Second Reading (Continued)
My Lords, we return to the relative calm of the Second Reading debate on the National Citizen Service Bill. I add my thanks to my noble friend for introducing the Bill. I am very happy to support it. It is, as he said, a slim Bill. Nevertheless, it has the very important strategic objective of encouraging and strengthening the development of the National Citizen Service.
Many Members of your Lordships’ House will know of the reports that I have undertaken for the Government on the various impacts of the charity and voluntary sectors. That work has revealed to me just how much we remain a country of silos—silos of geography, race, religion, educational background and economic position. We need to do all we can to break down these silos to create a society that is, as far as possible, sympathetic, open-minded, non-judgmental and that has a greater understanding of our fellow citizens whose lives and circumstances may be very different from our own. This Bill can play an important part in that process.
A focus on social cohesion is, of course, always important in a modern, pluralistic liberal democracy—but it will be of particular importance over the next 25 years. I identify three trends in particular that I think will challenge our society. First, during this period, western Europe and north America will be in a slower-moving part of the economic stream. It is nothing to do with Brexit; it is to do with the ineluctable shift of wealth from the west to the east and the fact that India, China and south-east Asia are the rising economic powers. So our fellow countrymen will probably have to accept little or possibly no increase in their individual wealth while these other countries, which hitherto we have regarded as less well-off than ourselves, begin to forge ahead. This may be uncomfortable for some of us.
The second trend is the next stage in the industrial revolution: the changes that will be brought about by artificial intelligence and robotics. These developments will likely sweep away thousands of middle-income, clerical and administrative jobs—the jobs of people who hitherto have not felt any concern about their economic security. If the experts on this trend are right, unlike earlier phases, this trend will destroy jobs, not create them. That, too, may be uncomfortable.
Finally, there is the projected increase in the population of this country. If the Office for National Statistics—the ONS—is to be believed, between now and 2039 we will have to build 4.2 million more dwellings. That is three cities the size of Greater Manchester. To meet these strains—and there will be strains from these trends—will require a focus on our national social cohesion: the glue that binds us all together. NCS can help provide at least a bit of that glue, and that is why I support the Bill. Having expressed my support today at Second Reading, I will leave three points for my noble friend on the Front Bench and his officials to consider between now and Committee.
First, as I already made clear to him in discussions before we met today, we are missing a trick in the vision that underlies the Bill. There already exists, in addition to the National Citizen Service, an International Citizen Service. I have just returned from a two-week trip to Tanzania, working with Voluntary Service Overseas. One of the days I spent there was with 30 or 40 young Tanzanians who had participated in International Citizen Service with volunteers from the UK. This programme is run by DfID, using charities and voluntary groups to deliver it. It had clearly been a good experience for the young Tanzanians. To follow on from the point made by my noble friend Lord Maude about how surprised people in this country were to understand that they shared common concerns, what impressed the Tanzanians most of all was that they and young British people had the same concerns about finding a job and somewhere to live, about the future of our society, about whether their Government was positive and about the future of their world—the environment and other aspects of it. About two-thirds of those I talked to were still in touch with their UK counterparts via social media.
For better or for worse, this country’s relationships with the world are changing, and it is more important than ever that we reach out, make relationships and create friendships. I do not suggest that International Citizen Service will ever be a mass movement. It will always involve a small number of young people. For example, the three charities in Tanzania working on this programme send about 150 people a year from this country to Tanzania. However, if we were able to build this international aspect into NCS, it could have huge advantages. It could increase the attractiveness of NCS here; it would help the personal development of the individuals who participate; it would make the UK seem open, inclusive and interested in the wider world; and finally, as these young Tanzanians grow up and assume positions of power and influence, we can hope that the UK’s soft power will rise commensurately.
There is much more to be said about this topic but tonight is not the moment for that. I hope that we will be able to discuss it further in Committee. I hope that my noble friend will not fall back on the argument that this programme is from the DCMS and the International Citizen Service is from DfID, so therefore they cannot be combined. That would be turf warfare of the very worst kind.
Secondly, I will touch on the issue raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Royall of Blaisdon, about the legal liability of volunteers and the complications for those who volunteer as regards entitlement to social security, benefits, jobseeker’s allowance and so on. Discussions of legal liability and social security entitlements are lands into which the unexperienced vanish without trace. I am no expert on these matters but I would like to register with my noble friend the fact that outside this Chamber in the volunteer world there are concerns about these two areas that I think we will need to examine and resolve at a later stage of the Bill.
Finally, I would like to register my concern about the corporate form that is proposed to give the National Citizen Service its statutory framework. As my noble friend knows, a wide range of forms could have been chosen, but the Government have chosen the royal charter format. I understand the wish to sprinkle a little stardust on the NCS project with the use of the word “royal”, and I understand the wish to raise the NCS above the hurly-burly of party politics, as the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, made clear. Both are worthy aims—but, like the noble Baroness, Lady Barker, I am afraid that there may be some operational consequences.
When I undertook my review of the Charities Act, I received a great deal of evidence about the clumsiness and inflexibility of the royal charter structure. Based on that evidence, I made a number of suggestions for reform which I think still lie in the long grass. If I am incorrect in that assumption, I am happy to be corrected. The essence of the problem is the interlocking authority of Her Majesty in Council, the Privy Council itself and the Charity Commission. The evidence I received suggested that each of these is disinclined to act without the agreement of the other two, which has resulted in a very protracted process of inquiry and investigation, often with voluminous correspondence, about even quite small changes to a charter and by-laws.
It is inconceivable that a new organisation such as the NCS, growing fast, as we all hope, and developing in ways that tonight we cannot possibly foresee, will not want to, or more likely have to, make changes to its constitution and/or its by-laws—and possibly more than once. Therefore, while I understand that the “royal” title is important, there may be some downsides to it. So far I am not convinced that we could not sprinkle the necessary stardust and achieve the necessary oversight with a continuation of the present community interest company, or CIC, formula that we have at present.
If a CIC structure is not good enough, there is a range of what are called “exempt charities”, where a charity has another government department as regulator in place of the Charity Commission. For example, Defra looks after Kew Gardens; my noble friend’s department looks after museums; and, if noble Lords are concerned about the use of large sums of public money, the Department for Education operates all the funding of English universities through the Higher Education Funding Council. Again, these could provide a suitable statutory form for the future NCS.
To conclude, this is a good Bill and it has very worthwhile strategic aims. However, I think that we will make it a better Bill if, in Committee, we discuss and tighten up some aspects of what is being proposed.
My Lords, the motivation that sits behind this Bill could scarcely be more important. As several noble Lords have said, at a time of increasing division in our country, it represents a serious attempt to build a more cohesive society, and what could be more important to that endeavour than developing a habit of service to others among young people?
Noble Lords may be aware that over the past few years I have been involved in setting up a family of primary state schools with character development at their heart. Of the many virtues we could have chosen to represent what we are trying to do at Floreat Education, we chose four: curiosity, perseverance, honesty and service. We chose service because it is, I believe, a foundational civic virtue, without which it is impossible for a society to function, let alone flourish.
At Floreat Education, we are very fond, as primary schools often are, of inspiring quotes, especially if they are from Martin Luther King, and that great orator was not lost for words on the importance of serving others. He said:
“Everybody can be great … because everybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and your verb agree to serve. You only need a heart full of grace, a soul generated by love”.
As my noble friend Lord Hodgson has said, a commitment to serve others is the glue that binds society together. It encourages humility, understanding and courage. It fills our lives with meaning, purpose and, yes, love.
Psychologists tell us that serving other people is the route to long-lasting happiness. Our colleague in this House, the noble Lord, Lord Layard, once said that the fastest way to make yourself happy is to make someone else happy, so service is not only good for others, it is good for ourselves too.
Parenting is perhaps the greatest form of service imaginable, and many of us were fortunate to grow up in families with a culture of service. In my home, I was able to learn from my mother, who diligently ran riding for the disabled classes, was a school governor and still contributes to talking newspapers, among many other voluntary commitments. My father was involved in the Catenians and coached the Cubs and Scouts football teams that I played in. There were structured opportunities to serve at school, and after university I had the chance to teach in a small orphanage outside Calcutta, the Mathieson Music School, for six months.
I was incredibly fortunate to learn about the importance of service through my family and am deeply grateful for it. Through these experiences, I learned much else too, and met people from all walks of life, but what if a young person does not have these opportunities at home? What if they live in those places where diverse communities exist side by side but never interact, which sadly I am seeing more and more of through my education work? What then?
This is the backdrop to the founding of National Citizen Service, which was introduced as a proposal as far back as 2005 by our former Prime Minister David Cameron. Over the subsequent years, it has garnered support from all political parties and all parts of society precisely because it speaks to important and undeniable needs to bring people together, to forge a common understanding and a shared set of values and to encourage the habit of service that is the bedrock of a prosperous Britain.
NCS has proved very successful so far in delivering on that vision. The young people who take part report a much greater understanding of and positivity towards people from different backgrounds. They have more skills, such as leadership and oracy, that are useful in the workplace, and they report less anxiety and greater well-being. Critically, these effects are greatest for those who come from disadvantaged backgrounds. The long-term impact on building a culture of service is compelling: in the 16 months after completing NCS, the 2013 and 2014 cohorts gave back an additional 8 million hours to their communities.
NCS is also a model of good policy-making. By starting with small pilots in 2009 and building up slowly, with ongoing impact evaluations, NCS has laid the foundations to be a genuinely transformative programme. That is why I am happy to welcome this Bill and am committed to ensuring that NCS can fulfil its potential.
There are not many measures in the Bill, but they seem largely sensible. Given the increasing ambition of the programme and the sums of public money involved, creating a royal charter for the NCS Trust seems to be the right approach. Other people more expert in governance will have views on that and have expressed them today, but a royal charter puts NCS on a par with organisations such as the British Museum, which have a special cultural status. That seems to me a better alternative than being either an executive agency or an NDPB, with the long fingers of government, as my noble friend Lord Maude described them, playing with the programme.
That is not to say that I have no concerns about the Bill and the accompanying draft paper. I do not quite agree with Ronald Reagan that the nine most terrifying words in the English language are, “I’m from the Government and I’m here to help”, but it is certainly true that one of the reasons for the success of NCS so far, as several noble Lords have said, is that even though it has largely been funded by the state, it is seen by young people as being independent of government. We must guard that independence jealously because the moment that NCS is seen as something that is “done to” 16 year-olds by the Government will be the moment that it fails. In that regard, some of the proposals on governance and the appointment of the board are of concern, as the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, said. I look forward to exploring them further in Committee.
