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Like others I, too, welcome the noble Lord, Lord Wei, and congratulate him on a remarkable, extraordinary and memorable maiden speech. I was struck that he mentioned in his remarks his professional connection with the foundation named for Lord Shaftesbury, who was of course the great 19th century social reformer, and who gave this country the asylums, the ragged schools and the public health legislation. I think that we may see a reflection of the inspiration of Lord Shaftesbury in the work which the noble Lord undertakes in the years that he will spend in your Lordships' House.
The noble Lord mentioned with some trepidation his youth. Perhaps I may say as someone who was once the youngest Member of your Lordships' House but was also the youngest Member of another place, that, sadly, it is something that passes very rapidly. Enjoy it while you can. Robert Kennedy once said that youth is,
As we are recalling the 19th century, perhaps I may remind your Lordships that in 1839 Thomas Carlyle published the Condition of England Question. Perhaps if instead of evaluating political success on the basis of crude economic indicators we, too, were to assess the condition of England on the basis of broader
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The Condition of England Question 2010 would reveal that three-quarters of a million British children have no contact with their fathers following the breakdown of their relationships. According to the Children's Society, 100,000 children run away from home every year. Save the Children says that 3.9 million children are living in poverty and that a staggering 1.7 million children are living in severe, persistent poverty in the UK-which is, after all, one of the richest countries in the world. Every day 4,000 children call Childline. Since it was founded in 1986, it has counselled more than a million children.
Five million images of child abuse are in circulation on the internet, featuring some 400,000 children. Every day we end the lives of 600 unborn children; one in five pregnancies now ends in abortion and we have laws that permit abortion up to and even during birth in the case of disability. In Edinburgh, figures published earlier this year showed a 75 per cent increase in the number of babies addicted to drugs because of their mothers' addiction. Suicide accounts for 20 per cent of all deaths among young people aged 15 to 24. More than 140,000 people attempt to commit suicide every year.
Last year, Samaritans answered 4.6 million calls from people in despair, which is one call every seven seconds. Also last year, 29.4 million anti-depressants were dispensed, which is a 334 per cent increase since 1985 at a cost to the National Health Service, as the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, will know from his experiences, of £338 million. The number of homeless people in the United Kingdom is 380,000, which is the same as the population of Bristol. Five hundred people will sleep rough tonight.
The prison population has increased by 85 per cent since 1993. This week, 85,056 men and women are in our jails. Gun crime in the United Kingdom claims 30 victims every day. The average lifespan for people who get involved in gun crime in Manchester is a mere 24 years. Individuals now owe more in debt than the wealth generated by the entire country in a year. At the end of April, total UK personal debt stood at £1,460 billion. That shames us and underlines the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Perry, about neighbourliness. In Britain, an estimated 1 million elderly people do not see a friend or neighbour during an average week. There would be so much more about the Condition of England Question that should give us pause. The poet, TS Eliot, could have had this dehumanised society in mind when he suggested that we are "living and partly living", while CS Lewis prophetically foresaw a society where we would see The Abolition of Man-the title of one of his books.
The missing piece of the political puzzle has been the importance of relationships. Too narrow a focus on economic growth and market efficiency can too often overlook the importance of fostering community and family life, and supporting relationships. The noble Lord, Lord Judd, mentioned the shortcomings of liberal economics, and he is right. Political liberalism has many strengths, but it has weaknesses too. It can become Utopian and easily bogged down into too
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In 2008, David Cameron identified what he called a "broken society", a phrase that has been challenged in your Lordships' debate today. He said that he intended to be as radical a social reformer as Margaret Thatcher was an economic reformer. During the general election, the Prime Minister attempted to define the difference between his party and the Opposition around the slogan of the "big society versus the big state". We have spent a lot of time rightly talking about that today.
Although I have always had an instinctive aversion to the overbearing, busybody collectivisation of life by an authoritarian state-I spent 25 years either as a local councillor or as a Member of another place representing an inner city area of the city of Liverpool-there is also a danger in believing that we can somehow dispense with the state, especially when it comes to providing protection for the least fortunate and the least well off in society.
The welfare state emerged in 1942 when William Beveridge laid out his plans to eliminate "freedom from want". He saw the state as a safety net-I was intrigued by the beautiful metaphor used by the noble Lord, Lord Wei, where he described the big society as like a coral reef-but certainly not a suffocating blanket. His objective was to eliminate what he identified as five "giant evils"-squalor, ignorance, want, idleness and disease. Thanks to Beveridge, we tilted away from indifference and reliance on charitable giving to intervention and direct help. But, as the years passed, the state grew like leviathan, spawning bureaucracies which fed upon themselves. A uniformity was imposed, which has led to the same centralised regulations being placed on citizens from Barrow-in-Furness to Bournemouth, regardless of local differences and circumstances.
The debate about whether the state has become too invasive, which David Cameron sought to initiate, has been caricatured as a smoke screen or cipher to make swingeing reductions in the remit and resources available to state agencies, but it did not strike me that way. We must not let the debate become a pretext for a polarised confrontation between those who propose cuts in public expenditure and those who oppose them. If we could take a more thoughtful approach to the role of individual citizens and their role in promoting the common good, a phrase used by the most reverend Primate during his remarks earlier in the debate, we would see that the big civil society and the state need one another. Insisting on the present organisation of the National Health Service or social services should not become a species of Holy Writ for which its defenders will go to the stake.
For a society to be healthy we have to be participators and the trustees, not the owners, of what we possess. Social, political and economic activity must ultimately centre on the common good rather than individual acquisitiveness or the hegemony of the state. There are
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When partnerships are created between the state and what Edmund Burke called the "little platoons", quoted earlier by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London, the voluntary groups and neighbourhood associations that would be integral to what David Cameron has called a,
we would have our best hope of combating today's gigantic challenges. And who can doubt, as many noble Lords have said today, that there are many functions that have been taken on by the state but which could be discharged by the little platoons?
Along with a more reflective approach towards our individual role we will also have to reassess the blighting effect of the great bureaucracies on individual behaviour. Their tendency to sap personal endeavour can be deeply corrosive. Our civil society has become uncivil as modern citizenship has revolved around the flaccid language of rights alone. I was glad to hear the most reverend Primate talk about the need for a virtuous society. A few years ago I wrote a little and rather unmemorable book called Citizen Virtues which made precisely that point. We must not create a situation where we breed unrealisable demands, a cult of selfishness and materialism. The uncivil society is further entrenched by individual isolation, a weakened sense of ethics and a lack of virtue. We enter perilous waters when choice is not conditioned by any regard for consequences and when society has no shared framework for reaching conclusions because there are so few shared values.
Through the Roscoe Foundation for Citizenship, which I direct at Liverpool John Moores University, and where I hold a chair-I declare my interest-I have seen some extraordinary examples of public service among young people in the north-west of England. If their attitudes could become tomorrow's practice, we will have grounds for hope, but we should not underestimate the scale of the disaggregation which has occurred in society and which I set out in the points I made about the Condition of England Question.
So we do need a serious consideration of the parameters within which the British state, comprising some 63 million citizens, should operate. We also need to ask ourselves how we will form citizens who are willing to accept the responsibilities and duties which a less nannying and omnipresent state would require. Saint Edith Stein, who died in the gas chambers at Auschwitz, was a German-Jewish philosopher who became a Catholic nun. At a time when the Nazi state was stifling dissent and corralling its citizens into conformism with the tenets of National Socialism, Stein wrote tellingly about the responsibility of every citizen to be an agent for good or ill, and about the way in which the values of the individual citizen determine the nature of the state in which they live. She rightly insisted that both society and the state consist entirely of persons. These are not mysterious entities. They are made up of men, women and children
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If such coercion is to be forestalled and agreement and partnership is to emerge, it will require a huge effort to persuade every citizen to take seriously the promotion of the common good. If we are to do this, and if the big society is to take the place of the big state, this will require nothing less than a fundamental change in our attitudes and culture to achieve, something that I certainly would welcome.
