out for a month or two because of the tremendous pressure, but the hard core held firm and we eventually raised the money to build the pool, which was opened by Princess Anne last year. That was done entirely by the Northolt community and the Plough pub.
That is volunteering of the most constructive and wonderful kind. Why did they do it? One or two of them had children at the school. One of them told me, "My son cannot move. I think he might get some pleasure from being in warm water. He has nothing else so let us try to do something for him".
Many other things can be done within the community. The young can hold concerts for the elderly on a voluntary basis. The elderly love to see the young on stage, acting and singing for them, and the young can go out in the interval with cups of tea to give them extra pleasure. I am president of a group in my constituency that does that. Every year, we put on two concerts for pensioners. We attract 600 pensioners--all of them living in the constituency because it is a constituency effort--to each concert. We have some professional help and have to raise the money to pay for that, but otherwise the concerts are staged on an entirely voluntary basis. The more the young are integrated with the old, the more each will gain. Trevor Huddleston is one of my greatest and longest-standing personal friends-- although not, perhaps, always a political ally. I went to see him a few years ago when he was Archbishop of Mauritius. He is a wonderful man. No one else could have been so inspired in setting up voluntary groups. He had a hostel for the poor elderly, a hostel for the blind and an orphanage all on the same campus. The elderly loved the children, the blind loved the children, and the children loved the blind and the elderly. They were all integrated. Trevor Huddleston was inspired enough to set up groups of volunteers to raise the money for that. The leadership of such men has blazed a trail and set an example that the rest of us should study and follow if we possibly can. We can gain so much by doing so.
Voluntary lunch clubs for the elderly are enormously important. Sometimes local authorities set too much store by the numbers who attend, and they close them if they do not consider that there are enough people. I should like the principle to be established that a relatively small number can be regarded as constituting a feasible lunch club that can receive support from the local authority. The travel pass for the elderly is enormously important, too, but some local authorities--in London anyway--seem to be threatening old people by not stating clearly that the pass will be reissued when it comes up for renewal. The Labour council in Ealing and other local authorities know very well that they must, by law, provide those passes. If necessary, under an amendment that several of us supported during our proceedings on the London Regional Transport Act 1984 they can be required to do so by the Secretary of State. Yet still the local authorities drag their feet as a means of exercising power over old people. They say, "We may carry on with the passes, but it is down
Column 1135to us." That is a cruel and unacceptable approach. The passes are elderly people's right and we should let them know that they are entitled to the passes and that they will have them regardless of what Ealing or any other council says. I am glad to see the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, West (Mr. Randall), the Opposition Front Bench spokesman nodding his head in agreement.
Good neighbours are much better than good social workers, although that is not to decry the work of good social workers. Someone who cares about the person next door without being nosey is worth more than fine gold. That personal relationship will continue through thick and thin, whereas social workers necessarily come and go. However good a job a social worker or home help does there will be days when he or she will be required elsewhere and the continuity will be broken. The neighbour, on the other hand, is always there. I end, as I began, by calling on the Churches to strengthen their efforts to teach individuals to be volunteers and to be committed to the community in which they live.
Mr. David Amess (Basildon) : I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Wimbledon (Dr. Goodson-Wickes) on choosing this subject for debate and on his lucid speech. Wimbledon may be the home of tennis but, metaphorically speaking, Basildon has plenty of the round things that one needs to participate in the game. I also congratulate my hon. Friends the Members for Mid-Kent (Mr. Rowe) for Norfolk, South-West (Mrs. Shephard) and for Ealing, North (Mr. Greenway) on their excellent contributions.
I am particularly pleased to be able to participate in the debate because it gives me another opportunity to praise all those in my constituency who have done such good work. Before I do that, however, I wish to congratulate the Government on promoting the ethos of individual responsibility. If that concept had been advanced with more determination in the 1960s we should not have faced many of the difficulties of the past 10 years. I congratulate the Government on all the encouragement that they have given to active citizens and voluntary organisations throughout the country.
My hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North struck a chord when he mentioned the difficulties that he has experienced with his Socialist council. I am convinced that Socialist-controlled Basildon district council has no concept of what being an active citizen, or being engaged in voluntary work, actually involves. If it did, my poor hard-pressed ratepayers would not be faced this year with the largest rate increase in the country--57.9 per cent. It is no good taking money from the ratepayers and saying that it is genuine giving. That is a ridiculous concept. It is because of the council's approach to these matters and because of its fiscal mismanagement that in my constituency we have the most expensive theatre in the country. Even if there were a bottom on every seat every day of the week, we still could not meet the overall cost.
Column 1136Member, who then announced that he was becoming an Independent, but on every conceivable occasion he has voted with the Labour party. However, he has not had the guts to come out as a Labour party member or, perhaps, the Labour Members will not have him in their party. It is disgraceful that the hard-pressed ratepayers of Basildon are faced with that enormous rate increase.
