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Welfare: Churches and Faith Communities

– in the House of Lords at 1:15 pm on 9th October 2008.

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Photo of The Bishop of Chelmsford The Bishop of Chelmsford Bishop 1:15 pm, 9th October 2008

asked Her Majesty's Government what future role they envisage for churches and faith communities in voluntary sector and welfare delivery partnerships.

My Lords, I hope that the House will forgive me for having broadened the scope of this debate by removing the reference to the Von Hügel report, Moral,But No Compass, from the original Question that I tabled. On reflection, I consider that report to be an important and provocative contribution to a rather wider subject and debate.

There has been a growing political and principled interest, both in the United States of America and in the United Kingdom, in the role that the churches might play in social provision. Let us be clear at the outset that this is not simply a pragmatic issue about how, in times of scarce resources, we cajole agencies such as the churches into filling the increasing number of gaps in the welfare state. Churches and voluntary agencies are not a backstop for the public sector. I want to make that important point right at the beginning. The strength of the churches and, indeed, of other voluntary agencies is in their being local and offering a faith that motivates people to action. They have historically been the stimulators of prophetic and innovative action in the field of neighbourly care. So this hour-long lunchtime discussion, for which I am grateful, must focus not on filling gaps in state provision but on the positive role that these communities can play in meeting the needs of our society.

For me, this is a principled and philosophic issue. At its heart is the question: what is the place of the church in a modern democracy? In a short but superb book on the history of the church and welfare provision, Christianity and SocialService in Modern BritainThe Disinherited Spirit, Frank Prochaska begins his study with some words of de Tocqueville:

"Christianity must be maintained at any cost in the bosom of modern democracies".

That is based on the principle that democracy flourishes on the associational life of the community. It raises not only the question of the role of civil society, as we now call it, bridging the gap between the individual and the state, but the role of faith communities, and of the churches in particular, in sustaining that culture.

The 20th century, with the development of the welfare state, saw the growing marginalisation and privatisation of religion and the increasing dependency of people on the state for social provision. You and I live in a double bind as a result of that experience. On the one hand, religion is viewed as a private and personal matter rather than something primarily of public concern. Religion is a hobby, a leisure-time pursuit outside the framework of public life. That is an outmoded secular view still all too present in public debate. On the other hand, increasing expectations of the state have contributed to a growing and dangerous disillusionment with our public institutions.

Where the Von Hügel report stirs us to think again is in the fact of the presence of the church right across our society; that is, in all the four nations that make up the United Kingdom. There are church communities and church buildings all over these nations. In the 21st century, there is a growing debate in the churches about what this means for our public life. Faith is not a private choice but a public reality.

I can speak only of my own experiences in both the diocese of Guildford and now in the most diverse of all Church of England dioceses—Chelmsford. For example, on licensing a new priest to a parish a few months ago in a relatively poor urban area in Essex, I was told, "You must meet Jean". Jean had started a scheme to link homeless young people to families. A little cash was needed. We found some money and today the scheme is a growingly established contribution to meeting the needs of homeless people, particularly young people.

When I was in Guildford in Surrey, the appropriate adult scheme for the police in the courts was run by the diocese. The scheme had been established by a priest in the diocese of Southwark who, because Surrey was predominantly in the diocese of Guildford, moved the organisation into our diocese. Much to many people's surprise, particularly people in public life, it was run to the highest standards of professional care. It drew in people of all faiths and of none and, above all, it was economically efficient.

A few weeks ago, I visited the YMCA in Chelmsford, where a huge service is offered to children, families and young people. Two years ago, with the chief fire officer in Essex we established a new project employing a "fire evangelist", chosen by the church, helping the fire service to get the message of fire safety across in the communities. Why did the fire service want to be in partnership? Because the churches are present in local communities and have access to those networks. Tens of thousands of churches of all traditions are present and active in their communities and they are crucial to the social well-being of our country. We need to know how the secular authorities view that these days.

