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PSHE also develops the skills that children need in life and in employment, and many schools also introduce an element of volunteering in the community. This often lays down an attitude of being willing to help others, which follows people into adult life. In my own school, long before citizenship or PSHE were invented, we went to visit elderly housebound people and did jobs for them. I think that my disabled old lady enjoyed my visits and I certainly learnt more about betting on horses than I would ever have learnt at school, because she was brought up near Aintree racecourse. Seriously, it did me a lot of good. Can my noble friend the Minister assure me that there are no plans to downgrade either of these important subjects from the school curriculum?
Of course, schools do other things to develop young citizens, such as in the school councils. From the very early years in primary school, they teach children about decision-making, how to make their voice heard and how to negotiate for what they want. When my step-granddaughter was elected to her school council, we mused at home that it was the first time that any of the family had been elected to anything, however hard her grandfather and I had tried. Many schools testify to the benefits of these school councils in developing responsible young people.
Community activities need somewhere to take place, and not every town or village has a lovely community hall such as ours in Gresford. Section 4 of the Children, Schools and Families Act 2010 takes effect from next April. It enables schools to use their delegated budgets for community facilities. Schools have had powers to provide community facilities or services since the Education Act 2002, but there were restrictions whereby they could fund services only when they directly supported the curriculum or were of direct educational benefit to pupils. Services such as adult learning or sports activities for the local community could be funded only by certain grants, charges or other external income. Schools will soon be able to use this power to allow their facilities to be used for those things. Can my noble friend the Minister confirm that the Government have no intention of restricting the scope of this funding, since it has the potential to provide great opportunities for community action in many places that do not have other facilities and to make better use of the buildings and equipment for which our taxes have already paid?
Finally, I join my noble friend Lord Maclennan of Rogart in welcoming the national citizen service. When I first heard about this idea, I was slightly sceptical that it might be just for the middle-class children for whom there are already many opportunities. However, following a meeting with my right honourable friend Tim Loughton, the Minister for Children, my mind has been set at rest. He told me that the pilot schemes were measured on their effectiveness in ensuring that there was inclusiveness and that young people who were hard to reach were actually reached by those schemes. The first organisations that have won contracts for the first year have been told that their success will be measured on that basis. It is very important that we involve young people who do not have other opportunities.
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Lord Blair of Boughton: My Lords, I am acutely aware of the honour implicit in rising to address your Lordships for the first time. As other speakers have been, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Maclennan, for introducing this important debate, enabling the House to consider a subject of enormous importance. Before I say anything further, like the noble Lord, Lord Bannside, before me, I place on record how much I have appreciated the warm welcome that I have received from all sides of the House. I particularly thank my sponsors, the noble Lord, Lord Hurd of Westwell, and the noble Baroness, Lady Harris of Richmond, who currently presides as Deputy Speaker. I further express my personal thanks to all the staff of the House with whom I have come into contact, who could not have been more courteous. I should also add that I am sorry that pre-planned and fairly extensive engagements abroad have and will prevent me from participating this autumn in the work of the House as much as I would have liked to do, a position which I hope to rectify in the new year.
I declare interests in two organisations to which I will subsequently refer. First, I am president of the Oxfordshire battalion of the Boys' Brigade and, secondly, during a relatively long career as a police officer, I had, at different times, responsibility for and pride in the special constabularies of a number of police forces in England. Although others have, this is not the occasion for me to comment on exactly what is meant now by the big society, or what it will come to mean as the present Government's term of office unfolds. In general, I want to place on record my wholehearted support for the appropriate engagement of citizens more closely in assisting their neighbours and communities. More specifically, this afternoon I shall reflect on active citizenship in two ways-first by commending to your Lordships, in particular, as did the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, the inculcation of active citizenship in young people, which is so powerfully represented by uniformed voluntary associations such as the Boys' Brigade; and, secondly, by considering briefly what might be the limitations of active citizenship in a modern and ever more challenging world.
I begin with that second thought. As you will know, the Metropolitan Police force was founded in 1829 by Sir Robert Peel, then Home Secretary, subsequently to become Prime Minister. In founding it, Sir Robert reflected coincidentally on both the concept of active citizenship and-by founding a professional police force for the first time-on the limitations of such a concept. He remarked that,
Alongside the reserve and territorial forces of the Crown, there can be no more striking example of active citizenship than membership of the special
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Beyond those comments, I merely make an observation with which I think the majority of police officers, past and present, would concur, which is that in my experience the nobility implicit in actions intended to support and improve our communities and neighbourhoods is not necessarily innate in every human being. However, it can be learned and can and should be taught. In this, I commend to the House the sterling contribution of those many individuals who work without payment of any kind to lead young people towards active citizenship-in the Scout Movement, for instance, which, at nearly half a million young people, now has more members in its ranks than for many decades, and in the Girl Guides, the Sea Scouts, the Boys' and Girls' Brigades, the cadet forces of the police and the armed services and many other groups too numerous to mention. Such organisations are the seed corn of an active citizenry in future years. Those who give voluntarily and generously of their time to run them need support and, where possible, the reconsideration of a number of the ever-increasing bureaucratic burdens laid upon them.
Lastly, I ask your Lordships to consider what I observed when I had the privilege of taking the salute some three years ago at the annual parade of the London branches of the Boys' Brigades, which was the significant number of young people from minority ethnic backgrounds within the ranks of those parading before me, an indication that active citizenship, encouraged and fostered, can draw together the different communities of this multicultural nation. I hope you will agree with me when I suggest that, for that development, this nation should be very grateful.
Baroness Neuberger: My Lords, I am delighted to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Blair of Boughton, on his perceptive and compelling maiden speech. It is a real joy and privilege to have him in this House. I am personally so delighted as he and I have worked together on many issues to do with volunteering in the police in particular and the criminal justice system over many years. He will bring his wisdom and energy to this House and contribute not only on issues of crime and justice in which he has such expertise, but also on wider issues to do with the role of the citizen and the state. I look forward, as I note that all sides of the House do, to the major contribution that we know he will make over the coming years.
I also congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Bannside, on his maiden speech and I was pleased to hear the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leicester teasing him very gently about a slight difference of theological perception. Wearing for one moment my rabbi's hat, in so far as I believe in heaven at all-we Jews are very easy on the subject-we do not think that there will be no arguments there. We think that the debates which go on about the meaning of the law in this place will also go on up there. It will not be quiet at all. Two Jews with three opinions: that's the way it goes.
I also congratulate my noble friend Lord Maclennan of Rogart on securing this debate. It is one about which I care passionately. We all want to see active citizens. We all know that we need our citizens to be more involved in shaping their own lives and local institutions. The questions that lie before us now are just how we should be doing that and, indeed, what the Government can do to promote active citizenship-and what they should not do if they want active citizenship to flourish. I declare my interest as the volunteering champion for the former Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, until 2009; as chair of the independent Commission on the Future of Volunteering, supported by all three major parties, which reported in 2007; and as a former trustee of the Citizenship Foundation.
To start, the Government's big society agenda is welcome. It intends to put power back in the hands of the people with the ambition that every adult will be an active member of an active neighbourhood group, but what will every adult need to do to achieve that? Does that mean voting and participating in political parties? Is it about being on school governing bodies or parochial church councils? Is it about being trustees of local charities? Is it about volunteering regularly in some way? It is all of these although, personally, I believe that volunteering time to help others in some way is an important part of active citizenship. I so agree with the noble Lord, Lord Blair, about that. As the Commission on the Future of Volunteering had as its strap line, we want to get volunteering into the DNA of our society.
We need people to volunteer and to discover what makes people want to do it, despite relatively high rates of volunteering in our society already compared with other countries. We know that active citizens build a stronger society. Active citizenship helps to foster trust in communities, creates a shared sense of values, increases personal satisfaction in influencing change and, as we know, increases self-esteem. As you make new friends and contacts, you strengthen your CV and find a reason to get up in the morning, and so on-we know a lot about it. We know quite a lot about what volunteering provides to those who do it, but we need to know more about how it provides it, what people want to give to it and what they want to gain from it, particularly if the Government want more of us to be more involved.
It is with growing dismay that I heard that the Department for Communities and Local Government has launched a consultation outlining its intention to cancel the citizenship survey, which provides by far the most rigorous, regular and reliable data on citizen engagement-specifically, on volunteering-in England.
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There are other national surveys which ask questions on volunteering, but their data sets, and their rigour and regularity, are far below the quality of that offered by the citizenship survey. We are trying to create the big society. Surely this is therefore not the time to cancel the citizenship survey for the future. We need to find out more about what goes on. It is also, surely, not the time to allow the volunteering infrastructure at national and local levels to face such severe cuts as it is doing at present, when it has never been more needed.
I am also hugely disappointed, personally, given everything that the Government have been saying about getting all sorts of people who have had huge difficulties of one sort or another into work or meaningful activity, that the access to volunteering fund which we called for in the Commission on the Future of Volunteering, which I chaired, will not be extended after the end of its first-year pilot this coming March, when there cannot possibly have been any meaningful evaluation of whether such a fund has improved access. It is particularly disappointing when the Government are calling for red tape and barriers to volunteering to be dismantled-precisely what the fund was set up to do. I cannot see that it makes sense.
What should be happening, then? We should be making it easier for people to volunteer. We have to deal with CRB checks-I can almost hear a collective groan around the House, as we have talked about it so often-which are still, ludicrously, not portable. Even if a volunteer has been checked by another organisation recently, each organisation has to organise for a fresh check, which has considerable administrative cost even if the check itself is free-not to mention that there is quite considerable confusion among volunteer-involving organisations over who needs to be checked. As far back as 2008, the Commission on the Future of Volunteering raised the need for CRB-checking processes to be simplified and for portability to be introduced, yet nothing has happened.
I could continue by raising the issue of citizenship education, as many noble Lords have done. I could discuss the issue of how compulsory community service should in no way be confused with true volunteering. I could praise the Government for their emphasis on encouraging people to take part in civil society, which I gladly do. However, I would be grateful if the Minister could give me some answers about CRB checks, the access to volunteering fund and supporting the infrastructure for volunteering, when the big society relies on all those for it to work well.
Baroness Sharp of Guildford: My Lords, I join others in thanking my noble friend Lord Maclennan of Rogart for introducing this important debate. I, like others, declare an interest as a long-time volunteer in various activities; I think that I must have had at least three separate CRB checks done on me in the past year. I want in particular to pick up on the remarks made by my noble friend Lady Walmsley about citizenship education for young people and to endorse her remarks about hoping very much-I hope that the Minister can reassure us -that the curriculum for citizenship will not be downgraded. It is extremely important that our young people get that introduction to what it means to be an active citizen, which the curriculum offers them.
I also worry about the fact that for many of our young people, their community today tends to be what is called the social networking community-one that comes from the internet, not from active interaction with friends. One benefit of active citizenship is that it is interactive with people and means linking up closely with friends. It gives a great sense of happiness and well-being because you are making friends and because you get the feeling of being a wanted and valued member of the community. I shall spend the time that I have today talking about not the curriculum for our young people but another aspect of education that picks up on the whole notion of citizenship. That is: adult education and the degree to which it opens doors not only to new opportunities and jobs but, in fact, to self-fulfilment. There is a sense of self-worth and self-confidence and of participation in society.
We had a short debate in this House a few weeks ago about adult education, which I led. In that debate, I instanced the case of Irene, a young woman who was a single mother but whose own education had been very limited. She became very worried about the fact that she could not help her daughter with her reading when she came home from school with a reading book. Somewhat reluctantly, she went along to classes, not because she wanted to admit that she could not read but because she wanted to help her daughter. She found that she enjoyed those classes and went on to take further classes. She eventually took an English course, then an IT course. She then found herself volunteering to run a group for parents with disabled children. That led to her standing as a school governor. Then she started being an active member of the tenants' association and found herself running it. Having myself spent the past 30 or 40 years active in politics, I can see that from that point it is quite likely that she was then asked if she would stand as a local councillor. This experience over a five-year period illustrates how people, as the result of an introduction-often completely by chance-into adult education, can become active citizens and get a great sense of self-worth from their participation in society.
