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Public Service

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 6:16 pm on 24th October 2001.

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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.