We all face real challenges, some of which are common to all civil society work. Churches may enter into partnership with public authorities and win funding, but what about the long-term viability? Dependency on state funding can first raise things up and then promptly let them down. As they rise up and sink down, how do they maintain their distinctive identity, in this case as Christian contributions to public life? How does the state respect and uphold the freedom and distinctiveness of civil society and especially of Christian contributions? If we face the difficult task of getting churches to see themselves as holding a faith that is essentially in the public forum and part of public life in a democratic culture, how do we get the state to stop wanting to control things through the public purse? Time and again, partnership falls apart around those questions.

If lively and open faith is crucial to the flourishing of democracy—I have some sympathy with de Tocqueville's view—in which we resist theocracy on the one hand and the dominating power of the state on the other, we have to share in this growing public debate about the place and role of the church. Since neighbourly care is at the heart of the outworking of a lively faith, how can we make space for its flourishing not just in private and personal relationships but in public life? That is why the theme of welfare is close to the heart of the matter and why, in a brief moment in this House this lunchtime, I thought it right to open such a debate. I look forward to the contributions of all noble Lords.

Photo of Lord Griffiths of Burry Port Lord Griffiths of Burry Port Labour 1:25 pm, 9th October 2008

My Lords, I am more than grateful for the opportunity given to us by the right reverend Prelate to discuss, albeit briefly, this very important matter and to give a little more publicity to the important Von Hügel report, which raises questions that need more ample discussion than I suspect we have time for now.

As a Methodist minister, whose only virtue has been that he has served for 40 years at parish level with ordinary people living on ordinary streets with ordinary needs, I have viewed with some alarm since coming into your Lordships' House the prevailing attitude of so many Members of this House who take a secularist, dismissive and presumptuous view of the Christian religion. While it may be true that loving God can be dismissed to the level of private belief or, as the right reverend Prelate said, a hobby, the conjoining injunction of our Lord that we are to have a dispassionate love of our neighbour is by definition impossible to carry out in private. It has to be done in the streets.

The multiform ways in which the disinterested love of the neighbour is practised in our society through the Christian churches, with no proselytising aims whatever, is astonishing. Any public body in this land that would want to suppress any of that or, by increasing bureaucracy and red tape, make it virtually impossible to practise it would be shooting itself in the foot. It is disinterested service, offered voluntarily, by thousands and thousands of people in the name of the public and common good.

As it happens, I have had responsibility for significant projects through the course of my ministry. Some have been paid for by government. There was a bail hostel in north London, for example, which was run along exemplary lines by a man who had been a Roman Catholic priest but who was now a probation officer and, in conjunction with a professor of criminology at the University of Cambridge, offered real, serious added value to the care of people who otherwise would be in prison on remand. There was also a day centre for homeless people. These were not just run of the mill homeless people, but those over 25—the old lags. There was a range of services built in, so that the needs, from delousing to psychiatric support and plugging the clients in to statutory services, were all met.

As a result of that long experience, I have come to realise that, while some money must be gained contractually through partnerships between those of us in pastoral ministry and service providers, I have a penchant for paying for it ourselves. It is much more difficult for Methodists than for Anglicans to get near the source of public funding. We want to find real, serious pieces of work that we can do well, going to who John Wesley said were not only those who need us but those who need us most, doing quality pieces of work and showing the public what could be done if we resourced things adequately, then withdrawing and finding something else to do. Instead of institutionalising our responses and becoming the slaves of them, we should simply do quality pieces of work and take the matter forward.

There is so much to say and so little time to say it. As I close, I repeat that it would be a sad day if some of the materialistic views of the society in which we live led us to diminish the enthusiasm of an army of volunteers who, in the name of their belief, are doing good work in our community.

Photo of Lord Griffiths of Fforestfach Lord Griffiths of Fforestfach Conservative 1:29 pm, 9th October 2008

My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow my namesake, with whom my correspondence frequently gets mixed up. I thank the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chelmsford for introducing this subject and the Von Hügel Institute for its work. The report made two points. The first was that the Church of England, Christian churches and faith-based initiatives make a significant contribution to the provision of welfare services in this country in all our communities. In that sense, they are echoing the views of Edmund Burke about the "little platoons" of our society, or, as the right reverend Prelate said, the views of Alexis de Tocqueville, about the local associations, or those of Berger and Neuhaus about the mediating structures. In a democratic and free society such as ours, these institutions—which stand between the individual, who has increasing rights but is rather solitary and lonely, and an all-powerful state—play a crucial role. The report identifies churches as fundamental to this role.

