My Lords, it is a great pleasure to introduce today’s debate, and I am grateful to my noble and learned friend Lord Wallace of Tankerness and my noble friend Lord Newby for selecting this topic on one of two Liberal
Democrat debate days. I declare an interest as chair of the National Volunteering Forum, as a trustee of the Industry and Parliament Trust, and as patron of Ace Anglia, which provides advocacy and support to people with learning disabilities in Suffolk, and of Wings of Hope, which is an educational charity focused on India and Malawi. I very much look forward to hearing from the other 20 noble Lords who will speak in the debate. With all due respect, between us we have many hundreds of years of experience in this sector, and I think the insights today will be very valuable.
What makes this sector so vibrant, so flexible, often challenging and occasionally frustrating, is its very breadth. Charities such as the National Trust, the RSPB and Oxfam are household names. They have hundreds of thousands of members and significant incomes. There are thousands more tiny local charities set up to respond to particular circumstances, sometimes even the plight of one individual who needs help. There are around 161,000 registered charitable organisations, and an estimated 600,000 which are not registered. However, 90% of charitable income is made by the top 10%. I would not want this morning’s debate to go by without paying tribute to the millions of volunteers and family carers who, often under very trying circumstances, display a quiet daily heroism.
This sector provides both quality of life services, such as those of the National Trust, and lifesaving services, such as those of the RNLI and the Red Cross. The Society of Friends reminded me of the important role which charities play in the campaign for change, and how important that is at a time when people are increasingly disengaged from party politics. Of course, as we go into the general election next year, I reflect that most of the political activity which is undertaken in this country is done by unpaid volunteers. We should remember that contribution, too. In some cases, the volunteers provide the service, and in others they raise money so that professionals can do their jobs. Charity shops alone raise around £300 million every year for their organisations.
With this variation, finding the right policy framework for all of these circumstances is very difficult to get right, both for government and for regulators such as the Charity Commission. It also makes it quite difficult for the sector to speak with one voice. I will leave it to other noble Lords with more experience to talk in depth about the legal and financial framework for charities. However, I want to start with a few general comments on that aspect, before going on to talk about volunteering, which is the main thrust of what I want to say today.
The total yearly income of the charitable and voluntary sector is £39.2 billion. That is down £700 million on the previous year, largely as a result of reduced public funding. Despite the recession, NCVO says that charitable giving is holding up reasonably well, although anecdotal evidence suggests that organisations are having to work much harder to raise their money. Voluntary organisations are also reporting an increase in demand for their services, and there is now a real question about how long they can afford to do more with less.
The recent cross-party report, Creating an Age of Giving, referred to a civic core of givers, but it refers to the fact that that core is ageing and shrinking. Investment in schemes such as payroll giving and technology that enables text donations, for example, and the use of social media, have proved to be very worthwhile. I hope that the Minister will tell us whether the Government will continue to provide the seed corn money required to develop such schemes.
Gift aid is really important, but the new small donation scheme is looking significantly underspent. Anecdotally, it would appear that that is because it is just too complicated. Will the Government undertake to see whether that is the case and make changes quickly if they need to be made?
UKCF’s Shine a Light research of December last year found that people are nearly twice as likely to feel confident when they give money locally, as opposed to nationally, that it is actually going to help those who need it most. More than half of them would give more and give it locally if giving was easier and they could see the impact of their donation. That is emphasised by the publication, just this morning, of a report by the Charity Commission on public trust and confidence. It makes the same point about people wanting to see how their money is being spent and the impact.
One area where you can best see that at work is in the community foundation movement. Like most shire counties, Suffolk has a community foundation, which supports a wide variety of charity and community projects throughout Suffolk. By making endowment-giving easy, it has provided a sustainable way to support local organisations. Match-funded schemes such as Community First have been a real boost. I hope that the Government will keep that success in mind and work with the community foundations to see how the schemes might be expanded. Recent evidence is showing an increase in local giving and a more thoughtful model of giving, which is a really important part of building a strong civic society.
Of course, what makes the charity sector is the volunteers. The best estimate is that there are about 15.2 million people volunteering every month, so there is clearly an incredible capacity for volunteering in this country, but there are concerns that the volunteer workforce is ageing. People are working longer, caring for very elderly relatives themselves, perhaps even becoming less altruistic, and it is becoming difficult to recruit new volunteers. It takes money to resource organisations and projects specialising in helping people to access volunteering opportunities, but we need to do that to widen the pool from which our volunteers are drawn. For example, the Access to Volunteering fund, piloted in three areas, supported about 7,000 disabled volunteers to become involved. That brought with it reports of improved well-being and significantly reduced isolation.
A few years ago, I had a conversation with a researcher who was looking into something called micro-volunteering. Partway through, I realise that what she was actually talking about was what I would have called “doing someone a favour”. In today’s disconnected, slightly impersonal world, that sort of thing is dying out. It seems very odd to people of our generation, but there is a huge role for social media, for example, in making those connections between people, because the old community connections are lessening.
It is also important to recognise that the old model, where volunteers would commit a certain amount of time every week and would do so over a lengthy period is very challenging for a lot of younger volunteers who have work and family commitments. They need more flexible volunteering opportunities. In Suffolk, the 2012 Olympic volunteers have formed a sort of permanent cohort of volunteers who come in and out for all the major events in the county; its success is in its flexibility. New technologies can be really important.
There was a time when the public, private and charity sector all had separate but very well understood roles. The picture is now much more complex and the lines between them are really quite blurred. Some of these developments have welcome aspects, but there are challenges. One of the most difficult issues facing the sector is the use by government of volunteering as part of unemployment policy. As I said before, we can all accept that volunteering can play a really important part in getting unemployed people out of the house, learning new skills and generally increasing their self-esteem. However, there is sometimes a question of compulsion. Someone who is made to volunteer in order to get their benefits is not a volunteer, and we should not call them one. These are work placements, and we have to understand that it makes life quite tricky for the existing volunteers to be working alongside people who are there only under duress.
Secondly, the Government need to remember that charities and voluntary organisations do not have an unlimited capacity to absorb volunteer labour wherever it comes from. There are too many reports of jobcentres simply sending people along to voluntary organisations with no thought as to how the organisation is actually going to use them. The voluntary organisations themselves need enough professional staff to be able to manage volunteers effectively, even when they are welcome.
All this is made very complicated by the increasing use of the third sector to deliver public services. Current estimates are that the contracts are worth just over £11 billion. I am in favour of this development, but we have to recognise that it limits the ability of the charity or voluntary organisation to set its own priorities. What happens then is that gaps in service begin to appear. It also compromises the perception of the public about the charity as independent of government. That has come out very clearly in the report published by the Charity Commission today: when a charity becomes dependent on public contracts for its survival, its independence can be jeopardised.
I shall make one or two points on the question of tendering for public services and the issues facing charities that wish to participate. First, the bidding process is often based on driving down price, which usually means labour costs. Most voluntary organisations do not pay their staff particularly well, but they do want to be fair. They want to pay the living wage and give their staff decent terms and conditions, but it is often difficult for them because they are competing with the private sector, which has no compunction about the use of zero-hours contracts or short-term contracts or with paying less than the living wage. Quite often the third sector is heavily disadvantaged when it comes to tendering. It is not just a moral question; evidence from the Living Wage Commission demonstrates that the Treasury could save more than £3.6 billion per year if everyone was paid the living wage. I wonder whether it is the business of the public sector to be discouraging the voluntary and charitable sector, which treats its workers well, by favouring the private sector.
Too often the relationship between the voluntary sector and the statutory commissioners is “us and them”; the commissioners are very controlling and do not really look at value or service delivery; it is really just about the money. Of course, when budgets are so pressed and when financial survival, territorial ambitions and all these things come into play, we can see why this might happen, but I think it is time for the Government to review it. Government and local government are major commissioners of services from the charity sector, so I support the NCVO call for a review of public sector markets to see whether they are still fit for purpose. A lot more training is needed for commissioners to ensure that when they say that service users’ needs must come first, it actually means something and is genuinely reflected in procedures. That means that we have to talk to the users. That is one reason I became patron of Ace Anglia in Suffolk: it provides advocacy for people with learning disabilities. It is really important to have a dialogue with people when tendering for the services that are going to affect them. Too often, it is either all about the money or it is about a superficial judgment of what people might like. You actually have to talk to people.
Sam Younger, just before he left the Charity Commission said:
“There is too much duplication in the charity sector and too many charities are inefficient and poorly managed. Too many people set up a new charity without establishing whether there is a genuine need or whether another charity is doing similar work … the result is duplication and inefficiency … especially in an environment where charities are competing for resources”.
That is the dilemma. When you look at it like that, from a strategic point of view, what he says makes absolute sense: there is not enough money to go around so duplication is a luxury that we cannot afford. However, if you look at it from the bottom up, from the point of view of individuals, there are many examples of where, collectively, the private, public and even voluntary sectors are simply failing to meet their needs. When that happens, the obvious response is to set up a new charity. That is why something like 2,500 new charities are being set up every year.
As I said at the beginning, the picture is complex and in many ways is getting more so. However, and I think that we would all agree with this, everywhere across the country we see volunteers, charities and community groups of all sizes taking an active role in addressing the problems of their area, building communities and campaigning for change. They are building a stronger civil society and a new social economy, and we should do everything that we can to help them.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lady Scott of Needham Market for bringing to the House a debate of such significance. Its subject touches all our lives and communities. Imagine Britain without scouts and guides, youth clubs or sports clubs. Imagine our schools with no governors, our legal system without the magistracy and our coastline unpatrolled by the brave men and women of the RNLI. Britain without volunteers is not Britain.
When I started the bid for the Olympic and Paralympic Games in 2003, we knew that we had to get 70,000 volunteers to make our Games not just good but great. That number terrified many people: could we get them, could we get the quality and would they stick with us through the journey? Many of us knew, though, that there would be no difficulty. In fact, we would be heavily oversubscribed time and again. We had more than 250,000 applications, all from potentially great volunteers. We set up centres around the country to ensure that we would get the very best of the best. We thought, “Let’s not call them volunteers; let’s really emphasise the role that these people play”, so we came up with “Games makers”. These people would be the beating heart, the smiling face and the lifeblood of London 2012, and what a fantastic group of people we got together. If you came to the Games and wanted directions, wanted your ticket checked or wanted to know where to get food or how to find your seat, most likely it was a smiling, committed, trained, happy volunteer who gave you that information. They were what made London 2012 what it was, and they were mentioned by the media, the broadcasters and everyone who touched, experienced or witnessed 2012. It was all about the Games makers. Many people planned their retirement to start with a role as a Games maker. What a brilliant way to begin that next chapter of someone’s life, and how fantastic to have the Olympic and Paralympic Games as the first part of your retirement, that next stage of your career into the future. Many of them still cherish those shirts, those trainers and the lanyard. They became a very close family and showed Britain at its very best.
I should like to mention a charity that I am involved with. I am privileged to be one of the ambassadors of the Queen Elizabeth Diamond Jubilee Trust, a charity established to mark Her Majesty’s 60 years on the throne and effectively to raise £100 million to spend across the Commonwealth to make a massive step towards eradicating avoidable blindness and to put into youth projects across the Commonwealth. Tens of millions of people across the Commonwealth are blind but 80% of that blindness is avoidable. The Diamond Jubilee Trust, under the excellent leadership of Sir John Major, is aiming over the next five years to make a massive impact on helping to make avoidable blindness a thing of the past.
Similarly, we are investing in youth programmes across the Commonwealth. A big scheme is going to be launched in two weeks’ time as so many people across the Commonwealth—some 60%—are under the age of 30. This heightens all the issues around education, employment and social inclusion, particularly in some of the African nations. We are looking to make a massive impact to ensure that the future for all those young people is brighter than it otherwise might be had we not got involved.
As set out in the register, I am also a trustee of the Nick Webber Trust in Malawi—a trust we established after a friend of mine was killed while in Malawi doing pro bono work. I started at my law firm on the same day as Nick. We set up a trust to get involved in legal aid and education. It really demonstrates what can be done with few resources but massive commitment from volunteers. We established the first law library in Malawi. We educate street kids who otherwise would have no education. We were asked whether we could build a new school. Again, initially this terrified us until we realised that the costs were relatively tiny compared with what they might be in this country. It is the effort and the commitment of the trustees and volunteers that has made so much possible in that country. That is the crucial point. Charitable giving, charitable work and volunteering should not, in any sense, be seen as purely altruistic or a one-way street. It is mutually enriching.
In conclusion, I cannot think of a better place to end than with the words of Mahatma Gandhi—we find ourselves when we lose ourselves in the service of others.
