House of Lords
Thursday, 11 June 2015.
Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of Derby.
Oaths and Affirmations
Lord Stevenson of Coddenham made the solemn affirmation, and signed an undertaking to abide by the Code of Conduct.
Retirement of a Member: Lord Eden of Winton
My Lords, I should like to notify the House of the retirement, with effect from today, of the noble Lord, Lord Eden of Winton, pursuant to Section 1 of the House of Lords Reform Act 2014. On behalf of the House, I thank the noble Lord for his much-valued service.
My Lords, my honourable friend the Minister for Africa has called on all parties to end the violence and respect the principles of the Arusha agreement, urging the Burundian Government to delay the elections to ensure that they are credible and inclusive. A political solution must be found. We are working closely with the African Union, the region and the United Nations to achieve this.
My Lords, the decision of the President of Burundi to seek a third term—against the constitution of the country—and the violence that subsequently took place have pushed more than 90,000 refugees into Tanzania and other neighbouring countries. We know that violence in Burundi can spill over into Congo, Rwanda, Tanzania and elsewhere, with grave consequences for the whole region. Will the Government support a strong and unanimous perspective from the international organisations—the United Nations, the African Union, the European Union—which have a role here, and will they push those organisations to be as strong as possible on the constitution and the disarmament of those armed groups linked to the political parties?
I agree entirely with the view put forward by the noble Lord. We are galvanising support across all the nations that should have an interest in the stability of east Africa, but more broadly, as the noble Lord said, multilaterally with the United Nations and all like-minded countries.
My Lords, there is a much wider problem, as we all know, across Africa, of heads of state or government refusing to go when their term is up. I thought this morning of my son who, 15 years ago, was in Uganda when Museveni was yet again standing for re-election. Is there any way we can promote the sort of thing that Mo Ibrahim used to do, along with the African Union and the United Nations: offer prizes for relinquishing office to persuade some of these people in Congo, Rwanda, Gambia and elsewhere to leave when their time is up?
My Lords, the noble Lord makes a very serious point in a memorable way. I cannot think that we will have a competition to decide what should be offered, but it is a very serious point. Third terms are not conducive to a stable method of handing on power to another group.
I have been waiting to say that for quite a long time. We saw recently the refreshing effect that elections can have.
In the case of Burundi, it is clear that the first term of President Nkurunziza was by appointment, not by election. It is therefore time for him to step aside, and to have open and fair elections.
My Lords, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights has said that increased government militia violence could push Burundi over the edge. Does the Minister agree that, since we are seeing the deepest conflict and violence for a decade in Burundi, there is a chance of old ethnic battles between Hutus and Tutsis reopening?
The noble Baroness paints the picture about which we are all concerned—that this should not be an event that leads to Burundi returning to violence. The Arusha agreement of 2000 took them out of that, and they have a Government who reflect both Tutsis and Hutus. It is that kind of inclusive government that we will seek to continue. It is not a happy picture of the future if that were to break down.
My Lords, there is speculation in the media this morning about the future of the UN special envoy for the Great Lakes. Could the Minister update the House on the current situation? It is vital that his role continue, and that he continue in it.
Indeed, the noble Lord raises an important point. We have always expressed our clear support for the United Nations special envoy, Said Djinnit, as a mediator in the political dialogue. I know that there have been some rumours at the African Union summit, which is currently under way, that he may be considering resigning from that position. Our most recent information from conversations with him within the last 24 hours is that he has the will and determination to continue, but clearly it is a matter for other countries to determine whether they are prepared properly to undertake work with him. I hope that he is able to continue; I understand that he and others will be watching the discussions at the African Union summit to see where we can go from there. Our support is fully behind Djinnit, and we feel that he has the opportunity to find a resolution eventually.
My Lords, the Government’s previous review showed that zero-hours contracts have a place in today’s labour market, offering flexibility to both individuals and employers and helping business to meet varying demand. However, people on these contracts deserve a fair deal, which is why the Government have banned exclusivity clauses in such contracts—and I am glad to say that the ban came into force on 26 May.
My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for listening to some of my concerns when we spoke recently about this, but can I urge the Government to look at two things in particular? First, the use of these contracts in the care sector is undermining continuity of care, which is so important to carer and client. Secondly, there are huge problems facing those who seek permanent employment but are simply offered zero-hours contracts, which means that they face permanent financial insecurity, are unable to access the housing market and are forced on, off, and on benefits, which causes great stress and hardship. If the Government are serious about helping working people to get on, as they say in the Queen’s Speech, surely these abuses of zero-hours contracts need to be tackled urgently.
My Lords, most employers using zero-hours contracts value the opportunity and flexibility that they offer, and individuals on them are able to earn as much or as little as they choose. In the minority of cases when they are not used responsibly, banning exclusivity clauses will free up individuals to secure additional income elsewhere. The Department of Health is working with local authorities to ensure that the providers from which they commission services have a high-quality workforce with fair terms and conditions, and we are getting on with creating a route of redress against employers who ignore the ban.
My Lords, the focus is often on the negative aspects of zero-hours contracts. Could my noble friend explain a bit more about the advantages to individuals of some of these contracts? Surely a lot of people in work these days do not want to, or cannot, work nine to five.
Indeed, my noble friend is right. For some, this type of flexible working is a way to enter the labour market. It can open a door to employment for parents or students. The CIPD research shows that 60% of those on zero-hours contracts are satisfied with their job compared to 59% of those in permanent employment, and 65% are happier with their work/life balance compared to 58% in permanent employment. They have an important role, but of course it is important to make sure that the detail is right, and that is why we have banned exclusivity.
My Lords, does the Minister agree that there is a huge difference between someone working in the same place on a zero-hours contract and someone who has to move from place to place in their work? A carer is a very good example. A carer may be given only 15 minutes—which seems extraordinary—to deal with the personal needs of some very vulnerable person, and then there is the travel time. Will the Minister say something more about whether the Government are going to address this fundamental issue about the difference between somebody who is located in one place and somebody who is moving perhaps six or seven times during the day?
My Lords, as I have already said, the relevant authorities are looking at this to ensure that we have a high-quality service and that the terms are fair. I should make it clear that time spent travelling directly between assignments or on standby at work during quiet periods generally counts as time worked for national minimum wage purposes. This often works better than we think, but it is of course an important area to look at.
I declare my interest as chair of Housing & Care 21. Surely any Government seeking to improve the efficiency and quality of public services should be monitoring the impact and growth of zero-hours contracts. Will the Minister tell us whether the Government have an estimate of the number of zero-hours contracts paid for out of public funds?
My Lords, most people on zero-hours contracts are also in minimum-wage jobs. They are very low paid. In the past 48 hours, we have learned that the Government are expecting something like £5 billion out of the £12 billion welfare cuts to be saved from working tax credits. Those people on zero-hours contracts survive because of those tax credits. How will they survive in future?
My Lords, zero-hours contracts allow people to come into the workforce who could not otherwise come in for the reasons I have explained, participate and get a job. The social security welfare framework continues to apply. This seems to me to be a good thing, not a bad thing, as the noble Baroness suggests.
My Lords, my noble friend is making a very eloquent case for flexible working, but that is not the same thing as zero-hours contracts where people have to turn up to find out whether they have a job and are not reimbursed under their employment contract. Given the Government’s record in bringing flexibility into the labour market, is this not a matter which needs urgent attention?
I am glad my noble friend mentioned the value of flexibility. We have asked officials to look at issues facing those on zero-hours contracts to see whether any further voluntary or statutory action is necessary because of the sort of points he has made.
My Lords, will the Minister answer my noble friend Lord Stoneham’s point that the Government need to collect the data to be able to get a picture of what is going on with these contracts? Will she at least write to him and place a copy in the Library so that we know what information the Government have?
My Lords, what happens if an individual is offered a zero-hours contract but turns it down? Does that mean that that individual does not then qualify for benefits that he would otherwise qualify for because he has turned down what in the Government’s view is a reasonable possibility? Is he not allowed to claim benefits if he turns down a zero-hours contract?
What will be done to make people aware of the exclusivity issue no longer applying? Only last week I spoke to a carer who had an opportunity to earn other money but was not allowed to do so because their zero-hours contract had exclusivity very clearly written in.
I am disturbed to hear that. The provision has certainly come in and will be publicised in the normal way. As part of the work we are now doing, we consulted in February on redress. We will be bringing in a route of redress against employers who ignore the ban, and this will give a further opportunity for people to know about this exclusivity. An issue that I have often discussed on these Benches is how you get information about new legislation out. I take the point in general, but I assure the noble Baroness that the new provisions have come in and we are taking steps to publicise those.
My Lords, I reassure the noble Viscount, Lord Ridley, that we are not opposed to zero-hours contracts. However, when someone is on a zero-hours contract for six months or more, surely they deserve an offer of a permanent contract. The Minister talked about flexibility and a fair deal. Is it a fair deal to continue in the same employment without any pension contribution or guarantee of holiday payment? That does not seem like our idea of a fair deal, and it does not seem in accord with the Government’s recent re-espousal of “one nation”.
My Lords, I think there is a fundamental disagreement between us. We believe in the value of zero-hours contracts. We also believe that we need to look at how they work in practice. There are parts of business where, just because you have worked in some area for 12 weeks, that does not actually mean that what is required by the employer will be the same 12 weeks later. There is a fundamental problem with the proposal put forward by the Labour Party. However, I assure the noble Lord that we continue to look at this with the objective of trying to ensure that it really works well in our flexible economy.
Small Businesses: Late Payment
My Lords, this is a serious problem in some areas and the Government are taking action. We have already legislated to require payment within 30 days through our public sector supply chains. We will be requiring the UK’s larger companies to report on their payment practices. This will be centrally collated so that performance can be compared. We are going further, too: through the enterprise Bill we will create a small business conciliation service to help small businesses resolve disputes.
But does the Minister understand that the Prompt Payment Code is itself being abused by bigger firms, as the Federation of Small Businesses revealed? Some one in four of its members find that their payment periods are changed adversely and peremptorily, and one in three FSB members now experience cash-flow problems as a result of being paid late. Will the Government undertake not only to monitor but to enforce existing legislation to help hard-working families who run small businesses in this country? Will the Minister respond to the National Audit Office’s own report that government departments are still paying late?
My Lords, there are a lot of questions there. I have already outlined three important measures, but we have also strengthened the voluntary Prompt Payment Code to promote 30-day payment terms as the norm, and will enforce a maximum 60-day payment term for all its 16,000 signatories. We will also consult this summer on how to give representative bodies—such as the Federation of Small Businesses—wider powers to challenge grossly unfair payment practices. The recent changes to the code, led by my right honourable friend in the other place Matt Hancock, set new expectations on signatories to treat suppliers fairly and make payments in a reasonable amount of time. Alongside the other measures that we are taking, we are on the way to taking the first steps in changing the culture in this key area.
My Lords, in the public sector there are clear rules. Payment has to be made within 30 days, so in the BIS department, which I can speak for, 99.5% of invoices are paid within 30 days, and 80% within five days. We have been trying to move to a five-day practice across government. In addition, interest is payable on late payments and administrative costs. It would probably be difficult to confirm that every small business is always paid on time, but we do what we can, the direction of travel is clear and we are leading from the front in the public sector.
My Lords, while I welcome the actions of the noble Baroness and the Government, the mistreatment of small firms goes much wider than late payment. As an example, there is a new practice in some large firms requiring small firms to pay an upfront, flat fee to be considered for further contracts, which puts great stress on small firms. Can the Government include that in their deliberations?
My Lords, we can. The small business conciliation service is designed to help small businesses resolve business-to-business disputes while avoiding expensive legal costs. We will consult shortly on what exactly should be done to make sure that the new service has a real impact on the ground.
I ask the House to take account of my interest in this subject; I am president of the Specialist Engineering Contractors’ Group, which represents medium-sized, second-tier firms in the construction industry. It is all very well to say that government departments are behaving better. However, a number of public agencies such as health boards, education authorities and the like are still woefully inadequate in accepting their responsibilities as good payers to businesses, some 95% of which in the case of construction employ fewer than 10 people. So these are very vulnerable businesses; they need treatment, and very often they are frightened to complain, because if they do they are told quietly that they will never get any work from the main contractor again.
My Lords, the noble Lord is right to refer to both construction and local authorities. As he will know, we have special regulations on construction. As regards local authorities, we have brought in a law that will require them to publish data on their performance from next year—the power of transparency. Again, that will help a lot to change the climate. Moreover, the construction example shows that where we have to take steps, we do. We have done that in the grocery and construction sectors; where there is clear evidence of abuse we are ready to act, because we want things to change.
My Lords, so far the discussion has been on the exchange of money between businesses. However, in my experience as the director of a minuscule company, charities can be just as bad. Can my noble friend say what pressure should be put on charities?
Saudi Arabia: Raif Badawi
My Lords, we are extremely concerned about Raif Badawi’s case and have discussed it at the most senior levels in the Government of Saudi Arabia, most recently on 9 June. The Foreign Secretary discussed this case in February and March with the Saudi Minister of the Interior, His Royal Highness Mohammad bin Naif, now Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia. The case is under active consideration and we will continue to watch it closely.
My Lords, when the first 50 lashes were administered to Mr Badawi, he needed medical attention. If the Saudi Supreme Court’s decision that he should undergo a further 19 sessions of 50 lashes each is carried into effect, it will amount to torture followed by death. Does my noble friend consider it appropriate for a state such as Saudi Arabia, which has barbarous and inhumane punishments on its statute book for trivial offences, to continue to be a member of the Human Rights Council, and will the UK take steps to have the country removed from that position?
My Lords, I shall be attending the Human Rights Council early next week. I know that a wide range of issues will be raised but I have not yet seen any matter referring to the membership of any individual country. However, it is the view of the United Kingdom that the treatment of people in detention must be in line with the protocol on torture, to which, of course, Saudi Arabia is a signatory.
My Lords, does the Minister agree that the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, about the role of the United Nations Human Rights Council is fundamental? As recently as last week, the conference held by the OIC took place in Jeddah of all places—in a country which ranks sixth on the World Watch List for countries that violate freedom of religion and belief. Will she say whether the United Kingdom raised Raif Badawi’s case during that conference?
My Lords, I repeat that I have raised this case on several occasions over a period. We remain deeply concerned and will continue to do our duty in that regard. On Tuesday in another place, the Foreign Secretary made it clear that we are urgently seeking to make contact with interlocutors and continue to do so. He said:
“It will be my intention certainly to ensure that nothing happens on Friday”—[Official Report, Commons, 9/6/15; col. 1042.],
and he hopes that nothing of that nature happens at all.
It is really difficult at this stage, when not all sides have yet had a turn. We are a bit out of practice because we have had a general election, so I remind noble Lords that we should perhaps give way to each other more than we have been doing recently. Maybe we should go to my noble friend Lord Tugendhat and then to the noble Lord, Lord Judd.
My Lords, does my noble friend agree that it is important that the Government maintain the position that she has just outlined? The way in which we react to what happens in Saudi Arabia is often taken by places such as Russia and China as an example of whether we are willing to be firm with countries with which we are on very good terms as a means of putting pressure on countries with which we are on less good terms.
My Lords, I agree that we have a consistent stance with regard to human rights. With regard to the death penalty and torture, we say that they are wrong in principle and in practice. We make those views strongly heard both in international fora and in Saudi Arabia itself. The Saudi Arabians are under no illusions about our views on what is proper treatment and what is a proper penal code.
My Lords, quite apart from the barbaric nature of this sentence, does the noble Baroness not agree that there is a strategic dimension to this situation? Can we not get our Saudi Arabian friends to understand that we are involved in a vital battle for hearts and minds in the world, and that action such as this, which is symbolic of many other attitudes and actions in Saudi Arabia, is not helping to win that battle?
My Lords, the area is unstable, which is an understatement. We all appreciate the seriousness of events in Syria, Iraq and Yemen. We should appreciate that Saudi Arabia itself feels the threats around it and yet also assists very strongly with regard to our efforts against ISIL. Saudi Arabia is under no illusions about the importance of its actions on security in the region.
My Lords, your Lordships’ House will not be unaware of the discrepancy between the attitude to human rights displayed in Saudi Arabia’s public condemnation of the Charlie Hebdo atrocities and this case, where somebody is being punished on the basis of religion. Does the Minister agree that there is a considerable dissonance between the public image that Saudi Arabia is seeking to present and the country’s internal affairs?
My Lords, I think we have to recognise that the actions of the Saudi Government in these respects have the support of the vast majority of the Saudi population. Against that background, we maintain our view that freedom of religion and belief and freedom of expression are core rights that lead to long-term stability and good governance.
Bat Habitats Regulation Bill [HL]
A Bill to make provision to enhance the protection available for bat habitats in the non-built environment and to limit the protection for bat habitats in the built environment where the presence of bats has a significant adverse impact upon the users of buildings.
The Bill was introduced by Lord Cormack, read a first time and ordered to be printed.
Rehabilitation of Offenders (Amendment) Bill [HL]
A Bill to amend the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974; and for connected purposes.
The Bill was introduced by Lord Ramsbotham, read a first time and ordered to be printed.
Student Fees (Qualifying Persons) (England) Bill [HL]
A Bill to entitle students granted discretionary leave to remain to be charged tuition fees and maintenance support on the same basis as home students; and for connected purposes.
The Bill was introduced by Lord Taverne, read a first time and ordered to be printed.
Equality Act 2010 (Amendment) Bill [HL]
A Bill to amend the Equality Act 2010 to improve step-free access to public buildings for wheelchair users.
The Bill was introduced by Lord Blencathra, read a first time and ordered to be printed.
Equality Act 2010 Committee
Sexual Violence in Conflict Committee
Social Mobility Committee
Built Environment Committee
European Union Committee
Equality Act 2010
That a Select Committee be appointed to consider and report on the impact on people with disabilities of the Equality Act 2010, and that, as proposed by the Committee of Selection, the following members be appointed to the Committee:
B Brinton, B Browning, B Campbell of Surbiton, B Deech (Chairman), L Faulkner of Worcester, L Harrison, B Jenkin of Kennington, L McColl of Dulwich, L Northbrook, B Pitkeathley, B Thomas of Winchester, B Wilkins;
That the Committee have power to appoint specialist advisers;
That the Committee have power to send for persons, papers and records;
That the Committee have power to adjourn from place to place within the United Kingdom;
That the evidence taken by the Committee be published, if the Committee so wishes;
That the Committee do report by 23 March 2016;
That the report of the Committee be printed, regardless of any adjournment of the House.
Sexual Violence in Conflict
That a Select Committee be appointed to consider the UK’s policy and practice of preventing sexual violence in conflict, and to make recommendations, and that, as proposed by the Committee of Selection, the following members be appointed to the Committee:
L Black of Brentwood, Bp Derby, B Goudie, L Hannay of Chiswick, B Hilton of Eggardon, B Hodgson of Abinger, B Hussein-Ece, B Kinnock of Holyhead, B Nicholson of Winterbourne (Chairman), L Sterling of Plaistow, B Warsi, L Williams of Elvel, B Young of Hornsey;
That the Committee have power to appoint specialist advisers;
That the Committee have power to send for persons, papers and records;
That the Committee have power to adjourn from place to place;
That the evidence taken by the Committee be published, if the Committee so wishes;
That the Committee do report by 23 March 2016;
That the report of the Committee be printed, regardless of any adjournment of the House.
That a Select Committee be appointed to consider social mobility in the transition from school to work, and to make recommendations, and that, as proposed by the Committee of Selection, the following members be appointed to the Committee:
B Berridge, B Blood, B Corston (Chairman), L Farmer, L Holmes of Richmond, B Howells of St Davids, E Kinnoull, B Morris of Yardley, L Patel, B Sharp of Guildford, B Stedman-Scott, B Tyler of Enfield;
That the Committee have power to appoint specialist advisers;
That the Committee have power to send for persons, papers and records;
That the Committee have power to adjourn from place to place;
That the evidence taken by the Committee be published, if the Committee so wishes;
That the Committee do report by 23 March 2016;
That the report of the Committee be printed, regardless of any adjournment of the House.
That a Select Committee be appointed to consider the development and implementation of national policy for the built environment, and to make recommendations, and that, as proposed by the Committee of Selection, the following members be appointed to the Committee:
B Andrews, B Finlay of Llandaff, L Freeman, L Haskel, E Lytton, L Macdonald of Tradeston, B O’Cathain (Chairman), B Parminter, B Whitaker;
That the Committee have power to appoint specialist advisers;
That the Committee have power to send for persons, papers and records;
That the Committee have power to adjourn from place to place within the United Kingdom;
That the evidence taken by the Committee be published, if the Committee so wishes;
That the Committee do report by 23 March 2016;
That the report of the Committee be printed, regardless of any adjournment of the House.
That the Earl of Arran be appointed a member of the Select Committee.
That Lord Davies of Stamford be appointed members of the Select Committee.
That Lord Gardiner of Kimble be appointed a member of the Select Committee.
Motion to Take Note
My Lords, there is much in our nation for which we can be profoundly grateful. Next week, as we mark 800 years since the sealing of Magna Carta, we give thanks for the long, yet sometimes tortuous, path that has led us to becoming a modern democracy. That moment was if not the birth then perhaps at least the conception of civil society at the beginning of a long gestation.
Last month, we celebrated 70 years of peace since the end of the Second World War, by which time civil society as we know it today was coming of age. As a nation, we have experienced extraordinary levels of economic growth over recent decades. Life expectancy has increased significantly and, importantly for this debate, in many communities in our nations, civil society is still strong and thriving. I for one am immensely grateful to be living in modern Britain and do not want to give any time to sentimental talk about a bygone era that probably never existed.
Nevertheless, some trends in society and in our political life are worrying and we cannot ignore them. Everyone here in Westminster is only too aware of the decline in the levels of voting and of increased apathy about politics. Those are not party-political issues: they are things that affect us right across the political spectrum. There are also the well-documented declines in volunteering, a decrease in the proportion of income that we give to charity and some evidence that charts a decline in our levels of well-being and happiness.
Those were just some of the issues that the House of Bishops raised in our letter, Who Is My Neighbour? As the letter stresses, we deliberately, and I believe successfully, avoided a document that was party political, although I know that some noble Lords do not agree and feel that we trespassed on to territory that they wish we had stayed away from. However, this morning I want to be absolutely clear that I tabled this debate not to attack the Government or indeed any political party. I sought this debate in an entirely non-partisan spirit, not wishing to single out any side as being particularly culpable, but rather to highlight the need for a fresh approach to politics that transcends tired polarisation. I hope that this debate will give us space and time to think about what can be done to strengthen our political life and reinvigorate civil society.
I am convinced that there is urgent work to be done to establish a new politics that seeks the common good. Indeed, I am keen that we will be able to explore the forms that such an approach to politics might take and the role that churches, charities and voluntary organisations, and indeed all intermediate institutions, can play in moving us in that direction.
I have already mentioned that we are marking the 800th anniversary of the sealing of Magna Carta next Monday. As noble Lords may be aware, the first meeting about Magna Carta took place in 1213 in St Albans Abbey, which today is my cathedral, although it was another two years before King John had his arm twisted to seal it. That sealing marked a major shift in devolving power and so strengthened the role of civil society. The church was deeply involved in those events leading up to the sealing of the charter led by Archbishop Stephen Langton’s opposition to King John. Part of the charter relates to the protection of the rights and responsibility of groups other than the barons, including the church. So we perhaps might frame today’s debate in terms of how the legacy of Magna Carta can be both developed and strengthened further in our time.
I return to today. We are all aware of the widespread and well-documented disillusionment with the current state of political discourse. Politics of the common good was not much on display during the general election campaign. Rather, I suggest, identity politics prevailed, with headline policies repeatedly demonstrating the belief that voters are fundamentally driven by self-interest. That is not to say that politicians deliberately go around driving wedges between different social groups. Nevertheless, we have all seen how this retail politics generates even more entrenched polarisation, closing the door on potentially constructive collaboration. Such tribalism also ignores the diversity of participants that we urgently need in order to bring long-lasting social, economic and political change.
As the House of Bishops’ letter pointed out, disillusionment with politics has been expressed in falling turnouts at general elections since the Second World War to below two-thirds of the population. The declining number of people exercising their democratic right to vote reflects a worrying level of non-participation. Many are choosing instead to boycott the established democratic channels, as evidenced in interventions made by Russell Brand and more recently by Charlotte Church, for example, and the concomitant rise of single-issue politics through online and social media campaigns.
Alongside voter disillusionment and apathy, there is also widespread concern among politicians, social commentators and community leaders over the gradual weakening of civil society in the western world, as attested to in research such as that provided by the British Social Attitudes survey. This decline can be discerned in the decreasing number of people who are willing to be actively involved in their communities, such as by volunteering, being on a PTA, being a school governor, leading scouts and guides, or being part of a neighbourhood watch scheme. While everyone seems to agree that these are eminently sensible and good things, fewer people are prepared to personally undertake them.
As part of this declining sense of mutual responsibility and community life, we have also experienced growing levels of loneliness and isolation, especially among the elderly through the more general loss of what the House of Bishops’ letter terms “neighbourliness”. The loneliness, solitariness and isolation that we have diagnosed as a significant feature in our society are also related to aspects of our welfare system. We are all aware of and agree that we are facing profound challenges, and it is not likely to help us find a way forward if we all lapse into familiar defensive positions. We need a new rationale for state welfare that is about incentivising human connectivity. Like all rationales for welfare, it rests of course on a tension or a paradox: how do you support those who cannot fully support themselves without creating disincentives for others to be self-supporting? How do you introduce incentives for neighbourliness without generating dependency in others?
All welfare policies have to negotiate these paradoxes. We require a justification for welfare policies that encourages more community involvement, promotes local neighbourliness where possible, and turns to state provision only where there is no community to mediate care and support. In other words, where there is nothing between the individual and the state, it can be dehumanising. If we are to increase levels of neighbourliness, our welfare strategies need to be geared towards that end just as much as to other areas of policy. All of us, including the churches, need to think beyond a case-by-case opposition to welfare cuts; rather, we need to commit to rethinking what welfare ought to be for our times, and how this can promote and not erode neighbourliness.
The decline in neighbourliness is linked at least in part with our politics. As many people have experienced an increasing sense of disfranchisement and powerlessness, there has also been an increase in the centralised nature of much of the power in this country. This is utterly counter to the spirit of Magna Carta, and there is much agreement across the political spectrum that accumulations of power, whether those of the state, corporations or individuals, are fundamentally unhealthy.
We must therefore seek to reverse these accumulations of power, if we are going to enable civil society to play its proper part, by involving people at a deeper level in the decisions that affect them most. This entails the recognition of the unique contribution of each citizen, not only out of a desire to honour the dignity of each human person but as an acknowledgment that viable solutions to the social problems that we all contend with require broad participation.
In this, I advocate a return to the principles of subsidiarity and solidarity that undergirded and predated the big-society agenda of the 2010 election campaign. We must not dismiss those ideas on the basis that they did not achieve at their last airing all that we might have hoped. The big-society sense of community and common life has been described by the academic Robert Putnam as “social capital”. The call for power to be devolved must not be mistaken for simply enabling citizens to secure their own narrow interests more directly. If more and more power is given to local communities, we cannot automatically presume that they will use that power for the greater good of everyone in that community—they might use it to increase nimbyism. For example, as we are faced with a shortage of housing in this country, on what basis can we presume that devolving greater powers to local areas will break the logjam? Indeed, some people argue that devolving the planning of housing could just as easily stop building.
As we devolve power more locally, we need it to be accompanied with a higher level of what Putnam terms “bridging social capital”, which he differentiates from “bonding social capital”. Bridging social capital is about the common good. I will elucidate that distinction a little, if I may, because it is quite helpful. Bonding social capital is where a group of people have such a strong sense of identity that they look after one another. For example, in clubs and associations, members may lend each other their mowers, do each other’s shopping or babysit for one another. That is all very good, but bonding social capital can be exclusive and does not necessarily look out for people who, for example, are new to the area. Communities based on bonding social capital can quickly become cliques of like-minded people who are extremely friendly, but—this is the important point—they are friendly just to each other.
In contrast, bridging social capital is demonstrated where a club or a group of people is so confident in itself that it can reach out to people who do not belong to it. This form of social capital is inclusive, giving people the confidence to meet strangers and encountering those who are different. Bridging social capital is evident in the existence of many of the institutions that comprise our national lives, such as our schools, hospitals, hospices and so on.
The church continues to be the locus for myriad contributions to civic society. In my diocese, we run centres for the homeless in Bedford, Luton, Watford and St Albans. We are involved with key partners in a homelessness project in Stevenage. We have four debt advice centres. We are involved in a number of credit unions; indeed, just a few weeks ago a leading credit union opened a new branch in one of our churches in Bedford. Noble Lords will also be aware of the large number of food banks that have been set up all over the country.
I mention those not to blow our own trumpets, because I am profoundly aware of how little we are able to scratch the surface. Nor do I want to get into a discussion in this debate about why, for example, we have food banks. That is not what I think this debate is primarily about. The question I am asking today is: what can we do to encourage the development of more intermediate institutions, which are the places where we are most likely to build bridging social capital? The acceptance of the imperative to devolve power leaves us with questions of how we ensure the presence of strong communities that can accept this power and use it for the common good. Thus, intermediate institutions play a foundational role, as neighbourhoods are built on institutions that are strong enough to enable people to move away from the language of “I” and “me” to the language of “us” and “we”.
I very much hope that this debate will be a constructive forum in which we can explore how to go forward in facilitating the mutual flourishing of communities and how we might strengthen our political life as a nation. I beg to move.
My Lords, I thank the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans for introducing the debate. It is a pleasure to take part in it. He was absolutely right in saying that the report is a genuine attempt to set out a moral vision of our country based on the Christian faith. It is a vision to which people of other faiths and no faith will, I hope, be able to subscribe. As the right reverend Prelate said, it is very clear that this is not in any way a political statement by the church and it does not support any political party. It explicitly says that it seeks to transcend the left and the right and makes it clear that it is concerned with human flourishing and the common good. It recognises the limits of economics. Whether one is in favour of greater state intervention or of strengthening the market economy, an economic view has limitations. The report argues that we need, as has been said, a vibrant civil society made up of strong families of different communities and networks underpinned by certain values.
