House of Lords
Thursday, 18 March 2010.
Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of Ripon and Leeds.
The following Acts and Measures were given Royal Assent:
Marriage (Wales) Act,
Co-operative and Community Benefit Societies and Credit Unions Act,
Taxation (International and Other Provisions) Act,
Church of England (Miscellaneous Provisions) Measure,
Vacancies in Suffragan Sees and Other Ecclesiastical Offices Measure,
Crown Benefices (Parish Representatives) Measure.
My Lords, we support the Royal College of Physicians’ guidelines for the management of strokes in children and our work is centred around those guidelines. As the noble Baroness will know, a small number of newborns are vulnerable to strokes from intracranial bleeding, and are given vitamin K to prevent this. A large proportion of strokes in children occur in those with sickle cell, so we have implemented national antenatal and newborn screening.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that Answer. Is she aware that the Government’s National Stroke Strategy for improving adult stroke care makes no mention of childhood stroke care? Is she also aware that 400 children in the United Kingdom succumb to stroke each year and that stroke is one of the top causes of death in childhood in the UK? It is likely that most stroke-affected children will be left with a disability of some sort. Does she agree that parents, family members and teachers should be made aware of stroke symptoms?
My noble friend is right. The National Stroke Strategy does not refer to children because the majority of the annual 110,000 strokes occur to people over the age of 55. However, the main reason is that the clinical path for dealing with children who have strokes is quite different from that for adults. For example, a child who has sickle cell disease may require repeated blood transfusions and even a bone marrow transplant, so it is a quite different treatment path. That is why we use the Royal College of Physicians’ clinical guidelines on how to treat children with stroke. I read with interest that the Stroke Association has produced a manifesto for children with stroke. We are looking at that and I am very happy to answer questions on what we intend to do about the different proposals in that.
My Lords, does the Minister agree that there are two major problems here? One is awareness of the condition. The Government’s FAST campaign has been very successful, so could they not do something similar for children? Parents and teachers do not know what the problem is. The other problem is that of misdiagnosis. Children taken to A&E in time for an emergency scan are often sent away having been told they have an ear infection. There is a need for training of those receiving children in A&E departments.
The noble Baroness is quite right. We know that public awareness of how to recognise and deal with stroke in children is an important part of this. Two Department of Health publications, the Pregnancy Book and Birth to Five, now contain specific references to how to recognise stroke in children and how to remedy it.
My Lords, given the uncommon nature of these catastrophic events and therefore the difficulty of providing services right across the country, would the Government be prepared to consider developing a specific centre of expertise that could use an interactive video system in order to connect with centres around the country to ensure that the long-term rehabilitation of these children is appropriate? It is a complex process and different from that for adults.
The noble Lord has made an interesting proposal. Two major research projects on stroke are taking place in our major universities, and I think that the noble Lord’s proposal is one that we should take up and that the Stroke Association should take note of. It would be a good use of new technology.
My Lords, is the Minister aware that childhood stroke may be as common as childhood cancer, and in many ways just as devastating for the families? Over the past year, the charitable income for childhood cancer in the UK was £224 million whereas that for childhood stroke was only £3 million? Can the Government help in this area?
We know that in England last year there were 420 cases of stroke in children. Half were caused either by sickle cell or pre-existing heart conditions, but in 10 per cent of cases, as yet we do not what the causes were. That is why research in this area is so important. I am not sure whether the case is yet made for a comparison with childhood cancer, but there is absolutely no doubt that, for those 420 cases, it is devastating both for the child and their family. We need to focus on making sure that diagnosis and treatment are swift and that the rehabilitation process is appropriate to the child.
My Lords, the noble Baroness mentioned rehabilitation and referred to the Royal College of Physicians’ guidelines on treatment and other rehabilitative needs following stroke. Will she expand a little on what the Government hope to do to improve services in this area?
The key point about rehabilitation is that, as is the case for adults, it should start as soon as possible. The first few days of assessment of movement, positioning, swallowing, speech and communication have to take place as quickly as possible. What this requires for children is paediatric care as well as the medical care that adults would receive. It is also important that parents are involved in all these processes. The Royal College of Physicians’ guidelines are clear on all these issues. We must improve abilities in movement and speech for children affected by stroke and we have to find ways of helping them to adapt. Their skills in daily activities have to be developed, and of course they must be given social, emotional and practical support following discharge from hospital and during their re-entry into normal life in school.
My Lords, the Minister mentioned sickle cell anaemia as a cause of childhood stroke. How many trusts, where appropriate of course, have specialists who can deal with sickle cell anaemia? In particular, how many nurses have been trained to advise parents who have children with this condition?
We are aware of two or three major research projects which we are funding to the tune of just under £1 million, although I shall check that figure. My noble friend will of course know that we are never satisfied with our progress and we are always looking for improvements. We have a strategy for dealing with this, we are monitoring that, and we are determined that we will give the required support to these children and their families.
To ask Her Majesty’s Government when they expect to complete the compulsory purchase of the empty car park site at 10 Hayne Street, adjacent to Charterhouse Square, to allow completion of soil sampling to facilitate work on the Crossrail line.
Tomorrow, my Lords.
This Question was described by a noble Lord yesterday as quirky, but I hope that the Secretary of State will confirm that it is anything but quirky. It is very serious, as 10 Hayne Street may be the site of the missing anthrax burial ground that has been lost for 488 years, since Christ Church, Spitalfields and the church at Charterhouse Square refused to accept the bodies of the 282 victims of the anthrax outbreak that wiped out the whole population of Hayne Street at that time. That was of course under the Church of Rome, before Protestant common sense arrived.
I am still waiting for the question, my Lords. However, if the question was whether I accept that there is an issue that needs further study in respect of 10 Hayne Street, the answer is yes. Crossrail understands that there is a very small possibility of buried human remains being encountered during the works at 10 Hayne Street. The advice that it has taken from experts at the Museum of Archaeology and Porton Down is that it is highly unlikely that the works would release any anthrax spores or bacteria causing plague. However, further sampling work will be carried out by experts in July. The results of any tests will be made available to the noble Lord and I will be happy to discuss them with him when they are available.
My Lords, I declare an interest also as a former member of the House of Lords Select Committee on the Crossrail Bill. I am pleased to hear the Minister’s response that the compulsory purchase is going ahead, but given that there appear to be divisions between the Mayor of London and the leader of the Opposition about the future funding of Crossrail, may not much of the compulsory work that has to be undertaken to facilitate the development of Crossrail be in jeopardy? Is the Minister concerned about this and will he take steps to try to get some kind of cross-party agreement that Crossrail will proceed, so that the difficulties faced by London travellers will be eased?
My Lords, we know that the problem of TB is limited to particular localities these days. In these areas, PCTs are able to set their own targets and standards as part of a local delivery plan agreed with their strategic health authority. In respect of standards of treatment, there are clear recommended guidelines from the National Institute for Clinical Excellence.
In response to the second question: indeed they are. Our data show that around 70 per cent of the TB cases in England are among people born abroad, but who show no signs of the illness until they have lived here for many years. At the moment, as the noble Baroness will be aware, we have no test to predict who will develop TB in later life.
My Lords, there is an understandable tendency to think of tuberculosis as an entirely pulmonary disorder. Could the noble Baroness tell us something about the ratio of pulmonary to non-pulmonary tuberculosis, and whether the ratio has changed over the past 10 or 15 years? That would help us to understand a little about the relevance of the question of whether people have come from outside the UK.
I do not have the figures in front of me, but the noble Lord is indeed right that people think of tuberculosis as being something that affects only the lungs, which is not the case. My understanding is that you can get TB in virtually any part of your body: that is what we know to happen. In the UK, about 14 in every 100,000 people carry it. In parts of the world where TB is more prevalent, the number is 400 to 600 per 100,000. There is a large difference in the problem around the world.
We have funded the UK charity TB Alert to work with PCTs on a long-term basis to develop a range of strategies and approaches to suit their local area. For example, in my home town of Bradford, TB Alert presented to 170 local GPs in a continuing education seminar, with important messages alerting them to the symptoms of TB. In London, we have a partnership with the Homeless Link concerning finding and treating, which we have discussed in your Lordships' House before. We are developing training in those areas with homeless communities where we know there is enormous vulnerability to TB.
The noble Baroness and I are completely at one on the importance of the mobile X-ray unit. It has, for example, identified 400 cases of TB, and works in prisons, homeless units and places across London. It is a very important part of the Find & Treat TB exercise in London. I regret to say that at this moment the PCTs in London have yet to co-operate to find the relatively small amount of money—somewhere in the region of £20,000 to £30,000 per year each—to keep the mobile units going. The noble Baroness and I need to join together in campaigning to ensure that the units can continue this very important work.
Following on from that answer, and considering the irregular distribution of TB throughout London and other parts of the country, what does the Minister think of the suggestion that the Government should fund TB services over wider areas than single PCTs?
The funding of TB services is organised by the strategic health authorities; but the PCTs deliver the services, so it is done across wider areas than PCTs. Indeed, the SHAs are monitored by the CQC to ensure that they are delivering. So it is not a matter of there being no national targets; indeed we are looking carefully to ensure that they are delivering on the TB programme targets which they have set for themselves.
The number of drug-resistant TB cases in this country—as the noble Lord will be aware, because he has raised this issue and I know he is interested in it—is very small and, I am happy to say, is not increasing. As in the rest of the world, we have drug-resistant TB because people do not complete their treatment because they live itinerant lives or for whatever reason. It is exactly the same across the world. Where there is a greater incidence of TB, there will be a greater incidence of drug-resistant TB.
As the noble Baroness and those of us who still bear the scars of having had a BCG vaccination will know, we do not do 100 per cent vaccination for schoolchildren because TB is so localised that we need to deal with it in local areas. My children had the BCG because they grew up in Hackney. That is the point. It is not that we are not offering these vaccinations but that we are offering them where there are TB hotspots in particular parts of the country.
The key issue in those communities is about raising awareness of TB and ensuring that the doctors there know how to recognise it. Quite often in migrant communities in this country it may be two or three years after someone has settled here before they develop TB. The key point is to ensure that those communities and community leaders are aware of the need to ensure that the doctors and communities themselves recognise and treat it as quickly as possible. The awareness-raising campaign is very focused on providing leaflets in different languages and—as I mentioned in relation to Bradford—briefings for doctors. That is the way in which to contain TB and to ensure that we deal with it in the proper fashion.
The Minister has identified one great weakness—that the London boroughs are acting so independently. It is the same with their approach to rough sleeping and the provision of hostels, as well as with vaccinations. What has been done to encourage more co-operation between the London boroughs so that there can be a pan-London approach to rough sleeping, homelessness and health matters?
The noble Lord raises a very important point. We are exhorting them and trying to persuade them, and we will continue to do so. Plans are in place to do this. There is no reason why, with cross-party and cross-borough effort, we cannot deal with this in a co-ordinated fashion in London.
Who is responsible for following up the contacts, which I understand is very important? In the past it was the local health officers in the local authority who followed up the contacts, and they often found many people who had been in direct contact with the TB cases and developed TB themselves. Who now has this responsibility?
Agriculture: Genetically Modified Crops
My Lords, the United Kingdom has been calling for the operation of the EU process to be improved for some time, because it has been unnecessarily slow. We are therefore encouraged by the European Commission’s recent decision on the Amflora potato. The product will not be marketed or grown in the United Kingdom, but we supported its approval in line with the science-based risk assessment.
I apologise—I am a bit hoarse from last night’s concert. I am glad to hear the noble Lord’s Answer. Do the Government regard this as a welcome first step to unblocking what has hitherto been the entrenched opposition to GM crops in the European Union? Do the Government accept that Europe is the only continent in the world to take this position and that the products from GM crops are widely available from almost all other parts of the world? Do the Government realise that such products can make a major contribution in the future to feeding the world’s 9 billion population?
My Lords, the noble Lord has asked me a plethora of questions. The Government are in agreement with the sentiments behind all of them. We have been concerned that the processes have been unnecessarily slow in Europe and it is quite clear that the new commissioner, Commissioner Dalli, is interested in ensuring that they are improved. All this is against the background of the risk-based assessment of the science involved.
My Lords, we on these Benches thank the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin of Roding, for highlighting this interesting, controversial first announcement of this kind of matter. Is this more akin to an industrial-chemical product rather than anything to do with food ingestion directly by both humans and animals? Is he confident that cross- contamination into non-GM and also organic products will not be allowed anywhere?
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for that question as it clarifies one important dimension of this decision: the potato is not designed for food. It is designed to produce industrial starch for processes in industry and the most meticulous steps are to be taken to ensure that the potato has no relationship when it is grown to any potatoes concerned with foodstuffs. This is an advance of GM technology with regard to industrial processes, not food.
My Lords, I declare an interest as a potato grower. I note the cautious welcome from the Minister. Are there other genome-enhanced products in the pipeline for approval? Can he tell the House the whereabouts of the Government’s proposals on co-existence measures, such as separation distances, liability, et cetera, four years on from their consultation on them?
My Lords, we are concerned to advance the issues that the noble Lord raises; in fact the Government chief scientist is charged with taking a very specific interest in this matter. There is no doubt—as will be widely appreciated in the House—that there is at the moment considerable public doubt about GM. This is shown in that supermarkets are not prepared to stock many of the products, and of course supermarkets are reflecting the fact that they do not think they will make many sales. At present, GM products are all restricted either to the one that I have just identified, or for feedstuffs for animals. The rest of the world—outside Europe—has moved on and 25 countries are involved in GM food production.
My Lords, does the Minister agree that there is no scientific evidence whatever that a potato grown for human consumption which is protected against blight by genetic modification constitutes any harm to human beings? Is it not true that every national academy of sciences throughout the world has studied this matter and come to the conclusion that there is not a jot of evidence that GM crops are harmful either to health or indeed to the environment?
My Lords, because of that evidence, the House will appreciate that a very great deal is produced and consumed in north America. Apart from the United States and Canada, 23 other countries are convinced of the advantages that derive from GM technology. Meanwhile, it is the case that Europe—significantly, if not entirely uniquely—has been reluctant to embrace those potential benefits. There is a great deal of work to be done and, as I indicated in my earlier response to the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, we are encouraged by that decision. We intend to carry on our work to ensure that the British public are fully aware of the risks and benefits from GM technology.
Is my noble friend aware that Sub-Committee D of this House’s European Union Select Committee is shortly to produce a report on climate change and agriculture? One of its strong recommendations will be that if we are to deal with the risk that arises on food, particularly that coming from climate change over the next years, we will need to use all of the opportunities available to ease the problems with food and, in particular, to try to get a better debate running on GM. We need stronger leadership, not just in this country but throughout the whole of Europe, to get that debate under way and convince the public that this is one of the major solutions available to us for the problems arising in the future.
My Lords, I am grateful for that information from my noble friend and look forward to the report from the committee. There is no doubt that having the circumstances where we are faced with the issues of climate change, in its relationship to food production, and—I emphasise this, lest I cause anxiety to the noble Lord, Lord Lawson—that of having a 9 billion population to be fed by 2050, it means that we have to increase very significantly the productive capacities of the world’s agriculture. There is no doubt that GM technology points helpfully in a direction.
My Lords, it is not a question of the Government not making up their mind. The important thing is to take public opinion with us, and therefore we have to be absolutely clear about the cases which we are involved with. There is no doubt that there is a growing understanding among the public of the issues that my noble friend has just raised regarding the Select Committee. Those are all processes of important education for the wider community. Noble Lords will recognise that the present reluctance of supermarkets to stock GM food reflects the present state of public opinion. There is a great deal of work to be done.
My Lords, only three countries will be growing this potato, because they have the industries which are interested in the starch that it produces: Sweden, the Czech Republic and Germany. We do not have that industry and are therefore not too interested in the production of the starch.
My Lords, since we are continually advised that we should take note of scientific opinion, and since the motto of the Royal Agricultural Society of England is, “Practice with Science”, after we get the report of Sub-Committee D—which I am sure will be interesting in itself—would it not be good if we set aside considerable time in this House for a full debate on this whole issue, so that people can be better aware and fully understand the implications, and then take advice from the science that is available?
My Lords, it is difficult for me to speak on behalf of the usual channels, but I am sure that the Government would very much welcome having that debate in the House. Whether we can squeeze that in before any intended general election, I have room for doubt.
Transport: Renewable Fuels Obligation
To ask the Secretary of State for Transport whether he will review the renewable transport fuel obligation following the finding of the report commissioned by the Department for Transport that the production of biofuels will result in forests being logged or burnt down and converted to plantations.
My Lords, the independent Gallagher review found that biofuels have the potential to achieve approximately 338 million to 371 million tonnes of global CO2 savings a year. We have commissioned research on the emissions from different forms of biofuel production to inform future policy in this area. Biofuels will become the first agricultural commodity with mandatory European sustainability standards by 2011.
I thank the Secretary of State for that Answer. Given that the Renewable Fuels Agency states that only 4 per cent of biofuels imported for use in the UK meet the environmental sustainability standards set by the RTFO, how can he be satisfied with the scheme?
My Lords, a good deal of research is taking place in this area. A research programme is in place at the moment to quantify and mitigate the impacts of indirect land-use change in respect of biofuels. The UK research is due to be completed this summer and we will publish it. It will feed into a consultation being held by the European Commission on the subject later this year. That will form part of the obligation on the European Commission to produce a report on indirect land-use change and, if appropriate, to propose a methodology to account for indirect land-use change in future.
My Lords, I indeed agree and pay tribute to the noble Lord for his work in this area. To give an example, the Ensus biofuels from wheat plant that recently began operation in Teeside claims that it can produce a third of our current biofuel obligation under the RTFO when it is fully operational. Using British and European wheat for biofuels is a positive use of land. It encourages wheat production, which has positive co-products, including animal feed.
My Lords, does the Minister agree that no matter how we produce oil, there will always be some downsides? Bearing that in mind, does he agree that encouraging the use of public transport should be seen as the major answer to transport needs in future? Furthermore, if cars are to be needed for short journeys, considering the increase in the production of electric cars which has been announced, will he ensure that all new train station car parks can charge those cars?
My Lords, the noble Lord makes an important point about electric car production. Today, we have announced that the Leaf will be produced in the north-east. That is a decisive step forward in making the United Kingdom a manufacturing base for plug-in hybrid and electric cars. We have also recently provided £30 million of funding for a plugged-in places initiative that will identify three significant regional centres for electric charging infrastructure: London, the north-east and Milton Keynes. I launched that scheme in London a few weeks ago in a supermarket car park, so we are taking very seriously the points that the noble Lord raises. It is important that, over time, we establish an electric charging infrastructure across the country that encourages people, including those who do not have off-street parking, to buy electric and hybrid cars.
My Lords, the report from E4tech appears to indicate that a spectrum of biofuels fails to meet the EU’s standards for emissions reduction. Does that not reinforce the case made by my noble friend Lord Taylor for a major review of the work that the EU is promoting in this sector to ensure that we are getting value for money on the large sums that are being used for agricultural support in this area?
My Lords, the E4tech report indicated that there were grave problems with biofuels and the stripping down of rainforests internationally. The EU has also produced a report which, as has been said, has not been published. Has the Secretary of State had sight of that EU report? If so, what did it say?
My Lords, there are so many EU reports; I am not quite sure to which one the noble Baroness refers. If she would like to give me more precise particulars, I will be happy to follow up with her as to the publication.
I turn to palm oil, which is the particular source of biofuels at issue in the research work reported in the newspapers recently. It is important to understand that palm oil is a small proportion of biofuel production. It accounts for 10 per cent of the 1,284 million litres of biofuel used in the UK in 2008-09, and less than 4 per cent of global demand for palm oil comes from biofuels. It is not the case that all palm oil production is unsustainable, even in the terms of the research that was conducted. Research carried out by the Renewable Fuels Agency suggests that certain practices can be undertaken to limit the unwanted impacts of biofuels. Specifically to palm oil, this report highlighted that there are potentially 35 million hectares of unused land in Asia where suitable biofuel production, including palm oil production, could take place. The issue at stake is not simply the source of the biofuels but the land in question when it comes to production. Clearly, deforestation or the transfer of land from agricultural purposes to certain types of biofuel production may be undesirable, but there is plenty of marginal or unproductive land across the world which would be suitable for these forms of biofuel production.
Railways: Carbon Emissions
My Lords, the Government’s assessment is that high-speed rail is consistent with our carbon reduction targets. Carbon emissions from high-speed rail are substantially lower per passenger mile than from other modes. It is likely that the core high-speed network, proposed in the Command Paper published last week, will lead to modal shift away from domestic aviation.
I thank my noble friend for that reply and congratulate him on the tremendous response that his White Paper has received. I declare an interest as the chairman of the Nuclear Industry Association, whose power stations are responsible for something like 80 to 85 per cent of the electricity consumed by the British rail network; as a consequence, it is the base-load generation on which high-speed rail and an expanded electrified rail network will depend. Therefore, can he not nod too closely towards the false gods of intermittent renewable technology in preparing his plans for this exciting development in our transport system?
My Lords, being an Adonis I steer clear of false gods in all their guises. However, my noble friend is absolutely right as to the benefits of high-speed rail, one of which is the much lower carbon impacts that it has per passenger mile than alternative forms of new transport capacity. The average carbon emitted per passenger kilometre by high-speed rail is in the range of 8 to 17.6 grams of CO2, based on the current operation of Eurostar. That compares with an average of 128 grams of CO2 per passenger kilometre in the case of car travel and 171 grams per passenger kilometre in domestic aviation. There are significant carbon advantages to be had from high-speed rail if we are going to provide significant additional transport capacity between our major cities.
Will the Minister take into account the much wider effects on transport of the high-speed rail line? Much more traffic will be able to use other lines as a result of the high-speed line. Will he also please take account of the fact that the fares charged to passengers are another important factor in the volume of use that these lines will get?
I absolutely agree with the noble Lord’s comments. All the modelling work done by High Speed Two Ltd, which prepared the plan on high-speed rail that we published last week, was based on the assumption that fares charged on the high-speed line would be the same as those charged on the existing network; it was not based on any assumption of a fares premium. On modal shift from other forms of transport, all the international evidence is that, when journey times between major cities by train can be reduced to three and a half hours or less, a significant shift takes place from the plane to the train. In the Command Paper published last week is the projection that with lines extending from London to Manchester and Leeds—connecting respectively with the west and east coast main lines so that high-speed trains can then run through to Glasgow and Edinburgh—it would be possible to have a Glasgow and Edinburgh to London journey time of three and a half hours. That would be a massive achievement for the railways and would lead to a significant shift of traffic from the plane to the train.
Transport: Cross-Channel HGVs
My Lords, 80 per cent.
My Lords, I thank the Secretary of State for that Answer. Does he agree that we can’t go on like this, with UK operators subject to significant vehicle excise duty and very high fuel costs, while continental operators pay much less for their fuel and absolutely nothing to the Treasury for the use of our infrastructure? What, if anything, is the Secretary of State going to do about this?
My Lords, the Government have undertaken several reviews to explore the possibility of charging foreign lorries in this country, which I take to be the implicit proposal in the noble Earl’s question. They most recently considered a vignette scheme in the context of the freight data feasibility study. However, the cost benefits of this scheme were not persuasive, and we do not propose to take it forward at present.
My Lords, is the Secretary of State aware that large numbers of cross-Channel freight drivers carry freight on the return leg of the journey, and can he be satisfied that it represents fair competition for British drivers? Is he also aware that, in some cases, the rules on road traffic drivers’ hours are being breached?
