Clause 1: National Citizen Service Trust
1: Clause 1, page 1, line 5, leave out “with” and insert—
“(1A) The NCS Trust is to consist of—(a) the chair,(b) the chief executive, and(c) at least 8, but not more than 10, other members.(1B) The chair and the members within subsection (1A)(c) are referred to in this section as the non-executive members.(1C) The Royal Charter which establishes the NCS Trust under subsection (1) must provide for the establishment of a remuneration committee.(1D) The Royal Charter which establishes the NCS Trust under subsection (1) must—(a) require that the appointment of the chair is made 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;(b) require that the non-executive members of the NCS Trust, other than the chair, are appointed by the chair of the NCS Trust after a fair, open and merit-based competition under criteria agreed by the Prime Minister and subject to his or her approval; and(c) provide that none of the members of the NCS Trust shall be representatives of Her Majesty’s Government, but that a representative of Her Majesty’s Government shall be permitted to sit on the remuneration committee established in accordance with subsection (1C).(1E) The NCS Trust has”
My Lords, I will not detain the House for very long. In moving the amendment in my name and those of my noble friend Lord Stevenson and the noble Lord, Lord Maude, I want to put on record my appreciation and thanks to the Minister for his considerable courtesy and his preparedness to listen and have a dialogue with his own ministerial colleagues in relation to this and other amendments today. In passing, although this is not a gripe against the Minister in any way, it is unfortunate that his noble friends who are responsible for business have not heard of something called the “dinner break”, which neither is a dinner break nor allows people to have dinner.
I shall try to set an example and be brief because we debated this at Second Reading and we debated the issues at length in Committee. There was considerable consensus that it would be right to allow the Government to have a nominee, which would fulfil the objectives that the Government laid out in relation to the remuneration to be offered to staff working on the National Citizen Service and, subsequently—I agree with this—on the audit and risk committee in relation to avoiding the misuse of substantial sums of public money. It is in that spirit that I move the amendment. Again, I recognise the care with which the Government, in the form of the Minister, have been prepared to respond to this and to my noble friends on other amendments on the Marshalled List today. This would mean a fair, open and merit-based competition for non-executives and the ability of the Government to get their own way in terms of having a nominee on the committees of the NCS, but would not place the National Citizen Service in the erroneous position of being seen by families, young people and providers as presenting a government scheme determined, directed and therefore shaped by the Government, rather than the actual position of the NCS.
In the debate on Monday on the size, shape and nature of this House the noble Baroness, Lady Stowell, said that it was at its best when dealing with—I paraphrase—non-controversial legislation. I hope that I will be able to say on Third Reading that the House has been at its best in shaping this non-controversial legislation in the interests not of the Government or Opposition, but of young people. I beg to move.
My Lords, I shall speak very briefly in support of the amendment, to which I have added my name. Its purpose is to encourage the Government to bring forward some firm plans on how to address some of the points raised in Committee by the noble Lords, Lord Blunkett and Lord Maude, and others, who were firmly of the view that the Government had got it slightly wrong in terms of its overall structure—so much so that it would put people off from joining the NCS, which would be a bad thing. I hope to hear proposals from the Minister that might resolve that problem.
My Lords, I am grateful for the kind words of the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, and I thank the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, for his brief remarks. I am thankful to both of them for making themselves available for meetings to discuss this, and I think we can agree a way forward.
We must, I believe, strike a balance. On the one hand we agree that we must give the organisation all the independence we can. It needs freedom to innovate, maintain its strong brand among young people and forge its own path. Young people must not feel the NCS is something that government does to them; they must want to go on it. At the same time, the Government have a duty to protect public money. Unsatisfactory or wasteful use of public money could kill the programme as surely as too close an association with the Government.
The noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, made a helpful suggestion in Committee for how we might strike this balance. He suggests that we do not have a government representative on the board but that a government representative is involved where appropriate and necessary for the Government to exercise oversight.
The provisions on the government representative are in the charter, so I can commit to amending article 5 to remove the requirement for a government representative on the board. All board members will be appointed through a transparent and open process in line with OCPA procedures. Article 8 of the charter will retain the existing provision for a government representative on the remuneration committee of the organisation. As article 5 will no longer include the government representative, article 8 will be amended to state that the government representative is to be appointed by the Secretary of State in consultation with the chair. The government representative will have to approve the pay policy—not individual awards—of the trust, as included in the current draft. A sponsoring department always needs to have the ability to approve pay policy, in accordance with Managing Public Money.
We will also add an additional article to the charter. This will specify that there must be an audit and risk committee and that there must be a government representative on that committee. We want to be ambitious for the NCS and this necessarily means that the trust will handle a significant amount of public money. To fulfil its responsibilities towards public money, the Government need to be satisfied that the right procedures to manage that money are in place. We must also ensure that all board appointments meet the high standards expected of public appointees. The Prime Minister is responsible for recommending appointments to the Queen, and the Secretary of State will ensure an appropriate level of government involvement in the recruitment process, including government representation on recruitment panels for board members, in line with the code of practice for ministerial appointments to public bodies.
Together these measures will ensure sufficient government oversight, while allowing the NCS the freedom to have an independent board to lead the organisation. I hope that, with these commitments to amend the royal charter, the noble Lord will withdraw the amendment.
My Lords, I ought to have declared an interest as I did at Second Reading and in Committee as a non-remunerated member of the NCS board. I am grateful to the Minister and I consequently beg leave to withdraw my amendment.
Amendment 1 withdrawn.
2: Clause 1, page 1, line 6, at end insert “, which are to be carried out with due concern for any impact on existing voluntary youth provision”
My Lords, in moving Amendment 2, I shall speak to Amendment 4. I am also grateful to the Minister and the Bill team for their co-operation throughout this Bill.
I am delighted by the level of support that the NCS enjoys cross-party and throughout the sector. Even when legitimate concerns have been expressed, few argue that investing in the development of young people at such a formative age is the wrong thing to do. Ministers and the trust must and should be congratulated on their determination to make this new service succeed: to broaden horizons; instil confidence; change lives and benefit society. However, we must remember that what we are discussing is not just how the NCS operates in the here and now, but for the years to come. We are creating something very special in a royal charter body and we hope that it will be enduring. Therefore we have to future-proof it.
Noble Lords will recognise the intention behind my amendments from my previous interventions at Second Reading and in Committee. I have consistently made the point that, with such substantial public investment at a time when funding for local youth provision is in terminal decline, there is a real risk that the presence of the NCS skews the environment for existing youth provision. We want the NCS to be a key feature of a healthy youth sector. It is not, and will never be, the only means of helping young people to develop and give back to their communities. I am not suggesting that the Government or anyone else think otherwise. My amendments should be taken not as a criticism but rather as a common-sense assurance that the trust, which relies solely on public funding, will not find itself undermining existing youth provision that already delivers on the stated outcomes of the National Citizen Service.
I listened carefully to the legitimate concerns of the Minster and fellow Peers during Second Reading and in Committee. My previous interventions called for additional reporting, something that I do not believe unreasonable, but I understand the reticence with regard to additional bureaucracy. I have asserted that the trust must have a duty to support existing provision that delivers on similar aims. Again, I do not think that that is unreasonable, but I hear the concerns that that could move towards an infrastructure body approach for the trust, which is not my intention.
My modest amendment does nothing more than caveat the proposed purposes of the trust so that it undertakes the promotion and delivery of the NCS while aware of the impact it is having on existing youth provision. It does not create additional reporting responsibilities, does not extend the jurisdiction of the trust and does not change its proposed activities. What it does is to ensure that there are moments within the governance and operation of the trust to reflect on how its presence has impacted on existing youth provision and if there is anything to be learned as a result. It would send a clear message to the wider youth and voluntary sector that the Government do not intend for a state intervention to impact detrimentally on existing community provision. When the National Council for Voluntary Organisations raises such concerns, as it has done, I think that we should listen.
