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Public Service

– in the House of Lords at 5:26 pm on 24th October 2001.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Lord Chan Lord Chan Crossbench 5:26 pm, 24th October 2001

My Lords, it is an honour to follow such distinguished noble Lords in the debate. I had not expected it to be such a momentous occasion, where I would be speaking immediately after the Statements on Afghanistan and Northern Ireland. It is, therefore, with some trepidation that I present my maiden speech.

First, I thank all members of staff who have been so very helpful and courteous to me during my induction into your Lordships' House. They have demonstrated so eloquently the concept of service for which your Lordships' House is renowned. I also thank colleagues from all sides of the House for their warm welcome.

I intend to explore the issue of dissatisfaction in and with the health service. Here I declare an interest. I was a consultant paediatrician in an academic department for almost 30 years before moving into public health.

A MORI poll in March this year found that 89 per cent of the public trust their doctors to tell the truth. The same proportion is fairly satisfied or very satisfied with the way doctors do their jobs. Therefore we may conclude that the public continue to place their trust in doctors.

Other surveys repeatedly show that patients want more than the average seven minutes' consultation time with the general practitioners. GPs are also dissatisfied with this inadequate consultation time. Consultation time is even more constrained by this routine when the patient requires an interpreter because of insufficient English. In these circumstances, all doctors prolong the consultation for as long as is necessary.

People are using the health service more than ever before. Therefore, although the number of patients registered per GP has fallen to 1,800 today, the number of patient consultations per GP has increased since 1984 by nearly 800 every year to 9,000 consultations per doctor per year in 1996. On average, each patient consults a GP five times per year. Children under five years and people over 65 see a GP seven times a year. It is this increasing demand on the time of our GPs and the shortage of general practitioners that have led to dissatisfaction and low morale among primary care doctors, who continue to manage 90 to 95 per cent of consultations without referring on to specialists in hospital.

Nursing shortages based on the March 2001 NHS vacancy survey are around 20,000 across the United Kingdom. For the year 2000, one in three new entrants to the United Kingdom Nursing Register were from outside the United Kingdom. In order to realise the shared goal of reshaping health services to meet the needs of patients, it is vital that the current nursing shortages are reversed. This means ensuring that nurses want to stay in the NHS, encouraging trained nurses to return to the service, and making nursing an attractive option for new recruits. Meanwhile, many nurses are struggling to provide good patient care on under-staffed wards.

The concept of service in the NHS is alive and well. However, increasing demands on primary healthcare and on hospital treatment--with limited beds and serious staff shortages among doctors, nurses and in the professions allied to medicine--make it very difficult for staff to demonstrate personal warmth and give undivided attention to patients and their carers. We also have the smallest number of doctors per 1,000 of the population in Europe. That is further compounded by the increasing verbal and physical abuse thrown at hospital staff by patients and their families. Long working hours with high levels of stress force NHS staff to concentrate on clinical and technical aspects of treatment rather than on the warmth of personal care. Of course, I accept that in all situations doctors and nurses should always try to give comfort to their patients.

In conclusion, the spirit of service in the public sector, especially in the National Health Service, is alive and well and can be fostered if we manage the expectation of patients, carers and service users. We need to communicate clearly the reality of what can reasonably be achieved with the resources that are available today.

Photo of Baroness Gibson of Market Rasen Baroness Gibson of Market Rasen Labour 5:32 pm, 24th October 2001

My Lords, it gives me great pleasure to convey the congratulations of the whole House to the noble Lord, Lord Chan, on his maiden speech. It was an interesting, thoughtful and important contribution. The noble Lord brings to this House great knowledge of both race relations and health service issues which will be invaluable to us. He was made an MBE for services to the Chinese community in this country and has been chairman of the Chinese in Britain Forum since 1996. The noble Lord has served on the Commission for Racial Equality and on the Home Secretary's Standing Advisory Council on Race Relations. As noble Lords have heard, by profession the noble Lord, Lord Chan, is a paediatrician; and between 1994 and 1997 he served as the director of the NHS Ethnic Health Unit. He is currently a visiting professor in ethnic health at the University of Liverpool. With such a record, the noble Lord will be a great addition to this House and we look forward eagerly to his future contributions.

I begin my remarks on the Motion by thanking the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Oxford for instigating this timely debate. Today, we are concentrating on service in the public sector--an area that faces many challenges. Over a number of years, our public services and those who work in them have been at the sharp end of the nation's considerations. As those considerations have grown and expanded, so have the expectations of the public. As expectations have risen, so too have the all-too-familiar criticisms of and scepticism about our public services--usually without justification. But when a band wagon starts, it is very difficult to stop.

I want to concentrate in particular on those who work in the public sector. As a former national officer of the Manufacturing Science and Finance Union, I worked with and for thousands of members employed in the public sector. The MSF has within it a section specifically for those who work in "not for profit" organisations. The union's members are in both full-time and part-time employment, across a broad spectrum of jobs. Many of them are in directly "caring" roles: in childcare, disability care or elder care. As such, they are dedicated and committed personnel--usually, they work for an organisation because they believe passionately in what that organisation was established for.

But therein lies the rub. Because they are dedicated and committed, because they have a vocational interest in their work, their rewards in terms of pay are usually at the lower end of the wage scale. Why? Because dedication, commitment and vocation have always been thought of by too many people in this country as "rewards in themselves". Such workers obviously receive pleasure from their roles, it is said, so they cannot expect large sums of money as well. Usually, such workers do not expect large remuneration, but I submit that they deserve enough to live on without constant worry, and that they deserve acknowledgement of their achievement.

It is far easier to blame than to praise. It is far easier to find a scapegoat than to ensure that the public service system will uplift and support those who work in it and those who are users of it. As our hospitals, schools and other public services were run down over recent decades and as care was transferred into the community without the back-up systems or resources to support it, I heard directly from public sector workers about the effects upon them and those who relied on them. They genuinely believed that they should be able to give more help to the users of those services but were often unable to carry out even minimum functions and were, therefore, left feeling frustrated and angry, indeed in despair.

Our public services need investment. They need systems and structural changes. They need a government who apply themselves to their well-being. Although I accept that such changes cannot be effected overnight and that substantial steps have already been taken towards those ends, there is still a long way to go. That is why I particularly welcome the latest government proposals on public sector reform. The Prime Minister has stated on a number of occasions recently that the Government have,

"a mission to change and reform public services".

Therein lies much hope for the future.

I could continue, but time does not permit. I ask my noble friend the Minister to outline in her reply the initiatives that the Government will be taking to effect the attitudinal changes that are necessary; what they will do to raise the morale and self-fulfilment of public sector workers; and, above all, how they propose to ensure high national standards throughout the public sector.

Photo of Lord Condon Lord Condon Crossbench 5:37 pm, 24th October 2001

My Lords, perhaps I may say how grateful I am for the warmth of the welcome and the generous support that I have received from everyone associated with your Lordships' House. I also express my gratitude to the many noble Lords who have called me "young man" on more occasions in the past three months than has happened over the past 30 years. It has enormously pleased me and I have revised my life expectancy accordingly!

Our country is at its best when we have a vibrant and successful private sector complemented by an efficient, confident and just public sector. I have been privileged to work in both. The service ethos is certainly not unique to the public sector. It runs through the private sector as well. Both sectors bring complementary benefits to our society. Having spent most of my life in the public sector, I can say that the service ethos is at the core of job satisfaction in that sector. The sense of vocation and service, the sense of serving one's fellow citizen, is vital to attracting, retaining and motivating people within the public sector.

Earlier speakers asked whether the service ethos was alive and well in the public sector. Like them, I believe that it is alive and well--but I suggest that at present it is "under-nourished". We owe it to the public sector to find ways to nurture, to celebrate and to encourage the service ethos within it. That could be done very efficiently in three ways.

There are three aspects on which I shall comment briefly: recognition, respect and reward. Recognition is vital for those serving in the public sector. So often our public services are denigrated and criticised. We must find more innovative ways to describe their successes not just in terms of overall services but in terms of the many individuals within those services at all levels who carry out on a daily basis acts of heroism and dedication way above and beyond the normal call of duty whether that is in nursing, policing, the fire service, teaching, the health service or in the many other services which serve us so well.

