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National Citizen Service Bill [HL]

Volume 777: debated on Wednesday 14 December 2016

Third Reading

Clause 6: Annual report etc

Amendment 1

Moved by

1: Clause 6, page 3, line 4, at end insert—

“( ) the number of those participants who have a disability within the meaning of section 6 of the Equality Act 2010,”

My Lords, on Report, I committed that the Government would bring forward an amendment adding to Clause 6. I have listened to the points raised by noble Lords. The noble Baronesses, Lady Barker, Lady Scott and Lady Royall, and the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, have, over the course of these debates, made the point eloquently that we must do all we can to ensure that the NCS is accessible to disabled people.

The Government have put this amendment forward so that Parliament may see clearly, on a year-to-year basis, how the trust is performing in this area. The only way the trust will be able to report positively on the number of participants with a disability will be to work proactively with its provider base. I thank noble Lords for the worthwhile debate on this matter, and for making valid observations throughout. I hope that the House will support the amendment. I beg to move.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for this amendment, which, as he said, has been brought forward following discussion in Committee and on Report. The amendment is reassuring in that the Government and the NCS Trust will formally acknowledge the importance of equal access to NCS projects for young people with a disability. We look forward to seeing the guidance that will be given to those running projects. I hope the Minister has taken on board the concerns expressed at previous stages of the Bill that, when reporting on the numbers of disabled young people participating in the scheme, it will be necessary to have a breakdown by type of impairment, because disabled young people are a very diverse population.

Secondly, I still have some concerns about funding. The Government have previously suggested that the current funding system would be maintained where funding for meeting additional needs is paid out on a discretionary basis. I hope the Minister will think further about creating a more transparent system so that it can be scrutinised to ensure that the sums are sufficient.

I thank the Minister for meeting us and listening very carefully to the arguments made at previous stages of the Bill. I fully support this government amendment.

My Lords, I too am grateful to the Minister for tabling this amendment, which I fully support. I was also very grateful to him for agreeing on Report to amend the charter. It would have been helpful to see the draft charter with the amendments in it, and I hope it will be published soon. When will the charter be amended and published? Will the noble Lord be able to make an announcement about the review regarding a year of service? It was going to be “in due course”, “soon”, “imminent” and “very imminent”, and I wonder if it will be today.

My Lords, I add my thanks to the Minister not only for this amendment but for the way that he has approached the entire Bill and listened to the concerns which we have all raised. I re-emphasise the point about funding because, as we heard at previous stages, there are significant extra costs involved in the provision of services to people with disabilities to allow them to participate fully in the scheme. That is the point of this. It is not just about reporting the numbers and ticking the boxes but about genuine participation. It is important that sufficient funds are allowed and that they do not come from squeezing the providers and simply expecting them to provide the extra support. There needs to be a good dialogue between the NCS commissioners and the providers to make sure that sufficient funds are provided.

Amendment 1 agreed.

Clause 7: Notification of financial difficulties

Amendment 2

Moved by

2: Clause 7, page 3, line 37, at end insert “, or

( ) is the subject of a police investigation into an allegation of criminal conduct which could have serious consequences for the NCS Trust.”

My Lords, before I turn to Amendment 2, perhaps I may answer a couple of points raised on Amendment 1. I take on board all the points about funding and the extra costs. I said what I said about funding on Report but, again, I note what noble Lords have said and will take it back to the department.

The noble Baroness, Lady Royall, asked about the charter. It will be available in its amended state before Second Reading in the House of Commons. I wrote to noble Lords stating the additions which we have put in but I agree it would be easier to have it all in one place, and that will be done before Second Reading.

I am absolutely delighted to be able to say that, earlier today, the Minister for Civil Society announced an independent review into young people’s full-time volunteering. The review will look at how to increase participation in full-time social action by reviewing the opportunities and barriers faced by organisations that support young people. There will be an advisory panel, formed of experts from the private and voluntary sectors, and the review is expected to make recommendations to the Minister for Civil Society by October 2017.

On government Amendment 2, the NCS Trust’s paramount concern, as expressed in the royal charter, is the safeguarding and well-being of its participants. Clause 7 currently provides a requirement on the trust to notify the Secretary of State of financial difficulties, as defined by the relevant subsections. The noble Lord, Lord Cromwell, who is not in his place because he is in the Finance Committee, tabled an amendment in Committee and then on Report which would also require the trust to notify the Secretary of State of criminal allegations or allegations of misconduct against a member of staff of the trust or of an NCS provider.

Noble Lords will be aware that the Government were unable to accept the precise drafting of the amendments tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Cromwell, but we absolutely recognise that he has raised an important point. The amendment is consistent with the intentions of Clause 7 as drafted. In the case of financial issues, the Government, as funder, will likely be the appropriate authority to take action. Where there are safeguarding concerns or allegations of abuse, the police are the appropriate authority to notify, but it will be appropriate to alert government to an investigation that might have serious consequences for the NCS Trust. The amendment has been drafted to that effect. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Cromwell, for bringing this matter to my and my officials’ attention and for making himself available for discussions. I hope the House will support the amendment. I beg to move.

