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I have two points beyond that. Several colleagues have referred to waste, and I shall, if I may, extend the point that was made from the Cross Benches. Recently there appears to have been a good deal of work done on what to do with waste other than bury it. I believed that nuclear waste was exactly that in perpetuity until I met a man in Stoke-on-Trent who bought a large hole and sold its contents of waste three times at a useful profit. Two things seem to have happened. First, scientists have proposed that nuclear waste can be used in future reactors. Indeed, one has gone as far as saying that if the conclusions are correct, Britain could use its nuclear stations throughout this century free of cost in terms of fuel. It is important that the design of the reactors used should fit that bill.

Secondly, it is extremely important that nuclear produces hydrogen. The Americans have been producing hydrogen in submarines for the purposes of the environment.

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Lord Bach: My Lords, I hope that my noble friend will forgive me. I hate to interrupt him but we have reached 20 minutes. My noble friend will answer his noble friend’s comments but the House must move on. I wonder whether he can come to his final point.

Lord Christopher: My Lords, I shall leave it there.

Lord Bach: My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend.

Lord Jones of Birmingham: My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for that walk through the possibilities of what we can do with waste in the future. It neatly dovetails with the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, about what, going forward, we are going to do with waste. There will be times in the next century when we find that there are technological solutions that can not only make a profit but can probably help in generating future electricity. As for the question of a level playing field for the treatment of low-carbon generative capacity from nuclear power and low-carbon generative capacity from wind, tidal, solar or biomass power, I wish people would understand—and I hope Scotland is listening—that even Scotland is not windy 24/7.

Local Government: Community Empowerment

3.08 pm

Lord Greaves rose to call attention to the Action Plan for Community Empowerment: Building on Success and to the case for more initiatives to build sustainable local democratic structures and communities; and to move for Papers.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I thank the small group of stalwarts who have put their names down to speak in this debate. I am sure quality will reign over quantity. In particular, I am very much looking forward to the maiden speech from the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Ely. I thank my party, the Liberal Democrats, for allowing me to move this on a Liberal Democrat afternoon.

I have been involved in local campaigning and local democracy for about 40 years, which seems a horrific length of time. During that time, the terminology that people use has changed. We now talk about community empowerment and citizen engagement—or, at least, the Government do. Last year, they talked about double devolution, a silly phrase which has gone off to the Foreign Office or somewhere like that. When I started out in local government and local campaigning 40 years ago, most of my colleagues on the council would have referred to it all simply as “a damned nuisance” and seen it as people trying to get involved with things that had nothing to do with them. They should know that these other people were councillors.

However, my first message for the Government is to ask them, please, to start using plain English. Having read the report we are debating today, I had a vision of someone saying to their husband or wife,

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“I’m just off down the neighbourhood hub for a bit of community empowerment. We have been quality assured by the national empowerment partnership, and tonight we are embedding our practitioner learning and capturing and sharing it through the national neighbourhood management network”. I hope the idea of all this is not to get people to talk in this way, because they will not. I have a basic principle in life: if people use silly words, they are probably talking a load of nonsense. If the Government want to persuade me that they are not talking nonsense, can they please use decent words? I am not a sceptic about this; I am a huge enthusiast, as I was when the Minister’s political colleagues were very much against it. However, if we are all moving forward and believe that involving residents—which is what I would say—is a good thing and that there ought to be a lot more of it, then let us all work together.

I have been thinking about my credentials for having the gall to stand up and initiate this debate: I was involved in student and youth politics in the 1960s, as no doubt many noble Lords were, because of our generation. I exempt the Ministers on the Government Front Bench, who were probably at primary school at the time, from that. There was a feeling in the 1960s that people ought to be a lot more involved, and a lot more people got involved. In some cases it meant radical direct action throughout the world; in some cases it meant the growth of amenity groups. In 1970 I had privilege, as chair of the Young Liberals, of moving the community politics motion at the Liberal assembly, committing the Liberal Party to a policy of what we then called—and still call—community politics. It meant bringing together the politics of the street and the politics of the neighbourhood with the politics of elected bodies. This is absolutely crucial to the whole of this debate. If it works properly, what happens in the community and what happens on elected bodies—and now all the local quangos, and so on—have a direct link with each other. This is not always easy but it is very important.