My Lords, under existing EU rules, foreign lorries are allowed 30 days in the UK. They can come over empty and can carry as much freight as they like on journeys within the UK while they are here. However, from the end of May, those EU rules will be changed; foreign lorries will be able to undertake only three jobs in seven days, and they will have to come over to the UK loaded. My noble friend’s concerns are therefore being taken very much to heart in policy, and improvements will be made in the very near future.
My Lords, it is often asserted that foreign operators’ involvement in road traffic accidents in the UK is disproportionately high. Is there any evidence of this, and if so, is it a question of driver training or inadequate vehicles? Do the Government collect any data on the numbers of accidents involving UK drivers when they are in continental Europe?
My Lords, I do not have those latter figures. However, in terms of roadworthiness checks on UK and foreign HGV motor vehicles and trailers, the prohibition rate is higher for foreign-registered vehicles than for UK-registered vehicles. That is precisely why two years ago we announced the £24 million package over three years to allow the Vehicle and Operator Services Agency significantly to increase its safety checks on high-risk vehicles on international journeys and to recruit more enforcement staff.
In addition, we introduced a scheme whereby the police and the Vehicle and Operator Services Agency have the power to issue fixed penalty notices. These measures have been rolled out successfully, and, in the period from April last year to the end of January this year, approximately £3 million was taken by VOSA examiners in financial penalty payments from foreign lorries that were found not to be roadworthy. I have been out with a team of VOSA inspectors and have seen them in operation. They do excellent work in this area and are having a big impact on improving the roadworthiness of foreign lorries.
The benefits would be lower, but the point is that there are not very many collection points nationally; they would only be at the major ports, such as Harwich, Hull, maybe a port in the north-east and Dover and Newhaven. How can that be a particularly expensive project?
My Lords, I understand that my right honourable friend the Leader of the House of Commons has made a Statement today announcing proposed Easter Recess dates for the other place. Don’t get too excited, my Lords. As is current practice, I intend to match these dates, subject to the progress of business. These dates are as follows. We will rise for the Easter Recess at the end of business on Tuesday 30 March, returning on Tuesday 6 April. A note of these dates is, of course, now available in the Printed Paper Office.
Damages-Based Agreements Regulations 2010
Order of Referral to Grand Committee Discharged
My Lords, on behalf of my noble friend Lady Royall of Blaisdon, I beg to move the Motion standing in her name on the Order Paper.
Conditional Fee Agreements (Amendment) Order 2010
Order of Referral to Grand Committee Discharged
My Lords, on behalf of my noble friend Lady Royall of Blaisdon, I beg to move the Motion standing in her name on the Order Paper.
Funding Code: Criteria and Procedures
Motion to Refer to Grand Committee
My Lords, on behalf of my noble friend Lady Royall of Blaisdon, I beg to move the Motion standing in her name on the Order Paper.
European Parliamentary Elections (Northern Ireland) (Amendment) Regulations 2010
Electoral Law Act (Northern Ireland) 1962 (Amendment) Order 2010
Representation of the People (Timing of the Canvass) (Northern Ireland) Order 2010
National Assembly for Wales (Legislative Competence) (Housing) (Fire Safety) Order 2010
National Assembly for Wales (Legislative Competence) (Housing and Local Government) Order 2010
National Assembly for Wales (Legislative Competence) (Culture and Other Fields) Order 2010
National Assembly for Wales (Legislative Competence) (Education) Order 2010
National Assembly for Wales (Legislative Competence) (Transport) Order 2010
Wireless Telegraphy Act 2006 (Directions to OFCOM) Order 2010
Financial Services and Markets Act 2000 (Amendments to Part 18A etc.) Regulations 2010
Financial Services and Markets Act 2000 (Liability of Issuers) Regulations 2010
Motions to Refer to Grand Committee
My Lords, on behalf of my noble friend Lady Royall of Blaisdon, I beg to move the 11 Motions standing in her name on the Order Paper.
Allhallows Staining Church Bill [HL]
Bill passed, and sent to the Commons.
British Humanist Association: Reports
My Lords, with a general election in which reform of this House will undoubtedly feature only a few weeks away, discussion of the two British Humanist Association reports published in 2007 is pertinent. The first, entitled Quality and Equality: Human Rights, Public Services and Religious Organisations, provides us with a marker to calibrate the deterioration over the past three years in establishing greater equality in the world of employment. The second, entitled The Case for Secularism: A Neutral State in an Open Society, can guide us in that future reform of the House of Lords and the role of the church within it.
It is undeniable that in its present form, with 26 seats reserved for the Church of England Bishops, the House of Lords presents an odd face to the outside world. It is interesting to note that even within the 38 provinces of the Anglican Communion, only England still insists on an established church. This is a problem. As the noble Lord, Lord Maclennan, warned some eight years ago in your Lordships’ House, when this subject was last debated,
“it is as bad for a Church to be seen as enmeshed in the state as for the state to be seen giving privileged eminence to a Church”.—[Official Report, 22/5/02; col. 770.]
Regrettably, in the intervening years the Church of England has continued unwarrantedly to enjoy and increase its privileges within the state—in education, in employment practices, law and public broadcasting—as statutory public services continue to be contracted out to religious organisations.
The consequences have been to imperil the take-up of public services and to encourage discrimination against users of such services and against employees who owe allegiance to another religion or to none at all. Most egregious has been the discrimination offered to the gay community. Career prospects have stalled for some attached to the wrong religion or to no religion at all. Religious harassment has had an open goal to shoot at, while the status of religious organisations has been undeservedly advanced under the cover of the public purse.
Uneconomic duplication in the provision of services is a constant danger, as is the division fostered within local communities by the separatist approach of the religious organisations using public money. In the current Equality Bill, for instance, the Government still ponder giving religious organisations the power to discriminate against gays, non-believers and believers of other faiths who apply for lay positions. The hesitancy over the sensible amendment from my noble friend Lord Alli, which would allow religious groups to conduct civil partnerships in their own places of worship if they so wish, is a further example of bowing to church pressure.
In the Children, Schools and Families Bill, religious groups have seemingly wrested back the control to teach children their versions of sex education. The Government’s feeble sticking plaster of a “balanced approach” will hardly dilute the ingrained homophobia and antipathy to sex redolent in the teaching practices of too many of our religious schools. Seventh-Day Adventists, for example, can still freely teach that abortion is a sin to be tolerated only in exceptional circumstances, like a pregnancy arising from rape. It is the lack of clarity and consistency in the teaching of sex education that continues to maintain our unwelcome reputation as being at the bottom of the class in Europe for unwanted teenage pregnancies.
It now appears that believing in a religion privileges those who have broken the law. A custodial sentence was recently set aside because the prisoner was deemed to have a greater sense of right and wrong, born of his religious belief. The fact that three out of four prison inmates declare themselves to be religious undermines that partialist philosophy.
Astonishingly, the BBC found itself taken to task by a member of the most recent Church of England Synod for failing to support religious broadcasting. This inventive thought was suborned by the evidence of the rampant but wholly unjustified doubling of religious output by the BBC. The new fad for identifying the religious allegiances of the contributors to “Any Questions”—three Roman Catholics and one Church of England on last Friday’s edition—as well as the scheduling of two “thoughts for the day” each morning also scotch that myth. Indeed, the shame of the continued ban on humanists contributing to “Thought for the Day” is only intensified by that privilege being afforded to the Pope, an offer masterminded by the unabashed Catholic Mark Thompson, D-G of the BBC.
I turn to the second BHA report, outlining support for a secular state in an open society. Some years ago Prince Charles suggested that when he came to inherit, he would like to be known as the defender of faiths. While overlooking humanists, he at least was recognising the very changed nature of contemporary Britain. We now live in a multicultural and multireligious Britain, where other religions challenge the established Church of England.
The noble Lord, Lord Morgan, reminded us in our 2002 debate that the Church of England is a mere fraction within a fraction, even within the declining Christian communion. It still has a position in our nation and society, however, that is wholly incommensurate with its numbers, and nowhere more so than in your Lordships’ House, where 26 privileged places are preserved. Other religions are gradually being represented here, including by our colleagues from the Muslim community and, more lately, the noble Lord, Lord Sacks, representing part of the Jewish community. The House of Lords is becoming secularised accidentally.
I believe that in the future reform of the Lords, all privileged places should go. If religious groups are to be present, they should be chosen in line with their current strengths, and humanists and atheists should also be acknowledged, given the growing numbers of our tradition. Professor Richard Dawkins and David Attenborough spring to mind. Indeed their wider interests would make a valuable contribution to this House.
I believe that the time has come for a secular state within an open society—an idea which has the support of many humanists and many among the Anglican Communion. Many Anglicans share the view that their history and tradition cannot alone justify their traditional privileges. These people yearn to proselytise Anglicanism with modern and contemporary arguments, competing against other religions and none.
The BHA case for secularism argues that we can no longer base society on a shared religion, but rather on shared values. A secular state, which is most avowedly not an atheist state, seeks to protect the rights of all citizens to hold their own beliefs, religious or otherwise. A secular state is assuredly an open and an even-handed state in which people’s participation in public institutions does not depend on their religious or non-religious convictions.
Can a society function without shared values? I suggest that one possible answer is to distinguish between the public and the private space. In the public space lie the shared values of tolerance—a willingness to accept differences and to allow others to pursue their own ideas and ideals—the political values of equal citizenship, freedom of speech and assembly, the right to vote and stand for public office, social justice, equal opportunity and the right to a fair share of the common resources of society. All these make up a wide consensus. Still, some may demur from this apple pie and motherhood, but I believe that even those opposed to the summary of liberal values might nevertheless welcome some formulation of the secular state, where they can reserve the right to proselytise in the public square that which they celebrate in the private circle. This formulation provides autonomy, letting people make their own choices about the most important things in their own lives. Secondly, it provides fairness to those who might otherwise—
I am afraid I will not accept any intervention because this is a timed debate and I prefer to use my time to say what I have to say.
It provides fairness to those who might otherwise have to bend their strongly held views to those who hold very separate and equally strongly held views. Finally, there is a pragmatic consideration that in such a society governed by tolerance, where inimical views spill into the public from the private domain, they may still be accommodated by some reasonable give and take exercised on all sides. I give as an example the debate over religious symbols. Sometimes I think we get in a muddle by denying someone the right to wear a preferred religious symbol; if it does not interfere with health and safety or offend other people, we could exercise a little more tolerance.
Sometimes it would be helpful in this debate on the secular state if some of those who oppose humanists and atheists did so with a less shrill voice than is occasionally heard, where typically we are termed “aggressive secularists”, for instance. It would be helpful if they learnt a little more about humanism, atheism and, indeed, secularism, because they are not all the same. It would also be helpful if they understood that the basis for our thinking is that we simply do not believe in something which does not exist. There are many reasons why we should try to find what one Member of this House talked about when describing himself as a wishy-washy liberal—the common elements that we share, religious or otherwise. I give as a practical example the preservation of our wonderful churches, which represent some of the best architecture in the land. That is typified in the case of Liverpool—the subject of our next debate—which is home to two of the finest and most interesting churches.
I make this plea: if we do not come together with a consensus—I think that a secular state would help in providing that—there are those of us who have reason to fear that the common liberal values most of us enjoy will be threatened by forces outside that can overwhelm us if we fail to take the opportunity to achieve a united front.
My Lords, I believe that your Lordships’ House is a debating Chamber, not a reading-out-of-speeches Chamber. Therefore, if my noble friend Lord Mawhinney or any other noble Lord wishes to intervene in my speech, even though I am allowed only seven minutes, I will happily give way, because I believe in debate.
I am extremely grateful to my noble friend. I was intrigued, if not impressed, by the point that the noble Lord, Lord Harrison, was seeking to make about the schizophrenia between the private and public sectors of life. As a follower of Jesus Christ, I believe that it is an integral part of who I am that I should try to practise in the public sector what I believe and practise in the private sector. I know that my noble friend shares similar sentiments and I would be grateful for his view on that point.
I am extremely glad that my noble friend should have intervened. Indeed, one of the two or three points that I shall make in my speech addresses exactly that perspective. My noble friend and I share those views and I agree with him.
The two documents that we are debating this morning represent, to me, a pretty wacky, hardcore, highly illiberal, campaigning sort of humanism. They point the way towards a society dominated by majoritarianism and not a more tolerant view of society, which I always thought that the noble Lord, Lord Harrison, in whose highly thought-provoking debates I have taken part before, really shares. I trust that he does not want to replace what he might see as any reactionary illiberalism with a new overwhelming, overbearing, liberal intolerance, any more than would, I suspect, the noble Lord, Lord Graham of Edmonton, whose remarks on this subject I have listened to with respect in past debates.
When we talk about these issues in your Lordships’ House, it has become the fashion to declare faith, or lack of faith. I can date it exactly to 2 March, when during the proceedings on the Equality Bill, in moving an amendment of high importance on adoption society matters, the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, crisply declared for Anglicanism. There and then, the floodgates opened and people were popping up and coming out all over the Chamber about their faith, or lack of it. For example, in a marvellous short speech declaring against the imposition of majoritarian views, the noble Lord, Lord Low of Dalston, said that he was “not a religious person”.
There was one wonderful moment for the real connoisseur, the best declaration of all—again of Anglicanism—from the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Bradford. Some of us had suspected for some time, as he rose from the Bishops’ Bench, gorgeously attired in full episcopal choir dress, all billowing sleeves secured with black cuffs to match his black tippet, that he might indeed be an Anglican. We had taken the hint. So the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Ripon and Leeds, whose speech I look forward to greatly, can accept that we have taken the hint in respect of him. For the avoidance of doubt, I had better come out and declare Roman Catholicism, while at the same time recognising, as the noble Lord, Lord Harrison, does, that people of faith have no monopoly of spiritual values, probity, morality or goodness. Indeed, I have a friend who is a model possessor of all of these virtues while being what I can only term a high church atheist in his manifest disbelief, and I admire him greatly for his strength of character.
Now I move to the point that my noble friend Lord Mawhinney raised in his welcome intervention. As the state moves from being a universal service provider to becoming more and more a service commissioner, it would be wrong to try to exclude religious bodies from being commissioned to provide services, as the British Humanist Association seeks to do, for the following three reasons. First, it would be rank, outright discrimination, plain and simple. Secondly, it is philosophically bankrupt and inept, for it assumes automatically that, while faith-based projects are not value-neutral, by definition secular projects are inherently value-neutral. That is nonsense. All bodies are rooted in a particular place or places and have a set of values. Indeed, the whole purpose of seeking to tap into the energy of civil society, as my noble friend wishes to do, as opposed to the impersonal state, arises from its rootedness in different narratives, traditions and identities, all of which are value-laden. At this time when all political parties, I thought, were seeking to promote diversity and choice, it would make absolutely no sense to prevent faith-based welfare providers from accessing government money, because some people like using services given in a faith ethos or by faiths.
Some recent words from the Catholic Bishops’ Conference are worth a quick ponder. Its document Choosing the Common Good, which was published earlier this month, states:
“The right to religious freedom means the right to live by faith, within the reasonableness of the common good, and to act by faith in the public forum”.
It goes on:
“Partnerships between Government and faith communities should be mutually respectful and permit these communities to act with integrity in the provision of public services for the common good. This has long been the case in the provision of education and the benefits brought by that partnership are substantial and clear”.
The one thing that I would like to hear from the Minister is a clear reaffirmation of the value, in the mind of the present Administration, of religious education provided by Muslims, Jews and Roman Catholics. I trust that the Government will not waver in giving a clear message of support for religious education from these and other groups, such as Hindus, Sikhs and whoever else chooses to set up a school. So I say a “Hear, hear!” to the sentiment that we just heard from the Roman Catholic bishops, which I am sure is shared by people of all faiths and people of no faith.
I will end by saying that I totally disagree with the noble Lord, Lord Harrison, much as I welcome his debate and respect him personally, that in the past five years religious groups have somehow advanced in their influence. To me it is the exact and total opposite: you cannot wear a crucifix to work, offering to pray for someone gets you suspended and Catholic adoption societies are getting closed down. Rampant secularism is what we face, of the most intolerant and illiberal sort.
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Harrison, on securing a most thought-provoking—he has already provoked the noble Lord, Lord Patten, into the oxymoron of liberal intolerance—and particularly timely debate. Yesterday, the Minister John Denham announced that the Government have set up a new £1 million fund to help faith groups get their voices heard by government and public bodies. This is occurring just at the moment when other public services and local councils are facing real and deep cuts. Council tax will rise by the lowest amount possible since it was introduced and certainly well below the inflation level. It is extraordinary that the Government have £1 million to dispense in this way. In addition to that fund, the Government have set up a £50,000 social action prize fund to help publicise and reward faith-based projects, and only faith-based projects, that are finding new ways of meeting local problems, bringing people together and meeting the needs of local communities. This debate is therefore extremely timely.
This is a particularly interesting issue and I think that, essentially, there are two possible approaches to it. The first is that voluntary services, by which I mean the extra services, can be delivered by people who see that extra service to the community as part of their faith. That is an entirely valid approach which is much to be welcomed. The second is that public services should be delivered by public servants who are bound by a common public service code of values. That is what I understand as a public service.
I went to a Quaker school and, during my formative years, I learnt just what the first of those approaches—extra voluntary services delivered by people of great conviction—can mean. For me, Elizabeth Fry was perhaps the most powerful example of such an approach. In 1818 she became the first woman to give evidence to a House of Commons committee, on the conditions then prevailing in British prisons, and with her brother she persuaded Peel to introduce a series of prison reforms that ended with the Gaols Act 1823. As your Lordships will be aware, she was active not only in prison reform; they both also took up the causes of abolishing capital punishment and establishing hostels for people with nowhere to go. I am glad to see that there are still so many living memorials to her, particularly in Islington, where the Elizabeth Fry Institute and the Elizabeth Fry probation hostel are still located. I would therefore not decry this sort of effort made by people of faith, whatever faith it might be.
Perhaps my deep concerns about a model which relies on delivery by people of faith stem from my time as a district councillor. I remember a time when well intentioned councillors who wanted the best for their communities had the power to approve or disapprove housing allocations. Of course they tried hard to be objective and to allocate on the basis of housing need. Inevitably, however, they bore in mind what they believed was the best for their communities. That could include not housing those whom they regarded as undesirables or who they thought would not fit into the community. The ramifications were that the same people were constantly turned down despite their evident housing need, and their children suffered a life of constant moving through no fault of their own. I am pleased to say that we as a council got rid of that councillor discretion long before the Government decided to do so nationally. Those councillors were acting in good faith and on what they believed, but they were not acting on objective criteria.
My worries could be slightly lessened by the evangelical Faithworks movement, which has been heavily involved in contracting. It has produced a charter which calls for Christian groups to be non-discriminatory, principled and non-proselytising in how they operate. That might be adequate, except for the Government’s increasing propensity to make exemptions in law for faith groups on fundamental points of principle. The noble Lord, Lord Harrison, has outlined those very adequately today and we debated them very recently in your Lordships’ House. This debate is particularly timely because we have learnt that the Government are willing to make exception after exception on important points of principle. We need to be deeply concerned about that.
Earlier this week I asked a group of American students what their opinion was of today’s debate and they drew on the experience of the creationist element that has managed to take over swathes of the American educational establishment. That should sound a warning to us.
The noble Lord, Lord Harrison, outlined the dangers very well. I welcome these two helpful reports from the British Humanist Association. However, I wish that the conclusion of the second report had been even stronger precisely because liberal values are not wishy-washy. It concludes:
“We believe that the case for secularism is sound, that it can be defended with arguments”.
It should say that the case for secularism is overwhelming precisely because we want to live in a harmonious and tolerant society.
My Lords, I am very grateful to my noble friend Lord Harrison for introducing this debate so powerfully and for his thoughtful, non-aggressive support for humanism and secularism. I am very sorry to see that the noble Lord, Lord Mawhinney, has abandoned the debate after making his point as I think that he would have gained much from the other speeches, as I intend to do. I look forward immensely to the debate.
I shall first comment briefly on some international views that reflect the two reports we are debating. I shall then talk about education as a public service. I declare interests as a patron of the National Secular Society and the British Humanist Association. I am also a former teacher and serve as a school governor.
The notion of aggressive secularism—I think that the noble Lord, Lord Patten, called it rampant secularism—perpetrated by some religious leaders is, of course, a nonsense. Secularism seeks neutrality from the state as regards different religions and beliefs, including non-belief and non-religious affiliation. Humanism maintains—as I do—that values, ethics and morality are not exclusively in the gift of religion. Individuals can, and do, develop moral codes that are equally valid and have a right to live by non-faith principles.
In the death of Dr Ashok Kumar MP, we have just lost a great humanist of Hindu and Sikh extraction. He said in response to a debate on faith schools in 2006, “I am against segregation”. He said that we do not want groups of people in society who believe that one religion is superior to another. He regretted that the then Secretary of State, Alan Johnson, was “slapped down” by the whole religious lobby. In my view the influence of religion on law-making is very disproportionate.
The European Humanist Federation has stated that the EU consistently favours the churches and religious organisations. Humanists are systematically excluded from negotiations. Christian churches are granted huge privileges—for example, financial—in European countries. Secularism or humanism does not, of course, seek to exclude those with religious beliefs from public life, but those beliefs should not be imposed on others. Public policy and laws should not be based on religious premises or arguments and religious people and institutions should not have a privileged position in society. All relevant human rights instruments, including the European Convention on Human Rights, give equal standing to non-religious beliefs and religious ones. This principle is unchallenged in legal circles but seems not to be recognised by many politicians and has not been implemented.
Education is an example of a public service that has been caught up in the religious controversy surrounding the growth of faith schools. The majority of these schools are run by the Church of England and other Christian denominations, often for good historical reasons. There are also increasing numbers of Muslim and Jewish faith schools. All this seems to be in the name of promoting fairness and equality. I believe that it has got out of hand, and what is more, the majority of the general public seem to agree. In an ICM poll for the Guardian, 64 per cent of people believed that schools should be for everyone, regardless of their religion, and that the Government should not be funding faith schools of any kind. Other polls suggest that people regard faith schools as divisive, are opposed to their expansion, and are against the state funding them.
It has been shown time and time again that faith schools actually decrease parental choice. The increase in faith schools replacing comprehensive schools has led to a situation where parents in some areas do not have the choice of whether to send their child to a faith school. I know that there are arguments that faith schools have a positive ethos, achieve better academic results, have better discipline and so on, but I would say to that: not necessarily. I shall quote from the Times Online:
“In some areas, schools employ exclusive and discriminatory policies”.
What worries me is the notion that faith schools encourage community cohesion. I cannot see this to be the case when children are divided up and removed from their communities. Equally, a school whose intake is of one religion only, as some are, cannot promote cohesion and respect for other communities in society because they are exclusive. Indeed, the report The Case for Secularism goes so far as to say that:
“In a plural society, people of all faiths and none have to learn to live together without their differences degenerating into destructive conflict … they [faith schools] encourage children to identify with their own separate communities and are thus liable to perpetrate a climate of suspicion and distrust”.
Of course there are excellent faith schools which are inclusive, but there are also excellent community schools. An excellent school depends on good leadership, good teaching, good resources and respect for the views of others, not necessarily on a faith base.
To return to my first points, ethics, a positive ethos and moral standpoints do not stem exclusively from religious faith. Public services or the state should be separate from religion while living alongside religions of all kinds. Politics, citizenship, equal rights and social justice are part of a civilised society. As my noble friend said, sometimes there is a distinction between the public and the private, so they should enable people of different viewpoints to live together in harmony. The Case for Secularism maintains that the state should be,
“neutral between those differing values and should not impose a concept of the good life”.
