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18 Oct 2007 : Column 984

Edward Miliband: My hon. Friend has described a serious case. The community groups that he has mentioned should examine the Compact. I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Corby (Phil Hope), the Minister with responsibility for the third sector, will be happy to discuss the matter with him.

Hywel Williams (Caernarfon) (PC): Will the Minister accept the entirely non-partisan point that there is a problem with short-term funding for staff and for professional development? Many voluntary organisations seem to spend February and March either rushing around looking for bits of money or giving professional staff notice, which is not conducive to the proper development of the sector.

Edward Miliband: I agree with the hon. Gentleman, who has made an important point about stability of funding. Although there will always be cases in which voluntary sector organisations must search for more resources, the annual cycle of looking for such resources seems to be a barrier to efficiency that saps the energy of many organisations.

The second message from the review concerned the way in which the third sector can transform people’s experience of public services in a diverse range of areas from youth services to drug rehabilitation. Again, the issue is culture change. In the course of the review, I have learned that we will make change happen and get local councils and other agencies of government to work with third sector organisations by helping those organisations to understand the contribution that third sector organisations can make.

When I visited Manchester, I was struck by the work of Sunderland Home Care Associates, which part of the city has taken on. It is an employee-run organisation in which elderly people are looked after in their own homes. The commissioners of services in Manchester saw the impact of what Sunderland Home Care Associates was doing and realised that it was not a fluffy organisation, but a serious, professional one that could make a real difference to people. That led them to take on Sunderland Home Care Associates and to form an alliance. That is why the review discusses the training programme for the 2,000 most important commissioners of public services. Helping those commissioners to understand the role that third sector organisations can play is important, which is why we are building on it in the review. We are also making new finance available for third sector organisations through the Futurebuilders fund to allow them to help to deliver public services.

Mr. Andy Reed (Loughborough) (Lab/Co-op): Much of the funding for social enterprises and co-operatives goes through bodies such as the regional development agencies. Will the Minister extend the offer of training throughout the civil service to organisations such as the RDAs, which are in an excellent position to deliver services on the ground? As he has said, third sector organisations can transform the delivery of public services, which is especially true of co-operatives working at a local level, where real people can deliver real services rather than using large bureaucracies or, as is sometimes the case, private sector companies that are located miles away and have nothing to do with the locality.

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Edward Miliband: My hon. Friend has made an important point. My hon. Friend the Member for Corby, who is the Minister with responsibility for the third sector, has said that he met the RDAs yesterday. We are making finance available to the RDAs to promote social enterprise, which is important.

On the role that social enterprises can play, some of the most inspiring people whom I have met in the third sector work in social enterprises, large and small. I am thinking of Tim Smit who runs the Eden Project, which is an extraordinary project that has done amazing things for Cornwall. I am also thinking about small social enterprises in my constituency that help disabled men and women and people with learning disabilities.

The Government do not create inspiring social entrepreneurs, but we can help or hinder them. Part of the task for the Government is finding new ways of helping to finance social enterprise. That is why we are interested in the idea of a social investment bank, which would create a new stream of finance for social enterprise. That is also why £10 million is available to pioneer different ways in which social enterprises can be funded.

Government needs to be a better customer of social enterprise. Again, that is partly about culture change—convincing those who commission services that social enterprises in areas such as recycling or waste management can compete with large private sector organisations and that the safe option is not necessarily always to go for the conventional option of a large private sector conglomerate. I am thinking of, for example, ECT, which provides recycling and waste services.

Mark Pritchard: The Minister mentioned commissioning. Will he say on the record that in that commissioning of services there will be no discrimination against faith-based organisations, whether Muslim, Jewish or Christian? Some people have expressed concern to me that, because their organisation is faith-based, some commissioning agencies—whether local authorities or the RDAs—might discriminate. On the record, what, in the Minister’s view, should occur in such a situation?

Edward Miliband: I fear that the treacle of bipartisanship is flowing; I agree with the hon. Gentleman. I am not in favour of faith-based organisations proselytising through public services, but the reasons that bring people to provide such services should not be a bar to their doing so. I am happy to put that on the record.

Norman Baker rose—

Edward Miliband: I want to make a bit more progress; perhaps later I shall give way again.

By working with the sector, the Government need to do the best job of championing social enterprise and what it can do for our country. Only one in four people knows what social enterprise is; that is a bar to young people coming into social enterprise, to the financing of it and to people buying from it. That is why we set up the social enterprise ambassadors programme, in which 25 very high-profile names—some of which I mentioned—will go round the country talking about social enterprise and what it can do for communities.