I congratulate coalition Ministers on the skills strategy, which was published on Tuesday and incorporates a commitment to maintaining some £210 million which is known as the safeguarded adult education budget. They have maintained it in money terms, not in real terms, but, given the degree to which other budgets are being cut, it is excellent that this particular budget is
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The danger with the developments that we are seeing with the big society, and with the concept of the big society, is that it feeds into what I call the self-organising middle classes. Guildford is well represented here today; following me will be the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Guildford, and the noble Lord, Lord Blair, spent many a long year in Guildford as head of Surrey Police. We have a thriving U3A-a self-organising middle-class organisation-which does an enormous amount and is very important.
It is vital, however, that we do not just look to middle-class self-organisation but maintain within the broad adult education spectrum those organisations, such as the City Literary Institute, which provide a much broader perspective on adult learning. Some 18 per cent of the City Literary Institute's learners pay the concessionary fee and 7 per cent are over 65 and on a very low income, while 30 per cent of its working-age learners are unemployed. Currently it gets 47 per cent of its expenses from the Government. It has 57,000 enrolments and 4,100 courses, including special courses for those with learning difficulties, for the deaf and for those with speech impediments, as well as outreach work to families and the homeless.
The Lord Bishop of Guildford: As the third of the Guildford trio, my Lords, I warmly welcome this debate. If we are to discover the meaning of the big society, we shall also have to look at the meaning of civil society. A society can be inward-looking, even a club-one of the meanings of the word is one group of people over and against another. Civil society, however, is about civilisation, being civil to one another and living together in civitas-a city. Active citizenship is about learning to live together in the city that is our society, whether we live in London, Guildford, Addlestrop or Zennor. I am therefore supportive of the plea of the noble Lord, Lord Maclennan, and the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, for the retention of citizenship education in the core curriculum in secondary schools.
I want to make two observations on active citizenship from the point of view of a bishop. The first is an almost unnecessary apologia, though no apology, for why people of faith-specifically, members of the Christian churches-should be engaged in constructive citizenship, and the second will be to illustrate to your Lordships' House, as others have been doing in this House today, how this is actually happening on the ground.
First, why should a bishop be bothered about citizenship when we read in sacred scripture that our citizenship is in heaven or that here we have no abiding
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Secondly, what are we actually doing about it? The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leicester has already spoken in strategic and national terms and in relation to Leicester itself. Every Bishop in your Lordships' House could list numerous local projects and partnerships in their dioceses, either initiated by the churches or where the churches with other faith communities are willing and constructive collaborators with all of good will in their local communities. Such lists would be very extensive. I flag some that I am personally aware of as Bishop of Guildford.
Street Angel Groups are mushrooming all over the country. In my diocese, for example, they are in Guildford, Staines, Epsom, Aldershot, Camberley and Fleet. On Friday and Saturday nights, trained groups work closely with clubs, pubs and the police and are on the streets from about 10 pm till the early hours of the morning. Street crime actually plummets-that is official. In Woking last week, the first Muslim volunteers joined their emerging team of Street Angels.
There are after-school groups for children, parents, carers and teachers. There are Sure Start groups, including various community networks. Poverty groups such as the Besom tackle isolation and abuse as well as homelessness. Debt counselling is offered in Guildford by the churches through the instigation of the court services. Churches in Farnborough and Guildford have long-term investment in local community action groups. Town-centre chaplaincies and outreach centres are developing. Woking People of Faith involves the oldest mosque in England. Family support groups are emerging through the churches. The Mothers' Union supports chaplaincy and support for families in prisons, not only women's prisons. Elsewhere in the country, as well as in my part of the world, police chaplaincy supports community policing.
In Surrey we have a long-standing volunteer scheme with Surrey Police to provide adults to attend custody suites for interrogation at any time of day or night, where minors or vulnerable persons are not supported
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The South East England Faiths Forum has just published a survey of the economic contribution of faith groups to society throughout the region, Faith Communities: The Hidden Contribution. I repeat that my diocese is not untypical; the other Bishops in your Lordships' House could all tell similar stories.
Behind this long and emergently tedious catalogue lies independent research indicating that about 10 per cent of adults in Surrey-I believe that the figures hold elsewhere in the country-volunteer for community-building activities. Of such volunteers, 70 per cent are motivated by their faith. To illustrate this, I relate a conversation I had only last week with one of my clergy about a community development project in Cobham. Working with their local Member of Parliament, Dominic Raab, the local community groups developed a project with the county council. It is not badged as a faith project, but the churches are the most active participants and active church members are key to all the community groups.
To conclude, my point is simply that in the creation of the big society, active citizenship is, of course, essential. Within the faith communities and the churches-and the Church of England therein-up and down the nation, there is an almost limitless reservoir of active citizenship, not only potentially to be tapped but actually getting on with doing the job and building civil society. We are not only singing Jerusalem.
Lord Shipley: My Lords, last night I had the privilege of attending a visit to Parliament by the Bite the Ballot campaign. Around 100 young people were here in the House to campaign and encourage other young people to get involved in the political process. It was an uplifting event.
However, some stark figures were presented to us by Bob Worcester from Ipsos MORI. At this year's general election there was a 65 per cent turnout overall, but of young people under 25 only 44 per cent turned out to vote: 50 per cent of men, but only 39 per cent of women, which itself demands some deeper understanding. Of course, active citizenship is not just about voting every so often, but voting is nevertheless the cornerstone of our democracy, which is why citizenship education is so important in our schools, to help to reverse that decline in turnout.
For more active citizenship to be achieved, local neighbourhoods are the place to start. That is where most people are interested and confident in getting involved. There are three ways to encourage active citizenship in the neighbourhood that I should like to draw to your Lordships' attention. The first is participatory budgeting, which we brand in Newcastle upon Tyne as "U decide". It was launched four years ago by the Newcastle Partnership, with £280,000 of neighbourhood renewal cash. Now in our fifth year, there have been
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For me, the outcomes of participatory budgeting are that it builds social capital, targets spending more effectively and leads to closer working within a neighbourhood by public and third-sector agencies. In the context of reduced public spending, it is extremely important that more citizens become involved because they will understand better what is and is not possible, what things cost and how things should be prioritised.
My second example is volunteering in neighbourhoods, with the particular example of public libraries. I remember some years ago a county councillor in Bedlington, Northumberland, Ellen Mitchell, telling me how she led a group in establishing their first local library in the late 1940s. They found a room, they built the shelves and donated their own books as stock to get things started. It was the equivalent of the big society in those days. There are many similar examples from an era when Governments tended to match-fund voluntary effort, rather than do everything themselves. In the context of spending cuts over the next few years, we could find that we need to encourage volunteers to work in our local libraries in support of trained staff. This could keep libraries open when they might otherwise be closed. It would also provide experienced people to help in, for example, IT training and local and family history. We should remember how that library service started. It was not all about big government, but about voluntary action supported by the state. This is increasingly the way in which we may need to go to protect the library service and several other, similar local services, perhaps in the leisure field.
Is it possible to engage people? I think it is. School governing bodies explain how they have been heavily supported by volunteers over the years and are a model that can be followed. More people will volunteer if it is clearer to them how to do so.
A third way to increase active citizenship in neighbourhoods lies in neighbourhood planning across public services as a whole. Getting people involved in thinking about health services, community safety, job creation, leisure facilities and housing needs can lead,
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That is why I am worried by any trend towards the atomisation of public services, and their delivery, rather than localism. Localism brings public services together under one umbrella, led by local government, which derives its mandate from the ballot box. Atomisation gives greater control to Whitehall in allocating budgets, through its system of budgetary silos. That is why I believe we must empower our neighbourhoods to define those public services that they need and then see them delivered through devolution of power. That would encourage more active citizenship which, in turn, will help to create stronger communities and neighbourhood and, one hopes, the rise in turnout at formal elections that we seek so much.
The amateur sports sector is one of the most established parts of the big society or voluntary sector that there has ever been. It embodies the idea of doing something for yourself, and then gaining a benefit from something you enjoy doing. A lot of people ask why people get involved in various types of voluntary activity, and we usually then hear a long list of things with songs about the benefits. Sport is something you get involved in because you enjoy the process, and you get something good out of it for yourself. However, to do this, you need to bring other people with you. Effectively, it is a voluntary thing that is quite selfish but is hugely beneficial at the same time; an odd dichotomy.
The amateur sports clubs and the British mania for regulating sport have led to sport being a growth area. In many sports, groups often provide their own facilities, structure and coaching. They get involved across the board and are self-sustaining and self-generating. What do they need from the state? Some would say they need very little and should be left alone. Others would say the state should get involved in pump-priming. The question we must ask is: what is available at the moment?
Despite the fact that past Governments tried-the previous Government tried very hard-to provide better facilities, we are in a situation where what the state can most immediately do is probably to look at where it can reduce the burden of activity on these groups, and where we can pull away and allow them to function better. Effectively, if you make the lives of secretaries of sports clubs easier, you will make the lives of sports clubs much easier. Those volunteers have to deal with the paperwork and go through the checks. CRB checks have already been mentioned but there is also the regulatory and licensing process. If you make that easier, you will guarantee that they get more involved.
There are two ways of doing this. One is to get the Government to do it for you. The other is to strip away the regulations to the bare bones of what is acceptable in our society. I know that the current Government are starting to look at this. I know because certain organisations that, two years ago, helped me to present a Bill that did some of this have been talking to them. When will we establish exactly what is the minimum of regulation and responsibility that we want for these groups? I encourage my Government to answer that question clearly. Also, I expect the Government to assist by checking what works within this sector.
Those who have heard me often will start to get feelings of déjà vu here. There have been many schemes to do with recruiting youth. When politicians get involved in sport, they say, "Let's get the kids involved". They forget that getting kids involved is very easy. You simply do it in school time and organise it through the school. It is dead easy; we have done it dozens of times. The problem is not school-age sport or sport in schools; it is sport when people hit the age of 16 or 18 or 21. That is when it matters. We have not really addressed the problem of the drop-out ages from education. That is when it happens. Unless we address that, we will have problems.
Can the Government look, as they have looked at what has happened in the past few years, at which of the schemes for recruitment, retention and reinvolvement have worked properly? Enough groundwork has been done by the previous Government. They may have been looking for a magic bullet. They may have found a decent gun with which to fire it. We do not know. Let us have a look at what has been done and build on it. Can we have an answer as to what has been the best scheme at certain points? With fewer resources available, targeting or showing people models around which to build their work is something that could easily be done. If we do not have a system for retrieving that information, God help us.
Finally, when we deal with this process of stripping away various areas in which clubs find their lives being made difficult, can the Government assure us that they will try to co-ordinate what is required to get people trained and functioning in these groups? That is, will we get a system that makes it easier to get, for instance, good coaching qualifications? Will we address ways to make it less expensive to do this? It could be done either by governing bodies purchasing services en masse or by trying to get some reduction in cost for those that are taking it on. If we want society to function properly in its voluntary groups, the Government have a duty to make sure that they do not put any impediments in the way. If we can take such impediments away, we will go some way towards achieving a good big society.
Lord Norton of Louth: My Lords, I, too, congratulate my noble friend Lord Maclennan on initiating this valuable debate. Like others, I will focus on citizenship education. In a free society, citizens are able to participate in public affairs. They may come together to organise or they may contribute in a purely individual capacity
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The most consistent and productive means of instilling awareness of the value of engagement in public life is through citizenship education. One cannot force people to engage in public affairs but one can make them aware of the value of getting engaged. Awareness of how society is organised and how one can make a contribution and influence what goes on is a form of empowerment and is to the good of society. There is therefore a compelling case for citizenship education. As we have heard, that was recognised in 2002, when citizenship education became part of the national curriculum. If people are to take responsibility for their own community, they need to be aware of the values of so doing and the structures within which they are operating. Citizenship education can therefore be seen as a prerequisite to achieving the big society.