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Scott, for giving us the opportunity to debate a subject so close to the hearts of many of us. I have worked most of my life either in or closely with the voluntary sector, and my interests are declared in the register. I also chair the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Civil Society and Volunteering. As the noble Baroness has reminded us, the sector plays, and has always played, an extraordinarily important role in our society and that role has never been more important than now.
I want to focus on two aspects of that role, but first I want to remind the House that, when we speak of the voluntary sector, we often focus on the larger organisations—those that have a high public profile, are in receipt of government or local authority grants and provide services under contract or are funded by public donation. With these, we often have the debate about what constitutes a voluntary organisation. Should they always be distinct from, and additional to, what the state provides? My experience as a lottery distributor reminded me how very difficult it is to decide in these times what is actually additional to state funding, and the noble Baroness has reminded us about those blurred lines. The vast majority of charities do not recognise themselves as part of any sector. They are very tiny. They are run by volunteers off their kitchen table—or in my local village hall—by dedicated volunteers who spend time and their own money for the good of their community and their fellow citizens.
The two aspects on which I want to concentrate my remarks are the role of the voluntary sector in preventive work and in campaigning. Much lip-service is paid to preventive work in many quarters, emphasising the importance of putting in help and support to those in need before their situation reaches crisis point. An example would be a friendship circle or community lunch facility to give the carers of an elderly person who is becoming frail a break, or a coffee morning for those with mental health problems. In each case, such events provide social opportunities, but they also give professionals a chance to see people with potential need, to check that they are taking their medication, to check that they are not going downhill and to ensure that they are making social contacts. In these days, when most local authorities are providing services only to those with substantial or even critical needs, these services are frequently provided by the voluntary sector at very local level.
These services are invaluable, but they are increasingly under threat, especially when contracts are being negotiated. It is difficult to prove their effectiveness, precisely because they delay greater need. When you are filling in all those forms which demand an exposition of proved outcomes, it is hard to be explicit. Customer surveys will show the effectiveness: “That lunch club was my lifeline”, says a user with mental health problems. However, that may not be enough for the commissioners, who are intent on this year’s budget rather than something which may—indeed, will—save money five years down the line. Yet if we do not give priority to these services, as well as funding the innovative services at which the sector so excels, we risk building up greater need for the future.
Turning to the campaigning role of the sector, I take the view that that is one of the most important, but I would say that—would I not?—as I had the privilege of leading the carers movement for some years as chief executive of Carers UK. I think that I can lay claim to the success of that campaigning, since no one had even heard of the word “carer” when we started, and now the 6 million people who provide most health and social care are recognised and acknowledged. Indeed, under the recent Care Bill, they were given rights to which we would not have dared to aspire in those early days of campaigning.
I know from my experience and that of others that campaigning activities not only bring about change but enable citizens to participate in the democratic process. As the briefing from the Quakers reminds us, there are many people who feel disengaged from party politics but who wish to engage in single-issue campaigns. The voluntary sector provides them with a way to be involved in political decisions, be that at local or national level. It is through the voluntary sector that politicians explore and understand key issues for citizens. That is also how many people become more engaged in their local communities.
Obviously, voluntary organisations also have a role in telling the rest of society about what they find with this campaigning work. It is often the case that the organisation seeking to end poverty is the organisation best placed to explain the intricacies of how poverty is caused. Indeed, in much of my experience of working as a campaigner, I have been tremendously aware that not only do people feel passionate about issues, but that the most important role of a campaigning voluntary organisation is to enable those voices to be heard, providing a means, for example, for the carers themselves to speak up and speak out about their needs. That has always been the most effective way of bringing about change.
Indeed, a very recent example of that happened during the passage of the Care Bill, where we changed the Government’s mind about particular issues. How did we bring about that change? By getting the users themselves—the young carers or parent carers—to speak directly to Ministers and to convince them and the Government of what their needs were. I give credit to the government Ministers who were willing to listen and to make changes as a result of that activity. I hope that we will always remember how significant the campaigning work of the voluntary sector is. That is important now and I hope that it always will be, and it behoves us all to remember that and not to try to restrict in any way the campaigning role of the voluntary and charitable sector.
My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend Lady Scott of Needham Market on securing this debate on such a wide-ranging subject, which offers many opportunities. I declare an interest as a trustee of two charitable organisations: Pennine Heritage and X-PERT Health.
However, I want to talk about a specific charitable endeavour that supports the voluntary sector, and that is the community foundation movement. What is a community foundation? In my view, it is an all-purpose charity, growing by endowment and spending its income but retaining its asset base, unless its income is enhanced by flow-through money that has been given specifically to that organisation to spend.
Let me share with noble Lords my experience. A mere 32 years ago, I served as mayor of Calderdale, based in Halifax and the Calder Valley towns, from 1982-83 onwards. I decided to start an all-purpose fund for my mayoral charity, but I did not do too well at it; with 600 other engagements as mayor it was difficult to get going. On standing down the first time as a councillor in 1990, I decided to do the job properly. Particularly during that period as mayor, I had seen the need for an independent source of money to support the voluntary sector in that community. In 1990, I felt that the important thing was to get a very sound trust board together and I put a lot of effort into getting a sound board in which people could have confidence. We managed to launch that in 1992. It was a huge task. I was able to pass that job on in 1999 and I am now a life vice-president. Happily, it is proceeding competently under different hands. I am delighted to say that, from nothing, there are now resources—endowed funds—of about £8 million and a grant spend of £800,000 a year. That is higher than one would expect because of flow-through moneys.
I did not know it at the time, but the first community foundation in the United Kingdom was founded in Swindon in 1975. By the time I was getting involved in launching in Calderdale, in the 1990-92 period, there were perhaps 10 or a dozen community foundations. Now there are 49, covering much of the UK. Those 49 now have an asset base of £350 million and the latest figures show that between them they have annual grant making of £50 million a year. It is interesting that now in 2014 we are celebrating the centenary of the movement, which was started in America in 1914 in Cleveland, Ohio. There are now 1,700 community foundations worldwide.
What, then, are the important features of a community foundation? Clearly, one is the specific geographical area. The foundations are dependent on donors. Of course donors can and do give for general purposes in their community, or they can highlight specific areas of work, such as the elimination of poverty, sport-related work or work on the environment. They may even have ideas of a restricted locality within their community or age restrictions. Indeed, donors may put on a temporary restriction in their lifetime and leave it to the trustees to decide how the income of their gift is dealt with when they are dead and buried.
A community foundation has the opportunity and ability to subsume other charities where trustees have had enough, got fed up or do not find that there is a cause anymore; they are able to hand over their money to that community foundation. Over the years, a community foundation gains expertise in grant making in that specific community.
Incidentally, I have been amazed at how many letters and sheets I have had suggesting what I might say for this take note debate. I am responding to one of those now. There are people who find administration, investment and regulation a difficulty. The community foundation can cover that, so if someone has some money but does not want all that administration investment regulation, they should hand it over to a community foundation, which can look after it. As I indicated earlier, a community foundation can act as a wonderful agent for flow-through moneys, whether that is through national government, regional bodies or whatever.
In my view, community foundations give a great opportunity for localism, community leadership and enhancing community life. I commend them and their enhancement.
My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Baroness and her party for securing this debate. We talk in a context in which certainly many of the charities and voluntary and faith groups that I am involved with are in crisis, with rising demand and costs and reduced funding. That context is the ending of the welfare state. I remind the House that when the welfare state was conceived, Sidney and Beatrice Webb saw it as having three charity and voluntary work purposes: to meet basic needs, to bring people into association with each other, and to create partnership and participation. Of course, the welfare state became totally focused on meeting basic needs rather than on the richer political ecology of dignifying people, associating with them and bringing them into partnership. Many of us in the charitable and voluntary sector have got drawn into that game of meeting basic needs through projects.
The noble Baroness, Lady Scott, said that there has perhaps been a blurring of roles. I will look at that briefly, because it might open up some possibilities for government, the statutory sector and the voluntary and charitable sector. From my experience of working in the charitable and voluntary sector, one basic problem that has caused a blurring of roles is the relentless, remorseless enforcement of the business model, right across the board. Of course charities needed a business model—we can all find caricatures of charities that were a synonym for inefficiency and muddle. However, that model has been so relentless and monochrome that it has blurred the boundaries and undermined where the energies of the charitable and voluntary sector ought to be, because of all the compliance. I hope noble Lords will not misunderstand me; I am not saying that we do not need the standards of business, but that we need more space and flexibility than the model allows us to have.
It is the same in this new post-welfare state world. In the voluntary and charitable sector we try to work with the statutory sector, for instance. That sector came out of a tradition of public service, where you treat people as citizens and neighbours. However, the people I try to work with are obsessed with targets and delivery of plans, and, again, they lack the spaciousness and flexibility to deal with what is on the ground because they are trapped in a very narrow business model. That makes it difficult for us to create the synergy and partnerships that a post-welfare state needs. We ourselves—the charitable and voluntary sector—have bought into that, and have run our projects and got our grants on the back of the welfare state, operating in that way as efficient businesses.
I remind noble Lords of what the charitable and voluntary sector can bring, which needs a certain freedom, allowing for basic business efficiency. I have the privilege of being a trustee of Christian Aid. Following the Webbs, we meet basic needs with local intelligence, because we are alongside people on the ground. We dignify people as people, not as clients or customers, and draw them into partnership and participation. However, the great thing about the faith is a faith in people that is not limited by economic efficiency. There is a desire to take risks for the sake of people beyond the economically efficient.
We do not look just to our neighbours but to strangers. We are not just interested in economic viability but in what is morally right. That is where the energy of the charity sector comes from, and why there is that great British tradition we have heard of—not because it is economically efficient but because it is morally right. When 150,000 of us from Christian Aid knock on doors over one week each year, we do not present people with a business plan to sign up to. We open their hearts and hopes for a better world and a better partnership with those who are less well off. We need space and permission to deliver that, and not to be crushed by compliance to a foreign model.
During the winter the cathedral in Derby, where I work, has had to give a lot of time and energy to making our space available for homeless people to sleep in the building overnight. That is not very economically efficient, or easy for us to manage. But people on the streets who are homeless are in desperate need, and we have to find a way of doing it.
I have been involved in the work on the Modern Slavery Bill, and I have come across an amazing Roman Catholic organisation called Rahab, which works here in Westminster and in Kensington, where there is the largest off-street sex market in the country. The Roman Catholic sisters provide care, support, hope and partnership with the most vulnerable. They work in partnership with the Metropolitan Police and with the EU, where they get funding—and they bring something unique and precious that those agencies cannot provide. The statutory authority and the police cannot provide it, and neither can the EU. We need that kind of partnership.
I am delighted that the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, is on the Front Bench, because he and I often debate such issues, and he has a sure touch for understanding where people like me are coming from. I ask him: what is the role of government, of course in ensuring good practice and business standards, but also in trying to give the voluntary and charitable sector the freedom and flexibility to make our particular contributions? That is the germ of a new political ecology, a new inclusivity, a new appeal to hearts and hopes as well as to economic efficiency, and a new localism that people will buy into. I think that that is in the Government’s interests, and I would love the Minister to advise us how they can encourage that, and bless it in some way.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lady Scott for this debate, which is timely in so many ways. First, there is the nationwide remembrance of the world-shattering events of a century ago. When, on
It was not just men who volunteered. Those left behind—women, children and men who did not meet the criteria—had to make enormous contributions. There was no National Health Service, no social welfare organisation and no state financial aid. The wounded came home to be looked after by family, friends and neighbours. Today, hundreds of young people give service as cadets, while other individuals join the TA, giving valuable assistance to regular and armed service forces—and it is people and personal commitment that I want to touch on today.
State aid does not replace everything that volunteers can do in all aspects of living. As my noble friend said, the charitable sector includes over 160,000 registered charities, employs around 1 million people and has a turnover of some £38 billion each year. Some 42% of those charities have an income of less than £10,000, and only 25% have an annual income of more than £100,000. Today I do not intend to talk about the larger charities, but I do take the opportunity to register my concern about the six-figure sums that some are paying their chief executives.
I wish to focus on two Leicester charities, and here I should declare my interest as president of Young Leicestershire and as a canon of Leicester Cathedral, among other interests I have declared on the register. Young Leicestershire is an organisation that works with young people and youth groups. It has a lively website which is easy to access with lots of information about joining the clubs and good articles with news of events it is organising. Articles are posted, such as, “What my youth club means to me”, “What we do and why we do it” and “A helping hand”. As one volunteer who does tuck shop duties said, “I like working as a volunteer as it gives me the chance to train in youth work and gain experience. My children love it, too, as we can do it as a family”—her words, not mine.
