Committee (2nd Day)
Clause 5: Business Plan
19: Clause 5, page 2, line 24, after second “the” insert “primary”
My Lords, Amendments 19 and 23 are in my name and those of my noble friends Lord Maude of Horsham and Lord O’Shaughnessy. Their purpose is to insert the word “primary” before the reporting requirements on the exercise of functions for both the business plan and the annual report. While I appreciate that this is a small word change, we argue that its insertion is critical for two reasons. First, it would prevent the new organisation drowning in excessive bureaucracy; secondly, it is consistent with the draft royal charter which refers in Article 3 to the primary functions of the NCS Trust.
One of the main reasons for the success of the NCS thus far has been its flexibility to respond rapidly and positively to feedback on the programme and to adapt quickly to change. This flexibility is essential when engaging with teenagers. To mire the trust in excessive bureaucracy will hinder, and potentially kill, its ability to adapt quickly and innovatively to new challenges. If the trust is expected to produce a business plan every year about every one of its activities, that would have the regrettable effect of stymieing the NCS’s ability to innovate and to engage with emergent trends, platforms or partnerships.
The new body should of course publish a business plan that lays out the primary functions of delivering the National Citizen Service. This will allow transparent scrutiny of the unit cost of delivery as well as its broader stakeholder engagement. Such scrutiny, which will permit proper accountability, is completely appropriate. However, to insist on more onerous reporting requirements, which would be inconsistent not only with the draft royal charter but with other public bodies, including other royal charters, would detract from the NCS’s ability to deliver a quality and engaging programme.
If the NCS is to achieve its hugely ambitious programme to grow threefold in the next three years, it is vital that it sticks to its core vision while retaining the ability to be nimble. To allow this, the reporting requirements should be kept as straightforward as possible, not weighed down by ever more onerous obligations. I beg to move.
My Lords, I have a number of amendments in this group, whose purport is somewhat different from that set out by the noble Baroness, Lady Finn.
When this legislation is passed, the National Citizen Service will no longer be a start-up; it will be a sizeable body with a very sizeable budget. Therefore, it is not unreasonable to expect that its reporting requirements will be different from those which it currently has as a very small community interest company. As such, and not a charity, the NCS has a lower level of financial reporting requirement than many of the organisations with which it has to do business and from which it has to commission its services.
I make no apology for the number of the amendments in this group which deal with accountability. I appreciate that we are talking about a royal charter body but the voluntary sector has had one of the worst years on record and has suffered a great deal in terms of its reputation and public support, precisely because it has not been living up to the higher standards of reporting which it should demonstrate—way above the public sector.
These amendments stem, to a large extent, from the acknowledgment of the noble Lord, Lord Maude, on Second Reading, that the NCS was deliberately set up to sit apart from the rest of the voluntary sector while being almost entirely dependent on it for the delivery of its outcomes. The NCS is, and will be in the future, a central commissioner of services from the voluntary sector, and as other resources diminish that will become increasingly important as a larger percentage of the money available for volunteering will be tied to this scheme. The greater freedom of action a body has, the higher standard of accountability it should aspire to. That is why the level of detail we require about any charity’s accounts is much higher than for anywhere in the private sector. The lack of competition to the NCS makes it wise to require a greater degree of transparency and detail in its reporting than we might have otherwise. Recent examples like Kids Company and Work Programme show that the lack of a requirement for proper accountability can be extremely damaging. It is with that in mind that we have proposed a number of amendments.
Given its purpose and set apart though it is, this organisation cannot deliver co-ordination with other voluntary organisations unless it has good relationships with them. It therefore does not seem unreasonable to ask it to set out how it will establish those, and, after a financial year, to report back. It is claimed that this organisation has an important, and, in the view of some noble Lords, unique contribution to make to the lives of young people. It is therefore important to require it to show that it sits alongside the main trends within the voluntary sector. For example, many people working in community organisations serving the Muslim community are saying to the Government— consistently and in many different ways—that the Prevent agenda is not working. It would therefore be remiss of us not to require the NCS—if it does have the role being described by its advocates—to actively work with those charities to ensure that community cohesion and diversion from extremism are part of its achievements.
Amendment 31, which requires that the NCS’s annual report includes its efficiency and effectiveness, is justifiable given that it is not up against competitive challenge. It is also not unreasonable to require diversity among its trustees. But of all these amendments, the two that matter the most are Amendments 28 and 29. It is right that Parliament should know the extent to which the trust has collaborated with and resourced the rest of the voluntary sector given that it will be one of the few sources of money for volunteering. It is also right that its report should include comparisons with alternative provisions. I have not yet been able to find a report giving the unit cost of the NCS including its overheads. Will the Minister give us that figure in his response? There is a suggestion from a number of other voluntary organisations that it is a very costly programme in comparison to them. I would very much welcome a response on that because before we commit this large resource to a body which is going to be set down in stone we should have some answers about the level of accountability that we can expect.
My Lords, I shall speak to Amendment 27 in this group. At the risk of incurring the wrath of the noble Baroness, Lady Finn, it adds to the reporting requirements of the NCS. In my experience, having to provide a detailed business plan and reporting back mechanisms does not have to stifle innovation. Most of the most innovative organisations and businesses around the world have detailed business plans and they report to shareholders, so I find the argument quite difficult. Indeed, I shall go further and say that business planning tools used properly can generate innovation and the reporting requirement can make an organisation focus on the things that those who are funding it believe are important. They can be a driver for innovation, not a barrier to it. The NCS, like any body in receipt of quite large sums of public money, will find that it will be overwhelmed with freedom of information requests if it does not willingly provide the information at the beginning.
In my amendment I am seeking to introduce to the business planning and reporting requirements measurement against the implementation of the Public Services (Social Value) Act 2012. When it was passed, the Act was based on two thoughts. The first was that public procurement generally tends to be at scale and cuts out SMEs and smaller organisations, and the second was that the cumulative spending power of public bodies could be much better used in the economic development of local areas than is usually the case. A review carried out last year by the noble Lord, Lord Young, suggested that the Act had those impacts. It has worked well, but it is underused. I was very pleased that the Government more or less accepted those arguments when they accepted my amendment to the Bus Services Bill and included a reference to the Act in the statutory guidance.
Evidence to the Select Committee on Charities currently sitting in your Lordships’ House has contained many references to the difficulties faced by small charities in participating in public procurement exercises, and a number of them have specifically referenced the Public Services (Social Value) Act as a useful vehicle for being able to do that, and they would like to see it more widely used.
The NCS is going to be a huge provider. On our previous day in Committee, the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, talked about the problems of scaling up. I worry about that too. The NCS has written to me very fully and outlined the work that it has been doing with small local providers in a pathfinder scheme. It has given an undertaking that it wishes to widen and deepen its approach. I welcome that, but the recurring theme in this debate is about protecting the commitments currently made by the NCS into the future because it can commit only with its current board and current chair. Unless we have something in the Bill we cannot accept that those commitments will go on for ever.
There are a number of reasons why the Government should accept this amendment. The use of public money to support small and medium-sized charities will add to their sustainability and begin to avoid what someone has described to me as the growing Tesco-ification of the charity sector. There is also an issue about larger providers squeezing out smaller subcontractors. The NCS can use its considerable purchasing and contracting power to ensure fairer treatment. That would be the right message to send out to the sector, which is feeling a little beleaguered and unloved by government. It would help to ensure that more cash is used locally, generating local jobs. It would also help to create genuinely local solutions with providers which understand their neighbourhood. Anyone who does school visits regularly knows how very different areas can be, even those that are geographically quite close together.
