House of Lords
Tuesday, 5 October 2010.
Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of Hereford.
Deaths of Members
My Lords, it is with deep regret that I have to inform the House of the deaths during the Recess of the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey, the noble and learned Lords, Lord Bingham of Cornhill and Lord Lyell of Markyate, and the noble Lord, Lord Livsey of Talgarth. On behalf of the whole House I extend our condolences to the noble Lords’ families and friends.
Roads: Speed Cameras
My Lords, no assessment has been made about the effect on road accidents that may result from the decision to discontinue the specific road safety capital grant. The Government continue to provide substantial funding for local transport, including for road safety. Fixed camera operation is an option for local authorities, which remain free to invest in new cameras using their own resources.
I am grateful to the Minister for that reply. He will be aware, I am sure, that there will be very few convictions for offences now that the cameras have been discontinued. Is he aware that the Thames Valley Safer Roads Partnership assessed the speed of cars after these machines were switched off and found that 2.9 to four times more cars are exceeding the speed limit? Is that what the Government’s road safety policy is about? There have been many more accidents, deaths and serious injuries. Is that really what the Government intend?
My Lords, we certainly do not want people to exceed the speed limit and we will monitor the casualty rates both nationally and locally. Local authorities should consider the potential of the full range of road safety interventions, including educational and engineering solutions, and the Government will encourage them to do so.
My Lords, regardless of whether the speed cameras are on or off, given that darker evenings will begin at the end of this month, plus the increased traffic speed that has been mentioned, have the coalition Government assessed the estimated increase in the deaths of cyclists and schoolchildren during the months between when the clocks are put back and when they are put forward in the summer?
My Lords, the Minister will be aware, from his department’s own figures, that the statistics on road casualties caused by speed are horrendous. Can he give an assurance that if, as a consequence of this decision to discontinue the funding of safety cameras, there is an increase in the number of accidents at the sites where those cameras were present, the Government will reconsider their policy and ensure that the cameras come back?
My Lords, the first thing to remember is that local authorities are free to use cameras as much as they wish and as they see appropriate. We will also be carefully monitoring the casualty and accident rates, as will local authorities and the police. Local authorities will then take whatever action is necessary to continue the welcome downward trend in road accidents that the previous Administration achieved.
My Lords, with the advent of localism, whereby local authorities will be free to take whatever action they like in several areas, will the Government ensure that some objective monitoring of what happens is maintained, because many of the people doing the monitoring are parti pris to either the car lobby, the cycling lobby or the pedestrian lobby—all, as it were, peddling their own views?
My Lords, if we are to continue the downward trend in road traffic accidents, it is vital that we monitor the accident rate and its causes and contributory factors, whether that is speed that, if not illegal, is excessive or whether it is just plain exceeding the speed limit.
My Lords, is it not the case that the local authorities are anticipating cutbacks in resources as well? Will the Minister take responsibility for the statement on his department’s website that,
“Without safety cameras to reduce speeding and make … roads safer, around 100 more people would be killed each year”?
Is the Minister going to deny that?
My Lords, does the Minister accept that, in addition to the new policy on speed cameras, it is very unlikely in the current climate that additional police officers will be deployed to traffic duties? In fact, the position will understandably be quite the reverse in the climate of public sector cutbacks. Therefore, is it not increasingly necessary to monitor accident rates?
My Lords, am I the only one in this overcrowded House who thinks that there is a huge air of unreality in all the questions on this issue? Surely we should not be spending taxpayers’ money to prevent people from breaking the law. People should know what the law is, obey the speed limits and just shut up.
On the last point, will the educational process of speed awareness retraining courses that currently take place, and which in the main flow from possible convictions arising from people being caught by cameras, increase or decrease in future?
My Lords, in view of the Minister’s earlier remarks, could he tell the House what contribution to driving down the deficit is made by discontinuing money for speed cameras and how he would compare that to the potential increase in loss of life?
Will the Minister comment on evaluations that have shown that the income from fines of those caught on speed cameras going into the Exchequer is greater than the amount that the Government are saving by removing the grant to local government?
Government: Ministerial Cars
My Lords, Ministers are permitted to use an official car for official business and for reasonable home-to-office journeys on the understanding that they would normally be carrying classified papers on which they would be working or, exceptionally, when the security authorities consider it essential. The number of Ministers with allocated cars and drivers will be kept to a minimum.
My Lords, is the Minister aware that his colleague who went to the Dunkirk celebrations this year took a car all the way from London to Dunkirk instead of taking the Eurostar and hiring a local car at Calais to get to Dunkirk? I believe that the cost was several thousand pounds. Why could he not take the train half way, to Calais, and then take a car?
My Lords, if the noble Lord thinks that the Ministerial Code has not been completely complied with, he should write a letter to the Cabinet Secretary. On the question about certain former Ministers, on security grounds they may have the use of an allocated car and driver.
With the leave of the House, let me say that I do not think that the Minister heard my question properly. I did not ask about existing Prime Ministers and Deputy Prime Ministers; I asked about retired Prime Ministers. Would he answer my original question?
My Lords, is the reduction in the use of ministerial cars a reflection of the priorities of the Government in cutting public expenditure or is it a reflection of the fact that more than half the Cabinet are wealthy enough to be able to afford their own cars and drivers?
My Lords, I am not aware of any cars using liquid petroleum gas. However, many of them now use diesel fuel. For instance, some of the Jaguar cars will do 26.5 miles to the gallon and the Toyota Prius Mark III will achieve 72.4 miles per gallon. So far as I am aware, though, we are not using LPG as a fuel.
Elections: Voting Systems
My Lords, five electoral systems are currently used—the full list has been placed in the Libraries of both Houses. The Government propose a referendum next year on the system for electing Members of Parliament. We will also make proposals for elections to this House on the basis of proportional representation and we intend to introduce direct elections for police and crime commissioners in England and Wales.
My Lords, whatever side you are on regarding questions of electoral reform, to have five systems already in operation and to be planning three more surely means that there are far too many electoral systems for one country. We have now had the experience of a number of electoral systems. The main characteristics of all the new ones that have been brought in, particularly the European one, have been low voter turnout, greater confusion and a huge increase in the number of spoilt ballot papers. Is it not high time that we acknowledged that the characteristics of the system that we are familiar with—the straightforward, understandable, tried and tested system that the public know—mean that it is the best one to continue with: that is, first past the post?
I am well aware of the noble Lord’s views on first past the post, but he will be equally aware that many people consider the system to be deeply flawed. Most of the systems referred to were introduced by the previous Administration on the basis of horses for courses, taking into account what was most suitable for Scotland, for London and for Europe. I am sure that this debate will go on, not least when my right honourable friend Nick Clegg brings forward his proposals for due consideration in this House.
My Lords, instead of worrying about electoral systems, should not the Government be spending more time looking at electoral registration, particularly the registration of postal votes, so that at least our electoral register gets up to a better level than it has been at in recent years?
My noble friend has raised that issue before and I share his concern. Proposals have been brought forward for individual registration and identification of postal votes. He is on the right road and I assure him that the Government will continue to pursue that course to make sure that our register is accurate and, as far as possible, fraud-free.
I can give the assurance that we will give an open-minded look. My suspicion, however, is that in both Houses and in general there will be reluctance to bring an element of compulsion into voting, although all parties would like to see greater participation.
If the House of Commons were to be elected under AV and the second Chamber were to be elected under proportional representation, would not the second Chamber then have greater legitimacy, and what would be the implications for the primacy of the House of Commons?
My Lords, bearing in mind the valuable report of the Electoral Commission on the alternative vote and the arrangements that it has in mind, will the Government make sure that the information that comes to every voter at home is delivered sufficiently close to the vote being cast to ensure that the maximum number of people participating understand exactly which choice is the right one?
I agree with my noble friend. Information and understanding will be paramount in getting the right decision. That is why we intend to follow the precedent of the Euro campaign of nearly 40 years ago in that two sides will have the funding and the ability to put their case to the British people.
Will the Minister give us an assurance to allay our fears, in light of what has recently been said by the Electoral Commission, as I understand it, that this House will be given the time to debate the Bill on the May referendum? It appears that if there is to be a referendum in May there will be a shortage of time in which to have a proper debate and to make amendments. I have heard that this House might be denied the possibility of being able to amend because of the shortage of time.
My Lords, will the Minister confirm that the reason why the Government supported the introduction of the single transferable vote system in Northern Ireland was its fairness? Why is a proportional system—rather than AV, which is not proportional—not one of the options available in the referendum questions that will be put to the public when we come to decide on this issue? Will the Minister also explain why he and his noble friends have abandoned their traditional commitment to the single transferable vote?
AV is being put forward because that was the agreed form in the coalition agreement. If we could persuade our coalition partners and the Labour Party of the merits of STV, on which the noble Lord, Lord Alton, and I agree, we could also satisfy the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, as we could then go to one system in all elections.
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway, has been waiting for some time. I appreciate that it is a fine judgment but I also appreciate the courtesy of the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, in allowing the noble Lord, Lord Campbell, to ask his question.
Is the Minister aware that the system of election to the Scottish Parliament is so crazy that, if Margo MacDonald MSP were to retire tomorrow, she could not be replaced, if I retired tomorrow, the second person on the list would replace me, and if my noble friend Lord McConnell retired tomorrow, there would be a by-election in his constituency? Is that not a good argument for being very careful before rushing into changing electoral systems?
Her Majesty’s Government have given no evidence of electoral fraud to the relevant authorities.
My Lords, that is a very interesting Answer. Does the noble Lord agree that high public office, including chairmanship of a party and membership of the Cabinet, comes with real responsibility? If serious allegations are made about electoral fraud, is there not a responsibility to report them to the police? The noble Lord has been given a sticky wicket today and I regret that the noble Baroness, Lady Warsi, is not present. At the Conservative Party conference, the noble Baroness said that,
“when there are cases of electoral fraud, I will always speak out”.
If that is the case, why has she failed to name the three constituencies concerned? Perhaps the noble Lord would be good enough to do so today on behalf of the Government.
My Answer reflected the truth. The Government do not have information and neither is this the Government’s direct responsibility in these matters. If anybody has evidence of electoral fraud, they should report it to the returning officer concerned and to the police. The Government’s attitude is that they would then expect the authorities to prosecute any offences thoroughly and vigorously.
My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Warsi, as I read it in the newspapers—I must admit that the press are not always accurate—said specifically that the Conservative Party had lost its overall majority in the House of Commons on the basis of fraud in three or four constituencies, perpetrated majorly by Asian minorities. Ministers cannot do that and say, “It was just an off-the-cuff remark”. It is a serious matter for any government Minister to traduce the constitution of this country and its electoral system. The noble Baroness ought to come to this House and apologise.
I am sure that my noble friend will read those remarks. As far as I understand it, specific complaints have been made in a range of constituencies and are being investigated. However, I ask the House for pause on this. Research after the general election showed that 30 per cent of people thought that there were some elements of fraud in our electoral system. I do not believe that that is true, but it is a worrying factor that over the past few years, for the first time in my life, the integrity of our electoral system has been called into question. All major political parties have a duty to look at themselves and to make sure that fraud of any kind does not seep into our system. I emphasise that those who commit electoral fraud will be prosecuted and will face severe penalties.
My Lords, will my noble friend confirm that the Government are actively considering two important safeguards to prevent the increase in electoral fraud, as perceived: first, an increase in the proportion of postal votes that are verified—I believe that at the moment it is only one-fifth—and, secondly, an acceleration in the change to individual registration, to which my noble friend referred, so that it can take place before 2015? Neither was a change with which the previous Government decided to proceed.
The short answer is yes, we are so doing. However, I do not want to score party points on this. I remember asking questions from the opposition Benches before the election about the loss of confidence, particularly in postal voting. We need to follow through some of the reforms that are now in chain and to look to our own houses in terms of how we expect our members to behave. We need to be willing to push forward the process by which people respect our electoral system.
My Lords, the Minister may be interested to know that after the 1992 general election I attended a meeting in the Home Office as a representative of the Ulster Unionist Party. In the margins of that meeting there was an interesting discussion involving the representatives of two other parties, who discussed the prevalence of electoral fraud in certain regions of England among certain sections of the population, along the same lines as the comments of the noble Baroness that have been referred to. This issue has been around for a long time. People have been pussy-footing around it and failing to deal with a serious problem. Would it not be good if the party opposite, which has neglected to deal with this issue, was a bit more responsible now?
I again make the point that anybody who has specific allegations or evidence should report that to the police and to the returning officer in the constituencies concerned. We are open to discussing with all parties how we can improve the integrity of our system. As my noble friend said, this is not a matter that has blown up simply since the last general election. There will be a full report in January by the Electoral Commission and the police. I suggest that at that time it might be open to the major political parties to look at that report to see whether there are other ways in which we can take this forward. The integrity of our system must be protected.
Private Notice Question
My Lords, too often the current system traps people in benefit dependency, making a move to work seem risky and financially unsustainable. This has led to a 45 per cent increase in real terms in spending on welfare in the past decade. Our proposals for these and other welfare reforms will be announced at the spending review. We also intend to publish a White Paper in response to our consultation on welfare reforms, and I assure noble Lords that there will be ample opportunity for further debate.
My Lords, I am grateful. There is a real urgency for Parliament to scrutinise these massive changes to the welfare state. Can I ask the Minister what he would say to the mum with three young children who wants to stay at home to care for them while her husband earns just over £45,000 a year? She is already worried about the VAT increase in January; has lost £500 a year with the child tax credit cut; and now will lose another £2,400 with the loss of child benefit. She thinks that she would be better off going back to work or even splitting up her family. Is this why the Prime Minister promised before the election not to touch child benefit, and is this not a sign that the Government are already out of touch with the “squeezed middle” hard-working families of this country?
I would suggest that the only one who is out of touch is the noble Lord himself if he is not aware of the financial difficulties facing this country and the need to reduce government spending in line with the deficit that we inherited. This is essential to our policy. This is not an easy decision to make, but it is a necessary decision to make if we are to bring public spending into line.
I would ask my noble friend to await the debates that we will have following publication of the White Paper in which all these matters will be made clear. The detail of the policy has not been presented to Parliament, as noble Lords will know. There will be plenty of opportunities for debate and at that point this matter can be addressed.
The Government have nothing against children—indeed I think that that must be self-evident. At the moment we tax people on low incomes to pay for the child benefit of people who earn much more. There is fairness and equality involved in this, and I am surprised that the noble Lord cannot perceive that.
My Lords, is the Minister aware that the necessary cuts are already beginning to harm the most vulnerable families and the services that support them? Does he agree that if the £1 billion saving made by ending universal child benefit were targeted towards those most vulnerable families, many people in this country would agree that it is the right thing to do?
Indeed it is. The strategy, of which this is part, is to reform the welfare system so that it is fairer, and at the same time to raise tax thresholds so that people on lower incomes are likely to be better off rather than worse. At the moment we have a situation where those on middle incomes are paying for benefits to be given to people on higher incomes. That cannot be justified.
My Lords, it has been estimated that 80 per cent of the cuts will fall on women, because women receive most of the benefits that have been alluded to. Women receive the bulk of public services and fill the most posts in low-paid public sector jobs. How will the Government ensure in the forthcoming comprehensive spending review that there is fairness to low-paid, hard-working women?
There has been a review of the whole welfare system. A Green Paper was published. It was quite clear at the general election that the Conservative Party and the coalition both believed in welfare reform. Those matters have been presented to the electorate. It is a pity that all the false starts on welfare reform made by the previous Government were not implemented. We are tackling a task that should have been tackled many years ago.
On the subject of the original Question, is the Minister not aware that when policy changes of this nature are made, it is usual for them not to be announced at a political party conference or to the media, but first to be introduced into Parliament so that Ministers may be questioned at the Dispatch Box?
The spending review will be announced to Parliament on 20 October. A series of business matters arising from that review will, I am sure, interest noble Lords. Meanwhile, the policy announced at the Conservative Party conference was but an elaboration of the consultation process and the policy formation that has taken place since the Green Paper was published.
Thank you. Is the Minister aware that, given the current pressure to get people back to work, there is a real danger that genuinely disabled people will be included? The margin is a delicate one and the pressure to get disabled people back to work will be enormous. Will the Minister address this point and confirm that those on the margin will be honoured and respected by the Government?
My Lords, the Minister proclaims simplicity for this scheme. How does he respond to a conundrum—one of many posed in today’s newspapers—in which someone asks:
“I earn £44,000 and have two children. Would I be better off with a small pay cut?”.
The answer is:
“Probably. Tax advisers are already devising ways in which people who earn just over the 40 per cent tax band can legally reduce their income so they still qualify for child benefit. It may be possible to reduce your pay through ‘salary sacrifice’ schemes such as buying extra holiday days”.
Is this not going to be horrendously complex? It is going to need a whole raft of anti-avoidance legislation.
The noble Lord is an expert in these matters. Indeed, I have debated welfare, thresholds and marginality with him at the Dispatch Box before and I respect his contribution. However, inevitably when you draw a line in the sand, you find that there are people on that margin, and it is not unreasonable that they should seek to make sure that their affairs are not adversely affected by it.
Arrangement of Business
My Lords, we now pass on to the next business as we have extinguished the 10 minutes available for a Private Notice Question.
Later this afternoon, after we have debated the Third Reading of the Local Government Bill, we shall have a debate to which 38 Members of this House have signed up. At this stage, it is clearly impossible for me to give very helpful guidance as to how long speeches might be in order for the House to rise by 10 pm but perhaps I may give a little helpful guidance. We expect the speaking time guidance to be between seven and eight minutes, but as soon as the Local Government Bill has been debated, I will return to give more precise guidance. Of course, it is always a matter for the House to determine how long it wishes to be detained here.
I am now in a position to announce the recess dates. I am pleased to be able to announce that the House will rise for the Christmas Recess at the close of business on Wednesday, 22 December and return on Monday, 10 January. As ever of course, recess dates are subject to the progress of business in the House. Notice of these dates is now available in the Printed Paper Office.
Identity Documents Bill
The Bill was brought from the Commons on 16 September, read a first time and ordered to be printed.
Local Government Bill [HL]
My Lords, because no amendments have been tabled at Third Reading, I hope that the House will allow one or two of us to say a few words on Bill do now pass.
For those not familiar with the Bill, John Denham, the former Secretary of State, legislated for unitary status for Norwich and Exeter in spring 2009. The Liberal Democrat party, which ran Norwich from 2002 to 2006, started our move towards unitary status with full Labour support. In Exeter, I believe that all three city parties warmly supported it. However, because the Boundary Committee, incompetently throughout its time, produced its final report six months late—in December 2009 instead of July 2009—the Secretary of State regrettably and inevitably ran out of time for further consultation.
That Bill passed and a transitional authority was put in place for both cities, which I emphasise abided by the law at every step of the way. Last May’s elections were therefore suspended. Norwich and Exeter have behaved impeccably throughout. In the general election, Mr Pickles made it clear that he would overturn the Bill immediately because Norwich belonged to Norfolk and Exeter belonged to Devon even though they were self-contained, chartered, self-governing boroughs 600 years before there was even a concept of a county council. The Bill was truncated because the courts also ruled that there was incomplete consultation because the Boundary Committee’s report came in six months late and that the city council seats left open should be filled by by-elections—these occurred this summer on 9 September—since this matter was last before your Lordships’ House on Report. I know that those noble Lords who are still here will be anxious to know the results of those by-elections and what they say about this whole story.
In Exeter the Labour Party won three seats and is now in control. Thank you, Mr Pickles. In Norwich the Labour Party increased its majority; the Liberal Democrats lost a seat, as did the leader of the Tory city group, Mr Noble, who had been the parliamentary candidate just four months before—so much for all those remarks from the opposition Benches that the proposals did not have community support. In at least three wards in Norwich the Lib Dem candidate struggled to beat the UKIP candidate for fourth and fifth places respectively. Not pretty. The party that ran Norwich from 2002 to 2006 can now meet in a phone box and may be wiped off the map in the next couple of rounds of local elections.
On those poll results, if projected, the Lib Dem local MP for Norwich South and the Tory MP for Norwich North would lose their seats. From a joint population of around 270,000, some 25 to 30 per cent of the electorate voted on a single issue—unitary status. They knew what they were voting for and made their views clear. I take no issue with the noble Baroness, Lady Hanham. I think that it is a bad Bill. She may have different views from mine on it, but she has responsibility for her department to carry it through and I well understand its obligations. But no such obligations fall on the Lib Dems. The Lib Dem council started the process towards unitary status and Lib Dem councillors have remained stalwart behind it throughout. They are decent, honourable people.
The Lib Dem MP, Simon Wright, supported it and his wife was a Liberal Democrat councillor who was very much in favour of it. Delegations to the Lib Dem leadership in London were led to believe that, given Lib Dem commitment to localism, they would have full support for becoming unitary. What was said to them in private was shamefully reversed in public. I refer to the noble Lords, Lord Tope and Lord Rennard, pressed I do not doubt by Norman Lamb in the other place, who incidentally said in Parliament that he wants to keep Norwich in the county, so that Liberal and Labour Norwich city councillors can fight the Tory county councillors locally more effectively—the very same Tories with whom he is in coalition nationally, if we can imagine such a twisted position.
Those three senior Lib Dems denied their local Lib Dem colleagues and their Norwich Lib Dem MP their support. Not only that, they ensured defeat. Local Lib Dems are appalled; they used words such as “treachery” in the press; they have made savage denouncements; and the electorate are well aware that the London Liberal Democrats have effectively destroyed the local Lib Dem party as well as, more importantly, the ability of Norwich and Exeter to generate the economic growth and jobs that this recession badly needs. Any trust that Lib Dems had in Norwich and that local Lib Dems had built up has been wiped away. The Lib Dem party has always been a party built up from local government. When the coalition segments, you may find that you have nothing left on which to rebuild your party, because this episode will not be forgiven.
This Bill is shameful. It is a delay, not a defeat, because it will come back. It is not a defeat except for the standing—and, frankly, if I may say so, the honour—of the Lib Dem party in local government.
My Lords, it will have been clear from all the prior stages of this Bill that we do not support it. We do not consider it to be in the best interests of Exeter or Norwich. We consider that it represents a heavy-handed, centrist approach denying those great cities the opportunity of again becoming unitary authorities—an opportunity already available to many local authorities of different political leaderships provided by both Conservative and Labour Governments —and denying them that opportunity at the very time that their potential to be at the forefront of driving growth and creating jobs is most needed.
However, at this stage of a Bill, we should offer some thanks. Our thanks go to the electors of Norwich and Exeter for turning out in their thousands in by-elections to show their support for Labour Party candidates, enabling Labour to become the largest party in Exeter and to lead the administration with plummeting Lib Dem votes and both coalition parties losing seats and, as my noble friend explained, a swing to Labour in Norwich with both coalition parties suffering losses. Those are real votes, not surveys: a clear demonstration of the anger felt in both cities directed at those who have been frustrating their legitimate unitary aspirations.
As my noble friend said, this is not the end of the matter. This remains unfinished business. We pass the baton to our colleagues in another place, confident that they will continue to press for proper answers, particularly on the legitimacy of the impact assessment. We will continue to give support and encouragement to Exeter and Norwich to pursue their future as unitary authorities.
My Lords, I shall be brief on this occasion, because it seems to me and to many of us who have witnessed these debates that just about everything that could be said on the issues has been said in earlier debates—if not repeated by everybody on each particular point. The positions of the parties and participants were clear when the orders were first debated in this House on 22 March, and I stand by the view of my party that it would have been far better for all concerned if the amendment moved by my noble friend Lord Tope had been carried then. Much unnecessary debate and great uncertainty for people in Exeter, Norwich and Norfolk could have been avoided.
The noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, referred to the recent local elections in Norwich and Exeter, but she chose not to refer at all to the general election outcome in May this year. It was very clear before the general election what was the position adopted by the Liberal Democrats and by the Conservatives, and the outcome of the general election was very clear in terms of both votes and seats in support of parties—
Indeed, but the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives stated categorically just before the general election that both parties were committed to not proceeding with those structural changes in the way, in the timescale and on the basis in which the Labour Government tried to introduce them in their dying days in what was a quite improper way—a way which the judges decided was illegal and improper. Other parties won those elections, and therefore decided that they would proceed in this way. We believe that it is not the right scheme and not the right time, and that this debate should be brought to a close and the Bill be allowed to pass.
My Lords, there is very little more that I should say, except that I reiterate slightly what the noble Lord, Lord Rennard, said. In the heat of the moment, we forget where all this started. It all started because the previous Government decided that Norwich and Exeter's bid did not fulfil the criteria for unitary government.
Not very much has been said on this side about Exeter. I represented a parliamentary seat around Exeter—the Tiverton and Honiton seat—for 18 years, and I was involved in quite some detail in the earlier stages of the Bill in another place. On the point that my noble friend is making, the five criteria set by the Government originally included a requirement to consult across the county of Devon. When that exercise was completed, the Government refused to publish the results, which does not stand well in terms of them listening to people. Had Exeter become a unitary—I am well aware that people in Exeter, particularly the Labour Party, wanted that to happen—the consequences for the rest of the county of Devon would have been extreme. It would have been a beggar-my-neighbour policy.
My Lords, I am extremely grateful to my noble friend. I was not ignoring Exeter—it was of course part of the partnership that included Suffolk—for these proposals. I will return to where I was. Nobody thought that Exeter or Norwich could fulfil the five criteria. It was not until we were very close to the election that there was a sudden switch of view and a decision that they met them. The view taken by the coalition was that it was improper to go ahead on the basis that had been decided. In any event, the matter went to court. By the time we discussed this, the judge had quashed the orders and that resulted in the elections.
We have had heated debates in this House on this matter. It is now time for us to put this aspect of it to bed.
Bill passed and sent to the Commons.
Motion to Take Note
My Lords, it is very satisfying that we start what is likely to be a busy autumn with today’s debate. Not only does it enable me to seek to satisfy the genuine curiosity of the House in respect of a key item in the coalition agenda, but it is a subject area in which the experience of noble Lords in their lives outside this place can be brought to bear with great effect. It will be especially useful to hear of ways in which charities and voluntary groups can work together with communities and the agencies of government for the creation of civil society. The sheer number of noble Lords who have indicated their wish to join in this debate reinforces this expectation. It must be a long time since seven maiden speeches have been made in a single debate. I am sure that I speak for all noble Lords when I say that we look forward to hearing those speeches in particular.
There is a strong tradition of commitment to charities in this country by giving both time and money. The facts that there are over 170,000 charities in the UK and that we have the highest financial giving in Europe suggest strong levels of social responsibility in our country. Charities help bind people together. They act as a mechanism for people to come together to take action on a given cause and to provide a voice to individuals or groups who might otherwise not be heard. Where charities provide services, we see the good will of volunteers and donors being matched up to support others in society who may be less able. They do this not because there is a financial gain, or because they have been instructed by the state to do so, but because they believe it is the right thing to do. To me, this not only symbolises a strong society, it also reinforces a strong society.
