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Social Change

Volume 475: debated on Wednesday 7 May 2008

2. What recent assessment he has made of the role that charities play in campaigning for social change; and if he will make a statement. (203756)

Charities play an essential role in campaigning for change. I welcome the Charity Commission’s recently published guidance, which gives greater clarity to the freedoms that charities have to campaign in order to meet their charitable purposes.

Does the Minister have an estimate of the degree to which local authorities punish charities that campaign for change within their area and on behalf of residents? What can he do to stop local authorities cutting grants to campaigning charities?

My hon. Friend is a former charities Minister, and she knows the issue well. She knows some of the difficulties of addressing it. Her fundamental point is absolutely right. Charities should not feel constrained from biting the hand that feeds them. Whether they are funded by an organisation, a local authority or a national Government, they should feel absolutely free to campaign against the policies of that authority or Government. I want the Commissioner for the Compact, Sir Bert Massie, to consider how we can do more locally to ensure that local organisations can campaign with freedom on local issues.

In the area that I represent, public transport is inadequate for many people who do not have cars. Voluntary community transport schemes provide people with the opportunity to be taken to hospital, yet the amount of money that the schemes can pay volunteers who provide their own vehicle has been pegged. The schemes are not allowed to pay any more without tax being deducted. As there has been an increase in the price of petrol and in other costs, will the Minister consider that and decide whether the amount paid can now be increased?

I am taking away rather a lot of work today for myself and for the Secretary, Cabinet Office, my hon. Friend the Member for Corby (Phil Hope). The treatment of expenses for volunteers is a significant issue. It arose about a year ago in relation to lunch expenses for people on benefits, and we managed to get a good result with that. As I have said in answer to some other questions today, we will endeavour to look at the issue that the hon. Gentleman raises.

One social change that I have been working with the third sector to try to achieve is a shift towards healthier lifestyles and diets. Will the Minister join me in congratulating organisations such as the Child Poverty Action Group and Unison? They have joined me in campaigning for free, universal and locally sourced school lunches to ensure that every child in every school has a hot, healthy meal.

May I begin by paying tribute to what started off as my hon. Friend’s one-woman campaign for universal free school meals? It is an ingenious campaign, and many people in this House will understand its benefits. I was recently in Hull, where the Labour council introduced free school meals in primary schools for a time, but that was unfortunately abolished by the Liberal Democrats—[Hon. Members: “Shame!”] Well, what would one expect? However, I can tell my hon. Friend that I know that others in Government are looking at this matter, and I hope that they are doing so sympathetically.

Wellingborough Mind does a wonderful job of campaigning for social change in my constituency. It is funded by the NHS and the county council but, unfortunately, that funding runs out on 30 June. What would the Minister say to those organisations about providing a properly funded budget for the future?

All organisations should seek to bring stability to funding for the third sector. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will make representations to Wellingborough council—

The hon. Gentleman indicates that he is doing so, Stable funding is incredibly important for the third sector. Again, I pay tribute to the work of Mind, which does an excellent job throughout the country. From here in Whitehall, it is very difficult to ensure that every local organisation is funded, but I wish him luck with his representations.