My Lords, I thank you for the amazingly warm and supportive welcome to your Lordships' House following my maiden speech just two weeks ago. It is just 10 months since I joined this House, was made Government Champion for Active Safer Communities and produced the report that is being debated today. I have not learnt the ropes yet, so I apologise to noble Lords for not ensuring they had a chance to join this debate and will know for next time to warn them personally in advance. Please excuse me if my voice is strained-nothing, including this infection, could stop me standing before you today.
I want to explain why I feel so passionately about anti-social behaviour and building more active and safe communities. As a victim myself, my mailbag yields sad, shocking examples of people whose lives are so devalued by it. I know of one elderly man who creeps around in silence and darkness, with curtains drawn. He is too scared of intimidation and violence to show any sign of life, because he knows that it will be magnet for these feral people to start harassing him again. Other examples across the country are too shocking to list here: you would find it unbelievable that they exist in our country. This is the harsh, gritty reality of our lives. I am sure that, like me, all noble Lords will leave this House to return to a warm, comfortable and safe home. Please spare a thought for those who do not have the same security; and we are not talking about challenged, deprived areas, for this exists as much in leafy country areas as it does in tough inner-city estates.
I thank all noble Lords who have put their name down to speak on my report and I am sure that I echo all present when I say I am particularly looking forward to the maiden speeches of the noble Lords, Lord True and Lord Noon. There is such a bank of knowledge, experience and wisdom in this House and I am begging you to help me, as a representative of ordinary people everywhere, by supporting some of the recommendations in my report, Our Vision for Safe and Active Communities. I am humbled, but also delighted, that this debate has been tabled as I feel so very passionately that together we have to solve some of the worst of society's ills-particularly for those most affected, who are the vulnerable and sidelined victims of cruelty and crime.
I was put here to be champion for activists and victims, by people power. This is a golden opportunity for their voice to be heard nationally. Although reported crime might continue to fall, I support the plans of my colleague, Police Minister, Nick Herbert, to keep focused on driving it down faster and deeper through new approaches. Nick has said that there is no room for complacency, and he is so right. Speaking from bitter experience, statistics are meaningless if you are the person whose existence is a living hell, day or night, thanks to bullying, thuggish behaviour; or someone who fears for your child's safety every time they leave your sight. The public remain concerned about levels of crime, particularly anti-social behaviour. As I have said before, anti-social behaviour is viewed as low priority. However, it is an evil, insidious growth. Its spreading roots undermine the very foundations of decent society and if we let it grow unchallenged, its fruits and its malignancy can kill.
The British Crime Survey says that around one in four of us has issues with public drunkenness, drug dealing, loitering teenagers, rubbish, litter and vandalism. We cannot sit by and allow any more neighbourhoods to be fearful places where residents scuttle to bolt their doors and feel sanctuary and safety lies only in retreating to a fortress. My report is a work in progress, as we have to start somewhere. I have total faith that if we make radical changes and adopt its recommendations in approach, delivery and accountability and, more importantly, breathe fresh life into stale bureaucracy, we can help roll back the years and recreate that country where everyone is able to walk safely, day and night, and children roam free to explore and enjoy their childhood.
The journey of 1,000 miles starts with one single step, and this report is, I hope, that threshold for the voyage we make together. It may have to be small steps to start with, but I hope we will be taking giant strides very soon towards our goal. We will be guided by our powerful national moral compass, which has steered us so well for generations and which makes us such a great country. It will be our faith leaders who, united, can help uphold our resolve when we falter. We must encourage every citizen to embrace the word "home" and understand that it does not apply to bricks and mortar of their four walls, but is a concept that includes other houses, the environment, the people and the services around them. Personal responsibility should be the norm, not abnormal. Parents who are unable or unwilling to look after their children must be encouraged and supported. However, if they wilfully expect the rest of society to shoulder their responsibilities for bringing up their children, that is totally unacceptable and we cannot allow that to continue. Their out-of-control offspring cannot terrorise decent, hard-working people and cause blight on their neighbourhoods.
Agencies in England and Wales, such as the 43 police authorities and some 450 local government authorities, depend on charities, volunteers, active citizens and thriving businesses to be effective in carrying out their own jobs. I am sending out an SOS for them to join this national movement. My report recommends more transparency, the sharing of resources and devolving decision-making to the very people affected by their service delivery. I want to see the creation of resource hubs; a national hub that will act as a signpost to anyone wanting to get out of their comfy armchair and work for better communities so that they have access to the knowledge, help and finances that they need to do that. "Don't fix it if it ain't broke" is never so true as needed here. Parts of our society are broken, and we need common-sense, easy toolkits if we are to "DIY" it-to fix it ourselves.
That is why I welcome my move to the Department for Communities and Local Government. This year, I will be helped to implement my recommendations, which started out in the Home Office. It is a very lonely life being an active campaigner and I welcome this Government's support, which I hope will make a difference to people's lives. Too often, good ideas from ordinary people wither and die because it is just too difficult to navigate rules, red tape and regulations. Let us turn on the lights and lift the gloom of ignorance. It is more than time to lose some of the stranglehold of big, unwieldy and expensive government, and empower the small, potent big society, which is lots of small groups of activists and neighbours changing their part of the world.
My local hubs should be transparent ports of call, giving councillors access to people's concerns and giving people access to their local representatives. The people put them in power in the first place. This is what I understand by the term "localism". Local people should have a say in how the money that they pay in taxes and community charges is spent. I want to see money directed to a proper community-led cohesion project, signposted at the very lowest level. I also want to see "Bling Back", whereby money confiscated from criminals such as drug dealers is spent in the very communities that were robbed in the first place. If communities help to keep a young person out of an offender unit by supporting them within the community, turning their lives around, and save huge amounts of money in the process, why should not they get rewarded for their efforts? It is odd that when areas help to reduce anti-social behaviour, their reward is to have their police numbers reduced. To me it is the carrot-and-stick scenario in reverse. Why punish those who produce the right result? That is so wrong. We should give them incentives to get more involved and drive down crime, which means spending money on whatever community project they choose in order to build resilience in their neighbourhoods.
I have been travelling the length and breadth of England and Wales looking at what triggers anti-social behaviour, who is working at grassroots levels to address it and what is really happening in our communities. I cannot pretend that I have seen every good practice, but I can share the fact that there is an amazing network of good citizens willing and able to make the changes that we ask for. We have to connect them, learn from them, support and most of all celebrate them-but for them the most important thing is to make the climate easier for them to roll up their sleeves and just get on with it.
The heart of my report is to showcase and applaud some of these wonderful people. They run local cubs, scouts, girl guides and youth clubs; they help with shopping for the elderly, infirm and vulnerable; and they work unpaid to support charities. They do this willingly and for no other reason than that it is the right thing to do. I have seen fantastic role models, champions and projects in my travels, good police and public servants who are really reaching out to engage and work alongside the people they serve. I have been amazed how this new way of working can break down those huge walls that prevent people having a say. Read their own words in the report and see how they have tackled their community problems and won through-but despair also because of the stupid, pompous obstacles still being placed in their way.
When I am asked how I expect busy people to get involved in volunteering in this way, I have only to point to Hayley, a mother of eight young children, one of whom is in poor health, who started play activities with her own children in her own area. She extended it to others and in only 18 months has tackled anti-social behaviour on her estate, which is now down 40 per cent.
