Orders of the Day — Community Service (Young Volunteers)

– in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 19th June 1967.

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

3.45 a.m.

Photo of Mr Frank Judd Mr Frank Judd , Portsmouth West

I apologise for speaking at this late hour, but if we can all bring our minds to our purpose here tonight—although I admit that it may be difficult at this hour of the morning—

Photo of Dr Horace King Dr Horace King , Southampton, Itchen

Order. Hon. Members must leave the Chamber quietly.

Photo of Mr Frank Judd Mr Frank Judd , Portsmouth West

We are concerned with democratic procedures, which demand essentially a partnership between Government and governed. In working out this partnership, we are concerned with giving an increasing number of the population an opportunity to live fully, rather than simply to exist. In living fully, we are concerned with giving them the opportunity to come to grips with their environment.

In trying to fulfil this objective, we are confronted with the pace and complexity of modern life, with its increasing specialisation, which demands that for people to succeed in their lives and careers, they need to know more and more about less and less. Some sociologists suggest that there is an increasing tendency these days for people to become simply extensions of the machines on which they work.

Our modern society leads to a remoteness of decision making, it leads to social attitudes which refer to "we" and "they" and regarding social problems, whether national or international, as "their" problems, rather than "ours". If we are concerned with this fragmentation in our society, we have to look at the problem of combatting it, particularly for the young. How are we to extend the vision, experience and feeling of participation of the young non-professional? How are we to enable the young specialist to set his knowledge in a wider perspective?

In looking for solutions, we would all want to put on record our admiration for the work of the traditional youth service. But, in analysing the work of that service, we can see that it has been inclined to underline the passive rôle of the individual, with the emphasis being placed on providing services for youth, rather than demanding service of youth.

One of the most exciting and dramatic developments of the past five years has been a change in this pattern, a breakaway from the traditional concept of youth service, a change in emphasis from service to youth to service by young people. It is an emphasis with nothing passive or artificial about it, with an increasing tendency in young people to take real responsibility in society. We have seen this in programmes of service both at home and abroad.

In looking at the historical evolution of this pattern, we see that much of the pioneer work has been done in this country by International Voluntary Service, the British branch of Service Civil International, with its programme of long-term specialist work by young people in different continents, its large programme of shorter-term residential community service projects, and an increasingly large amount of regular neighbourhood service, particularly at weekends, by local groups in urban centres throughout the country.

This pioneer work, which started as early as the 1930s in Britain, has more recently, in the post-war era, been taken up by the International Service Department of the United Nations Association, by the Friends Work Camps Committee, and, even more recently, by bodies such as Voluntary Service Overseas, Toc H, the National Union of Students, the Catholic Institute of International Relations, Community Service Volunteers, Jewish Youth Voluntary Service, Task Force, and other similar organisations at the national level.

The work of organisations operating at national level has been backed strongly by countless local initiatives. In my own constituency of Portsmouth, there is Youth Action, and there is a similar organisation in York. There are others in such areas as Merseyside, Wirral, and Cardiff. Not only do we see this sort of development in out of school activity. It is becoming an increasingly important part of school life. In all sorts of schools throughout the country, there are community service units.

In looking at the publicity given to community service by young people, we are bound to accept that the most dramatic publicity has gone to those working abroad, particularly in the developing countries. However, I want to concentrate tonight on the home front. I want to concentrate on it for two reasons. First, of course, because it is the province of the Department of Education, and, secondly, because it will always be on the home front that the larger number of young people will have their opportunity to serve.

In looking to the evidence of this dynamic expansion, I would like to refer to my own personal experience with one of the organisations to which I have already referred, International Voluntary Service. During the past few years there has been a development from 12 to 150 residential community service projects of two to three weeks or more each with upwards of 15 volunteers and sometimes with as many as 30 participating.

In I.V.S. there has been an increase during the same last few years from seven local units undertaking regular neighbourhood community service to getting on for 100 such units throughout the country now providing several thousand volunteer weekends of service in any one year. And that is just one of the organisations operating in this field. Other organisations have been developing at very much the same pace. The growth is not simply in terms of the number of volunteers, but also in the scope of the work tackled. Traditionally, the emphasis in organisations such as these was on unskilled manual work, but more recently they have become involved in exciting new experiments in relatively sophisticated auxiliary social work.

