My Lords, I beg leave to call attention to the role of active citizenship in society. I begin by expressing my appreciation of the opportunity to raise this subject and to all those who have indicated an interest in it. There is no monopoly of wisdom on this topic and I very much look forward to hearing the views of the contributors to the debate.
It is my view that active citizenship is for everyone. It is a privilege to be a citizen—a privilege that carries responsibilities as well as rights. The fact that it extends so widely was brought home to me as recently as a few weeks ago by my six year-old grandson, Hector, who told me that he intended to stand for the school council—he attends a primary school in the centre of London. I asked him what he would be announcing that would attract the votes of those around him and what he would want to do to improve the primary school. He said: “While we have a lot of Chinese children, I think we should have plenty of Chinese meals for lunch”.
Active citizenship can be encouraged and manifested in very different ways, which are not always recognised as such in the reportage. I think particularly of the 52,000 students who congregated in Parliament Square and nearby recently to express their views about the proposals for higher education. Whatever view one may take about it, that was a demonstration of active citizenship and, as such, I believe, entirely appropriate.
Everyone in society must feel that they not only belong to society but can influence decisions and contribute to the betterment of the society in which they live. Many, perhaps most, people feel that the opportunity to do that is at local level: in parish councils—or community councils in Scotland—in local government and sometimes in local associations not set up under a formal structure.
If we as a society are to encourage such activity and the promotion of voluntary help and organised local activity, we must address the issue of funding. I welcome the Government’s decision, announced by the Prime Minister as long ago as July, to establish a national citizen service, which is targeted at enabling 16 year-old schoolchildren to perform societally useful tasks in their summer recess, with the possibility of following up in organising local activity.
The issue has come to the fore because of the Prime Minister’s discussion of the big society, or at least his announcement that that is something that the Government want to promote. I welcome that statement. It is not so long since a Prime Minister of this country denied the existence of society. I think that it is fair to say that we have lived through two decades of rampant individualism, when the motto of the 19th-century French statesman Guizot, “Enrichissez-vous”, seems to have been the mantra of too many people.
I was very struck by the last book written by Tony Judt, a New York University political philosopher of British background, entitled Ill Fares the Land. It was in praise of social democracy, a philosophy to which I adhere and which, I am bound to say, I have not heard trumpeted so clearly or so persuasively for a long time. Sad it is that he died as soon as he finished the book. At the beginning, he cited lines from Oliver Goldsmith’s “The Deserted Village”:
“Ill fares the land, to hastening ills a prey,
Where wealth accumulates, and men decay”.
We need to have that motto in our thoughts at this time.
The promotion of active citizenship is not and must not be a cover for slimming down the state. The state is an essential part of the protection of society, the opening up of opportunities for people and the dialogue in which we engage with other societies and other states. There has been rather too much emphasis on the appropriateness of slimming down the state. It was that libertarian, Adam Smith, who said that there are certain public institutions that a society needs and of which,
“the profit could never repay the expense to any individual or small number of individuals”.
Individuals, however, are citizens and can as individuals make massive contributions to the well-being of our community and philanthropically. We have heard recently of the gift of £10 million by Lloyd Dorfman to the National Theatre—coming at a time when we see the cultural life of our country at risk due to intended public spending cuts. Within the past year, we have had the magnificent donation to the nation of the art collection of Mr Antony d’Offay, worth, it is estimated, £100 million. That follows in the tradition of the Victorians—such as Andrew Carnegie’s endowment of public libraries, now seen to be at some risk—but we must recognise that Victorian society was extremely unequal and that only by the creation and recognition of the role of the state have we overcome the problems of inequality, although we still have a long way to go.
It is not only individuals who can make their contribution to active citizenship. I am impressed by what has been done by some businesses. For example, we have had 25 years of the Lloyds TSB Foundation in Scotland promoting the local needs of many communities by donating to charities—small and medium-sized—in communities from which the Trustee Savings Bank had drawn its customers. Sadly, the downturn in the profitability of the Lloyds Banking Group—admittedly momentarily—resulted in an attempt to cut off the Lloyds TSB Foundation at the knees. The matter is not yet resolved. As a result, £3.5 million per annum from that business is at risk. I profoundly hope that it will be saved. This is a matter of parliamentary interest, as it was set up as a result of the intervention of this House in bringing forward legislation in 1985.
Education in citizenship is recognised by the Prime Minister’s proposal, to which I referred, but I have heard—perhaps it is a black rumour—that the Department for Education is planning to remove education in citizenship from the secondary school curriculum. The subject was instituted only as a result of a cross-party inquiry in 1990, which was headed by Sir Bernard Crick and of which my noble friend Lord Baker was a distinguished member. The introduction of citizenship education between the ages of 11 and 14 and 14 through to 16—key stages 3 and 4—seems to me to have worked extremely well. I very much hope that it will not be tampered with. Indeed, I would like to think that it will be amplified and built on, because it is a possible avenue to universal provision and understanding of what these issues are about.
We know how interested young people can be in citizenship. A recent survey for Girlguiding UK, carried out by Populus, interviewed 981 young women between the ages of 14 and 25. The Active Citizenship: Girls Shout Out! report has been very revealing about their sense of the impossibility or difficulty of influencing public opinion and politics, but also of their desire to do so. As many as a quarter of those interviewed wanted to participate in national or local politics; as many as a third wanted to be more involved in campaigning; and as many as half were keen to be further involved in volunteering, although a large number of the girls already were. Their concerns included domestic violence, gangs and knife crime, equality for women in the workplace, preventing bullying and the pressure on young women to have sex before they are ready for it. These all seem to me to be useful comments about pre-eminent problems in our society today.
Girlguiding UK is not alone. The British Youth Council has been working in these fields for many years and has helped, through the provision of training, workshop programmes and events, to promote active participation in decision-making and democracy. I suggest that we in Parliament have a particular responsibility. We are capable of providing a rather greater direct interface with the public in order to give greater information to people about what decisions are waiting to be taken and in order to engage with the young, and with people of all backgrounds and all ages, to find out their priorities.
Through the efforts of our Lord Speaker, which are highly commendable in this field, we have the presence of the Youth Parliament in this Chamber. We could have other public discussions similarly, but we must not lecture the public. We must engage in dialogue, which would help to promote a higher rate of participation. Similarly, I believe that lowering the age of voting to 16 would engage more people at school in discussions about how they can influence events. That would not observe the practice of sofa government that we have had but assist in informing Members of Parliament and those who participate in decision-making at all levels—local, national, European and international.
The Lisbon treaty has provided for public petition to Europe and has undertaken that, if 1 million people sign up, the Commission will consider the recommendations and the Union will go into action. That seems to me to be recognition that, although most people are operative effectively at their local level, the challenge is much wider. I appeal to the Government and invite the Minister to give his thoughts in winding up—I am very glad that he is—on the need to recognise that this subject is much bigger than we have acknowledged to date and that it would not be a bad idea to reappoint a commission of the kind that Sir Bernard Crick presided over to hear views from across society and to consider the implementation of effective measures over the course of this Parliament.
My Lords, first, I offer my appreciation to the noble Lord, Lord Maclennan, for ensuring that we have this debate today. The number of noble Lords who have indicated that they wish to speak shows the importance and commitment of this House. I place on record that we have not in modern times invented the concept of active citizenship or big society. As the noble Lord has indicated, including the example of Hector, his grandson, campaigning at his local school, it has been going on for many years.
Perhaps the earliest recorded examples are in health and social care. In 597 AD King’s School, Canterbury, was formed and in 1136 Bishop Henry de Blois, a grandson of William the Conqueror, founded the Hospital of St Cross, Winchester. That hospital still cares for the elderly and I am told, although I have not tried it, still offers bread and ale to passing travellers. So neither the concept nor the practice is new. It is testament to the effectiveness of charities and the wider voluntary sector that we continue to recognise this form of enterprise, service delivery and campaigning, which is so relevant and so welcomed today.
Active citizenship is a much more accurately descriptive term than big society, which I struggle to define. Whatever it is called, it, the good society or, in terms of the structures, the third sector—that term is used to recognise that it is different and independent from business and the state—have all been with us for a long time, and we continue to benefit enormously.
I shall comment on two issues. The first is the role of government in active society and the other is a specific aspect of the role of an active society. The Government have responsibility to support active citizenship, but not to control or attempt to manage it. That is a quite difficult concept for the Government because wherever they spend money they want to direct and control. That is understandable because of their responsibility to the taxpayer to ensure effective use of their resources. But I do not want to dwell on funding.
The relationship between the state and the voluntary sector has changed. I would recommend the lecture on rediscovering charity made by Stephen Bubb on the anniversary of his decade as the chief executive of the Association of Chief Executives of Voluntary Organisations as an illuminating view of how the role has and has not changed over the years. We know that the welfare state has taken on many roles previously undertaken by the charitable sector, but even in 1948 Lord Beveridge wrote that social security must be achieved by the state and the individual, and that in organising security the state should not stifle incentive, opportunity or responsibility.
Since that time, it is clear from the growth of charities, voluntary and community organisations that it did not, but neither did it replicate. We no longer rely on charity for healthcare and education but in those fields, especially in health and social care, we see many charities, voluntary organisations and social enterprises working alongside government. They are not seeking to replace government. Both are doing what they do best. I get concerned when I hear it sometimes claimed that state provision has curtailed citizenship and has given us a passive rather than an active citizenship. The growth of charities, the work that they do and the number of people involved evidence otherwise.
I shall give one example, which I choose for no particular reason other than that it is an organisation known to everyone and which, I suspect, few of us are aware of the extent of the role that it plays in our communities. Many will be aware of the WRVS trolleys and shops in our local NHS hospitals. But are we also aware that they have 45,000 volunteers who are not just working in the hospitals, but are undertaking meals on wheels, community transport, providing support in emergencies and in times of crisis, and in providing their wonderful “good neighbour” service of visiting people at home?
What has changed, particularly in the past 20 years, is the nature and professional standing of organisations and their relationship with the state. Part of that is due to the Government seeing the wider third sector as integral to the economy and service delivery—not just as an add-on or an optional extra—and, in more recent years, its working with the Government, and being paid by the Government, to provide some services.
I have had two ministerial roles, aside from my working life in the third sector and volunteering over the years. Those two roles really impacted on me. One was when I was Victims Minister in Northern Ireland for approximately three years and the other was my last ministerial role as the Minister for the Third Sector. I never ceased to be amazed and delighted by the scope, reach, professionalism, innovation and ideas from this sector. While it became very professional, it did not lose the very ethos from which the sector and charities drew their support.
The Government have established the big society as their big idea, which has received a mixed response. None of us would disagree with the concept, but Sir Stuart Etherington of the National Council for Voluntary Organisations said in his lecture to the Cass Business School that:
“The Big Society needs to be more than hot air”.
He articulated the fears of many, also indicated by the noble Lord, when he raised concerns that the big society concept must not be used to plug the gaps as the state withdraws from social provision through government cuts. The Office for Civil Society must ensure that it is not just an arm of government established to work with the sector and volunteers to take on government responsibilities, but that it is also the voice of a genuine big society. There will be times when it has to say no to other arms of government in the interests of the wider civil society and active citizenship. My fear is that if the Government seek to direct civil society to plug the gaps made by cuts, they will lose the very qualities of the sector that have allowed it to grow and be creative and supportive.
My final point is about listening to the voice of those who are active citizens and involved in civil society or the big society. I know that there is a view in some quarters of the Government that such organisations should not be allowed to campaign or even lobby their local councils or the Government. If that were to take hold in any meaningful way, we would be deprived of a real opportunity to use the skills and expertise that come with the active society. If we do not listen to what they have to say and allow them to lobby and campaign, we will lose the opportunity to make effective changes in society and to identify the problems and unintended consequences of policy and delivery. Many charities can articulate the concerns of those unable to do so themselves. They may be vulnerable, elderly or have disabilities, or they may be inarticulate and scared of speaking out. Whatever the reason, those that have the knowledge and experience of issues should not just be allowed to speak out—they have a duty to do so.
When Oliver Letwin stated at the NCVO conference in February this year that what he treasures about the voluntary sector is not its campaigning role but its special contribution to doing something to change things and solve problems, he fundamentally misunderstood the inextricable link between the two. My own view is that such groups not only have a right to speak out, but have a duty to advise the Government, to seek changes where they can see improvements that can and should be made, and to use their experience and expertise to assist the Government in policy-making. It is a wise Minister who listens to them.
There are many issues I have not touched on, but the value of the active society today is almost immeasurable. I welcome and congratulate the noble Lord on today’s debate.