In speaking of recognition, I was disappointed to hear yesterday in your Lordships' House that not a single police officer will currently receive a Jubilee Medal to celebrate Her Majesty's glorious reign. I admire the notion that medals will be given to uniformed military personnel with five or more years' service, but I believe that the same criteria should be applied to the police service. I have done some research and I understand that that would cost just in excess of £2 million. I believe that that would be money well spent to celebrate the service of policemen and women to Her Majesty the Queen.

I turn to the issue of respect. Our major public services are quite properly due for reform, in many cases long overdue reform. However, they would like their professional views to be respected and to be considered at the table of reform. The enlightened members of those professions know that they must reform, but they would like their views respected.

On the issue of reward, no one goes into the public sector for wealth creation, or, if they do, they are more likely to face a prison sentence than a knighthood because their activities will almost certainly be unlawful. However, they do not want their service to be exploited. They do not want their sense of vocation to lead to hardship. We must be careful to review the necessary pay and review bodies which ensure that our vital public services are kept up to date in terms of pay and conditions.

Finally, I have spent the past two weeks in America where I have seen how the celebration of the emergency services and the public services generally has provided a rallying point for patriotism, hope, optimism and plans for the future. I do not believe that we need to await or contemplate a similar tragedy here before we seek to recognise, respect and reward our own equally brave services personnel who contribute so much to our life. I commend the Motion to your Lordships.

Photo of Lord Haskel Lord Haskel Labour 5:43 pm, 24th October 2001

My Lords, it is my pleasure and privilege to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Condon, on his maiden speech. How appropriate that he chose to address us on the subject of service as he is a distinguished public servant. He joined the Metropolitan Police in 1967. He worked his way up and was commissioner from 1993 to 2000. He knows the realities of public service, the satisfactions and the accountability, but he is also aware of the hurtful criticism to which we sometimes subject our public servants when they handle difficult situations on our behalf. He has carried that well. I hope that we shall hear him speak often in your Lordships' House.

I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Condon, that the concept of service applies equally to the private sector as to the public sector. I spent my working life in the private sector. After all, what is the concept of service? I believe that it is the desire to deliver satisfaction to the giver and to the receiver. Sadly, in the private sector that important concept has been pushed aside by the clamour for profits and fear of competition. More thoughtful businessmen know that companies are profitable and competitive if they can deliver satisfaction and service. Indeed, it is because business may have got these priorities wrong that some think that it cannot be trusted to deliver public services. Only yesterday the Association of British Insurers, which controls one-quarter of all the shares quoted on the London Stock Exchange, laid down some pretty tough new guidance about social responsibility.

I agree with the right reverend Prelate that the concept of service bringing satisfaction applies not only to companies but also to individuals. That surely is the only way to explain the huge amount of voluntary and philanthropic work described by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Oxford. People get satisfaction from putting something back into the pot, as they say in Yorkshire.

The concept of service not only extends to people who volunteer but also to people who give. People give to an incredible number of causes. They respond to political needs and natural catastrophes. They support the arts through museums and universities. They support searches for the causes of disease and remedies for injustice and the improvement of social conditions. All of that is fuelled by the wish to be of service to others. It is not done for personal profit or gain. Indeed, my right honourable friend Gordon Brown, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, recently set up the giving campaign which is led by the noble Lord, Lord Joffe. The objective of that campaign is to encourage a culture of giving and to increase the number of donors and the amount of donations.

But perhaps when the right reverend Prelate called our attention to the concept of service in the public sector he referred to the delivery of public services. It has long been part of the Labour philosophy that good public services make a major contribution to a fairer society. The discussion has concerned how those services can be delivered efficiently and with a high degree of satisfaction both to the givers and to the receivers--back to satisfaction again.

The Conservative government used privatisation to break up huge monolithic public services--water, gas, electricity, the telephone and the railways--in the hope that local smaller organisations would be more efficient and closer to the consumer and in that way would deliver a higher degree of satisfaction and service. That kind of outsourcing of public services works where there is competition, as failure means going out of business. But where there is not really an alternative, as in education, as described by my noble friend Lord Peston, the whole question of privatised delivery of public services is uncertain.

Certainly the market is a great stimulus to establishing high standards and aligning the interests and common purpose so essential to delivering quality public services. Yes, quality public services do require constant progress and innovations which the market stimulates. People are no longer prepared to accept that the standards of public service can somehow be less than the standards expected in the private sector. Yet if business wants to be trusted to deliver public services, it must not just pander to consumerism and crass commercialism. As the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Oxford told us, the business of business is to serve society. So there is a place for public services in the enterprise culture and the market has a role to play in encouraging innovation and improvements. It is a difficult balance which the Government are trying to find; I wish them every success.

Photo of Lord Skidelsky Lord Skidelsky Crossbench 5:49 pm, 24th October 2001

My Lords, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Oxford has invited us to talk about the concept of public service. I hope that your Lordships will therefore forgive me for being conceptual. First, what makes a service public rather than private? A public service is not the same as what economists call a public good. A public good is public because you cannot slice it up into little bits for individual consumption. You can buy a meal at a restaurant or you can buy a slice of butter but you cannot buy a bit of streetlighting. Streetlights are public goods and therefore have to be paid for by public contribution.

Healthcare and education are not technically public goods. They can be consumed in individual packages exactly like meals in a restaurant and therefore you can readily charge for them. Is it just an outworn prejudice to think of them as public rather than private services? I do not think so. We think that healthcare and education should be provided for the good of society whether or not people want them or are able to pay for them. Moreover, we think that they should be distributed as equally as possible.

The reasons that people think like this are complicated and I do not have time to go into them. But we do think in that way and the fact that we do so affects the motives of those who choose to work in those services. By and large, whatever companies now say, they are full of the notion of corporate social responsibility, and so on--I believe that people go into the private sector mainly to earn money. Their satisfaction comes from the incomes they earn. I know that that is not a complete explanation but as a broad generalisation it is true.

However, it is not true for most of the people who choose to work as doctors, nurses or teachers. Much of their job satisfaction comes from doing good. They regard their calling as honourable, even as noble. That gives rise to the problem. For 20 years, the main thrust of public service reform has been to replace public service motives for action by commercial incentives. The language of markets has replaced the language of service. We have been told to think of hospitals and schools as businesses selling services to customers and clients. We look for all kinds of market mechanisms short of actual profits and losses to hold those business "accountable" to their "customers". The noble Lord, Lord Plant, was a pioneer of what is called the "quasi-market" approach to the reform of public services. I shall be fascinated to hear what he thinks in retrospect about that.

I have no doubt that a big shake-up was necessary. The typical vice of the public service ethic is self-righteousness which too easily becomes indifference to the wishes and needs of those whom the public servants are meant to serve. Furthermore, a public service ethos is no justification for a blank cheque. And just because material incentives are weaker in the public services, it is extraordinarily difficult for them to adapt to new demands made of them.

However, in trying to make public services more like markets, we run the great risk of drying up the springs of genuinely valuable motives for action. The loss of that motive will make the services more expensive in the long run. As has been pointed out in the debate, people do not go into them to make money.

I do not claim to see my way clearly through the conundrum: that one has to introduce accountability and control but at the same time take care not to destroy the valuable motives which cause people to go into those occupations. At the very least, politicians and public persons could start talking a different language which more adequately reflects the nature of public services. They must not talk so much about buying and selling but more about responsibility, obligation and the nobility of the calling. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Oxford has put us all in his debt by reminding us what that language is.

Photo of The Bishop of Portsmouth The Bishop of Portsmouth Bishop 5:54 pm, 24th October 2001

My Lords, like many others, I am pleased to take part in this debate moved by my friend, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Oxford. It is a subject which sits between many of the problems and opportunities which face us today.