My Lords, I strongly support the amendment and admire the concise way in which my noble friend introduced it. I would like to take advantage of his mentioning the review that has been announced today merely to express the hope—this will not come as a surprise to him as I have taken part at Second Reading, in Committee and on Report and made similar points on each occasion—that the review will be able to look at the wider concept of citizenship and the possibility of the sort of national citizenship scheme that I advocated on those earlier occasions. I would be grateful for the Minister’s assurance that this will fall within the remit of the committee that is to report in October of next year.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for the way he introduced this amendment. When the noble Lord, Lord Cromwell, spoke to this matter in Committee and on Report, he was clear that his primary concern was not financial misconduct but that wider behaviour was at the heart of this. Charity legislation has had to grapple with this very difficult matter in the past. The Minister may know that during the passage of the draft Protection of Charities Bill we had a lengthy discussion about how one puts this concern into law. I note that this amendment still sits within a clause headed “Notification of financial difficulties”. Will the purport of this measure be made clear in guidance—that is, that it is not about financial matters but about safeguarding and wider issues of that nature?

My Lords, I just want to pick up on the point that has just been made—the unfortunate elision of financial difficulties with the broader issue raised by the amendment. I am sure that it is not something that we need to trouble with today. The Minister and I discovered that the wording in bold black type in Bills of this nature is not subject to amendment but it can be changed by the Government simply issuing instructions to the draftsman. Perhaps that can be arranged at some point in the magic that goes on behind the scenes, as I think that would remove the difficulty here.

My Lords, I am glad to be able to leave this Bill by agreeing with the noble Lord and the noble Baroness. Two things are happening in this clause: one is financial and the other is criminal conduct, introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Cromwell. When the Bill is reprinted and goes to the House of Commons—assuming that it passes today—the new title of Clause 7 will be “Notification of financial issues and criminal conduct”.

I am afraid I shall be less specific with my noble friend Lord Cormack. I know he has long had an interest in citizenship as a concept and in setting up a citizenship programme, culminating in a citizenship ceremony. I am not sure that that comes within the remit of this social action review, which is principally about volunteering, as opposed to citizenship. Therefore, I am afraid I cannot give him that guarantee, but I will take it back to the department and ask the Minister for Civil Society about it, and, if necessary, he can write to my noble friend.

Unfortunately, I could not be present on Report but I think my noble friend Lord Cormack spoke about this matter. As the Minister will remember, the whole idea was to give those participating in the scheme some sort of public recognition. I was not too worried about the wording; I was just keen that other youngsters should be encouraged to take part. The suggestion was not necessarily that there should be a formal ceremony, as there is when people come to this country and take citizenship. This is about young people taking part in citizen service, and it seems a shame to miss the opportunity to have that recognition in what I think is a very good scheme. I am grateful to the Minister and everybody who has taken part for their efforts to make sure that it is a good scheme. The Minister said that he would refer the matter to the department. I am just saying that I hope it does not get lost, and I thank him for his courtesy.

My Lords, I should be clear on this. I said on Report that the Bill will not encompass citizenship. This is completely different—we are talking about the social action review. I am sure my noble friend is aware of that but I just want to make it clear.

Amendment 2 agreed.

A privilege amendment was made.


Moved by

My Lords, in moving this Motion, I express my grateful thanks to all noble Lords who have contributed to the Bill’s passage. I especially thank the noble Lords, Lord Stevenson and Lord Blunkett, and the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, from the Labour Benches, and the noble Baroness, Lady Barker, and the noble Lords, Lord Wallace and Lord Shipley, from the Liberal Democrat Benches. They all made themselves available for meetings in addition to the debates at the various stages of the Bill. Last, and certainly not least, I thank my private office and all the Bill team, especially Kate Brittain and Tom Blackburn. They are showing devotion to duty to the last by being here instead of going to the office Christmas party. They have made my job very easy. I beg to move.

It is conventional to respond to the Minister’s thanks, and I should like to do so very briefly. I also thank the Bill team—I am sorry they are not wearing their party hats. It was a privilege to work with them; they were very open and very good at giving us the information we needed. This was a complex enough Bill on its own, and to add to that the complications of a royal charter must have been slightly mad, but that has also happened. We are still waiting for the final draft but I am sure it will come. In addition, the Minister was able to operate the wheels of government machinery to the point that, within about a minute of his standing at the Dispatch Box, he received notification to be able to announce the volunteering review. We had been waiting for that and we are very pleased to see it.

The Minister very kindly mentioned my noble friends Lady Royall and Lord Blunkett. I have to pass on a message from my noble friend Lord Blunkett. Because of the changes to the timings in the House today, he is not able to be present, but he wished me to make it clear that he joins me in thanking the Minister and the team for making the Bill work in the way that it has. He is very pleased with the result.

Bill passed and sent to the Commons.