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My Lords, I draw your attention to my entry in the register of interests, and I add my apologies to those of the noble Baroness, Lady Barker, because we need to get to our Select Committee. We have permission to leave—it is all perfectly legitimate.
I give the Bill my full support and, like the Bill, I will be short but focused in my remarks. The opportunity for young people to participate in activities which help them with their personal skills development and give opportunities to engage in teams to deliver positive community projects can only be for their and our good. It is also an opportunity for communities to see first-hand the abilities and contribution that young people can make. So often, communities have a poor perception of young people, and young people certainly have a poor perception of the communities in which they live. Sometimes these thoughts are justified on both fronts. NCS also gives young people from a wide range of backgrounds and abilities the opportunity to work together for the common good, which we sometimes lack in our society.
While I have no personal experience of the NCS programme, I have real-life experience of the way in which people are brought together by working on such projects. In his introduction, the Minister referred to organisations which had benefited from the activity of NCS, but let me talk about some of the benefits to young people from working on such projects.
One was in Glasgow, where young people who one might say were the most disadvantaged were challenged to work with a local church to paint the railings that surrounded the church and its land. It is fair to say that that had not been done for a number of years if not a decade, so it was no small feat. To start with, the church and community members were pretty suspicious and on edge, but as time went on they could see the difference that the young people were making to the church and they started to engage with them. They started to talk to them and thank them for what they were doing, and before long those wonderful members of the community who could cook were baking things for them, bringing them refreshments and talking to them. The young people could not believe their luck. The most important thing was that members of the community started to understand the personal circumstances of these young people and could appreciate why some of them had behaved in certain ways in the past. One young lad of 16 was a member of Alcoholics Anonymous. When he started to share that fact with some of the people in the community whom he had run ragged, their attitude started to mellow somewhat. If that is the type of change that NCS produces, it will be doing a great thing.
That leads me to another important point, which has already been mentioned. NCS must put all its efforts into those who are most socially excluded and who need every ounce of support in taking their rightful place in society. I have been grateful to receive a number of briefings on the Bill. One is from The Challenge, which is delivering NCS. It says that for a programme to have integration at its heart, it must include the hardest-to-reach young people. I agree with its recommendation that special attention should be paid to attracting the hardest-to-reach young people, and perhaps the Minister can give us an assurance that that will be the focus of the programme.
Building on that, I can see how much it means to young people to have the opportunity to take part in NCS, but what do they do when this short programme has finished? How will all their aspirations and hopes be taken forward, and what will be next for them? Will the programme be in danger of becoming a distant memory? It is a bit like the Grand Old Duke of York:
“He marched them up to the top of the hill,
… when they were up, they were up,
And when they were down, they were down”.
I do not know about your Lordships, but when you go on school trips with your contemporaries, you do things and feel absolutely wonderful, but then you have to go home and there is nothing there. I hope that this programme will be the start of a journey and that the young people who have coaches and mentoring on this short programme will continue to have them. I have said this before and I will say it again: if it were down to me, I would give every young person of 16 a coach until they reach the age of 18 or 19 to make sure that they maximise all the opportunities and reach a good destination on their journey. The point I am trying to make here is best captured in the briefing that I received from the NCVO. It says that NCS should be an entry point—a staging-post on a longer journey of social action and volunteering. It says that this should be the start and not the finish. I understand that some longer-term projects have been piloted and I would be interested to know from the Minister how these have gone.
I am not a great lover of bureaucracy in any sense, but I believe that it is in everybody’s interests that NCS keeps good, solid destination data, to which I think the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, referred. It should be a question not of saying, “I’m going to measure this because X number of people have been through it”, but of saying, “X number of people have been through it and this is where they are now”. Those who are doing well will need all the encouragement they can get, and those who need extra nudging will need somebody there to help them. So I believe that proper data collection and analysis of these young people is of paramount importance. Again, perhaps the Minister can confirm that this will be done. The noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, referred to the quality of outcomes, not the volume of inputs, and that is absolutely critical.
I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Barker, for raising the points that she did—she was very brave. I know that it is very easy to say what is good, but I think it is right that we understand how the sector will feel about a large sum of money. However, I am certain we will ensure that the Bill will mean that young people get the best possible experiences. I hope that any young person embarking on NCS will see it as a first step on an exciting journey. I hope that we will have the route well planned and well resourced, and that the quality of support will be of the highest standard.
I can sense noble Lords’ interest in the next part of our proceedings on airport expansion. It is palpable, and I do not wish to stop them hearing about that. I will just say that these young people are just as important as how and where airport expansion takes place. Every time noble Lords hear the word “Heathrow”, which I am sure will be often, I ask them to think about the young people to whom this Bill relates.