I would like to make two comments on what has been said. First, I very much welcome the endorsement of civil society. Freedom and the rule of law are fundamental to our way of life and a market economy is, I believe, key to our prosperity, but human flourishing is about more than consumer choice, free markets or globalisation. The family, the neighbourhood, the school, the church, the synagogue, the temple and the mosque are all important to the well-being of society. Adam Smith recognised this when he argued that moral sentiments such as sympathy, beneficence and generosity were crucial to a society—qualities not guaranteed in a commercial society. Edmund Burke also recognised this when he talked about the “little platoons”. As has been said, this was at the heart of the big society—something which the bishops’ report recognises and strongly applauds. The big society is not about replacing government with laissez-faire or about a political programme. It is about the moral responsibility of individuals, and of the communities of which they are part, and of their potential to act for the common good when they are provided with the opportunity to do so. There is a distinctive Christian perspective here—that of the church taking a lead in reawakening the spiritual energy of people and our society.
The question I asked as I read the report was: does the church have anything to add to what a government welfare department or organisation might do? I think that it does. The most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury has already shown how beneficial credit unions are when accompanied by encouraging the neighbourliness of which we have heard. The success of church schools lies in more than simply providing a technical education. Another question I found myself asking was: are there areas in our society today where the church could do more in the areas of health, care for the elderly and training, especially for excluded young people?
Secondly, we cannot address the issue of civil society, which is really about the redistribution of income, without addressing the issue of the creation of income. As has been pointed out by many, Who Is My Neighbour? was inspired by the parable of the Good Samaritan, who brought bandages, oil and wine for the victim and a donkey on which to put him. He took care of the victim and paid out two silver coins. People in our society, let alone government, cannot meet the needs they see around them without the resources to do so. The first resource is the income which comes from a job.
In looking back over the last five years, I was disappointed that the report said it was good news that,
“unemployment has not risen as high as was predicted”,
given that 2 million jobs have been created in the last few years in a very turbulent and difficult world economy. Unemployment is much lower in Britain today—it is at the level of Germany and the US—than it is in France, Italy and Spain. Jobs have been created because the Government had to take very tough decisions. Labour Governments took the same decisions in the late 1960s, 1970s and in the late 1990s. I believe that without a strong economy we cannot have a strong civil society.
In conclusion, I am convinced that the church, and more generally faith-based organisations, can play an important part in civil society. If, however, as the report claims, the Christian faith is a world view, it must be comprehensive. It must address wealth creation as well as wealth redistribution. Alongside the language of caring, community and neighbourliness —the big society—we also need to hear from the church of enterprise, aspiration and reward to make greater generosity and neighbourliness the foundation of the kind of civil society we all want to see in this country.
My Lords, what a lovely offering for Members of your Lordships’ House to have one Griffiths followed by another. It may never happen again and I hope noble Lords will make a note in their minds of the fact that they were here when it happened. In Fforestfach and in Burry Port the two Griffiths would be distinguished from each other, not by their political persuasions but because one is “Griff church” and the other is “Griff chapel”, so it is from a more angular view that I shall comment on the issues that have been raised.
I live near the Old Street roundabout, “Silicon Roundabout”, where buildings are going up at a rate of knots and high-tech industries are being created by the hundred day by day. Just up the road is the forthcoming development that will be so good when it happens—we have been disrupted for so many years—of the Crossrail station linking Liverpool Street with all the other places. At the Old Street roundabout—now no longer ours but until recently it was—stands the Leysian Mission. It was a mission outpost for the pupils and alumni of The Leys school in Cambridge—a Methodist school. Between the two wars the mission was a terrific place for addressing poverty. People would come in voluntarily to attend to the needs of suffering people during times of depression, offering clothing, food, recreation and a fight for justice. There was a poor man’s lawyer, a crèche and all those things. Thousands of people were helped.
The Second World War damaged the buildings and they were not quite as useful afterwards, but more importantly the welfare state made many of the services being offered no longer necessary or apposite. As I look back from this vantage point to the fact that such institutions—Toynbee Hall is another—lost their focus for proper reasons, I sometimes ask myself whether there was an unintended consequence of the creation of the welfare state. Let there be no mistake about it—I am a prime beneficiary of all the provisions of the welfare state, having enjoyed national assistance, national health, education and all the rest of it through all the instrumentalities that flowed from the creation of the welfare state. However, the unintended consequence is that it sort of diminished the perceived need for voluntary activity in community action and work. We have to work hard in the economic climate that we are now living through to rediscover and reinvigorate that sense of voluntarism. The voluntary sector is picking up, whether or not it wants to, on much of the work done by public institutions which are finding their budgets severely threatened. It is important to recreate this voluntary sector, as there will be a lot more work for it to do.
I want to focus on another side of the Silicon Roundabout. Right opposite diametrically is the Central Foundation Boys’ School. I am the chair of trustees for that and the girls’ school in Tower Hamlets. I want to point to the plight of a group of volunteers who serve as governors of that school. At the beginning of the previous Parliament, two education Bills were pushed through that made the academisation of our education system more rapid. The Queen’s Speech has promised another such Bill, which will make it almost impossible to stop the tide of this one-size-fits-all approach to solving our educational problems. I do not want to go into that for the moment. That school is not yet an academy—it may have to become one—but headmasters, headmistresses and governors are being given much more responsibility for running multimillion pound businesses without necessarily any of the skills or the salaries that go with that. They are accountable only to central government—nothing local at all. I simply warn your Lordships that there are impending problems in this area, as those who have not been trained to run businesses find themselves up against obstacles that they cannot solve. One of the glories of the voluntary sector in this country is the governance of schools—how many people give hours and hours of their time for this purpose—and the present economic and political situation will threaten this wonderful tradition in British society if we are not careful.
The last time I addressed the subject of the report Who Is My Neighbour? was, of all things, at Gray’s Inn, in the chapel there, when I preached the Mulligan sermon about a month ago. It is to remember a judgment made by Lord Atkin—another fine Welshman; I just wish his name had been Griffiths as well—as long ago as 1932. The rule he made to deal with a proliferation of precedents in the application of the common law was to prove foundational for all subsequent judgments. The Donoghue v Stevenson case had to do with someone who manufactured ginger beer, someone who sold it, someone who drank it and, to her consternation, discovered coming out of the bottle that she was pouring on to her ice cream a decomposing snail. Your Lordships can see that the opportunity to preach some pretty vivid sermons arises from these circumstances.
The point is that the dear Lord Atkin of Aberdovey concluded that there was a duty of care and a question of negligence in law not only between the manufacturer and his client, who sold it in the restaurant, and not only between the owner of the restaurant and the person who bought it, but also to the person who had received for nothing the gift from her friend, the bottle in which the snail was to be found. The dear Lord concluded that the duty of care—the laws of negligence—could not be applied in the courts other than restrictively and he longed for theologians and those into moral theology to look at the question of the unrestricted applicability of the duty of care and the question of negligence. It is the job of the church to do that. We want to point to the fact that this duty of care ought to apply generally, not just in the restricted way that the courts feel obliged to apply it.
It is the duty of politics, of course, to take those understandings and—since politics is the law of the possible—with its own restrictions address them. Who is my neighbour, the duty of care and the question of negligence are questions for British society as a whole and nobody should attack the church for raising them in a general way, even though we in politics must then see what we can do by way of response.
My Lords, one of the things which I do frequently in the course of my work is to talk to students, often from abroad, about the composition and work of your Lordships’ House. Every time that I do, I come to a point where I talk about the presence of the Bishops in the House. A look of puzzlement then comes across the faces of the students and, depending on where in the world they come from, there are some pretty strange and strong reactions and we have a debate about it. I always get to the point where I say, “Well, look at the United States. It was founded on the principle of the separation of church and state, but no politician would ever dare to go against the prevailing religious orthodoxy, and the consequences are that ethical matters are decided not by the body politic but in the courts”. I contrast that with our politics here, where the church plays and has played an active part in our discussions and politicians make those decisions. It is an interesting point, which we always go through, and I thank the right reverend Prelate for reminding us of the value in that and the history of how we got to that point.
The document Who Is My Neighbour? came through my letterbox when I was in the process of delivering thousands and thousands of leaflets through other people’s letterboxes. It was an uplifting document and it made me think profoundly about why I was out doing what I was doing. I note that there is a request in the report that we do not take the document as a bolstering of our own particular party point of view. However, I think that it is fair to say to the right reverend Prelate that all political parties are struggling with the fact that the drivers and determinants of economic development are becoming increasingly global, while the effects of economic change are disproportionately local. As people who operate at a national level but also as politicians within communities at a local level, the assistance of the church over the next few years in seeking to understand and mitigate the effects of that will be of immense importance. Populations and economics change but the church endures.
In many ways, the document echoes one called Call to Action for the Common Good, which was issued by the Carnegie UK Trust—a trust which is the product of Mammon at its most visceral but is working for the common good, albeit in a secular fashion. In the 2014 document, civil society leaders identified some principles which they thought should govern public policy. First, we should be investing in tomorrow. We should not be tempted to act for short-term profits but should take decisions which will reduce harm to future generations. The second principle was that everybody must do their bit: the state, business and civil society, including religious organisations, all have a responsibility to empower people to contribute by building their own solutions in their own communities. Principle number three was that we should get connected and move away from narrow functional or commercial transactions between individuals, with every person being an island, and become partners for good.
Those principles are a way of reenergising and reimagining democracy. It is what David Goodhart from Demos described as a,
“new kind of liberalism that is concerned not just with individual autonomy but also the nature of our institutions and the quality of our relationships with one another”.
I do not know whether there was any collusion between the Bishops and the leaders of civil society when they issued their documents, but I see a fair degree of common understanding. That bodes well because I joined a political party which stood at that time on a phrase which some Members will remember: community politics. Reflecting on that, I see that the great problem for us throughout was that we never had any worked-out community economics to go with the community politics. I rather think that in future those of us who stand for liberalism and wish to protect it, in particular against the narrow nationalism that some would wish to return to, will have to develop a new narrative of community politics to go with our community economics.
I will end with two points. The document was a helpful guide to those of us who are trusted not just with participating in democracy but enhancing it for future generations. It was particularly eloquent in the passages on being a society: not a society of strangers but a community of communities. But—and this is a point for the Bishops—I am your neighbour. I am also a very proud member of the lesbian, gay and transgender community and the studied omission of us from this document—I think it was a studied omission because I have listened to all the other things that the church has said—is, to some of us, regrettable. To lesbian, gay and transgender Christians, it is hurtful.
I am an optimist and I look forward to the point in the not-too-distant future when the church—not just the Church of England, but other churches—will recognise that we are your neighbours, your friends and your family, and that we have a contribution to make to the common good. I am confident that we are getting closer to a time when we will share that understanding, and I look forward to working with noble Lords, particularly the Bishops, to further that understanding.
My Lords, I thank the right reverend Prelate for bringing us this debate. I do not believe that the matters raised in the letter should be restricted to the people and parishes of the Church of England, so I speak as a rabbi serving a large congregation in central London. Our theology may be rather different from that of the Church of England, although our relationships are very close.
I particularly commend what was said in the letter about power, identity and minorities, for we read:
“The politics of migration has, too often, been framed in crude terms of ‘us’ and ‘them’ with scant regard for the Christian traditions of neighbourliness and hospitality”.
These traditions are by no means only Christian—biblical texts from the Old Testament about loving your neighbour and welcoming the stranger because you were strangers in the land of Egypt apply to Jews, Christians, Muslims and plenty of others. The phrase:
“You shall love your neighbour as yourself”,
comes from Leviticus. We had it first.
The letter goes on to say:
“The way we talk about migration, with ethnically identifiable communities being treated as ‘the problem’ has, deliberately or inadvertently, created an ugly undercurrent of racism in every debate about immigration”.
I cannot say often enough how true that is. However, all this goes beyond the concerns just for the Church of England. Shortly before the election, the Bishop of Manchester wrote a piece in the Guardian just as we were beginning to see the waves of desperate migrants drowning as a result of leaky boats, immoral people traffickers and a forlorn hope for a better life. As he put it,
“migration got a face, a human face. It’s not usually handled like that across much of the UK media, but the tragic plight of desperate families drowning in the attempt to cross the Mediterranean into Europe forced us out of our comfortable discourse about an amorphous ‘them’”.
We all saw those pictures then; it was only seven weeks ago. The truth is that we are already tired of seeing those pictures—they no longer make the front pages. Our politicians of all parties talk too much of traffickers and too little of the people who are desperate for a better life, fleeing war-torn regions, sometimes as the result of the UK’s intervention, as in Libya, or those genuinely fleeing in fear of their lives as ISIS threatens to behead Christians, or does so, with YouTube evidence there for all to see. For those few days, in late April and early May, migrants looked to us like real human beings, not the “cockroaches” that one particular columnist had described them as a few days earlier. We could see their desperation and the horrors they were fleeing.
Seventy-seven or so years ago, many members of my family were also desperate, fleeing the Nazi regime in Germany. Many failed to get out but some, with the greatest of good fortune, were able to come to this country because of a group of brave and far-sighted British diplomats—Robert Smallbones, Arthur Dowden and Frank Foley come to mind. They were all good Christians who helped terrified and desperate people—mostly Jews, but not all—escape the horrors. Because of the hospitality of many people in civil society—Christians, Jews, non-believers, ordinary working British people, and the voluntary and civil society groups working together—some 70,000 people or more were saved and welcomed. That was, I believe, a good thing. I certainly would not be here today if that had not been the case.
I do not believe that, in the end, we will be able to refuse to take any of these thousands of desperate people making the journey from Africa in dangerous and terrible circumstances, despite government rhetoric. Indeed, I shall be ashamed of my country if we do not take any. I do not believe that the British people are always so unwelcoming. We run a drop-in centre for asylum seekers at my synagogue, which is hugely popular with volunteers in civil society—Jews, Christians and Muslims alike. They want to make the case that we should be offering a welcome and hospitality to desperate people. They recognise their neighbours.
The Bishop of Manchester rightly said that the,
“political rhetoric that characterises them as wilful criminals … is as unworthy as it is untrue”.
The House of Bishops letter to the people and parishes of the Church of England rightly took the politicians to task for giving in to the hostility to migrants shown by some sections of society and set our nation a challenge. As the Minister responds to this debate, I hope he will comment on what the Government, newly elected, will do to make new migrants welcome and to tackle the vile language that defines immigrants as a problem and allows “asylum seeker” to be a term of abuse in the playgrounds of Britain. I hope that he will also refer to what can be done to make those who come able to find friends and occupation instead of hostility and abuse.
However, it is not only about government, as the letter rightly says, although government is there to set a lead. It is also about ordinary people. I have seen people from mosques, gurdwaras, temples, churches and synagogues coming together to help desperate asylum seekers. I have seen them helping with food banks, establishing cafes for the hungry and establishing winter night shelters for the homeless. Interestingly, there is no shortage of volunteers for these programmes—in fact we have to turn them away. People are only too keen to help.
This may be the big society about which we have heard so much. But it is the big society envisaged by people motivated by their faith or their moral concerns, not as prescribed by government. We need to rethink the big society. It is, as the right reverend Prelate put it, a good thing as a concept but it needs to be reimagined. These people who help and who volunteer do not like the language they hear about immigrants or the fact that people are homeless and freezing in our wealthy democracy. As the bishops wrote to the churches, I believe we need a new vision of the kind of society we want to live in, and that government and voluntary sector leaders need to talk to the nation together. The language of hate should be termed unacceptable. This is not about a Christian message alone; it is about a human one. I very much hope that the Government might heed some of the messages in the letter, so that we might hear a different and more human voice from government and the voluntary sector together about immigrants and asylum seekers in the wake of this debate.
My Lords, this is a crucial debate about our future well-being, because our country can only thrive and be at ease with itself if citizens of all ages, ethnicities and backgrounds are empowered to participate. I am therefore grateful to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans for tabling the Motion but also for spurring me on to reread the excellent pastoral letter.
The letter rightly speaks of the new direction our politics ought to take. The present system, which has served us well, is broken. Huge swathes of the population do not participate either as members of political parties or, more importantly, through exercising their democratic right to vote. Putting that cross in a box is a powerful act that can change the way in which we are governed at local, national and European levels, but too many think it is irrelevant to their lives. How many times do we hear on the doorstep, “What’s the point?”, “It won’t make any difference”, “You’re all the same, you’re only in it for yourselves” or, “I don't know enough about politics to vote”? I find it deeply depressing that only 43% of young people voted in the general election, whereas 78% of the over-65s voted. We are failing these young people. It is not that they are apathetic—far from it, they might be frustrated but they are also enthusiastic and creative; they know how to navigate the digital world in which we live—but their energies are channelled elsewhere. It is great that the older generation participated but younger people are our hope; they are our future and democracy needs their participation.
This in turn means that Governments focus more on policies for older people—with the dreadful exception of social care—so that young people find voting even more irrelevant. Our political system becomes even more remote because policies respond not to their needs, only to what decision-makers perceive as their needs. It is also clear that many people who lead the most challenging lives do not vote. For example, only one-third of people with learning disabilities vote. I pay tribute to a fantastic initiative, My Vote Counts from Gloucestershire Voices, an organisation run by and for people with learning disabilities.
We have to change the system. We should embrace community politics, working with and for communities, listening and engaging not lecturing, and focusing on the common good—on which the right reverend Prelate spoke. Enough of the adversarial politics, the shouting and hectoring, and enough of the adversarial approach to ideas in which opponents must always be wrong. It will be no surprise that I disagree with some of the Government’s policies. I simply do not understand why they will not allow 16 and 17 year-olds to vote on their future in the EU referendum, especially as we have evidence from Scotland about engagement and participation. However, I strongly support government initiatives such as the National Citizen Service and encourage my party to do likewise.
That brings me to active citizenship and volunteering, which are good for the individuals concerned and for the people and communities they seek to help: a win-win situation. I am proud to be a member of Step Up To Serve’s advisory council and I work closely with the NCS and other fantastic organisations such as City Year, London Citizens and Girlguiding UK. They do a tremendous job supporting young people to become volunteers, as well as nurturing their life and leadership skills, giving them confidence and enhancing their CVs. They help our youngsters create change, shape the world around them and build communities. Personally, I would like to explore the idea of extending the City Year model of a year of service to more organisations, as they do in the US—but that is for another day. Sadly, many of these organisations lack leaders—people prepared to give their own time. For example, I understand that more than 40,000 young boys would like to become Scouts but there are simply not enough leaders in their communities to help them. Much more needs to be done to ensure that the quality of volunteering makes the experience worth while for all concerned.
However, this is not just a matter for the voluntary organisations themselves. The state has a role. Funding is needed to train and support volunteers. Volunteering must always provide added value and never be a means of displacing paid jobs. The Government must invest in volunteering to ensure that citizens have the time and resources to engage in community life, and that they are empowered. The pastoral letter is absolutely right when it says that,
“a modern nation, where ties of kindred and neighbourliness are often very weak, requires state-sponsored action to underpin the welfare of each citizen”.
As a new report by Citizens Advice suggests, we need a new form of responsive volunteering which can address current social challenges such as an ageing population, loneliness and isolation, increased pressure on public services and labour-market insecurity. There are some fantastic examples around—for example, the superb volunteering scheme at King’s College Hospital and the charity Care Home Volunteers—but the potential is huge for volunteers and society.
This also raises the question of the devolution of power, of which the right reverend Prelate spoke. This is welcome but power should not only be devolved to local authorities, it must also flow to civil society and communities so that they can play their proper part in the decisions that affect them most. We also have to ensure that they are strong enough, have the requisite capacity to use those powers, and adhere to the principle, of which I have learnt today, of bridging social capital. Power must be shared between generations. Segregation and mistrust between the old and the young harms the communities that we need to rebuild and build.
In passing, I would like to say a word to local planners and developers. Vast new housing estates in which there are no shops, cafes, doctors’ surgeries or community facilities are simply not acceptable. This point is well understood by housing associations, which provide a socially useful good that is often much wider than the homes that they build and maintain. I met with the excellent Two Rivers Housing Association in the Forest of Dean on Monday to discuss the specific challenges that it would face in rural areas if it had to sell more homes. Even if it received an influx of capital receipts, which is unlikely, it could not spend the money in the villages of the Forest of Dean, where I live, because land is too expensive. I also learnt of the good things that it is doing to diversify, including setting up an ethical estate agency—no, that is not an oxymoron—and a facilities management service, which provides apprenticeships, training and jobs for local people, often tenants, paying the living wage. This is another means of investing in and sustaining the local community, as well as the charity itself, which would be under threat from the right to buy. Like credit unions and other intermediate institutions, housing associations have a strong unifying potential, serving poor people and others, but also wanting to benefit the wider community.
There is so much more to say about civil society and new politics and communities—not looking back with rose-tinted spectacles to the bygone era of the past, but responding to the needs of our citizens in the 21st century. I very much hope that we will have further opportunities to debate this issue.
My Lords, I, too, am grateful to my friend the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans for initiating this debate, and the opportunity to reflect on the House of Bishops’ pastoral letter, which, although issued in the context of an election, was written in the hope that it would provide an ongoing stimulus to thinking and reflecting on the shape of our society and the kind of society that we wish to be. Not least, it will provide something of a challenge to the churches, to which it is primarily addressed, but to others also, to discover afresh something that is a treasure and very much part of our story. Reference has been made to Magna Carta, and as Bishop of Rochester I would be remiss not to remind noble Lords of the existence of the Textus Roffensis, which predates the Magna Carta, although it is not quite so long, and which also merits celebration.
There is a noble and worthy story that goes right back into the deep roots of our society and which we do well to remember. Part of that story is characterised by the word that has already been used extensively in your Lordships’ debate today: neighbourliness. It is about the kind of society that we wish to be and the practical and often very local ways in which we might seek to give expression to that. It is about seeking something that may look and feel like fullness of life for all. Crucially, as we have already heard, it is about the instruments in our society, particularly those that we have described as intermediary, that have the capacity to foster local initiative and local response and give support to those who respond, often very rapidly, to things that they see on their own doorsteps.
The pastoral letter had some initial responses, and the responses may have become more measured since it was first issued, as people have actually taken the time to read and think. However, it has to be confessed that it was not a document written with ease of soundbite in mind. There is some quite nuanced argumentation in there, and I am delighted that noble Lords have clearly read it carefully and are engaging with some of the subtlety of argument within it. It seeks to move beyond the rather sterile language of right and left, private provision and public provision, and so forth, and leads us towards something that is perhaps richer and more inclusive. It asserts that,
“approaches to the well being of the nation could not succeed unless social relationships were marked by neighbourliness, strong voluntary commitment and personal responsibility”,
and bringing those together is crucial.
The reason why I think we can have some hope about our capacity as a nation to foster this kind of life and society and foster the flourishing of the intermediate institutions of civil society is that actually we have a very good basis on which to do it. Up and down the land, day by day, week by week, things are going on that are expressive of the kind of thing that we are aspiring to strengthen and see. Reference has already been made to a number of initiatives and projects. In schools, for example, there is not just what goes on during the school day but what goes on around the school day, before and after school clubs, parenting courses and things like that. There is the care of the elderly and the bereaved. There are still 330,000 Church of England-officiated funerals every week in our nation, and pastoral care goes on around that. If we add the other churches and faith traditions to that picture, it is substantial.
I heard only yesterday of a rather inspiring initiative to have a toddler group meeting in a care home for people with dementia. I thought that was wonderful. That is the kind of thing one would love to see replicated, because it has so much potential for both the people suffering from dementia and the youngsters and their families. There are other kinds of activities. Reference has been made to the ones we are all very familiar with: food banks, shelters for the homeless and so on.
In relation to churches, I shall mention some of the initiatives for the creative use of church buildings, not least in rural communities where post offices have now been located in churches, as well as community hubs, internet cafes and the like for the enhancement of those communities. Those things are becoming established now.
There are just a couple of things I would like to draw to your Lordships’ attention as particular initiatives that may merit celebration, affirmation and extension. The most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury is well known for his campaigning in relation to payday loans and other such things, campaigns that have some considerable fruitfulness. What is less well known is some of the other work that is flowing out of that initiative. The task group which he established to look at matters of credit has initiated some really imaginative work with schools. I am delighted that in my own diocese in the Borough of Bromley we now have the Lewisham + Credit Union working with primary schools and some of our church schools to provide education to young children in financial management, budgeting and those sorts of things. It has established a savings club so that they can learn to save at that young age. Who knows what the effects would be for a generation and beyond if we could have the civil society structures, as it were, to make it possible to replicate that in other places?
The noble Baroness, Lady Royall, referred to housing associations. A little research report, Our Common Heritage, was published today, which examines the relationship, historic and present, between the churches, housing associations and the voluntary housing sector. While there is a noble heritage there, there is also a challenge, not least to the churches, about how, for example, we can use our continuing resources of land and buildings for the benefit of our society through the provision of affordable and social housing. There is a challenge there, and a piece of work has already begun that has yet to be completed.
In my capacity as bishop to prisons, I am astounded as I visit prisons and criminal justice projects of one sort or another by the contribution of volunteering and voluntary-sector organisations in that world in mentoring, programmes to combat offending behaviour, resettlement schemes and much else besides.
This is addressed to churches and other organisations and faith communities, because we are actually rather well placed to offer those spaces and platforms for people to come together in common concern and action for the well-being of society and the flourishing of the communities in which we are set.
In closing, if there is one plea to government it is to try to make sure that there are not too many barriers that get in our way. Yes, we need things such as safeguarding provision, but there are other things that could be quietly got out of the way in order to free us to respond to these opportunities.
The speakers list as published by the authorities of the House this morning makes engaging reading, with myself and my friend and noble friend Lord Cormack down co-jointly to be the eighth speaker. I do not want to alarm the House by suggesting that we may be entering into some sort of lordly duet; we have done a deal through the usual channels that I will stand now and he will stand later. Still, it is a thought, as procedure develops in your Lordships’ House, that we might have a bit of this.
Equally engaging has been the report from the House of Bishops, on which I congratulate them. It is an interesting read and I agree with quite a lot in it. I do not want to alarm them by saying that, but I do. I was fascinated by the fact that it is termed a “pastoral letter”. It seems to be a bit of an innovation for the Anglican Church to refer to such things as pastoral letters. Whatever next? Will we shortly be having encyclicals issued ex cathedra by the most reverend Primates from their cathedrals in Canterbury or York? I await that with great interest.
By comparison, Catholics have long been used to pastoral letters, generally shortish and pithy, to be read out by parish priests at the direction of their bishops as a substitute for Sunday sermons, on everything from the need to go to confession more regularly to the need to help the poor, the lonely or those who are imprisoned. This all goes back to the opening of these issues by that great Victorian Archbishop of Westminster, Cardinal Manning, who fearlessly waded into secular matters, which I welcome any bishop, or indeed any faith leader, doing at any time. He was on the commission by the then Prince of Wales—Princes of Wales do this kind of thing—on housing for the working classes, in the latter part of Victorian times, and spent four hours talking to dockers, trying to bring about peace in the dock strike in the 1880s. So this is a strong tradition, and many of these things led to the doctrine of subsidiarity. Many of them then got spun into those short, pithy pastoral letters that I was told to sit up and listen to in earlier days.
The House of Bishops, by comparison, has produced something much longer: a dense, detailed document that is almost a manifesto—I do not use that term in a political sense—about how to change, in its words,
“the trajectory of our political life”.
During the course of its 52 pages, which I have read, the bat is not swung at any political party or creed, which I think is a triumph. However, some people come in for it; people who are called “self-interested consumers” come in for a bit of battering by the Bench of Bishops, although I am not quite sure who they are. However, when you get to the end, where I was expecting the ultimate pithy description of what this new trajectory of our political life should be and how to get there, the answers are still a bit unclear. I think we need to sharpen the focus.
I would like to do that today by trying to look in particular at the charitable sector. In the House of Bishops’ pastoral letter there are certainly some passages on the charitable sector in the set of pages between page 35 and 38 on strengthening institutions, but they are rather brief. I want to look at the problems of charities in civil society under the magnifying glass—in a way that I do not think the House of Bishops quite did, but you cannot get everything into every pastoral letter, however short or indeed however long. I want to examine three big problems facing what I think of as “big charity”. There is a world of difference between the 150,000 or so smaller charities, which are very close to their communities and to grass roots, and the big players—the top 50 or 100 charities with big incomes—and how they behave.
In an age when we are all rightly concerned with ethical behaviour and with transparency, those who run big charity, compared with those who run the myriad little charities, have a few questions to answer at the moment about their behaviour. First, there are questions about how they approach ways of raising money from individuals—often the widows whose mite they seek to get their hands on—using direct-mail bombardment, direct texting campaigns and insidious forms of cold-calling in the case of some nameless charities, and using not volunteers but organisations with paid-for staff. That is wrong, so I welcome the Fundraising Standards Board taking issue with them and seeking to introduce new guidelines with regard to those poor, ethically challenging practices on behalf of the big charity world. I also welcome the fact that the Charities Minister in another place, Mr Rob Wilson, has spoken to some of them about putting their house in order.
Secondly, many find being approached in the streets by third-party marketers purporting to be fundraisers—a practice known colloquially as “chugging”—pretty disturbing. I know some people who would never dream of giving to a charity which chugs, because they think it is out of kilter with what should be the DNA of a charity, whether big or small. Therefore, in their use of direct mailing, cold-calling and chugging, some in the charity world—the top 50 or 100—are in a competitive race to the bottom of charitable behaviour, and I deplore that.
Thirdly, big charity—not all of it—undoubtedly pays some of its chief executives far too much in relation to the ideals and charitable DNA of those charities; not just people getting £100,000 a year but people being paid £200,000-plus a year. The right reverend Prelates are not paid anything remotely like that, and they give an example to us all of just making do—reusing old cassocks, that sort of thing. The Anglican Church shows a lead on those matters which big charity could usefully follow.
All this increase in pay seems to be cheered on by the charities chief executives body, which is as much concerned about pay and rations as it is about pay and ethics. It is wrong. I far prefer the spirit of the anti-hunger charity Mary’s Meals, whose CEO, Magnus MacFarlane Barrow, recognising of course that staff have to be paid, and paid reasonably so that they can bring up their families, said:
“We have a conviction that those who are paid to work for Mary’s Meals should never be paid high salaries. This is because we work with some of the poorest people on earth, as well as tens of thousands of volunteers all over the world, and we would find it hard to do that while paying ourselves high salaries”.
I say, amen.
My Lords, I am rather disappointed that we have not had the duet. The noble Lord, Lord Patten, has put three very pertinent questions, and I am glad he has done so. As one who has led one of the largest charities, I think every one of those questions needs serious consideration.
I thank the bishops for their letter, which I have been rereading in preparation for this debate. I find it penetrating and challenging, and its analysis of what confronts us is very profound.