However, as my noble friend Lady Walmsley said, there are concerns that citizenship education may not survive a review of the national curriculum in England. That would be a great mistake-one that derives from a misunderstanding of what is happening. There have been criticisms of the quality of teaching of citizenship. Some people, not least in my own party, are suspicious of the teaching of citizenship, seeing it-as they sometimes see the teaching of politics-as a means of indoctrination and of instilling particular political values in young minds. I do not deny that there are problems with the teaching of citizenship, but they derive not from the vigour or extent of such teaching but from the fact that it is underresourced and undervalued. Though part of the national curriculum, it has not had the resources devoted to it that are necessary for it to be taught thoroughly. There have not been the necessary incentives for schools to take it seriously and invest time and effort in making it a success.
I was once interviewed by an MA student for his dissertation. At the end of the interview, he asked me my views on citizenship education. I explained that I was a strong supporter. He revealed that he was a trained citizenship teacher. He had been hired by a school but, the moment there was pressure on the school budget, he had been the first to be let go. I suspect that he was not the exception. Without teachers trained in citizenship education, the danger is that responsibility is given to teachers who are free on a Wednesday afternoon or do not have the heaviest teaching load. In such circumstances, the danger is that the subject will not be taught as well as it should be. That is a reflection not on the teachers but on the situation in which they find themselves. It is also a situation where bias may creep in, because teachers are not tutored in how to ensure neutrality in delivering the subject. In such circumstances, one can see how critics will be wary of citizenship education.
What is needed is not the ending of citizenship education but rather the opposite. It needs to be taken seriously by schools. Head teachers presently have no incentive to take it seriously. The Department for Education needs to address how to ensure its more
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Only a limited number of schools offer politics at A and AS-level. Where it is taught, it tends to be taught extremely well, often by teachers who have degrees in politics and entered teaching through the history route. The teachers are keen and know how to teach politics. Pupils who study politics end up having some understanding of the community around them and how to influence it. They are the ones in a position to make the big society a reality-except, of course, they are in a minority. We have the potential not for a big society but, rather, for a small one if we exclude most of our young people from being able to get a good understanding of the society that they inhabit.
The schools that we really need to get to are those which are not necessarily the most successful and which are not able to offer politics. These are the schools where pupils, without citizenship education, may end up with little awareness of their local community and how they can contribute to it. We need to help them, not work against them by contemplating the removal of citizenship education.
Enhancing citizenship education does not necessarily entail investing substantial sums in it-I appreciate that the money is not there-but rather is about enhancing its status and giving greater incentives to schools to take it seriously. There are resources available, not least on the internet-the Parliament's Education Service, for example, does a fantastic job in generating material for schools-but the challenge is to ensure that those resources are exploited to their full extent and, indeed, to ensure that schools are aware of them and want to make use of them.
I conclude as I began: it is essential that the aims of government are consistent with its intentions. Getting rid of citizenship education would undermine the Prime Minister's aim of achieving the big society. If we want citizens to understand Parliament and take it seriously, we could do little better than put our weight behind enhancing citizenship education in this country.
Lord Clement-Jones: My Lords, I, too, congratulate my noble friend Lord Maclennan on initiating today's debate. Inevitably, when talking about active citizenship, we need to examine the credentials of the big society as a concept. I confess that, when reading books and articles recently about the virtues of big society policy, I feel a little like Monsieur Jourdain in Molière's "Bourgeois Gentilhomme", who realises from his conversation with the philosophy master that he speaks in prose. I apologise to my noble friend for not reciting the original French. Monsieur Jourdain states:
Being an active citizen is something that many of us do, and have done instinctively, for most of our lives. I
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As a Liberal, and then a Liberal Democrat, I have never really questioned the value of the active citizen. Gladstone described the great fault line in British politics perfectly, and it is still there: some parties and people have trust in the people tempered by prudence whereas others have mistrust of the people tempered by fear. Gladstone applied this to the concept of the Tory/Liberal divide but it could have applied equally well to the division between Fabian and neo-liberal in the last century. Indeed, it is evident today in those who want to further the enabling and empowering society as opposed to those who simply do not want to take the risk. JS Mill summed it up well in his Principles ofPolitical Economy. He said:
Of course, the balance between state and voluntary action has changed over the years since he wrote that work and the importance of the concept of the big society-a terrible name, especially for followers of Edmund Burke with his "little battalions", or for devotees of Schumacher-lies in the way in which it has made us examine whether that balance needs to change.
In his stimulating new book, The Big Society, Jesse Norman, the newly elected Conservative MP, engages in an argument essentially directed towards Conservatives-namely, that the balance needs to change again. There is little reference to the great Liberal thinkers but his thesis essentially expropriates traditional Liberal and neo-liberal principles in the name of compassionate conservatism.
Should we Liberals care that our approach to the concept of the enabling state is now being annexed by Conservative think tankers? I do not believe that we should at all, provided that the limits of the big society are recognised in terms of its not being able to deliver the bulk of the welfare state. The coalition Government are prepared to act to make it a reality. Many colleagues have said today how that could be done, particularly through the encouragement of volunteering and the assumption of responsibility.
Over the years, I have been involved in many different bodies in the voluntary sector: Crime Concern, Cancerbackup and TreeHouse, the autism education charity. In my experience, voluntary organisations cannot just be left to get on with it; the big society has to be paid for. Particularly at a time of deep cuts to central and local government, government itself has to be reinvented to give space to voluntary organisations.
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I am the trustee of an organisation that specialises in community development with young people in the inner city. It has highly innovative ways of tackling issues such as knife crime and gang involvement by stimulating creativity. Many projects are funded, but core funding has gone down inexorably from year to year and there is no real headroom for development. As a result, we are having to wind up the organisation. This is a deeply sad outcome. I strongly believe that our organisation in Brixton, and many such as ours, gained the trust and respect of young people in a way that no central or local government organisation could. That is a key feature of active citizenship in my view. There have been some good developments as far as capital funding is concerned. The establishment of Futurebuilders by the previous Government ensured that TreeHouse was able to finance an essential part of its new £11.5 million school building.
It is sad that the noble Lord, Lord Phillips of Sudbury, cannot be with us today. He is a friend whom I have admired for many years, as he is the most active citizen I know. He founded the Legal Action Group and the Citizenship Foundation, both of which are immensely valuable and influential. The great achievement of the foundation was to secure citizenship education, as my noble friend mentioned earlier, as part of the national curriculum. This appears to be in danger. If we are serious about the big society, we should be enhancing this element, not diminishing it.
Finally, there is nothing genteel or safe about the big society. If we truly believe in empowerment, we need to take the political and social consequences. That is where trust is so important, sprinkled, of course, with a bit of prudence.
Baroness Barker: My Lords, I, too, thank my noble friend Lord Maclennan for initiating this debate. I pay tribute to the two excellent maiden speakers in our debate today. The points made by the noble Lord, Lord Bannside, about the strength of societies which are diverse due to people migrating to them were particularly moving and I congratulate him on them.
I declare an interest as an employee of a new organisation, See the Difference, which trains and enables charities to seek support, whether money or volunteering, by making films and putting them on the internet. I shall return to the importance of the internet and social networking. I have also been involved in the voluntary sector for more than 30 years, either as an employee of various organisations or as a consultant. It is with that historical perspective that I want to approach today's debate. In preparing for it I was
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The most compelling factor in active citizenship is that an individual can see the difference that he or she can make, or that he or she has made. When we discuss this subject, it is therefore important to look at the focal points in societies which endure. GPs' surgeries, the health service, churches, different faith groups, synagogues, mosques and schools are all places to which people can come and influence the society in which they live. I, too, put in a plug for libraries. Those that are run with the assistance of professional librarians make for good focal points in a good society-as do voluntary organisations.
I want to talk a little about some of the things that have been said about the big society. There is great enthusiasm for it at the moment, but it brings with it a great deal of challenge to the voluntary sector at a difficult time. Noble Lords will have noticed what happened in Somerset last week, when, of necessity, funding was withdrawn from the entire voluntary sector. It is important, as the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, said, that we recognise that it is the enduring role of local government which underpins an active and coherent society in any locality.
I have a concern. In my work in the voluntary sector, I have come to learn that voluntary organisations' biggest currency is novelty. When an organisation is new and what it is doing is innovative, it is at the height of its powers; but when it is not new and has become part of the landscape, but is no less effective or worth while, it begins to struggle. My concern about the big society and the things that I believe lie behind it, is that while it is about encouraging innovation and challenging the corporate world to take part in its communities, all that I have seen about it so far is comparatively short-term. I do not want us to look back in four or five years' time on a range of wonderful initiatives which burst like bright stars upon our firmament and then died away.
I hope that with the resources they intend to put behind the development of the big society, the Government do not do what the previous Government did and set up a number of new bodies to administer it. They were cumbersome and they brought unnecessary competition to an already crowded field. I hope that the Government and the resources they deploy centrally-for example, community organisers and the citizenship organisations-will look to existing organisations within the voluntary sector, albeit with a new set of criteria attached to the money, and use the existing knowledge and expertise which is out there in the voluntary sector and deserves to stay and to be used.
Finally, my noble friend Lady Sharp of Guildford talked about social networking. Twenty-six million of our compatriots are on Facebook. At least 13 million
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We should enable voluntary organisations that are struggling to tackle the financial problems that they will undoubtedly face to look towards new kinds of support. For many of them, it will not come through taking on large-scale provision of public services, but it will be about engaging the enthusiasm of new supporters via means such as social networking.
Lord Parekh: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Maclennan of Rogart, for securing and introducing this debate. Citizenship is obviously about rights and obligations, but active citizenship is about much more than that. It involves taking an active interest in the life of the community, participating in its affairs, criticising it when it is acting unjustly, and protesting when the Government will not listen. In other words, active citizenship has a strong political dimension. It is certainly about the voluntary sector, but it should not be limited to it. It is supportive of the social order as well as critical of it. It is about charity, philanthropy and helping local causes, but it is also about evaluating and challenging the established social order-and, from time to time, raising one's voice against it.
There is a danger, certainly in our country, of understanding citizenship almost entirely in terms of what goes on in civil society and the voluntary sector, and ignoring what happens at the wider political level where interests and ideologies clash. It is on this political dimension of citizenship that I want to concentrate.
Active citizenship requires three things: institutional spaces for opportunities to participate; skill and knowledge to be able to make use of those institutional spaces and participate intelligently; and motivation or disposition to participate. Why spend one's energy debating public affairs? Why protest?
Most of the presentations today, and the literature on citizenship in general, have concentrated on institutional mechanisms or citizenship education. They have tended to ignore the larger question, what are the psychological dispositions or motivations that persuade people to go out into the public realm and use their time and energy to pursue worthwhile causes? I will say something about this.
Active citizenship obviously means that I care for my country, that my country means something to me, that I identify with it, and, therefore, that I cannot
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Citizenship is about identity and belonging. The question we should ask is, how can we cultivate a sense of belonging? Once you have a sense of belonging and recognise that a community is yours, you will obviously want to participate in it. You will not wish to harm it and you will do everything you can to promote its well-being. Active citizenship follows almost automatically, as night follows day, from the idea of being committed to one's community, belonging to it and identifying with it.
How do we secure this identification and sense of belonging? Belonging operates at two levels: at the local level, relating to the area in which we live-I will call that civic belonging; and at the national level, where it relates to a country, which I will call national belonging. Both are equally important for active citizenship. Local or civic belonging is easier to cultivate, because that is where most of us spend most of our lives. It is perfectly possible to have a sense of local belonging, but no sense of national belonging. For example, many Muslim youths, when asked, say that they do not feel British, but that they feel deeply rooted in Bradford or Birmingham. They could not imagine themselves living anywhere else, yet they feel alienated from Britain. Civic belonging of this kind sustains national belonging and provides a default position when national belonging is not available, so that even if some groups of people feel alienated from Britain, they remain rooted in their local community and therefore can be depended on not to engage in unacceptable activities. This civic belonging requires that there should be citizens' forums where people have the opportunity to interact with their elected representatives, with advisory councils and with all sorts of other things that noble Lords have talked about.