Charities and other voluntary and community organisations also play a role in creating bonds and driving social capital among volunteers within the organisations. It is common to hear people talk of charity work strengthening their sense of purpose and well-being, and giving them opportunities for building friendships. The freedom for any of us to set up such organisations—to take action on what we believe is important—should be seen and cherished as a fundamental right. We should all celebrate and support the role of charities in society. Later this month there will be the first annual trustees’ week, which will be an opportunity to recognise the hundreds of thousands of people who voluntarily give their time to lead our charities and to encourage more to take on this incredibly rewarding role.
It would, however, be incorrect to suggest that civil society is as developed as it could be. While charities and other organisations can be inspiring, their role within society can be strengthened. Indeed, there are significant geographic variations in their distribution. Many areas with high levels of deprivation often have fewer local voluntary and community groups compared with more affluent areas.
While the Government have for a long time aimed to support the voluntary and community sector, I am not convinced that their actions have really been conducive to strengthening civil society. In recent years, the state has taken a bigger and more interventionist role in society, thus increasing the burden of bureaucracy and removing decision-making from local communities. Not only has this stifled local initiative and enthusiasm, it has led to an overdependence on the state.
Charities have not been immune to positioning themselves to respond to this. One sees ways in which they can be tempted to move away from their core agenda in order to maximise their corporate success. This Government are committed to reversing the trend and to supporting civil society to grow and to flourish as an independent force for good. The big society agenda is about giving power back to individuals, families, communities and groups—turning government upside-down—so that society, not the state, is in the driving seat.
But big society is most definitely not another government programme: it is quite the opposite. It is about challenging everyone to think differently. It challenges individuals to think about the personal and social consequences of their behaviour; it challenges communities to take more responsibility for their local areas and find ways to positively transform them; and it challenges the state to ask itself why it is performing certain functions, rather than giving responsibility for them to citizens, neighbourhood groups, voluntary sector organisations or social enterprises.
Taking up these challenges means rebalancing the relationship between the state and community and individual. For example, it might mean charities, social entrepreneurs, and the private and public sector collaborating in the design and delivery of services and individuals being more active in supporting their communities. Of course, the Government still have an important role. They must continue to protect vulnerable people and to provide essential services that only the state can and should provide. They also have a key role in building the big society—not by trying to control its development but by providing the tools and removing barriers and bureaucracy that prevent other parts of society from playing a stronger role.
Therefore, Francis Maude, Minister for the Cabinet Office, and Nick Hurd, Minister for Civil Society, have clearly set out three things that the Government will do to support charities, social enterprises and other community organisations. These are: to make it easier to run a charity, social enterprise or voluntary organisation; to get more resources into the sector and strengthen its independence and resilience; and, finally, to make it easier for sector organisations to work within the state. I shall explore these themes in more detail.
The Office for Civil Society has now been set up in the Cabinet Office to co-ordinate work to deliver these three things. A full work programme which complements other big society work across Government is now under way. First, on making it easier to set up and run a charity, voluntary group or social enterprise, a key priority is to reduce bureaucracy within the voluntary and community sector that is currently stifling participation and social action. This will make it easier in future to set up and run civil society organisations.
My noble friend Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts is leading a task force to cut red tape, which has been set up jointly by the Cabinet Office and the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills. The task force has a broad remit and will also feed its ideas into other work that is taking place across Government, such as the health and safety review being undertaken by my noble friend Lord Young of Graffham. I am thinking, too, of the Home Office-led review of Criminal Records Bureau checks, or the Treasury-led gift aid forum. While regulations of this sort are well intentioned, the bureaucratic downside can often outweigh the benefits they bring. Indeed, the word “trust” underpins charity. We need to trust charities more and give them the space to get on with their work without detailed top-down targets, lengthy forms or overbearing regulation. I look forward to hearing what my noble friend Lord Hodgson has to say about the task force this afternoon, and its recommendations due early next year, which I hope will liberate charities to focus more resources on front-line services and remove barriers to participation and social action.
Next year, there will be a review of the Charities Act 2006, giving us an opportunity to consider whether the current legal framework for charities is effective or whether there may be areas where we can further empower charities and strip out unnecessary regulation. Following a consultation earlier this year, there are already some sensible proposals for the review to consider in, for example, the area of what might make it easier and cheaper for charities to undertake land transactions.
The second area of action is to get more resources into the sector and to strengthen its independence and resilience. One of the key bits of infrastructure that will support charities and other parts of civil society is the big society bank. This will use funds from dormant bank accounts to open up access to finance for voluntary and community organisations and social enterprises to create a positive impact in their communities. It will work through intermediary bodies with a track record of supporting and growing social entrepreneurship. Setting up the big society bank is a priority for the Government and the launch is linked to the timetable for implementing the dormant accounts scheme. We are working with banks and building societies, the Financial Services Authority and The Co-operative Financial Services to ensure that the reclaim fund is in operation as soon as possible.
Another key piece of work is the Communities First funding scheme. Subject to the spending review, these neighbourhood grants will be available to provide small amounts of funding to unlock the potential for social action by new or existing community groups. The grants will be available in the most deprived neighbourhoods, estates and wards in England. Areas will be announced this autumn and the grants will be available from spring 2011. We also want to support infrastructure organisations, like the councils for voluntary service, which play a valuable role in energising local action by nurturing the small groups that bind neighbourhoods together. Therefore we are keen to find the best ways to improve the effectiveness of infrastructure organisations, which is why we will carry out a consultation on this later in the autumn.
On the third commitment, an important element of making it easier for civil society organisations to work with the state will be to reform public sector commissioning and to ensure a more level playing field so that charities, social enterprises and other sector organisations are more able to bid to deliver public services. This will greatly enhance public sector markets and provide opportunities for civil society organisations despite falls in other forms of funding.
The Government are committed to the compact, as the Prime Minister stated when he launched the big society programme at No. 10 in May. A draft renewed and streamlined compact has been developed by the Office for Civil Society, working with Compact Voice, which is currently consulting the sector on it. The Government are continuing their dialogue with the sector. In July, Ministers wrote an open letter to the voluntary, community and social enterprise sectors asking for help in identifying good practice and any emerging risks to developing the big society. More than 200 responses have been received and are being analysed to identify key themes and opportunities. The results will be considered by the informal ministerial group on the big society, and a summit will be held with sector leaders to discuss joint action to support civil society in tackling issues important to local people.
Alongside work specifically focused on civil society, the wider big society work programme will interact with and complement the civil society sector. Examples of work here include establishing community organisers. They will be individuals who lead and co-ordinate work in their local areas to help people work together to make their community a better place in which to live. With strong connections to the local community, they will act as local catalysts to help galvanise change. The Government will provide funding to identify, train and support 5,000 community organisers over the lifetime of this Parliament.
My Lords, I am sorry to interrupt the noble Lord but the conversation being carried on to my right is making it extremely difficult for me to concentrate on what he is saying. I remind local Lords who wish to converse that they may remove themselves to the Prince’s Chamber if they wish to have a discussion while business is being carried on in the House.
My Lords, I was talking about community organisers and made the point that we hope to train and support 5,000 community organisers over the lifetime of this Parliament.
We will be launching the National Citizen Service—a programme which aims to develop young people’s sense of active citizenship through personal development activities and community service. We plan to run the first pilots of the National Citizen Service during the summer of 2011.
A key component of the big society is the transfer of power from Whitehall to communities. This is being led by Greg Clark, Minister for Decentralisation, and pioneering work is already going on in the four vanguard communities announced by the Prime Minister in July—Eden Valley, Liverpool, Sutton and Windsor and Maidenhead— where barriers to community-led action are already being identified and broken down.
I hope this gives noble Lords a sense of what the Government will be doing to support charities and encourage other voluntary and community organisations to thrive. I have also tried to illustrate the central role that these organisations play in civil society and how this role interacts with the state. As part of this, I hope I have been clear that strengthening civil society and building the big society is only possible with partnership and support from all the different players involved. Certainly, the Government do not have all the answers but they do have a key role in encouraging and facilitating charities, voluntary groups and individuals to play their part in building a better and more fulfilled life for all: a civil society no less. I beg to move.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for securing this debate and for his opening remarks. I know that he has a strong personal interest in the charity sector and, through his other life in business, a strong record of supporting very important charities—not least the one that I held dear to my heart for many years, Breakthrough Breast Cancer. I know that we understand each other across this Table and I agree very much with him that our country is blessed with a strong, vibrant and diverse charitable sector. I, too, believe very much that it is the lifeblood of our civil society. Without our voluntary and community organisations, I would argue that there would be simply no civil society.
Such is the importance of this matter, as the Minister has already explained, that we simply have a most amazing and dazzling array of expertise and knowledge of the sector speaking in this debate, so I am greatly interested in the contributions of noble Lords. I, too, particularly look forward, as the Minister has said, to the many maiden speeches that we will hear from the new Members of your Lordships’ House who are speaking. I am very excited about that too—seven maiden speeches really must be a record.
The figure that I have for the number of charitable organisations is slightly higher than the Minister’s, so perhaps we should check our references. I would say that we have around 200,000 charitable organisations operating in the United Kingdom, covering a diverse range of subjects from specific health support charities through to international environmental groups. These organisations bring together an equally diverse range of individuals who are passionate about the causes that they work for and dedicate many hours, as we know, in the pursuit of their organisation’s mission. Within the charitable sector there are literally millions of people who volunteer as part of their daily lives. I know this, as I have worked alongside volunteers and been a volunteer, and that the motivations behind volunteering are as many and as varied as the people who volunteer.
While that number has remained relatively stable over the past 20 years or so, I am pleased that there has been an increase in the amount of money and in the number of people making financial donations to charitable organisations. That is extremely welcome. For years, the charity sector has agonised about how we continue to drive up support for charities, but we are becoming more financially generous as a population. For example, the Charities Aid Foundation found that, last year, £81 million was donated to charity by half a million employees through the payroll giving scheme, Give As You Earn. That is an increase of around 153 per cent from the 1999-2000 figures; that must give us cause for great optimism in these extremely challenging times.
As I have said, I have spent my life in the charity sector and I have a personal and a professional understanding of the demands that the voluntary and community sectors face daily. Like many here, I, too, have experience not only of the previous Government but of the previous Conservative Government, so I have a good back story, but funding is pretty much always the biggest issue that concerns the voluntary and community sector. I will dwell on that matter today, but I also know that capacity is a major issue for the sector and that my noble friend Lady Royall, the Leader of the Opposition, is very concerned about that too. She will talk about it in her remarks later.
I turn to the Government’s plans for the sector—to the big idea and to the big society. I welcome the coalition Government’s interest in the charity sector and in the voluntary and community sector, and the emphasis that the Government are placing on the challenge. I have been listening carefully to what the voluntary and community sector has to say on this topic. Some Tory campaigners during the election campaign found it very difficult to describe on the doorstep what the big society was about, but this is not a problem that we might experience in this place. We know that it is not a new idea and that it is not rocket science, but there is curiosity about what the big society means in practical terms. This is absolutely right, and I am sure that the coalition Government welcome that interest.
Many charitable organisations are rightly enthusiastic about expanding their service delivery and continuing with the new Government the close relationship that they developed under Labour. That is absolutely right. At the same time, the sector has legitimate concerns about the funding and capacity for taking forward this big idea. March 2011 is the cut-off date for many charitable organisations currently receiving government funding, and it is a very worrying time for them. The Government have asked local authorities drastically to cut spending, in an attempt to manage the deficit, at a pace that we would argue is reckless. But that is what local authorities are being asked to do. Community and voluntary organisations are expecting council budgets to be reduced by 30 per cent. Volunteering England has noted its concern that, in London alone, Greenwich council is proposing cutting its voluntary sector budget by 50 per cent and Croydon council by 66 per cent. The proposed cuts will have a devastating effect on community and voluntary organisations, many of which will face the loss of important programmes, possibly in their infancy, and even their total extinction. The reality of cutting budgets with no bridging policy is that many organisations will disappear, which will be a great loss to our society. When in government, we valued the sector because of its innovation and closeness to service users as well as its extremely important advocacy role, challenging us and saying difficult things to us but also helping us to improve government policy.
It is a fallacy to think that volunteering is free. Volunteering England has stated that volunteers often need training and certain expenses to be paid, which is fair enough. Inclusive and high-quality volunteering is achieved only by funding to support volunteer managers and co-ordinators who recruit, train, and support volunteers and with funding to support the volunteering infrastructure. That is essential. Without careful consideration and support in going forward, after-school clubs, domestic violence charities, rape crisis centres, parenting programmes, projects to tackle youth crime and support schemes for isolated older people are all at risk.
If community organisations and charities are not to be affected by the funding cuts, it is likely that even so they will be caught by the Government's proposed rise in VAT. According to the Charity Tax Group, the rise in VAT will,
“increase the irrecoverable VAT burden of charities by at least £150 million per year”.
This will hit smaller charities disproportionately hard. Then there is the unfolding tragedy for medical research charities when the Government no longer match what charities invest in medical research, risking a new brain drain in British science and the economic impact of that. There is also a very real fear within the sector that it will be left to deal with the fallout of the Government's public sector policy, which will result in reduced benefits and an increased likelihood of social problems requiring attention.
The one stop-gap for this that we heard about is the promised big society bank—and I am very grateful to the Minister for telling us more about it today. But the use of dormant money in bank accounts to generate funding for the charitable sector is not a new idea. It is a very good idea; the Labour Government included a similar concept in the March Budget, with their proposals for a social investment wholesale bank. The big society bank proposal is, however, still significantly short of funds for the purposes of financing the sector. The Government advise that funds will be made available from April 2011 of about £60 million to £100 million, although I look forward to being corrected on that, as it is less than the amount that charities will need to cope with the rise in VAT, let alone to cope with the new challenging funding environment. What impact assessment have the Government made of the spending review on the voluntary and community sector and the services and support that that sector provides?
I shall finish shortly. The Labour Party has a long and proud tradition of volunteering and collective action. Our party was born of trade unions, friendly and mutual societies and the co-operative movement. From the very beginning, we have seen people join together in a common endeavour to press for social justice, from women’s suffrage to the right to a minimum wage. We have achieved positive social change through the strength of conviction of our members and communities coming together. These achievements are bound by a belief in civic responsibility and are motivated by our core values of solidarity, reciprocity and mutuality. That is what makes a good society, not maintained by voluntary action and charity alone but based on strong partnerships where markets are held to account and civil society thrives.
I look forward to the debate today and, yes, to learning about the practicalities of what the charity, community and voluntary sector wishes to do. I hope that the Government will build on the commitment that our Government made, not least the doubling of investment in a sector to promote innovation and closeness to service-users, to add value to all the volunteering and giving that our society does and to add capacity and value to the great work that our voluntary, community and charity sector does for us in this country.
My Lords, perhaps I can help to unravel the dispute about the number of charities. I think that neither the Minister nor the noble Baroness, Lady Morgan of Drefelin, are quite right. The Minister was right about the number of registered charities, but no one knows how many unregistered charities there are. The thought is that we have a total of 300,000 charities in this country. Never forget the tiny charities, the local ones, that often give a bigger bang for their buck than anyone in the empire of charities.
I thank the bishops for having got this debate into play. I also congratulate the seven maiden speakers. There is no doubt that the Guinness book of records needs to be informed about this; five lady Peers are making their maiden speech today, which is infinitely more than we have ever had before. How good.
I am another old charity hack. Of my more than 50 years in the law, the past 35 have been spent primarily acting for charities great and small, right across the piece. How wonderfully privileged and entertained I have been in that; it is, as has been said and will be said many times, the glory of this country.
A simple answer to the title of the debate—namely, “What is the role of the charitable sector in strengthening civil society?”—would simply be, “Unique and indispensable”. Charity, after all, preceded the state and will perhaps outlive it. It certainly still provides the context within which the state and business function.
I thought it might be of interest if I gave your Lordships the one-sentence contributions to this debate of a few of the leaders of the charity world whom I asked to make their input in this way. Noble Lords will see that their main focus is the relationship between charities and the state. Sir Stuart Etherington, chief executive of the National Council for Voluntary Organisations, extolled,
“charities at the heart of civil society, bringing people together, giving voice to their concerns and enabling them to become agents of change, not objects of policy”.
Very well put, I thought.
Richard Fries, a former Charity Commissioner, now an academic in the field, remarked that,
“partnership between civil society and government strengthens both but only with the independence which charitable status guarantees, otherwise the partnership would risk civil society becoming an agent of the state”.
Debra Allcock Tyler, chief executive of the Directory of Social Change, wrote to me with the same song. She said that,
“charities are the last bastion of true democracy”—
that is challenging—
“the will of the people to do what they want in the way they want—and not merely as an agent of the state”.
Agency is mentioned yet again.
Michael Brophy, whom many in this Chamber will remember as the former leader of the Charities Aid Foundation and who did more than anyone to make the CAF such a focal point of the sector, concentrated on what the state alone can do to encourage philanthropy. He wrote:
“what is needed is a whole new, exciting gamut of government-led inducements, such as matching funds, the issuing of tax exempt social bonds and the creation of a special Gilt market dedicated to public benefit”.
Finally, Barbara Stocking, chief executive of Oxfam, and Campbell Robb, chief executive of Shelter and formerly of the Office of the Third Sector, concentrated on the liberating aspects of charity. The former said:
“Oxfam’s experience has shown that lasting development means poor people taking matters into their own hands to become active citizens, holding governments to account and taking on the sources of their own exclusion”.
Mr Robb noted,
“the unique role of charities in creating a vibrant, cohesive and inclusive society by … empowering their beneficiaries”.
I want to concentrate on that aspect. Before I do, I should like to take up a theme already mentioned by both previous speakers about the thin line between government assistance and smothering, between enabling and bureaucratising, between regulating and demoralising. Believe me, as a lawyer, I have seen all of that, on stilts. Too often, Governments can be heavy-handed; as a recent example, just before the election, the last Finance Act introduced the concept of the “fit and proper person” test, which sounds lovely and safe but is an absolute nightmare for the charity sector.
As regards Parliament, I propose that charities should be taken completely out of the party political arena. When charity issues are being discussed and charity Bills debated, votes should not be whipped. That was broadly the way in which we in this House dealt with the Charities Act 2006, but in the Commons votes on crucial issues such as public benefit were whipped. Many, I suggest, think that it would have been better not to do that but to leave it instead to the experience, reason and conscience of individual Members.
What of the “big society”? I would have much preferred the “good society”. It is bigness that is getting us down, whether in government or in business. It is giantism which, in an already decommunalised and deracinated society, unduly atomises and individualises. Indeed, I believe that the rabid materialism and all-enveloping commercialisation of life and our culture is doing untold damage to our values, our probity, our decency and our fellow feeling. Charities, in all their wonderful diversity, harbouring as they do a level of public trust exceeded only by doctors and policemen, and with their astonishing engagement right across society, are fit to lead a national reformation. For charity is in essence—and indeed by law—altruistic and voluntary at a time when trust and idealism are bruised and in short supply. Charity also carries the egalitarian genes of our history. Small is indeed beautiful; it is near, it is humane; it abets relationship and begets humility.
Charity is egalitarian in another way. Most people who work at the voluntary coal face will say that they have got as much from doing it as they have given to it in the form of gratitude, empathy, insight and a sense of usefulness that is so often lacking in their paid work. In short, charity reaches the parts that nothing else reaches so well.
I will quickly make two other points. First, the world of which we are a part is obsessively busy, with technology as much our slave as our enabler. In my lifetime solicitors, for example, have gone from being pillars of the community to being men and women so driven by their targets—so specialised and bound up with the law—that too often they have little or nothing to do with civil society. That pattern is repeated across the business and professional board at huge cost to our society, let alone to the individuals concerned. What happened to “example”?
Lastly, everything in this debate comes back to citizenship. Young people can leave school with no idea of what citizenship is in this grotesquely complex society; they then have no way of getting around it or feeling part of it. Indeed, many feel like outlaws in their own country. If we cannot give them skills, attitudes and knowledge sufficient for them to want to engage with, and play their part in, their communities, we are surely whistling in the wind. However, the coalition Government—my Government—currently plan to take citizenship education out of the compulsory school curriculum. That is barmy.
I end by saying simply: long live charity.
My Lords, I first place on record how much I value the role and expertise of charities in strengthening civil society. I declare an interest as president of the learning disabilities charity Mencap, which I have supported in various roles for nearly 60 years, ever since our daughter was born with Down’s syndrome—or mongolism in those days. We were told, as most parents of that time were, to put her away, forget her and start again. Moreover, we were told she would be dead by the time she was in her early 20s; she lived until she was 54. It is only by understanding such experiences—an encounter that, regrettably, many others in a similar situation would also have faced—that we can begin to appreciate what motivated people, often mothers, to become involved with charities in the first place.
In the aftermath of the Second World War, amid the optimism of peace in Europe and the establishment of the welfare state at home, charities were established with a strong sense of purpose and hope for a better future. The ideals that led our founder member, Judy Fryd, and her contemporaries back in 1946 to form the National Association of Parents of Backward Children—now the Royal Mencap Society—are as relevant today as they were then. Those early pioneers were motivated by a strong sense of social justice, combined with a genuine zeal for campaigning. In the field of learning disability, they were the innovators who led campaigns to challenge prejudices and confront the status quo. They championed the human rights of disabled people, and they believed that disabled people were as entitled to their lives as the rest of us and should not be locked away in some remote Victorian institution. They wanted the state to recognise its responsibility to help some of the most needy, vulnerable and neglected in our society.
The valuable complementary roles of both the state and the charitable sector led to a network of professionals in areas such as health, social care and housing. To this day, they play a vital role in communities up and down the country. It is for this reason that charities are well placed to continue to make significant contributions to the life of our communities, whether through providing voluntary support and advice or delivering local services. They are a vital lifeline for some of the most vulnerable and neglected people throughout the United Kingdom. It is to our country’s credit that charities undertake such a valuable role; and to the credit of the public’s generosity that they often feel motivated and inspired to contribute to charities with both their time and their money.
Much of the coalition Government’s agenda around the big society are ideas that charities up and down the country have embraced over many years. However, measures taken by the coalition Government which aim to encourage even more volunteering and involvement in social action are to be welcomed and I hope that people with a learning disability and their families will have the opportunity to participate fully in such activities, too. For example, Mencap is working with the London Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games—LOCOG—as part of its official volunteering programme to ensure that among the 70,000 volunteers helping the Olympics and Paralympics to take place will be those with a learning disability.
Then there is the home shopping scheme run by Mencap Cymru whereby, with funding provided by Cardiff County Council, volunteers who have a learning disability provide a shopping service to a group of older people within the community. It is successful projects such as these, often unsung and modestly undertaken, where the crucially important and valuable role of charities and voluntary groups really comes into its own.
However, it would be remiss of me if I was not to mention some of the worries which cast their ominous shadows in the context of today’s debate. Much of the charitable sector is emerging very nervously from the recession. Noble Lords will already be aware of the considerable impact that has made on public giving, the level of donations and benefactors. The charitable sector also looks with some trepidation to the outcomes of the comprehensive spending review. The sector recognises, as the coalition agreement document made clear, that reducing the public deficit takes precedence and that cuts in public expenditure are inevitable. However, our key priority as a sector is to ensure that cuts do not impact most on those who can afford them the least. To those who claim that we are all in this together, I would urge them to consider this: many in our country endure some of the greatest needs—poor health, substandard housing and barriers to opportunities, combined with prejudice, discrimination and bullying—as a consequence of their disability. To suggest that we are all in this together implies to a certain degree that we have successfully eliminated all exclusion in society, a scenario which, I suggest, is being more than economical with the truth.
Across local government I am aware of local authorities that have already started the process of reducing their costs. With the Communities and Local Government Department facing budget reductions of between 25 and 40 per cent, many people with a disability who rely on social care services are fearful about the future. A recent feature on “Channel 4 News” revealed that Oxfordshire is already charging people the maximum rate for care in their homes and that places such as Lewisham, Warwickshire, Hertfordshire and Hampshire are all consulting on removing payment caps introduced by the previous Government in 2003 to limit charges for care.
Beyond social care, many local authorities are already reducing the value of grants awarded to local groups or societies. In some cases these awards have been not just reduced, they have been cut altogether. I suggest that the short-sighted appeal of cuts in social care and grants to voluntary and charitable organisations, especially cuts for those working with the most vulnerable in society, can lead to long-term consequences and even greater costs on the state.
If we strengthen the role of charities, we strengthen the role of our society. The coalition Government’s support in helping make this happen is very welcome. However, warm words in themselves are not enough. There has to be a consistency between the rhetoric and the reality and there has to be recognition that charities are not an alternative to the state but must work in partnership and complement the work of the state. If we can get that partnership right—I hope and believe that we can—charities will have a very important role to play in strengthening civil society in the future.
A one-time King of England, Athelstan, also called the Glorious, issued a writ to the King’s reeves in 939 AD whereby peasants on the King’s estates were ordered to provide food and clothing to those who were deemed to be destitute. We have clearly made significant progress since then, but I caution against expecting individuals to undertake so much more at a time when the state wants to undertake so much less.
My Lords, I am very grateful indeed to the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, for initiating this debate. The charitable sector is not only an enormously important element in the complex mixed economy of social institutions, it is also of course a sector which embraces much of the life of the churches, which have been instrumental over centuries in establishing and sustaining charitable activities of all kinds.
As your Lordships know, I am bishop of a predominantly rural diocese and know from my experience in Herefordshire and South Shropshire that the role of the charitable sector is highly integrated throughout those counties and communities, and this needs to be cherished and nurtured.
The roles of the charitable and voluntary sectors are absolutely crucial if we are to create more resilient social and community institutions. The charitable sector relies, absolutely fundamentally, on individual people giving of their time and skills, as well as their money, in the pursuit of the common good. The common good is usually best understood and appreciated in relatively small local community structures and relationships. So a flourishing charitable sector is essential to flourishing communities.
In the rural areas of our nation, life can be very fragile. The dominance of urban and suburban patterns of living, and the ways in which our economy concentrates resources in our cities, have marginalised some rural communities, especially in the most sparsely populated areas. Some rebalancing of economic and social priorities is urgently required. But over and against that fragility, rural communities have important assets: people make time to know each other and to build community, and these are real assets on which all of us need to build.
We all know about the hard, dedicated work, frequent meetings, persuasive conversations and huge effort that must take place in order that charitable and community work can be effective. We short-circuit these processes at our peril. They are the outward signs that charitable relationships are different from contractual ones. Our communities are inclusive organisms, not purpose-driven hierarchies, and the work of the charitable sector must never become so fixated on a business model that it loses the significance of the face to face and the importance of participative decision-making.
