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I begin with two apologies. First, as a former Inspector General of the Territorial Army, I am not going to speak about the enormous contribution that the voluntary forces make and continue to make to our operations overseas. I know that all Members of this House have paid tribute to that contribution and will pay tribute whenever it is mentioned. In recompense, I am wearing the cufflinks that were given to me when I retired. My second apology is to the Minister, because, unfortunately, the point that I want to make is really for a ministry other than the one for which she is responsible. I hope that she may bear the tidings to where I wish to send them.
I must declare an interest, in that I am an office holder of a number of voluntary organisations, many of them connected with the penal world. In those various posts, I recognise the cautions that the noble Lord, Lord Goodlad, raised in relation to the activities connected with VAT. I also recognise the cautions that have been raised by a number of people about the involvement of bureaucracy and the increasing amount of paperwork.
I will interject an interesting statistic, which was given to me by the chairman of a voluntary organisation; it is the sort of information that the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville, is so good at supplying this House. There are 54 words in the Lord's Prayer71 if you include the addition and the Amen. There are 277 words in the 10 Commandments. There are 300 words in the American Declaration of Independence. There are 26,911 words in the European directive on the export of duck eggs. This has little to do with the voluntary sector, except that it illustrates the exponential increase in paperwork.
I want to concentrate on something to which the noble Baroness, Lady Pitkeathley, and the noble Lord, Lord Haskel, have referredthe involvement of the voluntary sector in what might be called pro-social behaviour and, in particular, the contribution that the voluntary sector and volunteers can make to both the penal system as a whole and the conduct of looking after offenders in prison and in the community.
The aim of the criminal justice system is to protect the public by preventing crime and, better, re-crimein other words, reoffending. Last September, the present Home Secretary enunciated a marvellous vision of how he would like to see that operated. He sees this as being delivered by a partnership involving the public, the private and the not-for-profit sectors, all concentrating on the needs of individuals and contributing as best they can to providing what is needed to help those people to live useful and law-abiding lives, both in custody and in the community. I agree with him entirely. Having seen many examples and being involved with some of them, I believe that this partnership should be a partnership in the best
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sense of the word, in that each of the three areasthe public, the private and the not-for-profit sectorsshould provide what they can to aggregate the contribution of each.
The role of the voluntary sector is vast. It covers penal organisations discussing policy, watchdogs that serve in individual establishments, visitors, help with all kinds of offending behaviour treatment, drug treatment, looking after families, providing work and education and so onall of which is encapsulated in the splendid document What can I do?, published by another voluntary organisation, the Bourne Trust, which previously concentrated on Catholic prisoners. I am absolutely fascinated by the width and breadth of what the sector does, the numbers involved and the fact that its help is given in so many areas of the country so freely without people seeking any reward other than the fact that they feel that they are doing something to help their community by protecting it in the longer term.
However, in relation to arranging this partnership, I am very disturbed at a word that has crept into the vocabulary recently. This is the caution that I invite the Minister to note. I refer to the introduction of the word "contestability", which I understand is a Treasury word. Some people suggest that it refers to market testing. When applied in the penal sector, it is now suggested that that contestability includes the voluntary sector competing with both the private and the public sectors for contributing services. I suggest that that is an entirely false interpretation of the role and ethos of the voluntary sector. It does not compete for delivering services; it delivers services.
As an office holder of an organisation, I am more than happy to invite the public to contribute money to help to deliver the service that will protect them, but I cannot in all honesty ask them for money to enable me to enter a competition with a private or a public sector for delivering that service. In the past four weeks, I have had two disturbing letters. One was from the Department for Education and Skills to me in my position as chairman of the Koestler Trust suggesting that the outcomes of my trust are not sufficiently in tune with the outcomes in the Government's Green Paper on reoffending, dated 15 December, and that potential funding from the Government is questionable. The arts do not deliver hard outcomes in terms of reoffending; they provide the means by which people can become engaged in the education and training that might provide the hard outcomes. Therefore, I suggest that that is the wrong word.
Almost as disturbingly, two weeks ago, as president of UNLOCK, the National Association of Ex Prisoners, I received a letter from a regional offender manager inviting me to contribute £5,000 a year to the cost of a member of her staff who would be responsible for commissioning our services. I do not believe that as a voluntary organisation we should be asked to contribute to the staff of an official organisation.
