National Citizen Service Bill [Lords]

Part of Bill Presented – in the House of Commons at 5:16 pm on 16th January 2017.

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Photo of Susan Elan Jones Susan Elan Jones Labour, Clwyd South 5:16 pm, 16th January 2017

It is a great pleasure to speak in this debate and to follow Henry Smith. It has been heartening to hear widespread praise for the National Citizen Service and I want to join in that praise—it is an excellent scheme. The Secretary of State mentioned that it operates in England and in Northern Ireland, but I want to put on the record my praise for the excellent volunteering element of the Welsh baccalaureate. One good thing about such programmes is that we are able to share expertise and good ideas, wherever they come from, both within these islands and internationally. That is a great strength and has always been the case with the best volunteering programmes.

The Minister will be familiar with them, but I want to discuss some points made about the Bill by some voluntary sector organisations. The National Council for Voluntary Organisations spoke with some eloquence about the NCS being part of

“a longer journey of social action and volunteering”,

of diversity of participants being more important than numbers, and about how crucial it is that young people are involved in the design of the programme. The Charities Aid Foundation makes a plea in the form of asking for a new article to be inserted into the royal charter to ensure that the scheme is a way of encouraging younger people into other social programmes, such as charity trusteeship. Its point is that while 18 to 24-year-olds make up 12% of this country’s population, they make up just 1% of charity trustees. It is important to develop the scheme and get its participants involved in being trustees and in other leadership roles. Of course, many of us here who are in middle age will recognise that one does not stay aged 15 to 17 forever. [Interruption.] One of my colleagues points out that not everyone here is in middle age.

How do we develop volunteering, and how do we develop a type of volunteering that brings people together? What is the next step for volunteering after this Bill? My hon. Friend Jon Cruddas spoke powerfully about how volunteering does not have any legal status in this country. Indeed, volunteers aged 18 and over, or anyone else, could be designated as not in employment, education or training. For those aged 18-plus who go on volunteering programmes, there is no agreement that that should mean national insurance contributions and the like. We need to develop those ideas as we take forward the National Citizen Service.

Many Members on both sides of the House have spoken passionately today about integration, diversity and bringing people together. My hon. Friend Dan Jarvis cited a moving quote by President Obama. This is not all about being in one’s own little bubble and talking to people who agree with ourselves; it is about coming together with different people. I remember a television programme from a few years ago—I think it was a “BBC Parliament when we are not here” type of programme—and sitting on a stage were former Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, who were discussing with young people some sort of leadership programme that they had established in the United States. I always remember former President Clinton talking about the idea of bringing together young African-Americans who are active in their community and getting them on the same programmes as young people involved in the Tea Party movement who believe that the world would be a better place if everything operated in their small town. He spoke about bringing together those energies and about how the synergy between them creates something better for society. I am not sure how many of those ideas are at play in the US at the moment, but what a fantastic idea it is to bring together different groups of young people so that they can share their different ideas. Who knows what might come out of that?

When we look at different sorts of schemes, we do not know where they will lead. For instance, I hope that one area we look at is volunteering for former young offenders and for people who have been in prison. That step, which is sometimes very great, can take people out of a life of recidivism in which they offend, go into jail, reoffend, go back into jail, and on and on. Is there a specific role for volunteerism that can bridge that gap between prison and employment? We need to be thinking of that as a next step.

I warmly commend the Bill and the ideas behind it, and I hope the resourcing, the collaboration and the involvement with voluntary groups will be in place. There are so many ideas for us to think about in relation to volunteering and how it creates the sort of society that not everyone might want to see at the moment but that we are certainly going to need.