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Lords Chamber

Volume 597: debated on Wednesday 10 February 1999

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House Of Lords

Wednesday, 10th February 1999.

The House met at half-past two of the clock: The LORD CHANCELLOR on the Woolsack.

Prayers—Read by the Lord Bishop of Carlisle.

Farm Incomes

What benefits they expect British agriculture to gain from the reform of the common agricultural policy under the European Union's Agenda 2000 dossier.

The Parliamentary Secretary, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food
(Lord Donoughue)

My Lords, the Government consider that the Agenda 2000 proposals for reform of the common agricultural policy will reduce agriculture's dependence on price support and make it more robust and competitive in the face of increasingly open world markets.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that Answer. Does he expect general agreement on the Agenda 2000 proposals to be reached before the March summit meeting? Beyond that, what overall effect does he expect these proposals will have on British agriculture? Given that there is now talk of a one-third cut in direct payment to farmers and the money being diverted instead to low-income farmers or to schemes that are more environmentally friendly, in his judgment, at the enc of the day, will the average British farmer be better off or worse off?

My Lords, it is difficult at this stage to forecast the degree of success. The Germans, who hold the presidency, are committed, as we are, to achieving agreement. The process is that the Agricultural Council meets next week, to be followed by a meeting of the Council in March. Everyone is committed to achieving agreement. However, we know from past experience that matters can become tricky, especially on small items.

As to the effect on British farmers, overall, reform will be very good for European farming. British fanning is particularly well placed to benefit. It is more efficient and capable of taking an open view of world markets. In terms of specifics, we calculate the cost to British farmers as being within the range of £200 million to £300 million. That represents a decline in incomes. However, we estimate the gains to consumers to be upwards of £1 billion. There will be some loss on our budget. We shall certainly look to see that British farmers do not suffer.

My Lords, in his reply to me yesterday about the increased burden of charges being placed on abattoirs, the Minister stated:

"The effect of these increased costs will be to reduce producer incomes and to encourage further rationalisation in the primary production and meat slaughtering sector"—[Official Report, 9/2/99; col. WA 21.]
If farmers are to lose out as a result of Agenda 2000 and in this respect, where on earth are they to get any income from?

My Lords, we have made clear from the beginning that some restructuring must take place in British agriculture and that the meat sector is an obvious area. However, we are convinced that in a more open food producing market British farmers will find new ways of earning their incomes more competitively and will be less dependent on production support. It is also our commitment to direct more funds into agri-environmental schemes and rural development. Farmers will benefit from that approach.

My Lords, in that case, what preparatory work has been undertaken by Her Majesty's Government for the implementation of the rural development regulation? Also, what account has been taken of best practice, as learnt in Objective 5b areas, LEADER programmes and Rural Development Commission areas?

My Lords, we do whatever preparatory work we can. It can be a waste to do such work in advance of deciding the final details. The noble Baroness will be aware that what is being agreed, we trust, in Europe on the rural development side is a matter of structure concerned with simplifying and merging existing regulations.

My Lords, will the noble Lord give an undertaking that that part of the common agricultural policy which has resulted in the payment of millions of pounds to a small number of individuals for producing nothing at all will be eliminated?

My Lords, I am reluctant to give that absolute guarantee to my noble friend. Like all of us, he is aware that the common agricultural policy has particular quirks. However, I believe that the process of reform that we have embarked on and which is being contemplated is only a small step. We are constantly pushing and shall push further, after these reforms have been agreed, towards a situation in which there are no supports for production even when they are not wanted and no controls over supply regardless of the market. We wish to move towards a more market-sensitive agriculture. When we reach it, some of the matters of which I detect my noble friend may not wholly approve will diminish.

My Lords, I believe the feeling of the House is that the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, should ask his question. There will still be an opportunity for other noble Lords to intervene after that.

My Lords, I wish to put two points to the Minister. First, he rightly says that British agriculture is more efficient than much of the agriculture on the Continent. That derives partly from the fact that British farms are considerably larger, in general, than French farms. Does it therefore make sense to discriminate against the larger farmers and in favour of the smaller ones? Secondly, can the Minister say whether he expects that restrictions on milk quotas will be abolished in order that British producers will be able both to satisfy our own market and export to the Continent?

My Lords, as regards size, the noble Lord is correct. British farms, of about 65 hectares on average, are considerably larger than those on the Continent. I shall not mention the extent of farming with which my noble friend who intervenes is connected. He obviously finds the figure I quoted too small for him to contemplate. The whole drift of the reform, except on modulation, where mere proposals are involved, is in the direction of rewarding the larger farm. That leads some of us to worry about the small and family farms. I thought that the noble Lord might ask that question.

It is absolutely our position to press for the abolition of milk quotas; we are now urging a termination date for them. That is not in the Commission's proposals. I agree wholly with the noble Lord about what is desirable to assist our very efficient milk producers. They are limited under the present arrangements.

My Lords, can the Minister confirm that the Government's aims include an expansion of organic farming and food for which there is an unsatisfied demand? I declare my own interest in that area.

Yes, my Lords. Since coming into office this Government have pressed to improve support for organic farming. The basic situation now is that the demand for organic food products is increasing at 20 per cent. a year. Our food producers who did not position themselves early enough are not able to supply that. About 70 per cent. of organics sold by food retailers are imports. We want that corrected. We have announced a significant increase in aid to organic farmers and to assist people to convert to organic farming.

Human Rights Training For Police Recruits

2.46 p.m.

What steps are being taken to train police recruits in human rights, with special reference to good race relations.

My Lords, all police officers receive training in community and race relations as part of their probationer training at police training centres. Minimum effective training levels in equal opportunities and community and race relations were incorporated into the probationer training programme last September. There is also a specific input on the Human Rights Act and its implications for police constables. The Metropolitan Police Service runs its own training programme which incorporates the minimum effective training levels.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that helpful Answer. Does he agree that policing in Britain depends on trust between the police and the community and that there is a real crisis of trust at present with the black community in Britain and the police? Can he further say what steps are being taken to investigate the disturbing statistics in the 1998 study of race relations under Section 95, which has just been published? It indicates that stop and search is five times more likely in the case of black Britons than in the community of Britain as a whole.

My Lords, undoubtedly no policing system in a civilised society can operate effectively without the trust and confidence of all citizens or all people who live in these islands. The noble Baroness is quite right, overall the statistics show that black people were five times more likely to be stopped and searched. Indeed, there are internal variations within those figures: it is three times more likely in Bedfordshire, on the one hand, and, on the other, seven times more likely in Leicester and Hertfordshire. Noble Lords will know that in days rather than weeks the Home Secretary expects the report deriving from the murder of Stephen Lawrence. He is holding a conference on 14th April in Southampton to take forward the worrying themes which the noble Baroness has identified.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that a great majority of police officers do an extremely good job under very difficult circumstances? Does he further agree that training is required for all officers, particularly at the junior level?

My Lords, not for the first time, of course, I pay willing tribute to the quality of most police officers in this country. Training is very important and I take the noble Lord's point. It is not simply training on entry to the police force but continuous training in awareness of difficult matters. We must aim to get more police officers from ethnic minorities, particularly in the context of retaining and promoting them after they have been recruited.

My Lords, does the Minister accept that my experience as a Member of Parliament for a West London constituency was that the senior officers of the Metropolitan Police concerned with community relations were absolutely first-class and that often the problems arose because some of their more junior colleagues were not as enlightened? Does he agree that that underlines the importance of training not only for recruits but also for those rather older people who still hold positions in the service?

My Lords, I take the noble Lord's point absolutely. In all walks of life it is important to have continued training. To revert to his specific indication, it is the fact that most complainants from ethnic minorities will have dealt with that category of police officers who are perhaps not as enlightened as they should be. The answer to that is training and monitoring.

My Lords, training in race and community relations as they affect the police has been going on for the past 25 years. Will the Minister undertake an independent evaluation to see how effective such training has been? I have in mind the figures cited by my noble friend relating to stop and search. Is he aware that one of his own Home Office senior race and community relations advisers has been stopped by the police on at least 44 occasions and to a great extent is responsible for providing training for police officers?

My Lords, these are difficult and continuing problems. It is no good pretending that racially discriminatory views, whether deliberately known or unknown by those who hold them, do not exist That is a part of our society that we must recognise and deal with. We need more police officers from ethnic minorities. In many areas of authority, power and privilege in this country, it is the fact that ethnic minorities are rather under-represented, not least perhaps in this House.

My Lords, how can police forces recruit more from the ethnic minorities when many of them cannot afford even to replace retiring officers?

My Lords, if they have the will to do so—the Home Secretary has determined that they shall—they can perfectly well cast the net widely, properly and fairly to get first-class probationers from all ethnic groups. We owe that to ethnic minority groups and to our own civilised society.

My Lords, about 14 to 15 years ago the Association of Chief Police Officers, with the Home Office, established a special unit, which was housed originally at Brunel University, to design courses and develop training in race relations and race awareness matters, not simply for recruits but all ranks in the service. Can the Minister inform the House whether that unit still exists? If not, can he say why it was discontinued and where responsibility for such work now lies? More importantly perhaps, can he also say who is responsible for monitoring the effectiveness of this training particularly in the light of the comment by Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Constabulary to a Select Committee of another place in December of 1998:

"We have said firmly that race and community relations training has been marginalised compared with other training"?

My Lords, to deal first with the latter question, I believe that the noble Lord refers to the 1997 report. I am sure he will be pleased to learn that the author of that report will revisit his conclusions to see what, if anything, has changed. As he rightly says, the specific unit to which the noble Lord refers was set up in 1983 at Brunel. That contract expired in 1988. A further contract was granted in 1989, which expired in December 1998. A new contract was granted in January of this year to Ionann Consultancy. We recognised one of the defects to be that the older schemes trained trainers who then went back to their own forces. It was felt, rightly I believe, that the services should be delivered directly to individual forces. I am sure that the noble Lord will, in light of his own experience, bear in mind that that is a significant advance.

Concessionary Fares: The Disabled And Pensioners

2.54 p.m.

What steps they are taking to provide free public transport for the disabled or pensioners.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Environment, Transport and the Regions
(Lord Whitty)

My Lords, we are committed to the introduction of a national minimum standard for local authority concessionary fare schemes in England. This would entail half-fares rather than free fares for pensioners on buses on the purchase of a £5 bus pass. Local authorities would remain free to offer wider or more generous schemes if they so wished. Implementation of the minimum standard will require primary legislation. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Wales has also announced that he expects local authorities to provide the proposed minimum standard from April 1999. The aim is to move to free fares for pensioners in Wales over the next two to three years.

My Lords, does the Minister appreciate that if Wales is anything to go by concessionary travel is ludicrously piecemeal? When will the Government honour their commitment to establish nationally a minimum half-fare scheme for pensioners and the disabled? Is it not time that we caught up with the Republic of Ireland, where free transport for these groups is available on road and rail?

My Lords, as I indicated, the situation in Wales is that my right honourable friend the Secretary of State has reached agreement with the Welsh authorities that a minimum scheme covering Wales will be in place by April of next year. He would hope, with statutory powers, to move to a free bus pass system in Wales subsequently. The situation in the Republic of Ireland, as in Northern Ireland, is somewhat different, but in Wales substantial progress is being made. I hope that the noble Lord's characterisation of the Welsh situation will, within just over 12 months, prove to be wrong.

My Lords, will the Government take into account that some physically disabled people cannot use buses and find railway stations very difficult, and that, for them, public transport is not an option? Does the Minister agree that, instead, they need access for their Motability cars or other vehicles in which they are able to travel as passengers?

My Lords, I wholly appreciate that situation. I believe that a large number of local authorities also recognise the need for special access for disabled people and their vehicles.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that, as far as concerns able-bodied people, there is a danger of creating the impression that once people reach pensionable age they become automatically dependent on the state and must look to the state even for assistance with transport?

My Lords, I do not accept the point that is put in those terms. It is reasonable to recognise that many pensioners rely on public transport more than the population as a whole and that therefore they are entitled to provision at both local authority and national level to ensure that they have access to public transport. That has been recognised by local authorities of all political persuasions up and down the land.

My Lords, if it is accepted that in two months' time we will have a scheme that allows concessionary fares, can the Government confirm that it will cost only £25 million to introduce? Can the Government provide an approximate date on which they intend to extend that scheme to the disabled? As it is such a small increase in cost, surely it would not cost very much more to extend it to the disabled.

My Lords, I should correct the noble Lord on two matters. First, the reference to April 1999 relates to the voluntary scheme in Wales. We shall require statutory provision to introduce a mandatory minimum scheme in England, and in Wales if it applied there. Secondly, the £25 million cost is related to the intended introduction of the concessionary half-fare scheme in England. Clearly, any widening of the scope of the scheme will involve greater cost, but local authorities have the right to extend the scope as well as the generosity of their provision.

My Lords, I agree with the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Laming. Does the Minister agree that it is absurd to force local authorities by law to provide concessionary fares and ultimately free travel to everybody over the age of 65 irrespective of their financial background?

My Lords, in a large part of the country local authorities of all political persuasions have regarded it as part of their job to ensure access to public transport for our senior citizens.

I am surprised at the approach of the noble Baroness and the noble Lord, Lord Laming. I believe that it is recognised as a good thing throughout the country. However, a few areas have no such scheme. We felt it right, therefore, to introduce a minimum level concessionary scheme, as we announced in our White Paper in July.

My Lords, does the Minister accept that many people throughout the country think that local government autonomy is important?

My Lords, it is a well-established principle between central and local government that central government frequently sets minimum standards and local authorities have the ability to improve on them. That is precisely the situation we propose to introduce in this area.

Local Authority Elections: Voting System

3 p.m.

What plans they have for the introduction of a new voting system for local authority elections.

My Lords, the Government's plans are in our recent White Paper. We do not propose to change the local government voting system other than the possible introduction of the supplementary vote for the election of directly elected mayors.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that somewhat disappointing reply. Is the noble Baroness aware that when the Nolan Committee considered standards in local government it found that, irrespective of political persuasion, abuses were by and large associated with an excessive degree of one-party dominance.

Against that background, would not one of the best ways to improve standards in local government be to introduce some form of proportional voting, as the Government have done for the new Parliament of Scotland, the Welsh Assembly and now the European Union elections?

My Lords, I am sure the noble Lord will wish to join me in paying tribute to the large number of councillors and officers who do excellent work in majority as well as minority authorities. However, it is true that we have studied carefully the issue of possible corruption in local government. For that reason we shall publish soon a draft Bill which will include a new ethical framework which we hope to achieve following consultation, including consultation with the Local Government Association.

In one authority where corruption was found to have occurred, the fear of losing majority control led to the corruption.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that many people would welcome the Answer she gave to the noble Lord, Lord Thomson, in particular as, contrary to what the noble Lord seemed to suggest, all forms of proportional representation tend to lead to an increase in power for the party apparat at the expense of the individual voter? That applies as much to local government as to national elections.

My Lords, as always, the noble Viscount makes an interesting point. As he knows, for example, with regard to the European parliamentary elections, the Government's position is that different systems may be appropriate for different types of election. However, on behalf of the Government, I welcome his support for the position we take on local government.

My Lords, when considering systems of proportional representation, will the Minister take into account the background to the Question posed by the noble Lord, Lord Thomson? It may he less to do with the purity of democracy but more about seeking to increase Liberal Democrat representation on local authorities. Will my noble friend also take into account the behaviour on the doorstep of Liberal Democrat councillors which bodes ill for the integrity of councils in which there are more of them?

My Lords, my noble friend has in mind a specific experience. It is my experience in local government that candidates and councillors in all parties behave with scrupulous integrity on the doorstep when they seek support. Occasionally other types of people become involved despite the careful scrutiny of the political parties. I should not like to hazard a guess or to demonstrate any personal bias by attributing percentages to the different parties.

My Lords, is the Minister aware that many independent members are still elected to local authorities? That is an advantage which the Government should do their best to maintain. Proportional representation would prevent it.

My Lords, some systems of proportional representation fully allow the local electorate to choose freely to support an independent candidate in local elections. When I was chair of the Association of County Councils for England and Wales, a wide range of views was held by independent candidates from the Principality. In some cases they fully reflected the views of their local communities.

My Lords, it is politically naïve to believe that a change in voting system will prevent people who are intent on operating corrupt practices from being elected. Can proportional representation distinguish between an individual who will be corrupt and someone who will be pure?

My Lords, my noble friend is right. No political system of election can do that. But we believe that a new ethical framework, which will implement the policy that after a single strike of misbehaviour one is out, is to be welcomed by all parties.

Business Of The House: Debates This Day

3.6 p.m.

My Lords, I beg to move the Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper.

Moved, That the debate on the Motion in the name of the Lord Freyberg set down for today shall be limited to three hours and that in the name of the Earl of Listowel to two-and-a-half hours.—(Baroness Jay of Paddington.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

The Arts

3.7 p.m.

rose to call attention to the case for a change in the way in which the arts in this country are governed and managed; and to move for Papers.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, it is a pleasure to be able to introduce this afternoon's debate on the case for a change in the way the arts in Britain are governed and managed.

My pleasure arises chiefly from the fact that this Government appear to take the arts seriously, are on occasion prepared to make more resources available for them, and believe that the arts in general have a vital role to play in Britain's economy and social wellbeing. Such a view is a quantum leap from that of their predecessor, whom many have described as having a "policy vacuum" towards the arts—and indeed no government in the past 20 years have set forth their policy objectives for the arts or guidelines for the cultural sector as a whole. I therefore welcome the recently published Cultural Framework, following the DCMS comprehensive spending review. This is, moreover, the first occasion it has been possible to discuss the ideas contained in it since its publication on 14th December 1998.

Many of the proposals strike me as sensible and practical, including the streamlining of bodies that share similar briefs, for example on architecture, museums and the arts in general, and the introduction of a three-year funding plan. It is an impressively wide-ranging survey of funding and organisation. However, its very nature and scale mean that new problems are inevitably thrown up as well as solutions to current shortcomings. While remaining positive in general, I should like to take this opportunity to examine several areas which I believe contain potential pitfalls, and to discuss the implications of some proposals which need to be addressed with caution and an open mind. The areas I should like to address are regionalism, best value and the turning of museums into independent trusts.

Regionalism is one of the most dominant themes of the Cultural Framework along with the proposed increase in English regional powers (under devolution, Scotland and Wales will make their own arrangements). The nine regions form a layer of bureaucracy between central government and local or county administration. Labour's longstanding commitment to devolving administration to the regions is understandably regarded with caution by the quite separate counties and metropolitan districts that already exercise considerable powers over quite large areas. Furthermore, regional loyalty in England is on the whole weak. Most people identify either with their locality or with the whole country and not much in between.

The current regional cultural bodies include Government Offices for the Regions (created in 1994) and unelected bodies such as tourist boards, regional arts boards and area museum councils. The Cultural Framework proposes establishing a new strategic body in each region to provide a strong voice for all cultural interests. At first glance, it seems a good idea to create bodies to champion the arts: it is also an undeniable fact that when local authorities are hard pressed it is all too often arts funding that suffers. Only last week, Westminster City Council drastically reduced its funding to such major arts institutions as the ICA, English National Ballet, English National Opera and the Serpentine as a way of offsetting the cost of looking after large numbers of refugees. The Orchestra of St. John's Smith Square and the Photographers' Gallery lost their grants altogether. It would be interesting to know whether a strengthened regional arts board would have had any effect on this or similar decisions.

The precedents are not encouraging. During the last Labour administration, in the late 1970s, greater regionalism did not prove to be a noticeable success. Simply moving decision-making to a town closer to local authorities did not appear radically to alter or improve the nature of decisions made to anyone's satisfaction. The same dilemmas exist now as existed then; namely, the lack of demand for regional government, the problem of what functions should be allocated to the regions, and the boundary issues.

It should also be remembered that stronger regional representation for the arts counts for nothing if funding at local level remains static or even decreases. This appears to be the case for the next few years. In July 1998, the Chancellor of the Exchequer announced that government resources to local authorities in three years 1999 to 2002 would increase.

"above estimated inflation by an average 2.3 per cent.".

However, he also revealed that the,

"standard spending assessments for environmental, protective and cultural services would increase by only 1.3 per cent. in real terms in 1999 to 2000 and then be cut by 0.6 per cent. and 0.95 per cent. in the following years".

What kind of message does that give? Not that the arts are important, certainly. Rather it puts cultural services under ever more pressure, which cannot be a good thing.

Gathering reliable data on local authority expenditure on cultural provision is difficult because of lack of comparable and consistent data. However, there is no question that cultural services have over the past two decades been given relatively weak financial support by local authorities. For example, just over half spend less than 0.5 per cent. of their total net revenue on the arts and 84 per cent. spend less than 2 per cent. The size of these budgets may well reflect the perceived importance of the arts among elected members, but one could argue that this is because the arts are usually in the charge of members elected on the basis of their political preferences rather than those who have a particular interest or expertise in the arts per se.

Local authorities have endeavoured to save money on cultural services in a number of ways: by restructuring departments, which is almost an annual event in some authorities; by leaving vacant posts unfilled and merging others. The level of service has inevitably suffered. For example, small branch libraries with low issues have frequently been targeted for closure, opening hours reduced and specialised services come under threat. There has also been a corresponding drive to increase income from both "unearned" sources such as grants, and "earned" sources, such as retailing and catering. Between 1982 and 1992, self-generated income as a part of local authority museum expenditure rose from 5 per cent. to 18 per cent., though the growth plateaued out after 1992 suggesting that museums found it hard to improve on this performance.

Part of the problem is that most local authority cultural services are discretionary, although library services are statutory. The enormous pressure on discretionary services has forced many local authorities drastically to slim down or abolish specialist committees, leaving fewer knowledgeable parties to argue the cause of each specialism. Since the reorganisation of local government in 1974, libraries and achives, museums and art galleries and the performing arts have increasingly been grouped together as similar services and this has led to tensions.

Even more unsatisfactory has been the amalgamation of cultural services with leisure services. Cultural committees therefore have to deal not only with libraries, theatres and museums, but also with parks, sports centres and other leisure facilities. Cultural services have even on occasion been split between education, environment and a central administrative grouping. The result has been a miserable diminution of standards and provisions at a local level. Local authority cultural services have the disadvantage of not being independently governed; most members are elected because of political preferences not because of interest

in the arts—yet these are the people who make decisions in that field. As Stuart Davies of the University of Leeds puts it:

'The level of interest in and knowledge of cultural provisions, let alone the quality of decision-making on that committee, is purely a matter of chance.'

What would a regional board be able to do when faced with this kind of destructive restructuring? Such a question is nowhere dealt with in the Cultural Framework and there seems to be no mechanism that would make a difference. Ultimately, the power of government in this context is limited. What it can usefully do is state its belief in the social and educational benefit, of the arts, and encourage local government to take a more strategic view.

Another worrying trend is the increasingly impatient attitude of central government to the local variety. The White Paper of August 1998, Modern local government—in touch with the people, offers an exciting vision for local government, but also expresses distrust and threatens penalties and sanctions if local authorities do not comply with what central government think is appropriate. The tension between local and central government is intensified by suspicions that government Ministers are more sympathetic to the idea of regional government than the reality of local government.

The Cultural Framework states that existing regional cultural forums—essentially communication bodies—are to he strengthened by the establishment of strategic bodies in each region. This raises some critical issues about the place of regional agencies in cultural development. What will the relationship between regional and local strategies comprise? What underlies the assumption that it is appropriate to have a cultural strategy at regional level? There may be a great deal of sense in being able to determine regional priorities for funding if government, or other funders such as lottery boards, provide a regional allocation—especially if it is significantly level and free of pre-determined decisions. But in the absence of substantial research on regional cultural mapping (the incidence of "culture" and the audiences for it) it may be difficult convincingly to move away from the historical priorities of, for example, the Arts Council of England.

Another trend in which local authorities are taking a keen interest is that of turning museums into independent trusts, thus relieving the authority of some of the museum's financial burden. This has worrying implications. While the move has many attractions—giving museum directors greater freedom to manage and other incentives such as being allowed substantially to increase sponsorship income—it can also seriously impede programmes not dependent on earned income and renders social and educational agendas less likely. A particularly alarming example is that of Buckinghamshire County Museum, opened by Buckinghamshire County Council in 1996 after a £4 million redevelopment. Visitor numbers leapt up—66 per cent. more in 1998 than in 1988—and an award-winning Roald Dahl's Children's Gallery was also opened.

However, after the creation of a new unitary authority at Milton Keynes, Buckinghamshire's tax base was greatly diminished and led to considerable pressure on discretionary services. In January 1998, the County Museum's budget was reduced by £250,000 (about 35 per cent.) in 1998–99, with further cuts forecast for the following year. There were six staff redundancies, admission charges were introduced and increased at the Roald Dahl's Children's Gallery and, in May 1998, the former museum director was given six months to explore the possibilities of transferring the museum to a charitable trust.

Another cautionary tale is that of the Museum of Kent Life, operated by Kent County Council, and founded in 1983, which became a charitable trust in 1993. Its revenue went up from 25 per cent. of its total income in 1992 to almost 75 per cent. in 1997–98, but at the same time the county council support was cut. Its revenue grant fell by 50 per cent. over four years, and its capital grant disappeared altogether. The cut in the museum's revenue grant was 12 per cent. greater than the average for the council. These two examples demonstrate that unless there is either an endowment for the trust, guaranteed fixed revenue grant, or support from the local authority (always hard to secure) the independent trust option will always be high risk.

The problem of funding museums has grown enormously in the past 30 years. Some 75 per cent. of England's 2,000 museums have been created since 1970, and many have persuaded local authorities to support them with grants. They are competing with each other for visitors and resources. This is a continuing problem, with many of the new institutions falling short of the traditional criteria of a museum.

But what has really bedeviled the arts divisions of local authorities is the obligation to focus on cost-cutting rather than what people want or need from a service. It has also, in the past two decades, been a major factor in preventing local authorities from taking a strategic view of the arts. To counter this short-term tendency, the Government are introducing one of its most interesting concepts, that of "best value".

"Best value" considers the effectiveness and the quality of local services alongside their cost. It was developed by the Labour Party when in opposition and its 12 guiding principles represent an attempt to consult with people on what they want from a particular service, while maintaining high efficiency—hence "best value" in the delivery of local government services. It is to replace compulsory competitive tendering (CCT) as the guiding criteria for individual services.

Many of the ideas of "best value" come from the private or business sector and in general local authorities have been obliged to follow more corporate goals. Those who have resisted have suffered heavily in annual allocations. Cultural services have had to reinvent themselves in corporate terms or be relegated down the authority's ladder of priorities. The language of the Cultural Framework suggest that the Government also believe in redefining the arts, in their case as a social and educational tool.

There is no harm in this per se, for the arts are wonderfully multi-purpose and the more people they give pleasure and sustenance to the better. If the Government can find a way to work out the complex

balance between regional and local arts strategies, while retaining their belief in the important and magical qualities of the arts, they will be on their way to changing for the better the way the arts in this country are governed and managed.

My Lords, I beg to move for Papers.

3.22 p.m.

My Lords, I am sure that we are all grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Freyberg, for initiating this debate and for tabling his Motion in fairly wide terms so that the House will have an opportunity to deal with different aspects of this important subject. I should like to congratulate him on his wide-ranging, eloquent and perceptive speech. I should also like to congratulate my right honourable friend the Cultural Secretary on obtaining from the Treasury an extra £290 million for the arts over the next three years.

In the limited time at my disposal, I wish to speak about the problems concerning the export of works of art and the effect that that will have on our national heritage. I am delighted that the Government have agreed to accept the Sherborne Missal in lieu of some of the inheritance tax on the Northumberland estate. The missal is one of the greatest masterpieces of medieval art and had been on extended and generous loan by the late Duke of Northumberland to the British Library where, I am glad to say, it will now be able to remain permanently.

That important national treasure has been retained in this country but, notwithstanding that, there is still a constant flow abroad of works of art. According to the latest report of the Reviewing Committee on the Export of Works of Art, only about 50 per cent. of items for which the committee has recommended that an export licence be deferred in order to give museums the opportunity to raise funds, stay in this country.

The Heritage Lottery Fund's grants for items of over £100,000 in value are awarded at up to 75 per cent., leaving a museum to raise at least 25 per cent. of the cost. That can be quite substantial. For example, on a £5 million painting, which is not unusual, the museum would have to raise £1.25 million from its own resources, which is often impossible. I suggest that there is a case for changing those terms and for allowing the Heritage Lottery Fund to contribute up to 100 per cent. for important art works which are under threat of export.

The National Art Collections Funds does sterling work but its funds, which are provided by its members and by legacies, are somewhat limited. Nevertheless, the NACF contributed nearly £263,000—half the price—to the purchase of Hugh Douglas Hamilton's marvellous 18th century pastel of Canova in his studio, which is a wonderful souvenir of the Grand Tour. It met all three of the Waverley criteria and is now, I am glad to say, in the Victoria and Albert Museum, having originally been destined for the Getty Museum in California.

The National Heritage Memorial Fund, which is a fund of last resort, has suffered from annual raids by the Treasury and has been cut from £12 million in 1993–94 to only £2 million in 1997–98. I am glad that the Government intend to increase that by £1 million per year for the next three years. Even so, it will still be only half what it was five years ago.

Non-charging museums, when making an offer for a deferred item, must include 17.5 per cent. to cover VAT. That puts them at a disadvantage against overseas buyers who do not have to pay VAT. Those rules are governed by EU directives and I hope that the Government will press for changes, including the well-meaning but totally misguided proposal on droit de suite. I am glad that the noble Lord, Lord Hindlip, is to speak on that in the debate. He and I have spoken on it on various occasions beforehand and I shall leave that to him.

The inheritance tax concession for conditionally exempt items, allowing the owner of a small house to give public access by prior appointment, has been withdrawn, I am sorry to say. In these difficult times there will be problems for the owners of small houses in relation to security if there is to be open access at any time. It is right that if owners of valuable works of art are able to escape the tax due on them and still keep them in their homes, it gives them a distinct advantage over other people who must pay the full amount of tax. The least they can do is to provide access. Therefore, I do not hold any particular brief in that respect. Nevertheless—and this is the point I submit—the effect of open access on small households will be to drive more objects onto the market and no doubt for export.

The reviewing committee believes that the Waverley system works well on the whole, but times have changed since that system was set up nearly 50 years ago. I agree with the committee that there is a need for new legislation. I hope that my noble friend and his colleagues in the Government will consider that.

I do not suggest that we should initiate tighter controls. As regards the EU, that would be impossible and many of our art treasures are deeply appreciated, particularly in the United States. But there should be a level playing field and we suffer from the handicap of the various measures that I have attempted to outline. I hope that the Government will consider how some of those might be mitigated so as to work less adversely against the retention of so much of our patrimony.

3.30 p.m.

My Lords, it is a pleasant and almost perverse experience to start my contribution to this welcome debate by actually thanking the Government for helping the living arts at last.

My own cultural life started with church choirs and the radio hero, Dick Barton—whom all your Lordships are too young to remember. The former were consistent; the latter and his pals usually escaped from a terrible fate a minute or so before the show ended. Life in the funded arts system is much more Dick Barton than Thomas Tallis or Vaughan Williams. But with one bound the Secretary of State has allowed us to break out of what I described in your Lordships' House when I was chairing the Arts Council of England as a "mad hatter's tea party" and, last year, as,
"the worst crisis facing the funded arts in my adult lifetime".
Thanks are due to him, to the present council and its chairman and to the Prime Minister. An unsung hero—perhaps "the" hero—is Sir Dennis Stevenson who led a distinguished posse to No. 10 when things were at their bleakest.