I know that my hon. Friend the Minister has heard me mention before the "I love Basildon campaign". I am delighted to tell him that we have made tremendous headway with that campaign, which is all about saying that we have a fine town and that we want to keep it that way. We are tackling the problems that my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Kent mentioned, such as litter, graffiti and vandalism. I shall be appearing unannounced in Basildon at various times throughout the night to discover what is going on there. I want to discover why we have little gatherings on street corners creating disturbances, when there is plenty for young people to do there. I shall also be visiting various parts of the town where there has been rubbish dumping. I want to see at first hand how we can encourage the whole community to participate in keeping the town the fine place that it is.
I am delighted to say that in Basildon we have a successful neighbourhood watch scheme. Some 526 schemes have been registered, covering 21,040 properties and helping 62,000 people. We also have five industrial watch schemes, three marine watch schemes and four hospital watch schemes. Six years ago Basildon had the highest reported rate of crime in Essex, but I am delighted to say that that is no longer the situation. The neighbourhood watch schemes have made a valuable contribution to the overall reduction in crime. As someone who was born in the east end of London and lived there for 29 years, I can tell the House that it used to have a strong community spirit. The role of the active citizen and of voluntary organisations was paramount in the overall strength of that community. I deplore the way that --I believe through bad planning decisions in the 1960s--the community spirit has been somehow lost. I hope that what the Government are attempting to do in Docklands will restore the situation and will enhance the role of the active citizen and of voluntary organisations.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North who I believe within the next fortnight will be involved in national motivation week. That will make an active contribution to promoting the role of the citizen.
I am the Parliamentary unpaid spokesman for the National Association of Hospital Broadcasting Organisations. Most hon. Members have a hospital radio station in their constituencies. There are more than 300 hospital broadcasting services, involving some 11,000 volunteers, which broadcast to a listening audience of 250,000. For my sins, I used to broadcast in what was a cubby-hole in St. Andrew's hospital, Bow. I can speak first-hand of the magnificent efforts of those people who broadcast in our hospitals. The therapeutic effects of hospital radio has been proved time and time again. I do not want to miss the opportunity to ask my hon. Friend the Minister to encourage one of his colleagues in the Home Office to consider our case for community radio and to consider whether there is any way in which the Home Office could give us our own frequency. At the same time, will my hon. Friend the Minister have a word with our right hon. Friend the Chancellor to see whether he would consider zero-rating VAT on hospital radio broadcasting
Column 1137equipment, thereby treating us in the same way as people who are involved in talking books for the blind? We estimated that that would save us about £250,000 a year.
My hon. Friend the Minister may recall answering an Adjournment debate on 24 May 1985 about St. Luke's hospice. My hon. Friends the Member for Norfolk, South-West and the Member for Ealing, North also mentioned the role of hospices. On that occasion, I told my hon. Friend the Minister about the remarkable efforts of a couple called Trudy and Les Cox. I am not aware of any millionaires who live in Basildon. If there are any, they have certainly not come forward to join the Conservative party, because I would have tapped them for a membership fee. By and large the people who are involved in our hospice movement are very ordinary people. In just four years, they have raised more than £650,000 through all sorts of ordinary activities, such as raffles, jumble sales and tombolas. So far the largest donation from any company has been £10,000, for which we are grateful. We have not received any bequests. That money has been raised solely through the hard work of dedicated volunteers. My hon. Friend the Minister will recall that Trudy and Les Cox were inspired to set up the hospice when they listened to the words of Dame Cicely Saunders who said, "You matter to the last moments of life and we will do all we can not only to help you die peacefully, but to live until you die". Until I went out recently with Trudy Cox, who is a district nurse, I had not appreciated the fact that not only is she trying to cope with organising the fund-raising activities for the hospice, but she is spending her time visiting people who are actually close to death, which in itself takes a tremendous toll on the individual. Trudy Cox originally started that work because she once knocked on the door of a house, a child came to the door, she went up to the bedroom and found that the mother was in bed dead with her children around her. They had not even realised that their mother had died. She said that, after experiencing that sort of scene, she would ensure that, through the hospice movement, she would never be put in such a position again. I just wanted to tell my hon. Friend the Minister that they are making marvellous headway. Indeed, we hope to open the hospice next autumn.
Mr. Amess : The Women's Royal Voluntary Service in Basildon is very active and has 500 members. It works in the hospital in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Billericay (Mrs. Gorman), who unfortunately could not be here today, and to which it has so far given £23,000 worth of equipment, such as portakabins for the hospital grounds. The WRVS provides about 500 meals a week in the area and a luncheon club where all senior citizens from our area are invited to attend a day club. It also organises books on wheels and makes about 30 rounds per week. It will shortly help to start a tea bar in the new Basildon magistrates court. Again, my hon. Friend the Minister had to answer another Adjournment debate about the courthouse in Basildon. He will be delighted to know that Lord Mackay of Clashfern will be opening that courthouse next year. I thank my hon. Friend the Minister for his efforts in that area. Recently the WRVS supplied clothing, bedding and garments to a number of families who were unfortunately burnt out of
Column 1138their houses in the Felmore part of the constituency. I was delighted that last year one of its members was named in the Queen's honours list.
