Clause 5

Part of National Insurance Contributions Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 5:15 pm on 7th December 2010.

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Photo of Kelvin Hopkins Kelvin Hopkins Labour, Luton North 5:15 pm, 7th December 2010

I apologise for not being here for all of the debate—I unavoidably had to leave the room—but there are some points that I wish to make.

I am indebted to my hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow who told me that one third of all voluntary organisations have fewer than 10 employees, so there is a vast number of organisations that could qualify were they within the Government definition. I should, perhaps, declare an interest as I am a non-executive director of a small training organisation that would certainly fit into that category. Such organisations are often working on small margins. They have difficulty in sustaining themselves financially, but they do valuable work. Any assistance that they can get in difficult times such as these would be valuable. I strongly support the amendment tabled by my hon. Friends on the Front Bench.

I was, for eight years, a member of the Public Administration Committee, and charities and the third sector were a big interest. I and others argued that there are some supposed charities that are not really charities. I am talking about private—public—schools, which have always had charitable status essentially to give them a public subsidy. That is not appropriate. If they were deemed to be purely business organisations, which is what they really are, that subsidy could easily be used to help genuine charities. That is a controversial view, and it is obviously not the official policy of my party. I only wish that it were, and I shall continue to press that point. Support of that kind for small organisations that do immensely valuable work is important.

The hon. Member for Watford made the strong point that these days many supposed charities are heavily dependent on public money—on local authority grants, and so on—much of which is non-statutory. Local authorities are under pressure and they will withdraw some of those grants, thereby putting those small bodies under pressure. I have a general scepticism about the big society taking over from professional public services in any case, but that will make the situation even worse. I have had meetings with voluntary sector and third sector organisations in my constituency and in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Luton South, and they are seriously worried about their future, because of cuts to their funding coming from pressure on local authorities. Any assistance that can be given to small organisations that are starting up would be right.