If we look at practical examples we shall see that while originally young volunteers were concerned mainly in putting in water supplies, building roads in remote rural areas, or demolishing obsolete buildings they later undertook, in addition, such projects as the decoration of individual homes for the elderly, and now besides all this they are increasingly involved, for example, in manning holiday centres for the elderly, where they will completely care for the elderly, from getting them up in the morning, dressing them and feeding them, to taking them on excursions, entertaining them and putting them to bed.

We also see volunteers working in mental hospitals which, quite frequently, have only fairly recently emerged from the dark age of the asylum; such volunteers going in to work with the patients are not only improving the physical evironment of the hospitals, but, far more important, are bridging the gap between the life inside the walls of the hospital and the world outside.

We have also seen even more interesting experiments in which young people in rehabilitation units at recidivist prisons, and youngsters from borstals and approved schools, are given the opportunity of participating in service with other young volunteers.

In all this there has been value for a cross-section of people concerned. There is, first, the educative value for the volunteers participating, something far richer than would have been possible in any degree of academic discussion. There is also the benefit for the under-privileged, discovering for the first time perhaps in weeks, months, years, that ordinary young people want to do something practical about their hardship rather than just sentimentalising about it, and the experience of finding that it is not only the professional social worker who cares. Then there is the benefit to social and medical workers, having young people who come along for a while to share the load they are expected to carry on behalf of society.

There is also sometimes a catalytic effect for the community as a whole. Let me give one example. I know of a residential centre for elderly ladies which was created at what had formerly been a Poor Law institution. The first job given to young volunteers who went there to lend their assistance was to knock down a high, forbidding wall surrounding this institution and lower it from its original 12 feet to a more tolerable three feet so that the old ladies could look out on the community outside.

No sooner has this been started than a local "blimp" came rushing to the centre and told the superintendent it was disgusting, and that this was ruining the whole approach to the town. No one would now be able to enter the town without seeing the eyesore of the old Poor Law institution on the outskirts. The superintendent had difficulty in restraining his mirth, because this was his objective. No longer could the local community conveniently forget about this institution on its outskirts, and as a result of this work undertaken by the young volunteers the community has, in fact, taken an active interest in that centre. It has become involved, and there is a much greater and closer bond between the community and the elderly people finishing their lives in that centre than might otherwise have been possible.

Tentatively, almost gingerly, the Government have become concerned in supporting this type of activity by young people, though financial grants are still minimal when compared with the relatively large sums expended on bricks and mortar for traditional youth service activities, with their inevitably limited value. Now we know that we have a Minister who has recognised the value and potential of this record of voluntary service. We know that we have a Minister who is determined to see Government financial support increased as soon as possible for this type of work.

This has prompted a good deal of optimism among those concerned. The reason for this optimism is two-fold. First, despite the rapid rate of increase in this work, it would have been impossible to go on increasing the rate without Government financial assistance. Secondly, it was becoming increasingly difficult for the voluntary organisations even to maintain the present level of activity on the basis of voluntary contri- butions, and there was an increasing and desperate need for Government financial assistance.

In his desire to see how best to help, my hon. Friend first asked a committee of the Youth Service Development Council to report on possible co-ordination. My hon. Friend was not, evidently, altogether satisfied with its report, and this was a view shared by many of those working in the field. My hon. Friend has now distributed a new circular to the relevant authorities and organisations with his own proposals for the establishment of an independent national advisory unit, to be staffed by young people with relevant experience, and to have the status of an independent charitable trust. Its function will be to support and strengthen local voluntary service activity where it exists, and to initiate new activities where they do not yet exist.

To ensure success there are certain important questions in the minds of those principally concerned, and I believe that at this juncture it would be immensely helpful in reassuring those concerned if the Minister could see his way to answering them. One of the questions which I am constantly being asked by those in the field is what methodical and comprehensive assessment has been made by the Department of Education and Science of the extent and significance of current work and of the range of young people involved.

Next, what detailed and extensive evaluation has been made of the real needs of national and local volunteer agencies and school groups, and of the ways in which they believe the Government can best help, apart from financial assistance? Another question which is worrying those working in the field is what will be the rôle within the Minister's new scheme of existing volunteer agencies which operate at the national level?