Finally, there is something about risk. A larger number of smaller contracts is inherently less risky in terms of collapse or mismanagement than putting all the eggs in just a few baskets. One of the keys to innovation is size, and smaller local providers would be much more innovative and at less risk than the large ones.
My Lords, I shall speak to the amendments in my name. I understand the arguments made by the noble Baroness, Lady Finn, that the organisation wants to put all its energies into ensuring that it maximises the number of young people going through the programme—that is absolutely right and proper. But I do not regard reporting on the various measures that we wish to be reported on as onerous in any shape or form. When the report comes before Parliament every year, which is a very welcome measure, Parliament needs to be able to judge what is happening and judge the impact of this very important initiative. Unless we have a breakdown of the impact in various ways, we shall not be in a position to judge or to celebrate all the success—nor will we be in a position to say that the NCS is doing a great job but it needs to flex this and that and do things slightly differently. So I am not trying to impede the work of the NCS in any way; I am trying to build trust in the NCS and, unless we have measured impact, we are not going to build the trust that we want to build. It is important that we know the number of participants who have fully completed the programme, which is the subject of one of my amendments, and the extent to which participation targets have been met. They are just measures, and they are sensible and basic ones.
Amendment 30 says that the annual report must compare the extent to which the NCS Trust obtains value for money and talks about,
“comparison with other youth related provision”,
by organisations with similar aims. There are other organisations, such as the scouts, which provide fantastic value for money. I know that the NCS will also provide fantastic value for money, but I want to enable organisations such as the scouts to be able to deliver for the NCS. In due course, the NCS will have to flex how it works to some extent to ensure that the scouts can be a provider, as it were, for the NCS.
Amendment 37 says that the annual report must address,
“the extent to which young people have been involved in setting the strategic priorities of the NCS Trust”.
I do not know the extent to which young people are involved in setting the priorities at the moment, but yesterday I went to a terrific event organised by Step Up To Serve, because it is “I Will” week. It has so many young people on its board, which is fabulous, and they really are setting the agenda for quality volunteering for those between the ages of 10 and 20. I would like to know that young people are really going to be involved in setting the priorities for the NCS, because it is their programme and they know what is best needed for them.
My Amendment 38 says that the annual report must address,
“how many young people have gone onto participate in other social action opportunities, and … the extent to which the NCS programmes impact the wider youth … sector”.
I shall not bang on again about City Year and all those things, but it is part of the journey, so I want to ensure that the report can demonstrate each year that the NCS really is part of the social action journey for young people from 10 to 25.
I am very grateful to the Minister, who in his letter after Second Reading said that the Government agreed that a “longitudinal study” of the life outcomes of NCS graduates was an excellent suggestion and that he was looking to see how such a study could be developed within the work already done to get evidence about the NCS’s long-term performance. That is really important because in a few years’ time, we want to be able to demonstrate that the NCS is making a qualitative difference to young people’s lives.
My Lords, I have one amendment in the group, Amendment 47. It is the last in a group of 18. The prior 17 would impose various duties on the NCS Trust. Some of these seem to be entirely sensible. Measuring the impact of what is being achieved is good, so I very much support the thought behind Amendment 25 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, on how many individuals complete the programme, although an annual report that did not contain that would be a sad one. I am less enthused by Amendment 39 about the open-ended requirement to consult the voluntary sector. That seems to be a recipe for a talking shop and would not necessarily achieve very much.
I do not doubt the good intentions behind the amendments in the group, but as we know, the road to hell is paved with good intentions. Amendment 47 attempts to go beyond hope, expectation or intention to the reality of what has happened. It would do so by requiring an independent review of the whole of the NCS Trust’s commissioning process. We would thus be able to examine its performance in areas a number of which are the subject of the other 17 amendments in the group.
Amendment 47 focuses widely but particularly on those issues that have been the subject of a good many discussions and comments at Second Reading: how easy is it for small providers to obtain contracts? What barriers have been identified that stop them? What additional benefits have been found for our society arising from the whole process? That last issue has been commented on in the last few minutes, so I will not repeat it, but the Committee needs to be aware of the level of risk aversion among commissioners. It is something we need to guard against for the NCS Trust.
A number of voluntary groups are invited to bid. The fact is that if you ask 12 to bid, there are 11 losers. Therefore, the amount of time wasted on that can be very great. My noble friend Lord Maude has had a valiant blast against the use of pre-qualification questionnaires, or PQQs. That is another hurdle for smaller groups to get over. His weed killer has worked pretty well in central government, but PQQs seem to be alive and well and living reasonably persistently at local government level. Perhaps we need to think about that. There are then lengthy tender documents that take a lot of compiling. Then there are the monitoring processes, which can be very lengthy and extensive, and can be changed in the middle. All those issues and features combine to deter, to put off, to disadvantage smaller voluntary groups.
The day before our meeting last Wednesday a small charity came to speak to me, because I have been involved with this process. It said that it had an example where the commissioner clearly believed it was unsuitable and that it should not be given the job. The charity was persistent, in a rather brave way. It went on to complete the process, against considerable odds and adversity. Then it was disqualified because, in the final contract, where it had to sign the document at the end, the words said, “Sign inside the box”. The signature had touched the side of the box. That was sufficient reason for the commission to say, “Sorry, you haven’t declared, you’re off”. One thinks that this is an extreme example, but these sorts of things come up again and again. We need to ensure this does not take root in the NCS commissioning process and that these non-tariff barriers, if you like to call them that, are identified and dealt with.
The purpose of the amendment is to make sure that we can find out what has actually been happening. It is supported by the NCVO. It provides this important independent overall review, with some special focuses to it. On reflection, I probably would not have chosen a review after 12 months—that is probably a bit too soon. So it might be a review after 24 months, to give more time to see how things settle down, but that is a detail. I hope my noble friend will accept that there is a principle here of something worth pursuing, which deals with some of the other concerns raised by noble Lords on both sides of the Committee, and we can explore how to build it into the Bill at the next stage.
My Lords, I was pleased to put my name to the amendments tabled by my noble friend Lady Finn. I support everything she said about making sure that the bureaucratic workload is kept to a minimum so that the NCS Trust can focus on its primary role.
I have great sympathy with the idea of the annual reports and the business plan focusing on particular areas of interest, such as diversification of intake, performance, and so on. But there are a couple of reasons why I think it would be a mistake to put it in the Bill and why this more elegant solution from my noble friend is a better approach. First, we cannot possibly anticipate all the things that the NCS, as it succeeds and flourishes between now and whenever—into infinity—could need to focus on from year to year. Inevitably, those challenges will change and we cannot possibly anticipate every single reporting requirement that might be needed to focus on the issue or the challenge of the day. Today, it might be disability; in three years’ time, it could be ethnic minorities, or anything. To put in a small number of things that we can think of now might focus the attention of the board on reporting things that actually in future years might be less important than others. That would be a mistake.
Secondly, all the issues that have been brought up by noble Lords as important focuses for the business plan and the accounts are covered in the royal charter. In the interests of brevity, I will not read out all the relevant bits of the royal charter but pages 7 and 8 talk about the primary functions,
“enabling participants from different backgrounds to work together in local communities”.
The charter says:
“In exercising its primary functions, the objectives of the NCS Trust are … to promote social cohesion”,
“to expand the number of participants”.
The trust is also to,
“have regard to the desirability of … promoting social mobility … personal and social development … ensuring value for money”,
and so on. I think that all the good points that have been made about the sorts of things that the NCS should be reporting on in its annual report and planning for in its annual business plan are covered—perhaps not completely and that is worth a look—in the royal charter.