My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for introducing this subject. I want to say a word about the Gresford War Memorial Trust as an excellent example of active citizenship and to draw one or two conclusions from its history. The mining village of Gresford was devastated by the Gresford Colliery disaster in 1934 when an explosion took place in the Dennis section of the mine some 690 metres underground, about the same depth as that from which the Chilean miners were recently rescued. Only six miners on the shift escaped while 266 miners lost their lives, three of whom were from the brave Llay No. 1 rescue team. Only 12 bodies were ever recovered. The wages of the dead miners were docked by a quarter for their failure to complete the shift. My father, as a young policeman, was present at the pit surface with the grieving families who waited in silence during the days and nights that followed the explosion.
Only 10 years later, in 1944, Gresford people decided to institute a welcome home fund for returning servicemen, and in 1948 the fund was used to purchase 18 acres of open fields at the centre of the village. The Gresford Trust was formed, with a committee of six elected members and representatives of every sports and social organisation in the village, including the churches. Currently, there are 18 to 20 such representatives, but any new community organisation can join. By its constitution, there could not be any dealings with the trust land without the consent of the people of Gresford and the adjoining village of Marford, as expressed in a local referendum.
In 1970, a prefabricated hall was built for community use, the mine owners never having provided a miners’ institute, as had happened in other villages in the area. After 20 years, however, it was not in a good state of repair. We had a playground that was dangerous, buildings that were badly maintained, a potholed road, 18 acres to look after, and mature trees and extensive boundaries to keep safe. I became involved at about that time as chairman, and in 1993 we put forward a scheme for selling a small part of the land for starter or retirement homes, which were much needed, with a view to using the money to rebuild the hall. There was a three-week long public display of our proposals and I addressed two packed and passionate public meetings that resulted in a referendum in which our proposals were soundly defeated by two to one: no way was any of the trust land to be sold. I was then translated to the less active role as president of the trust, which I remain, and declare an interest accordingly.
We started fund-raising, led by an excellent committee of local people under my successor as chairman, Viv Davies. Many contributed and continue to contribute, but I must single out Margaret Heaton, a local architect who became the project co-ordinator and, in time, an expert in applying for grants. Many individuals and organisations helped with capital funding, including the Sportlot Capital Programme, the Foundation for Sports and the Arts, the Community Council of Shropshire and the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation. We raised over half a million pounds. To date, with extra fundraising and grants, we have raised in the region of £800,000.
The excellent new hall, with its adjoining meeting rooms, kitchen, changing rooms and showers, was opened on 8 August 1998 by Ron Davies, then the Secretary of State for Wales. The clubs that use the trust property include the 125 year-old Gresford Cricket Club, which runs three senior teams in the North Wales Cricket League, and four junior teams. The Gresford Athletic Club plays senior football in the all-Wales Cymru Alliance League, and the Marford and Gresford Albion Football Club has 10 teams for youngsters from the age of seven and over, which numbers over 200 boys and girls—here I declare a further interest—including my grandson Angus.
There is on the trust land a tennis club, for older people a bowls club with a newly opened club room, a snooker club, a skateboard facility and a practice basketball area. The hall itself is used by a large variety of people for playgroups, line dancing, private parties, and even by the Welsh Assembly when its committee came to sit in the Wrexham area. Our mission statement is,
“run by the village for the village”.
All the work of running the complex is voluntary, apart from a part-time helper who has recently been employed to take on certain administrative duties. I have to mention Janet Holmes, the secretary, and Jenny Dutton, who have been hugely active throughout. Of course if you mention some names, you leave out others, but all who have been and are involved are heroes. This is what active citizenship is all about. We are grateful for support and advice from AVOW, the Association of Voluntary Organisations of Wrexham, but I do not think people realise that we ourselves have to generate the income to keep the trust afloat.
What problems does this experience throw up? One is vandalism, although fortunately there is not a great deal of it. But you can imagine the shock to the community when, shortly after the new cricket square was laid, someone thought it appropriate to drive a car over it and churn it up. The wicket was then attacked and burned with a caustic chemical. I offered a substantial award for information, but the offender was never brought to justice. So vandalism is a small problem. Continuity is important because we are not getting any younger. It is not easy for a younger generation to match the drive and enthusiasm of those who pushed the development scheme through, although we have had some great support from newer trustees, particularly the current chairman, Emlyn Jones. But we do need to put in place succession planning and training.
I turn to cash. We pay our way but we are running a large enterprise. Our income has covered our annual overheads so far, contrary to some of the pessimists who thought that we would go broke when we started, and we have a serious sum of money put by for future requirements. But just as the council-owned sports and community centres in the area are envious of our independence and community spirit, so we are envious of their security and ability to employ full-time caretakers and staff. It is possible to win grants for capital spending but almost impossible to secure the income stream. If the Government are serious about their big society policy, they should urgently consider the need for supporting the income of voluntary organisations.
The message from Gresford is that it can be done. There is an abundance of talent and drive in our communities which, if it comes together, will achieve great things. We are sure that the men whose names are inscribed on the memorial fashioned out of the colliery winding gear would have been proud of the achievements of their successors, the people of Gresford and Marford.
My Lords, I should like, first of all, to say how deeply I have been touched by the kind words of welcome, both verbal and written, extended to me since my introduction to the House in July. My gratitude is also due to my two sponsors, the noble Baroness, Lady Boothroyd, and the noble Lord, Lord Morrow, and to the officers and staff of your Lordships’ House, whose help and patience know no bounds. Of course, I sent a John the Baptist before me—my good lady—and I pay her the tribute that I need always to pay her.
I am a great believer in being active but—hold on to your seats—I am not going to be too active today because I have other things in mind. This marks an important episode for me. When I made a maiden speech in another place not far from here, I did not think that I would be there for 40 years. However, hold on to your seats again, I have no intention of staying in this place for 40 years. In fact, through the grace of almighty God, I will become a really active citizen and take my place in a place where no mistakes are made, no arguments are argued, and where there is nothing to spoil the peace and calm of eternity and God Almighty, who I love through His Son, our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ. In case any of the right reverend Prelates thinks I might steal his job, I shall cease from that subject. However, one day perhaps I may have an opportunity of speaking on this matter in another place not so far from here.
Active citizenship is really a debate about rights versus responsibilities. Our rights are easy to list and are enshrined in law, whereas our responsibilities are not so well defined. I therefore welcome the fact that the sponsor of this debate has brought our attention to this very important matter. This generation needs not only to study citizenship but to make it practical and applicable to where they live. As noble Lords will know, by profession I am a minister of the Gospel. The church is the world in microcosm. I have served as a minister for more than 60 years and during that time I have learnt that there are church members and there are church members. There are those who want the privileges but do not want the responsibility; and there are those who are dedicated to the cause they espouse. These are, indeed, second milers; they go beyond in order that the church has a heartbeat and not just a structure. The same principle should apply to society.
The term “active citizen” did not exist when I was a young man—or, indeed, when I was a lot older. It is today’s buzzword for activities such as volunteering, donating, not being wasteful, sharing and generally helping the less fortunate. I appreciate the motive behind the probationary period that is needed for new immigrants who come into our country to carry out their responsibilities. They must know that the country to which they come is only as it is because others in times past took up these responsibilities and involved themselves to make this land better than it was.
I noticed an interesting letter in the Irish Independent today in which one of the members of the south has invited Her Majesty to come over and take the whole of Ireland under her control. I shall not throw a bomb such as that into the House today, but it is a good thought. If we all came together with Her Majesty at our head, we would do well. After all, another crowned king did that at a certain famous watering place, which I will not mention today.
The greatest commandment of all is to love our neighbours and to treat them the way we would like to be treated ourselves. If we replace the benefits system by teaching the real benefits that flow from our personal commitment to hard work, I believe we shall see our country come out of the terrible situation in which it finds itself today. There is hope where there is dedication; and there is hope where that dedication is employed with all the strength that we have. We need to open our doors to newcomers. What a sad country this would be if all the newcomers who did so well in helping us in the past had been closed out. It would be a very poor country.
I am delighted to put on record today the welcome I have received. I have not much time and I must finish. However, when I next come to speak, perhaps I will not have to finish so quickly—because the more argument we have here, the less trouble we will have in settling things outside. I trust that we will argue our way through the present situation towards a better country for us all.
My Lords, it is a great privilege to follow the maiden speech of the noble Lord, Lord Bannside, and to congratulate him on it. When it comes to active citizenship, few can surpass the noble Lord’s record in Northern Ireland as co-founder of the DUP, as First Minister in the Northern Ireland Assembly and as a past Moderator of the Free Presbyterian Church of Ulster. I am sure the noble Lord will be relieved to hear that he and I would not share precisely similar theological convictions on every matter, but I am sure that we do share a conviction that the Gospel speaks powerfully into the organising of human society, and the noble Lord has demonstrated that with his customary energy, persuasiveness and passion today. I know that the whole House looks forward to hearing his voice more frequently in the future.
To pray in this House each day for the coming of God’s kingdom on earth as in heaven is to attend to the ordering of human society as the place in which individuals and communities find their full potential, work for justice and experience the life abundant which the Gospel promises. This debate is an opportunity to ask what is the soil in which trust and the building of relationships can grow, what is the place of government in enabling civil society to flourish—a concept which is, of course, essentially organic and not official—what is the nature of the transfer of power from the centre to the local that is required for this, and how can government both national and local contribute to active citizenship, which is essentially an untidy, non-conformist and often passionate concept.
The Economic and Social Research Council’s report on faith-based voluntary action observed in 2006:
“It is accepted that individuals are more likely to get involved and act collectively when they have something in common. They may, for instance, live in the same area or have similar interests, or be motivated by shared identities, values and beliefs”.
It is clear that one of the most important motivators for civic and social participation is religious conviction. That is why at the opening of the new quinquennium of the General Synod of the Church of England next week the first major debate will be about the big society and about the contribution of the Church of England, with partners from other Christian denominations, other faiths and wider civil society, to making the big society work.
I shall be privileged to lead that debate and I am delighted to do so, because my home city of Leicester provides so many examples of the priceless work of active citizens. The FareShare project sponsored by my diocese distributes food from supermarkets which has come near to the ending of its shelf life. Through a network of 20 projects in the city and the county, some 2,000 people receive regular donations of high-quality food which would otherwise be thrown away. These are people—the homeless, single-parent families, asylum seekers, the mentally frail and confused—for whom the experience of hunger is not unfamiliar. The St Philip’s Centre in Leicester has worked for five years to develop relations between people of different faith communities in one of the most diverse cities in Britain. This is the hard labour of building dialogue groups, of developing meaningful interactions and trust between very different communities, which led to a strong show of solidarity against the English Defence League in its recent disruptive visit to the city.
Those who engage in civil society know that the capacity of citizens’ groups to develop their members’ skills, to mobilise volunteers, to provide staff and venues and to reach the most socially excluded groups requires committed resources beyond the fragile short-termism of the grant-making culture. They know also that such groups require good governance, excellent leadership and sufficient and appropriate infrastructure to enable outcomes to be sustained.
For that reason, it will be important for the House to hear from the Minister about this Government’s commitment to the strong intermediate institutions which a strong civil society requires. Not all such institutions will follow government policy slavishly. If the intermediate institutions required for the strengthening of civil society include the churches, the universities and the trade unions, can Her Majesty’s Government really be sanguine about a strong civil society which may require the strengthening of such intermediate bodies over which the Government should not and could not seek to exercise final control?
Secondly, much has been made of the recruitment of many community organisers as part of the big society vision. More than 20 years ago, I attended a training course in the United States designed to enable potential organisers to understand the techniques and principles of organising established by Saul Alinsky. Alinsky was clear that organising is about enabling local communities to find the muscle and the potential to confront powerful institutions which may control their lives and to secure a shift of power towards the local. How is that to be done by community organisers who are government-sponsored and may find themselves accountable to government policies and programmes?
Thirdly, if the Government’s consultation document, Supporting a Stronger Civil Society, leads to a higher expectation of the ability of corporate social responsibility, employer-supported volunteering, pro-bono work and business mentoring to underpin the voluntary sector, how will we avoid a more uneven distribution of social capital and the possibility of the big society becoming a postcode lottery in which areas with strong existing social bonds benefit the most?
It is upon the answer to that question that so much of the church’s enthusiasm for the big society will depend.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord Maclennan of Rogart for introducing this important debate. I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Bannside, on his maiden speech, and I look forward to that of the noble Lord, Lord Blair of Boughton.
I would like to concentrate my remarks on active citizenship as it relates to young people. In our schools, we should be preparing children for their future lives, not just stuffing them with facts which they might need for any particular job. We should also be giving them a love of learning, stimulating their curiosity and teaching them how to learn. None of us can look in our crystal balls and see what our career pattern will bring us. I had three careers before I had the surprise of coming to your Lordships’ House. That is why I believe it is crucial that we continue, nay improve, the courses in schools which prepare children to lead a happy, fulfilling and active life both within their families and in their communities. Both national curriculum citizenship and personal, social, health and economic education—PSHE—courses fall into this category.
