§ 4.28 p.m.
§ Baroness Massey of Darwenrose to ask Her Majesty's Government whether they will implement the recommendations of the Carnegie Trust report Taking the Initiative: promoting young people's involvement in public decision making in the UK to encourage more active citizenship.
§ The noble Baroness said: My Lords, I am very happy that young people's participation in public life is being debated by a group of people who are so knowledgeable about, and sensitive to, the issues. The noble Lord, Lord Alton—who I see has just arrived in the Chamber—has even compiled a book about it; and a very good read it is, too. I should like to thank noble Lords on all sides of the House for their enthusiasm for the topic; many of whom have expressed interest, even though they are unable to be here to speak this evening.
§ I should like to welcome my noble friend Lord Rooker to what I believe is his first response to an Unstarred Question. From his earlier contributions in your Lordships' House, I know that we can look forward to a well informed and spirited reply.
The report under discussion, from the Carnegie Young People's Initiative, is timely and exciting. It points out that devolution in the UK has,
unleashed a new focus on youth issues and new structures for involving young people, from youth forums and parliaments to Children's Commissioners".
Two challenges are pointed out: first, that of reaching a larger and more diverse set of young people and sustaining their commitment; and, secondly, the need,
to move beyond tokenism and ensure that young people have a genuine influence over decision making".
§ Action is called for which makes the participation a right, lowers the voting age to 16 and allows people to stand as councillors and MPs at 18—of course, this is very controversial. A system of independent children's commissioners across the UK is advocated, as is action across schools, local authorities, central government, the health sector and the voluntary sector. The report calls on central government departments to produce a policy and action plan for young people based on common minimum standards and co-ordinated by the Children and Young People's Unit.
§ It is significant that other recent reports from the Gulbenkian Foundation, the Social Exclusion Unit and the Trust for the Study of Adolescence—I declare an interest as a trustee—all agree that including children and young people in decision-making in their communities contributes to active citizenship.
§ We do not have time today adequately to cover this vast and important agenda, so I shall make mainly general points. I know that other noble Lords will want to be more specific. Perhaps we should first look at what we mean by participation. UNICEF developed a model relating to young people's participation in health structures. Participation was 954 rated on a four-point scale from young people being consulted and informed to, ultimately, youth-initiated decision sharing with adults—a challenging vision.
§ Where do we begin to encourage participation in decision-making in society? As in most things, with parents and families. We must not forget to involve them in structures for participation. Very young children can learn about simple decision-making as a step to more complex forms as they mature. I remember when my children were small and I said, "We are having eggs for breakfast, how would you like them cooked—fried, boiled or scrambled?" Of course, to complicate things, they all decided to have them done in different ways. I tell this story not to reflect upon myself as a parent but to illustrate that it can be difficult and complicated to involve young people. How much easier it is to make the decisions ourselves.
We, as adults, often choose not to involve young people as a basis for action. Maybe we think they are not capable of decision-making and participation in public life. Maybe we think they will be too challenging. Maybe we fear the risk and the time involved. Maybe we feel that children need to be protected for as long as possible from the nasty adult world. Of course, they sometimes do need protection. I actually believe that they need to learn how to protect themselves and to be confident in influencing the world rather than be manipulated by it. The Carnegie report claims that society underestimates this ability with a,
deep reluctance to share power".
Young people are often considered to be "citizens in waiting". They know this and resent it and either challenge it or switch off from the way in which they are being treated. The educationalist, Piaget, said as long ago as 1932:
Young people need to find themselves in the presence not of a system of commands requiring ritualistic and external obedience, but a system of social relationships such that everyone does his best to obey the same obligations and does so out of mutual respect".
§ We cannot just advocate or teach about democracy, social justice and mutual respect, we have to demonstrate them across institutions and systems.
I applaud the fact that citizenship education has guidelines in the national curriculum, but, like personal, social and health education, it is not compulsory. All these areas should, of course, be coordinated across the curriculum and across school life generally, as well as having specific slots in the curriculum. The guidelines recommend that children should learn about political and social institutions and about their rights and duties as members of communities. They should learn,
to respect our common humanity, diversity and differences so that they can go on to form the effective, fulfilling relationships that are part of life and learning".
§ It is all applaudable stuff with desirable messages. But without real participation and real involvement by young people in their communities, schools cannot be expected to glue together the scraps. Many schools, including primary schools, have school councils. In the primary school where I am a governor, that works 955 well. But what also works well in that school is children's participation in the life of the school as a whole. That is respected and encouraged. There is a deliberate philosophy of fostering children's self-esteem. It is no accident that that inner-city primary school, with all the problems that that entails, was rated last year one of the best schools in the country by Ofsted.
§ We have youth parliaments and youth networks. Some young people are actively involved in volunteer work for charities, in sport and in local communities, although volunteering by young people has sadly declined sharply over the past 10 years. As we know, there are also young people who are disaffected by our institutions. We need to ask why that is and to take action. What can government do? I believe that we pay a price for non-participation. It is not just about voting at elections; low turn-outs are only partly to do with young people and more to do with politicians and the media. The matter is more serious than that. Alienating our young people from systems in society may result in truancy or bad behaviour in school, hooliganism at sports events, and violence in communities, such as we have recently witnessed in northern England.
§ I do not believe that the negative outcomes of exclusion will be resolved by imposing more and harsher rules and penalties; nor do I think that the avoidance of negative outcomes should be the sole reason for involving young people in decision-making processes. Avoiding negative outcomes is a byproduct. The real issue is that by giving young people a voice and listening to it, we stand a better chance of getting things right in the structures of society, and that affects all of us. By encouraging young people to be involved in the present and the future, we tell them that they are valued members of society, and valued members of society are more likely to contribute positively to the well-being of that society. Can we be reassured that the Government will take note of the report?
§ 4.37 p.m.
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, for introducing the Unstarred Question and for writing to me to draw my attention to the report which I read with great interest. I welcome the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, to his position on the Front Bench. I also welcome the fact that he will reply to the debate this afternoon.
In the time available it is not possible to do justice to the many issues raised in the report. I was particularly interested in its introduction which identified a real problem. Whatever any of us may think of the outcome of the recent general election, I think we all agree that the low turn-out is bad for democracy. The report refers to a wide age span of young people, from 10 to 25, and asks how they can be further involved in various decision-making processes.