I am also concerned that the draft charter limits the NCS Trust’s remit only to delivering the specific programme for 16 year-olds. Clearly, this must be the centrepiece of its activity—that is what it was founded for—but the trust can play a much greater role in the social action sector as whole.
While NCS and the Bill have been largely welcomed by major providers such as vinspired, the Scouts and City Year, of which I am a parliamentary supporter, they all raise concerns about whether the current draft charter limits the role of NCS and will inhibit its links with the rest of the sector. For example, there is gathering momentum behind the idea of creating a year of service in the UK, as the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, described, modelled on the AmeriCorps programme in the US, but, as the Bill stands, the NCS Trust would not be able to get involved in developing that proposal. It would be a tremendous missed opportunity to restrict the trust’s powers when it was perfectly capable—indeed, I believe willing—to play a leadership role in promoting service throughout society. I hope the Minister can provide some reassurance on this point in his closing remarks.
Given the chance, the NCS can not just work for the children and young people who go through it but can be a catalyst for an entire social movement, helping to spread more widely the ideal, which I believe all noble Lords support, that a life well lived is one in which, with a heart full of grace and a soul generated by love, we dedicate ourselves to the service of others.
My Lords, I begin by making a declaration of interest; a close family member is employed by one of the NCS providers in the north-east. I will say some words I do not often say, I may never say again and that your Lordships may never hear me say again in this House: I wholeheartedly support the Conservative Government’s initiative in seeking to put this on a permanent statutory footing. Congratulations for that. I also think we should listen carefully, as I am sure the Minister did, to the experience and words of my noble friends Lord Blunkett and Lady Royall on their concerns that we do not forsake quality for numbers and make this a tick-box exercise in terms of the throughput; that we set it in the context of wider citizenship initiatives and ongoing matters in schools and beyond; and that we come to value and reward volunteering for its own sake and as a continuing part of all our lives now and in the future.
Of the contributions so far, I was particularly taken by that of the noble Lord, Lord Maude, who is not in his place. He gave us an insight into the modus operandi of the former Prime Minister’s Government. He said that when you receive a hot potato such as the NCS—the Prime Minister’s baby—you hand it on pretty quickly to a young, able, energetic Minister, make them responsible for it and take the credit at the end. That can be added to the Gerald Kaufman tome, How to be a Minister. It is a lesson for us all.
Much of what I will say will be narrative. I do not want to repeat what has been said, but most of it is based on a reception that I was very fortunate to host last week here in Parliament, together with the NCS Trust, for the NCS provider vinspired. Many Members of both Houses dropped in and attended. They met an inspiring group of 25 young people representing the north-east youth board of the NCS. The purpose was to explore, promote and celebrate their achievements, and to recognise those thousands of young people who have participated in NCS so far. It was a revelation of how NCS can bring mutual benefits to individuals and to the wider communities within which we live.
At the reception was a group of young NCS graduates with different backgrounds who had come together from different parts of the north-east. They had never met each other before. They formed a thing called Team Brah—that is B-R-A-H, not the other sort of bra. They undertook planning and delivery of a project in partnership with the Albert Kennedy Trust to support young homeless LGBT people who had been made homeless directly as a result of the revelation of their sexuality, usually by angered parents or relatives, and found themselves with nowhere to live. Their achievement in that project was recognised by the NCS at a national awards ceremony. They won the national NCS award for 2015 for their participation. Many of the young people from Team Brah have continued to volunteer their time with the Albert Kennedy Trust since.
We also heard at the reception from a young woman, Claudia Titton—she is happy for her name to be known—about her development during and beyond her NCS experience. She gave a narrative of her own journey, describing herself as one of many people of school age who choose to say no to anything they are asked to do. Any opportunities they are given or any questions they are asked, they seek to duck. Her preferred position was to refuse involvement or engagement with anything.
Claudia was not sure why she had said yes to involvement with the NCS—but she did, and it had a hugely beneficial effect on her. From entering a room full of strangers on her first day as a shy, introverted, awkward 16 year-old, she is now a positive, outward-looking young woman with plans and ideas about her future, her community and how she wants to engage more. She is a testament to the potential of NCS to help foster an engaged, community-focused and inclusive generation of young men and women. These two examples illustrate the mutual benefit to individuals and to wider communities—to us all—that can be gained from a careful, qualitative programme of NCS.
However, I want to raise a couple of matters with the Minister, one of which I raised before coming to the Chamber. First, as was said by the noble Baroness, Lady Scott, it is hard to understand why HMRC was considered to be the best body through which NCS could promote opportunities for young people across the country. I understand the argument about its database being the one that will reach the widest number of people, given that at age 16 the national insurance number is allocated—but I say, with the greatest respect to those who work in the Treasury, that a letter from the HMRC does not always inspire citizens to activity, engagement and involvement, particularly if it comes in one of those brown envelopes that is usually a demand letter of some sort. It is a rather more threatening body to communicate with than could have been selected. Perhaps the Minister can reassure the House that HMRC communications will be only a vehicle by which the database can be accessed for NCS directly to communicate with young people rather than such communication being done on behalf of the NCS by HMRC.
Secondly, will the Government reconsider their decision not to include in the legislation a requirement on schools, colleges and other such bodies to promote NCS among 15 and 16 year-olds who become eligible for it in the subsequent 12 months? I know that there was some discussion about this but I understand that it has not been followed through. I do not know whether it is because of the volume of obligations already placed on schools or a financial matter relating to the Government’s relationship with schools, but schools and colleges are probably the most trusted and reliable bodies among the people whom we seek to target into NCS volunteering and beyond, and certainly a better bet than HMRC for promoting and advancing the cause. In fact, many of the staff of NCS link directly to schools to work with teachers and others to recruit people into the activity.
With those questions, I repeat my welcome—I said that I would not repeat myself, but I will—for the Government’s initiative and look forward to the Minister’s response.
My Lords, I speak today with a tremendous sense of delight at the arrival of this Bill and its reception so far. I declare an interest as one of those who helped early on to establish the groundwork for what became the Challenge Network charity before the 2010 election, creating one of the original pilots of the National Citizen Service programme where I was involved from as early as 2008, and then—as part of the team—to write the policy into the 2010 Conservative manifesto, after which I subsequently advised on it from within the Cabinet Office under the coalition Government.
I remember being first approached by members of David Cameron’s team in opposition in my previous role as a founding partner of the Shaftesbury Partnership —I am currently re-joining it in a non-executive capacity and so declare an interest. We were invited to design a working prototype to accompany, refine and road test the original policy idea proposed by David Cameron—and before him many others from across the political spectrum over the years—as part of his leadership campaign. It was a memorable time, helping to put together the original design brief and to cultivate the charitable angels and private donations for the research study and subsequent pilot, and then pulling together the senior team to help design the business plan and run the pilot. The donors—I will not name them all today—must none the less be thanked. Without their generosity, we would not have been able to learn what we now know, insights that have been shared more broadly throughout the NCS programme and community. It was all in all a textbook example of social innovation at the time and everything seemed to go ahead relatively smoothly, such was the support and favour behind the idea.
I must remember here to also thank the staff and trustees of Absolute Returns for Kids, who at the time released me to work part-time on projects such as these through Shaftesbury. Much credit in particular needs to go to Patrick Shine, co-partner of the Shaftesbury Partnership, who went on to chair the Challenge Network charity in those early years, as well as to Craig Morley, who we recruited following a successful career in Proctor & Gamble and as a mentor with the Prince’s Trust to help lead the project. He became the charity’s first CEO. I also highlight the work of Jon Yates, who had a strong background in youth work and was a McKinsey consultant previously, as well as Doug Fraley, who came out of the world of Google and brought tremendous experience in HR.
While we played a role in getting pilots going in those early, riskier years, it was important from the beginning that the charity had its own independent footing and cross-party support. It has since grown to be, through the efforts of many others, a successful provider of the National Citizen Service, incubated by but now separate from the Shaftesbury Partnership.
Of course, a huge amount of work has been carried out since then both in government and at grass-roots level. Ministers present and former, as well as the team at the NCS Trust led so ably by Stephen Greene, Michael Lynas and his team, and the existing and past providers, should feel proud of having been part of something truly special and ground-breaking. We are now witness to a phenomenon that has cross-party support and produced tremendous impact and social outcomes, particularly in that much-needed area of creating social capital across wealth and social divides in an age of social isolation, and at a scale achieved without much or any compromise in quality but in a short space of time.
The policy united many behind it from a diversity of political and other backgrounds: leaders of charities, faith groups and businesses, politicians and members of the media—an amazing achievement given the level of debate and differences of opinion in other areas of our body politic these last few years. As I found at Teach First, this is a programme that found many fathers and mothers—and rightly so, and the more the merrier. There was perhaps no greater sense for me that this had arrived as a truly national programme than when, a few years ago on holiday in the Lake District, my family and I happened to bump into a Challenge NCS team on a mountain of all places, totally by accident. I remember at the time being struck by how you could almost go anywhere in the country and there would be people whose lives were being touched and affected by the scheme. In light of this, it is only appropriate that we now bring forward this policy on to a longer-term basis. As a result, I wholeheartedly welcome the Bill.
I will make a number of remarks relating to the Bill based on my experience of the scheme and will look to the future to ensure that it continues to make the impact that others highlighted. First, I will cover the reasons behind bringing it on to a statutory footing, then deal with areas on which to ensure a continued focus, and finally tackle a number of questions and concerns raised about the policy over the years.
First, on the appropriateness of bringing the policy on to a statutory basis, over the years I and others sought to work to bring about what used to be called social reform in the days of my great hero the seventh Earl of Shaftesbury, but which we sometimes call social innovation today. In days past, and still sometimes today, this takes place through parliamentary procedure —think about Wilberforce and his efforts to end slavery, and more recent efforts to end trafficking and its ill-effects. At other times, reform and scalable social innovation took place outside Westminster and government through the creation of campaigns, movements, charities and social enterprises that ultimately became of sufficient impact and scale that government could not ignore them.
This latter approach, which arguably was instrumental in bringing about the successes Wilberforce and others in his era enjoyed, catalysed by the likes of Granville Sharp many decades before Wilberforce’s arrival on the scene, is the one I have felt the most affinity with. Social innovators should work to bring about change through piloting and developing outside government and then seek to see how these ideas, once tested, can be rapidly designed to scale and brought into contact with and affect government policy where appropriate. This contrasts to the default thinking that Governments should seek to take on the role of innovator from the inside out, which does not always work, especially in today’s highly media-driven environment.