As my noble friend Lord Maclennan said, citizenship was first introduced as a cross-curricular theme by a Conservative Government and became a statutory subject under the previous Government, giving all children an entitlement to the only curricular subject that encompasses politics, economics and the law and that teaches children about their rights and responsibilities as citizens. We may not know how a child will earn his living when he leaves school but we do know that he will eventually get the right to vote—unless he is sectioned or becomes a Member of Your Lordships’ House. We want him to make a positive contribution to society.
In these days when politics is in disrepute, we need to do everything we can to encourage young people to learn enough about politics to be able to make up their own minds and use their vote when the time comes. I often ask young people when I go into schools as part of the Lord Speaker's outreach programme whether they agree, as I do, with votes at 16. Not all of them do. I usually ask those who do not why that is. They tend to say, “I don't know enough about it”, to which I retort that I know a lot of 40 year-olds who don't know much about it either but they still have a vote. Many citizenship teachers do a great job and our own Parliamentary Education Department offers excellent materials and events to help them. But there is always room for further improvement and support from the Government.
Citizenship is important because it provides young people with the knowledge and skills they need to become employable and to make an effective contribution to public life. Surely that is part of what the Prime Minister means by the big society. Citizenship is intellectually rigorous and children see it as relevant to their lives, which is more than can be said for quadratic equations in most cases. That is why young people find it interesting and engaging.
PSHE also develops the skills that children need in life and in employment, and many schools also introduce an element of volunteering in the community. This often lays down an attitude of being willing to help others, which follows people into adult life. In my own school, long before citizenship or PSHE were invented, we went to visit elderly housebound people and did jobs for them. I think that my disabled old lady enjoyed my visits and I certainly learnt more about betting on horses than I would ever have learnt at school, because she was brought up near Aintree racecourse. Seriously, it did me a lot of good. Can my noble friend the Minister assure me that there are no plans to downgrade either of these important subjects from the school curriculum?
Of course, schools do other things to develop young citizens, such as in the school councils. From the very early years in primary school, they teach children about decision-making, how to make their voice heard and how to negotiate for what they want. When my step-granddaughter was elected to her school council, we mused at home that it was the first time that any of the family had been elected to anything, however hard her grandfather and I had tried. Many schools testify to the benefits of these school councils in developing responsible young people.
Community activities need somewhere to take place, and not every town or village has a lovely community hall such as ours in Gresford. Section 4 of the Children, Schools and Families Act 2010 takes effect from next April. It enables schools to use their delegated budgets for community facilities. Schools have had powers to provide community facilities or services since the Education Act 2002, but there were restrictions whereby they could fund services only when they directly supported the curriculum or were of direct educational benefit to pupils. Services such as adult learning or sports activities for the local community could be funded only by certain grants, charges or other external income. Schools will soon be able to use this power to allow their facilities to be used for those things. Can my noble friend the Minister confirm that the Government have no intention of restricting the scope of this funding, since it has the potential to provide great opportunities for community action in many places that do not have other facilities and to make better use of the buildings and equipment for which our taxes have already paid?
Finally, I join my noble friend Lord Maclennan of Rogart in welcoming the national citizen service. When I first heard about this idea, I was slightly sceptical that it might be just for the middle-class children for whom there are already many opportunities. However, following a meeting with my right honourable friend Tim Loughton, the Minister for Children, my mind has been set at rest. He told me that the pilot schemes were measured on their effectiveness in ensuring that there was inclusiveness and that young people who were hard to reach were actually reached by those schemes. The first organisations that have won contracts for the first year have been told that their success will be measured on that basis. It is very important that we involve young people who do not have other opportunities. I was very interested to hear that a group that is very well represented in applications to take part in the national citizen service is young Muslim teenage women. That is an excellent thing. I wish the scheme a fair wind, but I hope that my noble friend can set my mind at rest on one or two other matters.
My Lords, I am acutely aware of the honour implicit in rising to address your Lordships for the first time. As other speakers have been, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Maclennan, for introducing this important debate, enabling the House to consider a subject of enormous importance. Before I say anything further, like the noble Lord, Lord Bannside, before me, I place on record how much I have appreciated the warm welcome that I have received from all sides of the House. I particularly thank my sponsors, the noble Lord, Lord Hurd of Westwell, and the noble Baroness, Lady Harris of Richmond, who currently presides as Deputy Speaker. I further express my personal thanks to all the staff of the House with whom I have come into contact, who could not have been more courteous. I should also add that I am sorry that pre-planned and fairly extensive engagements abroad have and will prevent me from participating this autumn in the work of the House as much as I would have liked to do, a position which I hope to rectify in the new year.
I declare interests in two organisations to which I will subsequently refer. First, I am president of the Oxfordshire battalion of the Boys' Brigade and, secondly, during a relatively long career as a police officer, I had, at different times, responsibility for and pride in the special constabularies of a number of police forces in England. Although others have, this is not the occasion for me to comment on exactly what is meant now by the big society, or what it will come to mean as the present Government's term of office unfolds. In general, I want to place on record my wholehearted support for the appropriate engagement of citizens more closely in assisting their neighbours and communities. More specifically, this afternoon I shall reflect on active citizenship in two ways—first by commending to your Lordships, in particular, as did the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, the inculcation of active citizenship in young people, which is so powerfully represented by uniformed voluntary associations such as the Boys' Brigade; and, secondly, by considering briefly what might be the limitations of active citizenship in a modern and ever more challenging world.
I begin with that second thought. As you will know, the Metropolitan Police force was founded in 1829 by Sir Robert Peel, then Home Secretary, subsequently to become Prime Minister. In founding it, Sir Robert reflected coincidentally on both the concept of active citizenship and—by founding a professional police force for the first time—on the limitations of such a concept. He remarked that,
“police are the public and the public are the police: the police being only members of the public that are paid to give full time attention to the duties which are incumbent on every citizen”.
Alongside the reserve and territorial forces of the Crown, there can be no more striking example of active citizenship than membership of the special constabulary, some members of which have given their lives for others in that endeavour. But there is a reason why there are professional police officers as well as special constabularies, just as there are professional nurses and social workers alongside the St John's Ambulance Service and the legions of carers across the land. Their jobs are to deal with issues of complexity, often caused by deprivation, poverty and social exclusion. Even though civil society now has its own office in government, as other speakers have recognised in different ways, we must continue to value and support those professionals, of all disciplines, whose job will increasingly be to take the difficult decisions implicit in prioritising needs over wishes and in ensuring due process, equality and fairness in the allocation of scarce resources, as we increase the empowerment of citizens actively to support their neighbours.
Beyond those comments, I merely make an observation with which I think the majority of police officers, past and present, would concur, which is that in my experience the nobility implicit in actions intended to support and improve our communities and neighbourhoods is not necessarily innate in every human being. However, it can be learned and can and should be taught. In this, I commend to the House the sterling contribution of those many individuals who work without payment of any kind to lead young people towards active citizenship—in the Scout Movement, for instance, which, at nearly half a million young people, now has more members in its ranks than for many decades, and in the Girl Guides, the Sea Scouts, the Boys' and Girls' Brigades, the cadet forces of the police and the armed services and many other groups too numerous to mention. Such organisations are the seed corn of an active citizenry in future years. Those who give voluntarily and generously of their time to run them need support and, where possible, the reconsideration of a number of the ever-increasing bureaucratic burdens laid upon them.
Lastly, I ask your Lordships to consider what I observed when I had the privilege of taking the salute some three years ago at the annual parade of the London branches of the Boys' Brigades, which was the significant number of young people from minority ethnic backgrounds within the ranks of those parading before me, an indication that active citizenship, encouraged and fostered, can draw together the different communities of this multicultural nation. I hope you will agree with me when I suggest that, for that development, this nation should be very grateful.
My Lords, I am delighted to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Blair of Boughton, on his perceptive and compelling maiden speech. It is a real joy and privilege to have him in this House. I am personally so delighted as he and I have worked together on many issues to do with volunteering in the police in particular and the criminal justice system over many years. He will bring his wisdom and energy to this House and contribute not only on issues of crime and justice in which he has such expertise, but also on wider issues to do with the role of the citizen and the state. I look forward, as I note that all sides of the House do, to the major contribution that we know he will make over the coming years.
I also congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Bannside, on his maiden speech and I was pleased to hear the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leicester teasing him very gently about a slight difference of theological perception. Wearing for one moment my rabbi’s hat, in so far as I believe in heaven at all—we Jews are very easy on the subject—we do not think that there will be no arguments there. We think that the debates which go on about the meaning of the law in this place will also go on up there. It will not be quiet at all. Two Jews with three opinions: that’s the way it goes.
I also congratulate my noble friend Lord Maclennan of Rogart on securing this debate. It is one about which I care passionately. We all want to see active citizens. We all know that we need our citizens to be more involved in shaping their own lives and local institutions. The questions that lie before us now are just how we should be doing that and, indeed, what the Government can do to promote active citizenship—and what they should not do if they want active citizenship to flourish. I declare my interest as the volunteering champion for the former Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, until 2009; as chair of the independent Commission on the Future of Volunteering, supported by all three major parties, which reported in 2007; and as a former trustee of the Citizenship Foundation.
To start, the Government’s big society agenda is welcome. It intends to put power back in the hands of the people with the ambition that every adult will be an active member of an active neighbourhood group, but what will every adult need to do to achieve that? Does that mean voting and participating in political parties? Is it about being on school governing bodies or parochial church councils? Is it about being trustees of local charities? Is it about volunteering regularly in some way? It is all of these although, personally, I believe that volunteering time to help others in some way is an important part of active citizenship. I so agree with the noble Lord, Lord Blair, about that. As the Commission on the Future of Volunteering had as its strap line, we want to get volunteering into the DNA of our society.
We need people to volunteer and to discover what makes people want to do it, despite relatively high rates of volunteering in our society already compared with other countries. We know that active citizens build a stronger society. Active citizenship helps to foster trust in communities, creates a shared sense of values, increases personal satisfaction in influencing change and, as we know, increases self-esteem. As you make new friends and contacts, you strengthen your CV and find a reason to get up in the morning, and so on—we know a lot about it. We know quite a lot about what volunteering provides to those who do it, but we need to know more about how it provides it, what people want to give to it and what they want to gain from it, particularly if the Government want more of us to be more involved.
It is with growing dismay that I heard that the Department for Communities and Local Government has launched a consultation outlining its intention to cancel the citizenship survey, which provides by far the most rigorous, regular and reliable data on citizen engagement—specifically, on volunteering—in England. Both Volunteering England and the Institute for Volunteering Research have told me that they believe it is vital for the volunteering sector that the citizenship survey continues, because the survey provides national data on a range of citizenship issues including volunteering, cohesion, empowerment, values, racial and religious prejudice and political participation, as well as providing detailed demographic data. The citizenship survey provides a foundation for a huge amount of work on volunteering and active citizenship, and we need it. We need to know the answers to those sorts of questions, which are core questions for the big society. If the survey disappears, we will not know any more.
There are other national surveys which ask questions on volunteering, but their data sets, and their rigour and regularity, are far below the quality of that offered by the citizenship survey. We are trying to create the big society. Surely this is therefore not the time to cancel the citizenship survey for the future. We need to find out more about what goes on. It is also, surely, not the time to allow the volunteering infrastructure at national and local levels to face such severe cuts as it is doing at present, when it has never been more needed.
I am also hugely disappointed, personally, given everything that the Government have been saying about getting all sorts of people who have had huge difficulties of one sort or another into work or meaningful activity, that the access to volunteering fund which we called for in the Commission on the Future of Volunteering, which I chaired, will not be extended after the end of its first-year pilot this coming March, when there cannot possibly have been any meaningful evaluation of whether such a fund has improved access. It is particularly disappointing when the Government are calling for red tape and barriers to volunteering to be dismantled—precisely what the fund was set up to do. I cannot see that it makes sense.
What should be happening, then? We should be making it easier for people to volunteer. We have to deal with CRB checks—I can almost hear a collective groan around the House, as we have talked about it so often—which are still, ludicrously, not portable. Even if a volunteer has been checked by another organisation recently, each organisation has to organise for a fresh check, which has considerable administrative cost even if the check itself is free—not to mention that there is quite considerable confusion among volunteer-involving organisations over who needs to be checked. As far back as 2008, the Commission on the Future of Volunteering raised the need for CRB-checking processes to be simplified and for portability to be introduced, yet nothing has happened.