If only all states could do this, we might be spared some of the conflicts evident in our world today. In this country, I fear that we may create tensions unnecessarily by promoting religions as a solution to societal problems in the name of some sort of equality.
I hope that politicians of all parties will take note of this debate and of the reports introduced by my noble friend. I hope that we will henceforward proceed with great caution in considering the future of our society in relation to religion and its place in human rights and public services.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Harrison, for sponsoring this debate and giving us the chance to consider philosophical issues that are important for the whole way in which our society develops. The Case for Secularism calls for ways in which,
“an increasingly diverse society can live at ease with itself in a spirit of equality and justice”.
I agree entirely with that ambition. The Case for Secularism, however, uses the words “secular”, “neutral” and “open” almost as synonyms—a neutral state in an open society. I want to argue that no state can be neutral and that it can and should be open. Neutrality is impossible. Here, for example, we frequently debate policies with a bias towards the poor and ways to defend the vulnerable. Those debates are value-laden, and rightly so. We do not want a neutral state.
Rather, we need a state that is in favour of values and where there is an encouragement for groups with different values to express them for the common good. Christians and others, including non-religious humanists, should be encouraged to take action in order to benefit others. The report, Quality and Equality, for example, acknowledges the part played by Christians in the work of hospices, which are among the great contributions of our generation to the common good. Hospices are supported by the state and many of them are an expression of Christian values about the importance of the quality of life to its end. That value is not solely Christian, and others will share it, but many of those hospices would not exist without the support and encouragement of the state for a faith-based enterprise. Quality provision in society comes from the shared values of particular communities and not simply individuals.
For example, Caring for Life is a charity based in Leeds that provides accommodation and employment for people with learning difficulties. Those who run it believe that fulfilment of life is found in Jesus Christ, and they share that with others. Quality and Equality would argue that its clients are vulnerable people who should not be exposed to Christian propaganda. But it is exactly because of their vulnerability that care needs to be shown, and Caring for Life can do that only in terms of Christian modelling. Quality and Equality seems to argue that it is acceptable to have Christian principles so long as you do not share them. That fails to understand the nature of faith, where the whole of life is lived in conscious obedience to God. Work for the common good springs not only from that, but is also integrally a part of it.
It is a will o’ the wisp to chase a neutral society. It is far better for the open state to support quality wherever it is found. I believe that that goes for education. Christians and others make significant personal and communal contributions to our state school system. Last week, I cut a ribbon at the opening of a new maths block at Abbey Grange Church of England High School in Leeds. Maths is taught according to the national curriculum. That block benefited from substantial financial contributions from Christian bodies. Churches give millions each year to the education of our children. They work for the common good.
If it were true that education in this country was reserved for Christians or Muslims and denied to others, that would indeed be wrong. But there is not a single example in Quality and Equality of education or social care being unavailable to the general public. Rather, the work of faith groups means that there is greater availability of services at less cost to the taxpayer. Often it is religious groups that provide services for the homeless, for those seeking a way out of prostitution, for those who are dying, and for vulnerable groups who need special care. It is right for those services and the values they represent to be supported by our state. Quality and Equality claims that 70 per cent believe that church and state should be kept separate, while 9 per cent disagree. But if you had asked people whether Leeds City Council should support the work of St George’s Crypt in its care for the homeless, I believe that you would have got a very different answer.
Moral values belong to communities as well as to individuals. I want now to reiterate and develop a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Patten, earlier in the debate. We demonstrated that on Tuesday, when we spoke of the values of this House as a whole in compiling the code of conduct, not simply of the values of individual Members.
The case for secularism is much too individualistic and fails to acknowledge the benefit of particular values expressed by groups and communities within our society. I welcome a society and a Government that encourage values and support those who express them, be they religious or humanist. I hope that our open society of a variety of convictions, personal and communal, will long continue.
My Lords, I, too, thank my noble friend Lord Harrison for the opportunity to discuss these very relevant reports produced by the British Humanist Association. This is indeed a timely debate, with a new Equality Bill now before Parliament. During consideration of that Bill, secularist Members of your Lordships’ House have expressed concerns about the employment practices of religious groups contracted to provide social services to the public. As we have heard, the BHA report, The Case for Secularism, addresses these and other concerns. However, I will leave the detailed analysis and arguments to fellow humanists who are well represented in this debate.
I simply want to make some valedictory remarks, because I am standing down at the end of this Parliament, after serving five years as chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Humanist Group. Noble Lords may be reassured to hear that that group is not motivated by hostility to religion. Indeed, I am pleased to see in her place the noble Baroness, Lady Flather, an active supporter, who often describes herself as a Hindu humanist—and India of course fights to sustain its proud secularist traditions. Our members include Jewish and Christian humanists, including one MP—a practising Anglican—who turns up at our AGMs to ensure that we are not short of the required quorum. This good Christian believes that humanists have an important role to play in Parliament through an all-party group, with the advantages that that brings when booking meetings and communicating with other parliamentarians.
However, as one would expect, most of our members are agnostic or atheist. Interestingly, our numbers have more than doubled in recent years, and membership now totals more than 100 MPs and Peers from all major parties and the Cross Benches in your Lordships’ House. This growth in numbers and the more active contribution of humanists in Parliament owe a great deal to the work of the British Humanist Association, including the reports that we are debating, and I want to outline some of that activity and support.
First, let me make clear that the All-Party Parliamentary Humanist Group is not formally affiliated to the BHA, nor is it signed up to all its priorities. As I hope noble Lords will have gathered, ours is a loose grouping that is able to accommodate all the idiosyncrasies that flourish here in Westminster. That said, on behalf of my humanist colleagues, I thank the BHA for the quality of its briefings produced in the first half of this Parliament by Andrew Copson, and latterly by Naomi Phillips. I also congratulate Mr Copson on his recent appointment as chief executive of the British Humanist Association.
The BHA’s thorough research helped many of us to make informed and better-argued contributions to debates, particularly on complex ethical issues which arise in this House by the year. In the field of human rights, the BHA also helped us to refine the Racial and Religious Hatred Bill, the Equality Act 2006 and, of course, the current Equality Bill, which I trust will be passed in the last days of this Parliament without too much compromise. Some noble Lords with whom we have differed may feel that we humanists have had too much to say in controversies about education, but we make no apology for trying to improve the teaching on sex in schools, nor for our opposition to the teaching of creationism as science.
Most importantly, with briefing from the BHA, we were able to monitor and question some of the policies and practices of faith schools. In this contentious area, noble Lords should be aware that religious groups also support a secular approach to schooling. The BHA is a partner in the Accord Coalition, which advocates inclusive schools and is, in fact, chaired by a rabbi, Dr Jonathan Romain. Indeed, the BHA’s wider work makes it increasingly active across communities by consulting and co-operating with national and local government, broadcasters and public agencies.
Like our All-Party Parliamentary Humanist Group, the BHA also takes an ecumenical approach to politics. I spoke on the Labour Humanists Group platform at our Brighton party conference. I am told that the Liberal Democrat humanists staged a successful event at their party conference. There is now a Green Party humanist group, and I am particularly pleased to hear that there is a flourishing Conservative humanist group. All of this helps to explain why membership of the British Humanist Association has grown significantly in recent years and it now has a total of around 20,000 members.
Recruitment was probably boosted last year by the widespread celebration of the bicentenary of Charles Darwin, which also merited a debate here in your Lordships’ House. An Early Day Motion calling for Darwin Day to become a public holiday was put down in the House of Commons. I recall it with some sadness, because the EDM was sponsored by our colleague in the All-Party Parliamentary Humanist Group, Ashok Kumar. As the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, told us, Ashok died earlier this week. He was a much-loved Member and will be much missed. All of us mourn his tragic death and our condolences go out to his brother Ravi and the Kumar family.
Ashok Kumar was also a scientist, and no doubt appreciated the observation made in the 18th century by the father of economics, Adam Smith, that,
“Science is the great antidote to the poison of enthusiasm and superstition”.
It seems very fitting that Adam Smith’s portrait should now ornament our banknotes, complementing that of Her Majesty, Defender of the Faith. That is a very British juxtaposition that Adam Smith’s friend and enlightenment philosopher, David Hume, an atheist icon, would surely have enjoyed.
I therefore conclude in the spirit of British enlightenment to which humanists and Christians contributed so much, with the hope that we can again find a common cause to advance a shared tradition of rational debate and tolerance in the defence of human rights and the pursuit of social justice. Naturally, in today’s Britain, we humanists would hope to work more closely with enlightened followers of all religions. I hope therefore that our All-Party Parliamentary Humanist Group, under a new chair in the next Parliament, can find ways of bringing together parliamentarians of all faiths and none to advance common agendas based on mutual respect and at least some shared values.
My Lords, it can be generally agreed that a secular state is one which is neutral between different faiths and beliefs. That was the definition in the admirable report of the British Humanist Association, and it was very much accepted by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Ripon and Leeds. Somewhat illogically for this purpose, the absence of religious beliefs counts as a belief. This neutrality requires the separation of church and state, which was one of the most important consequences of the Enlightenment, which I regard, in the words of Isaiah Berlin, as one of the best and most hopeful episodes in the history of mankind.
Indeed, it can be strongly argued that one factor which has held back the development of Islamic states is the absence of this separation. Likewise, perhaps the most encouraging recent development in the Muslim world has been the move towards democracy in Indonesia, the largest Muslim state, which would not have been possible if it were not for the fact that Indonesia does not have a theocratic constitution.
In Britain, however, the separation of Church and state, which as Voltaire and Diderot very much acknowledged and which contributed hugely to the Enlightenment, is not complete. The presence of the Bishops in this House is one example; the establishment of the Church of England is another. I suspect that deep down, right reverend Prelates themselves realise that whatever the historical justifications, today their constitutional role in the legislature is indefensible. While Members of this House are appointed, some Bishops may well justify their individual appointment. One has only to cite the contribution made by the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries of Pentregarth. But with the decline of religious belief in this country, especially in the number of active members of the Church of England, and the increase in the followers of other religions, the Bishops’ constitutional position is a glaring anomaly.
The other and more important failure in separating church and state is state support for faith schools. The main argument advanced against these schools is that they are divisive. That is certainly supported by the evidence of Northern Ireland. However, my main argument is more fundamental. For schools to teach children faith or belief is a basic contradiction of what education should aim to achieve. Parents, understandably, want their children to follow their faith. If they wish to bring up their children in their own beliefs, no one can deny them the right: but the role of schools is to teach children to think, to question and not to accept unquestioningly what their teachers, or the press, or the Government, or their church, may ask them to believe.
Children must be given the opportunity to choose their own beliefs. Schools should not indoctrinate. In fact, schools should do much more not only to teach science, but to teach understanding of the scientific method, which will help pupils to learn that knowledge must be based on the best evidence, and that knowledge is not dogma but tentative knowledge that may in time be displaced by a new view of how nature works, on the basis of more convincing explanations of the latest evidence. Schools should teach children to reason. Teaching them about the miraculous power of prayer to heal the sick, for example, is contrary to all reason and evidence and hardly promotes a rational approach.
Many religious schools—certainly many Church of England schools—do not indoctrinate. I went to a Church of England school and had to attend chapel daily. Most of us regarded chapel as a rather boring chore, but the singing was thoroughly enjoyable. Generally, the school strongly encouraged free thinking. Almost the only teacher who tried to inculcate religion was the school chaplain, a keen cyclist irreverently known as Cycling Jesus. Of course, Sir Humphrey might explain that Church of England schools are different because, as he once observed, the Church of England is primarily a social rather than a religious organisation—or was before the evangelicals got going.
Believers often tell us that teaching religion is to be nurtured because it provides a moral basis to education, and that without God there is no basis for morality. This often-proclaimed belief not only shows a degree of arrogance, but has no logical justification. It is arrogant because it suggests that believers are somehow morally superior, for which there is no evidence whatever. It is also illogical. To put it briefly, when the likes of Christopher Hitchens point out that the Old Testament God is nasty, bloodthirsty and vengeful, Christians reasonably answer that their God is the god of the Sermon on the Mount, which is one of the most admirable moral texts. Similarly, when critics of Islam quote bloodthirsty passages from the Koran, moderate Muslims point out that other passages show Allah to be tolerant and merciful. What both say is that to qualify as a proper god—their God, the real God—He must be good. He must qualify by a standard of goodness that is independent of the deity, because if He is not good, He cannot be the real God.
Schools should certainly teach children about religions, because they are an important part of our—and other nations'—cultural heritage. However, far greater emphasis should be placed on science teaching, not only because we need science for prosperity, but because science plays a much more important role in promoting the values of a civilised society than is generally acknowledged. Science has made the world more civilised. It is also one of the pillars of a liberal democracy. Because science rejects claims to truth based on authority and depends on the criticism of established ideas, it is the enemy of autocracy. Because scientific knowledge is tentative and provisional, it is the enemy of dogma and promotes tolerance. Because it is the most effective way of learning about the physical world, it erodes the superstition, ignorance and prejudice that have been at the root of the denial of human rights throughout history, whether through racism, chauvinism or the suppression of the rights of women. Teaching science is the opposite of teaching belief. It is the surest way of promoting the values of the Enlightenment and of a secular society.
My Lords, I, too, am glad to have the opportunity to participate in this debate, which I thank my noble friend Lord Harrison for introducing. I am a supporter of the British Humanist Association. I believe that secularism is the best system in a multicultural society in which we want everyone to feel that there is equality and justice for all.
We have recently been discussing the Government’s Equality Bill, which seeks to legislate for some of these aims. It should not be thought that secularism is anti-religious. I am not myself a believer in any of the main religions, but I know many to whom faith is important. They have a right under the Bill, and as part of our belief in human rights, to practise their faith without discrimination and, indeed, to proselytise if they wish to. However, religious and philosophical differences should not become divisive, which can happen when religious fundamentalism seeks to impose its beliefs and way of life on people who do not share those beliefs. I emphasise that I am talking about fundamentalism, as some mainstream religions have become more tolerant and have come to terms with a less traditional and more modern outlook.
I do not much like faith schools. I believe that they are divisive and have that effect on communities. However, they exist and they receive state funding, but they should not be permitted to discriminate against those who may not share their faith and should certainly not discriminate as far as concerns employees. They should not be able to insist that employees, except those specifically involved with instruction relative to the faith, should be bound by the precepts of a faith that they may not share. Employees have rights that must be honoured and which are provided by our legislation.
According to the press, the Pope, who is due to visit the country later this year, has been critical of our newly emerging equality legislation. Of course, he has the right to express his opinion. However, the many who feel as I do also have a right to insist to our Government that his views on our legislation should be entirely disregarded.
The British Humanist Association has produced a report on human rights in public services and religious organisations. The issue has arisen because of the apparent desire of the Government to contract out the provision of some public services to religious organisations. The BHA report concluded that there was little evidence to support the view that religious organisations offer any particular benefits to the supply and provision of public services. In the view of the BHA, there are no good reasons why public services should not be provided on a secular basis. Otherwise, there could be problems for users and employees, with a risk of discrimination and of infringements of human rights.
There has been some discussion of these issues during the passage of the Equality Bill. I am still not content that the issue has been resolved. We still need legislative provision to ensure that a religious organisation providing a public service cannot discriminate between service users on religious grounds or, indeed, on any other grounds, that it must respect the human rights of users and that it must have equality-based employment policies. It is very necessary that parallel public services for various religions should not be allowed to develop, as has sometimes been suggested by the more fundamentalist religious publicists. That would be unacceptably divisive in a multicultural society.
It must be made clear that the Equality Bill rightly establishes protected categories, which include sexual orientation. Discrimination against individuals on that basis, either as service users or as employees, cannot be allowed under our own or EU legislation. There has been a long and largely successful campaign in the past few years against discrimination against gay, lesbian and transgender people. We cannot have those gains that that campaign has elicited endangered by discrimination. That is why the Equality Bill is so important.
The BHA report makes it clear that secularism does not pose a threat to anyone—quite the contrary. It enables religions and beliefs to exist and flourish. It seeks only to protect against discrimination those categories of people who generally are in a minority and whose vulnerability is deemed to require legislative support. That is what secularism is all about and we should all support it.
My Lords, I have been described as a Hindu humanist by the noble Lord, Lord Macdonald of Tradeston, but I am actually a Hindu atheist. I am not and never have been a humanist and I have no intention of becoming one. I was very much welcomed by the humanist group, particularly as at that time I sat on the Tory Benches. The group was very short of Tories and I even got elected vice-chairman. When I pointed out that I was not a humanist, noble Lords said, “It’s all right, we are a broad church”. I attend meetings and I have met and heard some interesting people.
A number of things have not yet been mentioned and I feel that it is my place to mention them. I take a world view rather than just a British view of religion. All the faiths and religions that we are talking about are world religions. They have an impact on many countries, not just on this one. If we are talking about equality and human rights, have we given any thought to the situation of poor women in developing countries and how religion has impacted on their lives? By and large the Anglican Church is not so discriminatory. A lot of good work is done by not only that church, but other churches, too, in developing countries.
However, let us consider the Catholic Church—the Holy See. What is it doing to women? It preaches women’s human rights every day, but we are now drowning in people. There were 2.6 billion people in 1950, but there are now 6.8 billion. We expect that by 2050 there will be another 1.5 billion. Yet the Pope goes to Africa and says, “Don’t use condoms”. Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor said, “Don’t send condoms to Africa; send them antiretrovirals”. What does that mean? Make them ill first and then give them the medicines. We know very well that only about 6 per cent of people in Africa get antiretroviral drugs. It is not even possible for everybody to get the drugs. Surely it would be better to prevent people from getting sick first. I cannot understand why the Holy See and the Catholic Church are not moving into the modern day. They still seem to be living in the Middle Ages. I am sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Patten, is not here, as he refers to the Holy See as head office. People like him should be telling the Holy See that it is time to change its policies on abortion and contraception. What happens to the poor women? One woman dies every minute of every day in childbirth. When did we last hear of a woman dying in childbirth in this country?
Religion should be a force for good, but it is not always so. As a Hindu atheist, I take my moral teaching from wherever I find it. The noble Lord, Lord Mawhinney, says that he follows in the footsteps of Jesus Christ. I remind myself all the time: do unto others as you would have them do unto you. If we remember some basic teachings of any faith, we will not go wrong. When I used to work in the community and race relations, some of the worst hypocrites and racists were those who attended church every Sunday. They were very much against the newcomers. The churches rejected West Indians when they came to this country, so they formed their own. Let us not get carried away by the “goodness” of religion. It is not all good.
We have faith schools. Church of England schools were the only ones that taught poor children. Had they not existed, poor children would not have had any education. They are part of this country’s history. But why do we need to separate our children now? Do we not remember what happened in Northern Ireland? We do not have to go very far; we need only look at what is still happening there, across a small sea. Why should children be taught separately? They should be taught together so that they have at least one chance of getting to know one another and maybe developing a liking and respect for one another. I do not believe in faith schools.
A noble Lord said that Jewish schools are increasing. They are not; they cannot fill them. I have made inquiries into this. In fact, they are now taking children who are not Jewish, which is a very good thing. Church of England schools always take children who are not of that faith, but the Catholic schools do not—some do, but many do not. This country should not have schools that take children from only one faith. It is not in the interests of how we want to develop.
I have talked about the Catholic Church, but I have not said anything about the Islamic countries. Let us look at what they do to women. In this country, we now have 85 Sharia courts dealing with domestic issues and inheritance. Any boy reaching the age of seven must go to the father. That is the rule of the Sharia court and we just sit back.
The noble Lord, Lord Patten, said that the influence of religion is not increasing, but during Tony Blair’s time it did increase. He made it respectable for people to push the boundaries of the liberal, inclusive society in which we want to live. We have to think about that.
My Lords, I am delighted to be participating in this debate. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Harrison, for securing it and introducing it with great energy and eloquence. I had hoped to take one line in this debate, but since it has gone almost entirely one way, I thought that I should tilt the balance and try to raise issues that are in danger of being ignored.
In recent years we have witnessed a clash between two kinds of dogmatism. For secularists, religion is at best a nuisance and at worst a source of positive mischief; religious people should therefore be kept out of public life or kept at as much a distance as possible. Religious people resent this and become aggressive, which further feeds secularists’ anxiety. They become even more anti-religious and a vicious cycle is born. What is the way out of that? That is my main concern.
A way out is to develop a kind of secularism that is sensitive to religious aspirations, that understands what religion is about and what it means for religious people, and to develop a view of religion that recognises the importance of secularism. That is a large philosophical and cultural debate. In my own field of moral and political philosophy, that is where the energies of a large number of people are currently concentrated—rethinking the traditional understanding of religion. Thanks to the Enlightenment, a particular view of what religion is about has become dominant. If one looks at a pre-Enlightenment way of understanding Christianity, one will see that that is not how it was understood. Even to equate religion with faith is something very peculiar to modernity. When one talks about religion, immediately questions arise. If you think of religions like Hinduism, for example, they have very little to do with beliefs and are primarily concerned with practice. If you think that religion has to do with God—well, Buddhism has nothing to do with God. It is agnostic, and Jainism is positively atheistic. When we talk about religion, it is important to bear this in mind and not to homogenise different systems of thought.
With that proviso, it is worth recognising that when one talks about religion, one ought to appreciate that it is grounded in recognition of a sense of mystery and a sense of finitude of human life. There are experiences that we cannot easily make sense of and we also recognise that as human beings we have certain profound limitations. In one form or another, religion is an attempt to come to terms with these two. It is in that sense a corrective to human hubris, and also a corrective to the illusion of human omnipotence and human omniscience.
If one therefore understands religion not in terms of God or of dogma but as a certain sensibility that recognises the finitude of human beings and which also recognises that there are large areas of human experience that we do not fully understand, then any well considered form of humanism should recognise it as an important and valuable dimension of human life. After all, humanism is concerned with human beings, and human beings—as I argued earlier—do appreciate that certain elements of human life include recognition of religion.
I am entirely in favour of a secular state—but what is a secular state? In the debates in India, where for the past 60 years we have been spending an enormous amount of energy in trying to understand what secularism is, secularism is basically about the relation between state and religion. This relationship can take any number of forms. If, for example, you had to install a wall of separation as the Americans have done, then the state will not be able to interfere with religion. And if it did not, it would not be able to abolish the practice of undecidability, or sati or many other things which derive their sanction from religion. So the wall of separation is out. A secular state is basically a state that pursues secular goals, is guided by secular public reason, and does not make its membership, namely citizenship, and the concomitant rights dependent on subscription to a particular religion. That is basically what a secular state is about.
The question is: why should the state be secular? There is nothing inherently good or bad about the state being secular. It should be secular because that is the only way in which certain important values can be realised. What are these values? There are three. The first is liberty of conscience, by which I mean respect for deeply held beliefs provided that they are rationally defensible. The second is equality of treatment—that regardless of whether one belongs to this religion or to that one, or to no religion at all, all should be treated equally. The third is that the state should be constituted so that all its citizens feel that they belong to the same community and no section feels alienated. These three—liberty of conscience, equality of treatment, and what one might call fraternity or a sense of community—are the three fundamental political values, and the secular state is the only state that is capable of realising them. On that we must insist and we cannot compromise. That does not mean that the state cannot and should not co-operate with religious institutions or that, if it were to do so, it would somehow lose its caste or get corrupted.
In modern society we face acute problems, and in solving those problems the state has its own limitations. Its administrative reach is limited, its moral reach is limited, it relies on certain motivations, and it is necessarily impersonal and bureaucratic. Therefore when there are problems where it cannot reach, we might need to rely on organisations that might be able to fill the gap. I can think of areas—spaces—where religious organisations might be able to deal with drug addicts or the rehabilitation of prisoners, or to foster better understanding between different communities and, in so doing, promote community cohesion. In other words, religion—with all its limitations, which I fully recognise; and I am not a religious person—can be a force for public good, and there are areas of life and groups of people for whom it can be an important source of motivation. In so far as it is a source of moral energy, it would be foolish for secularism or humanism to ignore it all together.
