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Public Service

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 6:35 pm on 24th October 2001.

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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.