Amendment 4 is slightly more ambitious. It would create an additional purpose for the trust in that it would champion a coherent youth social action journey for young people, which by its nature would ensure that the governance of the trust was wary of taking any action that undermined the provision that contributed to such a journey. It is a principle to which I know that the trust, the Minister and the Government already subscribe. Amendment 4 does not add to the bureaucracy, jurisdiction or activities that the trust currently undertakes but in principle and in practice it would strengthen the Bill, increase trust in the NCS, and allow the Minister to demonstrate that the Government’s investment is all about ships rising and not a programme to be prioritised above all others.
While mentioning the journey, I ask the Minister whether he can update me with regard to progress on an announcement of an independent review into full-time social action. The need for recognition by the Government of legal status grows by the day. If he cannot give me good news today, I hope that he will be able to at some stage before Third Reading. I beg to move.
My Lords, I support Amendment 2 from the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, to which I have added my name. It provides an important protection to avoiding any inadvertent damage to the very important charities working in the youth area.
In Committee, I drew the attention of your Lordships to the recent research into the impact of the Scout Movement on the mental health of adults; a significant difference in the mental health of adults has been demonstrated in research recently. As vice-chair for the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Looked after Children and Care Leavers, I am very well aware of the chaotic lives that too many of our children experience. Yesterday with Gracia McGrath, the chief executive of Chance UK, a mentoring organisation working with primary school children, often those with behavioural difficulties, I discussed the experience of too many children in this country. They may not have a table at home at which they can sit down for meals together; there may be very poor communication in the family, and no consistency about rules. A parent may say, “I will punish you for doing so and so”, and then the child will not get punished but will then find themselves being punished all of a sudden for something that they know no reason for. Often there is violence in the home; that kind of violence becomes normalised, and when such children go to school they find it hard to make friends, because friends do not understand when they get hit all of a sudden for no reason. I remember working with an eight year-old Traveller boy many years ago, blond and blue-eyed and much younger than the other group of four boys with whom I was working at the time. He was full of obscenities, hitting me and the others, but in an affectionate sort of way; it was the only way in which he really knew how to communicate affection towards us.
Going back to my discussion yesterday, Gracia McGrath talked about how she started to help these children, mentoring five to 11 year-olds and how she would often encourage them to join the scouts or cadets. There they would get the solution that they needed, a sense of purpose, a set of rules, maybe a father figure, and a uniform that they could be proud of. So I strongly support the noble Baroness’s amendment. The NCS is a giant already and is going to be even greater; we must take every precaution that it does not inadvertently disturb the delicate ecosystem of youth charities working in the area already. I hope that the Minister can accept this amendment and I look forward to his reply.
My Lords, Amendment 8 in this group stands in my name. The noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, said that this legislation was not controversial. The purpose and aim of this legislation is not controversial; there is agreement that the outputs such as those the NCS exists to deliver are ones that we all welcome. However, as I said at Second Reading, the decision to make this organisation permanent, to make it a royal charter body and to invest so much money in it is highly controversial. What this House has done, or what we have certainly tried to do from these Benches, is to draw to your Lordships’ attention the very many flaws within the basic design of this legislation and in its detail. We do so because we have seen in recent memory programmes of this kind, such as the Work Programme, fail to deliver in their own terms as well as doing damage to the rest of the sector.
I know that, on the one hand, the Minister wants to establish the NCS as a body that is completely insulated and isolated from the rest of the voluntary sector, not bound by the same rules and accounting obligations. On the other hand, he has to accept that if the NCS as a commissioning body is to deliver on its objectives, it will have to work very closely with the rest of the sector. The noble Earl, Lord Listowel, is absolutely right: at this size, the new body will have a profound effect on those other organisations. The Minister has, all the way through, elegantly batted off any suggestion that this organisation should be required to be accountable and report in any greater detail than that which is set out in the original Bill, but I put it to him that the requirement in my amendment to report on how many young people have gone on to participate in other social action opportunities and the impact that the NCS programmes have had on the wider social action sector should be fundamental parts of the raison d’être of the NCS. If it cannot do that, then we as parliamentarians have to question why so much money is being invested in it.
I think that this is a very modest requirement. If the Minister says that this is too much of an imposition upon the NCS Trust, I am afraid that, yet again, we will be forced to wonder whether the NCS is being overrated and overstated as an organisation and whether it really is safe to invest this much money in it. I hope that the Minister will accept this amendment.
My Lords, before I address the amendments in this group, I thank the Minister for his comments on the previous group. I did not say anything because I did not think anything more needed to be said, but the amendment is very welcome and a sensible compromise on the part of the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett.
There are two definitions at play in this group of amendments. The first is around the intention of the trust, as it were, in its impact on the wider social action sector, as addressed in Amendments 2 and 4. The other is more about reporting the consequences of those actions, as addressed in Amendment 8. I have a great deal of sympathy with the amendments in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Royall. I think we all want the NCS to be a spur rather than to crowd out wider social action. Like her, I am extremely committed to promoting the idea of a journey of service.
Whether these amendments are needed is in question. The evidence on the NCS so far is that it is acting as a spur through its commissioning work. It is not a direct delivery agent itself. I forget how many new and established agencies it commissions through its work, but it is clearly already providing income and capacity for the sector and it is difficult to imagine that it will not do more of that as it grows. If my noble friend the Minister were to give a commitment on a review, I hope that would satisfy the intent of Amendment 4.
Amendment 8, in the names of the noble Baroness, Lady Barker, and the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, is a bit more difficult because it is about what happens afterwards as a consequence of the action rather than the intention. It would certainly add to the reporting burden. I am also not sure whether it is the sort of thing on which the NCS Trust would have the capacity to report. It strikes me that the noble Baroness is asking for something that is more properly the work of the sponsoring department, rather than the delivery agent itself. Therefore, although I understand why she has tabled the measure and I understand the concern in all the amendments in this group to make sure that the impact is positive rather than one which crowds out other provision, I am not sure that the suggestion in Amendment 8 is proportionate in terms of the functions and purpose of the NCS Trust, nor would it be productive.
My Lords, I shall detain the House for just one minute to say a few words in support of Amendment 4, to which the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, spoke. Those Members of your Lordships’ House who were present in Committee will recall that I was concerned to try to involve international citizen service in the National Citizen Service as part of a seamless whole. My noble friend the Minister was having none of this, and has continued to do so, although he has continued to assure me and others that it is not intended that the two should be anything other than locked closely together, but that it would nevertheless be inappropriate for that to be stated in the Bill. That is partially, I think, for reasons of precedent—always the weakest argument in my view—but, more significantly in my view, because international citizen service has a slightly larger target audience. I have accepted this argument and have therefore not retabled the relevant amendment, but the concept of NCS being part of a journey of involvement in civil society and the voluntary movement is important. If I heard the noble Baroness aright, that is the philosophy behind Amendment 4. Since I think ICS would be part of that further journey, along with participation in a lot of other organisations before and after it, I consider the points she made on Amendment 4 worthy of consideration.
My Lords, I had not intended to comment but something the noble Lord, Lord O’Shaughnessy, said prompts me to add that one of the issues that we have struggled with a little throughout our discussions is an assumption that because NCS as currently constituted is doing something, it will always continue to do so. I think that assumption lies behind many of the amendments that were moved in Committee and those that will be moved today. The noble Lord was right to distinguish between Amendments 2 and 4, which are about intent, and Amendment 8, which is about consequences. It would be very helpful if the Minister could give an undertaking that his department will continue to take into account impacts on not just young people themselves but on the wider sector as time goes on.
My Lords, I am grateful to all noble Lords for their contributions. I think we can find a way forward on this. The issue here is twofold: what impact does the trust have on the youth sector, and what impact should it have? Amendment 2 would require the trust to have “due concern” for its impact on existing youth provision. Amendment 4 would require it to achieve positive impacts by promoting the youth social action journey. Amendment 8 would require it to report on both topics.
