Page last updated at 13:59 GMT, Friday, 19 November 2010

MPs pass bill promoting 'Big Society'

MPs have passed a private member's bill aimed at promoting the government's "Big Society" agenda - a flagship Conservative policy designed to empower local communities and individuals - at second reading.

The Public Services (Social Enterprise and Social Value) Bill, proposed by Tory MP Chris White, seeks to help voluntary, community and social enterprise (VCSE) groups which provide additional benefits to their communities win public service contracts.

Opening second reading debate on the bill on 19 November 2010, Mr White said the legislation could "make a small contribution towards a wider effort to boost our society...and make public services better".

He told the Commons: "We need to empower and champion civil society... [and] create the opportunity for voluntary organisations, for social enterprise, for socially responsible businesses to thrive.

"This is not going to happen by itself."

The government must do more to help VCSEs take on the delivery of public services, as they were too often put off by the cost and complexity of the bidding system, he said.

But he warned that government could not and should not see it as a duty to forcibly create the Big Society.

"That would defeat the point", he said.

Shadow cabinet office minister Jon Trickett said Labour would back the bill to see social enterprises develop but argued the legislation highlighted the "intellectual fissures... at the core of the coalition's confused approach to public policy".

"On the one hand they say they are in favour of a Big Society but on the other hand they don't always will the means.

"There is a contradiction between their professed communitarianism on the one and their neo-liberal tendencies of cutting the cost of services on the other", he said.

Winding up the debate Cabinet Office Minister Nick Hurd said the government supported the "core propositions" of the bill but added ministers would seek to amend certain parts in committee.

The bill passed second reading without a vote and will proceed to committee stage.

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