What is powerful about the Bill and this policy is how the two have come together, with politicians recognising the historic benefits of national service and calling for some variant of it to be brought back, and social innovators and philanthropists taking the risk to develop, pilot, test and scale prototypes—with government support—not just to create a rite of passage but to forge new links between young people from different backgrounds, and then to create a pool of citizens ready to play their role in our democracy and in society. Having tested this policy over the past number of years, it is appropriate, given the benefits it brings to the country and to communities within it, and given the public spending involved, for it to be brought on to a long-term accountable footing—but with the caveat that the innovation and experimentation that led to its realisation from a policy idea to a workable national programme is not lost as NCS becomes, in effect, a new national institution. The seventh Earl himself voiced concerns when the pioneering work of charitable educationalists was nationalised, and it has taken many years and much effort to bring our education system to the point where new ideas and approaches are accepted once again, through the academy and free school movements.
I certainly hope and expect that the Bill will enable new entrants and smaller providers with fresh ideas to continue to bring their innovations and approaches into the programme. This brings me to the point I want to make about the Bill’s emphasis. It is very important that in bringing the NCS on to a statutory footing we do not create a huge bureaucracy, and I am glad that the approach that is being taken is apparently one that seeks to strike a balance between accountability and being sufficiently hands-off to allow the trust to get on with the job. It is important, for example, that the National Audit Office does not look just at past success, which ultimately may favour larger providers, including the Challenge Network, but has a remit to explore the degree to which smaller and newer providers are allowed to come in and innovate, experiment and tailor to different audiences and niches while maintaining the focus on building social capital across different social groups. Will my noble friend the Minister reassure us that this will be considered in the Bill and that there may even be exemptions for new and smaller organisations in the commissioning process to counteract the risk aversion that can sometimes reign, effectively drawing up the ladder behind the early providers who already know how to meet commissioners’ demands in terms of track record and measurement? What has begun through a process of partnership and innovation ought to continue, even as we seek to bring the scheme to a wider, national, institutional level.
It is really important that, over time, effort is put into working with the Scottish Government and the Northern Ireland and Welsh Assemblies to bring this policy to all young people across the United Kingdom. While I respect and understand the competence of each part of the UK to oversee its work in this area, one of the greatest benefits of having young people from around the country engaged in the NCS is the creation of a strong sense of service to both the local community and the wider world. At a time when politics is perhaps becoming uglier and more fractious, more and more of our young people want to be part of something bigger, and it would be a shame to lose the sense of camaraderie that I know was enjoyed by Scottish, Welsh, Northern Irish and English young people during the era of national service in the early 20th century, and of mutual respect. No matter what the future may bring for the destinies of our respective nations, I would be glad to hear my noble friend the Minister’s thoughts on this.
In my remaining time, I want to turn to some of the questions that have been asked about this policy over the years, and I am keen to see how the Government will address them. The first concerns the relationship between the NCS and other youth charities and providers. I have noted that many different charities and groups have been involved in the provision of the programme—some 200 at the last count. It has been good to see how close links have been established to enable those such as the Scouts and other groups to benefit from NCS alumni becoming mentors and supporters. I would like to know how the Bill could help to support this partnership between NCS and large and small youth charities and groups to bolster their efforts to bring improvements to their communities and people, while avoiding, for example, a situation that has at times characterised the relationship between the BBC as a national body and other television channels and media organisations, with the one at times competing against the others rather than being a source of impact and unique programming. How will the Bill and the principles enshrined in it and the NCS charter or equivalent ensure that the work focuses on that which no other private body alone could do?
The next question that is often raised is one of cost. I am glad that funding has been allocated until 2019-20, and that any young person who wants to be involved in the NCS programme will be granted a place. It is because the public policy requires a significant amount of funding that we are now engaged in bringing it into statutory accountability. Equally, from my understanding of the programme’s design, there is a necessary cost to creating a deep change and bond in the lives of those young people from affluent and low-income backgrounds participating through the residential activities that first take them away from their day-to-day lives at a key moment of transition in their lives and then help gradually reinsert them back into the communities of which they are part. Every study that I have read in the design phase indicated that it was key to bringing about the social benefits that have been reported from the programme in the years so far during which it has been in existence.
We will need to have courage to continue to fund this necessary cost so that we can see the benefits longer- term in society. This will ultimately have an impact on government spending in the form of greater social cohesion, greater community participation, lower crime rates and better educational and vocational outcomes. I recall the stories of those who served together historically, in the years of national service, side by side in training and in the field. This cannot be replicated simply by funding a few hours a week, important though that is, but can be through a sustained initial training period, one which NCS exemplifies. Will the Minister tell us how the Bill will safeguard beyond 2020 the spending on this policy and prevent future short-sighted Governments from seeing this programme, with its many long-term benefits to the country, as a quick way to balance the budget in future?
We have come a long way in the past decade on this journey to creating a National Citizen Service. There remains a tremendous amount to do in the decades to come, not least in designing policies around other key transitions in our lives, not just in our youth. In the light of this, I welcome this Bill as another milestone in ensuring that this innovation, built on the experiences of the previous century, will enable many young people to become, I hope, citizens and even the social reformers and innovators of the century to come.
My Lords, I support this Bill, which creates opportunities for all 16 and 17 year-olds, giving them the chance to make new friends, acquire new skills and assist other members of their community. More than 275,000 have already taken part in this scheme, with one in six eligible teenagers having taken part in the programme. That is an achievement in itself. The NCS has achieved much already, and the Bill is designed to make sure that the NCS delivery model is more accountable to Parliament. I understand that £1.1 billion has been allocated for the life of this Parliament, and we therefore must get it right.
The social mix of volunteering, to which other noble Lords have referred, has a great effect on each individual who takes part in this scheme. Other noble Lords have already spoken about their links with other organisations. I, like other noble Lords, have seen the opportunities that have made a difference to young people through the existing organisations. For my own part, I am closely linked with two of them, one uniformed —the Church Lads and Church Girls Brigade—and the other, now known as Young Leicestershire. Both of these offer opportunities to teenagers and young children and aim to give them greater confidence and develop their skills. Additionally, Young Leicestershire’s clubs give people the chance to meet informally, take part in organised activities within their clubs and their communities, and—more importantly—prepare the young people for a life after school, giving them practical skills in applying for jobs and raising their horizons. While Young Leicestershire is not one of the host organisations, it encourages participation in the scheme and wishes it well. I also wish the scheme well for young people.
In another context, when talking to an air service cadet recently I was impressed when I asked her what the most exciting thing was that had happened to her in the short time that she had been in the service and she said, “My first camp away”. It was the first time that she had been taken from the comfort of her home environment—the camp was not comfortable in the accepted sense—and thrown in with people she had never met. This scheme has a lot to recommend it, and I welcome that.
The Bill extends opportunities to all young people. My concern is that it should not undermine current commitments in which local engagement is already ongoing with local organisations. It would be a great pity if that were to be a consequence of the Bill. I am sure that in Committee we will discuss this aspect in much greater detail.
Other noble Lords have spoken about the recent briefings we have had, and the Local Government Association is very clear in its concerns about the way in which the money is allocated to the scheme because it may well have an impact on its existing funding of local organisations and charities. Money is tight, and those receiving aid locally have to justify their applications for future funding. I am sure the Minister is aware of these challenges and knows that these have to be balanced against the passage and the future of the Bill and of the scheme.
I have a few direct queries for the Minister, some of which have been touched on by others. What happens to teenagers when they complete the programme? Are they given a steer towards other community volunteering schemes or are they just left on their own to find them? At that stage, a steer would be an enormous help.
I turn to the data that are going to be collected. What data are to be held, and how? When and how often are they to be reviewed, and what real purpose do they have? Is it to assess the number of people taking part or the quality of outcome, as was mentioned earlier? How will that success be judged, and by whom? I add my support to the extension of the newer and smaller organisations that might like to take part in the scheme.
I understand that the advertising of the scheme has cost some £8 million. What response has been received and what success do the Government feel they have had? How have they managed to get over the problems of those who are the most difficult to attract, such as those who are deaf and cannot have verbal communications? It is important that we get this right. It would indeed be a great shame if a lot of young people looked at the scheme and thought, “It’s something I’d like to do, but it’s not for me”.
I do a lot of work with schools. Like the noble Lord, Lord Lennie—I was really pleased that he touched on this—I am surprised it has not been suggested that schools would be a very good stepping stone for promoting the scheme. That is something that had not struck me when I was looking at my preparation for my contribution to this debate, but schools and colleges could be a very good source of encouraging people to take part in the scheme.
The scheme has a lot to recommend it. As has been said, volunteering, whether for the young who help others or for those that they help, is a two-way exchange: the younger person gets a much better understanding of other people and of the opportunities that are out there, and the people they work with get great inspiration from the young. I am sure it will have struck other noble Lords that newspapers today constantly highlight where the young are wrong or are not doing the right thing. The scheme is one way in which we can have a much greater engagement with young people and open opportunities to them to understand, to get greater skills and to play a much more active part in their local communities. I look forward to working on the next stages of the Bill and I thank the Minister for promoting it in the House today.
My Lords, there is a lot to support in this Bill. The NCS has shown that it can extend opportunities to young people and that it does give a focus for youth social action. I should remind the House that I am a vice-president of a Local Government Association and say that I am grateful for the advice given to me by Redcar and Cleveland Council on its place-based approach to supporting the National Citizen Service. It is an approach that should be commended, not least their year 11 record of achievement.
In terms of the issues that would benefit from further consideration as the Bill progresses, the first would be that in moving from being a community interest company to a body with a royal charter, I hope the NCS will not see itself as somehow superior to all the other organisations working with young people. It will be important for it to support the wider sector in delivering its and the sector’s objectives, and external scrutiny of how it adds value should become a key part of the assessment of its work. The NCS should see its role as strengthening the progression of young people towards and through the NCS programme. In so doing, it must not weaken the rest of the sector. There is considerable need right across the youth social action sector, and with all ages. The NCS is but one part of that.
I want to say to the Minister that other organisations must not lose out because of the expansion of the NCS, which will consume, as we have heard, some £1 billion of public money by the end of this Parliament. This is at a time of major cuts to local government spending on youth services.
Lines 7 and 8 of the Bill, on page 1, talk about the NCS Trust providing or arranging for the provision of programmes for young people. Can the Minister say whether it should be within its responsibilities to provide programmes, or whether it should always work through other organisations in the youth social action field? My instinct is to suggest that the NCS should be a commissioner of services rather than a deliverer. I would appreciate learning more about the Minister’s thinking on that point.
