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National Citizen Service Bill [HL]

Volume 782: debated on Tuesday 4 April 2017

Commons Amendments

Motion on Amendments 1 to 3

Moved by

1: Clause 13, page 4, line 37, at end insert “, subject to subsection (2).

(2) An amendment made by this Act has the same extent as the provision to which it relates (and this Part extends accordingly).”

2: Clause 14, page 5, line 2, leave out “This Part comes” and insert “Sections 1, 10 and 12 to 15 come”

3: Clause 15, page 5, line 8, leave out subsection (2)

My Lords, the National Citizen Service Bill returns to us after its passage through the other place. I shall explain briefly two government amendments that have been made there. They are minor and technical amendments to correct the drafting of the “Extent” and “Commencement” provisions in Part 2. These are merely technicalities and it falls to me to ask the House to approve the corrections.

When the Bill was introduced in this House, Clause 13 provided that the extent of the Bill was England and Wales only. Schedule 2, however, contains four consequential amendments to other Acts: for example, the Freedom of Information Act 2000 and the Equality Act 2010. Those Acts have extent beyond England and Wales.

When consequential amendments are made to those other Acts, they should have the same extent as the provision of the Acts they are amending. This ensures that the section being amended has a uniform extent. This is standard legislative practice. The consequential amendment to the Freedom of Information Act, for example, should have the same extent as the section of the Freedom of Information Act that it amends. Clause 13 should reflect that.

Commons Amendment 1 ensures that this is the case by qualifying Clause 13 with:

“An amendment made by this Act has the same extent as the provision to which it relates (and this Part extends accordingly)”.

In other words, if the part of the original Act being amended has provision beyond England and Wales, the consequential amendment does too.

The second amendment is to Clause 14, “Commencement”. The Bill as introduced in this House provided that the whole of Part 2, which sets out general technical provisions, and Schedule 2 should both come into force on the day the Act is passed. This would have meant that the consequential amendments referred to in Clause 11 of Part 2 came into force on the day the Bill received Royal Assent. At this point, the new NCS Trust charter body will not necessarily exist. Part 1 of the Bill and Schedule 1 come into force on such day as the Secretary of State decides and makes by regulation. In reality, this will be after Royal Assent and once the royal charter is granted.

This would have meant that, even though the new NCS Trust would not have come into existence until after Royal Assent, the Freedom of Information Act and others would have included it straightaway on Royal Assent, and there is no sense in these Acts covering a body that does not yet exist. Commons Amendment 2 corrects that.

I hope that this explanation serves to justify the need for the amendments. I beg to move.

My Lords, I shall speak to government Amendment 2. Last October, when this legislation to turn the National Citizen Service into a royal charter body came before your Lordships, I said that,

“the fact that the National Citizen Service provides young people with a great opportunity to meet new people, try new activities and develop skills and confidence at the critical age of 16 or 17 is not up for debate. However, pretty well everything else in this Bill should be”.—[Official Report, 25/10/16; col. 120.]

I did so partly because the political decision of Mrs May’s Government to spend £1 billion on one project at a time when public services for young people were disappearing seemed somewhat cavalier. Furthermore, the NCS Trust, an organisation which enjoys unprecedented political support, receives 99% of its funding—£475 million in 2015—from government, but it has a weak governance structure and a patchy performance record.

However, my main concern stemmed from the fact that the decision to scale up this project was justified on the basis of an evaluation report commissioned by the Cabinet Office at a cost of £1 million. Extensive and expensive as it was, it failed to ask two crucial questions: how does the scheme compare with other similar schemes for young people and could the intended outcomes be achieved more efficiently and effectively by putting the scheme out to tender?

Since the NCS Trust accounts do not meet public sector transparency requirements, we on these Benches—lone voices—asked searching questions of the Government last autumn. We asked why this organisation, whose four-week engagement programme with 16 and 17 year-olds costs somewhere between £1,500 and £1,850 per place, was given preference over other schemes such as the Scouts, whose placements cost about £500 and last, on average, about four years.