During a debate on the constitution earlier this year, I said that it was a sad fact of life today that politics is a complete turn-off for young people. I do not simply 956 refer to disadvantaged young people. Much to my surprise I discover that it is a turn-off for university students. When I consider how much time young people spent in my day setting the world to rights, I find it extraordinary that politics does not interest young people today. During the election campaign I was surprised to hear a young girl say that she had decided not to vote. I asked her if she was aware that women had died for a woman's right to vote. She was unaware of that fact and disinterested in it. Those are sad facts, some of which the report addresses. There is not time this evening to discuss why the situation is as it is. However, I say in passing that a number of people have suggested to me that there should be compulsory voting. That is not something to which I subscribe, but I am surprised at the number of people who now think that that is the answer.
The intention underlying the report is to engage young people in local, voluntary, social and political issues, to increase the vote turn-out at elections and to recognise children's creativity, innovation, energy and enthusiasm at a time in their lives when learning is easiest. They can discover the fulfilment of participation and of making a difference to the projects in which they engage. The report recognises that today's children are tomorrow's voters. Those are important points.
We run into more difficulties on addressing the problems. I have been involved with many schools which have school councils. In my experience they are very successful. They involve the pupils in a number of decisions so that they learn about democracy and responsibility. However, I believe that the imposition of student councils in schools with imposed regulatory standards on frequency of meetings, elections and so on would prove unworkable. The suggestion would be unpopular with teachers who are already complaining, not surprisingly, of too much regulation and bureaucracy. It is something to be encouraged but not imposed.
I was pleased to hear the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, refer to parents. I can find only one mention of parents in the report. The report states on page 10 at line 4:Schools and local government are the two organisations which have the most direct influence on most young people's lives and they need to be the priorities for involvement on a daily basisIs that statement true? Surely parents and the family are most influential in most young people's lives. It seems unfortunate that the report makes only one mention of parents.
That leads me to a concern which I have already expressed. There is today a theory about what is known as the "autonomous child"; that families are likely to fail children and that the solution is to free children from their families and endow them with adult rights—freedom of expression, freedom of religion, the right of association, the right to privacy and so on. Those rights would be safeguarded largely, if not primarily, by the state. The implication in the report is that those rights would be safeguarded by children's commissioners. The report proposes a 957 situation whereby parents are excluded and the rights of children are supported not by the parents—they should surely be the first port of call—but by the state.
During debate on the Children's Commissioner for Wales Bill which completed its passage just before the general election, I argued for the inclusion of parents for consultation purposes in the powers of the commissioner. I had support from noble Lords from all parts of the House. The Health and Social Services Committee of the National Assembly for Wales made the same point. It stated:We consider that the prime justification for the establishment of a Children's Commissioner is the absence of mechanism to allow children and young people directly to influence decisions which impact on their lives. Their voices are frequently not heard because they do not have the vote and are all dependent, to varying degrees on adults around them".This is a new philosophy about which we should be cautious.
In conclusion, it is always important to talk to and communicate with young people. There is much to be said for lessons in citizenship and for school councils. I am impressed today by the numbers of young people I meet who take part in voluntary activities of one kind or another. Leaving aside the Duke of Edinburgh's award schemes, there is not a school I have visited which does not have a large proportion of its young people undertaking work in the community. That is the best way to learn. It is something we should encourage.
§ 4.45 p.m.
§ Lord Phillips of Sudbury
My Lords, I, too, congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Massey of Darwen, on initiating the debate. It follows the debate on 24th January introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne. I also welcome the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, whose responsibilities include citizenship and immigration. Citizenship is at the heart of this debate, although some find that an unwieldy word.
I declare my interest in the subject as president of the Citizenship Foundation, a body which I established in 1988. Like other charities of that ilk, its work relates closely to suggestions in the report. For example, we run a mock parliament competition and mock trial competitions for schools in Crown courts and magistrates' courts. We produce an annual young citizens passport which last year went into the pockets of 80,000 young citizens.
I congratulate the Carnegie Trust on undertaking the work which underlies the report. It is a valuable stimulus for all of us. Unless we can today engage young people in the affairs which concern us day by day all is lost. The noble Baroness, Lady Young, referred to the stupefying turnout of 59 per cent at the last election.
In the short time available I shall suggest two or three matters for consideration by the Government in implementing their programme. I congratulate David Blunkett. As Secretary of State for Education he brought citizenship into the curriculum. I am not sure that the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, understands that it will be a compulsory part of every secondary 958 school curriculum from the autumn of next year. That will put us in the forefront of the world in citizenship education. I realise that there are some misgivings about that. However, it is a non-prescriptive programme of citizenship education setting goals rather than telling people what to do and how to do it. I believe that it will be crucially important in achieving what we all want.
I refer briefly to the Crick report published in September 1998. I urge Members of this House who have not read the report to do so. It presents perhaps the best survey yet produced of all issues on citizenship and citizenship education. In saying that, I mean no disparagement of the more practical report we are considering today.
After autumn next year we must allow the citizenship proposals to bed down. Many schools are trying frantically to enable the start of citizenship education to be a success. The initiative must be given time to show its paces and to allow already overburdened teachers to get to grips with a new subject and new proposals. Until that is done, many of the report's proposals should be dealt with delicately, if not left on the back burner.
The report has two main proposals: to enable young people to exert "tangible influence" and to enable them to effect real change, giving genuine effectiveness to individuals in our society. Nearly everything that the report says about young people is equally true for adults. It is shocking to realise that every statement about powerlessness, insignificance and disconnectedness is as true for most adults as it is for most young people. Unless we get to grips with that wider problem, there is no real hope of making a major change in the condition of our young people. Where do they learn their interest in politics and public affairs? If they do not start by learning it in the home, the chances of them learning it elsewhere are very much diminished.
I fear that the report envisages a massive amount of new legislation. One has only to look at page 84, on the right to be involved, which says:There should be legislation throughout the UK to enforce the right to participate as set out in Article 12 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child".It goes on:There should be a system of independent children's commissioners throughout the UK… Their remit should be based on the UNCRC. They should have extensive enforcement powers".I understand why the authors of the report have gone down that route, but I believe that legislation has already reached saturation point. I urge the Government to proceed with great care when considering legislation on any compulsory commitment for any of the proposals. The report makes that case, saying:There are inspiring examples of policies and mechanisms to increase participation".The authors also acknowledge:In the UK there is an abundance of legislation and we are hesitant about suggesting more".959 Hesitant they should remain. A huge amount can be done without recourse to legislation. We must go down that route. Most of the proposals in the report are not justiciable without making a lawyers' picnic of yet another aspect of our national affairs. I want to avoid that.
