Podium: We are a nation of churches

William Hague

From the Leader of

the Opposition's Wilberforce Lecture to the Conservative Christian Fellowship

TO TALK about society in terms of a relationship between, on the one hand, atomised individuals and, on the other, either a benevolent or an overbearing state, seems to me to caricature reality. The truth is that we are a nation of individuals and families and football supporters and choral societies and pigeon fanciers.

We are also a nation of churches, churches which are themselves influential voluntary organisations and whose lay members are also involved in the work of a myriad other groups. As a Member of Parliament you enjoy the privilege of being able to take an interest in the innumerable different organisations and professions in your patch.

Each one of us belongs to many different communities, some defined by place, others by activity. The number and variety of voluntary organisations is surely one of the most admirable characteristics of British society.

We need to look for ways in which to harness the energy and the spontaneity of voluntary organisations to tackle our country's social problems.

A great deal is already being done, not least by churches and the various charities which they support. In renewing our party's policies, I want to consider how we can build on our experience of paying for public services out of our taxes but having them delivered by voluntary organisations.

My criticism of a document like Faith in the City or of the comments of people like Bishop David Sheppard is that they place too much faith in the effectiveness and the impartiality of state intervention. A government rule book cannot provide the scope for flexibility and innovation which we need. Too often, the rules fail to provide for some particular deserving case. Can we find how to devise ways of helping people who are in need which recognises the differences between individual cases without recreating all the faults of the old Victorian Poor Law?

Let me suggest one example. The plight of children in local authority care and of young people leaving care is a silent scandal. Many bear the scars of traumatic home backgrounds. Society has the responsibility to act as their parents and, while I do not doubt the good intentions of local authority social services departments, we are failing these young people. Young people leaving care are often simply unable to cope with the isolation and practical demands of living on their own.

I want to explore whether we should not be bolder in addressing this social problem. Should we consider transferring from social services departments all, or part, of their responsibility under the Children Act to advise, assist and befriend youngsters leaving care? Might voluntary organisations, perhaps church-led, be among those best equipped to carry out some of these tasks? Could we be more imaginative still and consider giving the voluntary sector a greater role in running this country's childrens homes? Is there a role for the churches here as well?

These subjects are too important to be considered lightly. But I mean this as a positive proposal. If church leaders are serious about showing their commitment to the needy through political action, then perhaps a redefinition of the partnership between the voluntary sector and the state is one of the ways forward.

I want to hear the views of the churches on this. The Conservative Party, including the Conservative Christian Fellowship, will take forward this debate. During 18 years of Conservative government, relations between our party and Britain's churches were at times turbulent. Now, we have the opportunity to engage in a new and creative dialogue about the future of our country.

The Conservative Party is changing in order to regain the trust of the British people, but we shall never change our basic beliefs in freedom, in enterprise, in the family and in strong local institutions. I claim for our party no monopoly of Christian compassion, but I firmly believe that the moral tradition of Wilberforce and Shaftesbury, which runs like a golden thread through the history of the Conservative Party, means that we can take pride in the values and principles for which we stand.

Politicians have to work with the reality of the world as we find it. Our scope for action will always have practical limits; no amount of politics is going to build the Kingdom of God. The Christian Church, both in its faith and its works, has a well of experience and insight from which any sensible politician will wish to draw. I look forward to discussing with Britain's churches, in the months and years ahead, how we can take forward our common goal of securing the peace and prosperity of the British people. I hope we can learn from one another.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump


Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

Arts and Entertainment
William Pooley from Suffolk is flying out to Free Town, Sierra Leone, to continue working in health centres to fight Ebola after surviving the disease himself

Arts and Entertainment
The Newsroom creator Aaron Sorkin

Arts and Entertainment
Matt Berry (centre), the star of Channel 4 sitcom 'Toast of London'

TVA disappointingly dull denouement
Arts and Entertainment
Tales from the cryptanalyst: Benedict Cumberbatch in 'The Imitation Game'

Arts and Entertainment
Pixie Lott has been voted off Strictly Come Dancing 2014

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

    Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

    The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
    Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

    Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

    The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
    Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

    The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

    Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas
    La Famille Bélier is being touted as this year's Amelie - so why are many in the deaf community outraged by it?

    Deaf community outraged by La Famille Bélier

    The new film tells the story of a deaf-mute farming family and is being touted as this year's Amelie
    10 best high-end laptops

    10 best high-end laptops

    From lightweight and zippy devices to gaming beasts, we test the latest in top-spec portable computers
    Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

    Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

    The batsman has grown disillusioned after England’s Ashes debacle and allegations linking him to the Pietersen affair
    Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

    Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

    The Williams driver has had plenty of doubters, but hopes she will be judged by her ability in the cockpit
    Adam Gemili interview: 'No abs Adam' plans to muscle in on Usain Bolt's turf

    'No abs Adam' plans to muscle in on Usain Bolt's turf

    After a year touched by tragedy, Adam Gemili wants to become the sixth Briton to run a sub-10sec 100m
    Calls for a military mental health 'quality mark'

    Homeless Veterans campaign

    Expert calls for military mental health 'quality mark'
    Racton Man: Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman

    Meet Racton Man

    Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman
    Garden Bridge: St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters

    Garden Bridge

    St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters
    Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament: An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel

    Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament

    An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel
    Joint Enterprise: The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice

    Joint Enterprise

    The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice
    Freud and Eros: Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum: Objects of Desire

    Freud and Eros

    Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum