Committee (1st Day)
My Lords, if there is a Division in the Chamber while we are sitting, this Committee will adjourn as soon as the Division Bells are rung and resume after 10 minutes.
Clause 1: National Citizen Service Trust
1: Clause 1, page 1, line 5, leave out “by Royal Charter”
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Ashton of Hyde; since Second Reading he has been at great pains to discuss with opposition Members some aspects of the Bill. I put on record my thanks to organisations such as the challenge trusts, which have been similarly forthcoming in light of the searching questions that we on these Benches raised on Second Reading. I forgot to declare my interests on Second Reading; I have been a management consultant for over 30 years in the voluntary sector, and have a small consultancy that specialises in charities and voluntary organisations. I have no dealings with this organisation or any people engaged in delivery of the programme, but that experience of looking at voluntary organisations—how they are established, how they work and the trouble that they get into—led me to ask a series of questions on Second Reading about the establishment of this organisation. Those questions remain unanswered and that sets the scene for our more detailed probing this afternoon.
I hope that Members of your Lordships’ House might forgive some of us to whom voluntary sector organisations are deeply fascinating things; it might not be so for them. They should appreciate that the Government are about to invest a billion pounds in this organisation, so it falls to us to do some of the important due diligence that should be done in advance of such a decision.
I went away from Second Reading, read the Minister’s speeches carefully, and listened to and read again the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Maude. I am now even more certain than I was before that the Bill is based on two flawed assumptions. The first is that the National Citizen Service is unique. It is, in that it has had unprecedented support from the Government, but it is not in terms of the young people with whom it works or the benefits that it delivers to them. It is unique only in that its programme is four weeks long. Other organisations work with as large a range of people in the youth sector and do so on an ongoing basis. That assumption right at the beginning is profound, flawed as it is, because all the decisions that flow from it in the Bill are built on that wrong assumption. It is not true that the service is unique and can be delivered only by this organisation.
The second thing, which flows from that, is the statement made by the Minister during the debate on 25 October in cols. 187 and 188: that because the service is “unique”, it is incomparable. That is also wrong. Although the service is of a very tight and specific nature, its outputs and its outcomes for young people can be analysed and compared to those of other organisations. Some of them will be among the 200 organisations which deliver the National Citizen Service. It is therefore possible to look at the work done by this organisation, and its cost-benefits, and compare them.
I submit that that analysis should have been done before the decision to make the current sizeable investment was taken. It certainly should be done before the decision is taken to set this organisation in—to use a word that the Minister used in his speech—“cement” in the life of the nation. Having decided that this organisation should stand alone, the Government now wish to embed it in the most clunky, heavy and difficult-to-change charitable structure that can be found. That puts this organisation in yet another unique situation. Unlike the rest of the voluntary sector, which is having to become more efficient and effective, to collaborate, to draw up strategic alliances and to become much more lithe and nimble all round, this organisation is to be put into a structure which is almost impossible to change. We should therefore have a thoroughgoing look at this. Other Members on these Benches will talk about the effects of being a royal charter body and the extent to which services run through such bodies are extremely difficult to change.
The Minister prayed in aid the fact that to be a royal charter body means that an organisation will have to account annually to Parliament. I put it to him that for an organisation to receive the level of investment proposed for this one full reporting should be required, but it does not necessarily follow that it has to be locked down as would be the case here.
I started out by being sceptical about the need for the NCS to exist as a separate organisation. I remain doubtful that it needs to be a distinct organisation: its service could be provided by any one of a number of organisations. On balance, I would be happy to accept that the Government should be allowed to let it exist as a separate organisation. I see no reason why it should not exist as a community interest company. As such, it would be required to produce a high standard of accounts. I would prefer to see it incorporated as a charity. The challenge trusts are both and therefore subject to a high degree of public accountability.
I really do not see the need to use the structure proposed. I therefore tabled Amendment 1 and the consequential amendments in this group, which would remove the royal charter body status from the organisation while leaving the Government the option to explore other forms of charitable structure which would enable accountability. I beg to move.
My Lords, I have a registered interest as a member of the National Citizen Service Board. In briefly addressing the amendments in my name, I associate myself wholeheartedly with the amendment tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Finn, and the noble Lords, Lord O’Shaughnessy and Lord Maude.
It seems to me that the benefit of having a debate in Committee is to see where we can agree with each other, and I think that many of the amendments have taken on that challenge. There are many improvements that can be made to the way in which the current National Citizen Service is delivered, including greater transparency. It would be quite useful if people would reverse the mirror and say, “Wouldn’t it be a good idea if a lot of organisations receiving substantial public funds also had to comply with many of the precepts laid down in the amendments before us this afternoon?”. In other words, it works both ways.
In some cases, young people have been sceptical about the National Citizen Service, questioning whether it should be embedded—I prefer that term to “cemented” —in our structures. I am keen for organisations that work with these young people to monitor and publish evidence and material about both the impact on the young people and the spread of young people who are reached in the way that is quite rightly being asked of the National Citizen Service. I say “quite rightly” because it receives substantial sums of money. I do not think that it helps for the noble Baroness, Lady Barker, to talk about rolling up money. I used to ask previous Chancellors—not least Gordon Brown—not to do this. When I was at the Department for Education, he had a meeting with me and told me that in the next spending round education would get £19 billion. Unfortunately, it was over three years and was cumulative, and therefore it did not quite have the impact that £19 billion might have done. We are doing the same now with the National Citizen Service.
I want to say why I think that, difficult though it may be to implement the royal charter, it is better than having an NDPB. Making the National Citizen Service a government scheme with, effectively, a government department would be the biggest possible turn-off for young people and would make it extremely difficult for it to have a relationship with the dozens—in fact, scores—of good, professional and effective organisations that constitute the delivery mechanisms at NCS. The noble Baroness, Lady Barker, referred to that but then suggested at the end of her speech that, although she did not oppose retaining NCS, it is an organisation which commissions, monitors and oversees, ensuring quality and consistency, but which in itself is not the delivery mechanism. All the good organisations that many of us in this Committee are associated with are the ones that are delivering.
Those who have at times worked with and spoken to the young people engaged in the National Citizen Service know that, as we said at Second Reading, that is just one part of a much bigger jigsaw in terms of the journey that young people make before they reach the relevant age for National Citizen Service. Also crucial is what happens afterwards with regard to part-time and full-time volunteering options, and the ability of young people to understand what their experience has meant to them, as well as, importantly, what it has been able to deliver for others.
The amendments tabled by the noble Lords I referred to a moment ago help to clarify that the Government cannot have their cake and eat it. If the Government want, understandably, to be engaged in the appointment of the chair, it will be quite inappropriate for a government representative—or, for that matter, an opposition representative—to be on the board. The process should be transparent, independent and open in the way that we seek for many other organisations. Incidentally, regrettably, there has been a drift over the last six years towards a hegemony where even those more transparent methods of recruitment have drifted into departmental pressure and something more than oversight. Many noble Lords on this Committee will be painfully aware of examples that they have come across where pressure has been brought to bear.
We must protect NCS, and its delivery and engagement with young people, from any suggestion that it is a government-operated organisation or subject to government appointments in that way. I hope that by the time we reach Report and Third Reading, we will not have to move amendments that reverse the situation as laid out by the Government at the moment on the issue of the appointments procedure. I also hope that by the time we reach Report we will have some idea about the transition arrangements. Although the Minister did write, as promised, after Second Reading, I do not think we are any clearer as to what the transition arrangements are than we were three weeks ago.
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, declared his interest as a member of the board of the NCS Trust. I declare an interest as the Minister who, with my brilliant colleague Nick Hurd, brought the National Citizen Service into existence, and I hope your Lordships will forgive a certain amount of proprietorial pride in what we created and my very deep concerns. As the Bill takes NCS into the next stage of its existence and what I think we all hope will be a permanent place in the life of this nation—with the important role that is now proven to be the case that NCS can play in creating this rite of passage for young people on the journey from childhood into adulthood—I am concerned that we get this right, so I make no apology for the amendments that I and my noble friends have put down or for supporting other amendments put down by the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett.
I completely agree with what the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, has just said. It is an interesting group of amendments, because they go in opposite directions. Amendments tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Barker, crave more control by the Government, or more scrutiny, oversight and powers to intervene in the management and conduct of the trust. Amendment 16, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson of Balmacara, suggests that there should be a chief executive who is the accounting officer, which would make it look and feel much more like a quango or a government department. The noble Lord is nodding approvingly—he is now shaking his head, although I am not sure at which part. But whatever it is, I do not like it. I do not want the NCS Trust, the body that administers this admittedly very large and growing amount of public money, to be something that looks, feels and behaves like a quango.
We deliberately set the trust up at the outset—frankly, against some of the advice we were given at the time —as a body genuinely independent of the Government. It was not to be without scrutiny by the Government—how could that be the case? As I said to your Lordships at Second Reading, I was the Minister who presided over a programme saving very large amounts of public money, and I do not think I can be accused of being cavalier with the use of public money. But the essence of the NCS Trust was that it should be entrepreneurial and able to innovate, to do things quickly and to be agile rather than being subject to endless scrutiny and endless intervention. It was not to become the kind of arm’s-length body that has a very firm grip by the hand at the end of the arm, which is why I and my noble friends have put down Amendments 14 and 15, which would make it absolutely clear that the NCS Trust board shall be independent of government.
That is not to say that the trust could appoint whoever it likes as chairman or members of the board; that is not what we have in mind. It is clear that it has been the case with the NCS Trust so far that the appointment of the chair and the members of the board have been subject to approval by Ministers. It would not have been possible for Stephen Greene, the brilliant chair of the NCS Trust, to have been appointed without us and indeed the Prime Minister of the day approving his appointment. Things were done a little less formally than is proposed here but, none the less, that was the reality. Your Lordships would expect that to be the case and we expect that to be the case in the way that the arrangements will work in the future. Therefore, it is very important to have a clear, bald statement on the face of the Bill to say that:
“The Board shall be independent of Government, with all appointments subject to fair and open competition”.
On the independence of the trust, it is important to establish from the very beginning that this is not to be an NDPB, which is a clumsy formal word for what we all think of as quangos—quasi-autonomous non-governmental organisations. We have established quite clearly that it is perfectly possible within the nomenclature or the way in which different types of bodies are classified for this, as a very unusual and I would say unique body, not to be classified as an NDPB. That is for all the reasons that the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, set out.
This programme has touched the lives of hundreds of thousands of young people. We hope that over the years and decades ahead it will touch and change the lives of millions more. I cannot stress enough to your Lordships how important it is that this is seen to be not a programme run by the Government. Nothing could kill it more surely and definitively than that.
I agree that my noble friend the Minister and his colleagues want this to be set up in a way that enables there to be proper scrutiny and, as a last resort, the ability to intervene directly—because as a last resort the Government will always have the ability to withdraw the funding from the trust and to set up another administrative body if it goes completely out of kilter. Although I have that sympathy, I urge them to keep in mind and resist the tendency that all of us who have been Ministers have seen at every stage: that is, the desire of the government machine to reach out its hand—its no doubt very caring hand—to control what goes on outside the reach of government. That is of the utmost importance for the future success of this programme.
The programme has already demonstrated a very high degree of success with the young people whose lives it has touched and changed. It has attracted the support of political parties across the spectrum, after quite a high degree of initial scepticism, and huge swathes of voluntary bodies from the youth sector and beyond. It has been very successful but it is a fragile vessel that needs to be treated with great care. Therefore, I urge the Minister and his colleagues to take these amendments away and reflect on the fact that this is the way to give the best chance of success for the future and to guarantee independence, subject to scrutiny and the appointment of the chair being made, as we said, by the Prime Minister or on the recommendation of the Prime Minister to Her Majesty; and with the ability of the Prime Minister to approve appointments to the NCS Trust board for the rest of its membership. We strongly argue that there should not be a nominated government representative on the board, which smacks of having a nark in the camp and could undermine the crucial sense of independence that will make all the difference for the future.
My Lords, I have Amendment 49 in this group. Before turning to it, I have to say that I was underwhelmed by the comments of the noble Baroness, Lady Barker. It seems a shame if we should not be prepared to consider positive ways to deploy the very large sum of money in a programme that is already proving itself successful. She expressed concerns about bodies being squeezed out, and the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, made the point that the National Citizen Service Trust is a delivery operation. The opportunity is therefore for smaller charitable and voluntary groups. I entirely agree with her that there is a danger that they could be squeezed out; we shall be debating that in a series of amendments later on in Committee. The underlying thrust of what is being achieved with the Bill is entirely praiseworthy and we want to make sure that we maintain that. To take some of the details, my noble friend Lord Maude made a very important point about the need for it to be seen as independent of government to give it the best possible way forward.
Where I can be more sympathetic to the noble Baroness, Lady Barker, was in her remarks about the way that royal charter companies operate. They are tied into a very inflexible structure, to return to a point that I made at Second Reading. I understand the need for a royal charter, which would have the stardust in it. It is a great thing to be able to talk about as part of the sales pitch for this operation and will help the delivery groups as well. But all the evidence that I received when I worked in the charity world was that a royal charter makes an organisation very difficult to handle structurally.
Your Lordships can see this in the draft charter that has been tabled. If the Committee turns to the way that it deals with charter amendments at article 15, it can be seen to lay out quite an elaborate procedure for changes to the governing documents. The difficulty put to me before, not apropos of the Bill but of royal charter companies generally, is that most such changes have to be dealt with by the Privy Council, which is not of itself very familiar with this sort of activity. The Privy Council is therefore quite concerned about how it is to happen and what the implications are, so there is a good deal of back and forth—of talking and discussions—before a decision can be reached.
At the end of that, while I understand that the National Citizen Service Trust is not directly a charity, it will have a public benefit objective. The Privy Council will not want to find that it is allowing something to happen that could be done by a charity. It would then go off to talk to the Charity Commission. The whole system would start again, with a further series of questions going back and forth, and it would therefore be a very slow process. The Privy Council does not want to appear on the front page of the tabloids for having allowed something to happen which may of itself be undesirable and, even more importantly, would not have been allowed by the Charity Commission. In my view, if the NCS Trust is to be successful—and along with other noble Lords, I certainly hope that it is—and to go from 58,000 young men and women a year to 300,000, there will be changes to this document. We do not know what or when they will be, or how many there will be, but I suspect that there will be a lot of them.
