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Ms Harman: The hon. Gentleman will know, because we have published the Government’s draft legislative programme, that there will be legislation on housing and planning in the Queen’s Speech. He mentions housing in the south-east. That issue is a classic example of why
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the proposals in “The Governance of Britain” report on regional accountability are important. Aside from through Westminster Hall, we do not have any way of making the Government accountable, through Members of the House, for actions that affect a region. The regional committees proposed in “The Governance of Britain” would aim to do exactly that. I am grateful for his welcome for my comments about giving him more opportunity to debate support services for autistic children and their families.

I was perhaps not as aware as I should have been that the hon. Gentleman has been asking for a debate on Burma for two years; I have only been Leader of the House since July. He has raised the issue of Burma on a number of occasions, and that is why I arranged for us to have a debate.

Mr. Richard Benyon (Newbury) (Con): Yesterday I secured a 90-minute Westminster Hall debate on the important issue of the Government’s extraordinary decision to axe the Defence Export Services Organisation. The Government did a great discourtesy to not only the House but the hundreds of thousands of people who work in that important sector of the economy by sending along not a Defence Minister, who would perhaps have understood the issue, but the Minister for Employment Relations and Postal Affairs. Will the Leader of the House correct that discourtesy by allowing a further debate on the Floor of the House, on an issue relating to £5 billion-worth of exports every year?

Ms Harman: I will certainly look into the decision about which Minister should handle the debate. I hope that the hon. Gentleman got answers that reflected the Government’s concern on the issue. Of course, there are Defence questions next Monday.

Mr. Mark Harper (Forest of Dean) (Con): I listened with great care to what the right hon. and learned Lady said to my right hon. Friend the shadow Leader of the House about the single equality Bill. During the consultation, many disability organisations expressed great concerns about the removal of the disability equality duty, and they would welcome a change of Government policy, if there has indeed been a change. Will the Leader of the House ensure that, if the Bill does not come before the House until after the Queen’s Speech of 2008, she will at least publish a draft Bill at an early stage, as she successfully did with the Coroners Bill, so that the organisations concerned, and Members of the House, get a proper chance to scrutinise it?

Ms Harman: I think that it is important that we get the policy right, and we will get the policy right on the basis of full discussion. Once broad policy decisions have been taken, I hope that we can publish draft clauses, even if we cannot publish a full draft Bill. On disability organisations and people who are concerned about discrimination and prejudice on grounds of age, sexual orientation, gender or race, there is no question of weakening current laws that protect people from discrimination and propose equality of opportunity—quite the reverse. We want to make sure that we have strong and effective laws. If we can move the issue out of the zone of dispute, disagreement and political
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point-scoring, and if we can move to a consensus about the fact that we all benefit from a fair and equal society, it will be a huge change. That would be a basis on which to build radical and progressive legislation, and I will look to the hon. Gentleman for his support.

Mr. Mark Lancaster (North-East Milton Keynes) (Con): May we have a debate on funding for new schools? “I before E”, or “infrastructure before expansion”, is vital in communities such as Milton Keynes. We recognise that we will need seven new schools in the next three years to keep pace with Government housing targets, so does the Leader of the House understand the anger felt in Milton Keynes this week at the news that the basic need allocation for the new schools has been slashed from £30 million to just £10 million? That means that four of those seven new schools will not be built. Whatever happened to “Education, education, education”?

Ms Harman: I know that the Minister for Schools and Learners is meeting those involved in the Milton Keynes situation, but I ask the hon. Gentleman to acknowledge that there has been massive investment in new teachers, and in primary and secondary school buildings. Of course, we would always like to see more being done, and I now realise that the hon. Gentleman would give us a great deal of support for extra public spending on education.

David T.C. Davies (Monmouth) (Con): May we have an emergency debate on the fact that the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs apparently plans to bully and cajole the British public into buying UHT instead of fresh, pasteurised milk? May we learn whether the Government are prepared to stand up for the Great British pinta, or do they not have a lot of bottle?

Ms Harman: I do not think that there would be any point in holding such a debate, because DEFRA has no such plans.

Daniel Kawczynski (Shrewsbury and Atcham) (Con): At the beginning of business questions, my right hon. Friend the shadow Leader of the House asked an important question about the huge numbers of Labour party members being appointed to quangos. The Leader of the House said that if we knew of any individual case, we could refer it to her, but with all respect, that is not the essence and spirit of the question. The spirit of the question, I believe, concerns the sheer numbers of Labour party members appointed to quangos. With Labour party membership collapsing, why are so many Labour party members being appointed to quangos? We demand a debate on the issue.

Ms Harman: My response to the shadow Leader of the House was that there are transparent processes for ensuring that the best person gets any job that is in the public interest. There is a great degree of independence, and I simply asked for evidence that it had been inappropriately exercised. The point is that one cannot simply look at the sheer numbers; one has to ask whether the system is transparent, independent and operated effectively. I am asking for any evidence that shows that it has not been operated effectively.

