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I come from Glasgow. It is a wonderful city, but it is blighted. As my noble friend Lord Martin knows, a third of the population is on some form of welfare and three generations of some families have gone without work. Without debating how that came about, we should recognise the consequences. Health problems are endemic in my fair city. The average life expectancy for men is 54, which is lower than in some parts of the developing world. Glasgow Caledonian University has embarked on a most inspiring project, bringing the Nobel prize winner, Muhammad Yunus, to Scotland, to work with him on his ideas about microfinancing, establishing a community bank-a Grameen bank-and offering small loans to people who are normally excluded
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That draws on something in the culture of Scotland, which my noble friend Lord Martin can tell the House about. In my grandparents' day, in tenement buildings there was something called "running a ménage", which came from the French word ménager; it was a way of running household finances. Women in the tenement building would all contribute a small amount of money to the pot which could be used to buy children's shoes or to pay for something that a family needed. That was the beginning of the notion of the trustee bank; we need a community banking system. In this banking crisis we need to find a way to redesign banking so that money can be lent to the poorest in our society so that they can embark on initiatives of their own invention in order to change their lives.
It is important to talk about the role of the state, as the noble Baroness, Lady Perry, did. What is seen as the great divider between the left and the right is the fact that the right argues for the small state and the left has always said that the state should be a deliverer of so much that is important in a good society. However, we would all probably agree that the state can be an enabler and a provider in the best sense, an expression of our collective desire to build a society where everyone has a responsibility for each other, by creating institutions and mechanisms to make society the best it can be, providing healthcare, education, security and well-being for everyone.
Getting the role of the state right is a challenge. The state can be oppressive and can impinge on our freedoms. It can denude us of autonomy and self-determination. Good governance lies in understanding balance and boundaries, where there should be state activism and where there should not. That is the challenge for governments of the right or left. Obviously, I have to speak to the House as a socialist. I believe that the state has considerable responsibilities in terms of the creation of the good society. I started my adult life with the socialist idealism which has been mentioned in this debate and, even now, at my great age, it still lives on in my bosom. I welcome ideas to find greater engagement for people, but I do not want us to unravel those nets which are so vital to the well-being of our poorest. Young people in this country are full of idealism and they should be tapped as a resource for this common project of making a good society.
they seemed to me to be a very good formula. We can advance that. It is not just about taxation and welfare, although I stick by that to this day; it is also about social solidarity and many other forms.
The next few years will be very testing for us as a nation. We are warned that there will be great austerity. Our values will be tested and I hope that those who have gained most from the past few decades shoulder a heavier burden than the poorest in our society. A just society requires that of us. I thank the right reverend
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Lord Bichard: My Lords, first, I add my voice to the many justified congratulations that the noble Lord, Lord Wei, has already received on his maiden speech. As someone who made his own maiden speech more recently than most in this Chamber, I think that I can probably share more than most the sense of euphoria and sheer relief that he is probably feeling at the moment. We all look forward to working with him-I certainly do-and it was good to hear the passion that he brought to the subject.
In my maiden speech, I drew attention to my belief that our public services need to be radically reformed if we are to provide better services at less cost, which is the challenge that we face not just in the next year but probably for the next decade. As part of that reform, I suggested that the public sector needs to regard civil society as a genuine partner in the development of social policy, so I, too, am delighted to be able to return to this issue so quickly, courtesy of the debate initiated by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leicester, and hugely encouraged by what I have heard today.
At the moment, the reality is that civil society in all its organised forms is sometimes seen by government, national and local, as a convenient agent for delivering pre-defined policy-convenient sometimes, it must be said, because it is easier to remove the resource from civil society than from the statutory sector and easier sometimes to expect civil society to deliver with less resources than the statutory sector would have needed. It is far less frequently seen as a partner in the development of policy at an early stage. That is where I would like to intervene in this debate. The lack of involvement of civil society at an early stage is regrettable for several reasons. First, civil society has, over time, been responsible for many important social policy innovations. I think of restorative justice as an important current example. At a time when we need innovative thinking perhaps more than ever before, the statutory sector should see the value of involving civil society, the voluntary sector and their representatives in the co-design of policy, not just in its later delivery.