What therefore needs to be done is for the state to lay down certain basic principles or parameters within which public discourse and political action can take place. We can have religious schools. I am not particularly in favour of them but I know that they can promote certain important values and mean a lot to parents. But there are religious schools—I know of two Muslim schools for example—where art is not taught and music is not taught, because they go against Islamic principles.
The question therefore is for the state to lay down certain parameters, and as long as these parameters or standards are met, religious schools may be allowed to function. I would say the same about adoption agencies and lots of other things. Secular principles are absolutely crucial, but there is no reason why a good humanist may not engage in a critical dialogue with religious persons. After all, every view of the world has its limitations. Secularism has its own limitations and religion may be able to contribute something useful.
My Lords, I once had an alarming experience in Soviet Russia. In 1959 I was there as a tourist. I had reached Smolensk, which has a fine cathedral, so I asked the local Intourist office to get me a guide. I was provided with a real Soviet battleaxe who had probably killed an entire German regiment with her bare teeth. As we were coming out of the cathedral, she said to me fiercely, “Do you believe in God?”. I hummed and hawed and eventually replied, “I suppose I don’t, really”. “Well then”, said the battleaxe, “Why don’t you stay in the Soviet Union?” . She clearly thought that non-believers were persecuted in Britain. Of course, we are not. We have had equal rights ever since Charles Bradlaugh was allowed to take his seat in the House of Commons. But that is not the end of the story. A friend of mine once described himself as a non-practising atheist. That is what I was for a long time. I had been brought up as an Anglican—though my father was a non-practising Jew whose favourite meal was pork pie. My wife and I were married in church, we had our children baptised, and we occasionally went to church services though I kept my mouth shut when we got to the Creed.
Things have changed. When I was a law student in the USA 50 years ago, my friends and I laughed at the infamous Scopes trial, when, in the 1920s, a young schoolteacher in Tennessee was prosecuted for teaching his pupils about evolution. We thought that that was something entirely in the past. It never occurred to us that in the 21st century there would be millions of Americans who still believe in creationism. Nor did it occur to me at the time of the Cuban missile crisis that in 2010 we would find ourselves more worried by the acts of Islamic fanatics than by the threat of a nuclear world war.
Religion can of course cause harm as well as good. Religious hatred still exists, as has been shown in Northern Ireland, though I think it is fair to say that that is more about nationalism than about religion. Religious groups can be blamed for teaching such manifestly absurd concepts as creationism. The Roman Catholic church, and some evangelical Christian groups, also can be blamed, and I think should be blamed, for their rejection of contraception, which has enhanced the spread of AIDS, and as the noble Baroness, Lady Flather, has pointed out, has caused great hardship and suffering to women particularly in developing countries. Religion was also responsible for the death of nearly 3,000 innocent people in New York on 9/11, and for that of the 52 people who were killed here in this city some two years later.
It is not the role of humanists to go out and try to convert religious people to humanism; that is to turn humanism itself into a kind of religion. In a time of globalisation, however, surely we must all learn to live side by side. Education is by far the most important way of achieving that, which is why I entirely agree with every word that my noble friend Lord Taverne and the noble Baroness, Lady Flather, said about schools. I believe that the Government’s support of new state-funded faith schools was a profound mistake. Surely children who sit side by side in a school will understand more about each other than will those who have been to separate schools.
Religion must be taught in schools; it is an essential part of history—not only political and national history but the history of art, architecture and music, because so much early art is wholly religious. However, publicly funded schools should not teach that one church or religion knows the truth and that the others do not, or indeed that any religion is necessarily the truth. Religious faith is a matter to be taken up outside the formal structure of our schools, in Sunday schools and their equivalents in other faiths. It can be taught at home or, indeed, in schools on a voluntary basis, but it should not be part of the structure. This is a very valuable debate. I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Harrison, on his Motion, and I am very happy to support him.
My Lords, for most of the time that I have been a Member of your Lordships’ House I have been supporting the existence of the humanist group, rather from the sidelines. Like the noble Lord, Lord Macdonald, I shall briefly talk about the group itself. At the same time, I congratulate him on his term of office.
There were long periods, many, until his death in 2003, under the leading guidance of the late Lord Jack Dormand, who some of us remember, when even he was unable to get official recognition of the group as a proper all-party group. That was mainly because there were never enough members to fill the Conservative quota, despite the noble Baroness, Lady Flather, reminding us today that she was then a Conservative. She was punching above her weight, as she continues to do now as a Cross-Bencher. In those wilderness years, the group was still able to meet but did not have the privileges of an all-party group, for example, in advertising its meetings. For some time now, that has fortunately no longer been the case, and all-party support is assured with many distinguished speakers coming to talk to the group.
I am grateful to have my attention drawn by this debate to the two documents before us, which I might otherwise not have read. My remarks will be mainly prompted by the booklet The Case for Secularism, which is highly readable even though it was written by a committee. It appears to have been written by the humanist philosophers’ group which, I am afraid, might give me the licence to go off in a slightly more philosophical direction than is usual or ideal. This booklet argues very well the case for a particular form of secularism, and I am pleased that its preface says that not all humanists will be expected to support its contents. It is offering an invitation to debate those issues. In my opinion, it is really highlighting one level of secularism and inviting those with other beliefs to gather round and agree to label the discussions and debates that follow as secular; that is, using a secular framework by the consent of all.
I would claim that there is another, much deeper level of agreement and disagreement, which might distinguish the various participants in such debates and which, because of its deep and ingrained nature, sets up much greater and more fundamental differences between separate groups. These differences are often simply not addressed, as they are sometimes irreconcilable and difficult to articulate. For the reason that something can be reconciled, the simpler level of disagreement provides examples of what can usefully be discussed and might then lead to a harmonious and agreed outcome.
We might read about the discussion on when a religious cross might be allowed to be worn, or what type of burka should be worn, where secular reason is meant to hold the ring to provide an agreed outcome. Concepts such as private or public space are used, and one is aiming for a rational, secular framework and hoping that it causes a peaceful and harmonious outcome. While that particular version of secularism is obviously useful—and, as some might say, a start—for me it leaves much deeper divisions unanswered and, often, unaddressed.
To give a rather facile example, one of the minor skills of civilisation—one which is, in fact, quite complex and which we acquire without too much conscious thought—is to be able to walk down a crowded street without generally bumping into people. That is a useful and almost unconscious skill that makes life more harmonious and bearable, but what is going on inside the bodies and minds of other people that we avoid bumping into is another matter and at a different level. This booklet, then, shows commendably how an agreed secularism might make life more harmonious at a simpler level but, in my opinion, it does not address the more fundamental differences that humanism should also be able to highlight. That is where faith and religious belief come in. I do not think that humanism or secularism should try to compete at the same level as religious belief, especially when such beliefs rely on irrational or non-rational practices or traditions.
As a major aim, we secularists must encourage and emphasise a rational and reasoned response to what is presented to us, even though that might not be the easiest or most obvious way. In the long run, I believe that we have to rely on reason and—although I hesitate to say it in this age—science to arm our arguments. I hesitate about science because of the uses that it has recently allowed itself to be put to or pressured into. Having, as I warned earlier, talked in rather general philosophical terms, I realise that we are all living in the real world and that that is what the Minister is having to answer on, and rightly so. I do not criticise those who are trying to solve everyday problems in the real world. Finally, humanism and secularism have a serious and increasing role to play, but there is some way to go before we can claim the fuller coherence of our philosophy, to which we should aspire.
My Lords, this is a joy and a pleasure and we all congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Harrison, on giving us the opportunity to canter over this course. I am a member of the British Humanist Association, which I came to very late in life. When I was a Royal Marine—I was called up—one of the first questions the sergeant asked me was, “What’s your religion?” I asked, “What are the options?” He said, “Well, you can be a Roman Catholic, or Church of England or a Jew”. I said, “When I was a boy, I went to a local church hall and I was a member of the Boys’ Brigade”. He asked, “What religion was that?” “Congregationalist”, I said. “Right”, he said, “You’re an OD”, and so I asked “What’s an OD?” “Other denominations”, he said. In other words, I was the great unwashed; I did not have a firm place.
Religion as such has never played a major part in my life, but I have always acknowledged that what are called Christian beliefs—or that style of living, with the good Samaritan and all the other things that go with that—are the kind of precepts that I would like to feel that I try to live by, but without being moved. I tell some of my friends, who I know are deeply religious in the terms which your Lordships would understand, “I admire you, and I’m jealous of the fact that you have got that faith”. Invariably, they say to me: “We may be religious, but we are religious because of what we do”. In other words, they put into practice their religion but they are not necessarily over-religious. Over the past few years, we have come to recognise in society—it may be that the influx from overseas has sharpened and heightened this—that there is shrillness about divisions in attitudes. I am very uneasy about that.
In Edmonton, which I was proud to represent for a period, there is a little church, what I would call a happy-clappy church. It is mainly West Indian. Every year, they invite me along, and when I go, a lady who is a waitress in the House next door tells me to wait at the door. Then she marches in and says: “All stand. Here comes the Lord!” I march in and wave, and for five minutes there is pandemonium. Then, when they have settled down, we sing hymns.
That brings to my mind that when my mam used to have two hours off out of 168 in a week, she would go to the Women's Guild. When she came back, I would say: “What did you do, mam?” “Oh”, she would say, “we had a raffle; we had a cup of tea; we had a speaker; and we sang hymns”. That was her social intercourse; that was the way she could relax. I would hope that secularism should be heavily overlaid with tolerance and understanding. I have no great faith that either this House or anything that succeeds it in any shape or form will radically alter the attitude of the British people. If we are involved in anything, it should be the attitude of the British people.
I looked at the options open to me. My wife was a member of the humanists. I tolerated that, agreed with it, or I supported her. I did nothing untoward. When she died, she opted for what is called a green burial. There are burial sites all over the country, which are not graves in the sense that we know. She was buried on the edge of a bluebell wood 10 years ago, and the bluebells have grown over the ground in which she is buried. I have difficulty finding the slab of concrete, which was laid flat, not standing up. I go there and I do as any loving husband having lost his lovely wife would do. It provides me with the opportunity of thinking of the life that we led and the place where she is now. I do not know where she is. There are those who know for certain that when they die, they will go to heaven. I wish them well, and I hope very much that their ambition is fulfilled.
The shared values which this document tells us we should learn from are a valuable contribution to the system in existence. I once had the opportunity of going as a friend of Israel to the Middle East and the Holy Land. What almost paralysed me was looking at the scenes in the Holy Land. They were exactly what had been painted in the children's Bible which I had been given years ago. I was deeply moved in the knowledge that I was in a place that had given so much comfort, guidance and assurance to so many people. The last thing I would ever do is to knock either religion or people who follow it. I believe that there is a place for such attitudes. However, the percentage of the British people who have become apathetic towards religion is not diminishing. The number of churches of all denominations, but especially of the Church of England, is declining. They are being transformed, knocked down or sold. That must be a great worry. All I want to say to our good friends in the Church of England is that they have a fight on their hands to try to stem the tide of apathy.
My Lords, what a contribution to have to follow. It was terrific. I have agreed with my noble friend over many years about pretty well everything, but I have to say on this occasion that I am one of the members of the Church of England to whom he referred. I should also thank my noble friend Lord Harrison. He does us a service by enabling us to have such a debate, which I have not had in any other forum that I can remember. Long may he continue to do so.
I would have left this to be a conversation among members of the British Humanist Association had I not read the document, which I am grateful to my noble friend for drawing to my attention. What wound me up to think that I should say something were two sentences in the conclusion. It is a good idea to have a text; I am used to having that every Sunday and reflecting on it thereafter. This is what worried me. The conclusion states:
“It is hard to see how religious organisations could be involved in providing public services in ways that would benefit society as a whole … we maintain that all organisations involved in the provision of statutory public services should be secular ones”.
I do not agree with that and I am happy to say that my view is shared by a very prominent person describing himself as a secular humanist. He is a good and right honourable friend of mine—the Secretary of State, John Denham. He made a speech yesterday. It is very timely that we should be having this debate today, although that is probably by accident. I do not know Southampton, but I agree with him wholeheartedly. He said:
“In my own area, Southampton, we are fortunate to have diverse and vibrant faith organisations active in the community in a whole variety of ways. Helping provide essential services to the elderly; supporting parents having a difficult time, campaigning on behalf of the vulnerable and marginalised. Their involvement and enthusiasm contributes immeasurably to the health and strength of our community”.
I think that you could say that about pretty well any community in Britain.
The weakness of the document, although there is much in it that I agree with, is that it overlooks the involvement of faith communities, as we call them these days—obviously, I speak with such authority as I do about the Church of England—in not only providing vital public services today but developing what were originally new public services. Think about education. Think about hospitals. Think about hospices. They became universal public services later. That is unarguable; it is what happened. To take a random list—I could have made it very long had I wanted to—of groups involved today from all sorts of different religious bases, there is the Methodist Homes for the Aged, which co-operates with the state, locally or nationally, to provide services, the Salvation Army, which works with unemployed youngsters and the victims of domestic violence, the Jewish Housing Association, Hindu services for the elderly in one or more of our big cities, work with offenders leaving prison by Christian groups, welfare-to-work projects, debt advice work, work with hospices and, as the noble Baroness, Lady Flather, mentioned, wonderful work in overseas development. The whole fair trade movement was substantially due to churches and the involvement of Christians in its early evolution.
There is a lesson to be learnt from that. Why are faith groups so good at doing such things? It would be churlish not to acknowledge that they are very good at them. The answer is that they reach parts that lots of other groups cannot reach and they do so in a practical, demonstrable way. Friends of mine who are clergy in the Church of England, particularly in deprived areas, often say that all sorts of people are involved in helping—teachers, doctors and social workers—but all too often it is the vicar or the priest, who does not go home somewhere else at the end of the working day and who lives in the heart of the deprived, if that is the right word, community, who picks up issues as and when they arise.
The role that the church plays at times of national tragedy cannot be overlooked. When dreadful things happen in our country—the Hillsborough tragedy, for example—where do people go? Often, it is the cathedrals and churches of our country that are filled on such occasions. I guess that my noble friend Lord Harrison is also a strong supporter of the state support that goes to cathedrals and churches. It goes to them not because they are beautiful buildings, though they may be, but because they are living places where people get joy, solace, comfort and inspiration. It is a good job that they do this and continue to do so, for the reasons that I have described: these are the places to which people go at times of difficulty and stress.
Time is short, so I will simply make one final point. We often hear about the imminent divide; we assume that this is a secular society and that the church is on the way out. Christmas services in 2008 were attended by 2.6 million people—in my book, that is not something that is on the way out. Given that people had to turn out from a nice warm room to walk through the cold winter’s afternoon or night and sit in a very often cold church for an hour to hear some music and listen to sermons of variable quality, that is not a bad turnout. I am not surprised that 72 per cent of the British public described themselves as Christian in the last census. That was self-definition, not some chap with a clipboard going around for an opinion; that is how people wished to see themselves described.
I conclude as I started, with the words of a secular humanist, my right honourable friend John Denham. In his speech yesterday, he said:
“To conclude, I know that there are still those who ask why Government should be interested in faith groups and vice versa. Why don’t we just leave each other in peace? I think the answer is clear. Politicians are interested in shaping society for the better. Faith is one of the powerful forces which shape society. Most people of faith are concerned for the human experience today, as well as spiritual welfare in the future. It’s natural and inevitable that we should be interested in each other’s views and want to work together”.
We can all say amen to that.
My Lords, I very much want to follow along the lines of what the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, has been saying. We are now a very secular society, but when it comes to issues such as life and death and the meaning of tragic death for a community, places of worship are very important. My wife and I stayed in Lincoln overnight driving between London and Saltaire the other month. As we got up in the morning, a captain who had been killed clearing mines in Afghanistan was being buried in the cathedral. The entire city stopped and the cathedral was full. This is still very much part of our national life; at the moment we have no alternative and it helps to pull us all together. As the right reverend Prelate said in his excellent speech, we need to remember that values are a matter for the community as well as for each individual.
I speak as a liberal. Liberalism as a tradition grew out of the religious wars of the 16th and 17th centuries and, on the continent, the reimposition of authoritarian rule by states closely linked to the Roman Catholic Church. Continental liberalism, as I learnt about it, was therefore strongly anti-religious and linked to the Freemasons; the revolution was as much against the Catholic Church as it was against authoritarian government. I was being briefed on liberal Judaism the other day and I was told that Napoleon opened the ghetto and thus provided the basis for liberal versions of Judaism to emerge. The Catholic Church in the 19th century set its face against modernity on the continent. The Pope not only declared himself infallible but issued papal bulls denouncing liberalism as a heresy. The Roman Catholic Church is still doing its best as a hierarchy to come to terms with a liberal and open society.
In Britain, the legacy of the Civil War left us with a rather different tradition: a broad and open established church and a large dissenting tradition that enforced a degree of toleration if we were to live together as a society. Out of that, a rather different English, British liberal tradition has grown, in which the overlap between church and state has not always been entirely clear. After the Irish rebellion of 1798, for example, the then Whig Government argued the case for the provision of public funds to train Roman Catholic priests in Ireland—against strong Tory opposition for years afterwards, of course. That was so successful in training Roman Catholic priests to understand the balance that one needed between church and state that, when they were inspected in the 1860s, the Vatican delegation accused them all of Gallicanism. I strongly support provision of state funding for the training of imams in Britain on exactly the same basis today. We need to help our new religious communities to understand how their established practices of religion need to come to terms with a shared understanding of the relationship between faith and the state.
At least this humanist report recognises that there are divisions in all faiths between a more liberal and a more fundamentalist or conservative approach. Liberalism as an approach, whether secular or faith-based, is something that we all need to defend. I am a liberal because as a choirboy I sat through umpteen sermons by on the whole very progressive members of the Church of England, which is how I acquired my strong political values: tolerance, respect for diversity and so on. But let us recognise that it is easier to be a liberal if you are well-to-do, secure in your identity, securely employed and within an established and secure community. Thus in the 1960s it was easy to be a liberal and easy to be a liberal Anglican. Now, in a much less secure world, fundamentalisms of all sorts—both faith-based and secular—are much stronger, just as in the 1930s the political, secular fundamentalisms of communism and fascism had a much stronger appeal. We find evangelicals within the Protestant churches and those dreadful fundamentalists in the United States, a fundamentalist tendency within the Roman Catholic Church and bitter fundamentalists within the Jewish, Hindu and Muslim communities. We need an alliance of liberals, humanists and religious liberals against fundamentalists of sorts—including, if I may say so after having been unhappy with some of the phrasing of one of these reports, against the most aggressive atheists and the most absolutist members of the National Secular Society.
I take the separation of church and state as a given. I was astonished by the intervention by the noble Lord, Lord Mawhinney. I thought that I remembered a text that said, “Render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s and unto God what is God’s”. That, for me, is one of the basic texts on the separation between church and state. Of course there is tension between public and private belief and between public and private life. I was unhappy with the way in which the report treated that tension, because it is a necessary and creative tension. Liberalism is always a set of arguments about the values on which we operate: the definition of our open society and the relationship between members of that society—the position of women, for example, on which liberalism, when it started, was pretty poor, as with everything else. We must continue to argue; that is the basis of an open and a liberal society.
The question for all of us is: how do we promote public debate on underlying values and on the moral dimensions of social life, of economic life and, for that matter, of life itself? If we want to be more than a consumer society, we have to tackle what the noble Lord, Lord Graham, described as “the tide of apathy” and to debate the underlying moral issues: the moral basis of capitalism and of social life of all sorts. My father spent 40 years working for a bank that had been established by Quakers and I am very sorry that it has entirely lost any sense of moral purpose, as has much of the rest of our financial sector. Indeed, we all need to redefine the moral basis of capitalism now.
There is a messy overlap between the state and society and now between the public sector and the voluntary or third sector. As public funds are cut, we will have to rely more on voluntary funds, which will make life much more difficult. I strongly agree with the report in its attack on the neo-conservative tendencies of Tony Blair in taking the American example and wanting to reintroduce a faith dimension rather aggressively into the provision of public services. We on these Benches oppose the expansion of faith schools; we want to see schools that are rooted in local communities. We recognise that a line needs to be drawn between public provision and private choice, but we also recognise that those with religious motivations do much in areas such as social care through hospices and services to old people and to street people; the Salvation Army does much for the homeless on our streets that is not otherwise provided for. Adoption is the most delicate and the most difficult area. There is also a great deal to be done in prisons and in the provision of probation. We find young men in prison without any system of values. They are completely lost and they somehow need to be helped as they come out of prison to reintegrate into society and to find a sense of purpose.
It is not entirely irrelevant to our debates that many of those who are most committed to making voluntary contributions to the community have a religious motivation. The question of motivation also comes up in the humanist report. We see much too little in our current society of the motivation to do more than look after ourselves and we should not denigrate the fact that those with faith are much more likely to think that they must also work for others.
In an open society, we live with creative tension about the boundaries separating the public and the private and the overlap between the secular and the religious. We live with a monarchy—a remarkably absurd thing in many ways, but we have it—and with an heir to the throne who says that he wishes to be a defender of all faiths. I attended service for the 50th anniversary of the Queen’s coronation in Westminster Abbey, and there, under the lantern, were representatives of Britain’s other faith communities: Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, Jain, Zoroastrian and Baha’i. I thought that that was a splendid and wonderful thing to have. It was inclusive and it recognised that Britain is a society of many diverse communities. We want all of them to contribute to the common good. That is what we should be working towards.
My Lords, I, along with everyone else, pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Harrison, for securing this debate. It has been fascinating, and, like all the best debates that I have enjoyed in my brief time in this place, it has slightly blurred the edges of the traditional sides of the House, which has been extremely welcome. I did not recognise any militant humanism or secularism in the way in which the noble Lord, Lord Harrison, presented his case. The noble Baroness, Lady Massey, referred to Dr Ashok Kumar, with whom I traded seats in the other place for a number of years. I, too, found him to be a man of astounding character and of great and gentle humour. He was intelligent but always incredibly courteous, and he will be a real loss to politics and to his constituency.
It will come as no surprise to the noble Baroness, Lady Flather, when I mention that we on these Benches have been fairly consistent in our position on these matters and have not been able to muster sufficient Members to help the All-Party Humanist Group to get off the ground, for which I apologise. At the same time, I wish to present our case, which is this; we believe not that there is too much activity from faith groups in the public sphere but that there is too little. We believe that faith groups make a huge contribution to society at all levels, and their voices are to be celebrated and heard and their activities are to be encouraged and not discriminated against.
The noble Lord, Lord Grocott, listed many of the areas in which the impact of faith groups is felt by people in this society, such as in education, in which they have an outstanding track record. People go to faith-based schools not necessarily just because of their religious faith but because they deliver an outstanding education. They queue around the block to go to them. This contrasts very sharply with some of the education provision in some of our city areas in particular. They have been hugely successful in this area, as they have been in the care for prisoners when they leave prison, in the care for asylum seekers and in the care for the disabled. Mention has been made of international aid and development.
