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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.