I could continue by raising the issue of citizenship education, as many noble Lords have done. I could discuss the issue of how compulsory community service should in no way be confused with true volunteering. I could praise the Government for their emphasis on encouraging people to take part in civil society, which I gladly do. However, I would be grateful if the Minister could give me some answers about CRB checks, the access to volunteering fund and supporting the infrastructure for volunteering, when the big society relies on all those for it to work well.
My Lords, I join others in thanking my noble friend Lord Maclennan of Rogart for introducing this important debate. I, like others, declare an interest as a long-time volunteer in various activities; I think that I must have had at least three separate CRB checks done on me in the past year. I want in particular to pick up on the remarks made by my noble friend Lady Walmsley about citizenship education for young people and to endorse her remarks about hoping very much—I hope that the Minister can reassure us —that the curriculum for citizenship will not be downgraded. It is extremely important that our young people get that introduction to what it means to be an active citizen, which the curriculum offers them.
I also worry about the fact that for many of our young people, their community today tends to be what is called the social networking community—one that comes from the internet, not from active interaction with friends. One benefit of active citizenship is that it is interactive with people and means linking up closely with friends. It gives a great sense of happiness and well-being because you are making friends and because you get the feeling of being a wanted and valued member of the community. I shall spend the time that I have today talking about not the curriculum for our young people but another aspect of education that picks up on the whole notion of citizenship. That is: adult education and the degree to which it opens doors not only to new opportunities and jobs but, in fact, to self-fulfilment. There is a sense of self-worth and self-confidence and of participation in society.
We had a short debate in this House a few weeks ago about adult education, which I led. In that debate, I instanced the case of Irene, a young woman who was a single mother but whose own education had been very limited. She became very worried about the fact that she could not help her daughter with her reading when she came home from school with a reading book. Somewhat reluctantly, she went along to classes, not because she wanted to admit that she could not read but because she wanted to help her daughter. She found that she enjoyed those classes and went on to take further classes. She eventually took an English course, then an IT course. She then found herself volunteering to run a group for parents with disabled children. That led to her standing as a school governor. Then she started being an active member of the tenants’ association and found herself running it. Having myself spent the past 30 or 40 years active in politics, I can see that from that point it is quite likely that she was then asked if she would stand as a local councillor. This experience over a five-year period illustrates how people, as the result of an introduction—often completely by chance—into adult education, can become active citizens and get a great sense of self-worth from their participation in society.
I congratulate coalition Ministers on the skills strategy, which was published on Tuesday and incorporates a commitment to maintaining some £210 million which is known as the safeguarded adult education budget. They have maintained it in money terms, not in real terms, but, given the degree to which other budgets are being cut, it is excellent that this particular budget is being maintained. It gives priority to basic skills and to training for those without qualifications, in recognition of the wider benefits that flow from adult education. We know from all the work that has been done that those who participate in adult education are healthier and happier and live longer than others, and that they are more likely to vote, to volunteer and to participate in society.
The danger with the developments that we are seeing with the big society, and with the concept of the big society, is that it feeds into what I call the self-organising middle classes. Guildford is well represented here today; following me will be the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Guildford, and the noble Lord, Lord Blair, spent many a long year in Guildford as head of Surrey Police. We have a thriving U3A—a self-organising middle-class organisation—which does an enormous amount and is very important.
It is vital, however, that we do not just look to middle-class self-organisation but maintain within the broad adult education spectrum those organisations, such as the City Literary Institute, which provide a much broader perspective on adult learning. Some 18 per cent of the City Literary Institute’s learners pay the concessionary fee and 7 per cent are over 65 and on a very low income, while 30 per cent of its working-age learners are unemployed. Currently it gets 47 per cent of its expenses from the Government. It has 57,000 enrolments and 4,100 courses, including special courses for those with learning difficulties, for the deaf and for those with speech impediments, as well as outreach work to families and the homeless.
As I have been indicating, adult education opens doors to active citizenship, and it is vital that we keep those doors open.
As the third of the Guildford trio, my Lords, I warmly welcome this debate. If we are to discover the meaning of the big society, we shall also have to look at the meaning of civil society. A society can be inward-looking, even a club—one of the meanings of the word is one group of people over and against another. Civil society, however, is about civilisation, being civil to one another and living together in civitas—a city. Active citizenship is about learning to live together in the city that is our society, whether we live in London, Guildford, Addlestrop or Zennor. I am therefore supportive of the plea of the noble Lord, Lord Maclennan, and the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, for the retention of citizenship education in the core curriculum in secondary schools.
I want to make two observations on active citizenship from the point of view of a bishop. The first is an almost unnecessary apologia, though no apology, for why people of faith—specifically, members of the Christian churches—should be engaged in constructive citizenship, and the second will be to illustrate to your Lordships’ House, as others have been doing in this House today, how this is actually happening on the ground.
First, why should a bishop be bothered about citizenship when we read in sacred scripture that our citizenship is in heaven or that here we have no abiding city? Certainly, some Christians and other religious groups have been so otherworldly as to be of no earthly use. Not so, I trust, the church. Such disengagement with the city that is our society is a false spirituality. Yes, we look for a city to come, and here I am delighted to be in agreement with the noble Lord, Lord Bannside. The great St Augustine wrote his eternal City of God as he saw the civilisation of late antiquity crumbling around him, Rome itself overrun by barbarian hordes. But he and bishops after him have always looked to the present city as well. In the Book of Revelation there is the new city, the new Jerusalem. It comes down indeed from above, but it is not out of this world. Visionaries and prophets have prayed for the coming of the kingdom “on earth as it is in heaven”, as we have already prayed in your Lordships’ House this morning. William Blake—not a comfortable conformist believer, I grant you—gives us “Jerusalem” to sing:
“Till we have built Jerusalem
In England's green and pleasant land”.
As we sing that to Hubert Parry’s marvellous tune, that means Wales as well.
Secondly, what are we actually doing about it? The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leicester has already spoken in strategic and national terms and in relation to Leicester itself. Every Bishop in your Lordships’ House could list numerous local projects and partnerships in their dioceses, either initiated by the churches or where the churches with other faith communities are willing and constructive collaborators with all of good will in their local communities. Such lists would be very extensive. I flag some that I am personally aware of as Bishop of Guildford.
Street Angel Groups are mushrooming all over the country. In my diocese, for example, they are in Guildford, Staines, Epsom, Aldershot, Camberley and Fleet. On Friday and Saturday nights, trained groups work closely with clubs, pubs and the police and are on the streets from about 10 pm till the early hours of the morning. Street crime actually plummets—that is official. In Woking last week, the first Muslim volunteers joined their emerging team of Street Angels.
There are after-school groups for children, parents, carers and teachers. There are Sure Start groups, including various community networks. Poverty groups such as the Besom tackle isolation and abuse as well as homelessness. Debt counselling is offered in Guildford by the churches through the instigation of the court services. Churches in Farnborough and Guildford have long-term investment in local community action groups. Town-centre chaplaincies and outreach centres are developing. Woking People of Faith involves the oldest mosque in England. Family support groups are emerging through the churches. The Mothers’ Union supports chaplaincy and support for families in prisons, not only women’s prisons. Elsewhere in the country, as well as in my part of the world, police chaplaincy supports community policing.
In Surrey we have a long-standing volunteer scheme with Surrey Police to provide adults to attend custody suites for interrogation at any time of day or night, where minors or vulnerable persons are not supported by parents or carers. This has been in operation for over 15 years, and last year there were more than 1,000 responses. For 35 years the dioceses of Guildford, Portsmouth and Winchester have also co-ordinated Hampshire volunteer care groups, and this is matched in many other parts of the country.
The South East England Faiths Forum has just published a survey of the economic contribution of faith groups to society throughout the region, Faith Communities: The Hidden Contribution. I repeat that my diocese is not untypical; the other Bishops in your Lordships’ House could all tell similar stories.
Behind this long and emergently tedious catalogue lies independent research indicating that about 10 per cent of adults in Surrey—I believe that the figures hold elsewhere in the country—volunteer for community-building activities. Of such volunteers, 70 per cent are motivated by their faith. To illustrate this, I relate a conversation I had only last week with one of my clergy about a community development project in Cobham. Working with their local Member of Parliament, Dominic Raab, the local community groups developed a project with the county council. It is not badged as a faith project, but the churches are the most active participants and active church members are key to all the community groups.
To conclude, my point is simply that in the creation of the big society, active citizenship is, of course, essential. Within the faith communities and the churches—and the Church of England therein—up and down the nation, there is an almost limitless reservoir of active citizenship, not only potentially to be tapped but actually getting on with doing the job and building civil society. We are not only singing Jerusalem.
My Lords, last night I had the privilege of attending a visit to Parliament by the Bite the Ballot campaign. Around 100 young people were here in the House to campaign and encourage other young people to get involved in the political process. It was an uplifting event.
However, some stark figures were presented to us by Bob Worcester from Ipsos MORI. At this year’s general election there was a 65 per cent turnout overall, but of young people under 25 only 44 per cent turned out to vote: 50 per cent of men, but only 39 per cent of women, which itself demands some deeper understanding. Of course, active citizenship is not just about voting every so often, but voting is nevertheless the cornerstone of our democracy, which is why citizenship education is so important in our schools, to help to reverse that decline in turnout.
For more active citizenship to be achieved, local neighbourhoods are the place to start. That is where most people are interested and confident in getting involved. There are three ways to encourage active citizenship in the neighbourhood that I should like to draw to your Lordships’ attention. The first is participatory budgeting, which we brand in Newcastle upon Tyne as “U decide”. It was launched four years ago by the Newcastle Partnership, with £280,000 of neighbourhood renewal cash. Now in our fifth year, there have been some 20 projects involving 11,000 people with more than £4.5 million of public funding allocated. “U decide” is used to address issues from community cohesion to open space improvements. It is used with communities of geography, interest and identity. Some examples from recent projects include an environmental improvement project in the Lemington area of Newcastle, which engaged more than 600 people in considering environmental issues and then went on to involve more than 800 people, including 400 pupils, in decision-making on which neighbourhood projects to support, all through a public ballot. Another example from “U decide” is a project to engage the city’s unpaid carers of adults in defining actions and interventions to improve their quality of life and then allocating resources to meet those needs. There has also been a project using police authority funding to build trust and confidence in one of the most deprived and disaffected estates in the city. The outcomes here have shown that, given real voice and choice, people will engage, and that there are tangible outcomes to be achieved in terms of improved relationships and better service delivery.
For me, the outcomes of participatory budgeting are that it builds social capital, targets spending more effectively and leads to closer working within a neighbourhood by public and third-sector agencies. In the context of reduced public spending, it is extremely important that more citizens become involved because they will understand better what is and is not possible, what things cost and how things should be prioritised.
My second example is volunteering in neighbourhoods, with the particular example of public libraries. I remember some years ago a county councillor in Bedlington, Northumberland, Ellen Mitchell, telling me how she led a group in establishing their first local library in the late 1940s. They found a room, they built the shelves and donated their own books as stock to get things started. It was the equivalent of the big society in those days. There are many similar examples from an era when Governments tended to match-fund voluntary effort, rather than do everything themselves. In the context of spending cuts over the next few years, we could find that we need to encourage volunteers to work in our local libraries in support of trained staff. This could keep libraries open when they might otherwise be closed. It would also provide experienced people to help in, for example, IT training and local and family history. We should remember how that library service started. It was not all about big government, but about voluntary action supported by the state. This is increasingly the way in which we may need to go to protect the library service and several other, similar local services, perhaps in the leisure field.
Is it possible to engage people? I think it is. School governing bodies explain how they have been heavily supported by volunteers over the years and are a model that can be followed. More people will volunteer if it is clearer to them how to do so.
A third way to increase active citizenship in neighbourhoods lies in neighbourhood planning across public services as a whole. Getting people involved in thinking about health services, community safety, job creation, leisure facilities and housing needs can lead, in turn, to neighbourhood-based problem solving, setting priorities and creating stronger community life through more citizens simply being involved in the process and then supporting each other. Engagement and capacity building starts at a local level, but has to be led by local government, as the only body with a democratic mandate to draw in other public sector and third-sector bodies alongside it.
That is why I am worried by any trend towards the atomisation of public services, and their delivery, rather than localism. Localism brings public services together under one umbrella, led by local government, which derives its mandate from the ballot box. Atomisation gives greater control to Whitehall in allocating budgets, through its system of budgetary silos. That is why I believe we must empower our neighbourhoods to define those public services that they need and then see them delivered through devolution of power. That would encourage more active citizenship which, in turn, will help to create stronger communities and neighbourhood and, one hopes, the rise in turnout at formal elections that we seek so much.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend for initiating this debate. It will surprise nobody that I will concentrate on the sporting sector, particularly voluntary sports clubs.