I make three observations. First, I begin by focusing on the implicit models of public sector service which operate both in the United Kingdom as well as in Europe and the United States. It is clear that the public service sector has had a long and noble tradition in this country but it is not necessarily the only way to arrange our affairs. As someone with close family ties with Scandinavia, I am consistently struck by the level of resourcing which goes into the public sector in countries such as Denmark. However, I also draw attention to the fact that in much of northern Europe healthcare provision is the responsibility of private insurance.

Looking in the opposite direction, public service in the United States was seen until recently as the poor relation to the world of commerce. As with much in our economic life, the United Kingdom seems to sit somewhere in the middle of the Atlantic, providing an alternative model and one which I believe we should value highly. We should have confidence in our public institutions despite those very necessary times when we look for the checks and balances. It is a very British trait to knock and undermine the very sources of stability and democracy which are so widely admired around the globe.

Secondly, like many of my fellow bishops, I have close working relationships with local government and have been impressed by the response of local authorities, for example in Gosport and Havant, to the Local Government Act 2000 which calls upon such authorities to produce a community strategy that acknowledges the place not only of the public sector but also of those working in private, business, community and voluntary spheres. Through the local strategic partnership there is both the opportunity and the duty to create strategic alliances which acknowledge the value and mutual interdependence of those areas. Gone are the days when in some Stalinist centralised view the state is able to legislate for the minutiae of social interaction. Equally, gone are the days when it was believed that business was the answer to all our problems. We are now, thankfully, in a position where we acknowledge and value service in all its various guises, whether public, commercial community or voluntary; and, of course, in this the public sector has a vital if self-limiting role.

Thirdly, conventional economic measures such as GDP take no account of the notion of service, whether in the public or voluntary sectors. Most of our key public services whether in health, social services, prison or the law courts are increasingly dependent upon voluntary support, whether through charitable funding or the provision of vital support services. Where would we be if government had to pay for school governors? How many hospitals benefit from the league of friends not only financially but through awareness and the generation of good will? How many environmental projects rely on key alliances with community groups who give freely of their time?

Fundamental to both public and voluntary service is the belief that individuals make a significant contribution and that is a strong motivator to society. Oddly enough, the very attempt by government--welcome in itself--to provide funding for voluntary services and the concomitant apparatus of financial management and funding application can have the opposite effect of what is intended. It can create a professionalised bureaucracy which is focused on the next funding round and dissipate the energy which provided its original vision. The role of government must be to provide resources for public services but acknowledge that motivation differs between the sectors. This is particularly poignant for the faith communities of our country. As well as supporting their own community lives, they carry the burden of responsibility for historic buildings for which they receive little or no funding from government. That can skew, for example, a parish's focus towards bricks and mortar and away from other wider purposes equally inherent in the working of that faith vision.

In conclusion, I should like to make a more general comment on the Question which may complement the wise words of the noble Lord, Lord Moser, and the other maiden speeches of the noble Lord, Lord Chan, and the noble Lord, Lord MacGregor. As we deliberate the role of public service, it is crucial that we at least try to view it from everyone else's perspective. It is very easy to create a culture in which those on the fringe are judged by those at its heart. That is a somewhat forceful way of saying that we really all have to be in this together.

Photo of Lord Plant of Highfield Lord Plant of Highfield Labour 6:00 pm, 24th October 2001

My Lords, the idea of public service is much invoked in debate about the reform of public services, but little analysed. Does public service have more than rhetorical and sentimental value? I believe that it does, and I have two reasons for saying that. First, there is the link between the public sector and the provision of certain basic goods such as health, education and welfare, which impinge directly on human well-being, and physical security, in the case of the police service and the fire brigade.

If those services are not provided for properly, well-being will be lowered. In certain circumstances, it may be that the effects of that are irreversible. For example, if people miss education or health opportunities, or if policing fails, the effects may be irreversible. In this country, most people feel that these services should be provided by government out of taxation.

Secondly, it is vital that there should be a high degree of trust on the part of both government and consumers that services are being properly provided for and operated in the interests of the needs of consumers and not in the interests of producers. The ethic of service can provide a basis for that trust. Service provides a constraint on sectional and producer interests in the public sector and allows government and consumers to have a degree of trust in the provision of services that have a basic effect on people's lives.

The alternative view is that associated with public choice economists. Many Members of your Lordships' House know much more about this than I do, but the view which is favoured by people on the Right is that there is no such ethical realm as that of service in relation to the public sector. They say that people entering the public sector do not step into a different ethical realm from that of the market or the voluntary sector and that people are motivated by utility maximisation and self-interest, whichever area of life they are in. That applies as much to the public sector as the private sector. It is argued that that is the best explanation that can be provided for the growth of the public sector in western society. It is the result of the utility maximising behaviour of those employed in the public sector.

On that view, the institutional reform of the public sector should not pay much attention, if any, to the idea of service, but should look to reforms that constrain self-interest or engage self-interest in ways that will produce benefits.

I would argue that even on that public choice model, one cannot escape the problem of trust. If one considers the kinds of constraints that public choice theorists put on self-interested behaviour, contract is a main focus. The imposition of a kind of contract on individuals in the public sector will constrain their behaviour better than anything else. While that may be so, it does not avoid the problem of trust. However specific a contract is, there is always a gap between a set of rules and how the rules are implemented. That point has been well known since Aristotle. If there is always a gap between rules and their implementation, one has to use judgment to apply them. How can one do that if the rules do not give the answer? One has to trust people to apply judgment in an appropriate way.

If we devise institutions on David Hume's injunction that we had better treat people as if they were knaves, we may end up driving out good motivation, which was the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Skidelsky. If we adopt a wholly contractual and rule-governed approach to behaviour, we shall end up with people fulfilling their contractual obligations and no more, which was the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Haskel.

We cannot continue devising rules and contracts to constrain behaviour. There has to be a degree of trust and judgment, which must be exercised against the background of the ethos of service. The service ethic is important in that respect. I certainly do not think that we can use the service ethic as the whole basis for thinking about the public sector, and I do not regret what I did in relation to quasi markets. Nevertheless, it is important that we do not end up throwing the baby out with the bath water.

Photo of The Earl of Rosslyn The Earl of Rosslyn Crossbench 6:05 pm, 24th October 2001

My Lords, in thanking the right reverend Prelate for this opportunity, I should like to say something from a policing perspective. I declare an interest as a serving officer in the Metropolitan Police where I am a commander with responsibility for the force's training. It is therefore a great pleasure to follow my noble friend and former commissioner.

Martin Luther King said,

"life's most urgent and persistent question is what are you doing for others?".

Every five weeks a new group of recruits arrive at Hendon and answer that question, committing themselves to public service as police officers. Last year the youngest was 18 and the oldest 49, which suggests that the instinct to serve can appear at any time. Throughout the country new officers express that commitment in the oath of allegiance and seek to be true to it in organisations separated by geography, but joined through common values of duty and care. In London, officers swear that oath as constables of the Metropolitan Police Service, recognising that while force remains a necessary part of law enforcement, policing is underpinned by notions of consent and accountability. They commit to serve "without favour or affection" to

"cause the peace to be kept" and to

"prevent all offences against persons and property".

That is an honourable but challenging commitment, and one from which we sometimes fall short. It reflects the fact that the essence of policing is bound up not in confrontation but in protection and service.

Writing in 1829, when the whole of Kensington was protected by six parish constables, whom he remarked "were not invariably sober", Robert Peel emphasised that good policing was not about the

"invasion of liberty but a restraint of licence".

The first instruction book made explicit this public service ethic. A constable should be,

"civil and attentive to all persons, never suffering himself to be moved by any language or threats . . . Such conduct will induce well-disposed bystanders to assist him should he so require".

That recognised that the future of the new police depended almost entirely on public acceptance. Today it means that a safe, just and tolerant society can only be built by working with others. For that reason, we should not define the concept of service in an exclusive way. In developing policing doctrine, we should take every opportunity to involve others. One does not have to join the police service to contribute to the service of policing. We already have special constables who the statute says:

"enjoy all the powers, privileges and protections of a Constable".

They also face the same dangers and challenges and their families have the same anxieties and pressures. We have much to thank them for. There is a range of ways in which active citizens can participate in policing and which help to shape the conception of what good service looks like.