The second convincing case that the report makes is that, with notable exceptions such as academies, the church and faith-based initiatives tend to be disregarded by parts of central and local government, the Charity Commission, the NCVO and so on. The title of the Von Hügel report is slightly unfortunate. Certainly, there is a moral dimension to what the Government are doing. It is not that the Government have no compass, but the land that churches occupy is uncharted territory for many areas of government, the Charity Commission and so on. The problem is not a secular conspiracy by civil servants or local authority officials but simply a lack of evidence. We should turn that into ourselves and say that the churches are partly to blame, because we could have done a better job.

Personal debt is an area on which I have done considerable work. I chaired a commission on household debt for the shadow Chancellor and then, with Iain Duncan-Smith and Breakthrough Britain, undertook a further study and so on. I found that many debt counselling agencies had grown up in local communities—as the right reverend Prelate reminded us, "local" means that local people took part and responded to local needs—yet, while organisations such as the Citizens Advice Bureau received plenty of funding, the church agencies were below the radar.

What can be done? First, comprehensive and detailed evidence should be collected, such as the study carried out by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Liverpool in the north-west. Secondly, the churches must become more professional in terms of developing metrics by which they and faith-based charities can demonstrate a public benefit. Thirdly, any body that issues contracts, whether in central or local government, has to make sure that a certain percentage of them go to very small local institutions. Some 20 years ago when I advised the Prime Minister in Downing Street, we wanted local production in television and we said to the BBC and ITV, "There simply has to be a limit. We have to have 'x' per cent local production, otherwise we will never get it".

In conclusion, moving successfully from an old-fashioned welfare state to a modern welfare society will require the Government to consciously recognise and encourage the churches, simply because they are local, they are there for the long term and they can tap the enormous goodwill of Christian people who wish to serve others.

Photo of The Bishop of Portsmouth The Bishop of Portsmouth Bishop 1:33 pm, 9th October 2008

My Lords, I am grateful to my colleague the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chelmsford for inaugurating this debate.

The Von Hügel report which appeared earlier this year was commissioned by the Bishop of Hulme, Stephen Lowe, who is the Bishop for Urban Life and Faith. Baron Friedrich Von Hügel, who died in the first part of the last century, was an Austrian Roman Catholic baron who spent most of his life in this country. He was of decidedly liberal views and isolated three aspects of the faith communities, as we would call them now: the religious, which is about celebrating and experiencing; the ideological, which, using today's terms, is what a body stands for; and the institutional, which is the running of it. One could translate all three dimensions almost into a political party, but as I am not a politician, I shall leave it to others to try that exercise—but it would work, because we are all involved in celebrating what we are about, we all have ideals and we also have things to do to run the system. That is where the report hits the target, because it is critical of the Government.

I want to concentrate on just two areas. The right reverend Prelates the Bishops of Carlisle and of Liverpool and any others on these Benches could supply a series of anecdotes and evidence about the importance of the presence of not just the Church of England, but the other churches and faith communities in their dioceses. In Hampshire, the dioceses of Portsmouth, Winchester and Guildford—which contains a bit of Hampshire, although there is a border dispute between the counties—organise a neighbourhood care group scheme that involves some 3,000 volunteers. There is every sign that local government recognises this to the extent that we are actually being asked to offer more.

We are asking, not to move in and take over, but to be taken seriously. Elsewhere, there are areas where we are not being taken seriously. In education, for example, while we get good signals from the upper levels of the political administration, very often at the lower and the local levels it is not quite the same. Government aspirations are sometimes taken in a relaxed way. I know that this is part of the debate about faith schools, but it cannot be ignored. "Faith schools", like "faith communities", is an unfortunate shorthand, but that area is important, because it is about the development of the next generation who will inhabit this country. Young people who are queuing up to take GCSE religious studies are not part of our generation, who are imbued with a secularist approach. I am imbued with it, because I grew up with it. The next generation will be different.

Finally, we must not get too cosy with each other. In relations between the church and the Government there must be a certain symbiosis, but if we start to get too cosy with each other, our separate identities are compromised. However, if we start screaming at each other across the barricades, nothing much is achieved. Each side needs to be able to criticise the other; perhaps the Government need to take more seriously the fact that in the Christian religion, for example, there is a strong and worthy tradition of self critique.