Throughout the passage of the Bill, I have been clear about what the NCS Trust is here to do. Its sole job is to provide NCS in England, so its “due concern” is just that. The primary functions of the trust must relate only to the trust’s promotion of NCS, and its job to arrange for the programme’s delivery. On that, we have to remain firm. However, this is not to say the trust exists in a vacuum, as I think the noble Baroness, Lady Barker, implied I was implying. A national programme such as NCS will have a significant presence in the youth sector and will work with many youth organisations. I agree that the trust must take this presence and these relationships seriously. It would benefit nobody, not least the NCS, if the trust were not to put these considerations to the fore of its strategic priorities.
That is why I can commit to a change to the draft royal charter for the NCS Trust. The charter will be the trust’s constitutional document; the trust must hardwire every element of it into its day-to-day operations. I hope this will enable me to dispel the rumour that the noble Baroness, Lady Barker, gave out, that I want to isolate the NCS. At the moment, as I have said many times, it deals with more than 200 different organisations, and we expect it to do that, continue to do that and expand that relationship.
Perhaps I owe the Minister an explanation. I do not ascribe that view to him. However, I have to refer to the speech made by the noble Lord, Lord Maude, at Second Reading, when he talked about the design of this programme and the deliberate intention from the beginning to make it a body separate from the rest of the sector. The fact that that is a founding part of its design, which is perpetuated in the Bill, is the source of wide concern in the voluntary sector.
I am grateful for that explanation and I accept what the noble Baroness says. It is absolutely true that the trust is set up as a separate organisation for the reasons we mentioned. But let me come to what I was about to say and we will see whether that will satisfy her.
We propose to add to the preamble of the charter a formal recital that outlines our belief that, “it is desirable that other organisations supporting young people should benefit from the actions of the National Citizen Service Trust”. This answers both issues. The trust’s royal charter now makes explicit that the trust should always be mindful of how it is impacting on the youth sector and should look at the benefits for that sector of any activity or decision it undertakes. As I have said, the trust will have to report on how it arranged for the delivery of NCS. It will report naturally on its relationships with the youth sector by outlining how it has worked with NCS providers and other partners. With this addition to the charter, Parliament can now even more readily expect the trust to consider how it has sought to benefit the youth sector when self-reporting each year.
The NCS Trust acknowledges its role in developing a coherent youth social action journey for young people. It is a founding member of Step Up To Serve’s #iwill campaign, and its chief executive sits on the board of Generation Change. Government has a role to play in ensuring that those overseeing the trust share a passion for improving the opportunities available to young people before, during and after NCS. This change to the charter sends a clear signal that, through the governance arrangements in the charter, the Government will do just that, now and into the future. This should provide noble Lords with the reassurance that we agree with their core argument—that the trust must be aware of its presence in the youth sector— and that we have moved in an appropriate way to accommodate this.
My noble friend Lord Hodgson and the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, talked about the social action journey and volunteering and so on. The noble Baroness specifically asked me about the government review of volunteering and social action, and I acknowledge that she has been very patient. During the course of the Bill I said that we will be able to talk about that “in due course”. I think we then moved to “soon” and perhaps even “imminent”. I can now say that it is very imminent. I hope—although it is not in my power to guarantee it—that we will be able to see something before Third Reading.
On the basis of that and my commitment to amend the royal charter, I hope the noble Baroness will feel able to withdraw her amendment.
My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister both for the imminence of an announcement—that sounds absolutely terrific—and for his proposed amendment to the royal charter, which I think should, as he put it, hardwire into the trust’s day-to-day deliberations and actions both the journey, as it were, and the relationship between the NCS Trust and the other organisations. I hope it will be a very firm signal to the NCS Trust that it must respect and empower other organisations that are part of that journey and that nothing it does should endanger the viability of those organisations. Indeed, it should be a catalyst for ensuring that those other organisations have vitality and life. I am very grateful for that.
There is one thing that I would ask. Can the words that the Minister quoted be put in the body of the charter rather than in the preamble to it? It is great to have them in the preamble but, as I understand it, if something is in the body of the charter, it is given more substance than if it is in the preamble.
I am grateful for the noble Baroness’s earlier remarks. We are putting this in the preamble because it is trying to create a mindset in the NCS’s board that it should be considerate of the wider sector. We are not talking about a specific function to carry out impact assessments or anything like that; we are putting it in the preamble to make sure that the board is aware of it and that it takes account of some of the things that the noble Baroness, Lady Barker, spoke about. We are not doing this lightly. We do not ask the Queen to put these benefits into her words. There is a technical difference between the body of the charter and the preamble but it is more appropriate to put it in the preamble to get the mindset right. We think that the NCS Trust board members will be fully aware of that and it will be a signal to the wider world about their duty.
I thank the noble Lord for that explanation, which satisfies me. I hope it will satisfy my colleagues at the other end but we shall have to wait and see.
The other thing I would say to all noble Lords—for whose support I am very grateful—is that we should be very mindful of this issue when we have the first report from the NCS Trust next year. We should make sure that it is acting in accordance with the words of the charter—its preamble and its substance—but also of course with the words of the Bill.
On that subject, I remind the House of what I said on the previous occasion. We will write to the NCS Trust with the suggestions that noble Lords have made—for example, in relation to reporting—so that it is fully aware of the issues that have exercised your Lordships.
I appreciate that this is not Committee and that we should not engage in over-extensive dialogue but the exchange on the question of the Royal Charter raises a substantial issue and I wish to intervene briefly on that. There was an engagement in Committee on the question of whether the Royal Charter should have a clause inserted into it to prevent changes being made to it which were not in accordance with the statute, so as to mirror the Bill’s provisions on the charter arrangements. The Minister is talking about adding to and changing the draft charter, which we have had an opportunity to look at—we are grateful for that—and it would be helpful if we could track it a little more closely so that, as well as receiving reports as and when and knowing that a letter will be sent to the NCS trust invoking the spirit of the charter, we can see what the wording is before we get to Third Reading. Can the Minister arrange for a further draft to be made available to us, so we are fully informed at that point?
It is reasonable that when I say we are going to make changes to the charter, we should tell the House what they are, rather than just reading them out. I am certainly happy to do that.
With that, I am happy to withdraw my amendment.
Amendment 2 withdrawn.
3: Clause 1, page 1, line 13, at end insert—
“( ) to provide for a pilot programme for a national citizenship scheme open to all young people between the ages of 15 and 18 and leading to a graduation ceremony on completion,”
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, who was willing to move this amendment on my behalf at a time when it appeared that the Bill would be taken when I could not be here. I am grateful, too, to all those who spoke in support of a similar, slightly more ambitious amendment that I moved in Committee. I would like to put on record my thanks to the noble Lords, Lord Wallace of Saltaire and Lord Bird, and the noble Baronesses, Lady Royall and Lady Byford, who is not able to be here tonight.
I have felt for a long time—I raised this on Second Reading and again in Committee—that we are in danger of missing a great opportunity here. There is enormous value in having a national citizenship scheme open to all 15 to 18 year-olds, under which they would have a proper programme of community service and a more far-reaching citizenship education than, sadly, is often received in our schools, at the end of which they would be able to go through a kind of graduation ceremony as a recognition of not only their rights but their responsibilities.
I detected a fair amount of support for this in Committee and when I have raised it on numerous other occasions in the House, I have always had support. Indeed, at one stage I took a group of colleagues from all parts of the House to see the noble Lord, Lord Nash, to discuss this in his department. Now that we have this Bill, I would like to see some acknowledgement of the worth of such a scheme.
However, because I detected in my noble friend’s reply and in the comments of others that I was being too ambitious and placing too much upon this new scheme, I have worded this amendment to propose that we have a pilot programme. This could be carried out in one or more areas of the country and need not involve a large number of schools initially. My native county of Lincolnshire or the county I had the honour to represent for 40 years in another place, Staffordshire, would, I know from conversations, both be willing participants. I commend it to your Lordships. It could bring great benefit and profit.