Does the Department realise the degree to which success so far has been very much related to the variety of organisations and the sensitivity with which they operate, thus providing a wide range of motivation which enables young people to feel closely identified with the particular organisation of their choosing? Next, what detailed discussions have there been with hospital boards and other statutory and non-statutory organisations which already use volunteers, and which could use expanded numbers of them, particularly with regard to the real value of such volunteers and to the future scope for them within such statutory and non-statutory bodies?

What consultations has the Department had on the best means of continuing the liaison between such statutory and non-statutory organisations and the volunteer placing agencies when the scheme starts? What studies has the Department made of successful patterns of such work elsewhere in Europe? For example, in France, the Government have collaborated closely with voluntary agencies for some time, in an organisation called Cotraveaux, which brings together precisely for this purpose agencies which can use volunteers and agencies that can place them. Has the Department had an opportunity to study the success of this work. Has it, for example, had an opportunity to go to Southern France, to the Ariege area of the Pyrenees, where there is a large-scale programme of rehabilitation of an extensive rural area, which is in a state of decline, and in which there is an inbuilt role for volunteer placing agencies in tackling the jobs which are essential to this rehabilitation?

It seems relevant that at a time when we know the Government are rethinking their conception of social and welfare services, that the Departments and the Ministries concerned with social welfare programmes should be considering actively how to co-operate even more fruitfully in the future with voluntary agencies, particularly as these agencies can always provide human flexibility within the framework of general social legislation.

Another question that is troubling people who very much want the Minister's scheme to succeed is: what sort of directing staff does he envisage for the advisory unit? There is a general conviction that it should have at least as much standing with and knowledge of the professional social work agencies as with the volunteer placing agencies themselves. What sort of controlling committee for the new advisory unit has the Minister in mind? Will it be a representative body, made up of people drawn from existing organisations, both at a national and local level, or will it rather be an establishment-orientated body? If the Minister is tempted to opt for the latter, has he considered that formalisation and a heavy superstructure of this kind could lead to tragic paralysis, as has happened in too much of our traditional youth service? Does he not agree that the first principles of effective community development demand that the initiative in this field must come at the individual agency and local level, only being sensitively supported by any central unit?

Also, what studies is the Department making—I know it is making some, but how much attention is it really giving of the value of international participation in community service projects of this kind? This is a time when the Government are very much concerned with the possibility of entry into the European Economic Community, and it would be interesting to see evidence that they were committed to encouraging existing exchange programmes of young people who could actually engage in relevant community service projects in each other's countries. Already, in Western Europe, other countries are taking a magnificent lead in this respect, particularly France and West Germany.

I can well believe that in looking at the scheme and how it is to operate the Minister at times has felt a little dispirited by the apparent aggressive individualism of agencies already operating. I can reassure him. Obviously, what has made volunteer agencies tick in the past has been their rugged individualism; the best possible thing the Department could do at this stage would be to call a comprehensive round-table conference. I have suggested this before. At that round-table conference people from the organisations at national and local level, already working in the field, could come together to evaluate and discuss such points as that I have put forward tonight.

In this way, the Minister would have an ideal opportunity to win the direct and positive co-operation of the people who, in the final analysis, must make any new scheme he may have in mind work efficiently.

4.4 a.m.

Photo of Mr Denis Howell Mr Denis Howell , Birmingham Small Heath

Even at this late hour I have listened with interest to what my hon. Friend the Member for Portsmouth, West (Mr. Judd) has had to say on the whole question of service by youth. He asked me 11 searching questions, each of which would require its own Adjournment debate—about the attitude of existing youth organisations, our consultations, the implementation of the Bessey proposals and the attitude of local authorities. He did not mention the trade unions, which have occupied much of my time in recent months. He will, therefore, not be surprised that I cannot give detailed answers.

It is common knowledge that the Government have been concerned to produce a scheme by which a significant proportion of young people can serve the rest of the community. My hon. Friend has a long association with one such, and I was pleased that he fairly outlined all the organisations in the field. I am pleased that he appreciates the emphasis which the Government put on the significance of such voluntary service in young people's lives. It is because we believe that an enormous amount of community work needs to be done that we have in the last few years been concentrating on a scheme to do this and get a tremendous increase.