If I may drop names for a moment, the present Prime Minister shares with his predecessor great good manners and generosity with his time. As Leader of the Opposition he gave me the opportunity to tell him that when push comes to shove, as the Americans say, only 10 Downing Street can protect the minute but vital budgets: culture, the BBC World Service and the British Council. It was certainly so when I was arts Minister. The Treasury said "No" as it is paid to do. My noble friend, the then Prime Minister said, "Yes, dear, so long as you do not crow about it and irritate the colleagues". I discovered that if I attacked the arts establishment in Cabinet and in the press, I was cheered and given more money to give to that same establishment. Dick Barton ran a fifth column.

The huge sums distributed by the council in my time through the infant National Lottery put paid—or rather unpaid—to most schemes transparent or full of guile for current funding. However often we said so, the public, the press and Parliament, and sometimes the Government themselves, refused to believe that the Arts Council was not rolling in money. This was the mad hatter's tea party. We could buy expensive porcelain and teapots in terms of capital projects, but we could not buy any tea or cakes.

It damaged the then Prime Minister's sublime vision. The unsung villain was the otherwise saintly Sir Terry Burns. He and his colleagues loathed the lottery: backdoor hypothecated taxation; a sin against the fiscal equivalent of the Holy Ghost. The present Government, admittedly after pinching a sixth of the lottery loot for other purposes, have given the council control—as we asked—over the totality of lottery allowance and grant-in-aid; and that is good.

I am afraid that having thus far said to the actors—the Government—'Darlings, you were wonderful!", I do have to criticise quite a lot of the play. In spite of the good news, living arts funding remains a good 10 per cent. lower in real terms annually than six years ago. This is part of a national pattern. Governments wait until the funded arts system is on the verge of collapse—in spite of self-help, philanthropy or the huge rise in business sponsorship, which I am proud to say I initiated with the "pairing" scheme—and then bail out the system but not back to level pegging terms.

The living arts in this country are not Oliver Twists; they never get more. They are not scroungers. They earn domestic and overseas revenue, international acclaim (look at the Oscar nominations only last night) and they employ hundreds of thousands of people both directly and in terms of ancillary workers. It is not realistic against a backdrop of public concern for the health service or the nurses for the arts to receive more. They do deserve to break even and keep on doing so. The year 1993 was in no sense a bonanza year for the arts, yet it would be a triumph for the Secretary of State and the Prime Minister to get back to it. "Come on Tony; Come on Chris; Come on Gerry; one more heave in the lifetime of this Parliament." And, dare I say, "Come on Ffion"? Admirable, independent arts professional though Miss Jenkins is, she does, after all, have unlimited access to the Leader of the Opposition.

I shall turn quickly to the Motion of the noble Lord, Lord Freyberg. In my time there was and still is excellent management within the arts funding system. In London alone (there are more outside it) we have the London Symphony Orchestra, the Serpentine Gallery and the Almeida Theatre—a whale, a salmon and a minnow. At last both major opera houses appear to be in consistently reliable hands. Let the Government and the council now turn attention to better funding for the great Welsh National Opera and Opera North. All our orchestras have been on a four or five year pay freeze at base levels of sometimes less than £25,000 a year: those who fund them, departmental and Arts Council officials, have not. You need as much training to be a good orchestral musician as to be a medical specialist or a surgeon; but not a general practitioner, however worthy.

There has been poor and mixed management. Let us draw a veil and get on with improving it. I remain unconvinced that there is a better way of arts funding than the ministry giving part of its voted expenditure to an arm's length body. There are always arguments about the lengths of the arms. But it is true that the scale of the lottery success did implicate the department and the Treasury more than is healthy. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Freyberg, that insufficient attention is paid to the role of local government—essential co-funders within the natural system. After food, shelter and basic healthcare, the quality of life and the plural excitements of our multicultural society are essential to liberty and the pursuit of happiness. It is rubbish to say that opera is more "élitist"—well done Rory Bremner for coming out in its favour—than rap or reggae.

I close with two quick questions to the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh. I am in favour of a mayor for London but the Greater London Authority Bill, where culture is concerned, is a cat's cradle of duplicated bodies, duplicated consultancies and duplicated strategies. It makes little sense in English and less on the ground. This House must look at it closely when it comes here. However, can the noble Lord shed a little intermediate light on what is to be the relationship between the mayor, the London Arts Board and the City of London Corporation?

London is a global attraction and the most valuable farm on the national estate. It must think as a world city. Alas, my political friends at Westminster City Council appear more benighted even than Gowrie—a place in Iowa once chosen by the New York Times as an archetypically boom dock town. Finally, has the noble Lord any information on the progress of cross-border touring between England and Scotland? Devolved Scotland may be, but the voteless English taxpayer still pays the piper for his tune.

My Lords, I do not share the concern that so many noble Lords connected with the arts have expressed that the Government are not doing enough for the arts. However, having heard the three previous speakers, I recognise, perhaps for the first time, compliments from all sides of the House to the Government on what they have already done. Of course, it is not perfect. The noble Lord, Lord Freyberg, mentioned the matter of the arts receiving support from local authorities. Because local authorities are tremendously squeezed to find money for essential local needs, they try to cut the contributions given to museums and so on. It is difficult to see how the Government can influence that. They can, perhaps, only augment the sums given with their own resources.

Nevertheless, the country is blessed with a Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport who is truly enlightened. He has done a great deal for the arts in this country and I believe will do a great deal more. I regard the arts as having "won the lottery" in every sense of the phrase. If we consider the fact that the arts lottery fund will have £2 billion to distribute—it has already distributed a great deal—and the millennium lottery fund will also have another £2 billion, of which half will probably go to the arts, we can see that a tremendous amount of money has been, and will continue to be, contributed to the arts. Ten years ago, nobody would have believed that to be possible.

I must declare an interest—not for the first time here—as a member of a small fund-raising group which is working for the Tate Museum of Modern Art on the South Bank. It is just a mile or two down the road, as I am sure many noble Lords will know, opposite St. Paul's Cathedral. I believe that it will be the most important and exciting of all the millennium fund ventures. I have not forgotten the dome. I am sure that for 30 years or so the dome will be recognised as quite extraordinary. Nevertheless, I believe that the Tate Museum of Modern Art will still be recognised as extraordinary in 300 years' time. It will be one of the four greatest museums of modern art in the world. Of that, I have not the slightest doubt.

The museum will attract at least 2.5 million visitors per year. I am sure that many additional visitors will come to this country, no doubt for the first time, to see that great building and the works it contains. The cost of the whole venture is £134 million. I am pleased to state publicly for the first time that we have now raised £120 million; there is just £14 million to go. I am confident that that sum will be raised by the end of the year. The museum is due to open next year. It is on time and on budget. I believe that it will be an achievement of which we can all be very proud.

Noble Lords may think that if all is going so well with the project, why have I risen to speak about it? Perhaps to boast about it, yes, but there is, unfortunately, a problem. That problem is not in the construction of the museum but will start from the day it opens. From that day onwards it will be faced with financial problems. The museum does not intend to charge admission fees. That is the Government's policy but it is also the policy of these Benches. We believe that free entry to museums is very desirable. The museum will raise revenue from its restaurants and bookstall, but that will be insufficient to cover the cost of employing the 100 or so people (at least) who will be required. Therefore, from day one the museum will begin to incur a deficit. That is a real problem. The deficit in the first year will probably be between £5 million and £6 million. We are naturally hoping that the Government can find the extra money to cover that—in which case our position will not be too bad—but we cannot be certain that they will.

I turn from the particular to the general. There are several hundred lottery-funded arts projects across the country—some from the millennium fund and some from the arts fund—which, from the moment they open, will run at a significant loss. I am concerned that no attention has been paid to that issue. The regulations of various boards entitle them to provide endowment funds for such new projects. They have chosen to do so, as far as I can understand, on only one occasion. Although the boards of the arts fund and the millennium fund have done a very good job, nevertheless, I think they are guilty of having used all the money and spread it too thinly to cover as many projects as possible, rather than ensuring that the key projects are sufficiently funded to cover their operating costs. When many of those projects open next year, the Government will be faced with immediate demands for between £100 million and £150 million to ensure that they do not lose money.

Finally, I have two questions for the Minister. That seems to be the appropriate number. First, is it possible for the Government to approach the arts board and the millennium board and ask them at least to investigate all the projects they have approved to ascertain the likely level of profit, break-even or loss? The Government could then at least have some understanding, ahead of time, of the financial burden involved.

Secondly, could the Government also discuss with the two boards the question of whether some of the unused funds could be applied to provide endowments and foundations? While it is nice to have more and more new projects, the fact is that hundreds of loss-making projects would be a burden round the country's neck and certainly round the Government's neck.

3.46 p.m.

My Lords, I welcome this debate initiated by my noble friend Lord Freyberg, but in echoing a call for change in the way the arts in this country are governed and managed I might well be accused of sour grapes. Some of your Lordships may recall that in 1993, having served for nearly eight years, I resigned from the Arts Council and as chairman of its drama panel in protest at the council's self-imposed cuts in drama and the increasing erosion of the so-called "arm' s-length principle" which is an oxymoron for he who pays the piper calls the tune, and the calls from successive Ministers were becoming increasingly audible. Frankly, I do not find that particularly surprising or altogether objectionable. Indeed, we of the drama panel became the villains of the piece as far as the Royal National Theatre and the RSC were concerned. We imposed strict limits, sometimes standstills, on their annual grants, attempting thereby to provide sufficient funds to obtain local authority matching grants, thus sustaining our regional theatres, while at the same time offering help to our smaller, innovative and new writing companies. It was a delicate balancing act, with Sir Peter Hall and others concerned with our national theatres constantly calling for direct government funding and, frankly, I could not blame them. Nevertheless, I was not too unhappy when I finally left 14 Great Peter Street.

However, I was very sad at leaving one particularly worthwhile Arts Council project. The Arts and Disability Monitoring Committee was established under my chairmanship soon after I joined the council in 1986. As might be expected, progress was slow and in 1991 we decided that action was urgently needed to promote the participation and employment of disabled people in the arts. At the time, approximately 650,000 people were working in the world of arts and culture but there was absolutely no information regarding the number of disabled people employed in these areas. We could only guess at a figure of less than 100.

Why were so few disabled people employed in the arts? To find out we decided to establish a disability employment initiative and our research revealed a number of fundamental problems: discrimination and segregation in education and training: access barriers in buildings; transport; communications; and, above all, attitudes. There was also, of course, a lack of knowledge among arts employers and the employment service of the creative talents of the disabled people.

One of the major recommendations arising from the initiative was that the Arts Council should set up an apprenticeship scheme with arts organisations to create arts professionals for the future. The scheme began just before my resignation and, I am happy to say, has been a great success, although on a pathetically small scale. Twelve disabled people have completed apprenticeships and 10 are still employed in the arts. The Arts Council is now seeking funding to develop the scheme nationally. However, this really is a case where the Department for Culture, Media and Sport should stop excusing itself by quoting the suspect "arm's-length principle" and have a word with its chums in the lottery, the Department for Education and Employment and the DSS to persuade them to provide the opportunities—including the development of the apprenticeship scheme—and the money to enable disabled people to work in the arts where they will grow and develop both as creators and participants.

As president of MENCAP I shall be forgiven, I am sure, if I dwell for a moment on the participation of learning disabled people in the arts. There are probably some noble Lords who believe this to be an impossibility. I am happy to disabuse them. For many years MENCAP has held an international arts exhibition of works by learning disabled people from all over the world. Entries pour in, and I have met such artists it the middle of Kenya, Calcutta, Woollongong and Wellington. The pleasure they get from their framed certificates of participation is almost as rewarding as the money they receive from the sale of their works, which are often of quite exceptional quality. But running such an exhibition demands resources, both financial and human, and frankly we could do with a helping hand.

What about my old stamping ground, the theatre? Well, of course, there is our splendid biannual Gateway Festival which brings together amateur groups with learning disabilities from all over the United Kingdom who give quite remarkable and often moving performances at the Festival Hall in London or the Symphony Hall in Birmingham.

There are a number of extremely popular professional performance companies as well. One of the first I ever saw—and very good it was, too—was also one of the first of its kind: Kaleidoscope Theatre, founded in 1980, has an integrated cast of 30 players from all walks of life, many of whom have Down's Syndrome. They are welcome visitors with their productions and drama workshops to such prestigious venues as the RSC Swan Theatre as well as international festivals in Edinburgh, Hungary and Japan. They have broken down many cultural barriers.

Another national touring group is the long-established Strathcona Theatre Company, employing eight professional actors with learning disabilities, assisted by two directors. One of the first companies into Europe, Strathcona is now involved in an extensive educational programme, including workshops with medical students and a programme targeted at special schools dealing with drug awareness as well as the problems facing people with learning disabilities in the criminal justice system.

Then there is Chickenshed, which links mainstream and special schools in joint performances. It did not take the company long to recognise the closed-door policy that operates throughout the arts world towards those with physical, sensory and learning disabilities, especially the young. I am happy that many of your Lordships support the Chickenshed enterprise.

Finally, there is Heart'n'Soul, a national touring company of 10 professional actors and musicians with learning disabilities who have forged a name for themselves on the international stage, writing their own music and lyrics, expressing with startling clarity the way they see the world. In the past year, they have been working with MENCAP and we are seeking funding for this work to continue.

"Ay, there's the rub". Arts funding is devilishly difficult to come by at the best of times. For enterprises specialising in disability arts, it is even worse and for those with a learning disability, the bottom of the funding barrel is scraped again and again. To help matters, distributors of lottery funding, including the Heritage Lottery Fund, should be required to adopt best practice in access for disabled people, already developed by the Arts Council of England. Further, disabled people should be represented on all lottery boards and new national and regional cultural organisations. There needs to be continuous monitoring of disabled people's participation in the arts so that our goal of opening up cultural activities to all members of our community, in urban and in rural areas, can become a reality.

I trust that this timely debate will ensure that the arts generally, and disability arts in particular, are wisely governed, expertly managed, and generously supported in a manner truly worthy of the 21st century; otherwise, I fear that those,
"enterprises of great pith and moment With this regard their currents turn awry And lose the name of action".

3.54 p.m.

My Lords, when I saw the terms of this Motion I thought that perhaps I would hear a general onslaught on the system of management and governance of the arts in this country. However, when I heard the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Freyberg, I was immensely relieved to realise that I was mistaken and that the noble Lord was essentially drawing attention to the shortage of money at different points.

I believe that we have the right engine in place. We may have to improve it every now and again and to invent new things, but the system itself is not the trouble. The trouble is that, like a good engine, the arts cannot run without a plentiful supply of fuel, in this case funding. Funding input for the arts in this country has been noticeably smaller than in many other countries which do not do half as well as we do. I do not excuse of blame any particular government when I refer to our niggardly approach to the arts. Furthermore, the local government level of funding has not been good although some individual local authorities have done very well and have shown that, if local authorities put their minds to it, they can do very good work for the arts.

I am defending the present system which I think has worked pretty well under different governments. My noble friend Lord McIntosh of Haringey seems momentarily to have disappeared from our Front Bench although my noble friend Lady Ramsay of Cartvale is present. I shall be interested to hear the Government's reply to this debate. Generally speaking, I recognise the need for a regional approach, but I should like to know how it will be funded. How can we be sure that it does not add to the requirements rather than to the resources? That is why I believe that the general scene can be improved.

Before leaving that point, perhaps it is worth drawing the House's attention to the immense prestige which British arts enjoy internationally. As noble Lords will know, the United States' view of our actors is one of immense approval. Our films gain both support and awards.

Incidentally, that excellence provides us with some financial input. It cannot be said that the arts are only a drain; they play an immense part in our tourist trade. It has been calculated that, including the input from records, the total input from the arts exceeds the total expenditure of government at all levels. We are not considering something which merely draws out money, but something that we should nourish because not only does it increase our prestige in the world, but it is also profitable in the narrow sense of that word.

I had not intended to say anything on this occasion about droit de suite but, as it has been mentioned, perhaps I should point out that my attitude to all artistic matters stems from the fact that I began my involvement with the arts in the organisation Equity. I look at the arts from the point of view of the performer, the creator, the painter or the writer. If one looks at the matter from the point of view of the painter and the writer, then droit de suite is the same provision as we are asking for in favour of the artist, the painter and the sculptor. We have received that benefit in favour of the writer in the public lending rights. There was the same argument against public lending rights. It was thought that it would be a disaster. That measure was opposed very strongly by the libraries. But in practice it has been found to work perfectly well. None of the dreadful things which were forecast came about. Public lending rights are now part of the justifiable income of writers. Droit de suite would be an acceptable addition. Perhaps on some other occasion it will be possible to develop a full argument in favour of droit de suite because I do not believe that such a debate has been heard in this Chamber, but this is not such an occasion.

I am in general agreement with what the noble Lord, Lord Rix, said on a couple of matters. He spoke about the necessity of the arm's length principle. I agree with him when he said that that principle must be maintained. The dead hand of government has never been placed directly on the arts. There must be a body between the Government and the recipient in the arts world. The arm's length principle is extremely important. The Arts Council should be maintained fully and it should be the body which funds the arts generally.

I am President of the Theatres' Trust and, in fairness, I should declare that. It has done a wonderful job. If it had not existed a number of theatres which are still flourishing would have been torn down. It is a body which was created to meet a need and it has done very well. The lottery has helped considerably. Here is something which was done off the cuff to meet a necessity, and it is done very well.

Those are one or two further points. I have not yet come across an answer to the regional problem, but I am sure that we shall find it eventually, and I hope that we shall do so in the reply to the debate. We can take a certain amount of pride in what has been achieved, although there are faults in many directions. On the whole, we can be pretty well satisfied with what has been done. But the arts must be given enough life-blood so that they can continue to bring wide credit to us throughout the world, which they have been doing during the past few years.

4.2 p.m.

My Lords, I, too, would like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Freyberg, for initiating this debate and also to congratulate him on what I thought was a very informative speech. I wish to make one suggestion to the Government, which I think implies an idea of government and management which is perhaps less to do with centralised control and more to do with knowledge, with the simple desire to find out what is actually happening within the visual arts in the UK.

This idea is a scheme for curatorship. One of the most fundamental situations that exists in the contemporary arts in the UK is that virtually the whole of that market is based in London, some would say in the hands of one person. That is not entirely true. There are other buyers and also buyers from abroad, as well as other forms of promoters. But if, from the start, an artist, for whatever reason, eschews London, then he or she inevitably eschews that commercial possibility, that livelihood. Yet that does not also preclude the majority of artists from carrying out interesting work—in some cases very interesting work—as I know from my years in Sheffield. Yet they remain on a very low income and in a position of relative isolation. That means in effect that their work is not taken as seriously as it might be if they were located at the centre.

The conventional wisdom is that the "cream"—the so-called "excellent." artist—rises to the surface. We ought to ask: the surface of what? The argument, I think, that the "best" is always discovered is a false one. It is, to a large extent a circular, self-fulfilling argument. It has been reported, for example, how a relatively recently-established major contemporary London art dealer acquired his own artists through them being initially friends, and then friends of the artist, friends of friends and so on. Artists groups—however loosely knit, as in Britain—and thereby many individual artists, do not in this sense emerge from a vacuum, but from a political, cultural and economic environment which is able to sustain them, as, for example, the highly confident artists groups with quite separate distinctive characters which emerged in different German cities in the 1980s.

But in the UK we have the particular situation of a large city, London, with the whole of the rest of the country as a hinterland, both in a political and cultural sense. There is a feeling, I believe, that this situation will change as individual cities and regions within the UK achieve greater autonomy. But it will take a while yet. Indeed a certain degree of commercialism would not be at all a bad thing for artists working in the regions outside London, if in London artists have the opposite problem.

I would like to see initiated a scheme for what I would call roving curators. The prime function of these curators would be investigative. Their mission would be to travel the length and breadth of the UK, turning over as many stones as they can, searching out artists of all ages; investigating their work, in part simply to make contact., to find out what they are doing. They would be looking for art then, and at art, making contact with the artists rather than being curators in the more passive sense of simply letting the art come to them. It is important that these curators are independent, not based in institutions, but having links with them which could be facilitated through a project co-ordinator. They should not be independent in the sense of being primarily motivated by the commercial instinct. I do not see them as talent-spotters, but more as facilitators, surveyors and mappers. They should be based on-site, except that the whole point is that the sites have yet to be discovered. Perhaps one could say that they should be based on the road. I imagine a team of curators, but all acting individually. An individual curator should not be confined to a particular region, otherwise the project would become provincial or parochial. In practice I imagine them spending much of their time visiting studios or wherever else the artist may be working; developing long-term relationships with artists; facilitating links with other artists, region to region, artist to institution and so on.

Such a scheme could give a new meaning to the idea of the exhibition as a survey.

It would be making a survey in the truer, more objective sense of showing the artists who are sought out as much as those who are already known. It could be for a co-ordinator to guide the project so that it covers as many areas within the UK as possible. In the larger sense, as an overall project—and I believe that this is a very exciting point—we are talking about creating a cultural map of the UK, which could prove to be a wonderful and appropriate project for the start of the new millennium. This project could perhaps be funded on a trial basis out of the Millennium Fund, although the main benefits of such a scheme, which might well include commercial ones, would be appreciated chiefly in the long term. Perhaps the most important aspect of such a cultural map is how it might change and develop over time.

4.8 p.m.

My Lords, I, too, would like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Freyberg, for giving your Lordships the opportunity to debate the Government's policy for funding the arts in which, I, as chairman of Christie's the auctioneers, must declare an interest. I begin by saying that as regards the commercial art world we receive strong support from the Government on a number of important issues. I personally wish to thank the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, for his part in that and to congratulate the Government on their continued support for the system of acceptance of works of art in lieu of tax, which the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, mentioned. This has further enriched our national collections. Ministers and their advisers have been both imaginative and generous and deserve our thanks.

It was not my intention to speak about droit de suite today. However, I wish to pick up a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins of Putney. Droit de suite would be much easier to support if it benefited a wider group of artists. The problem with it is that the cost of collecting it restricts its benefits to a small group of the well-off heirs of about seven continental painters. I do not think it is in artists' best interests if the market-place is driven away from London.

The Department for Culture, Media and Sport's paper, A New Cultural Framework, contains some good ideas. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Freyberg, on that. The majority of people who deal with it would applaud its efforts to streamline its structures, and the merging of English Heritage and the Royal Commission on Historic Monuments must be sensible. The paper is extremely easy to read, unlike the briefing paper which we received from the new Arts Council which seems to have escaped from the pages of "Pseuds Corner" in Private Eye.

It needs to be said, too, that whatever else their failings, the previous Conservative government, through the National Lottery and its various distributing bodies, left the arts better funded than at any time since the post-war government of Clement Attlee. I know from his charming quote from Lewis Carroll in your Lordships' House two weeks ago that the Minister does not like repetition. Therefore I shall try not to go over too much old ground. However, two of the Government's actions have diminished the previous government's legacy. As has already been mentioned this afternoon, the sixth good cause has taken a substantial amount from the heritage lottery funds and the voracious appetite of the Millennium Dome—I cannot share the enthusiasm for that of the noble Lord, Lord Jacobs—has made further inroads into funding. I wish the Government had dropped this project, handsome building though it is. But it is too late for that. Will the Minister give some assurance that the visual arts will be represented in the dome and also that great Christian art will be represented, which has made such a vital contribution to man's culture over the past thousand years?

Any suggestion that exhibiting great paintings would not be popular must be dispelled by watching the hundreds, nay thousands, of people queuing up to get into the Monet exhibition at the Royal Academy. The record of 600,000 people who visited the previous Monet exhibition in 1990 looks set to be beaten. It is quite possible that this exhibition will draw even more than the 1.5 million people who visited the Cézanne exhibition in Paris, which I believe took place last year. The only problem associated with these hugely successful and hugely popular exhibitions is that the sheer numbers make looking at the pictures difficult. It must be everyone's dream to be able to have a private view, to ring the academy and ask, "Can I come with a friend next week and see the pictures when the galleries are closed?" Of course, for the majority of people this simply is not possible. However, it has been possible in a great many private houses in Britain which contain a significant number of worthwhile works of art. However. as the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, has already mentioned, last year's Finance Act abolished the practice of viewing of exempt works of art by appointment.

As the Minister may remember, I have mentioned this point in your Lordships' House before. However, since doing so, I have had the opportunity to talk to a number of people involved in this matter and to assess the effect of the new rules. I am convinced that as a direct result of the changes of last year—here, again, I echo the words of the noble Lord. Lord Strabolgi—important works of art will be sold. Perhaps I should rejoice in that because a substantial number of these sales will be entrusted to my firm. But, from the standpoint of national heritage and arts policy generally, I cannot rejoice. As many noble Lords have pointed out, even the Government's own agencies admit that they are going through a period of consolidation; less money will be available to museums to make acquisitions. It cannot therefore be a good time to confront owners with a choice which will force a significant number of works of art onto the market coming from houses which simply cannot open full time to the public. Again, the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, made that point.

As has been said often, where tax has been postponed or public money spent, benefits must accrue. If the principle were not already accepted that those in receipt of the benefits should accept certain constraints, this Government have made the case crystal clear. I have no sympathy with owners who will not accept that. However, I say to your Lordships, one more time, that viewing by appointment provides public benefit in an extraordinarily sensitive and attractive way. It protects the core heritage of works of art in private hands. It prevents a flood of works of art coming onto the market—which will lead to export—at no cost to the Government. It also encourages private owners to act responsibly as curators, keepers and collectors for the future. New technology can guide the public to explore what is where and what is worth making an effort to go to see. By asking visitors to make appointments and to identify themselves, owners have at least some security against theft. No government surely want assets stolen in which they have a substantial stake.

The measure also avoids hard-pressed museums being asked to find temporary homes for works of art they do not want. Here the new rules have already shown themselves to be unfair. I hear that one owner, in an effort to comply with them, handed a group of pictures to a local museum which accepted them but declined to put them on view. That luckless owner has now been assessed for tax. This surely was not what the Government intended when they introduced the rules last year. If they did, it signals the end of exemption as we know it and would give the lie to the Arts Council's propaganda about the bright new future.

Despite the jargon of the briefing paper, I think that the future is bright; it is not grim. By conceding that they might think again about viewing by appointment, the Government can only gain. If they cannot do that, at best they will seem stubborn and at worst spiteful and doctrinaire. I know that the Minister is none of these. Will he then give your Lordships an assurance that he will at least ask his colleagues in another place to give viewing by appointment a second chance to prove its worth? I am sure that neither he nor they will regret it.

4.17 p.m.

My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Freyberg, for initiating this debate. I am particularly grateful to have the opportunity of speaking in it.

I must declare an interest as I wish to ask the Government to embark on a new project and establish something that I believe is overdue; namely, a museum of photography in London. There is an enormous interest in photography. A large proportion of people take photographs, if only as a record of their holidays. This can pave the way to a deeper interest. There is a parallel in the way in which people with only a few square feet of garden of their own love to visit the great gardens of this country. Similarly, people with even a minimal experience of using a camera themselves can derive a particular pleasure from looking at photographs that rise to the level of art.

Although there is a national museum of photography in Bradford, there is virtually nothing in this field in London. I would like to suggest that a photographic museum be founded in London that would be to photography what the National Gallery is to painting. However, unlike the museum of photography in Bradford, which is part of the Science Museum, it would either be independent or come under the wing of the Victoria and Albert Museum, although ideally it would be housed in its own building. The V & A has a huge photographic archive and, although it has recently opened a room at the museum dedicated to the display of photographs, it has insufficient space for the display of more than a tiny fraction of its collection. The India Office library also has a valuable and fascinating collection of old photographs that are hardly ever seen. I am convinced that the public would find the display of these photographs both revealing and highly enjoyable.

As to costs, I feel sure that a large proportion could be raised from the photographic industry. It is perhaps worth mentioning that curatorial costs would be far lower than in a picture gallery. Paris has two museums devoted to photography; it is surely high time that London had one.

4.20 p.m.

My Lords, I, too, am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Freyberg, for raising the subject of the arts and I congratulate him on his speech. However, I want to challenge his Motion in general terms. I believe the evidence shows that in the past 21 months the arts are well set to be better governed and better managed than ever before. With the increase in the length of life that we are promised, and the increase in leisure, they need to be. They are vital capital for our future.

At last the arts in Great Britain are poised to build on the superb platform of opportunity constructed by Jennie Lee in the 1960s when boldness was our friend and we saw the arts as a Promised Land. In that seminal decade, the arts bloodlessly and seamlessly embraced liberty and equality, quality and fraternity—very heaven. Now it has come again. Without question, there is much to do, but much has already begun.

There is much that is not yet right. Companies which hoped that Chris Smith would slip into a telephone box and emerge as a Superman instant fixer have often been disappointed. Telephone boxes, perhaps, are too transparent for that these days. It takes time to clear up some of the silt of 18 years; it takes time to dig new navigable channels; and it takes time, once a course is agreed, to make it clear to all. But from what I see the will, the vision and increasingly the means are there. The question, as always, is how to fit the amplitude of a visionary landscape into the frame of political possibility.

I believe that the Government have made an impressive beginning, the more impressive because they have worked within budgetary constraints and against a Bleak House inheritance, which of course notched up achievements, but also left neglect, bungle and cynicism—a tradition which Conservative councils like Westminster carry on regardless, trampling over the arts with loutish indifference.

If I seem to contextualise too dramatically, it is because I believe that it is essential that what the Government are doing now is seen in context; otherwise they will be most unjustly accused of debts and failings not their own. We cannot be dragged down by a past created by others. Today, vitally, the arts need the commitment of confidence; a new start is, in itself, an agent for confidence. It has been badly lacking.

One growth industry in the Conservative years was the culture of complaint. I know; I was part of it. We all knew that the high road to applause at any arts gathering was to attack the Government. The attacks had reason. But then it became an addiction, and the complaints clique has observed no alteration. But now, I submit, the tune has changed; the show has moved on. Complaint must take a look at evidence.

In a fraction of the total time which will, I trust, fall to their lot, the Government have already stabilised, organised and revitalised the arts, both now and the future prospects. Of course there have been omissions, errors and failings, but they are as nothing compared with what went before, and they are as nothing compared with the successes of the last mere 21 months.

Let us look around the estate at the first crop. It is a fair time to take stock: in education, £180 million over three years for music funding and £30 million for the Youth Music Trust. Out of that will come a country in which all children will have access to musical instruments at school, to music teaching and to the riches of music. We will play and sing as never before. We now know that it has been proven—in America, but it was a good study—. that listening to Mozart when you are young makes you smarter, not only at music but at all learning.

Dance and drama students will now enjoy new schemes of support which will radically reinvigorate those two great arts, lately dying at the roots from a thousand cuts. The academies were threatening to become finishing schools for the wealthy only. These and other measures will unlock dreams and talents which can change society.

Access is another pillar of Labour policy. The sum of £5 million a year is to go into the new audiences fund; there is to be free access for children and old age pensioners to museums, and more to be hoped for; and all the Arts Council grants are linked to wide access.

As to excellence—which is the third part of the core, with access and education—there will be large increases, to use a shorthand, for the National Theatre, the London Symphony Orchestra, The Art Angel, which gets a 100 per cent. increase, the orchestras in Bournemouth and Birmingham, and so it goes on. In broadcasting—the most interesting for me—the Government are setting the legal framework for digital. Digital could, among other things, bring the full harvest of the arts to the British public. Niche channels will, I believe, proliferate for poetry, painting, opera, dance, classical music and golden oldies—a thousand channels could bloom—and at last the best would be available to the most, when we want it and in depth. It will be a new found land.

