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As many noble Lords will know, in July 2008 we published Face to Face and Side by Side, a framework for partnership in our multifaith society. This was part of our overall response to Our Shared Future, the report of the Commission on Integration and Cohesion, and in particular, its recommendation that there needed to be more constructive relationships between those who are religious and those who are not. As the document itself says, we believe that the building blocks set out in Face to Face and Side by Side represent the key enabling factors for effective dialogue and social action involving people with different faiths and beliefs and those with none. We recognise that the commission's highlighting of the importance of going beyond interfaith dialogue to encourage meaningful dialogue between people of faith and no faith and people of different ethnic backgrounds and cultures, has been echoed by those who feel excluded from the table of interfaith dialogue. It is aware that the key rubbing point for many interfaith forums is the role of people who profess no religious belief in this dialogue.
The British Humanist Association has itself been working to address that. The Government's Faith Communities Capacity Building Fund funded the British Humanist Association to establish and support a network
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With individual faith communities there is often diversity, and there are challenges both for faith communities engaging in interfaith activity and for local authorities. It can be all too easy to take the simplistic route of conflating faith, ethnicity and culture, but faith is a distinctive category in its own right.
Some faith communities have much to offer in helping to eradicate disadvantage, and the Government seek to enable them to use that capacity for the wider benefit of society. More on that shortly, but our work with faith communities is not about privileging religious groups or discriminating against those with non-religious beliefs or no belief. It continues to be a priority of the Government to ensure that those with a non-religious perspective are also able to participate in constructive debate on policy issues and to inform the development of legislation. We welcome the opportunity to gain further insight into the humanist perspective and regard the regular meetings that my officials have with the BHA as a valuable opportunity for constructive discussion.
The Government want to see a Britain with strong communities where people with different beliefs get on together and are treated equally, but we do not believe that this kind of secular state is incompatible with one in which particular faith groups deliver certain services to their own group or to the wider community. We believe that what we might call "the faith sector" is a key part of the third sector.
The principle at the heart of faith communities-and, I should say, of humanists too-is service to others. This can be about working for a better quality of life in the local community or about global issues of justice or the environment. It is on the basis of this principle that the public sector can build a working partnership with faith communities to deliver services as varied as homeless shelters, youth clubs, health and social care, health advice and relationship counselling services. We have heard of others from the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Ripon and Leeds, my noble friend Lord Grocott and the noble Lord, Lord Bates-I think his expression was that often they are the first in and the last out. The days are gone when the public sector could delivery virtually all these services in a top-down manner, and if services are to meet the needs of communities then communities themselves have to be engaged. It is right sometimes to speak about the coproduction of services to help us describe the processes that may need to happen. This is also about efficiency and getting the best value for money, not measured in crude monetary terms but in terms of the best outcome for communities.
Then there are the buildings. With 54,000 places of worship in the UK, faith communities are essential providers of sacred and secular spaces for people to interact and pursue shared activity. These spaces are found in all parts of all our communities, from large
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I recognise some of the concerns that the British Humanist Association has so clearly articulated. It may be helpful for noble Lords if I deal in turn with a few myths surrounding the funding of faith-based bodies, a point touched upon by a noble Baroness, Lady Miller. Issues around the funding of faith-based bodies may underlie the reservations that are shared by many in local authorities, and thus can obstruct the fair access of such bodies to public funding and tendering opportunities as part of the third sector. My department issued a paper about these myths yesterday at a conference on faith and social action, a matter referred to by my noble friend Lord Grocott in his contribution.
One myth touches on the equality points I made earlier. It is sometimes believed, I understand, that faith-based bodies would not help people of whom they did not approve, like atheists or homosexuals. However, the equalities legislation is quite clear on this. All providers of goods, facilities and services to the public or a section of the public are obliged by law to provide services to all those who need them, irrespective of religion or belief, sexual orientation, gender or race. The Equality Bill presently before this House extends that to cover age as well. Faith-based service deliverers are no different in a service-delivery context from any other provider, a point made by my noble friend Lady Turner. Indeed, discrimination against faith-based providers in a tendering process could itself be illegal. The noble Lord, Lord Patten, made that very point.
It is sometimes argued that funding for a single group has negative implications for community cohesion. The fact is that although faith-based organisations can be funded to deliver services to a wide cross-section of the community, in particular circumstances they and other identity-focused, cause-focused or issue-focused bodies may be funded to work primarily with their own community.
It is not illegal for a local authority to contract with an organisation to provide a service to a particular community-for instance, kosher meals on wheels for Jewish old people-as part of service provision for the local population as a whole. Sometimes that can enhance service access to especially vulnerable groups in society.
Another myth is that funding will imply support for the religious views or doctrines of the organisation. Of course, such an implication would not be confined to faith-based organisations, and although the Government agree that local authorities and other bodies may want to include a disclaimer with any grant emphasising that funding does not imply support for an organisation's views or doctrines, this implication is in any case unlikely to be drawn. Funding to organisations to deliver services does not imply endorsement of their overall organisational aims, whether they are religious or not.