On Monday evening I was in a slightly different position. I was at a public meeting, attended by around 100 people in the ward I represent on Pendle council, to present two people in the area with the South Valley Masterplan, a regeneration plan for that area. Here was I, who, when I was first elected to the council was with the people, mounting the barricades and assaulting the town hall, now managing public involvement in a very new Labour sort of way. Nevertheless, it was managed consultation that happened very successfully, and always with the understanding that if people do not agree with it, they are willing to say so and campaign against it. We were not storming the town hall, but rather “managing consultation”. In those days, we used to think that there was a real dichotomy between these two approaches, that what some people used to call a patronising attitude to getting people involved was quite different from direct action. That has never been the case. They will always be on a continuum. It is important that when government, of all people, and the state are encouraging people to get involved, they must realise and understand that it cannot all be controlled and managed. Some of it will get very messy.

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My second message for the Government is that involving people is not always easy or comfortable. Because people will get angry about what is proposed, and feel that the world and the state are against them, they will oppose what is going on. They will still storm the town hall, or whatever other bodies are involved, on occasion. The old attitude was to keep them out—keep them at arm’s length—and it would be okay. The new attitude is to invite them in. But whether you invite them or keep them out, it will not always be comfortable. By all means, we must encourage people to use the available channels and to engage in dialogue; that is the advantage of inviting people in. But there are times when people will get angry, and it will get messy. It is not all working tea parties in the vicarage. It is sometimes a matter of resolving local conflict, which is not always comfortable for people in power at all.

I remember 1990, when the poll tax came in and I was leader of the council for a couple of years. We had to institute the poll tax. The people wanted us to say that we were not going to send the bills out or take part in this but, as we were running the council, that was an impossible position. People said “okay” in droves; the turnout went up hugely at the election and we were all voted out, and somebody else had to run the poll tax. People have a right to protest and a right to anger. It is not always easy, but you must still do it because it is the right way.

My third message for the Government is that they should think carefully about what they mean when they use the word “community”. There is a romantic, rosy-eyed notion of community, of tea on the vicarage lawn; I apologise to the right reverend Prelates for these references, but they will know what I mean. At a local level, the community is who lives there; it is everybody. It is not the people who happen to be organised in groups, although they are part of it. It is not national NGOs and their local representatives, although they are part of it. It is everybody and all the organisations. We must always remember this. The Government talk in the local government White Paper of wanting,

for local charters. I do not know what they mean by “local community” in that context—as a body that can “voluntarily” enter into an agreement. There is a lot of woolly thinking about it.

Who gets involved? Well, if there is a major issue, you get hundreds of people involved. We had a big issue where I live about proposals to remove a fire engine last year. A majority in the town signed the petition. Again, in around 1990 or 1991, we were campaigning against the proposals of the then Tory Government to close the local hospital in Colne. It was a huge campaign. We had a public meeting which I chaired, with about 350 to 400 people crammed into the sports hall, where our local MP, John Lee—who is now of course my noble friend Lord Lee of Trafford—came and gave what support he could to the campaign. He did not have much choice, really; he could either stay away or give support. There was huge local anger.

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However, that is not the kind of engagement that the Government are thinking of. That is oppositional; it is campaigning to stop people closing things and doing things, which is what gets people worked up. If you have projects, if you are proposing to spend £5 million in an area—or even £30 million to £40 million over a period in regeneration areas, which is true of some I am involved with—people will get involved; not in huge numbers, but quite a lot will come to exhibitions. A sufficient number will take part in a local group to work with the council, or whatever other authorities, to see it through.

However, when you get to those who will attend meetings month by month and get involved at that level, particularly if there are no huge projects going on, you really are down to the committed few to keep it going. Are they the community? If so, are they representative? If not, how do you make important decisions about priorities? The Liberal Democrats say that that is where elected councillors come in. You cannot keep them out of the process, because they are elected to mediate between the different demands and views in the community and, ultimately, make choices; not locked away in smoke-filled rooms—as they would not be now—or otherwise, but as part and parcel of community decision-making processes.