My Amendment 49 is designed to keep the stardust implied by the royal charter but to simplify the procedures for changing the governing documents. It suggests that changes to the constitution, which is the key governing document, would require the permission of the Charity Commission and the giving of notice to the Privy Council, which could complain and therefore block it by talking to the Charity Commission. That would give the control, the proper parameters, that my noble friend Lord Maude referred to as being desirable. For changes to the by-laws, which are so far not extant but will come into being in due course and which are of a lower order of magnitude and importance in corporate governance, notice is to be given to the Charity Commission and the Privy Council. Again, complaints and objections could be made to stop it if required.
Finally, where the board or trust wished to move administrative matters from a constitution of by-laws, this could be done but again notice would have to be given to the Charity Commission. These changes are designed to provide the balance referred to by other noble Lords and the stardust that a royal charter implies but at the same time to enable the National Citizen Service Trust board to move reasonably quickly and to be flexible—my noble friend Lord Maude talked about the need for it to be flexible. It needs to be able to return to and react to changes. This measure would enable it to do so much quicker than in the structure presently envisaged. I hope that the Government will look favourably on the amendment.
My Lords, I am grateful for the opportunity to speak in this debate and pleased to put my name to the amendments tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, and to Amendment 17 with those of my noble friends Lady Finn and Lord Maude. I thoroughly endorse the comments both of the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, and of my noble friend Lord Maude and their passionate defence of the purpose of the NCS programme and of its independence.
The noble Baroness, Lady Barker, asked whether this is a unique programme—which I think gets to the heart of it. It is true that some of the activities that take place in NCS may be found in a range of other volunteering social action organisations, but there are things that are unique about NCS. The first is the idea of a rite of passage and the ambition that it should be something that every 15 year-old, 16 year-old or 17 year-old goes through as a binding experience that builds into a sense of social cohesion and social mixing, which are inherent to the whole programme. That is not to say that every activity in the programme is unique, but its ambition, its potential scale and the idea that is something that everyone goes through, with an opportunity to mix with others, are unique.
The NCS is not a threat to the sector. Rather, as others have said, it is an enabler of the sector. It is delivered by others. It is a beacon—a sense that the Government take incredibly seriously the idea of social action and are providing a centre of momentum that can push this agenda forwards. The amendments tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Barker, and the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, not just in this group but in others, seem to face in different directions. They give a lower status to the NCS Trust by keeping it as a community interest company but they also add more control, which seems to be the precise opposite of what one would want for it to be a success. It needs to be more independent of government and to have a higher status. That is ultimately what the Bill attempts to do.
Two principles are at stake here: the actual independence of the body and its perceived independence —of course, one feeds the other. The royal charter seems to be a neat way through this. It provides independence as a well as a sense of permanence and, as the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, said, puts the operation of the NCS Trust effectively beyond politics to become something that is seen as a public good and to be supported.
The royal charter sends a strong signal to all stakeholders that NCS is a permanent part of our national landscape, a new British institution that takes that most British of virtues—service to others—and elevates it to the appropriate position. Just as the National Trust might be seen as the protector of historic spaces, NCS can perform a similar role in the development of the nation’s young people.
That is why I absolutely support the amendments on not just the independence of the board but also the appointments process, which my noble friend Lady Finn will talk more about. It relates to this point about the public body, and it is quite right that given the level of state funding involved there is a new regime and greater accountability for the money spent. The clauses that deal with audit and accounts—and indeed appointments, subject, I hope, to some movement from the Minister—would provide the correct level of scrutiny, and of course it will continue to be audited by the National Audit Office and so on.
It is, however, incredibly important that the independence provided by the royal charter is not undermined by the NCS becoming classified, as my noble friend has said, as an NDPB—a quango—which could be a back route into the reassertion of government control. As we have discussed, that is the sure way to kill this thing in the eyes of the people we want to use it. For that reason, the right device is a royal charter. This is not my area of expertise by any means, but the Cabinet Office guidance on the classification of public bodies of various kinds provides for unclassified ALBs—arm’s-length bodies—when they are genuinely unique and unclassifiable, and I think this is genuinely unique. There is, therefore, a spot in the existing landscape that this body could land on. Another organisation with a similar classification is the Churches Conservation Trust—in receipt of public money but clearly carrying out a public good which is beyond the political realm.
In closing, those of us who have put our names to this amendment look to the Minister for his reassurance that the independence that he clearly wants to pursue through the royal charter will not be compromised by bureaucratic consequences of the classification process. It is so important that the fact that it should not be an NDPB is on the face of the Bill.
My Lords, I, too, should declare an interest. I have done most of my politics in places like Bradford, Huddersfield, Leeds and Manchester, particularly in areas where the people who we would now call the left-behind are clustered. That is where I have come across the National Citizen Service and been impressed by what it does. However, I also recognise that it is one useful initiative in places where government funding has been cut by 40% in the last 10 years, and where the state is not at all evident.
My worry—and the reason for all these probing amendments—is that we have here something that the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, rightly called one part of a bigger jigsaw, and that can only be part of a bigger jigsaw. It needs not to be set too permanently in cement. It needs to have the flexibility to become part of a wider strategy, because we desperately need a wider strategy towards those who no longer feel that they are really citizens and part of our society. Other voluntary bodies are working in the same area. Just in the past six months I have visited the York schools partnership between independent schools and local state schools. It is excellent: Saturday extra curriculum throughout the year—including a week in the Lake District—funded by contributions and other sources. In the middle of August I visited a summer school run by local volunteers in north Bradford for children between primary school and secondary school, some of whom are still struggling to read or count. That point, at which children are moving from one area to another, is crucial. The local Tesco provided the food and we managed, with contributions from people like me, to take the children to the Lake District for a week to work together. Some of them had never been that far from their homes.
There is a range of activities run by the Scouts and others; they need to work together. If the National Citizen Service is to expand at speed, as is proposed, it also needs to be locally linked and networked, and not have yet more national organisation imposed on it. The choice of local partners and local providers is important.
We will need to develop a wider strategy and look at how one works the volunteer dimension and how far it can fit into the things that desperately need doing for younger people—not just the 15 to 17 year-olds but all the way through from when children enter nursery school. That needs to be discussed further. I worry a little. The reason why some of us are testing this royal charter is that, when one hears about permanence and cement, one wonders whether this is being put down as a great lump, when there is a huge amount that we need to do. Whatever we think about the outcome of the referendum, the scale of the vote that we saw not just against Brussels but against London, the elite and all the outsiders in these areas shows us that we have a major, long-term underlying problem, to which this is one useful response, but as part of a wider strategy—it is only part of a bigger jigsaw.
I have just a few hesitations from my limited experience in the coalition Government about the total independence of royal charter bodies if appointed by the Prime Minister on the advice of the Cabinet Office. There are occasional, small political interventions at that level. Perhaps I had better not say any more than that, but I have watched it with a degree of interest.
One should not overstate the contribution that NCS alone can make. The noble Lord, Lord O’Shaughnessy, talked about giving it a higher status. If this is to be a rite of passage—almost the rite of passage—we need to do a lot more. We need to do a great deal for those in secondary schools. This is a useful contribution to that, but there is a great deal more that this House might usefully debate—we might even have a sessional committee to investigate it further—because we know that we face a much wider problem.
My Lords, I have put my name to Amendments 14 and 15, in the names of the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, and my noble friends Lord Maude and Lord O’Shaughnessy, and to Amendment 17, also in the names of my noble friends Lord Maude and Lord O’Shaughnessy, which relates to the wording on appointments in the royal charter.
I reiterate that I am completely delighted that the NCS Bill seeks to put the remarkable success story of the National Citizen Service on a statutory footing. I fully support the aim of the Bill to achieve that. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, and my noble friends Lord Maude and Lord O’Shaughnessy that the independence factor is vital. For me, it is absolutely critical that the National Citizen Service is not classed as a non-departmental public body.
This real and perceived independence will give the National Citizen Service a status that is above petty party politics. To imperil that independence would be completely wrong. The NCS must not be seen as an arm of the state. I believe that the royal charter route, which brings a sense of permanence, is the best route to achieve all these aims. Like my noble friend Lord O’Shaughnessy, I believe that the Cabinet Office guidance on this matter—that a publicly funded body can be unclassified if it is genuinely unique and unclassifiable—is the best solution in the case of the National Citizen Service Trust.
Having established that maximum independence with proper government oversight and accountability is essential, I turn to the vexed issue of appointments to the National Citizen Service board. The appointments lie at the heart of the real and perceived independence issues. I do not believe that the NCS Trust should have a formal government or opposition appointee on the board. There are several reasons for that. First, there is a very real conflict of interest. The Secretary of State has a role in regulating both the National Citizen Service and wider civil society. It would therefore be wrong to have the regulator as such sitting as a non-executive member of the board.
Secondly, the accountability and transparency—which necessarily and rightly are greatly increased as a result of the Bill—arguably make the position redundant. While the NCS was a fledgling organisation with no formal basis and in receipt of large sums of government money, it was sensible and proportionate that those sums were subject to some government scrutiny. By having a representative on the board, that vital role was filled. The Bill takes the National Citizen Service to its next stage, and that role is no longer required.
Thirdly, the Prime Minister will now have oversight of the entire board, being responsible for the appointments of the chair and, at present, all the non-executive directors; arguably, that could be subject to approval and agreement on the criteria. As a result, the role of the government representative is neither appropriate nor necessary any longer.
Amendment 17 discusses the appointments as set out in the royal charter. I understand that we cannot change the draft royal charter that the Government have published, but this is a mechanism to try to reflect what we are requesting in Committee, so that the royal charter is amended accordingly. The first appointment is the chairman of the trust,
“on a recommendation from the Prime Minister which results from an appointment process which complies with the requirements set out by the Office of the Commissioner for Public Appointments”.
It is important to bring the Office of the Commissioner for Public Appointments into this process because, if you simply say—as the royal charter currently does—that this will be a,
“fair, open and merit-based competition”,
the definition of “merit” can be open. I have debated it so many times in my six years as a special adviser in government. Who decides on merit? I am all in favour of due process in appointments, but it would not be hugely controversial if I suggested that the appointments process in government had not always been straight- forward or simple, and did not always produce the right outcomes. Indeed, it was remarkable how often the clunky and sometimes incomprehensible process trumped a good outcome.
In government my noble friend Lord Maude, as a Minister in the Cabinet Office, did much with a lot of others to try to simplify the appointments process, and Sir Gerry Grimstone has recently conducted a review that we hope will open it up in a fairer way to many more applicants. We started the process to ensure that many more women applied, with quite big success in government. Sir Gerry recommended that Ministers be at the heart of the appointments process, and set out clear guidance as to how that should be done. Therefore, saying that the chair appointment—the most important—should be a recommendation for the Prime Minister, following the process with a high degree of transparency and scrutiny, will be the best way forward.
On the appointments of the non-executive directors of the National Citizen Service Trust, the recommendation is that they will be made by the Prime Minister on the advice of the chair or with the chair, following open competition. It would be sensible and give a degree of oversight—it would give the chair some independence—if the chair were the one to conduct a competition for the non-executive directors; it should be “fair, open and merit-based”. To allow a degree of government control, the criteria should be agreed by the Prime Minister and subject to her approval.
The last of the three amendments recommends that,
“none of the non-executive members of the NCS Trust shall be a representative of the Government”,
which would be in line with the earlier recommendation that this role is no longer necessary.
Well, my Lords, what a good debate we have had. Possibly most of it could have been said at Second Reading but I think that it gained in acuity by focusing on our series of amendments. I say to the Minister, “If these are your friends, I wish you luck in trying to unscramble where you have got to on this Bill”.
First, let us be clear about the nodding. I was not agreeing; I was simply encouraging a previously hesitant Member of your Lordships’ House to speak on. I hope that it was not misunderstood in any way.
Having dealt with the serious stuff, let us move on. Here, we are debating the question of how to balance independence and accountability—a crucial area. Of course, those things are capable of being interpreted in many ways and I am sure that the Minister has had much advice about what the various modes lead to. I do not think that any of them would have led to the idea that this would not be an NDPB because it was genuinely unique and unclassifiable. I think that that might be a step too far for those who have to advise Ministers on such matters. I think that this is genuinely not a unique institution, and it is certainly not unclassifiable, even though we might wish it to be.
I will start with a problem that comes up from time to time—indeed, we have discussed it in your Lordships’ House on a number of occasions. There are some models here that we might want to look at. If you are looking for genuine independence from government in a body, even though it may be in receipt of government funds, I think that you have to look at the green bank and the rather difficult discussions that we had about how to ensure that it was a truly independent body, although it retained at its heart the mission statement agreed by the Government and for which the Government offered funding. That was done by creating a break between Ministers and the bank by invoking a charitable body which would have the power to hold on to and sustain the mission statement. The Minister might want to look at that to see whether it is a route down which some of the arguments that we have heard today lead us.
If there is a sense abroad, and it is widely bruited, that the NCS is of government, that may well be the kiss of death, as my noble friend Lord Blunkett said; others supported him in that thought. I think that the noble Lord, Lord Maude, said that nothing could kill it more definitely than that. If that is the case then we will obviously have a serious problem. I think that there is another argument—I am sure that the Minister will make it—that if you are going to have a body which has truly national aspirations and which is a rite of passage for all our children and all those who aspire to contribute to our society, then there is some value in having an association, whether a royal charter or some other organisation, which shows that it is given that accolade. I do not think that we can just discount that by saying that independence is inconvenient for a better and more exciting future. There must be a way of brokering that.
I think that more time has to be spent on this issue before we come back to it, but I am pretty confident that it would be a very brave Minister who rejected such a strong coalition of interests as have argued this case today. I am sure that we will see this again on Report.
My Amendments 16 and 41 were predicated on the basis that this was an uncontroversial area, that there would be a royal charter and that there would be an arrangement under which this body would have to become a non-departmental public body. I am simply probing—because that is the nature of what we do in Committee—whether there will be an accounting officer. I think I will hear the response that there will be an accounting officer under this model, should it be approved. The National Audit Office will be the designated auditor, so I think that that follows. I would be grateful if the Minister could confirm that, if I am right and we are in that mode and have an accounting officer, the normal cycle of reports and appearances—if necessary—before the Public Accounts Committee will ensure the sort of scrutiny and accountability that other noble Lords have been seeking.