I am sick and tired of hearing the phrase trotted out so many times, "Lessons will be learnt", when obviously they have not been because we see and hear over and over again tragedies and neglected cries for help. We should hold to account those who should have learnt lessons and if necessary remove them from positions of power and replace them with people who have learnt and can behave with humanity and understanding. So how can we tackle violent anti-social behaviour? Is there any evidence that it is already happening? The charity, Victim Support, runs a ground-breaking project in Southampton, pulling together all parties in a multi-agency partnership, with tenants, residents, housing managers, Neighbourhood Watch, police and others throwing a protective arm around victims of anti-social behaviour. These victims come from all ages and social backgrounds. Many have mental health issues and learning disabilities; each victim has tailored support, including emotional and practical help, signposting to specialist help, and advocacy with other agencies. Nearly 550 victims in the past 12-month period have had help through their darkest days to find light at the end of the tunnel. We need more of this joined-up work.
Also on Monday I accompanied Housing Minister, Grant Shapps, to Liverpool, to another Westminster-a blighted housing estate with a thriving residents' association whose members are the eyes and ears of the community. Monthly "Have your Say" meetings pressurise other residents to take responsibility for the behaviour of friends, families and visitors' on the estate. They keep diaries of incidents and take an active part in an intensive community payback scheme for offenders. Elaine and Harry are truly the pillars of their society. The outcome of this work has been a 50 per cent drop of reported anti-social behaviour in just three months. That is a huge success.
One of the main factors of the violent gang behaviour that led to the murder of my husband, Garry, was underage binge drinking. I intend to use my report to enlist support from the alcohol retail industry to reclaim our streets and reduce violence on alcohol abuse. I know that there is a way to return us to the days of social, not anti-social, consumption, and to take back our streets at night.
I have always been an optimist, even after my experience, and as a loving mother to three young women, I demand a better world for them. I am not swayed by the argument that we have to throw tonnes of money, meet loads of targets and use mountains of resources to make change. I look forward to shifting the resources already allocated to be more cost effective and more in line with the people's wishes. My report challenges the mindset of what I think is a complacent nation and one which has allowed the quality of life in our country to slide down to a totally unacceptable level in some areas. This is a national disgrace. I look forward to hearing your Lordships' suggestions in the coming debate and afterwards, and to learning how you feel you can add your many talents and contacts to help us reach our final destination. I beg to move.
My Lords, it is with a great sense of humility that I rise to address your Lordships. For nearly 13 years, until last May, I had the privilege of serving in this House in the office of the Leader of the Opposition and assisting the work of the usual channels. For that opportunity, I must thank the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, and my noble friend Lord Strathclyde. They were both remarkably kind to me, and occasionally they even made the eccentric mistake of repeating to your Lordships something I had recommended them to say. I toyed with the idea of allowing my noble friend the Leader of the House to get his own back by asking him for advice on my own speech, but the risk was too great that noble Lords would recognise his own choice phrases.
One of my earlier perceptions of this House was formed 20 years ago in Downing Street at those regular morning meetings, often quite impatient, when the then Leader of the House came to explain to the then Prime Minister how your Lordships had ventured to vote against legislation that always seemed at the time something without which not only the Government but the entire universe would collapse. I rather suspect those meetings are still going on. But when I came to work here in 1997, I soon found that what, from the standpoint of the Executive, were seen as the capricious actions of your Lordships' House were usually rooted in common sense and deep humanity. In short, the more I listened to this House, the more I learned. I did not always agree, but I grew to respect this place beyond almost any other I have ever known, and then hold it with equally great affection.
I could not be more grateful for the kindness with which I was received, back then, and again when, to my surprise, I returned as a Member earlier this year, not only by your Lordships on all sides of the House but by the staff of this House, many of whom with my service here I am proud to count not only as old colleagues but old friends.
I spoke a moment ago of this House's common sense and deep humanity. That, of course, brings me to the subject of this debate, and my noble friend Lady Newlove, whom I warmly thank for introducing it and allowing me to speak. It is daunting to follow her; I agreed with every word that she said. She will forgive me if I do not follow entirely on the subject only of antisocial behaviour, because what she said applies to so many other areas of life. In the way that she has turned a savage, personal loss into a commitment and prospectus for common good, my noble friend exemplifies the qualities of common sense and humanity-and how much we need those as we survey the shards of a society which is in all too many places broken but which the noble Baroness inspires us to believe can be built again. I believe that it will be built again if those in authority truly listen to the calls that my noble friend brings to us to help people take small steps to big ends.
I have the privilege to be leader of a local authority, the London Borough of Richmond upon Thames. It is in many ways a comfortable authority, where some of the issues set out in this report might seem less pressing than they are elsewhere. Yet I believe that many of my noble friend's ideas are as relevant in prosperous areas as they are in poorer ones. Antisocial behaviour and crime, as she said, respect no borough boundaries, and anxiety, alienation and disengagement know no economic frontiers. In my view, it is the urgent calling of all of us, in whatever capacity in politics, to join in the task of rebuilding broken bridges of trust and confidence between politics, public bodies and the citizen. We need to remember, as my noble friend reminds us, who are the employees and who are the employers in the relationship between public bodies and those we are elected or appointed to serve.
As my noble friend's report eloquently tells us, bureaucracy, complex language and slow responses deter active communities and community action. Perhaps I may give a small example from last month's uplifting national coming together, the royal wedding. Shortly after we were elected to office in Richmond, I enjoyed that horrible moment-which many of your Lordships who have been in office will well remember-of being rung up by my press office to be told that, quite unexpectedly, we were being targeted by a national newspaper. We were being cited as the local authority most restrictive of street parties, with the highest insurance requirements, the most prescriptive rules on street signs and so on. Be there so much as a whiff of a sizzling sausage in the streets of Richmond, the report suggested, and Councillor True's enforcers would be down on you, probably dressed in uniform.
I did what any worried politician under fire does-I called for a report, courageously. That report told me that, in all essence, the story was true. It was not that my predecessors or the council officers had wanted it, but simply that a well-meaning climate of risk aversion, health and safety first and written policies on almost everything had led to an accretion of complexities in rules and regulations, which no one had ever sat down and planned or even really wanted. The response was obvious-to scrap most of those rules. We simplified the rules for approval, with the result that what had been targeted as the most restrictive council in England ended up hosting more street parties on
However, I believe that local authorities can and should be catalysts to the creation of active communities. The will is there-I do not believe the cynics. Last year we asked people in our borough to define for themselves their own communities and say which things they most valued and which they most wanted to change in their own area, and cynics said that only a few hundred people would respond. In fact, getting on for 14,000 people did, and we are now following that up with a process of public meetings and plans that cover the 14 different self-selected communities which local people chose. Predictably, their priorities are different. Some are concerned about crime, some about school places, some about improving open spaces, some about losing their high-street shops and some about parking. We must accept that different areas have different priorities and be ready to implement different solutions.
Top-down, one-size-fits-all, town-hall-knows-best has had its day; I welcome that, as I know that people on all sides of politics do. However, I agree with my noble friend in her report that that does not mean sitting back and waiting for things to happen bottom-up. We need to go out and meet people in the middle. Helping active communities to plan and create a better future is just as much about creating and defending the spirit of place, which is what I think local authorities must do; and it is infinitely more rewarding than creating the umpteenth centralised strategy document and calling in the PR men to sell it to those who have had no say at all in writing it in the first place. The role of local authorities evolves, but I am sure that they have a constructive role in meeting the challenges that my noble friend's report lays down.
I will not trouble your Lordships further on this occasion. However, I must conclude by saying that I do believe that there is an immense opportunity for the creation of community enterprise. When I looked, coming here today, for example, at the hideous scarring of our urban railway lines by graffiti put up by those selfishly intent on imposing their identity, or their vile gang's identity, on public space, I asked myself, "Is there not scope for creating a great enterprise to remove this blight from our lives? Would not hundreds of young people wish to be involved in doing that?". I am certain that there is, and we should take that challenge, with support, to Network Rail.
There are myriad things, great and small, that people, once allowed across the barriers marked "health and safety" or "risk", could and will do for themselves. My noble friend's inspiring report points us along this road. Along with many other local authority leaders, I look forward to helping her achieve her vision across our country, in all regions, whether rich or poor, and in other areas of policy, as well as in the crucial war on anti-social behaviour in which she so powerfully calls us to engage.
My Lords, it is my very pleasant duty to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord True, on his maiden speech. When I looked at his CV I discovered that, in his relationship with the Liberal Democrats in Richmond, he has been someone who-as his colleagues have described best-has exchanged heavy blows with relish, punched his own weight and could take a shot, but who was also a gentleman afterwards. The borough of Richmond, Surrey is well represented among the Liberal Democrats in the House of Lords, but it was actually a clean fight down there. That relationship is probably something on which the noble Lord will go far in this House and in Parliament, and I congratulate him on that.
It is also very unusual to welcome to this House someone who probably knows more about it than do some who have been here for more than 20 years. That degree of knowledge and grounding in local politics will be extremely useful to this House. It will, I hope, build up the sum of knowledge and the ability to reach out which is so necessary for this House. I again congratulate the noble Lord on his speech. It was good and thoughtful. We hope to hear many more such speeches from him, because we can use them.
The noble Baroness, Lady Newlove, introduced a thoughtful and considerate discussion on the backdrop which makes the big society necessary. Over the years, by accident and by design, problems have arisen in society whereby people have allowed society to disintegrate and some unacceptable behaviour to become the norm. It is also true that, when dealing with these problems, the perception can often be far worse than the reality; it depends on who and where you are and what has happened to you personally. The noble Baroness's experiences in life will of course give her deeper insight into what can really go wrong, but how can the rest of us get involved?
The central theme of what the noble Baroness said is the fact that we have to take on much of this responsibility ourselves, and that the Government have to allow that to happen. When I was reading about the report, some of the comments said that however local the activity, volunteer-based groups cannot do all the work themselves. There is a balance here, aimed primarily at ensuring that we allow volunteers to grow. We should provide the fertile soil for these fertile ideas to bloom in.
How is that done? Regulation is a great thing for bashing. We are all against regulation-or, rather, every single one of us is against regulations that inconvenience us but not against regulations that do not inconvenience us and that we think might be a good idea in order to stop someone doing something that we do not like. That is the eternal balance.
We all want to have a drink in a pub now and again. Some of us may think that closing time, to take an extreme example, should be 12 am on a Friday or a Saturday, but if you happen to live on that pub's main exit route on the way home you will have a different point of view. I have been in both camps. Unless we try to balance that and make that interaction more positive, we are going to get it wrong; we will always lurch from the red-top tabloid description of what is going on-"Society is never going to be the same again"-to the reaction against it from the killjoys, often in the same newspaper on the same day. The two sides are constantly getting at each other. You can imagine the editors of these newspapers or programmes saying, "Now, how much coverage are we going to have about overregulation and how much saying that it's disgusting and shouldn't be allowed?". In the middle there is usually a revelation about the love life of someone whom you have never heard of.
This is something that we have to try to get a hold of in adult ways. It struck me as I was researching this that it is important not to allow areas to be thought of as forgotten, as not counting. Much of the work that has gone on around here has concentrated on little things, like ensuring that rubbish is not allowed to sit on the streets for any length of time. We tackle things like fly-tipping, and involvement from local government, or possibly even other forms of government, allows that to happen. We get involved and that creates a better atmosphere.
If you do not like teenagers sitting on a corner of the street, you make sure that they have somewhere else to go at reasonable times of day. Wearing my other hat, I worry about sport; if you say, "No, we can't have anyone noisily kicking a ball around. No ball games", and then wonder why they are kicking a can around and shouting at you, you have created that situation yourself. By denying them a chance for personal responsibility, society has created the problem. If you say that you are going to provide somewhere that a game of football or basketball can take place, if it is well lit and if local law enforcement officers come round, have a chat, have a look and go away again at regular times, you will probably have a safer environment to allow people to interact than you would have otherwise, even if it is slightly noisy and there are a few teenagers outside. If those officers do that job properly, you will probably have an interchange of information that will make it less likely that there will be unreported crime. If, however, you simply turn around and say, "No, someone doesn't like the noise", you have enhanced the problem.
We are always going to find this balancing act difficult. It is as important to ensure that community groups have a place to meet and interact as it is for teenagers-they should not have to rely on meeting in someone's crowded house-but those groups will require support, effort and back-up. Unless the noble Baroness's ideas are allowed to flourish in a positive environment, unless you allow this space, all the good ideas will come to nothing.
When I started looking at this, I considered talking about the importance of other groups apart from amateur sports clubs. They are my favourite because they embody much of what is good in society. Any amateur association that brings people together, whether that be for train-spotting or for amateur dramatics, and gives them some sense of responsibility for themselves, is something of a model. If you can encourage these groups and allow them to function, and if local government is encouraged to allow them to function, you have taken two steps forward: the first by example, and the second by providing a focus.
I do not have to tell politicians that if you get a bunch of people together who know how to organise, every now and then the problem is to get them to stop organising. We have to try to allow these things to happen. Hopefully, the noble Baroness's report is the start of an ongoing process that will allow us to get the best out of what naturally happens and to take what can happen everywhere into everywhere.
I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Newlove, for introducing this very important debate. Her contribution in this area is significant. Her maiden speech greatly moved this House, and I am sorry that it was born out of such a great personal tragedy. I commend the noble Baroness on her most excellent report, Our Vision for Safe and Active Communities. I hope that I can do justice to the wisdom of that report as I talk about my experiences and understanding of how we can make safer, stronger and more active communities.
I take this opportunity to thank my noble friends Lady Jay of Paddington and Lord Sainsbury of Turville for having introduced me on the Floor of the House in January this year. Since my arrival here I have been most graciously and respectfully received by everyone. I have been made to feel most welcome. I acknowledge and thank the officials of the House for their courtesy and their time.
It was only a few years ago that I was made to think that I might not be here today to make this speech. I am of course referring to the night in November 2008 when I was trapped in the Taj Hotel in Mumbai while it was attacked by a group of terrorists. So I have had my own close encounter with terrorists, which made me realize how quickly life can be taken away. On that November morning in 2008 I woke up in my hotel bed as a businessman. By nightfall I was a hostage of a terrorist cell.
I had taken a small trade delegation from my parent company, Kerry Foods. The terrorists were hunting down British and American nationals, which we all were. We sat in the dark room listening to the sounds of grenades and bombs exploding in the building. Smoke soon poured in from under our door and we panicked. Had I known then what I was to learn later-that the terrorists were in room number 360-then we would really have panicked. For, you see, we were in room number 361, right next door, separated by only one wall. It was the longest night of my life.
Next morning, in the light of dawn, we saw the fire brigade on the street below. My suite was on the third floor. We frantically waved to the fire brigade. They sent their long ladder up to our balcony, broke the glass and hoisted us on to a platform. The TV images of our rescue went round the world as it was happening. The handlers of the terrorists were also watching TV and directing their foot soldiers by mobile phone. As we were coming down, they shot at us from inside the hotel. We were lucky that we all escaped with our lives, but 176 others who died in the Mumbai attack were not so lucky. The terrorists attacked two hotels, a railway station and a tourist café, as well as targeting a Jewish centre. The victims were all ordinary people minding their own business and were killed randomly. These matters go to the very heart of our debate today. If we are to have safer communities, we must deal with all the forces that seek to harm us and threaten the very fabric of our society.
Just a few days ago we got the news of the death of the terrorist mastermind who had dedicated his life to murder and mayhem. The religion of Islam has been hijacked by such people. Let me say here what I believe Islam stands for. My beloved mother, Bilquis, instilled in me the Islamic values of peace and tolerance. I grew up in a household in India where we were on very friendly terms with people of other communities. Our neighbours were non-Muslim. The community was fully integrated and it seemed to us the natural way to live. It was a cosmopolitan society.
London, too, is a cosmopolitan city and this great country gives its people many benefits. Britain provides its citizens great freedom to worship, to educate and to work, and let us not forget our compassionate National Health Service. There is also the benefit of retiring with a state pension. The citizen is given all these things by the nation. In return, we owe the community, society and country our allegiance. We all have a moral obligation to fulfil our duties as citizens. We must live with honour. The freedoms we enjoy in the UK, including the freedom of religious belief and practice, are given freely. However, with freedom comes responsibility. It is our responsibility to be active, to take part and do what we can to make all our lives better. It is inevitable that there will be friction at times, difficulties of adjustment, but we are all the same under the skin.
On a personal level, I have worked hard to create a food industry and provide employment in Great Britain. I have even made chicken tikka masala our national dish. At the same time, I have not forgotten that I am a member of a greater society and have tried to pay back through my Noon Foundation, a charity personally endowed by me. Through our projects I have come across everyday heroes who work in hospices and community mentoring projects, the brave soldiers of our Army and many selfless people who make life worth while. In our democracy, we have the freedom to speak up, to comment and to criticise. There is room for every shade of expression. No matter what our origins, no matter what our faith, no matter what our culture and opinions are, we are ultimately stronger and safer in the community with each other. We are better off when we watch out for each other.
I thank your Lordships for listening to me. I look forward to taking part in many more such debates.
My Lords, I am delighted to follow the excellent maiden speech of the noble Lord, Lord Noon, and hope that we will indeed hear from him very often in your Lordships' House. His services to the British food industry have been enormous, and I imagine that quite a number of us in the Palace of Westminster have taken advantage of the ready meals produced by Noon Products Ltd, especially after late sittings. I am sure that he has fed many of us already with his products; now he is feeding us with his words. The company that he founded in 1989 has become a tremendously substantial employer, and he is known for the quality of his employment practices. We pay tribute to him.
We have of course heard why the noble Lord is so well qualified to speak on this subject today, since he knew what it was to fear for his personal safety when trapped in the Taj Mahal Palace hotel in Mumbai during those ghastly terrorist attacks. His powerful denunciation of extremists within his own Muslim community, which he has gently repeated here today, is matched by his many positive community engagements. I understand that his company collaborates with the Prince's Trust in setting up in-school clubs for 14 to 16 year-olds at risk of truancy, exclusion and underachievement-causes of so much of the anti-social behaviour that concerns us in this debate. In addition, he is vice-chair of the Maimonides Foundation, which focuses on promoting Jewish-Muslim relations. All this illustrates why we hope to hear much more from him in future. It has been wonderful to have two marvellous maiden speeches in this same debate.
I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Newlove, on her report, which is written from the heart and with many refreshing turns of phrase. Quite apart from its other strengths, the report has a pleasing absence of bureaucratic language and dense, impenetrable jargon. For that alone, much thanks. It also has the merit of passion. Of course, it includes the passion of the noble Baroness, which she brings to her theme through her own very painful experience, which she has made, remarkably, the springboard of creative service to others. Her report is also grounded in the passions and stories of so many other people. What unites them is a desire for a better community life. These pioneers in community self-help have made their neighbourhoods safer places.
As the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Norwich, I am naturally glad to see Norfolk mentioned honourably, although this is generally a report with a very strong urban bias. I know that the noble Baroness does not think this, but we must not imagine that that is because rural communities are all active and safe already. They are not. A rural location is no defence against low-level anti-social behaviour and sometimes much more serious social disruption, too. One can, indeed, lead to another. As the noble Baroness illustrated, as the irritation level grows people retreat into themselves and into their homes. Isolation from neighbours breeds fear of crime, which is surprisingly high in rural areas. Where there are relatively low levels of crime, there are very high levels of the fear of crime. That diminished social interaction creates fertile territory for the growth of more serious offending. This does not happen so easily in communities where there is a strong sense of neighbourliness and social engagement. Where people meet each other a lot, they care for and look out for each other. What the noble Baroness recommends in her report seems to me to be nothing less than what humanity is actually for.
As I have mentioned, I was glad to see Norfolk mentioned on page 26 of the report, which stresses the value of community panels in identifying the tasks to be done in their areas by those serving a community sentence. Far too much community service has been prescribed by statutory authorities and has not always felt beneficial to communities themselves. We need to change this. This report is a spur to doing so more widely, not only in Norfolk.
The report also commends restorative justice at page 22, but I was surprised to see that it did not feature in the recommendations. Will the Minister comment on the place of restorative justice in relation to the picture presented in the report? As your Lordships know, in restorative justice people who have been the perpetrators or victims of a crime or incident come together to consider what happened, to repair harm and to develop a strategy together that will avoid a recurrence. In Norfolk more than 12,000 people have been involved in restorative justice since 2007, and 89 per cent have been satisfied with the outcome. That figure has gradually increased and in the past year was well over 90 per cent. These people believe that this is the best way to deal with low-level crime and anti-social behaviour. The percentage of those reoffending in Norfolk after restorative justice has been just 10.4 per cent for juveniles and 14 per cent for adults. Those are impressive figures. They also illustrate, because the bias is towards the young, that restorative justice is even more effective for younger people as their characters and dispositions are still being formed; you have a chance with juveniles. That is why Norfolk is bidding to become one of the first restorative counties with a designated champion for this work.
However, restorative justice needs a neutral, trained facilitator so that those involved in an incident can engage constructively with each other. It is not a matter of putting perpetrators and victims together, hoping for the best and trusting that they will produce a solution; the third party is essential. That is where someone from one community can help people in another, since we are talking almost entirely about volunteers. The dynamic of care extends. Our communities cannot be silos of safety; they learn from one another and give to each other. The report of the noble Baroness, Lady Newlove, helps us raise our sights.
There is one other passing comment in the report that I wish to endorse and develop more fully. The noble Baroness says:
"If communities are to build trusting relationships with their services, then services need to be available when their community needs them. It is crazy ... that many staff whose prime function is to support and assist the community only work standard office hours when most people are busy at work or in education".
That makes good sense, but it illustrates an uncomfortable truth; most of those providing statutory services to our most needy communities do not live in them. A long time ago, when I was working as a curate on a large council estate in Peterborough, my vicar brought together many of the social workers, probation officers, health visitors and some of the teachers working on that estate to share our experiences. It is a commonplace initiative now but 35 years ago it was a bit more radical. I vividly remember from all that time ago that at our first session we discovered two things. The first was that about 10 families on an estate of more than 15,000 people occupied a great deal of all our time. We had not got our act together, nor had we recognised that so many of the problems on the estate were caused by so few. However, only two of us-my vicar and me-actually lived on the estate.
The clergy live in the communities they serve; they do not go somewhere else after office hours. Rectory and vicarage families often experience the same levels of anti-social irritation as their neighbours, even sometimes worse, as an increasing number of tragic incidents illustrate. It is not surprising, therefore, that when there is a major incident the media often seek out the vicar as a community spokesperson. You see it on the television all the time. He or she is often the only official person to be found living in the place they visit. I say this not simply to illustrate the value of the parish system of the Church of England, although I believe in it and believe that it is incredibly valuable, but to endorse the contention of the noble Baroness, Lady Newlove, that those who live in a community are best placed to determine how to make it safer. The devolution of decision-making, which we hope will be a characteristic of the Localism Bill, is to be welcomed. Therefore, I confess that I was a bit surprised to see that churches seem strategically marginal to the report, despite the very good example of the Church of England parish of St John at Hackney. I hope that, in following up the recommendations of this report, churches and other faith communities will be fully involved; we are certainly willing to be.
Therefore, I should be grateful if the Minister indicated what steps the Government are taking to extend restorative justice and, in particular, what steps will be taken to ensure that decisions affecting the well-being of communities are increasingly taken by those who live in them.
My Lords, it is a pleasure and a privilege to follow the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Norwich. The predecessor of his whom I knew best was Launcelot Fleming, now long-since dead, but I cannot help feeling that his spirit emerged in all the speeches I have heard in this debate, and that has made it the richer.
I join others in congratulating both noble Lords who have made maiden speeches. Of course I congratulate my noble friend Lord True. He had the good fortune to have been born into a family with a name to which everyone is likely to respond enthusiastically and warmly. Those with the ill luck to have been born into families who are less happy gradually manage over the years to change that. However, I am personally sorry that that admirable firm of solicitors in County Sligo, Argue and Phibbs, which I always looked up in the Irish telephone directory every time I went to Ireland, has finally and at last gone out of business. As to the noble Lord, Lord Noon, he and I met only once. He may well not remember it, but we broke bread on the subject of cricket. Anyone with that avocation is bound to be worth listening to on almost any subject. I congratulate him most warmly.
Of course I congratulate my noble friend Lady Newlove, not only on providing us with the opportunity for this debate, but on the quality of her report. I do not know how many noble Lords who are not taking part in the debate, but are sitting in the Chamber, have had the opportunity to read the report. To those who have not done so, I commend it very warmly indeed. It is comprehensive, and the fact that it has more than two dozen footnotes is itself an index of the extent of the reading that my noble friend has done. I am enormously impressed by the great storehouse of material that it fulfils.
My noble friend has a particular characteristic in the way in which her views come through, which was reflected in a remark long ago by Ronnie Knox, the Catholic convert theologian, who said that history has been changed by people who start their sentences with, "I believe", rather than, in the English manner, "One does feel". I have to say to my noble friend that throughout her report, "I believe" came through very strongly in every sentence. I have to say also that those thoughts remind me of my noble friend Lady Thatcher. I cannot conceive of the words "One does feel" falling from her lips. My noble friend Lady Newlove has the same adamantine convictions. I hope we can envisage a pocket version of her report in a Penguin format that we can slip into our pockets, because there is so much material in it that is sensible to carry about one's person.
I particularly admire her insistence on clear purposes. When I was brought up, I was once taught by someone who said, "If you do not know where you are trying to get to, any road will get you there". There is much to be said for having a clear idea of where you are trying to get to and how you are going to do it. The report has lots of suggestions, stories and recommendations. Beyond my noble friend's conviction comes through the sense of her stamina. During the war, Winston Churchill had 10 ideas a day; one was normally good and the other nine were less good. My distant kinsman, the 1st Viscount Alanbrooke, a great-granduncle to the noble Viscount, Lord Brookeborough, had the responsibility, as Churchill's CIGS, of explaining to him that the last nine ideas were not very good. That was not the easiest thing to do. The great thing about my noble friend's report is that she will have a much higher strike rate and-I think she realises this already-although some of the ideas in the report may not necessarily find acceptance among those to whom they are directed, she gains greatly by the rich number and variety of ideas that she has put forward.
My qualifications for speaking in this debate, I suppose, are that I represented for nearly a quarter of a century the inner-city seat of the Cities of London and Westminster, known as the "Two Cities". It was an interesting seat to represent because of its particular profile. The European Union, with slightly mistaken statistics, believed that it was the richest area in the whole EU. I will not go into what the statistical error was, but it was also almost certainly the only Tory seat in the country which came in the top 50-or the bottom 50, if you like-for poverty, and possibly the only Tory seat in the top 100.
An inner-city seat is likely to have considerable poverty. I may not be able to produce examples to which my noble friend will respond, but my two favourite examples were in the wards of Soho and Pimlico. When I was first elected, there were 10 candidates standing. We all received an examination paper from the Soho Society to find out how much we knew about Soho before we arrived, which was an extraordinarily good stimulus to subsequent research. It is a community where 2,000 people live and 40,000 people work. The marvellous thing about it is that it is a totally united community, from both quarters. In 1981, it had 164 sex establishments. Although that is a different kind of antisocial behaviour than that which my noble friend is talking about, it was a major task to transform it, but transform it we did, so that old ladies who had hitherto not been too keen on having to walk down the street past Sodom and Gomorrah suddenly found that their visits to the butchers, bakers and candlestick makers had become possible again.
The drugs tsar under the previous Administration was against the silent majority giving money to beggars in Soho because she knew perfectly well that it was all going to go on drugs; but as an index of the integrated society, it was a Soho beggar, invisible to most people as they walked up and down the street, who made a significant contribution, literally at street level, as an observer, to the swift arrest of the bomber whose third attack was on the Admiral Duncan pub in Soho. Everybody plays their particular role, however they are operating within the community.
I entirely endorse what was said earlier about living in the neighbourhood. When we were taking the Licensing Bill through in 2003, when the Government were moving powers to magistrates, it was noticeable to everyone who lived in Soho, the people who were going to be on the receiving end of the changes, that the magistrates who would be making the decisions lived 50 miles away and would not themselves have any experience of what it was like to be in Soho at three o'clock in the morning.
As for Pimlico, in 1987, the Peabody Trust, which has a large estate not only in Pimlico but in Victoria and elsewhere-it has at least 2,000 homes in my former constituency-decided that no priority was to be given to those who came from families who had been living in Peabody accommodation for the past four generations. I told the trust that I thought that it was making a significant mistake and that the integrity of an inner-city community such as that was greatly assisted by continuity. I am glad to say that, 10 years later, in 1997, it agreed and introduced a quota system to make it possible for families to remain. That was wholly to the good. The noble Lord, Lord Best, who knows much more about these matters than I do, says that the shift that I described in 1997 is now prevalent throughout housing management. Although it is 10 years since I was the local Member, I have a continuing interest in the St Andrew's youth club, half a mile from here, which is, if I may say, oxymoronically described as the oldest youth club in the world.
To the wide variety of subjects in my noble friend's report, I add a few grace-notes. I respond extremely well to her emphasis on thinking outside the box. Personally, I believe that help is defined by the receiver rather than the giver, and it should be our watchword to make more important the Duke of Wellington's insistence on working out what is happening on the other side of the hill. The drugs tsar whom I quoted a moment ago had previously been the homelessness tsar, and she actively discouraged charitable groups from the Midlands who were paying away-day visits every two or three months to provide a soup kitchen in Soho. That was not the most effective way of responding to the problem and it was better done by those who were living with the problem on a day-to-day basis.
One problem that my noble friend Lady Newlove identified was the level in government departments and other public bodies at which decisions are taken. I am personally in favour of decisions being taken in organisations at the lowest possible level, but I am conscious that government departments vary, and that shows up in the level at which submissions to Ministers are signed off. Some take it right back up to the top before putting them in front of the Minister; some, happily, can even do it below the level of an assistant secretary. However, that is something of which anyone who deals with public bodies has to be aware.
I concur with my noble friend's observations and ideas about funding and incentives. I commend to her the practice followed by Mr Ben Whitaker, the husband of the noble Baroness, Lady Whitaker, when he was the United Kingdom director of the Gulbenkian fund. In the distribution of small grants, he identified a single individual to be the distributor in each county, and he then drip-fed them with cash as their money ran down so that consistency was maintained in that area.
I have one question for my noble friend Lord Wallace of Saltaire, to whose wind-up speech I greatly look forward. What are the lottery guidelines of the Big Lottery Fund, which has taken over the combined original roles of the Millennium Commission and the charities distributor, established in 1993 and 1994? My noble friend Lord Heseltine, who was the only Millennium Commissioner to go right through from the beginning to the end, was very keen on matching funding. However, as my noble friend identified, matching funding is potentially a problem. It would be helpful to know what the Big Lottery Fund's instructions are, because the big society is a prime potential target for the Big Lottery Fund as a client.
I concur with my noble friend's request about simplifying paperwork. I understand what she implies about auditors but, as Oral Questions frequently remind us in connection with the European Union, audits and auditors are necessary concomitants in the use of public money. When I was in the private sector, we did pro bono work for appropriate causes but at a level of 10 per cent of our ordinary fee. We insisted on 10 per cent because that left the client with a stake and an ownership. Therefore, when we served Jack Profumo in finding a chief executive for Toynbee Hall, he got a bill which stated the whole fee and we then gave a discount of 90 per cent, leaving him to pay the last 10 per cent himself.
I strongly approve of my noble friend's ideas about people having to spend one day in outside organisations. In a longer speech I would refer to one that I did myself in my constituency. Given the present excitement about House of Lords reform, it would be no bad thing if Members of the House of Commons had to spend a day here in order to get a rather better idea than they have at the moment of how we operate. I totally agree with my noble friend's views about having people in continuity.
Finally, I much admire the projects that she cited at the end. I hope that my noble friend is moved by her clients calling her projects "Newlove projects", and I hope that in the fullness of time her clients will say in suitable gatherings, "Yes, we've been Newloved too". I realise that, as 14 appears on the Clock I have to sit down, but my last words must be, as she recommends in her report, "Thank you".
My Lords, I start by adding my congratulations to those already expressed to the noble Lord, Lord True, and my noble friend Lord Noon on their thoughtful and informative maiden speeches. I, too, hope that they will both be regular contributors to debates in your Lordships' House as, clearly but not surprisingly, they both have much to contribute.
I also add my thanks and words of appreciation to the noble Baroness, Lady Newlove, for the debate that she has introduced and for her report after what has clearly been a thorough and painstaking investigation into the issues she has addressed. It is to the eternal credit of the noble Baroness that she did not allow herself to be overwhelmed by the truly appalling and sickening experience that she and her family have been through, and no doubt continue to go through since you cannot forget-or perhaps want to forget-such a traumatic happening. Instead, the noble Baroness has shown great mental and emotional strength in her determination and resolve to campaign assiduously and make the case for action to encourage local activism and create more safe and happy communities, in a bid to reduce the likelihood of others having to endure a similar experience.
I read the report with great interest and I agree with the thrust of its message and intent. It was refreshing to read the noble Baroness's statement:
"The 'Big Society' is already out there".
That is a welcome riposte to those who appear to think that it is some great new policy or concept. Such a stance is in reality a bit of a slap in the face to all those thousands and thousands of good citizens who for years, quietly and without seeking publicity and celebrity recognition, have been doing the kind of work to which the noble Baroness refers in her report.
As the report says, levels of volunteering in the United Kingdom are higher compared to many of our European neighbours. That is despite having longer working hours than most if not all of our European neighbours. Rather than trying to present the big society as some new concept, the report puts forward a range of proposals to encourage more people to become active in their localities, and to follow in the footsteps of those who have successfully gone down this road and whose work the noble Baroness has highlighted in the case studies in the report.
One of the points the noble Baroness, Lady Newlove, makes, is that to encourage more participation, people need to feel that they will have a direct influence over decisions affecting their own communities and that their time will not be wasted through existing organisations and agencies simply ignoring their views, ideas and aspirations rather than treating them as partners. Accordingly, I am sure that after all the time, thought and effort that the noble Baroness has put into her report and recommended courses of action, she will be expecting to hear something more than warm words from the Minister in response. Having said that, I think that the noble Baroness may well now be in a position to ensure that her recommendations are enacted since she has recently joined the Department for Communities and Local Government.
The Minister may refer in his response to the Government's Localism Bill and the intention to devolve power. I am sure that when we consider the Bill in your Lordships' House there will be much debate on the extent to which the Bill does or does not achieve that objective, the potential implications of devolving power, and where in reality decision-making power and influence will actually rest. Last night your Lordships' House showed that it did not share the Government's view that handing over considerable power with few checks and balances to single individual elected police and crime commissioners, responsible for large and diverse areas, was a move that would in reality increase local accountability. The Government stating an intention is not the same thing as the Government actually putting forward proposals that will be accepted as achieving that intention in a reasonable and realistic way.
The statement in the report by the noble Baroness about the popularity with local communities of neighbourhood policing teams and police community support officers will be welcomed by many. I have had local police community support officers knocking on my front door to introduce themselves and to ask me about issues of specific concern to me in my locality. I hope that the Government will stick to their pledge that levels of front-line policing will not be affected by the cuts and that there is no dubiety that neighbourhood policing teams and police community officers are regarded as front-line positions.