When nothing much is going on, there are people who are dormant but still interested. As a ward councillor, I send out an e-mail newsletter every week or fortnight about everything going on in the ward that I know about—planning applications, items on agendas and so on. Over 100 people now are happy to receive that, and only one person has ever cancelled it. That kind of provision of information to people is good because when something crops up, there are a lot more people who know about it and turn up.

The Government may want to stimulate a lot of public involvement; they have done one thing recently that will do far more than all this to achieve that; that is, the recent local government finance settlement. This really puts the squeeze on some councils for the first time in some years. There will, for example, be library closures, community centre closures and cuts in local services of all kinds. That will get people going; I am not quite sure that this is the way the Government want to do it.

I talked about priorities and the importance of councillors, and my noble friends will go into that a bit more.

When I read the Government’s papers, where are the references to political parties? Which are the bodies that, for all their faults and lack of members nowadays, provide the engine room for activism in the community in so many places? The Government and the people who write all these papers seem to think that political parties can be written out of the equation; they hope that they will go away, leaving nice community involvement and engagement with citizens, without the sort of conflicts, arguments and rows that political parties bring along. I have got news for them: if that is what they think, they are living in cloud-cuckoo-land. Political parties, activists and elected representatives are a crucial part of political

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involvement and engagement in a community. They are a crucial part of the way the community works in determining opinions, who turns out to get involved in particular issues—whether it is oppositional or managed—and of course who gets elected to the council.

My next message for the Government—I think that it is number five, but I have lost count—is that, with regard to involving people or community engagement or whatever it is called, you have got to look at it in all kinds of communities, neighbourhoods and areas. There is a temptation to say that neighbourhood management is a new trendy thing and we will do it in the deprived or disadvantaged areas—what we used to call the poor areas. If you are going to do it, you have to do it everywhere, and this needs resources. The disadvantaged areas are the ones where perhaps there are fewer resources in the community itself, but whether you are talking about add-on projects such as putting in neighbourhood management schemes, or just trying to do things in a more local way in your normal, mainstream services, that still needs extra resources. At a time when the Government are demanding that councils impose 3 per cent annual efficiency cuts, it is very difficult to find those resources. If there is a choice between cutting a service or delivering that service in a different way, most councils will go for not cutting the service—that is just the way it is.

I have used up my time. I wish the Government well. My final message is: do not believe that you can do this top-down; you can’t. Page 29 of the report says,

You can’t do that; you can encourage, you can stimulate, you can provide the structures that make it more possible, but when it comes down to it you need people on the ground, politicians and the people who run organisations, who are enthusiastically in favour of it, and who accept—as the Government have to accept—that it will be untidy and messy. The Government can get over that by calling it diversity in practice, but it will still be untidy and messy, and in some places it will not work. Yet where it does work, it is the most fantastic thing in the world. I beg to move for Papers.

3.24 pm

Lord Graham of Edmonton: My Lords, here endeth the first lesson. Verily, verily, I say unto you: lift up your hearts. I have been enormously impressed by the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, because, as always, one knows the way in which one speaks. You know that you are listening to the voice of experience. He referred to the stalwarts who have gathered here; I call us the repertory company and this is the green room. We are examining where we go from here.

I was delighted to detect from the tone of what the noble Lord said that he is giving some marks to the Government for attempting to deal with a deteriorating position in participatory democracy. I have an interest to declare, which is registered, relating to the Co-operative group. I do not want to speak about the Co-operative group, but I plead in aid my experience in the Co-operative movement over many years.

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I was lucky, when I began to have an interest in those matters, to do so during wartime, when there was youth National Service, and in the post-war period, when works and factory cycling and rambling groups contributed to the ethos of young people—and, of course, the churches played a powerful part in providing youth organisations. The noble Lord, Lord Greaves, referred to the political parties. I joined the Labour Party when I was 16. I attended meetings of other parties. I was the Prime Minister of the Tyneside Youth Parliament for a period. My involvement was all natural: it was there and I participated. Sadly, when one looks at the role of local government, national government and organisations, including the churches, the Co-op, and everyone else, it is a new world—it is different.