In introducing the debate, the right reverend Prelate spoke of connectivity. I could not agree more with the importance of understanding this need in society. I have the privilege to be the honorary president of Hospice at Home West Cumbria. We all know that all the research that has been done indicates that the overwhelming majority of people want to die at home—in the security of home, with friends around, in a familiar setting, and the rest. That is not cheap. I do not like to use these words, as they sound rather impersonal, but it is fairly labour intensive.
In my experience of Hospice at Home West Cumbria, I have been thrilled—and I do not use the word lightly—by the joint spirit between staff, volunteers, patients, families and the wider community, and that is typical of many other hospices working in the field. I do not want to overegg this but I keep being encouraged by the fact that in west Cumbria there is a very widespread feeling that this is our charity, and that is lovely. When there are fundraising events, the wider community is there participating in a lot of fun, because dying should not be a miserable business. It is therefore a real stimulus and a real joy for me to be involved in this work.
In picking up various messages in the letter, the noble Baroness, Lady Neuberger, emphasised immigration and asylum. I am glad that she did because I think that the report relates not only to those issues but to changing our psychology so that we celebrate diversity and see it as the essential richness of creation. We should therefore try not to manage it and react to it defensively but to embrace it as a new dynamic in our society.
However, there are one or two issues surrounding the role of the charity sector, in particular, which we need to consider. One is that, as the sector takes more and more responsibility for services which perhaps for too long we have seen as the exclusive preserve of the state, there is a danger of a subcontracting culture creeping in and of a management priority being to think about where the grants are going to be available and about what sort of work would enable the charity to continue its activity and so on, rather than saying, “On the basis of our experience and our analysis, what are the challenges we see? How can we persuade society to enable us to do that work?”. It is pioneering catalytic work which is the responsibility. The key to successful charitable work is, in my view, to be a catalyst for informing and generating a concern in society.
That brings me to the substance of yesterday’s business. I am very content to see the measures that are being taken on the regulation of charities, but let us be careful that we do not inadvertently become involved in a dumbing-down operation and that we do not throw away the baby with the bathwater. In introducing the charities Bill yesterday, the Minister said that the most trusted people in society are charity workers and that in fact it is politicians who are least trusted. There is a funny sort of contradiction there—that we are taking upon ourselves the responsibility of promoting regulation when the public trust the charities more than they trust us. We need to be very conscious of, and sensitive about, that.
My last point is that through my work in the voluntary charitable sector I have become completely convinced that one of the most important ways in which to serve the poor, the disadvantaged and the oppressed is through advocacy, but it must be advocacy based on engagement. The moment it starts to be just theoretical advocacy, it may still have great validity but it loses the key dimension of the advocacy that is available to charities—that they speak with the authority of engagement. We have to look very keenly at how we support and encourage charities and voluntary organisations to develop their advocacy and to be very full participators in the debate about public policy and the rest, because then that debate can be really informed from the grass roots upwards.
Of course, what none of us must ever forget is that if we are to have any kind of future worth living in, solidarity must be rediscovered. The right reverend Prelate was absolutely right: we have to stop just talking to the poor and the disadvantaged, and least of all to lecture them on their responsibilities; we need to stop talking about them and start talking with them, listening to them and speaking for them.
My Lords, I am grateful to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans for this debate and indeed for asking me to speak—I probably would not have noticed it if I had not been asked.
I cannot resist saying something about the famous case of Donoghue v Stevenson. There was a rehearing and, as far as I can remember, there was actually no snail.
The debate gives me an opportunity to say something about the commission on religion and belief in modern-day Britain, which I have the honour to chair. Part of our terms of reference are to examine how ideas of Britishness and national identity may be inclusive of a range of religions and beliefs and may in turn influence people’s self-understanding, and to explore how shared understandings of the common good may contribute to greater levels of mutual trust, collective action and a more harmonious society. To gain something from the public, we have been inviting institutions and individuals from all the religions, humanists and pagans to respond to a questionnaire that we sent out some months ago. We have held meetings in various parts of the United Kingdom and received help from a large number of organisations and individuals.
The question, “Who is my neighbour?”, has a large number of answers, from the global community to the village square. I would like to say something about local communities, the response to diversity within such communities and the recognition of a broader understanding of “Who is my neighbour?”. However, this response and recognition is, unfortunately, patchy. In Leeds, we were challenged by the suggestion that when we walked out of each of our churches we should look over the wall to see the other communities that are outside that wall. This raises the very real danger that, within our own comfort zone, we prefer to ignore those who are different from us. Much of it derives from ignorance of other groups, together with fear of the unknown and a reluctance to break down perceived barriers.
For many years, we have in this country subscribed to the theory and practice of multiculturalism. This seems to have been interpreted in many places and by agencies as meaning that, so long as English laws are not broken, each religious, and usually ethnic, group can live in its own community with its own language, rather than English, side by side with other communities but not communicating with them. This failure in many areas to make the effort to understand and support the culture of other groups or to work together as a wider community has led to forms of ghettoism in certain places and even, from time to time, the practices of forced marriage and honour killings—here, in the United Kingdom, and by those who are born in the United Kingdom. On the contrary, to try to create wider communities is in no way a failure to respect the personal identity and culture of other people. Anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim demonstrations are of course entirely unacceptable, but they are the open manifestation of those who are not prepared to be tolerant of others, to try to understand or to try to create dialogue. Many other people hold the same views without taking that sort of unacceptable action.
There is much that we as citizens can do to take part in local initiatives. Across the country, our commission was told of the importance of local groups in small areas listening to and working with the local community. This is very much what the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Rochester was saying a few minutes ago. Many cities are actually a collection of neighbourhoods or urban villages. The impression I got was that work done by local people in the local small area was in many cases as good, and often better, than larger organisations going in and being seen to take over. For instance, taking part in the local football or cricket matches, tea parties, coffee mornings—although perhaps not during Ramadan, which is just about to take place—and so on are barrier breakers. The suggestion was made that other faiths and beliefs should be involved in important public occasions at local level, such as Remembrance Sunday.
We all need to be educated in religious literacy, and not only our children. We need to learn the culture of other communities and to celebrate diversity, as the noble Lord, Lord Judd, said. We should cease to be defensive and should reach out to other groups. We should join a local group and become involved. Underlying all this is the need for tolerance of others and respect for the views and cultures of others, drawing the distinction between reasoned criticism and closed-mind opposition to the cultures of other people. It is crucial to make genuine efforts to communicate and to have dialogues, with a desire to listen, to learn and not to teach.
I am reminded of the character in Charles Kingsley’s The Water Babies, Mrs Doasyouwouldbedoneby. This is really what I am talking about and the minimum response that we should make towards those who are not like us and whom we do not understand. We all want to be treated fairly, politely and respectfully by others and we should treat others the same way. We should identify who our neighbours are in our local communities and reach out to them.
My Lords, yes, on Mrs Doasyouwouldbedoneby, of course there is no commandment greater than the second one, to,
“love thy neighbour as thyself”.
This is an interesting debate and we are all grateful to the right reverend Prelate for introducing it in the manner in which he did. I think every one of us is grateful for the letter. Pithy it is not. Although it is suffused with the spirit of charity, it does not exactly rival 1 Corinthians 13, but we can forgive that because it points to some extremely important things.
I am glad that the right reverend Prelate began with a reference to Magna Carta. On Monday some of us, God willing, will be at Runnymede to mark the 800th anniversary. I have been absent from your Lordships’ House on two days this week because this has been Magna Carta week in Lincoln. On Monday, the Princess Royal came to open our purpose-built Magna Carta vault, most of it donated by Lincolnshire philanthropist, David Ross, and housing the cathedral’s copy of Magna Carta in a wonderful setting.
As chairman of the Historic Lincoln Trust, my trustees and I had the task of raising the money for that. I was determined that we should share Magna Carta throughout Lincolnshire. Yesterday, we had another Magna Carta day. In the evening, we had a marvellous lecture from the noble Lord, Lord Judge. In the afternoon, he, the dean and I gave to over 100 schools in Lincolnshire a framed facsimile of Magna Carta—together with a translation, I hasten to add—and also a disc recording of Robert Hardy, the great actor, reading Magna Carta. The trust has made available one of these sets for every single school in Lincolnshire, and I hope that Magna Carta will have an honoured place on the walls and that the pupils will have the opportunity to listen to the recording and reflect. Had they been in the cathedral last night, they would have heard the noble Lord, Lord Judge, talk about the continuing relevance of Magna Carta—what the great Lord Denning called the greatest document in our constitutional history.
In a short debate, there is not a great opportunity for expanding at length, but I want to make two particular suggestions. I have made them before, but I will continue to make them until something is done about them. In a debate instituted by the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury some months ago, and in an earlier debate too, I suggested that we should make Magna Carta year one in which the established church exercised some real leadership by seeking to bring together representatives not just of other Christian denominations but of all faiths within our country. As the noble Baroness, Lady Neuberger, made plain in her splendid speech, all the faiths have a stake in this. If you look at all the great faiths—Jewish, Muslim, Hindu and Sikh—there are certain defining characteristics. A thread runs through them all, each one of which could be encapsulated in that great commandment that I referred to at the beginning of my remarks.
I would like to see a charter drawn up by those of all faiths to underline what we have in common. At a time when there is such threat from extreme militancy, we need this. One of the things that we need to do in this context is to make young Muslims in our midst conscious of the threats to their great heritage being destroyed and bulldozed, perhaps even as we speak, in certain parts of the Middle East. It is as much their possession as anyone else’s, and they should be made aware. I would like that leadership.
Leading on from that, I have several times in your Lordships’ House talked about the importance of citizenship. The noble Baroness, Lady Royall of Blaisdon, referred to this in her perceptive remarks—it is good to have her taking part actively from the Back Benches now. Citizenship cannot just be imposed: it is an honour to be a citizen of a great country. Citizenship brings with it rights and responsibilities, many of which are indeed encapsulated in what I call the spirit of Magna Carta. I have often argued for this—the noble Lord, Lord Christopher, has been a great supporter and a group of us have met together on a number of occasions. I would like to see every young person, when he or she leaves full-time education, go through a citizenship ceremony having before that done some compulsory community service—I do not mind whether it is looking after National Trust properties or helping old people or young people—and then receive a scroll of citizenship.
That is done now with those who become British subjects. A ceremony that was derided when it was first suggested and the idea was first mooted is now very popular. It is something that we should encourage and lead all our young people towards, so that they truly feel part of the community in which they live and will contribute to it. Many of them do that already, but let us make it a little more structured. They should be proud above all of this great country of ours, which has, through the centuries, nurtured and developed the spirit of Magna Carta.
My Lords, it is a pleasure and privilege to take part in this debate. I look at the bishops and say, “You have done a good service to this House and to the bishoprics in general”. I read every word of the letter—I do not often do that—because there were so many little gems. The words were put together so well that they resonated with me. As I reflected on them, I made the decision that I would like to make a contribution to the debate.
The phrase in the letter that I want to address is this:
“Today, a fundamental question is about the extent of social solidarity in Britain. Are we a ‘society of strangers’, or are we a ‘community of communities’?”
The bishops and their colleagues have put together a cogent argument for dealing with these problems, some of which have their roots in the political field. I only wish that I could have read the letter before the last general election and passed it on to my friends. I would have said, “There is something good in here and we ought to be able to work out one or two new lines of communication”.
My main contribution is to refer to the fact I am a member of many families. This House itself is a family when your situation is what mine is. Sadly, in the past six years my wife and two sons have died. Before that, I would say to colleagues who lost a loved one, “I know how you feel”, but no one knows how you feel until it happens to you. Then, when you look around, or perhaps do not look around, your good friends come out of the woodwork and they demonstrate that they are members of a family of which you are a member as well.
When I was a boy, my dad had been on the dole for 10 years. I passed the 11-plus, but could not go because of circumstances. I knew that I had a degree in me, and when eventually the Open University came along, I graduated first with a BA and then an honorary MA. The Open University is a family to me because it does things that benefit so many people. When I first went to classes with the Open University, I sat next to an 85 year-old lady who was up to the job. She demonstrated completely what the university was: it was the university of the second chance. My second chance came along and I took it, and from that so many other fields have come along.
One of the families which has been talked about is that of your neighbours. I live in a cul-de-sac of four houses, and I am at No. 2. No. 3 has a lovely family with two little children. Twice a week, without asking for it, there is a knock on the window and I go to the door and there is the lady from next door saying, “Tonight we are having chicken salad”, or, “Tonight we are having macaroni”—“Would you like some?”. I have never said no because that is the way I was brought up, and I have never been badly served by that either. I know that her offer comes from the heart, and in return I have built up a situation whereby I buy books for the children. Also, one of my sons was keen on collecting coins, and so I keep up the arrangement that he had. Those children from next door are very well served and I look upon them as substitute grandchildren. That is a wonderful thing.
We have been talking about charities. Yesterday I saw my accountant for this year, and I saw that there are around 12 charities that I give to. I want to do that because of the awful lives that some people lead and try to overcome. That is something we should never forget. When I look at the situation of the world, it is a terrible place, which is becoming even more terrible. We want to build up the kind of concepts that are to be found in this letter; that is, that we need to be looked after.
On Tyneside, where Newcastle United has just escaped being relegated, football is looked upon as a religion, and for many people it is. It is the main thing that keeps them alive and drives them forward. They live and they die with the fortunes of the team. I was one of those. Football is a fantastic means whereby ordinary people can find something to work for and sometimes to die for.
All I want to say is this. The bishops have done the House a wonderful service in what they have put together. What the solutions are, I am not at all certain. If it is through charity, my main charities are of course the Labour Party and the Co-operative movement, both of which get some of my largesse. For someone who started from where I was, I know the value of money, but I respond and do what I can for the charities I support. I wish the letter a wider circulation and I wish it well.
My Lords, I thank the right reverend Prelate for holding such a timely debate at the start of a new Parliament. I recognise that the Church of England’s pastoral letter, Who Is My Neighbour?, is aimed at increasing the political enlightenment and engagement of the wider electorate for the election in May. However, its contents pose ongoing questions for us all as we consider our immediate and long-term society at the heart of an uncertain world. More and more of us are asking questions about how what we do in public office is of benefit and how what we do affects the lives of others outside this bubble. Individually, we need to ask what impact each of us may have on our neighbours in the world when the global problems are so vast and devastating. What happens elsewhere cannot escape us and has a massive impact in our neighbourhoods.
We know too that many who represent the public in high office are often disconnected. We have heard loud and clear the opinions of people who feel disempowered and disengaged from their leaders and representatives—people who emanate primarily from backgrounds that are far removed from many sections of our communities. People are disadvantaged and vulnerable, and they remain disfranchised. Many have spoken of their discontent, apathy and cynicism about the machinations of political parties, widening the divide and separation between people and communities that was rightly highlighted by the right reverend Prelate.
The pastoral letter is apposite in asking for a political narrative that will enable the people of Britain to articulate a vision of equality and social justice, although it is rightly not prescriptive of how we can work together to live virtuously as well as prosperously. I am speaking so that I too can praise the House of Bishops for making this important human intervention. Although I am not someone of the Christian faith, I was able to relate without reservation to the unity of purpose and strength that the pastoral letter refers to, and the desire to reach out and define us all as neighbours.
Of course, the concept of neighbours has undergone a profound transformation over the decades, driven primarily by central government policies on housing, education and economic regeneration which pay no heed to the social impact on communities and certainly pay no attention to neighbourliness. Many eminent noble Lords have spoken about this, and in my small way I too have spoken many times in this House about the apartheid and divisiveness affecting the East End of London which manifests itself in a variety of ever-deepening divisions. An example is the mismatch of young East End graduates. Their aspirations to financial success too often fail when they reach the doors of the emerging tiger economy companies of the City on the doorstep. Many of the successful City workers commute in for work while many of the neighbouring graduates take their comfort in jobs in local supermarkets, with their graduate certificates in their pockets. There are countless other examples of social, educational and housing divides that illustrate the division that the pastoral letter clearly encompasses. In this context, it is appropriate to quote the pastoral letter, which pointedly asks, “Who counts as ‘we’?”. I believe that many of us have been working over the decades to erase the sense of isolation from that “we” to begin to develop a place to live in which we can say “us” with greater ease.
Religious faith and diversity has not necessarily been synonymous with harmony, but the pastoral letter is an acknowledgement that religious allegiances and faithfulness are extraordinarily widespread and have a long history of collaboration in many parts of our countries, including in the East End. Personally, I have been privileged to have worked as a youth worker with YWCA and have worked with Toynbee Hall and Christ Church, Spitalfields when it used to run youth work with women programmes in the good old days.
At the same time, the pastoral letter recognises that people of faith have much to offer in a good society and a peaceful world, and should contribute towards such a vision. The pastoral letter relates to all people of faith to engage with the political process. I agree with this wholeheartedly. The emphasis on individualism walking hand in hand with consumer economics make this the “I” society, where “I” put myself first in a merciless, aggressive type of social Darwinism. As humans we have an inherent need to feel we belong to our society, developing social networks, shared customs, shared interests, shared places and shared religions. I agree totally with the Lord Bishops when they remark:
“'Our society celebrates the autonomy of individuals”,
but does little to acknowledge that, as social creatures, we are interdependent on each other. The role of government and society necessitates restoring this balance between the individual and the community around them, given that we value individualism. Neighbourliness and hospitality can be a lifesaver where a sense of loneliness is on the increase, particularly among those who are carers. In the gracious Speech given by Her Majesty the Queen we have been promised a one-nation Government, delivering social justice with all working people having security. In May 2015 Ministers and advisers may have read and absorbed some of the content of Who is My Neighbour?
In the 2010 election and subsequent coalition, we were told of the big society—everyone pulling together for the common aim of helping the country stave off insolvency due to the banking and financial crisis. Public sector pay awards were frozen; benefits were amalgamated, trimmed or removed completely. We were all prepared to tighten our belts for the good of each other. In no uncertain terms, we were left with no alternative but to absorb the pain for the good of each other. In a more positive way, we exhibited our unity, generosity and friendship during the celebrations of the Diamond Jubilee and the 2012 Olympics. However, the squeeze has become disproportionate to the most vulnerable in our society. The personal independence payment was promised as the panacea to simplify the multitude of benefits available to the disabled and the most disadvantaged. The rollout of PIP has been devastating for many, resulting lately in a High Court ruling that PIP disability benefit delay is unlawful. This shows clear failings in the system designed for the most vulnerable as they struggle to pay for food and fuel, causing their health to decline, and live a hand-to-mouth existence where restricted travel results in bouts of severe depression and other health problems. Citizens Advice, Scope and Sense say that this is unacceptably common, while the Trussell Trust said that,
“benefit sanctions, changes and delays”,
were the biggest reasons why people were referred to its food banks in 2015. This is not social justice. The Lord Bishops notably remarked that,
“the quality of a society is to be judged not by its overall wealth or power, but by how it treats the most disadvantaged, the poor and despised”.
There is, however, some hope on the horizon. One significant example is the fact that, as we approach the month of Ramadan, British Muslims will contribute more than £100 million to our neighbours, both in the UK and elsewhere in the world. It is not about the money alone; it speaks volumes about loving our neighbours as we would wish to be loved ourselves.
My Lords, I commend the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans. He and his fellow bishops have made a valiant effort to set out broad principles that might guide, in their words,
“the people and parishes of the Church of England”.
It is clear from the speech of my noble friend Lady Uddin and that of the noble Baroness, Lady Neuberger, that it has a much wider relevance. I am not wholly convinced, however, that the man or woman in the pew confused about voting would necessarily have emerged after reading this report with anything other than a higher level of confusion. Why? Because all the mainstream parties in this country claim to follow those Judaeo-Christian principles. Perhaps the only errant part of the election campaign was the leader of UKIP, who claimed that immigrants should have limited access to the NHS. That put him somewhat outside the pale and was immediately repudiated by his one MP.
Essentially, the aim of the letter is not to provide answers but to encourage Christians and others to think in a Christian way, as Dr John Stott did so well for all of us. The bishops give a set of principles in paragraph 120, emphasising identity and community. I come from the same city as my noble friend Lord Griffiths of Fforestfach, where we define our city, Swansea, as a series of villages held together by gossip. Perhaps I romanticise a little, but it is important.
Yes, the intermediate bodies and the suspicion of power that comes from,
“Put not your trust in princes”,
puts up barriers, checks and balances, but let us remember that it is not just from voluntary effort. It is the church that has been behind much of the effort of institutionalising that welfare provision. It was Adolph Kolping in Cologne, the great Catholic priest, and, of course, Lloyd George, who relied very much on his Scotch Baptist principles, who led the proposals for a welfare state in their countries. I confess that at times the principles enunciated by the prelates come rather close to Tony Blair’s third way, although they probably repudiate that. No doubt their brave efforts will be attacked from several angles. “Politics is a dirty game”, they will say, “Be separate. Bishops, keep out of politics and minister to the spiritual needs of your flock. Cobblers, stick to your last”. John Milton gave perhaps the best answer to this:
“I cannot praise a fugitive and cloistered virtue … that never sallies out and sees her adversary, but slinks out of the race, where that immortal garland is to be run for, not without dust and heat”.
Obviously, the powers that be would like a quiet life and prefer not to be challenged by the church—or they enlist the church, as Putin has done in Russia. However, as we saw in apartheid South Africa, Christians will embarrass politicians on human rights issues. I think of the work of Archbishop Tutu and Catholic Bishop Hurley, who were leaders in this field. Perhaps the civics, the small platoons that proliferated under the apartheid regime, are one of the reasons why there are barriers to the tyranny of the majority in South Africa. They must be praised. Michael Cassidy, the Christian leader from Pietermaritzburg, says that after a long discussion with Botha, the then state president, the state president loftily read to him this:
“the powers that be are ordained of God”—
scant comfort for persecuted Christians in the Middle East and elsewhere. But even those of us who are in the comfort and security of the United Kingdom must avoid the politician’s temptation to agree with everyone, to take the easy way out and to avoid values by relying on focus groups.
Who, then, is my neighbour? Christ’s answer was clear. He told a story about a Samaritan—a stranger from a despised group—who helped someone in need. The problem with the bishops’ letter is, of course, that it sets out basic principles, and in so doing avoids some hot potatoes such as the population problem and its effect on God’s creation in the environment, although I concede that it cannot be wholly comprehensive. However, it is not for bishops but for politicians to implement those principles in a world of limited resources, half-loaf compromises and competing pressures.
A current example raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Neuberger, and my noble friend Lord Judd concerns the migration pressures in the Mediterranean, where there is obviously a clash of values. The moral response is easy in the short term. If we have the capacity to save drowning individuals, it would be wholly immoral to fold our arms, pass by and fail to save them, so we applaud the humanitarian work of HMS “Bulwark”. But having rescued these people in the Mediterranean, is it moral then to wash our hands of them and say that they must be the responsibility of Italy or the overcrowded island of Malta?
Yet we cannot accommodate in Europe all those who would like to come here—those who wish to escape from the awful countries of Eritrea and South Sudan, let alone Iraq and Syria, however nasty their Governments are. Politicians have obligations to their own people and way of life, and it is obviously not moral to have an open-door policy. But there lies the key moral dilemma of where to draw the line. In the medium and longer term, politicians will choose a mix of policies such as destroying ships, targeting traffickers and safe-haven deals, perhaps also opening agricultural markets.
The church and politicians must work together. When Ahab was challenged by Elijah, he called him a troublemaker. May our right reverend prelates continue to be noble troublemakers. Niebuhr had it right when he referred to the,
“relevance of an impossible ideal”.
Bishops and politicians should strive together, imperfectly, to achieve the best attainable outcomes.
My Lords, I thank the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans for securing this debate and for introducing it in such a constructive manner. To tell the truth, I would not have read the pastoral letter Who Is My Neighbour? if I had not seen this debate listed, but when I read it I was so inspired that I wanted to speak today. Therefore, I thank the right reverend Prelate for giving us the opportunity to start the very conversation that he wants us to have resulting from the letter.
I found the letter uplifting, refreshing and very thoughtful. For me, it articulates clearly a vision of the kind of society we should all be striving for. I was particularly struck by the reference in the letter to William Beveridge, because he understood that if the state is given too much power to shape society it will stifle the very voluntarism that prevents the state being hopelessly overburdened by human need. The right reverend Prelate talked about how we negotiate that and create a balance.
When I was the director of the National Council for Voluntary Organisations in the 1980s, I always used to quote something William Beveridge said, which I still think is very important. He said that,
“an abundance of voluntary action outside the citizen’s home both individually and collectively, for bettering his own and his fellows’ lives, are the distinguishing marks of a truly free society”.
This letter argues for informal and independent structures that are small enough not to need every activity to be codified, through which we can learn to work together in trust, and it gives examples of intermediary bodies such as housing associations, credit unions and, of course, the churches.
I unashamedly draw the House’s attention to another intermediary movement with which I am associated as its president: the community foundations. Community foundations were started in the 1980s. Since then they have flourished. There are now 48. They are a best-kept secret and in my view need to be better known. I am passionate about community foundations, because they are about local engagement and inclusiveness—the very thinking that underpins the sentiments expressed in the letter Who Is My Neighbour?. They are about social bonding, which the right reverend Prelate talked about.
The figures showing what this movement has achieved over the last few years are impressive. Community foundations have invested £65 million in grants to community-led organisations, have made 21,000 grants, and have half a billion pounds in endowment funds. They also engage a number of volunteers. As I say, the figures are impressive, but what I like about community foundations is the thinking that underpins them. It is about local engagement, local giving and bringing together donors and doers to support local communities to meet local needs. It is about building local social capital, inclusiveness, investing in local communities, empowering local communities and valuing community-led solutions to local issues.
At the end of last year, when talking about community foundations, Mark Carney said:
“Community foundations are helping to deliver a more inclusive capitalism, one in which individual virtue and collective prosperity can flourish”.
I am very pleased to draw the House’s attention to a very positive example of the partnership work between government and community foundations. In 2011, community foundations launched the Community First endowment match challenge. This initiative, supported by government, allowed community foundations to offer donors a 50% uplift on endowment donations through government match funding and thus provided a catalyst for the work which community foundations undertake. This programme finished in 2015 and was assessed to be a great success. The flexibility gained through the introduction of a national pot or central reserve of funds to lever local giving was invaluable.
In the light of the success of the Community First endowment match challenge, will the Minister please tell the House whether the Government are minded to do something similar in association with community foundations? If not, will the Government please consider looking at such schemes that lever local funds and engage local communities and that may contribute to our vision of one nation?
My Lords, like other noble Lords who have spoken in this debate, I thank the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans for putting this Motion down for debate today.
It is regrettable that we did not get the opportunity to debate this issue at the end of the last Parliament, before the general election, but the issues raised in the report are still very relevant and are there for us all to see. I have been a Member of your Lordships’ House for five years and in that time I have always been impressed by the work of the 26 Lords spiritual, the contribution they make to this House and the work they do outside in the community. This report is another excellent example of the work that the House of Bishops in the General Synod have undertaken. I am pleased that the church has moved into this territory. It is a challenge to us all, particularly those of us engaged in party politics.
In November this year, I will have been actively engaged in both the Labour Party and the Co-operative Party—in good times and in bad—for 38 years. It is always a pleasure to speak in a debate in which my noble friend Lord Graham of Edmonton is participating. Like him, I enjoy watching football. However, as a supporter of Millwall Football Club, there has not been much to cheer about in recent years.
The obituaries for all parties have been written many times and always prematurely, although we have very serious problems in our political parties in Britain today. We are in a period of great change in our country and in the world for a whole variety of reasons, as the scale and speed of change gets faster and faster and seems more out of reach of people. That raises some fundamental challenges for political parties and the wider civil society in 2015.
Calling for a new politics is in itself nothing new. There have been many calls over many years, but the pastoral letter from the House of Bishops is something different and we should all welcome it. I do not for a minute believe that change is going to happen overnight, and unfortunately during the recent general election there were numerous examples of business as usual in the political process, as mentioned by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans.
However, as we start a new Parliament, I am going to be optimistic about what can be achieved. We, of course, should be grateful that we live in a mature, stable democracy where the result of an election is accepted and respected and that, win or lose, you have the ability to make your point and have your say. I agree with the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans that I like living in Britain today and have never hankered for a bygone age that never really existed.
I agreed very much with the report when it disagreed that religion and politics cannot mix. The problems we face as a nation are often the subject of heated debate and I like it when the church feels strongly on an issue and enters that debate. It can offer a different perspective and leadership and can provide pressure, setting out what needs to be done. I can think of examples where I have agreed with the position that the church has taken and also where I have disagreed with its position. I very much associate my remarks with those of the noble Baroness, Lady Barker, who was disappointed that the lesbian, gay and transgender community was not mentioned in the report.
In the section of the letter on,
“Apathy, cynicism and politics today”,
I very much agree that the vast majority of politicians and candidates enter politics with a passion to improve the lives of their fellow men and women. We might disagree on what needs to be done or on how to do it, but that in itself is not a problem. People also engage in wider civil society for similar reasons. It can be to improve the local community, something on a very small and local scale or something on a much larger scale with a national charity or organisation. I am a trustee of the United St Saviour’s Trust, which works in north Southwark and Bermondsey and has been there for 500 years—it does a lot of good work. I am also involved in the council of Diabetes UK on a national level.
It surprised me to read that, according to the polls, the vast majority of people believe that it will make no difference who is in power. I suspect quite a lot of us here would disagree with that, but it tells me that we are collectively, as politicians and parties, failing to communicate in an effective manner, so can we be surprised about the cynicism and apathy about politics? I very much agree with my noble friend Lady Royall of Blaisdon on her comments about the engagement of voters. I also read with amazement, and some disappointment, that apparently 900 votes made the difference between the Tory Party having a majority in the House of Commons and being only the largest party in the general election.
As the letter points out, parties increasingly target smaller groups of voters in a select number of constituencies, and in other constituencies voters get less attention from the parties. The adversarial nature of politics here has produced an adversarial approach to ideas that may not always produce the right or best outcomes, to which my noble friend Lady Royall also referred. It does, though, present civil society in general with an opportunity and challenge to present ideas and solutions to the problems we have, here and abroad, in a way that can be embraced across the political spectrum or at least parts of it that are not confined to one particular political party.
I very much want to be a part of a “community of communities” but can see how much we have become a “society of strangers”. The speed and sophistication of the communications world has people glued to iPads and other devices and not talking to people face to face. On the other hand, we have the Royal Voluntary Service and other charities doing great work to try and combat loneliness in the elderly community and stem all the problems to mental and physical health that loneliness brings. I think that the church is right when it calls for a sensible approach to social policy and that we are a “community of communities”.