The concept of service in a policing context is far- reaching when one stops to consider its ultimate demands. Tomorrow Her Majesty the Queen will visit Hendon to be present at the dedication of the Metropolitan Police Book of Remembrance. We shall recall our 876 colleagues who have died in the course of duty between 1830 and 14th March this year. Though separated by 171 years, those officers are united by a common bond of duty and honour, which led them to forsake their own interests in the service of others.

When the book is dedicated, it will be opened at tomorrow's date, for which there are five entries. The last two are: Francis Joseph O'Neil, died 1980, aged 31. While on plain-clothes duty he was stabbed in the heart by a suspect whom he was questioning in a chemist's shop at Waterloo. Despite being fatally wounded, he attempted to make an arrest before he collapsed and died. The last one refers to Kulwant Singh Sidhu, died 1999, aged 24. Late at night he attended a call to suspects on a roof in Twickenham. In the early hours he was found inside the premises, having been fatally injured by falling through a glass skylight while pursuing the suspects. It is surely appropriate that the book and memorial in their honour should be at Hendon where our newest recruits begin their career. The humanity and sacrifice of those officers will be an example and inspiration to them, as it is to us all.

In 1754, Saunders Welch wrote:

"Let the service of the public be the greatest motive of . . . your office. This will keep you from wanton acts of power".

Today, the abuse of authority by police officers is regrettably not unknown, but there are few organisations more prepared to confront malpractice from within. The service of the public remains policing's most enduring ethic, manifested not just in great heroism, but in daily acts of kindness, help and reassurance. The underlying philosophy of policing remains rooted in the concept of service, and long may it remain so.

Photo of Lord Judd Lord Judd Labour 6:10 pm, 24th October 2001

My Lords, I add my congratulations for the four outstanding maiden speeches in this debate. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Oxford has given us the opportunity to debate this subject at an appropriate time. The grim events in New York last month and all that has followed have brought home that in the frenzy of our materialist preoccupations, we should never take for granted the dedicated men and women in our public services, both civil and military. They have provided, and continue to provide, a powerful reminder of what the values of a decent civilised society should be about. That has been evident not just since 11th September. In the foot and mouth epidemic and in this week's floods, we have looked to the civil and military services for their professionalism, effectiveness and commitment.

In my past work with Voluntary Service Overseas and Oxfam, I have repeatedly seen at first hand that same spirit of selfless service among thousands of volunteers and staff in the United Kingdom and abroad. It is something very special.

We like to think that we have moved into a post-ideological age, but have we? Our preoccupation with the market and with price as the most valid determinant smacks to me of perhaps an unprecedented ideological commitment in the United Kingdom and beyond. Of course we need a vibrant private sector, but it must be characterised by drive, financial discipline, entrepreneurship and vision, not dominated by short-term returns for shareholders, astronomical remuneration of directors, asset-stripping, blinkered business school core-business talk and greed. If the private sector is to be seen and encouraged as a key pillar of society, as it should be, company reports should invariably be convincingly about their social contribution as well as their profitability. There are many such companies and it is tragic that their contribution and commitment to service and to the community is frequently eclipsed by the sordid stories of the irresponsible opportunists.

Regulation is required, but it is seldom creative. There have to be the values and social priorities in the culture of the private sector itself. Experience and common sense demonstrate beyond doubt that there are social priorities in which the provision of services to all to a high standard will make more sense in the public sector; for example, where meaningful or sane competition will be absent or where the returns on the social investment, while always demanding efficiency and value for money, should not be unduly distorted by an over-riding requirement to make profits--in other words, where it is the high standard that matters most. Education and health are good examples, but so are other services where the quality of what is provided will underpin society and the rest of our economic activity. Large parts of our transport system, and, arguably, water and power, are among them.

The long-term sustainability of our society also requires hard-headed pragmatism on the relative merits of public and private provision in terms of what should be an overarching priority at all times--the protection and enhancement of the environment.

The essence of good governance is surely to achieve the right dynamic, rational and responsible mix between the private and public sectors; between the thrust of the private sector at its best and intervention for the common good.

The systematic denigration of too many public servants and public sector workers in recent decades has been tragic. There has been a refusal to recognise the economic value of commitment within a sector that the employees feel is primarily about service. It is hardly surprising if much demoralisation has inevitably followed.

The prevailing message seems too often to have been that those who have what it takes make money rather than championing those who endeavour to work for the quality of our society and unashamedly for others. Teachers, lecturers, social workers, health workers, postal workers, transport workers, municipal, rural and amenity workers and public service workers of all kinds should be celebrated as models for us all, not just in the aftermath of 11th September, but all the time, because they are working for a civilised reality with the wealth that we generate. By the same token, wealth producers--those who really produce wealth--should also be accorded pride of place.

All that should be evident in our value system in a cultural recognition of service. It should not be merely a matter of sentiment. While those who seek to serve professionally are invariably motivated by more than material reward, that sense of commitment should never be exploited. I believe that a decent society is one in which it is absolutely clear from the conditions of employment that such people enjoy how much we value the service provided by our public servants and those who provide service in a whole host of different ways.

Photo of Lord Barnett Lord Barnett Labour 6:16 pm, 24th October 2001

My Lords, I think that everyone will agree that we have heard some excellent speeches today. I join in the congratulation to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Oxford on choosing such an excellent Motion, which refers to,

"the concept of service, especially in the public sector".

I shall concentrate on that.

I very much regret that I cannot refer to all the many excellent speeches, not least the maiden speeches. However, one of them fits in with what I intend to say. The noble Lord, Lord MacGregor, spoke of how passionately he felt about the denigration of politicians. Needless to say, I very much agree with him, having shared both his profession and one of his jobs.

Not surprisingly, there are strong views not only about politicians, but about the denigration of others in the public service, who, as we have heard, do such a wonderful job generally. Most politicians I know from all parties sincerely hold their strong views and speak them clearly and honestly. Even when I disagree with them--which I frequently do--I know that they hold their views very sincerely.

My concept of public service began when I came out of the forces after the war and, together with many others, decided, perhaps naively and idealistically, that the only way I could achieve something in public life and have a practical effect on what could or could not be done was as a politician. In political life we could not only talk about issues, as we did quite frequently, but also perhaps one day do something about them, both locally and nationally. I felt that my future should be in the Labour Party, although I very much respect those who chose other parties, because they did so for the same good reasons. I worked locally and, after some time, have managed to spend 37 years in one House or the other trying to fulfil a public service. My idea of a public service means just that--doing something for the public, both locally and nationally. I chose to make my contribution in that way.

Sadly, the only opportunity that I had to carry out an executive role in government was as Chief Secretary to the Treasury--a post the noble Lord, Lord MacGregor, also held later. I had entered into that area of political life from public life in the hope that I would be able to play a part in improving public services and spending public money. Unfortunately, during virtually the whole five years that I spent as Chief Secretary to the Treasury, economic circumstances ensured that I cut expenditure in precisely the areas that I had come into public life to improve. Of course, I told myself that, in the economic circumstances, that was essential. I told myself that eventually it would all come right and that I would be able to carry on with the job that I really wanted to do. Unfortunately, I left office at that time.

On the other hand, the aims that brought me into public life more than 50 years ago have been carried through by others during that length of time, and less; namely, the improvements in services that I wanted to see under successive governments.

I hope that the present Government will do much more than I was able to achieve. I am no longer quite as naive as I was in those days, although I hope that, to some extent, the idealism remains. However, experience has ensured that that idealism is tinged with a sense of realism, and I am no longer one who expects too much from any government. But I certainly hope that, as well as improving public services in this country, the present Government will do many of the things that I mentioned to help to close the gap between the rich and the poor, both in the UK and elsewhere in the world.

Although I no longer expect the Government to do too much, I hope that, in replying to the debate, my noble friend will be able to assure me that a great deal will be done. I still hope--after all these years one still has hope, if nothing else--that this Government, whom generally I support although at times I am a little critical, will do better than I managed to do. I hope that they will improve public services to help those in the world generally and in the UK. However, under the present circumstances, I say that without deluding myself.