Once again, I congratulate the Carnegie Trust. I hope that it will galvanise many more in this House and beyond to the realisation that unless we can make politics and public affairs of real concern to young people so that they have a sense of ownership of it and care for it, the job will be ill done.
§ 4.53 p.m.
§ Lord Alton of Liverpool
My Lords, I declare an interest as director of the Foundation for Citizenship at Liverpool John Moores University. Like others who have spoken already, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Massey of Darwen, for introducing this topic and putting this important report before your Lordships' House. I also welcome the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, to the Front Bench to reply to the debate. Ironically, he had the misfortune to have to reply to my maiden speech in another place in 1979 when I was the youngest Member of Parliament. Reading the report, which places great emphasis on attracting young people into politics, reminded me how much water has flowed under the bridge since that debate in 1979.
Like the noble Baroness, Lady Young, I shall reflect for a moment on the omissions from the report, one of which is the failure to emphasise sufficiently the role of the family in the plight of young people. Some 800,000 young people no longer have any contact with their father. Many of them live in difficult circumstances on large overspill estates with limited social structures available to them. I prefer to talk of the extended family rather than concepts such as the nuclear family, because it implies the messiness of family life and accepts the importance of grandparents and the network of uncles and aunts, as well as recognising that families are not the perfect affairs that people sometimes make them out to be. We make a huge error by not saying more about the importance of solid family structures in the background of our young people and of society generally. They are the basic building blocks of society and the community.
The noble Baroness, Lady Young, also referred to participation at the election. The report rightly puts great emphasis on participation. The 19th century French politician, de Tocqueville, remarked that an impressive practical wisdom and power of judgment may be developed simply from participating in the affairs of a free society. There is no substitute for experience learnt at the coal face of democracy. Academic theories have their place, but better than all the theories and teaching combined are the practical actions that we take as citizens. It is crucially important just to take part.
We should reflect on the 12 per cent fall in turnout at the general election and consider that more than one in three of our fellow citizens did not take part. In the 960 Liverpool, Riverside constituency in the heart of the city, which I know well, just one in three voted in the election. Paradoxically, it was in the Westminster ward of that constituency in one local election that turnout went down to 6 per cent. It behoves us all to start taking seriously the reasons for such disinterest in and alienation from our civic processes. In the light of recent events in some of our northern towns and cities, including in Bradford over the past 48 hours, it is clear that some people are completely alienated from the rest of us. We must consider the causes and reasons behind that as a matter of urgency and encourage our young people to see their role in society.
The phrase "the common good" springs to my mind. As Aristotle said, we are not solitary pieces in a game of chequers. We must all play our part. The antidote to the individualism and atomisation of society during the 1980s and 1990s must surely be a proper emphasis on citizenship, as the noble Lord, Lord Phillips of Sudbury, said. We must once again emphasise citizenship and the rebuilding of community life.
T.H. Green, the great 19th century idealist, moral philosopher and exponent of ethical liberalism, held that virtue was best understood as a personal outpouring for the common good. He said:And if the idea of the community of good for all men has even now little influence, the reason is that we identify too little with good character and too much with good things".The materialism of the past 20 years and the exaggerated emphasis on consumerism and the ownership of objects has alienated many of our young people. We have to recapture their sense of idealism and draw them back into the political and community life of our country.
What is the best way to do that? I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Phillips of Sudbury. I am instinctively opposed to compulsion on this. There is a danger of prescribing yet more legal remedies and more laws to try to tackle some of the symptoms that many of your Lordships are all too well aware of. Children's commissioners, an exaggerated emphasis on rights and insufficient emphasis on duties, obligations and responsibilities and the idea of more and more law will get us nowhere. Only in this country could community service be turned into a punishment to be dispensed by the courts. Only a week ago, the front page of the Sunday Times reported:Government advisers are translating the prime minister's wish for the rehabilitation of the term 'do-gooder' into proposals that would ensure nobody leaves school or college without having some record of completed voluntary work".The report went on:Schools will be told to draw up plans for their pupils, aged 11 to 16, to carry out compulsory community service".That is not the way forward. We shall bring far more out of young people by encouraging them into voluntary endeavour. The foundation at John Moores University has promoted a citizenship awards scheme, which is documented in the Liverpool Echo. Some 600 primary and secondary schools are participating voluntarily. Local companies present the awards and young people are recognised for their achievements. In one case, for example, at the Holly Lodge girls' school, 961 a teacher told me that at first she was not sure who should be given the awards, so she asked the students. She said that she was amazed at the number of nominations that came forward—more than 600 from one school. She said that, as a result, she learnt more about the youngsters than she could possibly have discovered through any other means.
I believe that that is the way forward—encouraging what is already there. The report states rightly that there is also a "high level of volunteering" among young people. It is there; let us encourage and nurse it. Instead of compulsion and more laws, let us draw out the good that is there and encourage altruism. That must be the best way forward.
I conclude by referring to the personal manifesto of Frances Lawrence, published in The Times in 1995. Noble Lords will recall that she wrote movingly at that time, following the death of her husband, Philip, outside his school gates in London. Among other things, she called for the establishment of a nationwide movement to banish violence and encourage civil values; a ban on the sale of combat knives and the closure of shops that stock them; and for primary school lessons to be given in good citizenship. Those aims were to be encouraged rather than made compulsory.
She also called for the raising of the status of the police and teachers, and for the end of government neutrality in relation to the family. She called for parents to no longer allow children to lead separate lives within the home, and for there to be an emphasis on teaching the three "E"s—effort, earnestness and excellence. I believe that we can do no better than to return to the principles that Frances Lawrence enunciated at that time. In doing so, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Massey of Darwen, for giving us the opportunity to take part in the debate today.
§ 5.1 p.m.
§ Baroness Howells of St Davids
My Lords, I, too, thank my noble friend Lady Massey for bringing this report to the attention of the House. I also add my welcome to my noble friend Lord Rooker.