We have seen significant devolution of power in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, but in England that has generally not been the case, although there are proposals before your Lordships’ House in the form of the Cities and Local Government Devolution Bill. Where we are able to devolve power to the most appropriate level, this can have the effect of re-engaging people, re-engaging civil society in the decision-making process, and better decisions can be made. As the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans said, bridging social capital is an important part of this process.
As the report highlights, there is a deep contradiction in the attitudes of a society which celebrates equality in principle yet treats some people, especially the poor and vulnerable, as unwanted, unvalued and unnoticed. Some of the terms used to describe those who rely on social security payments can imply that they are undeserving and not worthy recipients of welfare. This is not only on the front pages of some national newspapers but also on blogs and social media sites, such as Twitter. These sorts of attitudes and activities can be counterproductive and deter others from offering the informal, neighbourly support which could ease some of the burden of welfare on the state and be for the common good.
Moving on to talk about a “community of nations”, I think that we in the United Kingdom can be very proud of the role we have played in bringing nations together and taking a leading role in drafting conventions such as the European Convention on Human Rights. I hope we are never in the position where we would remove our name as a signatory country to that convention. Other European institutions may have their problems but trust and co-operation among the European nations, as the letter highlights, has been a good thing and should be celebrated and welcomed. We are interdependent on our closest neighbours in Europe and the threats to our security come from other more volatile parts of the world.
The commitment from civil society to push to get the 0.7% of GDP on overseas aid into law is something we can again be very proud of. For me, equality and the pursuit of a fairer and more equal society and the role civil society plays in achieving that is of paramount importance. By becoming more unequal we all lose. The widening gaps between the poorest and richest in our society should be of concern to us all.
I am a director of London Mutual Credit Union and every week we hear heart-breaking stories of people in all sorts of difficulties when they come through our doors and we try to see whether we have a package of financial products that can help them. The Credit Union Expansion Project, put forward by the Government, is a very welcome initiative but we have to do more to enable credit unions to offer a selection of financial products that are right for their members. I have called on the Government before, and do so again, to do more to divert some of the fines that are levied on financial institutions that do wrong and put that into programmes to ensure a de minimis level of provision no matter where someone lives.
The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Rochester mentioned the excellent work being done by the Lewisham Plus Credit Union, which is really doing a very good job. London Mutual Credit Union has also been working with Southwark Council. Every young person attending secondary school has a saver’s account opened for them at the credit union and the council deposits £10 into the account.
The rise of food banks in one of the richest countries in the world is obviously very worrying. A whole group of people are described as the working poor; they are working but are unable to earn the wages to support themselves and their families and have to rely on welfare payments. That is truly dreadful. The living wage for employees has been something that we can champion, but champion not only by saying that it is a good thing but by actually taking positive action. I very much like the idea that no company or voluntary sector organisation, when bidding for public sector contracts, should be disadvantaged by paying the living wage to their employees.
In conclusion, this has been an excellent debate on the excellent document that gives the Government and the rest of us much to think about and reflect upon, such as healthy political parties, strong civil society and healthy debate. As the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Rochester, said, so much goes on that we are very proud of, each and every day, by volunteers in a whole variety of initiatives and organisations. Again, I thank the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans for putting down the Motion for the debate today.
My Lords, I am delighted that my first debate is on the civil society. I would like to echo all those who thanked the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans for tabling the Motion, and to thank him and so many others in the House for their extremely thoughtful speeches.
Churches across the right reverend Prelate’s diocese are involved in projects to make our society stronger, so I know how passionately he feels about this subject. I also pay tribute to others who have spoken in this debate, all of whom have contributed so much to communities across the country, be it to hospices, educational charities, health organisations or credit unions—the list is very long and varied. I hope that I can do justice to the many interesting points that have been made.
I would like to start with a quote about neighbourliness, which runs as follows:
“In our own life the intimacy of the neighborhood has been broken up by the growth of an intricate mesh of wider contacts which leaves us strangers to people who live in the same house … diminishing our economic and spiritual community with our neighbors”.
These words were written not in today’s Daily Mail nor in the Telegraph, but 100 years ago by the sociologist Charles Horton Cooley—a name I have to say I am not that familiar with—an American who was writing at a time of profound social change in America.
I quote this to echo a simple point made by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Rochester: throughout history, what some people have hailed as progress, others have seen as unwanted, corrosive and unsettling change, and for each generation the pace of change seems to accelerate and, with it, the sense of dislocation. Today the pace is indeed dizzying, as the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, just said: the digital revolution, globalisation and the changing nature of our society are just three of the forces shaping our world. It is little surprise that once again many of us feel a sense of bewilderment and disorientation, especially at a local level, as the noble Baroness, Lady Barker, pointed out.
That is the backdrop to our debate today, and while I heed strongly what many have said about the problems facing our society, I cannot help but wonder sometimes whether we are succumbing to that very British disease of seeing the glass half-empty. I do not for a moment want to belittle the concerns that the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans expressed in his perceptive speech, which others have echoed in different ways—especially the noble Baroness, Lady Uddin, in her very eloquent speech. We in this House are not here to sweep problems under the carpet but to debate how they might be solved, yet I would like to slightly redress the balance and bring a little bit of sunshine into the debate.
First, on political tribalism, obviously there are divergent views about how we might run our economy, for example. But there are good cases where parties come together, such as the scrutiny given to the charities Bill, which I presented to your Lordships yesterday, or the National Citizen Service, which the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, mentioned. Yes, we need to get more people engaged in politics and involved in their communities. But let us not overlook the progress that has been made: 3 million more adults volunteered last year compared to 2009-10. I could cite many examples of this but will consider just a few.
The National Citizen Service has seen 130,000 participants. There is the hugely successful Community Organisers programme, training over 6,000 organisers to work in hundreds of communities up and down the country: or Code Club, a network of volunteers who teach coding in primary schools. On top of all that, obviously, is the kaleidoscope of charities that continue to enjoy the unstinting support of the British public, which the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Rochester spoke eloquently about. Just last night, for example, as I returned home to Battersea, I came across hordes of runners who had taken part in the Race for Life—a sight which made me feel exhausted—in just another example of the big-hearted, generous spirit one finds in communities across the country.
Giving is up since 2009-10, with 75% of individuals giving to causes important to them. This is worth about £11 billion a year, making Britain one of the most generous nations on earth. So we should pay great tribute to the civil society sector, which over the past few years has remained resilient through difficult times. Supported by nearly £200 million of investment from government, huge numbers of organisations have had to transform themselves to be able to continue to deliver effectively in very different and fast-changing economic and social environments.
We should also acknowledge the transformation that the Government have made to improve regulation and simplify, where possible, the environment for charities. Here I pay tribute to the excellent work undertaken by the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts, through his drive to unshackle good neighbours and deliver a valuable review of charities legislation. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Rochester made a point about the simplification of regulations. While we can and must consider how we address the challenges we face, we should not forget the good things that are already being done and we should always think about how we can do better still. The question is how.
Here I turn to the term “civil society”. Much ink has been spilled defining this term and theorising about it. The right reverend Prelate and my noble friend Lord Cormack both referred to Magna Carta. Here I dredge my brain and my history lessons, but I think that I am right in saying that the Magna Carta of 1225 as opposed to that of 1215 was granted by the King because he needed to raise extra cash and tax. This highlights in one’s mind the critical link between civil society and liberties on the one hand and economies on the other. As my noble friend Lord Griffiths of Fforestfach eloquently pointed out, strong civil societies are built on strong, enterprising economies in which low taxes encourage investment and reward hard work, in which the state does not crowd out nor overregulate private enterprise, and in which the fruits of labour are shared fairly and wealth creation is not despised but championed. These are economies in which jobs are created, giving people that all-important independence, a sense of worth and, above all, the freedom to follow their ambitions and realise their dreams. More than that, they are economies in which the state can truly afford to invest in schools and hospitals and help those in greatest need—economies in which people can afford to help others, not just look after themselves. I am not saying that without money individuals are devoid of a sense of charity, altruism and a wish to help others, but simply pointing out that in a prosperous economy, people have greater ability to help others and to strengthen the bonds on which a civilised society is built. Conversely, in an economy that goes bankrupt, it is the poorest who suffer most.
A strong economy is the bedrock of a civil society, but what are the bricks? I turn to the House of Bishops’ letter. I thought that it was a very good letter, and rather than dwell on the differences of policy—for there are some—I would rather focus on where we agree. There are many points on which I agree with the House of Bishops—indeed, my copy of the letter is well thumbed—but I will cite just three. The first is a point that the noble Baroness, Lady Prashar, focused on: Beveridge. The letter says:
“Beveridge understood that if the state is given too much power to shape society it will stifle the very voluntarism that prevents the state from being hopelessly overburdened by human need”.
How very true this is, and it is unfortunate that we did not heed those words more when they were written.
My second quote is:
“When law and regulation intrude too far into everyday life, they create a ‘chill factor’ where anxiety about the rules prevents people acting freely, sensibly or with wisdom, even in areas which are not, in fact, governed by official regulations”.
I say, “Hear, hear” to that as well, and it raises the very interesting points about the duty of negligence that the noble Lord, Lord Griffiths of Burry Port, made.
My third quote is:
“The Church of England strongly supported the Big Society”,
and its ideals,
“could still be the foundation for the new approach to politics, economics and community which we seek”.
I am delighted to read those words and will set out a few characteristics of such a society.
I will start with a slight caveat. I adhere to the principle that:
“Out of the crooked timber of humanity no straight thing was ever made”.
As John Stuart Mill warned us, large, grandiose plans to shape society may dwarf, maim, cramp and wither human faculties. Instead, we need to give people and the communities in which they live more freedom, more choice and more independence. Indeed, we need to buttress the tolerance and open-mindedness that the noble Baroness, Lady Neuberger, eloquently referred to, echoed by the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, while avoiding the pitfalls of multiculturalism that the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, spoke of.
What does this mean in practice? There are a number of aspects, but I will cite just a few. First, such a society is one where people, wherever they come from, have opportunities to get up and get on in life. What does that mean? A million more pupils are now being taught in good or outstanding schools. But this Government will go further, tackling those schools that are coasting or failing so that all our children get the best possible start. This includes being taught about our democratic system and citizenship at key stages 3 and 4, as I am sure my noble friend Lord Cormack knows, although I will peruse with interest his points about citizenship.
Secondly, such a society is one where more people have the chance to fulfil their talents. Some 2.3 million jobs and more than 2 million apprenticeships were created during the last Parliament. More women, lone parents and older workers are in work than ever before. Our aim now is to achieve full employment and create 3 million more apprenticeships.
Thirdly, a civil society is one where the less well-off are supported, while those who fall on hard times are helped back on their feet. In the last Parliament the number of households where no one works fell by more than 600,000, its lowest level in a decade. Now, with a tax-free minimum wage and a welfare system that rewards effort, we will create more opportunity for those who can work, while continuing to protect those who cannot. I was delighted to hear the views of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Rochester on this as well.
Fourthly, it is a society in which the Government are close to the people they serve. A number of your Lordships raised devolution. I say that free schools, local enterprise partnerships, elected police commissioners and local communities being given new powers over key community assets are all policies to strengthen ties and relationships between neighbours—bridging social capital, as the right reverend Prelate said and as the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, mentioned.
Next, while controlling immigration, we need to welcome and support those who come here to settle and who do their best to contribute to society. The noble Baroness, Lady Neuberger, made a number of eloquent points on this and I would be delighted to talk to her further. If I may stress one point to her, it is that the DCLG has an £8 million community fund to teach the English language, from which 33,500 adults have benefited.
Finally in my list, a civil society is one in which volunteering is encouraged and charities supported. Let me turn to a couple of specific points on that. My noble friend Lord Patten made a forceful intervention referring to big charities, and especially to their fundraising techniques. As he said, my honourable friend the Minister for Civil Society met with the self-regulatory bodies and made it clear that action must be taken, and quickly, to protect the long-term reputation of charities and address concerns expressed in recent days. As regards pay, that is a matter for charities’ trustees. They need to publish details in their accounts if senior executives are paid more than £60,000; that transparency will give the public the ability to decide whether to support those charities. Charitable trustees need always to bear in mind that it is upon the trust and generosity of the public that their future depends.
The noble Lord, Lord Judd, was absolutely right to point to the need not to overwhelm the charitable sector with new regulations. We need to get the balance right and I am confident that the new powers contained in the charities Bill are focused, targeted and proportionate. The third specific point, relating to community funds, was made by the noble Baroness, Lady Prashar. I can make no commitments as regards funding from this Dispatch Box but I intend to write to her about the very interesting points that she raised.
While rebuilding our battered economy, much has been done over the last five years to help strengthen our civil society. Let me give just a few examples. The Centre for Social Action is investing £40 million in high-impact social action projects driven by communities, seeking to work better with public services, including for people who need full-time care, the elderly and those who need support to live the final stages of their life in dignity. The Government have also created the world’s first ever social investment bank, Big Society Capital, unlocking more than £100 million of funding for communities at local level through Community First. As I mentioned, the National Citizen Service has seen more than 130,000 young people experience a programme of activity that has at its heart a message of individual responsibility, with more than 2 million hours of social action and 7,000 community projects stemming from this programme alone. As I also mentioned, one of the key aims of the charities Bill, which was debated yesterday, is to encourage charities to make more social investments that will deliver both a financial and a charitable return. Charities currently have more than £60 billion of assets, yet just £100 million of that is invested in such projects. This is a great opportunity for our little platoons to do more in their chosen fields.
So over the next five years, this Government would like to see more social action and volunteering, with community participation embedded in our lives from young people’s schooldays onwards. We would like: increased levels of giving and philanthropy; more businesses with greater sustainability at their heart; more social investment, enabling investors who want to use their money to have a profound social impact and deliver positive social change; and stronger, more resilient, more capable and more empowered communities, with a rebalancing of power away from government, enabling those communities to make more of their own decisions, shape their future and respond to the challenges that they face. But, where people need them, we would like better, more responsive public services, utilising the expertise of voluntary, community and social enterprise sector volunteers.
I end by thanking the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans for tabling this Motion. It has been a debate rich in insight and full of ideas as to how we can strengthen the bonds which underpin our communities. While we may disagree on some of the means, I think that we can all agree on the ends: a bigger, stronger, tolerant society, where communities seek fulfilment and well-being by each doing their bit; a society where communities are more resilient, capable and empowered; a society where people are encouraged to help others; and a society which has an active and diverse voluntary, community and social enterprise sector. This is civil society, built on the solid foundations of a strong economy, and I look forward to debating and discussing with your Lordships what more can be done to help foster this society in the weeks and months ahead.
My Lords, as a bishop of the Church of England and as a Member of this House, I am used to having some pretty strange titles, so I was grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, for creating a new one for me—“noble troublemaker”. I cannot respond to all the points made but I am grateful to noble Lords for their wide range of contributions—significantly, from all Benches in this House. People really have sought to rise above simply reiterating party-political points and have tried to think about some of the more long-term and deeper questions underlying our political and civic life.
I would be the first to acknowledge that Who Is My Neighbour? does not deal with many issues. The noble Baroness, Lady Barker, and the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, raised issues which we were not able to address. However, I need to mention in passing that there was a section on environmental sustainability in the report. I also say to the noble Lord, Lord Griffiths of Fforestfach, on his concerns about one or two of the statements on unemployment, that I would be delighted to send him the background statistics if he wants them. I simply reiterate that I am of course delighted by the decline in levels of unemployment and the creation of new jobs. I have said that on a number of occasions, including in this House, especially where those jobs are permanent posts. We need to acknowledge that and be grateful for it.
Finally, the noble Lord, Lord Patten, was just a little disappointed when he turned to the conclusion. The pastoral letter was one to members of the Church of England, and we invited others to eavesdrop on our conversation, but we were clear that we wanted it to be part of a larger debate. That is what we have been doing today. We hope that this will not be the end of it and that others will engage. I hope that it signals the intention from the Bishops on this Bench that, during the coming years, we want to play a full part in those debates as we think about how we can strengthen our political institutions, and reboot and restrengthen our civic life to the benefit of all those who live in this nation. I thank noble Lords very much for their contributions.
My Lords, with the leave of the House, I will now repeat a Statement made by my honourable friend the Economic Secretary in another place. The Statement is as follows.
“With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a Statement regarding the Chancellor’s speech at the Mansion House last night.
First, on the Royal Bank of Scotland, the £45 billion that the previous Government put into RBS represents the single largest bank bailout in the world. This bank employs over 60,000 people in Britain and provides over a quarter of all the small business lending in Britain. Its problems and slow recovery have been one of the biggest drags on our economy, as many smaller firms know all too painfully. The restructuring of RBS and the work that Ross McEwan and his team have done since have brought us to a decision point.
This Government were not responsible for the bailout of RBS, or the price paid then for shares bought by the taxpayer, but we are responsible for getting the best deal now for the taxpayer and doing whatever we can to support the British economy. As the Chancellor set out, there is no doubt that starting to sell the Government’s stake in RBS is the right thing to do on both counts.
That is not just our judgment—it is the judgment of the Governor of the Bank of England, whose views the Chancellor sought and whose letter on the issue we published last night. In the governor’s words:
‘It is in the public interest for the government to begin now to return RBS to private ownership’.
He goes on to say that this,
‘would promote financial stability, a more competitive banking sector, and the interests of the wider economy’.
Indeed, he adds,
‘there could be considerable net costs to taxpayers of further delaying the start of a sale’.
It is also the conclusion of the independent review which we commissioned from Rothschild and also published last night. It says that beginning sales now and increasing the free float will improve the marketability of our remaining stake, and it means we can expect to see larger sales on better terms in the future. But only if we start now.
This independent report confirms that if we take into account all the sales we have authorised of our bank assets, and the fees we have received, at the current valuation taxpayers can expect to make £14 billion more than they paid out. So in the coming months we will begin to sell our stake in RBS. It is the right thing to do for British businesses, British taxpayers and the British economy. When we take all the bank interventions in total—Lloyds, Northern Rock and scheme fees—we are making sure that taxpayers get back billions more than they were forced to put in.
Of course, given the size of our stake in RBS, the sales will take some years and will likely involve all types of investors. With such a complex investment case, we have to start with institutions but, as the Chancellor said, there is no reason why ordinary investors—in other words, members of the public—should not take part in due course.
Turning to Royal Mail, as the Chancellor set out last night, the first sale of our remaining stake has begun. The Government have today sold half of the 30% stake they retained in Royal Mail plc, at a price of 500p per share. This sale has raised £750 million, and that money can be used to reduce public debt.
We have said that we will dispose of all our shares in Royal Mail in this Parliament. We will continue to review the options in light of our stated sale objectives, but there is no rigid timetable. Value for the taxpayer remains the priority.
The Chancellor also announced last night that the Government intend to gift up to 1% of the shares of the company to Royal Mail’s UK employees. This is in recognition of their work in turning Royal Mail around.
Finally, the Fair and Effective Markets Review yesterday published its final report. It sets out 21 recommendations to help restore trust in the wholesale fixed-income, currency and commodity markets.
The review was established by the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Governor of the Bank of England in June 2014 to help to restore trust in those markets in the wake of a number of recent high-profile abuses. It is centred on four principles. First, individuals must be held to account for their own conduct. Secondly, firms must take greater collective responsibility for market practices. Thirdly, regulators should close gaps in regulatory coverage and broaden the regime holding senior management to account. Fourthly, given the global nature of these markets, co-ordinated international action should be taken wherever possible to improve fairness and effectiveness.
As the Chancellor set out in his Mansion House speech last night, there is no trade-off between high standards of conduct and competitiveness. Implementing the reforms set out in this review will ensure trust in our markets and strengthen London’s global leadership position.
This Government have a long-term plan to make the UK economy the most prosperous of all the world’s major economies in the coming generation, and for that prosperity to be shared widely across our one nation. The steps we are announcing are a key part of achieving a new settlement for our public finances and for our financial services industry, and will help us secure that bright future for all. I commend this Statement to the House”.
My Lords, that concludes the Statement.
My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for repeating the Statement. He could have spared us the reference to the long-term economic plan, which seems to vary and inflate almost from day to day in terms of the length of time that it occupies and the objectives that are set for it.
I am pleased that the Statement recognises that the taxpayers who bailed out RBS during the global financial crisis want value for their money and are somewhat suspicious of any rush to sell. That is why they will be suspicious of the Government’s actions at this time. RBS is still restructuring its business and it is very difficult to see the outcome. It is still awaiting a US settlement for the mis-selling of subprime mortgages. In case noble Lords have forgotten, the global crisis started with subprime mortgages in the United States. Banks started to collapse long before a Labour Government were ever considered to have overspent as the basis for the global crisis. I hope that we will have no references to that in this short debate on the Statement.
The Chancellor said two years ago that he would countenance the sale of RBS only when,
“the bank is fully able to support our economy and when we get good value”.
Does the Minister really think that these tests have been met? While we have always supported the eventual return of RBS to the private sector, it is surely essential that the Treasury gets back as much money as possible to help pay down the national debt, and therefore to limit the impact on the wider population of the costs involved. RBS of course had to be bailed out with great urgency but it does not have to be sold off at the same speed. It is not the case that the Governor of the Bank of England is telling Ministers that the price is right now. He makes it very clear in his letter that questions of valuation are entirely for the Government; it is their judgment which is, rightly, at stake.
On the specifics, can the Minister clarify exactly what the Government accept as a break-even share price for the bank? A potential £7.2 billion loss might be understating things because the Rothschild calculation, which is the basis for that figure, has netted off the fees that the Government have received from the bank since 2008.
When it comes to Lloyds, the Treasury has already pledged that shares sold through the Government’s trading plan will not be sold for less than 73.6p—the price the Government paid for them. That is the red line for Lloyds. What is the equivalent red line for this premature sell-off? Why cannot the Minister give us more detail about precisely when the sale will commence? What impact does he predict that that will have overall on the debt reduction?
It is important that we do not allow the Government to state that RBS losses can be put against the gains that will potentially be made in other areas such as Lloyds. RBS was purchased by the public in dire circumstances and taxpayers have every right to insist that the Government get their money back. But we are not too confident that the Government can do this; we saw their recent effort regarding the first part of the sale of Royal Mail, and look what a mess they made of that, with a loss for the public purse.
Finally, it may be noted that the Chancellor made his statement to the banking community last night, and the Minister repeated constantly in his contribution what the Chancellor said to the bankers. They are an important section of the community, but I do not think it does this Government any credit when Parliament is treated in such a mean fashion: when a junior Minister—a junior Minister—speaks in the other place and a Whip speaks in this place. Much as I have regard for the talents of the noble Lord who is addressing us, he will recognise that this Statement deserved a Treasury Minister speaking here, and that the Chancellor ought to have spoken in the other place earlier today.
My Lords, I have been away from the markets too long over the last two years, at the Department for Transport, to know whether this is the right time to be selling off either RBS or Royal Mail. However, first, although I only skimmed it, I did not find that Rothschild’s report to be terribly enlightening. Secondly, if this is a fire sale to fill holes in the budget because the Government are foundering on trying to find that impossible £12 billion in welfare cuts, and have handcuffed themselves in terms of raising taxes through their commitment to a law to prevent them from doing so, that is absolutely the wrong answer. This should not be used to fill other holes in the bucket unless we are getting the best possible value for these two assets.
I want to make a final try to persuade the Government to take a much more constructive approach to returning RBS to private hands. The Government should be breaking this bank up, into either regional or community banks, to begin to remedy a critical missing layer in our banking system. The Government carried out a half-hearted review—I know how much they resisted even doing that review—of alternatives to simply passing this back as is, as it were, to the public. They used an investment bank to do the review, which was exactly the wrong choice—an institution which cannot understand the dynamic. This should go out to the public: there should be a discussion with small businesses and a general consultation to try to decide how we can best return RBS to the private sector.
Small and medium-sized companies find it difficult still to access credit, and that credit is vital to economic growth and absolutely vital for productivity, which the noble Lord, Lord O’Neill, has often talked about. On Monday, we had the debate on trade and investment, and noble Lords brought out the difficulties for small and medium-sized companies in raising export finance. Leading economies that successfully grow their small businesses, such as Germany, the United States and Switzerland, have some form of regional and community banking. We are missing this layer, and here would be a great opportunity. Of course we have new players—challenger banks and peer-to-peer lending—but RBS, broken up, would really shift the landscape. Surely keeping RBS as it is continues the too-big-to-fail and too-big-to-manage problems that we all bemoan. Although it is guilty of plenty of scandals, RBS largely failed the old-fashioned way by making appalling loans.
The taxpayer is not going to make money on this sale, so why not use it to achieve something much more important than immediately money—a shift in the banking landscape that would underpin growing prosperity? Once this opportunity is lost, it will never return.
I will make one last comment, on the fair and effective markets review. I need time to go through that in detail, but the RBS losses are a reminder of the depth and the consequences of the banking crisis. We all always knew that when the crisis itself passed, the banks would begin their special pleading, sweetened with a little blackmail, to reverse both the penalties and levies that they faced and the regulation that has now been introduced. I ask the Government not to go wobbly on us. We need the Government to stand tall and carry through on the recommendations of the Parliamentary Commission on Banking Standards and others to give us a secure banking system.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord and the noble Baroness for their remarks. First, the noble Lord opposite commented on the mention in the Statement of the economic plan. The long-term economic plan is the reason we are able to make this sell-off at the moment and why we think that it is for the benefit of the nation to do this now. We make no apologies for mentioning the long-term economic plan, which has been so successful.
The noble Lord referred to a rush to sell. There is no rush to sell and there is no question of a fire sale. The Government—the nation and the taxpayer—own 79% of RBS, and there is no question of selling the whole lot as a fire sale. At the moment, we are going to sell bits of it in tranches, first to institutions: that is the way that is most suitable and the way recommended both by the Governor of the Bank of England and by independent advice. We have met the tests that the noble Lord, Lord Davies, mentioned. We will obviously get as much as we can for the sale and certainly intend to get value for the taxpayer. If all goes well, based on prices at 5 June, there will be £14 billion more than we paid to rescue the banks. It is not unreasonable to put those together, because this is part of the overall government strategy of returning these banks to private hands so that they can operate in a more effective way.
I completely agree with the noble Lord opposite that it is the Government’s judgment in the end to decide on the price. It is the Chancellor’s responsibility to get the best price for the Government, and he is perfectly prepared to take on that responsibility. In fact, he mentioned in his speech that it would be much easier for him to wait until the share price went up and not do the initial tranche at a loss. However, he is not going to do that, but is going to make the right decision for the country.
The noble Lord, Lord Davies, asked why we do not have a red line, as with Lloyds. We are going to allow the sale to happen in tranches, as I said, and the price will depend on what happens as those individual tranches go through. It is a bit rich for a party that sold gold at an all-time record low in government to complain about Royal Mail and getting the price wrong.
It is true that the Chancellor made his annual Mansion House speech to bankers. That is a perfectly normal place to talk about economic policy. I have some sympathy with the noble Lord’s last point, when he asked why the Chancellor did not make the Statement himself and why the Treasury Minister here did not repeat it. I have to be honest and say that I asked that question too, but of course the reason is that my noble friend the Minister is doing important government work elsewhere for the benefit of the nation.
The noble Baroness, Lady Kramer, was honest enough to admit that she has been away from the markets too long to quote the correct price, unlike the noble Lord opposite. She referred to a fire sale. We are not, as I said, selling this all at once. The pricing of these things is very difficult, and it is important to know that the loss that people are talking about is only if we sold all of our 79% share at the existing price that pertained on 5 June. The loss or profit may go up and may go down. That of course applies to the overall £14 billion profit that I quoted, which is dependent on the price that pertained on 5 June.
The noble Baroness referred to a lost opportunity to reorganise RBS before we sell it off. That is a slightly different theoretical question. It is an important one, but it is beyond today’s remit and the question of price. However, it is important to know that our strategy in selling banks and putting them back into the private sector is because we want them to do their job properly of supporting SMEs and British business. They will do that better in private hands. That is what our independent advice told us. The governor was very clear about that.
My Lords, the restructuring of RBS is certainly to be welcomed but the gap between the price paid for the RBS shares and the price now is very significant. If the policy of the Official Opposition is that we should wait “till we get our money back”, we may wait a very long time indeed. Surely it is better, as the Chancellor proposes, to make a start in the process of disposing of these shares on what is the best basis at a particular moment of time. However, would my noble friend also agree that the practice of imposing fines on banks for misbehaviour has an adverse effect on their share price, penalises the shareholders and, in this particular case, penalises the taxpayer as well? There is no significant evidence that it has any deterrent effect on bad behaviour. Surely it is much better to go for the proposal now made by the Governor of the Bank of England, which I hope will be backed up by legislation, to impose heavy penalties—criminal penalties as well—on those who are actually responsible for causing the damage to the banking system which we have experienced in recent years.
My noble friend is exactly right. He talked about fines on banks. It is very important, as he mentioned, that the Governor of the Bank of England spoke in his Mansion House speech of increasing penalties from seven to 10 years so that individuals know that they cannot play with the balance sheets of their banks and get away with it, and the penalties as such rest on the shareholders. I completely agree with him. Personally—no, “personally” is irrelevant. The Government think that, despite the fact that we increased regulation, made it more efficient and increased criminal penalties, the most important thing is the culture and ethics of the bank. That is from the top of the bank downwards. If bankers and their boards and chief executives know that and are absolutely determined that ethics should prevail, we will be in a much better position than we were. That is the single most important thing.
My Lords, I thought that somebody from the other side might get up, but evidently not. I welcome the Statement, as it goes, particularly in terms of selling the RBS shares. However, I hope my noble friend and the Government will not take too much criticism for selling them at a price below that which the Government paid. As an old stockbroker—admittedly, it is 30 years since I was one—one knows that a share is worth what it is worth at the moment, not what you paid for it. If you go on looking at what you paid for a share, your future will end in tears. The reason you hold the share is that you hope its value will go up and not down, and you wonder if you have anything better to do with the money instead. That is why you should possibly sell. I welcome that. As my noble friend Lord Higgins said, this is only the start of the sale process. It is not necessarily all to be sold at this price. If you were to wait until some time in the future when the share price might get up to what it was bought for, you could wait for ever and ever. Also, although my noble friend already said this, he does not want to take too much advice from the party opposite about this sort of thing, as we all remember the gold sales with billions and billions lost.