Photo of Lord Parekh Lord Parekh Labour 6:22 pm, 24th October 2001

My Lords, I thank the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Oxford for initiating a debate on the extremely important question of service, especially in the public sector. Briefly, I want to say something about the importance of the public sector in the collective life of any society and then to say something about how we can get the best out of that sector.

During the past two decades or so, we have come to believe that the public sector is the relic of a nanny state, reminiscent of an age in which the state knew what was best for its citizens and ran their lives from cradle to grave. One may also see it as the last resort of those who have been unable to succeed in the private sector. Those are wholly false readings of the nature and place of the public sector in our collective life.

The public sector is a vital expression of our communal life, which it consolidates and nurtures. It reflects our collective commitment that certain basic conditions of the good life should be available equally to all our citizens. Although the market has a legitimate place in our lives, it has inherent limitations: it is unplanned, its consequences are unpredictable and it bears particularly heavily on the weak and vulnerable sectors of our society. It also privileges profit and efficiency over public spirit and mutual concern.

Therefore, we rightly want to ensure that the things which are essential for a good life and which should be available equally to all our citizens are taken out of the market and made the responsibility of the public sector or the state. That is the only way to ensure that the market economy does not degenerate into a market society and distort our scheme of values. Education, health, public utilities, transport and so on, which are all concerned with the quality of national life and require long-term planning and national co-ordination, rightly fall within the public sector.

The public sector binds us together as a community, forms our collective capital, which we cherish and pass on to future generations, and, inevitably, constitutes an object of collective pride. When the number of our fellow citizens taking out private health insurance rises from 2 million to 7 million in 20 years, and when the number of children turning to private schools increases threefold in as many years, we have reasons to feel concerned. Those things fragment society into different groups which have very little common interest to bind them together, limited understanding of each others' needs and little sympathy for each others' predicament. When some members of our society break away from shared communal provisions for the good life, our sense of solidarity is weakened and our character as a community is, to that extent, diminished. All that is so obvious that it hardly needs reiteration, except at a time when we are in danger of forgetting the importance of the public sector.

The quality of our public services must obviously be of the highest standard. The question is: how do we ensure that that is the case? During the past 100-odd years, we have tried out two major ways of achieving that, and each has its obvious limitations. One is what I might call the "altruistic" model. It relies on a strong public spirit among those who work in the public sector. It appeals to their professional pride, their desire to serve their fellow human beings and to deserve well of the wider society.

While there is much to be said for that model in an ideal world, it has its limitations. Not all public servants are highly motivated, and some cut corners. They also display the arrogance of expertise and tend to see their clients and consumers as passive objects who should be grateful for such services as they receive. Professional associations cannot always be relied upon to be self-governing because of their tendency to be protective about their own members.

The other model is based on mistrust. It introduces the ethos of business into public services and relies on the managerial style of carrot and stick. The Government are expected to lay down targets, prescribe performance indicators, constantly audit performance of those involved, punish the laggard and reward the successful, and demand value for money, and so on. This model, which relies on the language of business and management applied to the public sector, is fundamentally flawed. It makes sense in relation to market or material products but not in relation to human beings and human relationships. It is also cynical and manipulative. While it can prevent people from doing their worse, it can never inspire them to do their best. It is also inevitably centralist, bureaucratic and heavy-handed.

Therefore, I suggest that neither model is particularly applicable to the public sector. We need to rethink our whole approach to public service and find ways to combine the best in both. In other words, we must foster public spirit, professional pride and dedication among those involved in public service, and mobilise their better impulses. But we must also ensure that there is greater accountability, transparency, diversity at the local level, creativity and cost-effectiveness.

Countless ways have been suggested as to how we might be able to integrate the best in both, and I do not need to repeat those now. The public sector requires not only a spirit of public service but also new investment. I am glad to see that the Government are seized of the importance of that and are beginning to invest very heavily in the public sector.

Before I end, I express my sincerest apologies that I have long agreed to chair an important meeting elsewhere and that I shall need to leave fairly soon. I very much hope that your Lordships' House will extend to me the Christian spirit of caritas and see no discourtesy in my early departure.

Photo of Lord Bridges Lord Bridges Crossbench 6:29 pm, 24th October 2001

My Lords, I shall address this subject from a specific angle. My concern is not so much with the provision made for supplying essential services, such as health and education, which at present are matters of great public interest; rather, it relates to the changes taking place in the public service itself, particularly the concept of being a public servant--the "ethos", as some have expressed it.

I have a lifelong interest in this subject, having been brought up to believe that the distinctive character of our Civil Service was its unique combination of loyalty to the elected government of the day, its political impartiality, and the control of its activities by a Minister, himself answerable to Parliament.

I was much influenced in these ideas by my father, a well known public servant in his time, who had been Secretary to the Cabinet throughout the Second World War and subsequently Head of the Civil Service and Permanent Secretary to the Treasury. My own professional life of nearly 40 years was spent in the Diplomatic Service whose ideals were those which I have just described and remain the same.

There have, however, been some interesting and necessary changes and desirable innovations. Take, for example, the role of the political adviser. When serving as a Private Secretary in the Foreign Office in the 1960s I recall the appointment of a political adviser to the then Foreign Secretary, Michael Stewart. It was one of the first such appointments, I believe. This adviser was John Harris, later a prominent Member of this House on the Liberal Democrat Benches.

My recollection of this appointment is very positive. The political adviser was helpful both to the Minister and to the department. As a trusted political ally of the Minister, he could discern or readily discover the potential domestic political impact of policies being considered in the department. Armed with this knowledge he could help the department to formulate its policies in such a way as to cause the minimum domestic political problems for the Minister. This was a valuable contribution and an example of the public service and the political world working together positively.

Another relevant recollection derives from my three year stint as a Private Secretary to the Prime Minister from 1972 to 1974. For the first two years the Prime Minister was Sir Edward Heath. I judged his Private Office to be an effective, indeed valuable, part of the government machinery. After Sir Edward's party lost the election in February 1974 we all anticipated that his successor would make some changes in the Private Office. Also, we were conscious that Harold Wilson, when he paid visits to No. 10 in his capacity as Leader of the Opposition, took the trouble to find out who we were and what we did. We were mostly products of politically unacceptable public schools and had all studied deeply unfashionable subjects in ancient universities. So we felt that the Prime Minister would require a rather different team.

When the newly appointed Prime Minister arrived at No. 10 from Buckingham Palace there was a great deal to be done in helping him to form his new administration. Clearly the Queen's Government had to be carried on and we all felt it was our duty to help him. Somewhat to our surprise the incoming Prime Minister made no changes to the Private Office staff and I remained in my post for a further year to complete the expected three year cycle. The impression we had from talking to the Prime Minister's political staff was that he wanted to run his Private Office differently in his second term and thought the existing team would do rather well. I mention all this because there have been some recent changes in the staffing arrangements at No. 10 and I shall comment on those briefly in a moment.

The old system had some advantages. It could be very efficient. The Private Secretaries had a good knowledge of the subjects they handled and an understanding of how the departments they worked with actually performed and functioned. Thus in my own case I knew my parent department quite intimately and also had personal experience of the other subjects I dealt with, which were defence, overseas trade and Northern Ireland. That system also strengthened the role of Ministers in charge of departments, as the Private Secretaries saw it as part of their function to keep Cabinet Ministers properly informed of the Prime Minister's views on current problems.

The present arrangements have changed all that. The former Private Secretaries are now called policy advisers (I do not know what that means) while the executive tasks are entrusted to persons who may have no personal experience of the public service and, for all I know, may be selected on a personal or political basis. I do not say that there is an objection of an ethical kind to these changes but I do suggest that the new model may be a good deal less satisfactory than the old. In particular, there is a potential for weakening the role of Ministers in charge of departments and their responsibility to Parliament. This is slightly worrying and the recent decision regarding Railtrack is perhaps an illustration of the kind of problem which may arise.