As the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, said, faith groups are also interwoven into the fabric of our society. Church is where people get married, children are baptised, and people are buried; it is a focal point for the community. Our churches and faith communities are often the first and the last in our societies to provide compassion and social care, and they are to be encouraged on that basis. Moreover, some of what has reached the history books has been extremely welcome. We argue that, in recognising the driving force of faith, we also recognise the foundations of what we enjoy in our modern liberal democracy—it is not a theocracy; no one wants to live in a theocracy—whether it is John Locke’s concepts of freedom, democracy and social concern; the work of William Wilberforce to abolish slavery; the incredible work of Elizabeth Fry and the movement behind Sunday schools, which the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, mentioned; or the work of old Shaftesbury, of William Booth and of Josephine Butler. The list goes on. Internationally, there is the work of Mahatma Gandhi, Mother Teresa and Martin Luther King. There is in all this an incredible, strong third dimension to their huge intellect and will: the physical, emotional and spiritual aspects that drive those people forward.
I totally endorse the remarks made by the noble Lord, Lord Graham, whose contributions, I am sure, are always enjoyed by those on all sides of the House. He said something very telling about faith communities; it is not what you believe, it is what you do. That is key to how faith communities engage in the public sphere. It is not so much what they believe, it is what they do. It is the effectiveness, or the lack of effectiveness, of what they do that should be the sole arbiter, in our view, of whether they are allowed to contribute to public service.
The noble Lord, Lord Parekh, referred to the fact that faith communities often contribute in a way which could be described as a public good. I think that that is true and that we should recognise that contribution. I was reminded of an interview that I watched one Sunday morning a few months ago with someone who, I suppose, would be classed as the archbishop of the humanist agenda, Professor Richard Dawkins. He was being interviewed by Adam Boulton, a very talented interviewer who often manages to get to a grain of truth, and they were talking about Darwinism. Adam Boulton asked whether Darwinism could be described simply as survival of the fittest. To that, Richard Dawkins replied, “Well, yes, it’s a bit crude, but it could be described as survival of the fittest”. Adam Boulton said, “Presumably, then, you must recognise that human society must be the most un-Darwinian society, because we care for the poor, we protect the weak and we ensure justice—this is profoundly un-Darwinian”. To that Professor Dawkins replied—it took me slightly by surprise—“I agree, human society is profoundly counter-Darwinian and thank goodness for that”. Quite who he was thanking at that point, I leave for theologians to muse over. He said, “I think it is a good thing that we live in a rather non-Darwinian society”.
Who could deny such a statement, when people have seen the carnage wreaked in our world by atheist regimes, whether by the Stalinist regime in Russia, the Nazi regime in Germany, Mao Tse Tung, Pol Pot—so many of these regimes. Much is done to question the contribution of religion, but we also need to recognise what happens when people place themselves in the place of God and how they then treat their fellow men and women. History would say that that is something which should certainly be considered.
I very much agree with the noble Lord, Lord Harrison, that atheism, humanism and secularism need to be discussed in schools and in fact they are part of the national curriculum. In religious education, there is a part which refers to them. I think that that is quite right and that the national curriculum needs to be respected in faith schools—I understand that it is—and in non-faith schools. It is important that people learn tolerance and respect for all views.
Moving briefly, since time is running out, to the reports presented to us here, my noble friend Lord Patten made a very powerful speech with which I found myself in complete agreement. He asked whether we could really believe that there is such a thing as neutrality in the public sphere regarding religious faith. That point was also made by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Ripon and Leeds. I agree with this: it is not possible for people to have neutral or scientific politics without moral or religious commitments. I am arguing that it is not possible to decide questions of policy, law, justice and rights without presupposing some account of the good life. For religious people, that will be theologically driven. The role of government is to preference some notions of the good over others. In the words of the 2009 Reith lecturer, Michael Sandel:
“Asking democratic citizens to leave their moral and religious convictions behind when they enter the public realm may seem a way of ensuring toleration and mutual respect. In practice, however, the opposite can be true. Deciding important public questions while pretending to a neutrality that cannot be achieved is a recipe for backlash and resentment. A politics emptied of substantive moral engagement makes for an impoverished civic life. It is also an open invitation to narrow, intolerant moralisms. Fundamentalists rush in where liberals”—
with a small “l”—
“fear to tread”.
That sums up our position. In the area of equality, we say that faith organisations, which are driven by a sense of faith, should be able to attract people to come and work for them who hold to that particular view. In the same way, I am sure that, should the British Humanist Association ever be seeking a new chief executive, it would want somebody who believes in what it believes in. It would seem appropriate, therefore, and perhaps just a little bit generous, that one ought to allow church organisations and religious organisations to do the same.
In essence, we are not arguing that faith communities have a monopoly on compassion; of course they do not. However, they have done an outstanding job in our society, up and down this country—people will acknowledge that. This is not about discrimination against. It is about looking at the results which are delivered, not by politically correct inputs, but by socially advancing and community encouraging outputs.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend for introducing this debate and I thank all noble Lords for their valuable contributions. It has been, at times, an intense and intellectually engaged debate. I hope that noble Lords will forgive me if I do not succeed in fully reconciling the spread of views that have been expressed. I welcome also the contributions from the British Humanist Association and the Humanist Philosophers’ Group, which are referred to in the Motion. These documents challenge the misconception that humanists and other non-religious people are anti-religious—a point made by my noble friend Lord Macdonald and endorsed by my noble friend Lady Turner—and although the Government might not agree with every single point, I recommend them as accessible and thoughtful contributions to public debate.
The Government welcome and support the important distinction made between a secular state and a secular society. The two are often conflated, but it is worth clarifying that the Government are in agreement with the Humanist Philosophers’ Group that we are striving collectively for people to be treated fairly and without discrimination, and to be joined together by those values that we all share. In my noble friend Lord Parekh’s terms, the key components of a secular state are liberty of conscience and equality of religion with all citizens belonging to the same community.
We recognise the importance of freedom of religion and belief—indeed, we have sought to guarantee it through equality legislation—and the value of having an open society with diverse religions and beliefs. To foster an open society, the Government have strengthened the legislative framework needed in a secular state to protect people from discrimination on the grounds of religion or belief or, indeed, lack of it. This includes The Employment Equality (Religion or Belief) Regulations 2003, the Racial and Religious Hatred Act 2006 and the Equality Act 2006. The present Equality Bill is intended to declutter the existing legislation, including that relating to religion or belief, and to strengthen the law.
Among the measures contained in the Bill is a new equality duty on public bodies which will bring together the existing duties on race, disability and gender and extend them to religion or belief, sexual orientation, age and gender reassignment. As noble Lords will be aware, the Bill will have its Third Reading in this House next Tuesday.
The Government believe that it is important to ensure that members of all faiths, and those of none, enjoy the same life opportunities and feel confident in working with people who have different beliefs, but shared values, to work together towards common goals. This is a pragmatic approach that respects people’s freedom within the law to express their beliefs and convictions, and our belief in active communities. Indeed, it is a key aim of the Department for Communities and Local Government to help bring about a society in which different belief systems, whether religious or otherwise, are equally understood, respected and valued.
As many noble Lords will know, in July 2008 we published Face to Face and Side by Side, a framework for partnership in our multifaith society. This was part of our overall response to Our Shared Future, the report of the Commission on Integration and Cohesion, and in particular, its recommendation that there needed to be more constructive relationships between those who are religious and those who are not. As the document itself says, we believe that the building blocks set out in Face to Face and Side by Side represent the key enabling factors for effective dialogue and social action involving people with different faiths and beliefs and those with none. We recognise that the commission’s highlighting of the importance of going beyond interfaith dialogue to encourage meaningful dialogue between people of faith and no faith and people of different ethnic backgrounds and cultures, has been echoed by those who feel excluded from the table of interfaith dialogue. It is aware that the key rubbing point for many interfaith forums is the role of people who profess no religious belief in this dialogue.
The British Humanist Association has itself been working to address that. The Government’s Faith Communities Capacity Building Fund funded the British Humanist Association to establish and support a network of grass-roots humanists to work and build relationships with statutory bodies and participate in groups that advise local authorities on matters of religion or belief. The project aimed to enable local humanists to network with faith and interfaith groups, to participate in groups convened by local authorities and to contribute towards good relations and community cohesion.
With individual faith communities there is often diversity, and there are challenges both for faith communities engaging in interfaith activity and for local authorities. It can be all too easy to take the simplistic route of conflating faith, ethnicity and culture, but faith is a distinctive category in its own right.
Some faith communities have much to offer in helping to eradicate disadvantage, and the Government seek to enable them to use that capacity for the wider benefit of society. More on that shortly, but our work with faith communities is not about privileging religious groups or discriminating against those with non-religious beliefs or no belief. It continues to be a priority of the Government to ensure that those with a non-religious perspective are also able to participate in constructive debate on policy issues and to inform the development of legislation. We welcome the opportunity to gain further insight into the humanist perspective and regard the regular meetings that my officials have with the BHA as a valuable opportunity for constructive discussion.
The Government want to see a Britain with strong communities where people with different beliefs get on together and are treated equally, but we do not believe that this kind of secular state is incompatible with one in which particular faith groups deliver certain services to their own group or to the wider community. We believe that what we might call “the faith sector” is a key part of the third sector.
The principle at the heart of faith communities—and, I should say, of humanists too—is service to others. This can be about working for a better quality of life in the local community or about global issues of justice or the environment. It is on the basis of this principle that the public sector can build a working partnership with faith communities to deliver services as varied as homeless shelters, youth clubs, health and social care, health advice and relationship counselling services. We have heard of others from the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Ripon and Leeds, my noble friend Lord Grocott and the noble Lord, Lord Bates—I think his expression was that often they are the first in and the last out. The days are gone when the public sector could delivery virtually all these services in a top-down manner, and if services are to meet the needs of communities then communities themselves have to be engaged. It is right sometimes to speak about the coproduction of services to help us describe the processes that may need to happen. This is also about efficiency and getting the best value for money, not measured in crude monetary terms but in terms of the best outcome for communities.
Then there are the buildings. With 54,000 places of worship in the UK, faith communities are essential providers of sacred and secular spaces for people to interact and pursue shared activity. These spaces are found in all parts of all our communities, from large cities to small rural villages. They are used by local people for local events and activities, and often function as the primary resources and buildings for community spaces and essential meeting places. They are supported by networks of experienced, willing volunteers.
I recognise some of the concerns that the British Humanist Association has so clearly articulated. It may be helpful for noble Lords if I deal in turn with a few myths surrounding the funding of faith-based bodies, a point touched upon by a noble Baroness, Lady Miller. Issues around the funding of faith-based bodies may underlie the reservations that are shared by many in local authorities, and thus can obstruct the fair access of such bodies to public funding and tendering opportunities as part of the third sector. My department issued a paper about these myths yesterday at a conference on faith and social action, a matter referred to by my noble friend Lord Grocott in his contribution.
One myth touches on the equality points I made earlier. It is sometimes believed, I understand, that faith-based bodies would not help people of whom they did not approve, like atheists or homosexuals. However, the equalities legislation is quite clear on this. All providers of goods, facilities and services to the public or a section of the public are obliged by law to provide services to all those who need them, irrespective of religion or belief, sexual orientation, gender or race. The Equality Bill presently before this House extends that to cover age as well. Faith-based service deliverers are no different in a service-delivery context from any other provider, a point made by my noble friend Lady Turner. Indeed, discrimination against faith-based providers in a tendering process could itself be illegal. The noble Lord, Lord Patten, made that very point.
It is sometimes argued that funding for a single group has negative implications for community cohesion. The fact is that although faith-based organisations can be funded to deliver services to a wide cross-section of the community, in particular circumstances they and other identity-focused, cause-focused or issue-focused bodies may be funded to work primarily with their own community.
It is not illegal for a local authority to contract with an organisation to provide a service to a particular community—for instance, kosher meals on wheels for Jewish old people—as part of service provision for the local population as a whole. Sometimes that can enhance service access to especially vulnerable groups in society.
Another myth is that funding will imply support for the religious views or doctrines of the organisation. Of course, such an implication would not be confined to faith-based organisations, and although the Government agree that local authorities and other bodies may want to include a disclaimer with any grant emphasising that funding does not imply support for an organisation’s views or doctrines, this implication is in any case unlikely to be drawn. Funding to organisations to deliver services does not imply endorsement of their overall organisational aims, whether they are religious or not.
Faith-based service delivery with public funding does not represent, as the British Humanist Association has suggested, an overly cosy relationship between faith and Government. It is about local government and other parts of the local state supporting those who are well placed to deliver the services that they are obliged to ensure are available locally. If other, non-faith-based third sector groups can offer the best service, the contract should go to them.
The separation of Church and state was raised by a number of noble Lords, particularly the noble Lord, Lord Taverne, and my noble friend Lord Harrison. Noble Lords will be aware that the Government will shortly be publishing draft clauses on House of Lords reform, as has been reported in the press. Those draft clauses will cover the issues around the composition of the Lords. I remind noble Lords that the 2008 White Paper made it clear that if there were to be an appointed element in the second Chamber, there would be a proportionate number of seats reserved for Church of England bishops. The White Paper also stated that the Government were clear that if a reformed second Chamber were wholly elected, there should be no seats for Church of England bishops or any other group.
A number of noble Lords raised issues around faith schools—the noble Lords, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, Lord Goodhart, Lord Patten and Lord Taverne, my noble friend Lady Massey and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Ripon and Leeds. The Government welcome the contribution that schools with a religious character make to the school system, both as a result of their historical role and now as key players in contributing to the more diverse school system with the greater opportunities for parental choice that we see. Ministers are keen to ensure that all maintained faith schools, along with all maintained schools, comply with the schools admission code and admissions legislation to ensure fair access for all children, regardless of their background. We remain committed to supporting the establishment of new schools by a range of providers, including faith organisations, where local consultation has shown that this is what parents and the local community want, where the school is willing and able to comply with the requirements on all maintained schools and where this greater diversity will help to raise standards.
The noble Baroness, Lady Miller, referred to spending on capacity building at this point in the economic cycle. We do not resile from that. She made particular reference to her experience of dealing with local authority housing allocations and the need for objectivity. That of course is absolutely right and indeed what equality legislation should ensure. My noble friend Lady Massey talked about morals not being the exclusive preserve of religion. I absolutely agree with that. My noble friend Lord Graham was making the same point when he spoke of his view of life and expressed, in a sense, a jealousy of those who were able to base their moral position on religion. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Ripon and Leeds spoke of some of the important services delivered locally in his area. That underlines the importance of access that faith communities can provide.
My noble friend Lord Macdonald gave us his view on the experience of the All-Party Humanist Group. I congratulate him on having achieved five years as its chair. It has been a particularly interesting time, especially with its growth of membership, as the noble Viscount, Lord Craigavon, pointed out in his contribution. The noble Lord, Lord Taverne, referred to the importance of teaching science in schools because it is, as he put it, the enemy of dogma. I do not disagree. I do not see that as being inconsistent with the teaching of religion and belief. The role of science in schools is clearly important. My noble friend Lady Turner said that religious and philosophical differences should not become divisive. I agree with her.
The noble Baroness, Lady Flather, moved us onto a world view with some very telling points about the impact that some religious approaches can have, particularly in poor countries and where churches are still opposing contraception, with all the devastating consequences of that in relation to explosions of population and increases in poverty. The noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, gave us some examples of the negative effects of religion, such as the bombings in London. I noted his opposition to publicly funded faith schools.
My noble friend Lord Graham talked about the basis of his moral beliefs, which he said were based on those of Christianity. He spoke movingly of his wife and her green burial and his support for shared values. The noble Lord, Lord Wallace, referred to the voluntary capacity that faith organisations can bring to the delivery of services in our country. That is, indeed, very important.
Despite the important points of disagreement that may have emerged today, it is worth concluding on what I hope is a positive note. The British Humanist Association acknowledges the merit of a diverse society and in its publications recognises the contribution to British society of religious individuals, communities and organisations. I am sure too that religious people will recognise the contribution to this country of humanist individuals, communities and organisations. The concept of a secular state, in which religions and beliefs are treated fairly and in a way that does not disadvantage any group, is a helpful one that I am sure we can all support.
There must be no question that this Government recognise the central role which Christianity plays within wider British society. The Christian churches have had an immense historic influence in shaping society and continue to make significant contributions in a wide range of areas such as community development, education, social inclusion and heritage. However, in Britain today people identify with a range of religions and beliefs. Within each there are different degrees of practice and belief and just as we must never ignore our Christian heritage we must also recognise and celebrate the contributions made to our heritage by individuals with humanist beliefs and by our compatriots of Muslim, Jewish, Hindu and other faiths. Whether we use the language of secularism or equality or human rights, I hope we agree that the state must be even handed to all lawful religions and beliefs and should not disadvantage any sections of society.
It is important to ensure that people from all religious backgrounds—and those with no religion—enjoy the same life opportunities and feel confident in working with people who have different beliefs, but shared values, towards common goals. Today’s debate has contributed to the ongoing conversation on how we can foster such a fair society and has shown that the principle of a secular state, as described by the Humanist Philosophers’ Group, is not necessarily one which threatens religion. There may be continued debate over what shape such a secular state might take, but I hope the debate can continue and be as informed, thoughtful and as well reasoned as it has been today.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend the Minister for his admirable summing up. We shall certainly look at that. In the past I have described myself as a member of God’s loyal opposition. I thank my colleagues who have contributed to God’s loyal opposition in expanding this debate. I also thank others who have spoken and, like the noble Lord, Lord Bates, I have to say how much I have enjoyed this debate and how much I have learnt from this debate. I shall go away and think ever more deeply about some of the issues that have been prompted by it.
I shall, if I may, make one correction. At no point were we offering a neutral society, one which offers neutered values. I hope I made it clear that the values I support are the general liberal values which I thought found echo around the Chamber.
I must apologise to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Liverpool who contributed so well to my debate regarding Liverpool’s title of Capital of Culture 2008. I am unable to stay for his debate which I know will be excellent. The last thing I can do to offer him a grand opening is to ask the House to withdraw the title of my debate.
Culture as a Front-Line Service
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Harrison, for his kind words and I, too, regret his parting but recognise the important debate that he led in 2007 as Liverpool was about to embark upon its year, and that debate certainly set the tone for its success.
I am greatly encouraged by those who have put their names down to speak in this debate. I believe the timing is providential. When I entered the ballot, I did not know that last Friday would see the publication of research, commissioned by Liverpool City Council. This research was undertaken jointly by the universities of Liverpool and John Moores and is entitled Creating an Impact: Liverpool’s experience as European Capital of Culture. It lists the impacts under five headings: cultural access and participation; economy and tourism; cultural vibrancy and sustainability; image and perceptions; and governance and diversity process.
I commend this research to your Lordships, especially to those who are committed to the importance of sustaining the cultural dimension of our society. One of the anxieties we face in this phase of economic downturn is that cultural services could be seen by some as an easy hit and their budgets reduced or cut altogether. As I hope this debate will show, such cultural vandalism would prove a false economy. As Liverpool’s experience as European Capital of Culture demonstrates, cultural activities have economic, social and health impacts that are way in excess of the investment into them.
It was the poet TS Eliot, in a book called Notes towards the Definition of Culture, who offered a succinct definition. Culture, he said,
“may even be described simply as that which makes life worth living”.
“it is what justifies other peoples and other generations in saying, when they contemplate the remains and the influence of an extinct civilisation, that it was worth while for that civilisation to have existed”.
During Liverpool’s celebrated year, we had everything on show. We had art that was highbrow, middlebrow and lowbrow. Indeed, part of its huge success was that some of the activities drew literally tens of thousands on people on to the streets of the city to see, for example, the extraordinary mechanical spider—La Machine—that crawled majestically through the streets of Liverpool only to end up disappearing down the Mersey tunnel. I met one father who took his little boy on his shoulders to see this mechanical beast, and when the young lad saw that the spider had gone down the Mersey tunnel, he told his dad he would never go down that tunnel again.
There were events to please the masses such as the Night of Liverpool Music, hosted by Paul McCartney in the football stadium at Anfield where, as dusk fell, 30,000 raised their baton torches to sing “Hey Jude”. As you would expect, there was a lot of music to touch the soul, including the combined orchestras of Cologne and Liverpool gathering in my own cathedral to sing Benjamin Britten’s “War Requiem”. To think that less than 70 years ago these two European cities were scarred by mutual bombing, and here they were, joined in music and harmony, lamenting in unison the slaughter of Europe’s young men and women.
In 2008, there were some 7,000 events in Liverpool, involving 10,000 artistes and 67,000 children. Some 160,000 community members participated in creative activities. There were 13 royal visits. One million hotel beds were sold, with hotel occupancy levels at 77 per cent. There were 3.5 million new visitors to the city and 15 million visits to a cultural event or attraction. It is estimated that the economic benefit to the Liverpool city region was in the region of £800 million, with 70 per cent of people from Liverpool visiting a museum or gallery.
These are just some of the statistics that give insight into the successful reach of the cultural programme. Such was its success in reaching inwards to its own people and outwards to a national and international audience that José Manuel Barroso, President of the European Commission, said at the time:
“It’s turning out to be one of the most successful Capital of Culture programmes that we have ever had. We are now trying to create a network of European Capitals of Culture to build on Liverpool’s experience”.
This success could not have happened without the initiative of Liverpool City Council, the vision and expertise of the Culture Company and the investment and support of the Northwest Regional Development Agency.
I declare an interest in that I have recently become a trustee of National Museums Liverpool. In 2008, our museums and galleries attracted 2,736,701 visitors, which is the highest number on record, and more than three times as many as in 2001. What is most encouraging, however, are the statistics on the social inclusion programme of NML. Visitors from low socio-economic backgrounds have been increasing continually over the past five years so that numbers have increased from 442,401 to 780,068. This is what differentiates museums and galleries in provincial parts of the country from their sisters in London, which attract largely international audiences. We in the regions have a track record of penetrating our own communities, especially areas of deprivation, with our cultural heritage. This is one of the reasons why we must not treat such cultural services cavalierly and why they cannot be swept aside in times of economic stringency.
One of the areas I want to highlight, which is one of the reasons I sought to secure this debate, is not just to report on the economic impact of culture but to show how there is an inextricable link between good cultural services and the health and well-being of a community. Let me quote from a letter that I received from the chief executive of the NHS mental health service provider in north Merseyside, Mersey Care NHS Trust. He writes:
“It is my opinion that culture in all its forms is a more significant contributor to health and well-being than direct formal services alone”.
He has given me the example of 25 reading groups that have been set up through Mersey Care linked with the year of culture. He can identify people within these groups who otherwise would have needed in-patient care had it not been for the support and benefit of the groups. Groups cost about £6 per person per session; by comparison, an in-patient stay costs £9,000 on average.
Mersey Care NHS Trust has commissioned its own report on the benefit of cultural activities that were linked with Liverpool’s year as capital of culture. This shows emphatically how, by entering into partnerships with a number of cultural organisations, the trust has been able to deliver a strategy of mental health and well-being that is having a significant and positive impact on mental health service users.
The trust was encouraged in its work by the then Secretary of State for Health who, in September 2008, said:
“Music, poetry, dance, drama and the visual arts have always been important to our mental and physical wellbeing, and collective participation and engagement in the arts is a fundamental element of any civilised society”.
He added that the creative arts are not some kind of eccentric add-on,
“but should be part of the mainstream in both health and social care”.
The Mersey Care report cites a number of examples of creative partnerships such as those between the Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts and the Broadoak acute psychiatric in-patient unit, and the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra and acute psychiatric in-patient units. The value of these creative partnerships is that participants reported improved mood and sense of well-being. Such is the success of these partnerships that Mersey Care has recognised that this is an opportunity to stimulate further its own engagement with the cultural sector.
