The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Paul Goggins) : It is good to see you in the Chair, Miss Begg. The House will know that 2005 is the year of the volunteer. Given that we have just passed the longest day, today is probably a good opportunity to take stock and evaluate the positive contribution that our voluntary sector makes to community life, and to highlight some of the new ways in which the Government are taking action to support the sector and to give it the encouragement and support it needs.
In the programme for the year of the volunteer, each month has a different theme and this month is recognition month. I should like to begin by highlighting and celebrating the millions of activities undertaken by volunteers all over our country, many of which often go unrecognised. Yesterday, I had the privilege to unveil a plaque at the headquarters of Community Service Volunteers to acknowledge the tremendous contribution that the 50 volunteers who work there make to the organisation. There will be many such plaques unveiled up and down the country during the next few weeks.
In every part of our society, we find people giving their time and energy; volunteers make an extraordinary contribution to our schools, hospitals and prisons and on our sports fields. I applaud the efforts and achievements of all our volunteers in all our communities. The Home Office 2003 citizenship survey shows that in England and Wales, 17.5 million people regularly volunteered in their community during that year. That means that they undertook some form of voluntary activity at least once a month. Others, of course, act on a less frequent basis, so the number is actually higher than 17.5 million if all activities are counted. The contribution overall is estimated to be some £45 billion, although it is a contribution that money just could not buy, because it involves the ingenuity, commitment, dedication and skill of every individual.
Volunteering enhances individual development, personal fulfilment and confidence. It helps to meet need and to build up our communities. It is vital, therefore, that the Government take action to support the sector in ways that enable volunteers to do more and to make a real difference. There are many departmental programmes helping to do that. There are 600,000 volunteers aged over 16 who are involved in programmes led by the Department for Education and
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Skills, including around 350,000 school governors. The Department for Culture, Media and Sport estimates that there are around 5.8 million adult sports volunteers. There are about 12,500 special constables, and it is estimated that around 10,000 volunteers work with offenders either in prisons or in the community. In 200203, the Ministry of Defence contributed more than £31 million towards a range of voluntary activities, from projects that connect combined cadet forces to schools to pre-school and youth services.
We also provide a range of practical support and guidance to help front-line organisations delivering volunteering programmes. Through our "ChangeUp" programme, we have funded Volunteering England to disseminate information and good practice and to modernise and increase the quality of volunteering support.
The Charities Bill, currently being considered by the House of Lords, includes measures that will enable up to 70,000 small volunteer-run charities to de-register from the Charity Commission, and thereby reduce the burden of red tape from which they currently suffer. One of the five codes of practice in the compact, which sets out the rules of engagement between the voluntary and community sector and public bodies, deals with volunteering. We are currently considering conducting a consultation on how to strengthen those relationships and arrangements. The Government are clearly committed to working in partnership with the sector, and to helping to create a climate in which volunteering can flourish.
Mr. David Drew (Stroud) (Lab/Co-op): I am not sure whether my hon. Friend has become the voluntary sector Minister, in which case I should congratulate him, or whether he was already doing the job. Anyway, it is good that he is in the Chamber today.
On the relationship between the statutory sectorin other words, central Governmentand the voluntary sector, I am sure that he was aware of the hurt felt, although he was not directly responsible for it, when the Department for Education and Skills removed the Woodcraft Folk's grant. There is also quite a to-do about the removal of the £6 million grant to WRVS, which seems to have been paid for a long time.
At the very least, the negotiations that led to the loss of those grants did not go without a hitch. Will the Minister say what purchase he has over such negotiations, and whether we can improve those relationships in the future?
I mentioned the compact. We are consulting on that, because although many authorities have signed up to it, it is not working as well as it should in every area, and we want to ensure that it does, so that organisations are paid on time and are given proper respect.
Of the two incidents that my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud (Mr. Drew) mentioned, I know less about the Woodcraft Folk, although I know that there has been controversy about it.
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I know that there has been controversy about WRVS, because I have responded to several letters from hon. Friends and others in recent days, but this issue goes back several years. The Home Office has funded WRVS for many, many years and an agreement was reached some time ago between WRVS and the Home Office to scale down the grant to its current level. The grant is therefore in keeping with the long-term arrangement that we agreed with WRVS. The agreement also gave WRVS some advantages, but I shall be happy to write to my hon. Friend and set out the situation in some detail so that he can be reassured that we reduced the grant over time as part of a planned agreement.
As well as being an opportunity to celebrate the contribution made by volunteers, the year of the volunteer is also a call to those who do not currently volunteer to become more involved. With our support, Volunteering England and Community Service Volunteers, working in partnership with many other organisations and charities, are delivering a wide programme of events and campaigns to highlight what is already happening and the many opportunities that exist.
Since its launch in January, the year has generated many new ideas and resources across the different themes that have been highlighted each month. During youth and children month in February, for example, 50 large-scale activities were registered, including a new volunteer recruitment video, which was created by Barnado's, promoting the benefits of being a young volunteer and challenging some of the misconceptions that sometimes arise about volunteering.
As part of environment month in May, 300 volunteers signed up to be Kew gardeners for the day in order to find out more about the conservation area in Kew gardens. Those volunteers received free admission in return, and went on guided walks. Again, that is something for something, which is always part of volunteering.
Through the year of the volunteer, we also want to widen the range of volunteering opportunities and to remove some of the barriers that stand in the way of those who want to volunteer, but sometimes find it difficult to do so. We want to promote new and traditionally less to recognised forms of volunteering, such as mentoring and befriending or even, in this modern hi-tech age, e-mentoring.
We have been working with the sector on several key initiatives, not setting the direction but enabling the sector, often with only a little extra money, to build the infrastructure that they need. We have, for example, supported the national online volunteer opportunity database so that people can very quickly access information about the opportunities that exist. We have helped CSV to encourage more civil servants to become volunteers. No doubt, hon. Members on both sides of the House will regard that as a very good thing. We have also supported Volunteering England in its work with England's 350 high-street volunteering centres.
This week, a new feature of the year of the volunteerthe "Give a billion minutes" campaignwas announced, in which individuals are invited to pledge time for volunteering. We want to recognise existing commitments and encourage new volunteers to
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come forward and we hope that, with the support of a groundbreaking partnership involving a number of major media organisations, the initiative will, in effect, become a public record of existing and new volunteer effort.
A key group to whom we want to reach out is young people. In March, the Russell commission set out exciting and ambitious plans to engage 1 million new young people in volunteering and community action in the next five years. Ian Russell's proposals are intended to transform the volunteering landscape for young people, bringing about a step change in the diversity, quality and quantity of opportunities for which young people can volunteer.
A central theme in the commission's report is the importance of engaging young people in designing and shaping their volunteering experiences. That focus on youth reflects the Government's broader commitment to giving young people a much bigger say in how their communities operate, and to making sure that local services reflect young people's priorities and aspirations.
The recommendations also aim to harness the skills and expertise of voluntary and community sector organisations and build up their capacity to engage young people in a wide range of volunteering opportunities. Those may include local environmental campaigns, participation in sports and community activities, and extended school opportunities such as IT classes and the extended school day. Peer mentoring is also an important aspect of youth volunteering, as are the important opportunities that young people seek to do voluntary work overseas.
The aim of the framework is to make volunteering more accessible and attractive to young people. The opportunities need not, of course, be limited exclusively to the voluntary and community sector. The Russell commission was keen that a range of new opportunities should open up for young volunteers in the public sector. It made practical suggestions, including befriending and buddying schemes in the health service, and the provision of peer-to-peer health education on healthy eating, exercise, sexual health and substance abuse.
The commission also saw opportunities for young people to become more involved in campaigns on community safety, and anti-bullying campaigns. That reveals a potential for young people to help other young people in a way that older people sometimes cannot. Young people might have the opportunity to work in Sure Start centres, and another proposal was that they could befriend, help and support young immigrants who were newly arrived in the country.
Young people would be able to choose between one-off opportunities and part-time opportunities, which might be a couple of hours or even a day or two a week. Full-time programmes might involve some financial support for the young people, to sustain them in the long term.
Mr. Drew : Does my hon. Friend accept that one of the most attractive ways of encouraging young people to volunteer is time-banking, which enables them to bank some of the voluntary hours that they work, on the basis of the model that worked successfully under Edgar Kahn in the States for some time? I know that the Home
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Office has been instrumental in encouraging that movement, but a national launch is now needednot necessarily so that young people think that they are getting something for something, but so that they receive some reward to be used in the ways that my hon. Friend describes.
Paul Goggins : I agree strongly. Having recently taken on ministerial responsibility for the matter, I have been forced to go back in time to some of the voluntary effort that I took part in as a teenager. I realise now on reflection that some of those activities made a big difference to me, to the interests that I developed, and to the activities in which I engaged. I am sure that hon. Members have that experience in common. We have all done things in our younger lives that made a difference not just to others but to us. The something for something may not be immediate, but it may last throughout a life.
There is now a team in the Home Office working to develop further the ideas put forward and the recommendations made by the Russell Commission, to develop partnerships with the private sector as well as with the voluntary and community sector, and to make sure that young people are deeply engaged in the project to transform youth volunteering opportunities in this country. Obviously, young people will want these opportunities to be interesting, fun and engaging. We want them to be popular in that way. I am sure that, if we can get that right and put in the right resources, we can really make the step change that we want to see.