An overriding aspect is that these changes have all been made by administrative means without public discussion or examination by Parliament. It is this kind of decision which occasionally makes one wonder whether an unwritten constitution is wise in all circumstances. Thus we can no longer claim, as my father did in a series of lectures and essays delivered after his retirement (now the subject of critical examination by the Departments of Politics in our universities) that the Northcote-Trevelyan reforms had created a Civil Service of a non-political character free from party allegiance. That tradition, I regret, is being somewhat undermined and without regard to the long-term consequences. I hope that the new arrangements can be reviewed with these considerations in mind.

Photo of Lord Graham of Edmonton Lord Graham of Edmonton Labour 6:35 pm, 24th October 2001

My Lords, like everyone who has been sitting here throughout the debate I have listened to a fascinating range of experiences, which is what this House is best at. Many of them have been, as the Motion suggests, conceptual and philosophical, but I want to introduce what might be termed the grass roots, from my own personal experience.

When I was a lad I began to work for the Co-operative Movement and I joined the Co-operative Youth Movement. I then began to enjoy and benefit from the voluntary service of a range of people who guided and instructed me; and I have followed the ethics of the Co-operative Movement all my life. It had 10 million voluntary members; 100,000 employees; and introduced the concept of the dividend which, as is well known in the country, was a Co-operative product.

For 150 years the Co-operative Movement has given back to the community the profits made, in the form of dividend and in other ways. Many businesses in 2000 and 2001 recognise the value of community service and provide the community money in the form of grants and in other ways. My experience as a Member of Parliament must be shared by many on all sides. My eyes were opened as I began to do my job and I realised just how many people gave thousands of hours of their time.

Before becoming a Member of another place, I was leader of a London borough council at a time when one did not get paid for being a councillor; I complained about that. I am glad that councillors now receive something but in my time they did not. We would go to old people's clubs, CAB meetings and works meetings. In 1976, when the Queen celebrated 25 years on the Throne, I remember particularly the street parties, the gaiety, the laughter, and the contribution to uplifting the community spirit, all provided by volunteers. There were trestle tables down the streets with sandwiches, cakes, rock buns and balloons and all the rest of it. It has remained with me all my life. It was the same in 1981 when Prince Charles and Diana were married.

When I think of public service, I think of it in small terms. I think, for instance, of the ancient Order of Foresters and many other friendly societies which may have professional organisations but which rely on the work of hundreds of thousands of volunteers every week. I think also of other organisations, such as residents' associations. I still keep up my links in Enfield. When I meet, say, 100 people who are committee members, I know that they represent 30,000, 40,000 or 50,000 people. I wonder whether the Minister can give us any figure, suspect as it might be because it cannot be complete, of the number of those undertaking such work. There must be millions of people who are members of organisations who serve the public and their communities.

I think also of schools. When I used to go round my constituency, I enjoyed speaking to the teachers and the headmasters at school functions run by volunteers. That is service to the community and I think it is great. Last night I attended on the Terrace a reception given by the Open University. I am a graduate of the Open University and am proud of it. More than 2 million people have been associated with the work of the university over the years.

There are varying degrees of contact. My wife and I are members of the University of the Third Age, which was created in the past 20 years. It was inspired by the noble Lord, Lord Young of Dartington. Retired people can meet and voluntarily provide services and interests for the members.

I say to the Minister that when she goes back to her colleagues she should not be put off by people who want to reduce the amount of money that is spent in support of a range of services. Voluntary service and service to the community require underpinning. People do not require medals and lots of money, but they want to know that they are loved. They want to know that the service they are giving is appreciated.

Civil servants who work locally and nationally do not enter the service to become millionaires. A phrases I learnt from my Co-op life was that the Co-op never made a millionaire and it never made a pauper. No one joins the public service in order to become a millionaire but people get satisfaction out of the job. Their reward is to know not only that they have done a good job and an honest day's work but that they are appreciated by the community.

The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Oxford deserves our thanks for initiating this debate. I hope that the Minister can tell the House that service of any kind to the community is well worth while.

Photo of Lord Hooson Lord Hooson Liberal Democrat 6:41 pm, 24th October 2001

My Lords, I, too, want to congratulate the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Oxford on winning the ballot and enabling us to have such a fascinating debate on the subject. We have heard impressive contributions, not least from the four maiden speakers. Each spoke from a different viewpoint and background and they made most valuable contributions.

To many people in their daily lives and work, the concept of service as a sufficient motivation in itself has been seriously devalued for well over 20 years. The incentive of the profit motive has been elevated to the status of a panacea for solving most of our economic problems and problems with our public services. Without doubt, self-seeking advancement is an important element in the motivation of society. But the motive of service is of equal importance. Depending on one's temperament, beliefs and up-bringing, it can bring to many if not most people in our country a great sense of fulfilment, satisfaction, happiness, achievement and security which would elude so many of them if they were confined to a competitive jungle. Everyone is different.

I speak as a Liberal who has always believed in free trade and private enterprise as being essential for the economic prosperity and well-being of our country and the world, provided that there are adequate safeguards against monopolies and economic imperialism, a qualification which some of our American friends have not yet fully appreciated. I do not believe for one moment that privatisation or the private initiative is the answer to all our problems either in the economy or in the social services. Yet new Labour appears to have adopted it as a replacement panacea for the old Labour one of nationalisation.

I have been in one or other of the two Houses for almost 40 years and I remember being virtually howled down by Labour supporters in another place when on behalf of the then tiny Liberal Party I objected to the renationalisation of steel. Equally, I was against privatisation of the railways. Steel has always seemed to be a competitive business. It needs to be efficient and productive and that is more likely to be achieved in the hands of private enterprise. But our railways are a public service.

Looking back over the past 20 years, in common with the vast majority of people in this country I would 20 times prefer the nationally owned and operated railway systems in France or Denmark, with the staff proudly wearing the uniforms of those public services to the privatised mess that we have succeeded in achieving in this country. We have mixed up two issues: first, the necessity for a public service; and, secondly, the profit motive.

I have always thrived on competition--indeed, I entered an extremely competitive profession--but I have seen the great benefit to many of having a secure background and a certainty which people such as me would not want. Often we receive the best service from people who have a sense of public duty not only in their spare time and voluntary work but in their jobs.

I believe that good management is not the prerogative of private enterprise. In my day, I have been the chairman of two large public companies and I have seen private enterprise fail as well as achieve great results. However, there is no reason whatever why one cannot have properly managed businesses which are publicly owned. Privately financed enterprises have from time to time suffered--for example, during a depression--when they have taken great risks which otherwise would not have been justified. One can see them come to a sorry end. If that happened to a public enterprise, there would be a great public outcry.

As regards our railways, for example, is it not true that they have lacked proper investment? If they had remained in the public service, that could have been provided. Of course it would have cost money which, in the case of a public enterprise, could have come only from taxation. I speak for a party which believes that it is essential to have a profitable private sector; that is the basis of our prosperity. However, that prosperity is helped only by having certain public services. I am sure that more than half the population would prefer a sense of public service and public duty to activate them rather than merely profit motive.

I want to comment on the various public services which have been mentioned. First, the National Health Service. I would have thought that the first duty of this Government, like any other, would be to ensure that the NHS is a properly run national public service. To a considerable extent, the NHS has subsidised the private sector health service. I am doubtful when I hear consultants say to patients, "We have an enormous waiting list and you cannot be operated on for another 18 months. However, if you want a private appointment in a hospital nearby and to go privately it can be arranged in a very short time".

One wonders about the cross-fertilisation between private and public sectors. However, I say to the Government that their duty is to provide in the NHS and in state education a proper public service. They must safeguard against building a huge superstructure of bureaucracy above the public services. It can be so frustrating; there is no proper substitute for highly responsible individuals at all levels exercising discretion and their own initiative. We want to get away from the concept that initiative and a sense of economy can come only from private enterprise. In many spheres, it is the best answer but in many others it is not.

In view of what has happened recently and the threat of a depression, the right reverend Prelate performed a great public service at a timely occasion in our lives. He stressed the importance of public service in this country.

Photo of Lord Saatchi Lord Saatchi Conservative 6:51 pm, 24th October 2001

My Lords, I owe a personal debt of gratitude to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Oxford for opening this debate. I cannot recall a debate in your Lordships' House for which I have more enjoyed preparation or one to which I have looked forward with greater anticipation.