Hundreds of individuals give freely of their time and energy. Without volunteers, clubs could not keep going. But life has become more complicated, as the right reverend Prelate has just touched on, when helping and encouraging youngsters. Today volunteers often have forms to complete, CRB checks to be taken and training to be given. I hope that in raising standards, the requirement of greater accountability—necessary though it is—does not put people off becoming involved in the first place. While volunteering in Leicestershire has grown with the clubs over many years, Leicester Cathedral faces an enormous problem that many places would be glad to have. The normal annual visitor headcount has been around 30,000 a year and the cathedral has been very grateful for the warm welcome and dedication given by its present volunteers. However, after a certain discovery in a city car park, our visitor numbers rose to 150,000 last year. It considers that the reburial of Richard III within the cathedral will see a further rise in visitor numbers, and more help is needed.
Leicester Cathedral is dedicated to the effective use of volunteers for the promotion of its mission as an Anglican cathedral and for the benefit of the volunteers themselves. Much thought has been given to the best way to attract greater numbers of volunteers. The cathedral needs more welcomers and guides. In its generic agreement it includes a description of what support a volunteer can expect from the cathedral—matters such as training, induction, safety, insurance cover and out-of-pocket expenses, to give just a few. Volunteers in our case have to be over 18 and have a DBS check, which is normal.
I have touched on only two organisations whose challenges are very different, but neither could operate without massive input from volunteers. I have not spoken about others involved in fundraising for charities who respond to special appeals, who work on committees or who give their time to supporting people within their homes and local communities. The traditional way of volunteering is alive and still busy, but the young access calls for help via the modern media, and more flexibility and thought should be given to ways of attracting the young.
Whether you are young at heart, or just young, volunteering is important today. It is not a one-way road. I believe that individual volunteering is most valuable as a foundation for friendship. Those who work together helping others are usually the first to help each other. Those who work to raise funds in all weathers, locations and neighbourhoods have crises to overcome and problems to surmount, and shared laughter carries them through difficult situations of their own. Today’s debate reflects this, and I am very grateful to my noble friend for making it possible.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend for introducing this debate and I declare an interest. I work with two consultancies which work very substantially with charities and local authorities.
The key issue facing the Government, the private sector and the voluntary sector could be summarised as the need to ensure that there is economic growth that benefits all parts of society, that we have effective public services that are responsive to people’s needs and that we have strong, united, resilient communities. That is the task for all three sectors. The measure of any organisation that is doing its job is that it knows the unique difference that it makes and that it can prove the progress it is making towards its objectives. In the context of thinking about public services, I want to focus on the specific things that Government can do to help voluntary organisations and local authorities in the tasks they have ahead of them.
The first thing the Government need to do in their programme of work is recognise that the key role that charities can provide in public services is the prevention of problems that usually, at a subsequent stage, wind up at the door of statutory services. It is incredibly difficult to prove that one has prevented something from happening. Thanks to the work of people such as Norman Lamb and Paul Burstow, we are beginning to recognise the importance of that in the NHS and social care. The challenge for this Government and other Governments is to set out their own central policies and outcome targets for government services, which include prevention outcomes that can perhaps be delivered by central government or by state organisations, but perhaps more effectively by social enterprises and charities. When he comes to sum up, I wonder whether the Minister could talk about how central government might do that.
The second thing the Government should do is to highlight the issue of commissioning and procurement. The way in which public services are procured has a profound effect on communities. In many communities it is still the case that the public authority is one of the biggest employers and determinants of growth. It is therefore of extreme importance that commissioning of services is done in a way that is beneficial to the social, economic and environmental needs of the local community. I am sure the Minister will know that EU procurement rules are being changed to enable far greater concentration to be put on the social and economic value of services. Can he say what the Government are doing to ensure that all public authorities understand that they now have this new flexibility to get greater social value in their area? Can he undertake to ensure that all public authorities realise that the
Public Services (Social Value) Act came into force in 2012? It could have a profound impact as it gives local authorities leeway to ensure that price is not the sole determinant of a contract. They can take into account other factors and in certain circumstances can favour local providers, charities and social enterprises. This is a politically important development and it has so far been woefully underestimated.
The next thing the Government should do is ensure that the current high level of trust of charities that exists in the minds of the general public is maintained. The Government can do that in two ways. First, they can ensure that the Charity Commission—the regulator of the sector—continues to be an effective organisation that enjoys the trust of the sector and the public. Can the Minister update us on the programme of digitisation of the Charity Commission, which I think was announced last year? Providing relevant and up-to-date data on what charities are doing is a key and fundamental part of that trust. Can the Minister also talk about enabling the whole sector, including small charities, to become digital by default? There is complicated legislation covering how charities ought to be accountable, but the greatest thing that could be done would be to require them to set up a simple website containing their governing documents, annual report and most recent set of accounts. If that was done, we would not need an army of staff at HMRC going over these accounts as any member of the public could tell what a charity was doing and whether it was living up to its ideals.
Charities remain one of the most transformative forces in society. The key role of a charity is to transform the world around it, both its community and the public authorities. I want to talk about just one campaign being run at the moment which I think is leading the way and having a tremendous effect. The Alzheimer’s Society’s Dementia Friendly Communities programme is revolutionising the way we deal with people who have one of the most difficult conditions with which to live. I will just say this to noble Lords. In a couple of weeks’ time, I hope that they, like me, will be watching the Grand Départ 2014 of the Tour de France as it leaves Leeds. It is going to be a dementia-friendly event with lots of people with dementia who, on what I hope will be a sunny day in Yorkshire, will be remembering the happy times they had as cyclists in their youth, surrounded by those who feel confident to have them there as part of their day. That is what charities can do when they have the will.
My Lords, my interest in charities and my work with Christian Aid, Save the Children and Care International are recorded in the register. I thank the noble Baroness for this opportunity, and I have learnt a lot from what she said about charities today. I would like to speak about one particular aspect of charitable campaigning which was highlighted by a recent attack on Greenpeace in India. It raises issues for us both here in the UK and in Europe.
The Intelligence Bureau in India is perhaps the world’s oldest intelligence agency. It comes under the Ministry of Home Affairs in Delhi, but it also reports directly to the Prime Minister, rather like our own intelligence agencies. On
More than that, the bureau said that NGOs receiving foreign donations from countries like the USA, the UK and Germany were “anti-development” and were opposed to national projects such as Gujarat’s special investment regions, the Narmada River interlinking project and the Delhi-Mumbai industrial corridor project. And it gets worse. Foreign donors, says the report,
“lead local NGOs ... to build a record against India and serve as tools for the strategic foreign policy interests of the Western governments”.
Greenpeace and other NGOs have already denied this and say that they have complied with all the regulations. They maintain that they campaign quite legitimately on issues of public interest. The Narmada Dam was a major issue some years ago, as noble Lords may remember, but such campaigning by civil society is the sign of a healthy democracy. The NGOs argue that they are already scrutinised via the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act 2010, which requires prior notification and reporting of all foreign donations. Over the years there have been assaults on NGOs in different states. I can remember one in West Bengal where foreign funding was banned altogether under the then Chief Minister. These are serious charges from the Intelligence Bureau. If Greenpeace is taken to court, there could be consequences not just for that organisation but for any international organisation that is linked with the indigenous NGOs. There has been a flurry of reaction among NGOs and academics and in the media, some in protest, but some admitting that not all NGOs are perfect. It might be time for the new Government to look again at the Act and tighten up its implementation.
Inevitably there will be some who see the Intelligence Bureau report as a manifestation of the incoming BJP Government’s policy under the new Prime Minister, Narendra Modi. Modi’s election campaign was bitterly opposed by groups representing ethnic and religious minorities who fear that they may become a target for Hindu politicians. However, this is unlikely since the ingestion of the report dates far back into the time of the previous Congress Administration under the previous Prime Minister.
Much of the concern behind the foreign contribution Act was about foreign funding of private NGOs that support individual election candidates. This is a subject that we have recently discussed at length here with regard to our own election spending thresholds. However, if the Modi Government come in behind their Intelligence Bureau, as a new broom among the NGOs, there could be a problem for other non-governmental development projects such as our own DfID has supported in the fields of environment, roads, water and sanitation, education and health, and poverty reduction. Admittedly DfID is winding down its programme in India, but the Intelligence Bureau could also turn its attention to the work of British NGOs engaged in legitimate partnerships with local campaigns on human rights issues such as the rights of Dalits and religious minorities, both of which could be regarded as foreign interference.
I am looking forward to the contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Judd, because like him, but on a more minor scale, I have some experience of local campaigns in India. I know for a fact that NGOs can and should sometimes fill a vacuum in the absence of government or any legal authority, or in any situation where government is inept or incapable of meeting humanitarian need. I sincerely hope that the work of NGOs, whether in India, Britain or anywhere else, will be stoutly defended, especially when they may be the only avenue of justice for a given community.
Perhaps the Government could help me to relieve these fears here and now, if their intelligence is good enough. Are the Government aware that India’s Intelligence Bureau is accusing Greenpeace and others of undermining India’s development? Does the Minister recognise that there could be consequences for international funding of development projects in India? What steps could the Government take to defend the interests of British and international NGOs such as Greenpeace, and will they reiterate their support for campaigning charities in general?
Finally, perhaps I may say a word about the value of networks of NGOs. Among aid agencies, one example, Bond, now brings together about 400 overseas aid organisations which are able to respond rapidly to humanitarian disasters as well as to support smaller development agencies. As Bond says, effectively tackling global poverty and inequality requires complex solutions, and it is critical that there is a spectrum of organisations active in this sector. This richness and joint expertise worldwide should be celebrated.
My Lords, I begin by adding my thanks to my noble friend for having given us the chance to debate this important topic. Some noble Lords will be aware that I was the official reviewer of the Charities Act 2006, which gave me the chance to see at first hand the fantastic work being done by the sector. I have no doubt about its value to our society.
I should like to underline two points that my noble friend made in her opening remarks. The first was on the dangers of the indiscriminate referral by jobcentres of individuals to charities. The reality is that too often it seems that the jobcentres are trying to fill a quota, with jobs being offered, and not thinking about what the charities need, important though charities can be in finding a way back to paid work. The second point she made was about tendering and contracting. I think she underestimated the risk-aversion among commissioners. Too often they are prepared to go to the large firms and not think about the more innovative small firms.
I want to focus my remarks on social investment. Noble Lords will be aware of the concept of social investment, whereby foundations and/or individuals do not give their money outright to a charitable endeavour but lend it or invest it, and they hope to get their capital back, maybe with a modest return. It has a very wide range of applications and obviously it is particularly relevant when considering proposals that contain an element of payment by results.
Social investment could be a game-changer in many ways; first, by encouraging big charities to use some of their investment assets. There is £126 billion worth of investment assets among registered charities so a very small percentage of that diverted to this endeavour would be extraordinarily helpful. Secondly, and equally importantly, it gives wealthy individuals a chance to put something back, and we could easily see people who have an interest in a charity giving it not only money but effort, time and commitment and thereby improving its performance and work.
I hope the House will understand why I was very attracted to the possibility of developing the concept of social investment and why my report contained a number of recommendations as to how we might achieve it. Nevertheless, we have to recognise that the concept is in its early days so we need to be careful not to create too high expectations of what may be achieved. Importantly, the next stage is to facilitate social investment, not impose it.
However, facilitation will require a shift of approach by a number of bodies for which risk-aversion is the default option. These bodies include the accountancy profession, the actuarial profession, investment managers, charity advisers and the regulator, the Financial Conduct Authority. It will also require an entirely different approach from HMRC, which today has refused to give a clearance in advance to social investment schemes. That means that a charity has to go through the whole procedure of creating and setting up the scheme before it knows whether or not it will get the charitable breaks it requires. My noble friend on the Front Bench could act as Dyno-Rod in trying to deal with this problem, if only to follow the example of the Internal Revenue Service in the States, which offers blueprints where charitable permissions have been given so there are examples that charities can follow when they start to create their schemes.
All this will depend on us creating the right overarching legal framework. My report made a number of suggestions as to how this could be achieved. I am extremely grateful to the Government for having accepted most of them and having passed them to the Law Commission for consideration. I am equally grateful to the Law Commission for having written an exceptionally clear and concise consultation paper on social investment. The consultation period closed last week, on
So far, so good—but there is one fundamental problem that, if not addressed now, could undermine all this good work, and that is the knotty legal definition that lies at the intersection of public and private benefit. Noble Lords will have seen in the briefing papers from the Library that charities must always act for the benefit of the public. So how does the concept of social investment fit into this, since it offers a financial return to lenders or investors, albeit at a modest level?
The law currently gets round this by permitting a level of private benefit where this is “necessary and incidental”. However, in my review I came to the conclusion that the word “incidental” did not offer sufficient protection for social investment proposals and recommended that it should be replaced by “proportionate”. I regret to say that the Government rejected this proposal. I quite understand the dangers of changing long-hallowed legal terminology and the potential unintended consequences that may follow. But if my noble friend on the Front Bench asks his officials to pass him a copy of the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary, he will find that the definition of incidental is:
“Occurring as something casual or of secondary importance; not directly relevant to”.
