Lord Stone of Blackheath: My Lords, despite advancements in technology, with instant connectivity around the globe, referred to expertly by my noble friend Lord Giddens,
there is a general feeling that communication is breaking down everywhere. Nationally and individually, people can hardly talk to each other without fighting or becoming offended. We do not really communicate at all, except in shallow, superficial ways. There is a deepening crisis and what is required in government now is a paradigm shift. People say that to change the system, each one of us, individually, needs to attempt to change ourselves for the better. I certainly know that I need to change: I have behaved in the past from ego, without intention, in a way that has hurt people.
So it surprises and delights people that here in Parliament we have an All-Party Group on Mindfulness. Most people know that mindfulness is a state of mind that helps us to be present in the moment, and aware that we are all connected. It enables us to experience something greater than our habitual selves and thereby live and work more compassionately. I will talk about individual change first and then mindfulness and the legislative programme.
First, on individuals, I spent a week last month with politicians from 10 different countries, including the UN, discussing wiser government. The Brahma Kumaris in its global retreat centre invited its spiritual leader, Dadi Janki, in her 100th year, to travel to be with us. Our main conclusion was that good governance would entail engendering individual self-sovereignty. I was proud to be able to report to them that here in the United Kingdom over the past two years 115 parliamentarians have all completed an eight-week course on mindfulness practice here on the estate.
Fellow Peers and Members of the other place of all parties and their staff have accepted that changing oneself not to be in a state of constant anxiety, aggression and pressure is a first step to changing the system, with each of them now relating to colleagues on all sides of the House in a different way.
So how does this all relate to the gracious Speech? In addition to spreading these practices to millions of individuals, we must also change the way our society works in health, education, the criminal justice system, the workplace and international affairs. On health, the National Health Service is expanding the provision of mindfulness-based cognitive therapy as a treatment for many mental and physical conditions and has proven to NICE that it is more cost-effective and longer-lasting than other, more expensive interventions.
Furthermore, last month I was with the new chief executive of Great Ormond Street Hospital, Peter Steer, and his enlightened senior team. I then met Julia Samuel from St Mary’s Hospital with Dr Bob Klaber and Dr Hyde, who are paediatricians. They are all convinced that mindfulness, when used effectively among healthcare workers, is a way to reduce stress throughout their hospitals, improve care and attentiveness and engender compassion and kindness. This is a way for a Government who wish to integrate health and social care and improve our National Health Service to help patients, professionals and carers by engendering compassion.
On education, soon Professor Patrick Pietroni at the University of Chester is to set up an international institute for the study of compassion, which could help compassion across government and society. In the criminal justice system, His Royal Highness Prince Charles gave us a great example of compassion last month by agreeing to a very difficult face-to-face meeting. The Forgiveness Project, where I declare in interest as a patron, has for more than 10 years brought together criminals and perpetrators and victims and their families to face each other personally, often transforming the lives of both. This can reduce anger and release grief, stop the cycle of reoffending, allow victims to lead more active lives and thus save the Government money and resources spent on supporting broken lives.
In the workplace, mindfulness is a way to improve resilience, reduce stress and anxiety and develop creativity. Managing organisational learning and engendering insightful collaboration within organisations helps people to enjoy their work, and as a result the objectives of the organisation are better met. In this way a Government can raise productive potential and increase job creation.
Finally, in international relations, education and culture, the Abrahamic religions all began with contemplative practice, often in silence. From this emerged great compassion. We have seen what can happen in the Middle East when the essence of compassionate contemplation is replaced by religious fanaticism. Some 25% of the people in the MENA region live in Egypt. Now is a vital time for us to help them tackle their major economic, humanitarian and international security challenges. We admire the courage of the Egyptian people over recent years and their pragmatic determination to play a central role in Egypt’s political future, restoring its historic tolerant identity. Long-term stability and prosperity for all Egyptians can be achieved only in a climate of trust and inclusion. Flourishing opposition movements are integral. They provide accountability and offer a political voice for all. However, these movements must be untainted and peaceful and seek to influence not via acts of violence or terror but with the tools of democracy and free speech.
I suggest that our Prime Minister should invite President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi to the United Kingdom as soon as possible. Rather than wringing our hands from the sidelines, we must take the opportunity to serve and help shape Egypt’s democratic cause and history. The wise and noble Lord, Lord Howell of Guildford, spoke here in March about soft power and the UK’s potential to use it to influence the modern world. We could discuss with President el-Sisi, who commands significant support across society, how we might continue to assist the Egyptians. They want to develop a first-class secular democracy with improved civil liberties, education for all and human rights. They have now completed the first two stages of their four-stage road map: a new constitution; an elected President; and now, thirdly, later this year, a brand new Parliament with a judicial framework to monitor its elections. Finally, they plan to create better economic conditions for all their people. France, Italy and Russia have all hosted President el-Sisi in the last year. Germany has done so this month. They have seen the value to the region, to the world’s safety and security and to themselves of engaging now with the new leadership in Egypt. Our industry should be encouraged and helped to engage there, too. Coming back to education, we are already linking our great universities with theirs. The 10 year-old British University of Egypt now has 6,000 students in Cairo learning and researching in collaboration with UK universities. Now a new Knowledge City in Cairo of more than 200 acres is to be developed with an ambition of having 30,000 students in 10 years. It is now forging links with some of our greatest centres of research and education.
In closing, I ask the Minister to ask Her Majesty’s Government to invite President el-Sisi here for talks soon. In general, how will Her Majesty’s Government apply the relevance, importance and urgency of mindfulness to all that they do? Are we using these proven methodologies to begin to make Britain a mindful nation, so that the United Kingdom can evolve as a centre from which we may spread this, our education and compassion to other countries?
AND THEN THE MININSTER STARTED HIS SUMMING UP BY MENTIONING MY CONTRIBUTION and although it was tongue-in-cheek and a Joke – at least he did start his speech with a smile and a joke and not with aggression!
The Minister of State, Department for Work and Pensions (Lord Freud) (Con): My Lords, among the many excellent contributions this evening, I was heartened most by that from the noble Lord, Lord Stone of Blackheath. His description of the impact of mindfulness training on many Peers means, as I understand him,that their kindliness has increased. Therefore, I am expecting a much warmer ride in Oral Questions in future—except perhaps from the noble Baroness, Lady Jones
And then on Mental Health he went on to say
We will continue to take mental health as seriously as physical health, and to hold the NHS to account for achieving the objectives set out in the NHS mandate; that is, to ensure that mental and physical health conditions are given equal priority. A number of noble Lords, including the noble Baronesses, Lady Masham, Lady Tyler, Lady Hollins and Lady McIntosh, the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, and the noble Lord, Lord Stone, asked what we are doing for mental health sufferers. We are providing significant additional investment of £1.25 billion over the next five years to boost the mental health of children and young people, and investing more than £120 million to introduce for the first time waiting time standards for mental health. We will also trial the collocation of IAPT staff in jobcentres to help improve health unemployment outcomes. The Department of Health and the DWP are working together to explore innovative ways to improve employment and health outcomes for people with common mental health problems. This year, 75% of people who need psychological therapies will be able to access treatment within six weeks and 95% within 18 weeks.
We recognise that mental health support and care for offenders and those in prison can be improved, which is why various departments—including the Department of Health and the Ministry of Justice as well as NHS England, NOMS and Public Health England—are working together to reconfigure services so that mental health needs are identified and to ensure that a range of services are available to support the mental health needs of prisoners and to prevent them escalating.