I have before said that such a scheme could be administered at little cost, with no party-political tarnishing, if it went through the lieutenancy. We all have in our counties a lord-lieutenant and a considerable number of deputies—I have the honour to be one myself. It could be done as the ceremony is done for those who take British nationality.
This is a much more modest amendment than I moved in Committee, but I hope that my noble friend, who has given great encouragement to colleagues up to now, can give me a crumb of comfort as well. I beg to move.
My Lords, I want to put on the record my thanks to the Minister for picking up the point I made at Second Reading and then again in Committee about the database held by HMRC being the most complete for this age group. I asked him at that point whether he would consider how we might use that to encourage electoral registration. I was very pleased to hear that something called the democratic engagement team in the Cabinet Office has taken up the idea and is looking at it. The Minister also said in his letter to me, rather cryptically, that,
“I am not in a position to announce anything at this stage”.
I look forward to hearing if not from this Minister then from another how that is going.
I was also pleased to read in the letter that the royal charter will address the question of encouraging participants to take an interest in local and national politics. That is very important, because otherwise this would be just a volunteering Bill. The Bill uses the word “citizen” and is therefore relevant to matters such as registering to vote or participating in local and national politics. I suggest to the Minister that it is worth the democratic engagement team having a conversation with the Local Government Association—I declare an interest as a vice-president—about the work it does in recruiting people who may be interested in becoming councillors, as well as with the local and parish council tier, because young people become parish councillors and make a really good contribution to their local community.
Finally, your Lordships’ Select Committee on Charities, of which I am a member, has heard that there are very few young trustees of charities. This is another area where it would be worth the team looking at whether civic engagement could be extended to becoming trustees.
My Lords, I shall speak to the amendment on citizenship. I am interested in the difference of opinion that seems to be developing on whether the NCS is a means of building character or a means of building democracy. I am interested in the idea that we have to build democracy within our young people. The ideal of building character is all well and good—the boot camp-type argument: “Go out there and have a wonderful time and get very wet and cold, and work with your comrades and come back and enjoy the experience and join with other people”. That is really interesting, but it lacks an understanding of what democracy is. Democracy extends only to a very small part of our nation, because if you live in poverty you do not live in democracy. Democracy and poverty do not go together.
If we are trying to reach down into the innards of society to help people build a basis in their early years so that they can develop not just literacy but social, political, cultural and democratic literacy, we need to look at opportunities of talking about citizenship whenever they present themselves.
Citizenship is one of the most profound ways we have of bringing many things together. I backed the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, because I believe strongly that we need to unite character building—I am grateful for that and I have done it all; I am the result of a lot of character building—with citizenship, in which we really need our children to participate. Schools are failing in the arguments around citizenship. Many schools do not teach it. If we can, we must build a basis on which our young people get the opportunity to come together and break down class differences, which is of vital importance in building a different world from the one we live in at the moment.
I suggest that the Government need to get behind citizenship and the very idea of why we started the NCS in the first instance. We were worried by the fact that children were not participating in democracy and that between the last election and the previous election, the number of young people voting fell from 60% to 40%. All these things are very much related to the arguments around citizenship.
My Lords, I support the spirit of both these amendments. Like the noble Lord, Lord Bird, I think that character building and civic responsibility go together and that both are essential for democracy. I deeply regret that the teaching of citizenship, which was introduced by my noble friend Lord Blunkett in the early 2000s, is not taken as seriously as it might be. A lot of schools fail their pupils because it is not taken seriously, but I well understand that this is the responsibility of the Department for Education and it might not want the DCMS to try to push this through the back door. Yet it is a hugely important issue that we should progress.
I am very pleased that the charter says that the NCS should be,
“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”.
When the noble Lord writes to the NCS, he might suggest that when participants do this specific part of their learning, not only are they encouraged to register to vote but forms for them to register—they can register well before they are 17—are made available by the NCS. This is not political in any way. This is empowering young people to ensure that they are able to use their vote because they registered.
I rather like a lot of things said by the noble Baroness, Lady Scott, about civic engagement. The department she referred to could do a lot more on that. I found the proposal from the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, about the pilot programme quite attractive. It is certainly a lot less than he asked for last time. I do not know what the Minister’s views are but if it is not accepted in this Bill, we should continue to discuss it. The NCS will be a national scheme but it would be excellent if all young people had to do something. I support the spirit of Amendment 3 and the amendment of my noble friend Lord Blunkett and the noble Lord, Lord Bird, although I can see that they perhaps do not quite fit into the Bill.
My Lords, I confess that I have not been very good at getting to grips with the NCS as an activity until recently. We in the rather sheltered DCMS team did not have much responsibility for civic affairs until quite recently, when it was suddenly, and very welcomely, transferred into our brief. Like the noble Lord opposite, we had a bit of a learning curve to understand where this all came from and where it might end up, but we are there, I think.
To cut a very long story short, I invited myself to the autumn programme, which is a shortened version of the summer programme, as it was operating in Croydon College. I discovered I was there not just to observe but to participate. I was a “dragon”—well, I am a dragon, really, in private life, so it was quite appropriate—in a test for six groups of young people; it was originally three but by the time we got there it had got to six. They had to appear in front of three dragons who had to investigate their work on preparing themselves to go out and do social action—this week, I think. They had been brought together as a result of the NCS. They were working together for the first time. They were drawn from very wide groups, although admittedly they were all from the Croydon area. They had to pitch to us a proposal for how they might spend the princely sum of £50 should we dragons be prepared to award it to them. It was great fun, particularly when they got the chair of the NCS up and blindfolded him and made him throw tennis balls into a bucket, advised by another dragon, which he was particularly bad at but blamed everybody else except himself for his inability to make it work. But it showed that the adults were just as bad as the children we were trying to impress with our various processes. Sorry, I ramble on.
My point is that I used the opportunity to find out a bit more about the scheme. One thing I asked, which bears on these amendments, was whether Croydon College had within its academic courses any engagement with the citizenship programme mentioned by my noble friend Lady Royall and whether or not it had any play-across. I was pleasantly surprised by the fact that everyone I spoke to—I spoke to about half a dozen individuals involved in the trust—said yes, they had been taught this; it was part of what they were doing. The teachers said that they had had some difficulty programming it in but they wanted to do so. Therefore, as well as the practical aspects of the social action programme that they were doing, there was an understanding of the theoretical basis. This was actually an NCS programme delivered by The Challenge and therefore it was an example of co-operative working across different organisations. Everybody involved was enthusiastic and committed, the kids were wonderful, and it was a really effective and most interesting day.
That is a long way in to saying that I support the amendments in this group. I feel sad that the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, has had to move away from his original ambition, which was to tie this more securely to the existing programmes, but I can understand why he feels that a little progress might be better than none at all. Of course, we are all impressed by the way in which the noble Lord, Lord Bird, has embraced this issue and is passionate and committed to how it could help in a wider sense than just the NCS; it would also have a place within the NCS. I am sorry that my noble friend Lord Blunkett has had to leave before contributing because he is the granddaddy of this whole area.
We have been throwing the royal charter around again. My noble friend Lady Royall arrived at the same point I do: there is an opportunity in the charter to take this a bit further. If it is not possible to amend the Bill—and these are probably not the right words to go into the Bill at this stage—surely it is possible to think about expanding paragraph 5.b.iv on page 8 of the charter, quoted by my noble friend Lady Royall, which could bear a bit more of the direct wording from some of the amendments we have here. If that were the case, it would have a bit of a bite on the NCS. I recommend that to the Minister, if that is possible.
I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Cormack and I acknowledge that this amendment is less far-reaching that the one in Committee. I fear, though, that I will be able to offer him only a small crumb of comfort, if at all, but I will try. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Bird, for his amendment on citizenship.