I do not see how this possibly fits with social investment returns. They are certainly not casual, nor to the investor or lender are they necessarily of secondary importance, and they are certainly directly relevant to. By contrast, proportionate is defined as:
“That is in (due) proportion (to); appropriate”.
As part of its consultation on social investment, I draw the Law Commission’s attention to this problem, but I fear that it will conclude that it is outside its terms of reference. I am, therefore, asking my noble friend to commit to taking this issue away and giving it a thorough re-examination.
To conclude, I have explained that the social investment movement has the capacity to improve radically funding flows to charities. It would be a tragedy—and I mean a tragedy—if it were to be stillborn because of an unduly narrow legal interpretation of the word “incidental”. I am not alone in this: I am supported by Bates Wells Braithwaite. My noble friend Lord Phillips, who was a senior partner, has given me permission to quote from its report to the Law Commission. It states:
“We believe that re-modelling the private benefit test solely in the case of social investment so that the private benefits can be reasonable and proportionate will be essential for English and Welsh charities to engage in this type of catalytic investments ... we are strongly of the view that a reform as proposed by Lord Hodgson would make a radical difference to the likelihood of the social investment market developing positively in the UK”.
I hope that my noble friend can help.
My Lords, like a considerable number of Members of this House, I have been privileged to spend a great deal of my life within the voluntary sector. I have worked as a professional and a volunteer and as a trustee. I am still very much involved in the trustee role. With that experience, I know that there will be literally—and this is no exaggeration—thousands of people in this country who would be very happy to know that we are debating this issue. For that reason, I think we should warmly congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Scott, for having given us the opportunity.
I have become convinced that an essential pillar of a healthy society is a vibrant civil society, of which the voluntary sector is a crucial part. What has impressed me repeatedly, and has impressed me more and more, is the quality of people involved in the voluntary sector. I keep saying that I find that professionals are in many senses volunteers because countless professionals are working without calculating for a moment the number of hours they are putting in and are doing things which are way beyond the demands of any formal contract.
The volunteers increasingly want to be professionals. They want their work to be effective. For that reason, the importance of good administration and effective structures within the sector are crucial. We must not, however, allow ourselves to get—if I may put it absolutely bluntly—into the mindset that somehow the success of a charity or voluntary organisation depends upon its demonstrable business effectiveness. It must be effective, but it is about far more than being a business. A business has the basic discipline of profitability. Voluntary societies are not primarily about profitability. As the right reverend Prelate has put it so well, they are about a complex inter-relationship with society in a host of different ways.
There are two points which I want to emphasise. The first is that I am very glad that progressively over the years, under successive Governments, there has been much more co-operation between the voluntary sector and Government. That is very important. I think the enlightenment of successive Governments in seeing the importance of this and supporting it and putting more resources into it is to be wholly welcomed. But there is a danger. Voluntary societies must be alert to the process of co-option. They are not, and should not, be part of the formal state structure. Unless they are to betray their birthright, they are about being a catalyst in society and a challenge in society, all the time. If they allow themselves, consciously or unconsciously, to become dominated by anxiety about whether a government contract is going to be continued so that the organisation can continue, and organising their affairs in such a way that they do not threaten or undermine that contract, they will have lost it. Of course, co-operation is essential, but it must be on the terms of the charities. They are there to be a challenge and a catalyst.
I do not think that I am oversimplifying in saying—it was particularly during my time as director of Oxfam that this thought began to crystallise very clearly with me—that advocacy is not something that charities do in addition to their voluntary work; I became convinced that advocacy was an essential and inherent part of the voluntary service.
Let me finish, as I like to do, with an anecdote. I was in Latin and central America when horrible things were happening there. It was a very ugly, sinister time. I was talking with a very courageous bishop in Mexico, the Bishop of Chiapas, who was always in trouble with the Government because he kept standing up for the poor. He was a wonderful bloke. I asked him whether he had a message for me to take back to my colleagues and friends in Britain. He said, “Yes, I have. First of all, you are inclined in voluntary agencies to talk about equality. How far are the people with whom you’re working really your equals, or how far are they the indispensable objects for your institutional needs?” I still wrestle with that problem frequently; it is a very real issue. Secondly, he said, “In these sorts of situations, you can’t be neutral. You have to identify”. Thirdly, he said, “For me, solidarity is the real meaning of charity. What do I mean by solidarity? Be it within the family, the community, the nation or internationally, it is identifying with the people whom you claim to be serving”. He was so right, because so often in political life we talk about the poor and the excluded, and we talk to them. But how often do we talk with them and for them? That is the crucial role of charities in our society. From this House, we should send out a message of encouragement and good cheer for all that they are doing.
My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Baroness, Lady Scott, and all speakers for making this such an interesting and informative debate. I declare my interest as chairman of the charity, Near Neighbours, and as an ambassador of the Angelus Foundation, which deals with legal highs.
“A thriving and diverse civil society is a hallmark of effective democracy—where people can come together around the causes they care about and make a difference … an active … voluntary sector is a vital element of civil society”.
Since the 1960s, the number of charities has grown very steadily and, as we have heard, at least 2,500 organisations register every year. There are currently 2.5 voluntary organisations for every 1,000 people, or one voluntary organisation for every 395 people. When the statistics are expressed in that way, it really gives a sense of the enormity of the sector.
The New Philanthropy Capital report, Mind the Gap, which was published in March 2014, showed that over half of the respondents questioned about the role of charities felt that charities should be about helping communities. I was very pleased to hear the noble Baroness, Lady Scott of Needham Market, and the noble Lord, Lord Judd, refer to the UK Community Foundations, which does such enormous work. I was going to mention some of the aspects of its work which have already been covered. It is very heartening that the UK Community Foundations has shown a renewed interest in community philanthropy, and through its work it has enabled local philanthropy and giving to increase by some 15% per annum through the recession.
Charities and the voluntary sector are dealing with increasing demands and reduced resources, but of course this is natural in an economy which has not been growing at the rate at which it did in the past. Charity and voluntary sector organisations are increasingly in the mainstream as providers of services, which again is not new. This was also very much the case before 1997. There is also a change of focus from large, publicly funded charities to many much smaller, locally based ones. This is creating massive organisational change in the sector, which I believe to be only in its early stages, with a long way to go.
During my time in local government, I saw massive change in the culture associated with the voluntary sector. I well remember many battles with the local
CVS, which felt at the time that its sole purpose was to be the voice of political opposition. The sector was generously funded by my council, by many millions of pounds. However, when there was any suggestion of the need for efficiency or measurement of outcomes, the sector felt that those certainly should not have to be any of its consideration. Fortunately, such views are a thing of the past, and the sector now works very closely and productively with both local and national government.
The introduction of the commissioning of services from the voluntary and charitable sector has brought a huge cultural change. I learnt an awful lot from the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson, about social investment, which is particularly interesting. The schemes he discussed would be very positive for the voluntary sector. At the moment we are seeing an increasing shift, whereby charities which are asked to provide services are being required to prove the results before they receive payments. This can often create a conflict with the way that charities currently work. Many charities do not feel that a target-driven culture is always the most effective. While I do not agree with everything said by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Derby, I suggest that there is a need for more sophisticated methods of deciding what good impacts are, and how they should be funded.
Charitable organisations working in deprived areas often struggle to recruit staff or volunteers, due to a lack of capacity in their local area. This lack of skills, knowledge and confidence hinders the very good work that often goes on. Investment in capacity building can make a very big difference in helping communities stand on their own feet. Rates of formal volunteering are said to have peaked in 2005, when 44% of the population indicated that they had volunteered once in the past year. That had declined to 39% in 2010-11. However, the Community Life Survey in 2012-13 suggested a rebound in volunteering to 2005 levels.
Research from the Church Urban Fund shows that half of all users of community-based charitable services come through local churches of all types, which is approximately 10 million people per year, or about one-fifth of the population of England. Churches are locally focused and locally networked. They make an enormous contribution to the flourishing of our neighbourhoods up and down the country. They rarely receive the recognition that they deserve. In their social action, churches often work with very difficult issues.
Here I must mention the charity I referred to earlier, Near Neighbours, which I have the privilege of chairing. It has supported the establishment of more than 500 local projects, working to bring people together across ethnic and religious differences, at a very local level in some places. The key objectives of Near Neighbours are social interaction to develop positive relationships in multifaith areas and social action to encourage people of different faiths or no faith to come together through initiatives that improve their local neighbourhood. Much of the work involves young people from our most diverse and deprived areas. The Feast in Birmingham is one such group supported by Near Neighbours. The charity promotes positive relationships between Christian and Muslim young people. The Feast is empowering young people to become peacemakers and spearhead social change.
As we have heard, it is difficult for charities to keep up to date with frequently changing policies, such as non-recoverable VAT, and so on. There is much we can do to simplify the system; simplification would be good for all of us.
Charities and voluntary organisations increasingly co-operate with each other, and that is a good thing. We should all thank them and commend the valuable work that they do in all our communities.
My Lords, I, too, congratulate my noble friend Lady Scott on securing this vital debate and declare an interest as president of the National Children’s Bureau, vice-president of Relate and chair of the Making Every Adult Matter coalition of charities.
I share the view of other noble Lords that we are very fortunate in this country to have such an active and vibrant civil society, whose reach extends into nearly all aspects of British life. We are also fortunate to live in a very generous country—the sixth most generous in the world, we are told—and rightly pride ourselves on the public-spiritedness of our citizens. The examples of Britons rallying behind a good cause are too numerous to count, but the tremendous success in fundraising for the Teenage Cancer Trust by the late Stephen Sutton—a young man who died so tragically young but provided such inspiration—speaks volumes about that generosity of spirit.
My focus today is less on what the charitable and voluntary sectors do than on how they do it and, more specifically, what needs to be done to ensure that they have the means to carry on their vital roles. I particularly draw the attention of your Lordships’ House to the recommendations of the Growing Giving parliamentary inquiry, whose report, Creating an Age of Giving, was published two weeks ago. The inquiry benefited hugely from the excellent chairmanship of David Blunkett. Along with Andrew Percy MP, I had the privilege to co-chair the inquiry.
The inquiry was established following the publication of research commissioned by the Charities Aid Foundation showing that fewer households are participating in regular charitable giving—just 27% in 2010 compared to 32% in 1978. It also found some marked changes in the demographics of giving. The share of donations coming from the under-30s fell from 8% in 1980 to just 3% in 2010, while contributions made by the over-75s rose from 9% of all donations to 21% over the same period. The implications were clear: charities are relying on donations from an increasingly narrow and ageing segment of the population.
Of course, the recent recession has not helped. Young people in particular have seen their disposable income reduced, which makes it increasingly difficult for them to donate. However, that is not the full story. Crucially, the platforms that allow people to contribute have not kept pace with changes in daily life. Although digital donating is progressing, continual reform is needed to unleash the potential of digital giving. It is those and other structural factors that the report sets out to tackle.
The central conclusion of the Growing Giving report is that action must be taken to diversify our so-called civic core—the 9% of the population who are currently responsible for two-thirds of all donating and volunteering. For one thing, it is just unsustainable. Just a fortnight ago, newspapers were reporting on the National Trust asking too much of ageing volunteers, a concern that must apply more widely, given that one in three members of the civic core are over the age of 65.
It is obvious that people have different capacities to give time and money at different stages of their lives. The stand-out feature from our evidence sessions, which I want to underline, was the palpable desire of people of all ages to give more of both their time and their money. Our focus was on practical ways of creating a culture of giving, embedding charitable activity into everyday life, from school to retirement.
It is clear that a commitment to social action is still thriving among our young people. Nearly three-quarters of 16 to 24 year-olds report that they have volunteered in the previous year, and almost 80% of young people agreed that they should give up some of their time to help others—hence the recommendation of our inquiry that UCAS forms should provide a section in which university and college applicants can detail their charity work, volunteering and commitment to social action. The report also had a raft of recommendations on how schools, colleges, universities and charities could better work together.
We can all sympathise with the pressure that people come under when they are trying to balance work with family life, and it is understandable that volunteering and other charitable activities can be some way down the list of priorities of working people struggling to make ends meet and bring up a family. However, it became clear to us that employers are not yet creating enough opportunities for employees to connect with charities in the workplace.
One of the most straightforward ways of giving at work is via payroll, but 45% of PAYE employees are still unable to give through their pay. Moreover, many companies that offer payroll giving are failing to make their employees aware of that. In some cases, even the HR department was unable to say whether the company provided payroll giving. Clearly, employers have a key role in raising the availability and visibility of payroll giving, but the report also urges the Treasury to look into the incentives in place for employers to provide matched employee giving schemes, which tend to be highly valued by employees. I was personally struck by the fact that simply mentioning the matching of donations has been found to increase response rates by 71% and average donations by more than a half.