The amateur sports sector is one of the most established parts of the big society or voluntary sector that there has ever been. It embodies the idea of doing something for yourself, and then gaining a benefit from something you enjoy doing. A lot of people ask why people get involved in various types of voluntary activity, and we usually then hear a long list of things with songs about the benefits. Sport is something you get involved in because you enjoy the process, and you get something good out of it for yourself. However, to do this, you need to bring other people with you. Effectively, it is a voluntary thing that is quite selfish but is hugely beneficial at the same time; an odd dichotomy.
The amateur sports clubs and the British mania for regulating sport have led to sport being a growth area. In many sports, groups often provide their own facilities, structure and coaching. They get involved across the board and are self-sustaining and self-generating. What do they need from the state? Some would say they need very little and should be left alone. Others would say the state should get involved in pump-priming. The question we must ask is: what is available at the moment?
Despite the fact that past Governments tried—the previous Government tried very hard—to provide better facilities, we are in a situation where what the state can most immediately do is probably to look at where it can reduce the burden of activity on these groups, and where we can pull away and allow them to function better. Effectively, if you make the lives of secretaries of sports clubs easier, you will make the lives of sports clubs much easier. Those volunteers have to deal with the paperwork and go through the checks. CRB checks have already been mentioned but there is also the regulatory and licensing process. If you make that easier, you will guarantee that they get more involved.
There are two ways of doing this. One is to get the Government to do it for you. The other is to strip away the regulations to the bare bones of what is acceptable in our society. I know that the current Government are starting to look at this. I know because certain organisations that, two years ago, helped me to present a Bill that did some of this have been talking to them. When will we establish exactly what is the minimum of regulation and responsibility that we want for these groups? I encourage my Government to answer that question clearly. Also, I expect the Government to assist by checking what works within this sector.
Those who have heard me often will start to get feelings of déjà vu here. There have been many schemes to do with recruiting youth. When politicians get involved in sport, they say, “Let’s get the kids involved”. They forget that getting kids involved is very easy. You simply do it in school time and organise it through the school. It is dead easy; we have done it dozens of times. The problem is not school-age sport or sport in schools; it is sport when people hit the age of 16 or 18 or 21. That is when it matters. We have not really addressed the problem of the drop-out ages from education. That is when it happens. Unless we address that, we will have problems.
Can the Government look, as they have looked at what has happened in the past few years, at which of the schemes for recruitment, retention and reinvolvement have worked properly? Enough groundwork has been done by the previous Government. They may have been looking for a magic bullet. They may have found a decent gun with which to fire it. We do not know. Let us have a look at what has been done and build on it. Can we have an answer as to what has been the best scheme at certain points? With fewer resources available, targeting or showing people models around which to build their work is something that could easily be done. If we do not have a system for retrieving that information, God help us.
Finally, when we deal with this process of stripping away various areas in which clubs find their lives being made difficult, can the Government assure us that they will try to co-ordinate what is required to get people trained and functioning in these groups? That is, will we get a system that makes it easier to get, for instance, good coaching qualifications? Will we address ways to make it less expensive to do this? It could be done either by governing bodies purchasing services en masse or by trying to get some reduction in cost for those that are taking it on. If we want society to function properly in its voluntary groups, the Government have a duty to make sure that they do not put any impediments in the way. If we can take such impediments away, we will go some way towards achieving a good big society.
My Lords, I, too, congratulate my noble friend Lord Maclennan on initiating this valuable debate. Like others, I will focus on citizenship education. In a free society, citizens are able to participate in public affairs. They may come together to organise or they may contribute in a purely individual capacity to the affairs of the community. An active citizenship is a sign of a healthy democracy. It underpins the Prime Minister’s idea of the big society. My purpose is to call attention to the potential contradiction between government aims and apparent government intentions.
The most consistent and productive means of instilling awareness of the value of engagement in public life is through citizenship education. One cannot force people to engage in public affairs but one can make them aware of the value of getting engaged. Awareness of how society is organised and how one can make a contribution and influence what goes on is a form of empowerment and is to the good of society. There is therefore a compelling case for citizenship education. As we have heard, that was recognised in 2002, when citizenship education became part of the national curriculum. If people are to take responsibility for their own community, they need to be aware of the values of so doing and the structures within which they are operating. Citizenship education can therefore be seen as a prerequisite to achieving the big society.
However, as my noble friend Lady Walmsley said, there are concerns that citizenship education may not survive a review of the national curriculum in England. That would be a great mistake—one that derives from a misunderstanding of what is happening. There have been criticisms of the quality of teaching of citizenship. Some people, not least in my own party, are suspicious of the teaching of citizenship, seeing it—as they sometimes see the teaching of politics—as a means of indoctrination and of instilling particular political values in young minds. I do not deny that there are problems with the teaching of citizenship, but they derive not from the vigour or extent of such teaching but from the fact that it is underresourced and undervalued. Though part of the national curriculum, it has not had the resources devoted to it that are necessary for it to be taught thoroughly. There have not been the necessary incentives for schools to take it seriously and invest time and effort in making it a success.
I was once interviewed by an MA student for his dissertation. At the end of the interview, he asked me my views on citizenship education. I explained that I was a strong supporter. He revealed that he was a trained citizenship teacher. He had been hired by a school but, the moment there was pressure on the school budget, he had been the first to be let go. I suspect that he was not the exception. Without teachers trained in citizenship education, the danger is that responsibility is given to teachers who are free on a Wednesday afternoon or do not have the heaviest teaching load. In such circumstances, the danger is that the subject will not be taught as well as it should be. That is a reflection not on the teachers but on the situation in which they find themselves. It is also a situation where bias may creep in, because teachers are not tutored in how to ensure neutrality in delivering the subject. In such circumstances, one can see how critics will be wary of citizenship education.
What is needed is not the ending of citizenship education but rather the opposite. It needs to be taken seriously by schools. Head teachers presently have no incentive to take it seriously. The Department for Education needs to address how to ensure its more effective delivery, and a prerequisite to that is enhancing its status. If citizenship education disappears, we will end up with a massive divide between those who understand how our political system works and how they can contribute to it and those who have a limited awareness and for whom the political system may be a closed book.
Only a limited number of schools offer politics at A and AS-level. Where it is taught, it tends to be taught extremely well, often by teachers who have degrees in politics and entered teaching through the history route. The teachers are keen and know how to teach politics. Pupils who study politics end up having some understanding of the community around them and how to influence it. They are the ones in a position to make the big society a reality—except, of course, they are in a minority. We have the potential not for a big society but, rather, for a small one if we exclude most of our young people from being able to get a good understanding of the society that they inhabit.
The schools that we really need to get to are those which are not necessarily the most successful and which are not able to offer politics. These are the schools where pupils, without citizenship education, may end up with little awareness of their local community and how they can contribute to it. We need to help them, not work against them by contemplating the removal of citizenship education.
Enhancing citizenship education does not necessarily entail investing substantial sums in it—I appreciate that the money is not there—but rather is about enhancing its status and giving greater incentives to schools to take it seriously. There are resources available, not least on the internet—the Parliament’s Education Service, for example, does a fantastic job in generating material for schools—but the challenge is to ensure that those resources are exploited to their full extent and, indeed, to ensure that schools are aware of them and want to make use of them.
I conclude as I began: it is essential that the aims of government are consistent with its intentions. Getting rid of citizenship education would undermine the Prime Minister’s aim of achieving the big society. If we want citizens to understand Parliament and take it seriously, we could do little better than put our weight behind enhancing citizenship education in this country.
My Lords, I, too, congratulate my noble friend Lord Maclennan on initiating today’s debate. Inevitably, when talking about active citizenship, we need to examine the credentials of the big society as a concept. I confess that, when reading books and articles recently about the virtues of big society policy, I feel a little like Monsieur Jourdain in Molière’s “Bourgeois Gentilhomme”, who realises from his conversation with the philosophy master that he speaks in prose. I apologise to my noble friend for not reciting the original French. Monsieur Jourdain states:
“Well, what do you know about that! These forty years now, I’ve been speaking in prose without knowing it! How grateful I am to you for teaching me that”.
Being an active citizen is something that many of us do, and have done instinctively, for most of our lives. I am sure that there is a great danger in this debate of giving too much autobiography, but the fact is that volunteering in the first neighbourhood law centre in north Kensington in the early 1970s helped me to define my politics and seeing the local housing and welfare issues from that perspective led to my joining the Liberal Party, as it then was. Of course, many things then fell into place in terms of political philosophy. My motives were to ensure that people had more control over their own lives. Through community politics—my noble friend Lord Greaves was a notable exponent of that in the Liberal Party—we had the makings of a tool to do so.
As a Liberal, and then a Liberal Democrat, I have never really questioned the value of the active citizen. Gladstone described the great fault line in British politics perfectly, and it is still there: some parties and people have trust in the people tempered by prudence whereas others have mistrust of the people tempered by fear. Gladstone applied this to the concept of the Tory/Liberal divide but it could have applied equally well to the division between Fabian and neo-liberal in the last century. Indeed, it is evident today in those who want to further the enabling and empowering society as opposed to those who simply do not want to take the risk. JS Mill summed it up well in his Principles of Political Economy. He said:
“A people among whom there is no habit of spontaneous action for a collective interest have their faculties only half developed”.
Of course, the balance between state and voluntary action has changed over the years since he wrote that work and the importance of the concept of the big society—a terrible name, especially for followers of Edmund Burke with his “little battalions”, or for devotees of Schumacher—lies in the way in which it has made us examine whether that balance needs to change.
In his stimulating new book, The Big Society, Jesse Norman, the newly elected Conservative MP, engages in an argument essentially directed towards Conservatives—namely, that the balance needs to change again. There is little reference to the great Liberal thinkers but his thesis essentially expropriates traditional Liberal and neo-liberal principles in the name of compassionate conservatism.
Should we Liberals care that our approach to the concept of the enabling state is now being annexed by Conservative think tankers? I do not believe that we should at all, provided that the limits of the big society are recognised in terms of its not being able to deliver the bulk of the welfare state. The coalition Government are prepared to act to make it a reality. Many colleagues have said today how that could be done, particularly through the encouragement of volunteering and the assumption of responsibility.
Over the years, I have been involved in many different bodies in the voluntary sector: Crime Concern, Cancerbackup and TreeHouse, the autism education charity. In my experience, voluntary organisations cannot just be left to get on with it; the big society has to be paid for. Particularly at a time of deep cuts to central and local government, government itself has to be reinvented to give space to voluntary organisations. Here, the issue of core funding is crucial. We need to alter the historic Fabian mindset that the man from the ministry or the person from the local government department knows best. Yes, of course, it is perfectly proper for organisations to have to compete for project funding, but over the years, even in the good times, while local government budgets have expanded, core funding of many organisations has gone down and down, which means that many small but effective voluntary organisations find it difficult to survive.
I am the trustee of an organisation that specialises in community development with young people in the inner city. It has highly innovative ways of tackling issues such as knife crime and gang involvement by stimulating creativity. Many projects are funded, but core funding has gone down inexorably from year to year and there is no real headroom for development. As a result, we are having to wind up the organisation. This is a deeply sad outcome. I strongly believe that our organisation in Brixton, and many such as ours, gained the trust and respect of young people in a way that no central or local government organisation could. That is a key feature of active citizenship in my view. There have been some good developments as far as capital funding is concerned. The establishment of Futurebuilders by the previous Government ensured that TreeHouse was able to finance an essential part of its new £11.5 million school building.
It is sad that the noble Lord, Lord Phillips of Sudbury, cannot be with us today. He is a friend whom I have admired for many years, as he is the most active citizen I know. He founded the Legal Action Group and the Citizenship Foundation, both of which are immensely valuable and influential. The great achievement of the foundation was to secure citizenship education, as my noble friend mentioned earlier, as part of the national curriculum. This appears to be in danger. If we are serious about the big society, we should be enhancing this element, not diminishing it.
Finally, there is nothing genteel or safe about the big society. If we truly believe in empowerment, we need to take the political and social consequences. That is where trust is so important, sprinkled, of course, with a bit of prudence.
My Lords, I, too, thank my noble friend Lord Maclennan for initiating this debate. I pay tribute to the two excellent maiden speakers in our debate today. The points made by the noble Lord, Lord Bannside, about the strength of societies which are diverse due to people migrating to them were particularly moving and I congratulate him on them.