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Mark Pritchard (The Wrekin) (Con): May we have an urgent debate on Turkey? Will the Leader of the House join me in calling on the Turkish Government to show restraint, to not invade northern Iraq, and to stop shelling northern Iraqi villages? Similarly, will she call on the PKK to stop killing Turkish troops and personnel? Does she agree that if Turkey wants to be a member of the wider European family, this is an opportunity for it to show that it is an international, responsible player in the community of Europe, and should it not show restraint?

Ms Harman: I absolutely agree with every point that the hon. Gentleman has made, so I will not repeat what he said to the House. I simply say that he was spot on in all respects.

Philip Davies (Shipley) (Con): The Prime Minister said that important announcements would be made to Parliament, so I was surprised to receive an e-mail from the work force manager of Revenue and Customs, who attached a letter from the chairman, in which it was announced that a number of tax offices in West Yorkshire were to be closed, including two in Shipley, Hockney house and Crown house, which were previously earmarked for retention. Given the importance of the issue, not only to the people whose lives will be affected by the decision but to the local economy in Shipley, will the right hon. and learned Lady ensure that the Chancellor comes to the House and makes a statement on why those decisions have been made?

Ms Harman: I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman raised the matter at Treasury questions, as the Chancellor was in the House only an hour or so ago —[Interruption.] I take the point. We are concerned to ensure that important ministerial decisions are announced to the House. I am sure the hon. Gentleman will consider writing to the Chancellor with the point about the decisions that have been made locally concerning his tax offices.

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Third Sector Review

[ Relevant documents: The written and oral evidence taken before the Select Committee on Public Administration on Third Sector Commissioning, HC 540-i to iv of Session 2006-07. ]

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn. —[Tony Cunningham.]

12.30 pm

The Minister for the Cabinet Office (Edward Miliband): It is a privilege to open the debate on the third sector review concerning the work of the voluntary sector, social enterprises and many charities throughout the country. I start by putting on record my thanks to the more than 1,000 third sector organisations that took part in the consultation that led up to the review.

The central case that is made in the review is that we must celebrate and protect the diversity of the third sector, which is made up of organisations diverse in their size, so we should support small as well as large organisations, and diverse in their activities, from local volunteer-led groups to those delivering public services and campaigning. To support this diversity, we need Government to play their part, not seeing the third sector as picking up the pieces from failure of Government funding, but as being able to reach out and empower people in ways that Government often cannot do. I acknowledge that Government need to be a better partner in this process—in their funding for third sector organisations, in their understanding of the role that those organisations can play in our society, and in their respect for the sector’s independence.

Ann Coffey (Stockport) (Lab): I welcome the announcement of a further £85 million for third sector infrastructure development. Can my right hon. Friend give me more information about the distribution mechanism? Will he ensure that smaller community and volunteer-led organisations will get proper access to that significant money?

Edward Miliband: Absolutely. I think my hon. Friend is referring to the money for Capacitybuilders. Those who run Capacitybuilders recognise the need to get the money that they distribute down to the smallest organisations, including the ones that I met in Stockport when I was fortunate enough to visit my hon. Friend’s constituency. The Improving Reach programme is designed to get the money to such organisations. I am sure that Capacitybuilders will have heard her remarks.

Mark Pritchard (The Wrekin) (Con): Notwithstanding the Minister’s reply to the hon. Member for Stockport (Ann Coffey), is it not the case that 68 per cent. of statutory funding still goes to charities with a turnover of £1 million or more, meaning that many small community charities, including many in my constituency in Shropshire, are not receiving statutory funding, despite the fact that they have a great track record in providing the very services that the Government say they want to see provided in the community?

Edward Miliband: The hon. Gentleman makes an important point about the role of small organisations. I merely caution him that we should not get into a
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mindset that small is always better. There are many large organisations around the country—for example, Age Concern, which has local branches that do fantastic work throughout the country. I take the point that he makes about the need to get money to small organisations.

Mr. Jim Cunningham (Coventry, South) (Lab): I do not expect my right hon. Friend to give me an answer immediately, but will he look at the situation of Hillfields WATCH, an organisation that deals with issues ranging from asylum seekers to the unemployed and police matters? It is struggling to find funding, and every three years it finds itself in that same situation. Will he give me an undertaking that he will meet a small delegation from Coventry to discuss the matter?

Edward Miliband: I thank my hon. Friend for that. I will ensure that I or the Minister with responsibility for the third sector, my hon. Friend the Member for Corby (Phil Hope), meets the delegation.

That takes me to an important point about the review. We have announced an £80 million small grants programme precisely for the kind of organisations to which the hon. Member for The Wrekin (Mark Pritchard) and my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, South (Mr. Cunningham) referred. We all know from our own constituencies that the smallest organisations can make a huge difference to building civil society and bringing people together. I think of an organisation in my constituency, if I may mention it. In Adwick le Street, where I live, Brodsworth cricket club does an extraordinary job of giving young boys and girls a chance to play cricket. That is a way in which the community can come together in a place where there are fewer community institutions than there used to be, given the closure of the pits and so on.

Fiona Mactaggart (Slough) (Lab): On the £80 million fund that my right hon. Friend mentioned, a real concern is the time that it will take to put in place the necessary distribution mechanisms. I know that the community foundation network and the Community Fund in my constituency have a shortfall of previous grants and are not clear when the money will come on stream. Can they be assured that there will be a chance for their experience in distributing grants to be used, without damaging delay?

