Question for Short Debate
My Lords, the debate on this issue was much to the fore about five years ago. For example, in an article in March 2008 Gordon Brown wrote that what matters are,
“the common values we share across the United Kingdom: values we have developed together over the years that are rooted in liberty, in fairness and tolerance, in enterprise, in civic initiative and internationalism”.
He went on to suggest that these values live in the popularity of our common institutions, from the NHS and the BBC through to the Olympics and such movements as Make Poverty History. More recently, the debate has come alive again with a statement by the Home Secretary that the promotion of British values is a fundamental feature of the new Government’s programme. On the “Today” programme in May she said:
“We haven’t as a society in the past, been positive enough about the values that unite us as a society ... the key values that underline our society and are being undermined by the extremists”.
This stress on British values has also been promulgated by the Department for Education in a document of November 2014 headed Promoting Fundamental British Values as Part of SMSC in Schools; that is, spiritual, moral, social and cultural development. This said
“Schools should promote the fundamental British values of democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty, and mutual respect and tolerance of those with different faiths and beliefs”.
That policy has aroused some unease in the teaching profession and a fair amount of resentment in the Muslim community, an issue which I intend to address.
First, however, let me stress that nothing in life is value-free and that nothing is morally neutral—not education and not our public institutions. They inevitably reflect a set of values and beliefs. What matters is that we should try to be aware of those values and reflect seriously on them, both in schools and in our role as citizens. Furthermore, this should already be part of citizenship education in schools, which many of us have long argued must be taken much more seriously as a fundamental element in our educational system. When pupils emerge from school, they should be capable of reflecting seriously about the fundamental values that underpin our society, including the rule of law and the nature of democracy—its strengths and weaknesses. Schools themselves should reflect such fundamental values in their own ethos, as of course the vast majority do. So why the worry?
The worry has arisen both among teachers and among the Muslim community because the stress on British values has emerged as very much part of the Prevent strategy, and has had the unwitting effect of making many Muslims feel singled out by it as though they did not share those values. They have been made to feel somehow outside the mainstream, different, or—to use the jargon—“other”. This is a serious situation and I am grateful for the opportunity to raise these concerns. First, as a general point, we need to be aware of how others see us; it might be different from the image we have of ourselves. In relation to the current emphasis on British values, I am reminded of the response given by Gandhi when he was asked what he thought of western civilisation: “It would be nice”. Secondly, the values championed by the Government at the moment are in fact the values of any liberal democracy—they are not uniquely British. Moreover, they are human values, as witnessed to by the fact that they are now enshrined in human rights law.
I would like to see the question of fundamental values much more in terms of a continuing conversation with all the stakeholders—that is, one which includes all our communities. After all, our understanding of the values in question—the rule of law, democracy, freedom of expression, tolerance and so on—is the product of a long history. Where we are now is the result of many years of struggle and change. They were not set in stone once and for all; what they mean and how they apply have changed, are changing, and will continue to evolve in relation to the changing shape of our society. In particular, our society now contains significant communities with their own histories and insights to bring to the discussion—2.7 million Muslims and 817,000 Hindus, for example. As Amartya Sen has written, the Indian continent has a long history of the argumentative discussion that goes to the very heart of democracy. I am a champion of our own representative democracy on the familiar ground that it is the worst possible system in the world except for all the others, but it is absurd to think that at least some of the features and virtues are not reflected in other political and religious traditions.
The letter sent out by Eric Pickles and the noble Lord, Lord Ahmad, to mosques earlier this year contained many helpful things. It said:
“You, as faith leaders, are in a unique position in our society. You have a precious opportunity, and an important responsibility: in explaining and demonstrating how faith in Islam can be part of British identity … British values are Muslim values”.
Yet the Muslim Council was overall unhappy with this letter, claiming that it contained the implication that British Muslims were,
“inherently apart from British society”.
The noble Baroness, Lady Warsi, a supporter of Eric Pickles, writing in the Observer at the time, said that the widespread resentment at the letter arose not so much because of what it said as the fact that the Government, over a number of years, had failed to engage with a number of organisations, regarding some of them as beyond the pale. If you have not fostered trust, she wrote,
“even the most benign of correspondence can become toxic”.