Having the Bill say that the NCS should report and plan for the primary functions in relation to what is in the royal charter is the correct balance between making sure that the things that we care about are reported on and leaving flexibility with the board to focus on those things that are perhaps more important from one year to the next, rather than putting in the Bill things which might just narrow attention on to a small number of issues, which may not be the most important things in any given year. That is why I think inserting them as primary functions is helpful in clarifying what is important and what we should hold the NCS accountable for, but allowing some flexibility for the board to report on the things that are most pressing in any given year.
My Lords, much of what the noble Lord has just said is eminently sensible. Clearly, things change from year to year and the Bill is going to last in perpetuity, as it were. I will retable some amendments on Report. I hope that the Government will look at the charter to make sure that every aspect we have been speaking about today is truly covered. We will see what happens with amendments on Report but I would like the Minister to say what issues the Government and Parliament would expect the report to cover in 2017, 2018, 2019 or 2020—for the foreseeable future. Yes, priorities can change but I want to ensure that my priorities are covered in the annual report.
I have no amendments in this group, so I hope that noble Lords will forgive me for speaking briefly. It is unarguable that we should have the maximum transparency for the new body and sensible measures of comparability. We should be able to take account of value for money and impact, although those are two separate things: value for money is crucial in the wise use of public expenditure, whereas impact—this is why the longitudinal study is so important —is what happens down the line. I just caution the voluntary sector to be careful what it wishes for in terms of other organisations receiving varying amounts of public funding while requiring for others what they might find difficult for themselves.
To put that in context, in the last Parliament I was asked and was happy to be the transitional first chair of Youth United, which sought to bring together the uniformed organisations to increase impact in areas of deprivation. The need to do that, pressed by His Royal Highness Prince Charles, was that, on the whole, those areas of great deprivation were not covered in the same way and the impact was not as great as would be expected or desired. Some of the money that went in came from the LIBOR fines. When those fines are levied, they become public expenditure, albeit, as we might describe it, as “the Chancellor’s slush fund”, where there is as little transparency and openness as I have ever come across, in bidding processes or in acknowledgement of what has happened to the money down the line.
I just counsel that we build in the necessary requirements to ensure that money is used extremely wisely and we do not, to use the words of the noble Baroness, Lady Barker, go down the road of Kids Company. We need to be clear what we expect of the outcomes. As I tried to say on Second Reading, that is not just about numerical targets; it is about outcome measures as to how the impact is held on to, in terms of those young people—where they have come from, where they go to and their participation post the NCS experience. I just repeat: for big and small organisations alike, be careful what you wish for.
My Lords, those are wise words and they will ring in the ear long after my noble friend Lord Blunkett has uttered them. We should bear them in mind throughout this debate.
I do not want to say much about this, because the purpose of these probing amendments is to invite the Minister to reflect on how he wishes to take this forward and we should listen to him carefully. I will make two points. First, what is decided about the reporting functions must be the corollary of what we have decided about the structure. Rather than repeating the debate on the first amendment last week, I think that it is obvious that, if the structure adopted is the royal charter body, for example, it will bring with it the implications of a non-departmental public body. Therefore, the auditing by the NAO will be brought to the Public Accounts Committee and there will be a virtuous cycle of accounting and reporting, which we are well used to and will probably cover one aspect of this.
On the points that have been made more generally, this organisation will serve a much wider public purpose than simply to operate a number of courses or to commission those courses. The report is to Parliament, which raises much wider questions about what you would need to do. As has rightly been said, many of these measures are not numerical, so it would be interesting and challenging to see how one could frame that in a way that would both be a formal account—a measure of the consumption of resources and the impact of those resources in terms of diversity and reach—and provide information that will allow those who have to engage with this body to anticipate and work closely together with it. I echo the wise words of the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson, about the need for a broader cut through this—not just an annual report, but a commissioned report looking at some of the wider indices. That might be annual, but I agree that it perhaps needs to happen a bit later. That might be a way of framing this. I look forward to hearing what the Minister has to say on the matter.
I am grateful to all noble Lords for their contributions. A large number of amendments in this group are to do with reporting requirements or the business plan. In the interests of time, I will be brief in my response. I hope I do not come across as negative, because I do not mean to be. We are grateful for suggestions of improvement to the Bill, which has received almost unanimous support, and I realise that these are meant to be constructive. We are listening and will take careful note of all the points raised. As I agreed last week, there are some areas which we can explore further, such as reporting on disabled participants.
There was a recurring theme in many noble Lords’ contributions: there are many other things they would like the NCS to do. I want to make the point at the outset—because it goes through the whole of Committee stage—that we are very keen that the NCS concentrates on what it is meant to do and is doing well and we do not want it distracted. From my experience, this is a fatal temptation in business and in government programmes. As I said at the beginning of Second Reading, we want the Bill to set up the NCS in perpetuity so that it is able to do, and to continue to do, what it has been doing well.
Nearly 20 amendments have been tabled specifying additional reporting requirements for the trust, in addition to the seven requirements already in the Bill. I hope that the Committee sees that this risks being excessive, bearing in mind that some noble Lords have argued cogently that we must not stifle this enterprising and growing organisation. There must be a balance between the reporting essential to maintain public confidence in the NCS and allowing the trust space to focus on quality delivery. While we think that we should keep the mandatory reporting requirements in the Bill at a high level, I propose that the Government write to the trust to seek its assurances that its reporting will be thorough and will take into account the views of this House, as expressed in the various amendments. I am happy to commit to doing that.
Amendments 19 and 23, in the names of the noble Baroness, Lady Finn, and the noble Lords, Lord Maude and Lord O’Shaughnessy, would restrict the NCS Trust’s annual report and business plan to refer only to its primary functions. On the one hand, for understandable reasons, the noble Lords want to minimise reporting requirements; on the other, it is clear from many other noble Lords, who would like to add reporting requirements, that they feel that the report and business plan should refer to the full breadth of functions as set out in the royal charter. These are the tools through which Parliament and the public can hold the NCS to account. I hope noble Lords will see that we have tried to strike a reasonable balance with the reporting requirements in the Bill.
I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Barker, and the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, for their amendments. Amendments 21, 28 and 39 relate to how the trust consults and collaborates with the voluntary sector. The noble Baroness, Lady Barker, asked about the cost. In 2014, the average cost per participant was just over £1,500. This does not include overheads and we do not have a combined figure for those. Of course, value for money is one reason why the NAO is involved under the Bill. The NCS does not, and should not, exist in isolation. NCS graduates already have access to an online opportunities hub, which promotes volunteering opportunities. The trust’s primary functions require it to ensure that the NCS is accessible to all. If it is to do this, it will have to collaborate with other organisations with the right reach.
That being said, the NCS Trust is being established to arrange for the delivery of the NCS programme—to commission services. It is not being established as an infrastructure body, or representative body for the voluntary sector. Therefore, it would not be right to mandate the trust to report on how it has resourced the voluntary sector, as Amendment 28 would prescribe. The trust works with more than 200 providers, over 80% of which are public or voluntary sector organisations. They are resourced by the trust by entering into a contract with it, but the trust’s purpose is not specifically to resource the voluntary sector. Asking the trust to report on this, therefore, is not appropriate.