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The review’s fourth message is about volunteering. Youth volunteering, in particular, can bring together different groups, allow people to express their values and help them to build careers in later life. As hon. Members will know, in 2004 the Government set up the Russell Commission to carry out a review on youth action. As a result, the independent charity v was established. Already, v has created more than 200,000 volunteering opportunities for young people, including a number of full-time opportunities. It has also helped 415 projects run by voluntary organisations and partnered with companies such as ITV, T-Mobile, and MTV. The partnership with this last is interesting: MTV helped to promote the charity, and with Oxfam set up the Oxjam music festival, which was run by more than 12,000 volunteers. The concerts did great things for the people who came and for the young volunteers who helped to set them up. We are investing further in v, as we believe that it can create hundreds of thousands more volunteering opportunities.

A range of intergenerational volunteering issues need to be addressed. Such volunteering is important in helping to bring young and old people together. A big issue in many communities up and down the country is about a feeling that goes both ways: young people’s suspicion of the old, and elderly people’s fear of the young. I want us to make further progress on finding ways to bridge those divides through volunteering.

The public sector can do a better job of taking a lead on employee volunteering. If we are to persuade the private sector to release its employees for volunteering in our communities, we—starting with the civil service, then going further—need to do better in showing that we are giving people time off so that they can volunteer in their communities.

Mr. Robert Flello (Stoke-on-Trent, South) (Lab): Does my right hon. Friend agree that one way of changing the culture, particularly in respect of local authorities, is for there to be a good, strong scheme for local authority staff to volunteer in local charities? In that way, they would understand better what local charities, local organisations and the third sector generally have to contend with at the sharp end—when they are putting in bids or dealing with health and safety issues. Local authority staff would then have a much better perspective, and that would help the culture change.

Edward Miliband: I agree with my hon. Friend, who makes an important point. There is an all-party commission on volunteering led by Baroness Julia Neuberger, and I hope that it will consider the issue that he has raised. Such secondments and the mixing of people from local authorities and the voluntary sector are the way to break down the barriers and suspicions I mentioned earlier.

The fifth and final message from the review is about third sector organisations’ ability to be advocates for social change. It is important to understand why that is important. Third sector organisations often speak up for those who have the least representation in our society. Examples from the past few years show what such organisations can achieve: the work of charities campaigning for respite care for disabled children; the efforts of such organisations as Carers UK to speak up
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for the rights of carers; and the achievements of Scope in changing attitudes and legislation on disability on behalf of disabled men and women. In recognition of such roles, the principle of advocacy and campaigning was set out in the Compact established in 1998. However, the review found that many organisations—and I saw this myself—are deterred from advocating and campaigning.

Mr. Andrew Tyrie (Chichester) (Con) rose—

Edward Miliband: I shall give way in a minute.

Such organisations are deterred partly because of the perception of the rules, and partly—we need to be honest about this—because they fear that if they are funded by the Government, they might endanger that funding by criticising the Government. As the Charity Commission said in April 2007:

That is why the Charity Commission has issued a new briefing document on campaigning and is reviewing its guidance. We all have a responsibility to make people understand what that is and is not about. It is not about charities supporting political parties. As the Charity Commission says, and as was clear from the Charities Act 2006, which I took through the House of Commons,

Furthermore, as I have said many times, the law does not allow—and nor should it in future allow—charities to be set up for political purposes. The issue is about organisations being able to campaign to change the law.

I hope that all hon. Members will support charities’ right to advocate, partly because we all have our own personal experiences of charities that we have worked with. I include the hon. Member for Tunbridge Wells (Greg Clark), who has expressed concerns about the issue of charity campaigning. I have discovered that he is a prominent supporter of the campaign by the charity Garden Organic to change the law on the planning classification of gardens. On its website, that charity says that one of its purposes is

It urges its members to take action—to


The website also pays tribute to the hon. Gentleman’s work on its campaign, and he paid tribute to the help that he received from the charity with his private Member’s Bill last year.

My position is that, whether or not I agree with Garden Organic, I defend absolutely—

Greg Clark (Tunbridge Wells) (Con): rose—

Edward Miliband: Will the hon. Gentleman hear me out? I defend absolutely Garden Organic’s right to campaign without fear of being struck off because of an ambiguity about the rules or about whether for one
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period campaigning was a dominant part of what it did. From the review, I know that others in the sector feel uncertain about the rules.