I will say something about national belonging, which interests me a great deal. National belonging means that I see my country as mine, I care for it, I love it, I have affection for it and I would not dream of harming it. The question is, how does one cultivate a sense of commitment to a country? It is a reciprocal process. I cannot love my country unless my country loves me. I cannot belong to a country unless the country wants me to belong to it. It is a matter not quite of a contract but of some kind of moral understanding between the individual and the community. When John F Kennedy said, "Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country", he was engaging in a very one-sided form of political rhetoric, because what my country does for me is just as important as what I do for it. If it does nothing for me but excludes me, it cannot expect me to make a commitment to it.
I will end by saying that in order to cultivate a sense of national belonging, there must be equal respect for all citizens. The definition of the nation must include everybody and it must have equal regard to the interests of all its citizens. It should seek and value the opinion
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In this context, it is very important that we realise that sections of our country are deeply alienated from the wider political system. They feel neglected, ignored, disempowered and angry at their unfair treatment; and they wonder why, when the bankers made a mess of our economy, the ordinary folk have to pay the price. Some of them sulk and withdraw into their own unhappy world. Others provide combustible material for extremist individuals, ideologies and organisations. How do we bring in alienated ethnic minorities, the working classes on council estates and other sections of people who feel resentful at the way in which they have been treated? How do we foster in them a sense of belonging? When we do that, we will have begun to address the question of active citizenship.
Lord Greaves: My Lords, it is always a privilege to follow the noble Lord, Lord Parekh, on debates of this nature, and I agree with every word that he said. He asked what motivates people to become active citizens. A fact which is not universally acknowledged at the moment, although I believe that it will be in two years' time, is that this Government are going to make the greatest contribution of any Government in recent times to people becoming active citizens. However, the reason for that will be not the big society but the spending cuts. People get involved in things when they get angry, when they want to change something and when they feel that a protest has to be made. That is a fact of life. When people in positions of authority set up schemes to involve people, they usually achieve it to a reasonable degree and sometimes they are outstandingly successful. My noble friend Lord Shipley talked about Newcastle, where there are good schemes, but ultimately most people get involved when they are angry. I do not think that we should criticise that or worry about it; we should welcome it. However, we should have political structures that allow people to take part and put their views forward.
In view of one or two things that I shall be saying, I should declare an interest as a member of Pendle Borough Council and of all sorts of bodies which I attend locally and which come into the general category of public involvement.
One area where public authorities can, and must, make a real contribution is in changing structures to enable involvement in the existing structures of decision-making to take place. It is hoped that they are democratic structures but, even when they are not very democratic, people can be involved. However, that is not always the case and in some areas there has been a long struggle to bring about changes to structures. That applies far more nowadays in local government than used to be the case. For example, when I was first on Pendle Borough Council, which was a very long time-
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Now, we are being told that the future lies with the big society, and I hope that I will be forgiven if I sound a little cynical and weary. Not long ago, we had another Government talking about double devolution. I have not yet discovered the difference between that and the big society but perhaps there are subtle differences, or perhaps it is just a different Secretary of State or a different political party that wants a new, trendy idea to put forward.
I have been active as a local authority councillor in my own patch of Waterside in Colne off and on for nearly 40 years. It is an area of terraced housing and comes within the bottom 5 per cent of deprived wards in the country. I suppose that after 40 years I should have done something about that but unfortunately government keep getting in the way. The latest instance of that has been the big increase in private landlord properties in the area, thanks to buy to let and so on, which is a huge problem. Nevertheless, it is an area of traditional terraced housing and local mills, some of which are still standing.
Forty years ago, I was involved in a local residents' action group. It was set up by local residents because much of the area was going to be knocked down and they did not agree with that. It was a very oppositional and overtly political, with a small "p", organisation. Then we took over the council and set up general improvement and housing action areas, which were in the legislation in those days. As part of that, resident participatory structures were set up, with local residents' meetings, committees and so on-there is nothing new about all this-and they were very successful in improving the area. Following that, we had something called community economic development-I am not sure whether it came and went-which resulted in a new community centre being set up. However, as my noble friend said, the problem is always one of revenue, and the centre then closed down. I was not on the council at the time, I am pleased to say-at least, I am not pleased that it closed down but pleased that I was not involved in its closure. Now we have neighbourhood management, set up in a big way. These are highly successful schemes that are very expensive but which result in a lot of local people being involved. We have
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My plea to central government is that when you have good things working on the ground, do not throw them away. It takes a long time to build active community structures, but they can be thrown away with the stroke of a pen by a Secretary of State. Please build from what there is on the ground. There is a huge amount of good work and good things happening all over the country, but every time there is a new Government or a new Secretary of State the old is swept out and they start to build again. They call it different names but, in practice, it turns out to be the same thing. When projects are closed down, the people who have been involved become that much more cynical and unwilling to get involved again. It is a real problem that I hope the current Government will consider seriously.
Lord Tyler: My Lords, the debate is extremely timely when the role of the state is under such hot discussion across all parties and within all groups in society. I shall not attempt to summarise on behalf of the 10 colleagues who have been speaking in this Liberal Democrat-led debate, but I am sure that the Minister will have listened carefully to all the contributions. They have been extremely thoughtful, based on hard evidence and experience. They also reflect a debate that is going on, not least in the voluntary sector, in all corners of the land.
Contrary to popular philosophising, this Government are not determined to demolish the financial size of the state. The public sector spending component will be much the same at the end of this Parliament as in 2006. I do not think that everybody realises that, but we as Liberal Democrats know that, whatever the money, the reach of the state-particularly a centralised state-can go only so far. That has been an element throughout our discussions this afternoon.
The question is how, in 2015, the state will function in relation to its citizens when the proportion of GDP spent by the Government will still be at historically high levels. Will it simply peel away, hoping that a so-called big society will take its place, or will it remain not as a controlling force but as an enabler, empowering citizens and communities to help themselves? That surely is the challenge for the Government, not least because it is thought, particularly among Conservative-with a big C-pundits, that somehow the people are just waiting to launch into all sorts of community initiatives if only the Government would get out of the way. Frankly, it is not as though the sick would be healed, the ignorant educated or the poor assisted if only the dead hand of state interference would simply clear off. That is extraordinarily naive. That is the fantasy that is entertained by the worst American Republicans in their tea parties and which causes millions of citizens in the United States not only to do without health insurance but to drop way below the poverty level.
The big society, the liberal society, active citizenry-whatever you choose to call it-needs a state. That is not in dispute. It just does not need a very large and all-consuming state. We have heard today from across the House how important in that context local government is. I note, incidentally, that our colleagues at the other end of the building in the Constitutional Reform Select Committee are looking at the possibility of codifying the relationship between central and local government. The talk of a concordat that we had under the previous Government must come back into play.
There is clearly a real concern across the House about the extent to which local representative government is likely to be affected by what are necessary spending cuts. Councils' natural reaction is to avoid cutting their own employment and expenditure and instead to cut their discretionary grants to the voluntary sector. That is a serious problem. It may create a new postcode lottery between the best-funded and worst-funded areas, but that will sever not strengthen the links that bind our communities together. There is a real problem that money and the capacity for making the big society work will simply be starved by those who are in a position to make it happen.
I want to say a word or two about an organisation that has demonstrated, over the decades, its potential to help our society to pass that test. That organisation, which saves huge sums for the public purse, is the National Association of Citizens Advice Bureaux. I confess an indirect private interest in that my wife was for 10 years a CAB manager, which means that I have nearly first-hand experience. However, I think that anybody who has had any role in local communities, particularly those who have had a constituency MP responsibility, will know how incredibly important the CAB is. The achievements of CABs are remarkable. They not only give nuggets of advice to every citizen who comes to them, but they overcome whatever the problem is. They have an incredibly important role in helping the state and society generally.
The most recent CAB impact report gives a compelling case study, showing how a simple intervention at a relatively low cost can save the taxpayer thousands of pounds. I commend the report to Members of your Lordships' House. None of this is done by accident. To get these extraordinary outcomes out of the CAB, something has to be put in, too. Frankly, I think that there is a real problem, as the CABs have already advised me, because 43 per cent of their funding-their core funding, if you like-comes from local authorities. It is an absolutely vital role, but it will be a very easy discretionary grant to cut. If all the active citizens in our society are the tiles in a mosaic, local government is the glue that holds them together; it is what ensures that all parts of the community are represented and that the loudest voices are not the only ones heard.
"There is a strong chance that visible (ie large and established) organisations, for example large charities, NGOs and the Church of England, will take responsibility for active citizenship in their fields ... this raises questions about how small and less visible voices can be heard".
"Politics is not just what happens here, within these walls. Political life is every time a citizen comes into contact with the state, every time a community feels the effect of a decision taken on their behalf. I believe passionately that it is in that space that the gulf between politics and society is at its widest".
In those circumstances, active citizenship is a real challenge to our Government. It is a challenge, first, to distinguish clearly between empowering citizens and simply walking away; secondly, to ensure that the big society is about giving a voice to the voiceless, not simply an amplifier to the already articulate; and, finally, to recognise that funding local authorities is not engorging a wicked bureaucracy but sustaining the very groups that are the bedrock not just of a big society but of the fair, active and liberal society that we all want to create.
The Earl of Listowel: My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Lord, Lord Maclennan of Rogart, for calling this important debate. I want to continue the theme, which he began and to which the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, has just referred, of the need for both state and society if we wish to live in a civilised community.
I begin by joining the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp of Guildford, in thanking Her Majesty's Government for maintaining funding to adult education. It makes a huge difference for mothers and fathers that they can help their children with their writing, reading and arithmetic when they themselves did not succeed in school. The evidence is clear that parental interest and support are the most important factors in the successful education of children.
Speaking as a vice-chair of the associate parliamentary group for children and young people in and leaving care, I hope that many of your Lordships will join me in asserting that our foster carers and adoptive parents are among our most important active citizens-the heroes who have been referred to. They can redeem a child's life. They can spare a young person failure at school, incarceration in prison and the prospect of teenage parenthood and of having their children removed from them. I hope that your Lordships will join me in thanking foster carers and adoptive parents for being among our most important active citizens. They make a huge personal commitment, often at considerable cost to themselves and often without concomitant commitment from local authorities.
According to Fostering Network, we are short of 10,000 foster carers in England and Wales. An important factor in this is lack of access to support from social workers. This is often due to local shortages of social workers and the failure to attract and keep the best practitioners in social work. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Blair, for referring to social work in his contribution.
I hope that we can all agree that, where citizens make the commitment to benefit their fellows, we should do all in our power to ensure that they receive proper support-often, appropriate professional support. I hope that we can also agree that we need to continue to strive for a far better deal for our child and family social workers, so that our foster carers and adoptive parents are well supported and can commit with confidence.
The Adolescent and Children's Trust, TACT, is an outstanding not-for-profit adoption and fostering agency, operating in England, Wales and Scotland. I recently attended the opening of its head office outside Glasgow and heard from foster carers who were fostering for the first time how much they valued their child and family social workers. One of them emphasised to me how vital it was to her that her social worker was always just a phone call away, day or night.
I pay tribute to the Minister and his colleagues for their attention to child and family social work and for addressing the long-standing deficits in social work. I pay particular tribute to the work of the Children and Families Minister in the other place, Mr Tim Loughton: in his support for the Social Work Task Force, set up by the previous Administration; in the review of the bureaucratic burden on social work that he commissioned from Professor Eileen Munro of the London School of Economics; and in his preparedness to listen and learn from the experience of those at the front line.
