[Mr. Eric Illsley in the Chair] — Assistance to Communities

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 5:10 pm on 11th March 2010.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Angela Smith Angela Smith Minister of State (Third Sector), Cabinet Office, Minister of State (Cabinet Office) (Third Sector) 5:10 pm, 11th March 2010

With leave, Mr. Illsley, I should like to respond to some of the issues raised in the debate. I will happily come back to some of the points made by Mr. Hurd, but I will have to disappoint him because I cannot give him any Budget secrets today. He will have to wait a few days longer for the Budget.

I thank hon. Members for their contributions. The debate has been wide ranging and diverse, which reflects the nature of the sector. We need to look at the third sector as a whole and the report itself. I am sad that no members of the Select Committee were present to debate the report, because that would have been a very useful contribution.

What we have firmly placed on record today is how we as a Government, a Parliament and a society value the third sector-small voluntary community organisations, volunteers and large social enterprises and charities-for the contributions that it makes.

Let me turn to the comments of my right hon. Friend Alun Michael. When I stopped working in the third sector, I went to work for my right hon. Friend. I could say that he taught me everything that I know, but I will not. The points that he made about mutuals and co-ops were timely. He will be aware that my right hon. Friend, the Minister for the Cabinet Office and for the Olympics, and Paymaster General has been meeting a number of people and is driving this agenda forward.

Partly as a response to the banking crisis and some of the issues that have led us into an international recession, the public no longer has an appetite for "business as usual". When engaging with business-whether as consumers, investors or employees-they are attracted to and supportive of a business model that is not the same as it always has been. I was encouraged by Mr. Cash when he talked about the very genuine commitment there is to mutualism and the co-operative movement. In the early days, people who were involved in the co-op movement were regarded as slightly whacky, but now the ideas are becoming far more mainstream in political thinking. It may have taken us since 1844 and the Rochdale Pioneers-over 160 years ago-to get where we are today, but new thinking is always welcome. The ideas of the pioneers are as appropriate today as they were then.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth mentioned StartHere, which shows the value of the third sector in bringing together the kind of issues and support that is needed to help some of our vulnerable groups. I would be happy to discuss that matter further with him.

Mr. Breed talked about the value of volunteering. He asked questions about the Criminal Records Bureau and the vetting and barring system. I am not sure whether his example, in which someone goes to have a cup of tea with someone once a week, qualifies. The system is there to protect young people and the most vulnerable people. Society demands that the Government have a process in place to protect people. We need to strike the right balance between giving the protection that Government are able to offer and not creating a bureaucracy that deters people from volunteering. Some individuals may be put off from volunteering by the vetting system, but the majority of people are not deterred. CRB checks have prevented more than 80,000 unsuitable people from taking on jobs or volunteering, which shows how important they are. It may reassure the hon. Gentleman if I tell him that checks for volunteers are free. The Singleton report, which the Government have accepted, strikes the balance between not being over-bureaucratic and not unnecessarily deterring people from volunteering.

My hon. Friend Tom Levitt, like my right hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth, called on his own knowledge and practical experience of the sector. He raised some policing issues. Let me tell him that the Home Office and the Association of Chief Police Officers have now launched a compact between them. Knowing his commitment to the Compact, I think that he will find that of particular interest. I have to say that I met Rosie, his V volunteer, at the V volunteer awards. I feel passionate about the V volunteer awards and talent awards. I saw young people who have been engaged in the volunteering process for a whole year. Many of them were working in the field of youth justice. Over the year, they gained confidence and an ability to engage. The process made them more ready for employment or higher education. Young people cannot acquire such skills easily; they have to make the effort themselves.

Various Members raised the issue of campaigning. I touched on the subject myself in my opening remarks, but I will need to read Hansard to ensure that I have correctly understood the comments made by Mr. Cash. I welcome the comment made by the hon. Member for Ruislip-Northwood, who said that he believes in advocacy-it was a step on the right road-but advocacy and campaigning are not the same thing. We would all expect third sector organisations to be advocates for their cause, but how far they are able to campaign is an important issue. I hope that he does not get into too much trouble with the rest of the Conservative Front-Bench team after the comments that he has made today.

The hon. Member for Stone, if I understood him correctly, differentiated between service providers in organisations and those who are able to campaign. He spoke of local organisations in his constituency. Next week, I will chair a meeting in the Bulphan area of my constituency that will be attended by local residents whose homes have been flooded and by local pressure groups. Both groups will come together in the way in which he described the groups in his constituency.

It is right for organisations and charities to campaign-I am not talking about campaigning for or against a political party-because they are ideally placed to do so, even, as I said in my opening remarks, when it is uncomfortable for the Government. I use the example of the RSPCA purely because I met an RSPCA inspector this week during my work. RSPCA inspectors do a fantastic job in the areas of animal welfare, homing animals and responding to animals in distress. They are at the forefront of the organisation. They are hugely admired by society as a whole, but because of the work that they do, they become acutely aware of the problems that need to be addressed, and they are not alone in that. The Animal Welfare Act 2006 received the support of many Members across the House because the issues were brought to their attention by organisations such as the RSPCA. There was no party political campaigning, because all parties supported the legislation, and the organisations were justified in their actions.