I hope that the hon. Gentleman and Opposition Front Benchers will, on reflection, listen to the voices of the sector on the issue. The point was put eloquently in a letter to The Guardian, which I know the hon. Gentleman reads, signed by, among others, the Royal National Institute for Deaf People and Shelter. The letter stated:

I shall give way to the hon. Gentleman, but I warn him not to make a historic mistake on this issue. Charities all around the country remember what things were like in the 1980s and 1990s. Admittedly, he was not a Conservative Member then, so perhaps he should be let off. However, charities remember what it was like when Oxfam felt that it was not allowed to campaign on certain issues and when organisations funded by the Government lived in fear that, if they campaigned, the funding would be withdrawn. The hon. Gentleman needs to take great care not to repeat the mistakes of the past.

Greg Clark: I suggest that the right hon. Gentleman avoids the historic mistake of damaging public confidence in our charities—especially by eliding an argument to make a further and more damaging point. Garden Organic is a charity set up to promote organic gardening. Campaigning for a change in the law is part of its activities, but that is neither its sole nor its dominant purpose. The Minister failed to say that he intends to allow charities to be exclusively devoted to political campaigning; that is very different from allowing charities to campaign politically in support of their charitable purposes.

Edward Miliband: The hon. Gentleman is absolutely wrong about that. Let me put it on the record again, because he was obviously not listening to what I was saying. I am not in favour of organisations being able to set up for what is called a political purpose simply to campaign to change the law.

The question is what charities think when they are conducting their activities and trying to fulfil their charitable purposes—as Garden Organic was doing by supporting the hon. Gentleman’s private Member’s Bill and organising petitions and letter-writing campaigns. In those periods of intensive campaigning, do people think to themselves, “Hang on a minute. Is this a dominant activity? Is the Charity Commission going to say that this is not allowed? Will this endanger our charitable status?” My position is that they should not live in that fear and that that kind of healthy democracy—that independence and ability to speak on the part of charities—should be allowed and protected and made absolutely clear. The Charity Commission itself said, in the April 2007 document that I mentioned, that some of the wording has been confusing. That is what this is about. The hon. Gentleman has been saying that it is about politicising charities and supporting political parties. That is nonsense. He is in completely the wrong place on this, because every charity up and down the land knows that this is about its right to speak and have its voice heard.

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Greg Clark: The Minister has not been listening to what I said. I did not suggest that he wanted to allow the setting up of charities whose purpose was political. Will he confirm, however, that his view is that a charity should be able to devote 100 per cent. of its resources to campaigning politically—yes or no?

Edward Miliband: No, that is not my view. The key point is that any activity that an organisation undertakes must be in pursuit of its charitable purposes, as set out in the Charities Act 2006. I want to give other Members time to speak, but this debate will run and run. I think that the whole House will note the attitude of Conservative Front Benchers. There is an opportunity for the right hon. Member for Horsham (Mr. Maude) to distance himself from the hon. Member for Tunbridge Wells, and I hope that he will, because charities throughout the country will be listening and asking, “Has the Conservative party, which has talked about the great role in society of charities and voluntary sector, really changed or is it just superficial?” On the basis of what the hon. Gentleman has said they will conclude that it is pretty superficial.

Anne Snelgrove (South Swindon) (Lab): There is a clear dividing line between party politics and campaigning on various issues, and we must state that very clearly. My right hon. Friend cited the example of Oxfam, but does he agree that it is far harder for local charities and groups to campaign on local issues because they fear that their grants will be cut by their local council? Will he give a clear message to local councils that that campaigning is indeed in the spirit of the 10-year review?

Edward Miliband: My hon. Friend makes the fundamental point. Lots of small organisations with small amounts of funding think to themselves, “Are we really able to criticise the local authority or will we have that funding taken away?” I see that in my own area. Protecting their right to campaign is very important.

Mr. Tyrie rose—

Mr. Francis Maude (Horsham) (Con) rose—

Fiona Mactaggart rose—

Edward Miliband: What a range of choice. I give way first to the right hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Maude: I am puzzled to know how the Minister’s proposals will make any difference to his argument that organisations may fear that their grants will be cut if they campaign. How will that be changed by what he is suggesting?

Edward Miliband: In two ways: first, by the Charity Commission being absolutely clear about what is and is not allowed; and secondly, by the other measures that we are taking to strengthen the support for local campaigning through investment by Capacitybuilders. [ Interruption. ] The right hon. Gentleman says that that is completely different. This is a question of attitude. It is about whether one thinks that campaigning to change our society is a fundamental part of what third sector organisations are able to do or that such campaigning is illegitimate. If that is what Conservative Front Benchers think, that is entirely their decision.

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