As many noble Lords have said, this is an important and timely debate. Its timeliness is reflected in the comments of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Lichfield and of the noble Lord, Lord Judd, who both said that since 11th September people have turned to the public services in a way that they had not perhaps done previously. They have seen first hand the importance of the public role in defence, security, policing and intelligence and, of course, the role of doctors and nurses.

This choice of debate is particularly important. We have been reminded of it in your Lordships' House, in which, today, by good luck, four wonderful maiden speeches have been delivered. They were by the noble Lord, Lord Moser, on teaching, by my noble friend Lord MacGregor on politics, by the noble Lord, Lord Chan, on health, and by the noble Lord, Lord Condon, on policing. They all reflected a point that the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Oxford made in his introductory remarks, and with which I should like to deal. The right reverend Prelate referred to--I believe I use his words--the disparagement, denigration and criticism of, the lack of respect for and the lack of recognition among those who work in the public services. The noble Lords who made maiden speeches today all touched on their sense of that--how very right they were to do so.

We all remember the events of 11th September. They are burned in our memory, and we are all touched by different memories. Many of us are perhaps most moved by the picture of the fireman trudging his way up the staircase of the World Trade Centre, carrying his pipes and tubes on his back, and going up to danger and possible death while others were walking down to safety.

As a result, while preparing for this debate, I sought out the fireman's prayer, with which noble Lords may not be familiar. I shall read an extract from it because it touches on all that has been said in this debate. Part of it states:

"When I am called to duty, God,

I want to fill my calling and give the best in me And if according to your will I have to give my life Please bless with your protecting hand My children and my wife". As has already been said this evening, it is a high and honourable calling.

Many noble Lords have said that we all want to believe that that public service ethos will not die and will last for ever. But will it? Christian theology has wrestled with the question of work and its meaning throughout the ages. In his commentary on Genesis, Augustine argued that work was related to the human spirit. The Garden of Eden was both a place of delight and of work--Adam was created as a working gardener. However, after the Fall, private gain is put before the common good. Selfishness, not arduousness, is the sign that we live in a fallen world.

But then a great change occurred. Baptised in the icy waters of Calvinist theology, the business of work--once regarded as being perilous to the soul--acquired a new sanctity. Labour became not merely an economic means but a spiritual end. In his iconic 1904 work, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, Max Weber explained this new morality, and I shall try to describe it.

It has many elements. First, people have an obligation to fill their lives with toil. Hard work and effort are to be valued for their own sake. Secondly, men and women are expected to spend long hours at work, with little time for personal recreation. Thirdly, a worker should have a dependable attendance record, with low absenteeism. Other elements of that morality are that workers should be highly productive; that workers should take pride in their work and do their jobs well; that employees should have feelings of commitment and loyalty to their organisation; and that workers should be achievement-oriented and strive for promotion. Further elements are that frugality and thrift are desirable and that wealth should be acquired through honest labour; and that a universal taboo is placed on idleness, and that industriousness is considered an ideal--waste is a vice and frugality is a virtue. Finally, the view turns on a belief that events in one's life are the result of one's own behaviour--the converse, of course, is the belief that events in one's life will be a function of chance, luck or powers that are beyond one's control. In all of those ways Weber showed how a task that is done out of necessity is transformed into an expression of divine action.

But how do these ideas relate to today's debate and to the modern world of mixed private and public services? Today, public services exist--I quote the standard textbook definition--where,

"the state is not seeking to engage in gainful activity but is fulfilling its duties to its own population in the social, cultural and educational fields".

The idea is straightforward: the state is not in business. The crucial clause in that definition is the phrase, "fulfilling its duties". If the duty is seen as the adequate provision of the service (which may be education, healthcare, retirement provision and so on), and if the services are not being provided, the state is not fulfilling its duty. That seems to be what is happening.

A MORI poll reveals public disquiet at the future of public service. It found that 37 per cent of people think that most or nearly everyone will pay for private schools; that 56 per cent think that most or nearly everyone will pay for private healthcare; that 59 per cent think that most or nearly everyone will pay for private welfare insurance; and that 66 per cent think that most or nearly everyone will pay for private pensions.

In a Consumers' Association survey, 40 per cent of the public said that in the face of NHS delays they were willing to pay for private treatment, even if they had no health insurance and had to pay for treatment out of their own pocket. Last week the NHS sent its first ever patient abroad for treatment.

Why is all that happening and why has it led to the discomfort that many noble Lords have expressed this evening? Last week a Downing Street official explained very crisply:

"We're running a Soviet-style centralised system and that's never going to work".

He is right. The state sometimes behaves in the manner that is contained in Marx's description of monopoly capitalists, who depress wages down to the lowest level. That, Marx said, was the way in which labour became mere material to be exploited and a commodity treated,

"as if it were a thing, a non-human entity, like wool or leather or a piece of machinery".

Instead of our public servants being rewarded and respected--as they should be--in the manner described by the noble Lord, Lord Condon, and others, one finds the exact opposite; they are disparaged and denigrated, as the right reverend Prelate said. Neither the people who work in public services, as people, nor the service that they provide have the resources to provide the public good that we all want.

Here we come to the heart of the matter; the noble Lord, Lord Barnett, came to it, as he usually does. Let us consider the nurses. Christine Hancock, the head of the Royal College of Nursing, said:

"One of the biggest things ... that drives clinical staff out of the NHS is the feeling that they are not able to care for their patients properly and they are not able to do their job properly".

So it is with doctors. It was found that 80 per cent of doctors would leave the NHS if they could, that 80 per cent would not recommend general practice as a career, that 69 per cent were prepared to take industrial action and that 68 per cent would like to retire early. That is a tremendous fall in the public service ethos.

Why has all of that happened? Adonis chronicles the change in the public service ethos at Oxford University during the past 25 years--this will be agony for the noble Lord, Lord Moser, who knows the situation well. He described Oxford University as,

"probably the single most important institution for shaping elite mentalities in modern Britain".

He shows how in the last 25 years there has been a wholesale switch from public sector careers, especially teaching, towards a narrow range of financial careers. Between 1971 and 1994 the number of Oxford graduates entering state school teaching collapsed by 60 per cent. and, as a proportion of all graduate careers, fell from 9.7 to 3.3 per cent. Meanwhile the number going into City occupations from Oxford increased nearly four times. Why is this? Adonis points to money, social esteem and responsibility as the reason for this collapse.

And so it is. Kenneth Galbraith sums it up very well:

"Nothing sets a stronger limit on the liberty of the citizen than a total absence of money."

This leaves the Christian theology of money and the public service ethic with a very considerable task in the years ahead, which is why I hope that this debate may be a turning point and why I hope that all of us will rise to the challenge that the right reverend Prelate has set before us.

Photo of Baroness Morgan of Huyton Baroness Morgan of Huyton Minister of State, Cabinet Office 7:01 pm, 24th October 2001

My Lords, perhaps I may say first of all that I found the speech of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Oxford on the concept of public service most thought-provoking. I shall try to cover the issues that he raised. We have had an excellent debate, as has been recognised around the House, and once again I am struck by the depth of knowledge we are fortunate to be able to draw on in this House. Many noble Lords have contributed personal experience of their own involvement in public service. Given the constraints on time, I shall endeavour to reply to as many noble Lords as time permits, and beyond that I shall write. I would also commend the paper of my noble friend Lord Plant of Highfield on the public service ethic, to which other noble Lords have already referred. I congratulate the noble Lords, Lord Moser, Lord Chan, Lord MacGregor of Pulham Market and Lord Condon, on their respective maiden speeches and welcome the immense experience they bring to the House.

There are two interconnected strands to this debate: the underlying ethos of public service; and, if we believe in that ethos and its particular though not unique application to public services, why those services must change, evolve and improve. There is no easy or glib definition of a public service ethos. Clearly, it is based on a shared sense of common purpose and a belief that we can together make a difference for the greater good. That indeed, as the noble Lord, Lord MacGregor of Pulham Market, and my noble friend Lord Barnet recognised, is why many enter public life in the first place. Our definition must recognise that we are not just individuals fighting for ourselves and our families, but part of society, part of communities, held together by common beliefs, values, aspirations and mutual responsibility. I can assure the noble Lord, Lord Skidelsky, that the Government are committed to reviving the ethos of public service and restating the importance of those values, which at times in the past have been easily disregarded.