Why should an organisation which from the outset was insulated from the rest of the voluntary sector be fast-tracked to royal charter status? Why should an organisation that not only failed to meet its targets for young people on placements but overpaid £10 million for places that were not filled be deemed not just suitable to be scaled up but, in the words of the noble Lord, Lord Maude, become,

“a permanent feature on the landscape of our nation”.—[Official Report, 25/10/16; col. 123.]

Why have the Government ignored the lessons of past failures, such as the Work Programme? The more forensic our questions, the more bluster came from the Government.

But someone listened. The Public Accounts Committee decided to hold an inquiry and put our questions directly to the NCS. Its hard-hitting report was published on 14 March this year and it uncovered further weaknesses in the governance, leadership and safeguarding of the NCS Trust. It called for robust plans from the trust and the Department for Culture, Media and Sport for how costs would be modelled and long-term outcomes systematically evaluated. This is the only opportunity to raise the key points made in that report.

The Public Accounts Committee said:

“NCS has shown early signs of success but the Department for Culture, Media & Sport lacks the data to measure long-term outcomes or understand what works”.

That point was reinforced when Mr Stephen Greene, in his interview on the “Today” programme of 14 March, was unable to answer that point when questioned.

The Public Accounts Committee recommended that the department should,

“establish a clear plan, and secure agreement with other government departments where necessary, by September 2017 for how it is going to evaluate the long-term impact of NCS”.

The second recommendation was that,

“despite revising downwards the target for the number of NCS participants … The Department and Trust need to think radically about what meeting the revised target means for how NCS is provided and works alongside other organisations. We expect to see detailed plans to support achieving the revised participation figures within six months”.

That point was made repeatedly by us on these Benches. The committee said:

“The Trust and Department cannot justify the seemingly high cost”.

It recommended that they,

“develop a robust and complete NCS cost model and publish benchmarking of its costs in advance of the next commissioning round in 2018”.

On the overpayment of £10 million, the Public Accounts Committee said:

“In its response to this report the Trust should update us on progress with recovering monies paid to providers, in respect of 2016 and previous years”.

It pointed out that the NCS Trust had not met standards of transparency.

May I say that at this stage of the passage of the Bill it is not right to make what is akin to a Second Reading speech? This is consideration of Commons amendments, so I ask the noble Baroness to come to a close.

Perhaps the House will understand that this is my one and only opportunity to raise a matter which is of key importance.

I say to the noble Baroness that there has been plenty of opportunity through the passage of the Bill.

I am a fervent supporter of the NCS. However, I think it is absolutely right and proper that the noble Baroness, Lady Barker, puts these questions, because, following the publication of the report of the Public Accounts Committee, this is the only time when she is able to put these questions. That is not to say I am against the Bill, but she is right to put the questions.

If we do not follow the rules, we shall never get anywhere. The noble Baroness does not appear to me to be addressing the amendments; therefore she is not in order.

If the noble Lord will allow me to finish, I am going to come to the point about commencement, which is what this amendment is about.

I simply wish to say that the level of financial and other reporting which the NCS Trust has given so far has been found to be inadequate by the Public Accounts Committee, which has asked the trust to provide a timetable and an action plan to put in place the governance, leadership and expertise necessary to deliver the expansion of this project.

We have argued from these Benches that citizenship and civic participation are important, but we raised these questions throughout the passage of the Bill and we did not get answers. They are fundamental to the capacity of the organisation to deliver this scheme.

The Bill should not be commenced. Its commencement should be delayed until all the recommendations of the Public Accounts Committee have been fulfilled and a report has been provided to Parliament, and until the governance, management, planning and performance of the National Citizen Service Trust and the Challenge Network have been independently evaluated and a report produced. The Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee should hold an inquiry into the role of Ministers and officials, just as it did with Kids Company. The transformation of the NCS into a royal charter body should be delayed until its eligibility can be proven.

In the meantime, the trust should be enabled to run its 2017 programme and it should be informed that its tenure and the remainder of its contract will be subject to the fulfilment of the criteria I have just mentioned. The National Citizen Service is a worthwhile enterprise. The body it has been entrusted to is not yet fit for purpose and a great deal of public funding is going to be staked on an organisation which so far has proven itself unable to deliver. On that basis, the Bill should not go ahead.