However, the severe cut of 28 per cent in funding over four years that Her Majesty's Government have imposed on local authorities raises considerable concern about the future health of child and family social work. I hope that the Minister will take back to his colleagues in the Department for Education our concern that improvement in the quality and quantity of child and family social workers should not be allowed to be undermined by the recession. It is simply too important. If he and his colleagues say that this is now the responsibility of each local authority, I draw their attention to two documents. The first is the front page of this Tuesday's Times in which-I paraphrase, and I apologise to him for doing so-Mr Loughton says that he is going to make local authorities improve the adoption process. The second is the review of efficiency savings in government by Mr Stephen Green, now to be Lord Green, which called for a team of four super-bureaucrats-again, I paraphrase-to be appointed so that they could implement efficient commissioning across all government departments.
There are occasions when a top-down approach is an important complement to one from the bottom up. I beg the Government to take a balanced approach, not to move from one extreme of centralisation to another of liberalisation and laissez-faire. There is always a balance to be struck, as I have learnt in the
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I conclude by praising the Government's development of a social work first programme along the lines of the highly successful Teach First programme of the noble Lord, Lord Wei. I would be most grateful if the Minister could write to me with details of the progress in this initiative. I look forward to the Minister's response.
Lord Beecham: My Lords, like virtually everyone who has spoken, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Maclennan, on his initiative in bringing this debate and on his most thoughtful speech. As a recent maiden myself, I should like to congratulate the noble Lords, Lord Bannside and Lord Blair, on their first contributions. It is understandable that this House should have a debate of this kind. It complements the recent debate on the charitable sector. After all, this House has many Members who personify active citizenship and bring their enormous experience to bear. Sometimes the form of the debate focuses on individual roles and how they might be fostered.
There is something of a myth about the presumed wish of many people to control and to manage services. There is little evidence of such a desire, although there are many examples of local facilities-we have heard about some of them today-being run by people from local communities. However, in general, there is not that wish to control services, nor is there any real sign of that insatiable desire to participate in elections, which is invisible to all but the odd coalition eye. I cite in evidence of that the difficulty in recruiting parent governors by election; the rather unfortunate decline of interest and participation in neighbourhood forum elections; and, perhaps particularly, the position of foundation hospitals. Foundation hospitals were conceived by my old friend Alan Milburn when he was Secretary of State for Health. To take Newcastle as an example, the reality is that, at the most charitable estimate, only 3 per cent of the potential membership of foundation hospital trusts signed up to it. In fact, it could have been on a much wider canvas given the regional status. The effect is that only 1 per cent of the adult population of Newcastle who would be entitled to participate did participate in elections. There does not seem to be the commitment that perhaps some people imagine.
Alan Milburn has moved on and has been a social mobility adviser to the previous Government and the present Government. Those of us who knew him in his very left-wing days on Tyneside-I look at the noble Lord, Lord Shipley-might think that he would be equally well qualified to advise on political mobility. But having said that, looking at the government Benches, perhaps that would be superfluous.
The reality is that a huge amount of invaluable work is done by rather small numbers of people. Over the country as a whole, of course, many people are involved. But when I preside over the annual general meeting of Age Concern, Newcastle, a wonderful organisation, or I go to important tenants' committee meetings in my ward, I find relatively few people participating at that level. But they are important, they need support, as so many of your Lordships have said, and they need funding. The noble Baroness, Lady Barker, referred to that rather sorry straw in the wind of Somerset County Council's decision of this past week.
As other noble Lords have implied, local authorities are now facing a significant reduction in revenue support grant-36 per cent in cash terms over the next few years and front-loaded at that. These have been offered up as a sacrifice on the altar of deficit reduction by the high priest of localism himself, the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government. I must ask the Minister whether the Government have made any estimate of the effects of such drastic reductions on the voluntary and community sector.
On the other hand, I must congratulate the Government on their proposals for a big society bank. The £60 million to £100 million which it will generate for the sector is indeed to be welcomed. However, I understand that the increase in VAT in January will cost the sector £150 million a year. Perhaps the noble Lord will indicate whether the Government would consider exempting charities and the sector from that additional impost.
There is a temptation to look at this question from the perspective mainly of service delivery, but we need to consider, as my noble friend Lord Parekh rightly said, the wider implications of engagement and governance in politics in the broadest sense. I endorse all those who referred to the need to promote citizenship education. They include the noble Lord, Lord Maclennan, himself, the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, and the noble Lord, Lord Norton. Democratic Life, an organisation committed to promoting this agenda, has rightly said that:
The key point is that civil society and citizen engagement need to extend beyond the immediate locality and the visible problems that are apparent to everybody. In the case of Newcastle, the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, rightly referred to interesting experiments in participatory budgeting. For many years, under both the main political parties, the council has conducted surveys asking residents what is important to them. It is quite striking and slightly worrying that on the high side of concerns are the perfectly proper concerns around graffiti, the condition of the streets and so on, which are clear to everyone. The less visible services, notably child protection, come pretty low on the graph. It suggests that people are more comfortable with what confronts them daily and less engaged with what are perhaps at the very least equally important-some of us would argue that they are even more important-issues of the kind referred to by the noble Earl, Lord Listowel.
A critical role of government, especially local government, is to mediate between competing and perhaps conflicting interests and aspirations, not least at a time when distributional issues are so significant. We hear much about the difficult choices that have to be made, but as the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, implied, who is better to make them if not democratically elected councillors, after consulting widely in what an interesting document recently produced by IPPR North calls "good conversations"? How are people to be informed and involved? At the moment a rather peculiar consultation document is going around containing proposals to restrict councils' publicity publications going well beyond any legitimate concern to avoid their use as party political propaganda, which of course would be quite wrong. The assumption is that somehow the local media will step in. In my now long experience, the attention of local media, their coverage of local government and their willingness and ability to hold local government to account have much declined. The local press and broadcasting media are simply not able or willing to take on that responsibility. It seems to me to be unfortunate that, particularly when we want to encourage people, there is not an independent source prepared to do that.
For our part, and speaking as a local councillor, we need to encourage involvement in the scrutiny process of as wide a range of participants from the voluntary sector as possible. I hope that that will remain the case in the pending reorganisation of the health service where scrutiny at the local level by council scrutiny committees appears to be very much under threat.
I was interested in the remarks of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leicester, partly because I was born in the city of Leicester and partly because I hang my coat on the coat hook downstairs next to that of the right reverend Prelate. The adjoining coat hook belongs to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Newcastle, so I am quite well placed in that respect. I was also interested in his speech because, without mentioning it, he reminded me of an important document published some 25 years ago entitled Faith in the City. It may be that we will have to revisit the tenor of that document, unfortunately because I suspect we are revisiting the conditions which gave rise to it. It was an important document and it did speak to the wider aspiration for engagement, based in that case on a particular religious faith, that we certainly need to see engendered today.
Active citizenship is not an alternative to active government, whether local or national; it is the other side of the same coin. I entirely endorse what the noble Lord, Lord Maclennan, said about the need to avoid reductions in expenditure and the like being a cover for slimming down the state or, as Friedrich Engels would have said, the withering away of the state-a slogan which the Tea Party might adopt as long as it was not aware that Engels conceived it. It was adopted by Lenin in theory but not in practice and I am sure that the Minister, in replying to the debate, would not wish to pray in aid Engels. However, I would be reassured if he adopted the maxim that the noble Lord, Lord Maclennan, pronounced to us.
We need to recognise that a healthy politics must embrace individuals both doing things for themselves and their own communities and interest groups, and also engaging with the wider strategic agendas of the areas in which they live-the town, the city, the county-and the nation as a whole. That way lies a productive relationship and a productive politics in which everyone can feel confident that their voice will be respected.
Lord Taylor of Holbeach: My Lords, I thank all noble Lords for a typically interesting and high-value House of Lords debate and I congratulate my noble friend Lord Maclennan on securing it. I am sure that he and the whole House will agree that it has been a particular pleasure to hear the maiden speeches of the noble Lords, Lord Bannside and Lord Blair of Boughton. I also thank the noble Lord, Lord Beecham, for what I believe is his debut on the opposition Front Bench. I am sorry that he cast a somewhat uncharacteristically jaundiced eye on the case for voluntary participation. He should be more upbeat.
It is clear that there is a great deal of support for the notion of active citizenship-individuals and groups taking it upon themselves to get involved in their communities and to tackle the issues that they face. It is right to point out that active citizenship is strong in this country and always has been. I see examples of it all the time. We have been able to see it for ourselves this week in this House. As we have walked along the West Front Corridor, officials in the Government Whips Office have so far raised more than £1,000 for Children in Need. The House should commend that effort.
I thought of giving examples from my own experience. However, that is not necessary in this place because, as the debate has shown, noble Lords have experience of their own. My noble friend Lord Thomas of Gresford graphically narrated how the community from which he takes his title has, against the odds, demonstrated active citizenship. So did my noble friend Lord Greaves, who also combines the right sense of idealism and scepticism, founded in practical experience, from which it is important for government to listen and to learn.
However, many of us recognise that, over the years, the state has overextended itself. Much of this has been well intentioned but it has begun to erode individual and social responsibility. It can seem that society is increasingly looking to the state to solve its problems. I think the whole House will agree that my noble friend Lord Tyler made an excellent speech analysing this conundrum. He emphasised the need for consistency and a "voice to the voiceless", not the amplification of those already with a voice. There can be no future in the state walking away from its responsibilities. I note his comments on the citizens advice bureaux, what an asset that organisation is and the need for local government to maintain its support for it.
Of course, the Government continue to have a major role in providing core services and supporting the most vulnerable. I was grateful to the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, for telling the House of his support for the work of my honourable friend Tim Loughton. He pointed, quite rightly, to the considerable pressure being felt by local government in its children's support
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It is clear that active citizenship is not spread uniformly across areas or groups. There are places where community participation and social capital are very low. There is a danger that it becomes the exclusive preserve of those who have the commodities of time, money and mobility. I hope that noble Lords, including the noble Lord, Lord Blair of Boughton, can be reassured that the Government are very much aware of the need for the big society to recognise those inequalities. It was useful to be reminded by my noble friend Lady Sharp of Guildford of the role that adult education can play as an agency for developing a sense of self-worth and for giving people, especially those with a disadvantage, an opportunity to engage in active citizenship. I share her applause for the skills policy developed by my honourable friend John Hayes.
In order to play an encouraging and enabling role, it is important that we develop our thinking on what we really mean by active citizenship-or social action, as we describe it in the big society vision. In recent years, active citizenship has been conceived in a relatively narrow context, such as political engagement, attendance at public meetings and volunteering. However, in introducing this debate, my noble friend Lord Maclennan showed how much broader should be the vision of active citizenship. I will note his positive ideas.
Active citizenship is of key importance in reinforcing the essential values of a society. The big society vision brings all these ideas together, but it goes much further by working to establish an environment where people feel that they can and should get involved. It does this by proposing a more integrated partnership between society and the state. It reduces the dominance of the state in public services, devolves real power to the local level and establishes mechanisms through which people can take more control over their lives. I was interested in the contributions of both the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leicester and the noble Lord, Lord Parekh, on how faith is the foundation for much active citizenship and how important that foundation is in encouraging individual and collective commitment to voluntary involvement in community activity. The noble Lord, Lord Bannside, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Guildford reinforced those views. If we are to bring about real change, it is also important that we are not half-hearted in our intent. We must make active citizenship a central part of the Government's mission.