Faith-based service delivery with public funding does not represent, as the British Humanist Association has suggested, an overly cosy relationship between faith and Government. It is about local government
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The separation of Church and state was raised by a number of noble Lords, particularly the noble Lord, Lord Taverne, and my noble friend Lord Harrison. Noble Lords will be aware that the Government will shortly be publishing draft clauses on House of Lords reform, as has been reported in the press. Those draft clauses will cover the issues around the composition of the Lords. I remind noble Lords that the 2008 White Paper made it clear that if there were to be an appointed element in the second Chamber, there would be a proportionate number of seats reserved for Church of England bishops. The White Paper also stated that the Government were clear that if a reformed second Chamber were wholly elected, there should be no seats for Church of England bishops or any other group.
A number of noble Lords raised issues around faith schools-the noble Lords, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, Lord Goodhart, Lord Patten and Lord Taverne, my noble friend Lady Massey and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Ripon and Leeds. The Government welcome the contribution that schools with a religious character make to the school system, both as a result of their historical role and now as key players in contributing to the more diverse school system with the greater opportunities for parental choice that we see. Ministers are keen to ensure that all maintained faith schools, along with all maintained schools, comply with the schools admission code and admissions legislation to ensure fair access for all children, regardless of their background. We remain committed to supporting the establishment of new schools by a range of providers, including faith organisations, where local consultation has shown that this is what parents and the local community want, where the school is willing and able to comply with the requirements on all maintained schools and where this greater diversity will help to raise standards.
The noble Baroness, Lady Miller, referred to spending on capacity building at this point in the economic cycle. We do not resile from that. She made particular reference to her experience of dealing with local authority housing allocations and the need for objectivity. That of course is absolutely right and indeed what equality legislation should ensure. My noble friend Lady Massey talked about morals not being the exclusive preserve of religion. I absolutely agree with that. My noble friend Lord Graham was making the same point when he spoke of his view of life and expressed, in a sense, a jealousy of those who were able to base their moral position on religion. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Ripon and Leeds spoke of some of the important services delivered locally in his area. That underlines the importance of access that faith communities can provide.
My noble friend Lord Macdonald gave us his view on the experience of the All-Party Humanist Group. I congratulate him on having achieved five years as its chair. It has been a particularly interesting time, especially with its growth of membership, as the noble Viscount,
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The noble Baroness, Lady Flather, moved us onto a world view with some very telling points about the impact that some religious approaches can have, particularly in poor countries and where churches are still opposing contraception, with all the devastating consequences of that in relation to explosions of population and increases in poverty. The noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, gave us some examples of the negative effects of religion, such as the bombings in London. I noted his opposition to publicly funded faith schools.
My noble friend Lord Graham talked about the basis of his moral beliefs, which he said were based on those of Christianity. He spoke movingly of his wife and her green burial and his support for shared values. The noble Lord, Lord Wallace, referred to the voluntary capacity that faith organisations can bring to the delivery of services in our country. That is, indeed, very important.
Despite the important points of disagreement that may have emerged today, it is worth concluding on what I hope is a positive note. The British Humanist Association acknowledges the merit of a diverse society and in its publications recognises the contribution to British society of religious individuals, communities and organisations. I am sure too that religious people will recognise the contribution to this country of humanist individuals, communities and organisations. The concept of a secular state, in which religions and beliefs are treated fairly and in a way that does not disadvantage any group, is a helpful one that I am sure we can all support.
There must be no question that this Government recognise the central role which Christianity plays within wider British society. The Christian churches have had an immense historic influence in shaping society and continue to make significant contributions in a wide range of areas such as community development, education, social inclusion and heritage. However, in Britain today people identify with a range of religions and beliefs. Within each there are different degrees of practice and belief and just as we must never ignore our Christian heritage we must also recognise and celebrate the contributions made to our heritage by individuals with humanist beliefs and by our compatriots of Muslim, Jewish, Hindu and other faiths. Whether we use the language of secularism or equality or human rights, I hope we agree that the state must be even handed to all lawful religions and beliefs and should not disadvantage any sections of society.
It is important to ensure that people from all religious backgrounds-and those with no religion-enjoy the same life opportunities and feel confident in working with people who have different beliefs, but shared values, towards common goals. Today's debate has contributed to the ongoing conversation on how we
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Lord Harrison: My Lords, I thank my noble friend the Minister for his admirable summing up. We shall certainly look at that. In the past I have described myself as a member of God's loyal opposition. I thank my colleagues who have contributed to God's loyal opposition in expanding this debate. I also thank others who have spoken and, like the noble Lord, Lord Bates, I have to say how much I have enjoyed this debate and how much I have learnt from this debate. I shall go away and think ever more deeply about some of the issues that have been prompted by it.
I shall, if I may, make one correction. At no point were we offering a neutral society, one which offers neutered values. I hope I made it clear that the values I support are the general liberal values which I thought found echo around the Chamber.