When we talk about empowerment, the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, is absolutely right; I like to use “ownership”. I think that one of the great contributions made by the Co-op movement, for instance—the noble Lord knows very well about Rochdale, the Rochdale Pioneers in 1844 and the birth of the Co-op movement; it has a democratic basis of one member, one vote—is that it provided many people with an idea of participating. They would not have used a grand word like “participation” or “involvement”, but when they went to their local Co-op store, they knew that it was their Co-op store. They had some say in it. They had the members’ meetings.

I remember in the post-war period going to the City Hall in Newcastle, which held 2,000 people. You could not get in because of the members of the Newcastle Society wanting to participate. Mind, I tell you, the two big issues that always drew the biggest crowd were when we sacked the general manager or when we reduced the dividend. Sometimes, when we did both, we knew that there was going to be an overflow. Those were the days of very large meetings.

When I talked to my mam at a certain time in my life, I said, “How did you enjoy what I call social intercourse?”. She said to me that there were two afternoons a week when she got out of the house. Dad was on the dole and she had five kids; I was the eldest. She went to meetings of the Women's Co-operative Guild and to the Labour Women's Section. “What did you do, Mam?” “Well”, she said, “I listened to a speaker and we sang songs”. “What did they speak about?”. “Oh, I can’t remember what they said, but I got out of the house for two hours”—social intercourse. It seems to me—and I do not blame anyone for this—that over the past 60 or 70 years the fabric of our society, or my society as I knew it, has been weakened. The Government are trying—and I pay due tribute to them—rather than making promises, to lift the democratic control that we ought to spend time and money on. I know the Minister, if she were able to be frank, would say that there were many more issues in her department which could command both time and money, so the Government should be congratulated on taking ownership of this issue.

Now we come to the question of how to measure success. Is it an increase in numbers? Is it an increase in branches? Is it speeches—inches in the newspaper? It is very difficult indeed. My noble friend Lord

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Clarke of Hampstead drew my attention to two documents. One is entitled Burnley Speaks, Who Listens...?.He was the chairman of a taskforce report which dealt with the very sad events in Burnley in the early 1980s. I know from our conversations that the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, read that. Arising from the work that was done then, we now have a body called Elevate. I know the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, will know all about that as well. Quite frankly I was very impressed when I went through Elevate to see what that taskforce was doing. I was very struck by the words of David Taylor, the chairman of Elevate. Besides telling us about his work, he says:

If everyone who has participated today were to ask, “What have I got out of it?”, it would be very difficult to be precise. There is a warm feeling of friendship—I call it comradeship—among people over the years. I think the Government have got this priority right. What is required? Funding, strategies, consultation, relevance, leadership—none of which is easy but all of which have to be tackled. The Government can be congratulated there.

Again I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, for having this debate and not forcing me but inviting me to read this report. I looked through the illustrations. There are case studies, which may be the best or may be run of the mill, but reference is given to Perry Common in north Birmingham, Portsmouth City Council, Hattersley Neighbourhood Partnership, Sandwell Town Teams, Rochdale junior neighbourhood wardens, Shoreditch Trust, Forums Against Extremism and Islamophobia, the Bradford Vision budget, petitions in Barking and Dagenham, and Gambesby village hall in Cumbria. They should go on record in this debate as being noted by parliamentarians and ought to be congratulated.

In my youth, I joined dad’s army. Before I saw service in the Royal Marines, I was a member of the Home Guard, the Local Defence Volunteers—quickly known as “look, duck and vanish”. We do not create that sort of thing now. I do not want to use the term “going back to the good old days” or hanker after conditions as they were, but somehow society has to get its act together.

I am glad that the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Ely will make his maiden speech today, because, twice in the past three years, I went to christenings in Welwyn parish church, Hertfordshire. As well as babies Leo and Toby, 300 people squashed into the church on a Sunday morning. I am not a churchgoer, but I love going to a church when I get the opportunity. The Welwyn church is 1,000 years old and the congregation were happy and joyous to be brought together for a purpose.

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