It seems ironic that a society that hopes to see its young people grow up to take responsibility for the communities in which they live and to be responsible citizens should deny those same young people real rights as citizens. It is very modern to say that rights and responsibilities go hand in hand. With that, I agree totally. If one takes away my rights and I have no sense of responsibility, why should I care about my society? I would have no stake in it.
We all know to our cost that people who have no say politically find other ways to express their dissatisfaction. The levellers, the Chartists and the suffragettes are all good examples of people who have taken the law into their own hands. When people feel disenfranchised and dissatisfied, they find a way to make their views known. With the freedom fighters in Brixton during the 1980s and, more recently, in Oldham, we have seen what happens when people, and especially younger people, feel that they have no stake 962 in their society. I say that it is better not to exclude but rather to bring in and include everyone, especially the young.
The giving of political rights to young people is nothing to fear. As a society, we tend not to listen to young people. We spend the first five years of a child's life teaching him to talk, and the next 10 to 15 years telling him to shut up. We often do not listen to young people and then we complain that they never listen to us.
I grew up in a strict but loving family. The adage, "Children must be seen and not heard", was true of my upbringing, as it was, I suspect, of that of many of your Lordships. But my family taught me a sense of civic responsibility and public service. I suspect that that may not be the case for many young people today. I value the lessons of civic responsibility that I was taught as a child. I should like to see children enjoying the same privileges today.
That is why the subject of school exclusions is one of my main hobby horses. I cannot for the life of me understand how we can help children to grow up to explore and reason out difficulties if we exclude them from teachers in the classroom and shut them away from adult control. Today's pupil who walks the corridors is tomorrow's juvenile delinquent and, most certainly, with very few exceptions, will be a guest of Her Majesty in later years.
The noble Baroness, Lady Young, and the noble Lord, Lord Alton, have already mentioned the last general election, which saw a dramatic landslide for the "non-voting" party. I am sure that younger people made up a large proportion of the disconnected and disengaged non-voters. If we want to reverse that worrying trend and reconnect with young people and engage them in politics, I believe that we must take proper action to include everyone in the political process.
It is said that young people do not care about politics. That may be true of party politics, but we all know that young people care passionately about many issues: animal rights; the environment; development in developing countries; globalisation; equality; and the legalisation of drugs, to name the most obvious. With a voting age of 18, some young people may not be able to register their votes until they are aged 21 or 22, depending on when an election falls in relation to their birthday. If such people pay taxes, are answerable in law for their actions as adults, and, from the age of 16, can have consensual sex, how can we justify not giving them a voice?
I urge the Government to take the report seriously. We deserve the children that we raise. If we treat young people as voiceless, how can we expect them to contribute as adults? The two go hand in glove with political rights and civic education. If we can get both right, I believe that we shall deserve the responsible adults of the future that society so desperately requires in order to prosper in this millennium.
Finally, civic education must not simply be passed down from above to people below. We all need to spread the word of civic responsibility. I encourage the 963 Government to welcome efforts by the private sector in that process. I am aware, for example, that the Co-operative Insurance Society, which is based in Manchester and is part of the co-operative movement, is putting together an education resource pack for schools on civic education.
Noble Lords may recall that the CIS was born of the 19th century co-operative friendly societies, which encouraged ordinary working people to take responsibility for their own affairs and, in turn, for the rest of society. As we look to the 21st century, we have much to learn about civic pride and civic education from our forefathers and mothers. Many of our young people will benefit from that as well. I support the report, Taking the Initiative, by the authors, David Cutler and Roger Frost. We need to build for the future and build wisely and well.
§ 5.8 p.m.
§ Baroness Andrews
My Lords, I join other noble Lords in congratulating my noble friend Lady Massey on enabling us to hold such a profound debate on issues of fundamental importance to the future of our democracy. I also join other noble Lords in welcoming my noble friend Lord Rooker. I know that he relishes awkward questions. Even if this is his first appearance, I am sure that we can store up some difficult ones for him by the end of the debate.
I believe that the report is excellent and that the authors are to be congratulated not only on the conviction with which they presented it but on the clarity with which they marshalled the evidence. I believe that it is a wake-up call in the aftermath of an election about which we should all be seriously concerned. The evidence shows that young people aged between 18 and 25 are four times less likely to have registered to vote, which is profoundly serious. I wonder whether those people will be voting when they are 50.
A paradox, from which we should take some hope, suggests that those young people are not rejecting a role in the workings of democracy. Although they are disengaged from and exasperated with political institutions, they are incredibly happy to be involved in matters in relation to which they can make a difference. That is why they are active in organisations that are associated with animal welfare and globalisation. They are not capable of breaking into or making their voices heard in the more formal political organisations. We should be extremely worried about that. Why are those organisations so deaf to the contribution that those people can make?
The recommendations about energy and the environment from the Children's Parliament in 1999 show the extremely clear thinking that those young people put into that work. I wish I knew what had happened to those recommendations; maybe the Minister can tell us. I also wish I knew what future provision the Government are making for the UK-wide youth parliament, which is capable of making a marvellous contribution to the way in which debates are conducted.
964 A second paradox is involved. Just when young people appear to be "disconnecting" from the political process, we are reinventing or rediscovering democracy in this country in many ways. Your Lordships' House is a good example of that, as is devolution. Our approach to neighbourhood renewal and to involving communities is very much from the bottom up. The application of human rights legislation is also relevant in that regard. Those are extremely important and exciting opportunities.
I turn to the report. There is an astonishing difference with regard to youth policy and participation between England and the other countries of the UK. There may well be difficulties with the Children's Commissioner but it will be interesting to see how the Welsh example proceeds. The fact that children were involved in the appointment of the commissioner was particularly interesting, as is the fact that the Welsh Assembly has established a panel that is available for consultation by the Welsh Assembly. There is nothing far-fetched about that arrangement and I hope that we shall consider it in relation to Parliament.
I like the fact that the report is radical but I like it even more because it is realistic. The authors came up with the idea of voting at the age of 16 and of being able to be a Member of Parliament at 18, but they know that their report will not be manageable or realistic unless it is accompanied by profound cultural changes.