The ethos of public service goes beyond the public services. The wide-ranging voluntary sector, with which many Members of this House are closely involved, exemplifies this quality. For example, the Giving Campaign aims to create a new culture of giving in Britain, not just of money but of time too. Volunteering in this country has a long and proud tradition on which we want to build. At this difficult time I am particularly struck by the idealism and commitment of many young and older people taking part in Voluntary Service Overseas, who are an example to us all. As my noble friend Lord Haskel pointed out, an increasing number of businesses are recognising their social responsibility role too.

Our public servants symbolise that ethos. If one speaks to many good teachers, doctors, nurses and police officers, it is clear that they take professional pride in seeing the child learning to read, the patient returning to good health and the victim of crime knowing that the criminal who attacked them is behind bars. And the awful events of 11th September and the weeks since have, of course, highlighted the selfless dedication of public servants.

I understand the sentiments of the noble Lord, Lord Peston, when he speaks of the need to recognise public servants fully. I think we all recognise the three Rs of the noble Lord, Lord Condon--recognition, respect and reward. The noble Earl, Lord Rosslyn, also spoke eloquently about the ethos of service in policing.

Our public services symbolise our vision of community. Public services available to all have a place in our lives today just as they did more than 50 years ago, when the NHS was created and the Education Act was passed. Collective provision continues to be the best way of ensuring that the majority get the opportunity and security that those at the top take for granted. We believe that everyone--every man, every woman, every child--deserves the chance to make the most of themselves within a strong and cohesive society.

As the noble Lord, Lord Moser, recognised, without high quality education for all, children will never achieve their potential, and the prosperity of the nation, which is dependent on skill, will suffer. Without good healthcare that is accessible and free at the point of use, people are forced to pay or to live in pain. Without a properly-functioning criminal justice system, the society we live in is less stable, less secure and less fair. Without decent public transport, there is no alternative to ever greater congestion on the roads and ever greater environmental damage. As the noble Lord, Lord Bridges, emphasised, we are all committed to the integrity of the Civil Service.

But if we believe in public service, we must also seek to provide the best public services for our people. That is why our public services cannot stand still. I can assure the noble Lord, Lord Hooson, that this does not mean that the ethos of those services has to change. None of us should underestimate the enormity of the task ahead.

The Government are committed to reform because the demands on the systems and people's expectations have risen. More people live longer; more diseases are treatable; more children go to nursery; more young people go on to university; and more people use public transport. The consumers of our public services expect quality, high standards, choice and speed in all areas of the country. And of course the public services need to recognise and meet the changing roles and demands of men and women today.

We are committed to reform because there has been chronic under-investment over decades in all our public services. That has led to the run down of the country's essential infrastructure. That is why we are embarked on the largest ever investment in our public services. Your Lordships will know the macro figures, but these mean, for example, 600 new or completely refurbished schools over the next three years, the largest ever hospital building programme, 44,000 extra classroom assistants, the recruitment of 1,300 police officers in the past year alone and £239 million over the next three years for improved rural transport.

We are committed to reform and improvement for our public servants as well, because their recruitment and retention is the key to sustainable long-term improvements in services. The noble Lord, Lord Chan, talked from experience about the NHS. We are making a start by improvements in that area for our staff. We have massively improved recruitment and salary packages for nurses and we are giving every newly-qualified doctor going into GP practice an extra payment. We are striving constantly to increase recruitment and to keep up retention rates across the NHS. That is also why the NHS is striving to keep its skilled, largely female, staff by offering more childcare, flexible working and other practical improvements to working life.

We are developing our public services via four pillars of reform. I hope that demonstrates to the noble Lord, Lord Saatchi, that we are not satisfied with the status quo and are not standing still. The first is the setting of a framework of national standards, inspection and accountability across the country. In practice this means rebuilding and developing services so that they meet the diverse needs of individuals, offering greater choice but with universal high standards. So we have national tests for literacy and numeracy and the National Institute for Clinical Excellence to set standards for health treatment across the NHS.

The second principle is the devolution of freedom to frontline professionals and local leaders to innovate and develop services. Staff should be freed up to work in new ways to meet the needs of their customers. In health, with the establishment of local primary care trusts, 75 per cent of all NHS resources will be spent by frontline workers. That is a massive increase in the devolution of responsibility to where it should be. It is a large challenge to staff but it is one which, from my experience of meeting staff in recent weeks in Ipswich, York and Swindon, they relish. Similarly, 85 per cent of all local education funding now goes directly to schools.

The next pillar of reform is more recognition of the work of frontline staff. Without the support and professionalism of public servants, the Government's plans for reform will not be delivered, as the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Lichfield and my noble friend Lady Gibson of Market Rasen so rightly said. So we are improving conditions, increasing pay and introducing rewards for high performance. Indeed this year, for the first time in many years, it is significant that public sector salaries are growing at a faster rate than private sector salaries.

The final approach is more choice for service users, whether that be a greater variety of schools and the expansion of successful ones, or the expansion of successful and efficient GP practices. That means the promotion of alternative providers where minimum standards are not reached. It also means partnership with other sectors to improve a service. It means freeing up our public servants to innovate and to take responsibility for making change happen. The private and voluntary sectors can both play a role. This does not mean replacing or changing the ethos of public services, as my noble friend Lord Judd made clear. But where the use of other providers can improve public services, we should be open to that.

For instance, there is a place for public private partnerships and for private finance initiatives where they deliver quality. In Glasgow, for example, 29 secondary schools are nearing completion after a large amount of investment. They are providing state-of-the-art computer networks, scientific laboratories, well-maintained and attractive premises in which to work and in which the pupils can prosper.

Of course, we must safeguard the position of public servants in those initiatives and we have taken sound steps to do that so that the workforce can feel secure. We will reduce fears over job security and remove uncertainty, for example, over pensions.

The private sector is not the only source of skills and expertise and it is not a panacea. As my noble friend Lord Graham of Edmonton and other noble Lords know well, there are over 400,000 voluntary organisations and millions of volunteers in every part of Britain. These organisations make a significant contribution to the health and dynamism of the economy and society, empowering local communities, strengthening citizenship and helping to build neighbourhoods and communities.

The voluntary sector is often well placed to work in partnership with the Government in delivering public services, because it already works so effectively with many parts of our communities nation-wide. Indeed, Government have much to learn from the flexible and innovative approach of many in the voluntary sector and their capacity to meet the needs of local people sensitively and responsively. Programmes such as Sure Start, Neighbourhood Renewal and the New Deal for Young People, involve working in close partnership with the public, private and voluntary sectors, particularly in areas of social deprivation--a point well made by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Portsmouth. The Government want to encourage the voluntary sector to flourish. I am pleased to be sponsor Minister for a review of the legal and regulatory framework to further the contribution of this strong, independent and diverse sector. We want to see increased growth in this sector in the future.

As has been clear from the debate, at the moment we are particularly aware of our interdependence and our mutual responsibility as citizens. It is an appropriate time, therefore, for us to underline the importance of public service in maintaining and indeed strengthening society, both within Britain and internationally, and to pay tribute to those involved in their day-to-day lives with public service. I believe that our debate today has played a valuable part in furthering that discussion, and I am grateful to all noble Lords who have taken part.

Photo of The Bishop of Oxford The Bishop of Oxford Bishop 7:13 pm, 24th October 2001

My Lords, I am grateful to all noble Lords who have contributed to this debate. I began by quoting a headmaster who said that the whole concept of service has gone. From the many valuable contributions to the debate it is clear that that is far from the case, particularly in the voluntary sector. Great worries have been expressed about the public sphere. I was pleased to hear the reassurance from the Minister that in all the necessary changes and reforms that will take place, the Government will try to conserve that precious gift. I beg leave to withdraw the Motion for Papers.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.