Lib Dem Lords’ maiden speeches: Don Foster on health

This week, we are catching up on Lib Dem Lords’ maiden speeches.Today, we have Don Foster on health.

My Lords, I, too, congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Crisp. I am grateful for this opportunity to make my maiden speech and, of course, for the privilege of joining your Lordships’ House. I hope I will be able to make a useful contribution.

I am also grateful for the generous welcome I have received from all sides of the House, and for the patient support and help from noble Lords—not least my noble friend Lady Walmsley—and from the attendants, doorkeepers, catering staff and all the excellent and courteous parliamentary staff as I struggle to find my feet and my way round this end of the building. I am especially grateful for the advice, “If lost, look for the blue carpet”.

I rise with a sense of trepidation similar to that which I felt when, 23 years ago, I rose to make my maiden speech in the other place, and, in 2010, when I seconded the Loyal Address following the formation of the coalition Government. That was a particularly difficult speech for a then 63 year-old to make, since the tradition is that that role is usually given to a “young, rising star”. I felt trepidation also when, as a junior Minister, I stood at the Dispatch Box to answer questions for the first time: a noisy and acrimonious event, full of the yah-boo which plagues the other place. They could learn a great deal from the courtesy and civility of your Lordships’ House.

Trepidation or not, it is a great honour to be here among many distinguished Peers, just as it was a great honour to serve the people of Bath as their MP for 23 years. As noble Lords will know, Bath is a beautiful World Heritage city with two universities, a Premiership Rugby club, vibrant businesses, excellent festivals and wonderful people. It is my mark of gratitude to those people, who allowed me the privilege of being their representative for so many years, that I chose Bath—or “Barrth” as they prefer to call it—for my title.

My trepidation is also enhanced by following contributions from such eloquent and expert speakers. The noble Lord, Lord Crisp, who introduced the debate, is a case in point. Few could know more about health, in this country and globally, than him. I was especially struck by his view that all sectors should contribute to creating a healthy and resilient population.

Of course, we should all take greater personal responsibility for our own health. More needs to be done to encourage people to look after themselves. To take the example of obesity and the often-accompanying type 2 diabetes, it could often be reduced by greater personal discipline, but many organisations also have a role to play. Preparations for the hugely successful 2012 Olympics and Paralympics emphasised seeking the legacy of a healthier nation. Much was done, from encouraging businesses to help employees get fit to assisting clubs in boosting grass-roots sports participation. In this latter regard, I hope we will continue to protect sports playing fields and address the lamentable state of PE in our primary schools.

Our engineers and designers can play a role. I am the president of a Bath-based charity called Designability, which brings such experts together to create devices that improve well-being. Their “Day Clock”, for example, helps people with dementia maintain their routine. The clock constantly displays the day of the week and whether it is morning, afternoon, evening or night. This can reduce anxiety, increase independence and make life easier for those suffering from dementia. Their Wizzybug—a fun-looking powered wheelchair for children under 5—addresses the needs of children with conditions such as cerebral palsy and muscular dystrophy. It gives them mobility and independence.

I echo the views of my noble friend Lady Williams. As she rightly says, many government departments have a role to play—some more obviously than others—in creating a healthy nation. Like education and the housing and planning elements of DCLG, the health department’s role is obvious. I welcome its increased emphasis on prevention and mental health.

I am delighted that important steps spearheaded by my right honourable friend Norman Lamb have been taken towards ending NHS bias in favour of physical health conditions. The introduction of NHS waiting time standards for people with common mental health conditions such as depression has started this process. I welcome the additional £600 million for mental health announced yesterday. However, the potential contribution of other departments is often less understood. Take, for example, the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, which is a much undervalued department, yet its work in the arts and sport can make an enormous contribution to the health of the nation.

Mental health campaigner Rachel Kelly says that poetry kick-started her own recovery from mental health problems. She calls for the bonds between well-being and the arts to be strengthened. I entirely agree. No wonder the Department for Work and Pensions, back in 2009, acknowledged:

“There is increasing recognition that having a sense of purpose through leisure and cultural activities contributes to older people’s well-being”.

Creating a healthy and resilient population does indeed require contributions from all sectors. If government is to maximise its contribution, we need to recognise that many government departments, not just the most obvious ones, can play a role, ideally as
part of a cross-government strategy. However, none of this diminishes the need for us all to take greater responsibility for our own health.

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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One Comment

  • Helen Dudden 13th Jan '16 - 8:32am

    I hope he made sure his expenses were fully covered.

    Nothing is his speech was not covered by media.

    The struggle with junior doctors contracts, and they have always been expected to give 110%, our recycling collectors still on strike in Bath area, severe problems with housing, PIP causing problems for those with visual problems, and shared spaces.

    International family still far from perfect within the EU. I have personally had to make a stand.

    This is a totally antiquated system, I thought you objected too.

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