My Lords, I declare my registered interests in this area as a board member. The noble Baroness, Lady Barker, has raised some rational points in relation to the Public Accounts Committee, and they should be taken seriously. But to say that these matters have not been addressed and then to say in the next breath, “I have addressed them throughout the passage of the Bill and did not receive answers”, beggars belief.

I sat in Committee and on Report, as other Members of the House did, and heard the noble Baroness, Lady Barker, quite rightly, repeatedly raising the questions she has raised this afternoon; raising the comparative issues—which are not comparable—with regard to the Scouts; and raising issues in relation to contracting out by the National Citizen Service, which is a commissioning body and contracts out the actual delivery of the service to dozens of organisations in the voluntary and not-for-profit sector. The very reason the Bill is before us—and I welcome the two technical amendments —is precisely to ensure that the lessons of the past four years have been learned and will be taken forward.

That is why the noble Baroness’s speech today, together with her numerous interventions in Committee and on Report, which she is perfectly entitled to make, would make a very good speech in favour of the Bill. As I understand it, she welcomes the National Citizen Service, questions the value for money, and raises issues from the Public Accounts Committee, which have not yet been answered, but raises one absolutely fundamental issue: that the long-term outcome measures of the investment in young people engaging with voluntary service and the week’s residential course cannot yet be proved. That is a non sequitur. How can you prove the long-term outcomes at this stage of measures that have been in place for only four years?

On that count alone, and on the count that the measures that the noble Baroness questions have been questioned—even though this afternoon she says they have not been, and have not been answered—we should progress with the Bill, which will set in place an entirely new board and structure. I will not be part of that, but I wish the National Citizen Service well because, although it was not my idea and did not spring from my party, it is a fundamental investment in the well-being of our country and our young people.

My Lords, I will not detain the House for long at all. I declare my interest as a serving councillor and as an honorary vice-president of the Local Government Association. I rise simply to ask for some reassurance—it may have been given, but I have not seen it—that the new duties comprised in Amendment 1, which is a perfectly sensible amendment that I support, will be regarded as falling within the new burdens doctrine so that, if local authorities are required to expend more on providing the services identified here, they will be reimbursed by government in accordance with that doctrine.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for his introduction of the amendments. We gave the Bill considerable scrutiny when it was in your Lordships’ House, and I am only sorry that we did not pick up the drafting points that he has had to bring back after consideration in the Commons. We have taken the view that the National Citizen Service Bill has a very narrow purpose, intended to secure the future of the NCS and to make the NCS Trust more accountable to Parliament and the public. This is what it does and we support the amendments.

My Lords, I am grateful for those comments. I pay tribute to the noble Baroness, Lady Barker, who has been if not a lone voice then a voice that has addressed the scrutiny of the Bill the whole way through. Where I take issue with her is whether this is the correct place to do it. This Bill has been passed by both Houses of Parliament, with the exception of these drafting amendments. Both Houses have agreed it after scrutiny at all the different stages, and I would dispute whether this is her only chance to raise her points about the NAO and the Public Accounts Committee. There are many other avenues, but within the scope of Bill procedure, this is not one of them. I am certainly happy to meet her at any time she wants, along with my officials from the department, to talk about the issues that she has. I am reasonably confident that I can expect further scrutiny in this House on the National Citizen Service from her—I do not want to invite it, but I think that I may have it. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, who answered many of the points better than I can, so I will not repeat them now.

As far as the noble Lord, Lord Beecham, is concerned, I am not fully sure whether I understood his question. However, the NCS is a commissioning body, so any provider that does the work and provides the courses, be they local authorities or charities, will be paid by the National Citizen Service. It is not a question of extra duties being placed on other people. The money is there and that commissioning body will commission it from suitable avenues, some of which were mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Barker.

I hope that I explained in my opening remarks the technical reasons for these amendments and I therefore commend the Motion.

Motion agreed.