In that context, perhaps I may digress for a moment and thank the Minister for sending me-finally-a reply to my Written Question of
The noble Baroness, Lady Newlove, stresses in her report that it is crucial that individuals and communities, statutory agencies, the voluntary and community sectors and central government work together and regard each other as equal partners. One such statutory agency is the police. From my experience under the Police Service Parliamentary Scheme, with just one police force, certainly the willingness and desire to do so are there. The police know better than anyone the value of reliable information and intelligence; the value to them of being regarded as vital and respected parts of the communities that they serve; and the importance, if they are to be regarded as part of the solution to problems, of addressing the issues of most concern to local people. I well remember a meeting I attended a considerable time ago in which the local police divisional superintendent spoke about the work they had been doing to identify the principal issues of concern to the local population. Those issues were not about major crime, but about anti-social behaviour of the sort that the noble Baroness, Lady Newlove, addresses in her report, which can impact so heavily on the quality of life, and on what I recall the divisional superintendent describing as a desire for tranquillity and a feeling of well-being in the neighbourhood.
I appreciate that the noble Baroness, Lady Newlove, is suggesting not that the recommendations she has made would be a complete answer to the issues that she has addressed, but rather that they could make a significant and important difference, particularly if they lead to the change in culture and in mindset to which she refers. As the noble Baroness says in her report, the reasons why people engage in anti-social behaviour and neighbourhood crime must also be addressed if we are to improve the position. The reasons are many and varied, but if someone has been brought up in a home environment where anti-social behaviour, indifference and lack of thought for others appears to be accepted, one can hardly be surprised when that approach is copied and carried forward.
Other things can also lead the less determined and resilient to adopt such behaviour even when it does not seem to flow from the environment in which they have been brought up. Unemployment, boredom, a lack of constructive things to do and a lack of money to do anything much other than survive can also contribute. These are issues that local community action, or action by individuals, may also be able to address, as some of the case studies in the report show. They are also issues on which actions by central government can and do impact through, for example, the economic, social and financial policies that it pursues. The Government have a choice over the extent and the speed at which, for example, they invest to address the financial situation through growth and a resultant increase in tax revenues and reduction in unemployment and benefit claims, and over the extent and speed at which they decide to address the current financial situation by cutting expenditure and jobs, cutting levels of benefits and cutting facilities provided by central and local government. The Government will argue that they have currently got the balance right but that is not a view that we accept. However, I ask the Minister whether the Government, in determining their view on how they would address the financial situation, made an assessment of the likely impact of their decisions on the issues of the levels of anti-social behaviour and neighbourhood crime that are the subject of the report by the noble Baroness, Lady Newlove. If such an assessment was made, what were the conclusions?
Levels of crime have fallen not inconsiderably in recent years, which we should remember, albeit acknowledging, as the noble Baroness has rightly said, that such a statement can have little meaning to all those who have experienced as victims either directly or indirectly the horrors of crime and its impact. The noble Baroness's report addresses in particular the increased contribution, with the necessary vital and appropriate encouragement and changed attitudes to which she refers, that individuals and local communities can make through their own actions and involvement to help address in particular anti-social behaviour and the cultures and the environment that seem to increase the likelihood of such behaviour. If the noble Baroness has found not the answer, but an answer to reducing anti-social behaviour, and creating safer, happier and closer communities, a great many people will be eternally grateful to her. I am sure that the Government will give the recommendations in the report the careful consideration that they most certainly deserve. I know that the House will be looking forward now to the Minister's response.
My Lords, this has been a very valuable and constructive debate. I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Newlove, immensely for giving us all the incentive to read her report carefully: part of what debates are for is to give wider responses to useful reports. This report deserves to gain a wider reading and a much wider debate. As we talk to others, I hope that all of us will help to contribute to that. I should also like to thank both maiden speakers. I thank the noble Lord, Lord True, in particular, for his emphasis on the role of local government in rebuilding stronger local communities, which was one of the things I felt was not touched on as much in the report of the noble Baroness, Lady Newlove, as might have been the case and why I particularly welcome that she is now moving to the Department for Communities and Local Government to take on this work. The DCLG, with its responsibility for the Localism Bill, to which the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, referred, and for grabbing hold of the issue of how we effectively decentralise power, is very much the right place for her to continue. I should also like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Noon, particularly for stressing the importance of faith communities in helping to build and maintain a sense of community solidarity and in bringing and holding people together.
The noble Baroness, Lady Newlove, has been tireless in her efforts as a community campaigner and it is not just her report but also her example of which we should be conscious. That things get done only when people get off their backsides to do them is one of strongest messages of this report. We all face this problem that Britain has become a more passive society. The report several times refers to the need for more active citizens, which is a problem. Again, all of us recognise-this is not in any sense a partisan point-that we need a more active society and more active citizens. We have got to turn around some of the long-term trends which have led to that. The noble Baroness has conducted an intensive and thorough review of the ways in which local people can get involved in having a say on how they are policed and on making communities safer. She also looked at how a number of areas had overcome the barriers in the way and she highlighted the successes they had achieved.
The noble Baroness noted, and I strongly agree with this, that communities have become overly dependent on professional agencies, expecting them to sort things out on their behalf. As we all know, that is one of the problems we face. I have to say that it is there far too much in the younger generation. I recall my wife and I talking to a young acquaintance of ours last winter who was complaining that the path to the station had not been cleared of snow. "Why have they not done something about it?", he wanted to know. We chorused, "Who do you think 'they' are?". That is an attitude from which we have to pull back, saying that we have to do something about a lot of things, not simply depend on the state or the professionals. Everything in the report suggests that in our local communities we expect everything from clearing the snow to keeping an eye on our neighbours, to joining neighbourhood watch schemes or whatever it may be, to be done for us. I would say to the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, that one piece of quite substantial evidence that the Government have collected is that communities with neighbourhood watch schemes have lower levels of crime, even when adjusting for other things. There is evidence that this sort of approach is extremely valuable.
The noble Baroness says in her report that people do not see the safety of their community as something they have any influence on or control over. Those of us who have been in politics, particularly in the inner cities, know of the sense of powerlessness that many people feel, particularly in the big inner city estates. You do not know who to go to, you do not know how to do anything, and you are often told by council officials that such and such cannot be done. The winter before last, I recall an agonised and irritable debate we had with a local official who assured us that it was almost impossible to have a 20 mile an hour speed limit in Saltaire. We happen to be a world heritage centre and we think we are entitled to a speed limit. However, all sorts of bureaucratic obstacles were being put in our way. We are a fairly articulate, middle-class collection of people, and we did not see why they should.
That, of course, is partly the difference in our communities. We also have to recognise that one of the long-term trends we have suffered from is the extent to which we have separated out different classes of people into different communities. As the right reverend Prelate remarked, the professionals often live somewhere else. Single class estates do not help to build integrated communities. So I very much welcome everything that is said in the report about the culture needing to change. We need a radical culture change in which neighbourhoods no longer see crime, anti-social behaviour and disorder as somebody else's responsibility.
What are the long-term trends and changes we need to reverse in order to build a society in which citizens recognise that rights have to be balanced by personal responsibility? We have seen social change, such as in the revolution of the position of women. So often they were the people who actively held communities together. I am sure that many of us remember our mothers taking part in informal and formal voluntary activities because, when they married, they were not supposed to go on working. Their energies were poured, first, into their children, secondly, into their extended families, and, thirdly, into their wider communities. We now have a world of two-career and two-job families, so we have to look elsewhere to find active volunteers, asking people to take a day off a week, a day at the weekend or an evening, or to use the fit retired, that large new element in our society who are now beginning to take over that role.