Finally, I turn to the older generation. For many, retirement provides an opportunity to give time to charitable causes. However, according to the Royal Voluntary Service, nearly one in five pensioners want to do voluntary work but have not found the opportunity to do so. It is for that reason that our report calls for post-careers advice for the newly retired, a service along the lines of the financial advice that the Government are already planning to provide to people once they reach state retirement age.
My overall point is that a thriving charitable and voluntary sector does not emerge spontaneously or sustain itself indefinitely. As I said at the start of my remarks, as a nation, we already have the social conscience and enthusiasm for giving; what is sometimes lacking is the practical mechanisms that allow us to do that on a regular basis, irrespective of our age or circumstances. The recommendations made in the report of the Growing Giving parliamentary inquiry are practical steps that have the potential to make a real difference. I therefore urge the Government to consider the report’s recommendations carefully and ask my noble friend in his summing up to indicate when we might expect to hear the Government’s response.
My Lords, I draw attention to my charitable interests as set out in the register, and also draw attention to the fact that I am not the noble Lord, Lord Mawson, who has kindly agreed to exchange our speaking slots so that I am free to take up my Woolsack duties later.
We should all acknowledge and celebrate the long-standing and unique contribution which the voluntary and charitable sector has made in this country. We would be incalculably poorer without it. However, debates such as this—and I, too, pay tribute to the noble Baroness, Lady Scott, for having secured it—provide us with an opportunity to go beyond gratitude and celebration and think about how the sector might be enabled to play an even greater and more significant part in our society in the future.
At their best, the voluntary and charitable organisations that I know have three qualities, which are even more valuable today than they have ever been before: first, they are trusted, and often very much more trusted than the statutory sector; secondly, they are innovative, at a time when we need innovation and new ideas more than ever; and, thirdly, they can help release the potential of individuals in our communities, a potential which exists and which we need but which so often can go unrealised. However, I believe that the role they play could be even further enhanced and their impact increased if the Government, the Civil Service and other parts of the statutory sector, which hold the real power and resource, worked harder to capitalise on those strengths.
The sector, for example, is still, in my view, too rarely involved early enough in the development of new policy and is still too often seen as a delivery vehicle, and one which can receive less resource than equivalent public sector agencies to do the same work. There is still too little evidence, as the noble Baroness, Lady Barker, pointed out, of social value commissioning, whereby commissioners take wider social benefits into account when making decisions about contracts. The statutory sector can still be slow to engage in genuine local partnerships to provide services for public good, as if somehow fearing a loss of hegemony. If the priority is to deliver quality, client-centred services with less resource, as I believe it is and should be, then we all need to be less concerned about protecting our power base and more concerned about sharing power for the benefit of clients.
If we say that the voluntary sector is a true partner then, at a very basic level, it would be good if we consulted the sector at an earlier stage when considering legislation or secondary legislation. I sit on the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee and it is a concern of ours that government departments are not good enough at the moment at consulting those who really understand the issues.
Where might the voluntary sector therefore focus its efforts in the future? The answer, of course, is that the sector has proved very adept at identifying gaps in services in the past and I am sure that it will in the future. We should be careful not to be too directive, but I offer four thoughts for the future, none of which is particularly original.
First, I think that the sector could play a more significant part in regulating, inspecting and holding to account statutory services. I applaud the way in which the Care Quality Commission intends to involve what it calls “experts by experience” in its inspections. I say this because the danger is that regulation has become too introspective, too process driven and, most of all, too dominated by bureaucrats. The way we regulate and inspect our public services should put clients to the fore and I believe that our voluntary sector can help to ensure that that happens.
The second issue—I am certainly not the first and I will not be the last to say this—is that the sector needs to be adequately resourced to offer independent, reliable advice and information to ensure that the public can make the right decisions in the face of major changes to our benefits system, our pensions system and to legal aid. I guess that I really need to declare an interest in that my wife runs Citizens Advice, as some noble Lords will know. Many vulnerable people find it increasingly difficult to understand and therefore to access services to which they are entitled. The legislation and secondary legislation is extremely complex and the forms, frankly, are often beyond me.
Thirdly, I would like to see the sector play a crucial role—it does; it could do more—in developing local communities so that they build the capacity to offer support to those who are suffering, for example, mental health breakdowns, relationship breakdowns, dementia and loneliness. We have become a society which is too dependent, in my view, on the state. I believe that we should be building the partnerships I referred to in order to ensure that communities themselves play a part in self-support.
Finally, the sector can provide alternatives to failing public services, with judicious investment. Of course, it is not a faultless sector. Others have referred to this. Some voluntary organisations could collaborate more effectively to use their scarce resources. Some, frankly, have come to the point where they have outlived their natural life. It is not a perfect sector, but the overwhelming majority of voluntary sector organisations are jewels in our crown and we just need to help them to shine a bit more brightly.
My Lords, what a difference 2,000 years can make, from when Jesus Christ enjoined the charitable not to let their left hand know what their right hand was up to in the matter of charity, to the contemporary world, where, in the West at least, charities and the voluntary sector are an integral, very public and almost institutionalised part of how we choose to live now. I shall concentrate both on the good that the charity and voluntary sector does and on the less than good that parts of it do. For, increasingly, once threats from poverty and violence are diminished in the most disadvantaged countries in the world, the way we live in the West, with the voluntary sector enhanced and enhallowed in the way we go on, is exactly the way they want to organise their lives as well, as soon as possible, developing civil society as they achieve peace, security and recovery.
Our Prime Minister and others on the United Nations high-level panel face what to do next in respect of developing post 2015 the millennium development goals, to which so many charities and voluntary organisations give so much. He, and we, can look for advice from many bodies. I shall concentrate on one; the Catholic Agency for Overseas Development, which I warmly support. CAFOD, as it is known, is of high reputation; it is a member of Caritas International, a global network of more than 160 organisations working to enhance international development—for example, by educating many people in sub-Saharan Africa, as well as by helping in times and places of extreme need, as the organisation is doing this very day in South Sudan.
My take on CAFOD—not what it tells me, but my understanding as an outsider—is that it does this in a highly cost-effective, low cost-to-income ratio way, with none of the six-figure salaries for CEOs that some charities these days seem to permit or bestow. CAFOD, as a co-chair of the Beyond2015 coalition, will, I am sure, give most practical advice on what to do next, building on one of the central tenets of Roman Catholic social teaching, which is always and everywhere to be involved in partnerships and always and everywhere to promote subsidiarity; doing things that can be done closest to the people who wish them to be done and who will co-operate with organisations. This is because churches, all-faith groups and groups who have no faith at all are often best placed to reach the poorest in countries where civil society, government structures or social care are weak. The voices of people in this situation should inform the United Nations in its next steps, as research on individuals in need and listening to their voices in a report recently produced by CAFOD so clearly demonstrates.
This issue involves all-faith groups. Interfaith work is so important, as the recent trip to and work in the Central African Republic aimed at promoting peace and stability there shows. This involved the organisations Islamic Relief, Muslim Aid and the Muslim Charities Forum, and CAFOD worked with them. Such good work is something to applaud, but such manifest good is, indeed, unusual and, alas, not always universal. This theme brings me, with regret, to some less than good examples of charities and voluntary activities which can damage not only their reputation but the sector generally. Here I switch from developing countries to the United Kingdom.
My little list would include the following. First, there are those salaries for a few charitable and voluntary sector CEOs, which to some seem very high. Secondly, there are allegations of extravagance and excessive use of expenses in the charitable sector, as with the current furore over a senior Greenpeace executive regularly commuting by air over distances such as 250 miles, with the unfortunate subsequent reports of Greenpeace volunteers concerned about this, about expenses and about waste cancelling their own Greenpeace donations. Thirdly, too many organisations are tipping their campaigning activities over the edge from campaigning about poverty, say, into the politics of poverty pure and simple. I agree entirely with the noble Lord, Lord Judd: one of the central roles for charitable and voluntary organisations is advocacy, but there is a clear difference between advocacy and campaigning.
Fourthly and lastly, some charities employ or incentivise, through a commission-on-money-raised basis, street workers in groups badged as charity workers stopping the general public. These are not the real volunteers that we know on poppy days and flag days. A lot of people do not like this, all the more so because such people in what I think of as the “stop and raise” trade are vigorous—trending abrasive—in their style towards collecting in the street. I think that they could learn from the average charming and smiling Big Issue sellers that we pass on the streets outside. In any event, a talented young full-time charity worker was telling me last night that not only does her own organisation refuse to use such people because of these reputational issues but such street workers do not promote the sustainable repeated long-term giving that is in the interests of charities themselves.
My noble friend Lady Needham—I beg her pardon; Needham Market has one of my favourite churches with its magnificent roof, and I often visit it when I am there. My noble friend Lady Scott of Needham Market told us that there are some 2,500 new charities a year. When there are so many new charities, there is always the risk of wrongdoing, corruption and things going wrong; we must not deny that. If the Charity Commission needs extra powers to investigate, it should be given them. I strongly support the Charity Commission chairman, William Shawcross, in what he does to root out the dodgy, reinforced as he will be from next
The charitable world must realise that it is going to become more and more the focus of examination and demands for transparency, and rightly so in the interests of the poor and others in need of help. I also sometimes think that the voices of those in the charitable world about their own could and should be louder when things go wrong.
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for introducing this debate. It is important to recognise the work done by these organisations. Work nowadays is more important than ever. Everyone knows that we have an ageing population. Often there are older people who are alone and isolated, and they need help. The excellent volunteers provide that necessary assistance. Not only that, the organisations and their volunteers bring to the attention of the Government issues affecting older and disabled people—things that they feel need to be put right.
A recent case concerns the change from the disability living allowance to the personal independence payment. Many disabled people are confused and worried about this change and the reassessment that is apparently required. The volunteers are there to help and reassure people who are troubled. Counsel and Care reports that it is receiving many requests for help from vulnerable people on those matters.
I myself have had reason to be grateful for the assistance provided, in particular by the Alzheimer’s Society. My sister has recently been diagnosed as suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. She is a retired teacher, a widow living by herself. The organisations have been so helpful, arranging for her to be seen regularly, checking that she does not feel alone and isolated and arranging for her to be taken out and to lead a fairly reasonable and civilised sort of life, despite her illness. I am very grateful to the Government for their recent statement to the effect that they understand that dementia sufferers have to have more support. I believe that they have reached that decision as a result of the excellent campaign run by the Alzheimer’s Society, which in fact is having a meeting in this building next Monday as part of its continuing campaign.
There are also voluntary organisations that do very good work for individual members, but their value is rarely acknowledged. I am referring to trade unions, which between them have 6 million members. A lot of the work is done by volunteers. Of course unions have the obligation to represent their members’ best interests but they also provide a range of individual benefits to members. In an era when employment rights have been disappearing as a result of government policies, it is necessary that legal assistance should be provided to individuals, and this is what many unions do. Under current legislation, such assistance is not available for employment issues as a result of the introduction of what we now know as LASPO, but unions provide that assistance to their individual members. They are involved in training and education, providing support to those who may have missed out earlier in training and educational chances. Ruskin College, Oxford, supported by the unions, has provided higher education to many, including some parliamentarians. The Government should be more willing than they appear to be to consult the unions. This happens in Germany, to the great benefit of productivity and industrial progress generally.
I have referred mainly to issues concerning older people and disability, which I know something about, but I have also been involved in the past with a number of excellent organisations concerned with children. For a number of years I was a trustee of Save the Children, an organisation that does magnificent work, particularly in Africa, for families living in terrible poverty. I am very proud of the work that I have been involved with in that respect and I am sure that many of us are aware of some of the work that that charity has done.
I thank my noble friend again for introducing the debate. It has revealed a fair amount of knowledge and experience on the part of Members of this House. I hope that the Government will listen very carefully to what we have all been saying as we continue to press for these organisations, which we all support, to receive the respect that we think they deserve.
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Scott of Needham Market, for calling this debate and for her excellent opening speech. I associate myself with everything that has been said about the variety of charities and the wonderful work that they do.
I shall concentrate on a single point in what I hope will be a brief contribution. I want to issue an invitation in the interests of clarity and understanding. I preface this invitation with two points. First, I declare an interest as the chairman of the Policy Exchange think tank, my involvement with other charities as in the register of interests and my history of working with charities and as a patron and trustee of them. My experience has made me fully aware of the scope and limits of political activity under charity law.
