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10.41 pm

The Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office (Edward Miliband): Let me begin by associating myself with what the hon. Member for Southend, West (Mr. Amess) said about Lord Weatherill, the former Speaker of the House of Commons. I had the privilege of meeting him at an event arranged by the Rainer charity for young people. I know how passionate he was about these issues, and I know that he will be widely missed.

I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on securing the debate and giving us an opportunity to discuss the scout movement. His speech showed what an eloquent spokesman he is for the movement, along with the other members of that extraordinary trio—my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North (Stephen Pound) and the hon. Member for Colchester (Bob Russell). They are a formidable combination, and they have done a great deal to promote the interests of the scouts in Parliament.

I should add a confession, previewed by my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North. I was never in the scouts, or indeed in the cubs, or even the Woodcraft Folk. As with all childhood neglect, I think I blame my parents, but I have tried to make up for it in the 100th anniversary year.

Like you, Mr. Speaker, I have been privileged to meet some inspiring representatives of the scouts and the adult volunteers who work with them, both at the reception organised by the all-party group and at a reception that I hosted on behalf of the Government. I was struck by the extent to which the scouts and volunteers whom I met defied many of the stereotypes that exist in Britain today. The young people in the scouts want the best not just for themselves but for society. They are not the selfish individualists that the media, and, I am afraid, politics, sometimes portray.

One of the scouts whom I met, Conor Michaels from Huddersfield, told me, “Yes, the scouts are about adventure; yes, you get the chance to meet new people and make great friends.” But he also said, “The great thing about scouting is that it tries to make the world a better place”—a point also made by the hon. Member for Southend, West. That young person mentioned the scouts who volunteered after hurricane Katrina, and those who raised money for the tsunami appeal. In its anniversary year, the scouting movement is also taking a lead in countering some of the negative stereotypes about young people. It now has 450 young spokespeople from almost every county in the country, and I was lucky enough to meet some of them.

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I also pay tribute to the extraordinary dedication and commitment of the adult volunteers, to whom the hon. Gentleman also referred. As one of them pointed out to me, the official number of uniformed volunteers is 100,000, but that is a significant underestimate of the number who play their part to make the movement what it is. Behind the people in uniform are the parents on committees, those who help with expeditions and camping, those who help out by raising money, those who help out with jumble sales, and so on. They should make us optimistic about Britain. They are unsung heroes who do extraordinary things, and I am very pleased that we have the chance to honour them in the House tonight. Those are some of the great things that the scouting movement does for our society.

It is particularly impressive that the movement is not resting on its laurels on its 100th anniversary. It is led dynamically by Derek Twine, the chief executive, and Peter Duncan, the chief scout. Their leadership is dynamic and they are organising some extraordinary events this year, including Mr. Speaker’s tea. Their leadership is also visionary in that they realise that the scouting movement cannot stand still. As Peter Duncan explains, there are two myths about the scouts: one is that they are declining and the other is that they are old-fashioned. He says that they are neither.

Scouting is no longer a single-sex organisation; it admits girls, and 14 per cent. of scouts are now female. Nor is it a single-faith organisation. There are now Muslim and Sikh groups, and The Scout Association is committed to increasing its diversity. The scouts also consider themselves to be a social movement, taking up important issues of our time. Their 100th anniversary promise is “One world, one promise”, and they are using the anniversary to campaign on climate change and other key issues.

The key moment of this year—the jamboree—has at its heart this commitment to making a better world. This year’s Jamboree is at Hylands park from 27 July to 8 August. I am adopting a wait-and-see policy on the question of whether to camp at Hylands park. There will be 40,000 young people from 218 countries, and I am pleased that the Government have been able to make resources available to make it a success.

What is so exciting about the jamboree is not only that it will bring young people together from across the world, which is important, but that there will be volunteering to help the local community in Hylands park; 4,000 young people a day will be going out to help members of the local community. It will also raise awareness of some of the key issues facing today’s world, in particular those facing the younger generation, such as climate change, global development and the need to bring together different faiths. Above all, it will be a great advert for Britain, and I look forward to attending.

In this 100th year of the scouts, I agree that we need to see scouting in the wider context of volunteering. Some of the best activities of the scouts involve volunteering for the wider community, but we need to bring out the best in the many young people who want to volunteer, and not just in those in the scouts.

We have set up the independent youth volunteering organisation V, funded by up to £100 million from Government. It is designed to create more youth volunteering opportunities. It has created more than
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100,000 so far, in partnership with the third sector and the private sector. As in the scouts, young people are empowered to lead the organisation’s activities. The office of the third sector in the Cabinet Office also funds the British Youth Council as well as the Muslim Youth Helpline, both of which are young people-led.

Questions were asked about wider encouragement to the voluntary sector and how we can encourage more people to volunteer. Already more than 20 million people volunteer, according to the citizenship survey. However, we need to break down barriers to volunteering. Issues around Criminal Records Bureau checks are often raised and we are seeking to address them. There are also barriers in the benefit system, to do with lunch expenses. We have been able to take action on that.

We also need to find ways of funding good volunteering programmes—we do that in various ways—and also of recognising volunteers for the work that they do. I am keen to promote the Queen’s award for voluntary service—an award which recognises groups of volunteers. Next month we will announce some of the winners of that award.

Questions were asked about how the Chancellor’s commitment to increase the quality and quantity of opportunities to volunteer will be implemented and measured. That will be measured through the citizenship survey. The latest figures have shown an increase.

The important issue of how we work with employers to make it easier for employees to volunteer was also raised. That is particularly an issue in the current era where people often face pressured work lives. It is important that before Government lecture the private
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sector they also need to take the lead in encouraging volunteering. We are looking into that as part of the third sector review; we are examining ways to encourage public sector employers to promote volunteering and then to work with the private sector to promote it. I want to return to the main reason for tonight’s debate, which is to celebrate—

Miss Ann Widdecombe (Maidstone and The Weald) (Con): I sense that the Minister is about to perorate. Can he find an excuse to mention—albeit sidelong—the Brownies and Guides?

Edward Miliband: I thank the right hon. Lady for her intervention and I do indeed pay tribute to the Brownies and Guides for the extraordinary work that they do.

In 1907, Robert Baden-Powell went to Brownsea island with the first 20 scouts. Ten were from the east end of London and had already left school and were at work, and 10 were from private schools. Today, there are 28 million scouts across the world. Few movements can boast a roll-call of alumni that includes not just current Members of this House but 26 of the first 29 astronauts, Sir John Major, the current Prime Minister and President of the United States, and a number of other extraordinary people.

I am proud to be the Minister responding to the debate and I salute everyone in the scouting movement for their work. I am inspired by what they do and I wish them a happy centenary.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at nine minutes to Eleven o’clock.

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