asked the Minister of Overseas Development what progress has been made in her plans to aid underdeveloped countries and stimulate the natural instinct of young people in this country towards public service by increasing the opportunities for voluntary service overseas.
The target which the voluntary bodies have agreed to aim at this year is 1,600 volunteers, 1,200 of them graduate or qualified volunteers and 400 school leavers—cadets. This represents an increase of 735 over the figure for last year. The voluntary bodies are hard at work selecting volunteers and the final figures will not be known for some months.
As regards the second part of the hon. Gentleman's supplementary question, I think that we ought to take it year by year and see how we go in this forthcoming year. As regards financial assistance, the present year's programme is subsidised to the extent of 50 per cent. from Government funds, and for next year's programme this has been stepped up to 75 per cent.
Is my hon. Friend aware that the Answer he has just given is received with great satisfaction on these benches, and we are particularly gratified to learn what a speedy increase has been made in the past three or four months? It is a remarkable achievement.
I thank my hon. Friend for what he says and I take it as a credit to the Department, but it should be noted that these efforts are not just Government efforts but are the efforts of the voluntary societies, particularly V.S.O. We are very grateful for all they are doing.
Does the hon. Gentleman realise that the main reason why we have this large and gratifying increase in the numbers going out is that our plans for this year were announced and the financial arrangements were made 12 months ago? We then set a target of 1,300, which, I am glad to see, it has been possible to increase to 1,600. Will the hon. Gentleman give most careful consideration to announcing now the targets for September of next year, bearing in mind that, if the plans had not been made a year ago, we should not have had this increase, and we shall not have a similar increase next year if nothing is done well in advance?
No one wishes to belittle what the right hon. Gentleman did during his term of office, but I hope that he will not belittle what my right hon. Friend, in the early days of her office, has been able to do in bringing about this substantial and important increase. I shall certainly bear in mind what the right hon. Gentleman suggests about advance announcement of future plans.