Finally, I want to look at our plans for responding to some of the challenges and opportunities that will need to be addressed if we are to see the sustained increase in volunteering that we all want. There is, for example, the need for greater clarity about the legal status of volunteers. There is the question of risk management and the affordability of liability insurance.
Tom Levitt (High Peak) (Lab): My hon. Friend talked a moment ago about the legal status of volunteering. Does he share my regret that the Government did not extend to volunteers freedom from discrimination under the Disability Discrimination Act 2005? Many people volunteer to get qualifications and experience to add to their CV, in the same way as other people take on employment. Should volunteers who are in a position akin to employment not get the same rights as an employee who is doing something perhaps very similar at their side?
Paul Goggins : It would not be a very sensible idea for me to criticise the Government at this point for something that they may or may not have missed out of legislation. However, the point that my hon. Friend makes is sound.
Volunteers should be given proper respect. They should be treated not just as a second-class work force or people to be put upon but as people to be respected. We know that some people have sought to exercise what they regard as their right of redress when they have a grievance with the organisation in which they have volunteered. In those circumstances, most people with a grievance would probably just walk away. Some have sought to pursue that grievance. We have to find a long-term answer. If volunteers have a grievance, it should be
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aired in a way that is constructive for the organisation as well. What matters in the end is that people are treated with proper dignity and respect. My hon. Friend the Member for High Peak (Mr. Levitt), who is known in the House as an expert and a great advocate for the voluntary sector, would not have raised the issue with me unless it was a serious point. I will undertake to look at it further.
We hear anecdotally that the issues that I have mentioned are, at least in part, contributing to difficulties in attracting certain types of volunteers. For example, we hear about the scout movement sometimes finding it difficult to recruit or about the difficulty of finding people to help with school trips. We have to look at these issues. We need to strike a balance that takes the management of health and safety issues seriously while not stifling through unnecessary legislation or bureaucracy the creative, flexible or original approaches that so often distinguish volunteer activity.
The new Compensation Bill should help by making it clear that there is no negligence liability for incidents that cannot be avoided, as long as one takes reasonable care and exercises reasonable skill. I hope that that will provide reassurance to those who may be concerned about possible litigation, including teachers, local authorities and volunteers themselves. We will continue to work with the sector on such issues. We will be resourcing a range of help and support through the new "ChangeUp" programme.
Another key challenge is the need to widen participation. While the overall levels of volunteering in this country are high, opportunities to volunteer are not distributed equally. Too many people are excluded from the opportunity to play their individual part in an active, vibrant civil society. We are looking at how we can do more to enable those who do not traditionally participate to be more active as volunteers.
We will be looking in particular at involving people with a disability or with a long-term, limiting illness. We will try and engage with people who have no qualifications or people from black and minority ethnic groups. Research shows us that people from those groups are less likely to participate as volunteers.
People volunteer for many different reasons. They derive a range of personal benefits from volunteering. Some of the benefits include improved physical and mental health, as well as enhanced employability and confidence levels. It is now widely accepted that volunteering offers a route to a range of personal development opportunities. It is seen as a way of acquiring skills that may be difficult to gain through more traditional routes, and it offers social contact for those who do not have other social networks. Those are all features of volunteering that apply especially to people who are, or who are at risk of being, socially excluded.
In preparing for this debate, I was particularly struck by the example of a young woman, Jane, who volunteers at Bristol zoo. She has cerebral palsy, and she has worked with staff at the zoo to help them understand the needs of people with disabilities. For Jane, too, there have been many benefits. She says that the activity has widened her interests and abilities, and she has gained more confidence in dealing with the public, children
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and, of course, the inhabitants of the zoo. It is a good example of how a volunteer can both enhance other people's understanding and get something back themselves.
Jane's story should inspire us to do more to widen the scope of volunteering, and over the next few years we will work with other Departments and the voluntary and community sector to make it easier for all people to volunteer, whether they have a low income, a physical disability, a language difficulty or a mental health problem. Everyone has potential, and volunteering can help them to fulfil it.
Mr. Drew : I am sorry to interrupt my hon. Friend again, but I hope this is helpful. I do not know whether other hon. Members were present, but before the general election I heard the Minister of State, Department of Health, my right hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Wavertree (Jane Kennedy), respond to a debate here on the pathfinder initiative. I know that she has moved on to other things since then. I hope that my hon. Friend can engage with those initiatives because a proactive approach needs to be taken towards volunteering in view of the fact that we are trying, understandably, to redefine the benefits system. I am interested in mental health, but the benefits question could apply to those with physical disabilities as well. Will he engage with the Department for Work and Pensions to ensure that there is joined-up government as well as joined-up thinking?
Paul Goggins : I can offer my hon. Friend that assurance. We see volunteering as a real step forward towards skills training, education and employment, and we must ensure that the benefits system is aligned in a way that facilitates that rather than makes it difficult or impossible. I assure my hon. Friend that that is in my thoughts as we approach the work.
We all hope that there will soon be a positive announcement on the London Olympic bid for 2012. The bid team recently launched an excellent volunteering strategy document, which aims to create a strong, diverse and well trained volunteer work force of up to 70,000 people who will be a crucial part of the delivery of what will be the most successful ever Olympic games. The Olympic and Paralympic volunteer programmes will engage volunteers across the United Kingdom, providing varied and enjoyable opportunities within the games. They will be a real celebration and reflection of the richness and diversity of London and other UK communities.
I know something about such events from my personal experience as a Manchester Member of Parliament, as we held the Commonwealth games in 2002. One of the most spectacular successes was the army of 20,000 volunteers who made the games the success that they became. Many people had never volunteered before, but many have continued to volunteer since. Others found it a useful route to gain qualifications and move back into employmentmany of the volunteers had not had a job for some time. Although the great physical legacies of the games are the magnificent City of Manchester stadium and some of the other facilities, the best part of the legacy of the
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Commonwealth games was probably the fact that people volunteered and volunteers have been able to do so much since.
Volunteering is as old as the human race. Throughout history, individuals and groups have always given freely of their time and talents in order to meet challenges and to fulfil their aspirations. Last century, as we developed a comprehensive range of paid-for public services, the value placed on voluntary initiative tended to diminish. Fortunately, in recent years we began once again to realise that the contribution of individuals, community action groups and voluntary organisations is fundamental to the development of a healthy and cohesive civil society. The opportunity and the eagerness of people to volunteer continues to increase, as do the Government's efforts to help the sector to build up its strength and capacity. I believe that we all regard it as important, irrespective of party. I look forward to the debate.
Mr. Andrew Turner (Isle of Wight) (Con): The Government's choice of the important topic of volunteering for this afternoon's debate is greatly to be welcomed. I am sure that its timing is no accident, because it is the subject of two of the top 10 questions for the Home Secretary to answer on Monday. Something from my days as a special adviser, when that was a respectable calling, tells me that it does not happen by coincidence.
"volunteers spot and articulate unmet needs and emerging issues . . . If these volunteers stopped giving their time, then many vital services would collapse, including hospital transport, sea and mountain rescue, magistrates' courts and children's panels."
The manifesto might also have included animal welfare groups, conservation societies, Tae Kwan Do clubs, old comrades' associations, village halls and community radio stations. The organisation Volunteering England adds to that list the tandem bike rider who takes control of a tandem bike with a blind rider behind him, those who help migrating toads cross roads safely and lifeboat crews.
In my constituency, volunteers include Helen Butler of the Wight squirrel project. Some hon. Members may not have heard of the project; it helps red squirrels cross the road safely. Alex Emson of Hover the Wight enabled a deaf and blind man to pilot a small hovercraft by touch alone from Ryde to Southsea across Spithead. My esteemed predecessor of 100 years ago, Major-General Jack Seely, is one of countless men of the Wight who, before and since, have given their time and, in some cases, their lives serving on the local lifeboat.
Earlier today I found a list of voluntary organisations in my constituency on the Isle of Wight council website; it ran to 32 pages, with 40 organisations per page. That does not include those organisations that have somehow avoided being recorded, such as the local Conservative,
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Labour and Liberal Democrat parties. Of course, political parties are themselves voluntary organisations, albeit with small numbers of paid staff; that is one of the strengths of our system.
Why do people volunteer? People volunteer at all stages of their livesin retirement to keep active and to build or maintain a range of social contacts; in youth to prepare themselves for the world of work by broadening their experience or by acquiring qualifications; and in adulthood to support their children or their aged relatives or those of others in the area, in sport, recreation, education and in caring organisations.
For all of them, however, there is the even more altruistic motive of doing something to create a better societyto make their city, town or village a better place to live. There are many volunteers, and it was a pleasure on Tuesday to attend a reception celebrating their work, especially that of the older volunteers, on the Terrace Pavilion with the hon. Member for High Peak (Tom Levitt), who is in his place. The fact is that volunteering strengthens communities.
My noble Friend Baroness Thatcher is recorded as saying that there is no such thing as society. I shall give hon. Members her train of thought. She began by identifying those who cast their problems on to society. She continued in the context that society was being expected to pick up people's problems. She then said:
"You know, there's no such thing as society. There are individual men and women, there are families. And no government can do anything except through people, and people must look after themselves first. It's our duty to look after ourselves and then, also, to look after our neighbours."