I declare an interest as an employee of a new organisation, See the Difference, which trains and enables charities to seek support, whether money or volunteering, by making films and putting them on the internet. I shall return to the importance of the internet and social networking. I have also been involved in the voluntary sector for more than 30 years, either as an employee of various organisations or as a consultant. It is with that historical perspective that I want to approach today’s debate. In preparing for it I was thinking about what it is that makes a society a good society. I have concluded that size does not really matter: a big society is not inherently any better, qualitatively, than a small society. We all live in a number of different societies at the same time. A good society is open, transparent and inclusive, and has strong foundations. A good society is one where individuals within it know where the focal points of power and organisation lie, and are able to change it and make a difference.
The most compelling factor in active citizenship is that an individual can see the difference that he or she can make, or that he or she has made. When we discuss this subject, it is therefore important to look at the focal points in societies which endure. GPs’ surgeries, the health service, churches, different faith groups, synagogues, mosques and schools are all places to which people can come and influence the society in which they live. I, too, put in a plug for libraries. Those that are run with the assistance of professional librarians make for good focal points in a good society—as do voluntary organisations.
I want to talk a little about some of the things that have been said about the big society. There is great enthusiasm for it at the moment, but it brings with it a great deal of challenge to the voluntary sector at a difficult time. Noble Lords will have noticed what happened in Somerset last week, when, of necessity, funding was withdrawn from the entire voluntary sector. It is important, as the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, said, that we recognise that it is the enduring role of local government which underpins an active and coherent society in any locality.
I have a concern. In my work in the voluntary sector, I have come to learn that voluntary organisations’ biggest currency is novelty. When an organisation is new and what it is doing is innovative, it is at the height of its powers; but when it is not new and has become part of the landscape, but is no less effective or worth while, it begins to struggle. My concern about the big society and the things that I believe lie behind it, is that while it is about encouraging innovation and challenging the corporate world to take part in its communities, all that I have seen about it so far is comparatively short-term. I do not want us to look back in four or five years’ time on a range of wonderful initiatives which burst like bright stars upon our firmament and then died away.
I hope that with the resources they intend to put behind the development of the big society, the Government do not do what the previous Government did and set up a number of new bodies to administer it. They were cumbersome and they brought unnecessary competition to an already crowded field. I hope that the Government and the resources they deploy centrally—for example, community organisers and the citizenship organisations—will look to existing organisations within the voluntary sector, albeit with a new set of criteria attached to the money, and use the existing knowledge and expertise which is out there in the voluntary sector and deserves to stay and to be used.
Finally, my noble friend Lady Sharp of Guildford talked about social networking. Twenty-six million of our compatriots are on Facebook. At least 13 million of them use it every day. The internet is changing. It is a place in which people have an engagement. It is no longer a place where people go simply to find information. It is a place where people set up and run campaigns, and they engage and challenge organisations. I have absolutely no doubt that, just as in the Obama campaign in 2008 and the Unlock Democracy campaign during the last election, there has been a sea change, and younger people will pursue that in all aspects of their lives, particularly in their civic lives, via the internet. We ignore that at our peril. If we do, participation rates, as my noble friend Lord Shipley said, will simply reduce. Social networking is where young peoples’ civic life is conducted. That is good and healthy. We in this House should not fear it. We should learn about it, understand it and encourage it.
We should enable voluntary organisations that are struggling to tackle the financial problems that they will undoubtedly face to look towards new kinds of support. For many of them, it will not come through taking on large-scale provision of public services, but it will be about engaging the enthusiasm of new supporters via means such as social networking.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Maclennan of Rogart, for securing and introducing this debate. Citizenship is obviously about rights and obligations, but active citizenship is about much more than that. It involves taking an active interest in the life of the community, participating in its affairs, criticising it when it is acting unjustly, and protesting when the Government will not listen. In other words, active citizenship has a strong political dimension. It is certainly about the voluntary sector, but it should not be limited to it. It is supportive of the social order as well as critical of it. It is about charity, philanthropy and helping local causes, but it is also about evaluating and challenging the established social order—and, from time to time, raising one’s voice against it.
There is a danger, certainly in our country, of understanding citizenship almost entirely in terms of what goes on in civil society and the voluntary sector, and ignoring what happens at the wider political level where interests and ideologies clash. It is on this political dimension of citizenship that I want to concentrate.
Active citizenship requires three things: institutional spaces for opportunities to participate; skill and knowledge to be able to make use of those institutional spaces and participate intelligently; and motivation or disposition to participate. Why spend one's energy debating public affairs? Why protest?
Most of the presentations today, and the literature on citizenship in general, have concentrated on institutional mechanisms or citizenship education. They have tended to ignore the larger question, what are the psychological dispositions or motivations that persuade people to go out into the public realm and use their time and energy to pursue worthwhile causes? I will say something about this.
Active citizenship obviously means that I care for my country, that my country means something to me, that I identify with it, and, therefore, that I cannot bear to see it defaced by acts of injustice. Active citizenship is ultimately about identity—about defining myself in such a way that how my country is organised matters to me personally, so that political responsibility becomes a matter of my own integrity and moral responsibility.
Citizenship is about identity and belonging. The question we should ask is, how can we cultivate a sense of belonging? Once you have a sense of belonging and recognise that a community is yours, you will obviously want to participate in it. You will not wish to harm it and you will do everything you can to promote its well-being. Active citizenship follows almost automatically, as night follows day, from the idea of being committed to one's community, belonging to it and identifying with it.
How do we secure this identification and sense of belonging? Belonging operates at two levels: at the local level, relating to the area in which we live—I will call that civic belonging; and at the national level, where it relates to a country, which I will call national belonging. Both are equally important for active citizenship. Local or civic belonging is easier to cultivate, because that is where most of us spend most of our lives. It is perfectly possible to have a sense of local belonging, but no sense of national belonging. For example, many Muslim youths, when asked, say that they do not feel British, but that they feel deeply rooted in Bradford or Birmingham. They could not imagine themselves living anywhere else, yet they feel alienated from Britain. Civic belonging of this kind sustains national belonging and provides a default position when national belonging is not available, so that even if some groups of people feel alienated from Britain, they remain rooted in their local community and therefore can be depended on not to engage in unacceptable activities. This civic belonging requires that there should be citizens’ forums where people have the opportunity to interact with their elected representatives, with advisory councils and with all sorts of other things that noble Lords have talked about.
I will say something about national belonging, which interests me a great deal. National belonging means that I see my country as mine, I care for it, I love it, I have affection for it and I would not dream of harming it. The question is, how does one cultivate a sense of commitment to a country? It is a reciprocal process. I cannot love my country unless my country loves me. I cannot belong to a country unless the country wants me to belong to it. It is a matter not quite of a contract but of some kind of moral understanding between the individual and the community. When John F Kennedy said, “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country”, he was engaging in a very one-sided form of political rhetoric, because what my country does for me is just as important as what I do for it. If it does nothing for me but excludes me, it cannot expect me to make a commitment to it.
I will end by saying that in order to cultivate a sense of national belonging, there must be equal respect for all citizens. The definition of the nation must include everybody and it must have equal regard to the interests of all its citizens. It should seek and value the opinion of everyone. Freedom of speech is not enough, because I can speak to my heart’s content, but if nobody listens, it has no meaning. Listening can stop in a variety of ways. People can filter out my views or close their minds to what I say. Therefore, freedom of speech on my part implies an obligation on the part of others to open their minds to what I say.
In this context, it is very important that we realise that sections of our country are deeply alienated from the wider political system. They feel neglected, ignored, disempowered and angry at their unfair treatment; and they wonder why, when the bankers made a mess of our economy, the ordinary folk have to pay the price. Some of them sulk and withdraw into their own unhappy world. Others provide combustible material for extremist individuals, ideologies and organisations. How do we bring in alienated ethnic minorities, the working classes on council estates and other sections of people who feel resentful at the way in which they have been treated? How do we foster in them a sense of belonging? When we do that, we will have begun to address the question of active citizenship.
My Lords, it is always a privilege to follow the noble Lord, Lord Parekh, on debates of this nature, and I agree with every word that he said. He asked what motivates people to become active citizens. A fact which is not universally acknowledged at the moment, although I believe that it will be in two years’ time, is that this Government are going to make the greatest contribution of any Government in recent times to people becoming active citizens. However, the reason for that will be not the big society but the spending cuts. People get involved in things when they get angry, when they want to change something and when they feel that a protest has to be made. That is a fact of life. When people in positions of authority set up schemes to involve people, they usually achieve it to a reasonable degree and sometimes they are outstandingly successful. My noble friend Lord Shipley talked about Newcastle, where there are good schemes, but ultimately most people get involved when they are angry. I do not think that we should criticise that or worry about it; we should welcome it. However, we should have political structures that allow people to take part and put their views forward.
In view of one or two things that I shall be saying, I should declare an interest as a member of Pendle Borough Council and of all sorts of bodies which I attend locally and which come into the general category of public involvement.
One area where public authorities can, and must, make a real contribution is in changing structures to enable involvement in the existing structures of decision-making to take place. It is hoped that they are democratic structures but, even when they are not very democratic, people can be involved. However, that is not always the case and in some areas there has been a long struggle to bring about changes to structures. That applies far more nowadays in local government than used to be the case. For example, when I was first on Pendle Borough Council, which was a very long time— about 35 years—ago, we struggled year after year to allow members of the public to attend planning committees. I am talking about members of the public simply attending and listening to what was going on. I and my colleagues took 10 years to win that battle. Nowadays, people can attend planning committees; they can speak; they can be applicants who put the case for their development; they can be objectors; or they can simply be neighbours who want to find out what it is all about. That is now quite common in local government but it took a cultural shift over a long period for that to happen. However, in many cases, it is just a question of being involved in the community outside the formal structures of local and other public authorities. We have heard about the magnificent work done by the Gresford Trust, described by my noble friend Lord Thomas. We have also heard that there seems to be an absolute ferment of people in Guildford who are organised by the adult education system on the one hand and by the churches on the other. I hope that they are all working together; no doubt they are.
Now, we are being told that the future lies with the big society, and I hope that I will be forgiven if I sound a little cynical and weary. Not long ago, we had another Government talking about double devolution. I have not yet discovered the difference between that and the big society but perhaps there are subtle differences, or perhaps it is just a different Secretary of State or a different political party that wants a new, trendy idea to put forward.
I have been active as a local authority councillor in my own patch of Waterside in Colne off and on for nearly 40 years. It is an area of terraced housing and comes within the bottom 5 per cent of deprived wards in the country. I suppose that after 40 years I should have done something about that but unfortunately government keep getting in the way. The latest instance of that has been the big increase in private landlord properties in the area, thanks to buy to let and so on, which is a huge problem. Nevertheless, it is an area of traditional terraced housing and local mills, some of which are still standing.
Forty years ago, I was involved in a local residents’ action group. It was set up by local residents because much of the area was going to be knocked down and they did not agree with that. It was a very oppositional and overtly political, with a small “p”, organisation. Then we took over the council and set up general improvement and housing action areas, which were in the legislation in those days. As part of that, resident participatory structures were set up, with local residents’ meetings, committees and so on—there is nothing new about all this—and they were very successful in improving the area. Following that, we had something called community economic development—I am not sure whether it came and went—which resulted in a new community centre being set up. However, as my noble friend said, the problem is always one of revenue, and the centre then closed down. I was not on the council at the time, I am pleased to say—at least, I am not pleased that it closed down but pleased that I was not involved in its closure. Now we have neighbourhood management, set up in a big way. These are highly successful schemes that are very expensive but which result in a lot of local people being involved. We have local community policing systems and meetings called PACTs—police and communities together—involving local policing teams. All these are now under threat with the new Government because they are old things and affected by the cuts. But we are being promised the big society and community organisers coming in to set it all up again.
My plea to central government is that when you have good things working on the ground, do not throw them away. It takes a long time to build active community structures, but they can be thrown away with the stroke of a pen by a Secretary of State. Please build from what there is on the ground. There is a huge amount of good work and good things happening all over the country, but every time there is a new Government or a new Secretary of State the old is swept out and they start to build again. They call it different names but, in practice, it turns out to be the same thing. When projects are closed down, the people who have been involved become that much more cynical and unwilling to get involved again. It is a real problem that I hope the current Government will consider seriously.
My Lords, the debate is extremely timely when the role of the state is under such hot discussion across all parties and within all groups in society. I shall not attempt to summarise on behalf of the 10 colleagues who have been speaking in this Liberal Democrat-led debate, but I am sure that the Minister will have listened carefully to all the contributions. They have been extremely thoughtful, based on hard evidence and experience. They also reflect a debate that is going on, not least in the voluntary sector, in all corners of the land.
Contrary to popular philosophising, this Government are not determined to demolish the financial size of the state. The public sector spending component will be much the same at the end of this Parliament as in 2006. I do not think that everybody realises that, but we as Liberal Democrats know that, whatever the money, the reach of the state—particularly a centralised state—can go only so far. That has been an element throughout our discussions this afternoon.