One of the possible consequences of extending the NCS—we heard about this potential problem earlier—is that it will prefer to commission support from the bigger organisations. Can the Minister confirm that small, subregional and local bodies will not be disadvantaged by the commissioning process?
A number of speakers in this Second Reading have referred to the National Deaf Children’s Society briefing. They pointed out that it will be important to ensure that disabled young people can feel fully part of the scheme. I think we all acknowledge that that involves money. In terms of deaf children, for example, it costs more to provide interpreters or speech-to-text reporting. I wonder whether the NCS Trust might have a formal duty to ensure that funding is available to meet the extra costs of young people needing extra support.
There is then the question of higher quality and provision, which has to be a key objective of the Bill. Can the Minister confirm that there will be full guidance for providers on what constitutes high-quality youth social action? I am aware that there are six published principles—they are valuable—but they will need to be stretched to provide much more robust indicators of what constitutes high quality.
We have heard that the NCS Trust will have a lot of public money to spend. I understand that some £75 million will be spent on advertising over the next four years. How much of that money will go to other organisations to help them to reach young people? For example, £75 million is twice the funding announced through the Youth Investment Fund via the Big Lottery to support schemes in disadvantaged communities across England.
I said earlier that I was grateful to Redcar and Cleveland Council for explaining how it managed its place-based approach to the NCS, which seems a very good way to develop the NCS at local level. Simply providing opportunities for young people to take part is not enough where aspiration and confidence are low and where a young person’s experience of life may be limited—yet the NCS will matter to those young people because it provides a framework to enable their participation and personal development. Equally, the NCS must reach them in the first place. That includes those not in education, employment or training, who, I hope, can be integrated into the programme. There seems to be scope in the Bill for this to be achieved.
The place-based approach includes every secondary school, with the NCS programme embedded in school culture through careers advice, social media, parents’ evenings, school events and school assemblies. Involving those who are hard to reach is central to the place-based approach, which can integrate youth provision at a local level. That is why I think that the NCS will want to work closely with local authorities in pursuing its mission. To succeed, the NCS programme will need to be a highly visible brand embedded within a school’s provision and integrated with youth provision across a local area. That means relying on local leadership—and that, I think, means a key role for local authorities.
It is clear that the Bill will give many more young people opportunities that they otherwise would not have had. They can gain confidence, they can gain social and practical skills; and they can develop a love of volunteering, of helping others, and of passing on knowledge. All of this is to be warmly welcomed.
As the NCS is extended, with the aim now of reaching 300,000 participants a year, it will be important to ensure that the large sums of money put into it are fully scrutinised by the trust and Parliament for the outcomes delivered. Given the increase in scale planned for the NCS, it will be important for it to review the progression of individuals on completion of their NCS involvement. Thus, longitudinal studies for several years could be very beneficial to our understanding of the real outcomes of the expansion of the NCS.
In his introductory remarks, the Minister said that the Bill, through the NCS, would create a unifying force in youth provision. I think that he was right.
My Lords, I do not differ from any of the previous speakers in that I welcome the Bill and congratulate everyone who has been involved with the creation and evolution of the National Citizen Service—it is a truly wonderful thing to behold—but, of course, I will now concentrate on what I would like to change about the Bill. Like the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, and the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, I would like a clear emphasis on quality. What has been done with Ipsos MORI is good of its kind, but it is by no means good enough for an organisation of the size that this will be. We certainly need longitudinal studies; we probably need some isolated bits of randomised controlled trials; and, as the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, said, we certainly need routine monitoring of everyone going through the service, so that we know which providers are doing better than others and have enough information for continuous improvement. That is basic. It is not there at present, or, at least, it is not in the Bill. There ought to be a very clear obligation for it.
Also, as many others have said, there must be something much clearer about collaboration. The NCS will have a central position in the structure of voluntary activities involving the young, but there will be hundreds and thousands of other organisations involved. It is very important that the NCS is constructive, that other organisations are involved in pushing young people in its direction and that it, in turn, helps its alumni to find their way into a life that continues to involve voluntary service.
Both those aspects were highlighted, at least for me, by the announcement in May this year that the National Citizen Service will collaborate with the Careers & Enterprise Company in following up my noble friend Lord Young of Graffham’s idea of an enterprise passport—by the creation of a digital passport to record young people’s achievements beyond exams. I think this is a vital idea and one of which I am a thoroughgoing supporter. To record and promote young people’s experiences and attributes beyond those recorded in academic exams is vital for their interaction with employers. To give value to that and to focus on the need for it and its worth will help both schools and individuals in their lives. However, if the National Citizen Service is involved in this, it will give it an immensely powerful position in the middle of the web of voluntary service. It will be recording every interaction between children and the voluntary sector because they will all be important parts of the passport. It will be involved in quality control. If this passport starts to include large quantities of rubbish, no one will pay attention to it, so it will be the National Citizen Service that is saying to other voluntary bodies, “You are not up to scratch. You have to do this, that or the other to improve before we will include you in the passport”.
I think that that also answers the question raised by the noble Lord, Lord Lennie. Anybody doing this will be intimately involved in all schools. NCS will not need to be promoted to schools. It will be involved in recording what each of their pupils is doing and will be a natural part of a school’s life. That is a positive side of it, but the power that the NCS will have is considerable, and I do not see that reflected in this Bill. How that power should be exercised, its principles and its scope are important things to lay down so that the voluntary sector as a whole can have confidence that as the NCS comes to exercise those powers it will do so in a benign and supportive way.
My Lords, I support the Bill, and am particularly keen that we recognise it for what it is. It is a short Bill with limited scope, focusing primarily on the right organisational structure for the NCS in the future. Using a royal charter ensures the right levels of transparency, accountability and sustainability. Furthermore, NCS will be kept above the mêlée of party politics and, I hope, largely out of the reach of direct control of government.
NCS is a young organisation, of which great things are expected. If I were running the NCS, I would be looking at today’s debate with great interest but also with some trepidation. There may be a temptation to try to review and amend the principles behind the NCS and to add provisions to the Bill. I worry that now may not be the time. Let us look at this from two perspectives—first, the NCS, and secondly, the impact on volunteering. It is beyond doubt that the National Citizen Service has the potential to be a ground-breaking programme offering all our young people of whatever background a valuable experience at a crucial time in their lives. I think we all agree on that.
The NCS’s stated goal is to grow threefold in the next few years. It is a hugely ambitious undertaking—from just under 100,000 young people in the programme to more than 300,000. This is all the more important as quality of experience is essential.
Currently, the remit of the NCS is simple: a short programme, based in the UK, for young people aged 16 or 17—no more, no less. That is absolutely right, for now. The NCS should be allowed to stick to its knitting and focus on growth of high-quality provision, because growing an organisation is exceptionally hard, particularly when that organisation is reliant on relationships with third-party providers. Each successively larger cohort will include an increasing number of young people who are harder and therefore more costly to reach, whether demographically or geographically. Growth will stretch the resources of the NCS, so while it may be tempting to require by statute the NCS to do other things—say, to reflect and represent the broader provision of youth services to people of all ages—there is a danger that we will over-expand the vision. The NCS is a simple concept with a well-defined programme that can and should exist independently of, but collaborating deeply with, large and small providers, in quite a complex marketplace. Simplicity and the ability to be nimble will be essential for growth. We need to let NCS be the NCS, not always but for the time being at least.
I turn to the impact of the NCS on volunteering. For most young people, the teenage years and the years thereafter are times of great change. For some people, a commitment to volunteering and social action is in their DNA, but for many of us it ebbs and flows throughout our lives, as education, work priorities and raising a family allow. Of course, we need a mechanism for sharing social action opportunities, not just for young people but for everybody, but the goal for NCS should be to plant a seed of community and reciprocity, as the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, said and, when the time is right, that seed will germinate and grow. NCS graduates will have the confidence to step up and serve whenever they choose, not because we have told them to do so. The only thing that needs to be right is the conditions for that individual.
While it may seem sensible to promote and measure in great detail the uptake of volunteering immediately on graduation from NCS, that runs the risks of encouraging perverse incentives. The NCS is a window on what is possible, maybe now and maybe in future, but there is nothing worse than being volunteered to volunteer, to feel under pressure to get involved immediately. It is the quickest way in which to extinguish any interest—and, trust me, word of mouth among young people will make sure that the next year’s cohort is well aware of the expectation. So while we and our country expect, we must ensure that the weight of our expectations does not crush the spirit of involvement in our young people now or in future.
I am in favour of scrutinising the Bill—of course we should—but we must resist the temptation to expand it, to load additional obligations on what is a relatively new organisation, focusing necessarily on high-quality growth. We should not confer unreasonable or unwelcome expectations on its graduates. We must allow young people to come to volunteering when it is right for them; it should not be forced. NCS is no quick fix; it will take decades to know whether it has worked—and, for once, we must be content with that.
My Lords, I too welcome and support this Bill, not only because of the impact, actual and potential, on building the confidence and contribution of participants but also for its intention to both formalise and improve the accountability and functioning of the NCS. It may seem obvious for us to support a scheme with such clear aims to encourage young people to engage with their communities and take responsibility for their transformation, and one that claims some positive impact on community cohesion.
It will be very important to ensure good access to the scheme. In his opening speech, the Minister said that NCS is “accessible to everyone” and he went on to remind us that, where needed, the opportunity is delivered at no cost to the participant. However, cost is not the only barrier to participation. Much as I welcome the discretionary waiving of the fee to enable participation, there are other matters to address. I note and welcome the existing record of bringing together people from diverse backgrounds. However, widening participation can be a challenge, for instance, for young people with specific disabilities, from remote areas or from hard-to-reach backgrounds. The challenge increases, of course, as we seek to include more young people.
The Minister described NCS, with some understandable pride, as,
“the fastest-growing youth movement for 100 years”.
There is a risk that this might be heard as implying some sort of competitive approach, which I know the Minister does not intend. What a pity it would be if NCS threatened other valued and good youth organisations, particularly when they sometimes now have reduced funding, fewer volunteer leaders and long waiting lists. Building on the NCS experience, which is a good one as we have heard—but short—is surely critical. If NCS became a stand-alone one-off, what a waste that would be. It would be good if the Minister could help us with evidence of young people moving on to other volunteering and engagement, giving as well as receiving, and the clear intent to enable that.