We agree that the trust’s relationship with the voluntary sector is vital, but we believe it is the trust’s job to report on its performance to Parliament. Other organisations would have a perception of the trust’s performance based only on their interactions with the trust or the programme. That will, in every case, be limited in some way. We do not believe Amendment 39 to be an appropriate ask of the trust as it is not necessary to require it to consult with the sector before completing an annual report. Furthermore, the trust does not contract with voluntary sector organisations alone; it oversees many relationships across the private, public and voluntary sectors to achieve its core aim: the provision of the NCS in England.
Amendments 29 and 33, as well as Amendment 30 tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, consider how the NCS sits alongside other programmes. The NCS has a specific structure. It is two or four weeks long and while different providers bring different approaches, all of them have to deliver the core components of the NCS as co-ordinated by the trust. Whether or not it is unique—I realise that there are different interpretations of that word in relation to the NCS—it is a short programme, designed to be accessible to all young people. It cannot be compared with much longer or part-time programmes.
Having said that, the trust must always look to learn from the youth sector, in this country and abroad. Where there are programmes that deliver outcomes similar to those of the NCS—social cohesion, social engagement and social mobility—it is the trust’s job to draw on best practice and shared learning. This year has been a case in point. The trust is co-ordinating an autumn pathfinders project, working with 18 organisations that are trialling innovative methods of delivering the NCS to help extend its reach into local communities.
Amendments 29 and 30 would require the trust to compare its value for money with that of relevant programmes. We have to be careful that anything we ask of the trust in statute is a duty it can reasonably be expected to fulfil. It would not be practical to mandate the trust to compare its outcomes with the value for money of other programmes. It would need to have significant amounts of information about other schemes to accurately compare value for money. This is not information that the trust can or should be expected to gather.
Amendment 31 would require the trust to report on its efficiency and effectiveness. I will respond also to Amendment 36 from the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, which would require the trust to report on how it has met its targets. I can be clear on both points. While the trust will report on its performance with rigour, the National Audit Office will become its auditor. The Bill will ensure that the NAO has the power not merely to audit the trust but to conduct reviews into its efficiency and effectiveness. This will include the extent to which it has achieved its targets. The NAO will undertake these reviews robustly. Therefore, we do not think it necessary to require the trust to report on this as well. Its accounts will be open to sufficient scrutiny by the NAO and Parliament.
Amendments 32 and 34 concern reporting on the trust’s board. The Government agree that the make-up of the board is very important, but the trust does not entirely control board appointments. It is the monarch, acting on the Prime Minister’s advice, who makes the final appointments, following a competition run by the chair. It would therefore not be reasonable to expect the trust to report on something over which the Government have the final say. The Government will, of course, have to comply with the public sector equalities duty when making these appointments, so they will need to take the considerations raised here firmly into account. Independence and integrity are requirements under the public appointments code. Appointments will be made after competitions that are fair, open and merit-based. The royal charter provisions will ensure that the Government have sufficient oversight of the trust’s members, meaning that they will not have to rely on the trust’s self-reporting each year. They will, on a continual basis, be able to ensure the diversity, independence and integrity of the board.
I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, for her contribution. Her Amendment 25 raises a useful point of clarification. It asks that the reporting on the number of participants includes those who have completed the programme. The Bill specifies that the trust will have to report on the number of participants for each year and I assure the noble Baroness that this will include the number of young people who graduate from the NCS.
Turning to Amendments 37 and 38 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, we agree that young people must be central to the trust’s strategic thinking but we do not believe it would be right to prescribe such reporting processes in the Bill. In order to meet its primary functions, the trust will have to conduct ongoing consultation with young people on how they respond to the programme. This relates directly to the development of strategic priorities. The trust already brings together groups of NCS leaders to represent the programme nationally and I assure the noble Baroness that we will work with it to ensure that young people are at the heart of its activities on a day-to-day basis. In addition to the board of directors, the NCS national youth board has a key role in working with the NCS Trust to ensure that the voice of young people is at the heart of the NCS. The national youth board consists of 21 NCS leaders from last year’s cohort, sponsored by five alumni from the previous year’s board. It represents every English region, as well as Northern Ireland, and works with 19 regional youth boards across the country.
Similarly, it would not be reasonable to mandate the trust to continue to report on young people’s actions post-NCS. This would rely largely on young people’s self-reporting, which would vary, and accurate reporting would be difficult. However, I assure the noble Baroness that the trust is committed to supporting the wider social action journey for young people and offers them the opportunity to feed back on further opportunities they have taken up. This provides valuable anecdotal evidence of the impact of the NCS, which will continue to be shared by the trust as it carries out its promotional function.
The second part of Amendment 38 talks about impact on the wider sector. As I have said before, Clause 6 requires the trust only to report on itself. It cannot be reasonably expected to report accurately on its impact across the wider sector. This would require it to access a huge amount of information about other organisations’ annual activities and involve it in a large amount of extra administrative work. The trust will, however, need to work with a diverse network of providers to deliver the NCS so naturally it will report on these relationships when describing how it has met its strategic aims.
I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Scott, for Amendment 27, which requires the trust to report on its compliance with the Public Services (Social Value) Act 2012. The NCS Trust, as a contracting authority, will be subject to the social value Act and I assure the noble Baroness that it does apply: the trust will be expected to behave no differently from any other organisation that comes under its scope. In fact, the Act does not require relevant authorities to report on their compliance with its provisions and to mandate for only the NCS Trust to report on its commissioning processes would be unusual. We need to give the trust space to focus on delivering the outcomes required of it.
Lastly in this comprehensive group of amendments, I come to Amendment 47, in the name of my noble friend Lord Hodgson. This would mandate an independent review of NCS commissioning. The NCS Trust is due to undertake a new round of commissioning in 2018 once the Bill has passed through Parliament. The Government will be working with the trust during this period to ensure that it abides by the latest best practice for commissioning and procurement. There is a dedicated team in the Department for Culture, Media and Sport which works with the trust to oversee and support its contracting rounds and I assure my noble friend that we will continue to review the trust’s commissioning behaviours as a matter of course. The trust’s own reporting to Parliament, combined with that of the NAO, will provide an ongoing picture of its commissioning practices. The Bill has been introduced to ensure that Parliament can raise concerns if required. This accountability to Parliament will ensure that the trust continues to work innovatively and flexibly to find the best possible providers for the NCS.
In conclusion, this is a question of balance. The amendments adding to the reporting requirements underline that the NCS is an important programme and we must ensure that we use it to its full potential. Equally, we must allow the trust to focus its resources and time on delivering a quality programme, not overly prescriptive reporting. Your Lordships have argued both cases. I believe that the Bill, as drafted, strikes the right balance between the two, but I am committed to writing to the trust to express your Lordships’ view on what it should report. I hope with that assurance, the noble Baroness will feel able to withdraw her amendment.
My Lords, may I ask a question about the opportunities hub? I think the Minister said that the graduates of the NCS have access to the opportunities hub. If that is the case, it would be very good if all young people, even those who were not NCS graduates, had access to an opportunities hub so that all young people, not just those who were fortunate enough to go through the NCS, could see what the possibilities of volunteering were for them.
Perhaps the Minister could consider one point, which was made by the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, when he said that it was important that the NCS be subject to comparison with other charities. Having listened to what the noble Lord, Lord O’Shaughnessy, said about the charter, does the Minister accept that some of us understand that it is quite possible for the NCS to be evaluated in the terms set out in the Bill, but that nowhere in any of this is there a requirement for there to be a comparison with any other service? Could he therefore explain, perhaps in writing, where it should be possible for anyone who wishes to to compare the work of the NCS Trust with the rest of the sector to find out the data on that? Is it the National Audit Office?