My noble friend Lady Barker sought to define a good society, reminding the Government of the need to apply consistency of effort to sustain the big society over time. This is not just a project for now or for the next day; it is to be durable over time. We have therefore defined social action as being one of the three key principles of the big society. They include community
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A lot of work is going on around each of these pillars. For example, on community empowerment, our planning reforms will replace the old top-down planning system with real power for neighbourhoods to decide the future of their area. We will de-ring-fence more than £1 billion of grants to local authorities in 2010-11, promoting greater financial autonomy to local government and community groups. I agreed totally with my noble friend Lord Shipley in his determination that community activity needs to support local services and neighbourhood planning. I like his concept of neighbourhood problem-solving and his advocacy of local government and democracy working together. Those were points that were similarly picked up by my noble friend Lady Barker. On opening up public services, the welfare to work programme will enable a wide range of organisations to help get Britain off welfare and into work. Commissioning reform will enable the voluntary, community and social enterprise sector to realise its potential role in public services.
Turning to something more central to the theme of today's debate, I shall proceed by giving more detail on what the Government are doing to support social action. I start with the national citizen service. I am pleased to hear of the widespread welcome that the project has received from noble Lords. The service will help to build a more cohesive, responsible and engaged society by bringing 16 year-olds from different backgrounds together in a residential and home-based programme of activity and service. As part of the experience, participants will spend two weeks away from home to give them the opportunity to develop life skills and resilience and to serve their communities. This will be a life-enhancing experience for all those engaged in it. We are planning to run two years of NCS pilots, starting in summer 2011, and, building on that, to learn from another pilot in 2012. Some 10,000 16 year-olds will have the opportunity to take part in summer 2011, and 30,000 in summer 2012.
A theme that ran through this debate, which I shall have to take away and reflect on and discuss with my noble friend Lord Hill of Oareford, was that of citizenship education. Many noble Lords mentioned this in their speeches, and I have had a letter from my noble friend Lord Phillips of Sudbury, who could not be here today, reinforcing this point of view. I reassure the House that I will communicate the sentiments of this debate to my noble friend.
Over the lifetime of this Parliament, the community organiser programme will train and support 5,000 people who want to make a difference to their community. The organisers have a strong understanding of local needs and will catalyse social action through creating and supporting neighbourhood groups. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leicester should know that the Government are currently procuring a national partner to run the programme and to train community organisers. That will maintain the integrity of the programme and we imagine that, in time, the programme will indeed take on a life of its own. The Government will also develop a match-fund programme, targeted to communities with high deprivation and low social capital. The targeted Community First fund will encourage more social action by new and existing neighbourhood groups, and enable areas to articulate their needs and influence decisions made about their community.
Of course, volunteering is a key part of social action. We know that bureaucratic burdens can sometimes create barriers to volunteering and other forms of social action. My noble friend Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts is therefore leading a government task force to help cut excessive red tape in this sector. We are also reviewing the criminal records regime to ensure a more suitable balance; several noble Lords referred to the enormous burden which that can have on voluntary and community organisations.
It was very useful to get other points from my noble friend Lady Neuberger, who asked specifically about Criminal Records Bureau checks and talked about the citizens' survey. CLG is consulting on the potential impact of cutting the survey; concerns should be put to it before the deadline of 30 November, but the Government are aware of the importance of gauging levels of volunteering and the Office for Civil Society is talking to CLG about appropriate ways to measure social action. On access to volunteering, which the noble Baroness also mentioned, that programme was always intended to end at the end of the current spending period, but we are looking at new ways to encourage social action. Learning from the access to volunteering programme will be fed into the development of programmes to ensure that disabled people are enabled and, indeed, encouraged to volunteer.
Volunteering levels in this country remain high and we have one of the highest rates of volunteering in the world. However, more can be done to move us towards a culture where volunteering is the norm and, indeed, to raise the numbers of people. The noble Lord, Lord Beecham, referred to that in his analysis of some figures that he had from his experience in Newcastle. In particular, we want to encourage and enable people from all walks of life to be a part of this. The giving of money is also an important form of social action. We will be publishing a Green Paper shortly to set out a vision for how we can boost already high levels of generosity, both in the giving of time and money, among the British public. It will incorporate insights from behavioural economics to examine ways in which we can incentivise giving.
I was grateful for the contribution from the noble Baroness, Lady Smith of Basildon. I acknowledge that she has enormous knowledge and understanding
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Several noble Lords talked about the impact of the CSR on the voluntary sector. We acknowledge this, and a transition fund has been announced as part of the spending review. It will provide a £100 million grant over this and the next financial year, funding voluntary and community organisations, charities and social enterprises in England. This will give them the breathing space that they need to help them manage the transition to a tighter funding environment and take advantage of future opportunities presented by the big society. I was grateful for the welcome that the noble Lord, Lord Beecham, gave to the big society bank.
I turn to a few points that I have not covered in the general text of my speech. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Blair of Boughton; it is important that we recognise that professionals are an essential part of an effective volunteering structure. I liked the points that the noble Lord, Lord Bannside, made about responsibility in society.
Once again I thank noble Lords who have been present for today's debate. Active citizenship is incredibly important to our society. It is at the heart of the big society, and I encourage all to draw on their understanding of society at its best and use their creativity to help to build the stronger society that we are all keen to see.
Lord Maclennan of Rogart: My Lords, I thank all those who have participated in this wide-ranging debate. A wealth of experience has been brought to bear upon the subject. I congratulate the noble Lords, Lord Bannside and Lord Blair of Boughton, on their fascinating contributions. I was particularly interested in the constitutional aspirations of the noble Lord, Lord Bannside, for the emerald isle. I invite the noble Lord, Lord Blair, to visit me on the north coast of Britain and familiarise himself with the birthplace of the founder of the Boys' Brigade, to which he has shown such attachment.
I believe that there has also been a strong message for the coalition Government: within the framework provided by an enabling state, active citizens can greatly enhance the life of all those whom we are proud to call fellow citizens. I appreciate very much what the Minister said in conclusion in answering the particular points made by many colleagues on all sides of the House.
Baroness Verma: My Lords, with the permission of the House, I would like to repeat a Statement made in another place by my honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Equalities and Criminal Information. The Statement is as follows:
"Equality is at the heart of what this coalition Government are all about. We have come together as a coalition to govern on the principles of freedom,
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So we need to design intelligent policies that give those at the bottom real opportunities to make a better life for themselves. That is why we are devoting all our efforts and all our energies to policies that can give people real opportunities to make a better life for themselves, not just on new and unnecessary legislation. You do not need new laws to come up with policies that open up opportunities, and you do not need new laws to come up with policies that support and protect the most vulnerable-we have already begun to implement them.
That is why over the course of the spending review we will spend over £7 billion on a new fairness premium. That will give all disadvantaged two year-olds an entitlement to 15 hours a week of pre-school education, in addition to the free entitlement that all three and four year-olds already receive.
It also includes a £2.5 billion per year pupil premium to support disadvantaged children. These measures, combined with our plans for extra health visitors and a more focused Sure Start, will give children the best possible start in life. That is why we are extending the right to request flexible working to all, helping to shift behaviour away from the traditional nine-to-five model of work that can act as a barrier to so many people and that often does not make sense for many modern businesses. And that is why we will implement a new system of flexible parental leave which will end the state-endorsed stereotype of women doing the caring and men earning the money when a couple start a family.
You also don't need new laws to make choices that protect the most vulnerable. So when we have had to make difficult choices about how to deal with the record budget deficit left by Labour, we have done so in a way that protects the most vulnerable. So we will increase child tax credits for the poorest families, protecting against rises in child poverty. We will increase spending on the NHS and schools in real terms every year. We will lift 880,000 of the lowest-paid workers out of income tax altogether. And we will protect the lowest-paid public sector workers from the public sector pay freeze.
All of these policies were designed by the coalition Government to protect those at most risk and to give opportunities to those in most need. They are real action, not unnecessary empty gestures. That is why we are scrapping the socioeconomic duty. I said at the time that this was a weak measure, that it was gesture politics and that it would not have achieved anything concrete. All the policy would have been was a bureaucratic box to tick. It would have been just another form to fill in. It would have distracted hard-pressed council staff and other public sector workers away from coming up with the right policies that will make a real difference to people's chances in life.
You cannot solve a problem as complex as inequality in one legal clause. And you cannot make people's lives better by simply passing a law saying that they
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Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, I thank the Minister for repeating the Statement on the socioeconomic duty made in the other place by the Parliamentary Under-Secretary. In thanking the Minister, I note that the Statement is not being repeated by the noble Baroness, Lady Warsi, who of course was the principal shadow Minister when, in government, we took the Equalities Bill through your Lordships' House. The noble Baroness, Lady Warsi, made it clear throughout that she supported the Bill. She now seems to have done a virtually complete disappearing act from your Lordships' House, especially since she made her allegations that three Members of the other place were sitting unlawfully as MPs. This Statement might indeed have been an occasion when she wished to make one of her rare appearances at the Dispatch Box.
I thank the Minister, for whom I have very high regard, but I am sorry that I have to do so. I am sorry that the Government are taking the step they intend in relation to the socioeconomic duty in what is now the Equalities Act. In a speech last night in London, the Home Secretary and Minister for Women and Equalities signalled her intention towards this provision of the Act-a provision which, I remind your Lordships, this House voted for, as did the other place. Because she had not informed Parliament first, as she is required to do under the Ministerial Code, the Parliamentary Secretary was dragged into Parliament this morning to give the grudging little Statement-sadly, not a Statement from the Home Secretary herself-which the Minister has just repeated here. The Home Secretary had time to make the speech last night but clearly did not have enough time to make a Statement in the other place today. In claiming they would do politics differently, the coalition Government promised they would place Parliament first. Yet again, they have not done so. Yet again, they have been dragged into Parliament to do so.
The Statement from the Minister attempts to make considerable play of what it claims to have done in the name of fairness. It makes no mention of the Home Secretary's speech last night. Perhaps I could help the House by informing it of some of the things that the Home Secretary said last night. She said:
"Equality is not an aside for me; it is not an after-thought or a secondary consideration ... For this government the equalities agenda is about fairness: that is, equal treatment and equal opportunity ... in recent years, equality has become a dirty word because it meant something different. It came to be associated with the worst forms of pointless political correctness and social engineering".
What the Home Secretary called the Harman law which had been slipped in "at the last minute" was
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The Home Secretary once characterised the Conservatives as the nasty party. Clearly, describing the socioeconomic duty-passed, as I say, by both Houses of Parliament-as "socialism in one clause" shows that, for the nasty party, nothing much has changed. The Home Secretary's remark shows the real intent behind this move. It has nothing to do with equality, the most disadvantaged in our society or opportunity, but everything to do with ideology, politics and prejudice.
The socioeconomic clause in the Equalities Act is a far cry from socialism in one clause, as the Home Secretary seeks to characterise it. It is a measure aimed simply at getting public organisations to think about the impact of their decisions on people who are disadvantaged. Many of these organisations already do so, and this mean-minded little announcement will in all probability not change that. Good public organisations will continue to pursue good policies regardless of what the Home Secretary says, and I am pleased that they will.
The shame of it is that both during the passage of the Equalities Bill and in remarks made since by the Prime Minister and others, senior figures from the party opposite made it clear that they supported many provisions of the Bill. Indeed, I am both grateful for and pay tribute to the principled way in which the Conservative Party in this House enacted the support for the Bill. In this I pay particular tribute to the noble Baroness, Lady Morris of Bolton, who, with her normal constructive and gracious approach, showed real commitment to equality issues, which I know continues.
I would be grateful if the Minister could tell us precisely how the Government intend to scrap the so-called socioeconomic clause "for good", as the Home Secretary said. Will they do it openly and transparently by bringing forward primary legislation aimed at removing this section from the Act, so that this House and the other place can debate and consider it? Or will the Government do it covertly and furtively by simply not implementing this section so that it cannot be debated properly by your Lordships' House? Despite the Home Secretary's lengthy speech, could the Minister confirm that the coalition simply does not care about equality? The Minister has said that the socioeconomic duty is bureaucratic, but the truth is that the Government have the power to decide how the duty would be implemented. Did they attempt to draw up a flexible way of introducing the duty? Despite the Home Secretary's claims that the Government are all
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The duty would have helped to make our society fairer and would have given disadvantaged people a fairer chance. The fact that the Government are scrapping the duty because it is "socialism in one clause" shows, in reality, precisely how little fairness actually means to them.