There are problems faced by all charities, large and small: the difficulty of recruiting volunteers, concerns about funding, the ageing of the volunteer base and the long hours that many of them work—to name but a few. For those dependent upon being funded by significant grants and with paid posts, there is the enormously time-consuming round of grant applications, with the associated anxiety and concern that this has to be repeated every one, two or maybe three years. Crucial time is spent on those funding applications rather than on the charitable work itself. Surely this is a situation that we are capable of improving greatly.
It is a matter of grave concern that among the working population the time and energy that people are able or willing to give for volunteering and charitable activity are increasingly limited. We have been reminded that the total number of volunteers has stayed steady, rather than grown. Working patterns demanded by competitive markets are not conducive to voluntary work, especially when husbands, wives and partners all have to work, with corresponding pressure on their limited leisure time. If we really value community, it is vital that there is a shift of power to give a wider, more flexible choice of work and leisure hours, in order that people can make space for voluntary and charitable activities.
We all know that, with economic times hard and getting harder, unemployment is already too high but likely to rise higher. However, it is not the case that higher unemployment widens the pool of people available for volunteering and charitable activity. The Jobcentre Plus network rightly concentrates on getting people back into paid work and ensures that unemployed people use their time accordingly, which militates very strongly against volunteering. I wonder whether there might be a new dynamic that would encourage unemployed people to combine the search for work, which is fundamental, with at least some voluntary, or even paid, charitable work. This would have three benefits for the long-term unemployed: raised self-esteem, a more interesting CV and a raised awareness of service to the local community.
Many issues that I have mentioned are not exclusive to rural communities, but I firmly believe that there is great potential in rural life to build up the charitable sector and its role in making for good communities. The specific nature of the rural context needs to be understood and incorporated into policy-making. I commend the practice of rural-proofing, whereby one stage of policy formation is to assess the impact that a policy may have on rural life. Our nation is a rich tapestry of urban, rural and suburban. We need each other, but that mutuality is not found by treating all areas the same.
At the heart of many rural communities is the church. Christian congregations form the base from which so many local charitable activities take place. This is well documented by important research undertaken by Professor Richard Farnell of Coventry University. In 2006 he stated:
“People who attend church regularly make a significant contribution to community vibrancy, both through their engagement with church based activity and through their roles in village life”.
This is further borne out by the 2008 Citizenship Survey, which suggests that those who are religiously observant are more likely to volunteer and give than their non-believing or non-practising counterparts—as the noble Baroness, Lady Warsi, reminded Anglican bishops only three weeks ago.
Churches contribute to rural community life in an enormously wide diversity of ways, particularly for those in our society who are on the margins and more vulnerable—and not just within church congregations. Furthermore, we make available the use of our church buildings. I am told that there are 9,639 of them in rural communities, and in many of our villages, those are the only public buildings that remain open. In our diocese, for example, we have encouraged that wider use in many ways. Some permanently house a post office, village shop, Sure Start centre, library, radio mast for quicker broadband or a café and restaurant.
The charitable sector is vital to the flourishing of all our communities, but the economic, and to some extent cultural, context of today gives us cause for disquiet. Charities that depend on government grants to deliver services are hearing the rhetoric of the big society and feel needed, but at the same time see the reality of spending cuts and feel deeply threatened. Often, grants to charities are—alas—the soft targets for cuts. Is it any wonder that parts of the charitable sector are almost frozen in limbo at the present time, wondering whether they are more likely to be built up through the big society or exterminated by austerity measures? If that is the case for the larger charities, how much more is it the case for some smaller ones? Charitable financial giving tends to hold up well in the first part of a recession but then declines steeply. Much depends on how long the present phase of economic austerity lasts, of course, but some charitable activities need a minimal infrastructure if they are to flourish, although some infrastructure is absolutely vital.
In conclusion, the church is, as I said, cautiously optimistic about the potential of the big society and the enhanced role that it offers the charitable sector, but of course the charities cannot live on ideas and we await the policy details with interest, needing wise decisions that support the charitable sector—not least the work of the churches and not least support that will help our work in rural Britain.
My Lords, I start by also welcoming the forthcoming record-breaking number of maiden speeches today, which I have no doubt will enrich our timely debate. This topic is of course very dear to my heart, not least because I am personally thankful for the great work of charities today and over past centuries that has led to a more compassionate and cohesive Britain, and not just because of my own experience in developing charities and seeing their extraordinary benefits, but because, looking to the future, there are clear links between charity and the big society—a big society in which government, business and the voluntary sector help to support and empower citizens so that they no longer feel small.
I am conscious that I have only a few minutes to speak, so I shall cover three points: first, the challenge relating to cuts brought on by the need to deal with the deficit left by the previous Administration and their impact on the charitable sector; secondly, some thoughts on the role that the charitable sector has in strengthening civil society and on related dangers to guard against; and, thirdly, the challenges and opportunities for the charitable sector presented by the big society itself.
First, there is of course a real risk with cuts and with increased demand in this next period that damage may occur to individual charities—some irreversible. I am therefore angry that on occasion the previous Government led thousands of charities up the garden path, including many around me in Shoreditch, where I live, such that a good number became so dependent on state funding that they are now overexposed.
Of course, this does not mean that we should sit back. I and those I have been advising in government are working extremely hard to ensure that in the near term forbearance is shown to charities by government departments and local authorities, that philanthropy and social investment are mobilised to help to orientate charities on to a more sustainable path, and that in the medium to long term commissioning and funding will be more local and long-term so that citizens will have more say on who provides services and support to them, with funds flowing accordingly. Indeed, far from big society being a veil for cuts, which is untrue given that it originated as an approach many years before the current recession, it offers a way out and a means for getting through this difficult period together.
My second point is that charities have a clear central role alongside their many other roles in strengthening civil society. Examples are: social action—in giving a voice to and connecting local citizens across divides online and offline to tackle vested interests and solve social problems together; public, social, and private sector reform—in mobilising resources to attract and help to scale responses that empower citizens to take more control of services and tackle complex issues where they live, for example through free schools, libraries, local neighbourhood renewal and more shared ownership of former state, financial, and business assets; and neighbourhood empowerment—in helping to uncover in a personal, local and compassionate way the assets and gifts that we all have and which we can all bring in a given location, and helping to deploy these to strengthen community capacity.
However, there are also ways in which a small minority of charities can have a damaging effect on civil society, which I have witnessed during my time as a social entrepreneur. We must guard against them. One way is having a mindset of “big charity”, which is not so much about size but about how citizens are made to feel by interacting with these organisations—for example, by frustrating citizens or donors through overly competitive, bureaucratic or unresponsive behaviours. Another way is by corroding individual responsibility, rather than by helping to release people to become active citizens, independent of state or charities. A third way is by sometimes acting as non-critical arms of government, either deliberately or unwittingly, through strings that can come attached to contracts. That can mean that they focus on citizens in silos rather than within a wider societal group and context.
Therefore, charity can, and does, play a powerful role in supporting active citizens but should not itself always be presumed to be the same as the big society, for there can be instances when it works against it, whether by accident or design. Where charity does often strengthen civil society, as well as achieve its mission effectively, it must be celebrated and supported by us all.
That brings me on to the third and final area that I want to talk about today—the challenges and opportunities for the charitable sector presented by the big society. The challenge is that, while building on the best of what has gone before and recognising in many places that many are right when they say, “We are doing it already”, a good number of voluntary organisations will find that they need to undergo a huge transition, just as will business and government, because we are now entering an era in which more power and control will shift to citizens and civil society, when demographic time-bombs and lifestyle changes are increasing expectations and demand, and when funds from government will be more limited. We are entering an age that requires a new welfare settlement, anchored in Beveridge’s belief that the state,
“should leave room and encouragement for voluntary action by each individual to provide more than that minimum for himself and his family”.
Charities will not only need to handle the dramatic changes in the fiscal environment, and diversify income and relationships away from government to more business and other local third-party sources; they will not only in some cases need to scale up without losing touch with local people and concerns where the state has ceased to be a monopoly provider; they will also need to engage with their members and the public even more than they do today, and in ways that mesh with our varied and changing lifestyles.
Citizens and other stakeholders will increasingly want more control, more transparent information and more flexibility, to be empowered to operate as groups themselves and pull down support rather than being told what to do. Technology can play a potentially supportive role, as can new models of delivery such as social franchising and the freemium approach of giving your knowledge away for free alongside paid-for value-added support, and tools such as time credits and harnessing volunteer managers can help unleash activism without overburdening staff too much relative to increases in related activity.
So, big society will be a challenge to the big charity mindset, just as it will be to organisations in the public and private sector that have the mentality by which citizens are made to feel small.
At the same time, big society will represent huge opportunities for the charities that are able to shift towards or maintain a citizen orientation. The coalition Government have already said that they want to open up access and commissioning and level the playing field for charities; to make it easier for local groups to fund and support very local charities and community services, and expand philanthropy and voluntary action as part of that; to provide wholesale financing through the big society bank and intermediaries to enable charities to scale up by accessing finance; and to use the national citizen service and the opportunity annually to celebrate, support and showcase the work of local groups and charities, and to ensure that community organisers and neighbourhood funding help build up social capital, particularly in deprived areas, enabling the charities working in them to be more effective as they harness these networks in achieving their missions and tackling inequality. All of these represent opportunities for charities in and of themselves and I believe that they will have ripple effects that will over time grow the market for charitable action, giving, and participation.
In conclusion, we have come a long way from the traditional concept of charity. In the past decade the emphasis on the third sector has established that charities and voluntary organisations are distinct from the market and government. Today, big society asserts that there is a further distinct and overlapping sphere for the citizen and civic action to which we all belong, one whose prime goal must be to pursue Rabbi Jonathan Sacks’s vision of society as,
“the home we build together”.
So we act as citizens and give of our time and resources—not primarily or always to profit in the marketplace, or to save the state money by providing services gratis that it should be paying for, or even always out of pure altruism, though these are often benefits that can accrue from civic and charitable action; but because by doing so we imbue the world around us with meaning. We leave our mark on the world and show that we are stronger when we stand together than apart. By supporting this vision, charities will undoubtedly be strengthened by, and in turn strengthen, civil society.
My Lords, it is an enormous privilege for me to be able to speak here today and to make my maiden speech in this debate. This House has many Members who have a remarkable history of contributing to the voluntary and community sector. I therefore intervene with some trepidation. The generosity of spirit that exists in this House means that new Members have been received with warmth. Every effort has been made by staff and Members alike to ease our entry. I want to say thank you for that.
I must confess, however, to being bemused by some of the rhetoric around the big society, because the ideas behind it are those with which I have worked throughout my life. I was born into a family which was steeped in the Methodist Church and in the Labour Party. My sponsors, my noble friends Lord Griffiths of Burry Port, who is here today, and Lady Morgan of Huyton, represent both those strands of my life that come together so strongly.
In our household, public service was simply a part of how we lived our daily life. Several people here knew my father, who was a local councillor, a head teacher and then my predecessor as Member of Parliament for North West Durham between 1964 and 1987. In Durham, he was probably as well known for his lay preaching and his support for non-league football as for his politics. He and my mother simply lived their lives in the belief that, in our society, we had responsibilities one to another. Their children were just expected to get involved and we did.
I was lucky enough to be one of the early recruits of the Voluntary Service Overseas. I spent two years between my degree course and my postgraduate year working in Kenya as a schoolteacher. I now have the enormous privilege of being a trustee on the international board of VSO. I have been delighted at the number of Members of this House and of the other place who have done short placements with VSO in countries where they could be useful. I offer that opportunity to anyone else who is interested.
As previous speakers have said, voluntary and community organisations are a very important part of how civil society works. For centuries, they were the main means by which education and healthcare were offered to many people in this country. It is only since the Second World War that a welfare state has been established to offer universal services as a right and not simply as a matter of charity. But this did not sound the death knell of the voluntary sector. The challenge for both the state and the voluntary and community sector is to understand the changes that are taking place in our very complex world and in people’s lives, and to respond appropriately. Recent research shows that, contrary to what many think, an active state provides a framework within which citizens feel free to engage and charities are able to take risks and to innovate. My experience in charities that work almost exclusively with the most excluded—those whom someone described to me last week as the people whom nobody else likes—has shown me the importance of engaging those people in voluntary activity and work, and training them in the skills necessary to raise their self-esteem and enable them fully to participate.
As part of the change that has taken place particularly since the introduction of the welfare state, charities—even those that are contracted to deliver public services—have taken up advocacy and campaigning. This is very important. A commission looking at law and practice relating to charitable trusts in 1952—it was chaired by a former Member of this House, Lord Nathan—reported that an active, questioning charity sector is one of the guarantees of democracy. That is very true. I see the partnership between the state and the charitable sector as one that has edge, that has challenge, and I want that to continue.
Today, there are more civil society organisations than at any time in our nation's history. Likewise, volunteering and membership of charitable causes are at historic levels. The independent, campaigning role of civil society has had a profound effect on government policy—it certainly did in my time. I think of Make Poverty History, the anti-smoking campaigners in public health and of gay rights campaigners. All of those enabled legislators to keep pushing social policy forward, and they are all indicators of a healthy, vibrant, independent and assertive civil society. I now have the privilege of being involved as a trustee with a whole range of voluntary organisations and social enterprises—I have registered them all, I hope—mainly in the area of the homeless and socially excluded, but also with international development organisations and children's organisations. I find it incredibly exciting and challenging, day by day, to work with such a range of people who have so much to give and to offer to our society.
There can be a temptation for some people who promote the big society to pretend that nothing good or worthwhile happened during the past 13 years. I urge them to resist the temptation to overpoliticise this area. The charitable sector doubled in size during the period of the previous Government, but I know that there are ideologues on the right who argue for a dismantling of state action in welfare provision and a return to voluntary and charity activity instead, and there are those on the left who think that the state should do everything. They are both wrong.
I am much more with Beveridge, who wrote:
“Co-operation between public and voluntary agencies is one of the special features of British public life”.
That means on both sides: politicians have to work effectively to encourage and develop that partnership. There is increasing anxiety in the sector. Many are already dealing with severe cuts, and that affects the service that they are able to provide to the most vulnerable. The spending review will be very important, and the messages given very important. If the big society is seen primarily as a means of cutting support to the most vulnerable, much that is good in our society will be tarnished. Not only will the lives and opportunities of our most vulnerable be diminished, the work of those who give their commitment and skills to work with the most vulnerable will also be devalued. I do not believe that any of us want that.
I look forward to holding the Government to account and to being part of that challenge and that active society which makes sure that we value the contribution of charities and the voluntary and community sector in our society.
My Lords, it is a great pleasure and privilege to be the first to congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Armstrong of Hill Top, on her excellent maiden speech. I well remember the apprehension with which I approached mine, but I had not been an MP for 27 years and a Chief Whip, a Minister and held several other political posts. She and I share three things personally: first, a close connection with north-west County Durham, which she and her father represented in Parliament for 46 years, because my elder son lives there. Secondly, we share rusty Swahili from our time in Kenya in the 1960s, so I say, “Asante sana” for her speech. Thirdly, we are both associated with a wonderful organisation called the Tyneside Cyrenians, which does such remarkable work with the homeless and dispossessed in that part of the country. I am sure, having heard her speech, that all of us in the House look forward to the considerable contribution that we know that she will make to the life and work of this House.
Something is said to be only as strong as the sum of its parts. I was therefore rather struck that one of the first actions of the coalition Government was to change the name of the Office of the Third Sector to the Office for Civil Society. It seemed to be a move in the right direction because the third sector is part of, rather than apart from, civil society. I base that on the definition given by the NCVO:
“Civil society is where people come together to make a positive difference to their lives and the lives of others - for mutual support, to pursue shared interests, to further a cause they care about”.
In that connection, I was very struck by the analogy to a coral reef that the noble Lord, Lord Wei, made in his speech in the House on 16 June. He said that the charitable sector was adding variety and humanity to the bedrock of public services to protect the vulnerable.
Taking that line as a cue, I shall focus on the criminal justice system, where the hopes, fears and aspirations expressed in these various statements come together and where, sadly, the potential of the charitable sector to strengthen has been dissipated by intransigence and inconsistency. Lest it be thought that I am just going to apply strictures to government, let me say that I do not think that in the criminal justice system area the charitable sector does itself any favours by being too uncompromising about its sovereignty and about co-ordinating with others.
There are said to be between 80,000 and 100,000 organisations supporting individuals who have had some connection with the criminal justice system. Of those, 4,000 work directly with offenders but only one, the National Association for the Care and Resettlement of Offenders, qualifies for the definition of large in the excellent Library brief by having an income of more than £10,000. I congratulate and thank the Library staff for that excellent brief and I am sure other noble Lords will also wish to do so. As more than 50 per cent of all rehabilitation work done with and for offenders is done by the charitable sector, it can be seen that it is a key part of that revolution with its aim of strengthening civil society by helping offenders to live useful and law-abiding lives on release.
The criminal justice system currently presents three disadvantages to the charitable sector in pursuit of its aim to help in that process. First, there is no clear overall strategy for the involvement of the charitable sector; secondly, there is no structure for co-ordinating its consistent involvement; and, thirdly, there is no agreed mechanism for assessing the value of its involvement. In stark contrast with that, I shall mention one unique advantage that the charitable sector, working in the criminal justice system, has; it is the remarkable organisation Clinks, which not only enjoys the respect of Ministers and officials and has their ear but supports individual members within the sector as a whole. It shares good practice and, particularly, it disseminates information to the small local groups that are the backbone of all the work that is done. In order to achieve maximum advantage, all that Clinks does must be actioned throughout the criminal justice system.
The system is not helped by several things that I have referred to in the past. There is no clear regional structure within which there can be consistency in charitable sector involvement. There are no directors of individual types of prison or prisoner to make certain that the charitable sector is properly employed to continue consistent development. There are no voluntary sector co-ordinating and development officers in every prison and every probation area, and in the layers of management between them and Ministers. There is no aim for every prison, so an incoming governor is not required to carry on from where his or her predecessor left off, including the employment of charitable sector organisations. There is no agreed assessment tool, despite the fact that the previous Office of the Deputy Prime Minister and the Department for Communities and Local Government developed a tool that was assessed as being better than that of the Prison Service. Yet it was ignored even though it is used by many of the agencies that work with offenders. All that seemed rather odd when the aim of the Department for Communities and Local Government is to help to create a fair and responsible bigger society by putting power in the hands of citizens, neighbourhoods and councils.
Of course, all is not doom and gloom, and I should like to talk for a short while about an organisation in which I must declare an interest as its president. Among the groups of organisations that do most for offenders are the arts. The arts have a remarkable, indeed unique, role to play. They do not prevent reoffending, but, by building esteem, they encourage people to become engaged in work and education that ultimately could lead to offenders leading a useful and law-abiding life. If anyone doubts that, I invite them to cross the river to the South Bank and see the 49th exhibition of offender art mounted by the Koestler Trust, which has been curated this year by victims. One can see the artists’ writing about what the art means to them and what the victims say about what is on display.
In order to co-ordinate all the activities of the arts organisations, we have formed the Arts Alliance, which is nothing other than a loose coalition. Fortunately, it has Clinks as its secretariat. It represents the aggregation of all those organisations to government in order to make certain that the arts are included in policy-making. The Government responded by appointing an arts forum of representatives of the Ministries involved, the Arts Council, funders and practitioners. That two-day dialogue is helping things to happen.
The Arts Alliance has two aims. The first is to ensure that the arts are embedded in every syllabus everywhere and, secondly, to ensure that no contract for an organisation is for less than three years, and preferably for five years, to ensure that there is investment. I mention that because I believe that something like that is essential in a whole lot of other action areas within the criminal justice system where organisations are prepared to sacrifice some of what they call sovereignty in the better interests of strengthening civil society. I think that all this will happen much better if everything is organised locally, including the siting of prisons, because there is a tremendous increase in the strength of local ownership of local problems. To quote that old saying, “God helps those who help themselves”.
My Lords, it is with some nervousness that I rise to make my maiden speech in what I knew for 13 years in the House of Commons as the other place. I am nervous most immediately because I follow noble Lords who have already made important and illuminating speeches on this topic, which is of such importance to those we all serve. I particularly congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Holbeach, on securing this debate. Looking at the distinguished provenance of the remaining speakers, I am sure that more important speeches are to come.
I am nervous also because throughout my time in what is now to be the other place this was a place that was mysterious in its ways and somewhat intimidating. As a Minister you were always more likely to be more rigorously scrutinised by Members of this House. I am not sure its ways will ever become less mysterious, but I hope that in time it may become less intimidating. Indeed, I am already extremely grateful for the way I have been made welcome by noble Lords across the House, and to all the staff who have already come to my aid on numerous occasions. And I shall, of course, always be grateful to my noble friends Lady Blackstone and Lord Bach for their kindness in acting as sponsors for my introduction into this House.
My long held views of the need for reform of the composition of this Chamber are driven not by any perception of inadequacy in the discharging of its role of scrutinising and revising legislation. On the contrary, all my experience in the House of Commons confirmed the quality of the work done in this Chamber. Rather, my views on reform flow from constitutional principles which I accept that many dispute. That is a continuing debate in which I look forward to playing my part. In the mean time, my remarks today in this debate are derived primarily from my experience as the Member of Parliament for North Swindon.
As noble Lords who have already spoken have so cogently pointed out, charities play an indispensable role in strengthening civil society. Charity is one of the most fundamental human instincts, and it helps to knit our country together. When we see the selfless work of volunteers and the passionate commitment and energy of those who work for charities, and the imaginative solutions they can bring to the meeting of need, it is easy to see the attractions of turning to them to help deliver public services. This Government are following the previous one in emphasising the importance of the charitable sector and the need to learn from it. This is clearly welcome. The benefits are manifest. The important reforms to end-of-life care, for example, undertaken by the previous Government owe a huge amount to the work of the hospice movement, and I have seen in Swindon the wonderful work undertaken by the Prospect Hospice there.
Governments should draw on the energy and imagination of charities, and they have done so to great effect over the last few years, but I hope that as the Government continue to do so, they will recognise that the more they have sought the help of charities to deliver public services, the more the importance of government to the charitable sector has grown. Although most do not rely on it, a quarter of all charities receive public funding, and getting on for half of all charity income now comes from government. Any significant change in this relationship will particularly affect small charities—and most charities are very small. As noble Lords will know, such smaller charities are often closest to the communities they serve and most responsive to their needs. They are an invaluable part of the fabric of our society, but they have far fewer resources than larger charities to fall back on, and the savage cuts in public spending now being threatened by the Government could fall very heavily on them and indeed destroy many of them. I hope that, in delivering their spending review, the Government will pay particular attention to the need to preserve the viability of small charities, which could easily be overlooked in the storms of political debate. If they do not pay such attention, this Government could well be responsible for destroying a precious national resource.
Even in better times, small charities face particular problems in dealing with local and national government. I found this over and over again in Swindon. Bidding processes are often unnecessarily opaque and complex, and their completion requires a devotion of resources that are not readily available to many of the smallest charities. Funding is often for short periods of time, preventing these organisations doing any serious planning for the future. These should not be difficult problems to fix given appropriate commitment from civil servants and Ministers, and I hope that as they strive to turn their rhetoric about the big society into reality, this Government will make a determined commitment to sort out these problems.
Finally, I ask the Government to reflect more on the problems of relying excessively on charities to deliver public services, notwithstanding the extraordinarily valuable work they do, and we have heard a lot about that. Charities are a part of civil society, not the state, and even the most ardent advocates of the big society see a proper role for both. They are different. The best charities are driven by the passion of individuals, and that means they inevitably focus on specific areas of interest. They do not and they cannot provide the comprehensive meeting of need that a democratically accountable state must provide. Our Government are accountable to every member of society in a way that charities are not and cannot be. We should celebrate and support the work that charities do, and all those who contribute cash and effort to them, but we should also remember that in a democracy committed to social justice, the Government must retain the central role in delivering the public services that meet need wherever and whenever it occurs.
My Lords, I am delighted to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Wills, on his excellent and thoughtful maiden speech. He brings to our House a broad background—in the Diplomatic Service, in the media, as an MP and as a Minister in a wide range of government departments—and I am sure that we will benefit greatly from that background. I cannot support him in his commitment to a fully elected House of Lords, but I look forward to debating it with him on frequent occasions in the House.
My first contact with the noble Lord was when he was a constituency MP and I was the deputy chairman of the BBC and he gave me a dreadful time over the BBC’s handling of a constituency issue. He was forensic in his analysis, as befits a double first from Cambridge, and he did not let us get away with sloppy thinking. Again, I am sure that is something from which we will benefit here. He was like a terrier in his perseverance and he had a bulldog-like grip. It did us all good then and I am sure it will do us all good here when he brings these qualities to the business of our House. He will be an adornment to it and I look forward to his further contributions.
Before I speak to the subject of the debate, I declare, with delight, an interest as the chief executive designate of Diabetes UK and as a president and a vice-president of a range of environmental and health charities.
As many noble Lords have already said, charities are a vital part of modern society. Many elements of the coalition Government’s proposals, so far as we have seen them, for the big society and the role of the voluntary sector are, on the face of it, very attractive, and I wish them success.
However, there are four areas that I wish to flag as potential concerns. First, what charities do best is innovate; they are nimble and responsive and they provide support, advice and advocacy for those in society who cannot advocate for themselves. Although many charities take on a major service provision workload and thrive on it, like the noble Lord, Lord Wills, I have concerns on occasions about the sheer scale of the large service workload they are expected to deliver. The bureaucracy and burden of contracting can overwhelm the qualities I have listed which make charities so distinctive.
Again, a number of noble Lords have raised questions about the second issue I wish to refer to—funding. It is axiomatic that cuts in the public sector are already impacting on the voluntary sector, and there are many more to come. That is of particular worry in the voluntary sector because of the leverage we get from volunteer organisations, which have the ability to enhance the value of even small amounts of public funding through the large volunteer workforce they can apply. There are 2.7 million active volunteers in this country worth an estimated £48 billion annually. The benefits of volunteering accrue not only to those who gain from the services but to the volunteers themselves. When I was chief executive of the RSPB—and I hope also in the future at Diabetes UK—the huge contribution of volunteers was a valuable and huge bargain for society. We must not overlook that fact. However, volunteers need training, support and organisation, and funding is already being cut from the organisations that enable this to happen.
My third area of potential concern has also already been referred to—there is nothing new under the sun—and that is the hugely important advocacy role of the charity sector and its ability to speak truth unto power. This is particularly important at the moment. I do not know whether I am the only one concerned about the trend or whether others are concerned about it, but there is no doubt that the valuable work that has been done in the past by government agencies and advisory bodies is now being suppressed as a result of the change of government.