There is another point that I want to pick up, because I have been in this position before. Where an NDPB has an accounting officer and the PAC makes an inquiry, the Permanent Secretary as the accounting officer of the department responsible answers for the Government’s side of the equation. So there is very tight accountability, and it is a model which I hope we can retain the essences of if it is decided to move down a different route in terms of independence.
I do not want in any sense to be too critical but I think that Amendment 41 is the Kids Company amendment. It suggests that there has to be a strong line of responsibility over and above that which is placed on an accounting officer to ensure that, where there is any sense of financial impropriety or difficulty, the accounting officer is named as the person who will tell the Secretary of State in the—I hope—unlikely circumstances that there is a problem. I look forward to hearing the Minister’s response.
My Lords, can I add something, slightly tongue in cheek? One good reason for the NCS not being an NDPB is that it cannot be abolished under the Public Bodies Act.
My Lords, I am grateful to all noble Lords for their views on this fairly large group of amendments. I hope that we can get through subsequent groups a bit quicker. I apologise for the length of my answers, but this is important because, as my noble friend Lord Maude said, it highlights the opposing views, and we have to try to strike a balance. We have to deal with the maintenance of the entrepreneurialism; we have to look at control, but we want flexibility; we want accountability; we want freedom from government but we want structure that can be sustained. Therefore, it is important that I go through these amendments to try to explain why we have decided on this constitution, if you like, that will strike the balance on those sometimes conflicting views and aims.
In many ways, all the amendments have to do with the governance of this organisation going forward. I start with the amendment from the noble Baroness, Lady Barker, and the noble Lord, Lord Wallace. It is important that we lay out in detail why we think that the royal charter route is the correct one. Having piloted the programme in-house, in 2013 the Government set up the NCS Trust—my noble friend Lord Maude was involved in that—as an independent community interest company to start growing and promoting the programme. The trust had the independence of CIC status to work flexibly, innovatively and with pace. It has grown each year and has created an independent, bold brand for NCS that appeals to young people across the country. We want to retain the impact of this work and help the trust to continue delivering. That is why we want to incorporate it as a public body by royal charter.
A programme of this scale requires a distinct public body to deliver it that is accountable for its performance. For NCS to be a unifying experience, there needs to be consistency. A key strength of NCS is that it physically brings together young people from different areas and backgrounds. Young people bravely leave their friends to take on new experiences. All this needs a central co-ordinating body.
Royal charter status carries certain associations particularly appropriate to NCS. The first is a distance from government, which my noble friends and the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, have mentioned. The point was well made that, as a youth movement, NCS should not seem too close to government. The second is stability. If the nation is to embrace NCS as a rite of passage for the young then they need to be assured that we intend it to endure. The third is neutrality and respectability. The association with the monarch would be a constant reminder that this organisation must act in a manner worthy of a national institution and maintain public trust. The charter will enable the trust to retain operational independence from government. It will serve as the trust’s constitutional document by laying out the primary functions of the trust and how the board will be appointed and governed.
The Bill refers to the NCS Trust as incorporated by royal charter, so the Bill and the charter are inextricably tied. The Bill then makes provision for the trust to be appropriately accountable to Parliament. Removing reference to the royal charter from the Bill would render the Bill as drafted unworkable. We believe that this new legal framework strikes the right balance. It will make the trust more accountable, while ensuring its continuing independence. This will help the trust in its mission to entrench NCS as a rite of passage for young people. The trust is to be the commissioning body for NCS; as a public body, it will be even more important that its arrangement with government is proper and accountable.
That brings me to the two schedules. The royal charter will create a new body, so government needs the ability to transfer the staff, assets and liabilities of the current company to the new one. Without Schedule 1, any transfer to the new body would have to happen manually, through the assignment of contracts and re-employment of staff. The process would not be so efficient and risks being less orderly, so we have Schedule 1 in place to ensure that the Government can oversee a transition that is effectively managed over the right period of time. In talking about transition, I have taken on board the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, and I will see how we can look at this further to inform noble Lords about it. I hope I will not have to resort to the “We will not provide a running commentary” answer, but I will take that back to the department and look at it for him. I am certainly happy to talk to him about it.
Schedule 2 lists the consequential amendments required if the Bill commences. If the NCS Trust is to be a respectable and trusted public body, it is right that the Equality Act, Public Records Act and Freedom of Information Act apply. The noble Baroness, Lady Barker, said the royal charter is “clunky” and impossible to change. However, the opposite is true. I bear the bruises in some ways of the BBC debate, where several noble Lords, particularly from the noble Baroness’s party, said that the trouble with a royal charter is that it is too easy to change. The way that it is put in the royal charter at the moment, and the methods we have for changing it, are pretty straightforward. I will come on to my noble friend Lord Hodgson’s amendment on that in a minute.
I hope that explains our rationale for continuing to use the single central delivery body for the NCS, incorporated by royal charter. We hope this arrangement will allow the NCS Trust to be distinctive and to appeal to young people in increasing numbers, and I hope that the noble Baroness will be able to withdraw her amendment in due course.
The amendments of the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, and of my noble friends Lord Maude, Lady Finn and Lord O’Shaughnessy bring us to the subject of independence. The NCS Trust has great responsibility, as the NCS has touched and will continue to touch hundreds of thousands of young lives, and Parliament will need confidence in the measures that we have to ensure that the NCS is delivered in a way that realises its full potential. There can always be a temptation to add to those measures, and this is a subject that we will return to later. But we must balance necessary oversight with independence and the freedom to get on and do the job, and we think this strikes the right balance.
The royal charter gives the NCS Trust the power to do anything calculated to facilitate, or incidental or conducive to, the carrying out of any of its functions. In practice, much of the trust’s activity will be commissioning, but neither the Bill nor the charter constrain the trust as to how this is done: it has complete operational autonomy. But of course it is taxpayers’ money that is funding these activities, so the public need to have confidence in the leadership of the organisation and, especially, the stewardship of public money. Noble Lords are right, therefore, to emphasise the importance of fair and open competition. The royal charter requires that the chair and board of the NCS Trust must be appointed through,
“fair, open and merit-based competition”,
as my noble friend Lady Finn said. The appointments will be made by the monarch on advice of the Prime Minister following that fair, open and merit-based competition. In this way, the Government have the responsibility to ensure that the process has been conducted to the agreed standard on public appointments. So we are in agreement on this point. Those provisions sit more naturally in the charter, where they are at present, as the main constitutional document of the NCS Trust.
The amendment in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Finn, supported by the noble Lords, Lord Maude and Lord O’Shaughnessy, would have the board appointed by the chair, subject to approval from the Prime Minister. The charter is drafted slightly differently: the chair is responsible for running a fair and open competition and nominating candidates, who go to the Queen for final appointment, on the advice of the Prime Minister. Ultimately, both the amendment and the charter as drafted arrive at the same point: the chair leads the recruitment but with a requirement for government approval. Given that this is a royal charter body, it is appropriate that technically the final appointment is made by the Queen, who will of course act on advice.
The charter also makes provision for a government representative. This is in no way designed to undermine the trust’s autonomy; in fact, quite the opposite. The salaries of public servants funded by the taxpayer are and always have been a sensitive topic. A standard has been set that even highly independent public bodies, such as the national cultural institutions, have to seek either ministerial or Treasury approval for the salaries of staff. In the case of the NCS Trust, we have honoured that principle but with a distinctly more light-touch approach.
Rather than a requirement for direct government approval for individual pay decisions, as is the norm, we have provided only for a government representative on the trust’s board and remuneration committee. This committee, made up of board members, will sign off the overall pay policy of the organisation and not the detail of individual pay awards. That is a critical point: there can and will be no interference with individual pay decisions. The government representative, as a board member, will understand the organisation and its aims and therefore be well informed to play such a role. We do not want government interfering in individual pay decisions unless a proposed salary is higher than that of the Prime Minister. The provision is in the charter rather than the Bill—
It is quite a big responsibility to be a government representative who is given the ability to approve even the remuneration policy on pay. I suggest that the Government are quite rightly not going to intervene unless it is above the Prime Minister’s salary. It is already a reserved right that the chief secretary will have to look at any pay proposals above the prime ministerial salary. I therefore suggest that this is a bit of an onerous requirement on an organisation that should, in theory, be independent of government. I wanted to put that point out there.
The norm in these sorts of organisations is that the Government get involved in individual pay decisions, full stop, so this is a more light-touch proposal. If I am wrong on that—
Unless something dramatic has changed, the Government approve pay decisions only when they are above a certain level. There is a requirement that if it is proposed that someone should be paid above the Prime Minister’s salary, it goes to the chief secretary and the Chancellor for approval. Other than that, I do not believe that there is that kind of level of detailed control.
I take my noble friend’s point. I agree that above a certain level—which is, as my noble friend Lady Finn said, what happens in this case if it goes above the Prime Minister’s salary—it goes to the chief secretary. I think the answer is that we will have to come back to this and make sure that what I have said is correct. We can come back to it on Report, if necessary.
Can I suggest that we try to find a way through on this, rather than having to have a debate and a Division on Report? If we wish to establish and embed a remuneration committee of the NCS board, and if the Government wish to have a representative on that committee, which they could quite easily do rather than being on the board as a whole, we might be able to square this circle.
I am grateful to the noble Lord. As a general point, I agree with him entirely that we want to find a way through all the issues being raised in debate. The point of today is, in a way, to raise these issues, and I certainly commit to us trying, over the next two weeks until Report, to find our way through everything so that we can have a very easy Report stage. We will wait and see; we are only on the first group at the moment, so I will move on.
I turn to the subject of non-departmental public bodies and Amendments 14 and 15 from the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett. The body will be incorporated by royal charter and there is nothing in the Bill to say that it will be incorporated as an NDPB, which is not a legal status but a means of classification used by the Cabinet Office. The Cabinet Office has chosen those particular words to describe a body with certain characteristics, but it may use different words in future. None of this is established in legislation, and there seems little need to define a unique category in the Bill only to say that the trust is not in it. However, I acknowledge that the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, and my noble friend Lord Maude have had rather more experience in government than I, so of course commit to thinking about this before we come back on Report.
The noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, mentioned the accounting officer. I can confirm to him that, in practice, the Government will require the trust to have an accounting officer, as set out in the government guidelines, Managing Public Money. The chief executive will be the accounting officer, as the noble Lord suggested, and will be the person to appear before the Public Accounts Committee. I am not sure about the Permanent Secretary in this arrangement, but I will check and come back to him.
The noble Lord is right that the Bill does not explicitly mention an accounting officer, but we are prepared to think about how that could be clarified. In doing so, we will have to take on my noble friend Lord Maude’s point about how not having an accounting officer is crucial to making the organisation acceptable. I commit to thinking about that and coming back. In practice, there will be an accounting officer: the chief executive.
On the noble Lord’s second amendment in the group, in the case of serious operational or financial issues with the trust’s provider network or staff, the accounting officer would normally be the individual responsible for informing the Government. However, we have left this open in the Bill in case the accounting officer was absent at a precise moment and needed to delegate this function to another officer. If this flexibility were not available, the trust might risk delaying its notification of the Government. As provided for in the Bill, the trust—that is, the members of the board—has that responsibility.
Finally in this group, your Lordships will be relieved to hear, I thank my noble friend Lord Hodgson for tabling his amendment, as we talk again about the functions of the trust and its governance. We entirely agree with the point that the NCS Trust must not be encumbered by excessive regulation. The royal charter and the Bill have been drafted to ensure operational autonomy for the trust, and we must be sure that its governance arrangements complement this intention.
The amendment aims to prevent a cumbersome process for amending the royal charter and clarifies the role of—or inserts a role for—the Charity Commission. However, the NCS Trust, as a royal charter body, will be a public body. This is an essential point. As it is not a charity, it will not be subject to regulation by the Charity Commission at all, and I suggest that the Charity Commission will have no desire to get involved. The charter contains provision for how it may be amended, without any role for the Charity Commission. I hope that my noble friend will be reassured that the existing amendment process is simpler than he fears.
The amendment would also introduce a process for amending by-laws, again with the good intention of streamlining the process. In fact, we have no intention of introducing an extra set of regulations for the body in the form of by-laws. The royal charter gives the trust a broad-ranging power to do anything calculated to facilitate, or incidental or conducive to, the carrying out of any of its functions. It is also expressly given full autonomy over its own procedures. This leaves it with more freedom than if it had further regulation in the form of by-laws.
I know that my noble friend has come across examples of charities that have experienced the cumbersome side of royal charter regulation, but in this case, the body in question is not subject to charity regulation and will be regulated only by the charter and the contents of the Bill. I hope that I have provided sufficient clarification on this point so that all noble Lords will feel able not to press their amendments.
I thank my noble friend for giving way at the end of a rather long and turgid debate. It is not that the Charity Commission wishes to get involved, it is that it will be forced to. The Privy Council is worried that something will be done with a semi-charitable body that will provide a loophole that is available to a royal charter company that is not available to charities generally. I am not asking him to answer the question now, but will his officials look at that between now and Report to be satisfied that the Charity Commission will not, willy-nilly, be pulled in to give its opinion every time the National Citizen Service Trust wants to change the trust?
Of course we will look at that.
My Lords, I thank all noble Lords for their contributions to what was an important testing-out of the Government’s proposals. The Minister spoke helpfully about the tensions in what people had said were important for the National Citizen Service and in their attitudes to it. That is often the case when a charitable voluntary body is set up. What matters is what decisions people take, which are crucial to the body being able to achieve the objectives set for it. Some people were worried about status. I am not bothered about the status of the organisation; much more important is its effectiveness and efficiency in achieving its objective.
It is interesting that the Government have chosen to go down this route. From the long list of priorities that the Minister read out, he cited permanence. I think that the Government have put that above all else and built a structure that starts with permanence and then works through in a different order to other things. There are different ways to achieve a number of points that noble Lords raised. On independence, the noble Baroness, Lady Finn, gave a description of a board of which the Prime Minister had oversight. Well, the Prime Minister has no oversight of the appointment of a charitable board. There are many instances of long-standing charities with a national reach—some of them have royal patronage, the Prince’s Trust being one—where there is no government interference at all, even though there is certainly accountability for public funds. If independence was what the Government really wanted, they would not have gone down this track.
The noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, was right to talk about the National Citizen Service being subject to high standards of scrutiny and accountability. Other charities, because of the way in which their services are commissioned and are open to competition, are even more subject to such standards. I fear that, given the rigidity of the structure envisaged and the permanence that is expected of it, it would be easy for the trust to let standards slip and for those not to be challenged for some considerable time.
I come back to the two points that are of fundamental importance. First, nothing that the service does is unique; it is designed in a unique fashion, but its interactions with young people and the outcomes it achieves for them are not unique—they could be delivered by other organisations. Secondly and most importantly, the service has not been subject to comparative analysis. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, that it is not about rolling up. If any charitable organisation in this country knew today that it could count on having £1 billion-worth of income over the next five years, it would be in a spectacularly unusual position. The Government are asking us to invest that amount of money in what the noble Lord, Lord Maude, called this “fragile vessel”.
We may not have got very far today in seeking the answers that some noble Lords want. I do not want to control the organisation; I want it to be accountable.
When I talked about a fragile vessel, I was not talking about the trust but about the programme and degree of confidence that it has inspired in young people. That is fragile and we must not put it at risk.
I am happy to stand corrected but the rest of us who have compared it with similar organisations would consider it to be a fragile vessel: it has not been going for very long and it has achieved what it has only with exceptional political support. I remain, like the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson, unconvinced that this structure is right. I will, however, go away and look at what the Minister said, particularly about the accounting regulations, which we will come to in more detail later. I beg leave to withdraw—
Before the noble Baroness sits down, we all have questions about the NCS but it is wrong to say that it is “sectional” support. I am here, my noble friend is here: the Labour Party supports the NCS. We are not sectional; we want to see improvements and changes, but we support it.
I am sorry, but I think the noble Baroness may have misheard the word “exceptional”. Perhaps she will agree with me that, cross-party though it is, it has an exceptional level of support. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 1 withdrawn.
2: Clause 1, page 1, line 8, after “England” insert “and Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland”
My Lords, this should not take too long. I appreciate that there is also an amendment here from the noble Lord, Lord Cope, and I look forward to hearing his case for an England-only solution to these issues.
My question was based on page 4 of the Explanatory Notes, which tries to do what many Bills try and fail to do: to explain the difference between its extent and its application, should it become law. That page explains that the Bill extends to England and Wales, but applies only in England. I suspect that that will be an opening for the noble Lord, Lord Cope, to come in on his point. It continues:
“While the Bill includes provisions that are within the legislative competence of the Scottish Parliament, the National Assembly for Wales and the Northern Ireland Assembly, the Bill applies in England only, so no legislative consent motion is being sought in relation to any provision of the Bill”.
I can understand why that is so, but I regret that it is not the aspiration of the Government for what it calls a national citizenship scheme to operate in all parts of the United Kingdom. Failure even to put forward LCOs to the various national Parliaments and Assemblies does seem a rather fragile approach to this, so I would be grateful if the Minister could spell out in his response the ambition for this programme, and reassure us that there is a sensibility within the Government’s intentions to require that the NCS becomes a truly national—in all senses of the word—service. I beg to move.
My Lords, first, I apologise for not taking part in Second Reading, because a Select Committee meeting that I had to attend took place at the same time. I do, however, support the Bill and the NCS.
My Amendment 51 has been grouped here. It is a small amendment that has large implications. It suggests that Clause 13 should state that the Bill extends to England only, instead of to England and Wales. Clause 1 makes absolutely clear that the effects of the Bill are limited to young people from England. The draft royal charter is equally clear and limited in exactly the same way. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, that the benefits of the NCS should be extended in some form to all parts of the United Kingdom. We are, after all, citizens of the UK, not only of England—or wherever else it may be in the noble Lord’s case. I strongly support anything that strengthens the union.
A different Bill would, however, be required to extend these provisions to the other parts of the UK. This Bill—Clause 1 in particular—limits them to England. On the other hand, Clause 13 refers to England and Wales. It is a lawyer’s nonsense—a lawyer’s fiction. It is a deliberate fiction: a lawyer’s fib is embodied in Clause 13. I hope that the Minister will confirm that when the Bill goes to another place, he expects it to be certified by Mr Speaker as an English Bill. I cannot see that any other decision could possibly be made at that stage.
I learned some law a good few years ago in the course of becoming a chartered accountant, and I have been a legislator for something like 40 years, so I know that when lawyers talk about the laws of England, they really mean the law of England and Wales—it is typical English arrogance that that happens, but there it is. We now know that there is “a body of Welsh law”. The Wales Bill, which was discussed again yesterday and a few days previously actually says so in terms. Why is there not also a body of English law, of which this would be part? If Tuesday’s Bill can talk about Welsh law, why cannot Wednesday’s Bill talk about English law?
I do not really expect my noble friend to respond to this great matter today in the way that I would like. However, I would like him to go back to his departmental solicitor and suggest that parliamentary counsel needs to reconsider this point, not only in relation to this Bill but much more widely. They should look out the windows of the parliamentary counsel’s office at the wider world—actually I think if they look out the windows of the office they will see Whitehall, which is not quite the wider world in the way I mean it; unless they look out the other way on to Horse Guards Parade. What is required in this is some common sense. Of course, I have been around long enough to know that common sense is not the same as legal logic.
My Lords, as the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, explained, his amendments would have the effect of giving the new charter body a UK-wide remit, extending the Bill to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. His reason for doing so was an opinion we all share. I can confirm that the Government’s aspirations remain that National Citizen Service should be truly national. We believe that all young people should have the opportunity to go on NCS, and that is a commitment we made. Its offer is unique, as well as complementary to the excellent programmes that I know are already available in Scotland and Wales. But as I know the noble Lord is aware, NCS is a devolved matter so we would not be able, and certainly would not want, to force NCS upon the devolved Administrations. An amendment of this kind would breach the conventions underpinning the devolution settlements unless approved by each devolved Administration by a legislative consent Motion, which he mentioned.
I am pleased to confirm that NCS is already available in Northern Ireland. The UK Government have licensed the NCS intellectual property rights to the Northern Ireland Executive. The programme is delivered on their behalf by Co-operation Ireland, a charity with unique expertise in bringing different communities together in the particular circumstances of Northern Ireland. The arrangement maintains the consistency of the NCS programme but is in keeping with the spirit of devolution. It has worked well, we are wholeheartedly supportive of it and we commend the Northern Ireland Executive for their continued commitment. We have invited the Scottish Government and the Welsh Assembly Government to adopt a similar model so that NCS can remain a devolved matter, perhaps with a distinct Scottish or Welsh stamp, but with the vital elements in place to ensure that it is a consistent offer in all corners of the UK. We remain in dialogue with them. I assure the Committee that we will remain committed to working towards a UK-wide NCS. On that basis, I hope that the noble Lord will be able to withdraw the amendment.
I also thank my noble friend Lord Cope, who I note trained as an accountant; no wonder he was sceptical of lawyers in that way. My noble friend’s amendment would change the extent of the Bill from “England and Wales” to just “England”. He is right that the Bill applies only to England in practice. Under the current drafting, the NCS Trust will operate only in England and HMRC will write only to those with English addresses. However, it is a technical point that England and Wales are one legal jurisdiction. The Bill, if passed by Parliament, would form part of the law of England and Wales even if it applied only to England. That is why the relevant clause is written as it is.
Within this jurisdiction, the Bill restricts the trust’s activities to England. NCS is a devolved matter, so that is entirely appropriate. I would not presume to give advice to Mr Speaker, but it is worth saying that the Bill is not an England-only Bill under the English votes for English laws procedure. That is because certain provisions relate to reserved matters, such as the powers of HMRC and employment law—but that is a different point. Clause 13, on extent, refers to the legal jurisdiction: that is, England and Wales.
I can assure the Committee that on this point the Bill is entirely consistent with others like it; for example, the section of the Housing and Planning Act that deals with social housing in England specifically still has an England and Wales extent. I take the points that have been made and am certainly prepared to go back to the departmental lawyers, but in the meantime I hope that the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw his amendment.
I thank the Minister and the noble Lord, Lord Cope, for their contributions to the debate. When you put down a probing amendment you sometimes do not quite know what will come back, but I was slightly surprised by the range of issues raised in that brief response. For instance, we did not hear the word “Barnett” in the discussion, which is pretty odd, because the Minister cut his teeth in the Treasury in previous years so he should have had the word rammed up him many times. By my calculation, some £15 million will go to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland for Barnett consequentials, which is money that they would not otherwise have received and presumably will spend wisely on matters sufficiently close to the NCS to make sure that it operates effectively in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland—across the whole United Kingdom.
If it is true as the Minister said that HMRC will write only to those with English addresses, which rather reinforces the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Cope, what would happen if somebody like my young self in the remote highlands of Scotland—near Skye, for those of your Lordships who want to know—wanted to apply to do the NCS in England? Would I be refused on the grounds that I was not English or British enough? How very strange. There is perhaps a little more here than we had thought about, but I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 2 withdrawn.
3: Clause 1, page 1, line 9, leave out “different” and insert “all”
My Lords, this group of amendments covers another meaty topic. I am sure that the Committee will be aware that it is the one that has generated the most submissions from those bodies which are directly or indirectly affected by the establishment of the NCS on a statutory basis under a royal charter.
The key element to come out of the submissions is that the unique selling point of the NCS is its social mixing—the noble Lord, Lord O’Shaughnessy, cited that as a main issue in our debate on earlier amendments. A subsidiary concern in the submissions we have received is that there is expertise out there on how to attract and get involved with children who are hard to reach because of their upbringing, background, location or geography. It is a worry for all concerned that sufficient thought may not yet have been given to how the scaling-up of NCS will happen as it becomes more difficult to get the attention of those people who would otherwise miss out.
Our Amendment 3 tries to get at the sense of inclusiveness necessary for the NCS to succeed by suggesting a change in the wording about children to stress a more positive “all” and not a negative “different”, as in the current wording. Amendment 5 would make it a requirement that NCS should seek—and then be judged on whether it has achieved—social integration. That might be a difficult issue to define, but the impetus is important, and it is an important point to bear in mind when the reporting cycle starts.
On the point that I made earlier about hard-to-reach groups, Amendment 7 poses some questions; I should be grateful if the Minister would respond to them. Is he confident that there are credible plans to reach the hard-to-reach groups? Has the current organisation got the expertise to do that and, if not, how will it get it? Have the Government built in additional costs for the greater effort that will have to be expended on the last few per cent, as it were, of the cohort they are trying to reach, because that will be difficult? Are we confident that disabled young people, whether physically or mentally and ambulant or not, are sure that the programme will be for them? Unless it is arranged and presented in an appropriate way for them, it will be difficult to sell. That concern about the disabled came up in a number of submissions that I have received. It might be helpful to have that in the Bill.
I think that many other noble Lords wish to speak to this group, because their amendments go in the same vein but are based much more widely. I look forward to hearing the debate and I beg to move.
My Lords, I shall speak to Amendments 18 and 26 but first, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson of Balmacara, on his amendments. I shall not repeat his arguments but they are very well made and I hope that the Government will agree with them.
I thank a number of organisations, including the National Deaf Children’s Society, the Royal National Institute of Blind People, together with Sense and the Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists for their advice on my two amendments. I hope that the Minister will understand that our aim is constructive, but there is a need to include the amendments in the Bill to give it the necessary statutory force. Amendment 18 would ensure that there are ring-fenced funds made available for which NCS providers may apply to meet the cost of providing the support that disabled young people may require to enable them to participate fully in the scheme. Amendment 26 would put in place regular reporting about the participation of disabled young people. This will enable the NCS Trust, the Government and all those involved in the National Citizen Service to judge the reality of the scheme’s accessibility to individuals.
The Minister may argue that the Equality Act 2010 is sufficient, but I would say two things about that. First, it is not sufficient in providing access to the education system without additional funding. This has been generally recognised by successive Governments in a range of educational areas since 2010. Secondly, the Act provides insufficient protection for disabled people to access services because many organisations simply do not make the “reasonable adjustments” required by law to enable access for individuals to participate. As an example, many deaf young people can find it difficult to access mainstream extracurricular activities which can be vital for their personal development. With the NCS scheme being Government-funded and with £1 billion of public money going to the service, there will be no excuse for failure to ensure that young people with disabilities get equal access to NCS schemes.
On the reporting requirements under Amendment 26, as an example of the problem, the NCS website has few details about the support available for disabled participants. For example, subtitles have not been created for many of its promotional videos and there are no videos in alternative accessible formats such as British Sign Language. The duties of the NCS to act as a leader in support of young people with disabilities are clear, given the level of funding it will have and the responsibilities that the trust will carry.
In conclusion, it cannot be left to NCS providers to meet the cost of any support that disabled young people may require to access the scheme. A considerable proportion of the NCS budget will be spent on marketing the scheme and unless promotional materials are fully accessible to all young people, there will not be high take-up of the scheme by those with a disability. The NCS Trust will have to deliver its responsibilities to those who have a disability. These amendments would mean that, first, a duty would be placed on the NCS Trust to ensure that funding was available to cover the cost of additional support required by an individual and, secondly, an annual report to the Secretary of the State would address the extent to which disabled young people have participated in the scheme. I hope the Minister will be willing to look at these issues carefully. If the Minister feels a meeting might be helpful, I would be happy to take part in that, but I hope that there will be a response by the time the Bill reaches Report.
My Lords, I support Amendments 3, 18 and 26, and start by saying I am confident, given the dealings I have had with NCS and some of its providers, that it is absolutely committed to inclusion in its widest sense. The briefing to which my noble friend Lord Shipley referred suggests that some of the extra costs of including disabled people are perhaps not being entirely recognised. That is something we need to make sure is put right, as there are two potentially worrying outcomes: first, that there will be reduced participation by people with disabilities, and secondly, that providers will suffer if they have to carry extra costs in the way that my noble friend described. We heard about one particular sort of disability, but it is easy to imagine that there would be all sorts of extra costs.
We have to be careful about not creating a perverse incentive. It would be ironic if a local provider was very successful at dealing with the particular challenges of some disabilities and then found itself financially disadvantaged for being able to successfully recruit more from that group. We need something about recognising the costs and ensuring that they are met.