As to the Arts Council, it has brought the Opera House (that rather sad symbol of arts governance over the past decade) under control—a remarkable feat. It had been "a shambles" according to the former chairman of the Arts Council, my noble friend Lord Gowrie. The Arts Council has now pointed it in a good direction.

The Arts Council gained a huge overall increase in funding—£125 million over the next few years—and there is more regional funding and increased power for the regions. For me, that is most important. I disagree with the noble Lord, Lord Freyberg, on this issue. Of course the regions have to be run with enlightened efficiency, but so does everything. My friends in Northern Arts and the other nine regions have warmly welcomed the radical changes of Gerry Robinson and Peter Hewitt of the Arts Council. I believe that this will encourage local authorities to release money and release enthusiasm, which, so far, has very largely been not present. So welcome to Gateshead Music Centre; welcome to Keswick's Theatre by the Lake; and welcome to the same story which is being unfolded elsewhere and which will gather in force over the years.

I have argued this case because I believe that it is right that what is now so positive should be stressed, and these are just a few headlines. We must throw off what Richard Hoggart called "the poverty of ambition". He meant the working classes in the 1930s. Over the past two decades, I fear, it has infected the whole. Internally, individually, where it matters so much to each of us, the arts can be revolutionary. We as a nation can grow into Shakespearean ambitions. Why not? The foundations are laid; the game is afoot. I hope that Jennie Lee is looking down at her old party and perhaps even raising a glass as she sees her soul go marching on.

4.29 p.m.

My Lords, I speak as a one-time chairman of the Arts Council—some may say it was a very long time ago, but to me it seems like just the other day. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins, who was Minister for part of the time that I chaired the council, has the same recollections. We had happy times together, despite an occasional disagreement.

As I look at the council today, I am concerned that it seems to me, in spite of the optimism—not to say euphoria—of the noble Lord, Lord Bragg, to be squeezing itself out of existence. On the one hand, it is devolving to the regions almost all decisions about grants to the arts. I am not against that process; my own instincts are very much the same. We started the regional arts associations in my time. But it is a matter of extent. I just hope it turns out to be practical and for the best. On the other hand, the Arts Council is left with the national companies as regards which Government Ministers increasingly seem to feel the need to intervene.

I am not sure whether that is a very happy process. I sometimes wonder whether the Government intend the Arts Council ultimately to become a purely advisory body. I hope not because I strongly believe, as most noble Lords have underlined this afternoon, in the arm's length principle and I deplore any trend away from it. We used to set great store by it. It was the reason for our creation and the basis of our operation. It was the whole reason for our existence. It was considered a great achievement. I think it is still considered a particularly British way of doing things.

When I chaired the Arts Council I was invited by the French Government to go to France to have a look at the way they subsidised the arts, and by German city governments—Munich, Hamburg and Berlin—to do the same there. I enormously enjoyed it. It was very instructive and I learnt a great deal. But I came away envying the size of subsidy more than the system and I came to recognise that the larger the subsidy, inevitably the greater the political involvement in the arts. I did not want us to adopt that system here. I thought we had the best. I think that what I saw in France and Germany is beginning to happen here.

In a sense it is inevitable. When I first chaired the Arts Council the subsidy was about £10 million. When I left, five years later, it was about £18 million, which was not a great deal more, bearing in mind the rate of inflation in the 1970s. The subsidy is now more than £200 million and there is also the lottery money. The total is of an entirely different dimension. Although many of us wish that it were more—I echo the plea of the noble Earl, Lord Gowrie, that at least level pegging with inflation should be achieved—nevertheless it is a sum that is large enough to have, as it were, a political dimension apart from the high profile character of the arts themselves. So it is not surprising that Secretaries of State and Ministers find it rather hard to stand back.

I urge the Government to distinguish between the broad question of the allocation of resources—geographically and so on—which is a political matter, and perfectly legitimately so, and interference in the internal organisation and administration of some of the companies, particularly the national companies. I do not believe it is a good idea for the Secretary of State to be quite so closely involved with the Royal Opera House. I do not want to underestimate his helpfulness to the Royal Opera House. I do not have any special knowledge of what goes on at the house nowadays, but I feel grateful for the £5 million that he has secured for it. Things there are going very much better. However, if there is to be an Arts Council at all, it should be the Arts Council which does the intervening, if intervening is necessary.

Stories continually reach me—they may be incorrect and I hope very much that the Government will deny them if they are—that the Secretary of State, naturally distressed by the poor administration at the Royal Opera House in recent times, has insisted that in future the head of the artistic side of the house shall not be the boss and that the artistic director must either be subordinate to or at the most co-equal with the administrator. There is one prerequisite for the successful development of any artistic company; in fact, almost any organisation. It is that there should be one pair of hands at the executive top of the organisation. The head of an opera house can either be an administrator, who is respected throughout the house by the staff and all the artists for his or her artistic sensitivity, or the head can be the artistic supreme, who nevertheless is ultimately responsible for budgetary control and for the administration of the house. The set-up very much depends on the personality and experience of the characters involved. The only basic rule is that there must be no doubt over who is in ultimate charge. Divided control means that the chairman and the board will intervene more often than is desirable and in the end it is a recipe for disaster.

It is 12 years since I retired from the board of the Royal Opera House and I have no special knowledge of what goes on there now. But I beg the Secretary of State to let the board appoint the right man or woman to lead the house without divided control. I have not had the pleasure of meeting the new chief executive of the Royal Opera House, Mr. Kaiser, but if he is anything like as good as everyone who I meet says he is, he is the man who ought to have the undivided control. It would then be his task to find an artistic director to be responsible to him.

I just hope the Minister will tell us today that the Royal Opera House board is not constrained in this matter and that if there is to be an Arts Council, the council shall in future be the point of reference for the opera house and not the Minister. There is an alternative, which is to adopt a continental system. It then becomes the Minister's job to intervene. But I hope that we will not allow that to happen. I hope we will not do that. If we did, we at least would know, second best though it would be, who is responsible for what and to whom.

4.36 p.m.

My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Freyberg, for the opportunity not only to speak in this debate but also to listen to the fascinating earlier speakers. I did not realise that it was going to be a political debate, so before I start my prepared remarks I feel that I must set one record straight.

I have been chairman of the Geffrye Museum in the middle of Hackney since 1990 when there was another government. We have had the most marvellous support and help to develop really exciting educational programmes for adults with special educational needs, for the community, many of whom do not speak English, and for all the schools around. I should also say in passing that when I took over as chairman of the museum from the Inner London Education Authority we needed to do an enormous amount of upgrading of the curating. So the present Government do not have a monopoly on exciting and innovative ideas in museum organisation.

When I was at school my art teacher told me that I was hopeless at art, but I think I developed an eye later on by studying at university classical archaeology, especially architecture, Greek vases and sculpture. For the past 25 years I have been privileged to be, first, a trustee of the National Gallery, then a governor of the Museum of London and, as I said, from 1990 chairman of the trustees of the Geffrye Museum. I am a commissioner of the Museums and Galleries Commission. I have, I trust, learnt something over the years not only about the arts themselves but also about the workings of museums and galleries and, most important of all, about the dedicated and professional experts whose quality is renowned throughout the world: the directors, keepers, curators, attendants, designers, conservators, security advisers, researchers and lecturers.

I wish to make a plea to the Government to preserve the quality and high standards of the best of our arts management and to think carefully before rushing into an artificial merger as is now proposed between the Museums and Galleries Commission and the Libraries Commission. It is such an unnatural union that it can be explained only by a desire to save money.

Library and archive services are statutory functions for local authorities, while museums are discretionary. Therefore, museums will always tend to have a lesser allocation of money and resources. The reality is that the majority of local authority funded museums in the country are struggling to survive, let alone provide a modern, efficient and effective service. Is the decision to merge the commissions simply an expedient to save money by creating one body rather than two?

Many local authorities are currently considering ways of transferring their museums to trusts. That trend is likely to gather pace over the next few years. It is my view that it is to be welcomed, given the Geffrye experience, provided that adequate safeguards are in place to ensure continuity of funding by the local authority.

I agree that there is a need for some change in the management and administration of the arts. However, I am worried that the Government are trying to change far too much far too quickly. I have three worries. It was last July, nearly eight months ago. when the Government published the DCMS comprehensive spending review consultation document identifying concern that the national museums need some co-ordination. No details of its plan have yet emerged. The nationals may need some co-ordination and rationalisation; they do not need a nannying control to curb their creativity and initiative.

I have mentioned the need for more funding of the arts in the regions. My third worry concerns the Museums and Galleries Commission. I wonder whether the Government really do recognise the essential work that the commission is doing to ensure that the experienced and professional departments are supported and encouraged. Moreover, staff morale must be considered.

Perhaps I may remind the House of the role and some of the functions of the MGC. It was founded in 1931 and has operated under Royal Charter since 1987. It had as one of its most able chairmen the noble Lord, Lord Morris of Castle Morris, whom I was pleased to see in his place earlier in the debate.

The Museums and Galleries Commission sets standards for museums. It provides advice to government and others on issues affecting museums and galleries. Its registration scheme is a great success. The scheme was introduced in 1988 and has become the benchmark of acceptable minimum standards for museums. More recently, the MGC has developed the Designation Scheme, which has recognised the quality of collections by identifying and celebrating pre-eminent collections in non-national registered museums. There is a new scheme called Cornucopia, which will provide an authoritative database of UK museum collections. I do not have time to tell the House about collection care and management, conservation, the register, and the work that the commission does in the field of museum education, particularly through its support for the Group for Education in Museums. It is the MGC that runs the Acceptance in Lieu and Government Indemnity schemes; it provides security and environmental advice; and it has a popular publication on pest control.

Finally, I wish to emphasise that there is much to be proud of in the management of museums in this country. Thoughtful and considered support from government is needed—I emphasise "thoughtful and considered"—building on the best practice that exists.

4.45 p.m.

My Lords, I, too, wish to thank the noble Lord, Lord Freyberg, for introducing this interesting debate. I declare an interest in National Museums and Galleries on Merseyside—through my wife, who is a trustee—to which I shall confine my remarks.

The picture is good. NMGM has won 18 national and international awards in the past 10 years. Last year it won the European Museum of the Year award for its new conservation centre. Those achievements have been recognised and rewarded by government, who provide a grant-in-aid of £13 million a year. On top of that, the National Heritage Lottery Fund has awarded £24 million for the project called NMGM 2001, which involves a major expansion and rebuild in, mainly, the Liverpool Museum and the Walker Art Gallery. That £24 million is the largest single grant ever made to a museum project.

So NMGM has a bright future, and the city of Liverpool has a bright future. Government have been generous and I am the last person to look a gift horse in the mouth. I do not regard this as a political debate. However, I know that there is one area of concern to the noble Lord, Lord Freyberg, and the noble Earl, Lord Clancarty; namely, admission charges. NMGM does charge, and admission figures have fallen—although not by the colossal 38 per cent. that was asserted by the noble Lords in their letter to the Independent last August. Nevertheless, I should like to explain the purpose of charging, and its nature on Merseyside.

It is simply to reclaim VAT. Without a charge, costs would rise by 17.5 per cent. To indicate how serious that is, this huge project, NMGM 2001 (which is now costed at £34 million) would cost £40 million if VAT had to be paid. Government have made additional funding available to let school parties and senior citizens in for free. That is good. Fortunately, a partly free gallery can still reclaim VAT. But of course the big question is: why do government not allow VAT exemption on entirely free museums?

The Minister has told me that the Treasury will not allow it. That follows the path trodden by Hacker and Sir Humphrey in "Yes, Minister". That series depicted the Treasury as quite sovereign and quite unaware of which party was in power and who was Prime Minister. It was fiction. The First Lord of the Treasury is the Prime Minister, and surely if he told the Treasury to make all museums and galleries exempt, they would have to kowtow. I, too, remember the distant days when my noble friend Lord Gowrie was Minister for Arts and Heritage, and that he went to see the Prime Minister, my noble friend Lady Thatcher, in Downing Street and asked her, as he has just told us, to restore a particular grant—and it was done, by the Dick Barton technique.

Now to the method of charging. It is called Eight Plus, and I suggest that it is the least bad method. A payment of £3 gives free admission for one year to all eight museums and galleries. The trustees had to impose this, and DCMS opposed it in the summer of 1997. However, in a way I was pleased to see that in its publication in summer 1998, not only did the DCMS praise it, the department even cited it as a major achievement of its own. This is not a party-political debate at all. It is standard Whitehall practice, and standard human nature, to claim that any good idea has been yours all along.

The DCMS published a paper to which the noble Lord, Lord Freyberg, referred, called A New Cultural Framework. Two points worry me. It proposes to establish a quality, efficiency and standards team whose acronym is QUEST. It is meant to be some kind of watchdog and I always quail when I hear of such things as it smacks of too many generals. I should be pleased to hear from the Minister what exactly QUEST is about and whether it has relevance to Merseyside.

There is also the question of introducing legislation to give trustees greater autonomy. There is no need for it as regards NMGM, it has autonomy enough already. Perhaps it is more for the regional museums. What the NMGM trustees require is recognition that the Eight Plus pass is excellent value and there are high hopes that it will bring the number of admissions back to the old pre-charging days.

Finally, I return to the big scheme, NMGM 2001. To make the Government's grant of £24 million up to £34 million, NMGM needs to raise £10 million by August. It is urgent. Should it fail, the lottery award will be forfeit. At the moment, it is a mere £1.8 million short of the target and I hope that every noble Lord in the House will wish NMGM all success in making the target at the last moment, just like Dick Barton.

4.51 p.m.

My Lords, I, too, am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Freyberg, for introducing the debate. I start by echoing or supporting my noble godfather and kinsman Lord Gowrie who initiated the debate. He asked the Government—who started extremely well in their funding for the arts—to go that extra mile over the next 12 months so that the arts will be brought up to the standard which the previous government so unwisely and injudiciously allowed to slip through lack of funding.

I voice one strong concern. I hope I am proved wrong, but I am concerned that the Government may introduce a centralised, bureaucratic control over museums and galleries. I suspect that the present Government regard the Arts Council as inefficient. They are trying to use it as a vehicle for imposing their authority. There has been a tendency over the past 18 months in all areas of government to see too much centralisation. Currently we have trustees and directors of our galleries, museums and institutions. That has worked well. I maintain that the independence of the governing bodies is of fundamental importance to the success, health and future prospects of our museums and galleries.

Perhaps I may give an example of a gallery with which I am most familiar: the National Portrait Gallery. The chairman happens, by no accident, to be a businessman of immense distinction, Mr. Henry Keswick. He gave his counsel during the preparation of the four-year corporate plan, a document which, as I am sure the noble Lord's department will agree—and will have studied—is a microcosm of how a small gallery is organised. The board of trustees, comprising 14 individuals, contains a former head of the Diplomatic Service, the editor of a national newspaper, a former chairman of a standing committee of the arts, three professors of distinction in their historical fields for different centuries, a sculptor, a banker and four ladies who are eminent in their fields of journalism, welfare and charity work. They come from diverse backgrounds and give their time and expertise to advise, warn and encourage, rather like a constitutional monarchy. The system works well.

One interesting point is that there are three ex officio directors, one of whom is a busy, senior Cabinet Minister. It is unlikely—indeed, I do not believe it has ever happened—that the Minister has attended the meetings of the board of trustees. Perhaps the noble Lord will encourage those Ministers who are trustees either to alter their diary plans so that they can attend meetings of the trustees or be allowed to send a deputy instead; or even relinquish their positions so that another individual who could give a little time and expertise could attend as a trustee.

I understand that there are about 1,500 trustee positions on museum and gallery hoards up and down the land. Many are appointed or are in the gift or patronage of the Prime Minister or the Secretary of State. No doubt he Secretary of State delegates his authority at times and seeks advice. However, in this day and age when I understand the Government wish more people to be involved in decision-making, I do not believe that it is right for the Secretary of State to have so much patronage

I have three questions for the Minister. Does he agree with me that a greater openness in the appointment of trustees to our galleries and museums should be introduced? Would not the Secretary of State prefer to see his own patronages handed over to a group of professionals who know the problems of maintaining galleries, with their priceless art treasures and an insufficient budget? Will the Government look at the entire trustee situation?

I am concerned that an accounting officer has been appointed to the British Museum. To whom is that accounting officer responsible? Is it to the Department of Culture or to the director of the British Museum? If I am right that the department has an influence over the budget within the board of trustees, that appointment seems to me to be a retrograde step which I hope will be reversed.

Perhaps I may pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Rix, who mentioned the disabled. I shall be corrected if I am wrong, but I believe that, so far, he is the only noble Lord to have done so in the debate. About eight months ago, I took a group of young people from the Blue School, Wells, round the House. They were studying for politics, A-level. They came up the stairs of the Victoria Tower and as I took them up, I noticed that one of the young girls was blind. To my joy, on the right of the Robing Room, there is a tactile model for the visually impaired. I took the young lady over there and she told us what we were going to see. She was delighted; indeed, enchanted. It made her visit, which made our visit. Perhaps we could have a tactile model for the visually impaired in Westminster Hall.

Only 28 per cent. of our museums have a disability policy; only 23 per cent. have an action plan. In 1988, only I per cent. of our museums had Braille. Ten years later, it is only 4 per cent. There are certain measures that the Government could take to help. I should be delighted if they would withhold money from galleries which did not do more for the disabled, in particular the blind and visually impaired. I hope that the Government will encourage and reward those museums such as the National Portrait Gallery, which are doing just that.

5 p.m.

My Lords, I too thank my noble friend for initiating this debate. He drew attention to the dangers of the overhead cost of too much regionalism and, perhaps even more important, funding starvation at local government level. I should like to add only one illustrative point that has concerned me for some time in that area. I refer to the problem of the conservation of works of art and buildings in the care of local authorities. Noble Lords will recall that this time last year the Royal Academy hosted a magnificent exhibition of the treasures of regional museums and galleries. Some of those pictures have not been seen for many years because of funding problems. A number of them have had to undergo considerable restoration. All of the reports I hear indicate that the conservation problems of works of art at local government level are rather serious.

To return to the main thrust of the debate. I have often felt, perhaps rather flippantly—although the debate so far has tended to support me—that a rather better funding regime would do wonders for many of the perceived management and governance problems. Perhaps it comes as no surprise that most of the debate has been about funding. As a nation we appear to have a peculiar resistance to arts funding. It does not matter which administration we have; we do not like spending money on cultural activities. I remember the days of Jennie Lee, about which the noble Lord, Lord Bragg, reminded us. For example, two weeks ago we had a debate on the British Council from which it appeared that our main European colleagues, France and Germany, spent about twice as much per head as the UK on cultural diplomacy. Ninety per cent. of their spend is governmental whereas in our case it is only half.

The story is much the same on the wider arts front. I came across a survey conducted by the Arts Council last year. It showed that in 1994 public spending on arts and museums in Germany was £56.50 and in France it was £56.80 while in the UK it was a mere £16.60. One may argue that that was in 1994 and that we now have a new government. We have heard about the increases. I suspect, however, that they would not make much inroad into that difference. Perhaps the lottery can be prayed in aid but, as the noble Lord, Lord Jacobs, reminded us, there are considerable problems in that respect. I believe he made the sensitive and important point that there will be great problems and a lot of tears over future running costs.

Our philistinism is most apparent in the performing arts and reaches its peak—as referred to by a number of speakers, including the noble Lord, Lord Gibson—in the opera of which we are enormously suspicious. Adequate funding is the first key principle for the state's relationship with the arts. The second is Keynes's arm's-length principle that government should not be involved in direct funding. We should note the remarks of my noble friend Lord Gibson with his immense knowledge and experience on that point. In this country we have the British Council as a tier and the NHMF, to which I shall turn in a moment, which administers the Heritage Lottery. We also have English Heritage which has a rather different status. I believe that these structures are of enormous importance for the simple reason that Ministers, and increasingly the Treasury, always want to interfere.

Another area in which the relationship with government is important is taxation. Many organisations who operate in the arts and heritage world are charities and VAT bears heavily upon them. We have heard examples of that. I do not believe that so far anyone has mentioned the problems for some charities of the abolition of advance corporation tax. For example, the National Trust will lose some £2 million a year when the phasing-out arrangements come to an end. The Government agreed 18 months ago to consider the taxation of charities in the light of these developments. Perhaps the Minister can confirm my understanding that they expect to report on this matter shortly before the Budget. Inevitably, that being the case the Minister will not be able to tell us very much more except possibly a date.

I should like to flag up two points. First, a number of noble Lords have made reference to the acceptance in lieu provisions. It now appears to be confirmed that no change will take place. I hope that that is correct because I believe this to be enormously important. Secondly, we come to the old chestnut that surprisingly has not been touched on so far this afternoon: the anomaly of having to pay full VAT on repairs to listed buildings while alterations to those buildings are VAT-free. This bears very heavily particularly on the Church and private listed house owners. The under-funding in recent years of English Heritage merely exacerbates the problem.

I conclude with some brief observations on the National Heritage Memorial Fund. The NHMF is now dwarfed by the Heritage Lottery Fund which it administers. This country has been extraordinarily lucky to have as its chairman my noble friend Lord Rothschild who has built up from scratch the structures and staffing needed to vet applications. For example, last year there were some 4,500 applications and the NHMF committed over £350 million. We should also congratulate my noble friend on some of the initiatives that have been taken, for example the imaginative Urban Parks Programme. The Heritage Lottery is often accused of being overly bureaucratic. I do not believe that it should be so criticised. One cannot responsibly distribute these sums of money in an even-handed way without a considerable volume of paper work. Some of its projects are exceedingly complex financially and legally and also rather politically sensitive. I particularly commend the resolution of the future of the main buildings at Stowe—here I declare an interest—which was finally completed under the new chairman Mr. Eric Anderson. That was a very complicated operation.

In marked contrast the NHMF proper has seen its grant drop from £8 million in 1996–97 to £5 million last year. The noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, went into that in some detail, and I support everything that he said. The figure of £5 million is half a loaf while we had only a crust before. Frankly, I believe that it should be brought up to its proper level. There appears to be a lack of appreciation as to what the NHMF proper does. It does what the Heritage Lottery is not allowed to do. I have in mind its ability to make grants towards endowments which can be crucial. I should very much like this important area to be looked at. I shall leave it at that.

5.10 p.m.

My Lords, I join with other noble Lords in thanking the noble Lord. Lord Freyberg, for introducing this interesting and timely debate. It began with three speeches from hereditary Peers, was continued by a number of others, and has included contributions from one or two who, like myself. have not attained that distinction.

Unlike nearly all noble Lords who have spoken in the debate, I have never had any connection with the administration of any of the arts—museums, galleries or anything of that kind. I wish to tackle what has emerged as a central question, first mooted by someone I should like to call my friend, the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins of Putney, (I cannot call him my noble friend) and the noble Lord, Lord Chorley. It is the general question of the money we spend on the arts.

The money spent. whether through government, local government or donations to charities, depends on the importance which the electorate is believed to attach to the object of expenditure. My worry is that respect in this country for the major arts has been evidently declining. I am in that respect a cultural pessimist.

As my own interest is in the opera, and not in soap operas, I rarely watch television. However, in order to cheer myself up, I manage to watch one series of programmes almost every year: the contest between young musicians culminating in their festival in Leeds. When one watches that, one understands that there is an element of hope. That hope is the musical talent which appears to be widespread among our young people. If I were in a position to spend money, which I am not, my plea would be that we make the most of that talent.

Giving children lessons at school in instrumental music, vocal music and participation in orchestras or chamber ensembles has been mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Bragg. However, he seemed to have a totally erroneous picture of what has been going on. All the authorities in the music world—our leading musicians and leading critics of music—have repeatedly pointed out to us in the past few years that there has been a massive falling off in the allocation to schools by local education authorities for peripatetic music teachers for lessons in school. I find it extraordinary that in a speech which was so upbeat he should be so misleading. I can only think that his general attitude of being upbeat must reflect the fact—I know not whether it is true—that for the past two years the noble Lord, Lord Bragg, has been in residence abroad and not in this country where he could have observed what was going on. Perhaps he has been somewhere fashionable like the Seychelles. Who knows?

The issue is important. It must be given importance in schools. Every talent must be given the opportunity to develop. It is more than a matter of private interest. As other noble Lords have pointed out, despite the falling off in our expenditure on the arts, Britain has maintained a major place in the world. Reference was made, understandably, by the noble Lord, Lord Rix, to our achievements in our theatre and cinema. But the orchestras, and the opera houses of London, despite their current difficulties, attract and have attracted worldwide attention. Music could be the art in which Britain can again excel itself, as it did when Mendelssohn came over to teach piano to Queen Victoria, and as it has done at other times in our past.

I do not expect much from central government, but what one could receive—and we are not getting it at present—is some indication that the Government believe in the importance of the arts. If they had held that belief, they would not have created a department which links the arts with sport, leisure, the media, and goodness knows what. They would have had a proper Secretary of State for culture and, perhaps united with culture, education. After all, responsibility for what goes on in schools lies with the Department for Education and Employment. it gives employment to bureaucrats. I am not altogether clear what the department does as regards musical education.

The Government are headed by a Prime Minister who frequently tells us that his only interest in culture is what I believe is called pop music. Therefore not much leadership will com., from Downing Street. But I hope that other Ministers will give a lead. If it can be made plain to the growing generation that the arts are important, there will be no difficulty in raising funds to pay for what the country needs.

5.16 p.m.

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Beloff, is always a hard act to follow. Before his speech, I was minded to follow the upbeat tone of the noble Lord, Lord Bragg. In fact I shall continue with that upbeat tone, but while the matter is fresh in my mind perhaps I may refer to an interesting point made by the noble Lord, Lord Beloff, about consensus in the electorate. I had always shared his view until a week ago when I had to provide a piece for French television on the choice of a poet laureate here. I mentioned to the French producer how wonderful it was that in France literary prizes and other such cultural matters were greeted with enthusiasm by the French populace. He said, "Don't believe a word of that. It is true that we subsidise our cinema and it is assumed that we have a consensus for that. And people take an interest in the vast number of literary prizes here". I told him that in our country literary prizes, and the choice of the poet laureate, are of general interest only if they are accompanied by the lists of odds published by Ladbroke's and William Hill. I have no objection to that. However, the French producer also told me that in a recent poll of television viewers the great majority preferred game shows and quizzes. If one considers the weekly returns on cinemas in France, American major films are always at the top for attendance figures rather than the excellent smaller scale French films. The noble Lord, Lord Beloff, is always so challenging. It is hard to resist following on that point.

I thank the noble Lord, Lord Freyberg, for presenting to us in a level-headed way the position of the funding of arts in this country. I tend towards the view of the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins of Putney. I believe that it is the right engine. The engine needs tuning from time to time; and perhaps even a major service. I believe that we have had that.

To continue on the upbeat trend, I think that the arts today are extremely healthy. Much credit must fall on the Secretary of State. He has done an excellent job so far. I disagree somewhat with some of his published words, but his actions speak louder than his words. The amount of money which has gone into the arts, and the way in which it has been directed, require our admiration.

A large amount of money has gone into cinema, a particular interest of mine, which has perhaps overloaded the production side. However, the Government now appreciate that to continue to subsidise production through the lottery without attending to other aspects, such as distribution, is heading for trouble, and corrections have been made. Therefore, I am also upbeat and optimistic about that aspect. The additional £290 million is an enormous fillip to the arts in general.

Many people are writing and painting. Even script writers are writing more and better scripts because the film industry has been revitalised. We hope that more of the profits from that industry will come to us rather than go to America. Only time will tell.

In this wide-ranging debate there have been a number of interesting contributions. I take on board in particular what was said by the noble Earl, Lord Drogheda. I believe that the need for a national photographic collection is an absolute priority. Those of us who like collections of photographs and skulk around the bookshops looking for old pictures of village life in the area in which we grew up often wonder why such photographs are not exhibited in galleries, as described by the noble Earl.

Looking around the estate, as mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Bragg, the estate is in pretty good order. I was intrigued by his remark about Mozart making you smarter. Yesterday, an American lady came to have tea with me and asked politely whether I could provide another pot of tea because tea makes you smarter. Having had an entrepreneurial background, I believe that there might be a future for tea and Mozart, possibly located next to a gymnasium so that people can develop not only their brains but their bodies. I believe that the situation in that respect is good and that the arms' length principle has been supported by your Lordships.

The noble Lord, Lord Freyberg, was light on the Westminster Council. In the fine tuning, or even a major overhaul, which needs to take place, it will not do for a council which has within its area so many artistic activities to cut the art budget by 28 per cent. Cutting the arts budget is one thing, but then to say that it is being done because of the enormous burden of asylum seekers within your patch is insulting to the intelligence and to the arts activities within your area. The noble Lord, Lord Freyberg, is young and polite, but I am now old and rude. I should like to register a protest that such petty bureaucrats can wander so oafishly around the artistic arena. I wish the noble Lord had been even more outspoken about that, but perhaps the Minister will be able to comment.

Perhaps I may mention in passing what is happening in Trafalgar Square. London is unlike Paris; we do not have monumental architecture. We have subtle, scaled, domestic architecture, often in village conglomerations. The monumental architecture of Paris is absent in London, which is better for it. Trafalgar Square is the only heroic square in London. It is admirably sited, looking down Whitehall with its early 19th century neo-classical buildings and past the Cenotaph. However, the absence of a statue on the plinth is causing a great deal of anxiety in some circles. The decision of the Secretary of State will play a major part. It really will not do for political correctness to tell us that we need something on the plinth to diminish what is already there and which represents our past. Whether we like it or not, it is an heroic area and it needs an heroic or imposing statue on that plinth.

I congratulate the cookery writer, Pru Leith, on raising the prospect of having a statue, but the suggestions which have been made for a small transparent replica of the empty plinth on top of the plinth, for example, is frippery and triviality of an extraordinary degree. We should ignore it; we should return to common sense. Surely we do not have to be so politically correct that we must deny Trafalgar Square, with Nelson's Column, the statues and wonderful collection of architecture, ecclesiastical and monumental.

That was one of the bees in my bonnet; the other bee in my bonnet is a personal one. I have several relatives who are professional painters. I am lucky enough to have one or two paintings which are not masterpieces but are good paintings several hundred years old. They have lasted exceedingly well within a family which has had more ups and downs than most. The reason is that the paintings were beautifully prepared. The painters of the 17th and 18th centuries knew the mastery of paints, the techniques of applying paints on other paints and of drying. They knew all the techniques to use for preparing surfaces.

Yesterday I was told by a leading restorer that many of the paintings which he sees after 25 years are almost beyond repair. I believe that the Department for Culture, Media and Sport should get together with the Department for Education and Employment in order to ensure that the art schools pay attention to the preparation of surfaces. Indeed, the art schools brought back drawing, which sadly lapsed for a long period. A great deal of important painting now being undertaken will be lost. Those techniques were second nature to the painters of bygone centuries, but, sadly, they have been neglected. I am supported in that by David Hockney, but it is a particular point that I wish to raise and I hope in such a wide-ranging debate your Lordships will forgive me for doing so.

5.27 p.m.

My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Lord, Lord Freyberg, for giving us this opportunity to discuss the problems facing the government and management of the arts today and to explore the changes which could be made for the benefit of all.

I have been in post for only two months, but I have already been able to meet some of those who are involved in the management of the arts. Like my noble friend Lady Brigstocke, I pay tribute to their long-term commitment and dedication.