The question is how, in 2015, the state will function in relation to its citizens when the proportion of GDP spent by the Government will still be at historically high levels. Will it simply peel away, hoping that a so-called big society will take its place, or will it remain not as a controlling force but as an enabler, empowering citizens and communities to help themselves? That surely is the challenge for the Government, not least because it is thought, particularly among Conservative—with a big C—pundits, that somehow the people are just waiting to launch into all sorts of community initiatives if only the Government would get out of the way. Frankly, it is not as though the sick would be healed, the ignorant educated or the poor assisted if only the dead hand of state interference would simply clear off. That is extraordinarily naive. That is the fantasy that is entertained by the worst American Republicans in their tea parties and which causes millions of citizens in the United States not only to do without health insurance but to drop way below the poverty level.
The big society, the liberal society, active citizenry—whatever you choose to call it—needs a state. That is not in dispute. It just does not need a very large and all-consuming state. We have heard today from across the House how important in that context local government is. I note, incidentally, that our colleagues at the other end of the building in the Constitutional Reform Select Committee are looking at the possibility of codifying the relationship between central and local government. The talk of a concordat that we had under the previous Government must come back into play.
There is clearly a real concern across the House about the extent to which local representative government is likely to be affected by what are necessary spending cuts. Councils’ natural reaction is to avoid cutting their own employment and expenditure and instead to cut their discretionary grants to the voluntary sector. That is a serious problem. It may create a new postcode lottery between the best-funded and worst-funded areas, but that will sever not strengthen the links that bind our communities together. There is a real problem that money and the capacity for making the big society work will simply be starved by those who are in a position to make it happen.
I want to say a word or two about an organisation that has demonstrated, over the decades, its potential to help our society to pass that test. That organisation, which saves huge sums for the public purse, is the National Association of Citizens Advice Bureaux. I confess an indirect private interest in that my wife was for 10 years a CAB manager, which means that I have nearly first-hand experience. However, I think that anybody who has had any role in local communities, particularly those who have had a constituency MP responsibility, will know how incredibly important the CAB is. The achievements of CABs are remarkable. They not only give nuggets of advice to every citizen who comes to them, but they overcome whatever the problem is. They have an incredibly important role in helping the state and society generally.
The most recent CAB impact report gives a compelling case study, showing how a simple intervention at a relatively low cost can save the taxpayer thousands of pounds. I commend the report to Members of your Lordships’ House. None of this is done by accident. To get these extraordinary outcomes out of the CAB, something has to be put in, too. Frankly, I think that there is a real problem, as the CABs have already advised me, because 43 per cent of their funding—their core funding, if you like—comes from local authorities. It is an absolutely vital role, but it will be a very easy discretionary grant to cut. If all the active citizens in our society are the tiles in a mosaic, local government is the glue that holds them together; it is what ensures that all parts of the community are represented and that the loudest voices are not the only ones heard.
Some interesting evidence has been provided by Dr Adam Dinham of the Faiths and Civil Society Unit at Goldsmiths, which I chair. He says:
“There is a strong chance that visible (ie large and established) organisations, for example large charities, NGOs and the Church of England, will take responsibility for active citizenship in their fields ... this raises questions about how small and less visible voices can be heard”.
He goes on:
“The Big Society is in danger of reflecting the interests of the most powerful”.
“How can active citizenship in the Big Society ensure fairness?”.
I am sure that that is an important lesson for us all.
A state without society is simply controlling, but surely we need both to be effective. The Deputy Prime Minister said in a speech to the Hansard Society on Tuesday:
“Politics is not just what happens here, within these walls. Political life is every time a citizen comes into contact with the state, every time a community feels the effect of a decision taken on their behalf. I believe passionately that it is in that space that the gulf between politics and society is at its widest”.
He went on:
“Yet our political system hoards power at the centre. It denies communities their differences; it stifles their self-reliance, their sense of communal responsibility”.
In those circumstances, active citizenship is a real challenge to our Government. It is a challenge, first, to distinguish clearly between empowering citizens and simply walking away; secondly, to ensure that the big society is about giving a voice to the voiceless, not simply an amplifier to the already articulate; and, finally, to recognise that funding local authorities is not engorging a wicked bureaucracy but sustaining the very groups that are the bedrock not just of a big society but of the fair, active and liberal society that we all want to create.
My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Lord, Lord Maclennan of Rogart, for calling this important debate. I want to continue the theme, which he began and to which the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, has just referred, of the need for both state and society if we wish to live in a civilised community.
I begin by joining the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp of Guildford, in thanking Her Majesty’s Government for maintaining funding to adult education. It makes a huge difference for mothers and fathers that they can help their children with their writing, reading and arithmetic when they themselves did not succeed in school. The evidence is clear that parental interest and support are the most important factors in the successful education of children.
Speaking as a vice-chair of the associate parliamentary group for children and young people in and leaving care, I hope that many of your Lordships will join me in asserting that our foster carers and adoptive parents are among our most important active citizens—the heroes who have been referred to. They can redeem a child’s life. They can spare a young person failure at school, incarceration in prison and the prospect of teenage parenthood and of having their children removed from them. I hope that your Lordships will join me in thanking foster carers and adoptive parents for being among our most important active citizens. They make a huge personal commitment, often at considerable cost to themselves and often without concomitant commitment from local authorities.
According to Fostering Network, we are short of 10,000 foster carers in England and Wales. An important factor in this is lack of access to support from social workers. This is often due to local shortages of social workers and the failure to attract and keep the best practitioners in social work. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Blair, for referring to social work in his contribution.
I hope that we can all agree that, where citizens make the commitment to benefit their fellows, we should do all in our power to ensure that they receive proper support—often, appropriate professional support. I hope that we can also agree that we need to continue to strive for a far better deal for our child and family social workers, so that our foster carers and adoptive parents are well supported and can commit with confidence.
The Adolescent and Children’s Trust, TACT, is an outstanding not-for-profit adoption and fostering agency, operating in England, Wales and Scotland. I recently attended the opening of its head office outside Glasgow and heard from foster carers who were fostering for the first time how much they valued their child and family social workers. One of them emphasised to me how vital it was to her that her social worker was always just a phone call away, day or night.
I pay tribute to the Minister and his colleagues for their attention to child and family social work and for addressing the long-standing deficits in social work. I pay particular tribute to the work of the Children and Families Minister in the other place, Mr Tim Loughton: in his support for the Social Work Task Force, set up by the previous Administration; in the review of the bureaucratic burden on social work that he commissioned from Professor Eileen Munro of the London School of Economics; and in his preparedness to listen and learn from the experience of those at the front line.
However, the severe cut of 28 per cent in funding over four years that Her Majesty’s Government have imposed on local authorities raises considerable concern about the future health of child and family social work. I hope that the Minister will take back to his colleagues in the Department for Education our concern that improvement in the quality and quantity of child and family social workers should not be allowed to be undermined by the recession. It is simply too important. If he and his colleagues say that this is now the responsibility of each local authority, I draw their attention to two documents. The first is the front page of this Tuesday’s Times in which—I paraphrase, and I apologise to him for doing so—Mr Loughton says that he is going to make local authorities improve the adoption process. The second is the review of efficiency savings in government by Mr Stephen Green, now to be Lord Green, which called for a team of four super-bureaucrats—again, I paraphrase—to be appointed so that they could implement efficient commissioning across all government departments.
There are occasions when a top-down approach is an important complement to one from the bottom up. I beg the Government to take a balanced approach, not to move from one extreme of centralisation to another of liberalisation and laissez-faire. There is always a balance to be struck, as I have learnt in the past 12 years in your Lordships’ House. There are no eloquent middle-class parents to stand up for the interests of child and family social workers. I hope that the Minister can assure me that he and his colleagues are watching carefully the impact of cuts on these vital professionals and will consider further appropriate intervention where necessary. Foster carers and adoptive parents deserve the very best professional support. We simply will not recruit and retain the carers whom these children need unless we offer such good support.
I conclude by praising the Government’s development of a social work first programme along the lines of the highly successful Teach First programme of the noble Lord, Lord Wei. I would be most grateful if the Minister could write to me with details of the progress in this initiative. I look forward to the Minister’s response.
My Lords, like virtually everyone who has spoken, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Maclennan, on his initiative in bringing this debate and on his most thoughtful speech. As a recent maiden myself, I should like to congratulate the noble Lords, Lord Bannside and Lord Blair, on their first contributions. It is understandable that this House should have a debate of this kind. It complements the recent debate on the charitable sector. After all, this House has many Members who personify active citizenship and bring their enormous experience to bear. Sometimes the form of the debate focuses on individual roles and how they might be fostered.
There is something of a myth about the presumed wish of many people to control and to manage services. There is little evidence of such a desire, although there are many examples of local facilities—we have heard about some of them today—being run by people from local communities. However, in general, there is not that wish to control services, nor is there any real sign of that insatiable desire to participate in elections, which is invisible to all but the odd coalition eye. I cite in evidence of that the difficulty in recruiting parent governors by election; the rather unfortunate decline of interest and participation in neighbourhood forum elections; and, perhaps particularly, the position of foundation hospitals. Foundation hospitals were conceived by my old friend Alan Milburn when he was Secretary of State for Health. To take Newcastle as an example, the reality is that, at the most charitable estimate, only 3 per cent of the potential membership of foundation hospital trusts signed up to it. In fact, it could have been on a much wider canvas given the regional status. The effect is that only 1 per cent of the adult population of Newcastle who would be entitled to participate did participate in elections. There does not seem to be the commitment that perhaps some people imagine.
Alan Milburn has moved on and has been a social mobility adviser to the previous Government and the present Government. Those of us who knew him in his very left-wing days on Tyneside—I look at the noble Lord, Lord Shipley—might think that he would be equally well qualified to advise on political mobility. But having said that, looking at the government Benches, perhaps that would be superfluous.
The reality is that a huge amount of invaluable work is done by rather small numbers of people. Over the country as a whole, of course, many people are involved. But when I preside over the annual general meeting of Age Concern, Newcastle, a wonderful organisation, or I go to important tenants’ committee meetings in my ward, I find relatively few people participating at that level. But they are important, they need support, as so many of your Lordships have said, and they need funding. The noble Baroness, Lady Barker, referred to that rather sorry straw in the wind of Somerset County Council’s decision of this past week.
As other noble Lords have implied, local authorities are now facing a significant reduction in revenue support grant—36 per cent in cash terms over the next few years and front-loaded at that. These have been offered up as a sacrifice on the altar of deficit reduction by the high priest of localism himself, the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government. I must ask the Minister whether the Government have made any estimate of the effects of such drastic reductions on the voluntary and community sector.
On the other hand, I must congratulate the Government on their proposals for a big society bank. The £60 million to £100 million which it will generate for the sector is indeed to be welcomed. However, I understand that the increase in VAT in January will cost the sector £150 million a year. Perhaps the noble Lord will indicate whether the Government would consider exempting charities and the sector from that additional impost.
There is a temptation to look at this question from the perspective mainly of service delivery, but we need to consider, as my noble friend Lord Parekh rightly said, the wider implications of engagement and governance in politics in the broadest sense. I endorse all those who referred to the need to promote citizenship education. They include the noble Lord, Lord Maclennan, himself, the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, and the noble Lord, Lord Norton. Democratic Life, an organisation committed to promoting this agenda, has rightly said that:
“Citizenship education is an essential tool for preparing young people for our shared democratic life”.
I hope that the Minister will be able to give some assurances in that respect.
The key point is that civil society and citizen engagement need to extend beyond the immediate locality and the visible problems that are apparent to everybody. In the case of Newcastle, the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, rightly referred to interesting experiments in participatory budgeting. For many years, under both the main political parties, the council has conducted surveys asking residents what is important to them. It is quite striking and slightly worrying that on the high side of concerns are the perfectly proper concerns around graffiti, the condition of the streets and so on, which are clear to everyone. The less visible services, notably child protection, come pretty low on the graph. It suggests that people are more comfortable with what confronts them daily and less engaged with what are perhaps at the very least equally important—some of us would argue that they are even more important—issues of the kind referred to by the noble Earl, Lord Listowel.
A critical role of government, especially local government, is to mediate between competing and perhaps conflicting interests and aspirations, not least at a time when distributional issues are so significant. We hear much about the difficult choices that have to be made, but as the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, implied, who is better to make them if not democratically elected councillors, after consulting widely in what an interesting document recently produced by IPPR North calls “good conversations”? How are people to be informed and involved? At the moment a rather peculiar consultation document is going around containing proposals to restrict councils’ publicity publications going well beyond any legitimate concern to avoid their use as party political propaganda, which of course would be quite wrong. The assumption is that somehow the local media will step in. In my now long experience, the attention of local media, their coverage of local government and their willingness and ability to hold local government to account have much declined. The local press and broadcasting media are simply not able or willing to take on that responsibility. It seems to me to be unfortunate that, particularly when we want to encourage people, there is not an independent source prepared to do that.
