The balloted debate was opened by Lord Gardiner of Kimble, chief executive of the Countryside Alliance and a member of the National Farmers' Union.
A councillor for a metropolitan district council in a ward consisting of five rural villages, Peer Baroness Eaton spoke of her increasing frustration at the ‘constraints placed on local government by national government’ that have ‘curtailed innovation, stifled creativity and made local people in rural areas feel that they are unable really to make their voices heard and their opinions count.’ A local politician on a national stage as chair of the Local Government Association, Baroness Eaton said her role was to demonstrate to national politicians that ‘local works best’ and show that ‘Whitehall must remove the shackles that restrict councils from being the best that they can be for the people whom they serve.’ She said it was right that government should empower people in their local neighbourhoods and communities and it was ‘equally important that local government remains at the heart of these reforms.’
Baroness Eaton described ‘this localism’ as having three key attributes: ‘First, localism is about giving all people the power to guide the development of their area. Secondly, it requires partnership working between business, charities, community groups and local service providers, which all have one thing in common: they want their local area to succeed. Thirdly, localism requires an understanding of how each local area fits into the wider picture. No community is an island and, inevitably, every decision made will have an impact across the area.’
Lord Taylor of Goss Moor
Lord Taylor of Goss Moor, chair of the National Housing Federation and chair of the Rural Coalition, conducted a government review on rural housing and rural economies for the former Prime Minister, Gordon Brown. The former MP for Truro and St Austell said the rural constituency is ‘one of the poorest constituencies in the country, reflecting many of the issues that have been touched on in this extremely important debate’
The Rural Coalition's report, ‘The Rural Challenge,’ published in August, was about what the Government needs to do to empower rural communities to deliver for themselves, Lord Taylor said. The big society already exists in 'little communities' but is at risk from 'decisions taken in a primarily urban context, from the context of a big picture of government, without addressing the real needs of small rural communities and how they actually work.’
Referring to the Government’s ‘right-to-build’ referendum requirements, Lord Taylor spoke of the need for effective mechanisms to deliver affordable homes in rural communities and for a responsive planning system that recognised the need for a ‘small extension on the side of a home to employ a home-based employee for a home-based business is as important as having the sheds typically associated with old-style rural business.’ Rural market towns are at the centre of rural communities, he said: ‘We need to deliver whole neighbourhoods and communities the workplaces and facilities, not just the houses.’
He called decision making in the comprehensive spending review ‘in the context of the cuts that are coming’ to remember that ‘in many rural communities it is a question of having any service at all, not of a choice of services.’ A bus service run by the local community with a minibus and volunteer drivers can provide a solution, he said, ‘but even that takes money.’
The Viscount Younger of Leckie
Hereditary Peer, the Viscount Younger of Leckie also referred to the big society, saying it was as important and relevant to rural communities as to inner cities. He cited examples from remote areas in Scotland where ‘the big society continues to operate well where infrequent or no local services prevail. Post offices – even islands – are self-governed, even as they struggle to overcome a host of rural challenges.’ The big society is to question fundamentally how we should lead our lives, he said. It is not about ‘reducing expenditure for its own sake; it is a long-term process of behavioural change in the mindset of the individual that allows for taking responsibility.’
A 'balloted debate' provides a forum to discuss a subject rather than decide on it. This type of debate takes its name from how the subject for discussion is chosen – by randomly selecting from the topics proposed by Members of the Lords. The Clerk of the Parliaments carries this out.
Only Members on the back benches and cross benches can propose a topic for debate – known as tabling a motion.
Because of the time limit for a balloted debate, the subject for debate must be narrow enough to discuss in that time. There are limits to speaking time for Members taking part. A schedule of speakers is usually available in advance.
Five hours are set aside on one Thursday in each month for two balloted debates in the House of Lords.
The term 'maiden speech' refers to the first time a new Member gives a speech in the House of the Lords. A maiden speech usually takes place during a general debate and is uncontroversial.