The Lord Bishop of Salisbury: My Lords, I, too, welcome the opportunity provided by this debate to hear how Members of your Lordships' House might flesh out the bare bones of the big society and flush out Her Majesty's Government's thinking about how we are going to rebuild society. I emphasise the "how" because I am temperamentally suspicious of abstract nouns. What is "big society" shorthand for? Let me offer a simple translation into verbs. Are we here to get what we want or what we need for ourselves from each other or from them, or are we here primarily to learn how to give things to each other? Can we use this opportunity to look at the way in which we build our relationships, rather than at the mechanics of the levers of power?
Political parties of every hue have sought to win voters-or should we name it and say "bribe" voters?-by promising them things that they would get. Everyone assumes that the principal motive-if not the only one-is personal advantage or greed and that what each of us is interested in most is "me, me, me". Two things follow from that. The first is that people become the kind of people they are treated as being-we have become a nation of self-centred consumers. Secondly, in a large-scale operation removed from the local, the personal and the particular, people feel that they are no more than cogs in a machine or statistics on a spreadsheet-they have no sense of being valued for who they are as persons in community; they are valued only for what they do or contribute.
Is this the only way? Are we to go on colluding with the assumption that the people of our country are either too stupid or too selfish to be treated in any other way? Think of what happens when snow falls and the ordinary patterns of life are disrupted. When that happens, people notice what others need of them and rather enjoy the opportunities offered to spend some time and effort on helping those who are in difficulties. In the aftermath of local disasters, be they flash floods or tragic shootings, we experience people
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This is, of course, happening all the time-day by day, in every community, people are behaving like this-and, as the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, said, in the pages of MBEs in the Honours List you can read of the huge range of things that people are doing. This is just the tip of a huge iceberg of selfless good will, but it does not make news-it does not sell newspapers. None the less, will it become the currency of our new coalition Government? As I understand it, each of the two political parties that now form the one Government has had to learn to give rather than to get in order to offer us a new way of being. Is this consciously modelling for us how they invite us to behave?
I am not so naive as to imagine that all this could happen overnight or to think that it can be imposed in a top-down way; we have to grow this pattern of belonging from the roots. For example, in my part of the country-most of Dorset and Wiltshire and a good mix of rather large urban and deeply rural communities-we called together some 80 representatives last November from every part of life. They were from business and finance, education and health services, the voluntary sector and the churches. There were local government politicians and officers, MPs and sixth-formers. We invited them to consult with us about what a common life could be and what would be the currency of this common life. What we found was a remarkable consensus. It was generally agreed across this very wide group that we had to be more engaged, understanding the choices that need to be made, taking some responsibility for being involved in them and giving our leaders permission to make them and take them. Secondly, we must be prepared to be less reliant on state provision, not living beyond our means, and continuing to care better for the environment. Thirdly, we need to live in a more social, altruistic way. Since then, we have been working together on how to enable people to be the people whom they say they want to be and to create the future that they say they want.
We have now forged an agreed tool in a facilitated negotiation process to be offered by the church, which will engage people from varying parts of society and from all types of human enterprise in Dorset and Wiltshire. It is aimed at developing a values-based and values-led strategic planning for the building and strengthening of local community and the common good. Based on a one-day or two-day conversation, the model will then move beyond consultation by encouraging participants to articulate the values that motivate them and then, to get further than a wish list for a particular issue, by negotiating values-based solutions not only towards which participants agree to work but which include mutually ensured accountability.
