Yes, Sir. We give a great deal of encouragement. Our programme of support for the development activities overseas of the voluntary societies is increasing. I would like to see it increase still further.
In view of the Minister's answer, does she accept that one of the great values of the voluntary bodies is that they give the British public a degree of choice and influence over the way in which its money is spent overseas, and that equally these bodies have a particular capacity for identifying projects which really help the people in need in the developing countries? Therefore, can the Minister assure the House that there are no obstacles whatsoever in the way of the expansion of the voluntary bodies? Does she, in particular, propose to expand the joint funding scheme?
As I know the hon. Gentleman recognises, I introduced the joint funding scheme, and I am very enthusiastic about it. We have to be very careful, however, that we do not, in the joint funding scheme, interfere with the independence of the voluntary agencies. I am sure that he will accept that. Perhaps the best indication I can give him is that in the first year of the scheme we received 20 applications, and that last year we received 144. Expenditure has risen from £25,000 to £700,000. Indeed, of the total applications, 118 have been approved and, apart from some which are in the pipeline, only 26 have been rejected, purely on practical grounds. This indicates that we are fully seized of the desire to encourage them.
Has my right hon. Friend been able to make any progress with the vexed problem that faces Voluntary Service Overseas people when they come back and find inadequate employment opportunities? This problem has vexed many of us for a long time. Has my right hon. Friend been able to make any progress in securing, at this time of high unemployment, that when people give up a year or two or their lives, when they are young, to go overseas, they come back to full employment?
This is obviously a very difficult question, but most of the people involved in the joint funding schemes are not so much VSO volunteers as people employed by the voluntary agencies who tend to have a career working with them and for them. There is a slight difference there. But there are problems concerning the volunteers returning here. I wish that there could be more people going overseas during this period, because it is very valuable to them. It gives them further training and experience, and cannot but help everybody.