Building up the confidence to be included in the first place starts with the family and continues in primary school. Those are the settings in which children learn whether they are valued or not. All the research that I have seen—I should declare an interest as the director of a national education charity—suggests that the crucial difference between success and failure in later life is the ability to participate, in and out of school, in the sustaining and enriching activities that connect people with the community. One teacher recently told me that children who participated in an out-of-school arts project had a tremendous impact on the life of the school. Moreover, a long-term impact is involved—one day the children will become very confident. She said that they would,move and shake and activate for better facilities. more access, things to do, and a better deal for young people".Where will the young movers and shakers learn those skills if not in schools councils? That is why I believe that every school should have a school council, although only one-third of schools currently has one.
If we are to have education with character, where best to see it develop and encourage it other than in school councils? How can such an education be promoted other than through the citizenship curriculum? I entirely agree with the comments of noble Lords on the pressures on teachers. At the same time, the citizenship curriculum will miss an opportunity if it does not connect with what is going on in the community, in voluntary organisations and local government and if it does not give children an 965 opportunity to participate in the life and work of the community. This is a new opportunity and I hope that in time it will be realised.
My noble friend Lady Howells spoke powerfully about the force of exclusion. It is a truism to say that the most difficult aspect of putting the report into operation will be the need to reach the people who are not likely to participate because they do not know how to do so—they do not have the necessary experience, knowledge or skills.
I very recently discovered digital democracy, which is currently a failing technology. However, there are hopes that people will be able to connect up. I have greater hopes for the children's and young persons' unit in the Department for Education and Skills. That unit, which has got off to a good start, has a right to roam across Whitehall and to speak to and represent children in new ways. There are new possibilities relating to the way in which we record and reflect the way in which children think and to the way in which they make an input to policies for social justice and so on. If it can prioritise a means of setting standards across Whitehall relating to the involvement of young people, it would be doing an excellent job. What progress has been made in setting up a young people's advisory forum involving young people?
Finally, the report has a strong and clear agenda. It talks of the hunger for greater responsibility. Its funding recommendations are terribly important. It would be cruel to involve young people by offering them the prospect of participation but no prospect of continual funding for the many excellent projects with which they are involved. I hope that the Minister will take that point seriously. The report shows us a way forward and a way of involving young people; that should be the norm and not the exception when we try to renew our democracy.
§ 5.17 p.m.
§ The Earl of Listowel
My Lords, it is a particular pleasure to follow the inspiring and well-informed speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Andrews. I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, for initiating this timely debate and I welcome this stimulating report, which I read with great interest. I should declare an interest as a patron of A Voice for the Child in Care.
I shall give an example of participation. At Centrepoint's Berwick Street shelter for 16 to 23 year-olds who are homeless, all residents and senior staff meet every two or three weeks. That innovation was introduced during the past three months. I should explain that the residents may be newly homeless or they may have camped on the floors of their relations or friends for a while. One may have come from university and found that his or her accommodation had fallen through and another, so she tells me, has never been to school. The occasional young person may suffer from mental health problems and another might have special educational needs, although that is a rarity. Many are asylum seekers. Apart from those seeking asylum, a weak family structure is commonly in the young person's background.
966 At one meeting the young people asked whether the curfew could be extended from 9 p.m. to 10 p.m. on weekdays and from 10 p.m. to 11 p.m. on weekends. They also asked when the boys—or men—could have their hot showers again and not have to share with the women. The staff responded by saying, "Yes, the curfew can be raised. What you are requesting seems quite reasonable. We apologise for the delay in fixing the showers". They provided an explanation for the delay in plumbing repairs and added, "We are shortly to repair the dilapidated seat covers in the canteen".
Those are simply examples of normal business. We also have a comments box, a standard complaints procedure and a questionnaire which is given to each resident as they move on. That asks about their experience within the hostel. To me the most important aspect of that is the experience of agency. Those young people are experiencing control over their environment, or at least the ability to influence their environment. They have the ability to determine the circumstances in which they and their peers live.
As Ravi Gurumurthy says in the foreword to the report,young people need to feel they are having a tangible influence and perceive the link between their contribution and real changes".That is what is happening at Berwick Street.
Perhaps I can define "agency" by its absence. A young mother told me that she had approached her landlord about the bathroom in her multiple occupation house. She told him that it was insanitary. His reply was, "That is how the residents leave it". That woman lacked agency. She could not influence one of the most basic elements in her environment. Such powerlessness leads to anxiety. It is damaging. It is harmful for a schoolgirl in a large school to feel powerless and that she is simply a product to be processed and stamped with a qualification at the end so that the school obtains its marks. It is harmful for children in care to be passed from foster parent to foster parent feeling that they are not listened to. It is harmful for their self-esteem and undermines their potential. I know that my prerogative in this House to regulate proceedings gives me greater confidence to challenge Ministers—on only rare occasions I say to the noble Lord, Lord Rooker.
I turn to another point. Many speakers this afternoon spoke of the low election turn-out. That is a cause of great concern particularly, as we heard, as it affects young people. But perhaps there is a certain good in it. Does it mean that politics are now more complex? It is no longer a matter of goodies and baddies, of cowboys and indians, of devils and angels, of Right and Left. Is it less dramatic? It may be dull, but is it more authentic, more real? I leave those questions open.
I have worked with young people on estates and seen the flat roofs which inevitably leak; the lifts which often do not work; the parents separated from their children at play by 10 or 20 floors; the stairwells, stairways and walkways which provide places for drug dealers and muggers respectively. I walked with a class of primary school children through an estate to see the tower blocks in which they lived being demolished.
967 Simple solutions are easy to sell. If adults are prone to panaceas, I feel that children are even more so, especially when they deal with matters outside their experience. The report alludes to Third World debt and European monetary union. That is something with which one must temper discussions of this sort.
When children come into Parliament and talk about their locked play areas, their local police station being closed, litter and abandoned cars in their streets, I am moved and incensed. When they explain about their experience of homelessness, they often speak far better than the chief executive of the charity which is supposed to be their advocate and to speak for them.
In conclusion, I suggest that lowering the voting age to 16, in the light of what I have said, would not be appropriate. The authors of the report might take some comfort from the lowering of class sizes in primary schools. Surely if teachers are more able to give attention to their pupils, those pupils have more chance to influence their environment. Indeed, if the Government are successful in delivering more teachers who are not over-burdened with regulation, then that may work through the whole system. I look forward to the Minister's reply to the debate.
§ 5.25 p.m.