As well as having a beneficial impact on health, cultural services also contribute to creating a more caring and compassionate society. If I might be allowed what at first appears to be a digression, I spend some of my time as bishop for prisons meeting and listening to offenders. The point that comes across time and again is that prisoners, without seeking to exonerate themselves, tell me that they had little or no understanding of the impact of their crime either on the victim or the victim’s family, or even their own family. Criminal acts are often committed because of a failure of the imagination. As prisoners go through rehabilitation, education and cultural programmes, they have their imaginations stimulated and enlarged and begin to realise what they have done to others. Enabling them to begin to put themselves in the shoes of the victim is a vital step in correcting their behaviour.
I have seen prisoners get involved in drama exercises and speak about how their minds and hearts have been changed and opened to the full dimensions of their criminal behaviour, and this in itself has led them to change. It is the development of the imagination that is crucial to creating a caring and compassionate society. If people are not able to put themselves in the shoes of a victim, we end up creating a care-less and compassion-less world. The arts within our cultural services help to develop the imagination. That is why it is so important, especially in those areas of our society where people are deprived of the means of developing their imagination, to invest in our cultural services. I look forward to hearing the speeches of noble Lords, underlining the importance of culture as a front-line service.
In conclusion, at the beginning of Liverpool’s year as European Capital of Culture in 2008, I invited the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury to give a lecture in the Anglican cathedral on the role of faith in European culture. Some 2,000 people attended. By the way, the Catholic and Anglican cathedrals are two of the city’s greatest cultural icons. Not only did they house some of the major musical, theatrical and artistic events and exhibitions, but our visitor numbers rose from 430,000 in 2007 to 530,000 in 2008, making the Anglican cathedral more visited than even Salisbury Cathedral, not that there is any competition. As you can imagine, his Grace the most reverend Primate explored the role of faith in cultivating a civilised society. He showed how instrumental it was in developing the arts, from music to novels and paintings to theatre. The arts both define and express our values as a civilisation. Although a stable and just economy is vital to our well-being, in the end there is more to life than money. Those other values are enshrined in our culture. We must be careful not to sacrifice our culture on the altar of the economy. If we do, we might find that we have lost more than we realise.
My Lords, I heartily congratulate the right reverend prelate the Bishop of Liverpool on securing this debate and on his impressive and moving introduction to it. I declare a familial interest in that my stepson is dean of Liverpool’s Anglican cathedral. I have, of course, consulted him on the matters that I wish to raise.
It seems to me that we should do three things in this debate. First, we should celebrate Liverpool’s year in 2008 as European Capital of Culture. Secondly, we should ask ourselves whether what happened there, which was marvellous, is sustainable and, if so, in what measure. Thirdly, we should ask ourselves whether what happened in Liverpool is a paradigm for other urban centres and rural areas in the United Kingdom and whether what was done in Liverpool can be transmitted in some form to encourage the creative industries in other areas of the United Kingdom.
First, let me celebrate the success of Liverpool. I know that the right reverend Prelate will disapprove of the fact that I am going to read out some economic statistics, but they are pretty formidable. The additional visitor spend in Liverpool in 2008 as opposed to 2007, attributable directly to the European Capital of Culture experience, was £750 million. In 2008, over a third more people visited the city than in 2007. The socio-economic profile largely mirrored that in the city itself, so it was not a middle-class event. Liverpool had a much improved image in the media as a result of this—and it has suffered its knocks over the years. Eighty-five per cent of the population of the city thought that it was a better place in which to live than in 2007. That is a striking statistic, which shows that Liverpool is on the up. But is all this sustainable?
In Liverpool at the moment, according to the research that the right reverend Prelate referred to, there are 1,683 creative industry enterprises, which employ 11,000 people. The multiplier on employment in the creative industries is therefore very great and we have hope there. The city itself has a strategy for 2008-13, which is a commitment by local government to continue the effort on creative industries in Liverpool. There is a clear understanding that culture has added value to already existing regeneration programmes. There is some hope for the future, therefore, but it depends on the commitment of local authorities and possibly central government to the idea that creative industries are part of regeneration programmes up and down the United Kingdom.
Does the success of Liverpool offer a paradigm for other areas of the United Kingdom? There is a problem. With what is known now as the Cultural Olympiad and the attraction of London, Birmingham and Cardiff, there may be a danger of a lot of our cultural expertise tending to gravitate to where the audiences are. We have to accept that they are in the big urban areas. In Wales, Cardiff is an enormous centre for all the arts. There is also London, Birmingham, Manchester and now Liverpool. The question that I hope my noble friend will be able to answer is whether there is any way we can expand this into the rural areas, which up to now have felt rather deprived.
There is some hope. I am not dismissing this entirely. I cite the experience of Powys County Council. Powys is the largest county in the United Kingdom. It is rural and has no major towns, but it has Brecon. The Brecon Jazz Festival has become international and the Brecon baroque music festival has also just been recognised internationally. Powys has the Presteigne festival, too. It has theatres and an opera company. But above all it has a county council with a rural development plan that takes account of the creative industries in the area. There are not many of them, but part of this rural development plan is a project called Chance to Create, which will enhance the business side of creative industries in the county. It is run by two very energetic ladies—arts development officer Lucy Bevan and arts and culture manager Louise Ingham. They have managed to persuade the Welsh Assembly Government to get European Union money to support the business aspects of creative industries in Powys, with the multiplier on employment that that brings with it.
I am hopeful that, when he comes to wind up, my noble friend will say that, although this sort of organisation or enterprise is modest—it is not like those in Liverpool, London or Birmingham—it at least gives some idea that creative industries of the United Kingdom, whether they are in Wales, Scotland or England, will not be overlooked because of the inevitable tendency of London, Cardiff, Birmingham, Manchester and Liverpool to attract the big hitters. I hope that I can get that assurance from my noble friend. While we celebrate the success of Liverpool as the European Capital of Culture, we must not forget that other areas of the United Kingdom need the creative industries as much as Liverpool does. Where Liverpool has set the example, I hope that others will be able to follow.
My Lords, your Lordships may know that the noble Lord, Lord Williams, is one of the world’s great authorities on the sport of cricket. I have no claim at all to cricket, apart from being scorer of the Eton second XI; even that put me into another profession. However, it is a great pleasure to the follow the noble Lord, Lord Williams; I call it first wicket down. It is an even greater pleasure to find with us this afternoon the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Liverpool, the author of this debate on culture and what it can do for that great city and its inhabitants.
In 1984, in the course of other duties that came to me through your Lordships’ House, I had close contact with a powerful religious gentleman down the Corridor; in fact, he is still the honourable Member for North Antrim. When this parliamentary colleague asked whether I ever read the Bible, I said, “Yes, I did stay awake last Sunday”. I hope that the right reverend Prelate with us today will be able to correct me if I am wrong, but Matthew 22:20 has our Lord saying:
“Show me the coin … Whose portrait is this?”.
On one side was Caesar’s, on the other side was the Almighty’s. The parliamentarian in another place said that I might represent Caesar, but that he was not God. I said that too many people thought that he was, which caused considerable disturbance in that area. The right reverend Prelate is the most marvellous representative of what I call the Caesar aspect and the city of Liverpool. Today, and on other occasions, he has given marvellous leadership in your Lordships’ House. As for the other side of the coin, I will leave the Almighty to look on our venture today.
I declare an interest in the city of Liverpool, in that I have shares in an institution. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord McNally, will take cover when I say that the motto is “Nil satis nisi optimum”, or “Only the best will do”. That is probably the motto of, and certainly evinces the qualities shown by, both the right reverend Prelate and the city of Liverpool.
The right honourable lady the Member for Liverpool Wavertree, in the year of culture, organised an event in the Members’ Dining Room of the other place. There were five boys and girls who came with cellos and at least one harp, if not two. They came from Kensington Junior School and the Sacred Heart Primary School to play in the Palace of Westminster under the guidance and at the instigation of the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra. That evening, I met the maestro Vasily Petrenko—I understand that that is how one can refer to the principal conductor of such an organisation. He corrected me on various aspects of Liverpool, music and his own career. It may have been him or other leading members of the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic who started to encourage these five young boys and girls to take an interest in music, but, to follow the wonderful speech of the right reverend Prelate, the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic, Vasily and the others responsible have unlocked the talent of those boys and girls—and, I suspect, of their parents and other people in that great city.
Indeed, I was given a briefing yesterday from the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic. A group called the West Everton Children’s Orchestra visits two, three or four primary schools—I do not know how many. I understand that it is given blanket coverage and that an inordinate amount of interest is taken in music and instrumental activities. That is an aspect of culture, which we are discussing this afternoon. The West Everton Children’s Orchestra is one of three such organisations in England; there is a similar organisation in the Stirling area of Scotland. Certainly, from what I saw in the Members’ Dining Room in 2008, with the enormous success and enthusiasm under the cultural leadership of the great city of Liverpool, there is a feeling that youngsters and others can move out and, above all, unlock their talents and enjoy themselves.
The magnificent city of Liverpool is 300 miles from my home in the boondocks of Scotland. The first time I visited Liverpool, as part of my military duties, I went to a Scots Guards dinner with various others and did not get into too much trouble. I visited Liverpool again in 1965, when I went to the Grand National at Aintree. I remember sitting in the back of an open Land Rover. There was somebody with a placard, who may have a connection with the right reverend Prelate. He howled at me, “By their fruits ye shall know them”. Today of all days, I return that instant volley to the right reverend Prelate; by what he has done, and is doing today, we know him, and we thank him.
The other dates in my diary are 13 and 14 October 1967 and 11 November 1967, when occurred two great events in my life that caused me to have great love for the great city of Liverpool. It is not merely 300 miles from my home, or 200 miles from where we are now. A mere 20 metres away, in the Royal Gallery of your Lordships’ House, we find a huge painting by Daniel Maclise. I understand that the measurements of the painting in the Royal Gallery are 18 feet tall by 54 feet wide. When I made a brief cultural visit to the Walker Art Gallery in Liverpool one morning, I had not necessarily been overindulging or done something dreadful, but I thought that I was familiar with that picture—the original of Daniel Maclise’s “The Death of Nelson” is in there. I was certainly not surprised, but I was agreeably delighted that I could see in Liverpool paintings and culture of that nature.
I have referred to the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra. I have been in the Philharmonic Hall not once but twice. Once, I even made a speech—I did not sing—in connection with an event with which the noble Lord, Lord McNally, and the right reverend Prelate may be familiar. It was an awards ceremony at which I was invited to say a few words. I was proud and delighted to be there.
I thank the right reverend Prelate for showing us what can be done by unlocking the talents of the young people in Liverpool, as the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic has done. What was done in 2008 sowed the seeds for the future. I am very grateful to the right reverend Prelate for introducing the debate and I look forward to hearing what the Minister has to say.
My Lords, just over two years ago, the noble Lord, Lord Harrison, introduced a debate on the forthcoming role of Liverpool as the European Capital of Culture 2008. I am delighted that the right reverend Prelate has chosen to develop this theme in the aftermath of the events, reviewing the outcome, assessing the lessons and looking ahead at the economic prospects and anticipated restraints on public spending.
That debate two years ago was a prologue to a celebration. We sang the praises of Liverpool and drew from our own personal experience. I was born and brought up in the city and was proud that it had won—rather to everyone’s surprise—an ambitious programme of special events in what would be a very demanding year. However, I was anxious. In the course of preparations there had been some rough passages and arguments reorganising administration, with some leading participants dropping out and gaps among the plans. Liverpool’s reputation had always been up and down. Could it really work? However, it did work. It was a triumph and a huge success for the people of the city, the north-west and for many visitors who had never before been to Liverpool. I was in a queue at the Klimt exhibition at the Tate Liverpool—that was seen as a world-class occasion—where I saw a very distinguished academic who rarely travelled outside Oxford. “What are you doing there?” I said rather foolishly. He said that he was enjoying his visit immensely and was staying for several days.
Another of my concerns was the possibility that for Liverpool culture meant only the Beatles, street parties and popular scouse comedians laughing through their tears. But in my formative years in Liverpool, when I played and watched football and listened to traditional jazz, I and my contemporaries had benefited greatly from libraries, the Walker Gallery, architecture, music and scholarship—high culture, as it is sometimes called. I hope that, two generations on, they will be encouraged and that people will be excited by them, thus opening up ideas and challenges. I made six separate trips to Liverpool and all the occasions met my criteria. I and my friends were tightly packed between St George’s Hall and Lime Street Station when the music helped to launch the year. On another occasion, I watched fascinated and in pouring rain the extraordinary spider-like mechanical creature to which the right reverend Prelate referred, called La Machine or La Princesse. I am not sure whether it set off from the city centre. I also listened to the Berlin Philharmonic, conducted by Sir Simon Rattle. It did not play music by Beethoven—an obvious choice—but an unusual and provocative piece of music that I—or, more relevantly, most of the audience—had never heard before. That certainly widened my cultural boundaries.
Now that it is all over, what next? I remember that, following the 1953 coronation festivities, David Low produced a famous cartoon with the caption, “Morning after”. The ball was over—an unreal occasion—and the cost had been high. In a different context and time, I am much concerned about what will happen when the 2012 Olympics are over. When energy, enthusiasm and money are exhausted it will be all too easy to collapse with happy memories and not take essential further steps to regenerate and raise standards.
As the right reverend Prelate said, the City of Liverpool council, to its credit, commissioned a five-year research programme from the University of Liverpool—what I used to call the old university—and Liverpool John Moores University to examine Liverpool’s experience and the impact on it of being the European Capital of Culture. As has been said, the report was published last week. It is rigorous and disciplined although analytical rather than prescriptive. I will not repeat all the details as the report is available through the Library. However, the programme had an income of £130 million over the six years to and including 2008. It attracted 10 million additional visits to Liverpool and these generated more than £750 million for Liverpool, Merseyside and the region. Of the 2.6 million European and global visits, 97 per cent were first-time visits. As for what the report calls “cultural access”, one-third of the audience was local and during the period 2006-08, there was a 10 per cent rise in each year, and in 2008, 11 per cent of Liverpool residents “tried something new”.
Over the years, Liverpool has often had a very negative profile in newspapers, on the radio and on television. However, most of us who followed the coverage during the year found that it was positive—initially cautious but wholehearted later. The report concludes that Liverpool has undergone “a remarkable image renaissance”, and that,
“levels of confidence have been raised across the city”.
It says that culture,
“is more widely accepted as a driver for economic change, health and social inclusion”.
At several points it refers warmly to partnership. I agree very much with the right reverend Prelate on that matter. Speaking personally, I think that partnership will be essential in the years ahead because religion and politics have often divided the city. For the past 10 years or so there has been welcome relative stability. The council showed imagination and strength in carrying through the programme. I hope that all parties will build on Liverpool’s success because there are very many tasks ahead. Unemployment is high and, as the report shows, skill levels are low. Household income rose 40 per cent over a decade, but Liverpool remains one of the poorest cities in the country. I welcome the intention announced earlier this week to develop an Atlantic gateway covering the hinterland of both Liverpool and Manchester. In 1997, the Government of the day published a famous report, Change or Decay. I still have a copy. There has not been enough constructive change over those years.
In 1945, I campaigned as a sixth-former during the general election where I lived and close to my school, Quarry Bank. In Liverpool there were 11 parliamentary constituencies, one of them uncontested with only 21,000 voters whose single candidate was carried from street to street on a horse-drawn cart. In the forthcoming election there will be only four parliamentary constituencies, each with five, six or more candidates. I hope that all these candidates will congratulate those who put together Liverpool’s year of European Capital of Culture and, more importantly, strongly support the culture of the city and the growth of its vital constructive industries.
My Lords, the more you look at a debate like this, the more you realise that your original contribution is going to be limited because everything you want to say seems to be reasonably obvious. But the answer in politics is that it does not mean that you should not say it. Several things originally attracted me to speak in this debate. When I was still looking forward to my 30th birthday, I made several visits to Glasgow during its year as a city of culture. I remember the buzz of being there, although it is true that I was still young enough to enjoy the buzz without feeling like death warmed up the next day; such are the memories of youth. Glasgow gained a degree of confidence and took pleasure in enjoying itself. The whole city stopped being miserable.
Glasgow and Liverpool come from the same industrial past. They both have a wonderful series of galleries, museums and so on which were provided for them by 19th century philanthropists who made their money out of the industries of the day. They both have incredibly well kept cultural secrets. Indeed, many people outside this place probably say, “Don’t tell people about the galleries and museums. We won’t be able to get into them as easily”. There was a sense that the museums and galleries were not for the people who lived in those cities: they were well kept secrets.
I am afraid that I did not get to Liverpool during its year of culture, but what we saw on television and what I read showed that the cheerfulness happened again, but on a bigger scale. Local people were encouraged to take part in events and to build on what was already there. Indeed, telling people what is already there is probably the most important task. There is no point in holding an event if you do not tell everyone it is going to happen. That can be overdone, and I have personal experience of that from my own party conference just after the competition was announced. I found myself chairing a meeting—I do not know why, and I do not think the people who organised the meeting knew why I was chairing it either, but these things happen at party conferences. It was late at night, and I suggested that ordinary, grass roots sport might not have the biggest contribution to make to culture. I was told that it could make a contribution because there would be festivals with lots of small children from football teams celebrating them. My definition of sport does not really stretch to having children running around, but the idea that everything was possible was an infectious one within the group. It was comprised of councillors from one of the dominant political parties in the city, so it is not surprising that such a degree of enthusiasm was able to permeate.
Once enthusiasm gets going, you are okay, but it has to be backed up with investment and structural support in order to go out and reach people. That becomes clear when you read the information: things must be well organised. This takes me to the Olympics. If we do not see the Olympics as anything other than the high point of a series of well planned big events that generate income and enthusiasm, we are missing a trick. Those running the Cultural Olympiad will be particularly trying to reach out beyond London through different sorts of structures, and so will face slightly different problems. What they have said very clearly is this: you have to keep your nerve when planning something. It was the underlying lesson they had learnt.
Journalists and indeed even politicians sometimes have been waiting for the big disaster with the Olympics so that they can say, “Oh, it shouldn’t have happened”. Holding one’s nerve is apparently very important, and certainly that is the impression I was given. You must make sure that you carry on with the building programme so you can look back to what is good about it. I am always keen on people pointing out what has not worked out too well. Admitting to a few mistakes that you will try to change is a great way of building confidence. It is better than trying to pretend that everything is wonderful all the time, because we know that does not happen. Success, even when it is great success, is still relative; you could have done better.
It is important to think about how to generate a high level of enthusiasm. By all accounts, and I am looking at this from the outside, Liverpool seemed to be able to create a feeling that something good, positive and of its very own was happening. If we can learn how to reproduce that feeling, we will be doing very well. The noble Lord, Lord Williams, pointed out that this happens on a smaller scale in other places using specialist units. We must think about how to generate it in other parts of the country. How should we build on the work of our festivals? Turning back to the Scottish connection, the Edinburgh Festival takes place every year. Although the good burghers of Edinburgh are probably sick of unicycling jugglers after a week or two, it is clear that people still enjoy the festival. They know that it generates enthusiasm. If there is a structure that lets people know what is happening, other benefits come from that. Employment is generated, there is a positive attitude and a can-do mentality that is not exclusive. Those who are on the front line must be backed up.
That is surely the biggest lesson to learn. Support must be given to those who do the planning, and you must ensure that you make people feel involved. If you do not, all exercises in mass participation will be limited in their success and unable to reach their full potential for enhancing their localities. We must always remember to back up good works.
My Lords, I start by following my noble friend Lord Addington in agreeing that if there is any lesson to be learnt from the Liverpool exercise that can lead forward into the Olympics and the Cultural Olympiad, it is that you should not be diverted or have your confidence knocked back by a media that are always willing to look for what might go wrong or say that it is a waste of money. There is a national obsession with trying to find fault, but one of the things that we learnt from Liverpool is that, as my noble friend said, if we get behind the people and the planners involved in the Olympics and the Cultural Olympiad, we will have a great national success and generate the same boost of confidence nationally as Liverpool has had from being the Capital of culture.
I pay tribute to the right reverend Prelate for obtaining this debate. If he came to the McNally household on some Sunday mornings he would find me doing the Sunday fry-up and singing,
“We live in a city exceedingly fair,
We speak with an accent exceedingly rare,
If you want a cathedral, we have one to spare,
In my Liverpool home”.
That is usually followed by shouts from my children: “Oh for God’s sake, shut up, Dad”. That is due to the quality of my voice.
My background and locus for speaking in this debate is that my parents were born in Old Swan in Liverpool at the turn of the last century. I grew up with Liverpool being the first big city of which I was aware, and I still have the sense of visiting Liverpool in its pomp in the 1950s. I also grew up with some knowledge of the legacy of the religious divide in the city. My parents talk of Liverpool in the early 20th century and the religious bigotry there. Sometimes when people tell me that areas in Northern Ireland or elsewhere cannot overcome such a divide, I say, “Well, look at Liverpool. Look at the way that those kinds of divisions are part of its history”. The fact that Liverpool has overcome it is due in no small measure to the leadership of its churches. I do not think that we have a cathedral to spare, because the leadership of those two cathedrals at either end of Hope Street—how well named is that street which connects them—has been the driving force for leaving religious bigotry behind.
My other contact with Liverpool was, first, as a north-west MP in the early 1980s, and then when working on a project for the Government Office for Merseyside in 1990. It might be worth recapping some of the findings of the study that I carried out. There was a massive lack of community pride and identity. There was the appalling media image, to which my noble friend Lord Rodgers and the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Elvel, referred. There was a sense of grievance and neglect. I was in Liverpool on the day that Mrs Thatcher resigned. If there had been an instant vote, Mr Heseltine would have been elected, because he seemed to have been the only politician in the past decade who had taken an interest in Liverpool. Although the garden festival was a one-off and did not leave a tremendous legacy, the effort that he made at the time was appreciated. I also remember from my survey something that has changed. I had asked what contribution the university made to Liverpool. One respondent shook his head and said, “The university is the castle on the hill. It doesn’t get involved in the problems of the city”. That is no longer true. All three universities are deeply involved.
When the culture bid was made, we received the usual media sneers. As my noble friend Lord Rodgers said, there was the fear that Liverpool has a tradition of being able to shoot itself in the foot. There were fears that, for either political or community reasons, the people involved would not hold together. There were a few stumbles and bumps on the way, but they held together magnificently, and the result has been not only a success during the year itself but a tremendous permanent legacy for others to look at. It has to be said that that was partly helped not only by the leadership of the council but by support from national and regional government, which kept the project on track.
Liverpool today, as a cultural centre, has the good hotels that modern visitors need. It has good restaurants, good transport links and good shopping. It provides a good visitor experience. It has an excellent conference centre and some great examples of regeneration. To see the restored St George’s Hall is a tremendous feeling. Literally billions of pounds of new investment have been put into Liverpool over the past 10 years and the results are there to see. It makes one feel that culture, in its widest sense, can be used as a successful regenerator: Liverpool is a good example. However, there is the question of what comes next. Warren Bradley, the leader of Liverpool City Council, said:
“The last decade has seen Liverpool undergo one of the biggest transformations enjoyed by any city in recent times. There is a determination that Liverpool will forge ahead with its regeneration through strong leadership and partnership working. Our presence at this year’s World Expo 2010 in Shanghai—the only UK city to be represented—gives us a great opportunity to attract more tourists and students, further investment and showcase Liverpool to the world”.
I came to this debate from a lunch hosted by KPMG for the new Chinese ambassador. It could not have been in greater contrast to an occasion in 1981, when I went as one of the north-west MPs to a conference organised by Granada on the state of the city of Liverpool. The city was on its knees, with all confidence drained out of it. Now Liverpool will be Britain's city representative at the World Expo opening in Shanghai in seven weeks' time. It is brimming with confidence about what it has to say and offer to the world. That is one example of the impact of this renewal.