Baroness Verma: My Lords, I have huge respect for the noble Baroness and feel rather saddened and disappointed at her response to the Statement. I should clarify to the House that, in this House, I am the lead spokesman on equalities and women. Therefore, I would repeat the Statement in this House. I am disappointed that the noble Baroness feels that I may not be up to the job.
Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: I did not say that. I have the utmost regard for the noble Baroness. She does a splendid job and I am delighted that she is the Minister responsible for women and equalities in this House. I was making quite a different point, as the record will show.
Baroness Verma: My Lords, I will come back to some of the points that the noble Baroness raised. First, I should say that I have understood what equality means from a very early age. I understand very much what is needed to ensure that everyone in this country has access to opportunity and equality to enable them to reach their full potential. However, the clause that we are discussing did none of that and was unenforceable. Local authorities could consider it but did not need to implement it. It comprised an exercise in bureaucracy and box-ticking and imposed an extra burden on local authorities which are already struggling to manage within the constraints of budget reductions. Therefore, I do not agree that it was a useful part of the Act. Ninety per cent of the provisions of the Equalities Act were introduced in October. The remainder, including the public sector equality duty, will be introduced in April, although we are still debating parts of the Act. However, this particular part is not helpful or useful in terms of what the noble Baroness wants to see happen. It will not aid equality of any kind but will add to bureaucracy. We are helping the most vulnerable people. It is important to make this point. The public sector equality duty will ensure that local authorities and public bodies respond to inequalities of gender, race, disability and all the other inequalities that people face, so I do not accept the argument put forward by the noble Baroness. I hope that she realises that this tiny clause is nothing more than a gesture and will only add to the burdens and bureaucracy of local authorities.
Baroness Gould of Potternewton: My Lords, I should like to ask the Minister some questions about points that she has raised today and about what her right honourable friend said at the reception. Her right
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The Statement referred to compensating measures to make up for the drastic cuts in benefits and services. For some, that might sound like big and impressive figures. However, I should like to quote again from the comments of the End Child Poverty campaign, which identified many of the things that the Minister talked about. It said:
I have another question regarding the sums available. Will those be ring-fenced? How will the Government ensure that they go to the poorest families? What process will make that happen? It is a key part of the Statement.
I am fully in favour of the concept of increasing flexible working-I would not disagree with that one iota. However, many more families will need support, because a large number of them will be unemployed. As for the half-million unemployed public sector workers, I have no doubt the Minister will say that many of them will go into private sector jobs. However, PricewaterhouseCoopers has warned that almost half a million private sector jobs could be lost as a result of the spending squeeze. Are we talking about more families in need of support? The socioeconomic duty would have been invaluable in helping to ensure that support went to the right people.
Baroness Verma: My Lords, the noble Baroness asks a lot of questions and I am not sure that I will be able to answer them all. We are looking at how we can manage the budget deficit so that the most vulnerable are least of all affected. That is why we have taken 880,000 people out of the tax system altogether and that is why we are introducing increased child tax credits for the poorest families to mitigate some of the things that they are going to have to face, because for the 13 years that the party opposite was in government poverty increased. We did see an increase in the numbers. So I am sorry to say that this is not an issue on which the party opposite can boast, say that they addressed it and that we are not now addressing it. We are all trying to address this serious problem.
We supported the Child Poverty Act and we were committed to implementing it. The Labour Government repeatedly missed their targets. It is very easy to sit here and say that what we are doing is gesture politics and that what the previous Government did was right. What we have to take on board is that we have huge deficits that we must respond to. We have a duty to support the most vulnerable people and we as a Government take that very seriously. In her speech yesterday morning, my noble friend pointed out that local authorities are best placed to know where and how to spend their resources. They are best placed to know how to react to the needs of their local communities. I do not think that we need a diktat from central government through some clause that will force local authorities into a tick-box bureaucracy that, to be truthful, does not answer any of those questions.
Lord Lester of Herne Hill: My Lords, I am sure that it was not impoliteness on the part of the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, that she made no mention of the contribution of the Liberal Democrats in getting the Equality Act through Parliament. I pay tribute to her for the major part she played in that. But she will know of course that the original impulse for the statute came from us. I am sure that she will also remember that when we discussed the socioeconomic duty, I explained how it was a piece of political window dressing and windy rhetoric that was unenforceable in practice. I made it clear in Committee that we would support it only if the government of the day were able to give it practical meaning. Is the Minister aware that Article 45 of the constitution of the Republic of Ireland, as I pointed out in Committee, contains equally windy stuff about socioeconomic whatnot, which no Irish person whom I have ever met knows about or has derived the slightest practical value from.
I would have expected Labour to commend the Government for having on 1 October brought in almost all of the Equality Act, which I support, and for being committed to bringing in the public sector duty after proper consideration. The Statement repeatedly says what the limits of law are, which I agree with. Am I correct that the policy of the coalition Government is that equality law is a necessary but not sufficient condition for attaining proper equality of opportunity and treatment, that it requires the voluntary action of public authorities, the private sector and ordinary men and women to make it happen, and that the coalition is committed to achieving that?
Lord Knight of Weymouth: My Lords, I was disappointed in the Minister's Statement. I remind her, given her response to my noble friend, that the previous Government lifted 500,000 children and close to a million pensioners out of poverty. Therefore, for her to claim that we did nothing about poverty is at best disingenuous-I say this despite the respect that I have for her.
The Minister mentioned the pupil premium. Perhaps she saw that yesterday in the other place the Liberal Democrat MP David Ward walked out when it became
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Baroness Verma: My Lords, I do not need to take lessons from the noble Lord. However, I will add that the gap between those who have and those who have not has widened-and it widened during 13 years of the noble Lord's Government. The noble Lord highlighted the issue of legal duty. That is why we supported the Equality Act.
Baroness Campbell of Surbiton: The Government have stated that their welfare reform proposals will help tackle poverty. This socioeconomic duty may have been able to assess whether this was accurate. It would have obliged authorities to consider changes to policies, and how they could improve or worsen disabled people's chances of living in poverty. Disability organisations have highlighted risks in the government agenda, including in the proposal to cut access to ESA, which could impoverish thousands of disabled people. Are disabled people's organisations right to fear the worst from this announcement; namely, that the Government's abolition of the socioeconomic duty suggests a lack of confidence in their welfare reform agenda?
Baroness Verma: My Lords, I assure the noble Baroness that the public sector equality duty will do that: the obligation is there in an enforceable Act. It will ensure that local authorities will have to be accountable and able to show what they have put in place to ensure that there is equality for people with disabilities, and for people of different genders, races and religions. It is all there and enforceable. This little clause was a consideration, but not enforceable.
Baroness Seccombe: My Lords, having listened to the Minister outlining the good work that is going on, it saddens me deeply to see noble Lords opposite criticising the abolition of a small clause which, as my noble friend has just said, would not have been enforceable but would have caused utter confusion for local authorities, which would not have known how to interpret it. Surely that is something we can do without.
Baroness Verma: I absolutely agree with my noble friend. We know that local authorities are already under great pressure and therefore they do not need another box-ticking exercise. They can consider doing it but are not obliged to do so.
Baroness Jay of Paddington: My Lords, I am sure that no noble Lord on this side of the House is sufficiently naive to think that social change can be achieved through one change in the law, as was referred to in the Statement. None the less, can the Minister tell the House of any single piece of social change, particularly in the equalities area, which has not been underpinned by appropriate legislation?
Baroness Verma: My Lords, I repeat that the Conservative Party supported much of the Equality Act, and we tried very hard to ensure that it would deliver the best outcomes for all groups. No one is more passionate about equality with regard to gender, race or disability than I am. I have been the recipient of discrimination, so I know exactly what it is like to fight for equality. Therefore, I know what I want to see in legislation, and I know what is good and what is bad. I think that this is a bad piece of legislation that would waste the time of local authorities.
Baroness Morris of Bolton: My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Royall of Blaisdon, for her kind words to me. I also thank her for acknowledging that we were behind getting this legislation on to the statute book and that we worked exceptionally hard to make sure that it did. We had good and long debates about the difference between socioeconomic inequality and socioeconomic disadvantage. However, throughout the passage of the Bill we also made it clear that there was a problem with socioeconomic disadvantage that we did not think would be tackled by this duty, which is at best aspirational and at worst vague. We also made it clear throughout the passage of the Bill that, were we to be in government, we would not implement it.
Baroness Verma: I thank my noble friend for that. I was not involved in the Equality Act, so I do not know the minute details of it. However, from the start, there was always a clear understanding that the Conservative Party would not proceed with this part of the Act if we got into government.
Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe: My Lords, I regret that the clause is going but, contrary to any contributions made so far, I commend the Government on their honesty in deciding to abandon it for the very simple reason that the other policies that they have announced, particularly in relation to downsizing the public service, mean that, as the noble Baroness said, they would not be able to implement the policy. Is it not true-I look to her for an honest answer-that the bulk of the half a million people whose jobs are to go will be the low-paid and women, and indeed many, particularly in London and the south-east, will be from ethnic minorities?
Baroness Verma: My Lords, as the noble Lord knows, I try to answer as honestly as I can. I simply reassure him that we believe firmly in the Equality Act. We supported the then Government to ensure that it got through, and we have put into place as many protections as we can for the vulnerable and the low-paid.
Baroness Thornton: I am not surprised that a Conservative Government are rolling back this aspect, as they told us that that is what they would do. I am surprised at the extent to which the Liberal Democrats roll over again from pledges and promises that they
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The noble Baroness and the Government are confusing two things: first, putting money in to help the vulnerable-we will see whether or not that works, although many people have their doubts-and, secondly, the issue of equality. The point of this duty was to ensure that somebody in the public sector was paying attention to, for example, the socioeconomic prospects of groups such as Muslim women, Travellers, the Jewish community, girls in sports, the Dalit communities and older Afro-Caribbean communities. Somebody was to pay attention to those communities and their socioeconomic prospects. Are the Government saying that they do not care about that duty? How will they ensure that those communities are taken into account? That was the point of the socioeconomic duty. If the Government want to get rid of that duty in the Equality Act, why are we not having a debate and a vote?
Baroness Verma: My Lords, I will repeat it yet again. We supported much of the Equality Act. If local authorities are worth their weight in gold, they are already doing all the things that the noble Baroness is hoping for. While 90 per cent of the Act has been in force since 1 October, further announcements will be made in due course. The noble Baroness will just have to wait and see.
Lord Liddle: My Lords, I understand what the Conservatives said before the election about not liking these clauses, but does the noble Baroness accept that we are now in circumstances of drastic economies in public finances and that tough choices must be made by the public sector? Is not this environment precisely the time when we need a socioeconomic duty to ensure that the poorest in our society are protected?
Baroness Verma: My Lords, the relevant clauses have not commenced. The Conservative Party made it clear that it opposed them, so we do not have to act further. As I have said repeatedly, we supported a large part of the Equality Bill. We worked incredibly hard with the then Government to ensure that it had a safe passage through this House.
Baroness Hussein-Ece: Thank you. This is a quick question, but I have been thinking about it. We know that the gender pay gap has widened. The Equality Act was a long time in gestation and the pay gap is a central tenet of trying to reduce inequality in our society. What parts now being enacted will help to narrow that gender pay gap? That in itself would mitigate so much inequality in our society.
The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Lord Howell of Guildford): My Lords, we are now entering what I understand is to be a relatively short debate and I thought, as that is so, that it would be right to limit my opening remarks on the work and activities of the Council of Europe to a few key points and give maximum time to the discussion itself. I shall then cover as much as I can in the wind-up at the end.
I want to make one general observation, which is simply that the Government regard the Council of Europe in its work as making a major contribution to the stability and peace of Europe. We are proud of its provenance, the part played by our nation in its history and evolution and its qualities as a supremely effective international organisation.