That is what volunteers do. They are not doing so to create a Thatcherite valhalla or a socialist paradise; they are doing so because they are human. In doing so, they are incrementally but immeasurably strengthening somethingsocietythat no man can design or build. I applaud each and every one of them for that.
A Conservative Green Paper, "Sixty Million Citizens", identified some of the obstacles that volunteers and voluntary organisations face.We welcomed the principles enshrined in the public-voluntary sector compact, and the Government's then proposed reform of charity law, which is now the subject of legislation in another place. We also discovered dissatisfaction among voluntary organisations with micro-management of the work of the voluntary sector through short-term grants and contracts, with the sham nature of some consultations, with the unlevel playing field on which voluntary organisations compete for contracts, with red tape and other obstacles to volunteering, and with poor access to funding for small charities.
We recognise the need to streamline funding arrangements, to make them more accessible, to encourage longer-term contracts, to make grant-seeking simpler, to reduce the need for multiple applications, and to encourage public sector bodies to consider charitable and voluntary bodies as possible deliverers of their policy objectives. Through the Charities Bill, we
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will promote the greater independence of the Charity Commission, and we remain convinced that the lottery should support voluntary activity, not activity traditionally funded by the taxpayer.
Meanwhile, in its manifesto, the Labour party promised to discuss with local authorities the best way to include social enterprises, community interest companies, mutuals and co-operatives in procurement policies. To what extent does that pledge include voluntary organisations in the traditional mould? The manifesto also promised
That takes some beating for gobbledegook. Perhaps it was a translation of the words of the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, the hon. Member for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart), who told the Transport Select Committee that "the conclusion"of discussions between herself and the Treasury
"has been that the most effective way to increase the income of a voluntary organisation . . . is through very substantial tax breaks on charitable giving and effective encouragement of tax efficient giving".
which the Minister has said a little bit about. Are Ministers sure that they are not, in each of those pledges, merely reinventing the wheel at a cost not only to the taxpayer but possibly to existing voluntary organisations? What is the value of a national service rather than local services tailored to the needs of individuals?
My great disappointment in the Labour manifesto was that, for all the Government's evident belief in partnership with the voluntary sector, they did not talk about clearing away some of the obstacles to volunteering, which have been widely identified. They can be summarised as litigation, insurance, inspection, regulation and conditionality of funding.
On 28 August last year, my right hon. Friend the shadow Home Secretary illustrated the threat of litigation against voluntary groups with the case of the parents of the girl guide who won £3,500 after singeing her fingers cooking sausages. Exactly a week later, the then shadow Chancellor, my right hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset (Mr. Letwin), pointed to insurance risks. He cited
In that case, thankfully, the trust reversed its decision, but hon. Members can imagine the demotivating sense of resignation that translates into, "Oh, well, if they don't want my Victoria sponge I'll find something else to do with my spare time."
"now at risk because of the blanket of well intentioned risk-minimising regulation that affects everything from how the children can be put on their mounts to how they can be prevented from falling off.
The volunteers, who give their time for this admirable cause without the slightest hope of reward, are now monitored and inspected and bureaucratised in a way more appropriate for dangerous monopolists".
Examples of that kind, however, do not come only from members of the shadow Cabinet. A survey by the Central Council of Physical Recreation says that fear of litigation is the top barrier to volunteering. Although 80,000 youngsters are on waiting lists to join the scouts and guides, those organisations point out that it is not just the insurance costs that are a problem. Even a scoutmaster who defeats a legal challenge to his competence is unlikely to return to scouting.
John Grantham of the Scout Association provided the following example of a legal judgment given at Newtownards on 6 November 2002. A scout camp site had built an impromptu water slide on a gentle slope. The organisers were providing participants with lightweight helmets and advising on sensible use of the slide. However, the youth leader of some non-scout children decided to dive down the slope. His helmet, which had not been fitted by supervising scout leaders, hit the ground and slipped, cutting the bridge of his nose. A claim was brought and the judge held that scout leaders should have ensured that people could not get on to the slide without the helmets being checked.
The British Canoe Union tells us that at the British canoe marathon a marshal was positioned at each end of a narrow half-mile cutting, to warn crews about any powered craft that might present a danger. A kayak was allowed to enter, on the strict understanding that the crew were not to attempt to overtake a powered craft
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aheadwhich they did, causing damage to the craft. A claim was made against the volunteer marshal that he should have assumed that the crew would ignore his request and that he had acted negligently. The claim was settled by the insurance but the race organisers now face increased insurance premiums, and the volunteer will not be offering his services again.
Those examples highlight the difficulties that organisations and individuals face. The Minister's predecessor was not persuaded that they suggested a need for the Promotion of Volunteering Bill, but if the Minister and I agree now on nothing else there is certainly a public perception that the threat of litigation hangs over the heads of organisations such as those.
That public perception of a compensation culture is a barrier to recruitment and retention of volunteers. A higher burden of proof to establish negligence is needed and I am not completely persuaded that the legislation that the Minister mentioned provides it. The courts must be forced to recognise that certain activities carry inherent risk and that by undertaking those risks an individual must assume a level of responsibility for his own safety.
My constituency of Isle of Wight is affected. Two years ago the Royal Yacht Squadron, one of the oldest sporting organisations in the world, was forced to require the wearing of life jackets for certain races, for fear of its insurance becoming invalid. Local regattas and carnivals, all organised by volunteers, find their insurance premiums and policing costs prohibitive.
At the end of the previous Parliament, the Select Committee on Transport published a helpful report on search and rescue services. Those essential services are run almost entirely by volunteers, but there are shortagesof 20 per cent. in the retained fire service in 2004 and of 5 per cent. of complement for auxiliaries in coastguard rescue teams. Some 4,500 people volunteer as crew for the Royal National Lifeboat Institution, and many do so for inshore rescue services. Mountain Rescue, too, depends largely on volunteers, who not only give their time but often pay for their equipment.
Paragraph 63 reports the absurdity of volunteers being eligible to take voluntary organisations to employment tribunalsa costly and time-consuming process for the respondent. Perhaps that is the reverse of the case to which the hon. Member for High Peak referred. These telling examples fuel the perception that the Government are not always NGO-friendly. The Minister has a significant opportunity to bring together a number of Departments to ensure that these vital arrangements are helped, not jeopardised, even inadvertently, by Government action. I hope that he will contribute to the Government response to the report.
There are two other obstacles for voluntary organisations, if not to volunteering, which I shall flag up. The first is exploitation by some public sector bodies; the second is red tape. Felicite Booker, of Age Concern Isle of Wight, told me more than a year ago of difficulties with the Isle of Wight's then Liberal
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Democrat-led council. I am referring to the tendency to agree orally to purchase services but for the contracts to follow in some cases well into the financial year, and last year not at all, on a take-it-or-leave-it basis when staff are in post and clients expect the service to be available. That is an abuse of power that all hon. Members will condemn and which the newly elected Conservative administration on the Isle of Wight will no doubt want to put right.
I shall give some examples of regulation and red tape. Incidentally, I welcome the reductions proposed in the Charities Bill. The cost of Criminal Records Bureau checks has risen not only for employers but for volunteers. The organisations through which volunteers are checked used to pay a one-off £300 fee to the bureau; now, I understand, the fee is £300 a year. Many of those umbrella organisations have to pass the cost on to small voluntary bodies that cannot do the checks themselves, if they are lucky enough to find an organisation to take on that role at a reasonable cost.
On a similar theme, 30 children all aged under 3 managed to raise £142 for Barnardo's by a toddlethon in Poole park in Dorset. The council had wanted to charge £26 to check whether the event needed policing or barriers. I was pleased to hear that Councillor Don Collier of Poole borough council had waived the fee, but the example shows how additional burdens on councils feed through either to council tax payers or to consumers of servicesincluding volunteers and voluntary organisations.
The Minister will know that village halls and local sports clubs are vital to small communities up and down the country. They are usually managed and maintained by volunteers, often with very tight budgets. However, the Licensing Act 2003 lumps them in with pubs and nightclubs, requiring them to obtain a premises licence based on the rateable value of their premises. That means an applicant fee of between £100 and £635 and then an annual fee of between £70 and £350a cost that many find difficult to absorb. Additionally, the person in charge of the venue must hold a personal licence. A further £37 fee is due and a recognised licensing qualification is required. A designated premises supervisor, who will be responsible for day-to-day events, must be appointedit can be the same personincurring a further £23 fee. That person must also hold a personal licence. We should not be surprised if unpaid part-timers are unwilling to take on such roles, or the lengthy application process. The regulations also limit the number of times a village hall can be let for events that sell alcohol, which has been a vital source of income in the past. Both those issues threaten village halls, sports clubs and their volunteers.
I flag up that example because I sat on the Committee that considered the Licensing Bill. Ministers repeatedly assured us that the Bill would reduce red tape, but I am concerned about what might happen to volunteers and voluntary organisations. The Bill commands considerable cross-party support, but my initial concern is that the clauses on the regulation of fundraising and street collections have not been fully scrutinised. We shall see what emerges from the Lords, but I do not want the burden of additional bureaucracy to be placed on small organisations.
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and there were many more. Those are ambitious objectives, but sadly they sound like typical top-down targets. I hope that the Minister will gently tell the Chancellor that however good volunteering is, it is hard for voluntary organisations to respond to a burst of Government enthusiasm unless it is planned with them and sustained effectively.
