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Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. Will hon. Members who are having conversations in the doorway please converse outside.

Mr. Beith: I am most grateful, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

This issue is important for many charity organisations, a number of which have made representations to us about the level of cost. The Scout Association estimates that the

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cost of checks on their volunteers will be about £500,000 a year. Think of the number of scout money-raising events that will be required to raise that amount. The Guide Association estimates costs of £450,000. We should bear it in mind that those organisations demand much of their volunteers, and to expect them to pay this cost on top of everything else is too much. The Scripture Union, which runs summer camps for young people, estimates that the costs of checking would add an extra £30,000 merely to the costs of summer camps. The Boys Brigade has produced its cost figures, and other organisations, such as the Wing Fellowship and the Abbeyfield Society, which is involved in residential care for the elderly and has volunteers who back up the work of professional staff, are deeply concerned.

In the report of his inquiry, Lord Cullen noted that doing what he proposed involved costs. He wanted to ensure that checks are made on people working as volunteers with young people. Those costs should be kept within the limits of what organisations can afford. It is the view of almost every organisation that the likely costs are beyond the limits of what they can afford.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield): Lord Cullen went further and said that, if necessary, the fees should be subsidised. Is that not correct?

Mr. Beith: Yes, that is precisely what Lord Cullen said, and I am grateful to the hon. Member for pointing that out. In my youth, I was a scout in the hon. Gentleman's constituency. I do not like to think of the amount of money that would have to be raised by local organisations to meet those costs. Lord Cullen said that, if necessary, they should be subsidised.

Throughout the proceedings on the Bill, the Government have said that, despite the efforts of our former Speaker, Lord Weatherill, in the other place, they are not prepared to commit Government expenditure, and that they want the scheme to be self-financing. If help is given to charities, it will have to be at the expense of private individuals who apply for general certificates. That cannot be right, and it is not in the spirit of the Government's acceptance of most of the recommendations in Lord Cullen's report.

Now that the Government have rejected the view of the vast majority of their Lordships under the leadership of our former Speaker, and have overturned that good amendment to the Bill, we must ensure that the cost issue comes back to this House. The effect of the amendment would be that the House would have to approve, by affirmative order, the scale of charges to be imposed. We would then know precisely how much was involved, and the charities would know how much it would cost them.

We could put those figures in front of the Government, and if we were not satisfied with the scale of charges, we could defeat the proposals and force the Government, whoever was in power, to make proper and satisfactory provision for charities. I invite hon. Members to ensure that this matter comes before Parliament--it will be the next Parliament, after the general election--and that the real concerns of charities about the costs involved will be brought to bear.

If organisations were not doing the jobs they do, the Government would have to find other ways in which to do them. Those organisations keep youngsters out of

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trouble, and care for the elderly. The cost savings to public funds that they create are enormous. We owe it to them to ensure that they do not have to foot an unreasonable and unaffordable bill, so that the people in their care are looked after by people who are fit to do so. It is important that they should make those checks, but they need help to do so.

Rev. Martin Smyth (Belfast, South): I support the amendment. The Government recently refused to accept a report that recommended a self-funded social services council, whereas they propose to impose further charges on a limited number of people who voluntarily give of their services, and on charities which, in many other ways, have subsidised public expenditure. When the number of volunteers has fallen, it is wrong to impose further charges on organisations.

I speak from years of experience in the Boys Brigade movement and the Scripture Union. I recognise that, in our churches, where a fair bit of the charity support comes from, fewer people are doing voluntary work. If we think that their work benefits all the nation, then all the nation should support it. We should not leave it to a coterie of volunteers. I support the amendment, which would allow the matter to come back to the House for further consideration.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton: I share much of the concern expressed by the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith), who told the House that he was a scout in Macclesfield. I commend him on that, because I am involved in the scout movement. I am a member of the Macclesfield and Congleton district scout council, and I am a vice-president of the Cheshire county scout association, but I am not speaking only on their behalf.

There are 150,000 non-profit-making sports clubs in this country, with a total membership of 6.5 million people. Each of those clubs is run predominantly by coaches and staff, all of whom freely put time and effort into promoting sport in their locality for the benefit of all. Many, if not all, of those clubs rely on the hard work and commitment of their volunteers to stay afloat. I know that for a fact through my involvement with clubs in Macclesfield. They have not the additional money with which to pay even a £10 fee for each volunteer.

The charging of volunteers for criminal checks sits uneasily with the determination of the Government, and our Prime Minister, to promote volunteering and grass-roots support throughout the country. At the beginning of this year, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for National Heritage delivered the Government's youth pledge--that all young people who wanted to volunteer would have an opportunity to do so by the end of 1997. I understand that £3 million was allotted for the purpose.

This Conservative Government also recently launched a new policy document entitled "Young People Make a Difference", the aim of which was further to encourage youth volunteering. The document outlines an ambitious programme to increase young people's opportunities to volunteer, and reflects part of a much wider agenda throughout government to support volunteering and youth development.

Dr. Norman A. Godman (Greenock and Port Glasgow): Does the hon. Gentleman think that the subsidy should come from central Government?

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Mr. Winterton: I shall answer that question directly in a moment.

I put it to the House that charging volunteers--many of whom have no income, and many of whom may be on income support and other benefits--is hardly likely to encourage more people to volunteer.

Given my earlier intervention on the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed, I must say that, if there are to be charges--for good reasons, which I am sure my hon. Friend the Minister will explain when he winds up the debate--I think that they should be subsidised from the centre. I know that that would inevitably involve additional Government expenditure, but I believe that it would benefit the country financially. I think that it would be wrong for us to provide any sort of disincentive to young volunteers, especially when both the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for National Heritage have said that the Government want to see much more volunteering, and are giving it considerable support.

I rest my case. I am worried--as, I am sure, are other Conservative Members--about the impact that charges will have on many charitable organisations, such as youth groups and non-profit-making sports clubs. I think that we have given too little support, and that our former Speaker, Lord Weatherill, reflected widespread public concern when he successfully moved amendments in another place.

Mr. Rowe: I declare an interest. Among other things, I am a trustee of Community Service Volunteers, the organisation that places the largest number of long-term young volunteers in the country. Our organisation clearly has a vested interest in the debate, but there is more to it than that: as many hon. Members will know by now, I believe passionately in volunteering.

I enthusiastically support the "Young People Make a Difference" initiative, and wish that it had gone further. I believe that there is a huge untapped pool of volunteers out there, in a society in which increasing numbers may retire in their fifties with a life expectancy of 86 years or more. Many of those people will have retired on exiguous pensions; many will have very little income from any source other than benefit. Those are the people who volunteer least, but they are the very people we wish to encourage.

Someone aged 54, who has retired prematurely, may be anxious to contribute. That person may come along and say, "I have a skill. I would quite like to coach the under-11s"--or whatever it may be. What do we find? The first thing that that person is told is, "We are so pleased that you have volunteered. Of course, you will have to pay £10 or more as your first contribution." No voluntary organisation can expect that, and the organisation will therefore pay the money itself. As several hon. Members have pointed out, that means a massive contribution, which voluntary organisations can ill afford.

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