Photo of Lord Northbourne Lord Northbourne Crossbench 1:38 pm, 9th October 2008

My Lords, I am most grateful to the right reverend Prelate for introducing this debate, which allows me to raise issues around the Government's policy on, and the opportunities that are available for, faith groups, other charitable groups and all sorts of non-profit organisations to participate in the work of extended schools.

I expect noble Lords are familiar with extended schools—perhaps more than I am—but my understanding is that their objectives are basically threefold. First, they are to provide a childminding service, so that parents can drop off their child at 8 am and pick them up at 6 pm. The child will have an opportunity of having breakfast before school starts, will be safe, have an opportunity to do their homework and possibly be provided with other activities between the close of school at 3.30 pm and when the parents pick them up. Within that framework is the role of providing those young people with facilities for cultural development, such as art, music and drama. The third role is providing the opportunity for sporting activities, exercise and outdoor activities. It seems to me that the second and third of those activities are particularly suited to schools and independent organisations co-operating to make provision for their delivery.

I gave the Minister notice of some questions I wish to ask, which I hope was helpful. First, is it part of the Government's plan that faith groups and other pro bono organisations should be able to offer services to schools in this context? If so, should anyone wishing to do so approach the schools or should they approach the local authority? Secondly, is this vision that I described actually happening across the country? If so, would it be possible for a small group from your Lordships' House to visit an extended school which is fully operative? Thirdly, and perhaps most crucially, how will it all be paid for? Do schools have an entitlement to a per capita grant from central government for the provision of extended school work or do local authorities fund it? Can parents be asked to pay and, if so, what happens to those who cannot afford it? Fourthly, do the Government expect charities, faith groups and anyone else providing services to find funding to subsidise their activity? Finally, is it possible for children themselves to work towards generating funds to provide activities that interest them?

It seems to me that the Government's extended schools programme has enormous potential for good. It could extend to children in maintained schools all sorts of cultural, sporting and socialising activities which today are available in the best independent schools. These activities, when appropriately led, can build self-confidence and develop social skills and emotional literacy, and all these things are of fundamental importance to a child's success both in school and after he leaves.

Photo of Lord Judd Lord Judd Labour 1:42 pm, 9th October 2008

My Lords, I am glad that the right reverend Prelate has given us the opportunity to discuss this issue briefly today. It is some 25 years since I had the privilege of working with him at Church House on a committee on social responsibility. With so many right reverend Prelates present, I hesitate to move into the realms of theology but, as an Anglican and a former president of the YMCA in Britain, I believe it is absolutely impossible to be true to the Christian faith without being engaged in society.

I should like to make just three observations from my own experience. The first is that we must always resist the temptation to try, directly or indirectly, to win recruits to our faith by what we do in society. That is totally unacceptable. I believe that we do what our faith demands of us in fulfilling our own beliefs. In fact, it seems to me that cultural sensitivity is an absolute practical manifestation of the real spirit of love. If Christianity does not claim to be about love, what else is it about?

Secondly, I have had experiences in the voluntary sector of a secular type—I was a director of Oxfam, for example—but I have a certain unease about the way in which we have slipped into the language of partnerships. I am not quite sure that the concept of partnership adequately describes what it should all be about. Essentially, we are about empowering—we are capitalists in society. There is now, on the part of government and others, a tendency to talk quite overtly of being there to deliver services more effectively, but we are not service deliverers. Of course, in what we do, we should provide a service—that is what it is all about—but we are about empowering people and enabling society to change. As part of that, we must be uncomfortable advocates. I am very glad that charity law now recognises the role of advocacy in fulfilling charitable commitment. Sometimes advocacy based on the authority and experience of engagement can be one of the most powerful of all services for the disadvantaged.

In this new talk about the interrelationship between the voluntary sector, faith communities and government, we must not throw away the different elements that contribute to the totality of social reality. We must also involve language which could ever be interpreted as a kind of arrogance. I know from experience that some of the finest voluntary work has been done by my friends in the Islamic and other communities, and indeed by people who, although I do not endorse their position, are proud in their personal integrity to say that they are agnostics or atheists.