So the issue goes beyond language to the need to engage with a whole range of organisations, even very conservative ones, for a conservative religious position is not synonymous with a violent one. That reinforces the point I was making earlier that what is needed at the moment is a continuing conversation in which all our major communities feel they have a say in shaping what it is to be British and what our fundamental values are.
It is very unfortunate that such a key issue has become so closely associated with the attempt to combat extremism, when it is crucial in its own right. The need for reflection on such values will continue long after the present phase of counterterrorism is passed. So my plea to the Government is that they will see this issue less in terms of the top-down promotion of certain values and more in terms of engaging a range of communities in a continuing conversation.
Secondly, there should be a particular sensitivity to the nuances of language. I had the opportunity yesterday to raise this issue directly with the Prime Minister at the Cross-Bench meeting. He gave me a very robust defence of the continuing stress on the use of the phrase “British values”. The fact is, however, that because British values have been championed as part of a counterterrorism strategy, this inevitably gives a certain colouring to the words, which has resulted, unfortunately, in them being heard by some in a negative way. That is why my Question talks about “shared values”. I commend the word “shared” to the Government, for it assumes that we are together in this, not set apart. It is not a question of dropping the phrase “British values” altogether, but using it in a more nuanced and qualified way that does not make some feel distanced from them.
My Lords, I thank the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, for bringing this debate before us. I have just under three minutes in which to speak.
There are many British values but I want to concentrate on just one which should be close to us in this building—that is, the concept of having a loyal Opposition within the British system which can oppose the Government, question them, and state publicly that they are prepared to replace them, while still not being considered traitors. In my veneer knowledge of history, I have discovered that this concept was first coined by John Hobhouse in 1826, when having a go at George Canning, apparently. That was a period of liberal Toryism, if I remember my A-level history correctly. The concept that we could criticise the Government without risking impeachment or imprisonment or being sent to the gallows did not exist 100 years before that time, or had only just started to emerge then. This idea that those in opposition can criticise and talk to the Government and, indeed, have status, position and influence within the system of governance is something that we should extend to the rest of our society and move it out from here. Indeed, the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, spoke of getting other faith groups et cetera to feel that they are part of this process of criticising and having a different agenda—but not being alienated or criticised is an important factor. Also there is the fact that politicians, when under pressure, think, “You’re not being patriotic—you’re not representing the true interests of the country”. If we carry on down that road, we get into a very odd position, because the only civilised position is to say that anybody who opposes you is well intentioned but wrong. If we start from that assumption, sometimes it is proven that it goes a little bit beyond that; if we do that, we have grounds for a discussion and civilised disagreement. If we go beyond that, we get into very odd places. I do not know what is going to happen when the hunting Bill gets here, but I think that this is one of those occasions when this position was left behind—as horns, hooves and forks were pushed into the hands of both sides who did not love each other or the rest of the world, or cuddly animals, or understand the countryside. Take your pick and go round it twice. Unless we accept that people in positions of opposition at least deserve the courtesy of being listened to for a period of time, we are going to end up in a period when we listen to nobody—and then nobody needs to listen to us.
My Lords, I join in congratulating and thanking the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, for having secured this important debate at such an important time. When I gave my maiden speech to your Lordships some five years ago, I was able to reflect on the journey of my own parents who came to the United Kingdom in 1961 to continue their medical training as part of a substantial wave of immigration from India at that time, which resulted from a broad consensus, recognising that immigration was a good thing but also that those newly arrived communities needed to integrate and make their full contribution to British society.
Some nations attempt to deal with the question of values by way of their written constitutions. That includes France, for instance, and the United States. We know about “Liberté, égalité, fraternité”, which is written in tablets of stone in the French constitution—a top-down approach to the definition of and imposition of national values. Regrettably, experience in France has shown that that does not necessarily achieve the greatest integration and cohesion in society. Our own approach without a codified written constitution has been to focus much more on institutions playing a vitally important role, both in establishing and helping us to understand over centuries what our values are and then ensuring that those values are broadly consolidated. Such great institutions as our constitutional monarchy, this great Parliament, a free press and an independent judiciary have all played a vitally important role in securing an understanding and a basis of our national values. But then smaller institutions throughout the land, which compose civil society, have provided the opportunity for a variety of disparate communities to be able to engage with those values, to understand them and start to live them. It is therefore vitally important that we reflect on the role of institutions in securing the values that we hold so dearly in our country and the opportunities that they have to ensure that all communities can understand those values and participate in living them.