§ Baroness Uddin
My Lords, one of the great assets of being one of the last speakers is that all wise words have been spoken. That leaves me nicely to talk about my own backwater of Tower Hamlets. Before I do so, I thank my noble friend Lady Massey for bringing this report to our attention. I am sure she does so with every knowledge that our Labour Government introduced firm citizenship education, contrary to what the noble Lord, Lord Phillips of Sudbury, assumed. I just want to place that on record on behalf of my comrade.
For a good 20 years when I was young I was involved in trying to promote the notion of good citizenship in places like Tower Hamlets. We involved young people in various ways, from taking them on holidays, involving them in youth parliaments to trying to entice them into attending after-school clubs. All that was done in the belief that not only would that make them good citizens, but that it would also improve their lives in an area where the problems may be overwhelming.
Over the past 20 years remarkable progress has been made in some of the great initiatives, such as youth parliaments, summer university and schemes for students. Various projects involving young people in bettering their educational opportunities have all been taken as good examples and have been effective throughout the country. So I am delighted to see some of those initiatives mentioned in this clear and concise report.
I apologise that I have not yet read the report in detail, as many other noble Lords confessed to doing. But I shall make sure that I do so at my leisure. 968 However, from what I read, all the schemes that it mentions are things in which our young people are already involved in various ways.
I want to make a number of comments about some of the other issues raised. From everything that has been said, it occurred to me that the killing of James Bulger and Stephen Lawrence, the maiming of Mukhtar Miah and the disablement of Kuddus Ali were all committed by young people. So what have we achieved over the past 20, 30 or 40 years in legislation to arrive at this point? The streets of Oldham, Blackburn, Burnley and Bradford are inflamed. I believe that at the moment there is enormous potential for further eruption. Essential lessons of citizenship where there has been good practice have not been translated in many of those areas. It is critical therefore to evaluate some of the good practices that have taken place in inner city areas, such as Tower Hamlets, Hackney and other places where young people have been allowed to take leadership within their community; where good citizenship is working.
I propose that we take seriously some of the lessons learnt from the efforts mentioned by my noble friend Lady Andrews in relation to neighbourhood renewal schemes, the education action zones and various other areas. We must look at where there has been good practice that worked and where it has not worked. In my small experience in Tower Hamlets what is sadly lacking is not that young people are not able to participate in local democracy, youth parliaments or all of those things. The frustration arises when there is a lack of employment and education opportunities. Of course, 25 per cent of the children do well, but what about the frustration of the 75 per cent of children in those kinds of areas? Where will they learn about the rationale of democracy? Where will they learn the lessons of how to become good citizens?
The reactions to the events in Oldham have been diverse. Many in other parties have reacted far too quickly and have not made a proper analysis of why disaffected youths have behaved in such a manner. I suggest that such disaffected youths have not necessarily wanted to damage their environment, but they have not been able to avail themselves of good quality education and good housing and they have not been taught how to express their frustrations and anger. I salute my noble friend Lady Howells for calling them "freedom fighters". The Government may like to debate that concept further.
A good start is to consider how to engage the interest of such young people. The notion that young people should be addressed on their own, without the involvement of their families, as the noble Baroness, Lady Young, mentioned, is ludicrous. The idea that no one knows how to engage disaffected youths simply negates the responsibility to assist in building the next generation and in bringing up good citizens.
I hope that the Minister agrees that this report can contribute to creating good citizenship that can be built on. I believe that it will help to engage young people, but he should not exclude all the other issues that we have drawn to his attention today. In assisting 969 a generation of young people to interest themselves in how they are governed and to take part in democracy, it is important that they be involved in leadership and the communities themselves must be allowed to dictate what are good citizens.
§ 5.32 p.m.
§ Lord Dholakia
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, on introducing this debate, particularly at a time when much attention is focused on young people in our society. I am grateful to the noble Baroness for the way in which she has analysed the report and identified the issues that we need to tackle.
Recently the co-author of the report, David Cutler, whom I know, told me that work is taking place on a follow-up to this report to ensure that there is some international comparison available. I hope that at some stage we shall be able to measure what we have achieved and what still needs to be done.
I was delighted by the contributions of a number of noble Lords, particularly those of the noble Lord, Lord Alton, the noble Baroness, Lady Young, and my noble friend Lord Phillips of Sudbury. They all pointed to one clear issue which highlights how important it is for us to be able to look at the whole concept that has been identified in the Carnegie report. I refer to the general election. Only 59 per cent of the population voted and only a quarter of the country actually elected the Government. That clearly demonstrates how the people are cut off from the political process.
Those of us who were involved in doorstep campaigning can confirm that many young people of voting age were simply not interested. If we are not careful, our democracy will be sustained by only a quarter—a minority—of the people in this country. In itself that would be a tragedy. The debate that followed highlighted what we need to do to build a strong civic society. I look forward to the maiden speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Morgan.
The Carnegie report has done a public service. It does three things: first, it identifies the need for promoting opportunities for young people so that they can express their opinions; secondly, in consultation with children and youth organisations it has produced sound recommendations, which tell decision-makers why they should listen to young people; and, thirdly, it identifies citizenship education as a means of achieving political and community participation. Any political post-mortem of the recent general election should take those factors into account.
Events in northern towns, mentioned by a number of noble Lords, clearly demonstrate how fragile is the relationship between young people and those who take decisions on their behalf. Too often the temptation for adults is to take decisions because they think that they know what is good for our young people. We often forget that young people are more likely to participate in projects on which they are consulted and of which they have ownership.
970 In the past I have served as a trustee of the Save the Children Fund. Young people were involved in all aspects of project design and its execution. They were not only consulted about the project content, but they were also involved in the interview process when appointments were made. It is a fact that many young people who are eligible to vote are not on the electoral register, especially in inner-city areas. Some young people, particularly black and Asian young people, cannot identify suitable role models because of the extent of the discrimination that they suffer.
While the advancement of some sections of the ethnic minority communities cannot be disputed, we should not forget that the profile of the minority community, and in particular the young people, has been shaped by the economic restructuring and the recession that occurred in Britain in the l 980s, thus providing opportunities for some, while taking them away from others. That is where we find deprivation, particularly among young people of Bangladeshi or Pakistani origin, which is far worse than one can imagine. In many cases discrimination persists at a depressingly high level. Such people are still to be found disproportionately among the poor, the unemployed, those who have never worked, those who are stopped and searched, those who are underachievers in schools and those who are victims of racial harassment and violence. Geographically and economically they live in precisely the same place that was allocated to their parents when they came here.