Photo of Lord Plant of Highfield Lord Plant of Highfield Labour 1:46 pm, 9th October 2008

My Lords, I very much welcome this debate and should perhaps declare an interest as a lay canon at Winchester Cathedral.

I very much agree with the emphasis on the role of the voluntary sector, churches and faith communities in the diversity of civil society and its crucial role in the culture of a free society. I also welcome the involvement of the voluntary sector and the churches in service delivery, although with the obvious caveats that my noble friend Lord Judd has just mentioned. They bring to it a degree of independence, which perhaps allows them to have a greater capacity for innovation than many state or local government bureaucratic forms of delivery. They perhaps have fewer vested interests at stake and therefore can be more flexible in how they deliver services. Because they are not perceived to be agents of government, many of them also have access to groups and individuals with whom more official government and local government-based services might find it very difficult to interact. They have a strong ethos, which again provides a good framework within which their work can be based, and of course, as was mentioned by the right reverend Prelate, they are also local and have a great deal of local knowledge, which may often escape the more standard bureaucratic forms of delivery.

However, in this new world in which these partnerships will develop between central or local government and the voluntary sector, including faith groups, we must avoid using the terminology used a year or two ago by the noble Lord, Lord Dahrendorf, in his Goodman lecture—that is, we should avoid the nationalisation of the voluntary sector.

Yet, there are pressures in the whole relationship about which we have to be very careful. I think that those pressures would be there whichever Government were in power and going through the process of commissioning voluntary agencies and so forth. First, it seems to me that there will be greater emphasis on the professionalisation of the services offered by the voluntary sector. Certainly, in some voluntary organisations in which I have worked that has been absolutely evident. The danger is that professionalisation, which is a good thing in itself, can create more vested interests, which is precisely what the voluntary sector is supposed to be good at not doing. However, more importantly, it can displace volunteering, which is the rather important aspect of the civil society argument for voluntary sector bodies. So we do not want to displace volunteering with greater professionalisation. Equally, those bodies are handling public money. There will be great pressure for public-sector management techniques to ensure that people use public money responsibly—things like benchmarking, targets, and so on—which pose great dangers for the diversity and independence of the voluntary sector. My noble friend Lord Judd, mentioned, very eloquently, the important subjects of campaigning and the critical role.

Another very complicated issue is the role of the Human Rights Act. Although the Judicial Committee of your Lordships' House has found that charities offering service delivery are not public authorities, nevertheless they are being paid for by Government. The Law Lords have emphasised the importance of the contract in relation to securing HRA rights, and commissioning bodies may want far more recognition of the human rights implications of service delivery in their contracts. We have to be careful about the panoply of relationships which the receipt of state money may well impose on the voluntary sector.

Photo of Lord Roberts of Llandudno Lord Roberts of Llandudno Spokesperson in the Lords, International Development, Spokesperson in the Lords, Welsh Affairs, Whip 1:51 pm, 9th October 2008

My Lords, I welcome the opportunity to contribute to this debate and I thank the right reverend Prelate for introducing it. Looking through the recommendations of the report, some of them need a red alert. One suggests appointing a government Minister for religion and social cohesion. I believe that would require a tremendous amount of discussion and I would not be too happy with it as it stands. I also see that the Von Hügel report is mentioned. We could look at it and say, "Yes, it is very much geared to the activities of the Church of England". It mentions the,

"important roles of bishops, dioceses and cathedrals".

Who am I to disparage the roles of bishops, and so on, who contribute so much to life? But there are other churches, too. The report does not seem to grapple with them very extensively. It recognises that these recommendations,

"may have some ecumenical potential".

In our age, to look at anything which does not have an ecumenical potential is to look at something which is not totally effective.

I welcome the presence of my colleague—Methodist-wise—the noble Lord, Lord Griffiths of Burry Port, who has a pew in St Paul's Cathedral. I had the great honour of taking part in a Catholic ordination service and I have also walked with some of the bishops on the heritage march at the end of the Lambeth conference. What a great opportunity it was to work together.