The provision for regular reporting is absolutely key. I am sure the NCS is monitoring this, and will continue to monitor it, as it would be a key part of its own performance, but there is a transparency issue. It should be reporting on what it is finding out about its own performance with regard to inclusion generally and disability in particular. That will help it to improve and see where it is perhaps falling down, and help Parliament and the outside world in judging how well the NCS is doing. This is not all negative. It is going to be tempting for some organisations to benchmark their costs against NCS and say, “Oh well, we are providing this much more cheaply”, but if NCS is working with harder-to-reach people with disabilities, and its costs are higher, it is in its interest to report that.
I wish to make two unrelated points about exclusion. First, we must always caution against models which assume that young people live in functional families where their parents do everything to support them, including for example paying the £50 and that sort of thing. It is absolutely key that, however this is delivered, it is possible for young people to access it without necessarily having to rely on parents who are supportive or even there and interested. There is a danger of imposing our model of parenthood on other people.
Finally, one group that probably needs this help more than any other but will need extra assistance is the very many young people who are carers. They lead very difficult and challenging lives, and the opportunity to get out from their caring responsibilities to be able to do something in a normal way with other young people is key. But there is no doubt they will need extra help, as if they are not there to care, someone else needs to do it. That is something that we should all recognise, and they certainly should not be disadvantaged for the role that they play.
My Lords, I support fully what the noble Baroness has just said, especially in relation to young carers. I support the amendments tabled by my noble friend Lord Stevenson and all the amendments in this group. Where young people with disabilities are concerned, it is absolutely right that it should not be up to the providers to deliver the extra money; it should be up to the NCS, and a way has to be found for that to happen. Like the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, I do not think that the Equality Act 2010—although it is a splendid Act—provides the necessary underpinning. Something extra is needed in the Bill.
I know that social inclusion is at the heart of the NCS but at present there is nothing in the Bill about hard-to-reach people or people with disabilities. There has to be something in the Bill in that respect. As has already been said, the NCS is doing some terrific things. It wrote to me about some pilots that it has in Redcar, for example, where it developed a joint programme of work with Redcar & Cleveland Borough Council precisely to increase recruitment among the hardest-to-reach. That is fantastic. The NCS is doing that now, and we need something on the face of the Bill to ensure that, as it grows and becomes more successful, the NCS continues in that way. I would not feel confident if that were not set out in the Bill.
Noble Lords will recall that at Second Reading I raised the issue of refugees. The Minister said that the Government,
“are committed to providing a place for those who want it”.—[Official Report, 25/10/16; col. 184.]
I know from a letter that I have had from the NCS that it is working with local authorities to try to ensure that refugees are able to participate in the programme when they wish to. However, I would like the Minister to say something on the record about the NCS doing everything it can, where appropriate, to assist with refugees. This is all about social inclusion and healing divisions in our society.
With regard to my Amendment 35, the noble Baroness made the case for the annual report to refer to disabilities. I think it is equally important to have something in the annual report concerning hard-to-reach people. This is not a negative at all; it is a positive. I think that there are people who are still sceptical about the way in which the NCS is working to ensure social integration and social inclusion, and I believe that including such a reference so that it is visible and transparent in the annual report will increase trust in the NCS.
My Lords, I support the noble Lords who have tabled these amendments and I should like to reinforce one or two things that have been said. The issue of young carers is a subject very close to my heart. At Second Reading I mentioned that I was connected to Young Leicestershire. One of its clubs aims to give carers a chance to be something other than a carer for a short time each week. I am not really interested in whether the wording is right—I hope that noble Lords will forgive me if it sounds rude to say that—but the thrust of what we are trying to achieve here is enormously important.
On accessibility for the hard to reach, I have received a lot of correspondence from different groups concerned about how this will happen in practice. It sounds odd but perhaps I may put on a rurality hat. One of the big challenges is knowing how to provide the sort of service that we want for people who have to travel many miles to achieve anything. I realised when I sat down at Second Reading that I had not mentioned rurality. Obviously it is easier to get to bigger numbers of people when they live close together than it is to reach people in very rural areas. Some of the carers and young people out there who are doing a wonderful job incur additional costs in travelling to take part in such schemes.
I am very anxious that this scheme should work really well and that we should do as much as we possibly can to ensure that the hard-to-reach are reached, but with it will come extra costs, as was said earlier by other noble Lords. A challenge it is, but not one that we cannot overcome. As the Bill stands, however, it does not clarify it. A few extra words might well resolve some of the concerns felt by other groups out there.
My Lords, I am grateful to all noble Lords who have contributed to debate on this important part of the Bill.
I start by addressing the question of the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, in the previous group, and the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, about refugees. The Bill is clear: you are eligible for a place on the programme if you are resident in England or receive education or training there. That brings me to refugees, who are welcome on the NCS. Guidance has been circulated among charities on making NCS available to them.
I am grateful to the noble Baronesses, Lady Scott, Lady Barker and Lady Royall, and the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, who have spoken about an aim that is at the heart of the NCS: that it must be accessible to all. If it is not, it is simply not NCS. It must be available to any young person who wants a place. The royal charter stipulates that the trust must ensure “equality of access” to the programme: that is a clear requirement that can never be watered down. The NCS Trust will need to take all reasonable steps to meet that obligation and to report every year on the extent to which participants from different backgrounds have taken part. This means demonstrating that individuals from varying circumstances have come together in NCS groups, and I commit to noble Lords that this will include individuals with disabilities. NCS is a universal offer, and the trust must report on how it has made this a reality. I confirm, therefore, that we want to ensure that there is a place on National Citizen Service for every young person who wants one. We are currently working closely with the NCS Trust to ensure that it is fully accessible. The trust is currently developing a detailed inclusion strategy to ensure that over the longer term there is consistent and high quality for all.
Already, many NCS providers reach out and offer support to those with disabilities. For example, the largest provider, The Challenge, has worked with the National Deaf Children’s Society and adapted the programme for young people, including providing dedicated support workers. Across NCS, young people with special educational needs have personal coaches and one-to-one support workers alongside staff members. That brings us to the question of resources. It is the trust’s job to ensure that providers can make the programme accessible to all young people. Providers can work with the trust to access more resource. The Bill puts the requirement to make NCS accessible to all firmly in the charter.
The Government mean to take seriously their duty to hold the trust to account for meeting these requirements. If they do not, they have Parliament to answer to. The Government must provide the trust with the means of fulfilling its legal duty on this point: sufficient funding to allow people with disabilities to take part. That is why the Bill also enables the trust to deliver the programme to individuals as young as 15 and as old as 24. While the core demographic for NCS is 16 to 17 year-olds, this ensures that providers can be flexible for those with additional needs, such as people with disabilities. Clause 3 provides for the Government to fund the NCS Trust. The grant agreements drawn up between the trust and the Government will specify particular requirements on an evolving basis. We can assure the Committee that the trust will continue to work flexibly to provide any reasonable additional resource or support that a provider may require to deliver the programme.
Turning to reporting, the Bill requires the trust to report on how far it has met its strategic priorities, including the requirement to ensure that the programme is accessible to people of all backgrounds. There is an additional specific requirement to report on the extent to which people from different backgrounds have worked together. We have not listed all the specific categories we intend to cover, but people with disabilities is one of them. If we mention one category, we should list all of them, and that is unnecessary detail for the Bill.
The noble Lord, Lord Shipley, and the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, mentioned the Equality Act. They are right that the Bill will make the NCS Trust subject to the Act. It includes far-reaching duties to consider the need to advance equality of opportunity between people with a protected characteristic and persons without that characteristic, which of course includes disability.
I note that both noble Lords expressed worries about the limitations of the Act, and of course I will go back and look carefully at what they said, but that is in addition to what I said before about it being available to all, which is in the charter.
The noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, would add to the functions of the trust to foster social integration and have special provision for the hardest-to-reach groups. The more complete list of the trust’s functions is included in the royal charter. These include an objective,
“to promote social cohesion by ensuring equality of access to the programmes by participants regardless of their background or circumstances”.
I hope that the noble Lord agrees that that covers both those points. To ensure equality of access, those with additional needs will in some cases require special provision.
His other amendment would change the requirement to enable participants from “different” backgrounds to work together to participants from “all” backgrounds. I think in this clause “different” backgrounds carries the stronger meaning. Although we want the programme as a whole to cater to all backgrounds, in each individual group we want a mix of different backgrounds.
The noble Lord asked how we expect the NCS programme successfully to achieve that in future and how successfully it brings people from different backgrounds together. Last year, 17% of summer participants were eligible for free school meals, compared with 8% of young people of the same age in the general population; and 30% were from black, mixed, or Asian backgrounds, compared with 19% of the general population. We think that the NCS Trust is doing quite well at the moment, but we certainly expect it to continue with plans in that area.
Perhaps the Minister could clarify the point about equality of access being an objective of the Bill. It clearly is, but the draft royal charter which accompanies the Bill makes no specific reference to young people with disabilities, which is the objective of my Amendments 18 and 26. Article 3.4.a refers to an objective of the trust as ensuring equality of access regardless of background or circumstances, and that can indeed be interpreted as including young people with disabilities, among many, but the amendments strengthen the accountability of the NCS Trust in this respect.
The charter says that the programme is available to all regardless of background, and “all” obviously includes people with disabilities.
My Lords, I just want to come back to the issue of reporting. Of course the Minister is right to say that the Bill mentions the extent to which participants from different backgrounds will work together in these programmes. I understand what he is saying: that it is very difficult if you list this group and that group—who is out? It is precisely because the raison d’être of the Bill is to ensure that everybody is included—it is all about social inclusion— that it would really help the NCS and inspire trust in it if, for example, the Bill mentioned reporting in relation to people with disabilities and the hard-to-reach, because those are the two things that are most criticised about the NCS. I do not know whether this is the right place, but somewhere in the Bill, I would like disabled people and the hard-to-reach to be mentioned. I just put that into the atmosphere and I would love it if the Minister’s team could look to see whether it could be inserted somewhere in the Bill.
I certainly commit to having a look at it.
Soft-hearted to the end—it is wonderful. I thank all noble Lords who have spoken in support of my amendments and for making additional points which extend the case that is being made here. Those concerning young carers and rurality were particularly good and need to be thought about. I think the Minister is right: you cannot list every area where you would like action, but this group of amendments, and indeed the whole tenor of this debate, is about the need for signals that send the secure message to people that this is something that they could and should enjoy and from which they would benefit.
There also needs to be a message that there will be sanctions if, for some reason, the outturns are not as good as they should be. I felt that the noble Lord’s figures—although they obviously need to be thought about in the round and are a trajectory, not a fixed point—were a bit disappointing in what one might hope to see in a fully-fledged NCS. I know that we are not at that level; nevertheless, it is beginning to acquire scale, and it would be nice to think that the issues signalled in this debate were being picked up. The underlying feeling that I have is that the sanctions are probably in the Equality Act 2010 but that the signals are not yet sufficiently embedded. There may be a case for looking at either the royal charter or the statute, or both, to make sure that the best possible attempt at including them has been made.
The worst thing that could happen in the rush to scale up would be that the target was insufficient. That would happen in particular if there were a drive towards a numeric target, which I think we have talked about before. A target of 300,000 is not sufficient. It may be necessary to scale up, but that will not be achieved if the 300,000 people are all able-bodied, white and from well-established educational institutions. We are not saying that that will be the case, but there is an issue here that needs a more felicitous approach.
I hope that the Government will reflect on this issue; the Minister seemed to say that he would. This seems a sensible addition to the Bill, even if the wording is not right, and another meeting about it might be the appropriate way forward. With that, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 3 withdrawn.
4: Clause 1, page 1, line 11, after “society” insert “in Great Britain or overseas”
My Lords, the word “aspiration” has been used—the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, used it, as did the Minister—and this is another aspirational amendment. It would make a simple change to provide for the activities of the National Citizen Service to benefit society,
“in Great Britain or overseas”,
and it is the “or overseas” that I want to focus on. I make it clear at this stage that my amendment is permissive and not prescriptive. It does not require the Government or the NCS to do anything now; it just enables something to happen in the future. Therefore, it is not “requiring”; it is purely enabling.
In my view, the possibility of developing an international perspective increases one of the attractions of the NCS and, indeed, I think it will be particularly attractive to the more adventurous sort of people who participate in the NCS. It will be a shame if, by limiting it to just a UK view—and the Bill will not be changed again—we do not have the option of giving it a slightly wider canvas in the future.
As I explained at Second Reading, the International Citizen Service—the ICS—already exists. I explained to the House at Second Reading that I have had the privilege of going to Tanzania and seeing it in operation. Slightly alarmingly, they kept referring to the ICS as ISIS. I thought, “What’s happening? Am I in the right room or should I leave quickly?”. However, ICS has operated in Tanzania for a number of years, with 140 to 160 young UK men and women going out there. I met a group of about 40 young Tanzanians and very impressive they were too. They greatly valued their involvement and links with the UK volunteers. Through social media they were sharing experiences and building links between this country and Tanzania. One or two of them were particularly impressive. A young woman in a hijab from Zanzibar, which is 98% Muslim, sought me out particularly to say that it was really good to have somebody from the UK of my age and background facing the troubles that she was facing. She said she was able to realise that people around the rest of the world were thinking about what they were trying to do and prepared to encourage and help them, making them think that they were part of a wider community when things in that country were not always going as well as they might.
In my view, the UK is going to need all the friends it can get in the years ahead. This is not a Brexit speech but a tectonic plate speech. It is about the relative power of the US, China and India, which will shift dramatically over the next 25 or 50 years. ICS, if it is built into NCS, would give us a chance to develop friends overseas and find them growing into positions of influence and power in different countries around the world. Some of the 40 or so young men and women who I saw in Tanzania will clearly rise to the top of that society, and what happens in Tanzania will clearly happen in the other countries where ICS takes place.
When my noble friend comes to reply—I can of course look over his shoulder at the notes that have been written for him by his officials—he will say, “I don’t oppose International Citizen Service; it just shouldn’t be part of National Citizen Service because, inter alia, it is designed for people still at school”. That is all very well but the Bill, as we see in Clause 1(2)(a), refers to people,
“under the age of 25”,
which obviously takes it straight into the chronological bracket of the International Citizen Service. Leaving that aside, other noble Lords have referred to the briefings we have had from the NCVO and other groups about how NCS should be a first step in a journey—a piece in a jigsaw which encourages and leads on to a lifetime of civic involvement. I would argue strongly that building an international piece into our National Citizen Service would provide another potential step, or another potential piece in that jigsaw.