I do not condone violence. The situation is not helped by the poisonous propaganda of the British National Party. All politicians, on the local or national stage, have a personal responsibility. We must demonstrate the leadership that is badly needed to work out local solutions to local problems. There is no excuse for violence in the street. There is no excuse either for segregated housing with fences in between or for segregated schools with only 20 per cent of school leavers achieving any qualifications.
If we want the insight to understand where we have gone wrong, we need to consult and to involve young people. The immediate priority—I stress the word "immediate"—must be to look for short-term solutions to reach young people, to focus them on what they can do for themselves and, more importantly, for each other, and to make regeneration work for young people.
We have to accept that the second and subsequent generations of youngsters no longer accept some of the values to which their parents attach so much importance. In a fast-changing world, there is a change in attitude, a new assertiveness. Youngsters are more questioning of authority than ever before and they are also better informed. We should welcome the healthy tension that exists.
To many of us, particularly to the first generation of settlers, challenge is often frightening, but is it not time to harness the energy of our young people towards diversity, interdependence, self-reliance, liberty and pluralism? We should respect the birth of new values and the Carnegie report points the way. The 971 Government should promote the idea of an interdependent, wholesome and organic community in which diversity is respected and in which there are ways of tackling racial and religious intolerance. There is undoubtedly a conflict between what is appropriate and what is required. Therefore, there is a need to ask some pertinent questions, but young people must be part of that exercise.
What kind of a society do we want to take forward into the next millennium? We need a vision of the kind of future that we want to achieve; we need a vision of how to motivate young people; and we must describe what we want to achieve. The three main ingredients—these have been mentioned by noble Lords—must be, first, to build the confidence of young people from ethnic minorities in the structures which are in place; secondly, to ensure that young people participate from within and communicate with policy makers; and, thirdly, and above all, to identify young people as stakeholders in the process of citizenship.
We require the wisdom to reconnect our communities to a political process which enriches our democracy. Violence will never achieve this. The Carnegie report is a step in the right direction and it should form the backbone of government policies relating to young people. If we develop the concept of good citizenship, the idea of "Britishness" will be secondary.
§ 5.40 p.m.
§ Lord Cope of Berkeley
My Lords, I welcome the Carnegie report as a most useful contribution to the discussion on these matters and I echo the thanks offered to the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, for drawing attention to it. The research and examples add greatly to the debate.
However, like others, I am not enamoured of the firm proposals for legislation and legal rights, primarily because I believe that for young people's involvement to be effective it should build on their own desire to participate. Therefore, it will differ greatly from place to place and from time to time. It is not something which should be imposed from above. It should be stimulated, facilitated, encouraged and paid attention to, but not imposed. The Government should not be looking so much to legislate as to collect and pass on information on what can and is being done and what works.
I am delighted to know how much is going on to involve young people in so many different ways. I support the inclusion of citizenship in the curriculum. However, I confess to a slight distaste at the abuse of the terms "Parliament", "jury" and "grand jury", but let that go.
I want to add to the information by drawing attention to another initiative by a local authority. It is the Bexley Road Safety Action Group set up by the London borough of Bexley. It is open to people between the ages of 14 and 19 and it has taken a whole series of actions to improve road safety. It has received awards from the Prince Michael Road Safety Award 972 System and from the Institution of Highways and Transport/BP Road Safety Awards. The campaign, which began in Bexley, was adopted first in London and later by the National Road Safety Congress. Such changes can flow from the involvement of young people in this specialist area.
I see that the first finding of the MORI research indicates that,Young people believe that their views are taken less seriously because of their age".That was not true when William Hague first spoke to our party conference at a young age. However, the truth is well put in UN Article 12, which mentions the views of the child as,being given due weight in accordance with age and maturity".In practice, the UN resolution is right to have that caveat. If some chosen course of action goes wrong, young people would not in due course think it a sensible excuse to say, "We did what the children asked". That does not mean that we should ignore what young people say; but we adults owe them our judgment and experience as well as our ears.
Looking at elections, which have received much attention, the report proposes voting at 16. But giving the vote to 16 year-olds will not necessarily mean that they vote. We know that many older people with a vote do not use it, as was strongly demonstrated in the recent election.
Furthermore, the involvement of young people in politics is not what it was. I first became involved in politics in the Young Conservatives when we filled the Royal Festival Hall for political conferences. Of course there was a social side, but we attended weekend schools and the party conference in large numbers. Importantly, we formed one-third of the voluntary party's decision-making apparatus at all levels and we were active in elections. We politicians, as a class, have since moved backwards because the number of young people belonging to the youth wing of any party is a tiny fraction of that previous membership.
However, we should not confuse young people's boredom with politics as presently conducted with apathy. The noble Baroness, Lady Howells, made that point. We, the politicians, and the media have downgraded the practice of politics and, with it, government. Television has much to answer for in this, although it is not alone, but the sound-bite rules and most of the sound-bites which are picked up are negative. The image of Parliament is boring and negative—and not just to young people, as stated by the noble Lord, Lord Phillips, and others.
Part of the problem is the complexity of modern government. It is not easy to explain in plain, simple English what is happening and what the choices are and to relate that to the vision which lies behind. But in any event, the report deals not only with politics and government; there are excellent examples of what can be done in schools. Good schools have always fostered responsibility, but perhaps in our day there was a more 973 highly developed system of prefects with real responsibility and power and a few inconsequential privileges.
Such work is carried out not only in schools. We should take a moment to praise the work done for good citizenship by the Duke of Edinburgh's Award Scheme, the Scouts, the Guides, the Churches and numerous other youth organisations, clubs and voluntary organisations—everything mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Uddin, in connection with Tower Hamlets. Those traditional activities can be built on by all the initiatives mentioned in the report, but not replaced by them. Citizenship remains at the core.
However, as was said by my noble friend Lady Young and by the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, in introduction, in all this we must be careful not to demote the role of parents. Of course there are feckless and idle parents who teach their children nothing of good citizenship. But in attempting to deal with the children of this minority of parents, we must not undermine the majority of parents, uncles, aunts and grandparents—at this point I must declare an interest—who have the biggest single influence.