That involvement is important also because those active in civil society are usually closer to local communities than the statutory sector, much more able to identify early the developing issues which need to be addressed, sometimes by Government. They are also much more likely to be able to identify first the problems which existing policy is creating, and therefore the need for legislative or regulatory adjustment. Let us not forget that they are often the first to identify unnecessary expenditure-waste-and deserve to be listened to for that reason as well.
Those active in civil society are also in a better position than most to see people's problems in the round and to understand the need for them to be addressed not in departmental silos, which still too often exist, but in a coherent way, with policies built around clients and their needs, not around the needs
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For all these reasons, not involving civil society in early policy discussions is a missed opportunity. The question therefore is: why are such partnerships still too rare? What can we do to change that? There are several reasons why they are too rare. Perhaps one is that in the recent past we have sometimes rushed to policy. We have left ourselves too little time to allow relevant interests to be involved and to hear different voices and voices closer to our various communities. Perhaps we should think about whether a more considered approach to policy would be timely, an approach based more on available evidence and diverse voices than on dogma.
Perhaps there are concerns from the statutory sector on occasions about whether confidentiality, where necessary, will be respected if civil society and the voluntary sector are involved in early-stage discussions. That was an argument put to me when I was leading a large statutory-sector organisation as chief executive of the Benefits Agency and when I was a Permanent Secretary. My experience was that the voluntary sector understood the benefits of being involved at an early stage and was loath to abuse that and, consequently, to lose future opportunities to influence policy development. I found that, even in difficult situations, if it was trusted, the voluntary sector would respond to that trust. There is a tendency for those of us who spend a long time working in government to be too secretive, too often. Perhaps we should be more open. We should open up the policy development process a good deal more than we have in the recent past. Sometimes, regrettably, there has also been a certain arrogance at play within the statutory sector. There has been a sense that somehow civil society and its representatives were less able. When I chaired quite large major charitable organisations, I sensed that to be the case. Government departments seemed to know that they knew best.
The most important question, which has already been raised once or twice in this debate, is: what can we now do to ensure the development of a relationship that is built upon respect, trust and partnership? I shall offer three or four very practical-they could be thought trivial-examples of what could be done. I have deliberately chosen practical, low-key developments. First, let us have more opportunities and more encouragement for the best civil servants to spend significant time-not a day or a week-working in civil society so that they understand better the challenges of local communities and the organisations that are closest to them. Let us make more opportunities for those active in civil society to spend some time in government to influence the thinking and understand
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Those are just some very basic, practical things that we can do. I offer them because we can agree here that this partnership between government and civil society will make for better policy. We can encourage it. We can indulge in the rhetoric that we are all very good at. But rhetoric and encouragement will not alone make it happen. We need to find practical ways of making it the reality that it is not yet.
If we are going to change the balance between the power of the state and the people, which most of us have been saying today we want to do, then it is a time for practical working. It is a time for us to take action; and it really is quite urgent, because the challenges that we face as a society demand that change of balance.
Lord Martin of Springburn: My Lords, I, too, congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Wei, on his maiden speech. It is not so long ago that I had to make my maiden speech and I know how difficult it was. It was most enjoyable when I had finished. I look forward to hearing him again. I also congratulate the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leicester on obtaining this debate.
My noble friend Lady Kennedy mentioned my native Glasgow and I thought of the community-based housing associations there. As far as the debate going on at the moment is concerned, I just want to say that we as politicians sometimes tend to get trendy, and the trend now is that we should decentralise-we should not have anything to do with national government. I understand that I have only four minutes to speak, because I am speaking in what is called the gap, but I want to say this.