Bearing in mind the dependence that we have on institutions, what role do Her Majesty’s Government take towards protecting and promoting them and ensuring that they can play their vitally important role in securing the values that underpin our country? If those institutions, both large and small, were to fail, there would be a very great risk to our nation, broadly, and to the security and functioning of communities, both established and newly arrived in our nation.
My Lords, I thank the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, for initiating this debate. I grew up in a Muslim household, an immigrant child of immigrant parents who held certain values stemming from their religion and culture. I received my formal education in a typical Scottish Presbyterian state school where I was instructed in certain values to live my life. There was no conflict between the two. The values were the same—hard work, patience, loyalty, compassion for those less fortunate, charity, public service, respect for other religions, aspiration to succeed and, most importantly, abiding by the law of the land where one lives. If the values of both cultures I inherited are so much the same, I ask myself, “Where did it all go wrong?”. Why are there such divisions—or perceived divisions—in our society, especially concerning members of my religious and ethnic community?
We must first understand what we mean by communities and what we mean by culture. When we speak of ethnic communities we must remember that these are not homogenous entities; they are diverse, just as diverse as the indigenous society at large. They are a microcosm of the countries from which they originate. Diversity is part of humanity; it is, indeed, the shared values which make sense to any civilised society, bind us together and provide social cohesion.
For a long time, diversity or multiculturalism were celebrated and encouraged on this island. Indeed, I believe that we were, for a while, quite comfortable as a society. Our nation worked hard to bring about equality through race relations and equality legislation. Ethnic communities of many hues enriched the lives of this nation: the food that we eat, the colours and clothes that we wear and the music that we listen to have changed beyond recognition from the days when I came to live here as a little child. It is deeply disappointing to think that multiculturalism was simply a failed experiment. The celebration of multiple religions, ethnicities and cultures is now understood to have done little in the way of social cohesion.
I argue that it is not multiculturalism per se which was at fault but the way that we went about promoting it. For too long, people were encouraged actively to withdraw into silos and given funding for separate organisations. We cannot encourage people to live separate lives and then expect them to be full and active members of mainstream society. Diversity is one thing, division is another. Along with the celebration of diversity must come a single narrative of nationhood, where people feel that they belong.
We all have a huge task in front of us to tackle the root causes at the heart of this disaffection, to remind people, particularly the young, of our shared values and to foster acceptance that there will always be some differences but that the core values are the same. What binds us as British citizens is far greater than that which divides us. The point I make to the Minister is that in our efforts to promote the shared values that underpin British public life, we should bear one thing in mind—that just because we got multiculturalism wrong, we must not be reactive, go to the other extreme and impose assimilation. That would merely be intolerance, something we can ill afford in what can often seem an increasingly fractured society.
My Lords, I congratulate and thank my noble and right reverend friend Lord Harries. This is a well-chosen topic; it is timely and another of the many nails he drives into the coffin of extremism.
The function of the state is one of the critical questions underlying this. What is the role of the state? I like to plumb the depths of British philosophy and history in trying to answer such questions, so I shall turn to John Locke and A Letter Concerning Toleration —he wrote three but I shall deal just with the first. It was written from a context that, if we think about it, is not unfamiliar now. He was an exile in Holland and all around him were the terrible deprivations of the Huguenots, driven out of France by Louis XIV, who had revoked the edict of Nantes. Locke saw persecution going on. He was an exile from religious persecution in Britain in 1685.
He raised the question of what the function of the state is, because he saw that as the starting point. The function of the state is to deal with matters temporal: life, liberty, health and property. The function of the state is not to take a view on what religion is appropriate or inappropriate. However, Locke moved on from that and asked: what kind of limits do you set to the function and the powers of the state? The limits had to do with his general philosophy—with what empirically can be shown to be true, and pragmatically what can be achieved. For example, today a separate question has to be answered pragmatically about the use of electronic surveillance, which we will come to in this House in due course. That was not a question for Locke, but it is for us. Let us deal with it in a way that looks for evidence rather than putting words in the sky.
My point is that right now in our schools and colleges, to our shock and amazement, young people from very sensible and pleasant homes who have been brought up to think of themselves as British are moving out and going—perhaps driven by ideals or perhaps by other things—to parts of the world where ideology reigns, not criticism or pragmatism. Locke’s point is: as part of how we carry on our practice of public values and education in public values we have to draw this very clear line and say, “Matters temporal have to be settled empirically and pragmatically”. You cannot settle matters political in the way that, for example, people will find they are settled as they move to certain parts of the world. There is a huge distinction here which I hope underlies how we begin to teach social values in our state.