It has been a useful debate and it is a useful report in drawing attention to the issue. However, I believe that the role of government should not be prescriptive and that the role of legislation in this is limited.
§ 5.48 p.m.
§ The Minister of State, Home Office (Lord Rooker)
My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lady Massey for the opportunity to discuss the report. I must say at the outset that I shall not be able to do justice to the quality of the speeches and comments I have heard in the past hour and a half. However, in future I shall use this debate as an example of the difference between the two Houses in terms of lifetime experiences brought to the issues. I was warned that this would happen but I did not realise it would happen the first time I responded to a short debate. I genuinely mean that.
I can say that overall—and I hope that this will be welcomed—the Government are fully committed to the messages at the heart of the report. We want children and young people to play a full part in public decision-making and be involved in the design, delivery and evaluation of policies.
As regards a theme running throughout the debate, many noble Lords mentioned education and voting. The noble Baroness, Lady Young, said that there was ignorance about voting, particularly among the women to whom she spoke. When, as an MP, I visited schools, people asked me why I became an MP. I always replied that I became involved because I wanted to change the world. It is very important to engender the idea that one can make a difference. The complexities of modern life and the machinery of government are a "turn off', and we must recharge our batteries and try to do better in future. I believe that reports such as this one, which was published only a few days ago, will provide added ammunition.
974 My noble friend Lady Howells of St Davids referred to school exclusions and those who became guests of Her Majesty. Later this week there will be a short debate on prisons, during which I shall share with noble Lords my experiences at Brinsford Prison on Friday morning when I discussed issues with two 18 year-olds. However, I think that I had better wait until Wednesday.
The Government are already taking a number of steps to implement the recommendations, and it is right to share some of those matters with the House. We are taking action on a number of fronts that chime with the themes and recommendations of the report. It is important to raise the profile by way of new government structures. Last year a new Cabinet committee was announced by the Prime Minister. For the first time we have within the Home Office a Minister for young people, John Denham, who is supported by a young people's advisory forum. In answer to my noble friend Lady Andrews, that forum will have its first meeting later this month. Therefore, action is under way in that respect.
There is also a newly established children and young people's unit. I suggest that noble Lords look at the report published only in March of this year entitled Tomorrow's Future—Building a Strategy for Children and Young People, which was the result of work carried out originally by the Social Exclusion Unit in Whitehall. To that extent, some changes to the machinery of government are already under way. We want to develop a strategy for children and young people all the way through from nought to 19 to ensure that our services are designed around the best interests of children rather than the service provider. The policy objective is not to create work for service providers but to provide the service that young children and young people want; and we must also provide co-ordination and leadership.
To make the practice of the best the norm is always the target in every area of policy, and we seek to do that in involving children and young people. That is a core principle of Connexions, Quality Protects and the NHS Children's Task Force. There is a good deal happening on the ground. There are excellent examples, one of which is in County Durham. (When I first read the brief I thought that it was a misprint.) As part of the initiative Investing in Children, at Crook police station the police services are encouraging a children's perspective in the day-to-day planning of service activity. In Colby primary school in Norwich consultation with pupils and representation at a school governors' meeting led to changes in the catering arrangements of the school. We needed that when I was at school. It is clear that we still need to do work in that area.
Every partnership that develops plans for a roll-out of Children's Fund money needs a robust participation strategy. It is absolutely fundamental that we involve children and young people in setting the priorities for the spending of fund money. For example, the Children's Fund local network will build on the Youthbank scheme which gives young people direct experience of grant-making to support projects 975 run by and for young people. The noble Lord, Lord Phillips of Sudbury, said that many of the issues raised in the report could apply equally to adults. The same can be said of grant-making. If young people or adults gain experience of grant-making they will understand that there must be priorities. It is also important to measure and check outcomes. We also want to ensure that there are minimum standards and a consistent approach right across government.
It is self-evident that we shall work with colleagues in the voluntary sector. It is quite clear that we need a cross-Whitehall approach; it cannot be done by one government department, and the Children and Young People's Unit is a classic example of that. There is a Cabinet committee on which many government departments are represented. It is very important that we take a collective view and all pull together to avoid Whitehall turf wars about who is responsible for what. At the end of the day, we are concerned with the interests of young people.
I believe that it is worth commenting on two specific recommendations. I was very conscious of the fact that my noble friends referred to the voting age and the age at which a person can stand for election. Some years ago I carried out research in connection with a Bill to do with electoral reform that I introduced in the other place. I sought to discover where in legislation it was provided that a person could not be a candidate until he or she had reached the age of 21. The Act of Parliament that is still in force—it may be the Parliamentary Elections Act, but I am not sure—dates from 1695. The sidenote to the only section of the old Act of Parliament that is left reads, "Infants shall not be elected". It is that provision which makes specific reference to the age of 21 at which a person can stand for election. It beggars belief that in such a vital area of our life a piece of legislation that is over 300 years old is still current. The Government have not made any decision on the matter, but if ever legislation comes forward noble Lords and Members of another place will see that they are amending legislation that dates from 1695. As a piece of legislative machinery that is not something of which we can be very proud.
Certainly, these areas should be debated. The report is certainly a wake-up call for everyone. We shall consider very carefully what we can do in the near future to make this work. Some noble Lords said that one did not want lots of new legislation. It is true that from 2002 citizenship will be a compulsory part of the education framework under key stage 3. We shall need time for that to bed down. Teachers who are preparing for that now will not thank Parliament for coming forward with fast changes on top of a change that they have been planning for some time. As I said in a speech two weeks ago, we must not overload the legislative system but ensure that what we have already legislated for and decided upon works and is delivered.
The Government will look very closely at what is happening in Wales and Scotland. These matters are devolved to the Scottish Parliament and the Assembly for Wales. The introduction of the Children's Commissioner in Wales is important, and the 976 involvement of children in the selection of the individual concerned is something that we ignore at our peril. We take that issue extremely seriously.
In the short time available I cannot do justice to the quality and detail of the contributions. However, the Government welcome this constructive report which includes a good number of important recommendations that we shall consider carefully. As the report says, getting it right will take time, resources and commitment. We do not pretend that securing the changes in the organisational culture across government and Whitehall will always be straightforward, but we shall give it our best endeavours and, as ever, remain accountable to Questions and debates in this House and the other place as appropriate.