Secondly, I recently interviewed the author Anne Applebaum about her excellent book The Iron Curtain, and she explained that in the first months after the Second World War the Soviet-backed communists allowed some political liberty but made sure to control the institutions of civil society. They recognised these bodies as the most important guarantors of freedom and the strongest challengers to the hegemony of the state. The lesson taught, of course, is that we must jealously protect the political rights of the voluntary sector, but it is also that it is disproportionate to respond to every discussion of the regulation of charities and voluntary sector campaigning as if it involved the imposition of east European-style dictatorship, as I fear is sometimes the case.
This brings me to my invitation. When I joined this House, a measure was being considered that limited the expenditure of voluntary bodies on election campaigns. This modest proposal brings all campaigners in line, at least to a limited extent, with the restrictions on candidates themselves. It prevents someone setting up the Schmonservative Association and spending whatever they want defeating a Labour MP. Instantly this was called a “gagging clause” even though broadly the same provision for a political party was called “a sensible limit on election spending”. The provision has continued to be referred to in this way. I wish to demonstrate my respect for the concerns of voluntary organisations by attempting to establish how much truth there actually is in the gagging allegation, which would certainly be serious if proven. Since lots of public affairs people associated with the voluntary and charitable sector will be watching this debate, I invite any of them and any other charity or voluntary body which believes it is gagged because of the new law to write to me. To be clear, I want them to do so if in this election year they have specifically been prevented from an action that they can carefully describe—I am looking for actual and not hypothetical examples—as being gagged. I wish to establish whether any such gagging ever takes place, whether indeed the action being prevented is against the law, which I believe it rarely will be, and whether those few against the law are simply reasonable spending limits or unreasonable limits on free speech. I look forward to hearing over the coming months—or possibly not hearing—and I will let noble Lords know the outcome.
My Lords, it is a genuine pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Finkelstein. I had the privilege of joining your Lordships’ House in the same intake as the noble Lord. His three-minute maiden speech was one of the best I have heard—in fact, it was the best I heard from that intake—and his contribution today was equally thought provoking.
I, like other noble Lords, congratulate my noble friend Lady Scott for very ably and very clearly outlining the breadth of this sector. She gave us examples of how charitable and voluntary endeavour enhances and saves lives, of how the economy has improved and of the impact from just doing someone a simple favour—or microvolunteering, as perhaps we are now supposed to call it. Other noble Lords have referred to charity legislation and the need for reform, or how the sector as a campaigning force has made an impact on the economy, on health and on social policy. My noble friend Lady Barker outlined brilliantly the much better legislative framework now being put in place and the opportunities that, if used correctly and properly, that can bring overall to society. You cannot play a role in public life, even a limited one as I have, without bearing witness to this opportunity.
I declare my interests as a director of a charitable theatre, the Eastgate Theatre and Arts Centre in Peebles, which adds great benefit to the creative and cultural life of Tweeddale. It is interesting that not too much has been raised in this debate about the creative and cultural sector, yet the volunteers and charities in those areas make a profound impact. I am patron of the Borders Carers Centre and, among many other activities, I am a guiding ambassador in Scotland. I was rather confused as to why I would be a guiding ambassador, given my lack of experience as a Brownie or a Guide, but nevertheless I recognise, as others have, the huge breadth that this sector provides.
However, I want to address a different part of the role played by volunteering, perhaps different from what other noble Lords have raised in today’s debate. I have not the eloquence to do it justice, but in essence I want to speak about something that is very special to me and others who have the great fortune of having an affinity with the borderland area, with those jewels of the crown in the hilly land of the Borders that inspired Scott, Wordsworth, Turner and Buchan. This summer, these jewels will be shining—the towns and communities of West Linton, Peebles, Innerleithen, Galashiels, Selkirk, Melrose and Lauder, all of which I had the privilege to represent. All follow the silvery thread of the Tweed and then up to the ancient and royal burgh of Lauderdale. Those towns have profoundly strong communities, forged through many hundreds of years through the border wars. Noble Lords who are aware of the common ridings can imagine those hundreds of riders crossing the Tweed, during those years of conflict, on the way to police their town boundary or imagine witnessing the 350 mounted horse men and women galloping up the common land of Lauder to make sure the burgh flag was returned unsullied and untarnished and peace was secured.
Now, these are not the ghosts of the past. The riders will bear witness today, this summer, in the festivals of the common ridings, which are Europes’s largest equestrian events, organised and funded not by the Government, the tourist board or the council but by local volunteers. With the utmost professionalism, young men and women will represent their communities and their towns, working with members of the community up to the most senior in age. With the highest professionalism, they will represent not only the community but also the life of the towns that they will celebrate—celebrating place, comradeship and identity.
On Saturday I will be proudly wearing this tie, which is of shepherd’s check, which was the very first tartan in Scotland—when you see some of these fake, made-up ones from Victorian times, they mean nothing. This comes from the wool from the black sheep, woven with the wool from the white sheep, as was the case 700 years ago. It was adopted because of the textile heritage of Galashiels, and those involved in the Braw Lad’s Gathering will be wearing this. In the textile, the warp of the land and history and the weft of the community and people are brought together—from the committee members, who will do all the necessary bureaucracy and paperwork to ensure the event runs properly, to the marshals, who ensure that the 350 riders galloping through the town, which many might think would contravene some health and safety regulations, happens without incident and with safety, through to those people who will offer support leading up to and beyond the festivals. The noble Lord, Lord Holmes of Richmond, mentioned the Games makers, but we have had games makers for many generations to make sure that these huge festivals are operated to the highest standard.
Those people know that volunteering makes their community a place not just where they live but where they feel alive. Their motive is not financial or political. They are not operating under a legislative edict or a political mandate, but they know that they have inherited rich traditions that they wish to keep alive for future generations. The impact on others is their motivation. I am proud to be able to use my place in this Parliament to thank them for that.
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Scott, for introducing this important debate. It is good that we take a good hard look at what is happening to the voluntary and charitable sectors in this country. It is difficult to get a full measure of this diverse and complex sector of the economy, but in my travels around the country you get an impression at least of what is going on.
Times are hard for the third sector, and sometimes it can all feel so relentlessly utilitarian nowadays. It can all feel so heavy as charities are drawn into the relentless struggle to raise funds, apply for bids and, of course, go for contracts with the state. Those of us who have danced with the dinosaur-like structures of the state for too many years to count have witnessed its effect upon virtually everything it touches—turning virtually everything it engages with into a pale reflection of itself.
I was involved in the early days of the housing association movement when it was being developed by leaders in local communities. At that time, these local leaders had real aspiration about the quality of design and radical ideas about the kinds of houses they wanted to build and the kinds of communities they were in business for. This energy and enthusiasm of course attracted the interest of the state, and many well-meaning people were seduced by the lure of the state and its promise of large-scale and much needed investment in the movement. Slowly, step by step, with one piece of necessary legislation or red tape upon another, this lean, dynamic voluntary group of organisations was dumbed down, straitjacketed into well-meaning policies and frameworks, and somehow in the process lost the sense of life and fun and risk-taking that were at the heart of their business. Somehow, these crucial human factors were lost in the drive for order, fairness and equality. It sounds a bit like the NHS—a similar story, I suggest.
For housing associations now to take up really imaginative and radical schemes—and there are some—it is often despite, rather than because of, the funding and regulatory regime they find themselves caught up in. So much so that many associations, I fear, increasingly look and operate as pale reflections of their past. This bureaucratisation, caused by the state and not by business, so often leads to a loss of the human touch. Yes, they do community development and are often sentimental about their relationships with residents, but they have lost the driven, entrepreneurial flair that brought them into being in the first place.
I am reminded of this because I gave out the community impact awards last week at the National Housing Federation, and here I must declare an interest. At this event, I saw some fantastic people and projects, but they were at the edges of the operation of these giant organisations, not at their centre. Residents and local people are not some addendum; they should be the core business. The £300 million housing company, a charity, we built in east London is radical. We created a resident-owned business and used our capital investment over the past two decades to trigger social and economic activity in some of the most challenging housing estates in east London. Twenty years later, the evidence is there for all to see in a £1.7 billion regeneration programme. Just look at the quality of the gardens we have built—they would be quite at home in Kensington and Chelsea. A deliberate strategic decision we made in Poplar 20 years ago was to stay and focus in this one area on relationships with residents and quality development, and not to try to expand across the country here, there and everywhere. We chose, in the words of the song, not to be “everywhere and nowhere, baby”, a policy too favoured by successive Governments.
In this bureaucratic, contract-driven world, a game which I have played many times, I worry that the cultures we are now creating in this sector, far from being free, adventurous and radical, innovating and challenging the logic of the systems of government, are instead in danger of losing their spark—in danger of being a bit too responsible and a bit too dour, certainly too public sector, and with a need to have more fun.
But what does fun look like? Well, at a project I am chairing in Blackheath at the moment—I declare the interest—last Friday we opened a beach with sand, an amazing picture of a Victorian pier as a backdrop, deck chairs, drinks and fairground music, 100 miles from the sea. This week it has been packed with children playing in the sand and parents sunbathing and chewing the fat with their neighbours. The project was brought together in a matter of weeks and I have, to date, seen no sight of a health and safety policy—oops! I am sure we have one.
I remember some years ago in Bromley-by-Bow having a bad day when a particular planning decision had not gone well. Instead of bemoaning our fate, two of us got into my politically incorrect yellow MGB sports car and set off to try and buy a castle in Kent. My colleague had heard it was on the market and we wondered why we should not try to reconnect the East End with its long association with this county through hop picking. Actually, we nearly did the deal until someone with rather more money than us stepped in at the last minute. This experience was followed a few years later with the offer of a manor house in the Cotswolds by the then dean of Westminster Abbey, which at that time housed a charity that had got into considerable difficulty. We had learnt something from the castle experience. We took Stanton Guildhouse on, and today it is a self-sustaining social enterprise used by business leaders, families and thousands of inner-city residents from across this country—here, again, I must declare an interest.
If, with the best will in the world, we lose this spirit of fun, innovation and enterprise in the third sector, what is the point of it? What difference is it bringing to our communities? Yes, we have to live with the world as it is, but how we do it and how we live within it really matters. What sort of charitable and voluntary sector organisations are we creating? Are we bringing new life and innovation to communities across this land, and a spirit of fun and energy, or are they in danger of becoming a pale reflection of the state and of what already exists?
I encouraged residents at the housing association awards evening to take more control, to remember where their association had come from, to take centre stage and build entrepreneurial cultures and not play at the edges—to live dangerously or not live at all. If we are to renew the life of this country, how we do it really matters and the spirit with which we come to the task will make or break us. Can the Minister tell the House what the Government plan to do in practice to ensure that charities do not simply become clones of the state?
My Lords, we are all indebted to the noble Baroness, Lady Scott of Needham Market, for raising an issue which is so important to the sustenance of a compassionate and generous society. I am a trustee of a number of charities and draw attention to my entry in the register of interests. However, I will talk specifically about a group of charities, and tens of thousands of volunteers, who care for one of the most vulnerable groups in our society: the animal welfare charities that do so much to help care for our nation’s animals.
I accordingly make a declaration of interest as a cat owner. I am with Charles Dickens, who said:
“What greater gift than the love of a cat?”.
It is a gift I can return today by speaking a little about the challenges faced by those charities such as Cats Protection, at whose selfless work I marvel, caring for abused, sick or stray animals.
We are of course a nation of animal lovers: 13 million households have pets, including 9 million dogs and at least 8 million cats. Aside from the pure joy of a loving relationship, pets play an important role in the development of our society. At the start of life, children taught properly to care for an animal—often by the animal charities and their volunteers—learn important life skills about the need to be compassionate to those who are vulnerable. As we grow older, pets, particularly dogs and horses, provide physical exercise which is important to general health—perhaps I should have got myself a dog rather than a cat. Later on in life, animals play an absolutely vital role in providing companionship to the elderly.
On the other side of the coin, deeply regrettably, so much of what is wrong in our society, whether it be bullying in schools, anti-social behaviour or social deprivation, is intimately bound up with instances of animal cruelty, one of the most despicable of all human acts. Concern for animals is one of the foundations of a civilised society.
Of course, most animals are loved and cosseted but, tragically, not all of them are. That is where the voluntary and charitable sector steps in, tackling cruelty, finding caring homes for unwanted animals and educating the public about animal care and welfare. The leading charities in the sector, household names such as the RSPCA, Cats Protection, the Dogs Trust, Blue Cross and Battersea Dogs & Cats Home, have been playing a vital role in looking after vulnerable animals for many generations, and I take the opportunity of this welcome debate to pay tribute to them. Volunteer support is absolutely crucial to these great organisations, as we have heard from so many other noble Lords. Cats Protection, for example, has over 9,100 volunteers across the UK, working alongside around 500 full and part-time staff. The estimated value of that volunteering is around £60 million a year. Each year, those volunteers help care for 194,000 cats and kittens, rehoming and reuniting around 46,000 of them, and deal with 24,000 feral cats through trapping them, neutering them and returning or relocating them.