There is a delicate balance between the power of the donors of subsidies who may be individuals, charities, companies or government, as against the independence of the artist. I believe that during the past 21 months that delicate balance has been tipped towards the power of the Government. The Minister often says that this is an enabling government and I wholly accept that he believes that, but the reality of government action often falls short of that ideal and I believe now looks dangerously like working to undermine it.

I do not in any way call into question the Minister's passion for the arts. He has proved that by both word and deed, and he is much respected in this House for it. But I do wonder whether his Government's interest in the arts is less passionate than calculated. It is one thing to recognise the power of the arts in society, and quite another to seek to harness that power to a political agenda. It is not for politicians to make aesthetic judgments. Governments should operate on an arms' length principle, to which so many noble Lords have referred. That can be achieved only if intermediary bodies such as the Arts Council act independently of government while remaining accountable to the public, not all of whom will be taxpayers. My noble friend Lord Gowrie pointed out that there will always be arguments about the length of the arms in an arm's length policy. The basis of my argument this evening is simply that those arms have grown shorter recently.

The statement made by the Secretary of State at the Tate Gallery in December demonstrated the contradictions within the Government's arts policy. On the one hand, there is a sensible desire to ensure that as much money as possible reaches those organisations which provide public services so that there is a reduction in what is described as the "landscape of quangos". On the other hand, the means which has been found to achieve that result is to create larger and more heavy-handed intermediate bodies. That is likely to reinforce a strongly centralising move towards increased Treasury control. I question whether that is desirable.

My noble friend Lady Brigstocke referred earlier to the merger of the Museums and Galleries Commission with the Library and Information Commission. I concur with all her remarks and echo her concerns on that matter.

Reference has also been made to the establishment of QUEST. QUEST has been inserted into the system in a way which endangers the arm's length principle. The very existence of QUEST makes one pose the question as to what is the Government's view of the long-term role of the Arts Council. Bereft of experienced staff and shorn of power, it now faces a challenge from QUEST—an organisation which will monitor standards and efficiency in the arts and answer directly to the Department for Culture, Media and Sport.

I am concerned also that the Arts Council, in compliance with the Government's strategic objectives, is meekly, if chaotically, dissolving itself into cultural annexes of RDAs. There can be only one outcome of that; that is, a massive dilution in the quality of knowledge which informs decisions about who gets what. I am concerned about an Arts Council which sees what the Government are doing and yet remains silent.

The noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, referred earlier to the question of raids on the National Lottery. I cannot let this debate pass without commenting that the real raid which occurred on the lottery happened last week and it was carried out by this Government. The National Lottery Order, which passed through this House on Thursday evening last week, means that the original lottery good causes of charities, sports, the arts and heritage will have their share of the proceeds cut from 16.67 per cent. to 5 per cent. for the three months from 15th February. Together they stand to lose £200 million, which they otherwise would have received. That is the amount being diverted to the New Opportunities Fund to pay for projects which are indeed very worthy in themselves but which I believe should more properly be funded from taxation.

Even when the lottery funds are used for their original purpose, things can still go badly wrong. I refer to the failure of Musicworks. That is the Government's flagship inner city music teaching project which has been forced to close with £50,000 debts. That is just one year after receiving £1.1 million in lottery grants. The Secretary of State had described the project as,
"personifying everything which New Labour is trying to achieve in music".
Indeed, it was an extremely valuable project. Musicworks ran programmes for the unemployed and for young offenders, as well as teaching children aged five to 11 to play instruments and sing. Will the Minister tell the House whether a rescue plan is now in place? Is Musicworks working fully according to its original plans? Did the courses for 170 young students start on 18th January as promised?

I wonder whether the announcement yesterday of the launch of local cultural strategies is too late to save Musicworks. Is it too late to rescue the dozens of libraries which are being closed by local authorities around the country? Indeed, a spokesperson for the Library Association, Sherry Jespersen, pointed out:
"There is a huge gap between the government's vision for libraries and the reality of closures, reduced opening hours and cutbacks".
Let us hope that the local cultural strategies have some better function than comparable organisations had in the 1970s, referred to earlier by the noble Lord. Lord Freyberg. Perhaps those strategies are merely a re-run of an old idea that failed. Perhaps that should he the subject of a detailed debate on another day, when we see the results of those projects.

My noble friend Lord Hindlip referred to the damage which will be done by the Government's changes to the rules governing access to tax exempt works of art. I hope that the Minister will agree to re-examine that issue.

I turn now to the question of what could be the future of management and government of the arts. I believe that the taxpayer should continue to act as patron of the arts. But what more can be done to encourage an increase in direct funding, and with what impact upon the management of the arts? Those are questions which we shall need to examine in detail over the coming year and I undertake to raise those matter through Unstarred Questions.

I am impressed by the approach of the Royal Opera House's Michael Kaiser whom I met recently. He asks whether its 16,000 friends who currently pay £45 per year for the benefit have ever been asked for £46. Indeed, could the role and support of "friends" be increased generally? Are there ways in which to simplify the tax system to make giving more attractive'? There were reports last year that the Secretary of State wants to switch gift tax relief from institutions to donors. We shall look forward to seeing whether there is any progress on that issue hut, like other noble Lords, I recognise the inhibitions upon the Minister in commenting on matters which may be in the Budget next month.

Is it also right that the future of so many arts organisations should lie in the hands of people who have no financial stake in them? How can we, or should we, build upon the excellent work of ABSA to generate yet greater awareness among corporate sponsors of the mutual benefits which accrue from forging links with arts organisations?

There are many matters that we shall need to examine. The question has arisen about the participation of disabled people in the arts, the matter of endowments and my noble friend Lord Mersey raised the issue of VAT. There is also the important but precarious position of local authorities. They will all have to be considered.

Finally, as the old Left knew perfectly well and as the cultural Right has always known, there is nothing elitist about great art and great thought. They are and should remain at the heart of society. "Elitist" is not a bad word in itself. For, of course, nothing is too good for the working woman and man. On these Benches, we shall continue to keep that belief at the forefront of our considerations as we scrutinise the Government's arts policy over the coming year.

5.37 p.m.

My Lords, in expressing my gratitude to the noble Lord, Lord Freyberg, for introducing this debate and to virtually all noble Lords who have taken part in it, I have some difficulty because I am really quite shameless. I believe that what we have seen over the past 21 months is an astounding success story. We have a turn-round in government attitude towards the arts, and governance and management of the arts, which is quite astonishing.

The noble Lord, Lord Jacobs, said that the arts had won the lottery. The arts has certainly benefited from the lottery, but it has had a great deal more in the period for which this Government have been in office. The noble Earl, Lord Gowrie, and his godson referred back to a golden age of 1993. I thought that that was rather undermined by the noble Lord, Lord Rix, reminding us that he resigned from the drama panel of the Arts Council in exactly that year because of under-funding. I shall not give a statistical series of funding for that period.

My Lords, perhaps I may correct the Minister. I said that 1993 was hardly a bonanza year for the arts, but nevertheless it would be considered a triumph for this Government if they could recover in real terms the level of funding that was then available. I am talking about current funding, not lottery funding.

My Lords, I am delighted to hear both the godfather and godson responding as they have done. But as a result of the comprehensive spending review, the Government have found an extra £290 million for the activities of the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, of which £125 million is extra funding for the arts. That has happened after a number of years—I will not specify 1993 or any other year—in which it will be generally recognised that there were, at worst, cuts in arts funding from government and, at best, a standstill in arts funding. If I thought I could satisfy my noble friend Lord Jenkins of Putney on the financial side, I would die happy. But I know that it is not possible to do that.

Let me face the matter head on. Of course this level of government spending comes with strings attached; but let me explain those strings and seek to respond directly to the noble Lords, Lord Gibson and Lord Chorley, and the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, who seemed to think that what is involved in those strings is political interference.

The new focus on output and outcomes applies across all government departments; they must all produce a public service agreement. We have not heard much about that yet. It was published in December. It will become apparent that this is an increasingly important aspect of the way in which this Government operate. It will show how each department's spending will deliver government objectives alongside increased efficiency and improved effectiveness.

Before I go any further into government objectives, against those who seem to think that there is something sinister about delivering government objectives, let me set out the objectives of the Department for Culture, Media and Sport and see how many noble Lords think it to be wrong. First, there should be access for the many and not the few to arts in this country; to culture generally and to media and sport. Secondly, we should promote excellence. We should provide those who are providing the arts with an opportunity to excel and give them the opportunities for innovation which will in turn bring excellence.

Thirdly, there should be educational opportunity. I shall come back to that because it was referred to by a number of noble Lords. That means educational opportunity both in education in schools and of course professional training for those who work in the arts. Fourthly, we should enable our creative industries, which this Government identified as being enormously important for the economic as well as the cultural life of this country, to achieve their artistic and economic potential. If anybody thinks there is anything sinister about those objectives, let them tell me about it; I do not believe that that is the case.

The Department for Culture, Media and Sport provides almost no direct services; it relies on sponsored bodies. Is it wrong that the department should seek to secure that those sponsored bodies to whom it gives money—not just for one year, but now for three years—are achieving their objectives? Is it wrong that, having given this three-year funding, we should require them to plan effectively for a three-year period or for longer? Does that in itself constitute an attack on the arm's length principle? The noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, seems to think so. I am reminded of my mother who, as she got older and long-sight afflicted her, said that there was nothing wrong with her eyesight; it was just that her arms were too short. I suspect that the noble Baroness thinks that there is nothing wrong with her eyesight; and I suspect that she is wrong.

As a result of the spending review—remember, we are going back somewhere close to zero budgeting over all departments, not just the DCMS—the DCMS will become more strategic, but it will have to ensure that those objectives are properly held to. We have therefore set up funding agreements with all of our bodies which will provide explicit and challenging statements of the underlying outputs and levels of performance requirement. They will reflect our own public service agreement target. They will be the key sponsorship and planning documents linking DCMS and its non-departmental government bodies. For the first time this year the funding agreements, in particular with the 18 national museums and galleries, will be concluded and published before 1st April and not, as under the previous government, half-way through the financial year. That is managerial responsibility rather than irresponsibility.

Let me turn to museums and galleries. There will be £99 million extra for museums and galleries over the next three years. That is a huge increase after years of cuts. There will be a £15 million challenge fund to provide support for the 43 designated museums. We will introduce a new national museums body for museums, libraries and art galleries. I heard what the noble Baroness, Lady Brigstocke, said and I simply do not agree with her. This is not an attack on the Museums and Galleries Commission; this is an opportunity to have funding agreement:; which cover the whole range of interlocking activities of museums, libraries and archives—archives which have never been represented on a national level before. This reflects the way in which local government actually deals with museums and libraries and I believe it is an advance because this is an advisory body, not a fund-giving body.

I could go on about museums, but I want to concentrate on just one issue; that is, the issue of access to which I referred as a strategic objective of the department. By the Secretary of State's announcement on 14th December we have ensured that there is enough money, first, for those museums and galleries which have free access at the moment, to continue to provide free access; secondly, to achieve a situation whereby those who at the moment charge for admission will not need to charge admission for children from 1st April this year or for pensioners on 1st April 2000. There will also be enough money for those national museums and galleries who wish to offer universal free access in 2001–2002 to do so and discussions will continue with them with that in mind.

I am grateful for the comments of the noble Viscount, Lord Mersey, about Merseyside. Indeed, I endorse what both he and the noble Lord, Lord Chorley, said about the conservation centre there. We are pleased that we have been able to offer this free access package to the national museums and galleries on Merseyside and the Secretary of State will be visiting Merseyside in March in order to discuss that with the trustees. So I do not believe we have anything to be ashamed of in relation to museums and galleries.

A number of noble Lords—no; a few noble Lords—notably the noble Viscount, Lord Mersey, and the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, expressed doubt about the Quality, Efficiency and Standards Team (QUEST). I want to emphasise that QUEST will be a watchdog looking at all areas of DCMS responsibility, and at DCMS itself; in other words, we are prepared to take our own medicine. It will undertake a mix of studies: some about individual institutions; some cross-cutting and some learning from the experience of one institution to help another. There will be a very small core team. Studies will draw on expertise from outside, including sponsored bodies, the private sector and local authorities. QUEST will report directly to the Secretary of State. It will have its own identity. It will issue independent advice. Its budget for the first three years is £500,000 a year. If we were going to be instituting Big Brother in the menacing way that some noble Lords seem to think, we would be funding it a good deal more generously than that.

But the team will be concerned with identifying good practice and seeing where good practice can be transferred from one part to another part of the DCMS's activities. It will work in collaboration with the National Audit Office and the Audit Commission. Its activities will include a review of targets and indicators and of administrative structures; a study of second-tier delegation; a study of the private-public partnerships; a look at the cost of commercial innovation: and a look at the cost of making lottery applications. All of those are objectives which are thoroughly in line with the wish of the noble Lord, Lord Freyberg, when introducing the debate today.

I turn to the particular points raised. I accept that it is possible, by selective quotation, to justify the charge made by the noble Lord, Lord Freyberg, about local authority expenditure over a period of time. It is certainly true that some local authorities have been less generous than others—if I can put it in that way—in funding the arts. This year there has been the most generous settlement for local government for many years in which the block for recreational activity and cultural services has achieved an increase of 3.8 per cent. That is no justification for local authorities to impose cuts on any area of the arts. Where the department has responsibilities, as it does under the Public Libraries Act, we shall ensure that those are fulfilled.

Noble Lords have questioned whether our devolution to regions, which is part of the policy of and for the Arts Council for England, will result in wise and efficient decisions. I thought that my noble friend Lord Bragg adequately answered that point with his example from the north of England. The criticism of Westminster City Council which was made by the noble Lord, Lord Freyberg, and the noble Viscount, Lord Falkland, shows the obstacles that we have to overcome, but we do not believe that they can be overcome by increasing centralisation. Of course, we do not approve of the cuts which have been imposed by Buckinghamshire in the past, as referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Freyberg. We believe that the money is there if councils are willing and able to use it.

My noble friend Lord Strabolgi and the noble Lord, Lord Hindlip, referred to the Acceptance in Lieu Scheme. The noble Lord, Lord Hindlip, expressed the fear that works of art would be forced on to the market as a result of the restrictions on viewing by appointment and the insistence under the Finance Act 1998 that there should be publicly announced hours for viewing. I simply do not believe that that will take place. The Acceptance in Lieu scheme provides that if there is any good reason why the works of art should not be viewed where they belong, so to speak, they can be seen in museums and galleries. The noble Lord, Lord Hindlip, referred to hard-pressed museums. He spoke of the possibility that they might decline to put the works of art on show and that the people concerned might lose their tax exemption. If he would be good enough to write to me about that matter, I shall certainly take up. My understanding is that there is generally not any difficulty on that score. That is the key to the success of the Conditional Exemption Scheme. However, I must insist that this is a tax concession and in return for such, as the noble Lord generously acknowledged, there must be proper opportunities for public viewing.

The noble Lord, Lord Jacobs, referred to lottery funding and to the need for that to be more flexible so that it would cover revenue as well as capital. I entirely agree with him on that point. That is what we provided for in the National Lottery Act 1998. We may not have gone as far as he would like but we have gone a good way to achieving greater flexibility.

He asked whether it was possible to encourage more endowments and foundations which would secure the long-term viability of projects funded by the lottery. He is quite right; lottery projects need to show financial viability. There has to be a long-term feasibility plan. I believe that his objectives are also those of the Government. He asked about the Millennium Commission. I can assure him that no projects will be funded by the Millennium Commission which would allow deficits. A proper business plan will be encouraged.

The noble Lord, Lord Rix, and the noble Earl, Lord Carlisle, referred to the needs of the disabled. We are very sympathetic to those needs, but I do not think that we would go as far as the noble Earl in suggesting that we should withhold money from galleries who do not provide for the disabled. There are sometimes reasons which make such provision difficult. However, I certainly take the point of the noble Lord, Lord Rix, about representation of the disabled on committees.

I was asked by my noble friend Lord Jenkins about droit de suite. He defended droit de suite, against the arguments of the noble Lord, Lord Hindlip, and others, by saying that it would go to artists. Where droit de suite operates, 80 per cent. of the money goes to 20 per cent. of the artists. I do not see the heirs of Picasso and Matisse as being a particularly worthy cause.

The noble Earl, Lord Clancarty, made a valid and interesting point about roving curators which Neil MacGregor of the National Gallery has, indeed, discussed with Alan Howarth, the Minister for the Arts. The noble Baroness, Lady Brigstocke, made a similar point. It is true that there is a problem for artists outside London and a problem of availability of experienced and skilled curators in our museums. We shall be taking forward the suggestion which has been made.

I shall, if I may, pass over the matter of the Dome which is perhaps peripheral to our discussion. I was interested in the suggestion of the noble Earl, Lord Drogheda, about having a museum of photography in London comparable to that in Bradford. There are a number of museums of photography. I think he would agree that it would be better to start a new museum from an existing one rather than to start from scratch.

My noble friend Lord Bragg asked us to pay tribute to Jennie Lee, the first effective Minister of the Arts, and I am glad to do so. I do not think it matters that she was placed in the Department for Education and Employment, whereas our Minister for the Arts is in the Department for Culture, Media and Sport. It is not where you are, it is what you do that really matters.

The noble Lord, Lord Gibson, puzzled me. He seemed to think there was a danger of too much ministerial control over the Royal Opera House. I should have thought that the experience of the past six months shows that Ministers have successfully brought together what would otherwise have been warring parties to what I believe and hope will be a successful conclusion.

I was pleased to hear what the noble Baroness, Lady Brigstocke, said about the Geffrye Museum although I must insist that the museums, libraries and archives council, which is planned, is not an attempt to save money and is certainly not a merger. We propose a new powerful advisory body which would give advice to government over a range of services and activities which have natural links.

I have come to the end of my allocated time and I apologise to noble Lords who I have not answered. Perhaps I may say to the noble Lord, Lord Beloff, who accused my noble friend Lord Bragg of being absent from the country, that throughout the period to which he refers, my noble friend has had a season ticket to the upper east stand in row P at Arsenal Football Club, even if the noble Lord, Lord Beloff, did not have the opportunity to see the "South Bank Show" during that period.

I think that we have a great deal to be proud of and that the majority of speeches this evening have encouraged that view. I am grateful, again, to the noble Lord, Lord Freyberg, for introducing the debate and for an opportunity to set out the Government's position on these matters.

5.59 p.m.

My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down—I am aware that he has had to answer a lot of points—I gave notice to his office of two specific questions of importance. Perhaps he will be kind enough to write to me.

My Lords, I shall be glad to do that. I realise that the noble Earl talked about cross-border touring, but the matter was too complicated to deal with in the time that I had available.

5.59 p.m.

My Lords, I thank all who have contributed to this afternoon's debate on such a wide range of subjects. I note with interest the Minister's comments and I look forward to a further discussion on some of the topics raised. I beg leave to withdraw my Motion for Papers.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.

Homeless Young People

6 p.m.

rose to call attention to the case for an appropriate range of effective services to meet the needs of homeless young people under the age of 25; and to move for Papers.

The noble Earl said: My Lords, I thank my fellow Cross-l3enchers for allowing me this debate. It is important and timely. The number of 16 and 17 year-olds making use of Centrepoint's emergency London shelter in Soho for 16 to 25 year-olds has increased by 10 per cent. in the past five years. Over 50 per cent. of its residents in 1997 were under 18.

My experience of working with young people has been on housing estates in the boroughs of Southwark, Greenwich, and Kensington and Chelsea. Since Christmas, I have worked as a volunteer one evening a week in a winter hostel for homeless people under the age of 25.

Who are the young homeless, and why are they homeless? They are the young people who sleep rough on the streets, who live in short-stay hostels, bed-and-breakfast or other temporary accommodation, or who sleep on friends' floors. They are homeless because they have come out of care, the armed services or prison without a home to move into or are too institutionalised to keep one. They are homeless because they have been sexually or physically abused by their families or because a step-parent does not feel obliged to house a step-child past the age of 16. They are homeless because they are mentally ill or have behavioural problems which make living with others hard. They are homeless because they are political or economic migrants or because their family has difficulty supporting itself or because they have no academic qualifications to enable them to find the work to pay the rent. Some are homeless because they have had one of those family arguments that are part of adolescence and should simply return home. For others, those family disputes are insuperable.

In addition to the various particular reasons for homelessness among young people, there are three widely agreed general factors: the availability of housing, employment and benefits. The availability of affordable accommodation has plummeted since the 1950s. The private sector has shrunk from 25 per cent. of the housing stock in 1966 to 8 per cent. in 1991, a problem which has been increased by the flight from rentals to young people following the introduction of the single room rent. Many homeless people have difficulty in reading and writing and have few skills that are useful in the modern labour market. The Social Security Act 1988 removed automatic benefit entitlement from 16 and 17 year-olds and reduced benefits to those under 25. The consequence of those factors is that young people are chasing too few homes with too little money.

Fortunately, government and volunteer organisations are rising to the challenge posed by youth homelessness. The previous Conservative government began the Rough Sleepers' Initiative in the early 1990s, funding charities to increase the capacity of their hostels, to go out to help homeless people on the streets and to help to establish them when homes are found. As a consequence, the number of rough sleepers in London has fallen from 2,000 a night at the start of the decade to about 400 today.

Voluntary organisations have originated a varied range of effective services. Sixteen year-olds who run from their family or care home can be referred to one of three national refuges. Those are run by charities such as Centrepoint, National Children's Home and the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children. They are tightly regulated and immensely costly for the charities to run. On arrival, the residents are put on a police list so that they are known to be safe. A child then has 14 days' breathing space before he or she must be either returned or referred on. One refuge manager explained that 10 per cent. of his charges had merely had a family row and were easily returned home; that 80 per cent. had more serious problems and might need professional counselling for themselves and their family to improve their situation; and that about 10 per cent. had been sexually or physically abused.

Listening to the child and trying to improve the family situation is indispensable; otherwise children will often make repeated flights and then become homeless after 16. The Children Act 1989 recognises that children should be listened to and their views taken seriously. However, it can take weeks to arrange an interview with a social worker. Will the Minister consider issuing a protocol to social work teams to ensure that children in refuges are seen well before those 14 days have elapsed?

At 16 and over, short-stay shelters are available in London and other cities. They provide young people with a bed, help with finding work, applying for benefits and obtaining temporary accommodation.

The Foyer has grown up to provide one helpful next step to independence. Eighty-one foyers provide accommodation for 4,200 young people nationwide. Their aim is to help young people who have been homeless or are at risk of homelessness into work and a permanent home. They achieve this by offering something akin to a student hall of residence, combined with a training and education centre and an employment agency. Residents sign a licence agreeing to obey the rules of the establishment and an agreement to meet certain training, education and employment goals.

The capital funding comes from various sources, including the Housing Corporation and the lottery while rent and to some extent services are met by housing benefit. The funding of training and education is the hardest to raise; the European Social Fund has been generous but will stop funding in 2002. One foyer manager made this plea: think about proper funding for staff, training and education before building new foyers. Managers are having to act as receptionists, clerks, and carers in addition to their all-important managerial role.

I should like to make the following important point. The average age for young people to leave home is 22. Most young homeless people exit well before this. They are still not full grown, no matter how tough they may pretend to be. Often they will have had unsatisfactory family relationships. Such young people benefit immensely from a good long-term relationship with a responsible adult. Where there are insufficient appropriately trained and experienced staff those trusting relationships cannot grow. It is very hard to explain to a young person who expects to be disappointed that one is too busy to see them.

The Social Exclusion Unit's very welcome report Rough Sleeping, of July last year shows that the Government appreciate the importance of those

relationships. The report suggests working with voluntary organisations to produce mentoring schemes, schemes by which an older person makes available his or her experience to a younger homeless person. Perhaps the Minister could say what response there has been to this suggestion.

The importance of such good supportive relationships is apparent in the excellent schemes for ensuring that when a flat is found for a young homeless person they manage to establish themselves there. In one London "floating support scheme", a new tenant is visited for a couple of hours each week by a settlement worker and helped in budgeting for expenses, advised on how to keep house, and reassured. Such support is necessary because young people often feel very lonely, removed from their friends of the street or hostel. They are also faced with the responsibility of running their own home for the first time. Without assistance, sometimes the blanket across the window and the broken pane remain permanent fixtures; rent is not paid and the young person returns to the streets with the added burden of rent arrears and a sense of failure.

There are many other services which have grown up to serve young homeless people. Here a medical practice geared to their needs; there a counselling service to help with depression to which young people can be prone. In London there is a drugs help project which not only offers assistance in its Soho premises but has its workers patrolling the streets persuading drug users that they should take help. These workers also regularly visit hostels to make themselves available to give advice to residents and are called on by the management of hostels to suggest ways of dealing with drug use. Similarly, family planning agencies provide an information service which visits hostels on a regular basis.

All these services need to be co-ordinated to be of effective good to their clients. The voluntary organisations realise this and have already begun working together. That is why, again, the Social Exclusion Unit's report on rough sleeping, was so very welcome. It recommended the formation of a body for London which would co-ordinate the work of government, local authorities and the voluntary sector. It recommended means for local authorities outside London better to co-ordinate services, which the new homelessness action programme is now providing. It also emphasised the need for a strategic approach to the problem of street homelessness and announced that Hilary Armstrong, the Minister responsible for local government and housing, would lead a ministerial committee to supply that.

The Government have also set up the youth homelessness action partnership to bring together senior members of central government, local government and the voluntary sector. Its purpose is to thoroughly understand the problem of youth homelessness and to ensure appropriate action. It is most helpful that the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions will be working with charities in this area to produce better, more authoritative statistics. Realistic figures for youth homelessness are notoriously difficult to obtain. Furthermore, the Government's New Deal scheme has also been made especially accessible to young homeless people. The normal waiting period of six months for the jobseeker's allowance has been waived for them.

It is certain that some will benefit immensely from the combination of advice, training and employment experience that the New Deal offers. Another initiative, the release of some capital receipts from the sale of council homes to build 60,000 new ones each year for the next three years, will also help some formerly homeless young people finally to establish themselves. Can the Minister say whether there are plans to reform the single-room rent which has driven so many private landlords away from renting to under 25 year-olds, so that more homes still can be made available?

The consultation paper Supporting People is also welcome for the possibility it offers of consistent funding for youth homelessness charities. Perhaps the Minister could reassure them that those whose residents come from many different local authorities will have to deal only with one regional authority for their area. The alternative is a costly administrative quagmire for those charities.

To conclude, young homeless people need all the support that we can give to see them through to their independence. As the Prime Minister said,

"The most vulnerable should not he left simply to fall through the cracks in the system or have the odds so heavily stacked against them".

I sincerely hope that the Minister will do all he can to ensure the provision of adequate services for the young homeless to reverse the current trend before it is too late. My Lords, I beg to move for Papers.

6.15 p.m.

My Lords, one of the most vulnerable groups of young people comprises those who have been in care. They often face great difficulty in finding suitable and affordable accommodation. Between one-third and one-quarter of rough sleepers have been looked after as children by local authorities. Young people who have had contact with the local authority care system are hugely over-represented in the homeless population. At a time when most young people are still receiving full family support, many 16 and 17 year-olds are leaving care with no safety net to fall back on. Some local authorities will not grant tenancies to 16 and 17 year-olds. Many are reluctant to give them priority on the waiting lists. Although legislation exists to protect homeless young 16 and 17 year-olds who are at risk, it often does not work. Young people often do not know where to go for help. They can and do end up falling through the net of advice and provision.

Services tend to be reactive and crisis based. Emergency housing placements are met which are inappropriate and break down quickly. This can be devastating for young people who have been in care, precisely because they usually do not have support networks to call upon.

The homeless legislation tends to be regarded as relevant primarily for families. But it is relevant to individuals. Most young people leaving care with no family or other back-up are vulnerable. They should be recognised as being in priority need. Too often that does not happen. Local housing authorities need to be reminded of their responsibilities in that respect.

These are responsibilities not only to provide housing. Housing departments must work with the social services and other agencies. Above all, advice and assistance must he provided in order to prevent homelessness. It is vital that everyone—young and not so young, including those who are single and who may not be in priority need or whose homelessness may not be deemed unintentional—should have ready access to the best information and advice about homelessness from local authorities and from services such as Shelterline. Authorities should adopt strategies to map out positive steps to improve access to help and services for young people, covering all their needs.

With the right help vulnerable young people, including care leavers who may not have a supportive family to fall back on in times of trouble, can not only obtain suitable accommodation, but also retain it and live independently and successfully. Providing the right sort of support to such young people is an important part of the process which will help them to participate fully in society. The recommendations in the Social Exclusion Unit's report on rough sleeping must be adopted. I am confident that the code of guidance on homelessness and allocations will be strengthened accordingly.

6.18 p.m.

My Lords, I believe that all Members of your Lordships' House will be grateful to the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, for bringing this very important subject to the House tonight. We have not discussed young people for quite some time. To have a new young Peer instigate the debate is right and fitting.

I must declare an interest. I am not a young person, but I have had a great deal of experience dealing with young people. With my late husband I started a charity 33 years ago which I called Crisis at Christmas. Some noble Lords may have heard of it. It was started by young people for young people and other lonely people at Christmas. For 32 years we have looked after up to a thousand people for a whole week at Christmas time. We think that we have perhaps been able to make their Christmas happier than it would otherwise have been. I take a great interest in the charity and I am its life president. I try to keep as much in contact with it as I can.

I wonder how many noble Lords watched the programme on BBC2 last night. It is extraordinary that that programme should have been broadcast last night because we so rarely have the opportunity to see what people are doing on the ground to help people of all ages. It was an excellent programme. I could have watched it for some time. However, tonight we are discussing the age group which comprises people who are the most vulnerable of all in our society, and that is the under-25s and the over-16s. They are vulnerable because it has been established that they have spent their formative years in local authority care. That is not to decry the help that is given to them by local authorities, but I wish to draw attention to the fact that so many young people have nowhere to live. They have been thrown out of their homes for various reasons and they have nowhere to go.

I know that local authorities do their very best to bring up those people in a caring society. However, about 10,000 young people annually leave care. They have to leave when they are 17. It is estimated that in 1996 nationally the 16 to 21 age group were among the homeless. That is a great number of people. Why did they leave home? They did so because their parents had split up or because they were in trouble with the law. Over three-quarters of young homeless people are unemployed. Most of them are without qualifications. In these days when a piece of paper means that one is more likely to get a job, a qualification is an absolute essential.

Having left local authority care and having no parents to turn to, having lost the interest of local authority social workers, and having no job, where do people in this age group go when they have no accommodation? There is always a long queue of youngsters to take their place in doorways, under bridges and in cardboard boxes. We must show future generations that we care. We, the older people, must show that we care what happens to the youngsters. The Government must do something positive. The other day the Minister, Mr. Dobson, said that,
"children who have spent a significant time being looked after by the local authority should afterwards be given the kind of support that decent and responsible parents would give to their own children".
That was a wise and caring remark. I hope that he bears out what he says and acts soon. We have the snow and the ice outside. How many people are sleeping rough under bridges in the snow and the ice tonight? I hope that some of us, through the agencies that we represent, will be able to help these young people.

6.24 p.m.

My Lords, I also would like to congratulate the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, on his thoughtful introduction to this debate. It is absolutely right that we should be reminded that even as we discuss these matters there are young people out there who are homeless, and some who may be spending their first night alone in a big city, and some who may be fearful about their safety. However, the noble Earl has also reminded us that there are a number of people of good will who voluntarily give their time and energy to make contact with these young people and to offer them practical help and advice. I am sure that all Members of your Lordships' House will agree that our society is the richer because of the contributions of so many volunteers and we warmly acknowledge the part that they play.