"The prospect of thousands more people offering themselves as volunteers fills some with alarm, among them Norrie Murray of Volunteer Development Scotland. 'It's easy for government and others to think that volunteering opportunities can be created rapidly,' he says. 'My experience is that that's not the case. Organisations need training and support to help them work with volunteers.'"
There is some evidence that money spent by the Government duplicates efforts that are already made voluntarily. When I asked one Government-backed organisation whether the 250,000 volunteers recruited by paid regional animators to their books were new or existing volunteers and how many were actually volunteering, it appeared not to know. The sector does not need a blizzard of initiatives; it needs stability and a MinisterI am sure that the hon. Gentleman will not disappointwho will address sympathetically the dull and worthy detail of the obstacles that it faces.
I should also mention Volunteering England's database. If one inputs "politics", which is one of the options, and then uses my postcode, one finds nothing at all. [Interruption.] We are very non-political in my constituency. However, if one puts in SW1A 0AAa postcode with which I am sure hon. Members are familiarthere is no mention of any political party of which I have ever heard. So, those who are trying to find volunteers need help from the voluntary organisations.
"The alternative to a bigger state. is not . . . a lonely individualism. The centralised state and Darwinian individualism are, in fact, natural accomplices in the undermining of society. Both cut people loose from the institutions which provide identity and personal security. The real alternative to the bigger state is a stronger society."
Tom Levitt (High Peak) (Lab): First, in the spirit of ecumenism, I find it difficult to disagree with anything that the hon. Member for Isle of Wight (Mr. Turner) said. Indeed, when he started talking about Liberal councils, my heart positively warmed to him. The Liberal-led coalition that runs High Peak borough
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council is presently considering cutting the funding for the citizens advice bureau, which would guarantee more suffering and hardship for the most vulnerable in society. I hope that his Conservative colleagues in the coalition will withdraw their support for that proposal.
I also very much welcome the speech of my hon. Friend the Minister, who has a long history of involvement in the sector, not just as a Member of this place but before that. Of course, I knew that it is the year of the volunteer, but I had not realised that it is the month of recognition. I am delighted that he did not mean volunteers carrying out their activities wearing orange vests, an idea that the Home Office has perhaps now put on the back burner.
The hon. Member for Isle of Wight was kind enough to mention the reception that I hosted the other day for the Experience Corps at our now annual celebration of older volunteers. It is a body instigated by, but now happily living free, as it were, of the Home Office, having survived after years of official funding came to an end. As chair of the all-party group on charities and the voluntary sector, and the host of that event, I took the liberty of inviting the president of the local brass band, a worker in a charity shop, a former activist in the Soroptimists, a keen and active member of the St. John Ambulance, someone who is regularly involved in twinning activities with Buxton's twin town in the north of France, and someone who works for Help the Aged. Rather than fill up a whole carriage of volunteers from my constituency, I economised, because all these descriptions describe the same person. It was a great pleasure to have Stella Gill in the House of Commons in her considerable years to come and see this institution and let her fulfil her hobby of watching politics from afar at much closer quarters. She enjoyed the day very much, as I am sure volunteers from other constituencies did, and I thank the Experience Corps for maintaining that tradition.
The week before, at a meeting of the all-party group to which I referred, I was struck by a talk from the nursing manager of my local acute services hospital, the Stepping Hill hospital in Stockport. She described how an out-patient experiencewe have to use the jargon these dayscould have resulted in an individual arriving at the hospital and leaving a couple of hours later, having undergone treatment. During that period they would have come across 12 or more different volunteers working within the public sector carrying out different functionsnot replacing what had previously been done by employees, but enhancing what was currently done by employees. They increased the efficiency and the atmosphere of care, and had the ability to bring the patient experience to the service delivery coal-face, as it were. In that sense, it sounded very successfulI am sure that it isand struck me as a model of good practice for the delivery of services.
In my constituency, again in Buxton, the Scope charity shop is, I believe, one of the most profitable charity shops in the country, and Buxton has become something of a haven for charity shops. They are a thriving part of the economy, and not only do they fulfil excellent charity functions very cost-effectively, but organisations such as Scope and Help the Aged are involved in passing on what they cannot use to other agencies, such as non-
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governmental organisations in developing countries. They are also involved in recycling measures. Every Member has seen throughout their constituency the way in which the voluntary sector can change and enhance lives and contribute toward a healthy society. Indeed, I believe that a community cannot be healthy if it does not have a voluntary sector in one or more of its many guises being involved successfully within the area.
Over the years, we have seen changes in the way in which the voluntary and community sector operates. My own Council for Voluntary Services is a much more professional and dynamic body than it used to be. Indeed, thinking about it, it did not even exist five or six years ago. It has built itself up into a thriving, conscientious and effective voice and capacity to work with other voluntary sector operations in the area.
I mentioned the CAB earlier. In my constituency, which covers 650 square miles of mostly rural land, the bureau, through a healthy living project funded by the lottery, provides an afternoon of adviser presence each week in every rural doctor's surgery throughout the year. In its first year of operation, it put an extra £2 million of unclaimed benefits into people's pockets in rural areas throughout the Peak district. It has changed people's livesI have used that phrase before, but it trueby having a voluntary sector mediator put them in touch with the services and provision available to them.
We recently had an electionno, not the general electionin my area to elect governors of the foundation trust, again for the Stepping Hill hospital in Stockport. It is early days, but I am optimistic that the injection of voluntary sector people on to the governing body of an acute hospital will bring new qualities to its operation. A couple of years before that, we went through the process, with a huge vote of approval from council house residents in High Peak, of setting up an arm's length management organisation. That is now run by professional people but answerable to a committee of volunteers from their community. They are ordinary people managing the housing and related policies of the community in which they live.
We have effective crime and disorder partnershipsvoluntary bodies working on strategies to tackle antisocial behaviourand I want to take the opportunity to commend the way in which young people have involved themselves in those initiatives. For example, the Hands-on project in Glossop has brought people together to hire a local nightclub, so that young people can have the nightclub experience once a month in an alcohol-free environment. Otherwise, it is a normal nightclub, with the same music, the same bouncers and the same chance that they might get searched on the way in, and it has the same standards of expected behaviour.
There is also the Millennium Cellar in Glossop, a youth club that has attracted multi-agency and lottery finance over the years. It was established by young people. They did not think that there was a satisfactory spread of statutory services, so they set up their own club, which has been tremendously helpful in providing courses, homework advice and access to the internet as well as a chance to relax, socialise and play sports and games.
After about 12 years in existence, the Peak District rural deprivation forumanother entirely voluntary bodyis one of the most authoritative voices on rural
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deprivation in the country. It was a great tribute to the strength of that organisation, and a pat on the back for the local strategic partnership in my area, that when the LSP was set up, the then chief executive of the forum became its chair. She was the only member of the voluntary sector in the country who was chairing an LSP. That provided a different sort of leadership and atmosphere for its operation.
The hon. Member for Isle of Wight mentioned mountain rescue services. I have more mountain rescue organisations in my constituency than perhaps anyone elsethere are six if we include the cave rescue group. He raised some serious and sensible questions about how that emergency service operates alongside and in partnership with other emergency services, doing nothing less than saving lives, but believing that it perhaps does not receive the recognition that it deserves. I am not saying that the service should be nationalisedfar from itbut it needs to be treated as an equal partner, although not necessarily from the same stock as the other emergency services. On the ground, the other emergency services treat the mountain rescue service as an equal partner, but I am talking about funding streams and what happens when, say, it struggles for money or when a Land Rover needs replacing.
Other hon. Members have mentioned magistrates and school governors. They are individuals, perhaps not working in voluntary organisations, and as individuals they need support. I want people from wider backgrounds to have the time, inclination and support to become magistrates and school governors. I am pleased that some local companies in my constituency have gone out of their way to encourage their employees to become magistrates or school governors and that they have been generous in allowing time off for that. That is another example of where good practice needs to be disseminated further.
The voluntary sector is distinguished from other sectors of service providers, principally because it is need-led. The need exists first, which generates a response, normally local but sometimes international, to fulfil that need, whether it is for a chrysanthemum societya legitimate member of the voluntary sectoror a strong local voice for or against a local development. For instance, the Tintwistle-Mottram bypass siege committee in my constituency has argued for many years for the Tintwistle-Mottram bypass. The group has been successful and funding has now been secured, largely because of the huge public support that has been expressed through the voluntary sector.
Equally, 100 years ago there was a need for organisations to be responsible for animal welfare, which statutory bodies had not taken up. The Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals grew from the roots of local people's concerns and compassion for animals and developed into the professional and experienced body that it is today. It is astonishing that organisations such as the Royal National Lifeboat Institution take on the responsibilities that they do entirely within the voluntary sector, although they are no less important for that.
On a smaller scale, but again with a constituency interest, I pay tribute to the work that the hon. Member for North-East Bedfordshire (Alistair Burt) undertook in the previous Parliament to secure changes to the
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working at height regulations. That might sound like something that affects scaffolders, and which would therefore be of interest only to Members who represent inner cities; however, it also affects mountain climbing instructors in my constituency and other volunteers in that sector.
A lesson to be learned from what has happened this week is that when a voluntary sector organisation such as Citizens Advice issues a public report, the Government respond immediately and take notice. We have seen that with tax credits this week, not only with Citizens Advice, but with the parliamentary ombudsman, who used to be its chief executive. Clearly she has an excellent pedigree and has lost none of her zeal on moving to the establishment.
