I thank all Members who have taken part in the debate. Not only that, but I thank them and all the others who have helped to make the NCS a success so far. I have been delighted to see how many Members have embraced the NCS in their own constituencies by visiting events, encouraging participants and taking part in “Dragons’ Den”-style panels that award funding to young people’s social action projects. It is fitting that a programme that unites people from different backgrounds should be endorsed by both sides of the House. We will no doubt have debates and discussions—indeed, we already are—but I hope we can continue with the Bill in the spirit that has been discussed, with the common goal of making the NCS the best possible experience for future generations.
The NCS should be one experience among others. As Minister for Civil Society, I have the pleasure of seeing in action a huge number of programmes run by really excellent organisations. The NCS is not here to compete with other opportunities for young people—quite the opposite. I want the NCS to give young people an appetite for service, for other opportunities and for trying new things. Our vision is for the NCS to be a common experience for all, with scouts, cadets and other people who are familiar with service in the same team, sharing their experience with people who have never done anything like it before.
The NCS sees people with different backgrounds, faiths and interests coming together at a formative age and learning the effect they can have on the community around them. The independent evaluations show that we should not underestimate the impact of these four weeks on the young people involved. We can take the participants’ own words for it. NCS providers ask their graduates what they would say to someone considering the NCS, and one said:
“It is the most amazing experience you will ever have. Take it with both hands and mould your future.”
It is crucial that we get the delivery of this amazing experience absolutely right. Together with the royal charter, the Bill is designed to create a delivery body that the public will trust, and that spends money wisely and has the right priorities.
I turn to the issues raised by Mr Reed earlier in the debate. Many Members spoke about social integration, a subject that the Bill and royal charter already cover extensively. The royal charter includes an objective
“to promote social cohesion by ensuring equality of access to the programmes by participants regardless of their background or circumstances”.
The Bill requires the National Citizen Service Trust to report on the extent to which participants from different backgrounds have mixed on the programmes. There are many excellent examples of social integration in practice on NCS programmes, including specific interfaith NCS groups. The NCS will continue to play an important role in promoting social integration, but I am of course willing to consider what has been said today.
On the duty to promote the NCS to people from disadvantaged backgrounds, the trust’s primary functions include enabling participants from different backgrounds to work together. The trust is tasked to be absolutely focused on promoting NCS to young people, regardless of their background.
On the National Audit Office report and some backgrounds being disproportionately represented, the NCS is working to increase the representation of disadvantaged people. There is a higher proportion of participants on free school meals than in the general population, and eight out of 10 participants feel more positive about people from different backgrounds as a result of their involvement, according to the 2014 Ipsos MORI survey.
Young people are at the centre of the NCS. There is a national youth board that feeds views into the trust from 19 regional youth boards throughout the country. There are also 120 NCS leaders—the hon. Member for Croydon North has spoken to them here in the House—who are ambassadors for the programmes and represent the interests of their peers. Under the new arrangements, a new board will be appointed as part of the process and will look at all suggestions for whom that might include.
My hon. Friend Sir Julian Brazier made some excellent points about adventure training and the challenges that that represents for residential centres. That matter is not within the scope of this Bill, but I am happy to look at the issues he raises.
Jon Cruddas was right to highlight the non-partisan basis of the Bill and the royal charter. The aim is to strike the balance between independence of the NCS Trust and the accountability that it has to Parliament. He did raise a number of issues, including whether the annual report should be debated in this House. Of course the Bill requires the report to be laid before Parliament, so that Parliament can debate it if it so wishes.
Officials in the Office for Civil Society are drafting non-statutory guidance for local authorities and schools on the benefits of the NCS and how they can engage further with the programme. On ring-fenced funding, particularly for the hard-to-reach students, the Bill gives the trust the freedom to set its own commissioning practices, but requires it to report on the mix of its participants from different backgrounds so that we can assess it on outcomes—we are interested in outcomes rather than inputs.