For our part, and speaking as a local councillor, we need to encourage involvement in the scrutiny process of as wide a range of participants from the voluntary sector as possible. I hope that that will remain the case in the pending reorganisation of the health service where scrutiny at the local level by council scrutiny committees appears to be very much under threat.
I was interested in the remarks of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leicester, partly because I was born in the city of Leicester and partly because I hang my coat on the coat hook downstairs next to that of the right reverend Prelate. The adjoining coat hook belongs to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Newcastle, so I am quite well placed in that respect. I was also interested in his speech because, without mentioning it, he reminded me of an important document published some 25 years ago entitled Faith in the City. It may be that we will have to revisit the tenor of that document, unfortunately because I suspect we are revisiting the conditions which gave rise to it. It was an important document and it did speak to the wider aspiration for engagement, based in that case on a particular religious faith, that we certainly need to see engendered today.
Active citizenship is not an alternative to active government, whether local or national; it is the other side of the same coin. I entirely endorse what the noble Lord, Lord Maclennan, said about the need to avoid reductions in expenditure and the like being a cover for slimming down the state or, as Friedrich Engels would have said, the withering away of the state—a slogan which the Tea Party might adopt as long as it was not aware that Engels conceived it. It was adopted by Lenin in theory but not in practice and I am sure that the Minister, in replying to the debate, would not wish to pray in aid Engels. However, I would be reassured if he adopted the maxim that the noble Lord, Lord Maclennan, pronounced to us.
We need to recognise that a healthy politics must embrace individuals both doing things for themselves and their own communities and interest groups, and also engaging with the wider strategic agendas of the areas in which they live—the town, the city, the county—and the nation as a whole. That way lies a productive relationship and a productive politics in which everyone can feel confident that their voice will be respected.
My Lords, I thank all noble Lords for a typically interesting and high-value House of Lords debate and I congratulate my noble friend Lord Maclennan on securing it. I am sure that he and the whole House will agree that it has been a particular pleasure to hear the maiden speeches of the noble Lords, Lord Bannside and Lord Blair of Boughton. I also thank the noble Lord, Lord Beecham, for what I believe is his debut on the opposition Front Bench. I am sorry that he cast a somewhat uncharacteristically jaundiced eye on the case for voluntary participation. He should be more upbeat.
It is clear that there is a great deal of support for the notion of active citizenship—individuals and groups taking it upon themselves to get involved in their communities and to tackle the issues that they face. It is right to point out that active citizenship is strong in this country and always has been. I see examples of it all the time. We have been able to see it for ourselves this week in this House. As we have walked along the West Front Corridor, officials in the Government Whips Office have so far raised more than £1,000 for Children in Need. The House should commend that effort.
I thought of giving examples from my own experience. However, that is not necessary in this place because, as the debate has shown, noble Lords have experience of their own. My noble friend Lord Thomas of Gresford graphically narrated how the community from which he takes his title has, against the odds, demonstrated active citizenship. So did my noble friend Lord Greaves, who also combines the right sense of idealism and scepticism, founded in practical experience, from which it is important for government to listen and to learn.
However, many of us recognise that, over the years, the state has overextended itself. Much of this has been well intentioned but it has begun to erode individual and social responsibility. It can seem that society is increasingly looking to the state to solve its problems. I think the whole House will agree that my noble friend Lord Tyler made an excellent speech analysing this conundrum. He emphasised the need for consistency and a “voice to the voiceless”, not the amplification of those already with a voice. There can be no future in the state walking away from its responsibilities. I note his comments on the citizens advice bureaux, what an asset that organisation is and the need for local government to maintain its support for it.
Of course, the Government continue to have a major role in providing core services and supporting the most vulnerable. I was grateful to the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, for telling the House of his support for the work of my honourable friend Tim Loughton. He pointed, quite rightly, to the considerable pressure being felt by local government in its children’s support services. I was grateful also for the tribute that the noble Earl paid to foster carers and foster parents, which I think the whole House would endorse. I am sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Wei, was unable to speak on his project. I will make sure that the House is provided with an update on it. The noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, reminded the coalition of the important and essentially different roles of both government and voluntary organisations.
It is clear that active citizenship is not spread uniformly across areas or groups. There are places where community participation and social capital are very low. There is a danger that it becomes the exclusive preserve of those who have the commodities of time, money and mobility. I hope that noble Lords, including the noble Lord, Lord Blair of Boughton, can be reassured that the Government are very much aware of the need for the big society to recognise those inequalities. It was useful to be reminded by my noble friend Lady Sharp of Guildford of the role that adult education can play as an agency for developing a sense of self-worth and for giving people, especially those with a disadvantage, an opportunity to engage in active citizenship. I share her applause for the skills policy developed by my honourable friend John Hayes.
In order to play an encouraging and enabling role, it is important that we develop our thinking on what we really mean by active citizenship—or social action, as we describe it in the big society vision. In recent years, active citizenship has been conceived in a relatively narrow context, such as political engagement, attendance at public meetings and volunteering. However, in introducing this debate, my noble friend Lord Maclennan showed how much broader should be the vision of active citizenship. I will note his positive ideas.
Active citizenship is of key importance in reinforcing the essential values of a society. The big society vision brings all these ideas together, but it goes much further by working to establish an environment where people feel that they can and should get involved. It does this by proposing a more integrated partnership between society and the state. It reduces the dominance of the state in public services, devolves real power to the local level and establishes mechanisms through which people can take more control over their lives. I was interested in the contributions of both the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leicester and the noble Lord, Lord Parekh, on how faith is the foundation for much active citizenship and how important that foundation is in encouraging individual and collective commitment to voluntary involvement in community activity. The noble Lord, Lord Bannside, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Guildford reinforced those views. If we are to bring about real change, it is also important that we are not half-hearted in our intent. We must make active citizenship a central part of the Government’s mission.
My noble friend Lady Barker sought to define a good society, reminding the Government of the need to apply consistency of effort to sustain the big society over time. This is not just a project for now or for the next day; it is to be durable over time. We have therefore defined social action as being one of the three key principles of the big society. They include community empowerment, giving local councils and neighbourhoods more power to take decisions and shape their area. I assure the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leicester that the Government are aware that localism and empowerment mean what they say—devolving power and leaving decision-making at a local level, accepting the responsibility for delegating power down to local communities. The principles also include opening up public services, enabling charities, social enterprises, private companies and employee-owned co-operatives to compete to offer people high-quality services, and social action, encouraging and enabling people to play a more active part in society. Together, these will put more power into people’s hands and represent a massive transfer of power from Whitehall to local communities.
A lot of work is going on around each of these pillars. For example, on community empowerment, our planning reforms will replace the old top-down planning system with real power for neighbourhoods to decide the future of their area. We will de-ring-fence more than £1 billion of grants to local authorities in 2010-11, promoting greater financial autonomy to local government and community groups. I agreed totally with my noble friend Lord Shipley in his determination that community activity needs to support local services and neighbourhood planning. I like his concept of neighbourhood problem-solving and his advocacy of local government and democracy working together. Those were points that were similarly picked up by my noble friend Lady Barker. On opening up public services, the welfare to work programme will enable a wide range of organisations to help get Britain off welfare and into work. Commissioning reform will enable the voluntary, community and social enterprise sector to realise its potential role in public services.
Turning to something more central to the theme of today’s debate, I shall proceed by giving more detail on what the Government are doing to support social action. I start with the national citizen service. I am pleased to hear of the widespread welcome that the project has received from noble Lords. The service will help to build a more cohesive, responsible and engaged society by bringing 16 year-olds from different backgrounds together in a residential and home-based programme of activity and service. As part of the experience, participants will spend two weeks away from home to give them the opportunity to develop life skills and resilience and to serve their communities. This will be a life-enhancing experience for all those engaged in it. We are planning to run two years of NCS pilots, starting in summer 2011, and, building on that, to learn from another pilot in 2012. Some 10,000 16 year-olds will have the opportunity to take part in summer 2011, and 30,000 in summer 2012.
A theme that ran through this debate, which I shall have to take away and reflect on and discuss with my noble friend Lord Hill of Oareford, was that of citizenship education. Many noble Lords mentioned this in their speeches, and I have had a letter from my noble friend Lord Phillips of Sudbury, who could not be here today, reinforcing this point of view. I reassure the House that I will communicate the sentiments of this debate to my noble friend.
Over the lifetime of this Parliament, the community organiser programme will train and support 5,000 people who want to make a difference to their community. The organisers have a strong understanding of local needs and will catalyse social action through creating and supporting neighbourhood groups. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leicester should know that the Government are currently procuring a national partner to run the programme and to train community organisers. That will maintain the integrity of the programme and we imagine that, in time, the programme will indeed take on a life of its own. The Government will also develop a match-fund programme, targeted to communities with high deprivation and low social capital. The targeted Community First fund will encourage more social action by new and existing neighbourhood groups, and enable areas to articulate their needs and influence decisions made about their community.
Of course, volunteering is a key part of social action. We know that bureaucratic burdens can sometimes create barriers to volunteering and other forms of social action. My noble friend Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts is therefore leading a government task force to help cut excessive red tape in this sector. We are also reviewing the criminal records regime to ensure a more suitable balance; several noble Lords referred to the enormous burden which that can have on voluntary and community organisations.
It was very useful to get other points from my noble friend Lady Neuberger, who asked specifically about Criminal Records Bureau checks and talked about the citizens’ survey. CLG is consulting on the potential impact of cutting the survey; concerns should be put to it before the deadline of 30 November, but the Government are aware of the importance of gauging levels of volunteering and the Office for Civil Society is talking to CLG about appropriate ways to measure social action. On access to volunteering, which the noble Baroness also mentioned, that programme was always intended to end at the end of the current spending period, but we are looking at new ways to encourage social action. Learning from the access to volunteering programme will be fed into the development of programmes to ensure that disabled people are enabled and, indeed, encouraged to volunteer.
Volunteering levels in this country remain high and we have one of the highest rates of volunteering in the world. However, more can be done to move us towards a culture where volunteering is the norm and, indeed, to raise the numbers of people. The noble Lord, Lord Beecham, referred to that in his analysis of some figures that he had from his experience in Newcastle. In particular, we want to encourage and enable people from all walks of life to be a part of this. The giving of money is also an important form of social action. We will be publishing a Green Paper shortly to set out a vision for how we can boost already high levels of generosity, both in the giving of time and money, among the British public. It will incorporate insights from behavioural economics to examine ways in which we can incentivise giving.
I was grateful for the contribution from the noble Baroness, Lady Smith of Basildon. I acknowledge that she has enormous knowledge and understanding of the subject of this debate. She emphasised the degree to which the Government have to be constantly aware of their role in encouraging active citizenship.
Several noble Lords talked about the impact of the CSR on the voluntary sector. We acknowledge this, and a transition fund has been announced as part of the spending review. It will provide a £100 million grant over this and the next financial year, funding voluntary and community organisations, charities and social enterprises in England. This will give them the breathing space that they need to help them manage the transition to a tighter funding environment and take advantage of future opportunities presented by the big society. I was grateful for the welcome that the noble Lord, Lord Beecham, gave to the big society bank.
I turn to a few points that I have not covered in the general text of my speech. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Blair of Boughton; it is important that we recognise that professionals are an essential part of an effective volunteering structure. I liked the points that the noble Lord, Lord Bannside, made about responsibility in society.
Once again I thank noble Lords who have been present for today’s debate. Active citizenship is incredibly important to our society. It is at the heart of the big society, and I encourage all to draw on their understanding of society at its best and use their creativity to help to build the stronger society that we are all keen to see.
My Lords, I thank all those who have participated in this wide-ranging debate. A wealth of experience has been brought to bear upon the subject. I congratulate the noble Lords, Lord Bannside and Lord Blair of Boughton, on their fascinating contributions. I was particularly interested in the constitutional aspirations of the noble Lord, Lord Bannside, for the emerald isle. I invite the noble Lord, Lord Blair, to visit me on the north coast of Britain and familiarise himself with the birthplace of the founder of the Boys’ Brigade, to which he has shown such attachment.
I believe that there has also been a strong message for the coalition Government: within the framework provided by an enabling state, active citizens can greatly enhance the life of all those whom we are proud to call fellow citizens. I appreciate very much what the Minister said in conclusion in answering the particular points made by many colleagues on all sides of the House.