I shall say a word about local government and the relationship that councillors on local authorities have with the voluntary sector. The voluntary sector can be the eyes and ears of councillors. Many councillors have not yet realised the opportunities that can be given to them by working with the voluntary sector in their own wards at a very local level. Too many local authority members regard voluntary sector organisations as a possible threat. I recently overheard a conversation between two members of different local strategic partnerships who were talking about this problem. One mentioned a parish councillor who had described a voluntary sector representative in a certain way and then said, "Don't they realise that I'm elected?" The implication was that only someone who was elected could have any idea of what was needed in that community. Sadly, the response of the other person in the conversation was, "Oh, we don't have that problem in our LSP; we don't have any community sector people."
Local strategic partnerships must be just that; they must involve the voluntary sector as equal partners to represent those communities. Councillors who miss that might not realise how much they already rely on the voluntary sector, because when a group of residents say, "The street lighting in this street isn't good enough, we'll sign a petition", that is the community sector in operation. It might not be an organisation or have list of administrative articles, it might not have any funding, but it is the community organising itself and speaking with one voice about a particular issue. If that is not a definition of a voluntary sector organisation, I do not know what is.
Within local government, we see groups coming together to lobby for and against planning applications, petitions being organised about traffic calming, and residents and tenants' associations being consulted to a greater or lesser degree about what goes on in the communities and estates in which they live. That is the voluntary sector in operation. Councillors do not do their communities a service if they do not recognise that and seek to work with the voluntary sector in all its guises.
I very much welcome what my hon. Friend the Minister said about the review of the compact. I was at its launch about five years ago. Where it works, it works very well. There is much good practice that has not yet been sufficiently disseminated, through local authorities in particular, to maximise the benefit of the compact wherever it operates. I want the Minister to include in the review examination of the way in which
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Departments work with voluntary sector operations. I suspect that he will find that the compact is patchy at that level.
There was a time when all services were delivered by the voluntary sector, by the public sector or by the private sector. Then, over 100 years or more, different organisations grew up between those three corners of the triangle. Foundation trusts and arm's length management organisations, which I have already mentioned, arose in the gap between the public sector and the voluntary sector. Co-operatives and friendly societies have long been established in the gap between the voluntary sector and the private sector, and schemes such as the private finance initiative fill the gap between the private and the public sectors.
We have gone from a three-pointed star to a six-pointed star, and are now moving beyond that. There is now a complete continuuma sort of torus or doughnutof structures, with the public, private and voluntary sectors still perhaps at that equilateral relationship with each other, but with every point in the spectrum between them now being filled. The voluntary sector is now working in all sorts of combinations, with perhaps the public sector on one hand and the private sector on the other.
The hon. Member for Isle of Wight mentioned additionality and the National Lottery Bill. The key is to decide where the needs are, not whether the Government could or should provide a service or whether they are providing it. Historically, Government provision has been top down, and will probably always tend to be so, when trying to identify needs and allocating resources accordingly, whereas the voluntary sector's only reason for being is to be on the bottom looking up and to identify needs at a community level. Additionality is a question not of where the money comes from, but of who is identifying the need. If the need is inspired by the voluntary sector, it is additional. What is not right for lottery funding is a top-down need, which has been identified from the top down and without reference to the bottom, or, when taking a position of status quo, replacing something. If the need is identified at the grass roots, that is legitimate.
For the past year I have had the pleasure of chairing the Community Development Foundation. I thank the Home Office for giving me that opportunity. The year has been exciting and dynamic in just getting my feet under the table. The CDF is all about good practice and the way in which the voluntary sector contributes to such things as civil renewal and social inclusion at a community level. The CDF's role is to discover, develop and disseminate good practice.
We are working with several different Government Departments, although our principal relationship is with the Home Office, and lots of exciting things are going on and new initiatives are being taken. CDF recently took over certain elements of grant making. We are very proud of what we do. My only criticism of the CDF is that not enough people know about it. Many people in the voluntary sector and other service deliverers could benefit from being aware of our work. We are addressing that matter.
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I said that I chair the all-party group on charities and the voluntary sector. With the cross-party support of my colleagues on that committee, I should like the name to be changed to the all-party group on the voluntary and community sector. That is partly because I perhaps rashly said at a conference a few months ago that I never wanted to hear the word "charity" again, but is partly because that better describes how the sector operates, in terms of working within, between and on behalf of communities.
One of the reasons for my hang-up with "charity" results from something that happened in my constituency, although I think that other Members will have experienced the same. We know that only about two-thirds of those entitled actually claim pension credit, although among those with the greatest need the figure is much higherabout 95 per cent., I believe. In the most deprived ward in my constituency, the figure is 97 per cent., the highest in the country. Again, that is a result of the voluntary sector making pensioners aware of their entitlements and getting them to claim.
One of the reasons some pensioners do not claim pension credit is charity"I don't want charity." They see it as demeaning, as akin to being a beggar. We know that there is an entitlement to pension credit and that it is not a hand-down. That is why I believe that "charity" has outlived its usefulness.
In Victorian days it was charitable to be involved in charity; nowadays charity is more about empowermentperhaps it is about raising money for good causes, yes, but in most cases the good causes are intended to provide sustainable solutions to help people to help themselves. If that is achieved within communities and not imposed, that is much more likely to be sustainable. That end point, that process, is quite different from the Lady Bountiful handing out of surplus to the poorest and "most deserving", which was perhaps the emblem of charities in the past.
In the past 12 months, wearing yet another hat, as Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Secretary of State for International Development, I have seen British voluntary organisations and non-governmental organisations work very effectively overseas. I have seen Save the Children Fund work with street children in Ulan Bator in Mongolia; a microfinance project and a hospital run by the Leonard Cheshire organisation in Tanzania; and the Leonard Cheshire organisation's work with disabled children in Zambia. All credit goes to those organisations. An increasingly large amount of aid to developing countries now goes through the British and international voluntary sectors, but the key to ensuring that aid is delivered properly is to ensure that it is sustainable. Aid and development in developing countries can be sustained only when voluntary and community sectors can fill the gap in society and couple need with local delivery.
DFID's policy is to put 90 per cent. of direct bilateral aid into the lowest-income countries, which are clearly the ones with the greatest need, but we should consider the many middle-income countries, which, proportionately, other countries might fund better than we do. Middle-income countries are often low-income countries with some quite rich parts. The voluntary sector, unlike some of the statutory sectors, can redistribute wealth, effort and resources yet be relatively free of regulation, which is why we should put special effort into helping countries
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particularly, but not entirely, middle-income countriesto build capacity in their voluntary and community sectors. Such sectors are a sign of a healthy society and they deliver help effectively. I have seen wonderful local voluntary sector organisations operating in some countries, such as Zambia.
As there is little time available, I shall close by asking the Minister 10 questions. I had only six at the beginning of the debate, but have added a few since. I do not challenge him to answer them all now, as I appreciate that he might need some time to think about some of them. They are not necessarily in a logical order, and I have mentioned a few of them already. The first is about the "ChangeUp" procedurethe Home Office process of capacity building in the voluntary and community sector. Will "ChangeUp" support the development of local processes, organisations and structures rather than impose them? Will it work with existing councils for voluntary service to reach the best solution for the circumstances in each area, rather than apply national formulas?
The third question is one that organisations in the voluntary and community sector always face when they start to be successful, which often means that they have got a grant. The problem comes when the grant runs out. We need more sustainable capital and revenue sourcing rules for voluntary sector organisations. I do not say that the grant-givers are always at fault, but there is good practice to be found in the way in which voluntary and community sector bodies manage the end of funding streams and how they then move on. I started my speech with an example about the excellent manner in which Experience Corps survived that traumatic timeunfortunately, other organisations do not survive.
Fourthly, will the Minister conduct a review of what the public sector can learn from the voluntary and community sector? Are there practices that the voluntary and community sector has developed from which the public sector can learn?
I mentioned my fifth question in an earlier intervention, but I shall flesh it out. I am no more likely to criticise the Government than the Minister is, but if there is a criticism it is one of missed opportunity rather than neglect. Some people volunteer because of what it can do for themthat is not a criticism of them. However, if someone volunteers to enhance their CV, to gain work experience or even to work towards a qualification, those are all parallel factors to what someone might do in employment.
The discrimination laws in this country not only include the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 but the Equality Bill, which includes sixI hope more in years to comegroups. That legislation recognises that what is wrong is not discrimination, but unjustifiable discrimination. A volunteer should not suffer unjustifiable discrimination any more than an employee should. Therefore, I hope that we can use the Equality Bill to try to ensure that volunteers who are in a position akin to an employee have the same protection against unjustifiable discrimination.
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My sixth question is on the private sector. We have successfully promoted payroll giving, and I have already mentioned how some local companies positively encourage employees to become magistrates, school governors and so on. However, in the United States the voluntary sector is based almost entirely in the private sector. For what voluntary sector activity there is, the private sector is much more active than the British private sector in engaging with and helping to promote volunteering and voluntary sector activities. Will the Minister consider what more can be done to encourage the private sector to engage with volunteering?
My seventh question is a bee in my bonnet about charity and whether we have missed an opportunity to rename the Charity Commission with its relaunchperhaps it is too late to do anything. There is a new and dynamic leadership in place, with which I am impressed. It is taking on its new purposes and roles as anticipated under the Charities Bill well.