Many organisations that have expert workforces on the ground have a range of specialists who, from their knowledge of what is happening in their day-to-day sphere, give valuable advice on policies that need to change. For example, in the environmental field, there is the Environment Agency and Natural England. The real value of their workforce and specialist staff is being lost if they are not allowed to put that advice together in the form of policy change which they advocate to government. As a taxpayer, I think that is wasting some of our very valuable public expenditure, but the point for today is that if none of the agencies and advisory bodies is to be able to advocate in this way in future, the charities must continue to do so.
My last point, on the whole relationship between big society and small government, was very well covered by the noble Baroness, Lady Armstrong, in her maiden speech. I believe that we need a vibrant voluntary and charity sector, and indeed a vibrant Government. They both have different roles. I add my voice of commendation to the work that the NCVO and Stuart Etherington have done over the past 15 years to really develop the excellence of the relationship between government and the voluntary sector. Yet the Government’s proposals for big society must,
“breathe … life into the state-charity partnership”,
not dismantle state provision and leave charity and philanthropy to pick up the pieces, because we have to remember that charity has not always been a beneficial word.
We have heard lots of praise for charity in this House today. My grandparents came from a generation that had a horror of having to depend on charity. The state needs to continue an effective role in planning and co-ordinating, both nationally and locally, to ensure that there is a comprehensive network of services so that the people of this country can have peace of mind. That is a right and I commend that word, which the noble Baroness, Lady Armstrong, used. They will be served by a diverse set of joined-up services and providers and welcome the role of charities, not go back to the bad old days of charity as something dispensed to the deserving poor.
I, along with the noble Lord, Lord Phillips of Sudbury, do not like the “big” in “big society” or “big government”. I look forward to working as part of a vibrant charity sector in an effective and sensibly funded partnership with a well supported charity sector and a vibrant and effective Government.
My Lords, I am more than happy to take over from the noble Baroness, who I have regarded as a friend for very many years. If I might give her some words of comfort, in 1997, when my party went into opposition, I was convinced that the Government were municipalising all charities, taking editorial control and providing grants only on the basis that they were silenced. I suspect that it is something to do with the difference between being in government and in opposition. In government, my recollection was of always funding charities, which then employed a campaign officer who would spend his time telling the country how disastrous the Minister was and that she should be promptly reshuffled, so it is something about perception.
I also add my praise for the maiden speeches that we have heard, both from the noble Baroness, Lady Armstrong, and the noble Lord, Lord Wills. How pleased we are to see them in this House. It is interesting that anybody who has been a Member of Parliament cannot fail to have a real understanding of the breadth, depth and diversity of the voluntary sector—some supporting causes which, frankly, as the Member of Parliament, you think are completely round the bend and others which are evidently incredibly worth while. In this place, there are many people who have perhaps been more dedicated to a single charity, but their reputation and track record is quite formidable.
I sometimes think that, as a Conservative, I am committed to the little platoons, not the big battalions. The work that the Government have swiftly put into place builds much on the work of David Willetts, the Minister for universities—the work now of the team of Nick Hurd, led by the Prime Minister. The priority that is being given is really exciting.
Perhaps the primacy should go to our coalition friends, as I would describe them, because it was John Stuart Mill, that great 19th-century liberal philosopher, who said:
“A people among whom there is no habit of spontaneous action for a collective interest—who look habitually to their government to command or prompt them in all matters of joint concern—who expect to have everything done for them—have their faculties only half developed”.
He said that such a system,
“embodies the idea of despotism, by arming with intellectual superiority as an additional weapon those who have the legal power”.
It is that belief in the citizen and the citizen’s empowerment that has come through from several comments today that is so important.
As a former sociologist, I read works by Durkheim at great length. He talked about alienation and anomie, the individual who feels powerless and impotent. As political parties do not meet with the same respect that they formerly did, political parties may have to be in coalition for government; they cannot possibly meet all the different individual frustrations, ambitions and hopes of individual citizens. They are a coalition. Churches, sadly, do not have the huge influence they had. However, I think that the Pope was absolutely right to say that there is still a huge force and power coming out of the churches. I was delighted to hear the right reverend Prelate describe the role of the churches as a community facility. One joy of all that lottery money that I was partly involved in dispensing was to provide grants to village halls and churches so that they could be that place where groups could meet for the benefit of the rest of society. Our tradition in this country goes back a long way.
Many noble Lords have declared their interest, and I have a long-standing interest with the Children’s Society, where I was one of the trustees for a long time. It was founded because Edward Rudolf discovered at St Anne’s in Vauxhall that several children were not coming to church and were in a terrible state. The noble Baroness, Lady Pitkeathley, is present. For a long time she was the head of Carers UK, which was started by the Reverend Mary Webster, again because she noticed that people were not showing up for church. That was about single daughters caring for elderly dependants. Out of that charity, which was started in 1963—and I was very involved in Eltham earlier on—came an understanding of the need for and the role of carers. I have just stopped being president of the Abbeyfield Society, and the noble Baroness, Lady Neuberger, has taken over from me. That society was founded in 1956, because Richard Carr-Gomm in Abbeyfield Road in Bermondsey decided that all these old people were very lonely and had nowhere to go and no one with whom to share their problems. Out of that came the wonderful ability of people not to curse the darkness but to light a candle. For example, there are hospices such as the one in my former constituency, the Phyllis Tuckwell, which was founded because Sir Edward Tuckwell was unhappy about the conditions that his wife suffered when she was dying of cancer. So there is an amazing resource in this country, which we take for granted, that in adverse circumstances, instead of complaining, some people will be active, political and agitate while others will get on and create a greatly needed service.
Of the many areas in the Government’s policies that I applaud, developing a national citizen service must be critically important. The Government should regard it as a catalyst. At the London marathon, 50,000 ran and 160,000 applied. At the BUPA Great North Run—I declare an interest as a director— 50,000 people were involved. They are often young people who run with a philanthropic cause as their basis. My campaign is to get those sporting funders to becoming more involved with charities. It is not beyond the wit of man to use a database to find those people whom we are always sponsoring and get them to turn their hand to a more practical commitment. I am less enthusiastic about those who climb Mount Kilimanjaro because I think that it needs a protection society to stop people climbing it. I often say that I wish they could go prison visiting, or hearing children reading in school, and I would sponsor them doing that. Mobilising the volunteers of the future must be hugely important.
I am sorry that my noble friend Lord Wei is not in the Chamber now, because I want to talk about the new philanthropists, the new social entrepreneurs, who are applying the techniques of private equity to social capital. Sir Ronnie Cohen of Social Finance was trying to get hold of those unclaimed funds from the banks. He has developed social impact statements and all sorts of ways of using money wisely and well. Most recently, there has been an exciting project at Peterborough jail with the social impact pilot. Our job is to ensure that we use the best techniques to innovate and go forward. It was Oscar Wilde who said that constancy,
“is the last refuge of the unimaginative”.
We want to be imaginative and determined.
I have one last comment. Winston Churchill, the greatest Englishman, said that you make a living by what you earn, but you make a life by what you give. I believe that to be true, and I applaud the Government’s steps.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for introducing this debate and for tempting so many of us to make our maiden speeches. He obviously chose well.
It is a particular and unexpected pleasure to find myself among the speakers today. Like so many other new Peers, I have been touched by the kindness of so many noble Lords and by the dedication and professionalism of the staff who have been helping me to navigate my way, both literally and metaphorically, around this rather wonderful if slightly complicated institution. Particular thanks are due to the policeman who, when he had seen me pass him several times in one day, leant over whenever I passed and said gently, “Lost or not lost, my lady?”. The answer, sadly, was normally, “Lost”.
I am also profoundly grateful to my supporters, my noble friends Lady Hollis and Lady Prosser, for their kindness and wisdom, and to my mentor, my noble friend Lady Pitkeathley, who with a sureness of touch is leading me gently through a thorough apprenticeship that I am sure would impress even my noble friend Lord Sugar. These three Peers illustrate the range of civil society that we have been talking about today. Between them, they have an inspiring track record in our universities, charities and trade unions, all part of civil society.
I, too, have spent most of my working life in civil society, although to rather more modest effect. I had the privilege of leading a number of voluntary organisations, including the National Council for One Parent Families, now Gingerbread, and the British Refugee Council, once ably led by my noble friend Lord Dubs. It was suggested when it was announced that I was coming to this House that someone with a background in single parents and refugees might not be welcomed to the heart of the British establishment, but of course I knew that that was wrong. I was able to say that for years I had been amazed at the amount of help that I had received from all sides of this House, and that when I went to Members of this House and could make a case, with evidence, of an injustice, a need or a policy that simply was not working, those Members would need no persuasion to speak out, even when those affected were deeply unpopular—as in their time, I have to confess, both single parents and refugees have tended to be.
That role of speaking out, or enabling the voices of those who are not often heard to be heard by Parliament and by the nation, seems to be one of the most important roles that charities have. I am sure that other noble Lords will address the question of charities delivering or supplementing public services, but I want also to talk about their role in amplifying the voice of those communities. That seems to be central to the idea of “civil society”.
I was a member of the Carnegie Commission of Inquiry, which looked at the future of civil society. As these inquiries are wont to do, we spent quite a bit of time debating what in fact civil society was. We already have as many definitions as we have the number of charities that have been cited in the debate, but we settled on something informed by Michael Edwards: that there are there dimensions of civil society.
First, we all want to live in the “good society”, as the Minister mentioned. Secondly, civil society is the way in which we achieve that good society, by coming together in a variety of voluntary associations for our benefit. Reading any list of those associations, from sports groups to churches and mosques, from women’s institutes to single-issue campaigns, gives you a picture, a sort of mosaic, of life in Britain today in all its beauty, diversity and complexity. Sometimes a list like that might show up what might seem improbable links between communities. A case in point might be the emergence of broad-based community organising—for example, groups like London Citizens which bring together schools and colleges, churches and mosques and charities, all taking action for the common good.
Thirdly, civil society is a framework. It is the means by which a whole range of voices, from all strands of our society, can speak into the public square. The particular role of charities in that configuration is an interesting one. Of course, there are plenty of civil society organisations that are not charities—political parties and trade unions spring to mind—but they are very much part of civil society, despite not being charities. So what is the distinctive role of charities? When I talk to people, I find that there is often a temptation to assume that practical action, or delivering public benefits solely by practical action, is the particular preserve of charities. Many noble Lords can attest to the scale and the depth of the practical action being undertaken by the wonderful charities in our country, but the very delivery of that practical action can produce some valuable learning.
I spent three years in the Treasury, advising Ministers on a range of issues, mostly to do with families with children—interesting times—and poverty, and the voluntary sector. One of the things I learnt there was that wise Ministers, then and now, talk to charities before they make decisions about the groups that they will affect. The reason is because of their expertise but also because those Ministers recognise that charities are closer to the ground and understand the impact of likely decisions on the communities they represent. That closeness to the ground means that many charities see things that others do not or long before the rest of us are even aware that they are there. With that knowledge comes responsibility, and many charities have a role to play in holding up a mirror to our society or shining a light into some of the darker corners. But that can be very risky for them. Everybody agrees that charity is a good thing when it is helping the deserving poor, but that support can evaporate quite quickly, as can donations, when the charity starts to challenge the status quo. It can be risky. Sometimes even government—the reassurances of the noble Baroness, Lady Bottomley, notwithstanding—whether local or national, can be prone to a touch of displeasure when the charities they fund start to bite the hands that feed and fight back. I understand that: it is a practice whose charms are more readily apparent when one is in opposition than when one is in government.
If a charity finds evidence of serious injustice or desperate need or systemic failure, and society seems not to know that or not to attend to it, surely the charity must speak out. I hope that the Lords spiritual will forgive my intruding on their territory by citing a cleric, albeit a Roman Catholic one. The late Brazilian archbishop, Dom Camara, famously said:
“When I give food to the poor, they call me a saint. When I ask why the poor have no food, they call me a Communist”.
It is our responsibility to indicate our willingness to hear what charities have to say. If we do not agree, that is fine—we can debate it with them. But it is vital that they are neither censored nor self-censoring. In a climate of public spending cuts of the kind that are coming, it will be much harder for charities to maintain the courage, not to mention the capacity, to speak out, to be critical, to help those who have power to see and hear the things they may not wish to see and hear.
I would be very interested in hearing what the Minister and others feel they can do to encourage charities to maintain that role of speaking out as well as simply serving others. If they lose that dimension of their role, we will all be the poorer.
My Lords, it is the greatest possible honour and pleasure to congratulate my noble friend on her fine maiden speech. Our paths have been crossing and criss-crossing for about 30 years, through her role originally in student politics, as a much respected and successful campaigner, more recently as an adviser to Her Majesty’s Treasury and as a most effective chair of the review of the third sector, on which I had the privilege to serve. Like her, I never expected to end up in the House of Lords, and certainly never expected that we would be speaking one after the other in a debate on a topic so dear to both our hearts. Her speech today is typical of her—thoughtful, perceptive, strong and powerful. She will continue to bring those qualities to your Lordships’ House and we all look forward to that with great pleasure.
Even before I was a Member of this House, when I was leading a campaigning charity, I was always very aware of the great interest our House takes in charities, the expertise which resides here and the vast experience your Lordships’ House has of all aspects of the charitable sector. My interests are declared in the register of interests, and I am grateful to the Government and the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, for giving us the opportunity to speak in this debate and for the encouragement it has given to so many maiden speakers.
We hold this debate, without question, at a very significant time for the charitable sector. It is significant in terms of its future but also of the role which it expects to play in the development of civil society. There are, of course, many different interpretations of what constitutes civil society—we have heard some today and will hear more, I am sure—but to me the single common factor to which we always return is that it is about participation. That is, participation in decisions about services, participation in your community, participation in how services in your community are shaped, and participation in delivery of those services.
We should be clear that in spite of some rather rashly delivered statements about broken societies, civil participation is not in decline, any more than it is a new idea. Indeed, much of the evidence suggests that it is currently vibrant. Membership of trade unions, political parties, churches and traditional women’s groups may have declined, but membership of new social movements, non-government organisations and pressure groups has flourished. The Carnegie inquiry into the future of civil society concluded that it is thriving. Sir Stuart Etherington at NCVO has been banging on about it—no, I mean campaigning most effectively—for some years.
For many people, charities are the vehicle by which a stronger role in civil society is developed. I believe that the Government have recognised this, which is encapsulated, perhaps, by the change of name of the department in the Cabinet Office charged with encouraging and developing the charitable sector from the Office of the Third Sector to the Office for Civil Society. I declare an interest as chair of its advisory body.
I want to use my time today to sound a couple of notes of caution, which I hope the Government will note and the Minister will respond to as we move forward into what will undoubtedly be threatening times for the voluntary and community sector, as well as times which provide great opportunity. Many of the organisations with which I am in contact in various roles see this as a time of opportunity as well as of threat.
I keep hearing Ministers say to the voluntary and community sector that it must do more with less and not to expect government, at local or national level, to support it financially. Charities understand that, but let us not forget that as a quarter of civil society organisations rely on government for 75 per cent of their funding, it is a drastic change to expect them to replace that or do without it. We should not be tempted into thinking that more government necessarily means less civil society and less government necessarily means more civil society. David Cameron recognised this when he said that,
“we shouldn’t be naïve enough to think that if the government rolls back and does less, then miraculously society will spring up and do more … The truth is that we need a government that actually helps to build up the Big Society”.
As has been shown in Russia and the United States’ inner cities, when the state retreats, the vacuum may be filled by crime and gangs as well as by civil society organisations. Many of the nations with the most active civil societies still have very active Governments. We must be wary, too, of thinking that philanthropy will ride to the rescue. It is by no means certain that our society is as yet at a stage where philanthropy can fill all the gaps, as seems to be expected in the world of the arts. Even the best of community organisers and the most enterprising of social entrepreneurs need some support. I believe that the big society bank has many a contribution to make in this regard, and I am glad that this Government have continued their commitment to this proposal, developed under the previous Government.
The Government, I am sorry to say, seem to have a suspicion of the infrastructure which currently exists to support the charitable sector. They are right to point out that it needs reform; far be it from me to argue that we should go on with existing mechanisms which may be resistant to necessary change. As a veteran of two mergers, I am an active advocate of mergers and collaborative working, which this sector has perhaps resisted for too long. But neither must we throw babies out with the bath water. Many of those infrastructure bodies are delivering through their local organisations exactly the kind of innovations—time banks, community pledge banks, social enterprises and civic action—which the Government and society need. These ideas struggle to find support. While the charitable sector must play its part and take its share of financial cuts, it would be unjust and counterproductive to make it take more than its fair share. We are already seeing some of that with the strain on local authority budgets. I hope the Minister will tell us what guidance is being given to local authorities in this regard, since many of the initiatives that make up the so-called big society are dependent on local authority funding.
In that regard, let us remember the importance of morale. Many of the changes that will be required in the delivery of the big society are dependent on charities to deliver them, at either local or national level. You cannot expect individuals or organisations to be well motivated if they are constantly told that what they have done in the past is no longer valued, or that they have to take their cue from business to know how to run their own organisations. True, they may have something to learn, but for years I have hoped to see that learning go the other way. Any chief executive of a charity could give lessons to any businessman or businesswoman in efficiency, managing on a shoestring and encouraging innovation. I have been there and I know it is true. I commend the work of the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson, and his task force, particularly the emphasis that he will give to encouraging volunteering and good governance.
I conclude by mentioning the campaigning role of charities, as others have done. Campaigns organised by national and local charities play a fundamental part in bringing citizens together to change things. This is to be welcomed and encouraged, not least because if you listen to the voices of the public you often have pleasant surprises about resources. They do not demand the earth; their demands are often very modest. We should always remember that. Charities have blazed a trail in campaigning. I hope the Minister can assure the House that the Government remain committed to that policy, and that campaigning on behalf of their client groups will still be seen as a legitimate and desirable way for charities to contribute to the development of civil society.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord Taylor of Holbeach for securing this important debate. The charitable sector is of great benefit to society and of specific importance to those communities that are most in need. The Government’s support for an enhanced role for our communities provides a unique opportunity to promote a creative approach to social empowerment through the charitable sector. A strong civil society is viewed as an essential component of a successful democracy. Increased social action through the charitable sector is at the heart of strengthening our civil society. This will herald a new culture of increased volunteering and philanthropy.
In the past, central government has been accused by a number of organisations in the sector of having an overbearing nature that compromises local innovation and civic action. The Government have pledged to offer more support to voluntary and charitable organisations in making the transition towards increasing the services that they provide, without added interference. It is important to remove the layers of bureaucracy associated with the sector by decentralising power to charitable organisations, which are best placed to run their own affairs. This is likely to result in administrative savings, while boosting morale and empowering communities and charities to take charge of their own destinies.
I am of the view that we live in a compassionate society where most individuals readily give to the less fortunate. Some individuals choose not to donate to charity for fear that their contributions will have no impact. When I hear this argument, I refer them to the following story. A man is walking down a beach moments after a storm. He notices a person ahead of him picking up starfish that have been washed ashore and throwing them back into the sea. He asks the person how his efforts can make any difference, since the beach is long and thousands of starfish have been washed ashore and will probably die. The person looks at the starfish in his hand, throws it into the water and says, “It makes a difference to this one”. The moral of this story is that, even with the best of intentions, we cannot help everyone in the world, but we can make a difference to the lives of those we can help.
A key component in maintaining the level of public trust in charitable organisations, however, is ensuring that as much as possible of the revenue generated is delivered to front-line support. There is a perception that certain charities are not delivering to front-line support, as is desirable. It is therefore important that all charities carefully examine their expenses and undertake savings and reductions as far as possible. I personally know of charities that are perhaps smaller and where 100 per cent of the funds collected are used for charitable purposes.
Access to funding is one of the main challenges facing the charitable sector. The Government have announced their intention to create a big society bank to help to finance charities and voluntary organisations through intermediaries. I welcome this objective, which will contribute towards ensuring that the past financial obstacles to funding are given a long-term solution. We need to ensure that charities are able to overcome the current economic climate, which is likely to put pressure on their organisational models and delivery structures. In the face of a recession, the demands increase at precisely the time that revenue from donations is placed under great pressure.
The previous Government should be commended for introducing Gift Aid to make donating to charities more appealing to individuals. However, many charities still struggle to raise funds. I was pleased to hear from my noble friend the Minister the various steps that the Government will take to assist and enhance the charitable sector. These include the setting up of community organisations and the launch of the citizen service. However, perhaps more can be done to explain to the public how to utilise the Gift Aid scheme. If society is to benefit from the efforts of the charitable sector in the long term, individuals need to support those ventures that can reduce reliance on financial support from the state.
We have a moral duty to support charities through giving our time and resources wherever possible. The importance of helping those in need is a recurring theme in many religions. For example, in Islam it is compulsory to give to charity through the principle of zakat, which is one of the five pillars of Islam. My middle name is Iltaf. There was a famous Indian poet whose name was Altaf Husain Hali. He wrote in Urdu but I will translate what he said into English:
“God does not grant His mercy to those who do not feel the suffering and pain of others. Be kind to the living on earth and God will grant you from heaven His mercy and compassion”.
Those who do not practise or belong to any faith can look to a civic duty when approaching the issue of making donations to the charitable sector.
We all have our heroes. Mine was my late father, who was also my greatest teacher. He was a businessman and a philanthropist. He engaged in several charitable activities in east Africa and the Indian subcontinent. He taught me that there is a great deal of pleasure in giving, as both the donor and the recipient gain satisfaction. His philosophy in life was always to serve the community while retaining a sense of humility. I have formed, and entirely fund, a charity in his name, the Sheikh Abdullah Foundation, which gives support to charitable causes all over the world to continue his work.
The charitable sector has the potential to flourish and deliver services that are currently the responsibility of central and local government. There are, however, successful groups from this sector undertaking this work across the country. This can be of benefit to the wider society if we draw on the skills and expertise of people across the country in this sector as we respond to the social, political and economic challenges facing Britain. The role of the sector has never been of greater importance.
Finally, I know of several commercial organisations that contribute a certain portion of their profits to charitable causes. I urge other companies to think of doing so.
My Lords, it is an honour and a privilege to address this House for the first time, in a debate that is very close to my heart—I thank the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, for initiating it. I also thank all noble Lords. It is an honour to sit with you in this House.
My family motto is, “Who would have thought?”, because you never know where life’s twists and turns will take you. Mine have taken me on a spiritual journey. I was born in Trinidad and came to Britain as a 10 year-old child 50 years ago. I was spat on and told to go back to where I came from, but how differently things have turned out. I believe that I am now the first Trinidadian female Peer and I follow humbly in the pioneering footsteps of another “Trini”, the late Lord Learie Constantine. I will always remember that memorable day when I was introduced to the House, my family watching over me. I thank my sponsors for being part of that day—my noble friend Lady Scott, and my noble friend Lord Dholakia for his continued support and guidance. I thank noble Lords for welcoming me with such warmth and affection and the numerous members of staff who work so diligently and have taken care of me so efficiently.
I love being part of this establishment, and as I wander round the maze of corridors, soaking up the rich symbolism, I think to myself, surely I have reached the summit of life’s mountain, the zenith of a career stretching over four decades. Like the coat worn by the Garter King of Arms, my life has been a rich tapestry of experiences which have led me to a lifelong mission of ensuring that children’s well-being is at the heart of society’s thinking. That has not always been easy but my philosophy is to keep smiling and never give up. Like other noble Lords I have had to face adversities, but I have used them to make me stronger and more resolute.
I chose Beckenham as the title of my peerage because, back in the 1960s, my beloved, wise mother, who was the symbol of the celebration of perseverance, decided that Beckenham was the place that her six children would live because we would find the best education there and the best charity jumble sales to clothe us. However, when we went to view our future home the neighbours called the police to arrest us, saying that we were stealing the fixtures from the house. However, that did not deter my mother. She was a fighter and she stood her ground. She lived in that house for more than 40 years and is now, sadly, buried in Beckenham cemetery. So I chose Beckenham not just as a legacy for my mother and my father, who was a great philosopher, but in recognition of just how much Britain has moved on.
Much has been said about my many years as a children’s television presenter, and I am told that I have touched and shaped the lives of millions of children who are now adults and look back at programmes such as “Playschool” with great love and affection. But little did I know back in 1976 when I became a presenter of that iconic programme that it would lead me to the door of the House of Lords. I hope that my presence here will inspire children from my cultural background to follow my path, as I have been inspired by others. I truly believe that.
I have always focused on the happiness of children because everything we do affects them directly and indirectly. Childhood lasts a lifetime, and every child deserves the best start in life. That is why I am involved with so many children’s charities—I know how their work strengthens civil society—such as the NSPCC, in which I declare an interest. The NSPCC runs Childline and Helpline, two vital front-line services to protect vulnerable children and young people. Last year they answered more than 450,000 calls. They are making a huge difference and need the continued support of matched funding for the sake of those children. Sparks—of which I am a trustee, so I declare an interest—is a rare charity as it funds pioneering research across the whole spectrum of paediatric medicine. For example, it has spent more than £1 million on baby-cooling research to combat the lack of oxygen during birth and reduce deaths and permanent brain damage. This year the first intervention combining baby cooling with xenon gas was completed successfully. This will save the NHS and taxpayers millions of pounds on long-term medical care and special needs education for the baby who was born without a pulse.
Children need to be valued, shown unconditional love and taught how to have the confidence to love themselves. Barnardo’s teaches them to do just that. As a vice-president of Barnardo’s—I declare an interest—I have been involved in the work that it does with vulnerable children and young people, some of the most excluded in society. There is a child crying out for help right now and Barnardo’s is there to answer their call. It does not just save lives, it turns lives around, which in the long term benefits society both economically and socially. Barnardo’s expertise puts it in a position to advise government and Parliament on legislation and policy matters.
I have run 10 consecutive London marathons to raise funds for Barnardo’s, and I am always amazed at the number of successful people who say they are sponsoring me because Barnard’s was there for them when they were children and now they want to give something back. In this wounded, materialistic world, where greed and self-interest are often rewarded, let us not forget those who try to repair the damage by giving unconditionally. Yes, I have seen firsthand the tremendous contribution of the charitable sector in strengthening civil society, and I will continue to support and encourage not just the ones I have highlighted but the general ethos of volunteering and giving back to make our country a better, happier place for all our children.
My Lords, it is a great privilege for me to follow the maiden speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Benjamin, which, as predicted, was absolutely marvellous. I am privileged to have known the noble Baroness from the time when she was appointed as Chancellor of Exeter University and I was Chancellor of Thames Valley University. I will never forget when she said that she had changed the traditions of the graduation ceremonies whereby she would not just congratulate the graduates but embrace and hug them. I immediately thought to myself that if I tried to do that as Chancellor of my university I would be arrested.