So my first point is that the report is a little bit frugal about Von Hügel. More is needed than we see here. It is a report for a Britain of some years ago and not for the multi-faith society which we have today, in which you do not ask people: "What is your creed?", if they have any creed at all, but, "Will you join us in building this new society; will you co-operate?". I note the question about partnership, but the true partnership is with everyone in the community. Strength will come from that.

Last week, I had the privilege of going to Poland to be part of the Barka Foundation which has made it possible for 7,000 Polish migrants in the UK, who were not able to make a go of it here, to go back, in particular to the Poznan area where there are settlements, small factories, farms, housing developments and leisure facilities where people work together. It involves the local authority, the Government, individuals and, of course, the church. It is a multi-faith, multi-faceted organisation.

I look for much more discussion on this report. It seems to me to lack an ecumenical aspect. Those of faith and those who possibly find it difficult to have a faith at all should all be involved in the building up of our communities.

Photo of Lord Dixon-Smith Lord Dixon-Smith Shadow Minister, Communities and Local Government 1:54 pm, 9th October 2008

My Lords, in an increasingly interdependent world, I make no apologies for saying that, despite 20th-century developments, it is worth reminding the House that we are still essentially a Christian society. From St Augustine onwards, the church has played a leading role in the development of the British state. The tenets of Christianity provide the essential foundation on which British society, state and community rest. Today, we may need to recognise other religions because of increasing global population mobility, but those tenets are no less relevant because of that change.

The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chelmsford asks a very pertinent question because Government action in one area raises the question of the broader state. Earlier this year, the position of state schools was questioned by the education department. Those schools, all over the country, generally more successful than their contemporaries, very popular with parents and very well respected, found themselves under pressure as a result of what happened. It is only a short step from wondering about that case to beginning to wonder about the relationship with Government in relation to all the other aspects of the work that the church carries out.

As has been so well pointed out, the church is deeply integrated into the community; it works in many areas, particularly in social welfare. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Portsmouth stated well the relationship; it is a symbiotic relationship. Once you get into that sort of relationship, there is a worry about the continuity of policy and, more importantly, the continuity of funding coming increasingly from the state. Indeed, when the question of welfare dependency was raised in the debate, I found myself wondering whether the church was not itself in danger of becoming welfare dependent, not that I take that as a serious threat to the church. However, we need to remember that once you build institutions which involve people, there is an obligation for continuity. It is very important that as we build these relationships we commit to ensure that they have certainty of position, but only for so long as there is a need for that particular service.

I would not wish to compare the church with local government, although I spent a long time in that walk of life. Local government is now, of course, welfare dependent on central government. I make no special pleading here, but as we become increasingly dependent on central government funding, we create increasing problems and, worse still, we create the possibility of the Government beginning to believe that they are the source of originality in welfare provision, the source of new ideas and the source of all things good.

One of the other great characteristics of British society is its great diversity, its many sources and many ways of doing the same thing. We have to fight to preserve that. As a result of this debate, I hope that we have made, not a special plea for the church, but a special plea for the principles on which the church stands, and on which we all rest, to continue into the future. I think de Tocqueville was correct. I look forward to hearing the Minister.

R

"I make no apologies for saying that, despite 20th-century developments, it is worth reminding the House that we are still essentially a Christian society."

This sort of statement verges on discrimination and is exclusive of people who live good lives without religious beliefs. It is totally unacceptable to say "it is worth reminding the House that we are still essentially a white society." which is likely to be true statistically, and yet it seems acceptable to take a prejudice view based on a person's religion or belief. How are we to move forward as a single, united society when people in positions of power like yourself still categorise people based on their religion or belief, instead of our common human values.

Submitted by Richard Hogg

Photo of Lord Patel of Bradford Lord Patel of Bradford Government Whip, Government Whip 2:00 pm, 9th October 2008

My Lords, I am grateful for the opportunity to discuss these important issues. It is consistent with his considerable contribution to the church's thinking and action relating to social justice that the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chelmsford should have asked for this debate. Situated in his diocese is the ambitious Thames Gateway project in which I know he takes an active interest. The success of the gateway will depend on getting the right levels of engagement with all stakeholders and, in the end, the key stakeholders are local people and local communities.

