Lord Bannside, the former Democratic Unionist spokesperson for Europe, said that active citizenship is really a debate about rights versus responsibilities. ‘Our rights are easy to list and are enshrined in law, whereas our responsibilities are not so well defined. This generation needs not only to study citizenship but to make it practical and applicable to where they live.’
A church minister for more than 60 years, he spoke of the dedication he had seen in church members that he feels should apply more widely. There are those who want the privileges but do not want the responsibility and others ‘dedicated to the cause’ – the ‘second milers’ who ‘go beyond in order that the church has a heartbeat and not just a structure. The same principle should apply to society.’
In closing, Lord Bannside said: ‘The greatest commandment of all is to love our neighbours and to treat them the way we would like to be treated ourselves. If we replace the benefits system by teaching the real benefits that flow from our personal commitment to hard work, I believe we shall see our country come out of the terrible situation in which it finds itself today. There is hope where there is dedication; and there is hope where that dedication is employed with all the strength that we have. We need to open our doors to newcomers. What a sad country this would be if all the newcomers who did so well in helping us in the past had been closed out. It would be a very poor country.’
Lord Blair of Boughton
Declaring interests in the matters under discussion as the former Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police and president of the Oxfordshire battalion of the Boys' Brigade, Lord Blair of Boughton said his remarks would address encouraging active citizenship in young people – ‘so powerfully represented by uniformed voluntary associations such as the Boys' Brigade’ and considering its limitations in a modern, challenging world.
Lord Blair said the founding of the Metropolitan Police both reflected the concept of active citizenship and its limitations. He described membership of the special constabulary – voluntary police service – as one of the most striking examples of active citizenship; however, the reason why professionals work alongside volunteers across the land is that their jobs deal with the complex issues caused by deprivation, poverty and social exclusion. ‘We must continue to value and support those professionals, of all disciplines, whose job will increasingly be to take the difficult decisions implicit in prioritising needs over wishes and in ensuring due process, equality and fairness in the allocation of scarce resources, as we increase the empowerment of citizens actively to support their neighbours,’ he said.
The nobility implicit in actions to support and improve communities and neighbourhoods could be learned and can and should be taught, Lord Blair continued. Organisations such as Girl Guides, Sea Scouts, Boys' and Girls' Brigades, the cadet forces of the police and the armed services are ‘the seed corn of an active citizenry in future years,’ he said and called for the reconsideration of the ‘ever-increasing bureaucratic burdens’ on the volunteers who run them.
The debate was opened by Lord Maclennan of Rogart. Other Members speaking in the debate included:
- Baroness Smith of Basildon (Labour/Co-operative), former Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Department for Communities and Local Government
- Lord Shipley (Liberal Democrat), vice-president of the Local Government Association
- Lord Wei (Conservative), Co-founder of Teach First and government adviser on the Big Society
Lord Beecham, Baroness Barker, Lord Addington, Lord Clement-Jones, Lord Greaves, Lord Dholakia, Baroness Neuberger, Earl of Listowel, the Bishop of Leicester, Lord Norton of Louth, Lord Thomas of Gresford, Baroness Sharp of Guildford, Lord Tyler, Lord Maclennan of Rogart and Baroness Walmsley also spoke. Lord Taylor of Holbeach responded on behalf of the government.