Like everyone else who has spoken, I welcome the Bill, which will secure the future of the NCS through a royal charter. I join hon. Members in congratulating former Prime Minister David Cameron on his role as the driving force behind the scheme.
My constituency has had considerable success with the NCS. When the scheme started, just 45 people joined the initial cohort, but the number of participants has now increased to more than 1,200. One of the reasons why is the dedicated and dynamic leadership of Lee Stephens, who is sitting in the Public Gallery. I pay tribute to him for showing his dedication by not only leading the scheme, but sitting through the whole of this debate, as well as the preceding Question Time.
Vernon Coaker mentioned the divides in our country and how the scheme brings people together. He spoke of rural, urban and regional divides. Representing a coastal community with the problems of poor educational standards and the like, I recognise the important role that the NCS has played. Those who participate gain new skills, enhance their CVs and are helped with the transition from school to further education. The value of the scheme has been recognised, certainly in the North East Lincolnshire part of my constituency, by the fact that every secondary school and academy has signed up to the programme, along with the two colleges, which are both working to integrate the NCS into their curriculums.
Only last Friday I visited my old school, Havelock school in Grimsby, where the headteacher explained to me the difficulties she has with a catchment area that is, shall we say, in one of the poor towns. It includes the East Marsh ward of Grimsby, which is ranked among the 20th poorest wards in the country by various socioeconomic indicators. There is no doubt that the NCS has played a major part in involving young people from all parts of the community in the Cleethorpes constituency and the surrounding areas.
Over the past three or four years, I have visited many projects in the constituency. They include, to mention just three, the St Andrew’s hospice in Grimsby, the Harbour Place centre for the homeless and the Alzheimer’s Society, which a number of young people did some work for. Indeed, I recall a year or two ago visiting a care home at which young people were working where some residents were suffering from dementia. It is important that young people realise that that is a growing problem in our ageing society. Many of those young people went on to work with those sufferers when the scheme finished, which is a great tribute to them and those who organised it. There have also been schemes such as tidying up local cemeteries, and I also remember visiting a very enthusiastic group last summer that was involved in repainting New Waltham village hall in very vivid colours. The list could go on.
To turn to more technical aspects of the Bill, I particularly welcome clauses 5 and 6. They relate to the business plan and the annual report, both of which will focus attention each year on the targets, helping to ensure that the scheme does not run out of steam but continues to prosper.
Young people can get a bad press but, as we all know, the vast majority are a credit to their families and their local communities. Society today faces many challenges, as it always has. If we can develop the natural skills and enthusiasm of our young people, they will make a major contribution, through the NCS, to society. The scheme gives them a sense of satisfaction, a growing sense of self-confidence and a realisation that by giving to the community in which they live, they can not only fulfil many of their own aspirations, but contribute greatly to the society and community in which they live.
I give my wholehearted support to the scheme. Many of us will have seen groups of young people and individuals who have prospered and gone on to greater things as a result of the NCS. I welcome the Bill and urge Ministers to take note of what has been said. This is a debate in which there has been mutual support and respect for the Bill from all parts of the House. At a time when we have been talking about divisions and trying to bring a cross-party approach to some of the more contentious aspects of policy, this is an example of something we can learn from. I hope that Members of all parties will bear that in mind.