Basildon hospital League of Friends celebrated its anniversary last year and is an essential element of the voluntary scene in Basildon. It has raised £250,000 since the hospital was opened 25 years ago. It has a membership of roughly 300 people. A small army of volunteers work a five- day week in the hospital in the out-patients' canteen and the ante-natal cafeteria. There are two groups, one group works in the mornings and the other in the afternoons. They are the unpaid, unsung heroines of our hospital in Basildon. Recently they donated £30,000 to the day centre for the treatment of handicapped children. I could mention many other things about that group. One lady, aged 83, is still responsible for organising the volunteers in the ante-natal section.
We also have a branch of the Relate organisation in Basildon. It used to be called the Marriage Guidance Council. Unfortunately we live in a society in which marriage is not as popular as it used to be. I am glad that the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Carlile) is in his place because I am sure that he will remember that when he and I were new Members of the House, I was one of those who tried, perhaps cack-handedly, to try to amend the legislation because I was against the reduction in the period before which one could obtain a divorce. I know that the hon. and learned Gentleman sought to intervene on that occasion. I believe that I and my colleagues who have a strong view on the subject have, sadly, been proved right. I am doing all that I possibly can to deal with those single parents in Basildon who are valiantly trying to cope with all the problems that must be faced when a husband or a wife leaves the family. I congratulate the Relate organisation in Basildon on all the voluntary counselling that it gives in the constituency. It is a magnificent organisation.
We all have St. John Ambulance brigades in our constituencies. We take them for granted, but we should not. Their members are always present at sports activities and conferences. They are unpaid enthusiastic volunteers.
I commend also the Samaritans, an organisation founded in 1953. We recognise that its work is secret and its members known by numbers, but they do a magnificent job in being the comforting source on the other end of the telephone. They deal with many traumatic cases and give reassurance whenever they are asked to do so.
I take this opportunity to mention also the national organisation called Life. My views on abortion are known in the House. I applaud the Life organisation which is responsible for dealing with those mothers who have had their babies and who then find that they are in financial difficulties with the care and maintenance of the children. I hope that if my hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone (Miss Widdecombe) catches your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, she might go into some brief details about the excellent work of the Life organisation.
The Scouts and Guides movements in Basildon, as throughout the country are absolutely magnificent. I was a member of the Scouts in Newham until the age of 17. It plays a remarkable role in keeping young minds occupied. Those young people might perhaps be on street corners without it, which is something that I intend to find out in the next few weeks when I participate in the "I love
Column 1139Basildon" campaign. We should pay tribute to all the national and local organisers of the Scout and Guide movements.
Basildon Boys Club and the Vange Boys Club are two well-organised groups in the constituency. Their members voluntarily organise young people in sports and leisure activities. They fund-raise week in and week out and they should be congratulated on their work.
Only recently I was asked to open a new centre for the Town Crier organisation in Basildon. It is manned by 30 volunteers who make tapes that blind people can enjoy. Again, I very much applaud their work.
My hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North mentioned the British Legion-- another magnificent organisation. I very much hope that those people in Basildon who are in a position to do something will listen favourably to the British Legion's reasonable request that we have a permanent war memorial in Basildon. It is not good enough for us just to pay our respects at a tiny insignificant wooden cross. The British Legion very much wants us to have a permanent war memorial, not to glorify war, but to make sure that we never forget and that we never participate in war in the future.
We all have groups of the Rotary Club, the Lions and the Round Table in our constituencies. We should never take their work for granted, whether at Christmas, Whitsun or Easter, when they raise so much money from which local communities can benefit.
The Women's Institute in Basildon is certainly thriving and, again, I applaud its work.
The final organisation that I wish to congratulate is the Crossroads, care attendants scheme, which is responsible on a voluntary basis for giving care to people who have disabled children. It gives counselling advice and looks after the disabled people while the carers can take a holiday.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Wimbledon on bringing this important matter to the attention of the House today. I applaud every person who is a member of a voluntary organisation. I abhor the very tiny percentage of the British public who, when a tin is rattled in front of them, or when they are asked to support something, say, "I am not going to have any part in it. Why should I? It is up to the state to do it all." That tiny minority of people are those who would not get off their backsides to help anyone. I deplore their attitude.
By far and away the overwhelming majorty of the British public are active citizens and participants in voluntary groups. No town is worth anything without the quality of its citizens, and I am proud that on both counts Basildon has plenty.