I will certainly consider what the noble Baroness has said and will write to her if there is anything more. I think this goes back to what the noble Baroness said at the beginning of the previous day in Committee about the uniqueness of the NCS Trust. The NCS Trust is unique and therefore a direct comparison, especially with the charitable sector, which has been referred to a lot, is not necessarily appropriate. This is not a charity. I take the point that it uses a lot of taxpayers’ money and it must be held accountable but I do not think there is a direct comparison with it as a commissioner of work from the voluntary sector. It is not part of the voluntary sector itself. That is off the top of my head, but of course I will go back and check with my officials that I have not said something awful.
The Minister gave a very thorough and lengthy reply to all these amendments. I am seeking clarification. Is he saying that the Government believe that an internal letter written by the Government to the NCS Trust and a no doubt very worthy investigative body at DCMS answers all the points that have been made in this group of amendments, that the Government do not intend to make any movement towards any of the points that have been made this afternoon, that in the Government’s view the situation as presently described provides a perfectly adequate balance and a perfectly adequate way of ensuring that small groups of charities are not squeezed out, and that we are going to depend on an entirely internal process with once a year an overview at the very high level from the National Audit Office? Is that where we have arrived?
I do not think that is exactly what I said in the course of my very lengthy remarks, but we are in the middle of two different views here, possibly represented by my noble friends Lady Finn, Lord Maude and Lord O’Shaughnessy on one side and practically all other noble Lords on the other. I may be miscategorising that. We think there should be value for money and accountability. That is part of the point of the Bill and why the National Audit Office will come in, why parliamentary committees can hold the NCS to account and why we have asked it to report in these seven categories. They are not just numeric; they include more qualitative things such as the quality of the programmes provided or arranged by the NCS Trust.
On my noble friend’s point about where we leave it, as I said in my remarks, we think this is a good balance. I said that we would write to the NCS Trust because we expect it to report on relevant provisions, but we do not want to mandate it in the Bill with a host of extra reporting requirements.
I am grateful to the Minister for his remark that the NCS should not be distracted from its core purpose and should continue to do what it has been doing so well. It should stick to its knitting, as it were. I also thank him for his other reassurances on reporting requirements. I am delighted that he will write to the trust board to ask about priorities for annual reporting requirements. In the light of the Minister’s remarks, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 19 withdrawn.
Amendments 20 and 21 not moved.
22: Clause 5, page 2, line 27, at end insert “preceding the year”
My Lords, we have just had classic probing amendment debate which is being replaced by the debate on my group which is, of course, a series of laser-like pounces on the drafting of the Bill. I apologise for dealing with such nitty-gritty, but they reveal one or two other things behind them. I will make the points very quickly and look forward to the response.
My first point is on the timing of the business plan. Business plans are business plans and they will change and vary as we go forward, but as the business plan is in the Bill, attention is drawn to it. The Bill currently states:
“The Secretary of State must lay a copy of the published business plan before each House of Parliament”.
That is presumably because it is the intention of the Secretary of State to get the views of Parliament, if any, on the business plan.
That sets up my next point, which is that the business plan has to be published before 1 June in the financial year concerned, which seems slightly odd. First, why June? The peak of the activity of the NCS will usually be over the summer period, which gives rather a short period to allow anyone to comment on the content of the business plan. Secondly, most people would want to comment on a business plan before the year in which it takes place, so to do it in the June of the financial year of the programme suggests that two months will have already elapsed and the money will already have been spent, so it limits the effectiveness of the comments. I suggest to the Minister that there is a problem here, in which case the dates might be changed, but if that is the intention, then a slight change in the phrasing to suggest that the business plan must be published no later than 1 June of the year in question might give us a better chance of making sure it is available in time to have some serious comments available to the organisation.
We are now all too well aware of how easy it is for royal charters to be changed by Ministers. Amendment 48 would restore balance to the process. The Bill would state that the charter may be amended provided that no amendment contradicts the NCS Bill once it has gained Royal Assent. I understand that the Bill is meant to be superior to the royal charter, but it would surely be bad practice to have a Bill that says one thing and a royal charter that says another, although I have discovered one mistake to that effect. I therefore suggest that a change should be made so that an amendment can be made to the charter only if it does not contradict the NCS Bill. I look forward to support for that idea.
I am concerned about the transfer scheme in the schedule but not because there is anything wrong with it. It is good that the schedule provides the proper requirement that good consultation takes place, but it goes on to state in paragraph 5(3),
“it does not matter whether consultation takes place before or after the passing of this Act”.
That seems a little cavalier to the staff interests which might be involved. I know it is a small organisation and it may be that there are other procedures that I am not aware of, but in this case I wonder whether the Minister might take this back and consider again whether the consultation should be completed before the Act is concreted, because it will set out the arrangements under which the staff are to be employed. In a parallel way, Amendment 54 asks that the unions, should there be any involved in this, and I hope there are, should also be involved in that process. I beg to move.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for raising those points. To take them in order, on Amendment 22, the fact that the business plan is being published before June in the financial year with which the plan is concerned is intentional. The business plan needs to cover the forthcoming work. I agree that ideally we would want it as early in the financial year as possible. We have allowed the NCS Trust a reasonable period of time to produce the plan, but the requirement to publish it before June will ensure that it will precede the bulk of the year, to include the trust’s busiest time, as the noble Lord mentioned, which is overseeing the programme during the summer holidays. I will think about the noble Lord’s suggestion of “no later than June” as opposed to “before June”. I cannot see that it makes a huge amount of difference, but I will certainly think about it, without any guarantee of doing anything about it.
The noble Lord’s Amendment 48 mirrors what is in Article 15.1 of the charter by making it explicit that amendments to the charter must not contradict the provisions of the Bill. The noble Lord could not resist mentioning that he had found a difference between the Bill and the charter, but I acknowledge it. It is perfectly reasonable for him to mention it yet again. I assure the noble Lord that the Bill, when enacted, will have primacy in law over the royal charter, as he said, which is an essential legal principle. However, given that the charter governs how amendments to its own contents can be made, I argue that the requirement need sit only there.
Amendments 53 and 54 concern Schedule 1, which outlines the transfer scheme for the trust. The Government and the current NCS Trust agree that conducting a proper consultation prior to Royal Assent, which we hope will be early next year, would not be practical. We would want to make sure that it is exactly that: an open consultation, which gives all relevant stakeholders the time to give their considered views. Other noble Lords, including the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, have been clear that the transition between old and new bodies will need time. The Government agree. I agree to write to the noble Lord about transition arrangements. We expect this to take between 12 and 18 months. The staff consultation is a critical element of this. We should not be rushing into it now before the rest of the transition has begun.
We agree with the noble Lord’s point on Amendment 54. Schedule 1 requires the Secretary of State to consult with those persons considered likely to be affected and those that appear to them to represent their interests. I can clarify for the noble Lord that the existing clause is designed to capture, in the usual way, staff and unions as appropriate. I hope I have laid out the Government’s ambition clearly and that the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 22 withdrawn.
Clause 5 agreed.
Clause 6: Annual report etc
Amendments 23 to 38 not moved.
Clause 6 agreed.
Amendment 39 not moved.
Clause 7: Notification of financial difficulties
40: Clause 7, page 3, line 34, at end insert—
“(c) there is an investigation into, or allegations of, inappropriate or criminal behaviour of—(i) the NCS Trust or an NCS provider, or(ii) an NCS Trust or an NCS provider employee or volunteer, in relation to their activities with the NCS Trust or the NCS provider.”