Finally, but importantly, can the Minister say anything about the role of young people themselves in the ongoing development of NCS? Valuing young people, and encouraging them in their development and contribution to society, are clearly and wonderfully the basis of NCS. Could it not also involve inviting them—not just allowing them—to have a voice in its future? I am glad to welcome and support this Bill and ask the Minister to respond in due course to what I hope the House hears as positive queries which I trust can enhance the National Citizen Service.
My Lords, I also welcome and support the Bill. Of more than 70,000 people who took part in the National Citizen Service this summer, 401 were from Wiltshire: an impressive growth from the 239 who took part in the summer of 2015 and the 137 who took part in the summer of 2014. NCS is already doing a remarkable job, reaching out to young people. Having seen these figures, it comes as no surprise to me that this is the fastest growing youth movement in this country in the past century. In Wiltshire alone, 777 young people have, over the past three years, had the opportunity to challenge themselves and overcome their fears, gained more of the skills they need to get on in life, and engaged with and made a difference to their local communities. NCS does not just benefit the young people it provides for—it also benefits local communities through the activities these young people participate in.
Independent analysis shows that society gets back £3.98 for every £1 of funding we put into this scheme. Over this summer, Wiltshire has really seen the effects that NCS groups have given us: a brand-new allotment at one of our special educational needs schools; a rugby sevens tournament to encourage more young people into sport, following one of the groups’ work with the British Heart Foundation; hours of volunteer support for people in sheltered housing and care homes, and the collection of food and care donations for those people; and fetes, and additional fundraising, in support of the Wiltshire air ambulance—a resource that helps so many people across our county, having already flown nearly 600 missions this year alone.
What is even more remarkable is not just the range of social action that has been delivered across both Wiltshire and the rest of the country, but the fact that these projects are, in the main, designed and led by the young people themselves. The sheer variety of projects delivered shows us that young people really do care about so many different aspects of their communities, and are passionate about making a difference. This is something that we should all be determined to encourage and facilitate.
I am also pleased about the requirement in the charter that the NCS Trust maintain cross-party support. I am proud today that in this House we have managed to provide such support and show our young people that their future is more important than party politics. The requirement of the charter to ensure that equality of access is maintained is equally important. Indeed, the programme as it is now works so well precisely because it includes those from all backgrounds. At a time when our society is so divided on so many big issues, encouraging social integration and mobility for our younger generations is vital to secure a strong future for our country.
However, as the leader of a unitary authority myself, I feel that there are some concerns surrounding local authorities and their role in working with NCS. For it to be truly sustainable it needs to work hand in hand with local authorities, to make sure that it is fully integrated into the local community. I would be grateful if my noble friend Lord Ashton could explain what NCS is doing to make sure that this takes place.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord Ashton for bringing forward this Bill to put National Citizen Service on a permanent statutory footing. NCS is a remarkable success story. It has been rightly described as the fastest growing youth movement of its kind, and has gone from strength to strength since the pilot projects introduced by David Cameron as leader of the Opposition in 2009. It has reached almost 300,000 young people since it was formally launched five years ago in 2011.
NCS is, without a shadow of doubt, changing lives. Independent evaluation has shown its impact. It is helping to reduce anxiety, build confidence and encourage compassion. Most importantly of all, it is breaking down barriers, not just among young people but also among generations and communities.
NCS was, as my noble friend Lord Maude has explained, the very personal vision of the former Prime Minister, David Cameron. I recall him speaking passionately, even before he became leader of the Conservative Party, about his desire to bring teenagers from different backgrounds together, and saying that social cohesion would be enhanced if they worked side by side on projects to help their community. It was the essence of his one-nation approach, and, as he said last week, it is indeed,
“the Big Society in action”.
I am delighted that he has become chairman of the NCS patrons, to ensure that this amazing programme will continue to flourish.
I will admit I was sceptical at the beginning about whether the NCS programme would be successful. The idea depended on young people actively choosing to give up their summer, get out of their comfort zones, meet new people, and do something involving the words “national”, “citizen” and “service”. These three words are not known for their social cachet among teenagers. However, under the inspired leadership of both my noble friend Lord Maude of Horsham and Nick Hurd, when they were both Ministers in the Cabinet Office, the Government decided to take a radical, enlightened approach to the delivery of NCS. They took the view that civil servants sitting in Whitehall were possibly not best placed to connect with the youth of today. Instead, they set up a new social enterprise, the NCS Trust, which operated in a comparatively independent way from government. Stephen Greene, Michael Lynas, Emma Kenny and their amazing team should be justifiably proud of the success of NCS to date.
In my view there are three reasons for the success of the NCS Trust. The first is the independence from government that enabled it to establish support across the political spectrum. Many on the opposition Benches, in both your Lordships’ House and the other place, have witnessed the programme first hand and have built strong relationships with the NCS Trust. I pay particular tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, for his support which was so very important in the early days of NCS. This cross-party support has given us a unique opportunity to put young people first and to put NCS beyond the reach of petty party politics.
Secondly, the NCS Trust has had the flexibility to respond rapidly to feedback on the programme and adapt to change. We know that government, by its very nature, moves slowly and it is often difficult to get things done quickly and effectively. Instead of taking an inordinate amount of time to approve and execute, for example, a post on social media, it takes a matter of minutes in the NCS Trust.
Finally, NCS has had the freedom to attract and retain world-class talent. It needs to appeal to young people to sign up voluntarily and therefore had to build a brand that resonates with them. It has had to develop innovative ways to reach teenagers and communities across the country. The talented individuals employed from all sectors by the NCS Trust have taken NCS to the full-scale programme it is today. It is therefore vital to secure NCS for the long term and ensure that future generations have the chance to take part in this phenomenal programme. We must continue to support the hundreds of local voluntary organisations across the country. They have done an incredible job in delivering a high-quality impressive experience to children for whom it has had an enormous impact and who might otherwise never have had such an opportunity.
My visit to Parliament Hill School was an enlightening experience. School halls buzzed with happy, enthusiastic teenagers who had just returned from their first week away with NCS. They could not wait to tell their stories and had made new friendships that would obviously endure. Seeing first-hand the reality of how we can change people’s lives makes it all the more important to ensure that the Bill creates a proper framework to deliver NCS in the future. I must therefore urge that we consider with care the changes that the Bill introduces. NCS flourished when it was freed from the dead hand of government bureaucracy. We need to protect its independence as far as possible. NCS must be able to operate in an innovative way, attract the right people to run it and not be bogged down in excessive process that makes it unable to respond as quickly and effectively as it has been able to do thus far.
There are some elements of the Bill with which I have concerns. There are a number of extra, and potentially onerous, reporting requirements. The Government’s ability to appoint both the chair and all the non-executive directors—an issue raised by both the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, and my noble friend Lord Maude—could also prove problematic. While I fully appreciate the value of proportionate due process, my experience in government of the public appointments process demonstrated all too often that process trumped good and sensible outcomes. It is vital that NCS continues to attract the excellent and entrepreneurial talent that it has so far managed to do. I also have reservations about an official on the board who will not have gone through an appointments process and will have the ability unilaterally to veto pay arrangements. I hope that any such powers are proportionate and require proper accountability.
I look forward to working with the Minister and other noble Lords in Committee to address any concerns and ensure that the NCS Trust is set up to remain true to its original purpose, be able to adapt quickly and innovatively to new challenges and, ultimately, to become part of the fabric of our nation.
My Lords, it gives me great pleasure to speak in support of this wonderful Bill. I say that because today I will speak to your Lordships not about policy or procedure but about realism, or what it feels like for young people on the ground. It gives me the opportunity to highlight the excellent work being undertaken by the National Citizen Service in my home town of Warrington which, as we have heard, is also happening in many towns up and down this country.
OnSide Warrington Youth Club has been delivering the NCS programme since 2012 and is currently in partnership with Bolton Lads & Girls Club, of which my noble friend Lady Morris of Bolton is president, so we have a common allegiance. Both of these clubs provide a very good service as part of the national provider, the Challenge. Since 2012, more than 1,500 young people have completed the programme in Warrington. Those who are responsible for organising the NCS in Warrington and Bolton tell me that the service provides opportunities for personal growth and development for young people from across both cities. It prides itself on recruiting young people from a wide range of backgrounds. In Warrington, this has provided a platform for young people to form friendships which otherwise would have been unlikely to have been created. It is accessible for all young people aged 16 to 17, and the majority of programmes and funding streams are aimed at working with children, young people and families from areas of deprivation.
NCS organisers recognise that some of the most common issues faced by young people are low confidence and low self-esteem. Over the past four years they have observed many grouchy young people attending day one of the programme with their hood up and their head down and often without with the confidence even to give their name for registration. After the first week of the programme, when they are faced with outdoor pursuits with 14 other young people whom they do not know, they soon become far more confident and look forward to the following week of the programme. What is most wonderful is that at the end of the programme all of the young people take part in a graduation event, which they have never experienced in their young lives. I gave a speech at one of these events; it is most humbling not only to hear the young people speak with confidence of their experience but to see their families look at them for the first time ever with pride in their eyes.
In 2016, 375 young people completed the NCS programme and collectively raised £16,000-plus for a wide range of local causes. Through their social action projects, they had a very positive impact on the lives of local people in their communities. They are helping the communities, and we need to encourage this wherever we go. At OnSide Warrington Youth Club more than 85% of young people who have taken part in the programme have become volunteers and members of staff working with children and young people. This type of activity challenges the many negative portrayals in the media of young people. That is why I wanted to ensure that Warrington became a safer and better place for young people to live and to improve facilities and opportunities through education and life skills.
Such positivity through the NCS has developed and strengthened further links with local businesses. I am delighted to say that this summer 12 businesses had direct input to the programme in Warrington and Bolton. A local engineering company undertook a bridge-building challenge, which tested participants’ ability in communication and in how to plan, negotiate and engineer a project. The feedback from these companies was that it was an absolute pleasure, fun, uplifting, inspiring and—most importantly—humbling. This is just a small snapshot of what NCS does, in partnership with local businesses: directly linking NCS experience to the world of work and creating our entrepreneurs.