Because of this, we asked the Director of Education for Cumberland, Mr. Bessey, to investigate whether this move forward was possible. After some months work, he concluded that it was. The organisations in the field agreed broadly, but not with the way that the Council, under Mr. Bessey, proposed tackling it. We then went into consultations. My hon. Friend told me not to worry about the robust individuality of these organisations and I hope never again to have such an experience as I have had during the last 12 months of trying to get agreement on the means of assisting youth service. It is almost impossible to get all the organisations to agree because they think, quite properly, that their method should be the pattern for the rest of the country.

We have, therefore, reached certain conclusions and I am sorry that it is too early for me now to state Government policy, as the negotiations are still in progress. I only recently concluded them with the local authority associations and the T.U.C. and others, but we have now reached a large measure of agreement. We must now consider the structure for the proposals which we shall shortly make and the financing of the new organisation.

My hon. Friend said that something important which has not yet been appreciated by the country or the Youth Service is that there must be a significant movement from the traditional ideas of a youth service if our new objectives are to succeed. He was right to say that this was no discredit to the existing organisations, many of which are in the van in trying to create new opportunities for young people to give service. It means in these difficult days, particularly financially difficult days, that if a Minister is trying to change the direction of the Youth Service in a small but important way, then obviously, in expanding this side of our activities, this must to a certain extent be done at the expense of some of the traditional work that has been going on. I am glad to know that my hon. Friend appreciates this.

If it is valuable, as I believe it to be, for youngsters in schools and youth clubs to give voluntary service—and in this sector a significant amount is being done—it must be equally valuable for the large number of youngsters who do not belong to any youth organisations; the so-called "unattached". These youngsters form an army of people who, I believe, are as idealistic as any group of young people in history, although they do not see their place in the traditional form of youth service.

For them, as for all youngsters, an enormous amount of work needs to be done in the community; for the elderly, the handicapped, at work camps, holiday camps, and so on. I am conscious of the need to press on with these schemes. An important aspect is to find new ways of attracting young people who are not identifying themselves with the old, traditional youth service but who are, as we know, willing to co-operate if worthwhile opportunities are presented to them.

If I say nothing else in reply to this debate, I must emphasise the fact that we will not succeed in the schemes we have or may have—and this is why we are taking a considerable time to think the matter out; we want to ensure that we take the right steps—if our appeal to the nation is in words like, "It will do you good if you come in and do this work". If significant numbers of young people want to give voluntary service within the community, that service will indeed do them a great deal of good.

But we will not attract people merely on that basis. We must appeal to the idealism of these youngsters by showing them the work that needs to be done; the elderly people whose homes need decorating, the handicapped who want to mix with ordinary, healthy people in wholesome surroundings, the play and recreational areas that need to be established in our countryside parks, the nation's canal system that needs attention and many others.

We have, in my Department and throughout the Government, been giving a great deal of thought to these proposals. The Ministry of Health, the Home Office and the Ministry of Social Security have been involved in the discussions we have been having and are all extremely enthusiastic, particularly about the need to get people to assist the folk for whom those Ministries are responsible. That encourages me a lot because I know that the statutory bodies in local government, the hospitals and the social security sphere are co-operating to the full in this matter. If Ministers are right in their thinking on this matter and are enthusiastic in the welcome they are giving to these proposals, then we know that all concerned are actively concerned to see this side of our activities really succeed.

We will be trying to create a new piece of social service machinery. I can only say tonight that it will be a trust, or something of that sort. It would be wrong of me, or any Minister, to impose considerations of detail on such a trust—the sort of detail mentioned by my hon. Friend. I can only say that I hope very shortly to be able to announce the launching of this scheme. Having lived with this matter for two years, I assure the House that I respect the help I have received from my hon. Friend and others I have consulted, particularly since they have respected the confidence placed in them.

I hope to get this scheme launched very soon because I believe that it will be a tremendously worthwhile experience for those concerned and the direction in which the youth services of the country should be moving.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at fourteen minutes past Four o'clock a.m.