As the right reverend Prelate said, becoming the Capital of Culture was seen as a success, but the cultural programme continues. This year there will be a 12-month celebration of dance; a One City, One Goal football tournament as part of the 2018 World Cup bid; an On the Waterfront festival of dance; maritime art; the Tate Picasso exhibition; the Mathew Street Music Festival; and hundreds of other grass roots events. As well as these events—I will not repeat what others have said—the investment in the Liverpool Knowledge Quarter and the Liverpool Science Park builds on recent success. The first national museum in 100 years is being built on Liverpool's historic waterfront. The Museum of Liverpool will open in 2011. Liverpool City Council is also bidding to become a UNESCO City of Music, bringing together the traditions and worldwide fame of both the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra and the Beatles. I have mentioned the key part that the city is playing in the World Cup bid. So as well as the tremendous success of the year itself, which has been referred to, Liverpool is retaining the momentum and carrying on using its cultural heritage, and the investment that has been made, to project itself forward. This is also to be welcomed.
The concept that motivated the bid—the world in one city—is one from which lessons can be learnt about cultural diversity. It is no surprise that Liverpool is going to Shanghai: it has one of the oldest Chinese communities in Britain, as well as a long-standing relationship with that great city. The multiculturalism of Liverpool was also marvellously enjoyed and experienced during the City of Culture year itself. Again, it built on and repaired what in the past were often damaged race relations.
I welcome the opportunity to revisit this subject. We in this House often talk about post-legislative scrutiny. Today we have had some post-event scrutiny. The report that we can deliver on the effort made in the Capital of Culture year is that those of us who had confidence in Liverpool had our confidence justified; and that the lesson that we can learn now as we move forward to the Cultural Olympiad and other events is that culture and the creative arts can be tremendously important in raising the morale and confidence of a community, and can also be important wealth-creators and job-creators in their own right. My dad lived in exile in Blackpool for much of his life, but he was always a proud Scouser, and he would be proud of his city today.
My Lords, I should like first to thank the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Liverpool for introducing this debate and giving us all the opportunity to discuss the year of Liverpool’s triumph as European City of Culture in 2008. It seems amazing that it is already two years since this great event. I believe that it has had considerable results.
As we all know, the title European Capital of Culture was designed to help bring European citizens closer together. It might surprise some noble Lords to know that since 1985, more than 30 cities have been awarded this title—from Stockholm to Genoa, Athens to Glasgow, Krakow to Porto; and then, in 2008, Liverpool beat five other British hopefuls to become the host city. What a fabulous host Liverpool was, and is. I echo the words of the noble Lord, Lord McNally, and commemorate straight away my noble friend Lord Heseltine’s involvement and instrumental role in Liverpool’s regeneration. We do not believe that the city would have been in anywhere near the correct state to receive such a tremendous honour as European Capital of Culture without all the work, time and interest that he had previously invested in the city.
I was privileged to be entertained by the local authorities in Liverpool in the run-up to 2008, and I was very impressed with the spirit and enthusiasm that I encountered on all sides. I was also lucky to visit some of the great showplaces in Liverpool which have been mentioned this afternoon, most notably the Walker Gallery, the Maritime Museum and St George’s Hall—a super building of which I had never really heard before, but I have now. I have to state my interest as a dealer in watercolours and to say how many superb works of art I was shown in Liverpool.
We can all agree that Liverpool as the European City of Culture was, and continues to be, a huge success, as the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank, emphasised. It holds the largest collection of grade 2 listed buildings outside London and has one of the best collections of European art in Britain outside London. It has the fifth largest cathedral in the world and has been a location for some 140 films in the past year alone—most of which I fear passed me by.
From a tourism perspective, it is estimated that visitors to the city totalled nearly 10 million in 2008 and more than 18 million across the four years of the build-up programme. Thirty-five per cent of all visits to Liverpool were influenced by the title European Capital of Culture, with many making a trip to the city for the first time. From 2007 to 2008 there was a growth in overall numbers and significant increases in both national and international visitor numbers, split roughly between 1.5 million from the UK and 300,000 from abroad. From a business perspective, the financial impact just from tourism based on estimated direct spend stood at some £753 million. Major developments during the period, accompanied by public realm and infrastructure improvements, transformed Liverpool’s office quarter to offer a modern and attractive business environment. The commercial district was set to be expanded with 1.75 million square feet of new, high- quality office space, making Liverpool one of the UK’s fastest growing business destinations. Furthermore, retail space at the Paradise Street and Metquarter developments has been designed to re-establish Liverpool as a top-class national retail destination. The Paradise project is now Europe’s largest retail development and has created an extra 1 million square feet of new shopping floor space.
Of course, this amazing business expansion has created thousands of new jobs. Within the arts and cultural sector alone—of which in 2008 there were a staggering 1,683 creative-industry enterprises, representing a growth of 8 per cent in the number of enterprises over the 2004-08 period—a phenomenal 10,987 people were employed, which accounted for around 3 to 4 per cent of the overall workforce in the city.
All these factors combined have led to an enhanced image of Liverpool, not just for the national and international visitors who have come to the city but also, I believe, for the people of Liverpool themselves. My noble friend Lord Lyell said that only the best will do, and I think that that has been the guiding light during the build-up to the City of Culture—and since then as well. It is well known that, sadly, the city of Liverpool attracted very high levels of negative UK national media coverage for most of the second half of the 20th century, and that was also reflected in negative preconceptions of the city at a national level. However, since the European Capital of Culture title award in 2003, there have been some remarkable changing trends in media coverage about the city, and in national as well as local perceptions. It has undergone a remarkable image renaissance, locally, nationally and internationally. Local opinion leaders give more credibility to the city’s cultural assets and to the cultural sector as a source of civic leadership. National media in the mainstream, as well as in specialist domains, are now used to presenting a richer picture of Liverpool as a multifaceted and contemporary city with world-class assets and an ability to build on them. Internationally, the city has been rediscovered as a tourist destination, and rightly so.
Because of its time as Capital of Culture, levels of confidence have been raised across the city. Strong partnerships have been developed. There are greater opportunities to retain local talent, bring in new ideas, attract external investment and further develop the range and quality of what the city can offer. All these have increased at an incredible rate. It just goes to show, as the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers, said, how important culture is as a driver for economic change and social inclusion.
Being European Capital of Culture has put Liverpool on the heritage map and alerted people to the city’s status as a world heritage city. But we must not become complacent. We must now look forward and ensure that this most tremendous start retains its momentum.
I have a couple of questions to put to the Minister. As I said, being European City of Culture has had a remarkably positive effect on the portrayal of Liverpool in the media for the duration of the cultural offerings, shifting the primary focus from stories about football and crime. To what extent has this been a permanent change in the perception of the city? How, from now on, will the Government support Liverpool residents so that they may continue upholding their new reputation?
Liverpool City Council invested an additional 84 per cent in the arts between 2002-03 and 2008-09. What plans are there to ensure that the city’s artistic endeavours are not left with a funding shortfall now the official events of the year are over?
The internet and online social networking sites are fast becoming a key marketing method with which to reach the largest number of people. The ECoC in Liverpool is a successful example of how these new media can be utilised to increase interest and therefore tourism. How are these tools being utilised to promote other UK cities at home and abroad? Finally, what lessons, from the successful delivery of Liverpool as the ECoC, can and will be taken forward to the implementation of the Cultural Olympiad?
My Lords, I begin, as many noble Lords have done, by thanking the right reverend Prelate for introducing such a stimulating and constructive debate. The House has been indebted for a considerable time to the Bishops of Liverpool; the right reverend Prelate will be all too well aware of the impact that his predecessor, David Sheppard, made while he graced these Benches as Lord Sheppard. We are delighted that the right reverend Prelate is carrying on that most constructive tradition.
I need to declare an interest, as I participated to a limited degree in the development of the City of Culture. I played a particular part in the opening of the museum of slavery, which I know is now one of those greatly visited museums in Liverpool. I had the great joy of being at the opening ceremony when Paul Robeson Jr played a star part; there is a name to conjure with. Consequently, I have the fondest recollections of the beginning of that year and I am delighted that the right reverend Prelate was able to identify the benefits that flowed from that year. He is of course right that there were economic benefits; it was not quite £800 million, but our figure is not far shy of that in terms of economic benefit to the area.
I can tell my noble friend Lord Williams that it is not possible for those figures to be generated without having an impact on the surrounding areas as well. I do not just mean the Wirral; everybody knows the significance that the city of Liverpool plays in relationship to the adjoining areas of north Wales and so on, to say nothing of the hinterland of Lancashire and Cheshire, so the fact that the city plays the key part as a City of Culture is not to underestimate the spin-off to the rural areas. However, I accept his point: we need to attend to the rural positions. I should indicate to him that that is very much in the Government’s mind at present, as we are working with the Rural Cultural Forum to look at how to build up the rural need for cultural provision. We all know the challenges—the big investment that is possible in cities will not be possible in the same way in rural areas—but I am very grateful to my noble friend for identifying the fact that we need to develop the non-urban areas.
Perhaps I might also give a note of optimism on another front, that of my noble friend’s more distant point in the debate. The rural area of the south-west of England, which is not quite so distinguished for its large cities, has an important part for the creative industries at present. We are seeing that flourishing against the background that the right reverend Prelate identified at the beginning: the importance of the cultural industries as far as the economy of the city of Liverpool is concerned. However, that is also true of Liverpool being emblematic of the creative industries in relation to the whole country’s economy.
In this last decade of significant growth in the British economy, one very significant matter is how much greater a proportion the creative industries are contributing. The Government have played their key part in supporting that development. Perhaps I might emphasise one dimension; one of the first acts that we set about, as soon as we came into power in 1997, was to end the fees for museum entrances. We all know the impact that that creative diversion has had in terms of visits to museums, and therefore on the increased experience of that dimension of our culture. One encouraging thing about it is that the sociological evidence also indicates that free museum entrance has increased attendances at art galleries. There is significant growth, among those sections of the population of whom it might have been said, in the past, that they showed the least predilection to go into museums and galleries. That is also an important spin-off from that concept.
On the success of Liverpool—I am glad that the right reverend Prelate presaged this in a gentle way in his introduction—those who are a little more forthright and almost as knowledgeable about the city, such as the noble Lords, Lord McNally and Lord Rodgers, said that there was a fairly shaky start to the year of culture. I have a wonderful quote from Phil Redmond, who played such a significant part in picking up what was at its early stages very limited momentum. He said that the whole process was a bit like a Scouse wedding: all over the place at the beginning, but everybody got their act together by the end. That is how it felt with Liverpool. I remember a debate in this House after Liverpool had won the designation but before the plans had been established with any security and the anxieties reflected at that time—anxieties which, happily, were entirely ill founded.
One of the spin-offs is that we now have a competition for the British city of culture, which is engendering keen competition among British cities for our version of the European dimension. We are all too well aware of the fact that we cannot monopolise the European City of Culture in quite the same way that we hope to do with the European Cup in football because slightly different factors are at play. The European City of Culture concept will be shared among the nations of Europe, but we want the stimulus that meant so much to Liverpool to occur frequently among our cities.
To respond to the noble Lord, Lord Luke, we have not the slightest doubt that we need support for the arts and culture in our big cities, especially Liverpool. There are difficult economic times ahead for public expenditure, and we appreciate that local authorities, including city authorities, will be under constraints over the next few years. Margaret Hodge, my colleague in the department in the other place, has made absolutely clear that she expects constant support for the arts and cultural organisations in this difficult period, because they produce the advantages which the right reverend Prelate emphasised.
It is not just a question of economic activity; there are also the benefits to be felt from the experience of a strengthening culture of optimism, of a feeling of creativity and of improvements in mental health. The right reverend Prelate identified those aspects of well-being. We might have been less aware of this a decade or so ago, but recent research has shown that the rehabilitation of offenders and how we improve the response of prisoners and those who have fallen into crime can be helped by increased exposure to cultural activities.
This has been an exceedingly positive debate. I expected that from the noble Lords, Lord McNally and Lord Rodgers, because of their association with the city. I was very grateful for what the noble Lords, Lord Addington and Lord Lyell, had to say. Both of them emphasised morale. It is always difficult to mention one Liverpool football club without mentioning another, so I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Lyell, on mentioning one, and I was pleased that he mentioned the Latin tag of Everton, which has got it right. I went to a school where it was intended to say exactly that—“Nothing but the best”—but it translated literally as, “Nothing, but you couldn’t do better”, which was not quite the intention. That was poorer Latin, so I am grateful to Everton for at least improving in that respect.
When we talk about culture today, we have a tendency to do so in terms of the arts, museums and art galleries and the year of culture. But Liverpool would not be our Liverpool without our appreciation of three facets of culture which are of the greatest importance. One is certainly music. Liverpool is a city of popular music; for a long time it was the world capital of popular music, and as a consequence we should recognise what a significant part it has in the city. Secondly, and I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Lyell, for emphasising this, for a very long time Liverpool has inevitably been associated with association football and the strength of commitments in those areas. The other aspect is that dimension which the noble Lord, Lord McNally, sought to capture, as did the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers; the noble Lord, Lord Addington, actually gave phrase to it as “holding your nerve”. It is rather more than that: it is the ability to triumph over adversity, and the expectation that certain things are not going to run easily your way.
It is a long time since Liverpool enjoyed the fruits of exceptional economic standing in the United Kingdom. The great days of the 19th century and the relationship with the United States and so on are long since gone. But Liverpool has always come through because of its people. Even when the going is tough the very best is brought out of them, not least with that characteristic, rather disparaging Scouse humour. These are all parts of the culture of this city which we are here to celebrate for having made such a success of that year and set an example which others have to follow.
Certain noble Lords associated Liverpool with Glasgow, the second city to have been awarded the European Capital of Culture. They also have a great deal in common in their undoubted greatness. The noble Lord, Lord McNally, referred to the great benefactors of the past. These city benefactors reflected very considerable wealth in the city which was the product of the great successes of the 19th century. This is also true of Glasgow. Both cities have had to adjust to the rather different economic circumstances of the second half of the 20th century and now the beginning of the 21st century, and in that respect both of them have shown that capacity to fight back, sustain their culture and meet the challenges which lie before them. None of us would underestimate those challenges.
I emphasise that none of this would have been so successful without a very deep commitment by government to the concept of culture and its significance in our national life. It is often emphasised in economic terms, and so it should be. Well-being is an important dimension and can be measured in many ways, but it is difficult to have well-being if one is suffering economically. I heard what the noble Lord, Lord Luke, said about the gestures the noble Lord, Lord Heseltine, made towards Liverpool, and that he emphasised that he wanted to make a contribution to the city’s recovery. It needed recovery after that time. In a decade or so when this land was scarred with joblessness, Liverpool suffered as much as any significant city. We can all recall the 1980s as a decade of very considerable stress and strain in the city, and of joblessness. One of the features of the past decade is the extent to which job creation has aided the city, not least in the important area of the creative industries and the opportunities which are produced through cultural developments.
I go on to another dimension of culture which was not mentioned this afternoon, although I know if he had had more time the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers, would without doubt have addressed it. We have had very significant architectural developments in our cities, and Liverpool is one of the beneficiaries of this. It always had the grandeur of its 19th century buildings, but it has had some very striking developments in recent years. We should appreciate the extent of architectural achievement—particularly in our great cities with waterfronts, where modern architecture is in many ways enhanced by and enhances the waterfront. Liverpool has been the beneficiary of that development, too. Let me say how important that aspect of art and culture is to the well-being of people, because there is no doubt that the spatial environment in which one exists is very important to morale. I think that Liverpudlians these days glory in the fact that the city looks so fine in so many significant parts of its environment.
There are so many more points that one could cover. I want to capture what has been expressed on all sides of the House. The noble Lord, Lord Luke, asked me one or two waspish questions about the future. He is right to address himself to that. I think I could speak with a little more confidence, if the roles were reversed, about what will sustain Liverpool’s future, but I stress that we will continue to place great emphasis on protecting and increasing the number of jobs that will help to preserve people’s economic well-being. Many of those jobs will be in the creative industries and in culture, which is the feature of this debate, and we will seek to be fair to deprived parts of our society. As ever, a very large number of deprived people live in our great cities, and Liverpool still has areas of real deprivation which need attention.
I emphasise to the noble Lord, Lord Luke, that I would be naive not to recognise that local authorities will face considerable pressure in the future, but we are concerned that the arts and cultural development should play their full part in the community. I come full circle to the opening contribution made by the right reverend Prelate when I say that culture and the arts bring wider benefits and a stronger sense of community than mere economic analysis suggests, although they produce that, too. They are also about morale, well-being and pride in the area in which one lives and in the role that one plays. That is the lesson to learn from Liverpool’s city of culture year.
My Lords, I thank all noble Lords for their contributions and their unique and original insights, particularly for the tributes and the recognition of what Liverpool has achieved. I am particularly grateful to the Minister for reinforcing the Government’s commitment to the arts and culture, especially in these economic times, and I beg leave to withdraw the Motion.
Additional Statutory Paternity Pay (General) Regulations 2010
Motion to Approve
My Lords, in moving this Motion, I shall, with the leave of the House, speak to the other five Motions in my name.
In the past decade, the Government have substantially improved help for new parents, especially by increasing maternity pay and leave and by introducing both paid paternity leave and adoption leave. A growing number of fathers, however, are keen to be more heavily involved in raising their child during its first year. As it stands, all employed mothers and adopters are entitled to 52 weeks of maternity or adoption leave, 39 of which may be paid. Fathers, though, can claim just two weeks of paid paternity leave. It makes clear sense to provide fathers with greater opportunities to spend time with their baby. When fathers are instrumental in the upbringing of children, those children do better in school and are less likely to get caught up in criminal activity. In cases where mothers earn more money than their partner, greater flexibility in childcare arrangements could have a significant impact on the family income.
These regulations will entitle fathers to up to six months of leave to care for a child where the child’s mother, or primary adopter, returns to work without using her full entitlement to maternity or adoption leave. Some of this leave may be paid if taken during the mother’s statutory maternity pay period. The six instruments that we are examining today are part of a package that will ensure that the scheme is consistent with existing statutory payments and covers all employees. In line with this, the rate of pay will be linked to the basic rate of statutory maternity pay, maternity allowance, statutory paternity pay and statutory adoption pay. Right now, this is £123.06 per week. It rises to £124.88 next month for all these statutory payments.
The effectiveness of these regulations depends on them applying across all organisations, irrespective of size. The Government recognise the concerns of some small businesses regarding further regulation. We recognise that the absence of staff in a small company could have a disproportionate impact, although our estimates are that less than 1 per cent of small businesses will be affected in any one year. For this reason, small businesses will be able to recover 104.5 per cent of statutory payments made, as they can already for statutory maternity, paternity and adoption pay.
In addition, we have consciously designed the scheme to be light-touch, by building on existing arrangements for employees who take ordinary paternity leave. Parents will be able to self-certify their entitlement and to provide details which will allow employers to calculate their own entitlement. Our goal is to reduce the administrative and financial burden on SMEs. However, a light touch is not the same as a soft touch. We believe that the system proposed presents minimal risk of fraud and abuse. As with other statutory payments, we will conduct compliance checks and impose financial penalties on those who break the law.
We have taken one further step to address the concerns of some employers, by delaying the introduction of these regulations. They will come into effect for parents of babies due from April 2011, giving businesses an extra year to prepare for the change. We are already working with employers to ensure that they are ready. Guidance will be publicly available well before the implementation date. We estimate that around 400,000 men a year will qualify for additional paternity leave: 400,000 fathers who will have the opportunity, should they so wish, to play a more central role in what is arguably the most critical year of a child’s life.
These regulations are indicative of the Government’s commitment to families, to fairness and to choice at work. I commend them to the House.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for explaining these regulations. As noble Lords will know, we on these Benches place considerable importance on the institution of the family, whether or not within a marriage, because we believe strongly in the importance of a stable and committed relationship as the best basis for bringing up a child. We are therefore sympathetic to giving parents flexibility, including in the context of parental leave, provided a sensible and pragmatic balance is struck with the interests of the employer. The Minister referred to this himself.
I was an employer myself until a few years ago and I well remember a situation where one of our employees became pregnant and took maternity leave. We were very anxious to make life as easy as possible for her, not least because we were keen to have her back when she was ready to come back, so what I say now should be seen in the light of my understanding of the need for a balance.
Our concerns are in the following areas. First, a welter of employment law—I think a dozen separate pieces—will come into force in 2011. Will the Minister kindly explain how the detail of all of that coming into force has been, or will be, carefully explained to employers, to make it as easy as possible for them to understand and abide by it?
Secondly, I understand that EU directives dealing with parental leave and with pregnant workers are imminent. Can the Minister say what is the expected timing of this, what the expected requirements of these directives are and how they will tie in with the regulations we are dealing with today?
Thirdly, yesterday in another place my honourable friend Jonathan Djanogly raised the issue of the extent to which the employer has an obligation to verify that someone posing as a father is indeed the relevant father. Confirmation of the position on that from the Minister would be helpful.
Lastly, a question that was not raised in another place yesterday is how the employer of one parent—say, the father—is supposed to know that the other parent, the mother, is not also claiming simultaneously. Related to that, what is the obligation on the employer of a father to give him parental leave if the wife is not working?
As I have said, we are sympathetic to giving parents flexibility in the context of parental leave, so I look forward to the Minister’s responses on these points.
My Lords, taken overall, these measures are to be welcomed, which we do from these Benches. Some people will have concerns about the details but the principles are right. I am glad, though, that the Minister referred to small businesses when he introduced them.
As has been said so often, it is unfair that one parent, the mother, has to take the full burden of looking after a child and unfair that many fathers are desperate to spend more time with their child but are just unable to do so. I am not sure where this statistic comes from, but it is said that nearly two-thirds of fathers think that they should spend more time caring for their child or children. On that basis, it could also be said that one-third of fathers do not share this outlook. That is as it may or may not be, but, by changing the present situation, as it becomes the norm for fathers to have the opportunity of sharing the parental role, these measures in themselves over time will, one hopes, encourage fathers who are not engaged to think more about their role in life.
There is a lot of concern about how children are brought up. From time to time we see the results of parenting that is failing or is not up to the mark, such as dysfunctional families or disturbed youngsters, and the social impact that they have on society. These measures encourage fathers to take part and encourage both parents to share the load.
Welcome as they are, though, it is important that for paternity and maternity rules there should be clarity. The Minister spoke about guidance. I say from these Benches that this is an important issue. I have raised concerns in the past, as the Minister may be aware, about the detail and the length of guidance that is given. In this connection, I refer the Minister particularly to a document entitled Terms and Conditions of Employment: The Additional Statutory Paternity Pay (Weekly Rates) Regulations 2010. On the first page, under the heading, “Weekly rate of payment of additional statutory paternity pay”, it says:
“The weekly rate of payment of additional statutory paternity pay shall be the smaller of the following two amounts— (a) £124.88; (b) 90 per cent of the normal weekly earnings of the person claiming”.
In effect, it is saying £124.88 or 90 per cent of the normal weekly earnings.
I may have got this wrong, but on the second page, under the heading, “Explanatory note”—for further explanation and clarification, I take it—it says:
“Regulation 2 sets the weekly rate of payment of additional statutory paternity pay at the smaller of £124.88 and 90 per cent of the employee’s normal weekly earnings”—
rather than “or”, so someone will be getting £124.88 plus 90 per cent of their normal weekly earnings. The Minister’s officials may be able to help him in this respect. If I have got this wrong, then I am sure that someone will put me right; if not, I would hope the Minister will take it on board and see that it is corrected, because it calls the accuracy of the guidance into question. I have already raised the issue of the Inland Revenue website and how employers and others have difficulty finding the specific guidance they need. The website needs to be improved; and if this information should be included, it would appear to be contradictory. I therefore hope for a response from the Minister either now or in the future.
