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Volume 579: debated on Wednesday 30 April 2014

We have created hundreds of thousands of new volunteering opportunities, not least through the National Citizen Service. We have invested in the important infrastructure that supports volunteering and we have reformed barriers such as Criminal Records Bureau checks. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will welcome the fact that volunteering has risen after years of decline.

Will the Minister join me in congratulating Margaret Hayes, who recently worked her final shift after 31 years of volunteering to support patients at Barnsley hospital? Volunteers such as Margaret make a much valued contribution to our society, and it is welcome that the number of volunteers is increasing. What more can the Minister do to encourage volunteering among people of all ages and backgrounds around the whole country?

I wholly support that vision. It is massively important to the country. I join the hon. Gentleman in recognising the work of that extraordinary individual and remind him that the Prime Minister has launched a new initiative that will announce daily the Points of Light awards to reward outstanding volunteers. I ask Members of Parliament on both sides of the House to think about nominating individuals in their constituencies for that award.

One way in which we can encourage volunteering is to thank those volunteers who work hard. Will the Minister join me in thanking the volunteers in my constituency at the play and resource centre PARC, Braintree Foyer, the Archer centre and Rethink Mencap? Does he agree that it is the volunteers who work for the various charities and community groups in all our constituencies who form the backbone of our society and deserve our collective thanks?

I wholly endorse that and join my hon. Friend in his recognition of and congratulations to his local volunteers. Few Governments have done more to actively encourage volunteering, and I reiterate my encouragement to colleagues to step forward and nominate individuals for the Points of Light awards.