The noble Earl and others have set out clearly the problems of homeless young people. In the time available I wish to concentrate on the special difficulties of young people leaving public care and support all that has been said by the noble Baronesses, Lady Goudie and Lady Macleod. It is significant that the first four speakers in the debate this evening have made special mention of the needs of young people leaving care. Tonight there are about 55,000 children and young people in public care who for a variety of reasons are not being looked after by their parents but by local authorities. For the time being each of these young people has to look to the state to be a good parent to them. Many of these young people will have experienced a great deal of disruption in their short lives. Some will have been abused and most will understandably be angry that they have been let down by the adults they looked to for care and protection.

As has been said, most of these young people will leave care at 16, or younger. Most will have no educational qualifications, limited personal skills, and probably no one to stand by them. Even the most educated and confident young people often need to fall back on their families for help and support, be it a word of praise or encouragement, a good meal or a clean shirt. The reality is that we expect the most from those young people with the least. Is it any wonder that young people leaving public care are among the most vulnerable members of our communities, exposed to danger, drug and alcohol abuse, exploitation and delinquency?

As has been mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Macleod, the Secretary of State for Health in another place established a ministerial task force to tackle this problem. I commend to your Lordships most warmly the report on children's safeguards. I hope that as many noble Lords as possible will be able to study this report. At the launch last November the Secretary of State said,
"Children in care make up 0.5 per cent. of the child population. Young men who have been in care form 22 per cent. of the prison population. They make up 39 per cent. of prisoners under 21 years old. I in 3 of the people sleeping rough in London were once in care".
That helpful report emphasises that when a local authority takes on the parental role this should be its first responsibility. An effective leaving care plan is a vitally important part of that task. The report sets out a large number of recommendations. I should be grateful if the Minister could give us an assurance that action is being taken especially by the departments of government with lead responsibilities in these areas.

I should declare an interest in that I chair an advisory group on a leaving care project which is a partnership between the Prince's Trust and the Camelot Foundation. This project is developing and supporting mentoring schemes for young people leaving care. It has been a real joy to see the response from people of good will across the whole of society, and covering a wide age range, who are now volunteering to help these young people at a critical time in their lives. People are being recruited from industry and commerce, from churches and voluntary organisations, and concerned individuals are willing to give their time to take a personal interest in the welfare of a young person. They are helping them with literacy, numeracy, and everything from computer science to fishing and pigeon racing.

The important thing for these young people is that someone with ability believes in them and cares about them. This often makes a difference between the development of self-esteem and confidence, or drifting into a life of crime. I hope that the Minister will give his support to mentoring and to those organisations which are developing support for young people as they leave care.

6.30 p.m.

My Lords, I should like to congratulate the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, not only on moving this Motion but also him on an outstanding and encouraging speech. It showed all the marks of commitment and growing experience which, to an old campaigner, is particularly welcome.

I speak as chairman of the Children's Society and as co-president of the English Churches Housing Group. I was very keen to speak in this debate. I have already apologised to the Minister for the fact that I may have to leave before it is concluded as there are not many trains deep into Somerset late at night.

The Churches, in their national and local institutions, in partnership and in local parishes, together with individuals, have long been concerned about the plight and needs of all homeless people, and young people in particular. In fact, January 31st this year was designated "Homelessness Sunday", which was observed ecumenically to draw attention to the problem. Some 2,000 churches marked the day in some way. In my own diocese of Bath and Wells, a number of events took place.

Homelessness is not, as is sometimes thought, just an urban phenomenon, as I experienced it in East London for many years; it is a real problem in rural areas too, where lack of public transport and difficult access to employment can also exclude young people.

In Shepton Mallet, for example, a cardboard city was set up recently and a number of people took part in a sleep-out to draw attention to this issue. I can speak from personal experience of such a sleep-out at Westminster Cathedral. Even to spend one night on the pavements in plastic bags and boxes is really very hard. In fact my Roman Catholic Bishop colleague at one point in the middle of the night turned to me and said "I shall never forget this if I live to remember it".

The volunteers of Shepton Mallet Housing Association run a hostel which has been open for six years. During that time it has housed no fewer than 85 youngsters. We must always remember how much can be achieved by local enthusiasm, local commitment, co-operation and partnership.

I was especially pleased to open the Foyer Project in Yeovil with the right honourable Member of Parliament for that constituency. Our diocese declared redundant a church building which had been isolated in the town centre development. In partnership—again that word—with housing associations, the local authority and other groups, in an imaginative and impressive project, converted it into a resource for young people, offering them accommodation and job training. I emphasise that all that was done, but the real concern is the continuing funding and how that money can be raised and secured.

Research shows that the rise in youth homelessness has been one of the main features of the changing face of homelessness over the past two decades. The Department of the Environment noted that in 1981 the typical single homeless person was a male in his late 40s or older. By 1991 the majority of single homeless people were young people. It is particularly worrying to note the increase in numbers of homeless young women and girls.

In seeking ways to improve this truly shocking state of affairs, it is important to be aware of the major causes of homelessness. Most homeless young people say that they have left home because of household conflicts. Our Children's Society report, Running the Risk, showed that young people have experienced high levels of disruption, lack of support networks, and being cut off from the education system. Together with household conflict, these were the main causes of their leaving home in the first place. As we have just heard, it is estimated that one-third of homeless youngsters are estimated to have come from local authority care.

These young people are especially vulnerable, with significant levels of substance abuse, self-harm, depression and criminal offending, aggravated by fear and sometimes by assaults, and of course prostitution. I particularly welcome the Government's recent steps to treat young prostitutes as victims and not as criminals.

We have an example which confirms some of these facts in relation to New Age travellers. The Children's Society is involved in a number of projects in Somerset with homeless young people, including a participation project in Bath. Successive research carried out by the project in the west country has shown that 50 per cent. of New Age travellers were homeless prior to going on the road. So, for members of this group at least, becoming a traveller has been seen as a viable housing option.

It would appear that domestic problems like family breakdown are responsible for a high proportion of youth homelessness. There needs to be an examination of the financial impact of government policies as they affect young people—for example, the payment of the jobseeker's allowance at a lower rate until the age of 25, as has been mentioned, and the restrictions on housing benefit payments on the under-25s, cannot make it easier for young people facing housing difficulties. One policy change in particular, mentioned by the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, would make a significant difference to smoothing the transition of young people into independent accommodation: that is, reform of the single-room rent restriction on housing benefit. Changes introduced in 1996 mean that young people under 25 can only receive housing benefit up to a maximum of the single-room rent, the amount set by the rent office as the average cost of accommodation in a shared house in the area.

A report by the National Rent Deposit Forum and the Catholic Housing Aid Society, published last June, showed that the effect of this on young people is considerable. Shared housing is often unsuitable especially for vulnerable young people. Often it does not provide adequate stability for their needs. As we have heard, as a result of this single-room rent provision, many private landlords no longer offer accommodation to under-25s.

In addition to measures to assist young people in obtaining and sustaining suitable independent housing, efforts should also be made to help those experiencing difficulties at home—if not to remain there, then to leave in a constructive and planned manner when absolutely necessary. There should be a great deal more family mediation and counselling, as well as development of local services, to achieve that smooth transition from home to independence.

Before I finish, I should like to mention one other scheme, a project in Norwich, carried out in partnership with other agencies. The Milestone Youth Build Scheme enables young people between the ages of 18 and 25 to be involved in building their own flats. The programme lasts for 12 months. Training takes place on site and in college, and successful participants gain an NVQ at the end of the scheme. That seems to me to be a very good example of the sort of self-help that can be set up if charities, government and housing associations form partnerships that will help them.

There is a great deal still to be done, but I am grateful for all that is done by volunteers and voluntary agencies throughout our society. I hope that the Government will do all that they can to help them.

6.39 p.m.

My Lords, I, too, wish to thank the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, for introducing this debate on such an important subject. Unfortunately, it has been a tremendously well-informed debate up to now; I have already had to score two good quotations out of my speech. I pity noble Lords who speak at the end of the list.

It is estimated that some 2,500 young people sleep on the streets at some time each year. As your Lordships leave the Palace of Westminster this evening, and gather your great coats around you, it may well be worth thinking about the young people who are sleeping out tonight. Although nearly all rough sleepers are homeless, by no means are all homeless people rough sleepers. There are also many who squat with friends or live in refuges or hostels. A recent survey showed that in each of seven major UK cities about 5 per cent. of 16 to 18 year-olds are homeless. Research shows that most homeless young people do not just "walk out" of home. They are either thrown out or forced out.

The noble Baroness, Lady Goudie, and the noble Lord, Lord Laming, both referred to the 30 per cent. of homeless young people who have come from local authority care. That is a devastating indictment of local authority care. Forty per cent. have been abused. a minority have mental health problems and others have alcohol and drug dependency problems. A significant proportion are women.

I should like to quote from the report of the Home and Away Project, to which I hope to refer later, which describes the kind of young people who are coming to it for help:
"A high proportion of young people who lack the basic wherewithal to make sense of everyday routine tasks is extremely high and worrying. Some cope by having well developed means of survival while others are at such a level of disadvantage that one is left wondering how they have remained safe for any period without a responsible carer. This group of young people appears to have gone through various systems without formal recognition of their vulnerability being made. Unfortunately, these are the young people who invariably get caught up within the criminal system before we are able successfully to help them to develop an alternative".
The vast majority of homeless young people are the victims of their families: families who cannot or will not support them; families which are so dysfunctional because of violence, alcohol or abuse in one form or another that young people feel they have to leave. There is also the problem of reconstituted families where a step-parent, a mother's lover, or whoever it may be, makes them feel they are not wanted. Only about 5 per cent, of young people walk away from the family willingly.

Let us look a little more closely at these family problems. The noble Baroness, Lady Goudie, referred to the great family of children in care. I would suggest that the care system has to be redesigned and funded in such a way that it does not just look after children but has the resources and skills to rehabilitate them, prepare them for adult life and then help them to make the transition to adult life.

One of the issues we have to face in the context of homeless people is that the Government appear to be quite unclear as to how 16 and 17 year-olds are expected to be financed. The previous government introduced arrangements for the tax and benefits system which implied that families would support them. But no one has ever said clearly that families had the duty to support them. I shall come later to some suggestions on that matter.

When older people today were 16, they were able to earn money and so were expected to contribute to the housekeeping, even if it was only £10 a week. They are now parents and they do not understand why their young people cannot contribute in the same way. However, the reality of our technological society is that 16 and 17 year-olds are not ready to contribute and are not ready to be earners. Either they are in training or in education or else they are in such a no-hope situation that they have rejected both training and education and are unemployable. There is a need for us, society, to decide who is supposed to pay for these people and what will be the system by which they receive the funding they need just to live.

I do not want to enlarge on the problem of abuse within the family but I should point out that we are not talking only about sexual abuse but also about physical abuse, constant verbal abuse and disparagement, and violence between the parents which sometimes the children are obliged to watch. There are many reasons why such abuse occurs.

There is a real problem with reconstituted families. One report I have read describes them as parents "living a new script with a new partner" who does not want a resentful, stroppy teenager around. Children of reconstituted families are particularly vulnerable to abuse. I would suggest to the Minister that the Government address the question of whether the cost of dealing with homelessness is greater or less than the cost of dealing with the problems caused by homelessness. Those problems are likely to be lifelong dependency on the state, poor health and all the problems associated with having nothing to do—crime, drugs, alcohol, and irresponsible parenthood.

Perhaps I may suggest some short-term solutions. Several noble Lords have said—I do not want to waste time repeating it—that each person needs the support a normal family gives. Each young person needs a shoulder to lean on—perhaps a shoulder to cry on—and someone to listen. That is far more important that more bricks and mortar. Perhaps I may quote the report of the Social Exclusion Unit on rough sleeping. It stated:
"What most homeless young people want above all is a fresh start in life—a job, a home and the confidence to re-establish contact with family and friends or start again from scratch. But many lack basic skills and most need intensive support to make the transition from homelessness to a job".
I am running out of time. I wish to stress the point that the Government must set the cost of doing something against the cost of doing nothing.

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for referring to running out of time. I wonder whether I may warn all noble Lords that if everyone runs out of time the Minister will have none at all.

6.46 p.m.

My Lords, I thank the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, for initiating this very important debate. It is good to have someone speaking who is actually young. It seemed at the time that it was hard enough to grow up as a teenager in the 1960s, but I think that it was as nothing compared with the pressures now. Yet the greater the expectations and demands, the more we seem to treat young people as a problem to be controlled rather than as an asset to be invested in. Why do we so often demonise and penalise rather than celebrate and support? Perhaps it would help our perception of young people if we allowed them to be heard more.

I was at Westminster '99 yesterday, which was an occasion for politicians to be grilled by young people under the age of 18. It was a great experience and there were very pertinent and challenging questions. It really is time we gave young people votes at 16 and the right to be candidates at 18 so that they can have their say in how they are governed.

I believe that we will soon see the first generational accounts showing how much of national income and wealth go to different generations in this country. I will be most surprised if the picture is other than a huge bias towards the middle aged and old, particularly with the inheritance of houses and the receipt of second pensions by many people. I do not begrudge them—of course, many older people are in poverty—but, as a group, the over-fifties are probably becoming relatively richer. I suspect that the opposite is true of those under the age of 25.

There are many reasons for giving young people a solid start in life which will afford them dignity, independence and security. But for vulnerable young people who need a place to live away from their family, we are not supplying that. That is when they come up against discrimination in the housing and benefits system which says that 16 and 17 year-olds cannot usually get benefits at all and that 18 to 25 year-olds qualify only for a lower rate of job seeker's allowance and housing benefit. That is curious reasoning because, to my knowledge, the cost of food and rent is not age related. What we are saying is that young people under the age of 25 are less valuable human beings than their older fellow citizens yet we preach at them that they lack a sense of proper values.

The most harmful and inhumane discrimination we apply to young people who need their own place to live is, as has already been mentioned, the single room rent restriction. The National Association of Citizens Advice Bureaux,
"strongly recommends the withdrawal of the single room rent restriction for the under-25s so that young people at a critical stage in their lives can concentrate on developing work skills and on playing a positive part in their local community rather than coping with extreme poverty and the constant threat of homelessness".
Those are tough words.

Presumably, one thought behind the introduction of the SRR was that it would keep young people in the parental home. Yet many young people are highly vulnerable, not only because of their age but because of their lack of family support. It is often the breakdown of family relations, fleeing violence or physical or sexual abuse, or coming out of care, which has led them to the need to seek separate accommodation.

It seems that another assumption of the Department of Social Security was that the single room rent restriction would lead to the operation of market forces and a lowering of rents by landlords or the availability of a greater range of inexpensive shared accommodation. In fact, surprise, surprise, it has led landlords, in a situation where demand outstrips supply, to refuse to let to young tenants who they know will struggle to pay the rent. Thus those youngsters are being forced either onto the streets—and Centrepoint of course does not accept the assertion of the Social Exclusion Unit that there are very few rough sleepers under 18—or into the lower, shabbier end of the rented market; that is, if they can find any accommodation at all. Those in rural areas often have to move to the cities in order to find shared accommodation. Shared accommodation is not always suitable. It is one thing for a group of friends to take a flat together, as students often do; it is quite another for a young girl who may have been sexually abused, or an HIV-positive young man, to be forced to share with strangers.

The difficulty of finding or sustaining a tenancy, or the worry and insecurity involved, is hardly conducive to maintaining a job or training placement. That is where the irrationality comes in. The Department of Social Security is jeopardising effective participation in the New Deal, this Government's flagship.

Early vulnerability magnifies problems in later life. If young people have run away from home, slept rough, or had drug or alcohol problems, the chances of later addiction or ill- health, unemployment, prison, or mental breakdown are all greater in adulthood. That is very expensive, as the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, said. That is why the Government often cite the figure, which I believe comes from the United States, that £1 spent on childcare saves £7 in later life, to justify investment in nurseries. Surely "joined up", coherent government demands the same approach to housing youngsters at risk.

Yet the evidence from voluntary organisations which are concerned on a day-to-day basis with vulnerable and homeless young people is that the discrimination against them that is built into the social security and housing benefit system is causing hardship and a spiralling downward decline for many into rough sleeping, crime and despair. It surely cannot pass a cross-departmental, cost-benefit test.

If that is not the legacy that we wish to confer on our children for the 21st century, I urge the Government to remove the discrimination and abolish the single room rent restriction, perhaps as part of their overall review of housing benefit. They should certainly not wait too long while further damage is done. What is the point of a Social Exclusion Unit if it allows the blatant social exclusion of under-25s?

6.53 p.m.

My Lords, I, too, wish to thank my noble friend for introducing this important topic. I must declare an interest. I am a non-executive director of the Green Park Healthcare Trust in Belfast, which includes the regional residential child psychiatry unit for the Province. I am also a trustee of the Housing for the Homeless fund, which is run by the Simon Community in Northern Ireland. The Simon Community provides accommodation for all ages of homeless. The total referrals in 1997–98 were 3,314, and the age group that we are discussing comprised 51 per cent, of that total; namely, 1,728. As we have heard, current trends in that age group are rising. Just as worrying is the fact that a survey in 1996 carried out in Northern Ireland indicated that 41 per cent, of the homeless in this age group had mental health problems as defined in the Children Act.

I wish, first, to look at the prevention of homelessness and at this group with mental problems in particular. They are in two categories: those with emotional problems which develop gradually and eventually may force them to become homeless; and those with behavioural and conduct problems, which are a form of mental handicap. One-third of this second category have specified reading disorders, such as dyslexia. It is vital that these children are diagnosed at a very early stage, and that is where we let some of them down in the first instance.

The Education Order in Northern Ireland—and the Education Act in Great Britain—provides for statement of special needs for 2½ per cent. of all children. However, it is felt by many professionals that another 2½ per cent. of children could benefit educationally and in terms of mental health given that extra support. Therefore, there is under-funding of the educational psychologists service, and only the more serious cases are treated. Diagnosis should take place in primary school or earlier; it is early intervention that is most important.

In addition to the lack of capacity in the system, we have, as we have been told today by Chris Woodhead, 15,000 teachers who are not up to the mark. Just over 40 per cent, of those, according to the Express, are primary school teachers. I welcome the Government's endeavours to improve teaching standards. However, I ask them specifically to target the skills needed for early diagnosis of these problem children. Too high a proportion of them are our future homeless young people. It is vital to treat them from primary school age and not leave them undiagnosed until their teens or, sadly, sometimes even later.

Good teachers make for happy schools; and happy schools with a good ethos are shown to have fewer children with emotional and mental health problems. That fact was identified in a report by Sir Michael Rutter in the 1980s. Therefore, that is a vital link in prevention or in the improvement of mental health in children.

Although we are not discussing suicides, it is important to note that the attempted suicide rate is five per million in the under-14s and 30 per million in 14 to 20 year-olds. Ninety per cent, of suicide victims among the under-20s have mental health problems, so we are also looking at the prevention of these tragedies in the long run.

It is sad when any child has to be taken into care for mental health or other reasons, and we are lucky and can justly be proud of these establishments and the staff who work in them. However, that is not the end of the story but perhaps the start of another. These establishments are a form of housing for the homeless. Many will leave at 16, and we know that too many of them become homeless adolescents.

That brings me to the Simon Community and the help that it gives to its homeless residents. Like Centrepoint, it has many programmes. I should like to highlight one that is of particular note; namely, the Outhouse programme. It is in the form of a CD-ROM produced recently by the Simon Community. The CDs inform children about how to get on in the outside world and develop the skills that are needed to live there. They are now being distributed to every school in the Province by the Department of Education. I mention this programme as an example to show that charitable organisations strive very hard to fill this serious gap in government and educational responsibilities. I urge the Government to do even more to lower the number of adolescent homeless in the future.

6.58 p.m.

My Lords, I must declare an interest as national president of the YMCA in England. With great commitment and considerable experience, the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, has powerfully raised a vital social issue. He has chosen the words to describe his debate with care. "Appropriate" necessitates analysing the real nature of the problem, its underlying causes as well as its consequences. "Range" recognises that there is no one easy remedy, and certainly no quick fix. "Effective" underlines sustainability as essential. "Services"—a good, old-fashioned concept—indicates an honest acceptance of the importance of support. "Meet the needs" reflects the sensitivity to approach the issue, to see it from the standpoint of those who are affected.

As the noble Earl made plain, pressures on the young leading to homelessness can be formidable. Let me list some more: the impersonal pace of modern technology; the emphasis on league dominated educational performance, with its marginalisation of the weak and vulnerable; meritocracy, with its damaging impact on those who, for whatever reason, do not make it; low pay and/or low benefits or none—the Citizens Advice Bureaux and Shelter make this point emphatically—job insecurity and unemployment; the impact of commercialism and the market economy on traditional values; the downward and cheapening spiral in the media; the break up of families accentuated by the increasing career and job demands of parents who are in work; domestic violence; cynical, egocentric materialism which too often explicitly, let alone implicitly, rubbishes what used to be valued as mutual responsibility; and, to say the least, the confused messages sent out by too many at the peak of conventional success—in other words, the gap between strictures and performance: "Do as I say" not "Do as I do"; the fudged dividing line between what is seen as bright and astute and what is wrong or criminal. All the time, there waiting to exploit the opportunities of bewilderment and stress are the irresponsible pedlars of drugs and alcohol and their masters.

I say all this because homelessness is usually a symptom of a sick society rather than a separate self-contained social ill of its own. When I have met and talked with homeless young people—not just young people—I have always been struck by how all too easily, with a different life experience, with acute personal adversity of a kind I have fortunately not encountered, it could have been me or any of us in this House. Precisely because what we see begins to open up too many challenges and fears which we would rather brush away, it is tempting to retreat into an authoritarian response.

If there is any one single point I want to emphasise in support of the noble Earl this evening, it is that we cannot divorce our concern for the homeless from the whole ethos, values system and direction of society. The materialism of the market simply has to be balanced by the regeneration of a sense of community with mutual loyalties and responsibilities. Everything else we attempt—all the administrative systems in the world— will not prove effective unless and until we get that right. We may suppress or mask the unpalatable evidence of social sickness, but we will not cure it. The psychological stresses and resulting physical realities could indeed be aggravated, becoming even more dangerous for those affected, not least in the sphere of mental illness and the dangers of suicide.

There are some 141,000 homeless young people in Britain. Young people under the age of 25 are almost twice as likely to be unemployed as the rest of the population. And homelessness significantly increases the likelihood of being unemployed. No home, no job, no home becomes a vicious circle. A recent survey among YMCA residents indicated that 42 per cent. had been in trouble with the police, highlighting the relationship—cause or effect or both—between anti-social behaviour, as it is described, and homelessness.

Experience has brought the YMCA to recognise the importance of the holistic approach. The need is not just for bricks and mortar Young people desperately need space, security, the opportunity to discover themselves and to grow in self confidence. A job or long-term meaningful training are priorities. Support and guidance are essential. Good quality housing of itself is seldom, if ever, the end of the road. The Foyer scheme to which the noble Earl referred has, as he suggested, proved an exciting initiative with great potential. The YMCA has experienced this with the foyers which it provides. Forty per cent, of young people who pass through those of the association leave with a job.

Social activities can also be invaluable. These can provide stimulation and bonding and can assist in creating a sense of community, a sense of belonging, something which is significant as a young person secures and, we hope, sustains permanent housing.

After housing has been secured, continued outreach support is invariably worthwhile. It helps to ensure that losing a tenancy and a return to homelessness are less likely. It can also contribute to reassuring neighbourhoods in which rehousing is taking place—a problem to which (he right reverend Prelate referred. It is obviously important if the negative consequences of a hostile or suspicious environment are to be avoided. When such after care is not provided, there is sadly evidence that a significant minority of young people in fact return to homelessness.

I spoke earlier about: the ethos of society as a whole. Perhaps I could conclude by repeating what I have said before in debates on related issues. Solidarity matters. Taking the hand and walking with the homeless towards their own self-confident future is the greatest test of commitment of all.

7.4 p.m.

My Lords, it is perhaps opportune that this debate is taking place at a time when the nation is in the grip of some of the coldest weather that we have had for some time. It is also opportune that the debate is taking place after such an interesting programme last night on BBC2. It is also opportune that the debate is taking place when one of the youngest Members of your Lordships' House has introduced the debate to us. We are all grateful to my noble friend Lord Listowel for having given us the opportunity to air our views.

For those who have been assisting the homeless for many years, like the noble Baroness, Lady Macleod, it is a well known fact that the homeless used to be mostly older men, many of whom had alcohol problems. Very few were women. Now there are many more young people, most of whom are not part of the same sub-culture.

I wholeheartedly support the Government's initiative to reduce the number of rough sleepers by two-thirds by the year 2002. The detailed report on rough sleeping by the Social Exclusion Unit gives a clear understanding of the complexities and causes of homelessness, as well as the enormous challenges that the Government and the many worthwhile voluntary agencies and charities have to tackle to produce a sustained successful result.

Concern has been expressed that a disproportionate amount of the Government's financial assistance has been allocated to London, rather than the other centres outside London. The National Homeless Alliance estimates that two-thirds of the nation's rough sleepers are found outside London. Also, the report by the Social Exclusion Unit quoted a figure of 2,000 people sleeping on the streets around England every night and 10.000 sleeping rough over the course of the year.

While many may blame the problem of homelessness for young people on lack of job opportunities, it is far broader. My noble friend Lord Listowel and others mentioned other causes such as broken marriages, cruelty, depression, alcoholism, loneliness and despair. They are all roads that lead to homelessness. An alarming statistic from Centrepoint revealed that 86 per cent, of young people across the country had been forced to leave home rather than choosing to do so. I entirely agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Goudie, that a major problem is that many young people do not know where to go for help.

As other noble Lords have highlighted, it is not just the challenge of tackling the need to accommodate the homeless, but, just as important, the need to offer effective services to help those suffering from mental health problems, alcohol and drug addiction. There are so many worthwhile charities. Noble Lords have mentioned Centrepoint, Shelter and Look Ahead. All those charities and others strive to provide 24-hour supervision, medical help, counselling for drug and alcohol abuse, as well as advice on finding permanent accommodation and assisting young people in getting training so that they can go out and get jobs.

One other programme that I believe is doing excellent work in endeavouring to prevent school children ending up on the streets in London is the Safe In The City homelessness prevention programme which has targeted persistent truants and expelled pupils. The project has identified the areas around London where children are suffering from abuse or poverty. As a result of these surveys, specialists have been sent into schools particularly to teach children between the ages of 13 and 16 all about budgets, how to claim benefits, how to cope with family breakdowns, how to find jobs and to assist with training. In the foreword to the report by the Social Exclusion Unit on rough sleeping the Prime Minister wrote:
"The longer people spend on the streets, the harder it is to return to anything like normal life. Only 5 per cent. of rough sleepers do so by choice".
I also quote the words of the chief executive of Centrepoint:
"The way forward is to enable individuals to find themselves, find work find friends and a passage into a more settled lifestyle".
In conclusion, while I fully support the Government's integrated strategy to tackle homelessness, I believe that the challenge for the future should be to target the prevention of homelessness particularly for young people as well as to endeavour to cure the problem of homelessness on a sustained basis.


My Lords, 18 years ago I returned to this great capital of ours after a long absence. I had a little cash borrowed on a credit card. I held the notion that I could find lodging and a temporary job before looking up old contacts and that I might return to my family debt-free. Was I being too proud to seek that dignity? I regarded myself as a youth of great resource. I do not remember exactly how long it took me to discover what the noble Lord, Lord Judd, could have told me; namely, that without a proper address there would be no job, and that such a base would cost me more than I could raise. At about that time—I forget the exact chronology—I was offered a job as a male prostitute. So, I returned to my family like the prodigal son. Then, fed, rested and well turned-out, I got a job within days.

There are several points to my little story. The first is that starting out alone is beyond the means of an unsupported young person. I believe that the situation is worse now than it was then in regard to the basic earnings to basic accommodation ratio. This is an economic fact and is nobody's fault. But it drags people down and changes their self-perception from young optimist to urchin so fast that it makes your head spin. The charity London Connection has noted that there is a three to four-week opportunity for finding new arrivals to the streets, before they are lost to street sub-culture. They see about 3,000 young people a year.

The second point of my story is to show how very privileged I was to have a family to whom I could turn. We have heard much about children who come out of care. The one-third to two-thirds of homeless young people who have been in care institutions might well have been better served by adoption. Even when they are too old for official adoption, unofficial arrangements can still be useful and give a young person some kind of family and home to turn to. There are 36 centres for care leavers run by NCH Action For Children. Even those young people in its care would benefit from the personal and emotional support that experienced parents could provide during the rites of passage from dependence to independence.

At to those young people who have recently been in contact with their parents, or a parent, their situation might not have become so desperate had some kind of financial support been available to their families. We have absolute evidence of this from the experience of 1988: the withdrawal of income support from 16 to 18 year-olds produced an immediate rise in youth homelessness for that age group. There is a two-year gap, 16 to 18, to which my noble friend, Lord Northbourne, referred, in which a young person is a child or an adult depending on who asks. Many parents view 16 as a suitable age for children to leave home, especially where one has a new relationship, or a conflict arises within the home. But government policy has tended to regard 18 as the age when young people can claim benefit in their own right and earn adult wages. Therefore, they are in limbo. They are neither one nor the other. Those are two crisis years, which is not a good start in adult life.

In a survey of Centrepoint admissions—my noble friend Lord Listowel made reference to this, albeit in a slightly different way—48 per cent, of its visitors left home at 16 or 17 years of age. Minimum wages might help these people. Housing benefit that does not wither with earnings would help; I believe that the correct term is "higher earnings disregard". The withdrawal of the single room rent restriction has also been mentioned. Most of all, non-means-tested child benefit for this most expensive period would help. The idea that a means test will target poorer families mistakes the changed shape of families. In reconstituted families—and here we are talking almost exclusively about reconstituted families—in which a step-parent or new partner is not a long-term parent, there may be little obligation to support young adults, whatever the family income. Child benefit sends a message. Child benefit is not just a matter of reducing the financial burden on families. It goes only a small way to doing that. The perceived social responsibility of caring for a 16 year-old within a family has been undermined by governments' desire to shift that responsibility onto families from the state over the past 20 years. No doubt that is a well-intentioned desire, but responsibility has not been shifted so much as erased.

There is scope here for joined-up thinking. A young person on the streets is much more expensive than a young person at home who seeks to study, or seeks work. He is worth supporting while still at home. I should like to make a request that my noble friend Lord Alton has made in the past. I ask that a family and young person impact assessment accompany new social and benefit arrangements. That would assist everybody in joined-up thinking. Here we have the crux of the needs of homeless young people. Almost all youth homelessness can be traced to the breakdown of a family somewhere in the young person's life. There is no one cause, but this broad one covers most cases.

While charities and agencies try to help the homeless by mopping up the pools of young people in our cities, the tap that feeds these pools still runs freely. If we can sort out the families, we shall solve most of the problems that we have discussed today.


My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, for providing me with this opportunity to speak on this very important subject. Many noble Lords have already spoken about the situation of young homeless people in London, the south and in Northern Ireland. As a Yorkshire lad it is my duty to draw the attention of noble Lords to youth homelessness in the South Yorkshire area. Recently Shelter Network produced a report which showed that between November 1996 and October 1997 based on multi-agency monitoring statistics for South Yorkshire over 2,000 young people had approached 27 agencies about their housing needs. Nearly 70 per cent. of those young people were either actually or imminently homeless, 9 per cent. of them having slept rough for at least one night and 6 per cent. having nowhere to sleep that night.