My eighth question is about better integration and support for mountain rescue, cave rescue and air ambulance services. In some parts of the country, air ambulances are much more reliant on voluntary sector fundraising than on other forms of fundraising. There is not a level playing field for the air ambulance facility. Essential life-saving services must have not absolute equality, but a degree of parity that currently does not exist in terms of their integration in joined-up services.
The last two questions were taken straight from the speech by the hon. Member for Isle of Wight. The ninth question is about hiccups that we keep having with volunteers and the Criminal Records Bureau. I was a Parliamentary Private Secretary in the Home Office when the CRB was created, and that was a big discussion that we had at the time. I thought that we got it right, but we must reconsider how the voluntary sector relates to the CRB.
That links to the tenth question, which is about risk aversion. If anyone is going to be allowed to take a few more risks, perhaps it should be the voluntary sector. There must be a better balance between risk, benefit and getting the level of regulation right. We might be living in a more litigious societythat is not something that the Government have created or can controlbut we do not want to go too far down that road.
It has been a pleasure to speak for so long. Every Member of Parliament relies on members of their voluntary community service sector for formal or informal contact. They are our eyes and ears, but they can also be our hands and feet. Whether we come across them through receipt of circular postcards or letters or through their Christmas fairs, whether they come to us as lobby groups on local, national or international issues, whether they deliver services in our constituencies or whether they are organisations or individuals, those in the voluntary sector are at the heart of what society and communities are all about. We should give them every support, not so that they do what we want them to do, but so that they do what they do best, within the framework of helping others. That is what most of them exist to doit is certainly what I believe this Government exist to do.
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Mr. Martin Horwood (Cheltenham) (LD): Thank you for allowing me to participate for the first time in a Westminster Hall debate, Miss Begg. This is also the first time that I have sat, albeit in a rather minor capacity, in a Front-Bench position. I see, however, that the definition of a Bench is as difficult to pin down as the definition of a volunteer.
I join the Minister in celebrating the year of the volunteer. Like the hon. Member for High Peak (Tom Levitt), I had the pleasure of meeting an older volunteer from my constituency this week. Pat Dicks, from the Hester's Way neighbourhood project, is one of many hundreds, and probably thousands, of people in Cheltenham who volunteer. The Cheltenham volunteer bureau, which acts as a sort of dating agency for volunteers and the causes that might want themit is not a dating agency for volunteershas found more than 100 volunteer drivers and other volunteers for Cheltenham community transport. There are other projects that deal with more difficult issues. Cheltenham community projects works with young people in Cheltenham who are most at risk from drugs and crime and it has found more than 100 volunteers in the town.
The voluntary sector is alive and well. I know that from personal experience because I spent my whole career before coming to the House in the voluntary sector or working with it. I was director of fundraising at the Alzheimer's Society for quite a few years and I know from firsthand experience how valuable and vibrant the volunteer element of the larger charities is. I agree with the hon. Member for High Peak that the public sector could learn many lessons from the voluntary sector, and one of them relates to my experience as a new Member of Parliament. When I joined voluntary sector organisations, I was generally given an office, a telephone, a printer and a working computer on my first day. If I had expected any of the volunteers whom I managed over the years to spend seven weeks without those things, I expect that they might have left by now.
Evidence from volunteers at the Alzheimer's Society also had an important impact on public policy when the National Institute for Clinical Excellence first considered the anti-dementia drugs. Evidence from volunteers, rather than from clinical trials, about the impact that those drugs had had on their lives influenced NICE to give the first anti-dementia drugs the green light, which was much appreciated at the time. We now seem to be going through that cycle all over again, however, which is a shame, but the role played by volunteers was significant.
I join the Minister in welcoming the increasing variety and diversity in volunteering. I welcome the fact that he is trying to achieve broader access to volunteering, as I am sure that we all are, especially for those from black and minority ethnic communities, who have not always felt welcome in the traditional volunteer structures of British charities. I also welcome the efforts to encourage more young people to volunteer, although that is
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increasingly difficult. Indeed, as I am sure that all Members have heard, it is often difficult to attract volunteers these days. That is partly to do with people's much longer working hours, but it is also to do with the increasing burdens that are being placed on voluntary organisations, and I have much sympathy with the comments made by the hon. Member for Isle of Wight (Mr. Andrew Turner) in that respect.
It would be nice to think that the traditional well-meaning and rather casual approach to volunteering could continue, but time is moving on, and different ways of approaching volunteering are coming in. I am glad that the hon. Member for Stroud (Mr. Drew), who has now left his place, referred to the time-bank movement, which is an exciting new initiative and an exciting way of promoting volunteering. There are now 70 active time-banks, with 4,000 active participants. Time-banks have traded more than 210,000 hours of volunteer time, and I am proud to say that 4,670 of them were in Cheltenham.
There are also the large fund-raising events, which encourage volunteer fund raising. Traditionally, the biggest has been Christian Aid week, but Cancer Research UK's Race for Life and the breast cancer moonwalk are other good examples.
Volunteering is changing in more difficult ways, too. Safety and financial regulationsthe burden of red tape to which the hon. Gentleman referredare making life more difficult for voluntary organisations. Cheltenham rotary club told me only a couple of days ago that it now has to send two volunteers every time that it visits an elderly person in Cheltenham at home, forcing the club either to double the number of volunteers or to halve the number of visits that it can make.
The Whaddon neighbourhood project told me this morning that mums used to be able to walk into the project if they were known to it and might be able to volunteer on the spot to run a playgroup. Now, if they want to run a playgroup they have to endure a one-and-a-half hour suitable persons interview by Ofsted. The direct result is that although suitable persons may be appointed to run playgroups, it also means that far fewer people are volunteering to do so. The Alzheimer's Society in Cheltenham told me that it has spent nearly a year trying to find a suitable treasurer, partly because of the off-putting amount of financial regulations for charity accounts.
In each of these examples, there is a justifiable case for what is being done. Older people need to be safer, playgroups should be run by suitable persons and charity accounts should be properly produced, but the cumulative effect of all that is a great burden on voluntary organisations, especially those that themselves rely mostly on volunteer support and do not have full-time staff.
The Minister referred to steps that might go some way towards alleviating the amount of red tape and if they really are contained in the Charities Billwe shall know when it comes back to the Housethey would be very welcome. There have been other suggestions: the private Member's Bill introduced by the hon. Member for Canterbury (Mr. Brazier) last year suggested that a statement of inherent risk be presented to those engaging in volunteer activities. That might cover some of the issues that have been raised in the debate.
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Employment rights are high on the agenda at present, partly because of the difficulties encountered by the Royal National Lifeboat Institution with some of its volunteers. It is partly because the line of definition between volunteer and employee is becoming blurred. Anna Reeves from the Whaddon neighbourhood project told me that in terms of induction, information and support provided, "You have to treat volunteers like employees. You have to care for them in the same way as employees." That is what I did myself as a manager of volunteers and full-time employees in the Alzheimer's Society. It is not because we were straying from the proper practice; indeed, we thought we were using good practice by treating volunteers in the same way as employees and trying to give them the same rights and the same workplace facilities as paid employees. For example, when I was organising a training away day for my team, I was in the habit of having team-building events where prizes were awarded. They were not substantial prizes, but chocolates and things like that. I had training sessions which, in some cases, went well beyond what the volunteer members of my team required to do their job.
I did not realise that I might accidentally have been conferring employment rights on those volunteers by involving them in training that went beyond their immediate job, offering them benefits and rewards that were outside their immediate costs as volunteers. Having prepared for this debate, I am slightly concerned about that. That may be an extreme example, but the confusion is there in the law.
There would also be a problem if we were to adapt the definition into any future definition in law of what a volunteer is, because section 44 of the Act also defines a volunteer rather strangely in terms of who they work for. It states that a volunteer is a
It is no longer the case that volunteering exists only in the charity sector. The hon. Member for Isle of Wight mentioned political parties, which clearly do not fall within that category. What about people volunteering for a village shop in order to try to prevent it from closing? What about people working for a charity trading company, which is strictly not a charity? What about people working for a social enterprise such as the non-profit making company that is soon to be pioneered
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in Cheltenham for recycling? What about an employee of an organisation such as the Body Shop, which is clearly a company, but which encourages its employees to participate in human rights campaigns? What about an employee of Tesco taking part in the Tesco charity of the year? As director of funding at the Alzheimer's Society, I was involved with that because the society was Tesco charity of the year in 2001. One gentleman pushed a pea around Tesco stores with his nose; he was a Tesco employee, and I am not sure whether he was doing it in Tesco time, but was he volunteering or working for Tesco? Would he be able to claim against Tesco for the damage done to his nose in the processwhich I understand was quite considerable since he did it for a few hours?
Unless we defend volunteering against such confusion, there is, as the hon. Gentleman said, a real danger of stifling volunteering, and discouraging people from volunteering and organisations from the risk, the burden and the complexity of taking on volunteers. We must provide a protected space for volunteering in which regulation and law tread more lightly. I do not think that that means that volunteers do not have rights, and there are clearly some ways in which volunteers should enjoy the same rights as employees. Sexual and racial harassment at work is an obvious example, as is bullying at work. I regret that these things can sometimes affect volunteers. However, we need a clearer and simpler definition of what it means to be a volunteer, and which rights that does or does not confer, even when good practice might go further than that.