We are in the process of identifying a particular issue in each county that can act as a pilot for this process in the near future, confident that it will empower local people to work together to shape the common wealth. We hope to offer it as a tool, both to communities and to the new Government, as part of its big society initiative. Here is a very practical way in which we
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We recognise that it may not be possible to agree shared values and that limits of consensus have to be faced. There is a place for disagreement and, indeed, conflict, but there is no doubt that locally there is a will to create a common language, to foster trust and mutuality and to focus on facilitating hospitality and relationship-on how we work together and on the quality of relationships-rather than on tightly regulated and dogmatic programmes, as a means of arriving at a fresh approach to the problems facing us.
I hope that the Government's vision for a big society is going to be about the adverbs-the values that determine how we work together-and not just a thin veil for a cost-cutting exercise. I greatly look forward to hearing the Minister's contribution to this debate and what vision Her Majesty's Government have for building, sustaining and enlarging the trusting partnerships that alone will create anything worthy of the name of society-a mutual bond of care, well-being and abundant life.
An invitation to give, rather than feeding the compulsion to get, is what will capture the imagination especially of the young, who have such energy and commitment to our future. As the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury said, that is how people get their confidence to act, not by being told what to do or being invited to contribute. People have to experience doing it. That is what grows their confidence. Only if they are trusted to do it does this take place and it is that basis of trust between people and communities that will add up to a big picture and a big society. Unless it is based and rooted entirely locally, however, and at a level where relationships really count, nothing whatever will happen except hot air.
Lord Maginnis of Drumglass: My Lords, I am grateful to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leicester for having sought this debate. It is timely, appropriate and particularly relevant. I apologise to the noble Lord, Lord Wei: an intervening duty prevented me from getting into the Chamber, but from the shadows I listened carefully to what he had to say and found it inspiring. If he lives to be the oldest Peer in this Chamber, he will contribute a great deal during that time.
I am sadly aware not just that our nation now tries to survive on compromised ethical values, so that it appears to be almost improper to acknowledge the basis of our moral values, but that individual, family and community expectations have escalated too far beyond what is good and necessary for a happy and stable society. After 27 years in Parliament, I think that I know why, how and from where much of the
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For some reason, the previous Government had resolved that discrimination was wrong and that all society should be tarred with the same broad brush. As a result, we should become little more than computerised numbers; we should carry identity cards; we should all be seen as potential child abusers and be vetted if we regularly drive our grandchildren and their pals to and from school; and we should be subjected to potentially 42 days' interrogation if under suspicion. Just yesterday, it was ordained that, if parliamentary colleagues and I were to have a preview of the Saville report, we should be prepared to submit ourselves to what was literally five hours' house arrest. What folly; what an insult; what an incentive for one simply to surrender to the idea that as individuals we no longer have responsibility to make judgments or set personal standards but should merely go with the flow.
In your Lordships' House, we have already nullified some of the greater aberrations of the previous Government, but why is all this happening in the first place? However bright and intellectually competent our elected colleagues in the other place may be, too many of them have virtually no concept of "of the people". It was decided some years ago that your Lordships' House should not be dominated by a single stratum of society. After 18 years' experience in another place and nine years here, I think that this House in its present form does a tolerably good job. I believe that, in our lives outside this House, we have, overall, more meaningful contact with society than have many of those in the other place. It is now about time that we had a critical look at how and why the other place has lost touch with society. As well as encouraging intellect and education-and, as a schoolmaster, I have respect for that-we must have experience. We cannot have a relationship between government and society when the greater part of government has never properly belonged to or participated among society, never done real jobs, never managed or organised and never served as an integral part of society.
My challenge to government is that, for every intellectual giant who comes to the Front Benches via Oxford or Cambridge, or wherever, there has to be another who comes from industry, from business, from the land, from the caring professions and from real hands-on experience and who is "of the people". Only then can we begin to restore the partnership between government and civil society. If we had government that, like many of us in your Lordships' House, knew the practicalities of evaluating things, running things and even understanding things that impact directly on society, we could stop administrating this country by
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