Forty per cent. of those young people were under 18 years of age. Almost half of all cases of homelessness were due to family breakdowns, with a further 14 per cent. fleeing because of the fear of or actual violence, abuse or other kinds of harassment or friction. This also includes a growing number of ethnic minority youth who leave home due to lack of understanding and conflicts of culture between parents and children. Over 20 per cent. of young people either contacted more than one agency or re-accessed a service at a later date due to the re-emergence of a housing need or crisis.

Young people have limited access to social housing. Many local authorities do not accept onto their waiting lists young people under 18. There is little tenancy support available for young people who move into independent accommodation. Access to the private rented sector is limited, with high rent levels, poor quality accommodation and the requirement to pay a bond and rent in advance. In recognition of that difficulty, a bond guarantee scheme exists in Rotherham and Sheffield and moneys have been secured to set up such a scheme in Barnsley. Landlords are unwilling to allocate tenancies to under 25 year-olds partly due to housing benefit restrictions and partly to preconceived ideas about the behaviour of young people.

A multi-agency consortium in Rotherham has been successful in setting up a young people's housing advice centre with lottery money. The local statutory and voluntary sector play an important role in delivering services and creating an effective and co-ordinated network of services.

No single solution exists to the problem of youth homelessness. An effective response acknowledges the need for a range of services, in particular different types of accommodation and a variety of support structures. I welcome the Government's new initiatives to tackle the housing problem including the Youth Homelessness Action Partnership, the New Deal for the young, and the phased release of moneys to local authorities to build new homes.

I believe that if services are best to meet the needs of young people, it is important that young people are involved at all levels. Agencies should involve young people in both the development and management of services. Agencies should also work with young people to set up regular consultations on their services through a variety of means including user groups. That information should be fed back into strategic service development.

In conclusion, will the Minister consider issuing guidance to local authorities on the following? Local authorities should regard care-leavers and homeless 16 and 17 year-olds as vulnerable and in priority need under the homeless legislation, and provide appropriate support by social services departments to enable them to maintain their new home. Every person aged 16 and over should have the right to appear on the housing register. Every young person should be able to obtain independent housing information advice and advocacy services when they need them. And every young person should be able to obtain accommodation in an emergency. The local authority should ensure that placement in emergency accommodation is followed by an assessment of the longer-term housing needs.

On that final point, as a local councillor in Rotherham, I am aware that there is a shortage of single person's accommodation. Will my noble friend consider schemes to bring into use the thousands of commercial properties by introducing grants and rate concessions for those property owners who would convert those empty storerooms for single person accommodation, with penalties and compulsory purchase orders for those who refuse to co-operate?

.22 p.m.

My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Earl for introducing this important and wide-ranging subject.

The policy of successive governments on homelessness has demonstrably worked. Because of the Rough Sleepers Initiative and hostel provision, there is now an expert voluntary sector. Volunteers have always been imbued with altruistic and Christian values. Now, augmented with the acquired expertise and the earned trust of the homeless, the voluntary sector is in a position to continue this success and address the issues which the Social Exclusion Unit raised in its report, Rough Sleeping, in July of last year.

I wish to address a specific problem with which rough sleeping drug users in the 16 to 24 year-old age group are faced. Most young people who die on the streets die of drug overdose. Many, but by no means all of them, are homeless through a breakdown in their family circumstances. In some cases they have been forced to leave the family environment through the poverty of, or lack of space within, the household. In others they have suffered physical mistreatment or sexual abuse and are therefore understandably self-evacuees from the family. Others have been rejected and expelled by parents.

Let us consider Bill. Bill is 17 years-old. He left home because he was not contributing a wage to the household in Newcastle where his father was unemployed and he had four younger siblings. Once on the streets, young people are vulnerable. Because they cannot get money on which to live, and in desperation, prostitution becomes a source of income and petty crime a source of material needs—both of which expose them to exploitation as sex workers. They are at risk of turning to drug or alcohol dependence in a wretched attempt to ameliorate the unhappiness and misery of their lifestyle. Moreover, their self-esteem is eroded.

Bill came to London and soon his meagre savings were gone. He managed to find shelter in a squat where he was introduced to heroin. Bill had been smoking cannabis since he was 15. He became addicted. To finance his habit he took to petty theft. He shoplifted to eat. In desperation he then became a sex worker: a rent boy in the West End.

The use of drugs is initiated through many reasons— peer pressure, curiosity or boredom—but is sustained by the poignant motive so common in rough sleepers: lack of self-esteem. That is perpetuated within a cycle of drug use, petty crime, greater loss of self-esteem, and greater use of drugs. That cycle cannot be broken if the sole provider of housing is the emergency night shelter which must be evacuated during the day thus exposing the victim to the vulnerable environment of the streets all day and every day.

Over three to four months Bill became depressed and drifted apart from his friends at the squat. He was sleeping on the streets. He was miserable and cared little for himself or his peer group. He occasionally slept at the Lord Clyde, an emergency night shelter in Vauxhall run by the Depaul Trust. The Lord Clyde is a night shelter with 26 beds. The shelter supplies emergency provision for 16 to 25 year-olds between the hours of 7.30 at night and 8.00 in the morning. But entry to the next stage of accommodation beyond the emergency night shelters, the direct access hostel, is denied the drug user since the criteria for progression are that they must be rough sleepers, they must not be drug users or have a history of drug use, and they must not have a criminal record. Although the Social Exclusion Unit identified that 39 per cent. of young rough sleepers have a drug problem, the truth is that about 90 per cent, of that group are drug users.

The Social Exclusion Unit reported that in some London boroughs the wait for drug rehabilitation is four months. Many hostels aim to move people on after three months. This does not include any delay in preparing the groundwork and getting the drug user to accept the need for rehabilitation.

Bill sometimes wishes that he could start again. He could be persuaded to undergo drug rehabilitation but needs secure accommodation as a base. He cannot get into a direct access hostel because he has a history of drug use and a record of petty crime—shoplifting, possession of heroin. Even if he were fortunate enough to obtain a place in a hostel, he would be moved on before a place on drug rehabilitation could be fixed up.

I cannot believe that it is government policy to return these youngsters to the streets rather than remove them from the dangers of street life, especially in view of the new initiative due to start in April. There is a need for a secure environment where the voluntary sector can work with young drug users, a need to provide support, and to instil a sense of purpose and promote self-esteem. That must form part of the terms of reference for the new Youth Homelessness Action Partnership. I note that improving access to drug treatment services is a key objective of the Government's new drug strategy.

But where is there a form of 24-hour accommodation which will house the young rough sleeper with a history of drug use and a criminal record? Can the Government offer an option other than constant rejection and a bleak future (having been denied access to the next rung on the ladder to recovery) leading inevitably to death on the streets? Bill needs help now. In a few more months he may well be just another young rough sleeper dead on the streets from a drug overdose.

7.30 p.m.

My Lords, I rise to give the Minister good news. I have no solution to nor analysis of the problem, other than those about which we have heard for the past hour. Never before have I listened to a debate and at the end of every speech said, "Hear, hear". The debate was devoid of acrimony. Noble Lords know where the problems lie and the terrible damage being done to many young people by the social consequences. I was delighted that it was not a party political debate and that no party was blamed for the situation. No party in this House has a control over passion, a blame or a mischievousness. All parties bear some responsibility for the present situation.

I congratulate the noble Earl and those on his Benches. They have encouraged more people to attend the debate who have not only spoken but assiduously listened to others. As a former Chief Whip, I am envious to see how well the noble Earl has been supported by his colleagues on this important topic.

As regards my two penny-worth, my days in housing go back 35 years to when I was a councillor. When I was a Member of Parliament I received more complaints or requests for help about housing than any other topic. I am not sure what the position is today, but I do not think that it has changed a great deal. Housing has always been at the heart of good government, local or national. The lack of good, affordable housing has brought misery to many people in this country. If ever there were a topic which ought not to be made a political football it is housing and the solution to the problem.

Tonight, we are considering the problems of the young homeless. Fortunately, I arrived home last night in time to see the television programme about the young, disabled homeless people. They live in wretched circumstances. I applaud the Minister and all the agencies who are striving to find the right mix. The young people I saw were not proud and knew exactly what had caused them to be on the streets. They knew that there was help, some of which they were able to grasp.

I tried to visualise the circumstances in which I or members of my family could have been driven out of our home. The noble Earl, Lord Listowel, told us what he considered to be the reasons for there being many homeless people. He listed leaving care or the Armed Forces, sexual or physical abuse, step-parents who were out of kilter with their children and many other problems. Those are not new social phenomena, but the problem is that the social mores and culture of this country have changed.

I am grateful to the London Government Association, of which I am vice-president, because it recognises that this is not a party problem. The word "partnership" was used more than once. I believe that that is the way forward. We will never, ever solve the problem of housing, but we can demonstrate to young people that our society in general has a responsibility. I greatly value my home, family and stability and I have some idea, but only remotely, of what these young people are missing.

It is our job in life to work together. That means money and it also means pride. We must work together and settle big differences. We must say to the Minister and his colleagues, "We believe that you are doing a good job—you are doing all that you can within the limits—but there is much more that can be done if you consult more widely and recognise the solutions which may be found elsewhere". I wish the Minister and his colleagues well in trying to solve these difficult problems.

7.35 p.m.

My Lords, it is with a great source of pride that I stand tonight and declare an interest in that I am a kinsman and a friend of the noble Earl, Lord Listowel. My knowledge and information about the problem of homelessness has been greatly enhanced by listening to tonight's commendable debate.

The Government have implemented some welcome measures to address homelessness—for instance, the publication of the report of the Social Exclusion Unit on rough sleeping—and have brought forward enabling measures to give young people an immediate chance to join the New Deal. The Government's target to reduce the number of people sleeping rough in England to one-third of its present level by 2002 is very welcome. I am sure your Lordships will welcome the Minister's feedback as to the progress of that initiative.

A real concern when reading the report of the Social Exclusion Unit is the estimate of the number of homeless people on the streets, as mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Goudie. Does it not underestimate the extent of the problem and, therefore, are not its targets flawed? From casual observation of the streets of London, it seems that there are many more than 2,000 people living homeless at any one time. Can the Minister give us an assurance as to the basis of that figure? After all, if the extent of the problem is not known, how can we have an action plan that will adequately alleviate this very great social problem?

On visiting the London charity, Centrepoint, I found commendable the extent of partnership between government and the charitable sector. Centrepoint's activities include providing shelter during the cold winter months and providing the young homeless people with a point of contact with drug, drink and medical health experts. Very importantly, it tries to prepare the youngsters for a life inside the remits of conventional society and social responsibility.

As regards co-ordination of the Government's policy, will the Minister investigate whether there are significant differences between the various local authorities' treatment of the homeless? It seems that it is far too easy for local authorities to brush the problem aside and, in effect, pass the homeless on to neighbouring authorities. That unsettling process would surely be to the detriment of any disadvantaged young person.

I hope that the new London-based DETR unit will seek to encourage a holistic approach to the problem in our capital and, if the London model is successful, that the Government will consider setting up similar networks in all parts of the country where there is a problem of homelessness.

7.38 p.m.

My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Earl, Lord Iveagh. He is a credit of that little society of Earls! I have known so many members of his family and have been friends with them.

The debate is a credit to the House. If I were asked to explain what the House of Lords does I would invite him or her to come along and listen to a debate such as this. That would justify the House of Lords in the eyes of any fair-minded observer. Quite a few hereditary Peers have taken part. I speak as half-and-half, but the noble Earl is a genuine hereditary Peer. They have played their full part in the debate and it represents the House of Lords at its best.

Your Lordships might ask why I am intervening in the gap. I put my name down on the list a long time ago, but it escaped someone's attention. It appears that nowadays only the youngsters are listed and that anyone over 90 is not registered. Therefore, I have been allowed to speak.

This is the House of Lords at its best and it is particularly appropriate to follow the noble Earl, Lord Listowel. When I was at Eton, his father was the only known socialist in that school of 1,000 boys. There was a dreadful rumour that there might be a socialist there. There was an even worse rumour that the headmaster's wife had Labour sympathies. But the point about the noble Earl's father is that, although at that time he was called Lord Ennismore, he preferred to be known as plain Mr. Hare. Therefore, throughout the school it was known that there was one very dangerous man called plain Mr. Hare. We feel that his son is a chip off the old block. He is perhaps not as dangerous but is as brave as his father.

I hesitate to boast about anything but the other day a woman on the train said to me, "Lord Longford, how many great grandchildren do you have?" I said that I thought I had 14 but in fact, I have 15 now. That must be more than most. But the man opposite said, "That's nothing at all. I have 17". Therefore, one should not boast too quickly.

However, I took the initiative which led to the foundation of the New Horizon Youth Centre. That was for young people aged 16 to 21. I am delighted to think that it has flourished today. It was not always a powerful organisation. When we began, there was one woman called Nikki Hunt, the secretary, and myself. But the office was so small that, if she was in the office, I had to sit in the corridor and if I was in the office, she had to sit in the corridor. It now has 18 social workers. I do not like to say that it was all due to me, but I was there at the beginning. Therefore, I am pleased to be able to speak on behalf of New Horizon.

Now it is visited by about 1,000 young people every year and, perhaps, 300 of them for considerable periods. Most of them, perhaps 700, obtain advice and move on but the other 300 receive long-term help. Therefore, on my behalf, I wish to pay tribute to the present Government who are extremely helpful. Are the Government going to live up to their promises? I hope that they will.

7.42 p.m.

My Lords, like other noble Lords, I am extremely grateful to the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, for giving us the opportunity to debate this very important issue of homeless young people.

Like the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, I do not believe that there is anything new to be said on the issue. Many of us are grateful for the extremely good briefings and large amount of research that has been undertaken by a wide range of voluntary agencies and other bodies.

As the debate has indicated, a large number of issues which affect homeless young people are being looked at by a wide range of bodies, including government. I hope that this debate will give the Government the opportunity to acknowledge the scale and nature of the problem and come forward with further firm announcements as to how we can improve our efforts to tackle the problem.

As has already been highlighted this evening, a wealth of research has been undertaken. I wish to draw your Lordships' attention to. the conclusions of a Rowntree research report which was entitled Young Homeless People and their Families. In particular, I wish to quote some of the conclusions because they reflect what has been said this evening. It states:
"The research highlights the part that better counselling support services could play in preventing homelessness among young people and helping those who do leave home. The interviewees, including young people who had been abused, were agreed that someone prepared to listen to them in the community or at school would have helped. Once they left home, they found that the Probation Service and specialist homeless agencies were more supportive than social services. Needs varied between individuals and it was clear that some young people would benefit from help through the established relationships with parents while others would be better helped to build an independent life for themselves".
I believe that those conclusions have been reflected in the contributions to the debate this evening. In his opening remarks, the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, set the scene extremely well. He is to be congratulated on instigating such a well-informed debate and a debate which has attracted a larger proportion than usual of young Members of the House. I particularly welcome that.

Other noble Lords have ranged wide. The noble Baroness, Lady Goudie, and the noble Lord, Lord Laming, provided us with good information about the problems of those leaving care. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Bath and Wells, who we know has had to rush off back to Wells, reminded us of the role that the Church has played and has continued to play over a number of years. In fact, it is the one organisation which keeps housing and housing matters higher up the agenda than almost any other organisation.

He reminded me of a sleep-out in which I took part. But he also reminded me of a matter which still concerns me. All of us here this evening are concerned about homeless young people. But when I took up the issue in the constituency which I used to represent, I was pilloried by my political opponents for daring to talk about the young homeless in a constituency which perhaps had a higher proportion of elderly people than many others.

I helped to promote something called HYPID— Homeless Young People in Dorset. Again, I came up against prejudices of other people. One Christmas the organisation undertook an appeal and one of the most distressing things that I ever heard in the time that I was involved in homelessness issues was that that organisation received in its envelopes hate mail about young people. So although in this House we may understand the problem, outside there is still an argument to win. I am grateful to the right reverend Prelate for reminding us of that this evening.

We also need to agree with the matters raised by my noble friend Lady Ludford and expanded upon by the noble Lord, Lord Judd; that is, our attitude to young people in society and what our priorities as a society should be.

I wish to concentrate on two other issues. The first is to pick up on a matter referred to earlier; namely, foyers. Secondly, I wish to address the problems of single room rents.

There are two main concerns in relation to foyers. One has already been mentioned this evening. There is a particular problem for rural foyers. They find that their work is much more difficult in a rural area where the support services are more scattered. It is not so easy to integrate services. I hope that the Government will look at ways in which they can assist foyers in that regard.

The other matter I wish to raise is the funding of foyers and in particular revenue funding and keeping them going. I say that because curiously, just last week I was asked whether I would be involved in helping to raise money for a foyer which is being set up in Poole in Dorset. I said that I should be delighted to do that, but in return I asked them to send me a briefing note about how it had been for them in trying to set up the foyer for this week's debate.

I was here at the end of the last debate and I listened to the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, giving us quite good news about lottery funding. He said that the Government are looking at revenue funding and how they can assist projects which need lottery funding. Some foyers have tried to obtain lottery funding and it is very difficult to put together a package which meets the criteria. As has been highlighted, it is the running costs that are often the problem. I hope that the Government can give us some indication that they recognise those problems and some idea as to how they may be able to help on that matter.

In the few moments I have left I wish to return to the problem of the single room rent. I was involved in highlighting this issue when the National Rent Deposit Forum produced a report last autumn. Also, like other noble Lords I received briefings from CAB and Shelter. All those organisations have done quite a bit of research. We had some detail tonight about landlords not wanting to continue to provide this type of accommodation to young people and the problems young people face in meeting the rent when they are in and out of work and only receive a little help towards the single room rent. In fact, it is often the most vulnerable people who have the most problems arid who are also required to share accommodation with people whom they do not know well.

All those matters have been raised tonight. Research by a variety of groups reached the same conclusion; that is, that the single room rent has led to increases in the level of homelessness and the level of hardship among young people and it is time we abolished it. I know from a series of Questions tabled by the honourable Gordon Marsden in another place that the Government are currently reviewing this issue as part of a general review of housing benefit. I know also that they commissioned research which will explore its effects. I hope therefore that the Minister can keep us even more up to date and expand a little on that.

I want to end by reflecting on what was said by the noble Baroness, Lady Macleod. She told us of her involvement in setting up Crisis at Christmas. She said that she had been involved in setting up that organisation over 30 years ago; yet here we are, still debating this issue. The challenge for us all, and particularly for this Government, is to really make a change. I am sure that none of us wants to be debating this issue again in two years time, let alone 30.

7.52 p.m.

My Lords, anyone who walks around in central London rapidly becomes aware that homeless people are living on the streets. The evidence is there for all to see at any time. The waste of lives that that represents is all too obvious and, where young people are concerned, the lost potential is enormous. In calling this debate, the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, gave us an opportunity to discuss a problem that has exercised many minds: for a long time and I join in adding my thanks to those that have already been expressed by many other noble Lords.

As the noble Earl mentioned when introducing the debate, the Rough Sleepers Initiative was started by the previous government in the early 1990s and led to the successful resettlement of more than 4,000 previously homeless people. The scheme currently costs around £24 million a year. The Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions administers Section 180 grants. Payments under that heading started around 1990 and now cost around £8 million a year. That is all to help prevent single homelessness. The DSS maintains around 4,300 bed spaces in hostels and temporary accommodation in a resettlement programme costing around £18 million a year and the Department of Health has programmes to assist the mentally ill and those with drug problems, which also feature as serious symptoms among the young homeless.

Thus it can be seen that Government concern in this area is long-standing. The previous government, having first toughened conditions to try to encourage the young to remain at home, began to assist those who, despite discouragement, nonetheless felt the need or, worse, were compelled to leave. The Government are now working to bring together and co-ordinate action in this field, and that we wholly welcome.

I took the trouble to discuss this issue with the manager of a hostel for young homeless run by a less well-known charity in my borough of Kensington and Chelsea as I wished to hear the experience of a practitioner. He reported that the picture has changed considerably over recent years and that the proportion of his clients that used to come from outside London has reduced from around 50 per cent. to around 10 per cent. At least that might be held to indicate that the situation has improved to a certain extent outside London.

The manager said that 20 per cent. of his clients now come from his own borough; 30 per cent. come from next door Westminster, which may seem odd; and most of the rest come from Inner London. For 90 per cent. of his clients family breakdown lies at the root of their problems, in particular problems arising from conflicts of loyalty with step-parents and problems with step-parents and step-brothers and sisters. Most of the rest of his clients are those who were caught in the trap when leaving care. Social services departments work very well for the young who have to go or have to be taken into care until they are 16. But at that point there is a tendency to pass the problem on to others by an abrupt withdrawal of support. Regrettably, some are lost as a result of that transfer process. The manager also commented that he could fill his hostel daily from start to finish with asylum seekers, but that is a separate problem outside our remit today.

The hostel provides accommodation for up to six months and in that time they expect to train and educate their clients so that they are able to live independently in their own accommodation. Some of their clients have none of the necessary skills when they arrive and need intensive one-to-one training. This is a high cost establishment. At the end of six months clients are moved on, generally into private-let accommodation but otherwise into longer-term accommodation. But they can still receive guidance from a resettlement officer who is funded by a combination of money from the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions and money from the lottery fund.

Most clients, in a welcome way, go into further education, but some go straight into work. For all of them a continuing income is a constant worry. The normal costs of running this hostel are met by a combination of charges based on their clients' housing benefit and jobseeker's allowance, though the latter is expected to change in the near future. The centre runs at an annual deficit of around £20,000 a year, which has to be met by fund-raising, and is a constant struggle.

Two points stick in my mind as a result of that discussion. The first is the significance of the family and responsible parenthood. That has been mentioned by many noble Lords tonight. Although it is somewhat outside the remit of this debate, anything that can be done to improve family stability and relationships must be of great help if it results in fewer young people leaving home prematurely and becoming homeless. Indeed, in the long term that must be the most profitable way of tackling this subject. We, in this House, might regard parental obligations as absolute but, sadly, too many parents today take an altogether different view. The noble Lord, Lord Judd, talked about the ethos of society. The noble Lord, Lord Craigmyle, also touched on this aspect. That is the root problem. There are educational and social implications that run far beyond our debate tonight, but I cannot help but think that we must improve this area.

The other lesson is that it is essential that everybody recognises the need to work together so that there are no gaps between services, parts of services or between organisations through which clients can fall. Follow up and cross-referencing between different services and charities are essential if the homeless are to be brought back successfully into normal society. The instinctive corporate ethic of any particular group, be it a public body or a charity, can, on occasions, be damaging to the prospect of finding solutions to these problems and needs to be suppressed.

This has been a thoroughly interesting and helpful debate and one to which I have greatly enjoyed listening. I look forward to the Minister's response. I am sure he will tell us that the work which has been of concern for such a long time is continuing in a better and perhaps even more helpful way.

8.1 p.m.

My Lords, I add my thanks to those already expressed to the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, for initiating this debate. He made a splendid contribution at the beginning and set the tone for the whole debate. I thank noble Lords from all sides of the House who have participated including, in particular, the Cross-Benchers and, indeed, the Irish Earls, with their wide age range.

The noble Earl, Lord Listowel, and the noble Lord, Lord Craigmyle, brought home to us the terrible experience of being homeless and young. To be without somewhere you can call home at any age is pretty awful, but without the experience and robustness that maturity brings, homelessness must be absolutely terrible. It robs people of their identity and their individuality. It can lead—not just immediately but for some time afterwards—to the kind of social exclusion that this Government are determined to tackle. At the very best, the experience takes a long time to get over and people need help to get over it. At worst, people do not get over it and there is a downward spiral into drugs, crime and prostitution.

Much has been made of the need to provide for young people the security of a home background. For most young people, that situation still applies. However, for many, the experience at home has been of trauma, break up, being thrown out, abuse or family break up. As the noble Viscount, Lord Brookeborough, the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, and many noble Lords have emphasised, we therefore need to pay particular attention to preventive measures. We hope that our comprehensive proposals to strengthen the support available to families in this context will increase family stability and reduce the pressure on families. In particular, the Youth Homelessness Action Partnership has identified preventive measures as a priority for research so that knowledge about the range of measures that can be taken in the early stages is improved and we can base our policies on that.

There is one slight correction I want to make. It is not always the family's fault that young people become homeless. There are many families who have done their best but, nevertheless, the kids have walked out or otherwise moved away, often through addiction or attraction to crime. However, there are over 2 million young people who still live with their families in varying degrees of harmony.

I should also like to make a broader correction with regard to an issue raised by my noble friend Lord Judd and other noble Lords; namely, that much of the problem relates to the ethos of society and the fact that there is no collective help for some of these people. They feel that once they have dropped out there is no way back.

I turn to the role of the Government and the public authorities. I pay tribute to what was done under the previous government in recognising the problem and setting up the Rough Sleepers Initiative and other such measures, as noted by the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith. We all recognise, at both national and local authority level, that there is a serious problem here. It is important that all public authorities, together with the voluntary sector, act together. That is why we established the Youth Homelessness Action Partnership which, for the first time, brings together senior representatives of central government, local government and the voluntary sector to tackle and prevent youth homelessness. The partnership has already agreed on priorities for research and a working definition of youth homelessness which will be used to provide a reliable estimate of the numbers involved.

In response to the noble Earl, Lord Iveagh, I should point out that there are real problems in attempting to measure the scale of youth homelessness. In one sense it is a sub-set, albeit a growing proportion, of homelessness as a whole. Clearly from the experiences relayed by a number of noble Lords, the proportion of homeless people who are young is increasing. However, the term "youth homelessness" may be used to represent a number of different levels of housing need. At its most extreme, we are talking about total homelessness— rough sleeping. I shall return to that shortly. However, that is only a relatively small proportion of the total problem. There are young people accommodated in emergency night shelters, direct access hostels, various forms of squats, unsatisfactory bed and breakfast accommodation and, indeed, in some very good longer-term hostels.

As the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, indicated, there are also young people who will stay with friends and relatives on a temporary basis which may not be satisfactory to anybody concerned. In many ways they, too, are suffering from a lack of a permanent or a satisfactory home. So a wide spectrum of young people is involved. As I have said, the most extreme cases include rough sleeping. It is totally unacceptable to all in this House that anyone should be out there tonight sleeping on the streets of London, or any other of our towns and cities. That problem was taken up as a priority issue by this Government.

The Prime Minister asked the Social Exclusion Unit to address the issue of rough sleeping as one of its first priorities. The report, published last July, sets a tough initial target of reducing the number of people sleeping rough throughout England to a third of its current level by 2002. Information compiled by the Housing Services Agency indicates that about a third of the rough sleepers contacted were under 26 years old. Of those, a quarter were aged between 18 and 25. There were some under the age of 18 but that was only 7 per cent. of the total. However, they are obviously by far the most vulnerable, as many noble Lords have emphasised. The SEU report emphasises the need for a joined-up approach and hammers home the message that better integration of policy and service delivery and better co-operation between the voluntary and public sectors is needed in this area. We have established at the top level a new ministerial committee to ensure that our policies are truly consistent and joined up. My honourable friend Hilary Armstrong will be responsible for that co-ordination.

We are establishing a new unit for London where the problem is most acute. Some noble Lords have queried the emphasis on London. Despite the figures for Kensington, indicated by the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, London is still an attraction for many homeless and displaced people from outside London. Some of the figures quoted perhaps misrepresent the emphasis on London. Nevertheless, there is a disproportionate problem here and therefore disproportionate resources are allocated to it.

The new London unit will have an integrated budget of £145 million over three years until 2002 to combat rough sleeping and the causes of rough sleeping. We are intending to appoint a person heading that unit who the newspapers have described as a "street czar". Whatever the press call him or her, the important point is that there will be one person with the responsibility and the means to arrange the co-ordinated delivery of services here in London.

We have heard examples relating to the problem outside London from my noble friend Lord Ahmed, who referred to the situation in Yorkshire, from the noble Viscount, Lord Brookeborough, who referred to the situation in Northern Ireland, and from the noble Baroness. Lady Maddock, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Bath and Wells, who has now gone to test the rural transport system. No doubt he will come back to me on that at some point! All indicated that the rural areas, particularly the run-down parts, are also facing serious problems, although much less publicity has been given to them. The Rural Development Commission has identified over 80 projects which will work to address the housing needs of young people in rural areas. It is important that action is taken in all our towns and cities, not just in London.

The SEU report confirms that, in general, local authorities are in the best position to co-ordinate rough sleeping and general homelessness outside London. To support local authorities, the DETR has launched the Homelessness Action Programme, which will provide £34 million over the next three years to help voluntary organisations outside London to tackle and prevent single homelessness and rough sleeping. Details of the first tranche of successful applications were announced the other day by my colleague Hilary Armstrong. A number of those projects will now get underway rapidly. As well as addressing rough sleeping, we shall be funding schemes to ensure that young people never have to experience homelessness in any of its forms.

In relation to one particular group, we are co-ordinating the provision of homelessness grants with those provided under the Homeless Mentally III Initiative. People who are mentally ill, even prior to becoming homeless, often have secondary problems, such as those relating to alcohol and drug misuse, and then encounter even greater problems in getting out of that situation. We are prioritising support for homeless people with drug and alcohol problems. We have recently published details of how voluntary organisations can bid for funding under the specific grant relating to those with drug and alcohol problems. That issue was raised by several noble Lords, including the noble Viscount, Lord Leathers.

The noble Earl, Lord Listowel, and the noble Lord, Lord Laming, referred to mentoring. In pursuing its strategy, the Social Exclusion Unit has been in discussion with a number of government departments and with those in the voluntary sector, including organisations such as the Big Issue and the Homeless Network, to try to find the best way to take forward the Government's commitment to rough sleeper mentoring initiatives. As a result of those discussions, the Homeless Network, working with homelessness organisations, including the Prince's Trust, is already running mentoring projects and has produced a paper for the SEU outlining the basis for further development. I join the noble Lord, Lord Laming, in paying tribute to those adults and others who engage in the mentoring process. It provides vital support to very vulnerable people.

Perhaps I may add a general tribute to the work of the voluntary sector and the Church-based organisations which have developed a substantial response to these problems. I refer not only to the household names, such as Shelter, the National Children's Home, and Centrepoint, but also to the hundreds of smaller, locally based, voluntary organisations. I pay particular tribute to the efforts of the noble Baroness, Lady Macleod of Borve, with regard to Crisis and Crisis at Christmas. The noble Viscount, Lord Brookeborough, also referred to activities in Northern Ireland.

Voluntary sector organisations, in conjunction with local authorities, can do much to help those who have often become deeply suspicious of more formal organisations. The Government are helping. Grants totalling £27 million over three years have been awarded and we shall shortly make an announcement about the allocation of a further £7 million to help voluntary organisations in this area. As the noble Lord, Lord St. John of Bletso, indicated, young people often do not know where to turn. Frequently, the voluntary organisations provide the point at which those young people have any contact with potential support.

I have been asked about foyers and funding for them by, among others, the noble Earl, Lord Listowel. The Government support the work of foyers through the Employment Service and Careers Service funding. Those agencies work closely with foyers to give residents access to guidance, support and training. Several successful foyers have operated. My noble friend Lord Judd referred to the YMCA, and there are many others. Both now and beyond, into the new funding arrangements after 2002, foyer schemes will be able to bid for employment and training provision alongside other providers. Individual local authorities are probably best placed to assess whether or not foyer schemes meet the need. As has been identified, there is not much point in giving a foyer project capital support if there is no workable proposal on how the running costs will be met. It is important that all prospective partners in new foyer schemes—the local authority, the housing associations and the voluntary organisations— properly plan the future financing of such schemes. That will enable them to play an important part.