The recent cases with the citizen's advice bureauxSouth-East Sheffield v. Mrs. Grayson and Redbridge v. Mr. Hewishcentred around exactly whether the volunteers in those CABs were actually employees because of the nature of their contracts, and the duties that were laid down for them. In both cases, the final appeal tribunal said that those volunteer contracts did not equate to employment contracts, so those people did not have the same rights as employees. However, in both cases, they were pretty fine judgments, and if I were going back into the voluntary sector to manage volunteers, I would worry a little about such fine judgements and whether I was staying on the right side of the law. We should not make it that difficult to manage volunteers.
There are a couple of ways that I would suggest we might consider to make life simpler for charities and easier to understand for people who want to volunteer for charities and other organisations. One is the statement of inherent risk suggested in the private Member's Bill last year; that is worth reconsidering. Another is a simple and clear form of volunteer contract that is recognised in law. Unlike in the CAB cases, when a volunteer signs a legal volunteer contract, they know that they are a volunteer, that some rights attach to them and that some do not. That would make the lives of volunteers and the organisations employing them easier. At a time when so many other things are making the lives of such organisations more complicated, it would be nice to find some elements of Government regulation and legislation that made their lives simpler.
Mr. Dan Rogerson (North Cornwall) (LD): Although this is not my first debate in Westminster Hall, it is my first on the subject of volunteering, and I am delighted
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to be able to take part in it. I hope that it will be the first of many on such a vital subject in this Parliament. As we all know, voluntary organisations provide support, community action, entertainment, education and advice. As a new Member, I could fill my summer with diary appointments many times over with invitations from various voluntary organisation that want me to go to see their work. For example, in my home town of Bodmin, the Lions hold a country fair in which many voluntary groups take part. It is an opportunity for them to raise money for the projects in which they are engaged. Next month there will be a green fair in Wadebridge, where local environmental charity organisations will demonstrate what they do. I am particularly pleased to have been invited to meet children from Chernobyl, who will visit north Cornwall for a holiday organised by a voluntary group.
The strength of commitment, the level of organisational skill and the sheer positive energy that is demonstrated in the voluntary sector is a source of amazement to me. However, that work is often done in spite of huge obstacles. The hon. Member for Isle of Wight (Mr. Turner) gave a long litany of instances that no doubt horrified all of us. Such events are hugely demotivating to volunteers.
The hon. Gentleman rightly pointed out that political parties are still largely, and rightly, voluntary organisations, although he did not mention the fact that his party is reviewing its arrangements for electing a leader, with a view to removing the participation of voluntary members. I assume that he opposes any such change.
Some of my constituents have raised a few special issues relevant to the debate in recent months. First, as to the disaffiliation of local groups from a national charity organisation, I have been contacted by Gateway clubs, which were set up as groups sponsored by Mencap to provide a social outlet for people with learning difficulties. A series of guidelines and responsibilities are now being passed on to them by Mencap, which has to bring them in to protect itself from threats, given the litigious culture to which other hon. Members have referred. Many of the smaller local Gateway clubs do not feel that they can undertake the extra work that Mencap requires of them, and they are considering ways to disaffiliate from it. That is a great shame, and I hope that the clubs will be able to continue with their work.
Secondly, some public bodies that rely on volunteering, and independent organisations that are so invaluable as to be alternatives to official Government bodies, are affected. The coastguard in my constituency has a network of auxiliary coastguards and coastwatch groups, which provide vital protection. Two locally respected auxiliary coastguards in the area set up a project designed to draw the attention of people from outside Cornwallparticularly in schools in the midlandsto the dangers of the sea. Unfortunately, because of complications with a lack of funding for the project they were subjected to a form of tribunal, similar to the one that my hon. Friend the Member for Cheltenham (Mr. Horwood) spoke about, and were treated as though they were employees of the Maritime
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and Coastguard Agency in some respects. I hope to be able to help them to receive a better hearing of the issues in their case.
I pay tribute to the work of the two citizens advice bureaux in north Cornwall and Restormel. They, too, face a tough financial future because their local authority funding cannot grow indefinitely. All councils face tough financial settlements, given the responsibilities that are placed on them by central Government, and hindered as they are by what I argue is the unfair council tax system, although that is a matter for another occasion. The hon. Member for High Peak (Tom Levitt) mentioned his local council having to cut funding, and I expect that all hon. Members would find that unsurprising. Many councils are having to do that, and to review, in the light of their spending commitments, the support that they can offer voluntary organisations.
I pay tribute to the retained firefighters who are the vast majority of the brigade members in Cornwall. For a volunteer to work through the night fighting a fire and then to go on to do a full day's work is something that we must all respect. It behoves us to ensure that all retained firefighters are given as much support as they can reasonably expect in balancing their role with work and family commitments.
The hon. Member for High Peak also mentioned rescue groups. The Cornwall rescue group has told me of problems that it has faced, particularly with the incident at Boscastle in my constituency last summer. Vital work was done by that group, but one issue that came to light was the use of blue flashing lights. Members of the group used those lights to get to the scene on time, but then they received letters of complaint. They need to register their vehicles as ambulances to use blue flashing lights, and there are added requirements connected with that.
The group also raised the issue of funding, which the hon. Gentleman mentioned too. As an example, the fantastic work done by the Royal National Lifeboat Institution in my constituency means that it has been able to invest £5 million in a new lifeboat station. That is wonderful, but the RNLI has a great fundraising record and a profile that allows it to raise money across the country far more effectively than rescue groups. I am told by the Cornwall rescue group that it would cost only £4 million to fund all the mountain rescue teams nationally, compared with £5 million for one lifeboat station.
In bringing these local issues to the attention of Members, I am trying to show that voluntary work usually leaves workers unrewarded for what they do. They do not expect any reward, but they do expect support from Government agencies and local government and an understanding that they work often at huge personal cost. I hope that the issues raised in the report are taken up by the Government so that voluntary organisations can be given the support that they deserve to continue their great work.
Paul Goggins : It has been an excellent debate, and the comments of all hon. Members indicate that there is no difference across the political parties on the value that we place on volunteers or on the role of the voluntary and community sector. I will endeavour to respond to
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the specific points that have been made, and I hope to do so reasonably accurately, although there is always the usual reserve offer to write to hon. Members if I miss anything.
I begin with the comments made by the hon. Member for Isle of Wight (Mr. Turner), who gave a clear indication of the number of voluntary organisations that operate in each constituencyliterally hundreds in most. He spoke rightly about the need for us to recognise and celebrate the fact that voluntary and community organisations reach out to the edge of our society and to the most vulnerable people. We should value that, and we will continue to do so. Those organisations play an important role in giving a voice to people who otherwise remain powerless and excluded. It is often out of that experience that voluntary organisations grow new ideas and develop innovative responses to the problems that people face.
We intend to honour our manifesto commitment to enable voluntary and community organisations to deliver mainstream services where they have shown a capacity and willingness to do so. In the words of our manifesto, they will work on equal terms with other bodies, both public and private. It is important to do that, and my hon. Friend the Member for High Peak (Tom Levitt) spoke about the added value that volunteers bring to Stepping Hill hospital, which serves his constituency despite not being in it, by enhancingnot replacingthe services provided.
The hon. Member for Isle of Wight invited me to go where I fear to tread and to make comments, and perhaps even promises, on tax breaks that might be in the offing. My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer will undoubtedly cover that issuehe frequently does in statements to the House and Budgets. What I can tell the hon. Gentleman is that this Government have done more than any previous one to promote tax-efficient giving and gift aid. All of us would like more people to give money in a tax-efficient way, and thus maximise the amount that the Treasury puts in. In 2002, charitable giving amounted to £7.3 billion; the more tax-efficient it becomes, the higher will be the overall total. In the few weeks that I have had this job, it has become apparent that, through the tsunami disaster appeal, more people have realised how easy it is to give tax-efficiently by using the gift aid scheme. That is a breakthrough, and I hope that more people will use it.
Tom Levitt : It is remiss of us all not to have mentioned one aspect of the voluntary sector that has hugely benefited by those measures. I speak of the community amateur sports clubs. For many of them, the tax changes have revolutionised their way of working. In my constituency, many have benefited to the value of tens of thousands of pounds. They are most welcoming of that measure.
The hon. Member for Isle of Wight referred to some of the proposals emerging from the Russell Commission. Further details will emerge in due course. We are in the process of establishing an implementation
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body to work on the details, but it gives us a tremendous opportunity to transform opportunities for youth volunteering. It will need to be done in a way that reflects the aspirations and interests of young people, and the local context of each and every community, rather than being a top-down enterprise.
A number of hon. Members spoke about risk, the cost of insurance and so on. It is an important issue, and legislative attempts have been made to get to grips with it. We seek to get to grips with it through the Compensation Bill, not only in relation to volunteers but more broadly. None of us wants to see a compensation culture, with people making applications for compensation for what appear to be trivial reasons. We want society to reflect the reality that risk can never be completely eliminated. We want people to be aware of the risks that they run; they can then move forward with confidence.
In 2003, one child died as a result of an incident on a school visit, but more than 7 million children went on school visits that year. There is a risk and we need to ensure that we manage it effectively, but we want to drive against the compensation culture. As I said earlier, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has given a personal assurance that if people act with reasonable care and reasonable skill, they will not be held liable for untoward incidents. It is important to reflect that in our legislation.