Noble Lords have raised a great many significant issues that I shall endeavour to address. This debate offers us an opportunity to look at our policies for engaging local people and enabling them to have a greater say in shaping their communities. The role of the voluntary or third sector is crucial in this. Before I go any further, I want to stress that when I talk about the third sector, I include the churches and faith communities fully and unambiguously.

Faith communities bring distinctive elements to the table. Many of them have been shared with us today, and I shall touch on them. It is also fair to say that there are particular barriers to their full involvement as part of the third sector. However, we are aware of them, and they are challenging, but not insurmountable. This debate is an important opportunity for us all to reflect on what progress has already been made and what more needs to be done.

Informed comment on public policy by faith communities has a long history. We need look back no further than 1985 when the Archbishop of Canterbury's Commission on Urban Priority Areas published its report, Faith in the City. Faiths also bring very practical assets. For example, in 2003, the North-West Development Agency published a report on the economic value of faith communities. It found that through their buildings and volunteers, faith communities contributed over £90 million per annum to the regional economy.

Our recent policies have increasingly reflected the importance of the third sector and faith communities. Let me set out a few examples. In July, we published the empowerment White Paper, Communities in Control: Real People, Real Power. The summary states:

"We want to generate vibrant local democracy in every part of the country, and to give real control over local decisions and services to a wider pool of active citizens.

We want to shift power, influence and responsibility away from existing centres of power into the hands of communities and individual citizen ... A vibrant participatory democracy should strengthen our representative democracy. The Third Sector... has much to offer".

I hope that makes clear that the third sector, and faith communities as an integral part of that sector, are right at the heart of our vision for better places.

These are not mere words. Last month, my right honourable friend Hazel Blears, Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, launched our Participatory Budgeting: A Draft National Strategy. Participatory budgeting directly involves local people in making decisions on spending priorities. Most importantly, the Participatory Budgeting Unit, the key delivery agency, is a project of Church Action on Poverty, a faith-based organisation located in Manchester. It is difficult to imagine a clearer example of partnership in which the direct implementation of a key central government policy is being taken forward at community level by an organisation with its roots in the values of Christian social justice, not, of course, because it is a faith-based organisation, but because it is fit for the purpose.

I have said that there are many challenges. In July we published the interfaith framework, Face-to-Face and Side-by-Side. It highlighted a number of commitments to ongoing work, in partnership with faith communities, aimed at tackling some of the barriers to capturing the full potential of faith-based organisations. I shall give noble Lords several examples. We are working to refresh and update the Local Government Association's faith and community guidelines for good working relationships between faith communities and local authorities. We also recognise the need for greater faith or religious literacy among officials to equip them to work more effectively with faith communities, and we are working on a potential project on this. It will address the issue raised by noble Lords about faith groups not simply seeking money or contracts but inherently doing the right thing. Officials need to understand the combination of those delicate factors. We made a commitment to develop a charter for faith organisations involved in service delivery to address perceived nervousness about allocating public funding to faith-based organisations.

Short-term funding is a significant issue which was raised by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chelmsford and other noble Lords. As someone who worked in the third sector for many years, I understand the need for long-term funding, and I am pleased to say that since 1997 we have conducted three reviews of the third sector. Faith communities contributed a great deal to the last review in particular, and the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of York served on its advisory board. All three reviews tackled the issue of short-term funding. We have made considerable progress, and with three-year financial settlements, local authorities are now better placed to offer longer-term funding. Although I recognise what my noble friend Lord Judd said about not chasing after contracts, this is not just about that issue.

Another excellent example is our work in partnership with the Church Urban Fund to publish Believing in Local Action alongside Face-to-Face and Side-by-Side. Believing in Local Action is a series of case studies about the benefits of partnership working between faith communities and the third sector at local level. It underlines the importance of seeing faith communities as part of the third sector.

The obvious question is why we involve third sector organisations in delivering public services. The reason is pragmatic: it works. Among the sector's strengths is an ability to do things differently and put an individual's need at the heart of things. The noble Lord, Lord Roberts, spoke about his experience working with Polish migrants and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chelmsford mentioned Jean and her work with young people. We talked about offenders, young and old, who are being supported and about debt counselling. My noble friend Lord Plant talked about the importance of independence and the ethos that drives the services that are delivered. The third sector brings an enormous amount to the table.