My Lords, with those contributions we have clearly made up in quality what we lacked in quantity. I had thought that my reply could be very short, but it seems that it might take a little longer—the points raised by noble Lords merit an answer and I will try to deal with them all.
The noble Lord, Lord De Mauley, expressed his welcome sympathy for the approach but raised a number of understandable issues, for example how paternity leave and pay will impact on employers, particularly SMEs. The timings for introducing the scheme have been chosen to give employers a longer lead-in period to allow them to understand and prepare for the legislation. We believe that implementation in April 2011 provides a suitable period for businesses to prepare effectively for the additional paternity leave. We have designed the administration of the scheme to be as light touch as possible to minimise the burden placed on businesses, as I said, and to give them an opportunity to claim back more than the 104.5 per cent of additional statutory paternity pay payments or the 92 per cent which can be claimed by larger employers.
The noble Lord also asked about the risk of fraud and the responsibility of employers. HMRC, which is responsible for the administration of the other statutory payments, acknowledges the risk of fraudulent claims but regards the risk and the consequences for taxpayers’ funds as likely to be relatively limited. We will work to minimise the risk and the level of abuse in an appropriate and proportionate way. As with other statutory payments, such as statutory maternity pay, HMRC will conduct compliance checks with sanctions in the form of financial penalties for those employers or employees who abuse the system, details of which will be set out in guidance to be developed in 2010. If employers have suspicions about the validity of a claim—a point which I think the noble Lord was concerned about—they can refuse to pay and must then explain their reason to the employee in writing; the employee can then refer the matter to HMRC.
The question of the impact of the changes in Europe was also raised. There are two measures currently subject to revision in Europe but they are of a different nature. The pregnant workers directive essentially concerns pregnant mothers and maternity leave; parental leave is a separate entitlement. Political agreement was reached on the revised parental leave directive at the end of 2009. The revised directive extends the minimum amount of parental leave from three months to four. These directives are different from this measure which gives new fathers a right to additional paternity leave; accordingly additional paternity leave will give parents further choice.
The noble Lord was also concerned about what he described as a welter of legislation coming down the tracks in 2011. We wanted to give employers a longer lead-in period so that they could understand and prepare for the introduction of additional parental leave and pay. We were criticised from other quarters for doing that, but we believed that it was right.
We believe that implementation in April 2011 provides a suitable period for businesses to prepare effectively for the changes. To further support businesses, guidance will be developed by October this year which will provide employers with clear instructions—I emphasise “clear” in the light of the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Cotter. I hope that by then we will have removed any ambiguities regarding their responsibilities.
The next phase of better regulation will address a range of issues affecting businesses in relation to employing people, including obligations within employment law in general. We recognise the problem; the Government are committed to reducing administrative and policy burdens on business. We have the same motivation—we want businesses to grow more jobs.
On the expectations of employers in verifying claims, all employees who have self-certified that they are entitled to additional paternity leave will be considered to have met the conditions. No further checks are required; however, employers may if they wish request a copy of the child’s birth certificate or adoption notification and details of the mother’s employer or a doctor to support that claim. If that information is requested, it must be provided in order for the claim to be valid.
If, after her return to work, a mother stops work again and resumes her entitlement to maternity pay, a father’s entitlement to leave and pay is not brought to an end. Equally, where a mother leaves her employment and starts working for another employer, the father’s entitlement to additional paternity leave continues. As to whether two fathers—for example, a natural father and a stepfather—can be eligible for additional paternity leave at the same time, more than one person taking additional paternity leave in respect of the same child goes against the policy intention of preventing more than one person being out of the labour market at any one time. Therefore, we have made it clear in the regulations that the mother can allow only one person to take additional paternity leave as a result of her ceasing to receive maternity payment. This will be reiterated in related guidance.
We are developing plans to publicise additional paternity leave as part of a wider work and families communication strategy. This will involve a targeted set of activities aimed at improving awareness of help for fathers as well as mothers to balance work and family responsibilities. These activities will include putting in place improved guidance for families and employers on the businesslink and directgov websites and refreshing the pregnancy and work leaflet in the Bounty packs provided to all expectant mothers to include more details of rights for new fathers. HMRC will also be introducing, updating and disseminating guidance for employers through its usual channels. Again, we need to make sure that that is free of ambiguity.
The noble Lord, Lord Cotter, made an interesting point about changing attitudes, pointing out that fathers who are not yet engaged will do so. That is absolutely right; we have seen significant changes in attitude among fathers, which is to be welcomed. We agree with the analysis that this is another step that will encourage the process, with all the positive benefits that will flow from that. Parenting will be seen as something to be shared by both parents and not just the responsibility of the mother.
The direction of travel is right; we could wish that it was slightly faster, but it will give employers a chance to get used to the process. I was pleased with the point made by the noble Lord, Lord De Mauley, about a small business employing somebody who goes on maternity leave; there is a recognition that this is a skilled person whom the business has invested in, and that the individual has invested their livelihood. We want to get these people back. That is a really positive attitude and let us hope that, over a period of time, paternity leave will be seen in the same positive light as assisting another skilled worker whom we want to encourage to return to work.
Approaches to childcare have changed over time. Primary care, as I have said, is no longer seen to be largely the woman’s responsibility. Fathers play an increasingly significant role, with 93 per cent taking time off around birth—maybe not a long period of time but they are engaging. Evidence published by the National Equality Panel shows that 44 per cent of women now earn as much or more than their partners, which is an interesting statistic. Early involvement by fathers in the upbringing of their children leads to a number of positive outcomes, and continued involvement throughout the child’s life leads to the reduced likelihood of the child’s involvement in criminal activity and increased educational attainment.
Regarding the weekly rate of additional statutory paternity pay, it will be the smaller of the following two amounts: £124.88 or 90 per cent of normal weekly earnings. It is clearly meant to be “or” and not “and”. We will scrutinise that and if there is any error we will make sure that it is corrected. I have endeavoured to answer all the questions raised. If I have not covered everything, I will write to noble Lords. In closing, I thank all those who participated in today’s debate—a small but quality group. The introduction of additional paternity leave and pay will create flexibility in childcare arrangements that will allow fathers to spend more time with their babies. It is right that we give careful consideration to these issues which are so important to family life. I commend these regulations to the House.
Additional Paternity Leave Regulations 2010
Additional Statutory Paternity Pay (Adoptions from Overseas) Regulations 2010
Additional Paternity Leave (Adoptions from Overseas) Regulations 2010
Additional Statutory Paternity Pay (Weekly Rates) Regulations 2010
Employment Rights Act 1996 (Application of Section 80BB to Adoptions from Overseas) Regulations 2010
Motions to Approve
Children Act 2004 Information Database (England) (Amendment) Regulations 2010
Motion to Approve
My Lords, these amendments make eight modest changes to the Children Act 2004 Information Database (England) Regulations 2007, commonly known as the ContactPoint regulations. Before discussing the amendments, it may be helpful to first provide some background on the history and purpose of ContactPoint. The purpose of ContactPoint is simple. It is to allow practitioners to quickly find out who else is working with a child. This tool will facilitate better information-sharing between practitioners. From a number of serious case reviews, we know that this needs to be improved.
However, ContactPoint is not just about safeguarding. Many children, perhaps as many as 50 per cent, will at some point need additional help and support. Practitioners have told us that one barrier to quickly providing this support is that it can be difficult and time-consuming to find the right person to talk to. In a survey of over 6,000 practitioners which my department conducted last year, we found that more than three-fifths of practitioners said that information about other practitioners involved with a child is not usually readily available. More than one-fifth of practitioners said that they never find this information despite their best efforts, and two-thirds of practitioners said that it is not easy to find information about whether a child is registered with a universal service, such as a school or GP. We have developed ContactPoint to overcome barriers such as these. ContactPoint gives practitioners quick access to the contacts they need so that they can work together to support children.
We cannot know or readily predict which children will need additional services. Because of this, ContactPoint holds records for all children in England, but these records contain only very limited information. A ContactPoint record holds basic identifying information for the child or young person and contact details for the services working with them. The primary legislation for ContactPoint excludes the directory from holding case information, such as health records.
National implementation of ContactPoint is now under way. This follows a successful early adopter phase: over 75 per cent of practitioners surveyed said that they would find ContactPoint useful in their work with children. Local authorities and national partners across England are now training practitioners to use the directory. Likely user numbers are estimated to be around 390,000, although the number and speed at which users are trained will be jointly determined with local authorities and national partners. This will be based on what is necessary to best ensure that ContactPoint is effective. Access to ContactPoint is granted only to those who need to use it for their jobs. All users must complete mandatory training, identity checks, and an enhanced Criminal Records Bureau disclosure which is reviewed every three years.
Once implementation is complete, we estimate that ContactPoint will save 5 million hours of practitioners’ time each year, equivalent to efficiency savings of £88 million per year. Practitioners using the system are already seeing real evidence of its benefits. For example, a staff nurse in an A&E department told us:
“I’m spending far less time finding other practitioners working with the same child. ContactPoint is helping to make everything smoother, quicker and more efficient”.
Throughout the development and implementation of ContactPoint, we have been committed to learning from users and other stakeholders. For example, we have consulted with over 1,000 children and young people since 2005, when we announced the intention to develop the directory. These amendments are based on what we have learnt since we began developing ContactPoint, and particularly on the advice of expert stakeholders. There was also a formal public consultation on the three most substantive amendments, which I will discuss in detail in a moment.
These amendments do not alter the fundamental principles or design of ContactPoint. These modest changes will further align the operation of ContactPoint with its policy intentions, helping practitioners to make the contacts they need, to improve children’s well-being and keep them safe.
One amendment, perhaps the most substantial, is necessary to address a recommendation in Sir Roger Singleton’s review of safeguarding arrangements in schools. Sir Roger recommended that DCSF take steps to ensure that pupils who receive education in schools in England, but who are not ordinarily resident in England, are covered by ContactPoint.
The Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families accepted all of the Singleton recommendations in a Written Ministerial Statement on 24 March 2009. As the Singleton recommendation highlights, because currently children must be “ordinarily resident” in England to be included on ContactPoint, this means that some important groups of children in England are excluded. Aside from exceptional circumstances, a child is deemed to have the same ordinary residence as their parents. So, for example, as the regulations currently stand, children at boarding school in England, but whose parents live abroad, may be excluded from ContactPoint.
To address the Singleton recommendation, we are proposing to change the regulations so that any child,
“in the area of a local authority”,
in England should have a ContactPoint record. This means that all children who live in England, or who attend school in England, should be included on ContactPoint, regardless of their place of ordinary residence. Under the enabling provisions for ContactPoint in the Children Act 2004, and also under other legislation, local authorities and their partners have duties towards children who are,
“in the area of the local authority”.
ContactPoint can help them meet these duties. The fact of where a child’s parents live should not exclude that child from ContactPoint, as the directory is a vital tool to help safeguard and improve the well-being of children in England.
Another amendment ensures that ContactPoint can hold the contact details of parents who do not have parental responsibility or care of their child. It is important that these details are included on ContactPoint because parents without parental responsibility may still be in regular contact with their child, and be closely involved in their child’s life. They can also have a range of legal rights and responsibilities in relation to their child. So, in some circumstances it may be appropriate for practitioners to consult with them on decisions regarding their child. Including these parents’ details on ContactPoint will help practitioners to do this.
The other six amendments are more minor, reflecting further technical changes necessary to ensure that ContactPoint can operate in line with its policy intentions, and to reflect the advice of expert stakeholders. For example, the amendments will change the terminology used to describe the non-universal services that are recorded on ContactPoint, from “specialist and targeted” to “additional” services. Stakeholders have told us that this is more widely used and less stigmatising.
We have carefully considered the responses to the public consultation on the amendments. In light of this, and the generally positive responses, we have decided to proceed with the amendments that were proposed in the consultation document. While these amendments are quite minor changes, and do not fundamentally alter ContactPoint, together they mean that ContactPoint will be an improved tool for practitioners, helping to provide integrated support as soon as a child needs it. I commend these regulations to the House.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for explaining the regulations so carefully. As she said, they deal with the ContactPoint database, and who has access to it. ContactPoint was developed, among other things, as a response to the failure of authorities in north London to work together to protect Victoria Climbié, who was tragically murdered by relatives a decade ago.
However, it has been dogged by safety problems and technical difficulties, as the Minister acknowledged. While acknowledging that this is far from an easy matter to deal with, we on these Benches are very concerned that the risks to security posed by ContactPoint have not yet been adequately addressed. Therefore, I wish to ask the Minister the following brief questions. First, if the database is secure, why will the Government not publish the full Deloitte report into ContactPoint security? Secondly, what guarantees can she give to preserve the identity and security of children who are adopted? Thirdly, if, as the Explanatory Notes indicate, the response from piloting authorities has been “overwhelmingly positive”, how is that reconciled with the fact that there have been five reported security breaches when we are only at the pilot stage? Fourthly, and lastly, will she inform the House what other feedback—especially negative feedback—the Government have received from pilot authorities?
My Lords, I, too, am grateful to the Minister for introducing and explaining the regulations, which amend the ContactPoint regulations.
We on these Benches have also expressed concern at the amount and the nature of information about children that is kept on databases, the levels of security of this information and who would be authorised to have access to it. Like the noble Lord, Lord De Mauley, we have sought assurances about possible breaches of security by unauthorised people or organisations. However, there is a balance to be struck. We recognise the value in what the Minister set out of using technology so that authorised practitioners in different services can share information on a child so that they can work together and build up a holistic view of a child’s welfare. These regulations do not challenge the principles and design of ContactPoint but tidy up some anomalies and make amendments in the light of experience.
First, the Minister mentioned the consultation that DCSF undertook last year. We note that 47 responses were received. This seems a low number on which to base some pretty significant changes. Will the Minister comment on this level of response and say whether the Government are satisfied that it is a sufficient response on which to base the amendments? Secondly, the Explanatory Memorandum gives assurances that the department will regularly survey users of ContactPoint to measure benefits delivery. What form are these surveys likely to take and how frequently are they likely to take place? Will they also monitor the costs of the database?
Thirdly, Regulation 5 headed “Accessible child record” will allow the Secretary of State to determine when an individual child’s record should be shielded. This is a power that currently resides with local authorities. The additional power for the Secretary of State is apparently to be used in a small number of cases for,
“reasons of witness or victim protection”.
Will the Minister clarify what safeguards are in place to ensure that the Secretary of State uses these powers very selectively, and who else in the department is likely to have access to the database on those occasions? What checks and balances are in place to ensure that an overly eager Secretary of State does not intervene excessively? I look forward to the Minister’s reply.
My Lords, I rise briefly to put a couple of questions to the Minister. For some time, many in the IT security community have been worried about the scope and scale of this database. I notice that when this provision was passed, it was said that there were to be 360,000 who would have access to the database, but that figure has now gone up to 390,000. Is it anticipated that this figure will rise dramatically in the future because it has not been running very long and there has been quite a large increase already?
I am intrigued by the statement that some 5 million hours of time will be saved every year. That may well be true, but it will be counterbalanced by the amount of time required to keep the database up to date, which must be quite significant. Will there be a real and considerable net saving or will practitioners in this area of care actually have to spend even more time making sure that the data are accurate? That is relevant because only yesterday I was informed that there is an inaccuracy rate of around 2 per cent in the DVLA database which has led to some inappropriate decisions, prosecutions and so on. Presumably as this database matures, it is going to become more difficult to keep it up to date. Are people anticipating any problems in this area?
I start by thanking all noble Lords for joining me in this debate. As I hope my opening remarks made clear, ContactPoint is a significant part of the contribution that the Government are making towards promoting the interests of children in terms of identifying those potentially in need of additional services and playing a key role as a tool in our safeguarding strategy. This is an important database and it is therefore important that we should consider the regulations today.
I shall try to respond in detail to the questions that have been put to me. The noble Lord, Lord De Mauley, made some important points about security. Even though only a minimal amount of data are kept on ContactPoint, security of information is absolutely paramount and something that we take very seriously. It is only right and proper that noble Lords should want to know more about that aspect.
The noble Lord asked particularly why the Deloitte report will not be published. The background is that, on 20 November 2007, the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families decided, as the noble Lord knows, to commission an independent review of ContactPoint’s security procedures. This was announced in a Written Statement to Parliament on 27 November. The review was undertaken by Deloitte, which reported to Ministers in early February 2008. On 21 February 2008, the executive summary of the report was published, which included Deloitte’s recommendations. The Government’s response to those recommendations was also published on the same day.
The Deloitte review confirmed that robust measures are in place for the security of ContactPoint and acknowledged that the importance of security is ingrained in the project. The review did not find any areas of significant weakness—that is a key point to stress. ContactPoint has undergone numerous levels of testing and review since the Deloitte review, involving all the kinds of testing that those interested in data management and security would expect. ContactPoint is government-accredited for security and is compliant with the international standard for information security management, ISO/IEC 27001.
I was asked about the publication of the full report. The report contains sensitive information about the security of ContactPoint. It is important to state that publication would do the opposite of what noble Lords have asked for. I will maintain that line, as noble Lords would expect. Publication would compromise the security of the data by providing a rich amount of information on how the security of the system works. We believe that we have done absolutely the right thing by putting as much information on the Deloitte report into the public domain as we can.
The noble Lord, Lord De Mauley, asked about security incidents. There have been a small number of incidents in which the correct procedures for the use of ContactPoint were not followed. I have been absolutely clear that there are very tight and correct procedures that need to be followed. The incidents were all investigated and appropriate action was taken. There is no evidence that any of these incidents indicated malicious intent or led to data in ContactPoint being at any risk. The fact that such incidents have been quickly identified and addressed demonstrates that the stringent security processes in place are working. I hope that I can offer the noble Lord the reassurance for which he is looking.
The noble Lord also asked about shielding and adoption. We have considered carefully whether all adopted children should be shielded. Delivery of ContactPoint should not in any way put children at increased risk. That is why we have the functionality to shield the records of any children who would be at increased risk of harm if their whereabouts became known. That would apply to children whether they are adopted or not. Each adoption is of course an individual case, and assessment of whether to shield a child’s records needs to be carried out on a case-by-case basis. Guidance has been provided to local authorities setting out the circumstances in which shielding would be appropriate. Comprehensive and stringent security arrangements are in place to prevent inappropriate access to information. Shielding is an additional measure relevant to the minority of children who are already considered to be at an increased risk should their whereabouts become known.
The noble Lord, Lord De Mauley, asked about feedback from the pilots. When we are talking about pilots, we are actually referring to early adopters. We have published a report that brings together all their experiences; it might be helpful if I send that to noble Lords, because there is an awful lot in it. There has been a lot of positive feedback about the usability of the system and how it helps people to do their jobs. I should be happy to send that report to noble Lords and to put a copy in the Library.
The noble Baroness, Lady Garden, asked about the number of responses to the consultation. Occasionally when the Government consult, the number of responses is quite small. That does not necessarily indicate a lack of interest; sometimes it means that people feel comfortable with the proposals. We have developed ContactPoint by working closely with early adopters in local authorities, making sure that we work with the whole local authority community and with the voluntary sector. We have a close dialogue with the users of ContactPoint at every stage and receive a lot of feedback. I am confident that the consultation that we have undertaken has given us some very helpful feedback, which enables us now to go ahead with the amendments to the regulations.
The noble Baroness also asked about our plans to survey practitioners. This picks up on the point made by the noble Earl, Lord Erroll, about how we evaluate the benefits of ContactPoint. It is important that we keep a close eye on what is happening as we evaluate ContactPoint usage. We plan a survey of practitioners in the summer of 2010. We published a baseline survey in 2009, which we can circulate to noble Lords. It covers the usage of the service, how people are finding it and whether it is saving the time that we expected. I will happily keep noble Lords informed about that.
The noble Baroness, Lady Garden, asked about shielding and the power proposed for the Secretary of State to decide to exclude or shield records. As noble Lords know, shielding hides the contact details of the child or young person and their parent or carer, together with those of any practitioners involved with them. A shield is applied only where it is appropriate to do so and according to the criteria—this is the important point—in the ContactPoint guidance.
The Secretary of State will take the decision to shield records only in cases that involve the most serious safeguarding and security concerns and after consultation with the appropriate law enforcement agencies. That will enable the process to be managed centrally in the most appropriate and secure manner. There are a very small number of these cases. In other cases, as the noble Baroness is aware, the decision to shield a record will continue to be the responsibility of the relevant local authority. The revised statutory ContactPoint guidance will clarify this.
I reassure the noble Baroness that in DCSF only a small central management team, whose members have been through all the checks that you would expect—the ones that I have described—will be involved in using ContactPoint. Team members are cleared and trained in the same way as any other ContactPoint user. Shielding is a very rare occurrence and the Secretary of State must follow the same criteria as local authorities have done since the early adopters were rolled out.
The noble Earl, Lord Erroll, asked about the number of ContactPoint users and the accuracy of the data. To be clear about the numbers, the national rollout of ContactPoint began in October 2009 and more than 5,000 authorised practitioners have now been trained and are using ContactPoint. Even at this early stage, we have promising evidence of the ways in which it is helping practitioners in their day-to-day work with children. The report to which I referred is a very good example. The speed at which practitioner use builds up over time will be agreed jointly by local authorities and national partners in the light of local needs. Access to ContactPoint is strictly limited to those who need it as part of their work, so there must be a specific reason for practitioners to want to use it. All users must have completed their identity checks and enhanced Criminal Records Bureau disclosure, which is renewable, as we know.
The likely user numbers are estimated to be about 390,000, but we have tried to be clear that the ultimate number of users will be determined by local authorities when they deem what is the most reasonable use and what most improves their day-to-day practice. These decisions will be governed by regulations and guidance, by the criteria that we have talked about, but ultimately by capacity and resources in the local authorities. I am not expecting that the number will be revised either way, but in practice we will be monitoring carefully the usage and the benefits that we can identify from that usage.
On the accuracy of data, obviously wherever possible ContactPoint will be automatically updated from existing systems. That is a key point. Practitioners will not need to enter the same information twice. That is done through the national data feeds. Data will be updated for other purposes anyway—for example, when a child moves school. We have had feedback from parents of children with disabilities, who have had to tell their story several times and give contact details of different therapists who work with their child. That kind of repetition of data will be much less problematic for parents and much more straightforward.
To be clear again, the department recognises the importance of data quality to the effectiveness of ContactPoint, which is one of the points that I think the noble Earl was driving at. We have made a significant investment in supporting local authorities in discharging their responsibilities and making sure that they have good teams locally that know their job very well to ensure that the quality of data is properly looked after. Specifically, that includes training of ContactPoint data administrators in every local authority and the ongoing provision of ContactPoint data administration tools and guidance from DCSF. All data fed to ContactPoint undergo an accreditation process to ensure that they are submitted in the best possible form and are of the highest quality. Transmission must be secure and reliable.
In the usual way, I shall check Hansard to ensure that I have answered all questions and I will send the reports, which are helpful. The amendments are modest and do not change the fundamental principles or the design of ContactPoint. They are necessary, though, to ensure that ContactPoint can operate in line with the policy intentions in the primary legislation, helping practitioners to work together to keep children safe and to improve their well-being. The amendment will legally enshrine good practice and improve the operation of ContactPoint in line with what practitioners and expert stakeholders have advised. I commend the regulations to the House.
House adjourned at 4.55 pm.