My Lords, before I speak to the amendment, I draw the Committee’s attention to the wonderful painting on the opposite wall, showing Daniel who would, no doubt, have been a graduate of the NCS, had he been able to. Is it my imagination, or is he pointing a rather admonishing finger at the Minister? Noble Lords can be the judge. I thank the Minister for meeting me to discuss the amendment. I give my overall support to the Bill and what it seeks to achieve. Indeed, I have already proposed to my twin sons, who were 16 last Monday, that they should sign up to the programme.
The most obvious feature of the Bill is that it enables the NCS to gain access to very substantial amounts of public money, both to expand its own work with young people and to subcontract a network of other bodies also working with young people. Given the financial implications of the Bill, there is provision for an immediate report to the Secretary of State if the organisation gets into financial difficulties. That is appropriate and seeks to learn the lessons from other bodies that have received substantial public money and ended up in an unhappy situation. One such has been referred to repeatedly in the Committee’s discussions today and previously.
Amendment 40 simply seeks to introduce a similar requirement should allegations or evidence occur of other forms of impropriety or inappropriate behaviour with young people. This would learn the lessons from the distressing cases of other organisations charged with looking after young people and children where abuse and other criminal acts occurred which were tolerated, ignored or, indeed, covered up, sometimes for decades, while wrong behaviour continued unchecked. Although we hope it will never occur, it would be naive to suppose that a network of organisations and people working with children will never give rise to such incidents or allegations, whether well founded or not.
The acid test is whether, should such an allegation or incident occur in one of the organisations being funded, the Secretary of State would want to know immediately. My strong belief is that the Secretary of State would want to know at once. When the Minister and his officials met me recently to discuss the amendment, there was some suggestion that the requirement might already be covered more generically somewhere in the documents of the NCS. I look forward to hearing further from the Minister on that point. My strong view is that, even if there is some clause deep in the NCS text that could be interpreted as enabling the NCS to be held to account post facto if it eventually emerges that something has occurred or been alleged, it would be far more helpful to have in the Bill, in clear, unequivocal terms, a responsibility to report to the Secretary of State as an automatic and immediate action so that the matter is put beyond doubt. This would make it far more likely that such matters would be addressed promptly, rather than emerging painfully and traumatically later. There is a great temptation for any organisation, particularly where funding is at stake, to believe that such matters are better dealt with—or, perhaps, contained—locally rather than shared upwards. As noble Lords will know, there is an inquiry struggling to get under way in the other place into areas where such lapses of judgment in the care of children have occurred in the past.
Finally, I am wary of anything in the Bill which will burden the NCS, or those with whom it works, with any additional administrative burden or cost. The amendment will not do so: it is a simple requirement to notify immediately in the event of an occurrence and not a regular or time-consuming administrative task. There is much to support in the Bill, and I hope that my straightforward amendment will enable a modest but important enhancement. I beg to move.
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Cromwell, makes the case that, in the same way that the Government should be informed in the case of serious financial issues, it should be informed in the event of a criminal allegation or investigation. We absolutely agree that the Government must be informed should an investigation or allegation of this kind occur. It is important to note that the royal charter, the trust’s constitutional document, specifies that it must,
“treat the need to safeguard and promote the wellbeing of participants as the paramount consideration”,
so we are in evident agreement about the importance of the trust’s responsibilities in this area.
I understand that the noble Lord’s intention here is to make these responsibilities explicit. We agree that such important matters must be absolutely clear, so perhaps we might discuss with him later how we may go about doing just that. For example, the noble Lord’s amendment does not distinguish between different types of criminal behaviour; he does not mean safeguarding alone. We would need to give some consideration to proportionality here and to which offences government needs to be informed of. With that commitment to consider this further, I hope the noble Lord is satisfied that he can withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 40 withdrawn.
Amendment 41 not moved.
Clause 7 agreed.
Clause 8 agreed.
Clause 9: HMRC functions
42: Clause 9, page 4, line 5, at end insert—
“( ) Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs must—(a) inform the NCS Trust and the Secretary of State annually of the costs of fulfilling its duties under this Act; and(b) include this cost in its annual report under section 6(4) of the Government Resources and Accounts Act 2000 (resource accounts: scrutiny).”
My Lords, the Minister and I have differed on whether the term “unique” is applicable. In this regard it certainly is, because the NCS will have the unique privilege of being advertised to every 15, 16 and 17 year-old by Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs. I thank the Minister for the explanations that he gave to noble Lords not just at Second Reading but in meetings about how that will happen and about the rationale for choosing the HMRC, which is the body with the most accurate information about 16 and 17 year-olds. He will know, because we had a discussion, that I have a reservation about a very small group of 16 and 17 year-olds for whom this may present a problem—that is, transgender young people, who may be written to using names that are no longer appropriate, and so on. That issue is not to be solved within the Bill; it is a wider issue than that, but I hope that it is one that, given the universal nature of this contact, the Government might give some consideration to.
The value of being able to contact every 16 and 17 year-old is immense. Quite how valuable it is we will come to know only in years to come when we have the annual reports, which will tell us whether the body has achieved the universal coverage of young people expected of it. In the meantime, it might be valid to know the cost of doing this, so we have come forward with the amendment. It is, again, a matter of reporting to high standards. Charities are often required in their annual reports to make declarations about help that they have had in kind. I know that it is not intended that the body be a charity, but none the less it seems to me that government could be open about the extent to which the trust is having this additional, not to say unique, promotion to young people, so that we and all others who will watch this organisation intently can see how well it performs, given the unique nature of its support. I beg to move.
My Lords, I am unhappy about Clause 9 standing part of the Bill. I should make it clear straightaway that this marketing ploy—I think it was described as such by the Minister, or he may have used a similar phrase—is a brilliant idea as far as the NCS is concerned, but it is a rotten idea as far as HMRC is concerned. That is the basis of my opposition to this clause.
HMRC has for centuries guarded its data on individuals passionately and with great care. That is, after all, statutory. That is why we have to amend the law in order to allow this to happen. However, it is more than that. It believes that it is essential for the collection of tax. I was a Treasury Minister in the Commons, and I remember very clearly that sometimes there were clauses in Finance Bills which were designed to catch particular things that were happening in the tax system where a fiddle was going on or somebody was trying to do something that HMRC did not like. It would never disclose, even to me, the Minister who was going to have argue about it in the Commons, the names of the taxpayers, even if they were great companies, that might be involved in the tax arrangements. That is how carefully it guarded its data, yet they are to be used for this marketing ploy.
I am concerned, not least about the slippery slope argument. If HMRC is pushed into doing this for the NCS, there are all sorts of messages that the Government constantly want to put out to the population and to particular members of the population, such as road safety or health issues such as stopping smoking or having a flu jab. There are all sorts of matters where it is very desirable that the Government should put out those messages, but if they are all allowed to be put out by this mechanism—my goodness. When you get a letter from HMRC you will have to empty it into the waste paper basket just as you do with magazines nowadays with all the sales literature and charity appeals that fall out of some of them. That is why I am very cautious about whether we should allow this clause into the Bill. In particular, I want to put a peg in the slippery slope to try to ensure that it does not happen in other Bills for quite other purposes.