I would like to share with your Lordships Jordon’s story in his own words. We are talking about young people, so I would like noble Lords to listen to their voice. Jordon says: “When I was 11, I became a young carer for my mum who has clinical depression and my younger sister who has ADHD and autism. It didn’t leave me with a lot of free time. I used to be really shy and wouldn’t speak to many people. School was so miserable for me; I used to get bullied a lot. I used to get really upset and come home angry every night and argue with my mum and this would lead to me storming out every night. Between being bullied, stress at home and stress at school I was going through a really difficult period. Through this tough period, OnSide Warrington Youth Club was there for me and helped me so much. The staff at the Youth Club were fantastic. I have been coming to the Youth Club since I was 10 years old and have always felt safe and”—most importantly—“supported. They were there for me when I was lonely. They helped me when I struggled. They listened to me when I needed to talk, and they made me laugh when I didn’t want to smile. Whether I wanted a game of football or just to chat, they were always there for me”. Jordon concluded that those running the club should have a pay rise, but that is up to the boss. However, he is proud that Warrington and Bolton are leading the way for young people.
As your Lordships will know, these are subjects very close to my heart. My first community involvement was in response to anti-social behaviour in my local neighbourhood in Warrington. This behaviour ended tragically with my husband losing his life by being beaten to death by a gang of youths. Today, there are still too many people across the country who, day in and day out, suffer the misery of anti-social behaviour. Some of this is the result of youngsters being bored and having low self-esteem and, all too often, few opportunities. These are the very people in Warrington and Bolton to whom the NCS is reaching out.
I ask the Minister to give some assurances as the Bill proceeds. Recruitment is still one of the biggest challenges. Will he ensure that schools and colleges understand the NCS programme and the huge benefits that it has for our young people? The programme needs actively to be promoted to ensure that more young people enjoy the benefits of being recruited to it. Will he ensure that universities, through UCAS, give credits to young people who complete the programme? Will he ensure that employers enable our young people to gain more strength by discussing the NCS in interviews, thereby having a better chance of gaining employment? Finally, will he ensure that the programme is promoted to captains of industry as this would gain more sponsors for the programme and a wider range of activities for youngsters?
I feel sure that when noble Lords find out about the good work that the NCS programme does, they will be as proud as punch of it as I am of OnSide Warrington Youth Club and Bolton Lads & Girls Club. I know that this is a Bill for young people but I want to put on the record that adults help young people through this programme. Many people have supported me and my family in helping to make sure that Warrington is a safer place. While we debate this Bill, I ask noble Lords to recognise the quality of the volunteers and the time they put in to ensure that we provide a safer, healthier environment for young people in our society today.
My Lords, it is a great pleasure and privilege to follow my noble friend’s very moving speech. She speaks with enormous experience, and some very sad experience too, and we should certainly heed what she says.
My noble friend on the Front Bench must be a rather happy man. This is probably a unique day in his parliamentary career: he has introduced a Bill which has been supported by every single speaker, regardless of political allegiance. Although it was painful for the noble Lord, Lord Lennie, to support it, nevertheless he did so with enthusiasm and made a very valuable contribution in the process. I shall not spoil things, because I too will express my support for the Bill. A number of very important points have been made during this debate. I am the final speaker from the Back Benches. I have heard every speech so far and of course I shall stay until the end.
I thought that the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, made a very important point when she asked whether the Bill is ambitious enough. She talked in particular of the refugees who are coming into our country at the moment. Any service like this must reach out to and embrace those who come into our communities, so that they become valuable parts of those communities. I hope that is something that the Minister will reflect on.
I thought that my noble friend Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbots made a very interesting speech. He talked about the shifting pattern of a changing world—a world in which the West will, quite soon, no longer enjoy pre-eminence—and how important it is that our young people should recognise that. He also said that young people should be able to be part of an international endeavour, and he gave some very good examples of that.
I want to concentrate on one thing. The first recall of your Lordships’ House after I had the privilege of joining it at the end of 2010 was in August 2011. Many of your Lordships will remember it vividly. We were recalled because of the appalling riots, in London in particular, in which young people—and they were mostly young people—ran amok and caused enormous damage and great grief and hardship in the process. I raised then, in the emergency session we had, the need for schemes that would teach young people their rights but also their responsibilities and opportunities and that would challenge them to play a more constructive part in the communities and societies of which they were members.
A group of us, from both sides of the House and the Cross Benches, came together, and we had several meetings. I was particularly reminded about this by my noble friend Lady Newlove’s speech a few minutes ago. We were trying to create a citizenship service that would lead to every young person in our country graduating following community service. As a result of a ceremony at which their efforts would be referred to, as they were in the ceremony in Warrington that we heard about so recently, they would feel welcomed into that community at the age of 18 as constructive young adults. I would like to see every young person go through such a citizenship ceremony.
Those who become British subjects have the opportunity of doing that. I had the great pleasure of attending such a ceremony on the terrace of your Lordships’ House a couple of years ago, at which about 30 people, of all ages, came to proclaim their loyalty to their new country and were awarded a certificate. I would like to see every young person in this country go through a similar ceremony that would underline what I call rights, responsibilities and opportunities. Although I appreciate the proposals in this Bill—it is modest to a degree but also ambitious, and that is not a contradiction—I would like to see them built on so that we can move to a situation like that.
In his very perceptive and powerful speech, the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, said that we must not reach too far, too soon or set unrealistic targets. I understand why he made those points, but we could, over a period, try to do what I suggest. The group of us who came together—we had several meetings, including one with my noble friend Lord Nash at the Department for Education—argued that this could and should be done over a period. I commend this to your Lordships. There are, of course, cases where one can overreach, but I do not think this is overreaching.
Several of your Lordships have mentioned that this is above and beyond party politics. The fact it has had such unqualified support from both sides of the House underlines that. We suggested that the ceremonies should become a function of the lieutenancy in each county, where the lord-lieutenant and the deputies would officiate, as they do with the nationality ceremonies. Then it would be above and beyond the party political. I urge that further thought should be given to this.
If there was one aspect of the Bill that caused a little frisson in parts of the House, it was very gently introduced by the noble Baroness, Lady Scott of Needham Market, on the role of HMRC. To envisage HMRC as a cuddly organisation, sending out missives that will bring joy when picked off the doormat of every home in the land—you have to be a mite extra charitable to credit that. When he winds up the debate, my noble friend must at least assure us that they will not be in brown envelopes, they will not be associated with a tax demand to the parents and they will indeed help to spread the good word of this extremely good scheme.
I am delighted to give the scheme my support. We must all recognise that some of us have talked as if it were national in a UK sense. The Bill applies specifically and only to England and Wales. I would like to see it throughout the country, with something very similar in Scotland, I hope. In Northern Ireland, which I know well because I had the honour of chairing the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee in the other place for five years, there is a real need for something like this.
I wish my noble friend well as he pilots this Bill with great dexterity through your Lordships’ House, as I am sure he will. It will then go to another place. I hope by then it will have had the scrutiny that is the hallmark of your Lordships’ parliamentary endeavours.
My Lords, when, halfway through the coalition Government, I found myself translated into being the only Cabinet Office spokesman and Minister in this House, I thought I had better find out a bit about some of the things I would be responsible for. Among other things, I asked if I could visit a National Citizen Service scheme in Bradford, not far from Saltaire, given my initial scepticism about the scheme.
On arrival, the young people running the scheme said, “It’s tremendous to have you here. You’re here for a long afternoon. We’d like you to teach these children how to give a public speech”. After a good two minutes’ panic, I got down to it. By the end of the long afternoon I had persuaded several of them, from their starting positions that they absolutely could not do it, that they could—and they did. I came away thinking that they had gained an extra skill and a bit of extra confidence. The way the course was managed was first class. This was a cross-section of teenagers from all the rough schools in Bradford—there were not very many from the posh schools around, by the way—and I became a strong supporter of the National Citizen Service. I think that all of us who have come across the scheme know that it does something that is very worth while.
Our questions are much more about how it fits into a wider context of what others have been doing and continue to do and how it relates to opportunities that follow—local voluntary organisations and the role of local government and the like. I think that several of us were a little worried when we read the briefing from The Challenge where it said that large-scale provision was the answer, because we want it to be rooted in local communities with local charities and therefore also with local government.
I was also struck by one briefing which said that the scheme sets out to deal with the challenges of social cohesion, social mobility and social engagement. That is a pretty large agenda and this is a pretty modest initiative as part of that. If we are to tackle those huge challenges, we have to implicate the concept of citizenship, which involves ideas of empowerment and political as well as social engagement and starts, as has been mentioned by several noble Lords, with citizenship education in primary and secondary schools. We will therefore want to take advantage of scrutinising this Bill to challenge the Government on these wider questions.
My own perspective comes from my involvement in politics in west and north Yorkshire, from visiting schools in and around Bradford and, above all, from working in the former council estates of Bradford, Leeds, Sheffield and Wakefield, where government funding for local authorities had been cut, often by closer to 40% than to 30%. I have just checked: Bradford is cutting its youth services by 60%, which means closing a lot of the non-statutory youth services. Incidentally, youth services have been cut across the country; it is estimated that in London spending will be cut by 90%—Westminster Council is cutting its spending on youth services completely and setting up a new foundation to encourage voluntary initiatives
In the former council estates of west and north Yorkshire, there is passive alienation. You blame the council and the Government for not doing anything for you. There are lots of troubled families and very little outside engagement. I spent a long afternoon in the middle of August looking at a local, Liberal Democrat-led initiative to mount a summer school for children between primary school and secondary school because the council no longer provides any support for them in that crucial period. There was of course a massive vote for Brexit in those areas. It was a vote against London as much as against Brussels—a vote against political elites and the rich; a vote against all outsiders; in other words, a massive “sod off to the lot of you”.
So this is one initiative that deals with this massive challenge in our divided country. When I first read about it, I thought, “Private Eye would call this the David Cameron Memorial Big Society Trust”. That is a little unfair, but Private Eye always is. When it comes to justifications, we have to ask the Minister how, when the Government are cutting related funding, they can justify funding this; and how it relates to other government and voluntary initiatives such as the Scouts, Guides and City Year UK, and to what schools and local authorities and other local bodies do.
My own involvement in another area of this, as the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson, and others will know, is with partnerships between independent schools and state schools. If one is talking about social cohesion—introducing the socially excluded to the socially exclusive, if you like—that is a very important thing to do. I spent a day with a magnificent scheme in York, led by the Quaker-founded independent schools there, where a number of Saturday schools take place ending in a week camping together in the Lake District for children from different schools in the area. It is a really worthwhile scheme.
Depressingly, in other areas I have been told by independent school heads that their parents resist such schemes because they say, “We pay for our children to come here and why should we allow others whose parents don’t pay to come and share our facilities, let alone our teachers?”. On this point, having been persuaded not to move an amendment to the Charities (Protection and Social Investment) Act, I have got much tougher on the charitable status and obligations of independent schools. That is something that I, the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, and others will not give up on.