My noble friend is correct. Of course the Government are prepared to take criticism if criticism is due, but in this case it is not. We must also remember that it was not this Government who paid the purchase price but a previous Government who had to deal with a crisis situation brought on by, among other things, the chaotic system of bank regulation. If this Government are prepared to deal with that in a way that can provide an overall profit to taxpayers, they should be—as I am sure they will be—duly given the praise they deserve from all parts of the House.
My Lords, the Minister has said several times that it will take some years before the whole sell-off is complete. Will he confirm that, while the Government remain responsible for the administration of RBS, it is their intention to press ahead with the disengagement between the investment side and the retail side? I ask that because RBS has recently, in Scotland, announced the closure of some of its small branches. That runs against the whole history of the Royal Bank of Scotland. As my noble friend Lady Kramer said, the local branches under the authority of a branch manager used to be a positive help to small, local businesses. Unfortunately, that has long since gone, and I hope we can get it back.
My Lords, the Government have legislated to implement the Vickers ring-fencing recommendations through the banking reform Act, and it is now up to regulators to finalise those detailed rules. The Government remain committed to the implementation of the ring-fencing regime by 2019. The ring-fencing of retail banking services will help to make sure that taxpayers are not on the hook again if the bank fails in future.
My Lords, perhaps my noble friend can enlighten me. The noble Lord, Lord Davies, said that lending to sub-prime borrowers happened before the last Labour Government. Does my noble friend know why the last Labour Government did not then act? Was it not because the banking regime under that Government was extremely weak? Has it not been tightened very effectively in recent years?
Of course, the banking regime has been tightened, as we all know. I mentioned a few minutes ago criminal penalties for rogue traders and also the officers of banks. It is true that when we look at the previous regime, there is no doubt that we are making progress in that respect. As I said before, it is important that the culture is there in the banks. I believe that that is better than it was.
My Lords, perhaps the Minister can tell the House why it is considered that now is the right time to make this sale. Incurring a £15 billion loss for the taxpayer is clearly a rather painful experience. The reasons for selling shares in those circumstances are usually either that you have run out of money, which is palpably not the case here, or you fear that the shares will trade lower. The reasons given by the Bank of England are interesting but, in investment terms, not convincing. Could the Minister explain why it is necessary to do this now?
First, if the Government thought that the price was to reduce in future, they would sell the whole lot now—and they are not. As the noble Lord mentioned, the Governor of the Bank of England said that the return would promote financial stability and a more competitive banking sector. He also said—this has not been mentioned—that avoiding the sale would have the potential to incur considerable net costs to the taxpayer, further delaying the start of a sale.
Rothschild’s advice also said that by starting the sale now,
“the government will increase the free float which should in turn improve the marketability of the remainder of its shareholding”.
It will also send,
“a strong signal that RBS is on the road to recovery and that its reprivatisation has begun may also bring further benefits to the bank and therefore to the taxpayer as a shareholder”.
“Market conditions for financial assets and bank shares are … good”.
The overall accumulation of that advice is that, in the absence of unforeseen circumstances, taxpayers can comfortably expect to secure proceeds from their interventions in the banks that exceed the money they put in.
My Lords, there was a stage when Governments owned travel agencies and steelworks, not very profitably. It is not right for Governments to own those businesses and it is not appropriate for Governments to own banks. I am delighted to hear that the Government are making a start—probably only a small one—in exiting RBS. No doubt, the bank will thrive more in the private sector. Would my noble friend agree with me that at some stage it would be desirable for the customers of the Royal Bank of Scotland to be offered shares in the bank?
They have been offered an ability to participate in the purchase. The Chancellor said that although the first tranche will be done on an institutional basis because of the complex investment case, there is no reason why customers and taxpayers, importantly, should not be able to participate in the sales at a later date, and I very much hope that that will happen.
Developing World: Women
Motion to Take Note
My Lords, empowering women is critical to both sustainable economic development and resolving many of the world’s most challenging conflicts. I declare my interest. Many in this House will be aware of my own foundation’s work to empower widows in the developing world, so will know that I speak from some experience of the tangible benefits that arise when women are empowered, both economically and socially.
I am particularly grateful that we have the opportunity to debate this important issue today, in the run-up to the fifth UN International Widows Day on 23 June. The timing is also important, given the ongoing discussions at the United Nations about the renewal of the millennium development goals and the post-2015 development agenda, discussions in which the United Kingdom Government will be playing an important role.
Women are still too often the victims of unacceptable discrimination in all societies, whether this be economic, social or political. Across the developing world, women are prevented from taking leadership roles, reaching their economic potential and contributing to securing a sustainable future for their families and the communities in which they live. This is particularly problematic in post-conflict situations. In this House, we recognise that women have a right not only to live healthy lives but to play a full and equal political, economic, and social role. This is also the collective view of all countries represented at the United Nations. Indeed, there is a wealth of UN legislation to support it. But, despite welcome progress in some areas, such commitments are still too often poorly implemented and monitored. More needs to be done if the potential power of women, including widows, is to be unlocked.
Empowered women are an asset for any society. They can lead to stronger economies, greater social cohesion and a more valid and legitimate political system. This issue is not, therefore, just about women; husbands, fathers, children and communities will all benefit in a multitude of ways if women are empowered. Part of the solution to empowering women must be at the political level. Women remain marginalised from the political sphere in most countries of the world. This is the result of a combination of discriminatory laws, practices and attitudes and gender stereotypes, as well as lower levels of education, lack of access to healthcare and the disproportionate effect of poverty.
In 2013, just 20% of national parliamentarians were female, a slow but welcome increase from 11% 10 years ago. There is now significant research to demonstrate that empowering women politically at any level has tangible benefits for development. For example, research on panchayats, local councils in India, showed that the number of drinking water projects in areas with female-led councils was 62% higher than in those with male-led councils. This is not just the case in developing countries. In Norway, a direct causal relationship between the presence of women in municipal councils and childcare coverage has been identified. Imagine what could happen in the UK if this House, or indeed the other place, was to have a greater representation of women.
Political empowerment of women is therefore priority number one for ensuring development issues that affect women are on the agenda wherever they need to be. Secondly, there needs to be greater focus on the economic empowerment of women to create strong and stable societies. Investing in women’s economic empowerment directly facilitates increased gender equality, poverty eradication and inclusive economic growth. Evidence from a range of countries shows that increasing the share of household income controlled by women changes spending in ways that benefit children and families. But women still too often face discrimination, meaning that they lack the education to be able to access economic opportunities. When they access work, it is often in the low-paid and insecure sectors. I was struck by the following statistic. If women had the same access as men to productive assets, agricultural output in 34 developing countries would rise by 4%, translating to up to 150 million fewer hungry people. Economic empowerment must therefore be a priority.
Thirdly, in terms of conflict resolution, UN Resolution 1325, passed in 2000, calls for equal participation by women in the maintenance and promotion of peace and security, and for the mainstreaming of gender perspectives into conflict prevention, peace negotiations, peacekeeping operations, humanitarian assistance and post-conflict reconstruction. In 2009, the UN Security Council called for the development of global indicators to track the implementation of this resolution. Despite this, there has been a large-scale failure to make progress and there continues to be underrepresentation of women in peacebuilding processes. But women need to be involved in peacebuilding, partly as a matter of right but also because they are in practical terms crucial to creating lasting peace. As I have already outlined, women are essential to economic development, and this is even more vital where men have died or been dislocated by conflict. This requires the education of girls and the expansion of access to economic opportunities for women, for example through credit schemes and training. The exclusion of women in the peacebuilding process can lead to their economic capacities being underutilised.
Women also play a critical role in re-establishing social cohesion and political legitimacy after conflict. Women face specific threats in the aftermath of conflict. This is particularly the case with sexual violence. Where women are not involved in peacebuilding, it is more likely that their rights will be violated. Involving women in peacebuilding offers the opportunity to redress existing inequalities and to rebuild a better society in which all members feel a sense of ownership, something that surely increases the chances of lasting peace.
However, women’s involvement is being held back, partly because women are not a homogenous group, and their needs can vary dramatically in post-conflict situations. Consider the different needs of ex-combatants, victims of war crime and widows, for example. We cannot treat them all the same. This will require more time and resources to ensure that all needs are addressed and that women from different parts of society can be included in the process. As a country, we must support the implementation of the UN’s seven-point action plan on women’s participation in peacebuilding, ensuring the participation of women and girls in conflict resolution, planning processes, financial decisions, civilian capacity and political representation and ensuring legal rights and economic empowerment.
We should also support wider campaigns around violence against women, such as the UNiTE to End Violence Against Women campaign, and we must ensure that, in addressing the needs of women, men are also involved. Gender injustices will be addressed only if men also believe in them, buy into them and support them.
I want to turn to the plight of widows. No women are more vulnerable and more discriminated against than widows, particularly in circumstances of economic underdevelopment or in post-conflict situations. Widows are the victims of double discrimination: first, because they are female, and secondly because they are widowed. Becoming a widow in the developing world can have far-reaching consequences for individuals and those dependent on them. They can include: impoverishment and the intensification of existing poverty; increased health risks, including malnutrition; infectious diseases, including sexually transmitted diseases; and social marginalisation, for reasons of stigma or because the affected widow has resorted to begging or prostitution. Many widows face quite appalling physical, sexual, economic and mental abuse. According to a comprehensive report on the plight of widows worldwide, to be published by the Loomba Foundation on 23 June, the number of widows worldwide has risen by 9% since 2010, with traditional causes compounded by additional factors including Ebola, conflict and famine. Including the dependent children and families of widows, it is now estimated that nearly 1 billion people worldwide are adversely affected by widow’s poverty, and nearly 15% of them are living in extreme poverty.
This is a very significant development issue. The deprivation faced by widows and their children is a human rights issue of such magnitude that it demands recognition and action by international bodies and special consideration in development programmes. I will therefore close my contribution today with this challenge to the Government as they contribute to the UN discussions on the post-2015 development framework: the new framework should include a stand-alone goal on achieving gender equality and women’s rights and, unlike the previous millennium development goals, all future goals should specifically refer to areas such as widow’s deprivation. Only this inclusion will ensure that all women benefit in each country, including widows, who are too often invisible in such situations and in progress reporting. For the future success of sustainable development goals, making widows a particular focus will enable help to reach some of the most vulnerable women on earth, giving voice to a group of women silenced by their circumstances and without the means to make a change to their lives for the better.
Sustainable, workable and realistic future goals rely on ensuring that the people who need the help of the goals are at the forefront of their implementation. More often than not it is women who find themselves in need of the assistance the MDGs endeavour to provide. Therefore it makes sense to ensure that women are empowered to implement these goals and are in a solid position to take on the difficult task of sustaining them to make future growth and stability possible. Focusing on women, and especially widows, not only gives a voice to many who do not have one and are not able to participate in any meaningful democratic process but ensures that their voice is heard within the context of their problems and their struggles, helping to ensure success for future sustainable goals. I beg to move.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for that reminder. I am the first to thank the noble Lord, Lord Loomba, for putting down today’s debate because we are all aware that the plight of so many women and girls in so many parts of the world is absolutely a blot on humanity. I am also grateful to my noble friend Lord Collins of Highbury and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Derby for taking part in the debate, because we need more men in this House and elsewhere to play a part in understanding this issue and to be determined to join in the fight for women’s empowerment.
This week I have been exchanging emails with the tireless campaigner on behalf of widows worldwide, the indefatigable Margaret Owen. She is currently touring the Middle East lecturing, listening and persuading the powers that be to address the poverty and disrespect currently suffered by so many widows in so many countries. Margaret has over the past two weeks been in Lebanon, Iraq and Syria, countries where many of us fear to tread. For those who have never met Margaret Owen, my understanding is that she is in her early 80s, so for a woman of that age, never mind any other person, that is a major achievement.
Margaret emailed me details of comments made by a lecturer in Beirut regarding some of the current practices of ISIS. She reported being told of ISIS price lists for women and girls, including pre-puberty girls deemed ready for intercourse. She went on to report the practice of holding kidnapped girls, 100 at a time, described as child virgins, ready to lure jihadi recruits. From the safety of this Chamber all we can do is to make sure as many people as possible are aware of these gross violations and bring this knowledge to the attention of those in a position to change matters. We want to ensure that those in positions of influence understand that the issues discussed here, relating to women as they do, do not run alongside issues of a more general nature—or even a more male one—but are integral to our work, approaches, decisions on funding and rebuilding of countries in conflict. In other words, the Government need to address the whole question of gender mainstreaming within and across their departments.
Some good things are of course happening. I applaud the preventing sexual violence initiative taken two years ago by the then Foreign Secretary, William Hague. The PSVI and the consequent conference held last summer sent a powerful message to the world that the use of sexual violence as a weapon of war should be declared a war crime. What actions are in play to follow up on this initiative? I recognise that the initiative was from the FCO, but I hope that there is a measure of cross-departmental approach to the work.
Also, the UN special rapporteur on violence against women was invited to the UK last year to see for herself the work being done and the determination of government to eliminate this horrific crime. While she was able to meet with many senior government officials and of course Ministers, can the noble Baroness, Lady Verma, tell the House why she was not allowed to visit the women detainees in Yarl’s Wood detention centre? This did not send out a positive message to the rest of the world.
I turn to what gives us the real solution to this terrible problem. In February last year I initiated a debate in your Lordships’ House on the National Action Plan on Women, Peace & Security. I said then and say again that the top and bottom of the issue is about power. While women remain powerless they will not be able to extricate themselves from positions of danger or deprivation. Power must mean voice—it must mean access to decision-making, education, paid employment and influence. Government initiatives must start at a local level, must include women in rebuilding societies, and must expect that women will want to and are capable of moving on and up so that they become just as much a part of the fabric of their society as are the men. Without power, all else is lost.
Some 15 years ago our Government, along with others, signed up to the United Nations Resolution 1325. There was unanimous agreement. We must put more effort into ensuring that that resolution is translated into action in a very vigorous and positive way.
Finally, I will say a couple of words about an entirely different but linked matter. The women of Afghanistan have a tradition of writing poetry, sending two-line verses to each other by a variety of sometimes quite ingenious means. These are women who live in outlying villages. I had the pleasure last week of meeting with a woman from an organisation called Poet in the City. It engages in all sorts of ways to bring the City of London and its history alive through poetry and verse. It is promoting the Afghani women’s work and bringing it to a wider audience. That is a minuscule step in the journey which will bring confidence to women in just one part of the world where so many of them have no voice or independent rights—very soft power as part of our armoury, but still very important and much needed.
My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend Lord Loomba on securing this debate. I have never witnessed the work of the Loomba Foundation up close, but I have been a fan and I have watched his work from afar over these last 10 years or so, and it is deeply impressive. His ongoing commitment to the cause of widows in particular is something of which I am tremendously proud, as I hope his family are.
I am delighted to take part in today’s debate to tell noble Lords about last month when I visited a shop. I had the great good fortune to be asked by VSO to be a volunteer, and as part of my volunteering placement I visited a project in Lesotho, which is run jointly by an ex-mineworkers association and VSO and is called Phoning Out Poverty and AIDS. All across southern Africa there are women whose men went off to work in the mines of southern Africa and who have succumbed to pneumoconiosis, TB or HIV, and those women live in abject poverty. With the aid of a phone company they were given a container, in which they have established a community phone shop. It is the sort of shop that, if it were in Manchester, would be the subject of an ongoing soap documentary, because it is at the centre of the village and has all the bits and bobs.
There are three great things about it. Number one: a woman who was so ill with HIV and AIDS, having been impregnated by a teacher when she was a schoolgirl, and who had nothing and was bed-bound, has now earned enough money not only to get some furniture but to be able to afford the fares to the local clinic to get some treatment. She is back on her feet. Number two: the project has not only allowed people to make phone calls but is giving them HIV and AIDS information, and increasing the health of that village. Number three: a veritable battalion of grannies work in that shop. Grannies are unmistakable the world over. These particular grannies go to that shop and between them secure income for over 50 of their grandchildren, who were previously starving. That is the economic empowerment of young women and girls, and as the granddaughter of a former migrant mineworker it has impressed me greatly.
Part of my overall placement with VSO was to talk to and train parliamentarians across southern Africa to campaign for sex and relationship education, but in particular to end the scourge of child marriage. Child marriage and early pregnancy are two of the biggest determinants of poverty and ill health of girls across the world. Billions of young women are forced into relationships way before they are physically ready for them, and as a result are enduring lives of poverty.
Will the noble Baroness, Lady Verma, say what the current Government are doing to continue the work that was started by my noble friend Lady Northover and Lynne Featherstone in the previous Government to ensure that DfID continues to work with parliamentarians across the world to ensure a decrease in the rate of child marriage? There are areas of the world where rates of child marriage are going down. There are successful programmes, which we should be supporting and extending.
My noble friend Lord Loomba talked about the critical importance of the next few months. We all know that we are in the final run-up to the meetings at which the new strategic development goals will be determined and, crucially, the budgets—the resources—that go with them. There will be a meeting in Addis Ababa in a few weeks at which our Government will be present to talk about financing for those development goals.
It is significant that many of the international development charities, building on the work of Amartya Sen, have come to the conclusion that it is not possible to achieve overall empowerment and enrichment of societies if you do not work through the empowerment of women and girls. So will the Government, through their coming work over the next few months, ensure that there is a strong stand-alone goal on gender equality and women’s rights, that there are specific targets for increasing women’s full and effective participation, and that programmes to go behind that development goal are funded to make sure that, from small corner shops in Lesotho to national Governments and internationally, there is a coherent programme of economic development?
Finally, I commend to noble Lords a report that was published in January this year by Age International, which talks about the truth of ageing and development. It is a series of essays, one of which was written by the noble Baroness, Lady Greengross. In it, she sets out a number of points that are often overlooked about the role of gender and older women’s inequality in development. In so far as we have data, we know that women are likely to live longer but are much more likely to have longer periods of ill health due to the fact that they have had little in the way of economic or educational choices throughout their lives. That, together with poor nutrition and inattention to their sexual and reproductive health, all takes a toll in later life. Even within countries there will be some communities where the effect is disproportionate. In Serbia, for example, the overall position of older women is relatively good, but within the Roma community in Serbia there is a very difficult problem in relation to older women and poverty.
The noble Baroness, Lady Greengross, draws attention to a fact about international development that I had not previously thought about, and that is the impact of dementia. Not only are women increasingly engaged in what is called family care, although it is really female care, for growing numbers of people with dementia, but occasionally, because of a lack of knowledge and awareness in communities, they become vulnerable. People accuse them of witchcraft and so on, and there have been a growing number of incidents where older women have been killed as a result. The noble Baroness, Lady Greengross, opened up in her essay a new area for research, and I ask the Minister whether she will consider looking not just at gender-specific data but at age and gender-specific data to back up some of this work.
The noble Lord, Lord Loomba, was absolutely right to return our attention to this subject, and I hope that if noble Lords ever get the chance to go to Lesotho, they will drop by a very special corner shop.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Loomba, for both securing and introducing this timely debate, and I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Verma, on her appointment to DfID.
The case for empowering women is glaringly obvious but in that process we must not forget girls because, if girls are empowered from an early age, it becomes the norm. Adolescent girls in particular should be seen as valuable members of society in their own right and not just as “future women”.
Ample evidence shows that there is a link between gender inequality and violent conflict: countries with high levels of violent conflict also have high levels of gender inequality; countries with higher levels of civil and political empowerment of women have lower levels of violent conflict; and countries with higher levels of economic empowerment of women have lower levels of international violence. So the case for empowering women in developing countries is very compelling.
Our Government are to be congratulated on the priority they have given to the empowerment of women and girls and their commitment to this work. DfID’s commitment to gender equality and empowering women and girls through the strategic vision for women and girls and the International Development (Gender Equality) Act 2014, focusing on the impact of official development assistance on gender relations and gender equality, are truly welcome. Equally welcome is the FCO’s United Kingdom National Action Plan on Women, Peace & Security, which was mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Prosser.
Despite the priority given by our Government and despite a number of international agreements to include women in peacebuilding processes, women are often absent from those processes. Opportunities during post-conflict periods—that is, during constitutional reform processes, political settlements and the establishment of democratic systems and laws—are often missed. In my view, these opportunities are sometimes missed because of culturally determined gender roles and social norms, as well as the legal environment.
Therefore, any strategy to empower women and girls must focus both on building the confidence, skills and capacity of women and girls and on working towards an enabling environment which supports the empowerment of women and girls. I say that because I have taken a close interest in the work of the British Council, of which I am the deputy chair. In countries such as Nigeria and those in the Middle East and north Africa, it has a number of projects relating to stability, reconciliation and peacebuilding. In north Africa and the Middle East, it is supporting advocacy and the empowerment of women. It does this in conjunction with DfID. In Africa, particularly Kenya, it is working with the Premier League—that is, through sport—to make sure that some of the prejudices that exist between boys and girls are dealt with. In the Middle East, there is another project called Springboard, which helps people with empowerment and has been used by 10,000 women. Some of them were here last week, when I had the opportunity to talk to them. It was really heart-warming to hear how they have benefited from these projects.
I want to dwell a little on the lessons that have been learnt and why these projects are successful. That has something to do with the approach taken by the British Council. It understands the context in which it works and it has a deep knowledge of the countries so as to be able to support these initiatives. It also works with local partners. However, the most important part is that it takes a very holistic and systemic approach, and this experience reinforces what I have already said: that it is important to work at all the different levels of society if that work is to be effective and sustainable. It also tells us that the inclusion of men and boys in the change process is essential, and it is important to focus on the cultural, social and legal environment as well as on the social norms. We have to see this from end to end, starting with girls and going right through to old age. We cannot focus on particular sections of women; the focus has to be on girls, women and the elderly. The points that the noble Baroness, Lady Barker, made about the report to which the noble Baroness, Lady Greengross, contributed were very pertinent.
In my view, gender equality and women’s rights are key to addressing the unfinished business of the millennium development goals and accelerating global development beyond 2015. The post-2015 framework should retain a strong, stand-alone goal on gender equality and women’s empowerment, as has already been said by the noble Lord, Lord Loomba, and as recommended by the United Nations High-level Panel on the Post-2015 Development Agenda. It should also include gender-specific targets and indicators in the other goals. I believe that this framework should take a holistic view of gender inequalities, including education, economic empowerment, health, an end to violence, leadership and influence, participation in peace and security, and the contribution to environmental sustainability. The framework should also build on the lessons that have been learnt from the work that has already been done, because I do not think that enough emphasis is put on cross-learning. It is important that we learn from the projects which are already under way and look at how the lessons from them can be incorporated.
This is a golden opportunity to finish the unfinished agenda, to accelerate inclusiveness and equality, and to make development truly sustainable. It is a unique opportunity to build on the achievements of the millennium development goals and to address the dimensions which are lagging behind by learning from the experiences of those working on the ground. I consider that to be very important. I cannot emphasise enough—and not because I have a close knowledge of it—the work and projects carried out by the British Council with the support of DfID. There is some real learning to be had there.
I finish by saying that it would be very helpful to hear from the Minister what the Government’s approach is likely to be in the coming months. Will they be urging a more holistic and systemic approach to empowerment and encouraging people to build on the learning that we have had to date?
My Lords, I, too, want to thank Lord Loomba for securing this debate and giving us this chance to discuss with the Minister and the Government our priorities and contribution to these issues across the world.
We all know that there is a strong link between the well-being of women and girls and peace, security and development. It is in our UK national plan and is a very big part of my own experience. I am privileged to be a trustee of Christian Aid, and we deliberately prioritise investment in women and girls to secure the transformation and development of needy societies. Within my own Anglican tradition, the Mothers’ Union Worldwide does amazing work in places such as Rwanda, empowering women to transform communities. In my diocese, we have an annual harvest appeal and, for the last several years, have invested in helping women in Delhi set up recycling businesses and, this year, helped educate girls and women in Angola. It is right on the forefront of making a difference. My work on the Modern Slavery Bill opened my eyes to the appalling international abuse and oppression of women through sexual violence and exploitation.
I am very pleased that we include widows in this debate. Some noble Lords may have noticed that, in May, we had Christian Aid Week, and there was a particular focus on widows in Ethiopia. We know from work that we are already doing there that investing in cows and providing a means of a livelihood for women, and then for their families if they are widowed and become the head of the household, creates not just economic empowerment but gives people status in the community as a proper agent and therefore a much stronger position, especially for their daughters, to stand up against things such as forced early marriage or female genital mutilation. If we empower widows in that way as they head households, it has an amazing effect on the children, especially girls, in those households.
The UN estimates that one in three women suffer from beating, sexual coercion or abuse. It is an issue of confronting social norms and institutions, because it is those social values and institutions that enable this oppression and abuse just to roll on. It is very important that we do not depict women simply as victims needing help, but as contributors with a very important part to play. One critique of the millennium development goals, as you know, was that focus in this area was perhaps on symptoms rather than causes—trying to reach out to empower women in an initial way but not giving them the capacity to make a difference to cultural norms and their institutional frameworks. The danger is that women are seen as providers and consumers for the benefit of the family. That can be a cheap way into development—women provide and are consumers to develop the family.
It makes me think of the struggles in the 19th century in our own country, when Ruskin and others developed the doctrine of the two spheres. This was designed to help women by saying that women had a sphere in which they should really grow and develop—that of the home—and men dealt with the world and all the stuff outside. That was an attempt to be positive by creating space for women to grow in. However, it is such a powerful doctrine in the DNA of countries across the world that it in fact entraps women, as we know. My own Church of England has only just succeeded in the struggle, after years, to appoint a woman as a diocesan bishop. There is still an amazingly patronising, two-sphere kind of culture, not just in our church but in our country. If it is a struggle in our own culture, how on earth are we going to help contribute in developing cultures to moving away from that kind of mentality, which is so oppressive?
It is an issue of power relations, education opportunities and cultural values, and that is the most difficult thing to get transformation on. All the evidence shows that an unregulated market of goods and cultural values actually makes the situation worse for women because it gives the impression that development is happening and that there can be economic benefit. However, if we do not tackle the gender imbalance that is built into cultural values, an unregulated market makes this problem worse in development, rather than better, by giving some signs of development but, underneath, women are trapped in these very limited and oppressive spaces.
There has to be a multipronged approach involving government, business and faith groups. In Christian Aid, we work with partners on the ground that know about the pace of change and how to deliver it. I just heard a report at a Christian Aid board meeting of a seven-year project to work with communities to help the male elders begin to involve females in the leadership of their tribes. It took seven years to make any change. That local expertise and sensitivity is needed to make a social transformation that will last, rather than some great perfect plan that everybody says yes to but does not really buy.
It is the same with economic development. Christian Aid works in Malawi with women with HIV and malaria. The project is not just a medical, caring one, which is the way that development for women is often done; it involves giving people loans, facilities to develop businesses and mentoring so that the development is wholesome and the culture is challenged to change, with women taking leadership roles, across not just politics but economic activity.
I would like to finish by asking the Minister to consider four questions. The first is to add my voice to that of a number of others in this debate on the sustainable development goals. How might the Government ensure that there are targets on gender equality and women’s rights and opportunities, and widows, in those sustainable development goals? What are the Government’s plans for these last few months of negotiation?
Secondly, picking up on a point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Barker, we could do a lot more to collect data in many countries about rights, social groupings, incomes and the pattern of development. We have the wherewithal to bring data together and see new things that might identify where women are being held up and not enabled to contribute and to make a difference. How do the Government see their role in helping to enable data collection and analysis, and what contribution can this country make?
Thirdly, I told you the story about a seven-year project to get women even beginning to be involved in the political leadership of their tribes. How can the Government offer funding, through DfID, for instance, that is for the longer term and for a sustainable timeframe? What are the Government’s funding policies and priorities that will enable projects to work over seven years in a given place and not just in the short term, which is often what many deals are about?
Finally, what part might the Government play in challenging the unregulated market forces that unintentionally, I think, make the problem worse? What can the Government do to have a proper counterbias to change the gendered culture and give space for women to contribute? The market does not give space for that and the two-sphere idea is still pretty powerful in developing countries. How could the Government articulate, through DfID and its investment and support, a real gender bias to counter the inertia of that two-sphere culture that the market otherwise can just uncritically develop?
My Lords, I, too, am extremely grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Loomba, for bringing this most important subject before your Lordships’ House. The empowerment of women, particularly in the developing world, has long been an interest of mine. I would also like to welcome the ministerial appointment of my noble friend Lady Verma. I have known her a long time and admire her long-standing work and commitment to empowering women.
Conflict has a significant and disproportionate effect on women and, as we have already heard, they are usually excluded from peace processes. Therefore, even after the men have stopped fighting, there is still no peace for women and they are left voiceless, to suffer in silence. This was starkly brought home to me when I visited Liberia a couple of years ago. The sexual violence of the conflict had embedded into the society and it was all too commonplace that girls as young as 12 were routinely subjected to rape. Today, warfare has moved from battlefields and into communities. Women now face the danger of conflict up close, sometimes in their own homes, and all too often without protection. It is thought that 90% of deaths in conflict today are civilian, with 70% of them being women and children, and those who survive are often subject to sexual violence, shattering lives for the long term.
The terror inflicted by ISIS today in Iraq and Syria is a shocking illustration of this. It has abducted and raped thousands of women, selling many into prostitution. Last month I visited Iraq and heard of a Yazidi girl who had been sold 21 times in Syria. At an IDP camp, I met some of the women who had fled from Mosul and Sinjar; their stories were indeed harrowing, and they were homeless with no means of support and were worried as to how they were going to feed their children.
While women are often the poorest in a society, widows are the poorest of the poor. Widowhood is one of the most neglected of all the human rights and gender issues. All the chaos and turmoil of the warfare of the last decade has created millions of widows and wives of the disappeared, who become the most vulnerable in their societies. It was recently estimated that the number of widows in Iraq alone had reached approximately 2 million. Afghanistan is a country with one of the highest proportions of widows in the world, as four decades of conflict have left millions of women without a husband.
In many of these countries, societal norms mean that women cannot function in society without a man. It may not be acceptable to walk down the street unaccompanied by a male or to work outside the home, thus family stability is destroyed and too often women and their families become destitute. In Kabul, you see widows begging beside the road and you see young boys selling food products because it is unacceptable for a woman to do so. In some countries in Africa, widows may be regarded as a chattel of the community and subjected to abuse and exploitation. They may not be allowed to inherit or own property. Thus a widow may be turned out of her home, or forcibly made to marry a member of her husband’s family. Too often, widows are held in shame, ostracised and abandoned by their communities, adding to their sadness, poverty and the stigma of widowhood itself.