With this amendment, I seek only to include the possibility of an international bit in the NCS Bill because this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. When the Bill has gone through, our chance of being able to introduce an international element will be gone for ever. This bus will not come round again. I therefore seek this because it fits with the aspirational nature of NCS, because the age range allowed for in the Bill would certainly encompass an ICS component and because it would represent a further step in trying to create a way whereby people became involved in voluntary groups throughout their lives. Last but not least, it would be very good for the reputation of this country. It would build our soft power and reputation around the world over a period when the world is changing fast and we will need all the help and influence we can get. I beg to move.
My Lords, I do not oppose an International Citizen Service—my noble friend really was looking over my shoulder. But seriously, I thank my noble friend for his points on the potential of international volunteering. We agree that it opens minds and enhances the UK’s reputation abroad. I shall be brief because we need to make progress.
We support International Citizen Service. I am pleased to say that the UK Government are committed to tripling the size of the ICS programme during this Parliament and are working with VSO to deliver that, which means that more than 32,000 volunteers will complete placements during this Parliament. I am in complete agreement with my noble friend on that but I am afraid that I do not agree that the NCS is the place to do it. It does not malign the NCS to say that it does not have the expertise or reach. We are talking about and have been debating where NCS is going to go, how it should be accountable, how it should be controlled and how it should remain flexible. I am afraid we do not agree that to add this extra burden to it is a good thing at this time. On a positive note, however, there are already strong links between the NCS and the ICS. The ICS is already offered as a next step for NCS graduates, who are guaranteed an interview to take part in ICS if they apply when they become eligible.
As for my noble friend’s point about the age group, of course the age group in the Bill includes up to 24 year-olds, but that is simply to allow people who are outside the core group of 16 and 17 year-olds to have access to the programme if they have disabilities or particular circumstances at home. I am afraid that he is hanging too much on that allowance.
To be very brief, we want to make NCS a rite of passage for the young people of this country. This Bill, and the delivery arrangements that it creates, has that intention in mind. It would not be feasible for ICS to operate on this scale, and so the Bill focuses on NCS. I hope my noble friend will take some encouragement from the increased commitment we have made to international volunteering programmes, because we agree with him that they are important. I hope he will feel able to withdraw his amendment tonight.
I am grateful to my noble friend for his answer and glad that I was able to read his notes so clearly over his shoulder. He will understand that I am very disappointed by his somewhat peremptory dismissal of this concept. International Citizen Service is run through DfID and has no statutory protection at all. If this Government or another Government, or a Secretary of State, were to change their mind and say that we will not have International Citizen Service any more and put the aid budget into something else, it would be gone. One great argument for NCS, which I entirely support, is that it makes sure that it is there for the long term. ICS may be there for the long term, but you cannot be certain of it in the way that we are clear about NCS—that is what we have this Bill for.
I will not delay the Committee any longer—because the Whip will turn around to look at me in a second or two—except to say something about the argument that NCS does not have the reach. As we have been discussing, NCS is going to use voluntary groups to reach out and find the people. The way that ICS recruits are found is by VSO reaching out—beating the bushes—to find young men and women to come forward who would like to do ICS. The process that we are using for NCS, and which will be increasing, is paralleled already by what is going on in ICS. So I do not accept the argument that NCS does not have the reach. I think it is a shame that, as a country, we are not going to use this opportunity to build our reputation. However, it is too long an argument to have out today. I am disappointed by what the Minister has said. I will read carefully what he said, but I may wish to bring this matter back at a later stage.
I say to my noble friend that my response was not meant to be peremptory or discourteous; I was just trying to be quick.
I can tell my noble friend that I was not offended by him in the least. I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.
Amendment 4 withdrawn.
Amendments 5 to 8 not moved.
9: Clause 1, page 1, line 18, at end insert—
“( ) to secure the provision to participants of online, authenticatable evidence of the programme that they have participated in and of the experiences that it offered.”
My Lords, the Careers & Enterprise Company announced in May that it was in negotiations with the National Citizen Service to develop together my noble friend Lord Young of Graffham’s enterprise passport. This is not evidently absolutely central to what the National Citizen Service does but to my mind sits extremely well with it, and is something of immense importance to England and English education. This amendment is merely intended to give that agreement and proposal a place in the Bill, or at least, if the Minister will say it, a clear place in the intentions of the Government when it comes to funding the National Citizen Service, so that we can all be sure that these negotiations can go ahead and not be derailed by someone saying, “We have just had a Bill through Parliament and no one ever mentioned it”. I beg to move.
My Lords, Amendment 10 is in my name and those of the noble Baronesses, Lady Barker and Lady Scott, for whose signatures I am grateful. As is well known, I fully support the NCS programme, which represents an important rite of passage and will make a great contribution to social cohesion, social engagement and social mobility.
However, we must never forget that it is just a part, albeit an important one, of the tapestry of other voluntary activities through which our young people can develop, hence this amendment. The amendment would enshrine a third purpose for the NCS Trust alongside providing and promoting the NCS programme. It would establish a duty on the trust to ensure that its presence made a positive contribution to the sector, enabling a coherent journey of youth social action providers—a journey about which we said much at Second Reading and on which we all agree.
The amendment would mean that the significant public funding committed to NCS would help all parts of the sector rise together and enable it to support existing provision where doing so furthered the trust’s other stated aims, avoiding any situation whereby the trust’s actions or payment-by-results model systemically undermined existing provision.
I declare an interest as a member of the advisory council of Step Up To Serve, which is the umbrella organisation for increasing and encouraging volunteering from the age of 10 to the age of 20, and as a member of the board of trustees for City Year, a charity that transforms lives by placing young adults in schools that could benefit from extracurricular activity and peer support. Opportunities such as City Year and the ICS are exactly those that we hope would be taken up by the alumni of NCS—as I am sure they will—so that they might use their new-found skills and confidence to continue making a difference for others.
I am going to be a bit naughty here, but noble Lords will recall that at Second Reading I spoke about a year of service and called on the Government to establish legal status for full-time volunteers in the UK. I will not rehearse those arguments, but ask the Minister when and whether the Government will make further information available about a review of or a commission on full-time volunteering. I well understand that the wheels of government turn slow, but it is time for a signal from the Government that an announcement will be made—if it is not to be made today.
As someone who owes a great deal to the Girl Guides, I also commend the work of uniformed organisations such as the Scouts and the Guides, which work with children as young as six on building their skills for life and an ethos of service that will last them a lifetime. The success of organisations such as the Scouts and Guides will undoubtedly lead to more young people participating in the NCS at the age of 16. However, opportunities before and after NCS are key to realising the full potential of the programme and the significant investment of public money that comes with it. It is in the interest of the trust and the taxpayer that we should think of ways of ensuring, by putting it in the Bill or perhaps in the charter, that the NCS should never undermine existing opportunities for young people. I know that that is not what it is meant to do, that it is meant to be inclusive and that it is to be a commissioning organisation while other organisations deliver, but it is necessary for this somewhere to be stated so that people have trust in the NCS and can see that its purpose is to collaborate with other organisations.
My Lords, I support the noble Baroness, Lady Royall. In the interests of time, I shall be brief. We have to accept that one of the great things about this country is the way in which the voluntary sector works and the contribution that is made in local areas by many hundreds of voluntary organisations, some of which have existed for a long time.
It is quite easy to inadvertently destabilise that. I do not think a single one of us believes in any way that the NCS would do anything such as that purposely, but we have to accept that a new kid on the block on this scale could have that destabilising effect. The NCS needs to work with the sector as it exists—I recognise that it currently intends to do so—to benefit from it and to add benefit to it. For that reason, there is no harm in having it enshrined in the purposes of the organisation to make sure that as it goes forward—particularly when it starts to work at scale, as the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, said on an earlier amendment—it never lets go of those principles that this is part of the lifetime experience of young people and part of the very rich community that we have all grown to admire so much.
My Lords, I too support the amendment in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Royall. Recent research published by the University of Edinburgh highlights that members of the Boy Scouts and Girl Guides have been demonstrated to have significantly better mental health in adulthood than a very similar group of non-members. Whatever happens with the Bill and this very important work, it should not undermine in any way the good work of the Girl Guides and the Scouts. There is a 15% improvement in mental health for those who have experienced the Girl Guides or Boy Scouts.
My Lords, I will comment briefly on a couple of points that have been made. It is worth recording that this was another area where a lot of submissions were received by those of us involved in the Bill. I hope this is not misunderstood, but I thought there were two significant things about those submissions.
First, the NCS itself was very respectful of this point and understood the destabilisation effect that could occur if its work was somehow just inserted into other work and no account was taken of that. I know we are not supposed to refer to anybody other those present in the Room, but it is good to see the chair of the NCS present in the audience to listen to the debate in the raw.
Secondly, those who might well have had a feeling at the beginning of this process that they had done something wrong, as they were not similarly blessed with significant support from government and the offer of a charter and statutory backing, also welcomed the NCS coming in, seeing it as an addition. My noble friend Lady Royall got it right: the intention is, surely, to make sure that all boats rise in this tide. The underlying worry is that somehow that cannot happen unless we ensure, at the level of drafting, that this is part of the Bill.
My noble friend Lady Royall has been a very successful and long-standing campaigner on how volunteers are treated in our system. There is definitely a problem here. It is not just the issue of whether they should be classified as NEETs—not in employment, education or training—but also questions about how universal credit operates, how tax systems take account of time taken volunteering and whether there is going to be a read-across to students and higher or further education fees. These are all important issues and cannot be dealt with easily. They will certainly be interesting for anybody who might take this on when they have to confront the demons in the Treasury on how they are going to relinquish any control of this area. But it is time that this was reviewed, and I hope when he comes to respond that the Minister can make some comment about the timing of that proposed commission.
My Lords, I thank noble Lords for their very well-reasoned arguments and their considered amendments, which I will treat in numerical order.
My noble friend Lord Lucas made the interesting point that young people who take part in the NCS should be provided with accredited online evidence of the NCS programme to help them demonstrate their impact as citizens when applying for jobs, educational courses or further volunteering.
My noble friend’s amendment takes its cue from the digital passport, an online record of young people’s learning and work experience and an accessible way for their activity to be validated and recorded. I am pleased to inform my noble friend that the NCS Trust and the Careers & Enterprise Company have launched a partnership to further develop the company’s digital passport concept. NCS teaches young people from all backgrounds the lessons they cannot learn in class, and this passport will help to ensure that their contribution is recognised by employers and universities. There is great potential for the passport to encourage NCS graduates to do even more after the programme. Given the trust’s clear commitment to the digital passport, I hope that my noble friend will feel able not to press his amendment.
The noble Baronesses, Lady Royall and Lady Scott, have similarly sought to extend the trust’s functions. Their amendment would extend its purview to all five to 25 year-olds by requiring it to ensure that it is supporting and not “undermining” other opportunities for people in that age range that contribute to the stated objectives in the first part of Clause 1.
This amendment raises an important point. The NCS Trust does—and must continue to—work in a collaborative way with other providers of youth programmes, as the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, and the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, asked. As I have said before, a strength of NCS is that it encourages young people to take up other opportunities. NCS is very deliberately a short programme, designed to complement and drive demand for other social action programmes.
However, at the same time, it is important that we are clear about what sort of organisation the trust is and will continue to be. The trust is a commissioning body for the NCS programme. Its primary functions, as laid out in both the royal charter and the Bill, are to provide, or arrange for, the delivery of NCS, and to promote it on a national level. We need it to focus on doing this well if we are to maintain the quality of the programme.
The amendment, if added to the primary functions of the trust, would change its remit significantly. It would take it beyond a pure NCS commissioning body towards something that more resembles an infrastructure organisation for the whole youth sector. This would fundamentally change the trust’s purpose. That being said, the trust would not be able to meet its primary functions without supporting and working with a wide range of organisations across the youth sector. The Government are absolutely clear on that, and we expect the trust to report back on it in due course. We can also consider further how we provide assurances that the NCS Trust will work collaboratively.
The noble Baroness, Lady Royall, also mentioned a review of the legal status of full-time volunteers. Long-term volunteering programmes provide many benefits not only to those whose lives are being helped but to those who take part in them. I confirm that the Government are committed to supporting social action, including long-term volunteering. We are looking at existing barriers to long-term volunteering and the appropriate way in which they can be addressed.
I think I have covered most of the points raised. I will of course read carefully what has been said by noble Lords and, if I can add anything, I will write to noble Lords, but I hope that the noble Baroness will feel able to withdraw her amendment.
I know that the Government are committed to a commission or review of long-term volunteering. When can we expect the Government to put a little more flesh on the bones?
The noble Baroness asks a very fair question. The answer is: soon.
My Lords, I am very grateful to my noble friend for that reply and to the department for allowing my noble friend Lord Young to write his speaking notes. There could not have been anything more positive in the response. I, too, support very much what the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, is seeking to achieve with her amendment. This is going to be a big player. It is very important that it maintains good relations and sees that as part of its purpose. I fully understand why that does not get stuck in the Bill, but it absolutely has to be there in its actions. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 9 withdrawn.
Amendment 10 not moved.
11: Clause 1, page 1, line 18, at end insert—
“( ) to establish a national citizenship scheme for all young people between the ages of 15 and 18.”
My Lords, this is a probing amendment. It is also, in the words of my noble friend Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts, an aspirational amendment. It is certainly a very serious amendment. I will pick up on some of the points that I made in my brief Second Reading speech.
If I have a criticism of the Bill—it is an affectionate criticism—it is that it is not ambitious enough. Anything that takes to itself the word “national” must not confound its own objectives by being too restrictive. That is why I have tabled this amendment. I am ready to admit that it may not be perfectly worded. I am more than happy to discuss with my noble friends—Ministers—how it can be improved. I am, however, determined to pursue this idea.
I first became aware of how necessary such a service was at the time of those ghastly riots, when Parliament was recalled in the summer of—was it 2012? There we saw, on our television screens, young people alienated from the society in which they lived—some may say it was a self-imposed ostracism, but that is how they felt—venting their spleen on ordinary, decent people, ruining businesses, causing mayhem and fires. It was dreadful. Of course, we have had riots before in this country. I remember well the Toxteth riots, the Brixton riots and so on. Every time something like that happens I feel that we are failing many of our young people by not inculcating in them a proper sense of belonging, and a sense not only of their rights but of their responsibilities as citizens.