The noble Baroness is one of life’s unique individuals. As she said, she was born in Trinidad, but she has made the most amazing contribution to Britain as an actress, an author, a businesswoman, a television presenter famous for “Playschool” and as a politician. She is a true renaissance woman. I am sure that, just as she has demonstrated with her passionate speech today, she will keep us all smiling and make the most amazing and tremendous contribution to your Lordships' House.
I attended a talk by his holiness the Dalai Lama in London a few years ago, purely out of curiosity. I remember he said how incredible he found it that all we seemed to hear about was bad news—news about man's inhumanity to man. Yet every day millions of people do millions of good deeds for one another and these never get reported. He reminded us that people are inherently good and care and share. As we have heard—I will not dispute the number—there are hundreds of thousands of registered charities in the UK, and every year 50 per cent of the adult population donates to one or more charities on a monthly basis. That is over half the adult population giving selflessly to causes they believe to be greater than themselves.
We should then ask ourselves whether—when we have a public sector that spends nearly £700 billion a year; with the state supposedly providing for all and redistributing wealth through the extortionate taxes we face today; with a top rate of 50 per cent and public spending of more than 50 per cent of GDP—there should be any need for charitable giving at all. But the reality is that the charitable sector fills a huge gap which the state never has or will fill.
What is more, we talk about foreign policy and interventionist foreign policy and what DfID does, when, without any strategic direction, the charitable donations of 20 per cent of the adult population are intended for overseas causes. That reminds me of one of my favourite sayings: “It is not enough to be the best in the world; you also have to be the best for the world”. Like many others in this Chamber, I am privileged to see at first hand the good causes that charities serve. The crucial thing about charities is their ability to act independently of government, when they are allowed to, which enables them to focus their resources appropriately after considered research, as we have heard, by specialists and experts in various fields.
I shall give just one example, as chairman of the advisory board of the Loomba Foundation. This foundation was launched in 1998 in the presence of the then Prime Minister, Tony Blair. Its objectives are,
“to promote the welfare and education of children and poor widows, orphaned children, and also children who have lost their mothers”.
It is currently educating 3,000 children of poor widows in states throughout India and giving these children a real chance of being uplifted from poverty. Raj Loomba, the organisation’s founder, was inspired to address the plight of widows worldwide by his own mother's courage and incredible endeavour in educating and raising seven children singlehandedly in India after becoming tragically widowed at the age of 37. This is the power of charities—the ability to address areas of need that are too numerous or too specific to be included in the scope of government-led initiatives. This is what charities do—they fill the void between the public and private sectors, and this is what we must promote.
We all agree that the Government have a crucial role to play in people's lives through their responsibilities for providing for the vulnerable—as the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Holbeach, said—for infrastructure and for the defence and security of the realm, though ideally in a society of low taxes and low regulation which allows people to get on with their lives and address their needs by themselves. The irony of the small state and “people power” which the Prime Minister's big society initiative talks about is that they do not create selfish, greedy individuals; in fact quite the opposite.
People may believe that public welfare support—which is today one-third of our Budget, amounting to nearly £200 billion—has suppressed the formation of volunteer-led initiatives in this country. However, the evidence leads one to the contrary conclusion. There has been a steady growth in the charitable sector since the formation of the welfare state. The Government need to understand how active communities are already achieving the goals set out by the big society.
However, the charitable sector is currently experiencing its biggest crisis in financial confidence for years. A survey conducted by the National Council for Voluntary Organisations for its latest quarterly forecast shows, as we have heard several times already, that 63 per cent of members who participated believe that their financial situation will worsen over the next 12 months. That is an increase of 11 per cent from just four months ago. Some 21 per cent—an increase of 7 per cent from June—plan to reduce staff numbers over the next three months. The NCVO, as has been said, warns:
“It is crucial that the government listens to the sector's concerns. Spending cuts must be managed intelligently, otherwise they will compromise the sector's ability to deliver vital services”.
As the noble Lord, Lord Wills, said in his excellent maiden speech, half of charities’ donations come from the Government. It is about partnership, as we have heard time and again.
The Government need to give people the freedom to live their lives, to make their own choices and to distribute wealth themselves. The Government must act not as a controller but as a catalyst—or as a facilitator, as the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, said. Whether it be for business, for the big society or for charities, the Government need to create the environment in which charities can flourish independently through tax breaks and incentivising people. The charitable sector is the very embodiment of the best of human emotion and endeavour. It is the expression of collective empathy and altruism, and an incarnation of how mighty we can be if we all give a little to help the many.
In an interview that he gave some time ago, Nelson Mandela was asked, “What is it that makes you happiest in life?”. He said that it was seeing ordinary people every day doing extraordinary things for their fellow human beings. That is what people in Britain are doing every day, and it must be cherished, preserved and encouraged, because we are instinctively a nation of individuals who care and who share.
My Lords, since being introduced to the House in July, I have had the privilege of spending time in this Chamber listening to debates and observing to my great relief the supportive way in which the House conducts its business, welcomes its new Members and shows respect and tolerance for all, or most, contributions.
I want to echo noble Lords who have made their maiden speeches by expressing my thanks and appreciation for the support, kindness and help that I have received from the House of Lords staff—particularly the very patient Doorkeepers and assistants who have helped me and made considerable efforts to help me try to negotiate my way around the House’s twisting corridors and passages. When I explain to you that I was once out fell walking in the Lake District and asked directions to a mountain I was actually sitting on, you can understand why I need all the support I can get.
I begin my service in this House in the full recognition of the privilege of being here and that this would not have been possible without the support, opportunity and experience I have had during 40 years of work and involvement in politics, trade unions and the voluntary sector. I began working for UNISON, the public services union, in 1993 when it merged into the UK’s largest union. Before that I worked for a much smaller specialist healthcare union COHSE. Until I recently retired, I was director of organisation development, heading up strategic HR management, planning and major systems change and management programmes. We were the first UK union to be awarded the Investors in People standard and to introduce an equality-proofed pay and grading system for our staff—practising ourselves what we want to see for our members in the workplace. UNISON is a remarkable union bringing together members from across the public services and energy industries—nurses, town hall clerks, engineers, school meals staff, teaching assistants, social and care workers, and more than 60,000 community and voluntary staff in a sector that is notoriously difficult to organise.
I make just one more reference to my background. I have been active in local community politics for years, but many of my noble friends on this side of the House will know me through my role as the intrepid chair of the Labour Party's Conference Arrangements Committee. This is a small committee, but has a major role and impact on how the conference is run, its organisation and agenda. In other words, as one former Minister and party chair said to me: “If the conference is a success, Margaret, it’s down to the politicians; if it’s a mess, then it’s down to you”. I stood down from this role last week to great acclaim by the Guardian’s Simon Hoggart who described in his column my conference report as “completely incomprehensible”. What better praise could a long-serving standing orders chair receive?
I chose Blackfriars for my title as it is in the London Borough of Southwark, where I was born and brought up. I am a voluntary trustee and chair of a small multiservice provider in Blackfriars, the Blackfriars Settlement. The settlement movement began in the late 19th century, when women from the Oxford University colleges founded settlements along the south bank of the Thames to live and work among the poorer families, especially women and children. There are six settlements across Southwark, all of them at the heart of their communities, providing vital services and support.
While a walk along the south bank shows Blackfriars in all its vibrancy, Southwark itself, despite huge regeneration, is still in the bottom 10 of the most deprived London boroughs. The settlements are locally unique in that each provides services covering young people, community and mental health, education, older people's services, young people's clubs, drop-in clubs for the mentally ill, befriending schemes for the elderly and isolated, a weekly free legal clinic and literacy, ESOL, job seeking and IT skills training. However, as we know and have heard, life is tough and challenging in the voluntary sector. In our settlement, 32 whole time equivalent staff, mostly part-time, work across 82 different funding and income streams, taking on additional or reduced hours as funding is secured or contracts are cancelled, or indeed losing their jobs. We could not deliver services without our amazing volunteers—more than 100 of them, of all ages and from diverse backgrounds and cultures, many of them former users of our services.
Most of the language of the debate around the big society assumes that voluntary organisations are a homogenous block—one big group of providers—but they are not. Like settlements, they are diverse local organisations, networks and self-help and neighbourhood groups, large and small. They spring from the bottom up to respond to and support local community needs and aspirations. They need to work within the framework of good public health, social care and education services, and should not be used as a cut-price answer to service provision.
Perhaps I may comment also on one perspective of the debate on the role of the voluntary sector that may not come to the forefront of consideration; namely, the impact of any changed role and alternative care delivery not just on users but also on carers. Again, I declare an interest as the carer of my partner, who suffered a major brain haemorrhage three years ago. I am sure that many noble Lords are familiar with the carer statistics. There are 5.5 million carers in Great Britain, and every day 6,000 people take on a caring responsibility. The carer’s and cared-for's daily experience is a mix of public service and voluntary and independent sector support; a complex web of care provision. We know that effective integration of health, social and voluntary care is a challenge, even with some of the excellent partnership and joint working initiatives that are in place.
You become a carer often out of the blue, and it changes your life—as well, of course, as that of the person you are caring for. For sudden illness, the first experience is of the NHS—in our case, good and fast diagnosis and treatment at the local hospital, fully in line with targets for scanning, assessment and treatment set out in the National Stroke Strategy. You turn to the Stroke Association for advice, information and guidance; for help to the local disabled people's user-led group; for personal support to the local authority carer support team. The carer is the key to enabling a person with severe disabilities to live at home. Continuing support involves good home support from the GP, local authority day care provision, a daily local authority social services package delivered by the independent sector, speech and communications support from an excellent small local charity and exercise sessions from another disability charity.
This is the localism currently in operation: intricate, complex packages of care in the community for people who require high-dependency support, such as sufferers from strokes, dementia, mental illness or MS. It is critical to carers that services are not further fragmented. Given appropriate funding and structural support, the voluntary sector could undoubtedly do more across health and social care. But it cannot do it in a climate of reduced statutory funding and falling donations and legacies.
I formally pay tribute to the work of the main carer charities—Carers UK, Crossroads and the Princess Royal Trust for Carers—which have achieved so much in highlighting the role that carers play in our society. I also welcome the current consultation on refreshing the 2008 National Carers Strategy that has done so much to make a difference to carers’ lives, and hope that this means meaningful continued support for the strategy.
In closing, I emphasise how much I look forward to being a full and active Member of the House. I have many interests and passions that I hope to pursue, such as international development, the countryside, riverways and the arts. From my experience of the House so far, I realise that there is much to do and to learn, and I really look forward to that.
My Lords, I do not know how we can carry on with the superlatives in response to today's maiden speeches. As the noble Lord who has now left his seat said, we have a number of maiden speakers today, and among them is a superb woman, the noble Baroness, Lady Wheeler.
I have known Margaret for a number of years. Our backgrounds are similar in terms of trade unions and the work that we have done together. She speedily described in her maiden speech some of the things that she did in her union and working with others. She said in one quick breath that in UNISON she supported a major restructuring, bringing together two or three other unions. She said it quickly, but the work that that involved—the effort, the pragmatism and the way in which she ensured that it happened—was much greater than her two-sentence description suggested. All unions are difficult. UNISON is not my union, so I have to be very careful about saying that it is more difficult, but the conglomeration of unions joining it made hers a very difficult task.
Margaret also talked very modestly about the comment made about her at the Labour Party conference by Simon Hoggart. I will say a little more about that, because she picked out something that was perhaps a bit derogatory, whereas in fact he was much more complimentary and very perceptive. He described her as a handsome woman—and she is. He said that she speaks with a flat, pleasing voice. I am not sure about “flat”, but her voice is very pleasing and I hope that we will hear lots more of it. He suggested that when she describes things in the CAC, she is very similar—as a fan of “The Archers”, I understand this totally—to someone thanking Mrs Pargeter, who is a very important person in “The Archers”, for the loan of the tea urn for the village fête. If she can make the CAC sound that good, she will be a superb contributor in this House. Like other noble Lords, I welcome her. I do not think that she gets lost nearly as often as she says she does. Margaret is a very humble person, but believe me, a very tough one, and I look forward to more contributions from her that we can all enjoy.
The noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Holbeach, has had many thanks for introducing this debate, but I will add mine. As others have said, the subject of the debate has been so stimulating that we have been inundated with speakers. That is wonderful. One of the big things about this House is the wonderment that we have in picking up advice about what will be debated and everybody deciding that they have something to contribute.
I will talk about the way in which charities work and about some of the threats that they fear, which many other Members have talked about. The fundamental issue in the coalition's thinking concerns the big society. The phrase is much spoken about, but I still find lots of people who are not sure what it means. Although we have had much more elaboration today, it is still a challenge for many of us to understand it. We know it in lots of different ways, but the language can be different for all of us.
Many speakers have tried to define what we mean by the charitable sector, alongside a definition of civil society. Almost all speakers—not just those making their maiden speeches—have tried to define what that is, and I will do the same. This was referred to by among others the noble Baroness, Lady Pitkeathley, who said that the creation of the Office for Civil Society within the Cabinet Office would assist us in our comprehension. This replaced the Office of the Third Sector, which some of us had equal difficulty understanding—but we learned very quickly what it was about. I, too, welcome that change of name and also the intention behind it. It describes its work, across government, as supporting voluntary and community groups, social enterprises, charities, co-operatives and mutuals. However, that is a description of activities and institutions rather than civil society, and that, I think, is the most important thing that we have been trying to agree among ourselves today.
A definition is offered by the NCVO in its 2009 paper, Civil Society: A Framework for Action. I join in the congratulations and thanks to the Library expressed by others today, because it supplied that definition. Its briefing is the most powerful and useful that I have seen in this House in the six years that I have been here in that it is very alive. The NCVO says that civil society is,
“where people come together to make a positive difference to their lives and the lives of others—for mutual support, to pursue shared interests, to further a cause they care about or simply for fun and friendship”.
My experience is exactly like that; it reflects what I know about civil society as well. However, civil society is much broader and deeper than that, as it knits people together in seeking to serve one another. The contribution made by charities is to be applauded, as many people have done. If we look at our history over decades, we see that it is from charities that much of the state grew, recognising the expertise that charities brought and expanding it into the universal provision of services.
There has always been a key role for charities, many of which provide core services that neither the state nor alternative providers have ever sought to offer. As other speakers have said, others campaign, seeking to represent the voices of the powerless and advocate their needs, while others identify the gaps and cracks in state provision and innovate to fill them. In this debate we need to move beyond the philosophical to help to pave the way for charities to be fully embraced in strengthening our society—big, civil, good or otherwise—and to be released to make their unique contribution. We must support them well.
As has been referred to by other noble Lords, there is a strongly held view across many charities that just because they can run a charity and add value to the state in doing so, that does not mean that they want to or can undertake the burden of running state services. In re-emphasising the importance of the independence of charities and enabling them, alongside other delivery partners and experts, to innovate, define and shape services in the future, there will be a need to strengthen them. It is when they have to dance to the tune of the commissioners and funders that they are all too often weakened, as they are forced to trade in their cutting edge and spirit for the constraints forced upon them. We thus lose what those charities have to offer.
If charities are given the space to create once more, the age of charities transforming civil society will really benefit us. It is this framework that the charities call on all of us in this debate to secure.
My Lords, we had a very good debate on 16 June on the role of partnerships between the Government and civil society, and I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, on giving us the opportunity to pick up from where we left off. I also congratulate the bumper crop of maiden speakers, who have been largely maidens, and I eagerly look forward to the others.
On the state and civil society, my view is very simple; we needed the state to step in to remedy the deficiencies of civil society in caring for the vulnerable and providing basic health, education and other services for the population at large. Some Ministers seem to base their view on the need for a big society on a reading of history that sees broken Britain as being partly a consequence of the growth of the state and the growth of the welfare state since 1945 having crowded out voluntary action. However, the evidence is that levels of civic participation have remained relatively constant and that that participation has changed in nature but has not significantly declined as a result of the growth in state activity.
Society is obviously alive and well. The noble Baroness, Lady Thatcher, when she was plain Mrs Thatcher, was very much criticised for saying that there was no such thing as society, but I think that that was rather unfair. She was merely making the rather basic sociological point, although she might not have welcomed it being described as such, that we should not reify society as anything more than the collection of individuals who make it up. It is not difficult to argue that society is broken. Indeed, on that earlier occasion, the noble Lord, Lord Alton, in particular, mobilised a string of examples to make the point. I do not think that any of us needs to be persuaded that we are beset by social problems, but I think that equally telling as an index of the health of our society is the wealth of examples that it is possible to come up with of the voluntary coming together of individuals to engage in collective action for the common good, which is at the root of all charitable activity.
I am in favour of the big society as an expression of the voluntary efforts that go to make it up but it should not be contingent on rolling back the state. We need them both. One has only to consider the Balkanisation of the voluntary sector in America to see this. The only question is the balance between the two and how they can interact to best advantage. However, I intend to resist the temptation to dilate further on the big society and shall stick to the question on the Order Paper—namely, the role of charities in all this. The impulse of compassion, which is also at the root of charitable endeavour, is one of the most basic instincts of mankind. Indeed, I heard on the radio only this morning that archaeologists from the University of York have been able to infer that it was to be found in Neanderthal man, who apparently had arrangements for caring for the sick.
Charities enjoy a high level of trust in our society—behind doctors and the police but ahead of private companies and certainly ahead of politicians and journalists. I did not necessarily draw the conclusion to be found in the Charity Commission’s latest survey of public trust and confidence in charities, which was reflected in the Library note prepared for this debate, which, like other noble Lords, I found extremely helpful. However, charities come in for some criticisms, and I should like to spend the rest of my time addressing some of them. In so doing, I declare my interest as someone with 40 years’ experience of working in charities great and small who has ended up as vice-president of the RNIB and as president of a number of others which I helped to found back in the 1970s and which are all declared in the register of interests. I suppose that this makes me something of a charity hack in the terms of the noble Lord, Lord Phillips.
First, from the left one encounters a distrust of charity based on a suspicion of the eleemosynary principle and hostility to charities’ perceived paternalism. I do not think that there is a lot in this. Whatever may have been the case in the past, charity today is little more than a particular form of organisation or a legal form that carries certain tax advantages. The principles of consumer participation and user involvement are now well accepted, and charities are far more accountable and responsive to their members and beneficiaries than was ever the case in the past.
Next, one encounters suspicion of charities’ campaigning role. Clearly, expenditure on political campaigning would not be an appropriate use of charitable resources but, having made this clear, I think that the Charity Commission’s guidance strikes the right balance. Of course, charities have a vested interest like many other interests in society, including well funded commercial ones, but charities perform a valuable function in a democracy, as someone else said a little earlier, in ensuring that the interests of those whom they represent are properly considered by policy and decision-makers and properly reflected in public debate. I remember the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, expressing concern in a debate in this House about the role of lobbyists from charities in the European Parliament, but I was pleased to see the Council of Europe recently drawing a distinction between professional and civil society lobbying. The European code of conduct on lobbying in a democratic society, particularly as it relates to NGOs, states that,
“lobbying should be very clearly defined, differentiating between lobbying as a professionally compensated activity and the activities of the organisations of civil society”.
That is a crucial distinction.
Finally, it is sometimes possible to detect a bias in favour of smaller, third-sector and community organisations, as against the larger national charities, in the interests of fostering local communities and social action. Indeed, we have even caught a whiff of it from time to time in the debate today. This has been described as a prejudice against what is depicted as the corporate face of the voluntary sector. It can perhaps be seen in the level of regulation that far outstrips anything to which the banks are subjected. Voluntary organisations come in all shapes and sizes and they all have their part to play, but the larger charities certainly have their place. Volunteers and the big society need to be organised. As the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London said in an earlier debate:
“Charities … cannot simply expand their volunteering without also expanding the infrastructure to provide support, advice, training and, crucially, management of volunteers. In the evaluation that we have done of scores of projects over the past 10 years, we have to confess that failures in management are the most common cause of ineffectiveness”.—[Official Report, 16/6/2010; col. 1021.]
The right reverend Prelate then referred to my own contribution, so I am more than happy to return the compliment. It means that the voluntary sector still has work to do to put its house in order. Its diversity is a strength but fragmentation is not. At a recent count there were found to be 733 voluntary organisations in the visual impairment sector, so there is a major need for rationalisation and consolidation. There is much talk of partnership—my successor at the RNIB defined partnership as “doing what I want with your money”—but it has always seemed to me that there is no substitute for unified management. The threat of retrenchment may provide an opportunity. It is not unknown for charities to be thought of as entirely staffed by volunteers, but that is an anachronistic way of thinking. Charities have become increasingly professional—first at officer level but now at the level of trustees. That has been made necessary by the considerations to which the right reverend Prelate drew attention, and now by regulation. There is nothing wrong with that—in fact, it is a good thing—but we need to be aware that it has consequences. I predict that it will be increasingly necessary to pay trustees and that the Charity Commission will need to give more systematic and not just ad hoc consideration to that, as it recently did with the RNIB.
When I joined the University of Leeds, my professor said that the universities exemplified the last vestige of the leisured elite. I am sure that that is no longer true of the university, but since coming here I have occasionally wondered whether the leisured elite might not have migrated to the House of Lords. However, it is clear that there is no longer a leisured elite that stands ready and willing to stock the boards of a charitable sector.
My Lords, it is my great privilege to be standing in this historic House in the company of so many noble and distinguished Lords. I thank you most sincerely for the very warm welcome that I have received since I arrived in this House in June. In particular, I thank my sponsors, my noble friends, Lady Hanham and Lady Morris of Bolton, and my mentor, my noble friend Lady Sharples, who has patiently tutored me in our practices and procedures. The Doorkeepers and staff of this noble House have also helped me to address one of the greatest challenges faced by new Peers—navigation around this House. Despite their help, I have on occasion thrown open one of Mr Pugin’s elegantly panelled doors, determined to make a suitably noble entrance on some great committee or other, only to find myself in a cupboard.
I am delighted to be making my maiden speech in this important debate on the role of the voluntary sector in civil society, led by my noble friend Lord Taylor of Holbeach. My passion is working with the voluntary and community sector to transform the lives of the young. Like many other noble Lords in this House, I come here with a keen interest in the welfare of children and young people, particularly those who are most vulnerable and who have encountered difficult and challenging times in their lives.
My background is in local government, and for a decade or more I have been involved in providing services to children and young people and to championing their cause through a variety of roles. As statutory lead member for children in the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, I am well aware of the difficulties that some families face, and in particular of some of the hard issues around child protection and safeguarding. Ours may be in large part one of Britain’s wealthiest areas but, like most London boroughs, we have areas of real deprivation and need. I pay particular tribute to our social workers. They endure constant criticism in the media, yet in truth they save many lives and I believe that they are generally part of the solution not the problem.
I have also been involved with UK Youth, a national non-uniform charity for young people which celebrates its centenary this year. I see great potential for the national citizen service which will give opportunities through a personal social development programme to a range of young people to play their part in civil society and build on the innovative work done by my noble friend Lord Wei and the Challenge charity.
I am acutely aware that those on the front line in charities can feel patronised by warm words from Westminster so I want to focus today on some of the practical measures that we can take to enable the sector to release the full potential of our children and young people. Starting near to home, voluntary organisations working with the young are particularly dependent on local authority grants and contracts, so I hope that we can encourage councillors in our own parties to sustain the funding of the voluntary sector, even in these difficult times. There are powerful arguments for doing so. In my own borough, for instance, we depend critically on organisations such as Family Action, which runs programmes for young carers and West London Action for Children, which does much to help those who have been victims of abuse. Axing the voluntary sector budget has sometimes been the first response of local councils facing financial constraints. Yet at election time, councils stand or fall on their ability to deliver excellent services cost-effectively—a challenge which the sector is uniquely placed to help them meet. We neglect it at our peril.
We must also recognise that even in the best of times, the state will never have sufficient resources to meet the full needs and aspirations of the young. We must help the sector generate income through social enterprise, facilitate partnerships with the business world and inspire a new age of philanthropy in Britain. This means looking at new forms of partnership between local authorities and philanthropists such as the Library Trust which is being pioneered by the City of Birmingham Council with help from Action Planning. I delight in the lead given by some of our wealthiest people who have chosen to devote their fortunes to giving a new start to the young, but sadly these people are often the exceptions rather than the rule. Perhaps our culture is to blame and if in years to come, we can give our great philanthropists even a tenth of the recognition heaped on our footballers, our country will be a better place.
Building the big society will also require the energies of the entire voluntary sector. Many of the organisations which make most difference to the lives of the young are faith-based and they need fair access to funding. The charitable sector in Britain has its roots in the church and today, from the Church of England Children’s Society to the youth workers in thousands of churches across Britain, there are men and women who are inspired by faith to help the young make more of their lives. The state cannot fund proselytism, but we can and we should work more closely with faith-based organisations which deliver the outcomes that we are looking for, without necessarily expecting them to mask their identity to secure funding.
I turn next to the challenge of regulation. We must recognise that those who are inspired to give their time to the voluntary sector have their hearts in service delivery and campaigning, not in regulatory compliance and bureaucracy. So I wish my noble friend Lord Hodgson well in his mission to help the Government identify ways in which we can make it easier to establish and run charities.
Of course, obligations run both ways. The current difficult times require a response from the sector in delivering services cost-effectively. For instance, do we really need an estimated 72,000 charities to be working and involved with children and young people? Openness to sharing services, to better partnership working and to mergers where the case is proven must form part of the sector’s response to a new partnership with government. Charities also need to guard against mission drift, by which I mean the danger of losing sight of the very vision and passion with which they were created as they tailor their activities to the dictates of government programmes.
Finally, I feel that we should stop seeing children and young people as passive recipients of services. We should encourage them—as, indeed, the sector is doing—to exercise real leadership in their lives. We have 12 million people under the age of 18. They are key citizens in our communities, with both the desire and the capacity to help shape their local areas and even society as a whole. They want to learn through doing, to take responsibility and to make their own mark positively. This has been a particular objective of the National Children’s Bureau, which I am proud to serve as a volunteer, pursued through its lead role in the National Participation Forum. Research undertaken by the forum shows that much progress has been made in children’s involvement in decision-making. I cite but two examples: Youth4U has enabled young people to shape local service provision and delivery, and the Disabled children’s manifesto for change has demonstrated how an often-overlooked and excluded group can shape and influence policy.
I believe passionately that if we can but mobilise the full energies of those charities working with the young, we will free a new generation from the curses of addiction, isolation and hopelessness. If we can go further and release the ambition and the capacity of our young people to lead, the big society will move powerfully from rhetoric to reality.
My Lords, we have had a galaxy of new talent on display this afternoon from right across the political firmament, a veritable aurora borealis of political speeches. It gives me the greatest pleasure to congratulate my noble friend on her distinguished maiden speech. She and I have had the pleasure of working together for many years. I know first hand of her contribution to the charitable and voluntary sector, which she described in most modest terms. She has contributed to the alleviation of child poverty and to youth crime prevention and education. In her role as a senior councillor in the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, she headed up family services and children’s services, thereby coming into contact with many of the issues that have formed some of the most sensitive topics that we are discussing today. Thoughtful, considerate and sympathetic she certainly is, but there is also a hint of steel. She will be no pushover in your Lordships' House, which is as it should be. I am sure that we will hear many more distinguished contributions from her.