The arguments today follow on from the lengthy debate about citizenship in Committee. I take on board the views on this topic but I am afraid I am unable to change my basic response. I mentioned previously the role of volunteering in promoting citizenship and the role of NCS in promoting a sense of it among participants, as outlined in Article 3 of the charter, so I will not rehearse those points again today. However, I have to come back to the central point that the NCS Trust is here to deliver NCS. Though it can achieve some of the same outcomes as citizenship education—a sense of community and a desire to serve—it is not a citizenship scheme. NCS primarily exists to help improve social mobility and promote personal development. NCS and citizenship overlap but are not the same thing. The NCS Trust is not therefore funded, resourced or equipped with the specific expertise to provide a pilot national citizenship scheme.
My noble friend Lord Cormack said previously that the Bill lacks ambition but the aspiration to expand NCS to all 16 and 17 year-olds who want a place is ambitious enough, if it is to ensure quality and value for money. We cannot afford to divert the NCS Trust from its primary task.
As for Amendment 4 from the noble Lord, Lord Bird, on supporting schools, I was going to mention the clear words mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, and the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, which answer many of the points that the noble Lord, Lord Bird, raised. I will not repeat them now. Nevertheless, while the Government are committed to citizenship being part of the national curriculum, this is an NCS Bill concerned with the activities of the NCS Trust, which cannot reasonably be expected to carry out this function. The trust cannot impose its support on a school where the school does not want citizenship education to be the mechanism by which it develops a relationship with the trust.
Of course we agree that citizenship education is an excellent way to promote NCS. I commend once again the work of the Association for Citizenship Teaching in producing guidance for schools on how they can link the citizenship syllabus with NCS. The Government are producing guidance for schools on how they can work with NCS. I can make a commitment to the noble Lord, Lord Bird, that we will include the link to citizenship education in that guidance. I hope he will accept that commitment and feel able not to move his amendment, and that my noble friend Lord Cormack will feel able to withdraw his amendment in light of my earlier remarks.
I have taken on board the detailed suggestions of the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, about voter registration. I will take that back, although I have no guarantees on it. I also listened carefully to the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson. While we have made some pretty specific requirements of the NCS Trust to get itself involved in citizenship education, we want to be careful not to get too deeply into details of how it should do these things, so I cannot guarantee that we will be able to develop that later. With that, while I am sorry that I cannot continue my record of helping on every group of amendments, I ask my noble friend Lord Cormack to withdraw his amendment.
My Lords, my noble friend indicated that he would promise a crumb of comfort and I have not had even a grain of sand. But it is late and to call a Division on this amendment with such a thin House would be folly indeed. All I can do is express the hope that when the Bill is on the statute book, as it undoubtedly will be before too long—and of course I wish it success—I may be able to sit down with my noble friend and other colleagues in government to discuss what we can do about a citizenship scheme. If it is not something that fits into this Bill, it is something that should fit into this country. I feel passionately about that. I am delighted that the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, is nodding so vigorously—it is good to have her support as well as that of others, for which I am most grateful. This is an idea whose time really has come and we have to bring it to pass.
With that expression of disappointment but hope that my noble friend—who is a thoroughly good egg—will try to help me to bring this to fruition, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 3 withdrawn.
Amendments 4 and 5 not moved.
Clause 3: Finance
6: Clause 3, page 2, line 11, at end insert—
“( ) The NCS Trust must ensure sufficient funds are available to enable young people with disabilities to participate in its programmes.”
My Lords, in moving Amendment 6 I shall speak also to Amendment 7. We discussed both these amendments in Committee. At that time I was a little disappointed with the Minister’s response for two reasons: first, it implied that support for young people with special needs is more widespread than it actually is in the form of personal coaches and one-to-one support workers; and secondly, reporting on the numbers of disabled young people who have participated really is not an unreasonable burden for providers and the NCS Trust to undertake.
I am grateful to the Minister for our meeting last week at which we went through what might be done to meet those concerns. Subsequently, he has written and confirmed that the NCS Trust will be subject to Section 149 of the Equality Act 2010, meaning that the trust, in discharging its duties must,
“have due regard to the need to … advance equality of opportunity between persons who share a relevant protected characteristic and persons who do not share it”,
“foster good relations between persons who share a relevant protected characteristic and persons who do not share it”.
I am also grateful to the Minister for confirming that that means that there will be a need to remove or minimise disadvantages suffered by disabled people and that this requires steps being taken by a provider to meet an individual’s particular needs. However, there are still two concerns: first, the cost of providing the extra support required; and secondly, a need for there to be a report on outcomes and for there to be a clear requirement on the NCS Trust to be proactive in fulfilling the requirements of the Equality Act.
Amendment 6 would ensure that funds which are ring-fenced are made available to NCS providers to apply for in order to meet the cost of providing the specific support that disabled young people may require to access an NCS project. In Committee the Minister stated that the NCS Trust will continue to,
“work flexibly to provide any reasonable additional resource or support that a provider may require to deliver the programme”.—[Official Report, 16/11/16; col. GC 147.]
That is laudable, but there are nevertheless examples of disabled young people who have not been able to access the scheme due to the limited funding available to meet their needs. Will the Minister—or, indeed, the NCS Trust—say more about the funding that is available so that it can be assessed whether it is sufficient to ensure the inclusion, for example, of a deaf British Sign Language user?
Perhaps I may give the Minister two examples of the problem. First, Ambition UK recently encountered a young person who had additional needs and went back to the NCS Trust to request support for its subcontractor so that it could put the support in place for the young person. However, it is reported that none was forthcoming. Secondly, two years ago, three deaf young people in the north-west started the NCS programme. Two who were more reliant on British Sign Language disengaged from the programme fairly quickly. They said the venue was too noisy and was not inclusive. The third one completed two stages of the programme but not the third stage. The National Deaf Children’s Society offered deaf awareness training with the deliverers on numerous occasions but it was not taken up. It is obvious that it is one thing to have a statutory policy at a national level, but it is another for it to be fulfilled at the level of a specific project or programme.
The draft royal charter accompanying the Bill does not make any specific reference to young people with disabilities. Article 3.4.a refers to the objective of the trust being,
“ensuring equality of access … regardless of … background or circumstances”.
This can be interpreted as including young people with disabilities. However, Amendments 6 and 7 would help to strengthen accountability and provide a more specific focus on disability. Amendment 7 would put in place regular reporting about the participation of disabled young people. This will enable others to make assessments of the accessibility of the service.
In Committee the Minister referred to Clause 6, which requires the NCS Trust to report on the extent to which people from “different backgrounds” have worked together in programmes. I hope the Minister will agree that a more specific focus is needed on disabled young people, who are particularly vulnerable to exclusion. I do not feel that reporting on the numbers of disabled participants would be an unreasonable burden for NCS providers.
I make one further point on marketing. The NCS website has few details about the support available for disabled participants. 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. I hope the Minister will confirm that there will be plans in place to publish those details. I beg to move.
My Lords, I support the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, and the amendments, to which I have added my name. Funding is an issue for people with disabilities. I will read out one brief case study to illustrate that fact. It comes from the south-west, where I am from, and came to me via the Communication Trust. It states:
“A boy with complex physical difficulties (uses a wheelchair and an augmentative and alternative communication device) who attends a mainstream secondary school in the South-west was interested in joining the NCS scheme last year”.
That is great news. It continues:
“His mother completed the initial application and was put in touch with the local provider and held a conversation with them about her son’s needs. The mother explained that she could fund a support worker for the required time and that her son had successfully accessed many outdoor type activities with other non-specialist providers. The provider came back to the mother to tell her that they could not include her son in the NCS scheme—they would require additional funding and would not be able to meet the whole group’s needs. No alternative options were provided”.
This demonstrates why Amendment 6 is necessary, but I also support the reporting mechanism.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, for the amendment. It comes to a matter that sits at the heart of the NCS: it must be accessible to all. It is the Government’s manifesto commitment to ensure that any young person who wants a place on the NCS can have one. Article 3.4 of the royal charter states clearly that the trust must ensure,
“equality of access to the programmes by participants regardless of their background or circumstances”.