I mention in passing that if one wants to reintroduce grammar schools we might raise the question of how that affects social cohesion. I also mention in passing the question of pay, which plays quite a large part in this Bill and is sensitive for all trusts and charities—as the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson, and others will know. My own strong view on this is that acting as a non-executive director of a trust is volunteering for the well to do and should not be remunerated. Perhaps we will come back to that in Committee.
On the wider context of citizenship and social engagement, I got out the Goldsmith report on citizenship of 2008, which deserves not to be forgotten. It talks about citizenship education—as the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, and others did—and longer-term periods of citizen service, allowing for certain diminutions of tuition and other fees for those who undertake that. The issue is out there. It is a question of how far we wish to take it up again.
The report also talks about citizenship education throughout school, an issue that successive Governments have funked over the years. That means political as well as social engagement. Again from my own perspective, the removal of local democracy affects most of our northern cities, in which there are somewhere between 12,000 and 15,000 electors per ward, so that your local councillor is not really local and has no chance of being engaged with the local communities there. That raises large questions about whether we need to reinvent local democracy, urban parish councils and the like. I am also persuaded that a reduction in the voting age to a point where you would begin to vote while still at school is one way to engage people in the political process at an early stage. Clearly, in this deeply divided country we must re-engage people in constructive, democratic politics.
Social engagement is also very important here. I trust the Minister will be able to tell us something about the Government’s thinking on longer terms in the citizen service and whether they are reviewing this whole area. If not, some of us might wish to suggest that there should be a Lord’s committee to review it in the next Session. We very much wish to promote a cross-party approach to all this. If the Government are to fulfil their promise to bring the country together and govern in the interests of all, they have a very broad agenda to follow and a hard task. We on these Benches offer a welcome, but a cautionary one, to the Bill. It is only a small contribution to what this country needs to bring back the concept of citizenship, social engagement and social cohesion.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for his introduction to the Bill and thank the House authorities for arranging matters so that those noble Lords who also serve on the Charities Select Committee have been able to participate in the debate. Their contribution has been very helpful.
What a rich debate it has been, despite being—as one might say—a game of two halves or a debate separated by a new runway. We covered many aspects of volunteering and the contribution that charities and third-sector organisations make to our civic life. I certainly learned a lot about what has been going on out there.
Like many noble Lords, I, too, am grateful to the agencies and charities that have provided briefings and made very helpful suggestions for improvements that might be made to the Bill during its passage through your Lordships’ House. I also thank the Library for its very helpful note about the Bill and its antecedents in the big society.
The Minister said in his introduction that the National Citizen Service Bill is intended to secure the future of the NCS and make the NCS Trust more accountable to Parliament and the public. He said that the Bill, although slim, was large in aspiration. I have to say that the preponderance of comments have pointed out the opportunities missed and the lack of ambition in the Bill to solve problems in the broader area of civic engagement, volunteering and citizenship education. But we are where we are.
In May 2016 the briefing notes for the Queen’s Speech explained that a National Citizen Service Bill would,
“expand National Citizen Service by encouraging thousands more young people to take advantage of the skills building programmes offered”,
that it would be granted a royal charter and that the NCS would,
“benefit from a £1.2 billion cash injection”.
So the organisation is well funded and sufficiently well regarded by government to be given the benefit of the stardust—as I think it was called—of the special protection that can be accorded by a royal charter. I noted, as did a number of noble Lords, the reservations expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson, with which I have great sympathy. I understand where he is coming from. Those of us who have been grappling with the BBC royal charter and the fallout from the Leveson report might well have good reason to pause at this point—but, by and large, it probably is a good thing that we are proceeding down this route.
My noble friend Lord Blunkett and the noble Lord, Lord Maude—who did not need to dress up for this occasion; we are quite capable of doing this in a democratic and open way—raised the independence of the new organisation and whether it would be possible to arrange for the board and chair to be appointed independently of the Government. They wanted the organisation to be not so much at arm’s length but insulated from government. As my noble friend Lord Lennie said, there is concern about the role of the Inland Revenue, whose letters do not always bring good news and may be viewed with suspicion.
I agree with the noble Lord, Lord O’Shaughnessy, that the key point here is the need to ensure that the organisation is both independent and seen to be independent of government; otherwise, as many noble Lords pointed out, it may destroy the possibility that it will become the rite of passage for young people that we all hope it will be. I am sure we will return to this issue in Committee.
A number of noble Lords raised the question of scale. The November 2015 spending review included funding to expand the NCS to deliver up to 300,000 places a year by 2019-20—which, as the noble Baroness, Lady Finn, said, is an ambitious uplift even allowing for the fact that NCS is as much an enabler of other organisations to run their courses as it is a direct provider. Indeed, a number of noble Lords suggested that in future it should concentrate on being an enabler and not a provider—more Channel 4 than BBC, as the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, suggested.
Several noble Lords focused on one of the distinctive aspects of the NCS, which is that it seeks to bring together young people from different backgrounds, to help participants develop greater confidence, self-awareness and responsibility by meeting people they would not ordinarily meet. It is not the only organisation in the UK that does this sort of work but its determination to run mixed geographical and cultural groupings marks it out. I took the feeling across the House to be that the new organisation will have to use all the tricks in the book to do this, combined with what the noble Baroness, Lady Scott of Needham Market, called a relentless focus on those who are disadvantaged and a steely determination to ensure that they participate—not forgetting those with disabilities or those who live in rural settings, who often have their own barriers to participation, as the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Portsmouth reminded us.
The introduction of the Bill gives Parliament and the country an opportunity to reconsider the potential of the title words: “national”, “citizen” and “service”. On “national”, under the Bill the NCS’s funding and current activities are restricted to England, as we were reminded by the noble Lord, Lord Wei. I support him in this. As he said, of course it is right to respect the wishes of the nations of the UK to come up with their own models but it seems strange that more has not been done to seek partner organisations in Scotland, for example, and to give them the carrot of an opportunity to have guaranteed funding and royal charter protection.
Incidentally, I assume that Barnett consequentials flow from the funding that is going into the NCS. Can the Minister help us here and point out where the money is being spent in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland if it is not being spent on the NCS? After all, £1.3 billion is quite a lot of extra cash to be accounted for.
On “citizen”, a number of noble Lords took up my noble friend Lord Blunkett’s plea that the NCS should not and cannot exist in isolation from wider considerations of citizenship. As we have heard, the risk is that citizenship as a curriculum subject is going to disappear. Can the Minister see how this might be resolved in practice? I would be grateful if he could spend some time on this—or perhaps write to us if it takes the input of other departments to do that.
On “service”, it was argued by my noble friend Lady Royall and others that the NCS makes up part of a mosaic of volunteering opportunities for young people. The research done on the pilot cohorts shows that the NCS has had a positive impact on social integration and whets young people’s appetite for further volunteering. So it makes good sense to see the current NCS programmes as a beginning and not an end of opportunities to serve.
This raises the need for proper recognition for all young people who serve by creating a legal status for full-time volunteers, who are—in the eyes of many, and as we were reminded—currently punished for their efforts by an outdated legal set-up that considers them to be NEETs: not in education, employment or training. In America, France and Germany, full-time volunteering has a legal status and engages hundreds of thousands of young people every year. The figures are impressive: 75,000 in America, 45,000 in Germany and, in France, more than 100,000 places a year by 2018. Will the Minister share with us where the Government have got to on this issue, and whether this would be a fruitful line to take up in Committee?
On evaluation and monitoring, we have had reports from NatCen and Ipsos MORI, which have been reviewing and reporting on the pilot and the early rollout of the NCS. It is, however, unfortunate that the Bill has been introduced in the midst of an NAO review of whether the Cabinet Office is achieving value for money in its delivery of NCS. It seems to be rather germane to the issues that we are discussing. It remains to be seen whether the review, due to be published, it says, in winter 2016—it seems like winter now—will be available by the time the Bill goes into Committee in the House of Lords next month. Will the Minister enlighten us on this point?
Can the Minister also comment on the plea made by my noble friend Lord Blunkett and others that the performance measures to be used for this project should be outcome based and not simply raw throughput? If we want this to be a rite of passage for the youth of our country, and to change the way that young people engage with civic society, we have to allow the programme to find its place in the volunteering and civic engagement ecosystem. If we are to be truly ambitious, which the Minister asked us to be, we should allow NCS the space and time to work out what works, and give it the independence, the structure and the resources to do it brilliantly.
We on this side support the idea of the NCS and we will support the Bill. We welcome the work that the NCS has done so far; it has real potential to be part of young people’s journeys into adulthood and a starting point for more active participation in civic society. It could inculcate the habit of volunteering throughout their lives. For this potential to be realised, the social action element of NCS needs to be of consistently high quality and participants should be supported into other volunteering arrangements. The law must be changed to make sure that that is a viable way forward. This must be the focus of the Bill. We support the Bill, but we will—as the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, enjoined us to—give it proper scrutiny in Committee. We look forward to a constructive dialogue with the Government as the Bill progress through your Lordships’ House.
My Lords, I am very grateful to all noble Lords who have contributed from all around the House—and particularly to those noble Lords who took the time to come and see me. I particularly relate to the story of the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, of mild panic before a speech, but I hope that I will overcome that.
It is very pleasing, as my noble friend Lord Cormack mentioned, that virtually universally there was support for the NCS itself. I am grateful for that: the NCS programme has deserved it. I pay tribute to the noble Baroness, Lady Barker—who is not in her place, but explained why—who, in a way, went against the mood of the House and subjected the Bill and the charter to intense scrutiny. I pay tribute to her for doing that, and I hope that I will be able to answer some of those questions when we come back to the Bill in Committee.
I am also grateful for the suggestions on how we might help NCS reach out to people from all backgrounds and for the emphasis on placing NCS in a wider social action journey for young people. As far as amendments are concerned, I am happy to listen to and meet noble Lords to discuss them before Grand Committee if they so wish. I am not going to make any commitments on individual amendments tonight, but I assure the House that we will listen and I will answer as many questions as I can in the time.
NCS does not and should not stand alone. We will continue to support opportunities for young people before NCS. As the National Council for Voluntary Organisations said, NCS can act as a springboard to other opportunities. Last month the Government announced a further £80 million of funding for the youth sector. The initiatives will be jointly delivered by the Government and the Big Lottery Fund, with £40 million going towards the new Youth Investment Fund, targeting disadvantaged communities across England, and an additional £40 million providing continued support for Step Up to Serve’s successful #iwill youth social action campaign.