The community-based housing associations in Glasgow have saved some excellent, beautiful tenements that would have been destroyed by demolition. They have also built sheltered housing for the elderly and low-rent accommodation for young couples. That was done because the community formed a community-based housing association. The local authority co-operated by rehousing some of the tenants who could not be accommodated in the new accommodation. The central body, which was then known as the Housing Corporation, was a state organisation. So national government, local government and the community built a success. We had best watch that we do not just say, "Let's keep national government out".
I also think of the noble Lord, Lord Morris, and his disablement legislation. Many of the people in my former constituency loved the idea of having mobility, either by car or public transport, because of that
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I would also say this in the short time available to me. We should not write off the deprived communities in the various parts of our country. I have personal experience of deprived communities because of my involvement with my previous constituency, and I can tell you of a great kindness that was done to a lady in a district which I represented called Possilpark. Her family broke up-her husband left her-and she had to come and live in a deprived area. She had to do a flitting because she was so desperate. She had to move her bits and pieces several items at a time by public transport, and it was a great walk from the bus stop into that community. When the neighbours in this deprived community heard that, they said, "On your next bus journey I'll be there to help you". She said to me, "Mr Martin, I'm a grandmother now. My grandmother stayed in this community and I will not leave it. There's a lot of goodness there".
Let me speak about Sighthill, another community of which I am aware, and the goodness that is there. It is a great thing for people to talk and to churn out figures about how bad the health is of Glaswegians. But one of the reasons for that is that those who are affluent move outside and do nothing but criticise central Glasgow. They move out and they go in to work. I am guilty myself because I moved two miles up the road. But let us not forget that a lot of people in outer Glasgow do not take responsibility for what is happening in Glasgow itself.
The Sighthill multi-storey flats were built in good faith. Because of a government decision, asylum seekers, with all their problems and all the criticism that they have had from the press and other people from this area of Glasgow, were brought into the area. For years now, the local St Rollox Church of Scotland has turned its church hall into a reception centre for asylum seekers. Such kindness is amazing. I ask the Minister to consider getting people to go into some of these communities and I will be able to show her the kindness that is going on.
Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, I very much welcome this debate. I congratulate the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leicester on his excellent and thoughtful opening speech. Like other noble Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Wei, on his excellent maiden speech. He made some very kind remarks about your Lordships' House. I do not want to disabuse him but he comes to the House probably as its youngest Member and I have been speculating in the light of the coalition's agreement on reform of the House how long he is likely to remain a Member. Past history suggests that it will probably be quite a long time.
I also congratulate the Minister on her appointment. She has made a considerable impression on your Lordships' House and I am very glad that she has been given such a senior responsibility in the Government. I know that we are all looking forward to her response to tonight's debate.
Underpinning the debate has been the recognition of what civil society contributes to our nation. It is immense. It is one of our greatest strengths. For me, it is part of what being British is all about. Without civil society, government would be well nigh impossible. But I believe that, in our debate, there is a warning here for government. Civil society, however much it has to offer, cannot be a substitute for essential government action and intervention. As we prepare for draconian cuts in public expenditure, let me warn the Minister that simply to dump extra responsibilities on the third sector, without the resources to accept it, risks harming the most vulnerable in our society. Will the Minister assure me that she has no such intention?
There is so much to celebrate in civic society. I pay tribute to my noble friend Lady Pitkeathley for her leadership in this area in the past few years. Let us think of the extraordinary level of volunteering in this country. From individual carers to the hospital leagues of friends to sports clubs to youth groups-they are all dependent on dedicated volunteers.
In his extremely interesting speech, the noble Lord, Lord Alton, listed some of the most worrying signs about our society. Of course, the UK is not alone and we certainly cannot be complacent. I believe that the endeavours of volunteers up and down the country are a rather more positive sign of a healthy and vibrant country. In the words of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Salisbury, we are not just a "me-me" society. I agree with my noble friend Lady Kennedy about our rich asset of social capital, as she described it-the potential idealism and the energy of young people-and with the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, who referred to the contribution of older people who often are the bedrock of our civil society.