Part of the fault lies within our education system: we do not attach sufficient importance to citizenship. We should. This afternoon, speaking to one of the earlier amendments, the noble Baroness, Lady Scott, talked very movingly about the fact that so many young people do not take for granted what we and our children were privileged to take for granted. If you are brought up in a dysfunctional family, where do you get aspirations from?
Imagine a proper national citizenship scheme in our country, where young people from the age of 15 were obliged to do some community service. I do not mind what service. There are young people who get enormous pleasure, satisfaction and stimulation from National Trust camps. Others go and sit with old people, or run errands for them. Community service can take myriad forms. There should be not only the opportunity for but the obligation on all young people to do something like that.
Side by side with that should be a proper education in citizenship and how important it is—and how privileged one is—to live in a functioning democracy. We do not have to dwell on recent events anywhere to underline the importance of that.
It is very important that part of that is recognition of the obligation—I use that term very deliberately—to be part of the system by registering. Some of your Lordships may know that on many occasions on the Floor of the House, I have raised the subject of compulsory registration. The noble Lord, Lord Bird, has an amendment in this small group which touches on some of these things. I have not had the privilege of being able to discuss it with him, and I do not know whether his views entirely accord with mine, but I think that in the penultimate year of education, all young people should be obliged to register. That does not mean they have to cast a vote—although there is a case for compulsory voting—but it does mean that it is brought home to them how important it is to recognise that they have the opportunity.
I do not want to turn this into a Brexit argument, but two things struck me during the Brexit vote. My teenage grandchildren felt horribly let down. One of them was old enough to vote, voted enthusiastically and received the result with great sadness. The other worked very hard in the campaign but was not quite old enough to vote. What they both also said was that far too many of their contemporaries and near-contemporaries said that they agreed with them but had not bothered to vote. That is a sadness to us all. Part of the object of a national citizenship scheme should be actively to encourage young people to participate. They have a stake in a future that is theirs more than ours, and they should be encouraged.
As part of this national citizenship scheme—it is a national scheme, not just a citizenship one—we should aim to create a scheme that will allow all young people to take part and, at the end, to have the sort of ceremony that I referred to in the Chamber, which those who take British citizenship have the right to take. I attended one of those citizenship ceremonies here on the terrace of your Lordships’ House. It was very moving to see people of all ages, from the fairly young to the quite elderly, proudly affirming their British citizenship. If a similar scheme were conducted in schools, church halls, churches and public buildings all over the place, and if it were run, as I indicated in the Chamber, by the lieutenancy, that would remove any sort of political or party-political taint from it and give another role to the lord-lieutenant and his or her deputies. At the end of the day, those young people would have something of which they could be proud.
Earlier today, I was officiating at the William Morris Craft Fellowship scheme, which I founded with a group of colleagues 30 years ago. It was our 30th anniversary, and we had the chairman of English Heritage and the chairman of Historic England to present the certificates. I spoke to one young lady stonemason, who said, “I saw that document hanging in the office when I had an interview, and I was determined to get one”. I found that very moving.
I really believe that we should be more ambitious with this Bill. If, when he replies, my noble friend tells me that he does not like this amendment, I beg him to convene a meeting so that we can discuss it to see whether we can table something more acceptable. I am not inclined to give up on this. I beg to move.
My Lords, I shall speak to Amendment 20, which is on very much the same lines as those in the names of the noble Lords, Lord Cormack and Lord Bird. We are talking about citizenship and we are all saying that this is one part of what we need to do but it is not enough. We clearly need to go further. We may be unable to go much further in this Bill, but the problem, as the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, mentioned, is there before us in all our cities and in some of our rural areas: young people do not feel part of our society or our political system and they are deeply disillusioned. We want to encourage them to see themselves as citizens taking an active part in our political community and our society.
This scheme deals with society but not with the political community. Therefore, I tabled this amendment, which stresses that the National Citizen Service needs to be seen within a wider context of an approach to citizenship. If the answer determinedly from the Government is that they do not want to do that in this Bill, I suggest that we need to have a dialogue with them about how we take it further forward.
On a number of occasions in the past 15 or 20 years we have all talked about the need for citizenship education. I have been converted to the idea of 16 year-olds being able to vote because it would mean that in education they would talk about their citizenship and how to use their vote. I know that that is a controversial area but it is part of how one tries to get people into our political society. I repeat what I said earlier: if necessary, several of us should propose a sessional committee of the House next year to discuss the concept of citizenship and how we educate and encourage the younger generation into citizenship. That very much includes the sort of things that the noble Lords, Lord Bird and Lord Cormack, are talking about. This is a very important area.
Let us have no illusions: we have a society that is deeply disillusioned and alienated when it comes to politics. Westminster is not respected or liked. I was enormously cheered one evening last winter at a family party in Yorkshire when someone asked me what I did. I said, “I’m not sure you want me to tell you”, and she said, “Oh dear, you’re not a banker, are you?”. She told me that there are perhaps at least two professions that are further down the ranking than politicians, but not that many. For the future health of our democracy and our society, we all need to do something about that. The Bill makes a small contribution towards solving the problem, but not a large enough one. We need a large enough contribution.
My Lords, I shall speak to my Amendment 50. I am sorry that I missed Second Reading but I was away. In spite of appearances, I am the father of very young children. There are things that I have to do and that was the case on that occasion.
I am very interested in the concept of a National Citizen Service, and I am very interested in the idea of a rite of passage. However, I would like to see it widened into moving from our obsession with representational democracy, where we get people in the other place speaking on behalf of our citizens, and towards the participatory democracy which we are all talking about, and that is why I believe in the NCS.
We are talking about people getting involved in their communities rather than just whingeing about the failure of national or local government—by whingeing I mean just talking about it rather than doing something about it. All those people who go on demonstrations, sign petitions and do all those things are in a sense on the road towards that kind of participatory democracy. I was on a trade union march last week about defending our libraries, galleries and all that. I took my family, and I was there participating in democracy.
More than anything, I worry about our children. The noble Lord, Lord Cormack, raised the question of Brexit, and I will tell your Lordships what I thought about it. I thought that everybody who wanted to stay was wrong and everybody who wanted to go was wrong, because people were arguing without being able to participate in a cognitive democracy. I would like our young children to grow up learning deep philosophical lessons about democracy: about the fact, for instance, that if you live in poverty, then in a sense you are not really living in a democracy, because you will not be participating in the national citizens thing—unless of course we have zealots and people like that going down to them.
We should be taking the National Citizen Service and training our young to become the zealots and missionaries, to go into areas to speak peer to peer and to move people into saying, “You can get a lot out of this”. We have to find ways of breaking and dismantling poverty. One of the best ways is to get people to value the vote, but also to move beyond using it. That is why I tend to agree with the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, when he says that everybody should be registered, although I would rather do it the other way: if you are born in this country, you immediately become a citizen. At the age of 18 or 17, you get your paperwork which says, “This is where you go and do your voting”. That is a really interesting thing. We could have a situation where our young—another generation—can help us dismantle poverty, because they really understand how politics works and really understand the difference between staying in the Common Market and leaving it, rather than everyone going round in a whirligig and nobody coming to a very sensible, deep or knowledgeable conclusion.
As I said, this is my first amendment. I hope I have handled it the right way—forgive me if I have not—but the point about the NCS, and what I find so interesting about it, is that it is a really beautiful launch pad to begin to change the way in which we bring up our young and get them involved in that rite of passage. I would not want anybody to have the rite of passage I had.
My Lords, I have one specific question and would be grateful if the Minister could write to me on it. At Second Reading, I raised the point about voter registration. The noble Lord, Lord Cormack, has raised it now, and indeed it is part of the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Bird. In the letter that the NCS wrote to me after Second Reading, it said:
“HMRC was chosen as the body best placed to send out letters to teenagers on NCS’ behalf because it has the most robust and complete dataset of 16 and 17 year olds”.
I had not known that before about HMRC. It had not occurred to me, and I just wonder whether we are missing a trick in terms of relying entirely on local registration offices to ensure registration to vote when there is an organisation that has better information. I would be very grateful if the Minister could write to me on that.
My Lords, I have a deal of sympathy with all the amendments in this group. I too think that everybody should be registered. They should be registered at birth and then opt out at some stage if they wish. I also believe in compulsory voting but that is a very personal view; it is not my party’s view.
At Second Reading there was some discussion about citizenship education, which I believe is absolutely crucial to the well-being not only of individuals but of society. As the noble Lord said, it enables people to participate, which is key. If you do not have citizenship education, you do not know how to participate, so you cannot take advantage of your rights and responsibilities.
The Minister addressed citizenship in the letter that he wrote to all noble Lords after Second Reading. In it, he said that citizenship remains a compulsory subject in maintained secondary schools, but therein lies one of the problems. I firmly believe that citizenship should be a compulsory subject in all schools and not just in maintained schools. My noble friend Lord Blunkett pointed out at Second Reading that the number of people being trained to teach citizenship has fallen dramatically, and therein lies another problem. The Government really do have to grasp the issue of citizenship if, as they do, they wish people to participate more in our democratic system.
It was suggested at Second Reading that there should be a government review of citizenship teaching and the whole issue of citizenship, but we have not had a response to that. I hope that is something that the Government are looking at seriously. I very much like the idea proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, that there should be a sessional committee to look at citizenship, because I think that that would do society a good service. I would understand if these amendments were not accepted but I urge the Government to say something strong and positive about the review of citizenship teaching and about having more of a national citizenship ethos, as the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, suggested.
My Lords, this is a subject about which people feel very passionately, and it has been a very passionate debate. Perhaps your Lordships will bear with me as I talk about something with which the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, is very familiar, as his grandson goes to one of the schools that I founded—Floreat Wandsworth. The development of character is central to what we do at our schools. Included within that is what we call “civic virtues”, of which participation is obviously one, as is service to others, and that is one reason that I am so passionate about this area.
I completely agree with the idea that developing a sense of citizenship, participation and civic virtue should be a fundamental part of education, but there is a question about the compulsory nature of this. One of the arguments is whether PSHE—sometimes with a C or various other bits of the alphabet added on—should be compulsory. That is a conversation that we have sporadically in the House. For me, that should be part of education but it should take place within schools. Just because we think that this is an important issue, it does not mean that this is the right vehicle for it. Just because this tree is with us does not mean that we should hang the bells on it.
I strongly agree with the sentiments behind my noble friend’s amendment and those of other noble Lords. I would welcome a broad debate on service, citizenship and character development. The DfE has a character development programme. It is slightly in stasis at the moment as we have had a change of Secretary of State, but it may be one way to rejuvenate this whole process. However, to me, this is not the right vehicle for those absolutely correct sentiments.
My Lords, I should like to express some sympathy with the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Cormack. I am very concerned about the increasing number of children—boys and girls—who are growing up without a father in the home. This scheme might offer some of those children a step towards having a father figure in their lives, especially if it connects with other services, such as the Girl Guides and the Scouts.
Back in 2011, OECD research led by Professor Melhuish at Birkbeck, University of London, found that a fifth of children in this country were growing up without a father in the home. That compared with a quarter in the United States. However, the research also predicted that in future years we would overtake the United States, and that by—I think—the 2030s a third of our children would grow up without a father in the home. This is a terribly important fact for us to keep in mind. The evidence shows that low-income boys are more likely to get involved in the criminal justice system if they grow up without a father in the home. We need to think of all possible means to keep fathers, as far as possible, in the home, and to fill the deficit—for girls and boys—when there is no father figure there. One rationale for rolling out the scheme nationally is to meet the needs of those boys and girls for some positive father figure. It is obviously a short-term intervention, and I hope very much it might lead them to other interventions such as the Girl Guides and the Boy Scouts.
I do not wish in any way to disparage lone parents. Just recently I was speaking to a father bringing up three children on his own who works very hard, washes his children’s laundry, cares for them—he says he has no time for a social life. I do not intend to disparage those parents at all; I merely say that from the point of view of so many boys and girls it is a real challenge for them to grow up without a father in the home.
My Lords, I add my support to my noble friend’s amendment. The scheme before us —the trust—is hugely important in opening doors. It is giving all young people between the ages of 15 and 18 and, with exceptions, beyond that, a chance to have a month’s experience of volunteering. That is what the Bill is about. I fear that we have wandered away from that a bit. However, it is hugely important that we have wandered, so I hope that the Minister forgives me a little.
I take my noble friend’s point that a lot of citizenship should be done in schools: that is right, and it is what those of us who go out on the Lord Speaker’s outreach programme try to do in a very small way and confined space. It has its role, and I am delighted to be going to a primary school this Friday. I have been specially asked to go; it is good for us, too, to be with the young.
I particularly wanted to come back to my noble friend Lord Cormack’s suggestion that we could recognise participation in the scheme in a slightly better way. His suggestion was that perhaps at the end of their month, if they wished—it would not be compulsory—the young person would receive a certificate presented by somebody at the school, or wherever, to give public recognition of the fact that they had taken part in the scheme. That gives two opportunities. First, that person has a certificate, or something important, that they can take away and that makes a difference when they look for jobs in the future, by showing that they have participated. Secondly, and more importantly, it would give other youngsters better knowledge of what opportunities there are out there. So, while the debate has wandered a little widely—and I agree with everything that has been said—there are bits that we can take from the debate that would add value to what is proposed in the Bill. That is why I support my noble friend’s amendment.
I just wanted to add a point to what the noble Lord was saying with regard to schools. I agree with him 100%, but when teachers are saying, “We now have a choice about whether we teach citizenship”, and they do not, there is a profound problem. What is so interesting is that behind all this we have a Government who are prepared to spend £1 billion, or thereabouts, on something that is a great big hole in the middle of society. How do you get children to participate in democracy or learn how to participate in democracy? How do you draw people in to vote and do all those sorts of things?
It is quite interesting that the schools have let us down a bit. This is not a sticking plaster but it is taking the argument to after school: what do children do in the evening and at the weekend? I was almost saved by the National Association of Boys’ Clubs—almost. Unfortunately, they closed them down in the area that I lived in.