My Lords, I join in thanking the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, for enabling us to talk about values, and it is a particular pleasure to follow the former vice-chancellor of my old university, especially as he was kind enough to give me an honorary degree—so I have to say that about him.
Among the vehicles for translating values for the public are the political parties. It is well known that I am not the greatest admirer of Nick Clegg’s leadership of my political party. However, just before the election he came to a dinner in London which was held for the 50th anniversary of my election to this place, and he made a magnificent speech on liberal values. During the rather dreary election campaign I sent a message to our campaign headquarters saying, “Please ask Nick to repeat that speech, because it would elevate things a bit more”. I do not know whether he ever got the message, but the next time I heard him talk on liberal values was in his very dignified resignation speech as leader. That certainly had an effect, because thousands of people have rushed to join the Liberal Democrats since our crushing election defeat, and that was largely due to his inspirational speech.
I was reminded of that when my friend Colin Eglin, who was leader of the Progressive Party in South Africa, said, after a totally disastrous election:
“There will be people who will ask ‘What’s the use?’ Let me make three comments in response to this cry of frustration. The first is that certain things are worth fighting for. Justice is worth fighting for. And freedom is worth fighting for. And decency is worth fighting for. The commitment to fight for these things should never depend on the perceived prospect of electoral success”.
That is true. Two of our parties are at the moment engaged in leadership elections. The Labour one certainly opens up the prospect of different sets of values being put before them. We will not know the result of that until September; personally, I rather hope that Jeremy Corbyn will win, not just because I rather like him but because that would open up the ground of politics in Britain for the Liberal Democrats. Our leadership election is going on today; the count is taking place as we speak. During the campaign I was a bit surprised that Tim Farron came under attack for being an evangelical Christian. I thought, “What have we come to, when somebody can be attacked for that?”. I may disagree with him on some things—I am sure I will—but the fact that he is an evangelical Christian means that he is somebody rooted in his own convictions, which is very important.
One of the people whom I met in South Africa many years ago, over a quiet little lunch, was the great Alan Paton, who wrote Cry the Beloved Country. He was leader of the Liberal Party and caused it to fold rather than accept the apartheid rules. He said,
“by Liberalism I do not mean the creed of any party or any century. I mean a generosity of spirit, a tolerance of others, a commitment to the rule of law, a high ideal of the worth and dignity of man, a repugnance of authoritarianism and a love of freedom”.
No one can better that, and I hope that our new leader will take those words to heart.
My Lords, this is a political arena so it is appropriate to ask whether and what values, shared or otherwise, are promulgated through the current practice of government. The key test for government came in 2008. My belief, shared by others, is that the greatest priority of a Government in the face of a financial crisis is to protect the poorest and disadvantaged. That protection has not been provided—indeed, the opposite is the case. Today I read that the Institute for Fiscal Studies’ annual poverty and equality report says that the number of poor children in working families rose from 54% in 2010 to 63% in 2014. The use of foodbanks, which service the employed and unemployed, is at record levels. Values, whether positive or negative, are invoked implicitly through government policy, which we perhaps need to recognise more.
The second point is that, if there is one value that we as a society should share, it is sharing itself. It is sharing financially, certainly—many economists who hold that value dear believe that the current privations have been entirely avoidable—but also sharing democratically, and the sharing of ideas, including beyond national borders, which is a reason for valuing the free movement of people between EU countries. Out of sharing comes much else: caring, generosity, kindness, democracy—kindness is underrated by both the left and the right for different reasons. My heart sinks when a Minister says “I have to make a tough decision”, because I know that decision is one against sharing and one that may well increase the poverty divide. I would like to hear a Minister say “I’m going to make a kind decision”.
Education, at its best, ought to be a site of sharing. I do not believe that the main value of education lies in making a young person fit for a job but in enabling a student to think for oneself, which also means thinking beyond oneself. That is the reason why I am against faith schools, which try to narrow and predetermine a student’s thinking. If citizenship is taught in schools, it needs to be on a comparative and discussional basis. I have come across, I think, apposite lines in a book called The Soul at Work by the Italian writer Franco Berardi. He says,
“Democracy cannot stem from any cultural root or belonging, but only from a boundless horizon of possibilities and choices, from opportunities of access and citizenship for every person … Democracy cannot have the mark of a culture, of a people, of a tradition: it has to be a groundless play, invention and convention, rather than an assertion of belonging.”