The trust simply will not be fulfilling its duties under the Bill and royal charter if it does not take steps to make the NCS accessible to people with disabilities.
The Bill and royal charter ensure, resolutely, that the trust will have to provide places on the NCS to young people regardless of their background or circumstances. If this requires a provider to secure reasonable extra resource, the trust will be expected to supply it. I cannot be more unequivocal. I obviously do not know the details of the examples the noble Lord mentioned, but I am certainly happy to take those back to the NCS Trust.
I accept, however, that Parliament and the public have a right to be reassured. NCS providers may have to make physical changes to the programme in order to accommodate somebody with a disability, and the trust has a responsibility to ensure that its providers can do so. I can therefore confirm that the Government intend to table an amendment for Third Reading which will add to Clause 6. Where the current drafting mandates the trust to report on the number of participants, we will be adding a line to specify that this must include the number of participants with a disability. Each year, we will be able to see how the trust is performing in this area. The only way for the trust to report progress on this measure will be by ensuring that the programme is truly accessible to all across the country. Further, the Government will amend the royal charter to add a further recital to the preamble, stating that it is desirable to take steps to overcome any barriers to participating in volunteering opportunities which young people may face as a result of their background or circumstances. This is in addition to article 3.4, which I have mentioned, and to the trust’s primary function to enable participants from different backgrounds to work together in local communities.
Explicit throughout the Bill and the royal charter will be the core expectation that any young person who wants a place on NCS can have one and that the trust must deliver. In the light of that commitment, I hope that the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw the amendment.
Before the Minister sits down, I say that I cannot recall whether during our various discussions we have ever discussed redress. The commitments the Minister has made tonight are very welcome, but I wonder what the redress of an individual or the parents of an individual is and to whom they complain if they think that these things are not being dealt with. We need to approach this from two angles. One is strategic—as Parliament we want to see these figures—but the other is at an individual level, and I am not sure that we have ever discussed that. If the Minister cannot reply this evening, it might be helpful if he could write to us before next week.
I do not think it is appropriate to do that on Report. The purpose of the amendments and of putting these things in the royal charter is so that it is absolutely clear what the duty is, so that the members of board of the NCS Trust are very clear about what their duty is. They have to have policies and procedures to make sure. I cannot guarantee it, but I imagine there will be a complaints procedure as well, but I will have to confirm that, so I will write to the noble Baroness and circulate the letter.
I thank the Minister for his assurances about reporting and look forward to discussing it further and seeing the amendment when we reach Third Reading. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 6 withdrawn.
Clause 6: Annual report etc
Amendments 7 and 8 not moved.
Clause 7: Notification of financial difficulties
9: Clause 7, page 3, line 34, at end insert—
“( ) a member of staff or a volunteer of the NCS Trust or of an NCS Trust provider is the subject of allegations to the NCS Trust, NCS Trust provider or the police, of criminal mistreatment or abuse relating to their activities with young people.”
My Lords, I thank the Minister for discussing this amendment with me since our last debate on the subject. We are very positive about the Bill but we also have to look on the dark side, and that is what my amendment does. Noble Lords will know that the Bill includes a requirement for the NCS to report immediately to the Secretary of State if it has financial difficulties. We might call it the “Kids Company” clause. The purpose of the amendment is to ensure that any allegations of child abuse are treated with at least equal seriousness and reported upwards in the same way. Anyone who has been in contact with the news in the past few days will be aware of the unfolding stories of child abuse and the failure to report it within the football world, where it appears to have been dealt with by a combination of not looking, not listening, not reporting and offering payouts.
We should not allow this huge amount of money to be injected into the NCS, a network of organisations dealing with vulnerable children. We must not allow it to create another opportunity for such behaviour or for such reactions to it. My acid test, mentioned at Second Reading, still holds true. If the Secretary of State wants to know at once if there are money difficulties, and includes this specifically in the Bill, I am sure they would equally want to know at once if there are allegations of child abuse, particularly if a pattern of repeated allegations was to occur.
It was suggested to me that the trigger for reporting to the Secretary of State should be a police investigation. I hope that the current situation in the FA and elsewhere, where police investigations are only now mushrooming, decades after the original alleged offences, shows that this is not the right approach. I have therefore not locked down the amendment to that criterion alone. I ask the Minister to consider supporting this amendment tonight and beg to move.
My Lords, I will merely say that this seems to me to be an eminently sensible amendment, and if I were the Secretary of State, I would certainly wish to have this information available to me.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for raising this important topic again. I also echo his thanks for our being able to discuss this in a very constructive way.
As I have said before, the royal charter states that the NCS Trust’s paramount concern is the well-being of its participants. We could not have been more categorical about that. The trust will need to have robust and effective safeguarding policies and processes in place. We see value in the Secretary of State being informed, at a point where it provides obvious benefit, of allegations of criminal behaviour that might have an impact on the NCS Trust’s ability to operate. I have committed to looking at this.
However, as far as safeguarding is concerned, the primary responsibility of the trust must be to inform the police or local authority where there is a suspicion or allegation of abuse, so that action can be taken to safeguard children and any crime can be properly investigated. Informing the Secretary of State is not an appropriate alternative escalation route as they are not able to take action in the same way as the police or local authority.
In this sense, informing the Secretary of State of criminal allegations is different to informing them of serious financial issues, which is already required in the Bill, as the noble Lord said. In the case of financial issues, the Government, as the funder, will often be the appropriate authority to take action. This is not the case for abuse allegations. It may be appropriate for the Secretary of State to be informed where there are systemic failings in the safeguarding practices of NCS organisations, and we have considered how we might specify that.
The Home Office and Department for Education jointly conducted a public consultation earlier this year on possible new measures relating to reporting and acting on child abuse and neglect, including the possible introduction of a new mandatory reporting duty or a new duty to act. The consultation closed on 13 October, and the Home Office is now carefully considering the wide range of responses from practitioners, professionals and the wider public. It will update Parliament on the Government’s conclusions in due course.
We will not attempt in this Bill to pre-empt or replace general law in this area. We have had a number of discussions and I am happy to give the noble Lord, Lord Cromwell, the commitment that Her Majesty‘s Government will make good on those discussions and bring back a government amendment at Third Reading. However, as he knows, we cannot agree all of what he wants. If the noble Lord wants to insert this amendment into the Bill, he will need to test the opinion of the House today, as I cannot give him the further assurances he is seeking. In summary, I regret that I have to inform the noble Lord that further discussions will not result in any further concessions. I thank the noble Lord again for his patience and good humour during our exchanges, which I know will leave him disappointed.
I thank the Minister for his reply. I was so looking forward to calling him a good egg, like the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, but I am afraid I am going to have to disappoint him. I am indeed disappointed. I understand that the Minister will be coming back at Third Reading with a version of this amendment—he is nodding, so I trust that is correct—and I hope I might be more encouraged when I see it; but clearly, seeing will be believing. In the meantime, he is correct that I am disappointed. With reluctance, I do not think it is practical to call a Division at this time of day or with this number of noble Lords, so sadly and with a heavy heart, I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.
Amendment 9 withdrawn.
Clause 9: HMRC functions
10: Clause 9, page 4, line 12, leave out “may” and insert “must”
My Lords, this is an amendment I tabled in Committee and which received a very positive response. I am hoping to cap the “egg” with perhaps a “double egg” after the Minister’s response.
I think I am a curate’s egg, good in parts, and I hope this will be a good part. I am grateful to the noble Lord for his amendment. It asks the key question, “Who will be the author of the information that HMRC sends out to young people, parents and carers?”. I have made the point a few times about how HMRC will act as a delivery service for the NCS Trust, and this amendment is in keeping with that. As drafted, the Bill provides that the trust may determine the contents of the communication being sent out. The Government intend that this always be the case. HMRC’s power should be only to deliver the communication using its contact data. The amendment from the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, would oblige the trust always to determine the content of the communication, clarifying beyond doubt that it must be authored by the trust. I am therefore pleased to say that the Government accept the amendment, and I am grateful to the noble Lord for highlighting this issue.