The disappearance of local shops, pubs and schools and thus the loss of points of easy contact and informal information exchange has also weakened local communities. There is also the extent to which we have become a car-borne society, so that you do not mix easily with your neighbours because you can go somewhere else for your social activities. It is a real problem increased by the extent to which we have been building new estates where each house has two car parking spaces. You go five miles in one direction to the supermarket and 15 miles in a different direction to work, so you do not interact with your neighbours. I have some sympathy in this respect with what the Prince of Wales has for some time argued: we build our communities and we have, to some extent, been building poor communities through the way in which new housing has developed. I declare a very strong interest. I live in the village of Saltaire, where most of the houses are terraced. The community is very concentrated and it is impossible not to know your neighbours. That is one of the reasons why we have built a very strong community.
Secularisation has weakened communities, as the right reverend Prelate remarked. There has been a weakening of the social glue that churches and faith communities provide. The right reverend Prelate talked about rural crime, but I recall the Church of England's excellent work on Faith in the City and how difficult it was in one or two Yorkshire dioceses to persuade rural congregations that the city and its problems counted and were high priorities.
The long-term trend of weakening local government over the past 40 years, through successive Governments, has also weakened local communities. That is why the contribution of the noble Baroness, Lady Newlove, to the Department for Communities and Local Government will be so valuable. There have been some very useful experiments, under the control of different parties in different cities, in decentralising responsibility below the level of now very large councils to local communities. There have been experiments with urban parish councils and community councils, as well as with other community groups. That is clearly something that we need to take much further. As the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, said, we have a long way to go in finding consensus on what we all mean by localism.
Then there is the long-term trend of declining trust in the state and in state agencies as a whole. When yesterday I was looking at a report by Policy Network-a European organisation in which the noble Lords, Lord Liddle and Lord Mandelson, are very active-I was rather shaken to find that in Britain 29 per cent of those asked said that they saw no advantages in the state intervening to improve matters. How many people have now given up on trust in state action is a real shocker.
We have a culture in which too many people believe that only professionals can act. We have the health and safety culture, to which the noble Baroness, Lady Newlove, also referred. The idea that all responsibility for tackling social problems lies with "them" is another of the things that we need to reverse. The report of the noble Baroness is extremely welcome in encouraging communities to be more self-reliant, giving them real influence and ensuring that agencies are ready, willing and able to back them up when needed, working in genuine partnership. Her report touches on the most difficult issue, which is finance.
I intervene with hesitation but I will be brief. There seems to be a certain amount of time. My noble friend has listed many of the down-side factors, which are difficult in comparison with when we-probably I rather more than he-were young. There have been a lot of changes. My mum had to give up work when she married in 1936. She put a lot of energy into being a pillar of the local Red Cross, which would not now happen. However, there is one factor on the plus side: a gathering army of people who are older than what used to be regarded as retirement age, and who are fit, active and want to put something back into the community. They are not all in here, although there are quite a lot of us. There is a new resource to be tapped, which is a positive factor in looking to the sort of objectives that my noble friend Lady Newlove is looking for. I hope the Minister will acknowledge that.
I thank the noble Lord for that intervention. I had indeed referred to the fit retired as a new resource. I would like to have been among them but my wife complains that I am at present working much harder than I have ever worked before. It is clearly a resource; we see it in local communities; and I hope that we will benefit more from it as more of us go on living longer and being fit.
I was just about to touch on finance and the problem of transparency and accountability. It is a real problem; we all know when the sources of finance are public. There is much more to be considered in the noble Baroness's report on how substantial public finance can be transferred to autonomous community groups. That raises all sorts of questions about the relationship with local authorities, but, as she rightly pointed out, there are also local charities and contributions from private business to consider. I am afraid that I cannot answer the question on the exact guidelines for the Big Lottery Fund, but I shall write to those who spoke about it in the debate.
The right reverend Prelate referred to restorative justice, which is also recommended in the report. I have followed a number of the experiments in this area, particularly the very successful experiments in south Somerset. The Government's intention-the previous Government followed all this with interest, too-is to take restorative justice further and as far as we can in helping to resolve local conflicts and tensions. We should recognise that we have lost a certain amount of ground by building fewer magistrates' courts. In a health and safety culture which has demanded decent steps up into buildings and all sorts of other things, we have taken justice further away from localities. As the noble Baroness, Lady Newlove, suggests, we have to find ways of bringing justice closer again to local communities.
There are a whole host of other things that we can do to reduce crime. My wife and I visited some weeks ago an excellent voluntary group in Bradford, Together Women, which focuses particularly on young women who have been caught up in first offences and tries to help them to put their lives back together so that they do not get caught up in repeat offences. I am sure that all noble Lords here who are familiar with life in the cities know that there are some young women of all ethnic groups who fall out of the community. The work which Together Women and others have done has reduced reoffending by between 50 per cent and 80 per cent over the previous five years in different parts of Yorkshire. That is the sort of thing which we have to do. It can be done only at the local level because one is often working with different ethnic groups and different local circumstances.
I am very pleased that the noble Baroness will continue the work begun in the Home Office in her new role at the Department for Communities and Local Government. She will cross over from the Home Office, where neighbourhood policing and other issues are considered an important part of this. She will not entirely forget that. I should reassure the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, that neighbourhood policing is regarded as the front of front line. I should apologise on behalf of the Home Office for the extreme delay in answering his Written Question.
The Home Office and the Department for Communities and Local Government will work closely together and with other departments to formulate the cross-government response to the report, which we hope to produce this summer. I hope that noble Lords here will all agree that this work needs to be done to build stronger, safer and more active communities. As the noble Baroness's report has shown, there is enormous commitment and passion in communities on which we can build. There is a real appetite among individuals to get involved and make a difference, often accompanied by their not quite knowing how to do so. It is very much one of the values of the report that it reminds us that we have to connect people to mechanisms and groups which can tell them how to use their energies in a constructive community fashion. In responding to the noble Baroness's report, we will do all that we can to create the right environment for this to happen.
Again, I thank everyone who has contributed to this excellent debate.
My Lords, I thank each and every speaker for their positive, insightful contributions to this debate. The two excellent maiden speeches were entertaining and thought-provoking. I am so pleased that the noble Lord, Lord True, a seasoned local authority leader, feels that elements of my report can make a difference and I look forward to learning from him how to approach his counterparts.
The noble Lord, Lord Noon, a well-known benefactor, has had his brush with death and appreciates the fragility and the precious nature of life. His thoughts on the other side of this noble House warm my heart as my work transcends politics, creeds and geographical boundaries. We are one nation.
The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Norwich will be pleased to hear that I believe very strongly that it is people of faith and integrity who possess the leadership skills to help support community activism. Indeed, in one of my neighbourhoods that I visited in Shepway, many faith sectors have opened youth clubs.
I also believe in what happens in our rural communities where perception of crime is low. I support the neighbours who patrol duckling watch as well as tractor watch. To them, it is their life and they need to be there.
I also thank all noble Lords who have written such kind words to support my maiden speech and now my report. I am overwhelmed and humbled. It lifts my heart to know that we are united in this House. The noble Lord, Lord Rosser, said that he would welcome my solutions. Anyone who knows me personally will know that this is a path that I will fight until my last breath: to make sure that when I close my eyes we have made sure that our communities are active and safe and that we get to know one another for who we are. I beg leave to withdraw the Motion.