Edward Miliband: My hon. Friend, who is a former Minister with responsibility for the voluntary sector, makes an important point. We want to use organisations such as the community foundation to help to distribute the money because of their local knowledge about what is needed. Also, we want to ensure—this is an issue for small organisations throughout the country—that the application process is not the bureaucratic and cumbersome process that many organisations complain about.

We need to be honest in this debate. There is always a dilemma for Government between taking the risks of the streamlined process of applying for money—a risk that we should be taking—and the more bureaucratic monitoring processes that sometimes operate. In relation to the small grants programme, it is important
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that the money gets out quickly. We will help to ensure that that happens, and that it is distributed in the simplest way possible so that small organisations can access it.

In addition to the allocation of resources—the following proposal was in the Opposition’s submission in relation to these matters—we are making £50 million available to organisations such as the community foundation as an endowment. That will allow them to build up the resources that they can distribute in future years without having to come back to Government. It will also allow them to get money in from the private sector and other organisations in the community that might want to contribute. Community foundations do a fantastic job, and an independent source of money will make a difference to them.

On the subject of what happens at local level, I want to deal with asset transfers from local authorities to small organisations. Issues of funding and stability of funding—three-year funding is important—are crucial to the health of small organisations. When I was Minister with responsibility for the third sector, I was struck by what asset transfer can do for local organisations. I visited the Goodwin centre in Hull, which has transformed part of the city because it was given an asset which gave it the financial stability that many third sector organisations do not have.

We have made available £30 million to help to fund innovative projects in this area, but more work needs to be done. We need to encourage local authorities to see voluntary organisations not as the enemy, as they are sometimes seen, but as an ally in helping to improve local communities. Of course, people can raise issues of accountability when assets are transferred to community organisations, but projects such as the Goodwin centre in Hull show how those issues can be dealt with. The people who run the centre are elected by the local neighbourhood.

Philip Davies (Shipley) (Con): Does the Minister agree that one of the problems is that such organisations often secure very short-term funding, which is often taken away just when they have got up steam on a particular project? Glory projects are often funded, but ongoing good work, which makes a big difference in local communities, does not seem to attract funding. Will he indicate whether the funding that he has outlined today will address the problems that charities face?

Edward Miliband: The hon. Gentleman has made two important points. First, he raised the issue of stable funding, which is why we have introduced the move towards three-year funding. We are driving that process through central Government, and when local authorities are examined on how they spend their resources, for the first time one of the issues will be whether they fund third sector organisations for a number of years or for just one year at a time. Secondly, he raised the question whether funding is for innovation or for the core part of what third sector organisations do. I do not have an easy solution to the problem. It is partly about having stability in Government programmes so that we do not keep introducing new programmes, but it is also about establishing an awareness among funders that the issue involves not only funding new projects, but funding existing good projects.

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Mr. Siôn Simon (Birmingham, Erdington) (Lab): Will the Minister take this opportunity to encourage the Tory-Liberal leadership of Birmingham city council to take a more enlightened and creative view on asset transfer to local community groups rather than, as a cynic would say, taking a protective, defensive view of its funds and assets, squeezing what it can out of the Government and not passing funding on to particularly deprived local communities, such as mine?

Edward Miliband: My hon. Friend has made his point in a characteristically eloquent way, and I am happy to agree with him. The issue is important around the country. When I have visited my hon. Friends’ constituencies, I have found unused assets and a frustration in the local community that such assets cannot be deployed for the purposes that people want to use them for. In such cases, local communities sometimes feel that there is a blockage in the local authority.

Several hon. Members rose

Edward Miliband: My goodness, what a set of choices.

Norman Baker (Lewes) (LD): The Minister has, of course, made the correct choice.

On the previous intervention, the Minister’s introduction has been characterised by good sense, and there is a degree of common purpose across all parties. It may be that local authorities in particular areas—I have no idea about Birmingham—are not performing as well as we might like, but I hope he agrees that there is both good practice and bad practice among councils controlled by all parties. We can best make progress by approaching the matter with a common purpose, rather than trying to make partisan points.

Edward Miliband: My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Mr. Simon) was making a point about his specific experience, which is absolutely legitimate. There is an issue about culture change across the piece on the way in which third sector organisations are treated and the way in which they contribute to our society. There is a big issue about culture change for both local authorities and central Government, and I freely acknowledge that all parties need to engage in that task.

Several hon. Members rose

Edward Miliband: The hon. Member for Lewes (Norman Baker) referred to my introduction, which I fear that I will not get through if I keep giving way.

Mark Lazarowicz (Edinburgh, North and Leith) (Lab/Co-op): It is certainly a good thing to be non-partisan, where we can, but it is difficult when we consider the record of Liberal Democrat councils up and down the country. My authority is run by a bizarre Liberal Democrat-SNP coalition, which inherited a three-year programme of funding for local organisations. Local groups are having their three-year funding programmes scrapped. They think that they have secured the certainty of three-year funding, but then they find that their budget has been cut.

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