Amendment 10 agreed.
11: After Clause 9, insert the following new Clause—
“Independent review of NCS Trust commissioning
Within five years of the coming into force of this Act, the Secretary of State must commission an independent review of commissioning by the NCS Trust, which shall include, but need not be limited to—(a) the extent to which small, local providers are able to access contracts,(b) the barriers which may prevent small, local providers from being able to access contracts, and(c) the extent to which the NCS Trust has diversified the providers which deliver its programmes.”
My Lords, I hope that is the beginning of a trend. We return to an issue that was raised by the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson, in his amendment in Committee. I have submitted a revised version of that, partly because I did not know whether he was going to do so. This deals with an extremely important issue: the effect of the NCS Trust as a commissioner of services from the rest of the voluntary sector.
It might help noble Lords if I explain why some of us see this as being as important as we do. I commend to noble Lords, particularly the Minister, the transcripts or the recordings of the Select Committee on Charities, particularly its session on Monday, when we invited a number of big charities to talk about commissioning. We discussed at considerable length the somewhat damaging experience of using prime contractors and subcontractors, particularly in social care but also in the criminal justice system. I also commend the transcript of yesterday’s session of the committee, when we discussed exactly the same issue with the Minister with responsibility for the OCS.
It is fair to say that over the past five years or so the growth of this model of commissioning of services has had a profound impact, not all of it good. The work programme is the one that we keep coming back to: in effect, the way in which services were commissioned ruled out small providers and set up unhealthy relationships between big commercial providers that were able to deliver at scale and very cheaply at the expense of small organisations. The whole issue of commissioning is deeply problematic but it is the model by which the Government have chosen to deliver the NCS. I think the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson, understands how that experience has coloured the perceptions of the rest of the voluntary sector. We know what the Government are trying to do, but there is concern that such a big programme will have a disproportionate effect. The key thing that Parliament needs to look at is whether the process by which the NCS Trust goes about its commissioning work with small providers is harmful to the overall youth social action sector. This very much mirrors some of the points made by the noble Baroness, Lady Royall. The noble Lord, Lord Hodgson, is wandering round a similar part of the discussion but in a slightly different way.
With that, I ask the Minister to understand that this amendment is not in any way anti-NCS. It is about raising some real and grave reservations about the sub and prime commissioning model. I beg to move.
I shall speak to Amendment 12 in this group. As the noble Baroness said, I raised the issue in Committee, although I was looking for a review after one year and she is looking for it after five. I am now thinking about three years. It is like Goldilocks’s porridge—a bit too cold and a bit too hot. Three years might be just about right.
It is a few minutes past 10 so I shall not weary the House with a long diatribe about issues that we have already covered. It is really about how we will protect the position of small providers—the ones who are rarely able to get to the hard-to-reach groups—and avoid their getting squeezed out. The noble Baroness has touched on some of the issues that I am sure the committee of the noble Baroness, Lady Pitkeathley, has been looking into. As I have said, it is a combination of risk-aversion on the part of commissioners and the ease they have in dealing with a single supplier. That can result in a small supplier becoming what is known in the trade as bid candy. That is to say, an attractive, small organisation is put up as the front of a major contractor’s proposal. Not only is the bid candy an unattractive aspect of the situation, the bid candy often finds itself squeezed into the most unattractive part of the contract. The bid contractor takes the vanilla stuff and the small supplier is left with the most difficult aspects of the contract to fulfil.
My noble friend has heard me on this again and again. He will be weary of my saying that I still remain keen to believe that there is a real case for an independent review of the commissioning process after it has begun to settle down and we can see how things are starting to work.
My noble friend said in Committee:
“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”.—[Official Report, 22/11/16; col. GC 183.]
I shall not say a word against the good men and women of the DCMS. I am sure they are doing a splendid job but they are not reviewers or commissioners. They have a day job to do; they work in the DCMS. I just do not think they will be able to get into the detail required to make sure that the squeezing out that the noble Baroness and I fear is not taking place. It is too likely to happen.
My noble friend went on to say that as a backstop there is the National Audit Office. Again it is a terrific organisation and does tremendous forensic investigations, but it does so at a very high level. We are talking about being right down in the muck and bullets in how these things work. The NAO is not, therefore, equipped properly to do the sort of thing that my amendment and that of the noble Baroness have in mind.
I hope my noble friend will give this some further thought. It is a small thing to do but an important way of showing the voluntary sector as a whole that the Government, the NCS Trust and this House have the interests of the small provider and the small battalion at heart, and that we will put a provision in place to ensure that—once we test how the commissioning is going and see that it has set itself out in the way that I am sure everybody in the House believes is appropriate—local providers have a real role to play in establishing and building the National Citizen Service.
My Lords, can I make a suggestion? If the Minister is not minded to accept either of these amendments this evening, perhaps he might wish to look at the evidence sessions to which the noble Baroness referred, because these things are happening in parallel, and come back to this at Third Reading.
My Lords, these amendments have a common purpose: to put it in statute that a one-off independent review of the NCS Trust’s commissioning takes place after this Bill is passed. Amendment 11 would have it within five years, and Amendment 12 within three; the latter includes a requirement to review benefits to economic, social and environmental well-being. This reflects the discussion we had in Committee about the social value Act.
I cannot disagree with the intention of the amendments or the sincerity with which they have been presented. They mirror the ambition of the Bill: to make the NCS Trust accountable for its performance. But my noble friend and the noble Baroness would go further than what is currently drafted—too far, I would argue, for a piece of legislation. The Government want the trust to be accountable for its outcomes. It must demonstrate and report on how it is providing a quality programme for young people. We discussed these reporting requirements in Committee. The Government are concerned with what the NCS delivers more than the details of its methods. We believe that it is vital to trust in its own expertise to deliver a vibrant, innovative programme. The NCS Trust works with over 200 providers. The programme has grown dramatically since 2013, but the diversity of providers has not reduced. We should have confidence in the trust’s expertise. That is why it has been set up to deliver NCS—it must have the freedom to evolve. I would be worried about the message sent by these amendments: that we are setting up a body we do not trust. To put it in statute that an independent review will be needed would send a negative signal, given that the trust will have to submit reports and accounts each year documenting its activity, be subject to the NAO and Public Accounts Committee and have independent evaluation. There is a limit to the reporting burdens that we can impose on the trust.
Having said that, I understand the concerns. The trust is overseeing the growth of the NCS programme, and it is right to be interested in how it copes with this continuing expansion. Of course if, in future, Parliament were to have legitimate concerns about the trust’s practices, based on the evidence of its reporting, NAO studies, and the independent evaluations of NCS outcomes, there would be every reason for government to establish an independent review. It would do so because there would be reasonable doubt in the organisation’s operations. Nothing in the current Bill and charter precludes this. The NCS Trust must be accountable, but it must be trusted also. The Government are clear on this, and I hope that my noble friend and the noble Baroness can accept our position.
As for what the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, said, I am certainly happy to look at the evidence sessions, but I cannot guarantee to bring a change back at Third Reading.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for the directness of his answer. The debate takes us back again to the initial founding of the NCS and its independent, distinct and separate nature as a body. We have a fundamental disagreement, because I think that how the NCS delivers its services is central to what it delivers, because it has to work in partnership with the rest of the voluntary sector. It is not the delivery mechanism but how it manages its relationships with all the delivering partners that is absolutely central.
We have a disagreement: the Government wish the trust to act in a highly independent way; some of the rest of us believe that in order to deliver what it says it wants to deliver, it has to take account of the whole of the voluntary sector system within which it operates, even though it will have a different status. We will not reach agreement on this, but I have welcomed the opportunity to put on record a number of very genuine concerns from people in the voluntary sector who do not wish the NCS harm and want it to succeed but who, like me, share some grave reservations about its ability to do so, given the underlying nature of its establishment.