Disturbingly, there are no official statistics on the number of widows in the war-torn countries. This lack of reliable data means that the plight of widows is severely neglected, impacting not only on their livelihood, but on that of their children too. Widowhood is not just the root cause of poverty and inequality, but is the reason that millions of children of widows—daughters as well as sons, vital to a society’s prosperity and future—are denied education and well-being, and this has a knock-on effect on the country’s development.
I declare an interest: during the past few years I have got to know, and at times worked with, Margaret Owen of Widows for Peace through Democracy. Following the death of her husband, she became aware of the plight of widows in conflict and developing countries and founded one of the first organisations to focus on this issue. I echo the remarks of the noble Baroness, Lady Prosser, about Margaret Owen. She is indeed in her 80s and, as we speak, is travelling in the Middle East. She is an incredibly remarkable woman and her ground-breaking work and tireless campaigning time and again raises the issues of widowhood. WPD, her organisation, is an umbrella and support for many widows’ organisations in countries across the world.
This year, the 59th session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women focused on the Beijing Platform for Action as it is its 20th anniversary. In its declaration, the commission expressed concern that progress had been slow and that gaps and obstacles remained in the platform’s implementation. It also recognised that new challenges have emerged and committed to using all opportunities and engaging all stakeholders to achieve their aims. However, Beijing made no explicit mention of widows and, in reviewing its implementation, surely widowhood issues should be addressed.
The purpose of today’s debate is to make the case for widows, and women as a whole, to be included in conflict resolution and thus to help create long-term sustainability in countries that have been torn apart by war. This year is also the 15th anniversary of UN Security Council Resolution 1325, which focuses on the situation of women in conflict with its four pillars of prevention, protection, participation, and relief and recovery. However, although many countries have adopted national action plans on the implementation of UN Resolution 1325, few have allocated proper funding or resources.
Last year, the OECD reported that only 3% of peace and security funding is used with gender equality and women’s empowerment as a principal objective. A UN survey of peace agreements also illustrated that, between 1992 and 2011, women were fewer than 4% of peace signatories and less than 10% of negotiators. Excluding women from peace processes means that not only are their needs overlooked but their knowledge and experience are not utilised. Building stability in a post-conflict country needs the input of the whole of society—you cannot have true peace in a country where half the population is excluded from decision-making. So instead of seeing women just as victims, it should be recognised that women have the ability to be powerful agents for change in their communities. Surely some internationally agreed funding of women’s rights groups would go a long way towards addressing this implementation deficit. To realise the goals of Resolution 1325, dedicated budgets, with clear lines of responsibility and accountability, that actively involve and include civil society are needed.
In the context of UN Resolution 1325, I applaud the ground-breaking work done by our military. Today, often the first person a survivor of conflict will meet is a soldier. In Kurdistan last month, I met some of our military who are training the Peshmerga, not only in fighting techniques but in protection of civilians and helping survivors of sexual violence. In the DRC, our military engaged with women in communities. This not only helped with their protection, but helped with intelligence of what was going on on the ground. I hope that we can embed this work into the MoD and that other countries will follow the UK’s lead.
Women’s voices are rarely heard in the developing world, and those of widows even less. Surely this is the time to stop widowhood being a neglected issue. Widows’ needs must be addressed within the context of poverty, human rights, access to justice and the elimination of violence. When considering the millions of widows across the world today, I hope that the Minister will agree that this is a key component to the wider success of the women’s empowerment agenda. Again, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Loomba, for bringing forward this debate, for it is by discussing these issues and shining a light on the needs of the poorest in society that we will help to bring about the fundamental changes that will contribute to stability in the countries which need it so desperately.
My Lords, at the outset, I, too, welcome the noble Baroness, Lady Verma. I look forward to working with her on our shared interest in international development. I also want to pay tribute to the contribution made over many years by the noble Lord, Lord Loomba, to our understanding of the strength and determination shown by women who have been widowed. They need and deserve our deep respect and support. We have heard that in a number of contributions this afternoon.
Too often, women are described as victims, but I would say that they are fighters, survivors and protectors. Recently, women’s groups in Nigeria were able to reach a compromise with oil companies that benefited the whole community. In Afghanistan, I have met women who have shown enormous courage and leadership in very difficult and dangerous circumstances. Women have a finger on the pulse of what their communities need and deserve, and it is women who can and will bring peace and stability to their communities. In every respect, women have a vested interest in the critical objectives of peace, security and reconciliation.
As we have just heard, UN Resolution 1325 on women, peace and security specifies that women must be part of seeking and managing all peace processes, but it remains the case that too often they struggle to secure their right to this role. Can the Minister reassure the House that, as the NGO Saferworld has said, more attention will be given to the conflict prevention aspects of the women, peace and security agenda, including by understanding how gender relates to the underlying drivers of conflict and violence? Regrettably, the fine words that we hear have not often been translated into real and tangible change. Women are too often portrayed as victims instead of being offered the opportunity to be fully integrated into both formal and informal peace processes to actually prevent violent conflict and sustain fragile states.
The fact is that there are examples of fine words that have been translated into real change. In Northern Ireland, South Africa and Rwanda, we can see the difference that engagement with women makes to governance and peace. Women’s engagement is not, as some might claim, with stereotypical soft issues. On the contrary, women can add skills, understanding and experience to the issues, but tragically they often struggle to hold on to their place on the political agenda.
Would the Minister care to comment on the fact that UN Resolution 1325 mandates that all states must ensure women’s full participation in all peace processes? What is the Minister’s assessment of the effectiveness of that mandate so far? Is it not the case that even after the passing of many national and international frameworks, endemic discrimination and gender-based violence remain significant barriers to achieving the 1325 goals? Increasingly, we recognise that such violence against women and girls is a defining characteristic of modern warfare and that women are being targeted as a way for male combatants to humiliate and undermine other male combatants. In many conflicts, rape is used as a weapon of war to humiliate and dominate, and to disrupt social ties. The proof of this is that we have seen 39 active conflicts over the past 10 years, but very few women have been a part of any peace negotiations.
When I see a picture of a large table of people deliberating on how to deal with conflict, I know without looking very hard that it is unlikely that women, who actually are the peacemakers and the activists, will be in that picture. They are generally ignored and will not be sitting at the table. The reality is that this neglects a rich source of skills, insight and energy, and we neglect it at our peril. A shocking statistic is that out of 585 peace treaties drafted in the past two decades, only 16% included any specific reference to women.
Over the years, I have been fortunate enough to see the work of women activists, and I can vouch for their ability to negotiate fairly and effectively. However, women need to be involved not only in post-settlement decision-making but in the nitty-gritty of negotiations aimed at resolving the root causes of conflict. Can the Minister confirm that this is a clear priority for the Government? Simply reiterating the arguments for dealing with violence will not do. It is time that we saw concerted efforts to deal with the underlying causes, which include power imbalances, systemic inequality and the effects of discriminatory social norms, to which other noble Lords have referred.
Finally, a vital element of the discussions currently taking place in New York on a post-2015 development agenda agreement must—unequivocally—include a commitment to eliminate all forms of violence, including sexual violence, by the date the delegates have set themselves of 2030.
My Lords, it is a privilege to take part in this debate. I thank my noble friend Lord Loomba for calling it and for his consistent efforts in championing widows and calling Governments to action—and, of course, for securing the UN’s support for designating 23 June as International Widows Day. I, too, salute Margaret Owen, who I know, respect and admire. Her work is outstanding.
The empowerment of all women has been close to my heart since early in my life, as we lived through the war of independence in 1971. I remember all too vividly women, like my mother, endangering themselves and playing a crucial role in protecting families and fighters, when more than 300,000 women suffered rape as a weapon of war by the Pakistani army. For those women, no apologies or reparations have been made to date by the Pakistani Government.
I am all too familiar with what happens to women and their families in war and conflict, especially those who are left widowed, as members of my family were. Here at home I have had the privilege of leading and developing services for women in the East End of London since the 1980s. Many of these women’s organisations continue to serve women’s needs and their families today. I never tire of speaking about the need for us to continue to speak about women’s resilience, because progress and change are all too slow in coming.
In our parliamentary work, we often benchmark other countries’ progress by the numbers of women in Parliament and public life, so it is pleasing that for once we have a new benchmark of 191 women MPs—a jump from 22% to 29% of women in Parliament. Here I must add my welcome and congratulations in particular to new Asian women MPs, including Dr Rupa Huq, Tulip Siddiq, Nusrat Ghani, Tasmina Ahmed-Sheikh and Naz Shah. Despite this progress, women leaders remain miserably absent from the world stage. Given that we are discussing conflict resolution, the question arises about the differences that would arise if more women were on the global stage.
It is a fact that today’s world is populated by wars and conflict, with the Middle East and many parts of Africa in flames. Thus, women remain vulnerable, in many conflicts, to rape being used as a weapon of war, while the peace process historically kept women outside and on the periphery of decision-making and peacebuilding, as has been said by many noble Lords. Women and girls continue to be devalued in the wider society, while sexual violence against women and girls remains pervasive in all societies, including our own. So it should not surprise us that women and children are the major victims in conflict and wars. As we speak, women are silenced by perpetrators in Burma, Syria, Egypt, Iraq and elsewhere.
Against this backdrop, UN Security Council Resolution 1325, which calls for increased participation of women in peacebuilding and peace negotiations, has been the single most important trigger for national plans worldwide, including our own honourable contribution in the summit held here in London two years ago, ably led by our former Foreign Secretary. Since then, there has been a significant and steady shift in the number of women leading peace processes, including the fact that we currently have 39 women leading UK overseas missions—seven more than in 2010. No doubt the UK Government, through their national action plan, will continue to up the numbers of women in leadership positions to aid conflict resolution in order to make the same difference overseas.
Equally, the United Nations contribution to bringing women into the political forum in developing countries is significant. There are numerous positive examples of resilience and change. Through UN Women, Muslim women groups have taken part in the Mindanao peace process in the Philippines and have met representatives of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front to discuss the provision of draft peace agreements, with the aim of resolving one of the Philippines’ protracted conflicts. The front took the unprecedented step of appointing two women to its peace panel, which is engaged in talks with the Government of the Philippines. An additional two women joined the government negotiating team, including one heading its legal unit.
In Kyrgyzstan, the UN Women and the UN Peacebuilding Fund support women’s peace committees and networks of activists to engage women in peacebuilding and reconstruction in the country. Through the use of diplomacy, dialogue and mediation women are developing skills, representing their views and seeking to find solutions for the common good. The committees regularly monitor violations of women’s rights and risks of conflict outbreaks.
Here we see a few positive steps towards gender equality and the erosion of the notion that women have no place in conflict resolution. Fortunately, that is not limited to Asia, as Senegal, Mali, Liberia and Rwanda illustrate the widespread effort to engage women in conflict resolution in Africa. Senegal created the Women’s Situation Room for the 2012 presidential elections. The team was set up with the aim of safeguarding women from election violence, and of supporting women’s protection in campaigning and voting. In Mali, women leaders are trained by UN Women to engage in dialogue and political stabilisation, ensuring that women’s rights and the issue of gender-based violence are addressed.
Courageous women in Liberia, which has been mentioned, challenged social conventions and took the opportunity to become active leaders in political, economic and civil institutions. Women there are facilitating reconciliation efforts and have secured formal roles that allow them to influence the future of their nation. They are the first in that nation to do so, as those roles were previously dominated by men. We should rightly rejoice that Ellen Johnson Sirleaf is the 24th president of Liberia—and a woman, for those who did not notice. That is a miracle yet to happen in the most developed part of the world. President Sirleaf has since continued the efforts of her office to challenge the levels of women’s participation in national government and other institutions.
Rwanda has put girls and women at the centre of its Government’s priorities following the tragic genocide and the staggering number of cases of sexual violence. Girls and women now have their core rights and women are now seen as key to the country’s economic and political development.
“Birongonas” is a casual term used for Bangladeshi women who were raped or left widowed by Pakistani soldiers during the war of independence in Bangladesh in 1971. Among them are thousands of abandoned widows. Now they have formal recognition, are classed as war heroines and freedom fighters and share the same rights as soldiers who fought in the Bangladesh liberation war in 1971. That is a very good example of what many Governments should do. This is a true form of women’s social empowerment, as it changed the status of women from that of rape victims with no status in society to that of freedom fighters—one of the highest statuses for people in Bangladesh. This example shows categorically what is required in conflict resolution: not just legal protection but supporting and providing resources, along with accepting responsibilities, as a way to aid survivors to live beyond their traumas and devastation. Our current approach is properly emboldened by our national plans being in place, for nothing changes for those who live on beyond rape without hope and yearning for justice and whose lives are shattered for ever. Economic empowerment not only improves women’s domestic rights and the prospects of their children, it also has a positive impact on the entire nation.
Of course, education has an essential role in the empowerment of women, and there are many shining examples of girls’ education improving the lives of women and girls, including in Bangladesh, Jordan and Morocco, which I recently visited, where the presence of female leadership is clearly evident in all aspects of the community and social infrastructures. It is right that we continue our support to these countries through our 0.7% commitment to international aid. We should rightly take pride in that commitment to international aid, but we cannot bulldoze human misery by means of donations from our pockets and temporary handouts to those who have seen the massacre of their lives. I have spoken about my own experience of war as a child, and I can tell your Lordships that the temporary presence of donors does little to alleviate the scars of war.
In conclusion, we should commemorate the international commitments to supporting women’s empowerment, including the national action plan. UN Women has made leaps in progress against the discrimination of women through conventions on gender equality and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women. These international efforts give us cause for hope that collectively we can work to overcome gender inequality and its pernicious impact on the economic situation of women personally and at the level of nation states.
I join others in celebrating the efforts of women and men around the world to achieve greater equality. The Minister is a great friend and I welcome her to her new brief. Will she assure the House that her department, alongside our civil society, will ensure that we commit to easing the hardship of those who have been raped in conflicts and wars, as the Bangladeshi Government have done?
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Loomba, for moving this debate. Further, I congratulate him on the work of the Loomba Foundation in profiling the plight of widows in parts of the world who are disowned by their families and society. This is a double discrimination.
In some societies—as we learnt from the film “Water”, directed by Deepa Mehta and made in 2005 but still so relevant today, about the plight of a group of widows and how they were forced to live—if women are spoken for and their partner-to-be dies, they are still classed as a widow. We know that this still happens. To find girls of eight and nine years pushed into homes and to live like this is a disgrace. We have to try to change that, and the work of the foundation is making that happen.
The documentary by the BBC, “The War Widows of Afghanistan” by Zarghuna Kargar in 2014 showed what it is like to be a war widow here and a war widow in Afghanistan. It was terrible. In Afghanistan you are left with nothing. You have to remain with your husband’s parents, eking out just an existence by doing laundry for a member of your husband’s family. There are more than 2 million war widows in Afghanistan. These women are truly on a life sentence. In their countries, culturally help comes through faith groups. Much as we would like to, we cannot just go in and bulldoze to change the culture of those countries, but we could see a better society. Women and girls would be empowered and it would be a safer place for girls and boys and men and women working together. That is a dream that we would all like to see.
The more we debate these issues of the empowerment of women and girls in areas of conflict, the more we see how important it is. The work of the Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security and the new centre at the London School of Economics starting in September this year will make such a difference to the training of peacekeepers, which I shall come to shortly. It is really important that we do not let this off the agenda. These issues have to be at the top of the agenda because they are about the future of the world.
We know that today up to 25,000 people, including children, have been displaced and are away from their homes. Some of the families cannot go with them because they are not well enough to travel, or cannot face where they are going. You are displaced from your home, you are displaced from education and proper medical assistance and you are living in a tent where you can be raped—whether you are a boy or a girl—and there is no hope that you might ever go back to where you came from. I hope that at some stage we might have a debate on no longer placing people in tents. Perhaps we can look at a more mobile form of home on the basis that people can start being educated properly or perhaps start a small business in the camps, instead of just living in tents. I know that the tents seem great, but they are not great. Having seen some of them where people have been living for far too long, why not try to make another society there?
I would like to express my thanks for the previous Government’s commitment to the UN Security Council agenda on this issue, and I hope that the noble Baroness, Lady Verma, whom I congratulate on her appointment back to DfID, will ensure that Britain continues to take the lead in the world on this issue. Noble Lords will know that the UN Security Council resolution is just 15 years old and there have been many resolutions defining the importance of women’s roles in conflict and peacebuilding. However, to date not too much has happened. Only 40 of the member countries in the world have signed up to having a world action plan on women, peace and security. We have to encourage and assist other countries to have one in place. It is particularly worrying that a number of countries in Africa and Asia have not put an action plan together. We know that these countries have poor records of preventing violence against women.
This is not just the responsibility of DfID and the FCO; it is also the responsibility of the Ministry of Defence. It is the Ministry of Defence that is training the military in this country and in other parts of the world to do peacekeeping. It is really important that we have joined-up working between the three departments. I know that they are all committed, but we want to make sure that the money is well spent and continues to come from the Treasury.
I congratulate William Hague on his continued commitment to the elimination of rape as a tool of war. He said:
“We want to bring the world to a point of no return, creating irreversible momentum towards ending warzone rape and sexual violence worldwide”.
I think we are all committed to that across the political divide, but we have to ensure that we do it together. Can the Minister give an undertaking that the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, the right honourable Philip Hammond, will make this a priority, with support from the Treasury, and that all our embassies and consulates around the world will continue to keep the pressure on the countries they are working in, meeting senior politicians, having events, working with NGOs and ensuring that visiting politicians from here—whether from local authorities, the Lords or the Commons—are made use of to continue encouraging people to make this a priority?
Women’s participation is so important. We make up 51% of the world, particularly in the developing world. A woman at every table should not be just a nominal one—it should be more than one. Women are not an endangered species. Furthermore, only a very small percentage of ambassadors and senior diplomats are women, as my noble friend Lady Kinnock mentioned. We must do more to encourage women to participate at senior levels, from the fast stream and from university. We should be actively encouraging teachers to start telling girls that working at the Foreign Office, the Ministry of Defence and DfID are very acceptable careers, and that this is where they can do a great deal in public service, not only for Great Britain but for the world. We should be looking to the private sector and encouraging women at certain levels to come back to the Civil Service, if they have left, and apply for senior positions at the Foreign Office, DfID and the Ministry of Defence. We desperately need the best talent that we can get.
In the work of the Ministry of Defence in training peacekeepers, both in the United Kingdom and abroad, we must ensure that we have as many women as possible on the front line of this training because it is women who are on the front line—both those in conflict and some of our women who are fighting in conflicts. It is really important that we try to encourage this.
When it comes to achieving sustainable peace, we know from the peace processes in which women have been engaged—from Northern Ireland to Rwanda to Liberia—that when women are involved in conflict resolution and peace negotiations, they place a high premium on transitional justice. Women were not at the table in Angola, where, in an all-male peace process that was to end the Angolan civil war, the men from both sides gave each other amnesty for the crimes they had perpetrated against women. However, Angola regressed into civil war after this agreement that excluded women and overlooked their experiences. I hope that this one example of what is happening around the world will encourage those who do not agree that women should be at the peace table that they should be.
My Lords, first, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Loomba, for securing this debate. I remind your Lordships that he has a trust foundation for looking after widows and the children of widows—which is even more important because often widows do not have the capacity to make sure that their children are well educated. For that, we should thank him and remember that what he is trying to do is very important.
I am going to be a little self-indulgent to begin with. My great-grandfather was a philanthropist in the main city of Punjab, Lahore. Although he was a Hindu, he is still called the father of Lahore by the Pakistanis because he was a civil engineer and he built a canal system that made Punjab the granary of India. He also gave away a lot of money. He started to make money and he used to say, “The more I give, the more comes”. He had widows’ homes and orphanages. He also had two homes for unmarried mothers because, at the beginning of the 20th century in India, unmarried mothers were either killed or had to go on the streets. It was an appalling situation and he was very conscious of the needs of women, which is why I have mentioned him. He was actively campaigning in those days, with the British Government, to get the treatment of Hindu widows improved. By and large, Hindu widows are still treated extremely badly in India. A lot of them are left to beg in places of pilgrimage to survive; they are not looked after by the families. He was very angry about that and kept trying to get the Government to do something about it. He could not change the whole culture by having widows’ homes. He did not succeed, but he tried very hard.
The other thing which we have in India is the child widow. I know that this has been touched on, but if a girl gets married at the age of seven or eight—which is still quite common in Rajasthan—and the boy dies then she is a widow. She is treated as a widow but she has never been with her so-called husband, because they are both children. They have to wait until she is a fully grown woman for her to go to her husband’s home. It is just unbelievable that a girl child is then a widow and treated extremely badly. There is a village in Rajasthan where they kill the girls, and which did not have a girl and boy marriage for 26 years because they had killed all the girls. The treatment of women and girls in India and Africa does not bear thinking about.
I know that we are talking about conflict resolution and I accept that women have an important role to play, but they have an important role to play in life itself and are not given that role. They are not treated as if they are people—human beings—who have something to contribute. They are used and abused, for the most part. They are not people with rights or positions so unless we look at the whole situation of women, in the light of what is happening in the world today, we cannot ask them to help with conflict resolution. They have to feel empowered to some extent to be able to do it. If you say to a woman, “I want you to do this”, her first reaction is, “I don’t think I can do it”. But if you then say, “No, you can”, they, too, find that they can. What we are facing is religion and so-called culture. I do not call it culture but bad social practices. We are facing those two real problems in developing countries and we have to fight against them both. It is not right that women should be treated in the way that they are in India or Africa because Hinduism says so or because a culture has always been like that. That is not how it has to be.
Many words are said but no implementation of them ever takes place. Modi has said that he is going to improve things for women in India, but what has he actually done? He was quite rude to the Prime Minister of Bangladesh when he said, “She has done so well, for a woman”. Can your Lordships think of anything worse than that? I cannot. It is so appalling for a Prime Minister of India to have said that. I say to the noble Baroness, Lady Uddin, that I was in India during the Bangladesh war. The Indians were very much involved in getting rid of the Pakistanis from Bangladesh then. Two thousand women were found incarcerated, without any clothes, for the use of the soldiers. They did not give them clothes because they knew that, if they had anything, they would hang themselves. Can you believe that people could behave like that in the 20th century? When the women did get clothes, they did hang themselves, because where would they go? Who would have them? How would they be treated? I am glad to hear that later they were treated as heroines but they would not have been at that time. Women face some terrible dilemmas.
USAID will not allow any organisation with which it has any connection or to which it gives any money to perform abortions. Imagine a woman being raped countless times who then becomes pregnant but cannot get rid of the child. What do you think that child is to her? It is a reminder of her misery, a reminder of all those rapes. It is unbelievable that USAID still does not allow abortion, even in those circumstances. I cannot believe that it can go on thinking like that; it does not see women as human beings who cannot bear this nastiness.
We have to do whatever we can for women in general and then try to encourage them to take part in all sorts of areas of interest. They can add something very special to every organisation, meeting and committee, but they are not allowed to—they are not there. Perhaps in two, three or four years something will start to happen, but as I am getting rather old I am feeling very disappointed that it might not happen in my lifetime.
It has been mentioned that in Africa women are not allowed to own property. That is true, but it is worse than that. My friend Ladi is from Nigeria, and her father died when she was five years old. His relatives came to the house and took everything that was saleable, every possession. What is more, they took two younger wives who could work, but they did not take Ladi’s mother because she was older and they felt she would not be able to do as much work as the others. Ladi’s mother was left with 13 children and no means of supporting them. Can you believe that? I asked Ladi what her mother did and she said, “She gave away a child to whoever would take one”. She managed to place children with families in the village—anyone who would take a child. Imagine the life of that child who would be at the bottom of the food chain, with no education and no future. Ladi went to an uncle; she was a goat-herd at the age of six. Until she was nine she had no shoes and today her feet are in such bad condition that she has to have operations on them.
The suffering of women in India and in Africa is unbelievable and intolerable. We know about the suffering of women in Afghanistan and in many other places, but the largest number of those affected are in India and Africa—at least 1 billion. They have very little power and very few resources, and the situation does not look as if it will change overnight.
It has surprised me that, apart from the right reverend Prelate, no man has spoken in this debate. It is amazing. Men hold the power, but they have not spoken today. It is not only for women to talk about women; it is for men to talk about women and to do something about it. Unless men start doing something about this, nothing will happen.
My Lords, hopefully, your Lordships will consider that I am a man just about to speak. Although I have already had the opportunity to congratulate the Minister from the Dispatch Box on her appointment, for the avoidance of any doubt, I would like to do it again—congratulations. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Loomba, for initiating this debate today and for his strong and powerful commitment to the empowerment of women, in particular his highlighting of the plight of widows. It is only because of his commitment that International Widows Day is celebrated by the United Nations. Like him, my mother’s widowhood has shaped my view of the world.
The first and most important policy to have in place is one to enable women to be in charge of their own lives and to be decision-makers, not always on the end of a handout or someone’s largesse. The right reverend Prelate gave positive examples of meaningful involvement at local, regional and national level in the allocation of resources and services. If women have control over these things, they will have the confidence to resist and report sexual violence. As my noble friend Lady Kinnock highlighted, there is an increased awareness of sexual violence in wartime due to the significant impact of armed conflicts on civilian populations.
Violence against women as a tool of war remains one of the least prosecuted crimes—we have to do better to ensure action against the perpetrators. However, we must be tough on not only the crime but its causes. We must tackle the underlying problem of lack of empowerment, education and inclusion. As we have heard in this debate, the unanimous adoption of Resolution 1325 on women, peace and security was a landmark decision through which the situation of women in armed conflict was specifically addressed. It called for their participation at all levels of decision-making on conflict resolution and peace-building.
However, we have to recognise that to make real progress, we must ensure the words of the seven Security Council resolutions, recommendation 30 of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, the Beijing commitments on women, peace and security, and other initiatives such as the UNGA declaration on ending sexual violence, are translated into practice. They cannot be just words. Turning promises into action is vital as, despite many gains, progress across the millennium development goals has been uneven for girls and women. The MDGs did not effectively address the factors which underpin gender inequality.
The United Kingdom—I am proud to say United Kingdom in the sense that it is not just one Government—has pushed for a post-2015 framework with a strong and explicit commitment to gender equality. Indeed, in response to a Question from my noble friend Lady Kinnock earlier this year, the then Minister, the noble Baroness, Lady Northover, committed the Government to,
“a stand-alone goal geared to achieving gender equality and women’s empowerment”.—[Official Report, 9/3/15; col. 438.]
The noble Baroness also confirmed that there should be “rigorous mainstreaming” of gender equality concerns across other priority areas and goals of the post-2015 agenda. I would be extremely grateful if the Minister repeated that commitment in those strong terms.
Too often women are systemically excluded. Women’s role in peacebuilding should be supported at a local as well as international level. Women’s socioeconomic and political participation is key to resolving and preventing conflict, but also to changing, as we have heard in this debate, the damaging social norms that persist.
Like the noble Baroness, Lady Hodgson, I believe it is essential that we also focus on the other practical steps required for progress, including funding dedicated to WPS; funding to local women’s rights organisations as well as systemic consultation with women to give them a platform to highlight the barriers they face and the solutions; an approach that focuses across the pillars of UN Security Council Resolution 1325; and, as we heard in this debate—more importantly for my noble friend—co-ordination across defence, diplomatic and foreign policy. We need to challenge the root causes and social norms that cause violence against women and girls, and women’s lack of participation.
The 20th anniversary of the Beijing Platform for Action gave world leaders the opportunity to take stock of progress at the national and global level. The conclusions of the Commission on the Status of Women held in March welcomed the progress made towards the full implementation of the Beijing declaration through concerted policy action at the national, regional and global levels. It recognised that this is essential for achieving the unfinished business of the MDGs and for tackling the critical remaining challenges through the post-2015 development agenda.
The UK’s self-assessment concluded that, despite the progress made, discrimination is still prevalent in this country. Globally, many of the seminal achievements of the original 1995 Beijing conference are at risk, as we have heard in the debate, and in not just places of conflict but other areas where cultural shifts affect the rights of women. This is particularly crucial in the area of sexual and reproductive health and rights. We must not allow the clock to be turned back. Women and girls must be free from the fear of violence, coercion or intimidation and have the freedom to choose how many children they want.
The United Kingdom is seen as an important global player in promoting women’s rights. It takes the lead on women, peace and security issues at the UN Security Council and galvanised global action through the Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict initiative. Like many in this debate, I pay tribute to the last Government for their focus on women and girls in their development work, and their consistent advocacy of women’s rights at the Human Rights Council. I also acknowledge their work in helping change global opinion on the issue of gender-based violence. It is important that we build on this record by using their influence to ensure that the gains of recent years are not lost. It is vital that the UK’s work on Beijing+20 is conducted in co-ordination with preparations for the adoption of a new global development framework. What steps is the Minister’s department taking to ensure that the UK not only defends the gains of the last 20 years but sets out its vision and priorities for the next 20 years of advancement of women’s rights at home and abroad?
My noble friend Lady Prosser referred to the debate on the implementation of the National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security. What steps is the Minister taking to ensure cross-departmental priority for that action plan? What steps is she taking to ensure that priorities identified go beyond simply a one-term Government and reinforce global initiatives, notably the UN Secretary-General’s seven-point plan on women’s participation in peace-building?
The denial of the rights of women and girls remains the most widespread driver of inequalities in today’s world. Gender-based violence, taking many forms, is a major element of this massive and continuing failure of human rights. Women’s empowerment and the protection of women’s rights are our greatest weapons to prevent discrimination and violence against women and girls.
I apologise to the noble Lord for suggesting that he might not be a man—I had no intention of doing that—but I think that he is speaking on behalf of the Benches opposite and not actually participating in the debate. However, I always enjoy his contribution, and I thought that it was very good the last time we spoke.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Loomba, for initiating today’s debate and pay tribute to his commitment and work through his foundation for widows and their children—and to all noble Lords for their thoughtful and measured contributions. Many points have already been raised, which I shall probably repeat in my own reflections, but I thank all noble Lords for their very warm welcome in having me represent the Department for International Development again. I am incredibly passionate around the agenda on women and girls. Again, that is because of my own upbringing and the culture that I come from, which has impacted on my responses to what I see and am determined to try to eliminate.
In response to my friend the noble Lord, Lord Collins, I say that the Government will not detract in any way from trying to ensure that we continue not only to lead and influence others but to build much further on what we have achieved. The MDGs may not have delivered everything, but for all of us to be able to focus on some global goals was good. We will see which are the successful and not-so-successful goals when we have had an opportunity to really reflect and break them down. We want to make sure that we build on the experiences of things that have worked and not worked, and really influence those countries that can make a difference to moving this debate forward.