Third-sector organisations are most often trusted by the people they work with, particularly the most vulnerable and marginalised. We want to draw on all the sector's strengths by working together in partnership. Once again, I stress how all that I have said about the third sector embraces faith groups, whose local rootedness means that they often demonstrate these strengths to a high degree.

The Office of the Third Sector is currently conducting a national survey of third-sector organisations. It has questions that will identify faith organisations and help us get a better picture of their circumstances and what issues affect them.

The noble Lord, Lord Griffiths of Fforestfach, and my noble friend Lord Judd introduced an important point on the role of the Charity Commission. Following its successful consultation with independent and black-majority churches, it ran a series of workshops with a range of faith-based charities to learn more about the way they work and to help strengthen their governance and effectiveness. Building on that consultation, and with the support of the Department for Communities and Local Government, the commission is setting up a dedicated unit to work with and support faith-based charities. The Faith and Social Cohesion Unit will provide support and advice to faith-based groups through outreach work, capacity building training and guidance and aims to do a number of things. It aims to engage with faith communities to identify and support organisations that could be, but currently are not, registered with the commission, to assist faith-based charities to improve their standards of governance and accountability and thereby increase their effectiveness, to work collaboratively to achieve and promote well run and effectively regulated faith-based charities and improve the commission's and wider society's understanding of faith-based charities.

I shall say a word about some of our departmental strategies. Many government departments have published their own plans for increasing the involvement of the third sector with sections dedicated to faith communities. For example, following a consultation, the National Offender Management Service will soon be publishing a paper on working with the third sector to reduce reoffending. It will include specific commitments to ensure that faith-based groups are involved effectively.

The noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, raised several issues. He clearly outlined some of the objectives of the extended schools service. He asked a series of questions, and I think that this is right for me to write to him with a full response with specific answers the questions that he raised. However, the program is happening. We are investing a significant amount of money and many local organisations are involved. Suffice it to say that schools are not expected to provide extended services alone, or necessarily to deliver them on-site. They should be working in partnership with local authorities, other schools and local partners, including the private and voluntary sector and community organisations.

We envisage a strong role for the voluntary and private sectors in delivering extended services in partnership with the schools. The services developed in schools should complement and join with other services and providers where they are already in place.

I turned to the importance of community cohesion, where faith communities have a particularly valuable contribution to make. The noble Lords, Lord Dixon-Smith and Lord Northbourne, raised the issue of faith schools. The Government support faith schools. We recognise that they are often in demand locally and make a positive contribution to local cohesion.

This country has a long tradition of promoting co-operation and mutual respect between people of different faiths. The interfaith framework, Face-to-Face and Side-by-Side, aims to increase partnership working with and between faith communities at all levels, from the national to the local, to improve local cohesion. The framework depends on the enormous amount of existing interfaith activity by faith communities themselves.

Before concluding it would be remiss of me not to mention the Von Hügel report. The right reverend Prelates and several other noble Lords, especially the noble Lord, Lord Roberts, referred rather poetically to the Von Hügel report. If noble Lords will forgive me, I cannot comment directly on the report, although it does raise some important issues which we are committed to exploring further with the Church of England and others.

The Church of England has asked for time to discuss the report internally through its structures and to make a formal response to the report and its recommendations. We will wait for the Church of England to complete that process before commenting further.

I have inevitably focused on the Government's side of things. I said at the beginning that these are complex and challenging matters. I hope that I have made clear that in all our policies and programmes, we are aiming at partnership with the third sector and faith communities. We each have our strengths and our limitations. Real and effective partnership is demanding. It requires us to be open, transparent and, most importantly, honest with one another.

I repeat that we have all achieved a great deal, but there is still more to be done. The Government will continue to strive to equip themselves to work better with faith communities, just as I hope that churches and all faith communities will seek to build their capacity to engage further and deeper in all aspects of public life.

The outcome at which we should all be aiming is not a good deal for government or for faith communities, but better places for people to live—places where social justice and respect for difference help to shape the life of communities. That, I am sure all noble Lords agree, is the real theme of this debate.

I again thank the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chelmsford for tabling this important debate and all noble Lords for their valuable contributions.