Mr. Horwood : I referred to the Promotion of Volunteering Bill, which offered a possible way out of that dilemma. A statement of inherent risk would be presented to volunteers on events such as school tripsor even cooking sausages on field trips.
Paul Goggins : The Government were not unsympathetic to that Bill and tried to find a way forward, but it was not possible. However, we hope to achieve at least some of what we have been discussing through the Compensation Bill. Some of those issues can be resolved by legislation, but part of the problem is cultural. It is about establishing proper and trusting relationships so that, where risk is recognised, people go into things literally with their eyes open. We will continue to try to find ways to tackle the problem; we do not want to put off people who would otherwise volunteer, as volunteers make a really important contribution.
Hon. Members referred to the Transport Committee report on search and rescue, which is important. I shall not comment this afternoon on the specific recommendations made in that report, other than to say that a number of Departments are looking at them carefully and constructively. The Department of Transport is the lead Department, and I expect that it will give a full response to that report before the end of the month. I hope that that offers hon. Members who raised those concerns some reassurance. We take these issues seriously and will respond in full to the recommendations.
Hon. Members referred to red tape, which we are seeking to reduce through the Charities Bill. The Bill has wide support, which is welcome. It received more than 30 hours of scrutiny in the House of Lords before the general election and is now receiving further scrutiny. It
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will probably come to us as a Bill that has been scrutinised as no other Bill ever has been, because it also went through pre-legislative scrutiny. However, that has allowed clarification and support to build, so I hope that when we discuss it on Second Reading and subsequently, we will be dealing with fairly fine-tuned legislation.
There are issues surrounding Criminal Records Bureau checks. Checks on and for volunteers have never been charged for, but there are administrative costs. I assure hon. Members that we take these issues seriously. Discussions are continuing on ways in which systems can be improved and costs can be reduced and kept to a minimum. Obviously, we do not want to overburden with costs organisations that need to have those checks carried out, but it is very important that we do not take on as volunteers people who pose a risk to vulnerable people. At the same time, we need to do so proportionately.
I shall move on to the comments made and questions asked by my hon. Friend the Member for High Peak. He began by referring to the reception on Tuesday evening, which, unfortunately, I was unable to attend; I apologise for that. It was a good example of where the Government can put some money in to get something started, but with a view to ensuring that it is sustainable over time. Overall, the Government put about £20 million into Experience Corps and, as my hon. Friend made clear, it is now self-sustaining.
My hon. Friend spoke about the role that older people can play and he reminded me of my next-door neighbour, Nellie Gregory, a lady in her 90s who still knits blankets and refers to doing things for the old folk in a way that reflects a youthful appetite for activity and community involvement. We all know such people in our communities and it is excellent that we now have a body that values and promotes such activity among older people. I thank my hon. Friend and acknowledge the work that he has done for the all-party group. Whatever name it has or might have in future, we all know what it and he are trying to do, and we value that very much. He referred to many organisations in his constituency. We know from our own experience how valuable such organisations are and that life would be impossible for our constituents without them.
The compact should govern the relationship between voluntary and community organisations and all public bodies, which should include Departments. I assure my hon. Friend that as we review the working of the compact and come to the end of the consultation, I will have in mind all public bodies, not only local authorities, because simple things, such as ensuring that bills are paid on time, are the difference between surviving and not surviving for the organisations involved.
My hon. Friend put 10 questions to me, some of which I may have answered already and some of which I may answer later. I want to offer him the assurance that he sought on "ChangeUp". Through "ChangeUp", we are trying to ensure that small local organisations have the capacity, in terms of financial administration, IT and other support, to be sustained in a way that is practical for them. We want "ChangeUp" to be sector-led, not Government-driven: we want the sector to take
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charge and manage its development. We want what my hon. Friend asked for, which is small local organisations being given the capacity to work well.
I have covered the compact, which was the subject of my hon. Friend's second question. His third question concerned sustainable funding. Again, I agree. Of course, this issue reads across into the compact. We have tried to work towards three-year funding in respect of government and we need to develop more and more of that with the voluntary and community sector. We must also develop a mindset in the recipient as well as the grant giver that funding may not continue for ever and ways must be found to sustain and develop other funding streams. It is also about organisations developing a supporter base that can go on ensuring that they are financially secure. So there is a range of measures to consider, but sustainability is certainly key.
Future builders is another big Government initiative and is really a system of loans rather than grants. We are trying to make it part of the mindset of voluntary organisations that if they borrow money, invest it, modernise and improve, they become a more sustainable organisation in the long term. That seems to be a modern way of thinking.
My hon. Friend the Member for High Peak asks whether we will continue to do what we can to ensure that the public sector learns from the voluntary and community sector. He is right to point that out that there are innovations in that sector from which we can all learn, and we should continue to do so.
My hon. Friend the Member for High Peak, the hon. Member for Cheltenham (Mr. Horwood) and others mentioned the legal status of volunteers. That is an issue. There is a parallel between a volunteer and a paid member of staff, but there are also differences. I regard treating people properly with respect and dignity as something that all voluntary and community organisationsindeed, any organisation that uses volunteersshould do. Equally, we do not want to initiate anything that makes it more burdensome for organisations to work with volunteers. We would prefer to promote good practice than to impose a burden on organisations. If we get into discussions about contracts, which were mentioned in the debate, we may begin to change the nature of the relationship between a volunteer and an organisation. We need to be very careful, and emphasising good practice is a good way to proceed. I assure hon. Members that we continue to discuss these issues with organisations in the sector so that we can find a practical way forward that really works for them, rather than overdoing things and placing statutory requirements on them that may become very difficult to sustain.
My hon. Friend the Member for High Peak asked about the role of the private sector and what we were doing to promote it. He referred to the United States, which has a very different culture and approach. I spoke only yesterday to someone from the US who talked about the main corporates in America having philanthropy departments and about the fact that volunteering time and money is a mainstream function of each large organisation. We are some way off that, but it is important that we encourage an approach in
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corporate bodies as well as in individual givers that volunteering is important and that they should be contributing to it.
Mr. Horwood : If, in exploring his new duties, the Minister meets Business in the Community, he may discover that there is often rather more of a corporate philanthropy culture and structure in many British companies.
Paul Goggins : I am aware of that, but I believe that companies recognise the difference between the approach taken here and the approach taken in the US. I acknowledge that many companies have grasped the idea and are generous giversthat is the case in my constituency, and we can all highlight good examplesbut, overall, we need to promote an even more ambitious engagement of our corporate life in the life of our communities.
Tom Levitt : I welcome the direction that my hon. Friend's speech is taking. My impression is that larger companies are often better at corporate philanthropy than smaller ones. Only today, I received a letter from Lloyds TSB about the grants that they had given to voluntary bodies in my constituency. HoweverBusiness in the Community, to which I was talking only last week, would probably agree with thissmall and medium-sized businesses in communities do not regard it as their job to support voluntary organisations. Business in the Community is properly trying to promote giving at that level. It is more important to get that going at local level, with employees engaging in the local voluntary sector, than at corporate level, where the issue can be addressed simply by giving out a cheque.
Paul Goggins : I agree. I pay tribute to Business in the Community and other organisations that promote the role of business not only by giving money but by giving opportunities, which is at least as important, whether they be through work experience or other schemes. Small companies have a tremendous opportunity to do things that may represent small steps, but make a big difference in their communities.
My hon. Friend invites me to delete the word "charity", but I do not think that we shall do that. I understand the comments that he made, but it is also important to respect traditions and where we have come from, and "charity" reflects that.
I explained that the response to the Treasury Committee's report would be available by the end of the month, and I dealt with the issues relating to my hon.
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Friend's ninth and tenth questions when I responded to the comments made by the hon. Member for Isle of Wight.
The hon. Member for Cheltenham made an excellent speech as a new Member of Parliament and a new member of his Front Bench team. I look forward to future debates on volunteering and other issues with him. He spoke from his personal experience of the sector, demonstrating that he was well informed and had a grasp of how important the sector was.
The hon. Gentleman mentioned time banking, which gives me an opportunity to say how much we value the work of Time Banks UK, to which the Home Office has issued a £50,000 grant. Time Banks UK can reach out to some of the more excluded groups, which do not naturally get involved in traditional forms of volunteering. I assure him that we recognise the importance of such work.
The hon. Member for North Cornwall (Mr. Rogerson) paid tremendous tribute to organisations in his constituency, which includes rural communities and a coastline. He referred to the RNLI and retained firefighters, and the work that both do. All that is part and parcel of life in his constituency, which in many ways is the same as life in my constituency, although there are many differences too, in that I represent an urban area. Whatever area any of us represent, we are all aware of the value of such organisations.
I end by discussing the difficult issues of risk and the legal status of volunteers, to which reference has been made throughout the debate. I should like to draw attention to a good publication by Volunteering England called "Volunteers and the law", which sets out many of the issues clearly and in detail. Volunteering England is a key partner for the Home Office and I assure hon. Members that we shall continue to discuss such issues with all the organisations involved.
This has been an excellent debate. It has reflected the importance of the voluntary and community sector. I end as I started, by paying tribute to the 17.5 million people who go out and do a voluntary activity at least once a month, and to the many more who, more occasionally, perform a voluntary act to help their neighbourhood. That is something that money cannot buy, but it adds so much value to our communities. We pay tribute to those people for that.