It is the same story across the board in this sector. Volunteers working for the Dogs Trust help to care for 16,000 dogs in a national network of rehoming centres, while last year the Blue Cross army of 2,600 volunteers put in 320,000 hours of hard work looking after more than 40,000 sick, injured and homeless pets. It is absolutely fitting in the debate today to honour all those volunteers, many of whom are in full-time jobs, with family commitments and animals of their own to care for, who work so hard to look after vulnerable animals. They are worth their weight in gold.
The scale of the challenges those charities and their volunteers face is enormous, as the economic downturn from which we are now emerging has taken its toll. The number of animals abandoned last year, according to the RSPCA, was up by nearly 60% since the start of the economic problems, while RSPCA inspectors had to investigate over 153,000 complaints of cruelty.
“So many problems that are seen by animal welfare organisations across the UK are entirely preventable. People continue to make misinformed choices at every stage of their pet ownership journey, and consequently pet welfare is being compromised”.
Now for my tiny little bit of advocacy, led in this direction by the noble Lord, Lord Judd. Parliament and Government can do a lot to help these charities and their volunteers cope with what is a growing animal welfare crisis. I will highlight three things: education, regulation and funding.
First, over the long term the best way to tackle the problems animal charities and their volunteers face is for better education of young people. How much more optimistic the long-term prospects for animal welfare would be if all children understood the five welfare needs of animals. The charities themselves do a great deal in this area already. For instance, Battersea Dogs & Cats Home talked to 13,000 young people in 10 London boroughs last year. However, animal welfare needs to be a mainstream educational issue, and I urge the Government to look at making it part of the national curriculum in primary schools.
Secondly, we need to try to ensure that the statutory rules and regulations governing animal welfare, particularly relating to the breeding and sale of pets, are kept up to date. Legislation in this area is over 60 years old and is contributing to the animal welfare crisis by making commercia1 breeding and sale of pets too easy in a digital age. I hope that is another area that the Government will look at.
Finally, while animal welfare charities of course rely on voluntary donations, grants and legacies, there is a case for more seed-corn funding from Defra for community education projects of the sort piloted in inner London in 2012 to help the neutering and microchipping of dogs. As we have heard, the charitable sector itself can provide time, expertise and volunteers, but there is also a role for government, particularly in view of the wide range of public policy issues that are bound up with this area.
“How far that little candle throws his beams!
So shines a good deed in a naughty world”.
Today has been our opportunity to applaud all those extraordinary volunteers and charities whose good deeds and selfless acts of generosity shine in a way that makes so many lives better.
My Lords, like everyone else I thank my noble friend Lady Scott of Needham Market for instituting this debate. It is entirely my own incompetence that I am speaking in the gap, having failed to put my name down in time.
I have spent most of my professional life in the charity world. My firm, Bates Wells Braithwaite, spends most of its time in that world and it has been a privilege and a pleasure to have been so immersed in all that is charitable—large, small, all sorts, all conditions. I had the lucky chance last month to speak about charity to a senior Minister of the Chinese Government and her delegation. They were absolutely fascinated and, indeed, gobsmacked when I explained the range, depth, reach and historicity of our charity sector. I am hugely proud of it, as all of us are. In many ways it is our greatest achievement and gift.
However, it is in danger. It is in danger in terms of the values of our society, which has never been so commercialised, so self-centred, so—how shall one put it?—wholly immersed in pursuit of material things. Of course that is a huge generalisation, but I suspect all noble Lords will know what I mean. As to the values of today’s commercial world, we need only look at the shareholders—the ownership group—to see how totally divorced they are from the values of charity.
Compared with charity, the difference is striking. As we all know, charity exists—we just need to look at the law—for exclusive public benefit. That is not some idle phrase; it is the truth. Trustees of charities are unpaid. We must never underestimate the independence of charities. I say to the Minister, although I do not think he needs it said, that we must maintain that independence at all costs. We must also avoid pretending that actually we here in government can do much about the real, grass-roots health of charity.
As I have said, that health is not good. We have had indications today from different speakers that young people in particular are not taught to understand their place in this complex world of ours; to be citizens. There are some good recommendations in the CAF report. If we look at the examples that we set as leaders of our society, the rich—because they are glorified today—and the senior business and professional people are failing abysmally, compared with my years of growing up, to provide an example to young people and to our society about what our role as people of public spirit should be.
We are not walking our talk. We have only to look at the City now: I would be surprised if one in 10 main board players in the City or senior managers—including in my own profession of solicitors—was directly engaged in giving of their time. When it comes to example, time is more important than dosh. It is a tragedy, because not only does society lose but they lose. The joke about charity is that it is not charity at all: you get back far more than you give. Everybody would say that. The rewards of engaging with all sorts and conditions of men and women are simply incalculable.
Finally, I want to draw us back to caritas. Charity comes from caritas, which means love. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Derby and many others who have spoken have touched on that point. It is central. We need much more love in this society of ours.
My Lords, first, as other noble Lords have done, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Scott of Needham Market, for putting down this Motion for debate today.
Secondly, as I intend to make reference to work taking place in Lewisham, I bring to the attention of the House that I am an elected councillor in Lewisham and that it grant funds a number of organisations in the borough. I also refer noble Lords to my declaration of interests in respect to the charitable and voluntary organisations I am a member of.
Also at the start of my contribution I pay tribute, as have other noble Lords, to work done all over the United Kingdom by the charitable and voluntary sectors. They provide an excellent example of how strong our civil society is and how valuable volunteering and charitable work is to life in the United Kingdom today, as my noble friend Lord Judd referred to.
It is no exaggeration to say that whole areas of policy development, practical delivery of solutions, work on community cohesion, the solving of problems on the ground and making things better could not happen without the charitable and voluntary sectors. It is true to say that they were doing that job long before the words “the big society” were ever mentioned.
We can trace the roots of the charitable and voluntary sector back to the Age of Enlightenment and the beginnings of charitable and philanthropic activity. Clubs, societies and mutual organisations began to flourish in England. In 1741 Captain Thomas Coram, appalled by the number of abandoned children living on the streets in London, set up the Foundling Hospital to look after these unwanted orphans in Lamb's Conduit Fields, Bloomsbury. This was the first such charity in the world and served as the precedent for incorporated associational charities everywhere.
I was pleased to see today that the Charity Commission released the independent research conducted on its behalf by Ipsos MORI, and that it showed that public confidence in charities remains at a high level and that only the police and doctors are trusted more. It was interesting to read that people wanted charities to explain exactly what they had achieved and 96% of respondents wanted charities to provide the public with information about how they spend their money, as the noble Baroness, Lady Barker, highlighted. It is certainly important for charities and the wider voluntary sector movement to be very transparent, clear how money is being spent, and to be able to demonstrate that they are providing good value for money.
The voluntary and charity sector movement is funded in a variety of different ways. It may be of interest to noble Lords to know that donations from the public to charitable causes was at 57% in 2012, which equates to 29.5 million adults donating on average £29 each. In recent years, donations have remained around that figure, with perhaps some divergence from it. In Lewisham, where I was recently elected to the council, the authority has managed to maintain a grants budget, which this year is £5.9 million, and work undertaken by the authority estimates that every £1 in grant funding brings in an additional £4 of external investment and earned income to the borough. In 2012-13 the authority commissioned £32 million-worth of services from the voluntary and charity sector. Other noble Lords, in particular the noble Baroness, Lady Scott of Needham Market, and my noble friends Lady Pitkeathley and Lord Judd, explained exactly the added value that the charity sector brings to its local community. The sector receives funding from a variety of sources, which include individual donations, grant aid, tax and other reliefs where eligible, legacies, targeted campaigns and donations for businesses, in addition to being commissioned to do work.
You cannot always quantify the value and work of the charity sector in money terms alone, and in some cases it may be impossible to do so. That was illustrated for me a couple of years ago, when I attended a reception in your Lordships’ House that was hosted by my noble friend Lady Smith of Basildon for the then WRVS—now the RVS—where we heard from some of its volunteers. One man told us that he had a great volunteering job. He took his elderly friend shopping twice a week, and they always stopped off in the pub for a pint on the way home. It is hard to quantify what he was doing in pure monetary terms, but he was helping his elderly friend to live independently in the community he had lived in for many years, to maintain his contact with the outside world, to go to his local pub and meet his friends. That volunteer was able to check that his elderly friend was looking after himself, and if necessary he could alert the relevant authorities if he thought there were issues that needed attention.
Many other organisations and people provide a similar function in keeping people connected with their local community. I have seen for myself excellent examples of this from faith groups such as the Overend Methodist Mission in Cradley and the wonderful Ackroyd Community Centre in Crofton Park, with its Elder People’s Support Project. That is a linchpin of the local community there and does just the sort of things that my noble friend Lady Pitkeathley highlighted in her contribution. The devastation caused by loneliness and isolation is difficult at any age but is particularly difficult when you are elderly, as my noble friend Lady Turner of Camden highlighted. Although I said that it is hard to quantify in monetary terms some of the work the charity sector does, you could come up with an estimate of the additional cost to the state if the voluntary and charity sector did not undertake those vital tasks that I have just outlined.
I have also seen at first hand the detailed policy work that is undertaken and how that informs government thinking. There are the grants some charities make to enable cutting-edge medical and other research to take place, and the work the sector can do to bring about changes to government policy by mounting effective campaigns and producing evidence-based research. Diabetes UK, along with other charities, did that very effectively with the campaign it ran to ensure that children with long-term conditions can expect to get an agreed minimum level of support at school. That enables children to remain at school and learn with their friends, and not find themselves excluded through no fault of their own. The noble Lord, Lord Storey, on the Lib Dem Benches, along with many other noble Lords, will recall the debates we had on that during the passage of the Education Act in the previous Session.
When charities and the wider voluntary sector run campaigns they can be very effective, and sometimes irritating to other interest groups, politicians and Governments. However, all noble Lords will be aware that charity campaigning has changed lives for the better. For example, a coalition of 200 UK charities and faith communities came together and formed the Enough Food for Everyone IF campaign, which secured commitments from the G8 leaders to provide funding for global initiatives to tackle child malnutrition and clamp down on tax avoidance.
However, I caution the Government to be very careful; just because they do not like something that an organisation is saying, it does not follow that it is running a political campaign. They should not get themselves into that position. If there are problems with recently passed laws, I hope that charities will write to the noble Lord, Lord Finkelstein, and take up his invitation. Local government in general has a very strong commitment to the voluntary and charity sector. In Lewisham we have found it important to maintain a strong independent sector that can act as a critical friend to challenge public sector policy and delivery. We recognise the key role the sector plays in building civic participation, providing a voice for seldom heard residents and providing community intelligence to the authority, as the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Derby highlighted in his contribution. There is also a recognition of the great diversity of the sector and the need always to ensure that you are engaging with small and emerging groups as well as large and established ones. In addition, there is a recognition of the sector’s potential to take risks and innovate and of the fact that the voluntary and charitable sectors have been key delivery partners for a wide range of targeted initiatives.
As the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Derby highlighted, in these times of austerity and cut-backs the voluntary and charitable sector has seen increased demands for its services and has had to deliver more with less, absorbing costs and meeting the challenges it has been presented with. The social sector tracker published by the Association of Chief Executives of Voluntary Organisations highlights the perfect storm that the sector faces. It also identified that 61% of charities argued that central government policy had a damaging impact on their work, as opposed to the 15% who cited a positive impact.
In responding to this debate, can the noble Lord tell the House what has happened to the big society? It was a big theme in the Conservative manifesto and is in the coalition’s programme for government. The Prime Minister told us in February 2011 that it was “his absolute passion”, but today it has vanished, swept under the carpet, never to be mentioned again—except by opposition spokespersons who ask, “What happened to that once-key initiative?”. Can the noble Lord confirm that the Government are willing to listen to suggestions about how we can further support the sector?
Yesterday, when I saw the reports of Wonga’s disgusting behaviour and how it treated some of its customers, I wondered whether there was a way that any fines imposed on it or other financial institutions that broke the law or regulations could be ring-fenced and invested in supporting the credit union movement or charity sector work on debt relief. I hope that the noble Lord will take that away and respond to it as well. In conclusion, I again pay tribute to the work of the voluntary and charity sectors in the UK and thank the noble Baroness, Lady Scott of Needham Market, for enabling this debate to take place today.