Values change and the values of things change. Democracy itself is not a settled thing. We pass laws and affect institutions through which values are refracted but the values that we hold individually and those that we share should emerge not, I believe, through overt prescription by government but from the individual’s ever-evolving discussion with others.
My Lords, I thank the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, for securing this debate. I suggest that shared values might be a dangerous focus and something of a displacement activity. Values are changing and are often vague. The Prime Minister wants to uphold freedom, toleration and the rule of law. My wife Caroline receives lots of information from Johnnie Boden about clothing and, this week, an email came with his values for being British: to be rebellious, daring and timeless. The point is that it is a shifting landscape, which can open up a lot of confusion and miscommunication.
The issue for British public life is not so much about values, which will always be part of the scene; the key issue, I think, is about the processes by which different perspectives participate in public life. That is the notion of the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, of a continuing conversation. The noble Lord, Lord Addington, made a similar point. From the seventh century, when different kingdoms came together and had to negotiate, to the current legislation proposed by the Government about cities and local government, there is a presupposition about different elements somehow being drawn into conversation about our future and how we operate.
The problem about this is that the process of participation is patently not open to ordinary people very easily. It is designed for those of us who live in the suburbs and, in my experience, working a lot with very needy people in the inner city, there is a great disenfranchisement from being able to participate in this continuing conversation. For example, in the last three months, I have been approached by Muslim leaders in the city of Derby where I work to see if I can help to create a safe space, to use their words, in which radical, young Muslims—who, like young people, want to explore radical ideas—can do that without feeling intimidated or at risk of a kind of Prevent agenda which sees that exploration of different perspectives not as part of the political process and the give and take of what a value is about but as something that might be dangerous and almost illegal.
I want to ask the Minister two questions. What might the Government do to encourage the participation of a range of perspectives that includes those who are so patently disenfranchised in the inner cities and among the poor? What might they do to help the Prevent initiative, which I see as very necessary, be perceived by people, especially young people, as an invitation to participate in a grown-up discussion about a range of radical views in a political culture rather than signal, as other noble Lords have said, that this is territory to keep away from because you might be punished for it?
My Lords, I, too, congratulate my noble and right reverend friend Lord Harries on obtaining this debate. As my noble friend Lord Sutherland was speaking, I was reflecting on the marvellous essay by Field Marshal Viscount Slim on the foundations of morale, which he wrote in 1943. One of the things he said is that a man must feel that he will get a fair deal from his commanders, and his living and working conditions must be made as good as they can be. I fear that one of the things about people leaving this country is that they do not feel that.
I declare an interest as having been a member of the Select Committee on Soft Power, which asked the Government exactly the same question at the end of its report. What were the British values which underpinned the so-called British way of life? We were influenced to a slight extent by Mr Hague’s statement that we must work,
“to persuade other nations to share our values and develop the willingness to act to defend and promote them”,
“allowing our soft power—those rivers of ideas, diversity, ingenuity and knowledge—to flow freely”.
The most interesting evidence that we took during the whole period was from the High Commissioner for Mozambique who explained why it was that Mozambique had sought to join the Commonwealth. He underpinned the values which it felt that it would gain from doing so, which were exactly the ones quoted by the right reverend Prelate; namely, freedom, tolerance in others, accepting responsibility, absence of corruption and, above all, respecting and upholding the rule of law. Those are terribly important and we lose them at our peril. What worries me is that that may be fine when said by the Prime Minister but is the Minister certain that Ministers are practising, exercising and accepting responsibility, and upholding the rule of law?
My Lords, I shall concentrate in this welcome debate on a particular British value admired across the world and cherished, I think, by the bulk of our people; that is, the idea of politically neutral Crown service, a concept which speaks deeply to our national instinct for public service. When I first reported Whitehall as a young journalist 40 years ago, this was little talked about by insiders who assumed, rightly or wrongly, that the virtues of a politically and powerful career Civil Service were better lived than proclaimed. Few felt a need to capture them in code or statute. Perhaps regrettably, this became necessary in the intervening decades as some of the relationships within the governing marriage of Ministers and officials became testy, even scratchy. Yet the old 19th century deal, sculpted by the Northcote-Trevelyan report, is as crucial as ever to our good government: that in return for permanence, career civil servants will speak truth unto power, telling Ministers what they need to know rather than what they might wish to hear.