I thank the Minister for the grace and elegance with which he has batted on what I think—he may not—is a somewhat sticky wicket. He has been willing throughout to listen to the criticisms and arguments that we have made and he has answered them as fully as he can. I am not going to get anywhere tonight and I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 11 withdrawn.
Amendment 12 not moved.
13: After Clause 9, insert the following new Clause—
“Heritage railways, tramways and inland waterways: NCS Trust programmes
(1) Nothing in this Act shall prevent a young person from working as a volunteer on a heritage railway or tramway or an inland waterway, 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 or an inland waterway as part of a programme which is not provided or arranged by the NCS Trust. (3) In this section—(a) “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;(b) “inland waterway” means an inland waterway owned or operated by the Canal & River Trust or by any other charitable body operating an inland waterway or assisting in the restoration of the same;(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 or inland waterway concerned; and(d) “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.”
My Lords, I beg to move Amendment 13, which is similar but not identical to the amendment that I tabled in Committee. One important addition is the reference to inland waterways and I am very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts, for raising in Committee the subject of young people working as volunteers on canals and other inland waterways. I am particularly grateful to him for putting his name to the amendment tonight.
I do not want to take up the time of the House this evening by repeating all the points that were made in Committee. However, I need to share with your Lordships the serious problem facing industrial heritage activities—particularly on heritage railways—undertaken by young people as volunteers, as a result of an ancient piece of legislation: the Employment of Women, Young Persons, and Children Act 1920. The Heritage Railway Association—and I declare an unpaid interest as its president—has received a very unwelcome opinion from leading counsel that the 1920 Act expressly excludes the employment of children in an industrial undertaking, not only as paid employees under a contract of employment but as volunteers as well. Section 558 of the Education Act 1996 defines a young person as someone who has not reached the age of 16. So, as a classic example of the law of unintended consequences, an Act that was passed in 1920 to prohibit the exploitation of women, young persons and children in an industrial setting has now been found to make unlawful the voluntary engagement of youngsters on worthwhile voluntary activities connected with our industrial heritage.
The ideal solution would of course be to amend the 1920 Act, but it is not possible to do that with this Bill. The best we can do is to make it clear that, when young people are working as volunteers on heritage railways, tramways and inland waterways on programmes organised or supervised by the NCS—my information is that there are likely to be a great many of those—the 1920 Act should not be used to stop them. At present, the law unintentionally prevents young people enjoying the sense of adventure and achievement from involvement with a steam railway, which most noble Lords experienced in their younger days. For some it opens up a lifetime of enthusiastic volunteering; for others it can lead to a career in the industry.
The supervisory and safeguarding arrangements now in place on heritage railways and other industrial undertakings and the voluntary nature of the engagement makes the provision of the 1920 Act irrelevant. There is no argument about this being a worthy objective. As the noble Lord, Lord Ashton of Hyde, said in Committee:
“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”.
Indeed, the noble Lord went rather further than that and said:
“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”.
I could not agree more. He went on:
“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”.—[Official Report, 22/11/16; col. GC 196.]
Given such a strong and supportive statement, I am bound to ask the Minister how he intends to ensure that what he wants to see happen comes about if he is not willing to accept this amendment. I hope we will be able to count on him for his support and on that of other Ministers across the Government in finding a solution to a very significant problem. I beg to move.
My Lords, I was very pleased to add my name to the revised amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner. Along with most other Members of the Committee, I was astonished to find that the law of 1920, which was no doubt introduced with every good intention of preventing the exploitation of young people, failed to distinguish between working as an employee of Railtrack and volunteering to work unpaid on, say, the Bluebell Line. That seems to me a completely different activity. As we explored this issue a bit further, we found that a similar challenge exists with the canals and waterways because the Government—I cannot remember whether it was this Government or the last Labour Government—very creatively came up with the idea of moving the canals into a new charity: the Canal and River Trust. Free from the shackles of Treasury spending restrictions and with a one-off dowry, the charity now has to stand on its own two feet, both operationally and financially. Given the past shortage of funding, there is a huge backlog of maintenance. To tackle this, and to encourage local communities to take an interest in their local canal for all sorts of purposes such as recreation and running and cycling along the towpath, often in highly industrialised areas, the board of the charity has created local partnerships, which means that the bulk of the work is done by volunteers, many of whom are young people working in their holidays and at weekends.
As the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner, said, the Canal and River Trust, like the railway heritage groups, needs to obtain legal certainty and clarity on its responsibilities regarding the position of young volunteers who work on such activities. If their legal position is uncertain, or worse, I do not know what that means for health and safety and their insurance policies. It seems to me that is a serious problem. I cannot believe that somewhere in the fine print of the relevant insurance policy, it does not say that the policy is void if the policyholder is breaking the law. I cannot believe that an insurance policy will be valid in such a situation. If my noble friend is not able to accept the noble Lord’s amendment—glancing over his shoulder at his speaking notes, I think I can see that he is not going to accept it—I hope he will tell us how we can resolve this problem and give us a clear assurance that someone somewhere in government will be tasked with coming up with an answer to the problem, because it cannot be in the interests of NCS, the country or our local communities to have this situation continue. We must have the will to make sure that we sort it out.
My Lords, as a former Secretary of State for Transport, I have to say that until this debate took place this evening I was not even aware that this legal restriction was in place. I am sure that if there was a free vote in the House or indeed in the other place, there would be an overwhelming desire to see this situation change and be subject to proper regulation and health and safety requirements so that young people have the opportunity to volunteer and play their full part in these activities. I cannot think of anything more likely to engage the enthusiasm and wholehearted activity of young people, which is not often so easy to engage, particularly with boys, than not only railways but steam railways, which still hold a particular fascination. I am much more in favour of modern railways and high-speed ones but my noble friend is doing valiant work in keeping our heritage going strong. Of course, these heritage railways are present in all parts of the country. They are among the most exciting and well-visited tourist attractions and play a big part in local communities. This seems a thoroughly absurd and outdated constraint, which, with the wit of parliamentary draftsmen, I am sure it must be possible to find a way through.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for returning us at this hour to the elegant age of steam. As I said in Committee, I am sympathetic to the aims of the noble Lord and my noble friend. We want young people to have access to as broad a range of volunteering opportunities as possible, whether through NCS or other schemes. Heritage railways, tramways and waterways are part of our history and provide opportunities for young people to develop skills. As demonstrated by this new amendment, which relates to heritage railways, tramways and inland waterways, this matter extends beyond the Bill.
The noble Lord, Lord Faulkner, asked what we can do if we do not accept this amendment. My officials have already made contact with the Office of Road and Rail, which, among other things, looks after health and safety and includes heritage railways, to represent his and other noble Lords’ views and look into this. The matter is with that body at the moment. For the reasons which have been mentioned on all sides of the House, this potentially extends well beyond the areas we have talked about, and I am sure that there are many implications which we have not even thought of tonight. Therefore we will not be able to cover this in the Bill in the next week. On that basis, and on the basis that we have extended this question to other areas of government, I hope that the noble Lord will understand and withdraw his amendment.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts, and my noble friend Lord Adonis for their splendidly supportive speeches on the amendment. The Minister’s response is more or less exactly what I expected; I was grateful to him for the opportunity to speak informally during the week about the way in which we might address these issues, and I am delighted to hear that contact has been made with the Office of Road and Rail. I am sure that we shall want to explore that route further. I hope that the Government will use their good offices and their best endeavours to bring the parties together to see whether it is possible to come to a solution. The All-Party Group on Heritage Rail met last week and heard a submission from the Rail Minister, Paul Maynard. He was apprised of this issue, and he appeared to be sympathetic, so it has been registered inside the Department for Transport as well. I hope that it will be possible and that, if it cannot be done in the Bill, the Government will be able to use a legislative opportunity to amend the section of the 1920 Act that is clearly causing all this difficulty. However, in that spirit of goodwill and with the approaching onset of the Christmas holiday, I am happy to beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 13 withdrawn.
House adjourned at 10.23 pm.