My Lords, until recently, I was a governor of a special school in the Chilterns, near where I live. On one of my regular walk rounds, I happened to chance on a citizenship class and was immediately seized upon as an exhibit, because they happened to be talking about the House of Lords at the time. I had the embarrassing experience of trying to persuade a group of rather terrifying young men, who were trying to make sense of what on earth democracy was and how it worked in their circumstances, which were not particularly good, why I would have anything to say that meant anything to them. I think I was successful—but then I would say that, wouldn’t I? However, it was good to see the lesson. I thought it was well-planned and well-exercised. The kids got something out of it and, at the end, I sent them away to think about what they would like me to do if I were ever lucky enough to get high enough in the Private Members’ Bills ballot to put in a Bill of my own. I will not share in this august company what they wanted but it got them talking, which was great.
Is not the problem here that this is one of the wicked issues? In all my time looking at, studying and working in government, I do not think we have ever come up with a solution to the problem in which a strong departmental wish for movement in another department has provided the necessary edge or leverage for that to happen. Here we are saying that a well-funded and thought-through programme depends to a greater or lesser extent—I would say greater—on there being a solid foundation of knowledge and understanding about citizenship, but we lack the ability in the system to impress that wish on the department that is responsible for school education, maintained and otherwise, and therefore it will not happen. I am sad about that because all the arguments being made today are absolutely right.
If the prospect facing Ministers is that a member of their own side who normally can get excited only about cathedrals and church choirs is saying that he is determined not to give up on this point, then I wish them luck. An irresistible force is coming your way, but I am afraid it will meet an immovable object in the form of the new Secretary of State. Indeed, although I know his heart is in the right place, the noble Lord, Lord O’Shaughnessy, gave the game away when he said that the current work on citizenship and service more generally had gone into a hiatus because of the change of Secretary of State. There we are, you see: it will not work.
Why will it not work? It is a classic example of the sort of joined-up government that we all go on about, but we simply cannot do it. I wish there was a way of doing it. Although the noble Lord, Lord O’Shaughnessy, said that this is not the right Bill, maybe it is. The noble Lord is shaking his head. I was nodding earlier and now he is shaking his head. Tut-tut: he has not learned the lesson.
I am shaking my head because I disagree.
That was my point earlier, but I nodded—such stupidity.
We have to give some indication. It may be that there are other ways. I like the suggestion from my noble friend Lady Royall for a Select Committee, which of course we cannot order but on which we can certainly make recommendations. Something needs to be started here today by those of us who care enough about this to make it part of what we want to do with the Bill. If it flows in different ways, all the better, because we certainly are not in a good place, and we know now that is the case. I look forward to hearing what the Minister will say.
My Lords, I agree with my noble friend Lady Byford that this has been rather a wander as opposed to a highly focused debate on these amendments, but it has also been very useful. I thank noble Lords for highlighting so articulately and passionately the ongoing importance that citizenship and citizenship education must play in our country. We agree with my noble friend Lord Cormack that NCS must be, as it says in his amendment, “for all young people”, no matter what their background. As we have discussed, the functions set out in full in the royal charter attempt to capture, in the most appropriate form, what the NCS is and should always be. They include an objective to seek to expand the number of participants.
We know that volunteering can promote a sense of citizenship, and social engagement is one of the NCS programme’s core elements. The latest independent Ipsos MORI evaluation showed that NCS graduates give back to their communities an extra six hours per month. They feel more able to have an impact on the world around them and say that they are more likely to vote, so there are elements of citizenship there. But the NCS is not designed to establish a national citizenship scheme. It is not equipped or funded to do so.
The Government wish to put the NCS Trust on a stable and assured footing so that it may promote the NCS programme across the country to young people, parents, carers, schools and local authorities, to become a scheme that can deliver these outcomes, as my noble friend was intimating, for every young person on the cusp of adulthood who wants a place. Our manifesto commitment is clear on that, so I hope my noble friend Lord Cormack can be assured of the Bill’s aspiration. But as we expand the scheme to allow more young people to benefit, we must concentrate on our primary goals to maintain the success and quality we have had so far, to which my noble friend referred. He also mentioned an obligation to do NCS, but the NCS must remain voluntary to retain its ethos. It will fail if young people feel it is compulsory for them to do it.
The second amendment in this group, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Barker, and the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, would require the trust to set out in its annual business plan the ways in which the NCS contributes to citizenship education more broadly. I fear I must repeat the point that the NCS Trust must be allowed to focus its resources and reporting on its primary functions, namely to enable participants from different backgrounds to work together in local communities to participate in projects to benefit society, and to enhance the skills of those participants. Although the links to citizenship are clear, it would not be practical for the trust to report more widely on citizenship education.
Citizenship education is mandatory in state-maintained schools, as part of the national curriculum. The citizenship curriculum aims to equip young people with knowledge, skills and understanding to prepare them to play a full and active part in modern Britain. The NCS is part of the citizenship landscape of this country, as are many organisations working with young people and helping them to become more resilient and informed members of society, but asking the trust to report on work wider than its core mission risks distracting it from delivering a quality programme. I hope that noble Lords can take assurance that the NCS complements an ongoing commitment to the importance of citizenship education in schools.
I thank the noble Lord, Lord Bird, for making the point that the NCS has the potential to encourage democratic engagement and participation among young people. We are in full agreement. The draft charter requires that the trust must have regard to,
“encouraging participants to take an interest in debate on matters of local or national political interest, and promoting their understanding of how to participate in national and local elections”.
This will ensure that the NCS Trust keeps these considerations at the front of its mind whenever it makes decisions about how to deliver its core mission. In short, the aim here was to capture, as concisely as possible, the very point the noble Lord makes. The NCS Trust is working jointly with the democratic engagement team in the Cabinet Office to explore the possibilities for the NCS to contribute to this agenda. I ask the noble Lord, Lord Bird, not to press his amendment.
Without making any commitment, I should say that my noble friend the Minister is only too happy to hold meetings with as many Peers as he can. I have always wanted to say that. None the less my noble friend Lord Ashton of Hyde is happy to meet noble Lords before the next stage of the Bill. I also make a commitment to the noble Baroness, Lady Scott, that we will write to her on the issue that she raised.
My Lords, the noble Earl has just remarked that this is a cross-departmental issue, involving the Cabinet Office, Department for Education, DCMS and one or two others. I urge him and the noble Lord, Lord Ashton, to take this back and perhaps write to us all with the suggestion that we might have a cross-departmental meeting with Peers to discuss how a broader approach to citizenship might be taken forward across Whitehall.
My Lords, we will of course consider what the noble Lord has said and write to him about our final decision on that matter, but at the moment I would ask my noble friend to withdraw his amendment.
My Lords, we have had a very interesting debate and I am extremely grateful to everyone who has taken part, particularly to my noble friend Lady Byford, who restricted her comments to my amendment. It was very good to find so much common ground with the noble Lords, Lord Wallace of Saltaire and Lord Bird, and I hope that the suggestion made by the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, can be acted upon. We have set something running and we must keep it running. This is a good Bill, which we all welcome and support, but it is not aspirational enough. That is the point. I hope we can have conversations between now and Report, as it is important that the House in general has an opportunity to discuss these things. I am certainly minded to put down a similar amendment on Report and hope to trigger an equally vigorous debate on the Floor of the House. In the meantime, with very good grace and while thanking my noble friend for his generous reply, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 11 withdrawn.
12: Clause 1, page 1, line 19, leave out “section” and insert “Act”
My Lords, I am sorry to interrupt, but just for the convenience of the Committee, I would inform Members that the usual channels have agreed that we will finish after this group.
My Lords, after that very wide-ranging debate, I come to an extremely nitty-gritty point. Before we leave page 1, we have Amendment 12, which goes with Amendment 44. These two amendments draw attention to the fact that there are slightly different definitions of “young people” in the two clauses concerned, Clause 1 and Clause 9. The difference is not of huge importance, but it has significance in that it will not let HMRC write to a few of the young people who may be covered by the scheme, which seems a very odd thing to have happened. After my earlier remarks, I do not want to criticise lawyers for the drafting of the thing, but one wonders whether it is a mistake or deliberate. I beg to move the amendment.
My Lords, I find myself in complete agreement with the noble Lord, Lord Cope, which I am sure is nothing to do with our politics as we are completely diametric on just about everything I can think of. It must be because we are both accountants. He is absolutely right as I, too, alighted on this point and thought that it would be a good issue to raise.
It is a bit odd to read in Clause 1(2)(a) that,
‘“young people” means 16 and 17 year olds, but may also include other persons who are 15 years old or have attained the age of 18 but are under the age of 25”.
There are probably reasons for it, and I am sure the Minister will be able to explain them. I think I get what that means but if we look at the royal charter, its description of exactly the same area is completely different. It says:
“For the purposes of paragraph 1—a. “young people in England” means 16 and 17 year olds”,
which is clear, but that,
“b. the NCS Trust may, from time to time, determine that “young people” also includes one or more of the following … 15 year olds … any person who has attained the age of 18 and is under the age of 25 … any person of a particular age falling within the range described in sub-paragraph ii”.
We could try to get the same wording into the different parts of the Bill. On the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Cope, that there is a different definition for the section dealing with HMRC functions, that is probably explicable in terms of what records it has and can therefore rely on. Again, however, it is confusing if we are to get this sorted out.
That is the issue which I wanted to raise. My Amendment 13 also bears on this point. If we are to muck around with the ages, that is something which Parliament ought to be involved in. The current arrangements would be that if the Bill is true, it must be something set in statute but if the charter is true, it can be changed by the NCS Trust. If either of those is wrong—I do not agree with them—I would rather see that Parliament had affirmative regulations.
To be serious about this, we hope that who qualifies for the service will be quite a hot ticket. It is important that we know from the start whether 15 year-olds qualify, whether over 18 year-olds qualify, whether the upward age of 25 is fixed and what exactly the rationales are for having different ranges and the flexibility that goes with them. It may be to do with getting to hard- to-reach families and individuals. To pick up my noble friend Lady Royall’s earlier point, that would be a good thing. However, it may just be an aspiration to do something on a much wider scale that we do not know about. If we are sticking to the arrangements in the current Bill, Parliament needs a better handle on that.
My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Cope and to the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson. They both rightly observe that Clause 1, in defining the NCS Trust’s functions, defines young people as 16 and 17 year-olds, but says it may also include other persons who are 15 years old or have attained the age of 18 but are under the age of 25. Clause 9, which confers a power on HMRC to write to young people, then sets an age range of 15 to 17. The amendments would make the age range in Clause 1 apply to Clause 9. I can assure the Committee that the difference in age ranges between the two clauses is deliberate.
Clause 1 makes a distinction: first, it defines young people as 16 and 17 year-olds but allows a degree of flexibility, both for 15 year-olds and those up to the age of 25. NCS should be focused on 16 and 17 year-olds. The majority of participants now are of those ages. Most do NCS in the summer after their GCSEs; some do it earlier in spring and others in the autumn of the following academic year. People with summer birthdays can conceivably do NCS after their GCSEs when they are still 15, so the Bill allows for that.
The upward age range to 25 is to allow flexibility for those with additional needs or in particular circumstances. Someone might miss out for a particular reason or it might be more appropriate for someone with a learning disability, for example, to do the programme a little later. Those older than 17 can therefore take part if the trust agrees but the programme is not openly advertised to older age ranges. For NCS to have its rite-of-passage feel, we want to keep it focused on a tight age range. Those doing NCS outside that age range would be the exception rather than the rule. The focus of marketing the scheme must therefore be on 16 to 17 year-olds, or those approaching that age.
The definition in Clause 9 has therefore been set more narrowly so that HMRC letters go out at a time that targets the core age group. If a young person is unable to go on the programme at that age, and might need to wait until they are older for practical reasons, this can be agreed with the NCS Trust. They will none the less have had the letter already, so the clause is not restricting anyone from hearing about NCS. They will all hear at the same time and can decide when to do the programme later if necessary. Therefore, I hope that my noble friend will see that the difference in the specified age ranges serves an important purpose and will feel able to withdraw his amendment. We want the programme to be flexible but the marketing needs to be focused so that no one is misled.
Amendment 13 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, would require the Government to make a statutory instrument which received the express approval of both Houses before amending the age ranges outlined in Clause 1. The noble Lord is absolutely right that the age range is critical to the definition of NCS and must not be allowed to change lightly. NCS should take place at a formative period between childhood and adulthood—the juncture between compulsory education and the freedom to make life choices.
That is why we have explicitly stipulated the age range of participants in the Bill, while allowing flexibility for those with additional needs. I can confirm that primary legislation would be required to amend the age range. This is important, and we would want to do so only for the very best of reasons: that a future Government deemed it necessary to change the core NCS demographic. Such a change could alter the fundamental character of NCS and therefore should require the full scrutiny of Parliament.
I hope that the noble Lords can take confidence in the Bill’s current drafting and will not press their amendments.
I do not think that the Minister answered my point about the wider drafting of the royal charter. Of course, we have no locus in the royal charter, but can he commit to looking at the wording on page 7 of the draft charter and commit to making the wording of the two documents the same?
I will certainly commit to looking at it but it is important to note that a Bill in Parliament always trumps a royal charter. There is no doubt about what the age ranges are; they are as set out in the Bill. As I said, I will commit to looking at the two documents to see what can be done, but there is no doubt about what the age ranges are—they are as set out in the Bill.
I must be going crackers. The Bill says that,
“‘young people’ means 16 and 17 year olds”,
and that is followed by a variation. The charter says,
“‘young people …’ means 16 and 17 year olds, but … the NCS Trust may, from time to time, determine that”,
it includes others. I do not think that you can have it both ways. If the statute trumps the charter, which is what I think the Minister is saying, then the statute must stand and the charter is wrong. I am asking him to look at the wording of the charter and to try to align it more with the statute. I hope that that is not too great an ask, even at this late hour.
It certainly is not and I have already said that I will do that.
My Lords, I am mildly disappointed to realise that the marketing to those with difficulties and so on up to the age of 24 will not be quite as wide as the marketing to others. Nevertheless, I understand my noble friend’s response. I am glad to know that it is deliberate and I am grateful for his reply. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 12 withdrawn.
Amendment 13 not moved.
Clause 1 agreed.
Amendments 14 and 15 not moved.
Clause 2 agreed.
Amendments 16 and 17 not moved.
Clause 3: Finance
Amendment 18 not moved.
Clause 3 agreed.
Clause 4 agreed.
Does the Minister want to move that the Committee stands adjourned?
I move that the Committee adjourns.
Committee adjourned at 7.09 pm.