Public service, defined in this fashion, is a state of mind and therefore not susceptible to the performance indicators that have swept through Whitehall like a rash over the past 30 years. Crown service in all its forms depends upon the survival and the flourishing of such principles: the greatest governing gift of the 19th century to the 20th century and our own. The notion of Crown service in the round is the superglue that should bind all those engaged in the Civil Service, the Diplomatic Service, the secret services and the Armed Forces. All these great professions would be sullied and diminished if a creeping politicisation took hold, and given the constitutional uncertainties we face, possessing a UK-wide Civil Service is critical to keeping our union together. Perhaps it is time, amongst many other constitutional requirements, to refresh our notion of public service and those precious values that bring Crown service life and lustre.
My Lords, I, too, thank the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, for this opportunity to reflect. When preparing my speech, I looked at my membership card for the Liberal Democrats. The preamble to our constitution says:
“The Liberal Democrats exist to build and safeguard a fair, free and open society, in which we seek to balance the fundamental values of liberty, equality and community, and in which no one shall be enslaved by poverty, ignorance or conformity”.
Those are the words that endure for us. They are our guiding principles in all we do, not least in our work at local government level to try to make those principles have some meaning in people’s daily lives. Those words are a commitment to build communities in which wealth and opportunity are attainable by all. At the heart of it is an understanding that diversity and respect for difference are a prerequisite for sustainable and prosperous communities. Over the last 40 years, voluntary organisations, local government and national government have campaigned for and legislated for a society based on equality of opportunity and diversity. That has been a long process of changing people’s hearts and minds. It was right. Today, everywhere in the world, every multinational company that succeeds is committed actively to diversity and inclusivity within its business model.
My fear is that, in these times of austerity, the local government base that was there to see this work through in communities is being put under very severe pressure. Those small community groups were so effective over so many years, not just in fighting for equality and diversity at a theoretical level, but in connecting people who had believed themselves to be of such a different background that they could never come to an understanding. I wonder whether that local network of activity, which is so badly needed, will be there in future. In times of austerity, the politics of geographical location and identity become very compelling and life is hard. Nevertheless, in times of austerity and in a world where global communications and commerce are never localised, nationalism can never be an answer to the problem. That is tough, and it is an issue that is arising around the United Kingdom in ways that we have never envisaged before, at least in my lifetime. It is tremendously important that the Government pursue equality and diversity, not just because it is politically the right thing to do but because it will secure the economic basis for those secure values to flourish.
My Lords, this is one of those debates where you want to lock the doors and start the conversation now, as is often the case, I find, when the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, introduces a debate. His debates are never dull, and he always starts us off with such characteristic thoughtfulness that the conversation feels like it is only really beginning now. In three minutes, I cannot give an opposition response to the range of views expressed or even to his opening statement, so I shall take the opportunity of giving a few thoughts of my own on what we mean by values and on what kind of conversation we can have.
There have been various attempts over the years to produce lists of British values, many of them articulated today and all of which I would subscribe to. I even sat briefly on a committee whose job was to review the book which was given to people to learn what it meant to be British before taking a test to be allowed to become a citizen. But even when really good, commendable lists of values come out, they are rarely lastingly satisfying. Somehow, lists of abstract values do not seem to have traction with people. I think that the reason is that, in the end, their meaning is lodged in the context from which they grew and the purpose they serve. In the end, our values come back to the story that we tell about ourselves as a people.
Any list of concepts in the end offers too thin an account of who we are, what we value and what we are about to be able to serve a useful purpose. If we describe a list of British values to our children, to migrants or to other countries but do not tell them the stories of how those values grew up and of the way in which the culture shaped them, was shaped by them and changes over time, why do we expect them to embrace them and take them to their heart?
So, shared values are not enough. I want to go back even further than Locke. The American ethicist Stanley Hauerwas illustrated that point by comparing the Stoics with disciples of Aristotle. He said that they shared the classical values of prudence, temperance, fortitude and justice, but that the Stoics saw them as values that you adopt because you are expected to —essentially, values were contractual. Aristotelians did not see it as being about presentation; rather, virtues were essentially character traits which you acquired over a long period. A virtuous person was one who became habitually virtuous spending years learning and practising those virtues.