Investing in girls and women is not only the right thing to do—it is actually the smart thing. No country will ever reach its full potential when half the population is locked out of education, employment and meaningful participation in public and private life. Girls and women living in poverty face differing forms of discrimination and violence throughout their lives. From the very start, girls lose out. More than 100 million girls are estimated as missing because son preference is so embedded that it leads to female infanticide and pre-natal sex selection in favour of boys. Less than one in five girls in sub-Saharan Africa goes on to secondary school, and one in three girls is married before she is 18.
The odds are heavily stacked against a young girl in sub-Saharan Africa or south-east Asia making a healthy transition to adulthood. Child marriage, female genital mutilation and the societal norms that determine that girls should aspire only to marry and have children perpetuate poverty from one generation to the next. It is for these reasons that DfID has committed to having explicit focus on girls in its strategic vision on girls and women. Since the launch of the vision in 2011, we have supported over 5 million girls to go to primary and lower secondary school and committed to bring an end to FGM and child, early and forced marriage within a generation. Focusing on girlhood is vital to breaking the cycle of poverty and discrimination that can blight a girl’s journey through life. Societies that work for gender equality tend to be freer and fairer, while societies where there is greater female participation in politics, civic life and the labour force are associated with lower levels of corruption. For example, in Pakistan, women entering the national Parliament on a gender quota were able to work successfully across party lines on legislation relating to honour killing and acid crime control. In India, in states where there are more women in work there has been faster economic growth and the largest reductions in poverty. I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Flather, that there is still so much that needs to be done, and we must not back away from challenging and making sure that those who have no voice are heard.
Many noble Lords talked about women’s role in conflict, and the need for them to be at the heart of resolving conflict and promoting stable societies as well as poverty reduction and human development. I cannot agree more. We cannot tackle poverty and development without addressing conflict. People in fragile states are more than twice as likely to be undernourished as in other developing countries, more than three times as likely to be unable to send their children to school and twice as likely to see their children die before the age of five.
Girls and women are often the targets of sexual violence in conflict, as many noble Lords said today. Recently, we have seen how abduction, enslavement, sexual abuse and forced marriage were central to the tactics of Boko Haram and ISIL. Initiatives such as the preventing sexual violence in conflict initiative are making a vital contribution to ensuring that there will be no impunity for sexual violence in conflict. In conflict countries such as Iraq and Syria, the UK is providing essential support for survivors of sexual and gender-based violence.
We also recognise the need to include girls and women in peace negotiations and broader processes to end and prevent conflict. Conflict-affected contexts offer unique windows of opportunity to tackle the structural barriers to women and girls’ inequality and unequal participation in political, social and economic life. As roles are redefined and new needs arise, girls and women have new opportunities to play a bigger determining role both politically and economically. This can be of benefit to not only them but their communities. For example, women’s participation in peace processes and decision-making ensures resolutions are reached more quickly and are more lasting and meaningful. That was eloquently illustrated by my noble friend Lady Hodgson, the noble Baroness, Lady Kinnock, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Derby and others.
This year, 2015, is a significant year for women’s rights and gender equality in relation both to peace and security and to sustainable development. The UN has commissioned a high-level review on the implementation of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325—which was raised by a number of noble Lords today, including the noble Baronesses, Lady Prosser and Lady Kinnock, and my noble friend Lady Hodgson—to mark its 15th anniversary. Along with subsequent UN resolutions, Resolution 1325 provides a global framework for reducing the impact of conflict on girls and women and for promoting their inclusion in conflict resolution and recovery. The UK will be engaging fully in this high-level review at the United Nations Security Council in October. I hope the noble Lord, Lord Collins, and I will have some engaged discussions before it takes place to ensure that we have a full cross-party voice there.
For our part, the UK Government are implementing Resolution 1325 and related resolutions through our national action plan on women, peace and security. The national action plan puts girls and women at the centre of all the Government’s efforts to prevent and resolve conflict, promote peace and stability and prevent and respond to violence against women and girls. It provides a vision for the UK and brings together, in one overarching framework, a cross-government effort. As part of the national action plan, DfID will be exploring opportunities better to involve girls and women in developing responses to violence and terrorism and to unpick the deeply flawed narratives that legitimise extremism.
In Pakistan, the UK is supporting the provincial Government of KP to develop women-friendly policing and to encourage recruitment of female police officers so that women are better served by the police. The UK Government and international partners have also strongly supported women’s rights within the Afghan national security forces, with programmes in place to support the recruitment, integration, retention, training and treatment of women in the Afghan national army, the Afghan national police and the Afghan Air Force.
This year also marks, as a number of noble Lords have mentioned, the 20th anniversary of the Beijing Platform for Action, which is still considered the blueprint for women’s empowerment. The UK played a lead role in agreeing the political declaration adopted at the 59th Commission on the Status of Women. Critically, the declaration reaffirms the Beijing Platform for Action and commits the international community to tackling remaining gaps in implementation. The UK will continue to play an active role in CSW negotiations.
A third crucial process under way this year is the agreement of a new post-2015 development framework. The UK was one of the first to advocate for a stand-alone gender goal in the new framework and a holistic set of targets that address the root causes of inequality and discrimination that affect girls and women, including widows. The UK Government will continue to push for greater investment in gender equality in negotiations around financing for development and for a strong outcome at the UN global summit in September.
Despite progress over the last 20 years since Beijing, girls and women continue to face harmful discrimination. They are held back from seizing opportunities to build their futures. Society sees them as having less value because they are female. My noble friend Lady Goudie alluded to the film Water. If noble Lords have not seen that, it is a real eye-opener, which in a couple of hours shows how much young child widows are discriminated against. As the noble Baroness, Lady Flather, mentioned, it is still an issue that they are an invisible issue, and we need to make sure that they do not drop out of the wider issue of the plight of widows. We need to ensure that civil society organisations see the plight of those vulnerable groups in the wider debate when we talk about girls and women.
I began this speech by talking about the injustices that women face in their early years, yet these injustices do not abate as life draws on. A number of noble Lords mentioned that, particularly the noble Baroness, Lady Barker. Widowhood multiplies the injustices of gender inequality, adding another layer of discrimination and stigma. A widow and her children can suddenly find themselves homeless, seen as an economic burden to their community, and stigmatised due to their association with death. Widows are often more vulnerable to being forcibly married, raped, traded or exiled. They suffer double discrimination, both for being female and for being widowed. It seems impossibly unfair that women are ostracised at the moment they need more support than ever.
DfID supports a range of programmes that benefit widows. For example, in Bangladesh, through the Chars Livelihoods Programme and the Economic Empowerment of the Poorest Programme, we have helped 96,303 extremely poor households that are headed by widows. These projects provide productive assets, cash grants for business enterprise, skills training, nutritional supplies and nutritional awareness. Some 85% of all of the households supported have graduated out of extreme poverty. We also support the Urban Partnerships for Poverty Reduction Programme in Bangladesh, where over 34,000 widows in urban slums have received grants for starting small businesses.
Women who face poverty and social exclusion—often linked to the death of a spouse—disability or old age require particular support, including through social safety nets. DfID supports such women through programmes which target elderly women through social pensions; for example, the senior citizen grant in Uganda. Other vulnerable women are reached through safety nets targeted at the poorest households. For example, the Palestinian National Cash Transfer Programme in Gaza provides unconditional cash transfers to extremely poor households. These include female-headed households, including widows, who report that cash transfers allow them to meet the basic needs of their families and give them greater economic freedom, security and enhanced psychological well-being.
I want to address some of the issues raised by noble Lords, but if I fail to answer all the questions, I undertake to write to noble Lords. I start with the opening remarks of the noble Baroness, Lady Barker. She said that we should not forget that looking at women and girls should be an end-to-end journey, from birth right through to old age, when they are often at their most vulnerable and lonely. There are also problems relating to dementia, which we in this country are beginning to realise will become an even greater issue as populations age. It is very important that we have our discussions in the round, so that when we talk about developing frameworks, those frameworks take that end-to-end view.
However, our priority is female economic empowerment. I am extremely pleased that the Secretary of State and the Government have made economic empowerment for girls and women, as well as our humanitarian response, a core thread in the department. All those things coming together provide a response to many of the questions raised by noble Lords today. We want to advocate ambitious targets on women’s economic empowerment in the post-2015 sustainable development goals framework. We are having a real impact with our strategic vision for women and girls. Twenty-seven million women have access to financial services as a result of DfID’s support.
The noble Lord, Lord Loomba, the noble Baroness, Lady Prashar, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Derby all asked about the post-2015 development framework. There is a lot that I could say but time is against me. Perhaps noble Lords will allow me to write to them, because it is important that the speakers participating in this debate see the great thinking that is going on behind those goals. That would be much more informative than a simplistic answer provided by me now.
I end by flagging up another very important milestone. This year, 23 June marks 10 years since the Loomba Foundation launched International Widows Day. As we engage in all the other landmark opportunities for girls’ and women’s rights this year—the post-2015 goals and the anniversaries of UNSCR 1325 and the Beijing Platform for Action—let us all do everything possible to ensure that widows are not forgotten. It is only through a combined effort that we can achieve real gender equality and empowerment for all girls and women, including widows. That is why, together, the work of my noble friend Lord Loomba and the Loomba Foundation, the work of the civil society groups and the work that we are doing at DfID is so important. We are each a critical part of what will deliver gender equality for the world’s most marginalised girls and women.
I assure noble Lords that across government we are championing the girls and women agenda. The Prime Minister, in particular, is very keen that this focus is maintained. He has put his full support behind the work that is being done across government and the girls agenda will always be at the core of our programmes.
Time is drawing on and I know that there are many questions that I have left unanswered. It has been an absolute pleasure to respond to a debate on a subject that I am incredibly passionate about. I look forward to engaging with all noble Lords to see what we can do to encourage others, particularly the global partners that need greater encouragement not just in relation to girls and women but on a range of other issues that we will be talking about in connection with the post-2015 development goals.
My Lords, I thank everyone who has taken part in this important debate, and the Minister for her response. I am particularly pleased that the Minister has assured us that DfID will fight for the rights of women, widows and girls at the UN summit in September. I also congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Verma, on supporting widows in many countries, including Bangladesh. It is very much appreciated.
The millennium development goals were set up in 2000 but did not contain a single mention of widows. I believe that, since the Loomba Foundation has raised awareness of the plight of widows, the UN will take positive action to include widows’ issues in SDGs. I request that the Minister take a note of that and do her very best work.
Many noble Lords spoke about many problems facing women, girls and widows, and each problem is unique. Three noble Lords spoke about Margaret Owen. I know Margaret Owen personally; she worked with me a few years ago at a conference and is a wonderful person, very dedicated to the war widows. We all know that it is the war widows who really suffer the most. At the same time, poverty affects widows in a bigger way. Therefore, it is also important that they are economically empowered.
The noble Baroness, Lady Flather, talked about child brides. What she said is very true. Only last week the Times of India reported that, at that moment in India, there were 269 more child brides. This is unacceptable in the 21st century.
I will not take up any more time because we have talked about all these issues before. International Widows Day is taking place in 12 days’ time and I very much hope that noble Lords will mark it, together with the Loomba Foundation.
My Lords, with the leave of the House, I will repeat a Statement given in another place this morning by my right honourable friend the Home Secretary.
“Mr Speaker, with permission, I would like to make a Statement on the publication of the Anderson Report and the parliamentary consideration of investigatory powers.
As the House will know, it is the Government’s intention to bring forward legislation relating to the security, intelligence and law enforcement agencies’ use of investigatory powers and to have that legislation enacted before the sunset provision in the Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Act 2014 takes effect on 31 December 2016.
In 2014, the Government asked the Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation, David Anderson QC, to conduct a review of the operation and regulation of law enforcement and agency investigatory powers, with specific reference to the interception of communications and the separate issue of communications data.
David Anderson has completed that review and this morning my right honourable friend the Prime Minister made a Written Ministerial Statement to lay that report before the House. The report makes 124 recommendations, covering sensitive intelligence capabilities, and it extends to over 300 pages. Following careful consideration by the Government and the security and intelligence agencies, I can confirm that no redactions have been made to the report prior to publication. I would like to put on record my and the Government’s thanks to David Anderson for his thoroughness and dedication in undertaking this important work.
As the report highlights, there is a range of threats against the UK and its interests, from terrorism, both at home and overseas, to cyberattacks from criminals. Many groups, not just the Government, have a role to play in ensuring the right capabilities are in place to tackle those threats. We will continue to work closely with all partners, including the intelligence agencies, law enforcement and industry, to take all these issues forward and to continue to keep us safe from those who would do us harm.
David Anderson’s report is complemented by two further independent reviews in this area. In March, the Intelligence and Security Committee published its privacy and security report. This set out a comprehensive review of the intelligence agencies’ capabilities and the legal and privacy frameworks that govern their use. Later this summer, a panel co-ordinated by the Royal United Services Institute, and established by the former Deputy Prime Minister, the right honourable Member for Sheffield Hallam, will report on the legality, effectiveness and privacy implications of the UK’s surveillance programmes, and assess how law enforcement and intelligence capability can be maintained in the face of technological change.
These independent reviews are each important and valuable contributions to the continuing debate about the role of our security, intelligence and law enforcement agencies, their use of investigatory powers and their oversight. The Government will need to give proper consideration to their recommendations, but collectively I believe they provide a firm basis for consultation on legislation.
I now turn to the parliamentary handling of this legislation. The operation and regulation of the investigatory powers used by the police and the intelligence and security agencies is a matter of great importance to the security of this country and I know an issue of great interest to many Members of this House. As David Anderson makes clear, it is imperative that the use of sensitive powers are all overseen and fully declared under arrangements set by Parliament. It is therefore entirely right that Parliament should have the opportunity to debate these matters in full.
The Anderson review was undertaken with cross-party support and I believe it provides a sound basis to take this issue forward in the same manner. In order to ensure that this is the case, the Government will publish a draft Bill in the autumn for pre-legislative scrutiny by a Joint Committee of Parliament, with the intention of introducing a Bill early in the new year. Given the sunset clause in the Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Act 2014, the new legislation will need to be in place by the end of December 2016.
I have said many times before that it is not possible to debate the balance between privacy and security—including the rights and wrongs of intrusive powers and the oversight arrangements that govern them—without also considering the threats that we face as a country. Those threats remain considerable, and they are evolving. They include not just terrorism—from overseas and home-grown in the UK—but also industrial, military and state espionage. They include not just organised criminality, but the proliferation of once-physical crimes online, such as child sexual exploitation, and the technological challenges that brings. In the face of such threats, we have a duty to ensure that the agencies whose job it is to keep us safe have the powers they need to do the job.
I finish by paying tribute to the vital work of the men and women of the intelligence and law enforcement community, whose work is not always known, whose successes often go unrecognised, and whose efforts day in and day out are fundamental to keeping everyone in this country safe”.
That concludes the Statement.
I thank the Minister for repeating the Statement made earlier in the other place. I certainly endorse the comments that he made at the end about the work of those in the intelligence and law enforcement community, who are there to protect us and whose successes, as he said, often go unrecognised.
We welcome the report by David Anderson QC, the Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation, into the operation and regulation of law enforcement and agency investigatory powers. It is a report which the shadow Home Secretary called for when emergency legislation was being debated last summer, since we believe that the current legislative framework is no longer fit for purpose. While technology has moved on, the same cannot be said for either the law or the oversight arrangements. Reforms are needed, and we need to get them right in order to protect both our liberty and our security when addressing the threats we face.
In media broadcasts the independent reviewer has given today, he said that there are two problems with the law in this area as it stands. The first is that no one can understand it since it is spread over 64 Acts of Parliament, which have also proved variable in their application. The second is that there is a need for stronger safeguards and protections. For example, instead of it being the Home Secretary who decides whether you can tap the telephone of a suspected drug dealer or terrorist, it should be for a judge to do so, in order that it can be seen to be done in a proper and independent fashion. It seems that last year the Home Secretary authorised some 2,345 warrants. According to the report of one interview David Anderson has given, the Home Secretary has, in his view, effectively been doing this in her spare time when not running the department. Whether the Home Secretary shares the concerns of the independent reviewer about the workload imposed on her by having to decide whether to authorise all these warrants is no doubt something on which the Minister will be able to enlighten us, but I have a feeling that Mr Anderson thinks that warrants should be authorised by a judge—full stop—rather than having concerns over the workload it involves for either this Home Secretary or indeed any other Home Secretary.
Proportionate surveillance and interception saves lives and averts and disrupts terror attacks and other major crimes. There is no doubt that these powers are needed and we cannot allow the sunset clause on the existing powers to lapse at the end of next year without having new legislation in place. However, strong powers need strong checks and balances, including effective oversight of the way the system works. Public acceptance of the need for such powers will be diminished if there is a belief that they are being abused for purposes that impinge on our privacy, and for which they were neither intended, nor for which authorisation for their use has been given.
We have to ensure that we put arrangements in place to address the concerns that personal privacy can be invaded without justification and proper prior authorisation. We welcome the proposals in the independent reviewer’s report to strengthen oversight that involve a new and stronger independent surveillance and intelligence commission, merging the existing system of commissioner, and of course introducing judicial authorisation of warrants. Do the Government also welcome these proposals?
The independent reviewer has also concluded that there should be no question of progressing proposals for the compulsory retention of third-party data before a compelling operational case for it has been made out, which he says it has not been to date. Is that recommendation in line with the thinking of the Home Secretary? We welcome the Government’s decision that a draft investigatory powers Bill—presumably based on David Anderson’s report, although perhaps the Minister can confirm that that will be the case—will be subject to pre-legislative scrutiny by a Joint Committee of both Houses. I hope that the Government will also provide time for a full debate on the Anderson report in this House so that all Members have the opportunity to contribute. I hope also that the Government will seek to promote this among the public at large as well, to help ensure that there is the widest possible consent and thus legitimacy for the new framework. Will the Government provide for such a debate?
The digital age is a source of freedom and opportunity but, as we have seen, it brings new challenges from new crimes and new threats to our security that are extensive and go well beyond the horrors of terrorism. We have to ensure that those whose responsibility it is to protect us and keep us safe have the necessary powers to do the job in the changing technological environment in which we live today, while ensuring that those powers are used only for the purposes authorised and intended, and not at the expense of the liberty and privacy of the public at large. We welcome the report by David Anderson, which will help us to do this and ensure that in the key areas of security, privacy and countering the many different threats we face, our very different digital age from that we have known in the past actually serves the interests of the public and our democracy rather than proves to be our master.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for repeating the Statement. As he just said, this is one of a suite of reports commissioned by the previous coalition Government into investigatory powers; it is a very important one by the Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation.
On first reading, it appears to be a fair and balanced report. While some may have preferred there to be no state intrusion into people’s privacy, we on these Benches understand that there needs to be a balance between the powers given to the police and to the security services, and the right to privacy and the upholding of individuals’ civil liberties. It is for the police and the security services to argue for more powers, for civil libertarians to argue for fewer, and for us as politicians objectively to decide where the balance properly lies.
The Home Secretary, in her Statement, lists a whole range of potential threats, concluding that,
“we have a duty to ensure that the agencies whose job it is to keep us safe have the powers they need to do the job”.
As a consequence of what the right honourable Member said in the other place, I am concerned that the Government are already biased in favour of the state and against the individual. Thankfully, David Anderson is having none of it and neither should we. Along with consideration of the threats that we face as a country, will the Government consider a digital Bill of Rights to give citizens a clear and unambiguous understanding of where their rights lie and what protections they have against state intrusion? Will the Minister also agree with David Anderson that,
“there should be no question of progressing proposals for the compulsory retention of third party data before a compelling operational case … has been made”,
for it, and agree with him that this case has not been made to date?
The fact is, the draft communications data Bill, to give it its correct title, is hopelessly out of date and can no longer deliver what the police and the security services need while massively intruding into people’s privacy—all pain and no gain. The right honourable member for Sheffield Hallam when he was Deputy Prime Minister took a lot of flak for blocking legislation that required the retention of third-party data. Would the Minister not agree that David Anderson, in his report, agrees with Nick Clegg and the Liberal Democrat position on what some have called the “snoopers’ charter”, even if he cannot bring himself to say that he agrees with Nick?
David Anderson recognises that the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act is no longer fit for purpose, and we welcome the Government’s approach that there should be a pre-legislative committee of both Houses to look at its successor. Will the Minister confirm that such a committee will be given access to all relevant information to enable it to make a proper judgment on the Government’s proposals?
Finally, we strongly support David Anderson’s recommendation that intercept warrants should be judicially authorised by specialist judicial commissioners, rather than by government Ministers. Surely it is for the police and the security services to decide whether applying for such a warrant is necessary in the interest of national security and it should be for judges to decide whether such action is lawful. Will the Minister give an undertaking that, pending a change in the legislation, the Government will operate within the spirit of the independent reviewer’s recommendations by ensuring that the Secretary of State consults the existing surveillance commissioners prior to authorising such warrants?
My Lords, I thank both noble Lords for their welcome of the report and of the Statement. When we deal with matters of this importance it is vital that we work, as far as possible, in a cross-party way. That was certainly reflected in the commissioning of this review and the Government will seek to continue that as we consider its implications.
The noble Lord, Lord Rosser, rightly asked whether the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 is still fit for purpose. That is a key element. Fifteen years ago, we could not have envisaged the plethora of social media that have exploded upon us. Some 204 million emails can now be flying around every minute, placing challenges on those who have the duty of keeping us safe. Therefore, we accept the noble Lord’s important point.
The noble Lord also sought a commitment with regard to clarity on this issue. When we are dealing with matters of great sensitivity that concern people’s individual security and rights, it is vital that the language used is clear and understood, as is the relevant legislation. That is one of the key elements that the pre-legislative scrutiny will bring to the Bill. I am happy to confirm to the noble Lord that the Bill needs to be drawn up before a committee is established. However, when the Bill is presented in the autumn, a Joint Committee will be established which will have a wide remit. It will be for the House to determine the committee’s composition and remit but it should certainly have the very wide remit necessary to carry out its important job of scrutiny.
The noble Lord, Lord Paddick, asked about rights and a Bill of Rights. The Government have now secured a mandate from the electorate to look at ways of modernising our human rights laws and are reflecting on that. We recognise the arguments about privacy but argue that, for people to enjoy that privacy, they first need security. That is where the balance needs to be struck.
The noble Lord also referred to the importance of people having trust in the system, and it is no accident that David Anderson’s report is entitled A Question of Trust. Indeed, he says on page 245 that,
“the road to a better system must be paved with trust”.
That is a central principle, along with the other principles he outlined. In the report he drew on some public opinion data and pointed out that, far from being sceptical about the security services’ use of data, there was wide support for it among the British public, and that:
“66% think that British security and intelligence agencies should be allowed to access and store the internet communications of criminals or terrorists; 64% back them in carrying out this activity by monitoring the communications of the public at large”.
That is not to say that this is the line we are going down. The Government are still considering all the options but the important thing is to work thoroughly, carefully and methodically. This report, along with that of the Intelligence and Security Committee and the RUSI report which is still to come, commissioned by the former Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, will all provide the firm evidence base that we need to progress in this very sensitive area.
Question for Short Debate
My Lords, I start by welcoming the Minister to his new role and to what I understand will be his maiden speech. We overlapped for one Parliament in the other place, where he had a reputation as a thoughtful and conscientious Member of Parliament. Since then he has made a distinguished contribution to the work of the NHS. I am sure that he will make an equally distinguished contribution to the work of your Lordships’ House, and I am very much looking forward to his maiden speech.
It is generally accepted that the NHS is under unprecedented pressure from a combination of progress, a population living longer and longer, and extraordinary advances in medical science and technology, coupled with the need for rigorous discipline in public finances and with ever-increasing public expectations of what healthcare should deliver. All this taken together means that the NHS faces complex and difficult decisions in every area of its work. This Government in their previous incarnation between 2010 and 2015 frequently said that their approach to tackling these challenges was based on the principle of doing more for less.
It is clear that innovation has a critical role to play. In 2011 an important report from the Prime Minister’s Council for Science and Technology said that,
“success in delivering the government’s aspirations for healthcare … will depend on a fundamental cultural change within the NHS, supporting innovation in ways that increase health benefits while driving out costs across the system”.
I have asked for this debate today to highlight how in one particular case the Government and NHS England are signally failing to do this. That failure is causing unnecessary suffering and wasting taxpayers’ money, and it highlights what seem to be systemic problems with NHS England. I hope in his maiden speech that the Minister will be able to commit to some positive ways forward in addressing this failure.
Giant cell arteritis is a form of vasculitis, an inflammatory disease of blood vessels most commonly of the arteries in the head. It is, in effect, a stroke in the eye. If it is diagnosed in time it can be easily and cheaply treated with a course of steroids. Untreated, it leads to blindness in 25% of cases. It has been estimated that around 3,000 patients every year go blind as a result of giant cell arteritis—3,000 people losing their sight needlessly because doctors failed to diagnose their condition in time and provide sufficiently rapid treatment.
Why are thousands of these avoidable tragedies happening every year? It is partly because the symptoms are everyday. There are headaches associated with scalp pain, pain in the jaw or tongue, and it is also common to see low-grade fever, loss of appetite, depression and tiredness. Once symptoms present, an early temporal artery biopsy or ultrasound can confirm a diagnosis and enable urgent treatment to start to prevent blindness. However, far too often GPs miss the symptoms, because this is often an affliction of older people and the symptoms are too commonly categorised as merely the inevitable aches and pains of ageing.
For four years I have sought an estimate from the Department of Health of the cost of such unnecessary loss of sight, and as far as I am aware it still has not produced one. Maybe the Minister will surprise me today. My rough calculations—very rough—suggest that it could be around £1 billion over the lifetime of this Parliament. That is based on the fact that the average annual costs to the Exchequer of blindness for an individual exceed £25,000 a year, so the costs of those 3,000 people going blind every year unnecessarily run to £75 million a year. Of course, this cost accumulates year on year, so over five years the total costs of such unnecessary blindness could come to between £1 billion and £1.1 billion. When that is offset against the costs of the steroids, that still leaves a net cost to the taxpayer of around £1 billion.
However, that is just a calculation of the financial costs. It takes no account of the human costs: the incalculable misery of those losing their sight, mostly pensioners, already at the most vulnerable stage of their adult lives. It does not mean the loss of vision alone, although that is tragic enough. It increases mortality and the risk of cardiovascular complications, such as heart attacks and strokes, and of aneurysms. It also means all too often the loss of independence, with elderly people who had been able to live in their own homes now being forced to go into residential care.
This is not inevitable. There are significant differentiating characteristics about the symptoms, so giant cell arteritis ought to be easy to diagnose as long as GPs are sufficiently sensitised. Headaches are common, but sudden onset headaches and headaches over the temples, for example, are less common. Those categories of headache are key indicators of giant cell arteritis. For example, jaw and tongue pain is a red flag warning.
Dedicated clinicians and support groups have been working tirelessly to reduce the suffering from this avoidable loss of sight by raising awareness among clinicians. The British Society for Rheumatology, British Health Professionals in Rheumatology and the Royal College of Physicians produced guidelines for the management of this complaint five years ago, but the persistence of problems with diagnosis and appropriate treatment suggests that these guidelines are not having the desired effect.
Recently, a remarkable clinician, Professor Dasgupta, has pioneered in Southend a cheap and cost-effective fast-track pathway for diagnosis and treatment. The results of this pilot have been validated by the Department of Health and they show a dramatic reduction in the numbers suffering sight loss from this condition. Rolled out nationally, it would save thousands of people from losing their sight needlessly, it would spare them and their families misery and suffering, and it would save the taxpayer around £1 billion over the lifetime of this Parliament.
In January last year, Sir Bruce Keogh, the medical director of NHS England, wrote to me saying that this fast-track pathway,
“represents a new way of doing things which is better and costs no more. We must learn from such innovative examples”,
and he suggested a meeting, saying that it should,
“seek to determine how to disseminate this good practice effectively. It is by finding ways of smoothly industrialising these new ways of doing things that we will improve quality in a way that is cost effective”.
At this point it seemed that NHS England was providing a model for innovation in healthcare. Sadly, it has not turned out to be quite like that. That meeting was held in April last year, and 20 minutes into it one of the patients’ representatives, an experienced and distinguished journalist, passed me a note that read simply, “We’ve got a problem”—and indeed we had. The NHS officials at the meeting clearly saw the smooth industrialisation and effective dissemination of the fast-track pathway as a very low priority. In the end, as a compromise it was agreed not that there should be a national rollout industrialising the fast-track pathway but that milestones towards it should be agreed by last summer. That never happened. When I tried to find out why, I was told it had never been agreed, even though I and the three other people present at the meeting who were not NHS officials are all clear that it was.
Instead of finding a way to industrialise this new way of doing things, as Sir Bruce Keogh said he wanted to do, NHS England and the Government seem to be relying on three alternative approaches, none of which represents anything like an adequate response. First, there are the guidelines, which are clearly not having a significant impact on the problem. Secondly, NHS England has been developing proposals to establish local rheumatology networks. On 18 March this year, Sir Bruce Keogh wrote to me, saying that,
“discussions on the development of these networks have started in a number of areas”.
In the 17 months since Sir Bruce told me that he wanted,
“to disseminate this good practice effectively”,
all that has happened is that discussions have started on localised rollouts. In that time a national industrialisation of this fast-track pathway could have prevented more than 2,000 people losing their sight. Finally, NHS England has invited Professor Dasgupta to contribute to the NHS innovation exchange portal. I wonder how much greater an impact NHS England thinks that portal will have over and above the existing guidelines—not very much, I would guess.
Why is more not being done? Ministers have said that the Health and Social Care Act 2012 means that this is now entirely a matter for NHS England. NHS England has produced two excuses. The first is that the Health and Social Care Act prevents it taking any action to ensure a national take-up of the fast-track pathway. It is not clear to me why this is. Admittedly the Act is extremely complex and impenetrable. Part 1 on its own runs to 110 pages. I have asked Sir Bruce Keogh to tell me which part of the Act he is relying on to make this assertion, but I have not yet had a reply.
However, the NHS England website pages on commissioning seem to suggest that it could do more. It says that,
“for rare disorders, services need to be considered and secured nationally”.