I need to declare an interest. I am president of NCVO—many speakers have referred to the contribution of our chief executive, Sir Stuart Etherington, who manfully sat through 20 of our speeches earlier today before the attractions of the bar proved, I think, too strong. I am also chair of the Armed Forces Charities Advisory Committee. Having listened to 21 speeches, it is clear to me that there is an understanding in all parts of the House of the value of the charitable and voluntary sector, so I do not propose to go over those general points again save in one respect. As some noble Lords have remarked, most charitable and voluntary groups are very small. The Charity Commission records that more than 80 per cent of registered charities have an income of below £10,000 per annum. The level at which annual income has to be recorded is £5,000—above that level, registration is required. During the passage of the Charities Act in your Lordships' House, we argued strongly that we should not have a £5,000 level. We argued it in particular because the Cabinet Office taskforce which set the whole Bill rolling with its report, Private Action, Public Benefit, suggested a £10,000 minimum. We have a quinquennial review, as my noble friend Lord Taylor has said. When we have that review, I hope that we will do something to raise that level.
This is not just about red tape; these charities and voluntary groups have their primary emphasis on the delivery of services. Administration not only diverts precious time and money but can result in the leaders of the group, particularly of smaller groups, becoming overconfident form-fillers rather than competent service providers. In the words of one report, the organisation can become “process perfect but outcome deficient”.
However, we are discussing a huge movement. Those who have seen the Charity Commission briefing will have seen the last four charities that it registered—Redditch Nightstop, Hunsley Christian Youth Trust, Liverpool North District Scout Council and Thorpe Bay University of the Third Age. That shows how the charity movement touches every part of our lives in every part of the country. It will play a critical role in the development of the big society because it is flexible and responsive to local needs. What works in Shrewsbury will not work in Sheffield; what works in Bradford will not work in Bournemouth. While I appreciate and understand the role of the state as a universal provider, being a universal provider inevitably makes you something of a one-club golfer.
So much for the big picture; in the few minutes that I have left, I shall focus on just two points: the red tape taskforce that I have been asked to chair, and time and money—the essential ingredients, the petrol and oil, which fuel voluntary organisations. As my noble friend said, the taskforce has been asked to make recommendations to reduce the bureaucratic burden on small organisations, especially in the charitable, voluntary and social enterprise sector. We are a small group—just six—because we want to achieve focus, but we represent charities, voluntary groups and small businesses. I like to think that we have a reasonably extensive bandwidth of political representation as well.
That leads me to an important point. One person who has given us evidence said that this issue is “too important to be left to politicians”. That is not fair, because politicians have the capacity to give wing to these ideas and aspirations—or not, as the case may be. I think that what he really meant were the twin dangers, referred to in previous debates, of this sector becoming a political football and of politicians, and perhaps the media, too, sometimes playing up and overemphasising risks and dangers in the sector to sell newspapers or to make a TV programme attractive to watch.
There will be failures and setbacks—there probably ought to be if our voluntary sector is vibrant and edgy—but they need to be set in context. Of course, accidents are terrible; of course, one understands the reaction of anguished parents, families and friends and their asking for regulations to prevent another occurrence of a particular event. However, one needs to ask in all humility: will the proposed regulation prevent the next accident or are we merely shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted? Will the regulation merely shift the risk? For example, a child not going on a school trip may play football in the street and be injured there. Will the regulation prevent the provision of a service which will potentially enrich the lives of many people, both the recipient and the provider? My noble friend Lord Taylor referred to trust. We need to have trust, judgment and responsibility uppermost in our mind when we come to look at the regulatory and bureaucratic burden that we put on our small charities and voluntary groups.
Noble Lords will not need me to tell them that there is no silver bullet for this issue; it is a subject with a high degree of granularity, inch by inch, yard by yard, not just regulatory but attitudinal. Voluntary groups like to complain about regulations but often seek to shelter behind them. Noble Lords have enormous experience of these issues, and I hope that they will not be backward in coming forward to provide examples—but highly granular ones, please, because that is what we need if we are to make a difference.
One consequence of being appointed to the taskforce was that I was interviewed by “Newsnight” on Hastings beach in front of a Punch and Judy stall in a high wind. So high was the wind that when the BBC kindly brought out tea and biscuits, the biscuits blew away. I had an opportunity to talk to the Punch and Judy man. I will not weary the House with the bureaucratic nightmare that he finds himself in, but he said that the show, which includes Mr Punch, Judy and the crocodile, which eats someone along the way, historically has as its law enforcer—the Punch and Judy movement is now 350 years old, first recorded by Samuel Pepys in 1662—the Beadle. The Punch and Judy man said, “Of course, no one understands what a Beadle is now, so I call him the health and safety inspector, and he always gets a laugh”.
I turn to time and money: first, time. We may not all be financially rich but we all have 24 hours in our day. The statistics from the NCVO state that 26 per cent of people volunteer once per month and 41 per cent volunteer once per year. What can we do to increase those numbers? That is a key question that our taskforce is seeking to address: what stops people volunteering? Is it the intrusive nature of the paperwork? Is it their inability to find a way to link up with a charity? Is it the conditions of their employment: that they have no time? Is it the social attitudes among their peer group? Especially, what stops young people volunteering? A very interesting paper has just been issued by the Charity Commission on the shortage of young people as trustees, to which my noble friend Lady Bottomley referred.
Finally, I turn to money. We need to do more to encourage the creation of grant-giving foundations. My noble friend Lady Ritchie referred to that in her remarks. Individuals who have made substantial sums of money should be encouraged to set up foundations. It will be said that they can give such money via gift aid, and so they can, but it is not quite the same. A foundation can provide sustained, year-on-year giving, often for leading-edge and/or unpopular causes, important issues of public policy that do not immediately tag at the heartstrings. Why are those foundations not appearing in sufficient numbers? There are issues of administrative and tax complexity. There are issues of legal requirements imposed by the Trustee Act. There is public exposure to adverse publicity. One of my more intelligent American friends said, “The British disease is not idleness, it is envy”. People fear that if they have a foundation, they will be written about and receive adverse publicity about their activities. Then there are social attitudes, possibly fewer now, by which it is somehow vulgar to have a foundation which carries your name.
To such people, I say only that Oxford University is a world-class university. The Oxford University library is called the Bodleian Library. It was founded and financed by Sir Thomas Bodley in 1598, and the university museum at Oxford, the Ashmolean, the first university museum in the world, was set up by Elias Ashmole in 1677. We have a long history of charitable giving of that sort, and people should not be worried about having foundations which carry their name in the way that the Bodleian and the Ashmolean carry the names of their founders.
The sector has a proud record. There is much work ahead of us if we are to build on that splendid past, especially in the inevitably lean years that lie ahead of us.
My Lords, for a new Member of your Lordships' House, learning how to navigate its geography and its procedures is the parliamentary equivalent of a novice London cabbie doing the knowledge, so I add my thanks to those of other new Members to the officials of the House: universally efficient, helpful, courteous and, in my case at least, patient beyond any reasonable expectation.
In another place, it is customary for new Members to extol the virtues of those to whose place they have succeeded and the constituency that they represent. Like most Members of this House, I do not have any predecessors. Indeed, in a long local government career, my antecedents—especially my paternity—have often been called into question. However, like the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie, and the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, I have a constituency, because I, like them, am a serving councillor. I am not sure whether the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, who was the second leader after me but one, was sent to keep an eye on me or me to keep an eye on him, but at least we can provide each other with a pair as and when required.
I represent a ward in the west end of Newcastle, Benwell and Scotswood ward, which I have represented, albeit on different boundaries—derived, I may say, after due process involving extensive consultation and inquiry—for 43 years. It is among the 10 per cent most deprived wards in England, notwithstanding significant investment in recent years. I view the subject of this debate through the prism of the area which I represent and as someone engaged with a number of charities and voluntary organisations, local and national, listed in the register—although, I am bound to admit, often in a capacity more ornamental than useful.
The ward I represent has a population of about 12,000 people, and within it I can count 20 different distinct geographical communities and many different communities of interest defined by housing tenure, age, gender, faith, ethnicity or employment status—interests which may sometimes compete or even conflict, and which ultimately require to be mediated. That is one of the roles of local government. Although poor in economic terms—albeit with some areas more comfortably off within it—the ward is rich in organisations. Some are formal charities with paid staff; others are informal and rely on volunteers, bringing to the provision of local services and the championship of that community the intrinsic virtues of the charitable and voluntary sector: local knowledge and engagement, innovative approaches and, perhaps, a disposition to be less risk-averse than the statutory services tend to be.
Within the area, we have tenants’ and residents’ groups, friends of local parks, a community health project, credit unions, welfare rights organisations, luncheon clubs, a community garden and nature park, allotments, youth clubs and more besides. In addition, there are larger organisations such as housing associations, perhaps not easily distinguishable from statutory or private sector bodies, and citywide organisations such as Age Concern, whose local president I am. Well endowed as we are in terms of activity, in truth, most of the local organisations depend on a relatively small number of activists—about 240, it has been calculated—usually, as it happens, women, who are often involved in more than one organisation. I am lost in admiration for people who have a daily, weekly struggle to keep their lives and families together but devote so much time, commitment and energy to the welfare of their community.
However, it is a plain fact that while social capital is available in the community, finance simply is not. A sample of 11 significant organisations in the area has shown that collectively they have an income of about £2 million a year. Of that, £1.4 million comes in grants from the city council, the Government, the National Health Service or other national organisations of that kind; £450,000 comes from trusts; £85,000 from the lottery; and £76,000 from the local community—that is to say, 4 per cent from within the area itself, which is not very surprising given the nature of its socio-economic profile. So the voluntary and community sector in that ward is critically dependent on external and, in effect, statutory funding for the continuation of its activities. We must not lose sight of that.
That is equally true across the city as a whole. In Newcastle, we have 2,200 voluntary and community groups that employ the equivalent of 5,000 full-time employees, so they play a significant part in the local economy as well as delivering services. As has already been mentioned, demand is increasing as a result of the recession at the same time that income is falling for these organisations. Many of them have already sustained in-year cuts that have caused problems across a range of services. In fairness to the city council, which is in a political control that I am not entirely comfortable with, it has drawn down on reserves to make good some of the cuts that have been imposed this year on government programmes in the city, but it will not be able to do that next year. An example is the cuts in the migration fund, which has affected two organisations in the ward that I represent to the extent of £70,000 this year, and their future is now very much in question. There is real concern on the financial side among organisations that are delivering the service. There is concern not only about those organisations but about organisations such as the Newcastle Council for Voluntary Service, of which I am a vice-president, which provides support, back-up and a voice for the sector. I was particularly pleased to hear the Minister refer to that kind of organisation as ones that the Government would seek to support. It is crucial that they should do so.
To describe this kaleidoscope of different organisations as a big society is perhaps to use the wrong adjective because it seems to me to reflect the small society of the particular and the local. We will shortly learn just how tight the financial parameters will be within which statutory and non-statutory services and organisations will have to operate. With that in mind, I hope that the call of many organisations for a reform of gift aid will be heeded and that we will see an improvement in the way that it is administered. It is a practical way of enhancing the income of charitable organisations and encouraging donors, and many noble Lords have said that it is necessary.
The sector clearly has an important role in a mixed economy of provision as well as in advocacy. That role is often governed by contracts, and I hope that the voluntary sector is not seen as a way of delivering services more cheaply, particularly at the expense of its employees. I recall one case in my own authority in which home help services were outsourced to charitable organisations paying barely above the minimum wage, compared with the not-very-princely sum of £7 an hour that the city council was paying. I do not think that the sector looks to perform that kind of role. On the other hand, procurement processes should facilitate the role of the sector by ensuring that contracts are not too large or long to be accessible to smaller organisations. If we want to encourage them to participate, we ought to provide for that.
In the past few years, I have been privileged to attend the annual Compact meetings, originally initiated by my noble friend Lord Filkin, and have there suggested that the sector needs to engage in the scrutiny of public services and needs to be subject to scrutiny because accountability is surely a two-way street. I have suggested that there should be further promotion of peer review in the sector. It has been very successful in local government. I welcome the partnership improvement programme, which has brought together senior officers from councils and the third sector. It has accredited people from the sector to serve with council peers, assisting councils in their review processes. Places have been made available on leadership training courses, and there is scope to build on the work of organisations such as Common Purpose and to encourage secondments between the sector and the public sector. We clearly need to bring them together. Support for the sector does not and must not imply conflict between the sector and the public sector in general, especially local government. We need to promote synergy between the two, bringing together civil society and civic society in the interests of the community and good governance.
I congratulate my noble friend Lord Beecham on his maiden speech. We heard of the Geordie element that runs through his life. I thought it ran through the whole of his life, but I discovered that, rather like Moses, who was discovered in a basket at the age of two, he was two when he entered the city that has so benefited from his talents. He is also learned in the law, a great family man and, above all, despite his—if he will forgive me—slightly diminutive physical stature, he is undoubtedly Mr Big in local government. He led Newcastle with great distinction for nearly 20 years and then went on to take his passion for local government to the national level and was instrumental in bringing together the AMA, the ADC and the ACC, which those of us who have been around for a long time with remember, into the Local Government Association, which is the very strong voice of local government. He led it with enormous distinction as its inaugural chair. He was also, I think, the driving force behind concessionary bus fares, from which so many in your Lordships' House benefit, but he did not declare that as an interest. I had the great pleasure of serving on the national executive committee of the Labour Party with my noble friend. He brought his enormous humour, his great tactics and his strategy to all our work. This House will hear much from him and will benefit from his absolute commitment to justice and, with others here today, to local government. The whole House welcomes him.
This is not the first debate in this House on charities. In 1949, Lord Pakenham said:
“We consider that the voluntary spirit is the very lifeblood of democracy … We are convinced that voluntary organisations have rendered, are rendering and must… continue to render great and indispensable service to the community [Official Report, 22/6/49; col. 119.]”.
Since that year of my birth, charities have continued in their work, and I have been a long-standing trustee and employee in the charitable sector. I declare an interest as a past chair and current trustee of the Camden Alcohol Services Agency. I was a founder member of the Association of Chief Executives of National Voluntary Organisations and I was either the chief executive or worked for Alcohol Concern, the Pelican Cancer Foundation and our country’s largest charity, the Wellcome Trust. I say that to give noble Lords my credentials before I go on to say other things.
In my early years, I was a great fan of Titmuss and continue to be so. In The Gift Relationship, he sets out his belief that altruism is morally sound and economically efficient. Titmuss thought that a competitive, materialist and acquisitive society—I do not know what he was referring to—ignores at its peril the life-giving impulse towards altruism that is needed for welfare in the most fundamental sense. The Gift Relationship is about blood donation. Those who have read it will remember that Titmuss thought blood donation exemplified the ethical socialism he believed in and the political sense that the voluntary donation of blood is the most fundamental representation of human beings because they give in the purest form without any anticipation of reward. Like one and a half million other citizens, I give my blood in that way. However, I think that Titmuss’s ideal was wrong in three ways. First, even with blood, although we are voluntary, unpaid donors, the substructure of staffing, transport, cleansing and testing is provided by paid professional staff. Secondly, as Robert Louis Stevenson said, charity,
“is apt to be accompanied by a certain complacency and condescension on the part of the benefactor; and by an expectation of gratitude from the recipient”.
The rich, said Stevenson, should subscribe to,
“pay the taxes. These were the true charity, impartial and impersonal, cumbering none with obligation, helping all”.
Thirdly, another problem about charitable giving is that it tends to support rather popular causes, such as animals, babies and cuddly things, and what are seen as deserving causes. When I was trying to raise money for Alcohol Concern, I used to think that I had a difficult problem. But I was complaining about it one day and someone who was raising money for incontinence pads for the elderly said that I knew nothing. It is similar for the ex-offenders—the unpopular causes. We have to be wary of thinking that even the large benefactors of whom the noble Lord spoke will always give to what they see as unpopular causes.
I fully support—how could I not when I have described my own charitable background?—the marshalling of altruistic causes and the contribution of charitable giving to help produce a better, stronger society. CASA is a small charity in Kentish Town, of which I am a trustee, which looks after people with drink problems. For a mere £800,000 a year we work with more than 800 individuals. One third becomes abstinent; another third retains abstinence; and one person in five reduces their intake. We are doing that for just £1,000 per client, which is probably the cost of one night in a hospital bed. Another local charity, the Coram Foundation, started in adoption and had its origins in charitable work. Today, although local authorities do much of that, Coram helps to place some of the most vulnerable children and has one of the highest success rates.
Finally, Community Service Volunteers uses about 200,000 volunteers aged between five and 105. It supports ageing and disabled people to stay in their own homes or to go to university. It helps to feed people in hospital, particularly those who are frail and elderly. It has a lovely system of “grand mentoring” for those aged 50-plus, as well as putting volunteers into general practice.
Clem Attlee was right when he attacked the idea that looking after the poor can be left to voluntary action. He said that if a rich man wants to help the poor, he should pay his taxes gladly and not dole out money at whim. He believed that the state should look after its poorest citizens. Rather as Howard Glennerster looked at the Conservatives after the war when they were worried about the move to a welfare state with benefits available to all and the tax cost of that, I wonder whether we are now reverting to see the same in this Government.
Yes, we want to use the voluntary sector and we know how effective it can be in all sorts of ways. But it can be effective only with an infrastructure of people who clean premises, those who do auditing and accounting, and those who pay the staff and do all the administrative stuff. Without grants being available for that, and with the cuts that are coming, we will see that charities which could be best at responding locally will not be able to do so. I fear that as local authorities slash their funding, the first thing they will do is look at their grants to charities and say, “That is an easy one”. All that will undermine what happens.
While the big society has been inspiring and we want charities to help, the big society vision of the Government will depend not just on civic action but on organised civic action; that is, a professional and well organised third sector. Yet it is this sector which is likely to be most hit by public sector cuts. The charitable sector can strengthen civil society only if it itself is strengthened. Are the Government up for that?
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Holbeach, on arranging this early debate on such an important issue. From the speeches we have already heard it is clear that this is a subject where your Lordships have an even greater wealth of personal experience than usual on which to draw. My congratulations too on the excellent seven maidens we have heard. They have been recommended for their number to the Guinness book of records. I would merely add that their contents deserve a mention too.
Two things about this appalling economic situation we all face give me some degree of comfort. First, there seems to be a growing acceptance at last that we need a different and more successful value-for-money approach in dealing with our social problems, and not least in penal policy. The second, as many noble Lords have already stressed, is that the practice and organisation of that approach should be as locally based as possible.
Future plans will need to fit within the Government’s big society, which is still a somewhat puzzling concept. I have to agree here with the noble Baroness, Lady Wall of New Barnet, who has sadly just left her place. She chose a quote from the excellent briefing from the Library, which I chose myself but will not repeat. But I would stress the NCVO’s words,
“for mutual support, to pursue shared interests, to further a cause they care about or simply for fun and friendship”.
I stress that because it is important that the voluntary work gives people pleasure and a feeling of fulfilment.
It is as well to remember that many of the responsibilities that the Government accept today were started in Victorian times as charitable efforts. Today, the initiative is still as likely to come from the voluntary sector, while requiring some significant help from the Government—probably local more than central. It is in those circumstances that the NCVO’s Sir Stuart Etherington—I declare an interest as a member of its advisory body—is clearly concerned about the difficulty of achieving that in the face of these funding cuts. As many noble Lords have stressed, cuts are already having a serious effect, particularly on the most vulnerable and deprived people who receive the services of that sector. How then would it be best to manage the distribution of such public sector and other funding that may be available? That will be crucial.
It is the value-for-money issue and the need particularly at this time to prioritise the actions that can produce the best long-term results that I want to urge on Her Majesty's Government. There is a need to cut costly bureaucracy drastically and to reduce overregulation of risk taking, which should be done ruthlessly. Who would be against it? But far greater long-term savings can be achieved if more emphasis is placed by civil society on, for example, early support for those children living in deprived or chaotic families to ensure that they do not end up as yet another product of Keith Joseph’s 37 year-old cycle of deprivation in the criminal justice system. The Prison Reform Trust’s recent publication, Punishing Disadvantage, illustrates graphically the widespread disadvantages and unstable lives of so many of those imprisoned for the first time.
The Justice Secretary, the right honourable Kenneth Clarke, is, I hope, moving in the right direction for future offenders with plans for far fewer offenders to be remanded or imprisoned, especially for offences carrying sentences of six months or less. The emphasis on community sentences, with work to be completed by offenders of considerable benefit to the community, is an obvious big society challenge. Of course, if prison has not been preventable, another value-for-money priority will be relevant education and apprenticeship training in prison and vital intensive resettlement support post prison. The Secretary of State’s recent announcement of a 40-hour prisoner working week, with companies setting up their workshops inside prisons, is certainly an interesting proposition. It reflects an idea from Demos’s Civic Streets research, which recommended a higher “doer” as well as a “giver” profile for the private sector.
Another issue, and one particularly relevant to community action in order to keep youngsters out of prison, is the availability and circulation of information about what current schemes are working successfully. Each community needs to decide what will work best for it, but there are now many examples of alternative action which remain relatively unknown. What is needed is sensible compiling and, above all, some form of national visibility. One example among many strikes me as very positive. As we have just heard, the Government are going to set up a national citizens service that will run volunteer training camps for 16 year-olds. But why start as late as that? Why not get the volunteering instinct embedded much earlier?
Summer Camps, an inspiration started years ago by Chris Green and chaired by my noble friend Lady Warnock, run several camps in the summer holidays for a mix of youngsters from eight years old, all from different schools and backgrounds. They are an excellent example of this kind of approach. With my noble friend Lord Ramsbotham, I visited one this year at Hatherop Castle that was run by my noble friend Lady Warnock’s own daughter, a teacher who has been involved for all the years that the camps have existed. However, most of the leaders of the sub-groups had also themselves been enrolled children and were quite brilliant at handling and inspiring the very full range of activities we observed. To cap it all, my noble friend’s own daughter’s daughter, herself now aged eight, was able for the first time to be a full camp member and quite obviously loved every moment.
The scheme is a brilliant advert for big society-type action, and reminds me of another volunteering example. I refer to the Llangollen International Musical Eisteddfod, a huge and impressive yearly week-long event that has been going since 1947, and which for the past five years has been chaired superbly by Terry Waite. It is run by no more than seven paid staff but is supported by no fewer than 600 volunteers, many of whom return year after year, with the majority taking their annual summer holiday to do so. Surely, that is the big society in action.
My Lords, I echo the comments of others who have expressed their gratitude to the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, for securing this debate. It is timely for two reasons. First, when we hear a lot about the Government’s flagship, the big society, it is helpful to discuss exactly what the Government mean by that. Secondly, the contributions that we have heard today have expressed the depth and breadth of experience in this House. For many of us, a thread runs through our lives that connects us with the widest possible voluntary sector.
The starting point for today’s debate is that neither the concept nor the actions of the big society are new, and I share the concern that “good society” might have been a better title. But if the definition of a big society is one that tries to engage with and contribute in some way to strengthening communities and specifically to seek greater engagement with people who may feel marginalised, this has been ongoing for some considerable time. That does not mean that there is no room for expansion and improvement, but we need to be clear that while charities, the voluntary community sector, social enterprises, co-operatives and mutuals must play their part, it is not their responsibility to create the big society.
I should like to touch on three issues. First, what is the role of the third sector? In the Labour Government, my final ministerial role was as a Cabinet Office Minister and the Minister for the Third Sector, which has now been replaced by the Office for Civil Society. I think that we on the Labour Benches can take huge pride in the support and opportunities we provided to the sector and the role that it was able to play in civil society. I am also very proud of the partnership that we had with the sector as a whole, and I am pleased to see that the present Government have not thrown all that away but are building on some of the important work that we did.
From service delivery to volunteering to co-operatives and social enterprises, I met people with such a commitment to their work that I was genuinely inspired by what they achieved. I recall going to Blackpool to meet representatives of an organisation that sought out jobs and gave support in those jobs to people with severe learning disabilities to ensure that they could play their role in society. I visited another organisation, Crossroads Care in Waveney, which supports carers who often care for those with Alzheimer’s. It was interesting to see that people who had cared for their loved ones throughout their lives came back as volunteers to contribute even more.
It seems that everyone instinctively thinks that charities and the voluntary sector are good—they seem to be appreciated—but it is not until we see the depth and breadth of what they achieve and what they can do that we fully appreciate the massive contribution that they make. These organisations and so many others make a real difference to the lives of individuals and to strengthening communities, but I fear that their initial excitement at the Government’s championing of the big society is turning somewhat to nervousness as they see the likelihood of a greater demand for their services and a decrease in funding. The Government face a real challenge in ensuring that the big society does not just become empty rhetoric or a buzzword, but something that we can all support and play a part in. We should see the contribution that is already being made at national and local levels as something on which we can build.
In the Government’s drive for what it calls a smaller state, is it expected that these kinds of organisations should have to pick up services that are no longer provided by central or local government? Are the cuts being made in public expenditure likely to put pressure on services that are already provided by the third sector? If we have a smaller state, these problems will not go away, and the need for support will not go away. The Government and the state have responsibilities to vulnerable people and to society as a whole. It is right that charities and the voluntary sector should play their role in providing services that were expanded under the last Labour Government, but it is not their responsibility; that responsibility remains with the state.
It seems that there is a tension between the Treasury view of the third sector and charities as a service delivery sector doing more for less, with payment by results, and the vision of the big society or a good society that is more about the wider engagement of all sections of society. I refer to that tension because as well as providing services and supporting people, these organisations also need to be advocates and campaigners, a point that has been referred to by others in the Chamber this evening. The Government should only ever see this as helpful and part of civil society engagement, even if it is not always welcome. It does not mean that every organisation is necessarily involved in political campaigning or politics—the noble Lord, Lord Rix, gave the example of Mencap being able to engage in the wider issues and make changes to legislation, which is extremely important—but if they have ideas and suggestions about how policies could be changed or tweaked to improve them, they have a duty and an obligation to say so. It would be ridiculous if an organisation dealing with homeless people that had suggestions for how housing benefit could be improved or arguments for why any proposed changes should not be made were prevented in any way from making them.
I was encouraged by the Minister’s comment that more engagement was required that would lead to social action, but Governments cannot define the limits of that engagement, and advocacy and campaigning are of great concern, so it would be helpful if he could offer the reassurance that no organisation will be prevented from being anything other than entirely open and will not face a threat to any funding it receives from the Government.