I must apologise to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Liverpool who contributed so well to my debate regarding Liverpool's title of Capital of Culture 2008. I am unable to stay for his debate which I know will be excellent. The last thing I can do to offer him a grand opening is to ask the House to withdraw the title of my debate.
The Lord Bishop of Liverpool: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Harrison, for his kind words and I, too, regret his parting but recognise the important debate that he led in 2007 as Liverpool was about to embark upon its year, and that debate certainly set the tone for its success.
I am greatly encouraged by those who have put their names down to speak in this debate. I believe the timing is providential. When I entered the ballot, I did not know that last Friday would see the publication of research, commissioned by Liverpool City Council. This research was undertaken jointly by the universities of Liverpool and John Moores and is entitled Creating an Impact: Liverpool's experience as European Capital of Culture. It lists the impacts under five headings: cultural access and participation; economy and tourism; cultural vibrancy and sustainability; image and perceptions; and governance and diversity process.
I commend this research to your Lordships, especially to those who are committed to the importance of sustaining the cultural dimension of our society. One of the anxieties we face in this phase of economic downturn is that cultural services could be seen by some as an easy hit and their budgets reduced or cut altogether. As I hope this debate will show, such cultural vandalism would prove a false economy. As Liverpool's experience as European Capital of Culture demonstrates, cultural activities have economic, social and health impacts that are way in excess of the investment into them.
During Liverpool's celebrated year, we had everything on show. We had art that was highbrow, middlebrow and lowbrow. Indeed, part of its huge success was that some of the activities drew literally tens of thousands on people on to the streets of the city to see, for example, the extraordinary mechanical spider-La Machine-that crawled majestically through the streets of Liverpool only to end up disappearing down the Mersey tunnel. I met one father who took his little boy on his shoulders to see this mechanical beast, and when the young lad saw that the spider had gone down the Mersey tunnel, he told his dad he would never go down that tunnel again.
There were events to please the masses such as the Night of Liverpool Music, hosted by Paul McCartney in the football stadium at Anfield where, as dusk fell, 30,000 raised their baton torches to sing "Hey Jude". As you would expect, there was a lot of music to touch the soul, including the combined orchestras of Cologne and Liverpool gathering in my own cathedral to sing Benjamin Britten's "War Requiem". To think that less than 70 years ago these two European cities were scarred by mutual bombing, and here they were, joined in music and harmony, lamenting in unison the slaughter of Europe's young men and women.
In 2008, there were some 7,000 events in Liverpool, involving 10,000 artistes and 67,000 children. Some 160,000 community members participated in creative activities. There were 13 royal visits. One million hotel beds were sold, with hotel occupancy levels at 77 per cent. There were 3.5 million new visitors to the city and 15 million visits to a cultural event or attraction. It is estimated that the economic benefit to the Liverpool city region was in the region of £800 million, with 70 per cent of people from Liverpool visiting a museum or gallery.
These are just some of the statistics that give insight into the successful reach of the cultural programme. Such was its success in reaching inwards to its own people and outwards to a national and international audience that José Manuel Barroso, President of the European Commission, said at the time:
"It's turning out to be one of the most successful Capital of Culture programmes that we have ever had. We are now trying to create a network of European Capitals of Culture to build on Liverpool's experience".
This success could not have happened without the initiative of Liverpool City Council, the vision and expertise of the Culture Company and the investment and support of the Northwest Regional Development Agency.
I declare an interest in that I have recently become a trustee of National Museums Liverpool. In 2008, our museums and galleries attracted 2,736,701 visitors, which is the highest number on record, and more than three times as many as in 2001. What is most encouraging, however, are the statistics on the social inclusion programme of NML. Visitors from low socio-economic backgrounds have been increasing continually over the past five years so that numbers have increased from 442,401 to 780,068. This is what differentiates museums and galleries in provincial parts of the country from their sisters in London, which attract largely international audiences. We in the regions have a track record of penetrating our own communities, especially areas of deprivation, with our cultural heritage. This is one of the reasons why we must not treat such cultural services cavalierly and why they cannot be swept aside in times of economic stringency.
One of the areas I want to highlight, which is one of the reasons I sought to secure this debate, is not just to report on the economic impact of culture but to show how there is an inextricable link between good cultural services and the health and well-being of a community. Let me quote from a letter that I received from the chief executive of the NHS mental health service provider in north Merseyside, Mersey Care NHS Trust. He writes:
He has given me the example of 25 reading groups that have been set up through Mersey Care linked with the year of culture. He can identify people within these groups who otherwise would have needed in-patient care had it not been for the support and benefit of the groups. Groups cost about £6 per person per session; by comparison, an in-patient stay costs £9,000 on average.
Mersey Care NHS Trust has commissioned its own report on the benefit of cultural activities that were linked with Liverpool's year as capital of culture. This shows emphatically how, by entering into partnerships with a number of cultural organisations, the trust has been able to deliver a strategy of mental health and well-being that is having a significant and positive impact on mental health service users.
"Music, poetry, dance, drama and the visual arts have always been important to our mental and physical wellbeing, and collective participation and engagement in the arts is a fundamental element of any civilised society".
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