Wider policies impact on youth homelessness. The noble Earl, Lord Listowel, referred to the impact of the New Deal which will mean that we can begin to take young people out of the situation of total unemployment and therefore, in many cases, homelessness. Young people need to be in the labour market so that the cycle of "no home, no job/no job, no home" will be broken. The New Deal offers many such people a real opportunity to address other problems at the same time as maintaining a focus on employment, which is the central element of that scheme.

Issues relating to housing benefit have been raised. Clearly, access to housing benefit is a key factor for many young people. Inadequacy of resources is clearly one of the main causes of homelessness. For most young people under the age of 25, support for living in the private rented sector is restricted to the single room rent. That is supposed to represent the average rent for a single room with shared facilities. The noble Baroness, Lady Ludford, and others, asked whether the Government should be looking again at that. We have received reports from voluntary organisations showing that the single room rent is causing problems in many localities where landlords and, to some extent, local authorities are avoiding letting accommodation to young people. We have therefore commissioned a survey on housing benefit and the private rented sector conducted by the London Research Centre. That survey has now been completed and is being considered by Ministers. Government departments, including the DSS and my own department, together with the local authority associations, are reviewing housing benefit rules as part of the housing benefit simplification and improvement project. All the relevant evidence will be considered in that review. The overall priority of the review is to simplify and modernise the housing benefit structure. Clearly, the youth homelessness aspect must be considered.

Perhaps I may make two qualifications in relation to the single-room rent allowance. There is already some degree of flexibility. Those who are most likely to face additional problems and who are living independently without family support, for example, care leavers and disabled people, are exempt from the single-room rent provisions. It is also true that claimants suffering exceptional hardship as a result of the single room rent restriction can apply to the local authority for discretionary help.

The noble Viscount, Lord Leathers, referred specifically to the fact that drugs aggravate the problems of homelessness. A large proportion of those most severely affected by homelessness are also subject to drug abuse. Our new drug strategy will provide treatment for groups which are hard to reach. I refer, for example, to the young homeless. In total, the health authorities are deploying an extra £70.5 million over the next three years to develop and commission drug services. Some of that will benefit the young homeless. We must also consider the implications of restrictions on access to hostels and other services.

The noble Viscount, Lord Leathers, and other noble Lords, referred to prostitution. That is a serious problem in our major cities and elsewhere. Child prostitution and that of young persons must be dealt with. We have provided new guidance on that for police and local authorities. We are also developing a national plan to combat the commercial exploitation of children. It is vital that young people are seen as victims, not criminals, in that respect. We hope that all public authorities will take that view. It is a demeaning and disastrous side effect of homelessness in our cities.

There are other aspects as regards vulnerable people and the housing legislation which need to be tackled. We are currently strengthening the advice in the code of guidance about the duties of local authorities. My noble friend Lady Goudie referred to that. We need to give priority to all young people at risk.

That brings me to a point which a number of noble Lords raised; namely, those who have left care. They belong to probably one of the most vulnerable groups of young people. They have been in the care of local authorities and left. They have then found great difficulty in finding suitable and affordable accommodation. We know that between one third and one quarter of rough sleepers have been looked after by local authorities as children. Through our other policies in relation to care we intend to try to improve the position of those leaving care so that the transition out of care is managed more effectively than clearly it has been. Improving the support for care leavers as such is one of the six priority areas which will attract additional resources through a special grant to local authorities as part of our "Quality Protects" programme to renew and reform children's services.

We are planning to make radical changes in the whole area of care leavers' support so that those aged between 16 and 18 years will have a plan setting out a "pathway to independence", including arrangements for their accommodation and ensuring that they have the necessary life skills. I hope that reassures my noble friend Lord Ahmed that we are beginning to tackle these problems.

I see that my time is almost up. There are a number of points which I have not touched on. In the normal way, I shall write to noble Lords about them. The issues raised in this debate go far wider than simple accommodation. It is a central social problem of our times. I hope that the expectations that have been raised by government action will be fulfilled. We owe it to all the young people on the cold streets tonight, or in inappropriate hostels and others forms of accommodation, to improve their circumstances. The Government are committed to that, as I know your Lordships are. I very much appreciate the contributions of noble Lords in this debate.

8.21 p.m.

My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have spoken this evening. It has been a fascinating debate. There are a few points that I would like to emphasise. I thank the noble Earl, Lord Longford. I have now at last found out something about my father's life at school and I am very grateful for that. The noble Lord, Lord Laming, made the important point that we expect the most from those who can give the least. The noble Lord, Lord Leathers, made some important points on which the Minister went some way to reassure us as regards the need for a secure environment for working with drug users so that they do not fall through the net of provision. There was an encouraging note from the noble Baroness, Lady Maddock, as regards the Rowntree Report. Sometimes it is possible to re-establish a relationship with a family and that can be pursued, but obviously, it is not always possible.

I thank the Government for taking such positive steps and I wish them well. I thank all noble Lords who have taken part in the debate. My Lords, I beg leave to withdraw the Motion.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.

Freedom Of Information Bill H L

8.23 p.m.

My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time.

It is a great privilege and a great pleasure to introduce the Bill into this House. It is a chance, in the last few months before my eternal twilight—Töfferdämmerung, as one might put it—to make a difference to something about which I care passionately. I quote:
"Information is power. If a government is genuine about wanting a partnership with the people who it is governing, then the act of government itself must be seen as a shared responsibility and the government has to empower the people".
The Minister will no doubt recognise that as a quotation from Tony Blair. It continues,
"It is not some isolated constitutional reform that we are proposing, with a Freedom of Information Act. It is a change that is absolutely fundamental to how we see politics developing in this country over the next few years.
"What is needed is a change of culture and a statutory obligation on government to make it a duty to release information to the people.
"We want to end the obsessive and unnecessary secrecy which surrounds government activity, and make government information available to the public unless there are good reasons not to do so. So the presumption is that information should be, rather than should not be, released".
In order to encapsulate what I believe about freedom of information, I tried long and hard to find a more radical and comprehensive manifesto for a Freedom of Information Bill, but I failed. The quotation is from Tony Blair just a couple of years ago. How I wish that was the Government's view now.

Things started quite well when this Government came to power. They appointed a Minister in charge of freedom of information who clearly believed in it. After only six months in office he produced a White Paper, which was quite a good one although it was already showing signs of being "got at". Since then things have gone badly awry. That particular Minister was sacked and responsibility moved to a Minister who, by reputation—although one has heard little from him on the subject—has no great sympathy with freedom of information.

The White Paper promised a draft Bill late last year, but none has been forthcoming. We heard that it would come in January or February. Now we hear that the expected date is sometime in April or May when Rhodri Morgan has safely gone West and the chairmanship of the relevant committee in another place has passed into more Blairite hands. I do not know what to expect. Perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, will be able to tell us that he is pregnant with information. He looks a little slim for that, but one can always hope.

I suppose Gordon Brown had a chance when he announced that 1999 was going to be New Labour's year of delivery, but there is certainly not freedom of information as regards his own travel plans. We seem to have fallen a long way short from what was promised and what we believed to be the case when this Government came to power. That is a great pity because freedom of information is not a threat to good government, but a great aid to it. The one outstanding example of it in this country is the publication of the minutes of the Monetary Policy Committee of the Bank of England. I remember that at the time that was announced we were told that it would be disastrous to let the public, and the press in particular, into the deliberations which are so close to the centre of one of the most important parts of the affairs of state in this country. But it has proved to be the absolute opposite.

What causes scare stories and the press to go off the deep end; to act irresponsibly; cause chaos and refuse to recognise good arguments, is secrecy. One does not have to have worked in MAFF to recognise that, but it helps. Does any noble Lord believe that the BSE crisis would have been made worse had MAFF been open right from the beginning with the information that it had about what was happening? Does any noble Lord really believe that our understanding of the disease and the progress of the epidemic would have been made worse by making all the research information which MAFF had available to researchers worldwide? Obviously not, because when MAFF at last made that information available worldwide we had an explosion of understanding of the disease. Does any noble Lord really believe that we would have handled the crisis in a worse way had we made the public aware at every stage of what lay behind our decisions on the BSE crisis so at each stage the public could have been taken along with the decisions we made or indeed have had the chance to change, by their opinion, the decisions that we made?

That could not possibly be the case. When we were at last forced to come clean as to what had been happening there was such an enormous difference between what we had been saying was the case and what it actually turned out to be. We were forced to take panic measures at enormous cost to this country, the beef industry, our finances and our reputation abroad.

Openness in MAFF would have made a great difference and a great improvement to the whole conduct of government. I see the noble Countess, Lady Mar. I hope I may call her my noble friend for a moment. I remember happy days when she asked Starred Questions and I answered them for MAFF. I would get my MAFF briefing papers and then go along to the noble Countess to find out what was really going on because the noble Countess was always much better briefed than I was and indeed she usually had more MAFF papers than I had been given. Therefore I was able to ask officials for the ones that I was missing and give the noble Countess a reasonable answer at the end of the day.

Secrecy is a culture and although MAFF is perhaps exceptional, all of Whitehall is like that. The other day I asked officials at the Department for Education for a copy of the school performance tables. I wanted them on disk. That is something they must have provided to every newspaper in the land. However, my request was refused and I shall say why later. The culture of secrecy is so deep that they will not even release something which is already public information in every library. Indeed you can go to your local authority and get that information, but they would not provide it to me on disk. Information on paper is fine—I was offered a deep box full of it—but they would not provide it to me on disk. That is the culture in Whitehall. Those of us who have tabled Questions for Written Answer will be used to the obfuscation and evasion which greets inconvenient questions. Some of us have perpetrated that. I put up my hand and confess to taking the easy way out occasionally, although I know that the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, rarely if ever falls into that trap. As I say, it is a culture which is Whitehall-wide. To change that kind of culture you need a radical reform. It is no good trying to do it by bits and pieces.

I place all credit for this Bill with the Campaign for Freedom of Information and its director, Maurice Frankel, who has been fighting this fight a great deal longer than I have. I am a relatively new recruit. This Bill is a simple and radical Bill and is written from the point of view of the citizen and not the bureaucrat. It founds itself on the rights of the citizen to have access to government information. It overlays that with a system of exemptions by which the Government can claim that particular bits of information should not be released because they would be harmful to good government or to other important interests. It allows for the supervention over all that of the public interest so that even the darkest corners of government can be penetrated when the public interest demands it. It sets out the duties of public authorities and the charges they may make for information and it institutes an information commissioner to make sure that the individual citizen can have access to the information to which he has a right without undue cost. It does all this in eight-and-a-half pages. If, and when we see the government Bill it will be a great deal longer, a great deal more complicated and, I am sad to say, it appears that it will be designed to achieve much less.

If everything we hear is to be believed, the Government have been seduced by office, have been "done in" by Sir Humphrey, and have produced in their White Paper, and in what we think will appear in a Bill, clauses which we expect will destroy entirely the purpose of the Bill. The first and most deadly of these is the test which information must pass in order that government can have a right to withhold it. In this Bill the test is set at substantial harm. The release of the information has to do substantial harm to defined interests in order for it to be allowed to be withheld. In the Government's White Paper that test is reduced to harm in respect of the Government's own deliberations. We are told that that reduction of the test to straight harm is now to be applied to the whole Bill. But harm can be anything. It can be a speck of dandruff on a shoulder of an official or some minor hair out of place.

The reason the Department for Education refused to give me the performance tables was that it had heard that someone thought that some little minor aspect of this information might be wrong. Until it had completed its investigations into that it would not release it to me. I refer to some little percentage point change somewhere in some figure for some school which I would probably never even look at in information which was already published. If that kind of thing can be held by a government department to do harm—under a straight harm test of course there is potential harm there, some school somewhere might be offended by some use I might make of this—and if that is the test, there is no freedom of information and there is no release of information. There is nothing that the Bill achieves, however long and complicated it may be.

We must have the idea of harm qualified. If "substantial" is the wrong word—I understand why the Government feel frightened by the word "substantial"— the Government can perhaps downgrade it to "material" or perhaps adopt the Irish approach in the Act that they brought into force at the beginning of this year where they require that harm is subject to a balance of public interest test. Either of those would do, but straight harm would destroy the Bill

Secondly, there are other areas too where the Government are moving so far away from the principle of freedom of information as to deny the principle itself. They propose that entire sections of government should be, as it were, exempt from the Bill. They say that policing should not be subject to the Bill. In the Bill that I have drafted I do not use the term "policing", but I say that the investigation of crime should be exempt. The difference between those two approaches would be apparent to the Lawrence family. The way the Government have drafted the White Paper—one has no reason to think the Bill will be any different—the Lawrence family would have had no right to any information about how the investigation into their son's death was conducted. That clearly does not constitute freedom of information if they cannot have the right to dig down and find all that we now know has happened in the course of that investigation.

The third area that really concerns me is the blanket exemption that the Government appear to wish to give to their own deliberations. Again I agree that perhaps my Bill is drafted pretty strictly. Starting from my position, I think it ought to be. I recognise that perhaps some compromise is possible. But if we start from the Government's position and look at what would have happened in the case of MAFF and the BSE crisis, MAFF would not have had to release any of the vital information. Nothing would have had to have been done by MAFF which would have made, or could have made, that crisis better, or better managed, or better governed. If we proceed along the route that appears to be mapped out by this Government, we shall have a freedom of information Bill perhaps some day, but it will be a travesty of a freedom of information Bill.

With this, my swansong, I hope that I can tempt the Government back onto the path that they once trod. I hope that I can blow on the embers of their promises and light again the fires of an ambition that filled their soul in opposition. As Tony Blair said,
"A Freedom of Information Act would signal a culture change that would make a dramatic difference to the way that Britain is governed. The very fact of its introduction will signal a new relationship between government and the people: a relationship which sees the public as legitimate stakeholders in the running of the country and sees election to serve the public as being given on trust. That is my view of how government should be".
It is mine too.

Moved, That the Bill be now read a second time.— ( Lord Lucas.)

8.38 p.m.

My Lords, it gives me great pleasure to begin by congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, on the way in which he has introduced this Bill. I had not realised that in that formidable frame such a radical, liberal heart beat. I for one was delighted to hear what I thought was a powerful and eloquent statement about the importance of a true freedom of information Bill. If it is the noble Lord's swansong, it is a beautiful swansong. I for one rather hope that at the noble Lord's early age for this House it will not be his swansong and we may hear him address the issue on many further occasions.

I begin by congratulating the noble Lord on some of the elements in the Bill that he has put before the House. I wish to refer to them relatively briefly. The first clause deals with the purposes of the Bill. That is important because of course it enables those who may later interpret the purposes of the Bill to be able to point to what it is—if the Bill is passed—that Parliament intends.

Clause 1 sets out powerfully and well the reasons for a freedom of information Bill. It goes a long way towards confirming the statements of the noble Lord about the access to information, the need for citizens to have a right to information, and much more.

I also draw attention to Clause 2, in particular the right that it gives to people to correct information about them. We live in a world where, increasingly, the fates of people are bound up with the information that is recorded about them—information about their credit cards and information that will be increasingly put on a smart card as the Department of Health and Social Security and other departments adopt that principle. If that information is flawed, then the persons concerned— innocent though they may be—may get into very, very deep difficulties. It is absolutely crucial that individuals should have access to the information held about them in government offices or local government offices, and have the absolute right to correct that information and insist that the correction is made. As far as possible, any repercussions flowing from false information should be dealt with by the government department or local government department concerned.

I also congratulate the noble Lord on Clause 4, which suggests that there ought to be a defence of the public interest against the Official Secrets Act—something my party has long believed in. There have been enough occasions now where we can look back to the significance and importance of somebody being able to use the defence that they have spoken out in the public interest against the culture of secrecy, as the noble Lord rightly called it.

Let me also pay tribute to the former Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, Dr. David Clark. He devoted himself with great intensity and commitment to the concept of a freedom of information Bill. He saw that as being achieved by his Ministry. It is a great shame that a man who gave such commitment and hard work to trying to bring about something which was, after all, in the Labour Party's manifesto—and therefore close to sacred—should have lost his job through the sheer intensity with which he pursued what he genuinely believed to be government policy. Rather like the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, I hope that Dr. Clark has a future ahead of him as well as a past behind him.

Let me say just a little about the history—the rather sad, miserable, timid history—of the efforts to get freedom of information in this country. I shall begin, I trust, without embarrassing the Minister too much, but it is perhaps worth reminding him and the noble Lord, Lord Hoyle, that in 1974 the Labour Party manifesto said:
"We shall replace the Official Secrets Act by a measure to put the burden on the public authorities to justify withholding information".
The date was 1974. At that time, my noble friend Lord Jenkins was Home Secretary, and he commenced drafting a freedom of information Bill. He subsequently went to the United States in order to consult people there about his proposed Bill. When he returned he was informed by a number of Members of the Cabinet that it might be rather expensive. Unfortunately for the future of freedom of information, that view was confirmed by President Ford, who was not enthusiastic about the strength of the freedom of information legislation in the United States. Despite my noble friend's efforts, freedom of information was not proceeded with in the last year of Lord Wilson's Cabinet or in the first year of the Cabinet of the noble Lord, Lord Callaghan.

Instead what happened was a typical British compromise. It was called the Croham directive. The noble Lord, Lord Croham, drafted a directive which asked departments to commit as much information as they possibly could to the public domain. The response was extremely varied. In one or two departments there was quite an enthusiastic response. Those departments were not the most prime or senior departments of government. In departments such as the Treasury, the Ministry of Defence—understandably—and, as one might expect, the Home Office, where at the time I had recently served, there was deep reluctance to make too much information available, on the general principle that it was probably not very good for the public to know too much about what the departments were doing. Within a year and a half, the Croham directive had proved to be an ineffective weapon. Certainly it was well-intentioned, but it was not very effective in extending the right of freedom of information.

Subsequent to that, under the government of John Major, an attempt was made to establish a code of practice for open government. That code of practice laid down access to public information as a method, if you like, of Civil Service behaviour. But he did not attempt to institute a statute giving citizens the right to freedom of information. It was well intentioned, and I would like to pay tribute to the former Prime Minister. In his citizens' charters he also attempted to give citizens information of importance about public services. But again—as is so typical of the history of our country in dealing with this extremely contentious issue—there is always a willingness to go halfway and no willingness to take the matter to completion.

Most recently, we have the manifesto of the present Government, which was referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas. That gave a commitment to freedom of information, which again, as in every single case, is now being steadily peddled away from, if I may use that phrase. Why is it then that we, unlike so many other countries—New Zealand, Canada, Australia and others—seem incapable of addressing this issue in a bold and convincing way? The answer has been expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas: we have a profound culture of secrecy in this country. Sadly, that profound culture of secrecy is not just a Civil Service culture. Once Ministers, of whatever party, get into office, they become convinced that secrecy is a very useful way of limiting the amount of pressure that can be brought to bear upon them. It is human nature. It is not the special wickedness of Conservative or Labour Party members; it is simply terribly tempting to move away from the concept of freedom of information.

In the end, we are a country in transformation towards becoming, in the broadest sense, an active democracy; a country which has for a very long time been a passive democracy. Let me quote an example of what is meant by an active democracy. The words are those of James Madison, the third President of the United States of America:
"Knowledge will forever govern ignorance: and a people who mean to be their own governors must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives".
We have always been rather reluctant to accept the idea of people as their own governors. That is true when one looks at the efforts finally to get devolution to Scotland and Wales and when one looks at the efforts in this country to get human rights recognised. I pay tribute to the Government that their efforts are now recognised. It is because there is so little consultation on legislation in this country that so much bad and faulty legislation is passed.

We are looking at the middle of that transition towards an active democracy, in which we involve the participation of our citizens and in which we truly respect them. I am entitled to say from these Benches— where for many years we have supported a comprehensive concept of democracy which embraces devolution, human rights, freedom of information and reform of the voting system—that we have had such a vision for very many years.

What does it mean? It means that there has to be a true freedom of information Act. That is only the beginning, not the end. It means that in the world of the Internet we should begin to publish legislation in draft on the Internet and invite our citizens to contribute to making that legislation as good as possible. It means that we should enable them to look at amendments, as we do, as they pass through Parliament. It means that we should consult about issues that will affect them profoundly, like legislation on health and education. It means that we should stop scorning the Republic of Ireland for having embarked on a huge consultation before its last Education Bill became law. It means that we should accept that citizens at local government level are entitled to the fullest possible information about those matters that affect them. And it means, as the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, has eloquently said, that some of the most difficult and indeed unpleasant episodes of government failure of recent years might well have been avoided if we had made it easier for people to discover the truth.

I conclude by commending the noble Lord very much for what he has done. I hope we will have an assurance from the Government that they will not try now to move away from this radical, far-reaching and truly democratic concept of informed and educated citizens taking part in their own government and that they will therefore be able to tell us tonight that they have every intention of moving ahead and of doing so in a way which fully embraces this brilliant and extremely exciting idea.

8.50 p.m.

My Lords, I too should like to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, on his introduction of the Bill and on his eloquent exposition of it.

To many of us who voted Labour at the last election, the proposals for a Freedom of Information Bill were a cornerstone of the party's programme. For me, only Scottish devolution was of comparable importance, and even that, while critical to those of us who live in Scotland, has a narrower application.

Freedom of information sits necessarily at the centre of any project to empower the citizens. Other rights are harder to exercise without it. Abuses of authority, inefficiency and waste all thrive in its absence. This has been well recognised in the Labour Party, which has a proud, though admittedly so far entirely verbal, tradition in this matter. I could use up the whole of this speech in quoting eloquent testimony from the Prime Minister on the subject, but of course the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, has already done so. Noble Lords will be familiar with the Right to Information Bill of 1992 and the Right to Know Bill of 1993 which testified both to the importance of the idea, and to a body of coherent thought with regard to it, within the Labour Party. The White Paper published in December 1997 continued and expanded this tradition. It was for the most part a robust and uncompromising document, setting out an impressive intellectual infrastructure for future legislation.

Subsequent events have been all the more disappointing. Draft legislation has been delayed several times. The reports one reads about progress are uniformly depressing. For instance, the Economist of 30th January, in a profile of the Home Secretary, said:
"[He] is at present blunting the teeth of the government's promised freedom of information bill, a landmark piece of liberal legislation which Labour made much of in opposition, but which it has already delayed for no good reason".
It would, of course, be rash to believe everything one reads in the papers; but the combined weight of a series of press reports to this general effect, of the repeated delays in the publication of the draft Bill and of the Home Secretary's own evidence last April to the Select Committee on Public Administration in another place creates a consistent if gloomy picture. I think it would be difficult for anyone to read a transcript of this evidence without receiving a very strong sense of defensiveness and of a much stronger focus on difficulties than on solutions.

The core of the Home Secretary's argument then is very relevant to the current Bill. He argued for a total exclusion of law and order matters from the Government's legislation on the basis that this legislation would use a disclosure test of "substantial harm" rather than simply "harm", and that this created particular dangers in relation to such material handled by the Home Office. But the White Paper in fact proposes a "simple harm" test in some areas, notably policy advice, which seems to me completely to undermine that argument. The Bill we are considering tonight is far less feeble in this area, and I would choose it ahead of the White Paper. But I would accept a weaker test in some limited areas if the result is a minimal list of complete exclusions.

The Minister has answered Questions on this subject in your Lordships' House on a number of occasions. He has been inclined to point—for instance, in his response to the noble Lord, Lord Holme, on 30th November and to the noble Lord, Lord Lester, on 9th November—to individual actions by the Government and to the release of specific items of information. It would certainly have been a truly terrifying disappointment if the Government, coming to power on the programme I have described, had not taken a positive attitude to such individual cases. But I very much hope the Minister is not going to argue that any collection of such actions can substitute in any way for a simple and consistent right to information, exercisable by any citizen at will, in regard to his or her own concerns. The one cannot possibly replace the other, either in whole or in part.

Constitutional freedoms are sometimes thought of as distant, impractical things, of no importance to the common man and woman. That is untrue in general, but is particularly untrue here. It was a television programme about motor cars which, many years ago, first stimulated my own attention. A particular run of the Austin Allegro exhibited a distressing tendency for the back wheels to fall off at speed. But the interesting thing was that the detailed information used in the programme all came from United States government files, because it was impossible to obtain the same data in the United Kingdom.

That particular example would, I think, no longer apply. Over the years, in this country, a rather baroque and ramshackle structure has emerged of obligations to publish and rights to obtain various kinds of information. The trouble is that these rights and obligations have grown ad hoc without particular reference to one another. They are therefore considered as a totality, more or less incomprehensible and are no substitute for a general, simple, single right of wide application.

I should perhaps say one or two words about the Bill itself. I am a bookseller, not a lawyer, but it seems perfectly workmanlike to me. It comes recognisably from the same stable as the other Bills, sponsored by members of the Labour Party, which I mentioned earlier. It is, as far as I can tell, mostly consistent with the Government's own White Paper, though with the welcome difference of far fewer exclusions. In particular, it uses the "substantial harm" test, one of the key features of the White Paper. As to its immediate provenance, I should say how particularly pleasing it is to see support for these ideas in the Conservative Party as well as in other parties.

The Minister, answering a Question of mine in your Lordships' House in November, said, I think encouragingly, that the draft Bill would "bear due regard" to the substantial harm test. I realise that it is just barely possible that he will feel unable to tell us whether that will be the test used predominantly in the Government's draft Bill, but perhaps he could expand a little more on the phrase "bearing due regard".

I have said one or two less than kind words about a government to whom I am mostly sympathetic. I will be very happy to eat these words if the Government will stop doing things which confirm my worst fears and will publish soon a strong and coherent draft Bill building on their own White Paper, avoiding compromise and living up to their own past words.

8.59 p.m.

My Lords, I sense an entirely different atmosphere in this House from that on the previous occasion when I attended a debate on this subject, in February 1988, when I introduced the Second Reading of the Protection of Official Information Bill. Not only did I receive very little encouragement from my own Front Bench then, but on the part of the Labour Opposition there was a great hesitation and lack of enthusiasm to proceed with the proposed Bill. In fact, I was unable even to achieve a Committee stage for the Bill after it was given a Second Reading. I hope that the Minister will indicate not only his support for the principle and practice of my noble friend's excellent Bill but also that time will be found to discuss the Bill in detail in Committee.

The principles of the Bill have been explained by previous speakers. I agree with everything that has been said. Sound administration must prevail over journalism, history or mere curiosity. However, if information is readily available to the public from government departments and public bodies, there will be better-informed discussion of public affairs, and on that basis decisions on the part of government and public bodies will be more soundly based. The case has been made and well and soundly proved.

It is interesting that in 1979 the Labour Party promised time for a freedom of information Act in an attempt to win the crucial vote of confidence before Labour went out of office. I hope that the Labour Party is now thoroughly convinced of the need to proceed with such legislation sooner rather than later. In the meantime, as has been pointed out, since the Labour Party made that proposal in March 1979 we have seen freedom of information Acts passed in a range of old Commonwealth countries, in Israel, Ireland, the Netherlands, Sweden and many others. Some of us have become used to seeking information about how Britain is run by consulting Amsterdam, Helsinki or Canberra, not to mention Washington DC.

I suggest that it is not a symptom of paranoia to insist that there is a natural conflict between ourselves and Sir Humphrey Appleby. We are the laity; they are the professionals. Of course they are irritated when members of the public seek to interfere in what they believe they do best of all. They are particularly irritated when we seek to interfere on the basis of good, sound information. Information is power; it is something that Sir Humphrey wants to keep all to himself.

I must declare an interest. When researching the books that I have written on various controversial episodes of British history in Palestine in the 1940s and in Albania, when secret operations were engaged in, and on the forced repatriation of Russians in 1945, I have very often found that the criterion for closing documents that are more than 30 years old has been, not harm or significant harm, but embarrassment to officials or Ministers. That is illegal. Embarrassment to officials has never been a criterion for closing documents after the 30-year rule. I hope that the Minister will be able to confirm that embarrassment is not a reason for withholding any paper whatsoever.

I was intrigued by the remarks of the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, about the right of citizens to obtain information held about themselves. That subject is being debated in the setting up of the Europol organisation. I must declare another interest, in that I am an adviser to the Police Federation. I admire the self-restraint of the Home Secretary when, as has been alleged, his own MI5 file was placed in front of him and he said, "No, thank you, I will not look at it". I wish that he had looked at it. He would have been uniquely privileged to be able to find out whether the Security Service had been accurate, careful, considerate and sensible in chronicling the activities of Mr Straw in his immature student days. We should have been fascinated to know whether the Security Service got it right. Perhaps Mr Straw will think again and will look at his file.

As for the rest of us, I trust that this Bill, if it is passed, or the Government's Bill, if it supersedes it, will not provide that no Security Service files may be opened and no details of such files may be made available to a member of the public. Certain types of information can be extremely harmful to the individual. I accept that the test of substantial harm to the body politic must prevail. However, there is also the question of substantial harm to the individual. I hope that the Government will take that into account when deciding on this crucial matter of harm or substantial harm which has been mentioned by almost every speaker.

"Harm" can mean anything. It is too vague a judgment. There must be a qualification by the addition of "substantial", or some other adjective. I found that the Americans were sensible about it. They were quite happy to give me my own FBI file, even though they whited out or blacked out a few bits of it. However, that should not be a reason for withholding the whole file in such an event.

The code of practice instituted by the previous Prime Minister has been mentioned. I agree that congratulations are in order and that it should be approved and improved upon. I believe that the Government will consider it carefully and I am delighted to hear that they are finally ready to tackle the matter. I commend the Bill to the House and to the Government. I hope that it will at least provide them with guidance along the lines that, whatever threat there may be to the body politic, it is essential that information be available. Otherwise, the test of our efficiency is left to our enemies.

9.9 p.m.

My Lords, I am extremely grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, for bringing the Bill before your Lordships' House tonight. I wholeheartedly support him.

However, I hesitate to acknowledge any friendship in your Lordships' House in view of the speech of the right honourable lady the Leader of another place last Monday. She seemed to be of the firm conviction that all Cross-Benchers are Tories. I assure noble Lords that I am fiercely independent: I have no intention of belonging to any political party.

My lack of any political affiliation will have been obvious in my campaign over the past seven years. It has been no different, whichever government has been in power. Noble Lords will be well aware that there have been a number of occasions when I have exposed answers that have not been totally truthful, both in the Chamber and in Written Answers.

It sounds awful to say that I am tired of not being told the truth. I have a wonderful example here of how civil servants and officials from public authorities work. This is a minute from the Centre for Communicable Disease Control and the Somerset Health Authority, written last summer to someone in the Department of Health. It is headed:

"Questions From The Countess Of Mar

"We are assuming that there is a possibility that any information supplied to the Countess by the Minister could be made public. We have been extremely careful locally not to disclose any information … which could be considered clinical in confidence.
"Therefore, we are providing you with full background information. This is in italics which indicates that it is being supplied in confidence to you. Our view is that if you wish to provide any of this information to the Countess, or to make it public in any other way, that is a matter for you.
"In an attempt to be as helpful as possible (within the obvious time constraints) a suggested response for public consumption is given after the information relating to each point".

That was last summer. I know that it is not the only incident where such duplicity has arisen. I was trying to help the Department of Health at that time. It would have been much more helpful if I had been told the truth, which, incidentally, I already knew. I rarely ask a question without first knowing the answer. That is me giving free information.

What I want is for the Government to be able to acknowledge that there have been mistakes made and that these mistakes have been very human and understandable mistakes in most cases. Even within our family situation, when we have committed an act which has hurt some other member of the family, we all know that the first thing we do is blame that other member. We then try to cover up our tracks. I learnt early on not to try to do this because my granny used to say, "Be sure your sins will find you out". That has happened with the BSE problem with MAFF. I have a suspicion that it will happen with organophosphates.