The second issue is that of funding. We all understand that the Government consider the deficit to be the most important issue. While no one doubts the need to reduce spending to deal with the deficit, there is considerable disagreement about the scale and the speed of the reduction, and the level of impact that is acceptable. The impact on the very sector that the Government want to do more for civil society is enormous. I was encouraged when the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, talked about the infrastructure organisations, but NAVCA, the very organisation that supports them, has seen a cut of 50 per cent in its staff at head office. They are important people who support the sector at the grass-roots level.
We need to look at the scale of the cuts that some organisations are facing because they are quite alarming. We heard today about the NCVO survey, but the National Council for Voluntary Youth Services is trying to build up a picture of cuts across the country. In my own county, the Essex boys’ and girls’ clubs are losing 30 per cent of their £200,000 funding, and they work with 10,000 young people. In the south-west, the Wings organisation, which works in some of the most deprived rural areas, has lost 25 per cent of its funding, and the Northamptonshire YMCA is losing more than £1 million, the equivalent of 44 permanent staff and 13 casual workers. The work that they do is now in real danger, which could lead to children and families being without the help and support that they need in order not to become homeless.
Grants are only part of the income of the sector—contracts and fundraising make up other parts—but there are serious consequences to cuts in grants; they are not pain-free. The Government need to undertake an assessment of the impact of these cuts. ACEVO has written to George Osborne and the Treasury and, supported by 100 organisations throughout the voluntary sector, has offered to look at the situation and work with the Government on where the cuts would have the least possible impact.
I should like to say something briefly about volunteering, which partly fits into the concept of the big society, civil society and good society. Society is strengthened by the work of volunteers, whether as trustees for charities, the WRVS or conservation volunteers, in many ways. Not only does it provide direct help to those organisations but it provides skills and confidence to the volunteer, and many potential employers now look for volunteering as part of a CV. Volunteering England estimated the value of volunteering in 2005 as more than £48 billion.
However, I share the concerns expressed to me by the WRVS, Volunteering England and others that volunteering is not cost-free. Any individual may give their time freely but there are costs involved in training, expenses, management and recruitment and in matching the volunteer to the right kind of position in an organisation. The WRVS is rightly concerned that to cut the investment in volunteering runs the risk of undermining much of what it and other organisations do, for example in the field of social care. Other organisations give similar examples of the immense value of their volunteers; the volunteer is free but the organisation bears a cost in organising their work.
We need to recognise that the responsibility for the Government’s big society and civil engagement rests with all of us and not on the shoulders of charities and the voluntary sector as much as it has, although they will continue to play a major role. If we are serious about encouraging and strengthening civil engagement, the Government need to work with charities and the wider third sector and support them in the work that they do. If they do not, we will be in danger of losing momentum, and the consequence could be that we would lose the very engagement that we seek.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Smith of Basildon, just as it was a pleasure to serve with her for four years in the other place.
Speaking where I do in the list, I can comment on the high quality as well as the large quantity of maiden speeches today. It is a privilege to speak in the same debate. Of those who have spoken, my noble friend Lady Benjamin mentioned that great Trinidadian, Learie Constantine. My family knew him and perhaps in this corner of the Chamber I am nearest to his grave, whence I thought I caught the distant whisper of a cheer.
I declare interests as the initiator of two trusts conducted under the admirable umbrella of the CAF, one for lay causes and one for ecclesiastical. I have also been a trustee for an average of 14 years each of a random set of half a dozen charities involved in archaeology and economic development in the Andes; a literary shrine in Cumbria—perhaps the best buttressed in the world in terms of original manuscripts; training in architectural conservation; the creation of a monument to extinct species, with a separate carved tablet for each species; a charity sustained by alumni, both male and female, of my old school, who inevitably take a keen interest in current controversies; and, finally, the Churches Conservation Trust, which is publicly funded by both church and state, one of whom I had once privately to remind that there were two income streams, not one.
Circumstantial evidence in the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Phillips, suggests that, in a similar way, both the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Hereford and my noble friend Lord Taylor of Holbeach had some hand in the welcome sponsoring of this valuable debate. I say quietly in support of the right reverend Prelate’s statistics that, in the UK Giving combined research for the Charities Aid Foundation, the NCVO and the Office for National Statistics, religious charities take the largest generic share of the total amount of income donated and lead the table for both individual mean and medium monthly donations, even though, of course, medical research, hospitals and hospices and children and young people have the three largest numbers of supporters.
Speaking two-thirds of the way down the batting order, much of what might be said is likely to have been said, but knowing that such debates are treated as quarries after the event, I shall try to add some things that I do not think have specifically yet been said. They will have the same randomness as the trusts of which I have been a trustee.
First, in the UK Giving—the research grouping I mentioned earlier—overview for 2008-09, the final key finding of six was that the uptake of gift aid for small donations remains poor. Only once has a one-off beneficiary of action by me ever sent me a confirmation of the gift. I give credit for this to St Matthew, Bayswater, a church which the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Arts and Heritage visited on its annual outing. At the risk of sounding bureaucratic, I think that gift-aided small donations would grow if the donor were reminded in this way, and the beneficiary might make better subsequent use of the names and addresses of those well disposed towards it.
Secondly, it should be a matter of pride for us that in the Charities Aid Foundation’s World Giving Index for 2010, of 153 countries, the UK comes eighth, with Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the United States ahead of us in their respective continents, and Ireland, Switzerland and the Netherlands ahead of us in our own. However, despite being eighth overall in financial giving, 20 countries below us in the main table are ahead of us in giving time and 17 countries below us are ahead of us in helping a stranger. These are categories which enter into the index. My remarks are intended to be descriptive and not evaluative, but those positions are a warning against complacency.
Thirdly, there was a reference to discrepancies between earlier speeches and the briefings we were receiving. While valuing all the briefing, it is worth remarking that the Charity Commission’s survey shows that three times the number of respondents believe that they or their family have used the services of a charity once they are told what charities do, whereas the UK Giving research group puts the factor at six times in the same circumstances. If in this golfing week we settle for a compromise of four and a half times, it still suggests that in these times charities could collectively raise their game in publicising the services that they charitably render to us all.
Finally, CS Lewis once remarked that when you heard of someone going around doing good to others, you could always tell the others by their hunted look. That may be true of an individual but not of individuals gathered together in a charitable cause. They are a collective force to which any Minister would be sensible to be responsive, to the ultimate good of us all.
My Lords, I join other noble Lords in thanking the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Holbeach, for bringing forward this Motion for debate, and I congratulate those noble Lords who have made their maiden speeches today.
Charities play an essential role in strengthening civil society by, among other things, raising public awareness through their campaigns, informing and influencing decision makers and taking on the provision of services and the funding of research. Public trust and confidence in charities is high and the sector deserves our support.
In this debate I want to talk about Diabetes UK and the work that it does. The charity has more than 170,000 members and is one of the largest patient organisations in Europe. With more than 2 million people currently diagnosed with the condition in the UK and an estimated 500,000 people who have the condition but are not aware of it, it is something that needs to be taken seriously by everyone. I have first-hand experience of the work that it does: I am a diabetic, a member of the charity and I declare an interest.
Diabetes UK campaigns in a number of areas to improve the lives of people with diabetes. Despite examples of good care, children with diabetes do not always get the care that they should and they can face discrimination and even bullying. The children’s charter reports on the issues affecting children and young people with diabetes, their demands and those of their parents, carers and healthcare professionals.
Diabetes UK launched a petition for people to show their support for better emotional and medical care and improved support for children with diabetes. I was shocked to learn that, depending on where they live, some children with type 1 diabetes are denied an education at school. In 2010, we should not be in this position. The work that the charity is doing to ensure that every child is able to benefit from an education at school is something that we, on all sides of this House, should support.
To mark World Diabetes Day 2010, Diabetes UK will be launching a campaign and report on 15 November to improve the lives of older people with diabetes in care homes. It is estimated that as many as one in four care and nursing home residents in England has diabetes. Residents with the condition have a high prevalence of vascular complications, are more susceptible to infections and are more likely to be hospitalised compared with people with diabetes who are still able to live independently. Diabetes UK has produced a report to illustrate what needs to be done to assess and manage people with diabetes in the residential care setting.
Many people find it difficult, at times, to get their voice heard about decisions or issues that affect their lives. Diabetes UK’s advocacy service provides advocacy to people with diabetes as well as friends, families and carers. The advocacy service prioritises people who may be potentially vulnerable. The Diabetes UK Careline is the only dedicated diabetes helpline in the UK. The confidential helpline is staffed by trained counsellors who can provide information on living with diabetes as well as time to talk things through. Here are just a few examples of the questions that are often asked: “I’ve just been diagnosed with diabetes. What should I do now?”; “I’m finding it difficult to cope and accept the diagnosis. What can I and can I not eat?”; “What are the different types of tablets and insulin?”; “How and when should I be tested?”; “What is the law about driving?”. Not everyone has a specific query. Some will call simply to talk things through about their concerns and how they are feeling.
The charity is one of the largest funders of diabetes research in the UK, which includes research into cause and prevention, care and treatment, and finding a cure. It has awarded two new RD Lawrence fellowships to outstanding researchers to develop their skills and independence as future leaders in diabetes research. Dr Maja Wallberg will be studying the process in which the body mistakenly attacks its own insulin-producing beta cells in type 1 diabetes. She aims to further our understanding of how our bodies normally counter this immune response, and ultimately she aims to find a new way to protect beta cells. Dr G Mabilleau will also be investigating the molecular mechanisms behind Charcot Foot—a painful complication of diabetes that is often difficult to diagnose and treat—and hopes to develop new treatments for the condition.
By 2025, it is estimated that over 4 million people will have diabetes—a serious condition that causes heart disease, stroke, amputations, kidney failure and blindness. Diabetes UK is working to make the lives of people living with diabetes better and to find a cure. That, I am sure, is something that everyone in this House supports and a fine example of how charities strengthen civil society.
My Lords, we have indeed a long list of speakers, but I am not surprised given the huge range of expertise in this place and the major role that the coalition Government see that the charitable sector can and indeed should play in promoting their objectives. I welcome the Minister’s wide-ranging speech introducing the debate and I start with two brief initial observations.
First, please do not overload the sector, please do not expect too much of it and please have regard to its limitations in both personnel and capacity—points that have all been made by many previous speakers. Secondly, I make a very different point: the charitable sector, both as a doer and as a source of funds, is very much wider than social services and local community activities. The sector covers education; it also covers our national heritage, the arts, the environment, landscape protection and preservation, scientific and social research—one could go on. That is surely the beauty of the breadth of definition of charitable activities which are subject to tax relief. Nevertheless, that wider aspect of the charity sector has hardly been touched on this afternoon. Indeed, the noble Baroness, Lady Young, who spoke about the environment, and the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville, who talked more about the arts and heritage, were the only two speakers who have, as it were, gone beyond the social services.
My own interests lie, as your Lordships will probably have gathered by now, entirely in heritage and the natural environment, and I declare a number of interests. I was chairman of the National Trust for six years, but that was 15 years ago. I am a vice-president of the Council for the Protection of Rural England and the Friends of the Lake District. I am a former deputy chairman of the British Council and was a president of the Royal Geographical Society. I will stop at that point. I mention in particular the National Trust because it now has nearly 3.8 million members and hopes to achieve 5 million by 2020. When I was chairman, we thought we were doing pretty well when we got up to 2 million. It is also the biggest private landowner in England and Wales and it remains resolutely private—that is its strength—but can claim back tax on covenanted subscriptions and gifts on death of property of national importance, while the necessary endowment funds do not attract inheritance tax. These tax arrangements are crucial to the work of the trust, which is probably the largest volunteering organisation in the country.
In thinking of what I wanted to say this afternoon, the Library dug out for me some fascinating statistics. They show—this comes as no surprise—that the USA as a country has far the biggest charitable sector, both absolutely and as a percentage of GDP. The latter is 1.7 per cent and, given its huge GDP, the sums involved are enormous. Then there is a big gap; the UK comes in next at 0.73 per cent. There is another big gap below us and then we have a cluster of European countries. The interesting point is that the reason for this second gap is not absolutely clear to me except that, certainly in some countries, there are limitations on tax deductibility. Possibly history, definitions and tradition have something to do with it. Be that as it may, we should be very careful not to damage the British charity sector by ill thought-out tax changes or other legislative changes. I suspect there is a danger here in the education sector, where some schools recently lost their charitable status. I was, incidentally, intrigued to learn from an old Army friend who, when he retired, became a bursar of a well known charitable school that some prospective parents had the extraordinary notion that because the school was charitable the fees were tax deductible. What a lovely idea.
On a more serious note, I must draw attention—as indeed a number of other speakers have—to the Charities Aid Foundation, which has made the whole business of giving to a charitable organisation so much easier. Whoever thought of the CAF deserves a really big medal. Perhaps they got it; I hope so. While I am giving out bouquets I must mention our former Prime Minister, John Major. As the noble Lord, Lord Waldegrave, reminded us in the Times last week, it was he who invented the National Lottery and coupled it with setting up the Heritage Lottery Fund. As the noble Lord put it so succinctly, he has been the greatest of all British patrons of the arts in the late 20th century. Nor should we forget the resurrection of Lord Dalton’s proposals from the late 1940s with the setting up by the noble Lord, Lord St John of Fawsley, of the National Heritage Memorial Fund in 1980 and the work of its first chairman, Lord Charteris.
The Government are right to recognise the important role of the charitable sector in strengthening civil society, but I would be happier if they saw that sector as being wider than the social services as traditionally described. I hope that the Minister could endorse that. Either way, I also hope that he will accept the following three points or propositions.
First, on the funding barrier, charities such as the National Trust or the Campaign for National Parks are ready to rise to this challenge, but there is one significant barrier to the strengthening of civil society: funding. Spending cuts are going to be felt far beyond just the public sector. Cuts to grants will affect the future of some charities; in fact this is already happening. Yes, charities may be up for the challenge but they need robust financial support behind them. Secondly, the big society, from passionate individuals to large land-owning charities, is already doing much of the work involved in safeguarding and promoting the natural environment. Many of these non-state endeavours will continue to depend on state funding, but charity help on the cheap is not a viable alternative to a well funded sector. Thirdly and finally, this is not a panacea. The big society is attaining somewhat of a mythical status and being lauded by Ministers as a possible saviour to a wide range of challenges, including environmental ones. However it is very important that it does not cloud some of the challenging issues that, for example, Defra will need to grapple with in taking forward the natural environment White Paper, such as failing biodiversity or the disengagement of young people with the outdoors, both of which will need a national strategic approach and co-ordination. A strengthened civil society can help to meet these challenges, but only with a strong lead from Government and an adequately funded public sector.
The Minister has a herculean task in replying to all the points made this afternoon. I am sure that he is equal to the task, having admired the skill with which he introduced the debate.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, for enabling us to have this amazing debate. As the 29th speaker, with so much brilliant material and seven wonderful maiden speeches behind me, I have discounted my carefully prepared speech and tried to think of something new to say. I shall pick up on a phrase that no one has yet used but which chimes with the theme of strengthening civil society—social capital, the link between charitable and voluntary activity and the building up of social capital.
I note the NCVO’s definition of civil society is that it means,
“people acting together, independently of the state or the market, to make a positive difference to their lives and/or the lives of others”.
The idea of social capital builds on the same notion. The concept dates from a 1916 article by one LJ Hanifan about support for rural schools in America. He talked about the value of people doing things together and building up a reservoir of strength and mutual support within local communities. He said that,
“'goodwill, fellowship, mutual sympathy, and social intercourse among a group of individuals and families”,
means that the,
“community as a whole will benefit by the cooperation of all its parts, while the individual will find in his”,
“associations the advantages of the help, the sympathy, and the fellowship of his”,
or her “neighbors”.
The concept of social capital became famous in the 1990s with Robert Putnam’s book, Bowling Alone, which highlights the decline of people acting together and instead watching TV and playing video games at home, with the demise along the way of the bowling clubs in the USA. That all means that communities cannot call on the resources or reservoirs of help and mutual sympathy that Hanifan talked of.
My contention is that the charitable and voluntary sector strengthens, builds and rebuilds social capital often without the charity concerned being entirely aware that that is what is happening, to the immense value of society at large. Very often a charity appears to have a straightforward single objective—housing the homeless, caring for older people and so on. But on closer inspection the charitable or voluntary body turns out to be playing a wider role in strengthening civil society, bringing people together and enhancing participation and—yes—building that social capital.
I shall illustrate that with one or two studies from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, where I worked for many years. First, food co-operatives were ostensibly organised to improve diet by helping mothers to cook economically for their families, obtain fresh ingredients more cheaply, and so on. The organisations were indeed doing good work in meeting their dietary goals, but in reality they were about bringing together young mothers who were isolated and excluded, in many cases in large and potentially hostile public housing estates, building friendship networks and confidence, solidarity and sense of community on the estates. Similarly, a study of sports clubs showed us that although they set out to improve physical fitness and instil a sense of discipline, perhaps redirecting energetic young people away from more nefarious activities, in fact they also meant families meeting up and fundraising activities for the club, with people taking charge and learning new skills, strengthening civil society and building social capital. That goes, too, for local arts projects. The Joseph Rowntree Foundation organised a brilliant programme called Culture Makes Communities, which plugged into the transformative effect that the arts, broadly defined, can have in bringing together people at the local level, breaking down fear and mistrust between people of different backgrounds and ages. I well remember the arts project on a Wakefield council estate when young people were involved in making a big mural. They designed flags and staged a community play. An elderly resident told me that she used to be afraid to walk down to the newsagent, because the young people hanging around looked so menacing, but that now she knew their names and they called out, “Hello missus”, when she walked by.
I have come today from a meeting of the Royal Society of Arts—and I declare an interest as trustee and treasurer—where we looked at some 30 projects involving RSA fellows and small amounts of RSA funding. They range from projects that recycle light bulbs to mentoring young entrepreneurs and taking over a vacant mill for local, cultural and creative industries, as well as a community gardening project—and so it goes on. They show how a little professional and financial help can go a very long way and how that injection into a small project can build social capital.
I am a trustee of the Tree Council, which is there to get more trees planted and cared for. It has 7,000 unpaid voluntary tree wardens who bring people together in the act of tree planting and tending, building social capital among the people who gather for these purposes in and around these beautiful trees. Food co-ops, sports, the arts, heritage and tree planting—all those activities are about building up that social capital and making the glue that holds a community together, building bridges to a wider society that we all need so badly.
Charitable and voluntary activity, by mobilising people to act together to make a difference, is the most powerful way in which to build the social capital of communities and reverse the social decline that Robert Putnam and others have identified. That buttresses the case for local as well as central government giving every possible support to charitable and voluntary bodies.
My Lords, I add my thanks to my noble friend and namesake, Lord Taylor of Holbeach, for securing this debate. It may surprise noble Lords to hear that the noble Lord and I are not actually blood brothers, although we are good friends. The debate has been a symphony of star performers who have made their maiden speeches today, and I humbly congratulate all seven who spoke earlier.
It was the film producer Samuel Goldwyn who said,
“Don’t bother to agree with me—I’ve already changed my mind”.
I am pleased that the Government will not be changing their mind about the future role of the charitable sector. It is about returning power to the people. The notion that the state knows best for local communities and that everything should be run from Whitehall is a dogma that has had its day.
A number of points have been made very eloquently about the importance of charity and a number of speakers gave excellent examples of the good work done by charities large and small. But there are problems, rehearsed today, in setting up and running a voluntary group, getting more resources, working in partnership with the state. Those are fundamental problems. Again, red tape is a problem that has been emphasised today. I am encouraged by the Minister’s remarks that the Government are aware of those difficulties, and by hearing about the pilot projects that will be set up later this year.
I am a member of an oppressed minority that has had to struggle to survive. By that I mean I am a supporter of Aston Villa football club.
Oh yes. I am a proud patron of the supporters’ trust. I mention football because I suggest to the Government that this is an area of British life that they might like to think about in terms of partnership with the charitable sector.
When we look at the premier league in this country, we see that the majority of the most prominent football clubs are based in the inner cities. We know that the players who play for these clubs have fabulous wealth; to earn £100,000 a week is not unusual. Aston Villa has not done particularly well recently—in fact, last season all we won were corners—but it is a big club with a massive fan base. People often say about a club like that that it is about finance and romance. No matter how badly the team plays, 45,000 people will still go, week in and week out, to support that club.
Aston Villa made an important decision a couple of seasons ago. It recognised its wider responsibility not just to the immediate fan base but to the people of Birmingham and the West Midlands. Instead of accepting a lucrative endorsement to wear commercial advertising on the players’ shirts, it chose instead to wear the local Acorns children’s hospice logo. This increased awareness of the hospice and helped it to raise much needed funds. I have also had the privilege of seeing at first hand Villa’s work in the community with unemployed teenagers. I suggest to the Government, although they cannot impose anything on these clubs, that they should open up a dialogue with them; the clubs have a massive influence, especially in our inner cities.
The history of these clubs shows that many of them emanate originally from the Church. Aston Villa, for example, started off as a Sunday school church team. The vicar was concerned about the declining health of the local population, so it was decided to start a soccer team to try to make the local populace healthy. That is the origin of many of our big clubs in the premier division today.
There are about 30,000 faith-based charities in the UK. They see volunteering as part of their calling at the heart of their faith. They can provide the care and time that state employees sometimes cannot. The Christian Church has a long record of working in its communities. In the Victorian era there were prominent Christians such as William Wilberforce, Lord Shaftesbury and Elizabeth Fry who have left a lasting legacy, but they needed the support of many other volunteers in achieving what they did.
That, however, was the past. Does the Church have an ongoing role today? Of course it does, but there is perhaps one aspect of the Church that, again, the Government may wish to consider: the black majority churches. I do not believe in a “black Church” or a “white Church”—there is only one Church—but it is a fact that since the late 1940s African Caribbean and, more recently, African churches have flourished. There are thought to be more than 500,000 black Christians in over 4,000 churches in the United Kingdom, and most of those are in the inner cities. The point that I make to the Minister and the Government is that there is a real potential source there for future community leaders, school governors and charity trustees. In many ways, they do not feel in the loop; they seem to have a lack of connection with the establishment. I ask the Minister to consider that when looking at pilot projects in future.
One of the most successful projects to emanate from the black majority churches is the Street Pastors project. It started in 2003 and now there are over 100 projects around the United Kingdom. Basically, they work with young people on the streets who feel excluded and marginalised.
The role of charities in civil society is not unique to this country. Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands have an established history of Church-related charities. The co-operative movement linked to the voluntary sector has proved effective in Denmark and Sweden. It is probably no coincidence that whereas the voter turnout in UK local elections is about 35 per cent, it is 80 per cent in Sweden and 70 per cent in Germany. If people feel that they have more influence on what happens in their community, they are more likely to vote.
Increasing the role of the charitable sector in civil society will be a process, not an event, and there may well be setbacks along the way. No doubt it will require patience and persistence but, as a result, the relationship between government and people, even in these difficult times, can become better, not bitter.
My Lords, even at this late hour, I rise to add, I hope, a grain or two of wisdom to what has already been shared. I thank the Minister for giving us this opportunity, and I thank those who have spoken before me who have made their first speeches for enlivening us. I wish that I could have a fraction of the joy that the noble Baroness, Lady Benjamin, brought to the Chamber as I share my thoughts with your Lordships today.
I have spent all my working life—indeed, I am spending what is left of it—in the charitable sector. It is my life; it is what I do; it is where I am. While I am patron of a number of charities that serve the needs of homeless people and have organisational and institutional responsibilities to do with management, the work that I have relished for 40 years has been much more to do with hands-on charitable work with people in need of one kind or another. In order to come to this debate I have just left a situation where my colleagues are engaged in interfaith work in the borough of Islington. They have done remarkable work with the Muslim community particularly but with other faiths as well. The work that we have been doing to try to get inner-city regeneration projects up and running is also yielding some fruit. We are deeply involved in school governance and community development, and we offer safe space for busy people to spend quiet time—all without prejudice. It is called, and this is our strapline, “loving your neighbour”. The idea is as old as the hills, and the debate today does not really add any more to the essence of what loving your neighbour is all about, however grand the schemes and projects, and however widespread they may be in their reach and influence.
I shall cast my mind back to a previous part of my life in order to make a couple of points and then detain your Lordships no longer. In the 1980s, 25 years ago, I inherited the redoubtable Lord Soper’s work and his network of social work programmes spread throughout London. It was an extraordinary piece of work, I must say. There was a treatment centre for people suffering from various forms of addiction that took people off the streets, self-referred, and took them right through to sheltered housing before eventually returning them to the community, with lots of rehabilitative work surrounding them. We also had a day-care centre in the City of Westminster, which was open seven days a week, 365 days a year, and catered specifically for over-25s, old lags—in fact, the hard end of homelessness. Street homeless people spent most of their time with us, and we had a range of services for them, from housing advice to referral to helping agencies and, especially in those days for people with mental health problems, accessing health services, because local doctors’ practices did not on the whole want our kind of client under their wing. In the end we got some specialist care brought in to the project.
We also had a magnificent bail hostel that was an alternative to prison for quite a number of people who would otherwise have been on remand. It was serviced by a rehabilitative programme offered by a professor of criminology from the University of Cambridge—again, providing qualitative added value to what would otherwise have been a basic service. All that was Donald Soper’s gift to me, as I took over the management of it.
I should like to make two very simple points. First, the staff who ran these services were all qualified, professional people, who had dozens of volunteers supporting them, thereby providing collaboration between the statutory and the voluntary. That is what we are really talking about—how to make the best of such collaboration. I insisted that however great the need facing these staff might be, they reserved some of their time for keeping observational notes and reflections and statistical information. As it says in the Good Book, the poor are always with us and the voluntary sector, I can assure anybody in this House, will never solve the needs of all the poor. However, the voluntary sector can do qualitative pieces of work which it reflects upon and draws evidence from, and then proposes to statutory and providing bodies models of good practice that can perhaps challenge existing ways of doing things. That is how we approached our social work.
We provided the funding; we had a wealthy endowment of several million pounds, but we needed partnerships with local authorities and government to get the best out of our money. If you are going to campaign, to educate and to bring your wisdom to bear upon the situation, you must use some of your time to reflect on practice rather than simply attending to the next patient.
Secondly, I happened to be in charge of this work during a recession. A lot of our work was done in the City of Westminster and the authorities immediately saw us as an easy target for cutting funding. Almost at once, we found ourselves deprived of a funding base. I take issue with one thing that the noble Lord, Lord Wei, who is not in his place, said in an otherwise splendid speech. He said that the previous Administration had led a lot of charities up the garden path, leaving them stranded and totally dependent on money from the state. There are lots of charities which are up the garden path but have not been led there by anything except circumstance. We are in a recession; people are cutting funds. Expectations of the voluntary sector are increasing, yet the funding collaborative patterns are being impoverished by the day. It really is an impossible conundrum. I am not talking about one-strand income charities but those prepared to share resources gained from other sources.