I do not ignore the contribution of the church itself and those of other religions and faiths. We were reminded by the most reverend Primate that in our most vulnerable communities it is the vicars and ministers who still live among their flocks and who, as a result, speak with great authority. He also gave us a marvellous illustration of John Morgans's work in Penrhys. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leicester spoke about 500 faith-based organisations in his own diocese, or in Chester, the role of the church in restorative justice. But it is not just faith-based organisations. Indeed, noble Lords will have received a pithy circular from the British Humanist Association to remind us that we must recognise the value of communities as a whole and the contribution that humanists as well as religious people make.
We had an interesting discussion about citizenship. My noble friend Lord Judd reminded us that citizenship is not to be confused with consumerism. The most reverend Primate talked about citizenship and on the need for people to be taken seriously, and argued for an active citizenship where the happiness of individuals is reflected in the happiness of their neighbours. I also warmed to the optimism of the noble Lord, Lord Wei, about individuals and communities; how they can sometimes achieve great things against all the odds and solve entrenched problems.
Nor, I would suggest, should we ignore the role of politics. Political parties may not be the most popular
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What is the big society? A number of noble Lords have had a go at defining it. I, too, have read a number of Conservative Party papers that have been produced over the past year, but to be fair I am not sure that, having studied them carefully, I am all that much the wiser. Taking them at their face value, they seem to argue that the previous Government, the Government I was proud to be a member of, put too much faith in laws and regulation, and in so doing crowded out social responsibility and undermined communities. I have to say that I fundamentally disagree with that assessment. I would just say this to the noble Baroness: the minimum wage, equality legislation, and reform of the NHS. Yes, sometimes we did set a few targets and sometimes they were onerous, but I doubt very much indeed whether we would have virtually got rid of hospital waiting lists without action like that.
I would say to the noble Baroness, Lady Perry, in response to what I thought was a very interesting contribution, that, like the noble Lord, Lord Martin, I believe in the active state, but a state underpinned by democratic legitimacy and humanitarian values. It is about inclusiveness, as my noble friend Lord Judd said, and a sense of the empowerment of individuals and communities. What else is the Sure Start scheme there to do? Why did we develop the Pathways to Work projects for people who had been on incapacity benefit for a long time? To see the way in which people who have been away from work for years have been helped to go back to work has been one of the most uplifting experiences I have gone through. Surely that is an example of how the state can be active in helping and empowering people.
On the question of trust raised by the noble Baroness, I too have read and reread the Reith lectures of the noble Baroness, Lady O'Neill, and they are very profound, but I do not accept that my Government set out to undermine trust in professionals. What we attempted to do was to work with professionals in order to ensure that they were properly accountable for their actions. Would she argue that we should not have been concerned about the widespread differences in the clinical outcomes of clinicians, the widespread inequalities identified by my noble friend Lady Kennedy, or indeed the professional regulation of social workers? Did not the outcomes of the Victoria Climbié or Baby P cases show that you cannot leave it to professionals to police themselves; there has to be some external scrutiny as well?
There are proposals in the big society agenda for public sector reform which, I gather, aim to cut costs, improve standards and encourage social enterprises, charities and voluntary groups to take on service provision. However, the previous Government did much to enhance the role of the third sector, as my noble friend Lady Pitkeathley outlined. As to the policy of empowering consumers and enabling parents to start new schools, communities to take on local amenities, such as parks and libraries, under threat, and putting
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On the issue of planning, I have put my former energy hat on and I am thinking of wind farms. How will the Government deal with the conflict that at a national level you have-and I am sure will continue to have-targets for renewable energy while empowering local groups to make decisions that will prevent the wind farms being built? That is one of the essential tensions that the Government will need to answer.
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