I commend to the Minister, if he wants an example of the free issue of information, the BSE inquiry. There, absolutely everything is available to the public, from the evidence that is taken right through to the scientific papers. That is how, with the limitations that have been expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, and other Members of the House, the job should be done. Most of the information I have on organophosphates has had to come from the United States of America, where, as noble Lords know, they have a freedom of information Act. Let us have a freedom of information Act in this country. I heartily support the noble Lord.


My Lords, I rise first to congratulate my noble friend Lord Lucas on his passionate and most excellent argument in introducing the Bill. Openness is an issue that I have raised on a number of occasions in this House, so this is a very happy moment for me to stand up and plug it again. I only wish that on this occasion we were debating the Government's own freedom of information Bill. I am sorry to see that tonight there is no Peer sitting behind the Minister who wants to take part in this Second Reading or even to share the enthusiasm for what the rest of us are debating this evening.

Given my involvement in the consumer world, particularly the National Consumer Council and the National Federation of Consumer Groups, I am particularly interested in a right of access to information for consumers. Unlike most noble Lords here this evening, I should like to focus on the public provision of that information, as my noble friend Lord Lucas did so eloquently. Every day up and down the country decisions are made by government and their agents that affect all our lives. Contracts are let on our behalf, such as computer systems to guide our ambulance services or buildings to house our hospitals. Services are provided directly to us by government, such as education and healthcare. Others are regulated on our behalf, such as the medicines that we take, the trains in which we travel and the food that we eat. Increasingly, we are dependent on government to regulate the arrangements that we make to provide us with care when we can no longer look after ourselves, and for our income when we retire.

We mostly take on trust that the Government spend our money prudently on the services that they buy for us. We take on trust that the Government give us good value when they provide services themselves. We also take on trust that they do a good job in regulating matters on our behalf. Occasionally, sadly, events erode that trust. The quality of cervical screening services or children's heart surgery is called into question. Even today one sees grieving parents who learn that the hearts of their dead babies have been removed, in many cases without their permission. Millions are spent on a computer system for ambulances that fails on its first outing. Train and ferry disasters show up worrying lapses in safety precautions. We are mis-sold pensions in huge numbers and over a long period, and redress is slow in coming. We have had an E. coli outbreak in Scotland and the incidence of food poisoning appears to rise fairly unabated. The BSE inquiry has highlighted governmental and regulatory failures in protecting the human food chain from contaminated meat.

Actual failures, possible failures and fudges account for only a small proportion of government activity, and I know that we must keep them in perspective. But that said they can and do sap public confidence in what government do. This point was highlighted earlier this week with the publication by the Cabinet Office of a MORI poll commissioned by the Government. It showed a general lack of trust in government, particularly politicians, Ministers, civil servants and government scientists. A number of specific questions were asked but two in particular related to groups that people trusted most and least to advise on the risks posed by BSE. Those trusted least were, again, government Ministers (41 per cent.) and food manufacturers (28 per cent.). Those trusted most, by a fairly wide margin, were independent scientists.

I suggest that for government these are worrying findings. They highlight the need to rebuild trust. The same MORI poll showed that 94 per cent. of those surveyed thought that the Government should be more open about how they made their decisions. Eighty per cent, thought that if the Government were unsure of the facts, they should still publish the information that they had available. This is the reason why a freedom of information Act is so vital for consumers. It is the key to rebuilding public trust.

I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Bethell, agrees that access to information about risks and benefits should help consumers to make informed choices about the level of risk that they are prepared to accept, whether it be related to a medicine, pension or BSE. It is the power to choose. It should enable consumers to check that they pay a fair price for essential utilities and that profits earned by the privileged gas, electricity and water suppliers are fairly divided between customers and shareholders. It should enable us to see how the Government choose a contractor from a number of tenders. Perhaps it will restore the public's trust in Ministers and politicians about decision-making.

It boils down to a balancing act that every government must perform whenever they make important decisions: the public interest against commercial, economic and political interests. I am sure that such balancing will be all too familiar to my noble friend Lord Lucas, he having been a Minister of and spokesman for different departments in his time. What weight is each interest to be given? It may not always be appropriate to let the public interest prevail. But when the Government decide to give priority to another interest, perhaps even against the recommendations of their advisers, they should be prepared to say so and justify that decision to the public.

Times change and so do expectations. We live in an era in which we expect government to be open and accountable to us, in which we expect government to make important matters known as a matter of course, often before they are asked to do so, and where there is a presumption that openness will prevail unless someone can make a very strong case for secrecy.

We also live in an era where more people are likely to complain about poor goods or services. The noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby, referred to the Citizen's Charter. As the chairman of the Citizen's Charter Complaints Task Force set up by John Major when Prime Minister, which considered complaints about public services, I found it gratifying to read the Cabinet Office's People's Panel's most recent MORI poll published last month. It indicated that people believe that the public sector has become better at listening to complaints over the past four years; and that is the trust and expectation that we need to build on.

What should be the test for allowing secrecy in an open culture? If we are talking about governing in the public interest, then wherever there is a public interest in openness—and in most cases there surely will be— the harm that openness will cause must be substantial indeed to justify secrecy. Nothing less than substantial harm—as proposed in the White Paper, Your Right to Know—should justify secrecy in a culture that is truly open and transparent; otherwise it will be very hard to convince consumers that cosy deals are not being sewn up by monopolies and the powerful, and special interests behind closed doors at the expense of the ordinary person in the street.

One particularly welcome initiative is the draft legislation establishing a new regulatory body, the Food Standards Agency. We are told that one of the agency's guiding principles is,
"to make the decision making process open, so that the public can make their views known, see the basis on which it makes its decisions and to enable people to reach an informed judgment about the quality of the Agency's decisions and processes".
That guiding principle has now been translated into legislation in Clause 18 of the draft Bill. It is required in that clause to keep records of decisions and the information on which they are based. The records should be,
"made available with a view to enabling members of the public to make informed judgments about the way in which it is carrying out its functions".
Hurrah, my Lords! That is a most welcome step.

I only hope that the Government are as serious about openness in other areas of our life. We are waiting for the Government's own draft freedom of information Bill which should make a significant difference to openness across government activity. Perhaps the Minister can reassure us today that the draft Bill will be published soon. Perhaps, too, he will confirm that the Government are still intent on sticking with the substantial harm test, and not weakening it, as recent press speculation suggests, as my noble friend Lord Lucas highlighted, and to which the noble Lord, Lord Hardinge of Penshurst, alluded.

I hope that the next time we have a Second Reading debate on a freedom of information Bill in this House it will be in the next Session of Parliament and on the Government's own Bill implementing the White Paper commitments in full.

I am most grateful to my noble friend Lord Lucas for seizing the moment and bringing forward this most important Private Member's Bill. I shall be supporting him at every point in his laudable endeavour; and I am delighted to support him here tonight. I commend the Bill to your Lordships' House.

9.22 p.m.

My Lords, it is a pleasure again to be on the night shift with the noble Lords, Lord Williams and Lord Hoyle. The noble Baroness, Lady Wilcox, reminded us of the wider aspects of freedom of information. Perhaps I may add one further aspect contained in an excellent parliamentary briefing by the Royal National Institute for the Blind. I shall not go into its case today, but, as did the case made by the noble Baroness, it illustrates that freedom of information is much broader than simply freedom of information inside government.

I welcome the Bill moved by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas. Certain aspects of his speech sounded like that of a repentant sinner, but it was all the better for that. As a number of speakers have reminded us—my noble friend Lady Williams did so most clearly—freedom of information has been a commitment on these Benches for a quarter of a century, as it has been on the Government Front Benches; and it has been a clear Labour Party commitment over that period.

I was slightly worried when my noble friend Lady Williams began her historical review. I had some involvement in the commitments of the Labour Party in 1974 and 1979—my chequered past. No freedom of information Bill was brought forward during that period. My only defence, having worked inside No. 10 with the noble Lord, Lord Callaghan, during that period, is the American saying, "When you're up to your armpits in alligators it's often difficult to remember that the idea was to drain the swamp". We did not have a majority and we had opted for devolution in a complex and time-consuming way.

This time, the opposition parties were given a long time to prepare their thoughts on the issue, with 18 years of Conservative government. The Liberal Democrats and the Labour Party had a joint commission on the constitution which became known as the Cook-Maclennan Commission. The philosophy behind it was what my noble friend Lady Williams referred to as working towards an active democracy. It was a major exercise in cross-party co-operation, including the present Home Secretary and Government Chief Whip on the study group.

I am drawing attention to that because we saw constitutional reform in the round. We saw it as a package of interlocking measures to re-engage people with the process of government. One of the amazing aspects of the document, which was published by the two parties prior to the general election, was that, of the dozen recommendations it made, in less than two years more than half have been brought into legislation.

I do not accuse the Government of dragging their feet on constitutional reform. However, we consider that freedom of information was a cornerstone of that whole reform package. We believed that it would break down what has been referred to on a number of occasions as the culture of secrecy which pervades Whitehall. We believed that it was important because it would tip the balance between an over-powerful Executive and an underperforming legislature: it is the reform which empowers the citizen by giving right of access to government and other official information for both factual information and policy advice.

The general election gave the Government a clear mandate for reform. We on these Benches were disappointed when the first Queen's Speech made no mention of freedom of information. But we looked forward to Dr. David Clark's White Paper. When it came, we were not disappointed. The Canadian High Commissioner commented,
"It leaves Canada trailing in the dust and represents nothing other than a breathtaking transformation in the relationship between the Government and the governed".
That is praise indeed from a country which has been a pathfinder and pioneer in freedom of information. But what happened? Then came the reshuffle, and goodbye Dr. Clark. The director of the Campaign for Freedom of Information, to whom reference has been made, said:
"If any replacement is drawn from the massed ranks of the lukewarm the chances of an early and effective legislation must be poor".
Well, his worst nightmares became a reality. Responsibility for the freedom of information Bill was transferred to that Lubyanka for open government, the Home Office. Now, instead of the brave words of Dr. Clark, rumours began to abound of delay and watering down. We now have the situation in which the Conservatives and the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, are ahead of the Government in this matter. That is very, very serious.

I warn the Government that the need to break down Whitehall secrecy and the culture of secrecy is as serious and as urgent as ever. I remain an admirer of the Civil Service. I spent five happy years as a temporary civil servant. But I remember then—and I was reminded of this listening to the noble Countess, Lady Mar—that I was always fascinated by those documents which had at the top, "line to take", and then at the bottom, "if pressed". I always moved straight to "if pressed", to find out what was the real answer to any question. But the first inclination was not to give the full information. The Government should beware of the mandarins' embrace. It comes on very quickly and they are very good at it. I still believe that there is a strong need not just at the beginning of a government but throughout to have a political input of advice. Otherwise, Ministers succumb to that mandarins' embrace.

We must look at these issues in the round. I want to see the House of Commons extending the powers of Select Committees and not just making Parliament more family-friendly. There is a concern that the freedom of information commitment is being diluted. We have already talked about the delay. A number of noble Lords have addressed the question of "substantial harm". We look forward to hearing what the Minister has to say about that and to finding out whether that commitment on "substantial harm" is to be watered down.

There is also the question of exclusions. The White Paper proposed that a number of authorities and functions should be excluded altogether from the scope of the legislation. Rather than excluding such matters, appropriate exemptions should be relied on to protect information in those cases where disclosure is likely to be harmful. That is the line taken in the Bill brought forward by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas.

I turn to the powers of the commissioner. The White Paper proposed that the Act would be enforced by an information commissioner, as does this Bill. However, there should be no further weakening of the commissioner's role as a result of the Home Office review of those proposals. Again, we await the Minister's reply on those matters.

The noble Lord, Lord Hardinge, said that perhaps we should not believe all we read in the papers. But only five days ago, Andrew Grice, a very well-informed political writer on the Independent, said:
"The Government has watered down its long-awaited plans for a Freedom of Information Act, which will be published next month".
Mr. Andrew Mackinlay, the Labour Member for Thurrock, who follows these matters most closely, said:
"The White Paper was a ground-breaking document and should be enacted in full".
On these Benches, we believe that to be the case.

My noble friend Lady Williams talked about creating a participatory democracy. Like her, I am a great fan of American politics. Something which always gives me a tingle in reading American documents is that majestic start to the legislation: "We, the people". For a quarter of a century, we have been contemplating how to involve "We, the people" into the decision-making process and what the Bill describes as,
"better informed discussion of public affairs; … greater accountability of public authorities; and … more effective public participation".
Those are the opportunities which a really radical freedom of information Bill would bring.

There is a real opportunity for the Government, with all-party support, with Cross-Bench support, to bring forward such a radical Bill. I hope that in a short time the Minister will give us a reassuring recommitment to such a Bill. As I say, at this moment, there is all-party support and there are indications of public support for such an assault on secrecy. I sincerely hope that the Government will take that opportunity.

9.35 p.m.

My Lords, we have had an extremely interesting debate and I congratulate my noble friend Lord Lucas for bringing it forward this evening. It does not seem to have attracted very much support on the Government Benches. I am afraid the Minister is unsupported by his colleagues. It seems the only interest in this Bill is to Members of your Lordships' House who were former Members of the Labour Party. I suppose the answer is that freedom comes when one leaves the Labour Party, or at least an interest in freedom.

In the Queen's Speech the Government promised to publish a draft Bill—I am delighted to see that the Minister now has a supporter, even at this late hour. The central question is: where is that Bill? I spent last night reading the Labour Party manifesto. I recommend it to anybody who suffers from insomnia. Under the paragraph, "Open government" it says,
"Unnecessary secrecy in government leads to arrogance in government and defective policy decisions. The Scott Report on arms to Iraq revealed Conservative abuses of power. We are pledged to a Freedom of Information Act, leading to more open government, and an independent National Statistical Service".
It seems that one has to read that piece of paper rather carefully. Although the manifesto says that they were "pledged" to a freedom of information Act leading to open government, I am told by insiders that the word "pledge" is less firm than "will introduce". The fact that the manifesto uses the word "pledge" allows the Government to wriggle out of their promise.

That provided an upset for the noble Lord's colleagues in another place. I understand that almost 80 Members of the other place, including 11 Commons committee chairmen and four ministerial aides signed a Motion calling for legislation to be introduced in the autumn. Then the Home Secretary who took charge of this policy was forced to make an announcement and said on 30th November:
"The Government will publish a … Bill early next year".— [Official Report, Commons, 30/11/98; col. 528.]
But here we are, early next year, and we have not yet seen one. As the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby, said, this has been a Labour Party policy for a long time. It was first promised in Harold Wilson's 1974 manifesto. The noble Lord, Lord McNally, said that the noble Lord, Lord Callaghan, was unable to include it in his time in government. What is interesting, is that the Labour Party has not expressed the slightest interest in this issue during the 18 years it was out of government. It has not been one of the issues they have pushed.

One of the difficulties is that the Government have a different view of what is meant by "information". Look at their record: their first step in government was to sack respected press and information officers. We now receive information by "leak" and by "spin". Every announcement has its gloss; selected stories are pushed; journalists are cajoled into writing the party line; Parliament comes second when announcements are made; and we read about Statements in the morning paper. The tradition that they first come before Parliament seems to have gone by the board in many cases.

However, those who live by spin, die by spin and the demise of the "King of Spin" shows that. And with regard to the media, the worm has turned. The Government have lost their honeymoon period and are now trying to bypass the national media. Government Ministers appear more in magazines than in the press. We have seen the Prime Minister on "This Morning" with Richard and Judy. No doubt we shall soon see Ministers on cooking programmes. Of course, they are experts on every subject from football to Buddhism. We have a Government who are now dependent on trivia. We sometimes cannot get information from government departments by asking questions; it has to be forced out. Consider the difficulty in getting information about the travel expenses of Labour Ministers. The reason we did not get it is because the only people I can see who live like Lords are government Ministers when they travel abroad.

On a more serious note, concerns have been raised about, for example, genetically modified food. The Government are secretive about their meetings with that industry and are not telling us what they are doing. The noble Countess, Lady Mar, has been involved in a long campaign on this issue. Have the Government not learnt from the mistakes made regarding BSE? They should have, but they have not; and I am sorry about that.

As regards government information, this week a Commons Select Committee published a report about the Sandline affair. Originally, the Foreign Secretary seemed to blame the civil servants. Now, the Government blame the committee. That is surprising as the majority of members of that committee are Labour MPs. This is a government who have to prove that they are committed to freedom of information.

Earlier this week the Minister and I debated the Youth Justice and Criminal Evidence Bill. Editors are concerned about restrictions on press reporting under that legislation. However, I must give credit where credit is due. The Minister has kindly agreed to look at these issues and I am sure that he will. I hope that it will work better than one instance I experienced with the Data Protection Act. The noble Lord will remember that he and I debated that Bill in this House.

A month ago my bank informed me that someone had applied for a credit card using my name. I wrote to the bank asking if, perhaps, I could have the information that it was holding on me. I received a polite reply stating that that was not possible. I wrote to the Data Protection Commissioner enclosing correspondence and asking if, perhaps. 1 could have the information I required. I received a wonderful letter stating that he did not think I could have the information because such information was not about me; it was about someone who was purporting to be me. I hope to win that battle and I shall certainly inform the Minister if I do not.

I believe that the public has a right to know about many issues. The Government profess that they want an open government. That is important because otherwise the great issues we face are trivialised. The debate on Europe has become: more about the cost of changing one's holiday money into euros or euro traveller cheques rather than the real concerns of accountability and democracy in Europe.

I am sure that the Minister will give a confident answer this evening about the Government's policy. He is an honourable man. He will valiantly defend the Government with style and charm. No doubt he will gild his speech with the odd clever jibe at the Opposition and our record on this issue, and I accept what that record is.

However, the Minister must address the Bill proposed by my noble friend Lord Lucas. He must state those parts with which he agrees and those with which he disagrees and state whether the Bill will be allowed Committee and Report stages in this House. I believe that my noble friend Lord Lucas said that the Minister faced a difficulty of being seduced by Sir Humphrey. I think that is perhaps a little unfair on the Minister. There is one point on which we might agree. I think it is wrong to blame civil servants. I do not blame civil servants for any of the things that happened when we were in power, when previous Labour Governments were in power, or indeed, while the noble Lord is in Government. Bad government comes from weak Ministers. Ministers have the power and they must accept the responsibility. I hope that the Minister agrees.

We look forward to the Government's response. I am sure that the Minister has a lot to say about his proposals as well as about the Bill proposed by my noble friend.

9.44 p.m.

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, for introducing the Bill. I thank also all those who have spoken. It is almost breath-taking to have to reply, but I shall do my best.

I agree that bad government is the fault of weak Ministers, just as was selling-off the railways at £10 billion under value. I cannot remember how many times I asked the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, for details about, for example, the consequences of the "Sea Empress" disaster and answer came there very rarely, and, more often, came there none. The noble Viscount, Lord Astor, mentioned the Scott Report. Like the noble Lord, Lord McNally, I was in the Chamber and can remember the justified bitterness with which the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins of Hillhead, complained that he was a former Chancellor and a former Home Secretary but he was being given the infinite courtesy of five or 15 minutes to read that vast report so that he could give a response. Quite rightly, the noble Lord refused that insulting offer. Was that the result of weak Ministers? Yes, it was the result of weak Ministers in a government in which both noble Lords served vigorously. I am trying not to be unduly harsh.

Ministers do not hide behind officials at the Home Office. I am sorry that my noble friend Lord Longford is not in his place because he would like to hear me say that one of the first things that we did was to do away with the relics of "Howardism"—my noble friend has been waiting for me to use that word for some time. We have said that when things go wrong in the Prison Service, we shall take the blame and the responsibility and that we shall not blame the Prison Service.

I am amazed to be chided that we had not been all that interested for 18 years. I seem to remember that the Conservatives were, apparently, in office for 18 years and did absolutely nothing, except to batten down the hatches in the most ignoble way.

The noble Lord, Lord Lucas, said that we have done nothing since coming to power. The noble Lord, Lord Hardinge of Penshurst, said that he did not want to hear simply a list of our actions. Well, I propose to outline them because they matter. We have been in power and in office for a little more than 18 months now. It is wrong to say that Jack Straw was forced into anything last November. One of the truly inexpressible, ineffable delights of membership of the Labour Party is attendance at the Labour Party Conference. I was there when Jack Straw made his speech. In September last year, he said to rapturous applause—the Prime Minister repeated it—that we would introduce a freedom of information Bill. I am sorry that I am insisting on fact rather than rumour, but I do so insist. Following that, what was the important milestone in this Home Secretary's tenure of the Home Office? It was the setting up of the Lawrence Inquiry in public, and publicly funded, with the knowledge that everything would be laid out. If Jack Straw ceased to be Home Secretary tomorrow—I put that only as an absurd hypothesis—he would still have reaped the proper reward of courage and openness in an area where many of his predecessors would have done nothing.

Now, when the Chief Inspector of Prisons produces reports and they are checked for accuracy, I immediately sign them off for publication, whether or not their contents are popular. That is our policy. We do not hide behind anyone. The crime statistics are published immediately and regularly, not when convenient for party political purposes. I have spent the past year discussing with the Coroners' Society, those in the Prison Service and, more recently, the police service, how we can make inquests more open and more readily accessible to those who have the prime requirement for that; namely, the families of those who may have died in state-coerced circumstances. I do not mind if that is called a collection of actions. I believe that it is a noble collection of moral actions.

I repeat for at least the sixth time in your Lordships' House, either orally or in Written Answers, that this year we have undertaken to provide a draft Bill for the Public Administration Committee chaired by Rhodri Morgan. We have written to him and the Home Secretary and I have discussed it. I repeat the promise that the Bill will go for pre-legislative scrutiny to Rhodri Morgan's committee. That is not a sign of a lack of confidence or wanting to hide. Is it going to be suggested that somehow Rhodri Morgan has been recently emasculated or had his teeth drawn? I do not believe that anyone could say that he was not a vigorous proponent of the ideas put forward this evening. He has at least been consistent. His voice was heard over 18 years, but perhaps he was speaking rather quietly and nobody heard him.

What else have we done? I agree that we have done small things, but they are indicative ones. The noble Earl, Lord Russell, asked me for the contract on Campsfield House, which is the detention centre. It was provided and lodged in the Library with only the commercial and confidential material removed. The principle was there. The Home Secretary has published almost the entirety of the IND casework notes, volume after volume, for immigration and asylum seekers. No one thought of doing that before, but we have done it.

That is the collection of actions. I now come to something which may be more significant. We have introduced and delivered two enormously important Bills, the Human Rights Act and the Data Protection Act. We promised to do that and we have done so. They are intended to transform the way in which this country is governed. I say as firmly as I can—and I cannot over-emphasise—this Government's commitment to the introduction of a Freedom of Information Bill. There is now growing a new relationship between government and the public. There is no doubt about that. The wind has changed. As the noble Baroness said, human rights, devolution—very rare acts of an over-centralised Government and Executive volunteering to devolve power to those to whom it properly belongs. We have done that.

We believe that a Freedom of Information Act is the central part of our agenda for change. We mean to introduce it. It is not a case of the Government's honeymoon disappearing. I cannot remember whether Mr. Hague's opinion rating is minus 27 or 28, but I do not believe that any sensible indicator of public opinion shows that the Government's honeymoon is over: in fact, quite the opposite. I believe that the people of this country want reform to continue and are pleased with the way in which it is about to continue even though it means that four or five speakers in your Lordships' House this evening may no longer be here to share our joy and amusement late in the evening.

We are not approaching these matters in a frivolous way. I have to chide the noble Lord, Lord McNally. The Home Office is not the Lubyanka. In fact, I do not believe that it has ever been run in such an open way for the past 20 years. As regards the Human Rights Bill, for example, we invited doughty campaigners like the noble Lord, Lord Lester, to participate. He came regularly. There were also visits from Liberty and Charter 88. On the question of freedom of information, we asked Mr. Frankel to join us. He has given us advice and so have many of his colleagues who have an interest in this field. I do not believe that anyone can suggest that we have not been open about consultation.

It has been said that the prize was snatched away from the former Minister in charge and given to a Minister who is notoriously secretive. I am perfectly happy to listen to any complaints about the Home Secretary, but I cannot imagine any legitimate ones. To say that he is secretive or not open is simply not true and neither is it fair. By the collection of actions I have demonstrated a reasonable defence of what I have said.

We are going to deliver a Freedom of Information Bill. It is a perfectly simple concept, but it is not an easy thing to construct. Of course, departments are notoriously territorial, but they do have legitimate interests. The interests, for instance—I take them at random—of the Ministry of Defence are not coincident always with the interests of MAFF and they are not coincident with the interests of the Home Office. It is foolish and I think extremely short-sighted and unduly contentious to suggest the opposite.

We took over responsibility for this matter essentially in August. We want to develop the policy by means of all kinds of changes. I entirely agree with what the noble Baroness said. What we are about is trying to change the culture of this country. I object to the suggestion that there is a government and the governed. I believe that public information properly describes itself. It is essentially the property of the public. However, it is not every piece of information which is capable of being disclosed fully and contemporaneously. Anyone who suggests the contrary is, I think, living in a dream world and has not attended to the experience of the more liberal regimes that obtain in other countries.

I was asked to indicate and demonstrate yet again the commitment of the Government. I say again that we remain fully committed to freedom of information, to promoting a radical change across government in the way government conduct business, and to a new relationship between government and the citizens they serve. I do not think I can make it plainer than that. The present Bill which the noble Lord has put forward—I agree he has done us all a service in bringing it forward—has certain flaws. I shall not speak for too long as I have already consumed 11 minutes of your Lordships' time. However, it is not, we think, adequately drawn. Clause 2(2) proposes that the Bill should override,
"any statutory or common law prohibition on the disclosure of information".
That simply cannot work. One cannot simply ride roughshod like that. It is a simple mechanism but it is not practicable. There is a long list of legislation which impinges on freedom of information. Some requires the disclosure of information, some the withholding of information. Every single example and every legislative provision has to be looked at discretely. It cannot simply be overridden in that way.

We have international obligations, after all. The noble Viscount, Lord Astor, spoke about data protection. We are, of course, subject to European directives, which is why we were obliged promptly and timeously to bring in the Data Protection Act. We have obligations in the European context with regard to access to environmental information. We simply cannot produce a Bill that would be found to be unlawful in the European context.

There are other matters which are of importance which would have to be amended or deleted. There is no mention of the Scotland Act or the Northern Ireland Act, for instance. Clause 12 simply states that the Bill will apply to Northern Ireland. That is at odds with the principle of devolution which I mentioned. There is no mention of Scotland. I do not raise these questions to be dismissive of the effort that has gone into the Bill. I am simply indicating, not in response to the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, but in response to the noble Viscount, Lord Astor, that there are deficiencies in the Bill. I could go on but I think it is rather an arid exercise. I am simply responding to the invitation to say what is wrong with the Bill. There are difficulties but I do not think that the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, has put forward his Bill in that spirit. I think that what he has wanted to do is to establish the following principle, with which I agree and with which I believe everyone who has spoken this evening agrees. We want to approach this matter in a new and more open way.

I cannot give your Lordships a precise timetable. In any event I cannot anticipate the next Queen's Speech. However, I reiterate that we intend to have a Bill. We want it to be subjected to pre-legislative scrutiny—which your Lordships normally think is a good idea—in Rhodri Morgan's committee. If your Lordships wish through the usual channels to seek the same scrutiny here, that is of course a matter for the usual channels.

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for his remarks. I realise that he cannot pre-empt the Queen's Speech. However, will he give the House an assurance that the draft Bill will be published during this current Session?

Yes, my Lords. I do not think I can be more free with information than that!

My Lords, I apologise for intervening as I have not spoken in the debate. I am particularly interested in which month of the current Session the Bill will be published as those of us who intend to take an interest in the Government's Bill when it comes forward anticipate that there will be a great deal of work to be done in researching the issues and studying the Government's proposals in the detail that the Bill will contain. It would be of considerable assistance to know in which month we may see the draft Bill.

My Lords, it will be of considerable assistance to me. I shall have to do a fair bit of reading myself.

I cannot go any further than I have. I reiterate that this is a commitment that we wish to deliver. I repeat, it is in the context of human rights, data protection and devolution.

Let me go back to human rights and data protection. The noble Viscount was of great assistance on data protection, and we spent a long time making sure in the context of public and published information that we fully protected the Article 10 rights of the press. We went to a lot of trouble on human rights. We went to a lot of less conspicuous trouble—both the noble Viscount and I were party to these discussions—about the protection of the press interest. Freedom of information, in other words, in the context of data protection. It was a rather less spectacular Bill—not quite as headline sexy as human rights—but it was still very important indeed.

Of course we support the principle behind the Bill. I do not mean to be tendentious when I say that the Bill does not have the necessary detail—it is too general— and it has certain deficiencies. I cannot support the Bill. Of course, in keeping with the usual traditions of the House, we shall not oppose a Second Reading today. What happens thereafter about timing is of course for the usual channels. I know it is getting late now, but let me finally reiterate that we intend to produce this Bill— Jack Straw has said so, the Prime Minister has said so, and, very low in the pecking order of humankind, I have said so again tonight.

10.3 p.m.

My Lords, I am grateful to everybody who has spoken tonight. The noble Lord, Lord McNally, got it right when he called me a sinner called to repentance. I feel like a sinner called to repentance, and a grievous sinner indeed, who finds himself among a congregation of the godly and the wise, but is suddenly struck by the fear that the priest is in the brothel that I used to manage.

My Lords, perhaps we could have a little more information about that.

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Williams, has given me a sort of comfort. I am delighted by his reaffirmation of the principle. I and everyone else who has listened this evening will await the Government's Bill with great interest.

The noble Lord has said two things about the timing: he said "this year" and "this Session". This is rather putting back the expected date, yet again, until maybe some time in June or July—or possibly into the autumn—when we were looking at a Bill which we were originally promised, or hoped we might see, in January or February. But the noble Lord did say that it would come before Rhodri Morgan's committee. Given that Rhodri Morgan will clearly assume high office in Wales in the not too distant future, I hope that it will be exactly what it sounds like and be with us within the next few months. I do not see any elucidation forthcoming from the Minister. I think we will have to be content with what was said this evening and hope.

The noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby, made mention of my sudden appearance with liberal ideas. The previous Lord Lucas was a Minister in the Liberal government. Perhaps I have something of him in me because we were both very much in favour of the reform of the House and the end of hereditary peerages. I suspect that there is a good deal of support across the House for that this evening.

I shall be sorry to see the House lose the likes of the noble Lord, Lord Hardinge, who I feel brings a great feeling of gravitas and depth of understanding. He will at least have the opportunity to vote for the Labour Party in the next election too and help to keep their support at its present level.

As always, I am grateful to the noble Countess, Lady Mar, for her words. She was a doughty opponent when I was in government; I soon learnt that I had very carefully to question everything that I was told because she always knew more than I, and knew exactly what was going on. As she said, it was more to make the government honest. Looking back on it, I appreciate it enormously. I hope that she will find that we have a Bill worthy of her aspiration.

I am grateful for everything that has been said today. I do not know where the Bill will go now. It rather depends on what the Government's plans are for their own Bill. But if, in a month or two, we have had no further opportunity to see the real thing, we might look to see whether we can have an opportunity to discuss some of the weightier matters in Committee. I commend the Bill to the House.

On Question, Bill read a second time, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.

House adjourned at four minutes past ten o'clock.