Within that broad and varied journey, we also see the value in a single unifying rite of passage for young people. NCS is available and affordable. It has a distinct combination of personal development and the chance to mix with people from other backgrounds. I am pleased to say that although the Bill as introduced will apply to England only—my noble friend Lord Wei mentioned this—the Northern Ireland Executive continue to deliver NCS with their own delivery partner, Co-operation Ireland, which has distinct expertise in bringing communities together. We maintain a positive dialogue with the Welsh Assembly Government and the Scottish Government. This Government’s aspiration remains to have NCS available throughout the UK in a way that recognises devolution and the distinct circumstances in different areas.
I shall try to answer some of the points that noble Lords have raised. The noble Baroness, Lady Royall, in what I thought was a very good speech, mentioned recruiting hard-to-reach young people. We agree in principle that it is important that we should continue to do that; NCS exists to promote social cohesion, social engagement and social mobility. The Government are committed to providing a place on NCS to every young person who wants one. One of the trust’s primary functions is to enable participants from different backgrounds to work together in local communities. The charter codified this vital function, making clear its central importance to the trust’s mission.
The noble Baroness and my noble friend Lord Cormack mentioned refugees who come into this country. Anyone who is resident or receiving education in England is welcome. As I said, we are committed to providing a place for those who want it.
My noble friend Lady Byford asked about marketing and how successful it is in reaching the hard to reach. The trust needs freedom to innovate and the space to try new approaches to reach young people, particularly the hardest to reach. For example, it has successfully secured the endorsement of musicians and YouTube video bloggers with a high profile among young people. Incorporating the NCS Trust within the royal charter will position the trust above party politics and retain its operational independence to enable it to do that.
I turn to a subject that many noble Lords mentioned: HMRC, and whether it will reach hard-to-reach groups. I admit that when I first heard of this, the thought of getting a brown envelope from HMRC did not seem exactly the most favourable marketing tool. However, a bit like the noble Baroness, Lady Scott of Needham Market, having had what I would say was a normal view of HMRC I then spent some time as a Treasury Whip defending its very good work. I know that in this case the reason we are doing it is purely that HMRC has the best data available. At the moment the NCS Trust uses commercial data that it has to buy. HMRC data are protected in a special way that means it cannot just hand them over to the NCS Trust to use. So we intend for the NCS Trust to provide its own letter—it will not necessarily even be in a brown envelope—and we will just use HMRC as a postbox to try to reach as many people as possible.
I cannot guarantee that there will not be any enclosures, but I do not think there will be the one that my noble friend is thinking of. It is only one way of reaching young people. Schools, local authorities and direct marketing all play a role.
The noble Baroness, Lady Scott of Needham Market, also talked about the importance of people with disabilities. The trust is currently developing a detailed inclusion strategy to ensure that over the long term there is consistent and high-quality provision for all. Many NCS providers already reach out and offer support to those with disabilities. For example, the largest provider, The Challenge, has worked for the National Deaf Children’s Society. It has adapted the programme for young people and has provided dedicated support workers. Across NCS, young people with special educational needs have personal coaches and one-to-one support workers alongside staff members. However, I acknowledge there is work to do in this area.
Many noble Lords mentioned local authority engagement. The noble Lord, Lord Shipley, for example, was one. We certainly want NCS to be woven into the social fabric of communities and local authorities clearly have a central role to play in this. That is why officials from the DCMS have been engaging with local authority representatives in a series of regional workshops on working with NCS. The ideas generated will feed into national government guidance, setting out how local authorities can promote NCS and maximise the benefits in their area.
The noble Lord, Lord Lennie, and my noble friend Lady Byford asked if we should reconsider the requirement and duty of schools to promote NCS. I do not think we are going to do that. We want to work collaboratively with schools, rather than impose burdens on them. We are working with representatives from schools to develop guidance on working with NCS. I have some personal experience on other Bills before your Lordships’ House of imposing duties on education establishments, and it certainly was not very popular at the time. I fear therefore that we are not going to do that.
As far as whether there should be a duty on the NCS Trust to collaborate with the wider sector, we are certainly ready to discuss that in Committee in detail. At the moment, the NCS Trust partners a broad range of charitable and social enterprise organisations—over 200—which deliver NCS. Young people often develop lasting links with the organisations they work with, making a real impact at grass-roots levels with local community groups. The trust is a part of Generation Change, a group of youth organisations looking to collectively increase the scale, quality and status of youth social action programmes. The trust is committed to helping NCS become a gateway to other programmes and opportunities, helping young people to see volunteering as a habit for a lifetime.
The noble Lord, Lord Shipley, asked whether NCS should just be a commissioner of programmes. As I mentioned, the NCS Trust oversees the delivery and it already works with a supply chain of over 200 regional and local providers. The trust’s job is to shape, support and champion NCS by promoting it to young people across the country. At the moment, however, we want to maintain the flexibility of the NCS Trust to do the job in the way that seems best for it.
My noble friend Lord Wei and the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, asked about small charities and I agree this is a very important consideration because small and medium-sized charities play a vital role in NCS delivery, particularly in hard-to-reach groups, which can be targeted in the groups’ local area. At the moment, some of the bigger providers use smaller charities to do exactly that. The royal charter requires the NCS Trust to ensure equality of access to the programme and have regard to the desirability of promoting social mobility.
The noble Baroness, Lady Royall, asked about pre- and post-NCS and whether we would consider amendments to support and not undermine youth social action groups. I certainly look forward to discussing that with her in Committee. The NCS Trust has expertise specifically in NCS, and I must say that we are cautious about seeing the trust, or indeed the Bill, as a vehicle for everything that the Government will continue to support, as my noble friend Lady Vere mentioned, but I accept that that is a point to be discussed in Committee.
My noble friend Lady Byford also asked what happens after NCS. The NCS provides an online opportunity hub for NCS graduates to help them on their next step. I noted the idea of the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, of enterprise passports, which I will have to consider in further detail.
The noble Baroness, Lady Royall, talked about reporting and asked how many graduates go on to later volunteering. I mentioned that 2013-14 graduates undertook 8 million hours of volunteering. The NCS Trust is focused on the NCS programme, but the Government are committed to support the wider social action journey, and we are keeping it under review.
Many noble Lords talked about a commission or a review, and I thank noble Lords for the suggestion on full-time volunteering. The Government made a manifesto commitment to support social action. We know that there continue to be challenges and obstacles to participation in some forms of social action, and are therefore considering how they can be identified and addressed—the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, also mentioned that.
My noble friend Lord Hodgson talked about the International Citizen Service. We agree that the NCS is an excellent gateway to it—it is for a separate age group, the next age range up. ICS benefits both its participants and the UK’s standing abroad, so we agree with him on that. NCS has a big task ahead of it in getting more people to join, so for the time being we are not ready to commit to an international element, but we recognise that NCS can act as a step towards the ICS.
My noble friend Lord Cormack talked about citizenship ceremonies, which is a long-standing cause of his. The NCS itself culminates in a graduation ceremony with a certificate signed by the Prime Minister, and I invite my noble friend to attend one, but I take on board his wider suggestions, which may not be part of the Bill.
I will answer some of the questions of the noble Baroness, Lady Barker, which are relevant to other noble Lords. She asked why such a large sum is spent on NCS. We will provide funding to deliver the manifesto commitment of a place available for everyone who wants it. The Bill will require the trust to lay its annual accounts and reports before Parliament, to ensure that Parliament can continue to protect value for money for the taxpayer. We make no apologies for what NCS is: it is unique and requires investment of both money and effort, especially in hard-to-reach groups. NCS is successful and a countrywide badge which applies equally from Berwick-upon-Tweed to Billericay. We think it is money well spent and we hope to grow it in a sustainable way.
My noble friend Lord Wei asked probably the most difficult question of the debate: will I guarantee spending post-2020? That is a hard thing to ask a Minister, particularly one who has been in post for only a few weeks. The answer is, obviously, that I cannot bind a future Government, but the Bill goes as far as it can to entrench NCS as an institution.
The noble Baroness, Lady Barker, asked whether the service could be delivered by other organisations. There is no comparative analysis. It is delivered by more than 200 organisations, as I said. The NCS Trust acts as a central commissioning body and promotes the programme. As for comparative analysis, it is difficult to compare it to something similar because this is unique. But, of course, its value for money will be undertaken by the National Audit Office. Accounts are available online, and if anyone cannot find them we will be happy to supply the link. They will continue to be available online.
The noble Baroness, Lady Royall, talked about amending the royal charter, and said there was no consultation. It was published as a Command Paper, giving both Houses the opportunity to scrutinise it and see that it provides for appropriate government oversight on such matters as the appointment of board members and the chair. The charter expresses the Government’s commitment to the independence and permanence of the trust. We believe that the royal charter achieves the right balance between protecting NCS for the future, while allowing its scope to evolve.
I want quickly to talk about one thing which is very important. Many noble Lords have mentioned the growth targets of the NCS Trust. The noble Baroness, Lady Stedman-Scott and the noble Lords, Lord Blunkett and Lord Lennie, asked whether there would be quality in the outcome. We have made the commitment that there will be a place for everyone, but we do not want to put numerical targets before quality. The programme has grown because people value it, and we remain committed to offering this place. We agree that quality is very important and we want to provide a quality place for everyone who wants it. How will that be judged? An annual report will have to be published, and it is specifically mentioned that the quality of the year’s performance has to be reported on.
I am coming to an end and I am sorry that I cannot mention everyone’s points.
I certainly commit to do that for the noble Lord, and to everyone whose questions I have not answered. I will put copies of that letter in the House.
We are at a pivotal moment on NCS. It was tested on a small scale, proved a success and was rolled out more widely, and still proved a success, as the independent evaluations attest. It earned its cross-party support and the Government’s commitment to provide a place for every young person who wants one. Now is the time to cement its place in national life and do all we can to ensure that future generations of young people will benefit. It is time to create a delivery structure for the programme that reflects NCS’s status as an enduring service for young people that is transparent and accountable to Parliament.
I look forward to the Committee stage and working with your Lordships in doing what this House does best: to test the Bill and ensure that its provisions meet those aspirations—aspirations that I think we share. This is our opportunity to create an enduring and effective delivery structure for a programme that has proven qualities—a National Citizen Service that enhances young lives and unites communities. I commend the Bill to the House and invite your Lordships to give the Bill a Second Reading.
Bill read a second time and committed to a Grand Committee.