It is difficult, and it was very difficult in a case that I remember from my past. On one occasion, I insisted that the work should be done—that was what our endowment was for—but there was no matching funding and so our endowment decreased. I was prepared to see that happen, because the poor have their demands too. It is not just good bookkeeping—it is the cries of the poor that we must listen to. In the end, of course, the managers of the money that I was spending in this way thought that I was incompatible with their objectives, and I lost my job.
We are in a recession now. We are facing similar tensions now, trying to balance impossible forces. But in looking to increase the participation of the voluntary sector, I hope that Her Majesty’s Government will not increase those expectations without understanding that in a recession people are cutting available funding. Less work can be done for the money unless we get resources from somewhere else.
These are difficult times and we will see an increase in social problems that, over the past 20 years, we thought we had begun to solve. It needs an effort from across the forces of our parliamentary system to try to get that one right.
My Lords, I have worked in the charitable sector for more than 35 years, nationally and internationally, and, indeed, I still do. Noble Lords will understand the passion that I feel about the work that charities do. I add my thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, for initiating a very important and timely debate.
The charitable sector in this country is renowned for its innovation; it has been over the years and, one could say, over the centuries. It really is the third arm of society: we have the state, the private sector and civil society. It is extremely important but, more than that, we have an enormous variety of charities. With the philosophy of a thousand flowers blooming, we have always had this huge variety, and it is very dear to the national character of this country.
The variation in the sector is extraordinary. We have, for instance, the lifeboat service, big international charities such as Oxfam and the little organisations which make up the majority. Those are usually established because people have experienced life-changing or tragic circumstances, such as the illness of a child. They feel that they must get together and work very hard as volunteers to right a wrong or actively pursue a cause. The majority of charities are tiny: only 0.3 per cent have an income of more than £10 million, and 53 per cent have an income of less than £10,000. These are very small local initiatives.
The Government say that they are very committed to giving increased power to the charitable sector and increasing its role. That is excellent, but in doing so they have to be very careful. For many charities, very rapid growth can sometimes be a problem. I have had experience of this in a big organisation—a federation of charities, some large and some small—and saw how very rapid growth can be difficult if people have not learnt how to manage it or had the appropriate time to adjust to a completely new way of managing an organisation.
Secondly, many charities change dramatically from being independent bodies. Their whole role changes. They start with a strong role as an advocate in representing a particularly vulnerable group in society, which is important. Then they change into the sole provider of a service to the state. They become a contractual provider of a service, often paid—quite rightly—a per capita income, which is their sole income. They are then faced with a difficult situation: can they still go on representing the group, or are they putting their funds at risk? Can they go on being independent when they are under a contractual obligation? These are very difficult situations but they happen often. The Government—whether at a local or national level—have to be careful to get the balance right.
Rapid growth does not always mean greater efficiency. Today staff costs in the charity sector represent around 41 per cent of expenditure. That would not be an appropriate percentage in the private sector. Sometimes we have to question how efficient the charity sector is in its management. These things need to be watched because with rapid change they are difficult to get right. Despite this, I make it absolutely clear that I have total commitment to the charity sector. It does invaluable work and is a cornerstone of our society.
In saying this, we know that the charity sector has to live in the real world. It is in the real world, in which we find ourselves today, that we have to exist. Financial stringency applies to everyone. We need to be careful, again, to get the balance right. When cutting back state provision we must be careful that we do not revert to some of the more unfortunate philosophies of 19th century charity. That is not how we live in the 21st century. We have a different attitude towards the people that the charities represent. On the other hand, the charity sector must also never be viewed as a cheap solution to social ills if it takes over a function from the state. It is worth remembering that in the original language of the Bible, the word for “charity”—tsdokah—is the word for “justice”. Justice is what charity must always be about.
My Lords, I also thank the Minister for initiating this debate. It is about something very close to my heart. I have been a voluntary community worker in Northern Ireland for almost 40 years, so I welcome the debate. I am acutely aware of the tremendous work that is done in countless countries across many lands and peoples, and that most—if not all—in your Lordships’ House are involved in many projects. I will therefore confine my remarks to the work that I know most about; namely, the third sector in Northern Ireland.
Over the past 40 years, Northern Ireland, as noble Lords are aware, has come through a really rough time. It was through the third sector—or charitable sector—that Northern Ireland was able to do so. Yes, the political process was very important but the holding together of communities was of equal importance. Although many outside Northern Ireland during that time viewed it as a dangerous place, which it was, many ordinary people from both sides of the conflict began working in their own areas and then across the peace line. Most community groups had their origins in the Troubles.
The voluntary sector, on the other hand, tended to develop around thematic or specialist interests, and provide invaluable support in social care, healthcare, childcare, youth work and many other areas of work that strengthen civil society. All this work requires resources and I pay tribute to all the charitable funders who came on board and took real risks in supporting the ongoing work in Northern Ireland at the grass roots. The Northern Ireland Council for Voluntary Action has been monitoring the resources that come into the third sector. Its 2009 report records that in 2006-07 the total income for the sector was £570 million, of which the Government’s contribution was £259 million —in other words, 45 per cent.
There has been much research and papers written on the breakdown of income coming into the third sector in Northern Ireland but I should like to give a couple of practical examples of how this money is spent on the ongoing work within Northern Ireland. The Community Foundation for Northern Ireland, of which the noble Baroness, Lady Goudie, is patron, has a large number of programmes. One such is Communities in Transition, which works in neighbourhoods, supporting areas which have suffered high levels of deprivation and community tension through paramilitarism. This work requires not only resources and time but a strong sense of where people in these areas want their community to be. This programme is currently ongoing in 10 neighbourhoods across Northern Ireland.
I declare an interest as the campaign chair of the Integrated Education Fund. The second area of work that has been ongoing for many years, and which would not have been possible without a strong charitable presence, is integrated education. This movement has been working towards the integrated education of Protestants and Catholics together in one school and towards a shared future. This work has been carried forward by parents and a small team working on raising funds and trying to get policy changed. More than 90 per cent of children are still educated in a segregated system in Northern Ireland. This work has grown from 28 children in 1981 to 20,000 today. Those children are educated together but mostly still in temporary premises, so there is still much work to do.
The concept of the big society has been long understood and implemented in Northern Ireland although not necessarily in those terms, and, of course, we still have an unconcluded peace process. If there is an increase in unemployment and closure of services, the fear is that many young people in disadvantaged areas may be drawn to political extremes. Over the years outstanding and groundbreaking work has been done in Northern Ireland, mostly funded by charitable donations. The sector’s work was never more necessary than it is now, but the question for me is, how far will philanthropists and philanthropic institutions be expected to fill the gap caused by decreased government funding?
My Lords, I am delighted to speak in the twilight moments of this debate. I hope in these few minutes to add a different perspective, if possible. Like everyone who has spoken during the afternoon, I have had a generation of engagement with the not-for-profit sector. I spent 21 years as a trustee and 15 years as chairman of Crime Concern, which two years ago merged with the Rainer Foundation to make Catch22, to which I shall return later. I have just become chairman of Millennium Promise UK, which is focused on the millennium development goals in communities and villages in African countries. I have a long history of enjoying passions which the charitable sector allows you to enjoy. Probably the most dynamic aspect of it is the sense of purpose, sensible engagement and mind release that comes from any charitable activity that we do. This comes not just to the receiver; it also gives joy to the giver. I think of my good friend Tom Benyon, who received his OBE earlier this year. He is now walking the entire 480 miles from Edinburgh to London to raise £250,000 for the people of Zimbabwe, for the charity ZANE which he founded nine years ago. He rang me last night and told me that he has walked 220 miles so far, pretty much non-stop but with the odd sleep on the way. He talks energetically about what it feels like to do that journey at 71 years of age and to feel refreshed by it. The joy experienced by those involved in the charitable sector comes from the release of endorphins such as you experience on the sports field.
I am glad, too, that in the nature of our debate the charitable sector, which we all relish, appreciate and want to see flourish, is not the sum total of civil society. Civil society is way beyond the capacity even of the 200,000 plus registered charities, let alone the multitude of groupings across every town, village and community in the United Kingdom. It is a bigger concept than that. Whether it is Ed Miliband’s great society or good society or it is David Cameron’s big society, there is a necessity somewhere in the middle of all of it to capture a spirit of us all having a role as contributors or through being part of an organisation.
The thing that has troubled my mind most over the many years of my involvement in charities as a trustee, chairman, instigator and observer is exactly the point to which the noble Baroness, Lady Greengross, alluded in the latter part of her remarks; that is, the efficiency and effectiveness of the not-for-profit sector. Every one of us knows the battles that we have been through year in and year out to get the money, whether it is on a one-year, three-year or five-year cycle, and the stress of the waiting and the wondering. Whether it is government, a foundation or just the public and all the people who rely on us for their livelihoods, if we do not succeed, it brings devastation.
That is what led me as chairman of Crime Concern, and Elizabeth Filkin as chairman of the Rainer Foundation, to merge our two mega-charities. Each organisation was worth around £20 million, which put us in the top league of the not-for-profit sector—not right at the top, but in the top league. Putting the two together did not just make a bigger, but a more effective, streamlined, capable, focused and active crime prevention network. In the business in which I am involved, KPMG, we have spent a lot of time thinking about how to empower charity mergers. We worked collectively with the Charity Commission and alongside Social Finance.
I look at the approximately 200,000 charities in the UK—some would say that there are more, but on the website page dated 21 September this year, the number of registered charities was in fact 190,000. But there we are—who knows what the exact figure is? Whatever it is, only 29,000 charities have incomes of more than £100,000. That means that huge numbers are battling year in and year out for critical causes but small amounts, with teams of people, often in competition with other charities and not-for-profit agencies, looking to the same foundations or pockets of cash to stand still.
I am not suggesting that government should treat this as a means of efficiency for budgets, but they should enable and encourage a culture of merging which allows innovation and investment to flourish in order for the sector to keep its vibrancy and not its panic. The charitable sector should be a place where really big people can release their passions. In every sense I can think of no one more delightful and overwhelming than Camilla Batmanghelidjh and the work that she does with the 14,000 or 15,000 kids who she looks after—week in and week out—in tough south London neighbourhoods, and how she has sacrificially given herself and her organisation to their tender care. She should receive not just the applause of the nation and the funds of government but the appreciation of communities in London on whom, frankly, civility relies because of her engagement.
However, she should not be fighting every two or three years to prove the case that she does well alongside the 14,000 children she looks after or the 2,500 who attended Christmas Day lunch at Kid’s Company in 2009. Why has she got continuously to make the argument? It is partly because there is too much competition in the field. I suggest that as we move forward in our thinking about the future of the not-for-profit sector and the charity sector we bear in mind that an effective civil society is a place in which everyone is genuinely a giver. I know that that sounds like wild ambition, but it ought to feel that it is possible to have a society of givers and we should really focus our resources—taxpayers’ money, private donations, the release of foundation resources, all the money in unspent accounts—on the organisations that deliver the sharpest and most efficient deliverable outcomes. If we can empower mergers and working together, as would be commonplace in business, it may be that we can deliver a better front-line service.
My Lords, with seven maiden speeches being the icing on the cake, this debate has proved to be exceptionally stimulating—and understandably so. Charities touch every part of our lives—from our time as children, when at school we first begin to understand charities’ role in a civic society, to our final days when so many depend on the kindness of volunteers and caring organisations as life becomes more complex.
As my noble friend Lord Brooke said in his eloquent speech, if you come far down the batting order a great deal of what you wanted to say will already have been said, so I will look at a practical example of everything that we have been talking about and highlight the role of a specific group of charities whose work is often unglamorous, sometimes deeply distressing, but ultimately exceptionally rewarding. I refer to those concerned with the welfare of animals.
It has been asserted so often that perhaps it has become trite that care for animals is one of the hallmarks of a healthy civil society of the sort that we have been talking about. However, that does not make it less true. It is right to pay tribute to the work undertaken by many different animal charities, and above all to the tens of thousands of volunteers, in caring for sick, vulnerable, lost or unwanted animals. Throughout the length and breadth of the land, they work tirelessly in caring for animals in need. For instance, in 2009 more than 7,000 volunteers from Cats Protection, of which I am a member, helped to rehome or reunite more than 55,000 cats. Thousands of volunteers assisted the Dogs Trust in rehoming 14,000 dogs and providing shelter for an equal number. At the Blue Cross, 1,500 people devoted 150,000 hours to rehoming thousands of animals. As the noble Baroness, Lady Young, reminded us, more than 13,000 volunteers assisted the work of the RSPB at more than 200 nature reserves. Those are all phenomenal figures and a sign of the great and selfless good in our society of which we have heard so many other examples today.
The importance of these charities goes far beyond the remarkable care that they give to animals. They are—in a phrase used earlier by the noble Lord, Lord Phillips of Sudbury—facilitators of change. For instance, many of them play a vital role in the education of children, teaching them from an early age the importance of caring properly for animals. The Dogs Trust ran more than 3,000 workshops in schools last year, while Blue Cross information campaigns reached 45,000 children. The reason why this is vital is because of the symbiotic relationship between animal welfare and the deeper problems in our society. The awful link between cruelty to animals in early life and harm to fellow humans in later life is well documented, and I do not need to dwell on it here. It has been well known ever since Francis of Assisi asserted:
“If you have men who will exclude any of God's creatures from the shelter of compassion and pity, you will have men who will deal likewise with their fellow men”.
This is pertinent when we look at how to build a big society. By deploying local volunteer action to tackle deep-seated social issues, which is a central part of how we will achieve it, animal welfare charities have a pivotal part to play. Often, animal welfare can be a catalyst to garner support among communities and agencies to tackle more intractable problems. It is therefore crucial that these charities are included in the wider social and economic policy debates that we have touched on today—for instance, on subjects such as youth crime, anti-social behaviour and deprivation—because the animal welfare issues that they deal with are bound up intimately with the problems that affect so many communities, whether it be bullying in schools, vandalism or more brutal offences. Regrettably, it is no coincidence that over the past few years, at the same time as there has been an increase in the incidence of such matters, the RSPCA has had to deal with a twelvefold increase in complaints about anti-social behaviour with dogs.
In this area as in so many others, and as we have heard a number of times this evening, there are tough times ahead. With the scale of the country's economic problems and the real difficulties that many families and households will face from the cuts that have to be made to salvage the economy, the pressures on animal charities will increase. It is a sad fact that, as economic problems hit at home—redundancy, cuts in pay, house repossessions—it is often animals that will suffer first. Last year, more than 107,000 dogs were picked up as strays by hard-pressed local authorities—the noble Lord, Lord Rix, was eloquent about the problems that local authorities will face—which was an 11 per cent increase on 2008. Tragically, 9,000 of those unclaimed strays had to be euthanised. So just at a time when we need animal charities to be plugged into the important debate on how we build the big society in all its forms, economic circumstances are going to be piling ever more demand on them.
We have heard a great deal in this debate about funding, and rightly so, but in this area there is much that government can do without cost to help to alleviate that. Is it not time, for instance, that there was compulsory microchipping for dogs in the UK to help with the problem of strays? Furthermore, why cannot we begin to change the heartless rules that prevent many elderly people who go into care taking their pets—mainly beloved cats—with them? It is a restriction that means that thousands of animals that could still have a loving owner need rehoming every year. These are all some practical steps that could be taken to ensure that in the very tough times ahead the pressures on these vital charities are eased a little, allowing, as we have just heard, the real energies, skills and passions of those who work in them and the thousands who volunteer for them to be focused not just on the vital day-to-day work of caring for vulnerable animals but on helping to knit together the components of the compassionate society that we should be striving to build.
My Lords, if this debate is remembered for nothing else, it will be remembered for the quality of the maiden speeches—one powerful, well informed maiden speech after another. It really does augur extremely well for the future of our deliberations in this House.
I have to declare an interest. Like other Members of this House, I have spent much of my life in the voluntary sector, working both as a professional and as a trustee, which I still am.
It was during the bad years of the late 1980s when very nasty things were happening in Central America that I became fascinated by our work in that part of the world. I was a director of Oxfam at the time. I was on a particularly harrowing visit during which I had been to Nicaragua, El Salvador and Guatemala, and I had seen the horrible consequences of what was politely called “low-intensity conflict”, which actually meant particularly vicious and nasty conflict.
I found myself in Mexico, where I was privileged to meet a very fine and outstanding bishop. I am not a Catholic but, my God, he impressed me. He was the bishop of San Cristobal and was always in trouble with the Mexican Government at the time because of his stand for the Indians in Chiapas. He was a very brave man. He was being threatened, yet he continued with his work. We were in his modest little house talking together. He had fluent English and we got on very well. I asked him, “Have you got a message that you would like me to take back to the UK?”. This was one of the most important learning experiences of my life. He said, “Yes, there are three things that I’d like you to think about. First, when you are talking about the kind of situations that you have been describing here in Central America, you can’t sanitise your relationship; you have to stand up and be counted”. Then he said, “In Oxfam, you talk a great deal about equality”. I still wake up at night sweating a little about the very pressing question that he put to me. He gave me a hard and firm look and said, “How far are these people with whom you’re working really your equals or how far are they the indispensable objects of your institutional needs?”. That is something that we all have to take very seriously. Do we have a kind of convoluted vested interest in failure, poverty and the rest because it enables us to fulfil ourselves and polish our virtue? He looked at me and said, “Frank, what is solidarity? It is a process of identification in the family, the community, the nation and, hopefully, the global community”. He said, “Solidarity for me is the process of deep identification and it is the real meaning of charity”.
I have often reflected on that because it applies every bit as much to the social challenges that charities face in this country as they do anywhere abroad. We talk about the poor, the deprived and the excluded, but how often do we talk with and for the deprived and the excluded? I came to the conclusion, as indeed did my organisation, that to go on treating just the symptoms would be dishonest; it would be to betray our supporters. One of the most important aspects of our work was advocacy—not just advocacy from intellectual conviction, although that matters, but advocacy based on the authority of experience and engagement. I am so glad that it has been referred to repeatedly in the debate that the real challenge to government and the rest is to encourage voluntary agencies and charities to speak out on their experience and to challenge society.
That brings me to my last point. We hear so much about the big society—and for somebody with my kind of background, there is an interest. What is the concept really about? Is it about very sophisticated, well intentioned occupational therapy for communities all over the country, or is it about enabling government to deliver services more cheaply and perhaps more effectively than through statutory bodies? As an old-fashioned member of my party, and with my political convictions, I believe strongly in a good, powerful and effective public sector. But are charities really about being part of the public sector?
The trouble is that if you go in for a contract culture in charities, you reach the situation that I encountered in a prison. Dedicated volunteers were working with young offenders on a contract that they had secured, which was to get young offenders into jobs. They discovered that for some of the young offenders to go straight into a job at that stage of their life was the last thing that they needed. They needed to develop their sense of social responsibility, their self- confidence and the rest before they could make a serious contribution in the employment market outside. The volunteers wanted to be able to think of things that were appropriate but they were told in words of almost one syllable, “Your contract is to get these people into jobs. That is how you will be measured. If you spend time counselling people you will lose the contract because that is not what it is about”. That is the trouble with getting too involved in the contract culture and the concept that you are in a charity that is just an extension of public administration of public service. The rigorous independence of charities is what really matters.
Forgive me for giving another example but obviously, because of the kind of life I have lived, I have many vivid examples. I was in Mozambique in the 1980s in the middle of that vicious war. I got to my destination only by relief aeroplane because the fighting on the ground was so serious. When I emerged there was a great crowd of people in a vast space; I can hear them murmuring now. Many had lost absolutely everything; some were naked. I talked to one family who had walked for days to get there. They had seen their seven year-old child chopped to death, thrown into their house and burned with the house. It was a horrible, vicious situation. But what really impressed me and left its indelible mark on me was the feeling of anger that came over me as I looked at the situation. I asked, “Why are these people in this situation?”.
If we are serious about the contribution of the voluntary sector and serious about taking an imaginative approach to charities and their work, more and more people should be enabled to engage in the social realities of the world in which we live and in the social realities of our own and international society. Having learnt from that engagement and that experience, they must be able to speak out with the authority that they have to inform the debate and to make something of accountability in our democratic system. Are we getting the right policies, and if not, why not? In the end, it is a matter of avoiding the temptation to go down what will be the plughole of civilisation by confusing consumerism and citizenship. If the voluntary sector has anything to contribute, it is to be making a healthy, vigorous society of informed citizens.
I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Holbeach, for securing this debate. I confess that I was initially in something of a dilemma as to whether my personal involvement in various charitable institutions and organisations equipped me with sufficient knowledge or experience to be able to contribute to the high quality of debate, discussion and exploration that I have been privileged to witness and listen to during my comparatively short and too often interrupted membership of your Lordships' House—and what a treasure chest of contributions we have had today. Was the debate, I wondered, primarily to draw attention to organisations such as Cheshire Homes and Macmillan nurses, which do the most marvellous job, similar to the many hospices throughout the country, in helping, strengthening and comforting the sick and dying in our society regardless of patients' backgrounds, rich or poor, black or white, old and not so old? Or were we using this opportunity to highlight the outstanding work done by charities such as Scope, Help for Heroes and the Stroke Association to strengthen civil society? With little or no government help, the Stroke Association devises and funds national strategies such as the FAST system for recognising the onset of a stroke. By ensuring urgent medical attention, it can help to reduce the number of deaths from stroke or the likelihood of lifelong disability. I declare an interest as a member and supporter of the Stroke Association and a victim of such an attack. The charity funds considerable research into understanding and preventing such attacks and educating those living with the life-changing disabilities caused by stroke, enabling the 300,000 people a year who fall victim to such an event to return and contribute with renewed strength and determination to our civil society.
I am very much aware as I look around your Lordships' House that so many of your Lordships are concerned with the administration, governance, funding and encouragement of numerous charities. We all have our favourite ones that take our energetic involvement and commitment, but we cannot expect government to fund every one of our charities. Indeed, we would not want it; it would be like renationalising the railways. They have worked so well up to now. It is the effort put into charities and charitable giving by ordinary members of the public that helps to strengthen the society of which they are part and for which they are working.
However, not all charities fall neatly into the dictionary definition of “charity”, which is “the giving of help, money, food etc, to the needy”. In looking at the role of the charitable sector in strengthening civil society, I want to mention Crimestoppers, an unusual charity. I start by declaring my interest, as I am a trustee and am proud to have been involved with the charity since it was launched 22 years ago through the initiative of a Member of your Lordships' House. In July this year, the Government issued a consultation document on police reform entitled, Policing in the 21st Century: Reconnecting Police and the People, which states:
“To cut crime, policing relies not just on the consent of the people but their active cooperation”.
Crimestoppers helps to strengthen civil society, because one of the main elements of the scheme is that members of the public are given the opportunity to help to solve crimes by passing items of intelligence about crimes to the police—both crimes that have already taken place and those that they know are being planned. It is extremely successful, particularly in the case of serious and violent crimes, because they involve people who often do not want to speak directly to the police because they feel at risk from the perpetrators. Talking to Crimestoppers anonymously offers citizens the chance to do something about crime without placing themselves at risk. By making that offer, it gives them both responsibility and power.
Let me give your Lordships just one example of that. In November 2001, a man abducted a 10 year-old girl from outside a community centre in Ashford, Kent. He then took her to nearby woodland where he viciously assaulted and then raped her. Forensic scientists assisting police were able to obtain a DNA sample from the injured girl. Further vicious rapes and assaults took place all around the south of England. That led to the setting up of an operation to find the man, who was by then labelled the M25 rapist. That involved six police forces, with more than 100 scientists from the Forensic Science Service and 350 officers from the six forces engaged in the investigation, which, it was estimated, had already cost many millions of pounds.
In October 2002, a 14 year-old girl was attacked and raped in Stevenage, Hertfordshire. Fortunately, and very courageously, she was able to help police to compile a photofit picture of her attacker that was circulated to the media. Through their arrangement with Crimestoppers and the police, the national and local media gave widespread publicity to the case and appealed to anyone who felt that they recognised the man to contact Crimestoppers. An anonymous caller from a small village in Kent felt that she recognised the person in the photofit as her neighbour, who had made sexual advances to her. She phoned Kent Crimestoppers, who informed police. Officers then interviewed the man and persuaded him to give a DNA sample, which proved positive. He was charged, and a team of 350 officers and 100 scientists was reduced overnight to just 30. The man was later convicted of a whole series of rapes committed over a 12-month period against a number of women and children, many of whom were young girls of just 10 or 11 years of age. He was given seven life sentences.
To finish, some of your Lordships may be aware of the charity's initiative under which, working with our Serious Organised Crime Agency, the British Embassy in Madrid and Spanish law enforcement agencies, it circulated on the Crimestoppers “Most Wanted” website photographs of 50 of the most wanted criminals from this country who had taken refuge in Spain, 36 of whom were subsequently recognised and arrested. Following the circulation of 10 new faces, a well known paedophile handed himself in because he could not stand the pressure of his photograph being so widely distributed on its website by the Crimestoppers charity.
That charity is an excellent example of where the public are given the opportunity to contribute to their own safety: the “active co-operation” called for in the White Paper and a wonderful example of the big society, or the good society, actually at work—albeit that the charity began to contribute to and strengthen civil society 22 years ago and has continued its outstanding success year on year without a break since then. Remember the number, my Lords: 0800 555 111. You may one day want to use it. Thank you.
My Lords, I have committed that number to memory. This has been an excellent debate and I, too, congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Holbeach. We have heard many fine contributions from new Members of this House and, in keeping with the theme of the debate, I offer collective congratulations on your maiden speeches. We are clearly going to benefit hugely from your wisdom, experience, expertise and humour. We are energised by the new enthusiasm around our Chamber.
There is much to celebrate. British people want a society in which each and every one can make their own contribution and where we care for each other with respect and dignity. Britain is full of generous people giving money and time. Millions of people are involved in their communities, in their children’s school and in advancing arts and culture. Others are involved in charities whose work has an impact on people’s lives throughout the world in terms of human rights, development issues, environmental protection and a plethora of other issues. People are also involved in and volunteer for charities that provide key services for the most vulnerable people in our society. Many charities work in close partnership with the state. While they must, of course, retain their independence, there is a strong and healthy relationship and dependence between the governmental sector and civil society which produces mutual influence and mutual benefit. That partnership is vital. We recognise that community empowerment is vital for a healthy society and a healthy civil society, but we also recognise that charitable and voluntary organisations often need a little help from the state, at least to provide some infrastructure in order to flourish. Of course I endorse much of what has been said in today’s debate. Thanks to charities and to volunteering, we have a compassionate country in which public service is the core part of the lives of many of our citizens.
Like my noble friend Lady Armstrong of Hill Top, the ideas of the big society are ideas that I have lived with and grown up with, and they are the ideas