My caution, which I hope will be passed on, is that I do not believe that we can afford to lose the vital and unique contribution that the voluntary sector and
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volunteering can and do make to this pro-social behaviour. I ask the Government to bear that in mind in future.
Lord Sutherland of Houndwood: My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Lord, Lord Goodlad, for promoting this debate. It is as if he threw a very large stone into a pond which has turned out to be very deep indeed, causing many ripples. I want to add just one more small eddy towards the end of this debate. I have been involved in volunteering in a number of ways. In view of an earlier exchange with the noble Lord, Lord Phillips, I should say that I regard being a Member of the Cross Benches as the Rolls-Royce of volunteering roles.
I want to focus on the other part of the debate, which is the voluntary sector. I declare an interest as president of Alzheimer Scotland and as an adviser to the Alzheimer's Society in England. Both are key charities, and as excellent charities they provide the effective structure and support that enables many carers more effectively to serve the needs of others. In so doing, they help carers to help themselves. That is one of the major roles of these societies, and the input is significantly from those who care helping those who are learning to care. These charities are typical of the best and they help to define the role and possibilities of the voluntary sector. The debate topic includes volunteers, and I underline the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Pitkeathley, that many who care are not volunteers. They are there because they accept responsibilitiesusually of family, sometimes of friendship and sometimes of good neighbourlinessand they deserve all the support that we can give them.
I will focus on two points at which the support given by those charities to carers might be complemented by further support from the Government. In that sense, I am picking up the platform offered by the noble Baroness, Lady Morgan, which is that these charities "give voice". I want to give voice to two comments that have come from these and like-minded charities on ways in which the Government, in their proper and commendable focus on the charitable sector, want to help the provision of care throughout our community. The first comment focuses on the word "employment". The Government are to be commended for the ways in which, through legislation, including the Work and Families Bill that is currently going through this House, they are trying to ease the burdens of those who care for others. Most evidently, in that legislation and in other legislation, the Government are to be congratulated on the support being given to people, including those in employment, who are parents, in this case of young children. Can that support be extended to those who care for parents or for elderly relatives? The Government's record is good on helping the younger end of the family, but what about the other end of the spectrum?
"Already the Work and Families Bill is extending the right to request flexible working to carers . . . So it must be right also to explore whether tax exemptions for employer-supported eldercare vouchers could be introduced . . . The Government's 2007 spending review is an opportunity to examine this option".
It is a specific question, which I put to the Minister knowing that perhaps it is the responsibility of someone else. I simply ask that she might pass it on to the colleague whom she deems responsible.
Such changes would clearly benefit the carers, their quality of life, their health and the health of the voluntary sector. Those would be significant benefits. The benefit for the public purse must also be brought into the equation, because more of those who accept the responsibilities of caring would be able to remain in work, possibly full time but certainly part time, if such changes were made to the legislation governing employment. In a time when demography points to the need for maintaining the size of the workforce, that seems to me a significant benefit in fiscal as well as humanitarian terms.
The second topic that I want to raise is the availability of drugs to support those in the early stages of Alzheimer's and dementia. There are current reports of better provision in Scotland, and certainly better provision in some parts of England than in others. Is that true? If so, why? That is my first question. Lest there be a temptation to brush it off and say, "No, no, no; we have a good drugs supply policy that is common throughout the country", I shall quote from a recent NHS publication, Better Health in Old Age, which is a report from Professor Ian Philp. In that document he commends a case study in which the whole point of a significant part of the work involved was to deal with this problem. The report states:
There is a problem here, which has hit the headlines dramatically through recent NICE rulings. NICE has issued a supplementary revised ruling, which is much to its credit, and it has also issuedI want to focus on this pointa further draft guidance document for consultation. I believe that the consultation period is now complete, which means that the replies are now under consideration. I simply ask that, in the deliberations on what has come in, the questions of value for money which reasonably arise should include the beneficial impact on carers, including their ability, in varying degrees, to continue in employment. If the drugs are available and they mitigate some of the earlier symptoms of Alzheimer's and dementia, an individual can reasonably retain elementsor perhaps the wholeof the employment in which they were initially involved and from which they are being plucked as carers.
The strength of the voluntary sector is founded significantly in the way in which its institutions provide efficient structure and support for many, including carers. I have suggested two ways in which
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the Government might extend their goodwillwhich I acknowledgeto the sector by complementing the provisions being made in other contexts.
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