It does not say what is meant by “rare”, but NHS England always cites research showing that the incidence of giant cell arteritis is 20 per 100,000 people, which sounds rare to me. It seems that, on its website at least, NHS England concedes that it could be doing a lot more than it is telling me it can. In any event, if it turns out that the Health and Social Care Act does prevent NHS England taking the kind of action Sir Bruce Keogh said he wanted to see, there is clearly something wrong with that Act, and the Government should seek the first available legislative opportunity to amend it accordingly. In these circumstances, I hope the Minister might be able to commit to doing that if it proves necessary.
For the second excuse, and I am winding up now, I will quote Sir Bruce Keogh again. He said:
“Changing clinical pathways and processes require dedicated resource. Given the scale and complexity of the challenges facing the NHS, clinical and management resource has to be prioritised. Not everything can be done everywhere at once”.
As a generic statement, that sounds reasonable enough. Who could disagree with it? But it fails to explain why the fast-track pathway is such a low priority when it could rapidly save resources that could then be directed elsewhere. Sir Bruce’s remarks about industrialisation last year suggested that it would be given a higher priority, precisely for that reason. Can the Minister explain what has changed? Crucially, that generic statement fails to explain why the avoidable loss of sight appears to be given such a low priority by NHS England. Again, I would be grateful if the Minister could shed any light on why that is so.
This case history suggests that NHS England is afflicted by a bureaucratic sclerosis that prevents it innovating in the way that the NHS so desperately needs. Moreover, it is clearly being hamstrung by the Health and Social Care Act either because there are real constraints on it, which hinder the effective dissemination of innovation, or because the legislation is so flawed that it is impossible to understand and is being used as an excuse for that bureaucratic sclerosis.
I hope that the Minister will use the occasion of his maiden speech to agree to take some action to sort out this profoundly unsatisfactory situation and to ensure the delivery of what Sir Bruce Keogh pledged in January 2014: to disseminate the good practice of this fast-track pathway effectively, and to find ways smoothly to industrialise it. Perhaps a good first step would be for the Minister, together with Sir Bruce Keogh, to agree to meet me and clinicians’ and patients’ representatives to discuss how best we can make progress. I hope that he will agree to do so, and I look forward to his response.
My Lords, I, too, welcome the Minister to his first debate. I also thank the noble Lord, Lord Wills, for using this debate to raise such an important issue. I, too, want to ask about fast-tracks although most of my remarks will be of a somewhat more general nature than those of the noble Lord.
The overriding purpose of innovation must be the better care and treatment of patients. Financial considerations are of course important but when patients’ lives are at risk, speed is of the essence, so we must do everything in our power to get proven new treatments and practices to patients without delay. A primary focus of innovative practice in the past two years has been the interface between health and social care. The devolution of new responsibilities to local authorities has the potential to let many flowers bloom and stimulate a lot of new thinking. However, local authorities, suffering deep cuts in their budgets and without ring-fencing of their adult social care and public health budgets, have found it very challenging to respond to their new powers. “No change” has not been an option. Indeed, in many areas, councillors and officials have felt that wholesale change is the only answer to providing integrated services to their ageing communities in a sustainable way.
A very good example of how this has been done is the Greater Manchester Integrated Care Programme. The 10 local authorities involved suffer some of the worst health outcomes and inequalities in the UK. The number of over-85s is forecast to rise by more than 28% in the next 20 years, while suboptimal management of these patients is currently placing significant strain on acute hospital services. As a result, older people in the area have high rates of emergency admission to hospital, of non-elective bed days and of readmission. What a challenge this is. By setting up three common integrated programmes with locally agreed variations that focus on user experience, health and well-being outcomes, productivity and multidisciplinary working, and with a strong programme of liaison and oversight, the 10 authorities have made real improvements in outcomes and reduced costs. Digital technology has been a key element in overcoming the barriers to integration. That was a quick skim through one very complex response to the Health and Social Care Act 2012. It is only one example of the innovation which councils all over the country are leading.
Turning to new drugs and equipment, as I understand it, the main control over whether these are approved for use in the NHS, and can therefore be commissioned by CCGs, is the NHS Business Services Authority. Some manufacturers are concerned that the approval process can take up to two years. When all the evidence for efficacy and cost effectiveness is available, this can surely be speeded up. Can the Minister say whether the Government are in favour of a fast-track procedure for drugs and equipment where all the evidence is available that would allow new ideas to be brought to the patient sooner? I can understand things taking longer if further evidence is needed, but some companies are in a position to bring all the evidence to the table. Such applications should be able to go through or be rejected very quickly if the figures do not stack up. Have the academic health science networks succeeded in their objective of ensuring rapid evaluation and early adoption of innovations?
Even when a piece of equipment has been NICE-approved, it can take far too long to reach all the patients who could benefit from it. For example, the latest innovation in diabetes treatment to be approved is the insulin pump. This has been available for four years and is suitable, according to NICE, for 12% of adult diabetics and 33% of children. However, distribution has reached only 4% of the patients who would benefit from it, far behind other European countries. This is not encouraging for other companies which are currently working on even more innovations to make the lives of thousands of diabetics better and safer.
Of course, it is not only drugs and equipment that must be considered. New practices and procedures at trust level and in primary care can also bring benefits to patients, raise standards and save the NHS money—standards being the key to a good health service. Very often even the low-hanging fruit is not plucked. I refer in particular to hospital infection control. There have been many examples of cases where better implementation of simple hygiene procedures can make an enormous difference in hospital-acquired infection levels. Yes, there are clever new things such as using bactericidal services and UV light cleaning equipment, a US invention being trialled in two hospitals over here. These have their place, but often much simpler solutions are overlooked. For example, I have recently been treated in two hospitals, one in England and one in Wales. The English one swabs patients for MRSA during their pre-operative assessment; the Welsh one does not. It is obvious which one has the higher rate of MRSA. This practice was recommended by the Science and Technology Committee of your Lordships’ House in 2003 when I was a member, in its report called Fighting Infection on the control of infectious diseases. It might have been a new idea then but it is not new any more and it is still not being used universally. It is a simple, cost-effective procedure and I am amazed that it is not being carried out in every hospital. So good care is not just about innovation, important though it is.
I believe that more use can be made of the simple things that we all use, such as the phone. Everybody has a phone—indeed, 4 billion people in the world use a mobile phone, whereas only 3 billion use a toothbrush. In Durham and Darlington, dieticians won an award from Health Service Journal for using telephony to improve the monitoring of patients with nutritional problems. Formerly, they could only see about six patients a day, but with this system, an automated phone call regularly goes to a patient who is self-administering prescribed nutritional supplements. They are asked to answer certain questions by pressing buttons on the phone. Clinicians receive an email alert if the information input is outside of predetermined parameters, or if they have failed to respond to the call. They can then check on the patient directly. This is a scheme well deserving of its award. This is a very simple mechanism but it improves productivity; patients love it and feel more confident in their treatment.
How many other uses could telephony be put to? We are lagging behind countries that we consider to be less developed than ours. Some years ago I went to India to look at some aspects of their health service. They were way ahead of us in what I would call distance health. In other words, because of the extreme rural nature of much of the country, and the fact that most medical expertise is located in the cities, they had set up village health centres with videolinks to hospitals. Doctors could be face to face with a patient many miles away, question him, get answers and even see the problem. The village health workers also helped with the consultation and could administer simple treatments under the instruction of the doctor.
We may not be as rural or poor as India, but we do have many patients who cannot get to their GP easily or get a timely appointment. It occurred to me at the time, years ago, that we could increase the productivity of our GPs if we had a system like that. The now discontinued NHS Direct was not popular with patients because the people at the end of the phone were not sufficiently well qualified, and too many people were just directed to their nearest A&E. Its replacement, NHS 111, has yet to prove itself. If it is co-ordinated properly with GPs’ practices and other services, as it is intended, it could be a great success, so I wonder whether the Minister can tell us how its success is being monitored and what role it will play in the Government’s ambition to make the NHS a 24/7 service. Finally, I look forward to the Minister’s maiden speech and to hearing some of the answers to my questions.
My Lords, I am very grateful to my noble friend Lord Wills for introducing this debate in his usual eloquent and powerful way and for emphasising the importance of giant cell arteritis, which is such a devastating condition, but potentially treatable if it is diagnosed early enough. It is a particular pleasure to know that the noble Lord, Lord Prior, is at the Dispatch Box for the first time and giving his maiden speech. I know that he is extremely knowledgeable about the NHS, so I am sure he will have no trouble at all in answering all our questions.
The topic of innovation is very close to my heart. How could it not be, as someone who spent his life—rather a long time ago—as an academic physician and constantly tried to innovate in my practice, and who is now scientific adviser to the Association of Medical Research Charities, which produced that very far-sighted document a couple of years ago, Our Vision for Research in the NHS? In that vision, we wanted to see, first, every patient being offered the opportunity to be involved in research, for example in clinical trials. It is clear that most patients want to be involved. Perhaps they know that there is good evidence that patients who are in trials do better than those who are not. Secondly, we wanted research to be embedded in the NHS and every healthcare worker—doctors, nurses and others—to know that they can contribute to research. They should be motivated to engage in understanding the benefits of research for their patients. Thirdly, we wanted the NHS itself—the CCGs and trusts—to ensure that there is a research culture in its organisations.
How far have we come since then? Of course, some things have got better, but I fear that others have become worse. On the positive side, we have a very strong basic science sector. We are very good in the UK at innovation. We punch way above our weight in our research outputs internationally—citation indices, Nobel prizes and the like. We are being overtaken by China and Singapore, and India is coming up fast on the outside, but we are still pretty good.
Also on the positive side is the investment that the Department of Health is putting in through NIHR, under Sally Davies’s direction. The academic health science networks and centres are doing very important work in encouraging clinical research around the country—long may that continue. My first question for the Minister is about what plans the Government have for the longer-term funding of AHSNs. The last Government were rather cagey about that. Then, again on the positive side, we have the Health Research Authority, under Jonathan Montgomery’s chairmanship, which is doing good things in easing the regulatory burden on clinical researchers. There is more rapid approval through ethics committees and through local trust research committees.
However, of particular importance and value has been the rapid licensing of new drugs by the European Medicines Agency and the MHRA. That will prove invaluable in getting drugs through regulation and into practice. Yet too many hurdles still interfere with the uptake of innovations in clinical practice, and there are too many delays before patients begin to gain the benefits of innovation. Some of these were brought out in the Lords Select Committee report on regenerative medicine. I had the privilege of sitting on that committee a year or so ago. The report suggested that, first, funding for research was problematic. We found that although many original discoveries were made in the UK, lack of research funding and in particular venture capital investment prevented us from keeping ahead of the game. Researchers in other countries capitalised on our inventions—a very familiar story. We now hear that funding for universities might be cut back in the Chancellor’s proposed new austerity measures. What assessment have the Government made of the cuts to universities on research outputs, particularly medical research outputs?
Then there is the problem of how we can encourage doctors to engage in research at a time when clinical pressures on them increase all the time. That is certainly true of hospital doctors but even truer of GPs. Here, there is much greater resistance to engage in or contribute to research activities—clinical trials and the like. When I speak to GPs it is very clear why: they are simply rushed off their feet and overwhelmed by their clinical and administrative load. They just do not have the time. Are the Government doing anything to ease that burden? How can they even contemplate seven-day working and at the same time think about research?
The workload of GPs has another effect too. It impinges on their willingness to take up novel treatments as they come along. I am afraid that a natural antipathy to accepting something new is made worse when they do not have the time to even look at the evidence. If we are to achieve our ambitions for research in the NHS we need GPs to be much more involved. Do the Government have any ideas about getting round this serious difficulty?
Then there is the problem of access by researchers to data about patients. Clinical and other data are vital to the research endeavour and, indeed, for good clinical care. However, the care.data fiasco last year put that back far too far. What is being done now to untangle that mess? When will the planned pilot studies take place? What care is being taken to reassure the public and patients that their confidentiality will be protected, while at the same time explaining how vitally important it is that their data are made accessible to legitimate researchers?
Finally, we have the knotty problem of approval for funding of new treatments, particularly those for patients with cancers and rare diseases. These are often very expensive and must go through specialised NICE or NHS England assessment processes. There is the rub, because these are extremely slow and tortuous. Even though drugs may get a licence quickly through the new systems offered by the EMA and MHRA, they must then jump through the hoop of NICE for funding in the NHS. However, NICE can deal with only three of these requests a year and usually takes well over a year to approve any one of them. It is even worse for those drugs that it cannot take on. It can deal with only three; any more it must pass on to be examined by NHS England. Here, they must be considered by no less than seven serial committees—that is, seven committees in series. If you wanted to invent a system to avoid making a decision, then this is it. What can be done in NICE and in particular in NHS England to reduce this bureaucratic nightmare, set up to approve funding of these new treatments? Is there anything that can be done to rationalise the number of committees employed in NHS England that are needed to do this work?
It has been repeatedly stated by Ministers, including the Chancellor and the Prime Minister, that the Government give high priority to research and, in particular, to medical research. Indeed, the Health and Social Care Act made it mandatory for CCGs and trusts to include clinical research in their strategies, but it is equally clear that these ideals are being frustrated. There are other reasons, but funding for the service is going to be important—funding for GPs; funding for expensive drugs; and funding simply for the service—which makes it even harder for it to engage in the research agenda. But it is not just a question of funding, as I have said, and I look forward with interest to the response from the noble Lord, Lord Prior, and wish him well in facing the difficult times ahead.
My Lords, I, too, congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Wills, on securing this debate and on his compelling opening speech. Like him and all other speakers, I very much look forward to the maiden speech of the noble Lord, Lord Prior, in a few moments. I declare an interest as chair of the Association of Medical Research Charities.
In the context of the NHS, “innovation” has a wide range of applications. It covers, of course, innovations in care and treatment, but also medical research, which is where I shall focus most of my remarks this afternoon. A great many things have changed in the NHS in the last 15 years, as other noble Lords have said. Very significant advances have been made, and many of them are the fruits of the UK’s acknowledged excellence in medical research. We recognised this explicitly in our debates on the then Health and Social Care Bill in 2012, which imposed for a first time an explicit duty on the Secretary of State, NHS England and CCGs to,
“promote research on matters relevant to the health service, and the use in the health service of evidence obtained from research”.
It is generally accepted that the UK’s leading role in medical research is of enormous value to patients and the country. That leading role depends to a very large extent on the active participation and leadership of the NHS itself. The Government recognise that, and so does the NHS. In October last year, the NHS published its Five Year Forward View; this document devoted four pages to innovation, usefully not only setting out aspirations but detailing some of the steps needed to achieve those aspirations. The document explicitly confirmed continued support for the NIHR. That is a very good thing.
The NIHR is, with the AMRC and the medical research charities, one of the key funders of medical research, which in the NHS has undergone a kind of renaissance since the advent of the NIHR. It is all the more impressive when you realise that the NIHR’s budget is less than 1% of the overall NHS budget. That is a much smaller percentage commitment to R&D than is the norm for other knowledge-based organisations. There is a real business case, as I said before, for increasing the NIHR’s budget, apart from compensating for inflation. For every £1 of government and charity spend on health research there is a return of between 37p and 40p every year, in perpetuity. This is obviously a vital area. Could the Minister use his very best efforts to persuade his colleagues that a significant part of the promised extra £8 billion should find its way into the NIHR budget? While I am talking about money, when are we likely to see the guidance on excess treatment costs that was promised for before Christmas?
Despite some progress and good intentions, the research landscape in the NHS is not yet entirely encouraging. Around three weeks ago, Cancer Research UK published a report that it had commissioned entitled Every Patient a Research Patient?. The organisation stole or borrowed the title from the Prime Minister’s own stated aspiration that every patient will be a research patient. However, this report says that it has,
“found mounting and pressing concern”,
about research in the NHS. It identified a number of constraints, including,
“the ability of people to commit time to research, in the face of mounting service pressures … the availability of key skills and experience within the workforce”,
and of course generalised financial pressures.
The Chief Medical Officer, Professor Dame Sally Davies, commented on the report. She said:
“There is considerably more to do to improve the commitment, culture, capacity and capability of the NHS to promote, support and conduct research”.
Are there mechanisms in place to measure progress on the lines set out by the Chief Medical Officer? How will we know when we are making progress?
The final area I shall touch on briefly is data. Patient data, actual and potential, are an almost unimaginably important resource. Proper collection, dissemination and analysis of data will allow the next great leap forward in medical science. The NHS explicitly recognises this and has set up the National Information Board to lead the effort. We need real drive and leadership in this area. As my colleague the noble Lord, Lord Turnberg, said, the debacle over care.data has made progress very much more difficult. The Wellcome Trust noted at a recent hearing of the Health Select Committee on patient data that some researchers funded by medical research charities are experiencing significant difficulties and delays when trying to access data from the Health and Social Care Information Centre. Often these delays are more than 12 months. In some cases, researchers have not been allowed to access data at all, even when patient consent has been given and the data anonymised. I am sure the Minister is well aware that the situation is as difficult as it is urgent. Better use of patient data can lead to significantly better outcomes for those patients. I know the department is aware of this and all the other issues I have mentioned and is aware of the need for an overarching NHS research strategy and is working on that. Finally for the Minister’s list of questions, when does he expect to be able to publish a draft of this research strategy tying all these issues together?
My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord Wills for opening this debate in an excellent way. I am going to talk a little bit about NHS procurement so I should declare an interest as president of both GS1 and the HCSA.
It is my great privilege to anticipate the Minister’s maiden speech, congratulate him on it and welcome him to your Lordships’ House. He is a distinguished businessman, politician and, latterly, was chairman of the fantastic Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital and the Care Quality Commission. I think it is fair to say that he inherited the CQC in a somewhat fragile state. It is to his great credit that he and chief executive David Behan have stabilised the position. I do not take the Roy Lilley approach to the CQC. Of course there will always be issues about its methodology and the way it practises regulation, but I have no doubt that under the leadership of the noble Lord, Lord Prior, the CQC was definitely going in the right direction, and we owe him a great debt for that. I should also say that I particularly appreciated the fact that he and his chief executive made themselves available frequently to politicians, and that approachability is also very much respected and appreciated. I am sure that that will also characterise his frequent appearances in your Lordships’ House in our many health debates.
This is a very important question. We have the great paradox that this country has, as my noble friend Lord Turnberg suggested, a hugely impressive life science base and much-valued R&D. Even today, with all the pressures on UK pharma, there are still many drugs in the top 100 globally which have been developed in this country, yet we have a real problem in adoption by the National Health Service. My fear is always that unless we can dramatically change the approach of the NHS, we will put at risk future global investment in this country.
I shall start by referring to the points raised by my noble friend in opening the debate, on giant-cell arteritis. I have come across similar problems in another disease area—we have had debates on them in your Lordships’ House: one on PAWS GIST, and another on neurofibromatosis NF-1—and my experience is exactly the same as my noble friend’s. The problem is where there are small numbers of patient groups and effectively no national strategy. CCGs simply do not have the capacity, capability or desire to do anything about it at a local level, and GPs are inundated with guidance on one thing or another, making it very unfair to attack GPs on this matter. It is clear that we lack a strategy within NHS England for dealing with these patient groups—these disease areas—where they involve a small number of people. Like my noble friend, I have had a number of meetings with officials at NHS England who are clearly completely overwhelmed by the task in hand. There is no decision-making structure that I can see where you can ask, “Who in NHS England is responsible for giant-cell arteritis?”. It is quite clear that no one has responsibility. They may well have a clinical director who has some vague oversight, but that is as good as it gets.
What has happened to the clinical directors is disgraceful. Under the Labour Government they were employed in the department, with direct access to Ministers. Now they are part-timers in NHS England, with no support and no access to the top of the office, and are left in an impossible position. I hope the noble Lord will sort that out. I also hope he will encourage NHS England to take a much more progressive view on innovation. I welcome a number of the Government’s initiatives, such as AHSNs and the current accelerated access review. Those are strongly welcomed. I know that Mr George Freeman, in his department, shares the concern that we have about the need for adoption in the NHS. However, someone has to sort NHS England out.
We have already heard about the problem of drugs that do not go through the NICE cycle. Basically, NHS England has set up a rationing tool to delay their introduction; that is why there are so many committees—it is simply a rationing tool. The gross example of this relates to the new PPRS agreement on drugs. In that area I congratulate the Government on negotiating an agreement whereby over a five-year period, if drug costs go up a certain level, a rebate is paid out to government. Every quarter a rebate is paid back. I think we have now gone through 18 months, so another rebate is due shortly. The money coming back could have been used to finance new and innovative medicines, but no—it is simply being taken and put into general allocations. There was an opportunity there for the pharmaceutical industry to finance the introduction of innovative new drugs, because we know what the drug costs will be over a five-year period. However, my understanding is that because NHS England was not part of those negotiations, and despite what it says in the NHS Five Year Forward View and Simon Stevens’ commitment to innovation, the practice of NHS England is in fact to stamp on innovation, because the only thing it is interested in is containing costs, and it sees that at a very crude level.
As the noble Lord will know, the 2012 Act has effectively been disowned by the Secretary of State. Every announcement that has been made in the last few weeks suggests that we are going back to good old command and control, and thank goodness for that. The Minister needs to take a grip on this, otherwise we will have another debate on innovation every year. Frankly, it is clear that the NHS is not going to adopt proven innovative new developments, techniques and medicines.
My final point concerns the report of my noble friend Lord Carter, which was published today. I am very grateful to my noble friend for the work that he has done, and I absolutely agree with him when he says that a better approach to purchasing will bring good returns. Again, it has been abundantly clear that we need a central, directional approach to procurement if we are to get those savings. The question that I want to put to the Minister relates to a new approach to purchasing, where essentially the Department of Health or NHS England, on behalf of the NHS, will commit itself to volume purchasing in order to get the kinds of savings that we want. Can he ensure that in the discussions that he takes forward it will be clear to the people doing the negotiations that part of the outcome will be a willingness to invest in innovation? I think that there is the potential for very good, longer-term agreements with industry in which the NHS, because it can commit to volumes, can achieve considerable savings. However, the deal has to be that the NHS adopts new, innovative products and medicines, rather than a penny-pinching approach, which in the end will be cost effective.
I know that some of those matters come within the responsibilities of the noble Lord, Lord Prior. He is warmly welcomed to this House and to his position, and we very much look forward to hearing his maiden speech.
My Lords, first, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Wills, on introducing this debate today. As I would have expected, we have heard five powerful speeches and I stand here in some awe. This is my maiden speech and I want to say what a huge privilege and honour it is for me to join your Lordships’ House. I still have to pinch myself every time I come here to check that it is really true.
It goes without saying that I wish that my father were here today and not taking a leave of absence. I would have liked the chance at least once in my life to have addressed him as “my noble kinsman”—more respectful, if more other-worldly, than other epithets that I may have used to describe him in the past. He was elected to the other place in 1959 and introduced to this House in 1987. The spirit of “one nation” that inspired his politics is, I am glad to say, alive and well in today’s Conservative Party. What inspired him back in 1959 still inspires me today.
I follow in the footsteps of my noble friend Lord Howe, who is in the Chamber. He held the office that I now have with huge distinction in both government and opposition for some 18 years. Over that time, he deservedly won a reputation, on all sides of the House, for charm, humour, intelligence, integrity, good sense and fair play.
He embodies all that is best about this House and he will be a very hard act for me to follow, although I shall do my best.
I also pay tribute to the former Minister for Care Services in the last Government, Norman Lamb. If not for him, I might well have still been in another place representing the constituency of North Norfolk. I congratulate him especially on his work on raising awareness of mental health issues and improving the standing of mental health services in this country. Both our families have been touched in different ways by the tragedy and tragic consequences of mental illness, and I imagine that many others in this House will have been similarly touched.
I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Wills, for raising the important issue of innovation in the National Health Service. If he will give me a little latitude, I will come back to him later on the points that he raised. We have already spoken outside the House about his particular concern, but I will address it towards the end of my speech.
Before I respond to the observations of the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, I would like to say how much I look forward to working with him. We have worked together over the last two years. He has a deep knowledge of and commitment to the National Health Service, and I know that there is much more that unites us than divides us. It is a shame that, sometimes, the adversarial nature of politics intrudes so deeply into health and social care. I endorse his words about his noble friend, Lord Carter, who has produced an extremely valuable report that will help the National Health Service to drive costs out of the way that we deliver care in acute hospitals, which can then be used more for innovation, new drugs and the like.
The noble Lord, Lord Hunt, was a Minister back in 2000, when the then Secretary of State for Health, Alan Milburn, described the NHS as a,
“1940s system operating in a twenty first century world”.
I think the noble Lord will agree that the project of transforming the system so that it is fit for today’s world is still far from complete.
The NHS Five Year Forward View is, I believe, a vision for the transformation of the NHS that all of us in this House can support. It is a vision for the NHS created not by the Prime Minister or the Secretary of State for Health—who is sitting to my left—or by any politician. It is a vision of the NHS by the NHS, for patients and taxpayers alike. It describes a future built on innovative new models of care and integrated models of care, which the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, mentioned in her speech, to meet the needs of today’s population.
My time as chairman of the Care Quality Commission taught me a great deal, but especially that great organisations require great leadership and very high levels of staff engagement. Staff engagement is probably the best predictor of care quality and overall performance of hospitals and, indeed, of primary care and social care. Doctors, nurses and other healthcare professionals are not primarily motivated by targets, financial incentives or contracts; they are driven overwhelmingly by their vocation. I much appreciated the words of a former president of the Royal College of Physicians, the noble Lord, Lord Turnberg, who understands that probably more than I or many others in the House do. We must never forget that it is their vocation that drives healthcare professionals.
I want particularly to mention how delighted I am that NHS England has appointed Yvonne Coghill to champion the cause of race equality. It is sad and wrong that so many people from BME backgrounds do not have the same opportunities as others in the NHS. This is not just morally wrong but has a direct impact on patient care.
It is important to remember that innovation, the subject of today’s debate, needs the full engagement and alignment of clinicians, staff and managers alike if it is to deliver the change that we want and need. Innovation in medicine has prompted enormous advances in healthcare. From the discovery of penicillin, through the pioneering of major organ transplantation and keyhole surgery, to increasingly targeted modern cancer treatments and, as I found out last week, the development of 3D-printed hip replacements, there is much to be proud of and indeed thankful for.
The noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, mentioned infection control. The noble Baroness is right: it is not just about the high tech; sometimes it is about just washing your hands. The extraordinary improvements that we have seen in the reduction of MRSA and C. difficile in our hospitals—although there is further to go—is testament to that.
As the noble Lord, Lord Giddens, rightly identified in last week’s Queen’s Speech debate, we now stand at the brink of a new technological revolution in healthcare, with the emergence of advanced digital technologies, greater connectivity and the widespread use of smartphones opening up unprecedented opportunities for treatment and prevention. In addition to the wide array of wearable technologies, there are no fewer than 100,000 health apps, allowing people to take more control over their health and well-being. I think that self-care will be a major addition to the armoury of health prevention as we go forward.
We are determined to seize these opportunities and have established the National Information Board to drive the digital transformation of the health and care system. I share the concerns expressed by noble Lords in this House that restoring public confidence and trust in care.data is an imperative and is very important.
Noble Lords will know that in its Five Year Forward View, NHS England and all the ALBs have committed to driving improvements in health through developing, testing and spreading innovation across the health system. This aspiration is evident in the creation of the Vanguard programme. Noble Lords will be aware that in January the NHS invited organisations to apply to become vanguard sites for the new care models programme—a highly innovative programme. More than 260 organisations expressed an interest in developing such a model, with the aim of transforming how care is delivered locally. In deciding which models of care to support, NHS England and ourselves will be guided by the view of a previous Prime Minister, recently repeated by Liz Kendall MP, that “we will back what works”.
Let me provide a few further examples of where we are making progress. First, the test beds initiative, launched in March this year, will produce real-world sites for evaluating innovations that integrate new technologies and other novel approaches that offer the prospect of better care at lower cost. Secondly, noble Lords will be aware that England was the first country in the world to establish a system of academic health science networks, supporting local economies to improve local health outcomes, and maximising the NHS’s contribution to economic growth by enabling and catalysing change through collaboration. This builds on the success of our six world-leading academic health science centres, designated following review by international experts. Having met with the Chief Medical Officer, Dame Sally Davies, this afternoon, anyone in this House who believes that research will not have a high priority for this Government will have to tangle with Dame Sally. It is remarkable for a country the size of England to have six world-class institutions in this field.
Thirdly, I am proud that we are leading the world in whole-genome sequencing. NHS England is a key partner in the landmark 100,000 Genomes project, working to sequence 100,000 genomes of NHS patients with cancer or rare diseases. The 11 genomics medicine centres across the country are playing a vital role in identifying patients with rare diseases and cancers with a view to providing more personalised and targeted treatment. It will not be long before we are the first mainstream health service in the world to offer genomic medicine as part of routine care for patients.
Last but not least, to pick up the concern expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Turnberg, the accelerated access review was launched by the Minister for Life Sciences in March and is independently chaired by Sir Hugh Taylor. It will make recommendations later in the year on how we can speed up patients’ access to innovative medicines and medical technologies, taking time and cost out of the development pathways for new products. This will have wide benefits for innovators, for pharma companies, the NHS and, of course, for patients.
We must not, of course, become complacent. Health has always been a hotbed of innovation, and innovation has allowed the NHS to provide ever more advanced care to patients. But the wider world offers many examples of innovation in the way care is delivered from which we can take huge inspiration—whether it is Kaiser Permanente in California, Aravind in India, or the extraordinary work that is being done with data in Singapore and Australia. We must never fall into the trap of “not invented here”.
Finally, turning to the issue raised by the noble Lord, Lord Wills, concerning giant cell arteritis, I should add that this is not as specific as I thought and raises more general issues about NHS England than were raised by the noble Lord opposite. The Government recognise that early diagnosis and treatment of giant cell arteritis is extremely important to prevent sight loss. I was touched by the human concerns and the human impact of giant cell arteritis expressed by the noble Lord as well as the financial issues that he raised.
I have raised the issue with Sir Bruce Keogh, the national medical director of NHS England, who is happy to meet the noble Lord, along with the Minister for Life Sciences, George Freeman. But in view of the more generic issues that have been raised, and the fact that it is not just this specific matter, I would like to join the meeting—to discuss not only Professor Dasgupta’s work but the wider issues around commissioning treatments for these rare and specialised conditions. I hope that the meeting is productive.
I am conscious that I have not addressed all the questions today, but on this occasion I hope that your Lordships will forgive me as it was my maiden speech. I want to say how much I am looking forward to working with noble Lords on all sides of the House in the years to come.
House adjourned at 6.10 pm.