If we want our citizens to embrace a set of values, then they—we—need to know why. We should not just set out propositions to assent to; we need a kind of culture, an ethos, a national, living, breathing culture which we all absorb and change over time through repeated practice. We need to raise and educate children and welcome new citizens into a living culture where we all model those values. That includes government and politics. If we want people to treat others with respect, even if—or especially if—they have a different view of what is right and good, then so should we. And politicians, myself included, are not very good at this. If we want people to act in the best interests of their community or their country, we need to find a way in which they do not just look out for themselves but are encouraged by seeing that we take political decisions and organise public life in a way which puts community at the heart both of deliberations and of service delivery.
What Aristotle and the modern virtue ethicists like Hauerwas understood was that if you do something repeatedly over a long period, it forges your character. You might start out consciously modelling something, but in the end you are changed by it. If we want to end up changing other people, maybe the starting point is changing ourselves.
My Lords, I thank the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, for calling this timely debate and all noble Lords for their contributions. I shall speak quickly to get through everything and hope that I will not sound too garbled, but there is so little time.
The issue of shared values that underpin British society is a wide-ranging topic and even in a short debate we have managed to touch on many important topics. I plan to pick up various points that noble Lords have made as I go through the speech. If I leave any noble Lords out it is because of time and I hope that we can come together at a later date to discuss further.
In modern Britain we share many values, as the noble Baroness, Lady Mobarik, stated when talking about her upbringing. Those values in turn support a stronger society. Fundamental values such as democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and mutual respect and tolerance for those of different faiths are, thankfully, normal concepts in our society and are rightly promoted through the education systems in this country.
The values of tolerance and individual liberty extend into many areas of our lives and I am pleased that today we have heard contributions regarding the rights of all in society to enjoy freedoms. The noble Lord, Lord Addington, mentioned democracy and opposition parties. We can debate and disagree and move on, and we have respect and support for all, including those experiencing mental health issues and disabilities, individuals from the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community, and of course those of all ethnic backgrounds and faiths.
To my mind, “British values” are just values and are not necessarily British in particular. I appreciate the stance that the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, has taken in this debate by referring to “shared values”. However, I also agree with comments made recently by the Prime Minister that in Britain we enjoy traditions and history that anchor these values deeply into our culture. The noble Baroness, Lady Sherlock, mentioned going far back in our thoughts; from the Magna Carta, from our parliamentary democracy, from our independent judiciary and many other long-standing institutions, we have seen shared values accumulate and those values have shone through, not least of all in the conflicts of the 20th century and more recently in events such as the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games.
While there are many great endeavours in our nation’s history that have helped shape our shared values, we should not forget that many of today’s commonly accepted values have been forged from darker periods and events. It is our ability to acknowledge this history and entrench its lessons in the present that has truly strengthened our ability to confidently promote our shared values as a firm basis for a strong and healthy society in which all people and communities can participate and thrive. In Britain we have a proud tradition of successfully bringing people together from different countries, cultures and ethnic backgrounds to live peacefully alongside each other and prosper.
Bringing people together in such a way is not always easy and we know that in doing so there is often potential for distrust, disrespect and even conflict to arise. I believe that a society that welcomes all and promotes mutual respect and tolerance is a stronger society, one that benefits from that which all people and communities have to offer and one that can more confidently reach out to its neighbours and face the rest of the world as an effective and vibrant member of the global community.
The Prime Minister recently highlighted the difficulty of balancing the need to protect and promote the values of respect and tolerance with the need to deal with the challenge presented by those who are disrespectful and who are not tolerant. While maintaining a vibrant and tolerant society is not always straightforward, it is worth the effort. I should take the opportunity to highlight some of the efforts that this Government have made to drive this agenda. The noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, talked about the education system. The promotion of fundamental values and citizenship education in schools prepares children and young people for life in modern Britain. Ofsted now inspects both these elements closely, which means that every school in England will be held accountable for its performance.