There is one other point about the drafting of the Bill. This is what I think of as the Portia point. HMRC and the NCS will be able to send messages to young people, carefully defined and, as we discovered the other day, defined more narrowly than Clause 1 and the scheme as a whole, or to their parents or carers. If HMRC sends a message of this kind to an 18 year-old, that is illegal and HMRC will be committing a crime. If it sends it to a childless couple, a grandparent or someone else, it will be going beyond what is allowed in this clause. I suggest that some consideration might be given to that by those who draft these things. However, my major point is to try to make sure that if this goes through—and I shall not oppose it, of course—it should not be a precedent for HMRC sending out messages to all sorts of groups whom the Government wish to influence or to sell something to.
My Lords, since this is HMRC and it refuses to use email, presumably this is printed material. If it is sending it out to this group of kids, that is a couple of million kids a year and their parents, at £1 a time when you include the postage and the printing. This is not cheap stuff. I read the wording of this clause to allow the National Citizen Service to include anything in here. It says what is in here. It can include advertisements for other charitable services or perhaps for a bank to raise a bit of money for itself. This seems a very widely drafted clause, and I am not at all sure that it achieves the purposes that have been set out for it.
My Lords, I have an amendment in this group. This is one of my favourite topics. I have raised it in every Bill I have worked on, with no success at all, usually to substitute “must” for “may”. On this occasion, I noticed rather late in the day that there are two “mays” in this clause, and I have to be careful that it is not the first one, because that would play directly into the hands of the noble Lord, Lord Cope, who has made quite clear his reservations about this arrangement, which is going to provide the necessary oxygen to try to fuel the excitement that will be felt right across the country when letters drop into the houses of those who might be eligible to join. He might want to hold his choler a little longer because the Digital Economy Bill, which is coming down the track very shortly, contains swathes of permissions for data to be shared, not only within Whitehall, which is perfectly understandable, but wider, to local authorities and others. The noble Lord ain’t seen nothing yet. It is going to be quite interesting to see how that plays here.
I am sorry to have taken up the Committee’s time. My amendment deals with Clause 9(3) in the context of communicating information. I think it has probably come from the draftsman’s pen because “may” and “must” are drafted as “may” throughout. There is probably a word processor instruction to make sure that no “musts” ever appear. But surely on this occasion we are talking about information that has to be derived by the NCS from its own resources, and it must be that information that goes out. Therefore, it is right on this occasion that it should be “must”.
My Lords, I thank noble Lords for bringing us to Clause 9 and the new power for HMRC, which has caused a lot of comment in the course of the Bill. I reiterate that this is not the only marketing measure the NCS Trust will use. Your Lordships need only to look at its Twitter account to see its social media presence. However, this power is a means of ensuring, as far as government can, that as many young people as possible have the opportunity to hear about the NCS. HMRC will send on the information but it will not feel or look like an HMRC communication. My speaking notes say it will be colourful and exciting—I am sure it will—and it will be written by those at the trust who know how to communicate with young people effectively.
Amendment 42 in the names of the noble Baroness, Lady Barker, and the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, alludes to the importance of ensuring that the cost of HMRC writing to young people is value for money. The charter specifies that in all it does the trust must have regard to value for money and I think this is a principle that we all agree on. HMRC will recover the costs it incurs from the use of its staff, time and resources. These costs will therefore be met from the budget allocated to the NCS rather than from HMRC’s own budget. It is HMRC policy to do so and therefore, as an operational matter, it will need to inform the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport. The expenditure will therefore be included in the NCS expenditure listed in DCMS’s accounts.
The noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, raised the subject of who will be the author of the information HMRC sends out to young people or their parents or carers. I made the point that HMRC will act almost as a delivery service for the NCS Trust—a post person, if you like. The noble Lord’s amendment is in keeping with that in changing the ability for the trust to determine the content of the communication into an obligation to do so. Although “may” is one of my favourite words, we agree with him. This is something I intend to return to on Report.
On my noble friend Lord Cope’s wish to omit the whole clause, I understand his point. As a humble Treasury Whip, I too stood at the Dispatch Box and argued for the need for confidentiality of HMRC information, because it has been shown to aid taxpayer confidence and therefore increase the tax take. However, I respectfully disagree with the argument that this will open the floodgates. HMRC is using the data—only names and addresses—on the NCS’s behalf specifically to prevent it leaving HMRC custody and to keep it confidential. It will maintain its centuries-old commitment to keep confidential all information about individual taxpayers. In fact, this is about not taxpayers, but child benefit recipients. HMRC suits this purpose because it has central government’s best data on young people because of child benefit data. At the age of 16, young people receive their national insurance number from HMRC, which marks the transition to adulthood. At the same time, they become eligible for the NCS, an experience we want to become a rite of passage. The same is not true of road safety or flu jabs, which are ongoing concerns and have a closer affinity with other parts of the public sector, such as the NHS and the DVLA.
With those explanations, I hope noble Lords will feel able not to press their amendments.
I thank the Minister for his response. He will appreciate that, because no other organisation is given this benefit in kind, it is something which noble Lords will look at with considerable care in future years, not least to see its efficacy. However, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 42 withdrawn.
Amendments 43 to 45 not moved.
Clause 9 agreed.
46: After Clause 9, insert the following new Clause—
“Duty of care
(1) The NCS Trust has a duty of care to young people who participate in its programmes.(2) The NCS Trust may discharge this duty by—(a) assuring the quality of its programmes by—(i) setting out publicly the standards which its programmes, and those organising them, should meet,(ii) setting out publicly the process which it will follow in assuring these standards,(iii) arranging for the assurance process to take place, and(iv) publishing the results of the assurance process;(b) collecting information on the experience of every young person at the end of each programme, and making reasonable efforts to do so again several months later, and then—(i) publishing a digest of this information at programme and school level, and(ii) making the data available to researchers subject to reasonable safeguards;(c) organising and publishing biennially a longitudinal evaluation of the performance of its programmes and their long-term effects;(d) establishing a system to—(i) facilitate complaints and the raising of concerns,(ii) take effective and appropriate action in respect of each complaint or expression of concern,(iii) record the complaints or concerns and the action taken,and including a summary of this in its annual report;(e) publishing the basis on which it recommends other organisations to its alumni, or to young people who are not yet old enough for its programmes, including—(i) a list of organisations that it recommends, and(ii) the material it makes available on its website and to participants in its programmes, containing information on such organisations.”
My Lords, this amendment is about openness. It sets out all the ways in which the National Citizen Service should be open with us and others involved, in particular parents and carers, as to what is going on, the standards that it expects and how it enforces those standards. It is set in the context of a proposed new clause that says, “If you are open in these ways, then that is enough to satisfy your duty of care to the children concerned”.
The NCS is bound to be on the end of endless lawsuits. You cannot have this number of children in odd situations without things going wrong. The NCS is the obvious organisation with money. Charities never have enough money to make them worth suing; the NCS has pots. Giving the NCS some degree of protection seems worthy to me, but the main purpose of the proposed clause is openness.
The easiest thing for me to do is to ask the Minister to reply, then I will pick up on anything he says that I disagree with. I beg to move.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend for briefly taking us through the amendment, the intention of which relates in part to the concerns raised by the noble Lord, Lord Cromwell. As I have said, the trust’s draft royal charter stipulates that the NCS Trust’s paramount concern is the well-being of young people participating in the programme. To fulfil this obligation, it must ensure a proper duty of care to those young people. The Bill leaves the trust with the operational freedom to determine how best to do this but the Government and Parliament can hold it to account for how it performs.