I want to make one more preliminary observation and I do so with some hesitation. The Council of Europe is much misunderstood, although not by your Lordships, or those who are active and have played a leading part in it, of course. However, many outside the House and maybe some in another place as well confuse the Council of Europe with the Council of the European Union. I have heard comments in which some even seem to assume that the Council of Europe is part of the European Union. I hope that your Lordships will forgive me if I feel that I should put on the record the truth of the matter, which is that the two organisations are completely separate and serve very different purposes. The European Union is concerned with the economic and social progress of all its member states, but for over 60 years the Council of Europe has existed to promote and protect human rights, the rule of law and democracy across the whole European land.
The United Kingdom will assume the chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe and therefore, in effect, of the Council of Europe next November-about this time next year. It is a little too early to set out what the United Kingdom chairmanship's specific priorities and objectives will be, but I thought that it might be useful to share with your Lordships some thoughts on what, at this stage, we think the chairmanship objectives are likely to take into account. This divides into three areas.
The first area is budgetary considerations. We are looking to push down the costs of the Council of Europe, to make efficiency savings where possible and to ensure that work undertaken by the organisation is essential and relevant. Negotiations are well advanced towards agreement on a Council of Europe budget for
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The second area is reform of the European Court of Human Rights, which is, of course, a central part of Council of Europe activities. The court serves a valuable purpose, but it is essential that it be reformed. It is overburdened and weighed down by a staggering backlog of over 140,000 cases. This cannot carry on. We will fully support and seek to advance the court reform process, which came out of the high-level conference at Interlaken in February 2010. We are also considering ways in which we might make the court more nimble in its operation in both the consideration and the judgment of cases brought before it.
Thirdly, the organisation and its work must continue to focus on what it does best: it must continue to protect and promote human rights, the rule of law and democracy in Europe. Therefore, the organisation's work must reflect and contribute to these areas of strength and expertise. We oppose the Council of Europe straying into other areas of work for which other international organisations are better equipped. We also intend to maintain pressure on fellow member states to sign up and adhere to legally binding conventions and agreements to further safeguard Council of Europe standards and values in their country.
Europe is a better place for the Council of Europe and its work and those who dedicate so much time and effort to it, including Members of this House. It was born of the ashes of the Second World War and the defeat of the ghastly spectre of fascism. It has grown and flourished in an ever changing Europe. It has absorbed and welcomed into its midst almost all European countries, including those that lived under communism for many decades. By and large, it has indeed realised Winston Churchill's dream.
I am delighted to have the opportunity to say those words about this apparently effective international organisation. Its work contributes greatly to the promotion of UK foreign policy objectives. A peaceful, stable Europe promotes security, international trade and safer travel abroad for all its citizens. I commend the Council of Europe and its work and I greatly look forward to your Lordships offering their views on its experience, needs and possibilities for the future. I beg to move.
Lord Prescott: My Lords, I think that the House will be grateful for this opportunity to discuss the Council of Europe. Neither House of Parliament has spent a great deal of time talking about the Council of Europe. As the noble Lord pointed out, people often get confused between the European Union and the Council of Europe. I think that Ministers must get confused, because the same Ministers sit on both councils, which creates a certain amount of difficulty and misinterpretation, to which I shall refer. I agreed with a great deal of what the Minister said.
I was first a member of the Council of Europe 35 years ago. When I went there during the past two years, I was given a report that I produced 35 years ago on multinationals. I did not dare read its conclusions. I have seen considerable changes in the Council of Europe over that time, not least its growth in size. The noble Lord referred to the countries of eastern Europe. Now, with about 23 new countries, it has grown to a size of 47-20 nations greater than are in the European Union. I make that point because we are talking about the European context. The European Union is much more limited in its coverage, and I want to come to some of its actions, institutions and the difficulties that it may create. Nevertheless, instead of me describing what it does, a very good Library document has been produced for us that explains exactly its function and role.
I want to express some of the concerns that I have found since I have gone back to the Council of Europe. Clearly, the setting of standards-democratically, socially, economically and on human rights-has been an important function of the Council of Europe, and I think that it has performed well in that. Certain concerns are beginning to develop on human rights, but the countries newly in the Council of Europe have come from the eastern European bloc. We have a job of monitoring; it is one of the important challenges that the Council of Europe has. The members of its Parliamentary Assembly appoint the judges to the European court. They are the monitoring process to see whether people are observing the obligations that they entered into when they became members of the Council of Europe.
I was given the job of being the rapporteur to observe elections in Armenia. That was quite an experience, particularly on the day when the election came. I discovered that there was a riot; 100 people were thrown into jail; 10 people were killed; people were charged with usurping the power of the state. Some things from the eastern European communist states tend to hang on. There is constant complaint about whether the media is independent or whether the electoral laws are fixed against the opposition. A number of charges are made, and we found them to be so.
I am glad to say that the Council of Europe intervened. It got an amnesty from the Government to release the people from jail. It changed the law, so that you could protest without being thrown into jail for usurping the state. It changed the electoral law. That showed that when a country wants the endorsement of the Council of Europe and has to live up to its obligations when it signed, the Council of Europe can have a tremendous influence on government policies in countries that are causing great concern. That was a success, with the Council of Europe operating in an area where 35 years ago it did not operate, but now, with 23 eastern European countries, it does.
Out of the 23 countries, about 10 have not had much monitoring; we do not need to, because they observe the democratic practices which they signed up to. The other 13, we have been monitoring for 14 years. You can imagine what countries they are. They have the same common complaint about the nature of
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The noble Lord referred to the European Court of Human Rights. There is no doubt that its work is very important and we are the only body to appoint the judges, which is to our credit. We often find that the Government appear before the European Court of Human Rights. I have given the noble Lord early indication that on 11 January it will deal with the Max Mosley case, which has had considerable publicity here. Our courts ruled that his privacy had been interfered with, which is what the highest court in this land confirmed. It went to the courts, but the Government are now opposing any changes in our legislation when our judges have said that it is a breach of privacy. Will the Minister give our position on that? Are we continuing to oppose it? There is no doubt that the previous Government agreed to oppose it; it is not something that I lay just against this Administration. But since they are in charge, I should like to hear from the Minister the line that we are taking on that. There is the big issue now of privacy, about which we will hear more in this Chamber in the future.
I am concerned about duplication. The noble Lord referred to having too many institutions. The Council of Europe has found that the Council of Ministers of the European Union has set up another body called the Agency for Fundamental Rights. What the heck is that? There is no power. It is supposed to look for breaches of human rights, and pass them to the Council of Europe. The fear is that it is another human rights body being established within the European Union. The Ministers are providing all the money for it and telling us that we have to have cuts for human rights at the Council of Europe, but not for the European Union. The concept of disconnection, which means that European Union legislation will have primacy over any treaty obligations, is also being looked at in Europe. The court of human rights will still protect human rights, but concern and duplication has been caused. Will the Minister give us an opinion on what we feel is a lot of money going to the European Union body, which has no powers? The one that we have all signed up for, and includes more nations than the European Union, is now being restricted in its powers and operations and being challenged by this other body, which was a political deal to put some agency in Austria if we are honest about it. Basically, that is the kind of horse-trading that goes on in negotiations from time to time, but it creates a problem.
Without a doubt there is a difference between us and the Europeans on the issue of the global solution to the global problems of climate change. I am glad to say that the Council of Europe adopted its own resolution as to what it thought was a proper global solution. In this case also, we are different perhaps from the Government, although I should like to hear what the Minister has to say about that.
I was the negotiator for the European Union during the presidency at the Kyoto negotiations in 1997. It was difficult to get an agreement, but we got one, which was an important step forward. Of course, that
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Now we are going from Copenhagen to Cancun, which I shall attend on behalf of the Council of Europe. I want to plead with this Government and to say that they could make a difference. In the G20 Statement, the Prime Minister made clear that he wanted to use all efforts to get an agreement. Perhaps I may say to him and to this House that if you try to enforce a legal agreement at Cancun, it will be failure. I have just returned from a week in China and a week in Japan. Japan was a strong advocate of Kyoto. I can tell you that Japan does not dare to talk about a Kyoto 2. It wants to find a means of allowing progress to continue without assuming that it is Kyoto 2.
The Americans were great advocates of a legal agreement, but there is no possibility that the President, even before the election, can get a legal agreement through Congress, so they cannot go for an agreement. I notice that it is the coalition's policy in the document to go into Europe aiming for a 30 per cent cut in emissions. There is no chance at all of getting the eastern European countries to agree to that. The legal framework is falling apart. Let us be practical, recognise that it has happened, and go for an alternative. What the Council of Europe has done in its resolutions before Copenhagen and now ready for Cancun is to appeal to nations to find a common-sense agreement. Forget the legal framework; let us hope for it in perhaps five or six years' time. If Kyoto ends in 2012, let us adopt the good old European practice of stopping the clock. Let Kyoto stay in place and continue with the Copenhagen accord. The appendices contain a voluntary statement on actions and policies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. If you accept the science, it is an essential thing we have to do. In the four or five years up to 2015, we can find an agreement. Of course, we have to be absolutely clear about the principles.
The Government could argue this case, and I hope that they will. That is because people are looking around for a common-sense solution, whether they are in Japan or China. Indeed, China is not going to accept a legal agreement. I hope the Government will take on board my suggestion that they should say a voluntary agreement should build on the Copenhagen accord. The appendices set out commitments to action plans towards cuts in gas emissions in the programme.
We must have central principles, the first of which is a Copenhagen voluntary framework which is embodied and continued in the Copenhagen accord, with targets and action plans as set out in the appendices. We should stop the clock on Kyoto 2012 so we have some years to build up trust in order to negotiate a new Kyoto agreement. By then it may well involve a legal
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The third principle is that the targets for greenhouse gas emissions must be expressed per capita. It was a nonsense for America to come to Copenhagen and say, "Well, China produces as many greenhouse gas emissions as we do, and therefore it is a mathematical problem, not a moral one". But expressed per capita, America produces 20 tonnes of gas emissions per person. In China it is 5 tonnes and in Europe it is 10 tonnes. If this is going to be acceptable to the developing world, it has got to be fair. Consensus is necessary to bring those countries on board. So let us start from a fair and equitable basis, which is to use emissions per capita for the agreement.
The fourth principle is to add accountability and transparency. I have had some arguments with Premier Wen in China, who says that he does not like the idea of people outside China on the international stage telling him what to do. I can understand that although I am bit confused because he has just joined the IMF, but we will leave that to one side. What he can do is recognise that there could be a voluntary agreement which says, "You should have a domestic programme and develop it". America has got one, Japan has got one, so let them do it at the domestic level. But there must be a universal system for verifying what they have done or else there will be no trust. There has to be accountability and transparency in verification; that is necessary.
Finally, there has to be sufficient money to allow countries to adapt their systems to low-carbon economies. That was what was said in Copenhagen, and I think that that is what they should be committed to doing. It will take quite a lot of money, but if we are to move to low-carbon economies, whether in the rich or the developing countries, a considerable amount of money and new technologies will be needed to make the changes.
I hope that the Government will consider and then give a lead to adopting a common-sense approach in Europe. If we do that, we will reach some sort of agreement. It will not be the grand agreement we got at Kyoto, but it will be a small step for mankind. It will be a step towards progress and continuing to accept the science of how the temperature is being affected and the consequences that we are all aware of. That is what we need to do, and I am glad to say that the Council of Europe is at the forefront of arguing for a good and sensible resolution that can provide the kind of halfway house, if you like, towards an agreement. Britain could lead the way both in Europe and internationally. I know that the Prime Minister had talks in China about it. Let us find a consensus and agreement-it is possible-and I am so pleased that the Council of Europe is playing its part in this.
Lord Dykes: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Prescott, speaks with a great deal of authority on this subject; he has become one of its leading experts and I am sure
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