The cases of Olive primary school in Blackburn and the Trojan horse scandal in Birmingham over the last few years have highlighted the importance of this. If positive promotion of shared values is not pursued, a vacuum is left, into which dangerous and negative messages can fall. Clearly, this danger is posed only by a minority and I should highlight that intertwining the teaching of faith alongside shared values can be achieved successfully. Olive primary school and other schools run by the same Islamic trust have produced stunning results in Ofsted inspections this year. All four primary schools have been praised for promoting British values. One sends its youngest pupils to Jewish schools several times a week. They are encouraged to support the English football team, they dress up as kings and queens, they have links with church schools and they take part in exchanges to celebrate Christmas and Eid.
While I do not want to dwell on extremism, it cannot be ignored. The harm that a minority of extremists can do is immense and there is a broad spectrum of extremism that poses a real threat in the UK. The Government’s counterextremism strategy is due to be published later this year and it will outline measures, including legislation, to tackle extremist individuals and groups and the premises they use to spread their influence. At the heart of this counterextremism strategy will be a positive vision of Britain and our values and an open offer to work with all those determined to eradicate extremism. For me, the heart of this matter is ensuring that shared values are woven into the fabric of our communities, ensuring that they are tolerant, respectful, integrated and strong. The health, economic and cultural benefits that strong and diverse communities can enjoy are immense. The report Creating the Conditions for Integration, published by the Department for Communities and Local Government in 2012, identified that in the past our attempts to deal with the challenges of integration and shared values have concentrated too much on legal rights and obligations, which has had the effect of encouraging a narrow focus on single issues and specific groups. Indeed, in some cases it may have exacerbated existing problems. As the report states, today the challenges we face are too complex for laws and powers to provide the sole solution. Perhaps this is where the noble Lord, Lord Sutherland, comes in.
We all welcome legislation to better promote our shared values. Recent advances such as ensuring that marriage is an option for all loving couples, including same-sex unions, as well as this week’s announcement by the Prime Minister that employers will be required to be transparent about the gender pay gap in their organisations, are two examples of this. It is not the full picture, however. The Government have worked hard to support a range of initiatives that sought to build a bigger, stronger society in which all individuals and communities can thrive.
As the noble Lord, Lord Kakkar, suggested, working in partnership with civil society organisations and communities is important. The Government have an ambitious agenda to ensure that at every stage of their lives people are supported to fulfil their potential and have the chance to contribute positively to their community. Britain has a long and proud tradition of charity; of giving time and money for good causes and to help our fellow citizens in whatever way. An estimated 32 million adults volunteered last year, 3 million more than in 2010. Since its creation in the previous Parliament, more than 135,000 young people have taken part in the National Citizen Service, which instils in people the values of reaching out, helping others and engaging positively in their communities and in public service. A long tradition of communities coming together to work in partnership exists. There are already 3 million volunteers working in hospitals up and down the country and the Government’s Centre for Social Action has already backed 250 innovative projects to improve public services through more and better social action.
Since the beginning of the previous Parliament, the Government’s Community Organisers programme has recruited and trained more than 6,500 organisers in England. These organisers bring local people together to tackle local problems in partnership. As to bringing people from different backgrounds together effectively, we should lead by example in this place. I am chairman of the committee on candidates for the Conservative Party. We now have 68 female MPs compared to 48 in 2010; 17 BAME MPs compared to 11 in 2010. It is not enough but it is encouraging.
The Office for Civil Society has supported the UpRising programme in recent years to scale up and better demonstrate its impact. It opens pathways to empower talented young people from diverse and underrepresented backgrounds, helping them to fulfil their potential and transform the world around them through social action. This programme enjoys cross-party support, having had three main party leaders as its patrons, and nearly 3,000 young people have been supported to date. I can assure noble Lords that the Government will work hard to enable and support them. We will do all that we can.
The Government are ambitious. We want to build on this foundation and to encourage more social action, more giving, and greater awareness of those around you and of what you can do to help them to help each other. That is a vision of a stronger, bigger society, where everyone can enjoy a good life and fulfil their potential regardless of their background. Underpinning all this is a society that is, and needs to continue to be, grounded firmly in shared values. Today we have spoken about many of them, as the noble Lord, Lord Steel, mentioned, including tolerance, respect, freedom of speech, freedom to practise your faith or not, democratic rights, a society that offers all the right to justice and one in which all people can live harmoniously together as a result.
I again thank noble Lords for their valuable contributions. I hope that the sentiments and convictions expressed here today will continue to extend into positive actions outside the Chamber to maintain and advance our shared values and the healthy, rich and varied society that we can all enjoy as a result of them.