My Lords, as I expected, this has been an excellent debate. As I came here I thought that it would be very difficult to respond to comments from noble Lords, many of whom know a huge amount more about this sector than I do. I have learnt a huge amount from the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson, in particular. I remembering him taking me through the evolution of regulation and charities law from 1601 onwards. I hope that he noted the recent remark made by an eminent lawyer, that charities law had been asinine since 1601. As we all know, charities law has evolved to cope with charities changing their view of what they should do, which remains a contested issue. I speak on behalf of the Government when I say how grateful we are for the work that the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson, has done, both in his statutory review of the Charities Act 2006 and in his contribution to the Civil Society Red Tape Taskforce. The Government hope that he will continue to play an extremely valuable role in that area.
When I went to east London to look at the work which a local Baptist minister, Mr Mawson—the noble Lord, Lord Mawson—had done, I also learnt a huge amount about local initiatives and local activity. When I first learnt about community foundations I went to Calderdale with the noble Lord, Lord Shutt, and was enormously enthused by the work which the community foundation there is doing and the way in which it is able to galvanise local philanthropy. I repeat what I said the previous time we debated this issue. Oversight of the voluntary sector is the sort of role which the House of Lords in its current composition plays very well. We ought to have regular debates on aspects of that area, because it is one on which the Commons does not focus very well. As the voluntary sector begins to deal with different challenges, we should look at how well it copes.
I start with some very broad issues about the importance of this area. We are now reaching a point where there is a degree of consensus across all the political parties in this country about the importance of striking the right balance between an open society, a free but regulated market, and a strong but limited state. We can all argue—and that is the place for democratic politics—about exactly how that balance should be struck: how large the state should be, how large a proportion of the economy it should control, and how large a proportion of national income it should take. Those are all difficult issues that we must grasp, but we all now understand that the state cannot do everything, that the welfare state cannot provide everything, and that a state that is too strong impoverishes its citizens. In an open society, we need active citizens who are not too dependent on the state.
I have done most of my politics in Huddersfield, Manchester and Bradford. I remember particularly, when I was a candidate for a central Manchester constituency, arguing with local authority officials who were quite sure that they knew what was good for the people of Hulme better than the people of Hulme did. The people of Hulme sat around and had things done to them, and played very little part in managing their own affairs. Many of us have spent time in those big inner-city estates, and know the problems that that has led to. Part of what the Government have been doing with community organisers and the National Citizen Service has been getting back into those communities the idea that people are better off if they do some things for themselves. We all now know from all sorts of psychological studies that people who feel they have some control over their own lives, and play some active part in their local community, are happier and more fulfilled in their lives.
The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Derby talks about the end of the welfare state, but I simply do not recognise that concept. Indeed, in some ways the welfare state is expanding. Health reform in the United States is becoming embedded, and I suspect that that will not be reformed. The biggest democracy that has resisted that element of the welfare state is now embedding it. However, we recognise that the welfare state, if simply left, would expand to crowd out all other elements of public expenditure, and would then crowd out the private aspect of the economy as well.
To be maintained in its current state, the National Health Service needs an income that grows larger and larger each year. I am particularly conscious of that at the moment, having just had a new hip, and having discovered how many other people in my generation have also had a new hip. That makes me realise to what extent that sort of thing, as we all get older, is leading to the strains on the welfare state as publicly funded. I hope to make 97 at least, and the strain on the state from my state pension, my travel pass and various other things will also contribute to the problems of the welfare state.
Yes, we are all committed to the continuation of the welfare state, but we recognise that it has limits, that it is bad for us to be too dependent on the state, and that the voluntary sector alongside it has a great deal to contribute—including, of course, to the National Health Service. Just think about how much money is raised for medical research and other dimensions from the voluntary sector, and the excellent initiatives such as those that the Government have been supporting—the growth of dementia volunteers and King’s College Hospital volunteers to relieve the pressures on local hospitals. That is all part of what we must do to ensure that the welfare state continues to maintain its functions.
I follow the debates of such bodies as Policy Network and Policy Exchange, and I recognise that they are all discussing these questions. We cannot depend entirely on the state. Twenty years ago, when I was working for the University of Oxford, I was helping to raise funds for a range of international initiatives. Someone from a Dutch university said to me, “It’s actually very difficult to raise money for universities from the private sector in the Netherlands, because when you approach a possible donor he thinks, ‘If this were a good idea, the state would already have paid for it,’ so the fact that you are asking for a private donation makes people think that it’s not a very good idea.” But when we went to the Swiss, they understood. With a more limited attitude towards their state, they understood that it was a good idea to have both voluntary funding and state funding for higher education. One of the reasons why British universities are better than those in a number of other European countries is that they have both state and private funding.
We have heard a lot of comments on central state funding and local activity. I think that there is a consensus that we have become too centralised, in the UK as a whole but above all in England, and that decentralisation—both from Whitehall to local authorities and, as far as possible, from a relationship between large national charities and the state to one in which local authorities and other local bodies relate to local charities—is healthier. The noble Baroness, Lady Barker, talked about the relationship between big charities and central government. Having stronger local authorities dealing with local voluntary organisations is a desirable state of affairs. I pay tribute to the noble Baroness, Lady Eaton, who talked about the role of Near Neighbours within a number of local communities. There are many examples like that. Local giving, as the noble Lord, Lord Shutt, said, is easier to make a case for—local actions and local campaigns. In Saltaire we are just embarking on local horticulture, imitating Todmorden and others. That means growing local food in spare ground and making it available to people who do not have their own gardens. There are all sorts of local activities that we should be helping to support.
The noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, asked what had happened to the big society. My answer to him is that a great deal is happening. I regret that the Prime Minister uses it less than he did, but I am extremely happy that the Labour Party is now accepting many of the Government’s initiatives into its own campaigns. I was a sceptic about the National Citizen Service myself when it started. It was a Conservative scheme that I was not entirely convinced about—but I became a convert as soon as I visited my first National Citizen Service scheme. I am happy to see that the Labour Party now proposes that that service should be extended. That means that all parties now accept that it is a highly desirable development.
I was equally sceptical about the Conservative proposals for community organisers when they were first made. But now that I have seen community organisers working in Bradford and Leeds, I am persuaded that that is a way of helping to energise shared local action within local communities that all of us, from all parties and perspectives, should be happy to support. That is what is happening on the ground, and I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, is as impressed with it as I have been.
We have talked about the problems of youth engagement, but there is quite a lot of encouraging evidence that young people are becoming more engaged in local volunteering. The National Citizen Service has certainly helped, and it appears that young people are keen to get engaged where they are given the opportunity to do so. I recognise that, as one or two noble Lords have said, community work placements can muddy the water, but part of the philosophy behind such placements is to give people some experience of working with others and for others, which in itself is a self-motivating experience.
There has also been much talk about elderly volunteers. We are all aware of that aspect. I have promised my wife that when I retire, in a few years’ time, I will go into voluntary service. I am very proud that when my mother finally stepped down from her last voluntary role, as chair of an old people’s home, she was herself older than a substantial number of the people living in the home. This is not an entirely new idea. The elderly fit are now very much part of those who hold voluntary action of different sorts together.
We have talked a lot about fundraising and funding, state contracting, and provision of public services. Of course, there is a problem with state funding of the voluntary sector, because public funds have to be publicly accountable. That carries with it a level of bureaucracy that does not exist in the same way with private donations. There must be accountability for public funding. The Government are, however, carrying through a number of useful experiments. There are social investment targets to fulfil, and so on, as well as social action proposals and Community First funding, which help to encourage the sector to innovate.
As I have come to terms with different elements in this sector, I worry about the parts of the voluntary sector that are over-dependent on public funding. If a voluntary organisation is dependent on the state for most of its funding, it ceases in some ways to be an entirely voluntary organisation. That seems to me a large issue for the future.
I am extremely grateful to my noble friend and shall be very brief. He said some very nice things about me and I am very grateful to him for that. I do not want to bite the hand that feeds me, but before he leaves the issue of social investment, will he give a commitment to look at the wording of “necessary and incidental” and “necessary and proportionate”? Without that change there is a real danger that this important movement may be stifled.
My Lords, I am happy to give that assurance and I will be in touch with the noble Lord later in terms of what precisely the answer is. We have asked the Law Commission to look at the content of social investment by charities within the confines of charities law, and I will come back to the noble Lord on that.
The noble Baroness, Lady Tyler, asked about the JustGiving report, to which I trust the Government will respond in good time. Payroll giving has developed a good deal. I am well aware from one or two members of my family who work in the City that payroll giving has spread across the City. It is a useful contribution from those who can afford to pay. We all also need to focus on philanthropy in our unequal society. That is the sort of thing that I hope archbishops and bishops will be saying loud and clear. When I think of those within the community I particularly recall the contribution that the Sainsbury family has made in all sorts of ways to medical research, the University of East Anglia, the National Portrait Gallery, et cetera, with the money it inherited. I regret that we have not seen from the City and the financial sector as much in the way of philanthropy from those who have been lucky and successful enough to give back to society what they have gained economically. I hope that we will hear from others on that theme.
A large number of other issues were raised. In terms of campaigning and advocacy, there should be a natural tension between society, the voluntary sector and the state. That is unavoidable. The last thing we would like is a voluntary sector that always said the state was good. I grew up in the Church of England, and it seemed to me that it was far too close to the powers that be. As a boy I would sing:
“The rich man in his castle,
The poor man at his gate”— not something that I assume the Church of England sets as a hymn very often these days. Thankfully, Churches now see themselves as unavoidably criticising the status quo. Voluntary organisations, of course, should be doing advocacy and campaigning. I should say to the noble Lord, Lord Patten, that I am not sure that I do see a clear difference between campaigning and advocacy.
When I was doing the consultation on the Transparency of Lobbying Bill, I met the Alzheimer’s Society, which told me about its dementia campaign—an absolute classic of a campaign—to raise public awareness on an issue to which society, the state and the media had not been paying sufficient attention. The noble Baroness, Lady Pitkeathley, talked about the carers campaign that had very much the same effect. That is precisely one of the many roles that the voluntary sector should have.
However, we all understand also that there is a point at which campaigning and advocacy becomes political in a partisan way, and therefore approaches a boundary over which campaigners should not step. I know Charity Commission paper CC9 almost off by heart now. CC9 is relatively clear and therefore the challenge made by the noble Lord, Lord Finkelstein, is one that is unlikely to be offered.
I am extremely grateful to my noble friend. Is he satisfied that the Charity Commission has all the necessary and relevant powers to deal with the issues of political campaigning to which he is referring?
I am satisfied that it has all the powers that it needs. The Charity Commission is now very stretched. Its budget and therefore its staff were cut. Digitisation would help a great deal to make it easier for the Charity Commission to do its job, but the role of the Charity Commission is an issue that I know the new chairman and the new chief executive wish very much to take up with Members of both Houses of Parliament, and I encourage others to take that further.
On the question of regulation, I have been the trustee of two musical charities which dealt extensively with children, particularly primary school children. I am conscious that a certain degree of regulation is useful and necessary for charities. That is another argument that we will continue to have in this respect. On the international role of charities, the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, touched on the problem of Greenpeace in India. It is not only a problem for India or for Greenpeace. Those of us who follow what happens in Russia, Sudan, Nigeria or Saudi Arabia know that the foreignness of some non-governmental organisations is something that those concerned with sovereignty have great concerns about. We do our utmost to support both those working for voluntary organisations and those working for civil society organisations in more authoritarian countries. I am not suggesting that India in any way is authoritarian but there are many other countries in which this becomes more difficult. That is one of the issues with which the Government are concerned and with which Foreign Office embassies are much concerned.
I am conscious that it would be impossible to cover everything in this debate. I merely want to thank the noble Baroness, Lady Scott, for introducing it, and all those who have contributed. I say yet again that this is the sort of debate that this Chamber does well. The future development of the voluntary sector is an extraordinarily important part of maintaining an open society and an open democracy. It is an issue to which this House should return regularly.
I made some remarks about the disgusting activities of Wonga and suggested that maybe the fines levied on it and other companies could be used for charitable activity in the credit union movement or the financial sector. Will he confirm that he will write to me on those matters?
I would be happy to write to the noble Lord. I should, of course, have said that the whole credit union movement, with which I know the noble Lord is much concerned, and the role of the churches in supporting the credit union movement are classic examples of how valuable our voluntary sector can be.
My Lords, I thank each one of the 20 contributors to the debate whose contributions have been thoughtful, wise and, above all, rooted in experience. What has come out is that, despite all the challenges there is still an essential optimism for the future of the sector and its importance.
We have given the Government much to think about and I hope that they will reflect seriously on the points that have been made.
They say that charity begins at home. I wonder whether collectively, as an institution and organisation, we are doing enough here. Parliament is one of the largest employers in London and I have tried for two years to set up a volunteer system for our own employees, and have had no traction with that. Perhaps other noble Lords might like to help me. I am not sure that we do payroll giving. I do not know whether we are collectively setting the example that we should, despite all the good work that I know we all do individually.