I am pleased to confirm to my noble friend and the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, that we support a longitudinal study as a means to evaluate the NCS and have done some work in this area, monitoring certain participants year on year to track benefits. We have, however, avoided going into this level of detail in the Bill to allow the trust scope to innovate in the future—evaluation practices and terminology might change. When I responded to the first group of amendments I made the point that we have to allow the trust as much freedom as possible to use its own expertise. We agree, though, that it is essential that it reports on the quality of the programme and Clause 6(2)(c) makes this a requirement. I hope my noble friend will be satisfied with these commitments for the time being and feel able to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 46 withdrawn.
Amendments 47 to 50 not moved.
50A: After Clause 9, insert the following new Clause—
“Heritage railways and tramways: NCS programmes
(1) Nothing in this Act shall prevent a young person from working as a volunteer on a heritage railway or tramway, as part of a programme provided or arranged by the NCS Trust.(2) In carrying out its functions under this Act, the NCS Trust may not act in a manner which has the effect of preventing a young person from working as a volunteer on a heritage railway or tramway as part of a programme which is not provided or arranged by the NCS Trust.(3) In this section—(a) “young person” has the same meaning as “child” in section 558 of the Education Act 1996, save that the person referred to must have attained the age of 12 years; (b) “heritage railway” and “heritage tramway” have the same meanings as in regulation 2 of the Health and Safety (Enforcing Authority for Railways and Other Guided Transport Systems) Regulations 2006; and(c) “volunteer” means a person who engages in an activity which includes spending time, unpaid (except for any travel and other out-of-pocket expenses), doing something which aims to benefit the heritage railway or heritage tramway concerned.”
My Lords, I apologise to the Committee and to the Minister for tabling Amendment 50A so late, but it has taken a while to establish whether or not my objective can be accomplished by the addition of a new clause. I am extremely grateful to the Public Bill Office for advising me on the wording of the amendment.
Like every other noble Lord who has spoken, I warmly endorse the Bill’s objective of encouraging the participation of young people in projects and programmes that benefit them and our society in general. The purpose of my amendment is to ensure that in one particular sphere of activity these objectives and programmes are not unintentionally placed in jeopardy by the Bill. That sphere of activity relates to the operation of heritage railways and tramways.
I declare an interest as president of the Heritage Railway Association, a not-for-profit body which serves as a trade association established to support the 200 or so preserved railways—many operated by steam—and heritage tramways that exist in the country. The sector makes a considerable contribution towards tourism, leisure activities and local employment. It also plays an important part in encouraging young people to serve as volunteers, so making a material contribution to the running of these enterprises. In return, the railways and tramways provide young people with training and work experience, and help to instil in them teamwork and leadership skills, which is very much in line with the objectives of the National Citizen Service Trust.
In the circumstances, your Lordships might wonder why it is thought necessary to add this new clause to the Bill. The Heritage Railway Association has been advised by leading counsel that existing legislation—specifically, the Employment of Women, Young Persons, and Children Act 1920—throws doubt on the legality of engaging young volunteers in the running of heritage railways and tramways, as it expressly excludes the employment of children in an industrial undertaking. The definition of “industrial undertaking” includes railways, and “child” is now defined by Section 558 of the Education Act 1996 in effect to mean an individual who has not yet reached 16. It had long been assumed that “employment” had its usual meaning of “work under a contract of employment”, but counsel has advised that it extends to include work carried out in a voluntary capacity. So the 1920 Act, passed to prohibit the exploitation of women, young persons and children in an industrial setting—an entirely worthy objective—has been found to make unlawful the voluntary engagement of youngsters on heritage railways, which of course did not exist in the 1920s.
Given the highly appreciated input made by young volunteers to the operation of heritage railways and, more importantly, the need to continue to foster such input for the benefit of the youngsters themselves, and for the future of the railways, we need to secure a resolution of this dilemma. Having explored other ways around the problem, the only feasible solution would appear to be to seek an amendment to the law. I hope that, in any such legislation, the applicable age limit could be set somewhat lower, as a child’s interest is said to crystallise at about 12. Parental approval would be mandatory, of course, and the railway would need to keep a register of the children involved, as the 1920 Act already stipulates. The standard safeguarding, health and safety, and supervisory requirements would necessarily apply.
I believe that an amendment such as this would be looked on favourably by the Office of Rail and Road as enforcing authority. I further believe that, as a result of an exchange of correspondence that I had with Nicky Morgan when she was Secretary of State for Education, that department is also sympathetic to the need to resolve this issue by amendment to the law. Hence the reason for this proposed new clause, to make it clear beyond doubt that the Bill is not to be interpreted in this way. One such issue that might give rise to uncertainty could be the fact that, while the rest of the Bill provides for a lower age of 15 for its application, the clause reflects the heritage rail sector in favouring a minimum age of 12 for its volunteers, in the belief that, on the basis of expert opinion, a person’s interest is more likely to endure at that age.
I wish to make it clear that the proposed new clause would in no way limit the application to children and young people of standard health and safety, safeguarding and supervisory requirements of existing general legislation. The rest of the proposed new clause is self-explanatory. I beg to move.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for his amendment. He reminds us all of the value of heritage railways to this country and how important their upkeep is. I agree that many heritage railways are reliant on volunteers for their maintenance and operation. I also agree that volunteering for a heritage railway can provide young people with many of the skills that the NCS wishes to instil.
On the noble Lord’s concerns about the existing law, I agree that there should be no barriers to young people volunteering their time to support heritage railways. NCS participants work with the local provider delivering the programme to choose a local cause, or charity, to work with during the social action phase of the NCS. Sometimes the provider will invite local charities to present to the young people; sometimes the young people themselves have a clear idea about what they want to dedicate their efforts towards. We agree that it would be wonderful if a group of young people were to choose a local heritage railway as the focus of their efforts—either to fundraise for it or to spend time on site.
I understand the noble Lord’s reasons for tabling this amendment—to seek to amend the law in this area. While it may not be appropriate to do this in this Bill, which does not identify particular areas in which the trust should or should not intervene, I commit to take away the points raised today and to engage with the noble Lord to explore the issue further. There are other things that we need to look at, such as what we mean by “young people” and making sure that it is consistent across the Bill. I hope that the noble Lord accepts my points on this and my commitment to look at the matter further, and feels able to withdraw it for the time being.
I had not cottoned on to this issue before, but I have been listening to this debate. There is, of course, the Canal & River Trust. I am not sure whether a canal would fall within the requirements of the 1920 Act as mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner.
That is an important area, where there is a lot of work going on. It is an important charity and it gathers together a lot of volunteers. It is working very hard with regional groups—so if this conversation goes on, could its requirements also be built into the discussion that the Minister is having with the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner?
The noble Lord makes a good point which also illustrates why it takes time to go through all the ramifications; for example, this would not be just canals. I am sure there are many other organisations which might fall foul of the Act that the noble Lord talks about. That is something to consider, and it may therefore be why it is not possible in the time to add it to this Bill, but I will take that on board and I accept the point that it could apply to more than just railways.
I am most grateful to the Minister, who has gone considerably further than I feared he might be able to this afternoon, particularly in reinforcing the point that there should be no barrier to young people volunteering their time to work on heritage railways. That sentence is extraordinarily helpful. I accept with great gratitude the offer to discuss this further with him before Report. I would love the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson, to be part of that discussion so that we can talk about volunteers on canals as well. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 50A withdrawn.
Clauses 10 to 12 agreed.
Clause 13: Extent
Amendments 51 and 52 not moved.
Clause 13 agreed.
Clauses 14 and 15 agreed.
Schedule 1: Transfer Schemes
Amendments 53 and 54 not moved.
Schedule 1 agreed.
Schedule 2 agreed.
Bill reported without amendment.
Committee adjourned at 6.42 pm.